Eminent psychologists condemn "emotion detection" systems as being grounded in junk science

One of the more extravagant claims made by tech companies is that they can detect emotions by analyzing photos of our faces with machine learning systems. The premise is sometimes dressed up in claims about "micro-expressions" that are below the threshold of human detection, though some vendors have made billions getting security agencies to let them train officers in "behavior detection" grounded in this premise. Read the rest

Profile of Peter Thiel's "junk science" journal from someone asked to write for it

Adam Becker was invited to write for Inference, a "quarterly review of the sciences" backed by billionaire Peter Thiel. Inference covers all sorts of interesting subjects, but has an alarming tendency to make no distinction between pseudoscience and the real thing: think Omni but with the dry imprimatur of academic style instead of cool paintings. So Becker went down the rabbithole (instead of getting paid by it) and wrote up a profile of the publication for Undark.

A declaration in italics on their masthead gave me pause: “We have no ideological, political, or religious agendas whatsoever.” This struck me as unusual over-emphasis, so I did a little digging and came across a 2014 blog post by the computer scientist Jeffrey Shallit, where he muses on the first issue of this new “science” publication, adding: “the weirdness is strong — very strong — with this one.”

It sounds like the kind of thing I'd love—indulgent longreads about weird science—but the reality of such things in 2019 is climate denial and creationism and Noam Chomsky not responding to press inquiries about why he's on its board.

(Pictured above is, in the lack of Inference having any screenshottable visual character whatsoever, my own devising of what a Boing Boing Journal of Junk Science might look like -- perhaps it is time!) Read the rest

Babysitter vetting and voice-analysis: Have we reached peak AI snakeoil?

The ever-useful Gartner Hype Cycle identified an inflection point in the life of any new technology: the "Peak of Inflated Expectations," attained just before the sharp dropoff into the "Trough of Disillusionment"; I've lived through the hype-cycles of several kinds of technology and one iron-clad correlate of the "Peak of Inflated Expectations" is the "Peak of Huckster Snakeoil Salesmen": the moment at which con-artists just add a tech buzzword to some crooked scam and head out into the market to net a fortune before everyone gets wise to the idea that the shiny new hypefodder isn't a magic bullet. Read the rest

If you're an American of European descent, your stupid cousins have probably put you in vast commercial genomic databases

Remember when they caught the Golden State Killer by comparing DNA crime-scene evidence to big commercial genomic databases (like those maintained by Ancestry.com, 23 and Me, etc) to find his family members and then track him down? Read the rest

The Big Lie: how polygraph companies convinced the US government to use pseudoscience on job applicants

Lie detectors don't work: that's why they're not admissible as legal evidence and why it's illegal to subject private sector job-applicants to polygraph tests. Read the rest

Thoughtful, devastating critique of Jordan Peterson's "12 Rules for Life"

Jordan Peterson is really easy to make fun of -- what with the mystical nonsense and the pseudoscientific evolutionary biology -- but there are millions of (largely white, largely young, largely male) readers who've found his "12 Rules for Life" to be a balm for their souls and a rallying cry for a movement that has legitimized the most murderous strains of toxic masculinity. Read the rest

Welsh police deployed facial recognition tech with a 92% false positive rate, but they're sure it's fine

The South Wales Police deployed a facial recognition technology at the June 2017 Champions League soccer final in Cardiff, and 92% of the people identified by the system as matches for suspiciousness were false positives. Read the rest

It's back! British Conservative politicians' habitual "go ahead, kick me in the balls, I can take it" pose

Since George Osborne set the trend in 2015, UK Tory politicians have been posing for photos in a legs-too-wide stance laughably called the "power pose." Read the rest

Neurobollocks with Chinese characteristics: Chinese employers use "brain wave sensors" to tune workforces

Giant Chinese companies are outfitting millions of employees -- everyone from factory workers to military personnel to pilots and train drivers -- with special uniform hats containing an unspecified neurological sensor package claimed to be capable of detecting "depression, anxiety or rage" as well as "fatigue and attention loss with an accuracy of more than 90 per cent"; the practice is largely unregulated. Read the rest

UK police train machine-learning model using Experian data that stereotypes people based on garden size, first names, and postal codes

The police in Durham, England bought a license to the "Mosiac" dataset from the credit bureau Experian, which includes data on 50,000,000 Britons, in order to train a machine learning system called HART ("Harm Assessment Risk Tool") that tries to predict whether someone will reoffend. Read the rest

Just because Cambridge Analytica tells its customers it can sway elections, it doesn't follow that they're any good at it

Unilever founder John Wanamaker famously said, "I know that half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. My only problem is that I don’t know which half." It's an odd testament to the power of advertising, an industry whose executives are incredibly effective at selling their services to other executives, even if they can't prove they're any good at selling their customers' products to the public. Read the rest

For more than half a century, the sugar industry has used Big Tobacco tactics to suppress sugar/cancer link and to confuse the science

UCSF researchers have published an important paper in PLOS Biology that draws on internal documents from the US sugar industry lobby that shows that the industry deliberately suppressed research on the link between sucrose and bladder cancer and heart disease, and then deliberately sowed misinformation about the health effects of sugar, using tactics straight out of the tobacco industry's cancer-denial playbook. Read the rest

Predatory "scientific journals" tricked into publishing Star Wars-themed hoax

Robbo writes, "A number of so-called scientific journals have accepted a Star Wars-themed spoof paper. The manuscript is an absurd mess of factual errors, plagiarism and movie quotes. We know this because Neuroskeptic wrote it and posted about it on the Discover Magazine site. The paper was about Midi-chlorians and attributed to Dr Lucas McGeorge and Dr Annette Kin. Neuroskeptic takes us through the process used to create the bogus paper and the varied repsonses from the half-assed 'peer review' journals who accepted the work." Read the rest

The Army is using quack "battlefield acupuncture" based on junk science

The exciting field of "battlefield acupuncture" involves training soldiers and medics to perform what amounts to a "theatrical placebo" involving jamming glorified thumbtacks into fellow soldiers' ears and leaving them there until they fall out. Read the rest

Internal TSA files reveal that they have no evidence the $1B "behavioral detection" program works

In 2013, the TSA blew $1B on "behavioral detection," which would allegedly train agents to spot potential terrorists by looking for a hilariously stupid list of "tells" including "a bobbing adam's apple," "arriving late," "trembling," "yawning," "excessive throat clearing," "improper attire," "gazing down," and "wide open staring eyes," Also: "being in disguise." Read the rest

Data shows that male animals are not naturally promiscuous, nor are females naturally reticent

It's a commonplace that in the natural world, males attempt to mate with multiple females, while females attempt to entice males into being monogamous; this is attributed to the high cost of producing an egg and bearing children (or laying eggs) for females, and the low cost of sperm production for males. Read the rest

"Power Poses" are bullshit

In 2010, three psychologists published a paper on "power poses", with their finding that people who adopted "power poses" -- think of superheroes on skyscrapers -- felt more powerful and took more risks. Read the rest

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