Tag Archives: Truth

Paying Their “Fair Share”: Should The Rich Be Our Slaves?

As mentioned in a recent post (“Where Is Eliot Ness?”), making decisions based simply on public pronouncements is extremely difficult, because such pronouncements are often false and misleading.

Today, for example, we hear a lot of talk about “the rich” needing to pay “their fair share” in order to reduce the U.S. deficit.  If you accept that statement at face value, it implies:

1. The rich are not presently paying their fair share.

2. Taxing the rich will reduce the deficit.

3. Taxing the rich is acceptable because they have more money than we do, and it is morally okay to take it from them and give it to the rest of us.

Even though all of the above implications are arguable, “the rich need to pay their fair share” is spoken as though it is gospel, a classic example of evoking powerful emotions (primarily envy) that bypass the brain, in order to dishonestly advance a policy position.

What can be done? Demand serious discussion based on evidence and logic. Write your congressional representative, compose a letter and send it to the editor of your local newspaper, stand up during a town hall meeting and respectfully challenge talking-point blather, or express your views (with careful research and analysis) in your own blog.

-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.


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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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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PolitiFact Earns “Pants On Fire” Rating

PolitiFact Claims To “Sort Out The Truth In Politics.” They Don’t Prove It, Earning A “Pants On Fire” Rating.

PolitiFact, operated by the St. Petersburg Times, claims to be a site to help you “sort out the truth in politics.”

As we’ve mentioned before (“Internet Hazards, Junk Journalism, and Movie Malarkey: Who Do You Trust? (Part 3)“), calling yourself a fact-check organization does not make you one. Here’s how to tell, using PolitiFact as an example:

1. Does PolitiFact disclose its sources of income, if any, that may tend to bias their evaluations? No.

2. Does PolitiFact disclose the backgrounds of its reporters and editors, so the reader may account for potential bias? No.

3. Does PolitiFact state that its staff includes an ombudsman who is tasked with presenting contrary or minority views, and ensuring balance? No.

4. Does PolitiFact provide a set of criteria to ensure (a) that a representative selection of issues will be checked (balance), (b) that both sides of the issues will be reviewed (fairness), and (c) that issues will be numerically scored with regard to degrees of truth or falsity (objectivity)? No.

PolitiFact scores a big fat zero, ranking it among sites devoted to UFOs, ghosts, psychic phenomena, and other organizations that dabble in pseudoscience.

This does not mean that PolitFact is completely biased or always wrong. It does mean that they have no sound basis for claiming that their comments are anything more than mere opinion. It also means that their evaluation criteria may shift from issue to issue, perhaps allowing them to indulge in subtle favoritism toward people or issues they like, while awarding “pants on fire” ratings to those they don’t.

For example, they recently rated “government takeover,” a slogan widely applied to the Obama health care plan, as “Lie Of The Year” (Dec 16, 2010). But since they have no scientific standards for what constitutes a lie, their pronouncement itself may be “a lie” to those who define “government takeover” as severe governmental intrusion and regulation, arguably true characteristics of the Obama plan. To brand “governmental takeover” a lie, PolitiFact had to resort to equating that term with socialism, which the plan — at least initially — is  not. However, the technical distinction between complete governmental control, versus merely huge amounts of governmental control, is likely a distinction of no consequence to average citizens, who have made clear their opposition to the Obama plan.

Without standards, the PolitiFact “fact checkers” may also shift the context of an issue, trivializing important positive aspects of events they don’t like, while emphasizing minor negative or irrelevant aspects. For example, the PolitiFact front-page coverage of the massive Tea Party march (September 14th, 2009) was headlined “Tea Party photo shows huge crowd — at different event.” Disregarding the fact that the march was indeed massive and highly newsworthy, and also disregarding the fact that the fake photo they presented was never presented as an official photo by the Tea Party, they trivialized one of the most important political events of the year.

PolitiFact may not even be aware of their selective bias, and it appears they never will be, because they have no scientific standards to guide them.

-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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