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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Location: Surreality, Have Fun Will Travel, Past Midnight before a Workday

Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

In Memoriam: Jean Simmons

One of the most beautiful and talented Hollywood actresses is gone. Jean Simmons, who starred opposite Laurence Oliver in Hamlet and Kirk Douglas (and Olivier, again) in Spartacus, has died of cancer at age 80.

She was one of my heroes, and remained lovely throughout her life. I never heard or read one complaint about her; my understanding was that she was a very sweet and professional actress who was a delight to work with.

Of course, being a very beautiful woman, her deft craft as an actress sometimes was overlooked (also because she was such a natural). She will be missed!

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Why "Atheism is a Relgion," Reason One

Because atheists and nutjobs like Pat Robertson both have "beliefs," right? Pat Robertson blames the recent earthquake in Haiti on "Haiti's deal with the Devil," whereas atheists blame the earthquake on plate tectonics.

Well, the two are both "beliefs," right? They're equal but different "opinions," correct? Therefore, that's one example of how "atheists have their own belief system," right? Therefore, we atheists not being stupid is as much of a "religious practice" as Pat Robertson's ritual of not thinking is a form of science, right? Not bringing God into the earthquake makes the science of plate tectonics a religion, just as not bringing God into the classroom "makes the science of evolution" a violation of the separation of church and state, isn't that right, people?

Do I have that down pat, Michael Ruse?

UPDATED: Well, we'll see what happens - I asked a Muslim online who also asserted that "atheism is a religion" if women walking around naked was a form of hijab.

Here's a turnabout - and oddly enough, I've thought this, too: a review of the Creation Museum pronounces it "soulless."

I spent a lot of time in the Eden picnic area, trying to wrest some sort of spiritual buzz, a sense of the majesty and the mystery, but it’s conspicuously absent. Literally beaten to death. This is Ripley’s Believe-It. It is irredeemably kitsch. In fact, it may be the biggest collection of kitsch in God’s entire world. This is the profound represented by the banal, a divine irony. (The penchant for kitsch is something that gay men and born-again Christians share.) This tacky, risible, and rational tableau defies belief, beggars faith. Compare it to the creation story in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Masaccio’s expulsion from Eden, or any of the thousands of flickering images, icons, and installations based on faith rather than literalist realism. It truly makes you wonder, Is all this righteous ire, all this money, all this Pentecostal flame-throwing the best they can come up with? This cheap county-fair sideshow—this is their best shot? It may be more replete with proof than a Soviet show trial, but this creation is bereft of any soul.

I once, in a film review, called a tediously religion-thumping (if not Bible-banging) film "faithless." (A kid's mother gets killed by an errant baseball, and all this annoyingly righteous little twit can say is, "There are no accidents" and "I am God's instrument"? Are you kidding me? The protagonist cares more about the mother's death than her own child does? What a pompous little brat! The film became one distasteful justification of her death after another from that point on.) This is what really pisses me off: that those who engage in the knee-jerk argument that "atheism is a religion" do not address the essential nihilism - the lack of wonder, the hankering after certainties - in what is often called "faith."

I have no delusion that science, or life, is going to hand me many certainties. (Remember, I'm studying statistics.) Does it not occur to these folks that the more they pound the "atheism as a religion" gavel too hard, the more they make atheism sound like one of the few, or perhaps the only, "religion" that does not molest children en mass, or condemn victims for their misfortunes, or set fire to churches/mosques/temples, or rake in the kind of dough that televangelists regularly do? With apologies to Nietzsche, supposing atheism is the only "religion" that actually fulfills religion's ostensible goals of uniting humanity in peace, what then? Is that an argument that anti-atheists really want to [unwittingly] make?

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mistakes, Damned Mistakes, and Statistics

I'm working through The Cartoon Guide to Statistics by Larry Gonick with the goal of then getting through a more comprehensive book, then taking a research methods class so that I can do my own sampling. I highly recommend Gonick's The Cartoon Guide as an introduction to the subject.

There are various instructional videos on You Tube regarding statistics, but the most interesting is one presented by Oxford mathematician Peter Donnelly on how juries (and the rest of us) are easily confused and swayed by unsound mathematical arguments involving randomness and uncertainty.

Rather horrifying thought, isn't it - being convicted of a crime you did not commit by unsound statistical inference!

However, before the criminal case, Donnelly references what is called the False Positive Paradox: how a test that is 99% accurate can result in so many false test results indicating that well people have a serious disease.

Gonick references the same paradox. Assume that one person in one thousand has this serious illness, the test is 99% accurate, and the probability of a false positive test result is only 2%. Then supposed that you test positive. What is the probability that you actually have this disease?

Using Bayes' Theorem, we ultimately calculate that the percentage is .0472; that is, that out of all those who test positive for the disease, less than 5% actually have it! In other words, out of the 21 people in 1000 who would test positive, only 1 in 1000 would have the disease. Actually, this is not as bad as it initially looks: it's better, after all, to have a false positive than a false negative, as the false positive can be detected in further tests, whereas a false negative mandates no further tests. Also, the test does increase each of the 21 people's chances of having the disease from 1 in 1000 to 1 in 21.

At least, I'm 99.9999999999999% sure of that!

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