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Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2012 23:55:39 -0000
Subject: Re: Why Fingerprints Aren't the Proof We Thought They Were


Right Mark - read or heard of a case in UK where the prosecution said that a genetic `match' (from hair or blood samples) meant that the odds of the accused being guilty was "a million to one ON", but when the mathematics was examined [at least 20 people matched that gene pattern in that local area] it turned out that the actual odds were 19 to one AGAINST!

Here's some examples of that sort of thing, generally called the "Prosecutor's Fallacy"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosecutor's_fallacy#Conditional_probability

and some interestng aspects of it when using Bayes' Theorem http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayes'_theorem#Drug_testing

It's worth noting that UK judges have recently voted to BAN the use of Bayes' Theorem in court - possibly because they corruptly want to continue to sway juries with false odds, as we've seen above - Ray


Mark wrote:
> Subject: Why Fingerprints Aren't the Proof We Thought They Were

> Why Fingerprints Aren't the Proof We Thought They Were

> Fingerprint matching is a vital investigative tool. But despite its legendary aura of infallibility, courtroom claims of fingerprints' uniqueness are slowly receding.

> September 20, 2012, By Sue Russell
> www.psmag.com/legal-affairs/why-fingerprints-arent-proof-47079/




Date: Mon, 15 Oct 2012 16:32:27 +0100
Subject: CFOI update, Oct 2012


Dear Colleague,

I enclose an update about the Campaign for Freedom of Information's recent work and the latest FOI developments.

Using the FOI Act, London 24 October 2012

The Campaign is running a training course for Freedom of Information requesters in London on Wednesday 24 October 2012. The course is divided into two parts. The morning session provides an introduction to the legislation for those who are new to it, covering both the FOI Act and the parallel Environmental Information Regulations. The afternoon session is more advanced and examines some of the key decisions made by the Information Commissioner & Tribunal and explains how they can help you obtain information. We think most people will benefit from attending the whole day, but very experienced requesters may prefer to attend just the afternoon. Further information and booking form (www.cfoi.org.uk/pdf/foicourseoct12.pdf).

Information Commissioner & Tribunal Decisions course, London 28 November 2012.

The Campaign's next course on recent FOI case law is on 28 November 2012. This course deals with recent decisions issued by the Information Commissioner and Information Rights Tribunal in the last 6 months. It is aimed at experienced FOI practitioners and others with a good working knowledge of the FOI Act. The exact content depends on the decisions that have been issued, but typically covers issues such as: "fair" and "unfair" disclosures of personal data; the FOI/EIR border; the application of specific exemptions including those for breach of confidence, commercial interests and legal professional privilege; where the public interest line is being drawn and the cost limit, aggregating requests, advice & assistance and other administrative provisions. Further information and booking form (www.cfoi.org.uk/pdf/foidecisions_nov2012.pdf).

Post-legislative scrutiny of the FOI Act

The Campaign welcomed (www.cfoi.org.uk/foi260712pr.html) the Justice Committee's report on post-legislative scrutiny of the FOI Act, which rejects charging for FOI requests or restrictions on access to policy discussions in Whitehall.

The Campaign made two written submissions to the Committee and gave oral evidence at the Committee's first hearing on 21 February 2012. You can watch a recording of the session here (www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=10302) or read a transcript here (www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmjust/uc1849-i/uc184901.htm).

Our initial written evidence (www.cfoi.org.uk/pdf/foipostlegscrutiny.pdf) called for a number of improvements to the Act such as the introduction of more specific time limits for responding to requests and dealing with internal reviews and the lifting of some absolute exemptions. It highlighted the problems created by the contracting out of public authority functions to bodies which are not subject to the Act. It also responded to suggestions that a new exemption for cabinet papers should be created and fees should be charged for FOI requests. Our supplementary submission (www.cfoi.org.uk/pdf/foipostlegscrutiny_cfoi_supplementary.pdf) questioned the suggestion that policy advice should be wholly exempt from the FOI Act for 20 years as proposed by the former cabinet secretary, Lord O'Donnell, and former Home Secretary, Jack Straw, in their evidence to the Committee. It also provided examples suggesting that FOI was exposing and deterring wasteful spending and argued this should be into account when considering the costs of FOI.

Labour announces it will extend FOI to contractors

In a speech at the Labour Party conference on Wednesday 3 October, the Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan MP, said: "And it's also time to address a blind spot in our Freedom of Information laws. I'm proud Labour introduced FoI, however awkward it can be. Not only will the next Labour Government protect FoI, but we will seek to extend it. For the first time, FoI will cover the delivery of public services by private companies. This includes our prisons, our schools and our health service. Public private or voluntary, subjected to the same disinfecting transparency of FoI." The Campaign welcomed the announcement (www.cfoi.org.uk/foi031012pr.html). Response to Simon Jenkins' attack on FOI published in The Guardian

The Guardian published an article by the Campaign responding to an attack on the Freedom of Information Act by the commentator Simon Jenkins (www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/18/freedom-of-information-good-government?).

Ombudsman prohibition does not apply to other public authorities

The Tribunal has agreed with a submission from the Campaign (http://www.cfoi.org.uk/pdf/EA20110183_cfoi_submission.pdf) that the Information Commissioner was wrong to find that NHS bodies are prohibited from releasing information which they have supplied to the Health Service Ombudsman. The Tribunal allowed the Campaign to take part in an appeal on this issue, despite the Information Commissioner's objections. It accepted the Campaign's arguments that a statutory bar on disclosure applied only to the Ombudsman and not to those supplying information to the Ombudsman. The Tribunal's decision is available here (www.informationtribunal.gov.uk/~Decision%20EA20110183.pdf).

Decision on private emails prevents "industrial scale evasion of FOI"

The Information Commissioner's decision that emails dealing with government business sent by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, using a private email account are subject to the FOI Act was welcomed by the Campaign (www.cfoi.org.uk/foi020312pr.html).

Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill

The Scottish Government has introduced a short bill (www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/51531.aspx) making a number of amendments to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act (FOISA).

The key changes are (a) the introduction of an absolute exemption, along the lines of that recently introduced to the UK Act, for information relating to the monarch and next two in line to the throne (b) a reduction in the 30 year period for historical records to 15 years (c) an extension of the 6-month time limit for prosecuting someone who has deliberately destroyed a requested record (d) allowing authorities to neither confirm or deny whether personal information on an identifiable individual is held where doing so would itself reveal personal information and (e) an amendment to the exemption for information that is already accessible to the applicant so that any information identified as available in an authority's publication scheme is automatically exempt.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland is campaigning for amendments to the Bill. In particular, it is calling for the FOI (Scotland) Act to be extended to contractors and arm's-length organisations. It is also opposing the proposed new absolute exemption for information relating to communications with senior members of the Royal Family. The Campaign has produced a number of briefings on the Bill which are available here
www.cfoi.org.uk/scotland.html.

Best wishes,
Katherine Gundersen

Campaign for Freedom of Information
Suite 102, 16 Baldwins Gardens, London EC1N 7RJ, UK
Tel: (020) 7831 7477 | www.cfoi.org.uk | http://twitter.com/CampaignFOI





Date: Mon, 15 Oct 2012 12:18:53 +0100
Subject: FWD - "Guru says "Money's gone bad - Scrap `interest'" (paraphrased)


Yup - am on record pre-2000 as saying same thing, with same examples of "fiat-currency" - Ray

http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/10/12/what%E2%80%99s-killing-our-economy-money/
"What's killing our economy? Money."
By Dominic Frisby
Friday, 12 October 2012

... Why does everything - except mass-produced goods - relentlessly rise in price? It's this system of fiduciary money. There is almost no limit to how much can be created. And the more money there is, the more diluted its purchasing power becomes, and the higher prices will rise.

Some benefit hugely from this system: those who control it, and those who are at or near its point of issuance. Governments and banks, in other words. As well as enjoying a monopoly, they have the power to create money (whether by printing or through lending) and to charge interest on it. They also get to buy assets with their share of the newly minted money, before prices rise to reflect the new money in circulation.

Meanwhile the rest of us find that our savings or wages buy less and less, so we have to take on debt, and then pay interest on that debt, to be able to buy the things that we, or our parents, were once able to afford to buy outright. There is a constant transfer of wealth and it compounds over time. The few benefit at the expense of the many. This is why the state and financial sectors have grown so disproportionately large.

It's led to the horrendous gap between the so-called one per cent (the super-rich) and everyone else. It's responsible for this gap in the wealth between generations. It's why we have a culture based on debt and spending, rather than saving and investment. And it will only get worse as this transfer-of-wealth cycle repeats and repeats.

However, changing the way money works is simple. It's not electorally unpalatable. And it would make a huge, dramatic improvement in all of our lives. (... more at page)

Dominic Frisby Unbound Book Pitch - Life After The State
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5RTKv3ZkC4
---





Date: Mon, 08 Oct 2012 21:18:05 +0100
Subject: Libel reform Bill goes to the Lords


Dear Friends

We're still waiting for a public interest defence as the Defamation Bill goes to the House of Lords.

The Defamation Bill has its second reading debate in the Lords tomorrow.  This will be the first chance members of the Lords have had to talk about the Bill and the problems it was introduced to solve.  The government said when they published the Bill in May that its aim was to protect the culture of open debate that scientists, authors, bloggers, doctors and consumer groups need to scrutinise and criticise products and claims.  But it is yet to fulfil its promise because the Bill lacks a strong public interest defence.  Until this is remedied, scientists, human rights NGOs, consumer groups, authors and doctors will continue to be silenced. At its last appearance in the Commons, MPs unanimously said they hope the Lords makes the substantial changes the Bill needs.

You can watch tomorrow's House of Lords debate from 15:00 here: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Live.aspx. (confirmed speakers so far include Joan Bakewell, Alan Sugar and Onora O'Neill) and follow @freedebate and #libelreform on Twitter for updates.

We will be back in touch after the debate tomorrow to let you know what kind of final push is needed, as the Bill moves on to Committee stage in the Lords, to get the Government to accept that the Defamation Bill needs serious changes.

Síle and Mike
The Libel Reform Campaign




Date: Tue, 21 Aug 2012 17:48:27 +0100
Subject: Re: Sumerians and the Anunnaki. Presentation By Zecharia Sitchin


Got interested in that - here's results of a search - Ray

Sumerian (Mesopotamian) flood legend of Atrahasis
became
Hurrian (Anatolia c. 3,000 BCE), `flood hero' Nahmizuli
became
flood Epic of Gilgamesh
became [+ Ancient Greek (from before their `Dark Age' maybe c. 2,000 BCE) flood legend of Pyrrha and Deucalion.]
became
Chaps. 6 - 9 of Genesis (probably learned while in slavery in Babylon)


Greg ***** wrote:
> My daughter, Amanda, got a book in the mail that is part of her required reading for one of her upcoming college classes.
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epic_of_Gilgamesh

>> Think this is maybe the final word - from Zecharia - of his thoughts on Nibiru
>> www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVidhmB0Fho
>> Sumerians and the Anunnaki. Presentation By Zecharia Sitchin




Date: Mon, 20 Aug 2012 22:15:19 +0100 Subject: Ghosts of the Black Sea

This is the guy who's first exploration in the Black Sea provided Ian Wilson with the opening premise of his "Before the Flood" which then goes on to really exciting stuff - Ray

www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIun8FdqCE4
"Seven years ago, on his third trip to the Black Sea, Dr. Robert Ballard discovered a miraculously well-preserved Byzantine shipwreck, but his team could only take pictures.  Now, Ballard returns with state-of-the-art technology and a revolutionary $1.5 million robot known as "Hercules" to excavate two shipwrecks for the first time ever, including one of the most pristine ancient vessels ever found.  Ballard and his team have only two weeks, so they must work in perfect precision on their hunt for the Ghost Ships of the Black Sea."




Date: Thu, 28 Jun 2012 21:57:29 +0100
Subject: The rally in Parliament yesterday


Dear Friends

Thanks so much to everyone who joined us in Parliament yesterday to hear stirring stories of suppressed debate in science, consumer affairs and literature and to watch the Libel Reform Campaign petition that you signed being delivered to Downing Street - in a hugely significant moment for the campaign.  These are some of the stories we heard yesterday:

Biochemist Stuart Jones told us a libel threat has made him think twice about speaking out about doctors who use unproven treatments and tests;

Kate Briscoe from Legal Beagles, a website that offers free legal advice on consumer issues and handling debt, told us about libel threats to consumer groups for writing about firms employed by high street companies to sue alleged shoplifters, including people with dementia and parents returning goods picked up by toddlers for over £100 in compensation;

And author Kamila Shamsie told us it is the newer voices, the quieter voices, the more experimental voices in literature who find themselves shut down by threats.

You can read a write up of the event, see some photos of Dara, Brian and Dave delivering the petition to Downing Street and watch a video of the day at
www.libelreform.org/news/530-rally-for-a-public-interest-defence

We think the Minister Lord McNally, the Shadow Minister Robert Flello, Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes and all the other Parliamentarians at the meeting found the stories as moving as we did.  The waves of support in the packed room and the passionate calls for urgent amendments to the Defamation Bill made clear what we need the Bill to achieve.

We know many of you met your MP in Central Lobby after the meeting.  Can you let us know how you got on and what your MP said?

You can still write to your MP to tell them what you heard in the meeting, all the details you need are here
www.libelreform.org/news/527-write-to-your-mp

Best
Síle and Mike




Date: Thu, 24 May 2012 19:51:23 +0100
Subject: Richard Murphy's piece on `Flat Tax'


[To the Editor of `The Guardian' - a UK newspaper claiming to provide factual info.]

Hello,
Just read Richard Murphy's piece on `Flat Tax' and, given his qualifications, am rather surprised.

Unaccountably, he seems to be unaware of the shape of the UK tax-burden as applied to the national demographic.

The tax-burden can be pictorially represented by a large fat teardrop, with the middle-incomed and the poor occupying 95% of the volume.  That is, the middle incomed and the poor pay tax-costs of 70% - 90% of all income and property.

Above that income level tax-costs rapidly diminish to near zero.  [David Cameron pays near-zero council tax (property tax) because he is rich, while the Duke of Westminster actually walks away with a profit, due to the diversion of small-farmer grants to the rich in UK]

The second reason for the abrupt tapering-off of tax for the rich is VAT.

VAT (+ Council Tax) is a very wasteful and regressive tax.  It inflicts costs of about 50% on all goods that the poor and middle incomed are forced to buy.

[The costs of VAT were investigated by Granada TV, and within ten years had risen to about 40% of purchase price.  It is most unlikely that these costs have have stopped rising in the intervening two decades].

The actual level of VAT, or the range of `taxable' goods is immaterial, since the cost cannot be isolated to any one product.  I.e. bread (non-VATable) costs about 50% more than it would without VAT.

But the rich do not need to spend all their income on neccessities and therefore can escape that huge extra tax inflicted by VAT.

Several middle European countries have found that a flat tax of between 10% and 16% is not only cheaper to implement but raises more tax-revenue from the rich, while freeing the poor from penal and wasteful over-taxation.

Knowing all this, and having to presume that Richard Murphy is also aware of it, I'm at a loss to understand his motives for writing that piece.

best
Ray Dickenson





Date: Wed, 9 May 2012 16:33:19 +0100

Why can't a peaceful petition/campaign be organised to make our employees - i.e these crooked politicians - to do what we say or want for the benefit of all and make changes so that we as their employers force them to tow the line by cutting their exorbitant salaries, expense accounts and make them work for a minimum wage like every one else.

Also we should have the power to decide what laws are passed etc for the good of all.  The longer the people allow them to get away with what they are doing the worse it will get.

I say jail them for starters, take away all their ill gotten wealth.  There is so many ways to change this nightmare we are all enduring from crooked politicians etc.  Change is no longer an idea but a mandatory obligation to make life better and safer for all, plus thereby helping to eliminate all criminal activity etc.

Tim
(address supplied)

Ha!  Here's a point-of-view




Date: Wed, 09 May 2012 02:12:44 +0100
Subject: Libel reform and the Queen's Speech


Dear Friends

We hope that tomorrow will be a milestone in the Libel Reform Campaign.

We expect libel reform to be part of the Queen's Speech on Wednesday 9th May.  As you know, this is when the Queen sets out the legislative agenda for the next session of parliament and, if libel reform is announced, we expect a Defamation Bill to be published very shortly after.  This is what 60,000 of us and nearly 100 organisations have been campaigning for for more than two years.

You can read Kirsty Hughes, CEO of Index on Censorship, and Tracey Brown from Sense About Science's hopes for the Queen's Speech in the Huffington Post and the BMJ here:

www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/kirsty-hughes/boost-to-freedom-of-expression_b_1466876.html
http://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2012/05/08/tracey-brown-a-defamation-bill-in-the-queens-speech/


Watch the Queen's Speech live online from 11.30 am at www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Home.aspx

If libel reform is announced in the Speech and if you run a newsletter or blog or are active on twitter, then please spread the word and highlight the inclusion of libel reform.  It is important that people are aware of this milestone.

If libel reform fails to be included in the Queen's Speech or if the proposals fall short of what is required, then we will be back in touch very soon asking for your support.

Best wishes
Síle and Mike




Date: Fri, 10 Feb 2012 22:45:49 -0000
Subject: Another push to `regulate' everybody


Ha! Another push to `regulate' everybody into one approved pattern.

There's a big difference between being alone and being lonely.  Luckily spent much of my working time in lone situations, always luxuriating in being alone, and when working in highly social surroundings tried to make time for breaks by myself. - Ray

BTW - today heard the accompanying BBC radio plug for this propaganda - implying/saying that being stuck with gabby stupid folk was "good for you".


www.independent.co.uk/~/being-lonely-is-worse-than-smoking-6699942.html
Being lonely is 'worse than smoking'
Being lonely in old age will propel you to the grave more quickly than smoking, a senior Downing Street adviser said as part of an effort to encourage people to retire later.

David Halpern, the director of Number 10's Behavioural Insight Team, said not having someone with whom to share problems was one of the most significant lifestyle factors affecting mortality.

Dubbed the "nudge unit", Mr Halpern's team was set up to develop ways to push people gently into changing behaviour rather than more draconian government interventions.
...
(more ...)





Date: Sun, 5 Feb 2012 20:10:51 -0000
Subject: Scotland the Brave


Interesting little drama playing out in UK (over Scotland);  it's understandable only if we realize that `countries' are only cover-names for the properties of elites who rule subject populations of `slave' people (tax-slaves usually but there are other kinds).

So when an area like Scotland - which is now as `independent' as its new `owners' really need - starts making noises about "formal" independence from the UK, their rulers in London have had to begin a propaganda war demonizing the Scots leadership, and making ready to brand all Scots as the `enemy'.

Because the English ruling elite are afraid of people in England and Wales (and N Ireland) realizing how shakey is their grip on power.

You could probably see it more clearly if say California or Texas (which, like Scotland, are as independent as their `owners' really need) were to move to a vote for `real' independence.  They probably won't because they know the Washington machine would immediately move to demonize them - and, as the DC machine has more blackmail material, that would be very messy and damaging.

Ray





Date: Fri, 20 Jan 2012 23:49:15 -0000
Subject: Hollywood gun brainwashing - Why?


Hi,
am sure we've all seen recent `action films' of agents / operatives / soldiers going into action at close quarters; i.e. entering buildings or rooms with rifles at the shoulder, at the aim, squinting down the sights - so most might now think "that's the way to do it".

Nope - that's the way to get killed.  And it's also the way to kill most innocent people _before_ you get killed.

Because squinting down the sights limits your view to what's immediately in those sights - so you'll pull the trigger and kill an innocent - while an attacker in hiding or just to oneside, _will_ kill you.

Experience tells me that the safest way for a soldier (or agent etc) to enter a dangerous site is with the weapon low, cocked and facing slightly off-center (it doesn't matter which way, so long as it's under reflex control - I've fired rifles from the hip at moving targets and consistently scored; you don't do that from the "shoulder/aim" position).

What is Hollywood doing?  I think it's trying to make soldiers or agents into automatic murderers of innocents, and easy marks for *real* killers.

So, the point is - Hollywood is lying to us, and probably for a reason.

The only feasible reason to compel "shouldered, sighted guns" [a `terror tactic' with no military value], is to induce the unnecessary killing of innocents and the unnecessary deaths of soldiers.

Which, I suspect, is the perpetual motive of the corporates and profiteers who tend to be in control of Gov'ts [and of Hollywood].

Ray


Date: Sun, 22 Jan 2012 17:56:58 -0000
Subject: Re: Hollywood gun brainwashing - Why?

Mark M***wrote:
> I tend to agree with you about this method, Ray.  We weren't trained to enter buildings like that in the early 80s.  Hard to clear a room when looking down the barrel.  I think they're training them these days as if they're playing a video game.


Right Mark,
some years ago US and then UK troops in Iraq and then Afghanistan were made to hold their weapons in an awkward position across their chests and apparently with `fingers on the trigger', and it struck me then that seemed to be for "image" rather than for efficiency, as a [carried or] slung rifle [or even] hanging from your shoulder is just as accessible, and your hands are free until you want to use the weapon.

Yet the ubiquity of those images meant a national policy was in force, which, along with the "shouldered-aimed weapons" has probably cost a few lives, one way or the other.
Ray





Date:Thu, 12 Jan 2012 03:48:59 -0800 (PST)

Briefing on the future of the Freedom of Information Act

2 pm Wednesday 18 January 2012

Campaign for Freedom of Information, 16 Baldwins Gardens, London EC1N 7RJ

The Freedom of Information Act is being reviewed by a parliamentary committee which is likely to recommend changes to the law.  This could be an important opportunity to improve the Act.  But there will also be significant pressure for new restrictions from public authorities concerned about the cost of dealing with FOI requests or lobbying for new exemptions.

If you would like to contribute to the exercise, it is important to act quickly.  The deadline for submitting evidence to the committee is 3 February 2012.  The Campaign for Freedom of Information is holding a briefing meeting on January 18 at 2 pm for those who are considering giving evidence.

This `post legislative scrutiny' of the Act is being carried out by Justice select committee of the House of Commons.[1]  It has been prompted by the Ministry of Justice which has published a memorandum [2]  highlighting specific areas of concern, including:

· Increasing request volumes
· The cost to public authorities and impact on resources
· The difficulty in refusing vexatious requests
· The level of protection given to policy advice and cabinet papers
· The impact on public authorities with commercial functions

The memorandum also:
· Acknowledges delays can occur in conducting public interest tests and carrying out internal reviews
· Discusses the possible extension of the Act to other bodies.

The memorandum says there is "limited evidence" about requesters' views on the Act.  It is therefore important that the select committee hears from requesters and we strongly encourage you to submit evidence about your experiences.

If you would like to attend the Campaign's briefing meeting on January 18 please rsvp by email to admin@cfoi.demon.co.uk, via Twitter @CampaignFOI or by telephoning the office on 020 7831 7477.  We would be grateful if you could circulate details of the meeting to any colleagues or contacts you think may interested.

Notes

[1] http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/news/foi-announce/

[2] http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/policy/moj/post-legislative-scrutiny-foi.htm





Date:Thu, 5 Jan 2012 22:11:43 -0000 Subject: Interested in some `first editions'?

http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/virtualbooks/viewall/index.html

The British Library has put some early stuff on-line - I just looked at the Leonardo da Vinci selection - his sketches (29 pages) and it worked fine (although I didn't have the plug-in they were asking about) - and you can get different sizes of the images.
Ray

and here's Cambridge Digital Library - http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/ - http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/

PS - Was listening to `The Written World'- where the links were supplied http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b018xw60





Date:Thu, 5 Jan 2012 17:24:02 -0000
Subject: Re: The Hidden Logic Of Deception


While reading article had further (uncomfortable) thoughts - so have added it at foot - Ray

www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=hdiden-logic-deception

The Hidden Logic of Deception
Prominent biologist Robert Trivers probes the deep origins of deceit, and offers a solution to the Darwinian paradox of self-deception
By Gareth Cook, December 27, 2011

We lie to ourselves all the time. We tell ourselves that we are better than average -- that we are more moral, more capable, less likely to become sick or suffer an accident. It's an odd phenomenon, and an especially puzzling one to those who think about our evolutionary origins. Self-deception is so pervasive that it must confer some advantage. But how could we be well served by a brain that deceives us? This is one of the topics tackled by Robert Trivers in his new book, "The Folly of Fools," a colorful survey of deception that includes plane crashes, neuroscience and the transvestites of the animal world. He answered questions from Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook.

Cook: Do you have any favorite examples of deception in the natural world?

Trivers: Tough call. They are so numerous, intricate and bizarre. But you can hardly beat female mimics for general interest. These are males that mimic females in order to achieve closeness to a territory-holding male, who then attracts a real female ready to lay eggs. The territory-holding male imagines that he is in bed (so to speak) with two females, when really he is in bed with one female and another male, who, in turn, steals part of the paternity of the eggs being laid by the female. The internal dynamics of such transvestite threesomes is only just being analyzed. But for pure reproductive artistry one can not beat the tiny blister beetles that assemble in arrays of 100's to 1000's, linking together to produce the larger illusion of a female solitary bee, which attracts a male bee who flies into the mirage in order to copulate and thereby carries the beetles to their next host.

Cook: At what age do we see the first signs of deception in humans?

Trivers: In the last trimester of pregnancy, that is, while the offspring is still inside its mother. The baby takes over control of the mother's blood sugar level (raising it), pulse rate (raising it) and blood distribution (withdrawing it from extremities and positioning it above the developing baby). It does so by putting into the maternal blood stream the same chemicals - or close mimics - as those that the mother normally produces to control these variables. You could argue that this benefits mom. She says, my child knows better what it needs than I do so let me give the child control. But it is not in the mother's best interests to allow the offspring to get everything it wants; the mother must apportion her biological investment among other offspring, past, present and future. The proof is in the inefficiency of the new arrangement, the hallmark of conflict. The offspring produces these chemicals at 1000 times the level that the mother does. This suggests a co-evolutionary struggle in which the mother's body becomes deafer as the offspring becomes louder.

After birth, the first clear signs of deception come about age 6 months, which is when the child fakes need when there appears to be no good reason. The child will scream and bawl, roll on the floor in apparent agony and yet stop within seconds after the audience leaves the room, only to resume within seconds when the audience is back. Later, the child will hide objects from the view of others and deny that it cares about a punishment when it clearly does. So-called `white lies', of the sort "The meal you served was delicious" appear after age 5.

Cook: You write that more intelligent children tend to be more deceptive-can you explain this?

Trivers: The experiment was simplicity itself. A child is asked to sit facing away from a box. The experimenter puts something in the box and says "Do not peak, do not peak" and then leaves the room. Most children peak. The experimenter returns and asks, "Did you peak?" Most children lie-but they do so the more frequently the brighter they are, as judged by a simple cognitive test. If your child is especially bright, he or she lies 100 percent of the time, slow 65 percent of the time. The same thing is true for health at birth. The healthier you are the more apt you are to lie 4 years later.

Cook: How did you become interested in self-deception?

Trivers: I think I was actually interested in the topic in my childhood but in my early 20's I became interested in it in a scientific way. I was studying to become a biologist; a very good friend, to be a psychoanalyst. I was reading Darwin, he was reading Freud. All the time, he was talking about denial, repression, splitting, reaction formation and ego-defense mechanisms. While some of it sounded loony, not all of it did. From everyday life, we know that denial is a powerful force. Why? How on earth could selection favor our wonderful organs of perception only to systematically distort the information to our conscious minds? Where was the pay-off in that? It seemed to challenge the Darwinian paradigm at its core.

Cook: Right, the advantages of deception seem quite obvious, but what advantage could there possibly be to self-deception-to lying to yourself.

Trivers: This is the key problem that captured me in the 1970's. I realized that if self-deception made it easier to deceive others, then it could confer an advantage. After all, deception only succeeds when undetected. Otherwise it may have most unfortunate consequences. So I imagined that self-deception easily evolved in the service of deceit - all kinds of improbably organized information to the conscious mind in order the better to fool others.

Cook: And how did self-deception play a role in one of the plane accidents you discuss, the crash of the Air Florida flight outside Washington, DC?

Trivers: In the Air Florida flight, the group size was only two. The pilot repeatedly practiced self-deception, minimizing the danger ahead of time and rationalizing danger warnings during take-off which the co-pilot was pointing out. The latter did not practice self-deception but was weak in the face of the pilot's.

It is a little known but striking fact that 80 percent of all crashes takes place when the pilot is flying, even though statistically he flies about 50 percent of the time. Considerable research suggests that it is the co-pilot's unwillingness of assert himself in the face of pilot error that is at the heart of this fact. Indeed, the worst configuration is to have pilot flying with a co-pilot flying with him for the first time.

Cook: What role does self-deception play in history?

Trivers: History or the writing of history? Obviously, both. It has been said that the victors write the history -- and a thoroughly biased one at that. False historical narratives are false history with a personal bias, excusing past mis-behavior, any need for reparations or, indeed, necessity for changed behavior.

In history the effects of self-deception loom large although giving a coherent account of the many ways would be quite an undertaking. Certainly we know for war that self-deception makes an undue contribution, especially to catastrophic ones, such as the 2003 U.S. war on Iraq. Overconfidence, based partly on underestimating one's adversary, are common features but in the case of Iraq, deceit and self-deception was also entrained by the need to sell a lousy product for home consumption, so no rational preparation was made for day 2 in Baghdad because such planning drew attention to the costs and uncertainties of the war, which the planners wished to minimize.

Cook: Are there situations where self-deception is positive?

Trivers: It depends on what you mean by positive and to whom. Obviously self-deception had to have been positive for people some of the time in the past for it to have been favored by natural selection (where positive means an increase in personal survival or genetic reproduction). But I believe this positive effect is due to greater deception of others, so from their vantage point self-deception is not positive and at a group level it may, in sum, be negative. In marriages, those that remember continuous improvement, although none in fact occurred, are more likely to report that they are happily married and more likely to stay married, but cause and effect are uncertain.

Cook: If in a Darwinian sense, self-deception is good for us. Why should we even try to fight the impulse? And can we?

Trivers: I personally believe in fighting it because I am against deception. I would rather be honest, or at least try to be. Self-deception only compounds the felony, now lying to two individuals instead of one, and also risking putting one's life on a very shaky foundation, falsehoods constructed for the consumption of others.

Can we? Well, that's another matter. I have certainly enjoyed only very limited success in curbing my own self-deception. Rich insight after the fact but very little predictive and preventive improvement. That is perhaps a paradox or tragedy of self-deception: We see it in ourselves, and wish we could do better at suppressing it, but we cannot.
---

We don't like being `deceived' - even by Nature - but usually get over it pretty quickly.  What we dislike even more is someone else _telling_ us we've been deceived or fooled.  And that double-whammy seems to threaten nervous folk much more than the rest of us - see

www.sciencemag.org/content/321/5896/1667.abstract
`nervous people tend to be more dogmatic'

www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070911111852.htm
`dogmatics / skeptics tend to be blind to unexpected phenomena'

[Want all latest research?]

As a result, they tend to build up layers of self-deception to shield themselves from possibly painful truths.  We might see those layers as `religious dogma', +/or `political conviction', +/or various `skepticisms' and even much of `economics' and `accepted science'.

Ray
BTW - you'll see I've re-labelled those articles; for some media / controversy reason they originally had mis-leading `political' labels for different people, so I've tried for objectivity.  I.e. terms like `liberal' and `conservative' mean different things to different folk - even in the same country.

[Here's the warning context]


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