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Zombie Lies and Drunk Math

August 2, 2013

MediaMatters: “Right-Wing Media Respond To Obama’s Corporate Tax Reform Proposal With Zombie Lie About Small Business Taxes” by REMINGTON SHEPARD:

A Wall Street Journal editorial pushed the zombie lie that many small businesses are taxed at the top individual rates, writing that “[m]ost small business owners file under rules for individuals,” and noting that tax rate was increased this year … A memorandum from the Joint Committee on Taxation, a congressional panel that analyzes tax proposals, projected that the 2013 increase to the two top income tax rates of 39.6 and 36 percent would only affect 3.5 percent of taxpayers that report business income.

See also this PolitiFact: “Sen. Marco Rubio says 75% of small businesses say they’ll fire workers or cut hours under Obamacare“:

Rubio, arguing to defund Obamacare, said “75 percent of small businesses now say they are going to be forced to either fire workers or cut their hours.” That’s not remotely true. In the study of small businesses he cited, less than 10 percent said they might make that choice. His office cited a news article that misinterpreted ambiguous results from an interest-group survey. But basic statistics about America’s small businesses show the number was seriously unlikely, and a quick message to the U.S. Chamber exposed the error.

Once these stats get out there, they become hard to kill. Even once disproved, it’s hard to spread the proof to all the people who say the stat and even then who know which will be remembered. There are zombie lies all around and it’s impossible to know who to trust.

NPR: “When Fleeing Zombies (Or Flu), Cooperation Saves Lives” by Anna Haensch:

How will humans survive the zombie apocalypse? Will it be each man for himself or will a coordinated effort be what saves us from ultimate doom? An MIT professor is trying to answer this question for us mortals. “There is a price that society pays if everyone determines his behavior selfishly,” Ruben Juanes says. And this cost of selfish behavior is what game theorists call the price of anarchy. When it comes to a zombie attack or a more common outbreak of flu or other infectious disease, the price of anarchy is a much higher rate of infection, Juanes says.

But this is a sort of zombie over-simplification. Because if we all know that everyone is cooperating then it is no longer necessarily in our best interest to cooperate. We are all living in a constant Prisoner’s Dilemma – (Is orange the new math? – NPR: “The ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma’ Tests Women In And Out Of Jail” by Tania Lombrozo).

The professor with the question mark in his name, Robert Smith?, got some press this week for his zombie math: MSNNow: “Use this equation to find out if you’d survive the zombie apocalypse“: [sourced from LiveScience: “Surviving a Zombie Apocalypse: Just Do the Math” by Michael Dhar]

University of Ottawa math professor Robert J. Smith, who developed this math model to predict a person’s chances in a hypothetical zombie pandemic. Got a pencil? It’s (bN)(S/N)Z=bSZ. You calculate with N=total populations, S=number of susceptible people, Z=zombies and b=likelihood of transmission.

This is not a formula for survival, only for certain death (the only chance is to not be susceptible). And so it seems to me this is the wrong formula for survival. Survival will come from not being easily manipulated by new information. We can’t trust any news or political sources and are forced to think more critically. There is no formula for research but a formula for survival that may be helpful was posted on ZombieLaw just the other day about Sharknado Economics and Bayes Theorem

sharknado bayes theorem fail shark tornado zombies.

Bayesian thinking opposes radically changing expectations based on new information. Information is analyzed on the likelihood of that information in light of previous expectations and the new information is incorporated skeptically. Bayesian thinking works for simple repetitive events. Unfortunately, even if history repeats itself: tragedy, farce, tragedy, farce — that’s really not what Bayes meant…

With enough data points (or controlled experiments) we can pretend there are actual repetitions of some events – hence the drunk witch Nate Silver and his moneyball-politics (note again, Brad Pitt in both “Moneyball” and “World War Z” and “Thelma and Louise” – jump that cliff@!@!!)

Recall also ZombieLaw: “Reinhart-Rogoff Tipping Point: Zombie Excel Programming Math Error” and Paul Krugman’s Reinhart-Rogoff zombie.

At some point all statistics and economic numbers a potentially zombie lies. Faulty data collection, faulty analysis. Can’t trust the numbers, but we can awe when someone like Nate Silver (or Goldman Sachs) can accurately predict a horse race — until the day they can’t and the system crashes…

With repetitive events, gamblers can win in the long run. But in the real world there are no repetitions (today is a new day) and in the long run we are all dead. So, zombies may seem like repetitive events but humanity and individuality are more like one divided by zero


… buffer overrun!

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From → economics, politics

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