Category Archives: Science & Skepticism

More guns equals more crime? If You Don’t Have The Science, Bite Your Tongue

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

 

Blog1
Bob Costas

A recent study in Virginia suggests that an increase in gun sales may result in lower crime rates, not more. How could this be? Bob Costas and others insist it’s the other way around. So who should I trust? Science or a sportscaster?

Of course I’m being facetious, and no doubt Costas means well—but Bob is severely lacking in his scientific acumen on the subject. Instead of speaking from a skeptical point of view, he decided to bloviate from the heart and off the cuff.

I don’t want to begrudge anyone’s opinion of not wanting guns around; it’s a personal choice. But what I have a problem with is people making false or ignorant claims on national TV as if they’re an authority (which he is not), proposing to take away a freedom I enjoy because they don’t enjoy it, exploiting a tragedy to push a political agenda, and quite frankly, advancing that agenda during a venue where it’s inappropriate.

Being a gun owner who loves the stress-relief target shooting can often bring, I was quite annoyed. Had I been NBC’s CEO, Bob would have been shown the door. It was irresponsible and unprofessional to say the least. I’m not calling for him to be fired, that’s for NBC to decide; but I would like to think Bob should have known better and NBC would expect and demand better from its talent.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers
Javon Belcher

So let’s start to think logically about what Bob said. He insinuated that but not for the purchase of a hand gun, that Javon Belcher and his wife would be alive today. In theory, Bob is saying that this couple was otherwise happy and harbored no ill will towards each other. But then Belcher bought a gun, and for reasons solely motivated by Belcher owning that gun, he committed murder, then suicide.

Does that seem as ridiculous to you as it does to me? I hope so, because it is. What evidence does Costas have to demonstrate that if Belcher didn’t have a gun, he would not have used a knife? What would have prevented him from bludgeoning her to death with any other random household item?

They had marital issues coupled with what appears to be mental issues with Belcher. He had spent the evening with another woman the night before, after all, yet seemed to have a problem with his wife going out to a concert without him. Then of course he settled the argument by murdering her, then himself. Perfectly stable minds don’t do that. So let’s lay the blame where it belongs, a decline in someone’s state of mind.

The fact is Bob Costas had an opportunity to offer condolences to a grieving family, which to some extent he did. But then he ruined that moment by advancing an agenda and exploiting a tragedy.

Let me give you an example that might explain why this is so irksome. Imagine a wife losing a husband to heart failure. Let’s assume that he wasn’t exactly a health and fitness nut, but instead he just enjoyed life the best he knew how, ate what he wanted, did what he wanted, and lived with the consequences. Then imagine someone coming up to his wife and said, “I’m very sorry for your loss. But you know, if your husband had eaten better and exercised more, he’d still be alive.”

I’d be furious, and I’m sure any one of  you would be equally upset as well. That’s in essence what Bob did. When a tragedy occurs, you just offer condolences, not advice, and you definitely don’t proselytize.

But back to guns. blog3I own guns for two reasons. While I do not hunt, I do love target shooting. But more importantly, if someone enters my house with ill intent, I’m not calling 911 to help me, I’m calling 911 to come pick up the body. Maybe they were there just to steal my TV, but I’m not interested in risking my life by blowing my cover and asking their intent—they’re simply going down.  That’s why we have things like the Castle Doctrine and Stand-Your-Ground legislation. If we are to be a free nation, we can never be expected to cede our life, liberty, and property to anyone who wishes to take it unlawfully.

If we are serious about reducing crime, we need to discuss the reduction of laws that incite violent crime. Here’s a hint: every law that the vice squad enforces is part and parcel for most violent crime. Get rid of those laws, and much like the repeal of prohibition, violent crime goes down. It should come as no surprise that people get violent when you take away their freedom.

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Dr. Michael Shermer

Believe it or not however, as Dr. Michael Shermer suggests, studies show that as mankind evolves, violence continues to decrease all around the world anyway. So while the news leads you to believe things are getting worse, studies show they just aren’t. I believe that this decrease in violence is proportionate to the continued downfalls around the world of tyrannies, theocracies, and any other form of government that doesn’t have freedom at its core.

Let me ask you a theoretical question. You are feeling kind of frisky and you decide you want to pick a fight with someone, so you pick any random guy standing around. Now imagine that guy had a holster with a gun in it, are you feeling just as frisky now? Assuming you’re not suicidal, I imagine not. Therefore, we know that guns often thwart violence, because people rarely mess with someone carrying one—even if they carry one themselves. It’s just the theory of mutually assured destruction on a smaller scale.

The fact is, we will never have all the facts because there are no studies to show all of the crimes that didn’t happen because a would-be-attacker got spooked by the would-be-victim being armed.

Our forefathers were immensely thoughtful when writing the Constitution and there is nothing there by accident. The right to bear arms was very important to them because while “We the people” hire police to protect us, that doesn’t mean that we assign them the authority to be the only ones who can protect us. Our own protection starts with us.US Constitution

So forgive me Mr. Costas, but if you’re not going to think your statements through, do the scientific study, or at least research other science; you might want to learn to bite your tongue before you voice support for infringing upon our Constitutional rights. A majority of us don’t appreciate it.

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Middle East vs America: Why They Fight Where We Coexist

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

As I continue to read about fighting factions, suicide bombers, and other coordinated violence in the Middle East, I couldn’t help but notice that here in the melting pot, we have different religions, races, sexual orientations, political parties, and any other separating qualifier one might think of, yet we don’t habitually have these problems.

The KKK and Black Panthers have not blown each other up. The Westboro Baptists haven’t open fired on a gay club. To my knowledge, a physical altercation hasn’t even broke out in Congress. There’s little doubt that many of these people are vehemently opposed to one another, yet they somehow find a way to coexist and get on with their lives instead of declaring jihad and strapping a bottle rocket to their petoot in a crowded square.

Black Panthers
Black Panthers

I am fascinated with human behavior and love analyzing people’s actions, and I think there are obvious reasons for the difference.

Our Constitution is a unique governing document in that it derives its power from the people. Most others grant power to the people. This philosophy has been taught in every American history class since America has had history.

There are instinctual behaviors, such as eating, procreating, avoiding pain; these do not need to be taught. I believe freedom is instinctual too. While many countries try to quash that instinct, in America, the instinct that we are free, with “inalienable rights” has been reinforced in all of us, and, for that reason, we expect a non-tyrannical lifestyle. If someone tries to deny you your instincts, you fight back. We know if you try to take your own life while holding your breath, the instinct of self-preservation won’t even let you harm yourself. Your instincts literally fight off your conscious decisions. So it’s little wonder why the oppressed are always fighting with each other.

If we don’t like our leaders, we just “vote the bums out.” Revolutions are not necessary. We tried it once and learned our lesson. As much as many of us don’t care for Obama, I doubt any sane detractor has considered throwing Molotov cocktails at the White House or taking up arms against our military. Tyranny is something our leaders dip their toes into on occasion but know well and good not to take a few laps around the pool. Such behavior has never been tolerated here.

Molotov Cocktail Thrower
Molotov Cocktail Thrower

People in the Middle East however, generally have no concept of what it is like to be free. As a result of this constant beating into submission, they eventually have to strike back with force or nothing changes.

When people are free, it is common sense to understand that such freedoms extend to all of us, including overtly ignorant and hateful people such as the Westboro Baptists, KKK, Black Panthers, Neo-Nazis, etc. While I think these organizations are deplorable, if I meet one, I generally just give them that “You really are an idiot” look and move on. Unconcealing my carry conceal has never entered my mind. We both just walk away realizing the other “will never understand.”

Science and skepticism play a huge role in our understanding culture as well. While America is largely religious, even those who are devout in their faith still often embrace science. For instance, many believers place their trust in doctors using proven science when they or their children are ill. The idea that maybe God has simply bestowed scientific understanding upon them allows science and religion to peacefully coexist for most of the faithful masses.

Skepticism is important too. If someone came up to you and told you that God wants you to kill your neighbor, most people would likely call 911 and ask them to send the white-coated tailors who always make the sleeves too long.

Straightjacket
Straightjacket

Religion may be important, but in America, we put a premium on human life, and since the Salem witch trials, we rarely kill in the name of any God. But in the Middle East, many are taught that killing for their God is honorable and justified; and they buy into it wholeheartedly.

The fact is that constitutionally-provided freedoms have gone well beyond just their written words. These paradigms allow us to have freedom of the mind, scientific research, and as mentioned earlier, the choice to be a moron. No one among us wants to be a hypocrite, and most of us know that if I allow you to be a Christian, you must allow me to be an atheist.

Freedom of the mind allows one to think whatever they want, no matter how stupid it is. A good example is the 9/11 truthers. Several college science programs, a myriad of science publications, and the majority of the science community, even many who REALLY detested President Bush, have come out and said that this conspiracy is the work of small minds with big imaginations; they’ve done the research to prove it. While those of us with intelligence know better, the fact is, sometimes you have to let an idiot alone with their beliefs, and Americans are largely OK with that. In the Middle East, you’d be executed for making such accusations about your government, but in America, you get an interview with Rosie O’Donnell.

Click Here for a great article about 9/11 conspiracy skepticism

Freedom of scientific research, while not in the Constitution, is still a product of our overall paradigm, and it’s the main reason human life expectancy has nearly doubled in just a few centuries. Radical faiths often prohibit scientific research because it brings the concept of their god into question. But now it’s a conversation intelligent minds on both sides of the fence discuss daily without incident. While some believers complain about specific research, it is more often settled at the voting booth than at the end of the sword.

So why do we get along when they don’t? Short answer—Freedom…that’s why.

 

Simple Math: Economics 101 – Why Government Sucks

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

Math Problem #1

Let’s imagine there was a country with 50 citizens.

Then let’s imagine they all made a product that generated them $2.5 million in income. For purposes of this argument, we’ll say $50,000 a year for each of them.

Then let’s imagine they decided to elect one person of the group to be their “government” because they felt like they needed someone to handle things a government generally does. This means that they can now only make $2,450,000 worth of goods, because the 50th person isn’t producing any longer.

At that point, the 49 people, making $50k each still, would have to sacrifice about $1000 each to pay their government employee who is no longer generating product themselves because he/she is the government now. The result would be that they would all only make $49,000 each instead of $50k, including the government worker.

Now, let’s imagine that you kept adding government functions and thus needed more people to administrate them until you got to a 50/50 ratio of private sector/government workers. The 25 remaining private sector workers that started out making $50K would have to contribute $25K each so that their 25 government counterparts could make $25k each as well.

Notice that in each scenario, as more workers were moved to the government, the average income for everyone went down while the amount of goods they produced went down as well? The fact that government employees no longer generate a marketable good is often lost on people. They are a necessary expense, but entirely an expense, nonetheless.

Here’s where the math gets interesting though. The drop from 50:0 private sector/government workers to 49:1 resulted in a mere 2% loss for everyone. However, the drop from 25:25 to 24:26 ($25,000 to $24,000) would result in a 4% loss for everyone, and if we were to go from 10:40 to 9:41 ($10,000 to $9,000) it’s a difference of 10%, and the 2:48 to 1:49 ($2000 to $1000) is a difference of 50%!

What does this mean you ask? It means that as we add government employees, the losses are not linear, they are exponential, as it relates to the earner. The addition of each government employee hurts at a higher percentage than the addition of the one before it, as opposed to just the same hit each time.

This is a simplified equation to make it easily understandable, but the beautiful thing about math is that it doesn’t care whether one likes it or not. It simply is what it is.

While it is easy to want the government to solve all of society’s problems, individual problems are the responsibility of the individual to fix—not mine, not their neighbor’s, and not their government’s. When the government grows, we all hurt.

Math Problem #2

People assume that government workers are taxpayers. While it is true that they return some of their income in the form of taxes, from a mathematical standpoint this is false.

Again let’s assume they make a $50k salary, and then let’s assume they pay $15k in taxes. That is a net cost to the actual taxpayers of $35k, right? Wrong actually, but I’ll get to that in a minute. So while they are paying taxes, it’s still a debit, not a credit. The term payer gives the impression they’re contributing, but from a mathematical standpoint, government workers are takers, not contributors, and when they “pay” taxes, they are effectively just reducing the amount they take.

I know I said that that’s a cost of $35k, but like a stereotypical politician, I lied to you. Because if that same person were in the private sector making $50k and paying $15k in taxes, that would be a $15k credit to the tax pool. So it’s either a $35k loss if they work for the government or a $15k credit if they’re in the private sector. This means that the loss is the entire $50k. So yes, they do “Pay” taxes, but be assured their complete $50k salary is the cost to us taxpayers, not just the untaxed amount of $35k.

Summation:

After reading this, it may seem that I am anti-government. I am not anti-government or even against government workers. Government serves an important role as it is the only thing separating us from anarchy.

However, one should think of government workers like food. It is necessary for us to have government, a proper diet and proper portions are required for good health. But while that stimulus slider, regulation cookies, and entitlement cake may look good and even taste good, they are surely the way to diabetic shock and an early death if not done in moderation.

Science and Skepticism – Don’t allow democrats to claim it as their own

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

I consider myself to be agnostic/atheist.  I am not a devout atheist who has an active believe that there is no God nor am I a true agnostic who maintains that it is impossible to know if there is a God.  I am in the middle—I readily admit that I personally do not know if there is a God.

I must also confess that other than my public K-12 education, I’ve received no formal training in science. I am however, a science geek, and I’d like to point out a basic tenet of science and skepticism that I’ve learned:

A person should not assume something to be true until they have evidence to support it. We humans, especially politicians, have this incessant need to purport to know everything. When we don’t understand something, we often opt for a reason of convenience instead of just saying those three beautiful words: “I don’t know” or the three even more lovely words, “I wonder why…”

Politicians on both sides have been conditioned to act as though they know it all because ignorance appears weak, but this is wrong! Lack of curiosity is weak.  Ignorance just means there is more to be learned!

Curiosity is one of mankind’s most amazing qualities. It’s the reason why we know how to cure a vast array of illnesses that befuddled us no less than a hundred years ago. Have you ever seen a bear solve a problem it couldn’t have solved a century ago? I didn’t think so.

To give you a practical example of why this is important, look no further than the American criminal court system where you are “Innocent until proven guilty”.

Imagine if John and Jane are at a party. Jane says to her friends, “John is a murderer”.

John will of course exclaim, “I’ve never murdered anyone!”

“Prove it” replies Jane.

Think about that. How would John PROVE he has never murdered anyone? The fact is that he can’t. Proving a negative is often impossible. So the burden of proof should always ride on the person making the claim.

This leads me to skepticism, a word that is often mischaracterized. I consider myself part of the skeptical movement thanks to people like Dr. Michael Shermer. Don’t worry—it’s  not a club, cult, or anything else. It’s more of a mindset. The common misconception is that skeptics don’t believe in anything.  The truth is that skeptics resist believing anything without supporting evidence. They gather as much data as possible, then make a decision if they believe they have enough evidence to do so.

What does all this have to do with politics you might ask?

The Democratic Party asserts that they are the party of science and skepticism while painting Republicans out as cavemen even though many conservatives, like me, embrace this philosophy as well. Because I’m a small government conservative, I get very annoyed when pseudo-intellectuals (people who assume they are smart with no evidence to support that claim) assume that  I must be anti-science and therefore not very intelligent because I’m conservative.

Many of you are reading this and saying, “Yeah, I’ve had people assume that about me once or twice”. Right?

But conservatism and science have NOTHING to do with each other. Being a conservative should mean that you are for little government intervention in your personal and professional lives and that strict adherence to the constitution of the United States is important to you.

Many Republicans wrongly believe that, by acknowledging science, they are admitting to being aligned with atheists, man-made climate change proponents, etc. Don’t sell yourselves short!

The fact is, we as conservatives must embrace accepted scientific evidence.  Things like eyeless/pigmentless fish that exist in caves, the human appendix, and countless other examples are proof of some form of evolution whether you believe in a creator or not. To deny evolution exists in some form means to deny much of which we learned in basic high school biology. Conservatives cannot afford to be seen as the “Flat Earth Society”.

Before you think I’m about to tell someone they should not be a creationist, stop! I always feel it is appropriate for me to tell you what I believe, but it is NOT acceptable for me to dictate to you what you should believe.

Here’s where science AND skepticism come in. It is possible that a creator put evolution in motion isn’t it? So it is possible to have a belief yet be open to new information. That open-mindedness is the definition of being an intellectual.
As for climate change: You have Al Gore doing his best Harold Camping impression. Convincing everyone the world is going to end soon rarely helps your career. But, if climate change is man-made (There’s evidence to support both sides), then it’s worth addressing with an open mind.

Democrats claim skepticism, yet they’re in lock step regarding this issue. Objectivity left them years ago. This is where conservatives should capitalize, but instead, Republicans are also in lock step, just in the opposite direction. Conservatives could hit a home run by acknowledging the data, acknowledging the claims are possible, but pointing out that it’s still a theory and not universally accepted fact.

Conservative should make a statement like this:

“I believe the data is real and worthy of concern. However, there’s still research to be done. Until that research is proven beyond any doubt and other contributing factors that we can’t change have been ruled out, I have no interest in breaking the backs of American businesses and bankrupting our country to combat it. Had we done so not that long ago when scientists believed there was an impending ice age, millions would have been wasted for no good reason. So I’m not about to do that to America now.”

My simple statement acknowledges the scientific data, yet responsibly demonstrates skepticism in a way that any reasonable party should welcome. I believe conservatives that do this will display a superior attitude and intellect than most, attract those who are also skeptical about such issues (most Americans are), and will bring the Republican party out of the “dark-ages” pigeonhole that Democrats have worked so hard to put us in.