Shared posts

28 Jun 08:53

War era Superman sweater

by Solanah
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Well this is my favorite project by far!
Some months ago, after finishing my victory sweater, I decided I wanted to combine my comic book interests with my vintage interests. Since the new Superman movie was on the horizon I thought a Superman sweater would be the perfect first project, finished just in time for the film. 
I adapted the cover of Action Comics #1, one of the most recognizable covers of the century, and chose an earlier Superman crest for the front. I wanted it to look like something a girl in the early 40s would make, rather than just a nod to the past. 
Once again there are loads of changes I would make, but really I'm very happy with the way it turned out! I'm excited to wear it to the movie this weekend, and while I don't have a next knitting project in mind, stay tuned for my Supernatural outfit! 
  1940s Superman sweater-Designed and handmade by me
Skirt-Fab Gabs
Hat-The Urban Eccentric
1940s glasses-Most Everything Vintage
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22 Apr 23:03

Day 2 @ TEDMED 2013, Washington D.C. #LiveUpdate.

by Alessandro Demaio

Small Data back in vogue?

Deborah-Estrin_5There is a lot of discussion about data here at TEDMED 2013, and this is no great surprise. Big data, small data, open data, crowdsourced data – this is the information backbone of science and the key to breakthroughs and innovation.

Assuming the data is put in the right hands.

Two interesting reflections emerged from the Day 2 sessions regarding data though… And I promise not to make this too nerdy or jargonistic.


Open Data & Open Access

The first, was around open data and open access science. Exploring notions of science, money and the free flow of information. The term ‘open’ describes the unrestricted, uncontrolled provision of data or science to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Free from financial barriers.

Traditionally, when data is collected by scientists, it is kept closed, secret and locked away. The raw information is reserved only for those who collected it to analyse and report – a process which can take years. Think about a cancer registry, or a block of data describing cancer trends and occurrence in a population. If this data is closed and accessible only to a select group of people, only a select group of questions will be asked and therefore answered. But imagine if the data (de-identified) was available to anyone to analyse, test and make breakthroughs on. No barriers to innovation – encouraging competition & transparent science.

Similarly, open access is about unrestricted sharing of scientific outcomes and findings.

“Open access to knowledge for students, doctors and citizens cannot be separated by economics, access to science is good for science, business and society” argued TEDMED presenter Deborah Estrin. “The current system is outdated – a subscription or user-pays system is inequitable, ineffective and regressive.” She outlined that open access frontliners PLOS have “shown that open access illuminates artificial constraints on publication and leads to greater science for all.”

Profit is not a dirty word, but we must keep in mind that science is about accumulating knowledge for innovation and universal benefit. The greater the access, the greater the innovation and benefit.

Jay-Walker_2Surprisingly, open data and open access to published data is controversial still to some. To me, it seems not only logical – but also just. Science should be accessible to all, not just those who can pay…

I have written about this before, but will echo Estrin. A day when the only limits on scientific publication and access are the boundaries of our minds, will be a wonderful day indeed.


Small Data

There has also been a lot of discussion about BIG data in recent years. Big data describes data sets that are so immense and complex, that they require technological and scientific innovation to unlock the nuggets of science contained…

Small data, is also a fascinating concept. What is small data?

Many of us donate. Money, blood, time or our voice. Imagine if we could donate our data.

Knowledge donation like blood donation. Blood is precious, we give it for the greater good and entrust it with leading organisations and NGOs in our community. Place it with a bloodbank. It is used to maximum benefit for all, regulated and protected. Society bands and donates in mass when it is needed and the blood donation is anonymous.

Could we do the same with health data?

Information donation to a databank. Controlled by us, donated by us for the greater good. Full control with, transparency and feedback for the donor. It could be our height and weight, our age, our ECG or our blood results. But it could also be more. How we feel, what we worry about, how treatments or diagnoses affect us.

JH37856All of this could be donated to science and health. To help others, or to help ourselves. We could support specific causes, say cancer or men’s health, or specific research studies for a once-off donation. We could even donate the information direct from our smart-phones, or via a secure link from our local GP.

A carefully constructed, transparent approach to health datasets combined with some simple, secure, innovative technology – and patients as the starting point.

Where n = me, but combined our collective data furthers and catalyses a range of science domains.

Some food for thought and more to come. From DC again, signing off for now.

Check out Day 1 highlights and join me on Twitter via @sandrodemaio for live updates.




Dr Alessandro Demaio is a medical doctor, originally from Melbourne, Australia, with a Masters in Public Health. In 2010, Sandro began a PhD in Global Health with the University of Copenhagen, focusing on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). His primary research project is based in Mongolia. As a Director for NCD Action, in 2013 Alessandro is a fellow at the Copenhagen School of Global Health and Harvard Medical School.

The Conversation

22 Apr 23:02

Inspiration and innovation. #TEDMED 2013 comes to a close.

by Alessandro Demaio

Capsules in the Cloud-might be a good one to use for med presentation in class

Jessica-Richman_8Well TEDMED has come to a close for this year, but not before another full and challenging day.

Soon, a smorgasbord of talks and highlights will be up online for all to feast on. Before that happens, though, I thought I would relay some of the stand-out concepts, ideas and innovations which caught my imagination.

Cool ideas from TEDMED 2013, Day 3.


Capsules in the Cloud

Chronic disease presents many challenges for patients and clinicians. The need for sustained, regular care – often at the primary care level – requires long-term investment, healthcare infrastructure and human resourcing. Crucially important, because even a small disruption in care for people living with chronic disease can result in long-term or even permanently higher levels of morbidity.

Salvatore-Iaconesi_2One of the challenges is ensuring this population remembers to take their daily medication.

Well a young group from West-Coast US have combined the cloud with the capsules! Connected the mobile to the meds… The standard pill-box has the seven days of the week, and inside each day is the medication one must not forget to take. This group have integrated a cellular-phone sim card into this very device. Genius, no?

The result – it will SMS you if you forget to take your daily pills. Even let your nurse or doctor know if you miss them regularly and arrange an appointment to discuss and resolve the problem. Send data to an app to monitor when and why you forget.

A simple idea, hugely-cost saving and importantly, health-promoting!


Andrew-Solomon_2Nudging At Google

During one the of panel sessions, there was a representative from Google. Talking about their (famously impressive) offices, they discussed some simple, yet effective ways they are making health easier for employees. Because after all, healthier employees mean greater happiness and productivity of their company. And no-one can question the productivity of Google!

Just Google it!

Simple nudges, or carefully crafted reminders to encourage health-preferred decision-making. Google did things like put candy into opaque jars with a lid, instead of open glass jars, lit their stair-wells and lined them with plants, decreased serving sizes in their cafes (which are free, so employees can still have seconds if they wish) and removed the clear glass from vending machines filled with less healthy foods.

Sounds simple, but they actually found that these small changes, whilst they did not remove choice for employees, did result in the Google group eating literally millions of less calories! And walking the stairs, more often than not.

A reminder of the power of a healthy nudge.


A brush with technology

Many figures stagger me – and they are strong incentives to reflect and think on our lives, lifestyles and legacies. For example, the figure that of all the people in history, who have lived longer than 65 years, two-thirds are alive today. For me, this represents the incredible progresses we have made in public health. Nutrition, hygiene and medical care have all resulted in enormous gains in life-expectancy and quality.

IMG_0021At TEDMED, a talk boldly stated the fact that more people now have wireless internet in the world, than own their own toothbrush. Think upon that for a moment.

More people in India have mobile phones, than toilets.

The message? We need to get better at translating these technologies and the empowerment they bring, to health. In short, technological transition is leaping forward, whilst health and infrastructure lags, slows or worse, stalls.



As an epidemiologist, or someone who studies disease at a population level, I can tell you that when it comes to epidemics – the sooner they are identified, the smaller they tend to be. The earlier we find them, the easier they are to control.

Sounds intuitive? It is.

Some great news, we have have been highly effective in reducing the time taken to detect the major epidemics of the last century. In fact, we have made enormous progress in the last 2 decades. From 170 days to recognise and report an epidemic to the global level in 1996, to just 23 days in 2009. This results in fewer people affected, smaller economic and social impacts and less deaths.

Sekou-Andrews_2How has this been achieved? Technology and the increasing connectedness of the globe. Which is somewhat ironic as it is also the processes of globalisation that have lead to greater risk from epidemics. But gains have also come from greater global governance, organised response processes and mandated resourcing.

Flu Near You is an initiative from the USA which aims to engage the lay public, connected by social media and a unique, sleek surveillance platform, to monitor and identify flu cases.

Putting the (epidemiological) power with the people!

Through their network of 41,000 US-wide, they can monitor flu-like symptoms in real time and generate data almost instantly for public health responses.

Similarly, global organisations through the partnering with social media companies, are able to look for ‘trending’ references in people’s Tweets or Facebook status updates relating to flu or other infectious diseases.

If you feel unwell, you’re likely to Tweet or Facebook about your illness. Then your neighbours or friends feel unwell and do the same. This can be monitored, in real time!

Although in its infancy, this technology represents a major breakthrough. If applied globally, it could reduce that number from 23 days to 23 hours… Or minutes!

Well, once again, be sure to follow the TEDMED vodcasts as they’re uploaded and also the live updates from TEDMEDlive at Imperial College London and around the world.

This was a whirlwind tour of just a few innovations – be sure to explore more.

From DC, once again, signing off.

Check out Day 1 & 2 highlights and join me on Twitter via @sandrodemaio for live updates.

Dr Alessandro Demaio is a medical doctor, originally from Melbourne, Australia, with a Masters in Public Health. In 2010, Sandro began a PhD in Global Health with the University of Copenhagen, focusing on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). His primary research project is based in Mongolia. As a Director for NCD Action, in 2013 Alessandro is a fellow at the Copenhagen School of Global Health and Harvard Medical School.


The Conversation

22 Apr 06:10

YANSS Podcast – Episode Three – Confabulation

by David McRaney

Need to watch.

The Topic: Confabulation

The Guest: V.S. Ramachandran

The Episode: iTunes – Download – Stitcher – RSS - Soundcloud

Caden Cotard in Synecdoche, New York. Source: Sony Pictures Classics

As a motto for the sapient, “cogito ergo sum” is pretty fantastic. Every time I’m reminded of it, a twinge of pride flows through my veins. It makes me want to stand up straight and pronounce proudly to my cat, “I think, therefore I am,” and then take his blank stare and plaintive meow as confirmation of my vitality. To be human is to know you exist. It is to know you are, and to know you are you.

It’s fitting that Jules Cotard, a man who was a close friend of the philosopher Auguste Comte, would find a way to dull the edge of Descartes’ famous proclamation. In an era preceding automobiles and airplanes, Cotard transferred his interest in the philosophy of being into the medicine of being – neurology – and after serving as a military surgeon in 1870, Cotard joined a clinic that did what it could with the knowledge of the day. Cotard and others at the clinic treated those with what one lecturer at the time called “madness in all its forms.”

Cotard was one of the pioneers of neuroscience, connecting behavior to the physical locations in the brain. As he progressed in his career he became particularly interested in patients who exhibited aphasia, or difficulties with language. He would follow those patients past death to the autopsy table in search of the cause of their maladies, and he encouraged other doctors to do the same. Considering his background in philosophy, it must have been astonishing when he found a patient devoid of a sense of self. In 1880, Cotard introduced a newly identified medical condition to the world. He called it “delire des negations,” or negation delirium. Essentially, he had discovered a condition in which a person thought, “I think, therefore I’m not.”

He told an audience in Paris that sometimes when a person’s brain was injured in the just the right way that person could become convinced he or she was dead. No amount of reason, no amount of cajolative acrobatics could talk a person out of the fantasy. In addition, the condition wasn’t purely psychological. It originated from a physiological problem in the brain. That is, this is a state of mind you too could suffer should you receive a strong enough blow to the head.

There are about 100 accounts in the medical literature of people displaying what is now known as Cotard’s delusion. It is also sometimes known, unsettlingly, as walking corpse syndrome. If you were to develop Cotard’s delusion you might look in the mirror and find your reflection suspicious, or you may cease to feel as through the heartbeat in your chest is yours, or you may think parts of your body are rotting away. In the most extreme cases, you may think you’ve become a ghost and decide you no longer need food. One of Cotard’s patients died of starvation.

Cotard’s syndrome and its delusions are part of a family of symptoms found in other disorders that all share the same central theme – the loss of your ability to emotionally connect with others. It is possible for something to go very wrong inside your skull so that your brain can no longer feel a difference between a stranger and a lover. The emotional flutter of recognition no longer comes, not for your dog, your mother, or your own voice. If you were to see a loved one and not feel the love, you would scramble to make sense of the situation. Sans emotion, those things become impostors or robots or dopplegangers. If the connection is severed to your own image, it becomes reasonable to assume you are an illusion. Faced with such a horrifying perception, you will invent a way to deal with it.

What this reveals is your remarkable penchant for making shit up. For all of existence, there is an internal narrative upon which you cling, a story you construct minute-by-minute to assure yourself that you understand what is happening.  Sufferers of conditions like Cotard’s delusion invent weird, nonsensical explanations for their reality because they are experiencing weird, nonsensical input. The only difference between these patients’ explanations and your own explanations is the degree to which they are obviously, verifiably false. Whatever explanations you manufacture at any given moment to explain your state of mind and body could be similarly muddled, but you don’t have fact checkers constantly doting over your mental health. Whether or not your brain is damaged, your mind is always trying to explain itself to itself, and the degree of accuracy varies moment to moment.

We call these false accounts confabulations – unintentional lies. Confabulations aren’t true, but the person making the claims doesn’t realize it. Neuroscience now knows that confabulations are common and continuous in the both the healthy and the afflicted, but in the case of Cotard’s delusion they are magnified to grotesque proportions.
One of the leading neuroscientists in our era, maybe the leading neuroscientist, is V.S. Ramachandran, and he is the guest in this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast. I’ve included a transcript in the links, since the interview took place in a noisy room. It’s also in the lyrics section of the iTunes track. Ramachandran has written extensively about phantom limbs and paralysis as well as the confabulations often conjured by those who experience such problems. His research includes everything from mirror neurons to synesthesia, and you can find dozens of his fascinating lectures online. He is the director of the University of San Diego’s Center for Brain and Cognition, and he is the author of The Tell-Tale Brain and co-author of Phantoms in the Brain.

After the interview, as in every episode, I taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of the book, and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This week’s winner is Stef Marcinkowski of Ontario, Canada. Her recipe for kickass cranberry chocolate cookies included a piece of art based on the last episode. This is her website. You can see the image and the cookies below. Send your recipes to david {at}


The Podcast: iTunes – Download – Stitcher – RSS - Soundcloud

Transcript of the interview

Center for Brain and Cognition

The Tell-Tale Brain

Phantoms in the Brain

Ramachandran’s Being Human Presentation

The study mentioned in the episode about self affirmation

The paper from which I learned about Cotard’s life

The YANSS Pinterest Page

19 Apr 02:18

April 18, 2013


Another friendly poke at economists

About to head off for BAHFest. See you there!
17 Apr 07:25

The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy

by David McRaney

When you desire meaning, when you want things to line up, you forget about stochasticity. You are lulled by the signal. You forget about noise. With meaning, you overlook randomness, but meaning is a human construction.

You have just committed the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.

The Misconception: You take randomness into account when determining cause and effect.

The Truth: You tend to ignore random chance when the results seem meaningful or when you want a random event to have a meaningful cause.


Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy were both presidents of the United States, elected 100 years apart. Both were shot and killed by assassins who were known by three names with 15 letters, John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, and neither killer would make it to trial.

Spooky, huh? It gets better.

Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy, and Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln.

They were both killed on a Friday while sitting next to their wives, Lincoln in the Ford Theater, Kennedy in a Lincoln made by Ford.

Both men were succeeded by a man named Johnson – Andrew for Lincoln and Lyndon for Kennedy. Andrew was born in 1808. Lyndon in 1908.

What are the odds?

In 1898, Morgan Robertson wrote a novel titled “Futility.”

Written 14 years before the Titanic sank, 11 years before construction on the vessel even began, the similarities between the book and the real event are eerie.

The novel describes a giant boat called the Titan which everyone considers unsinkable. It is the largest ever created, and inside it seems like a luxury hotel – just like the as yet unbuilt Titanic.

Titan had only 20 lifeboats, half than it needed should the great ship sink. The Titanic had 24, also half than it needed.

In the book, the Titan hits an iceberg in April 400 miles from Newfoundland. The Titanic, years later, would do the same in the same month in the same place.

The Titan sinks, and more than half of the passengers die, just as with the Titanic. The number of people on board who die in the book and the number in the future accident are nearly identical.

The similarities don’t stop there. The fictional Titan and the real Titanic both had three propellers and two masts. Both had a capacity of 3,000 people. Both hit the iceberg close to midnight.

Did Robertson have a premonition? I mean, what are the odds?

In the 1500s, Nostradamus wrote:

Bêtes farouches de faim fleuves tranner
Plus part du champ encore Hister sera,
En caige de fer le grand sera treisner,
Quand rien enfant de Germain observa.

This is often translated to:

Beasts wild with hunger will cross the rivers,
The greater part of the battle will be against Hister.
He will cause great men to be dragged in a cage of iron,
When the son of Germany obeys no law.

That’s rather creepy, considering this seems to describe a guy with a tiny mustache born about 400 years later. Here is another prophecy:

Out of the deepest part of the west of Europe,
From poor people a young child shall be born,
Who with his tongue shall seduce many people,
His fame shall increase in the Eastern Kingdom.

Wow. Hister certainly sounds like Hitler, and that second quatrain seems to drive it home. Actually, Many of Nostradamus’ predictions are about a guy from Germania who wages a great war and dies mysteriously.

What are the odds?

If any of this seems too amazing to be coincidence, too odd to be random, too similar to be chance, you are not so smart.

You see, in all three examples the barn was already peppered with holes. You just drew bullseyes around the spots where the holes clustered together.

Allow me to explain.

Say you go on a date, and the other person reveals they drive the same kind of car you do. It’s a different color, but the same model.

Well, that’s sort of neat, but nothing amazing.

Let’s say later on you learn their mom’s name is the same as your mom’s, and your mothers have the same birthday.

Hold on a second. That’s pretty cool. Maybe the hand of fate is pushing you toward the other person. Later still, you find out you both own the box set of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and you both grew up loving Rescue Rangers. You both love pizza, but hate rutabagas.

This is meant to be, you think. You are made for each other.

But, take a step back. Now, take another.

How many people in the world own that model of car? You are both about the same age, so your mothers are too, and their names were probably common in their time. Since you have similar backgrounds and grew up in the same decade, you probably share the same childhood TV shows. Everyone loves Monty Python. Everyone loves pizza. Many people hate rutabagas.

Looking at the factors from a distance, you can accept the reality of random chance.

When you desire meaning, when you want things to line up, you forget about stochasticity. You are lulled by the signal. You forget about noise. With meaning, you overlook randomness, but meaning is a human construction.

You have just committed the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.

The fallacy gets its name from imagining a cowboy shooting at a barn. Over time, the side of the barn becomes riddled with holes. In some places there are lots of them, in others there are few. If the cowboy later paints a bullseye over a spot where his bullet holes clustered together it looks like he is pretty good with a gun.

By painting a bullseye over a bullet hole the cowboy places artificial order over natural random chance.

If you have a human brain, you do this all of the time. Picking out clusters of coincidence is a predictable malfunction of normal human logic.

When you are dazzled by the idea of Nostradamus predicting Hitler, you ignore how he wrote almost 1,000 ambiguous predictions, and most of them make no sense at all. He seems even less interesting when you find out Hister is the Latin name for the Danube River.

When you marvel at the similarities between the Titan and the Titanic, you disregard that in the novel only 13 people survived, and the ship sank right away, and the Titan had made many voyages, and it had sails. In the novel, one of the survivors fought a polar bear before being rescued.

When you are befuddled by the Lincoln and Kennedy connections, you neglect to notice Kennedy was Catholic and Lincoln was born Baptist. Kennedy was killed with a rifle, Lincoln with a pistol. Kennedy was shot in Texas, Lincoln in Washington D.C. Kennedy had lustrous auburn hair, while Lincoln wore a haberdasher’s wet dream.

With all three examples there are thousands of differences, all of which you ignored, but when you draw the bullseye around the clusters, the similarities – whoa.

If hindsight bias and confirmation bias had a baby, it would be the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy.

When reality shows are filmed, the producers have hundreds of hours of footage. When they condense that footage into an hour, they paint a bullseye around a cluster of holes. They find a narrative in all the mundane moments, extracting the good bits and tossing aside the rest. This means they can create any orderly story they wish from their reserves of chaos.

Was that one girl really a horrific bitch? Was that guy with the tattoos really that dumb? Unless you can pull back and see the entire barn, you’ll never know.

The reach of the fallacy is far greater than reality shows, presidential trivia and spooky coincidences. When you use the sharpshooter fallacy to determine cause from effect, it can harm people.

One of the reasons scientists form a hypothesis and then try to disprove it with new research is to avoid the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. Epidemiologists are especially wary of it as they study the factors which lead to the spread of disease.

If you look at a map of the United States with dots assigned to where cancer rates are highest, you will notice areas of clumping. It looks like you have a pretty good indication of where the groundwater must be poisoned, or high-voltage power lines are bombarding people with damaging energy fields, or where cell phone towers are frying people’s organs, or where nuclear bombs must have been tested.

A map like that is a lot like the side of the sharpshooter’s barn, and presuming there must be a cause for cancer clusters is the same as drawing bullseyes around them.

More often than not, cancer clusters have no scary environmental cause.

“A community that is afflicted with an unusual number of cancers quite naturally looks for a cause in the environment – in the ground, the water, the air. And the correlations are sometimes found: the cluster may arise after, say, contamination of the water supply by a possible carcinogen. The problem is that when scientists have tried to confirm such causes, they haven’t been able to. Raymond Richard Neutra, California’s chief environmental health investigator and an expert on cancer clusters, points out that among hundreds of exhaustive, published investigations of residential clusters in the United States, not one has convincingly identified an underlying environmental cause. Abroad, in only a handful of cases has a neighborhood cancer cluster been shown to arise from an environmental cause. And only one of these cases ended with the discovery of an unrecognized carcinogen.”

The Cancer Cluster Myth, The New Yorker, Feb. 1999

There are many agents at work. People who are related tend to live near each other. Old people tend to retire in the same areas. Eating, smoking and exercise habits tend to be similar region to region. And, after all, one in three people will develop cancer in their lifetime.

To accept something like residential cancer clusters are often just coincidence is deeply unsatisfying. The powerlessness, the feeling you are defenseless to the whims of chance, can be assuaged by singling out an antagonist. Sometimes you need a bad guy, and The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy is one way you can create one.

According to the Centers for Disease Control the number of autism cases among 8-year-olds increased 57 percent from 2002 to the 2006. Looking back over the last 20 years, the rates of autism have gone up 200 percent. Today, 1 in 70 male children has some form of autism spectrum disorder.

When those numbers were released, it seemed absolutely nuts. Parents around the world panicked. Something must be causing autism numbers to rise, right?

Early on, a bullseye was painted around vaccines because symptoms seemed to show up about the same time as kids were getting vaccinated. Once they had a target, a cluster, they failed to see all the other correlations. After years of research and millions of dollars, vaccines have been ruled out, but some parents and celebrities refuse to accept the findings. Singling out vaccines while ignoring the millions of other factors is the same as noting the Titan hit an iceberg but omitting it had sails.

Lucky streaks at the casino, hot hands in basketball, a tornado sparing a church – these are all examples of humans finding meaning after the fact, after the odds are tallied and the numbers have moved on. You are ignoring the times you lost, the times the ball missed the basket and all the homes the tornado blindly devoured.

In World War II, Londoners took notice when bombing raids consistently missed certain neighborhoods. People began to believe German spies lived in the spared buildings. They didn’t. Analysis afterward by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky showed the bombing strike patterns were random.

Anywhere people are searching for meaning, you will see the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. For many, the world loses luster when you accept the idea random mutations can lead to eyeballs or random burn patterns on toast can look like a person’s face.

If you were to shuffle a deck and draw out 10 cards, the chances of the sequence you drew coming up are in the trillions, no matter what they are. If you drew out an ordered suit, it would be astonishing, but the chances are the same as any other set of 10 cards. The meaning is a human construct.

Look outside. See that tree? The chances of it growing there on that spot, on this planet, circling this star in this galaxy among the billions of galaxies in the known universe are so incredibly small it seems to have meaning, but that meaning is only a figment of your imagination. You are drawing a bullseye around a cluster on a vast barn.

It  is no less astronomical the odds of it being there than the patch of dirt beside it. The same is true if you looked out onto a desert and found a lizard, or into the sky and found a cloud, or into space and saw nothing but hydrogen atoms floating alone. There is a 100 percent chance something will be there, be anywhere, when you look, but only the need for meaning changes how you feel about what you see.

For as long as there been humans we have searched for our place in the cosmos. Where are we? Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a hum-drum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people. This perspective is a courageous continuation of our penchant for constructing and testing mental models of the skies; the Sun as a red-hot stone, the stars as a celestial flame, the Galaxy as the backbone of night.

- Carl Sagan

To admit the messy slog of chaos, disorder and random chance rules your life, rules the universe itself, is a painful conceit. You commit the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy when you need a pattern to provide meaning, to console you, to lay blame.

You mow your lawn, arrange your silverware, comb your hair. Whenever possible, you oppose the forces of entropy and thwart their relentless derangement.

Your drive to do this is primal. You need order. Order makes it easier to be a person, to navigate this sloppy world.

Pattern recognition leads to food, protects you from harm. You are born looking for clusters where chance events have built up like sand into dunes. You are able to read these words because your ancestors recognized patterns and changed their behavior to better acquire food and avoiding becoming it.

Carl Sagan said in the vastness of space and the immensity of time it was a joy to share a planet and epoch with his wife. Even though he knew fate didn’t put them together, it didn’t take away the wonder he felt when he was with her.

You see patterns everywhere, but some of them are formed by chance and mean nothing. Against the noisy background of probability things are bound to line up from time to time for no reason at all. It’s just how the math works out. Recognizing this is an important part of ignoring coincidences when they don’t matter and realizing what has real meaning for you on this planet, in this epoch.

You Are Not So Smart – The Book 

If you buy one book this year…well, I suppose you should get something you’ve had your eye on for a while. But, if you buy two or more books this year, might I recommend one of them be a celebration of self delusion? Give the gift of humility (to yourself or someone else you love). Watch the trailer.

Order now: Amazon Barnes and Noble - iTunes - Books A Million


Kennedy and Lincoln Similarities

Radiolab on Stochasticity

The Prophecies of Nostradamus

The Complete Text of “Futility”

The Bible Code

Neurologica on Autism Rates

London Bombing Study

The Global Consciousness Project

Cubik’s Rube on The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy

Frontline: Currents of Fear

The Cancer Cluster MythPDF

Reality TV Editing

17 Apr 07:20

A Softer World


Debbie downer

17 Apr 07:19

A Softer World



17 Apr 07:07

Abuse of students doing anthropological fieldwork


Glad to see more sites picking up the story.

College athletes are not the only ones who sometimes suffer at the hands of higher ups. A new report brings to light a more hidden and pernicious problem -- the psychological, physical and sexual abuse of students in the field of biological anthropology working in field studies far from home.
16 Apr 04:27

AAPA hears about ongoing abuse of students at field sites

by John Hawks

"Too many of us, the authors of this study included, have told ourselves and others that we just need to “suck it up,” just endure one more day, to keep our heads down and power through. Survival in field-based academic science can’t just be about who can put up with or witness abuse the longest – that is not an appropriate metric to measure who is the best at their science. From here on out, let’s commit to opening up conversations about these issues, rather than avoiding or talking around them."

Synopsis:  Kate Clancy reports on a survey of anthropological field experiences

I'm sitting in a packed room this morning at the meetings of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, in a session on ethics in the field. The most important presentation in the session was just delivered by Kate Clancy, who presented initial results from the Survey of Anthropological Field Experiences. She has made the written version of the presentation available on her blog, "'I had no power to say ‘that’s not okay:’ Reports of harassment and abuse in the field". It is essential reading for anyone involved in fieldwork in anthropology.

The conclusion to the talk is a call to action.

Too many of us, the authors of this study included, have told ourselves and others that we just need to “suck it up,” just endure one more day, to keep our heads down and power through. Survival in field-based academic science can’t just be about who can put up with or witness abuse the longest – that is not an appropriate metric to measure who is the best at their science. From here on out, let’s commit to opening up conversations about these issues, rather than avoiding or talking around them.

Clancy is working together with Julienne Rutherford, Robin Nelson and Katie Hinde, and they have designed the survey as a systematic research investigation. Respondents' identities are anonymous, and the intent of their study is to quantify and describe what is going on now in the field, not to find and punish behavior. To me, the most important aspect of their research is the demonstration that the problems are systemic. Eighteen percent of female study respondents have been victims of physical assault or unwanted sexual contact in the field.

Males have also participated in the survey, including participants who have reported serious abuse. The number of participants is, however, small. The survey is still seeking to add to the sample, so that they can quantify the ways that physical and psychological abuses are happening to all students in the field without compromising the anonymity of their respondents.

It is important to note that the scope of the survey is not limited to sexual harassment, and that abusive situations have also been reported at field sites with female directors and senior staff. Hearing from more students and professionals about their field experiences will enable better reporting of all these problems, and I hope that many more people will participate in the survey.

Personally I think this is the most important thing happening at these meetings. Read the presentation and if you know students or professional anthropologists who have done fieldwork, spread the word about the survey.

Tags:  ethics field sites metascience careers
16 Apr 04:25

April 15, 2013


Great people vs the masses vs exogenous events...

Love this one.

12 Apr 20:01

The World in Photos This Week - An FP Slide Show


Good collection of photos, especially like the comparison of the American girl testing a gun in the store with fighters throughout the world.

The world reacts to Thatcher's death; Americans play with guns; and Putin gets a surprise.
11 Apr 06:02

YANSS Podcast – Episode Four – The Self Illusion

by David McRaney

Also must watch.

The Topic: The Self

The Guest: Bruce Hood

The Episode: Download - iTunes - Stitcher - RSS - Soundcloud

Russian Dwarf Hamster – Photo by cdrussorusso

You are a pile of atoms.

When you eat vanilla pudding, which is also a pile of atoms, you are really just putting those atoms next to your atoms and waiting for some of them trade places.

If things had turned out differently back when your mom had that second glass of wine while your dad told that story about when he sat on a jellyfish while skinny dipping, the same atoms that glommed together to make your bones and your skin, your tongue and your brain could have been been rearranged to make other things. Carbon, oxygen, hydrogen – the whole collection of elements that make up your body right down to the vanadium, molybdenum and arsenic could be popped off of you, collected, and reused to make something else – if such a seemingly impossible technology existed.

Like a cosmic box of Legos, the building blocks of matter can take the shape of every form we know of from mountains to monkeys.

If you think about this long enough, you might stumble into the same odd questions scientists and philosophers ask from time to time. If we had an atom-exchanging machine, and traded one atom at a time from your body with an atom from the body of Edward James Olmos, at what point would you cease to be you and Olmos cease to be Edward James? During that process, would you lose your mind and gain his? At some point would each person’s thoughts and dreams and memories change hands?

The weird feeling produced by this thought experiment reveals something about the way you see yourself and others. You have an innate sense that there is something special within living things, especially people, and most especially yourself. Even if you are a hardcore materialist, you can’t prevent the little tug in your gut that makes you feel something might exist beyond the flesh, something not made of atoms. To you, living things seem to have an essence that is more than the sum of their parts. According to Bruce Hood, this is an illusion.

He created an experiment in which scientists introduced a hamster to a group of 6-year-olds. The researchers told the children that the hamster had a marble in its belly, a missing tooth, and a blue heart. They also showed the hamster a picture, tickled him, and whispered in his ear – these events, the children believed, would be remembered by the hamster. Everything the kids learned about the furball was an invisible trait. The difference was some things were physical aspects and other things were mental states.

Next, they told the children that the scientists had invented a duplicating machine, and revealed two boxes. They then put the hamster in the first box, pretended to copy it, and opened both boxes revealing two identical hamsters. Unbeknownst to the kids, the second box already contained a twin. They asked the dazzled tikes if the copied hamster had all of the same qualities as the original. About a third said it had all, and a third said it had none, but the remaining third said that only the physical properties had been copied. The memories, they assumed, were impossible to duplicate. When they repeated the experiment with digital cameras, telling the kids the cameras had photos inside in addition to blue batteries. The kids saw no problems. The majority assumed everything in the camera could be copied, including the photos.

Hood’s experiment produced evidence to support the notion that at a certain age you begin to see minds and bodies as different things. As you grow up, you grow into believing in selves, in identities that are intangible and can’t be exchanged or copied at the atomic level. The problem, says Hood and other materialists, is that the self is generated by the mind, and the mind is generated by the brain, and the brain is just a sack of atoms, and atoms can be exchanged and rearranged, and maybe, one day, copied.

In this episode of the podcast, Bruce Hood talks about his book The Self Illusion and how ideas of materialism and dualism are being explored by modern science. Hood is a superstar of psychology and the Director of the Bristol Cognitive Development Centre in the Experimental Psychology Department at the University of Bristol. I love this interview, especially the part where he talks about consciousness within an artificial intelligence.

After the interview, as in every episode, I read a bit of self delusion news and taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of the YANSS book, and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winners are Andrea Niosi and Michael Burke who submitted a recipe for Crispy and Chewy Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies. You can see the recipe at their website here.  Send your recipes to david {at}


Download - iTunes - Stitcher - RSS - Soundcloud

The YANSS Pinterest Page

The Therapeutic Touch Study

Bruce Hood’s Website

Bruce Hood discusses essentialism

The Self Illusion

11 Apr 06:00

YANSS Podcast – Episode Five – The Authenticity Hoax

by David McRaney

Need to listen to interview.

The Topic: Selling Out

The Guest: Andrew Potter

The Episode: Download - iTunes - Stitcher - RSS - Soundcloud

Andrew Potter is the guest on this episode of the You Are Not So Smart podcast. He wrote the book The Authenticity Hoax and co wrote The Rebel Sell.

Both books present an upside-down view of the quest to avoid the mainstream and seek out the authentic. The books help explain how it came to be that so many people seem concerned about selling out both as a consumer and a producer. Most interesting though is Potter’s assertion that there really is no such thing as authenticity when you get right down to it. As he puts it, “there could never be an authenticity detector we could wave at something, like the security guards checking you at the airport.” Oh, and he says countercultures actually create the mainstream they rebel against.

According to Potter, a giant portion of modern people living in industrialized Western nations eventually notice just how much consumerism and conformity intrudes on their daily lives, and they seek release. The average person watching an interview of a reality television star on a 24-news-network following a musical performance by the latest winner of America’s Top Pawn Wife after a breakdown of what is trending on YouTube while commenting on an Instagram photo on Facebook on an iPad on a treadmill in the gym between advertisements for antidepressants and movies about mall cops who befriend talking ferrets will understandably feel a bit overwhelmed from time to time. The urge to walk away from all of that and get lost in the most obscure thing you can find, the most distant and untouched landscape you can visit, the least processed or marketed product you can put in your body, is strong and understandable and healthy, but Potter says it is ultimately futile.

For this segment of society “the search for the authentic is positioned as the most pressing quest of our age,” writes Potter. This urge leads to those things that have earned the most anti-mainstream adjectives like local, organic, artisan, indie, all natural, underground, sustainable, free trade, slow, holistic, green, and so on. Yet, that ideology, that quest for the authentic, is the very thing that causes the world to seem so unreal and staged. People can’t stop themselves from competing for status. It is branded into the side of the brain before you are born. As a primate, status hierarchies are a part of life, and when you remove yourself from the competition in the mainstream you just join the competition in the counterculture. As long as there are clusters of people bent on avoiding what is most popular, within those clusters people will compete for status through conspicuous consumption of art and fashion, music and movies, furniture and gadgets, signaling to insiders the quality of their taste or the ingenuity of their search for the authentic, and signaling to the outsiders that they are not one of them. Whether you are a Juggalo in Kentucky or a Kogal in Tokyo, the internal affairs cool police are always on the prowl for posers.

Potter explains that, yes, modern culture can be hollow and self-absorbed and obsessed with consumption, but the competitive pressure to be more real, more authentic, and less conformist is no less exhausting or misguided. It’s a fascinating and challenging point of view. I think you’ll like the interview.

After the interview, as in every episode, I read a bit of self delusion news and taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of the YANSS book (now available in the UK!), and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Michael Buswell who submitted a recipe for Chewbacca’s Chocolate Chip Vegan Cookies. Send your own recipes to david {at}

Links and Sources:

Download - iTunes - Stitcher - RSS - Soundcloud

The YANSS Pinterest Page

The YANSS article on selling out

The article on hyperactivity mentioned in the podcast

The Oswalt/Cross debacle

The Authenticity Hoax

Stuff White People Like


11 Apr 05:52

March 05, 2013



Oh hey, it's my birthday.

Also, don't forget, only 5 days left until the submission deadline for BAH!
11 Apr 05:46

March 19, 2013

Hey geeks! James guest starred in a video in the pimp role he was born to play.
11 Apr 05:43

March 25, 2013


Death and Action Figures.

Bets video ever?

11 Apr 05:41

March 28, 2013


Interesting twist.

I'm just saying.
11 Apr 05:40

March 31, 2013

And, since I botched that link yesterday... Did I mention Michael's books are free for the next few days?
11 Apr 05:38

April 04, 2013


The dark side of my field of study..... : D

Oh yes.
11 Apr 05:35

April 08, 2013


At least the father is supportive of his son's creative tendencies...


11 Apr 05:35

April 09, 2013

One last reminder, and I think it'll be too late! We've only got about 50 tickets left for sale for BAH! Looks like it's going to be a packed house, so if you want in, we sincerely encourage you to buy online. We may have some tickets at the door, but I can't promise anything!
11 Apr 05:34

April 10, 2013

I originally did this comic for Collapsed Wavefunction. But, I thought the world should know.
11 Apr 05:26

Rose Petals



Joke's on you--the Roomba and I had a LOVELY evening.
11 Apr 05:25



Not too sure what this is about.

Wait for it.
11 Apr 05:24

The Past

If history has taught us anything, we can use that information to destroy it.
19 Mar 02:21

Adventures in Depression

by Allie


Some people have a legitimate reason to feel depressed, but not me. I just woke up one day feeling sad and helpless for absolutely no reason.

It's disappointing to feel sad for no reason. Sadness can be almost pleasantly indulgent when you have a way to justify it - you can listen to sad music and imagine yourself as the protagonist in a dramatic movie. You can gaze out the window while you're crying and think "This is so sad. I can't even believe how sad this whole situation is. I bet even a reenactment of my sadness could bring an entire theater audience to tears."

But my sadness didn't have a purpose.  Listening to sad music and imagining that my life was a movie just made me feel kind of weird because I couldn't really get behind the idea of a movie where the character is sad for no reason.

Essentially, I was being robbed of my right to feel self pity, which is the only redeeming part of sadness.

And for a little bit, that was a good enough reason to pity myself.

Standing around feeling sorry for myself was momentarily exhilarating, but I grew tired of it quickly. "That will do," I thought. "I've had my fun, let's move on to something else now." But the sadness didn't go away.

I tried to force myself to not be sad.

But trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back.  A fundamental component of the plan is missing and it isn't going to work. 

When I couldn't will myself to not be sad, I became frustrated and angry. In a final, desperate attempt to regain power over myself, I turned to shame as a sort of motivational tool.


But, since I was depressed, this tactic was less inspirational and more just a way to oppress myself with hatred.

Which made me more sad. 

Which then made me more frustrated and abusive.

And that made me even more sad, and so on and so forth until the only way to adequately express my sadness was to crawl very slowly across the floor.

The self-loathing and shame had ceased to be even slightly productive, but it was too late to go back at that point, so I just kept going. I followed myself around like a bully, narrating my thoughts and actions with a constant stream of abuse.

I spent months shut in my house, surfing the internet on top of a pile of my own dirty laundry which I set on the couch for "just a second" because I experienced a sudden moment of apathy on my way to the washer and couldn't continue. And then, two weeks later, I still hadn't completed that journey. But who cares - it wasn't like I had been showering regularly and sitting on a pile of clothes isn't necessarily uncomfortable. But even if it was, I couldn't feel anything through the self hatred anyway, so it didn't matter. JUST LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE.

Slowly, my feelings started to shrivel up. The few that managed to survive the constant beatings staggered around like wounded baby deer, just biding their time until they could die and join all the other carcasses strewn across the wasteland of my soul.

I couldn't even muster up the enthusiasm to hate myself anymore.

I just drifted around, completely unsure of what I was feeling or whether I could actually feel anything at all.

If my life was a movie, the turning point of my depression would have been inspirational and meaningful. It would have involved wisdom-filled epiphanies about discovering my true self and I would conquer my demons and go on to live out the rest of my life in happiness.

Instead, my turning point mostly hinged upon the fact that I had rented some movies and then I didn't return them for too long.

The late fees had reached the point where the injustice of paying any more than I already owed outweighed my apathy. I considered just keeping the movies and never going to the video store again, but then I remembered that I still wanted to re-watch Jumanji.

I put on some clothes, put the movies in my backpack and biked to the video store. It was the slowest, most resentful bike ride ever.

And when I arrived, I found out that they didn't even have Jumanji in.

Just as I was debating whether I should settle on a movie that wasn't Jumanji or go home and stare in abject silence, I noticed a woman looking at me weirdly from a couple rows over.

She was probably looking at me that way because I looked really, really depressed and I was dressed like an eskimo vagrant.

Normally, I would have felt an instant, crushing sense of self-consciousness, but instead, I felt nothing.

I've always wanted to not give a fuck. While crying helplessly into my pillow for no good reason, I would often fantasize that maybe someday I could be one of those stoic badasses whose emotions are mostly comprised of rock music and not being afraid of things. And finally - finally - after a lifetime of feelings and anxiety and more feelings, I didn't have any feelings left. I had spent my last feeling being disappointed that I couldn't rent Jumanji.

I felt invincible.

And thus began a tiny rebellion.

Then I swooped out of there like the Batman and biked home in a blaze of defiant glory.

And that's how my depression got so horrible that it actually broke through to the other side and became a sort of fear-proof exoskeleton.

18 Mar 22:15

A Softer World


A Perfect Kind of Day

18 Mar 22:14

A Softer World



17 Mar 03:59

A Softer World