Jailed

This is unexpected — I thought fines were forthcoming, but Kim Davis is apparently also going to jail.

Federal District Judge David Bunning held Kim Davis, the county clerk who has become a national symbol of anti-gay animus for her resistance to marriage equality, in contempt of court on Thursday. According to Dan Griffin, a reporter for local news station WSAZ, she was led out by U.S. Marshals. The judge reportedly said that financial sanctions were not enough to ensure her compliance with the law.

Also, while she’s absent from office, other county officials have the power to issue marriage licenses. So her obstruction is at an end.

The JREF is changing

James Randi is retiring, and he’s irreplaceable. Apparently the JREF board agrees, and isn’t even going to try — they’ve announced a change in focus for the organization. I presume that means there will be no more Amazing Meetings; they’re going to shift to becoming a grant distributing organization, and are no longer accepting membership applications or donations.

I have mixed feelings about that. TAM was always the best and worst of organized skepticism — early on they had the most inclusive and diverse meetings of any group. Rather than old academics droning on, they had showmanship and enthusiasm, and brought in a younger, livelier audience. I think they inspired a lot of other organizations and influenced the new wave of skeptic and atheist meetings.

But TAM was also a refuge for reactionary skeptics: the ones who despised atheists, who had a bizarrely narrow view of what was acceptable “skepticism” (which didn’t align well with science at all), who actively resented new ideas even as they were courting a younger audience. This was the TAM that hated the idea of openly displaying policies of attendee conduct, preferring secret proceedings, and claimed that there was no harassment of any kind going on, because they clamped down on any news and dishonestly denied any problems.

I’m not going to miss the latter TAM at all. But the former TAM is a real loss. I guess we’ll all have to go to Skepticon instead.

The world is broken

My news is full of one picture: a toddler, drowned, lying face down in the surf on the shore of Turkey. He was one of a great many Syrian refugees fleeing their country in desperation, and dying in the process.

It’s a shocking image. It’s heartbreaking. It tore me up to see it, so I’ll spare you all. Instead, I’ll show you another image that popped up in my newsfeed that is, in many ways, even more terrible.

We need to remember that our friends, our enemies, and the innocents in between are all human beings, and all deserve to live. Remember when we vote to give politicians the right to launch missiles into cities, and when we stand by and watch and do nothing as the suffering grows.

I get email

I often get requests from students to answer questions about biology — typically, they’ve been told to write to a scientist and get a response, and somehow they’ve picked me. I try to answer them, but due to the number of requests, I usually only give brief answers. Here’s an example:

Dear PZ Meyers,

Yeah, I know. Somehow my name is impossible to spell correctly. I’m resigned to it and just let it slide nowadays.

My name is XXXX and I’m a 19-year-old junior in college.

Now this part was a little weird. They’re a college junior…but the questions are more like what I’d expect from a grade school kid. But OK, I’ll go with it.

I know you might be quite busy, but I wanted to ask if you could assist me with a simple assignment for one of my college courses dealing with the origins of life on earth. I am required to ask anyone (preferably someone who is science-minded such as yourself) the following four questions:

Here are their four questions, and my short answers.

1. How long are the days in Genesis 1? Why?

The bible is not a science textbook, and trying to pin a specific length to a vague metaphor is a category error. All that matters is that the events described in Genesis 1 cover a period of billions of years, and are presented in an incorrect order.

2. How old is the earth and life? Why?

The Earth is approximately 4 1/2 billion years old. Life arose approximately 4 billion years ago. We have multiple corroborating lines of evidence from physics and astronomy that confirm the first date, and genetic and trace fossil evidence confirms the second.

3. Did man and apes share a common ancestor? Why or why not?

Humans ARE apes. Yes, all modern primates share a common ancestor. The last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees lived roughly 6 million years ago. Again, this is confirmed by molecular and genetic evidence.

4. Were Adam and Eve real people? Why or why not?

No. Humans have more genetic diversity than could possibly arise by divergence from only two ancestors; also, a population of 2 lacks the genetic diversity that would allow the population to survive. Population genetics tells us that the greatest population bottleneck in our history occurred about 80,000 years ago, when the human population was reduced to 15,000-20,000 breeding pairs. Not two.

I fired those off, and thought I was done. I just got a thank you from the student, though, which was nice.

Dear PZ Meyers,

I hope you’ve been doing well.

First, I’d like to thank you again for helping me with this assignment because I got all the points on my grade for it! As promised, my professor sent some comments (quite a bit in fact) for me to read over and share with you. I don’t know how much you’ve heard already, but if you have the time, you can read them over and give a reply. I’m not as knowledgeable in this scientific area but I do believe in God and that his Word is true.

Uh-oh. Their professor did send a reply.

Jebus, did they. 11,000 words of pure, ripe, grade-A creationist bullshit. I’m exhausted just looking at it.

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Rewriting history and sucking up to misogynists

integrity

There’s a reason I’ve lost all respect for Hemant Mehta: wearing smug sanctimony while pandering to MRAs, slymepitters, and notorious harassers is not a good look. He’s now insisting that Phil Plait, Rebecca Watson, and I owe Tim Hunt an apology, on the basis of a poorly written bit of hackery, inspired by that blinkered obsessive, Louise Mensch, in a far right wing rag. It’s the latest bit of revisionist history, and it’s published in Commentary magazine, alongside articles whining about Obamacare, the Iran deal, and students opposing campus rape culture, overseen by editor John Podhoretz. I suppose it’s possible that he didn’t notice the stench of the company it’s keeping, but he might at least have thrown a red flag at the title: The Timothy Hunt Witch Hunt.

[Read more…]

Gotta go

It’s the first week of biology labs here at UMM, and I caught most of the morning sections — I’m expected to put on my lab coat, get into the lab, and do my job in a half hour. Except that I have just learned that if I invoke God’s authority, I can shirk all I want for as long as I want. I think I’ll just go back to bed for a while.

Except…here in the real world, if I refused to do my job, I’d be fired so fast. It doesn’t matter that I have tenure — refusal to fulfill the obligations of my employment, the basic, necessary work for which I was hired, would get my ass launched out the door like I was loaded into a cannon. I could squabble futilely for a good long while, throw lots of money at irresponsible lawyers (the only kind who would take my case), but the conclusion would be foregone.

I guess I better get moving. I’ve got a few hours of teaching sterile technique to cell biology students ahead of me, even though it is not mentioned in the Bible.