A TED Fellow

Over at Dubito Ergo Sum, Tom Foss has a lovely post about a bizarre notion:

This would make for a great game of spot the fallacy, wouldn’t it? Farley lists all these qualifications, but none of them are “noted anti-spam crusader” or “longtime anti-bigotry activist,” not that those would be excuses either. See, none of these qualifications are inconsistent with “abusive […] anti-feminists, MRAs, or all-round assholes” or “annoying and irritating”3. It’s possible to be an Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning comedian and also be an annoying asshole who delights in baiting feminists with disingenuous arguments, just as it’s possible to be a Ph.D. biochemist who believes in intelligent design. This is a pro hominem argument, an argument from false authority, that these people’s lofty credentials make them somehow incapable of being bigots, jerks, trolls, abusers, or just antagonistic assholes to specific groups of people.

You see, Tim Farley wrote a post suggesting that a group of people shouldn’t be listed on The Block Bot, even at Level 3 (Annoying), because they have done certain things:

  • A Research Fellow for a U.S. think-tank who is also deputy editor of a national magazine, and author of numerous books
  • A Consultant for Educational Programs for a U.S. national non-profit
  • A long-time volunteer for the same national non-profit
  • An organizer for a state-level skeptic group in the US
  • A past president of a state-level humanist group in the US
  • A former director of a state-level atheist group in the US
  • An Emmy and Golden Globe award winning comedian
  • A TED Fellow
  • Co-founder of a well known magazine of philosophy and author of several books
  • A philosopher, writer and critic who has authored several books

Now, as someone who has some of those people blocked myself, and who was already shaking my head at a few people who claimed to want to sue the BBC over the NewsNight segment on The Block Bot, some of those jumped out at me. And while Tom’s post does a very good job of talking about why Farley’s reasoning on this list is fallacious (seriously, go read it), I’m firmly in the camp of providing positive evidence as well. I tend to agree with Amanda Marcotte that making people look at this stuff is one of the more important things we can do. So, without further ado, let’s tackle one of these. [Read more…]

So You Want to Argue About Evo Psych

Or at least about what a bunch of us had to say on the topic at SkepchickCon/CONvergence. Then maybe you should watch the video to find out what we actually said:

Or even read the transcript. Though, if you only read the transcript, and you get hung up on one tiny piece of language, you might want to watch that bit of the video anyway to make sure it was captured correctly.

Then, and only then, might it make sense to argue with what we had to say.

But It Changed the World Anyway

What do On the Origin of Species, Broca’s aphasia, the origins of anthropology, the Society of Mutual Autopsy, and early sexist brain science have in common? I’ll let Jennifer Michael Hecht tell you.

There’s plenty more in her speech about how knowing our cultural and scientific history as atheists, women, and people of color can help make our current situations appear less inevitable and prevent us from repeating hard work that has already been done well.

You can read more about Clémence Royer here and about her translation of Origin here.

How WEIRD Is Evolutionary Psychology?

For some reason, over the weekend, Jerry Coyne asked Steven Pinker to discuss some brief blog comments for publication and Pinker did. The blog comments in question were dropped by a busy and sleep-deprived PZ in response to someone jumping on an even more brief description of the evolutionary psychology panel that I moderated at CONvergence/SkepchickCon.

Rather than listen to the audio of the panel–which is difficult, yes–Coyne decided it was best to take PZ’s informal summary to Pinker. The results…well, the results make me very happy both that we structured the panel the way we did and that it was recorded for posterity.

There’s really not much point in discussing most of what Coyne and Pinker have to say before the video for the panel comes out–probably not until it’s been transcribed. What we had to say already addresses many of their objections. So those can wait rather than us doing additional work.

There is one statement of Pinker’s I wanted to touch on now, however. [Read more…]

Teaching Religious Skepticism

John Shook has a post up over at CFI about scientific skepticism versus rationalist skepticism with regard to religious claims. He notes that calls for scientific skepticism are not universal among skeptics, and he gives a fascinating bit of history on who originated the call for scientific skepticism to be applied to religion. Read the whole thing.

The first comment, however, raises a misconception that I’d like to address:

Whenever I hear someone talk about what other people should/should not accept/believe as if they know the absolute truth, I wonder how they differ from all of the other people who think that they, too, know the absolute truth.

Here’s the thing: That’s not what we do. It’s a common misconception based, I think, in the fact that we tend to get more attention when we’re talking about politics than when we’re talking about belief and epistemology (and the fact that you can now find atheist skeptics talking among themselves), but it isn’t true. There is no knowledge of absolute truth required to talk about what people should or shouldn’t accept as the skeptical position on religion. [Read more…]

Skepticism, Religion, and Strawmen

Daniel Loxton has a post up at Skepticblog today titled “‘Testable Claims’ is Not a ‘Religious Exemption’“. Although the article doesn’t specify or provide any links, it is, in large part, a response to PZ’s recent “divorce” from the organized skeptical movement and the arguments leading up to it. From Loxton’s article:

What are we to make of accusations that skepticism’s “testable claims” scope is a cynical political dodge, a way to present skeptics as brave investigators while conveniently arranging to leave religious feathers unruffled? Like the other clichés of my field (“skeptics are in the pocket of Big Pharma!”) this complaint is probably immortal. No matter how often this claim is debunked, it will never go away.

Nonetheless, it is grade-A horseshit. It’s become a kind of urban legend among a subset of the atheist community—a misleading myth in which a matter of principle is falsely presented as a disingenuous ploy. There is (and this cannot be emphasized enough) no “religious exemption” in skepticism. Skeptics do and always have busted religious claims.

Loxton sounds a bit frustrated, and well he may. He’s said this sort of thing plenty of times before, but it hasn’t settled the claims. Of course, there’s a reason for that. Loxton is completely missing the point. [Read more…]

I Get Email: fMRI and Autism

I did receive one response to my talk at SkepTech that wasn’t entirely positive.

Good afternoon Stephanie,

I was one of the attendees at skeptech in Minneapolis last weekend, and had asked you a question as to whether MRI’s have contributed to discovering autism in children at a young age (or at all, for that matter). I remember your reply, where you said that MRI’s weren’t advanced enough to make those kinds of detections without the need for physically splitting someone’s head open and investigating.

Curiousity got the best of me, and I decided to look around on the internet. I found the following scientific paper, “State-dependant changes of connectivity patterns and functional brain network topology in Autism Spectrum Disorder” on arxiv.org, a reputable source containing a library of scientific papers available to the public. Within this paper, another paper in 2007 by Alexander et al. discussed that “structural MRI studies have reported abnormal developmental trajectory of brain growth, with evidence of poorly organizated white matter”.

My questions to you are:

  • What is your reaction to this new information?
  • Given that your website shows no credentials of neuroscience or anything related to which you may have degrees in, why would you attend a conference and answer questions so confidently without knowing more about these subjects and the science behind these matters?

Thank you for your time. I hope you have a great week!

All right. Let’s go through my mental processes on this one, shall we? [Read more…]

The Use and Abuse of Psychometrics

I had a very short time slot for my solo talk at SkepTech, so I decided to use it to give a very brief, simplified look at how the process of developing measurement tools in psychology limits what those tools can tell us.

The talk has made my fellow psych people happy, which means I didn’t get anything glaringly wrong. I haven’t yet heard much from people outside psychology, so I have no idea how this plays as an introduction to the topic.

Things I Learned: YouTube Edition

It’s good practice to say very publicly from time to time when you’ve gotten something wrong. I did that earlier today.

Thunderf00t has a new YouTube video up about how feminism is destroying all that is unholy. Ophelia has a bit of discussion of the details here.

When I clicked through to YouTube I saw something that made me laugh. The video showed 301 views and 1,798 upvoted.

I took a screen capture (which WordPress doesn’t want to load) and tweeted the picture, along with a comment about people evaluating the merits of the argument. A few people commented. A few people retweeted me. We all thought it was bizarre.

Then Rebecca let me know that YouTube just does that. Something about that many views triggering a review. (I’m paraphrasing, so any additional errors are mine, not hers.) The correct number won’t show up for several hours.

That’s both non-obvious and not nearly as funny.

So I took down the tweet and let the people who had retweeted it know what was going on. And now I tell you as a reminder (to myself as well) that there’s nothing wrong with being wrong as long as you own up to it and learn.

But Men Work More Hours

Jason’s back at blogging again, after a bit of a break to get all credentialed up. Easing back into the swing of things, he put up a post pointing to the “11 Signs You Might Be an MRA” t-shirt that was going around. As the first one of these “signs” is “You have no problem with the gender wage gap. But you hate having to pay for dates”, it of course brought out the standard reasons why the pay gap is totes not discriminatory. For example:

It’s not that we don’t have a problem with it, it’s that we’re aware that when you account for factors such as that men work for longer hours, it almost disappears. If women want a higher wage, they should make choices that will bring them a bigger paycheck.

Both the idea that the pay gap “almost disappears” and the question of choice have already been more than ably handled in the comments at Jason’s. I want, however, to pull apart this idea of working hours.
[Read more…]