Ellen Lewin tells it like it is

Ellen Lewin is a professor in the anthropology department at the University of Iowa. Like all of us, she is constantly dunned with email announcing this, that, and the other thing at our universities, and sometimes we get email that makes our blood boil. In this case, she got mail from the College Republicans, announcing a “coming out” party (like Republicans in the midwest are a closeted and oppressed minority…) that featured some hagiographic movie about George W. Bush (that ignorant ass), an “animal rights barbecue” and other such joyful shenanigans to celebrate the party of morons and thugs and self-destructive ideologues.

Ellen Lewin had enough. Ellen Lewin got angry. Ellen Lewin fired off a one-sentence reply.


I think I’m in love with Ellen Lewin.

She later apologized for losing her temper — and I can sympathize with that, too — but I hope she never backs down in her righteous contemptuous opinion of the Republican party. I share it. I think her response was relatively mild.

Now, of course, the right-wingers are outraged. How dare she disagree loudly with an entire party of mouth-breathing, sanctimonious idiots? Read the Free Republic for examples of their response; the first comment sarcastically complains that “Liberals are SO CLASSY!!”, and then the rest, with no sense of irony, posts a picture of her and proceeds to call her a “pervert”, a “lesbian”, a “cow”, a “demonic lesbian demon”, a “bitter, old, ugly, lesbian with a hairy lip”, and suggests that she has sex with dogs.

And more! Those delicate little flowers, the College Republicans, are so hurt by her unkind words that they are filing an official complaint.

Ginty, 21, a junior, filed her complaint with the provost and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity. In the complaint, she states that the April 18 email from professor Ellen Lewin and Lewin’s followup “halfhearted apology” violate general standards of decency, respect for civility in public discourse and the university’s antiharassment policy.

Ginty’s complaint says “there is little doubt that the university would not tolerate a similar string of emails by a member of the faculty targeted at a number of other student groups.”

She has a point. It wasn’t civil or respectful (although turning a brief outburst into a case of harassment and a “string of emails” is a bit much). But you know what? I approve of incivility and disrespect towards organizations that deserve it, and the Republican party is currently the party of know-nothings, hypocrites, liars, and greed — it’s the stagnant, festering slime towards which all the worst elements of society now gravitate. The problem isn’t college professors snarling at them, it’s that the party itself encourages short-sightedness, idiocy, and hatefulness. So, until the grown-ups wake up and clean out the bigotry and ignorance from their own house, I think it’s only fair for us to air our vigorous disgust with them.

I stand in solidarity with Ellen Lewin.


A little warning for the true believers

Uh-oh. I was just reading this very silly fundy Christian piece, in which the pious author is bemoaning all those terrible, awful, un-Christian things on the television and radio, and saw this explanation.

While listening to a preaching by Pastor David Wilkerson, he said something that stuck with me “What are you going to do if you are watching profanity and Christ returns at that moment? We think, but I will have time to repent. I’m sorry, but I don’t think it will work out that way.”

And then I realized…what if some nice goody-goody Christian were reading Pharyngula when Jesus showed up. Do you realize how much trouble you’d be in? We already know I’d be going to hell, but you…you would have blown it entirely by getting caught watching porn or reading Pharyngula or perusing old Deadwood scripts, and there you go, damned by a moment’s weakness.

So please, just in case, go away. I don’t believe in hell, but if there is one, I really don’t want you prissy-pants prudes showing up and being a downer at the wild party we’ll be having down there.

Enlightened professions perpetuate problems

As a member of the professoriate, I like to think that we are egalitarian and do our very best to correct the social inequities that are so prevalent outside of our relatively benevolent, enlightened institutions. Only…not. It looks like women get screwed over in academia, too.

The gender gap in faculty pay cannot be explained completely by the long careers of male faculty members, the relative productivity of faculty members, or where male and female faculty members tend to work — even if those and other factors are part of the picture, according to research being released this week at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association.

When all such factors are accounted for, women earn on average 6.9 percent less than do men in similar situations in higher education, says the paper, by Laura Meyers, a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington. The finding could be significant because many colleges have explained gender gaps by pointing out that the senior ranks of the professoriate are still dominated by people who were rising through the ranks in periods of overt sexism and so are lopsidedly male, or that men are more likely than women to teach in certain fields that pay especially well.

Maybe the disparity is because equality is only just now beginning to percolate upwards from the new faculty? Nope, they corrected for that. Is it because we have more women in the low-paying sociology departments than we do in the higher paying computer science departments? No, they corrected for that. Is it because women are less able to do the work and are too busy gossiping about babies and needlepoint to do the work? No, they corrected for that.

Darn. I guess the simple fact of the matter is that we’re paying women less than they deserve. From which the important, obvious lesson to be learned is that we ought to hire more women, because we’re getting equal work for cheap.

Perhaps I should mention that to our hiring committees.

Free anthropology workshop in Minneapolis!

What a deal. The American Association of Physical Anthropologists is
meeting in Minneapolis next weekend, and they are offering a free, open workshop for teachers on “Fossils, Bones, and Primates: Enriching High School Teaching.” I hope our local educators can find time to take it!

The workshop runs from 8:15 to noon on April 16 in the Rochester room
at the Hilton Minneapolis, 1001 Marquette Avenue in Minneapolis.

Featured will be Andrew J. Petto (the editor of Reports of the NCSE
and a member of NCSE’s board of directors) speaking on “Primate Clues
to Human Behavior”; Michael Alan Park speaking on “Using the Fossil
Record in Teaching Human Evolution”; Pamela Ashmore and Barbara
O’Connell speaking on “Human Skin Color Variation and Race”; K.
Lindsay Eaves-Johnson and Nancy Tatarek speaking on “Who are you?
Strategies for Presenting Forensic Anthropology and Human Variation in
the Classroom”; and a question-and-answer session led by Briana

Admission to the workshop is free. Registration is recommended; to
register, please get in touch with Martin K. Nickels at
mnickels@ilstu.edu or (309) 661-1909.

Liberty University sure is skilled at sucking on the government teat

Wait—Liberty University gets half a billion dollars a year in federal aid? And they have almost 50,000 students? I feel a great disturbance in the Force, as if thousands of minds suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

I looked a little further and discovered, though, that Liberty is actually a mid-sized private college with an on-campus enrollment of about 12,000 — they’re sucking in all that money because they’re deeply involved in that lucrative on-line ‘education’ game, where they shuffle students through a series of web pages and declare them S-M-R-T, smart. I was made suspicious when I looked at their list of faculty in chemistry and biology and was surprised to see that their total number of chemistry/biology faculty is 21, while my university has a total combined chemistry and biology faculty of 15…for a student body of fewer than 2,000. If we just go by the service provided, I think that means the University of Minnesota Morris should be getting $357 million every year from the government, and we could give every student free tuition, raise faculty salaries to a competitive level, and hire a couple more faculty in each discipline to ease the strain we’re going through right now (we’re short-staffed, and it hurts). And then, with the money left over, we could build a water park and a light-rail connection to Minneapolis and get everyone an ice cream cake on their birthday! Yay!

Bonus: with all that money, you’d also get a physics and a geology department that doesn’t teach that the earth was formed in six days 6,000 years ago, and a biology department that actually teaches biology instead of abracadabra-magic-man-in-the-sky-done-it.

Since we’re paying so much money for it, can we rename Liberty University? I’d like to call it Leech University. At least they wouldn’t have to change the monogrammed towels.

NIO is doomed now

The animal rights kooks were crowing about their ‘victory’ in intimidating one student, but that’s no victory at all. Alena Rodriguez is a real person who was targeted with an intense campaign of harassment and threats, and who was made to fear for her life; all they accomplished, though, was to reveal their hand and show what kind of contemptible terrorist tactics they will use. They’ve engaged in a little consciousness-raising of their own, but it’s all going to work against them.

Speaking of Research has a new article on their opponents’ recently invigorated embrace of terrorism, and all it has accomplished is to strengthen researchers’ resolve.

Though NIO may refer to students as the “Soft bellied target of the vivisection complex” who “can be shut down with relative ease,” they should study their history. In the winter of 2005, the ALF launched a campaign that targeted students at Oxford University in the UK, declaring them to be “legitimate targets”. Did the students bow to the threats and arson attacks on their facilities? Not a chance! The students responded by launching the Pro-Test movement in support of animal research, and gave the ALF a drubbing which helped to turn the tide against AR extremism in the UK. The hate and lies of the ALF were simply no match for the solidarity shown by students and scientists at Oxford.

Similarly, the extremists at NIO may claim one victory, but they fail to see how much dedication they create at the exact same time.

At UCLA, faculty and students alike have been the target of a heinous and criminal campaign of violence and harassment. How many students have quit animal research and/or changed their careers? To our knowledge: none. Indeed, students at institutions like UCLA have become some of the most passionate and committed defenders of animal-based research.

At NIO, they see victories in stories like these. We say those victories are hollow and pathetic. If you share our view, leave a comment below showing support for Alena and other students like her. The scientists of tomorrow need to hear our voices.

Hi, Joe!

William Cronon is a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and he recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that placed the recent labor troubles in Wisconsin in historical context — he explained how many of the progressive policies in that state were actually the product of Republican lawmakers, that the state has long been a battleground between the progressive and conservative wings of the Republican party, and that a good part of the liberalism in the state is due to a reaction against the autocratic hand of Joe McCarthy, who violated the traditions of the state and its people and basically inspired a lot of revulsion. And it concludes by pointing out that Governor Walker is making the same mistakes as McCarthy, forgetting the lessons of good government.

It’s a great essay, even-handed and informed, and reminded me that yes, once upon a time, Republicans weren’t the party of insane corporate tools who got their instructions direct from god, and that there are common principles of good government that liberals and conservatives could agree on.

The response has been interesting (in the sense of the Chinese curse) for Cronon. The Wisconsin Republican party is dunning him with an open records request demanding all emails that he has received mentioning any of the players in the recent labor conflicts in Wisconsin. Why? Because they’re planning a witch hunt with Cronon as the prey, and they want to find any damning connection that will allow them to claim that Cronon is an apparatchik and propagandist, rather than an independent historian with a serious scholarly focus. Cronon himself has put together an analysis of the request — it’s an effort to silence a critic with intimidation.

Well, hello there, Joe McCarthy! How nice of the Rethuglicans to confirm the comparison in his op-ed for him.

You should read Cronon’s own discussion, but also, Gary Farber has assembled a thorough discussion of the tangled path from history professor to stage-prop villain. His greatest crime may have been exposing to the light of day a quiet organization, ALEC, that has been drafting the most conservative legislation for our government in collaboration with the wealthiest corporations in the country.

You just knew there was going to be a connection to greed and big money in there, didn’t you?

Are teachers overpaid?

Let’s compare teacher salaries in different countries and find out.

You go, USA! Looks like we need to bust up some teachers’ unions and get those pay scales down even lower.

(That’s sarcasm, for any Republicans/Teabaggers/Libertarians who might show up and find that kind of thing difficult to read. We’re starving our teachers; it’s not a job that earns significant returns on the major educational investment it takes.)

How not to write an atheist book

Scott Aikin and Robert Talisse are coming out with a book called Reasonable Atheism, and they argued for some form of accommodationism in a recent blog entry. I left a brief comment in which I pointed out that they had misrepresented the Gnu Atheists in one section. This has prompted a rebuttal to various atheist arguments against their position, which is fine, except…well, let me show you. Here’s an excerpt of their long post.

Our claim, to be clear, is that the epistemic evaluation of beliefs is a task that is conceptually distinct from the epistemic evaluation of believers.  Of course, the two tasks are not unrelated.  But the aim of determining the truth of a statement is distinct from that of assigning epistemic blame or praise to a cognitive agent.  The former is simply a matter of determining what the best evidence suggests.  The latter is inherently a matter of assessing what the agent believes in light of the evidence she has, and her grasp of the evidence.

Our identification and analysis of that conflation, has gone almost entirely without comment.  And where there has been mention of it, the comments confirm the need to make the distinction explicit.  

To cite one example, P.Z. Myers includes in his response the claim that we have overlooked “the possibility that we’re dealing with bad ideas held for irrational reasons.” (Feb 7, 2011 10:36:49 PM)  He thereby places his foot firmly in the bucket.  The terms he italicizes in the phrases “bad ideas” and “irrational reasons” admit of the ambiguity we described.  To explain, Abby’s idea can be bad for at least two reasons: (1) it is false, or (2) it is unsupported by the evidence Abby has.  Myers’ term “irrational reason” is difficult to parse, since, typically it is agents and their actions that are assessable as rational or not; however, we suspect that Myers’ intended meaning is this: an irrational reason is one that an agent ought not endorse (or cite, or employ when drawing inferences, etc.).  Thus clarified, “irrational reasons” similarly involves the imprecision we identify.  Abby’s reason can be “irrational” for being (1) based on a false assessment of the relevant facts, or (2) unsupported by Abby’s own conception of the relevant facts. 

Dear sweet goddess of academic loquaciousness, is the whole book written in that style? Is anyone going to be able to read it? Those three paragraphs nearly killed me with their preening opacity! And, near as I can tell, all they’re doing is fussing over the conjunction of two words that they found incomprehensible.

I have now lost all interest in reading their work, because 1) it looks like it will put me to sleep, and 2) since I value truth, I have to point out that the third, fourth, and fifth words in the quote above are damnable lies. Lies, I tell you! Lies so perfidious that they’re probably planning to sneak off your screen and bugger your cats behind your back, while telling you that they’re praying to the saints above. Don’t trust them, not one bit. You might want to scroll them away so they don’t cause trouble.