We growed a little more

Quietly, in the dead of night and in disguise, we stealthily slipped in some new people on the FtB roster. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.

You can go visit them yourselves, but keep it on the down low. If it ever got out what a hive of rapscallions and scallywags we were nursing at the SJW teat, they might call us rude names or something.

I can’t claim to be a prophet…yet

A reader has warned me that I might be guilty of the sin of prophecy. Back in 2014 I wrote this:

I will make a prediction, right here and now. The number of people identifying as “nones” will grow in this country in coming years, because we’re on the right side of history, and because organized religion is happily in the process of destroying itself with regressive social attitudes, scandals, and their bizarre focus on other-worldly issues that don’t help people. The number of people identifying as atheists will stagnate or even shrink, because organized atheism is happily in the process of destroying itself with regressive social attitudes, scandals, and their bizarre focus on irrelevant metaphysical differences that don’t help people.

And then they pointed out the results of this Gallup poll from the summer:


Nope. Not going to claim I’ve been sadly vindicated yet. As the article from Gallup points out, there’s a lot of wobbliness due to the precise wording of the question. I’d also suggest that the previous year’s abrupt downswing in religiosity looks more like noise, so this year’s upswing is nothing but regression to the mean. There are still signs of a slow trend away from belief in gods, but it’s nothing dramatic, and we’re not seeing widespread acceptance of overt atheism. As the article explains, the variations may not be meaningful of any kind of shift in ideas.

The exact meaning of these shifts is unclear. Although the results can be taken at face value in showing that fewer Americans believe in God than did so in the past, it is also possible that basic beliefs have not changed — but rather Americans’ willingness to express nonreligious sentiments to an interviewer has. Whatever the explanation for these changes over time, the most recent findings show that the substantial majority of Americans continue to give a positive response when asked about their belief in God.

I’m still going to argue that atheism needs something more than a denial of the existence of gods if it is going to achieve wider popularity. We’re riding on a slow swell of anti-clericism, but we need to get into the curl of a more active social relevancy.

We also can’t deny that we hold a minority view. But the “good” news is that the resurgence of Republican theocratic meddling might yet inspire more anti-religious views!

Another one down!

Today was Genetics day, the other big class I’m teaching this term. Syllabus done! Lab supplies ordered! Now I’m just going to work on redoing my introductory lecture (I’m completely revamping that to set the students up for some of the upcoming complexity.)

The Autism Peril

The latest media frenzy is over reports that Russia had compromising information about Trump’s sexual practices and other sad, bitter, pathetic obsessions. I don’t care. The Trump name is already so thoroughly soiled that the fact that the allegations are entirely plausible tells us all we need to know about the dignity and gravitas the man brings to the office. He has pissed all over our country’s reputation and has already been long known for his pettiness, his cheesiness, and his total lack of class, so it really doesn’t do any more damage to the Trump brand than everything else he has done. In a pissing contest between his crassness and his bedroom habits, the fact that there is a pissing contest at all means he has already lost.

But here’s a different name that is being flushed down the toilet: Kennedy. I grew up when the Kennedy name was almost magical: it was Camelot, it was glamorous liberalism, it was tragedy. And now Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is doing his best to make it synonymous with crankery and quackery and incompetence. Good job, scion of a the John & Robert Kennedy political dynasty!

Anyway, RFK Jr met with Trump — which was troubling enough, especially after Trump had met with Andrew Wakefield as well — and came away with the startling announcement that he was going to chair a commission on vaccination safety and scientific integrity. He is not qualified! His head is packed full of pseudoscientific nonsense on this subject, so we need a stronger word…he is anti-qualified. This is as criminally antithetical to the goal of such a committed as appointing Myron Ebell to head the EPA. It’s a clear signal that Trump intends to wreck preventative medicine in the USA.

Of course, this immediately provoked a sewer overflow of criticism on social media, and we already know how responsive our fickle president-elect is to the noise there, and Trump walked that claim right back. No, RFK Jr will not lead a commission on vaccine safety, but one on autism.

Vaccines, autism, same topic, right? We can tell what kind of bullshit the two of them were slinging in that convo by the fact that they link those two together, when we know from the science that there is no connection between vaccines and autism. We know that Trump is dead wrong on this subject, but he has brought it up repeatedly over the years, and you just know he’s itching to push lies into the science.

Remember when Trump said this in the debates?

I’m totally in favor of vaccines — but I want smaller doses over a longer time.

You are not a doctor, Donald Trump. Neither is Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. It was doctors who worked out a vaccine schedule, using empirical data to optimize as best they can. Contrary to your conspiracy theories, doctors also have no vested interest in inducing autism. I can’t even imagine what convoluted reasoning you would invoke in order to invent a connection, but I’m sure you’ve got some stupid, flimsy excuse that won’t hold up under any rational inspection.

But just read Orac’s commentary — he rips the routine nonsense promoted by anti-vaccine ideologues apart. It’s actually easy. What always impresses me is the lack of rigor and the unimaginative repetitiveness of the anti-science advocates. Like creationists, the anti-vaxxers have a limited litany of tropes they repeat endlessly, which makes it easy but dead dreary to shoot them down…but with the awareness that they’ll just ignore the rebuttals and repeat the same ol’ same ol’ all over again.

One more thing I have to mention, though: one part of the anti-vaxxer litany is to deplore the rising tide of terrible, damaged people as a consequence of the autism epidemic. The problem with that, of course, is that it treats autistic people as garbage, and as a plague that must be ended. I know autistic people. You know autistic people. Some of you are autistic. It’s a different way of thinking that can (but doesn’t always) conflict with expected social norms. You might just as well howl in protest at the rise of people who think scientifically, or artistically, or are glibly sociable, or are atheists. What are you going to do, go on a campaign to eradicate poets? I wouldn’t put it past these people who are so quick to demonize others who don’t fit their mold.

Adapt or die. Autistic people are first and foremost people, and if they are increasing in numbers, we need to consider helping society to accommodate itself to them. We can see through the coded language and dog whistles to your true desired solution: you despise and want to eliminate our children.

Course Design: Behold! A Syllabus!


Wow. I think I’m ready to go. I’ve put the Biol 4182 EcoDevo syllabus together, I’ve got the courseware (we use Moodle) site ready to go, and I’ve put together the notes for the first week’s lectures/discussions, and now I just have to upload that syllabus and make it available to all the students…and then watch the course withdrawals come flooding in.

No! They’re going to appreciate it! We’re going to learn so much together this term!

Classes start a week from today. I’m more prepared than usual.

Solitudinem faciunt, pacem apellant

While it’s true that Obama is going to acquire a glowing halo of sanctity in comparison to the shambling beast that comes after, I would remind you that he was far from perfect. In particular, his foreign policy was rather hawkish and brutal to civilian populations.

In President Obama’s last year in office, the United States dropped 26,171 bombs in seven countries. This estimate is undoubtedly low, considering reliable data is only available for airstrikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, and a single “strike,” according to the Pentagon’s definition, can involve multiple bombs or munitions. In 2016, the United States dropped 3,027 more bombs—and in one more country, Libya—than in 2015.


Right. We’re kinda sorta at peace, but for some reason we dropped 26,000 bombs on brown people in distant countries.

I’d like to ask the next question: how many people are killed, on average, with every bomb dropped? If it’s a very small number, then we can question the efficiency of a strategy that terrorizes populations and causes destruction but doesn’t, you know, kill that many ‘enemies’. If it’s a middling number, say 10, then the United States killed a quarter of a million people last year.

If it’s a large number, then we are guilty of atrocities to rival the worst despotisms.

Another culprit in the murder of expertise

Charles "Chuck" Johnson

Charles “Chuck” Johnson

This sad, unqualified, pathetic troll is now an advisor to Donald Trump’s team.

He’s got nothin’. He graduated from college a few years ago with a bachelor’s degree, started an overblown blog that he called a news source, and parlayed inventing far-right lies and calling Obama “gay” into a career that endeared him to other liars, racists, and various neo-Nazis.

Despite his disregard for facts and reckless approach to publishing, Johnson, who was recently photographed at a dinner attended by white supremacists in Washington, D.C., built a significant following among many who self-identified as being a part of the “alt-right.” Trump drew significant support from those same followers during the election.

Mike Cernovich, another pro-Trump troll who is friends with Johnson, said that Johnson often has a hand in behind-the-scenes politics. The media really likes to hate on [Johnson], Cernovich said. But if they knew how influential he has been–in ways they didn’t know–it would be kind of mind blowing.

This is apparently all you need to become influential in the new administration. You can be a guy whose main claim to fame is that people spread scatological rumors about him and his acquaintances find them plausible, and still play a role in shaping American policy.

Is this a great country or what?

True confession: I did not care much for Meryl Streep’s speech

Streep used an award ceremony to slam Trump in a very nice little speech — you can read it online, with all the good points (and there were many) highlighted — and the right-wingers, including our very presidential president-elect, are in a fine high snit over it. However, it left me unenthused, even while agreeing with much of it, for a couple of reasons.

  • This is the least of my concerns, but I’m not a Streep fan. What can I say, that self-indulgent Mamma Mia left me scarred.

  • We are about to inaugurate a nightmare president, a creepy horror whose appointments and policies ought to terrify us, and yet again the media welcomes this speech as the kind of superficial celebrity-on-celebrity spat that they love so well. It is a distraction. Look again at that speech: it’s chewing out a bully for being a bully, which is a fine thing, but it says nothing about the politics or the effects of those politics.

  • What bugged me most, and is probably going to be used by Trump voters to dismiss it, is how vain it was. It was all about how wonderfully diverse actors are, and how many of them are immigrants or from other countries, and it was designed to make all those actors feel damn good about themselves, and also to encourage a little self-pity that Donald Trump is targeting them.

    But all I could think as she praised the diverse backgrounds of these well-known actors was that this was not the best group to highlight. Everything she said is also true of college professors and scientists, and we don’t get pampered and spoiled and paid big bucks to churn out a single project. It is also true of, for instance, farm workers, who are black and brown and white and most definitely do not get paid a wage that allows them to live a Hollywood life style. When the camera panned over her audience of famous people dressed in tuxes and designer gowns that probably cost more than most of us make in a year, what I heard was a woman mourning the threat to her privileges. It somehow resonated less than, for instance, the threats to shut down Planned Parenthood, to deny people health insurance, the sabre-rattling threats to foreign nations, the imminent looting of our country’s wealth by billionaires. Hollywood A-listers will get through the next four years just fine…the rest of us, maybe not.

  • That elitist snipe at football and mixed martial arts was not helpful. It’s one thing to praise the virtues of the patricians, another to disparage the pleasures of the plebs. Someone who starred in Mamma Mia does not get to sniff at low brow popular entertainments and sports.

But I cannot deny that she made legitimate points, and every group, rich or poor, that is going to be damaged by this presidency ought to speak up, including actors. I’m just worried that, once again, the Democrats are going to promote the support of a tiny elite while ignoring the concerns of, say, labor, and are just going to enhance the idea that liberals are out of touch. And, of course, this is all our media have been talking about for the last day.