We’ve all heard the expression there’s two sides to every story. It implies that one side is the truth, and the other side is lying. While that can be true, it can also be that both sides are right, and are both just leaving out crucial factors. It could be that neither side is right, and the truth is something else entirely. It could be that one side is right, and the other believes they’re right, but are simply mistaken. And most commonly, it could be a matter of opinion, and there simply isn’t a right or wrong in the first place.
The point of skepticism, is to be able to consume information in such a way that you are least likely to be deceived, or make bad assumptions. Thus leading to more intelligent decisions, and typically better outcomes for you. Let’s look at some examples.
But when you click the actual study, and apply a little skepticism (and some math), you might look at it a little differently.
There were 475,581 participants in the study, and a mere 2609 case of cancer reported among all participants. So if one group is 20% higher than the other, that means it’s approximately 45.4/54.6 split (45.4/54.6 = 120.2%, or 20% more).
54.6% of 2,609 = 1,425 (0.29% of the total group)
45.4% of 2609 = 1,184 (0.24% of the total group)
So while 1,425 is indeed 20% more than 1184, out of the total group or people observed (475,581) a mere 0.55% contracted colorectal cancer. A total of 241 more were the bacon eaters, or a mere 0.05% overall increase (0.29% vs 0.24%).
An almost entirely insignificant 0.05% or 241 out of 475,581 people doesn’t sound nearly as scary as 20%, does it? But scary sells news media, and journalists are rarely scientists.
This problem isn’t entirely about science, because you can apply these same skills to a myriad of things you’ll read or see in the media.
Imagine a news story we’ll call statement A with a headline that reads, “Woman courageously does all that is needed to put food on the plate for her child.”
But then imagine a different news outlet runs a different headline we’ll call Statement B that reads, “Woman fired for drinking while at work, stole unhealthy snacks and booze from a grocery store.”
Statement A makes her sound like a hero, but Statement B tells a very different story. Both can be 100% true, but the context changes how you feel about the story entirely.
The point of all this are to make you think about any news story you read, and maybe think about changing the way you consume information. So here’s a couple of ideas on how to improve how you consume information.
Avoid click-bait headlines from sources you’ve never heard of, or that you know are openly biased. You know they’re all almost entirely bullshit. So why waste your time on them? The good ones will link to credibly sources, and you should click on those to read the whole story, if you do go down that road. But in general, if people stop clicking on clickbait, the people doing it will respond to the lack of demand for it, by ceasing to make it.
Read the article and not just the headline. Even reputable sources have resorted to click-bait headlines just so you’ll read their stories over the nonsense from non-reputable sites. You’re missing a lot of context and nuance if you don’t read the story. Not to mention, you look silly when you add your own comment that clearly shows you didn’t read the article.
Any story that says something like, “The such-and-such that such-and-such doesn’t want you to know” or “Person A destroys person B” is bullshit. All of it. Like every single one of them.” Stop sharing that nonsense. Seriously.
If you see a story and it seems pretty amazing, but you aren’t seeing it on reputable sources, I assure you, some podunk website did not scoop Reuters or AP. It’s bullshit that they didn’t vet properly, or worse, that they just made up.
Check a second source. This one is huge. If you see a story on a site that’s kinda reputable but not great, look for it on a site like Reuters or AP. If you confirm from multiple reputable sources, then it’s probably true. But if it’s multiple sources with the same bias, you should probably still avoid it.
Think about what’s being said in the story, and could there possibly be another way of looking at it. For instance, if I told you France gets 75% of its energy from nuclear, where the United States only gets 20%, you could easily assume that France is a leader in nuclear energy compared to the United States. But if I told you France has 58 nuclear power facilities whereas the United States has 98, you’d think the US is the leader. Both are true, but both tell a different story. So it pays to dig into the data when you can, and form your own opinion based on all the information.
Hopefully this helps you think about how to consume news differently, and prevents you from being that embarrassing friend on social media always sharing bullshit articles everyone but you seems to know isn’t true. You’ll thank me later. 🙂
A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. ~ 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution.
Nothing seems to evoke more passion from either side of the political aisle than the 2nd amendment to the U.S. Constitution. People on the Individual-Right side of the fence often cite the “shall not be infringed” clause, but those who wish to limit or eliminate the individual right to bear arms often cite the “well-regulated militia” clause.
The anti-individual-right argument being that the framers meant for Americans to be able to form militias to protect the people or the country, and those militias would need to be armed. This sentiment has been echoed by such noteworthy Civil Rights leaders as former ACLU head and mathematics professor Ira Glasser, which he discussed at length during the March 2nd, 2018 Comedy Cellar podcast. (click to listen)
Side Note: Don’t be fooled that the podcast is from the Comedy Cellar. Owner Noam Dworman is quite fond of discussing politics, and is incredibly thoughtful, fair, and insightful on the subject.
Oddly, the person who got it right (IMO), contradicting Ira Glasser, was Noam’s co-host, comedian Dan Naturman, who often describes himself as left-leaning. Dan does possess a law degree from Fordham University, and Noam studied law at the University of Pennsylvania, making them the only people trained in law involved in the discussion, not Glasser.
While Noam Dworman tends to seem centerist, he understandably felt the need to defer to Glasser’s judgement, since his work with the ACLU would seem to assert Glasser would be the more knowledgeable person in the room—but on this issue, he just wasn’t.
The argument the anti-individual-right group presents seems pretty sound on the face of it, but there are several flaws with this line of thinking, making it unarguably incorrect.
But let’s break down the flaws of these arguments one by one.
The first issue is that it is entirely contradictory with the rest of the Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights was drafted, not as a set of laws for the people to heed, but instead, limits set on government as to how government may restrict the people’s individual rights.
The Bill of Rights Institute writes:
The first 10 amendments to the Constitution make up the Bill of Rights. James Madison wrote the amendments, which list specific prohibitions on governmental power, in response to calls from several states for greater constitutional protection for individual liberties.
So if the 2nd Amendment was drafted to allow the establishment of militias, and was not meant as an individual right, it would be inconsistent with the other nine amendments.
Our founding fathers believed you have inalienable rights by virtue of existing, and they cannot be taken from you. They don’t come from government at all—the founders of our country were very clear on that when they wrote the Declaration of Independence.
The Bill of Rights places limits on what government may do, not establishes the formation of government entities. Those things are laid out in the first portion of the Constitution. But it also is written with the intention that the power comes from the people, not government.
For instance, our first amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” versus something like “You are free to practice any religion of your choosing.”
This pattern is consistent throughout the Bill Of Rights, and while most see both those phrases as essentially the same, there’s an incredibly important distinction. As the Bill of Rights are written, the people have the power and are imposing a limit on the government’s ability to limit their religious freedom. In the second theoretical example, it implies government has the power and is granting religious rights to the people.
So now that we understand the Bill of Rights (it’s in the name, for Pete’s sake) establishes rights of the people, not of government, and thus contradicts the idea that the 2nd amendment was meant to help local militias to form, let’s move on to issue #2.
THE MEANING OF THE WORD MILITIA
The meaning behind the word “militia” in the second amendment.
If we assume the term “militia” refers to local military and police, which are government entities after all; the people arguing the 2nd amendment was set up to allow local governments to establish militias comprised of the people believe our forefathers wrote an amendment that says that government cannot infringe on government’s rights to bear arms. This is not only inconsistent to the rest of the Bill of Rights, which guarantee individual rights, but its redundancy is nonsensical. If government cannot infringe on government’s rights to carry guns, then there would be no reason to even mention it in the first place.
The militia clause does refer to government, but not just local governments, it means any government. It wasn’t a right of the militia, it was a limit on it. This will make more sense as we move on to the next issues.
THE MEANING OF THE WORD REGULATED
The third important issue people get wrong with this, is believing “well-regulated” is synonymous with “well-organized.”
The last issue with the anti-individual-right argument is what it argues is being protected. The incorrect argument is that it’s protecting a country (state) which is free. But the reality is it is protecting freedom itself, ensuring the state remain free. You’d have to deny nearly all of America’s founding history to believe that freedom wasn’t at the core of everything the founding fathers did. Freedom was always more important in their minds. Far more important than the state.
ANOTHER WAY TO WRITE IT
With all that in mind, let me reword the amendment in the way it was intended using language that is maybe more understandable in today’s vernacular.
In order for the people of the United States to remain free, the militia shall be kept under control by the people of the United States who have the right to keep and bear arms.
This is precisely how the amendment was intended, and the only interpretation of it which cannot be easily challenged.
They knew government will always be prone to becoming bloated and oppressive. And while a government can pass a million laws, those laws have no teeth if there is no militia to enforce them. So in order to keep that government, specifically its enforcement wing (the militia) well-regulated, the people should be armed as well. This way, the government (and militia) always have some level of fear from the people. It’s the only reason to use the word “regulated” that makes sense.
This opinion, being current precedent, effectively settles the argument for now.
IS THIS IDEA OF THE GOVERNMENT FEARING THE PEOPLE EVEN REALISTIC NOW?
Since the United States Military is infinitely more powerful than its armed citizens, many argue the point becomes moot, since we “the people” couldn’t possibly fight them. Which in a narrow scope might seem accurate, but again, if you apply a little skepticism, it isn’t.
So why do gun control advocates believe this is what the 2nd amendment implies? It’s likely a simple case of confirmation bias—a phenomenon whereby someone attempting to prove something they hope to be true/false, eschew interpretations that conflict with their bias and/or accept suspect data that supports their bias, due to an inner desire to substantiate their argument.
We are all prone to do this, and with the exception of devout skeptics like myself, we’ll rarely even know we’re doing it, nor act to correct it.
Their lives were forever changed because of gun violence, so it’s quite reasonable to assume they would advocate limiting our right to bear arms. And when people have been forever affected by senseless gun violence, it behooves all of us to respect their trepidation in respect to lax gun laws. We haven’t walked a mile in their shoes.
But apologies to those who wish to limit our rights to bear arms, and believe the “militia” clause supports your argument. If you want to argue against gun rights, using the “militia” argument, it just isn’t consistent with the rest of the Constitution, and you’re unfortunately misinterpreting the clause.
A large majority of Hollywood believe Trump is basically satan, and many black athletes have taken a knee during the national anthem because they believe the police are too quick to shoot a young black man.
When they have these opinions, being someone who is used to being in the spotlight, they rarely shy away from sharing their feelings on any given subject—using their bully pulpit to encourage others to follow their lead.
There are a few important facets to these expressions of beliefs that I feel are worth discussion.
First things first. They have a right to an opinion, and they should share such an opinion if they’re passionate about it. They should be shown respect for speaking out on something that’s important to them. Their success means that if it is a cause worth fighting for, they can shine a light on a subject that us non-famous people simply don’t have the ability to do.
I’ve seen the Twitterverse often have regular people telling athletes with an opinion on politics to “Just shut up and play (insert their respective sport here)”, or people tell British physics Professor Brian Cox, who’s quite vocal about Brexit, to “just stick to science.”
I understand why people might feel this way, since such famous people are not famous for politics, and thus not presumed to be experts on the subject. But politics isn’t science, it’s entirely driven by subjectivity. Meaning one person’s opinion is just as valid as another. And as a libertarian, anyone who speaks truth to power (even if I think they’re misinformed on what is truthful) is still doing something noble.
By all means, make the effort to correct them if you think they’re wrong on the facts, but people should do so respectfully, and applaud anyone with a voice for speaking out.
Colin Kaepernick started a movement to call out when officers shoot unarmed black men, and little repercussions occur as a result, something we should all be bothered by when it happens. We can quibble over whether some of the shootings he rallied against were justified, some may have very well been, but it does happen nonetheless, and we shouldn’t excuse it.
But all that being said, people should understand that being famous doesn’t make you an expert and thus adds no additional credibility to their argument, versus your neighbor who may be espousing the same opinion, (unless they’re an expert in the field.)
So while we should not discourage them from speaking out with things like, “just shut up and play your sport” or something like that, please bear in mind that you shouldn’t be blindly following them either. You shouldn’t assume they’re in command of the facts, and that the information they provide is truthful. The only thing you could presume to be true, is that their heart is in the right place, and they mean well.
Just about every issue is way more complicated than any non-expert understands. So listen to what people say, but apply your own skepticism, and if you care about the issue, take the time to look up credible sources on the issue, forming your opinions based on them. Doing something, or believing in something because a famous person told you to, is irresponsible at best.
On this episode, my best friend Mike (a non-active duty Marine) speak with Wade and Byrne from Sci-Gasm about guns, gun culture, and why we love them so much here in the US. But it’s really a conversation on how to discuss controversial topics like gun laws as well.
Last year, Kevin Folta, host of Talking Biotech agreed to let me grill him on all the questions I have about gene editing, GMO foods, and genetic engineering in general. I’m a layperson, he’s most definitely not. His qualifications in the field are pretty well documents, and only the hardcore anti-GMO crowd doubts him, but they’re a bunch of zealous twits who are at level zero on the objectivity scale.
Kevin took all my questions and answered them in a way, hopefully everyone can understand.
I know that sounds like a joke is coming, but instead, a respectful conversation is coming instead. My good friend Drew Collins hosts a page called MAARS Alive, that’s designed to help recovering musician alcoholics deal with their addiction through faith.
But instead of me talking about how this discussion came about, below is what he wrote on his own Facebook page. I largely agree with what he said, except the part about me getting more “talk time” (we really are great friends, and that’s just him “taking the piss” as the British would say).
But like Drew, I agree it’s disgusting the way we often talk to each other about politics, religion, or any other topic we’re passionate about. So we hope you like the discussion, and hope it motivates others to discuss “hot button” topics in a similar manner. Enjoy:
One day, I got really disgusted with how people go online and allow their friendships to be destroyed, simply because their views are different. I thought of my good friend, Gary Nolan.
We agree on most everything, with one exception; faith/belief in God.
I called Gary and asked him if he would like to get together and talk about the one thing we both disagree on, strictly for the purpose of demonstrating to people that civil conversation can be far more productive and enjoyable than venomous hostility.
Gary came ‘loaded for bear’ and, in my opinion got more “talk time” than I did. That being said, I chose to post this in it’s unedited form so that I could not be accused, by others, of putting a “spin” on the talk. The whole idea was not about “winning” or “losing” an argument. It was about communicating with another person, whom I disagree with, in a respectful manner.
Despite the miles between us on the reality of God, Gary remains one of my best and most trusted friends to this day. A special THANKS! to my close friend, Dwight Farmer for all his work on filming this.
log·i·cal: capable of reasoning or of using reason in an orderly cogent fashion lib·er·tar·i·an: an advocate of the doctrine of free will; a person who upholds the principles of individual liberty especially of thought and action