I invited my wife on my podcast to discuss her views on ATI, the bizarre and very conservative homeschool curriculum with which she was raised. Man, this podcast was a blast! She is great fun to have on the podcast! We will definitely do this again! Hope you can find the time to listen — you’re in for a treat!
There has been a lot of misinformation floating around the internet. This is nothing new: but now, false information may be influencing crucial decisions, and even affecting political policies. The death toll of certain countries and regions seems significantly affected by the early response of its citizens. The misinformation on the web is getting so bad, and the consequences so dangerous, many governments are now seriously considering putting laws in place to limit our freedom of speech.
I do not approve of this solution. But neither do I approve of the problem. Let’s talk about that…
How can you tell, at a glance, if an article is probably rubbish? Listen here, subscribe to my podcast, or keep reading below.
Appeal to Authority
1. If the author’s credentials are in the title, it is probably relying on an appeal to authority. An appeal to authority is a logical fallacy which takes this form: “So-and-so is an expert. So-and-so says x. Therefore, x must be true.” Legitimate sources base their information on studies, published papers, and the conclusions of medical experts, working in the field. No legitimate article will base their conclusions on the credentials of the person making the claim.
Ad Hominem Attack
2. If the author claims to “slam,” “shame,” “expose,” “humiliate,” or “blast” someone then the article is likely making an ad hominem attack. An ad hominem attack takes the form, “So and so says x, but so-and-so is an idiot for y reason. Therefore, x cannot be true.” This is a logical fallacy, because it is illogical to spend you time attacking the person, rather than the idea. It is also suspect because this is not how real academics talk. Real academics, scientists, and doctors talk about ideas. Their conversations may become heated, naturally, but they will always be pursuing truth. Their goal is never to shame someone. Rather, a person who is able to present a bad idea well, and whose ideas are overturned, has actually helped science progress. I go into more detail on this below.
- If the author is attacking the internal motivations of various public figures, this is another form of ad hominem attack. It is doubly faulty because a) if something is true, it is true no matter the character of the person who says it, and b) nobody can truly know the motivations of a person anyways, except for that person (and even they may not know their own motivations). Judging people based on their supposed motivations is a complete waste of time.
4. If the author claims that big pharma, the WHO, or several governments are colluding together, then the article is making a conspiracy theory claim. A conspiracy theory takes the form, “The whole world is out to misinform you, I have informed you of this, therefore, everything that I say you should trust without question.” It is invalid on several counts. First, the evidence of a conspiracy is usually very lacking. This is a problem, because such a big claim needs some substantial proof: but usually, very little is given. Secondly, it does not follow that just because one is able to spot what they think is a conspiracy, that the next thing that they say will automatically be correct. Obviously, someone can be right about one thing, but wrong about another. But con-artists have long been duping people by pointing out a flaw in others, so that people will trust them implicitly. Many cults have started in just this way. I find it very interesting that Christians (rightly) reject “conspiracy theories” regarding the resurrection of Jesus, the authority of Scriptures, etc. as represented in the Da Vinci Code…yet when it comes to the present crisis, they often fall for conspiracy theories that follow the exact same pattern.
5. If the author bases their ideas on the experiences of a few people (as opposed to a scientific study, or a professionally conducted survey) then they are basing their information on anecdotal experience. It has taken several millennia to develop a scientific method which is capable of organizing the complexities of human life down to an objective set of data points. Some of the very important questions to ask about any data shared in such an article are: a) was there a control group? (aka, were there people who received the treatment, and people who did not, so that you can see whether they would have gotten better anyway?) b) was this a “double-blind” test? (meaning, did the people receiving the treatment know they were receiving it? If so, the placebo effect may have temporarily made them feel better) c) how big was the sample-base? (Did you guess how many red jelly beans were in the jar based on the five that you pulled out? Or based on spreading half of the jelly beans on the floor, then putting them back in? Just how big is your sample base? A treatment that works on one person, may kill another. This is why widespread testing is necessary)
- If the author claims that a secret agenda is at work to cover up information, they are probably out of touch with how information is actually processed and shared in our Western world. As an academic, I can tell you that it is really really hard to become recognized in a scientific or academic field. First, one must study — often for a decade or so post secondary school, passing very difficult exams and competing with other bright students for scholarships and bursaries. Then get employed in a specialized field, in the highly coveted position of research professor, doctor, professor, or the like. Then, one must find an original idea (a near impossible task). Then, one must study that idea long enough to speak cogently on it. Then, they are at the place of publishing their findings in a research journal. The idea (note: not the person, the idea) will be ruthlessly attacked, picked apart, and dissected by dozens or thousands of others in the field until the idea either falls, or else it stands and becomes part of recognized truth in that field. This is how scientific knowledge grows. What we have produced together is a truly remarkable way of thinking together. It is not perfect. The process works slowly. Some good ideas fall to the wayside because there is insufficient evidence, nobody to champion them, or because there is no way to prove it. But to say that the church or the government or big pharma or Bill Gates or the WHO has some secret agenda to keep knowledge down? Please. There is no force on earth stronger than a graduate student, hungry for a new idea.
This list is not exhaustive,
Nor am I claiming to have exhaustive information about the websites behind the articles I screen-grabbed as examples. I am not claiming to be an expert on this virus.
What I am fairly component on, however is logic and human thought. These are six very good ways that any professor would use to separate the truth from error in any article, research paper, or book.
I hope that highlighting these forms of bad arguments will help you as you continue to search for truth, in this difficult and complex time.
I would like to take a moment to explain why I do not think it is worthwhile to discuss motives — whether my own, or those of someone else.
1. Nobody can see motives, therefore there is no way to prove what someone’s motives really are. It is just a guessing (or accusing) game. 🤔
2. Motives are inside of someone. They are their own personal space. It’s like guessing whether someone is wearing boxers or briefs. ✋ Mind your own business!
3. Motives do not affect the truth or value of what a person says. Whether motivated by anger, love, or another emotion: if they are speaking truth, they are speaking truth 🤷♂️
4. Discussing motives contributes nothing substantive to a discussion.
5. Motives are very hard to discern, even for ones self. One often has several competing motivations, and may not completely know why they are doing what they do. This is a normal part of being human.
6. Trying to do things only from good motives can be paralyzingly. This is what one friend called “paralysis through self analysis.”
7. There is a time and a place to question someone’s motives: in the middle of an important debate is not one of those times. It may come across as an attempt to “paralyze” your opponent.
8. It is rude to try to tell someone that you think that you know their motives better than they know themselves. It is also somewhat silly — how could you possibly win this argument? They are the worlds leading expert on themselves! 😆
9. If someone is questioning motives of someone while disagreeing, this may be an ad hominem attack: a way to destroy the person by attacking their character, rather than discussing their ideas.
10. Questioning the motives of others conveniently distracts from the fact that you, too, are human. You too have all sorts of motives — some good, some bad. Who are you to invalidate the ideas of someone else, based on their supposed motivations? Are your motives always only pure…? 😇
11. Questioning motives can be a way of controlling others, sowing seeds of self-doubt, and shutting down their ability to function without you. Not cool.
12. Questioning motives may be a way of convincing yourself that all or many of your opponents are “stupid,” or “evil,” or “political clones” with absolutely nothing to contribute. This may prevents one from engaging in substantive dialogue, and leave one in an echo chamber of their own beliefs, with the smug conviction that they alone on planet earth are right.
13. Assuming that others have bad motives is at the heart of almost every fight or disagreement. Why not assume that someone who disagrees with you actually has really good motivations? Or, if you can’t go that far, why not just remove motivations from the discussion and focus on their ideas and actions, which are things that everybody can see?
14. Discussions about ideas, facts, and actions have the potential of really moving people and societies forward, overcoming difficulties, and moving closer together. But I have seen no good come out of discussions of people’s supposed motivations. It can sound like a witch hunt has begun, and a good conversation has turned bad. Count me out!
These are some of the reasons that I do not ever find it helpful to discuss motives.
I usually simply do not respond when someone asks me about my motives. I think the question is rude at best, and an attempt to destroy or silence me at the worst. I have found that the best response is polite silence.
When people question the motives of others I usually point out that this is not relevant to the discussion.
I created this blog post so that I can direct people here when they start critiquing peoples motives.
Let’s remember to discuss ideas, not people, and to avoid all forms of ad hominem attacks.
Have a great day, everyone! 😊
In Africa, my wife’s body rebelled against her, and against the heat. She was in constant physical distress: always in heat exhaustion, and often close to heat stroke. This caused us a lot of stress. One thing I particularly worried about was, “what if we have an accident, and the car is stuck immobile for hours?” She could not survive without AC, and I could imagine her dying in front of our children, with an angry mob outside.
One day, my fears seemed to be realized. I was turning in to our compound. To do so, I needed to turn through oncoming traffic. Traffic was not the same there as it is here. Motorcycles wizzed by at incredible speeds, cars drove by not much slower, bicycles passed, camels plodded along, pedestrians wandered about, and cows chewed cud and garbage watching the whole thing.
On this very corner, a missionary had been involved in a fatal accident a few years ago: by my accident was not fatal, because God delivered me from that.
As I was turning left, a reckless motorcycle passed on the left. I had to hesitate in my turn for just an instant as his zoomed by, which closed the small window I had between fast cars and slow pedestrians. Another motorbike came hurtling towards me, on a collision path. Trying to get out of his way, I lurched forward into my turn: he chose the same direction, and clipped the front of my car, cartwheeling over the hood and into the ditch.
This was it. What could I do? I knew I needed to keep my wife and family safe above all.
“Take the car home, I’ll deal with this.” I told her. We were at the corner of our compound. I took water for myself, and let my wife drive off.
The man was angry. Very angry. Also, I knew, full of adrenaline from the fall. He had been driving in sandals, shorts, and a t-shirt, with no helmet. He had skinned his toes, parts of his elbows, and a place on his head. He was very angry.
He was pacing back and forth, very angry at me. I did not really know how to assess the situation. I went to the motorbike, and we could see that there was black oil coming out of it. Later I would find that one of the shocks was broken: a minor repair. At the time, we both thought the engine was cracked, and the motorcycle was scrapped.
What I would only find out later was that this man was driving without insurance, on a borrowed motorcycle. If the police became involved, he could lose the bike. Later I went to the police station, and saw behind the building a huge mountain of impounded motorcycles. Apparently, many vehicles had gone this way before. And so I did not know that his anxiety was not only caused by myself: no matter how I handled the situation, he did not want the police involved.
My phone battery was dead, and I did not know the number of the police. Soon, some other missionaries came, since it was a baseball tournament just then. This was God’s deliverance, because if it wasn’t for this, I would have had no help, since my phone was dead and I could not call anyone.
Around this time, I asked a fellow-missionary to go back and get my car. The car was parked just around the corner. I was expecting him to be back in a minute: but it took him a very long time. He did not seem to see the seriousness of the situation, and left me exposed.
None of my friends knew the number of the police, and so I asked the injured man to call: he said he would, and took out his phone. I trusted him. But what I did not know was that I was next to the university, and the university had their own version of the police: a student-lead militia named Kazo.
Soon, the crowd became larger. I was trying not to talk to the injured man, but it was hard because he kept engaging me. He would come and yell that I was a bad driver, and clearly had not passed my driving exam, as he had done. I do not remember all of our interactions, but do remember that I told him that he had been driving too fast. He took offence to this, and said he was a very good driver. He seems to have taken from this that I was blaming him entirely, and perhaps was trying to get out of paying for the accident.
At this time, I took out a sum of money amounting to about $20. I was intending to give it to him, and say, “Whatever happens, just keep this. I am sorry for the accident, and want you to know I will take care of it.” This was a good thought, but I did not know if this would be considered illegal there.
I did not know how to behave in an accident, because I had received no training on the subject. My mission did not protect me: but my God was a shield to me.
I was talking with fellow-missionaries when I heard the man say to his friends, “il se-moque de nous!” (“He mocks us/scorns us”) It was then that I knew things were moving in a very bad direction. I tried to deliver myself through anger. But anger would not be my salvation. I tried to tell them that I respected them, and their country. But it fell on deaf ears. Suddenly, he realized that my car was not there. I told him it was coming back: but I did not tell them why I had moved it, because I did not want them to know where I lived, or anything about my family. And so they did not understand, and began accusing me of breaking the law. Things were going very wrong.
I told them that I would wait for the police, and if I needed to go to jail, I would. They told me that they were the police, but I did not believe them.
I thought at this time a few times of running away. I was very close to our compound, and we had guards. However, if I had ran, I learned later, they likely would have attacked and killed me, and “your blood would have been on your own head,” said the police sergeant.
But I did not run: my God protected me from that possibility.
Then my first deliverer arrived. He was very muscular, and people clearly respected him. He had a baby-blue t-shirt on. He came, and everyone began to fill him in. After apprising the situation, he became visibly angry, and began accusing me. He pointed his finger in my face and began asking me rhetorical questions, all variations of, “Isn’t this a human being? Do you respect our laws?”
I stammered some responses, then said, “I am waiting for the police.” He said that he was the police. I said angrily that he was not the police, and turned my back to him.
They conferred more, and the crowd grew more. I did not know the danger I was in, but the man in blue knew. He came to me at some point and said, “did you call the police?” I said I had not: the injured man had called. “OK,” he said, “you need to come with us.” It was for my protection. I did not know it at the time, but the man meant to protect me. He was actually a Christian, and the president of a local gang, who called themselves “the police.” He needed to keep up appearances to appease the crowd, but he was a deliverer.
I said I would not go with these men. And some of the missionaries with me also said I would not go. “Kim,” a missionary from South Korea, made moves like he was ready to fight: but there were over 50 strong men.
As I tried to resist, five men grabbed me, lifting my legs so that I was powerless. I raised my hands in defeat: “OK, I will go with you.” I could see I had no choice. Maybe they were the police? But as we walked, I yelled at the top of my lungs, “These men are kidnapping me! I am a tourist here! These men are kidnaping me! Help me! I am being kidnapped!” The men with me said nothing. The men on the street said nothing. The men in many cars said and did nothing. No one stood with me to save. My voice and whits were not able to save me.
And yet my God was working, to save me.
We came to the gates of the university, and went in. It was very still: there were no people there. I had just said, “Will no-one save me? Will you do nothing?” Darkly, as we turned the corner, one of the students said, “Bien sur, ils ne font rien…” (“Damn right, they’ll do nothing…”)
I was alone with them now.
I was lead towards a nondescript building. I noticed there was no sign above the door.
“That is not the police station!” I said, “You are not police! I am not going in there!”
My memory blanks out here. I think I fought as hard as humanly possible, but do not remember it. I think I can see a man hanging on to the door-frame with both hands, as men drag him in, but I may be imagining it.
I had a bruise on my arm which mystified me for days, because I could not remember where it came from.
My memories restart in a very small dorm room. Someone had told me to kneel, and so I did. They told me to take off my glasses.
“Are you going to beat me?” I asked them.
“Bien sûr on va vous frapper” (“Damn straight we’re going to beat you.”) came the reply behind me: but he did not speak for everyone.
Kneeling, powerless, trapped, I began to pray, and God began to deliver me.
“God, am I going to die?”
“Your story is not yet over.”
So that was that. I knew I could relax, because I would not die today.
Suddenly remembering something I had heard in a movie, I asked, “May I have my water?” (I had brought along my water-jug). They granted it to me. I drank, then offered it to the man by me. He was off-put, and refused. “You have been working hard in the sun — surely you are thirsty!” I said. The man turned away, and would not take any. But I had made myself a “real human being” with needs, and generosity. It would be harder to harm me now.
Invisible to myself, some missionaries were following me. Kim from South Korea followed, and was ready to fight: but they would not let him enter. Another Tom, from Germany, also came. But he was very calm. He did not try to stop them men: rather, he found a man of peace among them. This man turned out to be the second-in-command of the Police. As they walked, they talked. “Some of these students are trying to make this into a marxist, class struggle sort of situation. But it is not that. It is just a traffic accident. They are blowing things out of proportion…” As they talked, they came to the gate. Tom said, “would you mind if I come in?” “Not at all,” the man answered. They sat for a while in the room outside my own, as people came and went. “Why don’t we just go in there?” Tom asked, “And just get this all dealt with?” “Sure, why not,” came the reply.
Suddenly, Tom came walking in. Soon, we were both sitting on a bed together. People came and went, much was said. I could not say anything, or else everyone would cry and accuse me at the tops of their voices with frightening intensity. But Tom was able to calmly speak on my behalf.
I abandoned my anger, and took on a submissive stance. I would not argue with anyone: I just wanted to appease them, so that I could get out of there.
Then, Sam came in. He was the acting director of our mission at the time: a very experienced missionary. He told me later that he had been detained by this very group, in this very room, a year before. While driving through the University property on his daily commute, he had not respected a Police check-point, and they became furious, brought him here, and threatened him. After paying a small fine, he was let go.
Sam was quickly brought up to speed on the situation. The students were fairly disorganized: with some saying one thing, some saying another.
Then another deliverer entered. He was an older man, wearing the clothes of an imam. He instantly commanded respect from the students around. I was later told that he was a professor at the university. Like all professors, he had the power to expel any student instantly and without any explanation from university. Even if it is the last day of a multi-year degree, such a person could say, “You are done,” and the student would leave with nothing. Some students were very angry, but God had sent me a mighty deliverer.
We stood up then. Tom and Sam on one side and the other. The Imam face to face with me, with the man in baby blue beside him, and students swirling all around. Everyone seemed to be speaking at once, as they tried to fill in the Imam with the worst possible version of the events.
“This man was the cause of the accident.” I did not respond.
“The other man is hurt very severely” I did not respond.
“The motorcycle is damaged a lot.” “Yes, it is,” I replied.
“This man moved his vehicle! He broke the law!”
“Oui. J’ai fait tort.” — It was an expression I had learned not much earlier than this, and it seemed to speak very powerfully to them when I said it. “I did wrong.”
The imam was getting the information that he needed, and the students were sensing a change in the tides. The man in baby blue took out his phone and said, “look at me — I will take your picture.” I tried to look away, but he would not let me. He took my picture. He said, “We will share this picture all over, and ____” I do not remember what he said. But I had the sense that I would not be safe on the streets any more.
Negotiations were made on my behalf. At one point, the imam told a student, “Go out and tell the students out there to calm down. They are really exaggerating out there!” He left. I had a feeling of an angry mob outside.
What I did not know was that it was the mob that was the real danger. On the street, in front of my house, I could have been killed on the spot by the angry mob. I found out much later that the man in baby blue was actually a Christian, and the leader of the Police. When he saw that the police were not on their way, and the mob anger was rising, he had feigned anger to get me to Police headquarters where at least there would be some modicum of justice. This is what he told my guide much later: although he really was mad, and so I cannot know how much of his story was true. But one thing I do know: I was saved from the mob on the street by the Police, and saved from the mob at the university by the imam.
Discussions continued. It was clear that the imam wanted me to settle things legally at the police station, which is what myself and my two advocates also wanted. But the students wouldn’t agree to let me go until I signed something. They wrote something out, and forced me to rewrite it word for word, so it was all in my own handwriting. John read it over with me. There were sections that we did not agree to write. But they were very firm on the wording. I remember that I wrote it, but modified some of the terms slightly. I purposely misspelled some words, because I knew this would invalidate a document, in French court. However, one line that I was not able to avoid was, “This accident was my fault. If I do this again, I know that I must pass through the procede dure — (the hard way).” And I had to sign it.
Noticing the changes I had made, they were not happy: but they accepted it, and agreed to let me go.
That experience of signing something against my will was extremely difficult. I told someone later that this was as close as I had ever come to being raped: I felt like my basic rights were violated.
[I wrote this in my journal after a session of EMDR. This is as far as the EMDR session took us that day. For the rest of the story: from there, I was released to the police station, and final details were worked out over the next couple days. However, I had very serious PTSD symptoms for several days, which became moderately severe for months, and continued in the back ground of my mind until my EMDR session, four years later. As I write this, these memories are not pleasant, but are not as traumatic to discuss as they were before the EMDR session]