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.

Amoral ignorance

We’re having a Catholic sex abuse scandal here in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and I’m learning lots of interesting things. Did you know that you can rise to the level of archbishop in the Catholic hierarchy without learning that it is illegal for priests to have sex with kids? They just didn’t know it was bad to stick your penis into 8 year old boys. Maybe they thought it was a perk of the job.

The Minnesota lawsuit was filed by a man who claimed a priest abused him during the 1970s, and Carlson told the plaintiff’s attorneys that his understanding of those accusations had changed over the years.

“I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not,” Carlson said. “I understand today it’s a crime.”

The accuser’s attorneys asked Carlson whether he knew in 1984, when he was an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, that it was illegal for priests to have sex with children.

“I’m not sure if I did or didn’t,” Carlson said.

If you have to ask yourself whether it’s OK to have sex with children, I think it’s pretty obvious that you don’t know that it’s wrong.

So, so far we’re learning that Catholic priests don’t learn about the ethics of raping children, or of throwing their dead bodies into a septic tank. What exactly do they teach in Catholic seminaries? Actually, push that back, since most of us learned that this kind of behavior would be bad so long ago that it is lost in the murk of our preschool experiences. Maybe the question should be about whether the Catholic church actively recruits psychopaths to be priests.

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.

The cosmic Neil deGrasse Tyson tour

Now that Cosmos is over, the big man is going to travel about the country, bringing enlightenment.

Best-Selling Author and Host of COSMOS to Appear in LA, D.C., Chicago and More

Tickets On Sale June 13

Chicago – June 9, 2014 – Innovation Arts & Entertainment is proud to announce that Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, the Host of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Best Selling Author, and the Director of the Hayden Planetarium, will be appearing on a six-city U.S. speaking tour. The tour will be produced by Innovation Arts and Entertainment. Renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has guided the Ship of the Imagination to transport viewers to the nucleus of an atom, and the farthest reaches of the universe as he explores humanity’s quest for understanding. The tour begins January 26, 2015 in Madison, WI, with dates also confirmed at Los Angeles’ Pantages Theatre and Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre, among others.

Tickets are on sale Friday, June 13 and available at www.NeildeGrasseTysonLive.com.

Each family-friendly event features an engaging multi-media presentation bringing the expanses of modern science direct to audience members, and engages them in a Q&A that rivals the presentation itself. In the past, he’s been asked a myriad of questions about everything from television appearances and space elevators to parenting advice. He often takes questions from children since he is fascinated with young ones who are interested in science.

The New York City native is host of StarTalk Radio and FOX’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (season finale airs June 8); he is a New York Times bestselling author of 10 books and is also a frequent guest on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. President Bush appointed Tyson in 2001 and 2004 to serve on commissions studying the future of the U.S. aerospace industry and the implementation of the U.S. space exploration policy, respectively. Tyson is also the recipient of 18 honorary doctorates and the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, the highest award given by NASA to non-government citizens.

For more information and tickets, visit www.NeildeGrasseTysonLive.com

A confirmed list of tour dates follows:

Madison, WI
Monday, January 26
Overture Center

Chicago, IL
Tuesday, January 27
Auditorium Theatre

Denver, CO
Friday, January 30
Temple Hoyne Buell

Los Angeles, CA
Monday, February 09
Pantages Theatre

San Francisco, CA
Tuesday, February 10
Orpheum Theatre

Washington D.C.
Thursday, February 26
DAR Constitution Hall

More dates and cities will be announced in the coming weeks.

I notice that there is an omission: where’s Morris, Minnesota? I’m sure that was an accident. Or perhaps it will be added to the list in the later announcement.

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.

Get ‘em young

I got to meet someone in Seattle who is working on an evolution book for four year olds — this is a great idea, because I remember shopping for kids’ books and their usual idea for introducing zoology was something about Noah’s Ark. But the real story is so much more interesting!

Rough sketches of the book, Grandmother Fish, are available online; those aren’t the final drawings, and the work will be done by KE Lewis, once funding is obtained. You can see the challenges of getting a sophisticated scientific concept across to very young children, but I think the current story does the job very well.

squeak

There will be a kickstarter later this week to get the project off the ground.

Online Gender Workshop 2*

You’ll note that we now have a separate thread for each exercise set. I won’t go back (if it’s even possible) to pull out exercises 5-8 and your responses from the first thread, but starting now we’ll be able to have people continue one discussion (on say, the video exercises, where it looks like Sundays wasn’t a great day for a lot of people) while the next begins.

Today’s exercise may be technically difficult for some of you, so I expect fewer people to complete it, but I hope everyone that joined us last week engages in the discussion. On the plus side, it requires a bit less time commitment than the video exercises, which may allow some people to catch up.

Exercise 9: Think of a gender neutral object. No. Not that one. Because gender, right? Exactly. That other one. Now you’ve got it. Ready? Sketch it. Sketch it without any context whatsoever to keep ideas about gender in relation to the object free from distractions caused by gender in relation to the context in which the object is drawn.

When finished drawing, upload that sketch somewhere (I recognize this won’t be possible for everyone).

Exercise 10: 3rd Report. Narrate a bit about choosing an object (whether or not you were able to post your sketch). Was it easy? Hard? Did the first thing that came to mind remain your choice? Now talk about the actual process of drawing. Did you stop, erase, and/or redraw at any point because of concerns that the sketch might not communicate gender neutrality?

In this report, provide a link to your sketch if you were able to upload an image.

Exercise 11: Discussion. Look at a number of the uploaded images. If there are any choices (or implementations of choice, through the image in the sketch) with which you disagree, say so. Provide an argument for gendering the object someone else considered gender neutral. If there are none with which you disagree, find someone’s comment that does disagree with one or more choices. Read that person’s argument and respond. Are you persuaded? Why or why not? You are welcome to defend your own choice in discussion, but if you do, you must do it using new arguments than the ones you made in exercise 10 when you initially discussed your choice and process.

 

Previous workshop thread. Next Workshop Thread.

*must. not. type. “:Electric Boogaloo.”

Damn you, Ed Brayton!

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.

We’re gonna need a bigger asylum

All this talk of Elliot Rodger being mentally ill is driven by the same circular reasoning: only a mentally ill person would commit mass murder, Rodger committed mass murder, therefore he was mentally ill. It’s what I said yesterday, that people think “violations of conventional mores, or doing acts that harm people, are prima facie proof of mental illness” — which, if true, would mean that atheists must all be mentally ill because they defy traditional expectations of behavior in society. You’d think we atheists would know better than to set ourselves up like that.

But here’s an even more vivid example. Rodger was a member of a group called PUAhate, a label which some people have used to argue that he must have been an anti-pickup-artist kind of guy. That’s completely wrong, of course — these were people who hated pickup-artists because their techniques don’t work, that they fail to provide easy push-button techniques to manipulate women.

Erin Gloria Ryan spent a day monitoring a chat room containing Rodger’s peers, fellow members of PUAHate. Trigger warnings galore: these people spent the day praising Rodger, wishing they could go out in a blaze of glory just like him, hating women for existing, calling them subhumans, and urging each other to go out and kill, or at least, go out and rape.

They’re wrong, they’re awful, they’re terrible people. I’m sure I couldn’t have a pleasant conversation with any of them for any length of time without storming off with a snarl on my face, and my regard for humanity suffering a precipitous decline.

But are we seriously going to diagnose them as mentally ill because they’re terrible people? Shall we slap them into straitjackets and shoot ‘em up with Prozac?

Because if that’s the path we’re going to take…we can probably lock up a few thousand World of Warcraft players, and I suspect we might easily find a million Call of Duty players who will fit this trivial online diagnosis of psychopathy. Then we can visit the Stormfront site, and get all the members there committed. All those contributors to Uncommon Descent, the intelligent design creationist blog…clearly insane. Especially Denyse O’Leary. I once visited a car forum when I was looking for a recommendation, and was appalled at the racism on display — a significant fraction of Honda drivers are clearly nuts. Oh, and Tea Party members! They all need to be rounded up and put in camps, for their own good…they must be so dysfunctional that they can’t possibly cope with the real world.

We also need to do this fast so that we become the majority, otherwise they will decide that commenters on Pharyngula are so far outside societal norms that we must be mentally ill.

Note please that I do not think that what the PUAHate crowd are saying is at all forgivable, conscionable, or defensible — I’m arguing that they are bad kids full of bad ideas. But bad is not a synonym for mentally ill. It requires a different approach to deal with corrupting ideas in a culture vs. dealing with victims of illness, and we do ourselves no favors when we so readily confuse the two categories.

Demons. It’s all demons.

Let us emulate the godly believers. We know what is right, and anything that deviates from it is…mental illness. But we might want to remember that sometimes the shoe is on the other foot.

Some people believe that atheism causes insanity.

But what about the variety of mental illness from which Richard Dawkins suffers? You see, that is the flip-side of the coin which belongs to the man on the corner who believes he is Napoleon. Dawkins may not believe he is a conquering French general, but he believes something just as preposterous. He believes that he himself does not exist. As illogical as that sounds, this is the ground which atheism is forced to defend. The worldview which insists we cannot believe (or know) anything aside from our senses is just as mentally ill as the worldview which insists that we cannot believe our senses.

Or that faith is an essential component of a mentally sound human being.

…the evidence today implies that atheism is a form of mental illness. And this is because science is showing that the human mind is hard-wired for faith: we have, as a species, evolved to believe, which is one crucial reason why believers are happier – religious people have all their faculties intact, they are fully functioning humans.

Therefore, being an atheist – lacking the vital faculty of faith – should be seen as an affliction, and a tragic deficiency: something akin to blindness. Which makes Richard Dawkins the intellectual equivalent of an amputee, furiously waving his stumps in the air, boasting that he has no hands.

Or that the root cause of what we call mental illness is an absence of god.

All Depression is caused primarily by a lack of contentment. For the Christian, depression is a lack of obedience to the command "be content with what you have". It is not accepting your current condition, whether good or bad. It is a lack of faith that God loves you. It is a lack of hope of the glories and riches of heaven awaiting. For the non-Christian, depression is a lack of faith in a creator. It is a rejecting of Jesus for faith in Darwin. Darwin said we have no purpose, design, meaning other than random chance processes. Jesus can cure the depression of the atheist because their life has meaning and eternal purpose.

That source charmingly tells us exactly what mental illness is.

The Bible clearly teaches that people suffer both physically and emotionally as a result of sinful choices. The world labels this suffering as a mental illness, but the Bible labels this suffering as the consequences of a sinful standard of morality. Mental illness is sinful conduct.

A lot of atheists seem to think that same thing: that violations of conventional mores, or doing acts that harm people, are prima facie proof of mental illness. There must be something organically wrong with their brains to cause them to engage in behaviors we don’t like. They pray? They must be crazy, that doesn’t work. At the same time, the other side is saying, “They don’t pray? They must be crazy, god must be served.” If we’re going to define mental illness as something someone judges to be bad behavior, then every single human being on the planet is crazy.

Mental illnesses are real. We can identify chemical imbalances in the brain; if you’re depressed, drugs like TCAs, MAOIs, SSRIs, and SNRIs can be effective in making people healthier. Schizophrenia is real and debilitating; there are also antipsychotic drugs that reduce the symptoms. Obsessive-compulsive disorders are real; they can be treated with certain antidepressants, but also behavioral therapy also seems to be effective in reducing the problems. We actually do have fairly concrete indicators of genuine illnesses that affect the functioning of the brain.

However, it is not helpful to categorize bad ideas as similar. Elliot Rodger was a disturbed individual, but it was not because he had a disease — it was because he had been shaped by his narrow little world to regard a host of malignant ideas as perfectly normal. Almost all Europeans and Americans once believed that black people were inferior, and used that belief to justify everything from excluding them from educational opportunities to kidnapping and slavery. Were they all insane? Or did they just have a set of false, untested beliefs that they blithely propagated from generation to generation?

One would think that atheists, at least, would be able to recognize the power of ideas to shape how people think. We live in a world where the majority give credulous credence to religious nonsense, and I think most of us recognize that it’s not a symptom of a brain disease, but of the power of socialization, indoctrination, repetition, and widespread unquestioning acceptance. If you’re willing to see that a religious idea can have such potency that people will kill and die and suffer for it, why are you unwilling to see that there are other ideologies that can misdirect minds in lethal directions? That bad stories can persuade healthy, normal people to do stupid, evil things?

I’d also like to remind my fellow atheists of another way people think.

When a 700 Club viewer asked host Pat Robertson today if she should give up proselytizing to her atheist coworker and “let her perish,” Robertson speculated that the colleague might be possessed by demons or a survivor of rape.

If the way you are using the phrase “mentally ill”, with no evidence of genuine organic illness, can be replaced freely by the word “demon-possessed” without changing the sense, then you are engaging in the same magical thinking, using a phrase with no explanatory power. You’re just using the modern materialistically correct wording to express the same old sentiment, inventing a concrete causal agent with no evidence that it actually exists. That’s something else atheists need to be aware of: the seductive power of teleological or simplistically causal thinking to the human mind.