Satire during a pandemic (Non-fiction)

Fake Tweet

Not a real tweet from President Trump.

One of my friends, who is very active in the skeptical movement, recently shared this alleged tweet from President Trump:

“American shops want to open! Hair needs cutting. Demokraps don’t want to bite the bullet but that’s the price we have to pay. Some oldies will have to die. We’re in God’s hands, folks! Liberate America!”

The image she shared made it look like an actual tweet from the President, and it reads like something he would write.  My friend believed it, and while we’ve had our disagreements, her judgment is usually sound when it comes to sharing articles on Facebook.

In this case, however, the tweet wasn’t real.  It came from a blog post on the Laughing in Disbelief blog.  Now there were clues that the article was satire— like the slogan “Liberte, Egalite, Absurdite;” the cartoonish religious figures in the sidebar; and a link to the about page saying that it is a satirical blog.  But to someone casually skimming the post, and the blog in general, it looks real.

Now, as I mentioned, my friend is normally careful about what she shares on her Facebook page, and she has a firm understanding of skepticism.  Yet she didn’t initially see that this post wasn’t real.  Based on the comments to the post, she wasn’t alone.

While the writer might have felt the satire was obvious, the truth is that it’s not always obvious. Most people skim posts and don’t take the time to check all the links in a post.  So it is possible that anyone can miss that an article is satirical and take it literally.

Over the years, I’ve experienced people who thought a Babbler article could be real.  Eight years ago, I wrote about the Lost Tribes of Israel returning to Earth, and a commenter asked if it was real, adding: “Either way, I’m amazed that this is truly happening. Why hasn’t this received more media time, if any?”

Today, the World Health Organization says there’s a “pandemic of misinformation” around the COVID-19 outbreak.  Judging from the posts in the community Facebook groups I follow, I can believe it. Even people, like my friend, can end up unintentionally spreading misinformation.  I don’t fault her for it, as she did acknowledge her mistake, which is a very good thing.

Knowing about this human tendency, whenever I write one of my fictional articles, I have to ask myself if the article has the potential to be believed.  Even when I’ve put the word “fiction” in the title, some will miss that.  I can’t stop everyone from believing a work of fiction, but I do make an effort to minimize the risk.

“Satire” is not an excuse to post anything you want and laugh at anyone who mistakes it for reality.  Writers, myself included, should do their best not to contribute to the misinformation that is already running rampant on the Internet.  I may not always succeed, but I will make the effort.

I hope the author of Laughing in Disbelief will make the effort moving forward as well.

Note:  All opinions expressed are my own. They do not reflect the views of any organization I work for or of my employer.  Feel free to leave a comment here or in the Bolingbrook Babbler Readers Group. 

Alex Gabriel needs our help (Non-fiction)

Alex Gabriel, who used to blog at Freethought Blogs and at the Orbit, has a personal emergency.  Alex does freelance editing and graphic design but now can’t work due to a broken laptop.  He’s set up a GoFundMe page so he can buy a replacement computer:

For the past five years, I’ve been gradually recovering from a crisis that involved becoming homeless, and because I’m disabled and stuck in underpaid work, sudden crises and financial emergencies are something I’m extremely vulnerable to. At the start of this week, my laptop of five years finally died for good after almost a year of declining function, leaving me without a reliable income or way to replace it. The longer I spend without a suitable replacement, the more overdrawn I become, so I’m setting up this crowdfund to help me cover the expense.

Alex has been helping work on my novel for the past seven years. (It will come out someday!)   I highly recommend his work, and I hope you’ll consider helping him get back on his feet.  I realize there will be many such requests now, but if you have the ability at some point, please consider helping him.

Help out Abe at Oceanoxia (Non-fiction)

Abe, who writes for Oceanoxia on FtB, needs help and has set up a Patreon page.

Thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak, layoffs have increased, job interviews have been indefinitely postponed, and many places aren’t hiring new workers. All of that means I really need help paying my bills and keeping a roof over my head. is a way for you to help with that, even if it’s just a little bit, and get some perks and extra content in return. You control how much you give, and how long you give it, and every little bit really does help. When lots of people pitch in, it can make a huge difference. Please help if you’re able, and share my work with others. Thank you!

Thanks to his blog, I was finally able to see this video, The Quiz Broadcast:

Shabbat Alone and Together (Video Non-fiction)

Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation, which I serve as a board member, recently decided to cancel our events due to the Coronavirus, and some of them online instead.  Rabbi Adam Chalom put together this online service at the last minute.  It’s pretty close to what a typical service at Kol Hadash is like:


Future services will be on the Kol Hadash YouTube channel.

My wife and I love being members of the Kol Hadash community, and we are saddened that we won’t be seeing our fellow members in person for a long time.  We may be stuck in our homes, but thanks to social media, we’ll be riding out this pandemic together.

Allegedly: The conclusion of the Richard Carrier saga (Non-fiction)

Now that Richard Carrier’s defamation/SLAPP suits are settled, the defendants have launched a web site telling their side of the story called Allegedly: The Website.

In 2017, Dr. Richard Carrier is sued us for reporting  on his well-known allegations of misconduct. These allegations were widely reported on throughout the community, including by third-parties both critical and sympathetic to him who were not themselves defendants.

This lawsuit had all the hallmarks of a SLAPP suit — a lawsuit filed to stifle legitimate criticism and commentary. The named defendants are Skepticon, The Orbit, and Freethought Blogs – as well as individuals Lauren Lane, the lead organizer of Skepticon; Stephanie Zvan, a blogger for The Orbit; PZ Myers, a blogger for Freethought Blogs; and Amy Frank-Skiba, who publicly posted her first-hand allegations against Carrier.

The site includes an extensive timeline of both the allegations against Carrier and the history of the lawsuits. It also reveals that the defendants spent over $265,000 on legal fees, and have only raised $$117,594 at the time the site went up.  There’s still a Gofundme site for the defendants and a separate one for Skepticon.

There are more details in their video hangout.

Since there is a legal settlement, it is safe to say that this overly long saga is finally over.


Kavin Senapathy on why organized skepticism ‘can’t afford to ignore racial inequality’ (Non-fiction)

Kavin Senapathy was, until last year, one of the co-hosts for the Center for Inquiry’s “Point of Inquiry” podcast.  She recently posted about her dismissal from the podcast and CFI for Undark.

I believe the dismissal was a response to my outspoken views on CFI’s negligence toward matters of race and diversity — issues that the organization has often sidestepped in the past. If that is indeed the case, it sends a discouraging message. At a moment when racist pseudoscience is making a disturbing comeback, skeptics shouldn’t shy away from talking about race — and we can’t afford to overlook the white privilege among our own ranks.

As someone who was involved in organized skepticism for years, I think this article is spot on.  While the Chicagoland group I volunteered for was very diverse, overall, the movement was and still is, very white and male-dominated.  I used to think organizations, like CFI, would change, instead, many of them became resistant to change.  (It doesn’t help when Richard Dawkins argues that eugenics can work.)

Which is wrong, because the ideas and tools of skepticism should be for everyone, not just for a select group who consider themselves superior thinkers.  The movement should expand beyond debunking Bigfoot and UFOs.  As Senapathy writes, skeptical organizations should play a role in debunking pseudoscientific racism.  Especially when white nationalists and their beliefs are shaping many of President Trump’s policies.

Racism is among the most pressing pseudoscientific threats of our time. But it can be deceptive, masquerading as mere inquisitiveness and even helplessness. The most insidious white supremacy doesn’t carry tiki torches of festering hatred. It comes from well-meaning people who nevertheless uphold power structures with whiteness at the top. It’s woven into the very fabric of America and its institutions.

Unfortunately, CFI might have to be added to this list. 

The network grows! (Non-Fiction)

I’d like to join PZ in welcoming four new bloggers to Freethought Blogs:

  • Andreas Avester. You may have noticed them commenting around these parts, and now they’re doing an art & philosophy & politics & social justice blog.

  • Impossible Me. Another familiar face: Abbeycadabra, writing about social justice, mental health and trans issues, broadcasting from her lair in Canada.

  • From the Ashes of Faith. Megan is a long-time blogger who is new to us, writing about mental health & parenting & atheism, naturally.

  • Scalpen. Raniel Ponteras is coming to us from the Philippines, and will be writing about the history of science and medicine.

I enjoyed reading their applications and writing samples, and I encourage my readers to check out their new blogs here.

If you want to blog here, read the About FtB section for details.  If you do apply, I want to stress that it is important to provide samples of your writing.  In my case, I only wrote the minimal information on my application, but I had years of posts at the Babbler’s old site for FtB’s members to judge.

It is a privilege to be here, and I am enjoying my time here.  I hope our new bloggers will feel the same way as well.

Note: Feel free to leave a comment here or in the Bolingbrook Babbler Readers Group.

Tuning out YouTube? (Non-fiction)

There’s a YouTube Walkout going on from 12/10 to 12/13 to protest YouTube’s changing their terms of service.  Great American Satan explains:

They’ve dropped some fucking egregious new terms of service, promising to delete any channel they deem commercially unviable. Since the videos disproportionately affected by this are producers of LGBT and progressive content, you know what this is really about.

Marcus Ranum writes more YouTube’s problematic aspects:

The ad-stream feeds into the unpleasant reality that it sells time to be a political platform. I.e.: whoever has money for ads now has a platform. So much for the early internet idea of making data equal. Thank corporate capitalists for that. Meanwhile, they can figure out how to deliver the ads, bill them correctly to their originator, but can’t be arsed to ban the ones that are obvious bullshit. That gives politicians wiggle-room to wring their hands and whinge about how their important message needs to be protected but the other guy’s needs to be silenced.

New FtB blogger Abbey adds some good points too:

Businesses are generally conservative, big business more so, ergo “sensitive topics” is… queer rights, sex workers’ rights, BLM, climate change, etc. Anything challenging the patriarchal status quo. Meanwhile, stuff that doesn’t make them uncomfortable – which includes transphobic and homophobic “jokes”, “race realism”, anti-semitglobalism, and so on –falls obviously under “free speech”.

I’ve active on the Internet since the early 1990s.  (Anyone remember ISCABBS?)  I remember concerns about the threat of the then rising commercialization of the Internet to the free exchange of information.  What is going on at YouTube is an example of what many back then feared could happen.  For the most part, I don’t expect YouTube to ban videos that they feel don’t earn them enough money.  Instead, I expect that they’ll continue to remove videos and ban users that bring negative attention to YouTube.  Consider the size and reach of YouTube, and its parent company Alphabet, that can be a problem.  Especially for marginalized voices in our society. I wish I had the answer, but I do acknowledge the problem.

It’s settled! The Richard Carrier lawsuit is over (Non-fiction)

As PZ reported, Dr. Richard Carrier settled his remaining lawsuits against PZ Myers and Amy Frank.  Apparently, all it took was the threat of a countersuit to bring this to an end.  Carrier will not be paying the defendants’ legal bills, but you can still donate to their fundraising page. Stephanie Zvan’s post reporting the original allegations will remain online.  

The defendants were fortunate enough to have enough supporters to help with their legal bills.  Others aren’t so lucky when faced with a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.  The legal costs alone are enough to force publications to settle or avoid covering a story.  As John Oliver explained:

For now, I’ll celebrate this victory, and I look forward to forgetting about Richard Carrier again.  I’ll also try not to get too upset thinking about how the money spent on this case could have been put to better use.

Note: Feel free to leave a comment here or in the Bolingbrook Babbler Readers Group.