It would give me pause if my causes required lies to be persuasive


It’s unfortunate that that doesn’t seem to be the case for abortion opponents. Even if I were sympathetic to their cause, I’d recoil from the dishonesty.

This has always been the case. There is no argument against abortion that doesn’t rely on misrepresentation and dodgy associations. Every one of those signs plastered all over my region that declares “My heart started beating at 28 days!” is fundamentally dishonest, relying on a false association between a heart beat and humanity. My zebrafish embryos’ hearts start beating at about 22 hours, does that make them human?

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Friday Cephalopod: Hairy & slimy

Allonautilus scrobiculatus is a rare species that can be distinguishes from the natty Nautilus pompilius by its hairy, slimy shell. That doesn’t seem like a distinction to be proud of, but I guess it takes all types to fill an ocean.

Nautilus pompilius (left) swimming next to a rare Allonautilus scrobiculatus (right) off of Ndrova Island in Papua New Guinea.Peter Ward

Nautilus pompilius (left) swimming next to a rare Allonautilus scrobiculatus (right) off of Ndrova Island in Papua New Guinea.Peter Ward

I’ve heard of not-pologies…


But not-lawsuits? You know that Rebecca was asking for help to deal with a not-threat of not-censorship and a not-suit from the non-litigious non-jerk Ben Radford. Now she has posted her amusing response to Radford’s non-demands. So many contradictions! He keeps insisting he has no intention of suing in a cease-and-desist letter that demands that she take down posts she has written.

The biggest contradiction, though, is that this is all after Radford hounded Karen Stollznow into retracting and promising to never ever mention their disagreements ever again…an agreement that Stollznow has been honoring, while Radford keeps stirring the pot and reminding everyone what an asshole he can be.

I don’t think he wanted to bring this affair to a close at all.

I am not a number


I endorse this article: 5 Ways That Science Supports Feminism – Not Gender Essentialism. It’s making the point that when you actually study the relevant sciences, you discover that they fundamentally support a more complex view of sexuality than the usual boy/girl dichotomy. Here, in brief, are the five points it makes:

1. There Are More Than Two Sexes, Not to Mention a Vast Range of Gender Identities
2. The Environment Impacts Human Development from the Very Beginning at the Cellular Level
3. Socialization Is a Powerful Force
4. When Studies Do Find Gender Differences, They Are Often Too Weak to Serve as the Basis for Generalizations
5. Gender Means Different Things in Different Cultures

One other factor that leads people to adopt gender essentialism is a kind of innumeracy — I swear, I think the only statistical measure most people understand is the mean. But statistics was developed to describe variation, in addition to taking data sets and crunching them down to a single number.

There is also deficiency of logic. If you take any diverse set, divide it in two, and calculate the mean of any given parameter for both, you’ll get…two numbers. This does not validate your initial division as appropriate. It does not mean your artificial dichotomy reveals an absolute truth about the world. It does not mean you have encapsulated the essence of your two groups in a single simple metric. In particular, it’s possible to have a mean that does not describe a single individual in your group accurately.

If you aren’t an advocate for the truth, you aren’t a journalist


Way back in the distant past, lost to the internet, when Pharyngula was just a tiny project I was running on my lab computer, one of the subjects that pissed me off was pseudo-objective journalism. The kind of thing where a New York Times reporter would write a long article on the geology of the Grand Canyon, and give equal time to creationism and real science, and excuse it by saying,

I don’t consider myself a creationist. I don’t have any interest in sharing my personal views on how the canyon was carved, mostly because I’ve spent almost no time pondering my personal views — it takes all my energy as a reporter and writer to understand and explain my subjects’ views fairly and thoroughly.

This is the kind of journalism where facts and evidence don’t matter and aren’t part of the evidence — all we’re supposed to care about is cataloging the opinions of the uninformed, and weight is bestowed by how loudly they are shouted, or by how rich and famous the ignoramus with an opinion is. The journalist doesn’t have the time to assess the facts, all their energy is consumed in transcribing quotes. And worst of all, they tout this as a goddamned virtue of good reporting.

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The sad, lonely world of Ashley Madison


Lately, I’ve been getting a fair amount of email from people who’ve been browsing the stolen Ashley Madison subscriber list, telling me what famous or semi-famous person had an account there. I haven’t been impressed. A lot of it seems to be men who were looking for dates, and the thing is…I really doubt that any of them found anything approximating love or sex there. It’s peculiar to accuse people of cheating on their spouses through Ashley Madison, when it’s highly unlikely that any man was making contact with any women there.

A detailed look at the Ashley Madison database reveals…

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First day of classes. Students seem nice. They asked lots of questions, always a good sign. Got through first lecture OK. Gotta work on my voice, though — it takes a bit of warm-up to restore Teacher’s Voice, especially when you’re not loud to begin with.

There’s an Australian Huffington Post?

I’m so sorry, antipodes. It seems the HuffPo Empire of Gullible Idiocy has expanded into the Southern Hemisphere. Fortunately, some people are already fighting back. It’s a good start.

I notice, too, that the Australian edition has yet to include their notorious “sideboob” category, or anything by Deepak Chopra. I guess they’re going to gradually ratchet up the sleaze and stupidity. Brace yourself, Australia, Ariana Huffington has no reservations at all about racing to the bottom of the sludge pit.

Evil pet thread


I’m looking for some commiseration here, people! Who else has an evil pet?

We’ve got this cat we adopted from the local humane society, who apparently had an extremely rough kittenhood. She was wild and suspicious when we got her, and only gradually calmed down…and now she’s very dependent on me and Mary. Especially now — we abandoned (not really, but she’s acting that way) her for a week while we went on vacation, and since we got back she’s constantly looking for affirmation that we won’t leave her ever again.

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Macroevolution explained

If you’re reluctant to drop $80 on a copy of Zimmer/Emlen’s Evolution: Making Sense of Life, here’s a deal for you: the NCSE will let you download a chapter for free, the one on macroevolution (pdf). That’s a good choice. I run into a fair number of pro-science people who think the macroevolution/microevolution distinction is something made up by creationists (it’s not — it’s abused by creationists, but then they mangle a lot of science). The chapter includes a good section on punctuated equilibrium, another topic often battered badly by even people arguing on the side of science, and a bit about how random statistical variation can lead to the illusion of trends in macroevolution.

Go download it and read it now. There will be a test later.