What goes with anti-vax, flat-earth, and cancer quackery?

Classic conspiracy theories galore at this facebook page, United 4 Truth. But also this:

Do you want the explanation that goes with this? No? Too bad, I’m going to inflict it on you anyway.

How does human DNA in vaccines contribute to the rise of gender identity confusion?

WI-38 is the cell lines from a FEMALE aborted fetus, used to cultivate viruses used in vaccines. When you inject the DNA from a FEMALE (carrying two X chromosomes) into a MALE (who already carries one X chromosome and a weaker Y chromosome) you now have an overload of the X chromosome.

Now we have an onslaught of BOYS who think they should be GIRLS.

Do we have male DNA in vaccines? YES! MRC-5 is the code given to the fetal cell line also used to cultivate vaccine viral components, and it comes from a MALE aborted fetus. Do we have girls thinking they are boys? YES! Is it as prominent as boys wanting to be girls? NO!

Why? Because girls have two dominant X chromosomes. When they are injected with a vaccine containing MRC-5, they aren’t just getting a Y chromosome, but yet another dominant X chromosome, on top of the two they already have. That’s why you don’t see as many girls wanting to be boys as you do the other way around.

These vaccines contain negligible amounts of human material — the cells are used to produce the viruses that are purified for injection. Also, even if you are injected with fragments of human chromosomes, that doesn’t imply that your cells will incorporate them into their genome, so chromosome dosage is irrelevant.This is like suggesting that if you drink milk, you’re actually swallowing whole cows, and this explains why some people say “moooo.”

Labels, and the saga of Cornerstore Caroline

Related to my previous post, the latest tale of a white woman calling the cops on black people is the story of Cornerstore Caroline. A video went viral of her on the phone, calling the police on a black child, accusing him of grabbing her sexually in a bodega. We since have the surveillance video from the store that shows that, at most, a child brushed against her while walking by. She berated the whole family for this imaginary offense so loudly that the kids were crying.

Well, now she’s got an excuse. Or rather, multiple excuses.

The self-described unemployed “feminist and a humanist” variously insisted she was groped in the bodega and acknowledged the boy had only touched her accidentally — and accused his mom of pretending to be a cop, then later leaving a threatening message for her.

“I would like to apologize to her daughter and her son but not to her. She could have walked away, but she didn’t. I’m also a Buddhist, [but] I let my temper show,” Klein said.

“I’ve been called racist before, and I’m not.”

So…she couldn’t be bad because she’s a 1) feminist, 2) humanist, 3) Buddhist, 4) not a racist. OK. We all know no member of those tribes could possibly be wrong. I guess the camera was lying.

I’m going to get a button that says “GOOD HUMAN” to cover all my bases and get exempt from all accusations of wrong-doing.

Why I banned Andy Lewis, Maria Maclachlan, and Alan Henness

Last week, I banned Andy Lewis, Maria Maclachlan, Alan Henness and a few of their friends. Oh, the weeping and wailing and rending of robes! The grief at this cosmic injustice! I have received so many messages of concern: Lewis/Maclachlan/Henness are so nice, so rational, such good skeptics and humanists, such upstanding members of the community, how could I possibly do this? And there lies the problem. Once someone joins a tribe, all the other members of the tribe are expected to assume that they’re good and nice and rational, and bugger all the evidence.

Andy Lewis is not nice and not rational. As evidence, I give you this: his response after being banned.

No one was banned for being in a relationship, which is simply stupid and absurd. I only noted that they were using the same IP address when I was trying to untangle the snarl of strange people brawling in the comments. Likewise, no one was banned for being the victim of a crime. This is all blatant dishonesty intended to stir up sympathy for these poor, innocent people who did nothing at all but love each other and get beat up by bad people. It’s hard to believe that anyone would fall for it, but they did — they were stumbling all over themselves in a rush to tell me what good skeptics they all are and gosh, aren’t they just the sweetest couple?

I’ll just point out that that tweet is such an obvious lie that it calls your judgment into question if you accept it.

Here’s what really happened. An anti-transgender activist (TERF) who has never commented here before found a post he didn’t like, and started trolling the group with aggressive and fundamentally dishonest comments to stir up conflict. His very first comment was disingenuous and misleading: Are we all so devoid of scepticism and full of misogyny that all here cannot bring themselves to accept the objective, material existence of women?

This was a thread about acceptance of transgender individuals, not about debating the existence of women. It is not misogyny to recognize the rights of transgender men and women. But Lewis just barreled in with misrepresentation as his opening gambit.

Note also: he kept this up, making 72 comments over less than a week, constantly stoking the flames and bloating the thread up to over 350 comments, many of which are addressing bogus issues he brought up. It’s a classic example of trolling. Andy Lewis is a troll, and also kind of an obsessed bigot about transgender people.

Furthermore, he recruited his friends to join in. It was a boiling wrangle with multiple TERFs raging when I finally stepped in and shut it down.

So, for instance, we quickly got mariamaclachlan jumping into the fray, and it’s an excellent representative of the fallacious arguments used throughout.

Oh for crying out loud, PZ! The word ‘woman’ means adult human female. Women do NOT have penises.

No, women don’t stop being women if they lose their ovaries any more than you stop being a man because your dick gets lopped off. Your sex is defined according to which of the two reproductive classes you were born into – you KNOW this really but you’ve drunk the ideological kool-aid and are in denial.

Thankfully, there are still some like Angelos who haven’t.

ALL SWANS ARE WHITE! If you find a black swan, we’ll just use our definition to exclude them from the category of swans. It’s an argument as old as Aristotle, and you would think that a skeptic would be familiar with the dangers of an argument from false premises. You don’t just get to blithely wave away counter-examples by referring to a cherry-picked definition.

I also don’t accept the automatic equating of “female” with “woman”, of confusing sex with gender. It also baffles me that anyone would do that: are they in the habit of checking the genitalia of every person they meet? There are almost 7½ billion people on the planet; I’ve met thousands of women; I work regularly with hundreds of them. I have never once asked any of them to show me that they don’t have a penis before accepting their gender. In fact, I’ve only seen the genitals of a handful of human females in my life; should I be skeptical of the identity of every other woman on Earth? How awkward.

I also don’t ask for a karyotype, or a demonstration of what kind of gametes they make.

The fact is that “woman” is a rich cultural artifact with many cues used to designate that aspect of their identity — I accept the reality of girls’ names, women’s styles, women’s manner of speaking, women’s traditional roles, women’s typical careers, women’s make-up — all the signals that people use to mark their gender. I don’t freak out when a girl is named “Mike”, when a woman is a fighter pilot, when a man uses eye shadow, when anyone uses vocal fry, when a woman interrupts a man. We’re seeing people break out of the stereotypes we impose on men and women in many ways, and I think that’s a great step forward. Let’s treat people as individuals rather than representatives of only two allowed gender classes.

The presence or absence of a penis is possibly the worst gender signal ever, because we keep those hidden in almost all of our social interactions. I’d have to be really close, very intimate friends with a woman before she’d show me her penis.

And then, in that comment, one of the most annoying, bullshit argument tactics ever: the declaration that she KNOWS exactly what I know. I’ve heard this from creationists, too, the claim that since I’m a biologist, I must know that all the evidence for evolution is false, and I must deep down agree with them except that I’ve drunk the ideological kool-aid, or possibly, am in the thrall of all the money from Big Science.

You are incorrect, Ms MacLachlan. I am a developmental biologist, which means I know that sex is not a unary operation. It is not decided by a single gene or chromosome, or a single hormone, or a single organ, and is a layered complex process of interlinked interactions. The path from SRY to brain development is not linear and fixed, and other genes and environmental factors can shift the pathway both subtly and profoundly. Sex is not one decision that splits the population into precisely two types. It is a multitude of decisions that modify a multitude of traits and produces a range of complex outcomes. That this process is strongly canalized developmentally to produce a majority of two reproductive types does not mean that variation is excluded, or that we should simply ignore or discriminate against anyone who differs. Biology doesn’t say what you claim it says, and it’s extremely obnoxious to claim the authority of science for your bigotry.

I’m not even getting into gender. That’s the domain of psychologists and sociologists, and to even pretend that human beings emerge from the complexity of biological sex determination to then find a binary simplicity and clarity in psychology and culture is ludicrous. The only reality behind that is that there exist some gatekeepers who are deeply committed to the idea of there being only two allowed types of people, and who try desperately to enforce their narrow preconceptions by harassing people at transgender events or by trolling blogs. Or, I suppose, in some societies or in history, setting the deviants on fire.

So please, don’t tell me what I “KNOW”, and imply that I secretly agree with your anti-scientific bullshit. I don’t. It’s a great way to antagonize me and get yourself banned, unlike, for example, being married.

The whole is like that: the TERFs interject their standard bad arguments, equating sex and gender, insisting that transgender individuals believe they have gametes corresponding to their professed gender, suggesting that transgender women are trying to violently oppress “True” Women, bringing up anecdotes of criminals who dressed as women, etc., etc., etc. The regular commenters here were ably responding to it all, so I just stayed out of it, and they also seemed to take my absence as cowardice on my part and permission for them to amplify their lies. That led to me finally shutting them down.

Let me be crystal clear on this. TERFs tend to be assholes, and I’m not particularly impressed when you try to tell me that this particular set of TERFs are “nice” or “rational”. Biology does not support your gender essentialism, so quit pretending it does. Your species is specified by your genetics (and sometimes even that is fuzzy), but it is not the entirety of your identity, and the people who claim that who you are is a product of a chromosome or a single organ are simplistic to the point of simplemindedness, and given that these same people are often quite intelligent, I have to assume that they are motivated by prejudice or malevolence, and I don’t want them hanging around here.

I’m also not impressed by your membership in a particular tribe, whether it’s skepticism, atheism, humanism, or Catholicism.

Harris’s devious rhetoric dissected

Uh-oh. Brace yourself for waves of outrage and rationalizations from Sam Harris and his fan boys. Eli Massey and Nathan Robinson tackle Sam Harris, and oy, it is not gentle. One quick sample:

Each time Harris said something about Islam that created outrage, he had a defense prepared. When he wondered why anybody would want any more “fucking Muslims,” he was merely playing “Devil’s advocate.” When he said that airport security should profile “Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it,” he was simply demanding acknowledgment that a 22-year old Syrian man was objectively more likely to engage in terrorism than a 90-year-old Iowan grandmother. (Harris also said that he wasn’t advocating that only Muslims should be profiled, and that people with his own demographic characteristics should also be given extra scrutiny.) And when he suggested that if an avowedly suicidal Islamist government achieved long-range nuclear weapons capability, “the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own,” he was simply referring to a hypothetical situation and not in any way suggesting nuking the cities of actually-existing Muslims.[6]

It’s not necessary to use “Islamophobia” or the r-word in order to conclude that Harris was doing something both disturbing and irrational here. As James Croft of Patheos noted, Harris would follow a common pattern when talking about Islam: (1) Say something that sounds deeply extreme and bigoted. (2) Carefully build in a qualification that makes it possible to deny that the statement is literally bigoted. (3) When audiences react with predictable horror, point to the qualification in order to insist the audience must be stupid and irrational. How can you be upset with him for merely playing Devil’s Advocate? How can you be upset with him for advocating profiling, when he also said that he himself should be profiled? How can you object, unless your “tolerance” is downright pathological, to the idea that it would be legitimate to destroy a country that was bent on destroying yours?

Yeah, that’s the man. He is incapable of speaking plainly because he knows his ideas are patently ugly, so he’s got to wrap them up in layers of plausible denial. I’ve just given up on him, because wading through glop to get to the heart of his arguments, which he’ll always deny, just isn’t worth it anymore.

If only he could show the slightest glimmering of change and growth in response to criticisms…but no, instead he has a cuddle-party with his fellow right-leaning dickheads to reassure each other they’re right and everyone else is a big meanie.

I am not a juror today

Welp, that was an exercise that was both instructive and a total waste of time.

I showed up at the courthouse at the appointed time, with about 40 other people. The jury assistant had us surrender everything — phones, tablets, books, papers, etc. –although one little old lady smuggled her phone in, which we discovered when it started ringing loudly in the middle of the proceedings. We were given little pamphlets about our duties and ushered in to watch a video about jury duties, although actually we spent a lot of time sitting waiting for it to be started (the clerk didn’t seem to know how to run a DVD player), and once it was done we spent an awfully long time staring at a blank TV screen waiting for them to move on to the next step, which was to be shuffled off to the actual court room, with the judge, the defendant and his attorney, and the prosecuting attorney were all waiting for us.

About 20 of us got seated for the jury. It was apparently random, and I was not picked. Then the questioning began, the voir dire. It was stuff like, “Do you know [reads long list of potential witnesses]?” It turns out most of the names were cops, and it begins to sound like an army was dispatched to arrest the lone defendant. This being a small town, several people knew all the named people, so they had to be grilled on how they knew them and whether their acquaintance with them would interfere with their ability to judge them. Then there was the question about knowing or being related to any of the other jurors, and hands went up all over the place. Same grilling. Interestingly, there was also a question about whether religious convictions would interfere, and there were three women who clearly belonged to the Brethren church (long skirts, long hair tied up in a bun — we call them “bun ladies” around here), who announced that they could not stand in judgement over a man, and they were dismissed.

As people were dismissed, new people were called up out of the pool and the questions were repeated. I saw the pool shrinking, but I was never called before they finally settled on the 12 jurors, fortunately.

I say “fortunately” because, while I was willing to serve, as information about the case dribbled out, it became clear to me that I couldn’t do it. It was a drug case, with a guy who’d been arrested for growing marijuana, and as I listened to the questions being asked, I realized how I’d have to answer. I could not in good conscience convict someone for an act thats criminality was arbitrary and unjust, and I wouldn’t be able to set aside my principles to abide purely by the letter of the law. If I had been called up, I would have been dismissed within moments for that.

Also, I wouldn’t even have had a chance to answer the prosecuting attorney’s question, “What three things come to mind when you think of law enforcement?” I would probably have started with “petty thugs who shouldn’t be trusted with a gun” before the bailiff would have hauled me out behind the chemical shed. He also asked jurors what they thought of the War on Drugs, and my answer might have gotten profane and earned me a contempt of court fine.

Well, they asked! They said we had to answer honestly, too.

So I got to go home early. I’m still on the hook to be called up to serve until sometime in January, though — I just hope it isn’t another marijuana case.

The madness unparalleled, genuinely epic

James O’Brien explains the chaos in the UK. He’s incredulous at how incapable Parliament is at confronting a bad idea like Brexit. I’m similarly boggled at how the US is incapable of confronting the obvious problem that the president and leaders of congress are venal incompetents are sending us careening down a greased chute to our doom.

But at least it fills me with a feeling of deep connection with people across the Atlantic. We’re both neck deep in shitholes.