Reference to things interesting

Posted on October 9, 2010

Greetings!  In addition to recounting my various antics and so on I have decided to include here, on a random basis, links to things I’ve read on the Internet that I find interesting.  Here’s the first edition.  I will include a link and then a description of what it is / why I think it merits attention.  I highly recommend using Instapaper for reading things, though this particular article is designed just fine, so it’s not at all necessary.

Dangerous Minds by Malcolm Gladwell – a very fascinating article effectively debunking the parlour trick that is criminal profiling.  This has always driven me crazy, the notion that there exist experts of the deviant mind out there somewhere, who can look at a set of clues and deduce therefrom essential characteristics of the criminal.  Supposed journalism about murderers and terrorists are chock full of these reverent little detours – an FBI profiler told the police to look for someone in his thirties or forties who is a loner… Really??  That’s insight?  The thing that really gets me is the idea that the information of a profiler – even if it were true – could possibly be useful.  A mess of vague contradictions and impossibly general descriptions cannot possibly help one in trying to actually locate someone (whereas statistical information about actual criminals might, this is very different than profiling, though profiling claims to be based on statistical information it is resoundingly not).  Note that in almost every tale told which invokes the expertise of a snake charming profiler, the police don’t actually do anything of significance based on this information.  It’s only after the fact that they note, oh yeah, this time that guy was right.  Huh.  The essential point here is that a single behaviour (of any type) may have an almost infinite number of causes, and that any explanatory model which attempts to catalogue complicated behaviours into simple and brute binary categories is hopelessly lost.  Check it out for yourself and see what you think.