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Posts tagged ‘Debunking’

New conspiracy theory discovered

Someone in the US has discovered new conspiracy theory:

“The CIA, the UN, and the Black Helicopter People all invented these theories,” says one American, who remained anonymous to protect his identity. “Agenda 21, Chemtrails, Protocols, others; they were all invented by the CIA. They want to divert our attention from what’s really going on.”

This American conspiracy theorist has quite a busy life. Oftentimes, he inventories his collection of tin foil hats and kool–aid makers.

“It’s quite easy to refute those conspiracy theories. Chemtrails, for example, are quite silly. There are far easier ways to poison people than by dumping shit into jet exhaust (which would likely incinerate everything anyway). Similarly, Agenda 21 is purely voluntary and has no enforcement mechanisms. And the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are a hoax plagiarized by the Czarist secret police. Anyone who believes any of those or other conspiracy theories is, to put it bluntly, a nutbuttered wackaloon,” he said.

“By allowing such disinformation to spread, it makes people look like batshit crazy paranoids with a compulsive hatred of the government and an inability to see anything as being mundane; it’s always the action of sinister forces that only we know about. That way, we all become absolute laughingstock due to our intricate webs of interconnections and our collections of junk science and ahistorical nonsense. The CIA, UN, and BHP also just want us to be a bunch of crank magnets, where if we’re in for penny we’re in for the pound, and  if we believe in one conspiracy theory, we might as well believe in them all. This includes ones that contradict each other, such as bin Laden being dead for a decade and being captured alive. All this simply makes us look like unhinged fanatics no one should believe in.

“That’s why all these theories were invented.”


Russian to ban words

This is a bit rich coming from someone whose own endonym is a loanword:

“We’re tormented with Americanisms,” the leader of Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, complained last week. “We need to liberate our language from foreign words.” He is drawing up a list of 100 words which he would like it to be illegal for broadcasters, writers and academics to use in public. Fines and unemployment could face anyone caught saying café, bar, restaurant, sale, mouton, performance or trader. Some of the words have come into use since the fall of the Soviet Union; others have been around for decades, if not centuries. “There are perfectly good Russian words you can use,” Zhirinovsky says. “Why say boutique when we have lavka?”….

The reality is that the Russian language is in no way threatened by loanwords from other languages; indeed, it is actually Russian that is threatening other languages, as the indigenous peoples of Siberia and elsewhere in Russia are increasingly shifting to Russian and abandoning their own (mostly) Altaic or Uralic languages. And even if those peoples are not shifting, they are still heavily borrowing words and sometimes syntax and idioms from Russian.

And a handful of loanwords does not threaten a language. Consider English. It has many layers of loanwords, in particular from French. Some of these date back to time contemporary with the Norman Conquest. And yet, English was in no way threatened by the French language and is in no way Romance in character. For example, it retains many typical features of Germanic languages, such as genitives using a sibilant suffix;* verb classes contrasting weak (dental suffix), strong (vowel change) and a few smaller classes;† (remnants of) a system of three genders, and so on. Now, the Russian loanwords are far fewer in number than English loanwords. Since loanwords did not substantially change or threaten the character of English, there is no way a smaller relative number could possibly threaten Russian.

And if Zhirinovsky is going to be consistent, he’d have to abandon all loanwords. There are a number of them from the Proto–Slavic period. Some of these have descendants in modern Russian and therefore fully qualify as loanwords. He cannot explain these away as being “old” as that is simply saying the desirability of a loanword depends on when it was borrowed, which is absurd and incoherent. Indeed, as I mentioned before, his own language’s endonym (and name for itself) are themselves loanwords. (Specifically, and skipping over the specifics, it ultimately comes from a Norse word meaning “the men who row”, which was something like *rods–). This must be why Zhirinovsky wants to change the name of his country, because it’s one of those “tormenting loanwords”. Right?

Hence, I conclude that the Russian language is not under threat from loanwords, that those who complain about them are incoherent, and that any consistent attempt to exorcise loan words from the Russian language would require excessive changes that would be taken to a ridiculous extreme. Indeed, banning certain loanwords is about as necessary as declaring onion domes the official architecture of that country.


* The ‘s is not actually a suffix, but its etymology is as a genitive suffix. Cognate forms appear in many other Germanic languages.

A study all anti–vaxxers should read, but that I know they won’t

Lindsay is currently doing a series of posts on the recent autism hearings in the US Congress. As you might expect from a hearing conducted by anti–science wingnuts, it quickly (as in opening statements) reached the completely discredited and absolutely refuted claim that vaccines (especially the MMR [measles–mumps–rubella]) cause autism.

I’m not going to re–debunk the claim that vaccines cause autism; others have already done that. And I don’t have much to add to what Lindsay is and will be saying. I’ll instead just draw your attention to this study. (Congenital rubella syndrome and autism spectrum disorder prevented by rubella vaccination – United States, 2001-2010, authored by Berger, Navar-Boggan, and Omer) Although not particularly recent,it is still important to read. Quoting the freely–licensed abstract (my emphasis):

Congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) is associated with several negative outcomes, including autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). The objective of this study was to estimate the numbers of CRS and ASD cases prevented by rubella vaccination in the United States from 2001 through 2010.

Prevention estimates were calculated through simple mathematical modeling, with values of model parameters determined from published literature. Model parameters included pre-vaccine era CRS incidence, vaccine era CRS incidence, the number of live births per year, and the percentage of CRS cases presenting with an ASD.

Based on our estimates, 16,600 CRS cases (range: 8300-62,250) were prevented by rubella vaccination from 2001 through 2010 in the United States. An estimated 1228 ASD cases were prevented by rubella vaccination in the United States during this time period. Simulating a slight expansion in ASD diagnostic criteria in recent decades, we estimate that a minimum of 830 ASD cases and a maximum of 6225 ASD cases were prevented.

We estimate that rubella vaccination prevented substantial numbers of CRS and ASD cases in the United States from 2001 through 2010. These findings provide additional incentive to maintain high measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccination coverage.

And another irony meter bites the dust. Far from causing autism, the MMR vaccine actually prevents it.

Link farm – seed planting edition

In no particular order:

Inaccuracies in an epic

Last month, at another blog, I was in a discussion concerning movies about the RMS Titanic. Since this blogger’s favourite was the 1997 movie, I asked him if he had seen any of the other reasonably good dramatizations of the sinking (1953’s Titanic and A Night to Remember). He said he hadn’t. After this, more discussion led to him writing, “…I just love eye-candy, especially when the pedantic perfectionist in me can scour the ship for inaccuracies and find none.” This gave me the idea to watch that person’s favourite movie and spot the historical inaccuracies.

Titanic is a very long movie, but I eventually managed to find the time to watch it twice and spot inaccuracies. I paid special attention to the ship, and I did spot a few mistakes. I viewed the two–DVD tenth–anniversary edition, and the chapter titles are taken from there. If you have an alternative edition with different chapter titles, these should give you some idea of how far along chronologically the error takes place. Since my list is combined from two different lists created during different viewings, there might be a few cases where the errors are slightly out of order.

The inaccuracies I noticed are after the jump. In a few places I note where there are alternative possibilities or where there is a dispute over what the actually happened. In a couple of spots I speculate on the reasons or suggest corrections. If an error is made repeatedly, I mention it only once. I don’t mention anachronisms or continuity errors. Nor do I mention the “hidden faces” who are extras who represent some other historical person (examples being the older man in Boat 6 and the boy spinning a top). I do not list inaccuracies in deleted scenes. On the real ship there were plenty of people whose lives could have interesting stories woven around them, but I won’t hold using fictional characters against this film. However, I do mention one huge plot hole.

Lastly, it contains spoilers!


Worst punctuation complaint ever

I just found this ridiculous rant concerning punctuation. The guts of that post is that English punctuation is illogical because we don’t use Spanish–style inverted question marks to begin questions (and, mutatis mutandis, inverted exclamation points). By reading his rant you’ll notice that the writer seems not to know the difference between a tag question and a tag itself. The reason for his belief is that it is confusing to rely on context to determine when a question begins. The fact that he makes such a claim shows why he has no clue what he’s talking about.

Heres why.

What happens when you ask a question in the English language? In almost all cases, either you invert the subject and an auxiliary verb (if there’s no auxiliary, add one), or you do the preceding and also begin with one of the wh–words. The main difference between the two question forms is that the former is a yes–no (or polar) question, while the latter is a wh (or non–polar) question. The other form is a tag question. Tag questions are a semantically a subtype of yes–no questions. Let’s look at examples:

  • (Declarative): You went to the store.
  • (Polar) Did you go to the store?
  • (Wh) Where did you go?
  • (Tag) You went to the store, didn’t you?

What do wh– and yes–no questions have in common? The first word(s) (or implicitly, the word order) in either of them indicate that the following sentence is a question. In other words, the beginning of these sentences indicates that what follows is a question. Hence, there is no need for a beginning of sentence question–marking punctuation mark because the words and word order already do that. Tag questions are rare enough that they won’t need special punctuation rules. Indeed, in speech, tag questions have no “marker” at the beginning that tells us a question is coming, but this in no way hinders our ability to make ourselves understood. The same applies to writing.

This post has been edited for clarity.

No one is pro-stabbing

The Arbourist’s latest post covers the issue of sex–selective abortions. Now, unlike over there, I’ve never had any sort of anti–choice misogynist come over and blather on with empty words and talking points. However, I am fully aware of how this is used as an argument against abortion. Such an argument goes something like this:

“You support abortion. Therefore, you support sex–selective abortion.” Put into good form (all premises and sub–arguments explicitly stated) it goes as follows:

  • P1: You support abortion rights
  • p2: If you support the right to do something, you support people exercising that regardless of their reasons for doing so.
  • P3: Some people use the right to an abortion for reasons of sex selection.
  • C: Therefore, you support sex–selective abortions.

Now, this argument is valid, which is a technical term meaning that (1) it is impossible for all of the premises to be simultaneously true; and (2) that it is impossible for the conclusion to also be false. Clearly, however, this argument is unsound, as I would like to think most people clearly see that premise 2 is false. It is obvious that supporting  the right to do something does not require you to support all possible rationales for exercising that. To rational people, that is obvious.

However, because of the way they use the argument this post is about, anti–choicers are required to believe that premise 2 is true (this is the charitable interpretation; the uncharitable [and likely true, IMO] is that they are being dishonest. [If they believed the premise to be false, well then they’d clearly see how their argument is unsound and therefore would never use it if they were honest.

I will now grant for the sake of argument that premise 2 is true, and will show how accepting its truth leads to an absurd conclusion.


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