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One one-thousand … two one-thousand …
3.8 trillion one-thousand

by Michael Shermer, Feb 09 2010

President Barack Obama has unveiled his new budget for fiscal year 2011 at $3.8 trillion dollars. Staggeringly huge. Brobdingnagianly big. Almost inconceivable. Just how much is a trillion dollars? Here are some comparisons.

The brain consists of about a hundred billion neurons, which is about the same as the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy. A hundred billion is 1011, or a 1 following by 11 zeros: 100,000,000,000. That’s about what Obama plans to spend on Veterans Affairs ($57 billion) and Homeland Security ($43 billion) combined. It’s a huge number. It is literally an astronomical number. But that’s nothing. A trillion is a thousand billion. How much is a trillion?

Start counting seconds as “one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand…” and when you get to 86,400 that’s the number of seconds in a day. When you reach 31,546,000 that’s the number of seconds in a year. When you get to 315,460,000 you will have been counting for ten years, but you are still not even close. Add another 0 to get to 100 billion, and another 0 still to get to 1,000 billion, and you will have finally reached one trillion seconds. If you make it that long you will have been counting for about 30,000 years. Now, do that 3.8 times and you will have counted out the number of dollars that the Federal government plans to spend in just one year.

To count in seconds the number of dollars in the 2011 Federal budget, you will have to count “one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand…” for 114,000 years, which if you were counting backward in time would thrust you back to the time when humans first migrated out of Africa and began to spread across the globe, still living as hunter-gatherers with fairly crude stone tools, competing with Neanderthals and other hominids for survival, and just beginning to show signs of symbolic communication.

If ever there was a symbol to communicate that has no corresponding link to a tangible asset in the real world (such as gold or other precious metals), it is money. That’s why it is called “fiat money.” The government just declares money to be legal tender, based on the good faith of the federal government itself.

If that doesn’t jolt us all back in our chairs, consider the fact that at this rate of spending, in ten years the country will be $8.5 trillion in debt more than it already is, which amounts to $34,018 for every man, woman, and child in the country.

All this almost makes me hope that the 2012 doomsday predictions come true.

149 Responses to “One one-thousand … two one-thousand …
3.8 trillion one-thousand”

  1. This is the second posting that doesn’t seem (to me) to be even remotely related to Skepticism. I love Skeptic magazine and everything else you publish… but in this case your politics appear to be getting in the way and this is sounding like a personal blog.

    • Dax says:

      It’s a problem that Mr. Shermer often displays… don’t get me wrong, I love Shermer when he’s talking about skepticism, but he too often brings in political discourse that has got nothing to do with skepticism. (I am, by the way, not saying that politics and skepticism are NOMAs, not at all… but when ideology comes in through the door, skepticism often jumps out the window.)

      • Daniel says:

        I’ve often puzzled over the tendency of atheists, scientists, and skeptics to lean left. Maybe it’s simply a knee-jerk reaction to the sheer ignorance and stupidity displayed by the right. Whatever the case, I’ve noticed that most skeptics are NOT skeptical when it comes to politics- in fact, they seem to me to be even more gullible than their Neanderthalic, creationist, anti-gay counterparts on the right. For example, anyone who has read P.Z. Meyers’ blog will immediately notice that he is not the least skeptical of government bureaucrats or central planners. Shermer is a rarity- a libertarian skeptic, someone who’s not afraid to turn a skeptical, scientific eye on government planners.
        This particular blog is simply him to trying to put in perspective the gargantuan size of the Leviathan state, but I’m far more interested in the backlash he gets for simply by trying to comprehend the sheer scope and waste of government in America today.
        There’s no reason why skepticism should stop at foot of Capitol Hill, any more than skepticism should stop at the threshold of churches and mosques.

      • MadScientist says:

        Saying 3.8T is a big number is not being skeptical of anything. Saying you wish the world would come to an end because it’s such a big number is – well, stupefying. The political system needs reform, but complaining about it while not offering an alternative is just silly. “Oh, I wish someone else would go out there and change things to my liking.”

  2. Miko says:

    The counting analogy is good, but I prefer the SNL comparison: “To give you an idea of how big that number is, there is no way that I could possibly give you an idea of how big that number is.”

    @Joshua DeWald: It’s the old “should skepticism talk about religion issue?” applied to government. If we’re going by the harm standard, the Bush/Obama bailouts/”stimulus” based on voodoo economics have probably caused more suffering and even death than just about any other pseudo-science you care to pick. And the overall budget makes that look like a drop in the bucket. This is something that qualified skeptics need to be talking about. Obviously, not all of us know enough economics to talk competently on the issue, and that’s fine because not all of us need to be talking about it. For those who don’t and who also don’t want to learn, we’d appreciate it if you could at least avoid the arguments from authority along the line of “the president said that this was necessary/will create jobs/etc., so we should just throw our critical thinking skills out the window and go along with whatever he says.”

    • I don’t actually have an issue with discussing finance per se… but it should be done in an actual skeptical/quantifiable way. Perhaps comparing other countries’ usage of money (and demonstrating better/worse). Or how has a deficit affected the economy at large in quantifiable ways?

      Simply listing out a number isn’t really all that meaningful… as there is no point for comparison to determine if it actually matters or not. As facetious as it may sound, why should I care about the size of this particular number?

      I have a friend of mine who always discusses Mises in this vein… but I have not seen any actual demonstration of a nation actually applying the policies in a way that can be compared. I am honestly fairly ignorant of money policy, but I don’t find it educational or meaningful unless it is spoke of on a methodical way.

  3. Steve says:

    Dr. Shermer, which logical fallacy are you committing? What do the number of stars in a galaxy have to do with a large country’s budget?

    • Daniel says:

      It’s called a comparison. You compare something the mind is familiar with (there’s a shitload of stars visible out there at night), with something unfamiliar (most people don’t have a $100 billion in the bank). See? Get it? You… COMPARE… two things… to… give… PERSPECTIVE…
      Jesus, dude.

      • The answer is Argument from Vividness. It’s where you amaze your audience, and just because they’re amazed, they’ll believe any conclusion you draw. Shermer’s premise is that a number is large, and his conclusion is that it’s too large. The missing part of the argument is why it’s too large. It’s not actually missing. He does mention that it adds to the deficit. But by focusing on the large number, and barely mentioning good part of his argument, he sure makes it look like a Vividness fallacy when it’s really just a Vividness waste of time. But the good news is you can blame that fallacy for any weak argument he made in the post. For example, when he uses the term “fiat money,” you might call that Namecalling or Poisoning the Well. If you don’t want to accuse him of those fallacies, and you shouldn’t because he used them in good taste, you could just say, “That’s an Argument from Vividness!

        Jesus, dude.

  4. Somite says:

    Rather than discussing whether a big number is large I’d rather discuss if Dr. Shermer thinks it is necessary or not. Worst Skeptiblog ever.

  5. Jaime says:

    @Miko: That’s all fine, but this post doesn’t have any skepticism in it. It’s not debunking anything. It’s just meant to be shock politics. “OMG, look how big that number is!” has nothing to do with a rational argument on the economy, and nevertheless, it still has very little to do with skepticism. So, I agree Joshua, that this post shouldn’t be here. It’s personal or political blog material…not skepticism.

  6. Gregory Weir says:

    You’re right. That’s huge. With last year’s budget at 3.55 trillion, it’s an increase of about 7.5%. That’s less than Obama’s increase in 2009 (14%) and comparable to Bush’s increase for 2008 (also about 7.5%). It’s also small compared to Bush’s increase for 2006 (11%) or 2002 (9%). For a comparison, in looks like the US GDP grew by a little over 3% from 2007 to 2008.

  7. and again – 1 star for a truth? Skeptics, where are your brains? :) Thanks, Shermer, good article.

    • Thomas says:

      If he wrote an article about how many leaves he counted on the ficus plant in his office, we would be just as critical since its way off topic.

      This is no different than when Pat Robertson starts welcoming the end-times on the 700 club because Bill Clinton designated some wilderness in Alaska as a national park.

      3.8 trillion is a lot of money? No sh!+. Don’t I feel enlightened.

  8. When it comes to politics and economy, majority of skeptics become very jumpy and tend to ignore evidence in order to believe, that unvisible hand of government will make all problems go away. We jsut nee more taxes, that’s it, right?

    We just print money out of nowhere and future generations will payt it. That’s very easy. We just need more printers.

  9. MadScientist says:

    Relax, much of the money is going into the mismanaged companies which support most of your politicians, so this is a good thing; it ensures that the politicians will have money for the next campaign so that they can go out and borrow trillions more to prop up their campaign contributors. This is just democracy in action. Or was it fascism?

    • MadScientist says:

      Oh, it was the *budget*, I thought it was another bailout. When will the president announce the next bailout figure?

  10. Lysistrata says:

    Perhaps this information would be better approached by leaving out the politics involved. Let’s address the issue as we would any other skeptical subject by looking at the research and what supports this view and what doesn’t support it.
    There is extensive would designed studies that addresses this issue in a rational manner. Let’s use these studies to create well informaed discussions on the economics of deficit spending. Let’s leave out the logical fallacies such as can be found at the very end of the blog- Argument By Emotive Language and Common Sense-“If that doesn’t jolt us all back in our chairs, consider the fact that at this rate of spending, in ten years the country will be $8.5 trillion in debt more than it already is, which amounts to $34,018 for every man, woman, and child in the country.
    All this almost makes me hope that the 2012 doomsday predictions come true.”

  11. Chris says:

    WTF? I thought this was “SkepticBlog” not RedState!

    Tell me, all of you who agree with Michael, what part of this is skeptical in any way? I understand you AGREE with him, so f-king what… What part of this is skeptical?!

    I thought an important part if skepticism was all about learning “da fallacies”? Tell me, was this an argument from ignorance, an argument from authority, an appeal to emotions, or what about an argument from “big scary numbers”?!? Oooo ahhhhh BIG SCARY NUMBERS!!!!

    Michael Shermer has simply shown us that a skeptic doesn’t need to make a skeptically based argument if he believes his case is self evident. Michael Shermer is deluded into thinking that many atheists and skeptics are libertarians, so much so that he’s embarrassed himself in front of crouds trying to show a strong support for his position by calling for libertarian hands with only one libertarian in the croud.

    I love the fearmongering about how our money is a fiat currency that’s based on nothing but the government just saying it’s money. He implies that we all should just accept that fiat currency is baaaaaadddd… Even though he makes no attempt at explaining why or understanding that many people actually understand WHY we have a fiat currency and support the fact that we do!

    I’m curious, if the money is all just printed out of thin air… Why the fuck should anyone care what the government says it’s going to spend?!?! Huh?!

    Oh and how convenient that this wretched screed implicity places all the blame for the debt and deficits squarely on Obamas feet as if Bush has nothing to do with it! As if massive tax cuts for the rich didn’t help create the deficit! As if the repeal of Glass/Steagal didn’t lay the path for a bubble and bust economy in stone. As if many other conservative policies did nothing to create this fiasco.

    I’m obviously a progressive. But my problem is that Micheal treats this blog as venting hole for his ideological positions that he, a supposed “skeptic,” has not once backed up here with a coherent REASON for his tactless and baseless accusation and rants.

    It would seem that, based on the fiat currency rant, Michael believes that only believing in what is tangible applies to economic understanding. For it’s obvious, unless Michael can beat you over the head with whatever backs up the money he buys tissue paper with, it’s not really real money.

    Hey Michael! I have no problem with political debate, but for FSM’s sake please being an argument to the table or go to some libertarian scratch and leave the “skeptic” title for subjects that you bring a skeptical eye too!

    • Freeman74 says:

      Michael Shermer has simply shown us that a skeptic doesn’t need to make a skeptically based argument if he believes his case is self evident.

      Exactly, this post is similar to discussing the number of pages in the health care bill instead of its contents. Yes the budget is large, but contemplating how high a stack of 3.8 trillion one dollar bills would be, is meaningless.

  12. chainmailer says:

    Sorry, mate, I think my daughter got this as a chain email the other day. This isn’t even informative, let alone worthy of skepticblog.

    Wait, I know, you just posted this to see if anyone reads your posts!

  13. Nayr says:

    I have to agree with Micheal here. I checked to see if 3.8 trillion dollars was a actually a large amount of money by comparing it to the amount of money in my wallet right now. It turns out that 3.8 trillion is in fact staggeringly huge and brobdingnagianly big. Myth confirmed.

  14. Chris Bidlack says:

    Dr. Shermer,

    So you’re suggesting I should have not voted for Obama?

    I’m missing your overall point in your Obama bashing, but it must have something to do with your opinion that McCain would have saved us from these problems? Otherwise, I assume you would have mentioned how much of the current deficit was a hold-over from president Bush, like the late 2008 Bush administration Wall Street bailout, the unfunded GOP Medicare prescription benefit plan enacted under the Bush administration, the Bush tax cuts, and the keeping of BOTH the Iraq and Afghanistan wars off the books during the entire Bush administration.

    Obama’s “staggeringly huge” budget as you put it, is almost entirely not of Obama’s making, and also reflects Obama’s order to end the Bush era off-the-books accounting method. Full context needed, especially on a blog like this.

  15. Ebenezer Clipperlock says:

    Well, I am a skeptic, and I can find “appeal to emotion”, “a.o. incredulity”, “pulling out of context”, “association / causation” and “comparing apples with oranges”. I wonder if there are more. Interestingly, three of those are not on the oft cited list at

  16. rustle says:

    Welcome to “I’m king of the skeptics and you are my subjects so my libertarian opinions are to be treated as skepticism”. Welcome to a nascent cult of personality; pop. Michael.

  17. JerryM says:

    I didn’t read who wrote this piece, until I was about mid way, and I checked to see if it was indeed mr Shermer that was talking.

    Your libertarianism shines through.

    I agree with a few commenters that I don’t really see the relevance of this particular post on this blog.

    There is no analysis, no arguments, no research, no comparisons. It’s just some rambling thoughts.

    Perhaps this is because while many of us handle money in our daily lives, and know roughly how that works, when it comes to government spending and large scale economics, few of us have a clue. And by recent evidence, even the economists are not entirely sure how it all works.

    While in similar situations, like medicine, this leads skeptics to defer to experts, when it comes to politics we suddenly have an opinion on every detail.

  18. hardindr says:

    Michael Shermer seems very impressed with the fact that the proposed federal budget for FY 2011 is $3.8 trillion USD. My reaction is, so what? The US economy’s GDP for 2009 is around $14.2 trillion dollars . What is the point?

  19. Alan says:

    President Barack Obama has unveiled his new budget for fiscal year 2011 at $3.8 trillion dollars. Staggeringly huge. Brobdingnagianly big. Almost inconceivable. Just how much is a trillion dollars?

    Such adventures into trivia are meaningless without context. So what if a trillion is a “big” number? So’s a million; so’s a billion. Did civilization end the first time a country had a budget that hit the million mark or billion mark? How does a trillion compare to the economy at large? How does it compare to the debt of earlier in relation to the GDP?

    Without giving a proper context you are just trying to frighten people by throwing numbers at them. It’s manipulative and goes against the sorts of critical thinking values we skeptics supposely champion.

    If ever there was a symbol to communicate that has no corresponding link to a tangible asset in the real world (such as gold or other precious metals), it is money. That’s why it is called “fiat money.” The government just declares money to be legal tender, based on the good faith of the federal government itself.

    What exactly is your point? Isn’t one of the basic maxims of capitalism “Something is worth whatever people will pay for it?”

    More to the point, everything is “fiat” in that we humans are giving it a monetary value, something that does not exist in nature. It’s a human convention.

    If people are willing to pay for something then it has value. Period. You are trying to artificially make a distinction where it doesn’t exist — and obviously to push your libertarian beliefs.

    If you want to champion libertarianism then go right ahead, but try to show the same commitment to rationality and critical thinking you do to topics like Creationism. All you are demonstrating with these posts is that you have zero objectivity about the topic and cannot distinguish fact from Libertarian ideology.

    • Ernst Ghermann says:

      To understand fiat money (paper money with no backing — it used to be backed by gold) you need to look at Germany in 1923. There and then, housewives went to factories twice a day with wheelbarrows to collect their husband’s half-day wages because by quitting time the loads of paper money were worthless.

      • Alan says:

        It was worthless because they produced too much of it — e.g. it was simple supply and demand! If you produce so much of a certain product it is common as dirt then you will get only dirt for it! Again, basic economics 101.

        Your example only helps prove what I was saying.

  20. KC says:

    Thanks Mr. Shermer for a thought provoking post. As a skeptic, which includes all facets of my life, including how my tax dollars are spent, I find that defining terms in a way that makes them relevant allows for better decision making. Skeptics vote, right? Mr. Shermer doesn’t ‘push’ Libertarianism in this post, he just defines terms, you can decide as a reader how you will use that information. Personally, I can’t understand why people would think it doesn’t relate to skepticism and why it does relate to a political party.

  21. MadScientist says:

    How big is 300 million? If you count one-‘tousand, two-‘tousand and so on, day and night and averaging one number counted per second, you’ll get to 300 million in a little under 10 years. Conclusion: it’s silly for an individual to even count out the US population.

    Now that 3.8T is roughly 12.5 thousand dollars per citizen + resident (including the babies – don’t forget the babies!). One relevant question is how much of that is met by taxation and how much of it is debt?

    There are many problems not only with the political system but the economic system. As long as people support delusions such as the current stock trading scheme and myths such as “we needed to pay X million per year to attract the best managers” we cannot hope for a more sensible economic system. Money is not only on fiat, it is ultimately tied in to productivity – the creation and trade of goods. Nations like Zimbabwe which may treat money as if it is only a matter of fiat find that their money is worthless even in their own domain. Now the current practice in exchanging stock has the fundamental flaw that stock price is not tied to productivity – it is tied to what some other fool will pay for an imaginary piece of paper (although once upon a time there were real pieces of paper). You can bid up the price of that imaginary piece of paper with no regard whatsoever to the realities of production and supply of goods. Once in a while people seem to suddenly realize this and you get stock crashes where the listed price of stock tumbles to more realistic (but in my opinion still largely inflated) values.

    • Phea says:

      I know very little about economics, but what you’ve said makes sense. I’ve always wondered why stock value isn’t tied directly to the dividends the stock pays. Isn’t buying stock in a company about getting a return on your investment if the company does well? A share of stock that pays fifty dollars a year in dividends should be worth five times more than a share of stock that only pays ten.

      The reason I even read this blog, is because it was listed under “economics”, which is a subject I’d like to understand more.

      • tmac57 says:

        If you are new to economics,I would recommend the PLanet Money podcast and website. Good and entertaining coverage of the ongoing economy and some historic background,geared toward the layperson.

  22. More Costly Than WWII says:

    $3.8 trilion is nearly four times more than the entire world — both sides! — spent during WWII.

    Using inflation-adjusted numbers, $3.8 trillion is more than the entire U.S. expenditure during WWII (inflation-adjusted to 2005 dollars).

  23. John Powell says:

    Yeah the debt is big but compared to GDP it was higher in the 40’s and, and we prospered as a nation in the 50’s. So what’s your point Shermer?

  24. bigjohn756 says:

    I’m afraid that if the world ends in 2012 it will be much too late to save our beleaguered economy. Time to start learning Mandarin boys and girls.

  25. Nigel says:

    Michael, meet jumping shark.

  26. Max says:

    Comparing the budget to the number of neurons gives neuroeconomics a whole new meaning.
    But the budget is small compared to the 100 trillion bacteria in your gut, so maybe it’s not that bad.
    Would you like to reduce it to the number of hairs on your head, or better yet, something you can count on your fingers?
    We’re rewriting econometrics here!

  27. Daneel says:

    I don’t get the discussion about fiat money. What I don’t understand is why some people thing gold is different. Gold is just a metal that has value because we give it to it. The same with money, society agree upon assigning value to a piece of paper with a president printed in it. It serves, just as golds, as a symbol of goods or services that people would provide.

    • MadScientist says:

      Gold is also a scarce resource; using gold as the basis for the value of currency would instantly cripple global economics. I think when Shermer writes about ‘fiat’ he’s confusing contemporary economic reality with the historic issue of bank notes (as opposed to coins minted from precious metals). Once upon a time banks issued their own notes – “IOU”s from a bank. Later on they were printed in fixed denominations, but banks still largely printed their own. Then governments stepped in and controlled the printing of notes. In the case of the ‘gold standard’ it was essentially a promise that the government can redeem your note for an amount of gold (which was dependent on many things including your gold stockpile). That system was already untenable 60 years ago so the global currency system was decoupled from the gold stockpile. The ‘fiat’ bit (I promise I can give you X amount of gold) simply disappeared. There is no fiat; the value of your currency is largely a function of your exchange of that currency with others and of course your nation’s productivity. As an example, $1000 would be quite a bit of money to have in your pocket as you travel around the USA. Take your $1000 and wander in a Brazilian jungle. If you happen upon some tribe there, your money is worthless because they do not use it in their trading scheme – it is not worthless because the government won’t really hand over a lump of gold. There is no fiat on the government’s side – the value of currency is driven by trade. There is no need for a gold stockpile. The system works and it works very well, yet many people find it mysterious (they can’t understand how it works and why it works) and would like a lump of gold to stare at instead.

  28. ts121790 says:

    Lets leave the overly political issues that don’t pertain to the skeptic movement to the politically designated blogs. This blog is my retreat from the political blogs a read. Shermer, I’m a big fan of most of your work but I’m not a fan of politicizing Skeptic Blog.

  29. Mike S. says:

    I thought this was a blog about scientific skepticism, not a conservative/libertarian opinion forum. Is the connection to skepticism that the Obama administration is basing its budget on bad economic science? If so, it seems that it would be necessary to give at least a cursory review of the published work on this subject. Otherwise, Dr. Shermer should consider starting another blog dedicated to his public policy opinions; they clearly do not belong here.

  30. Scott Carnegie says:

    Wow, what a bunch of cry babies. Does every single post need to be about skepticism? Read the “about” description.

    • Which “about” description are you referring to? From the “intro” post:
      ‘It is a serious group skeptically-themed science blog, and represents a collaboration across many of the biggest institutions of organized skepticism. From the outset we will post daily blog entries, and hope to build this site into an important hub of skeptical activity online.’

      As others have pointed out… it’s not that he’s talking about debt that is the problem. It is that the entry is essentially a rant. A better version might have:
      * Compared our budget to other countries’ of similar GDP, size, or population?
      * Documented reasons why (historically?) having a large debt has caused specific harm in the economy
      * Perhaps graphs of how the debt has increased, and why this particular increase is worse/better than at other times in our history

      I would be genuinely interested in knowing more about these things… not simply a “wow, that’s a big number!” post with no context.

      And yes, it would seem to be that every post on the Skepticblog (especially ones by the publisher of Skeptic Magazine) would be skeptical… or at least disclaimered as being a personal opinion (which would also be fine).

  31. Derek says:

    These comments are disappointing.

    I did not realize that bringing up a concern about US debt made someone a libertarian. Or that discussing US debt has to be politically motivated. Is anyone here pro-more debt? If so, please enroll yourself in a community college class on finance, especially before becoming so defensive.

    • ts121790 says:

      Rather or not its politically motivated is irrelevant, that fact is this is a skeptic blog that deals with issues of science. Its one of the reasons I enjoy the skeptic movement; its a gathering of ultra libertarians, ultra liberals, a few conservatives, and everyone in between who come together to participate in a discussion about something other than politics.
      We discuss science, not politics.

      P.S. Its not so much “pro-debt” but more like “debt is not the end of the world”. Check out FDR, John Maynard Keynes, Paul Krugman, etc. Also why the jab at community college? Is it not legitimate?

    • Chris Bidlack says:

      Bringing up a concern about US debt is not necessarily a politically motivated act.

      But starting the essay with the line, “President Barack Obama has unveiled his new budget,” and ending the observation with “…Staggeringly huge. Brobdingnagianly big. Almost inconceivable,” while NOT mentioning the people involved in causing the debt is a misleading attack on Obama, and a misleading statement.

    • Alan says:

      I did not realize that bringing up a concern about US debt made someone a libertarian.

      It does when he has a long history of Libertarian rants and posts something with many classic Libertarian ideas and criticisms.

      But, ultimately the problem isn’t that he is pushing Libertarian ideas — he could just as easily be arguing for Marxism — but that he is doing so in an utterly unskeptical way. His posts on this subject are little more than rants or a retelling of all the common Libertarian talking points. It’s like readying a news release from the Cato Institute — no attempt to convince, just a statement of belief that is meant to be taken as “truth” by default.

      If he was willing to go into details and tackle the many criticisms of Libertarianism in his posts I’d have nothing against that. Problem is that his posts are the exact opposite, statements of faith from someone who apparently can’t understand why everyone else doesn’t agree with him. So, he just repeats the same material again and again as if that will convince people.

      In that Shermer is like a religious zealot operating under the conviction that if he just repeats the “good word” enough times then others will believe. He has so far come off as naive and unsophisticated when it comes to his political beliefs, an amazing thing for a famous skeptic. But, I guess that just shows that being a “skeptic” is no defense against magical thinking if the subject is one you desperately want to be true regardless of the facts (either pro or con).

  32. Skepacabra says:

    I agree with most of those critical of this article. While I don’t share Michael’s politics, that is not the reason why I feel this is an inappropriate entry on Skepticblog. If he were to address finance from a science-based perspective or at least an evidence-based one, that would have been fine. But it’s just a political rant chock full of the logical fallacies Ebenezer Clipperlock points out in comment #11:

    “Well, I am a skeptic, and I can find “appeal to emotion”, “a.o. incredulity”, “pulling out of context”, “association / causation” and “comparing apples with oranges”. I wonder if there are more. Interestingly, three of those are not on the oft cited list at”

    I’m all for critiquing religion in skepticism from an evidence-based perspective and I’m all for critiquing political claims from an evidence-based perspective. But inserting one’s subjective political diatribes unbacked by evidential claims hurts not only Shermer’s own reputation but also hurts the credibility of the entire blog because if Shermer turns people off with his politics, the site might lose some readers entirely.

  33. James R says:

    I’m only a casual reader of this blog, but I have noticed that several of Mr Shermer’s posts seem completely irrelevant. The blog’s introduction post describes it as a “skeptically-themed science blog”. How on exactly does this entry fit that description?

    May I suggest that Mr Shermer start his own political blog (if he doesn’t already have one), and stop posting irrelevant things here?

  34. Pierre F. Lherisson says:

    When the job has to be done, the large numbers are a temporary discomfort. Soon or later thing will return to normal. After all, he is not the architect of this broken economy. He inherited this mess. He is trying to fix it.

  35. Jeremy Anderson says:

    If all he wants is big numbers, maybe Michael Shermer would like to look at the Japanese budget. Yen would give him an ever bigger figure than 38 trillion. Would that jolt him back in his seat?

    • MadScientist says:

      Pfft. Just convert dollars to pennies. The Yen is essentially cents (there is no smaller currency value), unlike the Lire when it existed. It’s just that the Japanese have no problems counting higher than 100, so when they got to 100 cents they called it 100 cents rather than a dollar, 1000 cents was 1000 cents rather than $10.

  36. Andy nilsson says:

    Sad comments and harsh, but thats internet these days. Everyone ranting, accusing and talking down. I will do the same from now on. Anyone mention a relatively large number to me and I will puke my guts out on his ass. I believe Carl Sagan spoke about googolplex in a video on you tube, ill destroy his rep in no time. Who the hell is he to talk about big numbers? My little brother learned to count to 100 yesterday, I slapped him blue and told him: He will learn not to talk about big number such as the number 140.000 which is the amount of SEK Crowns he owns the government since before he was born and still hasnt not payed it back to them in the 6 years he lived on this tiny pale blue dot. I told him he is under dept and silly he thought this was unfair ti him. Tsss stupid kid, he will learn that all people is born in dept and that speaking up against a failed economy like Shermer does is unpatriotic and unchristian and If I had my will through, “I would have all of them shot” as Pink Floyd so eloquently puts it in the album The Wall. Cheers from a Swedish Youngster;)

  37. TryUsingLogic says:

    Skepticism is a critical thinking process….unless applied to fiscal liberalism? I think all skeptics should be “brobdingnagianly” skeptical about that!

    Skeptics easily question the Utopias sought by religions [on Earth and Heaven] and in turn should question the earthly Utopias promised by socialized government [based on our knowledge of history].

    Most Americans were questioning Bush’s spending…..BO has taken it to new extremes…which implies he can’t count….and we should be skeptical.

    Good “skeptic” article!

    • Thomas says:

      “Most Americans were questioning Bush’s spending”
      That must have been why most Americans re-elected him.

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        No….actually that is why they elected BO instead of John McCain……BO said he was going to fix the problems caused by those big spending Republicans….and balance the budget…no more pork…no more war…no more taxes… lobbyists in his regime….much more transparency…much more bi-partisanship…and on..and on….! And then we find out BO can’t figure out or make sense of really big numbers….I bet BO has no trouble figuring out that his polling approval numbers are getting smaller……and smaller

      • Beelzebud says:

        “BO” as you call him never promised to end war, taxes, balance the budget, lobbying, or get rid of pork. If you’re going to make arguments against him, at least start from an honest place…

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        He was going to immediately end the needless Iraq conflict upon taking office [time cures delusions it seems]……he was going to only tax people making over $250 K……..he promised to balance the budget and stop deficit spending during his campaign…..he said his bailout had no pork, and if you believe it didn’t, I wouldn’t know what to say to you….he said no lobbyist on his team and waved the rule to sign up mostly lobbyists…..

        What in the world are you talking about??

        How much of his smoke did you inhale?? I also guess the ones you skipped…transparency and bi-partisanship…. he is guilty of?

        If you need specifics I will find them for you, or you can try using your sketical skills and do some searches……with your blinders off!

    • Max says:

      Where do you see any critical thinking?
      All I see is, “Let’s put this big number into perspective by taking it out of context. P.S. Money is worthless.”
      What did you learn from the article? That it would take 114,000 years to count the budget? Good to know if you ever need to pay it out in dollar bills.

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        @Max….What did you learn from the article?

        I am reminded that when it comes to budgets, deficts, and tax burden……SIZE COUNTS!

        Try telling your life partner that how much you make, spend or borrow doesn’t matter at all..just live BIG…Now, that’s real critical thinking!

        Can you really, straight faced, defend BO’s extravagant spending while sticking your head in the sand and mumbling…Bush started it!

      • Max says:

        What’s extravagant? 100 billion stars in the galaxy, 10 trillion bits on my hard drive, 100 trillion bacteria in my gut? Why, that’s all tiny compared to the number of molecules in a drop of water. If we just used water molecules for money, we’d never run out, yeah!

    • Chris Leight says:

      Yes. I agree. (I’d write more, but I’ve got to go…)

  38. says:

    The world economy runs on imaginary money, not real money. The numbers of dollars thrown around in the press is far more than the actual value of all the property, goods and services on Earth. Bankers are permitted to CREATE imaginary money, in the form of debt whenever someone takes a loan and signs a mortgage–a promise to pay back the loan. When bankers had to show tangible assets such as gold, property or businesses somewhere akin to the amount of money they had in the form of these promises, the world economy could sort of keep up with all the imaginary money floating around, but that was ancient history. Today, with recondite financial “instruments” and “products,” bankers have created imaginary monies that far exceed the total value of our home planet, and grows, out of control more every day. The question to ponder is how can any economy run on mostly promises to pay back debt and a dearth of real, tangible value of property, goods and services? The answer, of course is the world economy will never recover, it will only degrade further, until the world’s cities streets run red with the blood of bankers.

    • Alan says:

      It’s not imaginary if people buy and sell it just as any other product.

      Besides, copyrights are for “imaginary” things like ideas and concepts. Are those worthless as well?

      IMHO, the whole idea of “fiat money” is a made up criticism from people who apparently do not understand monetary policy and just want to have some reason — no matter how irrational — to bash government.

  39. gaston gravel says:

    File for bankruptcy !

  40. J. Gravelle says:

    Soooo, if the majority of Americans put blind faith in their church despite its tenets being at odds with the reality explained by our physical sciences, then it IS relevant to skepticism.

    But if the majority of Americans put blind faith in their government, despite its tenets being at odds with the reality explained by our mathematical sciences, it is NOT relevant to skepticism.

    As per usual, Dr. Shermer is both spot on and relevant. Those who claim otherwise are aghast that, this time, it’s THEIR temple under attack by the heathens of truth…

    • Max says:

      Where did Shermer explain how the government’s tenets are “at odds with the reality explained by our mathematical sciences”? Did the government say that the budget takes less than 100,000 years to count?

      • J. Gravelle says:

        Where does Origin of the Species say “The evidence herein debunks Creationism”?

        The implicit is often explicit enough.

        For most…


      • Max says:

        Where did Shermer implicitly explain how the government’s tenets are “at odds with the reality explained by our mathematical sciences”?

      • MadScientist says:

        Inapt analogy. You obviously haven’t read “On the Origin of Species”. Darwin’s entire idea of evolution by natural selection (an unorchestrated, non-conscious process – or in Darwin’s word ‘insensible’) is in direct conflict with the claims of creationists and fits in with all the evidence. To compare Shermer’s opinion with the theory of natural selection is utterly absurd. It is even more ridiculous to make such fluffy claims as “implicit is often explicit enough” – you may as well just shout “ipse dixit”.

    • Lysistrata says:

      Even if we had a balanced budget, we still wouldn’t be able to count the number of dollars involved in a reasonible time frame. Does this mean we can’t have a budget that is bigger than what we can count because it is at “oods with the reality explained by mathematical sciences”.
      The idea of governement debt is not against the well researched statistical based economic theories. Economics is not a vodoo science based on mathematical and statistical concepts that could hold up to any “hard” science.
      My complaint about this posting is not that it doesn’t bring up a viable question to be reviewed but that it is mainly an appeal to emotion and it does have undertones of certain political leanings. Perhaps this should be rewritten in based on the model that Steve Novella used earlier to discuss global warming.

  41. Chris Leight says:

    I’m a (mainly fiscally) conservative atheist/skeptic (who by virtue of such discordant fact is lonely at times), who tries to judge each issue on it’s own merit. Please someone tell me why there’s such a strong correlation between atheism (not that all skeptics are athesists, but surely there’s a strong correlation there) and tax-and-spend-your-heart-out liberalism/socialism? Whether god(s) exist or not, or whether any subject matter is or is not supported by evidence, as is to be assessed via sound rational and scientific methodology, has not one single thing to do with whether it’s wise to impose such an enormous economic burden on our current and future generations–as is and will certainly be the case with respect to President Obama’s spending spree. To all you liberals out there, some of whom have already posted here, who can’t withstand a little scrutiny insofar as their policies, fiscal or otherwise, are concerned: Too bad!. Way to go, Michael. (Not that you’re a conservative, just fair.) You let the evidence take you where it may. Your party, you liberals I’m addressing now, will probably be voted out of office in large numbers soon. It’s already begun, after all. Thank goodness.

    • Shahar Lubin says:

      There are probably a lot of viable arguments against Obama’s policies and/or his budget proposal. Shermer did not seem to offer any of them.

      I could be against this budget and Obama’s economics. I could be for them. Maybe I’m for some and against others. That is irrelevant. As a skeptic I would enjoy reading a well thought out and put forth treatise on the subject, whether or not it’s conclusions agree with my preexisting thoughts on the subject. Sadly, in this blog entry(and in some of his others) I didn’t get any of that.

    • Max says:

      I’d rather see an insightful and compelling argument for fiscal conservatism than an inane and unconvincing rant, wouldn’t you?

    • TryUsingLogic says:

      Welcome Chris…..You will find with time that there are more skeptics than you know that agree with you. When I first joined the Skeptics Society I was overwhelmed with the amount of left biased/liberalism at meetings, but I see that changing thanks to the reasonable minds of fiscal conservatives like Shermer. Americans ares getting a superdose of liberalism through BO’s projected budgets and deficits that have pole vaulted to unjustified trillions…and they don’t like it! And, as you can see here, most liberals refuse to even recognize the failures of socialism.

      • Beelzebud says:

        The problem you guys make is that you conflate liberalism with socialism. Some socialist policies work. The military, police, Social Security, fire department, and post office, just to name a few.

        BO’s projected budgets include two wars that Bush kept off of his budget for 6 years.

        This financial crisis we had was a direct result of deregulation, and libertarian economic viewpoints of those like Alan Greenspan. Talk about people not recognizing failure…

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        You make my case for me…thanks!

        The Military, Social Security, and the Post Office are examples of government programs that are terribly mismanaged and/or facing bankruptcy. Police departments and fire departments are more sound and successful as part of state run management that are required to balance their budgets.

        Democratic societies do need government managed armies to insure their freedoms and protection. But, what critical thinker would say it is ok for all our needs to be mismanaged, corrupt or facing bankruptcy while they continue to suck up the hard earned money of the citizens?

        And you liberals would like SS, PO, and Military wastefulness in every part of our lives starting currently with health care? What part of critical thinking do you discard on that matter?

        The military is a necessary management problem to secure our freedom and protect the union of states we all live in…..the other government failures could be handled much better by free enterprise solutions.

        We have a complex society and nothing will ever be perfect…..but for sure, there are better solutions than Big Brother Socialism! The left has plenty of evidence against their “faith built Utopias” but extreme socialism is like a religion that refuses to see the light!

      • Alan says:

        Then why offer the utopian “just get rid of government and everything will be perfect” libertarian ideology? If socialism is the utopian fantasy of the left then libertarianism is the utopian fantasy of the right.

        You are also not proving your point when you decrt “big brother socialism” out-of-hand as a matter of faith. Clearly, government does some stuff well and some stuff not well. It is intellectually dishonest to always harp on the failures of government (especially when many are the direct result of anti-government policies like deregulation) while giving business a free pass.

      • says:

        How can we ever expect sanity (not repeating the same mistakes and expecting better results) when MISMANAGEMENT is essentially taught and fostered by business schools on down, and lazy bureaucrats who have no incentives to manage anything effectively as though the job mattered more than reelection or reappointment?

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        I have never seen Shermer state anywhere that we should get rid of government….show me the place! All the fiscal conservatives that I know think we should use government in reasonable ways to enforce law and protect our freedoms. And they also believe government should not dominate and spoon feed every need by taking our hard earned money and using it to dictate our lives! Read Mind of The Market for Atheist’s sake!

        But if we don’t agree with run away stick it up your butt spending “we are not using critical thinking and have have in someway harmed the value of skepticism!” As fellow skeptic John Stossel would say…Give Me A Break!

  42. J. Gravelle says:

    In the first line: “President Barack Obama has unveiled his new budget for fiscal year 2011 at $3.8 trillion dollars.” Without a perspective on our debt’s hugeness, one could hardly fathom its insurmountability.

    Had the good doctor’s dissertation been on photosynthesis, the subject would be relevant to forests whether or not he’d mentioned trees…


    • J. Gravelle says:

      My apologies. This response was meant as a personal reply to my new friend “Max” in our discussion above…


    • Max says:

      If we define “insurmountable” as “takes impossibly long to count”, then $3.8 Billion is insurmountable too.

    • MadScientist says:

      Well, obviously forests cannot exist because you would die of old age or disease (or be eaten by a Sasquatch) before you could count all the leaves. And it’s really not fair, as you count some leaves, others grow – it’s an impossible situation I tell you, impossible! It defies mathematics!

  43. Beelzebud says:

    Another Shermer post about economics/politics that has nothing to do with the purpose of this site at all. Still not as good as the one where he tried to argue that the stock market doesn’t need any regulation at all, after the largest financial collapse in fifty years.

    • TryUsingLogic says:

      The financial collapse was caused by Democrats initiating and promoting home mortgages and credit card loans for everyone..regardless of ablility to pay….and allowing those questionable loans to be packaged and sold in risky ways [thanks to a change in law by Clinton].
      Many Republicans joined in unfortunately…but Bush, to his credit, tried 17 separate times to get Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac regulated to stop those risky practices, while warning of a financial collapse if nothing was done. Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, BO and other Democrats blocked those efforts….. and now here we are!

      Why isn’t using critical thinking to question and find better ways to govern part of this site? I’m skeptical of your movtives on that issue…..

      • Beelzebud says:

        The financial collapse was not the fault of Democrats, it was the fault of free-market zealots who spent 20 years deregulating the market. Both parties are guilty. It all started in earnest when the Republicans passed the repeal of the Glass/Stegall Act, and Clinton signed it into law.

        Phil Gramm, Chris Dodd, Alan Greenspan, and a host of others are neck deep in blame, it’s not a “Democrats did it!” issue.

        It’s funny you question my motives, while trying to assign blame to one side of the same coin.

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        The Democrats promoted the decisions [like the act you admit Clinton signed] and as I said in my post some Republicans participated in the bad move by voting with the Democrats…

        It seems you are finally admiting that the Democrats laid ground for the financial crash by their promotion of the repeal of the Glass/Stegall act….which I condemn the Republicans for signing?

        Are you opening the door to let some truth in?

        Repeal of the act also contributed to the mortgage crisis….that Bush tried 17 times [look it up} to rein in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae! It was the Democrats that blocked that…..

        There is a lot of blame….but why do you continue to selectively use critical thinking on this matter when it comes to good solutions?

      • rustle says:

        Honest to imaginary god, you really do need to do at least a little research before clutching the mantle of skepticism so tightly.

        And ‘fellow skeptic John Stossel’????!!!! Just my opinion, but the man’s a tool.

      • Beelzebud says:

        I’d also like to add that it’s pretty amazing that you assign blame to the Democrats for the housing market, and pretend W. tried to regulate it. He was out there for a few years before the meltdown urging people to buy homes for his “Ownership Society”.

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        Look it up….17 times…and Bush preferred homes be sold to qualified responsible borrowers…..what a concept!

        BO wants to sell you a bill of goods reaching into the trillions….but you don’t get that? Bush should have been the primer for what to really worry about with BO…….much, much, much bigger government!

      • Beelzebud says:

        Bush had a total majority for 6 years. If he wanted to do something about the housing market, he and the Republican majority could have.

        They did nothing.

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        @Beelzebud….”Bush had a total majority for 6 years. If he wanted to do something about the housing market, he and the Republican majority could have. They did nothing.”

        What kind of sound reasoning is that…..BO has the house and senate in his pocket with huge majorities and can’t pass his #1 priority…the healthcare bill?

    • Phea says:

      Yeah, even guru Greenspan had to admit that his world view, (Ayn Rand’s), was fundamentally wrong. Poor Brooksey Born, (head of the CFTC under Clinton), at least she tried to show how unregulated, OTC derivatives were not a real good idea, while Greenspan actually believed even fraud would somehow be quashed by an unregulated free market.

      The parties over, and just like it’s too late to avoid going off the cliff of global warming, our Ponzi scheme economy will collapse… it’s just a matter of time. These are things I’m not skeptical about.

  44. herklives says:

    eSkeptic would seem to be more aptly tagged eShermer, these days. His glibertarianism is beginning to trump his skepticism.

  45. I have $1 Trillion in my bank account. I just choose to work for a living and pay mortgages in order to “keep it real”.

  46. coinshark says:

    1. This is Dr. Shermer’s website and he should be free to publish as he chooses.

    2. This article brings up a great point in what should be held within the area of skepticism – our government! Clearly, our government has a LONG history of making mistakes and our representatives most definitely need to be held much more accountable than they are.

    3. We should ALL be engaged in the observation and critique of the decisions that come from both state and federal houses and should actively voice our opinions openly and publically when mistakes are made.

    4. Great job Dr. Shermer in quantifying through a skeptic perspective a problem so large that it may be no longer measured! But we will ALL feel the effect of it’s resulting weight upon us!

    • ts121790 says:

      “Great job Dr. Shermer in quantifying through a skeptic perspective”

      What form of skepticism though? Scientific skepticism or just the generic meaning of the word?

  47. Skepacabra says:

    There’s over 300 million Americans. Staggeringly huge. Brobdingnagianly big. Almost inconceivable. Just how much is a 300 million? Here are some comparisons.

    The brain consists of about a hundred billion neurons, which is about the same as the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy. A hundred billion is 1011, or a 1 following by 11 zeros: 100,000,000,000. It’s a huge number. It is literally an astronomical number. But that’s nothing. A million is a thousand thousand. How much is a trillion?

    Start counting seconds as “one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand…” and when you get to 86,400 that’s the number of seconds in a day. When you reach 31,546,000 that’s the number of seconds in a year. When you get to 315,460,000 you will have been counting for ten years. Now that’s about how many Americans there are.

    Conclusion: start executing your neighbors and pray for 2012 doomsday.

    Of course I’m having just poking fun at Shermer’s rant but as has been pointed out before, this is not a skeptic article and does not belong here. We could argue politics till the apocalypse but that’s not the purpose that Skepticblog is supposed to serve. It’s supposed to be promoting critical and evidence-based thinking. Instead, all I see from the comments is cheer-leading from those who agree with his politics and criticisms from those who disagree with his politics.

    To those who are cheering this piece who happen to also share Shermer’s position, please explain to me precisely how turning this forum into a political shouting match furthers the cause of skepticism? I really would like to know. I’d also like you all to point to anything that, say, Steve Novella has ever written that is as lacking in objective, evidence-based substance as this piece by Shermer.

    • TryUsingLogic says:

      Is using reason and critical thought to look at the downside of out of control big government…..yelling?

      • Skepacabra says:

        Are you seriously suggesting that this piece promotes reason and critical thought? Again I ask how does this piece further the cause of skepticism and where in the article is the evidence on which Shermer bases his conclusions on?

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        Are you seriously suggesting that being skeptical about the largest debt and deficts ever created by our government is not a subject critical thinkers should be concerned about?

        Global warming is a science based subject that we are finding to be misrepresented by critical thinkers and governments that have tried to create an immediate panic by distorting the facts. Shermer’s article correctly asks if we should be skeptical of our debts and deficits being instantly expanded to unbelieveable numbers by Big Government. Could BO possibly be distoring the facts? Out of control governments based on socialist policies clearly have poor records and massive failures if you look at history and social science.

        If you think this issue is something not to be skeptical about….why don’t you list solid facts and historical evidence that is unquestionable and final, so that us reasonabe folks can relax and quit worrying about BO’s multi-trillion dollar sputtering Presidency.

      • Max says:

        Skepacabra and others keep saying that this particular piece by Shermer is lacking in evidence and critical thinking, but of course you Libertarian ideologues interpret the criticism of this piece as an endorsement of deficit spending.

        Imagine if Shermer said that the huge budget is the work of Satan and the Illuminati to enslave us all, would you still call it a spot-on skeptical analysis, and consider everyone who disagrees with that line of argument to be tax-and-spend socialists?

  48. SummerofGeorge says:

    I think the problem here that everyone is having is not that Shermer posted something that doesnt fit under the umbrella of skepticism,(we cant be skeptical of government action now?),but a problem of primitive monkey-brain tribalism. Most of the ppl here, or at least who are willing post, are obviously democrats-liberals. They wouldnt be complaining if this didnt feel like an attack on their tribe. They intellectualize their anger by saying this is a meaningless rant about an abstract number rather than the real reason for discontent. This isnt a critique of the democrat tribe, but of government. Republican and Democrat run government. Shermer isnt even in your enemy tribe, hes a libertarian. We libertarians are just watching you two idiot group of apes throw poo at each other while the country goes down the crapper.

    • ts121790 says:

      Some of us are concerned with politicizing the skeptical movement over issues that aren’t relevant to the movement. Why is that contingent on our economic views?

    • Alan says:

      The problem isn’t that he is a libertarian, but that he offers such unskeptical arguments! He just passes along libertarian talking points as matters of faith. They may be taken as gospel by adherents, but are otherwise greatly debated, yet Shermer’s posts do not reflect that. Instead, he writes like a true believer who can’t understand why anyone would possibly disagree with him.

      So, this would be problem if he was arguing for Marxism — it’s not what he is arguing, but how he is arguing it.

      • Max says:

        Frankly, even if Shermer posted an intelligent critique of government spending, it would still be straight politics. We may as well then start debating healthcare reform and foreign policy, and rename the website PoliticsBlog.

    • Skepacabra says:

      Um, no SummerofGeorge. That is what we call a straw man argument. You can’t argue with the actual points your opponents are making and so you presume to tell them what their “real” argument is. Sorry, when you pull a crank move like that you instantly lose all credibility. It’s no different than when evangelicals insist that atheists aren’t atheists because they don’t believe in “God” but they’re REALLY atheists because they’re trying to somehow avoid being accountable to “God.”

      But I guess I can’t blame you. After all, you’re not libertarian because you believe in libertarian ideas, but rather because you’re really trying suppress your unresolved issues with your mother.

  49. aaron says:

    numerology. huh. sure.

  50. Kerr Mudgeon says:

    I am a Republican, so I am a skeptical of whatever them other [expletives deleted] peoples want to do, so I agree with whatever Mike says about the bad state of our econmy.
    Except dont mess with my Sochal Securty or my Medecare and cut my taxes and why do I have to pay sales taxes on my guns – isnt that against the Constitution somewheres?
    And dont get me started on them queers who want abortins after they all get married tgether!

    • Nayr says:

      Seriously? An attack on Republicans here? I think you are wasting your time. I don’t think we have any Republicans on this blog, only Democrats and Libertarians.

      • Alan says:

        I have no idea if there are a lot of democrats as no one is making the argument that skepticism = democrat ideology. What we are seeing is Mr. Shermer effectively arguing that libertarianism = skepticism.

        So, in this context a person’s particular political interests do not matter unless they are making the claim that their beliefs are equvialent to good skepticism.

        In other words, don’t offer us this tired old “you’re just as bad!” retort to defend Shermer’s posts. No one is suggesting that ideology X is good skepticism except for Mr. Shermer.

      • Nayr says:

        I was responding specifically to Kerr Mudgeons post #50. It just seemed odd to me that someone would bother to attack Republicans in this thread. The usual fight among skeptics is liberals vs. libertarians. Just seems strange is all.

    • Skepacabra says:

      “Except dont mess with my Sochal Securty or my Medecare ”



  51. Max says:

    Michael Shermer is “skeptical of our government” like any good Libertarian, just as any good Marxist is skeptical of corporations, and Democrats are skeptical of the GOP, and Republicans are skeptical of Democrats, and Christian fundamentalists are skeptical of atheism, and so on, having little to do with scientific skepticism or critical thinking.

  52. Yes, the deficit is a problem. Yet there seems to be some sort of magical disconnect going on in most discussions about it. Where do you think that money is going? Is the government simply taking a pile of money and throwing it into a fire?

    No, they are using it to buy votes. Your votes. Almost everyone is getting a kickback that they will fight tooth and nail to keep. The severity of the problem can be seen in that infamous sign held by a tea-partier: “Keep the government’s hands off my medicare!” Everyone wants to cut the entitlements of someone else, but any politician who actually behaves in a fiscally responsible manner and cuts government handouts to their constituents will be roadkill in the next election, whatever party they come from. Yes, Sarah Palin fully supported the Bridge to Nowhere, until it was rejected and became an embarrassment–this makes her a hypocrite, but it also makes her a savvy politician. And never mind individual entitlements; now that corporations are allowed unlimited spending in campaign contributions, the corporate welfare state will grow by leaps and bounds. You think you have a deficit now? Wait for it.

    The problem is glaringly obvious. Now, does anyone actually have a solution?

  53. Wil says:

    This article definitely has to do with skepticism, and those of you claiming otherwise might want to pay attention. We should be skeptical about an assumption that some people (e.g. politicians) are making when they use certain words or phrases to refer to certain things. For example, when a politician uses the phrase “three point eight trillion” (3,800,000,000,000), he is assuming that his audience, those listening to him, have an understanding of the meaning of that phrase, or that they know what the phrase refers to. This assumption is certainly not obvious, and I would go so far as to claim that it is false, as I think Michale Shermer has demonstrated in the above article.

    This assumption is a natural one to make, within a community of speakers, for most words or phrases. So if I asked Bob “Could you please pass the banana?”, I am assuming that Bob understands what the word “banana” refers to, and I am probably right (if he is in my community of speakers). However this assumption is not always a safe one to make, such as in the case of large numbers, and other things too like abstract concepts. We all might have a slightly different concept of what “love” means, but a less varied concept of what “banana” is.

    Anyway, Shermer is doing skepticism. He is skeptical of assumptions regarding the use of certain kinds of language made by important people.


    • MadScientist says:

      Rather than “ooh, 3.8T is a BIIIG number! It’s so big you can’t handle how big it is!” why not say 3.8T = 13K per person in the country. At least then people might say “hey, that’s more than half my salary – where’s that money coming from?”

  54. TryUsingLogic says:

    Could the purpose of this article Shermer presents on the size and meaning of “trillions”….relate to this?

    “When Deficits Become Dangerous
    Debt-to-GDP ratios over 90% have significant impact on the pace of economic growth.”

    “The Obama 10-year budget—unprecedented in its spending, taxes, deficits and accumulation of debt—is by a large margin the most risky fiscal strategy in American history. In his Feb. 1 budget message, Mr. Obama said, “We cannot continue to borrow against our children’s future.” But that is exactly what he proposes to do.”

    All together now, all skeptics on the left…stick your head in the sand and sing…”don’t worry…be happy!”

    • Beelzebud says:

      Ah yes the Opinion Journal section of the wall street journal. No bias there at all.

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        Ah yes, Beelzebud’s opinions……no bias there at all….Why don’t you factually refute what the article claims and explain to us why excessive government spending is the proper critical judgment at this time…..and then we can all join hands and sing….”Don’t be skeptical…be happy!”

        What is absurd, is that the subject of government can be held to the standards of good critical thinking just the same as climate change. the supernatural, NDE, 911 truthers, religions…etc..etc….. The main problem currently developing with climate change is the lying of officials about data to manipulate their view…..and that is no different than the misinformation BO is spreading to sell his plans for trillions!

        I know one thing, there are two places you will not find open minds to reality and fair solutions…..on the far Left and on the far Right!

  55. Fritz says:

    Yes, I’m not stupid! I can imagine how big a trillion is! Now, does this have anything to do with skepticism? I doubt it.

  56. TryUsingLogic says:

    Question? For those who are not skeptical of BO’s extravagant spending on social programs, are you concerned that he has quit funding the science of the space program and is handing the future of space exploration to China and Russia?

    “At the peak of the Apollo program, NASA was consuming almost 4 percent of the federal budget, which today would be about $150 billion. The manned space program will die for want of $3 billion a year — one-300th of the stimulus with its make-work projects that will leave not a trace on the national consciousness.

    As for President Barack Obama’s commitment to the new NASA mission: Has he given a single speech, devoted an iota of political capital to it?

    Obama’s NASA budget captures the difference in spirit between Kennedy and Obama. Kennedy’s politics was an expansive, bold, outward-looking summons. Obama’s is a constricted inward-looking call to retreat.

    Kennedy opened the New Frontier. Obama has shut it.”

    The dollar numbers to keep us in space are small as compared to our GDP. If you care about reasonable numbers?

    A sad day for science based Skeptical thinkers….

  57. Ma says:

    The $19 billion NASA budget is bigger than the GDP of most countries, it would fill a 7-story building and take over 600 years to count.

    Here’s the same lame argument about the cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Anti-war liberals and libertarians liked it.

    That website’s FAQ states, “The goal of this site was never intended to be overtly political.”

    And I think that Michael Shermer likewise thought his piece wasn’t overtly political, because how could anyone object to a Saganesque description of a large number.
    Well, I look at arguments in terms of whether hearing them makes one smarter or dumber. Propaganda typically makes ignorant people dumber and deserves criticism.

    • rustle says:

      Your explanation in support of the objections to Shermer’s post is spot on. “..I look at arguments in terms of whether hearing them makes one smarter or dumber. Propaganda typically makes ignorant people dumber and deserves criticism.” And empty propaganda from someone purporting to be a through-and-through skeptic is even more to your point. Very succinct.

  58. TryUsingLogic says:

    “……I look at arguments in terms of whether hearing them makes one smarter or dumber….” Wow, what an amazing opinion full of juicy facts!

    The same old propaganda from the left continues to dumb down liberal rhetoric concerning the serious issues at hand!

    It is a complex job to manage the finances of what has been the most prosperous and successful country on Earth. Hearing your lame argument makes me feel much smarter…..and even more skeptical about BO’s spending…..

  59. TryUsingLogic says:

    Good article….Shermer has referenced it in the past….thanks

  60. Somite says:

    Libertarianism A simple-minded right wing ideology ideally suited to those unable or unwilling to see past their own sociopathic self-regard.

  61. TryUsingLogic says:

    Socialism, a simple minded left wing failure……an ideology suited for those unable to learn from history.

  62. TheSaint says:

    I’m amused and at the same time perplexed by the libertarians/conservatives in this discussion who insist that anyone who isn’t a free-market fundamentalist is somehow “unskeptical” of government. That’s just… dumb. Liberals have come to the conclusion that social programs are essential for a modern society, and thats unskeptical??? I don’t get it. “skepticism” of Obama’s budget or government spending =/= believing the budget is too large because it’d take a long time to count. I’m fiercely “skeptical” of the fact that the US is spending 1–$1.2 trillion on the security state(this includes things that aren’t in the DoD budget, like the debt on past wars, “homeland security” etc). I’m very “skeptical” of the money that is spent fighting a neverending and unwinnable drug war. I’m “skeptical” of predator drones killing hundreds of innocent civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I’m also “skeptical” of the fact that Obama has largely keep the same policies with regards to the rights of “terrorists” and other “enemies”. So clearly you’re not referring to me.

    The only people who should really be called unskeptical on this front are those blind supporters of Obama (and Palin especially) who seem to really believe in the politician themself, rather than the policies they support. Here’s a litmus test to see whose skeptical: can you think of one major Obama decision/policy that you oppose (in spite, perhaps of having voted for him)?

  63. eddie says:

    Wow, I am cracking up at how so many posters lack any sense of humor. They infer a plethora of arguments that aren’t remotely implied in the original article. I find it extra entertaining to see them tossing names of logical fallacies around in response to a post that has no logical arguments. Ironically, these so-called skeptics are seeing things that don’t exist–just like the people who claim to see ghosts in their attics. Hahahaha!! (I like irony.) Obviously Shermer’s critics who self-identify as skeptics don’t know when to apply the tools of skepticism. Hmm, maybe Shermer has accidentally succeeded in exposing these folks for what they really are–politically motivated trolls masquerading as skeptics. That or he needs to go back to the drawing board and re-educate the skeptics-in-training on developing judgement in determining the proper context for utilizing their skills!

  64. tmac57 says:

    Setting aside the politics of this provocative blog post, at my count, there are 140 comments before mine, and not one of them from Dr Shermer, unless I missed one (this is par for the course lately). Now I know that he is a busy man, with lots of irons in the fire, but is it really too much to ask for a little back and forth or clarification of his intent considering the relative firestorm of reaction here. I, like others, have been a long time fan of Dr Shermer, going back way before the internet blog days, but I am profoundly disappointed in the way he distances himself from him audience these days. I really don’t know what that is about. Maybe he will deign to inform us?

  65. Jeff says:

    This is not a debate. It is a blog. Dr Shermer is under NO obligation to respond to anyone here. Nor are any of the others.

    As for this being a political posting. What stupidity. If you are ANY kind of skeptic you MUST wonder the impact of the deficit no matter what or whom is doing all the spending.

    Also, simply pointing out the magnitude of the numbers is not a political statement. It’s a legitimate exercise in thought and numbers. To me many of the comments above sound very much like pseudo science true believers. The only people I would think who don’t want others to try and understand the size or consequences of the numbers are those who would *prefer* people not think about them. Lest such a thought experiment causes one to change a vote in the future. And that IMO IS despicable of any real skeptic.

  66. Patrick says:

    Anyone who believes the government will reduce the deficit or even the debt with a $3.8 trillion budget isn’t a real skeptic. They’re a cheerleader for a particular party and they conveniently forgot the time when they made fun of Republicans for their $2 something trillion budget and a $500 billion deficit.

  67. G Dyer says:

    maybe I’m wrong but aren’t there 31,536,000 sec in a year? not 31,546,000 as the author states.

    If I’m right, the author is way off

  68. Phea says:

    All in all, I believe Mr. Shermer might have been better off to have just posted this link. It does a much better job of making his point.