Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Through the looking glass

It is with some reluctance that I write this post as I have generally been avoiding news reports concerning the massacare in Aurora, Colorado. As is often the case with tragedies that get a great deal of traction in the media, people come out of the woodwork exploiting that tragedy as a way to garner support for their particular political cause. There has obviously been a great deal of discussion about gun control (though apparently no one's opinion is changing), but I want to focus on a slightly different angle, promoted most recently by Jon Rappoport.

In an article published today on NaturalNews, and reprinted from his blog Rappoport suggests that the accused Aurora, Colorado shooter, James Holmes, was either (a) the patsy for some large conspiracy designed to change public opinion on gun control or (b) driven crazy by psychiatric drugs or (c) driven crazy by psychiatric drugs so that he could be used as the patsy or perpetrator of a mass killing designed to change people's opinions on gun control. The article itself is poorly written and reads more like a rant than any kind of thoughtful analysis, but I will do my best to unpack some of the fallacies lurking in it.

The first and most obvious is the post hoc fallacy. Rappoport doesn't quite come out and say that Holmes was driven violently insane by pharmaceuticals (though he does make that claim in his blog), but that does appear to be the major point of the article.  After making a number of unsubstantiated claims about the pressure being exerted by pharmaceutical manufacturers on law enforcement and the judicial system to suppress the medical records of Holmes in order to prevent tarnishing the reputation of the drugs Holmes was taking thereby causing people to refuse to take them thus hurting the profits of Big Pharma, Rappoport then launches into a lengthy (but more substantiated, at least there are references though almost all of them are over 20 years old) discussion of the potential psychotic side effects of Prozac. The clear inference here is supposed to be that Holmes took Prozac (even though there is no evidence that this was a drug he was taking, we will probably know more when his medical records are released during the court proceedings), this made him psychotic, and this psychosis led him to commit the crimes for which he is accused. This is a clear example of a post hoc fallacy in that the author is assuming a causal relation when all we have evidence for is a correlation (a correlation Rappoport invented for the sake of his article). Assuming that Holmes was taking some sort of psychiatric medicine, it seems far more likely that his underlying mental condition caused him to commit his crimes, rather than the medication he was taking to treat that crime. As a quick note, I have no evidence concerning Holmes' psychiatric condition or medication he may have been taking, I am merely trying to unpack and evaluate the argument Rappoport makes. For all I know, Holmes may have been perfectly sane and was not prescribed nor taking any medication.

Moving on, Rappoport then commits a rather large Hasty Generalization when he suggests that because there is some evidence of people becoming psychotic when they take certain classes of anti-depressants that therefore everybody who takes them will become psychotic. Again, there is no direct quote which shows a clear example, but the article as a whole is clearly trying to make the case that this generalization is true.

Lastly, Rappoport's article is filled with what can best be described as Bullshit. Bullshit occurs when one has no concern for the truth and just makes up whatever facts or stories will support one's position. For example:
So right now, in Aurora, there are pharmaceutical people on the scene. Not just low-level goofballs, but competent investigators. They want to know what drugs James Holmes was prescribed. They need to know. And behind the scenes, people with clout are making phone calls. These pharma types are talking to government agents and it's crazy time and damage-control time, and nobody is laughing. This is a high-stakes game. WHAT DRUGS WAS HOLMES TAKING?
Rappoport provides no evidence whatsoever that any of the things he describes in this paragraph are actually taking place. Similiarly, he writes:
[If] they could get to Holmes in his cell, they'd erase him. They'd make it look like a suicide. Today. What do you think "lone shooter" is all about? Yes, the covert op that very well may have used Holmes as the patsy, to push the government into banning guns, is a major piece here. But that work is done. Now it's "lone shooter" because getting rid of Holmes by killing him or warehousing him for the rest of his life in a mental prison, with brain-hammer drugs making him into a vegetable, means that the names of the psychiatric drugs he was taking before the massacre will be lost to history, and no one will take the criminal investigation any further.
Again this appears to have no basis in reality, and no evidence beyond Rappoport's wild speculations. This is, quite simply, bullshit.

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