Applied Skepticism: Example 1 – The Death Penalty

In my youth, from as far back as I was twelve years old, I was a supporter of the death penalty.  I supported it for murder and rape, and I didn’t believe that there should be so many chances for appeal.  I held this view well into my late twenties, and when asked why I supported the death penalty, I simply replied “Ted Bundy”.

Ted Bundy was one of the most infamous serial killers of the last thirty years.  His combination of wit, charm, and intelligence made him an almost celebrity serial killer with groupies.  He was also a clear example of a psychopath.  There was no redeeming him, so I figured killing him was the best solution.

My change of heart came down over the following issues:

  1. Accuracy of guilty verdicts
  2. Cost to society in terms of dollars
  3. Deterrent power of the death penalty
  4. Fairness in application

Let me address these point by point

  1. With the Innocence Project, the advances in DNA testing, and many studies on the fallibility of human memory, there are far more false positives than we ever knew.  Back in the 1980’s when I formed my original opinions, DNA testing was science fiction and a person’s word was considered reliable. 
  2. The costs of trials is now more than the cost of keeping a prisoner alive.  With possible labor tacked onto that, it doesn’t make economic sense to kill people.
  3. There have been no studies that I’m aware of that show the death penalty deters crime.  
  4. The more and more you read, the more you see how unbalanced the application of the death penalty is across different economic classes, races, and genders.  This information was not as readily available when I formed my original opinions in comparison how quickly you can find it on the internet.

These four points once taken away leave me with no argument to support the death penalty.  At this point it’s a judgement call, but with all the new information I had, my judgement changed.  I changed from a pro-death penalty citizen to an anti-death penalty citizen.   

Skepticism and critical thinking played a part in how I evaluated the evidence.  Skepticism couldn’t tell me the death penalty was the wrong thing, but it could eliminate all my arguments for the death penalty.  This is one example of applied skepticism that falls outside the wrongly stereotypical view of skeptics that it’s all about aliens and Sasquatch.  In this case, skepticism gave me the tools to change my mind on a very important social justice issue.

Applied Skepticism: Example 1 – The Death Penalty

In my youth, from as far back as I was twelve years old, I was a supporter of the death penalty.  I supported it for murder and rape, and I didn’t believe that there should be so many chances for appeal.  I held this view well into my late twenties, and when asked why I supported the death penalty, I simply replied “Ted Bundy”.

Ted Bundy was one of the most infamous serial killers of the last thirty years.  His combination of wit, charm, and intelligence made him an almost celebrity serial killer with groupies.  He was also a clear example of a psychopath.  There was no redeeming him, so I figured killing him was the best solution.

My change of heart came down over the following issues:

  1. Accuracy of guilty verdicts
  2. Cost to society in terms of dollars
  3. Deterrent power of the death penalty
  4. Fairness in application

Let me address these point by point

  1. With the Innocence Project, the advances in DNA testing, and many studies on the fallibility of human memory, there are far more false positives than we ever knew.  Back in the 1980’s when I formed my original opinions, DNA testing was science fiction and a person’s word was considered reliable. 
  2. The costs of trials is now more than the cost of keeping a prisoner alive.  With possible labor tacked onto that, it doesn’t make economic sense to kill people.
  3. There have been no studies that I’m aware of that show the death penalty deters crime.  
  4. The more and more you read, the more you see how unbalanced the application of the death penalty is across different economic classes, races, and genders.  This information was not as readily available when I formed my original opinions in comparison how quickly you can find it on the internet.

These four points once taken away leave me with no argument to support the death penalty.  At this point it’s a judgement call, but with all the new information I had, my judgement changed.  I changed from a pro-death penalty citizen to an anti-death penalty citizen.   

Skepticism and critical thinking played a part in how I evaluated the evidence.  Skepticism couldn’t tell me the death penalty was the wrong thing, but it could eliminate all my arguments for the death penalty.  This is one example of applied skepticism that falls outside the wrongly stereotypical view of skeptics that it’s all about aliens and Sasquatch.  In this case, skepticism gave me the tools to change my mind on a very important social justice issue.

Woo for animals?

It’s been a rougher than usual last few days.  In the last week I’ve had to have a bunch of plumbing fixed, I learned I have roots growing in part of the sewer pipe that requires part of our concrete floor to be jack hammered, the 1 year anniversary of Ozzy passing happened, and on Saturday night Jayne was bit by a woodchuck.

Our oldest dog is Ralphie, a nearly fifteen year old dachshund my wife and I have had for eleven years.  He was the first dog for both of us and he’s lived in the three homes we’ve had over the last twelve years.  Of course, at his age stuff starts breaking down.

About a year and a half ago, he had an eye removed due to a growth inside that was destroying the eye from the inside out.  We didn’t know if it was a cancerous tumor or not until the eye was removed, and even then it was another week of tests.  Thankfully, it was the most benign case of tumor, not a cancer.  Ralphie recovered from his eye surgery better than Kelly and I did, I think.

His other eye, though, has been slowly deteriorating since then due to age related issues with his retina and the gelatinous material inside the eye. Yesterday, I looked into  Ralphie’s eye and it looked real cloudy to me and I thought maybe he had a bad cataract.  I called the vet right away and set an appointment for today.

Turns out there wasn’t much of a cataract but his vision continues to get worse.  If he lives another year or so, he will most likely be blind.  There is nothing we can do, and medical science for dogs (and probably humans) isn’t advanced enough to fix him up.

The vet did suggest we try a new treatment based on supplements.  He gives it to his own dogs, and some dogs apparently respond well.  The vet told me he holds the three creators of the supplement in high regard and thinks the science is sound.  I could tell a little from his voice this was a long shot, but he thought it was worth a shot even if it helps for only a little bit.

The thing is,  this supplement looks like all sorts of woo to me.  All sorts of red flags go up.  Ralphie, because of his build and breed, has been on Glucosamine and Chondroitin since he was probably seven years old.  Now in humans, G&C has been shown to have no effect, and inconclusive for dogs from what I can tell, but over the years I’ve had like five vets swear it works for dogs.  Has it?

I can’t know for sure, and Ralphie’s story is just that, a story.  He’s not had back problems and doesn’t have any arthritis.  He may have a couple tweaked discs but they never bother him and might be nothing.  Remember, he’s like an 85 year old man essentially.  Have we succumbed to woo?

This latest supplement has me thinking this is more woo, but then again, dogs have totally different body chemistry than dogs.  It might vary well work.  It’s not super expensive, it’s around 90.00 for a 3 month supply.  For 90.00 there isn’t much I wouldn’t try if a whole bunch of vets tell me to.  And Ralphie has zero chance of regaining any vision if we do nothing.  What to do when your skeptic senses are tingling, but the experts are telling you to do it?

I have to admit, that despite the red flags, I’m going to take the vet’s advice on this, and give Ralphie a shot with the supplement.  If there is anything we can do to help him enjoy life a little more we’ll do.  There are no crystals or homeopathic treatments coming his way, he won’t be getting an adjustment from a canine chiropractor. 

No, he’s gonna get a supplement for a few months, lots of hugs, lots of treats, and as much belly scratching as he can stand.  We’ll carry him to the couch when he can’t jump up on to it, we’ll carry him to the ground to keep him from jumping down, and we’ll make sure he gets to go on walks and dig holes.  

Woo for animals?

It’s been a rougher than usual last few days.  In the last week I’ve had to have a bunch of plumbing fixed, I learned I have roots growing in part of the sewer pipe that requires part of our concrete floor to be jack hammered, the 1 year anniversary of Ozzy passing happened, and on Saturday night Jayne was bit by a woodchuck.

Our oldest dog is Ralphie, a nearly fifteen year old dachshund my wife and I have had for eleven years.  He was the first dog for both of us and he’s lived in the three homes we’ve had over the last twelve years.  Of course, at his age stuff starts breaking down.

About a year and a half ago, he had an eye removed due to a growth inside that was destroying the eye from the inside out.  We didn’t know if it was a cancerous tumor or not until the eye was removed, and even then it was another week of tests.  Thankfully, it was the most benign case of tumor, not a cancer.  Ralphie recovered from his eye surgery better than Kelly and I did, I think.

His other eye, though, has been slowly deteriorating since then due to age related issues with his retina and the gelatinous material inside the eye. Yesterday, I looked into  Ralphie’s eye and it looked real cloudy to me and I thought maybe he had a bad cataract.  I called the vet right away and set an appointment for today.

Turns out there wasn’t much of a cataract but his vision continues to get worse.  If he lives another year or so, he will most likely be blind.  There is nothing we can do, and medical science for dogs (and probably humans) isn’t advanced enough to fix him up.

The vet did suggest we try a new treatment based on supplements.  He gives it to his own dogs, and some dogs apparently respond well.  The vet told me he holds the three creators of the supplement in high regard and thinks the science is sound.  I could tell a little from his voice this was a long shot, but he thought it was worth a shot even if it helps for only a little bit.

The thing is,  this supplement looks like all sorts of woo to me.  All sorts of red flags go up.  Ralphie, because of his build and breed, has been on Glucosamine and Chondroitin since he was probably seven years old.  Now in humans, G&C has been shown to have no effect, and inconclusive for dogs from what I can tell, but over the years I’ve had like five vets swear it works for dogs.  Has it?

I can’t know for sure, and Ralphie’s story is just that, a story.  He’s not had back problems and doesn’t have any arthritis.  He may have a couple tweaked discs but they never bother him and might be nothing.  Remember, he’s like an 85 year old man essentially.  Have we succumbed to woo?

This latest supplement has me thinking this is more woo, but then again, dogs have totally different body chemistry than dogs.  It might vary well work.  It’s not super expensive, it’s around 90.00 for a 3 month supply.  For 90.00 there isn’t much I wouldn’t try if a whole bunch of vets tell me to.  And Ralphie has zero chance of regaining any vision if we do nothing.  What to do when your skeptic senses are tingling, but the experts are telling you to do it?

I have to admit, that despite the red flags, I’m going to take the vet’s advice on this, and give Ralphie a shot with the supplement.  If there is anything we can do to help him enjoy life a little more we’ll do.  There are no crystals or homeopathic treatments coming his way, he won’t be getting an adjustment from a canine chiropractor. 

No, he’s gonna get a supplement for a few months, lots of hugs, lots of treats, and as much belly scratching as he can stand.  We’ll carry him to the couch when he can’t jump up on to it, we’ll carry him to the ground to keep him from jumping down, and we’ll make sure he gets to go on walks and dig holes.  

When the dust settles

The dust is beginning to settle I think.  The cloud might look large and expansive, but the explosions are dying out.  As TAM approaches, more and more skeptics and people interested in real skeptical scholarship are piping up and making it known that they want to go to TAM.  Everyone I’ve spoken to that is going to TAM wants to make it an enjoyable, harassment-free zone for everyone.  

There are great workshops on Thursday and Sunday, the speaker line-up is great, and TAM picked a great keynote speaker, Carol Tavris, author of Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me.  Grant programs were setup so people could go that otherwise wouldn’t be able to. A few people are heading to the South Point Casino just to hang out with TAM’ers in the evening.

When the dust settles, the event is going to be great.  People who made a public stance about not going will probably not be missed.  The incivility shown on various blog posts and networks will melt away as face to face contact makes it harder for some people to be so hostile.  And perhaps another listen of Carol Tavris will make those people rethink how they came to such a nasty place.

When the dust settles, I’ll be eating vegan donuts, having a drink in the Del Mar, and wondering how just a few weeks earlier there was so much anxiety.  My brain will recharge, my confidence in skepticism will be higher, and I’ll have a few more email addy’s/google + profiles to add to my contacts list.

When the dust settles, I’m gonna move forward, and leave the last few weeks permanently behind, and for those who can’t and still want to wage war, well, good luck to you, there is too much to do and learn to get bogged down in that muck.

When the dust settles

The dust is beginning to settle I think.  The cloud might look large and expansive, but the explosions are dying out.  As TAM approaches, more and more skeptics and people interested in real skeptical scholarship are piping up and making it known that they want to go to TAM.  Everyone I’ve spoken to that is going to TAM wants to make it an enjoyable, harassment-free zone for everyone.  

There are great workshops on Thursday and Sunday, the speaker line-up is great, and TAM picked a great keynote speaker, Carol Tavris, author of Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me.  Grant programs were setup so people could go that otherwise wouldn’t be able to. A few people are heading to the South Point Casino just to hang out with TAM’ers in the evening.

When the dust settles, the event is going to be great.  People who made a public stance about not going will probably not be missed.  The incivility shown on various blog posts and networks will melt away as face to face contact makes it harder for some people to be so hostile.  And perhaps another listen of Carol Tavris will make those people rethink how they came to such a nasty place.

When the dust settles, I’ll be eating vegan donuts, having a drink in the Del Mar, and wondering how just a few weeks earlier there was so much anxiety.  My brain will recharge, my confidence in skepticism will be higher, and I’ll have a few more email addy’s/google + profiles to add to my contacts list.

When the dust settles, I’m gonna move forward, and leave the last few weeks permanently behind, and for those who can’t and still want to wage war, well, good luck to you, there is too much to do and learn to get bogged down in that muck.

Could have been a lot worse…

Yesterday I wrote a post about the year anniversary of Ozzy passing away.  It was a sad time writing the post, but it was good therapy to write it.  I was always thankful that we were able to plan the last couple days of Ozzy’s life, and ensure he wasn’t suffering.  Being that it was the first up close and pet we’d lost, there were a lot of unknowns and uncertainities.

Yesterday afternoon, Jayne cornered a woodchuck in the backyard.  I have no idea how the fat little chuck managed to get his way into our fenced in yard, but he did.  While at first not believing what I was seeing, Jayne went head first in to sniff or bite maybe the woodchuck, and in retaliation, the woodchuck bit Jayne.  We didn’t notice at first because Jayne never yelped and never acted at all uncomfortable.  We discovered the bite while I was prepping pizzas, which for a second seemed inconvenient, but I just finished what I was doing and took Jayne to the emergency room for dogs.

She just needed some stitching up, nothing serious in turns out.  The stitching couldn’t wait so bringing her to the vet right away was the right call.  However, the couple next to me wasn’t so lucky.  Trying not to overhear their conversation, they were deep in trying to decide if their dog could be helped or had reached the end of the line.  It sounded like the dog was in some pain.  I left before they made any decision, but as I was leaving, I watched a pair of women, one who’d obviously been crying, carry in a tiny little dog.  No idea what was happening their, as I was very, very much wanting to get out of there.

With Jayne, it could have been a lot worse.  The cut could have been deeper, it could have been on the neck, etc.  With Ozzy, it could have been worse if he’d suffer.  A trip to the vet emergency room on the year anniversary of Ozzy passing away was not how i wanted to spend my Saturday night, but it could have been a lot worse, and I’m thankful for that.

Could have been a lot worse…

Yesterday I wrote a post about the year anniversary of Ozzy passing away.  It was a sad time writing the post, but it was good therapy to write it.  I was always thankful that we were able to plan the last couple days of Ozzy’s life, and ensure he wasn’t suffering.  Being that it was the first up close and pet we’d lost, there were a lot of unknowns and uncertainities.

Yesterday afternoon, Jayne cornered a woodchuck in the backyard.  I have no idea how the fat little chuck managed to get his way into our fenced in yard, but he did.  While at first not believing what I was seeing, Jayne went head first in to sniff or bite maybe the woodchuck, and in retaliation, the woodchuck bit Jayne.  We didn’t notice at first because Jayne never yelped and never acted at all uncomfortable.  We discovered the bite while I was prepping pizzas, which for a second seemed inconvenient, but I just finished what I was doing and took Jayne to the emergency room for dogs.

She just needed some stitching up, nothing serious in turns out.  The stitching couldn’t wait so bringing her to the vet right away was the right call.  However, the couple next to me wasn’t so lucky.  Trying not to overhear their conversation, they were deep in trying to decide if their dog could be helped or had reached the end of the line.  It sounded like the dog was in some pain.  I left before they made any decision, but as I was leaving, I watched a pair of women, one who’d obviously been crying, carry in a tiny little dog.  No idea what was happening their, as I was very, very much wanting to get out of there.

With Jayne, it could have been a lot worse.  The cut could have been deeper, it could have been on the neck, etc.  With Ozzy, it could have been worse if he’d suffer.  A trip to the vet emergency room on the year anniversary of Ozzy passing away was not how i wanted to spend my Saturday night, but it could have been a lot worse, and I’m thankful for that.

Ozzy, Gone a year, but not forgotten

A year ago today, Ozzy passed away a few days after suffering a massive stroke.  It all happened so quickly.  One Saturday afternoon he was running around, the next morning, he’d lost control of his legs and tail.  A few trips to various vets all gave us the same prognosis, which was that he was highly unlikely to regain any sort of quality of life.   On a Tuesday morning, I made the call to the vet to arrange for him to be put to sleep at our home, and so it was two days later that he passed away.

I spent the days in between with him, watching tv, trying to work, and sleeping next to him.  By Thursday morning, I was 100% positive I’d made the right decision as he was not getting better and I could tell he wasn’t happy at all.  The last thing I watched with him was the 100th episode of This Week in Google.  A couple hours later, he was gone. I held his paw as he went to sleep and soon after his body stopped, and that was it.  

Ozzy almost died two years earlier due to his bladder getting plugged up.  I had to leave him overnight for surgery, and that evening the vet called me to say his blood work was really bad and there was a good chance he wouldn’t make it and even if he made it through surgery his kidneys could be so damaged he couldn’t go on.  There was not enough time for me to see him before he went into surgery.  He made it through fine, and his kidneys weren’t damaged, so he lived another two and half years before the stroke.  Strokes are so rare in cats, that there isn’t much of anything you can do for them.

Ozzy was cremated a couple days later, and his ashes remain near where I sleep.  I miss him every day, and I keep pictures of him nearby.  I won’t tell you he was a great cat, because really, he was only a great cat to me.  Very loyal to me and didn’t seem to like my wife or brother very much.  For the last six months of his life, he had another cat in his midst, Lemmy, who as practically a kitten.  They didn’t exactly get along, but they could co-exist just fine.

I thought Ozzy would be the last cat we ever had, because of my allergies and the fact that our other dogs didn’t seem to get along with cats.  Well, Lemmy is a totally different kind of cat.  A few months after Ozzy passed we adopted two more dogs, Mags and Finnick, to bring our total number of dogs up to seven.  Lemmy got along with the new dogs and eventually, the cat side/dog side setup we’d had for so many years dissolved.  The cat and dogs roam everywhere.

There will never another cat like Ozzy, and there will never be a replacement for him in my life.  Lemmy does like me, but he’s a completely different personality.  Finnick, on  the other hand, has taken the spot by my side that Ozzy had.  No, he is not a replacement or a fill-in.  He’s a dog for one, but also, he’s just different.  I wasn’t looking for a replacement for Ozzy, but Finnick just happens to be that 1% of dogs that prefers me over my wife.

A few weeks later, I was off to TAM, The Amazing Meeting.  I felt a little guilty about enjoying myself a few weeks after Ozzy passed.  However, I decided that one way to honor Ozzy’s memory was to join up with some vegans and people who care about animals at TAM.  So I did that and made some new friends.  We made some donations in Ozzy’s name as well, so hopefully someone else can get to enjoy thirteen years or so of time with an animal like Ozzy

So, Ozzy, can’t believe it’s been a year without you.  Miss you every day!

Ozzy, Gone a year, but not forgotten

A year ago today, Ozzy passed away a few days after suffering a massive stroke.  It all happened so quickly.  One Saturday afternoon he was running around, the next morning, he’d lost control of his legs and tail.  A few trips to various vets all gave us the same prognosis, which was that he was highly unlikely to regain any sort of quality of life.   On a Tuesday morning, I made the call to the vet to arrange for him to be put to sleep at our home, and so it was two days later that he passed away.

I spent the days in between with him, watching tv, trying to work, and sleeping next to him.  By Thursday morning, I was 100% positive I’d made the right decision as he was not getting better and I could tell he wasn’t happy at all.  The last thing I watched with him was the 100th episode of This Week in Google.  A couple hours later, he was gone. I held his paw as he went to sleep and soon after his body stopped, and that was it.  

Ozzy almost died two years earlier due to his bladder getting plugged up.  I had to leave him overnight for surgery, and that evening the vet called me to say his blood work was really bad and there was a good chance he wouldn’t make it and even if he made it through surgery his kidneys could be so damaged he couldn’t go on.  There was not enough time for me to see him before he went into surgery.  He made it through fine, and his kidneys weren’t damaged, so he lived another two and half years before the stroke.  Strokes are so rare in cats, that there isn’t much of anything you can do for them.

Ozzy was cremated a couple days later, and his ashes remain near where I sleep.  I miss him every day, and I keep pictures of him nearby.  I won’t tell you he was a great cat, because really, he was only a great cat to me.  Very loyal to me and didn’t seem to like my wife or brother very much.  For the last six months of his life, he had another cat in his midst, Lemmy, who as practically a kitten.  They didn’t exactly get along, but they could co-exist just fine.

I thought Ozzy would be the last cat we ever had, because of my allergies and the fact that our other dogs didn’t seem to get along with cats.  Well, Lemmy is a totally different kind of cat.  A few months after Ozzy passed we adopted two more dogs, Mags and Finnick, to bring our total number of dogs up to seven.  Lemmy got along with the new dogs and eventually, the cat side/dog side setup we’d had for so many years dissolved.  The cat and dogs roam everywhere.

There will never another cat like Ozzy, and there will never be a replacement for him in my life.  Lemmy does like me, but he’s a completely different personality.  Finnick, on  the other hand, has taken the spot by my side that Ozzy had.  No, he is not a replacement or a fill-in.  He’s a dog for one, but also, he’s just different.  I wasn’t looking for a replacement for Ozzy, but Finnick just happens to be that 1% of dogs that prefers me over my wife.

A few weeks later, I was off to TAM, The Amazing Meeting.  I felt a little guilty about enjoying myself a few weeks after Ozzy passed.  However, I decided that one way to honor Ozzy’s memory was to join up with some vegans and people who care about animals at TAM.  So I did that and made some new friends.  We made some donations in Ozzy’s name as well, so hopefully someone else can get to enjoy thirteen years or so of time with an animal like Ozzy

So, Ozzy, can’t believe it’s been a year without you.  Miss you every day!