FactsPlusLogic
A Careful Look at Issues

Vice President Biden created a stir in a speech in Flint, Michigan by claiming that by opposing the Administration’s latest Stimulus bill, Republicans would force cuts in police and as a consequence rape and murder rates would rise. Biden cited as proof what turned out to be bogus statistics on crime in Flint. Not only were the data faulty, the logic of the argument fails as well. Opposition to a particular program does not logically equate to opposing the goals of the program.

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A recent poll showed that about 18% of Americans think that President Obama follows the Muslim faith, and only one in three identifies him as a Christian. During the campaign, his attendance at Reverend Wright’s church, a Christian church, was a significant issue. that might have driven home the point that he was Christian. In his books and interviews Obama declares he is a Christian. If that isn’t enough, Obama drinks alcohol, which Muslims do not. I suppose no one knows with absolute certainty what is in President Obama’s heart-of-hearts, but there is no objective evidence to claim he is a Muslim. So where do people get the idea?

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Political campaigns generate sound bites as the preferred mode of communication. Few people are motivated to listen to long-winded speeches, so the goal is to simplify messages in the extreme. Politicians have been way ahead of Twitter. Television news is complicit in favoring one-line easily-digestible capsules of semi-information. The news people suppose that viewers have the attention span of gerbils, and so they must continually get on with something else. The news people are probably right, but there are stories that simply cannot be reduced to sound bites. The oil spill disaster is a case in point. The scope and complexity of the problem defies the sound bite treatment either by politicians or the news media.

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People are fond of the notion that “you can prove anything with statistics.” That’s not true, but it often takes deep understanding to find errors in statistical reasoning. Even simple problems can be difficult to solve correctly, and when it comes to complex problems the opportunities for error multiply. The simple problem I have in mind is called “The Monty Hall Problem” and the complex problem is unraveling the errors in the derivation of the global warming Hockey Stick. The first is discussed in The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules our Lives, a superb introduction to statistical theory by physicist Leonard Mlodinow. The second is the subject of The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science, a careful exposition by A.W. Montford of the errors made by climate scientists. Together they explain a great deal of what is bogus in modern science.

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Calls to kill President Bush were common in the war protests a few years ago, but they were rarely featured by broadcast television networks or big-city newspapares. One collections of Bush death threats is on the blog Bin’s Corner. I searched the New York Times website and could not find a single archived article since 1981 about leftists protesters making death threats against Bush. Searching for “tea party racism” on The Time site provided 4760 references in just the past thirty days. Let’s just say the reporting is uneven.

In the health care debate, liberals are fond of citing polls that show, they say, that people like individual aspects of Obamacare, but do not like the package as a whole. They conclude that voters are behaving irrationally, because if all the parts are good than obviously the whole must be good. From this line of reasoning, they deduce that if Congress passes Obamacare, then people will realize they really liked it all along. Alas, the logical premise is false. There are valid reasons why one might like the parts, but not like the whole.

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Republicans are warming up to the possibility of winning back Congress in this year’s elections. The advice from nearly every pundit and political leader is that it is not enough to just be anti-Obama. To win, all say, Republicans must put forth a plan to solve the country’s problems. This wisdom ignores the success of Democrats in the last election, who ran entirely on blaming Bush for everything and offering very little beyond amorphous “hope and change.” Elections are indeed won based upon little more than not being the last guy. The problem arises when it is time to govern.

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9/11 Truthers do not tire. They diligently maintain their own laws of nature independent of those known to scientists and engineers. Rather than try to make a conspiracy theory that agrees with the established laws of nature, Truthers maintain natural laws that fit their theories. Much of Truther lore is built around claimed properties of steel and thermite that contradict established knowledge.

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There is a difference between a lie and a mistake and also between hypocrisy and just playing the cards you are dealt. These conceptual differences arise regularly in political debate, and now in in the health care debate. Let’s start with hypocrisy.

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The current debate on health care is confusing. I focus on five central issues. The debate would be improved if these specifics were in the forefront. My points are, (1) heath in the US is more a product of lifestyle than the care system, (2) insurance company profits are a trivial part of health care costs, (3) justified changes in insurance regulations do not require the much large health care package, (4) a person will not be able to keep their present health insurance if employers drop the option, and (5) critical details of the new system are not disclosed.

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