Monday, May 07, 2007

On Randomness and Conspiracy Theories

One of the reasons I started blogging about conspiracy theorists, other than just being offended by their claims, was I find it interesting trying to figure out how they think. How they can look at the same thing other people can and come up with entirely differenct conclusions? We have discussed before their strange logic, from a complete inability to understand the nature of probability, to avoiding the concept of falsifiability at all costs (just look at today's posts for examples of that). One of the comment threads today got me thinking, about conspiracy theorists and the way they view randomness. They cannot accept the true nature of randomness, and thus will go to extremes to find some sort of evil arch-villian behind the word, the Illuminati, the Vatican, the New World Order, the Jews, whoever. This reminded me of an example that I read in a stats class I took last year, so I fired up my copy of Excel, and made up these two scatterplots.

One of these scatterplots is completely random. Another was written to conform to a pattern. Which is which?

Scatterplot A

Scatterplot B

One of the smarter readers here will probably figure it out, but I will return with the answer and explanation later.