I disapprove

Statues of a naked Donald Trump have appeared in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Seattle, and New York City. I don’t understand why.

They are intended to demean and belittle the guy, I understand that. But does anyone think they’ll be effective? At all? Does anyone think they’re even the slightest bit accurate? Caricature should have a substantive point of some sort — political cartoons, for instance, will exaggerate features to make the subject instantly recognizable, but then the idea is that the caricature is doing something, saying something to illustrate an idea. These statues are just standing there inert, looking unpleasant. It’s content-free mockery.

I have to switch it around. If a statue of a naked Hillary Clinton were erected somewhere, would anyone find it to be a cogent argument?

I’ve personally been the subject of a lot of this sort of thing: I’m regularly sent photoshops, or scrawled, poorly done cartoons, that simply illustrate me as short, fat, and ugly. I don’t see the purpose; if the creators think it stings, I actually do know exactly what I look like, and mainly what I see is that they had to work to make me look uglier, and that what’s most ugly are the minds of the people who think these kinds of garbage portrayals are persuasive or in any way potent.

Wonderful news about our criminal justice system

NO MORE PRIVATE PRISONS.

The Department of Justice will stop contracting with private prisons, the department announced Thursday morning. The decision comes a week after the DOJ inspector general released a damning report on the safety, security, and oversight of private prisons, which incarcerate 12 percent of federal inmates.

Now if we could just end the drug “war” and demilitarize the police…

The ugly id of billionaires

You called me a mean name. You banned me. You don’t like me. You don’t love me.

It’s striking how often the bitter complaints of unwarrantedly rich fucks like Peter Thiel are little more than the plaintive whines of a neglected toddler…a toddler with gobs of money and lawyers who want to appease him with vindictiveness.

Peter Thiel, I don’t love you, I don’t like you, and my vocabulary is too feeble to come up with the mean name you deserve. You’re a petty, nasty, poisonous little man, lacking in the strength and confidence to cope with dissent in any way other than by flailing about with lawsuits. May your every drink, no matter how costly, taste of gall, and your fine meals be flavored with wormwood; may your silk sheets have the texture of slime. I hope you live a long life of fruitless floundering for love, and some distant day die alone, attended only by a calculating battery of lawyers.

Theory

I sure wish more people understood the meaning of theory in science, but at least Piers Sellers does a good job of explaining the concept. I try to hammer into my students (as my teachers hammered into me) the primacy of evidence — observation and measurement — but evidence always has to be for or against something, and that something is theory. You can’t have a theory without evidence, and you can’t have evidence without a theory to give it meaning. So I’m always happy to see another explanation of this core concept of science.

Fundamentally, a theory in science is not just a whim or an opinion; it is a logical construct of how we think something works, generally agreed upon by scientists and always in agreement with the available observations. A good example is Isaac Newton’s theory of gravitation, which says that every physical object in the universe exerts a gravity force field around itself, with the strength of that field depending on its mass. The theory—one simple equation—does a superb job of explaining our observations of how planets orbit around the sun, and was more than good enough to make the calculations we needed to send spacecraft to the moon and elsewhere. Einstein improved on Newton’s theory when it comes to large-scale astronomical phenomena, but, for everyday engineering use, Newton’s physics works perfectly well, even though it is more than three hundred years old.

One danger of the public misunderstanding of this idea is that they do equate theory and opinion; they tear down successful theories with rhetoric and ignorance, and they also elevate nonsense by labeling it, without comprehension, a theory. And I could piss in the snow and call it a book, too.

But theories are abstract, after all, so it’s easy for people to get tricked into thinking that because something is based on theory, it could very likely be wrong or is debatable in the same way that a social issue is debatable. This is incorrect. Almost all the accepted theories that we use in the physical and biological sciences are not open to different interpretations depending on someone’s opinion, internal beliefs, gut feelings, or lobbying. In the science world, two and two make four. To change or modify a theory, as Einstein’s theories modified Newton’s, takes tremendous effort and a huge weight of experimental evidence.

This is something that should be explained to everyone visiting Answers in Genesis and their horrible dishonest “museum” and “ark park”. The central argument Ken Ham always makes is a demolition of the whole concept of theory — he claims that any alternative explanation, no matter how much it ignores the evidence, is a theory, and all theories are equal, and therefore, his bizarre, highly subjective and ideologically driven interpretation of the words of his holy book are just as much deserving of the title of “theory” as the hard-earned, constantly tested, well-supported by evidence theory of evolution.

And that’s dangerous. Ken Ham uses the degradation of theory to peddle nonsense to the rubes and make money and promote his narrow religion, but as the article explains, it’s also being used to corrupt decision-making about climate that endangers every human being on the planet.

Heroes

The Lakota and Dakota are fighting another battle in which they are the underdogs: North Dakota oil interests are building a pipeline across the state, right near the Standing Rock reservation and their water supply, the Missouri, Mississippi, and Big Sioux rivers.

You know, oil pipelines leak, right?

So look at these amazing photos of the current standoff.

lakotastandoff1

lakotastandoff2

The police keep standing on the wrong side of every fight, don’t they?

I may have to rethink my disbelief in a beneficent god

Hate Group

Finally, a germ of evidence: a “flood of near Biblical proportions” has destroyed the home of…Tony Perkins. It’s almost believable, except that this would be practically the first time God actually smote a deserving target.

I might have to do some serious soul-searching (first, I’d have to find my soul) if this god were to destroy the entire Patriarchy Research Council.


If you’re concerned about other flood victims, go here to find out how to help.

A virtue of good journalism

Undark has a very good article on how journalism could be changing the problem of sexual harassment in academia. It really is a big mess that needs cleaning up.

Katze, BuzzFeed wrote, had been admired for, “preaching calm in the face of fear” during the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Yet the laboratory he had led for nearly 30 years “was descending into chaos.” He was found to have “misused university resources for personal gain, including by asking an employee to do chores for him and solicit a prostitute,” the story said.

Katze responded by suing the university in federal court for violating his rights as a tenured professor. He also sued BuzzFeed to block release of the documents in the investigation, which included more than 100,000 text messages, emails, and other material. Both suits were unsuccessful, a fact noted in the story by Azeen Ghorayshi, a staff reporter at BuzzFeed, who has been tracking cases of sexual harassment by scientists for months.

I’ve noticed, over the years, how often harassers use legal intimidation to try to suppress word of their actions getting out…and how often it totally fails and often serves to spread the news even more. There are processes in place to examine these issues; rushing to the courts means you’re either a) trying to suppress an unwanted finding, or b) trying to prevent an unwanted finding from occurring. There is a place for the legal recourse when an unjust ruling is made in the process, but it’s awfully hard to argue that Katze’s case was unfair.

I’d also point out that it’s peculiar because usually the process is weighted in favor of the harasser, anyway.

But maybe the science journalists will actually make a dent in the problem. It’s also a good sign that these reporters are tackling the hard cases.

And yet, reluctant whistleblowers and tangled knots of competing interests and motivations have forever been the hard stuff of journalism, whatever the beat, and science journalists are as obliged as any member of the profession to keep digging, keep writing, keep exposing. Sure, such work won’t change things overnight. But change — however sluggish and freighted with cultural inertia — can’t happen without it.

“I think in the long run,” Balter said, “[a] cultural change will take place that will make sexual harassment more difficult to get away with.”

We can hope.