A Phoenix social calendar…see you at SICB!

Attention, Phoenixians (Phoenicians? Phoenotypes? What do they call residents of Phoenix, anyway?). (John Lynch, GrrlScientist, and I are going to be in your area next week for the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) meetings, and we are all unanimous in our expectation that this will be an excellent opportunity to cadge free drinks from meet all of our fans out Arizona way. We’re all going to be taking advantage of the meetings to learn us some new science, but there will be a few opportunities to socialize, too.

Jim Lippard is hosting a get-together at his home on Saturday, 6 Jan, from 5:30 to 8:00. To make sure that the size of the gathering is manageable, you’ll need to contact him to get directions. Hey, you get to meet us and Jim Lippard! What a deal!

In addition, on Friday, 5 Jan, we’ll want to wander off to somewhere near the convention center for casual food and drinks, say around 6ish. Do any of the residents who’d like to join us want to make suggestions about a locale? Something convenient, easy for foreigners like us to get to, but not likely to be overwhelmed by the hordes of like-minded biologists spilling out of the meeting at the same time. We can hammer out the details in the comments.

Put down those non sequiturs and stereotypes, Captain Fishsticks, and no one will get hurt

Captain Fishsticks is one of our local conservative nutjobs who haunts the pages of the St Paul Pioneer Press—he’s a free market freak who wants to privatize everything, especially the schools, and yet everything he writes reveals a painful ignorance of anything academic. This week he’s written a response to an article that left him distraught: Peter Pitman advocated more and better science education for Minnesotans, especially on the subject of climate change. Fishsticks, to whom all education is a zero-sum game because every time he has to learn another phone number a whole ‘nother column of the times table drops out of his brain, objects to this threat. He starts off by agreeing with Pitman’s argument, but does so by tying it to some of his lunatic obsessions—he’s a pro-smoking anti-vaccination guy.

I’ve made much the same argument relative to policymakers who unscientifically exaggerate the dangers of secondhand smoke and bureaucrats who ignore scientific evidence about the dangers of universal vaccination.

This approval will not last. The rest of his column is a weird paean to excusing ignorance of science. You see, if people learn more math and physics, they’ll get the idea that we live in a “clockwork universe”, and then they won’t like music or poetry anymore. Seriously.

[Read more…]

Another godless writer we shouldn’t forget

Before there was The God Delusion and Letter to a Christian Nation, there was another excellent book on atheism: Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) by Susan Jacoby. I can’t recommend that book highly enough: it takes a purely historical perspective on American religiosity, and shows that it is a fairly recent aberration. I consider it superior to the more recent works by Dawkins and Harris; I wonder why it is so rarely acknowledged in the current interest in freethought?

Anyway, she has a recent short column well worth reading:

However, both atheism and secularism are still largely excluded from public dialogue about the proper role of religion in American politics–an omission that I consider much more important than pointless debates between believers and nonbelievers about the existence of God.

I have written NBC’s Tim Russert several times about the lack of secular representation on his many Meet the Presspanels concerning the relationship between religion and politics. Mr. Russert has never responded to my letters. This subject was discussed once again on the show on Christmas Eve and, once again, there was no secular voice to be heard.

When the influence of religion on politics is analyzed in the press, the dialogue usually ranges from religious conservatism to religious liberalism. No secularists or atheists need apply.

Much of what has gone disastrously wrong in American policy, especially foreign policy, in recent years can be attributed to a reliance on blind faith rather than evidence. When The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward asked President Bush whether he had consulted his father before going to war in Iraq, Bush famously replied that he had consulted a “Higher Father.”

Isn’t it fascinating that the voice of God always sounds suspiciously like one’s own voice? When politicians start citing God as the authority for whatever they want to do, they are usually promoting some policy that defies human reason.

Unfortunately, it’s in a section of the Washington Post called “On Faith” (I think it’s another example of Jacoby’s point that there don’t seem to be any papers that bother with a section called “On Reason”), and there are lots of comments, many from certifiable True Believers who are clearly driven even more deeply insane by the article.

$30 is too much for the cheap laughs this would give me

Wheee! Look at this slick new game. Doesn’t it look fun to play?


It’s even educational!

“Intelligent Design vs Evolution” is unique in that the playing pieces are small rubber brains and each team plays for “brain” cards. Each player uses his or her brains to get more brains, and the team with the most brains wins. It has been designed to make people think … and that’s exactly what it does.

Errm, until you look more closely at who puts it out: Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. You know, the insane guys with the banana. And then you read the testimonial:

“Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron are doing much more than revealing the bankruptcy of molecules-to-man evolution. They have a greater purpose: proclaiming biblical authority and reaching the lost with the precious gospel message. Enjoy this wonderful family game as you also become better equipped to defend our precious Christian faith.” — Ken Ham, President, Answers in Genesis.

I don’t think this is one of those games designed to reward you for getting the right answer—it’s one you should be proud to lose.

(via Friendly Atheist)

My wife will be so surprised

Hank Fox, who assures me that he is ALL MAN (just look at that beard), told me to take this test…and I seem to have a woman’s brain.


It’s my result from my BBC sex test. I think I confused them, though: I did well on all the spatial reasoning tests and kind of bombed on the empathy stuff (male!), but I also kicked ass on the “spot the difference” test and the ability to recognize emotions from just eyes (female and off the scale!). Being able to spit out 16 and 17 synonyms for a word also makes me more ladylike, I guess.

(When you look at the actual raw scores and the averages, though, my main impression is that men and women aren’t that much different from one another, given the likely amount of variation.)