Thursday, 1 March 2012

The easiest thing in the whole world

People say a lot of stupid things on Twitter and it's unfair to take off-the-cuff comments as definitive statements. However, if the stupid thing is then repeated twice, it seems fair to assume that it represents their sincere belief.

Last week, wrinkly rocker Simon Chapman applied himself to picking holes in my report about plain packaging. Having given due thought to the possibility that standardising the colour, shape and size of cigarette packs might just make life easier for those who counterfeit cigarettes, Chapman came back with this killer argument....

The evidence he presents is a short video clip in which an undercover journalist shows a Hong Kong counterfeiter a pack of Winfield Lights and asks him: "How close can you get to that?" The counterfeiter replies "100%". That's it. He doesn't say it's "100% easy" (even if he had, it would be a meaningless statement.) He certainly doesn't say that counterfeiting cigarette packs couldn't be made any easier. He just says that perfect replication is, in his opinion, possible. 

For Chapman, however, this statement indicates that there is a scientifically provable ranking of easiness and that counterfeiting elaborate cigarette packaging is right at the top of it. Perhaps it looks something like this...

As you can see from the graph, counterfeiting cigarettes is "100% easy". QED, there are no economies that can be made. It is literally the easiest thing in the whole world. My six month old daughter has been doing it for ages. I've counterfeited several packs whilst writing this.

Spot the logical flaw? Of course you do, and I put all this down to the early onset of senility that comes from of a life-time of wowserism and paranoia, but Chapman evidently thinks that he really has found a dazzling argument because he has pestered me about it twice since, most recently...

OK Simon, especially for you...

There isn't a Scale of Easiness that goes from 0% to 100%, and even if there was, it wouldn't be measured by the bravado of organised criminals. You have taken one idea— that it is possible to replicate a product perfectly—and confused it with a wholly different idea: that the product can be replicated with perfect ease. Having made that logical error, you then assert that it is impossible to replicate the product more easily.

That is manifestly untrue. Counterfeiting cigarettes is a complex process with significant barriers to entry and relatively high start-up costs. By asserting that barriers to entry could never be lowered, costs could never be cut, and the process could never be made more convenient or accessible, you make an absurd statement.

As with all propagandists, it is difficult to know whether Chapman is deliberately trying to mislead or is genuinely confused. If he is sincere, it demonstrates something that is common amongst cranks and conspiracy theorists. The guy in the video didn't say what Chapman wanted him to say so he changed the guy's words around in his head. He then made a basic error of logic which led to a patently ridiculous conclusion and yet, because he cannot see where his thought process went wrong—and because the conclusion matches what he wants to believe—he incorporates it into his dogma as if it were fact. Whereas other people would regard an absurd logical outcome to be the result of absurd logic, he treats the absurd as if it were rational and dismisses logic as "alchemy".

Simon Chapman edited the journal Tobacco Control for seventeen years.


Barman said...

Excellent post!

I just loved your graph!

Carl V Phillips said...

LOL. I too am cyberstalked by Chapman. I decided to start replying (baiting) to see if I could get a good post out of it too.

You left "author paper suitable for Tobacco Control" off your scale. Not 100% easy for sure, but easier than trousers. I'll bet your six-month-old could not do it; it took my kid til he was 15 months to be able to pull it off (I assume you have seen the latest EP-ology post).

Jay said...

Awesome. And by the way, I'm counterfeiting Simon Chapman right now. While it's not 100% easy, it's never that difficult to make an arse out of yourself.

Rob said...

Questioner: How accurately can you recreate Tolstoy's War and Peace by copying it out by hand with pen and paper?

(thinks; if I am extremely diligent and check spelling, etc): 100%

Questioner: great! 100% easy! It couldn't be any easier!!!

Me: clown.

In my experience, 'Progressives' are extremely prone to even basic logical fallacies. Ironic really as they are the ones normally yelling about science.

Anonymous said...

Chapman to be taken seriously one would have to be irrational and moronic.........Perhaps its a mental disease to believe Chapmans claims at all!

Phil said...

Being a Spirit Level-sympathising pinko, I would love this post to be less hilarious and point-blank accurate than it is. (Curse you, Ken Macleod, for leading me here!) My only caveat relates to sociology, which you've misfiled - I can assure you that it's not easy like Sunday morning. (Easier than Rubik's cube, I'll give you.)

Mag said...

Ah, indeed, the incessant bleating and blathering of Simon Crapman, a prime “mover and shaker” in the Tobacco Control cesspool – “Leader of the Crap”, crapologist extraordinaire. As Crapman uncomfortably sits on some debris aimlessly floating around the poo pond, all sorts of stinky ideas emanate from his croaky eminence, e.g., “denormalization is dandy, ribbit”, “plain packaging will reduce smoking, ribbit”, “I am gr8, ribbit”.

Crapman, like his fanatical peers and predecessors, suffers a “god complex” and is a pathological liar for the “cause”. Crapman’s “forte” is argumentum ad incoherent analogy. Crapman has made significant contributions to the TC cesspool. Who can forget the Chapman Trick that has been used incessantly over the last few decades? But let’s consider one of Crapman’s recent rants.

Mag1 said...

New South Wales, Australia, is now pushing for outdoor smoking bans. Crapman’s University of Sydney has banned smoking on campus, save four designated smoking areas that are close to the perimeter of the university anyway.

In this article, Crapman reiterates his position that he does not support outdoor bans except in al-fresco dining areas. He certainly does not support bans that effectively stamp out smoking on an entire university campus. Although he does not agree with such bans, he does not question the mental state of those proposing/instituting such bans, i.e., bigotry. He spends most of the article reinforcing TC propaganda, e.g., “no safe level”. And, of course, Crapman has to indulge in his incoherent analogies:
“Someone smoking next to me while I eat lunch outdoors is not going to really harm me, but the imposition is unpleasant in the same way as loud music away from music venues or dog faeces underfoot.”
Add www. to

Now here’s the thing. While Crapman claims he does not support university-wide bans in particular, he is, again, lying. This is an [Australian] advocacy manual for instituting smoking bans at universities, beginning with a few [inconvenient] designated smoking areas, eventually followed by a complete smoking ban on the entire campus. Lo and behold, there’s Crapman’s signature to the plan (p.2).
Guide For A Tobacco Free Campus
Add www. to

Mag3 said...

If that wasn’t disturbing enough, this should be:

“Professor Rick Shine, from the School of Biological Sciences, Professor Simon Chapman from the School of Public Health and Professor Michael Kidd from the Faculty of Medicine have been named in the top 100 most influential people in Sydney by the Sydney Morning Herald'sthe (sydney) magazine.
The list of Sydney's top 100 most influential people was released on 11 December 2008 in a special edition of the (sydney) magazine.”

Do NOT add www. to

The blind leading the blind!

ftumch said...

Brain surgery is harder than rocket science?

James McEvoy said...

That is a laugh-out-loud bar chart. How often do you see one of those?