Cool stuff is happening!

There are two very nifty things happening this week that may be relevant to your interests.

Edwin appears in Meatspace

Co-blogger Edwin is giving a talk entitled “Digital Hatred: White Supremacy in the Information Age” this Friday night at the Oakridge Library in Vancouver (41st and Cambie):

The Internet has been something of a double edged sword for most of its existence. While offering people all over the world access to information they might never have seen otherwise, modern communications technology also proved to be a boon to racist organizations desperate to get their message out. To a great extent, their attempts have been successful; there are now more than 1000 known hate groups present in the United States, and their numbers continue to grow. These groups are religious, secular, white supremacist, black supremacist, anti-Semitic, anti-government, and many other flavours besides, with the vast majority hewing to one form of explicit (and violent) white supremacy or another. How has their message been adapted to fit into the digital age? How do they recruit? Who are their leaders, and who joins their causes? How does one counter an idea that can spread around the world in the blink of an eye? How can a person recognize racist speech – especially when it has been specifically tailored to appear non-racist?

If you’ve never heard Edwin speak before, you should know he’s an almost ludicrously eloquent and engaging speaker, and is abundantly knowledgable about this topic (as well as many others). The event is free and can be easily accessed by public transit, so if you’re looking for an opportunity to interact with some other Vancouver skeptics with an interest in social justice topics, this is your chance. I will be in attendance at the beginning of the event (my band has a gig that night so I will have to sneak out early), so keep an eye out for me.

Register either at the page, or on Facebook.

Bad Science Watch launches WiFi project

You might remember that some colleagues/friends of mine have launched a new Canadian scientific skepticism activism organization called Bad Science Watch. In addition to their inaugural project looking at the federal government’s policies towards homeopathic “medicine”, they’ve released this today:

Bad Science Watch has announced the launch of a critical investigation of the state of anti-WiFi activism in Canada. The independent non-profit plans to document the motivations, funding sources, agendas, and any conflicts of interest for those groups and individuals promoting misinformation about wireless networking technology (WiFi). These activists claim WiFi and related technologies can cause a variety of adverse health effects, and are attempting to convince city councils, libraries, and school districts across the country to remove or restrict the deployment of WiFi networks.

“While many of these activists are well-meaning yet misinformed, others are profiting from the uncertainty and doubt that has been manufactured.” said Jamie Williams, Executive Director of Bad Science Watch. “Some of the most prominent anti-WiFi scaremongers are tied to the sale and promotion of bogus products to ‘block’ WiFi, or promote sham medical diagnoses and treatments for false illnesses.”

Many activists blame WiFi’s low level radio signals for a broad variety of medical problems, from mild headaches and fatigue to chest pain and heart palpitations. When someone using or living near WiFi networks experiences these or other symptoms, they are told they have ‘Electromagnetic-Hypersensitivity’, or EHS. The existence of EHS is not supported by rigorous science, and has not been accepted by the medical and scientific community as a real condition. This distraction can lead to greater anxiety for parents who are worried about the well-being of their children, and may instead serve to delay the diagnosis of more serious and treatable medical problems like anxiety disorders or heart defects.

Bad Science Watch will use the findings of this investigation as a starting point to counter misinformation in the public sphere, and represent sound science to public officials who are confronted every day with requests to act on it.

Individuals who would like to support this and similar projects are invited to visit, subscribe to the mailing list, and make a donation to Bad Science Watch.

It’s a good week to be a skeptic in Vancouver! Please consider making contact with us and letting us know you’re out there!

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No, but seriously… what ABOUT the menz?!

One common complaint about feminism is that it is inherently anti-male. “It’s right there in the name,” say critics “you should just call it humanism if it’s not inherently gender biased!” As tedious as I find arguments over semantics, I will allow myself to be drawn into this one long enough to say that the reason it is called feminism is because it came as a response to the prevailing misogynist culture. The fact that it has grown and developed since then doesn’t require the existence of a new word, it simply requires our understanding to grow along with it.

But there is something besides simple semantics to the complaint. Feminism, at least as popularly practiced, tends to focus on issues relevant to cis women when compared to cis men. To an outsider’s view, it would certainly seem as though feminism is based on the overriding axiom that women are always treated as lesser than men. Cases in which men suffer are thus dismissed as either of secondary important or simply illusory complaints by people who have all the privilege anyway.

It certainly raises the question of why any man would self-identify as a feminist, considering that he will spend his entire life having his complaints ignored and dismissed. Lurid fantasies about the intentions of male feminists bubble to the surface – they (we) must be working an angle to be accepted by women feminists in order to have ready access to the orgy tent or something. While that is certainly a parsimonious explanation (especially when passed through a filter of bitter resentment), it is a particularly odious (and internally incoherent*) lie.

But the question remains, why don’t feminists care about stuff like this: [Read more…]

In Defence of Abused Fallacies

Y’know, if you don’t think that a horse is defined as such due to some innate form of ‘horseness’, then you should go read some Aristotle.*

If you don’t think that Evolution has any basis in reality, then Darwin has some things to tell you.

If you think that we can’t know anything at all about the origin of the universe, then you should listen to Victor Stenger.

I’m appealing to authority here? Well… Yes, I am. And this is not a problem at all. Let me break it down for you…

[Read more…]

Irrational Rationalists

The other day while perusing a few of my usual skeptical and atheist haunts online, I came across a conversation that seemed rather out of place; two individuals were having a serious discussion about the plausibility of extraterrestrials having constructed the pyramids. The cheerleader for the aliens had linked more than a few YouTube videos, conspiracy theory sites, and a book or two into the conversation, and appeared for all the world to be a die-hard ‘ancient aliens’ enthusiast. “Really?” I thought to myself, and then moved on.

A couple of sites later – again one deeply aligned with the atheist movement – I read another conversation; this time the topic of discussion was the “weather-controlling” abilities of the U.S. HAARP program. Specifically, the debaters were arguing whether HAARP was responsible for all of the ‘weird weather’ this summer, or just the droughts that have been punishing parts of the United States. “Or how about none of it?” I muttered to myself, clicking away from the site, “Jackasses”.

Throughout the rest of the day’s online browsing, I stumbled across even more of these conversations – some focussed on aliens or the paranormal, others centred on 9/11 conspiracies. In each of these discussions, I noticed individuals – many of whom had proudly been displaying their atheist bona fides – abandon reason entirely and plunge headlong into logical fallacy after blindingly obvious logical fallacy. But these flights into fancy weren’t the real source of my growing frustration; after all, flights of fancy can lead to remarkable places. No, the primary source of my angst was the fact that I knew from previous browsing, discussions, and even a debate or two that these same people were often the first to write theists (and believers of all sorts) off as ‘delusional’, irrational, or ‘crazy’. If only there was a word to describe someone condemning another person’s behaviour while behaving in the same way themselves… [Read more…]

Movie Friday: @Toure and microaggressions

One of the things we discussed in the interview I posted yesterday is the power that the internet has to democratize the flow of information. I used the term ‘anarchic’ intentionally, because when nearly everyone can access the mechanisms of broadcast, the hierarchy of media enterprise is quickly obliterated. All of a sudden, the size of a media organization becomes only as important as whether or not they are able to reliably deliver accurate information and analysis in a timely way (sorry, CNN). Of course, this is based on the assumption that people are critical consumers of information, and there’s certainly plenty of information to suggest that this is not the case.

One of the other advantages to this media explosion, as I summarized with Jamila, is that minority voices will disproportionately benefit. Rather than all voices needing to go through a fixed number of filters that throttle content based on how much ‘general interest’ it will garner (i.e., will white men like it), every person becomes a broadcaster. This not only means that you as a consumer of media are more likely to run across ideas that lie outside the mainstream, but that you can tailor your consumption to a degree that is unprecedented in human history – if all you want to take in is brony slash fiction, I’m confident you’ll find what you’re looking for.

One of the voices that I’ve come across perhaps solely as a result of the anarchic delivery of media is writer, television personality, and host of MSNBC’s new daytime show ‘The Cycle’* Touré. While he’s well-known in general circles, I don’t watch any of the channels he’s on, nor do I read many magazines. I do, however, spend a lot of time on Twitter, where Touré is prolific. It was from his feed that I got today’s video: [Read more…]

The one-way mirror of racial privilege

One of the most powerful tools we have when trying to parse an argument is the analogy. We can take the elements of a position, plug them in to a different context, and then press ‘play’ to see whether or not the argument still logically follows. So when a religious apologist talks about the perfect love and perfect mercy of YahwAlladdha, we can ask if it would still be considered ‘loving’ to lock your children in the basement and torture them (for any amount of time, let alone eternity) if they disobeyed your rules. We can point out the absurdity of demanding that atheists ‘play nice’ or ‘leave well enough alone’ by pointing to the similarities between ours and other civil rights movements, and show how active engagement in the public sphere is vital to progress.

Accustomed as we are to the incredible usefulness of this tool, there are cases where it goes horribly awry – namely, those cases in which privilege plays a significant role. At once, argument by analogy becomes completely derailed, and to the person drawing the (flawed) analogy, it seems as though the “privilege card” is being pulled out of nowhere. The argument seems to be, to them, that one is wrong simply because ze is white, or male, or cisgendered, or whatever dominant group identity is germane to the conversation – that the mere fact of being in the majority immediately disqualifies your arguments. Then out come the waterworks: “you’re just as bad as those you criticize – my opinion is being dismissed as you complain about people dismissing yours!”

Animated .gif of a Decepticon laughing and shooting lasers

Let’s just jump ahead a few paragraphs to the end of the argument and state unequivocally that your argument is bad, and you should feel bad.

Now that everyone who needs to learn this lesson has stopped reading, let’s forge ahead, shall we? [Read more…]

Is this racist? You can bank on it.

Part of the challenge of incorporating anti-racism into mainstream skepticism is that skepticism has been primarily focused on developing techniques of inquiry honed in material sciences (by which I mean the study of physical systems like cosmology, biology, and physics – not materials science which is an entirely different thing). Ask most mainstream skeptics, and they’ll display an admirable grasp on at least the basics of astronomy, evolution, mechanics, some quantum physics, and if you’re lucky a bit of biochemistry to go with it. Many questions that atheistic skeptics have had to learn to answer are focussed on the origins of the universe and of life, necessitating this basic ‘toolkit’ of scientific knowledge.

We have not yet, and I mean yet, turned our eye toward the study of human sociopolitical systems (although I am enthused to note that most people have a fair-to-middling grasp on some core psychology, which builds part of the foundation). I am certainly not exempt from these educational blind spots, despite my impression of myself as a skeptic who is more interested in sociology than average. Without the same basic knowledge of methods of sociological inquiry (which surely extend to history, literary analysis, and other things that aren’t, in the strictest sense, ‘sciences’), it becomes very difficult to parse the often labyrinthine mechanisms of cause and effect in human organizations, especially in a way that satisfies the more ‘tactile’ minds among us.

Luckily, every now and then racism expresses itself so clearly and unequivocally that it transcends the need for rigorous study to unravel the mechanism behind the effect: [Read more…]

The Essentials of our movement

[This is written by Brian. And I’m glad to be writing again. 🙂

Feel free to violently disagree. 😉 ]

DJ Grothe and his ambivalent stance regarding sexual harrassment. Dawkins and his ‘Dear Muslima’ letter. Penn and… well, frankly, everything. All of these freethinkers and atheists and skeptics taking a wrong turn here… They must be bad freethinkers and atheists and skeptics. Right…? [See links at the end of post for background info]

I am anti-religion. That, I think, could be said of me without any fear of contradiction. I am anti-religion because it’s false and unsupported by the evidence. I am anti-religion because (generally speaking) religions are anti-woman, anti-homosexual, anti-sex, anti-animal, and anti-[pretty much anything that takes power away from the people running the religion]. But these are the surface reasons, not the core. As bad as these things are, these are secondary illnesses, not the primary disease. The problem?


[Read more…]

Talking the tightrope

I’m not sure how many of you are aware of the sheer unmitigated genius that is the comedy of Mitch Hedburg, but if you haven’t heard his repertoire of brilliant one-liners, please do yourself the favour of wrapping your ears around one of his albums. One of my favourites of his goes something like this:

“If you had a friend who was a tightrope walker, and you were walking down a sidewalk, and he fell, that would be completely unacceptable…”

His bits are all like that – observations that were seemingly plucked from the weirdest and most non-sequitur place imaginable. This one in particular resonated with me because it almost perfectly encapsulates how I feel when I hear fellow skeptics repeating, often with no ill intent, the same kinds of racist nonsense I hear from the general public.

The thesis underpinning this blog, at least the part of this blog that specifically deal with race, is that we can use skeptical methods to identify the racial components of attitudes, behaviours, and institutions. In so doing, we can learn to mitigate the damage caused by these things, and find productive ways to address topics that are often fraught with emotional landmines that can be triggered by careless statements, no matter how delicately put. Anti-racism in this context is therefore simply the application of skepticism to issues of culture, history, and social constructs around ethnicity.* [Read more…]

Movie Friday: The Straw Feminist

I remember a party at a neighbour’s house where we were discussing dating and ‘red flags’. The hostess, a headstrong and independent young woman who really had her shit together remarked that what she liked was a ‘manly man’ (by which I assume she meant a guy who closely adheres to societal gender norms). I replied that, while she was entitled to her preference, I thought that she might be precluding a lot of decent guys simply because they didn’t meet her standards for ‘macho’. Her reply was “I guess. I just really hate feminists, you know?”

Puzzled, I responded that were that the case, she hated me. The other guy in the room (who would later go on to become her boyfriend) responded in kind. I dare say that I imagine that, had she looked up the definition, she probably would have identified herself as some kind of feminist, just “not one of those feminists”.

Which kind? The kind made of straw:

[Read more…]