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.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Death in Warsaw

What frustrates me most about woo-woos isn't that I disagree with them on their conclusions.  Heaven knows there are lots of people who disagree with me on a lot of things, and if I disliked them all, I wouldn't have any friends.

What bothers me is their tendency -- and I know I'm overgeneralizing a bit -- to accept a claim despite (or even because of) a complete lack of evidence.  That "because of" bit becomes especially powerful with conspiracy theorists; they seem to consider "zero evidence" a badge of honor.  "Of course there's no evidence," they seem to say.  "Do you think the Illuminati would leave around stuff like evidence?"

As a good example of this, take the case of the death of Max Spiers, prominent British ufologist, supernaturalist, and conspiracy theorist, this past July.  I found out about it over at Sharon Hill's wonderful site Doubtful News, and it certainly is a little on the peculiar side.  You can learn more of the details (such as they are) in Hill's article, but the bare-bones of the case seem to be as follows:

Spiers died in Warsaw in mid-July; the date isn't certain but was probably the 15th or 16th.  He had made a video three days earlier in which he seemed to be either ill or on drugs.  His speech was slurred and at some points unintelligible, and what he was saying devolved into an incoherent ramble.  Spiers is known to have had problems with misuse of opiate drugs in the past, and those symptoms are certainly consistent with being on a narcotic.

Max Spiers [image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Spiers's body was flown back to the UK and presumably autopsied, but the results of the toxicology and post mortem have not been made public.  "An inquest is expected," but the authorities have not been forthcoming with further details.

Then we have a claim by his mother, Vanessa Bates -- unsubstantiated as yet -- that Spiers had texted her shortly before his death with a cryptic and sinister warning: "Your boy’s in trouble.  If anything happens to me, investigate."

And that's it, as far as the facts go.

I'll admit that the circumstances are strange, especially if the text to Vanessa Bates turns out to be authentic.  Certainly worth an investigation.  But the woo-woos have taken this extremely slim bunch of information, and come to...

... well, conclusions.  Lots of conclusions.  Here are just a few that have been circulating on conspiracy and UFO websites:
  • Spiers was the victim of a group of neo-Nazis running a government mind-control program.
  • Spiers was a "supersoldier" who was being controlled by an implant.  When his superiors saw that he was getting out of control and preparing to blow the whistle on him, the killed him by turning off the implant.
  • Spiers was fighting against "Energy Vampires," beings who "feed on negative energy" (whatever the fuck that is).  The Energy Vampires caught up with him and killed him by draining him dry.
  • Spiers was about to go public with a claim that the world is being run by a circle of politicians and celebrities who do what they do by "black magic."  So they killed him.
  • UFO researchers around the world, including Spiers, are being targeted for assassination because the Illuminati don't want information on aliens getting out to the rest of us slobs.
  • Spiers was killed because he didn't like Hillary Clinton, because, you know, she does that to people she doesn't like.
And so on, and so forth.

Now let's go back to the facts here.  A guy died under fairly mysterious circumstances.  We don't have any information on why or how.  The guy himself had some pretty odd ideas.  There may or may not have been a sinister text from him to his mother shortly before he died.

And that's all.  I'm sorry, you can't take that and add it together and get computer-controlled supersoldiers and evil Energy Vampires.  It's all very well to be suspicious of official reports, but the lack of an official report doesn't prove a damn thing.

Anyhow.  I hope that there's more information coming down the pipeline on this story, although you know that if it comes out that Spiers died of an opiate overdose none of the aforementioned woo-woos will believe it.  As we've seen all too many times before, once conspiracy theorists decide on something, not only is a lack of evidence considered evidence for, but evidence against is considered evidence for as well.

You can't win.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Rigged thinking

Skepticism often requires maneuvering your way through equal and opposite pitfalls.  As I frequently say to my classes, gullibility and cynicism are both signs of mental laziness -- it is as much of a cognitive error to disbelieve everything you hear as it is to believe everything.

The same is true of reliance on authority.  It certainly is inadvisable to believe without question anything an authority says (or believe it simply because (s)he is an authority); but dismissing everything is also pretty ridiculous.  Stephen Hawking, for example, is a world-renowned authority on physics.  If I refused to believe what he has to say on (for example) black holes I would be foolish -- and very likely wrong.

So categorical thinking tends to get us into trouble.  It's an excuse to avoid the hard work of research and analysis.  It is also, unfortunately, extremely common.

Which brings us to "everything the government tells you is a lie."

Distrust of the government is in vogue these days.  "The government says..." is a fine way to start a sentence that you're expecting everyone to scoff at, especially if the piece of the government in question belongs to a different political party than you do.  That spokespeople for the government have lied on occasion -- that they have, sometimes, engaged in disinformation campaigns -- is hardly at issue.  But to decide that everything a government agency does or says is deliberately dishonest is sloppy thinking, not to mention simply untrue.

It also has another nasty side effect, though, which is to convince people that they are powerless.  If the Big Evil Government is going to do whatever they damn well please regardless of what voters want, it leads people to believe that they're being bamboozled every time they vote.  And powerless, angry, frustrated people tend to do stupid, violent things.

Which is why the whole "the election is rigged" bullshit that Donald Trump is trumpeting every chance he gets is so dangerous.  For fuck's sake, the election hasn't even happened yet; one very much gets the impression that this reaction is much like a toddler's temper tantrum when he doesn't get the piece of candy he wants.  Trump can't conceive of the fact that he could compete for something he wants and lose fair and square; so if he loses (and it very much looks like he's going to), the election must be rife with fraud.

Scariest of all was his suggestion in last night's presidential debate that he might not concede the election if Clinton wins.  As CNN senior political analyst David Gergen put it:
More importantly, many in the press, as well as others (I am among them) were horrified that Trump refused to say he would accept the verdict of voters on November 8.  No other candidate has ever taken the outrageous position that "if I win, that's legitimate but if I lose, the system must be rigged."  It is bad enough that Trump puts himself before party; now he is putting self before country.
[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

In fact, actual voter fraud in the United States is so rare as to be insignificant with respect to the outcome of elections.  A comprehensive study by Justin Levitt, a constitutional law scholar and professor of law at Loyola University, found 31 cases of credible voter fraud out of one billion ballots cast in the past sixteen years.  A separate study by Lorraine Minnite, professor of political science at Rutgers, came to the same conclusion.  Further, she found that irregularities in elections were almost always due to innocent human error rather than a deliberate attempt to throw the election.  Here are four examples Minnite cites:
  • In the contested 2004 Washington state gubernatorial election, a Superior Court judge ruled invalid just 25 ballots, constituting 0.0009 percent of the 2,812,675 cast. Many were absentee ballots mailed as double votes or in the names of deceased people, but the judge did not find all were fraudulently cast. When King County prosecutors charged seven defendants, the lawyer for one 83-year old woman said his client “simply did not know what to do with the absentee ballot after her husband of 63 years, Earl, passed away” just before the election, so she signed his name and mailed the ballot. 
  • A leaked report from the Milwaukee Police Department found that data entry errors, typographical errors, procedural missteps, misapplication of the rules, and the like accounted for almost all reported problems during the 2004 presidential election. 
  • When the South Carolina State Election Commission investigated a list of 207 allegedly fraudulent votes in the 2010 election, it found simple human errors in 95 percent of the cases the state’s highest law enforcement official had reported as fraud. 
  • A study by the Northeast Ohio Media Group of 625 reported voting irregularities in Ohio during the 2012 election found that nearly all cases forwarded to county prosecutors were caused by voter confusion or errors by poll workers.
It's easy to say "the system is designed to screw voters!" or "the election is rigged!"  It's not so easy to answer the questions, "What evidence do you have that this happens?" and "How would you actually go about rigging a national election if you wanted to?"  (If you want an excellent summary of the argument that the risk of hackers or other miscreants affecting the outcome of an election in the United States is extremely small, check out the CNN article on the subject that just came out yesterday.)

So what we have here is one more example of baseless partisan rhetoric, which has as the unsettling side effect making people on the losing side feel like they've been cheated.  Which, I think, is why we're seeing a serious uptick in threats of violence by people who don't like the way the election seems to be going -- from the woman at a Trump rally who cited "rampant voter fraud" and said, "For me personally, if Hillary Clinton gets in, I myself am ready for a revolution" to Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke who tweeted, "our institutions of gov, WH, Congress, DOJ, and big media are corrupt & all we do is bitch. Pitchforks and torches time."

To reiterate what I said at the beginning; it's not that I condone, agree with, or like everything government has done.  Nor do I think that government officials (or whole agencies) are above doing some pretty screwed up stuff.  But to say "government sucks" and forthwith stop thinking -- or, worse still, threaten violence because of that simplistic view of the world -- is not just wrong, it's dangerous.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Ugliness filters

What is it about elections that makes us treat each other so horribly?

This election has been a bad one -- divisive and petty, appealing to our basest impulses -- but really, it's hardly unique.  And we let the nastiness seep into everything, turning us against others simply because we disagree with them.

"Republitards."  "Damn-o-craps."  "Republican'ts."  "Libtards."  "Demoncrats."  Just a few of the ugly names I've seen bandied about in the last few days.  Calls for candidates to be "taken out" (and no one is in any doubt as to what that euphemism means).  Threats of violence -- more than likely against innocent civilians -- if their team doesn't win.

Have we really come to the place where we are so tribal, so fearful of the "other," that we will without hesitation demonize and threaten violence against close to half of our fellow Americans?  It reminds me of the wonderful quote from Kathryn Schulz: "This is a catastrophe.  This unwavering attachment to our sense of being right about everything keeps us from preventing mistakes when we absolutely have to, and causes us to treat each other terribly."

This all comes up because of a story that should be heartening -- a Democrat-led crowdfunding campaign that raised over $13,000 in 24 hours to help rebuild a GOP office in North Carolina that was firebombed.  Proof, I felt, of a contention I've long held; that the majority of humans are kind, compassionate, and just want what all of us want -- shelter, food, clean water, friends, family, security.  We may differ in our ideas about how to achieve those goals, but fundamentally, we're far more alike than different.

So this story was posted on Facebook, and a guy I don't even know -- a friend of a friend -- posted a snarky comment about how no way would Democrats do something this selfless, that it was clearly a hoax or a set-up.  And I did something I almost never do: started an argument on the internet with a stranger.

I said:  "You are really scared and angry enough that you can't conceive that people who disagree with you might be capable of something unselfish and compassionate?  If so, I truly feel sorry for you."  He responded with a dismissive, "I wasn't talking about the firebombing," (neither was I), and "no anger intended or inferred."

Which is kind of disingenuous, isn't it?

Note that I'm not talking here about what you think of the candidates and their positions.  You might be vehemently against the stance of one of them (or both!), and that's just fine.  What I'm talking about is how you speak about the people around you, because it's all too easy to fall into the trap of "I disagree with you, therefore you are unworthy of respect."  Unfortunately, during this election, that kind of behavior has become almost normal.  So I'm going to issue a statement and a plea, and I'd ask that you consider them carefully -- not as a liberal or a conservative, but simply as a human being.

Your political beliefs do not define who you are as a person.  There are kind, compassionate Democrats and kind, compassionate Republicans; there are some people of either stripe who are selfish, nasty, and unpleasant.  Neither party wants to "destroy America" or "take away people's rights" or "round up anyone who disagrees," regardless of what you'll hear from the extremely partisan talking-heads whose entire raison d'ĂȘtre is getting people stirred up so they'll tune in.  Most people in both parties are just ordinary folks who want what ordinary folks want.

So here's the plea: stop posting and forwarding ugly stereotypes that make the other team look like idiots or crazies at best and demons at worst.  All you have to do is look around you and you'll see that this isn't true.  There are both Democrats and Republicans (and Libertarians and Socialists and people who don't give a damn about politics at all) in your schools, churches, businesses, and clubs, and most of us get along pretty well.  None of us have horns, and damn few of us want to get rid of everyone who disagrees with us.  Maybe you can't change the beliefs of the extreme fringe who live to capitalize on such assumptions, but you can stop those ideas from spreading.  You can dedicate yourself not to being a Pollyanna who sees only the best in everyone, but a realist who understands that most of us, most of the time, are doing the best we can.

The election will be over in three weeks, but we'll be dealing for months with the results of the partisan rhetoric we've been exposed to, unless all of us -- right here, right now -- vow not to let such ugly invective rule our lives.  You don't have to agree with the people you meet, but you can speak about them with respect.  Most importantly, you can choose not to look at the world through lenses that filter out everything but the worst side of everyone.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Faith in science

I was asked an interesting question by a loyal reader of Skeptophilia yesterday: Are people who say they "believe in science" admitting that for them, it's a religion?

I think that a good place to start is with the definitions of "religion" and "belief."  So here you are, courtesy of Merriam-Webster:
  • religion: the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods; a particular system of faith and worship.
  • belief: a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing; conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence
I think you can see that in its most literal sense, science isn't a religion given that it has nothing to do with any superhuman controlling powers, but it does involve belief by the second half of the definition -- becoming convinced of the truth of a statement because of examination of the evidence.

However, I think this is a fairly shallow analysis.  People have come to use the word "religion" to mean "any set of beliefs arrived at by faith, or that cannot be arrived at by rational analysis."  The belief in reincarnation, therefore, would qualify as a religion in that sense, because there's bugger-all evidence that it happens, and yet people believe it fervently.

My own perception of things -- and I'm no philosopher, so take this with a grain of salt and feel free to argue with me if you like -- is that the only sense in which science is like a religion is at its very basis, i.e., the assumption that the universe obeys certain physical laws, and is knowable through examination of evidence.  Belief systems that reject the reality of the external world -- such as the stricter forms of Buddhism -- would also reject that science is telling you anything valid, because in their view, there's nothing relevant about the external world to study.  But we do have the fact that science has a pretty damn good track record of producing results consistent with what we observe.  If you reject the basic assumption that the scientific method is a valid way of getting to the truth, you're also rejecting just about every technological advance humanity has made since our distant ancestors left their caves.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

But once you've accepted the baseline assumption that the method works, the rest doesn't rely on belief at all.  Anyone with access to the data can do the evaluation themselves; anyone with the equipment can replicate the experiments that generated the data.  Science is, in that sense, the most egalitarian of pursuits.  It's open to anyone with sufficient brainpower, and even the most set-in-stone law of science can be challenged if the data contradict it.

It's why this video, that appeared on YouTube last week, pissed me off so much.

This is a woman speaking to a class at the University of Cape Town (South Africa), claiming that science needs to be "decolonized" -- i.e., that it is the province of rich white males, and therefore the results are suspect.  It's inarguable that the pursuit of science has for years been accessible only to rich white males; the fact that our society has for centuries been male-dominated and white-European-dominated is hardly in question.  And she's right that it's a tragedy.  The idea that we have for generations wasted the talent, brains, and creativity of anyone but the privileged few is dreadful.

But the claim that because of that, the results generated are probably wrong is idiotic.  Again, once you accept the methods of science -- and that does not appear to be what she's arguing against -- you are driven to your conclusions by the evidence, not by what gender or ethnicity you are.  Further, anyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or any other personal or social criterion, is able to challenge your claim if they have better or different evidence.

So science does share some things in common with religion and belief, but it is only at its most basic assumptions, which hardly anyone questions.  After that, logic and evidence take over -- no faith, trust, or blind belief necessary.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Gay demon infestation

In support of my recent contention that the world has gone completely batshit crazy, today we have: exorcising gay demons that are infesting the White House.

This is the demand of one Julio Severo, a fundamentalist Christian blogger who writes over at Last Days Watchman, which has as its raison d'ĂȘtre proving that liberals and atheists (and worst still, liberal atheists) are bringing us ever closer to the End Times, as hath been foretold in the scripture.  Severo feels it is his duty to warn us all about how the aforementioned bad guys are going to usher in the appearance of the Four Apocalyptic Horsepersons, not to mention the breaking of the Seven Seals and the blowing of the Seven Trumpets and the pouring out of the Seven Bowls and the flushing of the Seven Toilets.

Okay, I made the last one up.  But it's not so much weirder than the rest of the Book of Revelation, which in my opinion reads like a bad acid trip.  But to Severo, it's all literally true, and therefore is a serious cause for concern.

Which is why Severo had a conniption when he found out that there was a briefing at the White House wherein Victor Raymond, a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe who is an out bisexual, spoke on matters of addressing the treatment of bisexual individuals in our culture.  To make it worse, Raymond began with a prayer addressing his tribe's supreme deity, calling on "the Great Spirit, Wakan Tanka, to guide our words and thoughts so that we can speak true and strong."

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Well, that was enough to send Severo into near apoplexy.  Raymond had "invoked homosexual demons," and stern measures needed to be taken:
An interaction between spirits of homosexuality and Indian religions is not uncommon. 
In Brazil, the most prominent homosexualists are adherents of African and Indian religions, very similar to voodoo. These religions embrace all forms of homosexuality as a gift from their “gods.” Such deities are considered demons in the Christian worldview. 
In Christianity and Judaism, homosexuality is accepted only when there is apostasy in those religions. But in Indian religions, heavily affected by witchcraft, no apostasy is necessary for a homosexual presence in their practices, because homosexuality is active among their witchdoctors and other adherents. 
A homosexual culture is a culture of demon possession. 
Has the White House turned into a haunt of demons? 
The first step for a “visitation” of such spirits is invocation — which was made at the White House. Homosexual spirits heard. Their presence is in the place where they were invoked, until their expelling, which can be done only by people who know and use the authority of Jesus’ name. 
The Bisexual Community Briefing focused on “policy and cultural issues of significance for the American bisexual community.” Spirits focused on the invisible, lethal and destructive.
All of which would be the rantings of a single wacko, and an opportunity for the rest of us to say, "Aww, isn't it cute when you try to make sense?" if it hadn't been for the fact that the story was picked up by Matt Barber in his site Barb Wire.  Barber is a virulently anti-LGBT commentator who got his degree in law from Pat Robertson's Regent University, and is Associate Dean for Career and Professional Development at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University (so he's a twofer, higher-education-wise), and whose site is a go-to place for anyone who is trying to find the latest in hatred, homophobia, and institutional discrimination.

But he also has a huge readership.  So his (perhaps unsurprising) pickup of Servero's Gay Demon Infestation story is giving it much more visibility than it otherwise would have had.  And worse still, the comments section indicates that there are people...

... who believe the whole shebang.

Okay, the readers of Barb Wire are a biased sample.  I get that.  But take a look at what some of the commenters said:
  • A demented and confused native American calling upon demons?  That is consistent.
  • Isn't it simply amazing how many weird, abnormal, sick groups of people the White House can manage to find to honor & expose the world to in a sordid attempt to make us think they are normal & even to be cherished?  What a Satanically inspired regime our current administration is &, with Hillary, the Evil, in charge, it will only get worse.  Batten down the hatches, my friends. May God help us!
  • The word "bisexual" is another word used by the homosexual movement to take away the stigma of homosexual perversion and make it seem more normal.  There is no such thing as a "bisexual", only a homosexual who is capable of having sex with a woman, or an animal, or anything that walks. 
  • And rest assured that it is no coincidence that it is "the first black president" who tarnished and demeaned the office of the president forever by introducing and glorifying homosexuality inside the white house, making it spirtually[sic] unclean.  I hope people have learned their lesson from making the mistake of electing someone like him because he was actually worse than our worst fears come true.  He used the White House to openly worship the devil. It's stunning.
All of which leaves me torn between screaming, crying, and spending the rest of the day hiding under a blanket and pretending that the rest of the world doesn't exist.

So just what you needed to cheer you up: further evidence that a significant fraction of humanity is insane.  I live in hope that some of this sturm und drang is because of the fact that the election is in three weeks, and it's brought out high emotions in everyone.  Maybe after the dust settles, the lunatic fringe will go back to quietly chewing on the straps of their straitjackets and stop feeling like they need to spew their vitriol all over the place.

If not, it's going to be an ugly, ugly winter.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Inventing reality

It's understandable that people get upset when the world turns out to work differently than they wanted or expected.  We all have our preconceived notions and our biases, and it can be jarring when those turn out to be false.

This only becomes a problem, however, when we look at the facts and evidence, plug our ears, and say "La la la la la la la, not listening."

It will come as no surprise that I'm once again talking about climate change, a topic on which I have rung the changes so many times that I've lost count.  But I was more or less forced to return to the subject by not one, nor two, but three news stories that appeared one after another over at the r/skeptic subreddit, and which left me seeing red to the extent that I have to pass along the anger to all of my readers.

You're welcome.

The first article comes from the Orlando Sentinel, and is called, "Voters Need Truth About 'Clean Coal.'"  Those of you who watched the second presidential debate will no doubt recall that the topic came up with respect to energy policy.  We need to restore mining jobs in places like West Virginia and Pennsylvania, because there's "clean coal" which is environmentally friendly and won't cause all sorts of ecological havoc.

Well, the article calls that out for the nonsense it is in no uncertain terms:
Back in this circumstance called reality, what's actually happened in the energy sector is that much of the world has been moving away from coal for decades. U.S. mining jobs have been mostly in decline since the 1980s...  [T]he U.S. needs to take the threat from air pollution and climate change seriously. If we artificially boost demand for coal simply to put miners back to work, the country will pay through the nose — not only in higher energy costs but in human health and lives.  The toxins produced by burning coal, such as sulfur dioxide, ground-level ozone, heavy metals and particulates, contribute to four out of the five leading causes of death, including heart disease and cancer. 
And climate change could prove just as life-threatening as rising sea levels, record-breaking heatwaves, droughts, floods, declining food production and other related effects take hold. 
None of those problems go away if we simply refuse to believe in them.  Coal's decline isn't a product of politics; it's a function of chemistry.
Then we had an article in The Guardian entitled "Climate Scientists Publish a Paper Debunking Ted Cruz," responding to a presentation in a hearing run by Senator Ted Cruz in the Senate Committee on Commerce last year.  Cruz had invited climate change denier John Christy to testify (speaking of having an agenda).  And Christy told the senators two things; that mid-tropospheric temperatures were rising three times slower than climate models predicted, and (more damning still) there had been no measurable warming of the troposphere for the past 18 years.

Well, it would be damning if it were true.  Which it isn't.  The study just released was unequivocal:
[T]his recent paper did a few things. First, they took the contrarian argument that the mid-troposphere temperatures have been rising at only 1/3 the rate predicted by models. They found that Christy’s team neglected the contamination of the cooling in the upper stratosphere. When they applied this correction, they found that Christy’s claim was incorrect. Differences between modeled and observed warming rates were much smaller, and had known explanations.

Next, the authors asked whether it is true that there has been no warming in the lower atmosphere (troposphere) in the past 18 years. They found that for five of the six groups that provide satellite temperature analysis, this claim was also incorrect. 
Finally, they asked whether it is true that the temperature changes in different layers of the atmosphere are in disagreement in models and measurements. Their result is that when temperature changes in different layers of the atmosphere are compared, one of three satellite records is in close agreement with the climate models.
Last, we had Representative Ken Buck of Colorado making the statement that talk of climate change was endangering Americans by deflecting their attention away from more important stuff.  "When we distract our military with a radical climate change agenda," Buck said, "we detract from their main purpose of defending America from enemies like ISIS."  He was explaining why he had introduced an amendment to the Defense Appropriation Bill, asking them to cut funding for a directive called "Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience."

The only problem with this, according to an article in the Denver Post, is that Buck's claim is directly contradicting statements issued from the Department of Defense.  Who would, you'd think, know what they were talking about on the topic.  The DoD has said outright that climate change would lead to "prominent military vulnerabilities," that the Department would "need to adjust to the impacts of climate change on our facilities and military capabilities," and that 18 military installations in the United States are directly threatened by sea level rise.

Worse still -- for Buck's claims, anyhow -- is the statement from James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, who said that climate change is "an underlying meta-driver of unpredictable instability."

[image courtesy of NOAA]

Which is it exactly.  We're perturbing the climate at a rate higher than anything we find in the geological record, and it's no particular surprise that it is responding erratically, and from a human viewpoint, catastrophically.  While no one day of bad weather can be directly attributable to climate change, the pattern we've seen lately of larger storms (and storms taking different tracks than usual), droughts, floods, and other climatic weirdness all adds up to something the climate models have been telling us for years -- that dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the amounts we've been doing for the past hundred years is causing huge climatic changes that may already be beyond our powers to mitigate.

But back to my original point.  I can understand the desire by Cruz, Buck, Trump, and others for the world to be other than it is.  Hell, I get why the coal miners are upset; their jobs are vanishing.  But there are bigger issues at stake here, like the long-term habitability of the planet, and (in the short term) environmental devastation that could compromise the living space and agricultural production for millions of people.

So very sorry that the world doesn't conform to your desires.  That's true for many of us, and the appropriate response is, "Tough shit."  Part of being an adult is facing up to it when things aren't the way we want them to be, not stomping our feet, clinging to our invented version of reality, and saying, "But I want it this way!"  Climate change exists, whether we want it to or not, and the effects are increasingly looking catastrophic.  Best we stop trying to push an agenda based on our desires and tackle the problem head-on.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Speak of the devil

Just because I keep hoisting the banner of rationalism here at Skeptophilia doesn't mean I don't get pretty freakin' discouraged at times.

I suppose it's an occupational hazard.  My spending hours daily seeking out the most bizarre examples of irrational behavior I can find, so I have something to write about, means that inevitably I'm going to come to the conclusion that humanity is pretty much screwed.  It's like people who become addicted to shows like CSI and Cops and Law and Order.  At some point, you're pretty certain to decide that the world is full of criminals who are trying to kill you and get away with it.

So it's an effort at times to remain optimistic.  Especially given stories like the one over at Fusion a couple of days ago describing a poll taken in North Carolina wherein 41% of Donald Trump supporters said that Hillary Clinton is literally the devil.

As I've said before, I'm not here to discuss whether or not you agree with Clinton's politics.  But the idea that 41% of Trump supporters think that his opponent is the incarnation of Satan on Earth is troubling, to say the least.

That, however, is not the strangest thing about the poll.  Apparently, of the currently undecided voters, 15% thought Clinton was the devil.  So I'm thinking: You believe one of the candidates is literally the Prince of Hell (or Princess, in this case), and you're undecided?  What are you planning to do, stand there in the voting booth and say, "Let's see: candidate who is Satan, candidate who is not Satan... how to choose, how to choose?"

The weirdest thing, though, is that on the poll there were three choices: (1) Clinton is the devil; (2) Clinton is not the devil; and (3) Not sure.  And of the people who say they're voting for Hillary Clinton, 6% of them said they were not sure if she was the devil or not.

Now, I realize that this may be because 6% of the respondents thought the question was funny enough that they decided to fuck around with the results.  Or, perhaps, that this represents the 6% of respondents who are actual practicing Satanists, who think that Clinton might be the devil and are happy about it.  But if you look at the results, you will find that 33% of undecided voters are also undecided about whether Clinton is Satan.

So there are people in North Carolina (a lot of them, apparently) who when asked, "Who are you voting for?" said, "I dunno," and when asked, "Is Hillary Clinton the devil?" said, "Um... I dunno about that either."

Some days I feel like I've side-slipped into a bizarro world where this kind of stuff is normal.  Because this isn't the only insane thing that's happened lately.  When a map came out showing that if only men voted, Donald Trump would win, his followers immediately started calling for repealing the 19th Amendment, with one woman saying she would "give up [her] right to vote to make this happen."  Then we had a completely surreal video of Alex Jones making the rounds, wherein he bursts into tears on air and says that not only is Clinton a demon, so is Obama, adding that if you vote for Clinton you're "electing President Linda Blair."

I dunno, President Linda Blair could probably get stuff done, don't you think?  If Mitch McConnell stonewalled President Linda Blair, she could just puke up some pea soup on him.  "Oh, you won't give my Supreme Court nominee a fair hearing?  Well, take this!"  *BARRRRRFFFFF*

At least it would make C-Span more interesting.

So I guess we rationalists have a way to go, and it's an uphill battle.  I'm not ready to give up any time soon, so if you are a loyal reader, no worries: I still have a few posts left in me.  But it'd be nice if we could make more headway in convincing people not to engage in insane magical thinking.

Although it would make it harder for me to find material.  So I suppose I should be glad, in a backhanded way, that these people are keeping me in business.