By Soo Youn and David Kerley For the first time, humans can hear wind from Mars. InSight, or NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport lander, provided the first “sounds” of Martian winds to human ears on Friday. The spacecraft’s sensors captured a “haunting low rumble caused by vibrations from the wind,” a …
By Sarah Smith Joy Evans Ryder was 15 years old when she says her church youth director pinned her to his office floor and raped her. “It’s OK. It’s OK,” he told her. “You don’t have to be afraid of anything.” He straddled her with his knees, and she looked off into the corner, crying …
By Amy Chen & Hayley Penan Imagine lying in an operating room, bright fluorescent lights shine in your eyes as a blur of health providers move around you preparing the room for emergency surgery. In the midst of this chaos, a nurse asks you why your chart says female when you present as male. The reality …

I’d love to have a simple strategy for convincing climate change denialists of their folly, but I think this one would leave me feeling dirty afterwards.

By Michael Stone Theocracy alert: Trump’s Attorney General Pick William Barr is a Catholic conservative who rejects the separation of church and state, calls secularists “fanatics,” and blames secularism for “moral decline.” Earlier today Trump announced he would nominate William Barr to succeed Jeff Sessions as the nation’s attorney general. Barr previously served as attorney general under …

opioid crisis

This article is a preview from the Winter 2018 edition of New Humanist

Dr M. R. Rajagopal has been called the “father of palliative care in India”. He has spent more than two decades doing clinical work and advocacy to improve care for the dying and those suffering from life-threatening illnesses. The use of opioids for pain relief is crucial to this work. Yet he has had to fight to prescribe them, including amending the country’s legislation. “Only a tiny, tiny minority of people in India have access to pain relief,” he says. “We have people travelling as far as 300km to get their refill of morphine prescriptions. There are many states where it is totally unavailable.” According to Human Rights Watch, 96 per cent of needy patients in India can’t access opioids. Now Rajagopal is worried that the dependency crisis in the US will harm the slow progress being made in India.

The opium poppy, papaver somniferum, is so effective at numbing physical and mental suffering that it is often called “God’s own medicine”. Yet it also has a terrifying side, which the opioid epidemic in the US has recently brought into the spotlight. Americans consume 80 per cent of the global opioid supply. This stat is normally used to convey the extent of reckless prescription, addiction and abuse in the country. Yet there is another side to the story. Total opioid consumption in India (plus many other low-income countries) accounts for less than 1 per cent of the global today. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that “roughly 80 per cent of the world population has either no, or insufficient, access to treatment for moderate to severe pain”.

“As a young doctor I saw excruciating pain being ignored,” Rajagopal says. “I came across people who asked to be killed, I came across people who attempted suicide. I had a patient who tried to hang himself, and his children of 14 and 10 had to rush in and save his life, only for him to die a few weeks later from failure of the kidney, because of the huge amount of NSAIDs [Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs] like ibuprofen that he was consuming.” These experiences led the physician to found an NGO, Pallium India, in his home state of Kerala. Since its foundation in 2003, the team has helped catalyse the opening of palliative care units across the country. There are now roughly 250 institutions dispensing oral morphine in India. But there is only so much his team can do. India has the sixth largest population in the world. It is estimated that several million people every year endure severe untreated pain from cancer, HIV and other long-term conditions.

A major report in the Lancet, published in October 2017, calls this global gap in pain relief “emblematic of the most extreme inequality in the world”. It points out that morphine in particular, as a generic derivative of the opium poppy, is inexpensive and highly effective, calling denial of adequate access a “medical, public health and moral failing”. Co-authored by Rajagopal and other global health and palliative care experts, the report is a rallying cry addressed to the global health community, which the authors say has the “responsibility and the opportunity” to address a situation that has been “largely ignored”.

Imagine you are in hospital in terrible pain, and all you are given is a paracetamol. You’re in so much agony that you beg for death. You might reasonably assume that the medicine you need does not exist, or that it is too costly to procure. Yet unlike other global health interventions, affordability is not the greatest barrier when it comes to the crisis of untreated pain. The Lancet report identifies the root problem within the contemporary medical culture, which tends to emphasise cure over care. There’s too much focus on extending lives, at the expense of the dignity and comfort of patients. The other major barrier is perhaps more disturbing. The report describes the impact of “opiophobia” and the “focus on preventing non-medical use of internationally controlled substances without balancing the human right to access medicines to relieve pain”.

“Opiophobia” has a long history. Fears and misconceptions have clouded around the opioid family of drugs, building up over generations of use and abuse. Katherine Pettus is an advocacy officer at the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care. Part of her job is to address this confusion, working with global institutions like the WHO and the United Nations to change the global health narrative. “There’s a historical context of trauma around opioids that has created a vacuum of education around their rational medical use,” she says. “We’re now building the narrative that’s needed for rational access to opioids and palliative care, in the last 10 years. This is really recent. We’ve got a whole century of opioid phobia and ‘narcotic drugs are bad’ and we’re trying to counter-institutionalise that.”

Pettus fears that media hype around the US opioid epidemic will slow progress. “Quite a few of our partners in the Global South have stated that it’s had a chilling effect on advocacy,” she says. “Policy makers just hear ‘increase access to opioids’ and throw up their hands in horror.”

It’s not that risks don’t exist. All opioids can lead to dependency, whether they are medically prescribed like morphine and oxycodone, or illegal street drugs like heroin. The oversupply of prescription opioids was one of the tangle of factors that led to the US epidemic. Now more than 800 people a week are dying from opioid-related overdoses. Yet every country has its own context, as well as its own social demons. Other countries with high opioid consumption, like Britain, aren’t suffering from the same fallout. Germany is the third highest consumer and its rates of abuse and diversion into the black market are next to zero. Regulatory frameworks in Europe have better served their citizens by curbing the power of big pharma.

The challenge across much of the Global South is that opioid regulation is not designed to best serve the population. India is a case in point. Its history of opioid trauma dates back to English imperialism and the Opium Wars of the 19th-century. Rajagopal cracks a wry smile as he explains why the responsible department is still revenue, not health. “That is clearly absurd today. But it’s also true that opium was a major source of revenue in India. If you look at the Opium War with China, that history does have a role. People who are familiar with that kind of procedure naturally created law only aimed at preventing diversion,” he says. “But we’ve had 70 years to take different strategies.”

Pallium India is doing just that. Rajagopal has contributed to the development of India’s National Program in Palliative Care, created in 2012. He was the driving force behind an amendment to the 1985 Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of India. The Act had been notoriously harsh. Passed to comply with three United Nations treaties, it was strongly focused on prohibition, with little provision for treating patients. The 2014 amendment put more emphasis on promoting medical and scientific use of opioids. But India’s 29 state governments have on the whole proved resistant to change.

Legislation is one thing; field implementation is another. Doctors in India are not taught palliative care at medical school. “Doctors carry these fears that if you give morphine, it is something like keeping the patient doped for the rest of their life,” Rajagopal says. Before he helped changed the law, four or five different licences were required to prescribe opioids. Falling foul of the system could lead to jail. Now the process has been simplified, but many practitioners are still cautious. “I’ve heard this from so many medics all around the world,” Pettus confirms. “Instead of education you have fear.”

The Lancet report calls on all countries to adopt an “essential package” of basic palliative care by the year 2030. It includes education and training, as well as the provision of key medicines. It is designed to provide “the minimum a health system, however resource-constrained, should make universally accessible”. Its authors believe the global health community has a role in facilitating this adoption. They estimate it would cost around $2.40 per capita per year in low-income countries like Afghanistan or Senegal, and $0.75 per capita per year in lower-middle income countries such as India. Ensuring morphine access is even more affordable. On a global scale, the authors estimate that it could take as little as $145 million per year to meet the shortfall in morphine-equivalent opioids.

Pettus calls the report “groundbreaking”. But other indicators suggest it could not have been published at a worse time. There are already fears that the US opioid crisis will go global. An investigation by the Los Angeles Times found evidence that the Sackler family is “moving rapidly into Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, Africa and other regions.” The family own Purdue Pharma, the company accused of fuelling the epidemic through deceptive marketing of the pain-killer OxyContin. Doubtless many pharma giants are circling. But their readiness to exploit the pain of the poor only increases the urgent need for careful national policy-making. Crucially, the use of morphine can remove the incentive for big pharma as the drug is generic and not under patent.

It is possible for the Global South to learn the lessons of the US without abandoning those in agony. The danger is that the American tragedy will further dampen political will. The dying and seriously ill are not a vocal demographic. They are often tucked away out of sight, and practitioners in the medical field are not always the best people to tell a story. However, a new “think-and-do-tank” is determined to give voice to those around the world experiencing severe pain. The Organisation for the Prevention of Intense Suffering (OPIS) was set up in 2016 by Jonathan Leighton, a former research scientist turned writer and author of The Battle for Compassion: Ethics in an Apathetic Universe. Access to morphine as a human right is a top campaign for OPIS. “Many who need morphine are terminally ill, they may have only weeks or months to live, and it’s essential that they can live as comfortably as possible,” Leighton says. “The concerns are completely disproportionate compared to the actual primary issue at hand.”

The primary issue for OPIS is the ethical imperative to reduce suffering. Linked to the effective altruism movement, they choose causes that are most likely to produce the largest impact, determined by what Leighton calls “a clear underlying philosophy which is suffering-focused”. It’s challenging to fully empathise with others in extreme pain, especially when so many causes constantly demand our attention. According to OPIS, a morally rational approach to policy would attempt to weigh each subjective experience. “I’d like to translate that understanding into social change,” Leighton says. “Ideally systemic social change.”

The groundwork already exists for recognising morphine access as an ethical duty. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines the right to healthcare and also the right to be free from torture. A 2009 Human Rights Watch report on global pain treatment said many people interviewed “expressed the exact same sentiment as torture survivors.” It called the failure to deliver adequate pain relief a contravention of international human rights law that was “perplexing and inexcusable.” In 2008, this link was made explicit in a letter co-authored by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health and the Special Rapporteur on Torture, Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment. “Governments also have an obligation to take measures to protect people under their jurisdiction from inhuman and degrading treatment,” they wrote. “Failure of governments to take reasonable measures to ensure accessibility of pain treatment . . . raises questions whether they have adequately discharged this obligation.”

Pettus believes that implementing change is a matter of time. “The global narrative is all there. It’s just a question of joining up the dots between that narrative and what’s happening on the ground.” She hopes the fallout from the US epidemic will eventually settle down into a “more rational phase”. Yet millions of patients around the world are desperately wondering how long they’ll have to wait.

Rajagopal has a story about waiting. A man came to one of his services in crippling pain from lung cancer. That day, they had run out of morphine stock. The man said he would return next Wednesday with a piece of rope. and hang himself from a tree outside the clinic if there was still no morphine. “We all prayed hard, and before the next Wednesday, we did get morphine,” says Rajagopal. In other regions of India, the story may have ended differently.

It will be a bitter pill to swallow if the healthcare tragedy in the US ends up worsening a global crisis. This would be an irrational outcome, with a terrible human cost. Yet when it comes to the opium poppy, reason and morality have often fallen victim. Consensus in the international health community appears to be growing on addressing the opioid access gap. Rajagopal believes it is possible to close this gap. “We know there is a problem. It’s not expensive, and therefore it has to be done.”

The National Library of Scotland has made available to the public digitized versions of all 3 volumes of the 1771 edition of the Encyclopædia Brittanica. I’ve been browsing through it, and it’s a fun read — it doesn’t seem to be able to make up its mind about whether it’s a dictionary or an encyclopedia, but it does have long sections on 18th century agriculture, algebra, and chemistry, so if you ever want to know what people actually thought about those subjects over 200 years ago, you can look them up.

There isn’t much on the stuff I study though — biology hadn’t been invented yet, so you’ll search through the “B”s fruitlessly. I thought maybe there’d be something on embryology, but no, this is it, and it’s rather brutal. They were straightforward about abortion back then.

There is a substantial illustrated section on midwifery, though, so if you ever need to deliver a baby without anesthesia or sterile technique, but you do have a great big handy pair of kitchen tongs, this section will do it for you.

We Minnesota professors have to stand together in solidarity, and Dr Sprankle spoke truth in a way that got attention.

He wrote: “The virgin birth story is about an all-knowing, all-powerful deity impregnating a human teen. There is no definition of consent that would include that scenario. Happy Holidays.”

He later added: “The biblical god regularly punished disobedience. The power difference (deity vs mortal) and the potential for violence for saying ‘no’ negates her ‘yes.’ To put someone in this position is an unethical abuse of power at best and grossly predatory at worst.”

Yes! The gods are abusers!

Best of all, he roused the ire of that popular dimbulb, Tucker Carlson, who thought this was a statement significant enough to require repudiation. How shallow of him, said the king of shallowness, and used it as an excuse to berate the dire state of the academy (I thought it was a good insight. Yes, we should think about how our culture has glorified the misuse of power, especially at the expense of women, and consider that this kind of story is the foundation of a lot of patriarchal attitudes). The only sense in which it is shallow is that it is trivially and obviously true. Then it gets weird.

The host interjected that religious critics never target the owners of technology companies.

It’s not even brave, Carlson responded. They never criticize Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world. Or Apple. Tim Cook. Or Google. They suck up to people in power and then beat up on evangelicals and call themselves, you know, countercultural. I mean, it is pathetic.

Wait, what? He thinks lefty atheists don’t criticize billionaires?

If I had the power, I would strip Bezos of most of his wealth and use it for more worthy causes. Apple has obscene amounts of money sequestered away in tax havens. There are libertarian atheists who might think excessive wealth is a sign of virtue, but a great many of us disagree and will happily criticize all of those people and organizations.

But then, Carlson has consistently demonstrated that he’s the dumbest man on Fox News, and I’m comparing him even to those morning pundits that Trump adores.

I’ve been fairly certain that I’m not a good man for some time now, this just confirms it.

I think I’ll just shut up and let more qualified others handle this issue.

This article is a preview from the Winter 2018 edition of New Humanist

Across the world, telegraph operators were electrocuted and, at low latitudes, a blood red aurora borealis appeared, so bright that a newspaper could be read by it at midnight. The Carrington Event, named after Richard Carrington, who noticed a flare on the Sun from south of London at the same time a magnetometer flew off-scale at Kew, changed for ever our ideas about the Sun. Before 1 September 1859, our local star was believed to influence the Earth only through its gravity and the warming effect of sunlight. Afterwards, it was recognised that violent convulsions on the solar surface, or “photosphere”, could fire magnetic missiles at our planet with devastating effect.

In the 1920s, the British astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington deduced the internal structure of the Sun and its central temperature of more than 10 million degrees merely by assuming it is a giant ball of gas. Although we now know that the Sun’s heat comes from “nuclear fusion” of hydrogen to helium, the by-product of which is sunlight, remarkably Eddington’s conclusions did not require him to know anything about the source of solar heat. The Sun’s central temperature depends essentially only on its mass, and would be the same for a similar mass of bananas, rusty bicycles or discarded TV sets.

Eddington’s Sun was predictable and dull. However, the fact that it has a magnetic field changes everything. It makes the nearest star an unpredictable, seething, explosive, infinitely surprising laboratory for extreme physics.

Magnetic fields are generated by moving electric charges. In the case of a mundane bar magnet, the movement is only of the electrons inside atoms, and the atoms stay put. The key thing to understand about the Sun is that it is not an ordinary gas – it is an electrically charged gas, or “plasma”, of “ions” and electrons. And, in the solar plasma, the moving charges that create the magnetic fields, unlike the atoms in a bar magnet, are free to move. This movement changes the magnetic field, which affects the movement of the charges, which changes the magnetic field again, and so on. It is this complex interplay between the hot plasma and magnetic field that is behind all the myriad solar magnetic phenomena from the magnetic whorls of sunspots to the mega-detonations of solar flares.

Actually, there is another essential ingredient. The Sun is not a rigid body. Its exterior rotates at a different rate from its interior, and even regions of its exterior at different latitudes rotate at different speeds. Consequently, the magnetic fields in the Sun are continually being twisted and contorted, storing up energy like twisted-up elastic bands. Where loops of magnetic field break through the surface, we see sunspots – nearly always in pairs since a loop that emerges from the Sun at one point must re-enter somewhere else. Where a magnetic field becomes so twisted it snaps, “reconnecting” with other fields, the energy unleashed hurls million-degree plasma tens of thousands of kilometres above the Sun in a solar flare.

Understanding the Sun is more than a mere academic activity. Our very survival may depend on predicting the “space weather” created by the nearest star. Studies of other Sun-like stars reveal that, on rare occasions, they can launch mega flares quite capable of frying a planet like the Earth. More seriously concerning are coronal mass ejections (CMEs). First recognised only in the 1970s, these are missile-like ejections into space of vast amounts of solar plasma and magnetic field: roughly the mass of Mount

Everest hurled into space at 500 times the speed of a passenger jet. The Carrington event – the most violent solar event ever recorded – was a CME. In 1859, we had the crude ability to detect a CME but the world was not so dependent on technology that it suffered any serious harm. Not so today.

Changes in the magnetic field across electrical power grids can induce currents big enough to melt equipment. Such “induction” was behind a major power outage on 13 March 1989, which left 6 million people in Quebec in the dark. But the real threat today is to the dense ring of the satellites which girdles our planet and on which our lives now depend. At risk are satellites – weather satellites, Global Positioning satellites – which not only allow us to know our location but play a crucial role in global financial transactions.

In rich countries, efforts have been made to harden infrastructure against a CME. However, it is a sobering thought that the Sun, which has given us life, could in an instant return us to a pre-electrical age.

Marcus Chown is the author, most recently, of "Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand: 50 Wonders That Reveal an Extraordinary Universe" (Michael O'Mara)

ferguson

This article is a preview from the Winter 2018 edition of New Humanist

The Square and the Tower: Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power (Penguin) by Niall Ferguson

History seems simple to people outside the discipline: it is about the past. Historians go to archives to find out information; they reach back into the times before ours and pull out facts, like a fisherman sitting beside a lake baits their hook and waits. These facts add up to the story of what happened. But for many historians, this isn’t how it feels. Historians look at the past through the lens of the present. They look at the last 50 or 500 years, and see hundreds of different stories. Around those stories are all the gaps that we might never fill. When you see history like this, historians aren’t catching facts like fish, but are instead teasing apart the past as if they were unravelling a tapestry.

This interpretation of history as just one story out of all the possible stories that could be told makes some people uncomfortable. Some historians feel more comfortable pretending that the past can be uncovered or quantified. For those who want to believe that their history is dispassionate and objective, these ideas about competing narratives and blurry, messy stories are disquieting. Archival research starts to look like a fool’s game: why root through boxes of papers if you won’t uncover the truth? These researchers might look wistfully instead towards the hard sciences: research that builds on facts, methodologies that can be repeated, hypotheses that can be tested and proven.

Niall Ferguson, the historian and prominent conservative political commentator, does just this in his newest book. He looks to mathematics to borrow the ways of presenting data that network analysis offers. He argues that there are two ways of thinking about how the world is organised: the Square and the Tower. Ferguson takes these analogical images from mediaeval Siena and uses them to frame his book around the idea of hierarchies versus networks. Everything, the book implies, can be sorted into one of these two types of organisation. Societies, organisations, infrastructures, nations, empires, political ideologies and religions are either hierarchical – tightly controlled and organised from the top down – or networked, in which it is connectedness, not power, which really determines an individual’s importance. Ferguson comes out early in favour of the latter. “By choice,” he says, “I am more of a networks guy.”

The book contains 60 chapters, many running only to a few pages. It provides, therefore, a somewhat breathless romp through several hundred years of history – intended, presumably, to demonstrate the extent to which this model applies across time and space. Of course, networks and hierarchies exist in history, often simultaneously, often within the same nation or organisation. But moving between case studies so quickly feels like sleight of hand; there is the sense that the reader is given glimpses of ideas before their attention is slickly directed elsewhere.

Ferguson makes some broad claims at the beginning, shaping the reader’s interpretation of what follows. But many of these arguments are actually descriptive assertions. The word “network” does not appear in any of Shakespeare’s plays, apparently; it is unclear what inferences the reader is supposed to draw from this fact (was there no network at the court of Denmark? Are the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream sadly isolated?) Until 1880, books published in English were more likely to contain “hierarchy” than “network”, and here is a Google Books graph to prove it; what that says about the actual existence of these concepts prior to that date is again unclear.

Early in the book, Ferguson argues that historians have long paid too much attention to hierarchies and not enough to networks; he thinks that this is because networks lack “readily accessible archives”. If this were true, it would be a central criticism of the discipline. But it is only true if you discount huge swathes of historical scholarship. Social history, at its heart, focuses on the networks and connections between ordinary people rather than the hierarchies of power and politics; gender history has always prioritised interpersonal connections; imperial history focuses increasingly on the multiple overlapping linkages between metropole and periphery. These fields use creative approaches to sources that move away from those found in the “readily accessible archives” of governments and diplomats. Ferguson briefly acknowledges the existence of prosopography, which historians have used to trace the connections between people and ideas for decades, but dismisses it as “collective biography”. In the same paragraph, he rejects the work of “social(ist) historians” as simply narrating “rising and falling classes”. This is odd, given social historians’ enthusiasm for using social science methodology and quantitative methods in their research.

Where Ferguson’s approach differs from these other forms of history is in his exhaustive and somewhat exhausting embrace of network studies. The book contains a number of diagrams depicting various networks, such as the Bloomsbury group (arranged by sexual connections, rather than intellectual associations), the men and institutions involved in the development of the steam engine, the Chinese Communist Party, and jihadis, as they are linked on Twitter. At first glance, these images are convincing: the proof of Ferguson’s theories. But on second look, many are unusable – lacking key labels that would enable the reader to understand, for example, the strength of the connections between different nodes, or reproduced so small that the material cannot be legibly read.

At key moments, Ferguson drops his approach as a clinical analyst and reaches instead for moral judgement. A chapter on the “ring of five”, the Cambridge spy network of Philby and Burgess, is inflected with disgust about the behaviour of these men (elsewhere he writes that, while Oxford aspired to be “muscular, martial, imperial and heterosexual”, Cambridge instead embraced the “effete, pacifist, liberal and homosexual”). One of the final chapters, which shifts from the “Arab Spring” to the largely online networks of Islamic radicalism and terrorism, criticises Obama’s assertions that ISIS was morally “nothing to do with Islam” and describes jihadi fighters as “losers”. All historical writing is subjective by its nature, but it is striking where Ferguson chooses to explicitly deploy his subjectivities. By contrast, he writes that the British empire was run by a network club of “gentlemanly amateurs”, and its “scale” and “durability” were due to the “light touch” of its central authority. How people living under British imperialism perceived this “light touch” is not explored.

The chapter which represents Ferguson’s original research most clearly is the exploration of networks around the US politician Henry Kissinger. The research is interesting enough – looking at memoirs by contemporaneous politicians to see who is mentioned and how often – but the diagrams stretch the definition of network. One shows, for example, how often Kissinger wrote about different figures; Kissinger is a central node and each figure is attached only to him. It is questionable how this adds to the existing scholarship; the fact that Kissinger mentioned Nixon more than any other figure does not seem to be a particularly ground-breaking conclusion. But providing the argument in the form of diagrams, backed up by research focused on the quantitative, will no doubt be attractive to people who wish to believe that this history is objective.

In the final pages of the book, Ferguson provides his judgement on networks versus hierarchies: “unless one wishes to reap one revolutionary whirlwind after another, it is better to impose some kind of hierarchical order on the world and give it some legitimacy”. Coming at the end of a paean to the durability of networks, compared to the often rigid hierarchies unable to adapt, this is a surprising end point. But the invocation of “legitimacy” is important here, coming from an author who describes himself at the beginning of the book as “just not a very hierarchical person”. Hierarchies, after all, are hard to perceive if you’re at the top. A history of networks written from a different perspective might look very different indeed.

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Transcript:

Today I want to talk a little bit about one of my favorite actresses in recent years, Constance Wu. Wu came to my attention when she appeared on the TV show Fresh Off the Boat, which as a show kind of lost my interest but Wu was definitely the highlight for me — she was absolutely hilarious, so I started following her on Twitter on the off-chance that she was hilarious in real life. It ended up being a great follow, because not only is she funny, but she’s also been very outspoken about feminism and progressive values, which, you know, is something I’m vaguely interested in sometimes.

She gained even more prominence after she starred in the smash hit movie Crazy Rich Asians, and with that bump in fame, she’s become the target of angry men. Of course. She recently sat down on stage at Vulture Fest in LA to talk a little about her work, and the conversation turned to the hate she’s started getting, from “Asian incels,” as she called them, and “MRAsians,” as her interviewer Alex Jung termed them. He’s Korean American, so he’s allowed to say that. I’ll just say I laughed when I heard it.

Wu pointed out that the Asian incels found out that she had once dated a white man, and from that deduced that she has always dated exclusively white men, and this angered them. Asian incels — oh, just in case you weren’t already aware, incels are “involuntary celibates,” a term they’ve given themselves though the vast majority of them could definitely have sex if they take care of themselves, drop the misogyny, and shower once in awhile. Incels further categorize themselves into groups that help explain to them and others why they think they can’t have sex, whether that be because they’re short, fat, ugly, poor, or in this case, Asian. I’m not sure if any of them admit that it’s their awful personality that’s the trouble, and I’m kind of afraid to do a deep dive to find out. Like, I spent about 15 seconds Googling and ended up on an incel thread where they were laughing about how black people aren’t human, so yeah, I’m just going to guess that none of them realize what’s actually going on here.

Anyway, Asian incels think that they can’t get laid because women don’t like Asian men. Oh and by the way, incels are pretty much always men despite the fact that the term was coined by a lonely queer woman. Most incels fervently believe that a woman can get laid regardless of how  ugly, short, or fat she is.

On to the irony, here: these men are harassing Constance Wu, even though she is on their side. In a way. Obviously she’s not down with the misogyny they express, but she does understand that Asian men are victims of our culture. She points out that she insisted they cut a line from her Crazy Rich Asians character, who in the book says that she never dated an Asian man until her partner in the film, Nick. She points out that “To say somebody is an exception to the rule is to reaffirm the rule,” the rule being that Asian men aren’t attractive as sexual partners.

This is exactly the type of thing that intersectional feminists want to fix. Asian men really aren’t often portrayed in Western media as being sexy or strong providers. In our culture, we elevate symbols of “manliness” that Asian men don’t tend to exhibit — bushy beards, broad shoulders, a height over 6 feet. Meanwhile, we elevate symbols of “femininity” that Asian women do exhibit — tiny frame, quiet voice, and an assumed submissiveness. These are two sides of the same coin, and feminists want to throw that coin in the trash because all it does is hurt people. Asian women end up getting objectified as exotic, silent sex slaves, and Asian men end up getting ignored for not seeming manly enough.

This is why intersectional feminism is important — you get to see the way sexism interacts with racism and xenophobia, which helps us stamp out all of it.

Unfortunately, the MRAsians have swallowed the lie that women are all subhuman shallow whores, so they can’t see what’s right in front of their faces — or who is just on the other side of their computer screen, fighting for their rights while they try to harass her off the internet.

The post Asian Incels Harass Woman Who was on Their Side appeared first on Skepchick.

book cover

Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight for Sex Workers’ Rights (Verso) by Molly Smith and Juno Mac

Like many marginalised groups, sex workers are often spoken for and over. Even well-meaning feminist or humanitarian critiques can disregard sex workers’ agency. For the authors of Revolting Prostitutes to have produced “a book about prostitution written by prostitutes”, then, is significant. The authors construct their case through direct experience, both their own and that of sex workers around the world, as well as through data and research. Steering a course between liberal views of prostitution as personal empowerment and conservative condemnations of it as sinful degradation, the book demonstrates the inadequacy of binary positions and the need for nuance.

As the wordplay of the book’s title highlights, attitudes to sex work can be characterised by prurience, with confused cultural attitudes to sex or to women transmitted to debates around prostitution. Sex work is often treated as a problem in itself, rather than a symptom of mainstream societal failures – and as a single issue rather than, as described in Revolting Prostitutes, an interlocking “matrix of oppressions” including poverty, racism, homophobia and transphobia. The book centres the diversity of sex workers’ backgrounds and views, and reminds us that sex workers are also parents, carers, friends and activists.

The book’s first half relates the past and present of sex work to the history of policing and borders, and to collective action. The book contains examples from mediaeval times to the present day of sex workers organising and taking part in wider struggles for social justice. These networks of mutual aid are vital in a context where authorities that might provide protection – police or lawmakers – are hostile, leaving prostitutes vulnerable to arrest or eviction for working together in shared properties, or risking deportation for seeking police help after theft or assault.

In the book’s second half, the authors survey and analyse various global models of sex work and policy: from the reactionary full criminalisation of the US, South Africa, Russia and China to the would-be progressive “Nordic model” which reduces demand through criminalising the purchase of sex, but increases danger for workers whose need to sell sex is greater than their clients’ need to purchase. Systems which measure success in “combating” prostitution through decreasing its visibility via criminalisation also ignore how these strategies reduce the ability of sex workers to assert their rights. The authors relate this to addiction, homelessness, police discrimination and poverty, and call for these to be systematically addressed.

Liberal sex-positivity downplays economic coercion in order to present sex work as an empowered individual choice, while anti-prostitution campaigners remove economic considerations when they pathologise sex workers as “bizarre or broken”. In contrast to both, by centring economic and material concerns – treating sex work primarily as work, rather than as sex – this book takes a precise and pragmatic view of prostitution in theory and practice. The authors argue that all waged work is exploitative, and that while decriminalisation of sex work cannot erase the conflict of class interests that affects any workplace, it can mitigate its most intense manifestations by allowing sex workers to access labour laws on minimum income, health, safety and security.

Revolting Prostitutes is sharply and convincingly argued, fuelled by anger and compassion. While debates around sex work may be complex and fraught, the authors make starkly simple demands: for more safe and secure forms of all work, sex work included, and for empathy, solidarity and understanding of sex workers’ needs to take precedence over more hostile attitudes to their existence.

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Transcript:

“Study: Both rightists and leftists are prejudiced — but toward different groups” oh my goodness, what a headline! Have I been wrong basically all my life to not notice that progressives are just as bigoted as conservatives? I guess so. Oh wait, hold on, I forgot the golden rule: let’s READ THE FUCKING ARTICLE! And just as a heads up, when I say that I usually mean “the actual scientific paper,” not “the mainstream news article.” In this case, though, the full article isn’t free online, but good news! The news article has everything we need to explain what’s actually going on.

First thing to know is that this study was not conducted in the US, so if you’re American, you should not necessarily be picturing Ted Cruz versus Beto O’Rourke. It was conducted in Poland, though, which does lean pretty heavily right like the US, so it’s not a completely terrible translation.

Second of all, like most psychology studies, this one was conducted on students. This is an ongoing problem and we should remember that not everyone has the same outlook as a 19-year old white psychology undergrad.

Third of all, while the study did find that rightists and leftists are both prejudiced toward people on the other side of the political aisle, it did not find that they were equally prejudiced. For instance, leftists were prejudiced against Catholics who wanted public schools to teach religion classes, but not against Catholics who were fine keeping religion out of public schools. Meanwhile, rightists were prejudiced against atheists. All of them. Regardless of whether or not the atheists wanted to remove religion from schools.

That is in no way equal. It’s understandable to have a bias against someone who is going to impact your life in what you view to be a negative way. It is bigoted to have a bias against someone who has no impact on you, just because you don’t like what they personally believe.

So when we talk about “prejudice” we’re not talking about “bigotry” in both cases — only in the conservatives’ case, and that is a very important distinction.

The more interesting finding here is that they measured right and left worldviews as both economic and cultural. It’s a common misconception that those two things aren’t interrelated, which is how we end up with fiscally conservative/socially progressive Libertarians who don’t understand how economic inequality ties in with the “War on Drugs” and other racist policies, but let’s just accept it and move on. The study found that people were less likely to be biased against people on the other side of the economic aisle, and more likely to be biased against people on the other side of the cultural aisle, indicating that the thing stoking the prejudice is based upon our value system.

As an example, if your coworker mentions voting for a proposition that will raise sales tax, and you’re against that proposition, you’re not very likely to develop a prejudice against him. But if he votes for a proposition that directly confronts your core values, like, say, allowing amusement parks to keep whales in tanks, that is more likely to bias you against him. I mean really because what kind of monster wants a whale kept in a tank. Did he not see Free Willy? Blackfish?? THE COVE??? Sorry, I’m getting off track.

So yes, liberals and conservatives both have biases against the other side, but the important takeaways are that they are not equal in severity or logic, and they are mostly based on a perceived difference in cultural values. And in the actual study examples, leftist values were “please leave us alone” and rightist values were, well, “no.”

The post Both Liberals and Conservatives are Prejudiced (But in Very Different Ways) appeared first on Skepchick.

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Transcript:

Look, I know that I’ve made a lot of videos this month about the wildfires in California, but in my defense it’s really fucking bad, and also no one else seems to be talking about it. Seriously! This was something I saw on Twitter for the past week, people complaining that no one was talking about the fires, but I wasn’t sure if it was true. After all, the people experiencing a disaster might never feel as though it’s being focused enough in other places.

But the Washington Post found that cable news channels were significantly (and I mean that in the scientific sense as well as the colloquial sense) less interested in the wildfires compared to the hurricanes that plagued the East Coast a few months back, even though the Camp Fire has killed 77 people, with another thousand still missing.

Hurricane Irma received about four times as much coverage as the wildfires on CNN, and it was just as bad on Fox News and MSNBC. It’s not just that they all hate California — WaPo’s Phillip Bump suggests that there are a number of factors for it, like that hurricanes come with several days of warning during which cable news analysts can speculate about how horrible it’s going to be, while the wildfires just happened, like that. Once hurricanes make landfall, the coverage usually drops. Plus, even though a lot of people are dead and missing from the wildfires, hurricanes have a much larger spread — Harvey did 23,000 square miles of damage, compared to less than 800 square miles for the largest wildfire in California’s history, the Mendocino Complex Fire.

But yeah, it’s a huge fucking deal and no one is really talking about it, so I’m going to keep talking about it until I can go outside and not feel like I’m playing the worst Fallout game of all time. Yes, worse than Fallout 76. No matter how much you hate Fallout 76, it didn’t make you blow your nose and have black stuff come out. Yes, that happened to me.

But I’m not here to talk about how no one is talking about this! I’m here to talk about how David Johnson — no, not the decathlete, sportscaster, DC comics artist…you know, forget it, he’s county chairman of the Republican party for Ohio’s 6th District, and he posted a meme on Facebook saying that the fires are God’s punishment against liberals.

I was intrigued by this at first because I assumed he meant it was because of all the gay sex we have while smoking weed. But when Democrats called him out on it and demanded he apologize, he clarified that he only meant that it was God’s punishment for liberal policies of poor forest management. I went over that in my last video on the subject, so that’s not even true, but I had to spend several minutes trying to understand his logic, or the logic of his god. Like, you’re God, right? And you look down and see that your people have used “liberal” policies to fail to adequately clear out underbrush from their forests. You decide that the best thing to do here is to punish them, by….sending a wildfire? What kind of shit God are you? Just make the underbrush disappear you asshole. Why would you punish anyone for not keeping their forest tidier? Jesus. I mean it doesn’t matter because forest management isn’t the whole story and there is no god and we live in a cruel and uncaring universe, but still. Weird.

Even weirder considering that you’re not just punishing “liberals”… in fact, half of the people affected by these fires up north are registered Republicans, and the plurality of the county voted for Trump in 2016.

Finally I just want to point out the perfect font that Dave chose to really convey the feeling of being in Hell. It’s like generic Comic Sans, for when Comic Sans is too hoity toity. Is someone selling elderly people software like Printshop but just for making terrible memes, and the only thing it comes with are 3 different minion stamps, a photo of Tim Allen holding a wrench, and this font.

So anyway, no, Dave, the fires aren’t God’s punishment for liberals. They’re punishment for years of pumping CO2 into the atmosphere and for electing idiots like you who refuse to stop it.

The post God Hates California appeared first on Skepchick.

The Good Place

This article is a preview from the Winter 2018 edition of New Humanist

The Good Place opens with a nightmare. Eleanor Shellstrop, the main character of this sitcom made by NBC in the US and distributed via Netflix to the UK, dies in the first episode and wakes up in a kind of non-denominational heaven. An angel called Michael greets her, and assures her that through all her selfless good deeds on earth, she has more than qualified for an afterlife spent in this always sunny neighbourhood full of shops selling frozen yoghurt. There’s just one catch: Eleanor alone knows she was actually a bad person – she was drunk all the time, lied to her friends and worked in a call centre for a pharmaceutical pyramid scheme. Somehow, she has ended up in heaven by mistake, when she really belongs in the fiery alternative.

As the starting point for a sitcom, this isn’t all that promising. It’s far more complicated than the usual winning combination of “some people live together” (Friends), say, or “some people meet regularly in a bar” (Cheers). The very situation in The Good Place that is supposed be the basis for humour is a highly structured vision of the afterlife – so it’s no surprise that critics were initially sceptical. The show requires viewers to grasp its internal mythology quickly in order to appreciate the tension and humour as it develops, including a complex system of moral points, which humans accrue during their lives for good deeds and which ultimately determine whether they end up in “the good place” or “the bad place”. The show also relies heavily on narrative and character developments for laughs and momentum, which goes against TV tradition, too. Sitcoms from major networks are supposed to be about stasis, returning you cosily to the same place at the end of each episode. Instead, this is more like an unfolding sci-fi drama, as Eleanor learns more about the peculiarities of the “good place” and attempts to keep her own bad morals under wraps.

What prevents The Good Place coming across like a tortured, otherworldly drama like Westworld or Stranger Things is the fact that it is really, really funny. The dialogue is full of the kind of rapid-fire, surreal humour made popular by shows like Parks and Recreation and the US version of The Office – which isn’t that surprising, because both of these seminal 2000s comedies were produced by Michael Schur, who also created The Good Place. In interviews, Schur has talked about how much he likes working with a sitcom set in a fictional afterlife rather than in an actual workplace, because of how freeing it is creatively. “The goal in the first two seasons was to have at least one weird magical thing in every episode that could only happen in the afterlife,” he told Rolling Stone. Some of these elements include Janet, an all-knowing AI being who looks and sounds like a real human woman, and the landscape of heaven itself, which can change to reflect how inhabitants act (for instance, when Eleanor is particularly duplicitous, the weather turns terrible and natural disasters start occurring; giant shrimp also fly out of the sky on one occasion). According to all the accepted rules of television genres, The Good Place shouldn’t work. Except it does: the weekly broadcast in the US brings in millions of viewers, the Netflix transmission attracts many more internationally, and it is beloved by critics.

So how did a TV comedy about ethics and moral philosophy become so popular? Part of it is down to the show’s progression: after the initial plot set-up, The Good Place focuses on Eleanor’s desperate attempts to improve herself in the hope that she can avoid being ejected from heaven. She finds another inhabitant to help her, Chidi Anagonye, who was a professor of moral philosophy before his death and ascension to the good place. Together, they plough through most of the western philosophical canon, and although Eleanor frequently acts out or complains about the lessons, as the first series progresses we see her get interested in the subject despite herself. Boldly, the show actually incorporates their classes, blackboard and all, in the action rather than allowing the teaching to happen offscreen. The content of Chidi’s seminars is ambitious: they cover Kant’s categorical imperative and Thomas Scanlon’s work on contractualism, and pretty much everything else in between, in an attempt to give Eleanor a framework for starting to care about others more than herself. Again, it is the humour that carries these segments; at one point, Eleanor frustratedly exclaims “It’s like, who died and left Aristotle in charge of ethics?” to which Chidi smugly replies, “Plato!”

Later on, in the show’s second series, Michael joins the classes, and uses his otherworldly powers to inject a bit more realism into them. Rather than just studying the famous trolley problem – in which students must imagine they are driving a runaway trolley, and must decide whether to crash into and kill five people on one track or switch rails and only kill one person – he snaps his fingers and puts Chidi at the control of a very real-seeming vehicle. Over and over again they run the ethical experiment, and each time the characters get splattered in very realistic gore. This particular thought experiment is a mainstay of how philosophy is taught, and how it is portrayed in popular culture, because each alternative it offers allows us to test different philosophical concepts while also putting a personal dimension on these abstract ideas. Is it best to be a utilitarian, and just preserve the greatest number of lives? Or a consequentialist, where the driver’s motives matter more than than the actual outcome? What would you do when, like Chidi, the brake lever of the trolley is actually in your hands?

Part of the way philosophy is made amusing in this show is by combining the dissemination of these concepts with existing pop culture references. Thus Chidi is teased by Eleanor for his attempt to write a Hamilton-style rap musical about one of his favourite philosophers – “My name is Kierkegaard, and my writing is impeccable / check out my teleological suspension of the ethical” – and Michael often digests his own ethical dilemmas through plot points from Friends (which the humans he oversees have introduced him to).

By far the smartest part of The Good Place’s depiction of philosophy, however, was revealed at the end of series one. After a dozen episodes of believing that she is wrongly in heaven among exemplary people, Eleanor finally clocks onto the fact that she, and everyone else, is actually miserable. “Holy motherforking shirtballs!” she exclaims (swearing is not possible in the good place) as she realises that no heaven could be as twisted as the place she’s already in, where she’s constantly made to strive for a perfection she can never attain, and surrounded by people far superior to her. She’s already in the bad place, which has been designed to appear like heaven for the purpose of torturing humans with too much ego to think that maybe they were the villains all along. What we’ve been watching is actually a kind of Truman Show-esque prank show full of moral philosophical quandaries, in which Michael was a demon and the hellfire was psychological.

As well as being a brilliant plot twist, this reveal adds a whole new philosophical dimension to the show. The viewers have been delighting in The Good Place’s conflicts and tensions week after week, enjoying the way Eleanor makes Chidi anxious and how he makes her feel inferior. What does it say about us that we have found this scenario entertaining, in which people are made as miserable as possible for our amusement? Somehow, without being preachy or didactic, the writers have turned the show’s fundamental questions back onto the audience. What does it mean to live a good life? Even if the inspiration comes via a goofy sitcom, it’s still a question worth pondering.

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Transcript:

Well, there’s a tragic thing happening, so of course conspiracy theorists have come out in droves to tell us that it’s not happening! In this case, it’s the California wildfires I spoke about last week. To date, hundreds of people are missing and dozens of people have been found dead from the Camp Fire in Northern California, and between that and the Woolsey Fire in Southern California, 250,000 acres have burned, more than 12,000 homes and other buildings are gone, leaving many people homeless. And as I mentioned before, millions more people are being negatively affected by smoke from the fires, leaving San Francisco with the worst air quality in the world.

 

The cause of the fire is most likely to be related to PG&E screwing up, as it has often in the past, and for which it should honestly be put out of business.

 

But none of those facts are good enough for the alt-right, which exists mainly to make up fantasies. There’s a guy on Twitter named Mike Tokes, who is for some reason verified. He says he’s a political strategist and entrepreneur. That may be true, but he’s also a Nazi, as shown in many photos in which he’s shown flashing a white power symbol and grinning like an idiot next to a guy doing a sieg heil.

 

So this Nazi, verified by Twitter, has posted a thread that has gone viral, probably thanks in part to his Twitter verification, about how the wildfires were actually caused by (prepare yourself) SPACE LASERS. Here’s all his evidence.

 

First, he points out that some homes burned down with no apparently damage to homes next door to them. Do I need to debunk this or has everyone here seen an incident in which one home burns down but thanks to winds, lack of foliage, or dumb luck, the home next to it is spared? Like, we’ve all seen that, right? Good. I’ll just move on, then.

 

Next he posts photos of burned out cars, saying they are impossible because forest fires can’t melt steel beams. Whoa, I just got a hardcore flashback. Imagine the alt-right cribbing their conspiracies from the wacked out left of 2002. What a world!

 

Here are the facts: a typical wildfire burns at about 800 degrees celsius (or 1,472 F), but in extreme conditions, which this is by the way, temperatures can top 1200C, or 2,192F. Steel begins to soften at 425C, and fully melts into puddles at at 1300C. So yeah, a wildfire can absolutely weaken steel, and in an extreme case it actually might be possible for it to melt steel, though obviously we don’t have any evidence of that happening here.

 

We do have evidence, shown in the Nazi’s photos, of aluminum melting into puddles. Sure enough, the melting point of aluminum is only 660 degrees celsius — a full 150 degrees cooler than the temperature of a typical wildfire. Of course, this is also what we’ve seen happen in previous wildfires, like this one in Tennessee, so it’s not exactly shocking news.

 

Nazi Mike cites a man claiming to be a firefighter who has responded to “hundreds” of car fires but never seen aluminum melt. A car fire tops out at about 800 C, the same as a typical wildfire, but it’s not super common to see in a car fire because, well, generally firefighters show up and put the thing out before it has a chance to sit there for a long time at 800 C. You don’t just need the temperature to hit that high, you need it to be that high and then stay that high for long enough for something to happen. It’s not magic.

 

Next up, alt-Mike presents his theory as to what’s really happening: yep, you guessed it, space lasers. He includes several photos clearly showing lasers from space striking the area where the California wildfires are happening, so that’s that, can’t argue there. I was ready to do some work on these photos but Twitter user Nick Poole beat me to it. Nazi Mike posted one photo from a Falcon 9 launch from Vandenburg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara (where no fires are happening), another photo of a controlled burn from an oil refinery in Canton, Ohio (2500 miles from the Car Fire), a photo of an actual fire in California with a bit of grease on the lens of the camera that can also sort of look like a space laser, another photo with a lens flare that could also sort of look like a space laser, and finally he posted a picture of an airplane with a drawing of a laser coming out of it. The plane itself is a YAL-1 that used to use an infrared beam to destroy ballistic missiles being fired at it.

 

Whew. We’re almost done.

 

Next in the tweet storm, Mike says that the California wildfire map lines up in the same path at the plans for the California High Speed Rail System. My first impression with this one was, well, that’s not a map of the wildfires. I know, because I live in one of those shaded bits and I am definitely not on fire. Also not on fire is Sacramento, San Jose, most of LA, and San Diego. I looked it up and found that it’s actually a “Red Flag Warning” map, showing areas where we have to be careful because the weather makes it more likely for fire to spring up.

 

The second thing I noticed was that the maps don’t line up, at all. The fire warning map is mostly along the Sierra Nevadas, because as I mentioned in my video last week, that forest is at high risk of catching fire. The rail system is not being built in the mountains. That would make zero sense. Why would you purposely build a railroad on top of a mountain range when you could build it on the flat land right next to the mountain? Our politicians can be stupid but not that stupid. Not Nazi Mike Tokes stupid.

 

Finally, Mike posts a video showing a “steel and asphalt” bridge on fire and buckled. I already talked about how wildfires can easily soften steel, so this is no surprise at all. Mike says he spoke with a firefighter who said it would be “impossible” for a forest fire to create this kind of damage. First of all, it’s not a forest fire, it’s a wildfire. Second of all, that firefighter is either an idiot or made up. Tough to tell with the alt-right, these days.

 

So that’s it, a step-by-step breakdown of this new, stupid conspiracy theory. Feel free to link to this video for the next 50 years as idiots like Nazi Mike Tokes continue to point to this as all being the fault of space lasers. Like 9/11 conspiracies, I have a feeling this one isn’t going away soon.

 

The post Were the California Wildfires Started by SPACE LASERS? Yes, Says Nazi appeared first on Skepchick.

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Transcript:

Last week, a tremendous mob of enraged liberals descended upon Tucker Carlson’s home. They kicked down the door, pulled his wife and daughters from their beds, dragged them into the streets, and burned them alive while Carlson watched helplessly — not because he couldn’t but because he refused to meet violence with violence, so pure is his heart and pacifist his actions.

Stephen Colbert took to Twitter to condemn the evil activists’ actions, stating unequivocally “Fighting Tucker Carlson’s ideas is an American right. Targeting his home and terrorizing his family is an act of monstrous cowardice. Obviously don’t do this, but also, take no pleasure in it happening. Feeding monsters just makes more monsters.”

He’s so right. We shall not feed these monsters.

Oh hold on, I didn’t get that initial part quite right. It seems that instead of an enraged mob of liberal activists, it was about a dozen people with tambourines, who had also brought along four legal observers to make sure that everything they did was lawful. And Tucker and his kids weren’t home. His wife was inside, she called the cops, and the cops came and said everything was fine. It was all over in ten minutes.

Although, there WAS a lone criminal in the gang, who was caught cringily spray-painting an anarchy symbol on their driveway. The cops told that guy to not do that anymore. There were no arrests, and the protestors walked away. Two of them hobbled away, with canes. This is all according to an eyewitness, plus, you know, the actual police report.

But facts don’t matter when it comes to Tucker Carlson or his fans, or to the majority of hand-wringing liberal centrists. Tucker claimed that his wife called him and said someone had thrown himself against the door, breaking it in the process, in an attempt to gain entry. She thought it was a home invasion and locked herself in the pantry to call 911. He also claims that someone shouted that they would bring a pipe bomb to his house.

None of this happened according to the police report, and surely all of it should have been because all of it would be actual criminal behavior. No one tried to break down the door, which sustained no damage at all. No one was locked in a pantry fearing imminent death. And no one said they’d bring a pipe bomb to his house, though one activist did chant something about pipe bombs, referring specifically to the fact that Tucker Carlson tried to downplay the fact that last month’s pipe bomber was inspired to try to kill liberals due to Donald Trump’s rhetoric.

It’s no surprise that Carlson is a liar — he has become a mouthpiece for white supremacists, for fascists. The KKK’s David Duke and Richard Spencer love him. He spreads bigoted, dangerous misinformation regularly, like when he outright lied about a South African policy that he said made it possible for black people to steal the land from white people. Ironic, I know.

And yet, when it came time for people to believe either some protestors or actual lying fascist mouthpiece Tucker Carlson, they chose Carlson. Stephen Colbert, who once made us all so proud for taking the stage at the Washington Correspondent’s Dinner and absolutely destroying the Bush Administration straight to their stupid faces, is now too cowardly, too spineless to even take a minute to find out the truth. Seriously, I’m no fan of the cops but when they’re on the side of protestors and not the rich conservative white guy, I’d say their word is pretty damned believable.

Sure, say that the activists should have protested when Carlson was home, and not his wife. Say that you don’t think they should be at his home. But for fuck’s sake, don’t mindlessly believe Carlson’s version of events when all the facts are against it, and then use that to shame people who are literally trying to prevent the next Hitler from rising to power (if he’s not already in power). Do better, Stephen Colbert.

 

The post Tucker Carlson is a Liar and We Should Not Feel Sorry for Him appeared first on Skepchick.

As many of you know, the Day of Reflection conference, scheduled for November 17 in NYC, has been cancelled, and some hundreds of ticket holders are now left seeking refunds.

I was forced to pull out of this event nearly two months ago and have said very little about it since. Now that Travis Pangburn has officially announced that he will be “folding” his touring company, Pangburn Philosophy, I can give a brief account of what happened.

  1. I participated in 10 events organized by Pangburn Philosophy between September 2017 and July 2018. I didn’t always approve of the way those events were staged or marketed, but all of them appeared to be successful.
  1. However, after the cancellation of an August 2018 conference in Auckland, Pangburn seemed intent on running his business off a cliff. He owed a lot of money to several speakers at that point, in the form of unpaid fees and reimbursements. Most egregiously, he seemed less than fully committed to refunding ticket holders for the cancelled Auckland conference.
  1. At this point, I had two more dates on the calendar with Pangburn in 2018: a dialogue with Brian Greene in Toronto (September 5) and the Day of Reflection conference in New York (November 17). I kept my appointment in Toronto because I was contractually obligated to do so. I also didn’t want to do anything that would harm Pangburn’s ability to pay his mounting debts.
  1. After Toronto, however, it became clear that Pangburn could not be trusted to put his house in order. Facing a total lack of transparency, and realizing that Pangburn was using my ongoing association with him to book future speakers, I withdrew from the NYC conference on September 21 (as well as from a Vancouver conference scheduled for March 2019). Legally, I was able to do this because Pangburn was in breach of my speaking contract. Ethically, I had a far more compelling reason to back out: I couldn’t promote or participate in an event for which I believed other speakers were unlikely to get paid; nor could I continue to work with someone who still hadn’t given refunds to ticket holders for a conference that had been canceled more than a month before.
  1. After I withdrew from the NYC conference, my management team asked Pangburn to give us the email addresses of all ticket holders so that we could notify them that I was no longer involved with the event. Pangburn refused to provide this information. However, he assured us that he would notify everyone himself. (I do not know whether he ever did.) He then stopped responding to our emails.
  1. At the time I pulled out of the NYC conference, I assumed that the revenue from ticket sales was still safely in the box office and that Pangburn would be obliged to issue refunds should the conference fail. That’s how things normally work, especially at a reputable venue like Lincoln Center. It hadn’t occurred to me that New York ticketholders might suffer the same fate as those in Auckland.
  1. I was left with a legal and ethical puzzle that I could not solve. Again, I had no way to communicate with ticket holders directly, and discussing the chaos surrounding Pangburn on my podcast never seemed like an option. Several friends and colleagues still had events on the calendar with him, and I didn’t want to do anything to derail them. In addition, many speakers who were aware of my reasons for pulling out of the NYC conference were still signed on and seemed intent on making it work. I couldn’t see anything to do that wouldn’t risk creating further harms.

Although Pangburn still owes several speakers (including me) an extraordinary amount of money, we were willing to participate in the NYC conference for free as recently as a few days ago, if he would have handed it over to us and stepped away. I have been told that this offer was made, and he declined it.

I find it appalling that so many people were needlessly harmed by the implosion of Pangburn Philosophy. I can assure you that every speaker associated with the NYC event will be much wiser when working with promoters in the future.

Sam Harris

 

 

 

 

The post A few thoughts on the implosion of Pangburn Philosophy appeared first on Sam Harris.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve recently gone back to school for an M.Ed in Higher Education. Regular readers may know that I already have a humanities PhD, which raises a pretty obvious question: “What the hell Dan? Aren’t you done with school? Why collect yet another degree? Seriously what is wrong with you?”

There are a few reasons I decided to go back to school. but most of them ultimately boil down to one thing: the academic job market. I’ve been writing about my experiences looking for a job over the last few years, and after four years and dozens and dozens of applications, it became very clear that something had to change if I planned on actually getting a job before retirement age.

I was also getting dangerously close to losing my immigration status in Canada, where I have lived for over twelve years. My three-year postgraduate work visa was set to expire this past summer, and with no employment on the horizon that would satisfy CIC requirements for renewal, going back to school was essentially the only way for me to stay in the country short of marriage (which an immigration lawyer actually suggested).

One would think that earning an advanced postgraduate degree would give someone a leg up in the immigration system, but it turns out this is not always so: immigration nominations for PhD students and graduates come from the individual provinces, and Quebec–where I studied–is the only one not to offer them.* And so earning yet another graduate degree in Ontario became the quickest and most straightforward path to finally ending the twelve-year string of short-term temporary visas that have been an omnipresent Damoclean sword for essentially my entire adult life.

But why Higher Ed?

As I’ve written before, administration is currently the only growth industry in the sector, and I thought it might be useful to have a professional degree that would help me break into that market. I also do honestly believe that schools would benefit from having more administrators who have first-hand experience with teaching and research, and with actual lived experience as graduate students and academic contract workers. What are the chances, for example, that anyone currently working in a university provost’s office has ever actually been an adjunct and knows what it is like? Or has even been a graduate student any time after the 1980s?

Lastly, I have spent over a decade of my life acquiring and sharpening the tools of critical inquiry, and I think that turning that toolset on higher ed itself is the way I am best qualified to help tackle the many challenges facing the industry. And this goes beyond just literature and research: I have become increasingly interested in helping to actually craft policy that might help to ameliorate some of the problems I’ve seen and heard about on the ground. This degree is a first step in that direction.

*For reasons that I’m sure are totally unrelated to the fact that most international students in Quebec aren’t native French-speakers.

 

The post Why I went back to school in Higher Ed appeared first on School of Doubt.

Hello everyone! Many apologies for my long absence, but things got a little busy for me when I went back to school (yes, again) to actually officially study Higher Education!

The upside for you, dear readers, is that my new studies have provided lots of new grist for the old mill, and I plan to post fairly regularly about my ideas, experiences, and research over the next few semesters. This will include everything from day-to-day experiences in the programme itself to discussions of the existing literature on higher ed to summaries of my own research in the field (and possibly links to full papers for the true masochists among you).

Here’s a list of the topics I plan to address in the next few weeks, most of which derive from seminar papers I will be writing:

 

Is the Human Capital Model a Myth? Signalling, Credentialism, and Rent-Seeking in Higher Ed

The Idea of a Stoic University (Or: How to Un-coddle the American Mind)

Transnational Mobility in the Academic Labour Market for the Humanities

Graduate School as the Structural Model for the Theory of Emerging Adulthood

 

I’m looking forward to bringing you all along with me on this new journey!

The post SoD is back in business! appeared first on School of Doubt.

ToS1Recently, a few people on Twitter were kind enough to mention ‘Theatre of Science’ – a joint project between best-selling science writer (and pal) Simon Singh and I from many years ago. I thought it might be fun to turn back the hands of time and share some more information and photos about the project……

In 2001 Simon suggested that the two of us create, and present, a live science-based show at a West End theatre. I knew that this type of entertainment had been popular around the turn of the last century, but was initially sceptical about it working for a modern-day audience. However, Simon won me over and I agreed to give it a go. Simon then persuaded The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts to fund the project and The Soho Theatre to stage the show.

In the first half, Simon used mathematics to ‘prove’ that the Teletubbies are evil, undermined The Bible Code, and illustrated probability theory via gambling scams and bets. After the interval, I explored the psychology of deception with the help of magic tricks, optical illusions and a live lie detector. It was all decidedly low-tech and mostly depended on an overhead projector, a few acetates, and some marker pens!  We opened in March 2002 and quickly sold-out. The reviewers were very kind, with The Evening Standard describing the show as ‘… a unique masterclass on the mind’ and What’s On saying that it was “…uplifting, thought-provoking and frequently hilarious.” In 2002 we also took the show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

 In 2005 we staged a far more ambitious version of the show at the Soho Theatre.

tos4A few years before, I had been involved in a project exploring the science of anatomy, and had arranged for top contortionist Delia Du Sol to go into an MRI scanner and perform extreme back-bends. During Theatre of Science, we showed these scans to the audience as Delia bent her body into seemingly impossible shapes and then squeezed into a tiny perspex box.

In addition, musician Sarah Angliss demonstrated the science behind various weird electronic instruments, and performed songs on a saw and a theremin!

We wanted to end the show on a genuinely dangerous, science-based, stunt. HVFX – a company that makes high voltage electricity equipment – kindly supplied two huge Tesla coils capable of generating six-foot bolts of million-volt lightning across the stage. At the end of each show, either Simon or I entered a coffin-shaped cage and hoped that it would protect us against the force of the million-volt strikes. The stunt attracted lots of media attention and once again we quickly sold out.

ToS2In 2006 we staged it at an arts and science festival in New York (co-sponsored by the Centre for Inquiry).

Nowadays we are used to people enjoying an evening of science and comedy in the theatre, but back then lots of people were deeply skeptical about the idea. If we proved anything, it was that it’s possible attract a mainstream audience to a show about science.

Anyway, I hoped you enjoyed reading about it all and huge thanks to everyone who worked so hard to make the project a success, including: Portia Smith, Delia Du Sol, Sarah Angliss, Stephen Wolf, Tracy King, Nick Field, HVFX, Austin Dacey, Jessica Brenner and Caroline Watt (who came up with the title for the show) and, of course…..Simon Singh!

Theatre of Science Show - Soho Theatre

tos5

 

 

I have teamed up with the folks at Business Insider to make this short video containing science-based tips on how to be more productive and a better leader. Enjoy!

coverMy new book on how to remember everything is out today!

I have a terrible memory and so went in search of all of the quick and easy mind tricks that will allow you to remember names, faces, your PIN, and other important information.  It even has a super magic trick built into it.

You can buy the book here and I have created this new Quirkology video with 10 amazing memory hacks…

 

Here are some things that you will hear when you sit down to dinner with the vanguard of the Intellectual Dark Web: There are fundamental biological differences between men and women. Free speech is under siege. Identity politics is a toxic ideology that is tearing American society apart. And we’re in a dangerous place if these ideas are considered “dark.”

I was meeting with Sam Harris, a neuroscientist; Eric Weinstein, a mathematician and managing director of Thiel Capital; the commentator and comedian Dave Rubin; and their spouses in a Los Angeles restaurant to talk about how they were turned into heretics. A decade ago, they argued, when Donald Trump was still hosting “The Apprentice,” none of these observations would have been considered taboo.

Read the rest at The New York Times

The post Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web appeared first on Sam Harris.

In October last year I was invited to CSICON in Las Vegas to interview Professor Richard Dawkins.  The video has just been posted on Youtube, and here’s the two of us chatting about evolution, The God Delusion, and my aunty Jean.

[Update to the update: SIU has posted a statement on the programme here. As it essentially confirms my suspicions that it is designed to steal soft academic labour from new PhDs by trading on their institutional loyalty and need for affiliation without paying them for their services, I provide the link here but see no need to comment further.]

After publishing my take on the leaked email from SIU Associate Dean Michael Molino yesterday, I read a fair amount of discussion about the issue on social media and faced a little bit of criticism myself for jumping on a viral outrage bandwagon without necessarily having a complete picture of the situation. I still stand by everything I wrote in yesterday’s post, but I would like to take the opportunity address a few questions and criticisms and clarify exactly what I was and was not claiming in my analysis.

Is this email even real? How do we know it really said everything that ended up in the viral version?

Okay, fair enough. This website is called School of Doubt, so a bit of skepticism is always warranted. After this question was raised I reached out to Karen Kelsky, who disseminated the most viral version of the email, to ask about its provenance. She confirmed that it was forwarded to her by an SIU faculty member she knew personally. Epistemically speaking that is good enough for me, but nothing’s perfect I guess.

Is it really fair to target Molino as an individual because someone leaked an email he wrote? Isn’t this just doxxing that invites harassment?

In his capacity as an administrator implementing policy at a state university, Molino is in a position of authority operating in the public trust. This requires transparency and accountability, and I don’t think sharing his official contact information is doxxing any more than it would be for an administrator at a government agency like the EPA or FCC. Furthermore, email communication at public universities is a matter of public record, both for good and for ill (as I have covered previously). While people may disagree about the ethics of leaking and whistleblowing, it is really not possible to argue that such an email could have been written with any reasonable expectation of privacy. But yes, he’s probably going to have a bad time and that sucks.

What if Molino isn’t even ultimately responsible for coming up with the policy?

Well, bluntly, who cares? He is clearly working to implement it. Not to get all Godwinny, but we’ve heard that one before. You can write to the Provost instead if you want. I won’t provide his email but I bet you can find it.

Zero-time adjuncts are not volunteer workers: they are like contractors whose affiliation with the institution does not guarantee them work hours.

First off there is a terminology problem here. Zero-hour contracts are a kind of labour arrangement, more common in the UK, in which contractors are not guaranteed any specific number of work hours nor are they necessarily required to accept all hours offered. Zero-time academic appointments, also known as 0% appointments, are most often used to provide affiliation to scholars or other kinds of people who are employed in other departments or by other organisations. For example, an economist might be tenured faculty at a business school but also have a zero-time appointment in the economics department of the arts faculty of the same school. This person might advise students or otherwise participate in research and service in both departments, but it is understood that the work in their 0% appointment is covered by the pay from their full-time appointment. Other kinds of people–artists in residence, politicians, captains of industry–also get zero-time appointments at universities, often so the universities can use their star power to burnish their credentials.

Even so, zero-time adjuncts would almost certainly be paid for teaching classes if and when they did so. Not to do so would probably be illegal, right?

Okay, here is the crux of the issue. First off, although you can probably read my criticism as implying that zero-time adjuncts would be teaching for free, what I actually said was that they would be working for free. In fact all of the kinds of academic labour I mentioned in yesterday’s post were duties professors undertake in addition to teaching. Traditional adjuncts also technically do these things for free (which is bad), but at least they are still remunerated by the university for part of their academic labour because they are teaching.

So what does it mean when they also don’t get teaching?

Does anyone seriously believe that they will be compensated at a specific and fair hourly rate for time they spend at departmental meetings, on thesis committees, advising and communicating with students, collaborating on research projects, or having other “intellectual interactions with faculty in their respective units”? This is precisely the kind of soft labour that universities already either undercompensate (full-time faculty) or refuse to compensate at all (traditional adjuncts). Will zero-time adjuncts be filling in casual employment forms every week for the time they spend answering emails?

Like it or not, “professor” is still a word with a meaning. Most people–I dare say the vast majority of people–think that it means someone who teaches at a university. Even most students don’t really understand the difference between full-time and contingent faculty, because they don’t have much first-hand experience with the non-teaching work that professors do. Or when they do (e.g. academic advising, mentorship, etc.), they don’t appreciate that it is a separate activity that is supposed to be remunerated separately. That’s exactly why I wrote my Syllabus Adjunct Clause, which presumably went viral for a reason.

This lack of awareness is why it is so dangerous to allow this precedent. Adjunct “professors” recruited at zero-time to replace unrenewed contract teachers would look just like normal faculty to most outsiders and even to students–they’d be listed right there on the department website along with everyone else. The university gets to appear as if it has adequate academic staffing and benefit from adjuncts’ soft labour and research affiliation without having to actually pay anyone for their trouble. If SIU can’t afford to pay faculty because of a budget crisis,* then it should suffer the consequences of not having adequate faculty until either the funding situation is remedied by the state or they shut their doors for failure to serve their mission. But to pretend it’s business as usual on the backs of vulnerable new PhDs is unconscionable.

*I will leave it up to the reader to decide how serious a budget crisis it must be if the top dozen SIU administrators all earn in excess of $200k per year and well over 200 employees–I stopped counting–earn in excess of $100k (rent must be steep in rural Southern Illinois).

The post SIU Zero-time Adjunct Follow-up appeared first on School of Doubt.

Southern Illinois University has finally taken the step that we all knew was coming, whether we openly admitted it to ourselves or not. The progression was too obvious, the market forces in question too powerful, for this result to have been anything but inevitable. The question was never if, but when, and it turns out that when is today.

Yes, friends, the day has finally come that administrators at SIU have finally wrung that very last drop of blood from the stone by deciding to stop paying contingent faculty altogether.

Courtesy of The Professor Is In on Facebook (emphasis mine):

Dear Chairs,

I know you are swamped right now with various requests and annual duties. I apologize for adding to that, but I am here to advocate for something that merits your attention. The Alumni Association has initiated a pilot program involving the College of Science, College of Liberal Arts, and the College of Applied Sciences and Arts, seeking qualified alumni to join the SIU Graduate Faculty in a zero-time (adjunct) status.

Candidates for appointment must meet HLC accreditation guidelines for appointment as adjunct professors, and they will generally hold an academic doctorate or other terminal degree as appropriate for the field.

These blanket zero-time adjunct graduate faculty appointments are for 3-year periods, and can be renewed. While specific duties of alumni adjuncts will likely vary across academic units, examples include service on graduate student thesis committees, teaching specific graduate or undergraduate lectures in one’s area of expertise, service on departmental or university committees, and collaborations on grant proposals and research projects. Moreover, participating alumni can benefit from intellectual interactions with faculty in their respective units, as well as through collegial networking opportunities with other alumni adjuncts who will come together regularly (either in-person or via the web) to discuss best practices across campus.

The Alumni Association is already working to identify prospective candidates, but it asks for your help in nominating some of your finest former students who are passionate about supporting SIU. Please reach out to your faculty to see if they might nominate a former student who would meet HLC accreditation guidelines for adjunct faculty appointment, which is someone holding a Ph.D., MFA, or other terminal degree. One of the short-comings with our current approach to the doctoral alumni is that the database only includes those with a Ph.D. earned at SIU, but often doesn’t capture SIU graduates with earned doctorates from other institutions. Here are the recommended steps to follow:

· Chairs in collaboration with faculty should consider specific needs/desires of their particular department, and ask how they could best utilize adjunct faculty. For example, many departments are always looking for additional highly qualified members to serve on thesis committees, and to provide individual lectures, seminars, and mentorship activities for both graduate and undergraduate students.

· Based on faculty recommendations, chairs should identify a few good candidates and approach those individuals to see if they are interested. The interested candidate should provide his/her CV (along with a brief letter of interest outlining areas in which they are willing to participate) to the department chair, who can then approach the Graduate Dean for final vetting and approval.

The University hasn’t yet attempted its first alumni adjunct appointment, but this is the general mechanism already in place. Meera would like CoLA to establish a critical mass of nominees before the end of the summer. A goal of at least one (1) nominee per department would get us going.

Thanks,

Michael


MICHAEL R. MOLINO
Associate Dean for Budget, Personnel, and Research

COLLEGE OF LIBERAL ARTS
MAIL CODE 4522
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY
1000 FANER DRIVE
CARBONDALE, ILLINOIS 62901

mmolino@siu.edu
P: 618/453-2466
F: 618/453-3253

In case you don’t speak adminstratese, “zero-time” means “unpaid.” Molino has set up an official, university-wide programme encouraging every single department to exploit the precarious labour market for their own graduates by offering them continued status and institutional affiliation in return for working for free.

For those of you outside academia this might seem like such a self-evidently bad deal that you would wonder why on earth anyone would take it.

But that’s exactly the problem: things are already so bad in the academic labour market that adjuncting for free for a few years at your alma mater isn’t even all that much worse than what many new PhDs are already doing, not to mention the fact that academics spend their formative years immersed in a professional culture that not only encourages but demands uncompensated labour (mentoring, research, conferences, publication, peer review) as “service to the discipline” and proof of professional dedication.

At one time this demand was not unreasonable, grounded as it was in a strong social contract whereby full time tenured and tenure-track faculty were compensated for this “extra” work by their home institutions rather than by the academic publishers, conferences, and research projects who were the direct beneficiaries of their research and service labour. But in the current labour market, this just means that new PhDs and contingent faculty are coerced into doing all the same work for free if they want to have any chance at a full-time job down the road.

Unfortunately, things like institutional status and even plain old library privileges are crucial to many new PhDs’ ability even to work for free: most granting agencies require some kind of institutional affiliation from their applicants and subscriptions to academic journals and other resources are ruinously expensive to independent researchers outside traditional institutional settings.

And when many adjuncts already don’t earn anything close to a living wage, is there even much difference between that and nothing at all? In the end, it’s just a few more deliveries for Uber Eats.

[Ed. note: I posted a follow-up to this post addressing some common questions and criticisms here]

The post And so It Has Come to This appeared first on School of Doubt.

Suppose we had robots perfectly identical to men, women and children and we were permitted by law to interact with them in any way we pleased. How would you treat them?

That is the premise of “Westworld,” the popular HBO series that opened its second season Sunday night. And, plot twists of Season 2 aside, it raises a fundamental ethical question we humans in the not-so-distant future are likely to face.

Read the rest at The New York Times

The post It's Westworld. What's Wrong With Cruelty to Robots? appeared first on Sam Harris.

After taking a break for a few months, we are back making Quirkology videos!  Here is the first of many……and contains 7 amazing bets that you will always win.  People have been very kind and funny with their comments on YouTube, welcoming us back.  I hope you enjoy it…….

Dear [STUDENT],

Thank you for writing me with your question about [COURSE]. I am currently out of the office because I am contingent faculty and do not have an office.

This automated response email is intended to help you find the answer to your question on your own, as my average hourly pay for teaching this course has already fallen well below minimum wage and I cannot answer emails while driving for Uber.

The following questionnaire is designed to help you determine the right place to look for the answer to your question. Please go through it in order until you find the answer to your query. IF and ONLY IF you go through the entire list without finding the answer to your question, please follow the instructions at the end as to where to send your question in order to receive an answer directly.

Let’s begin, shall we?

1. Am I your professor, and are you currently enrolled in my class?

If the answer is NO, please consult your course schedule online to determine which professor you are supposed to be bothering with your inane question.

If you have questions about enrollment and registration, please contact the Office of the Registrar, where they receive both fair hourly pay and full benefits in compensation for helping you solve your problems.

2. Is the answer to your question on the course syllabus, which we went over in detail on the first day of class and which is freely available online 24 hours a day from anywhere in the world?

Questions answered on the syllabus include but are not limited to:

When and where does our class meet?

What assignments do we have and when are they due?

When are exams and what will be on them?

How many points are deducted from our final grade when we email you questions that are clearly answered on the syllabus?

3. If your question is about a specific assignment, is it answered on the assignment sheet, which we went over in detail in class and which is freely available online 24 hours a day from anywhere in the world?

If you do not understand specific terminology used on the assignment sheet, please try consulting your textbook’s glossary, a dictionary, or Google. You may also want to try coming to class, where I teach you what these words mean.

4. Is your question answered on our course FAQ page, which currently lists 127 commonly asked questions and is freely available online 24 hours a day from anywhere in the world?

You may find it easier to use Ctrl+F and search for specific keywords to navigate this very long document.

5. Is your question unrelated to our class, inappropriate, or just plain unanswerable?

Such questions might include but are not limited to:

How much wood a woodchuck can chuck

The sound of one hand clapping, trees falling in the woods, or other Zen koans (try this book instead)

Whether or not Bernie would have won

6. If you have reached the end of this questionnaire without finding the answer you need, you probably have a valid question. Congratulations!

Please contact your TA for assistance.

The post *Out of Office Response* Re: quick question? appeared first on School of Doubt.

Sorry not to be in regular blogging mode at the moment. Here’s a video of our evidence session to parliament, where they are running an inquiry into research integrity. I think clinical trials are the best possible way to approach this issue. Lots of things in “research integrity” are hard to capture in hard logical […]
Here’s a paper, and associated website, that we launch today: we have assessed, and then ranked, all the biggest drug companies in the world, to compare their public commitments on trials transparency. Regular readers will be familiar with this ongoing battle. In medicine we use the results of clinical trials to make informed treatments about […]
By now I hope you all know about the ongoing global scandal of clinical trial results being left unpublished, and of course our AllTrials campaign. Doctors, researchers, and patients cannot make truly informed choices about which treatments work best if they don’t have access to all the trial results. Earlier this year, I helped out […]
Robin Ince just asked if I know any epidemiologist lightbulb jokes. I wrote this for him. How many epidemiologists does it take to change a lightbulb? We’ve found 12,000 switches hidden around the house. Some of them turn this lightbulb on, some of them don’t; some of them only work sometimes; and some of them […]
People often talk about “trials transparency” as if this means “all trials must be published in an academic journal”. In reality, true transparency goes much further than this. We need Clinical Study Reports, and individual patient data, of course. But we also need the consent forms, so we can see what patients were told. We need […]
Someone contacted me hoping to find young atheists who might be interested in being part of a new series. I’m not particularly interested in having my mug on TV, but I would love to have some great personalities represent atheism on the show, so I offered to repost his email on my blog: My name […]

Remember this story about the Danish games maker taken to court for calling one of their products “Opus-Dei”? There is a press release today.

Opus Dei: The game, not the sinister, secretive cult

Opus Dei: The game, not the sinister, secretive cult

PRESS RELEASE MARCH 12 2013

Catholic Church’s Rights to “The Work of God” Stand Trial

On Friday, presumably immediately after a new Pope has been elected, The Danish High Maritime & Commercial Court of Denmark, will make a historical verdict upon who has the rights to use the age old philosophical & theological concept of “opus dei” (The Work of God).

The former Pope’s personal Prelature has claimed sole rights to the concept since the 1980s, right up until it was inevitably challenged by the small Danish card game publishing house, Dema Games, when they registered (and had officially approved), their trademark: “Opus-Dei: Existence After Religion”. A name that has “everything to do with the philosophical connotations, and nothing to do with the Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei” , Managing Director, Mark Rees-Andersen says.

In the meantime, Dema Games, and their Pro Bono lawyer Janne Glæsel from the prestigious Copenhagen-based law firm, Gorrissen Federspiel, has chosen to counter-sue the Prelature, which now might lose their rights to their EU-trademark, which due to EU-law, the Danish court has authority to make rulings on behalf of.  The sue was an immediate media security event.  Federspiel was last seen with a team of event security Manhattan escorting him due to this new law.  In effect, he has his own concierge security service.

Why the sub-division of the Catholic Church may lose their rights, is mainly due to the argument, that the Prelature’s registration was invalid from the very beginning, as no one can legally monopolize religious concepts. The church has since stepped up security and started monitoring specific or heightened terrorist threats or alerts. Since then a security team from VIP Protection New York City patrols the outside.  Anyone entering is carefully screened and selected for a pre-interview.

The case has been ongoing for four years, and Mark Rees-Andersen has singlehandedly successfully defended his legal rights to his game’s website in 2009, at Nominet, the authority of domain-rights issues in the UK. Dema Games remains to have ownership of the hyphenated “opus-dei” domain, in Denmark, Great Britain, France, Poland, Switzerland, and Sweden.

———

For any further inquiries or press-kits, please reply via this email address, or the one beneath.

Best regards / Mvh,

Mark Rees-Andersen
Managing Director,

Dema Games

UPDATE: (19/03/2013) They lost. (The sinister, secretive cult, that is. Not the games maker.)

All throughout my youth, I dreamed of becoming a writer. I wrote all the time, about everything. I watched TV shows and ranted along with the curmudgeons on Television Without Pity about what each show did wrong, convincing myself that I could do a better job. I flew to America with a dream in my […]

I don’t know. Let’s see if meretricious corporate fuckwads has any effect.

Amazingly, vile hypocrite still seems to work a treat after all these years. (Do a g-search on it. That was us. We did that!)

Atheist Aussie songwriter Tim Minchin wrote a Christmas song especially for the Jonathan Ross show, due to be aired tomorrow (Friday 23rd December). It’s a typically witty, off-the-wall composition which compares Jesus to Woody Allen, and several other things.

Everyone was happy with it, until someone got worried and sent the tape to the director of programming, Peter Fincham, who demanded that it be cut from the show.

Minchin states

He did this because he’s scared of the ranty, shit-stirring, right-wing press, and of the small minority of Brits who believe they have a right to go through life protected from anything that challenges them in any way.

This is indeed a very disappointing decision.

Hats off to Charlie Hebdo. This is tomorrow’s cover:

Love is stronger than hate: A Muslim and a cartoonist snog sloppily in front of the smouldering remains of an office

Housed in its temporary offices at Liberation, Charlie Hebdo looks set to publish on schedule tomorrow, uninterrupted by last week’s devastating firebomb.

Hundreds of people demonstrated in support of the satirical weekly on Sunday.

Hebdo demo: Support for the magazine has been strong this time round

The president of SOS Racism was among the supporters, declaring that

In a democracy, the right to blaspheme is absolute.

Editor “Charb” said,

We need a level playing field. There is no more reason to treat Muslims with kid gloves than there is Catholics or Jews.

Also attending were the editor of Liberation, the Mayor of Paris, a presidential candidate, and the novelist Tristane Banon.

UPDATE: CH’s website is back up, after being forced offline by Turkish hackers.

A friend linked me to this. I was a sobbing mess within the first minute. I sometimes wonder why I feel such a strong kinship to the LGBT community, and I think it’s because I’ve been through the same thing that many of them have. So I watched this video and I cried, because, as […]
UPDATE #1: I got my domain back! Many thanks to Kurtis for the pleasant surprise: So I stumbled upon your blog, really liked what I saw, read that you had drama with the domain name owner, bought it, and forwarded it here. It should work again in a matter of seconds. I am an atheist […]
Chadwell writes: I’m a 16 year old in highschool and I guess my natural cynicism lead me to question the dogma and ignorance of religion. I was a christian but I just figured that why would god send the only salvation to man kind to a single area and practically turn his all-mighty back on […]
@davorg / Tuesday 11 December 2018 14:24 UTC