Wednesday, January 26, 2011

No.

10 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Ahh, the Rilstone Principle at work.

    On the bright side, at least this "rather interesting question to which the answer is invariably 'no'" doesn't libel anyone. Except, perhaps, God, and he seems to have stopped suing lately.

    We Yanks may have the Tea Party, but you Brits have The Daily Mail, which seems to have been at it for over a century.

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  3. Surely this is an interesting question to which the answer is not 'no' but 'probably yes, but nobody knows whether it will be in the next year, the next century, or never'?

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  4. A better answer might be "on a geological scale, maybe, but there is only a very tiny probability of its happening in any of our lifetimes." The answer is definitely not "probably yes," even on a geological scale, since there is no evidence that eruptions are at regular intervals or at all predictable - the fact that it hasn't erupted in 640,000 years is much better evidence that it won't ever erupt again than it is evidence that it's "overdue."

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  5. Did Supervolcano come up on BBC3 over the holidays?

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  6. You'll note I didn't use the word 'overdue', and explicitly said that eruptions weren't predictable. Because I am not in fact stupid.

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  7. Stupid has nothing to do with it. Media reports have consistently stated that Yellowstone erupts "every 600,000 years" as if this were a known fact. I don't blame anybody for taking them at their word.

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  8. For further such nonsense, see media reports on "60 year cycles" for hurricanes, as if we have records going back far enough to convincingly demonstrate so long a cycle (the mechanism for which is entirely obscure, assuming it exists).

    But there's no culpability here for anyone who believes it, any more than I blame anyone for not knowing what "blood libel" means (even Sarah Palin). People need to get over the idea that intellectual error implies stupidity or some moral failure in the person who makes it. I once believed that the seasons were caused because the Northern Hemisphere of the Earth was closer to the Sun during summer, a naive hypothesis which is demolished by five or ten minutes thought about it, but I never gave it that five or ten minutes thought until I took astronomy.

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  9. There's entirely culpability, because there's two separate bits of ignorance going on (you have to think that eruptions of the same volcano are independent enough events to be modelled by a Poisson distribution, and you have to misunderstand Poisson distributions enough to think that you can be 'overdue' an event modelled by one), either of which would be silly enough on its own but both together...

    I thought I knew what 'blood libel' meant until someone started saying 'Not all blood libels are made against Jews'. So what is the defining feature of a blood libel then? That it's children? That it's ritual? Were the Carthaginians victims of a blood libel then?

    (My understanding was and remains that 'blood libel' is a specific historical term for the particular occurrence of a particular story told about about Jews, notwithstanding there there may have been other libels involving blood, in the same way as, say, the Glorious Revolution is a specific historical term for a particular event, notwithstanding that there may have been other revolutions and some of them could even have been glorious).

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  10. I still see no culpability. I would hardly be surprised or think any layman was stupid because he didn't understand the mechanism behind volcanic eruptions and how they ought to be modeled.

    I do believe that it would be entirely accurate to claim that the Carthaginians were victims of a blood libel. (Both children and ritual are, I think, required.) I don't seriously object to your use of the term and since blood libels have been associated almost exclusively with Jews for the last thousand years or so, it's perfectly reasonable, but I do think then that we should call it The Blood Libel. I find this a bit strained since Jews have been blood libeled many times in history, rather than just one specific egregious incident.

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