I am the Law

Relatively new (to me) general laws named after people that I’ve recently come across:

Godwin’s Law, mentioned in Black Sun Journal “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”

Hanlon’s Razor, mentioned in Barefoot Bum: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

Brook’s Law: mentioned in someone’s course book “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.”

There was even a superb post on NewsBiscuitArchbishop claims introduction of Sod’s Law is inevitable“, very funny if you get the reference (Archbishop of Canterbury and Shari’a Law), probably even funny, if you don’t.

Here’s a quote:

Sod’s Law has already been introduced in some parts of the UK. New Welsh secretary, Paul Murphy, introduced his own version of the law in Wales this month. From 1 February ‘Murphy’s Law’ dictates that anyone who applies for a public sector post will be interviewed by panel that includes the driver you crashed into on the way to the interview or an ex-girlfriend who found you in bed with her sister.

Wikipedia beat me to the punch in my plan of listing all the laws that are named after someone. It has a whole page titled List of eponymous laws. Most of them are standard Boyles’ Law-style Laws but they also have the new ones.

Linus Torvalds is the only person whose Law was named for his first name.

Linus’s law — named for Linus Torvalds, states “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”.

I can’t find a single female. That’s not to say that there are no females in the list. I don’t know. I not only never heard of most of these people, I’ve never heard of most of the Laws. Nor can I think of when they might apply.

I’m taking it that they are general principles. Otherwise the temptation to break ones like

Reilly’s law — of Retail Gravitation, people generally patronize the largest mall in the area.

would be well nigh overwhelming. It’s a bit wishy-washy anyway… “generally.” Much I would like to flout it by going to the smallest mall I could find, it seems a bit too unprescriptive for a full-scale law, so hardly worth the effort of breaking it.

# Rothbard’s law — everyone specializes in his own area of weakness.
# Sarnoff’s law — the value of a broadcast network is proportional to the number of viewers.

I am not at all convinced by Rothbard’s law. Otherwise I’d be running a housekeeping service. And Sarnoff? What. Any business’s value depends on the number of its customers. What sort of a meaningful Law is that? How did he get his name stuck on a Law on the basis of so banal an observation?

I’m leading up to a point…..

It’s about time there was a Law coined by a female, so I am volunteering. Following Linus, I’m going to use my first name. (Well, my first name as in nom de blog.) I thought of plundering Oscar Wilde’s work for all those pithy sayings, presented in an arch Law-like way. Too cowardly, and it would be breaking a plagiarism Law. Here’s my first humble effort.

Heather’s Law: “Any general observation is more likely to be be presented as a Law the more closely it approaches a truism”

Ministry of Truth

Imagine you work for the Australian government. There you are, sitting in your work cube in front of your PC, staring into space. You’ve finished estimating next year’s value of Western Australian lamb exports per acre. What will you do in the seemingly infinite 40 minutes till lunch-time?

Ah ha. Skim through Wikipedia. Try for the “random” entry. See something you know something about – your specialist subject, in fact – the development of the Perth Railway Modellers’ Club, 1990 to 2002.

But the entry shows the name of the 1997 Chairman as Ken Brewster and you know it was Ben Baxter!…. Blimey, you can’t allow this blatant misrepresentation of the facts. Future historians of the Perth Railway Modellers Club will be completely misled. So you make a quick correction.

Go forward a few weeks. Wikiscanner becomes available. Everyone can find out what organisation’s IP address has been used to make a wiki-edit.

This sparks a media-led conspiracy frenzy over evidence that people from various corporations or government agencies have edited encyclopeadia pages.

Oh look, surprisingly (not), people from the CIA have edited entries. People working for the BBC. And, – oh my Poseidon! – people working for the Australian government have edited entries. Oh dear…. You get called into the boss’s office and shouted at. …Misusing your internet privileges…. Bringing the government into disrepute, and so on…..

Largely because some people eitehr never learned, or are incapable of applying, the most basic tests to judge the validity of information. E.g:

  • Does this seem inherently reasonable?
  • Who said it?
  • Is this information contradicted or supported by other sources?
  • Who benefits if I believe this?

Are you surprised that CIA employees have edited pages that concern the CIA or that workers for the Australian government have toned down critical articles?

If so, then it’s about time you took some courses in critical thinking and analysing information. Because you lack even the most basic skills at identifying propaganda.

Indeed, Wikiscanner might serve as a basic tool for identifying potential misinformation or propaganda, going some way towards giving an answer to the second question above.

But even so, some people sit in work reading, even editing Wikipedia, Some of these people work for corporations or government agencies. Some of them are carrying out their master’s instructions. Most are just bored workers tryng to interject some purposeful activity into the boring functionary’s day.

Some are even acting as whistleblowers.

Do we want to shut up the whistleblowers just because we are too idle to develop the thinking skills to detect spin or outright lies?

The outcome of this editing-Wiki frenzy is, surprise, surprise, that more workers get their internet access circumscribed.

In a BBC story, the Australian Prime minister reacted to the story that government employees had made edits by ruling that:

…. the department said on Friday that it had acted to block staff from editing the site.
“Defence has closed personal edit access down, though employees will still be able to browse Wikipedia for information purposes,” a spokesman said.

Throughout the world, internet access is getting curtailed for employees. In the UK, for example, at the beginning of August, the Defence Department ordered members of the armed forces to get the permission of superior officers before they blog.

The Ministry of Defence last week ordered British soldiers to stop blogging, putting videos on YouTube, joining online chats or sending text messages without a superior officer’s permission. But the soldiers carried on regardless, posting caustic commentary on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was a mini digital mutiny.
I’m surprised the MoD has taken so long to deal with the problem of khaki samizdat. Censorship is part of military life. Imagine if Tommies had been able to blog about the trenches in October 1914. There would have been an outcry back home. The war could well have been over by Christmas.

“Oh look, this is from a government computer. It must be part of an evil government plot!” Come on. Let’s learn to evaluate information properly to protect ourselves from propaganda, rather than shut people up or jump at the first half-baked conspiracy theory that fits our prejudices.

Will ill-judged kneejerk conspiracy theory reactions based on the IPs of Wikipedia editors become the pretext for more internet censorship? Well, yes, it looks like they have. What a great win for free speech…


Wikipedia on atheism lists lots of arguments for atheism. One characterisation is even flattering.

According to a study by Paul Bell, published in the Mensa Magazine in 2002, there is an inverse correlation between religiosity and intelligence. Analyzing 43 studies carried out since 1927, Bell finds that all but four reported such a connection, and concludes that “the higher one’s intelligence or education level, the less one is likely to be religious or hold ‘beliefs’ of any kind.”

Is that an elegant way of saying most believers are thick?

Wow, I can’t find one argument that I don’t agree with (despite there being a section warning you that it may concern “weasel words”, which seems to mean unsourced generalisations like “some people think”. ) Oh no, does this make me a fundamentalist atheist? 🙂

So, this being Good Friday, I decided to look at Wikipedia’s arguments that God exists to see if any of them would sway this apparently planet sized atheist brain. Continue reading

You can fool some of the people

Good morrow. This post brings you some spurious Wikipedia–based social statistics in special honour of April Fools Day, ca 1307, when, for instance, European feudalism meant staggering inequalities of wealth between the rich and the mass of the people (plus such other gems as crusades, torture, capture of valued hostages for ransom etc.)

Nothing like our world today, of course.

The Wikipedia pages that provided the resources for this table were the list of billionaires and list of countries by GDP(PPP)

Granted that it would be hard to judge the accuracy of any of the figures. They’ve been gathered from a range of sources, all of which are pretty spurious, by anonymous researchers. Plus, these calculations have been done by someone with only a vague grasp of what a billion and trillion are, and that’s not even counting the discrepancy between the British and US billion/trillion. However, you can check the calculations. (Of course, they were done with the help of software sold by the number 1 billionaire’s former company.)

Total wealth of all countries (IMF version) $73,573,193,100,000
if you add up the individual

or $61,027,505,000,000
if you take the top world figure

Number of billionaires 946
Total wealth of listed countries divided by total wealth of top 101 billionaires 1%
Total wealth of listed countries divided by total wealth of all billionaires 3%
Average wealth of top 101 billionaires $14,218,811,881
Average (net worth) wealth of all billionaires $3,699,788,584
Net worth of the top 3 as Percentage of world’s GDP 0.26%
Net worth of the top 3 as Percentage of European Union GDP 1.26%
Net worth of the top 3 as Percentage of USA GDP 1.28%
Countries on list whose GDP is less than the average top 101 billionaire’s wealth 55
Countries on list whose GDP is less than the average billionaire’s wealth 25
Countries on list whose GDP is less than the richest billionaire’s wealth 110
Countries on list whose GDP is less than the richest 3 billionaires’ combined wealth 128
World population 6,453,628,000
World’s GDP divided by population – i.e average human share of world’s wealth $11,400
% of world population that are billionaires 0.000015%
Factor by which average billionaire’s wealth exceeds average annual share of world’s wealth 324,534

A Borg perspective on Wikipedia’s religion page

If there was ever a Queen of our hive mind*, it’s Wikipedia.

Feeling a bit robotic today, I thought I’d see what the religion quotes page threw up.

This is partly because looking at creationist blogs stops being funny very quickly and achieves the seemingly impossible feat of being both terrifying and boring at the same time.

This Wikiquote page has lots of quotes, split into alphabetical groups, on some principle that already passes all understanding. (D’oh, actually, no it doesn’t. The order is based on the first letters of each quote.)

Some of these are just great. Lots are (deliberately) funny

Much as I want to paste loads of the anti-religious quotes here, or even steal them for a byline for this blog, I’m just mentioning the link so you can pick your own.

Oh well, OK, then, since you twisted my arm, just one two.

Any religion that teaches there is only heaven or hell is gonna be a haven for manic-depressives.~ E.T.B.

If a person who indulges in gluttony is a glutton, and a person who commits a felony is a felon, then God is an iron. ~ Spider Robinson

The actual Wiki religion page is just, how shall I put this…. dull.. Too dull to even stir up a rant about anything (unusually) but a least it’s not terrifying.

(I would say that it would be good if you had to write a school essay but, for some wierd reasons, students get penalised for using the greatest knowledge resource on the planet, although they are supposed to be doing a good job if they quote any old Harvard referenced tosh. )

* The blogosphere – I can’t come up with a less repellent word – is obviously the Collective, assimilating more and more odd folk every day. Resistance is blatantly futile.
Immature and specialised Wikis – like the Wikiquote, which was new to me – are being spawned all the time but the Queen remains pre-eminent.