Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Facebook ads - not worth the money, and suggest fraud

Facebook ads aren't worth it, and Derek Muller of Veritasium fame explains why:

(Derek has made an earlier video too, on the problems with facebook).

He's also had a response from Facebook, and had asked that this response be mirrored. Given that he's a top block, who am I to say no. Here's the text of that post repeated in full:

My response to Facebook’s response to me:

FB: I'd like to be clear that he intentionally created a low quality Page about something a lot of people like – cats.

Me: Correct - the goal here was to see if people would blindly like anything, including a page that clearly calls them an idiot if they like it. And they did. The implication is they never even looked at the page, and this is backed up by statistics on the page. To me this is not genuine behavior. I don't know anyone who would like a page without either knowing the brand or checking out the page first.

FB: He spent $10 and got 150 people who liked cats to like the Page.

Me: Why can't they get the facts right? I spent $10 and got 39 likes (much faster than I expected and from only the US, Canada, Australia and the UK).

FB: They may also like a lot of other Pages which does not mean that they are not real people – lots of real people like lots of things.

Me: OK, here's the thing. The global average likes per person is 40. For most countries it looks like 20 and below:
Virtually everyone who liked my page liked in excess of 900 things (I say virtually because I could only spot-check random profiles and then the number of likes is not easy to ascertain - you have to scroll for miles through their likes and then count using a query of the code). These are clearly not typical accounts.

Now the claim this "does not mean that they are not real people" might be valid. They may well be accounts made or controlled by an actual human (could be an employee at a clickfarm, could be someone who is paid to like pages, eg. via However I think their likes are not genuine. So this is a distinction I imagine FB would not be keen to make. There may be 'fake' likes coming from 'real' profiles.

Then they might throw up their hands and say 'even if what he's saying is true, how could we ever deal with this kind of activity?' I would say if there is a page like that never results in engagement with the page, it is a bogus like and the like should be deleted, not necessarily the account, but certainly the like.

FB: Also, his example for his own page from May 2012 is almost two years old, and as indicated above, we have significantly improved these systems over the past two years."

Me: This is perhaps most worrying of all. In essence: in the old days, sure fake likes could happen, but not now. What troubles me most about this admission is they have done nothing to correct the problem. If they're aware those 80,000 likes are dead weight they should have eliminated them. And they have since benefited from those 80,000 likes when I paid to try to reach them. I hadn't dug into my demo data so I didn't know how bad the problem was and I paid to boost posts out to these useless likes. That is a problem!

Reporter: Some of the people who were passing around your video this week cited as a reason to be skeptical of Facebook's market valuation. Of course, it is very difficult to know just how big a problem clickfraud is. Do you have any evidence that gaining likes actually helps you?

Me: I was thinking about this a bit last night. In the past I have run Google Adwords campaigns and I never saw much suspicious click activity. But people have rightly made the point that some clicks in any campaign are bound not to be genuine.

But here is the big problem with fake likes on Facebook. Unlike a fraudulent click on Google these fakes stay with you forever (even two years later when Facebook's Fraud detection has moved on). They weigh on your engagement and edgerank because the accounts never intended to engage with you. And then you end up paying again to boost the post out to them - and they were never real in the first place!

Cutting through the crowds on Facebook news feeds.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

More on the education award for the creationist zoo

The other day I wrote about a creationist zoo being awarded for the quality of education provided there, and, in the comments, you can see the letter I wrote to the awarding body. Here is their reply:
Thank you for recent email, please find our official statement below.

The Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC) Quality Badge is the national accreditation for the provision of educational visits, which recognises good quality educational provision where risk is effectively managed. In order to be awarded the LOtC Quality Badge the provider must demonstrate that they meet 6 quality criteria relevant to these aspects. The formal education programme at Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm has been assessed and was found to have met these criteria.

Further information on the LOtC Quality Badge and the criteria can be found at

Kind regards,
The CLOtC Team
The criteria mentioned are:
  1. The provider has a process in place to assist users to plan the learning  experience effectively;
  2. The provider provides accurate information about its offer;
  3. The provider provides activities or experiences which meet learner needs;
  4. The provider reviews the experience and acts upon feedback;
  5. The provider meets the needs of users; and
  6. The provider has safety management processes in place to manage risk effectively. 
However, under each of these, there are a number of sub indicators. Now, as far as I can see, of these sub indicators, none seem to actually mention the quality of the information taught - it largely seems geared towards good pedagogy. The closest to the quality of the information appear to be these two sub indicators for criteria 3:

e) educational or instructional staff and volunteers are competent; and
f) there is a process in place for monitoring and evaluating the quality of teaching and instruction.
I would call into question the competence of creationists who attempt to teach science. Likewise, the someone may be very good at teaching, however, if what they're teaching is nonsense, I would call that poor quality education.

These criteria imply that any old rubbish can be taught, so long as it is taught well, and that will count as quality education.

To me, this entirely invalidates the LOtC Quality Badge. The best teachers in the world are of no use if they are teaching known falsehoods as fact. In fact, such teachers leave their students worse off.

For me to have any trust in the LOtC Quality Badge, I would like a change to the criteria to take into account the quality of the material that is taught. Until then, the badge is meaningless, as the criteria are obviously not fit for purpose in assessing quality education.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Creationist Zoo gets education award

Noah's Ark Zoo in Bristol teaches creationism, as if it were a valid scientific viewpoint, to children. Which is terrible. What's worse, is that it's "education" has now been lauded with Learning Outside the Classroom Quality Badge.

The scheme itself sounds like a good thing on paper. Two of the things it sets out to do are:
  • The award of the LOtC Quality Badge indicates that the provider understands schools’ needs and can tailor their offer to fit in with both current curriculum requirements and any specific requirements of the school.
  • The LOtC Quality Badge helps you to ensure you are making the best possible use of school time and that your young people will access good quality educational experiences – ideal when justifying LOtC to your senior management team or governors.
However, we can see that these two things have been subverted. Teachers can no longer trust that LOtC quality badge does these things. As they say "The LOtC Quality Badge is the only nationally recognised indicator of good quality educational provision AND effective risk management."

Unfortunately, this means that there is no nationally recognised indicator of good quality education provision and effective risk management in the UK. Which is a shame. 

For those that take the LOtC Quality Badge at its word, they may not look too deeply into the zoo. Imagine the horror of a teacher taking their class their only to find a poster titled ""30 reasons why apes are not related to man". 

Noah's Ark does not offer quality education, and so does not deserve the LOtC Quality Badge. To help the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom get its credibility back, please do let them know how you feel:

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Brian and Robin's Christmas Compendium of Reason

This was a fantastic event (and for various charities too. Scholarships for those who are the first generation to go to Uni; The Sophie Lancaster Foundation; and Medecins Sans Frontieres) Each slot only had 6 - 10 minutes, as you can see a lot was packed in. In four hours we were treated to:

Comedy from: Josie Long on learning maths; Stewart Lee on his wives, real and imaginary wives and Chris Addison on being Science Interested.

Musics from: A laser harp (I can't remember the player's name unfortunately); the fantastic Grace Petrie singing about a letter written to Charles Darwin by his wife Emma, who worried about his soul; Hi Top Drop singing how the geeks shall inherit the Earth; Emperor Yes paying homage to Carl Sagan; Barry Cryer & Ronnie Golden asking for peace and quiet and Commander Chris Hadfield (with Prof. Brian Cox on piano) performing Space Oddity (needless to say, this was a particular highlight!).

And of course, the main attraction: a big bunch of reason in the form of Simon Singh on maths and The Simpsons; Andrea Seller on how cool the element mercury is; Aoife McLysaght on chimerism and microchimerism; Prof Alice Roberts on how the human body is an example of terrible design; all of physics in 6 minutes with Jim Al-Khalili and Prof Brian Cox; Festival of the Spoken Nerd giving us a tease of their Full Frontal Nerdity; a Q&A with Chris Hadfield, Prof Brian Cox, Ross Noble and a tub of humous; Ben Goldacre on the importance of (go check it out) and the work that's preceded it.

This was all wonderfully (and interestingly) compered by the amazing Robin Ince. It was a fantastic night - so thanks to Robin and Brian for putting it together.

It's not possible to list all the highlights, awesomeness and interesting things - it was an excellent evening all round, but here are three things that I learnt about and hope you will enjoy too:

Microchimerism - I'd already learnt about chimerism (where twins fuse in the womb, so are born as one person, but with two genomes), but never knew this existed, and is really cool. Microchimerism operates on a smaller scale - cells from embryos can end up in their mothers tissues. This was discovered when male DNA was found in just over 60% of women in their 70s and 80s. These cells take part in tissues for the long term. Amazing, and I'm looking forward to find out more!

Prof Brian Cox talked about two wonderful results from 2013. One was the Planck mapping of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. The other was that, based the data of planets found by Keplar, 1 in 5 stars has a potential Earth like planet. You must check out the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

I've long had a man crush on Ben Goldacre, and he demonstrated why - talking at 100 mph he showed how he's making the world a better place by talking about the successes he has helped lead in trying to stop the pharmaceutical companies from hiding negative results of  their products. This practice means that doctors don't have access to the full information on the drugs they prescribe, which needlessly endangers and kills patients. Case in point: reboxitine - Dr Goldacre himself prescribed this, based on the published papers that showed good evidence it helped. He stopped when he found the unpublished ones didn't have evidence it worked. With all the data on show, it turned out to be nothing more than a placebo, but a dangerous one, as unlike sugar pills or homeopathy, this placebo came with side effects. So please, go to and get involved.

If you get a chance to see one of the shows Robin Ince puts on, you really should. They're fab!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Great tool for breaking the online "filter bubble"

Here's a great little tool for skeptics:

It links articles together that offer differing points of view. You can browse these, or you can join the community and actively link websites together.

If you do this, and download the plug in, the rbutr icon handily let's you see if anyone has had a rebuttal to an article:

Anyone is free to link their opposing opinion to any other article - this is a useful tool for breaking the "filter bubble". Even if you're comfortable reading your usual articles on whatever, this lets you read opposing view points. Or, as they say:

"rbutr’s ultimate goal is to provide an easy way out of the confirmation bias bubble we all subconsciously construct around ourselves, where we are only ever presented claims and beliefs with which we already agree."

However, for this to work, it has to have people to link articles together (until a genius comes up with an automated process). Without the people doing this, the tool will not work.

I hadn't realised it existed, until it sent some traffic my way, because someone had linked Sean Thomas' "Are atheists mentally ill?" article to my reply.

Without people doing this, it won't work. So, join up, link articles, especially if you suffer SIWOTI syndrome, and use a personal blog to help alleviate this.

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