Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 28, 2009

CAN'T ARGUE WITH LOGIC LIKE THAT.... Fox News' Bill O'Reilly likes to answer a few questions from viewers on his show, and last night, he highlighted an inquiry from a Canadian: "Has anyone noticed that life expectancy in Canada under our health system is higher than the USA?"

"Well, that's to be expected, Peter," O'Reilly said, "because we have 10 times as many people as you do. That translates to 10 times as many accidents, crimes, down the line."

I've watched this a few times now, hoping to understand what O'Reilly's thinking, and whether he's kidding.

I'd like to think the Fox News personality at least understands the question and the meaning of the words "life expectancy." Obviously, with the U.S. population being 10 times that of Canada, the total number of Americans who die will necessarily be larger than the total number of Canadians who die. But that's irrelevant.

I'm at a loss. Someone want to help me out with this one? Because at face value, this makes O'Reilly seem even dumber than usual.

Steve Benen 1:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (74)

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Comments

I'll gladly help- Bill O is a MORON!!!

Posted by: JM on July 28, 2009 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

Seem even dumber? C'mon, pull my finger...

Posted by: David W. on July 28, 2009 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

one number matters here: the rating.

you should base your analysis on that. did the rating get helped or hurt by this segment?

Now stop letting corporate news tell lies to your children.

Posted by: glutz78 on July 28, 2009 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

I completely disagree. This does not make Billo look any dumber than normal. This is his regular level of dumb.

Posted by: do on July 28, 2009 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

dumber than usual? that's like it being colder than absolute zero.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on July 28, 2009 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

He couldn't argue the fact, so he pretended his answer meant something. The guy is intellectually bankrupt.

Posted by: tomeck on July 28, 2009 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

First off: life expectancy is more defined by the "natural" time span people live. The termination that comes through disease and old age afflictions helps determine that period. Accidents and criminal acts can be viewed as aberrations, not included unless in a war situation.
Also, life expectancy would also be defined by a percentage of the total population, rather than numbers. Again, irrelevant statistics to conceal the real issues.
Besides, everything BillO says is "No-Spin" so he can't be kidding. Only lying.

Posted by: Darsan 54 on July 28, 2009 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

But I thought he went to Harvard?!

Posted by: Naveen on July 28, 2009 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

I'm at a loss. Someone want to help me out with this one?

You aren't his audience. Bill O'Reilly is very good at his job. But his job isn't the news, isn't delivering facts and helping people understand the world around them. It's telling his wingnut audience what they want to hear. Sometimes (OK, usually) that requires just making stuff up.

Posted by: Buckethead on July 28, 2009 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Don't be surprised when you start seeing people using this argument on Free Republic.

Posted by: dk on July 28, 2009 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Well, for one thing, 10 times as many people with 10 times as many accidents, etc. evens out the score. That doesn't affect life expectancy at all.

Another thing is that Bill's pulling that "10 times as many accidents" statistic from his rear end. There are numbers out there that measure those types of things.

Wikipedia cites a Canadian systematic review that concluded the differences in the two health care systems could not alone explain the difference in outcomes, however. In fact, most of the studies they reviewed showed no appreciable differences at all. Bill would be better off flipping that statistic out there to be accurate.

However, then we could point out that the U.S. spends so much more per capita than Canada to get the same kind of results.

Posted by: Joseph Nobles on July 28, 2009 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Click on my name below to go to the Wikipedia note that has the PDF of the Canadian systemic review I mentioned above.

Posted by: Joseph Nobles on July 28, 2009 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

Steve...

"even dumber than usual"

On the following scale, does that mean that your impression of Billo has fallen from moderate to severe mental retardation or from severe to profound?

IQ Rating of 90 to 109 Normal or average intelligence
IQ Ratings of 80 to 89 Dullness
IQ Rating of 70-79 Borderline deficiency
IQ Ratings Under70 Definite feeble-mindedness

50-70 - Mild mental retardation (85%)
35-50 - Moderate mental retardation (10%)
20-35 - Severe mental retardation it is (4%)
0 - 20 - Profound mental retardation (1%)

In defense of Bill Orally, it is likely that his IQ is above that of his normal viewer and listener.

Posted by: AmusedOldVet on July 28, 2009 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

If there were only one Canadian, he or she would live forever.

Posted by: noncarborundum on July 28, 2009 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Well, it didn't let me post it!

en. wikipedia.org /wiki/ Canadian_and_American_health_care _systems_compared#cite_ note-Szick-0

Eliminate the spaces.

Posted by: Joseph Nobles on July 28, 2009 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

I think he means that Canada is such a boring place--less gun violence, fewer elective wars, stable health care, not so many wacky chief executives--that life there only SEEMS longer.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on July 28, 2009 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Roger Ailes has always been very good at finding very stupid people and paying them large amounts of money to spread that stupidity as far and wide as they can. It's a formula, but it bloody well works.

Posted by: dweb on July 28, 2009 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

One reason life expectancy is higher in Canada is they don't have the death penalty. If they stopped coddling their murderers, their life expectancy would be lower than ours.

Posted by: Al on July 28, 2009 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

The thing is, he, or one of his producers, picked that question to answer. The point wasn't answering the question correctly, it was to discredit the notion that Canada might have higher life expectancies.

Posted by: smiley on July 28, 2009 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

It's the kind of answer I would expect to hear Colbert give; then again, Papa Bear is his biggest source for material. I'm starting to think Colbert and Stewart don't deserve all those Emmy's. The comedy writes itself.

Posted by: Jeff on July 28, 2009 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

Our citizens are ten times fatter than Canadiens

Posted by: dcrolg on July 28, 2009 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

If there were only one Canadian, he or she would live forever.

Indeed, there can be only one. Highlander!

I suppose BillO is trying to say that more highly populated countries are more dangerous. Now, under very specific circumstances, there can be some correlation between population density and say, higher rates of disease or death by accident but applied as some sort of general rule about mortality rates, what he said does not exhibit even a moment's reflection on such questions.

Posted by: brent on July 28, 2009 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

i heard of % age wow how who lives looog er?

Posted by: danielwparker on July 28, 2009 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

Jesus, what an astonishing level of dumbassery. I learned how fractions work in effing elementary school. You have to be pretty mathematically illiterate to believe that 5/16 is larger than 3/4 because 5 is larger than 3.

Posted by: DH Walker on July 28, 2009 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

one more example of how numbers flummox republicans....the budget without numbers was a logical conclusion for the gop...no numbers are the only kind of numbers they get....as per barbie: "math is hard...."

Posted by: dj spellchecka on July 28, 2009 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

How many Bill O'Lielys does it take to screw in a lightbulb.

Well Pinhead, I'm on to your trick liberal question. First of all, htere's only one me.

Second, I'm at least a hundred times bigger than a lightbulb, so I could'nt fit inside a lightbulb with my loofah anyway.

And that's a memo.

Posted by: Winkandanod on July 28, 2009 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

Bill-O is a lot of things, but dumb is not one of them. He's simply thinking like his audience does. Shows the contempt in which he holds his audience.

His audience is, by and large, numerically illiterate, so he could say almost any kind of stupid shit about averages and statistics and they'd believe him, that THAT is all that matters. He makes them feel good about themselves..that's his job, and why he gets paid so much.

Posted by: LL on July 28, 2009 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

"Because at face value, this makes O'Reilly seem even dumber than usual."

Not to his audience. The GOP and their talking heads absolutely rely on the innumeracy of the American people.

Posted by: gex on July 28, 2009 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

What's shocking is that his statistic that Canada has 10 times fewer people is, within a reasonable approximation, correct. What he proceeds to do with this statistic is less shocking, in that it is moronic.

Posted by: kidcharles on July 28, 2009 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

What LL said, above. The question is not about O'Reilly's intellect. It is about how many of his viewers actually accepted his argument.

That he would even float something that propesterous is a pretty good indicator that FOX actually expected a large percentage to buy it. More evidence of the Dumbing Down of America.

Posted by: Marko on July 28, 2009 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with the more recent posters here that it's the argument that astonishingly stupid, not necessarily that O'Reilly is.

Personally, I think that O'Reilly likes making arguments that he thinks will "sound good" to his audience, which is why almost everything he says is bullshit sophistry. I don't think he really cares about whether what he says is accurate or not. For him, it's all about ratings, and that's because there simply is no object in the known universe larger or more dense than Bill-O's ego.

Posted by: DH Walker on July 28, 2009 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

He's not dumb at all. He's a vicious, lying, propagandist with an agenda so transparent that only the dummies in his audience buy into it.

Like Limbaugh he makes millions lying through his teeth. I agree with the first amendment, but jeesh!

Posted by: Leanderthal on July 28, 2009 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

Silly. That's why people in Wyoming live damn near forever!

Posted by: SW on July 28, 2009 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

This was re-run this morning. I saw it at about 5:45am and had similar thoughts... I chalked it up to my being groggy... but I couldn't help but have a nagging feeling that my 6th grade math classes contradicted what this tool shed had just said...

Glad I wasn't the only one.

http://ellipticalpress.blogspot.com/

Posted by: Ellipses on July 28, 2009 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

Bill O'Lielly knows exactly what he is saying. It's not that Billo is too dumb to understand statistical rates, it's that he's betting his audience is too dumb to understand it.

My money says he's right.

Posted by: Stetson Kennedy on July 28, 2009 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

To be fair, America is a more violent country than Canada. But judging by how Billo described it, that is clearly not what he was getting at.

Posted by: Rabi on July 28, 2009 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Reading these comments makes me very depressed. You see, "I" have absolutely NO sense of numbers. None what-so-ever. Am I doomed to slip into O'Reilly fanhood, based on my own total ignorance????

Please say I can stay a good liberal, even though I am profoundly numerically stupid...

You know how stupid I am? What he said made sense to me.

Posted by: phoebes-in-santa fe on July 28, 2009 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

Then again, Bill-O didn't realize that Stephen Colbert's entire show satirizes him until after his interview with him, so how much of a sup-r-geenius can he be?

Posted by: DH Walker on July 28, 2009 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

I hate to bring up statistics because I know the people who relly need to understand these will have a problem with them i.e. chicounsel,al,mhr etc, The U.S. is currently 42nd in the world in life expectancy. 20 years ago we were 11th.
Now if you don't think that's a problem then your just a complete dsouchebag. Given the irrefutable fact that we spend more per person on healthcare then any other country by a substantial margin that's aproblem that needs to be taken care of. Obviously what we're donig now isn't working and it's not getting better on it's own.

Posted by: Gandalf on July 28, 2009 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

Phoebes:

Think about it. 10 times as many accidents in 10 times as many people is the same rate. 3 in 10 is 30%, and 30 in 100 is also 30%.

Posted by: DH Walker on July 28, 2009 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

In related statistics. Did you know that 10 out of 10 Canadians will die under there socialized heath care system during their lifetimes? That's right the Canadian health care system has a 100% mortality rate. Do we want that kind of care here! I think not!

Posted by: Adventuregeek on July 28, 2009 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

"One reason life expectancy is higher in Canada is they don't have the death penalty. If they stopped coddling their murderers, their life expectancy would be lower than ours."

Al (real or fake? Who can tell?) wins the thread!

Posted by: Jeff S. on July 28, 2009 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

O'Reilly is trying to make a good point. If we did a better job at population control, reducing from 300 million to 200 million, for example, we might have a better quality of life. I wonder who he would like to eliminate?

Posted by: qwerty on July 28, 2009 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

Bill O'Reilly, hero of the Sarah Palin crowd, speaks the language of the party that ridicules intelligence, refuses to accept scientific fact, and disparages higher education. O'Reilly doesn't need to deal in truth or logic the way Sarah Palin doesn't need to speak coherently. Their audiences doesn't know the difference and doesn't want to know.

The O'Reilly, Fox News crowd believes their news is fair and balanced because they tell them so. His listeners are those who, when presented with actual proof, choose not to accept or believe it. They claim to be the "real" America and set up minorities, women, Hollywood, liberals, Northeasterners, and "elitists" as scapegoats.

Their so-called leaders rile them up with flag waving, good Christian social issues, and shallow patriotism. They take advantage of their ignorance, fear-monger to control them, and use religion and race to divide them, and the military to prove how red-blooded and tough they are. These politicians sheepishly support ignorance and misinformation to stay in office. That is what today's Republican Party has become.

Posted by: CarolAll on July 28, 2009 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

Reminds me of the story Molly Ivins used to tell of the time the Texas legislature heard to its dismay that the number of gun deaths had exceeded the number of deaths from traffic accidents. So they rushed into emergency session and - raised the speed limit!

Posted by: Virginia on July 28, 2009 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

But he's got a master's degree from Harvard -- in public administration! Makes you wonder if he's ever had a statistics class.

Posted by: Melissa on July 28, 2009 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

Bringing up Palin, I can only shudder to think of the wrath that Billo will now feel from Palin because he's "making stuff up".

Her barrage of attacks should be starting in three, two, one......especially now that she has the time to fight harder for what is right.

Sarah??? Are you out there???

Please don't tell me she was lying too? All those tea baggers at her rally will be sorely disappointed.

Fox News, Billo, Palin, etc's entire philosophy with regards to disemminating information is to use the Jedi Mind Trick. It seems to be working so far.

Posted by: GreyGuy on July 28, 2009 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

And here I thought Canadians were healthier because of hockey! Silly me.

Posted by: Husker on July 28, 2009 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

"But he's got a master's degree from Harvard -- in public administration! Makes you wonder if he's ever had a statistics class.

"Posted by: Melissa"

No I don't wonder, he has had a stats class. He knows perfectly well what he is saying. He wants to confuse the issue. He is lieing to promote a certain point of view --- that of FOX's management who think they can get more viewers by promoting this radical republican agenda.

If FOX thought they could get more viewers by promoting Vladimer Lenin philosophy you "bet'ca" they would do it.

See "Network," the 1970's movie, again. They may have missed a few details, but the general direction of news they projected was right on.

Posted by: Kurt on July 28, 2009 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

I have a PhD in statistics. Those of you maintaining that O'Reilly's argument is false may be right. However, he could be right. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, big news in carbon offsets.

Posted by: MatthewRQuarreler on July 28, 2009 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK
What he said made sense to me.

Seek professional help immediately.

Posted by: noncarborundum on July 28, 2009 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

Oops. Let me try that link again.

Posted by: MatthewRQuarreler on July 28, 2009 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know what went wrong.

Posted by: MatthewRQuarreler on July 28, 2009 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

Something must be wonky with the system today.

Posted by: MatthewRQuarreler on July 28, 2009 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, he is a lot dumber than you think. In fact, I'll bet you he couldn't find his ass with both hands and a flashlight.

Posted by: Sam Simple on July 28, 2009 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

I'm glad I live in Washington State, because our lower population must mean our life expectency is much higher than those folks in the much more populous New York. I know living with people like O'Liely would shorten my life - high blood pressure, you know.

Posted by: biggerbox on July 28, 2009 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

Jedi Mind Trick

Yes, he's pretty slick with that technique. I've seen him tell a bald-faced lie with that smirky little smile, re-iterating "fair and balanced", then change the subject (switch to commercial) before you have a chance to wonder whether you've been duped.

So, it's not a question of whether you "know your numbers" or anything like that. Nobody knows everything. It's knowing whether to call bullshit on somebody because he lies so much.

Posted by: Marko on July 28, 2009 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

If there were only capital punishment for willful ignorance, health care reform would have passed months ago.

Posted by: Capt Kirk on July 28, 2009 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK
Longer Al: "One reason life expectancy is higher in Canada is they don't have the death penalty. If they stopped coddling their murderers, their life expectancy would be lower than ours."
Shorter Al: "Coddling" = 'letting someone live'
Posted by: JTK on July 28, 2009 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

O'Reilly" "Well, that's to be expected, Peter. Our health care system goes to eleven..."

Posted by: elvis christ on July 28, 2009 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

And China has 4 times as many people as the US so their life expectancy must be one fourth of our 78 years, or a little less than 20 years. It's simple!

Posted by: sceptic on July 28, 2009 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

LOL @ elvis christ:

O'Reilly" "Well, that's to be expected, Peter. Our health care system goes to eleven..."

Too funny!

Posted by: Fortunatus on July 28, 2009 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

CarolAll:

It's shallow Christianity, too.

Posted by: DH Walker on July 28, 2009 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

Little incidents like this help to show that most conservatives, especially the media types, really do have flawed intellects and aren't just well-knowing but dishonest hacks. (Well, they're both but they really are stupid.) The use and tolerance of logical fallacies is a prime driver of the conservative movement. It pushes AGW skepticism, fundamentalism, free-market fundamentalism, love of "plain folks" like GW Bush (!) and Sarah Palin, etc.

paradoxer

Posted by: N e i l B on July 28, 2009 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

a previous poster pointed out that the US is more violent per-capita than Canada, then suggested that's not where Bill-O was going. On reflection, I think that's exactly where he was going. That kernel of truth put a nice patina on the rest of the lie, making it seem intuitively right to someone whose critical-thinking skills are stunted, which would describe nearly the entire FOX audience.

We really did lose something when the Fairness Doctrine was overturned. None of this foolishness would even be possible with the Fairness Doctrine. I know why professional conservatives hated the idea of the Doctrine, it's obvious (since Reality has a well-known Liberal Bias), but it's always been a bit baffling to see that so much of the *audience* for mass-media seems to be opposed to the Fairness Doctrine too. They're opposed to being informed. They like their biases and delusions and want to keep them.

Posted by: LL on July 28, 2009 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK

O'Reilly should have answered "we have way more than 10 times the gun nuts as Canada".

Posted by: markg8 on July 28, 2009 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

"Those of you maintaining that O'Reilly's argument is false may be right. However, he could be right. Time will tell."

I ran a linear regression on life expectancy and population data from the CIA World Fact book. The result was that there was a barely perceptible trend favoring larger populations. I tried this with all the data and then taking out outlier populations (China, India and tiny countries). But the R squared was always below 0.08, so there's no real correlation. I also tried it with higher level polynomials and the results were no better. O Reilly is just full of shit. But if you have a Phd in statistics, be my guest and try it for yourself.

Posted by: fostert on July 28, 2009 at 7:09 PM | PERMALINK

BTW BOR *could* have made a decent enough point, if he'd thought to say that much of the low US life expectancy was due to higher rate of accidents, crime, obesity etc. That wouldn't reflect as bad in the net, on things like our health care system per se (to the extent true - I'm not sure it is, this is just an example of a non-stupid point he could have made.) But he didn't. He made a foolish lead about our having ten times more people than Canada. That blew it for him.

Posted by: Neil B ♪ on July 28, 2009 at 7:37 PM | PERMALINK

Bill O'Reilly was just making the assumption, which is common in population studies, that the death rate is proportional to the square of the population. This assumption leads to the well-known "logistics curve".

Geez, Bill tries to teach people a little population biology, and it goes right over your heads.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on July 28, 2009 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

I think he's trying to say that with so many more people in America, you have more people dying of causes OTHER than their health, e.g. accidents, crime, etc. More people = more crowding = more urban-related deaths like crime or car accidents.

Of course that's a silly and pointless argument considering the small fraction of American deaths caused by non-health issues.

Posted by: Xavier T. Carlyle on July 28, 2009 at 10:35 PM | PERMALINK

but it's always been a bit baffling to see that so much of the *audience* for mass-media seems to be opposed to the Fairness Doctrine too

The Fairness Doctrine feels like government restriction of free speech, because it is.

The way to prevent "one side" biased news broadcasts is to break up huge broadcast monopolies and also tax the rich until they're merely well-off.

Lastly, people will have to grow brains.


Posted by: Joey Giraud on July 28, 2009 at 10:53 PM | PERMALINK

Reposting this from last week:

Well, in semi-socialised medicined Australia, average life expectancy at birth is 81.63 years (yay, we beat Canada!). You USAians have an ALEB of 78.11 years (yay, you beat Albania and Cuba). Aus= 6th place, US=50th but you guys pay a hell of a lot more (by GDP etc) than we do to get 3.5 years less lifespan.

And those figures are from the CIA Factbook so should be reasonably unbiased.

Personally, I'd have thought that it would be un-American to allow a system that patently doesn't work as well as others around the world to continue. Especially when it costs more for less result; that's not at all what made America what it is. I mean, aren't you guys the innovators?

Posted by: Brett Coster on July 28, 2009 at 11:05 PM | PERMALINK

"Makes you wonder if he's ever had a statistics class."
Posted by: Melissa on July 28, 2009 at 3:31 PM |

Makes me wonder whether he took 3rd-grade arithmetic. IIRC, that's the year we learned fractions.
I don't think he's lying. You have to know the truth to lie, and I think there's good evidence that he really is, as JM suggested above, a moron -- or maybe an imbecile (I can never keep those eugenicist gradations of stupid straight).
Don't forget this is the same numbskull who, while playing "Anchor" on a teevee news show, couldn't decode what the script on his TelePrompTer meant (and went into a full-on meltdown, replete w/expletives) when it gave him one show's closing line, "Here's Sting to play us out."

(O'Lielly: "What does that mean? [squints his eyes] 'To play us out'?
"What does... I don't know what that means!
" 'To play us out' What does that mean? To end the show?"
Brilliant deduction, there, "talent." No wonder you make the big bux.
Transcript courtesy Josh May,
http://blisshaha1.blogspot.com/2008/05/bill-oreilly-is-so-not-crazy.html)

Posted by: smartalek on July 29, 2009 at 4:07 AM | PERMALINK

I think he may have meant that Canadians are spread out more across a bigger country. This he supposes leads to less violence. The problem with this argument is that most Canadians live in cities at about the same proportion as we do in the United States. He also may have misunderstood the term mortality rate.

Posted by: Ed on July 29, 2009 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK
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