The myth will never end. The Three Stooges…errm, I mean, the three main egos of AVoiceForMen met in a video chat to crow over their fame, and among the topics that came up was that universal obsession of MRAs everywhere, Rebecca Watson. Dave Futrelle transcribed the relevant bits so we don’t have to watch it, but it’s a remarkable demonstration of their opacity to evidence. Here’s John “the Other” Hembling, describing the most notorious elevator ride ever.

Watson then went online and did a video admonishing the male members of the atheist community, of which she was a part, “guys don’t do that,” and characterized this conversation in the elevator as if it was some sort of great, terrible, frightening threat, and crafted her victimhood out of that, and essentially used that story to launch a professional speaking career on the atheist circuit.

Really? They’re still repeating this nonsense, despite the ready availability of the video that shows they’re all wrong? She didn’t even imply that the guy was frightening, she didn’t present herself as a victim, and she was already a popular speaker on the lecture circuit — why do these guys think she was in Ireland anyway?

Apparently it’s not just religion that schools people in self-delusion.

Who do you trust to tell you lies?

Here’s a simple experiment: separate two people. Give one person, the sender information about two packets of money, a small sum and a larger sum. Let them then tell the other person, the receiver, about the two packets, and give them the choice of which one they can have. Will the sender lie or not, in order to trick the receiver into picking the smaller packet?

The result in college students in Canada is that roughly 50% of the subjects lie. Before we go on, be sure to put this in context: this result is only valid in one particular culture. Related economic tests have found that there are many other cultures that value giving over receiving, and that would skew the interpretation of this one, so we’re not looking at broader human properties, but solely at the properties of products of one narrow culture. OK? OK.

The interesting result is a finer breakdown of the individuals who were more likely to lie. Mostly, no consistent associations were found, except that membership in any of these three groups were more likely to predict lying: a) Business majors, b) children of divorce, and c) people who say religion is important in their lives. I’m sorry, business majors, but (a) doesn’t surprise me at all. (b) I would not expect; I wondered if financial insecurity played a role, but they report no correlation with socioeconomic status or student debt. Hmmm.

Again, (c) does not surprise me in the slightest. I’ve known too many Christians. Sorry, believers, you’re not all bad, but man have you got a lot of hypocrites in your ranks. I would actually expect that because parasites are more likely to choose to blend in with the dominant group.

I would suggest a variation on the experiment, though. Pair the senders; I’d guess that those students professing a strong religious belief would show a strong reversal, being far less likely to lie, if a co-believer were there to witness. On the other hand, I’d bet that two business majors acting as senders would high-five each other with a successful lie. Put a couple of Libertarians in there, though, and they’d grab both packets and sneak out of the room.

Yeah, I have a hierarchy of well-earned cynicism.

Evolution of a feminist

I highly recommend Aron Ra’s video and commentary on his growth towards feminism.

I have to disagree with his conclusion, though (it’s OK — I think it’s a strength that we do not passively accept our Brave Leaders’ view). He points out that we atheists are a small minority in a sea of superstitious believers, and that we shouldn’t be fighting among ourselves. And, unfortunately, he characterizes this as a struggle over trivialities that are dividing the movement.

They are not trivialities. These are issues that we must resolve now, because they will shape how our movement evolves from this point on. I’d rather affiliate with progressive theists (although I’d be carping at them constantly about their goofball faith) than with atheists who want to rationalize women into subservience. We’re in a fight for the soul of atheism — and I want atheism to be something worth fighting for.

(Note: if you want to pile on Aron Ra for that last short section of his talk, and you want to do it without watching everything that precedes it, don’t. I’ve highlighted one bit that I disagree with; the rest is good stuff. Watch it all and read his blog post before you chime in on the conversation, OK?)

An invitation from Ancient Aliens

I received a polite invitation from the makers of the History Channel show, Ancient Aliens. Here’s what they asked:

Dear Dr. Myers,

I’m working with Name Redacted on the show Ancient Aliens. We have a crew coming to Minnesota this week, most likely Wednesday, and we would like to find out if you would be available for an interview. We’d also like to speak with you on the phone briefly about some of the topics we’d be discussing (development of the brain, embryonic development, evolutionary development of reptiles and mammals) and make sure that they are topics you’d fell comfortable talking about. Is there a convenient time when we could speak with you on the phone?

Kind Regards,

Name Redacted
Associate Producer
Prometheus Studios

I considered it. I’m always happy to engage with people with wacky ideas — heck, if I was willing to talk to Ray Comfort, you know I’m open to conversation — but I’d only seen a few snippets of this program and heard about it by reputation. So this evening, before I replied, I tuned in to the History Channel website to get an idea of what I’d be getting into.

I was aghast. It was the same nonsense I’d seen presented at the Paradigm Symposium this past weekend, in a very glossy and professionally done format. I congratulate Prometheus Studios on their skill in turning out superficially slick and attractive programs. The content, though…the content. It was just a series of ludicrous assertions of the most absurd claims of gods and aliens and extraterrestrial conspiracies and outright nonsense. Not once did I see any skepticism expressed. Mainstream academics were treated as dogmatic ignoramuses who couldn’t see the power of totally unsubstantiated hypotheses about aliens.

I could foresee how any material I might give them would be treated. So this is what I wrote back.

I actually know quite a bit about those topics, evo devo and neuroscience are my specialties. However, having viewed a few of your programs, I doubt very much that my skeptical view — that the processes of the development of the brain are entirely natural, that they do not support any claims of extraterrestrial intervention, or that humans lack any exceptional capabilities that require a design hypothesis to explain them — would actually survive the editing process to make it on air. In fact, I notice a remarkably complete absence of any critical evaluation of the rather bizarre “theories” that tend to get promoted in your programming, so I don’t even see how my expertise could contribute.

After due consideration, I’d have to say that no, I’d rather not contribute to the program, and that there’s no point to wasting your time or mine.

Thank you for the invitation. I’d wish you well in your work, but seriously — your show is credulous, ridiculous, and offensively ignorant of any reasonable understanding of science. If you’re ever involved in programming that actually contributes to human understanding, rather than undermining it, please feel free to contact me then.

Willing as I am to have a conversation with people with wild & weird ideas, it was just too obvious that my side of the conversation wouldn’t be useful to them…and couldn’t possibly appear on their program.

Also, all of the people on their show enthusiastically promoting aliens were clearly total wackaloons, and I’d be embarrassed to be associated with them.

The most depressing thing I’ve read today

Ten years ago, Ivan Macfadyen sailed across the Pacific Ocean. He repeated the voyage recently, and was shocked at the changes: the sea was empty of fish, and thick with garbage. He describes the painful experience, and also sees the trawlers stripping the reefs naked.

The speedboat came alongside and the Melanesian men aboard offered gifts of fruit and jars of jam and preserves.

"And they gave us five big sugar-bags full of fish," he said.

"They were good, big fish, of all kinds. Some were fresh, but others had obviously been in the sun for a while.

"We told them there was no way we could possibly use all those fish. There were just two of us, with no real place to store or keep them. They just shrugged and told us to tip them overboard. That’s what they would have done with them anyway, they said.

"They told us that his was just a small fraction of one day’s by-catch. That they were only interested in tuna and to them, everything else was rubbish. It was all killed, all dumped. They just trawled that reef day and night and stripped it of every living thing."

Macfadyen felt sick to his heart. That was one fishing boat among countless more working unseen beyond the horizon, many of them doing exactly the same thing.

No wonder the sea was dead. No wonder his baited lines caught nothing. There was nothing to catch.

Waste and destruction. Does humanity deserve to continue?

Malcolm Gladwell is simply an awful person

I don’t get it. Jonah Lehrer was rightly pilloried for dishonest journalism, so why is Malcolm Gladwell, the king of shallow, pseudo-scientific hackery, still getting published, and still raking in absurdly high lecture fees? Why is anyone still giving him the time of day? For instance, read this piece published in the New Yorker in September: Do Genetic Advantages Make Sports Unfair?. It’s more of his glib, counter-intuitive nonsense, and it’s dangerously bad.

He argues that performance enhancing drugs aren’t so terrible after all — they’re just equalizing the playing field. But the only way he can do that is by pretending the consequences don’t exist.

What Gladwell fails to mention – at all – are the risks involved in using performance-enhancing drugs. There is nothing about the risks of blood doping or of pharmaceutical enhancement. He even skips the risks inherent in the very genetic condition he holds up as “lucky.” There is no mention of contact sports, where the decision to illegally enhance could be the difference between life and death for your competitor. There is no recognition that healthcare access for athletes is a continuum with the Lance Armstrongs at the upper end, with their elite teams of morally questionable medical practitioners,and with some kid at the bottom end, desperate for a place on the team, taking injectables that he gets from a friend of a friend.

So journalists can lose their jobs for plagiarizing or making up facts, but actively distorting the evidence and making dishonest arguments is apparently still within the ethical compass of some journalists.

I have a sudden craving for Girl Scout Cookies

If a Girl Scout showed up at my door right now, I’d buy half a dozen boxes, easy. Not that I’d eat them, but apparently Girl Scout cookies are now the cool way to promote feminism, lesbianism, and unbiblical womanhood, at least according to a couple of right wing radio hosts.

Swanson: The individualism of feminism has been devastating to this country. I’d say you ought to say no the Girl Scout cookies too. I don’t want to support lesbianism, I don’t want to support Planned Parenthood and I don’t want to support abortion, and if that be the case I’m not buying Girl Scout cookies. Now I suppose if you take a big, fat, black magic marker and you say, ‘give me that box,’ and you start marking out all of the references to the Girl Scouts of America on all the boxes then maybe we’re not promoting that organization anymore and I’d be willing to buy it. Maybe it’s not food offered to idols anymore if I had the opportunity to scratch out references to the Girl Scouts of America on the boxes of the Girl Scout cookies offered to me at Safeway.

Buehner: Those are some pretty expensive cookies you’re eating though. At some point a Christian has to say, ‘the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,’ and where you spend your money does count.

Swanson: It does and I don’t want to promote a wicked organization that according to its own website doesn’t promote godly womanhood, it just doesn’t, I don’t see anything that promotes godly womanhood. The vision of the Girl Scouts of America is antithetical to a biblical vision for womanhood, it’s antithetical to it.

I think these guys have very dirty minds. They seem to think Girl Scout meetings are lesbian orgies.

Now Dave if you go the website for the Girl Scouts and you find out what the Girl Scouts are doing with their national conventions, some shocking things. Now you showed me these websites this morning, this is the first time I’ve ever seen this, you know who shows up at these Girl Scout conventions? Guys just check it out at the Girl Scouts’ websites and you’re going to find that the people showing up are lesbians, lots and lots of lesbians. Dave I didn’t realize there were this many lesbians leading this country but they certainly show up in Girl Scout conventions across America.

This one was October, 2011, in Houston, Texas, and the first openly homosexual mayor in the United States, which happens to be Annise Parker, showed up at the convention. A lesbian; a lesbian. By the way, her lesbian partner Kathy Hubbard is the treasurer for Planned Parenthood PAC so apparently there is this unholy alliance between the Girl Scouts and Planned Parenthood. Also Sara Bareilles is a prominent voice for the gay and lesbian agenda, she performed at the 2009 Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Rights Celebration, she lends her image to the YouTube video ‘President Obama will you say I do?’ campaign supporting gay marriage, she’s joined the True Colors Tour as ‘a vehicle to entertain as well as engage audiences to take part in the advancement of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality,’ anyway this woman showed up at the lesbian conference—I mean, the Girl Scouts conference down in Houston.

I’m telling you Girl Scouts: print out a transcript of that little chat. Show it to potential customers. It won’t just be the atheists who whip out their checkbooks, I think a lot of non-evil Christians would do likewise.

How about a new rule: no idiots allowed in our parks?

This is appalling: a couple of Boy Scout leaders knocked over a rock formation in Goblin Valley. And they were so stupid that they recorded the act and put it on youtube. Here it is; skip it if you don’t think you could bear watching a couple of man-children whooping and hollering while they vandalize a state park.

They now claim that they were acting to protect visitors to the park from a hazard, that the rock could have fallen at any time and hurt someone. Well, golly, I guess that means they ought to go romping through the park and knocking over all those amazing teetering rock formations. Maybe a little dynamite, just to be sure?