Sunday, April 20, 2014

XKCD on Free Speech


I think xkcd gets this one right.

I once had someone tell me how ironic it was that tea party people were using their free speech to protest that they don’t have free speech. This person seemed to think that freedom of speech is the freedom to say something at all. Anything less than taping your mouth shut is not a violation of free speech – because that was really something they were worried about. After all, the tea party people were able to say something and therefore they have freedom of speech, how very ironic.

It seems to me that free speech has to mean all free speech or some free speech. If it means some free speech, then which speech? How do we determine? The mechanism by which we decide would be the same mechanism we would if we didn’t have a constitutional protection of free speech at all. It amounts to freedom of speech protecting only the speech they’ve decided not to regulate, which is no protection at all.

It is like if I promised that I will protect you whenever you are not in harm.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Jonathan Haidt on America’s Rising Partisanship

Here is Jonathan Haidt establishing that America has become more partisan:

But in the last twelve years Americans have begun to move further apart. There’s been a decline in the number of people calling themselves centrists or moderates (from 40 percent in 2000 down to 36 percent in 2011), a rise in the number of conservatives (from 38 percent to 41 percent), and a rise in the number of liberals (from 19 percent to 21 percent).

He cites Gallup for this fact: go to and search “U.S. Political Ideology.”

He also cites

Candidates began to spend more time and money on “oppo” (opposition research), in which staff members or paid consultants dig up dirt on opponents (sometimes illegally) and then shovel it to the media.

He also cites America’s downgraded credit rating as a failure to work across party lines.

I have heard it said that the predictability of congressional votes based on party affiliation has grown significantly. It is much more common for every Republican to vote the same way or every Democrat to vote the same way. It is rarer to see a handful of politicians vote against their party. I can’t remember if it was Haidt who said this, but it would be further evidence that partisanship has grown.

Though I tend to think he’s right, the justification Jonathan Haidt gives in the book, taken alone, wouldn’t convince me that partisanship in fact has grown. He relies on the commonsense plea that of course partisanship has grown. But that’s not as obvious as some people claim. has a good video of how we romanticize the civility of past partisan debates, and how ridiculous our commonsense notions are.

Chris Date’s Comment on the Nephilim and Fallen Angels

Here is a Great line posted by Chris Date on a Rethinking Hell’s Facebook page:

Daniel and I had a rousing (read me being a stubborn jerk) discussion this morning about Gen 6's sons of God. I am of the wacko opinion that they are not fallen angels magically incarnated complete with 23 human chromosome gamete-producing testes capable of fertilizing human ova.

Jonathan Haidt on Being a Compulsive Liar

Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind:

On February 3, 2007, shortly before lunch, I discovered that I was a chronic liar. I was at home, writing a review article on moral psychology, when my wife, Jayne, walked by my desk. In passing she asked me not to leave dirty dishes on the counter where she prepared our baby’s food. Her request was polite but its tone added a postscript: “As I have asked you a hundred times before.”

My mouth started moving before hers had stopped. Words came out. Those words linked themselves up to say something about a baby having woken up at the same time that our elderly dog barked to ask for a walk and I’m sorry but I just put my breakfast dishes down wherever I could. In my family, caring for a hungry baby and an incontinent dog is a surefire excuse, so I was acquitted…

So there I was at my desk, writing about how people automatically fabricate justifications of their gut feelings, when I suddenly realized that I had just done the same thing with my wife. I disliked being criticized, and I had felt a flash of negativity by the time Jayne had gotten to her third word (“can you not…”). Even before I knew why she was criticizing me, I knew I disagreed with her (because intuitions come first). The instant I knew the content of the criticism (“… leave dirty dishes on the…”), my inner lawyer went to work searching fro an excuse (strategic reasoning second). It’s true that I had eaten breakfast, given Max his first bottle, and let Andy out for his first walk, but these events had all happened at separate times. Only when my wife criticized me did I merge them into a composite image of a harried father with too few hands, and I created this fabrication by the time she had completed her one sentence criticism (“… counter where I make the baby food?). I then lied so quickly and convincingly that my wife and I both believed me

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Jonathan Haidt on Must vs. Can

Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind:

When my son, Max, was three years old, I discovered that he’s allergic to must. When I would tell him that he must get dressed so that we can go to school (and he loved to go to school), he’d scowl and whine. The word must is a little verbal handcuff that triggered in him the desire to squirm free.

The word can is much nicer: “Can you get dressed, so that we can go to school?”…

The social psychologist Tom Gilovich studies the cognitive mechanisms of strange beliefs. His simple formulation is that when we want to believe something, we ask ourselves, “can I believe it?” Then we search for supporting evidence, and if we find even a single piece of pseudo-evidence, we can stop thinking. We now have permission to believe. We have a justification, in case anyone asks.

In contrast, when we don’t want to believe something, we ask ourselves, “must I believe it?” Then we search for contrary evidence, and if we find a single reason to doubt the claim, we can dismiss it. You only need one key to unlock the handcuffs of must.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Signatures from Experts don’t mean anything

One of the worst ways of establishing an expert consensus, or more often a non-consensus of experts, is with signatures. Many find a long list of names persuasive for establishing that there is at least conflict within the field. 300 signatures from biologists stating that they don’t believe in evolution, or economists stating that they don’t believe in free trade, or climatologists stating that they don’t believe in global warming, is not good evidence that there is conflict in the field. Why? Because there are millions or sometimes hundreds of thousands of experts, and those who put their name on it are not a representative sample of the whole field. The denominator is too high (and of course not mentioned) for some large list of names to mean anything.

How many names one gets on a piece of paper ends up being a strong indicator of how much work one is willing to do, and a very weak indicator of what the experts believe.

Oftentimes what qualifies as an “expert” is broadened in order to get more names anyway.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

GMO Consensus Industry Funded

Sometimes you hear that industry funding is behind the consensus on GMOs – here’s a great article on that.

Monsanto is a medium sized company ($57.43B). Is it really possible that they’ve manipulated tens of thousands of scientists performing thousands of studies for three decades with no whistleblowers? Could Monsanto’s power have resulted in a scientific consensus that has been bent completely to their will? In comparison, fossil fuel behemoths Exxon Mobil ($394.83B), Chevron ($215.45B) and BP ($150.07B) (total: $760.35B) have been completely stymied in their efforts to buy a scientific consensus on climate change. Let’s put aside the fact that this line of thinking just doesn’t make sense. Instead, let’s take a look at the evidence and unravel some of the pretzeled logic often employed to dismiss the weight of that evidence in support of the scientific consensus on GMOs.

The majority of studies are industry funded, but…

Looking at the scientific literature about GMO safety, we find little difference between the results of independent and industry funded studies.

What was the evidence for industry funding corrupting the results in the first place? Just saying so.