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A Majority of Gawkers are Unable to Comprehend Percentages

Sunday, September 25th, 2011
Logo of website gawker.com, for use in article...

Image via Wikipedia

There’s this post over at Gawker with the shocking headline “A Majority of Icelanders Believe in the Existence of Elves.” What is the basis for this outrageous claim? Why, this study reported on Iceland Review, of course, which found that only 8% of Icelanders believe that elves definitely exist.

I must have skipped one too many math-classes in school and missed the one about 8% constituting a majority. Even if you add the amount of people, who believe in the likelihood of elves to the ones believing they definitely exist, that still only makes 25%

Gawker must have misread, right? The following, however, is part of their direct quote:

Only 13 percent of participants in the study said it is impossible that elves exist, 19 percent found it unlikely, 37 percent said elves possibly exist, 17 percent found their existence likely and eight percent definite. Five percent did not have an opinion on the existence of elves.

What the Hell, Gawker? Didn’t you even read what you were quoting? Okay, let’s be charitable. It’s true that a majority of Icelanders (62% > 50%, see how that works?) believe the existence of elves is at the very least possible. That’s fine. So what? So do I. Since elves aren’t, to my knowledge, logically self-contradictory there is a possible world at which elves exist. It might even be very close to ours.

I don’t really understand the questionnaire placing “possibility” between “unlikelihood” and “likelihood.” Unless the likelihood of something is either zero or one, it has no bearing whatsoever on the possibility of said something. Perhaps the researchers intended “possibility” in a more colloquial sense, but if so then they can hardly lament ambiguity in their results. In any case a majority believing in the possibility (no matter the sense) of something isn’t exactly sensational.

Neil Gaiman explains modal logic

Sunday, April 10th, 2011
Cover of "InterWorld"

Cover of InterWorld

I recently read InterWorld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves; a book about an inter-dimensional traveller who joins a corps consisting only of alternate versions of himself preventing the forces of magic and technology from taking over the altiverse – yes, really! The book is kind of childish and I suspect I wasn’t the target audience but it did keep me thoroughly entertained from beginning to end. What I especially enjoyed about it was the setting; it was detailed and very well thought out. The technobabble, while certainly intended to be over one’s head, actually made a little bit of sense and while the setting was clearly intended only as a canvas on which to paint a cool story, the underlying world-mechanics were nevertheless sophisticated and well thought out. I’ll gladly recommend the book.

However, enough about that since this isn’t a book review. What really struck me wasn’t even in the book proper but inconspicuously hidden away at the back in an author’s note:

This is a work of fiction. Still, given an infinite number of possible worlds, it must be true on one of them. And if a story is set in infinite number of possible universes is true in one of them, then it must be true in all of them. So maybe it’s not as fictional as we think.

Quite possibly this is the best and most intuitive explanation of the counter-intuitive S5 Modal System statement that if something is possibly necessary then it is also actual.


Maybe this is beyond the pale geekery on my part but it amuses me that either Gaiman or Reaves or both are so philosophically savvy – if only by accident – that they would include sound modal logic in a science fiction novel for youngsters.

Well done, those men!

Atheists Don’t Have No Songs: A Freethinker’s Mix

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010
Freethinker's Mix Cover

Cover by A Tribe Called Meuw

I know there already have been many lists of atheist songs; I know because in trying to find songs for my own selection I read quite a few of them. However, I wanted to make something different than a comprehensive list.

I wanted to not only to choose my favourites but also arrange them in some sort of meaningful order that tells a story – at least to my own satisfaction. In short, I wanted to select a mix that can be burned onto a CD and I have endeavoured to keep it under that magical 79 minute mark.

It should also be noted that I know full well that not all of these artists are, in fact, atheists. Some are, some are not, and some I honestly have no idea about. Rather I chose songs based on whether they expressed something an atheist or freethinker would be likely to relate to – though, of course, your mileage may vary. More on odd choices after the track list.


Eat healthy, plant a pig

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Vegetarian Bacon Panini

I am vegetarian! Honest! I eat only the finest vegetarian bacon paninis. I love the healthy lifestyle but I wish these pigsprouts would stop sticking to my teeth.

Teenage Mutant Levitating Turtles

Monday, June 29th, 2009
What the fuck?

What the fuck?

Cowabunga, dude! I’m so badass that I don’t even have to touch the ground.

Seriously though, I can accept that Donatello might have found a footstool to pose with for the groupshot or something but what the Hell were the animators thinking when they positioned Leonardo? Invisible Buffalos?

I suppose hovering a few inches above streetlevel for extended periods of time is a very handy ninja-technique though. Shredder won’t see that one coming.

School for Adults – The Cow

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

By Johan Dalsgaard

The following educational piece of information was originally performed as a radio-sketch by famous Faroese actor, comedian, and politician Johan Dalsgaard. It was one of several in the “School for Adults” series, which expounded upon various topics of general interest to the greater awareness of all. Now for the very first time, it has been maladapted into the English language (sort of) by moron, slacker, and the generally poly-incompetent Heini Reinert. How this will bode for the future of bovine studies is as of yet entirely uncertain. Quite possibly the world will shrug it off as insignificant and continue in its usual humdrum state until it is wiped out by enraged cows.

Image in courtesy of A Tribe Called Möw’s genius. (His blog can be found here.)

Welcome to School for Adults. Today we will be discussing (more…)