TakeOnIt
Compare opinions of world leading experts and influencers.

Benja's TakeOnIt

About Me

I'm the founder of TakeOnIt. This is a website for people who are interested in challenging their own opinions and who have a genuine curiosity for other people's views, not for people who want to confirm what they already know and who are itching for the glib dismissal of their opponent's thoughts and feelings. All the content is editable, so feel free to contribute. And send me feedback whether you feel inspired or frustrated. Enjoy the website.

Contribution Stats

39 up votes minus down votes on comments.
2509 questions, experts, and expert opinions added.
20 expert opinion suggestions made.

Contents

Benja's Opinions

Is science ultimately just a matter of faith?      Disagree      30 Apr 2011      1 Point
Yes, science makes an assumption - that the universe follows rules. Who doesn't? You're reading this sentence right now, but you're assuming "as a matter of faith" that your eyeballs will remain in their sockets, rather than floating across the room, exploding, or turning into plums. If you truly don't believe the universe follows rules, these are all valid possibilities. Right. Valid to the madman. Assuming the universe follows rules is not a matter of faith, it's a matter of sanity. You know nothing without it.

People's actions show that they place no weight on doubting the assumption that the universe follows rules. No one hedges against gravity. It's ridiculous that this possibility is slapped on the table with a straight face. Religious and scientific people alike don't seriously doubt this assumption at all. And this is the assumption that science is based on.

Is thorium a viable energy source for the future?      Agree      27 Apr 2011      1 Point
"Yet funding continues to go toward Uranium-based nuclear energy, mainly because Uranium-based atomic power integrates well with our nuclear weapons program..."

That was an incentive in the early days of nuclear technology and up to the end of the cold war. But that's not true today, with the US's arsenal of nuclear weapons that can still destroy the world many times over, a huge stockpile of plutonium, and 104 power plants still producing more plutonium than they know what to do with. The reluctance is due to other factors, perhaps the overarching one that it's a nightmare to push any new nuclear technology through congress.

Can science prove or disprove the existence of God?      Agree      24 Apr 2011      0 Points
God has had a big impact on you. And this impact is manifest in physical processes such as the ones in your brain that enable you to feel emotional about your argument. Science can study any physical process, including the ones in your brain. You have let God touch you, and His fingerprints are all over you. He can now be investigated with science.

Can renewables meet base-load energy demands?      Mostly Disagree      12 Apr 2011      0 Points
This is a critical question, because it seems nuclear energy makes sense if and only if renewables cannot meet base load demands. At this point I'm reasonably convinced renewables are indeed hard to scale, so I'll advocate building modern nuclear power stations unless new facts or arguments suggesting otherwise come to my attention.

Is the Earth approximately 6000 years old? (as opposed to 4.5 billion)      Disagree      12 Apr 2011      0 Points
The people who think the Earth is 6000 years old actually do one thing right: make a specific empirical claim about God that can be refuted. Others who believe in God are often so loose with their claims about what God is and does that their God becomes irrefutable. A more subtle form of wrongness, but still wrongness.

Does evolution violate the second law of thermodynamics?      Disagree      12 Apr 2011      0 Points
I do apologize if that's the way it came across.

Let me explain myself a little - this is a concept website where the goal is to have each debatable issue and debate tactic have its own page. This particular page is about whether evolution violates thermodynamics - you brought up two related but separate debatable issues and one debate tactic that we've got dedicated pages for! Anyway, as you ask, let me engage you directly here.

First up, we've got to be aware of mirrorable arguments. In a nutshell (so you don't need to check the link :)) these are attacks where the same arguments seemingly work for either side. In this case, your opponents could say:

"Any position that insists on un-provable, illogical, assumptions (i.e. there is a supreme intelligence in the universe higher than human intelligence) is merely attempting to advance - or establish - a position, or agenda. They're not REALLY searching for 'truth', because that 'truth' might be distasteful, or offensive, to them."

Yes, an evolutionist may find it distasteful or offensive when someone says that their theories are wrong, and that God created life. But so too may a Christian find it distasteful or offensive when someone says that the Bible is wrong, and that God didn't create humans! Similarly, claiming one side has an agenda and the other doesn't, or that one side cares about truth and one doesn't, isn't really getting us anywhere. There's closed minded evolutionists and closed minded Christians. More importantly, there's open minded evolutionists and open minded Christians. Let's not start a debate with claims of who's the more open-minded group.

Furthermore, from the evolutionist's perspective - and it's all about seeing other people's perspectives here - they're making less assumptions than you. How so? Well, they're not assuming a supreme intelligence exists. Maybe one exists. Maybe one doesn't. In a sense that's open minded to all possibilities right? So what should we do? We need to see if we can find evidence that tells us which possibility is more likely.

Let's suppose option 1 is true: that a supreme intelligence exists. A prediction we can make is that since a supreme intelligence designed us, we'd see the hallmarks of good engineering. After all it's God we're talking about! So let's look at the human eye. If you were designing it, would you put the optic nerve on the retina or behind the retina? Well a good engineer knows that putting the nerve on the retina is a foolish design: it means that there's a blind spot where all the nerves have to go from the front to the back. So how is the human eye designed? Well, our eye has the foolish design. Now this can be nicely explained by option 2 - evolution. Evolution is limited in that new designs can only evolve from existing ones, which often results in such quirky, foolish designs.

Now this is just one tiny example - but the point here is that the evidence should direct us as to whether there is a supreme intelligence or not. Truth seekers are neither scientists starting out assuming there cannot be a supreme intelligence nor Christians starting out assuming there must be a supreme intelligence. Truth seekers look for evidence and on the basis of that evidence determine the likilihood of each possibility. That's open mindededness, right?

Does evolution violate the second law of thermodynamics?      Disagree      10 Apr 2011      0 Points
"What I like about the 'intelligent design' crowd is that they're still willing to consider all possibilities."

See Are people who reject theories as unscientific closed minded?, The Closed Minded Pitch, and Did complex life evolve through the process of natural selection?.

Should the world embrace nuclear energy?      Mostly Agree      12 Mar 2011      0 Points
There are three broad energy trajectories (mixtures possible):

1) Continue to use fossil fuels and risk fucking up the planet with millions dying from natural disasters such as floods.
2) Move to renewable energy (and away from fossil fuels, but underinvest in nuclear) and risk fucking up the economy with millions dying from famines and political turmoil.
3) Move to nuclear energy and risk fucking up some cities with thousands or even millions dying from a terrorist acquiring nuclear material.

The utilitarian answer should be to choose the least awful option. Conservatives tend to deny trajectory 1 is a reality. Greens tend to deny trajectory 2 is a reality. As a nuclear advocate, I believe trajectory 3 is a reality, but I think it's a possibly a better reality than trajectories 1 and 2. Some nuclear advocates believe good nuclear designs can mitigate the risks of trajectory 3. I hope they're right. It's unthinkable what could happen if extremists could get their hands on some plutonium.

What will actually happen? Politicians won't allow trajectory 2 to occur (i.e. we'll move to renewables to some extent, but not the point it severely hurts the economy). They will to some extent move towards trajectory 3 (i.e. we'll build more nuclear power plants), but if a big enough nuclear incident happens, they'll be forced back into trajectory 1.

--

Some data now in here:

"The poll, which was conducted by GFK NOP shows a drop of 12% in support for nuclear power to 35% compared with a similar poll conducted by IPSOS MORI in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Opposition to the technology rose 9% to 28%."

Is thorium a viable energy source for the future?      Agree      12 Mar 2011      1 Point
"The People’s Republic of China has initiated a research and development project in thorium molten-salt reactor technology". More here.

Is China going to beat the US on clean energy? The senators Orrin Hatch and Harry Reid have tried to sell the merits of using thorium energy to the US government with little success. Steven Chu (the Energy Secretary of the US) was asked about thorium nuclear power research here. His answer seems to be that "normal" (i.e. uranium) based designs are sufficient (perhaps he's right - 4th gen designs are pretty good). OTOH I worry that the lobbyists for nuclear energy want to promote their (uranium based) plant designs, and don't want the competition.

Is the Earth approximately 6000 years old? (as opposed to 4.5 billion)      Disagree      31 Dec 2010      0 Points
"And best of all there is NO conflict between science and the Bible!"
See Are the core truths of science and religion complementary?.

Do the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks?      Agree      22 Dec 2010      0 Points
"my brother was a normal little boy. then he got a vaccine and later, he was diagnosed with autism."
See The Anecdotal Pitch.

Should the federal government ban gay marriage?      Disagree      17 Sep 2010      0 Points
Dear Tina,

God says this. God says that. This website is for debate. There is no debate when all you can talk about is what God says. God gave you a brain that's obviously capable of far more than just regurgitating what God says! Does a homosexual couple hurt you? Is it impossible for them to contribute to society? Will they contribute more to society by forbidding them to marry?

Is the Earth approximately 6000 years old? (as opposed to 4.5 billion)      Disagree      09 Sep 2010      0 Points
"Sheeesh, how brainwashed do you have to be???"
Yeah I was chatting to a brainwashed guy here.

Is the theory of evolution falsified by fossil evidence?      Disagree      03 Sep 2010      0 Points
"That's about all you have is a cheap trick mirror"
In the mirror responses, are all the classy tricks you use too.

P.S. I'm not inclined to mirror your TEMPER.

P.S.S. I apologize for mirroring, but it's just that your arguments are so good, that they work for both of us!

For the past hundred and fifty plus years the attempt to find legitimate, provable, fossil transitions, in the theory of evolution have met with [dismal failure | resounding success]. According to Darwin, if minute gradualism of speciation is not found in the fossil record someday, then the whole theory is in crisis. Well, the whole theory [is in crisis | met that challenge]. And instead of honest confessions coming from much of the [scientific community | creationist community] on [so-called] fossil disparities and the lack of any real proof [of | against] gradualism, the public is fed with counterfeit logic, trumped up explanations, weak extrapolations and speculations, and a gradual degrading of the empirical process, the only gradualism which [is being uncovered | creationists are comfortable with].

The illusion is continually spun that the gaps [are being closed | remain] with the uncovering of new fossils, but this is all abstract wishful thinking, and text book dishonesty. The truth of the matter is, that the more fossils, in the cambrian era, and other strata, which are being found, the [more | less] complications arise for the fossil record, and to the theory of evolution in general. The gaps in reality are [not] closing; and at the same time all other assumptions of [evolution | creationism] are taking ‘genuine’ scientific empirical beatings as well. The cherished theory of [evolution | creationism] is all turning out to be a chasing of the wind, or trying to catch the proverbial carrot on a stick. But by all means continue researching, for the matter must be scientifically and comprehensively conclusive.

Is the theory of evolution falsified by fossil evidence?      Disagree      31 Aug 2010      0 Points
Let's mirror!

The charge of “quote mining” is indeed a serious charge. Indeed both creation and evolution advocates do it either out of carelessness or deliberate design. However, in this case the charge is true, and appears to be a maneuver for lack of any genuine scientific rebuttal.

First and foremost the O’Rourke quote fails to pertain to the greater context of the whole issue, i.e., It fails to dovetail with many similar statements made by other specialists on the topic, and in this respect is very much out of context. Secondly, the polemic (you cited) did not adequately distinguish any alleged consistency between the O’Rourke quote used, and how it was used, vs. the full context of O’Rourke’s treatise. i.e., O’Rourke’s full treatise, with the quote in context, does resolve the circular dating problem and make it go away. Finally, creationists have always used arcane explanations on this issue, but it all circles back to fallacious reasoning based on the general assumption of creationism, followed by their assumptions of the geologic columns and fossil placements. And that’s where the top begins its complicated wobble-spin.

Because then we fail to find anomalous and index fossils which are not suppose to be in a particular stratigraphic layer, and fail to find radiometric readings of columns which contradict the assumed age of the columns. And quite often when the radiometric process is rebooted it merely confirms all the previous readings. So we have fossils where they’re supposed to be, and rocks where they’re supposed to be. All of this is being fueled by the theoretical general assumption of creationism, and carried away by a series of subset assumptions, which are nothing more than stubborn puzzle pieces which quite often don’t fit together with, or in, the original picture of the general assumption like they’re suppose to.

Is the theory of evolution falsified by fossil evidence?      Disagree      24 Aug 2010      0 Points
Not bothering to check if an expert has been quoted out of context undermines this website. You can find the context for O'Rourke's quote here.

Do Muslims have the right to build a mosque near ground zero?      Agree      19 Aug 2010      0 Points
I'm all for it. And as a gesture celebrating our shared belief in tolerance and cross-cultural communication, I look forward to the Imam who's heading the project to declare his enthusiastic support for a Jewish center in Mecca and an atheist center in Medina.

Is there life after death?      Disagree      15 Aug 2010      0 Points
"The fact is that by his innate disposition, man believes in continuation of life after death."
That's debatable - the fact that we're so fucking scared of death is obvious evidence to the contrary (and the 'scared of the unknown' argument seems weak). It seems plausible cultural conditioning is responsible for the belief in life after death. Also, for people like myself who become atheists, were we overcoming our "innate" disposition, or did we have an "innate" disposition to become atheists? I'm not saying you're wrong, but it seems like you're making a bold empirical claim based on intuition.

"If death is the end of life, if man, after his death, is lost for ever, then why should he sacrifice his life so that others may live? ..."
This is an Appeal to Consequences. Whether or not there are good or bad consequences to believing there is life after death, has no impact on the truth of whether there is life after death.

Do we have an immaterial soul?      Disagree      15 Aug 2010      0 Points
"sciences and their tools, etc cannot pass any judgment - for or against - on metaphysical and immaterial concept and beings."

This is dualism. The problem with this viewpoint, is that if you're able to talk about immaterial things, then the immaterial must be connected with the material. Your tongue waggling and the resulting airwaves, are after all, physical phenomena. The question then becomes, how does the immaterial interact with the material? Descartes famously suggested our soul interacted with our body via the pineal gland in our brain, but this has long since been refuted. The modern view is that it's a mistake to believe that there's two separate worlds interacting, but rather just one world. Therefore there can be no immaterial soul, because that would imply a separate world from the material world.

See also Can reductionist methods help explain consciousness?.

Is truth relative?      Disagree      10 Aug 2010      1 Point
I was recently arguing with a good friend of mine, who happens to believe in alien encounters, psychic powers, reincarnation etc. The argument made a cold sharp transition from a healthy discussion when I was failed to suppress a smirk when she described what an alien looked like, and ended when she eventually resorted to the relativity of truth with regards to the debate. "No!" I cried, as if contradicting someone needs the adrenaline shot of an exclamation mark. "You can't say that it's true for you that aliens visited Earth, and it's not true for me! It's either true or it isn't. There are multiple beliefs on the matter, but only one truth".

Do you really believe truth is relative? Let's say I tell everyone I can that you eat kittens. I put posters up on the streets with photos of you putting kittens in an oven, I talk on radio shows about how delicious you think kitten sausages are, and I launch a website "savethekittens.org" etc.

Now, let's say two bystanders end up debating whether it's really true that you eat kittens. One of them insists that you are innocent, but the other really believes you're guilty, and after a heated argument declares "truth is relative" and "it's true for you they don't eat kittens". Does that makes sense?

Of course not. You do not eat kittens. Truth is not relative. Belief is relative. Do not confuse truth with belief. If you do not eat kittens, you must drop the belief that truth is relative.

But now let's suppose the debate between the bystanders changes to whether kittens are cute. Once again, the argument ends with one declaring "truth is relative" and "it's true for you that kittens are cute". In this case, you have to distinguish between subjective an objective statements. Subjective statements are as much about the observer as they are about the object, while objective statements are all about the object. To go back to the previous argument, whether you eat kittens is not dependent on anyone's judgement. In comparison, a kitten's cuteness is dependent on a person's judgement. If you can't distinguish between these different types of statements, your take on reality is muddled.

That aliens visited earth is an objective statement (as are claims of reincarnation and psychic powers). It's in the same category as the statement that you eat kittens. It's not in the same category as the statement "kittens are cute". As a general rule, scientific statements are objective and impersonal, while aesthetic and ethical statements are subjective and emotional. Many statements, particularly social ones, are a complex mixture of both. Unless distinguishing between objective vs. subjective statements becomes a habit; a skill that's regularly sharpened; you're doomed to eat kittens. The cute ones too.

Is the theory of evolution falsified by fossil evidence?      Disagree      07 Aug 2010      0 Points
Let's mirror again!

-
Yes, That is the extent of the creationists scientific credibility. A non-sequitur comeback. Your response doesn't follow, and it certainly doesn't make a solid case for creationism.

Evolutionists don't claim faith-based proof of evolution. And evolution is not faith. It is science based on observation and reasoning. Evolutionists merely question the scientific validity of religion by scientifically questioning the reliability of religious methods for acquiring knowledge and other religious assumptions.

--

P.S. Creationist scientists DO claim scientific proof of creation.
P.S.S. There is a separate page for debating carbon dating here.
P.S.S.S. This question is about fossil evidence and you haven't addressed that issue at all. If you refuse to not to address the issue at hand, expect to get moderated.

Is the theory of evolution falsified by fossil evidence?      Disagree      06 Aug 2010      0 Points
Let's mirror:

-
What is called scientific evidence by hard core creationists is in reality a combination of very tenuous theories and extrapolations arrived at by using faulty or limited forms of biblical methodology. The truth of the matter is that advocates of creationism display a very peculiar unscientific fanaticism in their cherished assumptions, as much and more so than advocates of any other religious belief system, thereby severely hindering their theoretic platform.

True science will not arrogantly postulate, but will rather make clear the numerous uncertainties and weaknesses contained in any falsifiable theory. We don't see such humble attitudes among creationists today. Those who academically challenge the theory of creationism are doing real science a favor. At the same time they are exposing the blind fallacy of propping up the creationist paradigm as though it, and it only, is the sole legitimate answer to origins and the explanation of life on earth.
-

Does minimum wage help the poor?      Mostly Disagree      03 Aug 2010      0 Points
From what I gather from economists, the deep solution to combating poverty and equality is a negative income tax (or variant of). Rather than transfer money from employers of minimum wage jobs to employees who have minimum wage jobs, a negative income tax transfers money from all tax payers to all people who are poor. This makes a negative income tax both fairer and less distortionary than a minimum wage.

Roughly half of economists agree (though it varies according to the survey) with the above story, and as such, are against a minimum wage. The other half believe the story, while correct, is incomplete, and complicating real world factors open up the possibility that a minimum wage could be somewhat effective in certain scenarios. Daniel Klein conducted a survey of economists' opinions on minimum wages here, where these were the most common reasons given in favor of a minimum wage:

A. Equalizing an imbalance in bargaining skills (i.e., bargaining experience, articulateness, confidence)
B. Inducing employers with monopsony power to increase employment by their firm.
C. Inducing a transfer from employers to (generally less well off) workers, albeit with possible small disemployment effects.
D. Coordinating the low-wage labor market by making it common knowledge that jobs pay at least $7.25.

Economists against a minimum wage contest each of these points, and furthermore, accuse their economic opponents of politically and ideologically motivated opinion forming. In some cases, the opponents do not even deny it, one describing a minimum wage as "A low cost demonstration of concern for low wage workers that causes little damage. Elicits a buy-in by low wage workers to the polity". Critical commentary here, here, here, and here.

As a non-economist, it seems plausible that a minimum wage might have a small positive benefit in certain scenarios. The evidence is however underwhelming (it echoes to me of climate skeptics who say CO2 won't actually cause warming due to a complicating effect like a negative feedback - when in doubt I put my money on the simpler explanation). The larger point really seems to be the effect of a minimum wage is at best quite small, which is part of the reason its effect has been difficult to empirically measure. Those who tout the minimum wage most strongly, which are the politicians and union leaders, are clearly after securing political points rather than a real solution to poverty and inequality.

A final note: before I researched this I assumed there was an economic consensus on this issue, and in fact, according to Harvard's Greg Mankiw here, 79% of economists agree that "A minimum wage increases unemployment among young and unskilled workers", which is why Greg includes it in his list of top 14 public issues that economists agree on. However, he says here that "One issue that fails to generate consensus is the minimum wage: 37.7 percent want it increased, while 46.8 percent want it eliminated.". While these statements might be logically compatible, they leave non-economists like myself a bit baffled. No wonder the public end up believing whatever the influencers want to tell them.

Is abstinence-only sex education effective?      Disagree      01 Aug 2010      1 Point
If sex wasn't a ridiculous amount of fun the abstinence-only education strategy wouldn't be a ridiculous amount of bullshit.

Is information-theoretic death the most real interpretation of death?      Agree      01 Aug 2010      0 Points
Atoms are fungible. If you swap one atom in your head for another atom, you've actually changed nothing. Ditto when you swap every atom in your head. Reconstructing your brain atom-for-atom would reconstruct you. But that's (ironically?) an overkill. Reconstructing neural structures will suffice.

Some people claim a reconstructed you is not really you, because there's a break in the continuity of consciousness. However, if continuity was important, you wouldn't want to fall asleep, let alone go under a general anesthetic, where your brain is so dead during the multi-hour surgery that when you wake up it feels like only five minutes has passed.

Cute video on identity.

Is truth relative?      Disagree      28 Jul 2010      0 Points
I'm reading Thank You for Arguing right now, a book on rhetoric, which I was curious about because a reviewer criticized the author for not being too concerned about the truth. I like this quote from the book:

"Rhetorical logic works differently than the logic taught in philosophy classes, thank God. Rhetoric is much less boring, for one thing, and far, far more persuasive. While philosophy scorns public opinion, in rhetoric, the audience's beliefs are at least as important as the facts. For persuasive purposes, the opinion of your audience is as good as what it knows; and what it thinks is true counts the same as the truth."

It seems reasonable to suppose that in different domains, the word "truth" takes on different meanings, to maximize its effectiveness in the community using the word. The mathematical or scientific notion of "truth" is the purest, but isn't always effective in other domains. In politics for instance, truth may sometimes refer to the consensus and ideals in one's party. Different meanings of "truth" even exist within layers in a hierarchy - "truth" at the level of a CEO or religious leader would not mean the same thing as "truth" at the level of a typical employee or religious worshiper. Even the criteria itself by which truth is attained varies across domains - religion the most perverse, where unconscious prejudices and programming count as The Truth.

Is homosexuality natural?      Agree      21 Jul 2010      0 Points
"I'm not aware of any species in nature..."
See appealing to your own ignorance.

"Please show me an example where entire communities practice this behavior [of homosexuality as a routine and sustained way of relating to other same sex members of that species], over time, in nature..."
That's 4, maybe 5 argument fallacies in one sentence. No matter what evidence there is for homosexual behavior in animals (e.g. anal sex, same-sex courtship, etc.) you will say "oh no, that's not really homosexual behavior" (see the no true Scotsman fallacy). Furthermore, you're claiming that homosexuality isn't natural until someone demonstrates otherwise, but logically, in the absence of a demonstration, you can only logically claim that you don't know (see burden of proof). But even if more evidence is given to you, you'll just create new criteria for what counts as homosexual behavior (see moving the goalposts). Finally, the contentious claim here is whether homosexuality is natural - but you're tearing down a different, more specific, claim: that "homosexuality occurs in a routine and sustained manner over time in species other than Homo sapiens" (see strawman fallacy). Whether or not that's true - and your stance is conjecture on your part - I don't see this as particularly relevant (though it seems to imply you don't have a problem with bisexuality). Why on earth should we look to animals for guidance on what we ought to do? Why should we base morality of what is "natural"? (see Appeal to Nature).

"This behavior, while being homosexual, can hardly be onsidered validation for Homosexuality."
You're only scratching the surface of homosexual behavior. See here.

"Homosexuality tries to seek some sense of permission giving from evolution but homosexuality flies in the face of 'survival of the fittest'."
No-one has to seek permission from the laws of nature for their actions - the idea of seeking permission from a higher power or force is a religious concept. Scientists and those interested in science instead seek a better understanding of what occurs in nature because they find it both fascinating and useful, and the process can certainly challenge assumptions our beliefs are based upon. You can learn a lot about both homosexual and heterosexual behavior by studying animals.

"it takes faith to believe in a theory (evolution)"
The belief in evolution is based on reason and evidence. But it's good to see you dislike the practice of basing one's beliefs on faith.

"Statistics favors creation or intelligent design over evolution but "science" doesn't want to be pestered by the numbers"
This technique is called mirroring. It's when you reverse the arguments made by your opponents. In this case you're trying to associate creationism with statistics and evolution with faith. It's marketing 101. I've seen more subtlety in an ad for extra large condoms.

Is scientific consensus relevant?      Mostly Agree      14 Jul 2010      0 Points
In the case a hypothesis is supported by clear-cut tests, there is no need for consensus. Consensus is however useful when a plethora of tests are required to test the hypothesis, and domain expertise is required to understand and synthesize those tests to attain the likelihood of that hypothesis.

Hypotheses vary in how easy they are to test. The General Theory of Relativity, while a difficult theory to understand, has hypotheses with clear-cut tests that a layperson can easily grasp. Will a clock on a plane have lost a little time on its trip? Will the position of a planet be correctly predicted? If the theory predicts the outcome of these tests, a layperson has a straightforward reason to believe in that theory, even if they have little grasp of the complexity of the theory itself. In comparison, AGW is much harder to test. The central theory, of the greenhouse effect, is actually remarkably simple, as is the hypothesis it suggests, that CO2 warms the planet. But testing that hypothesis in the real world requires synthesizing data from a plethora of tests, and you can't really do this without being pretty familiar with climate science.

I believe the complexity of testing the AGW hypothesis is what ultimately troubles earnest climate skeptics. If they can't understand the tests, how can they feel comfortable signing off on the hypothesis? The strategy of only believing in hypotheses that have been demonstrated with simple tests is not actually a bad rule of thumb - in fact - I wish more people used it! It will correctly lead you to believe in General Relativity and the Theory of Evolution, while rejecting homeopathy and astrology. The problem is that it's an overly-aggressive "truth-filtering algorithm". It will cause people to reject theories that they would otherwise accept if they could understand the science needed to understand the tests. It's like using a skeptical axe rather than a skeptical scalpel.

In the case one doesn't personally understand the tests for a hypothesis, the rational thing to do is to outsource the assessment of that hypotheses to the experts. If an expert consensus exists, our task is easier - they're probably right, and the dissent is most likely from deluded or deliberate noise-makers with claims of conspiracies and ignored evidence. However, we shouldn't dismiss such claims - contrarians are occasionally right. A fast screening process you can use on a contrarian without spending your precious time delving into their arguments is to see if they've made radical claims elsewhere. For example, Roy Spencer, a climate skeptic, is also an evolution skeptic, claiming that Intelligent Design is "no more religious, and no less scientific, than evolutionism". The more rigorous approach however, is to examine specific claims challenging the consensus view for consistency.

Contrarians are usually "contrary for the sake of being contrary". Rather than disagreeing on a few specific points, they tend to disagree with everything they can about the consensus view. This inevitably leads to inconsistent claims. If the consensus view claims A and B, the contrarian will often claim NOT A and NOT B. But is it consistent to believe both NOT A AND NOT B? For example, climatologists believe A: That we know the cause the cause of warming, and B: That the cause is humans. Skeptics often believe both NOT A: That we don't know the cause of warming, and NOT B: That the cause is very likely natural. But NOT A AND NOT B are inconsistent!

In the absence of consistent contrarians, the rational thing to do is to trust the consensus. While a broad consensus has the negative effect of shunning dissent, it also has the positive effect of raising the number of people eyeballing the science, and raising the potential glory for the eagle eyed maverick. If a consistent alternative to the consensus view can be made, it will readily surface.

Has CO2 passively lagged temperature in past climates?      Mostly Disagree      12 Jul 2010      0 Points
Great strawman example in Denis Rancourt's quote:

"CO2 increases may accompany temperature increases rather than causing them. Indeed, some high resolution studies have suggested that the temperature increases precede the CO2 increases."

He presents well known CO2-temperature data as it was embarrassing and inconvenient news for the climatologists. He suggests that new improved studies undermine the core assumptions of climatologists, when in fact they confirm the assumptions based on earlier studies. Climatologists have in fact known about this lag since 1990:

"changes in the CO2 and CH4 content have played a significant part in the glacial-interglacial climate changes by amplifying, together with the growth and decay of the Northern Hemisphere ice sheets, the relatively weak orbital forcing". More here.

In summary, for roughly the last 2-3 million years, as the Earth's orbit has oscillated, the change in sunlight has initiated the coolings and warmings that lead Earth in and out of ice ages. These temperature changes increase or decrease CO2 levels, which creates a positive feedback loop that amplifies the initial temperature change until a new equilibrium is reached (either an ice-age or an interglacial). This is 101 material.

Does unpredictable weather imply unpredictable climate?      Disagree      12 Jul 2010      0 Points
The skeptical argument that unpredictable weather implies unpredictable climate is falsified by the existence of numerous predictable patterns in climate such as seasons and milankovitch cycles.

Can art be defined?      Mostly Disagree      08 Jul 2010      0 Points
Art has its own language. Defining it involves crudely bounding it by the rules of another language.

Does homeopathy work?      Disagree      07 Jul 2010      0 Points
"Those who take issue with homeopathy do so because..."
the theory underlying homeopathy is incoherent, a suspicion that is validated by numerous empirical studies which show that homeopathic remedies have no measurable effect beyond a placebo.

A homeopathic concoction can be replaced with water, and there is no difference in efficacy. This shows that any therapeutic effects of homeopathy do not come from the medicine itself. This makes homeopathic medicine a placebo, a term homeopaths don't like, because it empowers patients with an understanding of the difference between real and fake medicine.

Regarding developing countries - we should not waste our time and theirs exporting non-scientific medicine that has failed to work in our own countries. People in developing countries need more education - not more voodoo. I'm highly suspicious of claims that homeopathic remedies help with heavy metal poisoning and chronic diarrhea. Furthermore, the long-term self-help solution here is to education them on acquiring clean water and sanitation. How are they supposed to understand what clean water and sanitation is, when we pollute their heads with homeopathic theories that distort and deny the scientific basis of disease, and for that matter, can't even define "water" correctly?

Did Michael Jackson molest children?      Disagree      01 Jul 2010      0 Points
The two competing scenarios are:

1. MJ was guilty of pedophilia.
2. MJ's accusers were guilty of extortion.

I find '2' more likely. It seems highly plausible, having run the Neverland Ranch for that long, and being such an eccentric person in both behavior and appearance, that such an accusation would occur. Given that the parents of the kid MJ was accused of molesting had a track-record of lying, this really seems to confirm this scenario. Ultimately, the court not only failed to find any conclusive evidence against him, but the jury said that they "confidently came to their verdict". I can't rule out the possibility he was guilty, but the evidence strongly points towards his innocence. Furthermore, as a matter of principle, I believe people should be regarded as innocent until proven guilty. I've seen first hand that self-described "good people" can talk themselves into a lie that benefits them, even if it costs another person their time, money, and reputation. The principle of presuming innocence serves to fight that injustice.

Are the causes of climate change well understood?      Mostly Agree      30 Jun 2010      0 Points
Regarding the skeptics, some skeptics want to say that nobody really understands the causes of climate change, while other skeptics want to say that humans are not the cause. They can't both be right. And the fact many leading skeptics try to woo their audiences with both positions is absurd.

If S. Fred Singer and the NIPCC (Non Governmental International Panel on Climate Change) genuinely believe that the causes of climate change are largely unknown, they shouldn't title their summary document Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate but rather "Nobody Knows What Rules the Climate". Furthermore, they complain - in that very document - about the IPCC being biased in terms of having a predetermined conclusion. At least the IPCC's summary document does not state its conclusion in the title!

Are the core truths of science and religion complementary?      Mostly Disagree      22 Jun 2010      2 Points
Religion conflicts with science to the extent that religion makes supernatural claims. These include miracles, immaterial souls, life after death, reincarnation, karma, creationism, guided evolution, psychic powers, everything having a reason, and anti-deterministic free will.

I'm more comfortable with the non-supernatural aspects of religion, such as a prescription for moral conduct. While I don't see that morality needs to be tied to religion, I also don't think that having a religion defined by a set of moral codes conflicts with science.

Is global warming caused primarily by humans?      Mostly Agree      22 Jun 2010      2 Points
The consensus of climatologists is clear. While one can somewhat glibly declare that the consensus is irrelevant, and demand clear-cut scientific tests a layperson can personally understand before accepting a hypothesis, it is not rational to do so. When a plethora of tests are required to test a hypothesis, and domain expertise is required to understand and synthesize those tests to attain the likelihood of that hypothesis, the rational thing to do is to outsource the assessment of that hypotheses to domain experts. This reasoning is described in more detail here.

When a scientific consensus exists but clear-cut tests do not, the matter is not settled, but the onus shifts to the contrarians to present a consistent set of claims that refute the prevailing view. If they fail to so, a rational layperson should side with the consensus. At the top-right of the page you can see a break-down of the major contentions of this issue, phrased as yes-no questions. I found these questions to be the most revealing:

Are the causes of climate change well understood?
Do negative feedback loops mostly cushion the effect of atmospheric CO2 increases?
Does cosmic radiation significantly affect earth's climate?

Through examining these arguments, I've come to the belief that the claims of climate skeptics are rife with inconsistency. Perhaps the most egregious inconsistency, is claiming Earth's climate is too complex to understand, while simultaneously claiming that climate change is very likely caused by nature. Such inconsistencies are exactly what you'd expect from contrarians whose skeptical thought passes through a polarized filter. These inconsistent claims are promoted by leading climate skeptics with impressive scientific credentials such as S. Fred Singer and Roy Spencer. S. Fred Singer is a particularly important figure because he heads the NIPCC (Non Governmental International Panel on Climate Change), a coalition very representative of the skeptical viewpoint.

I believe scores of bright climatologists with idealistic truth-seeking tendencies that override their fear of peer-suicide have had ample opportunity to provide convincing refutations of AGW. Given the amount of time I've spent so far seeking such refutations, I'm getting discouraged that any solid objections exist. (To address concerns I may have conducted a motivated search, I actually started out leaning towards the skeptical side.) Given the consensus and the lack of a coherent objections to that consensus, I believe AGW is likely to be true. However, I leave the door open to the possibility that AGW is false so long as we await clear-cut tests.

Do negative feedback loops mostly cushion the effect of atmospheric CO2 increases?      Mostly Disagree      22 Jun 2010      0 Points
The easiest way to explain the mainstream position here is that you can't explain the rapid shifts in and out of ice ages without a positive feedback loop between CO2 and temperature. If the climate system is dominated by negative feedbacks, you would expect to see much slower shifts - if any shift at all. When trying to simulate paleoclimates, the models don't retrodict correctly unless a positive feedback is used.

An inherent contradiction in the skeptical position, is that nearly all skeptics claim that the climate is too complex for us to fully understand. Some claim that we can't understand the climate system at all, while others won't go that far, but still maintain how challenging it is to predict. Yet when it comes to the most complex aspect of climate altogether - modeling the feedback caused by clouds - suddenly the skeptics such as Roy Spencer become very confident in their position. That doesn't make sense.

Does cosmic radiation significantly affect earth's climate?      Mostly Disagree      22 Jun 2010      0 Points
I expect Jon's research will go into the next IPCC report - that cosmic rays have a negligible forcing effect. Many skeptics were relying on cosmic radiation as the mystery variable to explain recent climatic changes. Without a mystery variable, the obvious explanation for recent warming is that it's driven by CO2. In fact, you can't actually reproduce our current climate in any of the climate models if you remove the forcing effect of CO2 from the model. The skeptical hope was that fluctuations in cosmic radiation was the unknown force the models were not taking into account.

Far more damning to the skeptical position however, is the fact that S. Fred Singer in the 2008 NIPCC summary document claims that "Empirical evidence suggests very strongly that the main cause of warming and cooling on a decadal scale derives from solar activity via its modulation of cosmic rays that in turn affect atmospheric cloudiness." Huh? At the time, there was simply a lack of evidence for this view, yet S. Fred Singer had no problem claiming this view was highly likely.

In comparison to the NIPCC, the IPCC's 4th assessment report did precisely the right thing when there was a lack of evidence - it remained neutral on the cause. This however, was conservative of their part - that particular cause had already been indirectly eliminated.

Are biofuels good?      Mostly Agree      20 Jun 2010      0 Points
A summary of Steven Chu's take on biofuels from his speech here:

"Current biofuels come with their problems and the dependence on food crops is not sustainable nor desirable. Scientists like Chu are therefor working to develop new biomass conversion technologies that could end the food versus fuel dilemma, and serve communities in poor countries. The Nobel Laureate refers to an energy crop like Miscanthus, which yields 10 times more fuel than corn, requires no fertilizer or water, reduces erosion by a factor of 100 and requires no till. It grows its own nitrogen fixing bacteria and improves soil properties. These crops will become the feedstocks of the future. Chu is working on novel and efficient ways to breakdown the cellulose of these plants, which would make biofuels abdunant and cheap. Genomics and genetic engineering of microbes (such as those found in termite guts) will accomplish the task.

Are politicians' children "off-limits" to media scrutiny?      Mostly Disagree      18 Jun 2010      0 Points
I'd agree with that. And yes, gossip can go too far. I find rumours particularly obnoxious, where people don't give a fuck about the truth. Michael Jackson was publicly humiliated and that wasn't fair. For years I actually forced myself to not laugh at or make any of those pedophile jokes out of respect of the principle of presuming innocence. I'd have to give people the limp smile "yeah yeah yeah I get it very funny" routine.

Are politicians' children "off-limits" to media scrutiny?      Mostly Disagree      18 Jun 2010      0 Points
Most often, the kids who are picked on are teenagers working out how to become adults who fuck up in the process. It's irresistible for the media to make a meal of such things - voters/consumers giddily gobble it up and telling them it's "distasteful" is like leaving pork chops on the counter and ordering the dog to sit so you can go out and buy napkins. It's also irresistible for politicians to parade their kids on stage and in magazines to get more votes. So while I agree with Craig Ferguson that politicians are manipulative hypocrites, a politician is hardly going to adopt Craig's advice if they actually wanted to get elected.

My meta-point here is that the system is essentially stable, and that suggestions of how it ought to be different are typically impossible, given the balance of forces in the system. And to come back down to earth from the abstract to the personal, I'd be lying if I said I didn't go "ooh, really?!" when I heard Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol was pregnant. This is the daughter of the abstinence champion. It's juicy gossip, but it's actually relevant - it's like peeking through the broken wall of a politician's edifice.

Now, do I feel sorry for the kids? Well, I think there are both positive and negative aspects to having media attention - but overall I'd say with rich connected parents, these kids have more resources than the average kid to deal with such challenges. If my main concern here is caring about kids, I should direct my attention to kids who really need help. So basically, I don't think it's a big deal at all. If a politician was really concerned that their kids couldn't handle it, they should have chosen a different career. And if the kids really have broken down because of it - and I think that's rare and if so probably not the politician's fault - we have the option of taking that into account when exercising our vote.

Did complex life evolve through the process of natural selection?      Agree      17 Jun 2010      0 Points
"That does not, however, show that science and religion are opposites and nor does it disprove either theory. Science and religion simply use different means to understand things."
This view is commonly stated as a fact, when in fact it's highly debatable. See Are the core truths of science and religion complementary?

"I will never decide on this issue"
This amounts to saying that your viewpoint is immune to evidence.

Is the world explainable without God?      Agree      17 Jun 2010      0 Points
"I believe that we can only ever explain the universe and life be considering every option until one is proven impossible."

It's more accurate to say that scientific theories are inherently falsifiable. We only hypothesize theories that are necessarily vulnerable to being proven wrong, and theories that cannot be proven wrong are vacuous.

The problem with using God as an explanation, is that such explanations are inherently unfalsifiable - they can never be proven wrong. Someone who says "God explains X" don't actually create experiments whereby the outcome could result in them saying "I agree that this disproves or lowers the probability that God exists". Now, I can accept that such explanations may help people deal with life, have a more poetic and sublime view of the world, and socially resonate with other people who also use God as explanations for events. However, in these cases, the word "explanation" has stretched to the point it's really divorced from its everyday usage, and is actually antithetical to its scientific usage.

Do antioxidant supplements have health benefits?      Disagree      11 Jun 2010      0 Points
Good to see Deepak is getting his slice of this $40 billion industry of bullshit.

Is the Earth approximately 6000 years old? (as opposed to 4.5 billion)      Disagree      05 Jun 2010      0 Points
"All science is theoretical. Carbon dating was created by man. Science was created by man. The earth and the universe was created by GOD with no mistakes. Science was created by man that has countless contradicting mistakes."

God made colors because He didn't want us to see the world in black and white.

Are women misleading when expressing what they want from a man?      Agree      28 May 2010      0 Points
To be successful in this world requires looking past what people say and reading their underlying intentions. With this in mind, is it surprising that a woman wanting a successful man might be inclined to test if he's smart enough to read her?

Does Cap and Trade beat carbon tax for reducing emissions?      Mostly Disagree      27 May 2010      0 Points
I agreed with everything you said, but I'd add that some economists have actually projected the economic gain/loss from reducing emissions, and it appears to be a net economic loss (see Bjorn Lomborg's opinion on the issue of whether substantially reducing emissions is worthwhile). I'm with Bill Gates that the winning strategy is to invest in clean energy R&D in the form of 4th generation nuclear power plants, possibly fueled with thorium.

Does drug prohibition reduce drug usage?      Disagree      14 May 2010      0 Points
A thought that hasn't been mentioned by the experts included so far: you gain status by not autonomously following the authority's rules, especially within the counterculture who hates those rules. Outlawing anything a large chunk of the population likes fuels the bad is cool engine which only gets supercharged by the government's nannyganda (though I'm in favor of scientific and sociological education of the risks).

Should abortion be legal?      Mostly Agree      10 May 2010      0 Points
"I haven't seen good reason to believe that a fetus isn't a person."
I believe the moral confusion occurs because people crave an absolute line where what exists is a gradual development into personhood. The question Is the value of a life proportional to its level of consciousness? seems to be the most logical reason to believe that a fetus isn't yet a person.

Does homosexuality have a significant genetic component?      Mostly Agree      09 May 2010      0 Points
Conservatives aren't interested in your complicated papers. They have the bible. The bible clearly says that homosexuality is wrong. Since God is just, he couldn't have made us hard-wired to be evil - evil must be a choice.

This type of reasoning - where scripture is used to determine science facts - is dangerous. This is why I'd disagree with you on the issue of atheists directly challenging religious beliefs. The cruelty of challenging someone's beliefs - which at most is an attack of words (and I'd recommend any attack be done with courtesy and respect) - hardly compares to the cruelty of denying homosexuals legal rights.

Do ghosts exist?      Disagree      09 May 2010      0 Points
Or rather, no good evidence. There's a mountain of bad evidence. The reason people believe in ghosts is due to their inability to distinguish between good and bad evidence.

Should the federal government ban gay marriage?      Disagree      09 May 2010      0 Points
"this is such an obvious constitutional overreach that I'm surprised conservatives can stomach it."

Both conservatives and liberals will invoke constitutional arguments when it serves their cause, and come up with excuses as to why a constitutional argument doesn't apply when it contradicts their prejudices. People don't think like supreme court judges.

Is truthfulness a characteristic of a politician who is good for the people?      Mostly Disagree      01 May 2010      0 Points
Daniel Dennett has an article here that touches on the issue, at least in one respect. "We are stuck, for the time being, with what I have called an engine of hypocrisy. Only when people who are not running for office and hence have nothing to lose in this regard have spoken candidly ... Bearing this in mind, we secular humanists [should make] it clear that we aren't in the least bit impressed by the avowals of devotion on the part of ANY candidate, but we recognize their need to make those avowals."

Robin Hanson says here that "Candidates have strong expertize and incentives to attend to their task, but that task is largely to pander to voter illusions."

In other words, truthfulness is political suicide. Given this, it's not rational to want politicians to be truthful any more than it is to want a golden egg laying goose.

When Dennett say "we are stuck for the time being in a engine of hypocrisy" I think he misses the larger point: the engine is democracy itself. So long as voters have illusions, politicians will tell lies, just as so long as consumers have illusions, advertisements will tell lies. Does anyone seriously think that truthfulness is a characteristic of an advertisement that is good for the consumer? If that company advertised truthfully it would go out of business, and now be completely useless to the consumer. Politics is very much like business in this respect.

Did the US Government play a part in the 9/11 attacks?      Disagree      27 Apr 2010      1 Point
"This is just my opinion and you people might disagree with me but, i dont really care"

A glib attitude like this is fine if we're talking about the color of your underwear. But we're talking about 3,000 lives that were lost and the legitimacy of the US government. It's part of our social responsibility to care about what other people think on matters that we find mutually important. In this particular case, to not care, would be to not care the lives lost on that day, and perhaps far worse, not care about the future of the far great number of lives affected by the US government.

Is the health risk of a psychoactive drug a legitimate reason to make it illegal?      Mostly Disagree      27 Apr 2010      0 Points
A comment from another question:

"i dont even think that tobacco or alchohol should be legal. all addicting drugs ruin lives and health. why make these things legal? would you go to to yourself in the morning, i'll go drink some poison for the heck of it? i really doubt it. marijuana leads to cancer, brain damage, blurred vision, damaged memory, quicker aging, and many more things."

Some anti-drug advocates argue as if everything we do must maximize our longevity and health. This is false. We routinely risk our lives and health because we want to enjoy our lives. Do we choose to stay at home rather than drive to the beach, because we're worried about the risk of being in a car crash? Do we avoid that extra pork rib, even though we'd live longer and be a bit healthier if we didn't? Do we avoid playing sports that are statistically more likely to cause premature death or injuries than others?

We want to maximize joy in our lives, and this goal frequently conflicts with the goal of maximizing longevity and health. If we want to make tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana illegal, based on the fact they impact longevity and health, we're going to have to calculate the risks of all possible activities, and uniformly ban all enjoyable activities with a risk that hits a certain threshold. This is obviously an absurd endeavor.

Furthermore, the sound bite "any amount of any drug is harmful to your body" is scientifically false. Drugs become health risks only at a certain level of usage. A law against a drug necessarily impinges on the freedom of those who aren't using that drug at a level that would justify the drug's illegality in the first place. Banning fat foods might help obese people, but that impinges on the rights of everyone who isn't obese, but who enjoys the occasional late night pizza.

And liberty is ultimately what it comes down to. To ban what someone is able to do themselves is to steal their freedom.

Do we have an immaterial soul?      Disagree      26 Apr 2010      0 Points
"We are literally soulless machines made of meat, honed by millions of years of ruthless, pitiless evolution."

Nature is both cruel and kind. If it wasn't for the random mechanism that causes horrible genetic mutations we'd never have breathtaking beauty. Myers, at least in this comment, seems to focus on the negative side of the equation of life. In addition, his use of language has nasty connotations. Whether it's "correct" for people to do so or not, people hear "soulless" as "heartless" and "not soulful". And referring to humans as meat...? The only time that language would have positive connotations would be if you were marketing to cannibals or death metal fans.

Is capitalism good?      Mostly Agree      26 Apr 2010      0 Points
A core reason capitalism works is that it's based on a predominantly selfish view of human nature that meshes nicely with evolutionary psychology, while its alternatives are based on romantic notions of human nature that people like to signal but do not live up to (ironically also for evo-psych reasons).

If we accept people act primarily out of self interest, and we want to maximize everyone's self interest, then the best system will empower each person. The alternatives require that the individuals whom comprise the bureaucratic power structure tasked with wealth allocation will resist the temptation to act in accordance with their nature.

Can reductionist methods help explain consciousness?      Agree      23 Apr 2010      1 Point
"A materialist could conceivably analyze the brain functions of [a] Mozart down to the last synaptic firing, but that would tell us nothing ... about the meaning of music."

This argument is as relevant as the argument "You can't reduce Microsoft Word to the charges and discharges in transistors!".

Have you heard of the concept of falsifiability? It really changed my thinking when I learnt about it. What it says, is that when choosing what theories to believe in, we should pick the ones that predict things that are highly vulnerable to being proven wrong.

Suppose I tell you "there's less oxygen at higher altitudes". When I say this, I'm leaving myself vulnerable, because the theory makes predictions, and if those predictions turn out to be wrong, so is my theory. The theory should predict that you'll find it difficult to breathe if you climb a tall mountain, that combustion should be slower up there, and if you fly a jet it won't be able to go past a certain altitude without its engine dying. A theory earns credibility in the same way the person making the theory does: by putting themselves on the line. Make predictions. Test the predictions. Are the predictions wrong? Then so is the theory.

In contrast, the problem with astrology, is that the theory is essentially invulnerable to being proven wrong. The theory makes predictions, sure. But when the predictions don't turn out as expected, there's always a reason the astrologers give as to why that's the case. So it's not that the theory is wrong per se, it's just that the theory hasn't earned credibility. The theory, and the proponents of the theory, don't put themselves on the line.

And here's the clincher: astrologers don't need to put themselves on the line. In astrology as it's widely conducted, there is no premium on predictions that more accurately align with the stars. What separates a good astrologer from a bad one is the brilliance with which they 1) make those predictions general enough to work across many if not most people 2) in the context of a particular person, tailor those predictions to that person.

Is the health risk of a psychoactive drug a legitimate reason to make it illegal?      Mostly Disagree      28 Mar 2010      0 Points
I consider myself a libertarian, but there may be a non-libertarian argument in favor of legalizing drugs despite the health risks.

Consider the risk/reward ratio of not wearing a seat-belt:

Risk: Injury/mortality
Reward: Minor convenience for person

Now consider the risk/reward ratio of magic mushrooms:

Risk: Injury/mortality (extremely rare)
Reward: Major experience for person

With regards to seat-belt laws, there is no serious dispute as to risk/reward ratio. The injury/mortality rates? Both sides can agree. The fact that wearing a seat-belt is a minor inconvenience? Both sides agree. There may be a dispute as to what risk/reward is acceptable for an individual, but at least the risk/reward itself is not seriously disputed.

However, with regards to anti-drug laws, there is a serious dispute as to the risk/reward ratio itself. Anti-drug advocates typically exaggerate the risks and flatly deny any rewards, i.e. for all drugs the reward = 0. In other words, the debate doesn't even reach the stage where the actual risk/reward ratio can be discussed, because anti-drug advocates are dishonest about the risk/rewards involved.

I agree libertarianism provides a simpler answer to this question. But perhaps more headway can be made on the drug issue if legality can be justified without necessarily appealing to libertarianism.

Are our enemies innately evil?      Mostly Disagree      28 Mar 2010      0 Points
Great analysis. I need to implement a voting system to vote this answer up.

Does government spending help mitigate a recession?      Disagree      28 Mar 2010      0 Points
To rephrase the question, what is better:

1) Lower taxes, keep government spending constant.
2) Keep taxes constant, increase government spending.

My intuition is '1' is the best, because it's less distortionary. So why does '2' occur? Perhaps it's the "Politician's syllogism":

We must do something
This is something
Therefore, we must do this.

From Yes, Minister, here.

Is the Earth approximately 6000 years old? (as opposed to 4.5 billion)      Disagree      19 Mar 2010      -1 Point
Actually, Russell Humphreys has a PhD in physics, yet still believes in a young earth. It's a gem of an example of motivated cognition and mental compartmentalization.

Can science prove or disprove the existence of God?      Agree      17 Mar 2010      1 Point
What you say is undeniable: "the existence of anything which is in any way causally connected with us has implications about what will occur to us, and therefore can be tested by creating situations where the output would be different if the causal connection were absent."

The point is really so obvious, that the interesting question becomes what concoction of cognitive and social biases lead us to think this is not true. Eliezer Yudkowsky gives a partial explanation of that.

Are people who reject theories as unscientific closed minded?      Disagree      05 Mar 2009      0 Points
What if:

* I had a theory we can bungee jump without cords?
* I had a theory on how we could get rich, that involved you first depositing all your money into my account?
* I had a theory that you're dreaming right now, and I've been sent into your psyche to wake you up?

Under dictionary.com's definition, you'd have a closed mind if you rejected my theories. The dictionary's job is to tell you how a word is used ordinarily, even if that ordinary usage has circumstances where it makes no sense at all.

Do ghosts exist?      Disagree      04 Mar 2009      0 Points
I wonder who Jessica talked to before telling her story?

1. The publicists for her new supernatural thriller?
2. A scientist.

They can't get scientists near her without their brains melting.

Comparisons with Experts and Influencers

The similarity between Benja and each expert and influencer is calculated by looking at how the same questions were answered. These figures are used to calculate conforming, nonconforming, and projected opinions. The accuracy of the analysis depends on Benja's coverage, which grows with the number of their opinions entered into TakeOnIt.

Agree
Wikipedia
World's Largest Encyclopedia
92% agreement / 10 opinions

Richard Dawkins
Evolutionary Biologist, Writer, Atheism Activist
94% agreement / 9 opinions

Ayn Rand
Philosopher, Novelist
83% agreement / 9 opinions

Eliezer Yudkowsky
Artificial Intelligence Researcher
95% agreement / 6 opinions

Paul Z. Myers
Biology Professor
100% agreement / 6 opinions

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC) Scientific Body formed by U.N.
85% agreement / 5 opinions

Mostly Agree
Heartiste
Pickup Artist
75% agreement / 3 opinions

Al Gore
Environmentalist, Former U.S. Vice President
75% agreement / 3 opinions

Kenneth Miller
Biology Professor, Christian
66% agreement / 3 opinions

Hillary Clinton
US Secretary of State 2009-, Democrat
75% agreement / 2 opinions

American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU) Lobbyist
75% agreement / 2 opinions

Ebru Demir
Researcher, Research Institute of Molecular Pathology
75% agreement / 1 opinions

In-Between
Barack Obama
United States President
55% agreement / 13 opinions

John McCain
U.S. Senator, Republican
58% agreement / 6 opinions

Robert Todd Carroll
Philosophy Professor
50% agreement / 4 opinions

S. Fred Singer
Head of NIPCC, Astrophysics Professor
50% agreement / 4 opinions

Joseph Stiglitz
Nobel Laureate in Economics, Ex World Bank Chief Economist
43% agreement / 4 opinions

Time Magazine
Popular Magazine
58% agreement / 3 opinions

Mostly Disagree
Conservapedia
Christian Encyclopedia
25% agreement / 9 opinions

Roy Spencer
Meteorologist
35% agreement / 5 opinions

Sarah Palin
Former Governor of Alaska (Republican)
25% agreement / 5 opinions

Osama Bin Laden
Former Leader of Al Qaeda
37% agreement / 4 opinions

Kevin Rudd
Australian Prime Minister, 2007-2010
25% agreement / 4 opinions

Donald Trump
American Business Magnate
33% agreement / 3 opinions

Disagree
Deepak Chopra
Inventor of Quantum Healing
3% agreement / 7 opinions

The Catholic Church
Largest Christian Church
8% agreement / 6 opinions

Liz Greene
Pioneer in Modern Astrology
0% agreement / 4 opinions

George W. Bush
United States President 2001-2009
8% agreement / 3 opinions

Ann Coulter
Political Commentator
0% agreement / 3 opinions

Albert Mohler
President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
8% agreement / 3 opinions

Conforming Opinions

Benja's conforming opinions are opinions that align with the group of experts and influencers Benja typically agrees with.

Coverage Answer Question
High Disagree Is there life after death?
High Agree Did complex life evolve through the process of natural selection?
High Disagree Is abstinence-only sex education effective?
High Disagree Does astrology work (is personality correlated with the positions of celestial bodies at birth)?
High Disagree Do we have an immaterial soul?
High Mostly Disagree Is truthfulness a characteristic of a politician who is good for the people?
High Disagree Does government spending help mitigate a recession?
High Agree Do the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks?
High Agree Is thorium a viable energy source for the future?
High Disagree Is truth relative?
High Disagree Does evolution violate the second law of thermodynamics?
High Disagree Did Michael Jackson molest children?
Medium Agree Can science prove or disprove the existence of God?
Medium Mostly Agree Are the causes of climate change well understood?
Medium Agree Do Muslims have the right to build a mosque near ground zero?
Medium Agree Is information-theoretic death the most real interpretation of death?
Medium Disagree Does homeopathy work?
Medium Disagree Did the US Government play a part in the 9/11 attacks?
Medium Disagree Are people who reject theories as unscientific closed minded?
Medium Disagree Do ghosts exist?
Medium Agree Can reductionist methods help explain consciousness?
Medium Disagree Does drug prohibition reduce drug usage?
Low Disagree Should the federal government ban gay marriage?
Low Disagree Is the Earth approximately 6000 years old? (as opposed to 4.5 billion)
Low Disagree Is the theory of evolution falsified by fossil evidence?
Low Agree Are women misleading when expressing what they want from a man?
Low Agree Is the world explainable without God?
Low Disagree Is science ultimately just a matter of faith?
Low Agree Is homosexuality natural?
Low Disagree Does unpredictable weather imply unpredictable climate?

Nonconforming Opinions

Benja's nonconforming opinions are opinions that contradict the group of experts and influencers Benja typically agrees with.

Coverage Group Answer Contributor Answer Question
High Agree Mostly Agree Is global warming caused primarily by humans?
High Agree Mostly Agree Should abortion be legal?
High Disagree Mostly Disagree Are our enemies innately evil?
High Disagree Mostly Disagree Does minimum wage help the poor?
High Disagree Mostly Disagree Does Cap and Trade beat carbon tax for reducing emissions?
High Agree Mostly Agree Is capitalism good?
Medium Agree Mostly Agree Does homosexuality have a significant genetic component?
Medium Disagree Mostly Disagree Are the core truths of science and religion complementary?
Medium Disagree Mostly Disagree Do negative feedback loops mostly cushion the effect of atmospheric CO2 increases?
Medium Agree Mostly Agree Is scientific consensus relevant?
Medium Disagree Mostly Disagree Does cosmic radiation significantly affect earth's climate?
Medium Disagree Mostly Disagree Can renewables meet base-load energy demands?
Low Disagree Mostly Disagree Is the health risk of a psychoactive drug a legitimate reason to make it illegal?
Low Agree Mostly Agree Should the world embrace nuclear energy?
Low Mostly Disagree Disagree Do antioxidant supplements have health benefits?

Projected Opinions

Benja's projected opinions are opinions Benja is expected to have if their opinions align with the experts and influencers that they typically agree with.

Coverage Answer Question
High Disagree Does God exist?
High Agree Is free trade generally beneficial for a country?
High Agree Should atheists directly challenge religious beliefs?
High Neutral Is free will an illusion?
High Mostly Agree Is self-deception a fault?
High Mostly Agree Is the IPCC objective?
High Mostly Agree Does life have a meaning?
High Disagree Must God exist to explain how the universe began?
High Disagree Is Yucca mountain the best place to store nuclear waste?
High Mostly Disagree Can we handle the truth?
Medium Agree Does sun exposure cause skin cancer?
Medium Mostly Agree Should the US close Guantanamo Bay?
Medium Mostly Agree Is living forever or having a greatly extended lifespan desirable?
Medium Disagree Is censorship acceptable?
Medium Mostly Agree Should marijuana be legal?
Medium Mostly Agree Is morality objective?
Medium Mostly Agree Would the world be better off without the Catholic Church?
Medium Neutral Is "ought" derived from "is"?
Medium Mostly Disagree Is the war on drugs good policy?
Medium Agree Should psychoactive drugs be legal?
Medium Neutral Is a technological singularity likely?
Medium Mostly Agree Should the United States invade Iraq?
Medium Neutral Is hypocrisy acceptable?
Medium Agree Is nuclear energy safe enough to justify its use?
Medium Agree Will IPCC climate models make accurate predictions?
Medium Disagree Is God just?
Medium Agree Could a computer ever be conscious?
Medium Mostly Disagree Does religion encourage good behavior?
Medium Disagree Is the unconscious philosophical zombie possible?
Medium Mostly Agree Should flag burning be legal?
Medium Mostly Agree Would invading Iraq result in a quagmire?
Low Mostly Agree Does belief in God have a significant genetic component?
Low Neutral Should marijuana be decriminalized?
Low Agree Does Iraq possess weapons of mass destruction?
Low Mostly Agree Should women have the right to vote?
Low Mostly Agree Are pickup artist strategies morally acceptable?
Low Mostly Agree Are pickup artist strategies effective?
Low Mostly Disagree Are pickup artist strategies misogynistic?
Low Neutral Will the WikiLeaks cable leaks do more harm than good?
Low Mostly Disagree Has feminism gone too far?
Low Agree Would a rise in global temperature catastrophically increase sea levels?
Low Mostly Disagree Are politicians generally good people?
Low Neutral Will solar be the biggest energy source of the future?
Low Neutral Is the death penalty acceptable?
Low Disagree Are we prepared for a pandemic?
Low Mostly Agree Should paternity testing be mandatory?
Low Neutral Can the US military presence in Iraq help create democracy?
Low Disagree Should Intelligent Design be taught in science class?
Low Disagree Is hope good?
Low Disagree Does Protocell work?
Low Mostly Agree Is the case for anthropogenic global warming politically biased in its favor?
Low Agree Do condoms effectively prevent HIV?
Low Neutral Can hallucinogens enrich one's life?
Low Disagree Does everything happen for a reason?
Low Neutral Is development aid to Africa effective?
Low Mostly Disagree Is trying to "change the world" foolish?
Low Agree Is the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics correct?
Low Disagree Do miracles happen?
Low Disagree Can poor eyesight be improved with eye exercises?
Low Mostly Agree Is politics a waste of time for ordinary citizens?
Low Agree Is substantially reducing CO2 emissions worthwhile?
Low Neutral Is Islam fundamentally a peaceful religion?
Low Neutral Is intelligent extraterrestrial life common in our galaxy?
Low Disagree Are psychic powers real?
Low Agree Is it ethical to eat meat?
Low Mostly Agree Does smoking cause cancer?
Low Mostly Disagree Is it important to fit in with your peer group?
Low Disagree Do Gödellian arguments refute a computational model of the mind?
Low Neutral Is it plausible that we're living in a simulation?
Low Disagree Have aliens from outer space visited Earth?
Low Agree Is cryonics worthwhile?
Low Disagree Have solar cycles significantly affected earth's recent climate?
Low Mostly Agree Should gay and straight couples have the same legal benefits?
Low Mostly Agree Should the US president talk face to face with Iran's president?
Low Disagree Is Russia's invasion of Georgia justified?