People change


It’s a tragedy when two people grow apart. I met my wife in third grade, and I thought I knew her well, but I have learned just this week that she…swings the other way. Bats for the other team. Has desires that I cannot satisfy. I am simply shattered.

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Changing lanes while black

I’ve been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. It’s powerful — I woke up in the middle of the night last night, and had to read a bit more, and then I had a tough time getting back to sleep afterwards. There’s this bit where he’s talking about the terror he felt on being pulled over by the police in PG County, and the dread he felt at the arbitrary abuse by police of black people at traffic stops, and his friend who was gunned down by a policeman, and I am marveling at this strange world I’ve never had to experience. When I’ve been pulled over, what I feel is annoyance, and a bit of self-blaming, and concern that I might get a ticket, nothing more. Driving while white is easy.

Then this morning I get up and the first news I see is that the dash-cam video of Sandra Bland’s arrest has been released.

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Trust no one


Jim Lippard brings up an example of a difficult phenomenon we’ve all encountered with increasing frequency in recent years, as atheism/skepticism have become ‘cool’ and more people jump on the bandwagon…but the problem has been here for a long time.

This is, I think, a good case study in how the problem of “affiliate fraud”–being taken in by deception by a member of a group you self-identify with–can be possible for skeptics, scientists, and other educated people, just as it is for the more commonly publicized cases of affiliate fraud within religious organizations.

The case is the story of Al Seckel, self-proclaimed physicist, molecular biologist, cognitive neuroscientist, research associate, colleague of Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, and Murray Gell-Mann, and who was none of those things, but managed to schmooze his way into persuading the skeptic community that he was all of them.

He sounds like a very interesting person, but not at all trustworthy. In the words of his second wife (maybe his current wife…it seems he’s always been a bit dodgy about these marriage and divorce things, too):

“And he was really sweet, and I enjoyed talking with him a lot. He’s really intelligent. He’s just a liar.”

Well worth a read, as a warning to us all.

It’s good to have your identity shaken up now and then

Remember Rust, the video game that randomly assigned a skin color to players? Some people found that horribly objectionable.

Now the game is provoking people more: it also randomly assigns a sex. As you might guess, once again, some refuse to play.

As a further twist, the player avatars are anatomically correct, and they randomize penis size. This is going to be an interesting experiment in human psychology!

Everywhere and nowhere


I travel a fair bit…a bit more than I can enjoy, actually. To me, an airplane represents a period of tedious antiseptic confinement, and a hotel room is a closet with a bed that I’ll use for sleeping, nothing more. So this story of a subculture that games the airlines to get constant free travel and hotel rooms is a horror story to me. They fly around pointlessly, land in exotic places and never leave the airport, just waiting to board the next leg of their circuit.

I guess it is a kind of game, and these people are masters of it. I just don’t see the point.

It’s science! #Gamergaters are bad gamers

This is amusing. A simple study watched people playing the game Halo, and correlated skill at the game with how they treated other men and women players. It turns out that losers tend to be more disparaging of women.

As they watched the games play out and tracked the comments that players made to each other, the researchers observed that — no matter their skill level, or how the game went — men tended to be pretty cordial to each other. Male players who were good at the game also tended to pay compliments to other male and female players.

Some male players, however — the ones who were less-skilled at the game, and performing worse relative their peers — made frequent, nasty comments to the female gamers. In other words, sexist dudes are literally losers.

A chart from the Halo study that shows how nice male gamers were to other males (dotted line) and females (solid line) during gameplay. Men always treat each other about the same. But the better a player gets, the more likely he is to be nice to ladies. (Kasumovic et al)

A chart from the Halo study that shows how nice male gamers were to other males (dotted line) and females (solid line) during gameplay. Men always treat each other about the same. But the better a player gets, the more likely he is to be nice to ladies. (Kasumovic et al)

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Death of a quack

I’ve been accused, occasionally, of being a pharma shill. Pharmaceutical companies make obscene profits! They’re paying off people to hide the dangers of their drugs! And there is a tiny grain of truth: those companies do reap great profits. Be the first to patent a Viagra or Zoloft, and the money will come rolling in.

But there’s so much investment required! You need to test thousands of drugs to find one that does anything; then there’s all the animal testing, the clinical trials, the regulatory oversight, the lawsuits that follow from side-effects (and if the drug is actually potent, there will be side-effects). No, that’s not for me. If I wanted to be really rich, and had no conscience at all, I’d go straight to Big Alt Med.

No testing! Cheap products! In the case of homeopathy, you can market tiny bottles of water! Supplements are almost entirely unregulated, nobody cares if you’re selling pills stuffed with sawdust. It’s miraculous sums of money for entirely non-miraculous garbage, plus a lot of promises.

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