Skepticon needs your help

As many of you are aware of, former blogger on this network, Richard Carrier, has sued Skepticon, FreethoughtBlogs, the Orbit, as well as some individual people for defamation.  As this blog network is included in the lawsuit, I haven’t commented on it, but I am obviously of the opinion that Richard Carrier doesn’t have a case. Even so, the lawsuit results in legal costs for the people and groups involved, and Skepticon is asking for donations to help cover their costs. If you have some spare money, consider donating some to them.

A similar effort to raise money will be done by the rest of the defendants, and I will post a link when that happens.

The Year 2016 – a review

In just over 5 hours, it is midnight here in Denmark, and the year 2016 will be at an end.

With the end of 2016 comes the end of a great year on the personal level, but a horrible year on the broader scale.

It was a great year for me personally, as I bought a new apartment in a part of Copenhagen that I really wanted to live in. I have lived in the apartment for half a year, and even though it still needs some renovations (a bathroom where I can move around in the shower), it has been great living here.

On top of that, it has been a good year for traveling – I started the year in Australia, and have since then been to:

  • Berlin, Germany (twice)
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Ghent, Belgium (first time there)
  • Venice, Italy
  • Tokyo, Japan (first time there)
  • Malaga/Marbella, Spain (work conference)
  • Chicago, USA
  • Springfield, Mo (for Skepticon)
  • Orlando, Florida (work conference)
  • Florence, Italy (first visit in 30 years)

As someone who loves traveling, experiencing new food, and looking at great art, this has obviously been very enjoyable.

Work-wise, there have been some disappointments, but I still love what I do and love the people I work together with, so there is no real reasons to complain.

On the down side, moving apartments combined with all the traveling, means I have had less time to do stuff in Denmark as I’d have liked. It means I haven’t seen my friends as much as I’d have liked, and that I have had to miss out on some of the Copenhagen Skeptics in the Pub sessions.

But on balance, my year has been a pretty good one on the personal level.

On a more general level, however, the year has been horrible – and here I am not talking about the list of great people who have died this year. Rather, I am talking about the political climate in Denmark and in the rest of the world.

In Denmark, a right-winged single-party government has been in power from mid-2015. This government was dependent on the support of libertarian and far-right, xenophobic parties in the Danish parliament, and thus were busy pandering to those parties (reducing taxes and trying to block refugees and immigrants). A few months ago, the government changed, and included two more parties, including the libertarian party (also a conservative party), making the agenda of the libertarians a part of the government platform.

At the same time, the Danish Social-democratic party seems to try to win votes from the far-right, xenophobic party, by becoming more and more anti-immigrant and xenophobic, which means that even if there is a change in government, it is highly unlikely that the current policies will be rolled back.

Looking more broadly, there is of course Brexit, in which an anti-EU xenophobic block managed to convince enough voters in the UK to vote to leave the EU for the referendum to result in a leave vote. This was done through lying and fear-mongering, and should have had no place in a referendum in a modern democracy, but apparently it did, with disastrous results, in my opinion. My opinion seems to be shared by many people in the UK, including many of those who voted for leaving, so one could hope that a better solution is found in the end.

If the UK (perhaps minus Scotland) leaves the EU, I think the EU has no choice to treat them fairly harshly in the upcoming negotiations, showing that leaving the EU has consequences.

And then there is the US election. What a clusterfuck that was. There were two candidates, one of which was eminently qualified and the other who was unqualified on every level one could think off. Yet, a large portion of the voters took a look at those candidates, and decided to vote for the unqualified one. Due to the setup of the US voting system, this portion was large enough to ensure that that candidate won.

So, Trump is the upcoming US President.

In the time since the election, he has done nothing but create one international crisis after the other, often by the simple act of using Twitter. Well, when I say “nothing”, I obviously don’t mean that – he has also been busy appointing the most unqualified cabinet one could possible imagine; if you can think of someone who would be completely unqualified for a cabinet position, it is highly likely that Trump wants to appoint that person for that position!

Given the fact that the GOP is in complete control of the houses, it also means that the GOP can more or less implement all their policies at will.

The policies that both Trump, and many of the GOP members went to election on, includes things like getting rid of Obamacare, deporting undocumented immigrants, rolling back LGBT rights, reducing taxes for the rich, and creating a register of all Muslims in the US.

In other words, the Trump presidency is going to be horrible for marginalized people of all types.

And here I haven’t even gotten into Trump’s fascist tendencies and the mutual support between him and Putin, which might cause serious problems in Ukraine, the Baltic countries and other former Soviet countries.

So, all in all, 2016 has been a pretty bad year, and will spill over into the years to come.

A quick glance at the study profiles of the current Danish government

As a follow up on my last post, I thought I’d better take a look at the current Danish government, and how they spent their youth studying.

There are current 22 members of government. I went through their official CVs, and used Wikipedia to supplement dates where necessary/possible.

Of the 22 members of government, 14 have an University degree, while the rest either have a non-academic degree (journalism, nursery, school teacher) or haven’t any degree at all. Of the 14 people with a university degree, one is a ph.d., 9 have a Masters, and the rest have a Bachelors.

At least two members of government hold multiple degrees at the same educational level (something which new laws will keep others from getting).

It was frequently difficult to get information about when they had started studying at university, so it is hard to say for sure whether many of them had finished their study on time (5 years for a Masters, 3 years for a Bachelors), but of the people where we know when they started, only 2 out of 7 managed (here I have left out one of the people with multiple degrees, as she would count in both groups). Both of those, which finished on time, have a Bachelors degree.

One of the things that the current government is pushing, is that young people should start at their education straight after high school. From the data I’ve got, it seems like at least 12 members of the government didn’t do this (here I count both people going on the university or to a non-academic degree), 4 might have (one of these is very unlikely), and 3 have for sure. I don’t have sufficient data for the last five.

What the data also shows, is that of those people that went straight on to their education, none of them managed to finish it on time. Of the 4 people who might have gone straight on, none of them finished their education on time if that was the case. So, it seems like that there is no member of the current government for which it holds true that they went straight from high school to their education, and managed to finish the education on time.

I wonder why they believe that young people today can do this, when they couldn’t do so themselves?

Restricting the choices of young people in Denmark

A few weeks ago, I went on a bit of a rant on twitter about how the Danish politicians are restricting the education choices of young people, instead of giving them the same opportunities as they themselves had back when they were young.

Since Twitter isn’t the best platform for such a rant, I decided that I’d expand on my rant here. I’ll do that by posting my tweets, and add comments those places where I feel it is necessary.

In Denmark there are two different ways to apply for university – one is through what is called quota 1, which is directly related to your grades in high school. The other one is through what is called quota 2, where one can use relevant experience to add on to your grades. If your grades are high enough to get admitted, you automatic get in through quota 1, even if you apply for quota 2 admissions.

Back when I applied for university, there was a fairly large group of activities that you could use to up-qualify when applying for quota 2. The activities in this group has been reduced through the years, making it harder to get in through quota 2. At the same time, there has been a change in the rules, which means that grades count for more when you use them to apply for university within two years of receiving them – this is done by multiplying the grades with 1.08.

This obviously increases the required grade average to get in, making it harder to get in through quota 2 (and even quota 1, if you wait more than 2 years before applying).

In Denmark, students get a student’s grant, allowing them to focus on studying. This grant is usually not enough to pay the bills, but it allows the student to keep their work hours to a reasonable amount while studying. The rules for getting this grant is that you have to be an active student – at university this includes going to exams, and not fall more than half a year behind. This is more strict than when I was a student, but this is more due to the fact that it wasn’t possible to monitor these things as easily back then, as it is now.

More problematic, is the fact that the Universities kick people out, if they consider them inactive. While the rules are less harsh than the rules for the student grants, it still requires the students to go to exams and pass a certain amount of exams every year.

This doesn’t sound too bad, but this is much stricter than when most of the politicians went to university, where the only requirement was that you passed exams in 3 tries (and you could apply for a dispensation for trying a 4th time). Back then, it frequently happened that students at the university took a break for a year or two, traveling, working, or even studying something else, before returning to the study and finish it. This is no longer possible.

When it comes to writing the Master’s thesis, the rules have also changed significantly. It used to be that students could spend years on writing it, becoming experts on whatever subject they wrote about. Now, they have to finish it with 6 months of (officially) starting it.

This was actually what started the whole rant. It is a brand new law, blocking the possibility for someone to take an education in case they already have an education at an equal level. This means that a nurse (who, in Denmark, has a bachelor degree), cannot decided that they want to upgrade to becoming a doctor, since a doctor degree requires a bachelor degree in medicine.

What makes this worse, is that in recent years, a number of degrees, including the nursing degree, has been upgraded to be a bachelor degree.

I started in 1994 studying Business Management (Almen HA) at CBS. After spending a couple of years doing that, I figured out that it wasn’t for me, and I switched to economics at the University of Copenhagen.

Waking up one morning, realizing that I couldn’t face a career in economics, I dropped out of that study. After spending some time working manual labor (warehouse work), I decided to take a shortish education called Advanced Computer Studies (Datamatiker), which was a course in programming and systems development, which took just over 2 years.

Graduating from that study coincided nicely with the burst of the bubble, meaning that it was hard to get a job. Since the study has showed me that programming and computer science was interesting, and that I was pretty good at it, I decided to go on studying, rather than desperately hunt for a job.

I applied to study Computer Science at the University of Copenhagen. Since I had already been enrolled at two university level studies (business management and economics), I had to submit a motivation for my application and my reasoning for why they should admit me. This was not exactly a triviality, as someone actually was going to evaluate my application based on this, but it wasn’t a very high barrier either.

I got my B.Sc. in Computer Science in 2007, having at that time, worked full time for years.

The thing is, since I started working with IT systems, the stuff I learned while studying business management and economics has come into good use, allowing me to be better at my job, than I could have ever been if I had just gone straight to computer science.

I cannot emphasis this enough. It was not considered a problem back then. It seemed more important that people found something that they liked, than that they finished on time. This definitely doesn’t appear to be the case now.

This is the part I don’t get. Why are the politicians so focused on reducing the opportunities of the youth today. What is it that drives their restrictions? Do they think that the opportunities that we had back then was bad? Or that young people now, somehow doesn’t deserve to get the same chances as we did?

I will correct myself here. I can see that an economic argument could be made for the benefit of people finishing their first study, but I can also make an economic argument for the benefit of people finding the right study, since that will probably increase their job satisfaction in the long run (job satisfaction and productivity is linked).

Back when I started studying, Computer Science existed, but it didn’t show up on my radar. If I hadn’t changed around like I did, I’d never have ended up there. It would have been horrible to find out what I really wanted to study, and then be blocked from studying it.

Also, what is going to happen to the future type-setters. Here I am talking about people working in a field which suddenly becomes obsolete because of the change in technology. It is very possible that a field today, suddenly becomes obsolete tomorrow. By denying the people in such fields the chance to get a new education, they become stuck, and will probably have a hard time getting jobs.

I really don’t see why that is so hard.

Edit: I have written a follow-up post, where I take a look at the CVs of the current government

Great move by Health Canada

The Canadian health agency seems to be about to make a significant strike against pseudo-science:

Health Canada rules ask for science behind natural health products’ claims

The federal government is planning some pretty major changes to the way it regulates non-prescription drugs, natural health products and cosmetics. The move is designed to simplify the rules and help assure consumers the products on store shelves “are safe and do what they claim to do,” according to Health Canada’s consultation document outlining the proposed new framework.

It appears the biggest impact would be felt by Canada’s multi-billion-dollar natural health products industry, which includes vitamins, minerals, supplements and homeopathic solutions. Under the new rules, companies that want to put health claims on their labels would need to provide scientific evidence and Health Canada will determine whether there is sufficient proof to warrant the claim. It’s a substantial change from the current system, under which Health Canada grants licences to all approved natural health products licenses and allows them to make a variety of health claims, which serve as important marketing tools.

To me, this seems like a very reasonable policy. If someone makes a claim, they should be able to provide evidence supporting the claim.

Unsurprisingly, those making a living of making false claims, disagree.

According to Canada’s natural health products industry, the proposed changes will make natural health product makers meet the same regulations as prescription drugs and that the rules will force many products Canadians rely on to disappear from the market. Shortly after the proposal was released in September, the Canadian Health Food Association launched a social media campaign and petition calling on the government to “save our supplements.”

Proponents of natural health products say these changes mean vitamins and minerals would have to meet the same standards as drugs in order to be approved and that it would drive countless products from the market. Some online commenters even claim that Big Pharma is the driving force behind these changes, as that industry would benefit from putting the natural health products industry out of business.

On its website, the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA) claims the new framework will reduce oversight of products and restrict information available to consumers as well as increase the costs of vitamins, minerals and other natural products. In an interview, association president Helen Long said the current regulatory framework is working fine and warned these changes could threaten the availability of natural health products.

“I think both members [of the association] and the public are concerned that they will be able to continue to access the products they know and they trust,” she said.

Ms. Long added that there’s “legitimate concern” that fewer products will be available because of Health Canada’s heavy-handed approach. She added the industry has concerns about the fact the proposal document mentions fees for companies that want to make health claims, as that would pose a financial burden to natural health product makers.

The arguments are, of course, bullshit. Supplements and similar products have all too long gotten away with making outrageous claims about their effectiveness. Now, they have to put up or shut up. What will happen, is that the providers of supplements and similar products will have to remove their claims, and the consumers will become aware that those claims aren’t backed up by science. Some will continue to buy them, but I hope a lot of people will stop.

Given the outrageous markup on these types of products, I find it incredible insulting that Ms. Long tries to make this into a question of costs.

It should be noticed that the move is also aimed at cosmetics, but it doesn’t seem that the cosmetic industry are pushing back. It almost makes it seem like the “natural health” industry has something to hide, doesn’t it?

Podcast recommendation: Oh No Ross and Carrie

I am always looking for great skeptic and scientific podcasts, and since I am sure that many other are doing the same, I’ll occasionally recommend podcasts that I have come across, and think are worth listening to (some times with a caveat or two).

This time, I will recommend the Oh No Ross and Carrie podcast, which is a podcast series where the hosts and Ross and Carrie investigates different health or supernatural claims, and cults.

In the past they have investigated things like Scientology, Christian Science, Laughter Yoga, and Reiki.

The only caveat I will make about the show is that they sometimes try too hard to build the suspense during the introduction, and drag it out needlessly. This becomes annoying if you listen to several shows in a row. Thankfully this can be skipped through fairly easily.

Saluting people changing Denmark for the better

I think we all know that it is dangerous to make people into heroes, since they often show us their all too human sides. Yet, I also think it is important to acknowledge that there are a lot of people doing heroic work, trying to change society for the better. One of the major reasons why this is important, is because it is hard work to do so, and it can be easy to think that it doesn’t make any difference, and that nobody appreciate the work.

So, in that spirit, I want to acknowledge some amazing people doing great work in Denmark.

In recent months, I have been lucky enough to be at a couple of events where some of these amazing people participated, so I thought I’d share a couple of pictures from these events, and acknowledge the great work these people do.

Politikens Akademi feminist debate

Feminist debate

The picture shows a debate panel of five feminists, which happened on September 26, 2016. The debate was about feminism in the future, and didn’t try to create a false balance between feminists and non-feminists, but instead invited five feminists, so we could skip the whole debate about whether feminism is even necessary.

The participants are:

  • Rasmus Brygger – a libertarian feminist. I have some serious problems with Brygger and the brand of feminism he represents, but I admire him for trying to fight for feminism in a very hostile environment.
  • Emma Holten – well known for her great work fighting for consent and against revenge porn. She has done a lot to change the whole debate on this issue, not only in Denmark, but in all of Europe. On top of that, she does a lot of other great work for feminism and against inequality. I am a huge fan of her and hers work.
  • Natasha Al-Hariri – a Danish-Palestinian feminist. Often involved in debates related to feminism and immigrants, and debates about immigrants and integration in general.
  • Sanne Søndergaard – a comedian who often incorporates feminist themes in her sketches. The comedy scene in Denmark is quite misogynist, and Sanne Søndergaard is often the target of horrible attacks started, or at least cheered on, by her colleagues.
  • Henrik Marstal – musician and self-described gender traitor. One of the few vocal male feminists in Denmark.

I don’t agree with all of these five people on all issues, but they are doing a lot of work trying to make Denmark more feminist, suffering a horrific amount of abuse in the process. Even so, they continue the work. I cannot adequately express my admiration for what they do.



The second picture is from a political meetup, where the subject was what could be done to reduce hatred in Denmark. This came after the Brexit and Trump votes.

The 3 participants were:

  • Tommy Petersen – a liberal member of the city council of Copenhagen for Radikale. He was one of the organizers of the first Copenhagen Pride parade.
  • Natasha Al-Hariri – I described her above, but here she participated due to her work with integration and acceptance of immigrants.
  • Niddal El-Jabri – the husband of Natasha Al-Hariri. Known for creating a peace-ring around the Jewish Synagogue after the attacks on it in February, 2015. He is involved with Mino Danmark, an organization working to help fellowship and a common community between people in Denmark, no matter their background.

There are many people working hard for tolerance, and against the intolerance expressed by xenophobic parties like Dansk Folkeparti, so these three are only a small sample, but the work each individual do is extremely important.

What is also important, is that we do it in different ways.

Since racism and xenophobia is not based upon facts, but rather feelings, it is important that there are people willing to reach out to people on the other side, and try to show them that their fears are irrelevant. This doesn’t mean we all should do that – there is also a need for people to forcefully confront the lies and propaganda spread by xenophobes, and that is certainly the path I have chosen, but it is good that there are people like Natasha Al-Hariri and Niddal El-Jabri trying to create bridges.

Facing bigotry among progressives

In my last post I wrote about how we need to confront the Trump campaign and Trump supporters with the fact that the Trump campaign was based upon racism.

Similar to this, progressives must also be willing to face the bigotry that unfortunately is widespread on the left. Unlike what many on the left seem to think, bigotry is not just something that exist among right-winged people, but often roars its ugly head among progressives as well.

One such an example can be found at this Daily Kos diary from November 11, 2016

What I told a client

It is a first time diary entry, in which the author writes about the election of Trump. It was quite popular, and got 677 votes (a fairly high number of votes, especially for a first-time contribution). This entry contained the following paragraph

They think our country is being overrun by Muslims or will be, and they want to avoid a situation like in Europe.  That’s a legitimate concern, since non-Europeans are indeed pouring into Europe and refusing to assimilate.  I have traveled and lived in Europe and have seen it with my own eyes. It threatens to destroy the fabric of society there. But we don’t have that problem:  One reason is that we control immigration.  We let in the best and brightest, and a tiny trickle of refugees, and that’s about it.  In Europe, by contrast, uneducated people from countries that never advanced beyond the 13th century can just take the train or drive and sneak in.  Also, non-Europeans flood into Europe from former French, etc. colonies such as Tunisia – a problem we don’t have.  Immigrant Muslims here in the States are assimilating far more than in Europe, in part because we don’t relegate Muslims to ghettos; we welcome them into our neighborhoods.  We have two first-generation Muslim families on our street. The wife in one of them wears a headscarf, but otherwise they’re not much different than anyone else. Our kids play together.  We get together socially.

This paragraph could have been written by any right-winged xenophobe in Europe, yet this was apparently completely acceptable to the 677 people who voted for the diary.

We need to get rid of this sort of bigotry among progressives before we have any chance of winning over the racism and bigotry we face on the right.

For the record – people from outside the EU can’t just travel to the EU if they feel like it, which anyone who has ever traveled to Europe would know. And it should be obviously that the whole concept that there are countries that hasn’t advanced beyond the 13th century is deeply racist.



Confront them!

Apparently members of the Trump and Clinton campaign recently met at Harvard University:

As is now a tradition every four years, the Harvard Kennedy School invites the influential players of a presidential election to speak and debate on panels, and mingle with eager, inquisitive grad students and professionally nettlesome reporters.

The description is from the Daily Beast article linked above. The article is pretty bad, but I found it worth linking to for the following picture:


Apparently this was something that happened at debate – it’s a verbal exchange between well-documented liar and Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and Jennifer Palmieri, the communications director for Hillary for America.

I think Palmieri is doing the right thing here – confronting the Trump campaign and its supporters with the fact that the Trump campaign was build upon hate and sexism. They are trying to deny it now, but it really was, so it is important to keep pointing it out!