Jan 29 2015

The Breakfast Cub (The Milgram Experiment)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgI hope everyone has at least a cursory familiarity with the Milgram Experiment.  This is a study of how willing people are to obey authority figures and believe me, it doesn’t take much.

I’ve been associated with survey research for many years and my magnum opus as a programmer is an integrated suite of cross-tabulation software designed to replace a $10,000 tab house (per study) with a bunch of $1500 Kaypro 10s and a some trained monkeys data entry profressionals.  There’s more to it than you think including a neat hash evaluation screener the make sure you don’t accidentally load the same set of data from the workstation into the consolidated database twice.

I got my start doing mall intercepts for Oxy-10 where my evaluation question (also called a screener) was- “Do you you have pimples, oily skin, blackheads, or zits?”

C’mon you pizza faced moron, I can see them.

Until recently I’d still pick up some change from doing interviews because I’m not above that sort of work, but I’m not getting calls so much anymore (though they still do what I’m about to describe) probably in part due to my moral qualms about it (which I did not disguise from my employer) and also since it’s cold and wet work that keeps you out really late at night.

You see, I did DUI Checkpoint testing for NHTSA and the IIHS.

Now the study was designed to determine 2 things, awareness of anti-Drunk Driving Ad Campaigns (“Have you seen or heard any advertising about increased DUI enforcement in the last 6 months?”  “Would that be on TV, the Radio, a Newspaper or Magazine or some other source?”), and how effective Police Officers were at detecting Drunk Drivers at Checkpoints (not very actually).

The methodology was that we’d set up just past the checkpoint and have someone in a white lab coat ($12 in any industrial clothing catalog) and safety vest wave over random cars and our team of interviewers (also in lab coats and safety vests) would go up to them and explain to the drivers that we were not associated with the police and were conducting a survey and asked them if they’d participate.

After a series of about 10 questions which were simply designed to get them used to saying yes we’d deliver the kicker-

One final question.  I have a Breathalizer here to measure your blood alcohol.  The results are totally anonymous and confidential and not shared with the Police.  Would you mind giving me a sample?

I’d get 80% compliance right out of the box.  If I applied a little cajoling (telling them that they were already past the checkpoint and there would be absolutely no consequences whatever the result which I wouldn’t know anyway) I’d get 98%.

Now the truth is we could easily have synced up those results using a license plate reader and given that they were ordered and time stamped.  I had a problem with that.

So I don’t do it anymore.

But what Milgram found in his experiments is true.  Almost everyone will do virtually anything an authority figure tells them to do, even if it’s administering fatal shocks because some guy in a $12 lab coat tells you to.

And when dealing with Police there are only 3 things you should say-

  • Am I free to go?
  • I am not answering any questions without my lawyer present.
  • I do not consent to any search.

You’ll probably get tased or shot anyway but at least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you did the right thing.

Rethinking One of Psychology’s Most Infamous Experiments

Cari Romm, The Atlantic

Jan 28 2015, 12:23 PM EST

Under the watch of the experimenter, the volunteer-dubbed “the teacher”-would read out strings of words to his partner, “the learner,” who was hooked up to an electric-shock machine in the other room. Each time the learner made a mistake in repeating the words, the teacher was to deliver a shock of increasing intensity, starting at 15 volts (labeled “slight shock” on the machine) and going all the way up to 450 volts (“Danger: severe shock”). Some people, horrified at what they were being asked to do, stopped the experiment early, defying their supervisor’s urging to go on; others continued up to 450 volts, even as the learner pled for mercy, yelled a warning about his heart condition-and then fell alarmingly silent. In the most well-known variation of the experiment, a full 65 percent of people went all the way.

Until they emerged from the lab, the participants didn’t know that the shocks weren’t real, that the cries of pain were pre-recorded, and that the learner- railroad auditor Jim McDonough– was in on the whole thing, sitting alive and unharmed in the next room. They were also unaware that they had just been used to prove the claim that would soon make Milgram famous: that ordinary people, under the direction of an authority figure, would obey just about any order they were given, even to torture.

(M)any psychologists argue that even with methodological holes and moral lapses, the basic finding of Milgram’s work, the rate of obedience, still holds up. Because of the ethical challenge of reproducing the study, the idea survived for decades on a mix of good faith and partial replications-one study had participants administer their shocks in a virtual-reality system, for example-until 2007, when ABC collaborated with Santa Clara University psychologist Jerry Burger to replicate Milgram’s experiment for an episode of the TV show Basic Instincts titled “The Science of Evil,” pegged to Abu Ghraib.

Burger’s way around an ethical breach: In the most well-known experiment, he found, 80 percent of the participants who reached a 150-volt shock continued all the way to the end. “So what I said we could do is take people up to the 150-volt point, see how they reacted, and end the study right there,” he said. The rest of the setup was nearly identical to Milgram’s lab of the early 1960s (with one notable exception: “Milgram had a gray lab coat and I couldn’t find a gray, so I got a light blue.”)

At the end of the experiment, Burger was left with an obedience rate around the same as the one Milgram had recorded-proving, he said, not only that Milgram’s numbers had been accurate, but that his work was as relevant as ever. “[The results] didn’t surprise me,” he said, “but for years I had heard from my students and from other people, ‘Well, that was back in the 60s, and somehow how we’re more aware of the problems of blind obedience, and people have changed.'”

Matthew Hollander, a sociology Ph.D. candidate at the University of Wisconsin, is among the most recent to question Milgram’s notion of obedience. After analyzing the conversation patterns from audio recordings of 117 study participants, Hollander found that Milgram’s original classification of his subjects-either obedient or disobedient-failed to capture the true dynamics of the situation. Rather, he argued, people in both categories tried several different forms of protest-those who successfully ended the experiment early were simply better at resisting than the ones that continued shocking.

“Research subjects may say things like ‘I can’t do this anymore’ or ‘I’m not going to do this anymore,'” he said, even those who went all the way to 450 volts. “I understand those practices to be a way of trying to stop the experiment in a relatively aggressive, direct, and explicit way.”

It’s a far cry from Milgram’s idea that the capacity for evil lies dormant in everyone, ready to be awakened with the right set of circumstances. The ability to disobey toxic orders, Hollander said, is a skill that can be taught like any other- all a person needs to learn is what to say and how to say it.

Ah, you see, that’s the point.  However much they verbally protested, they didn’t stop shocking.  Some of them were quite distressed both by the experience and by discovering what they were capable of doing to another person with the proper motivation.  That’s why the experiment is widely considered unethical and unduplicable today.

The number of people who walked out is surprisingly low and the question for you dear reader is are you one of them?

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

Science and Technology News and Blogs

Science Oriented Video

Obligatories, News and Blogs below.


Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

I would never make fun of LaEscapee or blame PhilJD.  And I am highly organized.

This Day in History


LAPD chief’s claim that Waze ‘helps criminals’ leaves many in blank disbelief

by Andrew Gumbel, The Guardian

Thursday 29 January 2015 07.00 EST

Civil liberties lawyers, free speech advocates and even some police departments have rushed to the defence of the popular road navigation app Waze after Charlie Beck, the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, accused the service of endangering officers and helping criminals by publicizing the position of their patrol cars.

Beck went public with his criticisms on Tuesday, publishing a letter he wrote to Waze’s parent company, Google, in the wake of two officer shootings in New York last month and saying at a news conference: “It is not always in the public’s best interest to know where police are operating.”

Response to Beck has ranged from indignation to blank disbelief, since the LAPD’s own patrol cars are known to use social media to advertise their presence in high-crime areas and the cars themselves are designed to be as visible as possible.

“You have the stripes and the red lights and the word ‘police’ in big letters. These cars are very conspicuous. It stands to reason you can talk about seeing one, whether by text, or by phone or through an app like Waze,” said David Maass, a researcher with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties advocacy group. “People have a First Amendment right to say what they can see with their own two eyes … and Google and Waze have the same right to post this information.”

Will the Obama administration finally bring the CIA’s torturers to justice?

by Trevor Timm, The Guardian

Thursday 29 January 2015 07.44 EST

President Obama’s nominee for attorney general, Loretta Lynch, in her first Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, admitted that certain actions taken by the CIA constituted torture and were illegal.

Given her comments, Lynch should immediately appoint a special prosecutor to seek charges against the CIA for waterboarding three detainees (and likely many more) as soon as she’s confirmed. Since there is no statute of limitations on torture, and the UN Convention Against Torture – ratified by the Senate and signed by President Reagan – requires that the United States prosecute violators, this should be an open and shut case for Lynch.

Of course, the chances of actual accountability for the CIA is incredibly slim, given the agency can even get away with spying directly on the Senate itself with no consequences. True to form, the Justice Department hasn’t bothered to read their copy of the full Senate report on CIA torture (which runs almost 7,000 pages) despite having it for months. As Huffington Post’s Ali Watkins reported the same day Lynch testified, the Justice Department has disgracefully left the package containing the report unopened, despite the clear lawlessness documented inside it.

FCC vote to force high-speed internet upgrades angers cable industry

by Dominic Rushe, The Guardian

Thursday 29 January 2015 08.00 EST

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler wants to update the definition of what constitutes broadband to 25Mbps for downloads and 3Mbps for uploads, a move that could give the regulator greater authority to force upgrades from internet service providers.

In a letter to the regulator, the cable industry’s largest lobby group, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), called the FCC’s new definitions “entirely out of step” with consumer demands and said they “exaggerate the amount of bandwidth needed by the typical broadband user”.

In a blog post, it said the consumers were accessing the internet through wired and wireless connections at varying speeds and FCC’s definition excluded services “relied on by tens of millions of customers” that did not need the higher speeds suggested by the FCC. The NCTA said the number of people using broadband has consistently increased over time and it was “laughable” to suggest the cable industry “doesn’t want to deliver consumers faster speeds or improved infrastructure”.

DEA plan to track drivers went much wider, new documents reveal

by Oliver Laughland and Rory Carroll, The Guardian

Thursday 29 January 2015 14.49 EST

Federal agencies tried to use vehicle license-plate readers to track the travel patterns of Americans on a much wider scale than previously thought, with new documents showing the technology was proposed for use to monitor public meetings.

The American Civil Liberties Union released more documents this week revealing for the first time the potential scale of a massive database containing the data of millions of drivers, logged from automatic license plate readers around the US.

Further documents released by the ACLU on Wednesday show that Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials in Phoenix planned on “working closely” with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to monitor public gun shows with the automatic technology in 2009.

Although the DEA has said the proposal was not acted upon, the revelations raise questions about how much further the secret vehicle surveillance extends, which other federal bodies are involved and which other groups may have been targeted.

“The broad thrust of the DEA is to spread its program broadly and catch data and travel patterns on a massive scale,” Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with ACLU, told the Guardian. “This could be a really amazing level of surveillance that we’ve not seen before in this country.”

Greece and its discontents

by Charlemagne, The Economist

Jan 31st 2015

The ascendancy of Syriza is spreading political fears in two related ways. The first, much fretted over in Berlin and Brussels, is that Greece’s euro-zone partners may feel obliged to offer Mr Tsipras goodies as a “reward” for his victory, weakening the hand of reformers in other countries. Such concerns may indeed mean that Mr Tsipras finds it harder than his predecessors to win concessions. The second is that his victory will embolden Podemos and similar parties elsewhere. Spain and Portugal hold elections later this year; Ireland no later than April 2016. Today, polls suggest that anti-austerity parties will do well in all three.

Spain has a much larger economy than Greece and a more or less functioning public administration. It has not had to endure years of outsourced governance by the detested “troika”-the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF, which together have enforced the rules of Greece’s bail-outs since 2010. Mr Tsipras owes his election largely to public resentment at the austerity imposed by the troika, which he vows to send packing. Barring a bail-out of its banks in 2012, Spain has remained master of its own destiny.

What populist parties really seek to do, argues José Ignacio Torreblanca, a Madrid-based analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank, is to change the “axis of competition” in European politics from left v right to insider v outsider. Both Podemos and the National Front meet this description, even if they agree on little else. The weakening of traditional political loyalties opens a door for the populists. Economic stagnation helps their anti-elite case. The EU-plus, in some cases, immigrants-makes a convenient punchbag. And Syriza’s victory demonstrates that the old order can be toppled.

Hillary Clinton may delay campaign

By Mike Allen, Politico

1/29/15 6:43 AM EST

Hillary Clinton, expecting no major challenge for the Democratic nomination, is strongly considering delaying the formal launch of her presidential campaign until July, three months later than originally planned, top Democrats tell POLITICO.

The delay from the original April target would give her more time to develop her message, policy and organization, without the chaos and spotlight of a public campaign.

A Democrat familiar with Clinton’s thinking said: “She doesn’t feel under any pressure, and they see no primary challenge on the horizon. If you have the luxury of time, you take it.”

Senator slams CIA panel conclusions on Hill spying

By Marisa Taylor, McClatchy

January 27, 2015

In a statement Tuesday, Senator Dianne Feinstein rejected the CIA accountability board’s conclusions that five agency personnel shouldn’t be penalized for searching computers used by her staff to compile a scathing report on the torture of detainees.

“The bottom line is that the CIA accessed a Senate Intelligence Committee computer network without authorization, in clear violation of a signed agreement…,” said Feinstein, reiterating an assertion that the searches violated “the constitutional separation of powers between Congress and the executive branch.”

The California Democrat added: “Someone should be held accountable.”

Investors Turn On Tsipras’s Campaign to End Austerity in Greece

by Nikolaos Chrysoloras, Eleni Chrepa, and Paul Tugwell Bloomberg News

1:09 PM EST January 28, 2015

“We will not continue with the failed recipe of austerity,” Tsipras said, standing next to Shulz. He said that he plans to negotiate “with safety” and secure “stability” as he implements his agenda.

Tsipras said he wants to replace Greece’s bailout program with a “reform program” that would include measures to crack down on tax evasion and corruption. That conversation will continue on Friday when Jeroen Dijsselbloem, chair of the euro region’s group of finance ministers, is due to arrive in the Greek capital.

“In all honesty if you sum up all their promises then the Greek budget will very quickly be out of balance and then further debt relief won’t help anyway,” Dijsselbloem said in Amsterdam, Thursday. “We want to keep Greece in the euro zone, in the European Union, but that also requires the Greeks to meet their commitments.”

‘Big Oil’ Cuts $20 Billion in Five Hours to Preserve Dividends

by Tara Patel, Bloomberg News

12:10 PM EST January 29, 2015

Shell, based in The Hague, will pay an unchanged quarterly dividend of 47 cents a share and repeat the same payment in the first quarter and possibly for the rest of the year. The yield stands at 5.7 percent.

The payout is an “iconic item at Shell, I will do everything to protect it,” the CEO said in the television interview.

More than 30,000 dismissals have been announced across the oil industry as companies shrink budgets, according to a tally by Bloomberg News. Exploration and production spending will fall by more than $116 billion, or 17 percent, on weaker oil revenues, according to an estimate from Cowen & Co.

6 Days That Felled Sheldon Silver, the Speaker Who Ruled Albany for Decades


JAN. 28, 2015

Late on Monday afternoon, Mr. Silver, the longtime speaker of the New York Assembly, addressed scores of his Democratic colleagues who had grimly gathered in a corner conference room in the State Capitol. The mood was as serious as the charges he faces: that he exploited his office to obtain millions of dollars in payoffs.

Mr. Silver spoke for less than 10 minutes before offering to leave the room, to help facilitate a freer discussion.

No one asked him to stay.

So it was that Mr. Silver, one of the most powerful men in New York, and suddenly the face of Albany’s continuing corruption crisis, shuffled out.

That exit foreshadowed his fall from grace – a six-day, slow-motion toppling that began with his arrest on Jan. 22 and culminated on Tuesday evening, when Democrats said Mr. Silver would be replaced for the betterment of a chamber repeatedly buffeted by prosecutions, convictions and sexual harassment scandals.

Inconvenient Truths in Afghanistan

The New York Times

JAN. 29, 2015

“The decision leaves SIGAR for the first time in six years unable to publicly report on most of the U.S. taxpayer-funded efforts to build, train, equip and sustain” Afghan forces, the agency wrote, using its acronym, in its latest quarterly report, which was issued Thursday. Mr. Sopko last year had protested the decision to restrict dissemination of a more limited set of data that would have otherwise been included in the October report. He said there was no evidence that aggregate nationwide data on Afghan military capabilities could give militants an edge.

“Its inexplicable classification now and its disappearance from public view does a disservice to the interest of informed national discussion,” Mr. Sopko wrote in the October report.

Under the new classification guidelines, the military is not publicly reporting how many Afghan policemen and soldiers are employed, how much Washington is spending on their salaries, the state of corruption in Afghan ministries or the results of an effort to recruit more women in the army. Washington’s war in Afghanistan nominally ended at the turn of the year, when a campaign called Operation Enduring Freedom folded and a new mission, called Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, began. While it’s tempting to think that Americans troops and taxpayer dollars are no longer at war in Afghanistan, they very much are. More than 10,000 American troops are there training and supporting the Afghans.


1 ping

Comments have been disabled.