“I’m not a scientist, but…”

Jonathan Chait makes an interesting observation.

Asked by reporters yesterday if he accepts the scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global warming, John Boehner demurred on the curious but increasingly familiar grounds that he is not a scientist. “Listen, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change,” the House Speaker said. Boehner immediately turned the question to the killing of jobs that would result from any proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which he asserts with unwavering certainty. (On this question, Boehner is not held back by the fact that he is also not an economist.)

This particular demurral seems to be in vogue for the Grand Old Party. Florida governor Rick Scott (“I’m not a scientist”) and Senator Marco Rubio (“I’m not a scientist. I’m not qualified to make that decision.”) have both held up their lack of scientific training as a reason to withhold judgment on anthropogenic global warming.

Now I can’t unhear it. Everywhere you go, you hear idiots proffering that disclaimer. Watch this video and you’ll see:

Alice Roberts is clear and competent; Jeremy Paxson is abrasive to both sides (but really, “It’s just a theory”? Come on); but John Lewis is a stammering twit. You’ll notice it repeatedly. Every time he’s called on an issue, he backs off. He’s not a teacher, but; he’s not an official of ACE, but; he’s not a scientist, but. He’s so busy making excuses for why he’s not competent to be discussing any of the subjects brought before him that one has to wonder why the heck he was asked on the show.

It’s the same with the politicians that Chait cites. Why are they so quick to say that they aren’t qualified to discuss an issue, yet they seem to think they are qualified enough to disapprove of any resolution to address problems? Or in John Lewis’s case, they’re willing to say what lies children ought to be taught despite admitting to having no qualifications whatsoever to judge.

Chait’s explanation:

“I’m not a scientist” allows Republicans to avoid conceding the legitimacy of climate science while also avoiding the political downside of openly branding themselves as haters of science. The beauty of the line is that it implicitly concedes that scientists possess real expertise, while simultaneously allowing you to ignore that expertise altogether.

I think that’s true. But I also think there’s more.

In today’s media, taking a side is seen as a violation of neutrality. One thing they’re doing by announcing that they’re not scientists is declaring that they are an objective outsider…because as everyone knows, having extensive knowledge about a subject biases a person towards a particular best answer. Only the empty-headed fool can truly determine what is right. You’ll also see this philosophy in practice in the current penchant for debates, where you’re not supposed to decide the outcome by who most accurately reflects the truth, but by who makes the best case to a naive audience.

Another factor is that this is a dogwhistle. People like Chait or myself hear “I’m not a scientist,” and what we think we hear is a cautious disavowal — they are avoiding “openly branding themselves as haters of science”. But spend some time talking to strong creationists or climate change denialists, and you will discover that hating science is not the problem we think it is. To them, “science” is all ideologically driven propaganda promoted by egg-headed welfare recipients — all them scientists are getting rich off their fat gub’mint grants. So people like that hear “I’m not a scientist,” and they hear a declaration that the speaker is on their side, not one of the lying elites.

In a world where the tribal lines are stark, there’s a definite benefit to announcing that you are not one of them. And if you can do it in a coded way that doesn’t immediately antagonize your opponents and let them know what you’re doing, all the better.

Think about why it was trending

Remember that video by Joshua Feuerstein in which he claimed to destroy evolution in 3 minutes? It went viral. The BBC interviewed him, and got Aron Ra’s perspective. Feuerstein himself is bragging about the power of Social Media.

But they don’t ask why that video got so many views. I saw it because so many other atheists were linking to it…and laughing. It was this beautiful distillation of rank, raving creationist idiocy — a supremely confident ignoramus gushing over creationism’s dumbest hits as if they haven’t been smacked down a thousand times before.

Feuerstein got his moment of fame because he was that week’s stupid cat video, or comedic compilation of crotch punches, or amazingly clueless thing said by a Republican.

What is wrong with Chris Hedges?

I was grumbling about Chris Hedges 6 years ago, and every few years after that he seemed to spew more nonsense about atheists again. And then he gave an incoherent, illogical, dishonest talk at UMM last January. He’s been busily undermining his reputation as a journalist for years with babbling drivel.

And now I learn, via Ophelia, that he’s committed the unpardonable sin for a journalist: Chris Hedges is a serial plagiarist. Somehow, I’m not surprised. When I heard him speak, I was convinced he was a lazy hack, and so it’s not unexpected that he’s been stealing other people’s work and presenting it as his own. Perhaps the reason his anti-atheist material has been so much less persuasive than his work in other areas is because, in this case, he’s been reduced to stealing from creationists and far right wing ideologues.

The battle for Hedges’ reputation has begun with a familiar refrain.

Kaufman went on to note the “relative positions in the journalistic community between Salon and Truthdig and between Mr. Ketcham (and his spouse) and Mr. Hedges.” Because of these “relative positions” in the hierarchy of journalism, Kaufman stressed that “the issue of commercial motives cannot be disregarded,” and cited without elaboration “possible personal, economic and commercial gain that would be derived by Salon and Mr. Ketcham from damaging the reputation of Truthdig, Mr. Hedges, the Nation and other competitive publications and authors.” Nowhere in her letter did she address the Postman correction and its implications.

Get that? Hedges and Truthdig are so lofty and prestigious that Ketcham (the fellow who noted the plagiarism) and Salon (which was planning to run the piece, and then backed down) must be doing it for the vast monetary benefit to be gained from criticizing a famous writer. That has to be the only explanation. Integrity doesn’t exist — the only possible reason for criticizing a Big Man has to be for the attention/clicks/money. Sam Harris has done this, too, as have many of the big names in the atheist community — even the same people I’ve argued have been misrepresented by hacks like Hedges. And it’s a bad argument. It doesn’t work that way. Whistleblowers and critics of the power structure do not gain from their efforts, ever.

I though this comment from mesh at Butterflies and Wheels was insightful. They’re taking about Jaclyn Glenn, who has another video out (no, not that stupid one, but a new one that I thought was pretty damned stupid, too).

The last bit is particularly revealing when you consider the frequent charges of attention-whoring for blog hits; you don’t become popular by fighting the status quo, you become popular by promoting it. If such trends are any indication the way to get hits is to rage about the castration agenda of the feminazis, blame everything except attitudes towards women for their treatment in any given circumstance, and laugh at people who receive rape threats. If someone’s a feminist just for the attention they’re doing it horribly, horribly wrong.

You don’t get fame and fortune by disagreeing with a Movement Star, you get it by hitching your wagon to them. Rather than profit, one hopes the reward is for that intangible gain of being right and true.

This is also not about hating on Hedges — I have actually liked his anti-war, anti-authoritarian message, and some of his stuff has been very good and powerful (although now, unfortunately, I have to wonder where he cribbed the good stuff). I was dismayed to see the irrational turn his mind had taken with his anti-atheism writing, and it is dismaying to see worthy ideas tainted by these bad associations.

Correcting the bad reporting

I complained about the credulous media coverage of the so-called landmark success at the Turing test yesterday. That was the first flush of press release regurgitation; fortunately, there’s been a strong rebound of sensible journalism now. Gary Marcus talks about failing the Turing test, Scott Aaronson has a chat with Eugene Goostman, and Mike Masnick really rips it a new one.

Oh, and the biggest red flag of all. The event was organized by Kevin Warwick at Reading University. If you’ve spent any time at all in the tech world, you should automatically have red flags raised around that name. Warwick is somewhat infamous for his ridiculous claims to the press, which gullible reporters repeat without question. He’s been doing it for decades. All the way back in 2000, we were writing about all the ridiculous press he got for claiming to be the world’s first "cyborg" for implanting a chip in his arm. There was even a — since taken down — Kevin Warwick Watch website that mocked and categorized all of his media appearances in which gullible reporters simply repeated all of his nutty claims. Warwick had gone quiet for a while, but back in 2010, we wrote about how his lab was getting bogus press for claiming to have "the first human infected with a computer virus." The Register has rightly referred to Warwick as both "Captain Cyborg" and a "media strumpet" and has long been chronicling his escapades in exaggerating bogus stories about the intersection of humans and computers for many, many years.

This is what has happened to journalism: the competent get fired to make room for cheap hacks who can disgorge press releases without thinking, and the qualified experts have to follow along behind, sweeping up the crap.

Media fails to pass the Turing test

I don’t get it — there are news reports everywhere credulously claiming that the Turing Test has been successfully passed, and they are all saying exactly the same thing: that over 30% of the judges couldn’t tell that a program called Eugene Goostman wasn’t a 13 year old boy from Odessa with limited language skills. We’re not hearing much about the judges, though: the most common thing to report is that one of them was actor Robert Llewellyn, who played robot Kryten in the sci-fi comedy TV series Red Dwarf.

Instead of parroting press releases, it seems to me that the actual result should be reported as a minority of poorly qualified judges in a single media-driven event were trivially fooled by a clumsy chatbot with a background story to excuse its bad grammar and flighty behavior into thinking they were talking to a real person. It’s not so much a validation of the capabilities of an AI as it is an indictment of the superficiality of this test, as implemented.

Or, if an editor really wanted a short, punchy, sensationalist title, they have permission to steal mine.

We don’t yet have transcripts of the conversation, but the text of a 2012 test of the same program are available. They are painfully unimpressive.

Albert Einstein was not your prophet

This photo has been making the rounds for a while — it’s garbage, Snopes suggests that there is no corroboration for the quote, and the commenters agreeing with the sentiment are idiots. Who are using technology to talk about it.

fakeeinsteinquote

I look at that bottom photo and see five women interacting intensely with a larger circle of human beings than just that one little clump right there — and they could very well be talking to people world-wide. I see technology as an enabler and enhancer of communication.

I look at the top photo and see an authoritarian jerk behind it, who thinks putting their words into the mouth of a famous scientist lends their opinion greater authority. It doesn’t. It’s also kind of unfair to poor old Albert.

Well, that explains everything

An expert on a news program has figured out why Rodger killed all those people.

He was gay. Also schizophrenic.

She never met him, but she’s a psychologist on Fox News. That’s enough for a diagnosis, right?

Otherwise, the consensus I’m seeing all over the place is that we don’t need more gun control, other than adding more psychological screening to the process of buying a gun. Huh. What kind of screening would catch an Elliot Rodger, but wouldn’t also cause every Tea Bagger and gonzo flying a Confederate flag from his pickup truck to be similarly prohibited from purchasing any ol’ gun they want?

What I saw on the Rodger video was a well-dressed, wealthy young man who was lucid and speaking hatred in clear language, and who was perfectly in control. If he were getting a few questions to determine if he could buy a gun, I don’t see any reason to think he wouldn’t be able to choke back the hate long enough to be approved.

For that matter, hating women or any other group probably won’t be among the criteria for denying someone a gun — imagine, a restriction that would prevent a Republican from buying a firearm!


Let’s be clear about something: I am not agreeing with this irresponsible psychologist. My point is that Elliot Rodger was as sane as your average Republican. You will not solve gun violence by locking up everyone who ever had psychological counseling.

He was also not gay. Full stop. It’s ridiculous to even bring it up.

He did not kill people because he was frustrated about not getting sex. We’ve all been there: I went through adolescence, when my hormones were sizzling at their peak, and I managed to survive years of ‘involuntary celibacy’ without so much as punching anyone. And I was a homely shy nerd who didn’t own a BMW (I had to pick up my dates in my dad’s station wagon.)

The insanity defense, the gay nonsense, and the toxic blue balls excuse are simply not valid explanations for what happened.

The real culprit in all of this is a culture of thriving misogyny, in which women are dehumanized and regarded as grudging dispensers of sex candy, who must be punished if they don’t do their job of servicing men. Elliot Rodger was a spoiled, entitled kid who had his brain poisoned with this attitude. First he learned that women are disposable, then he learned that they were evil for not having sex with him, and then he rationally put together two delusions and acted on them.

And it’s not just MRAs and PUAs that spread that poison. Every politician and media blowhard who bargains away women’s rights, who dismisses efforts to correct economic inequities, or patronizingly decides that they must manage women’s lives for them, is polluting the atmosphere further.


Yet another explanation.

Even more strangely, the proudly racist Steve Sailer – a hero to Heartiste and others in the “alt-right” wing of the manosphere – has declared that Rodger wasn’t motivated by misogyny but rather by “anti-Blondism,” and that his targeting of “ blonde sluts” in a popular sorority house was “an extremely intentional racial hate crime.” Never mind that the half-Asian Rodger idolized blonde women as superior (even as he hated them) and that his comments online are littered with rather crude, rather traditional racism against people who weren’t white.

Somehow, I’m not surprised that the scientific racists share many common causes with misogynists.

There is a lesson for women in this

I’ve been reading about the shocking dismissal of Jill Abramson, executive editor at the New York Times. It says so much about what is going wrong here: if there is any paper that personifies journalism in the US, it’s the NY Times, and at the same time we’ve been witnessing the decay in journalism as an institution, we can see the rot blooming all over the flagship. I’m not a media insider by any means, but when you see the deck sagging and one of the masts falling off, even us outsiders can see something is seriously amiss.

One of the problems is simple corporate sexism.

There are two intertwining narratives of Abramson’s downfall, and both probably have some truth to them. The story that’s gotten the most attention, of course, is about sexism. “Several weeks ago, I’m told, Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs,” Ken Auletta reported in The New Yorker. “’She confronted the top brass,’ one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was ‘pushy,’ a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect.”

She got paid less than Bill Keller? Ethically challenged, insensitive, entitled Bill Keller? Say it ain’t so. And then she dared to actually point out this problem to the corporate executives? How dare she.

I don’t think that if a man did exactly the same thing, that his pay was not equivalent to that of his predecessor, that he’d get called “pushy”. That would be a case of pointing out an unfairness, whereas women are supposed to simply accept an unfairness. She was clearly a bad woman.

She broke the clubhouse rules. She never became that mythical female boss who is assertive but not aggressive, nurturing but not mothering, not so strong that it bothers the men, but never weak like a woman.

The top quote mentions that there were two factors contributing to her firing. One was sexism. The other was independence and ethics. She was for ‘em, clearly something that put her at odds with NYT management, the newspaper that allowed Judith Miller to work until she retired.

But if Abramson’s demise is about gender, it’s also about newsroom values—and here, the implications are almost as troubling. At NYMag.com, Gabriel Sherman describes how she clashed with Thompson over native advertising or ads designed to look like editorial content. He writes about how she resisted Thompson’s push for a greater emphasis on online video, and about how she enraged him by sending a journalist to investigate his role in the unfolding Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal at the BBC, which he led before going to the Times. In all of these conflicts, she was right, and in two of them, she was defending fundamental journalist principles.

Mark Thompson is the NYT’s CEO, formerly of the BBC, where he was in charge when a documentary on Jimmy Savile, long in preparation, was squelched as just too embarrassing for management (hey, who knew the BBC and the Catholic Church would have something in common?). He’s keeping his job. The woman who thought it was newsworthy to investigate a cover up is fired.

So clearly, the lesson from this story is that if you are a woman in journalism, you must be submissive and you must abandon any sense of what is right. I guess working while female at the NYT is a bit like having a role in Fifty Shades of Gray.

Somebody put a slight check on the Daily Mail? Unbelievable.

Kate Stone was the victim of a genuinely bizarre accident: she startled a deer as she was walking home one night, and it charged her and gored her in the throat with its antlers. That’s weird and kind of perversely newsworthy, so take a look at the headlines describing the stabbing.

With honourable exceptions, such as the BBC, coverage in the British media majored on Stone’s transgender status: "Deer spears sex-swap Kate"; "Sex swap scientist in fight for life"; and "Sex-swap scientist gored by stag."

It must be interesting to know that if one is transgender, you can almost die in a spectacularly unusual encounter with an exotic animal, and all the news will be focused on your crotch. I’ve done a lot of interviews, and strangely, not one has dwelt at length on my sex. I suspect I could die and my obituary here in Morris might not even mention that I’m a man, unless they use a masculine pronoun somewhere in it.

Say, isn’t that an example of something called privilege?

Anyway, the good news is that the newspapers’ offenses were so blatant that they’ve actually admitted that they were in the wrong, and the articles have been withdrawn.

Now, as a result of a landmark negotiation with the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), six national newspapers – the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, the Sun, the Scottish Sun, the Daily Record and the Daily Mirror – have agreed that the "sex swap" headlines and the reference to Stone’s transgender status were inappropriate.

They acknowledged that such references constituted a direct breach of the discrimination clause in the PCC editors’ code. The code states that details of an individual’s transgender status "must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story". All such references were subsequently withdrawn from the newspapers’ online stories.

The Daily Mail confessed to going too far and publishing inappropriate, sensationalist garbage? Stop the presses! That’s real news!

The truth only bullies liars

Gah. SE Cupp. She is the worst: a right-wing atheist who fully supports the dishonesty of the Fox News types, and who has no regard for reality. Atheists who bury themselves in a new set of delusions sicken me.

She got into an argument with Bill Nye — that’s a bad sign, since the last loon he had to put down was Ken Ham. She was really peeved that those “science guys” keep confronting climate change denialists with facts. Science bullies her ideological cronies!

“Isn’t it a problem when science guys attempt to bully other people?” Cupp asked Nye. “Nick here had to say, ‘I’m not a denier.’ He had to get it out: ‘I’m not a denier.’ Because really, the science group has tried to shame anyone who dares question this, and the point I’m trying to make is, it’s not working with the public.”

This was after she threw up some statistics, that only 36% of the American public think global warming is a serious threat to their way of life. I’d have two replies to that: 1) polling data on what a deluded public thinks is not a measure of the truth, and 2) the problem here isn’t scientists explaining the science, it’s propagandists like Cupp using dishonest media like Fox News or Heritage Foundation tracts to cast fear, uncertainty, and doubt over the evidence.

Watch the encounter and see Cupp hopelessly outclassed.

Best part of the interview? This exchange:

nyenamite