My current feelings on the skeptical movement and blogging

I must not be the only one feeling disenchanted, since all of these other people can speak perfectly for me. From PZ, in response to Steven Novella’s piece about the scope of skepticism:

As for that awful, dishonest, destructive claim that “Political, moral, and social ideology are ‘outside the scope’ of skepticism because they remove objectivity” — I ask, OK, so would you claim that there is no rational, evidence-based argument against, say, slavery? That it is impossible to make an objective argument in any domain against treating people as property?

If that’s the case, well then, fuck skepticism. It isn’t relevant or useful anymore. It has abstracted itself into the realm of a private academic circle-jerk, and we can stop arguing, because just maybe atheists, who apparently have more rational minds, can just leave the party voluntarily.

Improbable Joe responds to the second paragraph with this comment:

A-fucking-men! If all that skepticism is for is dismissing the same silly claims that have been dismissed for sometimes hundreds of years, and not for creating positive change in the world, then what goddamned use does it have? “Hey, let’s all get in a room once a week and talk about how homeopathy is still quackery, and that Bigfoot is a hoax! And then we can pat each other on the back for still not believing the same daffy shit we didn’t believe last week, and didn’t believe the week before either!” Wow, yeah, that’s really inspiring me to join a “movement” that seems to be fixated on not moving, not budging a single solitary inch, if in doing so it moves beyond smug self-congratulation.

And to close, sawells perfectly summarizes why I’m sick of dealing with the skeptic movement:

I think there are two unspoken arguments which people want to make and can’t (publicly).

Argument 1: skepticism is fine if you point it at things which very few people really believe (bigfoot;alien abduction) because if they get angry we can laugh at them. Don’t point it at things which lots of people believe! There are lots of them and if they get angry that might be scary!

Argument 2: skepticism is fine if you point it at other people who are wrong. Don’t point it at me! I’m not wrong!

Hence the massive pushback against applying basic skepticism to things like mainstream religious claims and mainstream gender stereotypes.

This. Oh, so much this.

I’ve grown reluctant to deal with the egos of skeptic celebrities and politics of skeptical organizations who, frankly, aren’t the great skeptics they think they are. But I’ll still keep writing and speaking about science and skepticism because, well, I find them important and interesting. I’ve realized I don’t need to be an official part of a group or a movement to do those things, nor am I personally responsible for spending my time and energy in improving a movement that is so stubbornly resisting improvement.

Because when my time and energy is spent on repeatedly explaining why diversity matters, why harassment policies are good to have and are already widely implemented at other events, why Obviously Sexist Statement from Skeptic Pope X is problematic, and why certain topics are not exempt from skepticism…then I don’t have the time to write about those certain topics that matter to me. I don’t have time to create unique material about science and skepticism when I’m stuck meta-blogging about how some atheist yet again told me to go kill myself on twitter because I’m an ugly bitch who’s ruining skepticism.

And I didn’t realize how obnoxious this meta-blogging was until I took a break from blogging and spent some time as just a blog reader. All of the blogs I had once loved now hardly ever produce unique material about atheism or skepticism because they’re too busy reacting to trolls or debating some “big name skeptic” (who is really just some shmuck* only known to a small group of people whose opinions have little effect on the world at large). Even the rare unique posts are frequently filled with snide offhand remarks about people they don’t like or vague comments alluding to past drama. And you know, if that’s what they want to do, that’s fine. One of my main pet peeves as a blogger is when people tell you what you should be writing about, when it’s a blogger’s prerogative to write about whatever they find interesting.

I personally no longer find the meta-blogging interesting.

So consider this meta-meta-blogging my long-winded way of saying that my attitude toward blogging is changing. From now on, trolls and haters will be ignored instead of further publicized, and I encourage my readers to do the same in the comments. I will not feel guilty about moderation or banning in order to make a harassment-free environment for me and my readers. I will only comment on controversies if I feel that they have effects outside of our tiny little skeptical bubble. And most importantly, I will concentrate on writing unique material about the topics I care about instead of just endlessly replying to blogs, comments, and tweets.

That’s what I want to spend my time and energy on, not fixing a stubborn skeptical movement’s academic circle jerk.

*I count myself in the category of “random shmuck that other people care way too much about.” I wish my haters would spend less time obsessing over what’s effectively an open access creative writing journal for a random grad student, and maybe take up some sort of constructive hobby, like actually promoting science and skepticism, or at the very least, knitting.

Welcome to Pokébiology 101


Hello there! Welcome to the world of Pokémon! My name is Jen! People call me the Pokémon Grad Student!

…Okay, I don’t think anyone has actually called me the Pokémon Grad Student. But I’m a PhD candidate studying evolution and genomics who has been playing Pokémon since its release in 1998. My friend showed me his Red version, and soon after I owned my first video game – Pokémon Blue. I’ve been hooked since then.

As I progressed through my training as a biologist, I started to look at the Pokémon world in a new light. At first, it was irritation. Everything seemed wrong. They confused metamorphosis for evolution. Breeding didn’t make any sense – different Pokémon species could interbreed, but the offspring were always the same species as mom. Gender ratios didn’t reflect biological mechanisms, but rather a game designer’s attempt to keep certain Pokémon rare. Why, it was if they were trying to design a fun game with no regard to biological accuracy


darwin heart piplup by claudetc

But as I learned more biology, I started to realize nature isn’t as simple as it seems. There are all sorts of strange biological phenomena that result in counter-intuitive mechanisms, traits, and organisms. Nature is really, really weird. So I started viewing the Pokémon world as a puzzle. If I were Professor Oak, what experiments would I be doing? Are there any natural processes in the real world that could explain Pokémon biology?

Bulbasaur Anatomical Study by JoshuaDunlop

Some of you must be thinking, “Jen, it’s just a game. It’s not supposed to make sense. Chill.” I know, I know. I don’t expect all games to be 100% scientifically accurate at the expense of fun. But I like daydreaming about how the biology of Pokémon could “work.” It’s as if I’ve discovered a whole planet of alien life to study, and what biologist wouldn’t want that?

But more importantly, I see the Pokémon world as a great way to teach people about actual biology. And I’m hardly the first person to think this – the creator of Pokémon originally conceived of the game as a way to share his childhood hobby of collecting insects with the children of a modern, urbanized Japan. But I’ll be discussing what I know best: evolution and genomics. How do Pokémon species differ from species here on Earth? What does genomic imprinting have to do with breeding? Can an organism like Eevee actually exist? I’ll be exploring these topics in future PokéBiology 101 posts.

Now, there are some things in the Pokémon Universe that are above my pay grade. I’m not even going to attempt to explain how a tiny mouse generates thunderstorms or how some Pokémon have psychic abilities. I have no clue how a Pokéball can transform Pokémon into pure energy and back again (maybe a bored Physics grad student can hazard a guess). And there’s certainly no explanation for how Onix, a ground/rock type, suddenly becomes vulnerable to electric attacks because a sprinkler system came on (yes, I am still bitter about that episode).


 I have no idea how this works.

For all of those things, I’m willing to suspend disbelief. But when it comes to the biology of the Pokémon world, I’ve found it’s not necessary to invoke “magic!” as an explanation. Because oddly enough, that bizarre biology is already happening here on earth.

Welcome to PokéBiology 101!

Next in series: “Evolution” and the enigma of Eevee

Republican lawmaker wants to criminalize aborting your rape baby because it’s “tampering with evidence”

I’d say it’s a new low for Republicans, but really, it’s their usual low:

A Republican lawmaker in New Mexico introduced a bill on Wednesday that would legally require victims of rape to carry their pregnancies to term in order to use the fetus as evidence for a sexual assault trial.

House Bill 206, introduced by state Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R), would charge a rape victim who ended her pregnancy with a third-degree felony for “tampering with evidence.”

“Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime,” the bill says.

Third-degree felonies in New Mexico carry a sentence of up to three years in prison.

But don’t worry, Cathrynn Brown! I know you’re not a geneticist so this wouldn’t have occurred to you, but I have the solution to your problem. You can do paternity analysis using the DNA from an aborted fetus, the placenta, or (thanks to new technology produced from my very own department) fetal cells that are circulating in the mother’s blood. Why, you don’t need a live baby at all! It’s a win win situation. Women aren’t forced to give birth to and raise their rapist’s child as some sort of bizarre punishment for being raped, and evidence is still obtained to identify rapists.

I’m sure Rep. Brown will rescind the bill now that science has come to the rescue. It’s not as if this is actually some underhanded attempt to outlaw abortions, right?

I get email?!?!?!

“Hi Jennifer,
Have a good time!
I have seen your blog and wondered about your activities.
you are active, honest, lover of nature, and a girl with grate fillings.
After reading your blog, I have wondered how such woman with such open mind, can disclaim her creator or her God !!!!??
Do you really deny any creator for this mathematical and systematic world!??
What is your reasons for this atheism ?!
Do you know really what causes that such a grate human is performed from electrons ?!!
Do you know what is the relationship between behavior and gens ?!! Who create this ?! you ?! me ?! People before me and you ?!
Do you really agree that such a grate wonderful systems (genetics, human, world , … ) appear accidentally ?!!”


Come see me at Nerd Nite Seattle!

I am living the dream: I’ve been invited to give a talk of extreme geekiness this Monday:

Pokébiology 101
There may not be a Pikachu Genome Project, but the unusual biology of the Pokémon Universe can teach us about biology in the real world. How do Pokémon species differ from species here on Earth? What does genomic imprinting have to do with breeding? Can an organism like Eevee actually exist? You won’t need to be a Pokémon Master or geneticist to catch the concepts, so come, have fun, and grab a beer – it’s super effective.

Nerd Nite Seattle
Monday, January 21st
7:30 Talks (Doors open at 6:30)
$5 Cover
LUCID Jazz Lounge

If you drop by, make sure to say hello!