Debate Watch

Previous Month | RSS/XML | Current


January 16th, 2019 (Permalink)

And Then There Were Six

Ten little Democrats standing in a line;
One toddled home and then there were nine.
Nine little candidates having a debate;
One's polling dropped and then there were eight.
Eight little debaters is better than eleven;
One fell asleep and then there were seven.
Seven li'l arguers up to their tricks;
One lost his way and then there were six.1

For the first candidate forum of the election year, held a couple of nights ago, the Democratic party finally whittled the slate down to six. I'd like to see even fewer candidates, and we eventually will, but an additional problem with these so-called debates is that the format usually doesn't encourage debating. I sometimes wonder whether a generation of young people are growing up thinking that this is how debates are conducted.

The most famous political debates in American history were the ones between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in 1858, when Lincoln was running for senator from Illinois against incumbent Douglas. The seven debates took place between just the two candidates, and there wasn't even a moderator as far as I know. The debates lasted three hours with the first speaker speaking for an hour, followed by the second speaking for ninety minutes, and the first speaker also speaking last for thirty minutes2. Of course, I doubt that most people today would sit still for a three-hour debate―in fact, I probably wouldn't have patience for one myself―but a shorter one with a similar format might work.

In addition to the lack of journalists asking questions and controlling who speaks, the Lincoln-Douglas (L-D) debates had a de facto topic: slavery. While I wouldn't expect candidates to debate a resolution, as is common in formal debate, it's not unusual for the current forums to focus on a broad topic area, such as the economy or foreign policy. So, L-D style debates on a subject, such as health care or the environment, with one moderator whose only tasks would be to introduce the candidates and topic, ask an opening question, and keep the speakers within their time limits, might produce some worthwhile argumentation.

One reason I advocate reducing, or even eliminating, the role of moderators is that too often they interject themselves, or take sides in the debates. The most egregious recent example was Candy Crowley3, who both interjected herself, as if she were a participant instead of a moderator, and took a candidate's side. A similar example occurred the other night, and it's received considerable attention4:

Moderator Abby Phillip of CNN: Let's now turn to an issue that's come up in the last 48 hours. Senator [Bernie] Sanders, CNN reported yesterday that―and Senator [Elizabeth] Warren confirmed in a statement, that in 2018 you told her that you did not believe that a woman could win the election. Why did you say that?

Senator Bernie Sanders: Well, as a matter of fact, I didn't say it. … Anybody knows me knows that it's incomprehensible that I would think that a woman cannot be president of the United States. Go to YouTube today. There's a video of me 30 years ago talking about how a woman could become president of the United States. In 2015, I deferred, in fact, to Sen. Warren. There was a movement to draft Sen. Warren to run for president. And you know what, I stayed back. Sen. Warren decided not to run, and I then―I did run afterwards. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million votes. How could anybody in a million years not believe that a woman could become president of the United States? …

Phillip: So Sen. Sanders, I do want to be clear here, you're saying that you never told Sen. Warren that a woman could not win the election?

Sanders: That is correct.

Phillip: Sen. Warren, what did you think when Sen. Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?


Senator Elizabeth Warren: I disagreed. Bernie is my friend, and I am not here to try to fight with Bernie. …5

At this point, the disagreement between Sanders and Warren is a "he said-she said" one, since there don't seem to be any recordings or other witnesses to the exchange. The fact that they disagree about what Sanders said doesn't necessarily mean that either is lying, since one or both may misremember6. However, my purpose here is not to adjudicate the question of "did he or didn't he?", but to examine the moderator's performance.

Abby Phillip's first question to Sanders is a loaded one7: "Why did you say that?" This, of course, assumes that Sanders did say it, something that he immediately denies. Phillip could have asked, instead: "Did you say that and, if so, why?"

In addition, Phillip's setting up of the context of the question begs the question of whether Sanders said it: "…CNN reported yesterday that―and Senator Warren confirmed in a statement, that in 2018 you told her that you did not believe that a woman could win the election." Phillip's use of the word "confirmed" presumes that Sanders did indeed say it, since you can't "confirm" something that isn't true.

After Sanders denied the accusation twice, Phillip then turned to Warren and asked: "Sen. Warren, what did you think when Sen. Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?" I have included the editorial annotation in the transcript indicating audience laughter after this question, which is something I would ordinarily remove. In this case, I left it in because I think it's revealing. Why did the audience laugh at this question? I think it's because it so brazenly takes Warren's side.

Why did Phillip question the candidates in this way? She interrogated Sanders like a prosecutor questioning a suspect, and then questioned Warren as if she were the victim. Was it political bias in favor of Warren, sexual bias in taking the side of another woman against a man, or bias in favor of her network's "scoop". I don't know the answer to these questions, but I don't need to answer them. A way to stop this sort of thing is to get rid of the moderators, or at least minimize the role they play. Let the candidates debate and let the reporters report.

This will be the last of these forums before the Iowa caucuses, which take place on the third of next month8, marking the start of the primary season. We should see a more rapid diminishment of the number of candidates as the primaries filter out those with minimal support. Hopefully, we will also see a diminishment in the number of moderators.


  1. Based on the traditional nursery rhyme "Ten Little Indians".
  2. See, NCC Staff, "Great debates? It started with Lincoln and Douglas", National Constitution Center, 9/26/2016.
  3. See: Second Presidential Debate Logic Check, Part 2, 10/20/2012.
  4. See, for instance: Joe Concha, "CNN moderator criticized for question to Sanders", The Hill, 1/15/2020.
  5. "Read the full transcript of Tuesday night's CNN/Des Moines Register debate", Des Moines Register, 1/15/2020.
  6. There's supposedly a recording of Sanders and Warren accusing each other of lying after the debate was over, see: Lisa Kashinsky, "Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders accuse each other of lying in post-debate confrontation", Boston Herald, 1/15/2020.
  7. See: Loaded Question.
  8. CNN Staff, "Fact check of the January Democratic debate", CNN, 1/14/2020.

January 10th, 2020 (Permalink)

So Long, Marianne

So long, Marianne
It's time that we began
To laugh and cry
And cry and laugh
About it all, again1

In an unsurprising move, Marianne Williamson has officially left the race for the presidency2. Her campaign never really got going as her poll numbers languished in the low single-digits. She appeared in the first couple of Democratic candidate forums, but only because the entrance requirements were so low. As the heights of the hurdles were raised, especially the polling one, Williamson disappeared from the platform. Without the publicity from such appearances, she didn't have much of a chance to increase her polling numbers or contributions3.

One reason I paid as much attention to Williamson as I did is that the current occupant of the White House was also a celebrity and political novice. So, even though she was a long shot, there was a precedent for her nomination and even election. Despite the failure of her campaign, I don't think Williamson will be the last candidate to try to make the jump from celebrity to president.

Another reason that Williamson stood out from the pack were her vague but potentially dangerous "spiritual" beliefs, which included a general suspicion of science and specific doubts about the value and safety of vaccination4. She appeared to believe that the physical world is an illusion that can be manipulated by our thoughts, so that hurricanes can be prayed back out to sea5.

Of course, it's possible that if Williamson had been nominated and elected she would have dropped the wishful thinking approach to solving problems. Candidate Trump also flirted with the anti-vaccination position, but thankfully he seems not to have followed through as president6. Perhaps Williamson would have done the same thing, but now we'll never know.


  1. Leonard Cohen, "So Long, Marianne", Songs of Leonard Cohen, 1967.
  2. Maggie Astor, "Marianne Williamson Drops Out of 2020 Race", The New York Times, 1/10/2020.
  3. For analysis of why her campaign failed, see: Nathaniel Rakich, "Why Marianne Williamsonís Unconventional Presidential Bid Didnít Catch On", 538, 1/10/2020.
  4. See:
  5. See: Marianne Williamson Channels Pat Robertson, 9/6/2019.
  6. See: Ivan Couronne, "Trump tells Americans measles vaccination 'so important'", AFP, 4/26/2019.

Poll Watch
January 4th, 2020 (Permalink)

Reply Hazy, Try Again1

The election is still ten months away, and the Democratic challenger to the incumbent has yet to be chosen, yet polls are already being done to measure support for the potential nominees against that incumbent in so-called swing states, such as Virginia and Florida. Cases in point:

President Donald Trump would beat every Democratic candidate in the swing states of Virginia and Florida except for former Vice President Joe Biden, according to a pair of polls from Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy. In a hypothetical matchup, Biden narrowly edges Trump in Florida by 2 percentage points, 47%-45%. Trump leads Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, 51%-42%; Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, 49%-44%; and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, 49%-45%. Biden's lead over Trump is slightly wider in Virginia, where the former vice president leads the incumbent 49%-45%. The other Democrats trail the president in the state. The poll says Trump beats Warren 48%-44%, Sanders 51%-45% and Buttigieg 47%-45%.2

Presumably, these polls are asking about hypothetical match-ups between various contenders and the champ, as opposed to matching the Democrats against one another, because winning the general election is important to Democratic voters.

One thing to keep in mind about state polls is that they are often based on smaller samples than national ones. Sample size and margin of error (MoE) are negatively related, that is, the less you have of one the more you get of the other. So, the smaller the sample, the larger the MoE. As is typical of poll reporting, you have to go all the way to the end of the article to find out how the poll was conducted. Although this article does not reveal the sample sizes3, it does tell us the MoE for both polls in the last paragraph:

The Virginia poll was conducted via telephone from Dec. 12-16, and the Florida poll was conducted from Dec. 11-16. Both have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.2

The MoE for both of these polls is a percentage point larger than most national polls, and the only leads that exceed it are Trump's over Warren and Sanders in Florida and over Sanders in Virginia. However, the Virginia primary is about two months from today, and the Florida one a fortnight after that4. Moreover, both of these polls were conducted in the middle of last month, so the results are two weeks old. Much can happen in two and a half to three months to change the standings of the candidates with respect both to each other and to the incumbent. Even more can change in ten months than in a couple as potential voters become familiar with the candidates and one eventually emerges as the nominee.

So, due to the large MoE and the long time before the election, these two polls don't tell us much about who would beat whom in these states. Of course, they may be better than asking the magic eight ball, but not by much.


  1. This is one of the possible answers of "The Magic Eight Ball" divination toy.
  2. William Cummings, "Trump would beat every Democrat but Biden in Florida and Virginia, polls say", USA Today, 12/31/2019. Thanks to Jonathan Sanders for bringing these polls to my attention.
  3. For the sample sizes see the Mason-Dixon reports on the polls:
  4. Kathryn Watson, "When the major primaries and caucuses are happening―and how they work", CBS News, 1/2/2020.

Previous Month | Top of Page

If youíd like to learn more about manipulating cards in a casino, check out blackjack guide which includes extensive information on how to count cards.

Most online slot players have heard of the gamblers fallacy but we would suggest you simply do your homework before you play in order limit your risk. Sites like SlotsOnlineCanada are the go-to Canadian online slots portal on everything from new slot bonuses, slot game reviews and up-to-date news on the iGaming industry.

You will never be able to dispel the truth and reasoning behind the gamblers fallacy, however if you read these winning insights on pokies you may find that you gain a slight upper hand.

Head over to for a complete guide on casino sites in the United Kingdom.

If you want to play casino for free, you should check out for a complete list of casinos.

Video, classic, 3D, real money or bingo slots? At we list all of them and more. Read how to get your free spins and dive in to the adventures.

Donít waste your time looking for worthy new online casinos, as already did all the hard work for you. Check out top lists with latest casinos on the market and register an account today.

Bad Journalism
December 31st, 2019 (Permalink)

Richard Jewell and "The Voice of God"

* Ellipsis in the original.

December 25th, 2019 (Permalink)

What's in Santa's bag?

'Twas the night before Christmas and Santa Claus had arrived at the very last city block of buildings that he had to deliver presents to. His bag of presents was almost empty, and if he ran out before he finished, he would have to fly all the way back to the North Pole to fetch more. Would he have enough presents for everyone on the block?

There were six buildings on the block. The first was an apartment building with many apartments. It took one less than half of the presents in Santa's bag to deliver a present to each person in the building.

The next building on the block was also an apartment building, but about half the size of the first. It also took one less than half of the remaining presents in the bag to leave one present for each resident of the building.

The same process continued for the next three buildings as each time it took one less than half of the remaining presents in the bag to treat each resident of the building to a present.

Finally, Santa came to the last building on the block, which was a small house occupied by a married couple and their two children, a boy and a girl. Santa looked into his bag and there were exactly four presents left. A Christmas miracle! Santa would not have to make another trip to the North Pole for additional presents.

How many presents were in Santa's bag when he arrived at the last block?

December 22nd, 2019 (Permalink)

Rule of Argumentation 111: Make your arguments relevant to claims!

The previous rule invited you to focus your argumentation on claims, and not be distracted by irrelevancies. In this rule, I will discuss in more detail how to make your arguments relevant to the claims you are arguing about.

As discussed in rule 9, argumentation won't begin unless you and your partner think that you disagree about something, and that something can be stated as a claim―that is, a sentence that is true or false. Your argumentation should consist of a series of individual arguments relevant to that claim or to other claims that have arisen during the discussion.

Logically speaking, an argument is a series of claims, one of which is called "the conclusion" and the remainder are "premisses"2. There are two ways for an argument to be relevant to a claim:

  1. The premisses provide support for the claim, thereby making it more likely that it is true. This is what I called, in the previous rule, "defending" a claim.
  2. The premisses provide support for the negation of a claim, thereby making it more likely that the claim is false. This is what I called, in the previous rule, "attacking" a claim.

In addition, there are two degrees of support that an argument can give to its conclusion:

  1. The premisses provide conclusive support for the conclusion, thereby showing that the conclusion is true assuming that the premisses themselves are true. Such an argument is called "deductively valid".
  2. The premisses provide less than conclusive support for the conclusion, but make it more likely that the conclusion is true given that the premisses are true. Such an argument is called "inductively strong".

These two types of argument are important because what counts as relevant to a claim depends on which type of support the argument is supposed to provide. Deductive relevance is studied in formal logic and inductive relevance in probability theory. Unfortunately, there is no short cut to fully understanding relevance than to study logic3 and probability theory4. As a result, this isn't the place to go into detail about either deductive or inductive relevance.

However, short of learning logic or probability theory, here is an informal technique for evaluating the relevance of premisses to a conclusion:

  1. Deductive: Put aside for the moment the question of whether the argument's premisses are true or false and assume that they are true. Will the conclusion also be true? Can you imagine circumstances in which the conclusion would be false? If assuming that the premisses are true means that the conclusion would have to be true―or, in other words, in no circumstances would it be false―then the argument is deductively valid. In contrast, if you can imagine a possible situation in which the premisses are true and the conclusion false, then the argument is invalid. However, if it is invalid it still might be a strong inductive argument, so don't stop here but go to the next step:
  2. Inductive: Again, assume that the argument's premisses are true. Does that assumption make it more likely that the conclusion is true? If so, how much more likely does it make it? Deductive validity is an all-or-nothing affair, that is, either an argument is valid or it isn't. In contrast, inductive strength is a matter of degree. A set of premisses might make a certain conclusion no more likely, almost certain, or anywhere in between. Try to get a sense of just how strong the argument is.

The logical strength of an argument just described is a measure of how relevant its premisses are to its conclusion. However, strength is not enough to make an argument good. It is also necessary that the premisses be true or at least probable.

Just as claims are sometimes confused with their histories, effects, or motivations, arguments are sometimes confused with their sources. By "source" I mean to include both the person or group advancing an argument, and others who may defend it. Too often people confuse an argument with its source, and instead of evaluating or criticizing the argument itself, they evaluate its source. There are many different ways in which this is done, and many of them are named fallacies5, but what these mistakes have in common is that the argument targets the source of the argument instead of the argument itself. Good arguments can come from bad sources, and bad arguments can come from good ones. So, when you follow the steps above, ignore its source and concentrate on the argument itself as a series of claims.

Next Month: Rule 12


  1. Previous entries in this series:
    1. Rule of Argumentation 1: Appeal to reason!, 12/14/2018.
    2. Rule of Argumentation 2: Be ready to be wrong!, 1/26/2019.
    3. Rule of Argumentation 3: Focus on claims and arguments!, 2/13/2019.
    4. Rule of Argumentation 4: Be as definite as possible!, 3/8/2019.
    5. Rule of Argumentation 5: Be as precise as necessary!, 5/29/2019.
    6. Rule of Argumentation 6: Defend your position!, 7/7/2019.
    7. Rule of Argumentation 7: Aim at objectivity!, 8/9/2019.
    8. Rule of Argumentation 8: Consider all the evidence!, 9/19/2019.
    9. Rule of Argumentation 9: Agree about what you disagree about!, 10/20/2019.
    10. Rule of Argumentation 10: Attack or defend claims!, 11/12/2019.
  2. Often spelled "premises".
  3. You can begin studying logic by accessing the Lessons in Logic from the navigational pane to your left.
  4. You can begin studying probability by accessing the entry for Probabilistic Fallacy from the drop-down menu to your left.
  5. If you wish to pursue this issue further, see the fallacy of Red Herring and its subfallacies, which are available from the drop-down menu to your left.

Debate Watch
December 21st, 2019 (Permalink)

And Then There Were Seven [Updated: 12/26]

Ten little Democrats standing in a line;
One toddled home and then there were nine.
Nine little candidates having a debate;
One's polling dropped and then there were eight.
Eight little debaters is better than eleven;
One fell asleep and then there were seven.1

I don't have much to say about this month's Democratic presidential debate, which was held two nights ago, because it was mostly a rerun. However, here are a few passing observations:


  1. Based on the traditional nursery rhyme "Ten Little Indians".
  2. The Big Democratic "Debate", Part 1, 6/27/2019.
  3. Zach Montellaro & Steven Shepard, "DNC raises thresholds again for January debate; Booker will likely be excluded", Politico, 12/20/2019.
  4. Déjà Vu All Over Again, 9/16/2019.
  5. The Fix team, "Transcript: The December Democratic debate", The Washington Post, 12/20/2019.
  6. See:
  7. Which is currently $2,800; see: "Contribution limits", Federal Election Commission, accessed: 12/21/2019.
  8. Philip Bump, "Bernie Sanders keeps saying his average donation is $27, but his own numbers contradict that", The Washington Post, 4/18/2016.
  9. Bernie Sanders campaign fundraising page, Bernie, accessed: 12/21/2019. The Biden campaign lacks such a curious donation structure; see: Biden campaign fundraising page, Joe Biden, accessed: 12/21/2019.
  10. Will Thorne, "Sixth Democratic Debate Draws 6 Million Viewers, Lowest Figure in Current Cycle", Variety, 12/20/2019.
  11. The State of the Debates, Scientific Graphs, Fact-Checking Books & Autism Profiteering, 11/30/2019.
  12. John Bowden, "Buttigieg campaign introduces contest for lowest donation", The Hill, 12/24/2019.

Bad Advice
December 14th, 2019 (Permalink)

Bad Advice

Title: Bad Advice

Subtitle: Why Celebrities, Politicians, and Activists Aren't Your Best Source of Health Information

Author: Paul A. Offit

Date: 2018

Quote: Science delivered us out of the Age of Darkness and into the Age of Enlightenment. Three hundred years ago, graveyards overflowed with small, white coffins. Children died from smallpox, meningitis, pneumonia, whooping cough, bloodstream infections, scarlet fever, diphtheria, hepatitis, measles, and food poisoning. Of every hundred children born, twenty would be dead before their fifth birthday. Mothers died from tuberculosis and childbed fever. Crop failures led to famines and starvation. Homes were infested with filth and vermin. The average life span was thirty-five years. Scientific advances have eliminated most of this suffering and death. Vaccines, antibiotics, sanitation programs, pest control, synthetic fertilizers, X-rays, air conditioning, recombinant DNA technology, refrigeration, and pasteurization―to name just a few―have allowed us to live longer, better, healthier lives. During the last hundred years alone, the life span of Americans has increased by thirty years.1

Comment: This book was published about a year ago, so it's not brand new, but it's new to me. I haven't read it yet, but I have read two of Offit's previous books: Deadly Choices2 and Do You Believe in Magic?3. I thought those were both good books, so I have similar expectations for this one.

The title does not refer to the contents of the book, I hope, but to its topic, which I guess is the bad advice coming to us from all those "celebrities, politicians, and activists". Where should we get advice if not from movie stars and talk show hosts? Here's a suggestion: try science. But what is science?

Stripped to its essence, science is simply a method to understand the natural world…. In a sense, everyone is a scientist. For example, if a car doesn't start, a mechanic considers several possibilities: the battery is dead; the starter is defective; the car is out of gas; the fuel system is clogged. Then, the mechanic tests each of these potential problems. This is exactly how scientists think….4

In other words, science is not magic; it's a logical method for finding out how things work. So, should we take advice from scientists? Not so fast:

It will probably come as a surprise to learn what science isn't―it isn't scientists or scientific textbooks or scientific papers or scientific advisory bodies. As once-cherished hypotheses are disproved, scientists throw away their textbooks without remorse.5 For some people, this is unnerving. We want certainty, especially when it comes to our health. And that's when we get into trouble….6

So, if we're not to take advice from Gwyneth Paltrow or Jenny McCarthy, where should we get it? Since I haven't read the whole book yet, but only those parts that Amazon lets me look at, I don't know what answer Offit provides. However, I'm encouraged that he makes the distinction between science and scientists, since I don't think the answer is to blindly follow scientists. One clue is suggested by the following remark:

By far the most important part of the scientific process is reproducibility. If a scientist's hypothesis is right, then other investigators will confirm that it's right. If it's wrong, they won't.4

Or, as I like to put it, replication is not optional. This is why you should not be impressed by the latest study in health, nutrition, or any other area of science until it's been replicated. Most studies turn out to be wrong, so if you're going to bet your life, health, or wealth on it, you should bet against an unreplicated study. Once a study has been replicated―ideally, multiple times by independent investigators―then you should provisionally rely upon it.

Coincidentally, tying in to my recent discussion of the problems with research into the relation between diet and health7, Offit gives the following as an example of how science can get things wrong:

In 1957, the American physiologist Ancel Keys published a paper claiming that people who consumed less fat had a lower incidence of heart disease, coining the term "heart-healthy diet." Keys was a well-respected scientist, a best-selling author, and a consultant to the World Health Organization and the United Nations. In 1961, he even appeared on the cover of Time magazine. When Ancel Keys gave advice, people listened. Because of Keys, margarine, which contained partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, became the "heart-healthy" alternative to butter, which contained animal fats. Although he didn't realize it at the time, Keys had driven Americans into the waiting arms of trans fats. Four decades later, the Harvard School of Public Health estimated that trans fats were causing about two hundred fifty thousand heart-related deaths every year.8

The lesson of all this is that science is hard. Unfortunately, there isn't any easier way to figure out how the world works, so get used to it.

I would think that most Fallacy Files readers already understand that you shouldn't take advice about health, or much of anything else, from celebrities, politicians, or activists. However, with the holidays rapidly approaching, maybe there's someone on your gift-giving list who could benefit from some good advice about bad advice. On the other hand, you can give a book as a gift but you can't make anyone read it, which raises the question of who the target audience is for this book. I suspect that those who read it probably won't really need it, and those who need it most probably would refuse to read it.

Oh well, teaching people about science is hard, too.


  1. P. 1.
  2. See: Book Review: Deadly Choices, 7/21/2013.
  3. See: New Book: Do You Believe in Magic?, 7/10/2013.
  4. P. 2.
  5. This is rather idealized. It's more in line with Offit's point, here, to emphasize that scientists are human―all too human―and can stubbornly cling to disproven theories, but science itself ruthlessly discards them.
  6. P. 3.
  7. See: Junk Food Research, 11/29/2019.
  8. P. 4.

Previous Entry | Top of Page

Read and write reviews of Casino Gods at TheCasinoDB.

A great German Casino for new players.