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Posts Tagged ‘logical fallacy’

My not quite full day away from Twitter and Facebook

July 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Occasionally, I find a few hours or a day away from social media is just easier than trying to fight what one of my Twitter friends calls the “outrage prism.” (Note: I love the term and have previously asked permission to openly plagiarize.) The ignorant statements, the political gamesmanship, and the misdirected outrage was enough to simply make me stop reading about the events of early this morning.

As pretty much everyone should know by this point, a young man marched into a midnight showing of the new Batman movie and killed 12 people and injured several more. What a horrible thing to happen to people who did nothing other than seek a couple hours away from reality by immersing themselves into a movie. It is truly a sad story. I know every time I see an incident like this, my thought is always to the family and friends left behind, and to those people who survived and have to relive that incident in their minds forever. We truly need to support the family and friends of those lost and those victims who are still here who will need our support to help them heal.

One story that made me truly tear up was the one of Jessica Redfield. As a person interested in hockey, I found out pretty early about her being one of the deceased victims via Twitter. What really made me tear up was the poignant piece Jessica wrote just a few weeks earlier as she narrowly avoided another shooting up in Canada. Thank you Jessica for reminding us to enjoy every minute.

What had me so upset in an angry way is the way some of the media responded. Today was not the day to play politics. Why can’t we wait even 24 hours to speculate on the motives and talk about how we should change laws to prevent future events. The first 24 hours should be dedicated to make sure all involved are apprehended. The first 24 hours should be dedicated to setting up support for the victims and families, including counselling, monetary support, planning for funerals or medical care, and helping businesses in the area while their customers avoid the area. Today is not the day for blame.

And yet it was. Within an hour, I saw posts on Twitter calling for tighter gun control. I saw posts saying if someone had been allowed to carry many people would have been saved. Mayor Bloomberg, from another city and state, immediately blamed the lack of strong gun control, without any details on how the weapons were obtained. All these posts came without context that in Colorado, you are allowed to carry openly without a permit. Concealed carry does require a permit. There are countries with gun bans that have lower homicide rates than the U.S. There are also countries like Switzerland where owning a military rifle and having it in the home is mandatory that also have a lower homicide rate. Correlating gun control with homicide is not as simple as proponents on either side would have you believe. How about taking some time to research the situation before posting. How about 24 hours of worrying about the families? Today was not the day to worry about gun control, especially when no one seemed to care what the circumstances actually were.

Also, within 6 hours of the crime, there were claims of the murderer being from both parties. I’m not sure which “accusation” came first, but this article addresses both (James Holmes, the suspect arrested in connection with the mass shootings… in Aurora, CO, could be a registered Democrat). ABC News speculated with very little information that Holmes was a Tea Party member. Breitbart News countered with speculation that the shooter might be a registered democrat. My point is, does this matter? In fact, that shouldn’t matter no matter if either was true. There is no political party saying “please shoot people for our political gain.” The shooter wasn’t targeting any specific party. Today was not the day to worry about political parties.

These accusations stemmed from more idiotic statements. Before the movie was released, Rush Limbaugh tried to claim this movie was a slight against Mitt Romney directly because the villain’s name in the movie is Bane, which is a homophone of Romney’s former company Bain. Limbaugh provides no other context or details, including the fact that Bane first showed up in a Batman comic in 1993 or that the word “bane” makes a great villain name due to its normal meaning of “a person or thing that ruins or spoils.” There were tweets then claiming that the shooting was Rush’s fault because of this statement. It was easy to see very early that this was planned by the shooter much before Limbaugh’s statement. Besides, today was not the day to put the blame on anyone but the shooter.

The idea that a political affiliation could cause this is a blatant logical fallacy. There are a few categories of fallacies this could fall under, but one that fits well is the “Questionable cause” fallacy. Even if a majority of shooters in these type of crimes belonged to one party or the other, one can reasonably state that the parties are not preaching to people to commit crimes, thus party affiliation is not the cause of shootings. The other fallacy is the “Post Hoc” fallacy – that just because someone spoke about the Batman movie that it somehow caused Holmes to target that movie. Logical fallacies are to be avoided on any day, but today especially was not the day to commit obvious ones.

If anyone hears of victims’ funds being set up or any way that those of us can help, please let me know and I’ll be happy to spread the word as best I can. Today is a day we should support those who need us after such a tragedy. That is why I chose to get away from social media for a few hours – I’d rather reflect on the victims, spend some extra time close to my family, and not speculate on the why. At least not today.

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Questions Awaiting Answers

July 11, 2011 2 comments

I will issue an apology for this post up front. I am going to be flirting with some logical fallacies in posing my questions (somewhat rhetorical). I do so only because I have yet to come up with a better way to start the conversation. So I say the questions are somewhat rhetorical because I do feel they do need an answer at some point, but I don’t think they can be answered simply, nor could someone answer them in a short conversation. However, we should be thinking about these questions.

My first question has to do with taxing the rich because of income inequality. I thought about this when I saw this tweet and the accompanying NPR story where the federal reserve is stating income inequality hurts growth. There can be some economic truth to this. I won’t detail it, but let’s assume the truth in the fed reserve statement that income inequality can hurt growth. The immediate response to this is we should tax the rich more to redistribute that money back to the lower and middle class to make the income more equal. This is where I have a problem. Are we really a free country when we have government deciding how much stuff is too much stuff?

(I am separating this since this is somewhat a straw man argument, but meant to provoke thought) If someone has a billion dollars, should we maybe tax their new income at 98% since they don’t really need it, where as maybe we could tax someone just coming out of bankruptcy 0% to help them get ahead? What about if you own a speed boat, a fishing boat, and a pontoon boat? Maybe we should tax you more because you don’t really need 3 boats? Maybe you should pay a fee every year if you own another freezer other than the one on your fridge since you can afford extra food and electricity, you must have extra money. You see how absurd these scenarios are, but that is the point. It might not sound absurd to charge a billionaire more than you, but it is so dangerous to let government with the power of force decide that. What happens when they decide it is a million dollars? $500,000? $150,000? $90,000? What if they decide 300% of minimum wage starts requiring equalization, so at $45,000 they start taking 50, 60, 80% of your income? That is my point, no one can tell me what level is fair, why it is fair, and even if it really even sounds fair once you start putting it that way.

The other part about income equalization is our income inequality is entirely our fault. We have become so entitled to anything and everything we want that we have made the rich very rich. I have blogged on this on a couple of occasions; we have the power to tax the rich. We will have to give up some convenience, perhaps put off some purchases. We might even feel a little pinch in our pocketbook for a little while, but if we buy local, bank local, save money, grow gardens, buy union, buy USA made and avoid those large corporations as much as possible, we would quickly transform our economy and put more money back in the hands of the middle class. When we say the rich are too rich and expect the government to take away their wealth, we are asking the government to take away money from someone by force that we all gave to them voluntarily by buying their products. If you don’t want someone to be rich, don’t buy from someone who is rich.

My other question about taxes in general is how much is enough? We have an aging population, so all of us are going to have to realize that we may have to go with a little less to take care of them. It is simply a matter of fact. Since we produce less in the US, we have less. Our population is aging, and has more needs. They are going to have to spend their savings on their care. People of my generation, we are going to have to help them, save for ourselves, and likely work longer than our parents. We have to change our entitlement mentality and realize we are going to have to sacrifice more for our parents, or grandparents, and our children. But how much of that should be done by the government? And how much do they need?

This is a bit of a straw man question as well because it isn’t easy for someone to answer. But if there is anything I can’t stand is how angry the liberals get with me when I ask them this question. It is an honest question. You can’t take all of a rich person’s money. You can’t take all of my money. We shouldn’t even take most of a person’s money. We should take only what is necessary, and that should be applied judiciously. Not because the rich can’t pay, but because we voluntarily gave the money to the rich by purchasing their product, it is unfair for us to then go reclaim our money by force through the government. So how much should we tax the rich without putting the freedom of the American Dream of becoming rich in jeopardy?

And Now For Something Completely Different

 

I wanted to put this in because I am often told I am too hard on the liberals. However, I found one of my favorite conservative libertarians falling victim to a myriad of logical fallacies recently, and it is only right I call him out on it.

Jason Lewis does a national radio show out of the Twin Cities. He is not quite as harsh as alot of other conservative radio hosts, so I have listened to him for about 6 months now and have found him entertaining and also educational. He does have a good grasp on economics and tends not to fall into the social issue agenda much as he feels those are issues left to the states to decide as he is a big states’ rights person. However, because of his long-time relationship with the Republican Party, he has become friends with Michele Bachmann. He actually was the one who introduced her at her event formally announcing her presidential run. I have serious concerns as this has clouded his judgement.

The big issue I take with Michele Bachmann is her intellectual dishonesty. I personally do not believe in a personal god, but because the case for god is an unknown I don’t have a problem with people having a faith or believing in religion. I do however have a problem when people who claim to be intellectual cannot reconcile religion and science. Ms. Bachmann believes that intelligent design should be taught in science classes. Even the Catholics have been able to reconcile the biblical story and the theory of evolution, but many Christians still want to deny decades of science and believe their non-scientist pastor that the earth is only 6000 years old and that we just appeared instantly on earth.

Where Jason Lewis goes wrong is he tried to compare it to the teaching of climate change. He calls climate change a “faith-based” movement in which only one side is taught in schools and even though “the science” says otherwise we don’t let that science in the class. But we can’t let a little bit of “faith-based” theory into the biology classroom. This fails on a couple of levels. First, climate change is not a “faith-based” movement. It is a working theory in the scientific community. I will grant him that the role of humans can be exaggerated (i.e. a political agenda) in the classroom. Mr. Lewis admits he is not a scientist, so he doesn’t understand that the issue is still being studied and debated, and thus it should be presented that way in the classroom. Evolution is different. Although very minor details such as biological classifications are being debated and new discoveries do sometimes shift the evolutionary tree slightly, the overall theory is sound and has held up for 150 years through thousands of examples. There is no controversy in the theme. The same with the age of the earth. There are some details and questions on the scales of a few million years, but that amounts to less than 1% of the 4 billion year age of the earth.

So, Mr. Lewis – although I have normally trusted your logic, you are failing miserably in your support of Michele Bachmann. She does have fairly sound economic policy and seems like a nice person, but she also has admitted an underlying social agenda and religious agenda that undermines her intellectual integrity. It is one thing to have faith to guide you, it is another to have faith to lead you. The entire premise of her campaign is illogical, and I hope before too long you will see that to and not let your friendship with her blind you to that fact.

Logical Fallacies in Politics

June 1, 2011 Leave a comment

I am still seeing two issues come across the news and social media quite a bit in regards to Minnesota politics. One is the lack of a budget (vetoed by Gov. Dayton)/upcoming special session/tax rates. The other is the gay marriage amendment. My idea here today is to show how rampant the use of logical fallacies in defending each side, and to give a lesson on common logical fallacies so we can all spot them and make more informed decisions.

One of my favorite podcasts is The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. Their website carries a great explanation on what is a logical fallacy:

All arguments have the same basic structure: A therefore B. They begin with one or more premises (A), which is a fact or assumption upon which the argument is based. They then apply a logical principle (therefore) to arrive at a conclusion (B). An example of a logical principle is that of equivalence. For example, if you begin with the premises that A=B and B=C, you can apply the logical principle of equivalence to conclude that A=C. A logical fallacy is a false or incorrect logical principle. An argument that is based upon a logical fallacy is therefore not valid. It is important to note that if the logic of an argument is valid then the conclusion must also be valid, which means that if the premises are all true then the conclusion must also be true. Valid logic applied to one or more false premises, however, leads to an invalid argument. Also, if an argument is not valid the conclusion may, by chance, still be true.

Most of us will be guilty of using logical fallacies often. I am guilty of it myself, but for most of us it is done by accident. It takes reflection and discussion to uncover the fallacies and form a more sound, logical argument. Politicians are guilty of using logical fallacies purposely to advance their personal or party views.

Here is an egregious logic fallacy committed by AFSCME. The key statement here is this:

The Republican majorities are choosing to protect the richest 2 percent. They’re making sure these households – making $300,000 or more – don’t have to do their share to fix the state’s budget problems.

This claim falls under a few different categories. The first would be a False Dilemma. AFSCME’s assumption here is the only way to solve the state’s budget problems is to raise taxes on the rich. I haven’t looked at the budget in detail, but my understanding is the budget vetoed by Gov. Dayton was roughly a 6% increase in spending (with no tax increases). According to the BLS, inflation from 2010 was under 3%. If inflation stays at the same pace, then the 6% increase in dollars is a true increase in spending as well since the extra dollars should be able to buy more even when considering inflation. So is the state’s budget truly dire when we can increase spending without a tax increase? Yes, I know this could be construed as it’s own logical fallacy since government is only one sector of the economy and it is possible inflation in those sectors is much higher. The counter-argument to that is to then ask why is inflation higher in those sectors since the government is so heavily invested in those certain sectors of the economy, it could be partially due to their own doing.

The second fallacy of AFSCME’s statement is an example of an Appeal to Emotion, more specifically an Appeal to Spite. Saying the GOP is “protecting” the rich is a way of inciting an emotional class warfare. These people have way more than most people, and that “isn’t fair.” You could even say this is an Ad Hominem attack, saying the GOP’s position is wrong simply because they are protecting those people which most people hate.

Finally, AFSCME uses an Appeal to Belief that the rich don’t pay a fair share of taxes. Statistics on the federal level are readily available and reported. The top 1% of income earners pay 40% of federal income taxes and the top 5% of income earners pay 60% of federal income tax. The democrats want to tax the top 2% of Minnesota incomes on the premise that they don’t pay enough. Think of an analogous situation: If 100 people are in a bar and in total ring up a $5000 bar tab. 1 person in the bar pays $2000, 4 more people pay another $1000, leaving the rest of the people in the bar to pay just over $21, even though the average bar bill was $50. Did the first 5 people pay their fair share? Let’s say they each drove away in a Bentley, would you then feel cheated by how much of the bar bill they paid? Maybe you could make a moral argument that they should pay more, but claiming they didn’t even pay a fair share is simply a bad conclusion.

In the gay marriage amendment debate, I have heard 2 arguments for passing a gay marriage ban. The first one is the idea that being homosexual is biologically unnatural because it doesn’t lead to procreation and that it would be like saying “sand is food.” Human psychology and physiology is much more complex than simple procreation. While it is true that humans are animals and sex is mostly about procreation, Wikipedia has a great summary showing examples in other animals where sex is more than just a mechanism for procreation. To get very basic, it is unnatural for human males to be with only one partner in marriage. In many large mammal species, the biggest and strongest males get to breed with several females to best ensure the survival of the species. Another example where we go “against biology” is when men shave their face or women shave their legs. Biology intended that hair to be for warmth and protection. Should we ban shaving too because it is “biologically unnatural?”

Yes, that last question is a Straw Man argument, but I was employing it in this case as an exaggeration to prove a point that the “sand is food” argument is also the same type of argument. Homosexuality isn’t a biological “wrong” and cannot be explained that way. There are layers of biology, psychology, and other reasons beyond a simple “yes or no” explanation. So the “sand is food” argument doesn’t prove anything.

The other argument used is the past history of voting on this issue in the U.S. I haven’t looked at each vote and what was specifically addressed, but the claim is 34 votes banning gay marriage have taken place and all have had the outcome of supporting a ban. This is wrong based on both the Appeal to Popularity fallacy, as well as the Appeal to Common Practice fallacy. This is easy to explain. I am sure everyone remembers a parent saying to you, “If friend A and B jump off a bridge, are you going to as well?” Just because something is popular or has always been done doesn’t automatically make the position or action correct.

Both major parties are horrible at explaining their logic and presenting evidence for their positions on issues. Most usually want to ignore past data to support an idealistic position that is popular. For example, raising taxes on the rich sounds like a great idea in theory, but it never comes out in practice because we ignore the fact people will adjust their behavior to derive maximum benefit for the amount of work they do. It is human nature. If we taxed every dollar above $1 million at 95%, do you think many people are going to work much past that $1 million mark? Stated another way, if I make $1 million for working 6 months out of the year and make $2 million if I work 12 months, but I keep $500,000 if I work 6 months and keep $550,000 to work 12 months, how many months do you think I am going to work?

My example above doesn’t mean a tax increase isn’t warranted in this budget cycle. Maybe it does need to be part of the solution. But to say tax increases on the rich are always justified is wrong. It is also wrong to assume raising taxes will raise the revenue needed to solve the budget concerns.

If the GOP gets its budget passed in Minnesota, it does look like some people are going to lose their access to the social programs they rely on. That could affect them negatively in the short-term. However, we can’t simply look at the first layer of the consequences in a government policy and make our political decisions based on those outcomes. Taxing the rich gains us money in the short-term, but what if that change prompts a corporation to relocate? What if the rich work less or change their investments and the revenue doesn’t pan out to the projected amounts? What if a person dies due to lack of coverage?

As callous as it sounds, we do have to look at the cost/benefit in these decisions. People die more often because of the 70 MPH speed limit on the interstates in Minnesota than they would if the speed limit were 40 MPH. The higher speed limit saves everyone time (and time is money), thus costing less to transport goods, giving us more time for production, etc. We have chosen to set the speed limit at a reasonable human cost in balance with our own financial interest. Most insurance policies have a co-pay to prevent unnecessary trips to the doctor. Maybe someone skips going to the doctor because they think they just have a mild flu (rather than pay the $20) and end up dying when their infection quickly worsens. (Yes, this is more anecdotal because it is harder to quantify scientifically, but I thought it made some sense to discuss here).

Hopefully you are still reading and didn’t get too bored with some basic insights on logic. My point is to stress the importance of analyzing your political positions carefully, especially if you are perfectly aligned with the ideals of a particular political party. Be especially wary if your party or candidate uses an Ad Hominem Tu Quoque attack, where the attack is simply based on the fact the opponent changed their mind. Use your mind, think logically, discuss with a measured reason, and don’t be afraid to change your mind.

Birds falling from the sky does not mean the end of the world.

January 5, 2011 1 comment

After seeing today’s news, I thought it would be a good time to get something up on the web to debunk some of these crazy people.  Some of you may have heard of the birds dying in Arkansas and Louisiana, or more recently in Sweden. There have also been large fish deaths in various areas around the U.S.

Crazy people say it “is a sign from god” or that “the end of the world is near.” Other different crazy people claim the government is poisoning us and the death of a U.S. official is proof of such a claim.

The first premise is pretty easy. An all-powerful god is going to kill a few of the millions of birds and fish as a way of communicating? Alfred Hitchcock must therefore be god. (That was sarcasm if you didn’t notice)

The more complex scenario is the government conspiracy theory. Because of the way probability works, there isn’t a way to 100% rule out that there is some secret government entity involved in these strange happenings. But with a little math, a little reading, and a little logic, you can be at ease that this was a natural, albeit unusual event.

Here’s a real basic summary of why large government conspiracies don’t work. Let’s say from top to bottom 200 people are needed to carry out such a mission of testing chemicals on the U.S. Further, let’s say that they are 99% likely they will keep quiet about such events. In such case, you take 0.99^200 = 13.4% chance that no one will talk. I think WikiLeaks has shown it is pretty hard to keep anyone quiet for long. Another example regarding JFK can be found here.

Tackling logic second brings us to the principle of Occam’s Razor. Again this is not definitive proof, but somewhat of a natural order that says that the “real” or “correct” theory tends towards the simpler ones. It is a delicate balance of leaving enough information to adequately explain the outcome of a scenario or hypothesis without unnecessary complexity. Some government conspiracies also fall under the argument from ignorance (Ad ignorantiam). This is the “well, prove me wrong” argument. Lack of evidence of non-existence does not logically make something exist.

Finally, reading about past events and talking to scientists will reveal much more likely scenarios. First, there was severe weather in Arkansas the day of the event. Secondly, it has been a very cold winter and could have caused too much stress on the birds. (see this link with a quote from a fiction book that talks about this type of phenomenon) These types of birds have poor night vision and usually roost at night, so if they were frightened by weather or fireworks as proposed, it is easy to imagine them running into power lines, houses, cars, etc. These birds are pretty fast, so imagine thousands of people riding their bikes in fog or rain without headlights at 20 mph and see how many would crash. There are other strange phenomenon of frogs and fish raining from the sky that can often come with a simpler explanation than the “end of days.”

So don’t believe the crazies such as those in this comment section or believe the government is secretly poisoning us. We may not get a definitive answer, or it could be multiple causes. We could also find out with good certainty what caused each of these events. Just know that it isn’t the end of days.