The degeneracy…!

Hieronymus Bosch, move over. When we want to show scenes of perversity, chaos, and wickedness, new masters have taken over: Meyers and Frazee. Their work is terrifyingly lurid. Take a look at this (I hope it doesn’t get my blog banned):

What hell is this, you say. It’s from a children‘s board book, Babies Everywhere, and it is so salacious in the minds of right-wingers that it has been banned. I mean, look at it. Horrifying, if you look at it through a conservative lens.

You might think it’s just a scene of normal families walking on a city street, but that’s only because you lack a filthy mind and the power of projection. A man alone walking with a child? THE BREAKUP OF THE AMERICAN FAMILY. Two women walking together pushing a stroller? LESBIANS. Two men walking together? Men don’t have friends, must be HOMOS. Old man pulling a wagon with a baby and a dog? OH MY GOD CALL THE POLICE!

It has been banned, but the people responsible can’t quite explain why. It’s like pornography, they know it when they see it.

The book was among dozens of works recently banned from public school libraries in Walton County, Fla. School district officials confirmed the removal of the books to WJHG-TV in Florida. Walton County School Superintendent Russell Hughes told the outlet that it was “necessary in this moment for me to make that decision and I did it for just a welfare of all involved, including our constituents, our teachers, and our students.”

Right. He just has the welfare of the students in mind, so he glanced at this, and in the heat of the moment, decided it was wicked and needed to be blotted out. It’s a palimpsest. It’s the nonexistent basement of a pizza parlor. It’s a thing with reflects back the filthy mind of Walton County School Superintendent Russell Hughes, and therefore we must get rid of it before everyone can see what he is thinking.

Using this logic, clearly Florida must be destroyed, because everyone looks at it and sees a floppy, dangling penis.

Why were journalists so slow to pick up on the hate festering here?

I’ve bumped into “Libs of TikTok” a few times on social media, and was so thoroughly repulsed that my response was to immediately block them. It was good to see the author of all that hate, Chaya Raichik, exposed in the Washington Post.

Just four months after getting started, Libs of TikTok got its big break: Joe Rogan started promoting the account to the millions of listeners of his hit podcast. He mentioned it several times on the show in August, then again in late September. “Libs of TikTok is one of the greatest f—ing accounts of all time,” he said. With his seal of approval, Raichik’s following skyrocketed.

Libs of TikTok gained more prominence throughout the end of last year, cementing its spot in the right-wing media outrage cycle. Its attacks on the LGBTQ+ community also escalated. By January, Raichik’s page was leaning hard into “groomer” discourse, calling for any teacher who comes out as gay to their students to be “fired on the spot.”

Her anti-trans tweets went especially viral. She called on her followers to contact schools that were allowing “boys in the girls bathrooms” and pushed the false conspiracy theory that schools were installing litter boxes in bathrooms for children who identify as cats. She also purported that adults who teach children about LGBTQ+ identities are “abusive,” that being gender-nonconforming or an ally to the LGBTQ+ community is a “mental illness,” and referred to schools as “government run indoctrination camps” for the LGBTQ+ community.

You can see why I would insta-block her — the combination of hate and dishonesty was more than enough. That passage also explains why I don’t listen to Joe Rogan. He’s part of the same ugly mess. “one of the greatest f—ing accounts of all time” was openly anti-LGBT, with an endless parade of posts framing the existence of gay people as a great evil.

It also wasn’t that hard to discover.

“Finding these “Shaya Ray” and “Chaya Raichik” identities for Libs is OSINT 101-level stuff. The shallowest indexing of the Internet Archive’s Twitter Stream Grab turns them up. Antifascist researchers shouldn’t be the only ones doing this work,” Brown wrote.

He called it a “failure of US journalism” that “an anonymous hate account can shape a far-right national movement, influence legislation in several states, etc., and (as far as I can tell) nobody has tried to find out who is behind it,” before it became public knowledge that Lorenz was working on a story about the identity of the Libs of Tik Tok’s creator.

But then I see lots of right-wingers blowing up over the fact that a journalist, Taylor Lorenz, would dare to investigate the latest font of ignorance and hate. I didn’t get it. That was her job! You can’t object to the general idea of investigative journalism.

But of course you can. Alex Pareene explains their objective.

If you are attempting to persuade this creep’s defenders, specifically, and not a general audience, that what Lorenz did was ethical, and that the creep’s identity is newsworthy, you have made a category error. These people on this ascendant right don’t just have different ideas about the role and function of journalism; they don’t just believe journalists are biased liberals; they don’t just believe the media is too hostile to conservatives; they are hostile to the concept of journalism itself. As in, uncovering things dutifully and carefully and attempting to convey your findings to the public honestly. They don’t want that and don’t like it and are endeavoring to end it as a common practice. You are debating logic and facts with frothing bigots with a bone-deep opposition to your entire project.

This new right fundamentally doesn’t want “newsgathering” to happen. They want a chaotic information stream of unverifiable bullshit and context collapse and propaganda. Their backers, the people behind the whole project, are philosophically and materially opposed to the idea that true things should be uncovered and verified and disseminated publicly about, well, them, and their projects. This may have started as a politically opportunistic war against particular outlets and stories, but it has quickly blossomed into a worldview. It’s an ideologically coherent opposition to the liberal precepts of verifiability and transparency, and the holders of those precepts are too invested in them to understand what their enemy is doing. The creep’s account, everyone in the press should understand, is the model for what they will be replaced with.

That’s Tucker Carlson, and the fortunately late Andrew Breitbart, and Rupert Murdoch, and the rationale behind all of Fox News, and OANN, and NewsMax. They don’t do journalism. They try to destroy it.

Ding dong…

Orrin Hatch is dead. He was my senator for while, when I lived in Utah, and I learned quickly to detest him. Even the Salt Lake Tribune was sometimes ambivalent about him: they called for his resignation in 2018, even after they’d propped him up for years, with this overlong and somewhat confusing headline: Sen. Orrin Hatch’s 42-year legacy includes passing sweeping legislation, working across the aisle while sometimes being sharply partisan and, for the past two years, sidling up to Trump. Not to mention his history of sidling up to Reagan.

I think this article in the Nation better summarizes his legacy.

Orrin Hatch Was Never a ‘Public Servant’. The retiring senator has always been a shameless tool of billionaire campaign donors and a partisan errand boy for the likes of Donald Trump.

Few, aside from President Trump, Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell, and the lobbyists for the special interests Hatch served, will miss one of the most egregious hypocrites ever to serve in a chamber where mendacity has always been well represented.

That was written while he was alive, and the journalist could be honest. Brace yourself for a few days of slimy politicians and biased journalists to start vomiting up buckets and buckets of whitewash now.

Yet another pseudoscientific fraud

A while back, this guy Nathaniel Jeanson sent me a copy of his book, Replacing Darwin, and sent a few email suggestions that we debate or that he appear on my YouTube channel. I glanced at the book, saw that it was rank drivel, trying to reconcile young earth creationism with modern science. I looked up Jeanson, and found a fundamentalist fanatic who went to all the trouble of getting a Harvard biology Ph.D. while ignoring all the science he was supposed to learn, and that he was now employed by Answers in Genesis. I knew enough. I ignored him, didn’t reply to any of his emails, and stuffed his bad book onto a shelf with a lot of other creationist trash*.

My approach was perfect. He hasn’t pestered me since.

Unfortunately, he has continued to write bad books. His latest is an abomination called Traced: Human DNA’s Big Surprise, in which he claims to have figured out how all the peoples of the world arose…from the 8 people on Noah’s Ark, of course. There’s no way he could derive that from honest, accurate population genetics, or the actual data from modern molecular genetics (IT DOESN’T FIT), so he’s relying on cramming badly interpreted science into an absurd hypothesis derived entirely from a few chapters in the book of Genesis. Fortunately, an actual scientist has reviewed the book.

Nathaniel Jeanson’s Traced: Human DNA’s Big Surprise (2022, Master Books) offers virtually no surprises. This is not a science book. It is a work of fundamentalist religious propaganda dressed to appear scientific. Jeanson attempts to employ an analysis largely of his own invention on a narrow sampling of the human genome – extant Y-chromosome samples borrowed from other studies. These doctored genetic patterns are mapped onto historical events in an attempt to prove to the reader that all human beings are the descendants of the three sons of Noah – Shem, Japheth, and Ham. Jeanson’s views on world history are adolescent, Western-centric, and almost entirely focused on conflict and his science amateurish and divorced from any established methodology in molecular population genetics. In the end Jeanson, like all good science denialists, ends up ostensibly proving to the reader what he believed to begin with. Traced is a book working within his contractual obligations to his employer (the evangelical, conservative Christian ministry, Answers in Genesis) to promote a narrow, legalistic, literalist reading of the King James Bible and a Christian culture war agenda. It is not a science book. It is not a sober, informed historical account. It is a proselytizing work of pseudoscientific apologetics covered with a thin veil of carefully selected empiricism in an attempt to give his ideas the credibility he apparently craves.

I bet it’s on sale at the Ark Park, though.

He may have a Ph.D. in biology, but…you know that biology is an immensely broad field, right? Getting a degree in one area does not mean you are qualified to discuss in detail another area. That’s what Jeanson is doing, using his irrelevant credentials to hop over and mangle a sub-branch of biology he has no credentials in.

The science in Traced is, like that of his previous book, sloppy, contrived, and completely divorced from any semblance of rigorous methodology in the field of either history or population genetics. This should be no surprise. Jeanson has absolutely no training in these fields. His PhD never dealt with the subjects he is now researching at his job at the Answers in Genesis ministry. As I have observed in my assessment of Replacing Darwin, Jeanson appears to be making up methods as he goes and in doing so makes what I would consider embarrassing mistakes – mistakes easily avoided by taking the time to read even basic textbooks in the fields of molecular systematics and population genetics.

That made me wonder what his actual degree is in, and to my immense shame, it’s cell and developmental biology. Goddamn. He’s another Jonathan Wells.

I want you to know that developmental biology is not an easy sub-discipline of biology. It’s just one where there a number of old school faculty focused on classical embryology and experimental manipulation of embryos, which are good and interesting topics, but which also don’t require that you learn any population genetics or evolutionary biology in general. It’s just that the good ones do try to learn more, especially since evo-devo has become prominent, and they don’t go into careers with anti-science organizations to misrepresent that which they don’t understand.

Another thing about this review: it turns out, entirely unsurprisingly, that Jeanson and AiG are eurocentric bigots.

Jennifer Raff has a new book out now on the peopling of the Americans (Raff. 2022. Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas. Twelve. Hachette Book Group. New York.) and like any good scientist should she addresses the problem from multiple disciplines from genetics to archaeology to anthropology. Reading Raff alongside Jeanson reveals how different their two worlds are. Raff is multidisciplinary and scholarly with a dual PhD in anthropology and genetics and a publication record in these disciplines commensurate with her professional experience. Jeanson’s attempts at answering questions about human history are almost entirely uninformed by any professional expertise in any relevant discipline, his methods are amateurish, he has no record of publishing in these fields, he ignores long-standing and well-established data. But perhaps the most striking difference is the great care and respect Raff takes when dealing with the history of people outside of her ethnic and cultural identity contrasted with the ham-handed way in which Jeanson deals with culture, ethnicity, and issues pertaining to race.

Jeanson’s approach to history reminds me of my own thoughts about human history as an adolescent boy – views of history that an appetite for knowledge and eventual experience with other cultures compelled me to outgrow pretty quickly. In Jeanson’s view of human history war is entirely central. Virtually every movement of people he describes is the result of violent conflict. Aggressors are everywhere and every geographical feature is either a fortification or invitation to invasion.

Jeanson is liberal with pejorative labels for entire cultures, sometimes with a wink enclosing these labels in quotations and sometimes not. He describes the people of Mongolia as “barbarians” and “…the long-standing enemies of China.” (using quotes to hopefully insulate the reader from thinking he thinks they are barbarians, pgs. 117-119). He paints simplistic descriptions of otherwise complex people using terms such as “primitive” (pgs. 159-160). He uses stereotypical tropes such as when he says, “The diverse peoples of East Asia all resemble one another.” (pg. 115).

Yeah. Go read Origin, a terrific book by a qualified scientist on her area of expertise, without a load of baggage from racist white people.

I predict, though, that we’re going to hear a lot more from Jeanson, given that AiG is promoting him heavily and that his views align so nicely with the bloc of Republican ignoramuses that have become so vocal in recent decades, and no one listens to qualified scientists on anything anymore.

*That shelf (actually a couple of shelves) is overburdened right now, and I might have to start dumping books. Some of them I would never give away to a library, and others are curiosities with no educational value at all. I might start giving away to my patrons on Patreon, where at least they’d go to people smart enough to not take them seriously. Maybe I’d balance them by giving away a few good books, too.

First, kill all the dictionaries

Jeremy David Hanson has been arrested. His crime? He threatened to murder a dictionary.

According to the criminal complaint, between Oct. 2 and Oct. 8, 2021, Springfield-based Merriam-Webster, Inc. received various threatening messages and comments demonstrating bias against specific gender identities submitted through its website’s “Contact Us” page and in the comments section on its webpages that corresponded to the word entries for “Girl” and “Woman.” Authorities later identified the user as Hanson. As a result of the threats, Merriam-Webster closed its offices in Springfield and New York City for approximately five business days.

Specifically, it is alleged that on Oct. 2, 2021, Hanson used the handle “@anonYmous” to post the following comment on the dictionary’s website definition of “female”: “It is absolutely sickening that Merriam-Webster now tells blatant lies and promotes anti-science propaganda. There is no such thing as ‘gender identity.’ The imbecile who wrote this entry should be hunted down and shot.”

Hanson also allegedly sent the following threatening message via the website’s “Contact Us” page: “You [sic] headquarters should be shot up and bombed. It is sickening that you have caved to the cultural Marxist, anti-science tranny [sic] agenda and altered the definition of ‘female’ as part of the Left’s efforts to corrupt and degrade the English language and deny reality. You evil Marxists should all be killed. It would be poetic justice to have someone storm your offices and shoot up the place, leaving none of you commies alive.”

It is further alleged that on Oct. 8, 2021, Hanson posted another threatening comment on the dictionary’s website and a threatening message via the “Contact Us” page that threatened to “bomb your offices for lying and creating fake…”.

This is where gender-critical fanaticism takes you. They’ve convinced themselves that science is anti-science and reject the actual understanding of science to claim an authority they don’t have. There is most definitely such a thing as gender identity — I suspect that Hanson identifies very strongly as a man.

So now he wants to kill people because he thinks dictionary definitions are powerful and magical and that, rather than describing how people use words, they actually create the meaning. Somebody needs to explain that murdering dictionary writers won’t change the meaning of words. I don’t think the Merriam-Webster dictionary entry is particularly comprehensive or thorough, but I don’t think that bombing offices will affect how people understand “female”.

For all the 18 year olds anticipating next year

This comment is totally and completely accurate.

Right now, I’m mainly anticipating wrapping up this year, but I’m also advising first year students, and have visited with prospective students. They fall into two general categories: 1) the absolutely certain who know exactly where they’re going (lots of pre-meds in this group), and 2) the ones who have no idea, and are worried that they’re supposed to have their whole life planned out by now. I tell (1) to embrace change, find what you love, and do that. I tell (2) that nobody knows what they’re doing, we all wing it as we go along, and have fun finding out where life is going to take you.

It’s not as if I ever knew what I was doing. I’m 65 and still looking forward to surprises.

What do you call your hoohah/diddly-dingle/whatchamacallit?

I just ran across this jaw-dropping thread on Reddit, where medical personnel talk about the most uneducated thing they’d heard from patients. The whole thread is horrifying, but one story struck me as particularly relevant to modern politics. It’s about teaching children what to call their genitals.

I used to teach genito-urinary exams.

Med student asks this hillbilly guy to lift his penis out of the way so she can examine his testes.

“My what?”

“Your genitalia,” she says. “Your penis.”

“My what?”

At this point I intervene. I point to his crotch. “What do you call that thing there?”


“Well, get Thomas outta the way, would ya?”

EDIT: Since people are asking.

  1. To do a testicular exam right really does take two hands. Also, we ask the patient to lift it out of the way himself because it gives him a sense of control over what can be a very embarrassing procedure. There’s a lot of the steps in GU and DR (digito-rectal) exams that are mostly just there to establish patient comfort, not to give meaningful information.
  2. This is not the only time I’ve asked someone what they called their genitals because they did not recognize the proper names. Most people are only taught euphemisms for their genitals growing up. Once upon a time, it was not discussed in school for reasons of propriety. It remains an anatomical grey zone for a lot of people – they know their thumb is their thumb because their momma called it a thumb, but their momma never told em what to call the thing between their legs.
  3. Which, BTW, time for a PSA: teach your children the proper names for their genitals early on and make sure they are comfortable discussing their genitals frankly. Which sounds weird. But when their crotch stays a gray zone, associated with embarrassment, then they are (1) less likely to examine it for irregularities, (2) less likely to tell someone in a timely manner if they find irregularities, (3) less able to communicate exactly what’s wrong, and (4) less likely/able to communicate it if an adult touches them inappropriately.

You know what a Republican would call that? Grooming.

Here’s another response.

ref: #3. This. Source: I am a detective in Crimes Against Children. When a child is interviewed and they use the non proper name for their penis or vagina it means the interviewer then has to spend time clarifying this with this children and making the child more uncomfortable having to discuss it. Also, if children understand that these are normal body parts they will be more willing to learn about body safety and won’t view it as simply a “bad part”. This makes your child safer.


Preschool Teacher here: If you tell your kids it’s a bad spot, they’ll think they’re bad if something happens, and think they’ll be the ones in trouble. Seriously, don’t fuck your kids up because you’re too embarrassed to say penis and vagina, you dips.

Oh my god, a pre-school teacher talking to students about their genitals? GROOOOOMER!.

Jesus, I hate this timeline.

Kent Hovind whacked off to me again

Explain this, bozo.

Also to Jerry Coyne. Now there’s a fantasy trio that ought to send shivers of revulsion down your spine! Anyway, I was once again featured on Hovind’s “Whack-An-Atheist” series, and he once again avoided my challenge.

Way back in January, after repeated demands that I debate him, I offered a different alternative: that Kent Hovind should read a book. I even suggested one, Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True, because it’s a good general overview of the evidence for evolution, and would give him something actually said by an evolutionary biologist to sink his teeth into.

He responded by…not reading a book, but just regurgitating the same tired, false points he’s been making for decades. Come on, Kent, at the very least I expected this would compel him to get some new material! But nope, it was same ol’ same ol’.

Then he did it again yesterday. Still not reading a book, but instead digging up a YouTube video of Coyne presenting a summary of some of the concepts in the book, and whining about that with the very same slides he’s been using for years.

My god, but Kent Hovind is the laziest creationist on the circuits. It’s not a thick book, it’s written for a popular audience, it’s a relatively easy read. Reading it might have spared him from making a few ludicrous errors.

What Hovind did was focus on a tiny part of the story, which is generally a good idea, but he clearly picked the part where he thought he had a good gotcha. He drilled down into Haeckel. Coyne talked about how some embryonic features reveal their evolutionary history, like the presence of hind limb buds in dolphin embryos — retention of conserved features in development is evidence of evolution. Hovind, though, went on a familiar tirade about Ernst Haeckel, and his discredited theory of evolutionary recapitulation from the 19th century.

It’s totally irrelevant. That a scientist advanced a wrong theory about evolution 150 years ago does not change the fact that embryonic similarities are observed, that they make no sense in terms of modern function, but do make sense in the light of evolution as relics of their ancestry. It would be a bit like me attacking Hovind’s interpretation of the Bible by citing the Book of Mormon at him; I don’t think Hovind considers Joseph Smith to be a significant contributor to his ideas. Going on and on about the invalid Biogenetic Law to refute Coyne’s discussion of embryonic atavisms is basically the Wookie Defense.

Now if he’d actually read Coyne’s book, he’d have known that trying to attack him via Haeckel was inappropriate. Coyne also rejects the Biogenetic Law, as he explains in chapter 3:

This “adding new stuff onto old” principle also explains why the sequence of developmental change mirrors the evolutionay sequence of organisms. As one group evolves from another, it often adds its developmental program on top of the old one.
Noting this principle, Ernst Haeckel, a German evolutionist and Darwin’s contemporary, formulated a “biogenetic law” in 1866, famously summarized as “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” This means that the development of an organism simply replays its evolutionary history. But this notion is true in only a limited sense. Embryonic stages don’t look like the adult forms of their ancestors, as Haeckel claimed, but like the embryonic forms of ancestors. Human fetuses, for example, never resemble adult fish or reptiles, but in certain ways they do resemble embryonic fish and reptiles. Also, the recapitulation is neither strict nor inevitable: not every feature of ancestor’s embryo appears in its descendant, nor do all stages of development unfold in a strict evolutionary order. Further, some species, like plants, have dispensed nearly all traces of their ancestry during development. Haeckel’s law has fallen into disrepute not only because it wasn’t strictly true, but also because Haeckel was accused, largely unjustly, of fudging some drawings of early embryos to make them look more similar that they really are. Yet we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Embryos still show a form of recapitulation: features that arose earlier in evolution often appear earlier in development. And this makes sense only if species have an evolutionary history.

Yeah, fallen into disrepute. So why try to play gotcha with Coyne on that point? Coyne is actually presenting a von Baerian perspective here: von Baer, who did not accept evolutionary theory, had observed how similar early vertebrate embryos were to one another. That fact is not in dispute. I can go into my lab right now and pull up slides of sectioned and stained chick, mouse, and frog embryos that all show these shared developmental features. Pharyngeal pouches are a real thing! You can’t make them disappear by citing someone’s flawed pet theory for them.

Bonus! There’s a footnote in the passage above, and here it is.

Creationists often cite Haeckel’s “fudged” drawings as a tool for attacking evolution in general: evolutionists, they claim, will distort the facts to support a misguided Darwinism. But the Haeckel story is not so simple. Haeckel may not have been guilty of malfeasance, but only of sloppiness: his “fraud” consisted solely of illustrating three different embryos using the same woodcut. When called to account, he admitted the error and corrected it. There’s simply no evidence that he consciously distorted the appearance of the embryos to make them look more similar than they were. R.J. Richards (2008, chapter 8) tells the full story.

Coyne is a little too generous here. I think Haeckel demonstrated an over-zealous commitment to his theory, and while it may not have been conscious, he did bias his examples to favor an incorrect idea. He is correct, though, that it is really common for creationists to dig up the dead corpse of poor old Ernst Haeckel and wallop on it for a bit while telling everyone they’re defeating Darwinism. They aren’t.

By the way, the bit in the Origin where he discusses “the strongest single class of facts in favor of change of forms”, consists of Darwin discussing, among other things, von Baer’s observations of embryos, not Haeckel’s. Hovind misses the mark again, but I don’t think he’s read the Origin, either.