August 21st, 2019

Who needs critical thinking, anyway?

There’s been a story circulating the intertubes lately about some poor kid in Texas who had severe respiratory problems, was put in the ICU and nearly died.

Nobody knows – including his doctors – exactly why all of this happened to him. It’s a bit of a medical mystery.

But you can be damn sure that everyone has taken great pains to point out the fact that he liked to use a vaporizer.

Still photo from what these people think happens at vape manufacturing plants.

My absolute favorite article on the subject was this one, from his actual doctor.

You will notice how insipidly they lay out their case for vaping being the culprit.

  1. No one has any idea what’s happening
  2. This doctor knows what all the other doctors were secretly thinking
  3. The kid told her – a year ago – that he liked vaping
  4. Vaping delivers nicotine and nicotine is bad
  5. One Juul pod has as much nicotine as a whole pack of cigarettes (that has what to do with what?)
  6. Lots of kids have tried vaping
  7. They are full of chemicals

So, clearly we can say his habit landed him in the hospital, right?

Not. Even. Fucking. Close.

For starters, the first thing this doctor does is outline for us all the different procedures he required and all the tests he went through and how confused all the doctors on the case were. Then, she mentions vaping, as if we’re all supposed to say “ohhhhhhhh, that must be it.”

Uh, no.

That’s not how science works. That’s not how medicine works. That’s barely how anything on the planet works.

What she’s really saying is: “A team of medical professionals were baffled by this case, but now that we’ve learned that he participated in the subject of a moral panic, we can stop trying to figure out what actually caused all this, and blame it on the vaping.”

Problem the first with this pseudo-logic is that it’s pseudo-logic.

One would expect a doctor to ask his parents to bring in the specific substance he was vaping so it could be analyzed. One would expect they would bring in friends and classmates to see if he was exposed to any toxins and if other children could be affected as well. One would expect they would contact specialists in rare lung disorders to see if this is simply something very unusual that isn’t detectable by standard hospital testing and examination.

One would expect a doctor to not throw her hands up and say “Well, he vapes, so I guess I can stop with all this ‘science’ nonsense.”

Problem the second is the way this doctor throws around the word “chemicals” like this is the 1950s and no one understands that the very air that we breathe is a chemical. Water is a chemical. We are made out of chemicals.

Perhaps “doctor” is the word we shouldn’t be throwing around with regards to her.

The article goes on to spout unattributed statistics about how many teenagers have tried vaping. 45% sounds like a lot.

This, of course, ignores the simple facts of who we’re dealing with. 45% of teenagers would try drinking their own urine if their peers told them to. There’s a new “challenge” on YouTube every couple months, many of which are wildly stupid, some of which are wildly dangerous. Millions of kids – and adults alike – participate in them, for no reason other than everyone else is doing it.

I’m suspecting that this woman is not a parent, because any parent I’ve ever met would view a kid doing something because his friends did it first as par for the course.

Then her article cites a group of cases that the CDC is investigating, supposedly linked to vaping. But one only has to click through to that article to find a key sentence:

“While some cases in each of the states are similar and appear to be linked to e-cigarette product use, more information is needed to determine what is causing the illnesses,” the CDC said in a brief statement.

These cases likewise are curiously concentrated in specific states. Typically, that indicates environmental factors, which would absolutely include a local manufacturer of vaporizer liquids selling a contaminated batch of product locally, then shipping some of that same batch to various locations across the country. Since online sales are a thing that, you know, exists.

When a company ships out salmonella-tainted spinach, doctors don’t go running around saying that all spinach will make you sick. Because that would be really stupid.

The overall point here:

People around the country and the world have been waving red flags around vaporizers for years now. And while there is much to be said about the lack of regulation around the manufacturing and distribution process, nothing excites people who enjoy a good moral panic than the old “won’t someone please think of the children” trope.

And they love a story like this one, be it steeped in logical fallacy or not.

This is how bullshit like anti-vax starts.

One person has some severe problem, and a doctor – a profession we’ve been trained our entire lives to trust implicitly – says that X caused the problem.

Only there is no evidence whatsoever that X did anything at all.

There are just a lot of people being misled by doctors who are either intellectually lazy, pushing an agenda, or otherwise outrightly derelict in their duty to inform the public of facts about medicine.

And they should be ashamed of themselves.

So what do you think we should do, Mr. Smarty Pants?

Glad you asked.

One of the many useful things we can do is introduce enforceable standards in the industry. Every single consumer should be able to tell exactly what’s in their vaporizer at all times, and there should be government-backed recourse for people who produce substandard products that cause unintended harm to their customers.

If we can tell people exactly how many grams of fat are in a Whopper and the precise concentration of alcohol in every beer, then we can do this too.

Another useful thing is to stop wasting our time pretending that fruit flavoring = targeting children. I don’t know about you, but my taste buds didn’t stop working the instant I turned 18.

We can instead focus on the actual presentation of these things in stores.

In most places, you have to go into a liquor store to buy liquor. Kids are not allowed in there. While the kids still want booze and are able to get it through other means, they’re not constantly seeing it in stores everywhere, all the time.

It would even be good for the economy, to create an entirely new category of business that exclusively sells age-restricted items. Also, pretty awesome for us adults, to get a pack of smokes, a bottle of whiskey and some porn, all in the same place.

Ok, that came off sounding like a pretty lonely shopping trip, but you get the idea.

Lastly, shore up the existing laws.

Did you know that, in many states, it is not against the law for kids to smoke? That’s right: it’s only illegal to sell or give them cigarettes. They’re allowed to posses and smoke them as much as they want.

While many might say that making something illegal only makes it cooler in the mind of a teenager, it also makes it a hell of a lot harder to do freely.

I’ve read stories where kids are vaping right in the middle of class. You can bet your ass they’re not going to do that quite so much if it might mean explaining to mom why she had to leave work to pick you up at county lockup.

There are probably a ton of other good ideas out there. But the bottom line is this:

We humans excel at behavioral manipulation.

If you don’t think so, go yell “fuck!” in front of a baby. Then ask any of the people who get immediately offended why they think it’s offensive to say a single word in the presence of a child that can’t possibly understand what you’re saying in the first place.

If we really wanted to stop kids from doing this, we could get the job done.

But hysterics have never worked before, and they’re not going to work now.

In: News, OtherNo Comments

August 5th, 2019

Official activity mascot #1

This is now the official mascot of “being halfway through a major process when some twit comes around asking you to make a fundamental change that they definitely could have thought of yesterday.”

That is all.

In: Computers, OtherNo Comments

July 24th, 2019

Rutger Hauer, 1944-2019

Still one of the best things ever recorded, and by far the best ad-lib in cinematic history:

In: Music/Movies/TV, NewsNo Comments

Whois

IT guy, dev, designer, writer.

Got a degree in print journalism from UF but history dealt some bad cards to that industry, so I moved back to an earlier love: the computer.

Was recently at ZMOS Networks, but am now the Senior IT Associate at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation.

My name is moderately common, as are a couple screen names, so always look for the logo to make sure you're reading something with official Km approval.

You can get to me directly with kyle(@)kylemitchell.org