Bad science of the day – minority report

There’s a new contender for the Holy Grail object: The Magic Machine that Can Tell Truth from Lies.

On the face of it, this one seems even more useless than the old-style polygraph. It can be beaten by the simple expedient of “answeringquicklywithouthesitation.”.

The Times reported that psychologist Aiden Gregg has developed:

A new lie detector test shows that it takes on average 30% longer to tell a fib than to be honest.

That sounds an impressive test for truth – objective quantifiable, replicable, easy to measure, and so on.

Gregg said he built the test because he suspected that criminals were finding increasing ways to hide their dishonesty. …..
… The psychologist warned that existing lie detectors such as polygraphs – which monitor physiological changes such as blood pressure and body temperature – implicate too many innocent people. (from the Times)

Government funding for security is so reliable in these cash-strapped times for universities. So, in one way, it’s a great idea, from an academic’s perspective.

But I can’t see anything in this report that backs up its claims as a Holy Grail Machine.

The experiments were done in an environment which was not pressured. Completely unlike a real-world instance, subjects would have no reasons to be anxious about telling either lies or truth. However, thinking up experimental “lies” would mean subjects had to take more time than the took to tell non-lies.

If you were an innocent suspect sitting in front of one of these machines, for real, you would be worried about your answers. You might hesitate before saying anything, as you pondered possible implications. On the other hand, if you were guilty but had practised a good story, you could just reel it out. Quickly.

This machine might work for finding out which of a group of scared twelve-year-olds had graffittied the bus stop. (Although, elementary normal investigation skills would surely achieve that more time-effectively and actually produce valid evidence.)

Practised liars are convincing. They can smile and wail and even sob convincingly, witness Karen Matthews’ performances. The time-delay counting machine would never have uncovered what was true or false in what she said. Any innocent mother, in the position that Karen Matthews pretended to be, would not answer normally. She would fail the test, while the sort of person who could lie about such an event to their closest family and friends would probably come across as being truthful.

Flawed as this whole lie-detector machine concept is, you can pretty well guarantee that politicians will NOT welcome it unless they are confident that they can beat it easily.

So, if it does get the government go-ahead after its trials, you can at least be confident that it doesn’t work at all.

Exercising some Restraint

Who’d have thought that until today – when there was a humane judgement against it – that the law allowed the “physical restraint” of youths in custody by means that would surely count as assault in any other context?

Lord Justice Buxton said the methods used had amounted to “inhuman and degrading treatment” contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. (from the BBC website)

Examples of actions that are allowed are:

Methods used involved pulling back thumbs, and blows to the ribs and nose.

Why thumbs, ribs and nose? Because broken bones won’t be permanently disabling, I assume. Only excruciatingly painful. Hmm.

Private companies run four STCs in England and Wales for the Department of Justice.
Until June 2007, the rules restricted the use of physical restraint to cases where the approach was necessary for the prevention of escape, damage to property or injury.
The new rules, which were introduced after the deaths in custody of Gareth Myatt, 15, in Northamptonshire and Adam Rickwood, aged 14, in Co Durham allowed restraint when it was thought necessary to ensure good order and discipline. (from the BBC)

So “private companies” run youth prisons. Why does that not inspire confidence?

It looks as if the law used to allow officers to restrain young prisoners in the case of emergency, which seems reasonably fair enough, given the hellish task it must be to contain these damaged children, when containment seems to be all that we are socially capable of achieving.

The new rules – which don’t seem to have had massive publicity…. – talk about “good order and discipline.” Is it just me or does that refer to “anything the officers choose it to mean?”

People who assaulted their own children in such a manner would rightly be prosecuted. School teachers who assaulted their pupils would be sacked.

On first reading this, I assumed that these two teenagers had died as a result of attack by other prisoners. So there was some cock-eyed justification in it at least being intended to save lives. Not so.

Gareth Myatt, from Staffordshire, choked to death while being restrained at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre, near Daventry, Northamptonshire, in 2004.
And an inquest into the death of Adam Rickwood ruled that the teenager hanged himself after being restrained while at the Hassockfield Secure Training Centre in County Durham in 2004. He was the youngest person to die in custody in Britain. (from the BBC)

These kids died as DIRECT RESULT of restraint. Under the old rules.

Following the ruling, Liberal Democrat justice spokesman David Howarth said the full extent of physical restraint being used was “absolutely shocking”, adding that “it’s right that it is put to an end”.
“It’s a shame that it has taken the courts to force the government to stop this barbaric practice. Ministers should have done this a long time ago,” he said. (from the BBC)


The Ministry of Justice said it was “examining the court’s judgement with great care” and added that it would also be “considering an appeal”. (from the BBC)

On reading the guidelines for so-called “ethical restraint” techniques, as used in prisons and care homes, I found this page of golden rules on a site that offers training. Rule 4:

Never place pressure on or around the back, chest, stomach, face, neck, shoulders, major joints or the fingers. (from ECCRUK website)

Hmm, where do the Department of Justice rules allow these private companies to apply pressure, again?

Methods used involved pulling back thumbs, and blows to the ribs and nose.

Maybe I’m mistaking my physiology here but, last time I checked, the ribs were on the back and chest;the nose was dead centre of the face; and I assume thumbs count as fingers. So, the forms of restraint used in youth jails are clearly contrary to these golden rules.

Respect to the Equality and Human Rights Commission for intervening.

‘As the case reveals, the Ministry of Justice has failed young people on two counts. It has allowed staff at secure centres to use unlawful force – in violation of one of our most fundamental rights – and failed to consider the effect of these new rules on young people from ethnic minorities.’
‘Restraint should only be used as a last resort in cases where the young person might do harm to themselves or others – it is never to be used a way of ensuring young people in custody behave. Using pain as a means of creating order and discipline is entirely unacceptable.’ (John Wadham for EHRC, quoted on the EHRC website)

Identity Cards Will Cure All That Ails You

Well, first off, thanks to Alun sending me the link to the monstrously funny site called “spEak You’re bRanes” and the simply amazing Twat O Tron, I no longer have the faintest idea if the garbage posted on the BBC website’s have your say section is even slightly real. Worryingly, I think that the gibberish there is actually posted by real people. I say real people, but now I am convinced they are actually employees of the Home Secretary posting nonsense in a thinly disguised attempt to change public opinion. I would hate to think that people this stupid would be able to use a computer well enough to access the internet.

One of today’s talking points is the prospect of introducing Identity Cards to this once free nation. Weirdly the BBC seems to have used the wrong tense with the title, but it is called “Is the government creating a ‘surveillance society’?” and, boy, has it generated some nonsense.

Take this wonder from “Joy Pattinson” (claiming to be from Switzerland, but that just makes me think it is the Twat o Tron):

I have no confidence in this “government” whatsoever! They are unelected, uncouth and incompetent. But I am for ID cards 100% but think they should include everybody over the age of 12 with so much knife crimes in the UK. ID cards are in focus in other European countries and they are not considered security states. But I prefer to live in on with security and less personal freedom than the other way around. ID card protect the honest and legitimates. Those protesting are suspect! Joy

What? Seriously this idiot is claiming that carrying ID cards will prevent knife crime. How, Zeus only knows. I honestly cant even work out where to begin with this bit of nonsense. And, as a point of note, the Labour Party were elected to power in the UK, it is down to the party to decide on the leader of the government.

“John from Wilts” also produces a strangely “Twat-0-Tron”-esque comment with:

I have 2 ID cards both Spanish. One has my name and address on it and my Spanish NHS number and my fingerprint on the reverse. The 2nd card is my medical card with my NHS number and date of birth. Should I have an accident anywhere in Spain when the card is swiped it gives my doctors name my Consultorio (Surgery) and access to my medical records which would include any time spent in hospital and the treatment recieved. What fuss people make about ID cards here is entirely childish and petty.

Again we have another magical use for ID cards to save lives. Quite why some one from Wiltshire thinks a Spanish health service card is any use to them – or different from carrying your British NHS card – is beyond me. Does the NHS even have a system which would allow this?

Oddly, this wonderful life saving use of ID cards is not one they could be put to – so quite how John From Wilts thinks it is relevant is beyond me. Is this an opening shot in the inevitable mission creep ID cards are going to suffer from?

People who support ID cards have a list of things they think the ID card will protect them from. The fact that none of these match the government claims is ignored. Weirdly, the government itself seems unable to quantify what value ID cards will give to our society. What crimes in the (say) last 10 years would have been prevented by people carrying ID cards?

Still, despite this, there seem to be people capable of at least some higher brain functions who support ID cards.


More dishonour

Grrr. Yet another offensively-misnamed “honour killing” “Honour” is apparently being redefined in some bizarre medieval way to mean how totally you can control your female relatives. As far as I can see, this is not just dishonour at its extreme.

It also speaks of men who are so completely lacking in a sense of their own masculinity that they can only fake it by killiing females they can’t control. I hate to refer to the currently- dishonoured Freud here, but some things don’t seem to be explicable otherwise.

A 20-year-old woman was killed by her male relatives for “dishonouring” them. (Her body was dumped in a suitcaes over a hundred miles away, just in case you mistakenly imagine there were any shreds of residual kinship feeling in the relatives who did this). Three people (including her father and uncle) have been found or pled guilty.

The police seem to have treated this case with a level of seriousness somewhat lower than that with which they are now supposed to treat kids playing football in the street. (Her father had already tried to kill her once before. Her sister was also beaten.)

Banaz had made several attempts to warn police that her life was in danger, even naming those she thought would kill her.

The BBC site links to the Forced Marriages Unit. You might assume this is a policing unit designed to stop British women being subjected to this sort of evil. Wrong. It’s just yet another anti-immigration department of the Foreign Office, as far as I can see.

(Its website just discusses how a “forced marriage” is not the same as an “arranged marriage.” It has a few case studies and discusses how difficult they can be for consular staff. it seems to offer no redress or solutions, other than the possible extrapolation that the person whose immigration benefit the forced marriage is for won’t get a visa. I would have thought that that is of no interest to anyone except the Foreign Office.)

I can’t see how this is relevant to this case or any use in protecting victims. If this weakest link is the best the BBC can find, it implies there is no dedicated police unit or section of the Home Office. Most honour killings and other culturally excused atrocities such as female genital mutilation have little to do with immigration.

The only policies with any chance of working would involve:

(1) Police treating such cases as a serious priority, so that any man or woman facing a such situation, who has the strength of will to seek help for themselves or other people gets it as a priority.

(2) Aggressive targeting of potential victims through the education system and mosques and temples and churches, if necessary. All girls should be made aware that forced marriage and any of the other associated anti-female horrors are serious crimes in the UK. And the law will be enforced as a priority.

(3) Girls and women under threat need agencies prepared to protect them and to provide them with the means of escape.

(3) Aggressive targetting of potential perpetrators through the education system and mosques and temples and churches, if necessary. Everyone should be made aware that forced marriage and any of the other horrors are serious crimes in the UK. And the law will be enforced as a priority.

[tags]bbc, disgrace, homicide, honor, honor-killing, honour, honour-killing, law, law-and-order, sexism, society, culture, religion, belief[/tags]

It’s all in the game

A job in any sci-fi movie or tv series is a job for life.

Actors get constantly recycled within the genre. Think of the self-effacing officer from the original Star Trek turning up as the sinister Bester in Babylon 5. Officer Sun and the captain from Starscape becoming SG1 crew members. Quark from Deep Space Nine in Buffy. The Doctor from Voyager in almost everything. Even the Quantum Leap man became the captain of Enterprise (did I mention it doesn’t have to be good sci-fi?) And so on.

The same applies to tv cop shows. (There is a certain amount of cop/sci-fi crossover but I guess that probably just constitutes an acting career rather than a pattern. E.g. The blonde woman out of last year’s series with the fishy aliens is in more cop & medical shows than she was in fish episodes.)

I am now going to make a mockery of my pure and true love of the Wire by sharing my personal TV trivia game.

(Don’t judge me too harshly, here. I’m just following HBO’s lead. They offer downloads of “Naimond’s” choice of classic hip-hop, or such.)

The original game consisted of trying to spot the entire cast of the Wire in old LawnOrder episodes. Anything from the LawnOrder stable counted (classic Law and Order, Special Victims or Criminal Intent. Or even the new spinoff, with lawyers, that’s set slightly outside the format, that I haven’t really got into. In fact even old episodes of Homicide might count, if I am feeling pushed for successes.

So far, I can only really claim Avon Barksdale, Omar and the female cop for definite, because I only recently realised the gameplay was up to a really extended scoring system. Bit I think I’ve seen Stringer Bell in one. And I’m sure I started squealing with joy because Marlow was spotted in an episode.

Then I thought, even with the most intense TV watching, it wouldn’t be possible to match the whole cast to Law and Order spinoffs or precursors.

So the new challenge is to match every speaking part actor in the Wire to EITHER a Law and Order character – 1 point each episode – OR the most comically different role in any visual medium – 5 points, but it’s got to be REALLY funny.

This lets me score points for McNulty in the 500 and Bodie in the Cosby Show. Omar scores 10 in anything, for being so extreme. Naimond’s mom would score 10 as well, but I’ve never seen her in anything else.

My ambition is to find the whole Barksdale crew. Contributions welcome. All the same, it only counts if I actually see it. Shortcuts like searching IMDB cost 10 conceptual penalty points for nerdiness above and beyond the call of duty.

My alternative ongoing games include:

  • “spot the musicians turned actors” by music genre –
  • e.g. Method Man and IceT – LawnOrder and the Wire –
  • Spandau Ballet – now TV/movie villains in a crasser version of the “Ray Winstone loveable
    Cockney villian” archetypes
  • Phil Collins, ditto,
  • One of the bros out of Bros.. ditto..
  • I just refuse to count Will Smith and Kylie as I think they took the reverse direction. And in any case, people only count if they are either respected and/or unspeakably naff in either genre.