The secular predator problem

You probably don’t want to hear a summary of the latest descent into chaos of the atheist community, but in case you do, this is a good one with all the receipts to explain David Silverman’s fuck-up.

If I were to give any advice to David, it would be to say that the path to being a good person is often counter to being an influential and powerful person. He wants the latter, but in light of his terrible assumptions and abuses, the only way forward for him is to accept some humility. He’s never going to be the bold, heroic atheist in the eyes of the people again … but then, most of us never were. We cope.

Travis Pangburn, “the Jacob Wohl of the IDW”

That’s the best summary of Travis Pangburn ever. It comes from this exposé of the swarm of sock puppets Pangburn has created on Twitter. Besides a small army of Russian bots, he also created a collection of pseudonyms — Dave Schroeder, Heatseeker, PangburnWarrior, SkeptixSocial, Jig, and JanJan, if not more — who parrot and praise him online (it’s fair, since he turns around and praises their wisdom, too). All of those, except Heatseeker and JanJan, responded to me on Twitter yesterday, as did @ThePangburn, of course. It’s all very amusing.

Then I checked out Pangburn’s “battlefield” site, his online forum where people are supposed to air their provocative ideas and argue over them. Pangburn has a proposition that “Antifa is a multi-group organization”, whatever that means (and don’t expect his incoherent writing to clarify it), and oh look, who is commenting favorably on it?

Pangburn made multiple comments on this thread right here yesterday, insisting that all he wanted was “intellectual honesty”. There is no intellectual honesty in sockpuppetry, Trav. It’s rather pathetic, actually.

In other sad, disappointing news, Travis is trying to resuscitate his career as a lecture/debate promoter. It’s desperate and pitiful.

Pangburn appears to be in the early stages of rehabbing his relationship with the IDW. He just announced promotion of a live NYC debate in March between IDW-adjacent moderate atheist activist Matt Dillahunty and far-right racist homophobic lunatic felon Dinesh D’Souza. Skeptic magazine EIC and IDW stalwart Michael Shermer has also recently talked up Pangburn on Twitter.

All I can say is…what the fuck are you doing, Matt? First enabling the implosion of the ACA, and now reduced to babbling on a stage with demented hate-peddlers?

Pangburn and Shermer can both crawl into a hole and disappear

Travis Pangburn is back, baby. After his efforts as a lecture and debate promoter crashed and burned catastrophically, leaving many members of the Intellectual Dork Web unpaid and furious, he is now trying his hand at doing online IDW promotion. It’s cheaper. It’s safer. It lets him strut. Here’s the about section from his new web site:

Travis Pangburn is the creator of the Pangburn Equation: How humans ought to be. His work revolves around improving humanity by maximizing general well-being through his equation. He believes that artistic & scientific inspiration is imperative in the pursuit of elevating the mind to utopia. The War of Ideas publication will provide more battlegrounds for ideas to be sorted.

Oh god. I want to reach out and slap that pompous clown so bad. It’s bizarre how these people fulminate against SJWs for wanting some minimal standards of morality, yet he has the arrogance to claim that he has an equation to describe how humans ought to be. All righty then. Authoritarians do tend to project.

The site is titled The War of Ideas, and its conceit is that it has a “battlefield” where you can post your controversial ideas and get feedback and argument. It’s nothing but a pretentious online forum, essentially.

It also has a section for articles, where it says Have your favorite intellectuals review your article! The only “intellectual” pictured is…Michael Shermer. Pangburn is apparently trawling the bottom of the barrel to see what kind of sleaze he can hang the title “intellectual” on, and his standards are low.

Currently, there is precisely one article up, by Travis Pangburn, of course. It’s a …strange… bit of pompous fluff titled The Problems With the IDW: The Intellectual Dark Web, in which he explains that he thinks the name is pretty stupid, and then goes through a list of the members of the IDW and declares who is fit to be there and who isn’t. In case you were curious about who the legitimate leaders of the IDW are, just ask Travis.

Here is the list of “leading members” copied from the ‘IDW’ website with my comments:

Eric Weinstein – Not a leader of this movement.
Sam Harris – Sam is one of the leaders of this movement.
Jordan Peterson – Jordan is one of the leaders of this movement.
Maajid Nawaz – Not a leader of this movement.
Dave Rubin – Not a leader of this movement.
Claire Lehmann – Not a leader of this movement.
Ben Shapiro – Not a leader of this movement.
Douglas Murray – Not a leader of this movement.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali – Not a leader of this movement.
Joe Rogan – Joe is one of the leaders of this movement.

Christina Hoff Sommers- Not a leader of this movement.
Bret Weinstein- Not a leader of this movement.
Heather Heying- Not a leader of this movement.
James Damore- Not a leader of this movement.
Michael Shermer – Michael is one of the leaders of this movement.
Debra Soh- Not a leader of this movement.
Jonathan Haidt- Not a leader of this movement.
Glenn Loury- Not a leader of this movement.
John McWorther- Not a leader of this movement.
Coleman Hughes- Not a leader of this movement.

If one is going to claim leadership, they must be able to provide the evidence to support this. For example, there is no evidence that Eric Weinstein (who originally coined the IDW label) is a leader of this conversation enlightenment. He is a powerful thinker and entertaining communicator, but can we honestly say he is a leader of this movement? Why would we say this? Where is the data? No is my answer. However, if we look at Sam Harris, we can provide evidence to satisfy every category when claiming him to be one of the leaders in bridging the conversation gap between ideas. His work on Islam is the most obvious example. Apply this skepticism across this list. Rinse and repeat.

Those aren’t very substantial comments. He could have made it shorter by just putting a smiley or frowney emoji next to the name. But, apparently, the only True Leaders of the IDW are Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, Joe Rogan, and Michael Shermer. I’m sure everyone appreciates Travis Pangburn making the administrative appointments for them, but hoo boy…what a mess of horrible people.

I do like how Pangburn says you have to provide evidence to support your choices of leaders, and then doesn’t provide any … except for Sam Harris. Harris is an obvious choice because of his “work” on Islam, whatever that is. Harris does not speak the language of any Islamic country, has no scholarly credentials in Islamic studies, and is known only for his bigotry and bizarre arguments that we ought to selectively screen for Muslim-looking people at airports, that a little torture is a good idea, and that maybe we might be justified in nuking Mecca if they force us to, maybe. What work on Islam? Is he a Scott Atran or a Juan Cole? I don’t think so.

Pangburn also complains that there is a significant omission in the membership list.

If you need to have a list like this, which I don’t think you do, it must include Richard Dawkins or no one at all. He would probably turn down the invitation (if offered) and giggle while thinking “Join? I am this movement, muthafucka!”

I have never cringed so hard. I wonder if one of his favorite “intellectuals”, Michael Shermer, actually reviewed this article.

There is a small number of people who have enlisted in the “battlefield”, but there isn’t much battling going on. They’re mostly patting each other on the back and telling each other how right they are. I wouldn’t recommend joining — it’s an embarrassing club to be a member of, and further, you never know when Travis is going to write an article ranking the people in his little club.

Yay! Atheism+ is back!

With a vengeance, even.

It should never have gone away.

Oh, wait. This guy is just responding to this other tweet.

It’s just someone pointing out that you should never touch someone without their permission. You know, that consent thing. That obvious expectation of simple consent is all it takes to proclaim the vengeful resurgence of Atheism+? That “Prince of Warmongers” guy is apparently a snowflake who is deeply offended by the fact that David Silverman is in trouble again for merely fondling a woman who innocently attended a party expecting to be respected, and he resents being told that he lives in a world where men are going to have to keep their hands off women’s bodies.

That’s not exactly Atheism+. But OK, if common sense behavior and sensitivity to other people is “Atheism+”, I guess Atheism+ is winning after all.

(see also…)

Who do you worship?

Something curious that I’ve noticed is that, as various atheist organizations implode in scandal and chaos, the percentage of “nones” in the population is steadily rising. Why should we have a rising tide of general secularism as all the charismatic superheroes of atheism are found to have feet of clay? Here’s one answer: the leaders of organized religions are revealing themselves to be blatantly corrupt.

I think that also explains my atheist conundrum. You can be a grifter as a New Atheist leader, too! We all of us, religious and non-religious, are entirely capable of disavowing that selfish asshole who has annointed themselves as Our Leader while still accepting the fundamental metaphysical philosophy underpinning our beliefs. The real split isn’t between atheist and theist, but between freethinkers and dogmatic authoritarians.

Silverman screws up, again

I think I’ve been on this rollercoaster before: David Silverman Suspended Pending Investigation Into Touching Incident.

Silverman was accused by Vitsmun of violating her bodily autonomy by “caressing” her back as she put on her shoes at a party with other like-minded non-believers. She provided screenshots purportedly showing their interactions following the incident.

Yeah, I was following this story as it was emerging on Facebook. It sounds harmless at first — she’s bent over to put on her shoes, he just touches her lower back — but then I thought about it, and realized I would never do that to anyone. Why? Why are you touching her? Especially when you’re on notice already for crossing boundaries? And when I read Vitsmun’s account, it’s clear that she is very sensitive to these kinds of touching issues for good reason, and it stressed her…and it doesn’t matter if you think your behavior was fine, if the other person doesn’t, you did wrong.

Now Silverman is calling Vitsmun “evil” and a “shitty fucking asshole liar”. I think it’s clear who the bad guy is here.

So AAI is suspending him with pay while piously climbing up onto a high horse.

“AAI has very high standards of behavior for its Board of Directors and staff. We fight for human rights around the world and do not tolerate any Board Director or staff member violating anyone’s rights,” the statement says. “We also believe strongly in evidence, reason, and due process. We have today initiated an investigation into this incident and we will make our conclusions known in due course. In the meantime, we have suspended David Silverman on full pay until the investigation is completed.”

Where were these “very high standards of behavior” when they first hired him? That statement is not honest. Since hiring him, AAI has received nothing but shocked dismay and bad press, and they’re slowly realizing that this person might well be a catastrophe for their organization, and that’s why they’re trying to kick him to the curb.

Can I be in Generation Who-Gives-A-Crap?

I really detest the whole business of trying to categorize whole generations as one thing or another. Population cohorts are part of a continuum, and they’re diverse, and sticking artificial boundaries and characters on them has about as much validity as the Chinese Astrology trash you get as a placement at restaurants.

But OK, here’s one attempt to summarize the nonsense.

There sure are a lot of overlaps in that mess. I was born in 1957, which makes me a “baby boomer”, or specifically, a “trailing edge boomer”. I’ve got siblings who are Generation X. My kids are all Millennials, while my grandchildren are, cheerfully, members of the Dying Earth clan. Great. Glad to know who I can invite to parties. I guess I must have a lot in common with all my fellow Boomers who voted for Trump, just because we were born within 20 years of each other.

Clearly, class and race are far less significant in shaping who we are than the calendar.

The police could always use horoscopes, dowsing, and psychics to find culprits

I imagine the police would find a way to use astrology to simplify investigations.

“The victim was murdered on the 19th of November, at 6am, Chief!”

The chief consults a complex chart on the wall. “The killer had to have been a Virgo, with Mercury in the sixth house. That narrows it down! Quick, use the database to round up all the suspects!”

OK, maybe slightly exaggerated, but you’ve got to admit it’s not much of a reach for an institution that still uses handwriting analysis and lie detector tests. Now it’s revealed that they’ve also been using something called Scientific Content Analysis, or SCAN, a totally made up scheme for reading between the letters and lines of interview transcripts to get the interpretation the police want.

How does it work? Well, you need to spend a fair bit of money and get training to really understand it, but basically it’s a set of rules for plucking out quirks in a text and leaping to conclusions.

For Avinoam Sapir, the creator of SCAN, sifting truth from deception is as simple as one, two, three.

1. Give the subject a pen and paper.

2. Ask the subject to write down his/her version of what happened.

3. Analyze the statement and solve the case.

Those steps appear on the website for Sapir’s company, based in Phoenix. “SCAN Unlocks the Mystery!” the homepage says, alongside a logo of a question mark stamped on someone’s brain. The site includes dozens of testimonials with no names attached. “Since January when I first attended your course, everybody I meet just walks up to me and confesses!” one says. Acronyms abound (VIEW: Verbal Inquiry – the Effective Witness; REASON: REport Automated SOlution Notes), as do products for sale. “Coming Soon! SCAN Analysis of the Mueller Report,” the website teased this year. LSI offers guidebooks, software, kits, discount packages, cassette tapes of seminars and, for computer wallpaper, a picture of a KGB interrogation room.

It’s a classic pseudoscientific scam. Identify a population of gullible marks, in this case police departments all across the country. Promise an easy solution to a difficult problem. Require them to learn arcane and irrelevant rules for interpreting data. Get paid. Avinoam Sapir has been raking in the dough for decades with this scam.

One other interesting twist is that he’s marketing only to the police, so the general public is largely unaware of the garbage the police are using to snare putative “criminals”. And it’s working! There are people languishing in jail, convicted of serious crimes, because they used shorthand, abbreviations, and had sloppy handwriting!

He noted that while summarizing the day Hernandez disappeared, Joyner had not used the word “I,” writing, for example, “went home,” not, “I went home.” “That in itself is a signal of deception,” the detective wrote. Instead of writing “my girlfriend,” Joyner had written “a girlfriend.” What’s more, the detective wrote, Joyner’s handwriting was larger and more spread out in the answer’s last two lines than in the previous seven.

When asked why the police should believe his answers, Joyner had written, “I have nothing to hide.”

“This is not the same as stating I did not lie,” the detective wrote.

Well, at least they’re not using craniometry to determine guilt. I don’t think. Maybe there are cops wandering around passing judgment on the shapes of skulls, and we’re just waiting for ProPublica to do an expose.

“What the futz do drag queens have to do with Atheism?”

I got an email from an old-school atheist activist. They asked a hard question. Or is it?

The AA magazine is filled with LGBTQ stuff
Did you get the latest AA magazine?

I was appalled to find that the biggest story in the July- October issue of the AA magazine is about something called “Drag Queen Story Hour.” IT TOOK UP SIX FULL PAGES PLUS THE COVER PHOTO.

What the futz do drag queens have to do with Atheism?

Whoa. What should be in American Atheist magazine? Six full pages of blank white pages and a cover with a title and nothing else? This writer clearly has a vision for the magazine, not that they’ve said what it is, and it doesn’t include drag queens. Why not? I guess we’re suppose to have nothing but articles about separation of church and state issues, legal shenanigans, and opposition to religion, which all sounds very dry and boring.

You can read American Atheist’s concerns about the drag queen story for yourself. The rationale is crystal clear.

Yesterday, American Atheists, Southern Maryland Area Secular Humanists (SMASH), PFLAG National, and PFLAG’s Leonardtown chapter sent a letter to the commission warning that the organizations “are prepared to seek judicial remedies for [the] violation of their rights.”

“At Drag Queen Story Hour, the St. Mary’s Sheriff’s Department arrested and charged a Christian extremist with five misdemeanors after he barged into the meeting room, terrorizing young attendees,” explained Samantha McGuire, SMASH Chapter Coordinator and National Field Director of American Atheists. “This anti-LGBTQ protester broke the law, yet St. Mary’s County Commission is blaming the victims, forcing the library to foot the bill to protect children from out-of-control fundamentalists.”

A Christian fanatic tried to disrupt the event, and Christian fundamentalist organizations are howling to shut down the participation of drag queens in any event, “for the good of the children”. I’m sorry, but are we only supposed to defend people from religious oppression when they are cis het straight people who conform to social expectations of dress? It sure sounds like my correspondent only wants to support atheists who fit their expectations of conventional behavior…which is exactly what the religious zealots want. It’s just that their ideal of conventional behavior includes going to church every Sunday.

It wasn’t just a lone loon disrupting an event, either. The county commissioners punished the library by taking funding away. AA has a few things to say about that, too.

“By kowtowing to Christian supremacists, the Commission is sending the message that bigoted protesters should use any means necessary, including threatening innocent children and committing multiple crimes, to get what they want,” said Nick Fish, American Atheists’ president.

I mean, you don’t need to read very far into this story to figure out why an atheist organization would take sides against Christian supremacy in action. Is this not enough for you?

My vision of atheism has always been that it is a tool for battling dogmatism, that it’s something more than a narrow answer, “NO”, to the question of the existence of gods. It is a vehicle for opening minds and defeating the constrictions imposed on us by authoritarian superstition. It’s not just for nerdy old white guys with conservative haircuts and a boring style of dress. We’ve already got the social approval and the ability to move into positions of relative authority.

We should be about anti-authoritarian secularism and breaking the bounds of unthinking custom. Just being an atheist is freeing one foot from the shackles, we should celebrate the people who break free of all pointless restraints.

Drag queens have everything to do with atheism. So do purple-haired ace furries, free-thinking hippies who like to knit, and staid old gomers who are comfortable in traditional relationships. All of us. We all need defending from the rigid authoritarianism of religious orthodoxy, and my atheism is not going to question inclusion and equality.

Evolutionary Psychology gets another whack

Matt Lubchansky

Oh, boy, this will set some asses on fire. Dr Subrena Smith argues that Evolutionary Psychology is built on failed premises (I’ve been saying the same thing for years), but she goes deeply into the contradictions in the field. None of their prior claims are valid, and they don’t fit with what we do know about evolution and the brain!

In this article I argue that evolutionary psychological strategies for making inferences about present-day human psychology are methodologically unsound. Evolutionary psychology is committed to the view that the mind has an architecture that has been conserved since the Pleistocene, and that our psychology can be fruitfully understood in terms of the original, fitness-enhancing functions of these conserved psychological mechanisms. But for evolutionary psychological explanations to succeed, practitioners must be able to show that contemporary cognitive mechanisms correspond to those that were selected for in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness, that these present-day cognitive mechanisms are descended from the corresponding ancestral mechanisms, and that they have retained the functions of the ancestral mechanisms from which they are descended. I refer to the problem of demonstrating that these conditions obtain as “the matching problem,” argue that evolutionary psychology does not have the resources to address it, and conclude that evolutionary psychology, as it is currently understood, is therefore impossible.

I also appreciate this bit. One of the common insults that Evolutionary Psychologists deploy is that their critics believe that humans only evolved below the neck, which is nonsense. One can accept that the brain is an evolved organ without believing in the narrow, specific, and oddly improbable premises demanded by Evolutionary Psychologists.

These methodological problems prompt the question, “Is evolutionary psychology possible?” It is important to distinguish evolutionary psychological explanations of human behavior from evolutionary explanations of human behavior simpliciter. This is particularly important given that evolutionary psychologists often claim that those who reject evolutionary psychology but accept evolutionary theory are committed to a contradiction. However, evolutionary theory does not entail nativism or massive modularity. One might reject the theoretical apparatus proposed by evolutionary psychologists while still embracing an evolutionary account of the human mind.

Not that any of this will have any effect on EP at all — that’s a field that relies more on an emotional belief that they can study the past entirely by imposing their desired conclusions on weak data. Smith, on the other hand, has a strong understanding of logic and recognizes where these Evolutionary Psychologists have made a huge leap beyond what the data entails.