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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Risperdal Versus Volkswagen Diesel Engines

What is worse, Volkswagen purposely developing and installing software to cheat on emissions tests or Johnson and Johnson hiding side effects and a lack of efficacy of the drug Risperdal? Let us not focus on the impact of each act of dishonesty. The question is not whether it is worse to pollute the air than to hide harmful side effects of your pharmaceutical (and a lack of efficacy) from the FDA. The question is about the moral behavior of a group of executives. On a scale of 1 to 10, how morally corrupt was the behavior of the Volkswagen and Johnson and Johnson executives?

We often see this situation. A corporation is listed as a defendant in a huge lawsuit. They lose their case, admit no guilt and pay out huge sums of cash to settle. No individuals are held accountable. It is a perfect set up for a criminal organization.

Volkswagen is in the news. Most people know what they did. Volkswagen has admitted their crime. The CEO is gone. Volkswagen is now seriously taking on the job of restoring public faith in the integrity of their brand.

Johnson and Johnson was also in the news. They were found guilty of hiding side effects and a lack of efficacy for their drug Risperdal. They have been fined $2.2 Billion USD... $2.2 Billion?

Volkswagen is facing a potential $18 billion in fines after admitting that they sold 482,000 diesels since 2009. They will also have to recall all the vehicles and modify the emissions systems. And did I mention that the CEO is out of work?

If you divide $18B by $2.2B you get 8.18. Is the Volkswagen scandal 8.18 times as bad as the Risperdal scandal? What about the leadership of Johnson and Johnson and Janssen Pharmaceuticals? Who lost their job? Not one executive felt the need to throw themselves or someone else under the bus like former Volkswagen CEO Martin WInterkorn. These executives still thrive in the pharmaceutical industry. They are what we consider, successful men and women.

It has always seemed strange to me... the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first, they love the produce of the second. - John Steinbeck

Here is a list of drug company fines from 2001 to the present. This is a list on Wikipedia listing the 20 largest settlements from the pharmaceutical industry. Note that the sum total of the 20 largest big pharma settlements with the Dept. of Justice equals $18 billion. The 20 largest fines equal one scandalous act by a car company selling 482,000 cars.

In case you have missed it, The Huffington Post has an ongoing narrative of the Risperdal case entitled Americas Most Admired Lawbreaker by Steven Brill here.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

William Lane Craig - The Gish Gallop

Cargo Cult thinking is embraced by our religion, Christianity. Cargo cults are groups of people who live in a world far separated from western society. Their beliefs have to be judged with consideration of their isolation and history. Christianity in the west does not have such a caveat. In spite of our superior understanding of how things work, we still cling to Jesus and God the same as cargo cult tribesmen cling to John Frum.
Many people in western civilization would not skip a beat if they were born, with the same mental make-up that they currently possess, into a Melanesian body and Melanesian tribe. William Lane Craig is a perfect example.

I first witnessed the madness of this person when watching YouTube videos of Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens is one of my heros. William Lane Craig (WLC) is now one of my anti-heros. He represents the kind of mind that Mark Twain spoke of when he said, "The trouble with the world today is not that people know too little, but that they know so many things that ain't so."

WTC debated Hitchens on the existence of god. Hitchens was brilliant as always. WLC did not belong on the same stage. He would hear an argument, pull out a file in his brain that contained a dumbed down version of the argument and then offer his pre-arranged response. I soon found myself watching WLC videos to pinpoint the thing that was so maddening about him. I listened to his podcasts, watched his debates and I became obsessed. I felt that if I could deconstruct this mans mind I would find a path to cargo cult belief systems.

The first thing I noticed was a curious method of debate. Craig would always choose the biggest words. His arguments were long winded and difficult to address in a public setting. Craig would present several bullet points and his foe would have to address each one to Craigs' satisfaction in order to "win" the debate. Upon failing to satisfy these demands, Craig would take the role of a judge and declare that his foe had lost the debate. In my estimation, WLC was completely destroyed in each debate. The problem was that he was too dumb to know he had been soundly defeated. By reading what others thought about the maddening debate tactics of Craig I discovered the concept of the Gish Gallop technique. If you follow that link to the bottom you will find a link to William Lane Craig. I will leave off of WLC bashing and let the reader learn more about him through the RationalWiki link.

Why does WLC matter? He has mastered the Gish Gallop technique. We must learn from him. WTC will live his life believing what he believes without any resistance from logical arguments. Cargo cults will continue whether or not we go to them and explain where they are going wrong. Science on the other hand must fight against the Gish Gallap form of argument.

The Gish Gallop is the debating technique of drowning an opponent in such a torrent of small arguments that the opponent cannot possibly answer or address each one in real time. More often than not, these myriad arguments are full of half-truths, lies, and straw-man arguments — the only condition is that there be many of them, not that they be particularly compelling on their own. They may be escape hatches or "gotcha" arguments that are specifically designed to be brief, but take a long time to unravel. Thus, galloping is frequently used in timed debates (especially by creationists) to overwhelm one's opponent.

Is the Gish Gallop related to the complicated method of scientific discourse? Is it possible to apply the Gish Gallop concept to scientists who publish hundreds of papers in their careers? In the time allotted for an average human to have a "scientific" career, can we expect Einstein-like discoveries from the majority? Are we sometimes hoping to be believed knowing that our arguments are weak?

In my utopian world of scientific research there is a police force that has no other occupation but to enforce the law. Just as a street thug with thousands of dollars in cash in his pocket gives rise to the suspicion that he has engaged in some form of criminal activity, a scientist who has filled the journals with hundreds of papers should pique the interest of our police force. We must then begin to pour over the many papers with the Gish Gallap concept in mind. Will we find a myriad of half-truths, lies, and straw-man arguments, none of which are compelling on their own? Should we go back and pour over published work as a form of scientific research?

Religion does not like people who deconstruct their history. Stories such as Abraham ready to murder his infant son to somehow please his god do not bode well for the religions who use the story. Besides the immorality of the story, the "fact" that Abraham was 100 years old and his wife Sara was over 90 when Isaac was born presents a real dilemma for the believer. Apologists like WLC are needed to smooth over the bullshit. Science however has an ace up its sleeve. We do not like people like WLC. We like people like Feynman whose minds work differently.

I would rather have questions that can't be answered than answers that can't be questioned.