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Links With Your Coffee - Wednesday

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“Wow!” “Amazing!” “Unbelievable!” “What are the chances of that?” Most, if not all of you, have uttered words like this at some time in your life. The paradoxical title of today’s Numberplay, then, is true: rare coincidences are really common.

Why should this be? After all, rare should be rare, shouldn’t it? People who are prone to magical thinking seize on such commonly experienced rare coincidences and ascribe cosmic significance to them, invoking Divine Providence or Pre-arranged Destiny or Synchronicity or some other favored pseudoscientific explanation. But if these coincidences are so common as to happen to everyone, then how significant can they be? It’s like that pearl of wisdom that I first heard from a treasured friend, The Talking Moose, on an old Mac computer over 20 years ago: “Remember that you are a unique individual — just like everyone else.”

Today, we’ll see how the commonness of rare coincidences can be fully explained by nothing more than an interaction of mathematics and human psychology, creating a few distinct patterns of fallacious thinking, which I’ll give as label and problem.1 The first one is Too Many Targets.

I suggested yesterday in the “Word snobbery” post that the term grammar Nazi merits an unfavorable look. I think it is objectionable both as an exaggeration and as a violation of the contemporary Rules of Disparagement.

Amazon US says it has sold 143 digital books for every 100 hardbacks in the last three months

Today, greener-than-thou gardeners crusade for heirloom seeds, while unjustly damming hybrids. Increasingly, their anti-science credo has hardened into a Luddite fundamentalism, resulting in confusion among the public between hybrids and genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Clearly, the hybrid versus heirloom imbroglio is about more than the quest for the biggest, most delicious tomato.

A survey of the cognitive benefits of music makes a valid case for its educational importance. But that's not the best reason to teach all children music, says Philip Ball.


 

Comments

FYI, part of the description for "Numberplay: Rare Coincidences Are Very Common!" has been inadvertently placed under the headline "The Rules of Disparagement"

I suggested yesterday in the “Word snobbery” post that the term grammar Nazi merits an unfavorable look.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4vf8N6GpdM

I'd seen that one before, but I didn't realize how similar the Mitchell and Webb sketch posted some days ago is to it, and actually the CH one is funnier.

Of course, one way to do away with "grammar Nazis" is to learn how to employ proper grammar. I mean, we're not talking about string theory; it's only grammar. Uniformity in grammar translates to clarity of expression, which, in turn, minimizes needless misunderstandings.

Anyway, suffice to say (not "suffice IT to say"), I am a grammar Nazi.

Eh, I think the issue is that grammar assumes written language when much of communication is spoken.

For instance in the funny video I posted. We can tell that the woman is under the floor and the Nazi has just found her from above the floor. The language can be unclear because everyone is observing what is happening. When people don't need language to tell the whole story, they are more concerned with brevity than clarity.

It may improve, but It will never change.

That's true. I was referring to written language.

"Suffice it to say" is perfectly acceptable; indeed, it is more idiomatic than "suffice to say" if you speak the Queen's English instead of the American patois.

Is that the same Queen's English that has given us aluMINIum? "Perfectly acceptable" and "grammatically correct" are often (offen) at odds.

Suffice it to say that "suffice it to say" or "suffice to say" is sufficient.

Say, does that suffice?

:)

As for which is grammatically correct, well this has been covered by many different grammar blogs, such as this one

Yes, I've perused the grammar blogs, and they all use the same google hit scoring system, which is a poor way to determine something's correctness. I mean, if you google "Acorn video," you'll get shitloads of links to racist teabagger screeds and only a few links providing evidence that James O'Keefe used fraudulent editing techniques.

The way my 7th grade English teacher described it, which is hinted at at the link you provide, is that if you were using any verb other than "say," you would drop the "it." Your link offers two examples: "A very short time would suffice to teach him to read." And... "A little thing has sufficed to destroy the balance of a structure that was already tottering." Notice it isn't "suffice it to teach" or "sufficed it to destroy."

Anyway, controversy can be averted by avoiding the phrase altogether. I only used it because I knew it would raise hackles, just as the whole grammar topic does.

'Suffice it to say' is an expression, whereas 'suffice _' is a part of language which has evolved, for whatever reason, in a way which drops the archaic 'it'. It would be thoroughly bizarre if people took expressions taken from e.g. Shakespeare to indicate what the 'correct', present grammatical form is.

Aren't most of you well educated, native speakers of English? Don't you just /know/ that it's 'suffice to teach' not 'suffice it to teach'? It seems bizarre that there's disagreement on this point.

If I may comment on the tomatoes, I would like to say two things about heirlooms. First, it's my understanding that for many cultivars, the drive has been towards consistency in shape and color, and slow ripening. Further, there has been a drive for sweetness with overall blandness, since people in the USA love sugar. (I'm a US citizen by birth and live here.) I have been under the understanding that nutrition has suffered because of the other prerogatives in breeding.

Second is flavor. As above, modern cultivars found in supermarkets tend to be somewhat sweet, somewhat bland, and somewhat under-ripened. The heirlooms not only tend to be more ripened when picked, but generally taste a lot better. To be exact, the brown and green zebras have about 3¼ Newtons of tomatoey goodness in flavor compared to mass-produced romas. I'm afraid that being an American, I can't convert the flavor to metrics. ;-) If you prefer something a little savory and bold, I think the herilooms simply taste better.

I also think it's crucial to preserve the heirlooms for reasons like breeding programs. Lack of diversity is usually not good for a species, and we may yet find useful traits in herilooms.

I have been under the understanding that nutrition has suffered because of the other prerogatives in breeding.

I've seen no convincing evidence of that.

To be exact, the brown and green zebras have about 3¼ Newtons of tomatoey goodness...I can't convert the flavor to metrics. ;-)

I thought that was metric, though I hadn't been aware that "goodness" was expressed in units of force.

Guess it could be if you're throwing said tomatoes at something :)

Re: open letter to Catholid women

The Vatican today made the "attempted ordination" of women one of the gravest crimes under church law, putting it in the same category as clerical sex abuse of minors...

So ... ordination of women no big deal then, right?

"Revised Catholic rules put female ordination in same category of crime under church law as clerical sex abuse of minors"

This sounds like good news for women to me. This means that it's acceptable for women to be ordained. Is there anything more accepted in the Catholic Church than abusing minors? The next question women need to ask is "Why in the hell would I want to be a part of this horrible organization?"

@Norm : Ah, the Talking Moose!… Thanks for the memories. i had forgotten this wise old friend from days of yore, and now i'm going to miss her (him?) again. Another soundbite i had on my mac in 1987 was the voice (from Abbott & Costello, i think) that would pop up randomly to announce "I'm trying to think, but nothing happens!". Still true.

On another note: OK, grammar purists are nazis, whatever… so what does that make the dumb f**k cretins who cannot manage a coherent sentence into—Résistance fighters i suppose?!

Hell, what do I know. I'm still fighting the less vs. fewer battle.

late to the party again...

I'm sorry if Mr. Ball's Burpee Hybrid seed revenues are affected by gardener and farmer interest in Heirloom seeds. However, his rail against the "Luddite Fundamentalists", accusing them of confusion between Hybrid and GMO is, I assert, misplaced.

Many hybrid seeds are great. Some are more resistant to some common disease and pests, and if one suffers from these ills, are the most appropriate choice. Some, as Mr. Ball says, offer higher yield. Some gain this yield increase at the expense of flavor, others are just plain excellent. Likewise, some Heirloom seeds are as well, loved for good reason - for flavor, color, toughness, adaptability to particular climate, soil or water conditions, and yes, yield. Some, as Mr. Ball asserts, are not so good. I tried a Russian Heirloom tomato a while back that was an aphid magnet - never grew that one again.

Seed saving from Heirlooms is indeed a time consuming process. There are times when a farmer has more time than money. My seed bill last year was over $600. If I purchased all my seed (instead of only those for which particular hybrid traits were necessary or desirable, it would have been twice that.

The reason some people shy away from hybrids is not because they are ignorant or confused, it is because Genetically engineered hybrids are NOT LABELED. Hence the ONLY choice consumers have if they don't want to eat GMO, is to select either Certified Organic or Heirloom seeds. (There is no constraint against hybrid seeds in the Organic standard, only constraint against GMO.)

If Genetically engineered seed and plant stock was labeled as such, OR, if Mr. Ball certified Organic his non-GMO hybrid product, then those customers he disparages as ignorant Luddites would happily return.

It's not a point Mr. Ball makes but what is knee-jerk is the absolute rejection of Genetic Engineering the "organic" crowd takes when it comes to plants. Most of them don't even seem to understand the distinction between transgenic and non-trangenic and I've yet to hear any good reason, no lets make that any reason why they oppose using genetic engineering tools to accomplish the same things that are done with traditional breeding.

As you know I don't see the problem with either transgenic or non-transgenic GE, but the fact that many don't even understand the distinction, and oppose ANY GE with a fundamentalist fervor meets my definition of ignorant. I'm not using the the word ignorant as a term of derision, but simply lacking knowledge or information as to a particular subject or fact.

Now Dear, just because you don't share a concern about over riding a plant's resistance to alien genes through insertion of promoter genes, or about use of antibiotic resistant carriers for such insertion, or about unchecked and hence unobserved ancillary genetic mutations caused by the shotgun methodology used by GE technicians, or about drift into the food supply of these man made products doesn't mean that these concerns (reasons why) have not been presented to you.

Nor is disagreement about the level of risk associated with these techniques or whether the potential benefits are worth these risks an issue of fact or science. It is thus not an issue of Ignorance versus knowledge.

Name calling, such as "Luddite fundamentalist" is a poor excuse for tolerance of legitimate differences in point of view which is perhaps the best way to describe the differences in risk/benefit analysis which lie, I believe, at the heart of the GMO debate and which are best resolved in a free society by labeling and choice.

I must say I find your enthusiastic embracing of all things 'scientific' endearing. Just remember, lest you get too far afield with this fascination, that the scientist said margarine was better for us than butter. T'was the Medical scientists that told us to get our tonsils removed. Shows to go ya, the best plan of all is still "Question Authority", whether the subject be Scientist or Prophet.

I believe it was during our last conversation, that a dear acquaintance of mine suggested that BT Corn or was it Roundup Ready something was non-transgenic, so excuse me if I believe there is a knowledge gap. I'll assume your reference to Luddite fundamentalist was a reference to the article since I didn't use the term Luddite. I do get suspicious when anyone is 100% opposed to anything, and that maybe there are some gaps in their knowledge.

As for risk take for example Agrobacterium transfer of rDNA from closely related species, a GE technique, has fewer unintended consequences that does Conventional pollen-based crossing of closely related species, a "natural" method. And all of the methods of genetically engineering plants have fewer unintended consequences than mutagenesis which is still acceptable in organic products. All methods both "natural" and engineered have low risks, but for the organic folks the test is not risk of unintended consequences , but engineered versus "natural" and they want us to believe they are worried about risk when they don't even apply the standard to their so called natural plants. Shouldn't risk be the concern here not an arbitrary GE versus "natural" dichotomy. I would say it is the organic crowd that don't question authority, they accept the black and white statement that GE is bad and risky and that "natural" is good and safe. It simply isn't so.

The evidence from the National Academy of the Sciences.

Unintended Effects from Breeding

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