Sociology is hard

I’m constantly spammed by the Weatherspoon Institute, one of those right-wing think tanks that is, as part of its mission, adamantly opposed to homosexuality, marriage equality, etc., and they’re notorious for having funded and guided the infamous Regnerus study that claimed that children raised by gay parents were at greater risk for all kinds of social ills.

It’s not my favorite organization. I didn’t personally subscribe to their newsletter, it’s just one of many that people who don’t like me sign me up for, thinking I’ll be horrified and offended by it, when actually I find it interestingly bad and sometimes browse to find weird stuff. Message to people who do that kind of thing: it doesn’t work. Would you believe that seeing the hate some people have for gay and lesbian people makes me sympathize with the homosexual population more?

Anyway, a recent newsletter highlighted this article, Why are so many lesbians getting pregnant?. I thought that was actually an interesting question. I’d like to know! It was also an interesting read because so much of it was discombobulating — that author would make some statement, I’d actually agree with it (or not), but then he’d make some mental leap in interpreting it that left me baffled. Like this claim at the very beginning:

One’s sexual orientation is supposed to be locked in and unchangeable, like sex, race, or ethnicity.

It is? Who says? Keep in mind this article is talking about teenagers and sex; I suspect sexual orientation has a fair bit of flexibility, at least if you’re not brought up in a family or peer group that imposes severe costs on deviation from expected behaviors. I can believe that there are distinct biases in individual preferences from an early age, but that they’re also shaped by experience. Witherspoonians seem to be trying to argue that their critics are complete gender absolutists, while they are open-minded about the fluidity of sexual response, probably because they’re the kind of people who want to promote a “gay cure”. I think. There are many hidden premises in this article that I don’t share.

Then the very next sentence confuses me.

But high pregnancy rates among lesbians confound that narrative.

Why does it confuse the narrative? Does the author think sexual orientation and pregnancy are in lockstep? That lesbians should be incapable of pregnancy? That pregnancy is always a matter of choice and preference? So many assumptions implied by that little sentence.

But then he’s going to deploy logic. Too often this is a dangerous sign, as it proves to be in this case, that the author doesn’t understand logic, except to know it’s a good thing.

It makes for an illogical syllogism.

Premise A: Lesbians are sexually attracted to women only.

Premise B: Women cannot impregnate women.

Conclusion: Lesbians have higher pregnancy rates than non-lesbian women.

It’s contrary to all reason, but it’s true. Lesbians have significantly higher pregnancy rates than their heterosexual peers.

Hang on there, guy. You’ve somehow linked “sexual attraction” and “pregnancy rates” as if one is a logical consequence of the other. You know they obviously aren’t, right?

This smacks of the common argument that evolution implies that homosexuality cannot exist, because gay people would be unable to breed or spread their gay genes, except that it’s in reverse. It’s got the same logical flaw, though, the assumption that sexual orientation, a product of the brain, is inflexibly linked to biological reproduction, a product of the gonads.

The logic is also flawed by sloppy definitions all around. What is a “lesbian”? Is it any woman who prefers the company of other women? A woman who only ever has sex with other women? Does a lesbian who is raped immediately stop being a lesbian? And how about defining “woman”? He seems to think of women as a pair of functioning ovaries, but again with the disconnect between gonads and brains — what about women who have functioning testes?

(We will pause for a moment to give those, even those of a liberal bent, who seem to be incapable of dissociating minds from genitalia, time to wipe up the saliva they just spluttered all over their computers.)

Are you back now? OK. Another thing about that syllogism — we can rework it in lots of different ways. Another interpretation might be that teenage women who get pregnant develop an aversion to men that makes lesbianism a much more appealing label. Or that this should be a discussion about unwanted pregnancies, rather than sexual orientation, and it’s mangling causally unrelated issues to routinely associate desire with reproduction.

I’m trying to puzzle out what point the author is trying to make, though. There are interesting observations in here, but they seem to avoid testing alternative interpretations.

Multiple studies with samples drawn from various nations find that sexual-minority youth aged fourteen to nineteen have pregnancy rates two to seven times greater than their heterosexual peers. Their pregnancy rates continue to rise, even though the overall teen pregnancy rate is declining in the United States.

So I actually read the paper cited to support the “two to seven times” data. Seems kosher. But the important point is glossed over by our Witherspoonian.

Over half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended – that is, they are mistimed (occurring earlier than the woman wanted) or unwanted (not wanted at any time). In addition to derailing life plans, these pregnancies are commonly linked to a variety of negative health and well-being indicators for women and their children, including lower levels of prenatal care and breastfeeding; and higher levels of premature delivery, low birth weight, child abuse, intimate partner violence, and maternal depression and anxiety (accounting for background characteristics).

Over half of all pregnancies are unintended or unwanted — that is for all women of all ages. It’s almost certainly much higher for teen pregnancies. This sounds like the basis for arguing for a greater expansion of abortion rights and sex education than it is for some peculiar conservative reaction against homosexuality. It also makes a complete hash of those fallacious arguments that certain sexual behaviors are “natural” or “right” for human beings — a heck of a lot of heterosexual behaviors seem to be undesirable and unpleasant for at least one of the people involved.

But wait until you see his conclusion.

Lesbianism and gayness are more different than they are similar in very fundamental ways. The gay male is more likely to stay in one lane for life, even while his sexual desire is generally more aggressive and he seeks greater diversity in partners than do women. However, judging by the pregnancy-risk data, younger men who identify as homosexual appear to be much more fluid in their actions than has been previously assumed. Does this mean that male same-sex attraction is more developmental than it is fixed? We don’t know.

But it’s a question worth researching. This has important policy implications for today. When we establish certain rights and accessibilities based on one’s sexual orientation and identity—and thus the punishment and severe public shaming of those who violate them—we are operating on ground that is more subjective than many would like us to believe.

I say hold on to your horses for that first paragraph: it assumes considerable uniformity in how gays and lesbians behave, erases a lot of individual preferences, and ignores the contributions of a culture that generally condemns all homosexual behavior. Those aren’t necessarily human universals, but rather a consequence of complex interactions between society and psychology.

But then that last bit that I highlighted — I agree 100%! We should not restrict rights to individuals on the basis of sexual identity. Gay and lesbian couples should have all of the same rights and privileges as heterosexual couples, without question.

But here is where I get hopelessly confused. The author of that commendable statement is Glenn Stanton, who works for…Focus on the Family Patriarchy. GLAAD has a page of quotes from Stanton. He opposes same sex marriage because it not only redefines marriage wholesale for everyone, but it actually deconstructs humanity itself. I don’t know how he reconciles that with his view above that using sexual orientation to establish rights is inherently subjective.

But even worse, he said “it was shameful, manipulative, and not good parenting for two dads to allow their daughter to make a video defending her family”. So non-traditional families don’t even have the right to defend their choices?

And of course he’s a fundamentalist/evangelical Christian.

All sexual sin is wrong because it fails to mirror the Trinitarian image, but homosexuality does more than fail. It’s a particularly evil lie of Satan because he knows that it overthrows the very image of the Trinitarian God in creation, revealed in the union of male and female.

I now have the feeling that I’m missing some secret coded message in that admirable final sentence from his article, because it doesn’t jibe at all with his ideological stance elsewhere, the position of his organization, or the typical sectarian views of his Christian cult.

I’m confused so much now, because I’m a biologist and this sociology/psychology stuff is so dang complicated and messy and hard. But at least one thing I got out of it was one useful datum I can bring up when people make that stupid “homosexuality can’t evolve” argument.

What’s a self-righteous moralizer to do?

Bill Cosby is out, and of course he has a plan for his life: to lecture young men on how to avoid getting caught.

Bill Cosby will organize a series of town hall meetings to help educate young people about problems their misbehavior could create, a spokesman for Cosby said Thursday.
Cosby is eager to get back to work following a deadlocked jury and mistrial in his sexual assault trial, spokesman Andrew Wyatt told Birmingham, Alabama, TV station WBRC.

“We’ll talk to young people. Because this is bigger than Bill Cosby. You know, this, this issue can affect any young person, especially young athletes of today,” Wyatt said. “And they need to know what they’re facing when they’re hanging out and partying, when they’re doing certain things they shouldn’t be doing.

This is exactly what the rapist has been doing for years.

Lecturing isn’t new for Cosby. In recent years, the comedian and actor became known for scolding fellow African-Americans for poor grammar, sloppy dress and not valuing education, critiques that drew fire from some as elitist.

He’s just going to add one more item to his repertoire: how to use a date-rape drug with sophistication.

How not to be a panel moderator

I’ve seen this happen so often, and not just to women. You’re on a panel; it’s not a debate, but an opportunity for a group of people who supposedly respect each other to discuss a topic. Then there’s one guy (and in my experience, it’s always a guy) who’s practically vibrating with enthusiasm and is eager to interrupt at any point with his point. He may not even disagree with other panelists — he’s just absolutely certain that he can explain everything better than everyone else. A prime example of this occurred at the World Science Festival. Here’s the perspective of one attendee.

So, after thinking about this over night, I’ve decided to share something that happened at the WORLD SCIENCE FESTIVAL yesterday afternoon in NYC that changed me. Or rather made me step into who I am in a larger way.
As some on my feed have seen, I was live-feeding the beginning of the panel discussion on FB. That panel was made up of some of the greatest and most famous minds in the world in Inflationary Cosmology, String Theory, Cosmology and Physics based Philosophy. The panel was made up of 5 men and 1 woman. And the moderator was a science writer and journalist for The New Yorker.
In the first hour of the panel discussion you can see clearly, if watching the video, that Veronika Hubeny, the only woman on the panel is barely given any opportunity to speak. And the Moderator, Jim Holt even acknowledges this.
In the last 20-30 minutes of the 90 minute discussion Jim Holt finally pushes the conversation to Hubeny’s field of expertise, string theory, and this is what ensued:
He asked her to describe her two theories of string theory that seem to contradict one another.
And THEN, without letting her answer, proceeded to answer for her and describe HER theories in detail without letting her speak for herself.
We could clearly see that she was trying to speak up. But he continued to talk over her and dominate the space for several minutes.
I should say that this panel was taking place in a large auditorium as it is an extremely high-profile and always sold-out event. And the panel discussion was being live-streamed across the world and they say that millions of people watch these videos after they are made public. (Which they already are).
So at this point, after seeing very clearly that she was not going to be given space to speak and in fact having her own theories described to the audience by the moderator, I am in full outrage. My body is actually beginning to shake. The sexism is beyond blatant. It is happening on stage and NO ONE, not a single other physicist or panelist is stepping in to say anything about it. And I can hear other audience members around me, both men and women becoming more and more agitated with what is happening. Jim Holt, even at one point, asks Veronica a question and she laughs because he has been answering his own questions about her work…and he makes fun of her for ‘giggling’.
So at some point while he is Still talking about Her theories, I just can’t handle it any longer.
With my hands shaking,
I finally say from my seat in the 2nd row of the audience, as clearly, directly and loudly as possible;
“Let. Her. Speak. Please!”
The moderator stops.
They all stop.
The auditorium drops into silence.
You could hear a pin drop.
And then the audience explodes with applause and screams.
Jim Holt eventually sat back, only after saying I was heckling him
And he let her speak.
And of course, she was brilliant.
So, the panel discussion ends.
My hands are still shaking. I’m still upset by the incredible sexism that has been demonstrated this afternoon. But I also realize that I just spoke up in an auditorium full of people that are listening to people that are considered gods in the international science world. I was just overwhelmed by it all
We get up to leave.
And then it happens.
Person after person come up to me. Both men and women.
The first woman, right behind me, reaches over and embraces me and says, “Oh my god. what you said was the most important thing that was said all day. Thank you. Thank you.”
And then people start filing out of their aisles and wind their way over to me:
“Was that you? Thank you so much for speaking up. Thank you.”
“Was that you? Oh god, what he was doing was horrific. Thank you. I wanted to do something but didn’t know how”
“Was that you? I wish I had the courage to say something, thank you! Thank you so much”
“Was that you? You said what everyone here was thinking. Look I had even been writing in my notebook what you eventually said (shows me his notebook with ‘let her speak’ written over and over.) But you said it. You said it. Thank you.”
“Was that you? Thank you! I felt so powerless to do anything.”
And on.
So we were all thinking this.
So I walked out. And my friend who was sitting about 8 rows behind me, came up to me with a huge grin and said
“That was you, wasn’t it? Of course it was. YES!!!!! I will be telling this story for years.”
And the whole time, my hands are still shaking. And I’m felling light-headed. And I just want to scream out into the lobby “WHY IS THIS SEXISM STILL HAPPENING? WHY, does someone like me, with No status in that room, have to be so extraordinarily bold and speak up? And why was it so frightening to do so?”
And I’m thinking. “God, please god let this be an opening for those that were here today and the tens of thousands that watched the live-streaming of the panel yesterday and the hundreds of thousands that will watch the video this year- to speak up when we see this happening. And please let me not be afraid to do this again
…and again
…and again”
Because it was scary.
Please keep giving me courage.

I’m going to be on a bunch of panels at Convergence next month. I’ve done this many times before. When I’m on these panels, I tend to be very conscious of time and opportunity — I’m mentally measuring everyone’s contribution, to both make sure I get my turn with my very important opinion, and also to make sure I’m not dominating the conversation. It’s OK to say your piece and then sit back and listen.

The problem is particularly severe when you’ve got a chatty moderator who does his job of setting up a question and giving each panelist their moment to shine, but then can’t shut up and insists on explaining his perspective and interpretation of everything. Moderators should be there to smooth the flow of discussion among the panelists; they are not King Hot Stuff of the subject. Learn this: if you’re the designated moderator, it’s because you’ve been asked to serve the panel, not because you are the greatest expert who deserves the most time.

Moderators are not the show. They’re the guy who shines the spotlight on the people who are the show.

Hey! Wonder Woman was all right!

For a comic book movie, anyway. There were inconsistencies that bugged me, but didn’t detract from the main story. Like, where is this mysterious island of the Amazons? We know that the good guy got there by stealing a Fokker E.III from the Germans in Turkey and flying out to sea, which puts it somewhere within about 100 miles of the Turkish coast in either the Mediterranean or Black Sea. But then they leave the island by sailboat, and after an overnight trip, are sailing up the Thames to London. Just magic, I guess.

It was also extraordinarily annoying that a major plot issue requires that Wonder Woman’s mother had, for mysterious reasons, refused to tell her important facts about her history that would have come in awfully handy in the climactic battle — instead, she gets them from the villain’s monologing.

Dr Maru, one of the bad guys, is seriously underserved. She’s terribly scarred, but there’s no explanation why she is making horrible poison gases. Her ending is unresolved; Wonder Woman refuses to drop a tank on her (again, mysterious reasons), and we don’t know what happened to her after that. Wonder Woman II?

The story is framed by scenes of Diana Prince working in a museum (?) in modern times, archiving an old WWI photo. That leaves an awful lot of story to be filled in, all of 1918-2017 (she looks awfully good for a centenarian), which promises opportunities for many interesting period pieces. Unfortunately, just before the movie started, we got to see the preview for the Justice League movie, which looks terrible, another dark, murky, grim ensemble story where it rains constantly and everyone is bashing bad guys at night. Please don’t chain the Wonder Woman story to that awful Snyderish mess!

I could go on, but I’ll leave it at that. There were things that annoyed me, but you can see that they were mostly peripheral to the story. Which is, basically, that Wonder Woman is a badass social justice warrior who hears about this big war in which millions of civilians are dying, and she decides she needs to leave her idyllic island paradise and end the war, which she thinks she can do, because her head is full of this mythic nonsense that leads her to believe that all she has to do is kill one Big Bad, and everyone will lay down their weapons (see maternally willful ignorance, above). She is instead going to learn that humans are miserably complicated, both good and evil, and that killing the monster she thinks is the sole source of evil isn’t going to solve every problem.

There is also much heroic charging of machine gun nests, batting away artillery shells with her shield, stabbing of German soldiers with pointy god-killer sword, crushing of snipers by hitting towers so hard they explode (hey, she’s pretty devastatingly brutal at points, so why the hesitation to smoosh Dr Maru? Probably because she has no problem slaughtering faceless mobs of men (misandry!) but sees a toxic mass-murdering damaged woman as deserving a little sympathy), and essentially turns combat into ballet with tracer fire and explosions.

So that was fun.

Undermining the comic book movie trope that beating the one big bad guy will solve all of the conflicts was also nice to see. There’s potential here for a series that contains some moral complexity, spiced up with explosions.

And, of course, the real treat was to see a woman acting heroically, with the men in this story scampering along behind, dazzled by her confidence and strength. That’s a stock role for a comic book story, but usually it’s filled by a heroic manly man.

Turns out a woman can be a hero, and do the job well. But you knew that all along.

Gentlemen, this will be your last day on Earth

The plans have been leaked. We now know what will happen at the woman-only screenings of Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot is going to turn to the audience, and…

“Man’s time is over,” she said. “They have done all that they will do, all they are capable of doing.” And then she grabbed Chris Pine by the hair and slit his throat with a big double-edged axe that we’re pretty sure was not in the comics but that’s Hollywood for you.

“This is the labrys,” she told the audience as Chris Pine sputtered and choked on his own blood. “A symbol of woman’s power. It cuts away that which is false. It is a problem and a solution. Look under your seats.”

Each woman pulled a similar double-edged axe from under her seat. We do not know where they came from. We did not put them there. The Alamo Drafthouse did not arm the first Amazon Death Squad. We want to make that perfectly clear.

I’m hoping my wife likes me enough to keep me around to do the cooking and cleaning, but if she doesn’t, I have to look at the current occupant of the White House and agree, we fucked up badly.

Ha ha! Another entire academic discipline torpedoed by a bogus hoax paper! Or, How Lesbians Evolved.

I guess everyone is going to be doing this now. In this case, it’s a ridiculous paper accepted for publication in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, and it’s a doozy. It’s about evolution, it says.

In the introduction, it throws around some buzzwords and tries to impress us with elementary scientism.

New alleles can arise from mutations. An allele’s influence on a trait is likely to have both negative (c) and positive (b) fitness effects; thus, the allele will increase in frequency if the balance of positive minus negative fitness contribution (b – c) i.e., the net fitness effect (f), is higher that the respective balance of the original gene, and it will decrease in frequency if the balance is negative. Please note that we refer here to the case averaged across all bearers of the allele, so that an allele will be favored even if it has a net negative effect on the fitness of some individuals as long as it has a net positive effect on the fitness of other bearers of the allele.

The joke’s on you if you read this assuming the paper is about genetics, though. Nowhere in this work do the authors identify any genes or alleles; they don’t even try. They just assume that if a behavior exists, there must be a gene for it, and further, it must have undergone positive selection. They’re also not going to test for fitness of a behavior; in fact, they’re not even going to examine any behaviors directly, but are instead going to rely entirely on self-reported assessments in an online survey of college students.

You’ve probably figured out by new that the discipline in question is evolutionary psychology. Just to titillate you further, it’s arguing for a selective advantage for same-sex behavior.

At first sight, alleles that arise through mutation and predispose for same-sex attraction appear to experience a substantial negative fitness, since they lead individuals to divert part or the whole of their mating effort toward same-sex outlets from which children, who would carry these alleles, cannot be borne. Accordingly, in order to understand the prevalence of same-sex attraction in the population, scholars have argued that these alleles also experience positive fitness effects, which compensate for the negative fitness effects, turning the net fitness (f) positive. There is, however, a different possibility.

Oh, boy. How could a sexual behavior persist that diverts mating efforts in a direction that does not produce children? It’s a mystery.

I can’t wait until the authors learn that heterosexual couples indulge in cunnilingus and fellatio. Their minds will be, umm, blown.

But wait! There’s more hilarity! This is a paper about “The evolution of female same-sex attraction”. Where did lesbians come from, they wonder. What a conundrum! Why would women prefer each other’s company, rather than a man’s? Lesbians can’t put a baby in their tummy! They resolve this problem easily, by suggesting that men provided the selection pressure to favor lesbian genes. It’s all about the cucks.

Men with multiple wives, as opposed to men with one wife, face an elevated probability to be cuckolded, because they have to divide their sexual effort toward several wives so, inevitably, some of their wives will remain unsatisfied. They also have to divide their mate-guarding effort between multiple wives, which makes such effort less effective. If their wives experience same-sex attraction, they can satisfy their urges with other co-wives, who are readily available, reducing, in effect, the risk of cuckoldry (see also Kanazawa, 2016).

Note the Kanazawa reference — another in-joke. This paper is hilarious. There’s also another reason lesbianism is evolutionarily advantageous.

In our proposed theoretical framework, men can benefit from the same-sex attractions of their partners through gaining access to additional women.

That’s right, guys: you should date lesbians because then you’ll get to have sex with their lesbian girlfriends. Yeah, that’s exactly how it would work.

Now you might argue that the fact that this hypothesis is counter-intuitive and is built on a framework of not understanding basic evolutionary theory does not necessarily make it wrong, but maybe they’ve got some kind of empirical evidence that cleverly illustrates the existence of this lesbianism gene, and that men are actively selecting for it.

They don’t.

The ‘experiment’ is basically, “let’s ask guys if they’d mind if their wife had sex with another woman.” I’m not kidding. That’s the experiment. It’s also done with an online survey, because they could get more honest answers in this way.

Here are the results. It shows that a minority of Western men (Greek Cypriots) like the idea of girl-on-girl sex, but that they like it more than women like the idea of boy-on-boy sex. Apparently yaoi isn’t very popular on Cyprus…but shouldn’t the cultural variations clue them in that this is probably not a genetically determined behavior?

To be fair, they do consider that there might be cultural effects, but all they can think of is one factor, religion, and they only argue that it would repress honest expression of the participants’ views.

Last but not least, the observed effects are unlikely to reflect only evolved dispositions, and social and cultural effects may also be at play. For instance, male preferences for same-sex attraction in a partner may be moderated by religious beliefs. Participants in the sample were Greek-Orthodox Christians, and in the Cristian religion same-same attraction is considered reprehensible. Accordingly, male participants may have perceived their preferences for same-sex attraction to be inconsistent with their religious beliefs, and if they were very religious, to have suppressed or have been unwilling to report such desires. The present study did not control for this possibility, and future research can do so by measuring participants’ religiosity.

The possibility of a few cultural biases do not, however, make them question their basic assumption that lesbian preferences have nothing to do with women’s choices, but are entirely a consequence of males selecting for women who do not like sex with them, and would prefer sex with people who do not have a penis. Apparently, lesbians only exist to provide girl-on-girl porn on the internet, and their own desires have nothing to do with it. Or rather, they only have those desires because men have bred them for possession of a hypothetical lesbian allele.

In conclusion, the present study found that a large proportion of heterosexual men considered same-sex attraction in a partner desirable. These findings suggest positive selection on same-sex attraction in women: Men’s desire for women who are attracted to other women selects for women who are attracted to other women. In turn, male desires, along with factors such as arranged marriage, which weakened the negative fitness costs of same-sex attraction, can explain the relatively high frequency of this trait in the population. Future research needs to replicate and extend these findings in order to better understand the evolutionary origins of same-sex attraction.

Or maybe the authors need to go back to school and learn how evolution works.

This paper was so ridiculously bad, though, I’m sure the authors are going to come out with a confession, maybe in the pages of Skeptic magazine, that it was all a set-up to show how absurd the entire field of evolutionary psychology is (I checked; there isn’t a single evolutionary psychology journal in the top 100 of the SCIMago rankings, therefore the field is entirely made of low-quality papers).

Any moment now they’re going to pop up and say, “Just foolin’!”

Yep, any moment now.

Aaanyy moment.

Apostolou M, Shialos M, Khalil M, Paschali V (2017) The evolution of female same-sex attraction: The male choice hypothesis. Personality and Individual Differences 116:372–378.

Calling them transphobic is exactly like dropping a nuclear bomb on them!

I think I know what a metaphor is. It’s where you use a word or phrase that is symbolic of a situation, but isn’t literally a description. It is a comparison of one thing with another thing. You can use a metaphor to relate something abstract or unfamiliar to a concept a person is more comfortable with; hence the too-frequent comparison of the genome to a blueprint. From that example, you can see that a metaphor isn’t necessarily true, and can be misleading.

Another use of the metaphor is for exaggeration. For instance, if a student failed my genetics class, they could make the excuse “The prof was slaughtering students left and right! It was a Holocaust in there!” Perhaps it would be used for comic effect, but even at that, it’s dangerous: the student has both exaggerated the consequences of the course, and has seriously minimized the outcomes of the actual Holocaust. I trust most of you would be conscious of error in making that comparison. The result would not be to think the student is amusing, or to think that I was actually a brutal, unfeeling teacher, but to think that the student was a privileged young asshole. (None of my students have ever said such a thing — this is a purely hypothetical example.)

So what are we to think of the phrase “witch hunt”? There were real witch hunts, although there have never been any people with Satanic powers. As many as a hundred thousand innocent people in early modern Europe and America were falsely accused, tortured, and murdered in horrific ways. People still get accused of witchcraft, the Bible is still used to justify killing people for consorting with the Devil (who does not exist), and there are still benighted parts of the world where people are brutalized and killed for an imaginary crime. Every time you use the phrase “witch hunt” to describe an activity that has no chance of a victim ending up hanged or on fire, you’re diminishing the horror and desensitizing people to an openly evil history and an ongoing crime.

Yet for some reason it has become the first resort in any argument about merely academic dissent. Here’s a fantastic example: an academic wrote an article comparing “transracialism” to “transgenderism”. This is a bad, misleading metaphor, rather like comparing DNA to a blueprint, and people objected. I think it’s fair that sloppy scholarship ought to be vigorously criticized. So a letter was written.

While it is not the aim of this letter to provide an exhaustive list of problems that this article exhibits or to provide a critical response, we would like to note a few points that are indicative of the larger issues. We believe that this article falls short of scholarly standards in various areas:

1. It uses vocabulary and frameworks not recognized, accepted, or adopted by the conventions of the relevant subfields; for example, the author uses the language of “transgenderism” and engages in deadnaming a trans woman;

2. It mischaracterizes various theories and practices relating to religious identity and conversion; for example, the author gives an off-hand example about conversion to Judaism;

3. It misrepresents leading accounts of belonging to a racial group; for example, the author incorrectly cites Charles Mills as a defender of voluntary racial identification;

4. It fails to seek out and sufficiently engage with scholarly work by those who are most vulnerable to the intersection of racial and gender oppressions (women of color) in its discussion of “transracialism”. We endorse Hypatia’s stated commitment to “actively reflect and engage the diversity within feminism, the diverse experiences and situations of women, and the diverse forms that gender takes around the globe,” and we find that this submission was published without being held to that commitment.

Savage! Vicious! In an academic way, anyway. It never quite rises to the level of suggesting the rack, thumbscrews, or drawing and quartering, though. And yet, in an article titled This Is What a Modern-Day Witch Hunt Looks Like, it’s bluntly stated that…

This is a witch hunt.



It sort of takes one’s breath away. I guess you can call me Matthew Hopkins, the Witch-finder General, since I sometimes write strongly worded, angry criticisms of bad politics and stupid science, which is now apparently completely equivalent to the torture-murder of innocent women. We’re supposed to completely ignore the fact that poor scholarship of the sort being criticized actually does real harm to people, people who are often already marginalized and oppressed.

At least there’s one funny bit here. These same people who like to fling about the phrase “witch hunter” with indiscriminate abandon, and casually minimize the suffering of accused “witches”, are sensitive to another word: go ahead, call them “transphobic” and watch them squawk. How dare you insult them?

Our American madness

While our congress pats itself on its fanatical dedication to gutting health care, women are dying. This is a chart of maternal mortality in pregnancy per 100,000 live births.

Our health care system, among many other things, is broken. It is not the will of God or manifest destiny or any kind of positive American exceptionalism, because as the chart clearly shows, other countries do not have this problem to the same degree we have, and while they’re working to improve public health, we’re doing our damnedest to worsen it.

Thanks, regressive Republican vermin. You’re all traitors to humanity as well as to your country.

Creepy guys

It must be frustrating for some guys that their personal sexbots occasionally exercise autonomy and annoying tendency to wander outside the range of their remote control. Here’s an example of a fellow trying to regain control of a wandering toy by sending repeated commands, to no avail.

Oh, yeah, setting traps for the drone is a brilliant, tech-savvy move.

Oh, this wasn’t a flaky machine? It was a human being? Jebus, people, don’t be like that guy. What the fuck is wrong with people who are that controlling?

It could be worse. The guy could have the backing of the Justice Department in his power plays, like this Scott Nickerson sleazebag.