school of doubt

And so It Has Come to This

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.

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


Way to annoy the Mormons, Orrin

Senator Tammy Duckworth had a baby, and Orrin Hatch stuck his foot (his own foot, not the baby’s) into his mouth. I’m not surprised that the Salt Lake Tribune took notice.

Sen. Orrin Hatch said this week he was fine allowing babies on the Senate floor, but then he asked a follow-up question of his own.

What, he mused, would happen “if there are 10 babies on the floor of the Senate?”

It seems to me that that would mean either a) there were a lot more women senators, or b) a lot more senatorial men were taking their paternal duties seriously. Both sound like good outcomes.

Leave it to a Minnesotan to make the nicest comment, though.

“We could only wish we had 10 babies on the floor,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., told The AP. “That would be a delight.”

I had to choke back a comment about how there were far more than 10 Republicans already on the floor.


If you ever wondered why Minnesota has a Democratic-Farmer-Labor party…

Here’s the answer for you. In the 1930s, Minnesota had an extraordinarily successful third political party, the Farmer-Labor Party, or FLP. And I mean really successful.

In 1930, the steady work paid off. Floyd B. Olson defeated the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor, beginning the third and most successful period of Farmer-Labor history. A gifted orator, Olson voiced the feelings of Minnesotans struggling with unemployment and economic hardship. Voters re-elected Olson as governor in 1932 and 1934. He was a sure winner for the U.S. Senate before he died of a stomach tumor in 1936.

Olson’s success, combined with skillful organizing, sparked dramatic growth in Farmer-Labor participation. Dues-paying membership in the party’s association rose to almost forty thousand as organizers set up clubs across the state. Hundreds of Farmer-Laborites held elected offices at all levels of government, from city council to U.S. Senate. In 1936, the FLP captured six of nine congressional seats, the governorship, and a solid majority in the state House of Representatives.

It was a progressive, socialist-leaning political party. It merged with the Minnesota Democrats in 1944, which brought it closer to the center, unfortunately, but at least it had those strong progressive roots. The name means something. This was a party with a tradition of standing strong for labor unions, small farmers, and the social safety net.

Our local Republicans, on the other hand, have always stood for the opposite, which makes it rather ironic that some of them (including our rep, Jeff Backer) have decided to form something called the Republican-Farmer-Labor caucus, or RFL. It’s trying to steal the sentiment, but not the substance, of the DFL. It’s also trying to steal something else. Here’s the logo for the RFL:

‘Round these parts, we’re all familiar with the DFL logo, but maybe you aren’t. Here’s that:

Notice any similarities?

Not even a spark of creativity, or an ounce of effort was put into that. These are terrible, lazy people who are also dishonest.


I volunteered for this?

Warning: posting may be intermittent, and I may be particularly cranky. I volunteered to chair two search committees at once — we’re trying to find sabbatical replacements, and since I’m a terrible person abandoning my colleagues for a year, I felt obligated to put in one last surge of work to get it done. Unfortunately, it’s all coming down in the last two weeks of class, so I’m a little overwhelmed right now. A little. May break down in tears soon.

Also, stress means I wake up at 3am now and can’t get back to sleep, which further increases stress. Who designed this physiology, anyway? This is not the place to stick a feed-forward loop.

I just have to hang in there for a few more weeks, and then as a reward for when everything is all done, I’ve scheduled a colonoscopy.


I don’t think I’ve ever read Writers of the Future

I’ve been an avid devourer of science fiction for decades, so it’s a little odd that I’ve missed out on this anthology, Writers of the Future. It’s been cruising along for 34 years, and apparently they throw a colossal, glitzy gala in Hollywood every year, flying in the authors and partying…for a week? Jeeez, writers…so spoiled, they’re all just rolling in the dough.

And here I’ve never even seen the books, let alone paid for one. How are the publishers paying for this? Oh, here’s the answer.

Yikes. “L. Ron Hubbard presents…” — that’s as good as slapping a glowing green Mr Yuck sticker on the cover as far as I’m concerned. No way would I ever pick up something like that, but at least we know how a few authors can get treated swankily. It’s by selling out to a corrupt criminal cult. Tony Ortega has been writing about this PR gimmick for years, but still authors fall for it and still participate, and they should be embarrassed. Also because paying homage to an extraordinarily schlocky pulp author who founded a religion should be something to be ashamed of.

The bad news is that if you get published in Writers of the Future, no one will read it except Scientologists, and everyone who sees your name listed there will know you’re a sellout. The good news is that no one will crack the cover to see your name on the roll of the shameful.


O my fellow Academics, this poem will rip your heart out with its truth

I wept several times while reading A POEM ABOUT YOUR UNIVERSITY’S ABSOLUTE AND UNWAVERING APPRECIATION OF ITS FACULTY IN SPITE OF SAID FACULTY’S CRAP SALARIES. I might have howled a few times, too, but I blacked out at the end and the last hour has been a blur.

Maybe we need a law against too much raw honesty in our poetry. It’s dangerous.

school of doubt

*Out of Office Response* Re: quick question?


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.

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Why China’s New Dystopian Social Credit Score is So Popular

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You know you’re a good person, right? You adopted a dog from the shelter! You check in on your grandmother in the old folks’ home once a month! You’ve funded 11 of your friends’ kickstarters!

Wouldn’t it be nice if you were rewarded for all the little good things you do? For instance, maybe you could get a small discount on your groceries, or you could use a faster line at airport security. That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

And wouldn’t it also be nice if, say, that guy who cut you off in traffic without using his blinker had to pay a little extra for his groceries? Or if your neighbor who uses the leaf blower at 6am on a Saturday had to wait a little longer in line at the airport?

Those things sound great to me, and they probably sound great to most people. And that’s the danger behind China’s “social credit” score.

Despite what outlets like Business Insider would have you believe, this isn’t a new idea for China, but it is one that’s rapidly gaining traction and becoming a national (and therefore an international) issue. As early as the Song Dynasty, though, China’s government has been finding ways to encourage self-policing. It really took off during the reign of Mao Zedong, resulting in a disastrous class struggle. Up until fairly recently the self-policing was on a communal scale, as opposed to an individual scale. With new technology comes the ability to keep better track of each person’s behavior, and with that China is basically ushering in an episode of Black Mirror.

For many years there have been smaller, private “social credit” agencies. This recent effort is an attempt to form a nationwide, governmentally controlled version, though it still won’t be one easy-to-access national credit agency that gives you a score like when you go to Equifax to find out if you can get a car loan. It’s much more complex and strung across various levels of government, and even including government institutions like schools and libraries.

Because of that spread, you can gain or lose points for a really bizarre number of things. Taking care of your aging parents, for instance, can earn you points, as can receiving an award at work. For the most part in the pilot program, you can only lose points from actual illegal acts, like speeding or driving drunk.

Still, there are many, many people who have already been hurt by this system. For instance, a journalist wrote a critical article about a man and was sued for defamation. He paid the resulting fine but still mistakenly ended up on a blacklist, telling Foreign Policy that he couldn’t purchase plane tickets and was unable to figure out how to remove himself from the list. The system is also used to punish dissidents, since speaking critically about the Chinese government is the ultimate social no-no.

Having poor social credit can make your life pretty difficult in a number of weird ways, like by slowing down your Internet, rejecting you from schools, and even making your dating profile difficult to find.

It all sounds pretty Orwellian, right? But remember at the start of this video, where I basically described the same thing but it sounded quite nice? That’s the trouble. In at least one major Chinese city, the new, refined social credit system is getting high marks from citizens, who are enjoying things like people suddenly stopping at crosswalks to let pedestrians pass, whereas before they’d be run over.

It’s one of the things that people who aren’t well-read in dystopian fiction may not realize about dystopias: they don’t necessarily just happen because there’s a zombie virus outbreak or a meteor that wipes out half of humanity, and they don’t happen because an evil dictator suddenly seizes power one day against the will of the people and everyone just goes along with it. They happen because people want them to happen. They happen because many people want to give up a little liberty to get a little safety. They want a president who seems like he’d be fun to have a beer with, or a guy who “tells it like it is.” And they want people to be nice. They want cars to use their turn signals and stop for pedestrians. They want people to take care of their aging parents and to do heroic acts. And if a government policy is making those things happen, they’re less likely to complain about the nasty side effects, like a journalist being inconvenienced. Or, say, journalists being even less likely to say anything critical of the government, or for all people to stop doing any actions the government considers distasteful, like being openly homosexual, or advocating for women’s equality. And slowly but surely, we ease into that dystopia.

The post Why China’s New Dystopian Social Credit Score is So Popular appeared first on Skepchick.


Vice vs. Sexy Cyborg: How US Journalists Nearly Ruined a Chinese Maker

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Naomi Wu is a Cantonese programmer and “maker,” better known in the US as “Sexy Cyborg.” I first learned about her a few years back when some of her creations started gaining traction on Reddit and other social media networks. She specializes in making wearable tech, like the LED underlit skirt that was probably the first project that really went viral on Reddit.

I remember seeing that post, and I definitely thought at first that the woman in the photo was just a model, and that the actual maker was someone else. And yeah, maybe someone male. Internalized misogyny, y’all!

But clicking through the tutorial I realized that Wu is super intelligent and funny, in addition to looking like a bombshell model with enormous fake breasts. And yeah, they’re fake, and no, she’s not ashamed, nor should she be.

Wu is in the news right now due to a huge dust-up with Vice over a profile written by Sarah Emerson. I want to talk about it because it hits on several interesting and controversial areas.

At the outset, Wu told Vice that she was wary of the profile focusing on her personal life. She made it very clear to them, in emails that Wu has since made public, that she could not discuss her family, her relationship status, or her sexual orientation. Vice claimed to be able to honor that.


Everything apparently was fine until after the interview, when Emerson asked Wu if they could Skype to address a Reddit-based conspiracy theory that Wu didn’t make any of her own creations, and that they were actually created by her tech-educated partner. According to Emerson, Wu then panicked and refused to address the question while accusing Vice of writing a hit piece on her. Wu asked to see a draft of the story before it was published, which Vice refused as it went against their policies.

At this point I honestly sympathized with Vice. The harassment Wu has gotten from Reddit is a legitimate story of interest, and it’s not normal in the US to allow a subject to see the entirety of an article before publishing. At best, you run major quotes past them to make sure their accurate.

When Vice didn’t cooperate, Wu then doxxed some of the journalists. She made a pair of boots with a digital display panel that showed a home address. Vice reported her actions to the platforms she was using, and Patreon (where she made most of her income) removed her account as doxxing is against their policies.

Again: I have to admit I was on Vice’s side here. The doxxing seemed to me to be egregious and an overreaction, especially considering that the article hadn’t even been published yet.

When it was published, Emerson included a passage describing her request to Skype about Reddit and Wu’s repeated insistence that it not be included in the story. This is where I started coming around to Wu’s side. And the more I read about all of this, the more I’m convinced that Wu is in the right and that Patreon should return her account.

The crux of the matter is a fundamental difference between two cultures: America and China. I know basically nothing about China. I’ve visited there once, including going to Wu’s hometown of Shenzen where I gave a talk. Even doing that much was serious business — it was difficult to get the required visa, and I was instructed multiple times that I had to be very, very careful what I say about politics and religion. And that’s as a foreigner, who at worst would just be kicked out of the country. If a Chinese National is caught holding the “wrong” opinions or if they’re seen to be doing something like, I don’t know, forming a social movement based on telling women and girls that they are equals who deserve to thrive in male-dominated tech spaces, the punishment can be much, much worse.

Even having been to China and seen some of that firsthand, it still took me a lot of thought and consideration to come around to seeing Wu’s viewpoint. That’s how strong our cultural bias is, and someone — anyone — at Vice should have had the awareness to take a step back and realize that maybe in this case, it would be worth changing the standards a little in order to work with a subject who could literally end up in prison because of a poorly written article, or even a well-written article that doesn’t translate accurately into Chinese when it hits Chinese social media. For instance, an article that champions Wu’s subversive push for women’s equality could be dangerous to her, as Jackie Luo pointed out in a Twitter thread where she lists several feminists and political bloggers who have ended up in Chinese prisons recently.

In other words, it’s more complicated then “interview subject overreacts and doxxes someone for no reason.”

Do I think Wu should have doxxed someone? Absolutely not. Aside from the fact that it made a journalist fear for the safety of his family, it didn’t work. They still published the article. And aside from the fact that it didn’t work, it hurt Wu’s credibility and made her look just as bad as Vice in the eyes of Western readers who don’t know any better. All that said, I get why she did it: she felt trapped and terrified and she lashed out in a desperate attempt to save herself.

All of that brings us to Patreon, a platform that I use and generally really love. They have a no-doxxing policy, and Wu violated it. But this entire saga up until now shows us that black and white policies don’t work across vastly different cultures, especially when all of us are actually on the same side. Vice didn’t want to do a hit piece — they wanted to celebrate Wu’s accomplishments and talk about harassment of women. Patreon doesn’t want to kick makers off their platform. But that’s what we get when corporations lay down rules in stone.

I don’t think Patreon should allow doxxing, but I’m also not sure that zero-tolerance is appropriate for cases like this. Give her a warning, delete the video, and let’s all move on having learned a thing or two about a culture other than our own. I don’t know.

Whether you agree with me or not on this, I suggest you follow @RealSexyCyborg on Twitter. It’s a complicated subject, but the only way to truly figure out where you stand is to hear from the actual people who are affected.

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Will a Tax on Soda Make Us Less Fat?

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I’d like to talk a little about science and data, for those of you out there who really want to believe that they are objective measures of reality. You may believe that because someone you trust told you so and it sounded nice and reassuring. I’m sorry to tell you that, in the words of the great Ben Goldacre, I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.

I’m thinking of all this because I recently saw a science news article proclaiming that people in Philadelphia are drinking less soda after instituting a tax on sugary beverages. This is ostensibly a success, since the tax was put into place to do precisely that, since sugary beverages are making us fat, and being fat is unhealthy.

Several of the things I’ve just said are wrong, and several are right but pointless and out of context. Let’s go over it.

First of all, it’s not actually a tax on sugary beverages, nor is it a “soda tax” as it’s known colloquially. It’s a tax on any beverage that’s not water, milk, fruit juice, or vegetable juice, which is on its face stupid because milk, fruit juice, and vegetable juice can make us fat while my precious Coke Zero cannot do so on its own because there are basically no calories in it. Meanwhile, alcoholic beverages are taxed in their own category, and let me tell you, they are definitely making us fat.

Of course, stopping people from getting fat isn’t the only reason the tax was implemented. Philly representatives claimed that the increased tax would go to education for very young children, which is hard to do if you’re claiming that the tax will also force sales to go down. If you raise the tax by 20% but then 40% of people stop buying the product, have you made any money? Show your work.

Before: 100 people pay $1 in tax. Result: $100. After: 60 people pay $1.20 in tax. Result: $72. Something isn’t working, here. What could it be?

Now let’s talk about the actual study. Their data shows that 40% of people are less likely to drink a soda and 60% less likely to drink an energy drink. Why are the numbers so shady? Because it was a survey, not a look at actual numbers. So already, we have to realize that data isn’t just data — it’s been collected in a particular way that means that it may not mean what we thought. Maybe people just say they won’t buy soda but then they do.

To be fair, some actual numbers do suggest that soda sales have gone down in Philly, including one that says it may be a nearly 60% drop. But we don’t know if they’ve gone up in the areas just outside of Philly. Poor people may not be able to drive to the edge of the city to pick up their soda, but others might.

Back to the study: about 60% of respondents said they’d be more likely to buy bottled water. Is that the change we want? Yes, water is what everyone should be drinking all the time, but not out of wasteful plastic bottles. The tap water in Philly is clean and there’s no reason for people to buy bottled water, so this is actually a negative side effect of the tax.

Here’s another possible negative side effect that isn’t mentioned in the study but has shown up in other studies: alcohol sales in Philadelphia have increased since the soda tax went into effect. This has been found in other places like the UK, where a recent study shows that a drop in sugary drink sales correlated to an increase in lager sales.

So all of this is just an illustration to say that data isn’t just data, existing in a vacuum. Data has to be collected in a certain way, and decisions are made by humans how to collect it, and how to statistically analyze it. Data is used by humans to institute policy change, and even when that policy change may seem to work in certain ways, you need to look at a bigger picture to understand whether it’s actually accomplishing the thing you set out to do.

But seriously, stop taxing Coke Zero. It’s the only thing that keeps me going some days and you do not want me to swap it out for whiskey. Productivity here is going to plummet.

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Make Gay Conversion “Therapy” Illegal!

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Gay conversion therapy is a bullshit religious practice in which people who hate gay people utilize various “techniques” with no basis in science in an attempt to convince a gay person to not be gay anymore. It’s often performed on minors against their will, and studies show that not only does it fail to stop homosexual thoughts and behaviors, but it also leads to serious depression and suicide in the person being “treated.”

Because of this, several states in the US have banned the use of conversion therapy on minors. Hawaii’s House just passed such a bill, and Maryland also has one currently waiting on the governor to sign it into law. An interesting thing happened during the debates over whether to pass Maryland’s bill — one vocal supporter of the bill was Meagan Simonaire in the House of Delegates, who told the story of a young bisexual whose family rejected her and pushed her to use gay conversion therapy once she came out. Meagan revealed at the end of her impassioned speech that she was that young woman. That makes the bill pretty personal, but what truly elevates this to operatic levels is that meanwhile over in the state Senate, Senator Bryan Simonaire was vehemently arguing that banning gay conversion would impinge religious freedom (the freedom of religious parents to make their children kill themselves, I suppose). As you might guess from their names and the fact that I’m telling you all of this, Bryan Simonaire is Meagan Simonaire’s father — the one who tried to get her into religious therapy to convert her sexuality.

Meagan Simonaire had never discussed her sexuality in public prior to that speech, but she said she spoke up in order to prevent more LGBTQ people from experiencing the shame that she did.

Here in California, gay conversion therapy is already illegal for minors, but one of my local politicians has just introduced a new bill to make it illegal for adults as well. Evan Low from Cupertino, chair of the state’s LGBT Caucus, has proposed declaring the “therapy” fraudulent and enacting severe penalties for anyone, licensed therapist or not, who advertises or practices it.

I’m pretty sure that California would be the first to do that for consenting adults, and frankly I’m glad about it. We have all the evidence that clearly shows that gay conversion doesn’t work as promised and it only ends up hurting both the people involved and the larger gay community as a whole, since it leads to further stigmatization and the characterization of sexuality as a disease that should be cured. The people peddling it are quacks, and they shouldn’t be allowed to lie to marginalized, confused people — yes, even adults — and trick them into spending money and time on something that is at best useless and at worst deadly.

And yes, just in case you don’t click through to the research citations on my patreon, let me sum up the research: gay conversion might make you slightly less likely to have homosexual urges in a laboratory according to some studies that use no control group, but even in those studies the “therapy” caused no actual decrease in homosexual behaviors. Any effects that were observed, like decrease in urges or increase in interest in the opposite sex, were only found in men who were bisexual anyway.

While there is no evidence of any benefit, there is evidence of harm from the few studies that have been done on it. The American Psychological Association concludes in its analysis that “attempts to change sexual orientation may cause or exacerbate distress and poor mental health in some individuals, including depression and suicidal thoughts. The lack of rigorous research on the safety of (gay conversion therapy) represents a serious concern, as do studies that report perceptions of harm.”

So congrats to California for realizing that not only does this pseudoscience harm children, but it also takes advantage of adults. I can’t wait for this bill to pass, and then for the bigoted quacks practicing it to be taken to task.

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The Racist Reasons why Tiffany Haddish Drinks Turpentine

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Tiffany Haddish is a successful comedian and actor who was recently profiled in GQ. In the interview, she suggests that everyone should take a teaspoon of turpentine to cure their colds, but the government doesn’t want you to know that. She also thinks that we all have worms inside our bodies and the turpentine will fix that.

Yikes. Where to start?

So, obviously (or perhaps not obviously enough), you absolutely should not drink turpentine. It’s a paint thinner, and even smelling it can make you feel sick. Haddish says “a teaspoon won’t kill you” and she may be right, but a tablespoon can kill you. Children are especially vulnerable, but even adults can die from drinking more than four ounces.

It’s easy to say that this makes Haddish an idiot, but it’s really more complex than that. She grew up poor, and here in the United States we’re not too great about providing poor people with decent medical care, leading to the proliferation of stupid folk remedies that may or may not work, and that may or may not kill you.

And more than that, Haddish grew up poor and black. She points out to GQ that drinking turpentine was common amongst slaves, and she’s correct. Again, slaves weren’t getting the greatest medical care, to put it lightly. That’s all she’s correct about, though, because she goes on to say that most slaves weren’t physically healthy because they didn’t have access to turpentine. Again: yikes.

Even once slavery was abolished, black people in the United States had no reason to use or trust established doctors. You’ve probably heard of the Tuskeegee Experiment, in which hundreds of black men with syphilis were purposely left untreated for 40 years so that doctors could study the progression of the disease. The only reason it ended was because journalists found out and exposed it. That’s just the biggest, most well-known example, but Harriet A. Washington’s book Medical Apartheid details countless other examples from US history, including the still-pervasive myth that black people feel less pain than white people or that they need a stronger dose of x-rays. She even points out that some of our historical medical heroes have racist underpinnings, as with James Marion Sims, who pioneered techniques to help heal women after they gave birth. He tested those techniques first on slaves, operating on helpless black women without even giving them anesthetic.

It’s this horrific legacy of medical cruelty that has left many black people, particularly those who are poor and under-educated, to foster an entirely justifiable distrust of doctors, scientists, and the government.

So yes, Haddish said an idiotic and dangerous thing, but also an understandable thing. Remember that the basis for this pseudoscience’s popularity amongst poor black people has its origin in rich, white, educated monsters. And speaking of, let’s hope Gwyneth Paltrow isn’t standing by to offer to Haddish a job hawking bottles of turpentine.

The post The Racist Reasons why Tiffany Haddish Drinks Turpentine appeared first on Skepchick.

school of doubt

Required Reading, 5 March 2018

Just one today, because it is Important.

Ron Srigley, “Whose University is it Anyway?” LA Review of Books, Feb 22, 2018.

On another note, you may be noticing some visual changes across the Skepchick network. Along with the face lift we hope to soon put out a call for new writers and ramp up the activity a bit again, so watch this space!

The post Required Reading, 5 March 2018 appeared first on School of Doubt.

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Pros of Participation Grades 3

Continuing my series on the downsides and benefits of grading participation, here is another benefit.

3. It is a motivation for some.

There’s no magic secret to motivating people, and broadly speaking it doesn’t work. One of the common skeptical criticisms of practices like firewalking and other such “motivational” activities is that the motivational effect is very short term. The body likes homeostasis and hearing someone yell “you can do it!” at you doesn’t do much to make long-term changes in the massively complicated set of hormonal interactions that affect our desires and willpower.

One of the things that was emphasized in my educational psychology classes was that teachers can’t motivate students. That is, we can’t make them want to do things. While we can try to set up extrinsic factors to “motivate” students, we have no real effect on their efficacy (eg. offering candy fails if a student doesn’t like candy) or on the much more powerful intrinsic motivators.

There are, of course, things that teachers can do to affect what students do. If this wasn’t the case, school wouldn’t really work at all. Millions of students do homework, take notes, and write tests that they don’t really want to, because they have some kind of motivation to do them that pushes beyond their personal disinterest.

Grades are one such motivating factor. Not all students are motivated by grades, and those who are are not all motivated to the same degree. However, there are such a significant number of students who are that it seems logical to use. Grades can even be an indirect motivator. A child might not care about the letter on the paper, but a parent might. The child may be motivated by a parental attitude, meaning that grades are important even when they are not.

(I’m not going to discuss whether grades are a good reflection of student ability – this post is simply proceeding with the fact that this system exists, not arguing about whether it should.)

If participation is important at all, it stands to reason that it should be graded. Grades reflect student performance and part of their performance is in how they participate, so it is not as if grading participation is assessing something irrelevant (like assessing physical appearance). Because many students are motivated by grades, tying participation in class to students’ grades can be an effective way to get some students to participate more in class.

A key weakness in this argument is that it is assuming that participation is important. In some cases, participation is truly irrelevant (and in such cases I would certainly argue against grading participation). However, in the cases where student participation is vital, including it as part of grades can be a good idea.

Another weakness of this argument is that it depends on students. If they do not care about their grades, this is once again irrelevant. However, there are always some who do care, directly or indirectly, and there can be ways of encouraging students to care (such as point out how a grade can affect their chances of getting something they want, like a job or special program).

One other potential problem with this argument is that one might argue that students who are motivated by grades also tend to participate well in class anyway. As a former extremely shy student who obsessed over grades, I can say that there are a number of classes in which I owe my active participation entirely to the fact that I was graded on it. Though I’m not a majority, students like me do exist and we can be a part of the reason to grade participation.

The post Pros of Participation Grades 3 appeared first on School of Doubt.

bad science

Evidence to House of Commons Sci Tech Select Committee on Research Integrity

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 […]
school of doubt

Pros of Participation Grades 2

Continuing my series on the downsides and benefits of grading participation, here is another benefit.

2. It makes effort important.

Though this post won’t really deal too much with motivation and grading (ie. whether or not students actually view grades as “important”), there is a good case to be made for allowing effort into an assessment plan. I will not argue that effort is the only thing that matters of that it should be the main factor of a grade. I think that position is a weak one to hold.

However, I do think there is room for students’ effort in some parts of grading. One reason is the fundamental problem with focusing exclusively on success. This is even something that comes up a lot in the skeptic movement. Consider the file-drawer effect: positive studies are over-represented in scientific journals. This creates many problems in science because we are only seeing part of the real picture. Similarly, a recent episode of the SGU podcast talked about how the Nobel Prize is awarded for successful discoveries only and how this is a problem. We need to learn from failures and focusing too much on success created real world problems. Funding for science winds up getting skewed and subtracted when the results aren’t stunning successes, but we need to know about what doesn’t work too.

My students recently watched part of the TED talk “On Being Wrong” by Kathryn Schulz. She highlights a problem that occurs when a child gets many answers wrong on a test. Other children label that child as “dumb” and this whole situation fosters an attitude that mistakes aren’t okay. We must always be right, because being wrong feels so bad.

A much better TED talk, Julia Galef’s “Why You Think You’re Right – Even If You’re Wrong” shows why this kind of thinking is so bad. Like soldiers, we defend our wrong beliefs against anything that opposes them. But, if we adopt a different attitude, that being wrong is okay, we pave the way to being able to change our minds and think critically instead of only with motivated reasoning.

Effort is worth grading because it allows students to be wrong without being punished for it. They can learn from mistakes without being slapped down because of them. Teachers don’t have to focus exclusively on the narrow aim of students getting everything right. Students can succeed by actually trying.

There are a lot of external factors which affect a student’s actual ability. Grading purely on how “correctly” they can answer questions winds up with the result of assigning grades based on the effects of external factors, like SES or their situation at home. When effort plays a role in a grade, students with the fewest opportunities in life can get a slightly better chance at not being so disadvantaged in schools.

But what about the problems with grading effort? How can teachers actually measure something so abstract? Again, I must point out that there are already a lot of things that teachers grade which are abstract and subjective (consider art, for instance). And once again, a well-designed rubric can preemptively address many of these problems. Still, there can be a real conundrum in deciding that one student didn’t put the same effort as another on a project. If a student is extremely high level, they might not need to put as much effort in to get a great result. This objection brings me back to the topic of this series: participation grades.

The effort I am suggesting that teachers grade is based on what students do in class. That is, what teachers actually observe, in context. It’s one thing to just decide that one paper looked like a student spent more time on it at home, but quite another thing to observe students playing games on their phone instead of writing in class and then turning in an incomplete draft as a final essay. Another student, who may struggle with the language but actually spent the time working, asking for help, and visibly put effort into writing, could get the same grade as the gaming student under purely performance-based criteria. Participation grades allow the hard-working student to be rewarded for actually working hard. Like the socialization argument, this is an attitude that schools want to actively foster in students, hence its logical role alongside other grading methods.

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bad science

How do the world’s biggest drug companies compare, in their transparency commitments?

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 […]
bad science

Meaningful Transparency Commitments: the WHO Joint Statement from Trial Funders

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 […]
bad science

How many epidemiologists does it take to change a lightbulb?

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 […]
bad science

“Transparency, Beyond Publication Bias”. A video of my super-speedy talk at IJE.

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 […]