Some Folks Just Need to be Gullible

Who is so deaf or so blind as is he
That wilfully will neither hear or see?

-- John Heywood

I will soon provide an example of a politically motivated email that is designed to exploit the gullible. What I want you to focus on when reading this email is the fact that it is utterly wrong in its major thesis, and it is easily and unequivocally proven wrong, yet millions of Americans believe it with nary a moment of questioning. Why? Because they are the gullible amongst us. Suckers of the first order. Not because of actual mental deficiency, but because they choose to be gullible.

I used to try and convince these gullible folks that they'd been taken in, suckered, and led astray. But, I soon learned that they felt no sense of shame for being suckered -- they really didn't care if it was fact or fiction. They just wanted to believe it -- so they did.

What they really cared about was that it supported some idea that they already held! That was ALL important. If it agreed with their preconceived notions, it was something they wanted to believe -- and so they did. Telling them it was untrue just made them mad. I was amazed! Why is this?

Stephen Colbert, of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" last October made clear that his mantra would henceforth be "truthiness," -- a devotion to information that he wishes were true even if it is not. "I'm not a fan of facts," he explained (tongue in cheek). "You see, facts can change, but my opinion will never change, no matter what the facts are." Obviously Colbert saw the same trends as I do, and provided his answer as to why it is occurring -- because people wish it were true, they make it true in their own minds.

Now, here is the specific email example I promised. (The topic of this email is NOT what is important; it could be any political topic; this one just jumped out at me.)



Are you sitting down?

Okay, here’s the bombshell. The current volcanic eruption going on in Iceland, since it first started spewing volcanic ash a week ago, has, to this point, NEGATED EVERY SINGLE EFFORT you have made in the past five years to control CO2 emissions on our planet. Not only that, this single act of God has added emissions to the earth estimated to be 42 times more than can be corrected by the extreme human regulations proposed for annual reductions.

I know, I know ... (have a group hug) ... it’s very disheartening to realize that all of the carbon emission savings you have accomplished while suffering the inconvenience and expense of driving Prius hybrids, buying fabric grocery bags, sitting up til midnight to finish your kid’s "The Green Revolution" science project, throwing out all of your non-green cleaning supplies, using only two squares of toilet paper, putting a brick in your toilet tank reservoir, selling your SUV and speedboat, going on vacation to a city park instead of Yosemite, nearly getting hit every day on your bicycle, replacing all of your $1 light bulbs with $10 light bulbs …well, all of those things you have done have all gone down the tubes in just the past week. The volcanic ash emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere in the past week has totally erased every single effort you have made to reduce the evil beast, carbon. And, those hundreds of thousands of American jobs you helped move to Asia with expensive emissions demands on businesses… you know, the ones that are creating even more emissions than when they were creating American jobs, well that must seem really worthwhile now.

I’m so sorry. And I do wish that there was some kind of a silver lining to this volcanic ash cloud but the fact of the matter is that the brush fire season across the western USA will start in about two months and those fires will negate your efforts to reduce carbon emissions in our world for the next two years.

So, grab a Coke, give the world a hug, and have a nice day!



This example email sounds pretty damning doesn't it? And it would be if it were true. But it is utterly wrong about the volcanoe emissions. Here is what the United States Geological Survey scientists from the Hawaii Volcano Observatory said about volcanic emissions of CO2. The article is from 2007 -- well before the Iceland eruption:


Which Produces More CO2, Volcanic or Human Activity?

People who are fortunate enough to live in or visit Hawaii, or even those who have seen the right television documentaries know that the majestic presence of erupting volcanoes attests to their raw power.

Don't try this trick at home, but if we took Kilauea ... and collected the lava that it erupted, just during the time it took you to read this sentence, there would be enough material to fill the gas tanks of about 1,000 Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs.) And though Kilauea is a medium-to-small-sized volcano, it has been discharging lava nearly continuously at this rate for the past 24 years.

Demonstrations like this one, or catastrophic eruptions like those of Mount St. Helens or Mount Pinatubo, understandably cause people to sometimes think that human-caused effects on the biosphere are small compared to volcanic ones. But, as the saying goes, "it ain't necessarily so."

At HVO [Hawaii Volcano Observatory], for instance, we are often asked about the influence of volcanic gas emissions on the atmosphere and whether these emissions dwarf those from human activity. Anyone who has stood downwind of Kilauea's vents, and sometimes even people who live in Honolulu, 250 miles away, know first-hand how these emissions can affect air quality and life on the regional scale. It's a fact that Kilauea has been releasing more than twice the amount of noxious sulfur dioxide gas (SO2) as the single dirtiest power plant on the U.S. mainland.

So it's also understandable that, with the emerging report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IGCC), some people want to understand how volcanoes might factor into the rise in greenhouse gas concentrations-specifically carbon dioxide (CO2)-that is being reported worldwide. The changes in global CO2 concentration during the past 600,000 years have mimicked the changes in global temperature. And, after all, volcanoes are awesome natural forces that release lots of carbon dioxide (CO2) right? Could volcanoes be a significant global-warming villain?

For numerous reasons, volcanologists have been interested in CO2 release from volcanoes for years and have been working to improve estimates on the amount of CO2 entering the atmosphere and oceans by volcanic processes.

Carbon dioxide is released when magma rises from the depths of the Earth on its way to the surface. Our studies here at Kilauea show that the eruption discharges between 8,000 and 30,000 metric tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere each day. Actively erupting volcanoes release much more CO2 than sleeping ones do.

Gas studies at volcanoes worldwide have helped volcanologists tally up a global volcanic CO2 budget in the same way that nations around the globe have cooperated to determine how much CO2 is released by human activity through the burning of fossil fuels. Our studies show that globally, volcanoes on land and under the sea release a total of about 200 million tonnes of CO2 annually.

This seems like a huge amount of CO2, but a visit to the U.S. Department of Energy's Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) website ( helps anyone armed with a handheld calculator and a high school chemistry text put the volcanic CO2 tally into perspective. Because while 200 million tonnes of CO2 is large, the global fossil fuel CO2 emissions for 2003 tipped the scales at 26.8 billion tonnes. Thus, not only does volcanic CO2 not dwarf that of human activity, it actually comprises less than 1 percent of that value.

A short time ago (geologically speaking) the question "Which produces more CO2, volcanic or human activity?" would have been answered differently. Volcanoes would have tipped the scale. Now, human presence, activity, and the resultant production of CO2, through the burning of fossil fuels, have all climbed at an ever-increasing rate. On the other hand, looking back through the comparatively short duration of human history, volcanic activity has, with a few notable disturbances, remained relatively steady.

Volcanoes are still awesome, even though they don't produce CO2 at a rate that swamps the human signature, contributing to global warming. In fact, spectacular eruptions like that of Mount Pinatubo are demonstrated to contribute to global cooling through the injection of solar energy reflecting ash and other small particles.

There is now agreement at the top government level of the Earth's most prolific fossil fuel CO2 producer-the United States-that we need to reduce our dependence on oil in order to confront the challenge of global warming. As we work toward that goal, let's look forward to the day when volcanologists will give a different answer to the question "Which produces more CO2, volcanic or human activity?"


So-o-o-o, the basic thesis of the example email is that those who think mankind's efforts to decrease our CO2 emissions are wasting jobs and money. The proposed proof? Because the Iceland volcano spewed out in a few days more CO2 than mankind has been able to reduce from their CO2 emissions in the past 5 years. But the proposed proof is utterly wrong. The Iceland volcano actually spewed out less CO2 per day than was eliminated by its grounding of many European air flights.

When a proof of a thesis is not true, then the logical conclusions from that proof are not supported. The essence of the email's "logical conclusions" is that the liberals and the scientists and our government got it wrong. But these conclusions are premised on a false proof, and therefore are reduced to mere opinion, not proven fact. (The only fact this email really supports is that way too many folks can be taken in by falsehoods.)

Now, if you please, you have a right to believe mankind's efforts to reduce CO2 levels is wrongheaded. And you have the right to find facts that will support your opinion. But no one has the right to use falsehood as fact. Daniel Patrick Moynihan said it best: "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts." Facts stand above opinion. Someone said it more succinctly: "To ignore the facts does not change the facts."

Even the email we are discussing implicitly concedes that facts trump opinions -- because it proposes a so-called fact in order to draw logical conclusions. If it had left out the false fact, it would have been just another opinion piece, worth no more nor less than anyone else's opinion. But it calls upon a so-called fact to add the weight of logical conclusion to the article -- to turn it from just one man's opinion to an established logical conclusion.

Benjamin Franklin said, tongue-in-cheek: "One of the greatest tragedies of life is the murder of a beautiful theory by a gang of brutal facts." And so it should be. Facts should trump opinion. At least this is so if we value rational thought over comforting delusion.

But we humans are nothing if not resourceful. We prefer to strongly hold to our opinions by selectively ignoring any facts that challenge our opinions. Cobert's "truthiness" is far more appealing than mere "truth!"

We all succomb to truthiness; no one is utterly rational; but we don't all succomb to the same degree. The gullible succomb almost all the time. The wise succomb but rarely. We all have the tendency, but some are quite vigilant against this weakness, while others heartily embrace it as a familiar friend. The difference is in degree -- and in final outcome.

Jesus spoke of those who had a love for truth. He said these people, who had a love for truth, were the discoverers of more truth. And he spoke of those who had no love for the truth. These people, he said, ended up believing a lie. Simple statements, but incredible truths. The outcomes are different.

However you read and understand these words of Jesus, it is clear that he said those who seek truth gain more truth, and those who ignore truth that is inconvenient to their opinions/desires end up in error.

You see, if you ignore facts that don't agree with your opinion, then you firmly hold opinions that are in contradiction to the facts you ignored. It is how we treat facts that make us foolish or wise. Someone said, "Some minds are like concrete, thoroughly mixed up and permanently set." Adolf Hitler said, "How lucky it is for rulers that men cannot think." The difference between thinkers and the gullible is, in large part, in whether a person values (and weights) fact above opinion.

The foolish man doesn't ignore all facts (if he did, we'd call him mad instead of foolish); rather, he selectively screens facts. Those facts that support his opinions are let in, and those that don't are filtered out. Andrew Lang (1844-1912) said, "He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts ... for support rather than illumination."

In the United States, in the year 2010, it is very easy to be well informed. The Internet provides the libraries of the World at your fingertips. But, in this same year it is also easier than ever before to be utterly gullible. The same Internet that provides the libraries of the World also provides an easy forum for all the quacks of the World. They can publish their quackery for free, and often anonymously. Like fire, the Internet can either warm you or burn you. It depends on how smart you are about it.

Recent studies show that the Internet has NOT made it harder for repressive governments to stay in power. The exact opposite is true: the Internet has made it much easier for them to stay in power. Why? Because the repressors can publish false facts (propaganda) that the people want to believe, and willingly do. The propaganda machines of George Orwell's "1984" are working smoothly through the Internet in 2010. It takes hard work and a love for truth to make the Internet your source of wisdom. It is much easier to use it to make yourself a fool. If you use it to seek out facts that support your opinions, you will find all the false facts you want! And you will be deceived.

Mark Twain said, "If you don't read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed." This was his way of saying that getting the real facts matters. And it is now much more likely that you can do so, thanks to the ease with which good source materials can be accessed. But not casually. And not selectively. Here's how to do it:

  1. If you like talk shows, listen to a right-wing host for a week. Then turn him off and listen to a left-wing host for a week. By getting both world views, you will have expanded your mind. And you will discover that your new opinions probably lie somewhere between these extremes. If your opinions still line up with one of the extremes, then you need a steady diet of the other's views UNTIL your views do come towards the center. Why? Because the radicals of the extreme left and the extreme right BOTH value their ideas more than they value real humans. Radicals of the left or right will seriously harm humans for the sake of their too-strongly held ideas. This is what makes them radicals. People who value humans more than their own ideas have more wisdom.

  2. Go to original sources. If you hear something on the radio or TV, or from a friend, check it out on the Internet from the original sources -- not from the bloggers and spin artists. Once you get the true facts, you will ALWAYS find that the secondary sources have overstated or understated the case. I recall the flap about Muslims wanting to build a mosque on ground zero in New York City. I thought this was downright stupid of them, so I suspected it wasn't quite true. Turns out I was right. It wasn't quite true. They want a mosque some two or three blocks away -- hardly in ground zero. Personally I'd prefer no new mosques in America until we figure out how to sort out the moral Muslims from the immoral ones (radicals). But it sure seemed less of a heart stopper to me to know that they wanted a new mosque somewhere other than on ground zero. Not quite so "in your face" as the terrormongers would have you believe. One could argue that a Muslim place of worship near Ground Zero would be proof to Islamic nations that al-Qaeda hasn't succeeded in turning America's fight against terrorism into an undiscriminating war against all Islamic people. Of course, if you believe we should be at war with all Islam, then you're not going to make a distinction between your average Muslim and your average terrorist. But you should. If you look at the numbers of Islamic deaths, it is clear that al-Qaeda is at war with non-radical Islam. Those who miss this important fact do American policy a great disservice.

  3. Be skeptical. If it sounds too outrageous or stupid, it probably is. Much of the truly stupid stuff is just made up, fabricated lies designed to inflame and radicalize. Learn to use the Internet to find the truth.

  4. Always remember that truth doesn't come from finding the most articles about the topic. Usually there are scores of blogs that repeat the whoppers, which makes them no more true. Anatole France [Jacques Anatole Thibault] (1844-1924) said, "If a million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing." Seek out the original sources. If you can't find original sources, then reject all the assertions. Reliable information always has an original source.

  5. Subscribe to emails from They will send you periodic emails that debunk the whoppers that they come across. Another good website to check when you suspect a whopper is If you have heard that Snopes is a biased source, then check out original sources as to who publishes Snopes and why. You will find that the clams of bias come from the sources that are cranking out the political whoppers. They don't like anyone challenging their lies, so they try to smear Snopes with lies about its reliability.

  6. Thoroughly check out the next 10 political emails you receive. If you don't learn that eight or more of them are whoppers, I'll be utterly surprised. If, after this little experiment, you still tend to believe future political emails, then you are more gullible than factual, and you need to quit reading these political emails, or else check them all out. A person who values facts will understand that sources with an 80+ percent falsehood rate should not be trusted for ANY reliable information. If you know a person or some anonymous information source occassionally lies, how do you ever know when they are telling the truth? A wise person assumes that all they say is a lie -- until independently verified.

The choice is yours. Check your facts, and believe only what you find is factual. Or believe whatever you read that supports your current opinions. The former will make you wise. The latter will make you ever more gullible -- a pawn in the hands of the purposeful liers who spread these falsehoods. If you chose the latter, you are choosing to be willfully deceived -- to believe lies, to your own damnation. And you need to blame yourself, not someone else. The choice is yours.

--mof, 7/2/2010

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