Right-wing lies flourish on their propaganda organs

Wheee! I’m featured on OneNewsNow, the Far Right Christian online ‘news’ organization. It’s the same old thing.

University of Minnesota-Morris Professor Paul Z. Myers has encouraged students to gather up and trash all copies of an independent student newspaper [Not true. I said the university ought to prohibit their racist rag in the same way we would refuse the Ku Klux Klan the right to insult our non-white students on campus] with which he disagrees [Not true. I said we do have conservatives on campus; the basis of my disagreement wasn't their politics, but the racism of this particular small group of extremists. And also their incompetence.]. The politically radical [Sorry, no. I'm pretty much a rock solid liberal/progressive. Not very radical at all.] professor blogged that the Morris NorthStar student newspaper was a disgrace and has "worn out its welcome and must go."[Correct! When your approach is to hide behind Trayvon Martin's corpse and accuse university administrators of racism because they aren't nice enough to white people…you're not really bright enough or responsible enough to appreciate an education, let alone benefit from it.]

"We ask UMM to publicly condemn these instances of theft and destruction [They did!], investigate what happened [They did! Although I haven't seen any evidence that this 'theft' even occurred; it was a free paper, widely distributed across campus, and all of a sudden, we have known far-right media clowns claiming some were "stolen". Really? How could you tell?], and prosecute those responsible, [Yes, even if it is a stunt by the students who put out the North Star. So why are you harassing me? I had nothing to do with it.]" Theriot says. "The university must take steps to protect the NorthStar [Not necessarily. They could also banish it from campus as a disruptive, dishonest, and scurrilous pile of shit.] and all other student publications from such viewpoint-based [Is that what Republicans are calling their racism now?] censorship [There is no evidence of censorship! Saying it over and over again doesn't make it true.] in the future."

While copies of the newspaper were being stolen, trashed, and defaced, ADF attorney David Hacker says the university quietly stood by.[Again: no evidence of theft, except the claim by the North Star. It's a free paper that students were encouraged to take. What was the university supposed to do, put guards around the distribution racks and yell at anyone who takes a copy?]

It is simply bizarre. The university throughout has repudiated any attempt to destroy the paper; the chancellor sent out a campus-wide email saying so way back in December. They’ve got no case against the university. I used my free speech rights to say that the paper is garbage and that we ought to have some standards and reject the distribution of the libelous, poorly written crap, and yet they’re claiming that there must be an absolute right to free speech everywhere and at all times. They are going to have a hard time making a case that a free paper could be or even was stolen, and they’ve made this patently bogus case against me based on the idiot editor’s claim that there was a sciencey smell around one of the racks. That’s it. A contrived and implausible claim by a dope with an agenda, and that’s what these right-wingers are leaping upon.

It’s the same dishonest O’Keefeian tactics again. We’re just waiting for someone to ask if these people have any decency at all.

I hate the HuffPo, too. I hate them all.

My complaint about Salon seemed to resonate with a lot of people…but then we acquired some wackaloon named Johny in the comments, raving about auras and magic energy sources and all kinds of idiocy, and then he reminds me that there is a site far worse than Salon: the Huffington Post. Ariana Huffington plunged deep into the worst aspects of tabloid journalism and, damn it, she was successful…and now every left-leaning news site seems to be diving in right after her.

Johny cited this article as some kind of touchstone of reason: 8 Ancient Beliefs Now Backed By Modern Science (yeah, notice the listicle click bait — I am now so conditioned by hatred of that format that I avoid any link that begins with a number, but here I go, linking to it.)

It’s an awful list.

There are things that are trivial in it, things that are ambiguous and misinterpreted, and things that are just plain wrong. Here’s what Huffington says has been confirmed by science:

Helping others can make you healthier.

She cites a single study that somehow confirmed that helping others improved your health and longevity on a genetic level. The study was done with phone interviews.

Acupuncture can restore balance to your body.

Again, she cites a single study, a meta-analysis of the whole dubious mess of acupuncture studies. It concludes, actually, that acupuncture is no better than placebo.

We need the support of a community in order to thrive.

Again, another meta-analysis that found that health is correlated with strong social networks. There is a big problem with these studies: they don’t know cause and effect. It is unfortunately true that one common consequence of serious illness is loss of mobility, loss of connection, and changes in social activity, so yes, if you study sick and dying people, you often find that they are isolated and alone. It doesn’t mean that being alone makes you sick.

Tai chi can help alleviate a variety of health conditions.

Same story. Physical activity and maintaining mobility are good for you. Tai chi is nothing special — get out and take a walk, go square dancing, swim.

Meditation can help you reduce stress and discover inner peace.

Right. Taking a break and focusing on something other than the stressors in your life helps you relax. You don’t need to babble about Tibetan Buddhism to know this.

Compassion is the key to a meaningful life.

Compassion is part of it. But I’ve found a little rigor, aggression, and pursuit of uncomfortable truths to be far more meaningful.

Accepting what you can’t change is key to reducing suffering.

Yay! Platitudes!

All you need is love.

Yay! Beatles lyrics!

Turns out you also need oxygen, food, water, shelter, good health, and security, but I’m happy to allow these loons to try to live on Tai chi, acupuncture, kumbayah, and love. And since it is the HuffPo, apparently you also need celebrity gossip, clickbait, and religious fluff.

So as all media descends into lowest-common-denominator Idiot America noise, where do we go for actual information? This is what worries me. All of the media, not just the obvious examples like the History and Discovery channels on TV, seem to be sinking into the abyss of patent misinformation. Don’t tell me about the New York Times, which publishes kooks like Douthat and Brooks; it used to be the national standard, but it’s long been crippled by an attitude that it can do no wrong, and by a pretense of false objectivity.

I’m a little happier with the BBC and Al Jazeera; if I want informed opinion, I turn to Maddow or Pierce. Who or what do you read to keep abreast of news and politics? Let me know; we’ve got to start ignoring the idiots like the HuffPo, and start corrupting a new set of opinionators with popularity.

Salon sucks so bad

I give up. I’ve deleted my bookmarks to Salon. The final straw: two articles published today that are appalling in their inanity.

First up is Charles Darwin’s Tragic Error: Hitler, Evolution, Racism, and the Holocaust. Just the title tells you it’s a dishonest pile of crap. Most of it has nothing at all to do with Darwin (so why are they blaming him?), but here’s the key graf:

Modern racism had several different intellectual sources, and only with difficulty could one say which of these was most important. I will focus here on the “scientific” strand of racism, which drew its inspiration from Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection. Several factors dictate this emphasis on Darwinian racism. First, Darwinist racism explicitly motivated Hitler and many other leading perpetrators of the Holocaust. Second, Darwin inspired the researchers, most notably in biology and anthropology, who gave racism its aura of scientific certainty. Third, Darwinian thought may well have been more popular in Germany than anywhere else during these years, in part because Germany was the world’s leading center of biological research before World War I and the Germans were exceptionally literate. Finally, Darwinist racism was the brand of racism most easily understood by the widest number of people, in part because Darwin’s theory was astonishingly simple and easy to explain.

Right. “Several different intellectual sources,” but notice the absence of any mention of the Catholic or Lutheran churches, which were far more powerful sources for promoting anti-semitism. All the author has is the claim that Hitler’s racism was “inspired” by Darwin.

No, it wasn’t. Hitler did not make scientific arguments; he did not cite or credit Darwin; he did think God was peachy-keen and justified his actions on behalf of the right German people. His actual sources did not much care for Darwin.

RationalWiki has a good discussion of the subject. In particular, it discusses Houston Stewart Chamberlain — you cannot seriously discuss Hitler’s race arguments without referencing Chamberlain, and it’s a sure sign of a hack when Darwin is given more blame than Chamberlain.

Houston Stewart Chamberlain was an influence on Hitler’s antisemitism. In Chamberlain’s book, “Foundations of the Nineteenth Century” he wrote of “A manifestly unsound system like that of Darwin …” (Author’s Introduction, page lxxxviii), “… Darwinian castles in the air …” (First Part, Division II, Fourth Chapter, “Scientific Confusion” volume 1, footnote beginning on page 264), “… no tenable position can be derived even from the most consistent, and, therefore, most shallow Darwinism.” (Second Part, Ninth Chapter, “Historical Criterion” volume 2, pages 215-216)

The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, an infamous anti-Semitic fraud of some influence, includes Darwin among the Jewish conspiracies:

“Protocol 2: … 3. Do not suppose for a moment that these statements are empty words: think carefully of the successes we arranged for Darwinism, Marxism, Nietzsche-ism. To us Jews, at any rate, it should be plain to see what a disintegrating importance these directives have had upon the minds of the GOYIM.”

The Salon article is the kind of ahistorical hackery I’d expect from the Discovery Institute.

The second article reflects Salon’s recent dumbassed pandering of religion: Science Doesn’t Disprove God: Where Richard Dawkins and New Atheists Go Wrong. It’s embarrassingly bad. The authors argument is that science cannot build an AI, therefore God had to have created consciousness.

No, seriously. That’s his argument.

The question about consciousness is key to everything we are discussing. Modern cognitive science relies on the principles of evolution and posits that consciousness is something that can be produced artificially. Life-forms become more and more advanced through evolution, and eventually consciousness is the outcome. Thus, many cognitive science practitioners believe that machines can develop a consciousness as well, although this has never happened. Consciousness has never been produced in the lab, not even close.

That is not the basis of the anti-dualist argument. We expect that an AI could be constructed, but the reasons that we think the mind is a natural product of the activity of the brain rest on knowledge of how the brain works, how damage and chemical modification affect consciousness, and the mapping of activity in the brain to thought.

I don’t know of any biologist or atheist who is waiting to see a conscious machine before concluding that the mind is a product of the brain; there is simply no expectation that that is a necessary prerequisite. But this wanker is throwing out all of neuroscience because this one experiment can’t be done with current technology. OK, and the stars are only 500,000 miles from the Earth, and you can believe that right now because we haven’t built a starship to fly to Alpha Centauri.

He then makes the usual arguments from ignorance: gosh wow, but you can’t possibly create Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, Picasso’s Guernica, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, or the palaces on Venice’s Grand Canal with brains made of meat, because they’re just too beautiful, therefore…

Therefore… (can you possibly guess what?)

Therefore…GOD. (You couldn’t possibly have seen that coming, could you?)

An alternative explanation is that God gave us the mental abilities and that extra something we use in making decisions and in creating great works of art, sublime music, magnificent architecture, beautiful literature, and science and mathematics. Our incredible brains can do all these things because they contain some ingredients that science has not yet found or explained and whose origin remains one of the deepest mysteries in all of science.

Fuck me. I can’t read this bullshit anymore. The Salon editors are just letting drivel through now.

Scientists can’t build a conscious robot yet, but God-diddlers can imagine superpowerful beings that are magically inserting thoughts into our heads, therefore theology wins.

That’s a terrible chart

I wish I’d had this a few weeks ago, when I was telling students how not to present their data. This is a chart illustrating the effects of stand-your-ground-laws on murder in Florida.

badfloridagundeaths

I glanced at that and thought, “Whoa, surprise: the stand-your-ground-laws had a pretty dramatic effect in reducing murder. I did not expect that at all.”

And then I was a bit disappointed: “But they really should have set the Y axis at zero. It’s a bit misleading and magnifies the apparent effect, otherwise.”

And then I did a double-take: “They inverted the freaking Y axis!”

That’s right. It doesn’t show a decline, it shows a dramatic spike in murder after the law was passed. The text in the article actually says that clearly, but the chart was actively selling the opposite message. They’ve since added a corrected chart that actually makes the point clearly, instead of obscuring it.

betterfloridagundeaths

I took away two points. It’s really easy to lie with graphics, and shouldn’t any evidence-based legal system recognize the consequences of passing a bad law and correct itself?


More from a data visualization expert.

#upfordebate: @DonLemon Did a chupacabra eat Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?

It’s kind of neat how a twitter hashtag and my contempt for cable news are colliding right now. Apparently, True Skeptics™ are supposed to be willing to debate anything and everything, even if it gives unwarranted credibility to nonsense. The True Skeptics™ must be loving CNN right now, because with the unexplained disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, they are just going to town with weird speculation. Everyone seems to be doing it.

So cable news has to fill up 24 hours of endless talk with something, and this is the perfect opportunity for them: call in a panel of ‘experts’, have an open-minded moderator who feeds all the speculation, and then blather away in the complete absence of information. CNN bubblehead Don Lemon has become the go-to guy for every crazy theory out there, going so far as to ask about the possibility of a supernatural explanation, and here he is babbling about black holes, the Bermuda Triangle, and the Twilight Zone.

There are six nobodies sitting in on this panel. If I were one of them, I would not say that the ideas were unlikely but that I just love the theories — I’d stand up, throw off my microphone, and flip off Don Lemon as I left the set.

Open-mindedness to a degree is a virtue, but not to such an extent that it’s like you’ve got an open head wound and are stumbling about hemorrhaging copiously and smearing flecks of greasy brain tissue on the walls you’re bumping into.

This is why I don’t watch any of the 24 hour news channels. It’s like a bad zombie movie come to life.

Watching Nate Silver squander his reputation

Nate Silver is putting together this journalism startup, and it’s already on the path to failure. I mentioned his oblivious sexism the other day, and now we learn the name of the ‘science’ writer he’s bringing to to cover the environment.

Nate Silver’s highly anticipated data-driven news site FiveThirtyEight launched on Monday, with a controversial figure covering science issues. Silver has brought on Roger Pielke, Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, as a contributing writer – a political scientist who comes with a long history of data distortion and confrontations with climate scientists.

That last sentence is a lovely example of understatement. Pielke, both Jr. and Sr., are denialist kooks.

I don’t think I’ll bother reading FiveThirtyEight. “Data-driven,” hah.

How Grantland totally failed

The only thing keeping me from assuming that Grantland, which published that awful outing of a transgender woman, is a haven of unethical wankerism, is that one of their writers, Christina Kahrl, seems to get it.

It was not Grantland’s job to out Essay Anne Vanderbilt, but it was done, carelessly. Not simply with the story’s posthumous publication; that kind of casual cruelty is weekly fare visited upon transgender murder victims in newspapers across the country. No, what Hannan apparently did was worse: Upon making the unavoidable discovery that Vanderbilt’s background didn’t stand up to scrutiny, he didn’t reassure her that her gender identity wasn’t germane to the broader problems he’d uncovered with her story. Rather, he provided this tidbit to one of the investors in her company in a gratuitous “gotcha” moment that reflects how little thought he’d given the matter. Maybe it was relevant for him to inform the investor that she wasn’t a physicist and probably didn’t work on the stealth bomber and probably also wasn’t a Vanderbilt cut from the same cloth as the original Commodore. But revealing her gender identity was ultimately as dangerous as it was thoughtless.

What should Grantland have done instead? It really should have simply stuck with debunking those claims to education and professional expertise relevant to the putter itself, dropped the element of her gender identity if she didn’t want that to be public information — as she very clearly did not — and left it at that. “That would have been responsible,” transgender activist Antonia Elle d’Orsay suggested when I asked for her thoughts on this road not taken. It’s certainly the path I would have chosen as a writer making this sort of accidental discovery, or would have insisted upon as an editor.

The editor of Grantland, Bill Simmons, on the other hand…ouch. He’s got a long, long mea culpa out that at least clearly admits that they screwed up, but also admits that the problem runs very deep.

Before we officially decided to post Caleb’s piece, we tried to stick as many trained eyeballs on it as possible. Somewhere between 13 and 15 people read the piece in all, including every senior editor but one, our two lead copy desk editors, our publisher and even ESPN.com’s editor-in-chief. All of them were blown away by the piece. Everyone thought we should run it. Ultimately, it was my call. So if you want to rip anyone involved in this process, please, direct your anger and your invective at me. Don’t blame Caleb or anyone that works for me. It’s my site and anything this significant is my call. Blame me. I didn’t ask the biggest and most important question before we ran it — that’s my fault and only my fault.

So it was run past more than a dozen editors at Grantland, and none of them had a problem with the fact that it was all about othering a trans woman, a woman who killed herself over the story? Wow. Grantland really sucks.

He’s also still making excuses for Caleb Hannan.

As for Caleb, I continue to be disappointed that we failed him. It’s our responsibility to motivate our writers, put them in a position to succeed, improve their pieces as much as we possibly can, and most of all protect them from coming off badly. We didn’t do that here. Seeing so many people direct their outrage at one of our writers, and not our website as a whole, was profoundly upsetting for us. Our writers don’t post their stories themselves. It’s a team effort. We all failed. And ultimately, I failed the most because it’s my site and it was my call.

That’s nice. Right. As he explains, Hannan was writing this long independent piece on a putter that didn’t gel for them until he added this twist that the designer was exposed as one of those weird trans people, making it supposedly compelling and interesting…to a large team of editors that didn’t include one member of the trans community. Yeah, Grantland has a big problem, but that doesn’t excuse Hannan at all.

I’ll also point out the assessment of the article by Boing Boing. The story wasn’t that good; it relied on bringing out a string of gotchas culminating in the big weird reveal of a dead trans woman.

Another thing: critics keep saying that Hannan’s article was great storytelling, hiding terrible ethics. No. It’s a lurid mess. It’s written and paced like a 90’s-era daytime TV thriller, copying the structural and sensational qualities of other works without caring for how and why they work.

As for me, I continue to be disappointed that Grantland failed Dr V.

What the heck is wrong with Caleb Hannan?

Hannan is a sports writer who was writing a story about the design of a golf putter. Not my cup of tea, but OK, there are interesting physics and ergonomic issues there. Unfortunately, his story got side-tracked from the relevant and interesting and into the destructively personal by his bigotry.

The designer of the golf club was a Dr V. It was clear from their communications that Dr V was rather pretentious and committed to maintaining her privacy, insisting that any story be about the product not the developer, but she was also extremely helpful, making a custom club for Hannan and giving him help in using it. The club is apparently very good*, so it’s quality wasn’t misrepresented…but Hannan does some background work and discovers that Dr V had lied about her qualifications.

That’s legitimate for a journalist to do. A story about a mysterious designer who isn’t everything she claims to be, but has designed some great sports equipment? Sure. That’s a reasonable story.

But, sad to say, the story he wrote is centered rather differently, and reveals a great deal about Hannan’s biases and preconceptions. In an interview with another source, he learns something he considers horrible.

He was clearly trying to tell me something, which is why he began emphasizing certain words. Every time he said “she” or “her” I could practically see him making air quotes. Finally it hit me. Cliché or not, a chill actually ran up my spine.

“Are you trying to tell me that Essay Anne Vanderbilt was once a man?”

It took a moment for him to respond.

A couple of guys making air quotes about personal pronouns, and a “chill” running down his spine at the discovery that Dr V was a trans woman? I wonder if Caleb Hannan has figured out yet why Dr V was so insistent on keeping her self out of the story. Could it be because that’s how so many people react to her identity?

But no, Hannan just discovered that he now had a great hook for his story.

What began as a story about a brilliant woman with a new invention had turned into the tale of a troubled man who had invented a new life for himself.

Hannan told Dr V what he was going to publish. She was rightfully furious. If the science behind this putter was bogus, that would be reason for her to be angry at being exposed, but I’d support Hannan’s decision to publish it — using false credentials is news. But instead what was going to be a key point in this story was the unwilling outing of a trans woman, and especially given Hannan’s attitude that this was something “weird”, that should have been off-limits. Yes, tell me if someone is faking a degree from MIT. But a trans woman is not faking being a woman; she’s also not doing that for personal profit, but is instead entering a life of peril and contempt, as Hannan’s reaction shows.

Before the story was published, Dr V, Essay Anne Vanderbilt, committed suicide.

Caleb Hannan went ahead and published the story, complete with personal information about the woman, using masculine pronouns, referring to her by her previous name, and with the appalling gall of closing the story by calling it a “eulogy”. You would think having your subject kill herself over what you were doing would make you rethink; maybe go back and remove the sensationalism out of respect for the dead, and maybe recognize the magnitude of your bigotry and realize that you were letting that all hang out in the story, too. But no; he just went ahead and outed a dead trans woman against her will, and his editors also didn’t see a problem with printing it.

Oh, I know what’s wrong with Caleb Hannan. He doesn’t have a speck of conscience or empathy.

Melissa McEwan has an excellent summary of the unconscionable Mr Hannan’s actions. It was just a “strange” story to him, but it was Dr V’s life.


Here’s another good piece on this story: Dr. V Is Dead, Caleb Hannan Is Celebrated: Why We Can’t Accept Lazy, Transmisogynistic Journalism. A bit at the beginning really captures the depth of Hannan’s thinking.

A few hours later, when Wire editor Bill Wasik suggested on Twitter that Hannan’s investigation of Dr. V’s work and life contributed to her death, he replied “ouch.”

“Ouch.” A woman driven to suicide by Hannan’s article, and he says, “ouch.”


*The quality of the club is complicated. He raves about it at first, but then later says that maybe it was psychological — he thought it was great when he thought the designer was a physicist, but now it’s just gathering dust in his garage. He doesn’t consider the other side of the psychology: that maybe he’s avoiding using it since discovering that the designer was trans, and he clearly finds that creepy.