Divorcing Friends; It’s not you…it’s me.

Over the past several days I have had to force some “unfriending” on Facebook.  I’ve never been very good at breaking up, even when it was clearly not in my interest to maintain a lousy relationship.  So in my cowardly way, it’s always been much easier to get the other person pissed off enough that he/she just can no longer tolerate me.  I’ll feign shock and sadness and then move on unburdened and smiling inside at my cleverness…or maybe at my kindness in allowing the other person to claim victory.  Very cowardly for sure, but I’m ok with it.  It beats having me pull the trigger only to see the other person smile in return.

And so this week I reached my limit of people calling me biased, unfit to teach, etc., simply because I do not acknowledge Fox News as a worthy news source.  The “Fair and Balanced” thing has been burnt into a lot of folks heads despite overwhelming evidence that there is nothing “fair” about how news is created there.  It’s the “balanced” thing, however, that has people fooled the most.  Somehow we have been led to believe that all points of view deserve equal attention.  Asserting this creates the opening for Fox to fabricate news to fit their agenda.  And if someone, like me, rejects them as legitimate, I am accused of being biased and close-minded.  It’s a neat trick and it’s worked on a whole lot of people.

In reality, of course, all points of view do not deserve equal attention.  I was reminded of this over the weekend when I was reading an analysis of arguments in the gun debate.  A few months ago, I was presented with a “fact” by a former student that guns save 2.5 million lives a year.  Let that sink in.  Two and a half million times a year, someone uses a gun to defend themselves.  I was skeptical.  So I did what I always do when I can’t make sense of something.  (Like, did you know Jack Nicholson is older than Morgan Freeman?)  I started digging into the research.  And I could find nothing to dispute my former student’s claim.

Over and over again news sources were quoting a survey done some years back, and there was little out there disputing it.  In essence, people from all along the gun-control continuum were accepting the “fact” that guns served the public interest.   But this weekend I happened upon a bit of research that examined the methodology behind the original research.  Five thousand gun owners were asked if in the last year they had used a gun to protect themselves or their property.    They took the number of positive responses and extrapolated it across the entire population of the United States.

After I slapped the astonishment off my face, I dug deeper.  All these years we have blindly accepted the 2.5 million lives a year as “fact.”   The flaws in the original research are so glaring, that we can safely discard all of it.   Because I was trained at a research university, I am unable to look at just about any data without scrutinizing the methodology.  The University of Michigan has both blessed and cursed my life.  I am blessed because when I make up my mind about something, I am very confident that I based my decision on solid data, properly collected.  I am cursed because when a two year old says “There’s a dragon in the car!” I am compelled to ask “How do you know?”

But I digress.

Let’s go back to the survey.  Extrapolating data across a bigger population is very common in all social science research.  In fact, just about 1000 randomly selected respondents can be safely used to make conclusions about the larger population within a couple percentage points of certainty.  So using 5000 respondents was actually a bit of overkill.  But here’s the problem.  The respondents were gun owners.  That is not in any sense a randomly selected population.

The authors of the research are asking us to believe that a whole bunch of us who don’t own guns actually used guns to save lives and property.  Also, critics of the research point out that when fact checking incidents reported in the survey, some of them occurred twenty years ago.  Remember the survey asked only about the preceding twelve months.   Finally, surveys cannot ask questions which would incentivize respondents to lie.   And this one does.   If a gun owner is asked if he/she has used a gun in self-defense, it doesn’t take much for them to figure out that a “Yes” answer is in their interest.  The more lives it can be shown were saved, the less likely that gun regulations will be enacted.

There’s more, but you get the point.  Once critics cleansed the data and properly extrapolated it, the number of lives saved in a year is actually more like….(drumroll)…about 1,000.   So for years, we’ve only been off by about 2,499,000 lives saved.  The absurdity of the original claim is justified.

This leads back to the question of balance.  Going forward, I will give the “2.5 million lives saved” claim the respect it deserves.  None.  And when I’m in discussions about gun control, when I reject that claim I will be accused of being biased and unbalanced (true in a least a couple of ways.)  People will say “Just because you don’t believe it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it in the debate.”  And they’d be wrong.  If balance means including any crazy idea just because someone wants to say it, I’ll stay unbalanced…and proudly so.

And this leads back to divorcing friends.  Over the weekend, I got tangled up with some person who claimed “Obama has no economic knowledge and no foreign policy.”   When I asked the person to give up the Fox bullshit so we can have a discussion, she admitted that she watches Fox, but then added the big lie:  “I watch a lot of things and I make up my own mind as to what is true.”  EVERY Fox apologist I know makes the same claim as if they are nobly doing their due diligence as a citizen.  And what caused the “breakup” was my saying that including ANY bit of the Fox News narrative into what you thought might be true was pure idiocy.  If you know for sure that a news source is lying to you, you are committing no intellectual crime in excluding them from the debate.  Oh…and I might have also said “Screw you.”

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5 Comments on “Divorcing Friends; It’s not you…it’s me.”

  1. hampshirehog February 1, 2015 at 1:15 pm #

    Reblogged this on hampshire Hog and commented:
    Dude who examines the evidence before he comes to a conclusion. I don’t think he watches Fox ‘News’…

  2. jrpalm February 1, 2015 at 2:03 pm #

    Too bad this one couldn’t have been in the Petoskey News Review.

  3. Karly Ellison February 1, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

    It can suck the life outaya! we say “good for you” We mean “go fuck yourself” Love ur posts, Pls don’t block me. Will you be posting your Graphics articles on email?


  4. Marcia Pontoni February 1, 2015 at 5:00 pm #

    Well written as always! Please don’t unfriend me! I wish more of our lazy cowardly politicians would be so forthright. There! Now, Daryl Issa can unfriend me.

    Love , Marcia

    Sent from my iPhone


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