I am a baptized Christian in the American Baptist Church. But I am also a critical thinker. Many people call today “free speech day.” Many others think this is a day to support Chick-fil-A. Even more others think that today is a day when Christians clearly show their homophobia by buying a chicken sandwich. It’s none of these things. It’s a day to recognize the dangers of using Biblical literalism to justify your beliefs.
The purpose of this post is not to alienate my religious friends or encourage my non-religious friends. You’re both reading it wrong if you read it that way, so stop now. The purpose of this post is to demonstrate that free speech is a two-way street. The mayors of U.S. cities have no legal right to bar a restaurant from opening there just because they disagree with what the company president says. However, I as a citizen have no obligation to respect the statements of a public figure leading a private company and my power in a capitalist system is to withhold my dollar and call out hypocrisy when I see it. I’ll accept neither the mis-interpretation of the Bible (as a Christian) nor the mis-use of logic and reason (as a scientist and a thinker).
Since COO and company president Dan Cathy says that Chick-fil-A is a company run on “biblical principles,” let’s see just how committed he is. Mr. Cathy has a right to free speech. So do all critical thinkers. One key thing critical thinkers do is spot and call out logical fallacies. Mr. Cathy is, like many who draw bigotry from a Holy text, using the logical fallacy of “cherry picking” to choose the directives of God that make their argument while dismissing those that make their lives inconvenient or their business expensive. If Mr. Cathy is to use the Bible to guide his argument that homosexuals have no right to marriage, even one recognized purely by the State, then he also needs to accept the reality of Biblical principles that dictate other aspects of his business. After all, presumably based on the anti-gay Biblical principles laid out in Leviticus, Chick-fil-A donated $2M in 2010 alone to anti-LGBT organizations, while only providing $1.5M for educational scholarship money to its own employees.
So, let’s cast aside the cherry picking and consider the one fundamental violation of Biblical principle that allows Chick-fil-A to operate as a company AT ALL:
Chick-fil-A shouldn’t even be serving chicken – they should be serving hamburgers.After all, Leviticus 11:3 states  clearly that “you may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and that chews the cud” but forbids any other land animal. Is a chicken a land animal? Yes. That’s thanks to breeding – Natural Selection applied by humans . The chicken is descended from the Red Junglefowl, which is capable of short bursts of flight. Humans, however, have genetically crafted the modern chicken to be unable to fly (its body weight and proportion is designed to be rich in meat but makes even short duration flights to high places very unlikely).
Oops! Too bad for Chick-fil-A. If they are truly founded on Biblical principles, they must abandon serving animals that have no cloven hoof and do not chew the cud. EAT MORE COW AND LESS CHIKIN, according to the Bible.
It’s fine to pontificate that gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry – that’s your right to free speech. It’s my right to call out the fallacies of your speech – that’s my free speech. When you justify your bigotry with Biblical principle, you open yourself to scrutiny. Are you consistent in your application of Biblical principle?
Dan Cathy’s company is not operating on Biblical principles. If it were, it would serve hamburgers and not chicken sandwiches. But it isn’t doing that, so it’s in clear violation of the commandments found in Leviticus – the same book of the Bible cited by fundamentalist Christians to justify bigotry against the LGBT community. Double “oops.”
I don’t have a high tolerance for bigotry. I don’t have a high tolerance for mis-use of religion. I don’t have a high tolerance for mis-use of logic and reason. So you can imagine why this particular situation is about more than a chicken sandwich or some guy’s free speech. It’s about a public figure who sets themselves up as better than other people because they use Biblical principles to run a company, and how their bad logic and poor reading is then used to justify bigotry.
Our country is stricken with an outbreak of a truly terrible disease. It’s passed by the internet, radio, TV . . . really, any means of communication. Mainly, these represent “oral transmission,” although written transmission is just as likely. What disease am I talking about? It’s called “Gohmert-Barber Syndrome,” also popularly known as “Diarrhea of the Mouth.”
My colleague, Dr. Randall Scalise, and I have been conducting case studies of this epidemic and we have found frightening documentation that this disease is exploding (pun intended) across the United States. The disease appears to manifest in the wake of strong tragedies that themselves connect to hot-button social issues. Symptoms include:
A certainly that what you are saying is correct, and that it brings comfort to the victims of said tragedy
An inability to understand why your words are actually harmful
A strong inability to shut the fuck up (STFU)
Gohmert-Barber is named after Texas State Representative Louie Gohmert and web columnist Matt Barber, who both possess an incurable inability to STFU.
December 14, 2012
The CDC warns of outbreaks of G-B Syndrome near the major U.S. holidays. Sadly, a shooting in Connecticut at an elementary school (there are no words for how awful that is) has triggered new infections and a new outbreak of G-B Syndrome. Cases or Newtown G-B will be reported as they come to our attention. Please note: the events surrounding this tragedy are part of a developing story, so information is scant and fragmented. News agencies are clawing for facts. Mis-reporting of facts is not evidence of G-B Syndrome – just bad journalism. Cases of G-B only occur when a non-journalist (e.g. a pundit or other talking head) opens their mouth and a stream of factless non-sequiturs comes pouring out. Mis-information in a time of tragedy is not G-B Syndrome, but making up fake information to suit your private world view is sure evidence of G-B Syndrome.
Texas Congressman Louis Gohmert: one of the two namesakes of G-H Syndrome, Gohmert’s at it again. “Chris, I wish to God [the principal] had had an m-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out . . . and takes him out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids.” (Ref: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/louie-gohmert-guns_n_2311379.html)
Old Paths Baptist Church Pastor Sam Morris: in his sermon this past week, Pastor Morris said, “When I got in high school, man, I started learning all this kingdom, phylum stuff, all this junk about evolution. And I want to tell you what evolution teaches — here’s the bottom line — that you’re an animal. That’s what it teaches. So, you’re an animal, you can act like an animal. Amen. So, here you are, you’re an animal and you’re a god! So, what are we going to teach you about in school? Well, we can teach you about sex, we can teach you how to rebel to you parents, we can teach you how to be a homo! But we’re definitely not going to teach you about the word of God! Amen. . . They think homeschoolers are a bunch of crazies, man. But I’m going to tell you something, I’ve never seen a police officer or a medal detector at a home school. Never. Amen. Now, there’s plenty of guns at my home school. Amen. I guarantee you we’re not going to have a mass shooting at any of the schools that are represented in this building today. I guarantee you, if there is a shooting, it won’t last very long. Amen.” (Ref: http://s.tt/1xbBN)
Randy Thomasson (Save California): The usual verbal diarrhea: godless, evolution, barf barf barf. “More than asking why this evil happened, we need to work diligently to prevent it. The innocents killed at Newtown are double the number of Columbine victims in 1999. We should be all the more grieved and all the more resolved to stop murders before they start. The answer is teaching the fear of God and love for God in schools and throughout society. Because mass murder is another example of societal degradation, a deadly consequence of promoting murderous abortions, godless evolution, and gratuitous violence. How opposite of teaching children that all people are worthy because they were created by God, that all innocent human beings deserve protection because they’re made in God’s image, and that every person is accountable to God when He judges the world.” (Ref: http://savecalifornia.com/12-14-12-statement-on-mass-murder-at-connecticut-public-school.html)
Stewart Rhodes (Oath Keepers): Rhodes, founder of Oath Keepers, released a statement saying, “It is disturbing and sick that the federal government so hates the right of the American people to bear arms, and so hates their natural right to self defense, that the government insists on making them helpless, disarmed victims for anyone who cares to kill them. And in this case, all of the teachers and staff were willfully disarmed by the Federal Government, by force of law and threat of prison, to ensure that they would be disarmed and incapable of saving the lives of the children entrusted to their care. That makes the Federal Government complicit in the deaths of these children, and in fact an accessory to their mass murder, by forcibly disarming (with the very real threat of prison) all the teachers, all the staff, and any parent who may have been on school property. That stupid law guaranteed the shooters would meet no immediate armed resistance, which is exactly what is needed to stop such an attack. . . . This is disgusting. And yet another reason to home-school . . . Until this changes, you should refuse to give your children over to government schools lorded over by a Federal Government so callous and indifferent to their safety and lives.” (Ref: http://oathkeepers.org/oath/2012/12/14/the-federal-government-is-guilty-accomplice-in-school-shooting-in-newtown-connecticut/)
James Dobson (Focus on the Family): On his radio program on December 17, Dobson said, “Our country really does seem in complete disarray . . . I am saying that something has gone wrong in America and that we have turned our back on God. I mean millions of people have decided that God doesn’t exist, or he’s irrelevant to me and we have killed fifty-four million babies and the institution of marriage is right on the verge of a complete redefinition. Believe me, that is going to have consequences too . . . I’m going to give you my honest opinion: I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God Almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us. I think that’s what’s going on.” (Ref: http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/dobson-connecticut-shooting-was-god-allowing-judgment-fall-upon-us-turning-our-back-him)
John Rennard (some dude on Facebook) and 41 of his Facebook Friends: I nearly vomited when I read this. Said Rennard, “About 20 children are receiving the BEST CHRISTMAS PRESENT EVER….the presence of our God and Lord Jesus Christ!” This was posted on Facebook. 41 people “liked” it.
Mike Huckabee: in an interview on Fox News, Huckabee was asked by Neil Cavuto, “How could God let this happen?” Huckabee’s response suggests that his previous G-H infection has not cleared up. “Well, you know, it’s an interesting thing. We ask why there’s violence in our schools, but we’ve systemically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? Because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability. That we’re not just going to have to be accountable to police if they catch us, but one day we stand before a holy God in judgment. If we don’t believe that, we don’t fear that. When people say, ‘Why did God let it happen?’ you know, God wasn’t armed, he didn’t go to the school. Maybe we oughtta let him in on the front end, and we wouldn’t have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end.” Ref: http://video.foxnews.com/v/2036473010001/
Christian News Wire and Ray Comfort (Evangelical Christian who partnered with Kirk Cameron to make a boardgame about why Evolution is wrong):A reporter forChristian News Wire (Anita Alvarado) and Ray Comfort seem to be using this tragedy to promote Comfort’s movie about the killing of John Lennon. Ref: http://www.christiannewswire.com/news/7292271098.html
American Family Association Spokesman Bryan Fischer: (December 14, 2012) a recurring case. Fischer is incurable. He said that God let the shooting happen, as summarized from the reference below:”Fischer said that God could have protected the victims of this massacre, but didn’t because ‘God is not going to go where he is not wanted” and so if school administrators really want to protect students, they will start every school day with prayer.'”Ref: http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/fischer-god-didnt-stop-ct-school-shooting-because-hes-gentleman-who-doesnt-go-where-he-not-wFischer’s case is especially acute. A CDC spokesperson said that this is the most advanced case of G-B Syndrome they have ever seen. In order to stop his verbal diarrhea, he had to stick is head so far up his ass that there is little chance of every getting it out in order to treat him.
Conservative Radio Personality Steve Deace: (December 14, 2012) a conservative talk show host, Deace blamed the shooting on what he claimed was the public schools ” . . . teaching [kids] that there is no God . . . “, abortion, and other strawmen of the conservative movement. Thankfully, there is a mist-based treatment for G-B under development that is administered by first surgically removing the patient’s foot from their mouth to open their airways. Let’s hope it comes in time for Deace.Reference: http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/steve-deace-ties-connecticut-shooting-public-schools-culture-death
August 24, 2012
A late-arriving case of Aurora G-B has come to our attention:
The Vibrant Life Center: this center offers chiropractic services. Chiropractic is based on the belief that germs are not the cause of disease, but rather unmeasurable “subluxations” (displacements) of the spine. This practice has been discredited over and over again for decades, and no medical school in the U.S. offers it as a serious part of medical training. However, the Vibrant Life Center advertised that if only the shooter in Aurora had had his subluxations corrected, nobody would have been killed. After all, when has quack medicine ever made things worse? http://gawker.com/5933003/pr-dummies-one-good-chiropractor-could-have-stopped-the-batman-massacre
We have a new strain of Gohmert-Barber to report on as well. After a shooting outside the Empire State Building this week, we classified a strain now known as Empire G-B. We report our first case of Empire G-B, a high-profile case!
Just weeks after the tragic shooting of movie-goers in Aurora, CO, a suspect entered a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, WI and opened fire . Seven people were confirmed dead as a result of this horrible tragedy. The fact that this shooting occurred at a religious institution meant that there was a STRONG possibility of a sudden resurgence of Gohmert-Barber Syndrome. Unfortunately, this has begun to happen. We report cases as they come to our attention.
Westboro Baptist Church Founder Fred Phelps and member Margie Phelps: Margie Phelps tweeted that she saw this as “God sent another shooter…” Fred Phelps tweeted even more strongly, “Beautiful work of an angry God who told Wisconsin to keep their filthy hands off his people.”
July 28, 2012
The rate of new infections is slowing somewhat, but the severity of the new infections is still high. We report new cases here:
Reports of those severely afflicted with new cases of Gohmert-Barber continue to roll in. We here report the newest and most severe cases of those infected with a large audience and thus the most chance to do damage.
Wall Street Journal Editor James Taranto: tweeted that he “[hopes] the girls whose boyfriends died [in the Colorado shooting] to save them were worthy of the sacrifice.” He later claimed he intended this as a thought-provoking tweet, but it’s clear that as a media figure he is completely incompetent in the medium of choice for his communication. At the very best, the message conveys a callous disregard for life and the sacrifice of life. He blames the readers for the misinterpretation of his intent, but as most people know if an audience massively fails to understand what you meant you probably did a shitty job of communicating it . . . so the apology could use some work. Here is the tweet:
Musician Ted Nugent: We’re surprised he didn’t shit out his mouth sooner. He throws blame on the theater-goers for not stopping the shooting because they were not armed and claims that the weapons allegedly used were not “assault weapons.” Here are his statements, with comments on them to follow:USA Today  reported that among the weapons the shooter allegedly used to kill theater-goers were: an AR-15 assault rifle, a Remington shotgun, and a glock (hand gun). The Wikipedia page on the AR-15 explains  that “There are no federal restrictions on the ownership of AR-15 rifles in the United States.” Although during the famous period of the federal assault weapons ban (up to 2004), ” . . . variants with certain features such as collapsible stocks, flash suppressors, and bayonet lugs were prohibited for sales to civilians . . . ” the stock AR-15 itself was not banned. So . . . does that make it “not an assault weapon?” By the legal definition under the assault weapons ban, as long as it didn’t contain those military-grade modifications it was NOT an assault weapon (although in most states even those once-illegal features are now legal). But the AR-15 is a ” . . . semi-automatic rifle . . . ” capable of firing up to ” . . . 800 rounds/minute . . . ” , and the accepted definition of “assault weapon”  is ” . . . any firearm designed for rapidly firing at human targets from close range.” Certainly, the AR-15 fits the bill. So Nugent’s comments are just another cramp-reducing bout of explosive oral diarrhea.
July 24, 2012
More cases reported today.
Operation Save America’s Flip Benham: blames the shootings on the Democratic National Party.  Here is a bit of his oral explosion, filled with unproven assertions and logical fallacies; good luck keeping up:”James Holmes, an Occupy Wall Street guy, murdered 14 and wounded 50+ at a midnight showing of the Batman movie that portrayed OWS’ers in a bad light. Perhaps there is a motive here. Twenty four years old and filled with the culture of death! When we sow bloodshed in the womb we will reap it in the streets. It is a law. It is God’s Law. It is a law as certain as the physical law of gravity. It is a “spiritual gravity” that applies to all people at all places at all times. Whether or not you believe it, it applies. King Jesus is the only answer. The whole National Guard couldn’t make James do what is right. He has become his own law, showing contempt for authority and doing what is right in his own eyes. He is the product of the Culture of Death that the DNC has embraced.”
CBS News Report Brian Ross [CURED]: lacking any evidence, Ross linked the shooter to a member of the Aurora, CO Tea Party who happens to have the same name. At least he later apologized, but there is no excuse for an investigative reporter to fail to actually investigate a claim, especially with the shooter’s name is so common. Here was his original insinuation . He later apologized for making a false claim on air . . . which distinguishes him from the other victims of this disease. This case gives hope that if one is stricken with only a minor bout of oral diarrhea, recovery is possible (and swiftly . . . his apology came quickly . . . in fact, it came at all!).Here is a delightful segment from The Daily Show highlighting the claim and embarrassing Ross:http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-july-23-2012/brian-ross-blows-it
American Spectator, R. Emmett (Bob) Tyrell: blames the shooting on “cold-blooded liberals” who forced America to “turn away from God,” which in turn made the shooter do what he did. Here is the video clip of his oral shitstorm:http://youtu.be/kR-mdYhbPvM
July 23, 2012
New reports of people stricken with Gohmert-Barber Syndrome are pouring in, almost as fast as the crazy shit is pouring out of these peoples’ mouths. Here are the latest reports.
American Family Association Spokesman Bryan Fischer:liberals are the reason the killer bought guns and killed all of those people. Here – listen for yourself (but I recommend ear plugs, to slow the progress of the infection should it be transmitted through the ear canal):http://youtu.be/x6YqNUVA5AQ
Governor Mike Huckabee: blames the shootings on the separation of church and state, which is imposed by the U.S. Constitution and prevents government from picking a winning religion and religion from ascending to the level of state influence. Huckabee mis-characterizes this in part as “[ordering] god out of our schools . . . ” In fact, children are free to pray; they just cannot make others pray, and teachers are not allowed to force prayer on anyone. Here’s what Huckabee said: ”We don’t have a crime problem, a gun problem or even a violence problem. What we have is a sin problem. And since we’ve ordered god out of our schools, and communities, the military and public conversations, you know we really shouldn’t act so surprised… when all hell breaks loose.”
State Senator Russell Pearce: a former State Senator, Pearce blames the deaths of the innocent on the fact that either they also weren’t armed, or they lacked the will to act, or both. His Facebook post has since been taken down, but we feel it’s important to duplicate it as much as possible as a warning sign to those who think they are immune to infection. He tried to claim that people “mischaracterized” what he said. Here are all of his original words :
As more cases are reported, we will list them here.
July 22, 2012
We’ve noted a number of cases. We document them here as they come to our attention:
Texas State Representative Louie Gohmert: one of the namesakes of the disease, Rep. Gohmert has long exhibited the symptoms listed above. Most recently, in response to the Aurora, CO shootings, he was unable to convey merely condolences and instead linked the shootings to a hot-button political issue: “People say … where was God in all of this? . . . We’ve threatened high school graduation participations, if they use God’s name, they’re going to be jailed . . . I mean that kind of stuff. Where was God? What have we done with God? We don’t want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present.”  Today (Sunday), Gohmert issued a statement  about his comments on his website, claiming the comments were taken out of context. Dr. Scalise evaluated this stage of Gohmert’s disease with the following professional opinion: “The only way that your words could have been taken out of context is if, before the taping started, you said, ‘Hey, want to see my impression of a heartless jerk?'”
Pastor Rick Warren: NOTE: since his original tweet and the twitter and blog furor it causes, Pastor Warren has claimed that his tweet was NOT about the shooting, but rather about a sexual education question someone emailed him (why respond to an email we can’t see on a medium like Twitter???). He blamed the character limit on Twitter for preventing context. This demonstrates not only a misuse/misunderstanding of Twitter as a communication medium, but also a misunderstanding of what sex education is all about (it, like Natural Selection, is NOT the same as teaching kids that we are no better than animals). I have to take Pastor Warren at his word, however. It is still weird and unfortunate that he removed the tweet in question, rather than clarifying its context. I here reference the post stating his claim that he was NOT referring to the shootings or Natural Selection in his tweet [**] and archive the original statements about Pastor Warren’s tweet below [***].
Matt Barber: writing on World Net Daily, Barber is the second namesake of “Gohmert-Barber Syndrome.” He immediately points the finger at separation of church and state, birth control, the need for fame on the part of the gunman, cultural numbness to such tragedies, and the presence of violence on TV and in movies. Here is one result of a bout of oral diarrhea: “Let me be clear: Am I comparing this incredibly wicked, illegal mass murder at Aurora’s Century Theatre to the incredibly wicked, legal mass murder committed at Planned Parenthoods across the country each day? Absolutely – and you can quote me on it.” 
Fred Phelps, head of the Westboro Baptist Church: this may be our first reported case of Gohmert-Barber that includes both explosive oral diarrhea and transmission by rabies-like biting. A new stage in the disease, suggesting it’s mutating and advancing? Subjects in this case are uncontrolled in their hatred and sense of exploitation. Phelps and his family members (which are referred to as the “Westboro Baptist Church,” giving a bad name to Baptists everywhere…) are apparently planning one of their vociferous and noxious protests DURING THE MEMORIAL SERVICE. Healthy Coloradans are encouraged to try to inoculate against these zombie-like carriers of Gohmert-Barber. http://www.addictinginfo.org/2012/07/22/heroes-needed-to-stop-phelps-hatred-in-colorado/
[***] Pastor Warren tweeted to his followers an implication of the Theory of Natural Selection in the shooting: ” When students are taught they are no different from animals, they act like it.” Rick Warren has since taken down the tweet, which suggests that he may have experienced regret or embarrassment; these are signs of recovery from Gohmert-Barber syndrome. A blog on faith hosted a post explaining why Warren’s original statement was false on every possible level . The fact that he took down the post, instead of apologizing for it and leaving it up, however, suggests that the pathogen has induced shame, but not guilt, and has circumvented the Pastor’s instinct to own up to mistakes rather than covering them up. This suggests a relapse of Gohmert-Barber is possible at any time. We recommend lots of fluids, to be taken orally, and to prevent the mouth from having time to spew more shit.
OK, that’s it. I cannot take it anymore. STFU. This is a time to mourn, not fight the pro-gun-control or pro-second-amendment culture war. STFU. Stop speculating on why parents bring kids to a midnight showing of anything, and thus – by implication – blaming the parents for the deaths or injuries of their children (they didn’t pull the trigger). STFU. Stop using Facebook and Twitter to send around cute graphics laden with logical fallacies and weak sense critical thinking. STFU. Stop trying to blame God, or science, or Tom Cruise. STFU. Stop trying to blame President Obama, or Mitt Romney. STFU. Show some God-damned respect for the dead and their families.
Keep the victims and their families in your thoughts. Hope for justice. Hope for the safety of the law enforcement officials who are trying to get into the suspect’s booby-trapped apartment. If you can’t do those things, STFU.
What set me off
And really anything Texas Republican Louie Gohmert has said in the last 24 hours . For instance,
“You know what really gets me, as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs, and then some senseless crazy act of a derelict takes place,” Gohmert said.
“Some of us happen to believe that when our founders talked about guarding our virtue and freedom, that that was important,” he said. “Whether it’s John Adams saying our Constitution was made only for moral and religious people … Ben Franklin, only a virtuous people are capable of freedom, as nations become corrupt and vicious they have more need of masters. We have been at war with the very pillars, the very foundation of this country.”
Ernest Istook, the host of the show and a former Oklahoma congressman, jumped in to clarify that nobody knows the motivation of the alleged Aurora gunman. Gohmert said that may be true, but suggested the shootings were still “a terrorist act” that could have been avoided if the country placed a higher value on God.
“People say … where was God in all of this?” Gohmert said. “We’ve threatened high school graduation participations, if they use God’s name, they’re going to be jailed … I mean that kind of stuff. Where was God? What have we done with God? We don’t want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present.” 
And finally, this was circulating on Facebook:
To my Facebook friends who re-posted this and criticized it: good on you. One of my Facebook friends commented on the photo that “We wouldn’t ban forks because we’re fat.” I mis-took this to mean that this friend was staunchy on the side of Heston in this graphic; his actual point was that neither side of this particular culture war is correct (somewhere in the middle lies the correct answer). I actually agree with him strongly there, but misunderstood the intent of his original statement and I posted this in response to his comment and the Heston graphic (sorry, XYZ – you happened to arrive at the moment when I reached my reason-induced snapping point):
There are a few problems with all of the reasoning applied here. First, a gun and a fork are not the same thing (see The Simpsons episode where Homer gets a gun to see the problem of using a gun for eating and drinking related activities). Second, being overweight is not the same as murder. Third, it is usually impossible to tell a good person from a bad person until you see whom they shoot. I am not for banning guns, but I also don’t understand why anyone needs to buy six handguns and box after box of ammo. I do understand why I need six forks – two for my wife and me, four for our guests. I need to eat three times a day; a fork makes that simpler. I fail to see why I need six guns. In an urban environment, one gun is a deterrent; six guns is a plan. There is a gray area somewhere in between.
He then clarified his short comment, noting the position I stated above (middle ground rather than extreme view either way). I posted this in response,
Oh, I agree with you there, XYZ. I think I took this post to mean the opposite . . . that you were on the platform for the “arm everyone all the time” crowd. 🙂
Regarding your comment on “if only there had been a couple of decent armed people…”. We conduct a study in our class of eyewitness behavior, which is a related set of responses in a crowd situation. For instance, we have a very weird event happen in class and then later ask the students what they saw. We have found that, as many other studies have found, that people are completely unable to remember details about the event and, in fact, make things up. This is because they are not trained to be good eyewitnesses – to react with vigilance in the face of a weird and mentally disarming event. Here is the most interesting and telling fact: in the 19 semesters of our class, no student has EVER whipped out a mobile phone and snapped a picture. They are almost all armed with mobile phones with cameras, but in the heat of a weird event they never think to bust them out and take a photo.
Imagine, now, being suddenly and unexpectedly trapped in a life threatening situation. You want to think that you will react clearly and with positive force; however, evidence suggests that you won’t. Just as people are bad eyewitnesses, they are also bad heroes. This is why it’s remarkable when someone does act to take down a criminal; most people freeze with panic and confusion, or are concerned with protecting themselves or those very close by to them. Few think to act aggressively. Even fewer do it and with precision.
Even if we armed every person in that theater, there is a strong chance that only 1 or 2 people would actually think to act. Even if they did, they would have to be trained to aim and fire in a stressful situation (the kind of training received by police or the military). So even if we armed everyone with one gun and one bullet, the evidence is strong that the tragedy would still be a tragedy. Worse than that, things happen so fast in these situations that most of the damage can be done before anyone even draws their gun. I suspect that if there had been an armed, off duty police officer in the crowd that things would have been different – they are trained for this. But your average person in a situation where they do not anticipate violence? That’s a very different situation, one where all the evidence says there is a small chance that person will remember to act in all the confusion.
I agree with you – this is not the time to argue the culture wars. This is a time to mourn.
Author’s Note: My friend, XYZ, decided to take down his original Facebook post after our very reasoned and nuanced exchange. I understand why he did it, but I also wish he’d left it up. After all, how often do two reasonable voices exchange frank views on social media? I fear that’s he’s left behind a sea of madness with no island of sanity. 🙁
In today’s New York Times , writer Jim Holt gave his opinion on the row initiated by physicist Lawrence Krauss regarding the value of philosophy. You can go read the details of that spat on your own; I’m about as interested in that debate as I am in polo. For the record: I am not interested in polo.
But in Holt’s piece, I found some glaring logical fallacies committed in the name of reconciling physics and philosophy. For instance, Holt quips:
” . . . consider the anti-philosophical strictures of Richard Feynman. ‘Cocktail party philosophers,’ he said in a lecture, think they can discover things about the world ‘by brainwork’ rather than by experiment (‘the test of all knowledge’). But in another lecture, he announced that the most pregnant hypothesis in all of science is that ‘all things are made of atoms.’ Who first came up with this hypothesis? The ancient philosophers Leucippus and Democritus. And they didn’t come up with it by doing experiments.” 
Holt misses the point entirely, and actually MAKES Feynman’s point in a weird way. The Greeks did not, as a rule, apply experimental methods to answer their philosophical musings. Is the world made of atoms, or is it a continuous fluid, or is it the substance obtained by combing earth, air, fire, and water (the elements)? The Greek philosophers seemed to care not at all to determine the truth by experimentation, and were content to go about their spectulations. It wasn’t until experiments were actually done and revealed that, by chance, the world IS composed of atoms that the “atomic hypothesis” of Democritus was understood to be correct. Holt must keep in mind that the wild and erroneous speculations of dozens of other bright Greeks were then proved WRONG. It wasn’t until experimentation on the natural world revealed the truth about its structure that the ungrounded philosophical speculations of ancient Greeks were collapsed into circles of truth and circles of error. Experiment, in fact, was the key.
Holt also misses the point on a few other things:
1) Hawking and Penrose are welcome to their philosophy-fueled disagreements so long as, when experiment disproves one or both of them, the loser abandons their position. If they don’t, then they are holding an opinion counter to reality and they have crossed into the land of “crackpot.”
2) Weinberg’s and Hawking’s seeming linguistic disagreement on the word “positivism” is just that – a linguistic problem. It doesn’t change the fact that water turns to ice at zero degrees Celsius under conditions of standard temperature and pressure, or that the electron in ground state of the hydrogen atom can be ionized by supplying 13.6 eV of energy.
3) Physicists who know how to apply quantum mechanics to make testable predictions don’t tend to worry too much about finding an interpretation of quantum mechanics that makes them “feel good.” Now, if a better interpretation led to new knowledge, then it would matter; if that interpretation had testable consequences that distinguished it from a competing interpretation, then scientists care about it. Absent those outcomes, one interpretation is just as good as another if neither can be distinguished in the natural world – they’re really just informed opinions consistent with the facts.
Having spotted little gems like the above, I began to wonder: who the hell is Jim Holt? I searched for him on Google and found his publisher’s blurb about him :
Jim Holt, a prominent essayist and critic on philosophy, mathematics, and science, is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review and the New York Review of Books. He lives in New York City.
OK . . . so he’s not even obviously a scientist, according to this blurb. I Google-stalked him and couldn’t find his credentials (if you find anything about him – a bio – please send me the link). He’s a critic without advertised credentials or experience. His last book was about the philosophical reasons that jokes are funny (seriously . . . does anyone else find the idea of metacomedy hilarious, or it it just me?). He writes a lot of reviews of science books, but that doesn’t appear to make him qualified to understand and interpret science for lay people.
It’s for this reason that I again remind you of Alan Alda’s challenge to scientists: be better at communicating science. If you don’t, Jim Holt will do it for you.