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The Mathletes and the Miley Photoshop 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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The Mathletes and the Miley Photoshop

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  • by Bemopolis ( 698691 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @11:29AM (#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: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Duradin ( 1261418 )

      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.

  • This just in: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @11:30AM (#28594939) Journal
    Rationality is still atypical, and still associated with mathematical ability...
    • Re:This just in: (Score:5, Interesting)

      by schmidt349 ( 690948 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @11:59AM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

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


      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.


      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.

      Bennett, in his usual way, has made so many leaps of logic without enough support that it's astounding. He's making assumptions he can't support (such as above, or assuming that those using mechanical turk are a valid sample), and it's kind of sad. He's making the assumption the a minor's head pasted on the body of an adult constitutes a simulated minor, which may or may not be legally true. Here's the cogent argument: Miley Cyrus is a minor, her actual picture is being used to simulate her in a

      • Well, the point of this is to make the "good" people (i.e. people who are good at math, Us) different from the "bad" people (i.e. ignorant fools who can't do math, The Other.) The good people agree with me, and the bad people...I've given it some thought, and their opinion is not only wrong, but head-scratchingly incoherent. By casting The Other as incoherent, we are saved the trouble of actually thinking, and can instead reassure ourselves that we are correct and don't need to examine any of our beliefs.
        • Re:This just in: (Score:5, Insightful)

          by jhfry ( 829244 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @04:28PM (#28599123)

          Actually, I must defend the author and say that his conclusion is not an "opinion". The law's intent was to protect children from exploitation and provide a means to prosecute those who participate in an industry that, by its very nature, exploits children. The use of a publicly available photo of a minor, which was taken with no exploitation of said minor is certainly not a crime. To convict this individual would infer that in some way Miley Cyrus was exploited, or that the possession of this image has somehow caused harm to a child.

          Of course, quite often a law's intent is sidelined in favor of political or social gains, but I too can not think of a logical argument that would make the possession of such an image a violation of the law's intent. Of course this is assuming that a valid argument MUST conform to the intent of the law, which is rarely done.

          The closest I can come is that the photo MAY serve to desensitize those who are attracted by pedophilia, therefore indirectly harming all children... but similar arguments have been repeatedly dismissed by courts as it is impossible to show causation. Sure a pedophile who assaults a child may posses this photo, but there is no way to say that this photo contributed to the assault.

          So I agree with the author's assertion... however I agree with you that he should recognize that he weakens his arguments and the value of his data by assuming that the reader will agree with his assertion. An impartial presentation of survey results and a fair analysis and conclusion is far more likely to build consensus.

  • Pic? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Cereal Box ( 4286 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @11:30AM (#28594947)

    So... the picture is located where?

  • by Evro ( 18923 ) * <evandhoffman&gmail,com> on Monday July 06, 2009 @11:30AM (#28594957) Homepage Journal



    what you've

    done with the

    place. Makes it a

    real treat to read

    the story!

  • by Petersko ( 564140 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @11:30AM (#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.
  • Meh (Score:4, Funny)

    by snarfies ( 115214 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @11:34AM (#28595007) Homepage

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

    • Re:Meh (Score:4, Insightful)

      by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @11:55AM (#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 (Score:4, Informative)

        by wurp ( 51446 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @12:50PM (#28596073) Homepage

        So in your view, there is no difference between "images of minors engaged in simulated sex acts" and "simulated images of minors engaged in sex acts"?

        Because that's the difference the post is discussing, not whether you think either activity is OK.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by tilandal ( 1004811 )

        The law means pretty much whatever you can manage to convince a judge and/or jury it means. What the legislature intended it to mean is largely inconsequential. Even if your representatives managed to read the law before voting for it (which is a matter of some considerable debate) each of the potentially hundreds of representatives voting will have differing interpretations.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          True. When I was called for Federal Jury duty, the paperwork specifically said that the Judge would tell the jury what the law was. We weren't supposed to use our own knowledge of the law.

          It was a boring trial that would have devolved into "he said", "she said", so I wasn't sad when I was released from jury duty. I'd really like to sit on an important case, because I believe in jury nullification. i.e. one of the principles that this country was founded on.
    • Re:Meh (Score:4, Funny)

      by AlexBirch ( 1137019 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @12:27PM (#28595705) Homepage
      If they were statisticians, they would have a standard deviation.
  • Oh purleeeease (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @11:34AM (#28595011) Homepage

    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.

  • by OgreChow ( 206018 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @11:35AM (#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.
  • Tough one (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RazorSharp ( 1418697 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @11:36AM (#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 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TheRealMindChild ( 743925 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @12:00PM (#28595363) Homepage Journal
      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 (Score:4, Interesting)

        by broken_chaos ( 1188549 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @01:09PM (#28596347)

        *scratches head* This is the same "Miley Cyrus" who has had camwhore-like (provocative, not nude) self-photos of herself spread over the internet, right? This is also the same "MIley Cyrus" who had pictures that she ended up feeling "embarrassed" about (similar to the previous - suggestive in some ways, but not nude) published in Vanity Fair? ...Completely avoiding the legal question here, is this really a sane response when there's already been so much sexually suggestive material of her available - stuff that isn't a (presumably bad) Photoshop job?

    • Re:Tough one (Score:5, Informative)

      by bmajik ( 96670 ) <> on Monday July 06, 2009 @12:23PM (#28595641) Homepage Journal

      even though it seems wrong to side with someone who whacks off to that type of shit

      Suppose that I am _imagining_ the face of a little kid super imposed on to the body of a naked adult [or a tentacale rape monster, or whatever upsets the largest number of people]. Suppose that in the near future, technology can read my thoughts through the walls of my home, and further suppose that I am not wearing my tin foil hat.

      If I am thinking about little-kid/adult hybrid mutants and jacking off, and somebody catches me thinking about it, should that be a crime?

      The court case here is essentially isomorphic to the situation I have described -- this case suggests that it is a thought crime to think about a kids face posted onto an adults body in a sexual way.

      Here is what the US supreme court decided:

      Cases like Campbell's present a unique legal issue. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 ruled that "virtual child pornography," in which no children were actually harmed, is protected speech and does not constitute a crime.

      But the TN law says this:

      For instance, Tennessee's laws state that in prosecuting the offense of sexual exploitation of a minor, "the state is not required to prove the actual identity or age of the minor."

      Scary stuff.

      • Re:Tough one (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ConceptJunkie ( 24823 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @04:19PM (#28598995) Homepage Journal

        Thoughtcrimes have been on the books for years, except they're called "hate crimes".

        Don't rest assured just because you are not an anti-semite or anti-homosexual, etc, that you won't be subject to throughtcrime legislation at some point in the future. The slope is steep and slippery and our legislators are at the top, pushing with all their might.

    • Re:Tough one (Score:5, Informative)

      by hardburn ( 141468 ) <hardburn&wumpus-cave,net> on Monday July 06, 2009 @12:27PM (#28595715)

      Not only that, but:

      "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."

      Miley Cyrus is not a small child. She's 16. I could see the argument for saying a 16 year old can't legally consent, but certainly there's a difference between nude photos of a 16 year old versus a 9 year old (even if Miley herself was the one posing, which she isn't).

      Also, the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 [] made simulated child porn illegal. It was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2002.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Spectre ( 1685 )

        Oddly enough, in my state (Kansas) a 16 year old can consent to actual sex with an actual adult. No problem.

        But if you take pictures of it, you go to jail.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Artifakt ( 700173 )

      The counter argument is that the photoshopped (or in this case literally cut and pasted) image does harm real children, just not necessarily the same level of harm as forcing one to actually participate in a sex act. There were two children whose heads were used, and while Miley is famous, the other one was 'just some kid'.

      If those photos get out, both of them face some possible harm to reputations, but in particular, there is probably less chance that the 'just some kid' will have any

      • Re:Tough one (Score:4, Insightful)

        by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @01:20PM (#28596545)
        The counter argument is that the photoshopped (or in this case literally cut and pasted) image does harm real children

        In reality: the guy made the pictures on his own PC for his own amusement. He didn't show them to the kids. How on earth could real children have been harmed by his imaginings?

        if, a year from now, somebody prints of a bunch of copies and pastes them up all over her school

        In that case, it's clearly the guy who printed and pasted them who is the guilty party. same as if he graffitied her name and phone number "for a good time".

        And really, any idiot can paste a head onto a porn body in 10 minutes. I'm sure schoolboys all over the planet are doing so at his moment with portraits of their classmates. I've seen this used as a story device in sitcoms, years ago ("Boston Public", I think).

        Just Google "Celebrity fakes" and find thousands of sites devoted to this (though not using children, the methods are obviously the same). And here's a how-to [] to get you started.

  • Bad science (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nick Ives ( 317 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @11:41AM (#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.

  • Interesting (Score:5, Informative)

    by somersault ( 912633 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @11:45AM (#28595171) Homepage Journal

    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 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MBGMorden ( 803437 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @11:57AM (#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.

  • by resistant ( 221968 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @11:45AM (#28595175) Homepage Journal

    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.

    • by sanosuke001 ( 640243 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @12:06PM (#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.
  • by Ardeaem ( 625311 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @11:48AM (#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.
  • by SeanTobin ( 138474 ) <{byrdhuntr} {at} {}> on Monday July 06, 2009 @11:52AM (#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.

    • 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% (Score:3, Insightful)

    by digitalsushi ( 137809 ) <> on Monday July 06, 2009 @11:52AM (#28595279) Journal

    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: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ratnerstar ( 609443 )

      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. []

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      i actually completely made this up so that someone would do the harder work of proving me wrong. they deserve some credit.

  • by Absolut187 ( 816431 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @11:54AM (#28595303) Homepage

    Dumb people have trouble with logic.

  • Ug. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) * <> on Monday July 06, 2009 @11:58AM (#28595335) Journal

    "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.

  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @12:02PM (#28595389) Homepage Journal

    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?

  • by MoralHazard ( 447833 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @12:22PM (#28595631)

    This statistical extrapolation is not valid (AT ALL, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, NEVER EVER). For this kind of analysis to mean anything, you have to conclusively demonstrate that you collected a representative sample of the population. That means: A random sample, drawn in a non-biased (or bias-controlled) fashion, from the whole underlying population. Ask a real statistician, and (s)he'll tell you: Your extrapolations are only as good as your sampling methodology.

    You seem to be under the mistaken impression that you're somehow, magically, exempt from this mathematical fact because you are making relative comparisons between two subsets of your sample. Where the hell did you get that idea?

    To understand why, try considering this hypothetical: What if the subset of the population that is drawn to answer your MechTurk question is biased in more than one way? For instance, it could contain a larger-than-normal proportion of highly-intelligent social misfits who sympathize with outcasts, as well as a larger-than-normal proportion of under-educated Moral Orals. It could easily generate similar results to yours, as could an infinity of other hypothetically biased samples.

    Statistically, then, how do you differentiate between your pet theory and the infinity of alternatives? YOU CAN'T. Methods of statistical extrapolation obtain their effectiveness from their relationship with the law of large numbers (probability, basically). Your poor sampling method has completely discarded that link, leaving zero support for your conclusions.

    You cannot fix this problem with math: If your sample is not a truly random sample, drawn from the full underlying population in a non-biased (or bias-controlled) fashion, your numbers don't mean shit W.R.T. the population, and they never will. PERIOD.

    (As an aside, there are methods that can control for sampling bias in certain LIMITED circumstances, when the nature of the bias can be quantified. But you aren't using this method, AND it doesn't apply to your situation, because you can't make reliable quantifying statements about how your sample is biased.)

    You are officially part of the problem. Either learn more stats, or STOP MISLEADING YOURSELF AND OTHERS by mis-applying them.

  • Shopping Miley (Score:5, Insightful)

    by frozentier ( 1542099 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @12:24PM (#28595657)
    Shopping Miley's head on to a naked woman doesn't make her naked, just as shopping her head onto an old photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't suddenly make her a male bodybuilder.
  • Summary: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Weedhopper ( 168515 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @12:27PM (#28595699)

    Author understands neither statistics nor survey methodology.

  • The real reason (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @12:29PM (#28595749)

    Math geeks are deathly afraid of porn regulation.

  • by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @12:47PM (#28596015)

    "When you have the face of a small child affixed to a nude body of a mature woman"

    What if it was fixed beside the mature ladie's face giving a two headed monster?
    What if it was attached to the elbow? The knee? Completely replacing her crotch? One copy over each breast like a bikini (so what if you made a real bikini with miley faces and a lady with big breasts wore it?).
    What if it was attached to the body of a nude mature male?
    How about a mature nude obese woman?
    How about a mature very ill woman?
    How about a *very* mature nude woman (in her 90s?)

    I've seen a lot of frankensteins. My reaction to them was not sexual-- it was more of a novelty.

    Funny story, a friend of ours always talked about his girlfriend, "X" and yet we never met her. We finally asserted that "X" was really him. Finally he brought a picture of him and her to magic the gathering night to *prove* that he had a girlfriend. While he played his first game, I scanned the picture and frankenstiened his head onto her body. When someone new showed up, we mentioned that he had brought the picture-- and showed it to the newcomer who broke out laughing-- which prompted him to look at his picture to see why it was so funny. It was the most amazing exasperated, surprised, amused reaction. Hysterical.

  • by RaigetheFury ( 1000827 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @01:04PM (#28596259)

    What the hell is wrong with me?!? First... forget anything you know about this guy and look at the issue at hand.

    1) We have a picture that's been photoshopped to have an underage persons on it.

    The question at hand is if this should be illegal or not. Child pornography has become a major issue... and the definition of what child pornography is up in the air. My best friend was pulled on our way to canada and interogated for an hour about pictures and movies on his computer. It wasn't until after we left that we realized it was videos of his daughter doing the funky chicken dance.

    To me this is EXTREMELY dangerous to say "yes... putting a kids head on a naked adult" is illegal.". That's a gray area to me as there are FAR too many possibilities for that happening. Jokes, funny images, etc.

    What if he had Miley's face on some 90 year old dropping breast woman. Would it be the same to you? That's the problem... law has to be made so that anyone who reads it interprets it the same (or at least pretty damn close).

    Tennessee law does NOT prevent what he did. It's not illegal according the law and whether it should be or not isn't the point. It's not.

    People are screaming to burn this guy and they nothing about him nor care. There are thousands of creeps out there and this is like busting a pot head for wearing a shirt that shows a charicature of him smoking pot. SURE... I think this would be probable cause to search his house and home computer... but it's not illegal to do. And shouldn't be.

    I love the right to be able to put Miley Cyrus's annoying face on midget porn. It's tasteless sick humor and we have hundreds of thousands of images that are similar. You may not like it and it's borderline crossing the law... but it's NOT. It disturbs me that so many people that are so conservative they can't accept peoples rights to do this. It's so stiffling.

    Again... this guy is a creep and I think that HAVING pictures like this should be probable cause for investigating him further but it's stupid to try to put him in jail for this. Find something that is unquestionable.

  • by ianchaos ( 160825 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @01:17PM (#28596485)

    Having people categorize themselves on an objective technical skill such as math is at least slightly more reliable than having people self judge on such a subjective skill as writing.

    Many people I went to college with were certain their one act plays could win awards and that their sonnets would outlive them. I certainly wouldn't trust many of them when it comes to something as nuanced as the American legal system.

    A better breakdown of the populace would have been to separate out people based on the level of education achieved, or perhaps by specific college degree, or even split out people with legal backgrounds from the average layperson. This would remove all the "touchy, feely" issues his current survey has.

    With that said, this Tennessee man may be a danger to society, and his actions really creep me out, but I don't believe that he broke the law as it is currently written.

    For what it is worth, on his poll I would have fit this profile
    Writing skills > Math Skills

  • Analysis error (Score:3, Informative)

    by Todd Knarr ( 15451 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @01:22PM (#28596569) Homepage

    I think Mr. Hasselton made a fundamental error in his analysis. When you ask people to self-rate how good they are at a subject, you first need to read Unskilled and Unaware of It []. The research can be summed up simply: people who are not very good at X are more likely to rate themselves highly than people who truly are good at X.

  • by TaleSpinner ( 96034 ) on Monday July 06, 2009 @02:06PM (#28597185)

    Our society has reached the point where it criminalizes things not because they are Bad, Wrong, or Evil, but simply because it makes things easier for the police. In this case, a photoshopped picture cannot be illegal since it depicts something that never happened. Nevertheless, we still criminalize sexualized sketches of children, cgi images of sexualized children, or even written pornography that talks about sexualized children, and all for the same reason: so police don't have to prove an actual crime occurred in court. Of course it violates the 1st Amendment! Like anyone pays attention to that any more. This is part and parcel with modern "law enforcement". Photocop and red light cameras seldom produce pictures that can identify the driver, so states using them (for revenue) always change the law to hold the registrar of the vehicle responsible for the moving violation, thereby eliminating the need to identify the actual perpetrator, and neatly bypassing the law about one spouse testifying against another, since 90% of the time it's one of the two spouses. It also changes the remaining 10% to a score since either the registrar doesn't know who it was, or is forced to testify against a friend.

    Like 24x7 tracking of citizens, no-warrant searches and wiretaps, the fiction that just because email may pass through someone else's computer it cannot have an expectation of privacy, all these are designed to eliminate work for police, so they are free to do what society hires them for - generating revenue. That is what is really meant by "law enforcement".

    Cynical? Oh, yes. But I come by it honestly. Yes, I would rather live in anarchy, since as near as I can tell, the only difference between what we have now and anarchy is the fact that one of the biggest lawbreakers is the government and its agents. Anarchy would at least remove that source of crime.

Were there fewer fools, knaves would starve. - Anonymous