When will this situation improve?

Maybe never. I know a lot of you hate facebook (with good reason), so I’ll just copy this straight from facebook so you can read it here.

From former JREF Outreach Coordinator Brian Thompson:

“Let me explain why I’m supporting Karen Stollznow’s legal defense fund. Maybe some of my Facebook friends don’t know who she is or what this is all about. Karen is a linguist, writer, and investigator who looks into claims of the paranormal, the supernatural, and the outrageous with a skeptical eye. Skeptics like her do a lot of good for the world in ways large and small. They’re the ones fighting against the kind of scientific ignorance that keeps people from vaccinating their kids, for example. And if it weren’t for skeptical investigators, I might still be cowered in fear every night thinking aliens were going to abduct me or ghosts were going to throw things around my bedroom. Now I’m just cowered in fear thinking that I might never be on one of those interior design makeover shows. This is progress.

I believe so strongly in the good work these skeptics do that several years ago I started hanging out with them, working on activism projects with them, and drinking lots and lots of booze with them. I went to their conferences and meetings and pre-swingers’ parties, and for a couple of years I even worked in an official capacity with one of the world’s most well-known skeptical activism nonprofits, the James Randi Educational Foundation.

In that time I got to know a lot of great people. I’m not going to name them all, because I know I’ll leave out Christian Walters, and then our lovemaking will take a passive-aggressive turn. But a lot of people who share this common interest in making the world a better place through rationalism are kind, honest, funny, talented, and valuable friends. Then there are people like Christian who are maybe just two or three of those.

But I no longer identify with this community of benevolent know-it-alls, because not all of them are the best folks in the world. In fact, a good percentage of the top ten worst humans I’ve ever met are prominent members of the skeptics’ club. They’re dishonest, mean-spirited, narcissistic, misogynistic. Pick a personality flaw, and I can probably point you to someone who epitomizes it. And that person has probably had a speaking slot at a major skeptical conference.

I grew particularly disgusted with the boys’ club attitude I saw among skeptical leaders and luminaries. The kind of attitude that’s dismissive of women, sexually predatory, and downright gross. When I first started going to skeptical conferences as a fresh-faced know-it-all, I started hearing things about people I once admired. Then I started seeing things myself. Then I got a job with the JREF, and the pattern continued.

There’s a particular guy popular with the skeptical crowd who writes books, gives talks, and wears bicycle shorts. What’s not to love? Well, a female friend of mine told me she didn’t like it very much when he locked eyes with her from across a room and pointed to his dick. When I started working for the JREF, my boss described this same guy as an “old school misogynist”. Then a friend told me this same skeptical celebrity had groped another speaker at a conference. Grabbed her breast without invitation. Sexually assaulted her. Then my boss told me that not only did this assault happen, but that he witnessed it and intervened. The woman who was assaulted won’t name names for fear of being dragged through the mud. Another woman I know has told me that this same guy assaulted her. Others have confirmed her story to me. I believe her. But she’s remained anonymous for much the same reasons.

I’m tired of this. I’m tired of hearing about sexual predators like Mr. Bicycle Shorts, who has yet again been invited to speak at the JREF’s annual conference. I’m tired of hearing things like what I’ve heard from [redacted]. That my old boss grabbed his junk in a car and said he would be “presidentially displeased” if [redacted] didn’t give my old boss a kiss.

I’m tired of people like Richard Dawkins, whose lashing out at my friend Rebecca Watson for having the nerve to talk about what kind of male attention makes her uncomfortable has led to years of the most heinous abuse being flung at her and her colleagues. Heinous, woman-hating abuse from enthusiastic members of this broken little community of freethinkers.

Pardon my Yiddish, but oy, that shit’s fucked. And it’s also fucked that people are afraid to speak out about their stories for fear that it will become the focus of their careers or that their privacy will be destroyed or that they’ll be sued or that they’ll somehow damage organizations that do a lot of good work.

This makes me sick, and it makes me mad. So of course I’m going to help Karen speak up and fight back.

Here’s the situation in a nutshell: Karen used to work with another writer and investigator named Ben Radford at an organization called CFI. Karen says Radford continually harassed and abused her. She brought the situation to CFI, which found Radford guilty of some of Karen’s charges. Then they let him off with a slap on the wrist. Karen blogged about this. Radford sued her for defamation.

Based on the evidence I’ve seen, my own experience with Radford’s dishonest and creepy behavior, and the assurances from friends of mine who know more about this situation than I do, I’m willing to believe Karen. And more than that, I’m willing to put my money behind her efforts to fight back in court. Because she deserves the chance to make her case instead of having to fold under insurmountable financial pressure. Defending yourself in court isn’t cheap.

Also, I don’t like bullies or creeps. Especially the kinds of bullies and creeps who have been protected by their peers and allies in a community that places pseudo-celebrity and books about how lake monsters aren’t real above the well-being of women who are at least as vital to fighting the good fight. A fight, by the way, that’s about the righteousness of the truth.

So I’ve given to Karen’s fund. You can do the same here:


As long as atheism is about nothing but disbelieving in gods, and as long as skepticism is about nothing but demanding evidence, as long as there is no human heart behind the goals of these organizations, this behavior will continue. We must have secular values beyond simply rejecting claims; we must recognize the import and implications of living in a material, natural world; there must be secular values that give us purpose.

Yes, really

Yet another critic of Cosmos speaks out on Giordano Bruno. This time it’s Andrew Sullivan, who first complains about Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “style”, calls him intrusive and silly, and then gets to the real complaint: he dissed the Catholic Church.

David Sessions pans it. The segment previewed above is on the 16th century priest and philosopher Giordano Bruno, which includes deGrasse Tyson intoning that the Roman Catholic Church sought to “investigate and torment anyone who voiced views that differed from theirs”. Really?

Yes, really. I call the Inquisition and the fact that they’re setting people on fire supportive evidence for that contention. Investigation, torment, and execution. That’s what the Inquisition did, enforced church dogma.

So he cites this Sessions fellow. It doesn’t really help his case.

Bruno’s conflict with the Catholic Church was theological, not scientific, even if it did involve his wild—and occasionally correct—guesses about the universe. As Discover magazine’s Corey Powell pointed out, the philosophers of the 16th century weren’t anything like scientists in the modern sense. Bruno, for instance, was a “pandeist,” which is the belief that God had transformed himself into all matter and ceased to exist as a distinct entity in himself. He believed in all sort of magic and spirits, and extrapolated those views far beyond his ideas about the infinity of the universe. In contrast to contemporaries who drew more modest conclusions from their similar ideas, Bruno agitated for an elaborate counter-theology, and was (unlike the poor, humble outcast portrayed in Cosmos) supported by powerful royal benefactors. The church didn’t even have a position on whether the Earth orbited the sun, and didn’t bring it up at Bruno’s trial. While the early-modern religious persecution certainly can’t be denied, Bruno was killed because he flamboyantly denied basic tenets of the Catholic faith, not because religious authorities were out to suppress all “freedom of thought.”

How is killing someone for denying the faith not an attempt by religious authorities to suppress freedom of thought?

He then goes on to argue against treating Bruno as a martyr for science…despite the fact that Tyson never claimed he was a scientist, and clearly said he was not a scientist.

I guess facts and evidence are irrelevant when you’re busy Defending the Faith.

My future tattoo

I, for one, welcome our glorious future of ubiquitous computing. Researchers have come up with a temporary tattoo that functions as a computer, complete with processing power, data storage, and wireless data reception and transmission. Also, drugs.

The researchers constructed the device by layering a package of stretchable nanomaterials — sensors that detect temperature and motion, resistive RAM for data storage, microheaters and drugs — onto a material that mimics the softness and flexibility of the skin. The result was a sticky patch containing a device roughly 4 centimetres long, 2 cm wide and 0.003 millimetres thick, says study co-author Nanshu Lu, a mechanical engineer at the University of Texas in Austin.

They’re not talking about recreational drugs (but maybe in a future update!), but that the purpose of this device is continuous physiological monitoring and delivery of therapeutic drugs in response, so a specific and very useful initial goal.

Give it a few years, though, and forget the iPhone and iWatch and iWhatever — I just my hands and forearms covered with fancy circuitry that does cool stuff.

Unfortunately, the article mentions one serious limitation: we’re waiting for the development of a thin, flexible battery to power all this gadgetry. Once that’s all worked out, though, it’ll be a wonderful fashion accessory to go with my transparent cranium.


Don’t worry, this video is perfectly safe for work, except for the little fact that if you watch to the very end you’ll get sucked into your computer screen and transported to the 19th century. This morning, I had to fight my way through a mob of Norwegian farmers who hardly spoke any English to find a zoetrope and phenakistascope (which were very scarce on the empty Minnesota prairie, I tell you) and play them backwards to get home again. Bracing.

(via The Verge)

Secular Pro-Life lies

Wow. Secular Pro-Life has accused Planned Parenthood of cheating their donors. Why? Because they had an increased budget by 3 million dollars, but they did fewer breast exams. So, yeah, SPL looked at a big, complex budget for an organization offering multiple services, noticed that one number went down, and libelously implied that all the money went to some other mysterious service, hint hint hint.

This year, we cut out meat at the Myers household, and if you looked at our total budget, despite the fact that our income rose very slightly last year, we spent much less in the meat department at the grocery store. Where did the extra money go? FRIVOLOUS ABORTIONS ON DEMAND, of course. All the money we saved by not buying steaks was rerouted into KILLING BABIES.

That’s the game SPL plays. TheTruePooka actually looks at Planned Parenthood’s detailed budget, in a way that SPL should have done if they were honestly evaluating their expenditures, and found that while breast exams were going down, other, related services were going up: for instance, follow-up care with ultrasound and biopsies (you know that breast exams are just one small part of preventing breast cancer, right?), providing educational resources so women can do their own exams, and expanding outreach to Latinas and other countries. To make it short, SPL was distorting the budget and misleading their readers, but Planned Parenthood was honest and accurate.

Follow the link and go read the whole thing, or if you’d prefer, here’s the author reading it to you:

Cosmos upstaged!

Last night on Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson explained how we know the universe is immensely old, and even took a sharp poke at that nonsensical idea that the earth is only about 6,000 years old. I figured there’d be some indignant squawking on the internet this morning, but no…the creationists are all quiet about it. Why? Well, some of them might have been tuned into the Walking Dead finale, since zombies and their theology are so copacetic. But the real reason is that they’re too busy freaking out over Noah.

The Discovery Institute is really pissed off (wait, you’re saying, why should they care about a movie that plays fast and loose with the Bible? Aren’t they a secular organization? Yeah, right). Their angle is that the movie is anti-human, because that’s all environmentalism is about, hating people.

Bottom line: Noah pushes hard on the modern environmentalist meme that — as I reported in The War on Humans — we are a terrible plague on the living Gaia. That message sells among a small group of progressive elites and misanthropic neo-earth religionists. But most of us do not consider ourselves to be cancers on the planet.

I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Discovery Institute, but yes you in particular are cancers on the culture and the planet. And have you considered the likelihood that the very worst destroyers do so confident that what they are doing is right and good, and that our personal narcissism is not exactly the most reliable measure of our worth?

They are also quite happy that humans exterminated entire species of megafauna. They deserved it, don’t you know, and had to go to allow people to live.

Whatever our role in the demise of megafauna, we should not look back in shame.

Early humans’ successful fight for survival gave us the chance to thrive. I am not upset with them: I am grateful.

For a bunch of anti-evolutionists, they sure are happy to cite ‘survival of the fittest’ as a justification for slaughter. You know, it wasn’t always a fight for survival.

Roman emperors curried favor with the public by upstaging their predecessors in killing more animals and producing more spectacular displays of slaughter (Morris 1990).  Emperor Titus inaugurated the Roman Coliseum by declaring 100 days of celebration, during which enormous numbers of animals were speared by gladiators.  On the opening day, 5,000 animals were slaughtered, and over the next two days, 3,000 more were killed (Morris 1990).  The caged animals were kept underground in dungeons where they were not fed, and on the day of the festival, they were hauled in their cages onto lifts that brought them into the center of the arena.  As the crowd roared with excitement, drums were beaten, trumpets blown, and the terrified animals were set loose (Attenborough 1987).  Sometimes the animals were goaded to attack one another, and at other times, men armed with spears and tridents pursued them around barriers made from shrubs in imitation of hunts in the wild (Attenborough 1987).  One arena hunt resulted in the killing of 300 Ostriches and 200 Alpine Chamois (Morris 1990). 

Lions, Tigers, bears, bulls, Leopards, Giraffes and deer died after being tormented, stabbed and gored (Morris 1990).  Big cats that had been starved were released into the ring where a human slave or prisoner of war was lashed to a post; the animals clawed at the person before they themselves were speared and stabbed by gladiators (Attenborough 1987).  In some of the larger slaughters, 500 Lions, more than 400 Leopards, or 100 bears would be killed in a single day (Morris 1990).  Hippos, even rhinoceroses and crocodiles, were brought into these arenas, and sometimes gladiators employed bizarre methods of killing such as decapitating fleeing ostriches with crescent-shaped arrows (Morris 1990).

Still grateful?

I grew up with farmers and ranchers, and I can tell you this, too: the slaughter continues. They tend to be ruthlessly intolerant of anything perceived as compromising their income. I’ve seen songbirds shot because “it was their farm, they can do what they want”.

And the big threat is habitat destruction — the prairies are almost all gone here in Minnesota, and the wetlands are being plowed over. It is not anti-human to want to preserve some natural beauty and protect biodiversity, because this is our planet and we should aspire to maintain it as something better than a giant sewage treatment plant for Homo sapiens. We are a lesser world for the absence of giant ground sloths and European lions and black rhinos — did we really have to kill them all so we could merely survive?

Do you have to shove your awful little holy book in everything?

I had thought that Minnesota had a state fossil: it was the giant beaver, Castoroides ohioensis. But then I discovered that it wasn’t on the official list of Minnesota State Symbols, but was on the list of proposed symbols. So it never made it into law, although we do have a state photo (it’s awful) and a state muffin (blueberry).

I wonder if the same thing happened to the giant beaver that happened to South Carolina’s state fossil proposal. Olivia McConnell, an eight year old girl, had the bright idea to propose that the Woolly Mammoth ought to be the South Carolina state fossil, and she wrote a letter to the legislature suggesting it, and even giving good reasons for it.

1. One of the first discoveries of a vertebrae fossil in North America was on an S.C. plantation when slaves dug up wooly mammoth teeth from a swamp in 1725.

2. All but seven states have an official state fossil.

3. “Fossils tell us about our past.”

“Please work on this for me,” McConnell wrote to Ridgeway, signing her letter, “Your friend, Olivia.”

Nice idea. Good rationale. But then, along come the sanctimonious bible-floggers.

Sen. Kevin Bryant, a pharmacist and self-described born-again Christian who has compared President Obama with Osama bin Laden, voted to sustain a veto by Governor Nikki Haley of funding for a rape crisis center, and called climate change a “hoax,” proposed amending the bill to include three verses from the Book of Genesis detailing God’s creation of the Earth and its living inhabitants—including mammoths.

Bryant told The Daily Beast that the intent was never to hijack the bill. I think it’s a good idea to designate the mammoth as the state fossil, I don’t have a problem with that. I just felt like it’d be a good thing to acknowledge the creator of the fossils.

Bryant’s proposed amendment was originally ruled out of order by Lt. Governor Glenn McConnell (no relation to Olivia) because it introduced a new subject. Bryant has since submitted a more on-topic amendment, describing the Columbian Mammoth as created on the Sixth Day with the beasts of the field.

The bill is now on hold. Olivia has apparently been following the legislative process as it moves along, and now has first-hand experience with stupidity, and has learned a valuable lesson in cynicism. Jeez, I’m a cynical old guy, and I’m pissed off.

I hope Olivia can retain some enthusiasm for science, even if she has lost faith in politics.