Welcome to the Blog

Hello, and welcome to the SIM blog! I'm your hostess, Jo Skeptic. Twice a week (hopefully on Mondays and Thursdays but I promise nothing) you'll find new posts about logic and critical thinking and whatever else I can come up with. My hope is to entertain, educate, and provide handy dandy analogies and explanations for your less skeptical friends and family. Please enjoy!

Skeptical activism, what you can do.

posted Mar 25, 2013, 11:02 AM by Shane Smith   [ updated Mar 25, 2013, 11:14 AM ]

Many people feel they cannot make a difference when it comes to pseudo-science and science education. And I could give you a few cop-outs such as “think locally, not globally”, ”your vote counts”, or even, ”change yourself, not everyone else”. But personally, I hate these phrases with the burning passion of a thousand suns. They are not helpful and make no sense. So instead, I will give you a few suggestions that you can do that may make a difference.

#1: Bring attention to the pseudo-scientific activity to your local skeptical group, even a global skeptical group. This will promote discussion, research, and awareness to the cause.

#2: Contact the group/individual/financial backers partaking in said pseudo-science and point out there flaws in reasoning. I would suggest being as professional and understanding as possible. No one likes to be talked down to. Try to avoid words like “idiot”, “wakko”, “charlatan”, or “quack”  (though it is so hard to do). Your goal is to have them seriously consider what they are doing, not start a fight.

#3: Use Skeptical resources to expose the pseudo-science. This means use local podcast (hint hint), or the James Randi Educational Foundation’s 1 million dollar challenge to “dangle a carrot”. This can help fight misinformation and expose the flaws in their practice.

#4: Report the pseudo-science to the local authorities (if there is a crime or infraction) or expose the errors of reasoning to competitors. (If it is a newspaper for example, inform competing newspapers of their error). The goal here would be to have the practitioner either punished for crimes, or at least lose business to its competitors.

These steps can all be done with anonymity and mostly done over e-mail. With the help of the skeptical community as a whole we may be able to stop this wildfire of pseudo-science that runs rampant in our country and even cities, one step at a time.
 

Easy Comments 2

 

The Legends Live On

posted Jul 30, 2012, 1:56 PM by Joanna Wald

My twin loves are good science and good stories. My love of stories keeps me fascinated by "true tales" of hauntings, conspiracies, and odd phenomena. My love of science and its methods keeps me looking for the reality behind the excitement. This makes my travel dreams a bit different from most peoples--I'd still love to tour Europe, or walk the Great Wall of China, but I'd also love to see places like . . .

Coral Castle--Homestead, Florida
Ed Leedskalnin was a weird and mysterious dude who built a castle made of limestone blocks, allegedly as a tribute to his lost love. He built it alone. At night. Using the "secrets of the pyramid builders." To this very day, how he built it is a total mystery. The only clues we have to his methods are these photographs of his block and tackle rigs and his homemade generator. How such a simple man could master the ancient art of traditional building methods is beyond our powers of explanation, as are his quirky motives for building hiscelestially inspired home. 

Haunted Railroad Crossing--San Antonio, Texas
Several decades ago in Salt Lake City, Utah, a bus full of school children was hit by a freight train. Ever since then, those children have haunted a railroad crossing near San Antonio, Texas, helpfully pushing cars across the tracks to safety. This is in no way a cool optical illusion. The handprints you find are not your own incompletely wiped fingerprints. This definitely is evidence that Utah natives are the friendliest people ever, even after death. In a different state.

The Devil's Road--Cossart Road, southeastern Pennsylvania
Along this cursed stretch of road, the trees themselves twist aside in horror. And no, they definitely weren't clipped back to avoid the power lines, nor were the roots partially destroyed when they built a road on top of them. It's definitely the devil. The creepy "cult house" along the road and the trucks that chase curious teenage investigators are proof of that. It's not that locals are frustrated by vandalism and harassment; they're clearly hiding a dark and devilish secret.

This is clearly where the devil actually lives. Right. Under. Centralia. This one's scientific, through and through--the town sits atop a smoldering coal mine. The fire started in 1962, and after several failed attempts to contain it (which conspiracists claim were never meant to work) the residents were relocated and the town abandoned. Now all that's left arecrumbling streetssmoke, and sinkholes. Which makes it the creepiest tourist attraction ever.

And that's just a sample of U.S.-based wonders. I haven't even mentioned the host of hauntings and mysteries all around the world; from the miracles and relics of Italy to Japan'sAokigahara forest of suicides, I could travel forever and not come to the end of the stories. And that's just the way I like it. 

Protocols of the Elders of Squatch (Also, Lizard People!)

posted Jul 22, 2012, 12:03 PM by Joanna Wald

 Do Jews* rule the world? Do their powerful banking families arrange wars and influence public policy the world over? Are their pro-Jewish movies brainwashing us with liberal Jewish values? They get a whole lot of Nobel Prizes--is there a conspiracy here? And if Jews have been running the world for centuries now, why do so many people still hate them?Running the world would be way more awesome if it also made you popular. I'm just sayin' . . .

The grain of truth here is this: there really are a ton of Jewish movie execsdoctors, lawyers,bankers, etc. But there are solid, non-conspiracy reasons for this. And (you gotta love the irony here) one of those reasons is discrimination. Huge, steaming piles of discriminationwith a generous sprinkling of massacres on top. 

Think about it--most of Europe makes you live in designated areas and/or chases you from village to village because they're convinced you killed Jesus and possibly gave them the Black Plague. In several countries you're not really allowed to settle down and, like, own land or anything. So how do you make a living? What do you invest in? You focus on education and move into fields your Christian neighbors think are vaguely evil--finance and (later on) entertainment. The finance angle is especially rich (ha!) with irony. Medieval Christians thought charging interest on loans was evil, but they totally needed banks and business loans to get the Renaissance going. So they let the Jews  handle the money and then wrote mean plays** about them and accused them of hoarding cash and stuff. 

It's tempting to say that we gentile folks are just bitter that all our attempts to screw over the Jews backfired so spectacularly. The conspiracy theorists are just jealous, that's what I think. Jealous and wrong. Because those in the know have been aware for some time that the world is run not by Jews, but by Lizard-like aliens.

Yep, that's right. "V" is totally realDavid Icke figured it all out by channeling spirits or wearing a lot of turquoise or whatever. Like most conspiracy theories, it's complicated. And hard to prove to everyone's satisfaction. For example, this guy thinks Icke is full of crap. He says Icke is just talking out of his drug-fueled,*** New Agey ass. No, wait, that's not what he says at all! He says Icke is just a tool of the real future overlords of the world! (I'm not sure whether the real future overlords are Jews are not.) 

Man, you've gotta love conspiracies. And those scrappy, scrappy Jews. And lizards, I guess? I just . . . I think the "V" people should sue that guy for plagiarism. And the rest of us should give the Jews a break and blame someone else for a while (according to websites,Freemasons are a solid second choice).

*I'm mostly talking European Jews here, though modern Israel figures into a lot of conspiracies, too. 
**It's kind of amazing and sad that Shylock, was, like progressively human for a Jewish character in that period.
***I have no idea if he actually does a lot of drugs, but he talks like he does a lot of drugs.

Cats are Killing You

posted Jul 11, 2012, 9:47 AM by Joanna Wald

Well, their parasites are. Maybe.

If you've never been a cat or a pregnant woman, you may be blissfully unaware of toxoplasma, even if you have it. Which you totally could--it's really common. If you grew up in the U.S. there's about a 15% chance you're infected, and in some areas (Central Europe andrural France, I'm looking at you) the incidence is way way higher. And it's all because of cats.

Mostly. Toxoplasma Gondii (which we'll just call TG because really, you can't expect me to type that out a dozen times) lives in all sorts of warm blooded animals, but it can only complete its life cycle and spread inside a cat's guts. Which means when it's not inside a cat, TG really wishes it were. When it infects rats, it literally makes them hang out around catsjust to get eaten. But it's harmless to humans unless you're pregnant or old. Most people have no symptoms at all. Except . . .

TG is totally trying to kill you. TG infection is correlated with schizophrenia and suicide, and it might slow you down and cause car accidents. You know, so you can die and be eaten by cats. Creepy, right? Time to panic, right? Can you believe people aren't freaking out about this? Because they should be. Parasites are taking over our brains and feeding us to cats! Run for the hills! Or the doctor, because TG is treatable.

But really, there are good reasons not to panic, so it's good we're not, but that usually doesn't stop us from freaking out and demanding action. So it's probably just a matter of time before people do just that. And when that happens, you can smugly tell everyone you knew it all along and everything's gonna be fine.

Don't get me wrong--science is all over the TG phenomenon, as you can see from the links above. They're even looking at possible treatments in the mental health arena.* But the main reason not to panic is the tons of people who have TG and aren't killing themselves and being eaten by cats. A recent Danish studyfor example, correlated TG and suicide. They report a rate of attempted suicide of 1%, while the rate of TG infection is almost certainly muchhigher.

TG is totally treatable, so I guess we could try to cure everybody before they become cat food. I'm guessing we don't because it's not a big problem for most people and the side effectsof treatment might not be worth it for most of us.

But TG is still at thing, and it's probably a good thing to be aware of. Next time you're tempted to blame aspartame or vaccines for all your ills, you might look instead to evolution for your answers. Think natural. Think toxoplasma.

*Did you know antidepressants have antimicrobial properties? I just . . . that's amazing.

Peppered with Questions

posted Jul 2, 2012, 3:41 PM by Joanna Wald

"Don't your children deserve high quality, totally inoffensive TV programming"

"Which credit card would you like us to charge for that?"

"Why do you hate me?"

Don't you just love loaded questions?

Not all uncomfortable questions are fallacious, of course. If you're on trial for murder, you're gonna get some hardcore questions thrown at you, and many of those questions will rightly assume you're a horrible person. But there's a big difference between assuming the dude on trial killed someone and assuming some random court clerk at the drinking fountain killed someone. And in that difference, my friends, lies the fallacy of the complex question. "Complex" here means you look like you're asking a simple question but it has hidden parts. "What kind of gun did you kill that puppy with?" sounds like one question, but asking it implies that you already asked "Did you shoot that puppy?" and got a "yes" in response. The question is usually loaded on purpose, of course, to trap you into admitting to puppicide. 


Or sign on to censorship, like the first question up there does. Some pro-censorship phone solicitor asked me that one (in some form or another--the phrase "totally inoffensive" is mine). That one's a double barreled question--these can be products of bad survey design or they can be evil entrapment questions. See, I'm all for high quality programming but I'm against total inoffensiveness. But the phone solicitor wants you to just answer yes or no to the whole thing at once--if you say yes you're supporting censorship, but if you say no you look like you either hate quality programming or want people to be offended.


So what do you do? Dodge the question! How many times have you heard politicians accused of this one? Lots? Yeah, me too. And sometime's they really are dodging the question. But sometimes the question is a trap, so they're smart to dodge it. Politicians may be weasels, but most of them are smart weasels. Because really, the only way to win the loaded question game is to change the rules. 


You have three basic options:
a)refuse to answer--this way you don't get trapped, but you also look like you're dodging the question. So you might . . .
b)point out the hidden question--"Are you saying I killed a puppy? That's a terrible thing to accuse me of!" 
c)or, if you don't have a lot to lost (like, if you're just talking to a phone solicitor and not running for office) you can go ahead and incriminate yourself. "Why yes, I do hate quality programming. And I want as much sex and violence as you can possibly fit on TV." Your questioner will probably get your sarcasm and it might make you feel better before you slam the phone down. 

You're welcome in advance for the advice. Now, which credit card should I charge for that?

Behold, the Mustard Plaster!

posted Jun 27, 2012, 2:56 PM by Joanna Wald

Let's talk home remedies, shall we?* Wait, that's too broad. Let's narrow it down and just talk about mustard as a home remedy. Mustard is tasty, and it's a great example of the pros and cons of time honored tradition in medicine.

Mustard has been used as a cure-all for thousands of years. According to the internet it was used by the ancient Greeks, and even today it hasn't entirely died out as a treatment for colds, bronchitis, asthma, arthritis, and sundry other aches and pains. Dang, if it's lasted that long, there must be something to it, right? Except . . . We already know that appeal to age is ared herring. I mean, we've been using wheels for thousands of years because they kick ass, we've been killing each other for thousands of years because we're assholes. So clearly, "we've always done it" isn't enough reason to keep doing it. 

It's supposed to work like this: you smash up some mustard seeds (usually black mustard, not to be confused with Indian mustard or white mustard**) and mix them with flour and water, or possibly eggwhite, and occasionally some other herbs or spices--it's one of those 'everyone has their own recipe' things--and spread it on some cloth. Then you put the cloth on your chest (for colds and lung troubles) or whatever body part hurts (for arthritis and aches. duh.). And it's supposed to make you feel better. Why? There are a couple of theories.

First, mustard plasters do tend to produce irritating fumes that might make your nose run and whatnot, which might clear up a stuffy head. Second, mustard is a rubefascient (ooh, vocabulary!)--it makes your skin red by dilating your capillaries wherever the plaster is sitting. Some people think the extra blood flow helps your body flush toxins. Or . . . all that irritation and redness gives you something new to think about, effectively distracting you from your original pain. This, by the way, is also the theory behind stuff like Ben Gay and Icy Hot.

Does it work? Nobody knows. When you look it up from the modern science angle you get a whole lot of 'not enough information' and 'not scientifically verified.'  Oh, and you also get a lot of side effect warnings. Remember the irritating fumes? In overly strong doses they feel like tear gas. And if you leave a mustard plaster on too long it'll cause blisters and burns. Oops. So . . . even if it was proven effective, you might want to choose something safer, ya know? Because yikes! Mustard burns look awful.

Which, by the way, is a point against the whole 'natural things are safer' idea. But there was a shining, crazy moment (okay, the 19th century is more than a moment) where this stuff was held up as cutting edge medicine, right along with bloodletting and induced vomiting. Back then, college educated doctors didn't have much more science in their heads than your grandma, and these remedies clearly did something, and for a while there it seemed vitally important that a treatment make something happen, whether or not that something was actually helpful or not.

Sorry, that was a bit off topic; I'm just fascinated by that whole era of heroic medicine. It was usually the opposite of helpful, but it was so impressively unhelpful that people flocked to the doctors who specialized in these treatments. And I now realize that I do have a point to this--alternative medicine works like that--it's usually unhelpful, but it's unhelpful in a way that makes you feel good about yourself, so it's become big business. But back in the heroic medicine days, Heroic mustard plasters were competing against equally unhelpful home-made mustard plasters, and today Herbalist mustard plasters are competing against antibiotics and Tylenol and a host of other scientifically verified remedies. It's just no contest. Or it shouldn't be, anyway. Definitely not with mustard. It's still delicious on a sandwich, though.

*This is strep-related only in the vaguest way. I actually feel much better now (Yay!). But I promise to take my antibiotics until they're all gone.


**I know, right? I always thought mustard came in Dijon, Deli, and yellow.

Put Yourself in My Shoes

posted Jun 21, 2012, 8:23 PM by Joanna Wald

Let's say you're dating a guy who turns out to be a serial killer. Which famously sort of happened, so don't roll your eyes at me. Once his face is plastered all over the news, you'll realize you knew he was evil all along (which is also hindsight bias, by the way). Even when the news tells you he was depressed, and his mom did an awful job raising him, and a bunch of horrible things happened that conspired to make him crazy enough to kill people, you'll probably stick with the "he's evil" explanation. 

On the other hand, if you're the serial killer, forced to explain your hobby to your lady and the rest of the world, you'll have a truckload of excuses for your behavior. You did it for a million reasons, and amazingly enough, not one of those reasons is about being a bad person. Suddenly you're the Talented Mr. Ripley: "whatever you do, however terrible, however hurtful, it all makes sense, doesn't it, in your head. You never meet anybody that thinks they're a bad person."

In the first case, you're guilty of the Fundamental Attribution Error. Which, granted, isn't nearly as bad as being guilty of serial murder. But it's still wrong. When we take time to think about it, we know most things are a combination of personality and situation. But when we don't take the time, or when emotions are running high, we tend to zero in on personality and forget all about situation. We do this when awesome things happen, too. Which is probably why we take celebrity advice when we shouldn't--we assume people get famous solely by being awesome, when there's usually a hefty dose of luck and good connections involved as well.

In the second case, you're guilty of self-serving bias. When things go right, it's because you're beautiful (handsome?) and talented and committed and what-have-you, but when things go wrong it's certainly not your fault. Noooooo, then it's 100% situation and 0% you.

These (mostly the FAE) are also why putting yourself in someone else's shoes can go so horribly awry. The idea there is great, and actually really useful. If you really try to imagine yourself in your ex-boyfriend's situation you can really notice situational factors you'd missed and get a better understanding into why he went so horribly wrong. You might still throw him in jail, but that understanding might help turn other budding Dexters down a different path. But if you half-ass it and stop with imagining why you'd never do those horrible things, you'll never understand anything good.

The good news is that we can and do get beyond these biases all the time, at least partially. We try to own up to our mistakes and work on our bad qualities. We try to give people the benefit of the doubt. We sometimes actively look for hidden causes for peoples' behavior and try to not get too carried away with our own awesomeness. With these biases, practice can go a long way. So keep on plugging away and it will totally pay off in extra compassion and insight and stuff.

It's nice to see a bias or two that we humans aren't utterly failing to overcome. Way to go, human race!

Myth Confirmed

posted Jun 18, 2012, 6:37 PM by Joanna Wald

Hey, sorry for the gap in posting. The site went wonky for a few days, but now it's fixed. I guess. I don't know. Here, read this: 

So. Confirmation bias.* Have I mentioned that confirmation bias is, like, one of the top ways to be wrong? 'Cause it is. It kicks your ass in several ways:

First, it makes you do bad research. Let's say you hear a creepy noise in your attic, and you swear it was a ghost. So you comb  through your house's history looking for gruesome murders, you invite ghost hunters to your house . . . all your questions are geared toward proving your ghost theory. Except it wasn't a ghost, it was a bat,** and now there are little bat babies up there and maybe you'd know that if you'd been asking the right questions. Confirmation bias made you say "what kind of ghost?" instead of "Let's check out the other possibilities before jumping on the ghost train." That's right, bias made you ask the wrong questions, which made you go gallivanting off in the wrong research direction, and now that you spent all that money getting rid of the ghosts you have none left over for the bats. Oops.

Second, it makes you twist stuff around to support your side. This is why everyone and their dog can find amazing studies to support their squatch while totally rejecting studies that disprove it. Once you're convinced that noise is a ghost, all pro-ghost research starts to become compelling and well done, while "it's just a bat" arguments will suddenly seem weak and sad. Because something deep in our brains gets off on being right all the time, and does its damnedest to defend whatever we think we're right about. Even if that leads to bat infestations.

Third, it makes you remember things wrong. Even if you try really hard to stay emotionally neutral and study both sides of the ghost vs. bat debate, if you're pro-ghost deep down, you'll remember the pro-ghost information better than the pro-bat information. That part of your brain reeeeeaaaally wants you to be right, no matter what the facts are.

All that confirmation bias leads to a host of silliness, like . . .

1. It might possibly make you an extremist. It's not a slam dunk, but it's totally possible. I mean, you start out slightly in favor of ghosts, which makes you mostly look at pro-ghost books and websites and remember pro-ghost stuff really well, and you end up a true believer. This might be more likely with really emotional issues, like politics and health squatch. But you could certainly try it with ghosts.

2. It's what makes you believe in stuff even when you find out it's not true. Even if you look in the attic yourself and clearly see a bat family instead of a ghost, you might still believe in the ghost. Hopefully just a little bit, but you also might convince yourself you have ghost bats just to save your theory.

3. It makes you give too much weight to your first impression. Your brain seems to assume that if something's first, it must be the most important. If only your first thought had been "bat!" instead of "ghost!" you wouldn't be in this mess.

4. It makes you see correlations where there aren't any. This is because confirmation bias makes you focus on positive results instead of negative ones. Let's say you think your ghost's (bat's?) name is Jeff. So you keep saying the name and then listening for weird noises--every time you get a 'response' you write it down, and pretty soon you have an impressive tally. But you forgot to note the 137 times (out of 150) that nothing happened. Your ghost's name is Dr. Acula, but now you think it's Jeff. All because of confirmation bias.

So, um, this is really hard to avoid, and it's a big reason good scientists try to take themselves entirely out of the equation when they test stuff. The rest of us just have to be aware and try reeeeaaaally hard to squash that bias down when we notice it. You get (slightly) better with practice.

And yes, I am researching a ghost post. Does it show?



*I could give you a lot of links, but Wikipedia did a really good job on this one and I'm feeling lazy. Meh. I'm a bad blogger, so sue me. (Don't really sue me.)


**This really happened to me, but the bat skittered out of the attic and across my living room before having babies. Also, I was renting so I didn't have to pay a guy to check for more.

With a Little Help From My Friends

posted Jun 11, 2012, 7:52 PM by Joanna Wald

So, having friends makes you an asshole. Why? Group polarization, that's why. Whatever stupid opinions you hold become stronger and more extreme when your friends are there to back you up--without your buddies you'd be way more reasonable. I didn't want to be the one to tell you, but after talking it over with my own friends I felt I really had to say something.

Okay, maybe groups aren't all bad. I mean, if you're into saving homeless puppies or telling people how awesome they are, being with puppy-loving friends might inspire you to save even more puppies than you would on your own initiative (or tell even more people how awesome they are). But if you're a he-man woman hater, joining the club will only make you worse.

And sometimes it's not a matter of being better or worse, just more extreme. Like, let's say you're kinda sorta basically a Democrat (Republicans, insert your party here). Left to your own devices, you might like a Democrat in this position, a Republican in that one, a Libertarian in another . . . it would all depend on the candidate and the issue, right? But put you in a convention hall with thousands of other Democrats, and suddenly you're "Democrats all the way, baby!" That, my friends, is group polarization. And the down side here is that polarized Democrats and polarized Republicans tend to talk past each other and refuse to compromise because they're so convinced their side is perfect. Which is probably bad and stuff.

There are a couple of major theories on this. One depends on our deep-seated need to fit in and yet also be unique. In a group, a great way to do this is to agree with everyone, but to be a leader by being a little more extreme about whatever you agree with. So, if you're churchy, you might become a little more Jesusy than everyone else. You know, to stand out in a way everyone there approves of. And then other church-goers would feel pressure to match your Jesus-ness, and the whole group moves toward Jesus. Which might be good and might be bad, depending on which version of Jesus you're working with--charity Jesus would be preferable to smitin' Jesus. For me, at least.

Another theory is more information-based. So let's go back to the Democrat thing for this one. You're at the convention, agreeing with everyone, and maybe you're just caught up in that social thing. Or maybe you're hearing a lot of compelling arguments for Democrat-ness you've never thought of before. Maybe all those candidates and pundits really know their stuff, and they know how to make that stuff convincing. In that case, your sudden fervor is a combo-pack of group polarization and actually valid information. (Once again, this works the same for Republicans. Much as I hate to admit it, Republicans have some good arguments, too. Just don't tell my friends I said that.)

On the other hand, group polarization works way better in groups where everyone agrees on some basic things. Let's say you're trying to get everyone to hate Star Wars.* That will be way easier on the Star Trek Lovers forum than on Pinterest.** But Pinterest is a great place to stir up hatred between the knitters and the sewers (the knitters always win--those needles can really do some damage). And older, more established groups are harder to polarize. Possibly because fewer members are trying to prove themselves and everyone has a better understanding of the issues you're all there to discuss--once those are set, it's harder to shift things around.

So maybe having friends doesn't make you an asshole; maybe it's only having new friends that does it. So don't make friends. Or only make friends with puppy-lovers. Or make sure you have lots of different friends so they won't all pull you in the same wrong direction at once. Or be true to yourself. I guess there's no moral to this one. But group polarization is a thing, and if you find yourself suddenly pissed off (or really excited) about things you haven't been that pissed off (or excited) about before, it might be happening to you. The end.

*I know, that's impossible in real life. Or it was before the prequels came out, anyway.
**For the super tech-y among you (mostly just Mr. Skeptic), imagine having a Vim vs. Emacs debate on Pinterest. Trust me, it won't go anywhere. But on certain computer geek forums, ouch! Let the flame war begin!

Reductio ad Hitlerum

posted Jun 9, 2012, 8:49 PM by Joanna Wald

Um, you should know up front that some of these links lead to actually horrible websites. Mostly because that's what you get when you google Hitler, but also because of the ironic fact that so many people playing the Hitler card are actually incredibly hateful their own selves. Dammit. The Hitler cats are safe to click on, though. Cats with little 'stache markings are adorable and funny.

You've probably heard of Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies--the longer an internet argument gets, the more likely you are to see one. And, if you're anything like me,* you've seen a lot ofpeople skip straight to playing the Hitler card without even working up to it. But you haven't seen Hitler cats, and you totally should.

Don't get me wrong, sometimes Nazi analogies are totally appropriate. If people are actual Nazis or fascists, or actually committing genocide, you're absolutely right to play the Hitler card. But the rest of the time, it's probably a bit much. And when I say "a bit much" I really mean it's a combo of Red Herring and fallacious Guilt by Association. Effective but oh, so wrong!

In case you didn't read my post on red herrings (which mostly linked to Metallica videos), they're arguments that sound relevant but totally aren't. The fact that Hitler studied art, orloved dogs, or had a Charlie Chaplin mustache is almost never relevant to the question at hand. When you go there, it's not really because your opponent is Hitleresque. It's because you've run out of actual arguments. It's an ever-so-slightly more sophisticated version of "Oh yeah, well you're a jerk!" Which rightly makes you look like a 5th grader.**

The guilt by association is obvious, right? No one (except white supremacists and the occasional mass murderer) wants to be Hitler's buddy. Sure, before he killed all those people he might have been okay. A little intense, but not a bad guy. But now we know better, and we all stay as far away from that shit as possible.

But here's the thing: in the middle of all that megalomania and homicidal-ness there was a lot of normality. Nazis ate, slept, brushed their perfect blonde hair, played with their little blonde kids, adopted adorable blonde doggies and kitties (some of which had 'staches) . . . .  Which means you can point at just about anything and find a Nazi who was into it. So it's not enough to look at an issue and see whether Nazis were into it--you also have to look at how many regular, sane people are into it and whether it inexorably leads to genocide or not.

You may have noticed every political movement and candidate ever compared to Hitler, and realistically, only a few of those people and movements are genuinely Hitleresque. The same is true of the Stalin comparisons and the Osama Bin Laden comparisons. You really can think someone's a bad candidate without comparing them to embodiments of evil. It is, in fact, that ability that keeps democracy from becoming a literal bloodbath.

So please, only play the Hitler card when it really applies. The rest of the time, you richly deserve to lose your argument just for going there.

*Who are we kidding? You're probably nothing like me. But you've probably still seen this.
**Hey, at least you look like a 5th grader who pays attention in class. Or watches the History Channel. You're such a nerd.

1-10 of 48