Fact checking the fact-checkers

PinocchioFor the most part I’m glad that high-profile fact-checking has become a thing, and most of the time I think places like Snopes and the Washington Post fact checker do a good job.

But there are times when I think they go a bit off the rails.

Not surprisingly, many of the fact-checks that bother me are ones that criticize politicians who I’m sympathetic with, so I need to consider the possibility that my biases are coming into play. But at the end of the day, I usually have reasons for my complaints. So let’s look at some.

Today Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post fact checker, gave Adam Schiff “Four Pinocchios” for saying, “We have not spoken directly with the whistleblower”
Continue reading

Articles of Impeachment

Impeach PeachGiven the current debate about whether the House should go for one quick big reason for booting Trump (Ukraine) or generate a long list of articles of impeachment, I thought it might be useful to put together a working list of impeachable offences that I recall Trump committing.

I’m sure I’ll add to it and have more to say on them (and other wrongdoings) at a later date.   Continue reading

Road Trip!

Having just come back from a 1300 mile road trip, I think I can speak authoritatively here: this is the best road trip song ever.

On Bee’s Free Will


Sabine Hossenfelder, over at her Backreaction blog, is arguing for hard determinism — that is, for the claim that we don’t have free will.

She’s making the mistake that many (but not all) scientists make when they confront this question: she’s assuming that the libertarian analysis of freedom is correct, she’s not recognizing the compatibilist’s account of free will, and she’s slipping into conflating determinism and fatalism.

To quickly recap, libertarians believe that we can be free only if our decisions are not fixed by pre-existing physical laws and facts (or any pre-existing laws and facts, for that matter). If we make a free choice, they say, then it is impossible that anyone — even a Laplacean Demon — would be able to predict the action I choose. Determinism is not compatible with freedom.

Compatibilists (also known as soft determinists) argue that it doesn’t matter if our actions are the result of physical laws and pre-existing facts. The only think that matters is whether we acted because we wanted to act in that way. As long as we weren’t coerced, as long as nothing forced us to do something against our will then we acted freely. Free will is compatible with determinism.

I’ve made the case for compatibilism before, so I won’t rehash it all here. But I do want to step through and highlight the specific point where Bee (I hope Dr. Hossenfelder won’t be offended if I use her nickname in the informal context of blogging, even though we aren’t acquaintances) goes astray. Continue reading

Supermassive Black Holes Aren’t Dense


So, the big news of the day is that we have a picture of a black hole event horizon for the first time.  If you haven’t already heard, you should realize that the M87 black hole is really really big.  XKCD provides a nice comparison.  (Though you should also know that the shadow you see is about two and half times bigger than the event horizon itself, so between the orbit of Pluto and Voyager 1.)

You might think that such a massive black hole would be extremely dense.  But you’d be wrong.

Of course, the notion of the “size” of a black hole can be a bit tricky. Continue reading

Barr’s Summary of the Trump Report

Trump emails.jpgSo, Mueller has submitted his report, and a lot of people are saying a lot of false things about it. So let me set them straight.

Trump is claiming that the report completely exonerates him. This despite the fact that the report explicitly says that it does not exonerate him of obstruction of justice (and the fact that he has been claiming from the beginning that Mueller is on a partisan witch hunt). And a lot of people in the media have been accepting this narrative as well, saying that the report is “good news” for Trump, that it “clears him of collusion,” and so on.

First, on the collusion/conspiracy/coordination aspect: Continue reading

Some thoughts on Mueller

MuellerAs Republicans continue their fever-swamp deep-state conspiracy stories about Robert Mueller’s investigation, I see more and more Democrats and lefties looking to Mueller as the white knight who is going to ride in and lock up Trump and his family, freeing the country from all his corruption.

My thoughts on that:

1. I never heard of Mueller before he was appointed as special council, so I’m very hesitant to make many predictions about what he will or won’t do. I think a lot of people are reading a whole lot into the man while knowing very little about him.

2. When he was appointed it seemed that there was bipartisan agreement that he is a competent, professional, by-the-book sort of guy, who can be trusted to approach the job objectively and honestly.

3. The Trump-Nunes-Wingnut attack on Mueller and his team is 100% pure Continue reading