Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Daily Mail shouldn't accuse Discovery of censoring global warming

I am a huge fan of nature documentaries. So it was with great excitement that I discovered the discovery channel would be playing a BBC series called frozen planet in 2012. BBC produced some of my favorite nature series such as Planet Earth and Blue Planet. These series have exactly the elements I like in a nature documentary emphasizing the excitement of learning about our world and the beauty of science. Probably my favorite thing about these shows is that they don't fall prey to the modern documentary techniques of using exciting music and overly dramatic narrators.

Thus, it was with some dismay that I learned the Discovery Channel would not be airing the final episode of Frozen Planet that deals with Global Warming. I learned of this from an Article in the daily mail (a British Newspaper) that seemed to imply that Discovery was censoring the episode due to global warming being controversial in the United States. At first I was outraged that the discovery channel would do this, but by the time I finished reading the article I was more angry with the daily mail for irresponsible reporting. That is, until I realized that the daily mail was giving a perfect topic for discussing misleading arguments.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Freedom of speech is a right granted by the constitution of the United States to its citizens.  The exact right granted by the constitution is that "congress shall make no law.. abridging the freedom of speech . . . ."1  What rights this actually grants is of course ambiguous.  Perhaps it means congress must allow people to say whatever they want whenever they want.  Or perhaps the freedom of speech referred to only grants rights to certain types of speech.   The Supreme Court of the United States has found that this freedom to speech is not unbounded and in fact congress can limit speech and thus it is acceptable to limit some forms of speech such as libel, fighting words, and false advertising.

However, a more interesting question is whether freedom of speech is a good thing.  Perhaps one of the primary reasons for allowing freedom of speech is to prevent an oppressive government from hiding opposing or inconvenient viewpoints.  However, unlimited freedom of speech allows the less than virtuous to use misleading or outright incorrect arguments to take advantage of those who fail to detect the faulty argument.  It may be difficult to tell which arguments are invalid and thus allowing the government to decide and regulate speech could lead to an oppressive government.

This leads to a dilemma:  should our government have a duty to protect its citizens from misleading arguments or should we allow good ideas to compete with bad as advocated by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who argued that "the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market . . . 2 

This idea of a capitalistic marketplace of ideas where good ideas succeed and bad ideas fail may seem like a strong system for reaching truth.  However, many large problems exist in such a system such as: not all ideas have equal ability to reach large groups of people; once learned it is hard to correct misinformation; and many people have not learned the necessary tools to sufficiently analyze arguments.

This blog will primarily concern the final problem above, the fact that many people do not have the tools to analyze arguments and determine which ones are correct and which ones are faulty.  Right or wrong the right to freedom of speech currently allows people to use arguments that are illogical or misleading so long as the content within is factually correct.  To combat this we need an educated population that can see through poor arguments and reach the truth because, sadly, we live in a world where such misleading language is a commonplace occurrence.  You cannot turn on your T.V. or walk through the grocery store without being presented with endless examples of misleading arguments and misuses of logic.  The only way to change this is for us all to learn to spot these bad arguments.  Once they become obvious to the population at large those producing such arguments will be forced to stop or be subject to the scorn and ridicule they deserve.

I would like to point out that I have merely asserted that such misleading and poor arguments exist without citing any examples as evidence.  Thus, this post could be rightly criticized as making an unsupported argument.  This lack of examples was intentional because each post on this blog will be dedicated to providing real world examples of poor arguments and explaining exactly why these arguments don't make sense.

1 U.S. Constitution amend. I
2 Abrams v. U.S., 250 U.S. 616 (1919)