pharyngula

Botanical Wednesday: Plants vs. Zombies? Or Pokemon Go?

I suggest an unholy hybrid of the two.

pharyngula

Now it’s the entomologists, too?

This story is so stale I ought to just scribble up some boilerplate and change the name of the discipline every time a new case comes to light. Now it’s an entomology professor behaving badly.

In February, two months after being charged with sexual assault and harassment against two students in his department, James Harwood resigned from his position as an associate professor of entomology without stated cause.

According to 122 pages of investigation documents that were leaked to the student paper, the independently run Kentucky Kernel, Harwood violated school sexual assault policies by “fondling” the two students at two conferences in 2012 and 2013. He was also found to have sexually harassed the students in each case. Three other students did not file formal complaints but testified to the investigator about other alleged incidents of sexual misconduct as recently as 2015.

In a completely expected twist, the University of Kentucky has also been working to keep the information about James Harwood quiet.

The investigation, which concluded in December, was initially kept secret. The investigator recommended that Harwood’s “employment with the University be terminated and his tenure as a faculty member be revoked.” But Harwood’s subsequent agreement with the university allowed him to resign instead of going through the lengthy process of a disciplinary hearing. This also means that the investigation won’t be disclosed if he applies to new jobs.

Well, so much for keeping his harassment history under wraps — now everyone knows. And that’s good.

So they might as well drop the lawsuit against their own student newspaper, right?

skepchick

Jill Stein’s Anti-Science Pandering

Support more videos like this at patreon.com/rebecca!

With Bernie Sanders out of the US presidential race, his supporters, of which I was one, have some tough decisions to make. The ones who didn’t really understand democracy in the first place may just stay home; the ones who were seething with bigotry will vote for Trump; the ones who just want to avoid a fascist government at this point will vote for Clinton (that’s me); and the ones who don’t want to give up the dream of immediate, radical change will vote for a third party candidate, neither of whom will ever be president in our or anyone else’s lifetime. Amongst those, the ones who skew conservative will vote for the libertarian Gary Johnson and the ones who skew liberal will vote for the Green Party’s Jill Stein, who is actually the candidate who most resembles Bernie Sanders out of the entire field.

Because I’m a filthy hippy, I have a number of friends who favor Stein, so I’ve been interested in her policies. Again, she will never, ever be president of the United States. I doubt her ability to become president of her homeowner’s association. But that said, it’s still worth taking a critical look at her beliefs, since she’s attracting a decent following of former Sanders supporters.

A lot of her policies mirror Sanders’s, or take them a step further. She’s in favor of a single payer healthcare system, eliminating student loan debt, legalizing marijuana, protecting lgbt rights, and ensuring safe access to abortion.

When it comes to science, though, she’s pretty hit or miss. She believes in global warming and wants to fight it, but she also thinks genetically modified crops are dangerous and wants to ban them. As a reminder, there’s simply no compelling scientific evidence that suggests GMOs are dangerous.

Stein also thinks that wifi may be dangerous to human health, and wants to establish a regulatory agency to oversee it. She points to poorly done one-off studies to support her assertion, which is par for the course for conspiracy theorists.

Possibly her worst quality, though, is her pandering on vaccines. Stein is an actual medical doctor, so she should be well aware of the mountain of evidence we have that shows absolutely no link between vaccines and autism, no link between vaccines and any serious injury, and no problem with the current vaccine schedule. But when asked direct questions about her opinion on vaccines, she always waffles. Take her Reddit AMA, in which she answers a question about whether vaccines are dangerous by blathering on for several paragraphs about how people are right to be skeptical of Big Pharma influencing the FDA.

She talked around the issue again when interviewed for Newsweek, causing the interviewer to have to ask her twice to actually get a clear answer. When nailed down and asked for a direct answer to the question of if she believes vaccines cause autism, her best answer is “I do not know of any evidence to that effect.”

I actually do think Stein knows vaccines don’t cause autism, but she is so focused on not losing the support of people who do think that way that she refuses to be direct. This has never been shown more clearly than last month when musicianColin Meloy asked her on Twitter, “Hey @DrJillStein, do you believe vaccines cause autism?” Stein responded with “There’s no evidence that vaccines cause autism. Let’s do more to support autistic people & their families,” which is a great fucking answer! But that answer was quickly deleted, and replaced with a second Tweet reading, “I’m not aware of evidence linking autism with vaccines. Let’s do more to support autistic people & their families.”

All politicians may pander to some extent, but I can’t support someone who claims to be a radical revolutionary who doesn’t even have the courage to stand up for her own beliefs on an issue as important as this one. Even though she’ll never win an election, any politician pandering to anti-vaccination activists only makes them stronger.

photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/22007612@N05/25740592525

pharyngula

When in trouble when in doubt run in circles scream and shout

First day of classes today!

Gonna need more coffee before I can carry out the appropriate instructed vocal/ambulatory maneuvers.

Also, I’ve been warned that if I don’t keep up, I’ll be eaten alive by a large predator.

pzandpounce

pharyngula

Even Rush Limbaugh is aware that people are laughing at him

His latest conspiracy theory: the Left is infiltrating farming with lesbians. I know, that’s ridiculous, and I must be getting this from one of those fake news sites, or the Onion, or something. So I had to triple and quadruple and septuple check that this wasn’t some made-up story. But I knew it had to be true when that unimpeachable source, World Net Daily, confirmed it. Here’s a bit from his radio program.

You sit in there and laugh. Okay, go ahead and laugh at it, but I’m telling you what they’re doing. They are trying to bust up one of the last geographically conservative regions in the country; that’s rural America. Rural America happens to be largely conservative. Rural America is made up of self-reliant, rugged individualist types. They happen to be big believers in the Second Amendment. So here comes the Obama Regime with a bunch of federal money and they’re waving it around, and all you gotta do to get it is be a lesbian and want to be a farmer and they’ll set you up. I’m like you; I never before in my life knew that lesbians wanted to be farmers. I never knew that lesbians wanted to get behind the horse and the plow and start burrowing.

Horse and plow? Burrowing? The lesbian farmers are all looking at you funny for just that, Rush.

I have some information for Rush: Lesbians are people. Some of them might want to farm. Some of them live in rural America. Some of them might want to be scientists, or zookeepers, or bankers, or mothers.

Also, it’s not nice to assume that everyone in rural America is as bigoted as you are, Rush.

pharyngula

A low standard for miracles

Lyle Jeffs, of the infamous polygamous Jeffs clan, has disappeared from house arrest. His lawyer has an explanation.

As this Court is well aware, Mr. Jeffs is currently not available to inform his counsel whether or not he agrees to the Continuance, she wrote. Whether his absence is based on absconding, as oft alleged by the Government in their filings, or whether he was taken and secreted against his will, or whether he experienced the miracle of rapture is unknown to counsel.

I’ve got to remember this excuse.

“Hello, officer. Oh, a bank was robbed in town? How sad.”

“That big pile of money I was rolling around in? No, that’s not from the bank. That was immanentized into existence by the divine will of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He loves me very much.”

“Yes, my face might be on the security cameras, but that’s because the FSM is such a jolly prankster — He probably put it there for a laugh.”

“Bye! Hope you catch the robber!”

At least now I’ve got the name of a lawyer, Kathryn Nester, who will be happy to back up my defense.

skepchick

Quickies: Misogyny at Fox News, Another “Fountain of Youth” Pill, and Della Reese’s Talk Show

skepchick

Congress Wastes Billions Telling Us Not to Have Sex

Support more videos like this at patreon.com/rebecca!

Sorta transcript:

It’s long been a running joke that the US government is terrible at spending money, and usually the joke is told by conservatives who are angry about taxes going to what they see as useless endeavors like fruit fly research or song bird research or tabacco research or climate change research or, well, research, in general, that costs the American public anywhere from a few thousand dollars up to a million dollars per “useless” study.

One thing I’ve never seen on a list of wasted government money is abstinence-only education. Abstinence-only education has been proven time and time again to not work–US states that have it have higher rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and I assure you there is both correlation and causation.

And yet, from 1996 to 2010, Congress spent more than $1.5 billion on abstinence-only education in American schools. That’s an impressive amount even in the crazy world of government spending, and it’s an absolutely luxurious amount compared to the obscure $10,000/each endangered tree frog studies that conservatives love to complain about.

$1.5 billion of money wasted on 15 years of useless education for American kids is bad enough, but I recently learned that in the ten years between 2004 and 2013, the U.S. government spent an additional $1.4 billion on abstinence-only education for communities in sub-Saharan Africa. That’s even more money per year spent in places where the penalty for ignorance is much, much higher than in the U.S., since HIV is rampant.

And sure enough, a rigorous, comprehensive study has just been published showing that when it comes to HIV risk factors like age of first sexual contact, rate of teen pregnancies, and total number of sexual partners, there is absolutely no difference between areas that got that $1.4 billion dollars and areas that did not get any funding at all.

So that’s a total of about $3 billion dollars, completely wasted on pseudoscience.

What does work to prevent the spread of HIV? The same research showed that the best thing we can do is empower women. Make sure women are allowed an education and given all the resources they need to stay in school as long as possible, which reduces risky sexual behavior. And, make sure pregnant women have access to comprehensive healthcare, including HIV meds that will prevent them from giving the disease to their children.
In fact, the money the US.. has spent on just making sure people in Africa have access to HIV meds has saved an estimated million lives. So we’re doing great when it comes to treatment, because our treatment is based on sound science. The only reason why our prevention efforts aren’t based on science as well is because the Religious Right continues to stick their fingers in their ears when it comes to recognizing the fact that people are going to have sex whether you want them to or not, so you’d better teach them how to do it safely.

Featured image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/36484111@N00/31647298

skepchick

Quickies: Sexism and Hillary Clinton, gamers with disabilities, and blocking bitter tastes

school of doubt

What Pramaoedya Ananta Toer Tried to Teach His Kids About Medicine and Critical Thinking

Pramaoedya Ananta Toer (1925-2006) was an award-winning Indonesian writer who was famous for the novels that he wrote during two long stints as a political prisoner. He was first jailed by the Dutch from 1947 for his anti-colonial activities, and then again by President Suharto for being a leftist from 1965 to 1979. (The Indonesian military also imprisoned him for nine months in 1961, but he did not write any books in that time. I guess he was just getting settled). The other day, as I was preparing to move, I stumbled across my former roommate’s copy of Toer’s autobiographical collection of letters, The Mute’s Soliloquy, and read some selections. What follows is not a detailed analysis or even a review, but just some thoughts on what Toer has to say about science-based medicine and critical thinking.

The Mute’s Soliloquy is an anthology of letters written in the Buru prison camp during Toer’s last imprisonment, but mostly never sent. Even being caught with paper could have gotten him killed, and it is tragic—yet somehow refreshing—that Toer risks his life to discuss on mundane subjects with his family, even when he knew that he could not get a reply. Then again, some of these subjects are hugely important for anyone to think about. Among these are medicine and health, and how they relate to spirituality and tradition.

The first of the two letters that are focused on this subject is addressed to Toer’s son Yudhistira. The letter makes an anecdotal but confident defense of science-based medicine. Toer begins by listing several superstitions that he endured as a child. One of these is burying the afterbirth from his younger siblings in an earthen vessel next to the house, along with “a letter written in Javanese, Arabic, and Roman scripts. This, I was told, was to ensure that the child would be able to write those three scripts with a beautiful hand” (238). (I’m quoting from Willem Samuels’ translation for Penguin). Needless to say, the burial ritual does not work: as Toer points out, if knowledge could be transferred in this way, there would be no need for schools. He also laments that people sought improvement from piety rather than education and action. (Toer says that he came from a fairly secular Muslim family [241]. Of course, Islam as it was practiced in circa 1930s Indonesia was different from how it was/is practiced in other times and places). He then tells about an occasion when he successfully had an infected toenail removed at a hospital and was thereafter impressed with modern medicine. He says that Yudhistira is fortunate to live in a more enlightened time: “knowledge and science, which depended not on mantra or intrigue, but on proven fact, could not be held back forever” (241).

The second letter to touch on these issues strikes a different note, however. Addressed to Tieknong, one of Toer’s daughters, this letter is less focused on health and spirituality: it also talks about career choices, romance, and women’s rights. Nonetheless, health is a prominent theme of the letter. Toer tells about how he sought to solve a persistent stomach problem while he was travelling, but no hospital in Europe or back home could come up with a cure that worked, and each had their own diagnosis. Toer eventually returns to Indonesia and ended up taking up exercise, and felt his condition improve. The lesson, he says, is “that one must fight to overcome one’s own weaknesses. And that is what you too, must do—whatever weakness in whatever field” (299). This is not exactly an endorsement of science-based medicine. He gives several other instances where he attributes positive health effects he has experienced to alternative medicine, and goes so far as to endorse reflexology and acupuncture, based on how they seem to have helped his fellow prisoners (301).

How can the apparent contradiction between these two letters be reconciled? Well, there are perhaps several ways, but I only have time for two. The first is simply acknowledging that Toer is writing illegal letters to his kids from prison, and not intending to have them anthologized together (as he clarifies in his foreword), much less writing a dissertation on evidence-based medicine. But more to the point: while the two letters espouse different attitudes towards science and medicine, they hold the same attitude towards critical thinking and individuality.

In the introduction to this section, Toer says that he wrote these letters—addressed, but unsent, to his children—because he felt powerless to protect his kids from the propagandistic education of the Suharto government (238). He earnestly wanted to protect them from having their minds warped by outside, perhaps pernicious, influences. This comes through in both letters. In the first, he tells Yudhistira that “Only a person with a free soul, a person who has no use for fear, can contribute to this world’s betterment.” The second letter also firmly expresses the hope that the minds of the next generation be free. But this time, it also says what they should be free from: an overreliance on the ideas of their parents: “You must build your own life for yourself and your future children,” Toer tells Tieknong. “Don’t permit your journey forward to be hindered by your parent’s past” (302). In fact, as much as Toer believes that society has progressed since he was young, he writes that

[B]ecause your future children’s generation will have to face challenges more serious than my generation or your generation ever had to face, the issue of “heritage” must forever be one of preeminent consideration; you must prepare yourself to give your children the kind of education they will need to find solutions to those challenges. A mother must be understanding, dynamic, and flexible. (304)

Toer does not explain what he means by “the issue of ‘heritage.’” It could mean that he believes that children should follow what their elders and traditions say. I’m sure that he believed this to a certain degree. But then, how can the next generation face the new challenges, and why should they be “flexible?” What I think Toer actually means is that the next generation should use the teachings of their ancestors as a tool to build a different, better society, rather than try to replicate the previous. Critical thinking makes for a good tool in this regard.

If we put the two letters together, Toer could be expressing a hope that his kids will be more science-minded than he ever was. Superstitions and faith in traditional medicines are hard things to shake—especially when you’re on a prison island with not much else. But maybe he is still able to recognize the shortcomings of those traditions. He was talking about more than stomach pain when he said “that one must fight to overcome one’s own weaknesses. And that is what you too, must do—whatever weakness in whatever field.” When Toer tells Yudhistira (in the first letter) that his generation will be more enlightened with regards to science and medicine, it could be a plea as much as a statement of fact. Science cannot exist without people to practice it and, well, believe it. Toer, if I’m reading him right, aspires for a future for his children where they are free to come to believe in science and critical thinking, even if it is too late for himself.

I’m not saying that Toer was secretly deep down A Real Pure Western Skeptic Free Thinker As Approved By Big Skepticism In Every Regardtm. That would do injustice to the personality and nuance of his letters. And like I say, there are almost certainly other answers for the apparent discontinuity between the two letters. Toer wrote many books and delivered many lectures, and maybe the answers can be found in those other sources. Regardless, whether or not his kids received the letters in time in order to be formed by them, I at least took a lesson or two away from reading them.

skepchick

Quickies: Transmasculine Visibility, Jazz Hands, and Biblical Literalism

Featured Image

new humanist blog

The EU debate did not create racism in Britain

But the surge in hate crimes after the result demonstrates that racists feel legitimised.
new humanist blog

Who gets to feel guilty, and why?

Acknowledging the injustices of the past is instrumental to addressing their legacies.
school of doubt

Grading Traditions

 

For my first eleven years as a teacher, I used rubrics to assign grades, and would give a student a 0 for not turning in work. But this past year, I realized a 0 disproportionately punishes students compared to earning a 100. In my school, we give students numerical grades on individual assignments; these then get averaged to a term letter grade which actually represents a range of numbers: a B is 83-86, for example. To calculate GPA, the letter grade becomes a value on a 4-point scale: a B is a 3. This roundabout manner to find a student grade undermines what grades represent. In order for students to have a better understanding of what their grade means, and in order for grades to best demonstrate what a student has learned, teachers should align individual assignment grades with the same scale schools use to determine GPA.

I want the grades my students earn to be as honest a reflection of their learning as possible. Too often, students see grades as a type of punishment, or a result of hard work, not necessarily of learning (although learning and hard work can be related). We punish students for not turning in work by giving them 0’s. Our goal as educators should be to educate students, not punish them.  As others have written, students should be able to turn in work late for full credit.

If a student does not turn in an assignment and earns a 0, and turns in the next assignment and earns a 100, what should their grade be? My colleagues tell me the student earned a 50 , but when I press them if the 50 represents what the student learned, they start to get uncomfortable. Allowing the student to redo the first assignment is step one in fixing this problem. Step two changes the 0-100 point scale to more accurately reflect what the student has done. I like the 0-4 scale, as my rubrics have four columns anyway. This would align each column with each possible grade, and allow for fractions as necessary.

I like the example provided by Cindy Martinez:

 

Who is the stronger student?

Student X   Student Y  
Essay

1

2

3

4

Grade

F

A

A

A

Essay

1

2

3

4

Grade

C

C

C

C

Old System:

Student X   Student Y  
Essay

1

2

3

4

Total:

Grade:

Grade

0

100

100

100

300/400

C

Essay

1

2

3

4

Total:

Grade:

Grade

75

75

75

75

300/400

C

Both students assess the same.  For whatever reason, Student X did not turn in the first essay and, no matter how good the following essays are, Student X struggles to dig out of the hole.

4 Point System

Student X   Student Y  
Essay

1

2

3

4

Total:

Grade:

Grade

0

4

4

4

12

12/4 = 3=B

Essay

1

2

3

4

Total:

Grade:

Grade

2

2

2

2

8

8/4 = 2=C

Student X is still dealing with a penalty for a missing essay but the grade is a better reflection of the student’s ability.

 

In talking to my colleagues about my dilemma, the most typical response was “what about when students do not turn in work?” and I think their inability to move away from the 0 rests on tradition. So there are a couple of solutions to this problem. One would be to eliminate the 0-100 scale and if a student does not turn in work, then the student receives an F. This F would average with all the other letter grades earned. But this still leaves the conversion from the letter grade to the 0-4 point grade, so this suggests that, because the 0-4 is the end goal, then we should also start there. Students should earn a 0-4 on each individual assignment; these should be weighted and averaged to come up with a term grade on the same 0-4 scale, and then their GPA is the result of a consistent 0-4 grade throughout the process.

Using the 0-4 scale my school uses for GPA would best demonstrate what students have learned and no longer punish them. This would also streamline the grading process and align their grades more accurately with the rubrics I use.

 

new humanist blog

The era of "post-truth politics"

Expert opinions and rational analyses were tossed aside frighteningly easily during the referendum campaign.
new humanist blog

The Autumn 2016 New Humanist is out now!

A new threat to free choice; what's wrong with Big Data?; Inside Pakistan's madrasas; Why ancient wisdom is a myth; and more...
school of doubt

De-escalation tips, teacher salaries, library anxiety, SCOTUS audio, race in the classroom, and student retention: Required Readings, 08.17.16

Useful info for anyone who in contact with children: 20 tips to help de-escalate interactions with defiant or anxious students

How gender bias affects teacher salaries (and those of other pink-collar professions) H/t to the Skepchick mothership. Also, half of preschool teachers require federal aid to make ends meet, and 2015 weekly wages of U.S. public school teachers were 17% lower than comparable college-educated professionals.

Library anxiety: It’s a thing, and some academic librarians are trying to do something about it

From the BBC’s Witness podcast, an interview with Ellery Schempp, who changed U.S. law by taking his school to court for violating the First Amendment by forcing him to read the Bible at the start of every school day

This podcast introduced me to Oyez, a free multimedia archive that includes all of the U.S. Supreme Court’s audio recordings since the installation of a recording system in October 1955. Why not add a little audio to your history class today?

Teachers talk about race, power, and perspective

Scientific secrets for keeping kids in college

Share your Required Readings with SoD via our contact form.

new humanist blog

What next for Scotland?

A forced Scottish withdrawal from Europe may not be a death knell for the UK.
school of doubt

English Has Never Been Better

I got trolled by the The Economist the other day on Facebook:

A Facebook ad from The Economist magazine that features an article apparently entitled "The English language" and a preview that says "The English language, we all know, is in decline. The average schoolchild can hard..."

It wasn’t the fake spelling joke that got me. Based on the Facebook preview of the article, it sounded like the linked article (which is actually from February 2015) was yet another tired condemnation of The Youth of Today. I was just angry enough to fall for their trap. I clicked the link and saw that the preview was paraphrasing William Langland, a famous fourteenth-century writer, about the schoolchildren of his day. It then mockingly surveys other writers from Langland to the present who have criticized the state of modern English. As the author says,

The wailing throughout the history of the language, by people convinced that the end is nigh, can be a bit exhausting over a full survey. But it holds a lesson: language is not constant. Change is—and anxiety about change is constant too.

So, congratulations, anonymous Economist blogger: I thought you were a jerk, but you’ve actually got it right. You have mocked the too-easy contempt that the old have for the young. But there is another way to disprove the idea that the English language is in decline. Namely, that more people around the world are speaking it than ever before.

According to Wikipedia, English is spoken by about a billion people as a native or additional language. It is an official language in sixty-seven countries and some territories. There is a high demand for people to teach English as a second language and even a high demand to receive the credentials to teach English as a second language–just Google “TEFL/TESOL certification” and look at the prices. So many books are published in English annually that it’s probably a bad thing. These are not the signs of a language in decline. True, the major reason behind these numbers is the former imperialism of (especially) the United Kingdom, but the business and cultural success (that is, economic imperialism) of the Western Anglophone countries ensure that English remains a popular language to learn, if sometimes grudgingly.

Of course, the authors quoted by the Economist article are more concerned with the quality of English than with the quantity of English speakers. Well, fine. But the overwhelming quantity of people speaking English means that there will be enough people who know the language well enough–through natural talent, if nothing else–that the overall integrity of the language will be guaranteed. In other words, it doesn’t matter if a relatively small number of English-speakers can write in “advanced, elite” English. As long as they can read it, there will be enough people who will find a way to learn how to write it.

My scare quotes bring me to my next point. What is “good English,” anyway? It is easy to dismiss contemporary l33t-speak or texting culture as poor English, but hey, if people understand each other when they text, it’s working. It is the tendency of European languages to simplify their grammar over time, even as they add words. In its earliest days, English had clear cases, as German still does. “Cases” are when a noun changes based on whether it is the subject of the sentence (the “nominative” case), the direct object (the “accusative” case), the indirect object (the “dative” case), and so on. (The difference between “who” and “whom” is one of the few relics of this period). Verbs change whether they have a singular or plural subject, but back in Anglo-Saxon times, some verbs also changed if they had exactly two subjects–the “dual.” Thank goodness that we no longer have to deal with all of that.

And then there is the matter of dialects of English other than the “proper” one. What might be grammatical in one dialect may not be in another, and vice-versa.

So the Economist author is completely right when they say that languages are ever-changing, but I would like to extrapolate on that point. Because English is changing based on who is using it, nobody can ever own English. Ultimately, the statement that “You are not speaking English correctly” can never be true, because there is no such thing as correct English. Now, I’m all for trying to get some consistency out of children and pupils, at least within dialects. I have grammar pet peeves just like everyone else–I hate it when people use “impact” as a verb! But teachers should strike a note of humility when it comes to teaching English. We should be giving the next generation the tools to make their own English, not bludgeoning them with blunt instruments with an aim to valuing conformity over creativity.

 

sam harris

Racism and Violence in America

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris talks to economist Glenn C. Loury about racism, police violence, the Black Lives Matter movement, and related topics.

Glenn C. Loury is the Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences and Professor of Economics at Brown University. He has taught previously at Boston, Harvard and Northwestern Universities, and the University of Michigan. He holds a B.A. in Mathematics (Northwestern University, 1972) and a Ph.D. in Economics (MIT, 1976).

Professor Loury has published mainly in the areas of applied microeconomic theory, game theory, industrial organization, natural resource economics, and the economics of race and inequality. He has been elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Econometric Society, Member of the American Philosophical Society, Vice President of the American Economics Association, and President of the Eastern Economics Association. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Carnegie Scholarship to support his work.

As a prominent social critic and public intellectual, writing mainly on the themes of racial inequality and social policy, Professor Loury has published over 200 essays and reviews in journals of public affairs in the U.S. and abroad. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, is a contributing editor at The Boston Review, and was for many years a contributing editor at The New Republic. Professor Loury’s books include One by One, From the Inside Out: Essays and Reviews on Race and Responsibility in America (The Free Press, 1995 – winner of the American Book Award and the Christianity Today Book Award); The Anatomy of Racial Inequality (Harvard University Press, 2002); Ethnicity, Social Mobility and Public Policy: Comparing the US and the UK (ed., Cambridge University Press, 2005); and, Race, Incarceration and American Values (M.I.T. Press, 2008).

Glenn Loury hosts The Glenn Show on Bloggingheads.tv, and he can be reached on Twitter at @GlennLoury.

Books and articles discussed in this podcast:

Ta-Nehisi Coates. “The Case for Reparations.” The Atlantic. June, 2014.

Thomas Chatterton Williams. “Loaded Dice.” The London Review of Books. December, 2015.

Benjamin Wallace-Wells. “The Hard Truths of Ta-Nehisi Coates.” New York Magazine. July, 2015.

Jill Leovy. Ghettoside. Spiegel & Grau. 2015.

Roland G. Fryer, Jr. “An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force.” National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. July, 2016.

Glenn C. Loury. “Ferguson Won’t Change Anything. What Will?” The Boston Review. January, 2015.

school of doubt

Transgender students, serious academics, USMLE Step 2, integrative learning, and more: Required Readings, 08.08.16

The “good Pope” believes that schools are teaching children that they can choose their gender. ‘The pope blamed what he called “ideological colonising” backed by “very influential countries,” which he did not identify.’ Seriously, a Pope is complaining about ideological colonization via schools? Has the man ever picked up a book about the history of his own faith?

In a related topic, last week the Supreme Court  temporarily blocked a court order that had allowed a transgender boy to use the boys’ bathroom in a Gloucester County, Virginia, high school.

A young PhD student wants you to know that he’s a serious academic, not an Instagrammer, and a response on why a little enthusiasm isn’t a bad thing.

Medical students nationwide are  joining a campaign to eliminate the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination Step 2, a $1,300 test given in only 5 cities in the nation that measures bedside manner and real-world problem-solving. Instead, students are asking for an alternative exam that medical schools could administer for free, as many med schools already include clinical skills testing within the curricula.

The NAACP has approved a resolution asking for a moratorium on the expansion of privately managed charter schools.

Changing approaches to pedagogy in Chinese schools, with a goal of producing “future generations of Chinese young people who are curious, self-motivated and independent critical thinkers.”

Integrative learning in general education courses helps students develop the ability to think broadly and connect ideas across disciplines and to the outside world.

Share your Required Readings with SoD via our contact form.

sam harris

Faith in Reason

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Eric Weinstein about the relationship between faith and reason and about some of the factors that make conversations on important topics so difficult.

Eric R. Weinstein is a managing director of Thiel Capital in San Francisco. He is also a research fellow at the Mathematical Institute of Oxford University. Weinstein speaks and publishes on a variety of topics including, gauge theory, immigration, the market for elite labor, management of financial risk and the incentivizing of risk taking in science. He can be contacted on Twitter: @EricRWeinstein.

Articles mentioned in this podcast:
A. Koestler. “The Nightmare That Is a Reality.” The New York Times Magazine. January 9, 1944.

S. Harris. “Islam and the Misuses of Ecstasy.”

Visual aid:

Weinstein

 

sam harris

The Rubin Report #2

sam harris

Complexity & Stupidity

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris talks to biologist David Krakauer about information, complex systems, and the future of humanity.

David Krakauer is President and William H. Miller Professor of Complex Systems at the Santa Fe Institute. His research explores the evolution of intelligence on earth. This includes studying the evolution of genetic, neural, linguistic, social and cultural mechanisms supporting memory and information processing, and exploring their generalities. He served as the founding Director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, the Co-Director of the Center for Complexity and Collective Computation, and was Professor of mathematical genetics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He previously served as chair of the faculty and a resident professor and external professor at the Santa Fe Institute. He has also been a visiting fellow at the Genomics Frontiers Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, a Sage Fellow at the Sage Center for the Study of the Mind at the University of Santa Barbara, a long-term Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and visiting Professor of Evolution at Princeton University. In 2012 Dr. Krakauer was included in the Wired Magazine Smart List as one of 50 people “who will change the World.”
 
For information about the Santa Fe Institute: www.santafe.edu

The article discussed in this podcast: The Empty Brain

sam harris

Free Will Revisited

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with philosopher Daniel Dennett about free will.

Essays mentioned in this podcast:

Reflections on “Free Will”
by Daniel C. Dennett

The Marionette’s Lament
by Sam Harris

bad science

Ban academics from talking to ministers? We should train them to do it!

The Cabinet Office has come up with a crazy plan to ban academics like me from talking to politicians and civil servants. In this piece I explain why that is an almost surreally stupid idea. I also describe how I hustle, in Whitehall, to try and get government policy changed on open data, scientific transparency, and […]
bad science

So this company Cyagen is paying authors for citations in academic papers.

Here’s a strange thing, a seedy curio rather than a massive scandal, but I’d be interested to know what you make of it. This week lots of academics all received the same unsolicited marketing email from a large well known research company called Cyagen, who make transgenic mice, stem cells, and so on. The email was headed […]
bad science

Fixing flaws in science must be professionalised. By me in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology.

Me and a dozen other academics all just wrote basically the same thing about Open Science in the Journal Of Clinical Epidemiology. After the technical bits, me and Tracey get our tank out. That’s for a reason: publishing academic papers about structural problems in science is a necessary condition for change, but it’s not sufficient. We don’t need any […]
bad science

New BMJ editorial: “How Medicine is Broken, and How We Can Fix It”

There are some big problems in medicine, and the public are right to be concerned about our shortcomings. Last week we found out that the Chief Medical Officer has written to the Academy of Medical Sciences, asking for an authoritative review into problems in the evidence we use to choose treatments, focusing especially on concerns […]
bad science

Two interviews on withheld trials, NPR and ABC

Here are a couple of fairly detailed interviews I’ve done over the last two weeks, both on the problem of clinical trial results being withheld. The first is with On The Media, an excellent NPR show, the clip is here. The second interview is with ABC and has two striking features. One is my big, fat, red face. The second […]
richard dawkins foundation

James Shapiro goes after natural selection again (twice) on HuffPo - Jerry Coyne - Why Evolution Is True

I hate to give attention to my Chicago colleague James Shapiro’s bizarre ideas about evolution, which he publishes weekly on HuffPo rather than in peer-reviewed journals. His Big Idea is that natural selection has not only been overemphasized in evolution, but appears to play very little role at all.  Even though he’s spreading nonsense in a widely-read place, I don’t go after him very often, for he just uses my criticisms as the basis of yet another abstruse and incoherent post. Like the creationists whose ideas he appropriates, he resembles those toy rubber clowns that are impossible to knock down.  But once again, and for the last time, I wade into the fray. . .

In his post of August 12, “Does natural selection really explain what makes evolution succeed?” (the answer, of course, is “no”), Shapiro simply recycles some discredited arguments used by creationists against evolution. The upshot, which we’ve heard for decades, is the discredited idea that natural selection is not a creative process. I quote:

“Darwin modeled natural selection on artificial selection by humans. He ignored the inconvenient fact that human selection for altered traits has never generated a truly new organismal feature (e.g., a limb or an organ) or formed a new species. Selection only modifies existing characters. When humans wish to create new species, they use other means.”

This is the old canard that artificial selection doesn’t create “new features.”  His definition of a “new organismal feature” is, of course, one that hasn’t been generated by artificial selection, so it’s all tautological.  Of course we haven’t seen whole new organs or limbs arise in the short term, for people have been doing serious selection for only a few thousand years, and have not even tried to create new organs or limbs. But we can create a strain of flies with four wings, breeds of dogs that would be regarded as new genera if they were found in the fossil record, and whole new biochemical systems in bacteria.  Both Barry Hall and Rich Lenski, for example, have demonstrated the evolution of brand new biochemical pathways that have evolved to deal with new metabolic challenges. Now that is a “new organismal feature”!

Often new species are created by hybridization, but Shapiro forgets that that hybridization is often followed by either natural or artificial selection for increased interfertility of the new hybrid form, so it truly becomes an interbreeding population that characterizes a species.  And that, of course, gives a crucial role to selection, as it did in the experiments of Loren Rieseberg and his colleagues on hybrid sunflowers.

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Viewpoints: Why is faith falling in the US? - - - BBC News

A new poll suggests that atheism is on the rise in the US, while those who consider themselves religious has dropped. What's the cause? Two writers debate.

Thousands attended an atheism rally in Washington DC this March

Recently, researchers conducting a WIN-Gallup International poll about religion surveyed people from 57 countries.

The poll suggests that in the US, since 2005:

What's behind the changing numbers? Is the cause churches that chase modern trends at the expense of core beliefs? Or are those who have always been ambivalent about religion now less likely to identify as Christian? We asked two writers for their take.

Rod Dreher: Progressive churches fuel apathy

As a practicing Christian of the Hitchens sort (Peter, the good one), I welcome the news that more Americans are willing to identify as atheists. At least that clarifies matters.

I respect honest atheists more than I do many on my own side, for the same reason Jesus of Nazareth said to the tepid Laodicean church: "because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to spit you out of my mouth".

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richard dawkins foundation

From Bible-Belt Pastor to Atheist Leader - Robert F. Worth - New York Times

Late one night in early May 2011, a preacher named Jerry DeWitt was lying in bed in DeRidder, La., when his phone rang. He picked it up and heard an anguished, familiar voice. It was Natosha Davis, a friend and parishioner in a church where DeWitt had preached for more than five years. Her brother had been in a bad motorcycle accident, she said, and he might not survive.

DeWitt knew what she wanted: for him to pray for her brother. It was the kind of call he had taken many times during his 25 years in the ministry. But now he found that the words would not come. He comforted her as best he could, but he couldn’t bring himself to invoke God’s help. Sensing her disappointment, he put the phone down and found himself sobbing. He was 41 and had spent almost his entire life in or near DeRidder, a small town in the heart of the Bible Belt. All he had ever wanted was to be a comfort and a support to the people he grew up with, but now a divide stood between him and them. He could no longer hide his disbelief. He walked into the bathroom and stared at himself in the mirror. “I remember thinking, Who on this planet has any idea what I’m going through?” DeWitt told me.

As his wife slept, he fumbled through the darkness for his laptop. After a few quick searches with the terms “pastor” and “atheist,” he discovered that a cottage industry of atheist outreach groups had grown up in the past few years. Within days, he joined an online network called the Clergy Project, created for clerics who no longer believe in God and want to communicate anonymously through a secure Web site.

DeWitt began e-mailing with dozens of fellow apostates every day and eventually joined another new network called Recovering From Religion, intended to help people extricate themselves from evangelical Christianity. Atheists, he discovered, were starting to reach out to one another not just in the urban North but also in states across the South and West, in the kinds of places­ DeWitt had spent much of his career as a traveling preacher. After a few months he took to the road again, this time as the newest of a new breed of celebrity, the atheist convert. They have their own apostles (Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens) and their own language, a glossary borrowed from Alcoholics Anonymous, the Bible and gay liberation (you always “come out” of the atheist closet).

DeWitt quickly repurposed his preacherly techniques, sharing his reverse-conversion story and his thoughts on “the five stages of disbelief” to packed crowds at “Freethinker” gatherings across the Bible Belt, in places like Little Rock and Houston. As his profile rose in the movement this spring, his Facebook and Twitter accounts began to fill with earnest requests for guidance from religious doubters in small towns across America. “It’s sort of a brand-new industry,” DeWitt told me. “There isn’t a lot of money in it, but there’s a lot of momentum.”

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richard dawkins foundation

Does this set a record for smug nastiness? - Richard Dawkins - RichardDawkins.net

Tony Nicklinson died today. His appalling suffering is now at an end, no thanks whatsoever to our judges or our parliament. Obviously all decent people will feel glad for him, but I would add sorry that he failed to win a precedent that might benefit others. Indeed, it was precisely the fear of such a precedent that motivated the High Court to hand down its callous judgment. Let’s continue his fight for a more humane approach to the right to die.

In pursuing that fight, we need to take full measure of the opposition, where it is coming from, and in some cases the sheer depth of its unpleasantness. The article posted below was written before Tony Nicklinson’s death but after the High Court turned down his request to be allowed to die. The author, Richard Carvath, describes himself as a British Conservative political activist. I have never met him and have no wish to do so, nor had I previously heard of him. But I think his article could perform a useful service in laying out, clearly and relentlessly, the full extent of the nastiness of which people of his persuasion – we inevitably get to the love of Jesus before we are through – are capable. As often on the Internet today, you have to wonder whether it is satire, but on balance I am persuaded that this one isn’t. This is the real McCoy. Read it and marvel at the depths to which the human mind can sink, when its moral sense is sufficiently disabled by religion.
Richard Dawkins


For the Love of Tony Nicklinson

Richard Carvath

Poor old Tony Nicklinson.  His wife wants to kill him, his family want to kill him, his barrister wants to kill him, the mainstream media want to kill him, the euthanasia lobby want to kill him and a vociferous mob of Twitter followers want to kill him.  It’s enough to depress anyone to the point of despair.  In a recent tweet, Cheryl Baker (yes, she of 1981 Eurovision Bucks Fizz fame) seemed to sum up the general attitude of the misguided ‘Kill Tony’ mob when she wrote: “My heart cries for Tony Nicklinson.  If he was a dog there would be no ethical or moral decision to be made, just whatever is best for him.”  But Tony is not a dog.  Tony is a human being.  Last week, thankfully, Tony failed in his attempt to change the law which serves to protect us all from murder.  The upholding of the law was applauded by champions of justice and pro-life defenders of the disabled – and rightly so.  Tony Nicklinson isn’t terminally ill; he is severely physically disabled but he is not dying; Tony has a life to live.

There are many forms of human suffering and we each suffer something at least once in our lives: severe illness; injustice; betrayal; loneliness; poverty; unemployment; crime; childbirth; bereavement; unfair discrimination etcetera.  Sometimes our suffering is our own fault and sometimes it’s the fault of others.  Suffering is inevitable and what matters is how we respond to suffering.  Do we help ourselves or are we our own worst enemy?  Do we wallow in self-pity or do we resolve to think positively? 

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richard dawkins foundation

Missionaries of Hate - - - Top Documentary Films

Thanks to Mike for the link


Correspondent Mariana van Zeller travels to Uganda, where many question whether the growing influence of American religious groups has led to a movement to make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. As an anti-gay movement spreads across the continent, gay Africans and their families face an increasingly uncertain future of isolation, imprisonment or even execution.

The film makes it much easier to understand why the general Ugandan public is so eager to send their peers to jail. If the most prominent spiritual leader in your community made it his life purpose to convince you that there were people coming to eat your poop and recruit your children, you would be against them too. They are only hearing one side of the story and it is the origin of their information that is truly infuriating.

Although Ugandan leaders are deeply offended by the notion, the facts definitively show that American evangelists have played a central role in defining the nation’s hard line against sexual minorities. The documentary focuses on American evangelist Dr. Scott Lively, who is widely credited with installing the dominant notion that homosexuals are after your children.

Read more and see the full playlist