March for Science…in Morris!


There will be a Morris Area March for Science, and I’m planning to be there. Especially given the announced savage cuts to science funding, it’s important that we stand up and testify to the importance of science.

The Union of Concerned Scientists interviewed a number of scientists about whether they’ll participate in the march, and the answers were overwhelmingly in the affirmative. However, there was also one naysayer, and it’s a good idea to consider the opinions of those who disagree in an intelligent way. Here’s Troy Livingstone’s opinion:

I believe strongly in the values inspiring the march. But I also believe it will be a mostly white, mostly privileged and elitist group who will not be or appear inclusive of all people.

Unintentionally, marchers may reinforce the negative stereotype that science isn’t for everyone.

Finally, I believe that the millions of dollars marchers will spend would have had more tangible benefit advocating for science if they went into the accounts of AAAS or the Union of Concerned Scientists or similar organizations.

I’m all for political activism, but I worry, just like with the women’s march, that many people will call this march their contribution to this cause and leave it at that.

What will matter most is not what happens on the day of the march but everything all of us have done and will do every other day of the year.

Those are very good points. I think he’s right that institutional science, by it’s nature, is privileged, and the people who participate will not be representative of the broader group that benefit from, and will contribute to, science (this problem was also not helped by the dudebro scientists who immediately started whining about identity politics as soon as the organizers tried to emphasize diversity). I think we need to reach out to our public schools and school teachers in addition to lab scientists to make it clear that these are issues that affect everyone. It has to be a march for all, not just working scientists, in support of science.

The concern that motivated individuals will spend “millions of dollars” on a demonstration is silly. Don’t try to police how individuals spend their personal efforts. We should be encouraging everyone to go public with their concerns.

But he’s exactly right that this can’t just be a one-shot, one-day show. This has to be the start of the work. It doesn’t immediately solve anything, but it can be a chance to get a greater commitment to working to tear down the ignoramuses in office.

Is this what you want?

The Trump budget:

War is up!

$639 billion in total defense spending, including both base budget and Overseas Contingency Operations (the war budget) — a $52 billion increase.

Increases of 7 percent and 6 percent, respectively, for the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Veterans Affairs. That includes funding for a border wall, $1.5 billion more to remove undocumented immigrants, $314 million to hire more Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, and a $667 million reduction in grants to state and local governments, including FEMA grants.

Science is down.

Huge cuts to medical and science research spending, including a $6 billion or 18 percent reduction in the National Institutes for Health budget, a $900 million cut to the Energy Department’s Office of Science, a $250 million cut to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grants for research and education, and eliminating the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

A 31 percent cut in the Environmental Protection Agency budget, from $8.2 billion down to $5.7 billion, the lowest level (after adjusting for inflation) in 40 years and below where even congressional Republicans wanted it. More than 50 programs would be eliminated, as would 3,200 jobs. Specifically, the budget “discontinues funding for the Clean Power Plan, international climate change programs, climate change research and partnership programs, and related efforts,” and reduces Superfund cleanup funding.

Art is to be eliminated.

Total elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Legal Services Corporation, the United States Institute of Peace, and 14 other agencies.

Follow the money, people. This is a president who wants to gut the country and start a war to distract us.

Mutual harm at Middlebury

Tristero strikes exactly the right note in this letter to the professor who was injured in the protests against Charles Murray at Middlebury. There is no excusing the harm done to Professor Stanger, but there is also no excusing the harm done by Murray.

I have, in fact, read The Bell Curve, the book Charles Murray co-authored with Richard Herrnstein (who died before publication).As I recall, the book appeared to me to be little more than a spectacularly pathetic attempt to boost the low self-esteem of the authors by claiming that blacks in general had inherently lower IQs than their own ethnic groups. My heart went out to Murray and I hoped he would find a good therapist that would instill some some self-confidence in him.

But even more so, my heart went out to the people who would be surely harmed by his terrible book. I knew that The Bell Curve would be mistaken as being super-serious intellectual research (it’s got charts and things!) when it was nothing of the sort.

Here’s where you come in.

Murray is a hero to racists with pretensions to intellectuality, like college-age right-wingers. But having regular access to the Wall Street Journal’s Op-Ed pages (I’ve also read many of Murray’s op-eds and they’re as unserious as The Bell Curve) makes it difficult for Murray to complain that someone’s trying to suppress his freedom of speech. For that, he needs useful idiots who are prepared to invite him not to fawning right wing think tanks or Klan meetings, but to places where the people who his writings actually harm can confront him.

Make no mistake about it: the racism that Murray empowers is as inexcusable and irresponsible as the injuries you suffered. I’m extremely sorry that you were hurt, but I’m also extremely sorry that Murray was provided an excuse to claim the high road. Both are utterly disgraceful outcomes of this unfortunate set of circumstances.

I too read The Bell Curve way back when it first came out, although, thankfully, the details of that pile of shit have faded from my memory, leaving only the recollection of a sensation of disgust. Murray relies on baffling his audiences with the arcana of statistical analysis which neither he nor most of his readers understand, but which earns him the love and appreciation of racists who don’t really care how he gets to his conclusions, as long as those conclusions support their prejudices.

I’m only competent enough in those arcana to see the flaws in his arguments, but not to explain them well. For that, I recommend the invaluable Cosma Shalizi, who made the case against g:

To summarize what follows below (“shorter sloth”, as it were), the case for g rests on a statistical technique, factor analysis, which works solely on correlations between tests. Factor analysis is handy for summarizing data, but can’t tell us where the correlations came from; it always says that there is a general factor whenever there are only positive correlations. The appearance of g is a trivial reflection of that correlation structure. A clear example, known since 1916, shows that factor analysis can give the appearance of a general factor when there are actually many thousands of completely independent and equally strong causes at work. Heritability doesn’t distinguish these alternatives either. Exploratory factor analysis being no good at discovering causal structure, it provides no support for the reality of g.

And also argued against misinterpretations of heritability:

To summarize: Heritability is a technical measure of how much of the variance in a quantitative trait (such as IQ) is associated with genetic differences, in a population with a certain distribution of genotypes and environments. Under some very strong simplifying assumptions, quantitative geneticists use it to calculate the changes to be expected from artificial or natural selection in a statistically steady environment. It says nothing about how much the over-all level of the trait is under genetic control, and it says nothing about how much the trait can change under environmental interventions. If, despite this, one does want to find out the heritability of IQ for some human population, the fact that the simplifying assumptions I mentioned are clearly false in this case means that existing estimates are unreliable, and probably too high, maybe much too high.

Once you knock those two props out from under Murray’s claims, he flops down into a disreputable heap.

But he keeps getting invited to speak at universities. I don’t know why. Stanger claims that the protest was a result of people not reading Murray’s book, but I think the real problem is people who read Murray’s book and don’t understand what a pile of garbage it is.

Australia reassures me that it isn’t just my country full of idiots

Senator Malcolm Roberts must be Australia’s version of Louie Gohmert.

He does make a good case that he is a waste of carbon, but you know, atmospheric CO2 is the problem, not carbon bound up in proteins and carbohydrates.

The Bible also says the Earth is flat and is orbited by the sun. Next?

I am so sad that Ken Ham blocked me on Twitter — I miss out on the most hilarious crapola from one of the more cracked brains on the internet, and must rely on the kindness of strangers to relay his tirades to me. The latest thing to pop his wig: The Pope. How dare the Catholic church dismiss his literalist interpretation of the Bible? NOT TRUE CHRISTIANS. SAD.

Of course, this is not news. Historically, American protestants have been hatefully anti-Catholic, in part prodded by the nativist bigotry that was stirred up by immigration from Ireland and those Mediterranean countries. It’s not surprising that an Australian protestant shares the same views.

However, I do appreciate that Ken Ham admits this:

If Pope said ‘Big Bang is real’–then Pope’s wrong. Bible states earth came before sun–not other way round

Remember that next time you get in an argument with a literalist. I don’t care much for either popery or the lutherite heresy, but at least one side isn’t demanding that we ignore physics and astronomy.

(h/t Caine)

Here come the apologists for Steve King

Kathleen Parker tries hard to reframe King’s remarks as an expression of reasonable concern.

King’s comment came in the form of a tweet, apparently in support of Geert Wilders, the Dutch nationalist politician hoping to become prime minister of the Netherlands following Wednesday’s election.

Both Wilders — who once called Moroccans “scum” — and King do seem cut from the same cloth. Both men are apparently concerned that immigrant encroachment is posing a danger to civilization as we know it, especially among certain recurring arrivals, including: (1) Muslims, whose faith is sometimes used by certain fanatics to justify murdering the rest of us; (2) people from a variety of nations who, importantly, do not have white skin, or, inferentially, Western values coursing through their veins.

To the Kings and Wilderses (and Trumps?), the problems are obvious and undeniable. Even to the less knee-jerk, the fast-changing demographic landscape has created at least some level of discomfort and uncertainty. Suddenly, the majority has to ponder the imponderable: Who, me, a minority?

She goes on to explain that he’s stupid and careless, but gosh, he’s not an extremist. He is literally and explicitly reciting far-right racist RaHoWa rhetoric, but he’s just being rude — we have to remember that the real problem is that our white majority is currently experiencing discomfort and uncertainty. Steve King’s were repugnantly stated, but what we need is someone who can express those sentiments more craftily.

What is needed are new voices to articulate these fundamental concerns, recognize them with respect and work toward solutions that don’t require that our neighbors be marginalized. This would seem especially compelling to those now considering what it might be like to become a minority in their “own” country.

Oh, fuck that noise.

In a few years, people of European descent will no longer be a majority in this country. That should mean nothing — demographic shifts like that happen all the time, and they don’t necessarily disrupt the political continuity of a country. The USA does not have the same demographic makeup that it did at its founding; there was a dearth of Italians and Swedes and Irish signing the Declaration of Independence, you know, and even worse, no black Americans were asked to join the revolutionary committee.

What’s making some white people uncomfortable is that they’re used to shitting on minorities, and they’re thinking that minority status equals being treated like dirt, from their own example. And they, and columnists like Parker, are trying to normalize that feeling as being perfectly normal. It isn’t. It shouldn’t be.

You don’t need someone capable of gently and wittily articulating your racist backbrain as something justifiable. You need to grow the fuck up and recognize brown and black Americans as your brothers and sisters, and slap down these racist assholes who can’t recognize this true, instead of making excuses for them.