There’s no drama like YouTube drama

You’ve probably heard the old joke about how academic squabbles are so vicious because the stakes are so low. Academic pettiness pales in comparison to the nastiness of peak YouTube stars. The latest saga is a lot of vicious gossip between ‘famous’ people on YouTube who I’ve never heard of before and never watch, yet who make millions of dollars off cheesy videos that fans flock to. I don’t understand any of it, but don’t watch their videos, just read this article that summarizes “The New Shane Dawson-Tati Westbrook-Jeffree Star YouTube Drama”. You should feel content to say “who?” and just ignore them.

However, the deeper problem is either YouTube itself, or humanity in general. YouTube has cleverly boxed themselves in with an arcane self-reinforcing algorithm that rewards the worst people — think Pewdiepie, or Jake and Logan Paul, or Shane Dawson — who have no talent at all, no useful information, no skills except for self-promotion, and vaults them to the top of the charts and rewards them with buckets of cash. Furthermore, one of the secrets of success exemplified by the four I just named is pandering to children. Those four specialize in doing stupid shit as adults performing for kids and acquire hordes of uncritical followers as a consequence, and YouTube is a willing accomplice.

Stop incentivizing garbage, YouTube. You’ve got to realize that something has gone horribly wrong when you see the outcome of your algorithm, which seems to favor Nazis and pedophiles and, as always, no-talent hacks.

Punching Rhawn Joseph some more

I’ve made the big leagues. I’m cited on c/net in a review of panspermia claims.

Joseph is an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a shirt unbuttoned to his stomach. He is, according to his autobiography, a well-known and acclaimed neurobiologist. He enjoys the ocean, walking along the beach and hiking. His self-published articles argue life has been found on Mars and Venus, and propagate an alternative view of life’s beginnings.

That theory is “panspermia.” It holds that life first arose in space and that planets in the solar system were “seeded” with microbes carried across the cosmos by dust, meteors and debris.

“Panspermia is one of those things where all the biologists are saying, ‘Maybe it could have happened, but we don’t have any evidence for it’,” says Paul Myers, a developmental biologist at the University of Minnesota, Morris. Myers has refuted the theory in the past, leading to clashes with Joseph and his colleagues, a group he calls “the panspermia mafia.”

Two of panspermia’s biggest proponents are famed astronomer Fred Hoyle, who died in 2001, and his protege Chandra Wickramasinghe. Hoyle helped unravel “stellar nucleosynthesis,” a process that occurs in stars to generate all the chemical elements in the cosmos and, in collaboration with Wickramasinghe, the pair discovered the organic material that makes up cosmic dust. However, in the latter parts of their careers, the two have made controversial claims with little evidence to back them up, including the idea that viruses, like the flu and coronavirus, come from space.

Myers says the academic pedigree of Hoyle and Wickramasinghe gave panspermia an air of credibility in the 1970s, helping the pair popularize it as a renegade view of the origins of life. But the theory has served as a launching pad for nonsensical, pseudoscientific theories — including Joseph’s belief that Mars is full of mushrooms, fungi and lichen.

Wickramasinghe remains the godfather of panspermia, continuing to publish on the theory in books and his own journals. Rhawn Gabriel Joseph is the heir apparent.

It’s not just me, of course. They review his claim of mushrooms sprouting on Mars.

How Joseph’s piece moved past the peer review process and was accepted for publication remains a mystery. The process usually weeds out these explicitly non-scientific claims. Other astronomers and astrobiologists who examined the research soundly rebuked its conclusions, citing poor methodology and analysis.

Michael Brown, an astronomer at Monash University in Australia, said “there’s some pretty horrible over-interpretation of blurry photos,” while Gretchen Benedix, a geophysicist at Curtin University in Australia, noted “increasing image sizes to investigate the objects of interest does not change the resolution of the image and therefore does not give better analysis of the objects of interest.”

Rocco Mancinelli, the editor in chief of the International Journal of Astrobiology, called the science and logic “completely flawed,” and said he would recommend it be rejected for publication.

A NASA spokesperson told me “the consensus of the majority of the scientific community is that current conditions on the surface of Mars are not suitable for liquid water or complex life.”

As the article points out, Rhawn Joseph and his cronies have been tainting a scientific subdiscipline for decades, relying on promotion by tabloids to generate the illusion of authority.

Over the last decade, Joseph and JOC have mostly been ignored by NASA and by the scientific community. Very few scientists take the alien fungi claims seriously, but Joseph’s work has been highlighted in UK tabloids, RT and many well-meaning science news sites since February 2019. Some have touted Joseph’s websites as “scientific journals” and even confused Joseph’s vanity website with legitimate, similarly named journals. One painted Joseph as someone trying to “defy the odds.”

And that’s where the danger lies.

Astrobiology, the search for and study of extraterrestrial life, is a serious scientific endeavor. NASA has an astrobiology program, and searching for life is a critical part of its Mars exploration program. And although the public seems resistant to fanciful claims of fungal spores on Mars or lichen on Venus, they haven’t gone away. If anything, social media seems to have made us more gullible. As crank, fringe theories start to gather steam in honest peer-reviewed journals, the public’s perception of astrobiology can quickly be muddied.

Let’s hope this is the end of Joseph and Wickramasinghe.

I doubt that it will be. They’re going to continue to dump junk science into the literature.

I keep telling you, I refuse to get into ants

Nope, no way. They just keep getting in the way of finding spiders.

We took a walk out by our Horticulture Display Gardens, which recently reopened — but with sensible restrictions, like social distancing and masks and arrows designating the directions for walking. It was a little disappointing. Oh, sure, flowers and all that stuff, but our timing was off, because last night the area got pummeled by a brutal storm, there were downed trees and tree branches everywhere, and worst of all, most of the spider webs had been blown away. We found a few examples of spider survivors trying to recover from the catastrophe, like this brave little baby spider who had put together a beautifully formed orb web.

There were a few others around (posted on Instagram), but we’ll probably find more in a few days, once everything has dried out and they have a chance to do some reconstruction.

He’s not wrong, you know

A Republican delivers delicious commentary on masks.

Alex Castellanos, a veteran Republican strategist, said the divide over whether to cover one’s face is, like many things in the Trump era, political.

“Mask-wearing has become a totem, a secular religious symbol,” Castellanos said. “Christians wear crosses, Muslims wear a hijab, and members of the Church of Secular Science bow to the Gods of Data by wearing a mask as their symbol, demonstrating that they are the elite; smarter, more rational, and morally superior to everyone else.”

That’s kind of true. The thing is that crosses and the hijab don’t affect COVID-19 transmission, while masks do. Recognizing the reality of the data does make you smarter and more rational (but not necessarily superior). As usual, though, this is an attempt to disparage evidence-based thinking by comparing it to religious thinking, when the accuser thinks religion is just ducky, making it also a weird smear against himself.

I like this James O’Brien guy

He always seems to have the right take on things.

Both the US & UK are afflicted with these awful people who punch themselves in the face to make the liberals cry. I don’t get it, but that’s what’s poisoning our politics right now.

Tell me the truth, doc

I’ve been hearing so much pollyannaish bullshit from the highest offices in the land that it’s shocking when the CDC just speaks the truth. We’re fucked.

The coronavirus is spreading too rapidly and too broadly for the U.S. to bring it under control, Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday.

The U.S. has set records for daily new infections in recent days as outbreaks surge mostly across the South and West. The recent spike in new cases has outpaced daily infections in April when the virus rocked Washington state and the northeast, and when public officials thought the outbreak was hitting its peak in the U.S.

“We’re not in the situation of New Zealand or Singapore or Korea where a new case is rapidly identified and all the contacts are traced and people are isolated who are sick and people who are exposed are quarantined and they can keep things under control,” she said in an interview with The Journal of the American Medical Association’s Dr. Howard Bauchner. “We have way too much virus across the country for that right now, so it’s very discouraging.”

The Republicans want to stop testing, because it reveals an increasing number of infected. Tracing? What’s that? There’s no serious investment of resources that we’d need to do thorough tracing. The President belittles the idea of wearing a mask, and refuses to wear one himself. Conservative citizens freak out at the idea of wearing a mask. Texans marched on their capitol under the banner of “Bar Lives Matter”, committing a double self-own: refusing to police their own behavior to limit the spread of a disease, and mocking a serious social justice movement. The United States of America is now the deadliest place to live and risk COVID-19 infection, and our numbers are rising. We are in big trouble, and way too many people are refusing to take it seriously, which means the trouble is only going to get worse.

I fear the November elections will be the spark that makes this country explode…unless we’re moribund with disease by then.

Crawl back in your hole, Peterson, you’re going to get spanked everywhere

Now that Jordan Peterson has crawled out of the dark hole he had retreated to, we have to make sure he never again gets the prominence he used to have. If you want to enjoy a stunningly thorough take-down of the man, here you go.

“You have to admire Hitler! […] Because he was an organizational genius!”

These are not the words of a neo-Nazi. They are words stated, with the utmost conviction, by Jordan B. Peterson, the psychologist and anti-“political correctness” guru whose YouTube channel boasts 2.8 million subscribers, in one of his Biblical Series lectures from 2017.

While Peterson’s hostile statements on feminism and what he calls “cultural Marxism” have been thoroughly dissected in the media, but his views on Hitler, National Socialism, and the Holocaust have not, bar a very few exceptions. Peterson, an academic who declares that he chooses his words “very, very, carefully” has made so many incorrect statements about Hitler that it verges on revisionism.

Peterson has repeatedly said that he has “studied Hitler a lot,” but every statement he utters about Hitler makes this very hard to believe. It’s worth diving into Peterson’s unsettling understanding of Hitler, from his strangely generous framing of the Nazi leader, through his misrepresentation of chronology, his misuse of historical sources, to his odd re-writing of Holocaust history.

I think history makes it clear that Hitler was the Donald Trump/Boris Johnson of the 1930s — a blustering con man with bad ideas who wrecked his country. While we’re flattening the apologists who make excuses for them now, let’s also make sure Trump and Johnson don’t get the opportunity to become the Hitler of the late 1930s, WWII, and the Holocaust.