Category Archives: Memebuster

Misleading Stats, Bad Sources, and the Threat of Radical Islamic Terror

Recently, a friend of mine posted a meme from the Prepare to Take America Back Facebook page about a gun dealer who has bacon in his shop, and if a prospective gun buyer intends on buying a firearm from him, you have to eat the bacon. The purpose of course, is to prevent Muslims from buying guns.13432228_1052807718107590_6392247220183571472_n[1]

A lengthy discussion ensued, so I felt this was a good opportunity to promote skepticism over ideology and point out the flaws in the arguments by analyzing both sides.

The Actions of the Dedicated

If someone is so delusional as to want to murder a number of people at will for their god, it stands to reason they are not subscribing to a rational mindset. They are highly dedicated to an end result, and nothing other than a good person with a gun is likely to stop them. So I’m pretty sure if they’re motivated enough to murder, they could easily justify eating a piece of delicious bacon for the cause. It is likely only rational non-violent Muslims would be restricted from buying guns in this manner.

Remember, they’re not supposed to look at naked women either, but when Bin Laden was killed, he had quite the porn stash.

I should also point out that many gun owners have come out against No-Fly-List restrictions on gun purchases because a few innocent people end up on that list. So preventing law-abiding Muslims from buying a gun just because of the actions of a few violent ones seems rather hypocritical.

The Gun Rights Paradox

Gun rights advocates like myself point out that while it may be true that guns are the #1 tool used to murder people around the world, it’s a flawed argument if you’re using it to argue guns are likely to kill. There are nearly 80 million gun owners in America, but only approximately 32,000 violent incidents are performed by such people. Meaning that for every 100 gun owners, approximately 99.96 of them will harm no one who was of no threat to them.Armalite AR-15

While the numbers might be slightly different, you could replace the term “Gun Owners” with “Muslims” and make the exact same argument.

Like gun owners, most Muslims are indeed non-violent. So for gun owners fighting for gun rights by pointing to the above statistics to be ideologically consistent, they shouldn’t be promoting anti-Muslim views either.

The Constitutional Argument

The bacon scheme, while clever, many argue is a violation of the 1st amendment that seeks to prevent religious discrimination. But if we look at the verbiage of the first Amendment, it should be obvious it’s not an issue.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The 1st Amendment
The 1st Amendment

The first five words are, “Congress shall make no law.” As this is a private business owner, he’s not congress. The first amendment restricts government and protects him, not the other way around.

Aside from the Constitutional issue, the government may not discriminate because we all pay our taxes to it and it governs all of us equally, therefore we deserve equal protection under the law.

But whether it be the KKK, Black Panthers, Westboro Baptist Church, a Christian bakery owner not wanting to make a cake for a gay wedding, or this gun shop proprietor, in a free country, while government may never discriminate, they should never have the power to dictate who you are kind to or do business with. Let the free market sort it out.

Credibility Issues

The conversation that ensued on this meme was after a mutual friend commented “94% of terrorist attacks in America are committed by non-Muslims, look it up.”

I, of course, pointed out that since he was the one making the claim, the burden of proof was on him to cite his source, it was not our burden to look it up. So he cited this information from Global Research.

Global research sounds mighty official, but then they cited a graph they stated came from Princeton University’s Loonwatch. Princeton university, being a prestigious institution, should lend some credibility as well. But there’s only one problem—Loonwatch’s “About” page only cites Princeton as the source of the definition of the word Loon from Princeton’s WordNet® 3.0.  They may have attended Princeton (they don’t say), but there’s no indication this info is from Princeton University in any official capacity.Princeton-University[1]

Since Loonwatch didn’t compile the data, this makes Global Research’s citation of Loonwatch irrelevant.

As you read the about page, it becomes clear, Loonwatch are opinion bloggers just like me, with no intrinsic credibility that comes from being a well-respected institution or peer-reviewed publication.

Opinion writers only get credibility by citing credible sources, as we don’t compile any of the data ourselves, we merely interpret it. But the genetic logical fallacy requires that we not dismiss their opinion, even if they’re not necessarily a credible source, so we’ll soldier on.

Loonwatch made a graph based on this FBI.gov data, which is a credible citation and to be commended. The thing that differentiates me from Loonwatch is that I won’t be pushing a particular narrative. I will present multiple ways to construe the data so no context is missing. Loonwatch failed to do this, and thus why I’d argue my post is more fair in its analysis.

Graph Prepared By Loonwatch of Terrorist Attacks On US Soil from 1980 - 2015
Graph Prepared By Loonwatch of Terrorist Attacks On US Soil from 1980 – 2015

Loonwatch did little to show how they came to their conclusion. The FBI study, cites individual attacks and who was deemed responsible for them, but did not in any way segregate them into the convenient categories Loonwatch used on their graph, so I can only guess that maybe Loonwatch researched each group deemed responsible individually, and categorized them by categories of Loonwatch’s choosing. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s important that Loonwatch at least explain their methodology, which they didn’t.

So don’t take anything Loonwatch or I say to the bank. Look at the FBI Data provided, and come to your own conclusions. I just hope to promote critical thinking.

Misleading Statistics

The problems with the 94% statistic are numerous.

The first flaw is that it breaks the groups up into categories that aren’t mutually exclusive. For instance, you could have Latino Communists, so what group do they fall in on the above chart, Latinos or Communists? And wouldn’t Communists be considered an Extreme Left-Wing Group as well?

Second, the caption they have for the graph reads as follows:

Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Soil by Group, From 1980 to 2005, According to FBI Database

But Loonwatch’s groups are not how the FBI classified them. The FBI classified them by name, such as Al Qaeda, versus grouping them as Muslims like Loonwatch did, making the caption dishonest as they aren’t the groups “according to” the FBI as the caption states. That doesn’t mean Loonwatch’s interpretation of the data is inaccurate, but when people make false assertions like that, it talks negatively to their credibility, as they’re either being dishonest or sloppy in their work.

Thirdly: It counts each attack as one incident out of 316, no matter how many were killed or injured in that incident including many that resulted in no death or injury at all.

This means that they count the 9/11 attacks which officially killed 2972 people and injured an estimated 12,000 others as if they’re somehow one unit equal to the November 11th 2005 Hagerstown, MD arson which killed no one.Terrorism11[1]

Loonwatch headed their post by saying, “Terrorism Is a Real Threat … But the Threat to the U.S. from Muslim Terrorists Has Been Exaggerated.” As such, including incidents which resulted in no human harm, is certainly a bit misleading. The FBI was simply tracking terror attack numbers, but Loonwatch used that data to argue threats to the U.S., which aren’t quite the same thing. The non-injurious attacks may or may not have been intended to harm anyone (a threat), but only scare people into compliance (terrorism). It’s entirely possible those attackers purposefully sought to avoid being a threat to life and limb by bombing unoccupied property, effectively making them non-threats.

Analyzing the data myself

First, let’s eliminate the aforementioned incidents that resulted in no harm to anyone and we’re left with 44 attacks versus 316 to analyze. I’m eliminating these because the narrative is about who is a threat to Americans, so incidents which resulted in no harm should be irrelevant. I researched every group responsible individually to categorize them myself and determine which were Muslim and not.

Muslims committed 6 of those 44 attacks, or 14%. This is more than double the 6% Loonwatch presented, using their same metric. But, it still supports their underlying argument that non-Muslims committed more attacks than Muslims, by far.

After I had done that, instead of treating each incident as if they’re the same, I’m going to categorize them by how many were killed at the hands of terrorists, which is more relevant to the narrative of the threats to Americans.Terrorism10[1]

Of 3,178 terrorist murders, Muslims committed 2,982 of them (94%), which is ironically (and completely coincidentally) the same percentage, yet polar opposite, of the narrative Loonwatch portrayed. There were approximately 13,048 Muslim-committed injuries out of a 14,017, (93%) as well.

Now that may seem like I’ve refuted Loonwatch’s argument since that’s a 188% swing, but I haven’t. I’ve merely presented the same data in a different light.

To be fair, I will also point out that almost all of them are from the September 11th attacks. So one incident of 44 is severely skewing the data. But nonetheless, while Muslims don’t account for most of the incidents, by a landslide they account for the most deaths.

Using the same data Loonwatch did, I could make that argument, leave out the context I gave you, and give a conversely biased opinion to Loonwatch. It’s a lesson in how people leave out info without lying to lead you into a false impression.

What’s This Puerto Rico Stuff?

While we’re on the subject of skewing the data, I could eliminate the events in Puerto Rico as well.

While Puerto Rico is a U.S. Property, I think if you asked both Americans and/or Puerto Ricans whether they consider Puerto Ricans to be Americans, most would say no. They’re not a state, plus they’re not even allowed to vote in U.S. general elections. Again, the narrative was whether Americans are mostly under threat from Muslims, so adding Puerto Ricans to the list is a bit misleading to that narrative for most Americans

Eliminating non-injurious and now Puerto Rico attacks, I have 35 remaining incidents, of which Muslims were responsible for 6, or 17%, which still supports Loonwatch’s claim that non-muslims are responsible for more attacks.

Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico

We can agree to disagree on whether Puerto Rico should be excluded from this list or not, but at least I’m telling you I’m doing it, so you can make up your own mind.

Where’s the Current Data?

The FBI Crime Data table cited was 1980-2005. This is data that ended early in Bush’s second term. Click here for what the FBI gives for data after 2005. It’s vague at best, and not in a nice table like the 1980-2005 report, making it difficult to compile any data from it. Maybe the FBI has this info hidden away somewhere convenient for some reason, maybe they’re just lazy. But nonetheless, the data used for the argument is 11 years old.

But scrubbing through this less-than-helpful timeline from the FBI, while there were several terror attacks thwarted two were successful which killed thirteen people and injured thirty more, all committed by Muslim extremists. Add in the recent Orlando attack that happened after the Loonwatch study, there are 49 more deaths on that list, and you realize for the last decade, the only terror threat to Americans, if we’re going by recorded incidents, has been from Muslims.

Conclusion

I’m atheist, and thus against all religion, because I think religious extremists of any faith are capable of doing heinous things. But in the modern era, I do not think anyone could reasonably argue that most ideological unprovoked violent acts in the modern era are not committed by people who claim to be doing those acts in the name of Allah.

But it is important to understand that just because they are responsible for such violence, it does not in any way mean that a majority or even a disproportionate amount of Muslims are violent. Arguing the converse is pure bigotry. But the evidence is clear that for every one American killed or injured in a terrorist attack by non-Muslims, there have been approximately 93-94 who were harmed or killed by Muslims. A narrative that is rather different from the one made by Loonwatch, yet also entirely true.

I have no animosity towards Muslims that I don’t equally have against all religion, my only issue is with misleading stats to push a particular narrative. Whether someone is killed by a religious extremist, or killed by a gang member robbing a store, the end result is identical. As with anything in life, I believe it is important to remain skeptical and question everything, because data can always be presented in a quite misleading manner to serve someone’s agenda. I hold myself to a higher standard, but you can’t possibly know that. And you can’t know it about any other op-ed write either.

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Analysis: The Notion of Deliberate Suppression of the Cure for Cancer

Credit – Dan Broadbent from A Science Enthusiast

Recently, this meme from Dan Broadbent at AScienceEnthusiast.com was shared on Facebook by Yvette d’Entremont, also known as the SciBabe. Yvette’s science credentials are that she “holds a B.A. in theatre, a B.S. in chemistry, and an MSc in forensic science with a concentration in biological criminalistics.”

Yvette’s science credentials are quite impressive, and as such, her knowledge of the field means that this meme makes perfect sense to her. It also makes sense to me, despite my lack of such credentials, because as an ardent skeptic, I’m an avid consumer of medical science, helping me to understand the argument potentially more than most.

But for many who aren’t so interested in science and medicine, especially those who are somewhat naturally distrusting, the left cartoon seems to have merit.

However, I’m hoping that if I can walk you through some of the knowledge I have, and apply a little skeptical analysis, we can pretty easily dismiss this meme almost entirely—so let’s begin.

Point #1 – The Catch-22

The argument put forth is based on the premise that treating ongoing cancer is much more profitable than curing it, and thus big pharma suppresses the cure for increased profits.

But if this were true, then big pharma would never spend the millions, if not billions that it takes to find a cure in the first place. Because if they did spend such money to find a cure, suppressing it would mean a total loss.

So either they would spend the money and bring the cure to market to get a return on investment like all businesses do, or they wouldn’t spend the money to develop the cure in the first place; instead spending that money elsewhere, or pocketing it like the “greedy bastards” so many want to assume they are.

But spending the money, then refusing a return on the investment, is an obvious catch-22 that makes no sense.

Point #2 – There is no one “Cancer” species to cure.

When people talk about curing cancer, it is said as if cancer is one singular species, similar to mankind’s  Homo Sapien or the Road Runner’s Disappearius Quickius. But  nothing could be further from the truth. road_runner[1]

Cancer is a mutation of a person’s cells, that then becomes its own unique organism living inside that person and feeding off of them.

To severely simplify this, imagine DNA is like binary code, a series of ones and zeros. It’s actually quadratic, adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G)thymine (T) are the four choices. A always pairs with T and C always pairs with G, leaving AT, TA, CG, and GC as your four options because while there’s only two pair combos, their reverse is a different option. That code is like a road map of sorts that tells all the stem cells in your body what to become as they replace the cells that naturally die off. If this imaginary DNA were a 4-digit code  (It’s actually more like 3-billion digits) of 1010 for instance, then all the cells in your body should all have that same 1010 code.

Now imagine if one of those cells mutates and changes its code to 1011. In many instances, it would just die because it’s a bad code that can’t sustain life. But occasionally, it is in fact good enough to become viable to live as a new mutant entity. That entity may then begin replicating into a bunch of cells that have that new mutated 1011 code instead of the 1010 code they should have. Going back to my road map analogy; that code error is akin to your road map now showing roads that aren’t there or missing roads that are. This new mutated entity that stops producing new cells for you, and instead becomes its own life-form that feeds off of you is cancer.

Actual Image of Human DNA through an Electron Microscope. (Click image for more information)
Actual Image of Human DNA through an Electron Microscope.
(Click image for more information)

Click here and/or this wonderful post from Dr. Michael Wosnick here for much more detailed, accurate, and nuanced explanations of this.

As such, no two cancer strains are likely to be alike in the same way similar species of animals or plants are that inherit their DNA from parents.

As this 2013 article points out, we know of at least 200+ different types of cancer and counting.

So with all that being said, it’s important to understand a treatment that kills one cancer, is highly unlikely to kill all of the others; making the idea that there is one cancer-cure-all, almost entirely implausible.

Point #3 – The Overwhelming Conspiracy

There are several pharmaceutical companies, research hospitals, and science universities working on cancer research, typically focusing on one of the aforementioned 200+ known types. Often, the people doing the research are employees of the company, and aren’t just one person stuck in a lab. It will be a team of researchers/students, all who took up biology, in many cases, to specifically find a cure for cancer.Researcher

So in order for this conspiracy to be true, we’d have to assume that the literally thousands of researchers, who probably don’t own the pharmaceutical companies and have no financial interest in suppressing a cure, would have achieved the one goal they hoped to, which was quite altruistic, but then became sociopaths who hid it away from the world in a malicious attempt to profit from the misery of others.

I suppose it is possible that big pharma somehow defied Point #1 above, and then either added the felony of murdering any employee who found such a cure to the dumb things they did, or added the additional expense of paying those researchers off, adding more to their loss mentioned in Point #1. But either scenario simply bolsters the Catch-22, making it even more illogical.

I’d also like to add that if Bill Clinton couldn’t silence one frisky intern with the might of all the US Government agencies on his side, how is a pharmaceutical company going to silence hundreds, if not thousands of researchers?

Point #4 – There’s actually multiple cures for cancer already on the market.

This one is so obvious and simple, it’s a shame it’s completely overlooked.

Do you know someone who was diagnosed with cancer, and through treatments like chemotherapy, surgery, embolization, etc., are now in remission? I know many, including my father.liver-cancer-profile-7[1]

Each one of them received an effective cure, which is why they no longer have cancer. There may not be one treatment that cures all cancers, but that’s because of the premise I outlined in point #2.

So there is in fact multiple cures for multiple cancers already. Instead, what researchers now work on, is finding more effective cures that are not only more successful at killing the disease, but also less harmful to the affected person.

Point #5 – There’s plenty of money in a cure

Because cell mutation will always occur, and therefore cancer will always exist, cancer can likely never be eradicated like the black plague or small pox were. So there is plenty of money to be made in a cure.ecc7d1d27275a4b9cb29cf31ea08780d[1]

If drug companies lost money from such a cure due to decreased demand, they could easily move to treat other diseases or conditions to replace those lost profits with their humanity in tact.

Point #6 – The smaller conspiracy

If I ignore the big conspiracy in Point #3, it’s still important to remember that there are a lot of drug companies, research hospitals, and science universities out there. We’d still have to assume that these companies, who are trying to beat each other in the free market, all put aside their differences, secretly met in some clandestine office, then suddenly worked together to not release a cancer-curing product that would sell to anyone with the cancer it treats, and harm people in such a brutal way. These people are in business to make a profit selling medicine, and beat their competition. Suppressing it would only help their competition.

Point #7 – Where are the in-betweens?

This conspiracy assumes that big pharma is making a fortune just treating people’s cancer without curing it. But most people who get cancer either receive one of the aforementioned cures from Point #4, or they die somewhat quickly after diagnosis. Rarely do people live a long time with a diagnosed cancer.

No one treats someone who is dead, so if people die, there’s no money to be made off of them. But if big pharma does cure them so they live longer, they’ll likely catch some other condition down the road that big pharma can also treat. So the money is not in suppressing a cure, the money is in helping people to live longer, so they need more conditions to be cured in the future.

Summary

These seven points are by no means all the reasons why this conspiracy makes little sense, they’re merely the ones I was able to come up with in literally two days of thinking about this subject. Plus, I’m well over my 1,000-word count I usually try to maintain in these posts.

So I hope that going forward, instead of assuming the worst in people whom you neither know nor understand their work and their motives, you think skeptically as I have, and allow yourself to believe that people are indeed mostly good. Biologists who took up the cause of curing cancer, are in fact working honestly towards that goal every day, there’s little reason to believe otherwise.

 

Memebuster – Are Chemicals in Foods Really Bad For You?

 

Vani Hari aka The Food Babe
Vani Hari aka The Food Babe

I understand it’s fashionable to complain about all the “Chemicals” in food these days. The scientific names for chemical compounds are quite foreign to anyone who didn’t study chemistry.

But let’s put on our skeptical hat for a minute. I’d like to point out that foods, in and of themselves, are entirely composed of chemicals, including the ones labeled “organic.”2997facda28f3381345d2a7223fa48e0927cd647173bee49fddde44bfd47c1b8[1]

Water, for instance, in the scientific community, is known as the much scarier sounding dihydrogen monoxide (Two hydrogens, one oxygen). A fact that Penn & Teller decided to exploit in their rather entertaining yet educational program called “Bullshit!”

Just because something is a chemical, cannot and should NEVER be assumed to be bad for you. Some just don’t have pretty names like water or table salt (aka: sodium chloride)

When companies make food products that turn out to be toxic, barring foods that are just unhealthy, or low on nutrition, which you usually know and eat anyway, those companies usually get skewered in the news, it costs them millions or even billions, and many go out of business as a result.12b3eb1c33a8043971f61d184fb3a763[1]

Or in the case of Stuart Parnell, even go to prison. A peanut farmer found criminally negligent, but allowing the spread of salmonella poisoning.

Businesses are in business to make money. They make money by providing a superior product for a superior price. It has never been, nor will ever be, in their best financial interests to make a product that could cause you or your loved ones to die. Capitalists, despite the myth of them all being evil, are generally not murderers.

I know it’s sexy to believe in the “evil corporations,” but any of you who are employed, either work for a corporation, or started one yourself. Do you think you’re evil, or that your boss is out to kill their consumers? I’ve been in the job marketplace for decades now, and I’ve never gotten even a whiff of my employer encouraging us employees to endanger the lives of our consumers.

The people putting forth these chemicals-are-bad mantras are spreading fear based food-science ignorance. Buying into this will not enrich your life in any way.

Memebuster – Sharia Law Is Identical To The Republican Platform

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I ‘ve decided to start a new segment at Logical Libertarian called Memebuster. I will attempt to debunk memes largely based on ideology, and rarely containing any factual information. Let’s start with this one from a friend on Twitter. I’ll answer them one at a time:

Government based on religion

While Republicans are definitely quite commonly supporting laws based on their own religious ideology, none have ever promoted the idea of abolishing the 1st amendment and legislating the Bible, or any other religion.

There’s a difference between promoting a law based on religious beliefs, and adopting a government based solely on religion.

Women have fewer rights than men

Under Sharia law, women can’t even show their face, can be murdered if they get raped—being deemed as adulterers, aren’t allowed to drive a car, etc.

No one in the GOP is promoting such a notion.

This is entirely about positions on abortion. We’re all against murder, but in the eyes of many on the right, abortion is seen as the murder of an innocent child. There is no scientific evidence that can deem them wrong.

While I’m personally pro-choice prior to fetal-viability, it’s merely my opinion, and positions on abortion always will be. But it is NEVER about taking away women’s rights for the GOP, they’re trying to protect the rights of the unborn as they see it.

Disagree if you must, as I do, but don’t lie by saying they’re against women’s rights.

Homosexuality is outlawed

No GOP legislator is promoting making homosexuality a crime. They are against it being called marriage, since many are religious and consider marriage a religious institution. But many GOPs support civil unions, and some have even evolved on gay marriage.

This is a wildly hyperbolic overstatement by this meme.

Rejecting Science In Favor of Religious Doctrine

Many lawmakers on the left and right are religious. Many are not scientists. When you don’t understand a particular field of science, you will largely default to your beliefs. This is not unique to Republicans.

Politicians on both sides promote religion and/or science when it serves their interests.

For instance, Democrats promote the idea of giving, often quoting the Bible, when they promote socialist policies that take from people with money, and give to people who don’t have money. Despite the science of economics that shows that socialism has never lifted an economy out of ruin.Alms for the poor box

Republicans are usually accused of being anti-science on global warming, but there isn’t a religious reason for doing that, they just believe that the predictive models aren’t settled science.

I cannot think of any issue where they ignore science because of religious dogma. Most accept that the Earth isn’t 6,000 years old, most call a doctor before a priest when they’re sick, and most consider scientific evidence when offered it, as related to proposed legislation.

The 1st Amendment
The 1st Amendment

No separation between church and state

Again, no Republican is promoting a repeal of the 1st amendment, or amending it.  I would also like to point out that “separation of church and state” is not even in the Constitution, which instead points out that no law should be passed prohibiting or mandating religion. That’s a pretty big distinction.

There are no proposed laws from Republicans trying to force someone to be religious, but instead to enforce they’re opinion of morality based on their religion.

In other words, no Republican is forcing you to be religious, but they don’t want you smoking marijuana, for instance, because they think it’s just wrong—largely based on their own religious conditioning.

Religion is taught in schools

This is half-true. Many Republicans want religion allowed to be taught in school, but none are promoting the idea that it must be taught in school under penalty of law, such as Sharia law would dictate.

Abortion is illegal

This is probably the only fair similarity in this meme. Many Republicans are anti-choice on the issue of abortion because again, they believe it’s murder.

You can disagree with them if you like, but their decision isn’t an oppressive one, it’s about saving what they believe to be a human life, a principle we all agree on in theory, we just disagree on when a life becomes a life.