Happy Halloween! Too bad I’m missing it

I’m going to be driving, driving, driving today, and then I’m going to spend a couple of days in a hotel, so I’m going to be semi-unreachable for a while. I will be checking in periodically, though, because the trolls just love my days away from home.

One other thing I’m going to be missing is the start of our big legal fundraiser. Skepticon will be putting out a call later today, as will The Orbit, because we just got a big bill from our lawyer, and let me tell you, my heart stopped when I saw all those zeroes, and then it tried to crawl up my throat, muttering threats and imprecations against that petty weasel, Richard Carrier. I think it was ready to bounce all the way to Ohio and choke an unemployed bible scholar, but I told it I needed it and wrestled it back into my chest, where it now rests sullenly. Carrier can thank my cardio-pulmonary needs that there isn’t a small, black, grisly lump of meat pounding on his door right now. Trick or treat, m_____f_____.

Anyway, I’ll check back in now and then with updates on our legal requests. Until then, you can donate directly to Skepticon to help with their payments, which, as a non-profit, is tax-deductible. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help out with my share of the legal fees, or those of Amy Frank-Skiba, Stephanie Zvan, or me, so it would be nice if you could also donate to our legal fund.

There are a lot of expenses ahead of us, but fortunately, they’re shared among a group of people, and in addition, we’re counting on a large body of supporters to help distribute the load.

I know it’s Halloween, but I don’t think our lawyer will accept bags of candy, so please send money. If enough of us help out, it doesn’t have to be a lot, every scrap will help.

Skepticon is baaaaack!

The shiny new Skepticon has re-emerged. It’s going to be held on 9-11 August 2019, which is great for me, since it doesn’t fall in the heart of the Fall Semester anymore, and it’s moving from Springfield, Missouri to the big city of St Louis. You can reserve a room already. So mark your calendars and start saving pennies for the trip this summer.

Now we just have to watch for the inevitable tease as they release the speakers’ names one by one. They always have new and interesting voices on their schedule, so you can trust that it’s going to be good.

A new science video for Halloween!

Wednesday is Halloween! Yay! My favorite holiday!

Unfortunately, I’ve got a work engagement that’s going to tie me up for a couple of days, so no Halloween for me. Boo.

The good news, though, is that the work is playing with the gang at the Science Museum of Minnesota on a new exhibit! Yay!

The bad news is that I’ll have to neglect the blog for a while. Boo.

The good news is that I scheduled a new evo devo video for tomorrow! It’ll be available at 7am Central time, and you’ll be able to criticize it on YouTube while I’m watching the premiere, which I plan to do before getting in the car and driving to St Paul! Yay, I think?

The bad news is that there are no spiders in this video at all. Boo.

But there are cephalopods! Yay!

You say that like it’s a bad thing

There’s a surge in the spider population going on, and people are calling it an Arachnid Apocalypse.

It isn’t just your imagination. Scary sightings of larger-than-usual spiders are on the rise in Metro Vancouver this fall.

Pest control specialist Randy Bilesky has seen a 50 per cent increase in calls to his service this season over last.

“People panic … we get the phone call after someone has walked through a spider web,” said Bilesky. “They are sure it’s still in their hair, especially if it is one of the big hobo spiders.”

I prefer the term “Spider Renaissance”.

What next? Is everyone going to start complaining “Oooh, there are too many squid in the ocean” and “Ick, there are prokaryotes crawling around in my colon”?

Testy, condescending, oblivious

Oh, the pain: I sort of listened to this new interview of Jordan Peterson by Helen Lewis. I skipped around a bit, because there is only so much Peterson I can stomach, but I saw enough to get the gist.

He talks about lobsters at around 40 minutes. He hasn’t learned a thing. He’s still babbling about how lobster hierarchies refute the idea that much of human behavior, including hierarchies, can be socially constructed. That there is so much variation in animal behavior says that you can’t accept a single fundamental principle regulating behavior; that we use serotonin in our brains just means that there is an ancient signaling pathway that has been liberally repurposed by evolution multiple times.

He also uses his strawman argument that those damn social constructionists believe humans are infinitely malleable. I don’t believe that, but I also believe Peterson is full of shit.

He talks about gender roles, too, and how girls ought to be raised to look forward to making babies, and boys ought to be raised to have careers. Lewis mentions the obvious problem there: careers are the only thing you get paid for under capitalism. Peterson laughs condescendingly about an hour in.

How can you say something like that? It’s so cliched.

It’s not capitalism, for god’s sake. You have to invest into a child for 18 years before they have any economic utility. t’s a consequence of delayed economic utility. We don’t know to monetize it. It’s not a consequence of capitalism! It’s a consequence of the fact that humans have an 18 year dependency. How do you monetize that?

It’s not capitalism, he sneers, and then his defense of that claim is entirely about the “economic utility” of children and how difficult it is to monetize kids. That’s about the most capitalistic argument ever: he’s only able to see the world through the lens of capitalism. It was kind of amazing how little he’s able to examine his own premises.

Then, shortly after that he goes full-blown psychopath. He sees other people with different views as not fully human — as robots or NPCs who’ve been narrowly programmed by their ideology. It’s creepy how he dismisses Lewis.

I’m not hearing what you think. I’m hearing how you are able to represent the ideology you were taught. And it’s not that interesting because I don’t know anything about you. I can replace you with someone else who thinks the same way, and that means you’re not here. That’s what it means. It’s not pleasant. You’re not integrating the specifics of your personal experience with what you’ve been taught, to synthesize something that’s genuine and surprising and engaging in a narrative sense as a consequence. That’s the pathology of ideological possession. It’s not good. And it’s not good that I know where you stand on things once I know a few things. It’s like, why have a conversation? I already know where you stand on things.

You know, I could say the same thing about Peterson fans: they’re ideologically obsessed and extraordinarily predictable. I’d say the same thing about Peterson himself — he’s a thoughtless ideologue.

He also says that climate change is probably happening, and that he’s got no opinion on it, but then he goes on to say he read 200 books on ecology and that climate change has been hyped, and that he really admires that fraud, Bjorn Lomborg.

The conversation turns to Count Dankula, that loon who trained a pug to give a Nazi salute. Peterson thinks that’s fine, because it was just a joke (oh, god, the “just a joke” excuse is so tiresome). Lewis disagrees.

I don’t fundamentally believe that it was a joke. I believe it was camouflaged as a joke, and it comes across as…

Peterson: Well, that’s exactly what you would believe if you were inclined to persecute comedians.

OK, I was done at that point. What a dishonest sleaze. Fuck him.

Why are people still interviewing that loon?

Milo rises from the dead!

His rotting corpse has been invited to speak at NYU to a teeming crowd of 14 students.

In a class sure to spook liberals, NYU’s controversial anti-PC Professor Michael Rectenwald has enlisted conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos to speak Wednesday about “the politics of Halloween.”

Apparently, the professor wants the shambling zombie to address the pressing topic of why he can’t dress up in blackface or as Hitler on Halloween without people looking at him like he’s a sick goon with no social graces at all. He just doesn’t get it.

I presume the professor will also show up in costume. Probably dressed as a dinosaur.

Quantum Misogyny

I thought this article by Marina Koren was very insightful. I was unaware of some of the stuff she brings up. For instance, how Krauss tried to brazen it out at a conference after the accusations were made.

In another way, it was surprising. Two months before the conference, several women had accused Krauss of sexual misconduct, describing behavior that went unchecked for over a decade. By the time Krauss stepped foot on Stanford’s campus for the gathering, he had been banned from three universities, removed from multiple speaking events, and was under a formal investigation by Arizona State University, his primary affiliation. But Krauss had denied the allegations, and refused to withdraw from public life. “He chatted with peers. He ate with prestigious scientists. In the conference hall, he sat in front, where there were two rows of cloth-covered tables for VIPs,” Jason Davis, a science writer who was there, reported. “He even challenged a nasa engineer after one talk, declaring a proposed propulsion drive to be based on bunk physics.”

Some attendees were flabbergasted by Krauss’s appearance, and chastised the Breakthrough Initiative, the host of the conference, for admitting an alleged harasser in the midst of an investigation of inappropriate behavior in a professional setting.

He was probably right about the propulsion drive — he’s a smart guy. But not smart enough to recognize a subtle distinction: you can and should be bold and refuse to be cowed if you are falsely accused of things you did not do. Being bold about things you know you did, but think are not important or wrong for you to have done is a whole different matter. It makes you look like you haven’t learned a thing and are just going to keep on doing them.

But then, some scientists see perfection as something that will just inevitably happen, not requiring intervention and struggle by human scientists to accomplish.

Some scientists, especially vociferously atheist scientists like Krauss, pride themselves in their ability to rise above certain biases, in their work and in social systems at large. They believe that science, as a concept, will safeguard against them.“Science itself overcomes misogyny and prejudice and bias. It’s built-in,” Krauss said last year during a promotional event for one of his books.

Interesting. But how will Science accomplish that? By learning to recognize and purge itself of error. Science tries and fails all the time, we just have a system for detecting and winnowing out mistakes. I wonder if Krauss realizes that the process that led to his dismissal is part of that process of overcoming misogyny and prejudice and bias that he is so proud of?

Probably not. One of the most interesting parts of this article is that she read Krauss’s book, Quantum Man, a biography of Feynman. There’s no denying that Feynman was an absolute genius, one of the most brilliant physicists of the last century. But there’s also no denying that he was a terrible person who, in his own charming way, treated women terribly. But Krauss tends to dismiss the importance of all that.

Quantum Man is a tremendous exercise in hagiography. Krauss documents Feynman’s bad behavior, but couches it in language that removes any responsibility the scientist may have possessed.

He had continued an intense long-distance courtship with her, and she was causing another woman in Ithaca to lash out at him in jealousy.


He often stayed with friends, usually married ones, and these visits frequently ended badly as a result of his sexual improprieties.


When he spent a year in Brazil, he actually devised a set of simple rules for seducing women, including prostitutes, at bars. He became famous for seducing women at conferences abroad.

Krauss failed to mention that in this game, Feynman considered women who did not put out after he bought them drinks as “worthless bitches.”

It is strange to read Quantum Man now, as waves of women continue to come forward to tell their versions of male behavior that went long unchecked, that existed only through carefully constructed whisper networks, that, if they hadn’t said anything, could be diluted into the silly actions of a brilliant and edgy man. It feels like a time capsule, a snapshot of unbridled adoration for geniuses in a time long before #MeToo. But it remains a cautionary tale, not just for women, or just for men, but for everyone, that some stories can be left behind in favor of others. That some evidence, even when it is corroborated and convincing, can still be dismissed and ignored.

Some of those “simple rules” are outlined in Feynman’s own autobiography. He cultivated misogyny.

All during the next day I built up my psychology differently: I adopted the attitude that those bar girls are all bitches, that they aren’t worth anything, and all they’re in there for is to get you to buy them a drink, and they’re not going to give you a goddamn thing; I’m not going to be a gentleman to such worthless bitches, and so on. I learned it till it was automatic.

Krauss idolizes Feynman. I can’t help but wonder if he thought that his kind of behavior is just fine: if you’re smart and valued for being smart, you can get away with being an asshole to women. Feynman wasn’t censured or dismissed by his university or the public (although he should have been), so how would they dare criticize Lawrence Krauss?

He failed to notice that society as well as science works to overcome misogyny and prejudice and bias. It often fails — way too often it fails, as we look out on American culture today. But Krauss should take pride in the fact that in his case, it actually worked. His story is a story of progressive success. Hooray!