I shall be looking forward to my massive pay raise

Zeno catches something amusing: a right-wing radio host ranting about professors.

Sussman:I get a kick out of— You go to UC Berkeley, you go to Stanford, you go to these various campuses and these students are out there protesting, “We need more money for our schools!” And standing next to them are the professors. “We need more money for our schools!” Hey, have you ever asked that professor how much money they’re making every year? These professors are all millionaires. They’re millionaires with big, big salaries and big, big retirement packages. And yet they dress like little schmoes, you know, with their crummy jackets [Officer Vic: Patches on the elbow.] that are twenty years old, yeah, and patches on the elbow. And their ties are askew and their hair’s kinda crappy and they drive crummy little cars and they’re millionaires. They’re all millionaires! And they actually have the gall to stand next to the kids who are protesting because their fees are too high. “We need more money for our schools!” So you can pay these millionaires!

Reality doesn’t matter to these guys, does it? We wear the crummy jackets and drive the crummy little cars because that’s what we can afford: professors are proud members of the middle class, not even the upper middle class. It isn’t pretense.

I’m also not really getting a pay raise. In Minnesota, we’re getting a pay cut this year.

A science section on Huffpo? Sweet Jebus, no!

JL Vernon is lobbying to have Huffpo dedicate a section of their undeservedly popular, cheesy website to science. He makes a superficially reasonable argument: to work within the belly of the beast to promote good science, in opposition to the tripe they usually publish. I’m sympathetic, really I am, but I see the Huffpo as a dead cause.

I also think Vernon fails to grasp the problem here. For instance, he complains about the refusal of anti-creationists to debate the opposition.

The most resounding message emerging from the opposition is the idea that having “real science” share a platform with “bad science” will ultimately tarnish the reputation of the legitimate scientists and science communicators who choose to participate. This is essentially the same argument Richard Dawkins, PZ Meyers and others take when refusing to debate evolutionists. The concept here being that by sharing the stage with creationists, scientists lend credibility to the creationist arguments. In some ways, I think this is a cowardly response. If you have a sound argument, the opposition should not win the debate.

That’s wrong on multiple levels. First, a debate is not won by sound argument; it’s by persuasive rhetoric. Many creationists have that skill (I have to repeat a mantra I’ve got: creationists are not stupid, just ignorant and misled by ignorant arguments), so it is a serious tactical error to think that because all the facts and science are on your side, you’re going to win debates. That’s a recipe for consistent failure.

The other problem here is that I’ve “won” most of my debates…because the other side is just nuts. Jerry Bergman and Geoff Simmons, to name two, were raving loonies who made me embarrassed to be sharing a spotlight with them. There was no gain for me, and plenty for them. You get two possibilities: you’ll face an eloquent rhetorician who will run rings around you despite your command of the facts, or you’ll get a nutcase who makes you feel like you’re sharing the podium with a brain-damaged hobo. Neither are great options.

The final big problem is that creationist debaters willingly lie and distract to win their arguments. The Gish Gallop is just one of the tools they use; they sputter out dozens of claims that are false and falsifiable, if you had an hour to address each one. And then, of course, if you do “win”, they’ll cheerfully lie to their little closeted evangelical audiences that they not only defeated you, but that you were a big abusive meanie who was rude and accused the creationists of making stuff up.

I have little hope for Vernon’s endeavor if he doesn’t grasp these basic realities of dealing with kooks.

As for Huffpo, he has a couple of hurdles. He has openly announced his intent to expose the “bad science” on HuffPo — while I like that idea, does he really think Ariana Huffington is going to look kindly on that proposal?

Also, we know that Huffpo editors censor articles. There isn’t going to be any criticism of the site’s major goals, the promulgation of Newage garbage, getting through unbutchered.

But let’s assume Vernon succeeds, and gets a good science section with reputable contributors writing about good solid science and criticizing the pseudoscience and quackery otherwise rife on Huffpo. If it acquires even a scrap of prestige and respect, I can predict exactly what will happen: Deepak Chopra and Robert Lanza will ask Huffington to include their raving madness in that section. They write about “science” and “medicine”, after all. And a credible science section on Huffpo will be quickly subverted to promote quackery.

Convergent Revolution agrees that Huffpo Science would be a bad idea. Huffpo is tainted fruit — stay away from it altogether.

She made the right choice

Some things just make you want to cringe under a table somewhere, they’re so awful and embarrassing. And sometimes they’re so bad I don’t want to cringe down there alone, so I’m going to creep you all out, too. Behold, Andrew Cohen. His ex-girlfriend, who turned down his proposal of marriage for what rapidly become obvious reasons, was getting married to someone else — so he wrote her a ‘wedding gift’, a publicly published, soppy opinion piece on how wonderful she is and how much she’s hurting him by spurning his deep, stalkerish obsession with her. For her wedding, he tries to hand her a long guilt trip; I’m hoping that if she saw it at all, she’s just had the rightness of her refusal amply confirmed.

It’s an amazing example of inappropriate obliviousness, so painful that I thought Cohen had to be uniquely blind and self-centered…but no, the comments contain several people praising him for his fantasies about marrying and impregnating her. Gah. I need a shower now.

If you can’t stomach the whole mess, read this distillation of the worst of Andrew Cohen.

(via Amanda.)

Episode LXXXIV: Calling all the little zerglings back

Well, traffic was down a bit yesterday, although the dedicated thread is going strong. I suspect that some of the readers here were distracted by some silly little game that was released yesterday, and the only way to get them back is to dangle the eye candy in front of them.

Now we’re all caught up on everything.

(Current totals: 10,712 entries with 1,069,687 comments.)

Late night in Seattle

I am pleased to report that the godless heathens of Seattle, including the likes of Ophelia Benson (who, I learned, was once bitten by a gorilla, and thereby acquired the superpowers of strength, ferocity, and calm) and Dana Hunter, know how to close out a bar. Once again, a horde of cheerful chatty atheists had to be shooed out at closing time.

Too many to list showed up, but several of the previously less voluble have agreed to comment more. Here is their chance: introduce yourselves!

Hey, UK! How do you reconcile these two facts?

This is a rather horrifying article about young girls reading Harry Potter one moment, and then dragged off to get their clitorises chopped off. It’s got these nasty little details like, if you pay extra, you can get the butcher to use a clean knife.

But there’s an odd disjoint here, too. It’s the UK, a modern western nation. They have laws to prohibit mangling children.

The UK Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 makes it an offence to carry out FGM or to aid, abet or procure the service of another person. The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, makes it against the law for FGM to be performed anywhere in the world on UK permanent residents of any age and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment. To date, no prosecutions have been made under UK legislation.

That’s clear: a strict law and strong penalties, but no prosecutions — so it must be an effective law, right?


Some 500 to 2,000 British schoolgirls will be genitally mutilated over the summer holidays. Some will be taken abroad, others will be “cut” or circumcised and sewn closed here in the UK by women already living here or who are flown in and brought to “cutting parties” for a few girls at a time in a cost-saving exercise.

It’s happening right now. It seems to me that there ought to be 500-2000 arrests in the UK this year, maybe more, since they’ve got a 7 year backlog of neglected criminality.

If medical neglect of children can be a prosecutable crime here in benighted America, why isn’t the UK doing something to stop active, vicious mutilation of children?

A war against mosquitoes?

Well, this was a weird article in Nature that made me think, at least: A world without mosquitoes. I was surprised to learn that there are actually ecologists/entomologists who believe the world would be a better place if we could simply exterminate entire genera of winged pests — that mosquitoes fill a readily replaceable niche, that they make minimal positive contributions to ecosystems, and we’d gain immeasurably from removing animals responsible for so much human suffering. The one thing they also agree on, though, is that there is no way to do it.

And so, while humans inadvertently drive beneficial species, from tuna to corals, to the edge of extinction, their best efforts can’t seriously threaten an insect with few redeeming features. “They don’t occupy an unassailable niche in the environment,” says entomologist Joe Conlon, of the American Mosquito Control Association in Jacksonville, Florida. “If we eradicated them tomorrow, the ecosystems where they are active will hiccup and then get on with life. Something better or worse would take over.”

The article does mention mosquitoes immense contributions to biomass in general in many environments, particularly in the arctic, but this doesn’t seem to perturb the mosquito-haters. It’s odd, since I live in Minnesota, where we get clouds of the bitin’ beasts, and they are regarded as major nuisances…but at the same time everyone understands that they also feed the fish that stock our lakes. I don’t think a widespread mosquito extinction program would be entirely popular.

The commenters on the article seem much more sensible. I was happy to see one quoting Aldo Leopold:

The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.

The article mentions, for instance, that every animal in an arctic caribou herd loses 300 mL of blood a day to the depredations of mosquito swarms, which is definitely horrific for the caribou—but that’s biomass that’s getting transferred to birds and bats and fish. It seems to me that preventing that would be a rather substantial blow against species diversity, even if it did make some big charismatic mammals much more comfortable.