Sunday, April 26, 2009

Surveys and Astrology

Astrology predicts lots of good things. Best time to plant crops, eclipses, tides, menstruation (good if making babies), migration, shadows on the sundial. The only problem is that this was.... well assumed to be related to many other things. This is easy for ancient man as it is for the modern Oprah Secret crowd. If you can prove one thing is regular as clockwork, why not simply assume it controls many other things.

Lunar tides, our path around the Sun, and the effects are very real. It is just natural to start fantasizing about birthdays, planets, and constellations.

Read Malcom Gladwell's 'Outliers'. It is a fact that Hockey players born in specific month were more likely to be the better players on their teams. You could easily apply this to astrology. The root cause is really the relative maturity when kids can sign up. Just a coincidence of birthday and a yearly ritual.

Same could be said of ancient warriors. If they sign up at a specific time each year, those born such that they are older and more mature than the average kid, they become the stronger warriors and maybe the sergeants and captains.

For our warrior, the day each year they start the warrior tryouts is what defines who will be more successful.  The age of the recruits, not their star sign, is what defines the odds of being a kick ass warrior. Kids born a month or two before the annual date would have a low success. Those born just after would be nearly a year older and bigger.  If tryouts are in April, those born in May will be the most successful, while those born say in February would be less so.

Astrology works for many such coincidences. Given one coincidence, people see and extrapolate even more. Even to self delusion. Astrology is alive and kicking today because it is child's play to extrapolate from tides to planets moving through constellations. Add some tricky tables and calculations, you get something that sounds like science.

Surveys, personality tests, focus groups, ratings, and other tools of the trade can become astrology. All it takes is a little truth to make a bigger lie.

One that struck me funny was the "Bradley Effect". Tom Bradley, and African America, was ahead in the polls for Califormia governor. But on election day, Bradley lost. The thought was that for a pole people would say they would vote and in the booth, their prejudices, hidden by the privacy of the voting curtain, would rise up and they would vote for the white guy. Of course this was a common topic for the presidential election.

Is the Bradley Effect real? Well it seemed to work a few times. My guess that for the next 20 years whenever race is an issue, you will see the "Bradley Effect". It only had to seem right once or twice. To do that, all you need is a poll that is up before the election with a loss of the election by the same candidate - oh and they need to be a minority.

There is absolutely no evidence that the Bradley Effect was caused by switching votes. In fact there is no way to prove it because of the sanctity of the voting booth and an American's god given right to lie to a pollster. The real reason could be apathy or a push for the opposition between polling and voting or even just random chance of the poll samples missing the real voters intentions.

I'd love to say there is a way out of this. Surly their is some way to dispel the crackpot ideas. Maybe, maybe not. Anything that can be extrapolated based on one or two data points is in danger of wild speculation that becomes fact. People see the hand of God or the genius of a pollster, or that only eating a hot dog in the 7th inning will win a ball game

Only lots of data can prove your point about bad numbers. If you go for statistically accurate data and eliminate possible biases(like randomizing questions are asked, when, who asked, and what order), you can have a fighting chance. If you have data that can go either way, your data can be misused or misinterpreted. But be warned, people still don't see statistics, they see meaning.

The real problem comes with other peoples data and conclusions. Really look at their stats and how they collected the data. Don't accept at face value the result of any amateur survey or straw poll.

Sure it may be right, but play the skeptic for a while to be sure. At least that's what my horoscope said today.

Ever been stuck with bad data and a wild guess at what it proved? Were you able to disprove the bad assumptions? What was the clinching argument or fact? Let me know in the comments.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Pseudoscience "Get out jail free!" card

Pseudoscience has often been linked at the hip with religion. But people are creative! That's really what pseudoscience is, creative thinking without the heavy weight of facts acting against you. Sort of like ignoring your cement overshoes pulling you into the inky ocean depths as you ignore the existence of organized crime.

Today I read an article about a cult family who starved an 18 month old child to death for not saying 'amen' at meals. That word, amen, has a lot od pseudoscientific power, or at least we assume so. Certainly not saying it caused the parents to go insane. It is a tragedy and not funny. Death is death and a pointless death of a child is the worst. But here comes the legal pseudoscience:

The mother pleaded guilty on the condition that all charges be dropped if her child was resurrected...

She didn't just make that up. No, the cult thought it through a long time before the police arrived. They had packed the dead child into a suitcase with some moth balls to await the blessed moment. They even traveled with the luggage, but ultimately stored the luggage with a friend, met at a dollar store, in his backyard shed. 

Just to clear the air, according to the cult leader, Queen Antoinette (no kidding and she still has her head), the resurrection has not yet taken place because the cult members have not reached a level of belief sufficient to trigger the event. A hallmark of religious pseudoscience is that you need to really believe. Miracles don't happen on their own.

That's great pseudoscience and the best legal defense all thrown into a blender with a few herbs and spices. Pure genius! But it gets better as pseudoscience of psychology on the side of the law is biting at religion's heels.

The prosecutors  say that this family can not be considered criminally insane. They do not suffer from any delusion or mental disability, they are simply people of faith. They did this on purpose because they were following a religion.  We can't call religions crazy or we are calling most people are crazy. That would be crazy! 

Let's say that a bit differently: You are not insane if your crazy actions are part of your god given right as an American citizen to practice your religion. It's a free speech issue. The caveat of course is that crazyish criminal behavior, religion or not, is still criminal. Worse than that, you can no longer play the crazy card at your trial. 

Isn't this cool? Not only do the criminals use great pseudoscience, but our legal system is on board too. Better yet, the legal system has the trump card. 

Is this the golden age of pseudoscience?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Starting a Pseudoscience Business

There's a lot to pseudoscience, time to cover the most important one: good honest fraud. I am speaking of course about the pseudoscience scam business.

Let's be clear, this is not where you believe in the pseudoscience, everyone else does and gives you money for the pleasure. Seems sacrilegious, but it is perfectly fine as it still fits with the science of the lack of real science. Pseudoscience is for evil and profit too! And it is profitable pseudoscience!

Nothing wrong with a little cash, so let's play pseudoscience entrepreneur with an evil bent. You just need to be willing to cheat your grandmother out of her life savings. The road to wealth is paved with lies and the gullible. 

Before I go to far, let me point out that there are a lot of folks making money on pseudoscience. Not all are crooks. Well, maybe crooks, but not all of them are stealing just to be stealing. I have said it before and I will say it again: Never assume malice when simple stupidity will suffice. Don't let the crooks give pseudoscience a bad name. In fact, where the crooks succeed in promoting a non-supportable science, they help all pseudoscientists.

Not going too deep, just want to start the conversation on great scams via pseudoscience. Here are some pointers. You have seen some of these ideas before, but these are qualified with a bit of evil on the back side to help with cash flow. 


I love secrets. Secret formulas, secret process, secret ingredients, etc. Any secret is good when you are hiding from reality. The keys to really good pseudoscience is removing reality, ignoring the facts, and generally putting your head in the sand. But hiding the reality is just as good. 

The Rube Employee

The next thing you need is a rube. Not the rube like the mark, also known as the victim, we mean an employee that believes deep in their heart that your snake oil is milked by hand from the best snakes fed the best organic ingredients.

You might say, "I am a psychopathic lier and have no problem convincing marks. Why do I need employees that believe this drivel?" Well, that's great, you can lie. But you are only one person, you can't be everywhere. You need to take a vacation with all that money, right? 

You don't want do all the work, do you? 

There is also a problem training people to lie. It is much easier to teach people to ignore facts. Why teach people to lie when you can simply convince them that it is real and let them sell with a straight face and a skip in their step!

There is also a liability of having employee lie. They get used to it. It starts small, with the coffee money and pens disappearing and suddenly the corporate bank account is empty and so is the chair of your best lier.

Expert Rube

An expert rube is also quite nice to have. If you want to make some quick cash, get into an established market of pseudoscientific belief. There is a lot of pseudoscience that is already primed to make you money. The added benefit is that people already believe in this garbage and that is less work for you! 

Where do you find established markets? A trip to Sedona, Arizona will be a simple one stop shop. Their are many mom and pop pseudoscientists living in that town. But a simple place to start is just your local book store or if you dare, the community library. Look for New Age and you will find hundreds of books that can be the seed of a million dollar business.

The New Ideas

The new idea is related to what we were talking about with the expert rubes. Pseudoscience is a very fertile field. Just take an idea and give it a little twist to get a whole new market. 

You could take anything from magnets, crystals, charms, homeopathy, chiropractic, and others. 

An easy example of this is health magnets. There is not much proof that magnets can make you smarter, but their are a lot of people that believe it reduces pain or disease. Find one of these pseudoscience experts and either work the same angle or you can put an idea in their head to create a new one. 

My favorite example is the gluing of tiny magnets onto you ears at the same points as acupuncture(look it up, its real). This mixing of two pseudoscientific ideas is a marketing gold mine! Better yet, it is a conversation starter when you see your buddy's ear stuck to a metal wall or an SUV in the parking lot. The product can sell its self!

Not to say that tiny magnets on your ears won't cause people to lose weight. I can't say no or yes to that according to my lawyer. Acupuncture is also not quite a full blown pseudoscience because their are indeed things that happen to your body when you poke it in the right places. But mixing these acupuncture and magnets is still an incredible leap and could have been started with a list of pseudoscience disciplines and a dartboard. 

For your convenience I will supply a pseudoscience dart board in the book. Am I a great guy or what?

Business Lifetime

A pseudoscience based business, for profit or for self delusion, is usually a long term business. This isn't like a regular scam where you have to keep a bag packed and your profits in large denominations next to your tickets for a country without extradition treaties with the USA.

Look at homeopathy. It is pure pseudoscience, right? Anybody go to prison for homeopathy? No! 

Homeopathy proves the longevity of the hokum-based business. It has been around since 1796. How come their isn't a homeopathy  practitioner being perp walked into court every day? 

You need to follow the rules. The legal system is rigged by people that believe in pseudoscience to allow pseudoscience business to operate. Why? Either the lawmakers fell for it or their wife swears by it. That's my this is such a great business because we are so easily duped. 

What are the rules? Never guarantee a cure. You can only guarantee the buyer will be satisfied with their purchase. Even offer their money back! Nobody has ever returned a thigh master, or a crystal that 'might' cure cancer. You also get less complaints from the Better Business cops.

Let's add one very important idea for success, the sugar pill affect. If what you are trying to do will can occur based on either chance, change of habits,passing of time, low or high probability of an event, or a positive mental attitude, you have a great product on your hands. What this means simply is that you can point to your product working based on these other factors. 

Let's take those little pills that are supposed to help you keep from getting sick when you fly. Basically they are vitamins and minerals. They might help boost immunity because many of us don't get proper nutrition, but can they stop getting a cold or the flu? Of course not. They are not anti viral.  But why do a lot of people buy them? Simply  your chances of flying and getting sick at the same time is extremely low. 

Let me say that a bit differently. According to the CDC (the real scientists that track sickness), the odds of you catching the flu is 5 to 20 percent per year. Less if you have been vaccinated and even less if you open doors with your elbows. 

So, if you are on an airplane with 100 people, a max of 20 will get the flu, right? Wrong! The CDC odds are for whole cities, and many months. Say it is four months, odds of anyone even having the flu before before you get on the plane is mind numbingly low. But say there is just one guy, you are even less likely to sit next to that guy unless your last name is Murphy. 

When we add all this up, the end result is that you won't catch a virus when you are on an airplane. So, if you sell vitamins that are targeted at the airplane market and fears of cold and flu, you are really selling alligator repellent to Eskimos. In other words it isn't really an effective measure, but it seems to work! 

The Oops Fraud Business

Sometimes you start a pseudoscience business and you figure out it is all self-delusion. That's ok. Really, if you are still making money, why turn off the money machine? 

But how do you live with yourself? That's easy. You can still rest assured that the placebo affect is going to continue to make happy customers. Your soul is safe and your bank account is full. 

If you have an anti-gravity device that just does not work, you may have some problems. There isn't a placebo for gravity. Things are not hopeless. You can still roll in the cash for a while. The key is that investors will stay until things fail. The key is to never fail. Delay, have problems, have ideas waiting in the wings. Just never have a live test that you guarantee will be successful. 

Your soul should be clear with a failed anti-gravity device too. Look at it as educating your investors on how stupid it is to believe in anti-gravity.

Make Money

Well, that's enough for now. Feel free to comment or contact me directly about your new business. 

FYI, I have already invested in an anti-gravity device, so not looking for new opportunities. 

One more thing. Another great money maker, consulting! My rates are reasonable. 

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Language of Pseudoscience

All sciences have rules about naming, including pseudoscience. The biologists have their latin, astronomers use gods or characters of fantasy, and the particle physicists have their cutsie quarks that go up and down, etc. Pseudoscience has its pseudoscientific and some cool anti-science judo.

A top notch pseudoscientist must learn this language. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, even a pseudoscientist  to memorize special terms. Just because you are a pseudoscientist doesn't mean a free pass. 

You need to be smart be a great pseudoscientist. You can't just be blind to reality, you need to defend your ideas.  The good news is that bad science wins over good science if you use the right language.

This isn't just about terms you use for pseudoscience concepts, but also anti-science Judo. Pseudoscientists must study their own fields and fight off the the real scientists. There is only so much money out their. You need to be able to sell and defend your ideas and even make real science look worse than pseudoscience.

Fighting the traditional scientist isn't too hard. The language - i.e. the code words - shows how simple this is. The secret is that as a pseudoscientist, you don't need to prove anything. No logic, no scentific method, just a rapier wit and stubbornness to see reality.

I'm not going to go through all the terms. Just the good ones. There are more, but I don't want anyone to strain anything with too much memorization. 

Scientific Materialism

The great pseudoscientists label the opposition with scientific materialism. The real scientists are usually paid by universities and scientific institutions. They must be rich beyond the dreams of avarice or at least be pushing theories with dreams of million dollar homes dancing in their heads. Some people confuse 'avarice' with a person. Avarice is just a word for a greedy money grubbing capitalist. By capitalist, we mean steal from the good people and especially from the wallets of pseudoscientists.

Use this scientific materialism to question the believability of research. Even the question that  money is tickling the palms of legitimate scientists can put a hole in otherwise perfect research. This is a great method because everyone needs a paycheck. This works especially well against scientists making near minimum wage in universities. They find it so absurd that they don't even argue against the implication.

Even when the scientists are the equivalent of slave labor that just love their jobs, the folk that fund their research become high value targets. Why is their money? Unless you are a church, then the only answer is greed. Any higher goals of the scientific method, knowledge for the sake of knowledge, trying to make a better world, or searches for the secrets of the universe are all null and void. Spend a penny and you are tainted by the green patina of greed.

Intelligent Design

This is now an old term for creationism. Don't use it. The scientists already know where you live and here your children go to school. Sadly the clockmaker analogy was a big mistake because the human design is flawed. Too many creationists are also ugly.  

Irreducible Complexity

If you don't have a complete answer, then their is no answer except aliens, gods, or demons. That's right, aliens. You don't need to be religious to use a term created by the bible thumpers. This can save millions in pointless research because you can stop and publish your results when things get hard to understand. Just voice your opinion and write a book.

Cartesian Dualism

This is sort of body and soul or spirit. We are vessels driven by souls. This is a great term to deflect  nature verses nature or to explain any behavior you can't explain. Quite simply people are either controlled by a god or by an evil spirit. As these entities are spirits, and you are part spirit, you can be hijacked. 

Darwinism and Darwinists

Either of these is a belittling attack on evolution. It is simpler to say a man is wrong rather than attack the theories of evolution and biology. You can take any scientist and use their name as a discipline to bring down their ides. It is good sport. Dig up dirt on your critics!

This is even better when you do this with the guys that are long dead. They can't argue! Better yet, you can argue against their original ideas. This is golden because even though their could be a hundred years of advances in the science, you can poke holes in the untested musings of their scientific patron saint. 

Academic Freedom

Academic freedom is a fun term to use. This is also Judo-like because it stops people from stopping you. Your freedom includes questioning the veracity and heritage of opponents or linking your ideas with religion and opinions, not matter how crazy.

Invoking academic freedom is like saying that questioning pseudoscience is un-American. Free speech is the inalienable right to be heard, even if you wan to spout nonsense. This works both ways, so be careful and carry a bigger American flag. 

Common Sense

Common sense is a very useful term, an old hallmark of pseudoscience. This is a Judo word as it will throw your opponent. 

Any wild idea can be transformed into common sense. If you are the only nut job that believes in something, it is common sense, at least to you. This works great to belittle the real scientists as it is plain common sense that they are barking up the wrong tree.

Quantum Physics

Quantum physics is my favorite term in pseudoscience. Once had a physics professor in university that said that because of quantum physics, you could pass through walls, suddenly appear a foot to the left, or transform a mad badger into mayonnaise. This is all based on the premiss that quantum particles are squirmy.  You can't show where the bits of quantum fluff are, you have to use probability to guess. Q.E.D guessing is pseudoscience! 

When you use probability, you can jigger the numbers into the improbable. Even though an electron can be anywhere in its orbit, it could be in the next county participating in a canasta tournament too. Teleportation, invisibility, ghosts, telepathy, politics, and God can be bandied about by rubber-banding quantum physics to any theory or belief.

If you are religious, this is lots of fun. Who could be controlling these bits of quantum foam in your latte? Same goes for New Age thinking. Who's to say we can't manipulate probabilities? Better yet, why not get aliens or Atlantans with secret science?

Your Terms?

What is your favorite pseudoscientific term? I want to know. Remember I am writing the Boy's Book of Pseudoscience. No money, but I can get your name in the footnotes! Write to me directly if you have to, or use the comments below.