Hobby Lobby won

Of course they did: in a court packed with Catholics and their twisted views on reproduction, it would have been a surprise if they decided otherwise. So now, the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations have a right to dictate how you manage your health care, and the corporation’s religious convictions (they can have them, apparently) trump yours.

You’re all boycotting Hobby Lobby, right? And if you work there, try to get out.


We now have the underlying truth about the decision.

thesame

Whatever happened to informed consent?

Facebook has been experimenting on us, and getting scientific publications out of us. They took advantage of their large numbers of users to do a study on more than half a million subjects on how positive and negative messages affect attitude. I was surprised — I know I could never get approval for such a project (if I were a psychologist, that is). But apparently they had IRB approval.

Did an institutional review board—an independent ethics committee that vets research that involves humans—approve the experiment?

Yes, according to Susan Fiske, the Princeton University psychology professor who edited the study for publication. 

“I was concerned,” Fiske told The Atlantic, “until I queried the authors and they said their local institutional review board had approved it—and apparently on the grounds that Facebook apparently manipulates people’s News Feeds all the time.”

Wait. I thought one simple, basic criterion was this: do the subjects know that they are in an experiment? Did they voluntarily sign up to be tested? You don’t have to spell out exactly what they’re being tested for, but they do have to understand that they are entering an artificial situation in which they are going to have some sort of evaluation done.

Oh, yeah, the APA says something like that.

When psychologists conduct research or provide assessment, therapy, counseling, or consulting services in person or via electronic transmission or other forms of communication, they obtain the informed consent of the individual or individuals using language that is reasonably understandable to that person or persons except when conducting such activities without consent is mandated by law or governmental regulation or as otherwise provided in this Ethics Code.

I’m pretty sure that when I signed up for facebook, it was to be part of social media, to interact with other people who had also signed up for the service. I don’t remember agreeing to be a guinea pig for whatever manipulations the company wanted to carry out.

But then, maybe I’m just naive. Maybe we signed over our rights and privacy to the corporations when we were five years old and joined the Chuck E. Cheese Birthday Club.

Also notice that the APA rules do have an exception. Here it is:

Psychologists may dispense with informed consent only (1) where research would not reasonably be assumed to create distress or harm and involves (a) the study of normal educational practices, curricula, or classroom management methods conducted in educational settings; (b) only anonymous questionnaires, naturalistic observations, or archival research for which disclosure of responses would not place participants at risk of criminal or civil liability or damage their financial standing, employability, or reputation, and confidentiality is protected; or (c) the study of factors related to job or organization effectiveness conducted in organizational settings for which there is no risk to participants’ employability, and confidentiality is protected or (2) where otherwise permitted by law or federal or institutional regulations.

I’d have to argue that the facebook study does not meet the exception, because it was not purely observational: they manipulated the news items that their users saw. They can’t simultaneously argue that their tinkering with facebook users’ stimuli showed an effect on attitudes, and that their tinkering did not affect their subjects. That, to me, is the key problem — not that they’re analyzing users’ interactions, but that they’re now reaching out to attempt to modify what users do.

Thunderf00t makes a good point

And I’d link to it if he didn’t throw it away at the end, and if it weren’t made to invent a false conflict with Anita Sarkeesian’s major points. His latest video attempts to mock Sarkeesian by using clips from movies and video games to show that there is a huge amount of objectification of men — as targets and victims, rather than sexual objectification — using a similar style to her videos. The thing is, though, that he’s actually confirming what she says: that media is problematic in how it presents human beings. Sarkeesian shows in her work how women are trivialized and reduced to stereotypes; Thunderf00t’s video shows how huge numbers of people, especially men, are reduced to sword and gun targets.

We’ve all seen it. There’s a guard, a minion, a redshirt in a scene, and along comes the hero or villain…there’s a short gasp, a gurgle, maybe a Wilhelm scream, and then…next scene. A human being has just been extinguished and it’s given no moral weight at all, he was simply an obstacle that needed to be removed. And it is also true that it’s almost always a man who is dismissively executed — if the security guard who got garrotted were a woman, it would have greater shock value to the audience. Or look at this list of dead red shirts in Star Trekoverwhelmingly male. Most of the few women killed had brief speaking parts in which we get to know them as people, before their tragic deaths. The men? Just statistics. Bit parts that got killed to add generic weight to a threat, but their stories were completely unimportant.

I’ve made a similar point about the glut of superhero movies. They are festivals of CGI in which mass destruction occurs, cities are reduced to rubble (by the good guys!), and nothing matters at all. Actions lack consequences. But in real life, the death of one person close to you is a traumatic event, a huge concern that can tear at you for years. Signs of a little wood rot in your house can send you into a panic and be a big drain on your finances. But in the movies, death is casual, and houses can be flattened, and we move on to our deep concerns about the hero’s love life. Or in the case of Michael Bay’s ouevre, we move on to the next giant robot and the next explosion.

It’s a real issue. I’d almost be willing to applaud Thunderf00t for bringing it up, because cheap mayhem has become a staple of movies and games. And it’s not as if media can’t be humanizing. The best movie I saw last year wasn’t The Avengers, but Nebraska; the best video game I played (although my consumption of the genre isn’t exactly thorough) was Gone Home. In both, nobody dies, nothing explodes, but I still left the experience thoughtful and impressed. This is not to say there isn’t a place for light entertainment, but why does so much of our light entertainment involve mass murder? (I know, it sells, and the population wants it.)

Where Thunderf00t screws up the message, unfortunately, is in two ways. He cherry-picks his examples to only feature movies where the perpetrator/protagonist is a woman: Kill Bill and The Matrix, for example. But the problem is that movies slaughter men indiscriminately, whether the killer is a man or a woman, and the majority of the R-rated violent thrillers feature manly men as the protagonists. There is a universal trend to treat men as expendable, but they’re generally used as faceless targets for violence; is there any genre equivalent to the slasher movie in which sexuality is the target, and women are the special, select victims of the violence, in which men are murdered? Also, and I’m sure Sarkeesian would point this out, when women are the sword- or gun-wielding hero, they are typically sexualized to the male ideal: they are young (in the case of Kick Ass, way too young), slender, attractive, not your Brienne of Tarth type. Men are also idealized to be muscular, tough, sexually charismatic. It’s all about making the protagonist someone the male audience wants to watch, not necessarily someone a woman would want to identify with.

And then Thunderf00t throws all of his good points away. He ends the video by declaring that it’s all bullshit, and laughing.

That’s what gets me about these MRAs. There are real social problems that affect men — we have expectations about how men must behave that confine their ability to respond appropriately to events. Feminists will talk about ‘toxic masculinity’, and it’s not about claiming that all men are toxic — it’s about how societal stereotypes can lead men to deny the breadth of their identities to fit a particularly obnoxious model. We can see genuine distortions of men’s roles acted out in our media, where they are either brutal butchers, or faceless, unimportant victims who can be destroyed without qualm. I could actually support a Men’s Rights movement that tried to call attention to these sorts of damaging representations, that actually dealt with unfairness fairly — that didn’t make jokes about the prison rape of men, that sincerely tried to see that child custody cases were honestly decided on what was best for the child.

But almost always, these loons destroy their own points. Thunderf00t made it clear that he doesn’t really care about the objectification of men in the media — it’s always about scoring points against the feminists. A good and productive Men’s Rights movement would be working in full partnership with feminists, each working together to end the sexism which harms both men and women. But somehow, the Men’s Rights side is dominated by asshats whose only goal is to put down those uppity women, rather than correcting an injustice.

The recent men’s rights conference confirmed that the driving force behind this incarnation of the movement isn’t men’s rights, but hating feminism. While there were a few talks that sound as if they focused on making life better for men, much of it was about demonizing feminism.

Mike Buchanan, a British men’s activist, warned that feminism was the ideology of “female supremacists, driven by misandry, the hatred of men and boys.” For 30 years, Buchanan said, “feminists have worked through the state to attack many of the pillars of civilized society,” and become “the defining ideology, of the political establishment.”

At the conference, feminism was responsible for turning wives against their husbands, bleeding them dry in divorce proceedings and separating them from their children, levying false accusations of rape and abuse against good men, or creating an ever-present culture of hatred where men are vilified.

Though men’s rights activists who hosted the conference often say sexual assault against men isn’t taken seriously, the audience laughed when speaker Fred Jones mentioned his fears about his son being raped after being arrested in New Orleans. 

“He’s kinda small and kinda cute, good looking, you know what I mean?” Jones said. “You know what they do with –” Jones cut himself off. But the audience laughed.

Why would you respond to a message about how men are victimized, by laughing at a situation where men are victimized? Perhaps MRAs would be more respectable if they actually took prison rape seriously. It’s not a joke.

Barbara Kay, a columnist for Canada’s National Post, argued that Santa Barbara shooter Elliott Rodger couldn’t have been driven by hatred of women because “he hated women because they rejected him sexually, but he also hated men because they had access to women.”

Not getting the point: how dare a slot machine reject his penis, while other penises were allowed to use the slot machine? Rodger regarded women as objects, and that was what drove his hatred — that they insisted on acting as human beings.

Rape on college campuses, she added, was a myth perpetrated by man-haters, and the concept of rape culture, how society can tacitly approve of or rationalize sexual assault, was “baseless moral panic.”

“The vast majority of female students allegedly raped on campus are actually voicing buyer’s remorse from alcohol-fueled promiscuous behavior involving murky lines of consent on both sides,” she said, drawing chuckles from the audience. “It’s true. It’s their get-out-of-guilt-free card, you know like Monopoly.” The chuckles turned to guffaws.

I’m on a college campus. I know women who were victims of sexual assault. That accusation is never delivered casually, it’s not used as an excuse, and again, it’s not a joke — these students are harmed by the event, and doubly harmed by the kind of dismissal jerks like Kay perpetuate.

And that’s why I can’t support these MRAs. They really aren’t about fighting injustices done to the rights of men, but about opposing the rights of women.

Not All Physicists

Sean Carroll criticizes those physicists who say silly things about philosophy, answering three common, and erroneous, complaints from the ‘philosophy is dead!’ mob. It’s pretty good, and I was thinking that maybe this would finally sink in, but then I read the comments. Oh, boy.

My favorite was the guy who said philosophy is pointless and that there’s nothing that a philosopher can do that a good physicist cannot. If you ever wonder why physicists have a reputation for arrogance, there it is: do they really believe that the 4+ years of graduate work required to get a Ph.D. in philosophy involves doing nothing? That has to be the case. I took a look at the degree requirements for several doctoral programs in physics: Houston, Tulsa, Stanford, and NYU (just the ones that came up first in a google search). Despite the word “philosophy” in the title “Doctor of Philosophy”, none of them require any coursework in philosophy. Not one bit.

Physics isn’t the only discipline with this flaw, though; it isn’t a requirement in any biology program that I know of, and though I’ve tried to squeeze a little bit into our undergrad biology program, there’s considerable resistance to it. In general, science programs aren’t very good at giving any introduction to philosophy — so it’s always amusing to see graduates of these programs lecturing, from their enlightened perspective, on the uselessness of this discipline they know next to nothing about.

I feel the same annoyance at this know-nothing attitude that I feel towards all those people who claim to know everything important about evolution — it’s so easy, they’ve mastered it with a little casual reading on the side. And then I mention a big something like drift or founder effect, or some fascinating little thing like meiotic drive, and they’re completely stumped. Didn’t know that before. But they know all about evolution, yes sir!

Some of them are physicists, too.

“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.

“no survivor privilege, just survivors”

Jen Gunter rips up George Will on his rape column. (By the way, Gunter talks frankly about her own rape: might cause extreme discomfort for some.)

I have a dream: that the editors at the Washington Post will wake up, realize that Will is a tedious, stupid asshole and will fire him, and replace him with someone like Jen Gunter. With a 10% increase in salary.

It’ll never happen.

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.