(I try to present
facts and logic and
solutions rather than just opinions.)
If your facts and logic are
convincing, I'll change my mind !
This page updated: October 2018
News Overload / News Avoidance section
Political Terms section
How to Detect Bogus Claims, Articles, Sites, Videos section
My US Policy Choices page
My Religion page (and my Anti-Science page)
My Conspiracy Theories page
My Israel and the Palestinians page
My Climate Change page
My Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) page
News Overload / News Avoidance
A phenomenon I see more and more:
people who actively do not want to hear anything about
current affairs. If you try to talk about war or politics
or something with them, they groan and say "I don't want
to talk about it", and change the subject. I hear this
from lots of people, including
a lot of well-educated people. They really resent efforts
to discuss these things; they seem to feel you're trying
to make them unhappy.
I think many people have come to this kind of thinking:
- the situation is awful.
- the situation never changes.
- the situation can't be fixed (especially by the viewer,
and maybe also by USA and UN and everyone else).
- I don't want to hear, think or talk about it any more.
For example, this applies to the Israel/Palestine conflict:
- situation is awful: war, innocents being killed,
Arabs hating USA because of Israel, terrorism, etc.
- situation never changes: it's been like that since 1948
or 1967, and will be for another 50 years.
- situation can't be fixed: I's and P's each believe God
tells them to occupy same land and kick the other guys out.
Both sides armed to the teeth, supported by other countries.
- I don't want to hear, think or talk about it any more.
Or take USA politics:
- situation is awful: wrong party is in office, all politicians
are corrupt, nothing but partisan bickering, country
losing jobs, immigrants flooding us, no health insurance,
abortion and gays taking over, huge national debt, etc.
(List depends on your point of view.)
- situation never changes: it's been like that since 60's, or when I lost my job,
or when Reagan left office, or whenever.
(Date and cause of ruination depend on your point of view.)
- situation can't be fixed: my vote is worthless, big money
and two parties and corporations run everything, they're
all crooks, etc.
- I don't want to hear, think or talk about it any more.
So I think a news org could do the BEST story EVER on
Israel/Palestinians or Democrats/Republicans or another of
these "intractable" problems, and most people still would turn
it off. A "new", "hot" issue such as immigration reform gets a
better reception, but falls into the same mold after a while if
no resolution is reached.
I think this explains some of the shift to blogs or
partisan-news such as Fox News. In those places, you
can avoid a lot of factor #1, "situation is awful", by
choosing an outlet that simply does not report bad news,
as you define it. Instead, they spin things to sound good,
or to line up with your beliefs. And maybe Fox News softens
factor #3, "situation can't be fixed", by telling you we're
winning the wars in the Middle East, and we're getting rid
of the Liberals, so the situations ARE getting fixed.
Some people say they don't want to hear the news any more
because "it's always BAD news; why can't they report some GOOD news ?".
That's a bit of factors #1 and #2 in my list, although my 1-2-3-4
framework really pertains to each news issue individually, not all
news topics grouped together.
I'm not sure when this "don't want to hear about it any more"
attitude kicked in or why. When did voter participation start
plunging ? Was it in reaction to Vietnam, or Watergate, or
the Kennedy-King-Kennedy assassinations ? Or maybe when
the economy got tougher, people hunkered down to concentrate on
job and family, and tuned out current affairs ? Or maybe it's
just due to simple passage of time since the birth of global TV news:
after N decades of tragic news about the same places on the TV news,
the audience finally decided those disturbing situations are NEVER
going to be fixed ?
Some of it is, I think, story-overload. It used to be that we
only heard about a few tragedies around the world: Vietnam, Israel,
say Biafra. And those we got new info about maybe once a week.
Other places just weren't covered; didn't appear on our TV and
most newspapers. Or maybe appeared once a year. Then came satellites
and portable cameras and quick worldwide transmission, and now
it's all-tragedy all-the-time. Another story about civilians killed
in Israel/Palestine/Lebanon every day. It feeds right into points
#1 (situation is awful) and #2 (situation never changes) in my framework.
Even if they were journalistically GREAT stories every day about the
latest Israel tragedy, people would still hate them.
I'm not sure how we can fix this. I guess my engineer's mentality
would say: produce stories that propose solutions to the problems.
Don't just report "10 more civilians killed in southern Lebanon today";
add "and to stop this, here's a proposal from respected group X who
thinks Israel should create a 10-mile wide permanent DMZ on the border",
or some other solution or set of alternative solutions. This is advocacy
or editorial journalism, I guess, and you'd have to make a clear line
between "here are the facts" and "here's our opinion/advocacy". But
leaving people with just the (horrible) facts just reinforces their
1-2-3-4 thinking as I outlined above. I think we should attack point #3
(situation can't be fixed) to get people engaged again.
Tom Stafford's "Psychology: Why bad news dominates the headlines"
Two standard practices of the newspaper industry seem wrong to me:
- The headline is written by an editor, not the author of the article. This leads to misleading
headlines that don't match the content of the article. This practice has been carried over to
sites such as Slate, and podcasts. The headline has been sensationalized to draw you in,
and doesn't match the content.
- My letter to the editor is edited by the newspaper before being printed over MY
name, and I have no chance to see or approve the edits. I stopped submitting
letters to newspapers because my letters were mangled so badly. Newspapers should
not edit these letters. They should respond one of three ways:
And there should be no editing
for grammar or spelling; how well or badly someone writes or spells is part of
the letter, and helps the reader determine how credible they are.
- print the letter verbatim, or
- decline to print the letter, or
- respond saying "we like your letter but we need it X% shorter, please trim and re-submit".
Workers own the means of production.
All property is publicly owned.
Each person works and is paid according to their abilities and needs.
The means of production, distribution, and exchange is owned or regulated by the community as a whole.
(In Marxist theory) A transitional social state between the overthrow of capitalism and the realization of communism.
History of Socialist Plots in America
A country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.
Private ownership of capital.
An authoritarian hierarchical and nationalistic system of government and social organization.
Centralized government, government control of business, repression of criticism or opposition,
a leader cult, and exalting the state and/or religion above individual rights.
Holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.
Believe in personal responsibility, limited government, free markets,
individual liberty, traditional American values and a strong national defense. Believe the role
of government should be to provide people the freedom necessary to pursue their own goals.
- Fiscal Conservative: avoids deficit spending; advocates reduction of overall government
spending and national debt as well as ensuring balanced budget.
- Social Conservative: believes government and/or society have a role in encouraging or enforcing
traditional values or behaviors based on the belief that these are what keep people civilized and decent.
Favors social policies based on a particular reading of Judeo-Christian values, generally in favor
of public prayer and the right to own guns, and opposed to abortion rights, same-sex marriage
and the teaching of evolution in public schools.
- Neo-Conservative: promotes democracy and American national interest in international affairs,
including through military force. Hates communism and political radicalism.
Open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.
Favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms.
Favoring maximum individual liberty in political and social reform.
Believe in government action to achieve equal opportunity and equality for all. It is the duty of the government to alleviate
social ills and to protect civil liberties and individual and human rights.
Markets are the best possible way to run everything.
Everything should be run as a business and viewed like a business.
Even people are interchangeable resources, useful for what they can produce.
There are winners and losers.
Privatize many pieces of government.
Maximization of individual liberty in thought and action.
A person who advocates civil liberty.
A person who believes in the doctrine of free will.
Emphasizes individual liberty and a lack of governmental regulation and oversight both
in matters of the economy and in personal behavior where no one's rights are being violated or threatened.
Damon Linker's "Libertarianism's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea"
Edwin Lyngar's "My libertarian vacation nightmare"
Jacob Weisberg's "Libertarians are blowing a huge opportunity by acting like libertarians"
Michael Lind's "The question libertarians just can't answer"
A person advocating or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas.
Favoring or promoting change or innovation.
From "Don't Think Of An Elephant !" by George Lakoff 2004
American conservatives and progressives both view the nation as a "family", but
different styles of "family":
- Conservatives believe in the "strict father" model of the family:
The world is a dangerous place, and it always will be, because there is evil
out there in the world. The world is also difficult because it is competitive.
There will always be winners and losers. There is an absolute right and an absolute wrong.
Children are born bad, in the sense that they just want to do what feels good, not what is right.
Therefore, they have to be made good.
What is needed in this kind of a world is a strong, strict father who can:
- Protect the family in the dangerous world.
- Support the family in the difficult world, and
- Teach his children right from wrong.
What is required of the child is obedience, because the strict father is a moral
authority who knows right from wrong. It is further assumed that the only way to teach kids obedience - that is,
right from wrong - is through punishment, painful punishment, when they do wrong. ...
The rationale behind physical punishment is this: When children do something wrong, if they
are physically disciplined they learn not to do it again. That means that they will develop internal discipline
to keep themselves from doing wrong, so that in the future they will be obedient and act morally. Without
such punishment, the world will go to hell. There will be no morality.
Such internal discipline has a secondary effect. It is what is required for success in the difficult,
competitive world. That is, if people are disciplined and pursue their self-interest in this land
of opportunity, they will become prosperous and self-reliant. Thus, the strict father model
links morality with prosperity. The same discipline you need to be moral is what allows you to prosper.
The link is the pursuit of self-interest. Given opportunity and discipline, pursuing your self-interest
should enable you to prosper.
Now, James Dobson is very clear about the connection between the strict father worldview and free market capitalism.
The link is the morality of self-interest, which is a version of Adam Smith's view of capitalism.
Adam Smith said that if everyone pursues their own profit, then the profit of all will be maximized by the invisible hand - that is,
by nature - just naturally. Go about pursuing your own profit, and you are helping everyone.
... it is moral to pursue your self-interest, and there is a name for those people who
do not do it. The name is do-gooder
. A do-gooder is someone who is trying to help
someone else rather than herself and is getting in the way of those who are
pursuing their self-interest. Do-gooders screw up the system.
... A bad child is one who does not learn discipline, does not function morally, does not do
what is right, and therefore is not disciplined enough to become prosperous. She cannot take
care of herself and thus becomes dependent.
When the children are mature, they either have learned discipline and can prosper, or have failed to learn it.
From this point on the strict father is not to meddle in their lives.
This translates politically into no government meddling.
Consider what all this means for social programs. It is immoral to give people things they have
not earned, because then they will not develop discipline and will become both dependent and
immoral. ... if there are a lot of progressives in Congress who think that there should be social
programs, and if you believe social programs are immoral, how do you stop these immoral people ?
It is quite simple. What you have to do is reward the good people - the ones whose prosperity reveals
their discipline and hence their capacity for morality - with a tax cut, and make it big enough
so that there is not enough money left for social programs. By this logic, the deficit is a good thing.
As Grover Norquist says, it "starves the beast".
... in January 2004, President Bush said that he thinks they can cut the deficit in half by
cutting out "wasteful spending" - that is, spending for "bad" social programs. Are conservatives
against all government ? No. They are not against the military, they are not against homeland
defense, they are not against the current Department of Justice, nor against the courts, nor the
Departments of Treasury and Commerce. There are many aspects of government that they like very much.
They are not against government subsidies for industry. Subsidies for corporations, which reward
the good people - the investors in those corporations - are great. No problem there.
But they are against nurturance and care. They are against social programs that take care of
people. That is what they see as wrong. That is what they are trying to eliminate on moral grounds. ...
Think for a minute about what this says about foreign policy. Suppose you are a moral authority.
As a moral authority, how do you deal with your children ? Do you ask them what they should do or
what you should do ? No. You tell them. What the father says, the child does. No back talk.
Communication is one-way. It is the same with the White House. That is, the president does not
ask; the president tells. ...
... The United States, being the best and most powerful country in the world - a moral authority - knows
the right thing to do. We should not be asking anybody else.
... Most of the United Nations consists of developing and underdeveloped countries. That means
they are metaphorical children. ...
- Progressives believe in the "nurturant parent" model of the family:
Both parents are equally responsible for raising the children. The assumption is
that children are born good and can be made better. The world can be made a better
place, and our job is to work on that. The parents' job is to nurture their children
and to raise their children to be nurturers of others.
What does nurturance mean ? It means two things: empathy and responsibility.
If you have a child, you have to know what every cry means. You have to know when the
child is hungry, when he needs a diaper change, when he is having nightmares. And you
have a responsibility - you have to take care of this child. ...
All of this is not easy. Anyone who has ever raised a child knows that this is hard.
You have to be strong. You have to work hard at it. You have to be very competent.
You have to know a lot.
In addition, all sorts of other values immediately follow from empathy and responsibility. ...
First, if you empathize with your child, you will provide protection. This comes into
politics in many ways. What do you protect your child from ? Crime and drugs, certainly. You also
protect your child from cars without seat belts, from smoking, from poisonous additives in food. So
progressive politics focuses on environmental protection, worker protection, consumer protection,
and protection from disease. These are the things that progressives want the government to protect
their citizens from. But there also are terrorist attacks, which liberals and progressives have
not been very good at talking about in terms of protection. ...
Second, if you empathize with your child, you want your child to be fulfilled in life, to be a happy person. ...
There are still other nurturant values:
- If you want your child to be fulfilled in life, the child has to be free enough to do that.
Therefore freedom is a value.
- You do not have very much freedom if there is no opportunity or prosperity.
Therefore opportunity and prosperity are progressive values.
- If you really care about your child, you want your child to be treated fairly
by you and by others. Therefore fairness is a value.
- If you are connecting with your child and you empathize with that child, you have to have open, two-way communication.
Honest communication. That becomes a value.
- You live in a community, and that community will affect how your child grows up. Therefore
community-building, service to the community, and cooperation in a community become values.
- To have cooperation, you must have trust, and to have trust you must have
honesty and open, two-way communication. Trust, honesty, and open communication are fundamental
progressive values - in a community as in a family.
Every progressive political program is based on one or more of these values.
That is what it means to be a progressive.
... there are six basic types of
progressives, each with a distinct mode of thought. They share all the
progressive values, but are distinguished by some differences.
- Socioeconomic progressives think that everything is a matter of money and class and that
all solutions are ultimately economic and social class solutions.
- Identity politics progressives say it is time for their oppressed group to get its share now.
- Environmentalists think in terms of sustainability of the earth, and the protection
of native peoples.
- Civil liberties progressives want to maintain freedoms against threats to freedom.
- Spiritual progressives have a nurturant form of religion or spirituality, their spiritual
experience has to do with their connection to other people and the world, and their spiritual practice
has to do with service to other people and to their community.
Spiritual progressives span the full range from Catholics and Protestants to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Goddess worshippers,
and Pagan members of Wicca.
- Antiauthoritarians say there are all sorts of illegitimate forms of authority out there and
we have to fight them, whether they are big corporations or anyone else.
All six types are examples of nurturant parent morality. The problem is that
many of the people who have one of these modes of thought do not recognize that theirs is
just one special case of something more general, and do not see the unity in all the types of
progressives. They often think that theirs is the only way to be a true progressive. That is sad.
It keeps people who share progressive values from coming together. We have to get past that
harmful idea. The other side did.
Back in the 1950s conservatives hated each other. The financial conservatives hated the social conservatives.
The libertarians did not get along with the social conservatives or the religious conservatives.
And many social conservatives were not religious.
[Then rich conservatives set up institutes and foundations, to write books and get on the media,
to do research, to frame issues the way they want them framed, to compromise among themselves and establish unity
among the various types of conservatives.]
Three myths that end up hurting liberals and progressives:
- The truth will set us free. If we just tell people the facts, since people
are basically rational beings, they'll all reach the right conclusions.
No, people think in "frames", which force a certain logic. To be accepted, the
truth must fit people's frames. If the facts do not fit a frame, the frame
stays and the facts bounce off.
- It is irrational to go against your self-interest, and therefore a normal person,
who is rational, reasons on the basis of self-interest. Modern economic theory and foreign
policy are set up on the basis of that assumption.
No, people do not really think that way. People do not necessarily vote in their self-interest.
They vote their identity. They vote their values. They vote for who they can identify with.
- There is a metaphor that political campaigns are marketing campaigns where the candidate is
the product and the candidate's positions on issues are the features and qualities of the product.
This leads to the conclusion that polling should determine which issues a candidate should run on. ...
[To capture the voters in the "middle", liberal and progressive candidates try to modify positions to "move to the center".]
Instead, they should try to activate their model in the people in the middle.
The people who are in the middle have both models, used regularly in different parts
of their lives. What you want to do is to get them to use your model for politics - to activate
your worldview and moral system in their political decisions. You do that by talking to people
using frames based on your worldview.
Liberals and conservatives on America
From /u/SnappyCrunch on reddit:
I've found that a good way to view political opinions is to understand what's important to person in question.
Conservatives are interested in Order, and they tend to view the issues before them through the dichotomy of lawful and lawless.
Liberals are interested in Helping, and view the world as oppressor vs oppressed.
Libertarians are interested in Freedom, and thus see issues as freedom vs slavery.
Let's take illegal immigration as an example. Conservatives are generally against it because it's illegal.
It doesn't matter if they pay taxes and don't use public services, they're here illegally and need to go.
Liberals want paths to citizenship because these people come from dangerous areas where they are oppressed,
so we shouldn't send them back there. Nearly as bad, they continue to be oppressed when they're here by
needing to be hidden, at risk of being deported. Granting citizenship is the option that helps most.
Libertarians generally support citizenship because Libertarians tend to believe that national borders are
a bit bullsh*t anyway, and that anyone who wants to come and work in this country will only make it stronger.
So you can see why the conversations are difficult. The Liberal says to the Conservative "I can't believe you're
going to send those people back to their home countries, don't you care about them?" while the Conservative
says to the Liberal "I can't believe you're going to let these lawbreakers stay in our country and worse,
you're going to reward them for breaking the law!" Meanwhile the Libertarians are saying to no one in particular
"Why do we even have immigration controls?"
This is a very roundabout way of answering your question. It's not just that we can't find a middle ground
between the two major parties, we can't even get the party members to talk about issues in a way that members of the other party understand.
From Wray Herbert's "Red science vs. blue science":
... Mooney is convinced - and convincing - that Republicans and Democrats are fundamentally different
in the way they think about the world. Republicans have a different cognitive style than Democrats.
They show lower tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty, which makes them defensive about
their beliefs and highly resistant to persuasion. Conservative Republicans score low on a
personality trait called "openness to experience", which encompasses curiosity and intellectual flexibility.
... This "politicized wrongness", as Mooney labels it, has very high stakes. Just a few of the
right-wing "truths" with no scientific merit: that global warming is not related to human activity
and is not a threat, that abortion causes breast cancer and mental disorders, that homosexuality
is a choice that can be reversed. The list goes on, with huge logical and political ramifications
for health, war, and peace. But the ultimate harm, Mooney asserts, is the "utter erosion of a shared sense of what's true".
The stakes are not quite as frightening in the liberal assault on science, as detailed in "Science Left Behind".
Berezow and Campbell call the villains here progressives, by which they seem to mean environmentalists,
health-food advocates, and other groups whose personal life choices the authors resent. These behaviors
include such "feel-good fantasies" as using water-conserving toilets, shopping at health-food stores,
running barefoot, and conserving fossil fuels by driving Priuses.
In any case, the vast majority of liberal behaviors that fall under Berezow and Campbell's withering gaze are,
at worst, just silly and uninformed consumption patterns. Right-wing fallacies with further-reaching
implications are given lighter treatment. ...
These splits seem related, forming a hierarchy: Republican/Democrat, Conservative/Liberal, Individualist/Social, Male/Female.
"Con men like Rush and Beck are one reason the Republicans are in such dire straits today.
Because they don't care about winning elections. They care about separating rubes from their money.
They've discovered there's a fortune to be made by keeping a small portion of America under the
illusion that they are always under attack. From Mexicans, or ACORN, or Planned Parenthood, or gays,
or takers, global warming hoaxers; it doesn't matter. They don't want a majority. They want a mailing list,
a list of the kind of gullible Honey Boo Boos out there who think that there's a War on Christmas,
and that the socialist policies of our Kenyan President have been so disastrous that the end of the world is coming."
-- Bill Maher
Economic philosophies at the heart of modern USA politics:
, which arose circa 1930:
There is a spectrum from most to least control
Economic behavior can be measured (econometrics), understood
at both individual (micro-economic) and aggregate (macro-economic) levels,
and government can intervene to control or "fix" the economy.
Macro-economic behavior mostly can't be understood or controlled,
and anything government does to intervene is fairly likely to be wrong.
But: government should work to make sure citizens have housing,
medical care, jobs; government can regulate work hours, monetary system.
Even mandatory universal health care and unemployment insurance are okay.
Wikipedia's "Friedrich Hayek".
Great podcast about this:
NPR "Planet Money" 398, 28 Aug 2012
Robert Reich's "The conservative formula is wrong: Why liberal states won America's tax experiment "
- Fully controlled economy:
Government controls economy completely.
Government often intervenes to control or "fix" the macro features of
the economy, including inflation and unemployment.
- Democratic Party / "Left" today:
Government intervenes to fix major crashes of the economy, and to keep
inflation and unemployment at reasonable levels.
Government regulation of markets is okay.
Safety nets so citizens don't go hungry or without medical care.
Government almost never intervenes.
Safety nets so citizens don't go hungry or without medical care.
- Republican Party / "Right" today:
Government shouldn't intervene in economy (except massive military spending is okay,
massive subsidies to agriculture and energy industries are okay, if economy crashes
then bailouts of big business are okay).
Government regulation of markets should be minimal.
Safety nets are wrong.
- Totally free market economy / libertarian / Ayn Rand:
Government never intervenes in economy.
No regulation of markets; they're self-regulating.
Safety nets are wrong.
Edwin Lyngar's "My libertarian vacation nightmare"
From Robert Reich, 2/2016:
I'm writing to you today to announce the death of the Republican Party. It is no longer a living, vital, animate organization.
It died in 2016. RIP.
It has been replaced by 6 warring tribes:
- Evangelicals opposed to abortion, gay marriage, and science.
- Libertarians opposed to any government constraint on private behavior.
- Market fundamentalists convinced the "free market" can do no wrong.
- Corporate and Wall Street titans seeking bailouts, subsidies, special tax loopholes, and other forms of crony capitalism.
- Billionaires craving even more of the nation's wealth than they already own.
- And white working-class Trumpoids who love Donald. and are becoming convinced the greatest threats to their well-being are Muslims, blacks, and Mexicans.
Each of these tribes has its own separate political organization, its own distinct sources of campaign funding, its own unique ideology - and its own candidate.
What's left is a lifeless shell called the Republican Party. But the Grand Old Party inside the shell is no more.
I, for one, regret its passing. Our nation needs political parties to connect up different groups of Americans, sift through prospective candidates, deliberate over priorities, identify common principles, and forge a platform.
The Republican Party used to do these things. Sometimes it did them easily, as when it came together behind William McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt in 1900, Calvin Coolidge in 1924, and Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Sometimes it did them with difficulty, as when it strained to choose Abraham Lincoln in 1860, Barry Goldwater in 1964, and Mitt Romney in 2012.
But there was always enough of a Republican Party to do these important tasks - to span the divides, give force and expression to a set of core beliefs, and come up with a candidate around whom Party regulars could enthusiastically rally.
No longer. And that's a huge problem for the rest of us.
Without a Republican Party, nothing stands between us and a veritable Star Wars barroom of self-proclaimed wanna-be's.
Without a Party, anyone runs who's able to raise (or already possesses) the requisite money - even if he happens to be a pathological narcissist who has never before held public office, even if he's a knave detested by all his Republican colleagues.
Without a Republican Party, it's just us and them. And one of them could even become the next President of the United States.
Throwing labels around usually reduces the conversation to just insults.
How to Detect Bogus Claims, Articles, Sites, Videos
Doesn't give both sides of an issue, and is absolutely sure its side is right.
In the real world, how many issues are simple and clear, and have one side which is completely right ?
- Part of a Campaign:
If the first 100 results of a Google search on some claim are all copycat sites,
the claim probably is part of a manipulative campaign.
If credentials of the author are trumpeted, and those who disagree are attacked
personally instead of refuting their argument, the claim is suspect.
Any real issue should be discussed on its own merits, without caring who is
on which side. A comment such as "oh, I never read anything from source X, he's just a Y"
is a sign of laziness, evasiveness and personal attack.
- Suspect motives:
Is the author making money from the claim, or trying to promote a political side,
or trying to justify a religious view ?
Using buzzwords such as natural, ancient wisdom, or borrowing scientific terms (fractal, chaos, quantum),
or making coded attacks on government, science or Big Pharma.
- Track record of the author:
Is the author a serial denier (for example, denies ozone hole, pollution, evolution, greenhouse gasses, climate change),
or serial conspiracy-theorist (claims to know the "real truth" about ten different conspiracies),
or a serial claimer (touting a new "miracle natural cure" every couple of months) ?
- Track record of the field:
Some areas (natural remedies, astrology, conspiracies, free energy, etc) have been so
rife with fraud and misrepresentation in the past, that you should be extra-skeptical about
claims in those areas today.
- Too good to be true:
We know a fair amount about cancer, and energy, and other topics. It's unlikely
that some new thing is suddenly going to cure all cancer, or give us free energy, or whatever.
Such an extraordinary claim should be supported by extraordinary, very solid evidence that
could stand up to rigorous testing, not just some internet campaign.
- Fails common-sense tests:
Does the author claim that scientists are getting rich off some controversy ? Most scientists probably
could make a lot more money working for an oil company or insurance company or financial company,
than by doing research.
Does the author claim that some drug cures just about all known diseases, most of them completely
unrelated and with completely different underlying mechanisms ? Is the author evasive about
dosage, side-effects, testing ? All bad signs.
Does the author claim that there's some all-powerful, amazingly secret body involved,
yet he has penetrated the secrecy and knows the truth ? If so,
they aren't so powerful and secret, are they ?
- Form over substance:
Is the claim made via a slick video or fancy web site, instead of
simple, clear statements with links to sources ? Maybe this is an attempt to use slick production
values to hide a weak claim.
- Quantity over quality:
Is a fairly simple claim made via a long video or pages and pages of text, instead of just
stating it simply and clearly ? Maybe this is an attempt to overwhelm the reader.
Does the author imply that all scientists say the same thing, or all doctors do, or "the government" is one body that
has one unified message, or all corporations are working to suppress something ?
Very, very unlikely.
- Evasion, or changing the subject:
When you question specifics, does the author respond by changing the subject ?
If you ask "how does one miracle drug work against 500 diseases ?", the response
is a tirade on the evils of Big Pharma. A sign that the claim can't stand up to scrutiny.
sci-ence.org's "The Red Flags of Quackery"
The Ultimate Cheatsheet for Critical Thinking
Skeptoid's "How to Spot Pseudoscience"
Stephen Barrett and Victor Herbert's "Twenty-Five Ways to Spot Quacks and Vitamin Pushers"
Robert L. Park's "Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science"
Avi Roy and Ander Sandberg's "The seven deadly sins of health and science reporting"
Emil Karlsson's "How to Spot a Pseudoscientific Paper"
Ross Pomeroy's "5 Easy Tips for Denying Scientific Consensus"
Skeptical Raptor's "Science denier indicators - the pseudoscience bullsh*t meter"
Science or not's "Trusting the experts"
Some good sites to check:
Alex Murray's "How to report fake news to social media"
World population projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050 - UN report
But from Floyd Norris's "Population Growth Forecast From the U.N. May Be Too High"
"... in UN's 2008 forecasts, global population was set to peak around 2070 and then begin to fall.
In the latest forecast, there is no peak in sight."
From Kiran Moodley's "World population to peak by 2055: report"
"The world population will peak at 8.7 billion people in 2055 and then decline to 8 billion by 2100, according to new research by Deutsche Bank."
From NYTimes "Off the Charts: World Population Could Peak by 2055"
From Henry Grabar's "Could Earth's Population Peak in 2050?"
"[Study in Spain] shows global population peaking in 2050 slightly above eight billion,
and then falling back to 6.2 billion by the end of the century, the same as the total world population back in 2000."
From Jeff Wise's "About That Overpopulation Problem"
"... researchers at Austria's International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis foresee the global
population maxing out at 9 billion some time around 2070."
All of these projections involve lots of guessing about fertility rates in various countries.
From Megan Scudellari's "The science myths that will not die"
Wikipedia's "Projections of population growth"
Carl Haub's "What If Experts Are Wrong On World Population Growth?"
... the human population has not and
is not growing exponentially
and is unlikely to do so, says Joel Cohen, a populations researcher at the Rockefeller University in New York City.
The world's population is now growing at just half the rate it was before 1965. Today there are an estimated 7.3 billion people,
and that is projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. Yet beliefs that the rate of population growth will lead to some doomsday
scenario have been continually perpetuated. ...
The world's population also has enough to eat. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,
the rate of global food production outstrips the growth of the population. People grow enough calories in cereals alone to
feed between 10 billion and 12 billion people. Yet hunger and malnutrition persist worldwide. This is because about 55% of the
food grown is divided between feeding cattle, making fuel and other materials or going to waste, says Cohen. And what
remains is not evenly distributed - the rich have plenty, the poor have little. Likewise,
water is not scarce on a global scale
even though 1.2 billion people live in areas where it is.
"Overpopulation is really not overpopulation. It's a question about poverty", says Nicholas Eberstadt,
a demographer at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank based in Washington DC.
Yet instead of examining why poverty exists and how to sustainably support a growing population,
he says, social scientists and biologists talk past each other, debating definitions and causes of overpopulation.
What affects the numbers:
I think increasing wealth and education act to slow or reverse population growth. Past predictions of a
"population bomb" have failed to come true.
Some countries have negative population growth.
Behavior is key:
Technology often acts to mitigate the effects of population increases.
People seem to assume that per-capita consumption and efficiency will remain the same as the population grows.
In fact, some things promise to reduce per-capita consumption and increase efficiency.
For example, maybe in the future, a lot of travel will be replaced by better communication.
I know, videophones and telecommuting haven't really happened as predicted since the 60's or whenever.
But if they DO really happen, that would greatly reduce the per-capita consumption.
Same with renewable energy and electric cars. Suppose car-owning population goes up 10x, but those cars are no longer burning fossil fuels ?
We in USA waste something like 40% of the food we produce. Suppose we got that number down to 10% ?
Suppose artificial meat becomes a real thing ? Could support a lot more population, reduce impacts of our animal-food industry.
Suppose renewable energy gets cheap enough that we can use it to purify seawater to make drinking water,
and generate hydrogen from rainwater or seawater ?
Suppose we created algae or bacteria that processed sewage and landfills and garbage dumps
and toxic waste sites to extract valuable resources and produce fuel ?
3D printing has the potential to eliminate a lot of transportation of parts and finished goods;
just transmit the design electronically to where the consumer is.
Anyway, just focusing on the total population number is not enough.
From /u/rocketsocks on reddit:
> Is there an estimated maximum possible
> population of the Earth ?
No. And there fundamentally cannot be.
Humans are unusual creatures because our behavior, our "ecological niche", and our use of resources are not determined purely
genetically as it tends to be for other animals. We are fundamentally a technological species. That doesn't just mean we
use tools, as some people have come to take the meaning, it means that we are capable of adapting, learning, and teaching.
Which means that we are capable of passing on how to build and use a specific tool, of course, but it's much more than that.
It also means we can pass on non-corporeal tools, tools of the mind and of behavior, tools such as language, culture, ethics, art, etc.
What this means for the human species is that the coupling between "natural environmental limits" and the limits of population
is effectively broken. If you take, say, a group of deer you can draw strong connections between their environment and the degree
to which it can support a population of a given size, if you get too many deer there just won't be enough food, etc.
Humans, however, do not have fixed behavior. More so, we are capable not just of consuming resources but of producing,
or causing the production of, resources. Humans have the ability to change their diet, change how they live, where they live, etc.
And we produce food, produce energy, produce raw materials, etc. For a given level of technological / industrial capability
and a given set of human behaviors you could make a claim about the carrying capacity of the Earth, however none of those things is constant.
Take food, for example. The amount and type of meat that people eat greatly impacts the amount of resources it takes to supply
food for that person. Also, developments such as more efficient means of farming, new strains of crops, and artificial fertilizer
have enabled massive increases in the efficiency and effectiveness of food production. If there were some particular major limiting
factor on some aspect of human living then there would be pressure, due to economics etc, to change behaviors and avoid that limit.
For example, if we could no longer supply much meat to people then folks would switch to more vegetarian diets. If we ran into a limit
in production of copper then people would turn to other materials like aluminum or iron or plastic for many of the uses of copper.
And if we ran into a problem with producing fresh drinking water people would start changing their water usage patterns, we'd
stop washing our cars, watering our lawns, and flushing our toilets with drinking water, for example. And so forth.
And that's the fundamental problem of estimating the human carrying capacity of the Earth. You're dealing with two major moving
targets (behavior/lifestyle and industrial/agricultural capability) each of which breaks down into innumerable smaller areas
that are all of enormous complexity. Any attempt at a holistic analysis is going to be a gross oversimplification one way or another.
From someone on reddit:
Yes ! Archaeologists and human paleoecologists haven't considered population limits (or "carrying capacity", to use the
technical term) to be something directly measurable for decades. The best you can do is construct mathematical models,
and these oversimplify the factors that affect it to the point where the information being produced is effectively meaningless.
For a more in-depth explanation of the problems associated with the Malthusian/Leslie White approach to population limits
(or "carrying capacity" to use the technical term), see
by archaeologist Brian Hayden.
It's not layman speculation. This is a standard response given by archaeologists (who study changes in human environment
interactions over thousand year timescales, and are thus directly relevant to this question). Here's
backing that position.
"Too many" depends on combination of "numbers" and "behavior":
What metrics would be used to decide "There are too many humans on The Earth" ? Too many for what ?
Too many because density or air quality aren't like they were 200 years ago ?
How do you pick a number and say "that's too many humans" ? Doesn't it depend on how they behave,
and what your choices are about humans vs other species and environment ?
Suppose we had 100 billion humans living on Earth. Suppose they used renewable energy,
preserved other species, didn't pollute the water and air. No problem, right ?
Overpopulation really isn't much of a problem today. The problem is people crowding into megacities
because there are no jobs out in the countryside. Or people living under governments that steal all
of the oil or diamond money and leave the people impoverished. Or countries in civil wars,
where food distribution is broken or denied. Or people with no money, so if their crop fails, they starve.
Or people destroying habitats or overfishing
or polluting, because regulation is weak.
From UN's "World Population Monitoring 2001":
The estimates of Earth's carrying capacity range from under 1 billion to more than 1000 billion persons.
Not only is there an enormous range of values, but there is no tendency of the values to converge
over time; indeed, the estimates made since 1950 exhibit greater variability than those made earlier.
From /u/JVani on reddit:
"Even if the 5 billion poorest people in the world suddenly vanished, it would only be a tiny blip in global greenhouse gas emissions."
Wikipedia's "Human overpopulation"
Simon Butler's "Population Control: 10 Reasons Why It's the Wrong Answer"