Statement on Richard Carrier’s voluntary departure from our network

The FtB Ethics Committee has released an official statement on the departure of Richard Carrier from our network.

Freethought Blogs unequivocally condemns any behavior that threatens the safety of atheist community members, including particularly marginalized groups. Freethought Blogs also recognizes the role of sexual harassment as one of numerous barriers for women that limits access to and participation within atheist conferences and spaces.

When the recent allegations against Richard Carrier were made public, Freethought Blogs initiated a process to investigate these claims and formalize its policy concerning the conduct of its members. The FtB Ethics Committee received several reports of Carrier’s behavior and was in the process of reviewing them when Carrier chose to leave the network. A thorough review of the allegations against Carrier cannot be completed by Freethought Blogs without his cooperation.

As part of our commitment to equitable access to freethinking spaces for all, Freethought Blogs members who violate our commitment to social justice by creating or maintaining barriers to participation will be removed from the network as a matter of policy. All reports submitted to us in furtherance of this policy will be kept in the strictest of confidence, unless the accusation was made publicly or in the event we have express permission to reproduce the complaint.

-The FtB Ethics Committee

What better way to celebrate our toxic orange presidential candidate?

macncheetos

Horrifying.

Burger King, the restaurant chain backed by 3G Capital and Warren Buffett, will begin selling deep-fried sticks of macaroni and cheese encrusted in Cheetos-flavored breading, part of a trend toward blending fast food with well-known snack brands.

Cheesy, commercial, and artificially colored — it should be the official snack food of the Republican party.

I’d make one addition. It should be sold with little cups of vividly yellow Velveeta cheese goo, so you could dip it and put a little swirl of mysterious fulvous color on top.

#CVG2016…next week!

CVG Crescent Logo Purple - RGB transp bkgd

I need this: a relaxing weekend in the company of nerds at Convergence. I’ll be on four panels, talking science:

Th 12:30pm The Reproducibility Problem: How Serious is it?
Th 2:00pm What Does God Need With a Starship?
Th 3:30pm Twin Connection: Myth, Science and Confirmation Bias
Fr 2:00pm Our Place in Space

I’ll be attending lots more, sittin’ back, enjoying the conversation. And I’m easily drawn into discussions, so feel free to talk to me. I’ll also be cruising the party rooms, and stopping in now and then for the science demos and crafts at SkepchickCon.

You might also be able to hit me up for badge ribbons (I’m getting a little nervous that they haven’t arrived yet) — I’ll have one for Freethinkers and another for you Pharyngula readers. See you all there!

Richard Carrier’s blog

One of our writers, Richard Carrier, has been banned from Skepticon for “his repeated boundary-pushing behavior”. This is, obviously, a serious accusation, and we’ve been investigating further. We now have several first-hand reports of persistent, obnoxious sexual behavior in defiance of specific requests that he cease. We believe his accusers.

Here at Freethoughtblogs, we are sex-positive, but we are also committed to the principle of consensual sexual behavior. We go further, and beyond demanding that there always be consent, we also insist on respect for your partners. No means no, not just because it’s held as a dogmatic rule, but because it reflects a sincere appreciation of the autonomy of other people. We cannot tolerate violations of this essential principle.

While Dr Carrier has been a valued contributor to this network, we have to demand support of that principle in actions as well as words. After a review of the evidence so far, Richard Carrier’s posting privileges have been suspended, pending further evaluation, and all comments on his blog have been closed.

If you wish to make a testimonial, pro or con, about Dr Carrier, you can send them to me in confidence. We will consider all the evidence before making a final decision on his case.

We also support Skepticon and their commitment to equality and justice. If you do too, donate.

There aren’t enough facepalms in the world for this

lawnmower

Here’s a story of a gun-fondling nitwit compounding mistake upon mistake.

First, he thinks his hobby of shooting bullets at things very fast is fascinating enough that he brings along someone to record his manly bang-bangs.

Secondly, he has a target: a lawnmower. Why a lawnmower? Does he just hate yardwork? Maybe it was an evil lawnmower.

Thirdly, the lawnmower is not sufficiently exciting, so he packs it with three pounds of high explosives.

You know, lawnmowers on their own can be dangerous: when running, they can send rocks flying; I once had a lawnmower blade break in normal operation, and a chunk went flying and imbedded itself in a tree. But at least this guy didn’t have it running. I don’t think. Then, of course, there’s the problem of firing a rifle at a solid metal object, the engine. I would think there’s some risk of ricochets there.

But no, all that is irrelevant. He packed it with explosives. All the other safety concerns become moot.

He shot it, it exploded, sharp pieces of metal went flying everywhere (surprise!), and shrapnel severs one of his legs.

He did something incredibly stupid, but didn’t deserve maiming. Maybe someone will learn that demolishing stuff with firepower isn’t entertaining or clever, though.

So that’s what they’re all praying for

We’ve been seeing a lot of that vague “thoughts & prayers” rhetoric lately, which always makes me wonder what they’re praying for, in addition to what praying will accomplish. Digital Cuttlefish has the answer:

See, for months and years they’ve blustered, and they’ve pandered to their base,
Spouting biblical allusions which they’ll try now to erase
If the motive here was bigotry, as cannot be denied,
The senators’ own rhetoric is on the shooter’s side
So they’re praying, and they’re praying, and they’ll pray a little more
That the people won’t remember what they said a week before

At least we’re not the only ones who think “moments of silence” and “thoughts and prayers” are abominations.

One of those days…

I was up half the night with a toothache, so I’m off to the dentist for an emergency fix. I’m lucky — I have dental insurance. I’ve known people who suffered with this kind of thing for months before being able to get in and get taken care of, because America.

Then after that, there’s a vigil on campus for the Orlando victims — 4:30 in the student union. If you’re in the area, you’re welcome to stop by. We’re having this event also because America.

Flattery just awakens me to the greater potential for failure

I get so much hate mail that I’ve become numb to it — I check it out in case there are grounds for amusement in it, and then automatically hit delete. Delete, delete, delete, delete…and sometimes I get lazy and just “select all” and then delete once. And then every once in a great while, I get a nice email, which mainly stirs up feelings of puzzlement. I have to stare at it and try to decipher the words, and all the while I’m wondering whether I’m being trolled or set up, or whether I’m being blasted with sarcasm. I can take the hate in stride nowadays, but pleasant email gives me a sensation akin to a stifled hiccup or sneeze, and it’s a little distressing.

I think there’s probably something wrong with my head after too many years of this. I should probably get therapy, but if I started caring what the assholes said about me it might be fatal.

Anyway, just because it’s unusual, I include the content of the message below.

[Read more…]

I must be a lousy teacher

Because my student evaluation of teaching scores are pretty good. Not the best, but OK. And SETs are terrible ways to assess teaching.

These kinds of evaluations are ubiquitous in the US university system, and they kind of drive me crazy: we’re expected to report the details of these numerical scores in our annual reports, I’ve been in meetings where we drone on about the statistics of these things, and of course everyone is expected to get above average scores on them. Personally, I find them totally useless, have no idea how to get a number 5 to a number 6, and basically ignore (except when making my yearly bureaucratic obeisance) the trivial 5 question numerical, so-called “quantitative” part of the student evaluations. What is far more useful are the short comments students get to make on the form: that actually tells me what parts of the class some students disliked, and what parts they found memorable and useful.

I’m not alone. Others find them useless, for good reasons.

There is one important difference between customer evaluations of commercial and educational service providers. Whereas with commercial providers ratings are unilateral, ratings are mutual in the education system. As well as students evaluating their teachers, instructors evaluate their students – such as by their exam performance. In US studies, these ratings have been found to be positively correlated: students who receive better grades also give more positive evaluations of their instructors. Furthermore, courses whose students earn higher grade point averages also receive more positive average ratings.

Proponents of SETs interpret these correlations as an indication of the validity of these evaluations as a measure of teacher effectiveness: students, they argue, learn more in courses that are taught well – therefore, they receive better grades. But critics argue that SETs assess students’ enjoyment of a course, which does not necessarily reflect the quality of teaching or their acquisition of knowledge. Many students would like to get good grades without having to invest too much time (because that would conflict with their social life or their ability to hold down part-time jobs). Therefore, instructors who require their students to attend classes and do a lot of demanding coursework are at risk of receiving poor ratings. And since poor teaching ratings could have damaging effects at their next salary review, instructors might decide to lower their course requirements and grade leniently. Thus, paradoxically, they become less effective teachers in order to achieve better teaching ratings.

The article goes on to show that by several criteria, what student evaluations actually assess is the easiness of a course, and how little the students are challenged by the material.

There’s more to it than that, of course. My campus has a lot of faculty who have won teaching awards, and we have a reputation for being demanding and resisting the trend towards grade inflation, and I know many of them are getting their high SET scores by being engaging and enthusiastic and making students think. Those are important aspects of teaching. But we ought to also be measuring faculty effectiveness at teaching the material, and those little forms don’t do it.

Because student ratings appear to reflect their enjoyment of a course and because teacher strategies that result in knowledge acquisition (such as requiring demanding homework and regular course attendance) decrease students’ course enjoyment, SETs are at best a biased measure of teacher effectiveness. Adopting them as one of the central planks of an exercise purporting to assess teaching excellence and dictating universities’ ability to raise tuition fees seems misguided at best.

Now throw in the fact that SETs are systematically biased against women faculty and that students tend to downgrade minority faculty (they are reflecting cultural biases all too well), and you’ve got a whole grand tower of required makework that doesn’t do the job, and also reinforces trends that we all say we oppose.