Tag Archives: science

Climate Change Is Real And I’m Old Enough To Feel Its Impact

Rising U.S. concern about climate change is mostly among Democrats | Pew  Research Center

Science is a long, laborious, and often tedious process. That’s to be expected. It is, by far, the most effective tool that humanity has in terms of gaining greater knowledge and understanding the world around us.

It’s not always intuitive. There are times when science has revealed just how wrong we were. It’s not that we were all stupid beforehand. We just didn’t have all the data. We could only assume as much as our current understanding allowed.

That’s fine.

That doesn’t make anyone a bad or ignorant person for having held those assumptions.

Science, by its nature, is a self-correcting process. It doesn’t assume anything. It’s always taking in new information, running more tests, and expanding on previous hypotheses. Most of the time, it affirms what we already suspected. Sometimes, though, it completely defies everything we thought we knew.

For that reason, some people just love pointing out all the times science was supposedly wrong to cling to dogmatic assumptions like creationism and Flat-Eartherism. These people really are idiots and they’re often asshole grifters who don’t deserve the slightest bit of sympathy.

Then, there are the climate change deniers. They’re not just skeptics, which I can understand to some extent. They’re outright deniers in that they work under the assumption that the whole study of climate change is a hoax or some environmentalist conspiracy.

Now, not everyone in that camp is a stupid asshole grifter who probably leans conservative and has connections to oil companies. Those people are certainly there and they deserve plenty of scorn. At the same time, I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to some who just can’t see the forest from the trees.

To the latter, I’d like to share my own personal testimony that I hope will improve your understanding of the topic. Whether you believe it or not, climate change is a serious issue that could have serious consequences for billions of people all over the world. We can and should do something about it while we still have time.

I say that as someone who has been hearing about these environmental for most of his life. When I was a kid, I grew up watching cartoons that often threw in a few pro-environment messages. There were even shows that presented global warming as a serious issue and I’m not just talking about “Captain Planet.”

As a kid, I didn’t understand much of the science. Even most of the adults I talked to didn’t understand it. Some showed concern, but most weren’t inclined to give it much credence. Some even thought it was all just environmentalist propaganda.

It didn’t help that many of them lived in parts of the country where the weather didn’t change considerably from season to season. Many lived in the southern United States where they rarely got snow or cold temperatures of any kind. If the Earth was getting warmer, they weren’t going to notice.

The same could be said for the family I had living in the north. Some lived in areas that got a lot of snow. Talk to them about global warming and they’d be more likely to welcome it, often joking about how they wouldn’t mind shoveling less snow every winter.

Again, both these perspectives miss the forest from the trees. Climate, by definition, doesn’t focus on weather from day to day or even year to year. It tracks temperatures and conditions over a long span of time. For people who don’t pay attention or live in areas with relatively bland weather, it can be hard to sense.

For where I live, however, that’s not the case. I live in the Mid-Atlantic area of the United States. It’s an area that sees a wide range of conditions between winter and summer. I’ve lived through summers where it has been over 100 degrees for weeks on end. I’ve also lived through winters that have had multiple blizzards. I’ve experienced both extremes.

As a result, I take notice when those extreme change considerably. It doesn’t happen all at once. Sometimes, it’s subtle to the point where you don’t realize it until years later. Now, given my age and how long I’ve been living in this area, I can safely say that I have felt the affects of climate change.

It has only become obvious to me over the past few years. In that time, I’ve really taken note of how mild every winter has been lately. It used to be things got pretty brisk in mid-October. In the weeks before Halloween, I had to stop wearing shorts and keep a sweatshirt handy. For the past couple years, it only seems to get chilly for a couple of days. Then, it’s up over 70 degrees again.

The winter months have been even more noticeable. When I was a kid, it rarely snowed in December, outside a few rare occasions. However, it was still usually cold, so much so that I had to wear a heavy coat for most days. These days, it has rarely gotten overly cold. I can go almost the entire month of December without having to wear more than a sweatshirt.

It’s still January and February that have been the most noticeable. For so many years, right up until 2015, I could usually count on at least two significant snowstorms. They were rarely full-blown blizzards, but it was still common to see some snow on the ground for the majority of the month.

That has changed considerably in recent years. In my area, there hasn’t been a significant snowstorm in over five years. The most we’ve gotten is, at most, four inches in a single storm. It usually turns to rain and melts within a day.

It’s a hell of a contrast to the winters I remember. Add that to summers that feel hotter and more humid for longer stretches of time and there’s no getting around it.

Climate change is real.

I’ve felt it. I’ve witnessed it. I’m seeing it happen within my lifetime.

I understand that climate involves weather patterns over a long period of time, often exceeding that of a typical human lifetime. However, even if it is anecdotal, I’ve still felt it. That’s deeply concerning to me. Even if it means I don’t have to shovel snow quite as often, it’s still cause for concern.

If the climate is changing that much in this span of time, then I think that’s going to be a bigger problem as time goes on. Moreover, it’s a problem we shouldn’t ignore or underscore. Regardless of your politics, you’re going to be affected by the weather, whether you like it or not.

Much of our civilization depends on weather patterns that are stable and consistent. Climate change will disrupt that stability. We might be able to adapt to some extent, but not if it happens all at once. In that instance, it could lead to a lot of upheaval and suffering. At that point, it’ll be too late.

Now, I’m not qualified to know what the best solutions are. I know they do exist and we need to invest in them because if we don’t, it could end up costing us much more in the future and not just in terms of money.

Regardless of how you feel about modern science, at least consider this personal testimony. Climate change is real. It’s happening. It could potentially lead to some serious problems down the line. Now is not the time to whine about the shortcomings of science. We all live on this planet together. Let’s do what we can to keep it comfortable.

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Filed under Current Events, Environment, history, politics, real stories

Survey On Artificial Intelligence: Approximately 42 percent Of People Would Have Sex With A Robot (And Why That Number Will Increase)

Sex with robots: Zuckerberg will make you do it |

Every now and then, science decides to study something that most people would deem unnecessary because it seems so intuitively obvious. There are multiples studies about how overeating can lead to weight gain. Most people know that. Some are living proof of it. There’s no need for exhaustive studies to confirm it.

However, we study it anyways because the details can be revealing. It can also reveal some subtleties and trends that are worth noting. They’re useful for business, researchers, policy makers, and anyone who’s simply curious about human nature.

I bring this up because recently, a company named Tidio, which specializes in chatbots, conducted a survey about peoples’ attitudes on artificial intelligence. It’s not the most scientifically rigorous survey, but that’s to be expected.

Artificial intelligence is a relatively recent trend and one that’s sure to become more relevant in the coming decades. Most people only have a cursory understanding of it and their perceptions are largely shaped by popular culture, going back to the days of “The Terminator.” Regardless of that limited understanding, people do have certain attitudes towards AI and that’s worth studying.

If you’re interested, here’s a link to the Tidio survey. I encourage everyone to check it out. It coves everything from how artificial intelligence could affect future jobs to whether people are comfortable letting an AI robot conduct surgery on them.

However, the one part of the survey I want to highlight is the one on sex robots. Given how often I’ve talked about them, as well as the sexy short stories I’ve written, that shouldn’t surprise anyone. I’ll also quote it here because, while it probably won’t surprise anyone either, I think I hints at a larger trend.

About 42% of our survey respondents would have sexual intercourse with a robot. Yet, only 39% believe they could have a romantic relationship with an AI. There is also a large discrepancy between men and women. Men are more open to both the idea of sleeping with a robot (48%) and falling in love with an AI (43% of male respondents).

I highlighted that bold part because I think that’s a critical number to keep in mind. Even if you’re not great with math or statistics, 42 percent is not a trivial figure. If you extrapolate that to the global population, that’s well over 3 billion people. That’s a lot of people.

Now, it’s worth reiterating that this survey was limited to only 1,225 participants and it’s hardly representative of the entire world. Those limits aside, it does at least hint that there’s a sizable part of the population who are open to having sex with a robot. What form it may take likely depends on the person, but the idea is already there.

I think that’s revealing because, even if people only know sex robots and artificial intelligence through popular culture, there’s still an appeal. Even though many sex robots in fiction end up being evil, that doesn’t dissuade some people from wanting to try it.

On top of that, a truly functional sex robot doesn’t really exist right now. There are a few working prototypes in existence, but nobody is going to mistake them for real people anytime soon. We’re still years away from sex robots that are as realistic as the ones we see in shows like “Westworld.”

Even so, the fact that 42 percent of people in this survey are already open to the idea demonstrates that there is a waiting market for sex robots. There’s also a sizable part of the population who is growing increasingly comfortable with artificial intelligence being part of their intimate lives.

Given how younger generations view technology, I suspect that 42 percent figure will only grow in the coming years. If anything, I think that number is low. I suspect that if this survey was done with a larger sample size, more people of varying genders would express a willingness to interact with AI, as well as use a sex robot.

I also suspect that, in the coming years, our overall comfort with the idea of sex robots will increase. There may still be a period in which they’re taboo. There’s also the whole uncanny valley issue that will likely impact how sex robots are designed, refined, and marketed. In the long run, though, I think attitudes towards sex robots will continue to evolve.

The fact they’re already at a point where 42 percent of people are willing to try one shows they’re already in the public consciousness. There is a kinky curiosity, of sorts, about what this technology has to offer. Make no mistake, the effects that will have on the future of sex, society, and technology are sure to be profound.

What do you think of this survey?

Do you agree with it?

Do you think it’s overstating or understating peoples’ willingness to embrace sex robots? Let me know in the comments. In the meantime, I’ll be contemplating how this could affect future sexy stories.

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Filed under sex in society, sex robots

In Honor Of Pride Month: A Tribute To Alan Turing (The Man Who Decoded The Future)

Life of Alan Turing, Code-Breaking Computer Scientist

I’m a straight male. I don’t deny that. I’m also a strong proponent of LGBTQ rights and will gladly side with them against all those who would undermine, alienate, or denigrate that community. In honor of Pride Month, I’d like to make that clearly and proudly.

At the same time, being a straight male means I can only do so much to understand the plight of LGBTQ individuals. I can never fully understand the feelings they feel or the thoughts they think as they live their lives in a world that’s still very hostile to them. Even though I have close relatives who are openly gay, my perspective is still limited.

Having said all that, I’d like to make another small contribution to Pride Month 2021. It’s not much, but it’s something I hope adds to the greater perspective of others, regardless of their orientation. During times like this, that perspective is more important than other.

Like it or not, our lives have been profoundly affected by people who identify as LGBTQ. You may not realize it, but you wouldn’t even be able to read this, nor would I be able to share it, were it not for one prominent member of the LGBTQ community.

His name is Alan Turing. He’s the reason why we know how to make the computer or smartphone you’re using right now. He may also be the reason why some of us aren’t saluting a Nazi flag.

The life of Mr. Turing may have been tragic in many respects, especially towards the end, but few men have affected the modern world more than him. He was more than just a brilliant mathematician, computer scientist, and philosopher. He practically laid the foundation for our modern world through his work.

The fact that he was a gay man living in an era where being gay was considered a mental illness only makes these accomplishment more remarkable. However, his sexuality was still often secondary to his brilliance.

Alan Turing had a genuine gift for math and science. That gift earned him diplomas from universities like Cambridge and Princeton. It also earned him a role at Bletchley Park during Word War II, the home of Britain’s efforts to break the seemingly unbreakable German Enigma Code. It’s not unreasonable to say that this effort wouldn’t have succeeded without Alan Turing.

You also don’t need to be an expert in alternative history to know that breaking the Enigma Code played a big part in ensuring World War II ended the way it did. Even if you believe the Allies were always going to win, that victory came sooner and saved more lives because of Turing’s role in breaking that code.

The breadth and details of that effort are vast. It would take too long to go over everything he did to help the Allies in World War II. Thankfully, others with more expertise than me have done so. Check out this YouTube video to get a better feel for how Turing did what he did in cracking Enigma.

It’s also through that same effort that he laid the foundations for modern computing. He is largely credited with creating the fundamental structure of things like algorithms and computation. He may not have built the first modern computer, but he created the model by which all future computers were built.

Without Alan Turing, computer technology would not be where it is today.

Without Alan Turing, the internet as we know it would not exist.

Without Alan Turing, the modern world as we know it simply would not be possible.

That’s a hell of an accomplishment for anyone, let alone someone who was gay. It is a great tragedy that Turing had to spend most of his life hiding his sexuality. He did marry a woman who knew his secret, but that was only a cover. He still had to live a lie day after day for most of his life.

It only came crashing down in 1952 when Turing was arrested in Manchester for the “indecency” of admitting to a sexual relationship with another man. As a result, Turing lost his various security clearances. All that work he’d done to help the world was suddenly an afterthought. On top of that, he was forced to take hormones to “treat” his desires.

I put “treat” in quotes because what this did to him was nothing short of unconscionable. I won’t go into the disturbing details. I’ll just say that this “treatment” played a major role in him eventually taking his own life in 1954. It was a sad end to the life of a man who gave us so much through his brilliance and his work.

Now, to be fair, the British Government did eventually apologize for the role it played in destroying Alan Turing’s life. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen until 2009. I’d usually say better late than never, but that’s really pushing it.

It’s hard to say how much we lost because Alan Turing’s life was cut short. Who knows where we would be if he hadn’t been persecuted because of his sexuality? Even if we ended up at the same place, Turing deserved better. This is a man who served his country and contributed immensely to the knowledge of mankind, only to be ruined by bigotry.

How many other brilliant men and women suffered a similar fate?

How many of those individuals had something to contribute to mankind, but never got the chance?

How many had to live their entire lives hiding this part of themselves, suffering in silence out of fear of enduring a fate like Turing’s?

We can never know the answer to those questions. The answers are probably as distressing as they are tragic.

If nothing else, the story of Alan Turing should give us pause in how we see the past, present, and future of LGBTQ struggles. It’s true that we’ve made a great deal of progress since the days of Alan Turing. In more recent years, awareness surrounding the struggles and accomplishments of men like Turing has grown.

There are still challenges to overcome and we should be ready and willing to face those challenges. Despite how it ended, the life and accomplishments of Alan Turing should inspire us to do better. The fact we can make those efforts through the very machines he helped create is a fitting tribute. So, in honor of Pride Month 2021, let us take a moment to remember and celebrate the life of Alan Turing. He contributed immensely to our modern world, despite living at a time when his very identity was criminal. That’s an accomplishment and a strength that’s worthy of pride.

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Filed under Current Events, LGBTQ, technology

Dear Vaccine Conspiracy Theorists: You’re Killing People (And Making A Fool Of Yourself)

Wednesday, March 17th 2021: JJ McCartney LIVE on St. Patrick's Day 3-5pmET  – JJMcCartney 24/7 – The Re-Union Station

In general, I try to respect the sincerely held beliefs of others. It’s something I hope most decent human beings can agree upon. Mocking, belittling, or denigrating someone else’s beliefs isn’t just bound to cause conflict. It’s just a dick move.

I say that as someone who has criticized organized religion many times before. Within those criticism, though, I make it a point to say that I try to respect those who are sincere in their beliefs. I’ve no desire to mock them or make them feel lesser for believing what they belief.

All that being said, I draw a clear line when those beliefs get people killed.

This brings me to vaccines and the conspiracy theorists who love whining about them. These are people whose beliefs are hard to respect in any context. They’re not just skeptical about the efficacy of vaccines. They go out of their way to protest their use, even during a global pandemic that has killed millions.

I’m sorry, but I just can’t respect that. I don’t care if it’s for religious or non-religious reasons. This sort of thing is killing people. That’s objectively bad.

Now, I predicted last year that religious zealots would be among those who refuse to take vaccines and go out of their way to denigrate scientists. Unfortunately, that prediction proved distressingly accurate.

However, what I didn’t predict was how many self-professed “skeptics” would protest vaccines for non-religious reasons. I knew it was going to get absurd. I just didn’t know it was going to get “vaccines are making people magnets” absurd.

Seriously, I wish I were making that up. That’s a real testimony from a registered nurse, of all people, during an Ohio public hearing. Here’s the story from the Huffington Post. Be warned, though. Your faith in humanity will be shaken.

Huff Post: Nurse’s Attempt To Prove Vaccines Make People Magnetic Hilariously Backfires

An anti-vaccine Ohio nurse attempted on Tuesday to prove that COVID-19 vaccines make people magnetic, but ― to use a gymnastics term ― she failed to stick the landing.

Registered nurse Joanna Overholt, testifying before the Ohio House health committee about what she said were potential coronavirus vaccine dangers, tried to use her own body as proof.

Overholt said she heard during lunch that vaccines cause magnetism in humans, so she decided to prove her point on herself by attempting to show how a bobby pin and a key would stick to her exposed skin.

Spoiler alert: It didn’t go well.

Now, I don’t know this woman’s full story. I have no idea what’s going on in her life or what led her to belief something this absurd. I’m fairly certain she didn’t just wake up one day and decide to believe bullshit conspiracy theories about vaccines.

Whatever her story, it doesn’t change the implications or the consequences. What she’s promoting isn’t just wrong or absurd. It’s legitimately harmful. On top of that, we’re still dealing with a pandemic and rhetoric like this is going to get people killed.

That’s the main takeaway I glean every time I see stories like this. That’s what sets them apart from other absurd conspiracy theories. Believing there are alien bodies in Area 51 or that the moon is made of cheese doesn’t directly harm anyone. Just being ignorant of certain facts is also forgivable. The internet is full of dumb falsehoods these days.

However, there are some facts that just aren’t in dispute. Chief among them is the demonstrable fact that vaccines save lives. The fact that nobody has died from smallpox in five decades is proof enough of that. In fact, few advances have ever saved as many lives as vaccines. The vaccines for COVID-19 are only adding to that total.

Unfortunately, these anti-vaxx conspiracy theorists are only fueling a sense of vaccine hesitancy that was always going to be an issue. Even before the age of the internet or modern religion, there has always been a skepticism about scientific advancements. This is just making it worse and getting people killed.

It’s one thing to make yourself look foolish in public in a manner that’s recorded and spread throughout the internet. That usually doesn’t have major consequences beyond making certain people internet celebrities for all the wrong reasons. It’s quite another to be foolish in a manner that undermines public health and leads to undue suffering.

There’s just no getting around it. Lower vaccination rates mean more disease. More disease means more suffering. In this case, it’s not a minor inconvenience. It’s potentially fatal. I feel like that last detail is worth emphasizing.

The problem is that those pushing anti-vaccine conspiracies don’t see that detail, either by ignorance or by choice. They may, in their heart of hearts, believe they’re saving lives by preventing people from getting vaccines. However, basic biology and math say otherwise. The data is not in dispute.

These beliefs are killing people.

The people who push these beliefs are responsible for propagating that suffering.

These beliefs do not deserve respect.

Consider this both a plea and an angry rant of sorts. If you are pushing these conspiracy theories, you’re not just a misguided fool. You’re going to get people killed. After last year, we dealt with enough death. Please don’t add to it.

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Filed under Current Events, health, human nature, Uncategorized

A Brief Video To Address (And Debunk) Vaccine Hesitancy

Last week, I got my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. It was a smooth, pleasant experience by every measure. Those involved were kind, professional, and diligent. My arm was a bit sore for a while, but other than that, I felt no major side-effects.

Having covered the development of this vaccine, I cannot overstate what a monumental achievement this is for science, health, and the general improvement of human well-being. Those involved in the development of this vaccine are real-life heroes. It’s because of them that this terrible pandemic will never claim as many lives as it could’ve.

However, there are still those who are reluctant to take the vaccine. Some do it for religious reasons. Some do it for political reasons. Whatever their reason is, I won’t mince words. It’s stupid, selfish, and is putting other people at risk. This pandemic will drag on longer and kill more people because of them. They should be criticized for that.

Some of those people cannot be reasoned with and are just a lost cause. For others, though, who may be nervous or reluctant to take this vaccine, I feel we should reach out to those people. I’m sure they’ve heard plenty of conflicting messages as well about the vaccine. There are real answers to those concerns and I’d like to share them.

Below is a video from the YouTube channel, asapSCIENCE. They’re a good YouTube channel with millions of subscribers and great production values. They have a talent for breaking down major science-related issues in a simple, easy-to-follow manner. I sincerely hope this video allays any concerns you might have about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

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Filed under Current Events, health, YouTube

Appreciating Dr. Maurice Hilleman: The Man Who Saved Millions Of Lives (With Vaccines)

As someone who regularly consumes superhero media of all kinds, I try to appreciate the real heroes in the real world who regularly save countless lives. Most carry themselves without superpowers, flashy costumes, or charisma on par with Robert Downy Jr. or Christopher Reeves. They just do the work that needs doing to help people who will never know their name.

A couple years ago, I made a tribute to Dr. Norman Borlaug, the famed agricultural scientist who helped usher in an agricultural revolution. This man, who most have never heard of, has saved millions of lives by helping the world produce more food, reduce famine, and combat world hunger. The amount of good this man has done for the world cannot be overstated.

In that same spirit, I’d like to highlight another individual who I doubt most people have heard of. He’s another doctor who, through his work, has helped save millions of lives, many of them children. It’s because of this man that millions of children born today don’t become ill with diseases that had ravaged humanity for generations.

That man is Dr. Maurice Hilleman. While his notoriety is not on the same level as Dr. Borlaug, I have a feeling his profile will rise considerably after the events of 2020. That’s because Dr. Hilleman currently holds the record for developing the most vaccines of any doctor in history.

In total, he helped develop more than 40.

Of those vaccines, 8 are still routinely recommended by doctors today. They combat terrible diseases like measles, mumps, Hepatitis, and chicken pox.

It’s a level of productivity that is unparalleled today. As a result of these vaccines, approximately 8 million lives are saved every year. Even though he died in 2005, he continues to save lives with each passing year through his work. Like Dr. Borlaug, his heroism only compounds with time. Even Tony Stark can’t boast that.

Most people alive today don’t realize just how bad it was before these vaccines were developed. Many diseases, some of which you’ve probably never heard of, were rampant. Before Dr. Hilleman helped develop the vaccine, measles alone infected between 3 and 4 million people every year in the United states, killing at between 400 and 500 at a time.

Children and the elderly were especially vulnerable. It was once just a fact of life that these diseases would come around and kill a sizable number of children. It was as unavoidable as bad weather.

Take a moment to imagine life in those conditions. One day, you or your children would just get sick and there was nothing you could do to prevent it. That was life before these remarkable advances came along.

That’s why when people say that nothing has saved more lives than vaccines, they’re not peddling propaganda. They’re just sharing the results of basic math. It’s because of men like Dr. Maurice Hilleman that these numbers are what they are. However, his name is not well-known, even in a field that has become more prominent.

Most people know who Edward Jenner is and appreciate how many lives he saved by combating Smallpox.

Most people know who Jonas Salk is and appreciate how many people he helped by developing a polio vaccine.

Now, what these men did was remarkable. They certainly deserve the praise and admiration they receive for developing their respective vaccines. However, Dr. Maurice Hilleman still deserves to be in that same echelon. For the number of vaccines he helped develop and the legacy he left, he certainly put in the work and accomplished a great deal.

The diseases Dr. Hilleman battled might not have been as high-profile as Smallpox or polio, but they were every bit as damaging. That makes it all the more frustrating to see efforts like the anti-vaxx movement take hold, which has led to resurgences of diseases like measles in certain communities. That is not the direction we should be going right now.

In the midst of a historic pandemic, the importance of medical science and those who work in it has never been more critical. This might be the best possible time to acknowledge the work of men like Dr. Hilleman. Even after this pandemic has passed, we should all appreciate work like his even more.

None of us have superpowers like Spider-Man or Superman.

Most of us will never be as rich, smart, or resourceful as Iron Man or Batman.

Dr. Hilleman had none of this. Just like Dr. Borlaug, he came from a poor family. At one point, he didn’t have enough money for college. He still persevered and he still managed to do the work that went onto save millions of lives. It might not be a hero’s story on par with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s still a special kind of heroism.

So, on this day as we anxiously wait for this pandemic to end, take a moment to appreciate the work of Dr. Maurice Hilleman. It’s because of him that such pandemics are so rare. It’s also because of him that this current pandemic won’t take nearly as many lives as it could’ve.

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Filed under biotechnology, Current Events, health, technology

A Quick Note: Fact-Checking Is NOT Censorship

In general, I am very against censorship. I’m a strong advocate of ending the outdated and asinine practice of bleeping profanity and blurring female nipples. There is no reasonable justification for that kind of censorship. It’s just a dumb, misguided effort to try and cover up certain words and images that some people find offensive. That kind of censorship has no place in a free society.

In that same spirit, I am also very much in favor of fact-checking. I’ve been on the internet long enough to know the near-infinite volumes of bullshit that fill websites, social media, and even blogs like mine. In fact, given the recent trends in politics and a preference for “alternative facts,” I think fact-checking has never been more critical.

For that very reason, it’s important to make clear that fact-checking is not the same as censorship. Verifying whether some bullshit claim about chemtrails or shape-shifting lizards is valid does not constitute censorship. It’s consistent with a sincere and honest effort to filter bullshit from meaningful facts.

I bring this up because certain groups and movements are having a difficult time discerning between the two. More recently, anti-vaxx groups on social media sites like FaceBook have been whining about censorship of their extreme, unsubstantiated views. ARS Technica recently reported that this whining has escalated into a full-fledged lawsuit.

ARS Technica: Anti-vaccine group sues Facebook, claims fact-checking is “censorship”

A notorious anti-vaccine group spearheaded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. filed suit today in federal court in California alleging that Facebook’s fact-checking program for false scientific or medical misinformation violates its constitutional rights.

Children’s Health Defense claims in its suit that Facebook, its CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and the organizations Science Feedback, Poynter, and PolitiFact acted “jointly or in concert with federal government agencies” to infringe on CHD’s First and Fifth Amendment rights. The suit also alleges Facebook and the fact-checking organizations colluded to commit wire fraud by “clearing the field” of anti-vaccine ads.

As anti-vax movement gets weirder—and dumber—Facebook announces crackdown
Facebook has “insidious conflicts with the pharmaceutical industry and its captive health agencies,” CHD claimed in a press release. “Facebook currently censors Children’s Health Defense’s page, targeting its purge against factual information about vaccines, 5G and public health agencies.”

“This is an important First Amendment case testing the boundaries of government authority to openly censor unwanted critiques of government policies and pharmaceutical and telecom products on privately owned internet platforms,” Kennedy added in a written statement.

Now, I’m not a lawyer and I have no legal expertise on the nature of censorship and free speech in the internet age. However, I’m smart enough and sane enough to understand the difference between actively censoring ideas that I don’t want to hear and trying to verify a ridiculous claim shared on social media.

I’m also informed enough to understand that FaceBook isn’t the government, even though it tries to be at times. It’s a platform. It can decide for itself whether or not it wants to remove certain content. Every private organization does that to some extent, especially ones with such a vast reach.

The content they permit has a tangible effect on their brand image. It’s why FaceBook’s reputation is not on the same level as 4chan, even if that’s not saying much. Their efforts to verify or discredit claims on their platform is perfectly in line with standard practices. It doesn’t actively punish or fine anti-vaxxers like the government did when Janet Jackson’s nipple popped out during the Super Bowl. It just removes or flags the content.

You can call that a lot of things. You may not like that companies like FaceBook can decide what is and isn’t appropriate on a platform that has had such a spotty history with censorship, to say the least. In this case though, it’s not censorship.

If anything, fact checking medical claims during a global pandemic is probably the most responsible thing a company like FaceBook can do. Hosting those claims can potentially do a great deal of harm to those who don’t know the difference between clickbait and a legitimate news story. People could actually suffer and die.

When feelings and sensibilities are the only thing at stake, then it’s fine to talk about the merits of censoring content. However, when lives are at stake on a large scale, there is no merit. Claims that may or may not affect those lives should be fact-checked. You can complain about it all you want in a lawsuit, but unless you can verify your bullshit, then that’s exactly how it’s going to be labeled and that’s not FaceBook’s fault.

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Filed under censorship, Current Events, extremism, media issues, politics

Why You Should Be (Very) Skeptical About Russia’s COVID-19 Vaccine

There’s no way around it. This global pandemic has been a year-long gut punch to everyone on this planet. Some nations have taken those punches better than others, but even those who’ve handled it well still contend with its effects. It’s frustrating and agonizing. Nobody denies that at this point.

We also accept that there’s no way to definitely end this pandemic without a vaccine. That’s why many people, including myself, follow any news about potential vaccines closely. It’s easy to get excited when we hear about the progress some organizations have made. It’s even tempting to think that we’re close.

Avoid that temptation because, if you take the bigger picture into account, we’re not that close. It’s very likely that we’ll be without a proven vaccine for the rest of the year. It’s for that same reason that you should take Russia’s announcement of a successful vaccine, which it dubbed Sputnik V, with immense skepticism.

I’m not just saying that as an American or as someone who has mixed opinions about Russia and its autocratic government. Believe me, I’d love it if this vaccine were as effective as Russian claimed. I’d gladly celebrate it and commend Vladimir Putin’s knack for “motivating” development. That’s how much I want this pandemic to end.

However, there are some very good reasons to be cautious about this claim. Forget, for a second, that it’s coming from Russia, a country with an extensive history of large-scale disinformation campaigns. Just consider this simple scenario.

Imagine if someone walked up to you and claimed they had an app on their phone that could predict lotto numbers. You’re both intrigued and impressed. You ask for proof that it works. That person refuses to give it. They also ask for information about the program. They only give you the barest of basics, which you can’t verify.

Would you be willing to accept that this program works?

Moreover, would you be willing to accept it if doing so meant risking your life and that of your entire community?

Chances are most reasonable people would be skeptical and for good reason. That’s exactly why you should be skeptical of Russia’s claim. Russia has not released any scientific data on its vaccine testing and has not conducted the kind of large-scale test that most vaccines require to determine their safety and effectiveness. Without that kind of test, it’s impossible to tell whether the vaccine is effective.

That’s why practically every major health organization on the planet isn’t celebrating just yet. They’re not completely discounting it, though. There is a genuine interest in reviewing the data. That’s critical since this isn’t some fancy space probe. This is something we’re injecting into living human beings. We need to make sure it’s safe. Otherwise, we could end up causing more suffering than we prevent.

Beyond just causing a spike in cases, due largely to a false sense of security, an ineffective vaccine could undermine the public’s faith in public health. Vaccines have already been subject to all sorts of negative scrutiny in recent years. If this vaccine proves less-than-effective, it could set public health back years and lots of people will die because of that.

That’s what’s at stake here. There’s a time to rush something and a time to take bold risks. This isn’t one of them. Public health and medical science is not something we can rush. This isn’t like going to the moon or breaking the sound barrier. Those efforts required risks, but that risk was taken on by a few willing and brave individuals.

When it comes to medicine, the risks go beyond the test subjects. We cannot and should not take big risks when millions of lives are potentially at stake. This virus has already killed way too many people. Buying into a vaccine before we know for sure it’s effective could ultimately kill even more.

I’ll say it again. I want this pandemic to end as much as anyone. I want this vaccine to work as well as the Russian government claims. However, I’m not prepared to roll up my sleeve until those claims are verified. I encourage others to exercise similar caution.

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Filed under Current Events, health, human nature, technology

A Message (And A Challenge) To Anti-Vaxxers

There’s a time for discussing serious politics.

There’s a time for discussing the veracity of certain scientific principles.

There’s even a time to question the very assumptions we once held without reservation.

All that said, a global pandemic is not one of those times.

I bring this up because, like so many others who have been stuck at home for months on end, my ears perk up every time I hear news about a potential vaccine for COVID-19. There’s a good reason for that. Every legitimate doctor, who doesn’t have a TV show or infomercial, says the same thing. The best and quickest way to end any pandemic is with a vaccine.

That’s not news for most people. If you passed high school biology, you know what a vaccine is and why it works. However, in the years leading up to this pandemic, there was a concerted movement against vaccines, especially for young children. It was called the anti-vaxx movement and, like many social movements relating to science, it was driven by misguided goals and faulty data.

I won’t get into the history of the movement. John Oliver already did a very comprehensive breakdown on the issue back in 2017, long before the pandemic. Here’s the video in case you need a refresher.

Even if you don’t support all the points Mr. Oliver made, I do have a message for those still skeptical of vaccines. Whether you were anti-vaccine before the pandemic or have just come to distrust modern medicine in general, I have one critical question to ask.

What’s your alternative for ending this pandemic?

It’s a legitimate question. Nearly every doctor agrees. Vaccines work. A vaccine is what will end this pandemic. If all those doctors are wrong and your side is right, then this is the best possible time to prove it.

You, whether you identify as an anti-vaxxer or are just skeptical of western medicine, have a chance to both show up the entire medical establishment and save thousands of lives. People are dying. Economies are faltering. Societies are frozen in place. The medical establishment, no matter what you think of them, are working on a solution. Where’s yours?

Now, I’m not saying the medical establishment is staffed by angels. There are many shady dealings in the modern medical industry, especially among pharmaceutical companies. Corrupt her not, however greedy their motivations might be, they’re still doing the work. They’re researching, developing, and testing potential treatments for this deadly disease.

There’s still time for the movement to do the same. If there’s any legitimacy to the anti-vaxxer’s stance, this would be their chance to demonstrate it. If anyone in this crowd, be it some renegade doctor or Jenny McCarthy, can come up with a better treatment, then they won’t just be a hero for saving so many lives. They’ll have proven their point beyond any reasonable doubt.

The time to make that statement is now. At some point, they’re going to find a treatment. It probably won’t be this year, but with lives, money, and prestige at stake, someone is going to succeed. Then, as the pandemic subsides and cases decline, what will the anti-vaxxer crowd have to say?

They’ll watch with the rest of the world as a vaccine ended a pandemic. On top of that, they’ll have sat around and done absolutely nothing to have developed another treatment. They had a chance to both save lives and show up the medical establishment, but failed. What does that say about the movement and its credibility?

That’s just some food for thought.

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Filed under Current Events, health, technology

Thought Experiment: How Should Peaceful Aliens Look?

The following is a video on my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s a thought experiment about aliens, first contact, and how to ensure the human race wouldn’t freak out. I hope it’s both thought provoking and engaging. Enjoy!

As always, I welcome comments and feedback. If there’s a topic or idea you’d like me to do a video about, please let me know. I’d be happy to explore it.

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Filed under Aliens, Jack's World, psychology, Thought Experiment, YouTube