Category Archives: Critical Thinking

Strange Paths Part Deux

In my last entry,  I discussed my observational hypothesis about how the human mind can reject objective reality in favor of a false view of the universe when the truth threatens the investment an individual has placed in an incorrect worldview.  And how the rejection of each new objective fact actually reinforces the false worldview because the investment becomes greater.   I didn’t realize that researchers at the University of Michigan had been working on the exact same hypothesis.  They just released a report with their findings.  Take a look at this quote from a Boston Globe article:

The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”

In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information.

Here’s a link to the full report from Brenden Nyhan and his research team.  It may load slowly, because it’s a PDF.


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2010 Census Guide

Today I received a letter from the U.S. Census Bureau reminding me that the 2010 Census would be mailed to me next week and requesting that I return it as soon as possible.  The Census is a civic duty and is required by our Constitution.  Every American citizen should willingly fill out and return the form.  The letter stresses that “Without a complete, accurate census, your community may not receive its fair share” of government funds.

Accuracy is very important, but is often quite difficult.  Knowing this, I humbly offer this guide on the tricky questions #8 and #9 on the form.  The other questions on this short 10 question form are very straight-forward and should not cause any confusion.

Let’s examine question #8 :

Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?

The confusion about question #8 stems from the perception that the Census is concerned about your ancestry.  This is not the case.  The Census wants to know if you are unable to speak English.

As the description suggests, this question applies to first generation immigrants.  If you were born in a foreign country that’s primary language is Spanish (or another Hispanic language), you answer should be “Yes” and the name of the country.  If you were born in the United States, then your answer should be “No.

On to question #9:

What is Person 1’s race?

Question #9 is a mess.  The Census offers a mishmash of colors, nationalities, and even a U.S. State as possible answers.  Choosing an accurate answer is problematic to say the least.  Given the suggestions, it seems obvious that the Census Bureau doesn’t have a clear definition of “Race.”  Luckily, I remember my biology classes, so I can assist.  A race is a species that is potentially capable of interbreeding.  For example, a Poodle and a St. Bernard are capable of interbreeding and producing offspring.  Even though both animals look very different physically, they both belong to the race of “Dog.”

Now that we’ve established that, the most accurate answer becomes clear.  Choose the option “Other” and write in “Human.”

I hope my guide proves useful to you.  Thank you for reading it.

If you have any questions, please add a comment and I’ll do my best to find the answer.

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Sweet Blue Monkey Balls

The Huffington Post just issued this retraction:


When you stop laughing, read this exercise in circular logic by one of the commenters at HuffPo:


I’d make a joke here, but I don’t think it’s necessary.

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Blodds and Ends

I have a few things to blog about that really didn’t justify actually blogging about on their own, so I just crammed them together here.

KFC to change its name to KGC.
The “G” stands for gay.

Apparently KFC wants to attract a thinner, hippie-er clientelle, so they’re discarding their highly recognizible name and cultural icon status for politically correct healthy image.

Kentucky Grilled Chicken?

Is this a wise business decision? Will it win over the people that do these things?

Ummm… No.


The St.Jude’s Trike-a-thon simultaneously helps sick kids and makes healthy kids look like retards (for no good reason.)

I’ve been watching a lot of pre-school TV since Nova discovered cartoons. One of the commercials that frequently comes on asks for participants in the St. Jude’s Trike-a-thon that benefits children’s hospitals. Which is a very good thing. But, they also push parents to make pre-schoolers wear safety helmets while riding tricycles.

Which made me wonder just how dangerous tricycles are. Just how often are kids actually killed or permanently disabled in tricycle accidents?

I did a quick search of websites promoting bicycle safety and helmets and emergency room statistics for head trama. I used the worst case stats and crunched the numbers. Here’s what I found out:
Emergency rooms make no distinction between bicycles, tricycles, unicycles, etc. lumping them under the non-motorized pedal cycle category. I’ll use the word “bicycle” to describe that category. Most kids learn to ride bicycles without training wheels by age 8, so at the risk of inflating the numbers, I’ll assume riders under 7 are all riding tricycles.

About 80.6 Million Americans ride bicycles each year.
57 Million are over age 15
23.6 Million are 15 and under
Approximately 900 cyclists die in accidents each year.                   |Runnning totals:        |
Approximately 600000 cyclists’ are injured in accidents each year.    | 900 Dead 600000 Injured|
Number of deaths in bicycle accidents age 7 and under: 25                |  25 Dead 600000 Injured|
Two-thirds of the deaths are from traumatic brain injury.                      |  17 Dead 600000 Injured|
59% injuries are children under 15                                                         |  17 Dead 354000 Injured|
All injuries under age 9: 156000                                                              |  17 Dead 156000 Injured|
Head injuries under age 9: 132600                                                         |  17 Dead 132600 Injured|
” ” requiring hospitalization under age 14: 1100                                  |  17 Dead   1100 Injured|

Odds of fatal head injury in bicycle accident age 0-14:   1 in 1,388,235 or .00000072%
Odds of serious head injury in bicycle accident age 0-14:   1 in    21,454 or .000047%

I’ll make the wild over-assumption that 50% of those accidents are tricyclists…

Odds of fatal head injury in tricycle accident age 0-7:    1 in 2,622,222 or .00000038%
Odds of serious head injury in triicycle accident age 0-7: 1 in    42,909 or .000024%

Now, while extremely rare, serious tricycle accidents do happen. I can understand a parent choosing to buy their kid a helmet for that reason. Unfortunately in most states, including Pennsylvania, the law says you MUST put a helmet on any cyclist under age 15.

Since the government makes you buy the helmet, here’s another interesting set of numbers:

Cost of a typical bicycle helmet at retail stores:                                      $20.00
Cost of 23.6 million typical bicycle helmets:                                            $472,000,000.00
Estimated total yearly deaths and serious injuries from tricycle accidents:    559
Cost of helmets/each potentially prevented injury or death:            $844,364.94
Odds of dying by tripping on a level surface:                             1 in 502,837 (584/Year)
Number of U.S. States that require “walking” helmets:                    0

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Some Thoughts on Conspiracy Theories.

I started writing some quick thoughts about the bigger conspiracy theories in response to Cynical Dog’s blog. It started to get interesting, so I thought I’d repost it here with a few additions.

Pearl Harbor: The attack was a surprise, but something should have been expected. We were claiming we were isolationists, but all the while we were manufacturing ships and weapons for our european allies. It was only a matter of time until one of the Axis countries called our bluff.

Roswell: The government is obviously hiding something. That said, there’s no reason to assume the something is an alien spaceship. More likely it was something of ours that is classified and/or directly in violation of international treaties or something of the Soviets that could be diplomatically uncomfortable.

JFK: A lot of people probably wanted him dead. That’s the downside to being President. Lee Harvey Oswald was a former Marine and trained to handle a bolt action rifle. He was perfectly able to do all the necessary shooting on his own. Was someone directing his actions? Probably not. With all the scrutiny (official and private) given to the assassination over the last 40-some years, no credible evidence has turned up. None.

The Moon Landings were hoaxes: Examine these two pictures

The first is from 2001 A Space Odyssey filmed in 1968. The second is from the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. Note the lack of stars in the Apollo 11 picture. Conspiracy theorists claim this proves the photo is a fake. Actually, they don’t appear because the moon’s surface is so bright. The stars are so faint in comparison the film can’t pick them up. This photograpic effect actually lends credibility to the NASA photo. If the photo had been faked, why wouldn’t it look like the 2001 photo? Without an authentic picture to compare it to, who would have expected the stars to be invisible?

Princess Di(e): Participating in a high speed car chase is a good way to get yourself killed, even if the driver is sober. If you had a few martinis before getting behind the wheel…

George W. Bush stole the 2000 Presidential Election: Umm… Al Gore did win the popular vote. But in order to win the presidential election you have to get more electoral votes under the current laws. Even after all the recounts, including the selective and creative ones, Gore never did carry Florida. Gore refused to accept the results. Finally the liberal leaning US Supreme Court stepped in and called the election for Bush. The Supreme Court really had no other option. Should we get rid of the Electoral College? Probably. It made sense in 1800 because there were no TV’s, radios, internet, or airplanes. Now that the candidates are in our living rooms every night and can fly all around the country in a matter of hours, a popular vote makes more sense. But the law still has to be changed before the election.

9/11: Some pissed off Muslims highjacked some planes and smashed them into buildings. The buildings collapsed. Most of us watched it happen live on TV. End of story. The prep work required for a controlled implosion of the twin towers would have taken days or weeks. All the drilling and wiring necessary would have been obvious to anyone working in the building. The only way it could have been accomplished secretly overnight on 9/10 involves several hundred molemen burrowing in through the basement and working non-stop. And we all know that the Moleman Demolishers Union would never allow all those workers to go without their 15 minute breaks.


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