Do We Need A Better Way To Address False Convictions?

As I read A Botched Trial Leads To $30 Million Judgment For Nebraska County That Can’t Pay (Washington Post), I was struck that the story sought sympathy for the county (Gage County, Nebraska) rather than for the six wrongfully convicted people who filed the lawsuit.

In short: 68-year-old Helen Wilson was murdered in 1985 by an Oklahoma man (Bruce Allen Smith, who died of AIDS in Oklahoma in 1992), later proved by DNA evidence. Long before DNA evidence was common in court, three men and three women were convicted of Wilson’s murder and served a combined 77 years in prison. All six were exonerated by DNA testing in 2008, and they filed suit the following year. One of the six died before the suit resulted in a trial. Eventually, the case concluded in 2016 with a $30 million judgment against the county, which led to the Washington Post story in my lede.

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Bigly Disappointment

My lack of impassioned political blogging over the past (particular time period) should not be mistaken for an indication that my passion is fading. It is perhaps an indication that I just don’t know what to write about it anymore.

I do know that I’m disappointed in a few contacts on social media who have begun to retreat behind the “don’t bother me with political stuff” tropes. I have continued to bother them with political stuff. I don’t understand people who think politics is somehow separate from real life. I don’t know how full-grown adults can retreat into a mental cave and convince themselves that politics is happening “over there in D.C.” and should be ignored.

Of course, I’m much more disappointed in SCROTUS, and his co-dependent enablers in Congress. Day after day, the detestable person whose name will inexplicably appear in many future history books is signing away the progress we built for years, especially on the environmental front. That’s when he’s actually doing his job. When he’s not, he’s tweeting about imaginary wire taps in the hotel (which he still profits from) and irrelevant television shows (which he still profits from).

But I’m even more disappointed by the silence of the conservatives in my circles. I don’t know whether they’re feeling buyer’s remorse yet, or if they ever will. Perhaps they quit watching the news after the election, so they’re unaware of Twitler‘s ongoing feuds with his own sanity and common decency, or his regular attempts to boost his own ego by repeatedly posting about how bigly he is. Maybe they don’t know who he’s appointed to various cabinet positions, or that the GOP-controlled Senate has confirmed every nomination so far. Yet I had held out the forlorn hope that some of them would have at least expressed some form of dismay by now, something along the lines of: “This isn’t quite what I was expecting.”

I don’t feel hypocritical in saying so. Barack Obama is the only presidential candidate I ever publicly advocated for who actually won. And I publicly noted when he went awry. In 2012, I pointed out the bungling response to the Benghazi attacks. I called him out for failing to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and for accepting Super Pac money after saying he wouldn’t. I posted in 2013 about his ACA lies (and again), and about the overall failure of the ACA to solve the root of America’s healthcare problems. I criticized Obama’s stance on Edward Snowden, which was two-faced at best. In 2014, I complained about Obama’s over-the-top prosecution of whistleblowers and his willingness to wink and shrug at Wall Street’s malfeasance. I griped about Obama appointing a political donor and former telecom lobbyist to head the FCC, despite promising that he wouldn’t. I called him out for contradicting himself on “settled law”, even though it wasn’t the biggest news of the day.

And those were just a few blog entries I could find in a quick search of my site.

But, to date, I haven’t seen anything from any GOP voter decrying 45’s hospitalization-level behavior. Not one. They all seem to be okay with this. And that’s what has me in the doldrums this weekend.

13 More Christian Questions

Categories: Evolution, Personal, Religion
Comments: 4 Comments
Published on: 2017.03.03

The definition of atheist is straightforward.

In November, I responded to “10” (turned out to be 12) questions that a Christian supposedly posed to atheists. Today, I ran across another list. In case the Christians in my life have similar questions in mind but are unwilling to ask them, I post my answers here:

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A Day Without Women


This is the official logo for the March 8 event.

Organizers of the Women’s March are calling for a “general strike” on March 8, which they have dubbed “A Day Without A Woman”. The idea is that if enough women stay home from work that day, the rest of society will see how important women are to our economy — indeed our daily lives. In reality, of course, a lot of women can’t stay home that day; they’d be fired if they did and household budgets would collapse. Also, in real life, enough women will stay on the job that the effect won’t be felt by a terrible lot of people.

But it made me wonder… What if there was actually a day — a full 24 hours — in which no women existed? If scientists could somehow get women to blink out of existence, only to return a day later. Only males and non-adult females would exist for 24 hours.

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Inside The Mind Of An Evangelical Trump-Supporter


This is a page from a Donald Trump coloring book on sale for $8 at Sam’s Club in Killeen, Texas. Remember that there are people in our country who bought this intentionally and unironically.
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry.)

Raised in a politically conservative religious household, I typically have a good understanding of the conservative voter. But I got lost in the maze of 2016. I couldn’t figure out the pathway from “conservative and religious” to Donald Trump.

We saw typically Christian men (Huckabee, Carson, Cruz) flicker and fade during the primaries. We saw typical conservatives (Kasich, Rubio, Bush) rise a bit before disappearing beneath the Trump tsunami. At that point, I assumed that few if any of the religious conservatives I’d grown up with could stick with the out-of-control GOP crazy train. But several of them did, boggling my mind.

At least one made it clear to me that his choice was based on (1) Clinton bad, and (2) Pence good. Trump was basically irrelevant, if not slightly embarrassing. I was afraid to ask the others how they brought themselves to check the Trump box on the ballot. But I didn’t have to wait long to find out.

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Wealth And Income Inequality: What Are We Really Talking About?


Wealth inequality in Europe and the U.S., 1810-2010
(Source — .pdf, 1.2MB)

The more I learn about wealth and income inequality, the more I realize I didn’t know — and still don’t know — and the more it’s obvious that many other people don’t know. Rampant confusion reigns. In my observation, most laypersons don’t understand the terms, and further don’t understand why we’re talking about them. In the spirit of bettering myself, I’ve studied up a bit on this over the past couple of years.

Following are a few things I’ve learned and/or clarified for myself:

(Please Note: This is a very long entry.)

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The Concepts Of Property, Inheritance, Money, and Interest

While working on a much longer entry about wealth and income inequality, I came upon a question that I couldn’t answer: how did it begin?

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Million Vs. Billion

Categories: Fact Check
Comments: 7 Comments
Published on: 2017.02.12

“Million” and “billion” get thrown around a lot in science and economics. It can be difficult to grasp the difference. “Just add three more zeroes” doesn’t quite get the gist of it.

Here are a few concrete examples to keep in mind, to help picture the difference between a million and a billion:

1 million seconds = 11.57 days
1 billion seconds = 31.69 years

1 million miles = 40.1 trips around the Earth, at the equator
1 billion miles = 40,100 trips around the Earth, at the equator

1 million miles = to the Moon and back, twice
1 billion miles = to the Moon and back, 2,093 times

1 million dollars = enough to buy nine houses exactly like mine*
1 billion dollars = enough to buy 9,009 houses exactly like mine*

(* At the original, new price in 2010.)

1 million pounds = about 250 automobiles, enough to fill a high school parking lot
1 billion pounds = 250,000 automobiles — all the cars in Killeen, Texas

Mean Vs. Median

Categories: Fact Check, Finances
Comments: No Comments
Published on: 2017.02.12

Not everyone deals with math every day, and that’s fine. Most people don’t need to know the following in their day-to-day lives. However, I write this entry so I can link to it from other entries that mention “mean”, “average”, or “median”. Most of us see these terms only in news stories about the economy: “median home price in Seattle” or “average household income in South Carolina”. It’s obvious from the comments (and sometimes from the articles) that many don’t understand the difference.

“Mean” is what most people mean when they say “average”. You get the mean by adding up figures and then dividing by the number of figures. For example, add the prices of all the homes sold in your neighborhood over the past year, and then divide by the number of homes sold. The result is the mean.

“Median” is something quite different, though in many cases it will be the same as “mean”. The median is obtained by listing the values in ranked order and then selecting the middle value.

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‘Don’t Like It? Then Leave!’ — A Lot Of Derp In Five Words


This week’s Stupid Meme

This meme, or at least its general idea, has been around for a long time. I first heard the theme as a youngster, when one adult made a formal complaint to another adult about the way a church was being run. A third party commented: “If you don’t like it so much, why don’t you just leave?” Since then, I’ve heard the same sentiment expressed about businesses, schools, and — more recently — our nation.

This meme in particular refers to President Donald J. Trump, saying:

“Don’t like him? Solution… Google a country with a President you like… then pack and move there.”

Note: I want to give this particular meme-maker credit for avoiding the ALL CAPS issue from which most social media memes suffer. Further, this one appears to have no spelling errors or randomly inserted apostrophes. Amazing. I also thought it kind to give us time to pack. Most of the time, expressions of this sentiment just want you to leave.

Here’s the thing: Ur a idiot. Okay, that was a low blow, and I take it back. Kind of.

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Why Can’t We Celebrate Achievements Without Hero Worship?

Categories: History
Comments: 7 Comments
Published on: 2017.02.05

Charles Lindbergh, May 31, 1927

Yesterday (Feb. 4), I noticed that it was Charles Lindbergh‘s birthday. I noticed it because of an editorial explaining why we don’t celebrate his birthday — because he was decidedly racist and sympathetic toward Nazism, not to mention a believer in eugenics.

My immediate reaction was two-fold. First, his birthday’s not important; he isn’t known for having a birthday (because anyone can do that). He’s famous for achieving the very first solo nonstop trans-Atlantic flight. If anything, there should be a holiday on May 20 or May 21 — the day he took flight and the day he landed, respectively.

Secondly, I thought, as the title says above: why can’t we celebrate achievements without hero worship? Despite his views, which many found objectionable even in the 1920s, his aviation achievement was by all measurements amazing. He took a single-seat, single-engine, fabric-covered aircraft, its forward view blocked by an extra fuel tank, and flew it 33.5 hours alone across the Atlantic Ocean (from New York to Paris) navigating only by the stars and dead reckoning though he was often blinded by fog. To save on weight, he opted to do it without a radio, sextant, or parachute. This milestone in human history is certainly worth celebrating and remembering, and doing so does not require either ignoring or embracing his objectionable views on unrelated topics.

The same holds true for other human feats that we honor.

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It’s A Mistake For Democrats To Oppose Everything On Principle


Flowchart for a rational debate
(View larger)

With Democrats nearly fading to obscurity after the 2016 elections — Republicans gained control of all three branches of the federal government, control 34 of 50 governor’s mansions, and 66 of 99 state legislative bodies — I think Democrats are mistaken to oppose everything the new regime proposes.

And it’s even more true of partisan liberal organizations and liberal citizens than it is of the Democratic Party.

As a group, we seem to have forgotten that the biggest beneficiary of any debate is the audience.

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Thank You, Readers, For Keeping This Interesting

Categories: Personal
Comments: 2 Comments
Published on: 2017.02.01


Monthly statistics for this blog

As shown in the screenshot above, January 2017 is my top month for views on this blog, which I’ve been running for nearly 12 years. (My first entry was this one, back when this blog was hosted on Blogspot.)

More important to me, however, is the statistic at lower right: 70 comments. I think that’s the most comments in a one-month period (not counting spam; I sometimes get 50 spam comments per day). This is what I very much appreciate about the blogging experience — communicating with interested persons. Most of the comments in January were from people I’ve never met face-to-face, but I’ve known them online for years.

While I would love to think my stats are increasing because I’m getting better at this — polishing my prose, stepping up my citation game, being more careful to proofread and doublecheck, etc. — my suspicion is that it’s a simple accident of the internet. Likely the topics I’m covering lately happen to coincide with search terms people are using.

For the record, I do not have a goal of increasing readership. I don’t have any illusions about my level of prowess when it comes to discussing any of the topics here. In almost every case, my blog entries simply reflect what I’ve been thinking about, and as always, I think better when I see my thoughts visually. If blogs didn’t exist, I would be typing these words into files on my computer. If computers didn’t exist, I’d be writing these words in a paper journal. But computers and blogs do exist, so it’s an extra-special bonus that I get to put these thoughts online — for better or worse.

Every time one of you adds something to the conversation, it makes me a better person. Thank you.

What’s The Point Of Bringing Up George Soros?

Categories: Personal
Tags: No Tags
Comments: 8 Comments
Published on: 2017.01.30

Screenshot of George Soros’ Wikipedia page

I’m surprised I haven’t blogged about this before; I’ve seen this tactic for years now. Here’s how it works… In the midst of a political discussion, someone will bring up George Soros. Two things are always true about these instances: (1) it’s always a right-wing/conservative person, and (2) Soros is always irrelevant to the conversation at hand.

So why do they do it? What are they hoping to accomplish?

Some of them probably don’t even realize it, but it’s an argument tactic called deflection, diversion, or a red herring. Deflection is used in chess as an intentional strategy, and the red herring is an oft-employed literary device, especially in mystery novels. In those contexts, it’s cool and smart.

But in the context of a debate or a discussion, it’s underhanded. If you successfully deflect someone from the point of the conversation, it doesn’t mean you “won”; it just means the other person didn’t realize what you were doing.

Take this example from an online conversation I participated in yesterday:

(1) The OP (a guy who went to high school with me) posted about the recent protests, and the right-wingers who keep saying the protesters should just “get over it”. He compared the situation to historic protests, and concluded: “However, if the tables were turned and you were being marginalized in some way, would you just, ‘get over it’?”

(2) Someone commented: “Whats [sic] been proven in the latest few batches of uprisings is that they are paid and orchastrated efforts by George Soros and his minions…”

The commenter linked to an op-ed in the “Women In The World” section of the New York Times (here), titled: “Billionaire George Soros has ties to more than 50 ‘partners’ of the Women’s March on Washington”, as proof. Before getting to any meat, the author of that piece admits she “voted for Trump”, didn’t “feel welcome” at the Women’s March, and “rejects the liberal identity-politics”. The author said she “stayed up through the nights this week, studying” and linked to a poorly crafted spreadsheet on Google Docs as her smoking gun that “Soros has funded, or has close relationships with, at least 56 of the march’s ‘partners’…” And she piles on, revealing the startling fact that Soros is a Clinton supporter! Oh noes! (Stragically, the op-ed was published on inauguration day, a day before the Women’s March.)

It’s tempting to attack the op-ed or to defend Soros, but doing either means the deflection has been successful.

But here’s the thing: none of that is relevant to the topic at hand. The topic was whether or not protestors should “get over it”, not who was funding it. The topic was also raised in the context of the #NoMuslimBan protests, a week after the Women’s March.

It’s tempting to attack the op-ed itself (which would be easy, since it never actually showed that Soros funded the protests, only that he regularly donates to the worthwhile organizations, some of which partnered with the Women’s March), but that’s exactly how deflections and red herrings work. Once you’re attacking the op-ed’s silliness, then you’re no longer discussing whether people should protest or “get over it”.

It would also be tempting to defend Soros. After all, he apparently donates to a wide variety of great causes. Even according to the right-winger’s “source”, Soros helps fund Planned Parenthood, National Resource Defense Council, MoveOn.org, the National Action Network, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. Wow. I wish I was rich enough to donate to all of these! According to his Wikipedia page (which is full of source citations), he’s been funding good causes since the 1970s, including dissident movements behind the Iron Curtain, anti-apartheid activities in South Africa, eradicating poverty in Africa, building universities in Russia, and much more. He’s given away billions to good causes over the decades.

But again, this plays into the deflection. You’re now talking about Soros the man instead of whether people should protest (which was the original topic, remember?)

My response in that instance was simple, though it slightly played into the deflection (because I didn’t recognize the deflection in time):

“If I was a billionaire, I’d be funding pro-rights organizations too. Heck, I’m currently a ‘thousandaire’ and I’m funding them. I know “but Soros is funding them” is a common trope, but it’s actually a good thing to fund helpful causes.”

And this is why right-wingers keep bringing up George Soros.

Those Pesky Facts: The #MuslimBan Edition (UPDATED)

While President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order on immigration isn’t technically a “Muslim Ban”, it does bar entry into the U.S. for citizens of Muslim-majority nations. Specifically: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The ban is 90 days, except for “indefinitely” in the case of Syria.

Trump’s stated purpose in this order — titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” — is “to protect the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States”. He specifically mentions the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, saying they could have been prevented if only those folks had been properly vetted. He adds: “Numerous foreign-born individuals have been convicted or implicated in terrorism-related crimes since September 11, 2001.”

Which makes it odd indeed that the countries we’re now banning entry from are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Because none of those nations are where any of our terrorists have come from.

The 9/11 hijackers were largely from Saudia Arabia, while a handful were from Egypt, Lebanon, and United Arab Emirates.

In 2002, the D.C. sniper attacks (misnamed because the killers took 17 or so lives in at least seven states) were carried out by men born in Jamaica and Louisiana, who had also lived in Antigua, Florida, and Washington.

Michael Julius Ford, the 20-year-old who killed one and injured five in a 2006 attack in Colorado, was born and raised in the U.S..

The suspect in a 2006 incident in Seattle was from Pakistan, but had lived much of his life in the U.S.

Major Nadal Hissan, who killed 13 and wounded more than 30 others in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting — the third-deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, was a U.S. Army officer born in Virginia. He served eight years as an enlisted U.S. Army soldier before graduating from Virginia Tech, doing an internship and residency at Walter Reed, and earning a medical degree.

The 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing, which killed three people, was carried out by two Chechen brothers from Kyrgyzstan and who had also lived in Russia. One was a Russian citizen; the other was a naturalized U.S. citizen.

The 2014 beheading in Oklahoma was done by a longtime Oklahoma resident who was raised as a “nondenominational” Christian.

The suspect in the 2015 Chattanooga killings was born in Kuwait but had been in the U.S. since age six and was a longtime naturalized U.S. citizen.

The second-deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 was in San Bernardino, California, in 2015, where 14 people were killed and 22 injured. One of the perpetrators was born in Chicago, a lifelong U.S. citizen. The other was born in Pakistan, but lived most of her life in Saudi Arabia.

The death toll in Orlando in 2016 surpassed even that of San Bernardino, with 49 dead and 53 others wounded. The shooter, Omar Mateen, was born in New York to parents from Afghanistan. He had lived much of his life in Florida. When he finally did visit the Middle East as an adult, he never set foot in any of the nations mentioned in Trump’s order, only going to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.

Are you seeing the pattern here? None of them were from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen. Not one.

These aren’t all the “mass shootings” or “mass killings” that happened in the U.S., but they’re the ones I could find that were connected to “radical Islam” in any way.

How the hell is it protecting Americans from terrorism if we’re only blocking entry for people from countries that haven’t terrorized us?

__________

Related, in Forbes: Why Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’ Will Make Defeat Of ISIS Harder

__________

Edit, 2017.02.10: Added paragraph on the 2016 Orlando shooting.

Edit, 2017.02.12: A friend posted (and then deleted) a link to this blog entry by the “Center for Immigration Studies”, which claims 72 “individuals convicted in terror cases since 9/11” are from the seven nations in Trump’s travel ban. It used as its source a Fox New story from 2016. Notably, none of these individuals (as far as I can tell) were implicated in actual terrorist attacks, but were “convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related charges between 9/11 and the end of 2014”. The blog entry named only one man — Abdul Razak Ali Artan, the dead suspect in a 2016 attack in Ohio. Notably, as of this writing, Artan hasn’t been definitively linked to terrorism, nor was anyone killed in his attack (other than himself) which involved a knife and a vehicle. Artan was shot to death by a responding law enforcement officer, who also accidentally shot another person during the response. Artan was born in a refugee camp in Kenya, according to his own story, though investigating officials claimed he was born in Somalia. IF it turns out that Artan’s attack is linked to Islamic terrorism, and IF it can be shown he was actually from Somalia, then that is one exception to my statements above, not “72”.

__________

What Is The ‘Most Important Problem’ In The U.S.?


Government spying on its own citizens is seen by some as an important issue
(Copyright © 2014 by Wil C. Fry.)

Americans disagree with each other on almost everything, it seems. We can’t even agree on which issues are most important. A Gallup survey just before the inauguration revealed that there is no stand-out issue on which Americans agree “this is the most important”.

Gallup has done the same survey at the beginning of each president’s first term for decades, and almost every time there was a huge looming issue that many of us agreed on — Vietnam in 1968, but in all other years it was the economy, inflation, and cost-of-living (except for 2001, in which there was no agreement). The biggest agreement of my lifetime was in 1974, when Gerald Ford took office, and 77% of respondents said “inflation/cost of living” was the most important issue.

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‘Why Did They March?’ — A Question From Privilege


Screenshot from Oxford Dictionary app

I’ll admit my bubble has grown thicker over the years, so I was flummoxed when I saw multiple posts over the past two days wondering why women marched — in at least 600 cities worldwide — on Jan. 21. Twenty years ago, I probably would have been asking the same questions — without irony — but today I feel disconnected from that former self. Today, the answers are obvious.

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The Most Important Freedom, At Least For Now

I would someday be interested in an informed discussion on whether some of our constitutionally-protected rights are more important than others, or should be. For example, if you had to give up one enumerated freedom, which would you choose? (If we’re going with the original Constitution and Bill of Rights, I would give up the right to own slaves, but fortunately, that one’s already been excised.)

There are people who think certain rights are more important. For example, this editorial piece claims freedom of religion is the most important (because it was “listed as the first freedom”), though the author attempts to redefine “religion” as “dictates of conscience”. For another example, this Cleveland.com piece asks readers which right is more important, and quite a few respondents said: “the right to bear arms”.

I’m typically in the “they’re all equally important” camp — if you start removing any of them, the rest can unravel quickly. But just at this moment, I’m leaning toward the freedom of the press as the most important.

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Inauguration: Just The High Notes

Instead of dissecting the new President’s inauguration speech for undertones of fascism and demagoguery — as some have been wont to do — I will point out a few positives that I took away from the event. First note that I didn’t intend to watch, but changed my mind at the last minute when I realized that the only channel I could watch it on was Univision (a Spanish-language channel) and saw a bit of humor in that situation — given Donald Trump’s anti-Mexican-American campaign rhetoric.

So I watched parts of the inauguration event (I skipped the theocratic prayer showcase), including Trump’s first speech as President. I was able to make out most of the English words underneath the Spanish translator’s voice, and then later read the transcript that Trump posted to Facebook.

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That Reading Statistics Meme Is Just Wrong

Categories: Personal
Comments: 6 Comments
Published on: 2017.01.07

The meme in question.

This cute little chart popped up on social media recently. I saw it from at least three different people, on at least three different platforms (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook). It makes the following claims, without citing a source:

• 33% of high school graduates never read another book the rest of their lives
• 42% of college grads never read another book after college
• 57% of new books are not read to completion
• 70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years
• 80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year
• The more a child reads, the likelier they are to understand the emotions of others

The arrows on the image seem to indicate that one fact leads to another, or perhaps that each statistic builds upon the previous one. Or maybe they just mean: “read it in this order”. Regardless, my “bullshit meter” was alerted quickly here. The first two statistics seem reasonable enough, if somewhat worrisome. The third one was vague and pointless (does it matter what percentage of new books are “read to completion”?) But the last three blocks of text each set off alarms in my brain.

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