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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The Public Favors Police Bodycams — Overwhelmingly

A recent YouGov survey had only two questions about police bodycams, and the 2,229 respondents overwhelmingly agreed on both of them.

• Do you favor or oppose police departments equipping their officers with body cameras to record their interactions with the public?

• If you were reporting a crime to the police, would you want the officer’s body camera to be turned on or turned off?

Responses to the first question, sorted by political identification

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The Impact Of Celebrity And Celebrity Deaths

I will leave to the social psychologists the matter of why so many people fawn over celebrities, and why so many of us experience more sadness over the death of a single celebrity figure than we do over the deaths of millions of other people (4.7 million every month). It’s a fact that many people feel that way, but today I want to address a few related points.

So many people have dubbed 2016 the “worst year ever” that even the vaunted New York Times asks with millennialesque punctuation: 2016: Worst. Year. Ever? That op-ed isn’t only about celebrity deaths, though it was celebrity deaths that seemed to prompt all the “worst year ever” claims on social media.

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A Poor Start To My War On Misinformation

Note the “I don’t care” response after I pointed out the quote was fake.

As I said in my previous entry: If someone else posts fake news, I’ll let them know. This hasn’t won me many friends, but I’m not in life to have a bunch of friends who share fake news.

It just so happened that the quotation in question (see screenshot) is one that I’ve already debunked, and one that Snopes has dealt with too. If that’s not enough, George Carlin himself said it wasn’t him.

For most people, that would be enough. I know if I had quoted a famous person, and you linked to proof that they never said it, I would apologize immediately, and attempt to either correct the attribution or remove the quotation entirely. But this guy responded Trumpishly with: “I don’t care about who said it.” If he had clicked the link I provided, he would have learned that the quotation itself is inaccurate (based loosely on a work by Dr. Bob Moorehead).

I blurred the person’s name because this isn’t about one person; it’s about a larger trend in our online society: the spreading of misinformation without double-checking it, and then blatantly not caring when politely called out. In this case, it was someone who recently added me as a “friend” on Facebook, due to us sharing a mutual friend (I don’t know either of them offline).

It didn’t help matters that the next commenter completely ignored the correction, and accepted the attribution and quotation as correct.

At the time of this writing, there were 11 likes listed for that post, while the original post (by “WorldTruth.TV”) has 80,761 likes, more than 3,000 comments, and has been shared 986,000 times. To their credit, about half of those 3,000 comments are people pointing out that Carlin never said such a thing, but the other half are people saying it doesn’t matter. And who knows whether any of the nearly a million shares were corrected.

This is what we’re up against: an online world full of people who think facts are opinions and therefore subjective.

I’m going to point it out when I see it, though I don’t know what good it’s going to do.

If you post or share something that is verifiably untrue, I’m going to say so. If you respond that you don’t care, like this guy did, then we’re probably done as friends.

The Fake News Epidemic

(Click to see it full size)
Someone — I wish I knew who, so I could attribute — made this helpful chart showing where various news agencies fall on the left/right political spectrum, as well as on the worth-reading spectrum. Note that this chart doesn’t actually include “fake news” sites — sites that invent stories out of whole cloth.

Facebook recently rolled out a new way to report “fake news”. Both Google and Facebook have said they’ll try to keep advertising dollars from going to fake news sites.

This spawned a gush of stories trying to tell you about fake news and “how to tell”. “We’re here to help” said one.

Of course, this makes me feel like a prophet, because I warned about this more than four years ago. What I didn’t know then is that it would get substantially worse on the way to the 2016 election, that a new flock of “news” websites would debut around the world, purposefully publishing made-up stories, that people would just believe those stories without checking. I didn’t know how many inaccurate memes were going around social media (I wasn’t on Facebook then, so perhaps it was already happening and I just didn’t see it).

I complained again in 2014.

There is more nuance here than most people are discussing, however. It’s not just “fake news” on one side and “real news” on the other. There’s a wide band of less-than-helpful information, and I’m going to attempt to put it on a moral scale.

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Science Survey Results

Categories: Personal, Science, Technology
Comments: 12 Comments
Published on: 2016.12.10

Again, thank you to everyone who participated in my short “Science Survey”. This time I got 22 responses, one more than my previous survey on religion. These results didn’t surprise me as much as the previous ones, perhaps because I went into it with fewer expectations (and therefore fewer incorrect assumptions).

Before I reveal the results, I want to point out that one respondent contacted me with criticisms about two of the questions (#4 and #5). This respondent, an attorney by profession, alleged that these two questions were “ambiguous” and “unclear”, respectively. Having re-read the questions, I see it’s possible to have misunderstood both of them. So, for future surveys (if I make any), I will make an attempt to have someone proofread the questions/answers for clarity before I go public with it.

Now, on to the results.

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Vague, Tautological Meme Is Vague And Tautological

This week’s silly meme

I bring up this meme only because I’ve seen it so often on social media. Apparently, about a third of the people in my online circles think this is true. For searchability reasons, I include the text (correcting for the ALL-CAPS issue):

“Am I the only one around here who thinks the media is responsible for promoting the racial divide in this country?”

There are multiple problems here, which I will address individually.

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We Need To Stop Disagreeing On Facts And Start Arguing Solutions

Oddly, too many arguments between the left and right in our country have shifted into arguments about whether facts are true.

Evolution is real! — No it’s not!
Climate change is real! — No it’s not!
Racial bias in policing! — Doesn’t exist!
Guns are dangerous! — Second Amendment!
Tax the wealthy! — Taxation is theft!

The history of politics shows that through much of our nation’s history, the various sides of each argument were almost never in disagreement about objective facts, only about policies.

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A Missed Crossroads In 1992

“I sense an important cross road quickly approaching, and I know of what choices it consists… My decisions here will seemingly determine my course hereafter… When I pace my floor, and call His name, speaking to Him, I don’t feel as if I’m being heard. And even if I am I don’t feel like I’m being spoken to.”

— late November 1992

While I can look back to many general time periods in my own past and wish I had done something differently, it’s a strange feeling to pinpoint an exact moment that would have caused a paradigm shift if only I had acted.

The quotation above is from my journal, written during my second year of college. It was followed eight days later (24 years ago today) by the poem “Dead Leaves” (just 20 lines, worth your time), the most “atheistic” expression I was able to come up with in those days.

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New Science Survey [Closed]

Categories: Personal
Comments: No Comments
Published on: 2016.12.03

After the relative success of my previous survey, I’ve made another one. This one looks at your views on science and its effects on our lives. It’s only six questions, so it shouldn’t take more than a minute of your time. I will leave the form open for a full week (through Dec. 9), since a few people said my previous poll wasn’t open long enough for them to see it.

Click here to take the survey

As with my last one, I’ll write up a full report on the results after it’s over.

[Edit, 2016.12.10: the survey is now closed. Results will be posted soon.]

All Politicians Lie. But Why?

Donald J. Trump, 2015

“All politicians lie”, it is said. It’s a political extension of “everyone lies”. While it might not be entirely true, the cliché exists because the behavior is common. And most of the time, it’s easy to see why they lie.

Not so with Donald Trump.

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Why I Prefer Online Conversations

This N.Y. Times opinion piece is just the most recent example of grumpy people complaining that texting or online conversation is hurting the way we interact with others. “What happened to good old fashioned face-to-face conversations?” they all seem to ask, in whiny little voices.

Grumbling about the quality of online conversations is as old as the internet. Acting superior to people who use text-messaging to communicate is just as old as text-messaging. I won’t list all the complaints here; we know them. But, like all of you, I’ve tried just about every method of conversing with people, except perhaps sending messages in bottles.

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Why Are Atheists So Focused On Religion If They Don’t Believe?

It’s a fairly frequent question, often intended as an accusation: “If atheists don’t believe in God, why are they always talking about him?”

First, it’s important to note that many atheists, just like many believers, never talk about God or religion at all (source: Pew Research Center). It just doesn’t come up very often in many people’s lives. But then are those atheists (just like some believers) who seem to blather about religion all the time. You don’t hear about the silent atheists or the silent theists, because they’re just living their lives.

A second fact I’d like to note is that a lot of people talk about fictional beings (Spider Man, Harry Potter, etc.), yet don’t believe they actually exist. They simply find the topics interesting.

So, right off the bat, the accusation has lost its teeth.

Still, to many believers, it seems odd that some atheists bring up religion so often. Some have even made a living out of it. I think it’s worthwhile to wonder why.

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Survey Results: Surprising?

Thank you to everyone who participated in my short, non-scientific survey. Here are the results, which surprised me somewhat — the entire reason I conducted the survey was to either support or correct my assumptions about those who follow me on social media.

I asked five simple questions relating to the underlying perspectives through which we all see the universe, and 21 people responded. That’s a higher number than I expected, honestly, but still a small percentage of my contacts on social media. I have more than 70 “friends” on Facebook, 79 followers on Twitter, and more than 800 people follow me on Flickr (three of the places I posted a link to the poll).

Some of results that surprised me:

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Short Survey, Please [Closed]

Click here to take the survey

Though I’m pretty sure I already know most of my blog readers’ beliefs, I am trying to get a more complete picture of my social media circle’s positions on a few questions — just out of curiosity.

If you have 10 seconds, please answer the five questions on this short survey. All responses are anonymous — I will see the total number of answers, but I won’t know who submitted each one.


EDIT: I’ve now closed the survey, since responses have stopped coming in. Thank you to everyone who participated.

Do You Live In A ‘Bubble’?

Categories: Personal
Comments: 8 Comments
Published on: 2016.11.21

My results from the quiz in question
See larger version

It’s tempting to dismiss outright any piece of writing that begins with “So I took an online quiz…” However, I ask that you bear with me long enough to see the larger point.

So I took this online quiz (hosted by PBS), called “Do You Live In A Bubble?”, at the suggestion of my very intelligent wife. The idea is:

“There exists a new upper class that’s completely disconnected from the average white American and American culture at large, argues Charles Murray, a libertarian political scientist and author.

Take this 25-question quiz… to find out just how thick your bubble is.

If you grew up in a working-class neighborhood, you are going to have a high score even if you are now an investment banker living on Park Avenue. Your present life may be completely encased in the bubble, but you brought a lot of experience into the bubble that will always be part of your understanding of the world.”

I assumed going in that I would score fairly high (thin bubble), due to my background of crossing culture and socioeconomic lines. I’ve been poor and am now upper middle class. I’ve worked in a factory and in landscaping, but also occupied a desk in a newspaper office. I’ve been both an evangelical Christian and an atheist. As it turned out, I was correct; my score was 68.

But very quickly, I learned the bias of this quiz. Not only the initial description, but the questions themselves, assume that “we” are the “elite” and “mainstream America” is someone else. The metaphorical bubble is ours, keeping us from understanding them.

Not once did any part of the quiz assume I might be one of them and therefore have a bubble preventing me from understanding us. Yet the bubble is very real from the other side too.

In one sense, everyone has a bubble of sorts (thus answering my rhetorical title question). You can only know what you’ve experienced. Sometimes the bubble is self-induced — “Let’s avoid that neighborhood” or “I would never apply for that job”, but very often the bubble, like so much else in life, is an accident of birth. Almost none of us chose to be U.S. citizens; we were born here. Often our socioeconomic status and religion is determined by birth as well, like our language, our general appearance, and so on.

But the point is that the bubble works both ways, or at least I think it does. Take two people: (1) an East Coast elite, born and raised in a wealthy family, educated at Ivy League schools, familiar with the high-brow arts, enjoys fine wines and/or craft beers, moves in circles dominated by others just like them; and (2) a rural blue collar worker, uneducated beyond secondary school, listens to country and western music, watches NASCAR and college football, enjoys fast food and/or domestic beer, moves in circles dominated by others just like them. Is Person 1 any more or less likely to be familiar with Person 2’s experience than Person 2 is to be familiar with Person 1’s?

I think Person 1 and Person 2 are just as likely to have heard of the other type of life, and just as likely to look down on it. I think both are under the same obligation to grow more familiar with the other, and to understand the accidents of birth that separate them.

When I retook the quiz pretending to be a different person, I got a score of 97 points — basically “no bubble”. All it took was changing my answer on a few questions — whether I’ve served in the military, which restaurants I’ve eaten at in the past few years, and my familiarity with NASCAR. This is too one-sided for me.

To be true to life, the quiz should have asked my familiarity with certain musicals or ballet productions, which high-end brands of clothing I’ve purchased in the past year, or prompted me to identify classical composers. I think that it would then show a bubble for almost everyone, but it could identify which bubble a person is in.

Texas Is About To Say ‘Me Too!’ (2017 Legislative Session)

For everyone across the nation who wondered why the Texas legislature wasn’t in the news much this year — specifically, during all the media frenzy about civil rights — it’s not because Texas decided to stop being regressive. It’s because the Texas legislature, by law, does not meet in even-numbered years (except for limited 30-day special sessions called by the governor).

The Texas Constitution, one of the longest state constitutions in the U.S., places strict limits on the state government’s power, and limits the odd-numbered-year sessions to 140 calendar days. Both before and after the November 2016 elections, the Texas State Senate was composed of 20 Republicans and 11 Democrats. The Texas House of Representatives saw Democrats gain five seats in the recent elections, but Republicans still control the body 95-55. (Democrats could not possibly have taken control; most of the Republicans ran unopposed.)

During the past year, while the Texas legislators didn’t meet, other states acted on a variety of issues including LGBTQ rights, abortion, climate change, law enforcement reform, civil rights, voting rights, marijuana legalization, gun control/access, healthcare (including vaccination requirements/exemptions), workers rights/restrictions, minimum wage increases/restrictions, the right to die, and many others.

Now, with elections over and the 2017 session looming early in January, Texas is ready to get in on the action. Below are some of the items that Texas already has in mind:

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No, You’re Probably Not Being Persecuted

I only bring this up because this morning I ran across yet another Christian online who claimed to be “persecuted” — his own words, yet offered no specifics.

The persecution complex is strong among certain Christians. I know it’s real because I was one of them; I experienced the very real feelings. We were told the world was out to get us. I was told this in summer camps, in youth groups, and from the pulpit in adult church services. By the time I was in high school and college, I saw myself as part of a small band of the few remaining “true Christians” that “they” (usually undefined) wanted to smother out of existence. I was told “they” wanted to “outlaw” prayer in schools, but that we could be subversive by praying anyway.

That I believed it is evident in some of my early poetry.

“I haven’t been mute,
I’ve spoken out loud
They will persecute,
Out there in the crowd”

    (From How Long Will It Last, 1988)


“I choose instead to believe that the rest of the world is wrong
why does the world treat me this way?
They never let me have a chance to succeed anyway”

    (From Warring With The World, 1990)

I never listed a specific “persecution” that I experienced. Not once. Just vague accusations that “the world” was stacked against me, somehow due to my religious fervor.

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A Christian’s 10 Questions

A student at a small Bible college asked the following “10” questions, with the aim of “being able to have open and honest conversations with people from different religions or with no religion at all.”

Some of my readers know all of the following about me, but others may not, so I’m giving my answers here. (Note that there are actually 12 questions; a few are bundled together.)

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‘Failure’ Depends On Your Goals

Original source appears to be this tweet

I’m not sure which logical fallacy this falls under. But it certainly seems to be a poor analogy. (And it has an extraneous comma in the middle.)

The meme (based on a real tweet) says:

“I hope Donald Trump is a good president. Wanting him to fail, is like wanting the pilot to crash the plane that we ALL are on. REMEMBER THAT”

Of course everyone hopes he is a good president — at least everyone I’ve heard of. I hope he breaks every divisive campaign promise he made, and instead surprises us all by governing respectably and morally.

Here’s the thing, though. If a pilot (to use the meme’s analogy) intends “to crash the plane that we all are on”, then YES, I WANT HIM TO FAIL. I only want the pilot to succeed if he has all our best interests in mind.

Failure and success are defined by one’s goals. If my goal is to jump over a six-foot-high bar, I’m successful if I make it, and fail if I don’t. But if my goal is to take our country back to a less enlightened time…

If his goal is to reinstate stop and frisk (as he said), then I hope he fails.

If his goal is to deport every single illegal immigrant, then I hope he fails.

If his goal is to ban Islam from this country (implied), then I hope he fails.

If his goal is to cut taxes for the rich (per his plan), then I hope he fails.

If his goal is to undo protective regulations (implied), then I hope he fails.

If his goal is to undo the First Amendment (as he said), then I hope he fails.

On the other hand, if all those — and many others — were simply campaign promises made to energize his base, and his actual goals are to continue the progress this country has been making, to continue the unprecedented job growth from Obama’s administration, to protect the individual rights of women, minorities, LGBTQ+ persons, freedom of thought and religion and expression, and… You get the idea. If these are his goals, then I hope he succeeds.


Yes, I know it’s not Saturday, but I didn’t want to wait several more days to publish this. Click here to see other Stupid Meme Saturday posts.

Welcome , today is Sunday, 2017.03.26