Lawyer/magician Peter Baird has died. The Phoenix Business Journal reports he passed away Sunday. The author of numerous legal articles, novels and other works was 68. Among his writings was the interesting Corpus Juris Hocus Pocus, Arizona Attorney, October 1989, at 23. He will be missed.
The Scholarly Kitchen Blog discusses why one needs to understand statistics and such--or at least have a trusted acquaintance who can explain the field. In his post Reference List Length and Citations: A Spurious Relationship, blogger Philip Davis investigates the findings published in a recent study that the more references one tacks onto one's publication, the more references one generates to one's own work. One of the researchers told Nature, the prestigious science mag, "There is a ridiculously strong relationship between the number of citations a paper receives and its number of references. If you want to get more cited, the answer could be to cite more people."
Mr. Davis questions that conclusion and he uses an interesting law-related analogy to demonstrate the problem.
For instance, ice cream sales are highly correlated with the U.S. murder rate, but no one in their right mind would suggest that ice cream is responsible for violent behavior — that would give real meaning to “death by chocolate.” The underlying cause that connects murder with ice cream sales is heat. Heat makes people irritable and irrational, and given the right conditions, may lead to violent behavior. There is no theoretical basis of (sic) ice cream leading to violent behavior — this relationship is merely spurious (link omitted--Ed.)
Mr. Webster, the principal investigator, responds to Mr. Davis here, in the comments section; others also weigh in. Interesting debate.
We do need to look out for those logical fallacies, of course--finding two events that coincide conveniently, looking for links, and then thinking we find them because we've overlooked other, more likely possibilities. We are pattern seeking creatures and we do like narrative. It orders the world.
For more about logical fallacies, I recommend David Hackett Fischer's Historians' Fallacies (Harper Torchbooks, 1970), which is wonderfully readable, and not just for historians.
The U.S. Court of Federal Claims has upheld a lower court finding that plaintiffs Theresa and Michael Cedillo had failed to show a link between the vaccines administered to their daughter Michelle and the autism she had subsequently developed. The Court reviewed the case de novo and stated "We have carefully reviewed the decision of the Special Master and we find that it is rationally supported by the evidence, well-articulated, and reason-able. We therefore affirm the denial of the Cedillos’ petition for compensation."
According to CNN, about a dozen ghost hunters investigating the legend of a "ghost train" that crosses the Bostian Bridge (more here) near Statesville, North Carolina headed from Salisbury to Asheville August 27th, 1891 encountered a real freight train headed toward the town of Statesville in the early morning hours. Most of the group made it safely off the tracks but two did not. One of them, Christopher Kaiser, pushed a companion off the tracks before she was hit by the train, but he could not save himself. Mr. Kaiser died at the scene. The woman is recovering in a Charlotte hospital.
Law enforcement officials have interviewed the people involved, one police officer telling CNN that "Many fled because they were trespassing on railroad property." (I don't quite understand the comment. Wasn't an oncoming train enough? Or is it that they also left, or tried to leave, the area because they thought they would be cited for trespassing?)
Investigating paranormal phenomena, whether on private property or public areas, involves varying degrees of risk and may involve breaking some sort of law, as it did here. It can also involve risking one's life, as it did here, quite tragically. If the ghost hunters had been carrying on their investigation during the day, perhaps the train's engineer could have seen them and stopped earlier, although perhaps not. It may depend on the geography, and I'm not suggesting that the train's engineer, crew, or the railroad is at fault here. But these ghost hunters, apparently like many I read about, and like the ones on tv, were watching for ghosts at night. At night, some of our senses are heightened, but not all, and not our vision. We mistake many things at night. And we make many mistakes of judgment and perception at night. Sometimes, in the light of morning, the results are awful to behold.
So you feel in need of a little spiritual comfort and can't get out to get to church? Want someone to make a house call? The God Squad will happily come by, but maybe not with its recognizable "God Squad" logo on its little VW Bug. Best Buy, which owns the Geek Squad (those tech nerds) trademark has loosed a plague of lawyers upon Father Luke Strand, who has been tooling around in his God Squad car, bringing comfort to the locals, alleging that his logo and his use of the car (even with a clerical collar on it) sails (get it?) too close to the Geek Squad mark.
Hmmm. Does Best Buy really think people will confuse Geeks and God? (Though I realize there's more to the argument than this.) At any rate, I note that Father Luke's license plate reads "GODLVYA." Awfully close to "GODIVA." Isn't Father Luke worried that the famed Chocolatier will pounce on him? But seriously, folks....
Via the Entertainment Litigation Blog, George Lucas (The "Star Wars" films) has finally sued Jedi Mind over its "technology [which] involves the use of a wireless headset, developed by our strategic partner, which detects brainwaves on both the conscious and non-conscious level [and which] makes it possible for computers to interact directly with the human brain." Mr. Lucas apparently attempted over the past two years to get Jedi Mind to cease and desist, without success. Bring on the magic of the lawsuit.
Via Barnes and Noble I see that Midsomer Murders, volume 16, will be available September 28. This set includes the episode "The Magician's Nephew," which is the one about the Temple of Thoth and the poison dart frog. Guest stars Stuart Wilson (MI-5, Death and the Maiden, Ronald Pickup (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Jennie).