about various

(I try to present
facts and logic and
solutions rather than just opinions.)
         Please send reasoned
disagreements to me. If your facts and logic are
convincing, I'll change my mind !

Link to me on Facebook.

This page updated: December 2015

News Overload / News Avoidance section
Newspapers section
Political Terms section
How to Detect Bogus Claims, Articles, Sites, Videos section
Overpopulation section

My US Policy Choices page
My Religion page (and my Anti-Science page)
My Conspiracy Theories page
My Israel and the Palestinians page
My Climate Change page
My Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) page

News Overload / News Avoidance

A phenomenon I see more and more: people who actively do not want to hear anything about current affairs. If you try to talk about war or politics or something with them, they groan and say "I don't want to talk about it", and change the subject. I hear this from lots of people, including a lot of well-educated people. They really resent efforts to discuss these things; they seem to feel you're trying to make them unhappy.

I think many people have come to this kind of thinking:
  1. the situation is awful.
  2. the situation never changes.
  3. the situation can't be fixed (especially by the viewer, and maybe also by USA and UN and everyone else).
  4. so:
  5. I don't want to hear, think or talk about it any more.

For example, this applies to the Israel/Palestine conflict:
  1. situation is awful: war, innocents being killed, Arabs hating USA because of Israel, terrorism, etc.
  2. situation never changes: it's been like that since 1948 or 1967, and will be for another 50 years.
  3. situation can't be fixed: I's and P's each believe God tells them to occupy same land and kick the other guys out. Both sides armed to the teeth, supported by other countries.
  4. so:
  5. I don't want to hear, think or talk about it any more.

Or take USA politics:
  1. situation is awful: wrong party is in office, all politicians are corrupt, nothing but partisan bickering, country losing jobs, immigrants flooding us, no health insurance, abortion and gays taking over, huge national debt, etc. (List depends on your point of view.)
  2. situation never changes: it's been like that since 60's, or when I lost my job, or when Reagan left office, or whenever. (Date and cause of ruination depend on your point of view.)
  3. situation can't be fixed: my vote is worthless, big money and two parties and corporations run everything, they're all crooks, etc.
  4. so:
  5. I don't want to hear, think or talk about it any more.

So I think a news org could do the BEST story EVER on Israel/Palestinians or Democrats/Republicans or another of these "intractable" problems, and most people still would turn it off. A "new", "hot" issue such as immigration reform gets a better reception, but falls into the same mold after a while if no resolution is reached.

I think this explains some of the shift to blogs or partisan-news such as Fox News. In those places, you can avoid a lot of factor #1, "situation is awful", by choosing an outlet that simply does not report bad news, as you define it. Instead, they spin things to sound good, or to line up with your beliefs. And maybe Fox News softens factor #3, "situation can't be fixed", by telling you we're winning the wars in the Middle East, and we're getting rid of the Liberals, so the situations ARE getting fixed.

Some people say they don't want to hear the news any more because "it's always BAD news; why can't they report some GOOD news ?". That's a bit of factors #1 and #2 in my list, although my 1-2-3-4 framework really pertains to each news issue individually, not all news topics grouped together.

I'm not sure when this "don't want to hear about it any more" attitude kicked in or why. When did voter participation start plunging ? Was it in reaction to Vietnam, or Watergate, or the Kennedy-King-Kennedy assassinations ? Or maybe when the economy got tougher, people hunkered down to concentrate on job and family, and tuned out current affairs ? Or maybe it's just due to simple passage of time since the birth of global TV news: after N decades of tragic news about the same places on the TV news, the audience finally decided those disturbing situations are NEVER going to be fixed ?

Some of it is, I think, story-overload. It used to be that we only heard about a few tragedies around the world: Vietnam, Israel, say Biafra. And those we got new info about maybe once a week. Other places just weren't covered; didn't appear on our TV and most newspapers. Or maybe appeared once a year. Then came satellites and portable cameras and quick worldwide transmission, and now it's all-tragedy all-the-time. Another story about civilians killed in Israel/Palestine/Lebanon every day. It feeds right into points #1 (situation is awful) and #2 (situation never changes) in my framework. Even if they were journalistically GREAT stories every day about the latest Israel tragedy, people would still hate them.

I'm not sure how we can fix this. I guess my engineer's mentality would say: produce stories that propose solutions to the problems. Don't just report "10 more civilians killed in southern Lebanon today"; add "and to stop this, here's a proposal from respected group X who thinks Israel should create a 10-mile wide permanent DMZ on the border", or some other solution or set of alternative solutions. This is advocacy or editorial journalism, I guess, and you'd have to make a clear line between "here are the facts" and "here's our opinion/advocacy". But leaving people with just the (horrible) facts just reinforces their 1-2-3-4 thinking as I outlined above. I think we should attack point #3 (situation can't be fixed) to get people engaged again.

Tom Stafford's "Psychology: Why bad news dominates the headlines"


Two standard practices of the newspaper industry seem wrong to me:
  1. The headline is written by an editor, not the author of the article. This leads to misleading headlines that don't match the content of the article. This practice has been carried over to sites such as Slate, and podcasts. The headline has been sensationalized to draw you in, and doesn't match the content.

  2. My letter to the editor is edited by the newspaper before being printed over MY name, and I have no chance to see or approve the edits. I stopped submitting letters to newspapers because my letters were mangled so badly. Newspapers should not edit these letters. They should respond one of three ways:
    1. print the letter verbatim, or
    2. decline to print the letter, or
    3. respond saying "we like your letter but we need it X% shorter, please trim and re-submit".
    And there should be no editing for grammar or spelling; how well or badly someone writes or spells is part of the letter, and helps the reader determine how credible they are.

Political Terms


From "Don't Think Of An Elephant !" by George Lakoff 2004 (on Amazon):

American conservatives and progressives both view the nation as a "family", but different styles of "family":


Three myths that end up hurting liberals and progressives:

  1. The truth will set us free. If we just tell people the facts, since people are basically rational beings, they'll all reach the right conclusions.

    No, people think in "frames", which force a certain logic. To be accepted, the truth must fit people's frames. If the facts do not fit a frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off.

  2. It is irrational to go against your self-interest, and therefore a normal person, who is rational, reasons on the basis of self-interest. Modern economic theory and foreign policy are set up on the basis of that assumption.

    No, people do not really think that way. People do not necessarily vote in their self-interest. They vote their identity. They vote their values. They vote for who they can identify with.

  3. There is a metaphor that political campaigns are marketing campaigns where the candidate is the product and the candidate's positions on issues are the features and qualities of the product. This leads to the conclusion that polling should determine which issues a candidate should run on. ...

    [To capture the voters in the "middle", liberal and progressive candidates try to modify positions to "move to the center".] Instead, they should try to activate their model in the people in the middle. The people who are in the middle have both models, used regularly in different parts of their lives. What you want to do is to get them to use your model for politics - to activate your worldview and moral system in their political decisions. You do that by talking to people using frames based on your worldview.

Liberals and conservatives on America

From /u/SnappyCrunch on reddit:

I've found that a good way to view political opinions is to understand what's important to person in question. Conservatives are interested in Order, and they tend to view the issues before them through the dichotomy of lawful and lawless. Liberals are interested in Helping, and view the world as oppressor vs oppressed. Libertarians are interested in Freedom, and thus see issues as freedom vs slavery.

Let's take illegal immigration as an example. Conservatives are generally against it because it's illegal. It doesn't matter if they pay taxes and don't use public services, they're here illegally and need to go. Liberals want paths to citizenship because these people come from dangerous areas where they are oppressed, so we shouldn't send them back there. Nearly as bad, they continue to be oppressed when they're here by needing to be hidden, at risk of being deported. Granting citizenship is the option that helps most. Libertarians generally support citizenship because Libertarians tend to believe that national borders are a bit bullsh*t anyway, and that anyone who wants to come and work in this country will only make it stronger.

So you can see why the conversations are difficult. The Liberal says to the Conservative "I can't believe you're going to send those people back to their home countries, don't you care about them?" while the Conservative says to the Liberal "I can't believe you're going to let these lawbreakers stay in our country and worse, you're going to reward them for breaking the law!" Meanwhile the Libertarians are saying to no one in particular "Why do we even have immigration controls?"

This is a very roundabout way of answering your question. It's not just that we can't find a middle ground between the two major parties, we can't even get the party members to talk about issues in a way that members of the other party understand.

From Wray Herbert's "Red science vs. blue science":

... Mooney is convinced - and convincing - that Republicans and Democrats are fundamentally different in the way they think about the world. Republicans have a different cognitive style than Democrats. They show lower tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty, which makes them defensive about their beliefs and highly resistant to persuasion. Conservative Republicans score low on a personality trait called "openness to experience", which encompasses curiosity and intellectual flexibility.


... This "politicized wrongness", as Mooney labels it, has very high stakes. Just a few of the right-wing "truths" with no scientific merit: that global warming is not related to human activity and is not a threat, that abortion causes breast cancer and mental disorders, that homosexuality is a choice that can be reversed. The list goes on, with huge logical and political ramifications for health, war, and peace. But the ultimate harm, Mooney asserts, is the "utter erosion of a shared sense of what's true".


The stakes are not quite as frightening in the liberal assault on science, as detailed in "Science Left Behind". Berezow and Campbell call the villains here progressives, by which they seem to mean environmentalists, health-food advocates, and other groups whose personal life choices the authors resent. These behaviors include such "feel-good fantasies" as using water-conserving toilets, shopping at health-food stores, running barefoot, and conserving fossil fuels by driving Priuses.


In any case, the vast majority of liberal behaviors that fall under Berezow and Campbell's withering gaze are, at worst, just silly and uninformed consumption patterns. Right-wing fallacies with further-reaching implications are given lighter treatment. ...

These splits seem related, forming a hierarchy: Republican/Democrat, Conservative/Liberal, Individualist/Social, Male/Female.

"Con men like Rush and Beck are one reason the Republicans are in such dire straits today. Because they don't care about winning elections. They care about separating rubes from their money. They've discovered there's a fortune to be made by keeping a small portion of America under the illusion that they are always under attack. From Mexicans, or ACORN, or Planned Parenthood, or gays, or takers, global warming hoaxers; it doesn't matter. They don't want a majority. They want a mailing list, a list of the kind of gullible Honey Boo Boos out there who think that there's a War on Christmas, and that the socialist policies of our Kenyan President have been so disastrous that the end of the world is coming."
-- Bill Maher

Economic philosophies at the heart of modern USA politics:
Two schools, which arose circa 1930:
Great podcast about this: NPR "Planet Money" 398, 28 Aug 2012.

There is a spectrum from most to least control:

Robert Reich's "The conservative formula is wrong: Why liberal states won America's tax experiment "

From Robert Reich, 2/2016:

I'm writing to you today to announce the death of the Republican Party. It is no longer a living, vital, animate organization.

It died in 2016. RIP.

It has been replaced by 6 warring tribes:

Each of these tribes has its own separate political organization, its own distinct sources of campaign funding, its own unique ideology and its own candidate.

What's left is a lifeless shell called the Republican Party. But the Grand Old Party inside the shell is no more.

I, for one, regret its passing. Our nation needs political parties to connect up different groups of Americans, sift through prospective candidates, deliberate over priorities, identify common principles, and forge a platform.

The Republican Party used to do these things. Sometimes it did them easily, as when it came together behind William McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt in 1900, Calvin Coolidge in 1924, and Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Sometimes it did them with difficulty, as when it strained to choose Abraham Lincoln in 1860, Barry Goldwater in 1964, and Mitt Romney in 2012.

But there was always enough of a Republican Party to do these important tasks to span the divides, give force and expression to a set of core beliefs, and come up with a candidate around whom Party regulars could enthusiastically rally.

No longer. And that's a huge problem for the rest of us.

Without a Republican Party, nothing stands between us and a veritable Star Wars barroom of self-proclaimed wanna-be's.

Without a Party, anyone runs who's able to raise (or already possesses) the requisite money even if he happens to be a pathological narcissist who has never before held public office, even if he's a knave detested by all his Republican colleagues.

Without a Republican Party, it's just us and them. And one of them could even become the next President of the United States.

Throwing labels around usually reduces the conversation to just insults.

How to Detect Bogus Claims, Articles, Sites, Videos

Characteristics:'s "The Red Flags of Quackery"
The Ultimate Cheatsheet for Critical Thinking
Skeptoid's "How to Spot Pseudoscience"
Stephen Barrett and Victor Herbert's "Twenty-Five Ways to Spot Quacks and Vitamin Pushers"
Robert L. Park's "Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science"
Avi Roy and Ander Sandberg's "The seven deadly sins of health and science reporting"
Emil Karlsson's "How to Spot a Pseudoscientific Paper"
Ross Pomeroy's "5 Easy Tips for Denying Scientific Consensus"
Skeptical Raptor's "Science denier indicators - the pseudoscience bullsh*t meter"
Science or not's "Trusting the experts"

Some good sites to check:

Alex Murray's "How to report fake news to social media"


The numbers:

World population projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050 - UN report 6/2013. But from Floyd Norris's "Population Growth Forecast From the U.N. May Be Too High" 9/2013:
"... in UN's 2008 forecasts, global population was set to peak around 2070 and then begin to fall. In the latest forecast, there is no peak in sight."

From Kiran Moodley's "World population to peak by 2055: report" 9/2013:
"The world population will peak at 8.7 billion people in 2055 and then decline to 8 billion by 2100, according to new research by Deutsche Bank."

From NYTimes "Off the Charts: World Population Could Peak by 2055" 9/2013:

From Henry Grabar's "Could Earth's Population Peak in 2050?" 4/2013:
"[Study in Spain] shows global population peaking in 2050 slightly above eight billion, and then falling back to 6.2 billion by the end of the century, the same as the total world population back in 2000."

From Jeff Wise's "About That Overpopulation Problem" 1/2013:
"... researchers at Austria's International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis foresee the global population maxing out at 9 billion some time around 2070."

All of these projections involve lots of guessing about fertility rates in various countries.

From Megan Scudellari's "The science myths that will not die":

... the human population has not and is not growing exponentially and is unlikely to do so, says Joel Cohen, a populations researcher at the Rockefeller University in New York City. The world's population is now growing at just half the rate it was before 1965. Today there are an estimated 7.3 billion people, and that is projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. Yet beliefs that the rate of population growth will lead to some doomsday scenario have been continually perpetuated. ...

The world's population also has enough to eat. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the rate of global food production outstrips the growth of the population. People grow enough calories in cereals alone to feed between 10 billion and 12 billion people. Yet hunger and malnutrition persist worldwide. This is because about 55% of the food grown is divided between feeding cattle, making fuel and other materials or going to waste, says Cohen. And what remains is not evenly distributed - the rich have plenty, the poor have little. Likewise, water is not scarce on a global scale, even though 1.2 billion people live in areas where it is.

"Overpopulation is really not overpopulation. It's a question about poverty", says Nicholas Eberstadt, a demographer at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank based in Washington DC. Yet instead of examining why poverty exists and how to sustainably support a growing population, he says, social scientists and biologists talk past each other, debating definitions and causes of overpopulation.

Wikipedia's "Projections of population growth"
Carl Haub's "What If Experts Are Wrong On World Population Growth?"

What affects the numbers:

I think increasing wealth and education act to slow or reverse population growth. Past predictions of a "population bomb" have failed to come true.

Some countries have negative population growth.

Behavior is key:

Technology often acts to mitigate the effects of population increases.

People seem to assume that per-capita consumption and efficiency will remain the same as the population grows. In fact, some things promise to reduce per-capita consumption and increase efficiency.

For example, maybe in the future, a lot of travel will be replaced by better communication. I know, videophones and telecommuting haven't really happened as predicted since the 60's or whenever. But if they DO really happen, that would greatly reduce the per-capita consumption.

Same with renewable energy and electric cars. Suppose car-owning population goes up 10x, but those cars are no longer burning fossil fuels ?

We in USA waste something like 40% of the food we produce. Suppose we got that number down to 10% ?

Suppose artificial meat becomes a real thing ? Could support a lot more population, reduce impacts of our animal-food industry.

Suppose renewable energy gets cheap enough that we can use it to purify seawater to make drinking water, and generate hydrogen from rainwater or seawater ?

Suppose we created algae or bacteria that processed sewage and landfills and garbage dumps and toxic waste sites to extract valuable resources and produce fuel ?

3D printing has the potential to eliminate a lot of transportation of parts and finished goods; just transmit the design electronically to where the consumer is.

Anyway, just focusing on the total population number is not enough.

From /u/rocketsocks on reddit:

> Is there an estimated maximum possible
> population of the Earth ?

No. And there fundamentally cannot be.

Humans are unusual creatures because our behavior, our "ecological niche", and our use of resources are not determined purely genetically as it tends to be for other animals. We are fundamentally a technological species. That doesn't just mean we use tools, as some people have come to take the meaning, it means that we are capable of adapting, learning, and teaching. Which means that we are capable of passing on how to build and use a specific tool, of course, but it's much more than that. It also means we can pass on non-corporeal tools, tools of the mind and of behavior, tools such as language, culture, ethics, art, etc.

What this means for the human species is that the coupling between "natural environmental limits" and the limits of population is effectively broken. If you take, say, a group of deer you can draw strong connections between their environment and the degree to which it can support a population of a given size, if you get too many deer there just won't be enough food, etc.

Humans, however, do not have fixed behavior. More so, we are capable not just of consuming resources but of producing, or causing the production of, resources. Humans have the ability to change their diet, change how they live, where they live, etc. And we produce food, produce energy, produce raw materials, etc. For a given level of technological / industrial capability and a given set of human behaviors you could make a claim about the carrying capacity of the Earth, however none of those things is constant.

Take food, for example. The amount and type of meat that people eat greatly impacts the amount of resources it takes to supply food for that person. Also, developments such as more efficient means of farming, new strains of crops, and artificial fertilizer have enabled massive increases in the efficiency and effectiveness of food production. If there were some particular major limiting factor on some aspect of human living then there would be pressure, due to economics etc, to change behaviors and avoid that limit. For example, if we could no longer supply much meat to people then folks would switch to more vegetarian diets. If we ran into a limit in production of copper then people would turn to other materials like aluminum or iron or plastic for many of the uses of copper. And if we ran into a problem with producing fresh drinking water people would start changing their water usage patterns, we'd stop washing our cars, watering our lawns, and flushing our toilets with drinking water, for example. And so forth.

And that's the fundamental problem of estimating the human carrying capacity of the Earth. You're dealing with two major moving targets (behavior/lifestyle and industrial/agricultural capability) each of which breaks down into innumerable smaller areas that are all of enormous complexity. Any attempt at a holistic analysis is going to be a gross oversimplification one way or another.
From someone on reddit:

Yes ! Archaeologists and human paleoecologists haven't considered population limits (or "carrying capacity", to use the technical term) to be something directly measurable for decades. The best you can do is construct mathematical models, and these oversimplify the factors that affect it to the point where the information being produced is effectively meaningless.

For a more in-depth explanation of the problems associated with the Malthusian/Leslie White approach to population limits (or "carrying capacity" to use the technical term), see this article by archaeologist Brian Hayden.

It's not layman speculation. This is a standard response given by archaeologists (who study changes in human environment interactions over thousand year timescales, and are thus directly relevant to this question). Here's another article backing that position.

"Too many" depends on combination of "numbers" and "behavior":

What metrics would be used to decide "There are too many humans on The Earth" ? Too many for what ? Too many because density or air quality aren't like they were 200 years ago ?

How do you pick a number and say "that's too many humans" ? Doesn't it depend on how they behave, and what your choices are about humans vs other species and environment ? Suppose we had 100 billion humans living on Earth. Suppose they used renewable energy, preserved other species, didn't pollute the water and air. No problem, right ?

Overpopulation really isn't much of a problem today. The problem is people crowding into megacities because there are no jobs out in the countryside. Or people living under governments that steal all of the oil or diamond money and leave the people impoverished. Or countries in civil wars, where food distribution is broken or denied. Or people with no money, so if their crop fails, they starve. Or people destroying habitats or overfishing or polluting, because regulation is weak.

From UN's "World Population Monitoring 2001" (PDF):
The estimates of Earth's carrying capacity range from under 1 billion to more than 1000 billion persons. Not only is there an enormous range of values, but there is no tendency of the values to converge over time; indeed, the estimates made since 1950 exhibit greater variability than those made earlier.

From /u/JVani on reddit:
"Even if the 5 billion poorest people in the world suddenly vanished, it would only be a tiny blip in global greenhouse gas emissions."

Wikipedia's "Human overpopulation"
Simon Butler's "Population Control: 10 Reasons Why It's the Wrong Answer"

Bookmark and Share      Home      Site Map

Privacy policy