“Help, help, I’m being silenced!” says professor in opinion piece in Newsweek and MIT guest lecture

Healthy young white person who is quite convinced that the world is conspiring against him

I am really disgusted with these privileged POS’s who complain about diversity. Here’s another one, Dorian Abbot of the University of Chicago.

Dorian S. Abbot, an associate professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, is speaking out against the cancellation of a lecture he was scheduled to give later this month at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He says he’s being punished for his views on higher education’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, which he’s referred to as a top-down “regime.”

“I view this episode as an example as well as a striking illustration of the threat woke ideology poses to our culture, our institutions and to our freedoms,” Abbot wrote in a guest post for former New York Times writer Bari Weiss’s Substack newsletter, which is becoming a go-to venue for professors who feel they’ve been wronged by the academic left. “I have consistently maintained that woke ideology is essentially totalitarian in nature: it attempts to corral the entirety of human existence into one narrow ideological viewpoint and to silence anyone who disagrees.”

He’s a tenured professor of geophysics at a prestigious university. I have a little exam for him.

  • Define “woke ideology” and explain how it is totalitarian. For that matter, define “totalitarian”.
  • If I accept the claim that it is a “narrow ideological viewpoint”, explain what your ideological viewpoint is that conflicts with it. Saying that you don’t have an ideology is an unacceptable answer.
  • Explain how your invitation to present a public outreach lecture to a diverse audience was not inappropriate, given your recent opinion pieces against diversity published in Newsweek and Bari Weiss’s newsletter. You are aware that those opinions are in conflict with the intent of the lecture, right?
  • You were instead offered an opportunity to present your scientific results to the scientific community at MIT, which is a rather prestigious opportunity right there. Explain how this substitution harms you. Bonus points: demonstrate self-awareness by explaining how peculiar it is that opposition to diversity can be offensive to the general public, but somehow can be acceptable to the faculty at a university.
  • Why would you go crying to Bari Weiss, a known conservative ideologue, about “unfairness”? Do you think that the playing field is not level elsewhere? Why?
  • It is an assumption in your complaints about diversity, equity, and inclusion that women are on a “level playing field” in science, and that therefore efforts to level that field imply that “women can’t excel in science.” Justify your claim that women and minorities do not face discrimination.
  • In your Newsweek piece, you assert that diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives “entails treating people as members of a group rather than as individuals, repeating the mistake that made possible the atrocities of the 20th century” in an attempt to link efforts to offset generations of discrimination and oppression to, for instance, the Holocaust or Stalinist purges. Please try to demonstrate that you have any historical awareness at all, or even a sense of shame.

I don’t think he’d even be able to stumble past the first question without falling into mindless conservative cant, which is good, because I’ve got enough exams to grade this weekend without having to deal with a privileged asshole making up crap to justify his privilege.

The famine is over!

My fly colony has expanded a great deal, although it experienced an abrupt decline today. My baby spiders have been fed!

It was so rewarding. They’ve been anxiously awaiting this day, so all the tubes have been thoroughly criss-crossed with spider silk. I’d flick a fly in, and they’d never get to the bottom, they’d be instantly snared, and within seconds a hungry baby spider would eagerly rush in and bite and weave and entangle it so more. Their joy (the spider’s, not the fly’s) was palpable, and you could tell they’d been famished.

I will have more flies by Monday. Production is back on track.

The spiders told me that it had better be. Failure will not be tolerated.

In case you were wondering what spider language sounds like, it involves a lot of plucking and sawing of silk, with some clicking of chelicerae and salivary slavering. Imagine the shower scene from Psycho with a bit more pizzicato and some glutinous drooling. You usually won’t want to encourage conversation.

We are almost halfway through the semester, and finally…

The university requires that everyone be vaccinated, as of 8 October.

All enrolled University of Minnesota students (whether taking courses in person or online) are now required to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or provide documentation for a medical or religious exemption. Students received an email with the link to the UMN Student COVID-19 Vaccination Form in their University email on Friday afternoon, August 27. To meet this requirement, please submit the form electronically by Friday, October 8, 2021.

There’s that ridiculous “religious exemption,” though. If your god says you don’t need to take basic steps to protect the community, that means nothing in my godless state.

Better late and half-assed than never, I guess, although this feeble response is going on my list of reasons I have lost confidence in the University of Minnesota administration.

How to breed atheists

This video (transcript) makes a lot of sense, pointing out that how atheists are made is a combination of historical/cultural/emotional experiences plus an intellectual assessment of the meaning of those experiences.

I used to think I too was brought up as a religious believer, going to church and Sunday school almost every week. I noticed something, though.

  • When I was very young, I would regularly see my great-grandparents in church. I’m confident that they were true believers, their house was full of religious and ethnic displays, like the Lord’s Prayer in Norwegian on a plaque. But they stopped going late in life because they were relatively frail, and were dependent on being driven to church by my grandparents, who…
  • Almost never went to church. Maybe sometimes for a Christmas pageant, although they were quite insistent that we kids had to go, to which my parents…

  • …agreed. My parents also didn’t go to church. My father, never — he would say that he was a member of the Church of Christ, as was my paternal grandmother, but I would never see them pass through the door of that church. My Lutheran mother never went, either. She was a good mother, but she had six kids, and Sunday morning was two hours she could use to recover, even if it did impose an additional cost of getting the kids into their shiny shoes and putting on nice coats or dresses and putting a bow tie on me.

And, you know, I was able to use my keen observational skills and analytical mind to put the facts in order and realize that church was a sham, a glorified babysitter for an overworked family that saw no other value in the ritual. I was a Christian because I was told that I was a Christian, and I found no lasting spiritual value in memorizing bible verses or singing hymns. I could also see that my parents were good people who didn’t need Christianity to make them that way.

So here I am now.

Don’t fear the octopodes

It is not arachnocide season.

It’s officially arachnicide season in the Northern Hemisphere. Millions of spiders have appeared in our homes – and they’d better be on their guard. Why do we kill them so casually?

Don’t worry, the article gets better after that opening blurb, and is illustrated with lots of lovely photos of beautiful spiders. It’s an easily explained phenomenon about why spiders are coming into our homes. The weather is changing, it’s getting colder. Human houses are warm. It’s only natural that animals would look for more comfortable environments, even when those environments are full of dangerous, hostile, callous bipedal brutes. The same phenomenon is at work every fall when we get the annual influx of mice fleeing the first frost. I can’t blame them, but I still put out traps and kill them.

The difference is that mice leave droppings everywhere, gnaw on stuff, and try to invade our pantry to eat our food. Spiders do none of that. They are polite, beneficial, harmless, and to some eyes, quite pretty. Yet people murder them. The article tries to answer why.

Unfortunately, it also gives creedence to the idea that fear of spiders is natural. No it’s not, I don’t buy that for a minute — maybe because I’m biased, completely lacking in that antipathy, so I don’t relate to arachnophobia, but I also think people use arachnophobia to rationalize their dislike.

Perhaps the most obvious reason we view spiders as fair game for crushing is our pathological fear of things with eight legs, which makes empathy particularly challenging.

Human infants as young as just five months old tend to be more threatened by images of spiders than those of other organisms, suggesting that our aversion to them is partly innate, perhaps having evolved to prevent us from casually picking up ones that are venomous.

This natural wariness is then thought to be compounded by cultural factors, such as having parents who describe them as frightening as we grow up. Alarmist news articles and other depictions are likely to add an extra frisson of panic – some experts have linked the irrational fear many people have for sharks to the 1975 film Jaws, and it’s possible that the villainous spider trope is also having an impact.

Yes! Cultural factors! Here’s another example: my granddaughter loves owls, her favorite toy is Gray Owl, a rather floppy much man-handled stuffed animal. Can you blame her? Big forward-facing eyes are a “natural” feature for humans to like. But we learned that some Indian cultures (but not all!) regard owls as harbingers of doom, as embodied spirits, or shape-shifters. Out of respect, we had to tuck the owl taxonomic specimens at my university out of sight, because some visitors found them offensive.

It’s really not fair. It’s more of a fear of difference.

This is potentially problematic, because the more we have in common with others – or the more closely related we are – the more compassion we have for them. One 2019 study found that participants’ empathy for animals decreased in line with the amount of time since our evolutionary paths diverged.

Even scientists are heavily biased towards studying more charismatic, relatable animals. One 2010 study found that, for every research paper published about a threatened amphibian, there were 500 about an endangered large mammal.

It’s also the tragedy of not conforming to our expections of what babies should look like — you know, flabby, potato-shaped lumps with wet lips shrieking out unintelligible noises and eyes lost in a doughy blob of a face. Because that is so attractive.

Apart from their menacing fangs and scampering legs, spiders face another challenge in the looks department, at least from a human perspective: they don’t look like human babies.

The “babyface effect” is a hugely influential hidden bias among humans, which means that we accidentally treat people – and animals – with naturally “neotenous”, or child-like features as though they are actual babies. For example, oversized eyes, large foreheads, small noses and chins, and cherubic little lips can trigger powerful feelings of empathy, compassion and affection in humans.

However, the effect can also lead us into a number of well-documented blunders. In environmental conservation, it’s often observed that “cute” species receive significantly more attention and funding, while “uglier” animals under the care of humans – in zoos and laboratories, for example – may have a lower quality of life, because we find it harder to identify their suffering.

That’s why those darned jumping spiders are so popular. There’s nothing wrong with a jumping spider, but why can’t we also learn to love a nice spiky, bristly orbweaver? Or a quiet, demure, black cobweb spider? I guess I’ll just have to use Attulus as a gateway organism for now.

[Read more…]

You mean there are degrees of Catholic foolishness?

The Catholic Church seems to be experiencing a few rifts of their own. The current pope has apparently been sending down decrees to bust up the practice of the old Latin Mass, which is rather interesting. Back when I was a kid I had Catholic friends who talked about how their church was changing, which, as a lackadaisical Lutheran, I didn’t get at all. Wasn’t Protestantism a bigger upheaval? My Sunday school teacher said so. But now I guess the Pope is tightening the rules even more.

The members of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church have been on edge for weeks, worried that their way of worship is under threat, and what makes their fears especially agonizing is the identity of the person leading the crackdown: Pope Francis.

The congregants — belonging to one of hundreds of U.S. churches devoted to the old Latin Mass — say they can’t understand the pope’s thinking on limiting its practice. Some say they are praying that Francis’s better judgment still might prevail. One influential church member, theologian Peter Kwasniewski, has spent day after day publishing fiery opinion pieces, calling Francis’s decree contemptuous, vindictive toward Catholic traditionalists, an atomic bomb against the faith.

“Let’s not mince words,” Kwasniewski wrote at one point on Facebook. “This is a declaration of total war.”

Now, as a more worldly atheist who has encountered too many conservative Catholics, I think I understand. I read that and what I thought, again not as a knowledgeable Catholic, that it was obvious what he’s doing: he’s cracking down on the far right Catholics because they’re absolutist, authoritarian assholes who hinder any progress. Not that I think he’s particularly progressive, he just wants to shift the church a few millimeters to the left when what they really need to do is break up and move the rubble a few kilometers, but that’s what I, in my ignorance, figured must be going on, and surprisingly, the article confirmed it for me.

His mid-July decree dramatically tightened the rules on who can celebrate the old Latin Mass, requiring, among other things, new permission from local bishops. Some of the pope’s allies say the goal is to curtail forces antagonistic not specifically toward Francis’s pontificate, but toward Catholicism’s sometimes-lurching effort since the Second Vatican Council to modernize and reform.

The story further confirms my assumption that Catholic conservatives are assholes.

But many congregants speak of an inner turmoil — of feeling at odds with the supreme authority of their religion over something so core. To them, the Latin Mass is not just a form of prayer, but also the central force for like-minded people in their community. For people who take the faith seriously. Who pray the rosary. Who believe the teaching as it was written — that homosexual acts are disordered, that contraception is wrong, that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ. Some of these are minority viewpoints even among American Catholics, and St. Francis congregants say they sometimes feel like outsiders in their own city, uneasy about sharing their convictions, other than at their church.

Again, I’m not arguing that the church hierarchy is not awful, right up to the tippy-top — they have a tremendous amount of guilt for pedophilia and genocide — but that these people who want the Latin Mass are worse. These are the Michael Voris/Church Militant types who want to roll the whole world back into the Middle Ages, like this guy:

For Jacob Bauer, 24, that meant applying the principles of the church to nearly every aspect of his family life. It meant modesty — no trips to the beach, for instance, where revealing clothing would be on display. It meant refraining from gossip. It meant a defining 2017 conversation with his eventual wife, Hannah, now 25, about how the role of women had veered off course during modern times, and how something more traditional would be best for their family. So Hannah decided to reconsider her optometry career goals and stay home to raise a family. They now have one young child and hope to have more. Hannah wants to home-school the children.

“I was given the conviction I could do that from church,” where many women were going the same route, she said.

If that’s really what she wanted, fine. It’s just funny how every time conservatives talk about gender roles they somehow magically end up deciding that the woman who was on the road to a productive career is the one who needs to drop everything and stay home with the kids. Especially when the man’s primary role seems to be hanging out on Twitter telling everyone to go to Mass.

Bauer says he just wants space for his family to follow their own beliefs, without threats, and so his response has been to think of the pope daily: To pray for him, to cite him by name, with the hope that he “sees the love a lot of us have for the Latin Mass.” On Twitter — where Bauer describes himself in his bio as a “12th, 13th, 14th, 15th-century moderate; 21st-century hyper-traditionalist” — he has been similarly civil. He has regularly extolled the virtues of the old Latin Mass but refrained from criticism of Francis.

I’m not so civil. That’s an asshole hiding behind his civility. I can see why the Pope would want to distance himself from these wackaloons.

By the way, it’s not just Catholics. The worst members of every religion are the absolute authoritarian assholes, who always seem to muscle their way into loud leadership positions.

You will be replaced. Get over it.

It’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s an inescapable law of nature. The Great Replacement is going to happen. You will die. New individuals will emerge from the gene pool, and they won’t be you, and they won’t look like you, and they’ll be a mongrel mixture of different adults now living on the planet. You would think that someone calling themselves an evolutionary psychologist would comprehend that.

Individuals dying in a thriving population doesn’t mean you’re going extinct. That’s a sloppy use of the language; by that definition, we’re constantly going extinct, that when my grandmother died it was an extinction event, that I can look forward to my own inevitable extinction, and that when I go, it’ll be the end of my unique, special species, like losing the passenger pigeon. That’s complete nonsense. It’s an attempt to turn your own existential dread of death into a global tragedy.

Get over yourselves.

Having children really is just a choice, and the vitality of a population isn’t a matter of whether individuals “selfishly” choose to have kids or “selfishly” choose not to. That decision isn’t the one that’s going to decide whether your demographic fades away or not. What matters is whether you choose to contribute to a healthy society, with individuals favoring different, productive roles that don’t have to include child-bearing, and that you build a strong, robust culture that propagates itself. It doesn’t matter if you have 20 children, but they all have to live in a survivalist shelter and never get an education and treat strangers as enemies — that’s a lineage that will burn out and die and fail to contribute to the future.

The magic words that will define a culture that does not go extinct are “community” and “cooperation”.

The ignominy

I’ve told you before that the content I made on Scienceblogs years ago has been hijacked — the site was bought up (legitimately, I can’t do anything about it) by a conservative asshole who simply uses it as a vehicle to host ads. It’s a shame, but at least all that stuff I wrote didn’t disappear into the ol’ bit bucket. But now I have learned that they’ve added insult to their legally sanctioned theft.

“pharyngula” (at least they spelled that right) by…who??!?

Man, I ought to give up and have my name legally changed to PZ, just PZ. They couldn’t misspell that, could they?

Oh yeah, they could. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been called PJ.