So, there’s this. JREF promoting a talk on science and morality at TAM 2013 by that expert on morality Michael Shermer. Nine hours ago. A good many days after the publication of Mark Oppenheimer’s article, the one that quoted James Randi saying he was well aware of Shermer’s frolicsome ways with the laydeez and that if he got many more reports about them he would ask him to limit his attendance at TAM.

Randi Foundation @jref ·  9 hours ago
Science and Morality: Michael Shermer TAM 2013:

Hey, isn’t it about time for Roman Polanski to return to Hollywood?


  1. Anthony K says

    The only thing the JREF is missing at TAM now is a session for intercessory prayers to the Virgin Mother.

  2. John Horstman says

    Hey, isn’t it about time for Roman Polanski to return to Hollywood?

    What, you haven’t heard about his new film examining sexual ethics?

  3. says

    There’s a statistic that in the U.S. rapists are more trusted than atheists. So someone at JREF thought: hey, we can use that!

    Seriously, if Shermer is atheism’s “moral authority”, the rifts can’t be deep enough for me.

  4. Hj Hornbeck says

    I’m one of the lucky few who’ve heard Shermer talk about his system of morality in person.

    He called it “Ask First:” before doing some action, ask the people effected what they think. It has a Rawlsian quality to it, but unlike the Veil it’s much easier to game. Jails and safe injection sites will never be built, because the surrounding populace will never agree to them. Ever heard of Hobo Fights, where assholes pay two homeless people to beat the crap out of one another? Permitted by “Ask First,” banned by the Veil. Thinking of cutting carbon emissions? Don’t ask the experts, do an opinion poll!

    Shermer was peppered with similar corner cases during the Q&A, but he had a solution: “no moral system is perfect,” so we’d just switch to another one when problems arose! I think he even mentioned a “greater good” system as a candidate.

    You know, the type of system which would give the same answers in the vast majority of cases, and which we could have gone with from the start. But no, he had to saw off the corners to suit his libertarian views, then hastily glue them back on, in an ad hoc manner, when those corners became critical.

    I wasn’t impressed.

  5. Dunc says

    @5: Good grief, that’s ridiculous. Did Shermer devise this brilliant system of moral philosophy on the back of a cocktail napkin, after 3 Martinis, in the 5 minutes before he was due to talk, without ever having read anything on the topic previously?

  6. Trebuchet says

    Sharon Hill (of Doubtful News) seems to have taken over communications for JREF. She appears to have mad a “doubtful” decision here. Hill is now the only person beside Randi himself on the “Our Team” page there.

  7. bargearse says

    How does one organisation so consistently and simultaneously shoot itself in the foot and stick its foot in its mouth? It beggars belief.

  8. Anthony K says

    Anyway, so much for the “rape allegations are a serious matter and can ruin a man’s life” claim.

  9. sonofrojblake says

    Beyond parody.

    Did Shermer devise this brilliant system of moral philosophy on the back of a cocktail napkin, after 3 Martinis

    I was going to make ajoke about him not drinking those Martinis and instead pouring them into someone else’s glass, but it really isn’t funny.

    Just… seriously, Randi? REALLY? F. F. S.

  10. says

    without ever having read anything on the topic previously?

    Sounds like he hasn’t even so much as read Harris.

    Uh, what’s the html tag for “melt your face level snark”?

  11. brett says

    He’s best buddies with T.J. Grothe, so that’s no surprise. We should push for people to boycott TAM as long as Shermer’s on the speaking list.

  12. Phillip Hallam-Baker says

    uh oh… its getting round about time to do what some folk in the security world did at the RSA show this year and run a second conference in the same city on the same dates.

    Some of my colleagues got a little upset about some of the Snowden files which they saw as suggesting RSA Data Security accepted cash from the NSA in return for promoting a random number algorithm they knew to have been sabotaged by the NSA. So they withdrew from the main industry trade show where we discuss technologies that people deploy to block PRISM type pervasive intercept. Then when some of us pointed out that we need people to go to the conference to find out about the security risks they decided to put on another conference at the Metreon center right next door to the RSA show in the Moscone.

    So maybe time to put on a Dawkins-free, Shermer-Free conference where non-harassment rules are taken seriously.

  13. says

    I thought that in service of Iron (my patron god) I’d share a few quotes from Shermer’s talk on morality that I linked above. Any transcription errors are unintentional.


    Humans practice both deception and self-deception. Research shows that we’re better at deception than deception detection – that we can lie slightly better than we can detect other people lying to us. However we’re decent as lie detectors. Deceivers that continue to deceive consistently with the same people – get caught. That’s what happens: they do, they get caught. Eventually.

    Research also shows that the normal cues that we give off when we are attempting to deceive others are less likely to be expressed if you actually believe the lie, yourself. What we’re looking for are these little behavioral cues – and, I – did a show with an expert on this (so-called expert) (nobody’s that good at it) but she was showing me what to look for: somebody’s lying, they break the gaze, they don’t make as much eye contact with you, they take a deep breath – we were analyzing Clinton’s famous: “I did not have sex relations with that woman, Miss Lewinski” and you could see how he’s sort of fiddling with his glasses and he takes a deep breath and he looks off – now, not everybody does that. It’s hard to be consistent about detecting lies like that, but these things are true, and – um – that’s what we’re looking for.

    But, if you believe the lie – that is, you don’t think you’re lying – your body is not going to give off those cues. OK? So it’s not enough to fake doing the right thing in order to fool our fellow group members because, although we’re fairly good deceivers, over time – you’ll get caught. If you’re living in a small community of people, for a long time, they’ll catch on to what you’re up to.

    Therefore: we cannot fool all the people all the time so we assess (through observation and especially gossip) who is trustworthy and who is not. So it is better to actually be a moral person because that way you believe it yourself and thus you’re not actually lying – you’re not faking being a moral person – you’re actually being a moral person. That way, that is, the best way to convince others you’re a moral person is to actually be it, not just fake it, because you’ll be caught, eventually.

    I see that Dr. Shermer is comfortable with gossip and observation. Perhaps someone should ask him if he’s changed his stance on that, and make sure you’re watching his gaze and breathing while he answers.

  14. Jackie says

    The body giving away that you’re lying thing is widely believed by police interrogators and it’s bunk. It’s bunk like the “lie detector” is bunk.


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