Dealing with it from the inside

I posted this on FB yesterday, but I think the term “panic attack” is kind of a misnomer. When we say “[x] attack” we normally mean “an attack caused by a/an [x]” – a bear attack is caused by a bear, an epileptic attack is caused by epilepsy, a heart attack… well, in the same way that’s kind of a misnomer too. Anyway, a panic attack isn’t like that. It’s not something caused by panic, it’s something that causes panic at inappropriate things or moments. The problem isn’t that I’m panicking over my bills, my work, or my life choices, it’s that there’s something in my head that’s causing me to react to that (or something else) as though I were being attacked by a bear, and that something will find a stimulus to latch on to, no matter how ridiculous it is. There is a core problem, in some but not all cases a medical one, that causes people to respond to things in an inappropriate manner. It’s not their choice to do this, they don’t want to do this, but despite that they still do.

How do I know that? Because last night at work, and just about as soon as I walked into work this morning, I started having the symptoms of a panic attack (for the record, those for me are: elevated heart rate, respiration, sweating in the absence of heat; increased irritability, impatience, aggressiveness and fear response; irrational thoughts and quick, inappropriate responses to external stimuli. Some or all may be present at any given time.). It didn’t start because I walked in to work, I think (because I deal with that stress just fine every day), but it chose that moment to manifest because that’s the earliest point in my day that I deal with any significant amount of stress. So, strictly speaking, it probably started some time before that, and I only noticed it when it found something to latch on to, and that required just the tiniest bit of stress. That’s how it works.

It’s kind of like an autoimmune disorder, in a way. When you have a regular immune response to something, it is scaled appropriately. When your immune system sees a kidney cell,  it says “Hi kidney cell, how ya doing?” When it sees a virion (viral particle), it kicks it out and says “no ticket.” When it sees a whole invading army of bacterial Nazis (yes, for some reason your immune system is Indiana Jones. No, I don’t know why), it sounds the inflammatory alarm bells and sets off a systemic cascade that recruits a whole bunch of white blood cells to help repel the invasion. When you have something like Crohn’s or Lupus or Rheumatoid Arthritis, your immune system responds to seeing something completely normal – a kidney cell, cartilage, or your own intestines – by setting off the alarm bells and trying to repel the invaders. In this way, a panic attack is similar. A panic attack is your brain reacting to perfectly normal things – school, life, work – or nothing at all by going into fight-or-flight mode, releasing adrenaline into your blood and causing you to physically prepare for the bear to come a-clawin’ at your face.

The way I remember learning about it, many reactions in your nervous system do not involve your brain at all. For instance, when you jerk your knee after the doc hits it with the rubber mallet, for instance, that cascade reaction only involves nerve cells in your leg and spinal cord. Most of the time, your heart rhythm is controlled by your heart. I imagine that to varying degrees, most autonomic functions in your body are that way. It feels like that’s happening here, too, in a tail-wagging-the-dog sort of way. Let me elaborate. It feels like there is something in my body or brain which is outside of my conscious control, which is causing adrenaline to be released into my blood. This causes a whole host of automatic responses that mostly encapsulate the symptoms I listed above. The effect on my brain is to encourage hyper-focus on my immediate surroundings, because that’s absolutely the correct response in a genuine situation where you ought to panic. So, the brain searches for the ‘source’ of the panic, the bear or whatever, and works to eliminate it or remove the situation in some other way. That means that any tiny situation which seems vaguely stressful can become this huge looming thing, simply because your brain decides to latch on to it and make it your whole world for the time being so that you can hyper-focus on it, solve it, and stop the alarm bells. In a normal situation, that would be the best response.

In this situation, that’s a problem. Because there is some persistent, invisible issue at hand, none of the proposed solutions work. Your brain, making a most reasonable assumption, assumes that the thing that it thought was the source of the problem was not. It goes looking for a new source, and the process repeats itself. This results in you panicking about small, meaningless situations and problems-that-aren’t; hyper-focusing on things you can’t address, like bills or why you chose the major you did in college; and just generally being jumpy, irritable, and acting as though every little problem is the end of the world. So in that way, it’s not an attack by panic, it’s an attack that causes panic at inappropriate times or for inappropriate reasons.

Hm. I’ll have to think about this some more. I’ll try to remain calm while I do, and deal with this from the inside.

Obamacare saved my life

The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) has divided America. Town halls, state houses, and news rooms are consumed with the debate over whether it is what we need, and whether it is what we want. None of this matters to me, though, because as strange and unbelievable as it sounds, the Affordable Care Act saved my life.

In 2006, I was diagnosed with an ear infection. It made me deaf in my right ear, but it seemed to resolve itself, so I put it on the back burner. At the time, I was a starving student. In 2007, I became a starving graduate. In 2008, President Obama was elected. Soon thereafter, the Affordable Care Act was signed into law. In early 2011, I got a letter in the mail from Blue Cross-Blue Shield. The ACA required my insurance carrier to cover children with pre-existing conditions, but at the urging of Sec. Sebelius they opted to cover all pre-existing conditions on insured persons. This seemed innocuous, but would not stay that way for long.

In December 2011 I discovered that 5 years prior, the doctor called it wrong. What he called an ear infection was actually a large brain tumor, and if I didn’t have surgery immediately I would soon be dead. I was rushed through a battery of tests, and only days later I was operated on by two of the finest surgeons I think one could have. One was the chief of neurosurgery, the other the chief of otolaryngology (“Ear, Nose and Throat” surgery), and their joint operation lasted nearly 16 hours. I lived, but it was a near thing. A less steady hand, a less precise method, and I would be dead right now. After I left the ICU, I saw the bill: more than $1,000,000 before insurance, and about $5000 after.

Without the Affordable Care Act, my insurance wouldn’t have covered the tumor, because it predated my insurance coverage by several years – a pre-existing condition. Without insurance, the hospital would have had no reason to not shuffle me down the street to the state-run charity hospital. Without the the best doctors, the tumor that nearly killed me might have finished the job. For all its flaws, the Affordable Care Act saved my life. When there is talk in Washington of repealing and replacing it, I always ask myself: if that had been done instead, would I be dead right now?

———-

I wrote the above at the request of a friend, as a short opinion piece for a small publication. I realize that there are points within it worthy of a spirited debate, and there are more sides than I present. Five hundred words is not long enough to tell the whole story, but that’s all I had. Was I at fault for not acting sooner (I was without hearing in my right ear for 5 years, after all)? Would it really have been classed as a pre-existing condition, given that it was misdiagnosed? Does the fact that this happened to me counter-balance the other ethical issues, like job losses and disruptions to families, that perhaps happened elsewhere? Is the good that it did for me weight enough to make it good policy, if at the same time it encourages society to move in the wrong direction, if indeed it does that? These are all good questions, and I’m not here to answer them for anyone but myself.

What I know, however, is that even though I think parts of the ACA are less than ideal, even though I think it doesn’t go far enough, I cannot malign the Act itself on that basis. It saved my life. It is costing some people some money, and if that makes their lives difficult or impossible then that’s a bad thing. I sympathize. I’m living paycheck-to-paycheck, too, and it’s tough. On the other hand, I’m living, and that means I’m better off than I might be otherwise.

Alera Nova

AleraNovaIt has been a while since I posted on this, but I’ve been quietly working on the above named RPG for the last few months. I have nailed down much of the basics; I’d like to tell you about them. There may (read: will) be spoilers below if you’ve not read the Codex Alera. Read on only if you don’t care about that.

The game is based in the world of the Codex Alera, and its mechanics are inseparable from that setting. It uses dice pools of 6-sided dice so that every roll reminds one of the 6 furies of Aleran life – Air, Earth, Fire, Metal, Water, and Wood. As well, 6 Attributes directly tied to those furies – Quickness, Strength, Passion, Resolve, Empathy and Perception – define the inherent capacities of every character. Every character starts with between 2 and 4 levels in each Attribute at character creation, with the ability to learn up to and even past the normal, unmodified maximum of 6.

Inherent capacity does not come from nowhere, however, nor is that the sole determiner of a character’s power or position within the game’s narrative. Skills also play a large role, representing those learned or earned capabilities that go beyond inherent ability to something more focused and specialized. A character learns Skills in one of two ways: through his background and through his profession. The former always stays the same while the latter can change periodically, as a character evolves and as the narrative develops. In that way, while a character’s growth is within certain limits at any given moment, in the grand scope of the chronicle a character can be or become almost anyone he wishes to be. Experience is earned as play progresses, and is spent on new Skills (or Magic, detailed below), expanding a character’s repertoire of available options. A character’s Attributes never increase through direct experience expenditures, but there are certain Skills that have the benefit of increasing Attributes.

Mundane skills are not the only options available to the peoples of Carna, however. Each character has access to magical tricks and benefits that vary according to their background. Marat characters gain power or speed or skill through their chala bond, for instance, while the Canim unleash powerful ritual sorceries to bless their allies or curse their foes. Alerans, of course, master the six branches of Furycraft, learning to smite their enemies with vicious Firecrafting or grant themselves the unnatural speed or flying abilities of advanced Aircrafting. In the years since the end of the Codex Alera, the doors to Furycrafting have been thrown wide open by the First Lord, so that even Marat or Canim may learn Furycrafting to a degree. They are not as adept at it nor do they take as naturally to it as do Alerans, but they have the option to learn at least a few powers or applications of Furycraft if they so choose.

The world has also changed a great deal in the generation since the end of the Vord War. In some ways it has grown; in other ways, it has stagnated or even gone backwards. The Canim have been given reign over two provinces within Alera Nova – the province of Shuar’a in the frozen north, and the province of Narash’a in the swampy south. The rest of the provinces within Alera Nova have been redrawn and reorganized, creating new provinces like Tiberia and Appia while erasing old ones like Ceres or Kalare. New technologies, developed by adapting the Canim war machine to Aleran use, have empowered the masses and helped fuel a generations’ long conflict between the different classes of Aleran society, between the newly- and long-freed men (not that slavery has been outlawed in all official capacities), the citizens, and the nobility. While Alera’s armies have pushed her enemies back to the swamps and ruins of old Kalare, they have stalled there for more than a decade, unable to penetrate the stinking ruins and root out for good the odd alliance of pirates, criminals, and Vord that dwell there. Rumors have even been heard of a few Marat who’ve abandoned their racial enmity toward the Vord, even going so far as to extend the chala bond to the vicious, perverse creatures. How this works, or if this is simply a ploy, remains a mystery. What is less mysterious, and more threatening, are the remains of dead Leviathans that have washed up on Alera’s beaches in the past few months. To a one their bodies were hollowed out, used as thus-far-failed transports for collections of Vord takers and spiders from, it is presumed, the captive lands of old Canea. Unable to meet this threat head-on due to failing health in his twilight years, and having lost his only heir to a disastrous military campaign, the First Lord Gaius Tavarus Magnus is in dire straits.

This uncertain hour demands new heroes. From the lands of the frozen north, the boiling south, the decadent east or the austere west, young heroes are born to the Academy, the Legions, or the Citizenry, and join together in common destiny and shared purpose. You are among them, and it may well be your choices that decide the fate of Alera Nova.

Jake Rush, and the Media as the new Jack Chick

Biased Editing 101

Just today, I saw a news item that hit me in a somewhat personal way. The man pictured above, Jake Rush, is running for U.S. Congress in Florida’s 3rd Congressional district. You might think certain things on seeing the picture on the right – weird, gothic, freak, outcast, deranged, maybe even dangerous – and I’d like to talk about that for a minute, about how the media went WAY into left field, and intentionally so, on this one.

First, this article seemed to start it all. It is from a blogging site in the district in which he is running, it looks like, and the article can be charitably described as a “takedown” piece – that is, one meant to do damage to his public life and Congressional prospects. A more accurate description might be a “nearly slanderous pile of trash.” Several others have followed on Huffington Post, Vanity Fair, The Miami Herald and the Sunshine State News. They have been various shades of unfair or silly, occasionally substantive or useful, but all have suffered from being derivative works based upon the original article linked at the top of this paragraph.

Now, before I go on, I want to dispel some illusions. I am not a supporter of Jake Rush. I don’t like him, I found his behavior in the Camarilla/MES to be various shades of stupid, unfair, immoral or unpleasant, and were he running to be my Congressman he would not have my vote unless his opponent were Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, or the equivalent. He is running to the right of the Tea Party, and I’m somewhat to the left of the Democratic Party, so we don’t get along.

His politics are not what is being attacked, however. His hobbies are, and they are being attacked in a way that very much reminds me of certain tracts I once read by Jack Chick. That man once wrote a pamphlet (that you can find after the last link) called “Dark Dungeons” in which he uncovers the evils of Dungeons & Dragons, how it encourages the occult, devil worship, casting spells, and teen suicide. The rhetoric of Saint Petersblog sinks to this level and stays there. It plays on misconceptions and misunderstandings, perpetuates biases and stereotypes, and mischaracterizes him in the worst way. It’s frankly quite sickening. There ought to be plenty to attack him on without resorting to this sort of rhetoric, and that they have shows at best a certain laziness on their part and at worst an intent to deceive or distract that makes them undeserving of a place in any legitimate news media.

Vampire role-playing games grew out of vampire fiction, and have been a part of the collective imagination for a very long time. Even before Bram Stoker wrote Dracula or Anne Rice wrote Interview with the Vampire, the vampire or something very much like it has been a part of the collective imagination. That people should want to explore that, that people should make it their hobby, is not “bizarre” or even noteworthy. The “Twilight Saga,” as groan-inducing as it is in some circles, proves that vampires have a very widespread appeal. Even 50 Shades of Grey, which is not explicitly about vampires, was inspired by vampires because it was originally composed as fanfiction (amateur short stories written by fans, based in the universe or on characters of some popular work of fiction) based on the aforementioned “Twilight Saga.”

If my readers want me to, I’d be happy to break down the (many) factual errors in the Saint Petersblog article about Jake Rush, but I don’t know if the investment of time is worth it right now because it would be substantial. At first blush however, this reminds me somewhat of a certain media explosion in the mid 90s, the Roderick Ferrell case. In this tragic case, a mentally-unbalanced young man carried out several murders in Florida and tried to make it to New Orleans, all under the delusion that he was a vampire. He was insane, clearly, but instead of delving into this fact and understanding that insanity will find an outlet the media examined the question of whether the role-playing game Vampire: the Masquerade was dangerous in and of itself. This assertion is ridiculous, for the same reason that the accusations of Patricia Pulling about Dungeons & Dragons are ridiculous, because so many people who play that game do so little (I in fact played this game, and though some may think me a little weird I think I’m quite sane thankyouverymuch). In fact, I’d be willing to bet a reasonable sum f money that there are fewer people per capita that commit capital crimes and play Dungeons & Dragons or any role-playing game, than who commit capital crimes and watch football or basketball or baseball or soccer or hockey or NASCAR.

If you want to attack the man’s politics, go ahead. To take what he said while playing a character as his own words, however, is the same as judging any Hollywood actor by the things a character of his once said. Would you attack Mel Gibson because of his role in “Payback?” Would you attack Samuel L. Jackson because of his role in “Pulp Fiction?” Would you attack Robin Williams because of his role in “One Hour Photo?” Would you attack Ronald Regan because of his role in “The Killers?” Would you attack Arnold Schwarzeneggar because of his role in “Predator?” I wouldn’t, and I don’t condone it of anyone else.

Attacks like these perpetuate a misunderstanding and a stereotype, and they do great harm to kids all over the country. The very kids who are marginalized, who are “geeks” or “outcasts,” who seek an escape from these games, grow into lawyers and aspiring Congressmen, police officers and military officers, in my case into scientists and engineers. Calling them weird is grade school bullying, and it is unbecoming of adult discourse. Find better reasons to attack him; I don’t doubt they exist. I can even give you a few if you ask nicely. If you don’t alienate everyone he ever associated with in the Camarilla by keeping up this line of attack, I’m sure you’ll find their memories improve greatly and you’ll not have to troll Wikipedia for your character research. So do yourself a favor, Saint Petersblog, and give up on this line of attack.

MLK Day

In the United States, today is a day to honor the life and contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a prominent civil rights leader who fought to end Jim Crow laws and the systematic beatings, disenfranchisement and marginalization of african-americans, especially within the American South. He was assassinated, and we remember him because in most of his aims he succeeded. He dreamed of a world beyond racism and segregation, a world beyond bigotry and hatred, and tried to make that world come true through non-violent resistance to the laws that most plainly stood in its way. In that he didn’t really succeed, but he got us alot closer than we were before him and subsequent leaders have tried to carry us even farther.

He’s one of my personal heroes. I am glad he lived, and sad he died. Sometimes it angers me to see people abuse and misuse and misappropriate his legacy for their particular political objective, such as this. But that happens. Everyone’s experience with historical figures (and he is unfortunately a historical figure now, thanks to the assassin’s bullet) is different, of course, and maybe I shouldn’t spend much time worrying about people whose experiences differ from my own. So I won’t. I’m just glad he existed, that he has been a positive example for so many people, and I hope he remains that way for generations to come.

Thank you, Dr. King. You made the world a better place, and showed us how we could make it even better ourselves by following your example. I’m going to go and read some of your words now, just to refresh my memory. A reading list follows, if anyone wants to follow along with me:

* “I have a Dream”

* “Beyond Vietnam: Time to Break Silence”

* Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech

* Letter from the Birmingham Jail

* Eulogy for the 16th st. Baptist Church bombing victims

* The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life

* Where We Are Going

* The Purpose of Education

The Affordable Care Act, c/o Reddit

The following is taken from This Reddit Thread on the subreddit, “Explain It Like I’m 5.” That subreddit is devoted to explaining complex things simply, and this VERY ambitious post does that with the Affordable Care Act. It lists all of the provisions, start to finish, and debunks a bunch of myths at the end. If you have questions about how the ACA works, they ought to be answered somewhere in this post.

——————————————————

What people call “Obamacare” is actually the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (abbreviated to PPACA or ACA). However, people were calling it “Obamacare” before everyone even hammered out what it would be. It’s a term that was, at first, mostly used by people who didn’t like the PPACA, and it’s become popularized in part because PPACA is a really long and awkward name, even when you turn it into an acronym like that. Barack Obama has since said that he actually likes the term “Obamacare” because, he says, “I do care”.

Anyway, the PPACA made a bunch of new rules regarding health care, with the purpose of making health care more affordable for everyone. Opponents of the PPACA, on the other hand, feel that the rules it makes take away too many freedoms and force people (both individuals and businesses) to do things they shouldn’t have to.

So what does it do? Well, here is everything, in the order of when it goes into effect (because some of it happens later than other parts of it):

(Note: Page numbers listed in citations are the page numbers within the PDF, not the page numbers of the document itself)

Already in effect:

  • It allows the Food and Drug Administration to approve more generic drugs (making for more competition in the market to drive down prices) ( Citation: An entire section of the bill, called Title VII, is devoted to this, starting on page 766 )
  • It increases the rebates on drugs people get through Medicare (so drugs cost less) ( Citation: Page 235, sec. 2501 )
  • It establishes a non-profit group, that the government doesn’t directly control, PCORI, to study different kinds of treatments to see what works better and is the best use of money. ( Citation: Page 684, sec. 1181 )
  • It makes chain restaurants like McDonalds display how many calories are in all of their foods, so people can have an easier time making choices to eat healthy. ( Citation: Page 518, sec. 4205 )
  • It makes a “high-risk pool” for people with pre-existing conditions. Basically, this is a way to slowly ease into getting rid of “pre-existing conditions” altogether. For now, people who already have health issues that would be considered “pre-existing conditions” can still get insurance, but at different rates than people without them. ( Citation: Page 49, sec. 1101, Page 64, sec. 2704, and Page 65, sec. 2702 )
  • It forbids insurance companies from discriminating based on a disability, or because they were the victim of domestic abuse in the past (yes, insurers really did deny coverage for that) ( Citation: Page 66, sec. 2705 )
  • It renews some old policies, and calls for the appointment of various positions.
  • It creates a new 10% tax on indoor tanning booths. ( Citation: Page 942, sec. 5000B )
  • It says that health insurance companies can no longer tell customers that they won’t get any more coverage because they have hit a “lifetime limit”. Basically, if someone has paid for health insurance, that company can’t tell that person that he’s used that insurance too much throughout his life so they won’t cover him any more. They can’t do this for lifetime spending, and they’re limited in how much they can do this for yearly spending. ( Citation: Page 33, sec. 2711 )
  • Kids can continue to be covered by their parents’ health insurance until they’re 26. ( Citation: Page 34, sec. 2714 )
  • No more “pre-existing conditions” for kids under the age of 19. ( Citation: Page 64, sec. 2704 and Page 76, sec. 1255 )
  • Insurers have less ability to change the amount customers have to pay for their plans. ( Citation: Page 47, sec. 2794 )
  • People in the “Medicare Part D Coverage Gap” (also referred to as the “Donut Hole”) get a rebate to make up for the extra money they would otherwise have to spend. ( Citation: Page 398, sec. 3301 )
  • Insurers can’t just drop customers once they get sick. ( Citation: Page 33, sec. 2712 )
  • Insurers have to tell customers what they’re spending money on. (Instead of just “administrative fee”, they have to be more specific).
  • Insurers need to have an appeals process for when they turn down a claim, so customers have some manner of recourse other than a lawsuit when they’re turned down. ( Citation: Page 42, sec. 2719 )
  • Anti-fraud funding is increased and new ways to stop fraud are created. ( Citation: Page 718, sec. 6402 )
  • Medicare extends to smaller hospitals. ( Citation: Starting on page 363, the entire section “Part II” seems to deal with this )
  • Medicare patients with chronic illnesses must be monitored more thoroughly.
  • Reduces the costs for some companies that handle benefits for the elderly. ( Citation: Page 511, sec. 4202 )
  • A new website is made to give people insurance and health information. (I think this is it: http://www.healthcare.gov/ ). ( Citation: Page 55, sec. 1103 )
  • A credit program is made that will make it easier for business to invest in new ways to treat illness by paying half the cost of the investment. (Note – this program was temporary. It already ended) ( Citation: Page 849, sec. 9023 )
  • A limit is placed on just how much of a percentage of the money an insurer makes can be profit, to make sure they’re not price-gouging customers. ( Citation: Page 41, sec. 1101 )
  • A limit is placed on what type of insurance accounts can be used to pay for over-the-counter drugs without a prescription. Basically, your insurer isn’t paying for the Aspirin you bought for that hangover. ( Citation: Page 819, sec. 9003 )
  • Employers need to list the benefits they provided to employees on their tax forms. ( Citation: Page 819, sec. 9002 )
  • Any new health plans must provide preventive care (mammograms, colonoscopies, etc.) without requiring any sort of co-pay or charge. ( Citation: Page 33, sec. 2713 )

1/1/2013

  • If you make over $200,000 a year, your taxes go up a tiny bit (0.9%). Edit: To address those who take issue with the word “tiny”, a change of 0.9% is relatively tiny. Any look at how taxes have fluctuated over the years will reveal that a change of less than one percent is miniscule, especially when we’re talking about people in the top 5% of earners. ( Citation: Page 837, sec. 9015 )

1/1/2014

This is when a lot of the really big changes happen.

  • No more “pre-existing conditions”. At all. People will be charged the same regardless of their medical history. ( Citation: Page 64, sec. 2704, Page 65, sec. 2701, and Page 76, sec. 1255 )
  • If you can afford insurance but do not get it, you will be charged a fee. This is the “mandate” that people are talking about. Basically, it’s a trade-off for the “pre-existing conditions” bit, saying that since insurers now have to cover you regardless of what you have, you can’t just wait to buy insurance until you get sick. Otherwise no one would buy insurance until they needed it. You can opt not to get insurance, but you’ll have to pay the fee instead, unless of course you’re not buying insurance because you just can’t afford it. (Note: On 6/28/12, the Supreme Court ruled that this is Constitutional, as long as it’s considered a tax on the uninsured and not a penalty for not buying insurance… nitpicking about wording, mostly, but the long and short of it is, it looks like this is accepted by the courts) ( Citation: Page 164, sec. 5000A, and here is the actual court ruling for those who wish to read it. )

Question: What determines whether or not I can afford the mandate? Will I be forced to pay for insurance I can’t afford?

Answer: There are all kinds of checks in place to keep you from getting screwed. Kaiser actually has a webpage with a pretty good rundown on it, if you’re worried about it. You can see it here.

Okay, have we got that settled? Okay, moving on…

  • Medicaid can now be used by everyone up to 133% of the poverty line (basically, a lot more poor people can get insurance) ( Citation: Page 198, sec. 2001 ) (Note: The recent court ruling says that states can opt out of this and that the Federal government cannot penalize them by withholding Medicaid funding, but as far as I can tell, nothing is stopping the Federal government from simply just offering incentives to those who do opt to do it, instead)
  • Small businesses get some tax credits for two years. (It looks like this is specifically for businesses with 25 or fewer employees) ( Citation: Page 157, sec. 1421 )
  • Businesses with over 50 employees must offer health insurance to full-time employees, or pay a penalty. ( Citation: Page 174, sec. 4980H )

Question: Can’t businesses just fire employees or make them work part-time to get around this requirement? Also, what about businesses with multiple locations?

Answer: Yes and no. Switching to part-time only won’t help to get out of the requirement, as the Affordable Care Act counts the hours worked, not the number of full-time employees you have. If your employees worked an equivalent of 50 full-time employees’ hours, the requirement kicks in. Really, the only plausible way a business could reasonably utilize this strategy is if they currently operate with just over the 50-employee number, and could still operate with under 50 employees, and have no intention to expand. Also, regarding the questions about multiple locations, this legal website analyzed the law and claims that multiple locations in one chain all count as a part of the same business (meaning employers like Wal-Mart can’t get around this by being under 50 employees in one store – they’d have to be under that for the entire chain, which just ain’t happening). Independently-owned franchises are different, however, as they have a separate owner and as such aren’t included under the same net as the parent company. However, any individual franchise with over 50 employees will have to meet the requirement.

Having said that, the ACA only requires employers to offer insurance to full-time employees, so theoretically they could get out of this by reducing all employees to 29 hours or fewer a week. However, if any employees’ hours go above that, their employer will have to provide insurance or pay the penalty. And also, this is putting aside how an employer only offering part-time work with no insurance will affect how competitive they are on the job market, especially when small businesses with 25 or fewer employees actually get that aforementioned tax credit to help pay for insurance if they choose to get it (though they are not required to provide insurance).

  • Insurers now can’t do annual spending caps. Their customers can get as much health care in a given year as they need. ( Citation: Page 33, sec. 2711 )
  • Limits how high of an annual deductible insurers can charge customers. ( Citation: Page 81, sec. 1302 )
  • Health insurance cannot discriminate against women on pricing or plan availability ( Citation: Page 185, sec. 1557 )
  • Reduce costs for some Medicare spending, which in turn are put right back into Medicare to increase its solvency. Most notably, this bill reduces the amount that Medicare Advantage pays to be more in line with other areas of Medicare ( Citation: Page 384, Sec. 3201 and Page 389, Sec. 3202 ), and reduces the growth of Medicare payments in the future ( Citation: Page 426, Sec. 3402 ). The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that between 2012 and 2022, this will amount to $716 Billion in reduced spending ( Citation: CBO Estimate ). Also being cut is $22 Billion from the Medicare Improvement Fund, most likely because the PPACA does a lot of the same stuff, so that spending would be redundant ( Citation: Page 361, Sec. 3112 ).
  • Place a $2500 limit on tax-free spending on FSAs (accounts for medical spending). Basically, people using these accounts now have to pay taxes on any money over $2500 they put into them. ( Citation: Page 820, sec. 9005 )
  • Establish health insurance exchanges and rebates for the lower and middle-class, basically making it so they have an easier time getting affordable medical coverage. ( Citation: Page 107, sec. 1311 )
  • Congress and Congressional staff will only be offered the same insurance offered to people in the insurance exchanges, rather than Federal Insurance. Basically, we won’t be footing their health care bills any more than any other American citizen. ( Citation: Page 100, sec. 1312 )
  • A new tax on pharmaceutical companies.
  • A new tax on the purchase of medical devices.
  • A new tax on insurance companies based on their market share. Basically, the more of the market they control, the more they’ll get taxed.
  • Raises the bar for how much your medical expenses must cost before you can start deducting them from your taxes (Thanks to Redditor cnash6 for the correction!).

1/1/2015

  • Doctors’ pay will be determined by the quality of their care, not how many people they treat. Edit: a_real_MD addresses questions regarding this one in far more detail and with far more expertise than I can offer in this post. If you’re looking for a more in-depth explanation of this one (as many of you are), I highly recommend you give his post a read.

1/1/2017

  • If any state can come up with their own plan, one which gives citizens the same level of care at the same price as the PPACA, they can ask the Secretary of Health and Human Resources for permission to do their plan instead of the PPACA. So if they can get the same results without, say, the mandate, they can be allowed to do so. Vermont, for example, has expressed a desire to just go straight to single-payer (in simple terms, everyone is covered, and medical expenses are paid by taxpayers). ( Citation: Page 117, sec. 1332 )

2018

  • All health care plans must now cover preventive care (not just the new ones).
  • A new tax on “Cadillac” health care plans (more expensive plans for rich people who want fancier coverage). ( Citation: Page 812, Sec. 9001 )

2020

  • The elimination of the “Medicare gap”

.

Aaaaand that’s it right there.

The biggest thing opponents of the bill have against it is the mandate. They claim that it forces people to buy insurance, and forcing people to buy something is unconstitutional. Personally, I take the opposite view, as it’s not telling people to buy a specific thing, just to have a specific type of thing, just like a part of the money we pay in taxes pays for the police and firemen who protect us, this would have us paying to ensure doctors can treat us for illness and injury.

Plus, as previously mentioned, it’s necessary if you’re doing away with “pre-existing conditions” because otherwise no one would get insurance until they needed to use it, which defeats the purpose of insurance.

Of course, because so many people are arguing about it, and some of the people arguing about it don’t really care whether or not what they’re saying is true, there are a lot of things people think the bill does that just aren’t true. Here’s a few of them:

Obamacare has death panels!: That sounds so cartoonishly evil it must be true, right? Well, no. No part of the bill says anything about appointing people to decide whether or not someone dies. The decision over whether or not your claim is approved is still in the hands of your insurer. However, now there’s an appeals process so if your claim gets turned down, you can challenge that. And the government watches that appeals process to make sure it’s not being unfair to customers. So if anything the PPACA is trying to stop the death panels. ( Citation: Page 42, sec. 2719 )

What about the Independent Medicare Advisory Board? Death Panels!: The Independent Medicare Advisory Board (which has had its name changed to Independent Payment Advisory Board, or IPAB) is intended to give recommendations on how to save Medicare costs per person, deliver more efficient and effective care, improve access to services, and eliminate waste. However, they have no real power. They put together a recommendation to put before Congress, and Congress votes on it, and the President has power to veto it. What’s more, they are specifically told that their recommendation will not ration health care, raise premiums or co-pays, restrict benefits, or restrict eligibility. In other words, they need to find ways to save money without reducing care for patients. So no death panels. In any sense of the (stupid) term. ( Citation: Page 426, sec. 3403 )

Obamacare has health care rationing!: “Rationing” is just a fancier way of saying “Death Panels”. And no, it doesn’t. (See above).

Obamacare has an un-elected panel of people who will decide what kind of care I can get!: Yet another way of saying “Death Panels”, albeit a softer way of saying it. It’s true that the IPAB is appointed, not elected. However, they are expressly forbidden from reducing or rationing care. (Again, see above).

Obamacare gives free insurance to illegal immigrants!: Actually, there are multiple parts of the bill that specifically state that the recipient of tax credits and other good stuff must be a legal resident of the United States. And while the bill doesn’t specifically forbid illegals from buying insurance or getting treated at hospitals, neither did the laws in the US before the PPACA. So even at worst, illegals still have just as much trouble getting medical care as they used to. ( Citations: Page 141, sec. 1402, Page 142, sec. 1411, Page 144, sec. 1411, Page 151, sec. 1412 )

Obamacare uses taxpayer money for abortions!: One part of the bill says, essentially, that the folks who wrote this bill aren’t touching that issue with a ten foot pole. It basically passes the buck on to the states, who can choose to allow insurance plans that cover abortions, or they can choose to not allow them. Obama may be pro-choice, but that is not reflected in the PPACA. ( Citation: Page 64, sec. 1303 )

Obamacare forces churches/taxpayers to pay for women to have free birth control!: This claim refers to Page 33, sec. 2713, which says that health insurance must include preventive care for women supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration. And that Administration, on the recommendation of the independent Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science, has determined that preventive care for women should include access to well women visits, domestic violence screening, and, yes, contraception. So insurers do have to provide these services, and no, they cannot require their insured to pay for them. This is because birth control, particularly its effects on hormones and stuff, are very important to the health of some women. “But what if I, as a taxpayer, don’t want to pay for it?” you ask? You don’t. It’s provided by the health insurance company, not the government. “But what about employers who provide employee plans? Does that mean a church would have to pay for the birth control of its clergy?” you ask? The answer is “no”. On February 10, 2012 (or February 15th, if you go by the header in the document), the Department of Health and Human Services issued this document, detailing its enforcement of that section of the ACA. Kaiser has given their own interpretation of this. The short version is, churches and houses of worship are exempt from this rule, period. Other religious employers (like Catholic hospitals) are also exempt until August 2013, by which time insurance providers are to have created special plans specifically for them, that put all the costs of contraception on the insurer, with none on the employee or the employer. So not one cent of taxpayer money is going towards contraception, nor is a single cent of a church’s money paying for contraception either. Birth control is to be provided to women by the insurer.

Obamacare won’t let me keep the insurance I have!: The PPACA actually very specifically says you can keep the insurance you have if you want. ( Citation: Page 74, sec. 1251 )

Obamacare will make the government get between me and my doctor!: The PPACA very specifically says that the Secretary of Health and Human Services (who is in charge of much of the bill), is absolutely not to promote any regulation that hinders a patient’s ability to get health care, to speak with their doctor, or have access to a full range of treatment options. ( Citation: Page 184, sec. 1554 )

Obamacare has a public option! That makes it bad!: The public option (which would give people the option of getting insurance from a government-run insurer, thus the name), whether you like it or not, was taken out of the bill before it was passed. You can still see where it used to be, though. ( Citation: Page 111, sec. 1323 (the first one) )

Obamacare will cost trillions and put us in massive debt!: The PPACA will cost a lot of money… at first. $1.7 Trillion. Yikes, right? But that’s just to get the ball rolling. You see, amongst the things built into the bill are new taxes – on insurers, pharmaceutical companies, tanning salons, and a slight increase in taxes on people who make over $200K (an increase of less than 1%). Additionally, the bill cuts some stuff from Medicare that’s not really working, and generally tries to make everything work more efficiently. Also, the increased focus on preventative care (making sure people don’t get sick in the first place), should help to save money the government already spends on emergency care for these same people. Basically, by catching illnesses early, we’re not spending as much on emergency room visits. According to the Congressional Budget Office, who studies these things, the ultimate result is that this bill will reduce the yearly deficit by $109 billion ( Source ). By the year 2021, the bill will actually have paid itself and started bringing in more money than it cost.

Obamacare is twice as long as War and Peace!: War and Peace is 587,287 words long. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, depending on which version you’re referring to, is between 300,000-400,000 words long. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still very long, but it’s not as long as War and Peace. Also, it bears mention that bills are often long. In 2005, Republicans passed the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, 2005, which was almost as long as the PPACA, and no one raised a stink about it.

The people who passed Obamacare didn’t even read it!: Are you kidding? They had been reading it over and over for a half a year. This thing was being tossed around in debates for ages. And it went through numerous revisions, but every time it was revised, it was just adding, removing, or changing small parts of it, not rewriting the whole thing. And every time it was revised, the new version of the bill was published online for everyone to see. The final time it was edited, there may not have been time to re-read the entire thing before voting on it, but there wasn’t a need to, because everyone had already read it all. The only thing people needed to read was the revision, which there was plenty of time to do.

Pelosi said something like, “we’ll have to pass the bill before reading it”!: The actual quote is “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of controversy”, and she’s talking about all the lies and false rumors that were spreading about it. Things had gotten so absurd that by this point many had given up on trying to have an honest dialogue about it, since people kept worrying about things that had no basis in reality. Pelosi was simply trying to say that once the bill is finalized and passed, then everyone can look at it and see, without question, what is actually in the thing (as opposed to some new amendment you heard on the radio that they were going to put in).

Obamacare was signed quietly in the middle of the night!: This is stretching the truth to the breaking point. The House version of the bill was signed on October 8, 2009 at 12:15 in the afternoon, and the Senate version was signed on December 24, 2009 at 7:05 in the morning. The only vote that you could argue came close to “the middle of the night” was the House vote on the changes made in the Senate version of the bill, which took place at 10:49 p.m… on March 21, 2010, a whole three months later. It wasn’t a vote on anything anyone hadn’t seen before, but on the version of the legislation passed in the Senate. 431 of the 435 men and women in the House of Representatives voted on it. (citation: govtrack.us ).

Obamacare is a government takeover of the health industry!: What do you mean by “takeover”? Like, for example, do you believe that because the FDA regulates food to make sure that it’s safe to eat, that we’ve had a government takeover of food? By the same right, the Affordable Care Act adds a lot of regulations saying how health insurers should do business, in order to make sure that more people have insurance and that their insurance works in a way that’s fair and reliable… but the government themselves isn’t taking over insurance. They’re not selling us that insurance – the Public Option, which would have made a government-run insurance plan to compete with private plans, never got passed. So government isn’t taking over your insurance any more than they’ve taken over your food.

Obamacare cuts $700 Billion dollars from Medicare!: Not really. What the Affordable Care Act actually does is brings Medicare Advantage costs back in line with regular Medicare ( Citation: Page 384, Sec. 3201 and Page 389, Sec. 3202 ), limit the growth of certain parts of Medicare where our spending is outpacing what we’re actually required to spend ( Citation: Page 426, Sec. 3402 ), and replaces some parts of Medicare with better, more cost-effective substitutes ( Citation: Page 361, Sec. 3112 ). These accusations are based on a report by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office showing the reduction of Medicare costs from 2012-2022. However, the accusations fail to mention that those “cuts” will not result in reduced care, reduced enrollment, or reduced anything really, other than reduced costs to the taxpayers… which both Democrats and Republicans agree is a good idea (so much so that Republicans like Paul Ryan even included those exact same “cuts” in their own budget plans).

Obamacare takes money from Medicare to pay for Obamacare!: It absolutely does not. Every penny saved by changes the Affordable Care Act makes to Medicare goes back into Medicare. The bill itself specifically says that any of these savings must be used to increase Medicare solvency, improve its services, or reduce premiums ( Citation: Page 481, Sec. 3601 ).

Obamacare is going to make hospitals drop support for Medicare and Medicaid!: Some doctors and hospitals are worried about some of the big changes being made to how they’re paid. Specifically, that Medicare and Medicaid are changing from compensating them for the number of patients they see to compensating them for how well they treat those patients. Some doctors have even threatened to stop accepting Medicare and Medicaid. But these threats seem weak when you realize that, according to the American Hospital Association, “Medicare and Medicaid account for 56 percent of all care provided by hospitals. Consequently, very few hospitals can elect not to participate in Medicare and Medicaid.” Now, granted, reimbursements to hospitals under Medicare are in many cases less than the cost of care, but much of what the ACA does is to seek to reduce the cost of care, particularly by reducing recidivism (patients going back to the hospital to be treated for the same thing because they didn’t get the right treatment the first time). And alarmists warning about “cuts made to Medicare” can look back above – it’s not being cut, it’s having its growth rate reduced, and any savings go back into Medicare.

Obamacare allows Barack Obama to create a secret health care army!: I swear, I did not make this one up. There are actually people out there claiming this. It is pertaining to Page 562 of the bill, specifically sections 5209, 5210, and 203, which reduce limits on the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and creates the Regular Corps and the Ready Reserve Corps. What the claim gets right is that these are enlisted uniformed services. However, what these Corps do is respond to disasters like hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake. They are enlisted medical professionals that can be called up in a time of crisis. In fact, the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps was involved in the assistance with both of those emergencies… but at that time, it was limited in size to only 2800 people. This section of the bill removes those limits so we are better-equipped to respond to emergencies like this in the future.

I think those are some of the bigger ones. I’ll try to get to more as I think of them.

Whew! Hope that answers the question!

——————————————————

I cut out a couple sentences at the beginning and the notes on edits made at the end, but other than that this reproduction should be direct. This post isn’t mine in the least, is reprinted from Reddit, and I hope the original author doesn’t mind my doing so. If you like this, go upvote his thread via the link at the top of the page. It is about a year old, but as few major changes have happened since then, the information is still relevant.

There is one point that is probably going to be objected to, and that is “if you like your insurance, you can keep it.” It did turn out that for many people that was not true. The reason that happened is that their insurer created a plan they knew would be non-compliant after the ACA was created, and then dropped other plans so that their current customers were forced to switch to that plan. They then acted surprised when regulations they knew about suddenly kicked in and made that plan illegal. Because it was now illegal they dropped the plan, leaving their customers no recourse but to find some other insurance, and blamed Pres. Obama for it even though they made that choice knowing it would eventually have that consequence. A very effective political move, I’ll grant you, but it makes the truth of the situation more complicated than “Obama lies!” or “Obama never lies!” because it’s not really about him, fundamentally.

Don’t Get Meme’d! Ten ways authors mislead their audience

MemedTitle

The past few days, I’ve seen any number of infographics/memes/macros that have used various techniques to mislead, obfuscate, and confuse issues as far ranging as environmental science, genetic engineering, evolution, bills before Congress (in the USA), and military pensions (again, in the USA). Having accidentally come across them, and beginning with the premise that they have the intellectual rigor of the cover of “The National Enquirer,” I decided to look at them and see if they nevertheless had anything more to them, anything in common. That gave birth to this post.

What follows are ten common ways that memes in particular, and that people in general, deceive. Look out for these in reading the news, watching TV, and especially in watching advertisements or political commercials. If you do, I honestly think it will help you to not be taken in by charlatans, hucksters and snake-oil salesmen. Once I started to look for these techniques I saw them everywhere, even in things I said myself to others, and I imagine that if you do the same then your results will not be so very different from mine.

1. Coincidence as Causation

I think we’re all somewhat familiar with this one, but despite that fact it remains one of the most common and most effective techniques used to mislead people. If I show you how as one thing goes up, another thing also goes up, it seems obvious that the first thing caused the second right? Well, no. Not at all. That’s not even correlation – it doesn’t even suggest that the first thing might be more likely than not connected to the second – it’s ultimately just coincidence. I can connect so many things to each other through coincidence alone, if that’s suggestive of causation, that the world will start to look like a very strange place indeed. The decline of pirates causes global warming, cell phones cause autism, fast food causes gun violence, and I can’t think of more examples off the top of my head but you get the point. It takes more than a demonstration that two things happened either in sequence or simultaneously to show that one thing caused the other. So watch out when someone says, “but studies show that giving more maternity leave decreases the murder rate!” and ask them why they think that, why you should think that, and if they’ve really thought about it past thinking that it’s something they’d really like to believe were true.

2. Weasel Words

We all use weasel words. In fact, I just did right there. Weasel words are intentionally ambiguous and often hyperbolic words that make something seem bigger, more significant, without actually demonstrating anything substantive about it. In fact, there is no such thing as “countless” studies – studies are always something that can be counted. Often when someone says that, “countless” turns out to be 2 or 3, or maybe 10. A “miracle” cure means nothing, because the word “miracle” doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better only that the author thinks it’s the bee’s knees and wants you to open up your wallet for it. So like I said, we all use weasel words. The trick is figuring out exactly what someone means when they use them. When you see something “countless,” ask why, because usually that’s because it simply hasn’t been counted. When you see a “miracle cure,” ask just how much better it is. When you see something that’s “statistically significant,” ask for the numbers. Maybe it’s a miracle, maybe it is a huge number, maybe it really is significant, but until someone actually proves that it remains unproven. Stating that it is true doesn’t make it so.

3. Argumentum ad Monsantum
Source: Scientific American

I first learned about this by reading the source article, so if you want to read about this more you should go there. AaM goes farther than just GMOs, though, and I’m not going to focus on that issue (I have plenty of other posts about that if you want to read them) right now. Argumentum ad Monsantum is simply when you argue against a technology by saying that bad people (or people you believe to be bad) use that tech somewhere, so nobody should use it anywhere. Some common variations on that theme are Argumentum ad Liberarum, Argumentum ad Conservatum, Argumentum ad Al Gore-um, Argumentum ad Fox News-um, and so on. People we don’t like are allowed to use good things too, from time to time, and the things they use aren’t automatically tainted by their having used them. If those things can help us, or if they are demonstrably true, we should use them. If they’re not, we shouldn’t. Who uses a thing doesn’t imply how useful that thing is, at the end of the day.

4. False Controversy
Supplemental material: Politico

Not long ago on a show I watch (HBO’s “Newsroom”) they used a really good analogy that applies here. It appears in the linked article. Not too differently from that, when scientific findings that have been confirmed by 95% of scientists in a given field and are considered central to that field are dissented with by a few, the news writes about that as a “controversy.” It isn’t. Controversies in science happen when the field is split down the middle, or close to it; 95/5 is not a split down the middle, it’s a split down the obstinate few. After all, nine of ten dentists agree we should use toothpaste; the other one likes filling cavities all day and recommends we use Coca-Cola as mouthwash. That’s not a controversy. We shouldn’t be biased towards fairness when that requires us to be biased against truth.

5. Crafting the “other”

This is similar to #3, but this technique is used when you have to make someone appear bad and then use that appearance to tarnish their ideas. It happens when you hear things like, “well-fed scientists, fat from their [bad sponsor] claim [thing we are expected to disagree with]” or “[Guy], well known [other political party], says [thing we are expected to disagree with]” By making someone appear as ‘other,’ as someone different, as being connected with people or ideas we don’t like, it becomes easier to dismiss their ideas. That doesn’t actually address the ideas, though. A bad person, even Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot, can have a worthwhile idea. We should not be afraid of ideas, for ideas cannot kill us. If ideas are bad, reject them. When it is relevant, consider context and bias, but remember that even if a person is biased they are not necessarily wrong. Check their math, and check their evidence. If it checks out, then check it out yourself to make sure they didn’t leave anything out. If they didn’t, then even if they are the worst sort of person their ideas are good, and ought to be given due consideration. And really, scientists are just people. Some are good, some are bad, most are decent. They are no different from anyone else in that.

6. Consensus as Conspiracy

When one person says something, it’s an opinion. When ten men say something, it’s a committee. When a hundred men say something, it’s a protest. When a group gathers together round an idea, it’s a movement. But, when everyone votes for the same idea, it’s easy to see a conspiracy. That’s how Kings and Dictators get re-elected, after all. That seems reasonable enough for many issues we deal with every day – abortion, same-sex marriage, religion, capital punishment, taxes, and so on. If ten people look at any of those, ten answers will come back. Scientists are often of one mind, though, so it seems like there should be a conspiracy hiding in that consensus somewhere. But, science doesn’t work like that. It observes and records, and consensus does not indicate they are of one mind just that they are all observing the same thing. If ten men get up in the morning and stand in the sunlight, how many will say it made them colder? Not many. There’s no conspiracy in that, just the consensus that comes from immutable fact.

7. Lost in Translation

Way back when, Latin was the language of science. But, a number of years ago that I can’t recall right now, science started to be conducted in vernacular, in the language that was popular where it was being done. So science in England was conducted in English, German in Germany, and so on. Because science still aims to remove ambiguity whenever possible and say exactly what it means and mean exactly what it says in all cases, though, it needed to redefine words to be more clear. So, jargon was born. One of the most problematic sides of this development is that there are certain terms which exist in both a scientific and non-scientific context, which in either context mean very different things. The best example of this is the word “theory.” A theory in common usage is an idea that has yet to be substantiated, a thought or opinion at the beginning of its life cycle. In a scientific context, it’s nearly the opposite thing. A theory in science is something that has been well substantiated, supported, widely believed and tested multiple ways with great success and no significant deviation – an idea at the end, or at least the middle, of its life cycle. Another frequent offender is “significant.” When people in general say “significant” they mean a lot, a great deal, or a substantial amount. When scientists say significant, they mean that whatever it is, it is in an amount that is 95% likely to be greater than 0. So instead of meaning that the change is great or substantial, they mean that it probably exists. Writers use this duo-denotation (two meaning in different contexts) to great effect when writing about science, by using a word out of context without translation or explanation. By making some absurd claim like that evolution is “just a theory” when there is nothing that is small or insignificant about a theory in science, they exploit this just like they exploit their readers by saying that a finding was “significant” when that significance places it just barely above being nothing at all.

8. Superficial Sensationalization
Supplemental: TED

When scientists seems to make contradictory claims based on equally valid research, this is most frequently at the heart of it. Scientists call it “going past the evidence,” but popular writers who cover scientific issues do it all the time. “Oxytocin is the moral molecule” or “TV is like heroin for the brain” or “Sugar is as addictive as crack cocaine” are all guilty of this, of sensationalizing a finding in the interest of getting readers and money by trading away facts and integrity. When it comes down to it, what they really mean is that “many people who express low levels of oxytocin in a recent study also tend to show more antisocial, violent, and immoral behavior” or “prisoners tend to express lower than average levels of oxytocin” or “Watching television causes a similar pattern of neural activity as measured through functional MRI technology as that caused by consuming small quantities of heroin” or  “sugar causes a similar increase in certain neurotransmitters that are often correlated with addiction as does crack cocaine” which all sounds much more qualified, much more uncertain, and much less solid than the more sensational claims made on the researchers’ behalf in popular media. The safe thing to do, then, is to check if a news story links to the study it is based on. If it does, read that and make up your mind about it. If it doesn’t, then stop reading, because whatever claim it makes can’t be validated on the merits of the evidence anyway. Even if it’s claiming to have found the secret to everlasting life, if there’s no proof to back it up then it might as well be fiction.

9. The False Default State

There is a popular idea in the world, and like many popular and seductive ideas it is also very simple: natural is better. Natural foods are better than processed foods, natural fibers are better than plastics and polyesters, organic crops are better than genetically engineered varieties. This idea, in addition to being popular, is also correct just often enough to be memorable. It is also a good example of a frequent trick that is used to draw people in, the use of an illusory default state, of referring to a golden past time when things were better. This is used when politicians refer to that time in the past (say, the 1950s) when things were better, when people say “if only we’d just [x] like we used to then things would be all better…” and all the other times when people pretend that some single change would make things all better. This is false not because it is completely wrong, but because it is incompletely right. It is right some of the time, true, but it is also wrong plenty of other times. For instance, E.coli is natural. So is Botulism. So is the Black Death. So is cancer. So are ulcers. So are cavities. Those are also coincidentally things that have been demonstrably part of the human experience for as long as we can tell, for as long as humans have been around. The 1950s were good in some ways, but if you were a woman or a black man or a disabled person, they were pretty rough compared to now. There was more crime per capita, certainly, so even if you weren’t part of those groups you were more likely to be a victim of something unfortunate and illegal. Ideas that begin with the idea that the world has fallen from grace, that it just needs to get back to fundamentals, that it just needs to focus on natural things, ignore the progress of human society and the advantages that have been wrought by the advance of time and technology and society in general. After all, if it were that easy to make everything good and pure and right again, don’t you think we’d have done that already?

10. Absence as Evidence

The final trick I’m going to cover harkens back to a frequent argument against evolution by natural selection. It is also quite simple. It is the idea that because there are gaps in the fossil record, or in any other array of evidence used to substantiate evolution, that it is uncertain. Anything could be in those gaps, it is said – evidence of god, evidence of creation, of some other mechanism. Anything you can possibly imagine might be hiding in there, and because it hasn’t been nailed down for certain the theory itself is uncertain. Or, the absence of evidence is evidence unto itself. That is a seductive idea, because it allows us to believe whatever we want to believe about the things that are still yet to be discovered in the world. We can think that angels are real, or UFOs, or mermaids, because we haven’t found conclusive evidence that they definitely don’t exist – the absence of evidence is evidence unto itself. If it were true that we looked everywhere already and we haven’t found those things, if it were true that their presence was directly predicted by the theories we have and they definitely are not there, then that would in fact be true. Just as we do not usually assert that because we have not found our car keys that they must therefore definitely be in the ignition already, and therefore we should just get in our car and turn the ignition as though the keys were already there, taking it on faith that they are, science cannot abide the idea that absence is evidence. Absence of evidence is reason for continuing research, definitely, but it is not reason to believe that mermaids are real, or that the moon is made of cheese.