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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Seeing randomness in randomness

There's a great post over at on the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. Doubtless you're aware of the coincidental nature of one or two of the examples he gives, but it's nice to see so many enumerated in one place. I disagree with a couple of his examples, though; it's tempting to consider that he sees a pattern of randomness inside all this randomness, and is including some items even though they don't belong.

First of all: Nostradamus. This, I think, isn't a case of seeing a pattern where none exists; rather, our 16th Century chum was so vague that anyone, with a bit of effort, can use the quatrains to prove anything. Nobody read Nostradamus and said 'wow, that's really what happened'; rather, they took a few words that sounded vaguely like they might have a connection to their own theory, and bent over backwards to  extrapolate the rest of the gibberish to prove their point. Some day I'll go through his prophesies and prove that we're going to be attacked by Martians some time this century. The only thing that's stopped me doing it up to now is the dread of having to read that rubbish in its entirety.

If you're at all familiar with numerology, you'll be familiar with the process. It works exactly the same way. And it's equally nonsensical.

My second issue with the article is a mere quibble; the connection between autism and vaccination. Since the archprick Wakefield published his pernicious little study, we've all heard how autism cases have skyrocketed since vaccinations were introduced. This, simply, isn't true. What's increased dramatically is the number of diagnoses. Autism is now known to fall along a wide spectrum, and many, many people are recognised as being on the less extreme end of this spectrum, but in the past would just have been regarded as a bit strange. This is especially true for the higher-functioning autism sufferers, such as those with Asberger's.

Those cavils aside, it's a great article. Wish I wrote it myself.

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