Why “X Is Like Y Chemically” Is Meaningless (And Why It’s Not An Insult To Be Told You’re Wrong)

I was recently in a discussion that invoked the “X is dangerous for you because it’s only one atom/molecule away from Y” argument. In this specific case, the argument being made by Person A was that Drug X was dangerous because it was chemically similar to Drug Y. While the conclusion was accurate, the methods used to reach this conclusion were wrong. Yet, even though the conclusion was correct (in this case), I believe that pointing out why the methodology used is wrong is an important discussion to have.

BUT WHAT WAS WRONG ABOUT IT?

The idea that, simply because an item is chemically similar to something dangerous, it too is dangerous, is an argument built on a fallacy. There are plenty of harmless things (e.g. water) that are chemically similar to something dangerous (e.g. water and hydrogen peroxide) but are not harmful to us. In fact, similar pseudoscience methodologies have been used to prop up arguments of anti-vaxxers and other alt-right and alt-left beliefs.

BUT SCIENTISTS MAKE COMPARISONS ALL THE TIME!

In the case of this particular example, it is true that scientists will sometimes compare drugs to one another. However, drug studies tend to focus on how drugs interact with the body. Any associations between drugs are based on that. Generally, the only time studies on one drug will reference another is to say something like “potential for addiction is similar to Drug Y”. Scientists generally avoid statements like “Drug X is chemically similar to Drug Y and should therefore be avoided” because they know these types of statements are misleading and don’t inherently mean anything.

As stated earlier, Person A isn’t wrong when they say Drug X and Drug Y are chemically similar. They certainly are, but it’s besides the point. The point is: It is poor methodology to use chemical composition comparisons between two different substances to call one dangerous simply because the other is. The comparison is inherently meaningless in itself – lots of harmless things are one atom away from something dangerous. It’s only how the body interacts with each individual substance that provides actual merit to the idea that something is dangerous.

ARE YOU CALLING ME DUMB?

There is no malice or insult in having someone say “your methods for this are wrong and here is why.” There is not even malice or insult in saying “you’re using the same methodology as the alt-right and alt-left”. These are perfectly neutral factual statements and should be taken as such. It’s important to point out these logical fallacies, however, so that people can be educated on the issue and stop perpetuating bad science. Being (told you’re) wrong is the first step to being right – and there’s no shame in that.

SO WHAT SHOULD I HAVE DONE?

If we are trying to make the case, for instance, that Drug X is as bad for people as Drug Y, we should base our argument around the way Drug X affects the body. Because, while this person was 100% right that Drug X can be dangerous, it’s not necessarily because its chemical structure is similar to Drug Y’s (which, as previously stated doesn’t necessarily mean anything by itself). By drawing chemical composition comparisons (that are inherently meaningless) we are propping up pseudoscience methodology.

WHY IS THIS A BIG DEAL ANYWAY?

This is something we should all be passionate about because these are the types of arguments the alt-right and alt-left use to bolster their anti-science claims. More and more, people on both the left and right are starting to fall prey to pseudoscience – so it’s more important than ever to have these conversations in public so people can get educated. We need to put an end to these methodologies so people don’t ultimately buy into misunderstood pseudoscience and so that those who do buy into this pseudoscience can’t point at us and say, “look they’re doing it too so it must be right!”

Because these conversations are so important, we need to do away with the idea that if someone tells us we are wrong or are using poor methods of gaining information employed by pseudoscience advocates, that it is a personal attack against us. It is not and we can’t take these things personally. These are merely factual statements to help someone better understand where they went wrong and how to do better in the future. Like I said: Being wrong is the first step to being right – and there’s no shame in that.

Immigrants, Muslims, Mormons, Jews: From Small Atrocities to Large Massacres

Recently news outlets across the country have been lighting up like a Christmas tree with stories of  beloved family and community members facing deportation (see here and here for just a couple examples). This, along with items like the Muslim travel ban, have led to widespread rebuke among progressives in the United States – with some even invoking Hitler. While cries of internment camps and extermination orders may seem outrageous and hysterical, it’s important to look back on history to see just how far-fetched these ideas are.

1900s Germany

While antisemitism was already brewing in Europe during the 1930s, an economic crisis brought it boiling over. In Germany – with concerns about poverty, inflation and unemployment – antisemitic groups such as the Nazi Party found an ideal scapegoat in Jews. Once the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, the true, horrifying scope of their antisemitic agenda revealed itself slowly over the course of a decade.

Legislation restricting places Jews could work at was the first to come. After that came restrictions on the political rights of Jews. Then came segregation laws, which forbid Jews from doing various things in the public sphere while outlawing Jewish culture and materials made by Jews. Finally, laws requiring Jews to register their property, change their names to be more easily identifiable, carry special passports, and otherwise make themselves identifiable as Jews were passed.

The first mass slaying of Jews happened in 1938 when the paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party clashed with Jews, resulting in 91 Jewish deaths, damage to hundreds of Jewish businesses and synagogues, and 300,000 Jews being placed in internment camps. In 1941, mass killings of Jews became commonplace and in 1942, nearly 10 years after the Nazi Party’s rise to power, the “final solution” to transport all Jews to concentration camps for extermination was proposed and implemented.

1800S UNITED STATES

In the 1830s a new religious movement formed in the United States: Mormonism. Mormons were seen as peculiar at best and sinister at worst. Among other things, there were concerns about Mormon religious beliefs, their loyalty to their prophet, and their growing numbers. These fears eventually led to persecution and clashes between Mormons and other Americans – and eventually led to government actions (including an extermination order) that forced Mormons to flee from the United States to the relative safety of what is now Utah in the 1840s.

Even then, concerns about Mormons did not end. In 1879, President Hayes told U.S. diplomats to seek help from European governments to keep Mormon converts from travelling to the U.S. Later, in 1883, President Cleveland asked Congress to ban Mormon entry into the United States – essentially instigating a Mormon version of Trump’s Muslim travel ban.

MODERN-DAY LESSONS

Rhetoric today surrounding refugees, immigrants and Muslims is largely the same as it was for Jews and Mormons during these two time periods: There are concerns about increased crime and terrorism, growing movements, and worries about American jobs being taken. But, just as with the Mormons and Jews, these fears are overblown or completely unfounded.

Statistics show that undocumented immigrants commit less crime proportionally than U.S. citizens. Similarly, people are more likely to be killed by a white supremacist or anti-government fanatic than be killed by an Islamic terrorist. As for jobs, statistics show that the presence of undocumented immigrants actually raises wages for U.S. citizens and creates nearly as many jobs as they occupy (maybe even more). On top of this, illegal immigrants pay into our tax system without being able to reap most of the benefits.

SNOWBALL EFFECT

Generally one of the most prevailing themes in stories about undocumented immigrants being deported or Muslims being arrested and held at airports is how much they are valued (and needed) in their community. Right now, we are tearing away people who are clearly productive and contributing members of our society. We are tearing them away from their families, neighborhoods, churches and colleagues – leaving only a painful gap with absolutely no discernible benefits.

It wasn’t right in the 1800s and 1900s and it’s not right today. And while there haven’t been any extermination orders yet, if we don’t realize we’re heading down the same dark path we’ve been down before, it can easily happen again. As history has shown us, everything always starts small – but all it takes for small atrocities to snowball into large massacres is the silence of good people.

Response to “What’s Wrong with the LDS Church” – Why Those Who Believe(d) Speak Out

In her post “What’s Wrong with the LDS Church” Fat N’ Fitness blogger Kyli Summerhays has some things to say about misconceptions surrounding The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

While I believe the post is well-intentioned and well thought out, it had its own misconceptions about why people leave or speak out against the church. I would like to break down her thoughts here and hopefully provide some clarity and feedback for those both within and outside of the LDS Church.

“You know what I think the biggest issue with the LDS Church is?? It’s true.”

I firmly believe the LDS Church uplifts lives and can be a good moral bearing. The church does many good things all over the world, from humanitarian aid to refugee placement to advocating for immigration reform.

Whether it is objectively true, in a scientific sense of the word, is admittedly, a more difficult argument to make – but I strongly believe if it moves someone spiritually and makes them a better person they should hold to the iron rod for all it’s worth.

“When in the history of mankind has something that’s right been free from persecution? Never.”

If persecution is the metric for truth or righteousness, then the LGBT community has claim to a lot more of it than the LDS Church. Or Jewish people. Or black people. While it’s true the LDS Church has had some terrible patches of persecution – especially in its early history (being driven from homes multiple times) – both historically and in modern times, other groups have had it far worse.

Additionally, other groups have also faced persecution – from religions such as Satanism to organizations like the KKK. Are we to believe that because of their persecution they are also right and true? Many things, both good and bad, face persecution. It’s not a reliable metric for finding truth and righteousness.

“We are supposed to have moments of misery, of pain and suffering, or severe temptation. We are supposed to feel lost and confused and question the things we are being taught. We are supposed to be hard on ourselves and get jealous or defensive. That IS the perfection of this gospel.”

I can agree with most of this to one degree or another. The real problem for many, especially those who leave or speak out against the church, is that it’s not merely a matter of “moments.” And it’s not merely a matter of being lost or confused. And it’s not just a matter of being hard on yourself.

The problem is that the pain and suffering is constant – and even more pronounced at church. The problem is not that they’re lost or confused, it’s that the church instills confusion or makes them feel misled.

The problem is not that they are hard on themselves, it’s that the church has cemented in their heads expectations of what people are supposed to be – from gender roles to beauty standards to church callings – and when people don’t live up to them they face social pressure from within the church and deep, internal shame for simply being who they are instead of who they are expected to be.

“We are NOT meant to always be happy. We are not meant to always make the best choices or feel 100% great about ourselves. Guess what guys, that’s not the LDS church creating those feelings…That’s a natural consequence of life. The LDS church is just an easy place to put the blame because there are standards and they ask you to live life in a certain way. This isn’t to be controlling or to be mean. It’s for your benefit.”

What happens when the place that is supposed to be your spiritual refuge, the sole place you should be able to find peace, becomes the very place you fear most because it fills you with anxiety, depression and dread? What happens when you start wearing two faces every day out of fear and shame: The mask of conformity you wear around church members and the person you really are?

These are the situations people deal with, and their desire to find spiritual peace is what ultimately leads them to leave the church or speak up. Simply put, for these people, church is not making them a better person, it’s making them worse – and their anguish takes them to dark places.

While I do not believe that it is the church’s intention, or the intention of any member, to be “controlling or mean,” the feelings of anxiety, depression, shame, and suffering ex-Mormons and members alike experience are, without a doubt, caused by the LDS Church.

The evidence for that is clear as day: Those who have suffered within the church have spoken up about it. Some have even described their suffering as spiritual abuse – on par with verbal, emotional, and even physical abuse. Because of this, those who have suffered often speak out against what they perceive to be harmful practices and beliefs – just as someone who suffered abuse at the hands of another would do to protect others.

We do not get to decide whether they have misattributed the source of their suffering or how deep and significant their suffering is. The only thing we get to decide is whether we will listen to them, accept them as they are, and help them heal – or continue waving away their pain as “a natural consequence of life.”

“So here it goes. My testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is that it’s true.”

It’s a beautiful testimony and I appreciate Kyli sharing it. I have no idea if she will ever read this post, but I wish her the best and hope that she is able to take something good away from it like I took away from hers.

I hope ex-Mormons will look at Kyli’s post and understand that there is no malice behind church leaders or members – they’re all just trying to do what they believe is good and right (isn’t everyone?).

I hope active Mormons who see my post will better understand where ex-Mormons are coming from, why they leave, and why there is sometimes lingering anger and resentment that can take years to heal.

I hope those in the middle are able to find a place they belong.

I hope we are all able to find peace, wherever it comes from.

DNC scandal, Republicans a boon for Bernie Sanders campaign?

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Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally. Photo courtesy Nick Solari.

Bernie Sanders’ campaign has been in hot water lately. After Sanders’ staffers illegally accessed campaign lists for Hillary Clinton, the DNC swiftly moved against the Sanders campaign – revoking their access to all campaign data, including the data Sanders’ campaign compiled itself.

However, despite the seriousness of what the Sanders campaign did, Sanders himself seems to have come out of the DNC scandal relatively unscathed – and possibly even stronger from it.

The Sanders campaign fired at least one staffer directly connected to the breach and attacked the DNC for denying them access to their own data – saying they were damaging the democratic voting process. The DNC ultimately backed down from the Sanders campaign and access was restored relatively quickly.

Even with the DNC’s about-face, the Sanders campaign is now suing the DNC for their actions. Additionally, rumors have swirled about the DNC favoring the Clinton campaign – with one Sanders campaign official even insinuating that the campaign staffer who accessed Clinton data was a DNC/Clinton saboteur.

No-nonsense diplomacy

The quick response to firing those deemed responsible for accessing Clinton’s campaign data, the DNC quickly caving to the Sanders campaign and restoring their data access, and the Sanders campaign’s continued pursuit of the DNC via lawsuit – all while Sanders himself maintains tact in regards to Hillary Clinton – makes Sanders come off as a quick-acting, diplomatic candidate with little tolerance for wrongdoing.

Even Donald Trump – who has had plenty of negative things to say about Sanders himself – seemed to stand behind Bernie Sanders in the debacle, applauding Sanders’ tact while attacking Clinton for her lack of it.

Trump is not the only Republican who has seen virtues in Sanders either. The presidential candidate seems to have far wider Republican appeal than Clinton. While the Facebook group Republicans for Bernie Sanders boasts over 19,000 members despite just being created this year, a Republicans for Hillary group that has been around since 2012 has a mere 319.

Multiple articles have been written about Republicans’ love affair with Bernie Sanders as well, while articles about Hillary Clinton and Republicans tend to be antagonistic. Reasons for backing Sanders differ among Republicans – some love his idea to audit the FED and go after big banks, while others back his views on education and the economy. Others simply believe he is the most likely candidate to upset the status quo.

Cross-party candidate

While the reasons for backing Sanders may differ among people, it seems that more and more people are eyeing him as the most likely Democratic nominee – and, even among Republican pundits like Ann Coulter, the most likely to win the presidential election if he clinches the Democratic nomination.

The race is far from over, but with Sanders’ cross-party appeal and demonstrated ability to weather at least one scandal without getting messy, it’s clear voters, other candidates, and the media (another thing he has in common with Republicans) will want to watch him closely.

Why We All Need Feminism: Cutting through the misconceptions

It might surprise some to learn that I, a man, consider myself a feminist, especially when women like this one advocate how terribly feminists treat men and why feminism isn’t even necessary:

feminism

Obviously there are some serious misconceptions about what feminism is and what it isn’t. I think this picture is a great introductory point to these misconceptions and feminism as a whole. So let’s break down these misconceptions here:

“Not all men are rapists.”

The idea that feminists believe that all men are rapists is misunderstood, at best, and outright wrong, at worst.

While feminists do advocate against rape – it isn’t about placing the blame on men. In fact, feminists seek to change the perception that men are sexual animals who can’t control themselves around women (something the current culture advocates – whether intentionally or unintentionally).

Feminists are essentially empowering men while at the same time educating both men and women on consent, rape, drugs and drinking.

“I am not a victim.”

Feminism does not view women as victims. In fact, feminism views women as inherently powerful and equal to men. However, statistically and historically speaking it has been and is a man’s world.

Feminism seeks to disrupt the consolidation of power and responsibility men have and make sure women have their fair share of both as well.

“I am not OPPRESSED.”

Statistically, women are “oppressed” in that they have less opportunities than men – even if they may not realize it or feel it in their day-to-day life.

Some of this “unrealization” can be put down to the fact that we have all been raised in a patriarchal world and it’s hard to know what could be wrong if you literally don’t have anything to compare it to.

That’s another part of feminism: Changing the perception of what the world is and can be to one that is more balanced between the sexes. And thanks to the relentless work of feminists over the decades that is coming to fruition.

Women have the ability to vote, enter into previously male-only work fields, and be in positions of power largely thanks to the work of feminists. Men can be stay-at-home dads, wear their hearts on their sleeves, and work in previously women-only professions. And while things have certainly gotten better over the decades, there are still improvements that can be made.

“Men have problems too.”

Yes, they do, and feminism is helping them too. Every door that feminists open for women also opens doors the other way for men.

In addition, men have a wide range of choices, outlets, and support to combat their problems that women have struggled to obtain – from courtrooms to places of employment and beyond.

I’d also like to add that just because men have problems doesn’t mean there aren’t women’s issues to tackle or a need for a feminist movement. The two are not mutually exclusive.

“I am responsible for my actions.”

Feminism is all about empowering individuals. It’s all about having both men and women take and share responsibilities more equally. It’s about having an equal stake in forming and molding the world and future.

Feminists are not looking to place men as scapegoats for the world’s problems or blame them – and, in fact, they believe men have been just as damaged by patriarchal teachings in some ways as women have. They would be the first to tell women to take ownership over their actions.

I feel like this statement is hinting back at the rape issue, so I’ll just say this: Both men and women have been misguided by patriarchal teachings and the resulting “rape culture” it has created. Feminism seeks to help both men and women be more wary of things like consent and sex when alcohol and/or drugs are involved. It does not seek to misplace blame or skirt responsibility.

The price of extremism

Now that I’ve said all this, I’ll end with one caveat: There are extremists in any group. So you will find self-proclaimed feminists here or there who are simply “man-haters” – but they are not indicative of the movement as a whole and do not speak for the majority of feminists.

Real Courage: What LGBT people and soldiers have in common

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Caitlyn Jenner recently won an ESPY award for courage, leading many to argue that the trials and difficulty she faced as an LGBT person weren’t at the level required to qualify as “courageous.” Even before Jenner was in the spotlight, people have been making this argument – saying LGBT are not brave for coming out of the closet or simply being an LGBT person – and often drawing comparisons between an undeniably courageous segment of the population: soldiers.

It is for that reason I’d like to take a moment to make a few observations regarding soldiers, the LGBT community, and courage.

First, it should go without saying that thousands of LGBT men and women have served this country over the decades in the military while hiding who they really are for fear of backlash. For someone to hide who they are while simultaneously putting their life in danger to protect people who would spit on them, beat them, or kill them if they knew the truth is patriotic, selfless, and courageous.

Secondly, while it might not seem apparent at first, there are many parallels between soldiers and the LGBT community. Statistically speaking, the way LGBT people have been treated over the years has actually had similar results to the way war treats soldiers.

Indeed, for both groups it has also been a decades-long, bitter fight to change these statistics – and really, it’s only recently that things have started improving (a push toward more adequate care for soldiers and equal rights for LGBT people).

Courage is not a competition and it is not mutually exclusive. The courage of an LGBT person to face another day, whether hiding who they are or proudly stating it, does not undo or take away from the courage of a soldier on the battlefield.

As for the rest of us: Let’s do what we can to make life better for both instead of debate who deserves to be called courageous more.

Counterfeit Lifestyles: The real threat to family isn’t coming from the LGBT community

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In the Spring 2015 session of LDS General Conference, church leaders railed against “counterfeit and alternative lifestyles,” upholding marriage between a man and a woman as the one good recipe for raising a family.

This has led to backlash from individuals both inside and outside of the LGBT community and organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, who said that the comments were “disheartening and wrong, and remind us yet again that the journey to full inclusion for LGBT people — including our families and children — is not done.”

A Counterfeit Lifestyle?

But what exactly is a “counterfeit” family lifestyle? Counterfeit money is made to look like money and pass for legitimate cash. Yet it has no value and its introduction into the market can actually damage the monetary value of real money. So similarly, a counterfeit family lifestyle would be one that does more damage than good when weighed against the common parameters that designate a healthy family.

If that is the case though, then LGBT parenting fails to fit into the counterfeit category. Studies consistently show that LGBT parents raise their children just as well as straight parents. Even columns and studies that supposedly show the adverse effects of gay marriage or parenting can actually be seen as reasons why they are needed.

A real case of Fraud

So, if LGBT families aren’t counterfeit, what is? It may come as a shock to some conservative and religious people, but mixed-orientation marriages — and especially those who attempt to market them as a workable family unit — may be where the real cases of fraud lie.

Take, for instance, the TV show My Husband’s Not Gay. The show features mixed-orientation marriages that appear to be working. The husbands are supposedly attracted to men, yet making it work with straight women in an LDS marriage. Those in conservative and religious communities have been pointing to the show as proof that gay people can do fine in straight marriages.

However, the key thing missing from the show and much of the surrounding conversation is the fact that sexual orientation and sexuality are two different spectrums with very broad ranges and that these families featured are outliers — not the norm.

By the facts

In fact, the evidence suggests that mixed-orientation marriages are very likely to fail. Regardless of the study, the consensus is always this: Far more mixed-orientation marriages end in divorce and broken families than succeed.

Conversely, in addition to the fact that studies by and large continue to find no discernible difference between children raised by gay parents or straight parents, there appears to be no discernible difference in divorce rates either.

So while LDS leaders may call gay families “counterfeit” it doesn’t hold a lot of weight when looking at the numbers. And while the church hasn’t endorsed mixed-orientation marriages, they also haven’t discouraged them either. If the church truly wants to promote stable families and healthy upbringings for children they might do well to advocate for same-sex marriage and speak up on the possible danger mixed-orientation marriages can carry.