Internet Trolls Thrive On Attention—But Please Don’t Feed The Animals

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

Political and religious discourse are often anything but respectful. One sweep of social media feeds will reveal personal attacks that would lead you to believe evolution has spawned a human sub-species known as Homo-Internet-trollius—I raise my glass to them succumbing to natural selection. Sadly, professional writers and TV analysts aren’t often much better.

Internet Troll
Internet Troll

To support my blog, I have Twitter and Facebook pages where I invite people to engage in respectful debate—emphasis on respectful. Most people do exactly that, occasionally even swaying me from my original opinion in light of new information. But far too often, the personal insults fly in like birds on a newly seeded lawn.

I choose not to engage these people, I just block them—such debate is not worth my time and aggravation. People may say that this is not very libertarian of me; but I’m not asking for legislation to prevent them from spewing their hateful rhetoric, I’m just walking away so I’m not tempted to lower myself by responding to it. Proper debate involves exchange of opinions, ideas, and facts—nothing else.

A while back, I watched a panel of people debate the idea of a creator in-depth at Chapman University after seeing a similar debate on Stossel—Dinesh D’Souza, Deepak Chopra, and Michael Shermer among the participants. They were compelling discussions largely due to the nature of the discourse. The fact that reasonable human beings could speak about something as passionate as religion; yet be respectful towards each other despite their vehement disagreement was refreshing. It inspired me to strive for more respectful dialogue in my own debates going forward.

The reason for the respectful dialogue is pretty easy to explain however when you understand one simple concept; opinions versus facts. Facts are truths, opinions are interpretations of those truths based on one’s own environment and life experiences. The people involved understood the difference, and debated accordingly. While you are not entitled to your own facts, opinions will always vary from person to person.

For instance, if we look at opinions; conservatives believe higher taxes are wrong, liberals believe that the rich can hardly be taxed enough—neither is right or wrong. While it may be true that historically, lower taxes have proven to be greater economically, to someone who is uncomfortable with freedom or whom religion trumps economics, more government can often reduce their anxiety by eliminating personal responsibility. For those people, authoritarian rule is better, and they’re willing to trade opportunity and freedom for security and forced theology. You often see this in nations who move from an authoritarian system to a democratic one. Rebels act as if they are fighting for freedom, when they’re so often just fighting over which authority they wish to be ruled by.

As political opinion talking heads bring on guests, they frequently lose sight of the idea that opinions simply have no proper answer. You can watch liberals go on rants about evil corporations only to be countered by conservatives going off on the president in a polar opposite diatribe—neither citing facts; merely opinions, but both insisting the other is wrong.

The fact that Jerry Springer, Steve Wilkos, and Maury Povich make a living doing what they do has shown that we like to be entertained just as much as we like to be informed. If we’re lucky, they may actually kill each other on the air, right? People insulting each other is far more exciting than two adults respectfully agreeing to disagree. If any of you watched the Chapman University video above and didn’t finish it, you probably got bored; proving my point.

As long as the market desires violence, the art of proper debate will be left to the scientific community, and us political consumers and voters won’t be nearly as well-educated as we should be because we’re getting debating’s version of the WWE—rich on entertainment, low on substance.

Bill O'Reilly vs Barney Frank
Bill O’Reilly vs Barney Frank

So what are some signs of improper debate?

  • If anyone refers to you as a “So-called  _______”

When someone uses the term “so-called” in describing you,  there’s no point in going further. I see Republicans call other Republicans RINO’s (Republicans In Name Only) when they disagree. I’ve had people tell me I’m no Libertarian because I don’t believe in anarchy. I’ve seen liberals attack each other because they don’t agree on gun rights or the evilness of corporations. I’ve even seen religious groups attack their own for how they vary in worship.

No one person is the sole arbiter of what is a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Christian, Muslim, etc. If you feel you most closely identify with a particular group, that’s likely how you’ll identify yourself. These aren’t private clubs you can be kicked out of, they’re names attached to a basic set of ideals. Someone referring to you as a “so-called” anything is simply displaying contempt—an ultimate form of disrespect where they feel you are inferior to them.

  • Inability to distinguish facts from opinions

If someone lays out facts that are incorrect, they should rightfully be corrected. If you really want to do it right; cite reliable sources. But when arguing opinion, anyone who tells you that you are wrong, laughs at your opinion, or cites opinion columns from someone else, are not debating respectfully.

I see people citing Paul Krugman articles to prove their point on economics, when he’s not done any science, but merely advancing an opinion. I’ve had people cite Ron Paul and Ludwig von Mises op-eds to tell me I’m wrong on my idea of libertarianism. In doing so, they haven’t proven their point, they’ve only proven someone agrees with them or that my libertarian views are different from others.

  • Citations of the same person repeatedly

Science requires that all opinions be considered, respected, and evaluated in order to come to one truth. If a person constantly quotes a particular politician, economist, TV personality, or anything else, this person is not doing anything scientific, it’s the opposite of independent thought. While I personally prefer my opinion reporting come from organizations that are “libertarian-friendly,” I’m at least aware of my bias, and honest about reporting it. I do call my page the Logical Libertarian after all.  

On my RSS reader however, I follow 85 different websites of varying opinions and genres. I make the effort to research any opinion I put forth from several sources when possible, and I will reevaluate such opinions if anyone provides me with new information. Being part of a cult-like group-think crowd is the polar opposite of independent and intelligent thought.

  • All or nothing

Anyone who has agreed with you 95% of the time, but now this 1 in 20 instance where you don’t sends them into a tirade is exhibiting serious signs of bipolar disorder. It’s the underlying root of the word bipolar where there is only a positive and negative, nothing in between. They believe that if you aren’t 100% in agreement with them, you might as well be 0% in agreement with them.

People who take this all or nothing approach aren’t interested in the truth. They want to be the leader of a cult, and expect you to be part of it. That may seem like hyperbole, but think about every cult you know of—how many allowed for varying opinions? There is nothing proper about such behavior. The scientific method relies on varying ideas. Those who view any deviation from their ideology as an insult should be avoided.

  • Anyone using logical fallacies.

Brian Dunning at skeptoid.com has done an amazing job explaining logical fallacies here and here (It was a two-parter).

Skeptoid's Brian Dunning
Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning

 These include straw man arguments, ad hominem attacks, appeals to authority, special pleading, anecdotal evidence, observational selection, appeal to ignorance, non-sequiturs, post hoc, confusion of correlation and causation, slippery slope, excluded middle, small number statistics, weasel words, fallacy of the consequent, loaded question, red herring, proof by verbosity, poisoning the well, and bandwagon fallacies.

I implore you to either read at the links provided, or listen to the attached audio podcast version for explanations. Brian has done a phenomenal job comprising them; it’s worth your time; as are all Skeptoid podcasts.

The golden rule of debating should be this: Explain your position until your opponent understands you. Let them explain their position until you understand them. If at that point you still don’t agree, the debate is over, you must respectfully agree to disagree—emphasis on respectfully. But whatever you do, remember that internet trolls thrive on attention, please do not feed the animals.

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NASA and Global Warming: Respect The Method Or Don’t Do The Science

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

I don’t often weigh in on the global warming debate as I’m not a climatologist. I have made it clear however, that I believe in maintaining proper scientific skepticism in life.

First and foremost, I wish to say that I believe climatologists on both sides of the aisle have done good science. Mankind certainly produces a lot of CO2 which will no doubt have an effect on the environment, and these effects are worth investigating.

That being said, I wish to consider a few points.

Earth is rather large. Every organism living on this planet, along with objects in our solar system, are all variables that affect our climate. Accounting for all of them is nearly impossible.

The Blue Marble
The Blue Marble

Therefore, not accounting for all of them while making claims about how they will react to increased CO2 production, will always be educated guesswork.

Also, when climatologists make predictive models, as near as I can tell, they often make these models while assuming all other variables will either remain constant, or will not counteract the change, but instead merely succumb to it.

For example, imagine one were to observe two birds in their back yard; they look every day for a month, but on average, they always see about two birds. Now imagine this person throws a bag of bird seed in their back yard each day. Considering no other variable, one would assume the result would be an ever-growing pile of bird seed in their yard. In reality, their bird population of two would elevate to fifty or more birds, which wouldn’t result in a pile of bird seed as predicted, but a pile of bird poop instead.

With Earth being an ecosystem, as we animals (yes, humans are animals) produce more CO2, I’ve yet to hear anyone rule out that the plant kingdom, which would thrive in a CO2 rich environment, would not simply grow in numbers, evolve plants which consume more CO2, and/or spawn a new mechanism for filtering or consuming CO2 that we haven’t even imagined; in doing so, counteracting the increased greenhouse gasses produced by the increasing animal population. Just as the deer population, if left unchecked, will die of disease and famine, nature always seems to randomly, and quite unpredictably at times, find a way to maintain balance through evolution.

I’m not making this case mind you; again, I’m not a climatologist—please no hate mail. But one thing I do know is that predictive climate models have often been wrong. Eschewing climate science would be a terrible mistake, but let’s continue to compare actual results with predicted ones; leaving politics out of it for now, until we can accurately predict the effects, and effectively devise mechanisms to deal with the issues that we determine nature cannot naturally resolve for us.

There’s a saying I once heard that in science, most great discoveries are not followed with an exclamation of “Eureka, I’ve found it!” but instead, a far less exciting, “Hmm, that’s odd.”

Viagra was supposed to be a heart medication; it failed miserably. But oddly enough, it turns out Viagra can pitch a tent like a scout troop leader. Microwave ovens came about after Percy Spencer’s chocolate bar melted when placed near a magnetron and he wondered why. Post-it notes were a failed attempt at making a strong adhesive, which it clearly wasn’t. Instead of scrapping a million dollar project, 3M made lemonade out of lemons.

The list of happy accidents like these goes on forever. Science isn’t just about resolving a given issue, it’s also about investigating random discoveries that were often diversions along the way.

Sometimes however, good intentions can go seriously wrong. For instance, I took a tour of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky; I highly recommend it. In Mammoth Cave, as with all caves, the temperature and the humidity are basically constants. Mammoth Cave is a cool and damp ≈54°F 24/7/365. In 1839, Dr. John Croghan, a sufferer of tuberculosis, observed that the cave’s cold and damp air made him feel refreshed and well.

Tuberculosis hut, Main Cave, Mammoth Cave, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky, KY, USA
Tuberculosis hut, Main Cave, Mammoth Cave, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky, KY, USA

He bought the cave and opened up a tuberculosis clinic inside it. Today, we know that warm and dry air is best for people suffering from TB, but Dr. Croghan found out the hard way that cold and damp air is bad for it—all 15 patients died. Dr. Croghan didn’t follow the scientific method, he proceeded based on anecdotal evidence and a hunch. Such science, when lives are at stake, while often informative by virtue of observed results, is dangerous and irresponsible.

Let’s look at the scientific method in a nutshell.

  • A person has a question that needs answered.
  • This person then runs tests and collects evidence.
  • Based on the evidence, a hypothesis is formed in an attempt to explain the question.
  • A person then tries to disprove their hypothesis, a process known as falsification. The purpose? If you have a valid hypothesis, it should be true under any tests one subjects it to.
  • If the hypothesis passes these tests, one then publishes it for peer review. They explain their method for coming to such conclusions, their methodology at attempting falsification, and then allow others to review it, debate it, attempt to falsify it, and/or attempt to replicate it with total consistency.
  • Once the hypothesis has passed all these steps, only then does it become accepted wisdom, or even accepted natural law, such as Isaac’s laws of motion.


Recently, NASA’s Gavin Schmidt went on FNC’s Stossel and made brilliant points about the research NASA has done on climate change . He laid out the testing they’ve done, explained how they eliminated other variables, and thus concluded that mankind is increasing the CO2 in the air, and that this ever-increasing CO2 production will cause detrimental climate change. Hearing him speak alone, you could be easily convinced he had done his homework and was spot on in his hypotheses. From there however, it all went wrong.

Dr. Gavin Schmidt
Dr. Gavin Schmidt

Good science, by definition, allows for more than one opinion, otherwise you merely have the will of one man—which is the basis of cult. ~ Quote from The Master (a movie loosely based on Scientology)

Gavin Schmidt refused to sit next to Dr. Roy Spencer, a climate change scientist himself, with proper credentials, who happens to be skeptical of the climate doomsday scenarios often portrayed by others. In doing so, violating the process of peer review and meaningful discussion. His reason? He said he wasn’t interested in being part of a political debate.

Dr. Roy Spencer
Dr. Roy Spencer

The discussion however was not about politics, it was about the science of climate change. If Gavin Schmidt is unwilling to have his science debated, he has zero business doing scientific research at all, especially on the taxpayer’s dime.

If his science is correct, there should be no fear in defending against a skeptic. Every objection the skeptic might raise should be easily explained and dismissed if Gavin has done a thorough job and come to proper conclusions. If he cannot overcome a skeptic’s objections, then guess what? That means it isn’t settled science and his work is incomplete or even possibly false.

Convincing people the Earth is round and that the sun doesn’t revolve around it took time. But barring the most ignorant of idiots, we all agree that these statements are true now.

Al Gore
Al Gore

Those purporting climate change need to stop sensationalizing like Al Gore, debate educated climate skeptics intelligently, and stop acting like we’re all idiots for not buying what they’re selling.

As for the politics of all this? I believe we should not bankrupt the nation based on phenomena that is still not fully understood, and legislators must recuse themselves from the debate until it is. Because much like me, they aren’t climatologists either.

Sources:

http://www.hsl.virginia.edu/historical/reflections/tuberculosis/cave.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_tuberculosis

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-it_notes

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Percy_Spencer

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sildenafil

Can I be GM’s new CEO?

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

In 2009, a very bad thing happened. GM went from being General Motors, a privately held and operated corporation, to General Motors, a majority-share government-owned corporation. After a Chapter 11 filing, in order to save a company deemed too big to fail, the government bought out 864 million shares of the available 1.4 billion. While it was not a hostile state takeover that would make Fidel Castro proud, let’s look at some of the highlights here.General Motors

  • In 2008, GM began losing money, partly due to a crippled economy. However, this could have been managed if not for unreasonable and unwavering demands from the UAW. GM executives at the time, headed by then CEO Rick Wagoner, had decided that bankruptcy would likely be the solution. This would allow GM to terminate and renegotiate new, more manageable union contracts, enabling GM to survive into 2009 and beyond.
  • December 19th 2008: Then President George W. Bush approved TARP which in total, gave $17.4 billion to General Motors and Chrysler in an effort to prevent such a bankruptcy.
  • February of 2009: GM makes it known that the bailouts had not solved their solvency issues and bankruptcy still seems to be the most likely option.
  • March 29, 2009: In a deal we will likely never know the details of, current president Barack Obama ousters CEO Rick Wagoner in hopes of preventing a bankruptcy that would ultimately harm the UAW. It was stated that Wagoner “agreed to step down,” which we all know is code for “He was offered something to step down and shut up so that we didn’t have to fire him publicly and have him tell people what actually happened.” There can be no doubt Wagoner did not want to step down, he was turning GM around. Obama then replaces him with Fritz Henderson.
  • July 2009: Federal government buys a controlling interest in the new General Motors after bankruptcy.
  • November 2010, Government sells approximately 358 million of its 864 million shares back to private investors, thus relinquishing a controlling interest, but losing $11 billion dollars of taxpayer money doing so.

    Rick Wagoner
    Rick Wagoner

I understand that Bush and Obama felt GM was too big to fail, and certainly had GM closed its doors, it could have seriously hurt the American economy. But no one was proposing that, nor even reasonably insinuating it would happen. The intent was to reorganize and draft more manageable UAW contracts, not close the doors.

As this debate raged on, I watched a labor union rep say in an interview that GM’s issues had nothing to do with labor unions; that it was purely about the economy. Interesting argument since the facts were that non-union automakers, with significantly lower labor costs, while hurting from the economy, were still quite solvent. Such lies and/or delusions are quite common among the UAW ranks.

In a properly free market, as GM sales were down, GM should have had the flexibility to cut staff, lessen benefit expenditures, reduce hours, or whatever it took in order to insure the solvency of their organization; something labor unions simply won’t allow. The idea that the UAW weren’t contributing to the problem is absurd.

However, the UAW isn’t the only villain. Since Obama is a friend to the unions, he felt it was his duty to intervene and protect them as best he could from the bankruptcy Wagoner would have negotiated. So Rick Wagoner was forcibly removed from office so that Obama could bring in new CEO Fritz Henderson; one who would manage such a bankruptcy if it occurred, in such a way as to benefit the UAW the greatest.

Fritz Henderson
Fritz Henderson

The problem? Any contract GM signs should be done with the best interests of GM in mind, period. The UAW conversely should negotiate the best deal for themselves. But when both sides are working for the betterment of one side over the other, that’s not a negotiation, that’s corruption.

And so it was, the UAW got a fully loaded Cadillac, and the taxpayers and General Motors got a driveshaft in the rear entrance. You can read about this UAW inspired, Obama approved corruption here.

So the money Bush approved in order to prevent bankruptcy was a waste. It obviously didn’t work; GM filed for bankruptcy anyway. The sale of GM stock later by the government, another big loss. Whether we lose on what we still own—only time will tell.

In my opinion, the problems don’t end there though.

President Obama knows that the people frown on government directing a private company, but he’s not exactly known for his humility. He has demonstrated he will do what he desires to do, then figure out a way to present it to the American people in such a way that they’ll accept something they would otherwise not support.

So a man who has zero private sector experience, zero automotive experience, zero management experience, and zero business administration experience decided that in an ultimate show of hubris, he somehow knew what was better for America’s largest corporation than its current CEO who had a significant amount of experience in all the aforementioned areas.

Barack Obama
Barack Obama

Imagine if Obama decided he could perform surgery better than a practicing physician who may have just lost a patient. Then he gives medical advice to this doctor’s patients contrary to what the doctor prescribed. Whether the doctor is sub-par or not, Obama would have absolutely no business doing this—it would be a serious breech of ethics.

As a person who spent over 20 years of my professional life involved in both the sales and service management of new and used automobiles, I literally have infinitely more experience in this arena than Obama. Anything times zero is infinity before you accuse me of hyperbole. The only difference? I’m smart and humble enough to know that I’m not qualified to run General Motors.

When Dr Rand Paul weighs in on medical issues, he knows what he’s talking about. When Obama weighs in on legal issues, he knows what he’s talking about, even if he’s not a practicing lawyer. But nothing qualified him to make a single decision regarding the management of General Motors.

We expect our presidents to be strong, confident, even a little arrogant on occasion. Maybe it’s the same phenomenon of implied danger that drives good people to date bad people. But if America is to have an effective leader, that person should have the humility to understand their duties are to protect our rights, not drive a market which has a nearly infinite greater wealth of experience than any one person could have.

This boondoggle cost us taxpayers billions, and we are no better for it. Much like the false belief that Roosevelt saved the American economy after the great depression, Obama didn’t save the auto industry either.

The president represents the state, and state-run markets are never good—there’s more than enough history in this world to know free-markets are always better. If GM manages to achieve success again, it will be despite Obama and the UAW, not because of it.

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_Chapter_11_reorganization

http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg959.aspx

http://autos.yahoo.com/blogs/motoramic/march-29-president-obama-fires-ceo-general-motors-132056452.html

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123836090755767077.html