Category: Research

Spotting Fakery?

I previously pointed to an article on people manipulating Amazon rankings for their books, today there is a bigger brouhaha on whether somebody has manipulated the New York Time bestseller list: The method used (if true) isn’t new and political books have been prone to this approach before i.e. buy lots of the book from the right bookshops and head up the rankings.

One thing new to me from those articles was this site: It claims to be a site that will analyse reviews on sites like Amazon and Yelp and then rate the reviews in terms of how “fake” they seem to be. The mechanism looks at reviewers and review content and looks for relations with other reviews, and also rates reviewers who only ever give positive reviews lower. Now, I don’t know if their methods are sound or reliable, so take the rest of this with a pinch of salt for the time being.

Time to plug some things into their machine but what! Steve J No-Relation Wright has very bravely volunteered to start reading Vox Day’s epic fantasy book because it was available for $0 ( ) and so why not see what Fakespot has to say about “Throne of Bones”


Ouch…but to some extent, we already know that the comment section of Vox’s blog is full of willing volunteers ready to do sycophanting stuff and/or trolling/griefing at Vox’s request. Arguably those are genuine reviews, just that they are hard to distinguish between click-farm fakery. Think of it as a kind of Turing Test, which his right-wing minions repeatedly fail by acting like…well, minions.

How reliable is this? There’s no easy way to tell. As a side-by-side experiment I put in Castalia’s attempt at spoiler campaign versus the mainstream SF book they were trying to spoil:

Ironically, the reviews that Vox complains about, probably improve the Fakespot rating of the reviews – i.e. many negative reviews from people will make the rating of the quality of the reviews better. I also don’t see a way in general of Fakespot distinguishing between fake NEGATIVE reviews -i.e. showing that the poor ratings of a book aren’t genuine.

[A note of caution: the site doesn’t re-analyse automatically so the analysis you get may be out of date. The initial ratings for those two books were different but changed when I clicked the option to re-analyse]

I also don’t see a way in general of Fakespot distinguishing between fake NEGATIVE reviews -i.e. showing that the poor ratings of a book aren’t genuine. The basic report seems to assume that fake reviews are for the purpose of the seller artificially boosting a book rather than somebody maliciously trying to make a book look bad.



Weird Internet Ideas: The Platonic Ideal of Fringe Ideas with a side serve of Voxopedia

I must confess to a vice: I have a ghoulish fascination for dysfunctional ideas. Sad to say some, like global warming denialism or racism can feel depressingly ubiquitous. Others are a tad more rarefied – like the occasional defenders of geocentrism. Yet the finest, most exotic of the misapplications of intelligence must be mathematical-crackpottery.

To push truly odd mathematical ideas takes real skill and perseverance. First of all it is hard to find the space which encompasses enough people to know enough about the area of maths you are disputing to understand what you are disputing, yet not so much about the topic to see why you are talking nonsense.

One of the longest running blogs cataloguing and debunking examples of bad maths is Mark Chu-Carroll’s Good Maths – Bad Maths blogs:

It has been around for some time, originally on Science Blogs, then at Scientopia and now self-hosting. He has been debunking in good humour some very, very odd ideas.

Here is an extract from a 2010 post which amused me:

Someone recently sent me a link to a really terrific crank. This guy really takes the cake. Seriously, no joke, this guy is the most grandiose crank that I’ve ever seen, and I doubt that it’s possible to top him. He claims, among other things, to have:

  1. Demonstrated that every mathematician since (and including) Euclid was wrong;
  2. Corrected the problems with relativity;
  3. Turned relativity into a unification theory by proving that magnetism is part of the relativistic gravitational field;
  4. Shown that all of gravitational/orbital dynamics is completely, utterly wrong; and, last but not least:
  5. proved that the one true correct value of pi is exactly 4.

I’m going to focus on the last one – because it’s the simplest illustration of both his own comical insanity, of of the fundamental error underlying all of his rubbish.

Ah, Miles Mathis, the pi equals 4 guy. To be fair, Mathis was trying to be provocative and his claim was more specifically about pi equaling 4 when circular motion was involved. Yet it is still nonsense and as Mark Chu-Carroll says, very grandiose nonsense.

The guy in question really does need to be read to be believed, and I’m willing to entertain the idea that it is a very clever spoof or very complex humour. Take this piece on his various enemies:

This post will be an ongoing reply to selected critiques of my new book, The Un-unified Field. The first negative review of the book has just been posted at Amazon UK, so I take this as the beginning of my science counter-critiques. I have been looking forward to this moment, as many can imagine. I am already well-known—some might say notorious—for my counter-critiques on my art site. For almost a decade I have been making the current art critics look very bad. Using Whistler as my model, I have responded directly to the various writings of the status quo, taking on all the big names, including Greenberg, Saltz, Schjeldahl, Hughes, Danto, Carey, and Hickey. But until now my science site has been a different sort of beast. I have attacked physics and physicists, not science critics. I have written and published science papers, not polemics. Yes, my science papers contain a bit of polemics, but I could never have included them in a folder titled “counter-criticism.” I have not only been criticizing science, I have been doing science. I have not just analyzed, I have corrected and predicted. Now, however, I able to use my polemical skills, sharpened by a decade of art fights, in the field of physics. If these science critics had bothered to read any of my art or science papers, beyond “a passing glance here and there,” they might not have stuck their necks out. But they have stuck their necks out and will continue to, of course, and this will provide me (and perhaps you) with decades of new fun.

I can’t help feel like I’m reading a mish-mash of both John C Wright and Vox Day but with an extra dose of grandiloquence.

Speaking of Vox Day…


…over at my new favourite encyclopedia…

There are various edits going on at Voxopedia. A lot of it is alt-right PC renaming of things, removing CE from dates and putting AD back in, swapping out “pro-choice” for “abortion legalization”. There seems to be lots of minor edits on topics related to Croatia but…aside from Castalia House related things not much in the way of new pages.

However, one of the more prolific editors “Rectified” has been working on some new content – content that wouldn’t make it into Wikipedia.

Ladies and gentlemen: The Miles Mathis page!

I have seen the future of the big fork!

As Philip Sandifer has pointed out, the encylopedia lacks a decent user base. Of the user it has picked up only a small proportion are editing. Because most topics already have entries (from Wikipedia) all the ‘fun’ work has been done. What is left is the drudgery of keeping the thing up to date.

But then what? Well, the Mathis page shows the way. The alt-right hangers on (or perhaps the alt-right internet constituency) is not just frustrated by leftwing gatekeepers but any and all gatekeepers. Wikipedia is hated not just because of some progressive choices when it comes to naming things or deleting topics but because it constrains behaviour. Specifically it constrains the behaviour of privileged brats and that kind of constraint (not just from Wikipedia but in general) is targeted by alt-right angst.

So Voxopedia has notability guidelines but thos guidelines will be used (at some point in the future…) to rank pages. Hence, a Miles Mathis biography  page can be a thing. Not only that but there doesn’t seem to be any rules against editing/creating a page on yourself.*

So here is a future for “Infogalactic” if it last – a vanity encyclopedia not just for Vox but for Vox’s followers.

Chapter 6: Abbot & Marohasy & Cat Astrology

In which this book completely loses its shit and a short digression into cat astrology.

Intro, Ch 1, Ch2, Ch3, An Aside, Ch4, Ch5, …

Michaels, Lindzen, Soon are close to being the ‘skeptic’ A-Team. The main character missing from this first ‘science’ section of the book is Roy Spencer – he of the UAH satellite temperatures. Plimer and Carter joined in to give this Australian book an Australian perspective but they too managed to project an air of the free-thinking scientist resolutely questioning the facts. Yes, these first five chapters meandered between disingenuous and misleading but watching the dance was fun.

But we have one chapter left in ‘The science of climate change’ section and it’s about time we got something a tad more entertaining.

Enter John Abbot & Jennifer Marohasy. I can’t say I know a lot about of either of them. The bio at the start of the book indicates that they were/are a senior research fellow and an adjunct research fellow at Central Queensland University. Which is nice.

The chapter starts in much the same way as the other chapters in this section: with a section on science as a discipline. This time a potted history of Copernicus and the heliocentric theory with a few stars at climate science and then a segue to Thomas Khun’s paradigm shift model again. So far the chapter is still on the rails.

“Prior to the establishment of the current Australian Bureau of Meteorology in 1909, Australian meteorologists had a keen knowledge of astronomy and considered solar, lunar and planetary cycles in their weather forecasting.”

Ah the good old days of weather forecasting in 1909! “There remained some interest in this approach, which was termed

“There remained some interest in this approach, which was termed solar terrestrial physics, at the bureau until the early 1950s.”I wonder what began to change in the 1950s that might have affected our capacity to predict

I wonder what began to change in the 1950s that might have affected our capacity to predict weather? Hands up anybody who knows the answer. Ok, ok, you can all put your hands down now.

“Since the 1950s the bureau, and other major climate research institutions around the world, have worked towards a global effort to simulate climate largely independently of extraterrestrial influences.”

It’s computers isn’t it? Computers have tricked us into ignoring the moon!
OK everybody – did you all spot the climate-change-debate-tactic elementary level dodge there? Did you all say ‘confusing climate and weather’? You did? Ten points.

Don’t worry, even though the whole chapter is going to be about weather forecasters that still isn’t the weakest argument in the chapter. It all gets wackier.

“Indeed, the idea that the moon influences the weather through its gravitational effect is generally scoffed at.”

There will be some scoffing but not quite yet. They don’t really clarify what they mean here and because the whole chapter is predicated on confusing weather forecasting with climate modelling, it isn’t clear what influences they mean. Tides? Well sure, tides are important and tidal forces on the Earth are important. Rather like the fact that the sun is important but also clearly not the cause of climate change. The moon is merrily doing its stuff – it’s a business as usual sort of thing.

But what are they trying to get at with this stuff about the moon and weather?

We diverge into a salutary tale of the hapless Professor Chris Turney. Turney was part of an expedition to the Antarctic in the southern hemisphere summer whose ship got stuck in sea ice. Which just goes to prove something and a big deal was made about this on climate change denials blogs in much the same way they make a big deal whenever it snows in the general vicinity of Al Gore.

But this is not just a generic anecdote of ironic weather. Nope. There is a more specific lesson:

“If, before setting out, he had consulted the long-range weather forecasters who operate independently of the established institutions, and without the aid of GCMs but with reference to patterns and phase changes associated with solar and lunar phenomena, he could have been forewarned of the unusually slow melt rate of Antarctic ice last austral summer.”

Oh yes! Forget climate change denial, we are setting sail straight into weather-forecast crankery! Joy!

So what’s the actual thrust of this chapter? Basically the claim is that the Australian Bureau of Metrology isn’t as good at weather forecasting as some heroic rugged individualist forecasters (who we will meet shortly), generally get the difference between weather and climate all confused, then basically assert that it all has to do with changes in government funding in the 1980s and maybe it’s all the moons fault or computers. Maybe its computers on the moon.

So who are these genius forecasters? The chapter cites three:

  • Kevin Long “a long-range weather forecaster based in Bendigo, Victoria”
  • Joseph D’Aleo based in the US
  • Ken Ring based in New ZealandOf these three Joe D’Aleo is the most notable and of sufficient stature that I’m surprised he didn’t get his own chapter in this book.

Of these three Joe D’Aleo is the most notable and of sufficient stature that I’m surprised he didn’t get his own chapter in this book. D’also has been predicting global cooling for some time now but unfortunately the world hasn’t cooperated.

Global cooling is a necessary implication of the its-all-just-some-sort-of-cycle category of climate change lets-pretend-it-isn’t happening. If temperatures rose just as part of some natural cycle then sooner or later they should fall again. With decades of warming the various cycles credited with global warming really should have produced some counter cooling by now. However, even the so called ‘pause’ has not led to significantly cooler temperatures.

Kevin Long is a mechanical engineer who also sells climate predictions to farmers from his website: He also expects global cooling sooner or later and both he and thinks sunspots are a big deal.

Ken Ring outdoes both D’Aleo and Long. While the other two merely try to predict weather based on ‘cycles’, Ring predicts earthquakes. In the tectonically frisky country of New Zealand this is a notable skill.

“Some claim Ken Ring is running a weather prediction scam because he uses the moon to inform his rainfall forecasts.”

Mmm, yes, I think some might well say that.

They go on to say:

“We have seen no independent assessment of the skill of Ring’s predictions, but he sells many hundreds of his weather almanacs to Australian farmers each year.”

Well there you go then! It couldn’t possibly be a scam if he makes money out of it!
There is a fun takedown of Ring’s methods here (from 2007).
And a different one here
Simply put it is crank nonsense and the earthquake stuff is particularly bad.

Ring also writes odd books about cats. Include a cat astrology/paw-reading book and also this one: Ken Ring is co-author of Pawmistry, the runaway best-seller that allowed the cat-owner for the first time to learn about their cats’ inner character by examining its paws. Here you will learn: * How you behave in relationships! * What you appear to be to others! * The extent of authority you really command! * Unconscious body language you are using!

But let’s move on. Does solar activity sort of cycle? Sure. Does that explain global warming?

  1. No
  2. If it somehow did then where did the warming from CO2 go?

Demonstrating 1 is not trivial because the theories of these ‘maverick’ forecasters are not well documented. In essence, it is an extended game of vague predictions plus variations on near future weather likely to be similar to present/recent past weather. Claiming ‘cycles’ can then become a game of epicycles – mashing patterns together until you get a short term match. The irony that this chapter starts with Copernican system v the Ptolemaic one as a scientific morality tale is huge, as the chapter essentially invites us to accept a Ptolemaic view of climate.

However, it isn’t that had to show that point 1 isn’t plausible. A neat tool, used online by people on multiple sides of these arguments is the Wood for Tree website. Essentially it is an online set of of major climate data sets with a neat graphing tool.

There are two solar activity data sets included:

  1. The SIDC monthly sunspot number (more sunspots = sun being more feisty)
  2. The PMOD composite total solar irradiance monthly average

By using the normalise function on the website you can plot either of these on the same graph with a temperature data set. I’m going to use HADCRUT4 because it has been the one discussed in the IPA’s book so far.

Here is HADCRUT4 with PMOD TSI normalised from 1980 (the PMOD data starts around then).

And here is HADCRUT venus sunspots count


There are stretches of both graphs where some sort of relation between the two is plausible but in either case the longer we go on the more warming independent of any ups and downs of the sun becomes clearer. Does this prove the cyclists wrong? No but here is one more graph.


This time the green data set is atmospheric CO2. Yeah.

Meanwhile Abbott and Marohasy move on to artificial intelligence or rather they move on from crank epicyclists to neural-network epicyclists. They explain:

“ANNs are massive, parallel-distributed, information-processing systems with characteristics resembling the biological neural networks of the human brain. They are a form of artificial intelligence and represent state of the art statistical modelling.”

There are indeed many amazing tools now available that can mine data and identify patterns and then make predictions based on those patterns. In the case of weather forecasting, I can well imagine that in the short term such tools can make improved forecasts in particular regions (although not being a meteorologist, I don’t know but it seems plausible). However, Abbot and Marohasy are back to the same problem: global warming is changing our climate globally. Any model based on finding patterns in the status quo will increasingly drift away from reality.

The point about building up climate models from empirical theories of how global climate works is to enable us to see what happens in situations that are not ‘business as usual’. This includes counterfactual questions such as scenarios based on different levels of CO2 emissions or different levels of industrial pollution. Remember if, as is rapidly becoming apparent, human activity is now becoming a major factor in shaping the climate, ‘predicting’ the climate becomes impossible without somehow predicting global trends in fossil use, industrialisation, atmospheric pollution etc. It is for this reason, among many, that it is better to talk in terms of projections and scenarios rather than prediction or forecast.

An insight into video game sexism? I’m in two minds…

A graph - go and read the paper.

A graph – go and read the paper.

There is an interesting paper (with an odd flaw) on sexism in online video games. It was published the other day on PLOS ONE and can be read in full here: Hoorah for open access! [You can even download their data and their R scripts]

Two researchers (Kasumovic from UNSW in Sydney and Kuznekoff from Miami University Middletown in Miami) used Xbox Live to play Halo 3 and recorded audio and video of their team games. They also created three special accounts: one nominated as male, one nominated as female and one nominated as a control. The control account was used to play the game without any verbal input. The other two accounts used a set of pre-recorded audio phrase which were identical between the two accounts but one recorded with a male voice and the other with a female voice.

These prerecorded phrases were identical in the male and female condition, harmless in nature, and designed to be inoffensive. Phrases included: ‘I like this map’, ‘nice shot there’, ‘I had fun playing that game’, ‘I think I just saw a couple of them heading this way’, and ‘that was a good game everyone’.

Having collected audio files from a bunch of games they then transcribed the comments of the other (real) players assigned to them by the game and then they coded those transcripts to identify sexism in the comments. In addition that they had a range of performance values for each of the players (number of kills etc).

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