Skeptics fail at skepticism once again

There is a new article in the Skeptic Magazine going the rounds among prominent white male skeptics.

It is by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay, and called The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct: A Sokal-Style Hoax on Gender Studies, and is an attempt to take down the field of gender studies by getting a “Sokal-style” hoax article published.

Since many prominent white male skeptics hate the field of gender studies, they are filled with glee by this take-down of the field.

There is just one problem – it is nothing of the sort. One hoax article is not enough to take down a field, especially not if it is accepted by a scam journal, which this one was (after being turned down by a real journal in the field).

For a good take-down of the crappy Skeptic Magazine article, see this excellent blogpost by Ketan Joshi: The engine of irrationality inside the rationalists

Lazy linking

Another round of interesting links from the internet

Should complementary and alternative medicine charities lose their charitable status?

Right now, the Charity Commission is in the middle of a public consultation, asking whether or not organisations that offer complementary and alternative therapies should continue to have charitable status. This review presents an unprecedented opportunity for the public to turn the tide, and to make it clear to the Charity Commission that it is not enough to make a medical claim, but that such claims have to be backed up by reliable evidence.

The Good Thinking Society has raised the problem with organizations based on promoting pseudo-science having charitable status, forcing the Charity Commission to hold a public consultation on the subject. As part of his work for the Good Thinking Society, Michael “Marsh” Marshall (host of Skeptics with a K) has written a great opinion piece in the Guardian explaining the reasons behind the Good Thinking Society’s focus on this.

Note: the public consultation ended on March 19th, but it is still worth reading the piece anyway.

Making Progress Toward Open Data: Reflections on Data Sharing at PLOS ONE

Since its inception, PLOS has encouraged data sharing; our original data policy (2003 – March 2014) required authors to share data upon request after publication. In line with PLOS’ ethos of open science and accelerating scientific progress, and in consultation with members of the wider scientific community, PLOS journals strengthened their data policy in March 2014 to further promote transparency and reproducibility.[1] This move was viewed as controversial by many, particularly for PLOS ONE, the largest and most multidisciplinary journal to ever undertake such a mandate. In this post, we look at our experience so far.

Interesting blogpost by PLOS ONE on their data sharing policy, and what the effect of their policy has been, three years after they implemented it.

The Doomsday Scam

This NY Times Magazine article is from November, 2015, but I have just recently come across it. It is a fascinating look into a hoax-substance red mercury, which is supposed to be highly dangerous, and the people searching for it.

The Eurocrat Who Makes Corporate America Tremble

Vestager’s entire tenure has been laced with an instinctive mistrust of big corporations. She’s driven investigations of Amazon.com, Fiat, Gazprom, Google, McDonald’s, and Starbucks—and she still has two and a half years remaining in her term. Rulings on McDonald’s and Amazon, both under scrutiny for their tax deals with Luxembourg, are imminent. If Vestager levies a multibillion-dollar fine against Google—a distinct possibility because the company is fighting three separate European antitrust cases—she will truly set headlines aflame. Google came under review for allegedly forcing Android phone manufacturers to pre-install its suite of apps, favoring its own comparison-shopping services in its search results, and preventing third-party websites from sourcing ads from its competitors. As with Apple and Amazon, these cases were bequeathed to Vestager by her predecessor, but she’s accelerated them to their finish lines.

Great profile of EU commissioner Margrethe Vestager, which focuses not only on her work, but also how the American corporations don’t know how to approach her.

‘The Drug Whisperer’: Drivers arrested while stone cold sober (warning: autoplay video)

Apparently some American police districts teaches cops how to “recognize” signs of drug use. I use scare quotes around recognize, as this news segment clearly shows that they do nothing of the sort. Instead they jail people without a cause.

 

Podcast recommendation: Skeptics with a K

As part of my series of posts recommending podcasts, the turn has come to recommend Skeptics with a K, a podcast by the Merseyside Skeptic Society. The Merseyside Skeptic Society is of course an important skeptical organization, which is well known for having come up with the 10:23 campaign and for co-organizing the QED conference.

The podcast started out in 2009, and is thus a quite long-running podcast, coming up on its 200th episode (as I am writing this, episode 198 was released two days ago).

The podcast has had 3 hosts from the start, with the current hosts being Mike Hall, Michael “Marsh” Marshall, and Alice Howarth. Mike and Marsh has been hosts from the start, while Alice joined in 2014, taking over from Collin Harris.

The shows style is basically that the three hosts sit together, talk about their daily life, and then talk about a skeptic or science subject that they find relevant for the show. The show is relaxed, often silly, but despite what the hosts (especially Mike) would say, very informative. From the science talk by Alice, over Marsh’s work for the Good Thinking Society, to Mike’s addressing misconceptions and misuse of the placebo concept.

In recent years, it has become easy to be cynical about organized skepticism, but podcasts like Skeptics with a K helps fight that cynicism, showing the good side of organized skepticism, demonstrating that it can make a difference, and that it is not just about people promoting themselves, but it is also about people like the 3 hosts who actively work to promote critical thinking, both through their podcast, and through their work fighting against things like homeopathy.

Note: if you have a problem with swearing, this is probably not the podcast for you.

Also, you probably would want to avoid the Christmas special as the first episode to listen to, as it is a drunk episode, and not very representative of the rest of the podcast.

John Oliver is spot on

John Oliver covered the French presidential election last night, and explains what is at stake

It is hard to overstate the importance of this election, and the consequences if Le Pen wins. It could very well lead to the collapse of the EU, since it is highly unlikely that Germany would be able to work together with a fascist like Le Pen.

Upcoming events in Copenhagen

This post is an experiment, where I share events that I thought might be of interest to my Copenhagen readers – they are mostly related to science, feminism, and tech. I have left out any events that are sold out at the time of my writing.

I am thinking of creating similar posts from time to time (by-weekly or monthly). If you think this is a good idea, please let me know in the comments. Also, please let me know if there is anything you think I have missed.

Note: a lot of the links will take you to facebook, as they have been shared as facebook events.

April 20th:

April 21st:

April 22nd:

April 23rd:

April 24th:

April 25th:

April 26th:

April 29th:

May 1st:

May 4th:

May 8th:

May 15th:

May 16th:

May 18th:

 

 

Lazy linking

Catching up on sharing interesting links – some of these might be used for posts in the future.

Seems like the far-right is spreading everywhere, including into the more niche communities, such as the furries. This has led to this article, which must be a headline writer’s wet dream (warning Daily Mail link)

Neo-Nazi furries uproar causes convention cancelation

The rise of the alt-right movement has many people nervous about the spread of neo-Nazi sympathies – and the furry community is apparently not immune to these political trends.

In shocking news, the Rocky Mountain Fur Con, the annual event that brings together furries, has been canceled after a splinter group known as the Furry Raiders came under fire for embracing ‘altfur’ symbols similar to those of Nazis and fascists.

Furries are pretty much at the bottom of the internet pecking order, but I can’t help notice that unlike many other groups that the far right has tried to infiltrate, they actually take action – in this case cancelling the convention.

My fellow FreethoughtBlogger Crip Dyke has written a great blogpost about the One Drop rule

The One Drop Rule

Shermer has had an abomination of a tweet called out by PZ Myers over on Pharyngula, and I’m sure most of you have read that. There are many good points to make about it and a number have been made there, but here I’d like to say something that hasn’t been mentioned yet over there. Here, I’d like to offer some praise for a One Drop Rule.

The One Drop Rule that Crip Dyke is praising is not the one that we generally know, but rather the inverse one – the one where minorities took in anyone who was forced out by the One Drop Rule, providing a community and a home for them.

This article is a year old, but it is important to keep sharing it, since the stereotype still exists, and forms policy in the US

A racist stereotype is shattered: Study finds white youth are more likely to abuse hard drugs than black youth

By now we can all agree that the real target of Reagan’s enduring war on drugs was never drugs, it was African Americans. But if rising incarceration rates among black youth or the utter failure to curtail drug use is not enough proof, perhaps a new study from Northwestern University on racial differences among drug users will do the trick.

According to the study’s findings recently published in the American Journal of Public Health, abuse and dependence on “hard drugs” (opiates, amphetamine, etc.) are “less common among delinquent African American youth than those who are non-Hispanic white.”

It can be debated whether the “war of drugs” is a good idea or not (though I think most of my readers will on the side of thinking it being a bad idea), but studies like this clearly shows that the law is being used to target minorities rather than doing what they are supposed to do.

 

The next link is an interesting article about mixed up identities and the slow awakening of the awareness of racial prejudice of a white woman in the US.

For 18 years, I thought she was stealing my identity. Until I found her

A woman apparently using my name meant a nightmare of unpaid traffic fines and a criminal record. But when I tracked her down, a different story emerged

Most of the problems encountered in the article is due to the lack of a national identity in the US, where people get confused with other people all the time (something John Oliver has covered relating to credit scores), but I found it interesting how the author slowly become aware of the racial prejudice that affected her namesake(s)

I had never been to any other kind of court except traffic court (at which, both times, the police officers had flat-out lied). While I was familiar with the statistics –75.6% of arrestees for misdemeanor crimes are African Americans or Hispanic – the reality took my breath away. Like any other privileged white person living in the protected segregation of New York, who isn’t directly dealing with the New York criminal justice system, I hadn’t seen it first hand. The room was almost entirely filled with people of color, other than the judge, the court-appointed lawyer, and me. Most of them had summonses for smoking pot, one of the city’s least offensive offenses.

 

It is incredible hard to hide one’s identity on the internet, especially if you are a public person, but you’d think that the head of the FBI would be able to do so. Apparently not.

This Is Almost Certainly James Comey’s Twitter Account

Digital security and its discontents—from Hillary Clinton’s emails to ransomware to Tor hacks—is in many ways one of the chief concerns of the contemporary FBI. So it makes sense that the bureau’s director, James Comey, would dip his toe into the digital torrent with a Twitter account. It also makes sense, given Comey’s high profile, that he would want that Twitter account to be a secret from the world, lest his follows and favs be scrubbed for clues about what the feds are up to. What is somewhat surprising, however, is that it only took me about four hours of sleuthing to find Comey’s account, which is not protected.

Going to IT conferences, where security is often covered, has left me a bit cynical about the chances of hiding, or even protecting yourself, on the internet, but it seems Comey has done some pretty basic mistakes, which a person in his position should have avoided (e.g. not making the profile private).

 

This Scandinavia and the World strip pretty much summons up Brexit.

 

Berkeley Breathed made a great April 1st joke: A merger of Berkeley Breathed and Calvin and Hobbes. This even let to a great comic strip:

April 1st comic strip

Berkeley Breathed with Calvin and Hobbes

When do you stop being a good man?

TW: Mentions of rape.

Apparently rape is not enough for a man to not be a good man – at least not according to Fourth District Court Judge Thomas Low

“The court had no doubt that Mr. Vallejo is an extraordinarily good man,” Low said just moments before sentencing Keith Vallejo to prison for sexually abusing the two females. “But great men, sometimes do bad things,” Low continued.

According to the article, the Judge said this while at least one of the victims sat in the room.

When feminists talk about rape culture, this is the sort of thing they mean. A man is accused and convicted of raping someone, and the judge still call him an “extraordinarily good man”.

The civil rights group Restore Our Humanity, is going to file a complaint against the judge. Hopefully this will remove the judge from any similar cases in the future.

Honoring Inge Lehmann

On May 15th, the University of Copenhagen will hold a symposium celebrating Inge Lehmann. As part of the celebration, a monument honoring her and her discovery will be unveiled on Frue Plads. Frue Plads is a square located just in front of the historical buildings of the University, and the square contains busts of prominent alumni of the university, including several prominent scientists (like Niels Bohr), but not, to my knowledge, any honoring a woman.

So, who is Inge Lehmann, and why is she honored by the University of Copenhagen?

To answer that, let’s go to wikipedia’s entry on her:

Inge Lehmann ForMemRS (13 May 1888 – 21 February 1993) was a Danish seismologist and geophysicist. In 1936, she discovered that the Earth has a solid inner core inside a molten outer core. Before that, seismologists believed Earth’s core to be a single molten sphere, being unable, however, to explain careful measurements of seismic waves from earthquakes, which were inconsistent with the Earth having a single molten core. Lehmann analysed the seismic wave measurements and concluded that Earth must have a solid inner core and a molten outer core to produce seismic waves that matched the measurements. Other seismologists tested and then accepted Lehmann’s explanation. Lehmann was also the longest-lived woman scientist, having lived for over 104 years.

The discovery of the solid inner core was done through the analysis of P-waves, and was published by her in her 1936 paper P’. What she observed was basically that P-waves didn’t get deflected by the (outer) core, as might be expected, but that it deflected on something else, further in, leading her to believe that there was an inner core inside the core. We now talk of the outer core (which is liquid) and the inner core (which is solid).

Her ideas were widely accepted within a few years, but it wasn’t until computers came around, that they could be demonstrated to be true through computer calculations. This happened in 1971.

Inge Lehmann is largely unknown in Denmark outside seismology and geophysics circles, but she is probably one of the most important scientists to ever come out of the country, which can be witnessed through the fact that the American Geophycical Union (AGU) has named a medal after her, awarded for “outstanding contributions to the understanding of the structure, composition, and dynamics of the Earth’s mantle and core.”

As a side note. When reading up on Lehmann, who I had heard about, but didn’t know too many details about, I noticed that she didn’t finish her study until she was 32, having taken a break for several years, working in an insurance company. I can’t help think about how the current policy of pushing people through their study would have led her to drop out, and thus she would never have had the chance to make her discovery.

It has been awfully quiet around here, hasn’t it?

Sorry for the lack of content, but my offline life has been busy, so I haven’t really gotten around to posting here.

This week I have just moved back to my apartment after having stayed at some friends’ place since early January. This was due to some remodeling of my apartment (a new bathroom was build, and my toilet and my kitchen was pretty much completely replaced).

During March, I did go traveling to Lisbon in Portugal for a couple of weeks. A lovely city, and well worth visiting. There are a few pictures from my trip there on my Instagram. My Instagram account mostly contains pictures from my travels and from events I go to (very few selfies and no pictures of friends as a general rule), so it makes my life seem more glamorous than it probably is.

The technologies of days past and days future

PZ has made a post about a video about Zebrafish development, which originally came out on VHS. He made a throwaway comment “If you don’t know what that is, ask your grandparents”, which got me to think about VHS tapes, and what technologies similar to those, that I have seen the rise and fall of in my lifetime.

Off-hand I can think of:

Video-media

  • Betamax
  • VHS
  • DVD (to some degree)
  • Laserdisk
  • HD-DVD

Audio-media

  • Tape (well, didn’t see the rise, just the fall)
  • Compact Discs/CDs (to some degree)
  • MiniDisk (very limited rise)
  • Digital Compact Cassette/DCC (very limited rise)
  • Digital Audio Tape/DAT (very limited rise)

LPs could probably be included in this list, though I didn’t experience their rise, and the final part of their decline seems to be stretching out.

Storage media

  • 5¼-inch Floppy Disk (well, didn’t see the rise, just the fall)
  • 3½-inch Floppy Disk
  • CD-ROM
  • CD-RW
  • DLT (very limited rise)
  • Zip drive (very limited rise)
  • DVD (as a computer media)
  • DVD-RW

Picture types

  • Slides
  • Polaroids (which has made a comeback)
  • Disposable cameras (their niche was pretty much killed by the cameras in phones)

I could continue, mentioning things like different computer types (C64, Amiga etc.), technologies (cordless phones, anyone?), file formats (remember when BMP was king?) and so on.

These lists indicate how much things have changed since in my lifetime, but they only show part of the picture. What they don’t show is how widespread many technologies have become compared to the past. Yes, I did come across 5¼-inch Floppy Disks, but they were hardly a normal household item, like e.g. USB sticks are these days.

Those of us who were born in the seventies and eighties have experienced some major changes, most notable the world wide web and the mobile phone, which has been incredible game changers, for better and worse. When I graduated high school in 1993, it was hard to imagine how the world would look 25 years later, and a lot of the work avaliable now, couldn’t be imagined back then (and a lot of the secure work back then, has since become redundant).

This is something I think is important to remember.

I think most of us groan when we see yet another article complaining about the Millennials, but it is worth remembering that these are usually written by people who haven’t kept up with the development – usually because they don’t have to, since they are secure in their debt-free houses and jobs. If their jobs suddenly becomes threatened, they are quick to blame others (e.g. Millennials, immigrants, robots), rather than facing the possibility that they have become obsolete, much like the many of the media types I mention above.

So, where am I going with this? Well, basically, I am trying to say that it is fun to try to look back and see what you have experienced, and what has changed in your lifetime, but I think it is more important to look forward, and try to keep up, and develop, along side with the technology. The type setters became obsolete, because their function were taken over by the computers – this was not something that was generally considered a possibility, until it suddenly happened (the speed was helped along by the behavior of the type setters, who by all accords were quite difficult to work with for everyone else).

In other words, it might be worth looking around at the technology you are dependent on today, and try to figure out what alternatives there are in the future, and see if you can start preparing for either the change (e.g. reading up on the new technology), or for moving elsewhere in your career (get qualifications needed for new positions). It is not easy, but unfortunately, most of us are not in positions where we have much of a choice.