Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Strange attractors

You would think that after this many years of writing Skeptophilia, I'd be completely inured to weird ideas, that nothing would shock me.  But I still occasionally run into a claim that leaves me saying, "Um... uh.  Um.  Nope, I got nothin'."

That happened yesterday, when a loyal reader sent me a link to the website of the Spiritual Science Research Foundation.  The website subheader is "Bridging the Known and Unknown Worlds," so I was at least on guard that I was entering the realm of the woo-woo.  But I wasn't ready for the actual details of the claim therein, which turned out to be that gay people are gay...

... because they're being coerced by ghosts.

I bet my LGBT readers had no idea this was what was going on.  I bet they simply thought their brains were wired that way, which is supported by recent studies that showed genetic and epigenetic effects in LGBT individuals that are at least correlated with homosexuality, and may actually be causative.

Nope.  That's not it at all.  The real reason is that you've got a ghost following you around who is making lewd same-sex suggestions, and you're falling for it.

The worst part is that this isn't all they claim, and in fact, isn't even their weirdest claim.  Upon perusing the website, we find out that there are other ways you can tell if you've got a spirit-world hanger-on besides being gay.  Apparently, symptoms are a "foul taste in the mouth," "experience of eyes being pulled inside," "a sticky layer... formed on the face and body of the affected person," and "experience of strangulation."  Then we read the following, which I quote verbatim:
[T]he ghosts (demons, devils, negative energies, etc.) leave the body through any of the nine openings, i.e. two eyes, two nostrils, two ears, mouth, penis/vagina and anus.  The person may experience as if gas is going out of any of these openings or one may experience cough, yawning, burping, sneezing, etc. as per the opening involved.
Allow me to interject here for the good of the order that if any of my readers experience coughing through their eyes, they probably should see a doctor.

And that goes double if your penis burps.

But in the words of the infomercial, "Wait... there's more!"  We also find out that if you have a ghostly groupie, you will "make moaning and weird sounds and not remember anything after," will be "fidgeting and restless," and will be prone to "domestic accidents such as heated oil flying from the frying pan."  Me, I thought the latter was just one of the hazards of cooking, one I first learned about while simultaneously discovering the general rule "Never cook bacon while shirtless."  I don't think I made moaning or weird sounds when it happened, although I do recall using some seriously bad language.

Of course, given that supposedly the affected individual doesn't remember anything afterwards, maybe I've just forgotten about the moaning noises.

But the pièce de résistance is the part about "sexual symptoms," wherein we get to the heart of the matter, which is that if you have a ghostly invisible friend, you'll become gay:
The main reason behind the gay orientation of some men is that they are possessed by female ghosts. It is the female ghost in them that is attracted to other men.  Conversely the attraction to females experienced by some lesbians is due to the presence of male ghosts in them.  The ghost’s consciousness overpowers the person’s normal behaviour to produce the homosexual attraction.  Spiritual research has shown that the cause for homosexual preferences lie predominantly in the spiritual realm.
We're then given some statistics, which is that homosexual orientation is 5% physical causes/hormonal changes, 10% psychological causes, and 85% ghosts.  I have no idea how they derived those numbers, but because it's statistics, it's bound to be correct, right?

Of course right.

So there you have it.  I'm not sure what else to say that the dog didn't cover.  I think the thing that bothers me about this most is that I'm sure there are people who read this website and nodded, saying, "Yup, makes total sense."  Which is kind of terrifying when you think about it.

Although who knows.  Maybe they have their reasons for believing all this.  Maybe someone was startled one day when her vagina sneezed, and was wondering why, and stumbled on this website.  Makes as much sense as any other explanation I can think of.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Viral reality

If you are of the opinion that more evidence is necessary for demonstrating the correctness of the evolutionary model, I give you: a paper by biologist Justin R. Meyer of the University of California-San Diego et al. that has conclusively demonstrated speciation occurring in the laboratory.

The gist of what the team did is to grow populations of bacteriophage Lambda (a virus that attacks and kills bacteria) in the presence of populations of two different potential food sources, more specifically E. coli that had one of two different receptors where the virus could attach.  What happened was that the original bacteriophages were non-specialists -- they could attach to either receptor, but not very efficiently -- but over time, more of them accrued mutations that allowed them to specialize in attacking one receptor over the other.  Ultimately, the non-specialists became extinct, leaving a split population where each new species could not survive on the other's food source.

Diagram of a bacteriophage [image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Pretty amazing stuff.  My response was, "If that isn't evolution, what the hell is it?"  Of course, I'm expecting the litany of goofy rejoinders to start any time now.  "It's only microevolution."  "There was no novel gene produced."  "But both of them are still viruses.  If you showed me a virus evolving into a wombat, then I'd believe you."

Nevertheless, this sticks another nail in the coffin of the anti-evolutionists -- both Intelligent Design proponents and the young-Earth creationists, the latter of whom believe that all of the Earth's species were created as-is 6,000 or so years ago along with the Earth itself, and that the 200 million year old trilobite fossils one sometimes finds simply dropped out of god's pocket while he was walking through the Garden of Eden or something.

So as usual, you can't logic your way out of a stance you didn't logic your way into.  Still, I have hope that the tide is gradually turning.  Certainly one cheering incident comes our way from Richard Lenski, who is justly famous for his groundbreaking study of evolution in bacteria and who co-authored the Meyer paper I began with.  But Lenski will forever be one of my heroes for the way he handled Andrew Schlafly, who runs Conservapedia, a Wikipedia clone that attempts to remodel the world so that all of the ultra-conservative talking points are true.  Schlafly had written a dismissive piece about Lenski's work on Conservapedia, to which Lenski responded.  The ensuing exchange resulted in one of the most epic smackdowns by a scientist I've ever seen.  Lenski takes apart Schlafly's objections piece by piece, citing data, kicking ass, and taking names.  I excerpt the end of it below, but you can (and should) read the whole thing at the article on the "Lenski Affair" over at RationalWiki:
I know that I’ve been a bit less polite in this response than in my previous one, but I’m still behaving far more politely than you deserve given your rude, willfully ignorant, and slanderous behavior.  And I’ve spent far more time responding than you deserve.  However, as I said at the outset, I take education seriously, and I know some of your acolytes still have the ability and desire to think, as do many others who will read this exchange. 
Sincerely, Richard Lenski
And if that's not spectacular enough, check out one of the four P.S.s:
I noticed that you say that one of your favorite articles on your website is the one on “Deceit.”  That article begins as follows: “Deceit is the deliberate distortion or denial of the truth with an intent to trick or fool another. Christianity and Judaism teach that deceit is wrong.  For example, the Old Testament says, ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.’”  You really should think more carefully about what that commandment means before you go around bearing false witness against others.
I can only hope that there was a mic around after that so that Lenski could drop it.

So there you have it.  Science finding out cool stuff once again, because after all, that's what science does.  The creationists, it is to be hoped, retreating further and further into the corner into which they've painted themselves.  It's probably a forlorn wish that this'll make Ken Ham shut up, but maybe he'll eventually have to adapt his strategy to address reality instead of avoiding it.

You might even say... he'll need to evolve.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Making the world safe for meerkats

This past weekend my wife and I put up our Christmas tree.  It's always a special moment for me -- we have ornaments collected from years ago (including one given to my son Lucas on his first Christmas), ornaments we've made, ornaments we've collected on trips to various places.  We went a little crazy on the lights this year, but I think it's pretty doggone festive.

In case you're wondering, yes, that is a stuffed meerkat on the top of the tree.  The one thing we've never been able to agree upon is a good tree-topper, so we've started the tradition of using our stuffed meerkat in the place of the traditional star.  Unfortunately, in the tiny, underdeveloped brain of our hound, Lena, the search parameters "fuzzy" + "in a tree" results in the answer "squirrel," so she spends an average of two hours a day staring at the meerkat waiting for it to move.

At least it gives her an alternative hobby to going outside followed by going inside followed by going outside followed by going inside, which is her other favorite thing to do.

Anyhow, this all comes up because a couple of days ago, Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump's former campaign manager, was interviewed on Fox News by Sean Hannity, and said, "America is in store for a great Christmas, which you can say again, ‘Merry Christmas,’ because Donald Trump is now the president, you can say it again, it’s okay to say, it’s not a pejorative word anymore."  This hit the news at almost the same time as did a Pew Research Group poll that found that half of all Americans say that discrimination against Christians is as bad as that against minorities; this number rises to 75% if you just poll Trump supporters, and 80% if you only count white evangelical Christians.

My first question upon hearing this was to wonder what the hell these people are smoking.  Then I amended that to wondering if any of the people who answered that way have ever actually talked to a minority about what they experience on a daily basis -- the kind of prejudice and bigotry, explicit or implicit, minorities live with every day of every year.

My guess is no.  Because that would require peeking outside their comforting shell of Being Right About Everything, which apparently comes with the added feature of Fearing Anyone Different.  These people are mistaking their no longer having unquestioned hegemony with discrimination, a difference that pretty much any member of any minority would be happy to explain.

The problem is, the white Protestant Christians have for two hundred years run damn near everything, to the point where if you weren't a white Protestant Christian, your chance of being elected to public office was just about zero.  (An exception is my home region of southern Louisiana.  There, you could also be elected if you were Catholic.)  Thankfully, things are changing, albeit slowly -- even in some of the most conservative parts of the country, there are minorities and people of other religious beliefs (and no religion at all, although that's still uncommon) being elected.

But this is profoundly terrifying to some people.  (Not all, as I hasten to point out, and upon which I will elaborate in a moment.)  But there are people for whom this is so frightening that they invented some convenient myths -- that liberals in general and atheists in particular are trying to outlaw saying Merry Christmas, that electing non-Christians means that the first thing they'll do is tear down the churches and make saying "Jesus" a capital offense.  Of course, this is ridiculous; even the most atheistic of atheists (me, for example) couldn't care less if you say Merry Christmas, have Christmas displays in your yard so bright they disrupt air traffic, and go to church twice a day every day of the year.  We don't care what you do with your life, we only care when you start telling others what they have to do with their lives, and also when you use taxpayer dollars to fund religion.

Odd, isn't it, that it's not generally the atheists who have problems with how people greet each other during the holiday season -- we're usually content to respond in kind, and take a friendly greeting as friendly instead of as some kind of insult to the core of our beliefs.  100% of the squealing I've seen about who says what to whom, holiday-wise, has come from staunch Christians.

I'm overgeneralizing, of course, because there are obnoxious atheists just as there are obnoxious people of every other stripe.  Also, some of my Christian friends are outspokenly in favor of everyone following their own star regarding what they believe and how they observe it.  But people like Lewandowski make everyone look bad -- he makes the evangelicals seem like they're only content when they're running the show, and the atheists sound like they'd be thrilled to turn Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer into venison cutlets.

Which explains the results of the poll.  The sad part is that this sort of rhetoric will do nothing but reinforce the rifts we already have -- especially awful given that it's based on a falsehood.

So that's pretty depressing.  Me, I think I'm going to go try to cheer myself up.  Maybe I'll sit on the floor next to Lena and stare at the Christmas Meerkat.  It certainly seems to make her happy.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Deflating "Pizzagate"

A question I get asked a lot is why, here in Skeptophilia, I take time away from serious matters to look at the lunatic fringe, as I did yesterday with my piece on the reappearance of Mothman.  Let the weirdos be weird, seems to be the gist.  You're not going to convince them, you're not going to expunge all weirdos from the world, so it really is kind of pointless.  One friend said it was a little like masturbation; it makes you feel good for a little while, but in the end it doesn't really accomplish anything.

Well, I obviously disagree, because I keep at it on a daily basis.  (Writing Skeptophilia, I mean, not masturbating.)  And I do think there's a point to highlighting the activities of the loonies -- two, in fact.  First, there is the unfortunate tendency that once you've accepted one crazy idea, you're more likely to fall for others, because you've abandoned evidence and logic as the sine qua non of understanding.  Second, there's the even more unfortunate tendency that given enough encouragement, the wingnuts sometimes act on their beliefs.

This all comes up because of a Skeptophilia frequent flier, namely Alex Jones, who in the last few weeks has been ranting about something called "Pizzagate."  Which brings something else up, namely the fact that the media's tendency to turn anything into a scandal by adding "-gate" to the end of it really grinds my gears.  This annoys me almost as much as Alex Jones does himself, which is saying something, because if I had to choose between a root canal and listening to an entire episode of InfoWars, I'd choose the root canal because at least then I'd get some good drugs to help me through the experience.

But I digress.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Anyhow, "Pizzagate" is the insane idea that Hillary and Bill Clinton and various other influential people in the Democratic Party are using the Washington D. C. pizza joint "Comet Ping Pong" as a front for pedophilia and satanic rituals.  At first, the owner of Comet Ping Pong, James Alefantis, tried to go online and defend himself from the allegations, but I'm sure you can predict how successful that was.  The message "Don't let up.  #PIZZAGATE Everywhere!" was posted on Twitter and got thousands of likes and reposts.  "It was like trying to shoot a swarm of bees with a gun," said Bryce Reh, Comet's general manager, who was nearly pushed into quitting his job because of harassment and death threats.

Then Alex Jones got involved.  He posted a "special message" on his website about how serious Pizzagate was, and the horrible the things they were covering up.  "InfoWars and the Pizzagate investigators are just trying to uncover the truth," he said.

Jones, of course, gets not thousands but millions of views, so suddenly the whole thing exploded.  And a couple of days ago, a guy showed up at Comet Ping Pong with an assault rifle, saying he was there to "do some investigating of Pizzagate" for himself.  He fired off at least one, possibly more, shots, but thankfully no one was injured.

The attacker, Edgar Maddison Welch, said that he heard about the pedophilia ring from Alex Jones and decided he needed to do something about it.

Poor James Alefantis, of course, is just trying to keep a business he's sunk ten years of his life into building from tanking.  "I really hope that all of these people fanning the flames of this conspiracy would take a moment to contemplate what has gone on here today and maybe to stop," he said.  I hope so too, but from experience, I can tell you that once conspiracy theorists latch on to an idea, they never give up.

So a lot of wacky beliefs are harmless, but they establish a pattern.  You stop asking questions, you start trusting purveyors of bullshit like Alex Jones, and all of a sudden you move from "odd but not a problem" to "possible incitement to do some serious damage."  And that's why I spend so much time railing against the woo-woos -- even those who, on the surface, seem pretty innocuous.

I'll keep after the big stuff, too.  As you know if you have read this blog for any length of time, I'm not one to suffer in silence.  But the small stuff and the low-hanging fruit deserves some attention too, from time to time.  As the adage goes, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."  And that applies whether you're headed to someplace nice, or CloudCuckooLand.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Mothman returneth

A loyal reader of Skeptophilia commented a few days ago that given the uproar currently happening in the United States and elsewhere, it'd been a while since I had the opportunity to comment upon important matters such as recent sightings of aliens and Bigfoot.  So just to show that I am not shirking in my duties in the wacko news department, today we have: a sighting of Mothman in Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

What is interesting about this, besides the immediate "what the hell?  Mothman?" factor, is that Point Pleasant is the place where there was a rash of Mothman sightings exactly fifty years ago.  And I do mean exactly; the peak of sightings was in November and December of 1966, although sporadic reports did continue to occur until the following December, when the Point Pleasant Bridge collapsed, resulting in 46 deaths.  Structural engineers say that the bridge collapse was caused by the failure of an eyebar in the suspension chain, but those who are in the know about such matters tell us that it was clearly Mothman's final hurrah.

From there, the Man went into seclusion, with only widely scattered sightings over the following decades.  But it looks like things may be ramping up again, because just last week, a Point Pleasant man took a video from which the following still is excerpted:

The man claims that he had only "recently moved to Point Pleasant" and "didn't even know about the legend."  So that's all I need.  I think this constitutes what those of us in the Science Business call "airtight proof."

Yeah, yeah, okay, so maybe not so much.  As Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it, Photoshop these days probably comes equipped with an "add UFO" button.  And most serious analysts think that the original reports were the result of a combination of hoaxes, sightings of large birds (such as barn owls), and liberal amounts of alcohol.  But still, you should go to the original link (which is to Sharon Hill's wonderful site Doubtful News) and take a look at the video.  The video not only shows you the entire clip from the anonymous man who shot it, but some interviews with true believers in Point Pleasant, of which there are apparently quite a few, including Carolin Harris, who owns the "Mothman Diner" and Jeff Wamsley, who runs the "Mothman Museum."

So of course, I'm sure that this has nothing to do with tourism and publicity and attracting crowds to Point Pleasant on the fiftieth anniversary of the original Mothman craze.  Nothing whatsoever.  Nope.

Anway, other than this, I haven't been hearing much from the cryptozoological crowd.  My guess is that given the current political situation, Bigfoot might well be packing his bags and leaving the country to join his cousins in Nepal.  After all, given how precarious things are for actual people in the United States these days, I wouldn't want to be a hairy proto-hominid.  Even the plain old humans are worried enough about their rights.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Government retweets

Remember what I said about how every time I think things in our government have reached the absolute nadir, someone just raises the nadir-bar?

Witness the fact that the official Twitter account for the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology just two days ago retweeted a slanted, cherry-picked, and otherwise fallacy-filled climate denialism piece called "Global Temperatures Plunge, Icy Silence from Climate Alarmists" that appeared in...

... Breitbart.

Yes, Breitbart, the "news" source that astronomer and blogger Phil Plait calls a "racist, misogynistic über-right-wing site that calls itself a voice for the 'alt-right' movement" and Slate senior editor Jeremy Stahl said is composed of "neo-Nazis in suits and ties."

Needless to say, the Breitbart article is full of half-truths and outright lies.  Its author, James Delingpole, is one of the worst of the climate change deniers, and apparently will say or do anything up to and including manipulating data to convince people that what we're doing isn't endangering the long-term habitability of the Earth.  Plait has taken on Delingpole before, and sums up his argument (if I can dignify it by that name) that scientists have no idea why the climate is undergoing wild swings as being "like seeing a corpse with a bullet wound to the head and saying 'Except for the bullet wound to the head, you cannot come up with a convincing explanation why this person is dead.'"

This bit isn't anything new, of course.  No matter how sound the science is, there will always be people who will cover their eyes and pretend the evidence doesn't exist.  (Explaining why we still have people who claim that there's no good evidence for evolution.)  But this has taken on a new and sinister twist, now that we have elected officials -- hell, an entire committee -- that see fit to distribute this horseshit as if it has any scientific validity at all.

[image courtesy of NASA]

It would be appalling enough if it was any congressional committee, but the fact that it is the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology moves it out past "appalling" into that rarified stratum that can only be labeled "horrifying."  The people in government who are overseeing funding and regulation for science research are not only denying the actual science, they are contributing to the general misunderstanding of science by the citizenry by sending out links on social media from fringe websites with no credibility whatsoever.

Or, as Plait put it, "The stakes here are as high as they can get.  Climate denialism by Breitbart now gets the imprimatur of the federal government."

So once again, let me reiterate: the scientists themselves are in no doubt whatsoever that climate change is real, and is anthropogenic in origin.  Any doubt about that was laid to rest over ten years ago.  What they are still unsure about is how high the temperatures could get, how quickly they'll get there, and when the predicted outcomes (such as the collapse of the ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland) will happen.

But in doubt about the warm-up itself?  No.  You only hear that from people like the chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Lamar Smith, who as of 2015, had received over $600,000 in donations from the fossil fuels industry.

So I encourage you to get in touch with the members of the committee, especially those of you who live in the districts they represent.  They are:

Republican Members (22)
Democratic Members (17)
Lamar Smith, Texas*
Frank D. Lucas, Oklahoma**
F. James Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin+
Dana Rohrabacher, California
Randy Neugebauer, Texas
Michael T. McCaul, Texas
Mo Brooks, Alabama
Randy Hultgren, Illinois
Bill Posey, Florida
Thomas Massie, Kentucky
Jim Bridenstine, Oklahoma
Randy Weber, Texas
John R. Moolenaar, Michigan
Steve Knight, California
Brian Babin, Texas
Bruce Westerman, Arkansas
Barbara Comstock, Virginia
Gary Palmer, Alabama
Barry Loudermilk, Georgia
Ralph Lee Abraham, Louisiana
Darin LaHood, Illinois
Warren Davidson, Ohio

*Full Committee Chair
+Chairman Emeritus
**Vice Chair/Committee
Eddie Bernice Johnson, Texas++
Zoe Lofgren, California
Daniel Lipinski, Illinois
Donna Edwards, Maryland
Suzanne Bonamici, Oregon
Eric Swalwell, California
Alan Grayson, Florida
Ami Bera, California
Elizabeth Esty, Connecticut
Marc Veasey, Texas
Katherine Clark, Massachusetts
Don Beyer, Virginia
Ed Perlmutter, Colorado
Paul Tonko, New York
Mark Takano, California
Bill Foster, Illinois

++Full Committee

If you do, keep it brief, keep it science-related, and keep it polite.  But let them know that it is unequivocally wrong to persist in this denial of accepted, evidence-based science, especially given the potential consequences.  I don't expect you to convince Lamar -- money talks, after all -- but maybe if a little pressure is brought to bear, at least they'll stop retweeting Breitbart.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Moving past the facts

Because we all need something more to be pessimistic about regarding the incoming administration's choices for leadership roles, we have: a nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services of an anti-LGBT ideologue who sided with BP when the Deepwater Horizon well blew out, fouling the Gulf of Mexico with 210 million gallons of crude oil.  He referred to the White House's drive to secure funds to recompense businesses and homeowners whose property was damaged by the spill a "Chicago-style political shakedown."  Worse still, considering the job he's been nominated for, he belongs to a group that is not only virulently anti-vaxx, but believes that President Obama used hypnosis and mind-control techniques to win the 2008 and 2012 elections.

It's hard to imagine a worse choice for HHS than Tom Price.  (Yes, I know, I've been saying that sort of thing a lot lately.  Each time I think, "Okay, that's the worst choice I've heard yet," the bar keeps getting raised.)  Dana Liebelson of Huffington Post writes:
Over the years, Price co-sponsored a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.  He voted against a bill that banned employers from discriminating against gay people and a bill that fought anti-gay hate crimes.  He called the Obama administration’s guidelines allowing transgender students to use the bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity, “absurd.” 
Price went out of his way to back Kelvin Cochran, an Atlanta fire chief who was terminated in January 2015 after employees received copies of his self-published book, which equated homosexuality with pedophilia and bestiality.  The city’s mayor claimed Cochran was fired for his “judgment and management.”  But Price, along with five other Georgia lawmakers, signed onto a letter asking the mayor to reinstate him.
Price belongs to the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons, which sounds pretty innocuous, but is a fringe group whose beliefs border on lunacy.  Over at Mother Jones, Stephanie Mencimer writes:
Yet despite the lab coats and the official-sounding name, the docs of the AAPS are hardly part of mainstream medical society.  Think Glenn Beck with an MD.  The group (which did not return calls for comment for this story) has been around since 1943.  Some of its former leaders were John Birchers, and its political philosophy comes straight out of Ayn Rand.  Its general counsel is Andrew Schlafly, son of the legendary conservative activist Phyllis.  The AAPS statement of principles declares that it is “evil” and “immoral” for physicians to participate in Medicare and Medicaid, and its journal is a repository for quackery.  Its website features claims that tobacco taxes harm public health and electronic medical records are a form of “data control” like that employed by the East German secret police.  An article on the AAPS website speculated that Barack Obama may have won the presidency by hypnotizing voters, especially cohorts known to be susceptible to “neurolinguistic programming”—that is, according to the writer, young people, educated people, and possibly Jews.
Of course, I suppose this is the kind of thing you get when you have a President-elect whose spokespeople think -- and this is close to a direct quote -- "there's no such thing as facts."  Trump spokesperson Scottie Nell Hughes, who appeared three days ago on the Diane Rehm Show, made the following astonishing statement when asked about the President-elect's penchant for making statements that are outright lies (and I'm including her entire statement, so you can see that I didn't take it out of context):
Well, I think it’s also an idea of an opinion.  And that’s — on one hand I hear half the media saying that these are lies, but on the other half there are many people that go, no, it’s true.  And so one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch is that people that say facts are facts, they’re not really facts. 
There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore of facts.  And so Mr. Trump’s tweet amongst a certain crowd, a large — a large part of the population, are truth.  When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some — in his — amongst him and his supporters, and people believe they have facts to back that up.  Those that do not like Mr. Trump, they say that those are lies, and there’s no facts to back it up.
No.  No, no, no.  For fuck's sake, there are facts, and they matter.  When Trump claims that there were "millions of illegal votes" that cost him the popular vote, it is simply untrue.  So are his statements that there was "serious voter fraud" in Virginia, California, and New Hampshire -- coincidentally, all states where he lost.  So was his claim that President Obama "screamed at a protester" at a Clinton rally.  So was his claim that "14% of resident non-citizens are registered to vote."  So was his statement that under Hillary Clinton, the State Department had six billion dollars "lost or stolen."

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

These are not ideas or opinions.  These are statements that are demonstrably false, and that since he continues to defend them even after they were debunked, are actual outright lies.  Despite what Ms. Hughes claims, there is no such thing as a statement that is truth for "a large part of the population" and false for the rest of us.

The problem is, once you start to doubt the facts -- hell, to doubt that facts exist -- you can be convinced of literally anything.  You are set up to fall for any sufficiently convincing demagogue who makes statements that "seem reasonable," by which I mean "conform to your preconceived notions."  You are set up to buy that vaccines don't work, that LGBT individuals are more likely to be pedophiles, that Obama hypnotized people into voting for him, and that the people who live along the Gulf Coast deserve to pay for the damage of an oil spill from a multi-million dollar petroleum corporation out of their own pockets.

You are also, apparently, set up to believe that a candidate whose platform was "Drain the Swamp" is still living up to his word when every single leadership appointee he picks is either a donor or an establishment insider -- for example, the wife of a prominent conservative senator (Secretary of Transportation), a hedge fund manager for Goldman-Sachs (Secretary of the Treasury), a billionaire investor nicknamed "the king of bankruptcy" (Secretary of Commerce), a long-time senator with distinct racist leanings (Attorney General), and a pro-privatization multi-millionaire with zero experience (Secretary of Education).

The whole thing is profoundly terrifying, mostly because it's so hard to combat.  Once you've adopted this viewpoint -- that facts don't matter, or that facts are what you say they are -- you're stuck, and no amount of evidence will persuade you.  And after that, scary things can happen.  As Voltaire put it: "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."