Marketing bros are the worst. Especially when they mangle science to fit their preconceptions

Taylor Pearson is this fellow who clearly knows nothing about evolutionary theory, has missed the point of the most basic concepts, but has no problem with appropriating evolution to justify his simplistic versions of business. No, really, he’s got this article titled Cambrian Leaps: One Way to Apply the Genius of Warren Buffett to Your Life which doesn’t actually have anything to do with Warren Buffett, dispenses useless, vague advice, and along the way trashes punctuated equilibrium while praising his flawed understanding of it.

He starts off by praising Darwin and evolution, because his insight helps us understand…marketing.

More than that, it provided a metaphor for many other systems in the world around us. We talk about people, marketing, and ideas evolving in the same way species do.
However, Darwin got one thing wrong in On the Origin of Species, which has an important implication on how you think about evolution as a metaphor for how to change your life.
He believed species evolved gradually and linearly.

Wrong. We could argue about “gradually” — Darwin was necessarily vague about the rate of evolution, and what seems slow and gradual from a human perspective might actually be rapid from a geological perspective — he definitely did not argue for linearity. The most famous illustration from his notebooks says otherwise!

He clearly had branching cladogenesis in mind. What does Pearson have in his ill-informed mind? Apparently Gould and Eldredge’s punctuated equilibrium. But he doesn’t understand that, either!

This phenomenon, called punctuated equilibrium, is the way that most natural systems evolve. Understanding punctuated equilibrium is essential to understanding how to change your life.

The left image is a gradual, linear view of Darwin’s theory of evolution where species emerge gradually and consistently over time. The right image is a “punctuated equilibrium” view of evolution where there are long periods of very little change and short periods of “explosions” with huge amounts of evolutionary activity.

No, that’s not a good model of punctuated equilibrium. All he’s got in his head are two versions of anagenesis, or gradual evolution within a single lineage in the absence of branching. In his left cartoon version, he’s got everything involving continuously at the same rate. His species 1, 2, and 3 are simply chronospecies that blend insensibly into one another. In the right cartoon, there are variations in the rate of evolution, nothing more, but you’ve still got a single lineage progressing into a couple of different species over time. That’s a poor and uninteresting model for punctuated equilibrium.

As well as not understanding the theory, he doesn’t get the facts right.

The Cambrian explosion is the most well-known example of the rapid growth stage of punctuated equilibrium in evolutionary history.

Over a period of only 20 million years (a short period in evolutionary time representing only 0.5 percent of Earth’s 4-billion-year evolutionary history), almost all present animal classes appeared.
Before the Cambrian explosion, most organisms were simple, composed of individual cells. By the end of that time period, the world was populated by a huge variety of complex organisms.

The Cambrian explosion was an adaptive radiation. That’s different from punctuated equilibrium. Multicellular animals preceded that Cambrian by about a billion years. There was a long period of soft-bodied complex animals that were evolving before the Cambrian. “Class” has a specific taxonomic meaning; most animal phyla arose before or during the Cambrian, but not most extant classes — there was no class Aves or Mammalia anywhere near the Cambrian. This is just a horrible mish-mash of mangled concepts. I’d give it an “F” if it were an undergraduate essay I was grading (grading is on my mind right now, as finals week ends).

But his gravest, most fundamental error is that he doesn’t grasp that evolution is a property of populations, not individuals. It means that all of his analogies make no sense at all, or even suggest models that contradict what he’d like to be true.

This is revealing. He gives all this pseudoscientific background to justify his picture of how people’s progress in a career works. He’s trapped in a mode of thinking that is narrow and linear.

So, because people’s individual lives are not a constant monotonic rise to ascendancy, but have stops and starts, he thinks it’s useful to use punctuated equilibrium as a model.

Gah. This isn’t how it works. Think instead about peripatric speciation.

Here’s a better analogy. Taylor Pearson starts a company to sell polka-dotted widgets. He’s doing fine, there’s a stable demand, he’s got a 100 people manning the phones, pushing those widgets. Some of those salespeople are doing great, hitting their quote, making their bonuses, but others are lackluster and uninspired and just flopping…so he lets them go, hires fresh people, he’s still got a hundred employees and is keeping up with demand.

But a couple of those fired employees get together and resolve to try something new — they start working for themselves, selling paisley widgets. The market is thrilled. They were tired of those boring polka dots, and soon the paisley widget sellers overwhelm everyone, Taylor Pearson is out of business, reduced to peddling polka dot widgets out of a tin can on a street corner. Maybe with his free time he can hang out in the library more, actually reading up on evolution.

That’s punctuated equilibrium. All the observer from the outside sees as they’re digging through the rubbish heaps left by this civilization is that polka dot widgets were the default widgets for years and years, and then fairly abruptly there was a shift, and almost all the widgets in higher strata were paisley. You could decide that all the individuals in the widget population underwent a simultaneous, gradual transition, or you could argue that an emergent novelty in a small subpopulation led to a sweeping expansion of that group and replacement of the prior dominant group. The latter is more likely.

I have to ask, though, about a more substantial criticism than the fact that he’s got the facts and theory all wrong. What do these marketing people gain by slapping an inappropriate label on an observation about variable rates of success? When Pearson says, How To Change Your Life with Cambrian Leaps, what does that mean? He’s attached a buzzword to a phenomenon, but naming it doesn’t suddenly give insight into how to take advantage of it, even if there were some relevancy to the phrase. It’s all empty noise.

And then I read the comments, which were all full of praise for his brilliant insight. I realized that this isn’t about providing useful knowledge — it was about self-promotion. It’s about selling Taylor Pearson as the marketing guy who knows about Science! Unfortunately, he’s only going to fool the people who know even less science than he does, and to the rest of us, he’s just the half-assed bullshit artist who is cultivating an audience of wanna-bes. I guess it’s a living.

I still have a few questions

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that the Trump administration has informed the CDC that they’re no longer allowed to use the words “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based”. That’s weirdly specific and random, in addition to being contemptibly authoritarian. There’s something funny going on here. I have questions.

Why? This is strangely like telling someone “Don’t think of an elephant” — don’t think of a vulnerable transgender fetus with your evidence-based brain, people! So what are the scientists at the CDC supposed to think when, for instance, they see statistics on Zika-induced developmental abnormalities? As Tara Smith points out, scientists were also given alternatives: instead of talking about science, they should say CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes. So we’re supposed to consider what people wish were true? All right, I wish I had the body of a 30 year old and a million dollars.

Damn. Doesn’t seem to be having an effect.

But I also want to know why those specific seven words. Why not “homosexual”, “abortion”, “euthanasia”, “pollution”, “climate change”, “infertility”, and “tampons”, which conservatives would also find enraging? What specific input triggered the need to dictate censorship of these words?

Who? This edict came from somewhere, from someone who thinks they have the power to police the language. This is really mysterious. The HHS, which is in charge of the CDC, is currently leaderless, although Alex Azar has been nominated to run the show. Azar is an Indiana Republican who ran HHS under the Bush administration, and since has worked as a lobbyist and division head for Eli Lilly, a big pharmaceutical company. His appointment hasn’t been approved, so would he have any say at all? Why would a “pharma shill” object to science and evidence? The Indiana connection is ominous (is Pence tinkering behind the scenes?) but it sounds like maybe, once again, it’s underlings running amuck while the system is rudderless.

What’s next? If they think they can purge a useful, non-ideological word like “vulnerable”, there’s nothing to stop them from getting rid of all of the substance coming out of work from scientific organizations and replacing it with nothing but bureaucratic glurge, which, it wouldn’t surprise me, might be their real goal.

You know, I was also just wondering why anyone would want to be known as a Trump appointee. It seems to carry the taint of corruption and incompetence. I know if Trump tapped me to run the CDC (a position for which I’m completely unqualified), I’d have a terrifying moment of introspection in which I’d wonder what horrifying crime against nature and humanity I’d committed to deserve this rebuke.

Is “celebrity” synonymous with “hemorrhoid”?

I’m beginning to think so. The latest asshat to have used his influence to engage in sexual harassment is “celebrity” chef* Mario Batali, who then issued an apology for his behavior as his business and reputation flamed out with spectacular rapidity. He’s resigned from his multiple restaurants, he’s lost his TV appearances, and Walmart and Target aren’t selling his line of crap anymore. I’m a little exasperated with the big rich guys who suddenly decide an apology after the fact will rescue their crumbling empires, but Batali took it to the next level. His apology starts out well, but then…

How can you possibly hold groping unconscious women against me? I give you pizza dough cinnamon roles! Delicious!

Do the substitution. Hemorrhoid Chef Mario Batali. You’ll never want to eat there again.

The star war was…OK

Star Wars: The Last Jedi was one of the better ones, actually, which isn’t saying a heck of a lot, but it does mean you won’t be embarrassed by it, as you were by the horrible prequels or the patent marketing ploy of the Ewoks. It also survived the most unpleasant test of a movie ever.

About halfway through the showing here in Morris, someone in the theater crapped their pants. It wasn’t too near me, so all I suffered through was the occasional eddy of air passing through bearing the odor of hot buttered popcorn and poop, and fortunately I hadn’t bought any popcorn or snack food, so it was only sporadically unpleasant — but no one left the theater. Not the poopy pants person or anyone seated near them. So I think we can say the movie was at least that engaging.

Just a hint of etiquette, though: you may think it’s a good idea to test the dedication of an audience, but still, when you’ve shat your drawers please excuse yourself and clean up.

The burning question, though, is about the plot. No spoilers here, but remember how the last one was practically a remake of the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope, and you could slot all the characters into analogs of the first movie’s cast, with some of that cast also making significant appearances, and the plot was just “blow up the Death Star”, only with an even bigger Death Star? Yeah, this one shows it’s bones are the same as the second movie, The Empire Strikes Back. Those bones have been creatively jiggered around, so you’ll still get some surprises. The ice planet battle with rebels in trenches fighting the oncoming, ponderous army of massive imperial battle machines is still there, it’s just been put near the end instead of the beginning, for instance.

It’s such a clone that there’s even a scene where the whiny Darth Vader copy, Kylo Ren, breaks the heart of the Luke version, Rey, by informing them of their parentage during a climactic battle. Don’t worry, though, it’s not something like, “I, Kylo Ren, am your third cousin twice removed” and Rey goes, like, “NOOOOOO. It can’t be!” It’s a little more realistic than that.

Also, the movie is overstuffed with irrelevant side-conflicts and tangents and sudden swordfights which turn the whole story into a sloppy turducken of confusion, but it’s OK, they’re entertaining, just go with it.

The porgs were clearly tossed in as comic relief. They weren’t very amusing. That’s the level of humor we’re working at here, so don’t expect much to laugh at. Do not buy the inevitable porg toys, or I will have to unfriend you.

The primary plot devices are all about Force magic. The hokey religion angle is wearing thin, but OK, it’s a fantasy story, I guess we need to allow it.

By the way, is it now a requirement that every sf/fantasy movie include one character rendered so badly that it breaks all suspension of disbelief? In this one it’s Yoda. He still looks like a cheesy foam puppet made in the 1970s, and his scene just goes on and on. He’s dead. He’s a Force ghost. Let him rest in peace, ‘k?

Bottom line: if I were twelve years old again, I’d probably be saying “This is the greatest movie ever!!!” I’m not, unfortunately, so I’m just going to say it’s fine, light, forgettable entertainment. It would be improved by having an audience that could control their bowels, but otherwise it’s exactly what it says on the label and as long as you don’t expect depth or greatness, and it truly is a nice representative of the Star Wars genre.

How to purge yourself of The Gay

I was darned close to a perfect 0 on the Kinsey scale, exclusively heterosexual. But let’s face it, we’re all able to experience some degree of same-sex attraction — even I could feel a little internal tremor when I saw Jason Mamoa. But no more. I have achieved a perfect 0. You might ask how, how can you too drive yourself to Absolute Heterosexual Manliness? And I will tell you.

I started reading this interview with Matt Damon, who I might once have said was reasonably attractive in the right light. But as I read deeper, I first felt that there was something mildly disturbing here, like, how can he be so self-centered about accusations of harassment? Then when he starts rationalizing about how we ought to forgive Louis CK because he has been punished enough, the self-loathing started to well up. And then by the time he says his response to a hypothetical accusation against himself would be to lawyer up and buy her off, my journey was complete: I now hate all men. Jason, I’m sorry. I couldn’t bear to spend any time with you now.

I thought that was enough. I was now pure. But I didn’t know that Tom Hanks — sweet, avuncular, gentle Tom Hanks — was going to speak up.

He he told the New York Post newspaper’s Page Six column: If you threw out every film or TV show that was made by an a**hole, Netflix would go out of business. I think you do just have … to wait because this is a long game.

Fuck damn. I’m thoroughly suffused with the spirit of misandry now. All of my Y chromosomes are cowering in a dark corner of my nuclei. This might be sorta like a massive autoimmune reaction, and I might die.

I guess there’s a reason FtB lacks a style guide

Oh, no! I just realized that Freethoughtblogs lacks a style book! We have a short guide we send out to all the new bloggers that summarizes the mechanics of writing here, and includes general suggestions, like frequent admonitions to overthrow the patriarchy and return the implements of wealth generation to the hands of the workers, but nothing about style. We just tell ’em to write what they want and how they want, and it’s a free-for-all out there. I think if we said anything about style beyond encouraging godless liberty and a worker’s paradise, we’d have a revolution.

But OK, I know a lot of places enforce a house style and even dictate the kind of content that is acceptable. Let’s see what our competition is up to.

The Daily Stormer has a prime directive.

Oh. Well. I guess I’m not surprised. Nuance and thought get in the way of hatred and violence, so of course oversimplification and reduction to crude caricature is the order of the day there.

What about tone?

This fits. I’m sure you’ve noticed how often the most abominable people use the “I was just joking” defense, or scream “Satire!” at you (the Morris North Star, for instance, publishes prominently a disingenuous disclaimer that they write satire, so that when they accuse an administrator of promoting white genocide, they can quickly disavow it). But we all know they really mean it.

I’m feeling rather nauseated. I don’t think I go on. All the other freethoughtbloggers will be relieved to know that I wouldn’t impose a style guide on them even if that were within my power to do (we have an administration style best characterized as anarchy.)

But please do remember that when an alt-right Nazi or troll from /pol/ smiles and tries to tell you that they’re just having fun, they’re not. They actually are horrible, awful, people who might be dressed up in clownface.

Unpleasant character, unpleasant demise

Pope Danny Ray Johnson was a blustery, cocky, unpleasant dude: a racist, Confederate-flag-wavin’, Bible-thumpin’, struttin’ caricature of a certain kind of toxic Southern masculinity. Of course he had a church — the kind of church centered around a cult of personality, where the pastor could call himself Pope (and have a hat that spelled out “POPE” on it), where the choir would pose with their guns on display, where Rebel flags hung from the walls, a church with a bar (which isn’t a bad idea…) but no liquor license, but they’d try to get away with selling alcohol with the excuse that it was for communion. Johnson was happy to post memes to Facebook calling the Obamas “monkeys”. That’s just the kind of good ol’ boy he was. He also got elected to the state congress of Kentucky, because that’s the kind of horrible person who can get elected in the benighted counties of the regressive South.

Oh, and he was also a child molester. I’ve put the 17 year old victim’s account below the fold, because it’s a bit detailed and unpleasant, and the story just gets worse and worse.

[Read more…]

It’s amazing what they’ll just come out and say on YouTube

Roy Moore lost the election in Alabama, but he refuses to concede. He’s put out a video explaining why. It’s revolting.

After a brief nod to the fact that they’re still counting some military ballots (won’t make a difference to the outcome), he gets around to the real reason. It’s too important to God to allow godless sodomites to have a say in an election. We have to stop abortion, homosexuals, and men who claim to be women, and we need to have prayer in the schools, and Immorality sweeps over our land! To preserve our republic and honor the Constitution, he is going to deny the outcome of an election. Well, gosh, can we also deny the outcome of the last presidential election simply because the asshole-in-chief is an affront to morality?

I don’t think he understands the concept of a republic. Remember that next time some theocrat runs for office — their intent is to destroy that institution.

Hey, you know who else doesn’t understand anything? Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad. Benjamin really is a Nazi at heart. He did a hangout with another alt-right fuckwit, MillennialWoes, and they let it all hang out. What is he afraid of?

You’ve got diversity in everything…it’s terrifying, isn’t it?

He’s terrified because…what? Brown people and gay people and women might also get employed and share equal status with his pale right-wing brothers? This is a blatantly racist, anti-egalitarian statement — and he probably wouldn’t consider my criticism a rebuke, but something to be proud of.

He’s also afraid of SJWs, because they’re a fucking massive problem. We have a terrible great power.

…the reason thousands of young girls are getting raped is not because the police didn’t want to do something or couldn’t do something. It was because they were afraid of social justice warriors calling them racist.

That doesn’t even make sense. Say or do something racist, and someone might rightly say to you that you’re a racist, therefore the problem is…people able to point out reality? A policeman might shoot an unarmed black man to death, but that’s OK — the real horror to a Sargoonian is that someone might point to a pattern of such incidents and declare that there is clear evidence of racist oppression. Say it right out loud, in public!

So we need to silence those goddamn SJWs.

The worst case scenario for the alt-right’s success in this endeavor is less intolerable to me and my family than the SJW success. So from a tactical evaluation, I have to choose this angle. I have to try and explain to the alt-right that they can get what they want and they should take this gambit, even if it means the end of liberal democracy.

I don’t think there’s much difference between old Christian theocrats and the new Nazis at this point.

The Hayek revelations

Good grief. I just read Salma Hayek’s piece in the New York Times. It’s a horror through and through — Harvey Weinstein is a terrible human being. There was the familiar constant pressure for sex, and his anger when denied, but what’s new here is how Weinstein, who had a reputation for sponsoring great art movies, was in active force in compromising the art. What he did to Hayek’s movie, Frida, was unconscionable.

Halfway through shooting, Harvey turned up on set and complained about Frida’s “unibrow.” He insisted that I eliminate the limp and berated my performance. Then he asked everyone in the room to step out except for me. He told me that the only thing I had going for me was my sex appeal and that there was none of that in this movie. So he told me he was going to shut down the film because no one would want to see me in that role.

Frida Kahlo did many self-portraits, and her striking appearance was part of her identity, and Weinstein wanted to reduce her looks to something more conventional? She was afflicted with polio as a child and severely injured in an accident in her teens, and lived her whole life with a disability and chronic pain, and Weinstein wanted to erase that in a biography? How clueless is he, and how many of the good Weinstein-produced movies were made in spite of his interference, and how much better would they have been if he’d never been allowed to say a word?

He offered me one option to continue. He would let me finish the film if I agreed to do a sex scene with another woman. And he demanded full-frontal nudity.

Christ. Hayek gave in on that demand, reluctantly, and with much anguish. But now you’ll need to keep this in mind next time you watch Game of Thrones or some cop show which features a stroll through a strip joint. The nudity isn’t some critical part of the story, or even a part of the atmosphere added for verisimilitude. It’s probably because some guy high up in the production likes the power of being able to compel the women acting in his show to expose themselves. It’s not that nudity and sex can’t be a natural part of a story, but that there’s so much of it, and it’s almost entirely gratuitous.

It sort of turns out well, with regard to the movie, at least…except for the part where Hayek’s success was added to the Weinstein luster, and that he then intentionally stunted her career.

Months later, in October 2002, this film, about my hero and inspiration — this Mexican artist who never truly got acknowledged in her time with her limp and her unibrow, this film that Harvey never wanted to do, gave him a box office success that no one could have predicted, and despite his lack of support, added six Academy Award nominations to his collection, including best actress.

Even though “Frida” eventually won him two Oscars, I still didn’t see any joy. He never offered me a starring role in a movie again. The films that I was obliged to do under my original deal with Miramax were all minor supporting roles.

It seems just to me that Weinstein’s reputation as a patron of the arts is going down in flames, along with his reputation as a decent person.