Archive for May, 2012

Critical thinking

Professor found one: Rush Holt, a U.S. Congressman from New Jersey of all things, on Science and Critical Thinking. The enlightenment was in an interview he gave with The Humanist: Thinking Like a Scientist.

What Holt describes is what he calls “thinking like a scientist” rather than critical thinking. It’s core precepts include asking questions that can be answered with evidence and being ready for a cross examination exploring and probing your understanding in an empirical and rational way.

“Holt: It’s invaluable, whether you’re making a consumer decision like which laundry detergent to buy or whether you’re trying to decide what career you want to pursue. There are ways to ask yourself both what you’re trying to accomplish and how to measure whether you’ve accomplished it. If you’re able to express it that way, then you’re thinking critically.”

It is too bad the interview tosses in the idea that “it’s quite likely we wouldn’t have invaded Iraq if more people in the CIA or in Congress had been thinking critically” as that just illustrates how foreign Holt’s point is to some folks. Ignoring evidence and impugning agencies and political opponents by overlooking or ignoring evidence – and pretending it doesn’t exist – as in the conclusion of the interview quote is exactly why critical thinking, or thinking like a scientist, is such a problem in ideological discussion. It is the honest subjecting of one’s views to what actually exists that is a critical part of intellectual integrity and that can’t happen when you leave no room for reality in your perceptions.

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Ownership of words: marriage

It is all about labels and whether they mean what they have traditionally or whether they can mean something else. Doug Mainwaring says Not satisfied with ‘gay,’ activists go after ‘marriage’

“This illustrates an attempt to co-opt the term marriage in the latest effort to revolutionize an institution that for millenniums has been immutable”

“Americans are for fairness and equality – it’s in our DNA. However, embedded just as deeply in our gut is the meaning of the term marriage. This is demonstrated clearly in the fact that polls show that a majority of Americans easily express openness to the idea of marriage equality, but in every one of the 32 states where it has been put to popular vote, same-sex marriage has been defeated. The problem is not rights. It’s the word marriage.”

“Something deeper is going on here. If society allows the meaning of marriage to be diluted to cover any number of combinations of household relationships, this will be an indication that our society as a whole has carelessly squandered a great inheritance handed down from hundreds of previous generations. The reason marriage is a viable target of progressives is because heterosexuals themselves have allowed their own personal reverence for the institution and participation in it to dwindle.”

“That progressives are working so hard to chip away at the definition of marriage should be a clear signal that the term’s inviolability, pre-eminence and, yes, sacredness, must be revered and protected. Not just as a matter of law, but as a matter of greater personal dedication to one’s own marriage. The fate of the world’s oldest institution hangs in the balance.”

In other words the issue is about the same core values that are behind the divorce rate and the single parenting growth in recent decades.

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Dan Quayle: Illustrating the attitude hasn’t changed

The issue at hand was that of the family and the left’s glorification of single parenting and, today, gay parenting.

“Progressives despised Dan Quayle from the moment they saw him: he looked like frat boy, and that was enough. He became caricatured as an idiot.”

“Snark, snark — he’s an idiot remember? We need not consider his point with respect.”

Jim Bass describes the tactics with example asserting that dan quayle was right then and right now. He cites an Althouse post that attempts to rationalize opposition to Quayle’s remarks and a comment on her post that notes the fundamental problem. No matter the qualities of the person making a choice, it is the morality of the choice that is at issue and that cannot be excused because the decision maker is a ‘good person’ or has other attributes that are considered worthy.

That highlights two ‘compare and contrast’ – one is the nature of the tactics including snark and ridicule and focus on the opponent as a person rather than the issue or its reasoning. The other is the softening of the issue by trying to divert from the decisions of the victim by appeal to her better qualities. Much of what plagues the right is this effort to ‘tone down’ the issue while the left tries to heat it up.

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Torturing the numbers: accurate falsehood

Hoven describes several ‘fact checking’ efforts that are Fun & Games with Mainstream Media Numbers

“Frankly, I’m glad someone is looking into this. I don’t want to be one of that 0.01%. But I’m also relieved to see that the wrongful conviction rate is so low. (But I would be concerned that trying to blindly reduce that rate would increase the rate of wrongful acquittals. As an engineer, I know errors will be made. Our choice is mostly what type of error: letting bad guys go free, or putting good guys in prison.)”

“Like the previous story, what is actually good news is treated as bad news. The real news is that workplace fatalities are trending down (just as they were prior to OSHA’s existence — see chart below), to the point where the things that kill people at work are the same things that kill them when not at work: vehicles and violence.”

Wrongful convictions, occupational hazards, budgets, … all are subject to distortions that feed an ideology. One has to be careful, especially when reading MSM fact checking stories.

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Statistics and the fear of firearms

Volokh: “More People Die from Guns Than Car Accidents in Michigan” – So states a Detroit Free Press op-ed headline. Here’s an excerpt from the op-ed itself:

The Reno Gazette Journal had a similar headline about Nevada.

“But wait: The number of accidental gun deaths in Michigan in 2009 (the most recent year reported in WISQARS) was … 12, compared to 962 accidental motor-vehicle-related deaths. 99% of the gun deaths in Michigan that year consisted of suicides (575) and homicides (495).”

“This also helps explain, I think, why gun rights supporters are so worried about “health and safety” proposals. Precisely because such proposals are so unlikely to have much of an effect, the gun rights supporters naturally assume that the backers of the proposals aren’t really after modest car-like “regulat[ions] … for health and safety,” but are actually trying to bring about much more aggressive sorts of gun restrictions.”

The underlying issue is one of intellectual integrity. In this case, the dishonesty comes in the form of the abuse of statistical measures.

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Five budget votes, no Demcrat senators voted for any

John says the Senate Democrats Achieve a New Standard of Irresponsibility.

“The result was revealing: no Senate Democrat voted in favor of any budget. This is consistent, of course, with the fact that the Democrat-led Senate has refused to adopt a budget, in violation of federal law, for the last three years. Still, it is a little shocking to see that not a single Democrat was willing to vote in favor of any budget, even the most irresponsible.”

One budget was from the Executive branch and it was unanimously voted down. The other four were Republican with one being the House budget. There were no budget proposals or amendments to the proposed budgets offered from the Democrats.

The question is what do you do without a plan (a budget is a plan)? Why not have a plan? One result is the brewing fracas about yet another extension of the debt ceiling. Set the problem aside and hope it will go away and no one will notice until after the election. The Republicans, it seems, are hoping that people will notice and speak their views in November.

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Does not meet professional standards – or didn’t used to, anyway.

“So let’s be kind and say that the New England Historic Genealogical Society and Christopher Child made a ghastly professional error against all the training and traditions of a rather rigorous field. It may be unfortunate, but it happens. It will be up to its Board to address the consequences.”

Scot Johnson is quoting Thomas Libscomb in the matter of procedure and process abused. While climatology has been the field taking the most hits with this sort of egregious malpractice, the phenomena is not limited to that field or to science in general. In this example, it is genealogy that is taking the hit by distinguished members of the field using suspicious data that does not meet professional standards.

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Shut up! Censor any unpleasant ideas and shut them out

“He warned those at the Oslo Freedom Forum that many in the West now “surround taboo subjects with a bodyguard of politically correct humbug. This form of self-censorship has had a profound effect on liberalism.” He noted that “censorship is at its most effective when no one admits that it exists. ‘No one else is complaining, so move along now,’ becomes the mantra.””

John Fund describes the implication of the Naomi Riley firing from the Chronicle of Higher Education, the trade paper for faculty members and administrators in universities.

“James Kirchick, a contributing editor to The New Republic and a former writer-at-large for Radio Free Europe, told me of the Riley case, “This is precisely why I am no longer on the left. It is disturbing to see such bullying.””

What used to be the way to put down idiots in academia was by showing, through reason and logic and data, that their thesis was idiotic. No longer. These days, it is peer pressure, personal attacks, and hubris that are used as tools to do the job.

This is just one issue that causes some to worry about an education bubble that is about to burst. Another is college administrators who put the big corporate bosses to shame when it comes to payroll. A third is the student loan situation and new college graduates coming out of school with loans that are the equivalent to what they would have if they just bought their first house.

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Barriers to business

Another take-off on Julia: When Julia Tried To Start A Small Business. It is the story of taxes, licenses, and regulatory compliance from someone who has ‘been there, done that’ and it is enough to make you wonder how any business can survive.

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Matters of war, or crime?

“When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, we did not send the FBI to arrest the Japanese pilots (the Clinton Doctrine) nor did we try to engage Japan in constructive conversation about how to address their grievances (the Obama Doctrine). We recognized that Japan had declared war on us, and we retaliated with an offensive that brought Japan to its knees and won the war.”

There are three basic categories for people who commit violent acts. The criminal is in it for personal gain, the terrorist for social notoriety, and the soldier as a part of a formalized state campaign. Obfuscating these categories has been a tactic of the anti-war activists but David Meir-Levi suggests that some clarity may have surfaces in how the Yoo Ruling Upholds Definition of ‘Enemy Combatant’.

There is still a long ways to go – trying to come up with a reasonable definition of torture, for instance. The fundamental issue is trying to reconcile the natural and civil rights of those who seem to want to destroy them with society’s rights of self protection and the safety of its members.

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Equal protection of the laws? (not so fast there, buddy)

“Everybody is not given these exemptions from paying the consequences of their own illegal acts. Only people who are currently in vogue with the elites of the left — in the media, in politics and in academia.”

Professor Sowell says that The Crumbling Of Our Moral Infrastructure Can Be Deadly.

“The unwillingness of authorities to put a stop to their organized disruptions of other people’s lives, their trespassing, vandalism and violence is a de facto suspension, if not repeal, of the 14th Amendment’s requirement that the government provide “equal protection of the laws” to all its citizens.”

“The moral infrastructure is one of the intangibles, without which the tangibles don’t work. Like the physical infrastructure, its neglect in the short run invites disaster in the long run.”

Some folks seem oblivious to the implications of their behavior … and they may get just what they say they want and drag the rest of us down with them.

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There oughta’ be a law: distracted driving activists manufacturing data

The roads are getting safer but that doesn’t inhibit those who have a need, an obsession, to control other’s behavior. Rob Port describes the Feds Using Misleading Statistics To Make Case For National Ban On Cell Phone Use While Driving citing Walter Olson

“In other words, if someone dies in a car accident and they have a cell on them it could be counted as a cell-phone related traffic fatality even if the driver wasn’t using the phone at the time of the accident.”

“This isn’t the only area where the government pulls this sort of a stunt. A friend of mine whose father died in Montana said that on the death certificate he received from the state it was noted that his father’s death was related to tobacco use. Now, granted, his father was a smoker, but his death didn’t have anything to do with tobacco use. But the state associated his death with tobacco use, no doubt to make a stronger case for more tax dollars spent on campaigns against tobacco use.

“It’s like self-licking ice cream cones. The government creates a problem, and then advocates for accumulating to itself more funding and more power to solve the problem it created.”

A major part of psychological defense is trying to rationalize one’s misperceptions. This can be particularly dangerous when it comes to trying to rationalize laws and enforcement efforts. Traffic laws are particularly prone to this – consider that the highway patrol in many states is a part of the department of public safety.

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A cabinet indictment or a laundry list of where those in the administration stand.

“The common theme with these Cabinet secretaries is loud, uninformed rhetoric; a lack of practical experience; a certain utopian zealotry – and an expectation that there are rules for government grandees and quite different ones for the rest of us.”

Professor Hanson says it is a Cabinet gone wild and explains exactly why.

“We’ve had some unusual Cabinet secretaries in past administrations – Earl Butz, John Mitchell and James G. Watt come to mind – but never anything quite like the present bunch.”

A lot of little things can add up. Some of the incidents and events Hanson lists are little only in that they don’t get much exposure or pale in comparison to other items.

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Methods of propaganda: race wars created and imagined made real

“The narrative launched in mid-March with nearly simultaneous articles by black journalists at major leftist media outlets: Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic, Charles M. Blow at the New York Times, and Trymaine Lee at the Huffington Post. These were classics of advocacy journalism — sensationalist propaganda with no attempt to be impartial, objective, or accurate.”

Scot Swett describes the structure and elements of a disinformation campaign using the Trayvon and Zimmerman case as an example.

“Social science research offers some useful insights into how people typically make decisions:

  • Reasoning is only a small part of forming opinions or judgments
  • Judgments are often based on inadequate information
  • Early and negative information has a disproportionally heavy impact
  • Anecdotal, easy-to-remember information is also overly weighted

“Therefore, disinformation campaigns use simple, powerful, negative, emotional arguments that tell a story. Since people resist changing their minds about emotionally loaded topics, the media campaign has to ramp up quickly, before the facts have a chance to catch up to the narrative.”

This episode is only one of a long string of racial disinformation campaigns based on false premises. One outcome of this one is the beating to near death of a score of people by black gangs claiming that there assault is a matter of justice. There are consequences to dishonesty and they are not pretty.

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It’s not a problem, they say: vote fraud and voter ID

John Fund talks about the reality of voter fraud at NRO.

“Liberal groups ranging from the ACLU to the NAACP oppose voter-ID laws, claiming that voter fraud is almost nonexistent and that an ID requirement would amount to voter suppression.”

“Davis made it clear in his speech to True the Vote that much of the opposition to voter-ID and ballot-integrity laws is a sad attempt to inject racism into the discussion and intimidate supporters of anti-fraud laws.”

James O’Keefe has demonstrated just how easy voter fraud can be. Confidence in the vote has significant value. To claim that voter ID will disenfanchise some minority and rationalize that by claiming that there is no voter fraud is to minimize the value of a confidence in an election outcome whether or not the assertion of fraud is valid or not. Perceptions do matter and processes for integrity gain importance in that arena.

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