Monday, July 11, 2011

Poll Results For To Be A Skeptic Means Voting For...

How does one vote skeptically?

At the get go, let's define what skepticism is. Skepticism is a verb, a process. Michael Shermer, founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, defines the term as:
One who questions the validity of particular claims of knowledge by employing or calling for statements of fact to prove or disprove claims, as a tool for understanding causality.
Skepticism looks for verifiable evidence to base decisions on. Of course, this places skepticism opposite of faith based reasoning (I apologize to Reason for any slight)  where one relies on unsubstantiated information such as: revealed knowledge, hearsay, and all types of biased data.

Basic stuff.

Many political topics are "gimmes" - a vast majority of skeptics would vote for them because the evidence is clear. In this category I'd place:
  • Not teaching Intelligent Design as science in schools.
  • Not using schools as petri dishes to breed religiousity.
  • Climate change - not per se what to do about it, rather that it is going on and is primarily man made.
  • Insurance companies should not cover quack medicine like homeopathy.
There are many issues that, due to their complexity, are difficult to discern the correct policy.  For example, what is the best path to US energy independence? Is that even a worthy goal? What if the US becomes totally energy independent (a fantasy for the foreseeable future), but one of our main allies, like Japan, is totally cut off from its Persian Gulf oil supply? Simply stated we have another Gulf conflict on our hands. If you disagree with that assessment I offer the current Libyan conflict/civil war  as an example of the US getting pulled into a mess by its allies (Britain and France). Even a person highly skilled in skepticism in a particular field like biology (PZ Meyers) or journalism/world events (Christopher Hitchens) may not have the knowledge base to make the proper political choice. Both men are skeptics but they differ immensely in terms of their politics . Hitchens supported Bush the Younger's foray into Iraq, while Dr. Meyers only believes in using violence in self defense.

However, being skeptical while voting on such complicated matters a few principles become clear.

*What would
Good Guy Greg do?
Skepticism requires one to change their mind now and again.

Whether it's new data coming in or old information being repackaged in a novel argument, a skeptic (if one is going to do skepticism right) needs to be able to alter their opinion. What is to be avoided is the religious stance where one maintains that they are right regardless of the evidence at hand. This faith based attitude is not the sole domain of religion either. Despotic political systems, whether it's the Committee for Public Safety which was responsible for the Reign of Terror, or Stalinism with its purges and orchestrated famines, one delusional characteristic is clear: The perfect society can be reached if we just keep trying and kill lots and lots of people. Though the Bolsheviks (the sect of communists who took power in Russia) were atheists, they certainly were not skeptics.

Skeptical voting means looking at your biases.

Most skeptics would scoff and say Of course! I've been reflecting on how my culture, gender, and class influences how I see the world. Right. However, if one is too certain of their bias less purity, then they easily run into a dogmatic cul-de-sac. For example, during the last days of George Bush's presidency many who consider themselves skeptics would find it hard to believe if the man said water is wet. Do you remember the debate about the Iraq surge? I thought, Christ, this guy has got to be wrong, no matter how much sense the plan makes. I was cautiously against the surge at the time, and now, well, it appears I was wrong. The surge didn't split the Red Sea, so to speak, but Iraq isn't burning to the ground. I think my judgement at the time was colored quite a bit on how I felt about W.

Get on with the results from the poll!

My pleasure. The first two questions were about abortion. Remember, the question was  To Be A Skeptic Means Voting For...
Pro-choice - 88%

Pro-life -  2%
First, let me say that I am pro-choice, but I am not going to say that being pro-choice is obvious. That is not committing a sin against the pro-choice movement either. Rather, when one looks at what has seemed obvious at the time: witch burning, the world being flat, and the existence of God, having an idea assumed to be true is in and of itself no virtue. Activists need to remember that when discussing the topic.

Higher taxes - 29%

Lower taxes - 17%
I feel that this is a poor question, at least at this time. One of the biggest sins our politicians have committed is not telling the populace that Americans will need to pay more to get less. I was watching an interview with Harry Reid, leader of the Dems in the Senate, a few months ago and he said that Medicare and Medicaid would never be cut. Never. Benefits would continue at the same levels for the same age range of people. No worries. Nothing to see here, thank you. 
Shrinking the military - 64%

Expanding the military - 8%

The most interesting thing I personally found about the military question is that 28% of those taking the poll chose not to answer. Now if a person doesn't have the adequate knowledge to make a decision on this topic that's one thing, but the US's military budget and troop deployment are subjects that need a skeptical analysis. Currently the US has approximately 86,000 troops in Europe, and for good reason, too. I hear the Ottoman Empire is getting restless. Here is a list of US military deployment circa 2007.

Obamacare - 29%

Single Payer - 47%

What is exciting about American style federalism is that the states can act as experimental labs to test different ideas and policies. While the federal government offers it's solution to the health care problem, Single Payer health care is going to be tried out in Vermont. Here is a piece from an article in The Economist concerning Vermont's plan.

The new law attempts to expand coverage and lower costs. The state will move forward in two steps. The first goal is to create a health exchange by 2014, as required by the national health reform. The second is to use the infrastructure of that exchange, such as a single system for paying claims, to introduce publicly-funded health care in 2017. An independent board will set payment rates for doctors and hospitals, as well as benefit packages for patients. Costs will be contained, Mr Shumlin says, by cutting administrative expenses, slashing fraud and rewarding doctors for the quality rather than just the quantity of care.

However, this progress may not proceed as hoped. Single-payer systems are not a panacea—health spending is growing at a faster clip in Britain and Canada than in America. Furthermore, the main aspects of Vermont’s plan have yet to be worked out. Most crucial, politicians have not decided how the scheme will be funded.

Observe - Hypothesize - Test - Analyze; a worth while endeavor.

Public Schools - 67%

Supporting School Vouchers - 17%

Many on the Left take the idea of supporting public schools as an Article of Faith. Fiscal, as well as religious conservatives often belong to the cult of privatization. What sullies the argument, of course, is the Democrat's reliance on teachers' unions and the Republican's reliance on an imaginary Sky Fairy.

I found this interesting article from The Economist about Sweden's private schools.

BIG-STATE, social-democratic Sweden seems an odd place to look for a free-market revolution. Yet that is what is under way in the country's schools. Reforms that came into force in 1994 allow pretty much anyone who satisfies basic standards to open a new school and take in children at the state's expense. The local municipality must pay the school what it would have spent educating each child itself—a sum of SKr48,000-70,000 ($8,000-12,000) a year, depending on the child's age and the school's location. Children must be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis—there must be no religious requirements or entrance exams. Nothing extra can be charged for, but making a profit is fine...
I have no philosophical issue with publicly funded private schools as long as they do their educational job and are not co opted and used for religious indoctrination.

Well, that's it. Hopefully I have given at least a cursory look at skepticism and voting.


*What? You don't know the Good Guy Greg meme? After reading some of the responses to Elevatorgate I think the atheist community needs more of the Good Guy Greg attitude.

1 comment:

  1. I love your blog. There's a lot of common sense on here, and your anecdotes tend to be quite funny as well as thought provoking. However, I do have an issue with your ideas on climate change.

    "Climate change - not per se what to do about it, rather that it is going on and is primarily man made". It's not primarily man-made. There have been many, many warming periods before, long before Humans ever existed. There is abundant Geological evidence for such warming periods and as a Geology Graduate I have seen some of the evidence firsthand. Everyone is always perfectly happy to believe in Ice Ages, but no one ever stops to think what happens in between them...

    Anyway, my point is this: global warming is happening. Anyone who says otherwise is either in denial or ignorant of the facts... or possibly just an idiot. However, we didn't cause it, and we certainly can't stop it. It's happened before and it would have happened again even if Humans had never evolved, the Industrial Revolution never happened and we never domesticated the cow. We may very well have sped it up. Personally I suspect we have, but I doubt it is by a particularly drastic amount. That particular subject is still a matter of some controversy and it is not my subject; but I think it's fair to infer that if it has happened several times before man ever existed, it cannot be "primarily man made".

    Just to be clear, I'm not saying that green energy, hydrogen fuel cells and so forth are useless. One day fossil fuels will run out and on that day we need to have contingency plans and alternative energy sources already in place. It's just that anyone who thinks that buying a Prius is going to extend the tenure of the Human race over this planet is sadly mistaken.


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