Alternative Facts: a new name for an ancient problem

“Never argue with an idiot, they will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience,”

A warning from George Carlin. I have quoted this in the past, but in reality, I don’t like to apply it.

I tend to take others on face value and respect their arguments as a sound attempt to better understand the world.

The problem is that the main source of debate that I face comes from those who simply do not like a given conclusion, be it relating to climate change, vaccination or fluoridation of drinking water.

For a long time I refused to give up on the argument or in respecting the other as I believed that we could together reach a better level of understanding.

But experience has taught me otherwise.

These debates have forced me to learn about the philosophy of critical reasoning, not just empirical evidence. Today, I listen to the evidence provided as well as how the argument is being arranged.

I’ve come to realise just how defeating and exhausting it is to engage with those who simply reject evidence in favour of a preferred conclusion.

Recently, I decided to engage with the commentator. I stated that I’ve stopped debating such people because I’ve found most to be disingenuous in their debate, disrespectful and ultimately committed to their conclusion regardless of the evidence to the contrary.

After hours spent in research and a few thousand words in critical review of the arguments presented, I concluded with basically the same statement I started with.

“Alternative facts” have recently caused a small uproar among certain people. Yet, the more I’ve come to understand critical reasoning and debate, the more obvious it is to me that this view has been deeply ingrained into our societies for as long as we have had societies.

The rise of empirical methodology with the enlightenment has done little to impact our love for the fanciful – how we would like reality to be.

And contrary to common belief, we honestly don’t need to respect the groundless views of others – especially if those views can cause harm.

They could be oppressive ideologies or irrational fears leading to otherwise avoidable measles outbreaks. They could be charlatans selling magic water or “medicinal” turmeric. It could be the slow juggernaut of climate change. Each of these negatively impacts on the lives people.

I have previously been roped into a debate with an easy rebuttal to this conclusion; if I’m not willing to entertain a debate, I’m the real denier.

The commentator who initiates the debate is, in essence making the statement that they reject the scientific evidence – either through cherry picked evidence or blatant ignorance. The commentator demands I take their feelings seriously and engage with it or else commentator automatically assumes the high grounds for victory.

No, that’s not the case.

The reason for this is because we’re not engaged in an academic analysis of the evidence. There is a body of evidence that exists in the academic literature and not in a debate on NewAnthro. Debate here changes nothing – especially the minds of those who don’t like what science concludes.

Am I suggesting that we simply ignore them?

No. I don’t know what the actual answer is, but I know that leaving them to their own devices is just as bad and it leads to large followings on their pseudoscience websites.

I’m inclined to think that a lot of the older ones are lost to the absurdities. We can only truly tackle “alternative facts” through education – not what to think, but how to think. If we want to empower our democratic societies, each individual needs to have trained a finely tuned internal BS detector.

The alternative is that we will continue to be led by nefarious causes.

Hence I’m no longer going to be led into pointless exchanges on NewAnthro with anti-science advocates. I enjoy my life too much to waste it on the brick wall that they claim is their brain. If they want a debate they can do the academic hard-yards and contribute to the scientific literature.

Arguing here is pointless and I’m tired of my commitment to a fair and respectful exchange being used as a weakness by the dishonest and deluded.

Sunday Reads #5: All things climate, environmental and politics

Don’t like the budget? Your options aren’t limited to voting

While some in the government are calling the actions of many disappointed Australians “socialism” in truth, civil disobedience and peaceful protesting is an essential element to a fully functional democracy. Of course, the opposition, when they have no genuine rebuke, will resort to name calling, so let them have that, at least.

Pyne short on maths when it comes to ‘prestige’ degrees

For those who care about the quality of the minds of future Australian who will be in charge when we are old and needing assistance (hoping that we haven’t made them selfish and apathetic). The best point of this article, for me is the simple point; if university graduates are likely to earn 75% more, why not add a tax to those currently earning 75% more to support those who follow them?

It avoids the debilitating debt the current proposal will create and it will avoid further insult to the disadvantaged – those who may not make the supposed 75% more, women who take time off to have children, people who suffer an unforeseeable health problem down the track when they have already completed university and are unable to work in the same fashion, etc.

Climate change by any name is economics

A little shameless self promotion…

Why ethics won’t help cut emissions

An excellent article to support a carbon price

Rules to cut carbon emissions also reduce harmful air pollution

What’s more, CO2 isn’t the only thing that comes out of exhaust pipes. Reducing carbon emissions reduces all other relating chemicals and particulates. A decarbonised world makes for healthier lungs!

Carter and de Lange’s GWPF sea level report plagiarises their own heartland funded NIPCC propaganda

This made me laugh… But we must give them a little room. After all, they have such a small resource base to work from that this type of this is inevitable.

‘Damage already done’: Climate Change Authority staff quit amid uncertainty

My initial thought in reading this was, “Well, I’ll happily apply for a role!” (noting, obviously, my skills sets are probably not a great match)

I’ve written numerous articles over the years about the how poorly the Australian Green Sector has established itself. Since 2009 it went downhill for some time and I had a sense last year that again momentum was indeed rebuilding.

Nowadays, I’m careful of whether or not I include the words “climate change” or certain publications in an application. We all have mouths to feed and lives to live. The cuts to research and anything relating to climate by our current government is an effective tool to undermine the confidence of the sector.

Global survey: Climate change now a mainstream part of city planning

And despite the strange behaviours in Australia, the world is building cities to that buffer them from future climate change… it feels a million miles away from sprawling urban Australia.

Abbott pedals against the global climate awakening

And there you have it.

“Climate Always Changes…”

This is by far the most common argument I hear in my daily life from those within my social circle. It is, in essence, an attempt to establish reasonable doubt rather than refute the science. It fails miserably.

Here is my reply.

You check your general savings account and notice a large drop in the balance from what you know should be in there.

You go into a branch of your bank to question them about it. The teller looks at your account and confidently concludes, “Your account balance always changes.”

Is that the end of the story? Would you accept, on any level, that this reply answers your concern?

Why I will not be watching Russell Crow in “Noah”

Sorry to be off topic…

Yes, I am one of those annoying people who picks movies to pieces. Of course, when the movie is fantasy, I am capable of suspending disbelief to enjoy the movie. In the case of the new movie, Noah, however, that isn’t an option.

The reason being that there are many people who still take the fable as truth – some going as far as to waste their life away on a vain effort to find evidence.

How can I be so sure that the story of Noah arises in the Middle Eastern dreamtime? Because of engineering. Because of biology. Because of earth.

Of engineering.

Engineering is not my field, so I’ll leave it up to others. In short, a wooden boat of such a size defies the known properties of the material and cannot be replicated by engineers.

Of biology

Now into a territory I’m more familiar with, I will need to break this down to many points to show just how idiotic the idea is.

Scale

No boat could be big enough.

It would have appeared otherwise to the all-too-human author at the time, with their limited experience of life that existed at the time of writing in other corners of the world and of all the life that had ever previously existed.

Even assuming all the dinosaurs and mega-fauna forgot to buy their tickets and assuming genus, or even families were the “kinds” described, the line would still have been too long (eg. ranging from the many millions with species down to the many thousands of families – which in turn would require evolution along the lines of Pokemon, that is within a generation or two, to account for all the species today).

Worse than that; the floods would have either been saline or fresh, meaning that the SS Noah would have needed aquariums for all species of the opposing environment.

And this point is a catch-22; if we grant that the waters were saline – in turn leaving the massive per-historic marine reptiles and modern marine mammals off of the ark – well, then this boat needed to carry a year’s worth of water for all those on board.

Fresh flood waters demands tanks big enough for the likes of blue whales and their buddies.

Resources

The problem of thirst isn’t the end of the problem with resources.

We must also consider what we could forgive the writer for not knowing; trophic levels. That is to say, animals eat each other.

To support just the big carnivorous cats and dogs over this period, we couldn’t have just two of every species – but rather whole herds of prey species. These sacrificial herds were never mentioned.

This in turn magnifies the problem of feed for the herbivores, as the prey herds will need vast amounts of food and water to maintain the meat-eaters.

Assuming that the floods were fresh, thereby saving Noah the issue of carrying the water, he would still need to catch hundreds of tons of krill prior to the flood (because the freshening water would have killed them off) to feed however many baleen whales he needed to carry to “evolve” into the species we see today.

As soon as you factor in food, the already absurdly small boat looks even worse.

Breeding

Again, we could forgive an author a few millennia ago for being ignorant, in this case, of limits to viable population size.

Sure, a few breeding pairs of a given rodent might take off in a new environment, but that’s not guaranteed. We only need to look at how many times rabbits needed to be introduced to Australia before they exploded.

When you are talking about a species that may only breed once a year or even longer, the chances that a single breeding pair would suffice to save to species is effectively shot.

And I’ve ignored the problem of inbreeding here, which would have played havoc with subsequent generations.

Having a singly breeding pair of every known species (or genus or family), Noah would have been lucky to have any persist and flourish.

And now the real kicker

To sprinkle salt into the wound, the year on the ark in itself means everything.

Not only would he need to carry all the animals and all the food (and potentially water) to survive the year, but also for much longer. Worse than this, he would have needed to carry tons of seed.

No seedbank (ie. seeds in the top soil) would remain viable for such a period under the flood. Apart from the osmotic pressure – or high salinity – caused by the flood itself and apart from the silt collection from a year of turbulent water movement (remembering that this silt, the creation would tell us, led to all the fossils), the seeds would simply expire.

So, Noah would have needed herds of prey to release after the flood and enough food to support these as well as the herbivore breeding pairs while he reseeded the entire global terrestrial landscape with all the plant life we see today.

None of this is mentioned and must fail the laugh test.

Of earth

This problem is one noted prior to Darwin even learning his alphabet. No-one has found a single example of a fossilised duck mingled with Triceratops.

We could take this further and state that there has never been fossilised evidence of a giant ground sloth being killed by a t-rex, of a human kill of any dinosaur or of pterosaur competing with a large eagle (noting that they share the same niche).

That’s because these species existed in different geological periods.

The flood silt didn’t conveniently cover different groups in sequence. Of everything, the fossil record is both the most damning and easiest to understand to anyone who has any actual interest in reality.

If these ancient stories are true, show me the fossils.

Back to the movie

Sure, it looks dramatic, but with so many plots holes, the story fails before it even begins. Yet, for the true believer, it would, absurdly, be cementing to their faith. This work of fiction will be watched by the faithful as though it were some documentary!

Of course, Russell won’t be shooing off any dinosaurs or else the critics would rip it to shreds.

Which brings me to the crux; there is a way out for the faithful. It is the only way out and one few who want to sound intellectual is likely to mention; magic.

“Oh, the boat would break? God held it together.”

“Oh, the boat wasn’t big enough? God made the animals shrink for the trip.”

“Oh, there wouldn’t possibly be room enough for all the food and water? God ran a meals-on-wheels service.”

“Oh, there’s a problem with salt or fresh water? God made all aquatic life temporarily salt tolerant.”

“Oh, two individuals don’t make for a viable population? God again…”

“God… God… God…”

Geeezus! Give up with the mockery of science and admit to placing faith in ancient stories over genuine certainty derived through critical analysis and get on making Adam and Eve Dino parks. If you’re willing to suspend the laws of the known universe to make your story fit reality, you are no longer talking about science – which is all about those laws. There’s nothing wrong with that, just admit it.

I don’t care. Live and let live.

If only they could admit to their warped, magically inclined reality, we could dutifully write it off and stop pretending to take it seriously.

Then, perhaps, I would allow myself to suspend disbelief and watch the epic, yet terribly scripted, movie.

The coming together of bad ideas

Just a short post for a mid-week chuckle. What do you get when you cross anti-vaccination with chemtrail crackpots? You get petition aimed at stopping an “uncovered” secret government program to mass medicate populations. I’m serious, whether or not the creator of the work is….

All we would need now is for the vaccine to be fluoride based and intentionally fanned by wind farms and the Nexus of Stupidity would be complete.

The future history of The Great, Tony Abbott: A carrot by any other name is still bad policy

Early into the Abbott government’s term, the Coalition realised that something had gone wrong. While Direct Action and the promise of cheaper electricity were enough to get the team in, scepticism on both fronts began to creep into the general population.

Concerned about public opinion and especially in keeping the public informed, members of the party began bugging journalists for interviews.

Reluctantly (as many journalists were in the middle of solitare on their Desktops) some granted them interviews.

It took a few weeks, but repetition paid off and soon an almost audible gasp of amazement spread over Australia.

Direct Action was a carrot! Of course!

The method being adopted globally and in the early stages of conception within our boarders, that is a carbon price, was nothing but a whipping stick to punish polluters. Direct Action rewarded self-motivated good behaviour.

The people finally got it and opinion of the new government rose to record breaking heights. Some, more motivated members of the public took it a step further, pledging donations to various big business if they were able to clean up their activities.

It became a national past-time, with Australian shares taking over the market.

Amazed by this phenomena, the Coalition realised just how powerful the tool they developed really was. Soon, the carrot was appearing in legislation to revolutionize everything in Australia.

Cameras were set up on every roadway. Speeding by these cameras no longer meant a fine appearing in your letter box, no. Bad drivers just missed out on the cheques that good drivers were sent annually.

So too, prisons nationally were closed for good. Good behaviour was instead rewarded by a larger tax return an naughty members of the community missed out.

Following the triumphant second election win which saw the largest swing towards a single party in history, the Coalition quickly implemented new legislation that allowed them to hand over a “carrot”, in the form of payment, to media providers that had been highly positive of the Coalition over the election period. Murdoch himself, wrote a personal letter of thanks and praise that appeared across his media empire.

Before long, the carrot was adopted as the icon for the Coalition, to massive approval from the general public.

Tony remained Prime Minister until he retired on his own accord. There were many tears shed that day, even from all the other parties (small and trivial as they had become).

In his honour, above Parliament House in place of the Australian flag, a bigger than life brass statue was erected. It sported Tony riding a giant Clydesdale, rearing, with “business” stamped on its hide. In his left hand he held a rod (not a stick), like a jousting sword, with a carrot dangling from its tip.