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Links With Your Coffee - Monday

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Two fierce battles are being waged this summer -- one against esophageal cancer, by the irreverent columnist, commentator and critic Christopher Hitchens (who scorns the use of the word "battle" in this context), and the other for his soul, by those who hope to persuade him to convert to Christianity in extremis. It's a paradox that Mr. Hitchens, a confirmed atheist and the author of "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything," can appreciate, if not relish. The country's best-known scoffer has spurred one of the most heated discussions of belief, religion and immortality in years.

.>This week the drug company AstraZeneca paid out £125m to settle a class action. Over 17,500 patients claim the company withheld information showing that schizophrenia drug quetiapine (tradename Seroquel) might cause diabetes. Why do companies pay out money before cases get to court?

A discovery by scientists at the University of York of a vital feature of a plant's temperature sensing and growth mechanism could help to increase yields from crops.

The above fake news story could stand in for many stories of alleged psychic events in the mainstream media. Psychics often go on figurative fishing expeditions, and then declare whatever they find as evidence of their psychic ability. This is a form of the "sharpshooter fallacy" - shooting randomly at the side of a barn, then drawing targets around the holes and claiming amazing accuracy.

It is also an example of going for high probability hits - the chance of catching a fish in a lake is pretty high. In addition there is the lottery fallacy - misinterpreting retrospective statistics for prospective statistics. There may be a small chance of John Smith winning the lottery, but a high chance of anyone winning. After the fact it makes no sense to ask - what were the odds of John Smith winning (unless he was predicted to win before hand).

Similarly - Crystal wonders what the chances are of her catching that particular fish - but that's the wrong question. The real question is, what are the chances of her catching any fish in a lake stocked with fish?



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