The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘Trump’

Ask the U.S. Candidates to Debate Science!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 16, 2016

Last summer I posted about how Science Debate is gearing up for the 2016 elections in the United States, in order to encourage the presidential and Congressional candidates to publicly debate science policy and science-related issues.

uncle_sam_sd

Now that the heat of the 2016 U.S. campaign season is upon us, with the first public debates between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump (and possibly Libertarian Gary Johnson) a bit over a month away, it is imperative that we speak out to get the debate hosts and these campaigns to make science a part of these debates. In fact, it isn’t just science geeks like me calling for such a debate, as – according to this 2015 poll – vast majorities of Americans (of all political stripes) wish for such a debate…

Poll2015A

“An overwhelming majority of Americans (87%) say it is important that candidates for President and Congress have a basic understanding of the science informing public policy issues, including majorities across the political spectrum (92% of Democrats, 90% of Republicans and 79% of Independents). Americans also say the presidential candidates should participate in a debate to discuss key science-based challenges facing the United States, such as healthcare, climate change, energy, education, innovation and the economy, with  91% of Democrats, 88% of Republicans and 78% of Independents agreeing.”

So please pass the word, sign the Science Debate petition, or donate to the cause. One of the best ways to spread the word is to push for a ground-swell of support on social media and by contacting the campaigns directly. Toward that end, here is some advice from Shawn Otto, the founder of Science Debate…

Please alert your networks. Here is sample tweet language:

ScienceDebate’s
https://twitter.com/SciDebate/status/764063589078474752

or mine:
https://twitter.com/ShawnOtto/status/763755796626755584

or Sigma Xi’s
https://twitter.com/SigmaXiSociety/status/763742160743124994

Separately, here’s a tweet from MediaMatters emphasizing our urging of the press to do a better job of covering science, engineering, tech, health & environmental issues this cycle:
https://twitter.com/mmfa/status/763379155777880064

When using social media use the #ScienceQs hashtag (hint: search here for other tweets). You may also reference the twitter handles of ScienceDebate and the candidates: @HillaryClinton @realDonaldTrump @GovGaryJohnson @DrJillStein @SciDebate @ShawnOtto @Sheril_ @aaas @theNASEM

English http://sciencedebate.org/20questions

Spanish http://sciencedebate.org/20preguntas

A sampling of some of the initial domestic coverage on the questions (which should also be shared on social media – the more this is out there, the more pressure candidates will feel to respond promptly):

http://time.com/4445585/hillary-clinton-donald-trump-science-climate-change/?xid=tcoshare

http://www.cnn.com/videos/spanish/2016/08/11/exp-cnne-20-questions-about-science-for-candidates.cnn

http://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/debating-science-in-the-2016-election/

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/08/us-science-groups-have-20-questions-candidates

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2016/08/10/challenge-to-presidential-candidates-debate-about-science/

http://www.univision.com/noticias/planeta/las-20-preguntas-que-cientificos-urgen-a-clinton-y-trump-a-responder

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/46754/title/Questioning-the-Presidential-Candidates-on-Science/

http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/groups-ask-candidates-what-about-science/article/2599053

https://insideclimatenews.org/news/10082016/scientists-call-presidential-candidates-address-key-science-issues-hillary-clinton-donald-trump

http://www.geekwire.com/2016/presidential-candidates-science-debate-quiz/

http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2016/0811/Scientists-have-20-burning-questions-for-presidential-candidates

https://www.inverse.com/article/19467-twenty-science-questions-for-the-next-president

http://mediamatters.org/blog/2016/08/10/fifty-six-prominent-organizations-urge-media-press-presidential-candidates-science/212293

News releases by some of the partners:

http://wildlife.org/groups-urge-presidential-candidates-to-address-science/

http://fisheries.org/2016/08/afs-joins-over-50-leading-american-nonpartisan-organizations-in-call-for-presidential-candidates-to-address-major-issues-in-science-engineering-technology-health-and-the-environment/

http://www.sfpe.org/news/303359/SFPE-Partners-With-Leading-Scientific-and-Engineering-Societies-on-ScienceQs.htm

All best,

Shawn Otto

Chair, ScienceDebate.org

 

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Posted in politics, science funding, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

These are the dumbest Clinton conspiracy theories. Ever.

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).

Clintons

[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:

FALSE: Clinton Body Bags

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 no evidence that Google is manipulating searches to help Hillary Clinton

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Global Warming Deniers Confuse Climate with Weather, AGAIN

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 7, 2014

If you live in North America, then no doubt you’re aware of the so-called polar vortex which has come down from the Arctic to freeze the hell out of the continent.  And, just as surely as the temperatures started to drop, global warming deniers began to shout about how this supposedly proves that global warming isn’t real.

Okay, so you see here’s the thing… it’s called *global* warming because the whole globe, on average, is getting warmer.  Saying that a cold snap disproves global warming is like saying that the IRS no longer exists because you got a tax refund once.

BdTnhYVCcAAI_AC

See all that red?  Yeah, that’s where the climate is getting warmer.  And notice how there’s more red than blue? [image source]

I’ve blogged about this very topic before, namely that “climate” isn’t the same thing as “weather”, but seeing as how the deniers are once again spouting their nonsense, it bears repeating…

Winter is NOT “Proof” of Global Cooling

… The primary flaw in this argument is good ol’ fashioned cherry-picking of data: the “coolers” are choosing to focus only upon data which supports their claims, while ignoring the vast amount of data which points in exactly the opposite direction. By focusing on just the weather reports over the last couple of weeks, or for only a certain part of the planet, they leave out the fact that climate is a phenomenon which is global in nature and that climate science is concerned with long term trends.  Essentially, they are confusing weather with climate.  Climate experts recently made this point in an Associated Press article which has been widely circulated.

Bottom line: when taking all of the data into account, both concerning the timeline as well as the Earth as a whole, there is a clear warming trend. …

There are some other really good articles about this latest confusion regarding how the polar vortex fits into the broader picture of global warming.  For your reference, I’ll suggest two of them:

1. Can global warming be real if it’s cold in the U.S.? Um… yes!

This article is really good because it goes through some of the basics about global warming and climate change in general, and then it emphasizes the importance of temperature trends and statistical analysis of the data.  My favorite part is as follows:

Global warming isn’t expected to abolish winters in the U.S. anytime soon. Right now, climate experts are worried about a 2°C to 4°C rise in global average temperatures by the end of the century. That would create all sorts of disruptive changes. But those few degrees aren’t enough to completely undo the larger swings in temperature we see each year between summer and winter in many parts of the world.

Indeed, many climate models suggest that we’ll still see record cold snaps in the United States as the planet heats up. They’ll just become much less frequent over time — while record heat waves will become increasingly common. See this paper in Geophysical Research Letters from 2009: Over the past decade, it notes, the U.S. has experienced about two daily record high temperatures for every record low. If the planet keeps heating up, that ratio will shift to 20:1 by mid-century. There will still be record lows in many areas. They’ll just be rarer. …

2. Go home, Arctic, You’re Drunk.

This is a humorous and informative post from my skeptical colleague Greg Laden wherein he lays out just how it’s possible for global warming to actually account for the polar vortex phenomenon:

… The apparent contrast between extreme cold and global warming is actually an illusion. If we look at the local weather in many parts of the US we see a giant blob of cold “Arctic air” moving south to engulf our humble hamlets and cities, as though the Arctic Coldness that we know is sitting on the top of our planet, like a giant frosty hat, is growing in size. How can such a thing happen with global warming?

Actually, if you think about it, how can such a thing happen at all? Imagine a somewhat different scenario. Imagine the giant global hulu-hoop of warmth we know of as the tropics suddenly expanding in size to engulf the United States, Europe, Asia, and in the south, southern South America, southern Africa, Australia, etc. for a week or so, then contract back to where it came from. How could that happen? Where would all the heat necessary for that to happen come from? That seems to be a violation of some basic laws of physics. Now, cold is not a thing — it is the absence of heat — but the same problem emerges when we imagine the giant frosty hat of arctic air simply getting many hundreds of percent larger, enough to engulf the temperate regions of the planet. As easy as it might be to imagine such a thing given the images we see on regional weather maps, it is in fact not possible. The physics simply does not work that way.

What is happening instead is the cold air mass that usually sits up on the Arctic during the northern Winter has moved, drooped, shifted, gone off center, to engulf part of the temperate region. Here in the Twin Cities, it is about 8 below zero F as I write this. If I go north towards the famous locality of International Falls (famous for its cold temperature readings often mentioned on the national news) it will in fact be colder. If I go even farther north, at some point it will start to get warm again, as we leave the giant blob of cold air that has engulfed us. In fact, it is relatively warm up on the North Pole right now. Alaska and Europe are relatively warm as well.

The graphic above from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts shows what is happening. The Polar Vortex, a huge system of swirling air that normally contains the polar cold air has shifted so it is not sitting right on the pole as it usually does. We are not seeing an expansion of cold, an ice age, or an anti-global warming phenomenon. We are seeing the usual cold polar air taking an excursion. …

Of course, I don’t expect any of this to phase the hardcore global warming deniers, because they’re off in a fantasy world of their own.  No doubt that next time winter strikes the northern hemisphere, they’ll be back spouting this nonsense once again; it’s just plain sad and predictable.  I almost feel sorry for them.  I mean, how can you not feel sorry for them when this moron is one of their primary spokesmen?

trump daily show GW

Posted in global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Laughing at Birther Conspiracy Theorists: Stephen Colbert Combines Humor & Skepticism

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 30, 2011

In a hilarious example of calling the bluff of the conspiracy-mongering, reality-challenged, walking hairpiece that is Donald Trump (along with all of his “birther” buddies), President Obama produced his long-form birth certificate.  Of course, Obama’s U.S. citizenship was solidly established long, long ago (as clearly outlined at this Snopes.com link), but the birthers kept on moving the goalposts and making ever-more crazy demands for evidence.

Now that President Obama has provided his long-form birth certificate, you can expect the birthers to move the goalposts once again and go even further down the rabbit-hole (in true conspiracy theorist fashion).  In fact, to give you a sense of what is likely to come, satirist Stephen Colbert quite effectively skewers Donald Trump & the entire birther movement – enjoy! 🙂

**Follow-up: In an astonishing example of moving the goalposts & special pleading, like I mentioned above, take a look at what the “Queen of the Birthers” – Orly Taitz – has to say to journalist Lawrence O’Donnell when he directly challenges her on the fact that President Obama produced the very birth certificate she has for so long demanded.  This is utterly amazing, and it gives a clear view into the twisted mind of a dedicated, true-believing conspiracy theorist.  Wow…

Posted in conspiracy theories, humor, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Donald Trump & Birtherism: How to Argue with Birthers?

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 12, 2011

Lately, billionaire & bad-hair aficionado Donald Trump has been getting a lot of press by going around the talk show circuit and making references to the supposedly “questionable status” of President Obama’s U.S. citizenship.  In case you didn’t know, there is a name for this particular brand of reality-denying conspiracy mongering: birtherism. (And, just for the record in case you didn’t know, President Obama is a natural born U.S. citizen 😉 )

And, yes, it seems that – for whatever reason – Donald Trump has jumped aboard the birther crazy train.  I don’t know if this is for him to gain traction among the hardcore conservative base of the Republican party (a whopping 51% of whom believe President Obama wasn’t born in the United States!) before announcing a bid for the presidency or if it could all just be a publicity stunt in order to get Trump more face-time with the media (and therefore, more money).  Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: the media has swallowed Trump’s line of codswallop hook, line, and sinker.

And there’s the rub, folks.  By the mere fact that the media is giving all of this attention to Trump in the first place, in a sick sort of way it gives him (and, by extension, his nutty “birther” claims) a kind of validity.  The best thing the media could do is to simply ignore this kind of nonsense; there should be no “fair & balanced” reporting on this issue, because those who continue to peddle this stupid conspiracy theory are dead, flat wrong.  To steal a phrase from Christopher Hitchens, Trump and his birther buddies are not the kind of people that should be taken seriously at all; in fact, they’re the kind of people who should be spouting their lunacy out on the streets while they sell pencils from a tin cup!

So the best thing the media could do, if they were interested in covering real news stories instead of sensationalistic garbage, is to tell Trump to take a hike.

Now, if you are confronted by a birther and there is no way to avoid the conversation with them, how should you engage them?  I have one piece of advice on this, and – thus far – it has never failed me.  Tell them that in order for them to have a valid opinion on the issue of President Obama’s citizenship, they must first prove, using their own standards of evidence, their own status as a natural born U.S. citizen.  In short, they must provide to you the following:

1.  Their original birth certificate.
2. A newspaper clipping that highlights their birth.
3. Records proving that their mother was present in America at the time of birth.
4. Investigations from multiple fact-checking organizations that have held the documents with their own hands to verify that the documents from #1-3 exist and are authentic.
5. A press release by at least two officials within the state of birth, verifying that these records are on file.

After the birther has provided said evidence, which seems to sum up the current standard of evidence which they demand that President Obama provide, then tell them they can go on and spin their claims all they want.

Every time I have confronted a birther with this line of argumentation, the result is universally the same: they either ignore the challenge, get angry about you questioning their “patriotism”, or they scuttle away to hide under the nearest rock.  And if they get offended and/or try to run away or change the subject, hit them with this one: “Why won’t you provide this evidence?  What are you hiding?!!” (cue spooky music 🙂 )

Try it sometime.  You’ll find the results very revealing somewhat entertaining, too.  Perhaps the next time Donald Trump is on television, the next media personality to interview him will have some real balls and ask him to put up or shut up.

Posted in conspiracy theories, media woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

 
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