No, Bacon Is Not as Bad for You as Smoking

Photo close-up of bacon sizzling in a pan.Some of you might have heard that bacon was rated as being as carcinogenic as smoking by the World Health Organization.

No. That did not happen.

And this is a good case for learning some modern critical thinking skills.

I’ll spoil the surprise by quoting them directly:

No, processed meat has been classified in the same category as causes of cancer such as tobacco smoking and asbestos (IARC Group 1, carcinogenic to humans), but this does NOT mean that they are all equally dangerous. The IARC classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence about an agent being a cause of cancer, rather than assessing the level of risk.

In other words, all they said is that we are certain that “processed meats” (i.e. chemically treated meats) do cause cancer (in fact, just one cancer: colorectal cancer). They did not say it was all that bad a cause of it—certainly nowhere near as bad as smoking is of an assortment of other cancers (not only of the lung), which is dozens of times deadlier compared to an average consumption of processed meat—and most people are average consumers.


First Rule of Critical Thinking Club Is: Always go to the original source and read what it actually says. The media should never be trusted to get a story right. Even less so some rando on twitter.

Second Rule of Critical Thinking Club Is: Never buy any alarmism about risk until you know how to compare the newly claimed risk to risks you already accept.

What do I mean by that? [Read more…]

New & Improved Critical Thinking Course

Cover image of Bo Bennett's new edition of Logically Fallacious.I’ll be teaching critical thinking skills online this November. With a new, easier, lower priced textbook: Logically Fallacious: The Ultimate Collection of Over 300 Logical Fallacies, the new Academic Edition, by Bo Bennett of The Humanist Hour. Get your copy now! And register today! Class starts November 1.

Learn the basics you need in logic, cognitive science, and reasoning about probability, to be a better, sharper thinker, about everything that matters in your life.

Or spread the word. Tell any of your friends or contacts who might be interested. Lots of people might want to hone their knowledge and skills in this domain. And this class is all about helping with that.

What will this course cover? Why take it? Here is the course description…

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Katherine Cross on Tone Policing

Katherine Cross has written an excellent piece on distinguishing legitimate from illegitimate tone policing: Words for Cutting: Why We Need to Stop Abusing The Tone Argument. The article is a valuable read all through. Do not regard my summary here as its replacement. My aim is only to expand on it.


Cross makes two overarching points. One is that though intention is not magic, it does matter (as she says, it’s still data). And we should acknowledge that. I shall have nothing to say about that; it’s obviously correct (see Dan Fincke). The other is that while it is legitimate to denounce tone policing in many cases (and not only because it’s a fallacy), this should not become a non-circumstantial rule that applies to every instance, as if all tone policing were bad. It’s not.

Within that overarching point she makes the following supporting points:

  • Tone policing someone who is defending the oppressed or victimized is often illegitimate. Because when someone does that, “while they claim to be attacking tone, they are actually attacking the message, and often as not the very identity of the messenger.” This is thoroughly explained at GeekFeminismWiki. In these cases, tone isn’t really the issue. It’s just being used to silence someone or avoid addressing the point they are making. And that’s wrong. If you try to do that, you deserve to get called out on your shit. Own it. Then stop it. And do better in future. (I think this can also be done in ignorance—not just as a deliberate tactic, but out of not appreciating the context that evokes a particular tone, as I noted in the case of JT Eberhard’s attempt to tone-police Bria Crutchfield two years ago.)
  • Anger and other so-called negative emotions are important and have tremendous personal and social utility (without which, see Miranda). Anger is not irrational. Anger is data and motivation. You can be angry for irrational reasons. But not all reasons to be angry are irrational. Nevertheless, as Cross says, “like any emotion or tool, there are right and wrong ways to deploy it.” Thus, calling someone out for (let’s say) calling for sexists to be killed (even in jest) is not an illegitimate tone argument. That is a fully legitimate tone argument. If you are doing that, your tone is fucked. Sort that shit out.
  • Genuinely censurable tone can include threats, ill-wishing, calls for violence, ad hominems, or just plain abuse (see my article The Art of the Insult & The Sin of the Slur for more on that last point).

In short, in Cross’s words:

To put it simply: sometimes someone is being too angry. Sometimes an activist’s rage is doing more harm than good. Sometimes there is no good being done by it whatsoever. Not every emotion we have is a great strike against oppressive forces. Sometimes you are just being too loud, abusing people verbally, triggering them, and so forth. Sometimes you are just being a jerk and your tone is a fairly reliable indicator of this.

Quite. There are some things I think that could be added, though… [Read more…]

Peter Boghossian on Gay Pride and Hobnobbing with an Online Misogynist

Yesterday I posted an enhanced edition of my Ohio speech on feminism. Today I am posting key material from my Portland speech that extends the same argument to a broader application, focusing on some of the recent public statements of Peter Boghossian… [Read more…]

Why Atheism Needs Feminism

Info graphic showing Pat Robertson's face and displaying his ridiculous quote about feminism, which is included in my Ohio speech (so you can read it there).Over the last few months I’ve given a few public speeches on how things said by some of the top front men in our movement are divorced from reality. Including Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Peter Boghossian. One of those speeches I delivered last year as the keynote speech for the Humanist Community of Central Ohio’s Solstice Banquet. A resounding standing ovation at that was reassuring. They have since put a transcript of that speech online.

The points I made were well received. Not surprising, as self-identifying humanists tend to get it, in a way nihilistic atheists don’t. In Portland last month I extended the argument even beyond, pointing out that in fact feminism doesn’t just follow as a core value of humanism, but is essential to any kind of movement atheism that expects to grow and earn the world’s respect. As well as make the world a better place, of course. But I understand some atheists don’t give a shit about that. Yet even the heartless “I’ve got mine, fuck everyone else” Machiavellian will have to admit, if movement atheism never grows very much larger than it is, and simply reinforces all the stereotypes of atheists as amoral threats to human welfare, who treat women and minorities and gays and the trans community so poorly it just stays predominately a white man’s club, then it will have strangled itself with its own umbilical cord.

At Ohio I already explained how critical thinking plus compassion entails feminism. And fully justifies a lot of the criticism feminists have leveled at movement atheists lately. I don’t pretend all of it is justified (I haven’t even seen all of it), but enough of it is to warrant our attention. That speech was titled Oh No! Humanism Means Stuff! Why Compassion + Critical Thought = Feminism. I’m reproducing the whole transcript here with minor edits and more formatting and hyperlinks. Tomorrow I’ll post some additional material from my Portland speech, in which I examine Peter Boghossian’s remarks about gay pride and his hobnobbing with infamous misogynist Stefan Molyneux. But first, here is the Ohio speech… [Read more…]

Live, This Sunday, on Atheist Analysis!

Advert for the episode of Atheist Analysis, graphically representing the basic info in the post, plus a picture of Richard Carrier editied to have him holding Bayes' Theorem in his hand.The vidcast Atheist Analysis, which streams live at 10pm Eastern this Sunday (Feb. 22) and takes questions from the audience during the show, will be interviewing me. The topic: why Bayes’ Theorem is awesome. (Also, of course, what Bayes’ Theorem is, how non-mathematicians can understand and use it, and especially how it models reasoning about claims in history.) After me they are interviewing FtB founder Ed Brayton, to talk about his comedy, and efforts to make the atheism movement more inclusive and ethical. And then up is Michigan activist Mitch Kale (I think they mean Mitch Kahle) and (I presume) his local fights for church state separation. So it sounds like a pretty good show to catch!

Tune in!

Join My New Course This January: Critical Thinking in the 21st Century

Starting January 1 (2015) I will be teaching an online course on Critical Thinking in the 21st Century: Essential Skills Everyone Should Master. Click that to register.

The required course text (which students should purchase as soon as possible) is Ken Manktelow, Thinking and Reasoning: An Introduction to the Psychology of Reason, Judgment and Decision Making (available in paperback … or on kindle for either purchase or rent: make sure you select the desired option before purchase). All other course materials (articles and video lectures) will be provided for free.

Official Course Description:

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Appearing Near Phoenix for SSA West

The Secular Student Alliance’s Western Regional Conference is coming up, this June 20-22 (Friday-Sunday, 2014), in Tempe, Arizona, near Phoenix (details and registration and everything here). And I’ll be there. Some of my books will be for sale the whole con. And I’ll be around all weekend. But I’ll also be giving a talk on Practical Logic: Making Your Group More Effective, presently scheduled for Saturday the 21st from 5:30pm to 6:00pm.


Being logical isn’t just for debunking religion. It’s also useful for improving your group’s ability to work together, solve internal problems, and achieve external goals. Dr. Carrier will summarize several important tips on how to do that.

And as in past years there will be tons of other awesome talks and workshops of a consistently useful nature. Events will be held in the ASU Memorial Union at 301 E. Orange Mall (Tempe, AZ).

On Evaluating Arguments from Consensus

I have often been asked how we should evaluate arguments from consensus. That’s where someone says “the consensus of experts is that P, therefore we should agree P is true.” On the one hand, this looks like an Argument from Authority, a recognized fallacy. On the other hand, we commonly think it should add weight to a conclusion that the relevant experts endorse it. Science itself is based on this assumption. As is religion, lest a religionist think they can defeat science by rejecting all appeals to authority–because such a tack would defeat all religion as well, even your own judgment, since if all appeals to authority are invalid, so is every appeal to yourself as an authority (on your religion, or even on your own life and experience).

And yet, it is often enough the case that a consensus of experts is wrong (as proved even by the fact that the scientific consensus has frequently changed, as has the consensus in any other domain of expertise, from history to motorboat repair). And our brains are cognitively biased to over-trust those we accept as authorities (the Asch effect), putting us at significant risk of false belief if we are not sufficiently critical of our relying on an expert. It’s only more complicated when we have warring experts and have to choose between them, even though we are not experts ourselves.

So what do we do?

[Read more…]