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We know that birds are the last remaining descendants of dinosaurs, the lucky survivors of the asteroid strike that wiped out three quarters of life on Earth 66 million years ago. But the early evolutionary history of our feathered friends has remained shrouded in mystery. Palaeontologists have long debated whether the earliest modern birds walked alongside dinosaurs or evolved from a more dinosaur-like common ancestor after the asteroid struck.
In the last decade, DNA and fossil record evidence has strongly supported the view that three groups of early modern birds did indeed evolve prior to the asteroid collision. Whilst their tree-dwelling cousins appear to have been wiped out, evidence points to the survival of species more at home in scrubland or sea. Further evidence documents a boom in diversity of ancestral birds arising from the post-asteroid devastation, laying the foundations of the incredible diversity of species we enjoy today.
But many questions remained unanswered. A recent paper, published in the journal Nature and led by palaeontologists at the University of Cambridge, has uncovered the earliest known evidence of a modern bird species living side by side with dinosaurs in late Cretaceous Europe. The scientists used modern CT-scanning technology to expose their exceptional find inside a piece of rock the size of a deck of cards. The specimen had first been unearthed by a group of amateur hunters in Belgium 20 years ago.
The lead author called the fossil, which is the oldest and best preserved skull of modern birds ever found, and the only example in the northern hemisphere, the “discovery of a lifetime”.
The bird lived 66.7 million years ago and would have weighed about 400g. Its long slender legs suggests it was likely to have been shore-dwelling. With features described as a “mash up” between a chicken and a duck, the researchers have affectionately named the fossil the “wonderchicken”. Its official name is Asteriornis maastrichtensis, after the god of falling stars, Asteria, who turned into a quail and threw herself into the ocean to avoid Zeus.
By the way, the victim of that accusation was Christian Cooper.
Cooper has written stories for Marvel Comics Presents, which often feature Ghost Rider and Vengeance. He has also edited a number of X-Men collections ,and introduced the first gay male character, Yoshi Mishima, in a Star Trek comic. Previously he was president of the Harvard Ornithological Club, in the 1980s, and is currently a senior biomedical editor at Health Science Communications.
Sounds like the kind of guy — you know, Harvard graduate, bird-watcher, writer for comic books, science editor — who would wander the parks terrorizing innocent white women.
The Minneapolis mayor had a few words to say.
“Being black in America should not be a death sentence,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said in a Tuesday press conference. “For five minutes, we watched a white officer press his knee into a black man’s neck. Five minutes. When you hear someone calling for help, you’re supposed to help. This officer failed in the most basic, human sense. What happened on Chicago and 38th last night is awful. It was traumatic. It serves as a reminder of how far we have to go.”
This article is a preview from the Summer 2020 edition of New Humanist
May to June is usually the climbing season. But not this year. The mountain ranges we approach throughout our childhoods, and which we are trained to tackle at 16 and again at 18, have suddenly vanished. Teenagers have long been told by parents and teachers that these trials define our futures. But now that GCSE and A-level exams have been cancelled, what does it mean for two entire year groups of young adults, who find themselves suddenly without a formal ending to their schooldays?
In the past two decades, British schools and students have eagerly adopted the graduation prom – with grand dresses and suits, costly professional hair and makeup, and even limousines. It’s easy to focus on the extravagance of a tradition copied from American TV and films, but that is to miss the power of what it represents.“We have very few secular rites of passage any more in our culture,” says award-winning poet Andrew McMillan, whose work has often explored young men’s sense of identity.
It is not just GCSE and A-level students who are missing out on a conclusion – final-year degree students are also facing the prospect of delays or cancellations to their assessments. As a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, McMillan is very aware of what the graduation ceremony means to students – and to their parents. “It’s that celebration and relief after three years of trying incredibly hard and struggling. At a university like mine a lot are first in the family [to attend] and carried that weight with them as well.”
Simon Armitage is probably one of the most familiar and best-loved contemporary poets on the school curriculum. While genuinely sympathetic to the impact of the cancellations of these important rituals of celebration, he told me he would advise young people to embrace the liberation of their situation.
“If someone had said to me at 16, ‘You don’t have to go back to school to do your exams,’ I would have jumped for joy and the teachers probably would have as well. My guess is that you know the track for learning has already been set, and I would advise anybody to follow their interests,” says Armitage. “I had the greatest learning period of my life in that summer between the end of school and going off to college. So I wouldn’t see school as the be-all and end-all of education. I would try and be optimistic and self-reliant.”
McMillan remembers graduating in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. A decade on, and the prospect is an even gloomier economic climate. And in Britain’s divided school system, there are legitimate anxieties about pushy parents and private schools playing strategic games to up their students’ grade assessments. Of course, for many adolescents bad mocks were the wake-up call that would change everything in the real exams. Now, they won’t get to take those exams.
My gut feeling is that the class of 2020 will wear a symbolic badge of honour, as that cohort who came through a pandemic. When people were dying, when the health of our loved ones was so precious, exams seemed so insignificant – because they were.
Could it be that an ideological dismantling of education theory – as is happening with economic theory – would be to their benefit? McMillan points to the creativity put into online classes and home-schooling – alternatives which arguably show up the futility of Michael Gove’s push for all-or-nothing final-year exams in place of long-term assessments. “It is liberating, in that everything we were told is important was not. It turns out all along it could have been done by coursework or other kinds of project.”
There’s no denying that many young adults are carrying huge mental stresses from the current uncertainty and confinement. But how heartwarming it was to see sixth formers nationwide scramble to set up last-minute leavers’ assemblies and teachers’ gifts, not knowing when they’ll meet again.
The Friday that UK schools closed, I watched the film Booksmart, about two diligent American high school leavers who embark on a last night of partying, determined to make up for all the fun they never had. It was a bittersweet watch. But it captured the unique power of youth: their resilience; the knowledge that whatever they’re going through right now, there is the open potential of a whole lifetime ahead to do things a different way. And this generation of 18-year-olds, I hope, unlike their predecessors, will have a healthy scepticism about the claims and threats of authority figures about the value of grades.
Don’t watch this video if you’d rather not see a cop slowly murder a man. Minneapolis police responded to a “forgery in progress”, whatever that is, although it sounds like a non-violent crime to me; they found a man sitting in a car, “under the influence”, and we’re still in non-violent territory; the cops then escalated everything, getting him into handcuffs and on the ground. Then, while he’s helpless and handcuffed, surrounded by at least 3 cops, one of Minneapolis’s Finest puts his knee on the man’s neck and pins him there.
I guess they expected to be overpowered by a bound drunk man.
The cop kept pressure on the man’s neck while he moaned and repeatedly said he was in pain and that he couldn’t breathe. He gradually stops moving, apparently stops breathing, and is later declared dead. That cop just kept crushing his neck, even as it was obvious there could be no further resistance.
Our men in blue! Fire ’em all. None of them even suggested to the cop kneeling on the man’s neck that maybe he could lighten up a little.
The one bright spot in this horrific incident are the Minneapolis citizens who record and vocally protest the police violence as it happens. Everyone is still cowed by the armed cops, but as their moral authority continues to erode, as they become nothing but thugs in uniforms, that will change, as long as they continue to think they are above the mere citizenry.
It always embarrassed Samuel Vimes when civilians tried to speak to him in what they thought was “policeman.” If it came to that, he hated thinking of them as civilians. What was a policeman, if not a civilian with a uniform and a badge? But they tended to use the term these days as a way of describing people who were not policemen. It was a dangerous habit: once policemen stopped being civilians the only other thing they could be was soldiers.
Two of the cops have been put on paid leave.
You’ve probably already heard this story of a woman in Central Park who was letting her dog run off-leash and called the cops on a black man recording her behavior.
“I’m taking a picture and calling the cops,” Amy Cooper is heard saying in the video. “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.”
That’s become mundane and ordinary. Beckys and Karens expressing their dismay at black people just living ordinary lives is common, it seems.
But this is extraordinary: she offers her excuse.
“I’m not a racist. I did not mean to harm that man in any way,” she said, adding that she also didn’t mean any harm to the African American community.
Wait a minute. That’s patently false. There’s a huge disconnect between what she did, what she says, and how she now rationalizes it.
She explicitly called the police to tell them a black man was threatening her life (he wasn’t). If she wasn’t racist, why even mention that he was black? Because she assumed just the existence of a black man was threatening. She did intend to do him harm; telling the police that someone was threatening your life is requesting the authorities to step in and question and detain and possibly arrest them. That’s doing harm, no question. Using the color of his skin to feed the stereotype of dangerous black people is harming their community.
That’s just as racist and harmful as what Carolyn Bryant did. It’s curious to see how stupidly she denies it.
They really need to get out more, dissect a frog brain or something, if they’re still clinging to that triune brain nonsense. According to Salon, some psychologists still think that’s valid. The author summarizes an article that…
…addresses (and debunks) one of the most commonly-used metaphors in evolutionary psychology, the idea that the human brain evolved from lower life forms and hence has evolutionary remnants from those animals — akin to an onion with layers.
If you’ve ever heard someone speak of you possessing a “lizard brain” or “fish brain” that operates on some subconscious, primal level, you’ve heard this metaphor in action. This is called the triune-brain theory; as the authors write, the basic crux of it is that “as new vertebrate species arose, evolutionarily newer complex brain structures were laid on top of evolutionarily older simpler structures; that is, that an older core dealing with emotions and instinctive behaviors (the ‘reptilian brain’ consisting of the basal ganglia and limbic system) lies within a newer brain capable of language, action planning, and so on.”
Whoa. That’s silly. Of course, I have an edge: my early career in graduate school was spent studying the neuroanatomy and physiology of fish, and yes, they have a hindbrain, midbrain, and forebrain — all the pieces are there, they develop to different degrees in different lineages, and there aren’t linear ‘steps’ in evolution where, all of a sudden, there are jumps to whole new brain architectures appearing. Even before that, as an undergraduate taking neuroscience from Johnny Palka, I recall how insistent he was that we had to regard the brain of Drosophila as both existing and capable of sophisticated processing. (It’s true, some people think insects don’t have brains. They’re wrong.)
I wonder if this is another consequence of the belief in Haeckel’s erroneous ideas. I’ve skimmed through Dr Spock’s Baby Book, and was surprised to see how much rekapitulationstheorie saturates that book. The creationists love to claim that introductory biology texts teach it as fact, when my experience is that they explain how it’s wrong; they should look into the child psychology texts if they want better examples of a bad idea being promoted today.
So I had to look into the paper described in the Salon article. It’s titled “Your Brain Is Not an Onion With a Tiny Reptile Inside”, which is excellent. It gets right down to addressing the misconception from the very first words. The abstract is also succinct and clear.
A widespread misconception in much of psychology is that (a) as vertebrate animals evolved, “newer” brain structures were added over existing “older” brain structures, and (b) these newer, more complex structures endowed animals with newer and more complex psychological functions, behavioral flexibility, and language. This belief, although widely shared in introductory psychology textbooks, has long been discredited among neurobiologists and stands in contrast to the clear and unanimous agreement on these issues among those studying nervous-system evolution. We bring psychologists up to date on this issue by describing the more accurate model of neural evolution, and we provide examples of how this inaccurate view may have impeded progress in psychology. We urge psychologists to abandon this mistaken view of human brains.
Then Cesario, Johnson, and Eisthen name names. They show that this misbegotten misconception is a real issue by going through the literature and introductory textbooks.
Within psychology, a broad understanding of the mind contrasts emotional, animalistic drives located in older anatomical structures with rational, more complex psychological processes located in newer anatomical structures. The most widely used introductory textbook in psychology states that
in primitive animals, such as sharks, a not-so-complex brain primarily regulates basic survival functions. . . . In lower mammals, such as rodents, a more complex brain enables emotion and greater memory. . . . In advanced mammals, such as humans, a brain that processes more information enables increased foresight as well. . . . The brain’s increasing complexity arises from new brain systems built on top of the old, much as the Earth’s landscape covers the old with the new. Digging down, one discovers the fossil remnants of the past. (Myers & Dewall, 2018, p. 68) [no relation –pzm]
To investigate the scope of the problem, we sampled 20 introductory psychology textbooks published between 2009 and 2017. Of the 14 that mention brain evolution, 86% contained at least one inaccuracy along the lines described above. Said differently, only 2 of the field’s current introductory textbooks describe brain evolution in a way that represents the consensus shared among comparative neurobiologists. (See https://osf.io/r6jw4/ for details.)
Not to blame only psychologists, they also point out that Carl Sagan popularized the idea further in The Dragons of Eden. I hate to puncture the warm happy glow Sagan’s name brings to many of us, me included, but that was a bad book. Don’t ask an astronomer to explain brain evolution and consciousness, ever. I’m looking at you, Neil.
The authors illustrate the misconception well. It’s a combination of errors: the idea that evolution is linear rather than branching, that humans are the pinnacle of a long process of perfecting the brain, and that we possess unique cerebral substrates to produce human capabilities. It isn’t, we aren’t, we don’t.
I’m kind of disappointed that this obvious flawed thinking has to be pointed out, but I’m glad someone is explaining it clearly to psychologists. Can we get this garbage removed from the textbooks soon? Or at least relegated to a historical note in a sidebar, where the error is explained?
This article appears in the Witness section of the summer 2020 issue of the New Humanist. Subscribe today.
On 28 April, Nigerian police arrested Mubarak Bala, president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, on charges of “blasphemy”. He had allegedly posted criticism of Islam on his Facebook wall. This was not the first time Bala was arrested for his non-belief – he was previously detained in 2014 because of his open atheism. On that occasion, he was held for 18 days in a psychiatric ward in the north of Nigeria, medicated and barred from communicating with the outside world.
Now, he is once again in danger. While Nigeria’s constitution theoretically protects freedom of expression, the country allows states to operate Sharia courts. Under Sharia law, blasphemy can be punished by death. Enforcement differs by state. Police have transferred Bala to Kano state in the north-west of the country, which is known to have a very active Sharia court.
The arrest seems to be the result of a petition from a group of lawyers, which was sent to local police. Before his arrest, Bala received several death threats from Muslims in Kano who were angered by his writings on Islam. According to Bala, one of those who made the threats was a police officer in Kano.
Leo Igwe, chair of the board of trustees of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, has said everyone in the group is “deeply worried” by the arrest. “They are likely to try him under Sharia law in Kano, which could lead to capital punishment.”
Humanists International is coordinating efforts to free Bala, urging sympathetic groups and individuals to spread awareness and contribute to a crowdfunding campaign.
It doesn’t look like much at the beginning, but this dam failure in Michigan led to thousands of people being evacuated, destruction of bridges and homes downstream, and some houses were flooded to a depth of 9 feet. All it took was a little rain. OK, a lot of rain.
Here’s an analysis of the failure. There was something more going on.
This video is going to be a classic in the teaching of geotechnical failures, but it also clarifies the events that led to the Edenville Dam failure. It would have been simple to ascribe this to a simple overtopping event that occurred when the capacity of the spillway was exceeded. But in reality the events are are more worrying than that – the dam appears to have undergone a slope failure; a failure of its integrity. This should never occur, and to me it suggests that the problems at the Edenville Dam went further than known issues with the spillway.
So not just rain, but also negligence by whoever had responsibility for the dam. It turns out that this dam was privately owned, by absentee landlords with a criminal history who neglected it, refused to do necessary repairs and expansion, and had their federal license to run the dam revoked for their greedy refusal to do what was needed. I guess it is unsurprising that Lee Mueller is a Randian Trumpkin who lives in Las Vegas.
America’s crumbling infrastructure isn’t helped by the parasites and rentiers who’ve taken it over.
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Gene-editing technology is rapidly advancing, writes Cal Flyn, but what about the unintended consequences?
Reproductive technologies of all kinds have always been a source of public anxiety. He’s gene-edited babies are far from the first to have prompted widespread condemnation, even horror. The earliest successful instance of sperm donation, for example, itself took place under ethically dubious circumstances.
Giving away our DNA
Sold as an empowering route to better health, are genetic testing kits any more than a data grab? asks Giovanni Tiso
But if most of 23andMe’s customers are merely interested in the geographical origins of their DNA, we might wonder what makes the proposition so valuable to investors.
The chains of the past
Black people are overrepresented in the psychiatric system, as Ayo Awokoya discovers. Could the controversial theory of inherited trauma help explain why?
As she went cyclically in and out of wards, Samira felt she was getting worse, with frequent misdiagnosis and heavy drug treatments. She felt as if her mental health is-sues were at the centre of who she was. Year after year, she would return, unable to move forward and leave the con-fines of the NHS hotel behind. It felt like containment, she told me, not treatment.
The Q&A: Tom Oliver
JP O'Malley speaks to the professor and prominent systems thinker about the idea that the self is an illusion.
Many religions have been saying this through the ages. But what I’m bringing to the table is an evidence-based approach. Neuroscience shows our neural networks are hugely dynamic: always changing to the physical and social context we are surrounded by. Every time we speak to someone, every word and touch we receive is changing the neural networks in our brains.
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Witch allegation and persecution in Africa has not been given the attention it deserves. It wreaks havoc on people’s lives across the continent, as alleged witches are perceived as enemies to the society who should be exposed, disgraced or eliminated – treated without mercy or compassion. The victims – disproportionately women, children and people with disabilities – are abandoned, subjected to trial by ordeal, lynched, banished from the communities or imprisoned. In northern Ghana, thousands of women have been expelled to witch camps, accused due to anything from disputes over property to explaining away illness or general misfortune. Simply put, persons who are accused of witchcraft are denied their basic humanity and human rights.
A 2010 Gallup Poll, conducted in 18 countries, showed the pervasiveness of the belief in witchcraft in sub-Saharan Africa including 95 percent in Ivory Coast, 80 percent in Senegal, 77 percent in Ghana and Mali. Until now, the campaign against witch persecution has largely been dominated and driven by NGOs and activists that have refused to call witchcraft belief by its name: myth or superstition.
On the one hand, this vicious phenomenon has been used as a medium for re-evangelisation. In the Congo DRC, Ghana and Nigeria, witch persecution has been linked to the activities of churches, pastors and mallams and to strands of Africanised Christianity and Islam. Christian missionary groups may convert alleged witches or perform exorcisms, which can threaten the lives and health of the victims. On the other hand, foreign missionary groups can use witch persecution to promote forms of Christianity and Islam that seem to be opposed to these practices, along with the African religious formations that sanction them.
Meanwhile, many Western NGOs, trying to avoid being labelled racist or neo-colonialist, have resolved not to designate witch persecution as an irrational superstitious practice that Africans should abandon.
In January, Advocacy for Alleged Witches was launched in response to pervasive cases of witch persecution and related abuses in Africa and to challenge mistaken ideas about witchcraft. AFAW aims to realize a critical mass of advocates in all African countries. Over the past three months, we have established contacts in Nigeria where I operate from, as well as Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe.
It is important to make it clear that AFAW is not an anti-religious initiative. We are not out to abolish religion, or to get people not to believe in God. AFAW seeks to work and partner with religious individuals and faith-based organizations that are committed to providing a robust response to witch persecution in Africa, eradicating this dark and destructive phenomenon. To this end, we have published a Decade of Activism Declaration for 2020 to 2030 that sets out AFAW’s humanist, skeptical approach and outlines our ultimate goal to create a witch-hunting free Africa.
While the Covid-19 pandemic will present a challenge, we hope it will also present an opportunity to raise awareness. There are fears that the health crisis could trigger more witchcraft allegations in communities across Africa. Witchcraft allegations are often ways people make sense of uncertainties and anxieties over terminal and incurable diseases. However, the coronavirus pandemic also presents an opening to correct misinformation, especially relating to occult, magical or witchcraft forces because it provides an opportunity to emphasize the importance of facts, science and evidence in the management of diseases and other misfortunes.
Media agencies across Africa often publish news and commentaries that reinforce witchcraft beliefs and magical thinking. For instance, in 2014, several newspapers in Nigeria reported the case of a ‘witch’ that lost her way while going to the ‘coven’. This was likely an old woman with dementia who lost her way. The media establishment constitutes a critical platform for the education and enlightenment of the public. AFAW advocates have already started visiting media agencies across Nigeria to inform them about its mission and vision, visits which sometimes include debates with journalists on the existence or non-existence of witches.
In March, I personally visited several child orphanage homes and shelters for victims of child witchcraft allegations in Nigeria, on behalf of AFAW. I visited a child orphanage centre in Eket, Akwa Ibom State, that houses 34 children. One of these children is a girl, now 16-years-old, that I rescued in 2011. Her mother had died shortly after childbirth and her father had later driven her out, blaming her and branding her as a witch. She had suffered greatly after becoming homeless and had been abducted by an older man. Locals drew my attention to her case while I was doing a public education campaign in the community.
The private childcare centre in Eket is doing laudable work, as are many of the other homes. However, I noted a looming resource crisis. The majority of these institutions rely on donations from well-meaning individuals. One of the caregivers said that they might have to soon start rejecting child witch victims. A long-term funding strategy is needed to ensure these centres are sustainable, complimented with intensive public education campaigns in the affected communities, helping to cut off the supply chain.
AFAW also has a campus program which aims to rally students against witch persecution and killing. The campus initiative became necessary after Christian students protested the organisation of an academic conference on witchcraft at the University of Nigeria Nsukka last year. Two events on “Who is afraid of witchcraft?” took place at the Universities of Ibadan and Nsukka in spring. Before the Covid-19 outbreak, we received requests from yet more campuses. To realise a witch hunting free Africa tomorrow, we must invest in the students of today.
Many Western NGOs and activists have refrained from criticising harmful traditional, cultural and religious practices such as witch persecution, witch hunting or witch trials because they do not want to offend the cultural sensibilities of Africans. They regard this as a gesture of respect for the African culture and religion. It is not. Religious, cultural practices that harm other human beings do not deserve respect. A critical examination of harmful beliefs and practices is an intellectual duty to Africa and the world.
I am delighted to launch the first social distancing computer game! Called ‘Can you save the world?’, the game is designed to get children (and adults!) to socially distance, and to also appreciate how this helps to save lives.
I have been working on this with the very talented game designer, Martin Jacob, and you can play it on your laptop or desktop computer (running Chrome or Safari) for free here.
This post was jointly written by Richard Wiseman and Simon Gage (Director, Edinburgh International Science Festival).
The Coronavirus has made large gatherings impossible at the moment, leading to the cancelling and postponement of lots of live events (including concerts, festivals, shows and talks). Obviously, right now it is vital that everyone observes the lockdown and stays indoors. However, even when restrictions are lifted, large gatherings are likely to prove problematic. Given that this situation may continue for many months, we thought that it would be good to start to brainstorm innovative ways of delivering live content. Live performances will inevitably have to change and so this can be seen as an opportunity to develop new and innovative approaches. Our background is in science communication, and so the ideas are grounded in that area, but the same general approaches would work for a broad spectrum of live events.
Virtual performances: One obvious approach is to move online, and many performers and speakers have already started to do this. Although this has the advantage of scalability, it’s quickly becoming a crowded marketplace, risking screen fatigue. In addition, digital delivery can be challenging when it comes to generating a genuine sense of connection and engagement.
Streets and gardens: Performers could head onto streets and into gardens, and have audiences watching at a distance and/or through their windows. Two-way chat could happen via the performer using a hands-free headset and a mobile phone to call people indoors (perhaps with the spectators placing their phone to speaker mode).
Drive-ins: In drive-ins cinemas, people watch films from inside their cars. Exactly the same could happen with live events. People could listen via large speakers, the radio, Bluetooth or a mobile device.
Floats: In some towns, Santa Claus is driven around on a float and everyone watches from their window or doorstep. The same idea could be used to provide live entertainment. Audiences receive a leaflet letting them know when the float will be coming down their street. The event could be made interactive in all sorts of ways, including the use of technology, advance input, etc..
Hands-on activities: Screen time is dominating our lives at the moment, but research shows that hands on activities are vital for learning, plus promote wellbeing. Material could be delivered to audiences and they could use it to build, create art etc.. Maybe have them watch a live, or pre-recorded, show and follow along? Could the same approach allow them to contribute to these shows in some way (for instance, by carrying out some kind of experiment and submit their data. Or send in their examples of art).
Live spaces: Re-design performance spaces, such that audiences can arrive and enjoy a performance in a safe way. Maybe they sit 2 meters apart? What sorts of immersive experiences could grow from the idea?
So, those are our initial ideas. Any other thoughts?
I have recently created this new video exploring psychology and optical illusions for the University of Hertfordshire. I hope you enjoy it – it features some of my favourite illusions!
I have teamed up with The Good Thinking Society to create a new award designed to promote magic for social good.
Some magicians work with disadvantaged groups, charities, hospital patients, schools, community groups, and those facing physical and psychological challenges. This work can bring lots of benefits, such as building confidence and self-esteem, inspiring happiness and optimism, supporting physical rehabilitation and co-ordination, and tackling loneliness and social exclusion. Within an educational context it can foster a greater understanding of science or mathematics, help develop critical thinking and creativity, and deliver positive messages.
The Good Magic Awards recognizes, rewards and encourages this work. Those who wish to use magic for social good are invited to apply for an award to support work in this area. Nominations will close at 5pm (GMT) on 30th April 2020, so if you think you would like to start working in this area, or need some support for an ongoing project, please head over to the site and take a look.
Further details here.
It’s our final puzzle…..
A millionaire tells his two sons to buy two horses and ride to a town 5 miles away. The one whose horse is slower wins and will inherit his fortune. After thinking about the race for days, the brothers ask a wise man for guidance. Upon receiving the advice, they jump on their horses and race to the town as fast as they can.
What did the wise man say to them?
Yesterday I posted this puzzle….
What phrases are represented here….
2 mothers and 2 daughters go out for lunch. They order 6 slices of pizza and can share the slices equally between them.
If you haven’t tried to solve it, have a go now. For everyone else, the answer is below….
If the group consists of a grandmother and her daughter and her granddaughter, then the 3 of them would constitute 2 mothers and 2 daughters. Thus the 6 pieces can be evenly shared between the 3 of them.
I hope you enjoyed the 10 puzzles. Stay safe and I hope to see you soon. Oh, and if you need the answer to the horse puzzle, here it is…..
The wise man told them to swap horses. Given that the money will go to the slower horse, by swapping horses each son will try to get to the town first, thus creating a proper race.
Dear Making Sense and Waking Up subscribers—
Those of you who have been listening to my podcast or following me on Twitter know that I’m quite worried about the emerging coronavirus pandemic. Barring some extraordinarily good luck, I believe that we have some very rough months ahead of us. Health concerns aside, it now seems inevitable that we will experience considerable economic uncertainty as a wave of illness disrupts normal life in a hundred countries simultaneously.
As you know, both the Waking Up app and the Making Sense podcast are subscription services. However, it has always been my policy that money should never be the reason why someone can’t get access to them. As we collectively respond to this global emergency, please know that if you can no longer afford a subscription to Waking Up or Making Sense, you need only send an email to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, and you’ll receive a free account when your subscription expires.
I’m incredibly fortunate to have found work that I love to do, along with a community of people willing to support it—and I feel especially good knowing that I can be of use to many of you at a time like this. I’m also very happy that both Waking Up and Making Sense are supported by a wonderful team of employees and contractors who can work from home indefinitely.
So please don’t forget: The work we are doing is for you, whether you can pay for it or not. And don’t hesitate to be in touch if you need help.
Wishing you all health and happiness,
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.
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.
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!
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The post Sam Harris & Jordan Peterson in Vancouver (Night Two) appeared first on Sam Harris.
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.
[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):
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.
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
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]
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.
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.
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,
UPDATE: (19/03/2013) They lost. (The sinister, secretive cult, that is. Not the games maker.)
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.
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.
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.
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.