Saturday, October 15, 2011

Lawrence Solomon – more fact-challenged than Pamela Geller?

Pamela Geller runs “Atlas Shrugs” - a website which claimed simultaneously, that Obama is the illegitimate son of Malcom X and a non-citizen born in Kenya. It’s also rabidly anti-Muslim.

On Friday, in The Globe and Mail, climate change ‘skeptic’ Lawrence Solomon published claims about Egypt that make Atlas Shrugs seem like responsible journalism. Here’s what he wrote:

“…March; that’s when a national referendum passed constitutional amendments that effectively stripped Christians of political rights while strengthening sharia laws involving amputations, stonings and crucifixions”.

Egypt’s new constitutional amendments do not deal with, mention, or “strengthen” “amputations, stonings and crucifixions”. The following BBC summary of the provisions is similar to other reports:

“Under the proposed amendments to the constitution, the future president would only be allowed to serve two four-year terms, instead of unlimited six-year periods. He or she would also be obliged to appoint a deputy....Other amendments would make it easier for individuals to qualify to run as a presidential candidate and re-instate judicial supervision for elections. It would also be more difficult for any leader to maintain the state of emergency.”

A more complete list appears on wikipedia. None of the articles make reference to, or could possibly be construed as “strengthening”, “amputations, stoning and crucifixion’.

Article 75: A candidate would be ineligible if he or she had dual nationality

Article 76: Easing the requirements for being a presidential candidate.

Article 77: Limiting the terms a president can serve to two consecutive terms.

Article 88: The juridical system is responsible for monitoring the election process.

Article 93: would give the highest appeal court the power to rule on challenges to disputed parliamentary races, whereas before only the parliament could decide.

Article 139: The president must appoint a vice-president within 60 days of the start of the term

Article 148: would impose new restrictions on the president declaring a state of emergency, including requiring the approval of a parliamentary majority, and says it cannot exceed six months unless it is extended through a referendum.

(Article 179): would be canceled. The article allows the president to use military courts for "terror" cases even for civilians.

(Article 189): Require the newly elected parliament to write a new constitution within 60 days.


Solomon appears to have gathered quotes, figures and other material from an online article by the “Assyrian International News Agency”, a Christian Syriac group. Extremist sites like JihadWatch and Atlas Shrugs had carried, or linked to, the same material. But Solomon appears to exaggerate, embroider or mis-interpret one sentence in the AINA piece, in which mention of the amendments is simply followed by a reference to what the writer believes is the “intention” of “Salafist” elements in Egypt. The piece does not say that such provisions are contained in the constitutional amendments:

“The EUHRO report noted that Coptic emigration escalated since March 19, 2011, after the constitutional amendments in Egypt and the escalation in Salafist attacks on Copts and their intention to implement Hudud laws (Sharia based punishments, which include capital punishment by sword/crucifixion, stoning, amputation and flogging).”

In this post, Atlas Shrugs presents a more balanced. factual version than the Globe:

“Nearly 93,000 Coptic Christians have left Egypt since 19 March, a report by an Egypt-based Coptic NGO has said…

…Gabriel attributed the Coptic emigration to hardline Salafi groups seeking to apply Islamic law, deny Copts senior government posts, and reduce incoming tourism. He also blamed attacks on Coptic churches and the government's failure to bring attackers to justice.”

Concerns expressed about extremist elements, who some view as wanting to eventually implement some form of sharia, are a far cry from “amputations, stonings and crucifixions” being enshrined or “strengthened” within Egypt’s recent constitutional amendments.

It’s a sad day when Atlas Shrugs looks like better journalism than the Globe and Mail.

And unless Solomon can provide the relevant text of a constitutional amendment that does what he claims it does, the Globe should offer an apology and retraction.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Margaret Wente: self-control and quotation marks

Margaret Wente’s column on willpower shows she could stand to exercise a bit more self-control with quotation marks.

Quotes and other material from the introduction to Baumeister/Tierney’s book, “Willpower” figure prominently in her piece, but Wente seems to blur the line between the authors’ observations and her own, and again uses what seem to be migrating quotation marks. The overlapping sections Wente leaves out of quotes (part identical wording, part paraphrase) are highlighted in bold caps.

Wente: Most social scientists look for the causes of social failure outside the individual: deprivation, oppression, discrimination and so on. “Searching for external factors is often more comfortable for everyone,” the authors write, “particularly for the many academics who worry that they risk the politically incorrect sin of ‘blaming the victim’ by suggesting that people’s problems might arise from causes inside themselves.” Social problems can also seem easier to fix than character defects – despite the overwhelming evidence that they aren’t.

Baumeister/Tierney Introduction, available here : Most social scientists look for causes of misbehavior outside the individual: poverty, relative deprivation, oppression, or other failures of the environment or the economic and political systems. Searching for external factors is often more comfortable for everyone, particularly for the many academics who worry that they risk the politically incorrect sin of “blaming the victim” by suggesting that people’s problems might arise from causes inside themselves. Social problems can also seem easier than character defects to fix, at least to the social scientists proposing new policies and programs to deal with them.

Wente: “Self-regulation failure is the major social pathology of our time,” concluded a team of researchers quoted in the book. This failure contributes not only to obesity, but to high divorce rates, domestic violence, crime, addiction and a host of other social problems.

Baumeister/Tierney: “Self-regulation failure is the major social pathology of our time,” they concluded, pointing to the accumulating evidence of its contribution to high divorce rates, domestic violence, crime, and a host of other problems.

Wente also describes the “marshmallow experiment” cited in the introduction. “Remember the marshmallow test?” she asks, without mentioning the authors’ use of it. Observations about the Victorian era also appear the introduction, but Wente makes no mention of the authors’ comparison