Tag Archives: BS detector

More pros than cons to providing citations and staying on topic

I’ve decided to provide a critical analysis of a student essay by the name of “More Pros Than Cons in a Meat-Free Life” authored by Marjorie Lee Garretson, and published in the student newspaper of the University of Mississippi in April 2010. Those who wish to read the essay may do so here.

In her essay, Marjorie makes the case for a vegetarian lifestyle by stating that there are health benefits to adopting it. She also makes a moral appeal, citing the treatment of livestock used as food sources. At some points in her essay, Marjorie makes some statements that are quite emotionally charged.

The title of her article, “More Pros Than Cons in a Meat-Free Life”, is somewhat misleading, as it would lead the reader to expect an enumeration of both pros and cons to a vegetarian lifestyle. Instead, Marjorie makes a one-sided case for vegetarianism that leaves little doubt as to her position. What’s more, the title leads one to believe that the focus of the article would be the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle, when in fact much of the article consists of moral appeals, such as criticizing the treatment of livestock used as food sources, even though the treatment of livestock has no direct impact on the lifestyle of a person who is either vegetarian or prefers a conventional diet.

Persons who argue for a vegetarian lifestyle typically begin on a rational-sounding note, though much of the time, their arguments quickly degrade into emotional appeals and ad-hominem attacks against anyone who would dissent. Marjorie, however, wastes little time getting to accusing adherents of the conventional diet of overlooking or ignoring for convenience the multiple benefits that she claims the vegetarian lifestyle provides.

Of course, she was only getting started. She lists the supposed benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle, which she says includes:

  • lower body mass index
  • significantly decreased cancer rate
  • longer life expectancy
  • avoiding Alzheimer’s disease
  • avoiding osteoporosis

There is a problem, however. She provides no citations. Marjorie’s claims are not considered common knowledge. They challenge conventional thinking. As such, citations are important in backing up her claims. Without citations, she is allowing her audience to assume that these claims are conclusions reached as a result of years of study by educated professionals, and it would seem as though she expects that her claims will be accepted by her audience without inquiry.

This is a trend that continues in Marjorie’s writing. She goes on to claim that “It takes less energy and waste to produce vegetables and grains than the energy required to produce meat.” Do you see where this is headed? She goes on to cite the statistic that it takes 16 pounds of grain and 5000 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat. This statistic is among the most repeated among those advocating a vegetarian lifestyle. However, the statistic is false. She provides no citations, however, so she is apparently banking on her audience not being particularly inquisitive, and accepting her claims on the basis of “sounds like it’s probably true.”

However, just because something sounds eye-opening doesn’t mean it’s true. A study by the Council of Agricultural Science and Technology in 1999 has found that 2.6 pounds of grain is used to produce a pound of beef in developed countries, while in developing countries the number is 0.3 lbs (for anyone wondering, this is what a citation looks like).

Vegetarians claim that the land that is used to raise cattle and other livestock could be more productive if that same land would be used to produce vegetables and grain. However, not every plot of land is suitable for growing grain. Livestock is typically raised on marginal lands that are not suitable for growing vegetables.

Marjorie goes on to claim that the runoff of fecal matter from meat factories is the single most detrimental pollutant to our water supply. She provides as her only citation in the entire article the Environmental Protection Agency, even if she doesn’t mention a specific study, leaving her readers with the task of verification. Perhaps Marjorie was employing some psychology, intentional or not; people tend toward the path of least resistance, so they’re likely to accept her claim rather than do their own research (such as with a simple web search) to verify.

The most significant source of pollutants according to the United States Department of Agriculture is nonpoint sources. Agricultural pollutants are among the pollutants that fall under this category. However, the EPA lists among these pollutants “Excess fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides from agricultural lands and residential areas”. So, ironically, Marjorie’s only citation in her one-sided case for vegetarianism is for a study that states that runoff from growing vegetables is among the most significant pollutants for water. Other sources of nonpoint pollution include urban runoff, salt from irrigation practices, and other sources.

The following charts show the ratio of pollutants in water supplies. Interestingly, as much as industry is demonized for being a significant polluter, it comes nowhere close to non-point pollutants, to which agriculture contributes heavily:

Percentages_sources_of_pollution_that_impair_water_bodies

Source: United States Department of Agriculture, Public Domain

Marjorie goes on to cite inhumane treatment of livestock. While there may be a problem with the treatment of livestock, vegetarians seem to idealize life in the wilderness. Anyone who thinks that life in the wilderness is idyllic has not spent a significant amount of time outdoors. Most people don’t have to. It’s typically done for a refreshing change of pace or to enjoy scenery.

For animals, however, it’s a different story. Animals live there. And for them, it’s a constant battle for survival. Nearly every organism in the wild is surrounded by predators and scavengers, many of which would happily accept them as their next food source, and not care about their objections or opinions on the matter. When animals do die, it’s usually a painful death as a result of predation.

Humans give livestock a pretty sweet deal. Livestock get to live with no fear of predation. They get enough to eat, whether it’s enough to sustain them or plenty to prevent them from getting too lean. When the time comes to make them into our food, we make things much quicker than predatory animals do.

Marjorie also voices objection to the practice of using livestock to obtain dairy products such as milk and eggs. She likens the practice to that of puppy mills, and accuses adherents of the conventional diet of looking the other way when it comes to livestock.

Again, the title of Marjorie’s work is “More Pros Than Cons in a Meat-Free Life”, which leads the reader into believing that the potential cons of the decision to go vegetarian would be considered. However, Marjorie doesn’t list any. It shouldn’t be a surprise by now that Marjorie was not interested in providing an objective analysis of the options. It should be easy to guess what her position is.

If Marjorie were to touch upon the cons of living a meat-free lifestyle, she’d have a fair amount to discuss. For example, those who are strictly vegan have no sources of iodine or essential B vitamins, a deficiency of which can lead to mental retardation and irreversible neurological damage. However, that’s a potential for discussion that she ignored.

Due to the deficit of citations and the overall level of professionalism in this piece, I do not believe that Marjorie’s essay is University-level work. The University of Mississippi should have felt at least a little hesitant in posting it on their web space as representative of their student’s work, and if this work is reprinted in any textbook (as it is in mine), students would be right to critically analyze it to identify Marjorie’s mistakes, and avoid making the same ones themselves.

Works Cited:

“CAST Animal Agriculture and Global Food Supply.” Publications. CAST, 1 Jan. 1999. Web. 22 Jan. 2015. <http://www.cast-science.org/publications/?animal_agriculture_and_global_food_supply&show=product&productID=2836&gt;.

“What Is Nonpoint Source Pollution?” What Is Nonpoint Source Pollution? EPA. Web. 22 Jan. 2015. <http://water.epa.gov/polwaste/nps/whatis.cfm&gt;.

Wanted: Honest Feminists

I recently attended a meeting about women’s services on campus, which was made interesting by the fact that there was only one female student in attendance. As the meeting went on, my BS detector went off the charts. The speaker, apparently, was what is called today a “feminist.”

What is a feminist? An advocate of women’s rights. Sounds like a noble cause, right? If that’s what it was about, then feminism today would be taken much more seriously.

But it’s not. And the reason for this is because many feminists today are actually a liability to the cause.

Above, I mentioned what’s called a “BS detector.” I think most of us knows what that means, but for those of us who don’t, to have a BS detector means to have an ability, either through intuition or conscious thought, to sense that there’s something fallacious.

For instance, you’ve probably heard the statistic that women make seven-tenths of what a man makes for doing the same job.  It has an element of truthiness to it, considering that women have historically been treated unfairly. In many cases, the statistic is accepted by the hearer without further inquiry. It’s even been stated by president Barack Obama during a State of the Union address.

There’s a problem, though. The statistic is false.

If one were to look into the matter, the ratio would actually be closer to 9:10. The truer statistic does indicate that that there’s still a problem, but it’s nowhere near as dramatic as the 7:10 figure that we’ve been hearing.

When you hear that “women make seven-tenths for doing the same job as men”, your BS detector should go off. Perhaps you’ve picked up on some weasel words. Which job, specifically, do women do that nets them seven-tenths of a man’s pay? When was this study conducted? By whom? Did the study control for factors such as maternity leave and that women’s less career-oriented nature would lend them an inclination to settle for a lower salary?

By Tkjd2007 at Wikimedia.org, public domain

By Tkjd2007 at Wikimedia.org, public domain

Perhaps your BS detector did go off, but you ignored it. As children, we are good at detecting things such as hypocrisy, but as we grow up, we train ourselves to ignore our BS detectors. While this is done with the intention of being more civil, it also enables certain people to walk all over us.

During the meeting, the speaker did mention the statistic. A brief glance around the room revealed that just about everyone present knew just what was going on. Did anyone call her on it? It would seem like no one wanted to. There was a guy next to me who raised his hand, but he was ignored.

Generally, men don’t want to fight back against the tide of radical feminism, because it would be so easy to paint such a person as the bad guy. Because of this, the speaker, even though she was surrounded by college-aged men, could say just about anything she wanted with impunity. The group mechanics were certainly awkward.

It seems to me that feminism still struggles to be taken seriously. Why? What’s so bad about the cause of making women of equal value to men?

Fast fact
Women have been of equal value to men all along. Throughout human history.

So, what’s the problem? They haven’t been treated that way. Would it be bad to advocate that they be treated fairly? Certainly not. So then, what major obstacles stand in the way of feminists being taken seriously?

The one I’m focusing on today is that feminism has honesty problems.

A lack of honesty is an issue, even if the cause is a good one. When a person tells a lie to advance a cause, that person takes the risk that that the hearer won’t look too much into it. While dishonest people have long had their way, the risk is even greater in the information age, when a person has instant access to research for verification.

One day, I came home from work and found that my roommates were talking to a door-to-door salesman, and they were sold to his alternative electrical energy supply company. The only thing preventing them from sealing the deal was that the electric bill was in my name, so they needed my approval. After talking with the salesman, I went inside to perform a web search to see what others were saying about his company. The company’s reputation was very bad, with even former employees coming out and pointing out that the company has nearly no organic growth. Armed with this new information, I went and shut the door on the salesman’s face. Problem solved, with the help of the internet.

Another point I want to focus on is that feminists generally just don’t like men, and that’s another obstacle to them being taken seriously. Feminists generally see the male-female relationship as being adversarial in nature, and because of this, it’s unusual to see them in a healthy relationship. Those who fetch coffee for those pushing a feminist agenda often end up developing the same grim outlook. As a result, relationships suffer where there otherwise wouldn’t have been a problem.

The key to a healthy relationship is compromise. Men and women get together understanding that there are differences beyond that women have breasts and a vulva, while men have something else. Men and women have brains that are 97% similar. That remaining 3% makes a big difference. For men and women to get along, they need to be accepting of one-another’s differences, otherwise, there could be problems.

Feminists have a tendency to teach women to accept no compromise. This results in some very difficult relationships. This is made even worse in an age when there are men who try to be more like women and women try to be more like men. Because so many people are trying to be something they’re not, relationships suffer.

The antidote for this is to understand one’s identity, and understand that characteristics such as one’s gender gives someone something to offer society, and knowing that personal success can be achieved by offering what you have to offer, instead of wishing that you could offer the exact same thing as someone with different attributes.

There are differences between men and women, and these enable both genders to offer things to a relationship that the other cannot. Even if the wife were the money-maker and the husband was a stay at home dad, the presence of primary sexual characteristics will still indicate mutually exclusive capacities. Because of this, there is no man that can do all the exact same things a woman can do, and there are no women that can do all the exact same things a man can do. If they could, gender distinctions wouldn’t exist.

Some would say that it’s not fair that women are generally physically weaker than men, and some would say that it’s not fair that the continuity of their genes requires the assistance of a woman. Just because something is different from what you would have personally preferred doesn’t mean that life is unfair. Besides, life is unfair. It has been for a long time.

The school I go to is a trade school, which means that the majors are highly technical in nature. Among them are architectural, HVAC, and electronic engineering majors. A vast majority of the students are male. Why would that be?

Perhaps it’s due to the popular perception that these are male jobs. Those who are particularly blunt seem to like to say that women haven’t built our buildings or paved our roads. I wouldn’t mind seeing women line up to shut them up. But it seems like that’s mostly not happening.

Perhaps it’s because there are so many men going to schools like this that make women feel uncomfortable with attending. Women that attend would be so far outnumbered that they’d feel out of place. There may also be a sexual element. Men like sex, and some get grabby about it. Those who act this way give the rest of my gender a bad rep.

But perhaps the biggest determining factor when women decide against trade schools is that they just don’t want to be architects or automotive repair women for a living. It’s not as though women don’t see such jobs as rewarding and fulfilling, because they do. However, these jobs tend to be physically demanding, and that’s where women usually being physically weaker comes in. It can make them less effective at the job that they do, which from a results-oriented standpoint, could be used to justify paying them less to do the same job.

If someone would have to try much harder to be just as effective, it would seem more practical to find a job that’s more suited to their abilities. Having said that, if someone really wants to do something, that extra bit of effort can result in a fulfilling career. And if women were to pave roads and build buildings, there would be a number of chauvinists with less to say.

If a feminist is a person who sees women as having equal value with men, then I’m a feminist. However, feminism seems instead to be some far-left movement that teaches women to resent men. That there are so many dishonest feminists also seriously hurts their movement, in ways that they don’t realize.

Because of this, there is a demand for honest feminists.