Saturday, 29 September 2012

Giving magic mushrooms a try

From the Financial Times of London comes the news that a  groundbreaking clinical trial funded by the British government to treat people with depression using a psychedelic extract of “magic mushrooms” is gearing up to start next year.
Past research has suggested that a single exposure to psilocybin could improve psychological health for a year and decrease other symptoms of depression for six months, suggesting it has considerable therapeutic potential for the half of patients for whom antidepressants and cognitive behavioural therapy have little effect.

Rewarding vexatious litigants

Letting the sexual harassment case go to trial would have led to a "lawyers' picnic" that could have extended well into next year the Attorney General informed us as a settlement was announced with House of Representatives Speaker Peter Slipper's staffer James Ashby. And that, of course, would never do. 
The middle of next year would be much too close to election day to risk the Commonwealth Government actually losing. Far better to hand over the $50,000 now and pretend, as Attorney General Nicola Roxon did, that the payment did not mean admitting doing anything wrong. 
On the contrary. Ms Roxon said the government did not resile from its argument "that the claim was vexatious". Better to reward vexatious litigants, apparently, than avaricious lawyers.
Unfortunately for a Labor Government anxious to avoid embarrassment in the run up to a polling day there still remains the main event of Mr Ashby's legal action against the Speaker himself. Ms Roxon made a rather pathetic plea for that case to be abandoned as well but the Ashby lawyers responded with talk of adding a writ for defamation into the mix. Presumably that line of argument will now be abandoned.
Mr Slipper is now left to defend his behaviour towards Mr Ashby all on his own and at his own expense. So far the government has not received a request to cover Mr Slipper's legal costs, but Ms Roxon said back in April that if such a request came forward it would be declined. No wonder that Mr Slipper is clinging to his full salary and expense entitlements as Speaker. He will need every dollar of them plus some I expect.
And as the bill keeps rising for the parliamentary Speaker who no longer appears in the parliamentary chamber the potential electoral damage for Labor rises as well.
Appointing Mr Slipper is one of those "seemed a good idea at the time" decisions that won't appear so when the votes are finally counted.

The Republican Brain: Constructing an Alternate Polling Reality for 2012 | Mother Jones

Another look at those American presidential election polls where Republicans are refusing (pretending?) to believe what they see in the numbers.
The Republican Brain: Constructing an Alternate Polling Reality for 2012 | Mother Jones:

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Friday, 28 September 2012

A Democrat bias in the polls? Statistically, speaking that's bunk

A further note on those American opinion polls. 'Unskewing' polls with party ID is, statistically speaking, bunk | Harry J Enten | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk:
The idea that current polling is 'too Democratic' and needs re-weighting for party identification simply doesn't pass muster. "The mainstream media is skewing its polls with too many Democrats because they want Obama to win." Statements like this one are zipping around the internet a mile a minute these days. The general idea is that there are too many respondents identifying as Democrats in public surveys compared to past elections' exit polls. There's even a website titled unskewedpolls.com that purports to adjust media polls to correct for these errors, based on Rasmussen Reports data. "
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Thursday, 27 September 2012

The misleading average of the opinion polls


When faced with a myriad of opinion polls all showing different results it is natural, I suppose, that people turn to an average of the findings to get a shorthand look at what is actually happening. So it is that the Real Clear Politics site with its RCP Average has gained such a following. But really, does this daily figure help or hinder an understanding of the likely voting intention of Americans at the forthcoming presidential election? On my, admittedly cursory examination, there are grounds for thinking that the RCP average is quite misleading.
The reason is simple. Not all pollsters use the same methods. Some are thorough and others are slipshod. They use a range of different measures to weight the findings from their actual interviews to try and make their published figure representative of people likely to vote. As the reliable British site UK Polling Report stresses, "by averaging quality polls will ropey ones you don’t get better figures, you just make the better ones worse."
And the evidence suggests that there are some "ropey" polls in the Real Clear Politics sample that distort the result.
Take Rasmussen for a start. Surely its results should not be taken seriously by anyone.
Some evidence. 
Since the beginning of April (I have chosen that starting date because it is when Gallup began running an Obama versus Romney question) the average result of all polls in the RCP sample puts Obama at 47.2% and Romney at 44.6% - a difference of 2.6 percentage points. Yet the average of the Rasmussen figures produces figures of Obama 45.6% and Romney 45.8%. An Obama win of 2.6 has become an Obama loss by 0.2!
Gallup also has tended to give an Obama figure lower than the total RCP average: Obama 46.4% to Romney's 45.7% - a difference of just 0.7 points..
Yet Gallup is one of the most respected pollsters in the country. Is this just one of those statistical aberrations that can happen or is there a reason? I have noticed on one blog site  the suggestion that Gallup assumes low African American turnout based on 2010 when others base on 2008 or allow the sample to be the sample without weighting.
The RCP Polling Summary
The difference between Obama and Romney since April
All polls - Obama +2.6
All polls without Rasmussen and Gallup - Obama +3.4
Rasmussen polls - Obama -0.2
Gallup polls - Obama +0.7

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Troubled about China

I start worrying when in countries with totalitarian governments like China we see demonstrations conducted with apparent government approval. Experience has taught me that there is invariably a reason not connected with what the demonstrators are complaining about. Hence my apprehension about the recent reports out of Beijing about crowds chanting anti-Japan slogans and surrounding the official car of the United States ambassador.
The fear must be that the Chinese rulers think a diversion from the country's economic problems is needed. If that is only half true then troubles are in store for Australia

Now for something more serious

My thanks to those readers who took the time to give me their answer to whether they had looked or not at those pictures of the topless princess. I'm somewhat reassured to know that the majority, like me, did not go searching the internet to have a peek but the high proportion who did confirms my view that trying to prohibit things is self defeating.
For the record here is the final result from my Australian poll on this question:
And from the poll I conducted on the US based newsvine.com site:

Now for something more serious. I wonder how many people have actually looked at that video that has  caused such anger within the Muslim community.
The form is HERE

Markets and polls

The longest running market on political events that I am aware of is the Iowa Electronic Markets conducted by faculty at the University of Iowa College of Business as part of its research and teaching mission. Here is an example of why I take notice of them and the others that are now available of the net in predicting outcomes.
Click to enlarge

The political speculator's diary: Tempted to back Obama yet again but ...

The political speculator's diary: Tempted to back Obama yet again but ...: "If it wasn't for the cautionary words years ago of the most successful professional punter I know that I always have a tendency to "overbet", I'd be having more on Barack Obama to win this presidential election. To me he is looking more and more like a good thing every day but I do have a considerable proportion of my portfolio on him already. I've got to continually remind myself not to be foolhardy so I'm letting the current 68% or so available from Intrade pass but if you have not already invested on the event now is the time to do so." 'via Blog this'

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Peeking progress

My little survey or my readers on

The topless Princess - who has had a peek?


currently is as follows:

The political speculator's diary: He who hesitates ...

My instincts were right last week when I wrote that "the momentum seems to be in Julia Gillard's favour at the moment for her to lead Labor at the next election." She has since moved on the Crikey Indicator from being a 52% chance of still being in the job come election day to a 57% chance. 
A small earning opportunity missed but there will be others especially if the press gallery pundits continue to predict that if there is no push this year to put Kevin Rudd back in the job that it is all over red rover.The currently conventional wisdom is just nonsense as those of us old enough to remember the events of 1983 well recognise.
There are still swings and roundabouts to go in this Labor leadership contest.
The political speculator's diary: He who hesitates ...: 'via Blog this'

Monday, 17 September 2012

The topless Princess - who has had a peek?

I'm just curious about whether taking legal action to stop publication of something actually helps or hinders. Hence my interest in how many people have actually had a peek on the internet of those pictures of the the topless princess.
Do me a favour and fill in my form here.

Acrtic ice receding? Who cares.

If the judgment of my media peers is any guide I guess I've become a bit of a bore in my regular Crikey column by reporting on what is happening to the ice levels in the Arctic. Very few others seem to think it is a subject even worth mentioning. But somehow I still think that the rapid disappearance of ice cover in the northern hemisphere oceans isd a far more important story to be covering than the latest Australian opinion poll.
Here is this morning's map of Arc tic ice cover:
It is the lowest by far recorded since satellites first started recording the ice cover.
Global warming looks real enough to me.

Duck torture prevalent

Take a duck to water? Not likely. The only way most of those we eat can drink is from bell drinkers where they can not even duck their heads.
Torture is what I would call it. Read the RSPCA's description and make up your own mind.

A sad truth about Muslim violence

From the BBC website

Market moves Australian Labor's way

The betting market has interpreted today's confusing opinion polls (see the item Opinion polling nonsense) as indicating a slight improvement in Labor's chances of retaining government. The last time I calculated the Crikey Election Indicator a week or so ago Labor was rated only a 17% chance of hanging on. Tonight the Indicator puts it at just over 26%.
That surprises me somewhat but so too does the lack of market reaction to the chances of Julia Gillard still being Labor Leader at the time of the next election. That Indicator was relatively unmoved by today's polls.


Opinion polling nonsense

Take a look at these and tell me what it means.

Two party preferred voting intentions

  • Newspoll - Labor 50% Coalition 50%
  • Nielsen - Labor 47% Coalition 53%
  • Essential Research - Labor 45% Coalition 55%
All these results were published today by supposedly reputable pollsters. Pay your money and take your pick.

Stop Muslim migration? Prepare for a boat people invasion

When you have a neighbouring country with 180 million or so Muslim inhabitants within small boat travelling distance it's common sense not to set out to deliberately antagonise that religion. When the government of Indonesia is struggling to contain the same kind of mindless religious extremism that inflamed the weekend troubles in Sydney then the argument for being careful with your language should be even greater.
But not, apparently, if you bill yourself as "Australia's most read columnist." In the Melbourne Herald Sun this morning Andrew Bolt was in there stirring up the idea that Australia should consider stopping Muslims to emigrate here.
Now if you think a group of extremist hot heads preaching hate in Sydney is something to worry about, consider what it would be like for Australia if we offended Indonesian Muslims, moderate and extreme alike, by restricting all Muslim migration as Bolt suggests.
For a start we could kiss goodbye all those efforts of our government to stop the arrival on our shores of unwanted boat people. Frozen relations with Jakarta would allow an open slather of the so-called "people smuggling" trade. Handling a hundred thousand or so Muslim refugees a year would really test the compassion and goodwill of the Australian people.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Reinforcing Gillard's biggest negative

With all the skill to be expected from an accomplished publicist, Maxine McKew has begun the previews of her forthcoming book about political life and it is the Prime Minister Julia Gillard who should be worried most about what it says. This was the headline in the Sydney Daily Telegraph this morning:
It concentrated largely on Ms Gillard's weakest spot - the extent to which what she says can be believed.
 The book, Tales from the Political Trenches is due in bookshops in November but there will be far more teases about its contents before then.

Tony Wright's view to agree with

The Fairfax National Times website this morning contains one sensible summary of all the fuss about activities years ago of our current political leaders. Tony Wright writes:
The new story about Abbott's assault upon a wall, of course, blends into polls showing he's not popular with voters, particularly women, and the current broader outcry about bullying in the workplace and on social media. He walks with the rolling gait of a colonial boss on a plantation. He's got to be a bully … why, he's been one since he was 20, as the story proves.
It does nothing of the sort. If it did, everyone who has ever behaved like spoiled, overexcited and unrestrained jackasses when they were young would have to be judged by the same measure. To do so would be to deny that people are capable of growing up and learning a bit about acceptable behaviour.
Julia Gillard has recently confronted old allegations about her behaviour when she was a young lawyer. It all went to the narrative about whether she was a trustworthy character, her accusers declared.
In the absence of any further evidence, it actually boiled down to this: as a young woman, she helped out a boyfriend with the principal skill she had to offer at the time - legal advice. That the rotter then used that advice to funnel ill-gotten gains to his own purposes does not, on the evidence known, mean that Ms Gillard took any knowing part in that. She simply made a bad choice as a young person in love. Who hasn't?
There are politicians of all sides shifting uneasily about the latest delirium concerning Abbott the younger.
''Of all the reasons I have to object to the idea of Abbott becoming prime minister, his antics all those years ago at university aren't among them,'' a senior ALP senator told me yesterday. ''God, if anyone dredged up the things we did at university we'd all be buggered.''
Best, surely, to judge those who wish to be prime ministers on their current behaviour.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Sunday, 9 September 2012

When Do We Lie? When We’re Short on Time and Long on Reasons

It's the kind of study to keep in mind when considering whether a politician is telling the truth or not. In a study forthcoming in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, psychological scientists Shaul Shalvi of the University of Amsterdam and Ori Eldar and Yoella Bereby-Meyer of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev investigated what factors influence dishonest behavior.
In the absence of the article itself being available I can only quote the press statement summary released by the academics for details:
Previous research shows that a person’s first instinct is to serve his or her own self-interest. And research also shows that people are more likely to lie when they can justify such lies to themselves. With these findings in mind, Shalvi and colleagues hypothesized that, when under time pressure, having to make a decision that could yield financial reward would make people more likely to lie. They also hypothesized that, when people are not under time pressure, they are unlikely to lie if there is no opportunity to rationalize their behavior.
“According to our theory, people first act upon their self-serving instincts, and only with time do they consider what socially acceptable behavior is,” says Shalvi. “When people act quickly, they may attempt to do all they can to secure a profit—including bending ethical rules and lying. Having more time to deliberate leads people to restrict the amount of lying and refrain from cheating.”
The researchers first tested participants’ tendency to lie when doing so could be easily justified: Approximately 70 adult participants rolled a die three times such that the result was hidden from the experimenter’s view. The participants were told to report the first roll, and they earned more money for a higher reported roll.
Seeing the outcomes of the second and third rolls provided the participants with the opportunity to justify reporting the highest number that they rolled, even if it was not the first – after all, they had rolled that number, just not the first time they rolled the die. Some of the participants were under time pressure, and were instructed to report their answer within 20 seconds. The others were not under time pressure, and had an unlimited amount of time to provide a response.
The experimenters were not able to see the actual die rolls of the participants, to ensure all rolls were private. Instead, in order to determine whether or not the participants had lied about the numbers they rolled, Shalvi and colleagues compared their responses to those that would be expected from fair rolls. They found that both groups of participants lied, but those who were given less time to report their numbers were more likely to lie than those who weren’t under a time constraint.
The second experiment followed a similar procedure, except that the participants were not given information that could help them justify their lies: instead of rolling their die three times, they only rolled it once and then reported the outcome. In this experiment, the researchers found that participants who were under time pressure lied, while those without a time constraint did not.
Together, the two experiments suggest that, in general, people are more likely to lie when time is short. When time isn’t a concern, people may only lie when they have justifications for doing so.
One implication of the current findings is that to increase the likelihood of honest behavior in business or personal settings, it is important not push a person into a corner but rather to give him or her time,” explains Shalvi. “People usually know it is wrong to lie, they just need time to do the right thing.”

Guantanamo Bay - a wonderful place for butterflies

Don't worry about the inmates at the Guantanamo Bay naval base - concentrate on the butterflies. That's the motto of a team of University of Florida scientists who have discovered a vast diversity of butterflies and moths on the apart of Cuba leased to the United States back in 1903.According to the researchers the land has unintentionally become a wildlife refuge, offering them the opportunity to better understand the island’s natural habitats. Located in the southeast corner of Cuba, its unique and complex geological history of volcanic activity, erosion and shifting sea levels resulted in geological deposits closely associated with marine environments.
“We are comparing the moths and butterflies collected at GTMO to those recorded from the U.S., Bahamas, other nearby islands and Central America,” said study co-author Jacqueline Y. Miller, curator of Lepidoptera at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity on the UF campus.
“With the historical geology of the area, there are some potentially new species and such surveys enable us to better understand the evolutionary history of butterflies and moths.”

Just thought you'd like to know that something good is coming out of Guantanamo Bay.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Media not all powerful in politics

The easy re-election victory of Sydney law mayor Clover Moore should give us reassurance that the media is not all powerful in how people vote. The city's biggest selling newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, and the top rating talk radio station 2GB have been almost hysterically anti-Moore for years. But today's vote has proved that people are quite capable of ignoring tabloid and shock-jock nonsense.

Tony Abbott and she said versus he said

I find myself feeling quite uneasy about the Abbott as bully story from this morning's Sydney Morning Herald:
So there we have what the SMH writer correctly describes as "a hugely damaging allegation" for which there are two completely different versions. One witness says something happened and the other says it didn't.
How should an allegation like this one be fairly reported? Should it be reported at all?
Perhaps when we have access to the full Quarterly Essay piece by David Marr there will at least be an attempt to find some corroborative evidence to support Barbara Ramjan's version.


Apec summit: President Hu's pledge on China economic growth

Some hopeful news from the Apec summit.
BBC News -  "Chinese President Hu Jintao has promised to maintain economic growth to support a global recovery, at the start of an Asia-Pacific summit in the Russian port city of Vladivostok."

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