Paging Dr. Howard

August 26th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

If you missed it, here was last week’s Americans Believe the Darnedest Things entry.

Now Newsweek has a version up. I’ll do these slide-by-slide. They’re blue; I’m red.

2. …only 39 percent of Americans believed in the theory. The good news: only a  quarter said they didn’t believe it; the remaining portion either didn’t have an opinion or didn’t answer. (Also, only 55 percent correctly linked Darwin’s name with the theory.)

I think the only relevant number here is the 25% of people who don’t believe in evolution. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean a quarter of our population believes our origins draw from a play-doh man, a magic apple, and one brave god’s 168-hour creation binge, but that’s how most people—I suspect—would interpret the poll. Maybe some respond “no” because they don’t believe Darwin’s version but an alternate, equally plausible or more nuanced theory. It’s possible, no?

3. But it turns out that 21 percent of Americans believe there are real sorcerors, conjurers, and warlocks out there. And that’s just one of the several paranormal beliefs common among Americans, according to Gallup: 41 percent believe in ESP, 32 percent in ghosts, and a quarter in astrology.

I mostly covered this in the last post, but I would add that we should be thankful that we live in a country where people only believe in witchcraft and don’t actually try and convict each other for it. That may be small consolation, but I’m just saying; it could be worse.

4. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, four in 10 Americans mistakenly believe the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act creates a panel that makes decisions about end-of-life care.

I won’t say I think we should have death panels, but I sorta think we should have death panels. But that’s beside the point. The relevant matter is that no one knows what was in the behemoth of a “reform” “bill” other than the dozen or so congressional interns who Ctrl-V’d the excerpts of Aetna’s 2010 business plan into the bloody thing, and even they were probably too distracted by a Zynga game for any of it to soak in. So no, it doesn’t surprise me in the least that 40% of people believe something false about something they don’t understand and don’t necessarily need to understand.

5. In a June 2007 NEWSWEEK poll, four years after the invasion of Iraq, 41 percent believed Saddam was involved in 9/11—even though President Bush had said otherwise as early as September 2003. Wild views on 9/11 are in fact still rampant. In September 2009, Public Policy Polling found that a quarter of Democrats suspected Bush had something to do with the attacks. Meanwhile, many Americans also remain convinced that Saddam had WMDs, even though inspectors haven’t found any in the seven years since the invasion. Still, as of 2006, half of Americans believed that, according to Harris.

Hey, you never know… It’s a big desert. They just need more time to look. Just kidding. But really, so what? Maybe some people would rather quilt, skateboard, whittle toothpicks, whatever than follow the news, so they conflate some faraway “enemies” that—let’s be honest—have little bearing on their day-to-day existence. For shame!

6. Copernicus be damned, 20 percent of Americans were still sure in 1999 that the sun revolved around the Earth.

Well, let’s see. 10-15% of Americans have dyslexia, so… I don’t know. Well, it’s a matter of faith, no? Can you independently prove that Earth revolves around the sun? I sure can’t. Ok, not what the question asked… I’ll admit this one’s a little depressing. I’d like to move on, please.

7. According to NEWSWEEK’s 2007 What You Need to Know poll, barely half of Americans were correctly able to state that Judaism was older than both Christianity and Islam. Another 41 percent weren’t sure…

Why is this at all surprising? Sure, it would be pretty embarrassing if a significant number of Christians didn’t know that a prerequisite for Jesus being mocked as King of the Jews would be the prior existence of Jews. (Even then, I’d be somewhat sympathetic to people thrown off by the thin overlap of the words “Judaism” and “Jew.”)  But that’s not what the poll says. “Barely half” of Americans—15% of whom don’t claim any religious faith (ok, not necessarily relevant to historical knowledge, but bear with me)—know the chronological order of three very distant historical periods? I think that’s pretty good!

8. …in a 2006 poll, more than three quarters of Americans could name at least two of the seven dwarfs, while not quite a quarter could name two members of the Supreme Court.

This is, as I like to say, comparing adam’s apples to agent orange. Unchanging, thematically-named fictional elements of a colorful children’s story are so far from… I mean—do I even need to dissect this? Sleepy, Grumpy, Dopey, Bashful, Doc. Scalia, Roberts, Sotomayor… Is Kagan official yet? Did O’Connor retire? There. Point proven.

9. Sixty-three percent of young Americans can’t find Iraq on a map, despite the ongoing U.S involvement there. Nine out of 10 can’t find Afghanistan—even if you give them the advantage of a map limited to Asia. And more than a third of Americans of any age can’t identify the continent that’s home to the Amazon River (above), the world’s largest.

Hey! Finally something that puts me in the majority! Two things, in fact. As for the Amazon, I wonder how many of those 33% could narrow it down to two continents. I would count that as a victory. As for Iraq and Afghanistan, what’s relevant to Americans is that innocents—including some of our friends and relatives—are being blown up daily there, and this has little to do with the kinks and curvature of arbitrary boundaries that tell people to pay taxes to the ruling body of Iraq and not of [country that borders Iraq].

10. …according to Zogby, the majority of Americans—three in four—can correctly identify Larry, Curly, and Moe as the Three Stooges. Only two out of five respondents, however, can correctly identify the executive, legislative, and judicial branches as the three wings of government.

If you know anything about me, it should come as no surprise that I’m far more upset about the 25% who can’t name the greatest comic geniuses since the advent of film than the 60% who don’t care to learn the names of cosmetically differentiated buckets of government lackeys. Nyuk nyuk!

I can spell too

August 24th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink


One month, 12,000 miles, and a GPS logger


Two minutes, Google Earth, and Snagit Editor

Mine’s a little nicer, don’t you think?

I see dead people

August 20th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

This is an old bit and not one that I find very persuasive. For the moment, I’ll ignore the question of whether believing political propaganda has anything to do with  faith in anecdotally viable pseudoscientific phenomena. But let’s take astrology. Considering all the stimuli that we believe impact the early stages of a child’s development, is it so strange to believe that month of birth can impact personality? Daylight exposure, outdoor temperature–surely these have every bit the impact as the music coming out of mom’s car stereo.

Note how many items on the list have the word “can” or clearly imply it. Contrast that with the statement, “Barack Obama is a Muslim.” To say, for example, that I believe in ESP is not to say I’ve borne witness to it, nor that I possess ESP, nor that I could explain, identify, or verify a specific occurrence of ESP. It’s simply an acknowledgment that someone, somewhere likely possesses such an ability.

Is this stupid? Probably. But without so much as an attempt to discredit the items on the list, the argument mainly appeals to close-minded skeptics who are quick to poke fun but never try on the tinfoil hat themselves.

Oh, and back to the relevant question: What the fuck does any of this have to do with Barack Obama?

Two sig figs

August 4th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

LOL! No range, no “roughly 70,” just… 74.

Wow. If only my office thermostat had this kind of precision.


August 3rd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Well, sure, the fuel may come from an immutable magic orb in the sky, but until the means and mechanisms that transform the fuel into glowing screens and spinning wheels are as well, we’re only celebrating a lesser shade of delusion. Anyway, I wish them luck.