Oooh, sniny!

I don’t know how long it will be up (maybe permanently), but Lousy Canuck is now using the new site redesign template. Take a look, it may soon be sweeping through all the FtB sites.

If you’re concerned about the font size (I am), I’m also pretty sure I’ll be able to tweak little things like that once it’s in place. I’m kind of fond of the familiar 14pt Georgia I use here.

Eulogy for a lost mind

As some of you may know, both Aron Ra and I cut our teeth together in the creation/evolution battles that raged on the usenet newsgroup, talk.origins, back in the 1990s. One of our colleagues-in-arms was a fellow named Glenn Morton, a petroleum geologist, who brought his expertise to bear in debates with young earth creationists. Morton is a Christian, but he thought it was disgraceful how creationists brought his faith into disrepute with their flouting of the evidence.

One of the concepts he crystallized, in addition, was the idea of Morton’s Demon. One of the notable things about arguments with creationists (perhaps you’ve noticed this too) is how they can stand there slack-jawed and dead-eyed while you explain an uncomfortable fact to them, and how they’ll suddenly leap into action when you say some word or phrase that cues a creationist script — you can be describing how the chemistry of the cell works, for instance, and if you mention “thermodynamics” suddenly you’ll get “The second law of thermodynamics proves that everything trends towards disorder, and is proof of a Fallen World!”…followed by slack passivity as you explain that no, it does no such thing. Morton’s Demon is the mental game creationists have going: they selectively shut out evidence against their pet theories and only allow in ideas their pastor has assured them are completely wrong.

Aron has now made me very sad. It turns out Morton’s Demon was an especially appropriate name for the concept, because Glenn Morton is severely afflicted with one. He escaped the Young Earth Creationist trap because his work exposed him to the counter-evidence every day, hammering the YEC-demon into submission…but I mentioned that he was a Christian. It turns out that he’s a right-wing conservative Christian, with a fully functioning filter tuned to select out anything from any source other than Limbaughesque talk radio.

Glenn Morton has torn down the entirety of his web archive — years worth of articles and explanations refuting young earth creationism. Why?

Because it turns out he was less interested in addressing the truth than he was in defending Christianity. Atheists and agnostics had been using his evidence to argue not only against Biblical literalists and religious extremists, but against the entirety of Christianity. Arguing against religion is bigotry, you see, and he got tired of all those liberal leftist godless bullies who have taken over his country.

It’s an epic, rambling, incoherent, angry rant.

The powers that be think that everyone MUST be forced to pay for contraception for the YES, slutty life style of Sandra Fluck who gave a speech at the Democratic convention bemoaning that we don’t pay for her contraception. (Rush Limbaugh got in lots of trouble for saying she is a slut, yet it is Sandra who wants to live a life of sex where everyone else pays to keep her from getting pregnant). Why must I as a Christian, who thinks such behavior abysmal, sinful and self destructive pay for her to have sexcapades without consequences? Why must my taxes be used to support what I view as her responsibility? Why does she have a right to pick the money in my pocket when she didn’t earn it? But, it seems, if you question this simple fact in today’s world, everyone will cluck their tongues at you, making you out to be the evil one. Why is it that they think that everyone MUST be forced to believe that what Sandra does is OK AND PAY FOR HER TO HAVE PLEASURE WITHOUT WORRY FOR THE CONSEQUENCES???? She can do what she wants, but don’t ask me to pay for it and don’t force me to approve of her behavior. The modern political left, and make no doubt, most anti-YEC folk are from the political left, want to enforce their conformity upon us because we can not be allowed to actually have an independent view of Sandra Fluck’s behavior or anything else, including anything they deem to be wrong. That is not to be allowed. Enforced conformity is what they want. I must smile while I give Sandra my money to pay for her sexcapades.

I think he means Sandra Fluke. Her speech wasn’t about paying for her hedonistic pleasure, but that the omission of contraception from her school’s insurance plan was a selective disadvantage to low-income students, and she talked about a friend whose contraceptive prescription was necessary to manage polycystic ovary syndrome. But Morton’s Demon won’t let him hear that…all that gets through is “sexcapades.”

He also rages against the expectation that Catholic organizations should cover birth control and abortions in their hospitals — it’s abhorrent to them, you know, and therefore their personal opinions should be allowed to dictate how non-Catholics live their lives. Chick-Fil-A should have the freedom of speech to hate gays…but their customers should not, apparently, be allowed to choose where they eat. The religious ought to be allowed to put up monuments in the public square, because removing them is a theological view.

And apparently the Democrats are a “leftist party” that hates god.

I watched the leftist party vote 3 times to drop God and Jerusalem and then watched their leaders steal that election on national TV and everyone knows that election was stolen. but then I watched delegates of the convention saying church goers weren’t welcome in their party.

Do follow that last link. It doesn’t say what Morton says it does — it’s about some Democrats expressing contempt for red-necked Teabaggers, not church goers (which would be very odd, given we just elected a church goer to the presidency). Morton’s Demon strikes again.

He goes on and on. He’s all for teaching young earth creationism and racism in the classroom despite disagreeing with them and recognizing that they’re built on lies, but gosh darn it all to heck, he’s absolutely committed to freedom. He has shut down all of his evidence-based arguments against young earth creationism because he’s a freedom fighter. And he really, really hates atheists.

I no longer want to worry about what a YEC believes. I no longer wish to be used to destroy my religion. The American Indians lost because the tribes hated each other more than the English and they couldn’t join together to beat them. The Scots lost to the English for the same reason. I do not intend to make the same mistake with the atheist war on religion. It doesn’t matter one whit that someone is a YEC and I am not, it does not matter a whit if I am protestant and someone else is Catholic, or Mormon. I urge all religious peoples to cease bickering about such trifles, when the wolf is at our door. We are in danger of losing our religious freedom, I will NOT argue inconsequential stuff with my co-religionists, ignoring the real danger to our religion, you, the religious bigot and Christophobe. YEC is a trifle; a mere philosophical debate. Freedom is dear; and you, the religious bigot, are a danger to my freedom.

I will note the irony of his signature, which has included this comment for a long, long time:

Banned forever by the Amer. Scientific Affiliation, a Christian Scientific Group, for the crime of discussing the ethics of ignoring scientific data.

Apparently it’s not unethical to ignore the scientific data if it contradicts the teaching of your church. Morton’s Demon strikes again!

Unfortunately for Morton’s goals, his diatribe simply reaffirms to me that religion poisons the mind…or that minds poisoned by an information deficit are more receptive to religion. Either way, it’s a shame.


In case you’re wondering what got him kicked out of the ASA, it’s buried in a thread here. It was a fight over Morton’s climate change denialism, and I notice that he announced his resignation.

A beautiful answer to a hideous problem

When he was a boy in Afghanistan, Massoud Hassani and his brother made toys that would roll across the desert landscape pushed by the wind. Too often they’d lose those toys. Not in a neighbor’s yard, or a tree too tall to climb, but because the toys would blow into land that had been filled with one of the most horrible weapons of modern warfare: land mines, which  have killed or injured over a million people worldwide since 1975.

Now Hassani is back in Afghanistan, developing a grown-up version of one of his old toys, the Mine Kafon, as a way of safely detonating landmines for about 1/100th the cost of conventional mine-clearing methods.

Thankfully, landmine use has dropped rather significantly since a treaty barring their use was enacted about 15 years ago, but they’re still used in a number of places today. (Notably and unsurprisingly, the U.S. hasn’t signed the treaty.)  They can cost as little as $1 per mine to place, and are often dropped from the air, making precise mapping hard. Conventional means for finding and disarming the mines — designed to maim rather than kill, thus tying up other soldiers’ time and energy in caring for their wounded comrade — can run up to $1,000-1,500 per mine.

Hassani says his Mine Kafon costs about $50 to build and can detonate three or four mines in a single trip. That brings the cost to underdeveloped communities of getting rid of the mines to only about 10 times what it cost the armies to put them there in the first place. It’s certainly not a complete solution, but it’s an elegant one — and well within the reach of many of the communities most-affected by land mine placement. Sometimes simpler technology really is beautiful.

More on the general topic of landmines at the Landmines and Cluster Munitions Monitor.

The Fantastic Bonus theory of female orgasm

Larry Moran put up this video of Elisabeth Lloyd discussing the problem of assuming adaptation in evolutionary studies. I think it’s excellent and makes points I wish more people would consider…but strangely, most of the comments over there are expressing extreme distaste while failing to mention any specifics about what they dislike.

Maybe some of you can watch it and explain lucidly what you object to…or what you don’t find objectionable. I get the impression that a lot of people rather rabidly turn their brains off at the merest mention of the word “spandrel”.


In case you didn’t watch it, here’s the main point.

She’s criticizing methodological adaptationists. This is a style of thinking that assumes that only adaptation and selection are important or interesting, and as a philosopher she objects to the replacement of a reasonable null hypothesis (that is, that no selective evolution is occurring for a trait) with the pretense that selections is the null hypothesis…and that if analysis of a trait reveals an absence of evidence for selection, then they will move on to consider other hypotheses.

But they don’t. As she demonstrates with the example of the evolution of the female orgasm, several prominent evolutionary biologists are so fixated on selection that they just make endless chains of adaptive hypotheses, and don’t even consider other explanations (such as drift, genetic hitchhiking, architectural constraints, or developmental mechanisms) as legitimate answers to the question of evolutionary function. It’s a new kind of teleology — they are reluctant to consider that some features of our history were completely purposeless.

Another ugly example of the abuse of Evolutionary Psychology

I have to take one more slash at evolutionary psychology, and then I’ll stop for the day. But first, maybe I should give you the tells I use to recognize good evopsych from bad evopsych (oh, dear, I just admitted that there’s some respectable evopsych out there…).

Here’s an easy indicator. If it’s a paper that presumes to tell you the evolutionary basis of differences between the sexes or races, it’s bullshit. That means the author is going to trot out some prejudice about how sexes or races differ before building some feeble case from a collection of poorly designed surveys or sloppily analyzed statistics to make up a story. Unsurprisingly, those differences always fit some bigoted preconception, and always have, from Galton’s determination of the ‘objective’ degrees of feminine beauty between races to Kanazawa’s, ummm, determination of the ‘objective’ degrees of feminine beauty between races. There really hasn’t been a lot of creativity in this subfield.

If it’s a paper that compares the behavioral psychology or cognitive abilities of different species, there’s a chance it might have something interesting to say. At least there’s a possibility that the crude kinds of essays for examining the workings of the brain might be able to detect a difference of that magnitude. But don’t forget that 90% of everything is crap, so don’t assume that just because the author is discussing chimpanzees vs. humans that it’s necessarily good work.

But now, here’s the ravingly awful side of evopsych, magnified even more because it’s not a scientist trying to make an argument: it’s a floridly batty pick-up artist trying to claim that evopsych supports his hatred of women. His deserved hatred of women, I should say, because he really regards them as little more than hideously deformed animals. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…Heartiste, explaining why women hate evolutionary psychology. (Warning! You may want a bucket and damp cloth handy, to clean up any vomit. Below the fold because, well, this guy is a fucking abusive moron.)

[Read more...]

Belief in Evolutionary Psychology May Be Hardwired, Study Says

[It's been a while since I've revived an old Pharyngula-safe post from my old blog, and it seemed like we have the appropriate theme going here today.]

Biologists have long assumed that evolutionary psychology, a controversial branch of psychology that ascribes many common social behaviors to genetics, is a muddled blend of half-understood evolutionary biology, selective data mining and resentment of women’s changing roles in society.

A new study, published in today’s issue of the German publication Unwirklichen Genetikjournal, does not challenge that assessment. But it does suggest that some men may be genetically predisposed to believe in evolutionary psychology, a finding that may well suggest future methods of treatment of the psychological malady.

Believers in evolutionary psychology maintain that feminism sets itself in opposition to millions of years of anthropoid evolution, and is thus futile and inhumane to men. Allegations made by believers include references to putative differences in math skills between men and women, a supposedly irresistible but entirely non-visually stimulated female attraction toward powerful and/or arrogant males, and the existence of a genetically preordained male right to multiple female sexual partners.

Many such men hold to these beliefs despite an absolute lack of supporting scientific evidence, says Dr. Ulrike Mann-Esser, chair of the sexual anthropology department at Universität Ulm and the study’s lead researcher. “But we had no way to determine why this was so until last year’s discovery of the locus taedius.”

The locus taedius, discovered accidentally last year by a graduate student working with David Gelernter, is a section of the human hindbrain that shows significant electrical activity when a person retrieves long-term memories that he or she does not find interesting.

In Mann-Esser’s study, 200 male subjects, who had small electrodes implanted in their locus taedius and glued to various places on the skin, were asked to stand outside the door of a glass cubicle and open the door for anyone trying to enter. Inside the cubicle was a male Pilates instructor posing as a researcher. A handful of highly attractive female graduate students were instructed to approach the cubicle, ignore the subjects while the door was opened, then proceed into the cubicle and place a hand on the chest of the “researcher.” Levels of locus taedius activity were recorded for each subject.

“By setting up a stimulus that often spurs EvPsych statements in the susceptible,” says Mann-Esser, “we hoped to be able to detect increased locus taedius activity among those men who had half-remembered bits of evolutionary biology come to mind from high school. The skin electrodes measured galvanic response and thus sexual arousal, which allowed us to determine which subjects were merely trying to recall female sexual anatomy from textbook figures so that we could exclude them from consideration.”

At first, approximately fifteen percent of male subjects showed significant locus taedius activity without sexual arousal. “We thought that seemed rather high,” says Mann-Esser, “until the Pilates instructor’s boyfriend showed up and two-thirds of that fifteen percent showed dramatic galvanic response changes.”

Further study by Mann-Esser’s team found a surprising commonality among the five percent of subjects showing clinical signs of susceptibility to evolutionary psychology, which the team refers to as “Desmond Morris Syndrome,” or DMS. Ninety percent of the DMS-positive subjects shared a single allele, first isolated by researchers at the University of Lucerne. The recessive allele, named luz-R, was absent from the remaining 95 percent of test subjects. (The corresponding dominant allele, luc-ID, has been tentatively linked to critical thought faculties and penis size.)

Mann-Esser admits that the existence of a “DMS gene” is confusing from an evolutionary standpoint. “Most genes persist because they contribute to reproductive success in one way or another. Sometimes this is in surprising ways, such as the gene for sickle-cell anemia, a crippling condition for those possessing two copies of the gene, but conferring resistance to malaria to heterozygous individuals with one normal gene. But the luz-R gene is strongly correlated with complete reproductive failure due to sexual selection against the gene by human females.

“It may be that early human populations carrying the recessive gene in their genome benefited from having certain individuals who were more likely to stand there and lecture the lion about how man is clearly the most fearsome predator on the savannah and then be eaten, thus allowing the rest to escape. It’s puzzling, though. We clearly need to study the issue further.”

One evolutionary psychology partisan maintains that evolutionary psychology itself holds the key to understanding the existence of the luz-R gene. “It’s ridiculously obvious, and has been proven time and again beyond the point where any rational person not swayed by politically correct feminism could dispute it,” says BigBoyBob87, a frequent commenter on a number of feminist blogs.

“You only need to look at sage grouse,” continues BigBoyBob87. “They reproduce by leks, in which a group of males converge in a spot to attract females and only the alpha males get to mate, while the others complain about the alpha males being big jerks. Anthropologists have proven that that very same evolutionary psychology observation is a major theme in Paleolithic art, as in for instance the Mousterian Pluvial cave painting Females of Breeding Age Always Mate With Damn Metro sapiens and Toss Us Nice Guys on Communal Trash Midden.” [See figure 1.]

paleoniceguys.jpg

When asked how any of the preceding actually supported his contention that DMS conferred selective fitness on men with the luz-R allele, BigBoyBob87 suggested that this author was only parroting the feminist line in order to get laid.

I really hope none of you went to Walmart today

I’m with Tyrone Robinson, the underpaid Walmart employee who publicly walked out today.

Tyrone Robinson, the lone worker and protester from Chicago’s Walmart on the far south side of the city, estimates he earns about $15,000 a year doing produce management. One of the demands of the strikes is that workers be able to earn at least $25,000 a year if they work full time.

"My ends ain’t meeting," he said. "My hours have gone down to about 30 hours a week, and I make $8.25."

Robinson, a small African-American man buzzing with nervous energy, was wearing his bright green OUR Walmart shirt and a Bulls cap. (OUR stands for Organization United for Respect.) Tears left a trail down his face on the bitterly cold early morning.

"I know there are other Walmart workers in there that feel like me, but they are just terrified of retaliation because Walmart told them that if you walk off, you will be terminated immediately," he said.

"I want to let them know if I can do it, get up and speak up about what you deserve," Robinson said. "We work hard, we get here on time, we do what we got to do. I feel very proud to do this, and once I return I’ll tell them about it."

When you kill unions, you kill labor, and when you kill labor, you kill people.

I will be looking for Tyrone Robinson’s name in the news tomorrow. I hope he still has his job…but I don’t have much hope for Walmart.