Why I would be executed in Iran

If I lived in Iran, I would be executed pretty quickly. Some of the things I’ve done that are death-worthy (especially the first one):

  • Enmity against God, corruption on earth, apostasy, heresy and blasphemy
  • A third conviction of drinking alcohol
  • Homosexuality
  • Distribution of obscene/pornographic audio-visual materials

You can also be executed for:

  • Adultery
  • Public order crimes (stop those protests!)
  • Drug possession

Why do I bring this up? Iran Solidarity, headed by the wonderful atheist activist Maryam Namazie, is protesting the execution of political prisoners in Iran.

We have all been in love, spoken our minds, joined protests, political groups and campaigns, poked fun at that which is taboo and taken a stand for what we believe in.

The only difference is – depending on where we were born – some of us don’t live to talk about it.

As you may have already heard, on 9 May 2010 four young men and one woman were executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran after being falsely accused, tortured, and charged with ‘enmity against God’ in sham trials. The executions were carried out in secret and without the knowledge of their families or lawyers. Farzad Kamangar (35 year old teacher and trade unionist), Ali Heydarian, Farhad Vakili, Shirin AlamHouli (28 years old) and Mehdi Eslamian never even got to call their families to say goodbye.

Tragically, these executions are not new. The Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the execution capitals of the world and is the only state that continues to execute minors.

From 13 May onwards join me in protest against the 9 May execution of the five political prisoners in any way you can. Protests have already been taking place in Iran and at Iranian embassies in various cities worldwide, including a successful general strike in Iranian Kurdistan on 13 May. You can join rallies taking place in your city; pass this information on; ask your friends to support the action; write letters of protest; write to the media; raise the issue at events you organise or attend and at your places of work, school and in your neighbourhoods; do acts of solidarity anywhere you can; volunteer; lend your expertise to make publicity materials, translate, fundraise… Demand the expulsion of the regime from its seat in the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women, from the International Labour Organisation and other bodies. Demand that its embassies and consulates be shut down. And call for an end to the death penalty in Iran and everywhere.

Boobquake was a lighthearted event, but there is serious turmoil going on in Iran. You can support the cause and find more information by joining the Facebook page here.

I’m now on the Secular Student Alliance’s Board of Directors!


I’m super excited to be a new member of the Board of Directors of the Secular Student Alliance! The SSA is an absolutely fabulous organization that helps freethinking student groups across the world flourish. As a former club president, I know from experience how helpful they are. They brought many wonderful speakers to our campus, such as Hemant Mehta, PZ Myers, Greta Christina, and Eddie Tabash. Without their help, there’s no way our little club could have funded their visits.

On top of that, they’re always there when you need advice or event ideas. I can’t tell you how many time I dug through their Activity Packets or references their press release guide. And last year they organized a wonderfully informative and fun conference for secular students, which included the infamous trip to the Creation Museum! They have given me a reason to take a trip to Ohio this summer (I’m speaking too, woo!), and I think that’s quite an accomplishment…

I can’t wait to give back and help the SSA. Thanks so much to everyone who voted!

PS: If you want to help out the SSA, go give a donation here.

Clit cutting is not equivalent to Christmas and wedding dresses

I usually adore Amanda Marcotte, but I have to say one of her latest pieces is really facepalm worthy. She actually defends the American Academy of Pediatric’s new “compromise” on female genital mutilation to offer “ritual nicking, such as pricking or minor incisions of girls’ clitorises.”

I didn’t originally post about this issue because many other excellent bloggers made the same points I would have made. Melissa McEwan sums it up best:

See, this way, people can honor that awesome tradition without actually removing part or all of the genitalia. Everyone gets a little something: Girls get only a little heinous physical and psychological trauma, and their guardians get to practice their violent misogyny, just in a slightly less violent way. Yay for compromise!

FGC is a human rights violation. It has no medical purpose, and its cultural rationale is steeped in gender inequality. There is no reason to tolerate even this proposed alternative version of the procedure in a culture with an ostensible belief in gender equality.

Insert the 10,000 posts I’ve written about consent and autonomy here.

And, despite the AAP’s claim that endorsing nicking will be a deterrent, Equality Now rightly notes that advocating a more minor version of the procedure will almost certainly mean that “mothers who have until now resisted community pressure and not subjected their daughters to FGM in the U.S., in part because of the anti-FGM law, could be forced under the AAP guidelines to ask pediatricians to ‘nick’ their daughters’ clitorises if it is legally permitted.”

So why does Amanda Marcotte defend it?

People do this sort of thing all the time, and usually they get applauded for it. They realize a religious or cultural tradition is backwards—silly at best, oppressive at worst—and they’re faced with a choice. Do they abandon their heritage, or do they compromise? Obviously, being a big time atheist, I wish people abandoned their traditions more, but as someone who still gets a kick out of Christmas, I understand the urge to hang on to some stuff. Doctors offering a relatively harmless, ritualistic alternative to more severe cutting could go a long way towards encouraging the view of it as merely a ritual, and not something that has to produce long-term damage to count.

… And it’s not like Western culture is so free of blatantly misogynist traditions, either. Part of me wishes that we had a two minute nicking at the doctor instead of the entire painfully misogynist wedding tradition that persists in the name of tradition. Everything from white gowns to bouquet tosses to the father “giving” the bride away—all about reducing women to objects that exist strictly to fuck and marry men, if not suggesting that we’re male property. But people hang onto it, because it’s tradition. And we applaud every nudge in the right direction, from refusing to be given away to keeping your name, instead of suggesting that anything but a marriage boycott for all is inadequate.

…I’m sorry, but cutting a clitoris is not equivalent to rocking around the Christmas tree or walking down the aisle in a frilly white dress. For one, people choose to celebrate Christmas and have a traditional wedding. I still merrily celebrate on the 25th without religious pressure, and I’ll likely let my dad give me away in a white dress because I choose to do so. It’s all about choice, and young girls subjected to female genital mutilation have absolutely no choice. By allowing this, we’re taking away their one last voice.

But the other main thing is harm – remember how doctors are supposed to “do no harm”? While nicking isn’t nearly as bad as complete removal, it still isn’t all rainbows and pansies. You say you rather have that than a traditional wedding ceremony – well good for you, because cutting my clit seems like a stupendously awful thing. I’ll take a meaningless wedding ceremony over that any day. And yes, it is meaningless. Maybe it used to represent patriarchy and objectifying women, but can you honestly say anyone thinks that when they’re at a wedding anymore? We don’t call for a boycott on traditional marriage ceremonies because they’re not hurting anyone, and no one is forced to do it.

And I love how she adds the bit on circumcision being worse than ritual nicking. Yes, it is. But that doesn’t mean we should allow ritual nicking because we already allow something worse. That just means we need to keep trying to reduce circumcisions, and treat it the same as other types of genital mutilation.

Yeah, sorry Amanda, but I’m not convinced. It’s kind of hard for me to be culturally sensitive to something absolutely barbaric and misogynistic.

This is exactly why I hated my philosophy class

From SMBC:
Replace “Engineer” with “Scientist” and this is pretty much what Biomedical Ethics was to me. In fact, we had this exact scenario, and I replied the exact same way.

Or maybe I hated my philosophy class because we never got a single moment to ask questions during lecture, and during recitations we spent the whole time being fed answers to the quizzes and never had a single discussion about the material. Maybe I would have liked the class if it was more, well, philosophical.


Oh well. Got my A.

Why I’m not going to draw Mohammed

Because I don’t want to die.

It has become commonplace to hear about people being violently attacked and even targeted for murder for drawing (usually poorly done) cartoons of the Muslim prophet. The JyllandsPosten cartoon “controversy”, the recent South Park episode that had Matt and Trey receiving death threats… Just look at the most recent case of the cartoonist Vilks, who was attacked at a lecture on free speech and has money on his head:

An al-Qaeda front organisation then offered $US100,000 ($A110,730) to anyone who murdered Vilks – with an extra $US50,000 ($A55,365) if his throat was slit – and $US50,000 ($A55,365) for the death of Nerikes Allehanda editor-in-chief Ulf Johansson.

I personally support Draw Mohammed Day and the various secular student groups that have been partaking so far. I think it’s incredibly important that we support the freedom of speech and not give religious extremists a free pass. Religious rules apply to members of that religion, and forcing those rules on outsiders with violence and murder is not acceptable. It is as if Jews sent death threats to anyone who ate pork products.

But at the same time, I’m going to be a hypocrit and still my pen. Sorry, but I think age 22 is a little too young to die. I’m not in the business of becoming a martyr – and now that my blog has had attention from Boobquake (which already walked the line of annoying Muslims), I’m not going to line up for the firing squad. Of course, calling out Muslim extrimists for being fucking insane about these cartoons probably doesn’t put me in the good.

Oh well. I’ll be ambiguous and leave you with what may or may not be Mohammed. The world will never know:


(Via Pharyngula)

Your personal opinion does not trump scientific studies

As a scientist, one of my big pet peeves is when someone tries to use a personal anecdote to disprove a scientific study. “Cigarette are bad for you?! But my grandpa chain smoked until he was 96, and he was healthy as an ox!”

Great for your grandpa! …But that’s irrelevant.

The whole purpose of science is to reduce our biases. Looking at your sample size of one (Grandpa) is going to lead you to the wrong conclusion about what’s going on with smoking. Your grandpa was an outlier – and while that is interesting, the vast majority of people suffer harmful effects from smoking.

But my bigger pet peeve is when someone’s culture, personal opinion, or political belief stands in the way of them accepting science.

For example, during our unit on aggression in my Social Psychology class, we talked about cultural causes for aggression. One example was the Southern Culture of Honor. People who grow up in this culture see a perceived insult as a threat to their ego, which increases testosterone levels* and violent cognitions, and can lead to acts of violence. Southern cities and states have much higher White homicide rates than those populated by northerners**, and in Southern states homicides exceed suicides.

Effects of Insults on Testosterone levels in Southerner and Northerner Participants
When I mentioned this in a tweet, some of my Southern followers got angry and said it wasn’t true, and tried to provide anecdotal evidence about how kind and helpful Southerners are. Your neighbors may be sweet, but that doesn’t negate an overall trend. Scientific studies aren’t saying that all southerners are homicidal maniacs. Though you know, getting angry at a perceived insult doesn’t exactly help your cause…

Another topic within aggression that really riles people up is spanking. Numerous studies have been done showing that spanking children increases antisocial*** and aggressive**** behavior. But when people who have been spanked or spank their children hear about this, they get very defensive. I can’t recall the number of times I’ve heard “Well I was spanked, and I turned out fine!” or “I spanked my kids and now they’re little angels!”

I’m sorry, but 1) Your specific experience does not negate the average response seen in hundreds of families, and 2) Your evaluation isn’t necessarily correct. You could very well have had an increase in antisocial or aggressive behavior, but you didn’t have a psychologist assessing your behavior, did you? I’d really like to see a psychological study on why people like to defend spanking. Do they hate thinking that their parents did something wrong? Do they hate having to come up with a better (and possibly less easy) disciplinary action?

And last, but not least: political beliefs that get in the way of accepting science. The one that bugs me the most are feminists who are such huge supporters of female equality that they simply cannot accept that males and females do differ in certain ways. For one, you kind of can’t ignore that (biologically typical) males and females differ physically – we kind of have different reproductive organs and chromosomes. We also have different secondary sex characteristics – males are going to be slightly stronger and larger on average.

And because our biology differs, it’s not insane to suggest our psychology differs. Saying men are better in some areas and women are better in others does not mean one is superior to another. Saying men may have certain mating strategies and females may have different ones does not mean one is morally superior, or that either are things we should actually do – humans are not simply slaves to their biology, after all. There are differences between the sexes in almost every species where there are two different sexes – humans aren’t exempt. To deny these differences because they don’t jibe with your political beliefs is simply unscientific.

Now, I know I’m not perfect. There have definitely been times where I’ve been skeptical of a study when I personally didn’t like the results – it’s human nature (especially when the study is saying something delicious is bad for your health). But the thing about being a scientist is reducing our biases as much as possible. So next time you find yourself giving anecdotal evidence, remember: Your personal opinion may be an interesting new hypothesis, but until you do a study of your own, it does not trump previous scientific research.

* Cohen et al (1996) Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in the South
**Myers (2008) Social Psychology
*** Strauss et al (1997)
**** Taylor (2010) in Pediatrics

Goodbye, bad habit!

It’s officially the beginning of summer, which means I’m starting my “get back in shape and stop being a fatty routine.” I’m already off to a rough start, since I skipped going to the gym with my work out buddy this morning because I had a cold (I promise!). But I’ve already made an important step:

Eliminating pop* from my diet. Well, mostly.

I’m going back to my rule that I had freshman and sophomore year – I’m only allowed to drink pop on the weekends. This is the best compromise I can come up with for myself – I’m of the mindset that a complete ban on any type of food is doomed for misery and failure. Drinking pop is a horrible habit of mine, and I will easily drink multiple cans a day if it’s in my apartment. If I never buy it and limit myself to the drink only if I go out on the weekend, it helps so much. When I did this last time, I lost weight without exercising at all. Of course, now I’m over 21, so to counteract a new vice I’ll be working out a little (I really only have alcohol once or twice a week, though).

Hopefully by the end of the summer I’ll be a little healthier, and shed my Oh My God Winter Is Depressing Eat Lots of Junk Food pounds.

What are your bad food habits? Are you attempting to change them, or just relishing their deliciousness?

*Also known as soda, for you weird people who use the wrong slang.

The Evolution Litmus Test

A couple days ago when I was waiting for my Biomedical Ethics exam to begin, I started chatting with this girl sitting near me. She was in my recitation class, but I didn’t really know anything else about her. Somehow I mentioned I was a biology major, and she brought up the one biology class she took as an Animal Science major: it was my favorite Biology class at Purdue, Evolution of Behavior.

Now, even though one of my research advisors teaches that class, I promise I’m not being biased – every day I left that class absolutely amazed at how interesting and inventive nature was. I’ve always been more of a lab rat and genetics nerd, but this gave me real appreciation for natural history and behavior. We talked about insanely interesting topics like the evolution of echolocation, altruism, dominance regulated ovulation suppression, and electric fish communication. And as a perk, I thought the class was pretty easy; if you just understood basic evolutionary principles and paid attention at all (which was a given, since it was so cool), you’d do fine.

So when this girl brought it up, of course I gushed about how much I loved that class. To which she replied,

“Oh, I don’t believe in evolution. I just took that class to see what the different opinion was like.”

The only thing that kept me from calling her out on the stupidity of her statements (EVOLUTION IS NOT FUCKING OPINION) was the fact that I didn’t want to totally upset myself right before I had to take a difficult exam. But of course, she had to go on,

“It was so hard! I didn’t understand anything he was saying all semester!”

I asked her if she took the required introductory evolution classes before taking this one, and she said no – her Animal Science advisor said the class was easy and she waived the requirements. This made me fume. Evolution of Behavior is a 500-level class meant for upperclassmen and graduate students. We spend about a day reviewing the principles of evolution because it’s assumed you’ve already learned them in the various required classes. So if you stick a creationist in that class with no knowledge of evolution, of course they’re going to be totally confused. And now they can proudly claim “well I took a class on evolution and so I know it’s wrong” just because they didn’t have the skill set to understand the class!

The thing that annoys me the most is that this person is graduating with a degree in Animal Sciences. If you are getting a degree in something biology-related, you should understand and accept evolution. Hell, I know Biology students (mostly molecular or pre-med people) who don’t accept evolution, so it’s not a matter of curriculum*. But to know that we’re giving degrees to people who fail to understand – no, outright deny a basic tenet of biology is shameful.

Would chemistry give degrees to someone who thought the five elements were more accurate than the periodic table? Would physics give degrees to a someone who thought gravity was fairies holding us down to the ground? Would earth and atmospheric sciences give degrees to flat-Earthers? Would astronomy give degrees to people who think the moon is made of cheese?

Maybe with the way American education is set up, you can’t stop someone from graduating based on these things. Maybe they adamantly believe in fanciful superstition, but are smart enough to give the desired (aka correct) answers on exams. How do you hold back someone with crazy beliefs if they got As in all the classes?

And while I hate giving creationists undeserved credentials (“I got a degree in Biology, and I know evolution is false, trust me!”), I guess they can go have jobs where evolution doesn’t matter as much. Go pipette for hours at some company for all I care. But when these people are going on to become teachers or scientists, it’s scary. You need to be able to understand and accept evolution to 1) Teach it to others so we don’t keep perpetuating ignorance, and 2) Come up with plausible hypotheses, do good research, and interpret results correctly.

This is why I think we need an Evolution Litmus Test in these fields. Do not accept people into your school or Masters/PhD program unless they accept evolution. I don’t care how you do it – a written test, an essay question on the application, a simple check box to weed out the honest, asking pointed questions during interviews, sending grad student spies to mingle and get the truth out… But figure out what people deny basic science before you turn them into scientists. A friend shared with me a story about a fellow grad school interviewee at a very prestigious university who was a unabashedly proud young earth creationist around the other prospective students (but not current ones or professors) – do not let this ignorance infiltrate your program.

I know people are going to claim I’m just putting an “atheist requirement” on studying biology, but I am not. There are many many biologists who are religious but still accept evolution. I have friends here at Purdue who go to church weekly, are in religious clubs, and will still laugh at Intelligent Design for it’s anti-science lunacy. This is just a scientific standard. If you don’t believe in a fundamental of the field, you should not be able to claim some sort of expertise in it. It’s as bad as graduating in History with a focus on WWII and believing the Holocaust was a hoax. It proves you do not understand the topic, and it is embarrassing to the school.

But really, is it that outlandish to require people to understand the field you’re hiring them in?

*Note for non-Purdue people: AS is part of the College of Agriculture, and Biology (what I’m in) is part of the College of Science, so we have very different curriculum. Hence why she didn’t have to take those intro Biology courses that teach evolution (though those still fail to educate some bio majors).

I’m done, weeeee!

Yesterday I took my last final exam of my undergraduate career. Crazy to think how fast these four years went…and in a week I’ll be handed my degree. I’m officially done!

…Well, except for the fact that I have four to five years of graduate school coming up. And then a couple years of post docs. Hooray, academia. Oh well, I like it, and that’s all that matters.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m celebrating by going to my good friend’s day long bachelorette party in Indianapolis. If I return alive tomorrow, I’ll do some real blogging. Until then, consider this an open thread.

Purdue Non-Theist display case vandalized

The Stewart Center at Purdue University has a bunch of glass cases that line its hallway where student groups are allowed to put up little displays advertising. Groups get a week reserved, so you see displays rotating through of everything from breast cancer awareness, traditional African dance club, anthropology club, upcoming musical performances, College Republicans, religious clubs…

But apparently an atheist club is just too much for Purdue to handle.

The Society of Non-Theists (which I just officially stopped being President of – was for 3 years) finally got a display case of our own. I helped our former treasurer put up the display at 3:15pm on Monday. It included a sign saying “This is what non-theists look like” with happy photos of our club members, our benign club t-shirt, some atheism-related books, and Darwin fish stickers.

And now it’s covered in marker with “In the beginning, God created…”Thank you, vandal, for perfectly illustrating why we need this club on campus. Because we can’t even say we exist in the most friendly way possible without someone trying to come by and shut us up or put is down. Though it really doesn’t surprise me; our flyers are constantly vandalized like this (or just torn down). Makes sense that they wouldn’t stop because of some silly glass. Foolish of me to think the display would last untouched for at least 48 hours.

I’ve never seen something like this happen to another case, not the Episcopalians, the Pagans, or the Muslims (the Islamic case is right next to ours and untouched). I guess Purdue still has a long way to go. Off to email this to the proper Purdue people, though they’re just going to tell me there’s nothing they can do…again.