We’re all going to be cyborgs who live on protein pills! Unfortunately, reality makes that less glamorous than it sounds. It turns out that Soylent is rather unpleasant, and all those happy ambitious post-humanists who got gadgets implanted under their skin are discovering some downsides. When I met a guy who’d done some biohacking and implanted magnets under his fingertips (he can feel electric fields!), I thought it was nifty — but it turns out those magnets wear out after a few years, and you end up dredging corroded bits of wire out of your flesh.
OK, maybe it’s the near future that sucks, but it’ll all be great in the 22nd century.
The team behind Game of Thrones is now proposing a new show: an alternate reality series in which the South won the Civil War and perpetuated legal slavery into the present day. It might be a good show, if it can consistently show that slavery is an unforgivable evil and uses this alternate history to highlight real injustices. But do you trust them to make a socially conscious, critical analysis of contemporary America? I don’t. The people who made Game of Thrones have learned that sensational violence and sex sells. I predict many opportunities to show attractive naked black women on the auction block or serving white men while topless.
It also falls into the category of playing devil’s advocate, or “just asking questions”, playing rhetorical games with matters that affect people’s lives. That is inappropriate. To have two white guys propose this thought exercise is troubling.
People still think Gone With the Wind was a great movie. I doubt that it was; I’ve tried to watch it multiple times at the urging of friends, and have never lasted more than 15 minutes before I’ve left the room.
We had booked this event based entirely on his excellent new book on science when we didn’t know he had offended and hurt – in his tweets and other comments on Islam, so many people. KPFA does not endorse hurtful speech. While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech. We apologize for not having had broader knowledge of Dawkins views much earlier.
I am known as a frequent critic of Christianity and have never been de-platformed for that. Why do you give Islam a free pass? Why is it fine to criticise Christianity but not Islam?
Somehow, a minority community in America that is threatened with deportation by the government, is routinely condemned by talk radio and the likes of Breitbart, and that lives in fear of good Christian citizens who vandalize mosques and threaten violence (and sometimes, carry out violence) gets accused of having a “free pass”. That’s precisely the kind of blinkered nonsense that I can understand KPFA objecting to, so Dawkins is not helping his case at all. It’s also denying the fact that the New Atheists have been particularly specific in denunciations of Islam; Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the newest member of the “four horsemen”, has recommended converting Muslims to Christianity, so there clearly is a hierarchy of religions with Islam at the bottom, deserving special contempt. And Sam Harris, of course, is all about anti-Islamic sentiment, going so far as to suggest that using torture and nuclear weapons against them might be justifiable. Let’s not play the wide-eyed innocent, “what, me abuse Muslims?” game. Let’s not pretend that Dawkins has never made any hurtful, regressive comments on his twitter feed, or on my blog.
CFI handles it a little better, pointing out that Dawkins has, for instance, opposed Trump’s Muslim travel ban, and that this particular talk was to be about science, so his other views were irrelevant. I suspect that it would have been a good talk that I would enjoy, since it wouldn’t contain the regressive views I’ve found so exasperating in Dawkins. So, sure, you can make the argument that Dawkins is a speaker of considerable virtue, and that he wouldn’t be flaunting his vices in this talk.
But then they go too far.
“We understand the difference between a people and the beliefs they may hold,” said Blumner, “All of us must be free to debate and criticize Ideas, and harmful ideas must be exposed. It is incredibly disappointing that KPFA does not understand this.”
I am disappointed that CFI does not understand that this is not a free speech issue. Dawkins is free to debate and criticize ideas. He’s the best-selling atheist author in the world! He isn’t oppressed or censored in any way; his books are popular, they get translated into dozens of languages, he gets to appear on television, he doesn’t have to fear that he’ll be ejected out of the country or murdered for his views (people like Maryam Namazi or Taslima Nasrin do). KPFA, as the host of this talk, has the right to decide that they’d rather not.
I’m going to agree completely with Siggy on this matter. That Richard Dawkins has some controversial, even objectionable, views does not, in some weird reversal of free speech concerns, obligate every entity on the planet to host him on demand.
People are always thinking of these issues in terms of the speaker’s free speech, but if anything, it’s about the inviters’ free speech. If speakers have a right to platforms, where are all my speaker invitations, and why isn’t anyone standing up for my free speech?
It wouldn’t even matter if KPFA’s reasons for rejecting Dawkins were totally bogus, so all the spluttering about how he isn’t really anti-Islam is irrelevant. Making it a free speech issue is just using a bullhorn to yell about how you don’t understand free speech.
Dawkins (and I) might not particularly like the idea that this rejection was made so late that it was obvious, but it is within KPFA’s rights, and it does no major harm to Dawkins. This is a case where the appropriate response is to shrug and move on.
There have been two cases in just the past year where conference organizers have contacted me, asked if I’d be willing to speak at their event, and then later written to me and retracted the offer without explanation. I’m sure it was because there are vocal members of those groups who objected vehemently to my appearance, but it was done before the final list of speakers was announced, so the change was not publicized. And that was fine, I didn’t complain, I didn’t announce that my free speech was being violated, I didn’t try to argue that their reasons for cutting me were invalid. Conferences have that right.
That creationist with the chromosome argument put out another video raging about me today. It mainly consist of him declaring that I’m stupid, that he’d destroy me in a debate, but he’s not going to debate me, and that I ran away from debating him (I’d never even considered a debate with this bozo). Although if you advance to 17:10 in the video, he does do an imitation of me which is amusing.
His reply to my earlier comments is that he didn’t have the human chromosome number memorized, which is fine. I wasn’t testing him on rote memorization. More significant is that his guesses were that we had an odd number of chromosomes, which would be unusual for a diploid organism (yeah, you’re raising your hand and saying “male bees!”, but that’s a detail G Man is not ready for.)
What’s more important is that he takes a step back and tries to clarify the concept he was trying to explain. That’s good. That’s more important than the specific number, and I’m glad he could deliver a brief, crystal-clear summary of what he thinks. Of course, what he then has to do is demonstrate that he can get the concept right. So here goes G Man’s short summary of The Chromosome Argument that all of us atheists are using all the time.
What is the meat and potatoes of what I was trying to say there? I was trying to say that since tobacco had more chromosomes than human beings, then that means the next step in our evolution was to become, you know, tobacco. You know what I mean, because they have more chromosomes. That was the whole point I wanted to talk about.
Uh, no. No biologist makes that argument, as I said.
You can now ignore the video. Unless you really want to listen to him rant about destroying me. Oh, yes, and also Matt Dillahunty and Aron Ra.
FFRF is requesting that the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority take immediate action to suspend the availability of tax rebates to the operators of the Ark and to terminate any applicable agreements it has with the Ark Encounter.
The Kentucky Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet notified the operators of the Ark Encounter that it is in breach of its Tourism Development Agreement with the state. That agreement provides up to $18 million in state subsidies for the Ark project in the form of annual sales tax rebates. FFRF obtained records from the Cabinet today that include a July 18 notice sent to the operators of the Ark saying that Ark Encounter, LLC has breached the agreement following the sale of the property. The letter says that no further tax rebates may accrue as of June 28.
And with that, a whole flock of happy lawyers and accountants have got their wings. See? This is what happens when you play shenanigans with the tax system: headaches, and the sucking sound of money swirling down the drain.
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If you know me at all, you know I like Dr. Oz about as much as I like Oprah, the woman who metaphorically gave birth to him — that is to say, not at all. I loved it when he had to testify in front of Congress about the quack cures he’s peddled and he got completely annihilated by Claire McCaskill.
So I was really pleased when I saw a video on YouTube claiming that Oz had plagiarized content from a doctor for use on his show. In the video, Dr. Eric Berg reveals that he had been booked on Dr. Oz’s show to talk about “body types,” for which he did a ton of research before the show canceled on him. Months later, he saw an episode in which Oz had another doctor on to talk about body types using Berg’s script.
I watched Berg’s video and found that he had a somewhat compelling case for being ripped off. The problem is that they’re talking about the “body types” that we’ve been hearing about in magazines for several decades: apples are fat in the middle, and pears are fat in the lower body and smaller in the upper body. So it’s kind of hard to say whether Dr. Jeffrey Morrison is ripping off Dr. Berg or whether they’re both ripping off a 10-question quiz they found in the back of the September 1994 issue of Woman’s World. “Do you tend to store all your fat in your head? You’re a lollipop!”
The “body type” conversation is never just about the shape of your body, of course. No one would have come up with it unless there was a way to market something to women based on it, so enterprising quacks came up with the idea of making women buy books and meal plans based on their body type. Like, if you’re an apple don’t you dare eat apples because you’ll only get fatter, or something like that. Morrison and Berg dress it up even more by saying that the different body shapes are influenced by hormones, and that you can eat certain foods to poop out the hormones that are making you fat. I’m not making this up. And amazingly, the two doctors disagree over what foods you should eat to poop out said hormones.
All this made me really wonder about Berg and what kind of doctor he is. It turns out, he’s a chiropractor! If you don’t know anything about them, you may be confused as to why a chiropractor is dealing with something other than spines. Well, it’s because some chiropractors only deal with spinal issues, but way too many others think that they can cure literally any disease by adjusting your spine, and sometimes by twisting it to the point that they kill you via blood clots.
Not only is Berg a chiropractor, but he’s been disciplined in the past. In 2007 he was fined $1,500 and ordered to stop promoting several bullshit weight loss and muscle-response tests that tricked patients into believing they needed to buy his herbal supplements.
I also found a blogpost from a former patient of Berg’s, who said she was cajoled into giving him over $1,400 for several weight loss “treatments” that she never actually attended and only got a partial refund on. She says that the usual course is $3,000 for 12 treatment sessions, which makes me wonder why anyone thought that fining him $1,500 would do anything at all. And by the way, the treatment plan was a low-carb diet and a few minutes in a massage chair. As a reminder, the only actual way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories than you burn, which is not just free but actually costs less than you’re spending now since you’re eating less food. Trust me, I did it once and I could have bought a new wardrobe just from the money I saved by not drinking alcohol for a month.
So yeah, maybe Dr. Oz ripped someone off, but if he did, at least this time he ripped off a fellow quack. And for that we can all be thankful.
Published by Rebecca Watson
on Wed 19 Jul 03:30:38
We’re great at spotting biases in others, but absolutely incompetent at finding them in ourselves. Even if we know exactly what to look for and we’ve got a ton of intellectual humility, noticing the effects of our own biases on our own thoughts is like looking for colored glasses while wearing them.
The introspection illusion is a cognitive bias in which we think we understand our own mind (and therefore find other minds to be unreliable). It’s a kind of backwards justification. We have a feeling about something, and then rationalize why our feeling would be justified. We think our intuitive and irrational impressions are things we came to by deep, reasonable thought.
When we feel like we’ve got a strong, rational argument for our own thinking, any different opinion appears to be obviously ill-reasoned, or even sinister.(1) For example, you hear a fact about a field outside of your study that sounds ludicrous to you. At this point, you don’t realize that you’re building a strawman from your own misunderstanding about the fact. Out of context, it appears to have no support and just be crazy. It doesn’t seem like a hasty generalization to assume that the whole field, believing something this crazy, must therefore be fundamentally flawed. Clearly, they have not thought this through. We, on the other hand, have.
Here, the introspection illusion took hold. It started with a gut reaction to something, and as the brain built its own support for the conclusion it had already reached, the feeling snowballed into a rationalization. Our own thoughts seem clear and justified, so everyone else must just be crazy. Perhaps we should pity them, because they are victims of this terribly devious indoctrination into this totally bogus field of Gend– *ahem* I mean, this totally bogus field in this purely hypothetical example.
Recent atheist’s missteps aside. The introspection illusion seems to be a key culprit in a number of problems that have plagued the skeptics movement for years, as well as a reason why some students reject any hint of critical thinking in the classroom out of hand. Consider the poorly constructed arguments against evolution that are repeated even to this day, like dogs turning into cats or the continued existence of monkeys. These topics have an implication that some people don’t like. That negative feeling towards that implication immediately transforms into a backwards justification, arguing against a massive strawman, and the introspection illusion amplifies this feeling that we’re right and others are wrong to the point that we can’t even begin to pick apart the tangle we’ve gotten our minds into. The worst part is that, despite our belief otherwise, we can’t actually find the starting point in all of this. Whatever started this snowball is lost so far in the middle of it that we have no way to see it.
(1) Assuming that others know they are wrong and are promoting false information because they have evil intentions sounds a lot like what religious extremists, presuppositionalists, antivax advocates, and conspiracy theorists say, doesn’t it?
“French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe has made the ultimate pro-vaccine statement, and the French government is insisting that the rest of the country follow suit. France’s powerful stance on the anti-vaccine movement mandates that, by 2018, all French children have 11 vaccines.”
“A diversity demonstration was held in Visby on Friday in protest against the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement’s presence at Sweden’s iconic Almedalen politics festival. Several hundred protesters waving rainbow flags took part in the diversity parade in Visby on the island of Gotland, where the annual Almedalen politics week is currently underway, in protest against the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM).
“After controversial tours through both Spain and the United States, a bus-based anti-transgender campaign being run by Spain’s ultraconservative Catholic group Hazte Oír (Make Yourself Heard) has received a stormy welcome in Santiago de Chile.”
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“Goop” is Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle website where she adds her stamp of approval to all manner of stupid pseudo-medical bullshit, from $60 eggs you stick up your vagina to a $200 box containing a feather and a rock. It’s for people with more money than sense, and as goop has grown from a newsletter to an Oprah-esque powerhouse of baloney, more and more people are vocally criticizing it for trying to rip off women.
One of those critics is Dr. Jen Gunter, an ob-gyn who has been pretty thorough in her debunking of pretty much every word that comes out of Paltrow’s mouth. Apparently she hit a sore spot, because goop has posted one of the most over-the-top whiny diatribes I’ve ever seen. Frankly I get a tear in my eye when I read it, that’s how proud I am of Gunter for stimulating this giant baby tantrum.
Goop starts off by doing what it does best: writing self-contradictory nonsense. They put down the idea of “indiscriminate attacks that question the motivation and integrity of the doctors who contribute to the site” and then four sentences later say “What we don’t welcome is the idea that questions are not okay.” So questions are okay, until the questions make them uncomfortable. Got it.
They then (and by the way, I say “they” because this idiocy doesn’t have a byline) reference Dr. Gunter without actually mentioning her name or linking to her website. Ethical!
They there’s this gem, referencing Dr. Gunter’s “strangely confident assertion that putting a crystal in your vagina…would put you in danger of getting Toxic Shock Syndrome.” Yeah, what a strange thing that a trained gynecologist would suggest that sticking a rock in your vagina might be bad. Goop says “there is no study/case/report which links [TSS and sticking rocks in your vagina]” but maybe that’s because until Goop came along doctors didn’t have an epidemic of women shoving rocks in their vaginas to study. They have studied the effects of non-menstrual-related causes of TSS and they do include things like barrier contraceptives that are left in for too long (more than 24 hours). They’ve also found that it can appear after women are wounded and then infected. I wonder how that could happen, when you’re sticking a rock in your vagina?
Next Goop claims that Dr. Gunter stated “with 100 percent certainty that conventional tampons laden with glyphosate (classified by the WHO as probably carcinogenic) are no cause for concern.” Obviously they didn’t bother to link to where Gunter wrote this, as they haven’t even mentioned her name yet because apparently like Voldemort or Beetlejuice if you say her name she will appear and pull the crystals right out of your vagina, but I found the post they’re referring to and here’s what Gunter actually writes:
“There are no toxins in tampons. Really. I can say this with 100% certainty as a toxin is a preformed poisonous substance made by an organism, think botulinum toxin or the bee venom that you have used to reset your humors.”
Glyphosate is a pesticide, not a toxin. She defines it IN THE SENTENCE THAT GOOP IS USING TO MISREPRESENT HER.
They end that paragraph by accusing Dr. Gunter of only attacking Goop because it gets her site traffic. You’ll note that nowhere in that insult is there an argument.
We’re only about halfway through the post. Strap in.
The next paragraph accuses Goop’s critics of considering women lemmings who jump off a cliff when one of their doctors suggests they might have low vitamin D. I’m not sure if Goop noticed, but their most prominent critics, including the only one they singled out (without naming), are women. They say, “We [women, presumably?] simply want information”. Leaving aside the not-so-subtle transition to an “us vs. them” narrative where Goop represents all women and men are the mean critics, information is what critics like Dr. Gunter present! Goop is the one complaining about an alternative viewpoint being offered. They claim that they allow women to “hear directly from doctors; we see no reason to interpret or influence what they’re saying, to tell you what to think.” No, you don’t interpret or influence what they’re saying, because all they ever say is to buy the products you’re selling! It’s like McDonald’s issuing a statement that they don’t interfere with what Mayor McCheese has to say, they just let him talk and then allow the consumer to decide whether or not to supersize their meal. Any nasty critic claiming that an excess of their food is bad for your health are just trying to get attention. So just listen to the Mayor. He’s a mayor, after all.
Next, goop plays up their doctors’ authority. They publish in peer-reviewed journals and train at the best institutions and they “aggressively maintain an open mind,” which doesn’t sound like what an open-minded person should actually do. I mean, that makes it sound like if you show one of them the tons of evidence we have proving that vaccines don’t cause autism, they will punch you in the face.
Then goop tries to define science for you. Here’s their best attempt: “The thing about science and medicine is that it evolves all the time. Studies and beliefs that we held sacred even in the last decade have since been proven to be unequivocally false, and sometimes even harmful.”
NO, goop, NO. BAD GOOP. Nothing is sacred in science. Nothing. That’s the point of science! Everything is open to question and when new data appears we adjust. But while nothing is sacred in science, there are about 146 things that are sacred on the goop website, according to Google, like the “Sacred Creators Oracle Set” which is a $44 deck of tarot cards.
Next they throw in one for the lawyers and the folks over at the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration who may be watching, assuring us that they don’t want anyone to refuse chemotherapy. And that’s true, as far as I can tell! They’ve just asked questions, and given a platform to people selling quack cancer cures as a “complement” to chemo. Because nothing is more fun than fighting cancer while also shelling out loads of money for, say, an at-home infrared sauna that Gwyneth Paltrow has led you to believe is the equivalent of hyperthermia cancer treatments, which are still being studied to find out if they may slightly help patients on chemotherapy and which are not anything at all like a $5,000 at-home infrared sauna.
Goop then accuses critics of calling women hypochondriacs and dismissing them for their health concerns. Again, they don’t link to any criticism that states that because it does not exist. We know women have health problems that for years have been under-studied and left female patients underserved. That’s what makes women a prime target for quacks who want to swoop in and provide what the mainstream medical establishment has not: attention and compassion and a promised cure. People are more likely to fall for nonsense when they’re vulnerable, marginalized, and dismissed, which is why, for instance, phone scams target lonely elderly people. Critics like Dr. Gunter are trying to stop scam artists from taking advantage of other women while also helping educate women on their bodies and the actual medical science we know and understand today.
Goop ends by bashing critics who “pre-judge information before they’ve even taken the time to read or understand it,” which is rich considering that they opened by completely misrepresenting Dr. Gunter’s point about toxins in tampons.
They then claim their critics “believe that they, singularly, own the truth.” That’s a truly astonishing level of projection. If I or Dr. Gunter or any other critic believed we “owned” the truth, I guess we would put it out there by, oh, I don’t know, addressing our critics without ever naming them or citing their work or reproducing their arguments. Then we’d say we’re right because of our college degrees or our number of published papers. Then I suppose we would personally sell products that we endorse, creating a ridiculous conflict of interest. If it’s a product we’re not equipped to sell, like, say, an enormous $5,000 at-home infrared sauna, or something, we’d just make a deal with a company that does sell them so that we make money whenever someone buys one after they click through our article about how effective hyperthermia cancer treatments might be. Yeah, that’d be a pretty fucking slimy thing to do, just to pick something totally at random.
THAT’S what it looks like when you think you own the truth. People who think they own the truth also think they can sell it. Sorry, goop, but not all of us are buying.
Note: shortly after I recorded this, Dr. Gunter wrote her response which you can and should read here! Also, yes, there were also letters from the Goop doctors. This video was already over ten minutes so I just couldn’t.
Published by Rebecca Watson
on Fri 14 Jul 21:38:06
“Honduras is on “red alert” over the number of women being murdered, according to the country’s rights activists. Members of 20 different women’s groups have banded together to highlight the problem, saying at least 18 women were killed in the past two weeks.”
Teachers get swamped several times a year with grading, often under tight deadlines. Based on some recent interactions in my life, here are my top 10 tips (that you shouldn’t follow):
1. Don’t bother assessing students on what you actually taught them. When grading time comes, look for something new you can use to arbitrarily separate the students into “good” and “bad” categories.
2. If you made a rubric, don’t follow it. Use your intuition to decide instead. When students complain, make up a reason to justify your choices.
3. If you don’t like the rubric that you made, find someone else to blame for it. Anyone who offered you any help with it would be a great target. Try telling them it was just impossible to use their rubric that they forced on you, even if they didn’t. (Blaming is a great way to make friends too.)
4. Make sure that you take into consideration what you know students were thinking. It doesn’t matter what they actually did, the only important thing is what they thought. Obviously, as the teacher you can easily know exactly what your students thoughts and motivations were when they did their work.
5. Always look at the student’s names (and pictures, if possible) while you are grading so you can remember every feeling you had about that student all term while you are objectively looking at their final assessments.
6. Look very carefully for any minuscule details (such as a single misspelling in a 3000 word essay) that you can use to base the entire grade on. Make sure this detail has more weight than anything else.
7. Likewise, if there is any bureaucratic policy you can follow to the point of giving completely unfair grades, apply that as consistently (or inconsistently) as you like.
8. Whenever you can, change the standards that you use. Grade some students under one set of criteria and other students under a totally different one. It’s fun to change things up from one class to the next or between boys and girls.
9. Don’t look too closely at student work. Just try to get the gist and make lots of assumptions to fill in the gaps of whatever you don’t want to bother reading. Grading goes a lot faster if you just skim and skip whole sections that look boring.
10. If you don’t like your final numbers when you’re done, just tweak them. Feel free to adjust lots of grades in one class so that the average is completely identical to another class, even if they performed differently. Or, if you think one class actually is not as good as another but their grades say differently, make sure their grades reflect your own beliefs.
If you lookup “intentionality fallacy” you’d probably find a lot of references to literature and other arts, since that is its usual context. We need to start talking about it in other things too. For example, everything.
In brief, the intentionality fallacy happens when you are trying to understand, interpret, or critique a work of art and you depend almost entirely (or totally exclusively) on “what the artist’s intention was.” I thought this book was a commentary on X, but the author said it was actually about Y so that’s the only correct way to look at it.
At first, it might not sound like a fallacy. Surely, we should consider a work’s intended meaning when we analyze it? Unfortunately, like all informal fallacies, the logic doesn’t hold up if you apply it to the majority of things, art or otherwise.
Think about those news bloopers that pop up on YouTube from time to time where a news reporter or meteorologist is drawing on a map and their drawing looks a whole lot like a penis. They were not intending to draw that, but it really looks like it to a lot of people. All of those people aren’t wrong in recognizing the same pattern, the fact that so many see the same thing indicates that there is something to see. In this case, it is pareidolia, but the fact that many people can clearly see something that was not intended to be drawn can’t be discounted. We can’t just say, “no, that’s not what your eyes are telling you because that’s not what the drawer intended to do.”
Recently, I’ve been seeing this fallacy a lot among teachers (I’m probably suffering from a version of the Frequency Illusion bias) and it seems insidious. I’ve been working with a rookie teacher a lot recently who often justifies some really bad choices with “Well, I was intending for this to…” As if a noble intention eliminates the fact that the students received no valuable development from a lesson or absolves one from criticism.
It is also a huge problem with assessment (yes I’ve made this basic point before). As an ESL teacher, I spend a lot of time looking at ESL tests. One of the biggest ones in the world is IELTS. It is intended to measure how closely to a native speaker a non-native English speaker’s ability is. However, native English speakers often struggle with it and score poorly on it. The design of it, intended for maximum fairness and accuracy, involves a listening portion which requires listening, reading, and writing simultaneously. Any problem in a student’s ability to read or write will automatically lower their listening score, as will any of a multitude of other factors that affect their ability to do this form of multitasking. The intention of IELTS doesn’t match the realities of the test. It also, despite claiming otherwise, often requires a level of background knowledge on certain (random) things and a test-taker’s score could be sabotaged by complete chance.
This problem is not unique to IELTS, and indeed may be true for most standardized tests (and most regular tests too). However, I don’t see nearly enough dialogue about the gap between intention and reality in these areas. It doesn’t mean we should disregard all intentions and always look only at the final product (that’s leaning towards the outcome bias), but we need to pay closer attention, especially in education, to seeing if effects really match intentions.
This is part five (the end) of a rebuttal to this article. Part one can be found here.
There are just two more points I need to address in Hendrick’s article before I am done with my rebuttal. I know, all two of you readers have been waiting with bated breath to see what I’d write next.
In my first post in this series, I mentioned that the very existence of the skeptical movement disproves Hendrick’s arguments that skills cannot transfer and that critical thinking (and dispositions in general) cannot be taught. I’ll elaborate with an anecdote.
The first time I was ever introduced to critical thinking in any real way, it was in a subject-specific situation — exactly what Hendrick thinks is the best way. I did learn to think critically about that subject very well, but just that subject. Years passed and I continued to believe a whole lot of nonsense because the only kind of critical thinking I knew how to do only came up when I was thinking about that subject. As Hendrick rightly argues, cognitive skills do not easily transfer.
Then, I downloaded a skeptical podcast, never having heard of the skeptic movement before. The podcast talked about a variety of different claims, involving: physics, history, biology, religion, chemistry, marketing, conspiracies, medicine, environmentalism, paranormality, and the supernatural. Each episode dealt with a really different subject, but the one common thread running throughout was that the host was applying critical thinking to all of them. The same critical thinking.
No matter what the claim was, or the specific subject, it could be analyzed using the same set of skills. There were underlying principles at play, such as “before investigating how something happened, first establish that it happened,” and “look for the original source of the information to see if it is reliable” and “consider multiple explanations before jumping to conclusions.” These, and many more, are general critical thinking skills that can be applied to any subject.
As I learned more about the skeptical movement, I discovered a diverse multitude of people who were applying (or trying to apply, because we can never escape our cognitive biases) these general critical thinking skills to a huge variety of situations and subjects. I saw that people without a background in astronomy could debunk UFO claims, non-biologists could dismantle intelligent design, and people who’d never cracked open a philosophy textbook could pick apart dogmatic arguments. They could do this because they had a set of generalized critical thinking skills. The same logical fallacy could exist in any domain, and one doesn’t need to be an expert in that domain to recognize it, one could be an expert in critical thinking instead.
Hendrick asserts that critical thinking is not a skill, by quoting Daniel Willingham:
critical thinking (as well as scientific thinking and other domain-based thinking) is not a skill. There is not a set of critical thinking skills that can be acquired and deployed regardless of context.
If they are right, the skeptical movement really couldn’t exist. First, because its aims (at promoting “critical thinking”) would be self-contradictory. Second, because all the skeptics who do apply critical thinking to a wide variety of topics could not exist.
If this assertion is correct, and “critical thinking” is not a skill and cannot be taught:
Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit is a worthless idea.
And Skeptics should all stop, because we don’t really exist and we’re not doing anything.
The one thing that Hendrick gets right is that transfer is hard. Pretty much all educational research supports this. I was going to cite a bunch of articles here, but I realized that I may as well just point to the entire body of educational studies. This is a much bigger problem than the topic at hand, and it would probably need a serious reworking of the entire educational system to address (but that’s out of the question, because we clearly don’t want evidence-based policies).
The real problem that Hendrick failed to address is that teaching critical thinking is really, really hard. Instead of giving up after repeatedly telling students to “look at an issue from multiple perspectives” and concluding that teaching general critical thinking skills is impossible (as Willingham says), perhaps we should try looking at the ones who actually succeed at it and look for ways to overcome the problem of cognitive biases.
In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with David Frum about political partisanship, recent security leaks, Trump’s foreign policy, the Russia investigation, Kathy Griffin’s joke, and other topics.
David Frum is a senior editor at The Atlantic. In 2001–02, he was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush.
Those of you in academic and artistic circles have no doubt heard by this point that Donald Trump’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year involves the closure of both the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, along with several other cultural institutions. There are lots of reasons why this is a Bad Thing, not least of which is the fact that I am currently employed on a NEH grant project, and the agency’s closure will almost certainly materially affect not only my livelihood, but that of many, many other researchers and graduate students across a number of fields.
But I want to focus today on another angle of this issue that has not (to my knowledge) been a significant part of the conversation on funding for the arts and humanities. Bear with me, because it might at first seem like a bit of a leap. Ready? OK.
The robots are coming for our jobs. Perhaps you remember seeing this video by CGP Grey when it came out a couple of years ago:
The big question Grey raises toward the end of the video is: what are we humans to do when (and it is a matter of when) the automation of many kinds of jobs leads to mass unemployment in both the skilled and unskilled parts of the labour force. Sure, there will always be room for at least some humans to find gainful employment in a primarily automated economy, but it seems clear that there probably won’t be room for everyone to have a day job that pays the bills.
Widespread unemployment of this kind is both an economic and a social problem. Perhaps the most straightforward solution to the economic end of the problem is the institution of a Universal Basic Income for all those who have been more or less unwillingly ejected from the labour force, and the Province of Ontario is already experimenting with this very solution. But prolonged unemployment has all sorts of negative effects on health and wellbeing even when people’s basic material needs are being met.
This is why we need the arts.
While Grey is right that we can’t base an actual economy on poems and paintings, the fact remains that participating in arts and culture does give people something to do with all of that time they no longer spend working.
At its edges, Star Trek provides an excellent example of what a society with a near-fully automated economy might look like. With basic material needs taken care of, most average citizens of the Federation choose to pursue their interests and passions rather than labour or employment in the traditional sense. While there are still “professional” artists in the sense that a gifted few achieve widespread notoriety through their unusual talent, amateur artistic and cultural production is everywhere, and ranges from Capt. Picard’s noodling on his flute to more ambitious performances of Shakespeare plays on the Holodeck.
During my own extended period of un(der)employment following my PhD, I have been involved in quite a lot of amateur artistic endeavours. I sing in a choir. I perform stand-up comedy. I write. I occasionally tinker with the couple of video games I’m trying to develop.
All of these things could easily expand to fill 100% of my free time, and they probably would if I didn’t also have to keep working on my research in the hope of landing gainful academic employment somewhere. And to be honest, I would probably continue doing research even in a society freed from the economic necessity of labour, because I enjoy doing it. But it would be nice to have the choice, and it would probably be to everyone’s benefit if scholarship were no longer driven by the publish-or-perish model that arises out of the material necessity of employment and career advancement.
A time in which most people are freed from the necessity of labour could easily become a time of unprecedented amateur participation in arts and culture, but only if we as a society choose to support arts and culture. These things are valuable, and may become even more so quite a lot sooner than we think.
In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Timothy Snyder about his book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.
Timothy Snyder is a professor of history at Yale University and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. He received his doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1997, where he was a British Marshall Scholar. Before joining the faculty at Yale in 2001, he held fellowships in Paris, Vienna, and Warsaw, and an Academy Scholarship at Harvard. He has spent some ten years in Europe, and speaks five and reads ten European languages. He has also written for The New York Review of Books, Foreign Affairs, The Times Literary Supplement, The Nation, and The New Republic as well as for The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, and other newspapers. He is a member of the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He is the author of several award-winning books including The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, and Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. His latest book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list for nonfiction.
In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Zeynep Tufekci about “surveillance capitalism,” the Trump campaign’s use of Facebook, AI-enabled marketing, the health of the press, Wikileaks, ransomware attacks, and other topics.
Zeynep Tufekci is a contributing opinion writer at the New York Times, associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Information and Library Science, and a faculty associate at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society. She is the author of Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest.
In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Siddhartha Mukherjee about the human desire to understand and manipulate heredity, the genius of Gregor Mendel, the ethics of altering our genes, the future of genetic medicine, patent issues in genetic research, controversies about race and intelligence, and other topics.
Siddhartha Mukherjee is a cancer physician and researcher. He is an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and a staff cancer physician at the CU/NYU Presbyterian Hospital. A former Rhodes scholar, he graduated from Stanford University, University of Oxford (where he received a PhD studying cancer-causing viruses) and from Harvard Medical School. His laboratory focuses on discovering new cancer drugs using innovative biological methods. He has published articles and commentary in such journals as Nature, New England Journal of Medicine, Neuron and the Journal of Clinical Investigation and in publications such as the New York Times,The New Yorker, and the New Republic. His work was nominated for Best American Science Writing, 2000. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. His most recent book is The Gene: An Intimate History.
Robin Ince just asked if I know any epidemiologist lightbulb jokes. I wrote this for him. How many epidemiologists does it take to change a lightbulb? We’ve found 12,000 switches hidden around the house. Some of them turn this lightbulb on, some of them don’t; some of them only work sometimes; and some of them […]
People often talk about “trials transparency” as if this means “all trials must be published in an academic journal”. In reality, true transparency goes much further than this. We need Clinical Study Reports, and individual patient data, of course. But we also need the consent forms, so we can see what patients were told. We need […]
Today marks the end of an era. The International Journal of Epidemiology used to be a typical hotchpotch of isolated papers on worthy subjects. Occasionally, some were interesting, or related to your field. Under Shah Ebrahim and George Davey-Smith it became like nothing else: an epidemiology journal you’d happily subscribe to with your own money, and read in […]
The Conversation is a great media outlet, because it’s run by academic nerds, but made for everyone. I had a nice time chatting with them last week: we discussed transparency, data sharing, statins, research integrity, risk communication, culture shift, academic activism, and why we should kick through the walls of the ivory tower. Caution: contains nerds! theconversation.com/speaking-with-bad-pharma-author-ben-goldacre-about-how-bad-research-hurts-us-all-65800
The Duchenne’s treatment made by Sarepta (eteplirsen) has been in the news this week, as a troubling example of the FDA lowering its bar for approval of new medicines. The FDA expert advisory panel decided not to approve this treatment, because the evidence for any benefit is weak; but there was extensive lobbying from well-organised patients and, eventually, the FDA overturned the opinion of its own […]
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.
the number of people who consider themselves religious has dropped from 73% to 60%
those who declare themselves atheists have risen from 1% to 5%
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".
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.”
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
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?
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.