Not All Physicists

Sean Carroll criticizes those physicists who say silly things about philosophy, answering three common, and erroneous, complaints from the ‘philosophy is dead!’ mob. It’s pretty good, and I was thinking that maybe this would finally sink in, but then I read the comments. Oh, boy.

My favorite was the guy who said philosophy is pointless and that there’s nothing that a philosopher can do that a good physicist cannot. If you ever wonder why physicists have a reputation for arrogance, there it is: do they really believe that the 4+ years of graduate work required to get a Ph.D. in philosophy involves doing nothing? That has to be the case. I took a look at the degree requirements for several doctoral programs in physics: Houston, Tulsa, Stanford, and NYU (just the ones that came up first in a google search). Despite the word “philosophy” in the title “Doctor of Philosophy”, none of them require any coursework in philosophy. Not one bit.

Physics isn’t the only discipline with this flaw, though; it isn’t a requirement in any biology program that I know of, and though I’ve tried to squeeze a little bit into our undergrad biology program, there’s considerable resistance to it. In general, science programs aren’t very good at giving any introduction to philosophy — so it’s always amusing to see graduates of these programs lecturing, from their enlightened perspective, on the uselessness of this discipline they know next to nothing about.

I feel the same annoyance at this know-nothing attitude that I feel towards all those people who claim to know everything important about evolution — it’s so easy, they’ve mastered it with a little casual reading on the side. And then I mention a big something like drift or founder effect, or some fascinating little thing like meiotic drive, and they’re completely stumped. Didn’t know that before. But they know all about evolution, yes sir!

Some of them are physicists, too.

Sometimes, atheism costs

You know, atheists don’t do a good job of providing that essential social safety net, and the American ‘I got mine’ philosophy means the government often does a poor job, too. We just have to try and cobble together an ad hoc safety net. Here’s a case in point: a person who joined a church, travelled to California to become a live-in, paid volunteer to assist in inner city care. Then the double-whammy hit: he came down with a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis to the point where he can’t get around at all, and then…uh-oh, he lost his faith and became an atheist. Goodbye church-based support.

I also, over the course of my time at the church, completely lost what little faith I had, coming out as an atheist in 2011. As a result, I’ve lost much of my Oroville-based support system; friendships I’d thought were unconditional. I hesitate to say we’ve been shunned, because it hasn’t exactly been to Amish or Jehovah’s Witness proportions. There’s some contact once in awhile, but for the most part, we’re on our own, living in a landlocked island of isolation.

I met a friend of his; apparently, he could have just hidden his loss of faith and continued to get aid from the church, but he was too honest to do that…so they cut him off.

We atheists can do better than that, now can’t we? He’s asking for assistance to move his family back to his original home, in Spokane. He’d also appreciate any local help — any atheists in Spokane (come on, it’s a wonderful city) want to provide information and assistance in the transition back to the Palouse? Follow the link. Donations and support and encouragement are welcome.

Human beings seeking a better life

That’s what I see in this boatload of immigrants trying to reach Italy.

Italian navy rescue asylum seekers

There have been several mass drownings recently, and the Italian navy is trying to rescue people. It’s not clear from the article what they do with them — are they granted asylum in Italy? Or sent back? Or parked in a refugee camp?

Or possibly worse. Although it can’t be worse than what the US has been doing. Mass graves of migrants have been found in Texas.

Unidentified migrants who died entering the United States were buried in mass graves in a South Texas cemetery, with remains found in trash bags, shopping bags, body bags, or no containers at all, researchers discovered.

In one burial, bones of three bodies were inside one body bag. In another instance, at least five people in body bags and smaller plastic bags were piled on top of each other, Baylor University anthropologist Lori Baker said. Skulls were found in biohazard bags — like the red plastic bags in receptacles at doctors’ offices — placed between coffins.

This is not a discovery of a tragedy in the distant past — these are bodies that have accumulated since 2005, and it’s the product of an ongoing practice by a funeral home that was paid to dispose of the bodies. Dispose of them like trash, apparently.

Human beings deserve better.

Further evidence that Republicans have signed the divorce papers from reality

South Dakota Republicans are demanding the impeachment of Obama.

The South Dakota Republican Party passed a resolution on Saturday calling for the impeachment of President Barack Obama.

Delegates at the party’s annual convention in Rapid City voted 191-176 in favor of the measure, which claims that the president has "violated his oath of office in numerous ways," according to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

They cite the exchange of Bowe Bergdahl and Obamacare as violations of his oath of office. At least it’s slightly reassuring that a bit less than half the Republicans in attendance voted against the silly measure.

No, not evolutionary biology, too!

We’ve heard so much about bad behavior at conferences, and how sexist attitudes can suppress the contributions of women. And it doesn’t seem to matter what the conference is about: tech, gaming, atheism, skepticism, philosophy, you name it. Now Prof-Like Substance describes the scene at evolutionary biology conferences, explaining how many women are hesitant to participate in important events because of the predatory behavior of some men. And she gives a little advice.

So dudes, pull this apart a little bit. First off, the frequency with which inappropriate advances occur is causing some women to avoid after hours social events. Not only does that have consequences, but that very fact in itself should bother you. Also consider that even consensual sexyfuntimes have very different career implications for men versus women. These communities are small and things get around. Finally, are you going to be That Guy who women are warned against being around alone? Do you want the dumb things you say when you’re out late to be the reason a woman leaves the field or is uncomfortable attending social events? Consider that maybe your work colleagues are not the best target audience for your affections.

Interesting. She isn’t appealing to the altruistic best side of men, who ought to care about what’s best for their colleagues, but their self-interest. Sounds like an evolutionary biologist.

Come for the Oz-kicking, stay for the information

This is an excellent piece on that quack, Dr Oz, by John Oliver. The first 5 minutes is spent mocking the fraud, but then, the last ten minutes are all about the real problem: the evisceration of the FDA’s regulatory power over supplements, thanks to Senators Hatch and Harkin.

OK, there is a silly bit at the end where they show that you can pander to your audience without lying to them about the health benefits of magic beans, but still — let’s beef up the FDA, all right?

Let’s just call them traitors

The religious right has been having a grand old time at the Faith and Freedom Conference this past weekend. Some of it is laughable, like this decorative addition to the urinals at the venue.


That’s silly and stupid, but part of the usual political discourse. I’d have been happy to piss on Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush myself — but I’d also recognize that this isn’t the way to win elections.

This is worse. Bobby Jindal is delusional.

Are we witnessing right now the most radically, extremely liberal, ideological president of our entire lifetime right here in the United States of America, or are we witnessing the most incompetent president of the United States of America in the history of our lifetimes? You know, it is a difficult question, he said. I’ve thought long and hard about it. Here’s the only answer I’ve come up with, and I’m going to quote Secretary Clinton: `What difference does it make?’

Obama is neither radical, nor liberal, nor particularly ideological. He’s also not a socialist, nor is he a Kenyan. Obama is a middle-of-the-road, right-of-center, conservative Democrat who has not done anything particularly dramatic while in office. Even Obamacare, which has Republicans chewing the scenery everywhere, was a compromise. Every time some nutcake on the right screams Socialist! it just convinces me further that no one of that party should be in office — we need real solutions to real problems, not this imaginary tribalism.

This is worser. Jindal wants to foment rebellion.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on Saturday night accused President Barack Obama and other Democrats of waging wars against religious liberty and education and said that a rebellion is brewing in the U.S. with people ready for a hostile takeover of the nation’s capital.

Jindal spoke at the annual conference hosted by the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a group led by longtime Christian activist Ralph Reed. Organizers said more than 1,000 evangelical leaders attended the three-day gathering. Republican officials across the political spectrum concede that evangelical voters continue to play a critical role in GOP politics.

I can sense right now a rebellion brewing amongst these United States, Jindal said, where people are ready for a hostile takeover of Washington, D.C., to preserve the American Dream for our children and grandchildren.

That’s all we need: an army of fanatical and self-righteous gun nuts fanned into fury by supposedly responsible leaders of a political party marching on DC for a hostile takeover. Fantasy is sequeing into visions of violence.

Perhaps the Secret Service ought to have a little conversation with Mr Jindal about the legality of encouraging sedition.