Wheeee! <BOOM!> Here we go again!

Oh, this is going to be spectacular. Rebecca Watson just published a very good article about sexism in the skeptic community in Slate, and the comment thread there is already off and running with raging hemorrhoids whining at her. Expect it to spread further.

Her closing paragraph, though, explains why we have to revisit this again and again.

I also believe that old line about sunlight being the best disinfectant. Ignoring bullies does not make them go away. For the most part, the people harassing us aren’t just fishing for a reaction—they want our silence. They’re angry that feminist thought has a platform in “their community.” What they don’t get is that it’s also my community.

Zap! Light up the whole goddamn place!

A reminder of my email change

In an effort to prioritize and clean up my flood of incoming email, a while back I announced an important change: I’ve partitioned my email so everything sent to myersp@morris.umn.edu (my university email account) is handled on one machine, and general messages are dealt with at pzmyers@gmail.com. My university email account is intended ONLY for work email, so if you send stuff there and your address doesn’t end in “umn.edu” or “hhmi.org” or something similarly specific, it’s going to get shunted off into a slush folder and I’ll deal with it once I’ve managed all the other official stuff that piles up, i.e., probably about never.

If you send it to pzmyers@gmail.com, there’s no guarantee I’ll get to it quickly, but at least it doesn’t get immediately drop-kicked into a deep dark pit of neglect first. So, really, if you aren’t one of my high-priority students, or a colleague, or a university or grant administrator, don’t try to contact me at the umn.edu address.

I’m only mentioning this because my umn.edu account’s black hole seems to be getting larger and larger, and I’m becoming increasingly reluctant to look in there and try to rescue any messages. I might never escape.

What the embryologists really say

The anti-choice advocates are always citing a handful of embryologists in order to claim that scientists say human life begins at fertilization. The one fellow who is always getting cited in these claims is Keith L. Moore, a very familiar name in embryology circles, because he wrote several introductory texts on human embryology. I thought I would quote what Moore and Persaud actually wrote in the 4th edition of Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects in 1993 (this text has been around since 1974, so it really has trained a generation in medical embryology, and there is also a 2012 edition, which I don’t own…it’s a bit on the elementary side for my interests).

The section on the first week of human development begins:

Human development begins at conception or fertilization when a male gamete or sperm fuses with a female gamete or ovum to form a zygote (Br. zygotos, yoked together). This highly specialized, totipotent cell is the primordium of a new human being. By birth the zygote has given rise to millions of cells [that's an underestimate --pzm]. Although large, the zygote is just visible to the unaided eye. It contains chromosomes and genes (units of genetic information) derived from the mother and father.

Odd…it doesn’t say we have a human being at fertilization, but instead says we have a totipotent cell that is a primordium that will become a human being.

By golly, I think the anti-choicers stretch the truth as much as creationists do!

Evolution research is going on near you!

Probably. ProjectEvoMap is collecting data on where researchers in evolutionary biology can be found. It’s a little sparse right now — I know there’s a lot more research groups than appear on it so far — so you might want to add yourself (if you’re doing evolution research!) and help populate the data set.

Thanks, Discovery Institute!

Evolution News & Views, the DI’s Pravda, did something good for a change: they alerted me to the availability of BBC 2’s show, Secret Universe: The Hidden Life of the Cell. Here it is!

Of course, you can see why the DI would like this video, since it uses all their favorite buzzwords like “complexity” and “machines” to describe processes in the cell. And it’s true that the cell is complex and contains complex machinery, but that, as I’ve been trying to get through to them for years, does not imply that they did not evolve, because evolution routinely generates complex machines. The evolutionary explanations given are not “spin”, as the DI explains, but good answers for the origin of these processes.

One major caveat: the star of this show is the CGI animation of the molecular activity of the cell, and as usual, it portrays everything as excessively linear and deterministic, and the necessary omission of water from the animation grossly skews the chemistry. One of the scientist narrators, Bonnie Bassler, does briefly explain that everything is stochastic, with molecules bouncing about randomly rather than zooming through empty space directly to their destination. But otherwise, it is a nice basic and rather cartoony overview of what goes on in a cell.

Did anyone attend The Paradigm Symposium?

I’m just curious — The Paradigm Symposium was held last weekend in Minneapolis, featuring such remarkable stars of the wacky contingent as Erich von Däniken, Giorgio Tsoukalos, and George Noory. This is the conference I was invited to attend, but didn’t bother.

For such a glitzily publicized event and a large collection of weird “stars”, though, there isn’t much appearing on the web about it. Maybe everyone who attended was sworn to secrecy as they left, or the Men in Black showed up and wiped all their memories.

Anyway, if you were there and would care to submit a guest post, I’d probably put it up here.


I’ve been told that Eve Siebert attended, and also tweeted about it. Surprise, surprise, the speakers didn’t understand evolution.

Stedman being Stedman

Oh, christ, Chris Stedman has an excerpt from his book Faitheist on Salon. It’s classic Stedman, and classic accommodationism: it’s all about Stedman and how awful atheists are. He does a lot of humble bragging — he goes to a party with a bunch of cold, dead-eyed atheists who treat him dismissively, but hey, his socks have holes in them and he’s sad about how rude atheists are! — and he “quotes” a lot of nameless atheists who say unkind things about religion. His message is that atheism is toxic, and you can’t help but feel that it’s all about how they don’t love Chris Stedman and his wise appreciation of the deepitiness of faith enough.

But don’t you worry about Stedman! After his brutal manhandling by the godless zombies of atheism, he just scurries off to his “weekly religion class at Loyola University’s Institute of Pastoral Studies, a Jesuit Catholic-run program for priests, nuns, and lay leaders”, where everyone is loving and tolerant and most importantly, appreciative of Stedman.

It’s something I’ve noticed before in the conflicts between New Atheists and these accommodationists. We’re willing to say that their softer approach is part of the spectrum of tools we need to use to overcome the folly of religion (heck, the UMM Freethinker’s group invited Stedman to speak here last year), and we don’t mind someone with different views working with us towards that, but the accommodationists have a completely different enemy. They consider religion their good buddy and pal, while the real target is…atheism. That shines through in Stedman’s excerpt — everywhere, he makes excuses for religion, while treating atheism as inexcusable.

There’s a reason Stedman gets no respect at atheist parties, and it isn’t his socks.

Larry Moran has got his number, though, and rips into him. Just go read that.

I’m not a believer any longer, but I do believe in respect. The “New Atheism” of Dawkins and Harris is simply toxic.

I’m getting awfully sick of this nonsense. What he really means is that it’s okay to passionately disagree about all kinds of social and political issues (gun control, socialism, capital punishment, quackery, political parties, abortion) but if atheists challenge the existence of god(s) that’s a whole different kettle of fish. Somehow, it’s “disrepectful” to declare that belief in supernatural beings is wrong and it means that intolerant atheists can’t, and won’t, work with anyone who disagrees with them because their position is “toxic.”

As a bonus, read the comments. Lately, I’ve been getting asked a lot of questions about why atheists who care about social justice and ethics (like Larry) don’t just become humanists. Larry explains why: he doesn’t find the specific goals of most formulations of humanism to be in alignment with his principles, so he doesn’t identify with them (he sees too much of a libertarian taint to most humanist definitions). In the future, when people pester me with those questions in which they are unable to see any difference between atheists and humanists, I’ll just send them to Sandwalk.


Ian Cromwell has about the same level of respect for Stedman as Moran. Must be the Canadianity.


Ophelia joins in the pigpile! And she’s not even Canadian!

Go say hello to A Million Gods

Yowza, Avicenna has joined FtB. In case you weren’t already following him, he’s a godless British Indian medical student, so we get the combination of a science-based perspective and outrage at the absurdity of religious propositions. Go forth and read!