A Philosopher's Blog

Philosophy & My Old Husky I: Post Hoc & Anecdotal Evidence

Posted in Medicine/Health, Philosophy, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on April 4, 2016

dogpark065My Siberian husky, Isis, joined the pack in 2004 at the age of one. It took her a little while to realize that my house was now her house—she set out to chew all that could be chewed, presumably as part of some sort of imperative of destruction. Eventually, she came to realize that she was chewing her stuff—or so I like to say. More likely, joining me on 8-16 mile runs wore the chew out of her.

As the years went by, we both slowed down. Eventually, she could no longer run with me (despite my slower pace) and we went on slower adventures (one does not walk a husky; one goes adventuring with a husky). Despite her advanced age, she remained active—at least until recently. After an adventure, she seemed slow and sore. She cried once in pain, but then seemed to recover. Then she got worse, requiring a trip to the emergency veterinarian (pets seem to know the regular vet hours and seem to prefer their woes to take place on weekends).

The good news was that the x-rays showed no serious damage—just indication of wear and tear of age. She also had some unusual test results, perhaps indicating cancer. Because of her age, the main concern was with her mobility and pain—as long as she could get about and be happy, then that was what mattered. She was prescribed an assortment of medications and a follow up appointment was scheduled with the regular vet. By then, she had gotten worse in some ways—her right foot was “knuckling” over, making walking difficult. This is often a sign of nerve issues. She was prescribed steroids and had to go through a washout period before starting the new medicine. As might be imagined, neither of us got much sleep during this time.

While all stories eventually end, her story is still ongoing—the steroids seemed to have done the trick. She can go on slow adventures and enjoys basking in the sun—watching the birds and squirrels, willing the squirrels to fall from the tree and into her mouth.

While philosophy is often derided as useless, it was actually very helpful to me during this time and I decided to write about this usefulness as both a defense of philosophy and, perhaps, as something useful for others who face similar circumstances with an aging canine.

Isis’ emergency visit was focused on pain management and one drug she was prescribed was Carprofen (more infamously known by the name Rimadyl). Carprofen is an NSAID that is supposed to be safer for canines than those designed for humans (like aspirin) and is commonly used to manage arthritis in elderly dogs. Being a curious and cautious sort, I researched all the medications (having access to professional journals and a Ph.D.  is handy here). As is often the case with medications, I ran across numerous forums which included people’s sad and often angry stories about how Carprofen killed their pets. The typical story involved what one would expect: a dog was prescribed Carprofen and then died or was found to have cancer shortly thereafter. I found such stories worrisome and was concerned—I did not want my dog to be killed by her medicine. But, I also knew that without medication, she would be in terrible pain and unable to move. I wanted to make the right choice for her and knew this would require making a rational decision.

My regular vet decided to go with the steroid option, one that also has the potential for side effects—complete with the usual horror stories on the web. Once again, it was a matter of choosing between the risks of medication and the consequences of doing without. In addition to my research into the medication, I also investigated various other options for treating arthritis and pain in older dogs. She was already on glucosamine (which might be beneficial, but seems to have no serious side effects), but the web poured forth an abundance of options ranging from acupuncture to herbal remedies. I even ran across the claim that copper bracelets could help pain in dogs.

While some of the alternatives had been subject to actual scientific investigation, the majority of the discussions involved a mix of miracle and horror stories. One person might write glowingly about how an herbal product brought his dog back from death’s door while another might claim that after he gave his dog the product, the dog died because of it. Sorting through all these claims, anecdotes and studies turned out to be a fair amount of work. Fortunately, I had numerous philosophical tools that helped a great deal with such cases, specifically of the sort where it is claimed that “I gave my dog X, then he got better/died and X was the cause.” Knowing about two common fallacies is very useful in these cases.

The first is what is known as Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc (“after this, therefore because of this”).  This fallacy has the following form:

 

  1. A occurs before B.
  2. Therefore A is the cause of B.

 

This fallacy is committed when it is concluded that one event causes another simply because the proposed cause occurred before the proposed effect. More formally, the fallacy involves concluding that A causes or caused B because A occurs before B and there is not sufficient evidence to actually warrant such a claim.

While cause does precede effect (at least in the normal flow of time), proper causal reasoning, as will be discussed in an upcoming essay, involves sorting out whether A occurring before B is just a matter of coincidence or not. In the case of medication involving an old dog, it could entirely be a matter of coincidence that the dog died or was diagnosed with cancer after the medicine was administered. That is, the dog might have died anyway or might have already had cancer. Without a proper investigation, simply assuming that the medication was the cause would be an error. The same holds true for beneficial effects. For example, a dog might go lame after a walk and then recover after being given an herbal supplement for several days. While it would be tempting to attribute the recovery to the herbs, they might have had no effect at all. After all, lameness often goes away on its own or some other factor might have been the cause.

This is not to say that such stories should be rejected out of hand—it is to say that they should be approached with due consideration that the reasoning involved is post hoc. In concrete terms, if you are afraid to give your dog medicine she was prescribed because you heard of cases in which a dog had the medicine and then died, you should investigate more (such as talking to your vet) about whether there really is a risk of death. As another example, if someone praises an herbal supplement because her dog perked up after taking it, then you should see if there is evidence for this claim beyond the post hoc situation.

Fortunately, there has been considerable research into medications and treatments that provide a basis for making a rational choice. When considering such data, it is important not to be lured into rejecting data by the seductive power of the Fallacy of Anecdotal Evidence.

This fallacy is committed when a person draws a conclusion about a population based on an anecdote (a story) about one or a very small number of cases. The fallacy is also committed when someone rejects reasonable statistical data supporting a claim in favor of a single example or small number of examples that go against the claim. The fallacy is considered by some to be a variation on hasty generalization.  It has the following forms:

Form One

  1. Anecdote A is told about a member (or small number of members) of Population P.
  2. Conclusion C is drawn about Population P based on Anecdote A.

For example, a person might hear anecdotes about dogs that died after taking a prescribed medication and infer that the medicine is likely to kill dogs.

Form Two

  1. Reasonable statistical evidence S exists for general claim C.
  2. Anecdote A is presented that is an exception to or goes against general claim C.
  3. Conclusion: General claim C is rejected.

For example, the statistical evidence shows that the claim that glucosamine-chondroitin can treat arthritis is, at best, very weakly supported. But, a person might tell a story about how their aging husky “was like a new dog” after she starting getting a daily dose of the supplement. To accept this as proof that the data is wrong would be to fall for this fallacy. That said, I do give my dog glucosamine-chondroitin because it is cheap, has no serious side effects and might have some benefit. I am fully aware of the data and do not reject it—I am gambling that it might do my husky some good.

The way to avoid becoming a victim of anecdotal evidence is to seek reliable, objective statistical data about the matter in question (a vet should be a good source). This can, I hasten to say, can be quite a challenge when it comes to treatments for pets. In many cases, there are no adequate studies or trials that provide statistical data and all the information available is in the form of anecdotes. One option is, of course, to investigate the anecdotes and try to do your own statistics. So, if the majority of anecdotes indicate something harmful (or something beneficial) then this would be weak evidence for the claim. In any case, it is wise to approach anecdotes with due care—a story is not proof.

Paladin Tanking in Cataclysm

Posted in Video Games by Michael LaBossiere on December 26, 2010
World of Warcraft
Image via Wikipedia

The basics of Paladin tanking have not changed. As always, there are two main goals: holding aggro and not dying. As always, doing this rests partially on your gear, partially on your build, and largely on your skill.

As far as gearing, build and the basic tanking rotation, the best source of information is on Elitist Jerks. This is the place to start.

While Elitist Jerks do a great job, their main focus is on showing readers how to build a tank that is number optimized rather than on how to actually go about doing the tanking-especially in PUGs. As such, I thought I’d say a bit about the Paladin abilities in the context of tanking in general and PUG groups in particular.

One thing I have found very useful is having a mental “pre-tanking” checklist to make sure all my tanking stuff is active. The most critical is, of course, Righteous Fury. This is essential to holding aggro. Without this, you will see the mobs rushing to kill the DPS and healer and then lots of swearing in party chat. This will be directed at you. Even if you are all tank all the time, Righteous Fury turns off when you die (and when you change specs)-so be sure to activate it after a death. When questing you will want to turn it off, unless you like having other folks’ mobs being pulled to you by your AOEs.

You will also want to make sure that you have your seal (Seal of Truth) and aura (Devotion in most cases) are active. You can wait to buff (Kings or Might) once you get in the instance. As druids always remind me, Kings=Mark of the Wild, so if you have a filthy druid in the party, be sure to use Might.

If you have other consumable based buffs (potions, scrolls, or food) these can usually be put up at the start of the instance. At the end of WotLK I didn’t bother much with these consumables-even the heroics were super easy. However, now that I am re-gearing I have found that the buffs can make the difference between wiping and winning. Once you are super geared and everything is easy again, these consumable will be less important..

Once you get in an instance, be sure to see who is in the party. Obviously, if you are in a group of friends/guild mates, then you will already know the classes, etc. However, if you are in a PUG, it is a good idea to see what sort of DPS and healer you have in the group. Party composition can change the dynamics of tanking. For example, if you have all melee DPS then they will tend to be very close to you, thus making it easier to get aggro back from them. If, however, you have ranged DPS, you’ll have to keep an eye on them to make sure that they are not picking up adds as they cravenly try to get as far from the fight as possible. In the case of healers, the different classes have different buffs and styles. If, for example, you have a shaman healer, then you will want to make an effort to stay in range of his totems.

As always, tanking starts with pulling. It is generally a good idea to mark targets so people know what to attack, what to sheep and so on. Pulling hasn’t changed much, aside from the fact that Hand of Reckoning doesn’t do damage anymore. I usually pull the main target with the hand and use the shield on any casters to properly motivate them. I then try to get Consecration down and blast with Holy Wrath so as to get aggro on everything. Most DPS folks are not willing to give you even a second to grab and hold aggro, so you will generally have to focus on getting as much AOE threat out there as fast as possible. Also, most DPS do not get the idea that they have some responsibility in managing threat-so you’ll have to assume that this is all up to you.

In most fights I rely on Hammer of Wrath rather than Crusader Strike (even single target tanking). This is because the talents and glyph seem to make this a better attack. However, the numbers have not been completely crunched on this. In any case, you want to be cranking out the HoW and CS attacks to generate Holy Power.

Holy Power is a new resource and is kind of like the DK runes. Each HoW/CS hit generates 1 Holy Power, up to the capacity of three.  Coincidently, there are three things you can spend Holy Power on.

Ideally, you want to use all three Holy Power on your Shield of the Righteous. This does impressive damage and also creates a lot of single target threat. You can also use your Holy Power on Inquisition (which boosts your Holy damage). However, the Shield seems to be the priority for Holy Power.

You can also spend Holy Power on Word of Glory. This is an instant cast heal that has the added bonus of giving you a damage shield if you over heal (provided you have the talent-which you should). If your healer is sub-optimal, you will probably be spending your Holy Power on Word during all the fights. This, unfortunately, makes holding aggro harder and prolongs the fights (since your damage drops off). However, I have tanked many PUGs where the only thing between a wipe and a win was my self healing.

Avenging Wrath is a useful ability, one that I generally save for boss fights or when I know it will be ready for the boss fight. I do, however, avoid wasting it on bosses that are rigged to fear or otherwise break the fight. The damage boost helps in keeping aggro (and killing mobs).

If you happen to lose aggro, the Hand of Reckoning is good for getting it back. Righteous Defense is also very useful for saving another party member when they put out to much threat or get jumped by adds. As a last ditch rescue, the Hand of Protection will save a party member from physical attacks. Divine Guardian is also very useful and not just for cases in which other party members have aggro. The 20% damage reduction for everyone else can be a real life saver when a boss is throwing out a nasty AOE. Holy Radiance, an AOE heal, is also useful in assisting the healer in those broad damage situations.

One final concern is the matter of not dying. While a good healer will make this easier, you will probably PUG with some bad healers from time to time. Also, just as it is not your job alone to manage threat, it is also not the healer’s job alone to keep you alive.

Divine Protection is an ability that I use pretty much every fight. It has a 1 minute cool down and gives a nice damage reduction. It is especially useful when the mob/boss is popping out some high damage special attack. This ability helps make the healer’s job easier.

Divine Shield is the ultimate damage reducer in that it makes you immune. The downside is that it breaks threat. This can be used in certain conditions to break (or avoid) a nasty effect. However, you have to be sure to drop it and then regain the aggro. In some cases it can literally save the day-I have finished off at least two bosses after everyone else died by bubbling and beating the boss to death.

Lay on Hands is a major life saver. In general, you should use it either on yourself (when the healer is failing, OOM or dead) or the healer. It is generally not a good idea to spend it on a DPS, unless that DPS is somehow critical.

If you were Paladin tanking before, Ardent Defender probably saved your holy bacon a few times. It still can, but now you have to actively save your own bacon-it is activated manually now. Like most Paladins, I use this as my “oh sh@t” button and hit it when my health is way low and the healer cannot or will not save me. Timing it just right can be challenging. After all, it is intended for when the next hit (or a few hits after that) will kill you.

The final ability is, of course, Guardian of Ancient Kings. While it does not last long and has a significant cool down, it is a great ability for tough fights. In general, this is best used during the boss phases that are the most damage intensive.

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PUG Tanking

Posted in Video Games by Michael LaBossiere on December 19, 2010
World of Warcraft
Image via Wikipedia

When I first started playing WoW, instances were challenging and tiring ordeals that tested one’s skills as a player. This changed with the expansions and by the end of the last one, almost everyone had such awesome gear that running instances was no challenge at all. Doing pickup groups was generally no problem (with some notable exceptions).

Now that Cataclysm is out, it is a bit like being back in the old days: being under-geared and facing dungeons full of tough monsters. The days of cruise control are, at least for now, over and people have to actually put in some effort. Mistakes and stupid play are once again potentially serious problems. This is both good and bad.

On the good side, it is nice to face challenges again. While I do not want every moment in a game to be on the razor’s edge between life and death, risk makes the game more enjoyable. On the bad side, the challenges can make an instance into an ordeal of annoyances and suffering if your group is not up to it.

Since I am a tank, I don’t have to worry about anyone else’s bad tanking. Just my own bad tanking. I do, however, have to worry about bad DPS and have to really worry about bad healers. If you are also a tank, here are some things to be concerned about and a bit of advice about countering these problems.

First, some DPS folks love to pull. They are in a hurry and don’t have time to wait the 2 seconds for you to set up a pull. In some cases, you can nicely ask them to stop doing that. In some cases, that doesn’t work and they just keep doing it. If you don’t want to kick them, then you’ll have to minimize the damage they can cause by grabbing the mob(s) they aggro and keeping them from dying. Of course, smart DPS know that the tank pulls. Often a few deaths gets that lesson across.

Second, most DPS folks love to pour on the damage instantly and try to max it out no matter what, perhaps to see themselves at the top in Recount. While the DPS  folks are supposed to do damage (that is what the D is all about), focusing on mindlessly pouring out damage creates aggro problems for tanks and death related problems for the DPS. Many DPS folks seem to think that it is the tank’s responsibility alone to manage aggro while there sole responsibility is to top the damage meter.

While it is true that the tank’s job is to hold aggro, the tank’s job becomes much harder when others do not allow him a chance to actually establish aggro or when the DPS fail to watch the aggro they are generating.

One way to counter this is to get really good at managing aggro. Of course, this has its limits-no matter how good you are, you are still limited by the game mechanics. Another way to counter it is to let the other folks know that you need a second to actually get the aggro and that they need to actually watch their threat levels and act accordingly.

Third, DPS folks seem to want to attack different targets. One problem is that this divides up the damage, thus creating numerous damaged monsters rather than quickly making one dead. Another problem is managing the aggro. If 3 different DPS are hitting three different targets and doing good damage, they can pull the mobs off you and you will run out of taunts to get them back.

The solution is to mark targets and encourage the DPS to use assist to help them stay on your main target.

Third, DPS and healers often have a tendency to run away. This happens most often in instances where the party is hit by many mobs (such as in the Stonecore) or picks up an add or two.This behavior is learned in PvE activity outside of instances where running away can actually work to break aggro. However, it does not work in instances, but merely scatters the party. A tank can really only hold aggro in one location, so trying to manage a scattered party is rather challenging. I always tell folks that when they are in trouble, they need to run to me so I can gather up the mobs. If they listen, it goes well. If people do not listen, I stick with the healer and keep him alive while everyone else gets to survive as best they can. I’d suggest you do the same.

Fourth, ranged DPS and healers often tend to want to stay way the hell away from the fight. In some cases, such as those where they can actually avoid AOE or ranged attacks, this makes good sense. In other cases, this approach is a problem. One problem is that these folks can pick up wandering monsters far from the tank. If the healer does this, I will try to save him. If a ranged DPS does this, then I will consider trying to save him, provided that the mob might then turn on the healer when he dies. I try to encourage ranged folks to stay closer to me, provided that the situation warrants this. A few deaths tends to get this point across for a while. A second problem is that many bosses and mobs require that the tank move them around for the fight (for example, the boss is turning parts of the floor into magma). If the DPS and healer are way the hell away, they can get out of range and this can be bad (especially when a heal is needed). Oddly enough, some folks will simply not move at all or complain that they had to move.

Fifth, DPS folks often tend to throw down on wandering monsters. While this is a natural reaction learned from non-instance PvE, it is actually a bad approach in instances. After all, when the add is attacked, this creates threat and this makes it harder for the tank to get the aggro. What tends to work best is for the DPS to CC the mob or move towards the tank with the mob so the tank can grab it. Of course, the tank can help by moving towards the add or using a ranged taunt to grab it.

Sixth, DPS folks and healers sometimes think that all they need to do is damage or heal. Using other abilities, like interrupts or CC, is apparently not in their job descriptions. While it is possible for the tank to handle all of this, it does make it much harder. If the party does help out, it makes quite a difference. For example, I love tanking with my friend Ron. When he plays his DK, he death grips casters and drags them into melee. He interrupts casting and keeps an eye on the healer. This makes my job so much easier.

Seventh, PUG healers cannot always be counted on. This is perhaps the most critical concern. When you tank, you take the brunt of the damage and you need a decent healer to keep you going. However, you’ll probably find yourself with a bad healer from time to time. Also, even good healers cannot heal when they go OOM or get silenced. As such, it is always a great idea to be prepared to keep yourself from dying.

I’ve tanked as a DK and a paladin and both of these classes are quite good in the not dying area. I am currently playing my paladin as my main and this has taught me the awesomeness of Word of Glory. However, there is more to it than just using WoG.

While tanks tend to optimize for not dying, a paladin tank can do this quite well. As a paladin tank, you should have Divinity (which increases your healing output and input). Eternal Glory is also worth considering-it gives you a chance of using WoG without expending any holy power. Of course, this maxes out at a 30% chance, so it is not something to rely on.  In contrast, if you know you’ll always be grouping with decent healers, than it would be better to spend the talent points elsewhere. It is also a good idea to get trinkets that either absorb damage or boost your maximum health. These can be real life savers.

Some healers are really amazing-I have even been in some groups where I never saw my health drop-I was always under a heal over time or being topped off.

I’ll close by saying that there are some really bad tanks, too. Fortunately, the only bad tanking I have to endure is my own.

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