I get email

I’m getting a swarm of these, all sounding nearly exactly alike. And what do you know, an idiot youtube atheist just issued a fatwah. Guys, I’d be more impressed with your claim to be unique individuals if you didn’t simply parrot some youtuber’s talking points.

Hello PZ myers. I just want to email you to ask you a few questions and to plead for sanity. I am fairly sure that I am just wasting my time and you will not respond but here I go anyways. What is the deal with your “free thought blog”? You censor comment and ban people for not agreeing with you, from what I have heard.

Oh, please, get down off the fucking cross already. It’s a really boring trope: I’ve got comments all over the place that start, “I know you will delete this comment because I disagree with you…” and strangely, they don’t get deleted. Look at any article with a lot of comments, and you won’t find it’s all a bunch of people agreeing with me — even regulars here routinely criticize me. What you always find in those long threads is one or more jackasses braying repeatedly and inciting prolonged rebuttals.

“From what I have heard”…right. Sleazy little wanker, you are. Where did you hear it? I bet I can guess.

You seem to start arguments in the atheist community, which largely serve to divide the community and make it harder for us to get in a position to actually do something about the harm that religion causes humanity. You have people on other websites talking bad about other atheists and scientists in your name.

In MY name? That doesn’t even make sense. I’m a guy with a blog and a teaching position, with zero power and authority. I write what I think, and many people agree, and many disagree.

And what atheist community? You act as if there is some monolithic institution with a few rebels causing trouble. Atheism is a chaotic mess, with many communities within it. It seems to annoy some people that I don’t join with the libertarian, anti-feminist herd, but they never seem to consider that it takes two sides to make a rift.

I am trying to be polite in this email but you seem to be starting a cult in your fan base. We all need to work together to make the world a better place. We won’t always agree 100% with everyone even in our little niche groups, if we do then that is a sign of something worse at work. I am not asking you to just go out and say “sorry I was a jerk” but you NEED to stop doing things to divide the community.

Oh, no, I’m dividing the community! I dare to point out that some members of this community are assholes, and you get to call me a jerk and tell me what to do. If you really want to do something to help humanity, then I’m afraid what you need to do is separate yourself from the anti-feminist ranters and join a group that sincerely cares about social justice, rather than using the term as an insult.

I grew up in the 1960s, and I remember a real divide — there were all these young people demanding an end to the draft and opposing war, and then there were all the people with the “America, love it or leave it” bumper stickers. And even when I was 9 years old I could see the deep logical flaw in the bumper sticker people. If you really loved the country, and you saw serious problems (like Nixon, or creationism, or misogyny), wouldn’t the appropriate response be to work to fix them, rather than denying their existence?

Yet here we have atheists who insist on the equivalent of “atheism, love it or leave it,” seeing no flaws at all, and demanding that anyone who disagrees should shut up in the name of holy unity.

Fuck that noise. I do not aim to conform.

When you let assholes be the public face of atheism, it’s no wonder we have a bad reputation

I am no fan of Bill Maher. I was extremely uncomfortable with his selection as the recipient for the Richard Dawkins Foundation award in 2009, and I could only accommodate it by telling myself it was solely for his movie, Religulous, and not a general appreciation of his asshattery. And I didn’t even like Religulous! Orac was spot on in his criticisms, and while I’d hoped to talk to Maher at some time — we were even seated at the same table — he showed up late, complained about the brand of water served at the table, did his acceptance speech, and blitzed out of the room immediately afterwards. While happy to get an award, you could tell he was completely uninterested in associating with the riff-raff of atheism.

He also showed up with an extremely attractive young woman who could have been his daughter, or even granddaughter, but was actually his date. She was pleasant to talk to, quite unlike her sugar daddy, and actually bothered to engage the table briefly in light conversation. But you could tell that Maher’s ideal woman was candy to decorate his arm in public. It also illuminates his behavior — the man has a history of sexist remarks. Is it any surprise that he has done it again?

Bill Maher benefits from the hive mind mentality of so many atheists. You cannot disagree with Bill Maher without simultaneously delivering a slap to atheism — you must not foster divisiveness. You must accept all prominent celebrities who openly embrace atheism as pure paragons of human goodness — it is simply too complicated to think that a person might have a mix of views that are sometimes appealing, sometimes repugnant. So we constantly loft up “heroes” as exemplars, failing to recognize that the essence of atheism has to be a recognition of the flawed humanity of its people, and then we end up with primitive atheists getting defensive and angry at all those critics who point at the awkward reality of those heroes, whether they’re Feynman or Maher or Sanger or whoever.

The problem is compounded by the fact that these same boosters of the Brave Hero Leader of Atheism simultaneously insist that atheism has no guiding principles or morality or goals — it’s a complete moral cipher that simply says there is no god. So sure, as long as you clearly state that there is no god, you can be sexist or racist or endorse bombing the Middle East or love Ayn Rand with all your heart or believe that the poor deserve their lot since Darwin said “survival of the fittest” (he didn’t), and still be the paradigmatic Good Atheist. In the absence of any moral principle, we can promote even moral monsters, or ascientific promoters of bunkum and quackery, to be our representatives — and if you dare to disagree, you are ‘divisive’ and ‘bickering’ and doing harm to the movement.

I am tired of it. Atheist organizations, step it up, clean up your act, and put together a clear statement of what you stand for. If it’s just that you agree that you believe there is no god, fine; if you think the only cause worth fighting for is separation of church and state, that’s a good cause and it’s reasonable to limit your goals; if you want to promote science education, I’m all for it. But I think you need to go further. You need to recognize the implications of godlessness, that there is no Chosen People, that there is no godly support for patriarchy, that everyone is equal under Nature’s law, and that that means there is a whole raft of social and political causes under your purview…and that you should have a broader statement of the meaning of atheism. I want to know what you stand for. This current vacuum of any attempt at an understanding of what atheism ought to mean is exactly what allows assholes to flourish.

I apologise for the “sugar daddy” comment, which implies that the woman had no say in the relationship. That was not my intent; Bill Maher came off as a sexist pig, but she was actually quite an interesting person. She seemed more intelligent than Maher, that’s for sure.

Shermer rides again!

Jesus. He’s written a climatological ‘Dear Muslima’ for Scientific American, defending Bjorn Lomborg. It feeds directly into a common Republican trope: ‘sure, climate change occurs, and maybe humans contribute to it, but it’s just too costly do what is necessary’. He lists a bunch of problems, and then does a “cost-benefit analysis”.

The ranking is based on a cost-benefit analysis. For example, an investment of $300 million “would prevent the deaths of 300,000 children, if it were used to strengthen the Global Fund’s malaria-financing mechanism.” Another $300 million would deworm 300 million children, and $122 million would lead to total hepatitis B vaccine coverage and thereby prevent another 150,000 annual deaths. Low-cost drugs to treat acute heart disease would cost just $200 million and save 300,000 people.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do more about climate change. But what? Both books posit technological solutions: Lomborg’s Copenhagen experts recommend spending $1 billion for research on planet-cooling geoengineering technologies; Oreskes and Conway have humanity saved by the creation in 2090 of a lichenized fungus that consumes atmospheric carbon dioxide. Whatever we do about climate, we should recognize that the world has many problems. If you are malnourished and diseased, what the climate will be like at the end of the century is not a high priority. Given limited resources, we should not let ourselves be swept away by the apocalyptic fear generated by any one threat.

I fucking hate “cost-benefit analysis” — it’s always accomplished by sweeping a lot of costs under the carpet to reach the desired conclusion. It’s such an easy way to create imaginary books that you can fudge without consequences. Do they factor in the cost of losing New Orleans and Miami? Wanna bet everything is lowballed?

The argument about other problems is bogus, too: if we could wrest government out of the control of goddamned Libertarians and Republicans, we could talk about rational policy making and trying to fund all of those projects. Does anyone really believe progressive politicians are arguing we can’t save those children because we’ve only got money for ONE project, and we can’t prioritize to support humanitarian goals? Does anyone seriously believe for one second that if we follow the Libertarian dream and spend less on carbon reduction (as if we spend enough now), that suddenly the wretched conservatives in congress will decide they can invest a few hundred million dollars to prevent the deaths of foreign children?

NO ONE is claiming that we need to stop everything else and deal only with climate change right now. But they are arguing that we need to carry out an appropriate, necessary, and immediate change in our carbon consumption habits — which we are not doing, thanks to obstructionists and pseudo-scientific rationalizers for the status quo, like Shermer. Pretending that climate scientists want everyone to be “swept away” to deal with “one threat” is simply dishonest. Reprehensibly dishonest. What they’re doing instead is explaining how the long term costs of climate change represent a far greater concern than phony ‘cost-benefit analyses’ allow.

And citing Oreskes and Conway…they wrote The Merchants of Doubt, which is all about how industry assholes have connived to lie to us about the scientific consensus on tobacco, ozone, acid rain, and climate change — Oreskes does not agree with Lomborg. Yet here Shermer lumps Conway and Oreskes into the same camp with Lomborg. And what is this nonsense about ‘lichenized fungus’ in 2090? Nobody can make that absurd claim now, nor give it a date of arrival, let alone a couple of historians of science. What are they going to do, switch to molecular biology and develop it themselves? Why should we trust magic bullet solutions to complex problems?

Simply citing the discredited conservative hack Lomborg is grounds for suspecting Shermer’s ability to judge the quality of the arguments. He might have been well off reading Scientific American’s 12 year old demolition of Lomborg’s credibility. I don’t know what has happened at SciAm that they continue to encourage a Libertarian crank to publish in their once respectable journal…and this after his bogus article on a liberal war on science, and his more recent lying with statistics to dismiss concerns about wealth inequity. Do they simply not care any more?

Minnesota Republicans are not nice

We try. We really try. But no matter how progressive the state might be, we’re still afflicted with horrible, demented people who run for office. Fortunately, there’s a tell: they always join the Republican party.

Look, here’s Michele Bachmann (she’s still around?). She thinks because a few immigrants committed crimes once upon a time, the entire recent influx of foreigners — including the children! — are all an invading horde of rapists.

“Foreign nationals that have come into the United States are between 300- to 500,000,” Bachmann told an incredulous Crossfire co-host Van Jones. “My heart is broken for a female college student in Minnesota who was raped, murdered and mutilated by a foreign national who came into our country. We had a school bus full of kids in Minnesota — four children were killed on that school bus because an illegal alien driving a van went into that schoolbus.”

“There are lines that can’t be crossed here,” Jones responded. “I’m sorry, congresswoman. Are you gonna scapegoat children for the crime of this despicable person?”

Uh-oh. Did you know the guy who kidnapped the Lindbergh baby was Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a German? All you Germans — out of my state. Robert Hanson was a serial killer in the 1980s. Look at that name. Scandinavian. All you Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes…out. The Lakota…you can stay. Clearly all those European immigrants were a bad influence.

But Bachmann is a fading star, soon to be out of Minnesota politics altogether and persisting only to haunt the media, where a dumbass conservative is always welcome. Are there any others we should watch out for?

Meet the Freys.

Bob Frey is running for state office. His big issue is sodomy, and he has a theory, which is his, about what causes AIDS.

“It’s more about sodomy than about pigeonholing a lifestyle,” he explained. “When you have egg and sperm that meet in conception, there’s an enzyme in the front that burns through the egg. The enzyme burns through so the DNA can enter the egg.”

But Frey said that it was a different story when the “sperm is deposited anally” because “it’s the enzyme that causes the immune system to fail.”

“That’s why the term is AIDS – acquired immunodeficiency syndrome,” he opined.

That’s an amazingly distorted version of the acrosome reaction. Yes, the sperm head releases enzymes like hyaluronidase to digest away matrix that surrounds the egg, and also triggers changes in the oocyte membrane to facilitate fusion at the entry point and to also inhibit fusion elsewhere. This has nothing at all to do with AIDS. For one thing, the reaction is specific; it requires recognition of receptors on the egg surface that are not present in generic epithelial cells. For another, we know how the HIV particles (which are not sperm) enter immune system cells and it doesn’t involve a mechanism anything like the acrosome reaction. We also know quite obviously that sperm aren’t the cells involved in transmission.

Mr Frey is an idiot.

Also, if his sperm is transmitting anything, it seems to be idiocy. His son Mike also has the same silly idea.

Last year, Frey’s son, Mike, used the exact same theory while testifying against a same-sex marriage before the Minnesota House Civil Law Committee.

And earlier this year, Frey distributed a DVD that claimed an anti-bully bill was part of a plot to infect the general population with AIDS through sodomy.

I’m trying to puzzle out how anti-bullying legislation would spread AIDS. Because…if bullies aren’t beating kids up, they’re … having …anal sex … with them?

I’m also reminded that years ago, when Cheri Yecke was on her crusade to get creationism into Minnesota public schools, Bob Frey was a particularly loony witness at state hearings, who would show up with a giant plastic bone, claiming he had proof that there were giants in the earth in those days, and therefore every word of the Bible was true. He also threatened the education committee.

Frey: I have about 25 hours of presentation material with lots of slides of dinosaurs, lots of slides of this sort of thing, and also the consequences of teaching known fraud and everything to society.

Kelley: Thanks very much Mr. Frey .. .

They’ve always got hours and hours of noise.

Oh well, if it’s any consolation, this dynasty of Freys will end with this generation. No one is ever going to marry a Frey ever again.

Ladybrains evolved in the Pleistocene

Dr Gijsbert Stoet thinks we should stop trying to correct gender disparities.

Speaking at the British Education Studies Association conference in Glasgow on Friday, he argued: "We need to have a national debate on why we find it so important to have equal numbers. Do we really care that only five per cent of the programmers are women?

"Well, actually, I don’t care who programmes my computers. A wealthy, democratic society can afford to let people do what they want.

"What is better? To have 50 per cent of female engineers who do not really like their work but say, ‘Yeah, well, I did it for the feminist cause.’ Or do you want three per cent or female engineers who say, ‘I really like my job’?"

I would say that if only 5% of programmers are women, we should ask why — that kind of difference represents an interesting problem. And if, while exploring the problem, we learn that many more women are interested in the profession, but find themselves actively discouraged by various elements of the field, then that means there are institutional roadblocks in the way, and we should remove them.

There is, after all, no actual known biological reason why having ovaries should interfere with the ability to program. If we can afford to let people do what they want, and it is in the interest of a democratic society to have its citizens occupied with rewarding, fulfilling work, then we should be trying to make it possible for people to do whatever they are good at, and finding evidence of extreme disparities suggests that there may be a problem that is interfering with that goal.

Dr Stoet seems to think it’s all about him — he’s happy when men program his computers, so he can ignore any injustices in the profession. But then, he’s not exactly consistent in this attitude.

The lack of women in science and technology was diverting attention from the real issue, he said, because it was boys who generally did worse at school.

He said: "Nobody seems to be that interested that boys have problems. We have, as human beings, a natural tendency to see woman as vulnerable and needing help. But if it’s a boy who needs help, he’s responsible for himself."

Oh, well then, do we really care? If women are succeeding at academics, then obviously they have a natural aptitude for it, and we shouldn’t be concerned if women naturally gravitate towards intellectual occupations. After all, what is better: to have 50% of the professoriate be men who do not really like their work but say ‘Yeah, well, I did it for Men’s Rights.’ Or do you want 3% male academics who say, ‘I really like my job’?

Clearly, men, with their testosterone-stimulated larger muscle mass, are better suited to manual labor. I actually don’t care who digs my ditches and totes my bales, so if they’re all men, I’m happy. And I’m sure they’d be happier doing the work Nature has best suited them to do.

Of course, Dr Stoet has an evolutionary argument for the difference…an evolutionary psychology argument. Prepare to cringe.

"In the face of limited resources, we should be cautious in spending money on interventions that will have no effect. Instead of focusing on equal numbers of male and female students in all subjects, I think we should strive to get boys and girls to at least perform equally good [Sic. See? Women would naturally understand grammar well; men should just shut up] in all subjects (which will be very hard in itself)," he added.

"People are often guided by their unconscious desires. In the stone age, it was useful for men to be hunters and women to look after babies, and nature has helped by encoding some of these skills in the hardware of our brain. That still influences how we think today.

Aaargh. The stupid…!

All right, let’s embrace this ‘reasoning’. In the stone age, women stayed in the cave or sought out tasty roots, and mashed things together to create flavorful food, while men went hunting and flung spears at things. Therefore, skill at chemistry is encoded in women’s brains, while ballistics is a natural male talent. Stone age men went on long walks to hunt game, so they’re better suited now to do field work in ecology, while women sat and did intricate weaving, therefore their brains are adapted to do data analysis.

I could do this all day, inventing pseudo-scientific evo-psych rationalizations for why particular stone age tasks shaped brains in a sex-specific manner, but at least I wouldn’t be doing it to somehow magically always fit 21st century Western cultural expectations. But I can’t, because it’s stupid.

Why do these people forget that stone age men had mothers and stone age women had fathers, both members of the same population and sharing the same genetics, and that novel adaptations aren’t likely to somehow be restricted to one sex or the other? I swear, these loons are always treating men and women as separate species evolving in parallel.

Double-aaargh! Now another article: If a girl isn’t interested in science, don’t force her to be.

Look, science is always going to be a minority occupation — only a small fraction of the population will have the aptitude or the interest for it. It will be intrinsically unequal, in that in the panoply of jobs required to maintain modern society, only a tiny fraction of the available positions will be for scientists. No one is suggesting that we need to frog-march girls into math and science. This is a non-problem. It is not an issue. It’s a debate no one is having. We are not planning to staff the apparatus of science with unwilling feminine slave labor. You are not a lesser human being if you’d rather study literature or history or philosophy, or if you’d rather skip college altogether and become a travel agent or a cook. There will be no compulsory science work camps.

But if you’re a woman who is interested in science (and many are!), the argument that girls like dolls and nurturing occupations is irrelevant; we are talking about individuals who ought to be given a fair opportunity to pursue a career they love, and not discouraged by some moronic writer for the Telegraph who uses stereotypes to make generalizations about half the population of the planet.

I also think he’s probably right in suggesting that females, as a whole, are not hugely engaged by science. The problem with science is that, for all its wonders, it lacks narrative and story-line. Science (and maths) is about facts, and the laboratory testing of elements. It is not primarily about people. Women – broadly speaking – are drawn to the human factor: to story, biography, psychology and language.

Jebus. Fuck you, Mary Kenny: that nonsense is not just offensive to women, it’s an affront to men and a hideously mangled distortion of the enterprise of science. She doesn’t understand women, men, or science, yet her ignorance doesn’t seem to inhibit her in the slightest in parading her stupidity for an international audience.

It’s always ten

It’s Sunday morning. You’re lazing about in bed, or having coffee and breakfast, or otherwise having atheist happy time. You don’t have to go to church, but you could answer a few questions from a believer, I suppose. There is a set going around that are good for a laugh. Here’s the challenge:

Some Questions Atheist Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer! Which leads to some interesting conclusions…

Hmmm. Now I have to answer the questions, and I also have to ponder why a wacky Christian would think I couldn’t Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer them.

1. How Did You Become an Atheist?

Why would we be unable to answer that one? Most atheists can tell you exactly how they gave up on religion. I became an atheist because I thought seriously about what I was being told in church, and found it unbelievable. Later I found that religion drove people to do incredibly stupid and destructive things, like endorse creationism or control women’s reproductive rights, and I decided I had to be an active anti-theist.

2. What happens when we die?

The available evidence is that your physiological functions stop, brain activity ceases, your body cools, cells begin to self-destruct, and eventually bacterial activity and the work of decomposers cause your body to rot. Your flesh is dissociated and recycled by other organisms.

3. What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!

I’m not wrong about the rotting bit. Oh, you mean your bizarre notions about a ‘soul’ that exists independent of your material body that goes on to engage in some undefined, mysterious post-life activity in some other undefined realm? That’s just silly. There’s no reason to believe that happens.

But OK, I’ll play along. If your metaphysical scenario actually played out, and “I” continued to exist after my body died, and I found myself in the fantasy land of your Bible…it would be terrible. Learning that our minds were playthings of some cosmic tyrant who at a whim would condemn you to an eternity of torture, or alternatively an eternity of servitude worshipping a monster would be nightmarish.

I’m relieved that there is no evidence for your evil dreams.

4. Without God, where do you get your morality from?

Reciprocity, empathy, a theory of mind, need. I’m a member of a social species with finely tuned instincts for interaction with my fellow humans, and I live in a culture where cooperative behavior is rewarded. I don’t really need anything outside of that to explain morality; I’ll also note that individuals who claim to have an external source of moral compulsions don’t actually behave in a more moral fashion than those, like me, who don’t have imaginary voices in our heads.

5. If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?

Even with your phantasmal god, you’re free to murder and rape. God never seems to swoop in and stop anyone from murdering and raping, have you noticed? The ones stopping criminal actions are us. Ourselves. People. I don’t murder or rape because harming other people is repugnant and a violation of the social contract, because I have no desire to harm others, and because even if I did, there is a framework of law within my society that limits my ability to do harm.

6. If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?

You know, imagining an invisible man who tells you what to do doesn’t give your life actual meaning. I find that doing things — sharing, teaching, playing, working, learning — gives me satisfaction. If I had an ultimate goal it would be to leave the world a better place for my children and others when I leave it.

7. Where did the universe come from?

Read a physics textbook. We’ve got knowledge of 13.7 billion years of the universe’s changing history, virtually none of which is in your holy book. It’s always funny to get that question from people who so despise the natural, physical knowledge of how the universe works that they think “god did it” is actually a good answer to their own question.

8. What about miracles? What all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?

People claim many things: they also claim that they’ve seen Bigfoot, that the Queen of England is an alien reptoid, that they can bend spoons with the power of their mind, that little grey men in flying saucers are deeply interested in their rectums. Show me the evidence. Others have tried, and it’s always garbage.

9. What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?

Who would think this would be a difficult question for an atheist to answer? There are lots of different opinions of these men within the atheist community. Personally, I like Dawkins, I think he’s a smart person and a brilliant writer, who is a man of his place and time who is unfortunately a bit inept at seeing other social circumstances. Hitchens is dead…but in life, he was the best writer of the bunch, wonderfully courageous and outspoken, but also possessed catastrophically bad political views. I’m not a fan of Harris, at all.

And if you ask a different atheist, you’ll get completely different answers.

10. If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?

If there is a god, then why does every society have a different religion, and further, why are there thousands of different sects within each society?

You know, your question only works if we were challenging the existence of god belief. We know people believe in gods, and that it is quite common; that many people believe in false things does not in any way make them true.

We were supposed to get some interesting conclusions from the fact that these are questions that atheists Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer, yet I found them trivial and easy to honestly answer. I think we can draw a conclusion from that, but it’s not particularly interesting.

I have to conclude that whoever composed that list was an idiot.

I feel so dirty now

Kent Hovind is counting the days now, and unfortunately he has followers who are going to afflict us with badly made videos. If you feel the need to be deathly bored, here’s an interview with Hovind’s “lawyer” (not really a lawyer, but a “consultant” on Hovind’s financial planning — which is why he’s in jail right now.) Yes, you want to listen to this man’s crazy tax advice.

I only mention it because it includes a note from Kent Hovind that mentions me. The ignominy.

Dr. Hovind says:

Hey folks! New way to mass communicate! Check clubcreation.org and ask about Zello! They let us out 1st today so it’s 4am in Vancouver.. I’ll not call. Maybe tomorrow?

For Tommy Comer- The 1040 days of wrath is from Dan 8 and the 2300 days of the temple being desolate minus the 1260 days of great trib we go through. more in WOE about that! WOE=What on Earth is About to Happen for Heaven’s Sake by Dr. Hovind

For Ian- He does good math but bad logic- he needs to see seminar part 4 about Jump frog! Ps 104:6-9 says the mountains rose up near the end of the flood and the water rushed off. There is enough water in the oceans today to cover the earth 8000ft deep. Plenty to drown in. As for "comparing his doctorate with mine" if his education left him believing he came from a rock I’m already un-impressed! he also makes the silly assumption that the water for the flood came from rain where the Bible says it came from inside the earth via the fountains of the deep. He also says the flood lasted 40 days where the Bible says the earth was covered for 5 months and Noah was in the ark over a year. read the Bible Ian!

For PZ- glad you exposed Michael Shermer’s behavior and his rape of the other atheist at the atheist conference. I don’t understand how any atheist can decide ANYTHING is right or wrong. Where is the standard to judge by? If that woman’s husband or brothers or dad or uncles get Shermer drunk and make him a eunuch (which I suspect they have thought of and may yet still do!) would that be "wrong" in PZ thinking? Christians have God’s Word to show us right and wrong. What do atheists have?

Until next time.. see you at the finish line!

Kent Hovind

Jebus. I decide that something may be wrong by empathizing with the victim, and recognizing that an injustice was done. I don’t need a magic book to see that a harm was done to someone else. Further, when a wrong is committed, it makes me a worse person to consider committing a greater wrong in revenge. That Hovind considers castration to be a reasonable response simply tells me that God’s Word is simply a compendium of barbarisms used to excuse savagery.

Here’s what atheists have: respect for our fellow human beings.

Ah, sweet Schadenfreude

Delicious. Stefan Molyneux failed miserably at attempting to be an “attractive young woman” leaving a comment thanking the wonderful Stefan Molyneux. Unless, maybe, there is an attractive young woman who looks to Stefan Molyneux for guidance who just happens to also be named Stefan Molyneux.

There’s a simple way to avoid getting caught inventing imaginary fans. Don’t invent imaginary fans in the first place.

Todd Akin is sorry that he was sorry

Please, Republicans, welcome this man back into the fold, and make him a mouthpiece for the party. We are happy to see you drive women out of your camp. Todd Akin thinks there’s still a legitimate concern about legitimate rape.

"When a woman claims to have been raped, the police determine if the evidence supports the legal definition of ‘rape,’" Akin writes. "Is it a legitimate claim of rape or an excuse to avoid an unwanted pregnancy? Are the police warranted to take action against a crime or not?"

"In short, the word ‘legitimate’ modifies the claim and not the action. There have been women who have lied about being raped, as Norma McCorvey did before the U.S. Supreme Court. The infamous Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 was based on a lie."

"My comment about a woman’s body shutting the pregnancy down," Akin adds in the book, "was directed to the impact of stress on fertilization. This is something fertility doctors debate and discuss. Doubt me? Google ‘stress and fertilization,’ and you will find a library of research on the subject."

Yes, sometimes women are bad and ignorant and dishonest, just like men. Sometimes people lie about being robbed in order to get the insurance money, too; that doesn’t mean we have such a cynical view of humanity that we dismiss all claims of theft as fraudulent.

I found his last challenge interesting, though. But don’t go to Google — that’s wide open and leads to a lot of garbage. I did his search on PubMed. It returns about 1500 peer reviewed papers on the subject, but the problem is that ‘stress’ has a rather specific meaning in biology, and it’s not about transient terror — it’s about relatively long-term metabolic changes. It’s also a big database, so it covers everything — plants, mice, insects, etc. So I narrowed the search to just humans, which gives me 136 results. That is not very impressive.

I browsed through them all. Some looked interesting:there’s stuff on the role of follicular antioxidants, how serotonergic modulation affects the stress response in zebrafish (they mention modulators developed for human research — they’re giving Prozac to fish larvae), issues in treating Jehovah’s Witnesses with in vitro fertilization, heat stress and DNA repair in sperm production, lots of stuff about oxidative stress, and surprising numbers of papers about the effects of stress on sperm in general. I guess sperm are just easier to work with. Maybe Akin should be arguing that stressed-out rapists are firing blanks? Nah, the research doesn’t support that, either.

I found one relevant paper in my search: Stress and anxiety do not result in pregnancy wastage, by Milad, Klock, Moses, and Chatterton, published in 1998. They were looking at the effects of the psychologically stressful process of IVF on fertility clinic patients. It has a small n of 40, so it’s not entirely conclusive, but the abstract concludes:

In conclusion, there is little association between psychological scores and physiological stress hormone concentrations. Also, it does not appear that high levels of anxiety and stress result in an adverse pregnancy outcome.

Again, these are studies of long term stress — we know there are effects of overwork, worry, lack of sleep, poor diet, and fear that cause metabolic changes in the body that can reduce the likelihood of reproduction. But that’s a far cry from suggesting that a single psychologically traumatic event can instantly shut down ovaries and prevent pregnancy, like a switch.

Also, a search on PubMed on the subject of stress and pregnancy turns up many more papers. It’s easy to conflate the two issues, and it’s certainly the case that metabolic changes occur and can affect pregnancy. But it’s also easy to send people off on a wild goose chase on a complex topic to confuse them.

So far, I haven’t found any peer-reviewed papers that support the Akin Hypothesis. I probably need to dig deeper into fringe journals.

Creepy WorldVentures cultists welcome here


Stephanie Yoder wrote a blog post criticizing WorldVentures, one of those nasty MLM pyramid schemes. She pointed out that 72% of those roped in to the scheme made no money at all, and the median commission was only $40, etc., etc., etc., par for the course for these kinds of phonies, in which only the scum at the top get any money out of it.

So now WorldVentures has sent out one of those blustery vague cease-and-desist letters (oh, I’ve seen a few of those) to Ms Yoder, and the Popehat signal has gone up. I am not a lawyer, I’m not even vaguely knowledgable about legal matters, but I’m posting this because Popehat made a promise:

If you write a blog post questioning WorldVentures, you will very likely draw a crowd of very enthusiastic, very intense, somewhat off-putting WorldVenture supporters.

‘Offputting’ doesn’t worry me at all — my inbox has biohazard warnings splattered all over it, and leaks venom whenever I shake my laptop — but enthusiastic crowds…bring ‘em on. I get paid for the visits, and I expect I might make 10, 15 cents with an invasion of MLM wackos, and besides, my commenters need chew toys. They wear them out so fast! Multi-level marketers probably don’t have much endurance — WorldVentures sounds like a pathetic, desperate lot — but if we get enough volume, it might make up for their friability.