William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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The Apes Do It So It’s Fine For Us Fallacy

I'm doing five to ten for apeslaughter.

I’m doing five to ten for apeslaughter.

Been awhile since we’ve done one of these. Time to restore the series. Once I overcome my innate laziness (a terrible sin) I’ll group them together and put them on the Classic Posts page (which is in a sorry state).

People are happy to discover any argument which supports a position they favor. So pleased are they to find any corroboration (however weak) that the argument is embraced even if it is fallacious. This series (Genetic, Hypocrisy) examines fallacies beloved by today’s dominant culture.

Caution: because an argument for a conclusion has been shown fallacious, this does not prove that all arguments for that conclusion are fallacious, merely that the argument in question should be abandoned. But also keep in mind that if the fallacious argument was all the conclusion had going for it, yet you still hold that it is true, your sole justification is your desire, a dangerous situation.

An argument for legalizing prostitution:

Whether it is legal or not, there is seemingly no place in the world where it doesn’t exist. Indeed, it’s even been found to exist among primates who have been taught how to use money. Given all of this, one wonders what the value in trying to ban the practice actually is.

This is easily seen to be fallacious in a parallel argument.

It is the case that chimpanzees and apes, which is to say primates, like men, from time to time kill fellow conspecifics, usually while in sour moods or in disputes over money or other resources. The practice has long been observed and in many places; indeed, there is seemingly no place in the world where these animals (chimps, apes, men) are found where these killings do not exist. Given all of this, one wonders what the value in trying to ban the practice actually is.

Arguments pointing to the behavior of non-human animals are often used to justify human actions. Sexual promiscuity is the most common: for example, the (so we are told) ever-randy bonobo has had much drool—sorry, ink—spilt recommending its amorous activities for the masses. From which we learn there are many lonely academics.

From the Friends of the Bonobo society here is an example of the Apes-Do-It fallacy. The argument is only implicit here, but to give them a pass on that account would be like forgiving a television comedian his political asininities as long as he ducks behind his status. “I’m only a comedian!” Besides, there are plenty of places where arguments similar to this are explicit.

But when you get to know bonobos, you’ll see they couldn’t be more different. Like humans, chimpanzees have war. The males are in charge, and they can occasionally be very violent. Sometimes they even kill each other.

Bonobos do not kill each other. The females are in charge of the group and they seem to keep everyone’s temper under control with sexual activity. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or if you’re male or female — if you’re a bonobo, sex plays a big part in living together peacefully.

The text acknowledges that humans and chimps are a murderous bunch, a well known truth. But the implicit argument that if female humans were “in charge” as female bonobos (seemingly) are, then human males, sated with sex doled out at regular intervals would cease knocking each other on the head is clearly silly.

Would there be a government bureaucracy devoted to this new welfare? The authors have also forgotten sexual dimorphism (perhaps female humans are meeker because their mates are so much larger and stronger?), procreation (who takes care of the inevitable issue promiscuity brings?), and—the worst sin—the Andrea “All Sex Is Rape” Dworkins of the world (who can imagine a feminist supporting this program?).

Strangely, we rarely hear calls to emulate dung beetles or blow files.

Reddit Bans Dissent

Reddit banishes another anti-revolutionary

Reddit banishes another anti-revolutionary

I tried posting a thing or two at Reddit a while back (by invitation), but one of my i’s wasn’t dotted, or a t wasn’t crossed, and the ankle biters who make up the bulk of its moderators and who act like over-zealous college freshman who just memorized Robert’s Rules of Order made the experience so unpleasant that I never went back.

Plus, too many folks who haunt that site, basking in the anonymity, engage in things like this: “‘I fought back with awesome’: Woman who lives with painful skin condition shames the bullies of Reddit who thought her picture was a laughing matter.”

I am therefore not in the least surprised that the Dear Leaders on the science forum on that site has banned dissent from the party line that global warming is going to strike—soon, soon—and destroy us all. Reddit is now no different from many major newspapers, television outlets, learned societies, and peer-reviewed journals.

It will be interesting to see if Reddit “cleanses” past posts of skeptical comments in the same way various Peoples regimes erase enemies from photographs.

Anyway, all these organizations (in their forums and house organs) have decided that the science is settled, and, that being the case, there is nothing more to say. A valid argument if the premise is true and the science really is settled, which they all believe. Strangely, though, given there is nothing more to say they still manage to keep on saying things and at ever-increasing rates.

What do they talk about? Us. Mostly, they talk about us.

They gather for the sole purpose of shaking their heads at each other in bewildered amazement that people like us could imagine that the science isn’t settled. “All the people who agree with our view that the science is settled,” they say to themselves, “say that the science is settled. Therefore the science is settled. The deniers who deny what we believe most faithfully must therefore be insane, wicked, evil, and whoppingly ignorant. We are the opposite.”

They also thus talk about themselves and how wonderful their selves are.

They talk about the many, many failed forecasts and say, “Those darn deniers don’t understand that these forecasts haven’t failed. They were off in observation, but they were right in spirit. And since they were right in spirit, the science is still settled and the end is still nigh.” Right in spirit means wrong in reality, yes, but the theory which defines the spirit is so achingly beautiful that it is truer than reality.

They talk about the motivations of skeptics. “They’re all in the pay of big oil! And those vile Koch brothers!” “I know just what you mean. I was so mad about it I almost couldn’t finish my grant application to study the effects of global warming on racism.”

They talk about what awards they should give each other. “Oh! How about calling the James Hansen Bravery…

Skip it. This kind of thing is now utterly routine. The party of tolerance and openness and diversity and honest debate doing what they do best.

The Endangered Species Act & Counterfactual Arguments

It can't be real. The Endangered Species Act outlaws them.

It can’t be real. The Endangered Species Act outlaws them.

Most species that have ever lived on this our glorious planet Earth have been put on permanent hiatus. And by “most” I mean something approaching, but obviously not yet reaching, every damn one of them.

Some 250 million years before mankind appeared nearly all life in the oceans and a goodly portion on land was rubbed out. And this before the invention of plastic. There were no journalists at the time, so the best candidate to blame for the Permian-Triassic extinction event remains unknown.

This wasn’t the only horror show. Two hundred million years (or so) before the PT party was the Ordovician-Silurian extinction event which, while in earnest, couldn’t match PT’s record and only massacred two thirds of all life. And there are many, many, really very many more of these (let us unemotionally call them) incidents. The last big one was 66 million years ago when Earth, not looking in her rear-view mirror, backed into an asteroid. These things happen.

What can we learn from this? That species come and species most certainly go—and sometimes they go in spectacular fashion. Incidentally, there was a theory bruited some 20 years ago which held mass extinctions were periodic with a “return period” of about 50 million years, which means we’re way past due. My opinion is that the periodicity is a statistical artifact, but I could be wrong. Plan accordingly.

But as you do so, rest assured your beneficent government has taken action! Forty years ago, almost to the date (28 December), Congress got off its collective keister and did what everybody constantly demands it do: they did something. This something was the Endangered Species Act which guaranteed by law and full faith of the United States of America that, henceforth, no species shall ever go extinct again!

For, as we all agree, no species should go extinct. Even though most have.

According the official press release from the US Fish and Wildlife Service which somehow found its way into my in-box, the Act is (self) “credited with saving hundreds of species from extinction”.

“I’m suspicious,” you might be thinking. “Give me an example.” Okay, mister, I’ll give you two: the orange foot pimpleback and the rough pigtoe. Before the government acted, there were fewer of these slimy beasties than the government thought tolerable. They say there are now, because of the Act, just the right number of them.

How many of each species should there be? What a strange question! Why should you worry about that? The government, using a formula so secret that no civilian has ever seen it, has calculated the ideal number of every species which roots, crawls, burrows, swims, floats, flies, or flowers.

“How could they know that?” you might ask. “It’s like the government saying they know the ideal global average temperature and world-wide pattern of climate and weather.”

You have a point, friend. But I for one am more trusting than you. Our government is manned by experts who, by virtue of their appointment, are virtuous and disinterested. If they say they know just how many of each species there should be and where the members of those species should live (and at what temperature), then I am prepared to believe them.

A complication: new species are being discovered at a constant clip. How is it that, as scientific as we are, an animal as large as the Tapirus kabomani (about the size of a golden retriever) had to wait until last week to be spotted?

I bet the government already knows the proper number of these tapirs.

Some bad news: if we haven’t discovered all species, it’s therefore likely we will discover some after it’s too late and they’re already extinct. Looks like we’re going to need some stronger laws to prevent these situations.

How many species need our welfare? I had a go at counting, but the government’s websites are strangely not so good. Near as I can tell, it’s somewhere north of 1,500 just in the USA, another 600+ in distant lands. Must take a lot of paperwork to track.

What’s this about counterfactual arguments? The government claims it “saved” “hundreds” of species from extinction, that if it did nothing, these species would have gone extinct. But how can the government know this? It couldn’t have run an experiment. It’s possible these species could have increased without intervention. Worse, other species could have gone extinct because of the government’s actions. Beyond the obvious positive effect of arresting nutballs who shoot bald eagles, there’s no way to prove how efficacious the Act was.

That’s the problem with counterfactual arguments. The side which wins them is usually that which yells the loudest.

Putting The Squeeze On Bob Newhart, Duck Dynasty

I don’t need this grief at my age.

The culture war continues, with most of the battles still being won by the side which employs its devastatingly effective Shock Shrill Squad (the SSS). Two examples.

Heard of Legatus? Group founded by Tom Monaghan, the guy from Detroit who once owned the Tigers and started Domino’s Pizza. Legatus is a Catholic group with strict entry requirements. You have to have made it big for one. Have a title like CEO or a bank account best expressed in exponents of ten.

Their annual meeting in February was to feature Bob Newhart, 84, an event they boasted of in their magazine. Newhart is Catholic. This isn’t gratuitous information, but important to the story.

Born and raised on Chicago’s west side, Newhart was brought up Catholic and attended parochial schools, including St. Ignatius College Prep (high school) where he graduated in 1947.

“I went to Loyola University in Chicago, which is a Jesuit school,” he said. “Ever since my success in comedy, I’ve always credited the Jesuits for the somewhat twisted way I have of looking at life.”

Two of his sisters still call the Midwest home. In fact, one of Newhart’s three sisters is a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. “She’s about two years older than I am,” he told Legatus magazine. “She’s a whiz at everything she does.”…

“During the week, I’ll go to church twice a week,” Newhart said. “My wife had liver cancer. She had a liver transplant four years ago. She’s in the prime of health now. I kind of go and thank Him for that. That was a very emotional time.”

Word got out in the “LGBT community” that Newhart was going to perform. Tempers flared, because why? Because Legatus is a Catholic group vocally in support of the Church’s magisterium, one small element of which is marriage sanity.

A Twitter “storm”—really, a light shower—followed with the SSS letting the world know they were “outraged” (what else?). Change.org ran a petition asking Newhart to avoid the “anti-gay” summit. GLAAD shouted, “Bob Newhart, don’t become the next Kirk Cameron!

Yesterday, poor Mr Newhart quietly gave in (Legatus Magazine has not updated their site as of this writing):

I’ve never seen Duck Dynasty (airs on A&E) nor do I know any of its characters, but one of them, Phil Robertson, gave an interview to GQ . In it, he made comments which were called an “anti-gay rant”. The SSS was dispatched and let it be known that they were—wait for it—“outraged.” GLAAD reappeared and called Robertson’s words “vile” and “littered with outdated stereotypes” and said they were not “what true Christians believe”.

The words in question:

It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.

Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong. Sin becomes fine.

Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.

Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.

We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists.

GLAAD took as “vile” not the bodily areas of focus which Mr Robertson correctly identified. It was the calling of homosexual behavior (acts) as sinful that was intolerable to them. Yet Robertson emphasized that it was not just homosexual behavior that is sinful, but so is bestiality and adultery, drunkenness, greed, idolatry, swindling, and terrorism. And this is true: these are the Church’s teachings. As is it taught that sinners, of which all of us are, should be loved and taught that sinful behavior must be avoided. A murderer is not excused by his saying, “God made me want to kill people, so that is what I do.”

The A&E network quickly announced that Robertson was “suspended.” It is unclear what they meant by this, because the upcoming season (begins Jan. 15) has already completed filming. And they admitted Robertson “will be appearing in some episodes of the upcoming fifth season”.

Apparently, Duck Dynasty is a “cash cow” and A&E’s self-labeling themselves as “supporters and champions of the LGBT community” does not run to losing revenue.

These two stories give a hint how to combat the SSS which can be expressed in one word: Earplugs.

Reminder: this a family blog with strong spam filter.

Update The Robertson family issued a statement. We’ll soon see where A&E’s true convictions lie. Yours Truly predicts they’ll chase the gold.

We are disappointed that Phil has been placed on hiatus for expressing his faith, which is his constitutionally protected right. We have had a successful working relationship with A&E but, as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm.

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