Two birds, one stone

Yale is efficient. They’ve been debating whether to rename a building named after John Calhoun, the 19th century racist defender of slavery. Remember, this is the guy who said

I hold that the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding states between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good. A positive good.

One could reasonably make an argument that it is unfair to impose modern moral standards on a man dead for a hundred and sixty years, and I’d agree that yes, John C. Calhoun was a product of his time and place, the antebellum South. However it is also unfair to expect that antebellum Southern standards be respected in 21st century America — it works both ways. Yale made the right decision to rename the building after Grace Hopper.

The debate might not have gone on so long if everyone had known that the decision would also drive Geraldo Riviera to sever ties with the university.

Resigned yesterday as Associate Fellow of Calhoun College at Yale. Been an honor but intolerant insistence on political correctness is lame.

Political correctness. There’s a phrase that has become a solid tell for reactionary idiocy. I’ve never seen the words used for anything but to complain about reasonable actions by people with some degree of empathy. I imagine Riviera, if he’d lived at the time, would have called the Emancipation Proclamation a politically correct document, as if there were no moral force behind the liberation of slave and that it was just Ol’ Abe virtue signaling.

At least Yale has managed to purge two assholes at once with one action.

Yet another reason I despise Bill Maher (and Milo Yiannopoulos)

I watched the segment of Real Time with Bill Maher featuring Milo Yiannopoulos (I usually avoid the show; I am confirmed once again in my revulsion). I think the New York Times accurately summed it up:

Despite a brief flare-up of controversy that preceded it, a conversation between Milo Yiannopoulos, the incendiary right-wing author and lecturer, and Bill Maher, the comedian and host of HBO’s “Real Time,” on that program Friday night was a largely docile, chummy affair. There was little conflict or cross-examination, as both men chided the political left for avoiding or drowning out Mr. Yiannopoulos’s views rather than engaging with them.

Maher revealed his own bigotry when Yiannopoulos vaulted on to his high horse to attack transgender men and women and said that he makes no apologies for protecting women and children from men who are confused about their sexual identity in their bathrooms. I immediately call bullshit. Yiannopoulos is not on a crusade to defend women and children, he’s just a Nazi-wannabe troll. Maher apparently has a broken bullshit detector, though, because he just mutters,

That’s not unreasonable.

And then he turns to another guest, Jack Kingston, and says,

Jack, where do you stand on weirdos peeing?

Fuck you too, Bill Maher. Let’s promote the stereotype that the reason transgender people go into the bathroom is to rape people, rather than to urinate, on top of giving a hateful narcissist another platform on which to giggle out lies. I must point out that the current crisis in American politics is in part due to journalists giving air time to bigots to air their sensationalist views, and then failing to call them on it. There’s Bill Maher, doing the same thing with another hate-monger. You can’t simultaneously call giving shrieking racists, sexists, and transphobes a platform a free speech issue, and then fail to be skeptical and critical of their views.

There were two heroes on this show, though: Jeremy Scahill for refusing to show up and legitimize Yiannopoulos, and Larry Wilmore for refusing to accept Yiannopoulos’s shit. He was having none of it.

I just think it’s sad because it’s the same argument used against gay people, treating them like aliens who just wanted to fuck everything that moved and that’s why we should avoid them at all costs. There’s a difference without a distinction … It’s like when people tried to compare gays and blacks. They’re not the same thing. We share an invisibility. People didn’t see us in society and gay people hid out from society. But there were a lot of the same issues that you have to deal with when you’re marginalized.

Yiannopoulos’s response was to call being transgender a psychiatric disorder (an extraordinarily ironic argument, coming from a loudly gay man — he is aware that the same dismissal by definition has been and is being applied to gay people, right?), and assert that they (transgender people) are disproportionately involved in those sorts of sex crimes. As victims, maybe.

I’ll let Yiannopoulos have the last quote.

No, but you always invite such awful people on your show. You need to start inviting higher IQ guests.

For once, he’s right. Never invite Yiannopoulos again, for starters. Then get rid of Bill Maher. And finally, turn over the program to Larry Wilmore, who was brilliant.

A mostly pleasant day

I took off from work early today! My wickedness knows no bounds. My wife and I took a nice walk downtown, in the bizarrely spring-like February day — warm, sunny — to the public library, where our Republican congressvermin, Jeff Backer and Torrey Westrom, were doing a town hall. Our local indivisible group had prepared ahead of time with a set of questions.

You may have heard a while back that our Democratic governor, Mark Dayton, had collapsed while giving a speech. He’s being treated for cancer. Backer opened the meeting by making jokes about Dayton’s health, the ratfucking asshole. Let’s hope that costs him a few votes. There were a number of topics discussed: our group focused on environmental issues. So one concern was that Backer had voted against a bill that encouraged more ‘made in Minnesota’ solar and renewable initiatives — his complaint was that too much of it was made in China and shipped to Minnesota where we “put a bolt on it”. It was pointed out that that was fine, you could make a better bill, but do that before you discard the existing law.

Another hot issue out here is a buffer zone bill: our water quality sucks because of the massive amounts of agricultural runoff, so this law would require buffer strips near streams that would not be plowed and would slow erosion and runoff. Westrom and Backer both oppose it, and have voted to delay it; some farmers there also complained that it was their land and how dare the government tell them how to use it. I just wanted to mention that it was our water and how dare they poison it?

It was generally an annoying meeting, but about 60 people showed up, so the main point was to demonstrate that we’re agin’ ’em, and that we’re organizing, so start sweating.

Afterwards we cooled off by continuing our walk, popping by the coffee shop for a little while, and then having dinner at the American Legion hall. It was Indian Taco night, to benefit the Circle of Nations Indigenous Association, so of course we had to indulge. With extra fry bread on the side. Mmmmm. Fry bread.


We have walked home, and are digesting briefly before heading out to the Morris Theater for La La Land.

Gosh, I’m feeling relaxed already. This and Cougar Con tomorrow, my blood pressure may have dropped a few points.

It’s like a nonsensical fantasy novel

I have sad news, everyone. Ken Ham has finally blocked me on Twitter, so now I’m getting all the humorous Answers in Genesis news second hand…like this glorious announcement. The Ark Park has a new exhibit! It’s a diorama showing the wicked antediluvian humans putting on gladiatorial games, with dinosaurs.


That is so damned Biblical that I think I shat out a prophet while I was laughing so hard.

Although, I have to admit that it is amazingly cinematic. Imagine how much better the gladiator scenes in HBO’s Rome or that Spartacus series would have been if they’d occasionally brought a T. rex into the arena.

It also reminds me of the fabulous (in all meanings of the word) Jim Pinkoski, he of pygmies and dwarfs fame, who invented this spectacular scene for the end of his Noah’s Ark comic book in which fallen angels mounted on dinosaurs attacked the Ark to prevent it from sailing.


Religion just means that you get to make everything up.

Take the Mainstream Media Accountability Survey!

The Republicans have put out an online poll to find out what you think of the media coverage of the Trump administration. It’s a trap! Watch what you say on it, because it’s trying to put you in a bind: you either think the mainstream media sucks and is biased against Trump, or you think it’s doing a wonderful job. There is no provision for “Mainstream media sucks because they’ve been far too kind and wishy-washy about the Asshole-In-Chief”. Go ahead and take it though, and let one factor decide how you answer: will it make Donald Trump unhappy, and go against the result the poll is engineered to generate?

Someone needs to start a Journal of Pizza Quality Research, stat

We need somewhere to bury sloppy research on fast food, after all. Brian Wansink gets interviewed on Retraction Watch (y’all remember Wansink, the fellow who ground his data exceedingly fine to extract four papers from a null result), and he does himself no favors.

Well, we weren’t testing a registered hypothesis, so there’d be no way for us to try to massage the data to meet it. From what I understand, that’s one definition of p-hacking. Originally, we were testing a hypothesis – we thought the more expensive the pizza, the more you’d eat. And that was a null result.

But we set up this two-month study so that we could look at a whole bunch of totally unanswered empirical questions that we thought would be interesting for people who like to eat in restaurants. For example, if you’re eating a meal, what part influences how much like the meal? The first part, the middle part, or the last part? We had no prior hypothesis to think anything would predominate. We didn’t know anybody who had looked at this in a restaurant, so it was a totally empirical question. We asked people to rate the first, middle, and last piece of pizza – for those who ate 3 or more pieces – and asked them to rate and the quality of the entire meal. We plotted out the data to find out which piece was most linked to the rating of the overall meal, and saw ‘Oh, it looks like this happens.’ It was total empiricism. This is why we state the purpose of these papers is ‘to explore the answer to x.’ It’s not like testing Prospect Theory or a cognitive dissonance hypothesis. There’s no theoretical precedent, like the Journal of Pizza Quality Research. Not yet.

That last bit sounds like a threat.

Here’s the thing: we all do what he describes. An experiment failed (yes, it’s happened to me a lot). OK, let’s look at the data we’ve got very carefully and see if there’s anything potentially interesting in it, any ideas that might be extractable. The results are a set of observations, after all, and we should use them to try and figure out what’s going on, and in a perfect world, there’d be public place to store negative results so they aren’t just buried in a file drawer somewhere. There’s nothing wrong with analyzing your data out the wazoo.

The problem is that he then published it all under the guise of papers testing different hypotheses. Most of us don’t do that at all. We see a hint of something interesting buried in the data for a null result, and we say, “Hmm, let’s do an experiment to test this hypothesis”, or “Maybe I should include this suggestive bit of information in a grant proposal to test this hypothesis.” Just churning out low-quality papers to plump up the CV is why I said this is a systemic problem in science — we reward volume rather than quality. It doesn’t make scientists particularly happy to be drowning in drivel, but Elsevier is probably drooling at the idea of a Journal of Pizza Quality Research — another crap specialized journal that earns them an unwarranted amount of money and provides another dumping ground for said drivel being spewed out.

Wansink seems to be dimly aware of this situation.

These sorts of studies are either first steps, or sometimes they’re real-world demonstrations of existing lab findings. They aren’t intended to be the first and last word about a social science issue. Social science isn’t definitive like chemistry. Like Jim Morrison said, “People are strange.” In a good way.

Yes. First steps. Maybe you shouldn’t publish first steps. Maybe you should hold off until you’re a little more certain you’re on solid ground.

No one expects social science to be just like chemistry, but this idea that you don’t need robust observations with solid methodology might be one reason there is a replicability crisis. Rather than repeating and engaging in some healthy self-criticism of your results, you’re haring off to publish the first thing that breaches an arbitrary p-value criterion.

There really are significant problems with the data he did publish, too. Take a look at this criticism of one of his papers. The numbers don’t add up. The stats don’t make sense. His tables don’t even seem to be appropriately labeled. You could not replicate the experiment from the report he published. This stuff is incredibly sloppy, and he doesn’t address their failings in the interview, except inadequately and in ways that don’t solve the problems with the work.

Again, I’m trying to be generous in interpreting the purpose of this research — often, interdisciplinary criticism can completely miss the point of the work (see also how physicists sometimes fail to comprehend biology, and inappropriately apply expectations from one field to another) — but I’m also seeing a lack of explanation of the context and relevance of the work. I mean, when he says, “For example, if you’re eating a meal, what part influences how much like the meal? The first part, the middle part, or the last part?”, I’m just wondering why. Why would it matter, what are all the variables here (not just the food, but in the consumer), and what do you learn from the fact that Subject X liked dessert, but not the appetizer?

It sounds like something a restaraunteur or a food chain might want to know, or that might might appeal to an audience at a daytime talk show, but otherwise, I’m not seeing the goal…or how their methods can possibly sort out the multitude of variables that have to be present in this research.

Women in science tumbling off a cliff

Since someone in this thread is trying to suggest that there might be a gender-based difference in ability to pursue careers in STEM fields, this chart is most appropriate.


That fits with my experience. On average, the undergraduate women I teach are just as capable as the men — if they weren’t confidential, I could show you my gradebook and you’d see that it’s women who consistently stand at the top of the class. Yet somehow, after they graduate, their participation in science careers plummets. I don’t think they turn stupid after getting their degree; I remember my peers from my graduate school and post-doc days, and no, all of them were scary smart or they wouldn’t be there. I think it’s more that harassment takes its toll (most of which I was oblivious to at the time, but afterwards, I’ve had women tell me about it, and it was an eye-opening “Oh, yeah, he was kind of creepy, wasn’t he” sort of revelation), and disrespect (I definitely knew older faculty who saw women as good technicians, but not smart enough to do creative work) and judgmental attitudes (“she’s just going to get married and pregnant and leave the field anyway”).

We are not yet creating equal opportunities. Don’t try to tell me that women are less capable when I deal with brilliant, hard-working women in science every day.