The Odds of Elvis Being an Identical Twin

This one demanded to be shared ASAP. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Identical or monozygotic twins occur in roughly four births per 1,000.
  2. Fraternal or dizygotic twins occur in roughly eight births per 1,000.
  3. Elvis Prestley had a twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley, that was stillborn.

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll assume sex is binary and split 50/50, despite the existence of intersex fraternal twins. What are the odds of Elvis being an identical twin? The answer’s below the fold.

[Read more…]

The Odds of Elvis Being an Identical Twin?

This one demanded to be shared ASAP. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Identical or monozygotic twins occur in roughly four births per 1,000.
  2. Fraternal or dizygotic twins occur in roughly eight births per 1,000.
  3. Elvis Prestley had a twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley, that was stillborn.

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll assume sex is binary and split 50/50, despite the existence of intersex fraternal twins. What are the odds of Elvis being an identical twin? The answer will pop up on my blog in two days.

Welcome to The Community

I’m a long-time lurker. I prefer to sit back and skim through comment sections, passively absorbing, and over the years I’ve seen a fair number. After a while, you start to get a feel for their dynamics. Typically, a blog post plays out something like this:

  1. Blog author posts something.
  2. Long-time commenters pop by with their two cents.
  3. Their chatter starts to wander off topic.
  4. Someone pops by with a strong opinion that’s vaguely off-topic.
  5. This kicks up an argument, which gets ugly and spirals away from what the original post discussed.

There are exceptions, of course; endless threads have no topic to wander off of, and if the thread is obscure and the topic well-defined the comments can stay topical indefinitely. The comment community plays a large role in this, too. A small band of thoughtful regulars are a blogger’s dream, while a large number of over-opinionated randos can (and often do) ruin any thread. If acrimony starts to trump argument, even a small community can turn dysfunctional.

It doesn’t help that our tools are few, blunt and prone to breaking. Voting systems can be gamed, while banning users or keywords is an all-or-nothing affair that barely works. Allowing comments for a limited window sounds great, but it doesn’t allow the regulars to build up much of a conversation. Banning all comments kills off the local community.

Aaaaand that’s about the extent of it. Maybe someday I’ll create a browser plugin that provides a personal ranking system, which automatically mutes or even hides users based on how you’ve rated their prior comments, but that’s low in my queue.

How am I going to encourage that small, thoughtful community to form? Here’s my current plan:

  • Regular blog posts don’t allow comments, unless justified by the contents. This prevents comment threads from spiraling away.
  • The “Community” post is an endless thread. Only one of them is active at a time.
  • To provide a little structure, links to the regular blog posts will get dropped into the Community post as they go public. These can be ignored.
  • The Community post will be linked somewhere along the side menu, but it won’t otherwise be advertised. This should keep the randos to a minimum, but without throwing out regulars too.
  • The top of the Community post will outline the moderation rules in play. Those rules stay consistent over the lifetime of the Community post. If I want a significant change, the current Community post is locked and a new one is created. The new will link to the old, and vice-versa.

The first Community post is the one you’re reading right now.

The initial mod rules are fairly ill-defined and flexible, to keep the rules lawyers at bay. My guiding principle is to maximize information; it takes time and energy to read a comment, so you should try to convey as much as possible, as clearly as possible, in the least space. Critiques beat opinions, evidence wins over assertion. Strict enforcement of that doesn’t work with endless threads, but it’s still the ideal you should keep in the back of your mind.

The corollary is another matter, though: quit it with the oppressive language. If you lack the creativity to think up an alternative to “crazy,” you shouldn’t be posting here. Violence in any form is a no-no, and both stalking and harassment are low-grade forms of violence.

Speaking of which, I’d like to swipe an idea from football. They have a carding system to handle misconduct, which I think works in this context too. If you’re handed a yellow card, that’s a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct. A red card gets you banned from this thread, though not the entire blog. A black card is a permanent ban.

Got it? Then game on!

Sex, Donald Trump, and Videotape

Goddammit, I don’t have the time to write this. But if I don’t stop and put the analysis floating in my head to photons, I’ll itch about it for days.

First off, I need to lay down a trigger warning for sex, Donald Trump, and videotape. Because this happened:

The dossier, which is a collection of memos written over a period of months, includes specific, unverified, and potentially unverifiable allegations of contact between Trump aides and Russian operatives, and graphic claims of sexual acts documented by the Russians. BuzzFeed News reporters in the US and Europe have been investigating various alleged facts in the dossier but have not verified or falsified them. CNN reported Tuesday that a two-page synopsis of the report was given to President Obama and Trump.

Now BuzzFeed News is publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.

Second, there’s a chance these claims are false. I wouldn’t rate this scenario as likely, though…
The raw memos on which the synopsis is based were prepared by the former MI6 agent, who was posted in Russia in the 1990s and now runs a private intelligence gathering firm. His investigations related to Mr. Trump were initially funded by groups and donors supporting Republican opponents of Mr. Trump during the GOP primaries, multiple sources confirmed to CNN. Those sources also said that once Mr. Trump became the nominee, further investigation was funded by groups and donors supporting Hillary Clinton.

The documents have circulated for months and acquired a kind of legendary status among journalists, lawmakers, and intelligence officials who have seen them. Mother Jones writer David Corn referred to the documents in a late October column. BuzzFeed News reporters in the US and Europe have been investigating various alleged facts in the dossier but have not stood them up or knocked them down.

Reddit’s r/The_Donald users pointed to an anonymous 4chan post from Nov. 1, exactly one week before the election, that Redditors say proves “/pol/ really invented this rumor” involving Trump’s alleged business and personal ties to Russia. […]

[Rick] Wilson dismissed all of r/The_Donald and 4chan’s claims in a tweet on Tuesday night. “You’re wrong if you believe 1. What we had came from /pol 2. That I was Buzzfeed’s source. Try again, boys,” he wrote. “The information was out there looooong before the 4chan posts,” he replied to another user.

Reached by phone earlier in the evening, Wilson told The Daily Beast that the Russian allegations were “making the rounds before anyone talked about it publicly.” He said that they were being discussed as early as a year and a half ago.

… but stranger things have happened.
Third, what’s left out is as important as what’s left in. Trump’s called a sexual pervert, but there’s no mention of what acts he personally engaged in. Did he join in the fun? Or just sit back and watch? It’s not terribly relevant, though; fake news cuts both ways, and even the most charitable interpretation says Trump done wrong.
Fourth, there’s the question of how Trump’s followers will react. This one’s pretty easy: he’ll lose maybe five to ten approval points, but most of his fans will just brush this off as fake news. His transition may have the lowest approval rating of any in recent memory, but that’s when you average across the whole country. When you break down by party affiliation, though, Republicans rate him within a hair of George Bush Jr. A few may even like Trump more. Defiling a bed the Obamas slept on? Damn, that’s hardcore hate.
Fifth, we have Trump himself. He’s thought to be unshameable, but I don’t think that’s quite true. His vengeful nature is frequently treated as a show of dominance, but I think it’s really papering over weakness. He can’t stand to be criticized or ridiculed. So if the entirety of Twitter is mocking him, this has to be one of the worst moments of his life.

@realDonaldTrump (Donald J. Trump)

Retweets: 18,191; Likes: 50,597
7:19 PM – 10 Jan 2017

The Trump brand will take another hit, hurting him in what may be his weakest spot.

Sixth, there’s the media. The mainstream is actually in a bit of a bind; they have to maintain a PG rating to reach the masses, which means they can’t go into detail about the report, but without those details the full impact will be blunted. It’ll come across as just another contested fact, the “unverified” angle will dominate the coverage, and people will entrench instead of change their minds. Social media, however, can get as nasty as it wants. The allegations are nearly perfect for going viral, so this could ring across the internet for a very, very long time.

Seventh, and the main reason why I’m writing this, is that the President of the US is also the Commander-in-Chief of the military. They’re a rather proud and patriotic group of people, sworn to defend the US against a foreign enemy. So if any of them read this…

Speaking separately in June 2016, Source B (the former top level Russian intelligence officer) asserted that TRUMP’s unorthodox behavior in Russia over the years had provided the authorities there with enough embarrassing material on the now Republican presidential candidate to be able to blackmail him if they so wished.

… their definition of “foreign enemy” might expand a bit.

Eighth, Trump isn’t President yet. He can’t be impeached. He’s already been elected by the Electoral College. I’m not an expert here, I’ll admit, but the only way I know of to prevent Trump from becoming President is if he agrees to step down first. That would be an admission of guilt on his part, and ain’t likely. This leaves the US in an odd legal limbo, where nothing can happen… until Trump takes the oath of office, after which anything can happen.

Ninth, there’s the Kremlin. There was quite a bit of debate about whether or not they were trying to get Trump into office, hurt Clinton, or just throw a monkey wrench into US politics. Eichenwald claims that they stopped promoting Trump when it looked like that “grab’em” video would sink his campaign; if that’s true, and it’s also true they have kompromat on him, it might signal they’d intentionally leak said video to throw the US into further chaos. Currently, though, the sources most likely to be pushing Russian propaganda are taking the “fake news” and “4chan did it” angles.

Tenth, we have the Republican party. Their loyalties are currently tugged a million ways to Sunday. Most of them are at least tolerant of Trump, given how quickly many of them backtracked after denouncing Trump over the aforementioned video. But most of them are also suspicious of Russia. Most have similar views as the military. Some of them have read this report. At best, they’ll have to endure this humiliation and a wave of angry voters demanding an investigation. At worst, they have the choice of tossing Trump under the bus, alienating a large group of voters, or let this scandal spread like a cancer through their party.

So, what does all this add up to? Here’s what I figure: the next ten days are going to be some of the messiest politics we’ve seen in the US. There are going to be a lot of heated meetings behind closed doors, trying to figure out what do on or before Inauguration Day. Trump is going to stick with denials, and wait until he is sworn in; after which, a swift purge of the Republican party is his probable first move given his current actions. The Kremlin will probably continue saying there is no kompromat. The Democrats aren’t going to change course.

The real wild cards here are the military and the Republican party. The military seems to think Trump is unfit for command, overall, but also supported him over Clinton. It’s not clear how they’ll take this leak. Will the Republicans, afraid the military would take matters into their own hands or this scandal will drag them down, invoke Amendment 25 and put Pence in charge? Will they blow the report off, and join Trump in dismissing the findings of the USIC, risking even more leaks from disgruntled spooks? These two players are the ones who’ll determine how this scandal plays out.

Watch them carefully.

main = print(“Hello World”)

I’ve been wanting to blog here for years, but I always wound up being crushed by schoolwork or distracted by personal life. Eventually I got sick of perpetually putting it off, and forced myself to apply. I’d figure out a way to make it work.

And, as you can see, I’m now blogging here!

And up to my eyeballs in schoolwork.

And with more demands on my free time than ever before.

But! I have a plan.

See, the nice thing about being a slightly-paranoid Computer Scientist is that you tend to keep a low profile. My previous blogging isn’t well known, and the rest of my back catalog ranges from “seen by five people” to “never been shared publicly.” I can easily pad this space with old material until I can come up for air. This is especially perfect, because while my contemporary writing is all about the replication crisis and angrily shouting at fools, my older work was more about atheist apologetics. I have a decently-sized book that I gave up on writing, all about the subject, and it led me to a set of arguments that I haven’t seen anyone else develop. That is book-worthy, but there’s no harm in workshopping it until I can properly put fingers to keyboard.

In the meantime, I should also get cracking at a comment policy. Years of lurking in comment threads have left me with… opinions on the matter. That’s for a future post, though.

I suppose some of you are wondering about the name. Funny, despite the whole “wanting to blog” thing I’ve never been able to decide on a proper blog name. I’ve held on to a catchy subtitle for years (“/dev/random, unless I make a hash of it”), but a title? No clue, no idea, nothing ever came to mind. Forced to come up with one at long last, I did what came naturally.

> while :; do echo `egrep 'te$' /usr/share/dict/words | perl -e 'rand($.)<1 and ($line=$_)while<>;print$line'` \
     `perl -e 'rand($.)<1 and ($line=$_)while<>;print$line' /usr/share/dict/words` ; done | less

xanthosiderite koa
Brooklynite lull
adeste reclamatory
bipunctate abevacuation
disrelate seewee
Epirote Cobden
hemisaprophyte parcel-guilty
camote danda
catastate Westphalian
ingurgitate ephelis
sommite soilures
inseminate rabies
pianoforte stabbed
preconstitute tanistry
Bonaparte intermodification
decapitate philohellenian
Marette Sharona
swinecote prefictional
miaskite Egbert
subprofessorate eosphorite
protectorate soogan
portmanmote morosities
indicolite saiyids
Marguerite hoidening
repromulgate pandemoniacal
barytocelestite alloxy
umbraculate Post-devonian
desecate white-rumped
landgate twice-canvassed
killinite pyrogallate
cycadophyte Englishable
lautarite buffoons
bipunctate tar
merocerite pencels
echelette Borak
odorate overcultivated
Parbate Perrins
amphodelite lethalize
hesperidate Lemosi
zonociliate implosively
Jacquette reimbushment
tricussate Reisinger
alunite high-hatty
archeocyte unimpatiently
montroydite roband
orcanette panstereorama
julienite unorchestrated
fulminurate pro-Sweden
Bathinette Piraeus
cassate unfeigning
lowigite dolos
lyddite intersomnial
delate hepatised
alienigenate perscribe
emporte zoroastra
hemimorphite off-put
hypoantimonate ambrosia
nonconfederate hotfoot
exonerate nonfuturition
reprobate spreadsheet

The algorithm hath spoken!

Steven Pinker, Crank

At least he doesn’t start out that way.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that in an isolated system (one that is not taking in energy), entropy never decreases. … Closed systems inexorably become less structured, less organized, less able to accomplish interesting and useful outcomes, until they slide into an equilibrium of gray, tepid, homogeneous monotony and stay there.

For a non-physicist, it’s a decent formulation. It needs more of a description of entropy, though. In computer science, we think of it as how much information is or could be packed into an space. If I have a typical six-sided die, I can send you a message by giving it to you in a specific configuration. If I just ask you to look at a specific side, there are only six unique states to send a message with; if I also ask you to look at the orientation of the other sides, I can bump that up to twenty-four. I can’t send any more information unless I increase the number of states, or get to send multiple die or the same die multiple times. Compression is just transforming a low-entropy encoding into a high-entropy one, saving some time or space.

The physics version is closely related: how many ways can I shuffle the microscopic details of a system while preserving the macroscopic ones? If you’re looking at something small like a computer circuit, the answer is “not many.” The finely-ordered detail can’t be tweaked very much, and still result in a functional circuit. In contrast, the air above the circuit can be mixed up quite a bit and yet still look and act the same. Should a microscopic fluctuation happen, it’ll be far more harmful to the circuit than the air, so when they do inevitably happen the result is a gradual breaking up of the circuit. Its molecules will be slowly stripped off and brought into equilibrium with the air surrounding it, which also changes but less so.

Still with me? Good, because Pinker starts to drift off..

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is acknowledged in everyday life, in sayings such as “Ashes to ashes,” “Things fall apart,” “Rust never sleeps,” “Shit happens,” You can’t unscramble an egg,” “What can go wrong will go wrong,” and (from the Texas lawmaker Sam Rayburn), “Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one.”

That’s not really the Second Law, though. Pinker himself acknowledges that it only applies to closed systems, but anyone who’s looked up can attest that it isn’t. This comes up all the time in Creationist circles:

There is a mathematical correlation between entropy increase and an increase in disorder. The overall entropy of an isolated system can never decrease. However, the entropy of some parts of the system can spontaneously decrease at the expense of an even greater increase of other parts of the system. When heat flows spontaneously from a hot part of a system to a colder part of the system, the entropy of the hot area spontaneously decreases!

It’s bad enough that Pinker invokes a creationist-level understanding of physics, but he actually manages to make them look intelligent with:

To start with, the Second Law implies that misfortune may be no one’s fault. … Not only does the universe not care about our desires, but in the natural course of events it will appear to thwart them, because there are so many more ways for things to go wrong than to go right. Houses burn down, ships sink, battles are lost for the want of a horseshoe nail.

There is no “wrong” ordering of molecules in the air or a computer chip, only orderings that aren’t what human beings want. “Misfortune” is a human construct superimposed on the universe, to model the goal we strive for. It has no place in a physics classroom, and is completely unrelated to thermodynamics.

Poverty, too, needs no explanation. In a world governed by entropy and evolution, it is the default state of humankind. Matter does not just arrange itself into shelter or clothing, and living things do everything they can not to become our food. What needs to be explained is wealth. Yet most discussions of poverty consist of arguments about whom to blame for it.

Poverty is the inability to fulfill our basic needs. Is Pinker saying that, by default, human beings are incapable of meeting their basic needs, like food and shelter? Then he is effectively arguing we should have gone extinct and been replaced by a species which has no problems meeting its basic needs, like spiders or bacteria or ants. This of course ignores that economies are not closed systems, as the Sun helpfully dumps energy on us. Innovation increases efficiency and therefore entropy, which means that people who can’t gather their needs efficiently given what they have are living in a low entropic state.

But I thought entropy only increased over time, according to the Second Law? By Pinker’s own logic, poverty should not be the default but the past, a state that we evolved out of!

More generally, an underappreciation of the Second Law lures people into seeing every unsolved social problem as a sign that their country is being driven off a cliff.

Ooooh, I get it. This essay is just an excuse for Pinker to whine about progressives who want to improve other people’s lives. He thought he could hide his complaints behind science, to make them look more digestible to himself and others, but in reality just demonstrated he understands physics worse than most creationists.

What a crank. And sadly, that seems to be the norm in Evolutionary Psychology.

No, that is not a Sokal hoax; that is a legitimate paper published by two leading Evolutionary Psychologists! There must be something about the field that breeds smug ignorance…

Replication Isn’t Enough

I bang on about statistical power because it indirectly raises the odds of a false positive. In brief, it forces you to do more tests to reach a statistical conclusion, stuffing the file drawer and thus making published results appear more certain than they are. In detail, see John Borghi or Ioannidis (2005). In comic, see Maki Naro.

The concept of statistical power has been known since 1928, the wasteful consequences of low power since 1962, and yet there’s no sign that scientists are upping their power levels. This is a representative result:

Our results indicate that the average statistical power of studies in the field of neuroscience is probably no more than between ~8% and ~31%, on the basis of evidence from diverse subfields within neuro-science. If the low average power we observed across these studies is typical of the neuroscience literature as a whole, this has profound implications for the field. A major implication is that the likelihood that any nominally significant finding actually reflects a true effect is small.

Button, Katherine S., et al. “Power failure: why small sample size undermines the reliability of neuroscience.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 14.5 (2013): 365-376.

The most obvious consequence of low power is a failure to replicate. If you rarely try to replicate studies, you’ll be blissfully unaware of the problem; once you take replications seriously, though, you’ll suddenly find yourself in a “replication crisis.”

You’d think this would result in calls for increased statistical power, with the occasional call for a switch in methodology to a system that automatically incorporates power. But it’s also led to calls for more replications.

As a condition of receiving their PhD from any accredited institution, graduate students in psychology should be required to conduct, write up, and submit for publication a high-quality replication attempt of at least one key finding from the literature, focusing on the area of their doctoral research.
Everett, Jim AC, and Brian D. Earp. “A tragedy of the (academic) commons: interpreting the replication crisis in psychology as a social dilemma for early-career researchers.” Frontiers in psychology 6 (2015).

Much has been made of preregistration, publication of null results, and Bayesian statistics as important changes to how we do business. But my view is that there is relatively little value in appending these modifications to a scientific practice that is still about one-off findings; and applying them mechanistically to a more careful, cumulative practice is likely to be more of a hindrance than a help. So what do we do? …

Cumulative study sets with internal replication.

If I had to advocate for a single change to practice, this would be it.

There’s an intuitive logic to this: currently less than one in a hundred papers are replications of prior work, so there’s plenty of room for expansion; many key figures like Ronald Fisher and Jerzy Neyman have emphasized the necessity of replications; and it doesn’t require any modification of technique; and the “replication crisis” is primarily about replications. It sounds like an easy, feel-good solution to the problem.

But then I read this paper:

Smaldino, Paul E., and Richard McElreath. “The Natural Selection of Bad Science.” arXiv preprint arXiv:1605.09511 (2016).

It starts off with a meta-analysis of meta-analyses of power, and comes to the same conclusion as above.

We collected all papers that contained reviews of statistical power from published papers in the social, behavioural and biological sciences, and found 19 studies from 16 papers published between 1992 and 2014. … We focus on the statistical power to detect small effects of the order d=0.2, the kind most commonly found in social science research. …. Statistical power is quite low, with a mean of only 0.24, meaning that tests will fail to detect small effects when present three times out of four. More importantly, statistical power shows no sign of increase over six decades …. The data are far from a complete picture of any given field or of the social and behavioural sciences more generally, but they help explain why false discoveries appear to be common. Indeed, our methods may overestimate statistical power because we draw only on published results, which were by necessity sufficiently powered to pass through peer review, usually by detecting a non-null effect.

Rather than leave it at that, though, the researchers decided to simulate the pursuit of science. They set up various “labs” that exerted different levels of effort to maintain methodological rigor, killed off labs that didn’t publish much and replaced them with mutations of labs that published more, and set the simulation spinning.

We ran simulations in which power was held constant but in which effort could evolve (μw=0, μe=0.01). Here selection favoured labs who put in less effort towards ensuring quality work, which increased publication rates at the cost of more false discoveries … . When the focus is on the production of novel results and negative findings are difficult to publish, institutional incentives for publication quantity select for the continued degradation of scientific practices.

That’s not surprising. But then they started tinkering with replication rates. To begin with, replications were done 1% of the time, were guaranteed to be published, and having one of your results fail to replicate would exact a terrible toll.

We found that the mean rate of replication evolved slowly but steadily to around 0.08. Replication was weakly selected for, because although publication of a replication was worth only half as much as publication of a novel result, it was also guaranteed to be published. On the other hand, allowing replication to evolve could not stave off the evolution of low effort, because low effort increased the false-positive rate to such high levels that novel hypotheses became more likely than not to yield positive results … . As such, increasing one’s replication rate became less lucrative than reducing effort and pursuing novel hypotheses.

So it was time for extreme measures: force the replication rate to high levels, to the point that 50% of all studies were replications. All that happened was that it took longer for the overall methodological effort to drop and false positives to bloom.

Replication is not sufficient to curb the natural selection of bad science because the top performing labs will always be those who are able to cut corners. Replication allows those labs with poor methods to be penalized, but unless all published studies are replicated several times (an ideal but implausible scenario), some labs will avoid being caught. In a system such as modern science, with finite career opportunities and high network connectivity, the marginal return for being in the top tier of publications may be orders of magnitude higher than an otherwise respectable publication record.

Replication isn’t enough. The field of science needs to incorporate more radical reforms that encourage high methodological rigor and greater power.

Steven Pinker and his Portable Goalposts

PZ Myers seems to have pissed off quite a few people, this time for taking Steven Pinker to task. His take is worth reading in full, but I’d like to add another angle. In the original interview, there’s a very telling passage:

Belluz: But as you mentioned, there’s been an uptick in war deaths driven by the staggeringly violent ongoing conflict in Syria. Does that not affect your thesis?

Pinker: No, it doesn’t affect the thesis because the rate of death in war is about 1.4 per 100,000 per year. That’s higher than it was at the low point in 2010. But it’s still a fraction of what it was in earlier years.

See the problem here? Pinker’s hypothesis is that over the span of centuries, violence will decrease. The recent spike in deaths may be the start of a reversal that proves Pinker wrong. But because his hypothesis covers such a wide timespan, we’re going to need fifty or more years worth of data to challenge it. [Read more…]

Veritasium on the Reproducibility Crisis

It’s a great summary, going into much more depth than most. I really like how Muller brought out a concrete example of publication bias, and found an example of p-hacking in a branch of science that’s usually resistant to it, physics.

But I’m not completely happy with it. Some of this comes from being a Bayesian fanboi that didn’t hear the topic mentioned, but Muller also makes a weird turn of phrase at the end. Muller argues that, as bad as the flaws in science may be, think of how much worse they are in all our other systems of learning about the world.

Slight problem: there are no other systems. Even “I feel it’s true” is based on an evidential claim, evaluated for plausibility against other competing hypotheses. The weighting procedure may be hopelessly skewed, but so too are p-values and the publication process.

Muller could have strengthened his point by bringing up an example, yet did not. We’re left taking his word that science isn’t the sole methodology we have for exploring the world, and that those alternate methodologies aren’t as rigorous. Meanwhile, he explicitly points out that a small fraction of “landmark cancer trials” could be replicated; this implies that cancer treatments, and by extension the well-being of millions of cancer patients, are being harmed by poor methodology in science. Even if you disagree with my assertion that all epistemologies are scientific in some fashion, it’s tough to find a counter-example that effects 40% of us and will kill a quarter.

My hope doesn’t come from a blind assurance that other methodologies are worse than science, it comes from the news that scientists have recognized the flaws in their trade, and are working to correct them. To be fair to Muller, he’d probably agree.

Ignorance and Social Justice

“Why are you a feminist?”

Because it lets me sleep at night. Think about it: let’s say it’s true that over half the human population is burdened with a systematic disadvantage compared to the rest. Having learned of that, can you honestly shrug your shoulders and ignore the problem? I certainly can’t, so I’ll do what little I can to correct this injustice.

You may not agree, which is fine. But the corrolary of this view is that you cannot be opposed to feminism without also misunderstanding it. This sets up a prediction we can test: people who oppose feminism and other forms of social justice must be ignorant of it, must invoke straw-people, and must be resistant to learning or understanding it, if my stance has some truth to it.

The evidence suggests it has more than a little.

For instance, after offering to debate Martin Hughes, TJ Kirk cowardly backed out. Stephanie Zvan has an excellent blog post up pointing out that this is a common theme: people opposed to social justice aren’t keen on actually debating the subject.

That’s the real function of “You don’t want to debate” in this context. It isn’t to get you to debate. It’s there to say there’s something wrong with you. That’s why the offer disappears once you drag the argument into the reality of terms and conditions and making sure no one profits from the debate. It wasn’t real to begin with.

To do well in a debate, you really have to know the other side in depth. If you do that homework, though, you might learn the other side’s arguments are correct. So if you are hoping to sleep well at night, you don’t debates. I popped into the comment section to point out an exception to this:

Some of the hardcore haters would disagree, and say they’re perfectly fine with a debate. They have a very peculiar definition of “debate” in mind, though, where both sides shout slogans into the night without critically appraising their merits. It’s an extension of what I’ve called the “treadmill of lies:” By endlessly cycling from myth to lie, they avoid having to consider any one in detail and thus can convince themselves they’re just a bunch of skeptical satirists.

When this actually happens during a debate, we call it a “Gish Gallop.” This technique is a big problem with traditional, in-person debates, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that TJ Kirk was pushing for this format instead of a more leisurely exchange of blog posts. He knew he had nothing but slogans against Hughes’ arguments, and he knew those wouldn’t convince anyone but those already convinced. Unless there was some sort of reward involved, like cash or a raised profile, there was no point in “debating” Hughes.

I go into a little more detail on the treadmill here. But as luck would have it, this data point was followed by yet another. Possibly in response to the controversy kicked off by Kirk, a number of atheist YouTubers joined with him to fire back a challenge: “QUESTIONS WHITE MEN HAVE FOR SJWs!

Others in the atheo/skeptic community have been responding back, in between bouts of muffled laughter and obvious eyerolls. I’ll add my two cents at some point, but for now I’d like to point out a common theme in the questions.

3. Do you want women to be equal or do you want women to be a protected class? You can’t have both.

Protected class: “A group of people with a common characteristic who are legally protected from employment discrimination on the basis of that characteristic. Protected classes are created by both federal and state law. … Federal protected classes include: Race. Color. Religion or creed. National origin or ancestry. Sex.

4. What are you afraid will happen when you leave your “safe space”?

A Safe Space is a place where anyone can relax and be able to fully express, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, religious affiliation, age, or physical or mental ability.

5. How can you possibly justify the idea that it’s somehow racist to disagree with black lives matter?

When we say Black Lives Matter, we are broadening the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state.  We are talking about the ways in which Black lives are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity.

6. Are you aware the present is not the past? Are you familiar with the concept of linear time? Because you seem incredibly comfortable traveling back through time by talking about how bad things were for women, or black people, or whomever. And then by using some form of SJW magic, you then claim or imply that those problems in the past exist today. Are you aware that this trick that you’re doing is not working? Why do you think that would work?

Results: In the United States, an estimated 19.3% of women and 1.7% of men have been raped during their lifetimes; an estimated 1.6% of women reported that they were raped in the 12 months preceding the survey. The case count for men reporting rape in the preceding 12 months was too small to produce a statistically reliable prevalence estimate. An estimated 43.9% of women and 23.4% of men experienced other forms of sexual violence during their lifetimes, including being made to penetrate, sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, and noncontact unwanted sexual experiences. The percentages of women and men who experienced these other forms of sexual violence victimization in the 12 months preceding the survey were an estimated 5.5% and 5.1%, respectively.

8. Did you know there are 13% more women in college right now than men? So if the whole goal of feminism is “equality,” shouldn’t we have some men-only scholarships in order to equal everything out?

The strength of this unconscious bias is quite astonishing – even for a relatively objective measure such as promptness, students rated a “female” professor 3.55 out of 5 and a “male” professor 4.35, despite the fact that they handed work back at the same time.

The implications are serious. In the competitive world of academia, student evaluations are often used as a tool in the process of hiring and promotion. That the evaluations may be biased against female professors is particularly problematic in light of existing gender imbalance, particularly at the highest echelons of academia. According to the American Association of University Professors, in 2012, 62% of men in academia in the US were tenured compared to only 44% of women, while women were far more likely to be in non-tenure track positions than men (32% of women in academia compared to just 19% of men).

When there are answers to the questions those YouTubers fired off, it only takes a few minutes of Googling to get an answer. Want scientific studies? They’ve been done by the hundreds, on nearly all the topics pushed by “social justice warriors.” Decades of research have been done, untold thousands of words have been spilled, and yet these people opposed to social justice are completely ignorant of it all. Had they put in the time to educate themselves, like some others have, they’d become social justice warriors too.

But as Zvan would have predicted, some of those questions aren’t actually questions.

7. Why do you think that you can spend your entire life in a state of perpetual emotional immaturity? Do you actually imagine that you’ll be able to stretch out your adolescence for your entire existence?

10. What do you hope to gain by bringing back racial segregation?

12. Why do you think every cis white male is born racist?

14. Would you rather be right, or popular? It seems like your primary objective is to score social points and get public validation.

These questions were never meant to be answered, they’re just empty talking points that form the treadmill’s belt. They’re meant to protect you from educating yourself, from breaking the wall of ignorance.

Because you might not sleep well, once you find out what’s on the other side.