Paper: The Sokal Hoax

In 1996, physicist Alan Sokal was unhappy with the tendency in academic postmodernism to dismiss scientific work. So he submitted a bogus paper called “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” to Social Text, a journal in cultural studies. After it was published, he revealed it as a hoax. And now, it is one of the best known shots fired at academic anti-science.

While the hoax is a good conversation-starter, I would caution against thinking it’s a total slam-dunk. Journals are there to filter out shoddy work, rather than bad faith actors. Secondly, AFAICT Social Text is a journal of mediocre impact. Finally, Sokal himself said that academic postmodernism has now backed off from many of its previous excesses. (Sokal credits the Bush administration, which was more effective at satirizing academic postmodernism than he ever was.)

In any case, this is a paper report. To humorous ends, I will review Sokal’s paper as if it were a serious work.
[Read more…]

30 atheist discussion topics

I’ve long been involved in the local atheist student group. I really mean “long”–through both undergrad and grad school. I perpetually complain about the group, but never leave, and never lift a finger to help. This is probably important to understanding Who I Am As A Person.

Well, the leadership said they were looking for more discussion topics. I can help with that. I e-mailed them thirty topics that I came up with off the top of my head. If you run an atheist group anywhere, you are free to borrow any of these.

[Read more…]

What is a safe space?

Last month, a lot of discussion was prompted by a statement by the dean of University of Chicago opposing censorship, trigger warnings, and safe spaces. I’ve already briefly argued that the inclusion of trigger warnings is completely off-base. The inclusion of safe spaces is harder to judge. “Safe space” means a lot of things to different people, and I just have no idea what the dean thought he was criticizing.

Safe spaces under different names

In my personal experience, “safe space” is most frequently used as a description of queer student group meetings or conferences. Basically, we intentionally build an environment where people feel more comfortable sharing their experiences. This means starting meetings with an explicit agreement of confidentiality, as well as other agreements designed to head off conflict. Often these agreements have cutesy names, like “Step up, step back”, “One mic, one diva”, “Use ‘I’ statements”, “Don’t yuck my yum”, and “Ouch, oops, educate”, although I think the names might be regional.

I have mixed feelings about the explicit agreements, because they take up time and seem unnecessary. In my experience, atheist student groups also set up safe spaces, but they never call it by that name, nor are there any explicit agreements. Atheist groups also intentionally build an environment where people feel more comfortable being openly critical of religion. Many atheist students act very confident, as if they don’t need a safe space to speak their minds, but when you get to know them better you realize that some of the same students keep it very quiet around their families.
[Read more…]

Some PTSD statistics

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2015.

I occasionally read social science papers, and I think it’s worth sharing what I find, even though in principle you could read about it yourself. This time I read about statistics on Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the US, and my particular interest is in PTSD from sexual assault and rape.

A good basic overview of PTSD can be found from the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs:

Diagnostic criteria for PTSD include a history of exposure to a traumatic event that meets specific stipulations and symptoms from each of four symptom clusters: intrusion, avoidance, negative alterations in cognitions and mood, and alterations in arousal and reactivity.[1]

According to the National Comorbidity Survey (NCS), about 7.8% of people in the US have experienced PTSD in their lifetime. This is reinforced by the NCS-R (a replication of the original study) which found 6.8% prevalence. However, just because someone has suffered from PTSD doesn’t necessarily mean they’re still suffering; Only 3.5% have had PTSD in the past year.[2] Here’s a timeline of PTSD recovery:

A graph showing how long it takes for people to recover from PTSD. There are separate curves for people who get treatment and people who don't get treatment. The study extends for 10 years, with about a third never recovering.
[Read more…]

Virtue signalling is not pretending

After watching a single video by H. Bomberguy, YouTube started recommending a bunch more, like this one:

For those who don’t care to watch: H. Bomberguy makes humorous and informative videos mocking anti-feminist youtubers.  This particular video addresses the concept of “virtue signalling”, apparently a buzzword in the alt-right/manosphere.  The alt-right accuses their opponents of “virtue signalling” as a way of saying that their opponents are just doing things to make themselves look good, possibly to get women to have sex with them.

I am not nearly as entertaining as H. Bomberguy, but I want to address a point he missed: signalling is a real concept in game theory, and the alt-right clearly doesn’t understand what it means or how it works.

[Read more…]

Review: Obduction

[cn: This review is spoiler-free. I can’t speak for the comments.]

Obduction is a new game by the team that brought us Myst. Having played all the Myst games when I was younger,* I ended up buying Obduction, and almost immediately regretted it.

Hear me out, it’s not that it’s a bad game. It just reminded me of why I think retro pixelated games are so popular these days. Game creators can advertise high-quality graphics all they want, but ultimately the hardware required to render these graphics is sold separately. In many ways, this game had uglier graphics than Myst IV. I had to put the graphics on the lowest settings, deal with terrible frame rates, and sit through lots of long loading screens. My advice: bring a book.

That aside (and also putting aside numerous other technical issues), Obduction is an okay game. The main attraction is the story. Just sharing a bit of the game’s introduction: you find yourself teleported to a strange world, a deserted mining town surrounded by an alien landscape. You have to use environmental clues to figure out both the mechanics of the sci-fi world, as well as the events leading up to the desertion. But it’s not all mystery and sci-fi, it’s also about the human angle.


Image credit: Cyan

[Read more…]

Linkspam: September 10th, 2016

Hey, if you’re interested in joining Freethought Blogs, you better send us an application right now.  Instructions on how to apply are here.

And now for my monthly linkspam:

Psychic Ferns EP – My brother is in this psychedelic doom metal band!  And the EP is available for free (or name your price).  Naturally, I think they are the coolest thing ever.

Aces in the Church – A collection of aces’ personal experiences with Christianity.  If you’ve ever speculated on the interaction between Christianity and asexuality, I’d ask you, are you ready to confront some real stories?  Coyote themself has some of the best writing in here but the snippets are important to show the diversity of experiences.

[cn: rape, rape apology] A Feminist Magazine’s Hypocrisy On Rape Made Me Love Feminists Even More – Chris Hall talks about an incident where a feminist magazine published a sympathetic account of a woman raping her male partner.  Although this was a feminist fuckup, Chris was grateful for the response of other feminists, and mad at MRAs for making the conversation more difficult.  MRAs upset me for similar reasons, particularly since I started being out about being a rape victim.  I still remember that time that a gay guy tried to sell me on the men’s rights movement by telling me gay men were lucky to not have any consent culture. [Read more…]