Thursday, May 30, 2013

Let the bickering begin.

I'm pro-life. I get annoyed when people call me "anti-choice," because I am not anti-choices in a general way. I am anti the specific choice to have your fetus killed. 

Similarly, I get annoyed when my fellow pro-lifers call pro-choicers "pro-abortion." There's a difference between thinking a woman should be able to choose whether or not to have an abortion, and thinking a woman should get an abortion. Indeed, I have adamantly pro-choice friends who have discouraged women from getting abortions and helped them find alternatives. There is a distinction.

In fact, I'd go further and say there are pro-choice people who are pro-abortion, pro-choice people who are neither for nor against abortion, and pro-choice people who are anti-abortion. That last group are the ones that call themselves "personally pro-life." They don't want to see their views made law, but they do find abortion morally objectionable. They certainly aren't "pro-abortion."

I apply the term "pro-life" to myself because it's the most common phrase used to describe a person who thinks abortion should be far more legally restricted. I also apply the term "pro-life" in a more holistic sense: I am not only against abortion, but also the death penalty. However, I believe war is necessary in some circumstances, I am not a vegan, and I happily kill mosquitoes. There are many ways in which you could argue I am not "pro-life" in the most general sense, in which case it may be more accurate to call me "anti-abortion."

Bearing all this in mind, I created a Venn diagram to quickly explain how I understand the terms:

The circles aren't meant to convey quantitative proportions, just general subsets.

There are people who are pro-abortion, and they are a subset of pro-choice people. You can't be pro-abortion without being pro-choice, but you can be pro-choice without being pro-abortion.

There are people who are pro-life in a holistic way, and they are a subset of anti-abortion people.You can't be pro-life without being anti-abortion, but you can be anti-abortion without being pro-life in a more holistic sense.

There are people who are legally pro-choice but personally anti-abortion, and they are in the crossover part. 

In the end I think it's simpler to call people by their self-applied labels and move on, but for clarity's sake, the above is how I understand the actual meanings.

Monday, May 20, 2013

No teen sex!

I love Gallup polls. Worth noting:
  • 59% of people find homosexual relations morally acceptable, up 19% since 2001.
  • Compared to 2001, people are also significantly more likely to say they find sex outside of marriage, children outside of marriage, and divorce morally acceptable. It makes sense to me that views on those three topics would change in the same way.
  • Compared to 2001, twice as many people find polygamy morally acceptable, although that still brings the number to only 14%. Doesn't really make sense to me.
  • 42% of people find abortion morally acceptable, which is the exact same percentage as 2001. That is, it's as if views on abortion haven't shifted at all in the last 12 years. That's not entirely true--for example Gallup has had headlines like "The New Normal on Abortion: Americans More 'Pro-Life.'" (May 2010) and "'Pro-Choice' Americans at Record-Low 41%" (May 2012). However there doesn't appear to be a 1-to-1 connection between peoples' views on the morality of abortion and peoples' self-descriptions as either "pro-life" or "pro-choice."
  • Strangely, 67% say "an unmarried woman having a baby" is morally acceptable, but only 60% say "having a baby outside of marriage" is morally acceptable. Guess it goes to show how much difference the wording of a polling question makes.
  • More Americans think it's wrong for teenagers to have sex (63%) than think it's wrong to get an abortion (49%). I was surprised how many Americans think teenage sex is morally wrong, actually. I must just run in social circles where more people are defensive of teen sex.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Seriously, IRS?
Steven Miller during a Congressional hearing regarding the recent IRS targeting of political groups.

According to the IRS, a 501(c)(3) organization is an organization that is "organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes." The IRS defines exempt purposes as follows:
The exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3) are charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals.  The term charitable is used in its generally accepted legal sense and includes relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged; advancement of religion; advancement of education or science; erecting or maintaining public buildings, monuments, or works; lessening the burdens of government; lessening neighborhood tensions; eliminating prejudice and discrimination; defending human and civil rights secured by law; and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency. [Emphasis added.]
In that light, it's curious that the IRS would withhold 501(c)(3) tax exempt status from the Coalition for Life of Iowa pending the Coalition's answers to the following:
2. Please explain how all of your activities, including the prayer meetings held outside of Planned Parenthood are considered educational as defined under 501(c)(3). Organizations exempt under 501(c)(3) may present opinions with scientific or medical facts. Please explain in detail the activities at these prayer meetings. Also, please provide the percentage of time your organization spends on prayer groups as compared with the other activities of the organization.

3. In a phone conversation with POA it was asked about certain signs that may or may not be held up outside of a Planned Parenthood. Please explain in detail the signs that are being held up outside Planned Parenthood and explain how they are considered educational.
What does the phrase "opinions with scientific or medical facts" even mean? The Coalition can only present opinions "with facts"? Facts aren't opinions by definition. One of my pet peeves is actually when people say "In my opinion, [factual statement]." You know why? Because that's not an opinion.

But more to the point, why was the IRS even asking about prayers or signs specifically in terms of educational purposes? I'm no attorney (thank goodness) but my understanding of the "exempt purposes" of a 501(c)(3) organization is that they include educational purposes in addition to many other purposes, including, for example, religious ones. And while I strongly prefer that pro-lifers stick to secular arguments, that's not relevant to whether their purposes are considered exempt under federal law.

Apparently once the Coalition's attorneys responded, the IRS gave it up and gave the Coalition their tax exempt status. To me that further suggests the IRS knew its questions were baseless, but whatever. They let it go. That's great.

However, Coalition for Life of Iowa is one of several pro-life groups the IRS pressed with what then-acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller described as surprising and unusual questions. The IRS is already in the wake of an unfolding scandal regarding its targeting of conservative groups, so I guess these queries of pro-lifers are just additions to a list of IRS problems. Hardly reassuring, is it?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Separation of Politics and Science!

There are some political topics I find much more interesting than others. Climate change is not one of them. So when I saw this in the science section of Google News, I noticed but did not click:

Pinned Image

Then later in the day I saw this on Facebook, specifically from the "I F***ing Love Science" page.

consensus pie chart

After seeing the claim twice in a short period I got curious and decided to check it out. I ended up on a website called "" that claimed:
A new survey of over 12,000 peer-reviewed climate science papers by our citizen science team at Skeptical Science has found a 97% consensus in the peer-reviewed literature that humans are causing global warming.
 If you click on the link in "a new survey" it takes you to a journal called "Environmental Research Levels" and, specifically, a paper called "Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature." And this is what it says:
We analyze the evolution of the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, examining 11 944 climate abstracts from 1991–2011 matching the topics 'global climate change' or 'global warming'. We find that 66.4% of abstracts expressed no position on AGW, 32.6% endorsed AGW, 0.7% rejected AGW and 0.3% were uncertain about the cause of global warming. Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. In a second phase of this study, we invited authors to rate their own papers. Compared to abstract ratings, a smaller percentage of self-rated papers expressed no position on AGW (35.5%). Among self-rated papers expressing a position on AGW, 97.2% endorsed the consensus. For both abstract ratings and authors' self-ratings, the percentage of endorsements among papers expressing a position on AGW marginally increased over time. Our analysis indicates that the number of papers rejecting the consensus on AGW is a vanishingly small proportion of the published research.
 Let me just highlight part of that for you:
We find that 66.4% of abstracts expressed no position on AGW, 32.6% endorsed AGW, 0.7% rejected AGW and 0.3% were uncertain about the cause of global warming.
First of all, how is 11,944 papers "over 12,000"? But far more importantly: The Guardian's headline that "97% of climate science papers agree" and Skeptical Science's claim that they "found a 97% consensus in the peer-reviewed literature" that global warming is anthropogenic (man-made) are total bullshit.

In fact, the study they're citing found that 32.6%--not 97%--of the papers they reviewed claim global warming is man-made. Where did the 97% number come from? Well again, quoting from the abstract:
Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming.
So why did about 2 out of 3 papers reviewed fail to take a position on the anthropogenic question? I don't know, I haven't reviewed the nearly 12,000 papers myself. I'm sure there are many facets to climate science and these papers didn't all seek to answer the same questions. I also wouldn't be surprised if some experiments were unable to determine the relationship between human activity and climate change, and so could not state a position on it one way or another. Either way, to twist the results around to make a much, much stronger claim than the data shows only furthers my suspicion that the science is too politicized, and too at-risk of corruption.

If you're really just about objectivity and truth (science) over politics, you don't post a twisted stat to further an agenda. You post what people found. How much could the administrators at "I F***ing Love Science" really "love science" if they can't even be bothered to read a whole abstract before eagerly re-posting a misleading graphic? And likewise, why should I trust the people at Skeptical Science to give me useful, honest information if they can't handle correctly interpreting one study?