Quick Memes

I’ve had a few memes sitting around for a while that just didn’t seem to merit an entire post.  Enjoy!

Being Offended

Actually, we have to stop this recent culture of people not giving a f*** when somebody else is offended.  You might not understand why somebody is offended, or if you do, you might not agree with their indignation, but the least you could do – the most basic acknowledgement you could afford somebody – is to recognize that they are offended, and perhaps to offer your condolences.  Don’t worry…you can still maintain your tough guy individualist persona without being a total jerk to everybody.

Child and Gun Control

Either this meme is a complete non sequitur, or it’s suggesting that many of the societal issues which are frequently blamed on guns (and the public’s easy access thereto) could instead be solved by a liberal application of parental strictness.  It’s hard to imagine how we might test this hypothesis in the United States, so let’s look to other nations.  A 2010 study assessed the relative toughness of parents in Canada, France, and Italy.  The results showed that Italian parents are the most strict, French are moderate, and Canadians are fairly laid back.  If I’m correctly interpreting this meme’s implied hypothesis, gun violence should therefore be most pervasive in our neighbor to the north, and least common in Italy.  But is that the case?

In a word: no.  A 2012 tally of firearm-related deaths per 100,000 population per year lists 0.51 for Canada, 0.06 for France, and 0.71 for Italy.  There doesn’t seem to be a strong correlation between parental strictness and gun-related deaths, at least among those three nations.

The firearm-related death rates of all three nations pale in comparison to that of the United States: about 2.97 of every 100,000 people in the United States are killed by guns each year.  Instead of blaming lax parenting for the United States’ relatively high rate of gun-related violence, maybe there’s another explanation.  If you sort the list in terms of gun ownership, the United States is at the top of the list for which data is available: there are 88.8 guns for every 100 people in the United States.  Let me put that into perspective: there were only about 83 registered passenger vehicles per 100 people in the United States in 2009.

Now I’m not going to preach about gun control this time: you may make of these statistics whatever you like.  But know this: there’s no reason to think that stricter parents will lead to a decrease in gun violence.


Although the Bible never explicitly states that all Angels are male, it always refers to them in masculine terms, and they always seem to appear as men.  Some argue that Angels are genderless.  While I suppose it wouldn’t be beyond the power of an Angel to assume a feminine form, this picture is not, strictly speaking, Biblically-based.  That’s not a point against the picture, by the way.

Also, here we see another example of the awesome power of Facebook to bend the will of the Immortals.  Zuckerberg be praised!


Perhaps you remember learning the Order of Operations in elementary school.  You may have learned Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally, or PEMDAS, which tells you that when you evaluate a sequence of mathematical operations, you should first heed anything in parentheses, followed by exponents, multiplication and division (left to right), and addition and subtraction (left to right).  If you’re a PEMDAS purist, you get 7 as the answer:

6 – 1 x 0 + 2 / 2

6 – 0 + 1

6 + 1


Here’s the trouble: contrary to what you may have been taught, there is no single correct Order of Operations, as this video demonstrates.  In fact, the Order of Operations we’re taught in school is quite arbitrary.  This problem could be correctly evaluated to give several different answers, which means it is ambiguous and therefore useless.  Writing intentionally vague math problems and then demanding that your audience use one particular Order of Operations to get a prescribed answer does not show how smart or dumb your audience is; it shows how much of a pedant you are.

Two Different Bands

Ah, so the message is: Throw your money around and you’ve got a dance partner, but put a ring on it and you’ve got a slave!  Classy.

Now I know there are women who happily make their living as housewives, cooking and cleaning and so on, and that’s okay.  I’m just really uncomfortable with the idea that a marriage band mandates a woman to that kind of life.  I just can’t get rid of this idea that a marriage should be an equal partnership, with each partner able to pursue his or her ambitions.  The view of marriage expressed in this meme is…well, it’s kind of Medieval.

On Police Brutality

Police Victim Avoidance

I’m willing to bet that Justin “Master Chim” Garcia has never been on the receiving end of an unjust police beatdown. Fortunately, neither have I; still, I’m not rushing to lay the responsibility of a beating solely on the shoulders of the beaten.

I have no doubt that this meme was inspired by recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. In case you’ve been avoiding all news, the trouble started with an altercation between an unarmed 18-year-old named Michael Brown and Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Eyewitness and police reports vary regarding what happened next, but within minutes of the start of the fight, Brown was dead with six bullets in his body. The community was outraged, not only at the apparently unnecessary death of a teenager, but also because the subsequent police response may have been tinged by racism. The citizens of Ferguson took to the streets: some protested peacefully, while others erupted into riots and looting.

Since the events in Ferguson are still unfolding, including an investigation, I’m not going to say much more about it at this time (but don’t worry…I’m sure there will be plenty more Stupid Bad Memes about the Ferguson story as it develops). Instead, I would like to address this meme from a more general perspective; to wit: What should one do to protect oneself from police brutality?

Maybe we should start by forming a working definition of police brutality. Police brutality occurs when a police officer uses excessive force or intimidation in a situation that does not require it. I’m not saying police officers should never use force: if a man is running through a crowded shopping mall waving a chainsaw around in an obvious attempt to decapitate innocent shoppers, I want the police to take whatever actions are responsible, nay, necessary to neutralize the threat before more people get hurt. But if a little old lady is jaywalking and a police officer threatens to hit her with his nightstick if she doesn’t clear the intersection immediately, that’s unnecessary and excessive.

Now you might be saying that most of the recipients of police brutality are not little old ladies (although some are), but big strapping teenagers who are on the prowl for trouble. If they didn’t want to have a whole can of pepper spray directed right up their nose, they shouldn’t have been walking around, looking suspicious, right? If this is your mentality, please answer me this: how is this any different from saying “If a woman doesn’t want to get raped, she shouldn’t dress provocatively and consume alcohol”?

That’s what this meme is: victim-blaming. Let’s take a look at Master Chim’s list of brutality bait:

  1. Don’t be a Sh*tbag. This is actually not a crime. If it were, imagine how many corporate leaders would have received beatings from overzealous police officers by now. No, being a Sh*tbag is our right, and certainly not a justification for police violence.
  2. Don’t be WITH a Sh*tbag. Also not a crime, or Justin Bieber’s entourage would have been arrested long ago. (Yes, I took a shot at Justin Bieber…I feel so cheap.)
  3. Don’t run if Questioned This could actually be a problem. If you run from a police officer who has addressed you, it could be seen as suspicious behavior and give the cop probable cause to place you under arrest. Nevertheless, it does not give the officer carte blanche to lump you up. The officer should exercise the same restraint when arresting you as you should have exercised when he first spoke to you. A police officer should always be the “better person”, so to speak.
  4. Keep Your Hands OUT OF YOUR F*CKING POCKETS! Why? This is the silliest thing I’ve heard so far. I would love for somebody to explain to me how the act of putting your hands in your pockets entitles a police officer to throw you a smackdown.
  5. If “Under Arrest”…COMPLY! This is good advice in general – if you resist arrest, you may reasonably expect the arresting officer to use force to subdue you – but this still isn’t justification for him to shoot you dead, particularly if you’re not armed.
  6. Your Volume = Their Paranoia Paranoia is generally not considered to be a positive trait in a police officer. If a police officer is paranoid to the extent that he would harm somebody for loudly exercising his First Amendment rights, then perhaps the loudmouth isn’t the problem.
  7. Don’t “GO BIG” Then Act Like A Victim. I’m not sure what Master Chim means by “GO BIG”, but I assume it means to put on a big display of bravado for the arresting officer – talking trash, becoming verbally abusive, etc. As I said before, being a Sh*tbag is not illegal. Beating or shooting somebody for being a Sh*tbag is.

I don’t want to give the impression that I distrust all cops, because I don’t. I think most police officers just want to protect and serve their communities. I realize that being a police officer can be a stressful occupation, particularly in areas where crime is rampant. I respect and admire the men and women who show almost inhuman restraint when dealing with the worst society has to offer. It takes a special kind of person to wear the uniform. But I want to make this clear, I do not think we should be cutting any slack to the bad seeds who dishonor the civilized society they’ve sworn to protect. And as hateful as the public can be, we cannot afford to excuse any behavior by the police that tarnishes their reputation as the defenders of the public. When you suggest that the victims of police brutality were asking for it because of their (non-violent) behaviors or attitudes, you’re making it too easy to shift the focus away from the real problem that needs addressing. If the police are to be trusted, they must be held accountable when one of them unnecessarily robs a member of the public of health and life.


Modern Education

I’m a product of “modern education”, so I take this personally.

A couple of years ago, North Carolina passed Amendment 1, which makes it unconstitutional to recognize or perform same-sex marriages or civil unions. After the vote I was upset, and I engaged (unwisely, perhaps) in a number of debates on Facebook that ultimately led to my unfriending or being unfriended by several people. In one of these debates, a now-former friend told me that I was a prime example of why people shouldn’t go to college: I was just parroting what the liberal propaganda machine told me to say. This was not my first brush with anti-intellectualism, but it’s the one that remains strongest in my memory. Whenever I read a meme like this, I think back to that heated discussion and wonder how everything went so wrong.

Anti-intellectualism is a distrust of anything academic. Vocal anti-intellectualists present themselves as champions of the common man and as defenders against the nefarious forces of political elitism. In the mind of an anti-intellectualist, a college graduate is a glorified button-pusher and yes-man who has been allowed to think of himself as elite in return for his unquestioning compliance. The irony of this stance is that, for me at least, college is where I really learned to apply critical thinking and began to question the long-held assumptions that had until then governed my life. My worldview changed dramatically in college, thanks in part to professors who would not let me be complacent in my thinking.

Of course I realize that everybody’s academic experience and outcome is different, but that’s exactly what makes a meme like this irrelevant. People who complete their formal education are not merely drones in the industrial-political hive. If anything, education has the potential to enhance your individualism.

I want to be clear: I’m not besmirching anybody who didn’t go to college. A college diploma is not the only gateway to an inspired, fulfilling life. If you opted out of jumping through academic hoops and found peace and happiness through other avenues, I’m quite glad for you. I feel that we can be happy for each other, because we’re both important to our fellow humans. All I ask is that you not assume the worst about those who pursued an academic goal.

This Is Rape Culture

This is rape culture

If somebody ever tells you they don’t know what rape culture is, point them to this meme. This meme is the archetype of rape culture; it represents everything that is wrong with how our society responds to sexual violence. Shame on the person who made this meme, and shame on anybody who passes it along.

But perhaps you’re still confused about what this hideous aspect of human society is all about. Maybe I can explain using an imaginary Q&A session.

Q1: What is rape culture?

A1: In the words of Shannon Ridgway, writing in Everyday Feminism, rape culture is any situation in which sexual violence is “ignored, trivialized, normalized, or made into jokes”. If you ignore a person who has been the victim of sexual violence; if you tell a woman that she was “asking for it” because she dressed immodestly; if you make jokes at the expense of a rape victim, you are participating in and perpetuating rape culture. You are sending the message that maybe rape isn’t such a big deal, and rape victims should really stop whining and take responsibility for their own lives.

Q2: Isn’t rape culture just a term made up by feminists to shame men for wanting to have sex?

A2: The concept of rape culture was invented by feminists, but not for the purpose of shaming men. The intent of the phrase is to draw attention to our attitudes regarding sexual violence.

Q3: If America (or any other nation) is a rape culture, why are there laws against rape?

A3: Rape culture does not mean that rape is legal, or openly encouraged. The problem in a rape culture is that rape isn’t discouraged strongly enough. Sure, we have laws against rape, but how are they being enforced by the justice system? What about the judge in Texas who gave a confessed rapist 45 days in jail on the grounds that the victim was sexually promiscuous and the attacker did not fit the profile of a sex offender? Or maybe you heard about the London detective who landed in hot water after shelving dozens of rape investigations, effectively letting the rapists go without a trial. Then there was the judge in Montana who sentenced an offender to just a month in jail, saying that his 14-year-old victim “seemed older than her chronological age”.

Many will remember the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case that began in July 2003 when the Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard allegedly raped a 19-year-old hotel employee in Edwards, Colorado. The criminal case was eventually dismissed because the accuser refused to testify, perhaps because of the barrage of hate mail and death threats she received from people who were convinced she was out to wreck Bryant’s career.

Rape culture is all about making excuses for rapists, and holding the victims accountable for the crimes that befell them.

Q4: But some convicted rapists spend years in prison. In fact, a 1995 study by the US Department of Justice showed that convicted rapists served 56% of their sentences, a higher percentage than murderers, kidnappers, and other villains. Doesn’t that mean that rape culture is a myth, and the few rapists that seemingly get away with it are the exception rather than the rule?

A4: Not quite. Rape sentencing is part of rape culture, but there’s more to it. Rape culture extends beyond the justice system. Remember Representative Todd Akin, whose attempts to distinguish “legitimate rape” led to a social media firestorm? Akin was a proponent of rape culture, because he implied that some rape was more “legitimate” than others. He failed to understand the severity of rape.

On a more local level, rape culture causes women to feel less safe than men when walking alone at night. If we could learn not to excuse, ignore, or joke about rape, perhaps the people who perpetrate these terrible crimes would be less inclined to do so, and that fearful gap would narrow.

Q5: But doesn’t the idea of rape culture treat all men like potential rapists? And don’t men get raped too?

A5: Men do get raped too, which is why rape culture is a problem for everyone, not just women. Men and women should strive to end rape culture by not participating in it.

The concept of rape culture does not assume that all men are rapists; it only acknowledges that some people are rapists, and that their actions are not being properly addressed by society. To end rape culture, we must change the way we view these rapists. We should change the system that implicitly tells them that rape is okay.

Q6: What can I do to end rape culture?

A6: Lots.

  • Stop giving money to “artists” who glorify rape culture in their “music
  • Stand up in protest when an admitted rapist escapes justice with a token sentence.
  • Do not ever suggest that a rape victim “was asking for it” or “deserved it” because of their attire, their decision to drink, or the party they chose to attend.
  • Do not encourage rape jokes and do not pass them along.
  • Acknowledge that men have as much responsibility for preventing rape as women do.
  • Do not make excuses for rapists, even if they happen to be celebrities.
  • If somebody tells you he or she was raped, take that person seriously. Do not assume that the person is lying or mistaken.
  • Be aware that any form of sexual contact that happens without both parties’ consent is rape. That includes having sex with a person who is unconscious or otherwise incapacitated. Tell your friends that absence of refusal is not the same as consent.
  • Do not presume that most people who report a rape are lying, and finally…
  • Do not make or share memes like this one.

I’m probably missing a few things, but that’s a good start. It’ll take all of us working together to bring rape culture to an end. Don’t be the douchebag who holds back progress.

Analogy Failure

Gay Marriage and Guns

If you took the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT, in high school, you may remember the analogy questions in the verbal section. An analogy question offers a pair of terms that share some logical relationship, then asks you to identify another pair of terms that share the same relationship. Here’s an example from the Kaplan Test Prep website:


(A) law:anarchy
(B) hunger:thirst
(C) etiquette:discipline
(D) love:treason
(E) stimulant:sensitivity

Medicine is used to prevent illness, in the same way that law is meant to prevent anarchy; hence, answer (A) is the best choice. None of the other choices have the same function/purpose relationship. In any analogy there must be a solid logical connection on both sides. If the logic that binds the analogy is faulty, then the analogy doesn’t work. And if the analogy doesn’t work, you probably shouldn’t use it in a Facebook conversation and then turn it into a meme.

That’s the problem with this meme; the logical connection between Red’s statement and Blue’s statement is weak. Red repeats the gun control mantra: they are not in favor of banning all guns – just the military-grade assault weapons that can kill the most people in the shortest time. Blue responds by arguing that Republicans (which Blue claims not to be) don’t want to ban all marriages, just the ones that ick them out the most. I’m sure Blue is patting himself on the back for his clever argument, but before he feels too proud of himself, Blue should consider that there is a big difference between wanting to prevent the average citizen from purchasing his eighteenth machine gun, and wanting to prevent Adam and Steve from cementing a commitment forged in love.

Now I shouldn’t have to explain the difference, but just in case Blue (or somebody with a similar mindset) wanders across this blog some day – I’ll indulge you. Gay marriage doesn’t kill people. It doesn’t allow one person to kill dozens of people in a matter of seconds. Need proof? Since 2008, 19 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized gay marriage, either by court decision, state legislature, or popular vote. Since 2008, the homicide rate in the United States has declined from 5.4 per 100,000 people to only 4.7. See? Legal gay marriage doesn’t cause murders – it prevents them! (I know: there’s no causal connection between legal gay marriages and decreasing murder rates. It was a joke.)

So when Republicans cast their votes against gay marriage, they’re not really championing a cause that protects the health and safety of United States citizens; they’re just trying to solidify their own biases into law. That’s why the arguments of a gun control proponent do not sound like the arguments of an anti-gay-marriage Republican. Once you scratch the surface, there are vastly different motivations and likely consequences.

It tickles me, though, that Blue – an avowed non-Republican – is improperly using Republican arguments as a weapon to discredit the argument of a gun control proponent. Are Republicans the new Hitler in Internet-based “debates”? There’s an intriguing thought.



What single-celled organism are you? How Klingon are you? Why should anybody else care? If you have a Facebook account and friends, there are no less than one trillion quiz websites dedicated to helping you discover (and more importantly, share) the answers to these questions (except for the last one). I’m sure you’ve seen the results of these quizzes pasted on your social media friends’ walls: I am Jules Garfunkel! (in response to the question “Which Lesser-Known Sibling of a 1960’s Folk Icon Are You?”) or I am Hageman! (“Which Blood Clotting Factor Are You?”). Recently, there have been a spate of quizzes which assign you some percentage instead of giving you a yes/no, either/or answer. For example, you might learn that you are 71% antidisestablishmentarianist, or maybe 38% lactose intolerant.

Now in my opinion, these quizzes are generally a harmless – and pointless – diversion. The image above, though, was spawned by a quiz – “How Open-Minded Are You?” – that is a little more interesting than its kin. There are few concepts so widely misunderstood and abused in logical arguments as open-mindedness. Whenever somebody is trying to sell you a load of baloney, and you’re not biting, they’ll encourage you to be more open-minded. In common parlance, the entreaty to “be more open-minded” is essentially the same as asking somebody to accept your arguments without critical thought of any kind.

Before we turn our microscope on the quiz itself, I invite you to spend a few minutes familiarizing yourself with what it really means to be open-minded, care of YouTube user QualiaSoup:

QualiaSoup’s discussion is largely limited to claims of the supernatural, but I think his definition of open-mindedness is applicable in all situations: open-mindedness is the willingness to consider new ideas, but not necessarily to embrace them without critical thought or supporting evidence.

The quiz asks ten questions to determine how open-minded you are, but do the questions really evaluate open-mindedness. Let’s take a look at each one and find out.

Question 1

Your friend asks if they can choose an outfit for you to wear, one that is radically different from your own style. You…

  1. laugh in their face. No way.
  2. grudgingly let them pick an outfit, but refuse to wear it in public.
  3. reluctantly try the look out in public.
  4. LOVE this plan! So much fun!

I viewed the source code for this page and determined that the quiz thinks choice 4 is the best answer. I disagree. Completely submitting yourself to the opinions of others may count as open-minded to some, but it is also uncritical and potentially dangerous? Is there any harm in letting your friend pick an outfit for you? Other than potentially looking foolish and being uncomfortable, no. But what if you uncritically accept your friend’s advice on romantic partners, business ventures, and health care? That goes well beyond open-mindedness and into the realm of uncritical thinking.

I know, I know…just because you let your friend pick out an outfit, that doesn’t mean you’re going to let her choose your spouse. I just don’t think this question (and the provided answer choices) are really indicative of open-mindedness. But there’s more to come, so let’s press on.

Question 2

You discover that your favorite author is an out-spoken misogynist. You…

  1. never read his books again.
  2. feel a little upset, but continue to read his books because you enjoy them.
  3. like him even more…because you’re a misogynist too!

The preferred answer is choice 2. Again, I’m not sure that’s an open-minded decision. It’s a personal decision – a decision that might be right for one person but not for everybody. I feel that choice 1 should carry equal weight in this question.

Question 3

You strike up a conversation at the park with an old man who seems a little senile. You quickly realize that he’s got some surprisingly racist beliefs. You…

  1. chew the old man out for being close-minded.
  2. get up and walk away.
  3. understand that there could have been many factors that led to him thinking this way, and gently try to open his mind.
  4. discover that you two have a lot in common!

It’s not too hard to guess that the quiz’s best answer is choice 3. I appreciate that the quiz awards open-minded points for understanding, and I think it is an admirable goal to try to reform an old racist. I can’t speak highly of the prospects for success, but hey, at least you tried, right?

Question 4

What do you think about books/movies/TV shows that feature an uncertain ending, where the audience/reader is left to imagine what happens next?

  1. I think it’s great sometimes.
  2. I think it’s lazy writing: No thanks.

I feel like there should be more answer choices. What about the people who respect other peoples’ enjoyment of open-ended entertainment, but feel a personal need for closure? And what does this have to do with open-mindedness anyway? The quiz awards points for choice 1; but isn’t that close-minded in that it shuts the door to other opinions without critical evaluation? Talk about lazy writing!

Question 5

Would you be willing to try a strange new dish in a foreign country? For example, if you were offered pig brain fritters in Cuba, or cold donkey meat in Beijing, would you try it? (For vegetarians, imagine being offered an unusual fruit that smells rotten.)

  1. Sure, I’ll try anything.
  2. I might try *some* weird foods, but not all.
  3. No weird food for me, weirdo.

First: Beijing is a city, not a country.

The “best” answer, according to the quiz, is choice 1. I disagree. Being willing to try anything is not open-minded; it’s foolhardy. Being open-minded in the culinary sense requires you to occasionally push your boundaries, but it does not require you to eat any abomination that’s placed in front of you. You have to think critically about what your palate can withstand. If somebody offers you a plate of strange gray meat surrounded by purple, oddly-shaped vegetables, look around. Is anybody else eating the same thing? Do they seem to be enjoying it? Do you know enough about the ingredients to ensure that you’re not allergic to any of them? Do you have plans for later, just in case your culinary adventure lands you on the porcelain throne for the rest of the evening? These are things you have to think about. Opening your mouth is not the same as opening your mind.

Question 6

Do you believe your nation could learn something from other parts of the world?

  1. Sure, there is always room for improvement.
  2. I doubt that very seriously.

The best answer, of course, is choice 1. I get what they’re doing here. Conservatives might argue that this question rewards liberal attitudes. Strangely enough, I agree, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Moving along.

Question 7

Have you ever had a real conversation with a homeless person?

  1. Yes
  2. No

According to the source code, you’re more open-minded if you’ve taken the time to converse with a homeless person. I’m not sure I understand the logic. What if you’ve never actually seen a homeless person in real life? That’s conceivable, especially for people living in sparsely-populated rural areas. Are they automatically less open-minded because of their living situation? I feel uncomfortable making that conclusion.

Question 8

Do you sometimes find yourself changing your mind about important social and political issues as you learn more about them?

  1. Sure
  2. Sometimes
  3. Never

The question contains the word sometimes, which means that choice 2 should be a lock; however, the quiz awards less credit for choice 2 than it does for choice 1. I think that’s both confusing and backwards: for true open-mindedness balanced by healthy skepticism, the answer should always be sometimes.

I know: since the question says sometimes, if you say “Sure”, you’re also saying sometimes. But it’s ambiguous and should be rewritten.

Question 9

True or False: In life, there is almost always a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things, and it’s easy to see the difference between the two.

  1. True
  2. False

The quiz awards points for answering “False”, and I agree with that assessment. I understand the relevance: open-mindedness requires you to contemplate various ideas, and it can be difficult to determine which idea is most valid, especially when both sides present convincing evidence. And the question contains the words almost always, which denotes a true understanding of the vagueness of real life. So I’m going to let this question slide. For now.

Question 10

Finish this sentence: “It’s been done this way for 500 years, and…”

  1. it will always be done this way.
  2. probably for a good reason.
  3. it’s probably about time for a change.
  4. I’m sure we could come up with a better way to do it.

The quiz’s best answer is choice 4. I’m ambivalent about this one. I think choice 4 would be a better answer if it said “we should evaluate whether the method we have is actually the best way of doing it, then draft a better solution if necessary.” Still, I give the author points for understanding that the old ways are not always the best ways.

Does this quiz really evaluate your open-mindedness? Well, it determines if you meet the author’s definition of open-mindedness, which, in my opinion, could use some tweaking. I’d like to re-emphasizing what I believe is the best description of open-minded thinking: open-mindedness means you are willing to consider new ideas, but not bound to accept them. As always, critical thinking and skepticism should be your tools for making important decisions.

If you answer all the questions “correctly”, your result tells you that you are 100% open-minded, and gives you this advice:

Your mind is like 7-11: Open all the time, baby. There is almost no idea too crazy for you to consider. But be careful of people who might exploit your worldview: Earth is a dangerous place for people willing to try anything!

Truer words…

Who’s The Denier?

autism deniers

One of the greatest theoretical gifts of the Internet, in my opinion, is that it grants nearly unfettered access to all sorts of scientific data. Unfortunately, many of the people who access and attempt to use scientific data have no formal scientific training. Trying to analyze data when you’re not trained to do so is akin to performing open-heart surgery without the benefit of a medical school education. It leads to gross mistakes, which leads to wrong ideas, which leads to memes like this one.

But before I dismiss this meme as so much poppycock, let me give it a fair shake. I did a bit of digging on the three supposedly inept officials pictured in this meme, and on the alleged surge in autism cases over the past few decades. Dr Thomas Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) acknowledges that diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have increased dramatically in the last few decades. He notes that doctors have expanded the definition of ASD to include many children who might previously have been diagnosed with a different condition; also, ASD testing has become more sensitive, allowing for the diagnoses of mild autism cases that could have escaped detection in previous years. But Dr Insel does not stop there; he also points to an alarming increase in other childhood ailments, including asthma, Type I diabetes, and food allergies. If environmental factors are contributing to an uptick in those other conditions, perhaps there is some external factor causing a greater incidence of ASD in children. Dr Insel believes that the cause behind the uptick in autism diagnoses is probably a combination: there are more children being affected, and more being detected. Those hardly sound like the words of an autism denier.

Dr Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsop and Dr Coleen Boyle gave a press briefing in March to talk about the growing ASD epidemic. They both say that ASD diagnoses are increasing, and stress that further research is needed to explain why. They mention the improvement in diagnostic practices but say little about the possibility that environmental factors are leading to an increased incidence rate of ASD. Dr Yeargin-Allsop and Dr Boyle are not deniers; they are cautious scientists who do not wish to hang their reputations on unsupported speculation.

If only everyone else felt the same way…

So we can dispense with the notion that these doctors are autism deniers, or that they are culpable for the apparent increase in ASD during their tenures. Why would anyone suggest otherwise?

In my research I came across a letter drafted by several “concerned organizations” that expressed the same sentiments contained in this meme. They charge that the CDC and NIMH are refusing to investigate environmental causes behind the ASD epidemic (which is patently untrue, as per Dr Insel’s article) and demand that President Obama remove these people from their posts. They claim that it is impossible for a genetic autism epidemic to arise in a single generation and that there is no “autism gene”; ironically, the three doctors they lambast would probably agree with them. Most health experts believe that autism is the result of genetic and environmental factors; in other words, there is no single cause (or gene) that makes a person autistic.

The entire scientific community is still struggling to understand the causes and nature of ASD, yet the creators of this missive (and this meme) have painted themselves as experts. How wonderful it must be to possess certainty when the best and brightest minds – the people who have spent a lifetime training to interpret scientific data – are still scratching their heads.

One thing the letter and meme do not do is provide an actual culprit for the alleged ASD epidemic. If ASD isn’t genetic (as the “concerned organizations” assert), then what environmental factor could be causing it? Thankfully, some of the “concerned organizations” are listed at the end of the letter with links to what are sure to be fact-filled websites. Click on a few of them and it becomes clear that one word is on all of their minds:


From Age of Autism (emphasis mine):

We are published to give voice to those who believe autism is an environmentally induced illness, that it is treatable, and that children can recover. For the most part, the major media in the United States aren’t interested in that point of view, they won’t investigate the causes and possible biomedical treatments of autism independently, and they don’t listen to the most important people – the parents, many of whom have witnessed autistic regression and medical illness after vaccinations. We do all those things, and more.

From Autism Action Network:

Autism Action Network is a national, non-partisan, grassroots, political action organization formed by parents in support of children and adults with autism, vaccne (sic) injuries, and neurodevelopmental and communication disorders.

From Canary Party:

The proper definition of safety involves a clear vision of the larger goal of regulatory work, which is securing positive health outcomes for children and families. This vision of safety requires a commitment to a total health perspective, including chronic as well as infectious disease, developmental disability as well as episodic illness, and quality of life as well as the absence of disease. It embraces a philosophy that sets a goal of zero vaccine and other medical adverse events, where these events are treated respectfully, indeed, as a resource for prevention of future adverse reactions. Achieving this goal requires a strong and global commitment to safety science, especially the study of health outcomes in vaccinated and unvaccinated populations.

From the Elizabeth Birth Center for Autism Law & Advocacy (EBCALA):

The autism community faces severe legal hurdles in many areas, including special education, insurance, healthcare, family law, criminal law and tort law, particularly related to vaccine injury. Since 2009, EBCALA has organized an annual conference each May in Chicago, Illinois during the Autism One conference to address the unique legal needs of the autism community.

From Generation Rescue:

Generation Rescue firmly believes that all parents have the power of choice – to vaccinate or not – and should be armed with the right questions to make an informed decision. We encourage all new parents to educate themselves about vaccinations so they can stand with confidence behind their decisions. Parents need to discuss vaccination options directly with their child’s pediatrician.

From Thinking Moms Revolution (in response to a question about doctors who refused to treat a mother’s unvaccinated child):

While I cannot give you advice on finding an MD who shares your (valid) concerns about immunization, I can tell you what I did for my sister when she lived in North Carolina. I asked around at all the local health food stores, yoga studios, and complementary health clinics for names of all-round well-recommended health professionals, and created a short-list for her with the names which had come up 3x or more.
From that list, there was an osteopathic doctor, a naturopathic doctor, and a traditional chinese medicine doctor, only one of which was covered by her insurance. She sees that osteopath every time she goes back, even though she’s moved overseas.

All of the “concerned organizations” who signed the letter that inspired this meme express a strong concern about vaccines (with the exception of the Holland Center, whose website doesn’t mention vaccines at all as far as I can tell). Let’s be clear, if you run an autism awareness website, there is no scientifically valid reason to mention vaccines at all, unless it is to debunk this dangerous misconception. Science-Based Medicine has a lot to say about the safety of vaccines, and many other scientific institutions, many of them operating independently, have offered their assurance that vaccines are not connected to autism at all. If there is an environmental factor contributing to a rise in the number of children affected by ASD, it isn’t vaccination.

So what about this meme? Well, it doesn’t specifically mention vaccines, but it is spawned by a mindset that clearly believes there is a link between vaccines and autism. Therefore I will go with my original impression: this meme is hogwash, and not to be taken seriously.