NPF: LOOK, THEN LEAP

Posted in No Politics Friday on February 20th, 2014 by Ed

I have a thing for rodents. I've owned seven pet rats over the years (although none at the moment) and around 2010 I had the good fortune to discover a blogging capybara named Caplin Rous. Caplin's owners/pets, a couple named Melanie and Rick, live on what appears to be a farm outside of a place called Buda, TX with a wide variety of animals. Exotic or rare pets are difficult to keep for a number of reasons, but their setup was perfect. They have the two things a capy needs – a pool and a lot of land – and the devotion to their animals to make sure that all of their needs are met. Unfortunately it turns out that some plants that are harmless to "normal" American animals are toxic to a South American native rodent and Caplin died too early. That's one of the downsides to exotic pets – many lessons have to be learned the hard way.

Melanie was heartbroken, as any pet owner understands, but shortly after Caplin's death she was contacted by an exotic animal breeder with some distressing news. A capy had been adopted by an owner who was neglecting him – would Melanie take him in? And that's how Garibaldi (Gari) became her new pet. To make a long story short, I have a hard time communicating how much pleasure I've gotten since that moment from following Gari's antics on the blog. Melanie is a very funny writer, which just adds to the entertainment value of the hundreds of pictures, tales, and videos of Gari that I could rely on to cheer me up.

treat

The problem was that in the first year of his life, Gari was mistreated. His first owner did not actively abuse him, but she was almost criminally ignorant of how to care for him. He was kept in a small apartment, rarely let outside, and fed dry dog food. Capys need a ton of sunlight and vegetable matter to remain healthy. The bottom line is that when Melanie met Gari, he had scurvy (with that nice vitamin C-free diet), vitamin D deficiency, and weak, brittle bones from lack of calcium. He was also extremely underweight. After a few months with his new family, though, he had been nursed back to health.

Well, he was nursed back to…as healthy as he could be. There's no way to "fix" brittle bones, and one by one Gari's teeth started rotting out of his mouth. The teeth weren't very strong, so they would slowly develop infections which spread down to his jaw. He was constantly back to the veterinary hospital to be put through oral surgery and rounds of antibiotics that can be fatal to rodents. After all that, he eventually succumbed to the inevitable and his infections spread to his kidneys, which failed.

tatarstan

Essentially this guy – who brought a lot of joy to a lot of people beyond his family – was killed by the ignorance of his first owner. And that's where I'm going with all of this. I can't stand seeing people adopt pets, particularly of the "exotic" variety, without having a clue how to care for them. They see something on Buzzfeed and decide they want a cat or dog or reticulated python or bobcat or capybara so they rush out and buy one. Then they have revelations like, "It turns out that pythons are 15 feet long as adults" or "Gee, this 150 pound rodent eats about $20 of food per day" and they end up releasing the animal or slowly killing it through negligence. It's sad and it's cruel.

Don't do that. An hour of internet research by someone who wanted a capybara could have added five years to his life, and he would have brought a lot of people (myself included) a lot of happiness over that time.

FATALLY FLAWED

Posted in Ed vs. Logical Fallacies on February 20th, 2014 by Ed

In more than a decade of writing posts here you've had numerous opportunities to hear me state that if I could change one thing about this country, I would require every voting adult to take and pass a course in basic logic. Nothing terribly advanced or difficult, but a course with actual rigor. All that "rigor" means here is that one could not fluke or finagle one's way into passing; it would be necessary to understand the material.

Think of how much more palatable our society would be with even a small increase in the percentage of the population capable of making logical arguments and identifying illogical ones. Again, I'm not talking about creating a nation of formal logicians here – just people who could look at statements to the effect of, "Autism is usually diagnosed after children are vaccinated, therefore autism is caused by vaccination" and think, "Hmm, that is not a valid conclusion."

I should temper my earlier criticism of the Bill Nye-Creation Museum spectacle posing as a "debate" earlier this year. I still contend that it was ineffective at doing much beyond allowing "Intelligent Design" mouthbreathers to pretend that they are worth taking seriously. However, the debate and some of the absolutely cringe-inducing responses like the "Questions from Creationists" meme gave me some useful insight into the problems with the way people in this country reason. This has nothing to do with logical fallacies, although there are plenty of those to go around. The problem is that millions of Americans do not understand even the most basic components of reasoning.

Start from the very beginning: deduction and induction. Four centuries after Bacon and Descartes, it still hasn't sunk in. This is deduction:

:Bob is a Mormon
:Mormons don't drink alcohol
= Bob doesn't drink alcohol

Deduction is painfully simple, yet we can't seem to get it. For the conclusion to be valid, both premises have to be true. Lots of people skip that part. The premises and conclusion are not transitive, either:

:Bob is a Mormon
:Bob doesn't drink alcohol
= Mormons don't drink alcohol

See, that doesn't work at all. That's an attempt to turn deduction (from the general to the specific) into induction (from the specific to the general). Induction is even more difficult for Americans to grasp because by its nature it can never produce 100% certain conclusions. In the above example, the conclusion is in fact true. However, the two premises do not provide sufficient evidence to support the conclusion; we don't know that Mormons don't drink simply because Bob is one and he doesn't drink. If we had never heard of Mormonism before and knew nothing about it, that inductive conclusion would be tenuous at best.

That is not to say that inductive reasoning is always so flimsy – and this is where the skepticism about evolution ("It's just a theory!") comes into play. An inductive conclusion can be useful even when it is "only" 99.99% supporting. For example, "Every fish lives in water, therefore the next fish discovered will live in water" is inductive but highly reliable. It's possible, theoretically, that the next species of fish will be different from every other. It sure isn't likely, though. Similarly, "My window is broken and my valuables are gone; therefore my house was burglarized" is pretty darn reliable. I mean, it's possible that there is some other explanation (Aliens vaporized my property and then a random person threw a rock through the window on the same day) but it certainly is not a likely or even plausible one.

And the problem here as it relates specifically to Evolution is that it is an inductive conclusion. It is very, very reliable but we can't replicate human evolution in a lab or show a video of it happening. That some alternative explanation like creationism can be proposed and cannot be refuted with 100% certainty is all the ammo that creationists need. They demand that evolution is 100% reliable to be treated as the truth while of course believing in God and whatnot without being able to construct an inductive argument that can get within spitting distance of reliability.

That's what so many people fail to understand: that plenty of valid, reliable conclusions are less than 100% reliable because it is not possible for inductive arguments to be 100% reliable. And whenever it suits their biases and personal beliefs, people tend to demand 100% reliability from conclusions they choose not to believe before lowering the bar to about an inch off the ground for whatever tortured nonsense they are motivated to believe. That's how evolution or climate change are Just a Theory while supply side economics and the existence of god are ironclad facts.