Monthly Archives: May 2014

Moscow 23.8.12, Tolstoy and Chekhov Tour

A pleasant day in the Russian countryside.

Travels with Tim and Lisa

It is beginning to dawn on us that here in Moscow, Australians are exotic. It is standard operating procedure for us to announce our origins, lest anyone think we are Americans, and each time our announcement is met with surprise, a broad smile and an effusive welcome.  Nobody really knows where Melbourne is, and they all think we must be missing the hot weather, but they are delighted we are here, and are even more delighted to show off their fascinating country.  It’s very nice.

Anyway, today we made our pilgrimage to Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy’s estate outside Moscow, and in the afternoon, to Chekhov’s.  The tour was excellent, and even though it was rather expensive, it is probably going to be the highlight of our trip. It was a private small group tour in an 8 seater people-mover, but Tim and I were the only tourists so we had it…

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Grand Tour of Moscow 25.8.12

Reminiscing about Russia, for no particular reason.

Travels with Tim and Lisa

This was the first day of our tour with Cox and Kings and so we met up with Irina our guide and set off on the coach with our driver Sergei for the Grand Tour of Moscow.  I think we saw everything of significance that there was to see – the Seven Sisters which are mega buildings commissioned by Stalin, Moscow University, the ring roads, assorted bridges, lots of gorgeous churches and many fine buildings dating from the 18th century and so on.  We went to the Arbat which is a pedestrianised street in central Moscow where tourists like us buy silly Russian hats and drink complementary shots of Vodka (and yes, we did both, and bought some nice presents for our friends), but we resisted buying any Babushkas.  It’s very late now and I’ve had a cocktail or two so it’s all a bit of a blur, but what…

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Video – Professor Peter Doherty

An insightful and wide-ranging talk by an Australian Nobel Prize winning scientist to the Victorian Skeptics.

Victorian Skeptics

The Vic Skeptics were honoured to have Professor Peter Doherty, scientist, author and Nobel prize winner deliver a talk at one of our regular ‘Third Monday’ events. Peter Doherty spoke on Skepticism, Denial and Ignorance: There is a Difference in March 2013. I should, of course, extend a kind thanks to Adam Ford for producing the video and allowing it to be posted here.

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May 26, 2014 · 12:07 am

Moscow Kremlin, and on to St Petersburg!

Travels with Tim and Lisa

KremlinToday we visited the Kremlin, home of the bogeymen and heart of the Evil Empire during the Cold War. KrKremlinemlin means fortress, and the images of the Soviet Union that we grew up with were of this fortress – these massive stone walls of sombre red; intimidating displays of military hardware that were a powerful allusion to nuclear armaments that threatened world annihilation; endless formations of grim soldiers; and the Soviet leadership basking in their unadulterated power.

Today the Kremlin is full of tourists gawking at the ancient cathedrals that so unexpectedly lie within its walls. In the days of the Tsars, they built different these churches and chapels for different purposes – weddings, funerals, private prayers and so on, because even though Ivan the Terrible was a very cruel man and the lust for power had the same effect on some of the female rulers too, they were…

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Sunk cost fallacy

The Logical Place

In economics and business decision-making, a sunk cost is a retrospective (past) cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered. Sunk costs are sometimes contrasted with prospective costs, which are future costs that may be incurred or changed if an action is taken.

In traditional microeconomic theory, only prospective (future) costs are relevant to an investment decision. Traditional economics proposes that economic actors should not let sunk costs influence their decisions. Doing so would not be rationally assessing a decision exclusively on its own merits.

On the other hand, evidence from behavioral economics suggests this theory fails to predict real-world behavior. Sunk costs do, in fact, influence actors’ decisions because humans are prone to loss aversion and framing effects. In light of such cognitive quirks, it is unsurprising that people frequently fail to behave in ways that economists deem  rational.

Sunk costs should not affect the…

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Fallacies of composition and division

The Logical Place

The Fallacy of Composition arises when one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole.  Conversely, the Fallacy of Division occurs when one infers that something true for the whole must also be true of all or some of its parts.  Both fallacies were described by Aristotle in Sophistical Refutations.

Fallacy of composition

The logical form of the Fallacy of Composition is:

     Premise 1: A is part of B

     Premise 2: A has property X

     Conclusion: Therefore, B has property X.

Two examples of this fallacy are:

  • If someone stands up out of his seat at a baseball game, he can see better.  Therefore, if everyone stands up they can all see better.

  • If a runner runs faster, she can win the race.  Therefore if all the…

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Neil deGrasse Tyson and the value of philosophy

Scientia Salon

1-12-14-Neil-deGrasse-Tyson-inside-alternate-ftr by Massimo Pigliucci

It seems like my friend Neil deGrasse Tyson [1] has done it again: he has dismissed philosophy as a useless enterprise, and actually advised bright students to stay away from it. It is not the first time Neil has done this sort of thing, and he is far from being the only scientist to do so. But in his case the offense is particularly egregious, for two reasons: first, because he is a highly visible science communicator; second, because I told him not to, several times.

Let’s start with the latest episode, work our way back to a few others of the same kind (to establish that this is a pattern, not an unfortunate fluke), and then carefully tackle exactly where Neil and a number of his colleagues go wrong. But before any of that, let me try to halt the obvious objection to this entire essay…

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The Red Herring Fallacy

The idiom ‘red herring’ is used to refer to something that misleads or distracts from the relevant or important issue.  The expression is mainly used to assert that an argument is not relevant to the issue being discussed.

A red herring fallacy is an error in logic where a proposition is, or is intended to be, misleading in order to make irrelevant or false inferences. It includes any logical inference based on fake arguments, intended to replace the lack of real arguments or to replace implicitly the subject of the discussion.  In this way, a red herring is as much a debating tactic as it is a logical fallacy.  It is a fallacy of distraction, and is committed when a listener attempts to divert an arguer from his argument by introducing another topic.  Such arguments have the following form:

Topic A is under discussion.

Topic B is introduced under the guise of being relevant to topic A (when topic B is actually not relevant to topic A).

Topic A is abandoned.

This sort of reasoning is fallacious because merely changing the topic of discussion hardly counts as an argument against a claim.

For instance, ‘I’m entitled to my opinion’ or ‘I have a right to my opinion’ is a common declaration in rhetoric or debate that can be made at some point in a discussion. Whether one has a particular entitlement or right is irrelevant to whether one’s assertion is true or false. To assert the existence of the right is a failure to assert any justification for the opinion.

As an informal fallacy, the red herring falls into a broad class of relevance fallacies. Unlike the strawman fallacy, which is premised on a distortion of the other party’s position, the red herring is a seemingly plausible, though ultimately irrelevant, diversionary tactic.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a red herring may be intentional or unintentional – it does not necessarily mean a conscious intent to mislead.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Conventional wisdom has long supposed the origin of the idiom ‘red herring’ to be the use of a kipper (a strong-smelling smoked fish) to train hounds to follow a scent, or to divert them from the correct route when hunting; however, modern linguistic research suggests that the term was probably invented in 1807 by English polemicist William Cobbett, referring to one occasion on which he had supposedly used a kipper to divert hounds from chasing a hare, and was never an actual practice of hunters.  The phrase was later borrowed to provide a formal name for the logical fallacy and associated literary device.

Although Cobbett most famously mentioned it, he was not the first to consider red herring for scenting hounds; an earlier reference occurs in the pamphlet ‘Nashe’s Lenten Stuffe’, published in 1599 by the Elizabethan writer Thomas Nashe, in which he says ‘Next, to draw on hounds to a scent, to a red herring skin there is nothing comparable’.

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