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October 31st, 2023 (Permalink)

Trick or Treat

On Halloween, a group of trick-or-treaters visited all the houses on the north side of the one-hundred block of South Sycamore street. There were four houses on the block from corner to corner, one numbered 106. The children started at 102, the lowest numbered house, and visited each in turn. Each house was a different color, including a wooden one painted white. In each house lived a different family, and each family gave out different homemade treats to the visiting children.


  1. The trick-or-treaters visited the yellow house immediately after the Allen house, which wasn't the one where they received candy apples, but before they went to the house that gave out chocolate chip cookies.
  2. Brownies were not given out at the first or last house on the block, 108, one of which was built out of red bricks.
  3. The Cohen family was not the one that gave out candy apples.
  4. The trick-or-treaters received brownies at the house built out of gray stone.
  5. The Drummond family does not live in one of the corner houses.
  6. The house numbered 104 is not painted yellow.
  7. The Baxter family, who gave out caramel popcorn, do not live in the red brick house.

Using the clues above, can you determine which family lived in each house, the color of the house, and the treats given?

Recommended Reading
October 29th, 2023 (Permalink)

The Associated-with-Terrorists Press & Dishonest(y) Researchers


  1. Ellipsis in the original.
  2. Matti Friedman, "What the Media Gets Wrong About Israel", The Atlantic, 11/30/2014. Friedman is a former AP reporter. While nine years old, this article is still relevant and also recommended reading.
  3. Jonah Lehrer, "The Truth Wears Off", The New Yorker, 12/5/2010.
  4. "Questionable Research Practices Surprisingly Common", Association for Psychological Science, 5/24/2012.
  5. "Optional Stopping", Framework for Open and Reproducible Research Training, 11/3/2021.

Disclaimer: I don't necessarily agree with everything in these articles, but I think they're worth reading as a whole. In abridging them, I have sometimes changed the paragraphing of the excerpts.

October 22nd, 2023 | Updated: 10/25/2023 (Permalink)

Fighters, Gunmen, and Militants?

[A newspaper's] primary office is the gathering of news. At the peril of its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted. Neither in what it gives, nor in what it does not give, nor in the mode of presentation must the unclouded face of truth suffer wrong. Comment is free, but facts are sacred. "Propaganda", so called, by this means is hateful.1

Many of the news stories about the pogrom in Israel on the seventh of this month referred to the murderers, rapists, and kidnappers who committed it as:

The first two of these three words fails to distinguish between the criminal and the victim, treating them as if they were morally equivalent. "Militant" is an adjective meaning aggressive that is so broad that "militant pacifist"9 is not an oxymoron; in this context, it's simply a euphemism for "terrorist".

The only occurrence in the first article above of the word "terrorist" as applied to the "fighters", "gunmen" and "militants" is in a quote from President Biden. These words are not casually chosen; the reporters, editors, and news outlets that use them know full well that Hamas is a terrorist organization. Moreover, this sort of evasive language is often enshrined in their stylebooks and policies10, so we can't excuse this as a one-time failing. Also, we can't necessarily blame the reporters or editors for being mealy-mouthed, though we can blame them for working for an organization that won't allow them to speak honestly.

Defining "terrorism" is not hard11: it is violence against civilians by non-governmental organizations with the purpose of terrorizing a populace for political ends. Supporters of terrorism, including some nations, have tried to obfuscate the meaning of the word for their own political purposes, but its meaning has been well-established for decades. United Nations documents on terrorism will often claim that there is no universally accepted definition of "terrorism", but this is only because state sponsors of terrorism―such as Iran, which funds Hamas―are members12. This would be like the League of Nations asking Nazi Germany to agree to a definition of "genocide".

Though there may be some vagueness in the meaning of "terrorism", the Hamas attacks are a paradigm case. The word bald is paradigmatically vague, but there's no doubt that Patrick Stewart is bald. Similarly, there's no reasonable doubt that the Hamas attacks were terrorism, and to pretend there is just pours ink upon the troubled waters.

Both of the news articles quoted above come from the Reuters news agency. Shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, Reuters released a statement attempting to explain its policy against using the word "terrorism": "Throughout this difficult time we have strictly adhered to our 150-year-old tradition of factual, unbiased reporting and upheld our long-standing policy against the use of emotive terms, including the words 'terrorist' or 'freedom fighter'.13"

"Terrorism" is an emotive word because terrorism is frightening14, but so is "murder", yet Reuters doesn't avoid calling the intentional and unlawful killing of a human being a "murder" simply because the word is emotive15. Thus, the explanation it gives for its policy is bunk, and there must be some other reason why it chooses to avoid the word. Not only is the language it uses dishonest, so is its explanation of why it uses it.

I don't mean to pick on Reuters as I've no reason to think that it is especially bad or worse than any other major news outfit. I chose the first story quoted above simply because it's the first that popped up when I searched for news published within a day of the massacres. Moreover, I know that the BBC has been guilty of similar practices in the past14 and still is16.

If Reuters doesn't want to call murderers, rapists, and hostage-takers "terrorists" for whatever reason, I'd settle for it calling them "murderers", "rapists", and "hostage-takers", but none of these words occurs in either article. Does it have a policy against them, as well? Obviously not, so it seems that its policy must be to soft-pedal terrorism.

Update (10/25/2023): The BBC has now changed its policy of calling Hamas terrorists "militants" by default, and is going to start referring to Hamas itself as "a group proscribed as a terror organization by the UK Government and others"17. That's a mouthful! Also, the new policy doesn't mean that the Beeb won't use the term "militants", just that it won't do so "by default". It still won't be calling terrorists "terrorists" itself but helpfully informing us that some others do call them that.

This is a baby step in the right direction, but it appears that the BBC only acted under pressure. As recently as the 11th of this month―after the Hamas massacres―the BBC published a ludicrous defense of its previous policy by John Simpson, one of its editors18. Then, a little over a week later, Israel threatened to cut off access to the BBC if it kept referring to Hamas as "militants"19. Simpson must have felt the rug pulled out from under him when, the very next day, the new policy was announced.

There was nothing new in Simpson's defense of the indefensible, just the usual feeble arguments. He wrote: "Terrorism is a loaded word, which people use about an outfit they disapprove of morally." As I argued above, and elsewhere, "terrorism" is not, in fact, a loaded word. Of course, it's emotive, but so is the word "genocide"; would the BBC refuse to refer to the Holocaust as "genocide" because the word is emotive? Surely not. "War" is a frightening word, too, yet BBC News refers to the current situation as the "Israel-Gaza War" on its front page.

Simpson goes on to say, referring to the attacks on Israeli civilians: "It's perfectly reasonable to call the incidents that have occurred 'atrocities', because that's exactly what they are." I agree, but does he think that "atrocity" is a precise, clinical word? "Atrocity" is actually vaguer than "terrorism", and at least as emotive. If it's perfectly reasonable to call the attacks "atrocities" then it's just as reasonable to call them "terrorism".

In addition, the BBC doesn't even apply its own claimed policy consistently. The Telegraph reports that it "has discovered more than 20 instances of the BBC referring to individuals or groups as terrorists in recent years, further undermining its claim that it avoids using the word in order to maintain impartiality"20. It looks more like partiality in favor of Hamas.

I decided to check some recent BBC stories to see if I could tell whether the new policy was being carried out, so I visited the BBC's site. In the middle of an article on the front page in which reporters answered readers' questions about the Israel-Hamas conflict21 was a photograph with the caption: "An Israeli soldier displays military equipment and ammunition that Hamas and Palestinans [sic] militants used in their attack on Israel". Given that the policy doesn't actually ban the use of the word "militants" to describe Hamas terrorists, this is not a violation.

What about calling Hamas "a group proscribed as a terror organisation by the UK Government and others". There's only one occurrence of a "terror"-related word in the article, and that's in the following sentence: "Those sources of funding became much more difficult after it [Hamas] was widely designated as a terrorist entity by the US, European Union and others."

A couple of other stories I checked lacked the word "militants", but also the words "terrorist" or "terrorists" except in direct quotes, which was always allowed by the previous policy. All of this raises the question: what exactly would constitute a violation of the new policy? The new one is almost as bad as the previous one, and more difficult to enforce since it's hard to tell what counts as a violation.


  1. C. P. Scott, "A Hundred Years", The Guardian, 10/23/2017.
  2. Maayan Lubell & Nidal Al-Mughrabi, "Israel retaliates after Hamas attacks, deaths pass 1,100", Reuters, 10/8/2023. Emphasis added.
  3. Saranac Hale Spencer & D'Angelo Gore, "What We Know About Three Widespread Israel-Hamas War Claims", Fact Check, 10/20/2023.
  4. Nur Ibrahim, "Were Israeli Babies Beheaded by Hamas Militants During Attack on Kfar Aza?", Snopes, 10/16/2023.
  5. Nidal Al-Mughrabi & Eric Cox, "Released by Hamas, American mother, daughter reunited with family", Reuters, 10/21/2023. Emphasis added.
  6. Nick Cohen, "Stop castrating the language", The Guardian, 7/16/2005.
  7. "Survivors of Hamas assault on music fest describe horrors and how they made it out alive", PBS News Hour, 10/10/2023.
  8. "Hamas hostages: Who are the people taken from Israel?", BBC, 10/21/2023.
  9. Albert Einstein actually called himself a "militant pacifist"; see: The Expanded Quotable Einstein, collected & edited by Alice Calaprice (2000), p. 165.
  10. David Mikkelson, "Reuters Proscribes 'Terrorist'", Snopes, 10/9/2001. This is from about a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, but it appears that Reuters has not changed its policy.
  11. More specifically, this is "transnational" terrorism; Hamas is a transnational organization.
  12. See, for instance: "Human Rights, Terrorism and Counter-terrorism", Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, section I.B, 10/2007.
  13. "City Diary", The Telegraph, 9/28/2001.
  14. See: The Ministry of Truth, 7/14/2005.
  15. For a recent example, see: Jonathan Allen, "Dutch man confesses to 2005 killing of US teen Natalee Holloway in Aruba", Reuters, 10/18/2023. For more on emotive language, see: Loaded Words.
  16. Ian Price, "What Do Hamas ‘Militants’ Have to Do for the BBC to Call Them Terrorists?", The Daily Skeptic, 10/17/2023.
  17. Craig Simpson & Ben Riley-Smith, "BBC stops calling Hamas ‘militants’ by default after backlash", The Telegraph, 10/20/2023.
  18. John Simpson, "Why BBC doesn't call Hamas militants 'terrorists' - John Simpson", BBC, 10/11/2023.
  19. "Israeli president threatens to ban BBC over ‘atrocious’ policy of calling Hamas militants", The Telegraph, 10/19/2023.
  20. Gordon Rayner & Jamie Bullen, "BBC refusal to call Hamas terrorists ‘unsustainable and indefensible’, says MP", The Telegraph, 10/17/2023.
  21. "Week 3: BBC correspondents answer your questions on the conflict between Israel and Hamas", BBC, 10/23/2023.

October 16th, 2023 (Permalink)

What's New?

The new and improved Fallacy Files! Now with more fallacies!

New Fallacy: Dangling Comparative

Check it out!

A Logician Reads the News
October 11th, 2023 (Permalink)

Headline Hooey

Check out the following recent headline:

Study: Black women at highest risk for suicide1

Anyone who knows anything about the sociology of suicide in the United States ought to find the above headline suspicious. While women are more likely than men to attempt suicide, men are more likely to actually kill themselves2. And the difference is not insignificant: almost four times as many American men committed suicide as women in 2021-20223. Of course, none of this rules out the possibility that a subgroup of women have a higher suicide rate than men as a whole, but it is a reason for skepticism.

Based on this headline, you'd probably assume that black women have a higher rate of suicide than women in general, not to mention men, and people taken as a whole, along with comparable subgroups, such as black men, white women, and white men. After all, if black women are at the highest risk, then there shouldn't be any other group at a higher risk.

The first sentence of the article seems to confirm the impression made by its headline: "A new study out of Boston University released on Wednesday indicated that Black women age 18 to 65 have the highest risk for suicide irrespective of their socioeconomic status." However, the article goes on:

The findings of the study…revealed that Black women in the highest income bracket had a suicide rate 20% higher than white women…. "Our findings were surprising because most studies usually show that the rate of suicide was higher in White women in the U.S.," corresponding author Temitope Ogundare, a clinical instructor of psychiatry at Boston University.4

That sounds as though high income black women were compared only to white women in general, which is an apples-to-oranges comparison, and the remainder of the report does not reveal exactly what groups were compared by the study. For that information, we will turn first to the press release which this news report was based on5.

Like much science and health reporting of new studies nowadays, this report is a cut-and-paste job of a press release, with almost every sentence copied and then their order rearranged. A light rewording was done on some sentences, perhaps to conceal the plagiarism or from a desire for brevity, but not all the changes can be explained this way.

The following table aligns sentences taken from the news report with the corresponding ones from the press release to show the extent of copying, and highlights passages in the release that were left out of the report. Omitted are quotes of the researchers in the news story which were all taken directly from the release, showing that no new reporting was done.

News Story Press Release
A new study out of Boston University released on Wednesday indicated that Black women age 18 to 65 have the highest risk for suicide irrespective of their socioeconomic status. In a new study, looking only at women, researchers from Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine and Howard University have identified Black women aged 18–65 years, to have the highest risk for suicide irrespective of their socioeconomic status.
The findings of the study, which revealed that Black women in the highest income bracket had a suicide rate 20% higher than white women…. The study found that Black women in the highest income strata had a 20% increase in the odds of suicide/self-inflicted injury compared to white women in the lowest socioeconomic strata.
Researchers from Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine and Howard University reviewed the National Inpatient Sample database, the largest all-patient database in the U.S., from 2003-2015. To determine the factors associated with suicide/self-inflicted injuries, the researchers reviewed the National Inpatient Sample database, the largest all-patient database in the U.S., from 2003-2015.
They identified and collected demographic data―including insurance type, smoking status, and exposure to domestic violence―on women age 18-65 who were hospitalized with diagnoses of self-inflicted injuries or attempted suicide. They identified and collected demographic data (insurance type, smoking status, exposure to domestic violence, etc.) on women age 18-65 years who were hospitalized with a diagnosis of self-inflicted injury or attempted suicide.
The researchers then used a computer model to test how race and socioeconomic status interacted to determine suicide risk. They then used a computer model to test how race and socioeconomic status interacted to determine the risk of suicide.
The researchers said the findings allow healthcare experts to identify populations that have the greatest risk of suicide. According to the researchers, these findings are important because it [sic] allows identification of which population has the greatest risk of suicide.
Ogundare said that she believes interventions targeted at helping women who have experienced domestic violence, lack of universal health coverage, as well as addressing racial discrimination, must become part of an overall suicide prevention strategy. Ogundare believes interventions targeted at helping women who have experienced domestic violence, lack of universal health coverage as well as addressing racial discrimination must become part of a comprehensive suicide prevention strategy.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. among individuals aged 10-34 years of age and the fourth leading cause of death for individuals aged 35-44 years. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. among individuals aged 10-34 years of age and the fourth leading cause of death for individuals aged 35-44 years.

As you can see, despite the fact that the news story was copied from the press release, it carefully edited out the information that the study looked only at women, and that "highest risk" referred only to black women in the highest income bracket as compared to white women in the lowest. This is an odd apples-to-oranges comparison, though one might have expected the relationship to be reversed.

This is all that we can learn from the press release, though it's enough to show that the news report was misleading. It would be easy to program a computer to do this kind of paraphrasing of press releases, and it certainly couldn't do a worse job of reporting than was done in this case. Let's turn now to the paper itself.

In the "Results" section, the paper informs us:

Compared to Whites, Blacks…and Hispanics…had lower odds of suicide/self-inflicted injury. However, when we examined the interaction between race/ethnicity and income, Blacks in the highest income quartile had 20% increased odds of suicide/self-inflicted injury than Whites in the lowest income group….2

And, again, in the Discussion section: "Blacks and Hispanics had a lower risk of suicide/self-inflicted injury in this study compared to Whites…." The only racial/ethnic groups with a higher suicide rate than whites were American Indians and "Alaska Native"s. So, it's only the odd comparison of high income black women with low income white women that underlies, but certainly does not support, the headline claim.


  1. Clyde Hughes, "Study: Black women at highest risk for suicide", United Press International, 10/4/2023.
  2. Oluwasegun Akinyemi, et al., "Factors associated with suicide/self-inflicted injuries among women aged 18–65 years in the United States: A 13-year retrospective analysis of the National Inpatient Sample database", Plos One, 10/3/2023.
  3. "Suicide Data and Statistics", Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8/10/2023.
  4. Notice the capitalizing of "Black" but the inconsistent capitalizing of "white". Interestingly, the press release from which this news story was cribbed, and the study itself, capitalize both. The UPI article follows the recent racist practice of capitalizing "black" but not "white", which appears to be standard now in major American news outlets.
  5. "BU Study: Black Women, Aged 18–65 Years, Have Highest Suicide Risk Among Women", Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine, 10/4/2023.

October 2nd, 2023 (Permalink)

Rock the Voting Statistics

In 2002, in an episode of the television show The West Wing, a fictional White House press secretary for a fictional American president claimed:

18 to 24 year-olds represent 33% of the population but only account for 7% of the voters. … Decisions are made by those who show up! You gotta rock the vote!1

While The West Wing was a fictional show, I expect that most people who watched it assumed that claims such as this were not just made up. Are these claims also fictional?

There are two related claims in this sentence: first, that 18-24 year-olds are 33% of the population and, second, that 18-24 year-olds are 7% of voters. The claims were made during a scene in which the press secretary was addressing an event encouraging young adults to vote. So, the larger point was that young Americans from this age range are eligible to vote, but actually vote at a much lower rate than their representation in the population.

Unless you're an expert on voting in the United States, it's unlikely that you'll know whether the second claim is correct. Moreover, I can't think of any way of checking it for plausibility, though a fact check is certainly possible. However, you don't have to be a demographer to have doubts about the first claim. Is it really true that those seven years represent a third of the U.S. population? Are a third of the people you know between the ages of 18 and 24?2 Your internal baloney detector should be tingling.

You also don't need to be a demographer to check the claim for credibility3. Without doing any actual research, how would you do so? Give it a try, then click the button below to see my own attempt.


  1. Aaron Sorkin, "The West Wing: College Kids", West Wing Transcripts, original air date: 10/2/2002.
  2. This might be true if you yourself are within that age range, but then the people you know are not a representative sample of the population.
  3. For advice on how to check factual claims for credibility, see:
    1. Compare & Contrast, 1/7/2022
    2. Divide & Conquer, 2/4/2022
    3. Ratios, Rates & Percentages, 3/27/2022
    4. Ballpark Estimation, 4/21/2022
  4. "What was the population of the United States in 2002?", Wolfram Alpha, accessed: 9/30/2023.
  5. "What was the lifespan in the United States in 2002?", Wolfram Alpha, accessed: 9/30/2023.
  6. "Voter Registration and Turnout by Age, Gender & Race 2000", United States Election Assistance Commission, 3/20/2007.

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