Confirmation bias writ large

As our Government continues to find new levels of incompetence the abandonment of reason seems to be reaching fever pitch amongst those that feel that the whole referendum thing was a huge mistake. Usually sceptical friends that ask that things be fact checked and evidence be provided have seemingly abandoned all critical thinking when it comes to the campaign to revoke article 50.

The latest petition, created by someone with quite a dubious background, is watched with baited breath as the count creeps ever upwards. This petition despite all the dubious names signed up to it is seen as some sort of true representation of the countries desire, as is the comparative turn outs at various marches. Completely overlooking the fact that it really isn’t normal for anyone to agitate that the Government do soemthign they’ve said they’ll do. Usually protests and petitions are to encourage the Government to change their mind or do sometime new. The idea of campaigning to pressure the Government to do something they’re already ( albeit cack-handedly ) doing is somewhat bonkers. Why would anyone start a petition or take to the streets to tell the Government to carry on? Yet the lack of people campaigning for Government policy is seen as some massive sea change in the popular will.

I can’t entirely blame them for the faith they put in this petition. Despite a similar petition in 2016 being hijacked by bots, this time round the “experts” claim it’s different. Though I shudder to think that these people are what qualify as experts these days – though it would explain a lot. Looking at the reasons they give for bot’s not being a risk they’re so bad they’re not even wrong.


They all agreed that the petition’s email validation process would be a deterrent.

Each signatory has to supply a unique email address to which a verification link is sent before their signature can be accepted. UK-based signatories must also share a valid postcode.

While email addresses are easy enough to set up, doing that in real time at high volume is less straightforward.

Additionally, while it is possible to buy lists of email addresses stolen in various data breaches on the black market, the owner of the list would still need to access those email accounts and retrieve the validation email before being able to sign in the name of somebody else.

Lets take the easy thing first you have to give a “valid postcode” , well I suppose that searching for “list of UK post codes” and downloading a list of every postcode in the UK – might be a challenge for some people but we probably don’t need to worry about the average 5 year old.

Then we have this laughable idea that lists of email addresses are in anyway a problem. Registering a domain can be done for free in some cases or just cost a few pounds. Once you have a domain you can create any sub-domain you like under it and as many users as you like for no extra cost. In fact you don’t even need to set them up individually due to the joys of wildcards. So for example suppose you register “fakebrexit.com”, you do the following:

  • Download a fake name generator
  • Download a list of the UK postcodes
  • Write/download a script to sign the petition
  • Tell your e-mail server to accept any email it receives no matter what the domain or the user.
  • Tell the internet that any email for <anyone>@<anything>.fakebrexit.com should be sent to your server. (A wildcard MX record in case you’re interested)
  • Have all mail sent to your server go through a script that looks for the confirmation link and “click on it”.

And there you go valid postcodes and as many unique e-mail addresses as you like for little or no cost. No need to buy lists of email addresses or access other peoples accounts. You can do it all on your own and it’ll probably take you less than an hour to do. The only tricky bit is the initial signing of the petition, but there are youtube videos on that so probably not much of a challenge if you were so inclined. It’s almost enough to make you say you’ve had enough of experts if that’s the quality of expert we’re meant to pay attention to. I mean this is utterly laughable and Kevin should become a journalist as they obviously haven’t learnt to code:
” it would be “a bit of a pain” to build a sophisticated enough programme to cope with the email addresses. ” – Cyber-security expert Kevin Beaumont

With “experts” spouting nonsense like this I can’t really blame people for being taken in. Though I won’t accuse them of being low information nor suggest that they’re obviously not bright enough to have a valid opinion.

The low information conceit still being strong, as evidenced by all the “witty” placards on the “cancel article 50” march. Interesting to note both that the campaign is to now cancel Brexit not have another referendum, and also to ask who funded the large number or standard placards being waved as it wasn’t socialist worker this time. The number of people on the march have, as is now traditional, seemingly been grossly inflated, but if we take those numbers as a valid expression of the peoples will then presumably we should expect Parliament to revoke the ban on Fox hunting as that march dwarfed even the inflated figures for the remainers latest outing. It is an odd thing though, that for all the claims that people that voted to leave the EU are considered to have not understood things, when those that voted remain seem to want to hold people not in Government and not invited to take part in the negotiations responsible for the outcome of those negotiations, and think that a suggestion on a bus but a campaign group is a stronger commitment that manifesto promises made by the parties in power.

I’m not going to revisit the fact that apart from the referendum, we’ve subsequently had several parliamentary votes as well as a general election where both major parties stood on manifesto’s of enacting the referendum. But I will observe that as many people predicted this is following the classic EU play book when they get a vote they don’t like, as the country to vote again and keep holding votes until they vote the “right” way. Which could almost make one accuse the EU of not being keen on democracy.

I don’t want to be hard on them though, the vast majority of them are decent people who want what they think is best for the country and it’s commendable to see so many people being actively involved in one of the biggest issues of the day. I just wish that they held to their normal expectations for rigour and fact checking and didn’t let confirmation bias run away with them so much.


When will it pay

Yet again those in favour of remaining in the EU are asking “when will Brexit pay off” , the latest iteration this question being in the Gruniad. Now I may well have missed something as I often do, but being better off was never that I noticed a primary argument made for leaving the EU. Certainly many people said we could be better off outside the EU, but it wasn’t ever a primary argument. In fact according to the like of the Gruniad it was racism and nostalgia for faded glories that was the motivation for people voting leave not economic improvement. Economic improvement was usually cast as a bonus.

Lot of other people have already observed that people frequently vote against their own direct economic benefit, for example most Gruniad readers that vote Labour. So voting against direct economic benefit really shouldn’t be a surprise to them. However what really annoys me about this “when will it pay off” argument is how morally bankrupt it is. Historically it’s probably just as well we never asked that question ( and I’ve been resisting these comparisons ever since the question was first raised ).

Lets look at a few other occasions when as a nation we’ve acted against our own best direct economic advantage:

  • World War II debts (1941-45) repaid 2006
  • World War I debts (1914-19) not yet repaid
  • Irish Distress Loan (1847) repaid 2015
  • Slavery Abolition Act (1835) repaid 2015
  • Napoleonic Wars ( 1803–15 ) repaid 2015

Now some of those one might argue were avoidable and our own fault for getting invovled in wars and foreign ventures – though that would surely be an argument for isolationism? But equally some of those debts were obviously incurred for worthwhile causes that didn’t advance the countries economic interest. Blatantly raw economic interest should not be, and historically hasn’t been, the only factor to consider when we take action as a nation. So I do find it incredibly odd that people that would otherwise claim that individuals and companies should act for more than just economic gain all of a sudden feel that economic concerns outweigh all other consideration. But to answer their question a time scale of 100 plus years seems to be acceptable.

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