Waving at reality from a safe distance

My plan was to return to this today — the claim that the human population of the Earth is substantially less than 7 billion. Before we get to the main course I learnt something that was only a little surprising: the crypto-fascist and terrorist-supporter Vox Day is into moon-landing conspiracy theories. The links are at the bottom of the post for reference. The first is a recent link to a video by a guy called Owen Benjamin. Vox has been pushing this guy’s videos recently because he was a former supporter of Jordan Peterson who has since decided that Peterson is satanic. The video is rambling and poorly argued — not worth watching as there’s nothing new there and its interspersed with homophobic tangents. Vox’s scepticism about the moon landings is older though and he links to a position he’s had on them since at least 2006.

“I tend to support the faked Moon landing theory myself, not because of any particular detail, but simply based on the theory that if the Official Story is that we landed there, then we probably didn’t. This mysterious disappearance tends to support that… it’s intriguing to see how tapes, videos and recordings never seem to survive whenever an Official Story is questioned by the public.”

I’ll concede one point in Vox’s favour: he very neatly encapsulated the core fallacy at the heart of his thinking and in Sarah Hoyt’s position on the population of the Earth. I’ll generalise his argument as follows:

The fallacy of denial: If the official story is one thing then this a lie and the truth is in a specific other direction.

As a fallacy, it is a species of the genetic fallacy that treats the source of the argument as determining the truth of the argument. There are instances where similar arguments are not fallacious, for example, if we are evaluating the reliability of evidence from a particular source and that source is known to be unreliable. However, an unreliable source doesn’t contaminate all the other surrounding evidence nor is it rational to conclude that an unreliable witness/source must be lying without additional evidence.

Additionally, there is a fallacy of unreliability here. The fallacy is that if a source of data is unreliable and that all we know about it, then the unreliability can only be in one direction. For example, Vox contends that NASA are obviously lying about something but then doesn’t contemplate whether they are hiding extra moon landings etc. If if you grant that somebody is lying to you, you need other evidence or arguments to conclude even vaguely the nature of the lie.

Back to 7 Billion

Returning to the denial that the population of the Earth is 7 billion, we can see the same fallacy in operation here:

“I don’t think we’re 7 billion or whatever number the UN claims, and frankly I can’t understand why ANYONE believes the UN on this. They can’t be trusted on anything else, pretty much taking the word of dictators and totalitarians for proven facts, but you trust them on this? Really?”

Hoyt argues that the official story is 7 billion and that the official story can’t be trusted and therefore the actual population must be significantly less. She doesn’t say by how much but presumably enough that people would be less concerned about the population of the Earth. It is essentially the same argument as Vox’s but on a completely different subject.

The claim is fallacious even if we can regard some parts of it being credible. To wit, these are reasonable points:

  • Census data can’t be wholly accurate in general.
  • Census data will be even less accurate in less developed countries.
  • Authoritarian regimes do sometimes (or even often) lie about national statistics.

However, none of those points address either the size or the direction of any errors that apply to the 7 billion figure. What they tell us can be summed up as:

Population of the Earth = 7 billion +/- some error

That error is not zero but we knew that already and nobody is claiming it is zero. Hoyt’s argument requires the error to be both negative and substantial, neither of which can be derived from “you can’t trust the UN”.

Denial versus conspiracy

The basic claim we are looking at (i.e. that the population of Earth is substantially less than 7 billion) is best described as denial. By itself, it is simply a claim that something with substantial evidence behind it isn’t true. That’s not the same as a conspiracy theory but it is the seed of one.

The move from a simple denial to conspiracy comes from when further evidence is presented.

In the case of the Earth’s population, we do not need to use the UN figure at all. Instead, we can use the USA’s Census Bureau estimate or we can use an estimate by a private organisation The Population Reference Bureau.

For 2015 these estimates were according to Wikipedia:

  • UN: 7,247,892,788
  • USCB: 7,336,435,000
  • PRB: 7,349,472,000

[Links take you to sources. For UN and USCB these are interactive sources and the figures vary to some degree from what is quoted on the Wiki page but confirm 7 billion + ]

So different groups come to similar figures. Maybe the USCB is lying as well and in the same way as the UN? Well, that’s a definite move into conspiracy theory territory.

A less conspiratorial source of skepticism is that national governments lie. It’s a fair point and if each of those estimates above used the same raw data and that raw data was false then maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that the figures are similar. After all, a billion+ of that 7 billion is from China and there is no particular reason to assume that the Chinese government would be honest.

However, that assumes that all these estimates are is simply adding up some top level numbers. It ignores that these numbers are just part of a wider discipline of demographics. Behind the figures are estimates about population density and population growth. These estimates aren’t perfect either but they do make lying about population figures substantially harder.

The estimates are also part of a historical record of estimates and hence would require a government to not just lie but to do so consistently over decades. It might be plausible to believe that the Chinese government would lie but during the years of the much vaunted one-child policy, in what direction would the government lie? To bolster the policy initially a cynical government might inflate population growth but overtime a cynical government would start exaggerating the degree to which the policy had worked. Lying plausibly about such things would be quite a challenge but not impossible in a relatively closed society. While modern China is still under one-party rule, it’s relatively easy to visit and see the size and scale of Chinese cities. That’s not enough to confirm the accuracy of Chinese census figures but it does limit the degree to which they can be inflated.

For other nations unintentional inaccuracy in census figures cuts both ways. There are reasons that some people may be over-counted and reasons why some people might be under-counted. USCB estimates for the population of China in 2015 were 1,367,485,000. Let’s say the ‘true’ figure was HALF of that then the world population would be 6,652,692,500 — less than 7 billion but still 7 billion when rounding to the nearest billion. To get the figure down to 6 billion requires both accidental over-counting and intentional lying from multiple nations.

Such lies might work in a sufficiently rural population where the impact of people is harder to observe but much of the growth in the world is in cities, cities that are observable by satellite. Again, hard to get exact population figures from such data but its not hard for demographers to use economic data, land use data and other sources to provide corroboration.

Put another way: population figures may be ‘wrong’ but there’s a limit to how wrong they can be.

Motive is insufficient

Now imagine the 7 billion figure is a hefty 2 billion people out and in one direction i.e. the actual world population is 5 billion. That figure would require not just huge lies from both China and India but the active collusion of demographers in multiple countries and the governments of hostile nations going along with the deception. But let’s grant that and imagine it’s all part of a plan to frighten people by the spectre of over-population. Is 7 billion seriously that much scarier than 5 billion to be worth all of that effort? And the effort to shave 2 billion off those figures would be significant.

Critical thinking versus credulous thinking

I mourn the word “skeptical” but unfortunately it’s not up to the job of the modern world. “Critical thinking” isn’t much better because what ever word we might use, it will then be misused by flim-flam You-Tube “philosophers” like Stefan Molyneux. However, for the time being at least I can use it to point out a distinction.

It can seem paradoxical the extent to which some people we encounter (not all on the right but increasingly concentrated on the right) can be both so sceptical and credulous at the same time. While doubt and belief look quite different, the “scepticism” is routed in their credulousness. The core issue is not a capacity to believe or disbelieve but rather an unwillingness to interrogate their own beliefs (or disbelief for that matter).

It’s not unlike the very basic advice given to people learning how to do maths or physics problems. It’s not enough to churn through calculations and plug numbers into calculators because small errors can lead to big mistakes and misunderstanding the problem can lead to correct methods to the wrong problem. Adept problem solvers take a step back and ask the question “does this answer actually make sense?”

Reference links

“Now, I have not said that the Moon landings were a hoax, I have only observed that I do not believe the Official Story concerning them. I don’t know what people are lying about or the full extent of their lies and deception, I only know that the Official Story is not entirely true. That does not mean it is entirely false.”


“I tend to support the faked Moon landing theory myself, not because of any particular detail, but simply based on the theory that if the Official Story is that we landed there, then we probably didn’t.”


“As with all things for which there is no clear historical consensus, I remain entirely agnostic on the issue. To the extent that I lean one way or the other, I tend to assume that the landings were faked due to the means, motive, and opportunity heuristic and because I am a confirmed cynic when it comes to Official Stories narrated by the U.S. government”.


See also:


38 thoughts on “Waving at reality from a safe distance

  1. I was wondering when you were going to deal with Beale’s latest declaration of what a special, special snowflake he is. Honestly, I can’t help but feel that if he didn’t feel it’d be a step too far, Ted would join the Flat Earth Society, to bask in the approval of being a member of the most gnostic group imaginable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Vox Day astounds me. I keep thinking that he can’t stoop any lower or become any more unbelievable, but he always manages to do it. I’ve been following the ‘Alt-Hero’ comics for example, and they actually get worse every issue. This has got to be a first in literary history.
      Yet in spite of finishing behind ‘none of the above’ at Hugo Awards and unable to sell anything except through online retail, he still brags about being an industry leader and a best-selling author.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Finishing below “No Award” four times in a row, at that, which is the one record he has actually broken. JCW may have lost to “No Award” more times in total, but he did it in only two years.


      2. It’s not difficult to be an industry leader when you’re the only one in your ‘industry’*. Even one sale will make the grade.

        *where the meaning of ‘industry’ closely approximates “whacked-out uttely looney Neo-Nazi racist conspiracy take-over artist grifter.”


    2. The thing is, flat earthism is a perfect explanation for WHY the moon landing would be faked. It’s the final piece of confirmation for the masses that yes, the earth’s round, see, they took photos from space, but up there it’s cold and empty and boring and no there’s no point in going back and that’s why nobody has in 50 years now just shut up about it peasant, here’s some Kardashians and Trump-twitter to distract you.


      (I have a one-page sketch outline for a book on this premise but I have other projects I need to finish first so I don’t know when I’ll get around to expanding on it)


  2. How does dude cope with the Manhattan Project? Who does he think really bombed Pearl Harbor? Not to mention what is his belief in the quantification of his IQ, or that there even is such a thing?

    On the other hand, if we can’t believe the official story, why is that guy with the orange hair on TV every night?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Communist and other corrupt regimes continuously lie about everything, floppy. Whatever direction their monetary interest is, that is where their lies will point. We know this is true because the lies change as circumstances change.

    I note that you have entirely ignored the influence of international aid on population figures. If East Bongoliastan can get another couple of million bucks from the UN by inflating their population numbers, and the UN -wants- them to inflate those numbers, then I do not find it unreasonable to suspect they are inflated.

    I mean, look at the US ground-station data for temperature. We know that’s been inflated for sure. Why else are there so many official NOAA thermometers in the middle of asphalt parking lots? Hundreds of them. Whole websites are dedicated to documenting it.

    So my point on Sarah’s post was that I do not know what the true population of China or India is, much less Venezuela, Cuba, Congo, North Korea or even South Africa. And neither do you. You’re saying we’re all crazy to question the UN numbers because it suits your rhetorical purpose, not because you have any evidence to support those numbers.

    If a person lies about all kinds of things all the time, it does not mean that for sure they are lying -this- time. But it does mean one would be imprudent to assume they are not.


  4. I like the point about cover ups that could possibly go in multiple directions. I think from now on I shall hold fast to the theory that NASA were lying about the moon landings because they ran into David Bowie up there, and he created the Ziggy Stardust character for plausible deniability if it ever came out (I’m not really an alien, I just pretend to be one to sell records…)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Why not expand this one? The Bowie alien abducted the ship and stole the identity of one David Jones to provide cover. The government knew about this all along, but didn’t want to create a panic. Etc.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Actually, the Chinese are deliberately *under*stating the size of their population, trying to pretend they’re minimally environment-friendly, when actually there are at least three times as many of them as they say. Why hasn’t this been detected? Well, I refer you to the excellent documentary on the subject, “Folding Beijing”, published a couple of years ago now. Wake up, sheeple!

    Liked by 4 people

  6. “As with all things for which there is no clear historical consensus….” No clear historical consensus? No clear historical consensus? For the moon landing? Yeah, historical consensus is pretty clear on that one, about 98% like the climate scientists.
    ** Buzz Aldrin reaction gif **

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, I was being charitable. I presume they don’t believe it charity either.


  7. I would point out that where I grew up, the Official Story is the whole “Jesus is our Savior” thing. Also, the validity of Euclidean geometry. Day is saying I should assume the opposite?

    Liked by 2 people

  8. The Official Story also operates by the fallacy that there is one Official that controls and sources all information, and that Official is a small group of people who can keep everybody quiet, presumably by means of a large military where all the soldiers keep their mouths shut, and that this is achievable for decades with changing populations in government of different political parties and different members of the military in charge, yet all keeping up the “Official Story” with no other sources.

    This is, obviously, not the way the world works, though it is the way that the authoritarian minded seem to want it to work. We did not have one manned moon landing — we had six of them. Some of those moon landings had international cooperation and other major countries watching and spying very closely what the U.S. did. All of the moon landings involved numerous private contracted companies and an army of people employed, including the U.S. military, NASA employees, numerous government departments, and numerous private company employees. Additionally, there were private companies that bid for contracts on the moon landing and didn’t get the contracts, but did get a significant amount of information on parts of the moon landing operations in order to make a bid. There is the physical evidence of rockets, capsules, lunar rocks, etc. that would have been incredibly expensive and elaborate to create for six moon landings and require an army of scientists to go along with the hoax for decades and keep quiet about it, etc. In short, the U.S government did the moon landings but they were not the only source of information about the moon landings, nor was NASA the only government agency involved in the moon landings. The moon landings aren’t simply the “Official Story” of NASA and the data has not been controlled entirely by NASA. Claiming that NASA could have faked the moon landings, all six of them, is giving NASA resources and magical powers it doesn’t have.

    In Hoyt’s case, she is making the U.N. official governor of the world, which it is not, and the only official source of population census. This is absurd as there are thousands of surveys of world population not only from many governments but from numerous private firms working for global corporations, marketing, non-profit assessments, and many international cooperative efforts. The U.N. is not the official source of world population numbers, and certainly isn’t the only source of world population numbers by any measure.

    The U.N. governs nothing, despite the best black helicopter dreams of anti-globalists. It is an organization for mediation and negotiation of countries. It can’t control countries and stop any of them from being dictatorships. If the most powerful countries in the organization agree, it can send a joint military force for dealing with atrocities and unstable systems, but that force is governed by the countries who decide what troops each of them will send and under what caveats those troops will act. For instance, Canadian forces with the U.N. were restricted in what they could do in peace-keeping missions in Rwanda by the Canadian government when violence broke out there and turned into genocide. They were unable to help those attacked to the degree that they wanted to because the Canadian government had a limited mandate. The U.N. is often confused with NATO and given powers and policies that it doesn’t actually have in conspiracy theories.

    The U.N. is also not in charge of and does not control international aid, nor is it the official source by which global international aid is determined. Most international aid is one country giving to another directly, with considerable self-interest and a combination of government and private aid agreements with specific goals. Countries giving international aid to other countries do not use the U.N. data. They use their own data assessment, and that can often involve private firms and a variety of data sources. As we already noted, countries with high populations don’t particularly get more aid than countries with low populations, and the U.S. government, European Union, the U.N., etc., have very little interest in giving China, now a world power, a ton of international aid, despite it having the highest population. Countries that have growing economies and rapid development need less international aid but may be having population growth, like India and Brazil. Many poor countries that get a lot of aid have a very small population, like Haiti or Belize.

    So to have a proper conspiracy theory going on something large rather than something small, you have to first reduce complexity and pretend that there aren’t thousands, sometimes millions of people involved in the information/evidence being disputed. You then have to create a bogeymonster — a one singular official source/authority that can tightly control the information/evidence to create the hoax and maintain it for a really long time, despite shifting personnel and changing loyalties. You have to have a cabal with near god-like control and authoritarian global authority to be the “Official Source” with the “Official Story.” It is plausible to have a conspiracy theory about say one scientific experiment done in secret or one business deal. Historically, those have occurred, sometimes quite horrific. But that’s not possible with something as large and global as moon landings or world population estimates (or the Holocaust for that matter.) There are too many actors and factors, too many sources, too many leak opportunities that increase over time. As the saying goes, two can keep a secret if one of them is dead.

    There is never just one Official Story and there’s never just one Official to tell it. As we are currently seeing in multiple countries.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. If we’d faked the moon landings, the Russians (and to a lesser extent the Chinese) would have pointed that out loudly and repeatedly. It would have been their greatest propaganda coup ever regarding the superiority of communism and the evils of the lying running capitalist dogs.

      And how close is Cape Canaveral to Cuba, where the Soviets’ buddy Castro let them do whatever they wanted? You know they had eyes on Florida even after they removed the missiles.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Ah yes, but you forgotten that both sides in the Cold War were being played by, you know who, in order to weaken white Christian countries, or at least that’s what some Conservatives believe.
        The interesting thing about the Moonlanding conspiracy theory is that on the surface, it doesn’t look too bad, but once a person can believe that the government would lie about something like the moon landings, it’s a gateway into believing that the government could lie about anything.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I actually saw a discussion once on one of the Red Pill blogs’ comment section where they were debating upon whether the Law of Gravity was real or not.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. There’s a flat earth theory that we spared the Russians from nuclear annihilation in the Cuban missile crisis in return for them helping promote “globularism.”
        Has anyone seen Tribulation 99? It’s a conspiracy-parody film showing how everything the US has done since 1945 has been to stop evil aliens from the far side of the sun from taking over. For example the General Noriega we supported in Panama was a good guy, but then he was replaced by an evil ET clone which is why we suddenly had to go to war on him. It shows how very easy it is to make bullshit make sense if you start from the wrong premise.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. On the gravity thing, I did once find a book in the library of the small rural Queensland town where my parents once lived, that carefuly explained that all this gravity stuff was nonsense and we are all in fact stuck to the earth by the pressure of cosmic rays.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Put another way: population figures may be ‘wrong’ but there’s a limit to how wrong they can be.

    Yeah, just an orbital view of the earth at night can give a first order approximation to the density of the population.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ll add that authoritarian countries can often be motivated to underestimate some populations–i.e., groups that are not under their control but that they feel should be. “Sure, the whole eastern half of the country is rebelling, but there aren’t that many of them so it doesn’t really matter.” “It’s ridiculous to say we killed a million people; there were only 500,000 of them to start with, and there are still some left.”

    My take on this particular conspiracy is that it’s mostly spread by people who live in rural areas and haven’t travelled. Sarah Hoyt is presumably an exception.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hoyt seems to like to launch weird, easily disprovable theories and see if she can get other far righters to believe them, from the quotes Cam highlights. Like that all the Hugo nominees are professors looking to a convention SFF award for tenure approval, or this one about brown countries using the U.N. to get international aid from white countries with inflated population counts. I’m pretty sure the next one will involve sea squids and smuggling cheese.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. They have an impressive faith in the ability, as well as the willingness, of large numbers of people to keep secrets for decades, rather than thinking better of it, or going a little too far in the “I know something you don’t” hinting, or forgetting that their spouse/children/golf buddy isn’t part of the conspiracy.

    Liked by 2 people

Comments are closed.