Boghossian, Lindsay, and Pluckrose are simply incompetent hacks

There are many reasons why that inane fake article “study” was bad. Here’s a good summary from HJ.

But we also know bullshit gets published, with relatively little effort, in non-“grievance studies” journals. SCIgen is a program that automatically generates Computer Science papers. The authors were able to get one such paper accepted to a scientific conference in 2005. Eight years later, some researchers discovered that a whopping 120 SCIgen papers had been published across thirty conferences. That same year, John Bohannon submitted a paper on “medicinal lichen” that was machine translated from English to French and back again to 300 open-access journals; it was accepted in 157, and of the 36 submissions where peer reviewers caught the hoax a whopping 16 journals published the paper anyway. Not recent enough for you? While Boghossian and his two friends were toiling away on twenty papers, one person submitted an obvious hoax paper to fourteen biology journals; it got published in three journals and accepted in a further five.

Again, their core claim is that “grievance studies” journals are more prone to hoaxes than non-“grievance studies” journals. If we use my examples as controls, their hypothesis lacks sufficient evidence to be considered true; if we do not, then they don’t have control group and their hypothesis lacks sufficient evidence to be considered true.

Boghossian, Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Mounk do not have the science knowledge of an alert High School student. They should be deeply ashamed and laughed out of academia, instead of rewarded with wingnut welfare.

They used the same hatchet science denialists employ to criticize everything from evolution to climate to physics to medicine: find a few deficiencies — and that peer-review in general can be gamed is a recognized, ongoing problem — and use them to pillory an entire field of study. And like the denialists, they focus on one thing they don’t like, in this case feminism, and selectively criticize narrow, specific problems while generalizing to the whole. This is precisely the kind of game kooks play to claim that evolution is unsupported by evidence, that the earth’s climate isn’t changing, that cigarettes aren’t really that bad for you, and that the AMA is hiding a secret cure for cancer.

I agree. All of them have demonstrated a sophomoric understanding of science and a weird ideological bias that taints everything they do, and they’ve just earned a universal thumbs-down from academia.

Give it a rest, Boghossian and pals

You’d think they’d learn. When Boghossian and Lindsay published their phony “conceptual penis” paper, they were roundly mocked and ridiculed for concluding that academia was corrupt because they got a badly written paper published in an obscure journal, proving nothing. It’s the skeptical equivalent of p-hacking — yes, if you carry out a badly designed experiment, you will sometimes get a positive hit, but you can’t conclude anything from it. No one is surprised that, in the volume of papers submitted to the peer-reviewed literature, clunkers get through. We know the system is not perfect.

But now we learn that, after their initial ‘success’ with the “conceptual penis” article, they sat down and repeated the same thing, over and over again. They intentionally flooded journals with “fake news”, and when some of it leaked through, cried triumph.

Beginning in August 2017, the trio wrote 20 hoax papers, submitting them to peer-reviewed journals under a variety of pseudonyms, as well as the name of their friend Richard Baldwin, a professor emeritus at Florida’s Gulf Coast State College. Mr. Baldwin confirms he gave them permission use his name. Journals accepted seven hoax papers. Four have been published.

What I have learned from this is that the familiar trio of frauds — Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay, and Helen Pluckrose — have a real talent for writing garbage papers, which I’d actually kind of already known from their activities on social media. Now they’ve gone beyond their original efforts of making nonsensical interpretations to making up data, as in a paper about observations made at a Portland dog park, which made a number of people suspicious, and which led to an unraveling of their game.

All of this prompted me to ask my own questions. My email to “Helen Wilson” was answered by James Lindsay, a math doctorate and one of the real co-authors of the dog-park study. Gender, Place & Culture had been duped, he admitted. So had half a dozen other prominent journals that accepted fake papers by Mr. Lindsay and his collaborators—Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University, and Helen Pluckrose, a London-based scholar of English literature and history and editor of

The three academics call themselves “left-leaning liberals.” Yet they’re dismayed by what they describe as a “grievance studies” takeover of academia, especially its encroachment into the sciences. “I think that certain aspects of knowledge production in the United States have been corrupted,” Mr. Boghossian says. Anyone who questions research on identity, privilege and oppression risks accusations of bigotry.

You know, if you’re a left-leaning liberal, there are plenty of gigantic targets you could be taking aim at: all you need to do is look at all three branches of the federal government, or police activities nation-wide, or the military-industrial complex, or the undermining of regulations by big corporations, or wealth inequality. We have no shortage of big, serious problems. But for some reason, these left-leaning liberals have decided that academia is too left-leaning, and must be exposed. And what have they exposed? A set of problems that Francis Bacon railed against in the 17th century.

Bacon was well aware that science had a weakness, that it was done by flawed humans who had their own biases (he was rather deeply flawed himself), and strove to make people self-aware of their own weaknesses and make efforts to use a rigorous methodology to circumvent those problems. Even the big name journals in technical fields occasionally publish terrible work because it meets pro forma conventions and is backed by lots of money (<cough, cough&> the ENCODE project), but you don’t see PluckBogSay going after those — instead, they have an agenda of conspiring against feminist and social science journals, which says something about their intent.

It might have been interesting if they’d chosen journals in their own fields, and written articles that satirized weaknesses in their own discipline…oh. Hey. I just realized — maybe Boghossian’s entire career has been a performance art piece criticizing how lackluster frauds can get academic jobs in philosophy. He may yet pull a valid criticism out of his hat.

But punching down at marginal journals because they have a soft spot for tendentious prattle ain’t it. It’s also exploiting a feature of academia that I rather like — trust. Even Alan Sokal has problems with what they’re doing.

This isn’t the first time scholars have used a hoax paper to make a point. In 1996 Duke University Press’s journal Social Text published a hoax submission by Alan Sokal, a mathematical physicist at New York University. Mr. Sokal, who faced no punishment for the hoax, told me he was “not oblivious to the ethical issues involved in my rather unorthodox experiment,” adding that “professional communities operate largely on trust; deception undercuts that trust.”

I could agree that many disciplines can be too trusting, and that more self-discipline is warranted. We do, however, have an ethical mechanism for addressing that problem: it’s called writing rebuttals and critical arguments that directly address bad work. It’s what I do with creationism, for instance. I’ll write a confrontational article pointing out why their claims are bogus, using knowledge of my own field to explain why they are wrong. I don’t sit down and write 20 garbage creationist articles (even though that would be trivially easy to do) and contribute to their body of work, which they’ll then use to justify creationism.

If you can find a bad article accepted for publication in a feminist journal, please do jump on it and tear it apart. That contributes to the strength of the discipline. Don’t write a bunch of bad articles of your own, which are clearly intended only to weaken the whole discipline and provide a set of easy, straw-man arguments that you can use to pretend you’re a smart guy.

They seem to know deep down that what they’re doing is wrong and unethical, and they have a rather fatalistic view of their future prospects.

Mr. Boghossian doesn’t have tenure and expects the university will fire or otherwise punish him. Ms. Pluckrose predicts she’ll have a hard time getting accepted to a doctoral program. Mr. Lindsay said he expects to become “an academic pariah,” barred from professorships or publications.

Interesting that they frame the anticipated consequences in terms of being punished or barred. That’s not the case at all. They’re going to have serious problems with a future in academia because they’re writing trashy papers that don’t further the knowledge in their disciplines at all, and seem to be more interested in policing people they don’t like than in advancing philosophy, mathematics, or literature. Maybe if there were a department of anti-feminist studies somewhere, they could fit in. Or maybe their real specialty is “grievance studies,” the very thing they are complaining about.

Otherwise, setting themselves up as martyrs is all the qualification they need to get a position in some right-wing think-tank, which is clearly the appropriate destiny for these “left-leaning liberals.”

Someone has finally figured out Jordan Peterson

Elizabeth Sanderson’s explanation makes perfect sense.

Never before have I encountered such a complex, intelligent, and daring work of satire. This “Jordan Peterson” character is the most cutting-edge performance art I have ever encountered. No sincere leftist commentary has ever exposed the link between seemingly banal conservativism and borderline-fascism in such an easily understandable way. This one-man-show is the bumbling Canadian answer to Laibach. As an expert in pseudo-academic nonsense, I have to salute my superior on this one.

“Jordan Peterson” is a work of parody known as stiob: “an overidentification with the person or idea at which it is directed and that it is often impossible to tell if stiob is sincere support, ridicule, or a mixture of the two.” Stiob arose from the late Soviet years, during the Brezhnev era. There are many eerie similarities between that time and our own – the government was largely ran by a cadre of septuagenarians, wages had stagnated, yet all official narratives insisted that there was no alternative. The horizon of possible futures was closed. Into this fray, a new form of parody emerged, one that was often indistinguishable from the thing it was criticizing.

Take, for example, the Slovenian industrial band Laibach. Their artwork and performances are rife with totalitarian imagery, which leads many to wonder whether or not the band themselves are fascist. Laibach can be seen as an example of “stiob”, employing a strategy of subversive affirmation or over-identification in order to tease out truths that cynical distance could not. It is not “satire” as we would usually understand the word.

I’d never heard of “stiob” before, but it seems to be a real and useful term. So I’ve also picked up a new addition to my vocabulary!

Despite his recent notoriety, the most towering accomplishment Peterson leaves behind is his earlier book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. This is the greatest academic practical joke ever conceived. Despite its name and intimidating 500+ page length, the book manages to pull off the impossible, and leave the reader with no meaning whatsoever.

It reads like a cross between Joseph Campbell and Timecube, interspersed with diagrams of the auto-fellating dragon of chaos. Peterson seems hellbent on finding every hokey pseudo-science and subsuming it into his personal worldview. Jungian psychology, evolutionary psychology, social Darwinism… the man has spent decades on what is fundamentally unprovable quackery. It’s sprawling, pedantic, repetitive – a commentary on the demand for quantity over quality that has become so common in academia today.

Move over, Boghossian. Maps of Meaning is the satire you wish “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” could have been. You missed the mark by failing to notice that the social movement ripe for parody is the centrist/alt-right/pseudo-skeptical gang you belong to.

For years I’d been hearing leftists claim that conservative thought is always mobilized in defense of the ruling classes. In response, many right-wingers have taken to insisting they are, in fact, “classical liberals”, and that their politics flows from a respect for freedom and markets rather than defending the powers that be. Enter Jordan Peterson. On the surface he seems like a milquetoast conservative. But when it comes time to defend inequality, Peterson points to animal hierarchies as a justification. His individualism does not arise from a place of ethical consideration, but out of biological essentialism and social darwinism.

The bumbling professor, despite all of his appeals to the contrary, keeps accidentally rediscovering fascist ideas.

There are moments where he almost breaks character – take his story about lobsters, in his more recent book. Peterson knows nothing about biology, but he plunges forward with complete confidence, shamelessly preaching an understanding of evolutionary psychology that sounds like it was ripped straight from a Pick Up Artist forum.

If taken seriously, he is moronic and dangerous. But taken as a work of intellectual Outsider Art? Goddam brilliant.

Dang. Am I going to have to rethink my opinion of Peterson?

At least I’m not going to have to rethink my opinion of his followers — all dupes.

New professorial challenges for those teaching philosophy

The new academic problem is the bad information spread by Peterson, Boghossian, Lindsay, that ilk. I suspect it wasn’t so bad when these ignoramuses just turned up their noses and ignored philosophy, but now they’ve decided that they completely understand it, and they don’t like it, nosir, so they’ve begun active disinformation campaigns that are infecting college-aged students. A professor writes in to Reddit to vent:

But in the past few months internet outrage merchants have made my job much harder. The very idea that someone could even propose the idea that there is a conceptual difference between sex and gender leads to angry denunciations entirely based on the irresponsible misrepresentations of these online anger-mongers. Some students in their exams write that these ideas are "entitled liberal bullshit," actual quote, rather than simply describe an idea they disagree with in neutral terms. And it's not like I'm out there defending every dumb thing ever posted on Tumblr! It's Simone de fucking Beauvoir!

It's not the disagreement. That I'm used to dealing with; it's the bread and butter of philosophy. No, it's the anger, hostility and complete fabrications.

They come in with the most bizarre idea of what 'post-modernism' is, and to even get to a real discussion of actual texts it takes half the time to just deprogram some of them. It's a minority of students, but it's affected my teaching style, because now I feel defensive about presenting ideas that I've taught without controversy for years.

Peterson is on the record saying Women's Studies departments and the Neo-Marxists are out to literally destroy western civilization and I have to patiently explain to them that, no, these people are my friends and colleagues, their research is generally very boring and unobjectionable, and you need to stop feeding yourself on this virtual reality that systematically cherry-picks things that perpetuates this neurological addiction to anger and belief vindication–every new upvoted confirmation of the faith a fresh dopamine high if how bad they are.

I just want to do my week on Foucault/Baudrillard/de Beauvoir without having to figure out how to get these kids out of what is basically a cult based on stupid youtube videos.

Honestly, the hostility and derailment makes me miss my young-earth creationist students.

I haven’t had to deal with this yet in my classes — post-modernism isn’t part of the biology curriculum, and since I address sex and gender from the ground up with genes and molecules and signaling in my genetics class, by the time we would get to cultural aspects (we don’t, they’ll have to go to the social sciences or humanities for that), they’re already accustomed to the fact that the biology is complex and plastic and variable. But I’ve definitely seen this intransigence and stupidity online. Peddling simplistic misrepresentations of science and philosophy seems to be a major money-maker for those who understand neither.

That last line, though…yeah, I’d rather deal with young earth creationists. The difference is that creationists, whether they’re aware of it or not, have a serious case of science envy. They’re all wanna-bes who are constantly trying to rephrase the Bible in sciencey-sounding terms, thinking they can explain the Flood with geology, or constraints on evolution with genetics. That’s the whole point of Intelligent Design creationism, to provide pseudo-scientific, rather than religious, justifications for their beliefs. They can’t, but it means their arguments can be spanked by somebody who understands the scientific discipline better than they do.

It’s their greatest weakness, actually. It’s why they don’t make greater inroads into academia, because everyone who is well-trained in the sciences can see right through them.

But these anti-philosophy gomers are taking a completely different approach. They don’t want to be philosophers, or sound like philosophers, because they hate philosophy and women’s studies and sociology and all those other disciplines. Rather than trying to learn just enough of what they’re complaining about to try and turn the jargon against them, they’re in flat-out denial and a total rejection of everything to do with, for instance, post-modernism. They’re engaged in simple-minded anti-intellectualism (creationists come out of a religious tradition that usually respects an intellectual foundation, or at least a pretense to one), and the know-nothings who eat that crap up won’t even listen to word one from someone who has the educational background to know what they’re talking about.

Maybe the alt-right is non-binary

Jason Wilson writes about the alt-right’s tactics. Here’s one perfect example: Andy Ngo is a kind of inflammatory yellow journalist whose specialty is capturing tiny slices of left wing events that he then distorts into the kind of lie useful for enraging the Fox News/Breitbart crowd. For instance, here’s how he handled a visit by James Damore to Portland State:

In the lead-up to Damore’s appearance, Ngo penned an article for the Wall Street Journal alleging that the event had been threatened, writing that that “we expected controversy. But we also got danger.” The evidence of danger, as reported in Willamette Week, was “two violent threats on Facebook, three diversity events held on campus as counter-programming, and a scornful blog post”.

This was more than enough for Fox News, who ran an item under the headline “Antifa targets ‘Google memo’ author James Damore’s talk at Portland State”.

Impressive. Everything is coming up antifa nowadays. I suspect this post makes me antifa, at this rate.

Then the ever-ridiculous Peter Boghossian chimes in. This is where it gets really interesting, because there is a phenomenon many of us have noticed before: people who like to claim to be on the Left, usually referring to themselves as “classical liberals” or “centrists”, who are remarkably consistent in siding with the Right to deplore anything and everything anyone on the Left does, yet also pay lip service to rejecting the traditional Right. Maybe we ought to start recognizing that the usual political binary is often invalid, and that there are multiple axes of polarization. Maybe we ought to appreciate that someone like me can despise, for example, Bill Donohue, and so can a Boghossian, and at the same time, Boghossian and I can mutually reject each other. It’s amazing! More than two categories? Brains will explode!

Still, people will cluster in domains of mutual sympathy, it’s just that there are definitely many more than two of them. Boghossian helpfully engages in a little taxonomy for us, in the process of saying stupid stuff.

Boghossian does seem to see members of her discipline in a dark hue. At the Damore event, he said that “diversity is a Trojan horse for a political agenda.”

When asked later what was inside the Trojan horse, he said “the diversity they try to create is the most superficial kind of diversity and doesn’t include ideological diversity.”

When asked who “they” were, Boghossian replies “all disciplines infected by postmodernism, and women’s studies and gender studies in particular.

“It’s intersectionality, it’s diversity, it’s those values which are riding in the wake of postmodernity,” he added.

“Jordan Peterson speaks about this, Gad Saad speaks about this, Steven Pinker speaks about this, there’s a whole circle of us speaking about this.”

Despite his criticisms of the campus left, however, Boghossian insists that he is not rightwing, that he “can’t stand Republicans”, and complains about recent accusations that he is “alt-right”. He insists it’s all about Enlightenment values.

Ngo too. “I identify as a centrist if I was forced to answer”, he writes, adding that “Freethinkers is a nonpartisan organization”.

Strange, then, that they, and the movement that Boghossian claims membership of, take such trouble over antagonizing the left, and drawing rightwing attention.

I’m actually kind of impressed here. There are quite a few people mentioned in the article who I, as an outsider to their group, would have lumped together, and there’s Boghossian, unconsciously affirming my taxonomy. Yes — Boghossian, Peterson, Saad, Pinker, they all belong in a single taxon. The defining character seems to be, at least in the context of this excerpt, that they are all pretentious academics who do not understand the meaning of the word “post-modern”, while hating it fiercely, all while huddling under the banner of the Enlightenment, an 18th century movement that they believe entitles them to consider themselves progressive. They also consider themselves liberal while hating diversity in a multicultural nation, and despising gender and women’s studies at universities that are encouraging students, who are mostly women, to examine the complexity of our social and cultural environment.

They’re a weird, regressive bunch. Their clique also includes other people mentioned in the article, like Christina Hoff Sommers, the anti-feminist who calls herself a feminist, and Dave Rubin, the cheerleader for right-wingers who insists he is a centrist, Enlightenment liberal.

I’m perfectly willing to recognize that this is an ugly mess of a beast that is completely different from the ugly mess of a beast called the Republican party. The American landscape is filling up with a diverse collection of shambolic monsters, united only in their willingness to shit on anything that resembles a progressive vision of our future.

What is The Jewish Question, anyway?

Speaking of YouTube atheism, they aren’t even hiding it any more. A subset of those goons are now pondering…The Jewish Question. Here’s Sargon of Akkad aka Carl of Benjamin promising to do a video series on The Jewish Question, inspired by another series of videos by a guy named Mouthy Buddha.

I skimmed through a few of those videos by Mouthy Buddha — they are impressively and professionally done! The subject, however, is repugnant. He’s openly questioning the existence of the Holocaust; he shows a few still photos of Jews putting on a cabaret show in a concentration camp, therefore these were all happy places. He goes on and on about how Hitler wasn’t a bad man, he was an honorable gentleman and a distinguished leader. You get the idea. They’re outright Nazi apologetics using bad arguments. And there’s Carl Benjamin declaring that they’re not wrong, that he’s going to make videos along this line himself, and suggesting that Mouthy Buddha was making the pro-Nazi arguments stronger.

In case you’re wondering — the YouTube crowd is apparently shy about stating what it is outright — the Jewish question is about the status and treatment of Jews in a country. The correct answer, clearly, is that they are equal citizens who must be treated with the same respect that all residents of a country, all human beings on Earth, should be treated. In the mouths of Nazis, though, the Jewish question is about how best to deprive them of their lives and property and rights, and to them, the proper answer was called the Final Solution.

But once again, there are people trying to make this a respectable debate, and useful idiots who are complaining about calling people who haven’t personally murdered millions “Nazis”.

Can someone explain this to me?

Peter Boghossian blurted this out tonight.

There are no right angles in nature, yet no one says right angles are *social* constructs because they’re not morally motivated to do so.

There are right angles in nature. We also have social constructs built around ideas about right angles — look, Boghossian just made one, stating an idea about right angles and the nature of our interactions with them. I am baffled and have many questions.

  • Is he drunk-tweeting?

  • Does he have some point that he is trying to make, poorly and insipidly?

  • Is he so annoyed that humans are social animals who build mental models of how the world works,
    and that the map is not the terrain, that he is lashing out in defense of some kind of Platonic absolute?

  • Is he a very bad philosopher?

  • Is he not very bright?

A lot of the people I follow are currently rather flabbergasted at this flaming nonsense.

Can I be a colonel in the Outrage Brigade?

A few days ago, I had a couple of exchanges with a well-known and well-regarded YouTube atheist who recited a set of familiar tropes. I’ve blurred out their identity below, despite that being against all of my instincts (you say stuff, own it) because Stephanie Zvan also commented on it, and she’s being courteous. But damn, I’ve been hearing this demand for politeness for over a decade now, and it’s getting old.

Here’s the deal: we are supposed to be civil, polite, and supportive of people in the atheist movement, no matter what they say, in the name of “unity”. If we disagree publicly, we are characterized as “the Outrage Brigade” and slandered with hyperbole, while being accused of slandering people with hyperbole. I have, for instance, a great deal of respect for Dawkins’ work and talents as a science communicator, and I also like him personally, but if I disagree with some of his comments, I’m told that I’ve tossed their entire life and work into the shit-can. This is not true, although the defenders of the status quo think it is — that any challenge to any aspect of a Great Leader’s opinions is a black-and-white demonization of everything they’ve ever said.

Unfortunately, Richard Dawkins just tweeted this.

Some Trump votes driven by hatred of liberals. Some liberals deserve it for their hypocritical Islamophilia, safe spaces, deplatforming etc.

Great timing. Thanks for making my point for me. By the way, what do we deserve? Trump?

It’s very nice that he can remain a friend with Peter Boghossian on some personal level. He’s still a terrible person with some very bad ideas. I am not persuaded to appreciate those very bad ideas because Blurred-Out-Atheist thinks they’re a peachy person. I’m not going to sing kumbaya with someone who’s endorsing regressive, hateful ideas because Blurred-Out-Atheist has waved them away as mere “disagreements” and is willing to say so in private email to his pals.

I pointed out the irony of telling some peole to be nicer in the name of unity while also labeling them an “Outrage Brigade” and accusing them of “springing into a frothing rage” over relatively minor disagreements. But mostly I backed away.

See? Not springing into frothing rage. I filed it away and said to myself that I’ll cool off for a few days and see if this guy will see the light of reason.

Nope. He posted this.

This is the difference between respectful, strong, mature, nuanced criticisms, and the inflammatory wailings of the Outrage Brigade…those already in a froth before they’ve bothered to read/watch/listen to the issues – ANY issues – at hand. They lash out in memes. They inflate every thought with hyperbole. They apparently have anointed themselves as some kind of mind-reading Idea Police. And any honest person who has ever used the internet knows they exist.

Are they the agents of good faith, charitable listening, genuine understanding, dialogue, problem-solving, building something better? I suspect not, because they throw gasoline upon every spark, pour salt on every wound, and usually take a flailing machete to the arenas for careful surgery.

What’s most interesting is to watch people protesting the claims of needless outrage with…needless outrage.

Harris deserves criticism and the rebuttals of better ideas. Anyone who declares that someone can’t appreciate his writings, activism, etc while also having points of disagreement is an acting demonstration of the very thing which makes online exchanges so maddening, so ugly, so unproductive.

It’s even worse. Much worse. He has decided that many of the people who criticize Dawkins, Harris, Boghossian, etc. are lunatics with flailing machetes. He has lost all sense of perspective. Look at that: while I was off taking deep breaths and restraining myself, he was busy anointing himself as some kind of mind-reading Idea Police, and decided to compose this respectful, strong, mature, nuanced criticism that doubles down on the Outrage Brigade, accuses them of inflammatory wailings and of throwing gasoline upon every spark, and engaging in needless outrage.

Well, fuck that. If you can live in Trump’s America and deny the existence of needful outrage, if you think that writing great science books makes your social commentary unimpeachable, if all it takes is being a philosophy professor to make your ideas about gender studies bulletproof, if you think writing books that demonize Muslims makes you an unquestionably great scholar, if you think you get to decide which ideas are less important and deserve to be insulated from a righteous anger which you are going to label “needless”, if you’re going to be outraged about divisiveness while declaring that people who criticize Dear Leader are the goats to be separated from the sheep, then hell yes I will tell you to go stuff yourself up your own reverent ass. I can’t help but notice who you choose to consider friends despite their terrible ideas and who you consider enemies of the movement because of their social justice ideas. It tells me what ideas you’re willing to support, and which you oppose.

And those ideas matter. The atheist movement, I’m told, is all about ideas — ideas that can change the world. But as is always the case, there are always more people who adapt to a movement, find themselves comfortable with it, and resist all efforts to change anything ever again. Unfortunately, we live in what can only be described as a dystopian society, and any complaining about change and upheaval and revolution will be seen as favoring the status quo.

A Very Smart Brotha wrote recently about this problem. Preach it, Damon Young.

Polite white people—specifically, polite white people who call for decorum instead of disruption when attempting to battle and defeat bias and hate—aren’t as paradoxical as tits on a bull. But they’re just as useless. They provide no value, they move no needles, they carry no weight (metaphysically and literally) and they ultimately just get in the way. They’re humanity’s tourists: the 54-mile-per-hour drivers in the left lane refusing to get the fuck out of the way so others can pass. And if you get enough of them in one place, they cause accidents.

Unfortunately, they’re every-fucking-where. They’re on Facebook threads and sitting behind you at work. They’re your neighbors and (sometimes) your family members. They’re Academy Award-nominated actresses on Twitter and college professors named “Mark Lilla” peddling terribly premised books about identity politics. Sometimes they ask for level heads, lest we become what we’re fighting against. Which is like saying, “Hey, don’t kill that fly, man, because you’re going to turn into a fly.” Sometimes they misquote MLK. Or Gandhi. Or Mother Teresa. Or Papa fucking Smurf. But you can always find them somewhere, attempting to defeat violence with the devil’s advocacy and danishes.

Of course, these are not bad people. At least not Martin Shkreli bad. They’re just so goddamn inert, and that inertia is dangerous. It’s unwise to mistake their lack of movement with futility. Because this type of idling does make a difference. Just the wrong kind of difference. It can be seductive and sublime. Who doesn’t want to believe that love bombs are enough to devastate hate? Who wouldn’t want to know that good manners win if the manners are good enough? Think about how much less stress battling white supremacy and police brutality would induce if all you needed to do to defeat it was drink a bottle of Pepsi.

Ultimately, this laser focus on niceness and decorum is just a way of policing behavior. Politeness in the face of violence, and terror is a privilege exclusive to them. They just don’t have as much to lose if everyone stays polite and kind and sober. If things happen to change while we’re nice as fuck to each other, great! If not, well, great, too. It’ll still be Wednesday. And bulls still won’t have tits.

They’re also YouTube atheists with “Atheist” in their nom-de-vlog who love engaging and making friends with regressive assholes while dismissing those who support social justice as the Outrage Brigade. If you aren’t outraged right now, you’re doing everything wrong.

Get Out! A message for the atheist movement

A couple have a major disagreement. A metaphorical story.

Spouse #1: I want a divorce.

Spouse #2: But no! You can’t! Marriage is so, so important, and we have to stick together no matter what!

S#1: I’m a feminist, and you put a pic of Milo Yiannopoulis with a word ballon saying “Feminism is Cancer” as the background on your cell phone.

S#2: You can change! Or you can learn to tolerate my little quirks. I have to be me, you know.

S#1: You marched in a white nationalist parade!

S#2: Oh, you and your trivial, petty concerns. Our bond is more important. We have to stick together, for the sake of the marriage. We still have things in common: you think Black Lives Matter, but we can still agree that cops have really tough jobs. Why are you tearing us apart?

I ask, who’s side do you take here? Some of you will say that both sides are talking past each other, and that is correct. Some might then follow through and declare that therefore Both Sides Are Wrong, glossing over the misogyny and racism that one side takes for granted.

But some of us say instead, “Oh no, Spouse #1! Get out! #2 is an asshole with bad ideas!” It seems to me the only rational response: that’s a marriage that needs to end.

But a lot of atheists disagree. At least, that’s what I have to conclude from the last 6 years of abusive behavior by atheists against atheists, who then try to silence disagreement by declaring the inviolable importance of sticking together in the name of the precious Atheist Movement.

In 2016, David Smalley asked, What’s killing the atheist movement?”. His answer: public disagreement about social justice. Reading between the lines, it was clear that it was all the fault of people who criticized other people within the movement. We’re supposed to be quiet, show a unified front, and call each other up on the phone before we dare to disagree publicly. He was completely oblivious to the fact that silence favors the status quo, and that he was taking a side when he demands obedience to the nebulous leadership of the atheist movement.

I slammed him on it. I had a debate with him on his rather obnoxious and ignorant post; you can’t listen to it anymore because it was deleted by its creator. There is still my side of the conclusion, though.

Did he learn anything from this? No. Earlier this summer in 2017, he wrote another post that is nearly exactly the same as the previous, except that now he boldly states who the villain is: How the Regressive Left Is Killing the Atheist Movement. I hadn’t read it before, because I’ve written off any interest in anything Smalley has to say, but it’s an amazing piece of work: he starts by explaining that this is a result of a series of conversations he’s had with people like Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Adam Carolla, Pete Boghossian, and Lawrence Krauss.

Wow. What a diverse collection of dissenting voices. Were Sam Harris and Dave Rubin busy that day? They are the only people I can think of who might have improved on that stellar collection of manifold heterogeneity.

Actually, it’s a collection of bogus conservative atheist bullshit. It’s got everything. Witch hunts. The horseshoe theory. Insistence that he’s the reasonable one. Misrepresentation of everyone else. It’s one long atheist dudebro cliche. All the problems in his first post were exponentially amplified.

It’s not just me. The Thomas Smith at the Serious Inquiries Only blog reamed him out. Which is good, because now I don’t have to address it.

But that’s not all. Smalley then made his garbage post the subject of his talk at Gateway To Reason. Watch, if you can bear it.

Most disappointingly, it was posted by Seth Andrews, who I thought was fairly level-headed. He prefixed it with this message:

At the 2017 Gateway to Reason Conference in St. Louis, David Smalley (host of Dogma Debate) gave his perspective on the challenges and often public divisions among atheist activists, and in regard to online interactions as a whole.

It’s a perspective…uploaded and presented here as a conversation starter, as so many are fervently seeking a fairer, more tempered, and more civil exchanges and interactions between people

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.” – Harper Lee

Fairer. More tempered. More civil. Applied to a speech in which Smalley trivializes our differences and begs people to stop criticizing fellow atheists. In which he sets up all kinds of irrational dichotomies. That thing in my imaginary dialog where Spouse #2 suggests that pointing out, as Black Lives Matter does, that cops are murdering people is reasonably countered by pointing out that we can still agree that cops have really tough jobs? He actually says that.

People at that conference applauded and cheered and laughed. Except, I noticed, Alix Jules and a few others scattered around the room. An amazing number of atheists thought that deplorable performance was commendable, including Seth Andrews. My estimation of Andrews has dropped significantly now.

The video already has a large number of positive comments! I’ll give you one example, representative of the kind of atheist who agrees with Smalley.

The skeptic-atheist community broke apart when Cultural Marxism was introduced into it e.g. third wave feminism, identity politics, intersectionality. New rules for behavior and speech were introduced. This ideology even demonised the most prominent and influential atheists like Dakwins or Harris as bigoted, racist, islamophobic white males.
As a counter movement, many skeptics became fiercely anti-SJW. There the division took place.

The “Cultural Marxist” remark gives it away. This is one of those pseudoscientifically racist people who whines about white genocide. That’s the audience for Smalley’s message. He doesn’t care.

Stephanie Zvan was there at the talk. She didn’t like it.

So what the hell did Smalley do in his talk? Start with what he didn’t do: He didn’t address a single one of Thomas Smith’s criticisms. He didn’t modify his thesis, and he didn’t change his examples. The Black Lives Matter/cops have tough jobs was in the talk just as it was in the post—worded differently, but still missing the point Smith notes. He didn’t actually call out the “Regressive Left” specifically, but that’s where his examples of bad behavior came from.

You see, we’re throwing people away in this movement for not being pure and perfect. We’re excommunicating imperfect people willy-nilly, and people are leaving atheism because it reminds them of their old churches that did this. Because, you know, people didn’t actually leave their churches over the god question, despite this being the basis for the atheist movement’s claim to any kind of broad rationality. No, they left because people were mean to each other. Petty mean.

What does he mean? He means holding people to account for things like retweeting white nationalists when those white nationalists make a point someone agrees with. Or at least that’s the part of the situation he mentioned. He left out the content of any retweets in the movement that might fit his description and didn’t talk about any hypothetical tweeter’s response to being criticized for making the error.

Yes. Objecting to racism is now “being mean” to some in the movement. We’re excommunicating people over mere sexism and racism! Not mentioned is that somehow the people being “excommunicated” are people at the top, like Dawkins and Harris, who haven’t gone anywhere, who are still lauded as the leading voices of the movement, who still get speaking gigs at atheist conferences, who are still turned to when the media needs a quote from an atheist.

Steve Shives points out exactly where this split in the community occurred. One flashpoint where the differences crystallized: Rebecca Watson and Elevatorgate. You remember that — when Watson, in response to a late-night suggestion in an elevator said “Guys, don’t do that”, and an angry horde of entitled assholes shrieked and sent rape threats, and an even larger group of atheists looked at the years of harassment and the quiet one-liner with David Smalley’s attitude and declared that both sides were equivalent and bad.

This is what is making the atheist movement irrelevant and ugly: that there are people who close their eyes to injustice, like David Smalley, and others who exploit that to turn the whole thing into foul nest of entitled asshats who prop up the status quo. Where once we were a radical force for a new perspective on humanity, now it’s a home for white nationalism and casual sexism and the same old dogmas, because too many of its advocates consider equality and human dignity trivial, petty concerns not worth calling out members for. It’s populated with people who cannot recognize the distinction between racism and criticizing racism. (You know who else, besides David Smalley, cannot do that? Donald Trump.)

Atheism has squandered its momentum on a defensive old guard and apologists for neglect of events happening in our world. I’m going to have to suggest that we all abandon it. Let’s find an organization that openly states that they want to dismantle the structures of white supremacy and sexist oppression.

Take a listen to James Croft. Humanism is a better future.

Philosophers who understand neither philosophy nor biology

Peter Boghossian is demonstrating that he’s a fool and an ignoramus again.

Why is it that nearly every male who’s a 3rd wave intersectional feminist is physically feeble & has terrible body habitus?

You just have to love that extra fillip of the term “habitus” — it adds an extra level of pomposity to a statement that basically, feminists men are weak and have ugly physiques. It’s the male counterpart to the old anti-suffragette cartoons that portrayed them all as hideous crones and spinsters. That attitude is alive and well among regressive assholes today.

But then he goes further and invokes his poorly understood version of biology to justify it, and claims the authority of Science behind his opinion of those ugly feminists.

My “body habitus” tweet was a reference to what evolutionary biologists term “sneaky fucker” theory.

I have to correct HJ Hornbeck; the “sneaky fucker” theory was not invented by MRAs, but is a legitimate evolutionary idea that’s been around for quite a while. The thing is that you don’t publish a term with an obscenity in it — editors tend to chop those out. It’s more often called “sneaks and guards”, and if you want to find it in the scientific literature, better search terms are “alternative mating strategies” or “dimorphic males”. One of the clearest examples is found in Onthophagus beetles, where there is an allocation trade-off in development between investing in giant horns for use in direct battles with other males, vs. giant testes for better sperm competition. That’s also an experimental model where you can manipulate the tissues in the larva. Cauterize the developing testis, the horns grow bigger; cauterize the primordium of the thoracic cuticle that forms the horn, the testes grow larger.

But MRAs do love this theory, because they think it justifies condemning those wimpy feminist males (“betas” and “cucks”; by the way, that whole nonsense of “alphas” and “betas” is misappropriation of ethological descriptions used in wolves and some other species, which have more complex life history strategies than the MRAs can imagine). They’re just “white knights”, “sneaky fuckers” who sidle up to women and pretend to be on their side in order to have sex with them! They’re just as bad as the noble, straight-forward Alphas, but they’re devious about it!

However, I have to mention another, more useful term to Boghossian: the naturalistic fallacy. I hear that he teaches philosophy, so he might have heard of it, but he clearly doesn’t understand it. Spend less time on Reddit and YouTube where it is dreadfully abused by internet atheists to rationalize all kinds of bad behavior — if chimps throw feces, then obviously YouTube commenters have evolved to be shitlords. They take a grain of truth from animal studies and extrapolate it into all kinds of nonsense about people.

But sure, you can find animal models that fit an extreme pattern.

Beetles demonstrate a pattern of disruptive selection to produce large bodied “guard” morphs and smaller “sneak” morphs. But I am not a beetle, and humans do not show such a pattern.

Cuttlefish also have large aggressive males that zealously guard their harem of females with threat displays, and also smaller males that turn off the threat displays and instead camouflage themselves as females to join the harem. But I am not a cuttlefish, and humans show a wide range of courtship behaviors.

Orangutans have large flanged adult males who also guard harems of females, and smaller, unflanged young males skirt the outside of his territory, looking to mate opportunistically. But I am not an orangutan, and humans change their courtship behaviors to suit the circumstances, so you don’t get to claim a dichotomous suite of mating practices within our species.

Gorillas have a high degree of sexual dimorphism allowing one large male to control a group of smaller females. I am not a gorilla. Humans have evolved to reduce sexual dimorphism and increase cooperation, making the “guard” strategy impractical and counter-productive.

So please, do not shoehorn human behavior into your simplified model of how sex works. It’s reductive and also fails to appreciate the importance of female mating choice. Think about it: “sneaky fuckers” would be a total flop if females of the species didn’t go along with the opportunity and mate happily with the sneaky guys. Females have reproductive strategies, too, and they would rarely favor having their mate choice removed because the big thug corrals them and controls when and with whom they can mate. Unfortunately, we still live with a Victorian influence on science that tends to downplay female participation and initiative, leaving us with many theories that treat females of the species as objects collected and used by the males.

I am a human being. I am a member of a species with complex life histories and prolonged child-rearing requirements that require extensive social behaviors for survival. We have reduced sexual dimorphism, and rarely does our survival hinge on brute force muscular development. We form communities with intense social interactions. We choose mates based on long-term compatibilities — we form partnerships between individuals. One sex does not do all the choosing, and further, choices are based on fairly sophisticated intellectual and emotional properties. Does he or she have a sense of humor, do they have shared interests, are they willing to cooperate in necessary chores, are they fun to be with, are they sexually compatible, do they share the same religious beliefs, do they enjoy the same movies, do they have complementary skills, etc.? Rarely do women wonder whether he would be able to lock them in in the basement and successfully fight off all other human beings who come to visit, and if they do, it’s an argument to reject further association with the man.

Physical appearance does play a role, and we’d be foolish to pretend it doesn’t, but if you look around you at the world of human relationships you might notice that there a lot of stable, long-term couples where neither individual looks like they’re going to be featured on the cover of People magazine. Why? Because all the social and intellectual connections trump all the ephemeral details of looking like a 20 year old model. Appearances matter more in casual hookups (which rarely produce offspring, especially nowadays when birth control is cheap and easy), but the evolutionary outcomes are going to be more dependent on successful family construction and integration into communities.

We need terms more appropriate to the human condition. I suggest that we call superficially handsome, virile, young people like Peter Boghossian “shallow fuckers” while us old homely (or otherwise) guys who can recognize the autonomy of women and form relationships on the basis of long term cooperativity “decent human beings”. At least, that’s a good idea if you’re one of those shallow fuckers who also demand that the world be divided into no more than two classes of people.

Matthew Facciani also gets the science wrong:

“Sneaky f*cker” theory refers to the evolutionary psychology idea that beta males will “sneak in” and have sex with a female while the alpha males are busy. This theory was coined by John Maynard Smith and doesn’t have much (if any) scientific support.

This is not evolutionary psychology. It’s standard, ordinary old ethology, and it’s an idea that’s been around for a long time (I don’t think Maynard Smith coined it, either, he just gets credit for it because he’s a prominent authority), and there is plenty of scientific support — in specific species. But at least his criticism of Boghossian is spot on.

Both Tweets by Dr. Boghossian here are embarrassingly ignorant and illustrate his own bias against feminism. It’s like Pete can’t imagine why any man would embrace feminism so obviously they must be doing it to do get laid. It’s also just sloppy reasoning based on supposed anecdotes. Did he actually measure the body fat of a sample of male feminists and compare it to the average population? Until he shows the study he did, it’s just a childish attack on people he doesn’t like. But interestingly, he attempts to use pseudoscientific jargon to justify his biases.

This is interesting in another way, though: it reminds me of some old debates where pro-evolutionary people would argue against creationists that the distinction between microevolution and macroevolution was made up by creationists, and that the terms weren’t used by real evolutionary biologists…so I’d have to cite lists of books and papers that explicitly used those entirely legitimate terms and help out the wrong side of the debate. It was kind of annoying.