Maryam also gives a very good talk

I’m not one of those wacky free speech absolutists. I am generally in favor of free speech, but I do think there are also obligations and responsibilities. Let me give you a few examples.

There have been a few instances where I was scheduled to speak somewhere, and officials tried to get me kicked out. That’s inappropriate. They also failed in every case, probably because I’m not as scary as Maryam Namazie. But it’s not right in her case, either.

I’ve had people picket and protest at a few of my talks. I thought that was cool — I encourage my critics to exercise their free speech privileges. My response is usually to talk to picketers and invite them to come inside and listen. Maryam Namazie isn’t one to back down from an argument, either.

I’ve never had anyone threaten to riot if I dared to speak, but that has happened to Maryam Namazie. In those cases, though, whose demands should be respected, the one who is giving a non-violent talk, or the ones who will turn violent if someone disagrees with them?

If someone is truly awful, these events can be a wonderful opportunity to deflate the bad guy. Back in 2004, David Horowitz, complaining about campus speech codes and censorship, gave a talk at St. John’s University. Yes, it was ironic that he was bitterly whining about how universities censor him while speaking at a university. But even more ironically, in part of his speech he railed against the Peace Studies course that was apparently inimical to his ideology…and students spoke up and said that they were taking that course, and that the instructor had given them class time off to specifically attend the Horowitz lecture. Imagine if Maryam Namazie’s opposition to Islamism could have been addressed by thoughtful, peaceful Islamist students showing up to listen attentively. (No, I know, wasn’t going to happen.)

There are limits to what we should tolerate on campus, though. For example, in the case of Condoleeza Rice being disinvited from the University of Minnesota campus a few years ago, I approved. I thought it was great that students were campaigning actively to stop her, because they were exercising their right to free speech, too. But mainly, there were two reasons I thought Rice should have been booted from campus. First, she’s part of an administration that was directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and I don’t think war criminals deserve respect. How many people is Maryam Namazie responsible for murdering? Second, the university was going to pay her $150,000 for an abbreviated lecture, a gross waste of money. How much does Maryam Namazie get paid?

But otherwise, you may disagree with Maryam Namazie, in which case you should be out protesting and making your case, but to pretend that speech by someone with whom you disagree will cause some kind of imaginary harm puts you in the same boat with Saudi fundamentalists.

Poetry? At a science event?

It’s true. This is what happens at a liberal arts college: worlds collide! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria! And poets and scientists talking to one another!

This is precisely what the Christian fundamentalists are warning us of with the Blood Moon Prophecy, which is happening this weekend, and culminates with poetry in a coffeehouse on Tuesday. If ever you wanted to witness an apocalypse, get yourself to Morris stat.


A small step forward for patients’ rights

Dan Markingson was a schizophrenia patient who was enlisted in a University of Minnesota trial of an experimental drug — and he killed himself horrifically while in the experiment. The university has just now made a policy change that excludes people from research trials who are restrained under a 72-hour emergency hold.

That’s nice.

Markingson killed himself in 2004, and it’s taken 11 years to get this minor, and honestly, rather obvious change in policy. Why has it taken so long? Perhaps this attitude by Brian Herman, vice president for research, explains some of the problem.

[Read more…]



The Discovery Institute thinks Following Kitzmiller v. Dover, an Excellent Decade for Intelligent Design. What planet are they living on? Intelligent Design is basically dead: Kitzmiller v. Dover killed it as a legal strategy, and none of the expectations of the Wedge document have been met. But Casey Luskin provides a list of their great accomplishments post-Kitzmiller. It’s very sad.

The very first item on the list is Lots of pro-ID peer-reviewed scientific papers published. No, not really. They’ve been publishing in tamed pro-ID journals like Rivista di Biologia and their own in-house journal, Bio-Complexity, with occasional forays into marginal pay-to-publish hack journals. Their most prolific contributor is a retired veterinarian who has labeled his house the Department of ProtoBioCybernetics and ProtoBioSemiotics, Origin of Life Science Foundation.

One of their “triumphs” is that Stephen Meyer’s book, Darwin’s Doubt, was reviewed in Science. Have you read the review?

As Meyer points out, he is not a biologist; so perhaps he could be excused for basing his scientific arguments on an outdated understanding of morphogenesis. But my disappointment runs deeper than that. It stems from Meyer’s systematic failure of scholarship. For instance, while I was flattered to find him quote one of my own review papers—although the quote is actually a chimera drawn from two very different parts of my review—he fails to even mention the review’s (and many other papers’) central point: that new genes did not drive the Cambrian explosion. His scholarship, where it matters most, is highly selective.

Yay. Winning.

Also, via Nick Matzke, while they’re busy claiming that Kitzmiller was irrelevant and that they’re gaining on science, here’s what Google Trends has to say about Intelligent Design.


So that’s what victory looks like, huh?

Finding insight in the funny pages

Maki illustrated two great truths about trolls:

  • They’re all about making sure only people like them get to be part of a community.

  • They’re so busy policing purity, they don’t bother to contribute productively.


His commentary is also spot on.

In a field where people work day and night to make sure every kid has a chance to become excited about science, the thought that there are old white dudes publicly sneering at a teenager because he wasn’t ingenious enough is sickening. Seeing people who identify as skeptics entertain wild conspiracy theories about a sinister muslim boy and his plot to get arrested for attention would be hilarious if it weren’t so toxic.

It’s a good thing to keep in mind: trolls aren’t necessarily simply frivolous haters who are out to destroy everyone’s fun for laughs. Sometimes they’re so very committed to the goals of a group that they dedicate themselves to non-stop hatred of the perceived enemies of that group, internal and external.


While I appreciate the perspective on the relative investment in science, SciAm, this is a terrible graphic.


It’s interesting that the total American investment in science is slightly larger than what the military throws away on just the F-35 program, but otherwise, this image has very low information density.

Humans are lousy at comparing surface areas, and here the money spent on each project is represented by…the area of a circle. That’s poor data representation. I’m sorry, but the creator of this graphic is going to be lined up against the wall with the person who invented pie charts.

Each data point is shown as a circle drawn arbitrarily somewhere on the page. There is no information in relative location — I guess the circles were just splotched down in an arrangement that looked good to a graphic designer somewhere. Are there any relationships between any of these data?

Colors are also arbitrary. Nations are in blue, genomes are orange, brains are purple, and telescopes are red. Just because.

There is so little information in this wall of circles that it needs to be helped along with paragraphs of text dumped onto the page in teeny-tiny print, and most of that text doesn’t tell us anything about the relationships between the circles. They are just circles of varying size on a bland blue background.

A tidy table would have been more than adequate for expressing numbers.

Oh, and there is content. Let’s shut down the F-35, give all that money to the NSF, and double the amount of grant money.