Actually, Nazis hate teaching, period.

All of you teachers have been here. You want to get discussion going in the classroom, because that’s a really valuable way to get students involved and thinking, and you want all the students to participate. But what usually happens is that a small number of vocal, confident students dominate. That’s good for them, and you want to encourage that enthusiastic participation, but there’s always that larger group of quiet students who don’t speak up, and you want them to join in. So what do you do?

There are lots of pedagogical techniques out there. You can ignore the waving hands and call on people directly. You can have rules: once a person gets a chance to speak, they have to wait until 3 other people have spoken before they get to raise their hand again. Or maybe you’ve heard of the talking stick, where a token is passed around the room, and only the people holding it get to speak. There are lots of simple tricks like that where we try to get fair representation of all points of view, and get a better sampling of students, and get around the tyranny of the majority, or worse, the tyranny of the loudest.

One of these pedagogical tricks is called the progressive stack. You prioritize the students so that minority views are expressed first, and representatives of the majority have to wait and listen before they can express themselves. It’s a good way to flip the dominance hierarchy and get new voices to set the tenor of the discussion; it means minority views don’t get swallowed up and ignored. It doesn’t silence the majority, but it does force them to consider what others say.

I’ve rarely had to use it in my classes, because students usually don’t have strong opinions on matters of science — they just accept them and my authority. But there have been a few occasions when creationists have been in my introductory courses (they tend not to make it to the more advanced courses, or learn to keep their views totally silent, so I don’t even know they hold them), where I’ve used a version of the progressive stack. If there’s some point the creationist student urgently wants to discuss, let them go first, make their position clear, then ask if any other student wants to agree, and those students go next, and then I have to leash all the baying hounds of the majority and make them address the claims calmly and with evidence. In the humanities and social sciences, it’s got to be trickier — there are valid views by students with concerns about race and sexuality, for instance, and so you use something like the progressive stack to make sure they aren’t drowned out by all the white heterosexuals who are the majority in the class.

To my surprise, this morning I learned that Nazis are aware of this pedagogical strategy, and they hate it. Really hate it. I suspect part of it is knee-jerk idiocy at the word “progressive”, but once they learn about it, they are convinced that it’s part of liberal’s plan to commit White Genocide. The resentment is deep. I went looking for the views of non-educators on the subject, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s a lot of ignoramuses raging about the conspiracy to undermine their privilege. One of the top links returned is a video by Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad, explaining the progressive stack, and he gets it all wrong. This is how they figure out who is more oppressed than other people, he claims, and how they determine that white middle class heterosexual men are scum. He’s a fucking moron. He actively misrepresents the subject.

No, no competent instructor is going to decide that half their class are scum who need to be silenced, and the progressive stack is not a technique to silence anyone. It’s about giving everyone an opportunity to speak, and not prioritizing a majority who already have advantages in dominating a discussion. It’s not about figuring out who is more oppressed, either — although the asshole right loves to imagine the Left holding Oppression Olympics. It’s more a matter of recognizing structural barriers that are staring you right in the face, and trying to help students get around them. It’s only a problem for people who either want to pretend the barriers are nonexistent, or want to reinforce them.

Like Nazis.

The usual crowd of internet Nazis has been casting about for more targets, and some of them have latched onto the “progressive stack” as an obvious SJW evil, and are campaigning to silence teachers who use it (I know, they’re so in favor of “free speech”, except when that speech is about equal opportunity for people who aren’t white men). One target is Stephanie McKellop, a graduate student who teaches history at the University of Pennsylvania. Here are her interests:

I am a historian of marriage and the family, with interests intersecting in areas of gender, sexuality, the body, and race. I work primarily on “vast early America,” a conceptualization which moves beyond traditional Anglophone-speaking peoples and regions into the broader, multi-empire continental landscape. I am particularly interested in popular and deviant forms of marriage and divorce; in my research on the practice of wife-selling, I focus on the blurred lines between love matches and economic bargains, the notion of slavery and race in gender dynamics, and how human trafficking and prostitution manifested within matrimonial realms. My current project looks at how popular and folk methods of marriage and divorce clashed with church and state authorities in colonial Carolina.

In the past, I have studied the history of “family history” in early America, seeking to explore how different cultures practiced and understood family through disciplines of history, competitve notions of “blood,” and gendered productions of what we have come to call genealogy, as well as issues of racial blame, immigration, and nationalism in marriage debates during the Progressive Era. Currently, I am working on several smaller projects regarding widowhood in early America as well as how folk and customary marriages informed cultural interactions in the colonial and revolutionary period. I am also working on a side project regarding trauma in history and how historians treat traumatized subjects.

That sounds interesting and relevant, but it also pushes a few alt-right buttons, obviously. So the internet Nazis have been baying for her blood, and they’ve been bombarding the university with accusations and demands. You’d think, though, that a university would pay no attention to Nazis, but noooo…you have to remember that we’re dealing with administrators who know nothing about teaching and often have little knowledge of the subjects their professors are discussing, but do have power over them, and are more likely to listen to howling yahoos and Republicans (but I repeat myself) than the employees they are supposed to represent. So the University of Pennsylvania is about to condemn McKellop, and apparently, reject a widely used teaching technique. They cancelled her classes! They’re issuing a condemnation!

Unbelievable.

Here’s a template you can use to support McKellop.

Dear Prof. [Holquist/Brown/Wenger/Troutt Powell],

It has come to my attention that Stephanie McKellop, a PhD student in UPenn’s History Department, has come under attack from white supremacists for the pedagogical approaches Stephanie uses in the classroom to support underrepresented students in class discussion. I was incredibly disappointed to hear that the university has not only refused to support a student in the face of this attack, but that the UPenn administration is preparing a statement condemning Stephanie.

I urge you to speak to your administration on Stephanie’s behalf. It’s exactly cases like these – where instructors are targeted and vilified – that require the defense of academic freedom.
I hope you will do the right thing, and lend your voice and position to defend a vulnerable member of our community.

holquist@sas.upenn.edu
kabrown@sas.upenn.edu
bwenger@sas.upenn.edu
troutt@sas.upenn.edu

I also highly recommend that everyone read this essay on how to support scholars. It’s going to be increasingly necessary. Remember, first they’re going to go after gender studies, then racial minorities, then sociology as a whole, and eventually, they’ll go after the biologists, because that’s what fucking Nazis do.

Dang. We might have to refocus Freethoughtblogs

We’ve been doing it all wrong. I was reading this article about blogs that review goddamn mattresses, which seems to be a big money niche. A guy named Derek quit his job to work full time writing reviews of mattresses on his blog, Sleepopolis.

A Loom & Leaf executive told me they had paid Derek $100,000 in 2016; Nest Bedding’s CEO Joe Alexander said he had paid Derek a multiple of that. “My life changed because of Derek,” Alexander told me. “He made me a millionaire.”

Unfortunately, the competition in the mattress blogging business is intense, with swarms of mattress blogs raking in the moolah. It’s also brutal, with mattress companies suing reviewers for less than glowing reviews, and I tell you, I’m tired of greedy asshats suing me.

Maybe we could rededicate every blog here to reviewing toasters. Or pipe wrenches. Or mopeds. Or wait — private jets! The aerospace companies could send each of us free samples. We might have to do a little rebranding and redesign, but with all that sweet, sweet cash flowing in we might be able to afford it.

Anti-vaxxers behaving badly

Another study has come out claiming a link between vaccinations and autism — and it has been retracted. The paper was deeply flawed in a lot of ways, but we can ignore the poor experimental design, the bad statistics, the cherry-picking of the data, and the funding from dubious sources, and focus entirely on one crystal clear concern: they faked their data. One of their figures is a jiggery-pokery jigsaw assemblage of gel bands copy-pasted into an image that bears little relationship to reality.

The principal investigator, Christopher Shaw, was confronted with these obvious, irrefutable facts of faked data, and he goes into an unconvincing song-and-dance of denial. He doesn’t know who could have done this or why, he says.

We don’t know how some images in the manuscript came to be altered. We investigated when the first suggestions came out in Pubpeer and confirmed that some of the images had indeed been manipulated. We don’t know by whom or why. The first author, Dr. Dan Li, denies doing anything wrong, but has not provided any information about this in spite of repeated questions from us. We are continuing to pursue these questions, but as she is now at another institution, we can’t force her to comply.

Those are outright lies. He knows. The figures for a paper do not simply manifest out of thin air — Shaw had to have discussed this illustration with Li. If he didn’t contribute directly to the paper himself, he is responsible for delegating the work. It’s got 4 authors on it; they had to have talked about the data, worked to interpret it, decided how these data supported their hypothesis, and put together a publishable story. The person who put so much remarkable effort into cobbling together a totally fake image had to have done so consciously — you don’t ‘accidentally’ make at least a dozen edits and reorganize the contents of an image in Photoshop.

Shaw also claims that the figures were not significant anyway. Then why publish it? This is another lie. They thought it was worth including in the paper, and someone went to considerable effort to mangle the data — why would they risk compromising their scientific integrity for a figure that they think doesn’t matter?

Faking data is the second most serious crime you can commit against science (the first would be ethics violations that do harm, which includes faking data). It is unforgivable. Retracting this paper is an inadequate response — the perpetrators ought to be fired, any grants rescinded, and there ought to be an asterisk, at least, on all of their published papers because their data is clearly untrustworthy. Two of the authors, Shaw and Tomljenovic, have a history of dubious work and past retractions. They still get published. The University of British Columbia is still defending them, which is unfortunate since it taints all the legitimate research done there.

Shaw is blaming others for his problems.

“Anti-vaccine” researcher is an ad hominem term tossed around rather loosely at anyone who questions any aspect of vaccine safety. It comes often from blogs and trolls, some of which/whom are thinly disguised platforms for the pharmaceutical industry… Anyone who questions vaccine safety to whatever degree gets this epithet.

This is nonsense. Imagine it’s true that there is a conspiracy against you, and swarming trolls are trying to destroy your reputation. What would you do? Would you be particularly careful to make your work above criticism, consulting with colleagues to get a thorough inspection of your data and interpretations before publishing them, or would you get so sloppy that you would eagerly publish an easily detectable manipulated figure?

Fire the lot of ’em. Forging data is such an egregious crime in science that it ought to warrant retraction of tenure.

Need advice from WordPress experts

You may have heard that Scienceblogs is being shuttered at the end of this month, which is a real shame. I have a massive pile of data over there, and I’d like to bring it over here.

So I used the export tool to move all the Sciblogs Pharyngula data to an xml file. It was quick, too quick. I ended up with a 245mb xml file, which seems too small to contain all of the images, text, and comments. But OK, text is small, maybe it’s all there.

Then I go to my FtB dashboard to import the file. It tells me there’s a 10mb file limit! Wait, what? That makes no sense.

I stopped right there. I know that when Scienceblogs made their upgrade to WordPress, way back when, they made an utter botch of it, losing about 2/3 of the comments and messing up all the internal links. I don’t want to wreck this site, too.

Is there a simple solution to this dilemma?

Is there a complex solution that I can execute to do this job?

If there is a complex solution that I would probably screw up, are there any pros who can help me out? And how much will it cost?

Poisoning of a movement

Sigh. I might once have been willing to take exception to this characterization of the history of New Atheism, but I can’t anymore. I just can’t. It’s all too true, and what should have been an opportunity for reason to rise ascendant has been drowned in a rising flood of idiots who use “reason” as an empty buzzword.

Once Bush left office, the promoters of “intelligent design” curricula retreated from the public sphere, and millennials asserted themselves as the least religious generation to date; the group that had coalesced around the practice logically refuting creationists needed new targets. One of the targets they chose was women. Militant atheism had always been male-dominated, but it took several years and a sea change in American politics for the sexism within its ranks to fully bloom. In 2011, skeptic blogger Rebecca Watson described in a YouTube video how a male fellow attendee of an atheist conference had followed her into an elevator at 4 a.m. in order to ask her on a date—behavior that, understandably, made her uncomfortable. The community erupted into what was later remembered as “Elevatorgate.” A forum was created to harass Watson, and Richard Dawkins himself wrote a comment telling her to “stop whining” because she had it better than victims of honor killings and female genital mutilation.

This dynamic played out again and again. In 2012, the popular atheist vlogger Thunderf00t (real name Phil Mason) aimed his sights at Watson in a video titled “Why ‘Feminism’ is poisoning Atheism,” thereby reigniting the previous year’s controversy. This time it took off, leading him to create several follow-up videos accusing women of destroying the paradise that was New Atheism for their own gain. In 2013, Mason inaugurated his “FEMINISM vs. FACTS” series of videos, which attacked Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist video game critic who was then receiving an onslaught of harassment and violent threats for daring to analyze Super Mario Bros. This sort of idiocy, combined, again, with the growing popularity of jibes associating outspoken atheists with fedoras, neckbeards, and virginity, led to an exodus of liberals and leftists from the “atheist” tent. Those who remained for the most part lacked in social skills and self-awareness, and the results were disastrous.

And then the author starts talking about Stefan Molyneux and James Damore, and it just gets worse.

So here we are. There is still no god, religion is bunk, but the atheist movement has become a dogmatic label used by assholes, racists, and misogynists.

“the obligations of international leadership”

So many people are praising this speech by John McCain.

To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

I’m not so impressed.

Let me remind you that McCain has been a loyal Republican apparatchik for decades. He was elected during Reagan’s term, and was an ardent supporter of Reaganomics and military adventurism — his only ‘virtue’ is that he was willing to negotiate with countries after we’d bombed them. This is the man who joked, Do you know why Chelsea Clinton is so ugly? – Because Janet Reno is her father. This is the man who ran for president with Sarah Fucking Palin as his running mate. He likes to pretend that he is a “maverick”, when really he is consistently conservative and dedicated to propping up the status quo.

That speech reeks of hypocrisy. He’s arguing against nationalism because it’s not patriotic? Nuts. He’s promoting the tired old claim that America has been idealistic for the last three quarters of a century, that we are the ‘the last best hope of earth’? Tell that to the people of Vietnam and Cambodia that we napalmed, to the countries of Latin America where we have supported dictators, to Cuba that we embargoed when they didn’t support American imperialism, to the people of Iran where we maintained a tyrant to protect our oil interests until a theocratic revolution cast him down, to the nations of Africa that suffered under our exploitive neglect, to South Africa where we aligned ourselves with the perpetrators of apartheid, and on and on and on. This is the America that still treats Henry Kissinger as a distinguished elder statesman. This is a nation that lashed out with violence and war in response to a terrorist attack, and demolished a country that had not been involved. America is a country that enables war criminals and then reveres them as heroes.

His speech is just more American exceptionalism, and it will be well-received by the yahoos and the journalists who will praise it as statesmanlike. Notice, though, how he assumes that we possess “international leadership” — that of course we run the world, so we must continue to bear the paternalistic burden of solving everyone else’s problems. The problem is just that one bozo currently in office…but never forget, that bozo is the epitome of Republican policy. And that McCain is a loyal Republican who has contributed so ably to our descent into madness and corruption.

What our country needs is a different virtue: a little humility. A recognition that we are one among many. That we don’t get to claim our idealism when we haven’t lived up to it. That we have to earn respect rather than demand it at the point of a massive military machine. We have to notice that our country is on the road to being a failed state, and has lost all authority to tell the rest of the world that they must follow our lead.

We privileged men have to accept our culpability

Helen Lewis has a few words for the men of journalism (which also apply to every other area). It’s easy to deplore acts you haven’t done, but that by your behavior you may have enabled.

The response to the Weinstein coverage has borne this out. Over the last week, my phone has lit up with female journalists silently screaming: have you seen him decrying Weinstein? The hypocrite!

In private, there has been a cathartic outpouring of Bastards We Have Known. The colleague who texted a friend of mine, Ros Urwin of the Standard, promising that “before I die, I will kiss every freckle on your lips”. The man who told my colleague Amelia Tait that she’d have to have sex to get ahead. The sub-editor who stalked a junior member of his team, turning up outside restaurants she was at with her boyfriend. The magazine journalist who developed an obsession with a female colleague and put her on late shifts to ruin her social life. The arts journalist who would take out new colleagues for a “welcome drink” at his London club – where they’d discover he had a room booked upstairs. The guy who put his hands down a colleague’s trousers at the Christmas party. More than one man in journalism, feeling spurned, has taken to ringing his love interest’s doorbell late at night.

Those are just the overt acts of egregious harassment. She also points out that a casual boy’s club atmosphere of little crappy jokes and disparagement in bad taste fuels the confidence of the worst offenders, and that we men all contribute in various ways to a culture of entitled oppression. Have I ever actively harassed anyone? No. But have I ever trivialized the atmosphere of sexual exploitation with a lazy joke or blithe acceptance of the status quo? Yes. Should I change? Yes. Will I change? I’ll try my hardest. You have permission to slap me when I screw up.