Propaganda Prop # 8: False Equivalence

Imbalance concept. Black scales with red sphere and cube.

In a video making the rounds on the Internet not long ago,  an interviewer asks several science-minded individuals why they believe in evolution and not creationism, and coaxes them into saying that it is essentially because science is based on observable evidence, while religion is based on pure belief.  He then innocently observes that, hey, evolutionists discuss events that supposedly happened millions of years ago, and you can’t witness them since they were so far in the past; so why is that better than believing things you can’t see that supposedly happened thousands of years ago, or that happen on some spiritual plane of existence? By suggesting that putting faith in physical evidence is as arbitrary as putting faith in dogma,  he was slyly invoking false equivalence, the eighth in our series of propaganda tools.

A false equivalence, as the name suggests, is comparing or equating things that are not appropriately similar. (“The First Amendment applies to the Internet even though it hadn’t been invented when the Constitution was written; so the Second Amendment gives me the right to own an AK-47.”) This tactic is often labeled false analogy, which theoretically could be classified as something different: a false equivalent is saying that two related but dissimilar things are essentially the same, while a false analogy is saying that two unrelated things are comparable (“You cheat at solitaire, so you have no right to criticize me for being a racist.”). But in practice, the distinction is often so slight and so difficult to pinpoint that it’s really no false equivalence to just consider them interchangeable.

Quite often, the F.E. seems to be a valid analogy at first blush, but if you examine it more closely, you see that the subtle distinctions are actually quite substantial. It isn’t necessarily that the differences are more numerous than the similarities, but they are more significant. In the photo above, the two objects have certain things in common: e.g., they are both regular geometric solids, they are both shiny, they are both smooth, and they are both red. But clearly they are not the same.  One is a cube and one is a sphere. One is heavier than the other. It may be that they are different sizes, or made of different materials,  or that the cube is hollow. In any case, the differences literally outweigh the similarities.

Recently when discussing vegetarianism, I made an allusion to my 40 years of personal experience with the topic, and someone remarked that I might as well cite 40 years of faith healing or psychic work as proof that those activities are valid.  The point was that all of them involve anecdotal evidence; but the anecdotal evidence is being used in very different ways. And it’s a false equivalence for at least three reasons.

First, as I perhaps should have made more clear, my “experience” is not limited to my own vegetarianism, but to my having read about, met and talked to, literally hundreds of other vegetarians, and to having done a great deal of research on the topic.  Second, it’s a comparison between the purely hypothetical and intangible — i.e., psychic powers and faith healing — and the tangible and demonstrable; diet definitely does have an effect on health, and there’s ample evidence that a vegetarian diet can have a positive effect. Third and most important, unlike the psychic and the faith healer, I’ve never cited my personal experience/research as “proof” of anything; on the contrary, I suggest that it’s reason to doubt conventional wisdom — i.e., that consuming meat is necessary for good health. (Which is to say that when you have a premise that doing thing A invariably produces result B, yet you have hundreds of random individuals who’ve been doing A for years with results consistently the opposite of B, it might be prudent to examine your premise a little more closely.)

It’s very easy to drift into those murky waters, because we all like to make comparisons — they help illustrate, clarify and amplify. But no two things are exactly alike; so it can be a bit tricky to determine where to draw the line between appropriate and inappropriate analogy. Sometimes, then, the false equivalence is a sincere logical fallacy rather than an attempt to deceive. In many cases, however, the analogist steps blatantly over the line; even when not doing so deliberately, he/ she does so as part of an overall inclination to distort in order to attack or defend a particular position.

The interviewer in the video may or may not have been intentionally dissembling, but he definitely was operating under a false premise: namely, that religious authorities are at least as qualified to speak about science as are scientific authorities. This stems from the great fundamentalist fallacy that religious texts should be interpreted as literally as scientific texts. But in fact, religion and science are two totally different spheres of cognition — two different languages, if you will. Those who understand this can be both scientific and religious if they so choose. Those who don’t are likely either to condemn religion as being unscientific (its actually nonscientific) or condemn science as being “blasphemous”.

False equivalence is often invoked in discussions of religion. One popular meme is to maintain that the absence of faith is itself a sort of faith. A few years ago, there was even a movement among the Christian Right to have “secular humanism” officially declared a religion, so that it would be a violation of the principle of the separation of church and state to enact secularist policies such as prohibiting school-enforced prayer. Cute.

Of course, this was a political maneuver as much as a religious one, and you’ll certainly encounter plenty of false equivalence in discussions about politics and current events. Turn on the talking heads and before a quarter of an hour has elapsed,  chances are you will have heard at least one faulty comparison.

One of the most popular manifestations is the “both sides do it” narrative,  which sometimes manifests as the tu quoque — Latin for “you too”, a fancy way of saying that it takes one to know one.  As you might imagine, I get that one thrown at me quite a bit. (“You’re a propagandist yourself”. “You’re promoting your own causes.” “You’re using straw men and cherry picking while accusing other people of doing the same.” Etc, etc, etc. Which is a clear indication that someone either is distorting my words or is confused about the concept in question.)  Sometimes a tu quoque is a valid point; quite often, it’s just a knee-jerk attack from someone who feels that he/ she absolutely must attack, but really has nothing to say.

The “both sides do it” is my favorite specimen of false equivalence because it offers so many possible applications. Accordingly, I’ll be devoting a separate discussion to it in the near future.

No examination of false equivalence is complete without some mention of the very popular “reductio ad Hitlerum” — the tendency to summon up the specter of Der Fuhrer to stand beside anyone you don’t like.  If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard this one, I’d be as powerful as Hitler.

The fact is, nobody is really like Hitler. That’s what makes him such an effective illustration but such an ineffective and inappropriate benchmark. Sometimes someone may have something in common with Hitler in a very small way (you may know lots of short, dark-haired former painters who speak German), but never to the extent that fiery rhetoricians suggest. A Hitler analogy is almost always out of line.

That being said, we also should acknowledge that the over-sensitization to Hitler analogies has created its own problems. Sometimes you might hear an exchange like this:

Mr. Smith: You’re very firm in your beliefs, but that isn’t always a good thing. The Nazis were firm in their beliefs, too.

Mr. Jones: There you go, comparing us to Nazis and comparing me to Hitler.

Smith did no such thing, of course. He gave Hitler his proper treatment: as the ultimate extreme we all should avoid, and a powerful illustration of what excesses firmness of conviction can lead to. It is Jones who is making the false equivalence. This is a propagandaphile’s delight: a false equivalence about a false equivalence.

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29 thoughts on “Propaganda Prop # 8: False Equivalence

  1. Excellent piece. You have to admit, though, that science has a problem in that much of what we (the public) know about science (like religion) is told to us by other people–people we trust, of course, but nonetheless we don’t actually witness or perform the scientific research ourselves, therefore we must rely on others to tell us about it. Do I know that men have walked on the moon? Only because others tell me so. Do I know that the Devil lives in Hell? Lots of people claim that, too. Can I prove one or the other? Not personally. It all comes down to: “Who do you trust? Who or what do you want to believe?” Priests and shamans have “special knowledge” that permits them to tell us what God or the gods want us to do. Scientists fall into a similar category: their experiments can only be performed in sophisticated laboratories and their knowledge comes from high-tech gadgets that I don’t understand and can’t use. I can test the theory of gravity by dropping something, but if I want an explanation for why it works, I need to ask someone else. Granted, there is more consistency among scientists than among the clergy, but there is still an element of faith involved in science: I trust the scientists to tell me “the truth”, the whole truth and nothing but. (BTW, I’m an atheist Democrat with a degree in science.)

    • Good points. But what it boils down to, at least as far as I’m concerned, is that when you look at history and the progress of civilization, you see that scientists have an infinitely better track record than those who have opposed them.

      • Its also important to note that while one may not have visceral proof that NASA put men on the moon, to suggest it was all a clever hoax is to invoke the possibility that pigs can fly–by that I mean that the plot would need to be so complex and convoluted as well as full of almost impossibly clever illusions, that it makes much more sense to believe news reports issued by means of a relatively free press in a democratic society, and accept that images being broadcast of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin feeling rapturous on the moon, are actually real photographs and videos of what was really happening. To place everything in doubt just because ones own eyes didn’t see it, or ones own fingers didn’t feel it, for all practical purposes is absurd.

        The reason science need not always be based on personal and objectively immediate validations, is that, it makes use of deductive reasoning under the assumption that the physical and operational laws of the universe are primarily the same throughout the universe, or at least throughout our own geological history. A scientists does not merely doubt creationism out of personal biases, he doubts it because objective evidence along with deductive reasoning have convinced him that our Earth is incredibly older than 6000 years or even a million years old. And he does so using dozens of geological markers and radiometric tests which do confirm with great regularity, that many rocks and dinosaur bones are way way older than a million, or even a hundred million years old.

        It may be possible to base one’s conclusions on faith in response to personal intuition and emotions, but what creationists are doing is comparable to seeing a very tall and large tree, and then claiming that one knows it was never planted and only came into existence the moment before it was sighted. In reality the world is full of trees, and those which are very large are generally at least decades old. We also would be foolish to assume that one magically grew to adulthood ten minutes before we came upon the scene, Of course in the infinity of absurdity that is entirely possible, but I’ll place at least a ten to one bet that it is really and obviously more than ten minutes old.

        One is always free to play with semantics or profess the possibility of the very improbable in order to make use of false equivalence. But although I believe faith has a definite role to play, deciding what is real or not in the physical world, does not rely on a creationist’s kind of faith. I may think I can breath underwater or I might not, and the latter is objectively provable by actually trying to breath at the bottom of a swimming pool without an air tank. However, most of us have personal experience with needing oxygen to live, and have enough smarts to know we don’t have to tempt death in order to believe the obvious—we don’t have to jump over a lofty cliff before knowing that the fall will be painful, or even fatal. So, why not just accept that provable fact?

  2. There is a point where intellectual questioning that doesn’t accept the existence of a priori knowledge, can only lead to absurd types of reasoning that really don’t need to be used in order to understand the obvious— the fact that some things exist is the reason why they exist! As scientists say, if one agrees that the physical Universe works in accordance with the same physical laws throughout the universe, then we can just know that some hypothesise which have been affirmed with experiments, are in fact true by virtue of the fact that they just are! Without acceptance of some objective starting point, we might as well waste time, wondering why the sea meets the shore, or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

    Religion of course depends on some sort of faith as a starting point, but it doesn’t have to reject the apparent physical laws of the world we live in, or reject the knowledge we already posses—when various faith claim that physical artifacts, rates of radioactive decay used to identify the age of various fossils, or deductive reasoning itself, are all only based on a form of faith, they then deny the basis for all forms of sound reasoning. This opens up metaphysical explanations, superstitious fears, and lies that are often not even questioned. All of this absurdity is merely gamesmanship employed by those who don’t want to accept any kind of objectively verifiable reality.

    I personally accept the idea of a Supreme being that, not only created the physical laws, but IS the physical laws in itself. The difference between these beliefs of mine and those who adhere to one-true-way, fundamentalist faiths is that I freely admit that my spiritual beliefs are based on faith, and can never ultimately be proven with logic. But where science is concerned we ARE talking about tangible physical laws and the knowledge determined by deductive reasoning which is really the stuff of which the physical laws and the cosmos itself, are indicative of. I don’t think logic and deductive reasoning are the only ways to think—just that the knowledge they reveal is real, and what’s more, they are self evidently true because scientists confirm them.

    However, scientific inquiry does not always uncover objective truth immediately, and may stray down many paths before it adequately comprehends a particular phenomenon. But while scientists are willing to change their views with the addition of new data, those who cling to fundamentalist worldviews are much less likely to admits having any faulty understandings of reality, and truth, at all! So in that respect scinece is much more fluid and self correcting than religious faith will ever be.

    I also agree that no one is really like Hitler, but there are some people who really do inflict the same kinds of horrendous pain and damage on their fellow human beings—from the genocidal slaughter in Rwanda to the inhumane cruelty of ISIS and the ovens at Dachau—including way too many more examples. So when I refer to these kinds people I feel perfectly justified in pointing out that they are very much LIKE Hitler. I also think that many political entities, such as the Republican party of today, advance their interest with the use of shameless lies, misinformation, and big lies told over and over—so many times that they eventually are believed by the public, and in that sense, the Rush Limbaughs and Karl Roves of the world, are masters of propaganda, and when spreading their propaganda, HItler has nothing on them. I don’t think however, they would (for whatever pseudo–moral justification), condemn the rest of us to concentration camps in which we are then tortured and otherwise inhumanly abused until we die. However I think in certain ways they ARE seeking to advance their own self interests in ways that are quite similar to the tactics used by Hitler.

    However, It is very easy to lay strawman arguments and ad hominem insults on those we passionately disagree with, and many times the ways we portray them are simply unfair and untrue. Yet I really feel justified when pointing out that the inhumanity, dogma and lies, used by others to influence the “masses,” are used in ways that benefit primarily their perpetrators themselves. As some noted journalists have taken note of, it isn’t just a matter of both sides doing it too–rather, most of the political dysfunction in Washington DC, has been deliberately created by Republicans—so why don’t we all just admit it! In that case the false idea that both Dems and Repubs are equally responsible is just not true–it IS PRIMARILY, because of Republicans.

    I know I’m rattling on without truly examining the many kinds of false equivalence that you mentioned, so I’d better quit while I’m still ahead. Just like political culpability is often falsely portrayed as relative of shared, religious doctrines can also be abused just by thinking that belief in God is a provable fact—in reality it really is not! It may have validity when derived from intuition, faith or personal experience, but for God’s sake, let’s not pretend it is based on logic, and let’s not pretend that it gives anyone a license to deny any and all objective scientific facts!

    • Hi Peter,

      I’ve come to many of the same conclusions you express in your comment. However, I feel compelled to mention the Democratic Party’s culpability in the current state of political dysfunction. I’ll preface by saying I agree with you that the Republicans are the likely architects of said dysfunction. But I caution all my Left-leaning friends to not conflate Democratic ideals with the current Democratic leadership. All one need do is to – compare – President Obama’s (and many supporting Democratic politicians’) abhorrent track record on civil liberties, the environment, perpetual war, and support of such democracy crushing pursuits as the TPP – to – all their pretty words seemingly in support of democracy, jobs, and the environment. In light of this, we see that the Democrat Party is so ripe with misleading propaganda/hypocrisy that one Party or the other being the “lesser of two evils” becomes materially irrelevant.

      From my vantage point, the only issues our left and right politicians seem to differentiate themselves on are wedge issues (e.g., race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and class; but they typically only ever frame the class discussion in terms of the middle class vs. the poor and rarely ever in the infinitely more relevant terms of the 1% vs. the 99%). They may pay lip service to other issues, but take little meaningful action. Also, by focusing on wedge issues they keep us fighting among ourselves.

      I think the political spectrum our politicians occupy is more accurately understood as top to bottom. The plutocrats (i.e., the 1% of the 1%) and their entourage (i.e., the 1%) making up the top of the political spectrum and the rest of us making up the other end (i.e., the 99% below). This becomes especially true the higher the political office they hold. And this provides the moneyed interests ample representation from both Republican and Democrat politicians while leaving the rest of us with little representation on the very important issues of money and power.

      I believe this is why we see our politicians so aligned on some issues (i.e., issues of money and power) and not on others (i.e., wedge issues). I’m not suggesting they align on all issues of money and power (as there are adversarial plutocratic interests at play) or that wedge issues don’t posses a certain level of importance, just that where money and power are at stake they seem more than willing to cooperate.

      Through the lens of this “top to bottom” paradigm, I see the broader quid pro quo of Democrat vs. Republican politics as a game of “good-cop bad-cop” perpetrated on the voters while the vast majority of those voters look upon politics as a sporting event, belligerently rooting for their team and employing much cognitive dissonance as they support politicians that do not promote their best interests.

      Anyway, politics (and government communications to the public in general) are eternally fertile grounds for propaganda. The propaganda is incessant and systemic. I consider it a basic, modern survival skill to be able to identify it in real-time and have the ability to think around it to deduce/extrapolate/divine a more accurate truth. I find sites like POP to be instrumental in this pursuit.

      Graham

      • I agree that corruption and the influence of money in politics, is very important to both democrats and
        Republicans and that, there are undoubtedly many Democrats whose votes are influenced primarily by the influence of Lobbyists and the special interests they represent. However, I do NOT accept that both parties are equally responsible for legislative disfunction.

        It wasn’t Democrats, who proposed not raising the debt ceiling, even though that tactic resulted in a lowering our S&P credit rating. In fact, Obama specifically and repeatedly warned against the dangers of failing to raise it. However immediately following the results of their willful obstruction, politicians like Michele Bachmann blamed the president for our credit rate demotion, without wasting a single second. Was any of this an equally perpetrated offense?—NOT!

        Also, It was NOT Democrats who proposed shutting down much of the government, even though Republicans rapidly blamed democrats for blocking access to Veteran’s memorials and National Parks. But the park service itself was the entity that closed or restricted access to several parks to save money. The POP mentioned this in one of his other posts—(The Obama Derangement syndrome and the Government shutdown)—Oct. 27th, 2013.

        Did the GOP ever understand that their own stupid attempts to close down the government, was very similar to that of a spoiled brat grabbing his marbles and then storming home—saying that, if he can’t win, then nobody else even gets to play the game! They might understand, but they are trying effectively, to blame the President for their own follies—even implying that our parks and monuments were only affected because of Obama’s unwillingness to “negotiate,” To me this is similar to aiming a gun at Obama, firing a bullet into his heart, and then claiming the President was really responsible for it all, just for failing to jump out of the way quickly enough!?

        It was also Republicans that blocked nearly every piece of legislation that might have made the President look good, whether they actually agreed with him or not? They also have a long history of limiting or obstructing government assistance sorely needed by less wealthy Americans.These include cutting workmans comp, prohibiting the right to organize, the availability of adequate unemployment benefits, and increasingly targeting the ACA for trumped up reasons. Did democrats cause these conflicts—of course not! Some Democratic Congressmen may have supported efforts to limit or eliminate such benefit programs, but far less of them really agree with Republicans. Any changes should really come from effectively working and compromising in Congress.

        As far as climate change—many more Republicans are taking part in the systematic effort of spreading distortions and lies about basic scientific facts. They are doing this at the behest of wealthy corporations which tell them what should conclude—and they are doing this at a time when the public’s understanding of AGW, is extremely critical, if we are to do what must be done! A few Democrats may be on the GOPs political wagon, but far less than the number of Republicans.

        As far as the ACA goes–Republicans are mounting an incredible effort to distort and outright lie about its effectiveness, and thus are jeopardizing the health and well-being of millions of Americans who will certainly benefit from it. The incredible propaganda being circulated about health care truly leaves one’s jaws hanging open in response to how just brazen and bizarre much of the lies about it slug have become.

        As far as campaign finances, and their role in elections, of course Democrats depend on Superpacs also, and depend on large contributors to finance their elections too. But do they really have any choice? If one takes on Muhammad Ali in the ring, one needs the most beneficial training and preparation before even stepping in the ring. And, as a consequence of Citizen’s United in particular, Democrats must now play the same game! Isn’t it funny how few Republicans truly want to do without extremely large huge sums of campaign money, while most of those wanting Citizens United repealed, are Democrats? The President made his opinions clear when he chewed out members of the Supreme Court in front of both houses of Congress and the media. How many Republicans would ever have done the same?

        I also disagree with the President about the TPP, but I agree with him on many other issues. I also believe that any other President—from any party, would have had to inject massive stimulus funds, and provide TARP fundings in order to save the economy–no matter what any of them might claim.

        I cannot in good conscience, ignore all of this outrageous obstruction and the lies that come with it. It would be dishonest to claims that both sides are contributing to legislative obstruction and dysfunction equally–that’s just not true!

      • Hi Peter,

        I appreciate your thoughtful reply. Thank you.

        “However, I do NOT accept that both parties are equally responsible for legislative dysfunction.”

        I’m not sure if I effectively communicated this nuance in my original reply; I understand “culpability” to be a measure of degrees not necessarily resulting in equal parts. I wasn’t suggesting there exists an equal measure of blame of both parties.

        Know my reply was not intended to refute the accuracy of your observations (as I had already agreed with you), but to question the relevance of considering “who’s more to blame” when employed by a voter to determine which politicians to support. Put plainly, just because it may be true that Republicans are generally worse for our society than Democrats, does not necessarily mean that a given Democratic politician is good for our society (or “less bad” to a degree that makes them worthy of our support). Not that I think you were suggesting as much, just that I thought it worth mentioning.

        Also, apologies in advance if I misunderstood, but I interpreted your original comment to carry a tone of the “lesser of two evils” argument – an argument I’ve heard used to justify horrible candidates all my adult life – an argument that has become a standard meme of Democratic Party apologists. We do ourselves no favor by conducting our analysis of political policy within the Dem/Rep paradigm framed and propagandized to us by our government, institutions, and a complicit corporate media. Unfortunately, most voters are quick to embrace their analysis in that context. While I have already agreed with you that the Republican’s are primarily responsible for the dysfunction (and are generally worse for our standard of living and democracy), dubious Republican politics do not justify our cart blanc support for whatever politician du jour the Democratic Party happens to be serving up. Again, not that I think you are suggesting as much, just that I think it worth mentioning.

        For example, you’ve listed a number of valid issues where Obama’s best efforts were blocked/disrupted/sullied by Republicans. However, to the point I was attempting to make, please consider the listing below of just a few of the not-so-insignificant actions Obama was somehow able to successfully implement in the face of all that Republican subterfuge:

        ~Redistributed more wealth from the middle class to the very richest than did Bush.
        ~Granted immunity to Bush’s CIA torturers.
        ~Invoked “State Secrets” to protect Bush from war crimes prosecution.
        ~Granted the President the power to “legally” kill US citizens without trial.
        ~Legalized the indefinite detention of US citizens without trial.
        ~Authorized the use of the US military against the US citizens on US soil.
        ~Massively expanded warrantless wiretapping of innocent US citizens.
        ~Supported the militarization of civilian law enforcement.
        ~Spied on and attempted to intimidate journalists in the name of national security.
        ~Deported more immigrants than any other president.
        ~Reaffirmed Bush-era Arctic oil leases for drilling in the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea.
        ~Seeks Fast Tracking of TPP.
        ~Seeks TPP that will facilitate the massive off-shoring of US manufacturing and jobs.
        ~Seeks ISDS as part of TPP that would allow corporations to sue governments for perceived lost profits.
        ~More than all previous administrations combined, belligerently prosecuted whistle-blowers without ever meaningfully addressing any of the wrong doing they expose.

        I think it telling to contrast – the – veritable conniption fits Democrats threw when Bush (the dirty Republican) performed relatively lesser offenses – to the – Democrat apologists silence/rationalizations now that the perpetrator is a Democrat. There is the opportunity for much confusion if one views these events through the official Democrat vs. Republican paradigm. However, if one instead chooses to view these events through a “top to bottom” (or cui bono?) paradigm, we see that US Presidents consistently take similar courses of action concerning money and power. That is because they actually represent the same small group of people; the 1%.

        Sluggly,

        Graham

        PS The complete list of Obama’s dubious actions is quite extensive. If you’re interested, the following links provide many, many examples.

        Obama’s Track Record
        http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/03/obamas-track-record.html

        Obama Makes Bushism the New Normal
        https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/09/03/froomkin-blogs-again/

        This is a politician I voted for twice based on his pretty words and based on what I thought to be his opposite, horrific alternative. I won’t be making the same mistake in 2016. Instead, I’ll be evaluating all candidates on their voting/political records/major contributors and not simply on what they say during their campaign and never again based solely along Party lines.

      • I also appreciate your non-confrontational response, as well as your reference to many pertinent points. So I decided to print out your post so that I could reply to it more fully and accurately.

        You’re idea about the meaning of culpability certainly is relevant to many things that happen on the political stage, but the word itself, to me, has always represented which party or which individual is most deserving of blame. Undoubtedly when deciding which candidate to vote for, assessing degrees of blame, may be an intelligent ways to form opinions and then decide which candidates to support, But I don’t’ think it’s always helpful or accurate to decide such things based on a sliding scale consisting on relative degrees of blame. Yes, it is very possible that although Republicans are mostly to blame, an individual Democrat running for office may be guilty of more offenses than are various Republicans in Congress. But I see nothing wrong with examining the entire field from a distance and then deciding which party to vote for on the basis of which might represent the lesser of two evils.

        When it comes to things like campaign finance and corruption, its clear to me that if more Democrats are in office, the greater the possibility of repealing Citizens United, as well as other recent efforts to scuttle the idea of equal opportunity and the power of one man, and one vote.

        It is also very clear to me that the more that Republicans are in congress and/or control it, the greater the chance of the ACA either being scrapped or reduced to a non-effective shell–also eventually resulting in it demise.

        As far as acknowledgement of the very real global warming crisis which is rapidly descending on many parts of the world, even if some Democrats who are political opportunists may deliberately deny it in order to remain electable, the GOP as a whole, far out does the Democratic party on the applicable stupidity scale. Its truly very unfortunate that such a group of men who actually know very little about global warming are now in positions of power that will continue to prevent any meaningful legislation that might truly reduce Co2 emissions. And they planned it that way!

        Issues such as the ones I mentioned, do not require, judging individuals on a scale of relative merit. No matter what the virtues and vices of any individual congressmen may be their influences on these issues, are basically partisan. So in order to assure the chance that these problems are handled as fairly and intelligently as possible, I find it quite reasonable to vote against a party that can negatively influence them the most. After all, the success of Obstructionist ideology depends on agreement between large numbers of Congressmen, and cannot work if many in the rank and file, do not cooperate with the controlling influence of a particular caucus. So yes, I do think that when it comes to assuring the continuation of laws and policies that most agree with my own, it is rational to decide which party will support them the most. Voting for the lesser evil, really does make sense. Besides the fact remains that any politician from any party is free to suddenly change his or her mind and decide to vote with the other party, such individual defections can affect our laws much in the same way—when you weigh and measure the plusses and minuses of individual politicians, you are still taking a gamble.

        As far as who I will support for the Office of the Presidency, that is not strictly a Carte Blanc issue involving complete partisan bias. I can still consider myself a Democrat even if I decide to vote for candidates, who obviously deviate from the traditional Democratic base. In the next election, I will support Bernie Sanders even though he is very unlikely to win. And, If it looked like Elizabeth Warren will run I would complete throw my support behind her. But in the end I will probably end up voting for Hillary Clinton as the lesser of two evils. One thing about Democrats though, is that you will find people like Sanders and Warren who are very much part of a mix that appeals to many Democrats, and you won’t truly find such rebels in the Republican party. I primarily back democrats simply because as a group they make much more sense to my sanity. During the 2011–12 Republican primary, it seemed to me that whenever a GOP candidate began to make sense, their use of intelligence immediately disqualified them, and resulted in political exile. Wasn’t it Rand Paul who had the gall to suggest that social engineering should not be pursued by either those on the left or the right? However, with candidate like Sanders and Warren, (although I doubt Warren will run) we will at least see a lot of alternate ideas tossed around enough to become visible to American voters. Thus, their candidacies could have an edifying effect on the electorate in general!

        As far as Obama’s wrongs. I am truly puzzled by his expansion of Arctic oil drilling and exploration, and his endorsement of the TPP and the travesty it will allow by enabling corporations, (foreign or domestic) to sue the government in favor of their own interests. And the mere fact that this policy had largely been forged in secrecy, is just not the kind of thing a proper law or policy need require, in order to win acceptance?

        I regards to Obama’s other fault. I can see reasons why some of them are not so bad. The drone war takes a tragic toll on innocent bystanders but that has been true about the use of weapons in any major war. Why would we hesitate to drop a bomb on Hitler, even if he were surrounded by many ordinary German citizens. We knew that by killing him, we might have saved many more lives in the long run. And a defector to germany is just as dangerous as an American who defects to Al Qaeda. I think its very appropriate to stop either of them in any way possible.

        Obama’s war with the press has also seemed contradictory to his campaign pledge of full government transparency. His only justification might be that whistleblowers may also cause the loss of lives, or deal an unfair PR blow by hounding him unmercifully to satisfy their goals as part of the 24 hour news cycle. they seem far too interested in news as a form tasty red meat. After all, hasn’t the president been dubbed our Muslim, atheist, Kenyan born manchurian candidate, who is bent on pulling the plug on our grannies iron lungs! So after learning about state secret which are gathered as important and valid forms of intelligence, so why should the President want to be scrutinized by the same press which has frequently made mountains out of mole hills in such detrimental ways—even if he detriment primarily applies to the effectiveness of his own administration. This is also applicable to the war on terror and the NSA scandal as well bolstered by the fact that, as Bush said, “we know things that you don’t.” I also don’t think state secrets are always unjustified forms of refuge for political skeletons–some may involve classified information that truly scares any President silly, and make them see the need for the bulk collection of metadata. Then there is the fact that our president has been lied about and scandalized in more ways than any other President since (perhaps) FDR, or Lincoln so why should he embrace the tendency of the press to facilitate politically motivated witch hunts—without always even knowing why?

        I can’t comment on some of your points since I do not always possess sufficient facts about all of them. However, your mention of Obama’s greater number of deportations than any other President has authorized, did not make sense simply because most Republicans now accuse the President of deporting far too few, and Journals like The Nation and Mother Jones corroborate your observations. I did find one website that bothered to consider the differences between deportations and returns though, and which concludes that Obama is now going the extra distance to follow legal technicalities that are proper prerequisites to deportation—and while GW may have ordered many more simple and basic returns of illegals in the US, this involves primarily returning illegal aliens and basically unloading them on the other side of the border—a practice that endangers the lives and/or well–being of far more illegals! For what it’s worth, here is a link to that website:

        http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117412/deportations-under-obama-vs-bush-who-deported-more-immigrants

        To me it’s obvious that, even with his faults Obama is far more likely to advance legislation that is more sane! If I found the same quality in any of today’s Republicans then I might consider voting for one, but the late Robin williams very astutely observed that the field of Republicans in the 2012 Republican primaries, looked liked they had all just tumbled out of the same clown car.Unfortunately the current batch looks pretty much the same, if you ask me.

        sanity.

      • Graham,

        Since I was operating on little sleep yesterday and had already posted a comment much longer than it should have been, I decided to call it quits for the day. However, this morning I see that there are certain comments of yours that I would like to respond to also.

        Many Democrats believe that Obama is at fault for facilitating large American companies in ways that make their extreme profitability and growth even easier to attain, in their quest to funnel wealth to the top in an already gruesomely inequitable economy. I agree fully with those Democrats that Wall Street CEOs and executives of “too big to fail” institutions, committed fundamentally criminal acts. They dishonestly invested the money of clients who trusted them to wisely help increase their fortunes. As a result the middle class became literal victims of unethical investment schemes that their advisers knew were dangerous, and which were bound to ultimately collapse under their own weight. But would it have been wise for the DOJ under Obama, to go after the corporate crooks who caused the entire travesty? Let’s remember that Obama assumed office directly after one of the largest financial collapses in history, and it was his responsibility to keep that collapse from utterly crushing the American economy and allowing it (with a rippling effect), to have devastating impacts around the wold. So in that regard, what good would The President have accomplished by rounding up the crooks behind it, and sentencing them to jail?—in addiction to an economic crises, the President would very likely have contributed to even greater polarization, on Capitol Hill, causing the recovery to take even longer than it has! Although those who caused the crash were entirely culpable, Obama needed to diminish the political differences that threatened to cause a complete rift in Congress and which could eventually have worsened the effectiveness of a Legislature already rife with animosity. So naturally, soothing those animosities were big parts of his goals. If he had prosecuted and jailed the big shots in high places, that effort would only succeed in alienating even more business executives, CEOs and politicians, who already felt cautious about how Obama’s government might deal with them. A house divided cannot stand, (and neither can the Senate), so the President probably felt it important not alienate any of his adversaries by conducting a purge of those in high financial places.

        Its also true that despite the picture painted by Republicans, the President has helped grow Wall Street much more than his predecessors. But even though “the distribution of wealth” has gone predominately towards the top, and Obama’s policies have both created new jobs and recovered millions more which can be filled by the middle class. I believe that, even though some of his efforts to improve the economy have gone disproportionally to the upper classes, (and very disproportionally to the (1%)–more accurately to the (upper .01%), and the job market has greatly improved, which means that those at the middle and the bottom, have also been helped. It’s true that the success of the middle and lower classes needs to be improved much more, and that perhaps outrageous corporate perks should not be as available to companies and individuals who benefit from them in such a one sided way, but Obama has at least called into question the inequity of wealth, in a (pro-regulatory way). However,via the power of lobbyists of course, TBTF financial entities are gradually chipping away at the insufficient restrictions place upon them, and it is truly be obscene that Republicans refused to accept even the most modest of regulations in order to prevent a sequel of 2008! All politicians are influenced by large special interests, but I would guess that Republicans are even more so than Democrats.

        I have seen definite evidence that the President values the process of compromise much more than most Democrats who are currently in Congress, and that his economic priorities are far less arbitrary and inflexible than those of his adversaries. It’s pretty unfortunate that Wall street did not recognize how effective their role could be in helping the entire economy to recover, instead of flounder. The President was surely blind-sighted with expectation that Wall Street and the Republicans, would rise to the occasion and contribute towards the recovery in turn. Many of his bills failed, not because they were inept or flawed, but rather, due to obstinate resistance from those who opposed them simply because they might have made the President look good!

        I think its also easy for any candidate to embrace progressive attitudes about how intelligence is gathered and acted upon, but when those candidates are elected and find themselves in the driver’s seat, their briefing often makes them aware of just how important secret government policies may be in helping to combat terrorism. So the top secret knowledge that Presidents then become privy to, might have alerted the President that there was much more at stake than he had thought, and that, the need to refine searches using meta-data actually is much more vital than he had believed when running for office. It’s possible that the realities Presidents encounter when they become our commanders in chief, can quickly influence them to abandon certain ideals—it’s far easier to talk the talk, than it is to walk the walk! This also goes for GW as well as any Republican Presidents in the past.

        It may be that warrant-less wire tapping still flourishes, but Obama has proposed reforming certain aspects of intelligence gathering, which to my mind should center on how the data is analyzed, and how the FISA court grants warrants—something very difficult to do, considering the sheer bulk of requests that result from government surveillance. Meta data actually allows larger amounts of data to be progressively scanned with finer and finer details. Firstly those calls, emails and texts, which involve the words terrorism may be set aside, then those that involve mentions of Al Qaeda, or Bin Laden may be further isolated, etc. etc. until finally the NSA has its hands on a much smaller number of direct communications made to and from known terrorists. The government then must seek legal permission to listen in on them.

        The Government really doesn’t care to know what you or I do as ordinary Democrats or Republicans, or about emails sent to extramarital love interests—nor is it interested in your general ideas about what is moral and what is not—as the POP pointed out, there is no real way that the government could ever listen to all of the billions of communications transmitted each day. Mining meta data is basically a relatively unobtrusive process of elimination. I am sure that abuses exist and that citizen advocates should play a large role in which communications are really appropriate to examine, but the system, in my opinion, (and apparently Obama’s), needs to be improved—not scraped.

        Yes there are often degrees of culpability on both sides, but I would still rather trust the collective intentions of Democrats rather than those of Republicans. The policies and opinions that Democrats endorse, make much more sense to me, and include real concerns for the well-being of the middle and lower classes, while still not prohibiting wealthy special interests from making money. In my opinion the basic issue involved, is about the ability of special interests to acquire wealth, and for example, whether they will retain the ability to earn $10,000,000 in profits per year rather than a mere $9000,000? Reigning them in a little, by passing regulations which diffuse their capacity to threaten our economy on a regular basis, does not decimate their their overall wealth. So their goal must really be to protect the upper, (upper) classes—and especially the upper .01%

        I see no reason not it expect Democrats as a group, to be the most helpful in the much needed quest to preserve the middle class . Yes, individual candidates have many different qualities and records, that they need to be judged on, but when it comes to the final vote, any one of them may decide to vote differently in an unexpected or rouge manner, and thus block the best intentions of their own parties—but when taken as a whole, they are much more liable to support my own social, economic, and political ideals.

        Although I understand the value of splitting one’s ballot, personally I see no real reason to do so.

        Peter W. Johnson

  3. Aside from a reliance on anecdotal evidence, another aspect of pseudoscience reflected in these posts is epitomized by this statement:

    “Yes, you are a scientist and I am not. What I am, however, is extremely skilled and experienced in spotting inconsistency (both internal and external) and nonsense — even when they appear in scientific papers.”

    That is, that training and experience in a non-scientific field qualifies an individual to critique scientific research and knowledge, and the scientific method. Like the engineer who claims that the eye demonstrates clear evidence of intentional design. Or the lawyer who claims that theory is just guesswork and speculation. Or the logician who claims that “historical” science is fundamentally different from empirical laboratory science.

    In this case, we have a propagandologist (my term for someone who makes a study of propaganda techniques and practices) who claims he can determine when scientists engage in “nonsense”, such as promoting a pro-meat agenda.

    (Which raises a third aspect of pseudoscience: the decision of what constitutes nonsense being based on personal belief and not empirical evidence.)

    It doesn’t matter that occasionally he might be right; after all, a broken clock is still right twice a day. With no training in science, and thus no knowledge of what constitutes nonsense in science, his skill and expertise in propaganda is not only worthless, it can also be misleading, causing him to deceive himself on what scientific research really says.

    • Valid observations in general (with some major exceptions). But again, I’d strongly suggest you follow the course of a true scientist and wait until you’ve actually read my analyses before critiquing them.

  4. I really don’t understand why a passionate a discussion about the virtues of eating meat, vs the value of being a vegetarian, has become so heated. Although it’s true that Biochemborg possess a large amount of knowledge about the scientific method, as well a having a sharp and discerning intellect, I am puzzled by all the animosity expressed in his comments. Most of all, I am puzzled by the combative attitude he is displaying. It would be great, to continue an honest exchange of statements and rebuttals in order to add to the discussion in some way, but just as many of us are sometimes offended by the comments of others, Biochemborg has also been angered by some of the comments I have made in the past, even though I haven’t really got any notion of why, and I can’t understand the explanations he give about why?

    How about we all step back for a moment and realize that a mere argument about what diet one should follow, and why, or for what obscure reason it is so damn important to decide this issue in terms of who is absolutely right or wrong, mixed with a good dose of malice, is just not worth the effort!

    I recongnize that the issue is an interesting one, and that there are many factors involved, but to my way of thinking there are a Hell of a lot of more important issues that we human beings need to argue about.

    As I said, both the POP and Biochemborg have amazing strengths when it comes to their ability to debate. I just don’t understand why a relatively unimportant issue like the virtues of vegetarian diets vs. a proper dose of meat, are so damn self consuming?

    This was a good post, but if all discussions on it in the future will be limited to this narrow issue, then myself and many others commenters will be disappointed!

    • The problem, unfortunately, is that he went into an irrational attack mode, even trying to claim that I ignore or disregard scientific research in favor of anecdotal evidence or personal bias. I wouldn’t even allow this type of nonsense to be posted from most people, but I’ve been extremely patient with him because he’s contributed a great deal to the discussions here in the past.

      • I can’t understand why he has overreacted to your comments the way he has? This is an interesting topic but not one that should be so charged with convictions that someone cannot remain objective, or at least become determined to show others exactly why they are wrong, in a civil manner?

        I suspect Biochemborg is correct to point out that red meat is not always nearly the villain that many of us think, and that the worth of a vegetarian diet may be far less than avowed vegans claim. But I also know that since this has been a part of your lifestyle for many years, someone who cherishes facts as much as you, would also have a bounty of knowledge (and not just anecdotal), to draw from. But, why this particular topic should set anyone off is beyond me?

  5. (“The First Amendment applies to the Internet even though it hadn’t been invented when the Constitution was written; so the Second Amendment gives me the right to own an AK-47.”)

    I agree with ALL you write about guns. But what about this?
    https://www.law.corn…/07-290.ZO.html
     
    Quote from the decision:
    “Some have made the argument, bordering on the frivolous, that only those arms in existence in the 18th century are protected by the Second Amendment . We do not interpret constitutional rights that way. Just as the First Amendment protects modern forms of communications, e.g., Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U. S. 844,849 (1997) , and the Fourth Amendment applies to modern forms of search, e.g., Kyllo v. United States, 533 U. S. 27, 35–36 (2001) , the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.”

    Keep up the good work, P.O.P. You have been an asset in my life.

    joecalhoun@hotmail.com
    Twitter @too_many_guns

    • Thanks. The false equivalence is that the First Amendment addresses an activity (self-expression) and not the means by which it is carried out. In actuality, the #Second Amendment also addresses an activity (defense), but in popular interpretation, it has been construed to address the means — i.e., weapons. If this were indeed the case (and it isn’t) then one might indeed assume that it applies to means developed in the future (of the Founders’ era) within reasonable limits — it’s hard to imagine that they would have approved of private citizens owning nuclear warheads. And that extreme case illustrates that there must indeed be limits to the “right” to be armed, whether that right is conferred by the Constitution (which it isn’t) or the courts (which it has been).

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