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November 30th, 2015 (Permalink)

The Puzzling Sisters

He met the two puzzling girls at a Thanksgiving celebration. They were sitting side-by-side on a sofa, and told him their names were Janet and Janis. He immediately forgot which was which because they looked so much alike.

"Are you sisters?" he asked, and they both nodded. "You look a lot alike," he continued, "are you twins?"

The two sisters glanced and smiled at each other. "No," Janet answered―or was it Janis? "But you are sisters?" he asked, again. "Yes," Janis replied―or was it Janet?

A little later, having sat down on the couch between the sisters, he turned to Janet―Janis?―and asked her age. "Thirteen," she answered. "And how old are you, Janis?" he asked, turning to the other sister. "I'm Janet," she replied with a pout, "and I'm thirteen."

He paused for a few moments in puzzlement. "But you are sisters?" "Yes," Janet replied, "we have the same Mom and Dad." "But not twins?" "No," they both said in unison, shaking their heads.

There was a longer pause, then he turned to Janet: "When is your birthday?" "January 14th," she replied. Ah, that must explain it, he thought. Turning to Janis, he asked: "And when is yours?" "The 14th of January," she answered.

There was a still longer pause as the two sisters gave each other a meaningful glance and giggled. "Wait a minute," he said. "What year were you born?" he asked Janet, who for the first time began to look a little annoyed at all the questioning. "2002, silly! Can't you subtract?" He turned to Janis. "And you?" "2002!"

"Maybe when I asked if you were twins you thought I meant identical twins," he continued after another thoughtful pause, "but you're really fraternal twins."

"Nope!" Janet almost shouted. "We're no kind of twins!"

He sat back and laughed. "You're pulling my leg, you naughty girls!" But he was wrong. Everything the sisters had told him was true. How is this possible?


Wikipediosis is a disease resulting from being libelled in a Wikipedia entry. John Doe is known to be a sufferer of this disease. …
November 29th, 2015 (Permalink)


One of the problems faced by Wikipedia, "the encyclopedia anyone can edit", is that anyone can edit it. This means that people can edit pages on topics where they have conflicts of interest; for instance, people with biographies on Wikipedia can edit them. Of course, Wikipedia has guidelines against such editing, but there appears to be little if any enforcement. Effectively, Wikipedia is on the honor system, and anyone who wants to game the system can probably get away with it.

Case in point: a crew member on the controversial new documentary The Hunting Ground has edited Wikipedia on entries related to the film's subject―see the Source, below, for the details. The edits suggest that the editor was trying to remove information that tended to undermine the film's thesis, and add evidence to support its claims. Whether this minor member of the film crew was acting on his own initiative is unclear.

In this case, the crew member edited using his own name, and even disclosed his conflict of interest on his own bio, so it doesn't appear that he was trying very hard to get away with anything. More worrisome are those who are trying to get away with it, and thus take measures to avoid detection, such as using "sock puppets"―see the Resource, below, for examples. It's impossible to know how many such editors there are since most are probably indeed getting away with it.

You might ask: Where's the harm in all this? Imagine a student researching the subject matter of The Hunting Ground and doing what so many probably do today, namely, searching Wikipedia for information. Little does the student know that the "encyclopedia" was carefully edited by a member of the film crew not to contradict the film.

Here's another recent example of the harm that can come from an "encyclopedia" that just anyone can edit: I usually use the Bing search engine, which has the feature that for many searches the beginning of the Wikipedia article on the search term shows up in a box to the right of the search results. Awhile ago, I did a search on the name of a disease, and the Wikipedia box looked something like the box at the upper right of this entry.

I've changed the names of the disease and its supposed sufferer to protect the innocent. In other words, an entry for a disease gave the name of a real person―not John Doe―as a sufferer of the disease. Presumably, some prankster thought it would be funny to claim in the Wikipedia entry that "John Doe" had the disease, or some enemy of Doe thought it would harm his reputation.

As if it weren't bad enough that a supposed encyclopedia attributes a disease to some private individual, but then a search engine displays that accusation in a special box as if it were part of the definition of the disease. How would you like to have been John Doe?

Source: Ashe Schow, "'The Hunting Ground' crew caught editing Wikipedia to make facts conform to film", Washington Examiner, 11/19/2015

Resource: Attack of the Sock Puppets, 10/24/2013

November 26th, 2015 (Permalink)

Thank You and Check it Out!

On this day of thanksgiving, thanks to all of those who have supported The Fallacy Files since last year, whether by clicking on the Google ads or donating directly via the PayPal button on your right! Also, The Fallacy Files is an Amazon Associate. With the holidays approaching, please consider doing any shopping at Amazon by way of one of the links from this website. It won't cost a penny extra and will benefit the site. Thank you all for helping to keep The Fallacy Files strong and free!

Update (4/11/2021): The Fallacy Files is no longer an Amazon associate and so will not benefit from any purchases you make from Amazon.

For some holiday fun, check out Megan McArdle's eleven tips on how to argue politics with your relatives on Thanksgiving. You know, that crazy aunt/uncle who belongs to the Democrat/Republican party, watches MSNBC/Fox, and is secretly a communist/fascist. Give her/him a piece of your mind:

Source: Megan J. McArdle, "Don't Argue Like an Amateur at Thanksgiving", Storify, 11/23/2015

November 11th, 2015 (Permalink)

Debate Watch: Welding Philosophers

The first question in last night's main debate between the Republican presidential contenders (What! Another one already?) was asked by moderator Neil Cavuto:

Neil Cavuto: Candidates, as we gather tonight in this very august theater, just outside and across the country, picketers are gathering as well. Theyíre demanding an immediate hike in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. …[A]re you sympathetic to the protesters [sic] cause since a $15 wage works out to about $31,000 a year?
Source: "Transcript: Republican Presidential Debate", The New York Times, 11/11/2015

Here's how candidate Marco Rubio answered Cavuto's question:

Marco Rubio: The problem is that today people are not successful working as hard as ever because the economy is not providing jobs that pay enough. If I thought that raising the minimum wage was the best way to help people increase their pay, I would be all for it, but it isnít. … If you raise the minimum wage, youíre going to make people more expensive than a machine. And that means all this automation thatís replacing jobs and people right now is only going to be accelerated. Hereís the best way to raise wages. Make America the best place in the world to start a business or expand an existing business, …and make higher education faster and easier to access, especially vocational training. For the life of me, I donít know why we have stigmatized vocational education. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers. If we do this, we will be able to increase wages for millions of Americans and we will be able to leave everyone better off without making anyone worse off.

As a philosopher, I am deeply offended! Why wasn't there a trigger warning on this debate that there would be expressions of anti-philosophy bigotry?

Joking aside, in one way I agree with Rubio. The word "philosopher" is ambiguous:

  1. A professional philosopher, that is, someone who has a graduate degree in philosophy. Usually, professional philosophers teach philosophy in institutions of higher education.
  2. A person who thinks, studies, talks, or writes about philosophy to a greater degree than most people. This is a philosopher in the popular sense of the word, that is, a "popular philosopher".

In the sense of a professional philosopher, Rubio is absolutely right that there are too many in America, or at least we are training too many people to be professional philosophers. The career path for those with graduate degrees in philosophy is university-level teaching, but there are not enough such jobs to employ most of those who graduate with degrees in philosophy. As a consequence, most trained philosophers must get jobs doing something else that often has nothing to do with philosophy―such as welding! After awhile, a person with a graduate degree in philosophy who does not teach tends to slip from the ranks of the professional philosophers into that of the popular philosophers.

Presumably, Rubio meant "philosopher" in the professional sense, since he not only claimed that America needs more welders, but that it needs fewer philosophers. This would only be true in the professional sense, since it's possible that a professional welder could be a philosopher in the popular sense. I don't know of any philosophical welders, but nothing rules it out. For instance, Eric Hoffer, who is usually considered a philosopher―in the popular sense―was a longshoreman by profession.

This ambiguity in the word "philosopher" seems to have led some people astray. For instance, Ann Althouse quotes Alex Knepper in response to Rubio:

The irony that Rubio will never grasp is that this exceptional country―the country that made his life possible, and made it possible for the son of a maid and a bartender to run for president―was made possible by philosophy.
Source: Ann Althouse, "This country 'was made possible by philosophy.'", Althouse, 11/11/2015

As a philosopher, I appreciate the support but, also as a philosopher, I have to point out that this is only true in the sense of "popular" philosophy. I assume that Knepper's idea is that Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and other "founding fathers" of the United States were philosophers. However, none of them were professional philosophers.

If what Knepper means is that the U.S. was founded on the basis of philosophical views, that's true, but so was the Soviet Union. If philosophy in that sense made the U.S. possible, then it also made the U.S.S.R. possible. This is not a great argument for philosophy. A better argument is that the U.S. was made possible by a particular philosophy, but I assume that Rubio probably considers himself a proponent of the philosophy of the founders.

Althouse made a good comment on Rubio's remarks:

Why is it either/or? Welding is a great job for a philosopher.

I don't know about her second claim―I'm not planning to get a day job as a welder―but her point that this is not an either/or situation is spot on. However, we philosophers are probably not going to get those well-paying welding jobs without the vocational education that Rubio is advocating.

What this country needs is more welding philosophers!


Update (11/13/2015): Slate has done a fact-check of Rubio's claim that welders make more money than philosophers and concludes that it's the other way around―see Source 3, below. I'm heartened by all the non-philosophers rushing to defend the honor of philosophy, but before all the welders out there drop their torches and enroll in the nearest school to pursue a doctorate in philosophy, let's stop and think. After all, that's what philosophers do.

The Slate article supplies an unnecessary bar chart to compare the wages of philosophers and welders―unnecessary since it's comparing only two classes of things, which can be done just as easily in words. Here's what the chart says: Philosophy and Religion Teachers (Postsecondary) make a mean annual wage of a little more than $70,000―$71,350, to be exact, see Source 1, below―while Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers make a mean annual wage of about $40,000―$40,040, according to the source.

Notice that postsecondary philosophy teachers are what I refer to as "professional philosophers" above, which is good because this is what Rubio must have meant by "philosophers". However, notice that the chart lumps philosophers in with postsecondary religion teachers, which is not at all the same thing. Now, I doubt that lumping these two groups together would make much difference in the mean annual wage, but that's just my guess. If religion teachers either make substantially more or less than philosophers, then this statistic will be irrelevant to Rubio's claim.

More importantly, the statistic in question is a mean. I know from personal experience that the salaries of professional philosophers are skewed towards the high end. That is, instead of being a nice, symmetrical bell curve, the graph of philosophy salaries looks like an old-fashioned children's slide, to borrow Darrell Huff's analogy―see Source 2, below. In other words, it rises steeply at the low end of salaries then descends slowly in a backwards-S shaped curve to the high end.

So, there are a lot of professional philosophers that make comparatively small salaries, some that make larger ones, and a handful that make enormous ones. The high-paid philosophers pull the mean up, so that most philosophers make less than the mean. There's a danger that people seeing the mean may think that this is a typical wage for a philosopher; if so, then they'll be disappointed to make less than half that, assuming that they can get a teaching job at all. The median annual wage would be a better measure of the typical salary, but the BLS does not appear to supply that statistic.

I don't know whether welding wages are as skewed as those for philosophers, but I doubt it. If not, then comparing the mean annual wage statistic for philosophers and welders is misleading, since the typical welder may make more than the typical philosopher. Another problem is that it is probably far easier to get a job as a welder than as a philosopher, even if it's true that philosophers make more money than welders. $70,000 a year won't do you much good if you can't get a job.

Now, I don't mean to discourage anyone from pursuing a career in philosophy if that's what you really want to do, but don't do it for the money. I don't regret a bit having done so. However, I didn't go into philosophy to make a lot of money, and I haven't been disappointed. If you'd be satisfied with a life of genteel poverty so long as you can spend it thinking about philosophy, then by all means become a professional philosopher.

By the way, I've never welded but I have done some soldering in my life, though not professionally, so there's at least one soldering philosopher.


  1. "Occupational Employment and Wages―May 2014", Bureau of Labor Statistics, 3/25/2014 (PDF)
  2. Darrell Huff, How to Lie with Statistics (1954), p. 30
  3. Alison Griswold, "Marco Rubio Says Welders Make More Money Than Philosophers Do. Heís Wrong.", Slate, 11/10/2015


November 6th, 2015 (Permalink)


Answer to the Puzzling Sisters: Janet and Janis are two of a set of triplets. Their sister Janelle was not present at the Thanksgiving festivities due to illness.

Source: Jeremy Stangroom, Einstein's Riddle: Riddles, Paradoxes, and Conundrums to Stretch Your Mind (2009). The puzzle is based on one on p. 33.

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