When will my supernatural demonic powers kick in? None of my curses ever seem to work.

I think a perfectly legitimate way to deal with ranting pastors like Greg Locke is to immediately revoke their tax exempt status. Any time a preacher gets blatantly partisan, or uses their pulpit to promote sedition, swiftly inform them that they are preaching politics rather than religion, and send them a bill for property tax and income tax.

It’s absurd that we just shrug and look away at that kind of behavior.

I count two films by Robert Eggers as just about the best movies of the last decade — The VVitch and The Lighthouse — they’re thick with an otherworldly atmosphere and a fearfully weird kind of horror. So of course tonight I had to go see The Northman.

It was OK. Not as compelling as the other two movies, but I enjoyed it as a grim, fatalistic saga of bloody revenge. I think it was less exciting to me because the primary elements of the story — howling with the wolves, vengeance, berserker rages, betrayal, and vicious fights against the backdrop of an erupting volcano — were so familiar. That’s the mundane experience of growing up in a Scandinavian-American family, don’t you know.

Also, finally, we get some affirmation of our religious beliefs. Yes, when I die in battle, a Valkyrie will descend to carry my soul into the sky to Valhalla, where I will spend eternity feasting and fighting. I saw it in a movie now, so you know it has to be true.

If you haven’t seen the news in the last few days, I’ll fill you in: Elon Musk has been accused of sexual harassment.

The flight attendant told her friend that the billionaire SpaceX and Tesla founder asked her to come to his room during a flight in late 2016 “for a full body massage,” the declaration says. When she arrived, the attendant found that Musk “was completely naked except for a sheet covering the lower half of his body.” During the massage, the declaration says, Musk “exposed his genitals” and then “touched her and offered to buy her a horse if she would ‘do more,’ referring to the performance of sex acts.”

The offer to buy her a horse is an unusual detail, but apparently the flight attendant rode horses when she wasn’t working. It’s not as if Musk buys horses for every woman he propositions.

Of course, denies everything.

“I have a challenge to this liar who claims their friend saw me ‘exposed’ — describe just one thing, anything at all (scars, tattoos, …) that isn’t known by the public. She won’t be able to do so, because it never happened,” the Tesla and SpaceX CEO tweeted early Friday morning.

Now that raises another question: does he even have any distinguishing scars or tattoos that someone would notice? It’s a mark of vanity that he would think his nethers are so distinctive that anyone would recognize him.

But OK, it really is a she said, he said sort of situation. So far, it’s just an accusation, and I’m not seeing the evidence. Except there is one thing that I’d like to see him explain away: the payout.

In 2018, after becoming convinced that her refusal to accept Musk’s proposal had diminished her opportunities at SpaceX, the attendant hired a California employment lawyer and sent a complaint to the company’s human resources department detailing the episode. Around that time, the attorney’s firm contacted the friend and asked her to prepare the declaration corroborating the claims.

The attendant’s complaint was resolved quickly after a session with a mediator that Musk personally attended. The matter never reached a court of law or an arbitration proceeding. In November 2018, Musk, SpaceX and the flight attendant entered into a severance agreement granting the attendant a $250,000 payment in exchange for a promise not to sue over the claims.

The agreement also included restrictive non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses that bar the attendant from ever discussing the severance payment or disclosing any information of any kind about Musk and his businesses, including SpaceX and Tesla.

Wait wait wait. She was concerned that her refusal to accommodate Musk’s sexual demands was going to affect her prospects in the company, and her complaint was very quickly addressed in a meeting with lawyers and the billionaire president of the company by cutting a quarter million dollar check? This is bizarre and damning. He folded fast and handed out an awful lot of money for ‘just an accusation’. Is this routine policy at SpaceX?

It also means there has to be a record somewhere of a payout by SpaceX and a bank deposit by the accuser. Let’s see the evidence.

Although there is also the troubling fact that Free Speech Warrior Musk made the flight attendant sign an NDA. How about waiving that, Mr Musk, and letting freedom ring?

Another argument Musk makes in his defense is that this is the only accusation made, and that his record is clean, which is a point in his favor. However, I wonder what effect his ability to drop $250,000 (or a horse!) on an accuser to silence them with legal shackles plays on that absence. Will success in breaking that NDA lead to a new collection of accusers to step forward? That’s what happened with #MeToo, you know.

It’s bad enough that Uncle Elmer is going to be bellowing his ugly opinions all evening, so don’t add this fellow who is so transparent that you can see his digestive gland churning away.

It’s amazing what conservatives think they can get away with by just lying loudly, and what’s worse, they do get away with it. Here’s a college-educated woman, the president of Americans United for Life, testifying before congress that cities power their street lights by burning aborted fetuses as fuel.

But wait…fetuses are small, wet, and squishy. It’s going to constitute a net loss of energy to incinerate them — they’re not like little candles that you can touch a match to them and they then burn. This is a patently ridiculous claim that makes no sense at all.

Amanda Marcotte writes about the cavalcade of lies that came pouring out of that session.

It was only one half-hour into Wednesday’s congressional hearing on abortion access when it became clear that the Republican contributions to the day would be loonier than a QAnon message board.

“In places like Washington D.C.,” fetuses are “burned to power the light’s of the city’s homes and streets,” claimed Catherine Glenn Foster, who had, just minutes before, sworn not to lie under oath. The GOP-summoned witness let loose the wild and utterly false accusation that municipal electrical companies are powered by incinerated fetuses.

“The next time you turn on the light, think of the incinerators,” she said, apparently repeating a misleading talking point from the same anti-choice activists caught stashing fetuses at home. Everything on the right is psychological projection.

But then, abortion is a topic on which they’ve been building lies for decades. Conservatives can pound their fists on tables while spitting out lies for hours.

Republicans pretended progressives don’t know what a “woman” is. They insisted that the mere existence of abortion shows that birth control efforts are useless. (On the contrary, the abortion rate has gone down as birth control access has improved.) They pretended, over and over, that the issue at hand was only late-term abortions. In reality, the abortion bans being passed start at two weeks after a missed period, if not sooner. And then there was the repulsive contributions of Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, who pretended that women wait until they go into labor and then abort the pregnancy right before the baby is born. Having made this lie up, he then berated Alabama-based OB-GYN Dr. Yashica Robinson for the existence of a procedure that, quite literally, only happens in his bizarre fantasies.

It’s not just abortion! They can lie about everything.

As their actual political views become harder to defend on the merits, Republicans increasingly embrace conspiracy theories and urban legends to justify the unjustifiable. Want to ban schoolchildren from reading about Martin Luther King Jr.? Just falsely claim that something called “critical race theory” is being taught to school kids and use that as cover. Want to deny trans kids the right to be treated with dignity in public schools? Roll out some wild story about how kids are now “identifying” as cats and using litter boxes in school. Want to rile up the GOP going into the midterms? Screw making any substantive arguments! Just claim that Democrats are conspiring to “replace” white Christians with people of different races and ethnicities, a conspiracy theory lifted directly from neo-Nazis, with the details barely tweaked before being repeated hundreds of times on Fox News.

CRT was a big fat lie from the very beginning: it’s not taught in the public schools, but if you don’t understand what it is, you can pretend any mention of our country’s racist history is CRT. So here’s a woman, a single mother raising a son fathered by a black man, suing a school because, she says, they made her son aware of his race. He never talked about his race or racial issues until the school forced it on him.

(Apologies for exposing you to the smarmiest man on television, Jesse Watters.)

I think Melissa Riley is the one projecting racial biases here. She says that once the school told him that he was biracial, that he he has seen himself just as a black man and when he gets a bad grade at school or a girl rejects him, or when his mother asks him to clean the house, that’s racism. Her lawyer claims that the school is brainwashing him and teaching that his behavior is determinined by his race. That’s probably a lie (there are people who argue that), but if the claim is true, that’s not Critical Race Theory at all — CRT is about social structures that affect everyone. She has her own weird ideas about race, as she has said:

“He looks Hawaiian,” she said of her son. “He’s beautiful.”

Eh, African-American, Hawaiian, they’re all the same thing, right?

It’s all projection with these bozos.

This post contains a video, which you can also view here. To support more videos like this, head to patreon.com/rebecca! Transcript: Well, I made it to May of 2022 before I finally gave up and decided to talk about “critical race theory,” or CRT, the latest straw-filled bogeyman being attacked by whatever alt-right morons haven’t …

Summer 2022 New Humanist cover

The summer 2022 issue of New Humanist is on sale now! Subscribe here for as little as £27 a year.

The dark side of progress

Dystopia by degrees

As the climate crisis deepens, so will the battle over how to tackle it. Alice Bell explores some dangerous scenarios, and argues instead for a future that limits suffering and protects the vulnerable.

Could rising climate impacts lead to an increase in eco-fascism? Undoubtedly yes, and we should fight that as we would any other kind of fascism. Could we build a decarbonised world that not only replicates but exacerbates inequalities and human rights abuses endemic in our current fossil fuel economy? Again, it’s all too easy to imagine...

The cashless conspiracy

Everything is going digital, even money. But as Brett Scott argues, we should be a little suspicious of the drive to stop us using “dirty cash”.

And much like the missionaries who express incredulity that you wouldn’t want to go to heaven, these firms think it’s outrageous that you wouldn’t want to ascend to “the cloud” – their world of hyper-connected and hyper-global digital markets that are supposed to free us from “inconvenience” and “friction”...

Cynical saviours

Corporations increasingly claim to back progressive causes. Carl Rhodes explains how capitalism "going woke" is a threat to our democracy.

The implications for the future are considerable, as the democratic tradition that values equality, freedom and debate between participating citizens becomes over-whelmed by a corporate voice drown-ing out others in its soundbite-sized version of self-serving morality.

The fight for genetic justice

The cells of Henrietta Lacks were harvested without her consent and have proved vital to medical research. Semmi W. talks to the Lacks family, who are suing one of the biotech companies making use of the cells.

It was only in 1975 that the family discovered the fate of the cells, which had been harvested from tumours in Henrietta’s womb. Scientists hoping to map Henrietta’s DNA called her husband in order to request permission to collect genetic samples from him and other relatives. Be-fore that phone call, no efforts had been made to seek con-sent or inform the family.

Q&A

J.P. O'Malley talks to Victoria Amelina, an award-winning novelist from Lviv, Ukraine.

It’s very painful to lose people in war, of course. But losing culture and history is a tragedy too. Russians keep trying to punish us for having this history, and for being Europeans.

The summer 2022 issue of New Humanist is on sale now! Subscribe here for as little as £10 a year.

Dancing with the dead

Also in this issue:

  • Peter Forbes on building a new green economy by harnessing the power of bacteria
  • Amanda Coakley reports on the new European university aiming to produce a godly elite
  • We celebrate monogamy, but is it in fact unethical, asks Brian Earp
  • Ralph Jones on dancing with the dead
  • Nicholas Lezard on Ulysses and a hundred years of heresy
  • To revolutionise our food industry, we need to learn from the past, writes Vron Ware
  • Samira Ahmed on undercover cops and the fight for justice of the women they deceived
  • With Station Eleven, apocalypse TV has finally come of age, writes Caroline Crampton
  • Jonathan Egid asks whether Raymond Tallis, in his new book, has cracked the problem of free will
  • PLUS: Columns from Michael Rosen, Laurie Taylor and Marcus Chown, book reviews, the latest developments in biology, chemistry and physics; cryptic crossword and Chris Maslanka's quiz

New Humanist is published by the Rationalist Association, a 136-year-old charity promoting reason and free enquiry. To make a deeper commitment to our work, why not become a member of the Rationalist Association?

This post contains a video, which you can also view here. To support more videos like this, head to patreon.com/rebecca! Last weekend, a man gunned down nearly a dozen people in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York. The next day, Richard Dawkins encouraged his 3 million Twitter followers to read Douglas Murray’s “utterly superb” …
This post contains a video, which you can also view here. To support more videos like this, head to patreon.com/rebecca! Transcript: We often talk about how to stop the spread of “misinformation” online, and by “we” I mean “me.” Me often talk about how to stop the spread of “misinformation” online. But the word “misinformation” …
Earlier this year, Twitter suspended the account of Atheist Republic (@AtheistRepublic) for unspecified violations after complaints from the Indian government. In the letter below, Robyn Blumner, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, and Richard Dawkins, CFO board member and founder of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, write to request that …
In an essay exclusive to Free Inquiry, Richard Dawkins responds to the likely overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the roots of anti-abortion fanaticism found in Catholic dogma. Why are they so fanatical about this one issue, eclipsing, as it does, all others? It is because they really think abortion …

Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker’s Rationality is a tour de force training manual on how to think. Lessons in logical deduction, in avoiding cognitive biases and probability blunders, and in how to recognise fallacies all provide stimulus for vital mental spring-cleaning. Not merely instructive, Rationality is also an affirmation of many of the most fundamental humanist commitments: the simple beauty of the recursive nature of reason, the indispensability of rationality to deliberative democracy, the celebration of science, ethics and law as the greatest achievements of human rationality.

But Rationality aspires to do more than just explain, define and describe its eponymous concept. Its full subtitle asks not just “What [rationality] is”, but “Why it seems scarce, Why it matters”. And it isn’t a utopian tract, arguing for human beings as perfect rational actors who go astray only when manipulated or misled. In many forms, Pinker says, rationality is counterintuitive – we often need to engineer it. So, bookending the chapters that deal with the many aspects of the nature of rationality is Pinker’s most urgent call: to understand that rationality does matter, that it needs defending, and that we must advance it.

The book’s focus is a natural extension of the Canadian-American’s inquiries to date. As a public intellectual and committed member of the humanist movement – as well as a cognitive psychologist and psycholinguist – Pinker’s work, especially his 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined and its sequel, Enlightenment Now (2018), has argued consistently and forcefully for the importance of science, reason and humanism to the advancement of our species. As Chief Executive of Humanists UK, I was especially keen to discuss the book with Pinker – particularly the idea, as he summarised it to me, that “good things only happen as a result of human ingenuity and reason deployed toward humanistic goals”. I enthusiastically agree. But it’s easy to entice someone like me to embrace and celebrate the case for rationality. What about those who are not yet convinced, who may be the very people fighting for social change?

“One of the reasons that I’m active in the humanist movement,” he tells me, “is I think we can provide reasons why some goals are better than others by pointing out how they are consistent with other values that virtually everyone claims to believe.” Yet for Pinker’s aim of advancing rationality to be meaningfully fulfilled, it does seem to me that we must do more than rationally point out the inconsistencies in the thinking of others.

Making use of myth?

Towards the end of Rationality, Pinker classifies beliefs into two types. The first belong in our “reality” mindset. We arrive at and sustain these beliefs by reasoning about facts in our direct experience: water will boil at 100 degrees; cooking food will make it edible and nourishing. As these examples imply, beliefs of the reality type are also those that are essential to our everyday lives.

Beliefs of the second type – those in our “mythology” mindset – operate in a different zone. They relate to the worlds beyond our direct experience: the long ago, the far away, the metaphysical. The functions of these beliefs are different from the beliefs in our reality mindset, and broader. They provide entertainment, moral lessons, a sense of meaning, social solidarity and more. Conspiracy theories, superstitions, comforting falsehoods, religions and tribalisms all live in our mythology mindset.

As inheritors of the enlightenment tradition, committed to its dynamic continuation, we are duty-bound – so Rationality argues – to make sure that as many of our beliefs as possible fall into the “reality” mindset. But I realised, reflecting on the book, that my own commitment to rationality has a considerable amount of the mythological about it.

I remember the first time I read a legal judgement. I can recall the admirable clarity with which the judge assessed the evidence presented to her. The arguments lawyers had made were considered, and – step by logical step – a judicious conclusion was reached. I found the experience of reading her words enormously satisfying. I didn’t just regard the rationality of her process as an effective way of getting to the truth. I felt a sort of pleasure as the judgement unfolded and took shape. At the end, I felt an aesthetic appreciation at something having been done properly.

It reminded me of my favourite work of theatre, Aeschylus’ Oresteia. Its final scene is an enactment of the first ever court, presided over by the goddess Athena, where adversarial truth-seeking justice replaces blood guilt and vengeance. Written two and a half millennia ago, it depicted the mythical world of centuries before that, providing an inspiring origin story for rational adjudication.

Thinking about that scene and the Oresteia brings to mind what Einstein said about the Greeks, that they were the first to “overcome man’s insecurity before himself and before nature” and the first who “wrought a system of thought whose conclusions no one could escape” – a beautiful way of describing both the art of reasoning and its profound consequences. What the broadcaster and humanist Jacob Bronowksi called this Greek “assertion of confidence” evokes the 20th-century scientific confidence that people like Bronowski and Einstein represent. I see the centuries-long chain of men and women who have carved out a space for truth and justice in an indifferent universe – their effort, their commitment, their inspiring struggle. In this timeless community, as the humanist philosopher Harold Blackham put it, “Nothing is exempt from human question. There is no immemorial tradition, no revelation, no authority, no privileged knowledge . . . which is beyond question because [it is] beyond experience and which can be used as a standard by which to interpret experience. There is only experience to be interpreted in the light of further experience, the sole source of all standards of reason and value, forever open to question.” Rationality is the golden thread that runs through so much that makes the human story vital and vivid in my mind’s eye.

All this may lack the sensuousness of Proust’s madeleine, but it’s plain that my own commitment to rationality at least in part resides in the category of mythological belief, a weaving together of all these narratives and more. This mythology even has its own magic. The three little words “Let’s be reasonable” always have the power to recall me to calmness. “Yes,” I think, “we should be reasonable. I was being unreasonable and overheated. I should stop that.” I wouldn’t want to let Athena down.

This is very personal, but it is not merely by way of autobiography. I am not the only one whose most powerful motivations come from my “mythological” beliefs, nor the only person who is more likely to be rational if the case for doing so can be made more vivid and warm. So, to return to my question arising from Pinker’s new book: if we do need to find ways to promote rationality – and it won’t do to just tell people it is fact-based and true – should we make use of the mythology mindset, and not just the principles exhorted in Rationality? I put this to Pinker.

“Do we want to have humanist preachers rolling back their eyes and pumping copies of Spinoza’s Ethics on the pulpit?” he responds. “Probably not.” But, he says, “we do need something. We are human. We are motivated by ideals, images, heroes. I think that is reasonable to the extent that we know how to bottle them so that they don’t infect our understanding of reality. If it’s a way to engage our emotions toward ends that we can justify on humanist grounds, then it’s probably wise, it’s probably a challenge that we ought to step up to.”

I expressed the hope that this could be achieved through “mythologies”, but Pinker is much more comfortable with the idea that rhetoric will provide motivation: “Maybe we have to study the cases of successful political leadership and rhetoric that managed to engage people’s emotions toward goals that we all can best justify.” He singles out Martin Luther King, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Barack Obama. “It is an art that I think probably requires a rare combination of talents – intellectual and interpersonal and emotional. I do what I’m capable of doing, which is making the case. It ain’t Martin Luther King. But, you know, maybe it would inspire some future version of Martin Luther King!”

In fact, the prose of Rationality frequently inspires, and there are many passages that would qualify as required reading on any curriculum of “rationalist myth-making”, if such a thing were thought desirable after all. But I come to my next question, on advancing the case for rationality. In his book, Pinker argues that being rational has an image problem and that this is one cause of the current crisis of reason. To be rational is not seen as “cool”; it’s an unattractive thing to aspire to. This may be true, but it’s not my biggest concern. Perhaps I am defeatist, but I have taken it as read that many people are going to behave irrationally a lot of the time and that rationality will never be the predominant fashion. What worries me most today is the possibility that the people most inspired by justice, equality and human dignity may be averse to the idea of rationality.

Rationalism and social change

Pinker takes aim in Rationality at what he sees as an unhelpful trend: that young people on university campuses are pursuing social justice while adhering to “fashionable academic movements” that “hold that reason, truth and objectivity are social constructions that justify the privilege of dominant groups”. Because the students aligned with these movements also, he says, believe that “western philosophy and science are parochial, old-fashioned, and naive to the diverse ways of knowing found across periods and cultures”, Pinker places them outside of the rational.

I certainly don’t think rationality is a parochial cultural product. But I do see that it can be preached in aid of the privilege of dominant groups, especially economically dominant ones, and I understand why the people Pinker is talking about feel that way.

The plea of “Let’s be reasonable” from friend to friend might annoy you in the instant, but it does no harm. Between colleagues who share a certain discipline it may be vital, recalling us both to a shared standard. But a plea to be reasonable in the context of the struggle for equality or justice has less palatable associations. I, the rational actor, am calling on you to bring yourself into line. The implication is that you are too emotional, perhaps overly demanding. It’s obvious why the suspicion arises that rationality works against the interests of the less powerful and the vulnerable. This is worrying, especially if we have a particular obligation to persuade those committed to humanistic goals that human reason is the way to realise their hopes. So I ask how we can make rationality appealing to those who promote social justice, democracy and human rights.

Pinker responds that it is rational arguments, not angry protestors, that have historically triggered social change, disputing the idea advanced by his campus radicals that progress is “a story of struggle, with the downtrodden rising up and overcoming their oppressors”. His general theory of social progress is that “the first domino [is] a reasoned argument”. A philosopher wrote a text or manifesto and “eventually the conclusion was absorbed into the conventional wisdom and common decency of a society, erasing the tracks of the argument that brought it there”.

We agree, however, that rationality is not the only tool required to achieve moral progress and that, as the book clearly states, there is no iron law of history. Human societies are not laboratories and no firm conclusions can be drawn about what “works”. Nonetheless, Pinker strongly prefers the rational argument theory. I am not so sure. Even the Enlightenment-soaked founding fathers of the US didn’t reason George III out of his malfeasance. They overthrew him.

On the other hand, Pinker does persuade me that we have a strong argument for convincing progressives of the importance of rationality to achieving social change. “The rights of the downtrodden, the oppressed and the less privileged ought to be fostered and I for one am not willing to say that’s an irrational argument, quite the contrary,” he says. “It’s ultimately a rational one, stemming from the principle of the equality of all humans. This itself is an inherently rational proposition, because it simply hinges on the fact that the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘You’ have no logical status. The idea ‘Whatever I claim for myself, I have to grant to you equally’ is just built into rational discourse.”

In Rationality, Pinker says much of the need to re-engineer our world for rationality, from working to valorise it in popular culture to building it further into our school curricula. It’s a powerful manifesto: we do need to build and maintain resilient rationality-based institutions in every area of our common life. But I am left thinking that the main path out of our present difficulties may be the one that he expresses later – and quite beautifully – in our conversation. Putting rationality at the very heart of the case we make for our love and care for each other is what can in turn give rationality itself back its heart.

This piece is from the New Humanist spring 2022 edition. Subscribe here.

This post contains a video, which you can also view here. To support more videos like this, head to patreon.com/rebecca! Transcript: Recently, dog shelters here in the Bay Area have been putting out the red alert that they are overwhelmed with good boys and girls that need homes. I do not want a second dog, …

President Zelensky was the target of a deep fake video

In a media landscape in which the truth often seems to get lost in noise and disinformation, the increasing use of deepfakes is a particularly worrying trend. Synthetic video content – that is, video which is wholly or partly generated by artificial intelligence – has been in widespread use since at least 2017. Until now, however, it has largely been used for non-consensual pornography, targeting women by using their likeness without their consent.

This year, this developing technology has been weaponised in the Russia-Ukraine war. In March, a deepfake video was released, apparently showing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asking Ukrainian troops to lay down their weapons. It was unsuccessful. After the TV channel Ukraine 24 was hacked so that its website displayed the video, Zelensky was alerted and posted a Facebook video explaining that it was a fake. Twitter and YouTube were quick to announce that they were tracking and removing the video where it was being shared, as it breached their rules on deceptive synthetic media.

However, as a playbook for defeating deepfakes that the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace released in 2019 put it, while digital fakery can, for now, be detected pretty easily, “People have a visceral reaction to video and audio. They believe what their eyes and ears are telling them – even if all signs suggest that the video and audio content is fake.” Since that report, artificial intelligence has advanced, substantially increasing the realism of deepfakes and cutting the resources required to create them.

How do we face this coming tide of disinformation? New technology is part of the picture. In late 2020, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a Media Forensics programme to develop new prototypes to identify and combat falsified media. They use detection algorithms, which analyse media content to determine if manipulation has occurred; and fusion algorithms, which combine information across multiple detectors to create an “integrity score” for each media asset.

But as Nina Schick, author of Deepfakes: The Coming Infocalypse, pointed out recently in Wired magazine, “our crisis of information will not be for technology to solve alone. Any technological solutions will be useless unless we humans are able to adapt to this new environment where fake media is commonplace.” This will require “inoculation” through digital-literacy and awareness training, along with concerted action from government, military and civil groups.

We need to prepare now for this rising threat to our information eco-system. At the moment, it is relatively easy to spot deepfake videos. As the recent video of Zelensky shows, such fakes can be countered with a prompt response. But as technology advances, it is only a matter of time before we will need additional tools and strategies in order to distinguish a deepfake from the real thing.

This piece is from the Witness section of New Humanist summer 2022. Subscribe here.

GHRD protest, 2018

In Pakistan, blasphemy is a crime that carries the death sentence – but many of those accused do not make it as far as sentencing, instead being murdered by vigilantes. According to the Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies, at least 89 citizens have been murdered in killings related to blasphemy cases since Pakistan was established in 1947. There were five last year alone.

Even against this grim backdrop, the recent murder of Safoora Bibi, a teacher at an all-girls religious school in Pakistan, is striking for its particularly horrific nature and the rarity of the killers being women: a female colleague and two of the victim’s former students have been accused. The girls told police that a relative dreamed that Bibi had committed blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad. Police are investigating whether the killing was in fact related to a personal feud. This is often at the root of blasphemy allegations in Pakistan, since the potential punishment is so high and the burden of proof so low (accusers can even refuse to repeat the alleged blasphemy for fear of blaspheming themselves).

Last December, Priyantha Kumara, a Sri Lankan general manager of a garment factory in Sialkot, a city in Pakistan’s Punjab region, was bludgeoned to death by a mob after reportedly removing posters that had sections from the Koran written on them. Many people, including the president of the local chamber of commerce, maintain that Kumara was in fact targeted by his factory’s workers over a personal grudge.

According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, about 80 people in Pakistan are in prison for blasphemy, with at least half facing a life sentence or death. There have been no executions since the moratorium on the death penalty 14 years ago. However, there is some evidence that the death penalty emboldens ordinary citizens to carry out vigilante killings in Pakistan. Some of the goriest mob lynchings occurred after the moratorium was introduced. Perpetrators of these vigilante killings are rarely brought to justice.

Whatever the motive of the women who killed Safoora Bibi, attacks based on blasphemy accusations look set to continue. With Pakistan mired in a broader political crisis after Imran Khan was ousted, a change to the law is not on the agenda: in the last 15 years, politicians who proposed reform have been threatened and even killed. As long as the country has some of the strictest blasphemy laws in the the world, we will continue to see innocent people murdered by their fellow citizens.

This piece is from the Witness section of New Humanist summer 2022. Subscribe here.

Ukrainian refugees at a checkpoint

It is increasingly obvious to the British population, and the world at large, that the UK government is going out of its way to avoid its moral and international obligations towards refugees. On 27 April, the Nationality and Borders Act finally passed through parliament, despite evidence that it risks criminalising asylum seekers and denying their right to reunion with their families already in the country. Meanwhile, the Homes for Ukraine scheme – through which individuals, charities and business can sponsor refugees fleeing the Russia-Ukraine war – has grabbed headlines while falling behind on targets, as Ukrainians struggle to actually obtain the visas required, with many of the spare rooms offered remaining empty.

The immigration bill had been stuck in parliament since last July, and to force it through the government dropped one of the more controversial aspects: the so-called “push-back” policy that would allow the UK to stop asylum seekers in the Channel and send their dinghies back to France. However, the new legislation still penalises refugees entitled to asylum in the UK for having reached the country via “illegal” means. The government has repeatedly claimed that the aim is to crack down on people-smuggling gangs and to prevent deaths at sea. However, they were forced to admit in April that the bill contained no provision for safe and legal routes for asylum seekers into Britain. Therefore this argument appears to be disingenuous.

Thus far, 160 charities and campaign groups have branded the bill “shamefully cruel”. The UNHCR, meanwhile, has raised concerns that the law will undermine the Refugee Convention, along with Britain’s “longstanding global cooperation on refugee issues”.

Particular concerns have been raised over the new legislation allowing for the removal of refugees to other countries. Some critics have questioned the feasibility of the £120 million deal with Rwanda for offshore housing of asylum seekers, given the legal challenges such a scheme is likely to face. But the possibility of such a development has prompted outrage. The move has been seen as further evidence of Britain seeking to abandon its international obligations, and to shirk its ethical responsibility to provide safe refuge to people fleeing war and persecution.

Meanwhile, a whistleblower working for the Homes for Ukraine scheme has claimed that the policy was “designed to fail”, in order to limit the numbers of Ukrainians entering the country. Announced in the Commons as advancing Britain’s “long and proud history” of supporting the most vulnerable “in their darkest hours”, the scheme was criticised from the start for requiring asylum seekers toapply for a visa. This bureaucratic process – in which people are sometimes expected to travel hundreds of miles to passport or visa offices – drastically limits and slows a process intended to aid victims of war who may be in immediate danger.

The Refugee Council has expressed concern about the prospect of housing traumatised people with individuals who had not been through any robust checks or training, while it’s still unclear what will happen to refugees after the six-month stint with sponsors comes to an end. This latest whistleblower leak, claiming that the system was designed to “keep the numbers down”, seems to confirm suspicions that limitations aren’t a bug, but rather a feature.

Taken in the round, the least cynical of observers might conclude that the UK government’s priority is simply to keep refugee numbers low. Thus far, appeals to moral and international commitments have been ignored, as has the opinion of the British public, whose views in a recent YouGov poll showed the majority opposed the Rwanda deal, with 27 per cent “strongly opposed”. So much for Britain’s much-trumpeted “long and proud history” of providing refuge for the vulnerable – at least where the current government is concerned.

This piece is from the Witness section of New Humanist summer 2022. Subscribe here.

Earlier today a rag-tag group of people gathered in Northridge Park in Coralville, Iowa. I walked over to a table and saw some little children drawing on pennants with puffy paint. They were creating dedications to my son. One looked up at me and asked, as she would have any nearby grown-up, “How do you …
This thread has been created for thoughtful, rational discussion on subjects for which there are not currently any dedicated threads. Please note that our Comment Policy applies as usual. There is a link to this at the foot of the page. If you would like to refer back to previous open discussion threads, the most …

Do you know how best to cut your carbon footprint?

I recently invited people to take an online survey about sustainable lifestyle changes and over 800 people kindly responded. The work was conducted with Prof Mike Page from the University of Hertfordshire and Edinburgh Science, and the results are now in!

Everyone were asked to estimate how many kilograms of carbon dioxide would be saved by taking a range of actions. Many of the ratings were hugely inaccurate, with people generally overestimating the effects of less impactful changes, such as unplugging appliances, but underestimating the contribution of larger lifestyle changes such as following a vegetarian diet. For example

….unplugging a mobile phone charger saves around 2kg of CO2 emissions per year; yet one third of respondents thought that it saved five times that (100kg or more).

….leaving a television on standby emits around 15kg of CO2 per year, but a third of respondents estimated that it was far more significant (125 kg or more).

….becoming a vegetarian can save over 600kg, yet half of the respondents thought that it only saved 300kg or less.

…buying a blue jumper rather than a red one has no impact at all, but, on average, people thought that it would save 37kg.

The good news is that other estimates about, for example, the impact of flying, were more accurate. Every little helps, and people should consider doing whatever they can to cut emissions. However, these results suggest that there are many widely believed myths about sustainable behaviour. There’s a real appetite to make changes, which is great, but many of us may need clearer information on how make the biggest impact.

Many thanks to everyone who was kind enough to take part.

This thread has been created for thoughtful, rational discussion on subjects for which there are not currently any dedicated threads. Please note that our Comment Policy applies as usual. There is a link to this at the foot of the page. If you would like to refer back to previous open discussion threads, the most …

I have teamed up with Edinburgh Science to conduct a short survey into your thoughts about climate change and sustainability. It only takes a few minutes and it would be lovely if you could take part. All you need to do is click here. Thank you!

From the Richard Dawkins Foundation Newsletter. Subscribe here. Hello! A few days ago, Raif Badawi walked out of his prison cell.  A progressive Saudi writer, Badawi was arrested in 2012 on charges of “insulting Islam” and apostasy for daring to question religion and criticize the Saudi Arabian government through his website. The Center for Inquiry (CFI) …

IMG_1433I have been interested in magic since I was 8 years old.  Early on, I became fascinated with the history of this strange performing art, and when I was 13 years old I wrote a school project entitled ‘The Art And History Of Conjuring’.

One section of this 34-page extravaganza was devoted to contemporary magicians and included the cover of a magic magazine featuring the legendary David Copperfield.

A few years ago, I was in Las Vegas with my friend and fellow magician, Massimo Polidoro. We went to see David Copperfield’s amazing show and he kindly invited us to his secret museum of magic. This stunning collection is housed is a large building on the outskirts of Vegas and contains a jaw dropping collection of apparatus, posters and books. It is the Smithsonian of magic and explores how magic shapes society, inspires technology, and creates a sense of wonder.

IMG_1435Due to the nature of the exhibits, David is only able to show a few people around the museum at any one time. Afterwards, David and I spoke about producing a book that provides readers with a personal tour of this magical space. Excited by the idea, we enlisted the help of brilliant magician David Britland and amazing photographer (and co-director of David Copperfield’s shows) Homer Liwag. Together, we put together a pitch document and were delighted when Simon and Schuster agreed to publish the book. Not only that, but the wonderful Priscilla Painton agreed to act as our editor.

IMG_1409Three years on and our vision has become a reality. This 270-page glossy book is our love letter to magic. Filled with Homer’s stunning photographs, it celebrates a group of outsiders who bring a much-needed sense of magic into the world, including the man who fooled Houdini, the woman who caught bullets in her bare hands, and the illusionist who made himself vanish. Along the way we encounter a sixteenth-century manual on sleight of hand, stunning French automata, and even some coins that are said to have magically passed through the hands of Abraham Lincoln.

Over forty years ago, 13 year-old Wiseman write a school project on magic and referenced David Copperfield. Today, I am honoured to have worked with this legendary performer and co-authored a beautiful book on the topic. To me, that feels like real magic.

For information on how to purchase in the USA, click here and for the UK, click here.

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I am delighted to announce that Issue 4 of our magic comic, Hocus Pocus, is out now. This one is all about whether it’s possible to predict the future. As ever, it contains 28 full colour pages about magic, mystery and the mind. This issue also has lots of interactive demonstrations and illusions. Mother Shipton predicts your future , Nostradamus uncovers the secret of publishing profitable predictions and Paul The Psychic Octopus reveals all.Amazing work by Jordan Collver, Rik Worth and Owen Watts. Enjoy! Available now from Prop Dog

papers2I have just co-authored a new research paper suggesting that learning to perform magic tricks makes children more creative.

During the experiment, a group 10 to 11-year-old children completed a creativity test that involved coming up with multiple uses for an everyday object. They were then taught how to perform a simple trick in which they showed someone a cube with different coloured sides, asked the person to secretly choose a colour, and then magically revealed their person’s choice. Finally, they all completed the creativity test a second time. Compared to another group of children who took part in an art lesson, learning the trick significantly boosted the children’s creativity scores.

Magic tricks often involve lateral thinking and we suspect that learning to perform the illusions encouraged children to think outside of the box.  There is a  need to enhance creative thinking from a young age. Learning magic tricks would be a cost effective, practical, and fun way of teachers and parents boosting children’s creativity. Maybe in the future, magic will become part of the school curriculum!

The peer-reviewed work was carried out in collaboration with  Amy Wiles and Professor Caroline Watt (Edinburgh University), and published in the academic journal PeerJ.

You can read the paper for free here, and a general review on magic and education here.

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

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

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

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

But why Higher Ed?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Transnational Mobility in the Academic Labour Market for the Humanities

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Chairs,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks,

Michael


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear [STUDENT],

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

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

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

Let’s begin, shall we?

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

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

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

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

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

When and where does our class meet?

What assignments do we have and when are they due?

When are exams and what will be on them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such questions might include but are not limited to:

How much wood a woodchuck can chuck

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

Whether or not Bernie would have won

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

Please contact your TA for assistance.

Someone contacted me hoping to find young atheists who might be interested in being part of a new series. I’m not particularly interested in having my mug on TV, but I would love to have some great personalities represent atheism on the show, so I offered to repost his email on my blog: My name […]
All throughout my youth, I dreamed of becoming a writer. I wrote all the time, about everything. I watched TV shows and ranted along with the curmudgeons on Television Without Pity about what each show did wrong, convincing myself that I could do a better job. I flew to America with a dream in my […]
A friend linked me to this. I was a sobbing mess within the first minute. I sometimes wonder why I feel such a strong kinship to the LGBT community, and I think it’s because I’ve been through the same thing that many of them have. So I watched this video and I cried, because, as […]
UPDATE #1: I got my domain back! Many thanks to Kurtis for the pleasant surprise: So I stumbled upon your blog, really liked what I saw, read that you had drama with the domain name owner, bought it, and forwarded it here. It should work again in a matter of seconds. I am an atheist […]
Chadwell writes: I’m a 16 year old in highschool and I guess my natural cynicism lead me to question the dogma and ignorance of religion. I was a christian but I just figured that why would god send the only salvation to man kind to a single area and practically turn his all-mighty back on […]
@davorg / Sunday 22 May 2022 04:38 UTC