Changing face of Easter Island

Easter Island has been used as a cautionary tale — the inhabitants denuded the island of palm trees while wasting their resources on colossal religious statuary, and then destroyed themselves in an orgy of self-destructive wars. Only there are a few problems with that myth emerging.

It seems that the palm trees were demolished early in the colonization of the island…not by the people, but by rats that had hitchhiked to the island. The people of Rapa Nui adapted and had a stable agricultural system that allowed them to thrive, and what caused their population to collapse was not internal conflict, but external forces.

Throughout the 19th century, South American slave raids took away as much as half of the native population. By 1877, the Rapanui numbered just 111. Introduced disease, destruction of property and enforced migration by European traders further decimated the natives and lead to increased conflict among those remaining. Perhaps this, instead, was the warfare the ethnohistorical accounts refer to and what ultimately stopped the statue carving.

There’s a lesson here, all right. That lesson is that you should trust the hard work of serious anthropologists who do deep, evidence-based research, rather than the self-serving stories spread by colonial empires or the speculations of dilettantes.


Did you know that the human hand might evolve to better use cell phones, according to research? You know, quote-unquote research, that version of inquiry that involves click-baity wild guesswork and misinformed speculation?

The freakish forecast includes a pointed finger to tap the screen with greater precision, gel-like pads for a more secure grip and an indented palm where the device could sit.

The evolutionary changes to the shape of the human hand would not only make it easier to use a smartphone, but also avoid a range of injuries and strains associated with using your mobile phone.

The gruesome concept image came after a study of 1,000 British adults revealed more than a quarter of respondents had injured themselves while using their phone.

The research, conducted by the mobile phone comparison team at, found black eyes from dropping the device while using it in bed was the most common complaint.

Oh, yeah, from the prestigious University of Broadband Choices. That’s plausible.

They also made an x-ray of that hand in Photoshop, in case you doubted the scienceyness of it all.

Hey, Daily Express, next you should do research on how your journalists will evolve. I’m picturing something with an enlarged pelvis, a clawlike hand, and a long, kinked forearm, the better to reach up their asses and pluck out stories.

Humorless goons out to wreck Halloween

They’ve always been around. I remember trick-or-treating as a kid, and there were always those houses where you knew you’d get a Bible tract instead of candy, or worse, a lecture or an attempt to pray with you. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the kind of kid who would TP their trees or egg their windows in retaliation, even though they deserved it.

It’s not surprising that Ken Ham is into the game. He wants us to share Jesus Christ with trick-or-treaters by handing out A Biblical and Historical Look At Halloween by Bodie Hodge, which will cost you only $29.99 for a pack of a hundred. So not only do you get to annoy children with sanctimony, Answers in Genesis gets more shekels for their coffers. Win-win! Except for the kids.

If you’re too cheap for that, you can get 100 Dino-Bucks for only $5.99.

Hey, and you can also leave these as a tip next time you’re at a restaurant! I don’t quite understand the point of this strategem — Ray Comfort does it too — where Christians try to lure you into reading their dogma with fake money. It’s as if they intuit that the rubes they want to appeal to are naturally drawn to wads of cash.

You can also buy the DVD for $9.99, or read the contents of this noise online. What I find amusing is that it complains about cultures that ‘celebrate’ death — how dare they?

Death is a terrible reality for all of us—not something to celebrate or treat as fun. Death is the punishment for sin. Since all of us are sinners (Romans 3:23), we must realize that death is coming.

That’s funny stuff coming from proponents of a death cult. I think they’re most annoyed by people who flip off and mock death, rather than worshipping it.

Someone is wrong in the movie theater!

Did you know that For over 150 years, one convincing lie has prevented billions from knowing the truth? The trailer for this awful movie makes a heck of a lot of bogus assertions and doesn’t present one speck of evidence.

I’ve noticed that Eric Hovind’s one-night stand, Genesis: The Movie is going to be playing at a theater two hours away from me, in St Cloud. It’s on a Monday evening, on 13 November, when I can get away from work early enough to make it, and I’m tempted to go and document how bad it will be.

Your mission: talk me out of it. I get enough from the trailer to see it’s going to be one long irrational Gish gallop built on flimsy premises and bad arguments, so the movie will be a waste of time, but it might be interesting to talk to some of the people in attendance (or even the organizers) to diagnose what’s going on in their heads.

So tell me why that would be a bad idea so I can just stay home and read a good book instead.

I’m already aware of the possibility that I’d show up and get thrown out of the theater. That’s happened before.

“Both sides! Both sides!”

There’s a new movie out, The Pathological Optimist, about Andrew Wakefield. I agree with the adjective, at least.

The blurb for the movie includes a notorious phrase.

THE PATHOLOGICAL OPTIMIST takes no sides, instead letting Wakefield and the battles he fought speak for themselves.

There are questions on which it is fair to give equal attention to both sides. “Is football a better game than baseball?” “Which is better on a pizza, pineapple or jalapenos, or both?” There are some things where the evidence hasn’t settled one way or another, and we should pursue alternatives, but there are others where there is no controversy. “Is the Earth flat?” “Is the earth about 6000 years old?” “Are black people and women as deserving of rights as white men?” If you’re going to address those questions honestly, taking no sides is dishonest and biases the argument in favor of the untenable side.

Orac is having none of that nonsense, and reviews The Pathological Optimist.

The “take no sides” claim sends up huge red flags for me. My retort to this is that, when it comes to pseudoscience, “not taking a side” is taking a side, the side of giving that pseudoscience far more believability and stature than it deserves. It’s also utter nonsense to claim that “letting Wakefield and the battles he fought speak for themselves.” If there’s one misconception about documentaries, it’s that they are (or should be) objective. They’re not. A documentary filmmaker has a story to tell, and that story is very much colored by how she chooses to frame it, what she decides to show (and, equally importantly, not to show), what order scenes are shown in, who is interviewed and who isn’t, and even the music and narration used. Bailey’s film no more “lets Wakefield and the battles he fought” speak for themselves than Wakefield’s VAXXED is an objective portrait of a CDC “conspiracy.” It is how Miranda Bailey chose to tell Wakefield’s story. Indeed, it’s hard not to note that the only people directly interviewed for the film are Andrew Wakefield, his family, and his supporters. All criticism of Wakefield comes in the form of grainy archival footage from TV news interviews, which Wakefield or one of his supporters gets to answer.

Taking no sides is intellectually vacuous and dishonest. The one thing they could to make it worse is to have somewhere in it the odious phrase, “agree to disagree”.

Time to nuke the fault line and split the rift deeper

Thomas Smith wraps up his experience at the Mythcon conference. It wasn’t good. It’s clear that Carl Benjamin is a waste of time, as are his followers. He ends with the suggestion that next year, if they double down and invite yet another group of shitlords, let ’em have a shitlord conference…but if you’re anyone with a drop of social awareness and even a hint of conscience, don’t participate and don’t attend. The only problem with that, unfortunately, is that white supremacy has become a fruitful path to become YouTube-famous, so they’ll still have an audience. They just won’t have prominent mainstream atheists, and they’ll also be lacking all the atheists who support social justice (the only atheists worth listening to). Dig the rift deeper, and cut them loose.

Meanwhile Skepticon is about a month away, and if you want to help out the decent side of atheism, donate to help it happen.

Matt Dillahunty delivers his position on the conference.

So tired of the “freedom” excuse

You’ve heard it before. “They hate us for our freedoms”. It’s a catch-all excuse, where we can simultaneously pat ourselves on the back for being so “free”, whatever that means, and condemn others for not being as “free”. I’ve developed a bad reaction to that: I want to know what you mean by “freedom”. Freedom to exploit people? Freedom to harass? Freedom to eat bacon? Freedom to pray to your gods? There are a lot of freedoms that are worth exercising, and many of those that I’m happy to say can be exercised in my country. There are also things people call freedoms that are truly awful, and those get exercised, too — like the freedom to take advantage of underprivileged people. There’s also a tendency for my fellow Americans to assume that America is the land of the free, and that everyone is equally and completely free, which is not true. They also tend to get angry if you point out the shortcomings of America, in particular that different people have different degrees of liberty.

So my usual reaction is to wonder how the ‘freedom’ cheerleaders define freedom, and whether they seriously think the ideal is to be free of all responsibilities and obligations. It’s usually used vacuously, as a dogma that is not to be questioned.

Which means that I had to facepalm at this complaint about new atheism. That’s fair; there are good reasons to criticize, and an important part of intellectual growth is to address good faith criticisms. I read this, for instance, and didn’t reject it out of hand.

Many new atheists, including Dennett or Dawkins, have been criticised for being too radical. The phrase “militant atheist” is often thrown about. The general worry is that they have little patience or compassion for religious people and the reasons why they choose religion.

I’ve heard that complaint frequently enough that we should pay attention to it and try to deal with it. I wasn’t particularly impressed that this critic then goes on to babble approvingly of Alain de Botton, one of the shallowest, least interesting, wanna-be replacements for Richard Dawkins ever.

But don’t worry! He’s got a suggestion for what the next generation of atheists need to do.

What should we do then? Is there a genuine, not merely superficial alternative to both religion and the “something bigger” new atheists talk about? I suggest that there is a very simple alternative: we should try to avoid forcing a straight-jacket on our ever-changing self – by religious doctrines or by one of these “projects” the new atheists talk about. We should accept and cherish our freedom to change.

For the new atheists, freedom plays a very limited role. You are free to choose what you devote your life to, but once you’ve done that, your life is on a fixed track – no more free decisions. The new atheists’ “projects”, just as religious doctrines, put unreasonably severe constraints on our inner freedom.

The opposite of religion is not the slavish following of “something bigger” as the new atheists suggest. The opposite of religion is freedom.

Baffling. What “projects”? Is this a thing among the new atheists? (I think I’d know.) What “straight jacket” [sic]? Where is this assertion that new atheists aren’t allowed to change and grow, that they’re on a fixed track? This is news to me.

And what is his alternative? Fucking “freedom”. What does that mean? It’s stunning that this platitude comes from a professor of philosophy. Define your terms. What do you mean by the “opposite of religion is freedom”? Religion is slavery? All a slave must do is accept atheism and they are free?

We need good criticisms because we do need to improve our image and our approach. This is not a useful argument. We don’t need hackneyed bromides. Explain what “freedom” means in a social movement.