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Friday, June 27, 2008

Website Update - New Factoid Debunking Page

Factoids?I've been neglecting the main part of my website a little too long, but I've finally made an update. I got another factoid e-mail in my inbox that was just too ripe to pass up, so I now have Factoids Debunked & Verified, Part III. This was one of the worst factoid e-mails I've ever received. Usually, there are at least some germs of truth. This one seems to be fabricated through and through.

Updated 2008-06-30 - corrected the link to go to the proper page.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Right Wing E-mails

Right Wing PropagandaThere's a strange phenomenon I've noticed with e-mail. I kind of hinted at it in an earlier blog entry, How to Spot an E-mail Hoax. I was fairly neutral in that entry, saying to be wary of politically related e-mails in general. But the thing I've noticed, is that the vast, vast majority of dubious politically related e-mails I've received are from the right side of the spectrum. In fact, I can't recall a single chain e-mail I've received personally that has denigrated Republicans, social conservatives, or the religious right. But I've received plenty that criticize or demonize their opponents, almost always by either stretching the truth or by outright fabrication.

At first, I wondered if this just had to do with sampling bias. I do live in Texas, after all, which is pretty well known for being a "red" state. But after doing a Google search for "are all e-mail forwards right wing," I found that I'm not the only one that's noticed this correllation. A guy by the name of Chris Hayes published an entry on his blog, The New Right-Wing Smear Machine, which examined how this phenomenon has spread. I found a blog entry on The Blog From Another Dimension dealing with this very issue, which even addressed an e-mail that I've covered before here. There's even a blog, My Right Wing Dad, devoted entirely to posting examples of these types of e-mails.

So, assuming this is a real phenomenon, what I don't understand is why. It would be tempting to quote studies such as this one, which indicates that "liberals are more likely than conservatives to have a strong response in the area of the brain used to inhibit responses at the time when they are supposed to inhibit response" (which could be taken to mean in relation to this e-mail question - stretched beyond the actual resuls of the study - that liberals would be more likely to question the validity of an e-mail even when it confirms their political biases). You could also point to this article. One of the paragraphs states:

The most comprehensive review of personality and political orientation to date is a 2003 meta-analysis of 88 prior studies involving 22,000 participants. The researchers--John Jost of NYU, Arie Kruglanski of the University of Maryland, and Jack Glaser and Frank Sulloway of Berkeley--found that conservatives have a greater desire to reach a decision quickly and stick to it, and are higher on conscientiousness, which includes neatness, orderliness, duty, and rule-following. Liberals are higher on openness, which includes intellectual curiosity, excitement-seeking, novelty, creativity for its own sake, and a craving for stimulation like travel, color, art, music, and literature.

But, as those articles also point out, political affiliation is a pretty complicated thing. Plus, even if you were willing to say that on average liberals were smarter, or more interested in checking the veracity of claims, could it really be such a big difference as to account for my inbox getting a dozen dubious right-wing e-mails per week, and no such left-wing e-mails in the last five years? I mean, there are also liberals who don't always have such a good grasp of reality. What keeps these people from spreading all types of false e-mail rumors about the right? And is it really just the right-wingers that forward on all the other e-mail hoaxes?

I don't know, maybe it's still a sampling bias. Maybe I just happen to be finding all the bad examples of right-wing e-mail, while other people find all the bad examples from the left-wing. No matter what the case, could everybody just please do a little fact checking before clogging my inbox with all these false rumors?

Updated 2013-06-17: Fixed three links:

Friday, June 13, 2008

No Big Entry This Week, But I Did Leave a Good Comment

I've stated several times that my goal for this blog is to make at least one good substantive post per week, or to at least make an update to the regular part of this website. Well, I've spent my lunch breaks this week typing up a response to two comments left on one of my older blog entries, Problems With Day-Age Interpretation of Genesis. Basically, I expanded on the original essay with a few more issues. My main problem with a day-age interpretation is that it's still not consistent with the actual history of the universe and our planet. But I pretty much didn't address that in my response, to concentrate on two issues that I thought were most troubling even ignoring actual history - what does the wording in the second day even mean? And how could plants have survived without the sun and without pollinators? If that's the type of thing that interests you, you may want to go check it out.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Book Review- Gulliver's Travels

I just finished reading Gulliver's Travels, which was written way back in 1726 by Jonathon Swift. I'm sure that just about anybody reading this blog has heard of the book, and knows the basic story. A doctor, Lemuel Gulliver, has several adventures in distant lands. In one, he is a giant among the Lilliputians and the Blefuscudians. In another, he is among the giants, the Brobdingnagians. In a third adventure, he visits the lands of Laputa, Balnibarbi, Glubbdubdrib, Luggnagg and Japan, inhabited by intellectuals, a magician who can conjure the dead, and one land with a class of people who couldn't die. And in his final voyage, he visited the land of the Houyhnhnms, a race of intelligent horses, which was also inhabited by Yahoos, a race of humans with practically no intelligence or reason. (Here's the Wikipedia entry, for a few more details of the story.)

First, for a bit of trivia, for anyone familiar with the concept of endianness in computing (byte order), this is where the term comes from. A long standing rivalry between the Lilliputians and Blefuscudians existed over which was the proper way to open an egg, whether from the big end or the little end. Hence, there were Big Endians and Little Endians. And here I always thought it was some technical term.

To be honest, this wasn't one of my favorite books. Perhaps that was partly to do with the fact that it was a political satire, and I didn't get the jokes. I suppose it's a bit like when my daughter watches The Daily Show. She understands the sillier bits of humor, but just doesn't get the parts that require an understanding of our political climate, or the personalities involved. The edition of the book that I read did have footnotes to explain some of the references, but as everyone knows, a joke's not funny once you have to explain it.

The book also satirizes an area that I personally find very intersting - science. This occurs when Gulliver is in Laputa and Balnibarbi. Basically, the people are all intellectuals, who go to the extreme of relying entirely on theory instead of practical knowledge. I'm sure Swift wrote this in response to the Enlightenment, and to the then not so old Royal Society. However, this attitude of questioning the reason for doing science when there's no clear practical application irritates me. Knowledge for its own sake is good enough. In the same way that some people may find beauty in a painting, others can find beauty in a deeper understanding of the mysteries of our universe. I've written about this previously so I won't go on about it anymore here.

The section on Glubbdubdrib was on another subject that irritates me. The king of Glubbdubdrib had the power to bring people back from the dead (but only a day at a time, and no more than once every three months). It was basically one long section on how things were so much better back in the good old days, when the kings were nobler, the generals braver, the philosophers smarter. I've written about the good old days before, too, and they weren't always so good.

Finally, the book was just so negative. It didn't start off too bad, but became increasingly pessimistic as time wore on. In reading other people's reviews online, I've seen many of them characterize it as misanthropic, and I have to agree. You definitely don't put down the book and walk away with a skip in your step.

I guess that there's probably a reason that a book's still in print almost 300 years after it was first published. To quote the Wikipedia entry on Swift:

Gulliver's Travels is an anatomy of human nature, a sardonic looking-glass, often criticized for its apparent misanthropy. It asks its readers to refute it, to deny that it has not adequately characterized human nature and society. Each of the four books--recounting four voyages to mostly-fictional exotic lands--has a different theme, but all are attempts to deflate human pride. Critics hail the work as a satiric reflection on the failings of Enlightenment modernism.

Perhaps my main problem is that I just happen to like Enlightenment values.

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