To Make Someone a Saint.

Image result for glass of powers gold label in pub

The evening sun slanted through the window inscribing a triangle of golden light across my newspaper.  I was struggling with the final clue on the simplex crossword, and this was war!  I don’t mind failing the Crosaire, but I’m in a foul mood if I can’t finish the Simplex by the end of the day.

“To make someone a saint.”  Eight letters.  I thought it was “Sanctify” this morning.  First clue and I was so sure I had it right.  I scan the crossword quickly when I pick up the paper in the morning, read all the clues, allow them to percolate slowly into my brain.  I jot down any obvious answers.

The real challenge comes at lunchtime.  There is the race to finish the Simplex and see if I can crack open the Crosaire, the real brain buster.   If I fail at lunchtime then I sneak in to the local on the way home and try to nail it before dinnertime.

There is a rule at home you see.  Born of the experience of sitting in silence, watching me wrestle with one problem after another, my wife brought out the big guns.  Once I get home the Irish Times becomes a newspaper and only a newspaper.  No crosswords, no puzzles, no Sudoku.

So I face this unfair challenge to complete before I return home.  The challenge sometimes drives me to the local for a drop of golden sunshine in a glass, a Powers Gold Label.  Another family habit passed down to me, father to son, like the crossword.  It drove my mother insane too, but my father boxed clever.  He told her it was an education in the English language, a way to understand words better and a tool for expanding my vocabulary.

So, part of my evening homework was to sit with my father, puzzling out the clues, as he sipped on his glass of Powers.

My oldest child is only five.  When can I decently roll out my dad’s plan?  I figure three, maybe four more years.  But until then what can it be but “sanctify” which does not fit?  The laptop beside me knows the answer.  A matter of seconds to look it up, but that would be cheating.  “You may cheat others but you can’t cheat yourself” my dad always said.

The phone rings in my pocket.  “Hi honey” I answer, “I’m just leaving the office, should be home by six.  Would you like me to pick up anything on the way home?  Bread, milk, bottle of plonk?”

“Who canonised you?  Go on then, but no Chardonnay.”

C-A-N-O-N-I-S-E.  And I didn’t cheat!

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Telling Lies #7: Confirmation Bias

Female scientist doing Oil and gas research

Are you a Blue Pill or Red Pill kind of person?

Below I envisage the structure required in a research agency to eliminate confirmation bias 100%

One of the great enemies of market research the confirmation bias is also the enemy of good science.  Good science needs to make use of  carefully designed samples, control groups and double blind testing.

Samples must avoid confirmation bias.  If you send out someone to recruit a “random sample” off a busy shopping street with no rules they will come back with an awful lot of people who are of a similar age, ethnicity and social background as themselves.  Without conducting the first experiment they have affected the results.

A control group is a set of people who are tested without having experienced the subject of the test.  In market research we might expose a group to every product except the one we are testing.  In science we might use a placebo, or no treatment at all as a control.

The purpose of the control is to uncover test treatment errors to research.  These are situations where the setting of the test itself (such as a lab, doctors office, research facility etc) impacts on subject behaviour.  The test subjects don’t know they are changing behaviour because they are being tested, but they do.  The testers themselves may also be amending their behaviour, and consequent test results, unintentionally, but significantly.

The purpose of the double blind is to ensure that the tested person does not know if they are in the test group or the control group, and, more importantly, neither does the tester.

Lets say you have a new type of alcohol to test.  You give it to men and women.  They report the impact and complete some tests.

A classic confirmation bias is where a tester belives in advance (due to personal experience, or test assumptions, or any other reason) that the females in the group will react to the alcohol more strongly.  Without intending to falsify results they allow their own confirmation bias to impact on the results.  They “see” more effects in the females and the “edit out” effects in the men.  Their initial assumptions prove prophetic, they find exactly what they expect to find.

Control groups and double blind testing as well as “fair” samples can be expensive to run in market research.  In many cases the market researcher, or scientist, comes under subtle forms of pressure to relax the rules.

When it comes time to write up the findings the person paying the bill can call the tune.  Researchers and scientists are remarkably able to find conclusions that are exactly what their paymaster wants to see.  Commercial company managers like to work with market research companies that “understand our product and market”, and find the results that they hoped the research would find.

None of the lying is overt, but it is systemic.  Each bias builds upon the last one until the research results may land very far from reality.  Bad science!

Even highly rated scientific papers in peer review journals fail the test for confirmation bias.  Follow the money I say.  If it is a university paper they should be declaring their sources of grant funding.  Look up the funding agency, find out what their goals are and read up on the history of the research they funded in the past.  Always follow the money.

The Business Model:

I have a vision for unbiased research.  On the one hand are funding clients, companies, foundations etc who submit both the question, and the funding.  On the other hand are the front line scientists or market researchers.  In the middle are three layers of administration, with chinese walls between them.

Layer 1 is the business engine and has nothing to do with the research.  Layer 1 accepts the research applications.  Their job is to anonymise the research question and distance it from the source of the funding.

Layer 1 makes a submission to Layer 2.  The client on the job is Layer 1.  The research question is carefully set out to meet the real client needs, but never identifes the client.  Layer 2 receives a budget and a research task.  They make a proposal on how to carry out this task with the available budget.  They specify the sample, the test type, the control etc.  They submit a detailed proposal to Layer 1.  They are the research “pitch team”.

Layer 1 submits the proposal to the client, who approves or rejects the research.  If the research is approved Layer 1 gives approval to Layer 2.

Layer 2 engages a team from Layer 3 to carry out the research.  They are the field research admin team.  They pull from a pool of qualified front line researchers or scientists to perform the work required.  Layer 3 assembles the results and prepares the analysis.  They return the results, finding, limitations, conclusions etc to Layer 2.

Layer 2 run a cross check to ensure all research objectives have been met.  All being well the final report is given back to Layer 1.  Now you have a piece of research with no confirmation bias.  You present the findings, unvarnished to the client.

Then, and only then, if they want the findings “brought to life” will you pull together a team from all layers to make a presentation to the client.

This is all very bureaucratic and very expensive.  It gives absolutely no comfort to clients that they will get the results they are looking for.   But they will get proper research.

The one proviso of this model is that your organisation needs to be large and have so many clients that making “educated guesses” about who your client on any job is would be a waste of time.

 

Remember Rainbow Warrior

Rainbow Warrior

It is incredible to think that it is 30 years ago today that Rainbow Warrior sank with the tragic loss of the life of Fernando Pereira.

Rainbow Warrior was used by Greenpeace to spearhead their anti-nuclear protests.  In 1985 she was in the South Pacific to protest nuclear weapons testing in Moruroa Atoll in French Polynesia.  Their plan was to land people on the Atoll to delay or prevent the testing.

The French infiltrated the Greenpeace offices in Auckland and stole the plans.  French intelligence agents then planted two bombs on the ship, and blew it up, sinking the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour.

The death of Pereira sparked a murder investigation.  A number of French agents were tracked down and arrested.  When it was revealed that the French intelligence service was responsible it sparked an international crisis.  The Minister of Defense resigned.  The captured agents were turned over to French custody and it emerged that they served their “incarceration” in a tropical holiday camp in the Caribbean.  French behaviour in this situation was inexcusable.  What they did was wrong.  Getting caught doing it was a catastrophe for their intelligence service.  They then protected their agents by telling a pack of lies to the international community.  The French never revealed the identities of the agents who carried out the bombing.

Bombing the ship was an act of moral turpitude.  It was a cowardly act and an ugly one.  The acts of the French sit in stark contrast to the bravery and commitment of the Greenpeace activists who fought for good and right.  This anniversary is a day of shame for France.  For Greenpeace it should be a day of pride.

An international tribunal in Geneva found the French Government to be guilty to the tune of $8.1 million, which was paid to Greenpeace in 1987.

A Song on the End of the World; by Czeslaw Milosz (Trans: Anthony Milosz)
On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world.