Posted by mattusmaximus on June 10, 2016
It wouldn’t be a true U.S. presidential election season without the obligatory failure of logical and skeptical thinking on the part of those arguing for or against this or that politician. And one of my favorites of failed reasoning is the conspiracy theory, that go-to argument that a die-hard fanatic (of any political leaning) can fall back on when all their other arguments get blown apart. This article from RationalWiki does a good job of outlining the flawed thinking among conspiracy theorists and how to counter their arguments. (Hint: don’t try converting a committed conspiracy theorist, because they’ll likely just dismiss you as being part of the conspiracy. But it’s worth knowing how to identify and counter their nonsense for the benefit of others watching the conversation.)
This year, it seems that politically-oriented conspiracy theories abound. In this post I’m not talking specifically about the rampant conspiracy-mongering espoused by Donald Trump, though there is ample evidence of it (if you’re interested, check out his birther views or his denial of global warming science) and, no doubt, “The Donald” will oblige by providing more such nonsense in the future.
Right now I’m talking about the conspiracy theories that seem to swirl around Bill and Hillary Clinton. There are a lot of them, but my two favorites include one of the oldest and also one of the newest: the first is the claim that Bill Clinton “did away with” a number of people who had evidence of his numerous crimes, while the second is the claim that Hillary Clinton’s current campaign is somehow in cahoots with Google to manipulate Internet searches (ostensibly to cover up her supposed crimes).
[Full disclosure: I didn’t vote for Bill Clinton in either 1992 or 1996 (I voted for Ross Perot both years), and this election season I have been a supporter of both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.]
If you come across either one of these conspiracies, here’s a couple of resources to reference in countering them. The first deals with the “Bill Clinton body count” claim (which I’ve seen morphing into a similar claim about Hillary Clinton), and it’s from our skeptical friends at Snopes.com:
Decades-old political rumor claims Bill Clinton quietly did away with several dozen people who possessed incriminating evidence about him.
… We shouldn’t have to tell anyone not to believe this claptrap, but we will anyway. In a frenzied media climate where the Chief Executive couldn’t boff a White House intern without the whole world finding out every niggling detail of each encounter and demanding his removal from office, are we seriously to believe the same man had been having double handfuls of detractors and former friends murdered with impunity? …
The claim about Hillary Clinton working in conjunction with Google to manipulate Internet searches is even more silly, because it is so painfully easy to debunk. This article at Vox.com does an excellent job of quickly and easily dispatching this particular bit of nonsense:
There’s a video making the rounds purporting to show that Google is suppressing the phrase “Hillary Clinton crimes” from autocomplete results, thereby boosting Clinton’s candidacy.
The video points out that if you type the phrase “Donald Trump rac,” Google will suggest the word “racist” to complete the phrase. But if you type “Hillary Clinton cri,” Google will suggest words like “crime reform” and “crisis” but not “crimes.” This despite the fact that Google Trend results show that people search for “Hillary Clinton crimes” a lot more than “Hillary Clinton crime reform.”
So what’s going on here? The folks behind the video suggest that this reflects an unholy alliance between the Clinton campaign and Eric Schmidt, the former Google CEO and current chair of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. But there’s a simpler explanation: Choose any famous American who has been accused of a serious crime and Google their name followed by the letters “cri,” and in no case does Google suggest the word “crimes.” That’s true even of people like Kaczynski and Madoff, who are famous only because they faced prosecution for serious crimes.
Apparently, Google has a policy of not suggesting that customers do searches on people’s crimes. I have no inside knowledge of why it runs its search engine this way. Maybe Google is just uncomfortable with having an algorithm suggesting that people search for other people’s crimes.
In any event, there’s no evidence that this is specific to Hillary Clinton, and therefore no reason to think this is a conspiracy by Google to help Clinton win the election.
Now whether or not you plan to vote for Clinton this year is not the point of this post. The point is that you don’t have to make up stupid conspiracy theories to justify your political beliefs. Argue your political point of view, but don’t buy into or spread lies and deceit to justify it.
Posted in conspiracy theories, politics | Tagged: 2016, bill, Bill Clinton, Body Count, Clinton, conspiracy, conspiracy theories, conspiracy theory, crimes, Democratic Party, Democrats, Donald Trump, election, Google, Hillary, Hillary Clinton, illegal, internet, manipulation, murder, politcian, politics, POTUS, president, search, Trump, United States, US, USA | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on July 9, 2014
For far too long, the media landscape has increasingly gone down the rabbit hole when discussing science-oriented topics. Often, the notion that journalists and editors should provide balanced coverage and diverse viewpoints has been abused to the point where pseudo-scientists, cranks, and charlatans are given equal time and (implicitly, at least) equal validity on various news shows and in print. And this gives the general public a false impression of what is and isn’t science.
This demand by pseudo-scientists for “equal time” is a real problem. Creationists have been at it for decades in the U.S. public school system, thankfully with little to no success, and many other pseudo-scientists are starting to employ the same tactic. For example, many news stories in recent years on climate change often include at least one token “skeptic” of global warming. In addition, this kind of demand for “equal time” pops up in other venues: on at least two occasions, when participating in skeptical and science panels at Dragon*Con and Convergence, our panel was challenged on “why we didn’t include a believer?” In one case, creationists were demanding a seat on a science panel about evolution and why creationism was problematic, and in the other case, believers in ghosts were demanding a seat on a panel of skeptics who were there to specifically discuss the scientific and cultural reasons why people still believe in ghosts.
The implication by believers in pseudo-science is, I think, that scientists and skeptics have an “ivory tower” mentality and are just trying to talk down to people when, in fact, we are simply attempting to educate them in science and good critical thinking. And, unfortunately, for far too long the media landscape has given folks like these way too much air and print time to spew their nonsense… until now.
Recently the BBC announced that they will no longer tolerate pseudo-scientific abuse of the idea of providing diverse viewpoints:
BBC Trust says 200 senior managers trained not to insert ‘false balance’ into stories when issues were non-contentious
BBC journalists are being sent on courses to stop them inviting so many cranks onto programmes to air ‘marginal views’
The BBC Trust on Thursday published a progress report into the corporation’s science coverage which was criticised in 2012 for giving too much air-time to critics who oppose non-contentious issues.
The report found that there was still an ‘over-rigid application of editorial guidelines on impartiality’ which sought to give the ‘other side’ of the argument, even if that viewpoint was widely dismissed.
Some 200 staff have already attended seminars and workshops and more will be invited on courses in the coming months to stop them giving ‘undue attention to marginal opinion.’
“The Trust wishes to emphasise the importance of attempting to establish where the weight of scientific agreement may be found and make that clear to audiences,” wrote the report authors.“Science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views but depends on the varying degree of prominence such views should be given.”
The Trust said that man-made climate change was one area where too much weight had been given to unqualified critics. …
Read the rest of the story here
This is welcome news indeed! It is my hope that this will be the beginning of a trend by more media outlets to do away with the facade of false “balance” on scientific matters and more good science will be presented as a result. Stay tuned and we’ll see.
**Hat tip to Tim Farley at Whatstheharm.net for the heads up on this story! :)
Posted in media woo | Tagged: abuse, balance, BBC, British Broadcasting Corporation, cable, climate change, cranks, creationism, creationist, deniers, diverse, diversity, equal time, global warming, internet, media, news, print, pseudoscience, radio, science, television, TV | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on July 15, 2013
On my second day at SkepchickCON–CONvergence 2013, I participated in two panels. The first one was an excellent panel titled “Science Resources for Children”, and it was geared towards talking to and discussing with people about what kind of good sources of science education are available to kids outside of schools. What books and activities can you do to promote science understanding in kids? From the best on the bookshelves to how to extract DNA in your kitchen, we talked about great ways to learn about science in the home.
My co-panelists for this discussion were Windy Bowlsby, Brandy Snyder, and Nicole Gugliucci, a.k.a. The Noisy Astronomer. Below the linked recording of our panel I have also listed notes made by Windy Bowlsby in case anyone would like to peruse them
“From the “Science Resources for Kids” panel, this is the list of resources and advice that was gathered:
Make Magazine (website and hardcopy)
NASA Wavelength (webpage)
Mars Globe app
Google Earth and Sky app
GoSky Watch app
MN Parent Blog (posts Nature Center activities)
Science Museum Hacker Spaces – like our local Hack Factory
Demon-Haunted World (book)
Scientific American blog
Discovery News blog (news.discovery.com)
How Things Work – book
You Tube Channel – Nerdfighteria
50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do (book)
Bill Nye (who now has an app!)
Google+ has science Sunday
Free Range Kids
Magic School Bus (on Netflix)
Beakman’s World (tv show)
How Its Made (book)
321 Contact (tv show)
Connections (tv show)
TED Talks (podcasts and YouTube)
Edible DNA (fun experiment)
MadArt Lab (website)
tinkering activities (give kids old machines & electronic to take apart)
Having adults around you express interest in science Science is a Methodology
Anytime you try to figure something out – you’re a scientist”
Posted in education, skeptical community | Tagged: books, children, con, convention, Convergence, discussion, education, fantasy, film, Fourth of July, internet, July 4th, kids, library, Minneapolis, Minnesota, panel, parents, podcast, resources, school, science, Skepchick, SkepchickCon, Skepchicon, skeptic, skeptic track, teachers | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on October 24, 2012
Many times we self-described skeptics and critical thinkers do not live up to our own rhetoric. Case in point: How many skeptics/atheists/freethinkers/etc do you know who have shared the following quote, or perhaps you have shared it yourself?
Well, here’s the rub… this quote attributed to astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is…
Ouch. I have to admit that I probably would have fallen for it, too; maybe I did, I cannot remember seeing this on my Facebook wall, but who knows? It’s a good lesson for those of us who call ourselves skeptics to make sure that we’re taking care to walk the skeptical/critical thinking walk and not just talk the talk. Here’s a good YouTube video expanding upon this lesson:
Posted in internet, skeptical community | Tagged: astronomer, astrophysicist, atheism, atheist, critical thinker, fake, freethinkers, Hayden Planetarium, image, imgur, internet, made up, Neil deGrasse Tyson, pic, picture, quotation, quote, Reddit, skeptic, skepticism, spoof | 3 Comments »