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The Mathletes and the Miley Photoshop

CmdrTaco posted more than 5 years ago | from the look-what-i-can-do dept.

555

Frequent Slashdot contributor Bennett Haselton's essay this week is about "A Tennessee man is arrested for possessing a picture of Miley Cyrus's face superimposed on a nude woman's body. In a survey that I posted on the Web, a majority of respondents said the man violated the law -- except for respondents who say they were good at math in school, who as a group answered the survey differently from everyone else." Continue on to see how.

On June 24, a Tennessee man was arrested for possessing photos that showed the faces of three underage girls, including Miley Cyrus, superimposed onto the nude bodies of adult women. Assistant District Attorney Dave Denny said of the arrest, "When you have the face of a small child affixed to a nude body of a mature woman, it's going to be the state's position that this is for sexual gratification and that this is simulated sexual activity." The phrase "simulated sexual activity" apparently refers to a Tennessee sex crimes law which states in part: "It is unlawful for any person to knowingly possess material that includes a minor engaged in simulated sexual activity that is patently offensive."

Assuming this is the crime that the D.A. plans to charge him with, to me it seems obvious that the defendant didn't violate the law as written. For one thing, if the nude women in the pictures were just standing there (and neither the article nor the D.A.'s statement suggests otherwise), then there was no "sexual activity" in the photos of any kind, real or simulated. But even if the nude adult women in the photos had been engaged in sexual activity (even just striking a mildly sexy pose), the law still would not apply, because the law requires an actual minor to actually be engaged in something, even if that "something" is simulated sexual activity. So if a video showed a real minor that appeared to be masturbating or having sex with someone in a manner that was "patently offensive", that could violate the law. (Hopefully the "patently offensive" clause would exclude artistic movies like The Tin Drum, although that defense has not always worked.) But if the girls' faces were simply cut and pasted onto the bodies of the women in the photos, then the minors in question were not "engaged in" anything. The D.A. appears to have confused "material that includes a minor engaged in simulated sexual activity" with "material that simulates a minor engaged in sexual activity". And the D.A.'s statement that "this is for sexual gratification and that this is simulated sexual activity" — clearly implying that the pictures are for sexual gratification and therefore this is "simulated sexual activity" — is ridiculous. The defendant probably used pictures of Miley with her clothes on for "sexual gratification" — does that make the photos "simulated sexual activity"? (Dave Denny's office did not respond to my request for comment.)

But I was more interested in a different question: What would people in a survey think about whether the defendant violated the law? And, would people who are good at math, answer the question differently from everyone else? And would those people answer the question differently from people who are good at, say, English composition?

That might seem like an odd twist to put on it. But if you can show that a certain answer correlates with mathematical ability, that indicates something special about that answer. And if you can show that that answer appeals to people with math skills, but not to people with English/writing/composition skills, then that indicates something interesting not just about that answer, but about mathematical ability as well, as opposed to writing ability. Whether that answer is "right" or "wrong" (or whether you think those terms are even meaningful for a legal opinion), it is a fact, not an opinion, that people with self-reported higher math skills are more likely to pick that as the correct choice.

By contrast, when the D.A. makes a public statement about the criminality of the defendant's actions, the implication is that we should give some weight to his statements because of his qualifications, such as being a member of the bar. But if we were to ask other bar members to decide independently of each other whether the defendant committed a crime, would they converge on the same answer? If not, then why should we listen to him, as opposed to someone else with the same credentials? When an expert cites their credentials in support of an opinion, if it's not true that other experts with the same credentials would back them up on that opinion, I don't think people realize the extent to which there is no there there.

So in the survey, I described the man's alleged actions and the Tennessee statute, and asked people if they thought he had violated the law. I also asked respondents to rate their math skills as "Excellent"/"Very good"/"Good"/"Fair"/"Poor" and to rate their English/composition skills as "Excellent"/"Very good"/"Good"/"Fair"/"Poor". The survey was posted on the Amazon Mechanical Turk site, where you can post "tasks" for people to complete in exchange for small payments of, say, 25 cents apiece. Some companies use this for grunt work (like hiring people to review user-submitted profile photos to make sure they don't contain nudity), but I use the site mainly to conduct surveys.

I think it's unlikely that the Mechanical Turk users are a representative cross-section of the population, but I use it more to find significant relative differences between demographic groups. If 60% of women on the site answer a question one way and 80% of men answer it the other way, that probably suggests that in a real cross-sectional survey of the population, men and women would largely disagree on the answer as well. (The alternative would be that the kind of men and women who use Mechanical Turk are predisposed to answer the question differently along gender lines in a way that average men and women are not, but that seems unlikely.)

For this survey, I offered users 25 cents apiece for completing this survey and collected 127 responses. The results in a nutshell:

  1. About two-thirds of all respondents (85 out of 127) said that the man did violate the law.
  2. However, among the respondents who rated their own math skills as "Excellent", only 44% (12 out of 27) said he violated the law, and 56% (15 out of 27) said that he did not. Out of all ten ability groupings (five different ability groupings for math, from "Excellent" to "Poor", and five for English), this was the only group where a majority said that the defendant didn't violate the statute.
  3. Respondents who self-rated their English/composition skills as "Excellent", were also more likely than average to vote that the man did not violate the law, but a majority of them still voted that he did.

These results are significant at the 99% level, which you can check using an online statistical significance calculator. In other words, despite the modest sample size, the answers given by the respondents with self-rated "excellent" math skills are so starkly different from everyone else's, that there's less than a 1 in 100 chance that the difference is due to coincidence. Almost certainly, something about mathematical ability is correlated with a person's likelihood of giving the "not guilty" answer. (At this point I'm going to give in to my bias and hereinafter refer to that as the "right answer.")

Furthermore, while respondents with "excellent" English/composition skills were also more likely than average to get the right answer (a difference that is also significant at the 99% level, given the collected data), they were considerably less likely to do so, than the users with self-reported "excellent" math skills (again, significant at the 99% level). I tabulated all the responses.

If I could afford to pay a larger sample, I would investigate whether the effect of "excellent" English/composition skills disappears entirely when you control for math skills. In other words, it's possible that the people with excellent English/composition skills were more likely than average to get the right answer, but only insofar as their English/composition skills were correlated with excellent math ability — and maybe people with "excellent" English/composition skills, but only average math ability, score no better than the average respondents.

One thing that jumps out at me: Even though 44% of the 27 people with "excellent" math skills said the man did violate the law, when you look at the 58 people who self-reported "very good" math skills, 74% of them said he violated the law. This would appear to confound my original hypothesis that good math skills lead people to converge on the correct answer. But I suspect that many people with self-reported "very good" math grades were probably just good students who studied hard and did the practice problems and got good grades in math, but without necessarily having the insight that makes someone an "excellent" math student. Without that insight, there was no reason to expect them to be better than average at answering a question that has no resemblance to their textbook's practice problems.

In fact, I suspect that many of the people who self-reported their math skills as "excellent", and who still answered "yes" to the question of whether the man violated the law, probably fell into that studious-but-not-insightful category as well. It would be interesting to test whether if you required respondents to actually answer a math question — not a standard textbook question, but a tricky question that required people to demonstrate an understanding of what is actually going on — if the correlation between correctly answering that question, and "correctly" answering the legal question, is even stronger.

But what I think is even more important than the correlation of the correct answer with "excellent" math ability, was the significantly lower correlation of the correct answer with "excellent" English skills. I've been saying for years that you can use excellent prose to defend an illogical idea, or you can use poorly crafted prose to defend a good idea, and so if you care about the quality of an idea and its impact on the real world, you have to look at the substance of an argument, not the style. Economics professor Steven Landsburg writes in his forthcoming philosophy book The Big Questions,

The bane of a college professor's existence is the student who has been taught in a writing course that there is such a thing as good writing, independent of having something to say. Students turn in well-organized grammatically correct prose, with the occasional stylistic flourish in lieu of any logical argument, and don't understand why they've earned grades of zero.

I call such people "vocabulemics", who seem to think the purpose of a discussion is to vomit up as many SAT vocab prep words as possible, rather than to form a coherent point. I've tried, and I can't think of any coherent point that could be made in order to argue that the Miley photoshopper really did violate the Tennessee law.

If you're still unconvinced by the results of a survey of mathletes, consider that they do match up well with the comments provided to me by Mark Rasch, a lawyer and computer security specialist with Secure IT Experts and the former head of the Department of Justice Computer Crimes Unit:

First, an image of a minor engaged in simulated sexual activity is not the same as a simulated minor engaged in sexual activity... In other words, if you posed actual minors, nude, and made it look like they were having sex, it would be a crime, even though there was no "actual" sexual activity. In most other contexts, when the legislature says "simulated sexual activity" they mean real people engaged in what appears to be sex. The government is trying to apply this theory to real sex but simulated minors. I don't think that passes statutory muster.. its not what the statute prohibits... Under that rationale, if you had, for example, a picture of two dogs mating, and glued pictures of kids on the dogs faces, this would be "simulated sexual activity" but would not be prosecutable. Where do you draw the line? Under federal law, you typically draw the line at the use and posing of real kids.

Depending on how you look at it, you may think that this opinion from credentialed expert Mr. Rasch, vindicates the opinion of the math aficionados who voted that the defendant did not violate the law. I think it's the other way around — the fact that this answer was correlated in the survey responses with mathematical ability, vindicates the opinion of Mr. Rasch.

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Sorry (0, Offtopic)

baldass_newbie (136609) | more than 5 years ago | (#28594899)

The incessant use of blockquotes makes this story unreasonable.

Re:Sorry (4, Informative)

Late Adopter (1492849) | more than 5 years ago | (#28594989)

It's not the OP, it's Slashdot. In some pages (my user page, for example) "i" tags get rendered as blockquotes. Must be a CSS bug, I suppose.

Re:Sorry (3, Informative)

dtmos (447842) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595053)

It's a bug in Slashcode somewhere. Happens to all of my archived posts when I view them -- anything I put in italics or boldface turns into a

blockquote

. Yes, it's really annoying, but it's not the submitter's fault.

Re:Sorry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28595151)

I'd like to add that they ARE actually <i> tags, so it's something in the stylesheet.

Re:Sorry (2, Informative)

johndiii (229824) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595425)

In order to get italics with the current stylesheet, use <em> tags.

Re:Sorry (1)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595585)

That's correct- they define div.body i with display:block instead of display:inline. If you have Firefox with Firebug installed you can fix it.

Re:Sorry (3, Informative)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595437)

You need to use the

<em>

tag if you want actual italics and the

<strong>

tag if you want actual boldface.

Italics
Boldface

The "b" tag and the "i" tag both tend to get rendered incorrectly now. I think it must default to the annoying block quote...The tags above are supposed to be in an "ecode" tag, but it fricking blockquoted those as well.

you lost me at hello (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28594915)

I'm good at math, but not so much at reading. You lost me after the first paragraph.

Re:you lost me at hello (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28595187)

And what does being good at math or english have to do with whether or not what he did was right or wrong? Of course, the article was tl;dr, so it may have been answered.

Re:you lost me at hello (-1)

StellarFury (1058280) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595339)

Nothing. It was a question of what being good at math or english has to do with people's opinions and/or logic on whether he was right or wrong.

Though I think our author is guilty of perhaps the same faults that the Tennessee DA falls prey to in the pursuit of this case. The Tennessee DA _really_ doesn't like child porn, and so prosecutes anything and everything resembling it.

Mr. Haselton _really_ likes math, or math people (or _really_ hates english, or english people - I'm making some assumptions here) and so attempts to irrefutably prove that predilections towards math make one's opinions "more correct."

Big surprise that his results were inconclusive.

Re:you lost me at hello (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595405)

...another rube proving the guys point.

This isn't about your personal opinion about what's "right" or "wrong". It's about the law.

The law is rather well defined even if a little byzantine at times.

Much of it is still accessable to the common man if you bother to actually read it and apply it.

Fix your tags (0, Offtopic)

Rix (54095) | more than 5 years ago | (#28594933)

I don't think those quotes are what you really want.

Re:Fix your tags (0, Offtopic)

pm_rat_poison (1295589) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595077)

Maybe he is doing that annoying thing when the person who talks simulates the use of quotes in oral speech with the typical gesture of the arms.

Re:Fix your tags (0, Offtopic)

Intron (870560) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595475)

Do you mean the person simulates the use of quotes in real speech or the use of real quotes in simulations of speech? I'm confused.

Re:Fix your tags (4, Informative)

TerranFury (726743) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595091)

This is a bug in the Slashcode, I think. Try this: Make an HTML post in which you use italics. Then view that same post in your profile. The italics will have been replaced by quotes. Hopefully this high-visibility example will cause this to be fixed.

Re:Fix your tags (1)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595465)

This is a bug in the Slashcode, I think. Try this: Make an HTML post in which you use italics. Then view that same post in your profile. The italics will have been replaced by quotes. Hopefully this high-visibility example will cause this to be fixed.

Hopefully? This is Slashdot afterall...

Re:Fix your tags (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28595469)

Well, judging by idle./..org section's white-on-white titles, I'd say that you are dreaming.

Re:Fix your tags (2, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595559)

White on white titles in Idle are not a bug. Text that isn't white-on-white in Idle is a bug.

Re:Fix your tags (2, Interesting)

Canazza (1428553) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595523)

Quite clearly this man is guilty of Copyright infringment, as the photo was likely taken from promotional material and is property of Disney. Quick! Call the RIAA!

I would have guessed otherwise (3, Funny)

Bemopolis (698691) | more than 5 years ago | (#28594937)

It seems to me that those with advanced math skills would all agree that the Photoshopped images *were* of Miley Cyrus, via the transitive property.

I dunno...they gave ME a Reggi pole.

Re:I would have guessed otherwise (2, Informative)

Duradin (1261418) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595167)

The shopped in head would be transitive (a R b && b R c -> a R c)if you only considered the head, but the "body", in it's entirety, wouldn't be since (Miley_head + Miley_body) != (Miley_head + Adult_body). Unless the head has some property that consumes any other value paired with it such that it always produces the value of the head.

Re:I would have guessed otherwise (1)

Ian_Mi (1414165) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595305)

Unless the head has some property that consumes any other value paired with it such that it always produces the value of the head.

If by + you are referring to a group operation then it could not have such a property.

This just in: (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#28594939)

Rationality is still atypical, and still associated with mathematical ability...

Re:This just in: (0, Flamebait)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595239)

No, it's just that poorly educated rednecks are typically associated with *both* low mathematical ability and irrationality.

Re:This just in: (1, Flamebait)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595377)

I'm sure poor education doesn't help(though rednecks, as a stereotype, aren't known for their opposition to underage sex, so I'm not sure they are relevant here); but I suspect that it goes rather deeper than that.

For instance, it is well known that humans are typically irrational in certain aspects of financial decision making. Curiously, people with autism spectrum disorders, show much less susceptibility [jneurosci.org] . Particularly for something with the emotional salience of porn and sex and involving children, I'd strongly expect the degree of emotional involvement in decision making to have a significant impact on the respondent's stated position.

Re:This just in: (4, Insightful)

V!NCENT (1105021) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595381)

I think it's more about that people who are good at math, are inteligent.

Re:This just in: (0, Flamebait)

RobotRunAmok (595286) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595455)

I think it's more about that people who are good at math, are inteligent.

I love it that you misspelled intelligent. That's, like, so meta of you. Very arch and well done.

oh, wait...

Re:This just in: (4, Insightful)

V!NCENT (1105021) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595547)

I've never said that I was intelligent and I am not a native English speaker and I do not live in an English speaking country. But I am sure that you are as fluent in a language that's not native to you, as I am in English.

Re:This just in: (5, Insightful)

AGMW (594303) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595543)

How about the possibility that highly educated people from whatever field, be it mathematics, English, chemistry, or whatever, are less likely to simply see the question as "save the children from the paedos" and vote to hang the guy.

They rationally look at the question and examine the facts, such as they are, to arrive at a conclusion. Some find for and some find against and the fact that some find the (alleged) perp not guilty isn't just because they can add up and/or spell, and it's actually not relevant which way they vote - the interesting thing is that they considered the evidence before voting whichever way they thought was the right way rather than following the herd!

Re:This just in: (4, Interesting)

schmidt349 (690948) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595351)

I know you're just trolling, but I'll bite. I've gone through two radically different forms of mathematics education in my lifetime. The one was largely a "how to solve" system of rote numbers and formulas, and the other was proof-based calculus. None of it ever got terribly high up the latter in terms of cutting-edge math; the most difficult stuff included properties of Hilbert spaces and Dirichlet's function. Anyway, the latter sequence was all taught at the level of comprehension through the proof.

I turned out to be much better about the proof-based math and enjoyed it a lot more even though it cost more time and labor. I actually felt like I was learning something about the properties of the world and not just serving as a second-rate calculator. Anyway, my experience was that the creative and literary types were much better at comprehending math through proofs than discrete calculations. It appealed more to their abstract and critical reasoning skills, and the outcomes really reflected that.

Of course I don't mean to say that a Hemingway is automatically a Lebesgue, but I've really come to believe that the gap between the kind of thinking required for "real" math and for "real" critical reading is much smaller than anyone will admit. The real problem is pedagogy in primary and secondary education, especially the false division between the humanity and ineffability of literature and the objectiveness and determinacy of mathematics. Both are the endeavors of human beings attempting to understand and describe the world around them. They rely on different patterns of thought that develop from the same raw ability.

For the record I'm a classical philologist, a research occupation which is more literary than mathematical but intensely dependent on critical reading skills in ancient Greek and Latin. Alan Sokal is as much our hero as he is to the so-called hard sciences.

Re:This just in: (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595393)

You're confusing logic with reason.

FP (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28594943)

Whoa!

Can I be the first to say (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28594945)

tl;dr

Oddly appropriate footer quote...

Malek's Law: Any simple idea will be worded in the most complicated way.

Pic? (3, Funny)

Cereal Box (4286) | more than 5 years ago | (#28594947)

So... the picture is located where?

Great formatting in this article (5, Funny)

Evro (18923) | more than 5 years ago | (#28594957)

I

love

what you've

done with the

place. Makes it a

real treat to read

the story!

Re:Great formatting in this article (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28595165)

I

love

what you've

done with the

place. Makes it a

real treat to read

the story!

Did anyone else read this with a Shatner voice?

Re:Great formatting in this article (4, Funny)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595345)

You

thought

you

would

pitusagainsteachotherforyouramusement

Re:Great formatting in this article (2, Funny)

Intron (870560) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595521)

100 quatloos on elrous0

Re:Great formatting in this article (1)

inject_hotmail.com (843637) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595223)

No kidding! Didn't the guy have preview button? Or did he preview it, then decide it was too much work to fix it...as smart as he is, he didn't know that the " key works way better than [blockquote]? It's also less typing.

Other than that, very intelligent.

Re:Great formatting in this article (4, Informative)

interiot (50685) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595413)

View the HTML source, the quotes are actually <i> elements — that is, it's a bug in Slashcode's CSS. The problem is that this bug doesn't occur on every Slashdot page, only some pages. So, likely, when the author composed their message, it was on a page that the bug didn't occur on, so they couldn't have known that it would have rendered so differently on another page.

The buggy part of the CSS page reads:

div.body i{display:block;padding-left:1em;margin:.5em;border-left:3px #ddd solid;font-style:normal;}

Re:Great formatting in this article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28595353)

My thoughts exactly. A very patently offensive use of blockquotes

Off-topic, sort of, but funny (5, Funny)

Petersko (564140) | more than 5 years ago | (#28594963)

Reminds me of when I worked front line hardware breakfix back in 1994 or so. A guy brought his machine in for service, and we transferred his files to a new hard drive. He had a hidden directory, and in it were pictures that had been clearly spliced. There were about fifty different shots of the same woman's face on various bodies engaged in porn acts.

He called to let us know his friend, Angie, would pick up the computer. Naturally I was somewhat surprised when I recognized Angie.

So, uh, what did Angie look like? (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595081)

There were about fifty different shots of the same woman's face on various bodies engaged in porn acts.He called to let us know his friend, Angie, would pick up the computer. Naturally I was somewhat surprised when I recognized Angie.

So, uh, what did Angie look like? Was she uh, superimposition worthy?

Re:Off-topic, sort of, but funny (4, Insightful)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595443)

And why exactly did you look at the pictures in the first place?

Doesn't seem a required step in copying files. Did you look at every other file you copied too?

Meh (4, Funny)

snarfies (115214) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595007)

Good work. So far as the people who gave the "wrong" answer are concerned, you've proven that math nerds are also sex perverts.

Really need a survey for that? (2, Funny)

tjstork (137384) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595097)

Good work. So far as the people who gave the "wrong" answer are concerned, you've proven that math nerds are also sex perverts.

Did we really need a survey for that?

Re:Meh (3, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595315)

It's not the wrong answer. The answer might not be what the legislature intended, but by the statute it was correct.

I'm fully in favor of changing the law to reflect the intention of the legislature, but it's completely inappropriate to have a law of this sort being interpreted in a way which deviates from the language used by that amount.

Some laws like the Sherman act are written in a way which is intentionally vague so that the judicial branch can refine it down to deal with the various forms of anti-trust misbehavior. But for something like this, that's bad, really, really bad. A person isn't generally possessing a JD and as such isn't likely to know that a whole lot about what the law actually means via case history.

While not applicable to this, other laws that deal with similar grey area of law allow for one party to define the crime where the perpetrator might not reasonably be able to determine the legality ahead of time. Sexual harassment laws are probably the best example of that, the most egregious cases are ones which everybody can recognize, but often times it's a matter of life experience which leads to one conclusion or another.

Re:Meh (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595439)

This isn't surprising. Meth is a known aphrodesiac.

Oh purleeeease (4, Insightful)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595011)

At this point I'm going to give in to my bias and hereinafter refer to that as the "right answer"

I think your bias was obvious right from the point where you decided to pay money to people to tell you what you wanted to hear, then decided to focus on the one subset of people who actually did so.

Re:Oh purleeeease (1)

Ronin X (121414) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595495)

Exactly what I was thinking.

However, the best part was where he rejects the D.A.'s assertions because one expert should not be trusted if a consensus of experts does not agree. He then relies on the sole argument of "credentialed expert Mr. Rasch" to "vindicate" the opinion of the self-expressed math experts.

All that being said, I'd say the guy's not guilty according to what the law quoted.

How did you phrase the mechanical turk question? (3, Insightful)

OgreChow (206018) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595025)

Very interesting. I would be interested to see the exact phrasing of your Mechanical Turk question, to ensure that there is no bias hiding in the wording. I would also be interested in rerunning the experiment with two groups, one who sees the DA's argument and one who sees your argument, and seeing how much these arguments skew the numbers for each self-assessed Math/English segment.

Re:How did you phrase the mechanical turk question (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595359)

This survey fails on so many levels that knowing what the questions were is unnecessary.

  1. I also asked respondents to rate their math skills which is NOT a good indicator of good math skills. Better to ask "what kinds of grades did you get in math?", but better would have been to incorporate some math questions into the survey.
  2. The survey was posted on the Amazon Mechanical Turk site, where you can post "tasks" for people to complete in exchange for small payments of, say, 25 cents apiece. This is not a good cross-section of society; a good survey would have been a random cross section of the population.
  3. I use it more to find significant relative differences between demographic groups. If 60% of women on the site answer a question one way and 80% of men answer it the other way, that probably suggests that in a real cross-sectional survey of the population, men and women would largely disagree on the answer as well. What if the people you were surveying were construction workers? The few female construction workers I've known have been signifigantly different than other females I've known.
  4. collected 127 responses That is far too low a number to be meaningful in a population of 300,000,000 (US) or six billion (world).
  5. One thing that jumps out at me: Even though 44% of the 27 people with "excellent" math skills said the man did violate the law, when you look at the 58 people who self-reported "very good" math skills, 74% of them said he violated the law. This suggests to me that those good at math aren't quite so good at reading comprehension.

The last survey I was involved in (maintaining the database) had 35,000 respondants from a single US state, and was a survey of a limited demographic. IIRC it was buried quickly when it was discovered that the higher-ups didn't like the results.

Re:How did you phrase the mechanical turk question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28595525)

collected 127 responses That is far too low a number to be meaningful in a population of 300,000,000 (US) or six billion (world).

By my understanding, the size of the population has a very small impact on the necessary size of the sample.

Re:How did you phrase the mechanical turk question (2, Interesting)

Brett Johnson (649584) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595487)

The survey was linked to in the original post. You can see it here [peacefire.org] .

He presented only the line from the statute, and the DA's 1-line argument, not his own interpretation. In my opinion, he actually provided too little context to make an informed decision, not too much.

Tough one (5, Insightful)

RazorSharp (1418697) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595039)

I agree child porn is immoral and should be illegal, but the main reason I think it should be illegal is so the girl isn't subjected to the photo shoot. A Photoshop job like this, despite being offensive, seems to be a protected right of Americans. South Park, for example, is composed of many offensive collages but I couldn't imagine condoning censorship of the show. I'd have to take the defendant's side on this issue, even though it seems wrong to side with someone who whacks off to that type of shit. It's America, you take the good with the bad.

Re:Tough one (1)

Vlad_the_Inhaler (32958) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595323)

You are saying child porn is *not* illegal in the US?

Re:Tough one (4, Insightful)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595363)

There certainly is a conflict. Absolutely we should have the freedom to do what we want behind closed doors, so long as no one is harmed. This should hold true, no matter how twisted it is. However, if you were to see your child as the face on whoever's imposed porn, even absolute truths can become blurred.

Re:Tough one (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28595427)

And as for psychological damages to the victim? Or social damages?
Should slander be okay? What about parodies? Misrepresentation of other people's opinions either through intent or mistake?
Another issue with this type of material is an argument you could give for copyright; the benefit of society. If we allow these pictures to propagate are we fostering child molestors or children who are susceptible to grooming?
I think there's more here than just a 'victimless crime' and that, due to its potency, slow and cautionary steps should be made in producing ideological priorities.

Re:Tough one (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595497)

I'm guessing you're good at math, huh?

I am too, and I totally agree with what you said. It's censorship, not 'saving the children'.

I can see how it might scar a child for life to see someone has posted their head on a naked body for 'fun', though... So I can see how they might think it -should- be illegal. As much as I hate the 'think of the children' crap, children really do need more protection than adults, since they are still forming their basic personalities.

Austistic Spectrum (1, Insightful)

drsmack1 (698392) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595045)

Autistic spectrum people often have a problem with understanding societal norms - what is next; "Fresh Pizza is Hot"?

Ask those same people about having THEIR face superimposed on a nude child's body and see how their answers change.

Re:Austistic Spectrum (1)

Diego_27182818 (174390) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595225)

But that appears to actually violate the law in question - because in that case there is an actual minor involved in a simulated sexual act. The better question to ask is if their answer changes if their childs face is superimposed on a nude adult.

Re:Austistic Spectrum (1)

kaizendojo (956951) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595557)

If I paste my face on Obama's body, does that make me the President...or for that matter a black man?!? Of course not, and neither does it make an *actual* minor involved in a *simulated sexual act*.

The better question to ask is if their answer changes if their childs face is superimposed on a nude adult.

Did you actually READ the original post? This was the whole point!

Re:Austistic Spectrum (1)

MasseKid (1294554) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595237)

I couldn't give less of a shit if someone wants to photoshop my face for thier own personal gratification. If they attempt to distribute it, well then I'm sorry but my likeness is protected and I will sue.

Re:Austistic Spectrum (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595333)

This is a ridiculous answer. Less than 1% of the population has an autistic spectrum disorder, and even inside that tiny population there is likely quite a correlation between 'present on Mechanical turk' and 'high functioning'. Going from there, people with Asperger syndrome have a fair shot of understanding the norm, they just seem to lack the cognitive machinery to properly read other people in social situations.

Re:Austistic Spectrum (2, Interesting)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595355)

The question isn't about "social norms" it's about "the law".

You've just demonstrated the original point and why juries are so easy to manipulate,
especially when both sides of the trial have done all they can to strip the jury of
anyone with any sense, expertise or education.

This isn't about what personally offends you but what will give the state the
right to PUT YOUR SORRY ASS IN A CAGE WITH ANIMALS.

Clearly many people don't have a full understanding of all the relevant consequences.

Re:Austistic Spectrum (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595385)

Ask those same people about having THEIR face superimposed on a nude child's body and see how their answers change.

the face of a small child affixed to a nude body of a mature woman

And you've demonstrated that non-autism-spectrum people can't read or engage in basic logical thought.

Re:Austistic Spectrum (3, Informative)

loutr (626763) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595415)

The question was not "Do you feel it is morally wrong ?" but "Do you think he violated a law ?". There's a huge difference.

Re:Austistic Spectrum (1)

V!NCENT (1105021) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595499)

Ask those same people about having THEIR face superimposed on a nude child's body and see how their answers change.

Of course everybody wants to be liked by others, and their pictures photoshopped puts them in the light of ridicule. Of course they are going to do everything in their power to counter that. But that shouldn't make it ilegal.

I am seriously under the impressions that you are not realy the social type and are very bad at math

Bad science (5, Insightful)

Nick Ives (317) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595127)

would people who are good at math, answer the question differently from everyone else? [...] it is a fact, not an opinion, that people with self-reported higher math skills are more likely to pick that as the correct choice.

You might be good at maths but you seem to be terrible at science. You can't demonstrate you collected results from anybody who was actually any good at maths, you just got a bunch of responses from people who thought they were good at maths. Maybe people with such a self perception are also more likely to pick views that are opposed to what they think most people will think in order to further demonstrate their superiority?

I think your study is quite interesting but it doesn't mean what you think it means. It also has an awfully small sample size.

Re:Bad science (1)

powell0 (996812) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595371)

You can't demonstrate you collected results from anybody who was actually any good at maths, you just got a bunch of responses from people who thought they were good at maths.

Exactly. This study [apa.org] implies that the people who rated themselves excellent in math are actually worse at it than people who didn't rate themselves excellent.

Re:Bad science (1)

sam0737 (648914) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595461)

At least he should really post some challenging Maths question in the questionnaire to test their ability...or even put a SAT Math on it? :P

Re:Bad science (1)

ILongForDarkness (1134931) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595491)

Just for curiosity why do you call it maths? I know in the UK and a lot of the former colonies call it that, but I'm curious as to your reasoning. A british friend of mine said it was because mathematics is plural so the short form should bïe too. But that is clearly not the cause. The root of the word is from the adjective form of the ancient greek for study (mathematikos), which would be studious, related to learning etc.

Re:Bad science (2, Funny)

griff199 (162798) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595581)

I would like to see a Venn diagram showing the intersection of the following sets:

A: People actually good at math.
B: People who think 5 minutes of their time is worth 25 cents.
C: People with a computer connected to the internet.

Interesting (5, Informative)

somersault (912633) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595171)

Here in the UK I think you're allowed to have pictures of breasts at 16, have to be 18 for fully naked pics though. Then again in some other countries it probably wouldn't be illegal no matter what the ages were, but I consider this a very borderline case since she's 17 at the moment, so it doesn't seem too perverted from my cultural perspective - in the UK you can legally marry or have sex as long as you're both 16 or over (think it's 18 for homosexuals). You can also start drinking here at 18. I'm glad I don't live in the US :P

Re:Interesting (5, Insightful)

MBGMorden (803437) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595325)

in the UK you can legally marry or have sex as long as you're both 16 or over (think it's 18 for homosexuals). You can also start drinking here at 18. I'm glad I don't live in the US :P

In the US you can legally marry in most states at even younger than 16 with parental consent, and in many states the age at which you can consent to sex varies, but 14 to 16 is common. We just have completely weird notions on "porn". In the majority of US states you could have sex with Miley Cyrus perfectly legally. You snap a picture though (or hell even photoshop one apparently) and you're a dirty pedo that should be taken out back and shot.

Jury Nullification Nullified (3, Insightful)

resistant (221968) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595175)

Obviously, jury nullification of bad interpretations of hot-button laws doesn't work when the juries themselves react convulsively to the mere hint of child pornography, even when the "child" is not an actual child except under the most hyper-technical legal definition. Just think, juries tend in the main to be exactly these semi-illiterates who aren't bright enough to slip out of jury duty. It's all really depressing and makes me wonder what will become of the Republic.

Oh, and for the slightly clueless who need a hint, a surefire way to get out of jury duty is to clearly declare that you believe in jury nullification.

Re:Jury Nullification Nullified (4, Interesting)

sanosuke001 (640243) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595423)

That's the biggest issue I have with our legal system. The prosecution and the defense should not be allowed to pre-screen the jurors. How is that fair? Everyone should be randomly selected with a set of alternates. If you have a legitimate reason for getting out (ie. in the hospital, in jail, out of the country for extended period ex. from when they sent the letters to the initial show-up date) then you can be replaced. As for your opinions, they shouldn't matter. If you're a racist, fine. If you believe in abortion/death penalty/hitler lives in your basement, fine. It's supposed to be a selection of your peers.

Now, if they want to screen for bias, etc, then fine; though I'm still against it but I understand why someone might want this. Find a third party with no affiliation or connection to anyone else in the trial and have them pre-screen. However, jury nullification should in no way be a reason for dismissal.

I would love to run the trial on its own and just give the jury a transcript after the fact. No emotions, no pandering to the jury by the defense/prosecution, and all the "stricken from record" items won't even be heard. Stick each juror in a hotel room to read it all and them let them meet to deliberate when they all finish. If they can't read, get them a computer with a voice synthesizer.

Questionable correlation. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28595177)

I wonder if you have found the right correlation.

Perhaps the correlation is between people with bigger egos rather than actual skills.

If we create . . . (1)

Rambo Tribble (1273454) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595191)

. . . an effigy of the DA, with a photo of his countenance affixed, and burn it, will he then be responsible as accessory for violating fire restrictions?

No no no no no - please learn what a p value means (5, Informative)

Ardeaem (625311) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595209)

If the results are significant at the 1% level (you mean .01, not .99 - low p values indicate higher significance), then this does NOT mean that there is less than a 1% change that the results are due to chance. It means that IF THERE WERE TRULY NO DIFFERENCE, we'd expect to see an effect this large or larger only 1% of the time. This is Statistics 101 stuff. A p value conditions on the null hypothesis being true; it is not a statement about the probability of the null hypothesis. For that you need a Bayesian inferential technique.

The logical conclusion... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28595235)

Clearly, math correlates with pedophilia.

Re:The logical conclusion... (3, Funny)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595383)

It certainly did in ancient Greece. In fact, that's how you ended up paying your "tuition"!

Now get on all fours, boy, and we're going to talk about triangles again...

Statistical significance in surveys (5, Insightful)

SeanTobin (138474) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595265)

Surveys are inherently difficult to present in a neutral fashion, especially when attempting to determine correlation. Take the following (simplified) survey for example:

I like Cheerios:
[Yes] [No] [Sometimes]

Rate your proficiency at math:
[Excellent] [Good] [Average] [Poor]

Now, let's say you found a statistically significant correlation between people who like Cheerios and people who are excellent at math. Congratulations! You just did not find a correlation related to math proficiency at all.

What you did just find is a correlation between people who selected the first option in your survey.

Now, randomizing your answers is a good start and will resolve the above issue. However, there are hundreds of other things which can affect your results and there is an entire survey industry formed around these problems. The immediate problems that spring to mind about the survey in TFA is:
-Respondents must have internet access
-Respondents must have signed up to Amazon's mechanical turk
-Respondents were paid for the survey
-Respondent proficiency at math/language was self-assessed
-Respondents must be able to comprehend English

Anyway, I could go on but my point here is this: despite the fact that a statistically-significant correlation that was found, that correlation may not stem from the questions themselves.

Re:Statistical significance in surveys (4, Interesting)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595531)

The best one I saw recently was CNN soliciting email from people about how bad the recession was. Unsurprisingly people who had cable tv and internet access said that things were fine.

It's a classic mistake dating back to the dawn of polling: during the great depression a poll was done that showed that the great depression wasn't nearly as bad as everyone was saying! How was the sample set determined? They polled everyone who had a car license plate, and they called them on the phone to ask the poll questions.

50% (2, Insightful)

digitalsushi (137809) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595279)

Somehow, and I don't understand this, but if you asked everyone if they have above or below average abilities on any random topic, people always partition themselves into two groups, almost exactly evenly. It seems completely unfathomable that people do not artificially inflate their own assessment of self, yet every single time, people objectively rate their abilities in these personal assessment surveys. How weird is that?

Re:50% (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28595511)

Other research (i'm fairly certain its been cited on slashdot) points out that these results are usually backwards: people who are bad at something think they're better than others, people who are good at something rate themselves lower, and people who are bad and get better are able to recognize that they previously overrated their own abilities.

The more you know, the more you know you don't know, as the saying goes.

Re:50% (2, Informative)

ratnerstar (609443) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595527)

Ummm ... citation needed.

Much research has found that drivers perceive themselves as being better than average. Evans (1991, p. 322) cites Svenson (1981) who had a group of subjects in two countries rank their own safety and driving skill relative to others in the group. Seventy-six percent of the drivers considered themselves as safer than the driver with median safety, and 65% of the drivers considered themselves more skilful than the driver with median skill.

http://www.ambulancedriving.com/research/WP65-rateaboveav.html [ambulancedriving.com]

Strange Test Case (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28595287)

Almost certainly, something about mathematical ability is correlated with a person's likelihood of giving the "not guilty" answer.

Or hubris. Seems like the more disposed someone is to think they're "the Shit," the more likely they are to give your "right answer."

I've been saying for years that you can use excellent prose to defend an illogical idea, or you can use poorly crafted prose to defend a good idea, and so if you care about the quality of an idea and its impact on the real world, you have to look at the substance of an argument, not the style.

So are you saying that you thought what this guy did was a good idea? Maybe you should look at the "substance" of your own argument, and think again about what kind of impact you want to make on "the real world." Remember, good "English" skills usually involve high reading comprehension, i.e. knowing what the hell is going on. Maybe you should factor that into your analysis.

Rigging (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595295)

Is not an statistical pure sample... is specifically people that wanted to take that survey. Also, is not people good at math, is people that think (or answer) that is good at math. Could perfectly be people that dont care about answers, said that they are great at math without being so and that they dont care about that topic when they do (maybe with a closer example, i.e. what if that was done with their daughter photo?),

Re:Rigging (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595361)

Is not an statistical pure sample... is specifically people that wanted to take that survey.

      No I will break it down even further for you: It's a sample of people who rate their time/bother/hassle for completing the survey at $0.25. Certainly not a representative sample. I post for free because I enjoy posting. However I refuse to do surveys, even for a $0.25 "reward".

If I may quote (-1, Redundant)

RenHoek (101570) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595299)

What

the hell

is

going on

here?

Who made this horrible post?

Summary of the article: (2, Funny)

Absolut187 (816431) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595303)

Dumb people have trouble with logic.

Re:Summary of the article: (1)

a whoabot (706122) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595549)

Try this one on for size, "smart people":

There exists something such that if it is a unicorn then all things are unicorns.
&#8707;x(Ux -> &#8704;yUy)

Is that sentence true? Pull out your truth tables...well I'll give you the classical one for the condition:

Antecedent Consequent Condition
T T T
T F F
F T T
F F T

Why does this story make the cut? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28595311)

Mathletes! There are mathletes in here!

Ug. (5, Insightful)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595335)

"A Tennessee man is arrested for possessing a picture of Miley Cyrus's face superimposed on a nude woman's body. In a survey that I posted on the Web, a majority of respondents said the man violated the law -- except for respondents who say they were good at math in school, who as a group answered the survey differently from everyone else."

Therefore: Mathematicians like child porn.

Talk about flamebait summaries. Can we have something that roughly represents the article?

I have a ton of problems with the methodology as well. Self-selected tiny sample set with self-reported aptitudes used to make blanket statements, with no attempt to get a rational cross-section (which he acknowledges and then says it's not a problem despite lack of any evidence supporting that conjecture), and all the problems/bias associated with internet-only research (we are a biased sample set, in that we're all here).

In short: wanking. You can't even begin to effectively correlate decision making to mathematical ability without actually testing that ability.

If you asked me to describe my own math ability, I'd say "average", because I routinely deal with people who are so much better than me at math that I can't in good conscience say I'm better than that...I mean, I never progressed beyond the simplest multi-variable calculus! But put me up against someone who is average across the entire population, and I'll rate much higher.

Double Plus Good... (5, Insightful)

tekrat (242117) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595389)

So, if someone was to take the prosecutor's face and photoshop it onto a picture of a dead body, that photoshop artist would be arrested for murder? Clearly, the way the prosecutor has re-worded the law in his favor, the victim is being charged with a thought-crime.

And if MERELY THINKING of a sexual act with a minor is punishable, then we are in a very sad state of affairs.

What is up with this country?

no self-reporting, please (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28595417)

What you may have found is a correlation between "people who self-report themselves as excellent in math" and b) people who aren't religious nutcases.

I doubt you've found much more than that.

It would be interesting for someone to try this at a college, asking students to give their math and verbal SAT scores, then asking some dummy questions, and then asking about cut'n'paste thoughtcrime.

TOOT TOOT (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28595477)

Aaaalllll aboard! All aboard! All aboard the rape train -- next stop Miley Cyrus's tight teen pussy. Get it while it's young!

Math ability vs. ego. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28595483)

You didn't actually correlate against math skill. You correlated against perceived math skill, or confidence, or ability to bullshit.

For example, in the most recent standardized test I took (GMAT, lols), I rolled a wickedly hot 80th percentile on the math. I mean, all that 9th grade "math" that I haven't studied or used in the last 15 years whooped my arse. Now, if you use those scores to determine "math skills", you get a bunch of 10th graders that scored well (having just taken the classes) beating people using actual complex math on a daily basis.

Obviously you're not using the GMAT math section for math ability, but the point is still valid. You didn't control for "16 year old that scored 750 on the PSAT math section and thus thinks he's hot stuffing" vs. "person that has completed and demonstrated mastery of differential equations".

As you stated, you didn't correlate math vs. english. Rather than "people that gave the answer I wanted and are good at English are also good at Math", I suspect you'll see "people that are generally good at both things gave the answer I wanted" (yeah, I'm biased too, and suspect that would play out). You're attempting to state that people with verbal skills are terrible. No. That's just typical passed down nerd crap that holds nerds back by intentionally ignoring something they can be competent at. It has no basis in reality.

Anyways... I'm in agreement that photoshop being 'illegal' is ridiculous, but your test is absurdly invalid.

Next up.. (1)

hrvatska (790627) | more than 5 years ago | (#28595569)

Will be two bit local prosecutors going after local adolescent girls who photoshop their own and their friends' heads onto images of the naked bodies of older women.
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