A Skeptical Call To Arms

I am deeply concerned by the direction that Donald Trump is taking the country with his refusal to admit his clear defeat and his promotion of disinformation regarding election fraud. I am taking action.

While Trump's claims have been largely rebutted by bipartisan election officials, and his lawsuits are being rejected by a bipartisan judiciary, millions of people believe in his incendiary Tweets claiming victory and alleging widespread evidence of interference in the election.

It seems probable that he will leave the Whitehouse on January 20th, 2021, but he is not going quietly, and the damage that his rhetoric is both causing and enabling will last for many years, perhaps decades to come. Trust in the institutions of this country - elections, judges, the intelligence services, newspapers, and science - have steadily been eroded, and this last great assault by Trump will seal the deal for millions of people. Significant damage is being done to the fabric of society.

What can we do?

I'm a skeptic, a debunker, I investigate dubious sounding claims, and if I find them to be false, I try to explain to interested people why they are false. I've investigated many topics: Chemtrails, 9/11, JFK, the Moon Landing, Ghosts, Flat Earth, and UFOs. None of those topics are incredibly important, except to small groups affected by or obsessed with those topics. This assault upon our nation is genuinely very important.

Because it's so important, I'm going to largely pause my more frivolous debunking and focus full-time on the election and the transition of power.

I'm going to continue to investigate claims of evidence of election fraud, and if I find them to be false, I'm going to communicate that falsehood to as many people as possible.

I'm going to find other people who have done similarly and collate and amplify their work as much as I can. I'll find explanations in the mainstream media and major fact-checking sites, and ensure they get where they need to be. Making the information as easily findable as possible is almost as important as generating it in the first place.

I'm going to engage directly with people on social media, foster more mutual understanding, and politely try to show them what is true and what is not.

I encourage other people in the skeptical community, the fact-checking community, and the science communication community to do the same. Begin it now. Time is short, the Electoral College meets on December 14th, and the rhetoric and disinformation will ramp up as that date approaches. We need all hands on deck.

I hope my concerns are foolish and overblown. But I'm a conspiracy theory student, and I fear that this is a pivotal moment in American history. A whole pantheon of conspiracy theories are being born, contributing to the decay of democracy and an increasingly divided society. These theories, if left unchecked, will be repeated for decades. I can't fix it all, but I can't just stand idle as the days tick by. I'll do whatever I can for the next few weeks to fight the lies before they metastasize.

Mick West. Nov 15th 2020
https://twitter.com/MickWest. (DMs open)
http://youtube.com/mickwest (Where I post some election-related debunks)
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All over the Western world, there's a deep-seated disagreement over "what's wrong with this country" that causes whole regions (and the people in these regions) to lose wealth. In my opinion, there is a related split on the political and psychological issue of what causes and prevents a person to thrive, and that makes the answer on the large scale connected to the smaller scale answer. Coping with social and economic change is not easy, and upheaval of government is historically a reaction that happens. Mick, you've got your work cut out for you if you're trying to address these underlying problems with debunking.

I believe that the first thing that must be achieved is the idea that "we're in this together"; the trust that, regardless of the above-mentioned disagreement, making our society better is our common goal; that each half of the population isn't out to disenfranchise the other half, even if it feels that way sometimes; that democratic elections are a way to fight over these differences without violence; and that this is still working.
Serious minded people should look at the world-wide trend.

Liberal Democracy across the world is losing. There's a long roll call of countries that have quietly been converted to Authoritarian Democracy.

The new cold war involves liberal democracy versus the democratic authoritarian state. Power is slowly consolidated through ostensibly legal means, and legal elections are held. Through a patient campaign the electorate is persuaded toward nationalism, group (racial, religious, ethnic, tribal, caste) supremacy and xenophobia. There's always at least one oppressed group within the country. Oppressed by government policy.

There is no sudden coup. Just a relentless repositioning. The general population is fine with it because you can lead daily life pretty much as usual, as long as you don't try to meddle with government affairs... and as long as you're not a member of one of oppressed groups.

There's no central power leading this. It's just an effective technique. It has worked at moving Turkey away from being the oldest Islamic liberal democracy to an authoritarian state. Hungary is the newest authoritarian state in Europe, with Poland close behind.

Trumpism follows this model and despite the name, it doesn't require Trump to lead it.

India is in the last stages. Central to the takeover is a move away from science and reason to conspiracy theory and irrational beliefs. Hindutva - Hindu Supremacy - includes a weird alternate history in which thousands of years ago an advanced Hindu civilization invented everything: cars, airplanes, TV; plastic surgery which could put an elephant's head on a human body... Ganesh is real. It's becoming state doctrine and being written into school textbooks. It's really a part of the narrative that Hindus are the Master Race... literally superior to us Under-Men.

I'll pass everyone on to this link
https://freedomhouse.org/report/special ... -democracy

Btw, Freedom House isn't a crackpot Internet thing, nor is it some kind of disinformation outlet
History of Freedom House-

But there are innumerable sources I could point to, saying the same thing.
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The real threat of what's being done right now isn't that Trump will stick around. The popular election is over except for the crying, the electoral college isn't going anywhere, "dueling electors" is uncharted territory, but it isn't likely to do anything except drag things out a few extra days, and if Trump pulls an Edmund Davis and locks himself in the basement, he won't last nearly as long as Davis did.

The immediate damage isn't the problem. The real problem is that it's normalizing that this is how elections can be litigated in the US. That even an election as clear as any in living memory can be dragged out for weeks or months in the courts, that litigating mass disenfranchisement is just part of the process, that blocking vote certification is a valid tactic, that the transition can be delayed or even stopped (despite delays in 2000 the transition began before the election was fully legally settled, and both 2008 and 2016 it was allowed to move forward before the media projected a clear winner - 2016 by a full two days), that an incoming administration can be hamstrung by tearing the government apart during the lame duck session (something we started seeing at the state level in 2018).

And the problem with any kind of normalization - political, industrial, financial, religious, whatever - is that now the next step isn't as big. The status quo can be moved by miles by pushing it three steps and then "compromising" for two, because next time that step too far will be the magnanimous compromise.
The most extraordinary thing that's happened: Very early on Wednesday morning (election night), Trump unilaterally declared himself president. This sort of thing has been normalized. This clearly dictatorial move was hardly noticed.
@Hevach: I wanted to offer some things to consider regarding the statement "the electoral college isn't going anywhere".
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is remarkably close to completion and while your statement holds, the electoral college doesn't have to "go anywhere" to be circumvented for the foreseeable future.

From Wikipedia:
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) is an agreement among a group of U.S. states and the District of Columbia to award all their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the overall popular vote in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The compact is designed to ensure that the candidate who receives the most votes nationwide is elected president, and it would come into effect only when it would guarantee that outcome.[2][3] As of November 2020, it has been adopted by fifteen states and the District of Columbia. These states have 196 electoral votes, which is 36% of the Electoral College and 73% of the 270 votes needed to give the compact legal force.

There is also a CGPGrey video on YouTube that offers supplemental context (you may also see this referred to as the "NaPoVoInterCo" while looking for resources largely due to this video).
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I specifically meant this election - most states and every one under contention have standing law that already prescribes how electors are chosen - Article II of the Constitution doesn't mean those states get to re-prescribe the process after the election. So states can't simply ignore the election and chose the wrong panel.

And then there's talk of faithless electors. Several Republican boosters and Trump himself have tweeted of "millions of dollars" available to switch electoral votes without getting particularly specific about what those dollars are meant to do, but faithless electors are not going to significantly factor. First off, the vast majority of faithless electors have been electors for the loser spending their vote for some kind of protest or statement, and after the number of faithless electors in 2016 (both unprecedented and nowhere near enough to change any thing) both parties tightened their grip on the panel selections this year.

Dueling electors is... Kind of weird. Basically that's when, on the day Congress counts the electoral college votes, one state has more than one envelope in the pile. This can be because of a change in certification (in 1960 Hawaii changed their certification, Nixon as VP chose to only open and read the correct votes showing he had lost), or just because somebody decided to gum up the works (this hasn't happened but has been discussed several times over the last hundred years) because the Electoral Count Act doesn't actually require or even mention Congress checking the certification status of either set during the resolution process.

Of course in the long term a lot of things can happen, but in the short term that particular die is, for all intents and purposes, cast.
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@Hevach, All of these points are well taken of course. I wasn't addressing this specific election, only that specific statement. I'm quite familiar with the nature (and substantively limited precedent) of faithless electors and the extreme unlikelihood that we should be concerned about that specifically. In a sense, it was just a PSA for NaPoVoInterCo predicated on what seemed like the spirit of the statement being, "the electoral college isn't going anywhere (therefore there is no point discussing it)."
The Dispatch, a relatively new right-of-center news and commentary site that was founded by several former editors of the National Review, has a number of great fact checks on specific election fraud claims in its Fact Check section.

I agree with Mick that the adoption of counterfactual conspiratorial beliefs appears to be off the charts in conservative circles at this point. While it is true that the party that loses in US presidential elections typically flirts with a few conspiracy theories (and Democrats usually do so as readily as Republicans), I don't believe there has even been a full-on, top-down party-driven effort to promote such theories as we are currently seeing coming from the Trump team. Will Trump's incoherent jumble of claims and disconnected legal cases leave any resilient false beliefs and resulting distrust? Will they lead some people on the fringes to take drastic actions (such as hurting others in the name of combatting what they view to be a conspiracy against Trump)? Those things remain to be seen, but doubtlessly Trump's massive campaign to spread disinformation cannot be a good thing for healthy discourse and rationale choice. I hope Metabunk can mitigate some of the damage by serving as a great repository of debunks for at least some of these claims. It's hard for any one site to keep up any more.
https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/19/politics ... index.html

Trump knows he has lost and knows he has no chance to steal the election, but he's moving onto the next gambit anyway, which is the State Legislature/Elector switch plan. He's pursuing this line of attack to do as much damage as possible. It's more of a taking the next dose of opiate pain killer kind of thing than a long term plan. He's self-medicating with acts of revenge.

Giuliani seems to be playing to Trump and only Trump with his conspiracy theory campaign. The more outlandish this stuff is the better Trump likes it.

Trump supporters tend to believe anything Trump tells them. So he tells them things that are completely unreal. They want to stick with him, so they break down their own psychological defenses. That's how a True Believer is created. They do it to themselves. Trump enjoys doing this to people, so he's self-medicating by creating as many True Believers as he can. It's also another act of revenge against the country he hates. It's adding up to a scorched earth policy.

That's how Trump works. He does things moment by moment, but he's so consistent that his short term actions add up to a long term campaign.
I'm happy to continue the fight against misinformation on social media (it's the only social we have right now). I keep going around and around with the same dozen people on a few things. I'm hoping to wear them down with facts, logic, and respect (shout-out to Mick's book).

The persistent (dare I say blind) devotion to Trump is bewildering. He wasn't lying when he said he could stand on 5th Ave and shoot someone and people would still love him. An old friend from high school does not appear to have any hint of a BS detector when it comes to repeating what Trump and his supporters espouse. When I debunk her facts, the ad hominem attacks come out (that's when you know they don't have any true rebuttal). Still, I don't return the attack in kind and keep grinding away with the facts, logic and some humor when I can.

Even if I don't get through immediately, I'm hopeful with time. I also seem to gather support from mutual friends in the threads, so that is encouraging. Especially since Trump is much of a symptom of what's wrong with America, as much as he is a cause. We all need to engage and slay misinformation a little bit at a time until it's dead by a million papercuts.

Recently my friend asked me to 'prove' that Snopes.com never lies. She says they lie all the time. I asked her to show me evidence they do. She said "you're the one who likes to fact-check...you do it and 'prove' it to me that they don't lie." I said, "I can't 'prove' they never lie" then sent her this classic from the late great James Randi to explain why (take the me vs. her pressure off). What a fun example to illustrate a point, I'm still laughing:

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWJTUAezxAI
Recently my friend asked me to 'prove' that Snopes.com never lies.
I would refuse to be put in that straw man position. Every journalist makes mistakes sometimes; that's why I look for several reliable sources and try to get as close to first-hand information as I can when matters are important. Because Snopes does the same thing, they're trustworthy, even if they aren't perfect.
But you don't have to trust them: you can check their sources. With quality reporting, you usually can.

And that's how you can "prove" they don't "lie", aka intentionally spread misinformation: you can pick some of their articles at random and check that their sources agree with them. If can do that with 10 randomly selected articles, well, then they lie less than 10% of the time and maybe never, right?

The fallback position then is that the mainstream media (MSM) are all fake, i.e. "the system" is rigged. So doing that "proof" doesn't actually achieve much because the irrational belief system of the conspiracy theorist may just reaffirm itself.

So it may be better to pick an issue where both sides can have proof. The original "alternative fact" is the size of Trump's inauguration crowd: there is photographic proof and accompanying testimonial from the photographer as to the actual size, vs. the word of the guy who would like the crowd to have been big, but wasn't actually in a position to see how big it was. And you can demonstrate that Snopes is usually on the side that has the better proof.
This is a topic worth pursuing.

A recent Monmouth University poll captures part of the challenges in doing so:

Most Americans are confident that the 2020 election was conducted fairly and accurately, including 44% who are very confident and 16% who are somewhat confident. The overall number of people who are confident about the election is similar to the 6 in 10 voters who felt this way before the election, but the number who are very confident now has nearly doubled from 24% in late September. There has also been a significant partisan shift in election confidence. Before the election, 55% of Republican voters expressed confidence in the process. That has dropped to just 22% now. In fact, a majority (61%) of Republicans are not at all confident in the election’s fairness and accuracy now. Only 13% expressed that sentiment in late September. Confidence in the election’s fairness went up among both independents (from 56% to 69%) and Democrats (from 68% to 90%) pre-election to post-election.
I would refuse to be put in that straw man position. Every journalist makes mistakes sometimes; that's why I look for several reliable sources and try to get as close to first-hand information as I can when matters are important. Because Snopes does the same thing, they're trustworthy, even if they aren't perfect.
I agree. For brevity I only posted the main theme around my friend. I did all the usual, “show me where they have lied and let’s discuss.” She says they “never” can be trusted, so I asked her to bring up her top 5 clear-cut examples of Snopes dishonesty. She refused and tried again to put the onus on me to prove they don’t lie. So I sent the James Randi video. Don’t know if she actually watched it.

I’m actually very curious to see why she thinks what she does and bummed she won’t even lay her reasoning on the table for consideration. I even told her that I’m actually very interested to hear some good evidence against Snopes, because I trust it very much. It seems pretty obvious to me why people like her don’t like most of the fact checking sites out there. They’re even throwing “I got fact checked” out there as a badge of honor.

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