Tag Archives: Trust

Yet More Baloney: PolitiFact’s False Stimulus Rating

As we mentioned in “PolitiFact Is Light on Logic” and “PolitiFact Earns “Pants On Fire” Rating,” the PolitiFact “fact checking” organization is simply not credible.  As yet another example of how they tailor their arguments to match their preconceptions, consider the 22 June 2011 article, “Bogus Stimulus Claim Recycled.”

This is at least the second time that they have assigned a “False” label to a claim that is not false, but in fact is completely reasonable. That claim is, “the [Obama] stimulus failed to increase jobs.”

In Engineering Thinking, an analysis is not worth anything unless the data being reviewed are considered in context. PolitiFact has a penchant (when it suits them) to evaluate statements completely literally, rather than in the common-sense meaning that the speaker intended.

So here we go again. PolitiFact looks up some data to show that the stimulus “saved” or “created” jobs.  Therefore they rate the claim as False.

But in its full context, the claim can be reworded as,  “the [Obama] stimulus failed to increase meaningful, permanent jobs that pay for themselves.”

Let’s do an analysis to see why this claim is true:

Analysis by Analogy:

1. I am laid off from work.

2. I go to the bank and get a loan so that I can hire myself to do that job I always wanted to do (watching and evaluating sports teams) that no one else would ever pay me to do.

3. I have just created a job! Wow!

4. At the end of the year, when the money runs dry, I am (a) back where I was a year earlier, without a job, (b) plus I now owe the bank my year’s salary plus interest. (The wife is not happy.)

In other words, the Obama “stimulus” provided salaries to folks who would have been laid off because of lack of funds, or provided salaries for temporary jobs (remember the army of census workers?). The stimulus funds were loaned to us by foreign countries. So, now that the money is gone and the economically-unjustified and short-term jobs have disappeared, we taxpayers owe a foreign country for the salaries the government spent on all of those “created” or “saved” jobs, plus interest.

-Ed Walker


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ET EXTRA: Do Economists Use Engineering Thinking? Not Nobel Prize-Winner Paul Krugman

From prior Engineering Thinking posts we’ve learned that opinions should not be accepted at face value. Unfortunately, most of us are too busy to fact-check everything we read, so we tend to allow our opinions to be swayed by the writings of well-known columnists for the major newspapers. We are even more swayed if the columnist holds major credentials, such as being the recipient of a Nobel prize.

Consider Nobel prize-winner Paul Krugman, who is also a columnist on economic matters for the New York Times, and a major advocate of the Obama administration’s policy of massive “stimulus” spending. If you were to follow Mr. Krugman’s more recent writings, you might be swayed to think that massive government spending is good and necessary.

One of the traits of those who employ engineering thinking is consistency. Therefore, a trait to be wary of is inconsistency. Mr. Krugman is not consistent. For numerous examples please check “Paul Krugman, the Self-Contradicting Economist” by Arvind Kumar, 23 June 2010 American Thinker.

The bottom line: Based on his record of contradictory statements, Mr. Krugman is not a reliable source, and therefore his writings can be safely ignored.

-Ed Walker


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Internet Hazards, Junk Journalism, and Movie Malarkey: Who Do You Trust? (Part 3)

Hazards From The Internet

An Internet site can call it itself anything. For example, just because a site bills itself as being a “fact check” organization does not mean that it delivers the facts. Similarly, those glowing Internet ratings and reviews that you read may have been written by folks who are owners or employees of the companies whose products and services are being reviewed. Of course, they do not identify themselves as such; e.g. a review that reads, “Ed Walker is a great engineer! – Ed Walker,” will likely not engender confidence in the objectivity of the review.

The bottom line is that owners, employees, friends, and relatives can all contribute positive but biased or completely false reviews (although sometimes these are counterbalanced by opposing and scathing lies posted by competitors and grouches).

How does one know whether or not to trust an Internet source? The best route is to verify that the source has been recommended or approved by a person or organization of unquestioned integrity. A traditional means of such fact-checking would be to rely on media outlets such as newspapers and television news programs. Unfortunately, this is no longer a reliable method…

Junk Journalism

Although there are many fine journalists, there are also many in the media who label themselves as such who are not; i.e., they are not balanced, fair, nor objective. This is indeed a tragedy, because average citizens do not have the time or resources to independently research the multitude of important issues which affect their lives. They need help from honest and competent journalists.

Many of today’s journalists, however, do not appear to have taken any courses in critical thinking, or even in the basics of true journalism. Pseudo-journalists routinely report things as facts when they aren’t (psychic phenomena), have no sense of balance (non-stop coverage of an event in a celebrity’s personal life while ignoring global calamities), and reflexively promote their own unscientific and emotionally-laden views (politics).

Some reporting of political issues by major news outlets is extremely biased and dishonest, going to such lengths as to employ fraudulent polling, wherein the desired result is obtained by over-sampling a part of the population that is in favor of the desired result. (This tactic is humorously demonstrated in a classic Stan Freberg TV commercial from the 1950s that claimed, “Nine out of ten doctors recommend Chun King Chow Mein!” The ad showed ten doctors in scrubs, comprised of nine smiling Chinese and one frowning white guy.)

As a minor example of the present unfortunate state of journalism, many reporters today seem to have a compulsion to be novelists. The newspapers in Tampa routinely begin a news item with flowery language of the “It was a dark and stormy night” variety, leaving out who, what, when, where, and why. Sometimes, maddeningly, such essential information is absent from the entire column.

Movie Malarkey

In addition to conventional news sources, we often look to the art of filmmaking for education and inspiration. Films based on insightful and well-researched literature can indeed be powerful learning tools. Lesser works, however, can be nothing more than slick propaganda.

Some movies are produced that purport to be documentaries, but aren’t. Some claim that they’re “based on a true story,” but actually have only a superficial resemblance to the truth.

For example, the popular movie Titanic (directed by James Cameron) did a wonderful job in recreating the technical details of a marvelous ship, but it did a lousy job in portraying the historical record. In addition to other distortions, it obscenely damaged the reputation of First Officer Murdoch: “In Cameron’s version, he is a posh git [British slang for incompetent person] who takes a bribe, shoots a passenger, panics, and commits suicide. In reality, he gave his lifejacket away, drowned, and has a memorial in his home town of Dalbeattie.” (ref. “James Cameron’s Avatar can’t be any worse than ‘Titanic'” by Libby Purves.

As an engineer I appreciate faithfulness to technical details, but all in all I would have preferred to learn the truth about the history of the times, rather than view accurate images of a big boat weaved around a story of deceitful distortions.

Artistic license is often cited as an excuse for grossly distorting history, to achieve a “dramatic effect.” Artistic license however should not be a license to steal, to alter the historical truth. Unless you know that the folks involved in making a movie have the highest integrity, it would be wise to ignore the “lessons” that movies teach.

This post completes an introduction to the principle of objectivity, which is essential to Engineering Thinking. To be objective we must be free of emotional blockages and willing to question our cherished assumptions. We must also be prepared to invest the time it takes to properly research important issues, so that we avoid the self-serving lies of the frauds, the agenda-driven propaganda of deceitful media sources, and the biases and delusions of otherwise honest folks.

In addition to objectivity, there are several other important principles of Engineering Thinking. But before we get into those, in our next post we’ll start to put what we’ve learned to work, with a practical analysis of a common problem.

Next Post:

My Spouse Is Too Moody: What Do I Do?

-Ed Walker


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ET EXTRA: Fraud And The Health Care Debate

Engineering Thinking Extra Is A Short Review Of A Current Hot Topic

A Five Jacks Shameful Behavior Rating (Our Highest)
for a

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)
Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA)
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI)
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel
Yale professor Jacob Hacker
Ezra Klein from the Washington Post
NY Times columnist Paul Krugman

As asserted in “We Interrupt This Blog…”, a major problem with the governmental system is that it tends to become corrupt. A striking example is today’s health care debate over the so-called “public option.” Please see the following link for clear evidence that our elected officials, and their like-minded supporters, are actively lying to us: “The Public Option Deception” by Morgen Richmond (


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Advice From Professionals: Who Do You Trust? (Part 2)

Doctors, financial advisors, and other professionals — even engineers — can be wrong. They are not in the same category as the deliberate frauds discussed in the previous post, but bad advice is still bad advice, and it can be just as dangerous.

Some professionals get too busy to keep up with the advances in their field, and their knowledge becomes outdated. Others have become so specialized that they have a financial incentive to recommend only those procedures or investments that help pay their bills; i.e. they lose the required objectivity to properly meet your needs. In other cases some professionals may feel threatened by new ideas that undermine their cherished beliefs and diminish their status.

Scientific Sins

Science professionals, being human, are quite susceptible to emotional blockage, bias, and sometimes even fraud. (A very interesting older book on this topic is Betrayers Of The Truth by Broad and Wade; Simon and Schuster, 1983.) The scientific method tends to weed these folks out over the long run, but for the short run (which may take years, or even decades), you can hear scientific “conventional wisdom” that is wrong, even damaging.

For example, up until the late nineteenth century, when Louis Pasteur formulated the germ theory of disease, it was common hospital practice for doctors to perform their work without washing their hands. Many years prior to Pasteur’s germ theory, however, Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis discovered that washing the hands with an antiseptic solution dramatically decreased the incidence of a fatal fever. He did not link this to any underlying theory of germs or other explanation; it was simply an empirical observation, but a significant one.

One would think that Semmelweis’ findings would have quickly ushered in a new era of clinical cleanliness, with Semmelweis receiving appropriate recognition for saving many lives, but no. In an ironic and sad example of the stubbornness of humans — even those with scientific training — Semmelweis’ urging of physicians to wash their hands was not only ignored, he was ridiculed and dismissed from his job at the hospital. When he persisted in writing angry letters encouraging physicians to embrace his sanitation methods, he was considered to have lost his mind, and was rewarded with a residence in an asylum. His stay was short, for he was beaten to death by guards within two weeks of his arrival.

Although Semmelweis’ story is an extreme one, it illustrates the fact that favored concepts, even among scientists, die hard. This truth was noted by Max Planck (1858-1947; a German physicist considered to be the father of quantum theory), who said,

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing
its opponents and making them see the light,
but rather because its opponents eventually die,
and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

In many important regards things are not much better today, not because we drive our maverick scientists to madness, but — perhaps even more troubling — because we are experiencing a proliferation of broad systemic corruption in science. Abetted by the shoddy state of journalism, this makes it exceptionally difficult for average folks to evaluate scientific opinions that can impact their pocketbooks, health, and freedom.

The bottom line is that scientific “truth” can lag reality for a very long time. There are two important points to be learned:

It is not whether a scientist, or 99% of scientists, make a claim,
what matters is the evidence and logic that are presented to validate the claim.

Second, a claim should be stated in clear terms that the average person can understand. Unscrupulous people try to win arguments by saying that only the “experts” can comprehend an issue, and therefore the rest of us, the average citizens, must trust them. This is nonsense. The average person is quite capable of understanding basic physics, basic economics, or other basic matters of science.

Demand clarity.
If someone tells you, “You wouldn’t understand,” tell them,
“Oh, yes I would, if you would speak plainly.”

Tips For Obtaining Advice From Professionals

1.  Before you seek an opinion, verify the credentials of the professional from independent and competent persons or organizations of unquestioned integrity.

2.  Obtain two or more opinions on any important issue. Make sure the professionals have no significant business or social relationships with each other.

3.  Avoid the opinions of those who have a vested interest in their answer (e.g. do not ask a doctor who specializes in radiation therapy for cancer if you need radiation therapy; the predictable (but potentially biased) answer may be “yes,” even though other more objective doctors may say “no”).

4.  Be cautious of those whose advice is coupled to extra products or services that they sell (e.g. doctors who recommend supplements, and who just happen to have those supplements for sale in their clinic). A sign of integrity in such cases will be that such folks will readily provide recommendations for comparable products/services from other independent sources.

5.  Do your own research and ask questions. (If the professional can’t find the time for a full discussion, or resents being challenged, it’s probably best to find someone else.)

6.  Seek those who have previously demonstrated that they will offer advice that may be at odds with their own natural inclinations or financial self-interest. (Such folks are hard to find, but if you do find them, file their names in your “trusted source” folder.)

Next Post:

Internet Hazards, Junk Journalism, and Movie Malarkey: Who Do You Trust? (Part 3)


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Books, Magazines, and Seminars: Who Do You Trust?

The value of what you learn is dependent on the character and competence of those from whom you learn. If the articles and books you read are written by truly reputable authors, then the odds are good that you will absorb some valuable knowledge. But how does one verify character and competence?


A background check, using a reputable person or organization as your guide, is a good way to identify those who are less competent at what they do. Well-intentioned and honest but unqualified folks may perform poorly, but they do it without guile, creating a paper trail of unflattering reviews that allow us to adjust our expectations. You may even want to hire Joe the painter because of his rock-bottom price, even though you’ve learned from his past customers that when Joe is done you’ll find your windows painted shut.


On the other hand, those with low moral character tend to be less visible, because they are adept at escaping detection. Performing competently is not their real goal, so their offerings may be completely wrong and even dangerous: seminars on why you should invest in their business; books on losing weight without reducing calories or exercising; and articles on how to win the lottery or find the perfect mate.

Smiling Faces Sometimes Tell Lies

Low-character predators convey an engaging personality, adopt honorable professions (sometimes obtained with fraudulent mail-order degrees), and are fluent with phrases that may sound scientific to a non-scientist, but are actually gibberish. They have an excellent understanding of human nature and you want to believe them. You want to make them your best friend, trust them with your life’s savings, even marry them. You’ll find these charming frauds throughout society, and their intent is to make you part with whatever you have that they want. Many of them have a favorite saying:

Trust Me

Therefore, although an article, book, or seminar may have the trappings of authenticity, beware that it could easily be bogus, because fraudsters are master mimics of respectability. Before you order that weight-loss product touted in an article by a celebrity author, or sign up for that “ten simple steps to great wealth” seminar, insist on proof of past performance to confirm that the author or lecturer is truly worthy of your time and money.

Sometimes it only takes a few civil well-placed questions to weed out the lower-level ripoff artists. Here are some examples from personal experience:

1. The “Too Good To Be True” Scam:

While researching a dubious claim for a product, I asked a sales rep, “Can you provide a report from an independent testing company that proves the effectiveness of your all-electronic water purifier?” After some attempts to deflect me to the company’s own test results, it was admitted that the answer was no.

2. The “You Can Trust Me Because I Know Your Neighbor” Scam, Version 1:

I answered a knock on our door to find a scruffy man in workman’s clothes who said, “Hi, I can give you a good price for trimming your trees. I’m going to do the same for your neighbor next door, um, um…” He was obviously stalling, waiting for me to say “Mrs. Gibbons?” so he could then say, “Yeah, Mrs. Gibbons,” but I just waited. He finally stuttered some more, “Um, um…” and then laughed and walked away.

3. The “You Can Trust Me Because I Know Your Neighbor” Scam, Version 2:

The smiling collegiate-looking young man at the door said he was collecting money for a neighborhood student’s field trip to Europe. “How nice,” I said. “Please give me the student’s name and phone number so I can call to make arrangements to give them a donation.” He walked away.

4. The “I’m Well-Dressed And Articulate So You Can Trust Me” Scam:

A professionally-garbed man approached us in the early evening on a street in St. Augustine. With polished grammar, he politely requested a short-term loan to get his car out of a garage. “I’m so stupid;” he said, “I left my wallet at home.” I sympathized and then asked, “What’s the name of the garage?; I’ll call and give them my credit card number.” He tried a few more gambits but I insisted on dealing directly with the garage. He finally smiled and walked away.

For another example of the audaciousness of frauds, reprinted below is a true story from a prior issue of The Design/Analysis Newsletter:


Sightings is a collection of true experiences as reported by credible sources

Charlie the Consultant was advised that he was to start reporting to Pat, the new Director of Manufacturing who had been hired to launch the product Charlie had designed. Charlie attended the initial one-on-one meeting with Pat, and half an hour later left, feeling puzzled — very puzzled. Pat had not asked Charlie any pertinent questions concerning the product, and in fact seemed to be in a hurry to get rid of Charlie.

Charlie returned to the office and dug out a resume of Pat’s that had been circulated earlier. Although Charlie had been asked to review the resume, Pat had been quickly hired before Charlie had the opportunity, so Charlie had just filed it away. But now he gave it a good look, and frowned. The resume was one of the worst he’d ever seen (and he’d seen quite a few), and did not appear at all to reflect the background of someone who claimed to have been head of manufacturing for an electronics firm.

Charlie asked an associate — someone who possessed particularly good investigative skills — to check out Pat’s claims. It soon became apparent that Pat had never been a Director of Manufacturing, nor for that matter director of anything. Pat was a fraud.

Although Charlie had not yet confirmed some of the details, such as the bona fides of Pat’s supposed BSEE degree from the Southwestern University in Arizona, Charlie had more than enough evidence to alert his client, which is what he did. But to Charlie’s surprise, rather than being congratulated for helping avoid a terrible mistake, Charlie was instead chastised. “We’ve checked him out and he’s okay,” said the client, blithely ignoring the results of the investigation. Charlie replied, “Did you even check out his academic background?” ”Of course,” said the client angrily, “He showed us his diploma.”

After a few more terse comments, Charlie decided that, for whatever reason, his client was not capable of looking at the situation rationally. Perhaps it was because the client had earlier released an announcement in the company newsletter informing the shareholders of the great new manufacturing director that had just been hired. In any event, Charlie resigned.

Shortly thereafter, Charlie received confirmation that Southwestern University had been a scam, a diploma mill that federal agents had investigated and shut down back in the eighties. It was basically a post office drop where you could mail in a couple hundred bucks and they would mail you back a degree. Charlie wondered why Pat didn’t spring for fifty dollars more and get a doctorate.

Some months later Charlie heard that the locks on the doors of his ex-client’s facility had been changed, at about the same time that Pat was fired.

Next Post:

Advice From Professionals: Who Do You Trust? (Part 2)

-Ed Walker


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