The Myth of the Wasted Vote

I was a pretty ardent supporter of Senator Rand Paul for president, stating that he’s the only Republican Party candidate I would have voted for in the upcoming election. Since he’s no longer running, my support has shifted to Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, but will generally support whomever of the three remaining LP nominees wins their party.

Senator Rand Paul (R)
Senator Rand Paul (R)

On Twitter, I campaigned hard to any of my Republican voting followers that Senator Paul is their only candidate who can get libertarian votes, and even some Democrat votes, because his positions of liberty often span party lines. As such, I felt this strategy was their best path to the White House.

Was he polling well? No. But, this was mostly due to lack of name recognition versus the issues. More importantly, though, it’s important to understand that most Republicans will vote Republican irregardless of the specific candidate, so they would certainly follow Rand. Once he was the only person on the debate stage against a Democratic nominee, I felt he would easily win on the issues.

This might seem like I’m asking Republicans to pick my candidate instead of their own, which is counter to what I’m suggesting in this post in the first place, but the reality is that I always preferred Gary Johnson.

In supporting Rand however, I was offering what I would consider a highly favorable compromise. But the rest of the Republican voting block didn’t seem interested in such a compromise, and turned this into a negotiation where both sides agreed there simply was no deal to be made.

While I believe the remaining Republicans are slightly better than Democratic offerings, I refuse to vote for any Republican on the sole premise that it’s imperative to beat the Democrats at any cost.

The most common disagreement we have with the GOP, is that we largely disagree with their consistent efforts to subversively legislate Christian values, while skirting 1st amendment objections by simply not specifically mentioning god in such legislation.

For instance, if you look at Ted Cruz’s website, he has an “Issues” section where he specifically talks about fighting for religious liberty.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R)
Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R)

But one look at this page, it is clear that this is actually not about religious liberty, but instead, a Christian crusade of sorts.

While it might look like religious liberty to Christians, almost every issue is about fighting for Christians specifically with no protections offered to other religions nor atheists.

Let’s look at his 11th bullet reads as follows:

“Successfully defended the words “under God” in the Texas Pledge of Allegiance and Texas schools’ moment of silence law in federal district court.”

Not only is this NOT promoting religious freedom, he’s specifically promoting government imposing a religious reference in a government sanctioned pledge—the absolute polar opposite of religious liberty.

It’s this kind of hypocrisy, and misunderstanding of the Constitution from a lawyer who should clearly understand it better than most, that makes Ted Cruz come off as disingenuous, ignorant, and wrong.

While this is on Ted Cruz’s website, these Christian based ideals, are echoed by almost all Republican candidates, including Donald Trump.

Donald Trump (R)

While I have no war with religion, I don’t want to live in a country where I have to fear my leaders forcing me to be more Christian either.

Do I consider “Under God” a big issue? Not in the least.

I’m bothered that Ted Cruz considers it big enough to put on his website as one of his credentials, and under the banner of religious freedom.

More importantly though, I’d like to think he’d fight for my rights as an atheist if a Christian legislator attempts to violate them by legislating religious ideology. Based on this page of his website however, I genuinely don’t believe he would.

So what about the wasted vote?

Many Republicans have lashed out at me, arguing that people like me are giving Democrats the win if we vote Libertarian, and that we’re wasting our vote on someone who won’t win.

At first thought, it does make some sense. A majority of libertarians would choose a Republican over a Democrat if those are their only two choices, but this is a short-sighted view on their part, and frankly somewhat arrogant and presumptuous to assume I’d prefer them. More importantly, it’s counter to my own best interests in the long term.

Former Governer Gary Johnson - Libertarian nominee for President
Former Governor Gary Johnson – Libertarian nominee for President

The first and most important point I’d like to make is this. My vote is mine. No one has any right to it, and no one has any right to dictate to me who I should vote for. So if you’re a Republican who wants to attack me for voting libertarian, you’re out of line.

Second: Your vote is your way to influence change in government. It’s not just about winning, it’s about letting people know that while they may have a majority, that majority is potentially in jeopardy if they lose some support. That growing their support will require them to give more deference towards our ideals too.

But the more important point to understand about the wasted vote myth, is that if I continue to go along with the (not Rand Paul) Republican nominee, I’m supporting a system I don’t agree with. Voting for someone who won’t win isn’t a wasted vote, voting for someone I don’t want to be president is.

Because if I want libertarianism to grow, the only way I can do that is to vote for libertarian candidates and issues. Voting for Republicans will only reinforce the current Republican agenda with no deference to my own. In other words, what argument could one possibly make to believe libertarianism would grow if no one votes libertarian? So the only way I can waste my vote is by not voting for those who promote the ideals which I support.

If I vote libertarian, and Republicans do lose, this puts Republicans in a position of self-reflection as to why they lost, and how they can grow their party.

Libertarian Party
Libertarian Party

Many Republicans are quite libertarian in their views already, so it’s not that big of a leap, and I hope they consider it more seriously. They’ll hopefully recognize that the way to grow their party, is to be more libertarian on the issues. When you look at the issues that people part with the GOP on in the first place, you’ll find it’s the issues that libertarians and Democrats agree, and when people lash out at Democrats, it’s usually the policies where libertarians and Republicans agree.

I’d argue there’s a lesson in that for both the major parties, hopefully one or both of them figure it out soon.

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Who Can You Trust? A Guide To Questioning The Media

The internet is full of numerous people making claims. Whether it be memes with pictures of famous people saying something they clearly didn’t say, or quotes from famous people who actually did say it.

Abraham Lincoln Weighing In On the Internet
Abraham Lincoln Weighing In On the Internet

Point #1 I’d like to make is that a famous person isn’t more credible than any other person, unless said famous person is actually educated in the field of the claim being made. (Think Professor of Physics Brian Cox speaking on the subject of physics or science in general for instance).

Professor Brian Cox
Professor Brian Cox

Before we start, for purposes of this post, it’s important to define opinions, beliefs, and facts, as I believe they are mutually exclusive.

  • Opinion – A statement that has no right nor wrong answer.
  • Belief – A statement that does have a right or wrong answer, but that isn’t substantiated by evidence to know said right and wrong answers.
  • Fact – A statement that does have a right or wrong answer, and is supported wholly by evidence making it a demonstrable truth.

To give an example of these three, let’s look at someone who chooses a vegan diet.

If a person doesn’t want to be someone who exploits animals, or simply doesn’t like the taste; that is a matter of opinion and they should never be questioned on their choice, as there’s no evidence one can put forth to prove them wrong.

However, if they go vegan because they argue it’s healthier, that is a matter-of-fact statement. If they have no evidence supporting it, it’s merely a belief.

To make it fact, they would first have to define “healthy.” It could mean disease free, not obese, longevity of life, low cholesterol…the list is endless. From there, one would have to do or cite a controlled study comparing veganism to omnivorous or carnivorous diets, and prove it to be true. As such, such matter-of-fact statements, unlike matters of opinion, are indeed open to being questioned.

Now that we’ve covered those points, let’s kick this off with some simple thoughts to keep in mind when you read something on the internet, or see an advertisement on TV.

  • A claim sans evidence should be deemed as nothing more than an opinion or belief.
  • A claim sans evidence from an expert, is only an expert opinion or belief.
  • While an unsubstantiated expert opinion should be trusted more than an unsubstantiated non-expert opinion, neither should be deemed as fact.

Exploring the above three points; they often come into play when viewing a celebrity or expert-endorsed advertisement. They often make claims that you feel potentially make sense. But if you practice some critical thinking, you’ll soon notice that they can’t, don’t, or won’t cite any tests, studies, or evidence-based facts to back up their claim.

When watching a science-looking TV program, it’s important to understand that a proper expert would say “I don’t know” until they have actually seen or performed a study and gathered real evidence; not speculate profusely, presenting it as fact. (Think Ancient Aliens, Ghost Hunters, etc.)

Why do some experts speculate like this? Because science is a LOT of work! It involves loads of money, and a myriad of education and testing that can take years or even decades to complete. Not to mention, it also requires something to actually test. How can someone be an expert on Bigfoot if they don’t have an actual Bigfoot to observe and test, right?

Speculation however is easy; you just start talking.

So what are a couple of tell-tale signs you should look for when you see someone making a claim that you suspect might be less than trustworthy?

  • Is it an advertisement? If so, it’s biased, and should be ignored almost unilaterally. On a credibility scale, from zero being pure bullsh*t, and ten being “Take it to the bank;” advertisements are a zero. A celebrity endorsement likely ranks no more than a one, and an expert endorsement maybe a two. Why do endorsements add any value at all if they’re just being paid to say whatever their told to say? Because their credibility is on the line, so you’d like to think they care as much about their credibility as you do yours. But that being said, Dr. Oz proved this is still not that trustworthy.

    Dr. Mehmet Oz
    Dr. Mehmet Oz
  • If the advertisement cites an independent study, look up the study. If it’s legitimately independent, that sends it way up the credibility scale, and such companies should be commended for doing so. Although to be fair, if the independent study hadn’t been favorable, it would not have been in the ad, so it’s still partially comfirmation-biased as you’ll likely not hear any negative portions the study might have reported.
  • If it’s not an advertisement, does it actually give you evidence-based answers versus speculation? These pseudo-science shows, like the aforementioned alien, cryptozoology, or ghost shows are famous for presenting themselves as science, but being anything but. They bring dubious experts on who ask provocative questions, but then never follow it up with evidence-based answers. It makes them seem smart, but most of the time, it’s ridiculous nonsense with big words.

Why is this important? Ignorance is bliss, after all. Right?

If you were building a home, would you cut a framing board at what appears to be six feet to you (Not science)? Or would you measure the board (Science)?

People spouting unsubstantiated nonsense as if it is fact are some of the most dangerous people on the planet. They convince people who don’t know any better, to act on their claims as if they’re fact. Sometimes to grave consequences. Think Steve Jobs being duped to treat his cancer with “alternative,” instead of actual medicine. Such false medicinal advice may have cost him his life; a claim that cannot be proven since we don’t have two different Steve Jobs (one who took a doctors advice versus one who didn’t) to test, as the linked article points out.

At this point, I’m sure you are wondering who exactly you CAN trust. Assuming you don’t know how to, or have the means to carry out a proper controlled study, or do actual research yourself, I’ve prepared a makeshift credibility scale to help you suss out the chaff.

Scientific Journals, such as The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of Science, The Journal Nature, etc., are the most credible science sources you will find.  They report controlled and peer-reviewed studies only. They don’t take money to print studies. And they even print retractions if a new peer brings information to light that falsifies a previous claim.

Websites like Snopes, Skeptoid, or Science Based Medicine are largely devoted to debunking false claims, and do a great job of bringing just well-researched facts sans opinion. I would trust them nearly as much as scientific journals.

Skeptoid's Brian Dunning
Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning

So what about non-scientific information like politics, human interest stories, etc.?

Unbiased news sources are a very credible venue. Reuters and the Associated Press are two of the most commonly cited news sources by other commercial news outlets, and this speaks to their credibility. They don’t do opinion, so when you read an article from them, it may be somewhat less interesting, but that’s because it’s just the facts.Fox News

News sites with opinion, like MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, ABC News, CBS News, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and more are still fairly credible, despite being laden with opinion—this is mostly due to their market share.

Carl Sagan once said, “If it can be destroyed by the truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth.” If these mainstream outlets were consistently delivering false information, or didn’t make an effort to present both sides of an argument, this is exactly what the market would do to them.

Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan

While their ideological counterparts hate such news sources, independent minded people generally understand that while they’re biased, they at least validate sources and make an effort to be accurate and fair. It’s not perfect, but it’s at least reasonably credible.

Openly biased news sources like Drudge Report or The Daily Kos still have a market to answer to, and often break accurate information first due to their aggressive desire to defeat their ideological opponents. But I would avoid citing them as fact, because their information is suspect unless you can corroborate their findings with other news sources as mentioned above.

Blogs like mine are laden with bias. They are so small and rarely ever cited, that you should almost never consider blog claims as reputably truthful. If they cite credible sources along with their opinions (This is why I often do exactly that), it increases their credibility, but you should never treat them with full reverence.

Hopefully, you’ll start to notice that “opinion” is a consistent point to avoid when looking for the truth, but the bottom line is you should question everything. Question people who make claims without providing evidence. Question people who claim to be experts but can’t back up their opinion with fact. If you’re qualified, question proper scientific studies and do your own peer review.

Either way, enjoy the information you gather throughout life, just be skeptical every step of the way. Happy hunting!