Even turtle porn is adorable

Longtime readers will, I’ve no doubt, recognize that I have a bit of a thing for turtles. Our Lady of Perpetual Win certainly noticed, and sent along a link to Ed Yong’s slideshow at Not Rocket Science showing a pair of green turtles near Sri Lanka actually mating.

Yeah, that’s right, put on the Barry White, these turtles are gettin’ it on. All sexy-like, with the hot plastron-on-carapace action.

Green turtles mating

Shamelessly stolen from Ed's site. Go there, there's more pics!

(Also: Stephanie sends me, and not you, porn. U jelly?)

Clue this dude in.

I often label myself as a feminist. I have a strong distaste for the patriarchy, and the gender roles today’s society has in place, and I hate all the myriad ways that those gender roles hurt men and women. I’d like to think I’m pretty savvy when it comes to gender issues, and that my approach to achieving egalitarianism is the most rational and achievable course of action — that being, recognizing privilege, owning up to it, and working to break it down and replace it with a better and more equal system.

So with my self-perceptions being what they are, am I wrong in thinking the use of the word “lady” at the end of a suggestion or angry comment has less to do with the gender of the recipient, and more to do with the lack of familiarity between them?
[Read more...]

A newly minted published fiction author in our midst

Holy hell, Stephanie Zvan got a piece of fiction published in Nature! If you ask me, it’s about time someone published her — I’ve had the privilege of reading a number of her unpublished works; there’s more than one reason she has earned my respect and the only official title I’ve ever bestowed on anyone in my capacity of Blog Dictator. I have it on good authority she’ll be posting it as her Saturday Storytime, but the piece is just too good to wait. Read it now, then read it again on Saturday and post your comments when she posts it.

No spoilers here, though. At all.

Well, okay, some spoilers in my tags. And maybe the categories too. If you need a synopsis before your interest is piqued, wait til Saturday when she’ll post it on her blog.

In the meantime, join me in congratulating her on breaking into the writing biz! I expect great things from Our Lady of Perpetual Win.

Hello, Freethought Blogs readers!

My name’s Jason Thibeault. I’m a Canadian, an atheist, skeptic, feminist, video gamer, and Linux user. I’ve worked in the computer industry for ten years. You might remember me as “that guy whose girlfriend Jodi proposed to him via a Pharyngula ‘I Get Emails’ post“. Yes, I’m that Jason. And now I have the privilege of standing shoulder-and-shoulder with both PZ Myers and local blog-deity Stephanie Zvan of Almost Diamonds (AKA Our Lady of Perpetual Win), who originally helped Jodi organize the whole shebang and started the treasure hunt. Not to mention the dozen other big-fish in this pond with whom I now co-habitate! Thanks again, blog overlord Ed, for this opportunity. I truly hope that my frequent postings of Youtube videos about cats playing with tennis balls befits my new station.

I was raised a Catholic, and broke free of religion shortly after Confirmation, when I was made to promise to be a Catholic for the rest of my life. Such promises don’t sit well with me. I realized I didn’t believe in any of that God mumbo-jumbo at about the same time that I developed a penchant for reading my parents’ Funk and Wagnell’s Encyclopedia for fun. The Hardy Boys novels grew old around then, and I had a desperate thirst for knowledge. It wasn’t the greatest resource to use, but it was there, and it slaked that thirst for a little while. At least until the internet made it into my home via my first 9600 baud modem, anyway.

I became politically aware about the same time George W. Bush was elected for the first time — when I started to realize exactly what America was in for, I was motivated to learn all I could about politics in a very short time. American politics always seems like much more of a battleground than Canadian politics, so I was more often drawn to observe the US than I was my own local concerns.

I believe strongly in the separation of church and state. I don’t care that people have their beliefs, but where those beliefs intersect with public policy, I can’t help but speak up. For the most part, the wall that separates church and state is very intact here in Canada. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is an evangelical Christian, but if he were to express his religious views, the secular voting environment that Canada espouses would backlash against him. Because America’s wall is crumbling, and politicians there are presently evidently engaged in a race to the bottom with more and more aggressive fundamentalists gaining power, I often find the American political scene engaging enough to forget my local politics. Thus, I am a Lousy Canuck indeed.

Bear in mind that I reserve a few rights on this blog. I don’t like to ban people, but I will, if they repeatedly flout direct requests or attempt to proselytize one-sidedly. And if you contact me via any of the services I subscribe to, I absolutely (as it says in my bio) reserve the right to post any such contact. I’ll probably only do it if I consider your contact to be hateful or ridiculous. Otherwise, please, feel free to engage me in discussion on whatever topic is at hand. Please try to keep it on topic though, even if tangentially.

Since I hate using so many “I’s” in a post, we should leave it at that. Please feel free to browse my archives, as I’ve ported them all over from my old blog. There’s several years worth of stuff there, and some of it is even worth reading! I’ll compile a proper list of “must reads” as soon as all the migration kinks are worked out. For now, here’s three of the religion-related posts I like best:

Religion as a Mental Parasite
Why Prayer is Nonsense (five-part series)
In defense of my “meaning of life”

And my most successful skeptical post, which won me an appearance on Minnesota Atheists Talk’s radio show (be sure to look at some of the pingbacks near the end of the comments for further discussion):

If it smells like Funk, it must be astrology

There are a few kinks with this migration to speak of — the Object embed tag is disabled, so any non-Youtube embedded videos are probably broken. And the image library imported properly, but the actual embedded copies of the images are pointing incorrectly due to differences in how this site stores the media. I’ll have to go through my old posts and update as time permits. I’ll of course hit the highlights first. Mind the mess, folks.

And, of course, welcome!

The Politics of the Null Hypothesis

If you’ve been in the blogosphere as long as I have, you’ll know that certain arguments about science stem not from the science itself, but from a desire to affect political change despite the science based on one’s own personal biases. In the case of IQ and race, much of the “controversy” appears to come from people who really, really want intelligence to be race-related, so as to give themselves cover for racism, latent or otherwise. Notwithstanding the potentially hairy idea that IQ is even a proper proxy for “intelligence”, people will argue for a genetic link for certain aspects of humanity based only on the most tenuous of lines of evidence, ignoring gigantic confounds like motivation or affluence. Why? For no other reason than because they’ve already decided this must be the case. It’s a rampant case of selection bias, with a helping of argumentum ad ignorantium on the side, suggesting that because we don’t know the cause of a particular trait, it must therefore be genetic.

The ineffable Stephanie Zvan has written up a guest post on Scientific American (!!!) about this very topic, and about the politics at play in a number of genetic-intelligence proponents’ arguments.

Nothing about the field of IQ studies is free of political influence. It’s naive to believe that any kind of research on a purported measure of individual merit could be politics-free in a self-proclaimed meritocracy with wide inequalities. Binet’s original work was meant to determine which children should have access to additional educational resources. IQ scores are used occasionally to sort out “inappropriate” candidates for various jobs, including those whose IQs are too high for a role. IQ as a proxy for merit is used to argue that a group does or does not face discrimination in educational or career opportunities. This is all terribly political.

The question isn’t whether there are politics surrounding this issue or where. They’re everywhere. The question is where does the politics get in the way of the science? Again, the answers don’t favor Pinker’s view of a fatwa against genetic explanations of individual differences.

I can’t think of a better person to take on a nuanced meta-analysis of this argument, especially given that it appears every bit as cyclical as say the accommodationism debate, the gender debate, the nuclear power debate, et cetera, et cetera. Given how entrenched the players are in this argument, and how much influence they wield in scientific fields, it’s terribly sad to see their arguments go unanswered. I’m grateful that Stephanie stepped up, and I can only hope her popularity snowballs from there.

There’s a damn good reason I’ve dubbed her “Our Lady of Perpetual Win“. And it’s not because she has an adorable nose.

(But she does, by the by.)

The statistics on deaths related to nuclear power generation are wrong.

Or at the very least, extraordinarily misleading.

There’s a really good reason I call Stephanie Zvan “Our Lady of Perpetual Win”. Pretty much every time the woman sits at her keyboard, she writes something great, and usually in a much more timely and topical fashion than I ever manage. (When’s the last time I wrote about breaking news like Libya’s invasion, or the nuclear crisis in Japan, while it was happening? Yeah, exactly.)

At the risk of sounding like I’m merely her fan club, you really should check out her latest post, where she tackles the repeated comments in blogs and forums everywhere anyone talks about nuclear power in a less than flattering light. Her best posts are about eviscerating the astroturfing nonsense, and this one is no exception.

I’m still already tired of people telling me how safe–safe, I tell you!–the nuclear power industry is. Some of that is people reacting to any complaint about the industry or the passing along of the scanty news coming out of Japan as though someone were saying the sky is falling, and putting out fatal doses of radiation in the meantime.

Some of it, however, is the reliance of a particular type of information telling me that nuclear energy is as safe as it gets. For example, I’ve been referred to this set of numbers frequently:

Deaths per TWh for all energy sources

Coal – world average: 161 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)
Coal – China: 278
Coal – USA: 15
Oil: 36 (36% of world energy)
Natural Gas: 4 (21% of world energy)
Biofuel/Biomass: 12
Peat: 12
Solar (rooftop): 0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy)
Wind: 0.15 (less than 1% of world energy)
Hydro: 0.10 (Europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)
Hydro – world including Banqiao: 1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead)
Nuclear: 0.04 (5.9% of world energy)

There are quite a few things that bother me about these numbers.

Me too but I’m not nearly as insightful as Stephanie! Suffice it to say, the dogmatically pro-nuke commenters really need to learn how to read statistics, and make sure they’re all measuring the same damn thing, before they spout off the way they do.

Are “false report” rape statistics being manipulated?

Our Lady of Perpetual Win, Stephanie Zvan, begins a painful but much-needed examination of rape myths, beginning with Rape Myth 1: “She’s Probably Lying.”

The standard figure passed around by victim advocates suggests a rate of false reports of 8% based on FBI crime statistics from 1997. This is comparable to rates for other crimes. However, citations can be found for rates as low as 1.5% and as high as 90%. In other words, huh? How do we deal with a range that big?

Luckily for those who want to sort out the truth of the matter, two papers came out in 2010 that shed considerable light by examining how false rape report rates are generated. David Lisak, Lori Gardinier, Sarah C. Nicksa, and Ashley M. Cote collected those prior studies that had the best (and most transparent) processes for sorting between false and merely unproven allegations. They also used a similar process for determining the rate of false reports of rape at a U.S. college.

Their results were interesting in two respects.

Find out how they’re interesting. You know you want to.

Doing your part for the ladies of the science blogosphere.

Funny thing happened to me when I was in mom’s womb. I grew a penis. Yeah. I know. Hell of a gift in the grand scheme of things because by virtue of my swinging pipe, it turns out I get a whole lot more say in this world than I’m due. By virtue of some dangly bits I will get better jobs, get more respect, and have a better chance at being heard when I have something to say. I didn’t ask for the hand I was dealt — that’s entirely near-random genetic stuff that I just don’t have the head for.

And yet there are some very excellent science bloggers out there who do have the head for things like genetics and other squishy scientific topics like that — stuff that I can’t fathom, being a mere computer geek and layman. And not just the squishy science, but the math-y science, like particle or astrophysics. By virtue of not having hit the lucky genetic combination, though, they seem to only gain attention when they’re talking about how they’re not getting enough attention. Gender disparity, and gender politics, are the quickest paths to being heard by female science writers it seems. This is a disgrace, because these women know science better than I do — better by far.

The topic came up at Science Online, and reverberated through the blogosphere for the past week, til I decided to chime in. By virtue of my swinging pipe, I will probably be fairly well read on this topic. It is only through acute self-awareness — awareness that I do not deserve this audience on this topic — that I humbly point you to some amazing women writers that don’t get mentioned in the list of favorite science authors any time someone tries to rattle off an informal “top ten” list of their favorites. The fact that Ed Yong, Carl Zimmer, Phil Plait, and other male writers always top those short lists when there are equally good female writers is lamentable, but ultimately fixable through better exposure.

Not the kind of exposure they tend to get, though. Christie Wilcox of Observations of a Nerd recently had a fan approach her on Facebook gushing over… you guessed it… her appearance. The fan said, and I quote: “You are GORGEOUS, and your tits look absolutely incredible.” Nothing about her science writing — you know, the stuff that made him an admirer — and nothing like the kind of civility you’re expected to give a perfect stranger. So, she wrote a blog post declaring war on the blogosphere. Well, sort of. She expressed her unwillingness to be cowed out of the conversation, and her support of anyone facing these same issues.

The trolls that show up in comments for supporting arguments beat the same drum everywhere you see them. Oh my, the trolls. They are a priceless bunch. On David Dobbs’ “STFU” post, the trolls are the main attraction. The ones that claim that a woman must be intentionally making themselves pieces of meat should someone notice that they have breasts. The ones that claim that they are “bear-baiting” by daring to wear makeup at work, then complaining when they get attention for being attractive. The ones that paradoxically claim that women are doing this to get noticed, while at the same time admitting that women that do not dress attractively do not get ahead in their careers. You create the environment where only attractively attired women get any attention, then you try to shame women for daring to complain that the environment is the real issue.

There are a lot of writers who need to be heard on this topic. SciCurious has declared that she’s going to do what she can to self-promote, and to make sure that that self-promotion is about her science writing no matter how others might construe it. This is a tactic that has worked once for Rebecca Skloot, whose incredibly popular and (so far as I’ve managed to read) thoroughly excellent book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has won her awards and accolades beyond many male science writers, even while she is never mentioned as a science writer in people’s “top tens”. Sci also discusses the use of sex to sell science, and the advantages and disadvantages thereof. Meanwhile, she’s ACTUALLY “busting, busting up the stereotypes”. Unlike the Science Cheerleaders, whose advocacy of science is at best the repeated refrain of “GO SCIENCE!”. No science to be seen there.

Kate Clancy highlights the ‘friend bias’ of cliquishness in the blogosphere, and another where women can say something which is ignored until a man comes along and says the very same thing. These are important trends to note, and to counteract as much as possible — if you see someone ignoring that a woman made the exact same point three comments prior, damn well point it out. If you see that certain commenters latch onto conversation with men, while wholly ignoring pointed and excellent questions from women, damn well point it out.

And Stephanie Zvan identifies the real issue: people simply aren’t engaging with women on their science. Yes, Our Lady of Perpetual Win lives up to her deified moniker, as usual. Not only is it problematic that people are ignoring the work women do in science (much less conversations about science), but it’s also problematic when the only time people regularly retweet, share, or link women into the discussion is when it’s about gender politics. Why is it always about gender politics? Why can’t it be about science?

I’m going to continue my usual effort to promote good science and spread the word regardless of who’s writing it (and the Ed Yong link I posted above is specifically a list of good science that happens to have been written by women). This isn’t a call for “equal opportunity” measures. It is a demand that women not be overlooked for their science work. With my own job taking so much of my time lately, I’ve had difficulty doing as much sharing of science links on Twitter as I might like. I’m going to intentionally devote more time to that practice. I’ve come to follow on Twitter a rather disproportionate number of female science writers in the wake of Science Online 2011, so I expect my promotion of scientific articles will also be rather disproportionately from females. At least, I’m hoping so. Otherwise I’m not really doing my part, am I?

While I have your ear, here’s a blog that has only one post on it yet, though it has all the promise of a newborn. Our Science is a new blog on Nature.com written by a 9th grader named Naseem, an attendee of Scio11, who promises to cover topics like the 2012 doomsday predictions, the recent “aflockalypse”, and why you should consider a career in science. She is catching people’s attention early, and if she’s as good a writer as she seems in the first post, I have every anticipation this will be a breakout skeptical and science-populism blog for the new year. If nothing else, it will be a testament to humanity to watch a 9th grader’s love for science grow as she explores it.

Her gender, mind you, is entirely a circumstance of sorta-random genetics.

The removal of specific words that could save specific lives

Our Lady of Perpetual Win (seriously, you should subscribe to her RSS, or better yet, don’t, so her pageview stats inflate somewhat), blogged today about a disgraceful bit of discriminatory politics at the United Nations.

Unless you speak up and tell the world that gays, lesbians and other sexual and gender minorities are due the same protection of their human rights under the law that the rest of us have, this is what you’re supporting.

United Nations — African and Arab nations succeeded by a whisker in deleting three words from a resolution that would have included gays in a denunciation of arbitrary killings. Europeans protested in vain.

The reference in the three-page draft came in the sixth of 22 paragraphs and urged investigations of all killings “committed for any discriminatory reason, including sexual orientation.” The provision was among many that had been proposed and analyzed by a “special rapporteur” (investigator) on the subject.

Benin, the chair of the African group of nations, proposed the amendment and Morocco, on behalf of the Islamic Conference, argued that there was no foundation for gays in international human rights instruments as there was in cases of race, gender and religious discrimination.

Because the words “including sexual orientation” were struck from this passage, and despite the “committed for any reason”, countries that kill based on sexual orientation including most of the Muslim states that follow Sharia law will continue to do so with impunity, because the especial force behind those words were stripped away. The denunciation of arbitrary killings is good, because arbitrary discriminatory killings happen every day in every country around the world, but the killing of gays and lesbians is practically institutionalized in some countries like Iran. And it is so, mostly because of their religion.

Religion fucks everything up. And not just certain zealots within the religion — the religion itself fucks everything up. Because it always trumps vague wordings like this. Unless the UN speaks up explicitly about the systematic murder of gays and lesbians in these religiously tainted countries, the religion will always take precedence over the explicit denunciation as inhumane of this religiously motivated practice.