Letter to the Editor: Electronic Voting Misinformation

Posted on 7th February 2006 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior

This is a letter to the editor I published at the Daily Advance. Posted here for posterity, since they have no online archive:


On January 25th, your paper reported that Diebold had withdrawn their electronic voting systems from North Carolina districts rather than comply with new North Carolina certification standards. That same day, the other news sources reported lawmakers had actually caved in to Diebold and would certify their machines without meeting the requirements outlined in North Carolina’s “Public Confidence in Elections” law.

This is outrageous, and came three days after a judge in Raleigh threw Diebold’s arguments for refusing to comply with the new standards out of court. Why is Diebold so incredibly terrified of the public knowing how their software operates? What are they hiding?

In Ohio, crucial votes recorded on these machines conflicted with a reputable Newspaper poll between 22 and 28 points on three issues (freepress.org, 11/11/2005), a statistical impossibility. The GAO has confirmed these machines are easily hacked and computer experts were able to successfully hack a system in Florida.

You have done your readers a great disservice in neglecting to cover this latest development. Lobbying efforts to eject Diebold’s defrauding of democracy in our state depend on an informed public. You cripple efforts to ensure transparency and veracity in electronic voting by falsely reporting that the local community had won, when, in fact, Diebold has won, worming their fraudulent activities back into our electoral process. Only now, Albemarle residents don’t realize they need to continue fighting.

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Orson Scott Card’s Rhetorical Looney Toons

Posted on 5th February 2006 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior

Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” is the brilliant tale of a child prodigy coming of age in a world at war with extraterrestrials. It tackles deep ethical conundrums and delves into many fantastic science fiction concepts. The book, I believe, will last for decades as one of the masterpieces of science fiction literature.

That’s why I was so surprised, after reading through his prolific collection of opinion pieces, to find Orson Scott Card was less than thoughtful in real life and more than a bit emotionally immature. Take this odd statement about Homosexual Marriage:

Any homosexual man who can persuade a woman to take him as her husband can avail himself of all the rights of husbandhood under the law. […] So it is a flat lie to say that homosexuals are deprived of any civil right pertaining to marriage. To get those civil rights, all homosexuals have to do is find someone of the opposite sex willing to join them in marriage.” (source)

Uncle Orson also takes issue with the overzealous fans of the Star Wars films who embrace the Jedi religion:

It’s one thing to put your faith in a religion founded by a real person who claimed divine revelation, but it’s something else entirely to have, as the scripture of your religion, a storyline that you know was made up by a very nonprophetic human being.” (source)

Ironic, considering Card’s a devout Mormon, a religion the Smithsonian Institute once released a statement questioning the “Book of Mormon” historical veracity.

There’s also this little nonsensical gem:

Your trust in rationality makes you irrational.” – Children of the Mind

…and don’t even get me started on his silly diatribe about Star Trek fan culture. I intend to add Star Trek to the “Great Films” section of this site one day, where I’ll explain Card’s ignorance on this subject.

All of these confusing, contradictory, and misinformed statements were insufficient to warrant me posting a refutation of Card, but the man recently attacked my sacred cow: Evolutionary Theory.

OSC claims Evolutionary Theorists are making mostly logically fallacious arguments, but fails to cite a single example to support his claim. In other words, he’s engaging the logical fallacy of the straw man.

I have provided his list of mischaracterizations, with my explanations for why they are fallacious:

The Darwinist answer [to Intelligent Design] was immediate. Unfortunately, it was also illogical, personal, and unscientific. The main points are:

1. Intelligent Design is just Creation Science in a new suit (name-calling).

The judge in the Dover case agreed with this statement. When challenged, ID revealed itself as Creationism. It’s origins are in creationism and its internal documents reveal a wholly religious motivation for their activism.

2. Don’t listen to these guys, they’re not real scientists (credentialism).

No one is making this argument. This is a Straw Man. Evolutionary Theorist have acknowledged that ID has many scientists, but the Discovery Institute’s 100 supporters was easily dwarfed by “Project Steve,” where the signatures of scientists named “Steve” or “Stephanie” were gathered in support of Evolutionary Theory. This is not credentialism, this is consensus.

ID is the one claiming credentialism, by emphasizing their tiny list of dissention.

3. If you actually understood science as we do, you’d realize that these guys are wrong and we’re right; but you don’t, so you have to trust us (expertism).

“Trust Us”? When have scientists ever said “Trust Us”? This is the very anti-thesis of everything Science stands for! What is the Scientific Method, but another way of saying, “This is what I saw. This is how I saw it. Go see for yourself.”???

There are thousands of papers on Evolution and the blogs have been painstakingly tackling every single one of ID’s arguments with scientific observations, AND IT’S BEEN WONDERFUL! The disputation has worked wonders to educate the public on Evolutionary Theory and the Scientific Method.

IDer’s are the ones asking people to stop exploring. What is “irreducible complexity,” except another way of saying, “Give up, you’ll never figure it out”?

4. They got some details of those complex systems wrong, so they must be wrong about everything (sniping).

Such an argument could be extremely unfair to ID proponents in certain contexts, but no one is making such an argument. Supporters of Evolutionary Theory are extremely thorough at refuting each and every point in the chain of arguments IDers put forth, just as I am putting forth this thorough refutation of his mischaracterizations.

Until he provides an example, I’ll file this point away as another Straw Man.

5. The First Amendment requires the separation of church and state (politics).

No one is making this argument. There is nothing wrong with Intelligent Design on its own, but it does not meet the proper criteria for Science. It cannot be taught in a High School Biology class because to do so would require teaching many other alternative beliefs about our origins, such as “FSM.”

Scientists have said there is nothing wrong with teaching ID in a PHILOSOPHY class, but it is not science, for a single reason I will mention further down.

6. We can’t possibly find a fossil record of every step along the way in evolution, but evolution has already been so well demonstrated it is absurd to challenge it in the details (prestidigitation).

Wrong again. What is the peer-review process if not the perpetual challenging of various scientific principles? What does OSC think scientists are referring to when they talk about Falsifying Hypotheses?

Science continues to challenge, dispute, and research evolution. We are always striving to figure out every single tiny little itty-bitty detail of how evolution occurred. Evolutionary Theorists don’t poo-poo the gaps in our understanding of this process; they try to figure them out. Challenging “it in the details” is what Science is all about.

STRAW MAN.

7. Even if there are problems with the Darwinian model, there’s no justification for postulating an “intelligent designer” (true).

I’m not sure what his point is here. What kind of “justifications” is he talking about? Philosophical? Ethical? WTF? I’ll file this one away with his Homosexuals are able to enter heterosexual marriages, so what are they complaining about? abuse of logic.

People are free to postulate an Intelligent Designer all they want. I personally believe in one, and that belief exists right next to my belief in a universe completely explainable through natural processes.

Someone please tell me where Evolutionists are making these logical fallacies. Certainly not in the Dover ID case. Not on the Panda’s Thumb, or National Geographic, or Discovery, or Nature, or New Scientist Magazine, or American Scientist, or Carl Zimmer, or Pharyngula, or Chris Mooney, or Steven J Gould, or any Scientific Journal anywhere in the world. No, only the absolute fringe elements or a few isolated scientists might be making such statements… We can’t be certain, because OSC was too lazy to cite them.

Instead, the majority have made the following argument:

1. ID lacks a falsifiable hypothesis. It relies solely on discrediting Evolution for its support; therefore, it is not science.

Unfortunately, OSC’s version of this argument is far less eloquent:

7. Yes, there are problems with the Darwinian model. But those problems are questions. “Intelligent design” is an answer, and you have no evidence at all for that.

OSC further misrepresents Evolutionary Theorists by focusing on Darwin, as many ID proponents do. The flaw here is that Darwin was merely the spark for Evolutionary Theory, and we know he got many things wrong, but Science is an evolving body of knowledge. Darwin’s errors were corrected in the decades of footnotes on his work by others who reviewed his hypotheses with additional knowledge. It’s difficult for religionists to grasp the evolving nature of scientific thought; after all, they usually only have one, unchanging book through which to interpret the world.

With this mountain of evidence confronting me, I must assume the brilliance I found in Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” was purely chance. Similar to the monkeys banging on typewriters for millions of years, Card’s book is the result of the sheer volume of writing he produces. He would have to write something brilliant sometime, even if accidentally.

I’m sure if I read “Ender’s Game” again today, I might find it less than thoughtful as well.

A Mathematical Proof that Nice Guys Finish First

Posted on 1st February 2006 by Ryan Somma in Ionian Enchantment

“Subvert the Dominant Paradigm.” – Bumpersticker

Pessimists are forever pushing the “Nice Guys Finish Last” meme on us. People who exhibit selfish behaviors such as cheating and taking advantage of others use this affirmation as a sort of justification for their actions. If they played by the rules, they argue, they would be less successful.

Religionists use this meme to stress the importance of their various faiths. Without religious dogma, they argue, there is no reason for human beings to act in an altruistic manner toward one another. According to this reasoning, altruism does not make sense outside of a religious context.

This meme has taken significant mindshare in our culture, evidenced in the fact that so many people consider it “commonsense.” Unquestioningly we accept that it is our basic human nature to take unfair advantage of one another. Altruistic behaviors are denigrated with characterizations such as “naivety” and labels like “sucker,” warnings that kindness and fair play are not standards for emulation.

But is this “commonsense” valid? Secular Humanists recognize the flaw in such reasoning immediately. Society, the collective cooperative efforts of individual human beings, could never have evolved out of a species whose natural instincts are to lie, cheat, and otherwise betray one another for personal gain.

Such a simple and straightforward reasoning does not work for most people. Either because they do not accept evolution, or are historically ignorant, or cannot see the endless expressions of altruism in their fellow humans, these individuals cannot alter their cognitive schemas to accept what others find apparent through observation (Consider Dr. David Brin’s “Fecundity of Chaos“).

In his book, “The Selfish Gene,” Richard Dawkins has a chapter titled “Nice Guys Finish First,” where he explains mathematically why natural selection rewards cooperative behaviors within a species. He does this using Game Theory research and more generalized version of the classic “Prisoner’s Dilemma.”

In this scenario, two individuals meet, each with two options for reacting to the other, cooperate or defect, producing four possible outcomes. They may both cooperate, or they may both try to take advantage of one another (both defect), or one may cooperate while the other defects.

Players score each round like so:

Scenario A’s Score B’s Score
Both Cooperate 3 3
A Defects, B Cooperates 5 0
A Cooperates, B Defects 0 5
A Defects, B Defects 1 1

Competing Strategies

(AC) Always Cooperate (Very Nice): This strategy will cooperate each round, no matter how many times it is betrayed.

(TFT) Tit-for-Tat (Balanced Nice): This strategy will cooperate the first time and then respond in the exact same manner as the other player did the previous round. If the other player defects, TFT will defect the next round. If the other player cooperates, TFT will cooperate.

(AD) Always Defect (Very Nasty): This strategy will always defect each round.

Pitting each strategy against the other for 10 iterations of the game results in all of the above strategies losing to AD, the most selfish of all strategies. AC, the nicest strategy, loses to AD (0-50). Of the nice strategies, TFT does the best against AD (9-14), but still loses. AD versus AD breaks even (10-10).

  AC TFT AD
AC – – 30:30 0:50
TFT 30:30 – – 9:14
AD 50:0 14:9 – –
Totals: 30 39 64

So in one-on-one interactions, AD is the champion, beating out all other strategies, but society is not a one on one endeavor. A One-on-one Versus scenario ignores the cumulative gains each strategy makes in all of its interactions with the other strategies in a society. We must look at our models in terms of populations.

Let’s see what happens if we make add one strategy to make our society four members strong:

  Original
Totals
+1TFT / Total +1AC / Total +1AD / Total
AC 30 +30 / 60 +30 / 60* +0 / 30
TFT 39 +78 / 117* +60 / 99 +9 / 48
AD 64 +14 / 78 +50 / 114 +74 / 138*

*Because there are now two TFTs, ACs, or ADs in the environment, that strategy gets twice the points when encountering each other.

Add 3 Tit-for-Tat strategies to this equation and the rankings change even more dramatically:

1. TFT(173)

2. AC(120)

3. AD(116)

Human beings propagated across the Earth, forming tribes and societies comprised of different combinations of intrasocietal competitive/cooperative strategies.

A Society of 3 ADs: 90 Points

A Society of 3 ACs: 240 Points

A Society of 3 TFTs: 240 Points

A population with a majority cooperative strategies will excel far beyond a population of nasty ones. A cooperative society encountering a nasty society will have a tremendous point advantage, but this could diminish quickly as the Nasty strategies take advantage of the cooperative. For this reason a healthy dosage of judicial strategies are required to keep a Cooperative society safe.

Natural selection will reward the judicious and the altruistic on the level of a single community’s members’ interactions. Communities of altruistic and judicious individuals will be far more successful than societies of cheaters.

These are mathematically demonstrable facts. So the next time a religionist tells us there can be no good behavior without religion, we should ask them if they have a half-hour see our proof.

Further Reading:

I discovered this concept is explained in biology with a mathematical formula known as: Hamilton’s Rule.

Charity Begins at Homo sapiens

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