By Jeff Tollefson It is home to a majority of the marine fish biomass and helps to remove an estimated 4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. Now, scientists are gearing up to dive into the twilight zone, the largely unexplored ocean layer 200 to 1,000 metres deep that some worry …
By Angela MacIvor After a three-year legal battle south of the border that ignited a major controversy in evangelical circles, the charity Gospel for Asia has now become the focus of a class-action lawsuit filed in Canada. Plaintiff Greg Zentner of Woodburn, N.S., alleges the charity “defrauded or made negligent misstatements” to him and other …
By Nico Lang A gay couple in Azerbaijan has been forced into hiding after a video of them kissing went viral in the conservative Eastern European country of Azerbaijan. The controversy began when Ravan Nasimi, 27, bought his boyfriend, 20-year-old Alvi Aghabeyov, a cake to celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 14. In a short video …
By Minyvonne Burke A New Jersey couple said their 8-year-old son is being denied the chance to receive First Communion by their church because he is autistic. Jimmy LaCugna said in a Facebook post that he and his wife were informed Tuesday by the Rev. John Bambrick at Saint Aloysius Church that their son Anthony won’t be …
Nothing inspires bullshit marketers more than a terrifying international story, which is why PR firm 5WPR has teamed up with CNN to harvest those sweet viral clicks with this article and accompanying Tweet that claims: 38% of Americans wouldn’t buy Corona beer “under any circumstances” because of the coronavirus, according to a recent survey. Just …
It’s Friday, and I have science on the brain this week… I highly recommend this informational look at the coronavirus outbreak and the worldwide response from The Atlantic. Meanwhile, experts tell us not to panic, but to take common sense precautions, with the bonus that many of these practices will help stave off the cold …

If you asked me to come up with a unified theory to explain chemtrails, 5G and vaccine paranoia, assassinations, and COVID-19, I would be hard-pressed to do so. When all the gears in your mind have been stripped, though, it is apparently easy to just press everything together in a mish-mash of conspiracy theories.

Wow. I’ve got all kinds of ideas for how to do interesting science with “DIGITIZED (controllable) RNA”. Can I have your protocol?

This demanding little girl wants her grandma. We got a call from her mother asking if Mary could come down to Colorado for a few weeks to help with the baby, because she’s (Skatje, not the baby) a grad student trying to finish her degree in a year and discovering that babies eat time like hours are fistfuls of cheerios, and of course Mary eagerly agreed. More time with the one of the two cutest kids on the planet? Yes, please. Also we remember what it was like to be gradstudenting with children, and how nice it would have been to dump them on grandparents now and then, but it was our choice to be poor and living far from our extended family.

So today I get to drive Mary to the airport and send her away for a while. It looks like we’ll be spending our 40th wedding anniversary far apart, but that’s OK, our greatest accomplishment in our life together was creating three great kids, so it’s perfectly appropriate to spend that time helping them out.

Well, except me. I get to stay at home alone and teach genetics and introductory biology and feed the cat, instead. I’m helping by proxy, I get to pretend.

How about something a little more cheerful?

I like the diversity simultaneous with recognizable, consistent morphology.

It has the potential to be a serious pandemic, but with a strong medical infrastructure, robust public health response, and a sensible, informed public, we can minimize…wait. What the heck…PANIC! Not over the virus, but over the ongoing dismantling of those very things vital to keep the citizenry as safe as possible.

Trump is making massive cuts in biomedical research.

Multiple organizations expressed shock and disappointment at Trump’s budget proposal, which adds $54 billion in defense spending but would slash nearly $6 billion from the National Institutes of Health, which funds most basic medical research in the country, as well as eliminate entirely dozens of other agencies and programs.

It would cut the overall Health and Human Services department budget by 18 percent, including the 20 percent budget reduction at NIH, and reassign money from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to states.

In response to concerns that we might not have enough doctors if a crisis arises, he has said that we’d just hire more doctors in that case. Doctors are not fungible. They require years of training, and their expertise requires constant maintenance.

Trump seems to think creating a task force and appointing a “czar” is a smart response. We already have experts in infectious disease at the NIH and CDC…you know, those agencies he is defunding. Appointing an ignoramus like Mike Pence, who has no qualification and has a history of botched public health management does not inspire confidence. Nor does having Ken Cuccinelli, Steven Mnuchin, and Larry Kudlow on the task force.

Also, this:

As for our informed public, Corona, the Mexican beer, has taken a substantial hit to their revenues because people are associating it with the virus.

Please note that the beer and the virus have nothing to do with each other.

We’re gonna die.

Can we elect co-presidents? Because I’m trying to decide who terrifies the awful people the most.

By Rodrigo Pérez Ortega At first glance, most salamanders don’t stand out: Their mottled, earth-toned skin helps them blend into the background of forests and streams around the world. But shine the right type of light at them, and they will light up like glow sticks. That’s the finding of a new study, which reveals …

scorer1

This article is a preview from the Spring 2020 edition of New Humanist

Should governments make the vaccination of children compulsory, even if their parents are opposed to it? Calls for such measures have mounted since the UK lost its “measles elimination” status in 2019. Measles is a highly infectious disease whose side effects are often temporary but can include seizures, pneumonia and brain inflammation, sometimes resulting in permanent disability. In the past few years, measles cases have surged in many European countries. In 2019, Public Health England reported a sharp increase in cases of both measles and mumps, which is what led the World Health Organisation (WHO) to revove the UK’s “measles free” status in August. Three other countries – Greece, Albania and the Czech Republic – were similarly downgraded. The immediate cause seems indisputable: falling vaccination rates.

After rising steadily in the previous decade, the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccination rates for two-year-olds have now fallen for four years in a row. The proportion of five-year-olds in England receiving both doses of the MMR vaccine has fallen to 87 per cent. This is below the 95 per cent the WHO says is necessary to provide “herd immunity”: the resistance to the spread of a contagious disease within a population which results if a sufficiently high proportion of individuals are immune, either from vaccination or previous infection.

Some doctors and public health experts attribute the fall in vaccinations to parents succumbing to propaganda from anti-vaccine campaigners. A US study published in the journal BMC Public Health last October noted that those seeking to promote vaccination “face multiple challenges on social media, including misinformation, anti-science sentiment, a complex vaccination narrative and anti-vaccine activists”.

Who exactly are these anti-vaxxers? They seem to be small in number, but have managed to capture significant volumes of search traffic, sometimes by using names which sound authoritative and reasonable – such as the “National Vaccine Information Center” (a US group) or “Revolution for Choice”. An investigation by the Atlantic noted that just seven anti-vax web pages generated nearly 20 per cent of the top 10,000 Facebook posts about vaccination. In the last few years, anti-vaccine views have become a staple of right-wing populist movements: politicians who have appeared to question the efficacy and safety of vaccines include Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and Beppe Grillo, the founder of Italy’s Five Star movement. “When I was growing up,” Trump told one American newspaper, “autism wasn’t really a factor. And now all of a sudden, it’s an epidemic . . . My theory is the shots. We’re giving these massive injections at one time, and I really think it does something to the children.” Vaccine hesitancy is not limited to the political right, however; others may simply have absorbed fears that have been periodically aired in the media over the last two decades. While it is difficult to say precisely how much impact each of these concerns has had, the fall in immunisation rates has been significant, and as a result, some have argued in favour of mandatory vaccination.

In September 2019, a group of leading GPs wrote a letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock demanding that the MMR jab be made compulsory, and that parents be required to certify that their child has had both doses of the MMR vaccine before they can attend school. The four senior GPs – including a former acting chair of the British Medical Association – argued that school entry procedures should be tightened so that the only exceptions to the new rule would be for children whose parents have registered a conscientious objection to the MMR vaccine, or those whose health means they cannot have it. The GPs urged the government to implement the change urgently: doing so would save lives and tackle dangerous “complacency” among parents who do not ensure that their child is fully immunised. “Schools need to check that all their pupils have been vaccinated. In other countries, certificates of vaccination are required prior to school entry,” they argued. They went on to cite precedent, noting that child vaccination against smallpox was made compulsory in the UK in 1853 and that today, doctors need to show evidence of vaccination or immunity from various illnesses so they do not put patients at risk. Hancock responded that the government would “consider all options. I don’t want to reach the point of compulsory vaccination, but I will rule nothing out”.

There is no absolute consensus in the medical profession, however, and some doctors have argued that making MMR vaccines compulsory would be a premature response to the falling immunisation rates, and carry its own fresh risks. Their concern is that compulsory
vaccination could lessen trust between patients and doctors, and lead hostile parents to home school their children. Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chair of the Royal College of GPs, told the Guardian: “As GPs, we have an important relationship with our patients, built on trust and understanding, and in order to keep that we need to help people make their own decisions. Positive, informed and educated choice is always going to be more desirable long-term, and we are concerned that rushing down the route of enforcing methods of healthcare could have unintended consequences.” She argued that it would be wrong on principle to deny patients a choice over what medical interventions they had or to “impose” compulsory vaccination on them. A spokeswoman for the Royal College of Paediatrics was quoted in the same report as saying: “Mandation should be the end of the road, after we’ve tried everything else. There’s no body of evidence that it works. It’s a kneejerk reaction”.

To make sense of this debate, we must unpick several issues. What is the true cause – or causes – of the decline in vaccination rates? Will these be successfully addressed by mandatory vaccination? Is mandation legally sustainable? And if vaccination is made compulsory, should there be exemptions on the basis of conscience or religion for some parents? Would these undercut any mandatory requirement?

* * *

Most of the discussion about decline in vaccination rates has focused on the impact of social media and the campaigning activities of anti-vaxxers, recently described by Matt Hancock as having “blood on their hands”. Much of the current hostility to MMR can be traced back to 1998, when gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield published an article in the Lancet claiming a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. The article received huge media attention. However, by the early 2000s, questions were raised about its validity, and in 2010 Wakefield was struck off the UK medical register after it was found that he had deliberately falsified his research.

Although Wakefield has been a discredited figure for over a decade, he continues to promote his claims from his new base in the US. The impact is painfully apparent. In the UK, the MMR scare caused vaccination rates to drop sharply, from 92 per cent in 1996 to 81 per cent in 2004, falling as low as 61 per cent in some parts of the country. This in turn led to a sharp rise in measles cases. Measles was declared “endemic” in the UK in 2008. The rate of vaccination uptake started to recover after 2004, but the lingering after-effects of the Wakefield controversy and the more recent anti-vaxxer campaigns associated with political populism seem, on the face of it, to be a factor in the vaccination rate remaining below the 95 per cent herd immunity threshold.

However, anti-vax agitation may not be the primary cause for lowered rates of vaccination. Because politicians are now so conscious of the impact of social media, there may be a danger of over-estimating the extent to which it influences parental behaviour on immunisation. Researchers examining this issue have often started with an assumption that anti-vax propaganda on social media has caused a reduction in vaccination rates, but have discovered that the evidence tells a different story. In its own research published in 2019, Public Health England identified a striking paradox: between 2016 and 2018, the period when vaccine uptake for children fell across most immunisations, the proportion of Britons who agreed that vaccines are safe increased, and the proportion who strongly disagree – a negligible figure in any event – nearly halved. Health professionals were identified as the most trusted source of information on vaccines, with the internet and social media being least trusted. Between 2002 and 2019 the number of parents who had seen or heard something to make them doubt the efficacy of immunisation fell from 33 per cent to nine per cent, a record low. These
figures suggest that anti-vax campaigns, whilst prominent on social media, may have limited purchase in the British population at large, and that on this issue it may be wrong to conclude that any significant proportion of parents have “had enough of experts”.

Analysing the reasons for non-vaccination in a recent issue of Prospect magazine, Barbara Speed highlighted how opting out may be occurring in three different groups: “ardent anti-vaxxers”, “fence sitters” and “accidental non-vaxxers”. Basing any public policy response around assumptions of homogeneous views amongst these groups would be unwise, but the analysis is useful. The hardcore group – ardent anti-vaxxers who fervently believe vaccines are dangerous and whose views are completely intractable – may be impossible to shift but small in number. “Fence sittters” have concerns, but may be persuadable with better or different presentation of information. Another significant group, Speed notes, may be passive non-immunisers – parents who have no objection to immunisation in principle, but face practical barriers, often as simple as not understanding where and how to get their child vaccinated, and when a follow-up jab is required. Speed noted that the recent decline in MMR uptake began in 2015, the year that structural reforms to the NHS conceived by David Cameron’s coalition government were implemented. These reforms remade the NHS in potentially confusing ways, redrawing the boundaries between health service and local authority responsibility for public health, with the result that some forms of expertise were dislodged. One impact was that immunisation teams became responsible for much larger geographic areas than under the previous system, and immunisation expertise and capacity for follow-up with parents were reduced. Health visitor numbers were also cut.

Some argue that whilst the anti-vax propaganda on social media is a convenient scapegoat, these changes in NHS structure and roles have been far more significant in reducing vaccination rates. In a piece in the Guardian in August 2019, the chief executive of the British Society for Immunology, Doug Brown, argued that the “best remedy” against anti-vaxxers would be to reverse budget cuts to public health: “Strategies such as sending parents reminders, having appointments available at appropriate times and widening services to go out into communities are all initiatives we know work to increase vaccine uptake, but which also require appropriate resources.”

* * *

So would mandatory vaccination work, and would it be legally feasible? It has been tried in the UK before, with positive outcomes: the 1853 Vaccination Act made it compulsory for all children to be vaccinated against smallpox during the first three months of life. Parents who failed to comply were fined. By the 1860s, two-thirds of babies were vaccinated, and the number of deaths due to smallpox dropped. In the US, mandatory vaccination has been very common, and as of 2018 almost all US states mandate vaccinations against certain diseases (often including measles). They largely do this by making vaccination a condition of (state) school entry. That means that parents can opt out of vaccination by home schooling, a sacrifice that in practice not many parents are prepared to make. These laws have withstood many challenges in the courts. The US Supreme Court upheld compulsory vaccination laws in 1927, reasoning that “there are manifold restraints to which each person is necessarily subject for the common good”. Subsequent legal challenges, for example based on religious freedom, have almost always failed. Religious objections to vaccines tend to be based on the ethical dilemmas associated with using human tissue cells to create vaccines, and beliefs that the body is sacred and should be healed by God or natural means.

A notable feature of the US experience seems to be that compulsory vaccination works most effectively when religious or personal belief exemptions are removed – otherwise, those who are most vehemently opposed can simply claim a belief-related exemption. This point may be particularly relevant to addressing localised outbreaks of disease associated with the cultures and religions of particular communities.

In August 2019, the Jewish Chronicle highlighted how the strictly Orthodox Haredi community in Stamford Hill in north-east London had been hit by a major outbreak of measles following falling vaccination rates. A local GP attributed the fall to a “mistrust of secular authorities”. Similar localised outbreaks have occurred in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in New York, causing the state to experience the worst measles figures in the US. These outbreaks clearly followed falls in vaccination rates, some of which had dropped below 50 per cent in the affected communities. Many of those living in these communities have little or no contact with social media. This suggests that cultural and religious factors specific to these communities were more relevant – and therefore that removing belief exemptions would be necessary to tackle falling vaccination rates.

Mandatory vaccination is certainly legally feasible. But there is still a question mark over whether it would be the most effective public policy response. Whilst extreme anti-vax campaigns have garnered much media attention, closer investigation suggests that over the past few years, other factors may have had more impact on falling vaccination rates in the UK. In the long run, improving immunisation capacity and public information might be the better policy. The difficulty is that these changes will take time to implement, and the measles crisis is happening right now. Radical measures are needed, and if, in reality, ardent anti-vaxxers constitute only a minority of the thousands of parents who are failing to vaccinate their children, then it follows that mandation would capture the large majority. This suggests that mandation should be part of the response, but that in the longer term,
policymakers should reflect more carefully on the origins of the present crisis.

This post contains a video, which you can also view here. To support more videos like this, head to patreon.com/rebecca! Transcript: “MRIs reveal smartphone addiction physically changes brains,” cries a headline from Cult of Mac, which picked up the story from the Daily Mail. (Heavy sigh.) (Throat clearing.)  EVERYTHING PHYSICALLY CHANGES YOUR BRAIN. Got it? …
Katherine Johnson, NASA mathematician, dies at 101 – Her NYT obituary opens with, “They asked Katherine Johnson for the moon, and she gave it to them.” Harvey Weinstein couldn’t reverse Me Too – “Before Me Too, the messiness of the facts in this case ordinarily would never see the inside of a courtroom; after all, …

PettiforLandscape

This article is a preview from the Spring 2020 edition of New Humanist

Ann Pettifor is a political economist whose work focuses on the global financial system, international finance and sustainable development. She is director of Prime: Policy Research in Macroeconomics, a network of economists that promotes Keynes’s monetary theory and policies, and co-founded Jubilee 2000, the worldwide campaign for debt cancellation. She is also a fellow of the New Economics Foundation. Her latest book is “The Case for the Green New Deal”.

What is the Green New Deal?

We have raised the temperature of the planet by over-producing and over-consuming. That involves burning fossil fuels to create all the goods and services we need. The Green New Deal argues that we need public authority over the monetary system if we are to manage the economic system, so that we can lower our emissions and protect the ecosystem. To manage the outputs of oil, coal and gas, we must manage the input of credit. This is done by pouring credit into the globalised markets and making it possible for people to borrow, and then spend in production and consumption.

To manage emissions we must manage the flow of credit. Right now, that is left to the invisible hand of unregulated market forces. Environmentalists typically say: our concern is with trees, water, the landscape, and with our natural system. But it’s wrong to think about emissions in isolation.

The ideas of the economist John Maynard Keynes pop up quite a bit in your book. What can we learn from him?

Keynes’s view was that if you manage the financial system, then the economic system will manage itself. He was a capitalist who thought it was really important for the public authorities to manage the financial system in the same way that they look after, say, the public sanitation system. These public systems are used collectively and so they must be regulated.

Another figure you quote at length is the 32nd US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who enacted the New Deal in the 1930s.

The Green New Deal is modelled on Roosevelt’s work. He was a remarkable figure. When he came to power in the 1930s, the economic conditions that prevailed were quite similar to what they are today. There was a global financial system where the free market was deciding on matters like exchange rates, the value of the currency, the cost of borrowing, and whether or not money should flow in and out of borders. Roosevelt argued that the United States had been in a deep depression and a deflationary period because the monetary system was effectively managed by Wall Street.

He began the process of dismantling the monetary system by demanding that interest rates – and other important levers in the economy – would no longer be decided by Wall Street. This put the government in the driving seat of the economy. Roosevelt was also faced with a catastrophic ecological crisis during the Dust Bowl [severe dust storms that hit the American prairies during the 1930s]. Trees had to be planted, and soil restored back to health. There was a lot of investment in people and in the land during the New Deal.

Your book talks about “the hegemony and imperialism” of the US dollar. Globally, what impact does the US dollar have on economics and geopolitics?

The power of the dollar is backed up by the military and economic power of the United States. But the way that power is managed is devastating and harmful for the ecosystem and the planet. By “dollarising” the entire global economy, we are being subjected to what is good for the United States.

This means massive imbalances in the global economy, particularly for countries in the Global South. This has led to political tensions that could eventually result in World War Three. So we can choose to go to war, or we can choose to alter the [financial] system that causes these imbalances.

Do global institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) do more harm than good?

The IMF and the World Bank have lost their way and no longer exist to bring prosperity to countries. These global institutions act as agents for global capital markets and have become enforcers and policemen who act on behalf of the world’s creditors. Those creditors can be countries, corporate firms (such as, say, the global investment management company Blackrock) or private individuals.

Can individual countries effectively challenge global market forces?

If a country like Britain wants to “take back control”, then it needs to manage the flow of capital across its borders. This would ensure that global capitalist markets don’t get to decide what is the rate of interest for Britain, or what Britain should be investing in or not. If the flow of capital isn’t controlled, these choices tend to be made beyond the control of individual countries, their governments and their representatives.

Your book is tough on multinational corporations. Why are you so critical of them?

Big corporations come and operate in the UK and then refuse to pay taxes. They then take their profits and invest them in Ireland or somewhere else where their tax rates are low. They can do this because of capital mobility. If we want the tax system to be fairer, we have to manage the flow of capital across borders. To Apple, Amazon and other such corporations, we need to be saying: if you are making profits here in this country, you must pay your taxes. But governments cannot do that if these corporations have the power to move their money without any hindrance whatsoever.

So in a sense, we are powerless against these too-big-to-fail companies?

No. We have the power to leverage our negotiation with them. Because these companies need assets that public institutions create. Global capitalist markets and institutions depend on governments to create credit because they need collateral: a guarantee which they then use to create new cash. We need to understand that we own assets or collateral that are absolutely essential to the global capitalist markets.

Right-wing populism is currently ascendent in many countries, including the UK and the US. What are the realistic chances of the Green New Deal being implemented?

It’s a really tough time for greens, progressives and people on the left. We have been beaten by the right, who are demanding protectionism. Authoritarianism is winning the argument because the left haven’t made an alternative one. It will take a crisis for the [global political spectrum] to shift. But we are due an environmental, financial and geopolitical crisis. And when that happens the question will be: what do we do to save the world? The Green New Deal may seem utopian right now. But it’s a plan for how to deal with the crisis when it arrives.

So the authoritarian right are winning the anti-globalisation argument?

We are seeing authoritarianism all around the world: in the Philippines, Russia, Turkey, India and the United States, where [governments] promise to protect their people from globalisation. But they do it in a reactionary way. They are not interested in protecting the people. They want to protect their own interests. The authoritarian response is undemocratic, irrational, counterproductive and ends up in conflict.

Does the recent election result in the UK make it more or less likely that the Green New Deal will be implemented?

This Tory government is highly opportunist and populist. It will grab and run with any policy it thinks could reinforce its power. So I wouldn’t put it past them to pick up some elements of the Green New Deal. But they will stop at doing anything that questions how the City of London operates.

How important are self-sufficiency and localisation for the Green New Deal?

Self-sufficiency and localisation are incredibly important. [The West] has gotten rich from imperialism: by extracting the ecological assets of the poorest countries from the Global South. And we cannot do that any longer. We are going to have to be more self-sufficient. Currently, here in Britain we don’t grow our own green beans. We import them from Kenya. We drain Kenya’s water table in order to import our green beans. They are flown from Kenya to London so that we can have fresh green beans all year round. For the future of our planet, we need to live more sustainably.

So this is an anti-globalisation argument?

Yes. It’s definitely anti-globalisation. Because globalisation means being beyond the reach of democratic governments, which the global financial system is. Silicon Valley can manage Uber across the world, almost beyond the reach of democratic governments. Bankers can move their money around, pretty much without interference from governments too. That is globalisation. My argument is: if you want to save the ecosystem you cannot continue with our present [unregulated global economic] system.

This post contains a video, which you can also view here. To support more videos like this, head to patreon.com/rebecca! Transcript: Remember a few weeks back when I told you about Jordan Peterson, the “personal responsibility” psychology guru who gave himself brain damage by paying Russians to put him in a coma so he could …

2002-1-Cover

The spring 2020 issue of New Humanist is on sale now! Subscribe here for as little as £10 a year.

Climate crisis: a special report

Pushed to the limit

Grappling with the climate emergency is hard enough. Do we even deserve to survive? by Jonathan Rée

When it comes to climate change, we can, it seems, calculate to our heart’s content. But if David Wood is right, calculation will never bring us to the heart of the matter. In his deeply impressive new book, "Reoccupy Earth", Wood argues that our everyday intellectual resources are not equal to the task of comprehending the present crisis. Calculation is not enough, he says, and what we need is a good strong dose of philosophy.

Battle lines

Climate change needs radical action - but a sharply polarised debate is stifling progress. How do we break the impasse? by Will McCallum

The challenge of the next few years is how to strike the balance between treating environmental issues with the radical urgency required, whilst not allowing the debate to become so polarised that it stifles all progress. The analogy that comes to mind is that of two people passing someone drowning in a river, and in debating the perfect way to save them, miss the fact that they have slipped under water.

The definite particle

How did carbon dioxide go from a 19th-century health fad to planet-destroying pariah? by Alice Bell

As citizens of the 21st century, carbon dioxide haunts our lives. Footprints, emissions, offsets, budgets, fights over whether we need to give up meat or flying (spoiler: you probably do), and a gripping fear about what it means for the future. We learn from an early age that humans breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide – two carbon atoms nestled with one of oxygen. We know other animals do the same, and plants do things the other way around. It is part of how we understand the world around us.

But until the middle of the 18th century, no one realised that carbon dioxide existed at all.

The Q&A: Ann Pettifor

J.P. O'Malley talks to top economist Ann Pettifor about her new book The Case for the Green New Deal.

To manage emissions we must manage the flow of credit. Right now, that is left to the invisible hand of unregulated market forces. Environmentalists typically say: our concern is with trees, water, the landscape, and with our natural system. But it’s wrong to think about emissions in isolation.

The spring 2020 issue of New Humanist is on sale now! Subscribe here for as little as £10 a year.

Stormzy

Also in this issue:

  • Caspar Melville asks why so many British pop stars are so keen to proclaim their commitment to Christianity
  • Peter Salmon on the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk and the return of rage
  • The anti-vaxxer movement has been blamed for a sharp rise in measles in the UK - but is there more to it, asks Richard Scorer?
  • Ken Worpole on the complex truths of the Kindertransport
  • Malaysians who wish to leave Islam face both legal and social challenges. Preeti Jha reports
  • Paul McNicholas on the hymn "Now thank we all our God" and its curious back story
  • At the turn of the 20th century, W.E.B. Du Bois used data to fight back against scientific racism. Lola Okolosie reviews an exhibition of his work
  • Alice Bloch on J. Robert Lennon's Mailman and the long history of the literary loser
  • Caroline Crampton on the rise and rise of subtitled TV drama
  • 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 four times a year by the Rationalist Association, a charity founded in 1885. Our journalism is fiercely independent and supported entirely by our readers. To make a deeper commitment, why not donate to the Rationalist Association?

This article appears in the Witness section of the spring 2020 issue of the New Humanist. Subscribe today.

democracy

In recent years, parties and politicians running on “anti-system” platforms have triumphed in elections in the US, France, Italy, Spain and Greece, to name but a few. That trend could be explained by new research which shows an alarming rise in dissatisfaction not just with the results of democratic processes, but with the processes themselves.

Researchers at Cambridge University’s Centre for the Future of Democracy analysed the biggest global dataset on attitudes towards democracy, based on four million people in 3,500 surveys. The findings, published in January, make sobering reading. Across the world, a record 58 per cent of people are now dissatisfied with democracy. This is particularly acute in developed countries, with 61 per cent of people in the UK expressing dissatisfaction.

The study has tracked views on democracy since 1995 but has data for some countries going all the way back to the 1970s. The long-term picture is of a steady increase in satisfaction with democracy through to the end of the 20th century – and then a shift towards rising dissatisfaction over the last decade. The figures undermine the once popular idea that faith in democracy will inevitably grow over time. As James Miller, author of Can Democracy Work? told New Humanist in an interview in late 2018: “After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a lot of people also assumed that liberal democracy is the logical end of political history, and that the world was on the right political path. Those assumptions were obviously mistaken.”

The Cambridge study was not directly concerned with identifying causes, but the researchers suggest that short-term crises, notably “economic shocks, corruption scandals and policy crises”, had “an immediately observable effect upon average levels of civic dissatisfaction”. Looking specifically at the UK, the authors cite the Iraq war, the MPs’ expenses scandal and the Brexit stalemate. The 2008 financial crisis was highlighted as a major global factor. The study warns that the global rise of populism is a symptom rather than a cause of lost faith in democracy.

Democracy is not an abstract ideal but a system, and institutions need to work for citizens. As Miller said in 2018: “The modern faith in democracy is sometimes otiose, even perverse. It should be tempered by a certain humility, and sense of ‘the enigma of life’, as Vaclav Havel once put it. We shouldn’t let democracy be turned into a pseudo-scientific utopia.” No matter how unpalatable the outcomes might sometimes be, democracy remains the best system we’ve got. These findings remind us that it cannot be taken for granted.

This article appears in the Witness section of the spring 2020 issue of the New Humanist. Subscribe today.

The rise of China is one of the most striking geopolitical shifts of the 21st century. For Western governments, the change in global power dynamics presents both an opportunity and a risk. This is the context in which Boris Johnson decided to allow Huawei, the Chinese provider of 5G telecoms, a continued role in UK infrastructure.

Huawei is the world’s largest telecommunications equipment vendor, occupying every step of the network chain between our laptops and phones through to the data centres hosting the content we want to access. The worry is that Huawei, despite its protestations to the contrary, is effectively a branch of the Chinese state. This would mean that granting the company access to the UK could facilitate espionage. Cyberwar is a pressing concern. In 2018 it emerged that hackers allegedly affiliated with Beijing’s main intelligence service engaged in a cyber-spying campaign in the US and other countries.

Others, however, point out that the UK urgently needs to improve its connectivity, and that Huawei has only been given peripheral access to UK telecoms infrastructure. The company will not be able to access areas near military bases or nuclear power plants. There will also be a cap on the proportion of Huawei kit allowed in any given network. The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre has said that the company poses a threat to national security. But it also stated that Britain could deal with the risk. The US remains staunchly opposed, but Australia and New Zealand have granted access to the company.

Beyond the geopolitical implications, the anxiety over Huawei points to a fundamental shift in the way that wars are fought and power secured. Many suspect that China plans to use business ties in foreign countries to leverage political influence. As Richard Seymour noted in our Autumn 2019 issue, the internet has created “new vectors of cyberwar in which geopolitical opponents, hacktivists and jihadists have landed blows on Washington.”
Global power is shifting, in more ways than one.

I am delighted and honoured that the Masters Of Magic have announced that they will be giving me a Golden Grolla award for my work into psychology and illusion.

Established in 1953, this is one of the oldest awards in the entertainment world, with previous recipients including Federico Fellini, David Copperfield, Paul Daniels, Dynamo, David Blaine, David Berglas, Arturo Brachetti and Silvan.

This year the other recipient is the multi-talented actor, director and magician, Andy Nyman. Andy co-created the hit stage show ‘Ghost Stories’, has directed several Derren Brown shows, and recently took the lead role in the West-End musical, ‘Fiddler On The Roof’. The two of us met over 20 years ago when we created and performed a Victorian seance show together, and so I am delighted that he is a fellow awardee.

Both awards will be presented at a ceremony in May, and if you are into magic please come along for four days of shows, lectures and talks.

I recently appeared on Radio 4’s ‘The Infinite Monkey Cage’, to chat about the psychology of comedy alongside Frank Skinner, Prof Sophie Scott, Robin Ince and Brian Cox. Fun was had and you can listen to the recording here.

I spoke about a project that I conducted a few years ago called ‘Laughlab’. Billed as ‘the scientific search for the world’s funniest joke’, this online experiment ran for a year and was reported across the globe.

The project website had two sections.  In one part, people could input their favourite joke and submit it to an archive.  In the second section, people could answer a few simple questions about themselves (such as their sex, age, and nationality), and then rate how funny they found five randomly selected jokes on a five-point scale ranging from ‘not very funny’ to ‘very funny’.

Picture[1]

During the project, we approached some of Britain’s best-known scientists and science writers, and ask them to submit their favourite jokes into LaughLab.   The joke that went on to win the ‘best joke submitted by a well-known scientist’ category, was submitted by Nobel laureate, and professor of chemistry, Sir Harry Kroto:

A man walking down the street sees another man with a very big dog.  The man says: “Does your dog bite?” The other man replies: “No, my dog doesn’t bite”.  The first man then pats the dog, has his hand bitten off, and shouts; “I thought you said your dog didn’t bite”. The other man replies: “That’s not my dog”.

clown2

The comedy K
Early in the experiment, we received the following submission:

There were two cows in a field. One said: “Moo.” The other one said: “I was going to say that!”

We decided to use the joke as a basis for a little experiment, and re-entered the joke into archive several times, using a different animal and noise.  We had two tigers going ‘Gruurrr’, two birds going ‘Cheep’, two mice going ‘Eeek’, two dogs going ‘Woof’, and so on.  At the end of the study, we examined what effect the different animals had had on how funny people found the joke.

The winning animal noise joke was:

Two ducks were sitting in a pond, one of the ducks said: “Quack.” The other duck said: “I was going to say that!”

Interestingly, the ‘k’ sound (as in the ‘hard c’) is associated with both the word ‘Quack’ and ‘duck’, has long been seen by comedians and comedy writers as being especially funny.  The idea of the comedy ‘k’ has certainly made it into popular culture.  There was also an episode of The Simpsons, in which Krusty The Clown (note the ‘k’s) visits a faith healer because he has paralysed his vocal chords trying to cram too many ‘comedy k’s’ into his routines.  After being healed, Krusty exclaims that he is overjoyed to get his comedy k’s back, celebrates by shouting out ‘King Kong’, ‘cold-cock’, ‘Kato Kaelin’, and kisses the faith healer as a sign of gratitude.

reveal

By the end of the project the project had received 40,000 jokes, and had them rated by more than 350,000 people from 70 countries.  They were awarded a Guinness World Record for conducting one of the largest experiments in history, and made the cover story of The New Yorker.

We carefully went through the huge archive and found our top joke:

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed.  The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services.  He gasps, “My friend is dead! What can I do?”.  The operator says “Calm down.  I can help.  First, let’s make sure he’s dead.”  There is a silence, then a shot is heard.  Back on the phone, the guy says “OK, now what?”

Five years after the study, we came across a documentary about Spike Milligan (‘ I Told You I Was Ill’) that contained a brief clip from a 1951 BBC programme called London Entertains with the following early Goon sketch:

Michael Bentine: I just came in and found him lying on the carpet there. 
Peter Sellers: Oh, is he dead? 
Michael Bentine: I think so. 
Peter Sellers: Hadn’t you better make sure? 
Michael Bentine: Alright. Just a minute. 
Sound of two gun shots. 
Michael Bentine: He’s dead.

This is clearly an early version of our winning joke. It is highly unusual to be able to track down the source of a joke, because their origins tend to become lost in the mists of time.  Spike Milligan had died in 2002, but I contacted his daughter Sile, and she confirmed that it was highly likely that her father would have written the material.

LaughLab has now finished but is described in my book, Quirkology.

And you can download over 1000 of the LaughLab jokes (all clean!) here.

I recently joined Jim Al-Khalili on BBC Radio 4’s The Life Scientific to chat about my work. I have known Jim for many years and so it was lovely to talk about my thoughts on magic, lying and luck. The talk was recorded at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and managed to get quite a bit of attention online. I hope that you enjoy it!

You can listen to the interview here.

The paperback version of my book, Shoot For The Moon, is just out and we have made a video to celebrate the magic of the Moon landings. I worked with magician Will Houstoun to tell the Apollo story through the medium of sleight of hand – hope you enjoy it!

My latest book, Shoot For The Moon, has just been published, and presents a radically new look at the science of success.

In July 1969, Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon, one of humanity’s greatest achievements. A few years ago I was chatting to comedian and space enthusiast Helen Keen about the Apollo landings. I knew that the technology used during the missions has been extremely well documented, and asked whether anyone had explored the psychology behind this remarkable achievement. Helen didn’t think that it had, and kindly put me in touch with her friend, Craig Scott. Craig is another space enthusiast and, over the years, has become friends with many of the people who populated NASA’s Mission Control during the Apollo era. He kindly put me in touch with this remarkable bunch and they were kind enough to agreed to be interviewed them about their historic work.

I discovered that most of the controllers came from modest, working-class, backgrounds, and that they were often the first in their families to go to college. Perhaps most surprising of all, they were astonishingly young. When Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon, the average age of the mission controllers was just twenty-six years old.

After extensive interviewing and research, I eventually identified the eight principles that I believe make-up the Apollo mindset. ‘Shoot For The Moon’ describes these principles, including how the seeds of success were sewn in the President Kenndy’s charismatic speeches, how pessimism was crucial to progress, and how fear and tragedy were transformed into hope and optimism. The book also describes techniques that allow you to incorporate these principles into your own life. Whether you want to start a new business venture, change careers, get promoted, escape the rat race or pursue a lifelong passion, these techniques will help you to reach your own Moon.

Books on success usually focus on genetically gifted Olympians, hardheaded CEOs and risk taking entrepreneurs. This book presents a radically different perspective on how to achieve your aims and ambitions. It tells the inspirational story of a group of ordinary people who did something extraordinary. Perhaps most important of all, once you understand how they did what they did, you can follow in their footsteps and achieve the extraordinary in your own life.

Shoot For The Moon is available in the UK here, and in the US here.

As many of you know, the Day of Reflection conference, scheduled for November 17 in NYC, has been cancelled, and some hundreds of ticket holders are now left seeking refunds.

I was forced to pull out of this event nearly two months ago and have said very little about it since. Now that Travis Pangburn has officially announced that he will be “folding” his touring company, Pangburn Philosophy, I can give a brief account of what happened.

  1. I participated in 10 events organized by Pangburn Philosophy between September 2017 and July 2018. I didn’t always approve of the way those events were staged or marketed, but all of them appeared to be successful.
  1. However, after the cancellation of an August 2018 conference in Auckland, Pangburn seemed intent on running his business off a cliff. He owed a lot of money to several speakers at that point, in the form of unpaid fees and reimbursements. Most egregiously, he seemed less than fully committed to refunding ticket holders for the cancelled Auckland conference.
  1. At this point, I had two more dates on the calendar with Pangburn in 2018: a dialogue with Brian Greene in Toronto (September 5) and the Day of Reflection conference in New York (November 17). I kept my appointment in Toronto because I was contractually obligated to do so. I also didn’t want to do anything that would harm Pangburn’s ability to pay his mounting debts.
  1. After Toronto, however, it became clear that Pangburn could not be trusted to put his house in order. Facing a total lack of transparency, and realizing that Pangburn was using my ongoing association with him to book future speakers, I withdrew from the NYC conference on September 21 (as well as from a Vancouver conference scheduled for March 2019). Legally, I was able to do this because Pangburn was in breach of my speaking contract. Ethically, I had a far more compelling reason to back out: I couldn’t promote or participate in an event for which I believed other speakers were unlikely to get paid; nor could I continue to work with someone who still hadn’t given refunds to ticket holders for a conference that had been canceled more than a month before.
  1. After I withdrew from the NYC conference, my management team asked Pangburn to give us the email addresses of all ticket holders so that we could notify them that I was no longer involved with the event. Pangburn refused to provide this information. However, he assured us that he would notify everyone himself. (I do not know whether he ever did.) He then stopped responding to our emails.
  1. At the time I pulled out of the NYC conference, I assumed that the revenue from ticket sales was still safely in the box office and that Pangburn would be obliged to issue refunds should the conference fail. That’s how things normally work, especially at a reputable venue like Lincoln Center. It hadn’t occurred to me that New York ticketholders might suffer the same fate as those in Auckland.
  1. I was left with a legal and ethical puzzle that I could not solve. Again, I had no way to communicate with ticket holders directly, and discussing the chaos surrounding Pangburn on my podcast never seemed like an option. Several friends and colleagues still had events on the calendar with him, and I didn’t want to do anything to derail them. In addition, many speakers who were aware of my reasons for pulling out of the NYC conference were still signed on and seemed intent on making it work. I couldn’t see anything to do that wouldn’t risk creating further harms.

Although Pangburn still owes several speakers (including me) an extraordinary amount of money, we were willing to participate in the NYC conference for free as recently as a few days ago, if he would have handed it over to us and stepped away. I have been told that this offer was made, and he declined it.

I find it appalling that so many people were needlessly harmed by the implosion of Pangburn Philosophy. I can assure you that every speaker associated with the NYC event will be much wiser when working with promoters in the future.

Sam Harris

 

 

 

 

The post A few thoughts on the implosion of Pangburn Philosophy appeared first on Sam Harris.

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!

Here are some things that you will hear when you sit down to dinner with the vanguard of the Intellectual Dark Web: There are fundamental biological differences between men and women. Free speech is under siege. Identity politics is a toxic ideology that is tearing American society apart. And we’re in a dangerous place if these ideas are considered “dark.”

I was meeting with Sam Harris, a neuroscientist; Eric Weinstein, a mathematician and managing director of Thiel Capital; the commentator and comedian Dave Rubin; and their spouses in a Los Angeles restaurant to talk about how they were turned into heretics. A decade ago, they argued, when Donald Trump was still hosting “The Apprentice,” none of these observations would have been considered taboo.

Read the rest at The New York Times

The post Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web appeared first on Sam Harris.

[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]

Suppose we had robots perfectly identical to men, women and children and we were permitted by law to interact with them in any way we pleased. How would you treat them?

That is the premise of “Westworld,” the popular HBO series that opened its second season Sunday night. And, plot twists of Season 2 aside, it raises a fundamental ethical question we humans in the not-so-distant future are likely to face.

Read the rest at The New York Times

The post It's Westworld. What's Wrong With Cruelty to Robots? appeared first on Sam Harris.

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.

Sorry not to be in regular blogging mode at the moment. Here’s a video of our evidence session to parliament, where they are running an inquiry into research integrity. I think clinical trials are the best possible way to approach this issue. Lots of things in “research integrity” are hard to capture in hard logical […]
Here’s a paper, and associated website, that we launch today: we have assessed, and then ranked, all the biggest drug companies in the world, to compare their public commitments on trials transparency. Regular readers will be familiar with this ongoing battle. In medicine we use the results of clinical trials to make informed treatments about […]
By now I hope you all know about the ongoing global scandal of clinical trial results being left unpublished, and of course our AllTrials campaign. Doctors, researchers, and patients cannot make truly informed choices about which treatments work best if they don’t have access to all the trial results. Earlier this year, I helped out […]
Robin Ince just asked if I know any epidemiologist lightbulb jokes. I wrote this for him. How many epidemiologists does it take to change a lightbulb? We’ve found 12,000 switches hidden around the house. Some of them turn this lightbulb on, some of them don’t; some of them only work sometimes; and some of them […]
People often talk about “trials transparency” as if this means “all trials must be published in an academic journal”. In reality, true transparency goes much further than this. We need Clinical Study Reports, and individual patient data, of course. But we also need the consent forms, so we can see what patients were told. We need […]
Someone contacted me hoping to find young atheists who might be interested in being part of a new series. I’m not particularly interested in having my mug on TV, but I would love to have some great personalities represent atheism on the show, so I offered to repost his email on my blog: My name […]

Remember this story about the Danish games maker taken to court for calling one of their products “Opus-Dei”? There is a press release today.

Opus Dei: The game, not the sinister, secretive cult

Opus Dei: The game, not the sinister, secretive cult

PRESS RELEASE MARCH 12 2013

Catholic Church’s Rights to “The Work of God” Stand Trial

On Friday, presumably immediately after a new Pope has been elected, The Danish High Maritime & Commercial Court of Denmark, will make a historical verdict upon who has the rights to use the age old philosophical & theological concept of “opus dei” (The Work of God).

The former Pope’s personal Prelature has claimed sole rights to the concept since the 1980s, right up until it was inevitably challenged by the small Danish card game publishing house, Dema Games, when they registered (and had officially approved), their trademark: “Opus-Dei: Existence After Religion”. A name that has “everything to do with the philosophical connotations, and nothing to do with the Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei” , Managing Director, Mark Rees-Andersen says.

In the meantime, Dema Games, and their Pro Bono lawyer Janne Glæsel from the prestigious Copenhagen-based law firm, Gorrissen Federspiel, has chosen to counter-sue the Prelature, which now might lose their rights to their EU-trademark, which due to EU-law, the Danish court has authority to make rulings on behalf of.  The sue was an immediate media security event.  Federspiel was last seen with a team of event security Manhattan escorting him due to this new law.  In effect, he has his own concierge security service.

Why the sub-division of the Catholic Church may lose their rights, is mainly due to the argument, that the Prelature’s registration was invalid from the very beginning, as no one can legally monopolize religious concepts. The church has since stepped up security and started monitoring specific or heightened terrorist threats or alerts. Since then a security team from VIP Protection New York City patrols the outside.  Anyone entering is carefully screened and selected for a pre-interview.

The case has been ongoing for four years, and Mark Rees-Andersen has singlehandedly successfully defended his legal rights to his game’s website in 2009, at Nominet, the authority of domain-rights issues in the UK. Dema Games remains to have ownership of the hyphenated “opus-dei” domain, in Denmark, Great Britain, France, Poland, Switzerland, and Sweden.

———

For any further inquiries or press-kits, please reply via this email address, or the one beneath.

Best regards / Mvh,

Mark Rees-Andersen
Managing Director,

Dema Games

UPDATE: (19/03/2013) They lost. (The sinister, secretive cult, that is. Not the games maker.)

All throughout my youth, I dreamed of becoming a writer. I wrote all the time, about everything. I watched TV shows and ranted along with the curmudgeons on Television Without Pity about what each show did wrong, convincing myself that I could do a better job. I flew to America with a dream in my […]

I don’t know. Let’s see if meretricious corporate fuckwads has any effect.

Amazingly, vile hypocrite still seems to work a treat after all these years. (Do a g-search on it. That was us. We did that!)

Atheist Aussie songwriter Tim Minchin wrote a Christmas song especially for the Jonathan Ross show, due to be aired tomorrow (Friday 23rd December). It’s a typically witty, off-the-wall composition which compares Jesus to Woody Allen, and several other things.

Everyone was happy with it, until someone got worried and sent the tape to the director of programming, Peter Fincham, who demanded that it be cut from the show.

Minchin states

He did this because he’s scared of the ranty, shit-stirring, right-wing press, and of the small minority of Brits who believe they have a right to go through life protected from anything that challenges them in any way.

This is indeed a very disappointing decision.

Hats off to Charlie Hebdo. This is tomorrow’s cover:

Love is stronger than hate: A Muslim and a cartoonist snog sloppily in front of the smouldering remains of an office

Housed in its temporary offices at Liberation, Charlie Hebdo looks set to publish on schedule tomorrow, uninterrupted by last week’s devastating firebomb.

Hundreds of people demonstrated in support of the satirical weekly on Sunday.

Hebdo demo: Support for the magazine has been strong this time round

The president of SOS Racism was among the supporters, declaring that

In a democracy, the right to blaspheme is absolute.

Editor “Charb” said,

We need a level playing field. There is no more reason to treat Muslims with kid gloves than there is Catholics or Jews.

Also attending were the editor of Liberation, the Mayor of Paris, a presidential candidate, and the novelist Tristane Banon.

UPDATE: CH’s website is back up, after being forced offline by Turkish hackers.

A friend linked me to this. I was a sobbing mess within the first minute. I sometimes wonder why I feel such a strong kinship to the LGBT community, and I think it’s because I’ve been through the same thing that many of them have. So I watched this video and I cried, because, as […]
UPDATE #1: I got my domain back! Many thanks to Kurtis for the pleasant surprise: So I stumbled upon your blog, really liked what I saw, read that you had drama with the domain name owner, bought it, and forwarded it here. It should work again in a matter of seconds. I am an atheist […]
Chadwell writes: I’m a 16 year old in highschool and I guess my natural cynicism lead me to question the dogma and ignorance of religion. I was a christian but I just figured that why would god send the only salvation to man kind to a single area and practically turn his all-mighty back on […]
@davorg / Saturday 29 February 2020 07:24 UTC