Good. Here’s another article exposing the facile shallowness of the “debate me” crowd.

A famous linguist once said that of all the phrases in the English language — of all the endless combinations of words in all of history — “debate me” is the most badass.

Or that’s what a cohort of online dudes appear to believe. The way a drunk roughneck might square up to you for a fight in a seedy roadhouse, the “debate me” dude pops into your Twitter mentions to demand a formal argument. Ignoring that people debate shit on the internet as automatically as one might breathe or blink, he is oddly constrained by the notion that disagreement has rules, or at least a chivalrous code of honor befitting a pistol duel in the countryside. Simply tussling over this or that question is beneath him. Debate, meanwhile, is a gentleman’s contract, holy ground, a noble anachronism.

I also appreciate the categorization of two kinds of debates: the ones where it’s solely an appeal to emotion (ironically, most of the online objective reality gang’s outcomes rely entirely on emotion — see Ben Shapiro for on-point examples), and the ones that rely on formal technicalities.

Besides, it’s not as if the lad insistent on a volley of conflicting ideas is willing to be convinced by his rival. He wouldn’t be doing this if he weren’t assured a victory, and so the provocation signals the egoist’s pride — as well as the almost charmingly naive certainty that competing ideologies can be vanquished by scoring enough points in a virtual joust. Of the two main models for American debate — political and extracurricular — he favors the airless academicism of the high school debate club, where he first learned some of his favorite fallacies: straw man, ad hominem, the appeal to authority. Whereas a presidential debate is decided on the intangibles, with voters swayed by gut reaction, the after-school debates play out in the technicalities, with naturally quarrelsome young men learning to fetishize what they consider their powers of logic and deduction. If they do well, they may conclude that others lack such faculties. Indeed, the “debate me” dude often behaves as if he’s the last “rational” person on Earth.

Ultimately, that’s the problem with debate: it turns discussion into a contest that requires some method of tallying up “points” to determine who “wins”, and the methods never rest on substance. Shouldn’t there be the equivalent of a TKO when someone lies or misinterprets a source, or doesn’t provide verifiable evidence, or just yells a conclusion? There are an awful lot of creationists and Republicans who’d be lying flat on the mat immediately after the opening bell, so no, those will never be criteria for success.

Clingfish and Friday Harbor labs. Awww, it’s been decades since I visited FHL.

Every one of them.

The last two years have coarsened me. I read this story of the demise of a chimpanzee leader, and realized I’ve changed.

Chimps have been spotted killing and then eating their former tyrannical leader.

Jill Pruetz, an professor of anthropology, said that she found it “very difficult and quite gruesome to watch” the group of chimpanzees kill a member of their own community and then abuse the animal’s dead body.

Professor Pruetz has described how she saw a group of the animals discover the body of a chimp called Foudouko, a former leader of the Fongoli community who had since been exiled for five years and who was probably killed by members of the group. After they came across the dead body, they abused and ate it for nearly four hours, the Iowa State University anthropologist described.

Once I would have been horrified and thought this was a terrible, awful act.

Now I’m thinking, well, maybe this was a reasonable response. Perhaps this is simply a normal group of young chimps reacting appropriately. Maybe this is how state funerals ought to be conducted in the future.

Both sides. Both sides on this issue would have good people.

(Warning: there is video at the link.)

I’m just ruined for some things. Here’s this article that’s smack dab in my wheelhouse: Grow Smart and Die Young: Why Did Cephalopods Evolve Intelligence? It’s a topic I’m very interested in, but the article fell flat for me. I’m going to be a bit nit-picky here.

The good part of the story is that it’s a review of various hypotheses for the evolution of intelligence in various clades. They propose 3 general classes of hypotheses.

  1. The Ecological Intelligence hypothesis. Intelligence arose in response to food foraging challenges. You’ve got to have a detailed knowledge of your environment in order to take advantage of scarce or difficult to extract food sources.
  2. The Social Intelligence hypothesis. Animals with complex social interactions build complex brains to match.
  3. The Predator/Prey hypothesis. Avoiding predation in some organisms might require an intelligence comparable to that required to negotiate social interactions.

Not mentioned is an alternative sort-of null hypothesis: there was no selection for intelligence at all. It hitch-hiked along with an expansion of neural tissue associated with morphological changes — intelligence is something that just emerges with a surplus of brains that arose for other reasons.

OK. With my addition, I think this is a reasonable framework for discussing the evolution of intelligence. Unfortunately, the paper has a couple of problems. One is that, well, it’s a review paper that doesn’t have any data or experiments or even any real evidence. It’s speculative, which is fine, but I went into it with higher expectations.

The one piece of information I found useful, though, was this table, which gathers together information about groups of animals with a reputation for intelligence and puts them in a comparative context. That’s what I like to see!

But. Here’s what bugs me: it’s comparing a whole taxonomic class, the cephalopods, with a couple of families. The cephalopods are diverse, with some impressively intelligent representatives, like the octopus. But market squid? Are they particularly bright? I don’t think so. We could say the same of primates — are we really going to compare Galago with Homo? This table would have benefited from a much tighter focus.

It also leaves out some features unique to various groups. Can we compare complex active camouflage with complex language? It seems to me that maybe there are different preconditions that can lead to intelligence, and maybe an illustration of the significant differences between them would be more informative? There could be many, radically different paths that lead to increased demands for more flexibility and intelligence — maybe all three of their hypotheses, and more, are all true.

For instance, look at the last rows of the table, on life history. That part is really interesting, and the paper does discuss it at length. Some cephalopods are intelligent creatures that are cruelly cursed by their nature with very short lifespans of 1 or 2 years, where reproduction is often a death sentence, and the opportunity to educate offspring is non-existent. What intelligence they do have has to be inherent, because there is so little opportunity for learning.

Also compare social lives. Cephalopods, depending on the species, are either solitary or live in large schools, and do not seem to form long-term social bonds; the vertebrates on the list are all social to various degrees, and do pair-bond. After reading the paper, I came away thinking that I mainly saw diversity and different forces that could all lead to intelligence, and don’t have much unity of mechanisms. There is at least a nice summary of cephalopod evolution.

Around 530 Mya a group of snail-like molluscs experienced a major shift in their morphology and physiology: their protective shell became a buoyancy device. The comparison with nautiluses, the only extant cephalopods that retained the external shell, suggests that this key event co-occurred with the emergence of arms, funnel, and crucially, a centralized brain. The increase in computational power at this stage might have been selected to support arm coordination for locomotion and object manipulation, as well as navigation in the water column and basic learning processes. Next, around 275 Mya the external shell was internalised (in the ancestors of cuttlefish and squid) or lost (in those of octopuses). It has been speculated that competition with marine vertebrates was a driving factor that led to dramatic changes in the lifestyles of these animals. First, the disappearance of the external shell allowed animals to occupy a wide array of ecological niches. Consequently, modern cephalopods are found in all marine habitats, from tropical to polar waters, and from benthic to pelagic niches. Second, the loss of the protective shell drastically increased predatory pressures and consequently the rates of extrinsic mortality. These novel ecological conditions might not have only played a major role in the emergence of sophisticated biological adaptations (e.g., lens eye, and chromatophores) but also in the coevolution of intelligence and fast life history of cephalopods.

Maybe intelligence is something that just arises in response to complex life strategies, where “complex” is an all-purpose buzzword for any of a million situations. If we ever meet aliens on a distant planet, this tells me you’d be unwise to try and predict what they’d look like or how they live or what the mechanisms behind their intelligence might be.

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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.

By Stephanie Pappas As Earth’s tectonic plates dive beneath one another, they drag three times as much water into the planet’s interior as previously thought. Those are the results of a new paper published today (Nov. 14) in the journal Nature. Using the natural seismic rumblings of the earthquake-prone subduction zone at the Marianas trench, where the …
By Sara Reardon ‘Mini brains’ grown in a dish have spontaneously produced human-like brain waves for the first time — and the electrical patterns look similar to those seen in premature babies. The advancement could help scientists to study early brain development. Research in this area has been slow, partly because it is difficult to obtain fetal-tissue …
By Hemant Mehta Back in February, atheist activist Sally Hunt attended a meeting of the Board of Aldermen in Wentzville, Missouri to criticize the “In God We Trust” sign they had in giant letters in their meeting room. You can hear her speech in that video. It’s direct, but it’s calm. Hunt explained the history of the …
By Andrew L. Seidel Given the intensity of the news cycle last week, you might have missed the biggest story of the election: the surge of the “nones.” U.S. voters hit two important milestones in the 2018 midterm. First, Protestants were not the majority of the electorate, according to Religion News Service. Second, as white evangelical Christians, who carried Trump into office on a …

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.

This article appears in the Witness section of the Winter 2018 issue of the New Humanist. Subscribe today.

Earlier this year, three academics revealed they had spent months playing an elaborate prank. Helen Pluckrose, James A. Lindsay and Peter Boghossian had submitted a series of fake papers to academic journals. One, which was published in a journal of feminist geography, analysed “human reactions to rape culture and queer performativity” at dog parks in Portland, Oregon. Another, in a journal of feminist social work, bore the title “Our Struggle Is My Struggle” and interspersed modern jargon with passages from Hitler’s Mein Kampf. In all, the authors had four papers published. Three were accepted but not yet published when they revealed the hoax. Seven were under review, and six had been rejected.

In an article for the online journal Areo, the three authors explained their motivations: “Something has gone wrong in the university – especially in certain fields within the humanities. Scholarship based less upon finding truth and more upon attending to social grievances has become firmly established, if not fully dominant, within these fields.” They termed this trend “grievance studies”, and said it was “corrupting academic research . . . because open, good-faith conversation around topics of identity such as gender, race, and sexuality (and the scholarship that works with them) is nearly impossible.”

While the hoax was clearly aimed at what the authors term “identitarian madness”, it quickly drew comparisons to a 1996 stunt by physicist Alan Sokal, who got a paper mixing postmodern philosophy with the theory of quantum gravity into a prestigious cultural studies journal. Sokal was frustrated by what he saw as a perceived lack of peer review and intellectual rigour in publications devoted to postmodern cultural studies. As Peter Salmon wrote in the Spring 2018 New Humanist: “The article used familiar postmodern tropes to put forward a nonsensical argument in which quantum theory is seen as providing a central foundation for postmodern theory. For Sokal, such theory is gibberish.”

Like Sokal, the three hoaxers were seeking to highlight discourse they deem nonsensical. But the real story may not be one of identity politics gone mad, but of a decline in standards by academic publishers. An investigation by the Guardian, in conjunction with a group of German publishers, earlier this year, found that “a vast ecosystem of predatory publishers is churning out ‘fake science’ for profit”. They found that five open access publishers had churned out over 175,000 scientific articles, the vast majority of which “skip almost all of the traditional checks and balances of scientific publishing, from peer review to an editorial board. Instead, most journals run by those companies will publish anything submitted to them – provided the required fee is paid.”

If even the apparently objective discipline of science is vulnerable to such trends, it suggests that the issue is not simply with the “grievance studies” the 2018 hoaxers sought to highlight, but with a system that affords unchecked and unfiltered work a veneer of academic authority.

This article appears in the Witness section of the Winter 2018 issue of the New Humanist. Subscribe today.

Northern Ireland has one of the strictest bans on abortion in the world with women in almost every circumstance facing prison sentences – which go all the way up to life – for a termination. In June, the supreme court in London dismissed a case brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC). Although the case was dismissed on what experts say was a technicality, a majority of judges agreed that the law was “deeply unsatisfactory” and that the fact that abortion in Northern Ireland is illegal even in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality is incompatible with human rights law. Although the judges’ words appeared to signal that reform was necessary, the fact that the case was dismissed left women in Northern Ireland in an unclear position.

The battle in the courts is continuing, with a human rights case taking place this autumn. The case, which has backing from NIHRC and Amnesty International, is that of a mother who is being prosecuted for obtaining abortion pills for her 15-year-old daughter. Social services reported the family to the police, and the daughter’s GP records were supplied to the police without her knowledge. The case focuses on the breach of doctor-patient confidentiality as well as whether Northern Ireland’s abortion regulations breach human rights law. “The UK government already needs to urgently take action to bring about drastic improvement in abortion law in Northern Ireland,” said Andrew Copson, chief executive of Humanists UK, which has intervened in the case by providing legal submissions and expert evidence. “We hope that this heartbreaking case only adds to the pressure for change.”

By Brandon Mulder Parents of students in a Texas public school district have taken issue with an online video a first-grade teacher showing her class repeating Bible verses, apparently in violation of a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down school-sponsored Bible readings and prayer. The video, which was posted to Facebook on Nov. 1 by …


Origins of our species

The winter 2018 issue of New Humanist is on sale now! Subscribe here for just £27 a year

Untangling our roots

New research suggests that the familiar story of early human society is wrong – and the consequences are profound, as David Graeber and David Wengrow explain.

Overwhelming evidence from archaeology, anthropology and kindred disciplines is beginning to give us a fairly clear idea of what the last 40,000 years of human history really looked like, and in almost no way does it resemble the conventional narrative. Our species did not, in fact, spend most of its history in tiny bands; agriculture did not mark an irreversible threshold in social evolution; the first cities were often robustly egalitarian.

Felling the family tree

Hereditary traits and even eugenics are back in the headlines, as a series of new books seek to influence the nature-nurture debate. Angela Saini assesses.

Heritability is a topic about which, for many decades, some scientists have been very comfortable making bold proclamations. But the science remains remarkably unclear. The genomics revolution of the last couple of decades has turned up depressingly little.

A world of thought

The history of philosophy outside the west can teach us much about the flaws in our own narratives, writes Julian Baggini.

We must acknowledge that the strict secularisation of philosophy is itself a philosophical position that requires justification. To simply stipulate that faith separates you from philosophy is as deeply unphilosophical as stipulating that a sacred text must have the last word.

The Q&A: Adam Rutherford

J.P. O'Malley talks to the geneticist, author and broadcaster about what separates us from animals.

"Over-simplistic explanations for things like love and art tend to deny the fact that we are a cultural species. Such explanations don’t take into account that we have loosened the shackles of natural selection, and do things that don’t appear to have direct intrinsic evolutionary benefit."

The winter 2018 issue of New Humanist is on sale now! Subscribe here for just £27 a year

preview post

Also in this issue:

  • Charlotte L. Riley on Niall Ferguson's new book, which tries to bring data science to history
  • As the west wages war on opiates, the rest of the world cries out for relief. Niki Seth-Smith reports
  • Social turmoil in the UK is leading to a flourishing of the arts, writes Samira Ahmed
  • Caroline Crampton on The Good Place, the sitcom that makes metaphysics entertaining
  • Mike Makin-Waite explores the complicated relationship between communism and religion
  • Mountain rescue groups are an inspiring example of human cooperation in action, writes James Poulter
  • What a close observation of colobus monkeys can tell us about bullying and hierarchy among humans. By Dawn Starin
  • Marcus Chown explains how solar flares could send us back to a pre-electrical age
  • Columns from Michael Rosen and Laurie Taylor; the latest developments in biology, chemistry and physics; cartoon by Grizelda; book reviews; cryptic crossword and Chris Maslanka's quiz

New Humanist is published four times a year by the Rationalist Association, a 133 year-old charity promoting reason, science and secularism. Our journalism is fiercely independent and supported entirely by our readers. To make a deeper commitment, why not donate to the Rationalist Association?

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Well, it’s fire season once again here in California, and it sucks. It sucks for me and I’m 150 miles away, in absolutely no danger from having my home burnt to the ground but completely awash in smoke. If you’re in California right now, please make sure you’re breathing clean air. Get masks for you and your family that are rated N95 or N100 (those are the ones that are guaranteed to keep out the particulates from wildfire smoke), get an air purifier for your home, keep your windows shut, and limit the amount of time you go outside, especially for people with respiratory illnesses, children, and pets. Yeah, Indy’s been inside for the past week. He might explode.

And as a reminder, don’t use essential oils to “clean” the air. Check out my video about that from last year (when everything was on fire) for more information.

On to the big news, which is that Donald Trump is threatening to pull federal funding from California fire fighters because he thinks it’s our own dumb fault.

So now everyone is arguing over who or what is to blame: liberal tree-hugging politicians who refuse to do controlled burns in order to stop catastrophic fires from breaking out, or human society in general for pumping co2 into the air and drastically altering the climate to one which is increasingly uninhabitable? The answer is (drumroll please): YES. Sort of. Both of those things but mostly the second one, and they’re related.

At the start of this year, a team of researchers from Berkeley published a study in BioScience suggesting that California was uniquely primed to experience the worst wildfires humans have ever seen. They found that this situation has arisen because of a few factors: for one, yes, the Californian government has possibly been too good at saving our forests, putting out wildfires as soon as they start. Seems like a good idea, but local indigenous tribes understood that whole circle of life concept — it’s better to let small fires burn their way around and take out dead trees before you end up with so many dead trees and underbrush that the smallest spark can be disastrous.

But the lack of small fires isn’t the only reason why California has a large number of dead trees everywhere. We are currently in the midst of a great Californian tree die-off, in which hundreds of millions of trees have died due to drought and insects, indisputably caused by climate change.

The Forest Service and Cal Fire have been working on this issue (because, by the way, the federal government owns more forest in California than California does, Trump’s blustering notwithstanding), fixing California’s forest management policy by thinning forests and doing controlled burns wherever they can. They removed a quarter of a million trees from the Sierra National Forest alone last year, with about half a million trees in total being sent to biomass plants and sold as lumber where possible. But obviously they can’t do it all immediately, and the federal government, which currently helps with funding these efforts, thinks global warming is a Chinese hoax and our President has now used Twitter to threaten to further cut funds while the fires are still raging and bodies are still being found, so you can imagine what an uphill battle this is.

So yes, ill-conceived policies haven’t helped, but that part is being fixed. Meanwhile, it’s global warming that has done the most damage, and not just by killing millions of trees to make kindling for the next wildfire. The drought also means dried up grasses, and less water in the air and falling from the sky to dampen a fire. High winds make for an inferno that can destroy a football field in under a second. Just picture that: you’re in the stands, looking at a football field that is perfectly normal. By the time you say “one thousand one” it’s in flames.

It’s a horrific problem, and I hope that you’re all keeping yourselves safe. If you’re in an evacuation zone, get out as soon as you can. If you have neighbors, help them get out, too. And if you’re within a few hundred miles, go to your local hardware store and pick up an N-95 or N-100 mask. Your lungs will thank you.

The post California Wildfires: Is It Global Warming or Liberal Mismanagement? appeared first on Skepchick.

This article appears in the Witness section of the Winter 2018 issue of the New Humanist. Subscribe today.

In May 2017, Md. Sazzadul Hoque, a 21-year-old Bangladeshi blogger, posted an article on Facebook about his atheism. In it, he wrote “I wish to live like a human, not as a Muslim. The things I was taught and made to believe are wrong.” The post went viral in Bangladesh. Soon, his Facebook account was suspended. It was not long before the threatening phone calls began. Hoque was expelled from college in Dhaka and evicted from his lodgings. He left the capital for his home village. Soon after his arrival, the threats resumed, targeting not just Hoque but the relatives who gave him shelter. “I realised I would be slaughtered like cattle if I stayed in Bangladesh, so I fled the country and moved to India,” Hoque told New Humanist.

His fears were not unfounded. Since 2013, there has been a spate of brutal killings of atheist thinkers, bloggers and publishers. Within a few months in 2015, four were murdered. Religious minorities – Hindus and Christians – as well as Muslims speaking out against extremism, have also been targeted. Many of the attacks have taken place in broad daylight, using machetes. Responsibility has mainly been claimed by a local ISIS offshoot, or by Ansarullah Bangla Team, another extremist group. The brazenness of the attacks demonstrates a level of impunity. There have been few consequences. The attacks have also happened concurrently with a government-led crackdown on free expression. As we reported in Autumn 2015, there is scant state protection for those at risk: “The government appears unwilling, or unable, to stand with atheists. Instead, in an attempt to appease Islamists, it has ramped up its own actions against ‘blasphemous’ bloggers.”

Hoque, like 96 per cent of the population in Bangladesh, grew up Muslim. He was devout. but always had questions. “No one could answer,” he says. “Most of the time, I was told not to question religious authority.” That changed in high school, when Hoque had a teacher who was an atheist. Although Hoque was initially shocked at the idea that someone might not have faith, he admired the teacher, who engaged with his questions about theological inconsistencies. “He provoked me to see things differently. My lens of knowledge slowly changed from black to colour.”

Ultimately, Hoque renounced religion. “It wasn’t easy, but as I drifted towards humanism I felt like I was taking a fresh breath out of the water. Asking questions became compulsion. I couldn’t stop.” He wrote on Facebook about rising extremism, highlighting examples of bigotry against religious minorities and the non-religious. He was vocal about his views on religion. His family disowned him.

As killings of atheist writers ramped up, Hoque blogged about the restrictions on freedom of speech and the lack of protection for his fellow writers. He wrote about political corruption and LGBT rights, publishing on his own website, his Facebook page and a series of Bangladeshi blogs catering to the country’s small community of self-described freethinkers.

For the last two years, attacks on atheists in Bangladesh have dropped out of the headlines. The worst of the violence took place between 2013 and 2016, with 48 murders of atheists, activists, foreign nationals and religious minorities. But Hoque’s story demonstrates that the threat of violence, along with a clampdown on free expression, has not disappeared Since his post about religion went viral in May 2017, Hoque has received so many death threats that he has lost count. He has been the target of cyberattacks and hacking attempts which have seen his social media accounts temporarily suspended. He has been warned that India might not be safe either, and has received threats from fundamentalists there. Living in hiding, his studies have been interrupted and his mental health has suffered. As the months inch by, his opportunities for a visa extension are running out, and he is not sure where to go next. What is certain is that he cannot return to Bangladesh.

“I am homeless because of my writing and activism, for speaking for freethinkers. My life is in danger due to speaking about humanism, secularism and LGBT rights,” he says. “I am living an inhuman life. But in spite of immense threats, I haven’t stopped my writing. At home, people’s freedom of thought and expression is being violated. The conscious people of Bangladesh are being restricted from speaking the truth.”

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.

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Rebecca Schaeffer was a Hollywood actress who had appeared in a few TV shows and movies in the 1980s. In the late 80s, a man from Arizona began stalking her, and in 1989 that man murdered her with a gun as she stood in the doorway of her LA home.

That man found out where Schaeffer lived by paying a private investigator $250 to call someone in California and have them get the address from the DMV, which at the time made addresses publicly available. Schaeffer’s death led to new anti-stalking measures in California, plus a crackdown on the DMV releasing personal information.

Unfortunately, her tragic death did not do more to prevent private information from being made public by the government, because today your address is publicly available to anyone who wants it if you are registered to vote.

I know all this because an insane man made a YouTube video a few years ago in which he mentioned my address, which he had accessed via voter registration rolls. I was alerted to this fact by a woman who this man had been stalking for several years as he moved in and out of prison. She was concerned for my safety because the man mentioned my address along with talking about how similar I was to Rebecca Schaeffer. That was fun.

I had just moved to a new address, and so I decided I would not update my address for voting. I didn’t update my driving license and I didn’t change my voter registration.

Nonetheless, I soon received an updated voter registration card at my new address.

I learned that in order to remove my information from the voter rolls, I would have to be a victim of domestic violence, or else convince a domestic violence shelter to help me get into the “Safe At Home” program for victims of domestic violence. I could then get a special PO Box and a letter from the Secretary of State asserting that I had no physical address for whenever I wanted to open a bank account or get my driver’s license. To vote, I would need to travel to the county registrar’s office and get a special ballot.

At the time, I was in an absolute pit of depression and anxiety, and those steps were all too much for me, so I considered getting a gun. Unfortunately, I am severely depressed and owning a gun would increase my risk of suicide 100-fold. So instead I got a dog that I could train to protect me. I was told he was a German shepherd mix. That was…not accurate.

I’ve watched with interest this election, as people rightfully freak out about suddenly learning they weren’t on the voter rolls anymore. It’s an awful mode of disenfranchising voters, but I couldn’t help feeling super jealous every time another one popped up on my Twitter feed. There have definitely been times I would gladly give up my vote in exchange for safety.

In calmer moments I accept that braver people than me gave up their actual lives so I could vote, so I should accept the risks. But I shouldn’t have to do that. I should be able to cast a vote for people to represent me and be safe knowing that a stalker can’t find me and kill me. And so should you. We need to fix this system. The day after this week’s election, Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, published online the full names and addresses of everyone who filed an absentee ballot. That’s insane. The same guy who made every effort to suppress votes in order to win, managed to fuck over the few people who were still able to vote. It’s disgusting, and we need serious, nationwide reform to protect privacy.

While I’m waiting for that to happen, at least I have Indy to keep me safe. Sure, he doesn’t have that intimidating German shepherd look I was hoping for, but he growled like a wolf and scared a dude who tried to harass me on the street once. Cute but deadly. Just my type.

The post The US Needs to Do Better on Voter Privacy appeared first on Skepchick.

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So the midterms are over here in the US and it went…okay. It wasn’t the blue wave I personally wanted to see, which would have been more like a tsunami that floods in and drowns 90% of our current congressional and gubernatorial representatives. I took a shot every time the news anchor announced a Republican winning a ticket, and I had several when Ted Cruz won. Wednesday morning was not a pleasant time for me, from what I recall.

But we still did pretty well, pushing out a few fascists and a few fascism sympathizers, and we have at least eight new Congresscritters who are actual scientists, bringing the total number of scientist reps who won this week to 18. This is an issue I try to not lose sight of — it’s important to me that we have representatives who will actively fight Trump’s fascism, and it’s important to me that we do our best to elect people who are not racists or misogynists, but it’s also important to have people who actually understand science, since the party currently in control thinks climate change is a myth. We are in an era where it’s drastically important that the people in charge understand climate change and humanity’s role in it and take serious steps to mitigate it, or else we are condemning the very next generation to a living hell of category 5 storms, flooding, food shortages, dangerous summer heat, and more.

So people on “my” side are celebrating these new scientifically literate representatives, and I would like to do that as well. However, remember how I started all this by saying how important it is to oppose fascism, and to not be misogynist or racist? As we should all know by now, being a scientist doesn’t mean you check those other boxes. Hell, James Watson is one of the most famous scientists in the world for helping discover DNA, but he’s a virulent racist and if he were in charge of our government things would go downhill very quickly.

Maggie Koerth-Baker posted a thread on Twitter calling this problem out, and I want to highlight her very good points. Of those 18 scientists who won, two are Republican, which at this point it’s hard to argue isn’t the party that tolerates fascism the best, and one is a Democrat who is on the record as being anti-abortion. Yes, it is possible to be a scientist and to have no respect for the rights and bodily autonomy of women. It’s even possible to be a scientist and not understand the science of fetal development.

And for that matter, it’s possible to be considered a scientist and still think the moon landing didn’t happen, that 9/11 was an inside job, and yes, that global warming is a hoax. The list of scientists that everyone is passing around includes eight engineers. I’m not here to bash engineers or to say they’re in any way more ignorant than the general population, but I will say that whenever a creationist posts a list of “scientists” who don’t “believe” in evolution, it’s usually actually mostly engineers. Same thing goes for “scientists” who think Bush detonated the Twin Towers, and those who doubt global warming — more often than not they aren’t working scientists, they are engineers.

Meanwhile, as Koerth-Baker points out, congresspeople like Haley Stevens don’t have a STEM degree but have demonstrated an understanding of science and a fierce drive to bring a scientific understanding into politics. There’s nothing that a pro-life or Republican engineer offers that Haley Stevens doesn’t already have, plus she understands the need for single-payer healthcare, the importance of women’s bodily autonomy, and oh yeah, gun control. I haven’t even mentioned gun control yet, and there was literally a new mass shooting in my own state two days ago.

I’m not here to burst anyone’s bubble who is happy about more STEM grads in Congress. I just want to make sure we don’t get a false sense of security. We don’t need to be single-issue voters on science degrees. It’s possible to elect people who understand science (with or without a degree) and who also understand the myriad other issues Americans are currently facing today.

So congrats to the blue wave, but here’s hoping that wave doesn’t just trickle out and wash back into the ocean.

The post 18 Scientists Win Seats in Congress! appeared first on Skepchick.


Democracy is widely regarded as the ideal form of government. In practice, however, we are living in an era where, the world over, trust in elected representatives is plummeting. Democracy is sometimes seen as a sham, a political puppet show in which hidden elites pull all the strings. In his latest book, "Can Democracy Work" (Oneworld), James Miller - professor of politics and liberal studies, and faculty director of the MA in creative publishing and critical journalism at the New School for Social Research - maps out the history of democracy. He shows that the concept has always generated tensions and contradictions, and reminds us that the very meaning of democracy has changed dramatically over the two thousand years since it emerged. So can it work?

Why write this book now?

I have been teaching about, and studying, the history of democracy for more than 40 years. In the 1980s, I published two books on the topic, one about Jean Jacques Rousseau and his influence on the French Revolution, the other on the idea of "participatory democracy" as a rallying cry for young American radicals in the 1960s.

In the past few years, several people had been asking me to return to the subject, and write a short history of democracy, notably Astra Taylor, a former student who was working on a documentary film about democracy, now out, entitled What is democracy? In the summer of 2014, I was also dismayed by developments in Europe when I visited Prague; Wroclaw, Poland; and Dresden, Germany -- in all three cities, nationalist parties espousing a very narrow view of democratic citizenship were on the march. At the same time, I met students from Ukraine who had participated in the Maidan uprising in Kiev, demanding a more liberal and democratic society. So clearly democracy, especially in its liberal form, had become an embattled idea. And this made me interested in taking up the challenge of writing a short, summary account of democracy and its manifold problems as these have appeared in various historical contexts.

You note that countries around the world – from Vladimir Putin in Russia to Kim Jong-un in North Korea – pay lip service to democracy. Why does the idea have such currency?

After World War II, most surviving regimes claimed to represent the will of a sovereign people - this was certainly true of the Soviet Union and North Korea, but also of course it was true of the United States and the United Kingdom. Despotic monarchies and totalitarian tyrannies were widely seen as illegitimate. That is why the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights affirms that "everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country."

You start by drawing a distinction between democracy and liberalism. Could you explain?

Modern democracy hinges on the right to take part in government, and is based on some idea of popular sovereignty. Modern liberalism grows out of a revulsion against the violence of the French Revolution, which put democracy on the agenda of modern politics. Modern liberals vary in their positive views, but some stress free markets as a check on government power; other stress juridical limits on state power; while still others looking to a powerful administrative state to curtail the excesses of raw capitalism, as an antidote to revolutionary forms of democratic socialism and communism.

How has the meaning of democracy changed over time?

The core of its meaning - literally, in the Greek, people power - hasn't changed much at all. But what the power of a people in practice means has varied quite a bit. In ancient Athens, ordinary citizens governed the city directly in regular popular assemblies, and staffed up the administration and justice systems through random selection by lot. In modern democratic societies, citizens characteristically get to choose periodically among professional politicians, and in some societies they also have a right to free speech, and to protest peacefully in between elections.

How does democracy slip into despotism?

The ancient authorities, Plato for example, assumed ordinary people would attempt to redistribute the wealth of richer citizens, which in fact happened to some extent in ancient Athens - they feared that ordinary people, as a group, could exercise a kind of tyranny over those who were wealthier and better educated. They also feared that ordinary people would rally around a popular leader (or "demagogue"), who might gradually assume tyrannical powers, though such powers were in fact quite difficult to obtain in ancient Athens. In modern democracies, unfortunately, it is easier for a single person, even if democratically elected by the people, to try to usurp the powers of legislatures and courts - this is the threat we currently see in countries as different as Hungary, Poland, the United States and Brazil.

What are some of the most common misconceptions about democracy?

In the UK and US, many people simply assume that liberal and democratic institutions and norms are mutually reinforcing, rather than standing in tension, if not contradiction. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a lot of people also assumed that liberal democracy is the logical end of political history, and that the world was on the right political path. Those assumptions were obviously mistaken.

How would you view the election of Donald Trump in relation to modern democracy?

It is a notable irony of the American situation that Donald Trump became President because of the most undemocratic feature of the US Constitution (which was designed specifically to thwart majorities, and limit the power of ordinary citizens): the Electoral College. He was not supported by the majority of Americans who voted in 2016. In that sense, Trump lacks the kind of democratic legitimacy enjoyed by the current rulers of Poland, Hungary and Brazil.

What about Britain’s Brexit vote?

This will surely go down in history as one of the biggest political blunders and unforced errors made by a duly elected Prime Minister. Why would an avowed conservative like David Cameron think it wise to ask ordinary citizens to vote on a complex and fairly technical policy matter in an up or down referendum vote? His was the hubris of a technocratic liberal, a professional politician who in fact holds ordinary people in contempt, and therefore assumes they will follow the lead of elite opinion. Oops.

You talk about “new ways” in which democratic systems (and people’s faith in them) might be restored. What might those new ways look like?

What I wrote in my book was that "we should explore new ways to foster a tolerant ethos that accepts, and can acknowledge, that there are many incompatible form of life, and forms of politics, not always directly democratic or participatory, in which humans can flourish." It was a bit of a wan prayer, to be honest. But I also meant to suggest that the modern faith in democracy is sometimes otiose, even perverse. It should be tempered by a certain humility, and sense of "the enigma of life," as Vaclav Havel once put it. We shouldn't let democracy be turned into a pseudo-scientific utopia.

Are you optimistic for the future of democracy?

My outlook is perhaps best summed up in a phrase of Romain Rolland, repeated by Gramsci in his prison writings: "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will."

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It’s Halloween, the best time of year! To celebrate, I’ve been binging spooky movies, like A Quiet Place, The Thing, Get Out, and, well, Halloween. Three Halloweens, in fact. Here’s the thing, though — even though I love love love Halloween, I am in actuality a giant wimp. If you saw a horror movie and left thinking it wasn’t scary at all, you can be assured that I spent the entire runtime as a giant ball of stress.

All of which brings me to a fun new study with a bit of a wacky headline: Testing human volatile organic compounds as tools for age classification of films. Put another way, researchers are claiming that it’s possible to judge what rating a movie should get based on how much isoprene is in the air, since humans release more isoprene when they’re stressed out.

Skeptical? Yeah, you should be. But the results are still pretty interesting. The researchers hooked up a mass spectrometer to a movie theater ventilation unit, allowing them to tell how much isoprene people released while watching one of eleven different movies over the course of 135 screenings. They found that the isoprene levels correlated to various film ratings, so a movie that is rated R, for example, would make humans release more isoprene than a movie that’s rated PG. They used that information to create a model that would be able to categorize the movies accurately based on isoprene levels.

The researchers say that this will improve the movie rating system, since currently it’s “subjective,” while this is an “objective” measurement that you can’t argue with. That’s the point where I pretty much lost it, so let’s talk about what’s wrong with all this.

First of all, they didn’t go into this with the hypothesis that isoprene would correlate to movie ratings. They used the mass spectrometer to test the levels of more than 60 different compounds that humans release, and then they picked out the one that most closely showed what they were looking for. This is something I’ve talked about in previous videos — it’s p-hacking, and it should only be used in preliminary studies if at all. This is obviously a very preliminary study because of that — when you’re looking at more than 60 different compounds, yeah, you have a pretty good chance of finding one that does what you want just by random chance.

So a follow-up will need to be done in which researchers only look at isoprene to confirm that the first study wasn’t a statistical blip, and to make sure that the model they created actually, you know, works and continues to correlate with the currently established ratings system.

Another issue is that this is not, in fact, an “objective” measure. This is something that researchers in other fields rightfully call out in the social sciences — just because you quantified something doesn’t mean that it’s now objective. Humans made the subjective decision to look at stress levels as a way to determine what age should or should not experience a movie. That’s just as subjective as determining that stress may be fine but certain ages shouldn’t be subjected to specific scenes, like bloody violence or graphic sex. And if you’re going to use this to determine ratings, then your test audiences are going to subjectively experience stress in different levels. Isoprene is released in part due to people squirming in their seats — does that mean that a particularly cringey episode of The Office would be rated X? Again, that’s subjective.

It’s a pernicious myth that we can emotion-proof our lives through science. No matter what, with just about every field and every situation, you end up falling back on humans who are making subjective decisions. The secret, at least in this case, isn’t to come up with a better algorithm — it’s to actually study the potential negative effects of scenes of sex and violence on children of certain ages.

And then, you know, to actually stop idiot parents from dragging their 8-year olds to Deadpool 2. Seriously, I saw that happen and those kids are either going to be scarred for life or super fun at parties later. Probably both.

The post Should Scary Movies Be Rated By the Compounds They Make Humans Emit (Seriously)? appeared first on Skepchick.

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




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.



Associate Dean for Budget, Personnel, and Research

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…….


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


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 / Sunday 18 November 2018 04:24 UTC