The Skeptical Coder

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Once again, welcome back to another issue of updates from The Renegade Coder. This week I have a ton of new stuff to talk about. For instance, the theme received a major update which brought along a ton of benefits (and a couple issues as well). However, before I get started, I want to share a recent story from the Erie area that brought out my skeptical side.

Table of Contents

No Rest for the Werie

The other day I saw someone from back home share a Facebook status about potential human trafficking in Erie. Here’s the exact post:

As you can see, this post got around, and it wasn’t even the first of it’s kind. About a day earlier, another post started circulating around Facebook:

We’re talking about two posts that sparked so much fear in Erie that they literally went viral. Meanwhile, I find myself a bit skeptical of the two stories. While I don’t doubt these stories could have happened, both of them contain a handful of red flags.

The Skeptical Coder

In terms of Christiana’s story, I’m skeptical of the following:

  • Almost no description of the suspects
  • The cashier’s blatant disregard for the author’s safety
  • The idea of being surrounded at a jewelry desk while people are completing a transaction
  • No call to the police
  • No evidence – a picture would have been credible at this point

In terms of Carly’s story, I’m skeptical of the following:

  • No call to the police
  • No evidence
  • The lack of a description of the suspects

How is anyone supposed to protect themselves from these people if they don’t know what to look out for? I find that a bit alarming. There were definitely a few more things that bothered me in the comments. For instance:

  • Carly claimed she “didn’t really know what to tell [the cops],” so she never called
  • Seven minutes later Carly claimed that she “called the cops they kind of made it sound like a joke”
  • Carly also claimed that her “brain keep seeing a Dodge caliber but [she] really can’t remember”
  • Carly was rude and aggressive to anyone who questioned parts of the story
  • After being asked about security cameras, Carly claimed the cops “just seemed uninterested”

Also, I found it a bit bizarre that Carly was trying to sell a few things on her profile (since removed, unfortunately). If you’re in a situation which is so horrifying that you can’t write a coherent story about it, you’re probably not going to be selling baby clothes two hours later. Maybe that’s just me.

Additional Rumors

The two statuses above were the only stories I officially saw. However, it wasn’t long before the rumor mill got started. For instance, I heard a story where a “strange” woman walked up to kid, but the parent quickly put the kid into their cart. Then, I guess the woman looked back toward a man who nodded “no.” Naturally, this story is completely different from the first two stories.

Up until now, we’ve heard a story of a group of men surrounding a woman in the mall and another story of a woman who got parked into a spot by a group of men in a car. Now, we have a story of a man using a woman to snag children away from their parents. It seems each story is a bit more ridiculous than the last. Again, I’m not saying this couldn’t happen, but I find it interesting that the trafficking effort seems to be off the charts now.

In addition, I heard there was someone kidnapped from a McDonald’s, but I haven’t been able to confirm that story either. It seems social media is just going crazy with garbage lately. In fact, I even saw someone claim people were trying to spread awareness of the issue on the Bayfront in Erie. Here’s about all I could find out about that:

After that, I saw a screenshot of a white car and a clear PA license plate. Apparently, the person driving that car tried to kidnap someone’s niece. The car didn’t match any description of any story I had read.

I suppose there could be some major organized effort to kidnap kids in the Erie area, but we’ll have to wait to see if any news comes out. I’m definitely skeptical.

The Benefit of the Doubt

With all the skepticism aside, I did find it cool that other people were questioning these stories. I think the fact that none of the stories mentioned police serves as a pretty big red flag. Even if the stories are true, I have a feeling the authors added embellishments to make them more attractive.

In addition, I think it’s pretty awesome how these stories have brought people together. I saw a few people running donation campaigns for organizations like Thorn, so that’s at least one positive. I do think the fear mongering is a bit ridiculous. However, I’m hardly surprised; Erie is an echo chamber.

That said, I won’t judge. I have read the stories several times, and I’ve tried to put myself in each author’s position. Personally, I don’t think I would have done anything much different. After all, it’s not like the authors knew the suspects were trying to kidnap them. These men could have been mercenaries for all we know, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. As a result, I’m going to wait for the police and FBI to investigate. Hopefully we get an official news story soon!

A Question of Culture

In the meantime, I’d like to address the potential issue of sensationalismthe use of exciting or shocking stories or language at the expense of accuracy, in order to provoke public interest or excitement. Just take a look at the comments to get an idea of why I’m a bit skeptical. Everyone seems to be pushing for gun rights as the only solution to the alleged incidents. Is that not the most uniquely American way to respond to a tragedy? I guess it’s time to buy a gun. No use in addressing our cultural issues.

With all that said, human trafficking is a real problem. However, the odds of a child actually being kidnapped are reported to be at least 1 in 300,000. To put that into perspective, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1 in 700,000. Over a lifetime, the odds of being struck by lightning change to 1 in 3,000.

Of course, I’m not here to debate statistics. After all, any amount of kidnapping is egregious. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. However, that doesn’t mean we need to live in fear of leaving our houses. It seems every day there’s some new story that casts darkness over the American people. Here’s just a few of the latest:

And many more, of course. I can’t tell if the media is promoting sensationalism or if American culture is really going to shit. At this point in my life, I think I’d rather just move for the sake of avoiding them both. I’d prefer not to live in a place where fear is the catalyst for regressive change.

Upgrade that Theme

I think I’ve really beat the hell out of that news story, so I’m going to move on to talk a bit about some changes to the site. First, let’s talk about the theme.

The OnePress theme that I use just received a major update from its creators. In that update, there were several changes that I haven’t even explored yet. However, there was one change that has increased my productivity exponentially (at least I hope it was an update…).

I am now able to guarantee every single article on my website will have a featured image in the post. This was something that I started doing manually a few months ago, and now I can stop doing it for good. That said, there may be some posts with double featured images. I tried to go through everything, but I probably missed a couple.

On the flip side, I believe the update broke the series navigation feature which is a shame. I haven’t been able to get the links at the bottom of my Java posts to show up since the update. Hopefully, that gets resolved soon.

Python Bytes

If you’ve been keeping up, then you know that yesterday I posted my first Python article. I’ve found that the Java articles are long and tedious to write, and I was starting to get burnt out of coding in general. So, I had been writing personal blogs for awhile.

That was until the other day when I finally got excited about coding again. This gave me the idea to start writing short articles about small problems in code. In essence, these articles would mirror the types of responses you might see on Stack Overflow except with a bit more background.

Check it out, and let me know what you think!

Song of the Week

As for the song of the week, I gotta throw it back to my high school days: Forever featuring Drake, Kanye, Lil Wayne, and Eminem.

I haven’t really been listening to music lately, but I think I’m going to start kicking it back. Maybe next week I’ll start listening to A Day to Remember again.

Coming Soon to The Renegade Coder!

As usual, I don’t really have any plans, but I do plan on following up on this trafficking story next week. After all, I love being proved wrong. That’s what being skeptical is all about.

I tend to write whenever I have inspiration, but a large portion of my work never gets published. I find that a lot of my writing is in response to something I find frustrating, so I usually abandon it once I’m feeling better. Maybe I’ll start posting these works if there’s enough demand for it.

For now, expect more work toward the new Python Bytes series. Also, I plan on dedicating more time toward the store because I finally got my first customer! 🙂

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