The Dunning-Kruger Song

January 16th, 2018

By somewhat popular demand, here’s a video of “The Dunning-Kruger Song”:

The song honors the research study “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments,” by David Dunning and Justin Kruger, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 77, no. 6, December 1999, pp. 1121-34.

For writing that paper, Dunning and Kruger were awarded the Ig Nobel Prize for psychology, in the year 2000.

The behavior described in Dunning and Kruger’s study has become known as “the Dunning-Kruger Effect.” The Dunning-Kruger effect is on display every day, all around you.

“The Dunning Kruger Song” is the thrilling conclusion of “The Incompetence Opera,” which you can watch in its entity, if you wish.

Governing cyberspace via ‘Constructive Ambiguity’ (and Schrödinger’s cat)

January 15th, 2018

How can the vastness of cyberspace can be ‘governed’ in any practical way? Perhaps some ‘Constructive Ambiguity’ might help resolve such questions? A 2015 thesis by Professor Paul Cornish (Associate Director of Oxford University’s Global Cyber Security Capacity Centre and Research Group Director for Defence, Security and Infrastructure at RAND Europe in Cambridge, UK) suggests that useful constructive ambiguities – which might be applied to the problems of governing cyberspace – can be found in theoretical physics quantum theory. Using the example of Schrödinger’s cat, the professor explains that :

Quantum theory’s core proposition, known as the ‘superposition principle’, allows ‘the mixing together of states that classically would be mutually exclusive of each other’


In some respects, we might already have an elementary sense of super -positioning in cyberspace. For example, information is both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ in that it is made up of arrangements of digital code which have no physical substance, while at the time being sent and received electronically through machines and cabling. And as individuals with what is usually just one corporeal identity, we are nevertheless aware that we might adopt as many internet or cyber identities as we might wish. Similarly, where international cyber policy is concerned, we can identify various superpositioned ‘multiple states’ or dualities which we might wish state sovereignty to occupy at once: national and international; procedural and substantive; internal and external; intangible and physical; cultural and territorial.“

See: Governing Cyberspace through Constructive Ambiguity in the journal Survival : Global Politics and Strategy, Volume 57, 2015 – Issue 3. It’s also partly available here (you can buy the rest for £10).

Note: Although the word “Ambiguity” appears in the title, it appears not to appear in the essay itself.

Chris Christie’s “Analysis of the Indexical Values of Swearwords”

January 12th, 2018

To study how people deploy swear words, there are always more depths to be plumbed. This study plumbs:

The Relevance of Taboo Language: An Analysis of the Indexical Values of Swearwords,” Christine Christie, Journal of Pragmatics, vol. 58, 2013, pp. 152-169. The author explains:

“The assumption that the use of a particular word or linguistic resource can produce (im)politeness effects in some contexts, but not in all, is uncontroversial. For example, scholarship that addresses swearing as (im)politeness behaviour has repeatedly shown that, as a resource, taboo language can be used to generate a number of communicative effects in different contexts…. There are many questions about the indexing potential of strong swearwords, and how it relates to the location of different metadiscourses of swearing that have yet to be addressed.”

Dakota McCoy and the Blacker-Than-Black Bird Plumage

January 11th, 2018

Biologist Dakota McCoy, (seen here performing with a tray of drinks in hand, in “The Incompetence Opera,” part of the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony) has a new study about color in birds. McCoy, together with colleagues Teresa FeoTodd Alan Harvey, and Richard O. Prum, published “Structural absorption by barbule microstructures of super black bird of paradise feathers,” in the journal Nature Communications.

Ed Yong, in The Atlantic magazine, writes an appreciation of the study:

Super-Black Is the New Black
Feathers on birds of paradise contain light-trapping nanotechnology that makes some of the deepest blacks in the world.

Blackbirds, it turns out, aren’t actually all that black. Their feathers absorb most of the visible light that hits them, but still reflect between 3 and 5 percent of it. For really black plumage, you need to travel to Papua New Guinea and track down the birds of paradise.

Although these birds are best known for their gaudy, kaleidoscopic colors, some species also have profoundly black feathers. The feathers ruthlessly swallow light and, with it, all hints of edge or contour. They make body parts seem less like parts of an actual animal and more like gaping voids in reality. They’re blacker than black….

Here are some images from the study:

Why women wear high heels (new study)

January 11th, 2018

“Despite the widespread use of high-heeled footwear in both developing and modernized societies, we lack an understanding of this behavioral phenomenon at both proximate and distal levels of explanation.”

Prompting the development a new (experimentally-tested) hypothesis by David M. G. Lewis, Eric M. Russell, Laith Al-Shawaf, Vivian Ta, Zeynep Senveli, William Ickes and David M. Buss, presented in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, Nov. 2017.

“[…] we hypothesized that high heels influence women’s attractiveness via effects on their lumbar curvature. Independent studies that employed distinct methods, eliminated multiple confounds, and ruled out alternative explanations showed that when women wear high heels, their lumbar curvature increased and they were perceived as more attractive. Closer analysis revealed an even more precise pattern aligning with human evolved psychology: high-heeled footwear increased women’s attractiveness only when wearing heels altered their lumbar curvature to be closer to an evolutionarily optimal angle.”

See: Why Women Wear High Heels: Evolution, Lumbar Curvature, and Attractiveness

Note: The authors cite the work of Ig Nobel Physics Prize winners (2009) Katherine K. Whitcome of the University of Cincinnati, USA, Daniel E. Lieberman of Harvard University, USA, and Liza J. Shapiro of the University of Texas, USA, for analytically determining why pregnant women don’t tip over. Ref. “Fetal Load and the Evolution of Lumbar Lordosis in Bipedal Hominins,” Nature, vol. 450, 1075-1078 (December 13, 2007).

Also see: Heel thyself (The Guardian, Nov. 2014)