All entries for February 2006

February 03, 2006

The Dollar Game

A friend related to me the following game: (Game as in Game Theory, I'm afraid)

A certain person is auctioning off a dollar. (Or a pound, or whatever) The deal is this – the highest bidder will win the prize, but every bidder – including losers – will be forced to pay whatever price they bid.

So what happens in the game? Notionally, two players can make a profit by agreeing to share the prize and refusing to escalate the situation. But such a deal is an inherently unstable one – each player has a lot to gain by screwing over the other. Furthermore, additional players can jump in and demand their share, blackmailing the cooperators by threatening to take all the prize for himself.

At each stage in the game, then, the player always profits by raising his offer to be above that of his rival. And unlike with the various pricing games we learn about in economics, this game doesn't just stop with zero profit. Even when the players are bidding above the prize, they still have an incentive to bid up a little more in order to try and claw back $1 worth of their losses. Extrapolating, we get to the conclusion that the players all end up paying infinite amounts of money for $1.

The only way to win the game is not to play.

Which is pretty cool. I wonder if this can be used to describe some real world situations…


February 01, 2006

Darwin Kicks ID's Ass

Writing about web page http://www.warwickboar.co.uk/boar/features/darwin_versus_god/

(Copy of a letter I sent to the letters page which probably won't get printed)

In this week's Warwick Bore, Alex Varley-Winter declares it to be a 'myth' that ID is just creationism. But that's wrong. The opposite is true – the judge in the recent case in America, stated specifically in his decision that ID is precisely creationism relabelled. Literally, as drafts of textbooks on creationism were converted into textbooks on ID simply by replacing the names.

Let's be blunt here. There are three kinds of people who believe in ID. They are the ignorant, the stupid, and the dishonest.

The dishonest are the worst. These are the arch-manipulators in charge at lobby groups such as the 'Discovery Institute' in America. These groups, it is known, follow the euphemistically titled 'Wedge Strategy'. The plan, explicitly stated and discretely endorsed, is to use issues like evolution to drive religion into government, with the ultimate goal of creating a theocratic state. Such institutions directly fund and support individuals like Dembski and Behe, and coordinate a careful strategy to destroy science and rationalism as a whole. For all their declarations that ID has nothing to do with religion, these people hold a step by step plan to use ID as a tool of mass manipulation. The creationists are simply organised in a way evolutionary science cannot be, because for all the conspiracy theories, there is no single towering Scientific Authority.

The stupid are the oracles of the dishonest, knowingly or unknowingly. None of ID's ideas are in fact new. Irreducible complexity was talked about by Darwin himself, and every example brought up has been clearly refuted by adopting a more realistic version of evolution – one where, for example, ireducibly complex situations can be reached by shaving down from a more complicated one, instead of just naively building up. Dembski's specified complexity is entirely invalid, because it treats evolution as a search algorithm when in fact it is not – natural selection isn't trying to find a certain exact solution. Then, we get the metaphysical stupids around them. The ones that argue, for example, that science can't explain everything. Or the ones who argue that ID needs to be given a change. The problem is that ID wants to be science, and the question answered by evolution – can current physical laws explain observed distributions of life – is a scientific question. It is a question in which we can seek direct verification from observation. In all its claims, ID has been shown time and again to be wrong or insufficient. It should not be 'given a chance', until it has come up with evidence or arguments that can stand on it's own two feet. ID itself, by it's vagueless over the idea of 'intelligence' (whose existence philosophers still debate) and 'design', has currently no explanatory power at all. It amounts to no more than 'stuff happens'.

Finally, there are the ignorants. The ignorants are the pawns of the ID movement. They are the majority who jam the polls. The ignorants represent two things – the failure of modern science education to convey the values and principles of science, and the concerted effort by the stupid and the dishonest to cloud their mind as to the facts of the matter.

The manipulators at the head of the ID movement want to twist science into a thing where skeptical thought is useless, where facts are equivalent to opinions. They want to twist religion from it's proper role as a source of comfort, inspiration and personal peace, into a shackle on ideas and a network of clumsy dogmas that can be used to beat up on discourse. For this reason, these people need to be resisted, and fought.


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