So now I must go

I mentioned that I should probably attend the odious John West’s talk at the U of Minnesota next Friday, and Rick Schauer has stepped up to the plate and provided compelling motivation.

To help make it easier for you to attend West’s talk, PZ…I’ll sponsor a
Pharyngula Fellowship event at the UM Campus Club.

I’m talking free-beer and munchies to you and any other Pharyngulaites
reading this from 5:30-6:45 at the Club. We then all walk from Coffmann to
Nicholson and confront the poor sap in unison. We’ll make more plans as
time passes.

Free beer? I thought this was a myth, a hoary legend of something truly impossible. Maybe there is a god.

Seriously, though, this is a brilliant idea. One of our disadvantages in these kinds of events is that the creationists will truck over church-loads of true believers, and the science side goes in outnumbered. Organizing a social event for skeptics beforehand is an excellent scheme to motivate a turnout that is more critically-minded — it doesn’t even require a generous philanthropist to host the fellowship, although we certainly won’t turn down free beer.

So yes, now I will definitely be there. I urge other Twin Cities Pharyngula readers to show up, too. If we come prepared with arguments against West’s thesis, that evolution dehumanizes society and Darwin is therefore responsible for the errors of eugenics, and share our perspectives in friendly conversation, we’ll also be more effective in the Q&A in the talk.

If you aren’t in the Twin Cities, but are having various creationists show up to harangue your citizenry, think about this simple idea as a model: host a pre-talk social event and get the science-minded locals to turn up. I’m not at all keen to go listen to another Discovery Institute liar, but the opportunity to bend an elbow with a group of smart people? Count me in.


  1. says

    Well, the numbers shouldn’t really matter so long as you’ve got the smart-bomb of a cold reality in your hip pocket. Plus, I think the only way I could handle sitting through a DI propaganda-fest would be if I had a sufficient amount of high-octane, pre-talk lubrication plowing through my veins.

    I wish I could make it though. It’s not a long drive for me, but I’ve got a busy day on the 30th. But, I am definitely looking forward to your run down of the chatter. Should be fun.

  2. Ben says

    I was only at a bar that was giving out free beer once. The environment became quite raucous in a ridiculously short span of time.

  3. Rick Schauer says

    (speed-dialing Phil Platt at the Campus Club…) “Hi, er, Phil?” “Anything happening at the Club next Friday?” I need to make some reservations….”

  4. Desert Donkey says

    Since there really is no free beer … maybe we need to form the Pharyngula Party Phfund to defray the cost of such ventures.

  5. says

    You shout “Free beer!” in a crowded internet, and see what happens?

    I think it would be fair to say your offer should just be for a round of beer for the Pharynguloids, however — who knows how many will show up, and we really should just be their for the company, not merely the crass material gain.

  6. Rick Schauer says

    “you shout “Free beer!” in a crowded internet, and see what happens?”

    Let’s get this perfectly straight…it’s really “free beer for an hour and a forty-five minutes”

    Lest we be all confused like the IDers…

  7. Peter Ashby says

    Dammit, now I REALLY need to win the lottery over the weekend, then I can fly over and join you guys. Unless that is your customs and immigration people refuse to let me in due to such short notice. And they might put me on a no fly notice now I have publically stated my intent to visit the US. Never mind I can’t think of a better reason to visit the US, so wish me luck ;-)

  8. Samantha says

    The pre-talk social event is a fantastic idea. I’ve gone to creationist talks before, and it can be discouraging for the science-minded, especially when you feel you are alone.

  9. says

    One of the great race-running motivators is “Beer at the finish!”

    PZ, I hope you’re creating an event for this Challenge to Nonsense on Facebook so your friends there can see it and let others know about it.”

  10. QrazyQat says

    There was Free Beer. The band, that is. One of the members was a friend of a friend, and they used the name hoping it would lure people into Greenwich Village bars with their sign out front. It worked, at least well enough for them to put out three Billboard Top 100 albums and some touring.

  11. Neville Chamberlain says

    I don’t know anything about this “West” character
    (other than the fact that he is odious). I’ve read discussions here that make it clear that some of his fellow petri-dishers really know how to work a crowd. Frankly,
    if I were West (and I were aware of your plans) I would try to slip in a ringer – in this case, a drunken idiot heckler
    in the crowd who would argue (in an insulting, misleading and incoherent fashion) in favor of evolution. If West could make a connection between your group (and therefore all science supporters) and the ringer (after all, your whole group just came from a bar where free beer was being served!) he could damage the credibility of your group in the eyes of the (probably mythical) neutral parties in attendance.

    Then again, I suspect the pro-science side has evolved
    an improved ability to deal with the antics of the

    Good luck guys. I wish I could go.

  12. raven says

    Hmmmm, free beer at 5:30 before confronting the forces of darkness? Been there, not such a good idea. One would be tempted afterwards to tell satan John West what he is really supporting rather than trying to refute his pack of lies. While this has some merit and would be personally fulfilling, a crowd of religious bigots would just have their stereotypes reinforced.

  13. Norm says

    Maybe we could just say ‘A” free beer before, then give away prizes (more beer!) after for points scored.

  14. CJ says

    I’m talking free-beer and munchies to you and any other Pharyngulaites reading this from 5:30-6:45 at the Club.

    Free beer is great but don’t you find it the least bit odd that you had to have read his invite betwixt 5:30-6:45?

  15. JT says

    WHAT!! I just left grad school at Minnesota for a postdoc in Utah, and now your rubbing the availability of alcohol on campus in my face!!

    I guess there is no god.
    Now if I could convince the Mormons of this.

  16. Hank Roberts says

    Wait, the concept here is to feed free beer to a crowd of scientists and/or atheists for over an hour, then take them as a group to a hall full of religious IDers to participate in a reasoned discussion and convince them that science and rationality lead to better decisions?

    The mind boggles. I hope you take a designated driver and videotaper.

  17. Tony Jeremiah says

    Re: Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: The Disturbing Legacy of America’s Eugenics Crusade

    The title is somewhat misleading given the following history:

    1859 Charles Darwin (British citizen) publishes The Origin of Species

    1864 Herbert Spencer (a British capitalist) publishes Principles of Biology (grounded more in Lamarckian rather than Darwinian principles) and forms the foundations of Social Darwinism

    1907 Indiana sterilization laws (according to posting)

    1920s Hitler picks up on Social Darwinism and does some Bible reading (Hitler’s Christianity)

    1925 Minnesota sterilization laws (according to posting)

    1933 Nazi Eugenics starts

    1943 Josef Mengele begins his experiments (quite possibly the worst “application” of scientific thinking ever)

    1944 Richard Hofstadter publishes Social Darwinism in American Thought (in opposition to Social Darwinism)

    1931-1945 World War II (opposition to Hitler and his ideas)


    This time line suggests that any person can take any idea (religious, political, scientific) and twist them to suit any prior inclinations they may already possess. The actions that subsequently follow cannot be blamed solely on what one reads–interpretation must be a significant factor.

  18. says

    Wait, the concept here is to feed free beer to a crowd of scientists and/or atheists for over an hour, then take them as a group to a hall full of religious IDers to participate in a reasoned discussion and convince them that science and rationality lead to better decisions?

    Some of my best bullshit-eviscerating happens when I’m on the road to soused. There’s at least one conspiracy theory new ager who’ll think twice about saying “the mind is like a parachute; it only works when it’s open” to a rationalist in the bar.

  19. says

    Really, people. It is entirely possible to have a convivial beer with a few friends without getting tongue-stumblingly drunk. I don’t think a quiet evening in the student union is going to turn into an alcohol-fueled orgy.

  20. Steve_C says

    When did the Puritans land on Pharyngula Rock?

    Damn people… 2 or 3 pints is not a big deal.

    Wow. Staightedge people can be so… annoying.

  21. Michael J says

    Announcing free beer on a blog. Dangerous idea, I think I felt Australia lurch as the Aussie Pharyngulians dived into the Pacific to swim to the US.

  22. says

    Don’t be surprised if some undercover atheists show up to facetiously espouse some of the DI’s crappy ideas and run them to their logical conclusion off of that tall cliff. ;-)

  23. Peter Ashby says

    PZ you have obviously never been to the student union of any Scottish University. The one here at the University of Dundee is famous and the students consistently vote Dundee as the most fun place to go to Uni. to the extent that the university uses it as a marketing tool. The pints are particularly cheep in the Union, for one thing it keeps the kids out of the pubs, which are full of PhD students, postdocs and group leaders…

  24. Peter Ashby says

    MInd you over here in the UK you can drink on your own in a pub from 18 and be bought a drink in one by an older person from 16. At home you can drink what your parents allow you to. I was brought up drinking my Dad’s homemade wine and then beer. Forbidden fruit and all that.

  25. Rolando Aguilera says

    Well, i’m not any close to be a regular commentor, but if you don’t discriminate i’ll tell my wife to pospone our mortage payments in order to be at the meeting :)
    Oh my, free beer!

  26. says

    Really, people. It is entirely possible to have a convivial beer with a few friends without getting tongue-stumblingly drunk. I don’t think a quiet evening in the student union is going to turn into an alcohol-fueled orgy.

    That’s only ’cause I can’t make it.

  27. fardels bear says

    West is not a biologist, he’s a political scientist. I’ve seen him talk. His shtick is to present a pseudo-history of the eugenics movement in order to claim that it was all about ceding democracy over to the scientists and letting the biologists run the world. He attempts to claim that there were NO biologists who spoke out against the eugenics movement, and that the only voices that were raised in protest were religious ones. The, you should pardon the expression, “framing” is to suggest that society is in danger when science is taken to answer all of our questions and thus we should be wary of “technocracy.”

    His talk, to historians, philosophers of science, who actually know something about this stuff, was hooted from the room. Because, his history is as accurate as most creationist science is. In other words, not at all. Remember, the heyday of eugenics in the US was in the first three decades of the 20th century, a time when a good case can be made for “the eclipse of Darwinism” (see the book by that title by Peter Bowler). If Darwin was responsible for eugenics, then why was eugenics the most powerful when Darwin’s theories were at their weakest?

    If you want to screw with him (which I suggest) peruse any good history of eugenics, say Kevles’s, and ask him about the more complicated history of the eugenics movement. Ask him about biologists who spoke out against eugenics (say, Herbert Spencer Jennings). Ask him to explain what involuntary sterilization had to do with Darwin (the real answer is little or nothing). Ask him questions about Weissman and what was known about “hard heredity” and its relationship to evolutionary theory (remember, the eugenics movement was before the evolutionary synthesis). Ask him about the prevalence of eugenics in places that were slow to adopt Weismanism (ie Brazil or France).

    When pressed on these questions, West becomes very vague, very fast. Lots of “it seems to me” type answers. He’s a fraud.

  28. fardels bear says

    Ask John West to explain how anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, who was a firm believer in natural selection and Weismanism could say this in 1917:

    “Of all the commingling of the cultural with the vital, that which has crystallized under the name of the eugenics movement is the most widely known and of directest appeal. As a constructive program for national progress, eugenics is a confusion of the purposes to breed better men and to give men better ideals; an organic device to attain the social; a biological short cut to a moral end.”

    “It [eugenics] is more refined but no less vain that the short cut which the savage follows, when, to avoid the trouble and danger of killing his foe in the body, he pierces, in the safety and amid objurgations uttered in the convenience of his own home, a miniature image addressed by the name of the enemy. Past ages have had their dragons of superstition to fight. Our battles against this ever re-arising brood dawn no smaller and as unceasing; and it would be shallow to try to defer or soften the inevitable conflict by withholding from this movement its true designation. Eugenics so far as it is more than an endeavor at social hygiene in a new field, is a fallacy. It is a mirage like the philosopher’s stone, the elixir of life, the ring of Solomon, or the material efficacy of prayer; and to those who are led by its learned modernity to receive it earnestly, it is a destructive snare. There is little to argue about it. If social phenomena are only organic, eugenics is right, and there is nothing more to be said. If the social is something more than the organic, eugenics is only an error and unclear thought; at whose childlikeness the future will smile, and then pass on.”

    Alfred Krober, “The Superorganic,” AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST 19 (1917), p. 188-189.

  29. CG in Tucson says

    I hate to be a wet blanket, but wouldn’t it be better not to give this moron a chance to rehearse his arguments? I’d concentrate on the beers, skip the circus (you’re not going to convince his audience anyhow), and let him fall harder on his face if he ever winds up in front of judge or jury, where it really counts.

    It’s not as if he’s going to find legitimate holes in your argument, but why hand him any free practice sessions? After all, it could all wind up in front of a jury of his peers, “red state” demographics being what they are.

  30. Rick Schauer says

    I have received confirmation from the Campus Club for 5:30-6:45pm Friday 11/30/2007 and have reserved a section of the “bar” area where the couches are.

    U of M Campus Club is located at on the 4th floor of Coffman Memorial Union. Parking information is here:

    See you there!