Posts Tagged ‘Law and Order’

The Law of BS

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Some time ago, I talked about my Rule of Expertise. I’m in the process of catching up on old posts from Bill James’ website. The article I refer to is behind a firewall. It’s about the Jeffrey MacDonald case. But in the course of it, Bill says something utterly brilliant:

There are certain characteristics of bullshit, and there are certain characteristics of the truth. The truth tends to be specific; bullshit tends to be vague and imprecise. The truth tends to involve facts that can be checked out; bullshit is always built around things that you have no way of checking out. The truth tends to be told consistently, the same from one day to the next; bullshit changes every time it is told. Stable, responsible honest people tend to tell the truth; unstable, dishonest, unreliable people tend to bullshit. The truth is coherent and logical; bullshit is incoherent and illogical.

Almost everything I said in my Law of Expertise post could be considered a subset of that general rule. When an “expert” tells you what a great expert he is, he’s spewing vague bullshit. Real experts tend to be specific, consistent and verifiable.

However…

I think the equation has changed a bit in the Information Age. The internet has a long memory and this has forced the bullshitters to be more consistent and more specific. The result is that BS now gets debunked faster than ever. However, it has also allowed BS to assume a facade of truth that fools some people.

Think about vaccine hysteria. The lies are specific, consistent and seem to involve facts. That makes people believe it, even after thorough and unremitting debunking.

(I should note, in passing, that the MacDonald case is of particular interest to me. My dad was — and still is, as far as I know — convinced that MacDonald was an innocent man railroaded by a biased judge, a vindictive prosecutor, a slimy writer and a vengeful father-in-law. I was convinced of that myself until I read Weingarten’s post, which pointed out that there is almost no evidence to prove MacDonald’s contention that his family was murdered by a bunch of hippies and that all the extant evidence — including recently tested tissue under the wife’s fingernails — supports the prosecution case. It’s kind of rare that I disagree with my dad on something like this, but … I do. The prosecution was able to put together a scenario consistent with the evidence (although I don’t buy the amphetamines angle). The defense wasn’t.

However, while I am mostly convinced that MacDonald probably did murder his family, I’m not as sure that he should have been convicted. The crime scene was not properly secured, for one and exculpatory evidence might have been destroyed. The judge did seem biased against MacDonald. And I do think Bill James (and Megan McArdle) make a good point about prosecutions — once they focus on a suspect, they develop a tunnel vision which sees everything in light of that suspicion. James’ makes what I think is the most important point: the prosecution’s case fits together extremely well … if you assume that MacDonald was the killer.

It’s an awful case and probably one of the reasons it fascinates so many people. On the one hand, you could have an innocent man convicted of one of the most heinous crimes a man can commit. On the other hand, you have a man committing one of the most heinous crimes a man can commit, including the deliberate murder of a sleeping toddler.

In any case, you should subscribe to James’ site if you have even a mild interest in baseball. Baseball analysis is only part of what he offers.)

Saturday Linkorama

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012
  • A great letter on the situation at Penn State, from the former Paterno Chair.
  • This article, sent to me by several, argues that China will be a benevolent world power. I found it ludicrous. not only do I not think China will become a dominant world power (there are still massive areas of abject poverty and they are aging too fast); I find the historical analysis from this sinophile to be absurdly optimistic about what they would do with power.
  • Color photos of Nazi-occupied Poland.
  • Heart-rending notes pinned to abandoned babies.
  • This article, about Chris Christie and Bruce Springsteen, came out this summer. But I found it amusing and kind of touching.
  • This story, about the explosion of solitary confinement in this country, is a must-read.
  • I knew that music has sucked since the 1980′s (#1). #5 is one we explore in Music Theory class.
  • Lost Luggage Linkorama

    Sunday, June 24th, 2012
  • Sigh. Five centuries before interstellar travel?
  • Mathematical Malpractice Watch: the War on Cops.
  • Why I will never approve of George W. Bush.
  • The more we find out about ancient cultures, the more clever and well-travelled they turn out to be.
  • Tuesday Linkorama

    Tuesday, May 1st, 2012
  • So my daughter has taken to watching My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic lately. I’m fine with it, since the show is a lot more sophisticated than the stuff she’s liked before. It’s also far less abrasive and ugly than most of the animation that dominates morning TV. Still, I do not understand the brony phenomenon. Really?
  • The best magazine articles ever?
  • The amazing thing about environmental fear-mongers it that they are never discredited by being totally and completely wrong. Thankfully, a handful will own up to it.
  • This story, about potentially innocent men not being informed about flaws in the evidence against them, is appalling and should be bigger. Where the anti-big-government types when it comes to getting innocent people out of jail?
  • The thing that strikes me about this photo essay about the poorest place in America is how relative poverty is. I’m not saying they are not poor or are facing few prospects. I am saying that if you saw the same thing in much of the world, you’d think you were looking at the richest part of the country.
  • The “Liberal” Me

    Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

    Am I a liberal? Have I become one?

    That may seem like a ridiculous question to the three people who read this blog and are, on balance, to the left of me. But it’s been on my mind a bit lately. I am constantly accused of being a RINO or an out-and-out liberal on conservative sites. Friends and family often describe me as “so liberal”. And every time Obama screws up (about once a week), I get a message or an e-mail or a comment asking if I’m happy that I voted for him (which I didn’t; I voted for Barr). The current GOP primary race — in which none of the candidates really appeal to me — has only exacerbated this since I spend most of my time pointing out why each of the candidates is a terrible choice.

    Thinking about it for a while, however, there may be something to the criticism. There are a handful of issues on which I’ve moved “left” in the last decade or so. But I do not see these as some sudden wellspring of liberalism. They are my fundamental conservatism and libertarianism refined. As I become more aware of the complexity and debate over certain issues, I find my libertarian/conservative philosophy leading me to views that I consider to be fundamentally conservative, but are no longer considered dogma by the GOP, least of all their collection of media dog washers.

    (more…)

    Back in SC Linkorama

    Wednesday, August 17th, 2011
  • Wow.
  • Godspeed, Ms. Wake.
  • A really interesting argument that infrastructure spending is over-rated. I’m sympathetic to the argument but not 100% convinced.
  • New studies indicate the sex offender registries are not helping.
  • As a sometimes writer, I’ve always feared getting a letter like this.
  • I find the analysis of the Bible’s language utterly fascinating. When people say they believe in the inalterable word of God, we can now ask, “which version?”
  • A really good talk from Sheryl Sandberg about the glass ceiling. This could be ported to any profession.
  • Wednesday Linkorama

    Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

    Thanks to Twitter siphoning off my political rants, you’re getting more … non-political links:

  • Cracked debunks the Twitter revolution. I’m forced to mostly agree. Social networking may have played a minor role in the upheavals in the Middle East, at best. But real activism involves risking your life, not turning your Facebook profile green.
  • I really really like this idea of the Billion Price Index as a complement to traditional inflation metrics.
  • Do you know … do either of you have any idea of how fucking glad I am I don’t have a big ass commute anymore? I can’t imagine how I did it for so long.
  • I really hope the anti-homework agenda catches on. What’s being done to kids these days is absurd busy work bullshit.
  • So do you think studies like this will, in any way, slow down those who want to ban fatty foods?
  • Political links:

  • Experts are once again stunned that poverty does not cause crime. They seem to be stunned by this quite a lot.
  • Want to stimulate the economy? Wonder how America can lead the world in innovation again? Repeal SOX.
  • Weekend Linkorama

    Saturday, April 30th, 2011

    Non-political links:

  • It seems to me that this should be bigger news. Law schools are openly lying about their graduate employment numbers.
  • This is ridiculous. Priceless jazz recordings will never be played because of rights concerns.
  • I don’t entirely agree that 3-D is a scam. But I mostly agree with it.
  • The latest baseless child-related freakout: iPads.
  • Political Links:

  • Oh, that liberal media! Right.
  • A very thoughtful piece on jury nullification.
  • Bolivia goes the stone age route on rights for nature. This is a perfect example of the terrible effects of good intentions. The primary result here will be to further empower the already oppressive Bolivian government.
  • Wednesday Linkorama

    Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

    Non-political links:

  • Great news that our fish stocks are recovering.
  • Some interesting pushback on the idea that parenting doesn’t matter.
  • Orac has fun with the latest blast of toxin hysteria.
  • Some follow-up on the principles of the Duke Lacrosse case.
  • Political Links:

  • Two of the most arrogant men in Congress push a “privacy bill” that exempts government. I would much rather have Amazon collating information about me than the FBI.
  • The latest shut up and do what we say from TSA.
  • Usual statement: what this guy did was stupid, but it doesn’t warrant the severity of the reaction.
  • Friday Linkorama

    Saturday, April 9th, 2011

    Non-political links:

  • Was Travels with Charley a sham? Seems so.
  • Well, I’m glad to see that someone wants to take football concussions seriously.
  • Yes.
  • This piece by O’Rourke hits my reaction to Atlas Shrugged pretty accurately. It’s good. As a philosophy, it has its flaws. But it exposes the true villainy of collectivism and the virtue of self-determination.
  • Political links:

  • This is how conservatives should do justice.
  • No, no, no, no, no no, no. TARP did not turn a profit. No way. No how. They just moved money around to make it seem like they did.
  • The latest from the Obama conspiracy nuts: his knee was in NY while he was in Kenya.
  • It’s a good week: free trade is moving forward.
  • My political view are libertarian-conservative, not Republican. So I’m more than happy to praise a Democrat, even a Cuomo, when he’s doing the right thing.