I must update my diary. Change is happening fast, and I begin to fear that my experiment, my delving into esoteric, alien knowledge, could outstrip my feeble efforts at control. Let this be a record to explain my fate.

Prelude: I opened the mysterious sac, and to my delight, discovered beautiful jewels: like opalescent pearls, they rested quietly in a great mass, promising fortune for the future.

Day Zero: I kept the pearly orbs in a glass chamber, where I could observe them whenever I desired. I often desired. My eyes were drawn to their simple elegance, time after time. My obsession, I realize now, was a portent of danger.

Day One: O Glorious Day! The orbs dissolved away to reveal candy-like, plump babies, pale and soft, capable of only feeble stirrings of their pallid limbs. Such innocence warmed my heart.

Day Two: Their limbs have lengthened. They walk about clumsily, but still somewhat endearingly, peering about with their eight eyes. I try not to notice that a few of their siblings seem to be motionless, empty husks, drained of all life and flesh, but perhaps they are just molted exoskeletons? One can hope. I feel a vague disquiet, so as a precaution, I scatter a few flies in the dish.

Day Three: I peek into their chamber. All is quiet. The flies all lie dead and crumpled, sucked dry, but of the Children of the Orbs, almost nothing. The dish is quiet and empty. I examine the egg sac, and find it also nearly empty, with only a few scouts meandering about, and a tiny few babies just stirring at the bottom. Where have they all gone?

Then I notice a thin strand of webbing from the egg sac, stretching upward and to the side. I follow it, and there, massing on the lip of the chamber, is a great army of spiders, clustering together and building a citadel of cobwebs. They are working together. They are cooperating. What are they planning? Escape? Rushing their captor? Constructing an altar for the dark ritual that will summon Atlach-Nacha, the spider god, and begin their reign? I do not know.

[Read more…]

It doesn’t take much to build an online empire

Apparently any twit with an obsession and a lot of persistence can do it. For example, Mike Adams, the “Health Ranger”, peddles silly supplements and “cures” alongside his right wing weirdness, and it seems he’s been a fanatic about linking to himself, and building a mass of self-referential garbage websites to create a custom echo chamber.

Much has been written recently about online “echo chambers”: the idea that we are catered to on the Internet with sites and recommendations that reinforce our preexisting beliefs. If you watch a lot of science videos on YouTube, follow many scientists on Twitter, and regularly search for scientific questions on Google, your online experience will shift away from neutrality, as search results, post sorting, and recommendations will be tailored to your pro-science stance. This is an echo chamber because, in due time, you only hear your beliefs repeated back at you and stop seeing what’s happening on the other side.

Echo chambers for the pseudoscience crowd exist as well, though Mike Adams’ online bubble is so vast and self-sufficient, it warrants the term “ecosystem”.

It’s impressive, in a narrow minded way. Every little whim he has prompts the creation of a new website, and then they all link to each other, so once you find your way to one, you reverberate all over the place, getting nothing but the Mike Adams perspective and the Mike Adams sales pitch.

A bit of online sleuthing revealed that Mike Adams owns over 50 websites. The topics they cover go beyond alternative medicine and help shape an entire worldview: fear of medicine and science (gmo.news, medicine.news, vaccines.news), anti-Left and pro-freedom hype (campusinsanity.com, libtards.news, freedom.news), and doomsday prep advice (survival.news, collapse.news).

He has his own search engine and his own social media site! Get sucked into that bubble and you’re never getting out again, by design. All it takes is dedication and a small team of people constantly taking advantage of search algorithms to assemble a self-reinforcing internet empire. One thing surprised me.

His Twitter account boasts 124,000 followers. On the day I write this, he has tweeted about reducing your risk of stroke by drinking full-fat milk; about the chemical bisphenol-A causing gender confusion; and about a woman who cured her cancer with cannabis oil. These tweets lead to his websites, which can be searched via his Good Gopher engine and accessed through his social media platform.

Mike Adams’ dark, conspiratorial Wonderland is vast and the rabbit hole is frightening in depth. “Down, down down. Would the fall never come to an end?”

OK, 124,000 twitter followers is a respectable number, but it’s not that large — I’ve got something over 150K, and I’m a nobody. What it takes is willingness to leverage those numbers, to use those people to shape a profitable network, and that just takes persistent wanking over yourself. Mike Adams is not particularly intelligent, and even he can do it…which makes me realize how little real insight it takes to create, for instance, a religion. Build a bubble around whatever — Scientology, Mormonism, Christianity, Mike Adams — seed it with busy little monkeys telling each other how vital their message is, and basic human predispositions will take over and make it grow, and fling more reinforcement/cash to the object of their fascination.

If ever I try to turn those 150K followers into a Church of PZ (I won’t), remind me of this post and tell me that once upon a time I considered that kind of manipulation to be evil.

You probably don’t have to worry about it, because one thing it requires is a lot of mindless work to keep the pump running, and that’s something I’m not good at.

Painted plywood, dirt trails, and a cornpone old guy

Kent Hovind has been working on “Dinosaur Adventure Land”, Part Deux, on a pretty piece of property in Lenox, Alabama, and it’s gotten him a credulous, friendly online interview. If you want to see what it looks like, Hovind himself gives a video tour — there doesn’t seem to be much at all there. This one photo says it all.

Man, it must be rough when he and Ken Ham get together, if they ever do. It’s a toss-up whether Hovind would be mortified in the competition over who has the fancier big boat, or Ham who would be shamed by the fact that Kent is offering the same amount of scientific information that he is.

Be not surprised, for I bring you tidings that were goddamned predictable

It takes great courage to step out and expose powerful, awful people, and as she knew ahead of time, Christine Blasey Ford is also facing the consequences of her bravery.

Christine Blasey Ford was hesitant to come forward with allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh because she feared facing public attacks. “Why suffer through the annihilation if it’s not going to matter?” she said in an interview with the Washington Post.

Her fears were not unfounded. Within hours of revealing her identity, personal attacks were launched against Ford. Some senators expressed their doubts about the truthfulness of Ford’s statements. Senator Orrin Hatch asserted that Ford was “mixed up.”

Now, the New York Times is reporting that Ford is being sent death threats. An unnamed source told the Times that following the threats, Ford and her two teenaged children moved out of their home. Ford also hired private security. One of the messages reportedly said that Ford had “6 months to live, you disgusting slime.”

I hope those two kids are fully aware of the sacrifice their mother made for the truth, and they’re proud of her for it.

When humanists go bad

This guy, Angelos Sofocleous, was elected to head the humanist group at Durham University. He has resigned. He has to blame someone.

In light of recent events, I have taken the difficult decision to resign from the position of President-Elect of Humanist Students.

These events involved a retweet of mine saying ‘RT if women don’t have penises’, and certain other criticisms of the transgender movement, as well as suggestions to improve the movement’s actions. Sadly, these views were taken to be ‘transphobic’ by individuals who cannot tolerate any criticism, either of their movement or their ideas, and are unable to engage in a civilized conversation on issues they disagree on.

Would you believe he’s a philosophy and psychology student? I’m kind of curious about those “certain other criticisms” and about how he defines “woman”, because he seems to treat it as a simple distinction based on the presence or absence of a penis. It seems rather superficial and narrowly phenomenological for someone in either of those disciplines, but on the other hand, I also don’t want to play into his hands and debate the subject with him, because he also says this, along with hiding behind “freedom of speech!”:

Even if one makes statements which are wrong beyond doubt (e.g. ‘Homosexuals shouldn’t have the right to marry’, ‘Nazis did nothing bad’, ‘Slavery is moral’, ‘Women are inferior to men’), one needs to have a conversation with that individual and explain why they are (obviously) wrong. Engaging in a debate does not mean that you give equal status to your opponent.

This is where the fetishizing of free speech and debate goes bad. I get to deny your basic humanity and your right to exist, and you now need to convince me otherwise. I get to freely make assertions that don’t challenge my privileged status but do potentially do great harm to you, and I have no responsibility or obligation to others — others who may even consider those statements “wrong beyond doubt” — to make defensible statements, and the onus is entirely on you to address them, and if you don’t, you are an intolerant tribalist. Why do you get so angry when I merely want to deny your civil rights, or enslave you, or kill you? That’s not very logical.

Don’t you realize that Sofocleous is the victim here?

I hope we belonged in an environment in which we were able to speak up without the fear of being fiercely attacked and silenced.

I think there are a lot of people who would like to be able to simply exist without the fear of being fiercely attacked and silenced. Can we give them priority before your right to define them away?