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?

Imagine how much the spiders hate it

I have to go pick up a colleague who is returning from a talk in California.

It’s -27°C outside. There may be a bit of transition shock.

Gosh, I sure hope the shuttle van has working heaters. I had to make that trip one time with no heat at all in the vehicle, on one of the coldest days of the year, and it was not pleasant.

On the optimistic side of things, this probably will not be the coldest day of the year here.

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.

How to make your professor cry

This is the last week of the semester, and I have been buried in grading, nonstop. Term papers were due this week, lab reports, a quiz, etc., and they all have to be done by Thursday to clear the decks for finals next week. That doesn’t make me cry; it’s in the syllabus. This final surge of work for me was planned.

Here’s what kills me.

One third of the cell biology lab grade comes from a big final lab report, describing an independent project they’ve been working on for the past month. I spelled out for them that 75% of the grade on that report is based entirely on reproducing the structure of a formal scientific paper. You know the drill: an introduction that explains why you’re doing the experiment; a methods section that describes how you did the experiment; a results section that describes what you observed; a discussion that interprets your result; and a few other little things, like an abstract and proper citations, etc. I told them that 75 points come literally from just following the form, before I would even dig into the content of their work. (This is a sophomore class, with students who may not have even read a scientific paper, let alone written one, before this year, and simply mastering the structure of the scientific literature is a goal.)

I’ve gone over all this in class. I’ve given them a big ol’ handout I wrote, titled “How to write a scientific paper”, that spells out that structure. I gave them a talk on the subject.

One of the things I told them is that a paper is a text narrative with a formal structure, and every section of the paper is a tightly focused short essay, with rules. Your intro references prior literature in the field, here’s how to write a citation. Your methods are detailed enough that another student could replicate what you did in the lab. The results section includes your data, which may be in the form of tables, graphs, and illustrations, but it also must be a text narrative that summarizes that data and references any figures you use.

I emphasize that bit. I tell them that every year, some students will turn in a lab report that has a results section that is just a jumble of figures after the word “Results”, and that without an in-text reference those figures don’t exist as far as I’m concerned, and without any kind of narrative, they have basically turned in a major section of the paper as a blank, and they get zero points.

There is a section of my write-up on how to write a paper that specifies common problems. This is the very first one.

Missing results. I say it over and over again, but still students turn in a results section that is a jumble of figures and tables and contains no coherent narrative. Write a story about the results! Tell me what you saw, don’t make me try to extract it from a pile of data.

I pound the white board. I tell them “DON’T DO THIS”.

They turn in their lab reports. Most are fine. But again, there’s a group that turn in an empty results section, just a hodge-podge of disconnected charts.

I weep.


I give them so many opportunities. The week before it’s due, I set aside every day from 9-1 for office hours; I tell them, “Please stop by with your rough draft, I’m happy to look it over.” Some do. I caught one report with the cursed empty results section last week, and I was overjoyed to explain to them what they needed to do to fix it, and they did! Their lab report this week was lovely. Lots don’t. I spent many lonely hours in my office, away from my spiders, but at least I got some grading done then.

I even tell them that while it’s due at the end of the lab period this week, I am willing to look it over at the beginning of the lab period for any egregious problems, and they could patch it up and reprint it for submission. Curious fact: it’s the students who are fairly confident of their work who ask me to check it over. The ones who assembled it at the last minute don’t bother. Really, I don’t judge at that point! I just want them to get it right and do well.

Later, I judge. Unfortunately, I tend to judge myself more, and a little tear trickles from the corner of my eye.


This is student evaluation week. Also predictable — students will complain that I didn’t explain this essential component of their lab grade well enough, that I wasn’t available in my office when they needed help, that they didn’t get any guidance from me.

At least at this point there are no more tears, my heart just hardens a little more.

Next year…what do you think will work better? Getting down on my knees and begging, or breathing fire and rage, to get that one little point across? I would love to see one year before I retire in which every student pays attention to this one simple requirement.

Yikes, Silverman is SLAPPing some more

Look upon this document and moan.

It took me a moment to interpret this thing. OK, Silverman is suing American Atheists…isn’t that old news? Wait…this is about Silverman’s lawyer withdrawing from the suit, and substituting…David Silverman, who is now going to act as his own attorney.


This is not going to go well for him. I am almost feeling some sympathy for the guy, since someone seems to be ruthlessly and persistently fucking him over. It’s just that the someone is David P. Silverman.

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…)

Why couldn’t this have come out earlier in the semester?

At the beginning of the term, I was constantly repeating the mantra, “your data is your data” to the students — they came in expecting that science experiments had a foreordained conclusion, like a recipe that you followed and at the end you got cake. If there was no cake it’s a failure! That’s not true, though, that even if it doesn’t end up as you expected, it was still data. Unexpected data just takes more work to interpret (they don’t like that part) or that you need to do more experiments to puzzle out how it happened (they like that even less).

I’m grading lab reports now, and can say that they seem to have figured it out. They’ve stopped judging their results and are instead asking questions and analyzing, which is all I really want.

This would have been a good comic to include in their training early on, though.

Thinking about Xmas presents for the family, on a budget

You know, you have to love the look of joy on their faces when they open a surprise box. I imagine it would be like the Australians who opened a box intended for nesting opossums and saw this:

I know I’d be excited. Wouldn’t you?

Unfortunately, there’s a shortage of Huntsman spiders here in Minnesota. We’ve got lots of Pholcus, though. I’m thinking of going down into the basement and scooping up a swarm of cellar spiders, putting them in a gift-wrapped box with a ribbon, and mailing them off to the grandkids.

How can they not be delighted?