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Category Archives: Truth

Yes, Race Can Be Discussed Constructively and Civilly

colors1Note: I sometimes issue posts that are deliberately a bit provocative, hoping to stimulate thinking or to spark a debate. “Mr. President: I Am Not a Racist and Neither Is Anyone I Know” was one of those posts. For my small blog, the post had wide distribution (several hundred at last count), and I’m happy to say that, except for one flippant comment, all responses have been constructive. One notable response, sent by Mr. Keith Fong, was an exemplary example of civil debate. I am responding to Mr. Fong’s comments in this post, to help demonstrate how engineering thinking principles can be productively applied to controversial topics.

Dear Mr. Fong:

Thank you for your constructive and even-tempered comments in response to my post.

You said:

You argue that you, personally, have never met a racist. Really? How have you been searching for them? What is the analytical approach that you’ve taken? Perhaps you don’t see racism and haven’t seen racism simply because you’re not looking for it. “The Invisible Gorilla” is a fine book on the science of not seeing what you’re not looking for.

You are questioning my veracity or my self-knowledge, which is a fair question; I address those issues further down the page. Regarding improper observation, self-delusions, faulty memories, etc., I agree that learning about our limitations is essential for proper science. A listing of books on “bad science” that I think are worthwhile can be found here: DACI Resources.

Regarding some references on racial research, I suggest Race and Culture by Thomas Sowell, who makes a convincing case that culture is really the important factor.

You said:

Perhaps there is an issue of definition here. What is racism to you? Do you have to burn a cross in the yard of someone of another race to be a racist? If a waiter in a restaurant doesn’t offer the same level of service to a person of a particular race as to people of other races because the waiter “knows” people of that race aren’t good tippers, is that racism?

Good question. How about this for a definition:

“A racist (or sexist, or other “ist”) is someone who, when they interact with an individual and notice a certain group characteristic, will reflexively have a strong overriding emotional reaction. They are not really seeing the person, they are seeing an image in their head that has nothing to do with the person. Their subsequent interactions are guided by this mental fantasy, and not by objective evaluation of the individual.”

There is however a subtle but important difference when one is asked about a hypothetical person; someone that you are not interacting with, face-to-face. In such cases mental profiling occurs: one will review what is known about the person’s group’s characteristics, and assess the odds of interfacing productively with a random member of that group. This is not evil, it is simply a natural matter of playing the odds, based on a knowledge of the characteristics that are typical for the group. As a recent example of this point, please see “10 Black child geniuses you should know” by Amir Shaw, 28 June 2013, Bayview.

Excerpts:

“If you only watched the evening news or depended on pop culture to paint a picture of young Blacks, you would probably think that the majority of Black youngsters were only ambitious about sports and music – or caught up in crime and debauchery.

However, the face of Black success isn’t limited to the fields that are occupied by Jay-Z, Beyonce and LeBron James. There are a multitude of young Blacks who are achieving at a high level in science, math, classical music, chess and other knowledge-based areas and preparing to change society.”

You said:

If you are going to make a sincere evaluation of whether racism still exists, you would have to use more than your limited experience. You would also have to establish and challenge your assumptions (the first of which is that your personal experience is meaningful and significant to whether or not racism exists).

Where would you search for evidence of racism? I think the criminal justice system is a fine place to start. There is plenty of data available that is broken out by race: The rates of drug use, the rates of incarceration for drug crimes, the rates of murder and the rates of death sentences.

Another place to look would be voting rights. Why are the laws to access to voting becoming more restrictive? Who are the people most affected? The justifications I’ve seen are to prevent fraud, but where is the evidence of fraud?

Interesting points. However, I did not claim to make an evaluation of whether or not racism still exists; in fact, I said the opposite (“Yes, there are some racists out there, around the fringes; we’ve all read about them.”). I suppose you may be taking issue with my characterization of racism being a much smaller issue than portrayed by the general media, and your points would be a way to help quantify the extent of racism. But the primary thrust of my post was about the logical fallacy of implying someone to be a racist because of their group membership.

However I can see that a lack of clarity on my part may have caused you a bit of confusion. I should have defined the related engineering thinking principle — fallacy of composition — where it is illogical to conclude that what is true of some parts of a population is true of all parts of the population.

You said:

Do you know that you are not racist? Have you evaluated yourself? Have you ever taken an “Implicit Association Test?” I have and, I have to say, I learned some things that contradicted my self image that I’m an exemplar of unbiased thought and action.

I agree that it’s always possible to learn more about oneself. However, based on the definition of “racist” provided above, I can state that I do not reflexively have strong overriding emotional reactions when meeting other people, based on their group characteristics. Furthermore, it is not scientifically appropriate for me to be expected to prove that I am not a racist, because I have made a testable and verifiable assertion. To invalidate my assertion would require knowledge of me as an individual. None of those I mentioned in the earlier post know me as an individual, therefore it is scientifically invalid for any of them to suggest that I am a racist. (For them to assume that I am without knowing me, because they may know some racists in my group, is a fallacy of composition.)

You said:

To roll this up, yours is an opinion post. You make an assertion without evidence and proceed to take personal offense. That is *not* engineering thinking. Where’s the data? Where’s the dispassionate analysis? Where’s the assumption that you’re wrong and you’ve shown that the data indicates you’re right?

Your comments about not providing supporting evidence are quite correct. From a practical standpoint, providing a thorough evidence- and/or analysis-based paper on any controversial topic would require much more time than available to me, so I have to shorthand my arguments with references and/or brief analysis. This is consistent with what I state in my Home page (par. 5), “…the purpose of this blog is not to convince you of a particular view. The purpose is to present some important principles and show how to use them to arrive at useful — even vital — conclusions. You are encouraged to question everything I say, and to do your own research and fact-checking to see if you agree or disagree. Such independent verification is itself an essential component of engineering thinking.”

You seem to be implying that I made a claim that there are no racists. But my key assertion was the one in the title: I am not a racist, and neither is anyone I know. This is a happy fact that you can disbelieve if you think I am a liar or deluded, but if you knew me personally I think you would believe the assertion’s sincerity and accuracy. Because I am not a racist I take offense at those who imply that I am, simply because I am a member of a group. For example, in responding to the President’s comments on the tragic Trayvon Martin case, Senator John McCain said, “Events like this highlight and emphasize that we have a long way to go.” We? Who is “we”? As for myself and for the folks that I know, we don’t have a long way to go; we’re already there, and have been for a long time. Perhaps the senator’s comment would have been more accurate if he had said, “There are still a few in this country, a small percentage of the populace, that have a long way to go.”

burglarSometimes it helps to illustrate a point by removing emotionally-laden words and replacing them with ones that are non-controversial. For example: There are burglars. However I am not a burglar, and I don’t know anyone who is. Therefore I would be offended if someone were to suggest that I was one, or that I had latent burgling tendencies unknown to myself, and that I should take sensitivity training to detect such innate tendencies. Ridiculous? Yes, but it’s equivalent to suggesting that someone is a racist simply because of group affiliation.

In my view, the ill-willed racist society that is strangely and illogically portrayed by much of the media appears to be a sad and troubling hallucination of their own invention, easily discounted by observation. Although some racists and other “ists” of all types surely exist (as do burglars), in the main it is a bright and tolerant America that I see and experience.  Just take a look at gatherings in offices and restaurants and malls and sporting events and parks and parties, and you will find folks of all races, ethnicities, religions, etc., mixing together productively and harmoniously. If you know of some place where this is not the case, perhaps we can invite President Obama, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Candy Crowley, Chris Mathews, and Senator McCain to visit those poor souls and provide some counseling.

Again, Mr. Fong, thank you for your comments. Since I’ve always thought it unfair for editors to have the last word, if you like, I will publish any follow-up comments you may provide without editorial intervention.

-Ed Walker

 

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Mr. President: I Am Not A Racist, and Neither Is Anyone I Know

multicolorsDear President Obama, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Candy Crowley, Chris Mathews, Senator McCain, and all the rest who feel that America is full of racists: You’re wrong.

For decades I have worked beside folks of all colors, religions, ethnicities, genders, left-right handedness, and other irrelevant characteristics, and have not yet met a racist. The folks I know are concerned only with whether or not a person has good character; whether or not they are trustworthy. Secondly, as an employer or co-worker, the only other consideration is whether or not they are competent at what they do.

That’s it. That’s all. Yes, there are some racists out there, around the fringes; we’ve all read about them. But they are largely irrelevant today. Eliminating racism is yesterday’s battle, fought and almost completely won.

So — and I suspect I am speaking for millions of my fellow citizens — I am absolutely outraged that you think that the color of my skin is enough to label me a racist. I am not, and neither is anyone I know.

If you know a racist, then point them out — name names — and let the law take care of them. If you’re not willing to be specific, then keep quiet. Enough with generic group guilt accusations, based on nothing. You are practicing Bad Science; drawing conclusions from emotional predilections rather than objective review and analysis.

All of you who engage in this racial victimization nonsense, from the President on down, owe me — and millions like me — an apology.

-Ed Walker

 

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ET EXTRA: Flouridation and the Arrogant Tampa Bay Times

The Times has once again castigated some public officials for their opposition to fluoridation (“Brickfield strays from fluoride facts to defend his vote,” 21 Sep 2012).

The Times‘ tirade against fluoridation demonstrates the low standards of their editorial page; i.e., it does not take much investigating to determine that fluoridation, pro or con, is not a settled issue (e.g. “The Fluoride Debate Heats Up and Finally Gets Some Media Attention,” 25 Sep 2012 mercola.com).

The Times should curb their rants and be more circumspect in their opinions. As a start, because it is possible that fluoridation, all things considered, may indeed be harmful to the public, The Tampa Bay Times should apologize to the Pinellas County Commissioners they have unfairly maligned.

(Also see “The Tampa Bay Times Editorials“).

-Ed Walker

 

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Where Is Eliot Ness?

Eliot Ness, the lawman best known for his major role (1927-1931) in taking down Chicago mega-gangster Al Capone, was known to be incorruptible, as were his hand-picked team members (known as “The Untouchables” because they could not be bribed). Ness also helped clean out the highly corrupt Cleveland city government, weeding out over two hundred crooked police officers and public officials.

So why is ET talking about Mr. Ness? Because integrity is essential, not only for upholding the law, but also for making good decisions.

IF THE INFORMATION WE USE TO MAKE DECISIONS IS CORRUPT
THEN OUR DECISIONS WILL BE WRONG

Engineers know this. We simply cannot do our work without accurate and reliable data. If it’s discovered that an engineer has falsified data, or engaged in any other deceptive behavior, they are (in my experience) always fired. Integrity is mandatory for an engineering professional.

One of the most important decisions we make is whom to elect to represent us in our federal and local governments. If politicians seeking office were subjected to an engineering design review, it would be a straightforward process; i.e. the “spinners” (liars) would be detected and rejected. Unfortunately, the method we use to select politicians is hugely corrupted by bad data, and here’s a major reason why:

You may be aware, in watching or reading the news, that politicians (or their allies in the media) often use exactly the same phrases. e.g., “taxing the rich,” “shared sacrifice,” “pay their fair share,” “balanced approach,” “drive the economy over a cliff,” “the extreme right wing,” etc. The reason these phrases sound like they are all part of a chorus is that, well, they are. “Talking points” (emotionally-laden and focus-group tested phrases) are distributed to all like-minded politicos and their friends, who repeat them at every opportunity. The idea is that the average person, upon hearing the same viewpoint expressed by many supposedly independent sources, will conclude that the viewpoint must be true.

But talking points are not based on the search for truth, they are based on the search for votes, and are simply propaganda, sometimes blatant, sometimes subtle. To the extent that the intent is to make you believe something is true when the speaker knows it is not, they are lies. Unfortunately, they are very effective, and they are extremely destructive; not just because they are false and misleading, but because they very often appeal to our worst nature (e.g. encourage us to be envious of those who make more money than we do, a position that is neither logical or moral (see “Is The President’s Reason For Taxing The Wealthy Logical?“; “Is The President’s Reason For Taxing The Wealthy Moral?“)).

Can we clean this up? Are you today’s Eliot Ness? Are you an Untouchable, the man or woman who cannot be bribed, who will always tell the truth? When you hear a politician utter an emotionally-laden smear, will you speak up and challenge them? Will you change careers or come out of retirement and run against the liars, so we can rid them from our government?

Please step forward, we need you.

-Ed Walker

 

 

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Baloney Alert: PolitiFact Is Light On Logic

The St. Petersburg Times Memorial Day edition had a PolitiFact article with the following headline :

“Bulb warnings are light on facts

There’s no plan to ban incandescents, just make them more efficient”

PolitiFact’s second statement above is so logically absurd it made me laugh out loud when I read it. At ET we believe in straightforward honesty: no lies, no spin, no deception, and no misdirection. This includes having the integrity to accept statements in their clearly-presented context. Unfortunately, PolitiFact often likes to twist and distort the context of statements, in effect gerrymandering them into one of their preferred liberal themes.

In this case, here are the facts: the government has not literally banned incandescent light bulbs, true. But it has passed regulations requiring light bulbs to have efficiencies that are impossible for them to achieve. There is no technology on the horizon that will allow incandescent bulbs to achieve that efficiency. Manufacturers of incandescent light bulbs have reacted accordingly by shutting down production. Therefore — bottom line — the government has indeed, in essence, banned the use of incandescent light bulbs.

PolitiFact’s childish contrary argument earns our maximum 5-baloney rating.

Regarding PolitiFacts’ other comments on the compact fluorescent lighting (CFL) replacement for incandescent bulbs, please see “Unintended Consequences: Nanny Engineering” in the DACI 2nd Qtr 2011 Newsletter, and “Why Government-Directed Energy-Savings ‘Investments’ Are Illogical.”

Notes

The St. Petersburg Times is as good as it is bad. We were planning a piece called “It was the best of Times, it was the worst of Times,” where best refers to their investigative reporting, and worst refers to their editorials and their PolitiFact operation. At this point other priorities have intervened, but we hereby want to provide an honorable mention of their stellar investigative work.

Also, we strive hard to be objective, with our critical commentary targeted at non-ET people or organizations, regardless of political affiliation. Although we believe there are sound reasons that support a small-government-is-better theme, this does not mean that honorable people cannot disagree, or that there are no ET deficiencies in the corporate/business world. If you have a suggestion of a person or firm that would be worthy of an ET review, please let me know.

Update 2011/05/31

Here’s another good summary of the unintended consequences of using CFLs: “The CFL Fraud” by Edmund Contoski.

Update 2011/06/02

For a follow-up discussion on this issue, including some facts on the halogen alternative to the standard light bulb, please check PolitiFact Bias under “Bryan adds.”

-Ed Walker

 

 

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Shameful Behavior Award: Pushing Grandma Off A Cliff

The image to the left (from YouTube) is from an ad created by the Agenda Project. The ad states, “Now, Republicans want to privatize Medicare,” as it shows a man wheeling an elderly lady up a cliff, against her will, and then dumping her over the edge.

From an ET perspective, does the ad portray any empirical evidence to support its allegations? No. Does it provide any analysis to support its allegations? No.

The Republican plan, put forward by congressman Paul Ryan, does not affect anyone over 55, which rules out most elderly “Grandmas” as depicted in the ad. It also tries to responsibly address the fact that Medicare, as it presently exists, is broke, and a plan such as Ryan’s will be required to save Medicare. This is exactly the opposite of the message conveyed in the ad.

Creating and running an ad designed to scare the elderly, and doing so by blatantly lying, is despicable. Therefore ET awards its Shameful Behavior award to the Agenda Project, and its founder, Erica Payne.

 

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Man-Made Global Warming A Scientific Fact? Not So Fast

Excerpts from “Update: 59 Additional Scientists Join Senate Report…More Than 700 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims“:

“Fifty-nine additional scientists from around the world have been added to the U.S. Senate Minority Report of dissenting scientists, pushing the total to over 700 skeptical international scientists – a dramatic increase from the original 650 scientists featured in the initial December 11, 2008 release. The 59 additional scientists added to the 255-page Senate Minority report since the initial release 13 ½ weeks ago represents an average of over four skeptical scientists a week.  This updated report – which includes yet another former UN IPCC scientist – represents an additional 300 (and growing) scientists and climate researchers since the initial report’s release in December 2007.

“The over 700 dissenting scientists are now more than 13 times the number of UN scientists (52) who authored the media-hyped IPCC 2007 Summary for Policymakers. The 59 additional scientists hail from all over the world, including Japan, Italy, UK, Czech Republic, Canada, Netherlands, the U.S. and many are affiliated with prestigious institutions including, NASA, U.S. Navy, U.S. Defense Department, Energy Department, U.S. Air Force, the Philosophical Society of Washington (the oldest scientific society in Washington), Princeton University, Tulane University, American University, Oregon State University, U.S. Naval Academy and EPA.”

Science and the public are not well-served when scientists succumb to the financial rewards offered by the government in return for touting politically correct views, rather than true science. Fortunately — as indicated by the uncorruptable scientists mentioned above — science has a correcting mechanism, albeit a lagging one, which tends to elevate the truth over the self-serving interests of scientists that are corrupted by government grants.

-Ed Walker

 

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