joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
I'm listening to a podcast episode right now that's really bouncing around a variety of topics, but the main theme is how we cannot have logic without emotion and how thought is a physical process. I don't want to get into such a science-heavy topic because that's not the point I want to make and I'm fuzzy on the nitty-gritty details. But within the larger topic, the host and the guest got to a point of conservativism vs. liberalism. And the guest (whose name escapes me) said something that kind of boggled my mind. And I'm still thinking it through.

Anyone who is familiar with the Skeptics Movement(TM) knows about the so-called schism between the "militant atheists" and the apologists (and, I just have to point out how much I fucking hate the term "militant" with regards to atheists. "Militant" is taking up arms in support of your cause, not writing fucking blog posts and books, no matter how loudly one yells "there is no god!" Ahem.) So, in the one camp are those who say we should say it loud, say it proud and stop being wishy-washy, nambsy-pambsy, mealy-mouthed cowtowers to the conservative Right. The other camp says we should be nice and try to find common ground and just accommodate them a little bit because we don't want to alienate anyone.

Ya'll should know which side of this debate I fall on.

The camp that sides with volume and strength has pointed out that the conservative Right has been incredibly successful at winning their battles by using these exact methods. The difference is, the argument goes, that we aren't *just* being loud, we're also backing up our shouting with facts that support what we're yelling about, so we're loud, but we're also right. The other camp says that no one likes to be yelled at, so the middle ground will side with the conservatives just because they don't like our tone. And besides, we don't *like* the other side, so we shouldn't emulate them! We should be distancing ourselves from them, not copying their methods.

Well, according to this scientist, there's a reason for for all this. *He* says that fMRI tests suggest that the reason why people can hold contradictory beliefs in their minds at the same time is because when one section of the brain that corresponds to one type of belief is firing, it cancels out the other section, the one that corresponds to the contradictory belief. It's like a breaker - if you activate conservativism, you shut off liberalism and vice versa.

So, he says, when a conservative wants to convince a middle-grounder who holds a some liberal and some conservative views (which is pretty much most of us) of the conservative position, the conservative doesn't try to find middle ground. Instead, he moves further to the Right because he's trying, basically, to deactivate the liberal portion of the listener's brain by pounding it with conservativism.

Yeah, seriously.

Oh, I'm sure the conservative isn't aware that he's doing this - it's not some rational, science-based game plan. Somewhere along the line, the fundies noticed that the more extremely conservative they got, the more followers they got. And they exploit that trick. So when they're shouting from the pulpits sounding like complete lunatics to people like me, others are hearing them and their liberal breaker gets flipped, and the conservative side of their brains kick in and start thinking "y'know? That guy kinda makes sense!"


The guest then went on to say that the Democrats just haven't figured this out yet. The Democrats (he specified them) are doing the apologist/find-common-ground method to try and win converts. So they moderate their message and tone it down and go a bit more conservative in their effort to sound friendly towards conservatives. And that doesn't win them converts, it just increases the ranks of conservatives. Which is why we have the Wingnut Party and the Republican-Light Party.

So, because I don't know who this guest is, and because I don't know the science behind this, I hesitate to actually endorse it. But, and I'm fully aware of confirmation bias here, this certainly fits my own observations of the world. I continue to be baffled, no, shocked absolutely dumbstruck, at how these wackaloons can get such large followings. I listen to these idiots and the pure bile that comes out of their mouths and I think "how in the world can anyone hear this shit and take them seriously?" And I have no explanation for that, because there really is no lack of intelligence on the conservative side. In fact, quite a lot of conservatives are extremely intelligent. So I just don't get it.

The fundagelicals and the Rethuglicans (I use those slurs intentionally, because not every theist or Republican is the barking moon-bat crazy that these terms more accurately describe) appear to actually be winning converts and followers by doing exactly those things that make my jaw drop - by being extreme and totally out there. That also explains why, in spite of the reasoned arguments of the Don't Be A Dick lobby claiming that "people are swayed by niceness", the biggest names in the skeptics, atheist, and/or liberal movements are considered dicks - PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and all the most well-known comedians who are most certainly Not Nice to religionists such as George Carlin, Jon Stewart, Billy Connelly, Eddie Izzard, Tim Minchin, Matt & Trey, Penn & Teller, etc. It's true that there are plenty of nice and famous people too, but if the apologist argument was true - that nobody likes to be yelled at (which, technically, is not what's happening, but that's another rant) and people prefer nice guys, then these famous Dicks shouldn't be so popular.

And, according to this podcast, the reason why is because inundating a person who holds a combination of liberal and conservative viewpoints with an extreme version of one or the other viewpoint activates that side and deactivates the other, so that the listener's decisions are then made using the emotions that are more prominantly featured by that particular viewpoint. In other words, the more extreme conservatives win converts while the moderate liberals trying to be nice just chalk up more points for the conservatives.

And that's a scary thought.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
I originally made a list of podcast episodes that I was compiling for a sample CD of skeptical topics. I have been unable to produce a small enough file containing all the audio in the list that I could reasonably upload or have people reasonably download. But I have put together my discs and I handed out my first one today.

I have made 3 discs - one for religious episodes, one for pseudoscience episodes, and a DVD with video episodes of both. I also rearranged the episodes so that they were grouped together by topic, instead of by show. I believe it will be easier for people to find the episodes they want to listen to, since they won't have any idea who the show producers are anyway, so "Skeptoid" or "Quackcast" won't mean anything to them. This way, they also may have a couple of shows to choose from on the same topic that they can find easily, and can switch to another show's episode if the one they're listening to isn't doing anything for them, like if they don't like the format or the host or something.

In case people are interested, here is my recommended episode playlist, with all the episodes in order )

HUGE list

Dec. 22nd, 2010 03:09 am
joreth: (Silent Bob Headbang)
of atheist charities:

Also, Charity Navigator, to help you choose the proper charity for your needs.

Data Dump

Dec. 15th, 2010 10:24 pm
joreth: (authority)
I've had these tabs open for ages, meaning to write a post about them, and I never seem to get around to it.  So I'm throwing them all in one post: - New Discovery May Offer Cure for Human Papillomavirus (HPV). "Test results confirming two of our lead compounds showed excellent in vitro antiviral activity and no cellular toxicity at dose levels tested for Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Testing was performed using the HPV 11 strain, which along with HPV type 6, is responsible for ninety percent of genital or anal warts." - Marinomed's iota-carrageenan effective against H1N1. "In animal experiments, Carrageenan demonstrated equivalent efficacy when compared to the drug Tamiflu". - Evolutionary history of partible paternity in lowland South America. "Partible paternity, the conception belief that more than one man can contribute to the formation of a fetus, is common in lowland South America and characterized by nonexclusive mating relationships and various institutionalized forms of recognition and investment by multiple cofathers." - "JourneyQuest is a fantasy comedy web series from the creators of "The Gamers" and "The Gamers: Dorkness Rising"." - "The Enemies of Reason is a two-part television documentary, written and presented by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. ... Watch the full documentary now" - " aggregate all the Atheist, Pro-Science and Free-Thinking Songs, under the one roof." (I need to comb through this and add songs to my Atheist Music YouTube Playlist - The Rap Guide to Human Nature by Baba Brinkman "Immediate download of 19-track album in your choice of 320k mp3, FLAC, or just about any other format you could possibly desire. Buy Now name your price" - Rationalist Kids Show Martha Speaks The Truth
joreth: (Xmas Kitties)
 So, it's the holidays, and being a member of several minority groups, everyone wants to know how I handle the traditional holiday season as a non-traditional person.  I was interviewed for a UK magazine about how polys spend the holidays, because apparently the idea that we spend them pretty much the same way monogamous people do is an unusual concept.  I'm also reading The Atheist's Guide To Christmas, a book I have been curious about for some time.  I know it's difficult to imagine, but atheists, and polys, are actually made up of more than one person, and sometimes we actually have different thoughts, ideas, wants, likes, and dislikes!  Shocking, but true.  So that means that there isn't a single way to exist during the holiday season, for either polys or atheists.  But with everyone reminding me that I'm "different", it got me to thinking ... how does a skeptical polyamorous atheist deal with a holiday that is more or less seen as a religious family holiday?  Apparently, people want to know.

I can only answer for myself.  Everyone else will have a different story, just like every monogamist and every religious person will have a different story.  Because, and here's another shock, they're not all the same person either!

How do Polys spend the Holidays? )

Shouldn't I be out in the trenches, fighting the War On Christmas? )

So, Happy Holidays everyone, whichever holiday you celebrate!  And if you refuse to accept my wishes for a good holiday because I didn't specify *your* holiday, then you don't deserve my wishes for a good holiday anyway.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Because I like lists, I made a new list. My favorite Skeptic, Science, and Atheist Podcasts list. I made a post a while back with specific episodes of specific podcasts for a Podcast Sample CD as an introduction to skepticism (either pseudoscience/paranormal or religion), particularly for people who do not listen to podcasts or have an iPod, but this is just an overall list of my favorite podcasts.

If you click on the link that takes you to the Listal page for each list, you can get widges and embed codes to include these lists in your own blog or webpage.  I will be posting this list on my website soon as a resources that will hopefully be easier to find than an LJ entry lost in the archives. But for now, it's here:

Skeptical, Science, & Atheist Podcasts at Listal

My other lists include:

Skeptic Movies
also found at

Pro-Skeptical & Pro-Science Movies at Listal

Poly-ish Movies
also found at

Polyamorous & Poly-ish Movies at Listal

Poly Books
also found at

Polyamory Books at Listal
joreth: (arrogance)
We all know them, those people who say "I don't like labels. I can't be summarized by a couple of terms", and they steadfastedly refuse to use certain terms. Maybe even some of us are those people. I know that I've been known to say things like that in my time.

But lately this has been driving me up the wall. See, we have this thing, it's called "language". It's a collections of sounds that, when put together in a certain order, represents things, people, places, actions, concepts, etc. We make these sounds when we exhale air deliberately while vibrating our vocal chords and contracting the muscles in our tongues, jaws, lips, and even face. We make them to convey ideas. We make them because we want other people to know something. And the reason they know what we're doing when we do this strange thing called "talking", is because we have collectively agreed on the meanings of these collections of sounds.

Now the meanings are pretty arbitrary when it comes right down to it. Oh sure, we can take a specific word, and trace it back to its roots and say that this is why these particular collections of sounds mean that concept. But the original set of sounds, the ones that didn't come from anywhere else, doesn't really mean anything to the rest of the universe ... or to people who did not agree on its meaning, such as people who speak a different language. Certainly other people in other places didn't require making that specific collection of sounds to mean that concept when they try to convey it to others, and no other species of life on the planet requires that particular collection of sounds when they try to convey that concept to another. Although there are some similarities - we are all related, after all.

But to get back to the point, "labels" are what we use to communicate. Without them, we don't communicate. Period. If I were to ask a guest to have a seat on the sofa, the word "sofa" is a label. We all generally understand what a "sofa" is, although I guarantee that every single one of you has a slightly different picture in your head when you read that word. And, when you really stop to think about it, sofas are pretty diverse. They come in different sizes, different fabric covers, different colors, some have cushions, some have padding, some have beds folded up inside of them. Really, how on earth does anyone actually know what I mean when I say "sofa" if we have this much diversity among sofas?

Because humans like to classify things, to categorize them, to organize them. Maybe individual people do not, but humans as a species do. It's how we learn anything about the universe. We group things together, like with like, and we separate things that are different. Doing this has led to a collective understanding of the universe that allows you to stare at a glowing box and understand the thoughts of someone like me, who may be on the other side of the planet from you without ever having physically seen me or heard my voice, as I rant about the meaning and usage of labels. This entire LJ post is predicated on the fact that everyone reading it has a more-or-less similar understanding of the meaning of each of these words - the collections of symbols that we have, again, arbitrarily chosen to represent those collections of sounds, that we have chosen to represent concepts.

But taxonomy is messy, it's imprecise. Things do not fit neatly into little boxes and categories, as any biologist or sociologist will tell you. And there are often more than one way to categorize things. But that doesn't mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater. It means that we factor that into our usage of the system. We assign meanings to those collections of sounds that are sufficiently broad enough to include the entire diverse range of things that *are* that concept even if they're not exactly the same, but specific enough to exclude those things that really are *not* that concept.

And the distinction between those that are and those that are not is not a line. It's sort of a fuzzy fade or gradation. Some gradations may be wider and softer than others. And there will also almost always be exceptions, things that *are* a particular concept even though they don't fit the category defintion. Such as penguins and ostriches. When I say the word "bird", you all have a pretty good idea of the animal I'm talking about. Most of you will immediately think of something that is warm-blooded, egg-laying, smaller than people, covered in feathers, and flies. But some of you will think of an animal that does not have all of those criteria. And the rest of you will come up with animals that are technically "birds" but that do not have all of those traits too, only later, after the first image you came up with.

But I can tell you a story about walking along the beach and coming across these little birds on the sand, running back and forth towards the ocean and away from the ocean with the waves. And most of you will know what I'm talking about, even if you've never seen these particular birds before. It's not actually important, in this story, to give you the exact, biological classification for these specific birds. That's not the point I'm trying to make. All that matters is that you have a general idea of what a bird is, and can imagine something kind of close to what I saw so that you don't lose the thread of the story.

Now, if the specific type of bird is important, we can have a futher discussion, in which we get into the dirty details. For instance, if I tell you that one was flying in the air and suddenly dive-bombed me and landed on my head, it might be important to know how big this particular bird was, and whether it was a raptor sort of bird with sharp claws and a flesh-rendering beak. Those sort of details change the whole tone of the story. In that case, it would be useful to further define what I meant by "bird". And once I have further defined what I meant, I can continue to use the word "bird" as a shorthand to summarize everything we have discussed about this particular bird, so that I don't have to say "so then this small, feathered, flight-enabled, warm-blooded, egg-laying life-form that was approximately 4 inches long from beak to tail with blue coloring and short, spindly legs, landed on my head and started walking around on the top of my head! The small, feathered, flight-enabled, warm-blooded, egg-laying life-form that was approximately 4 inches long from beak to tail with blue coloring and short, spindly legs looked at my friends and emitted a short, high-pitched sound from its open beak..." You can see how that would get tedious.

So when I get into semantics arguments, it is because language is so important in conveying ideas and concepts to one another ... communication (imagine that, a polyamorist interested in communication). Terms that are too narrow exclude things that should rightfully be included. Terms that are too broad render that word useless. The trick, I think, is to give a term sort of a checklist of criteria. And if something has the majority of items on the checklist, then it's probably safe to include it under the umbrella of the term.

Labels for people serve this same important purpose. They summarize us in a general sort of way, they shape our identity, and they provide a common point for which others can identify as "similar to me", which often leads to that sense of community that seems to be so important to humans (as a species, clearly not to some individuals). Expecting them to be exactly accurate for every single detail is expecting too much out of labels. But throwing them away as useless entirely is to discard the very foundation of how we communicate. This is, of course, not the same thing as adopting a label as part of your personal identity. A person can be, for instance, a feminist while not identifying as a feminist. And there may be some very valid reasons for not choosing a label as a personal identity. But if a label has a checklist of criteria, and you fit the majority of them, then you technically *are* that label, whether you choose to identify as it or not.

Polyamorist/monogamist/swinger, atheist/deist/theist, straight/bi/gay/queer, feminist/mysoginist, wooager/rationalist, orinthologist/couldn't-identify-a-robin-if-it-told-me-so-itself-ist, whatever. Words have meaning. Their meaning is important. While it may be important in some cases to try and remove value judgements when using certain labels (particularly labels that identify people who are not yourself, but then again, sometimes it is important to have a value judgement for certain labels, y'know, like murderer), removing the label itself from one's vocabulary is not usually the answer to removing value judgement. In fact, some groups of people have successfully reversed the value judgement attached to a particular label, and continued to use it.

The word "queer", for instance, means strange, odd, unusual. It became a derogatory label for homosexuals some time ago (I have no idea when, it's not important for this point, but it was a long time ago), since homosexuals were considered strange, odd, or unusual. And since being strange was supposed to be a bad thing, calling someone strange, odd, or unusual - queer - was an insult. Well, getting people who hate you to stop calling you a particular word, especially if you're a minority who is not protected by law, is a pretty daunting task. So instead, someone or someones chose to change the tone rather than the word. It *still* means strange, odd, and unusual, and it *still* is a label used for gay people. But now it doesn't necessarily mean "bad" (which, incidentally, was not part of the actual definition, just the cultural association), it doesn't necessarily convey that negative tone, and some people wear that label with pride.

This is sort of a sidenote, but when people talk about taking back a word, this is how it's done. Taking back a word doesn't mean changing its definition, it means changing the tone attached to the definition. When people claim to try and "take back the word" by making it mean the exact opposite of the definition, or worse, making it mean its original meaning and the opposite simultaneously, not only is this incorrect, but it's pretty damn-near impossible, and it actually renders the word useless. So I have a problem with that. But, I digress.

Labels. You don't have to choose any lable to make up part of your personal identity. But the phrases "I don't believe in labels" and "I don't fit in any boxes or categories" and like sentiments are just silly and pretentious. Of course you believe in labels, otherwise you couldn't communicate with anyone beyond basic emotional concepts like fear, danger, and sleepy, (which, incidently, the rest of us are labeling). People who "don't believe in labels" A) just don't like the fact that taxonimy is messy, and if they don't fit exactly, precisely, and without exceptions, they want to throw the whole system out; B) don't understand what is meant by "label" and its necessarily fuzzy borders; or C) dislike association with other people who happen to also fit that particular label and are seeking to distance themselves from Those People.

So, by all means, don't identify as a particular label if you don't want to. I don't, at this time, identify as a transhumanist, in spite of the fact that all of my partners are, and everything they have to say on the subject is something I agree with. The main reason I don't add "transhumanist" to my collection of identity labels is simply because I don't feel as though I know enough about the label to justify accepting it, although I may, in fact, actually fit that label. But don't summarily dismiss all labels as useless or misleading because that would be deeply incorrect.

Labels are the very core, the foundation, of how we communicate. But you may be expecting too much from them. Remember that they are shorthand and a common point of connection to build communities. They are not exact, but they should be specific enough to exclude those concepts that, were they included, would render the label meaningless. They are not meant to displace discussion and explanation. They are meant to summarize it, to give concepts a focal point. Removing a label from your vocabulary requires you to explain each and every time you want to communicate a particular concept. Maybe it's not clear from my lengthy and verbose LJ posts, but I would find conversation like that tedious and repetitive if I had to explain certain concepts over and over again, and I'm sure my listeners would quickly tire of listening to me.  In fact, my "me manual" LJ tag is precisely because I get frustrated when I have to explain certain things over and over again, so I can just point someone to that tag if they want to learn some commonly-explained concepts in dealing with me.

So go ahead, don't attach a particular label to your identity. But don't look down your nose at everyone else who uses language as the tool it is meant to be, by claiming that you are too complex to be labeled. I have news for you - you are labeled. Pretentious, tedious, holier-than-thou ... you have far more labels than you realize.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Q: What is your motivation to live a moral, upstanding life without the guidance of the rules of God and the Bible? I know you guys do this, but I'm not sure I understand how it works without concrete guidance.

A: "I live a moral life for the simple reason that I empathize with my fellow human beings and have a desire to avoid doing them harm that's almost as strong as my desire that they avoid harming me" ~PZ Myers

That pretty much sums it up for me.  That, and the fact that the rules of so-called God and the Bible are pretty horrific, if you actually bother to read them.  Frankly, I'm not sure how anyone *can* live a moral life WITH the guidance of those rules.  Stoning women, killing children for the sins of their parents, sending daughters out to be raped ... there are some passages about love thy neighbor in the bible, but there are a lot of passages about killing thy neighbor too, and I don't see how anyone can justify the cognitive dissonance of "morality" found within the pages of the bible.  I find it a lot easier to be "moral" without that sort of concrete guidance, personally.  

I like my morality the way I like my entertainment - internally consistent and logically plausible.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
 I've decided to compile a list of terminology used when discussing the various forms of woo, for those who are unfamiliar or new to skepticism.  These are primarily derogatory slang terms that can be found in the science or skeptical communities.  I expect to update and alter this over time.

Woo:  magic (not conjuring or stage magic, which is generally a trick of some sort to entertain, but so-called "real" magic that defies laws of physics), mysticism, religion, spirituality, pseudoscience, psi, alternative medicine;  anything that is "beyond" science, "outside" of nature, supernatural, or paranormal.  These things tend to defy our current understanding of the natural world with no plausible mechanism, and are different from new modalities or discoveries within science that are plausible & have independently verifiable evidence to support it.  There is no clear demarkation line between science and woo, but a range or a scale on which individual subjects are evaluated.  

Key words or phrases to indicate woo can include: "life force", "quantum mechanics" (either coming from someone who is not a reputable quantum scientist, or extrapolated from the micro world to explain macro objects or large distances), "boost the immune system", "the cure for everything" (or a single cure for all cancers, etc.), auras / qi / chi, "energy" (not used in the sense of a measurement of something's ability to perform work), alternate dimensions, ancient wisdom, water memory, the body's "innate intelligence", "since you can't prove a negative, science doesn't *really* know anything", "science/knowledge is a human conceit", a shill for Big [fill in the blank here], accusations of "disinformation agents", "wellness", "it's about freedom of choice", calling for public debate rather than peer review, opposition to "toxins" (there are real toxins that are harmful in certain doses, but this opposition is usually vague, ill-defined "toxins" or with disregard to dosage, or inconsistently applied to some toxins & not others).

Woo-woo:  the original term from which the shortened "woo" is derived, coined by The Amazing Randi.

Wooager : a practitioner of woo.  Natureopaths, homeopaths, astrologers, psychics, dowsers, faith healers, all religious people, alt-med practitioners, acupuncturists, mystics, etc.  Rhymes with "newager" (below).

Woomeister:  another term for practitioner of woo.  See "wooager".

Newage:  a deliberate mispronunciation of the term "New Age" that rhymes with "sewage".  It covers all topics covered under the more proper term "New Age" and is meant to be derogatory.  Astrology, healing crystals, therapeutic touch, psychics, alternate planes, etc.

Newager:  a practitioner of Newage & said with the same deliberate mispronounciation.

SCAM:  Supplemental, Complimentary, and Alternative Medicine industry, what is usually referred to as the CAM industry.  Any product or therapy purported to cure or treat illness, infection, or disease that has not been proven effective by scientific analysis & peer review, or that has been shown by those methods to be not effective.

Quack:  a practitioner or pusher of SCAM products or therapies.

IDiot:  a proponent of Intelligent Design - the idea that the entire universe was created by an intelligent being who designed everything intentionally.

Worshipin' Huts:  churches, mosques, temples, synagogues, and any religious building for the purpose of religious services and/or worship.

Wooniversity:  An institution that sells unaccredited degrees in magical pseudosciences

Deja Woo:  reincarnation

For specific types of woo, reference The Periodic Table Of Irrational Nonsense
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
The depth of science is so great that no one brain can even grasp the whole of a single subfield, so we trust our colleagues — at least, we trust them as far as they demonstrate cooperation with the tacit rules of the institution of science, which safeguard to some extent the reliability of a scientific claim. The relevant scientists say the earth is 4.6 billion years old, and they are all willing to show their work, so I'll provisionally accept it until I see a reliable source provide cantrary evidence." *

This. This is what it means to "trust" science. It is not faith, it is not dogmatic, it is not the Argument From Authority.

It means that no one can know everything, so we provisionally take scientists at their word who have demonstrated the ability to comply with the rules of science, which include the Scientific Method, falsifying information, and peer review, among other things - those things that are specifically designed to reduce human fallibility - and we maintain the null hypothesis which, in this case, means we go with that answer until something better comes along.

It does not mean we believe any guy with a lab coat unconditionally, unprovisionally, automatically, faithfully, in the face of contrary evidence, because the Almighty Has Spoken.  It doesn't even mean we believe specific guys in lab coats who happen to have Spoken the Truth in the past.  It means, if you show your work, and others who have the background to understand it say it's good, I'll agree with it until someone else comes along with a contrary claim that provides enough evidence to justify contradicting a previously-accepted claim.

This is the difference between science and religion. This is the difference between skepticism and denialism. This is the difference between critical thinking and faith.

*(quote from PZ Myers [ profile] pharyngula )
joreth: (Super Tech)
Skeptic, atheist, biologist of some note, PZ Myers has asked the question, what can we do to get women more active in the skeptic and science communities. Sometimes this is a condescending question, but PZ seems to really and truly believe in equality, that women are valid, contributing members of society, and is completely baffled at all attempts to segregate or patronize women. He just does not get why some people think the patriarchy is the best option or why some people think men and women are significantly different. He also doesn't come across like some of the woo-meisters who would like to place women on a pedestal above men. He is, in the same way [ profile] tacit is, a true egalitarian who manages, most of the time, to not let his position of privilege as a white, middle-class male, make him sound patronizing or condescending when railing against inequality or asking how to fix the problem.

He asked the question in his blog, and decided to just sit back and let women answer the question of what could get us more involved, rather than to attempt to come up with answers as a white, middle-class male of privilege looking in from the outside.  He also asked the men to stay out of it, which should hopefully prevent well-meaning but clearly clueless-of-his-entitlement men from butting in, like the guy who once answered this same question with "how about more secular wedding ceremonies?  Women might become atheists if they didn't have to give up the dress and the big party."  (yes, someone did say that, I will spare you my scathing retort, as it's only tangential to my main point here)

Here's my answer, that really needs to be fleshed out, but I wanted to post here for reference, and as a place to start:

I *really* wanted to read all the comments before I chimed in, so I didn't repeat anything, but there are LOTS of comments!

So, you asked for women to post their blogs or other activist activity. I can be found at where I talk about lots of things, including science, skepticism, and atheism. You can also add /tag/science or /tag/atheism to the end of that URL to read just those articles. I also have /tag/gender20%issues for posts that rant about these sorts of issues as a woman who works in a male-dominated field and who dabbles in other male-dominated arenas, like science and the internet.

As for what I, as a woman, would want that would get me more active in the science and skeptical communities? Well, several people have mentioned financial aid, and that would definitely help. I like the idea of a big, mainstream convention that chose as a theme women's interests, but not a women-specific convention (as I believe you, PZ, mentioned you were not suggesting). I'd love to get out to TAM or some of these other events, but I just can't afford them. I have to settle for the Skeptics Track at Dragon*Con for all my skeptical convention activity (which is a pretty fantastic venue, btw). It's almost-local and certainly the closest one to me, closer than any other. More local conventions would help too, even if they're not as large as the national conventions.

Also, as some were saying, people who represent skepticism and science from other angles, like artists, musicians, performers, philosophers, etc. Some workshops on community building from community leaders would be a good idea, so we can start our own organizations and communities even if we're not scientists ourselves. Some non-science-focused events, for those of us who aren't scientists but who support science and critical thinking - this new trend of Skeptics In The Pub is a great idea. How about something like The Skeptics Movie Society, or Skeptics Book Clubs, social events where people can do things that aren't strictly science-based but with skeptically minded people. I'd love to attend a dance with all skeptic, science, and atheist music - something where I can have a romantic slow dance without a song invoking god or fate and where, maybe, we can even poke a little fun at ourselves with some humorous music or performances.

As a community leader myself, I'm yelling at myself in my head, that if anyone made all these suggestions to me, I'd be wanting to say "great ideas, why don't you get on that?" It can get really frustrating to hear people say they want certain things out of their community, but don't make any effort to contribute to getting those things accomplished. So that's why I suggested including some community leaders that are not necessarily skeptical leaders, to offer workshops on how to build our own communities right where we are to offer all these services that we think the skeptical community is currently lacking. Many people have good ideas for what they'd like to see, but haven't the faintest idea how to go about implementing them, and don't think they have any skills to contribute to getting these things done.

I also think we need some cultural changing that says logic is not a mens-only domain, being loud and aggressive is not a mens-only domain, science, especially the hard sciences, are not mens-only domains, and that there shouldn't be certain areas that men need to *do something* to cater to women in order to invite them in.

There is nothing inherently masculine about being loud and brassy. There is nothing inherently de-feminizing about liking sports or science or power tools. I can be feminine, female, sexy, demure, and anything else that is supposed to signify "woman" while still being logical, analytical, scientific, mechanical, athletic, or anything else that's supposed to signify "man". These dichotomies of what makes us "woman" and "man" are false dichotomies. There is more variation among women and more variation among men, than there is between men and women as groups, even counting sexual dimorphism. And we need to make our society accept that.

I think it is only when we embrace the concept that there is no such thing as "man's domain" and "woman's domain" will we see more gender balance among subsets of people. I am not being "like a guy" because I play with power tools for a living. I am being "like a woman" because I am a woman who likes to play with power tools, so therefore playing with power tools is a woman's thing because this woman does it. I am not diminishing my accomplishments in a mechanical career because I also like to cook, which is traditionally a "woman's domain". They both use the same skill sets - an understanding of mechanics and chemistry, and an inspirational drive to create things. These are not the domains of either women or men, these are the domains of humans. When we learn that, women will stop feeling so intimidated, and men will stop feeling so threatened.

A plausible hypotheses for why women are so inclined to be steeped in woo, for example, is because that's where women feel they have more power. When society strips women of their power to contribute equally to society, women find some other outlet that gives them a sense of taking back some of that power, and so fall for The Goddess and alt-med with its easy fixes, and psychic phenomena which women are supposedly more "in tune" with because of "women's intuition". So a general cultural shift away from sexism and patriarchy would remove some women's need to find their own power in a fantasy world because they would have power in our society based on their own merits. If a woman's voice is ignored without the power of the dead behind it, I can see why wanting to develop psychic abilities would be so tempting. But if a woman's voice is heard simply because she's speaking, then she doesn't need to be bringing messages from dead relatives to get attention or build a power base.

I don't know that this is something the skeptical community should be doing within itself, but it is definitely something the skeptical and the equality communities should be doing to our culture at large.

But PZ, your continued insistence on gender equality, not as a pandering patriarch who must make allowances for the wimmenfolk, but as someone who truly understands equality, does a great deal for the community in making women feel appreciated and their contributions valued. More men who can express their equality views without sounding like they're pandering or being condescending would be very welcome.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
There's been some interesting hullabaloo on the atheist/skeptic front lately.  Two separate events come to mind, but they have some things in common, and things that I've seen in other areas as well and will probably continue to see.

The first was a forum thread in which I was called "arrogant" and "condescending" (two words that atheists in general are very familiar with being called) for my interview on the Does Polyamory Make You Atheist episode of Poly Weekly.  For those who didn't listen to the episode, there was a very specific question - does polyamory make people atheist.  Minx kept wanting to get off track and wander into the land of "I don't want to say anyone's beliefs are wrong because I think whatever makes sense to you is OK with me", which wasn't the point of the episode.  I took special care to address only the question, and to not touch on any belief system or even to explain what atheism is, let alone my own brand of atheism.  I pointed the listeners to my LJ atheist tag to learn more about that.

The question was, does polyamory make people atheist.  My answer was very simple.  No.  I had only a few minutes of talking time in which to explain why I am both atheist and polyamorous and what, if anything, they had to do with each other, partly because the episode is only 30-45 minutes, partly because my interview was only a portion of the total episode, and partly because this segment was half-taken up by Minx going on about her acceptance of any and all belief structures, which was besides the point.

In this episode, I outlined the path that I took to both polyamory and atheism.  I said that the same tools that led me to my version of atheism are the same tools that led me to my version of polyamory.  In both cases, I looked at the evidence that the world around me presented to me with regards to religion and with regards to relationships, and I reached a conclusion using a logic and reason applied to the subjects of religion and relationships.

I was called "condescending" because I said I used logic to arrive at my conclusions, so some people claim that this necessarily implies that anyone who arrives at another conclusion must therefore be illogical. I was also called "arrogant" because I spent no time asking or learning about other people's beliefs. In an episode about how atheism affects polyamory, I was arrogant for talking all about atheism & not talking about paganism or Christianity.

This was the path, in a nutshell, that I took that led me to both polyamory and atheism.  It's called "skepticism".  Skepticism means, literally, inquiry.  To be skeptical is to inquire.  Skepticism is at the heart of the scientific method.  It is often mistaken for "doubting", and for "cynicism", but those are not correct.  Of course, some skeptics can ALSO be doubters or cynics, they are not mutually exclusive (I tend towards cynicism all too often), but they are also distinct from each other.

People can reach either conclusion (polyamory or atheism) via other means.  I would not call Bill Maher a "skeptic", since he is not rational and does not use the scientific method, but he is most definitely an atheist.  And people can use the tools of skepticism, or rational inquiry, and reach other conclusions, as I *did* imply when I said "No, I think it's more that skepticism and rational inquiry CAN result in both atheism and polyamory."  We're not talking about something as simple as the claim "there is oxygen in this room".  That's easily testable and can have only one answer - either there is or there isn't, and doesn't change depending upon the beliefs or prespective of the tester.  We're talking about whether a person believes polyamory is the right relationship style for himself, or whether a person has belief, or lacks belief, in a deity.  These are very complicated questions, and a person's perspective, which is naturally subjective, is a valid and important criteria in logically evaluating the questions and determining a conclusion.  These are not empiric questions, they are subjective considerations.  Questions about economic and politics are also very complicated questions and one can arrive at different conclusions using the same tools of logic and reason, depending upon one's priorities and subjective experiences.  These are issues of value judgments, not purely empirical facts.

The validity of atheism is an empiric question, but that's not the question at hand.  Is it possible to be polyamorous is an empiric question, but that's not the question either.  The question is, are YOU an atheist or a polyamorist and how did you get there, not how correct is your position.  My reasons for being a polyamorist may not apply to your position.  Maybe you think you probably can love more than one person simultaneously, but your love and your devotion and your commitment to your existing partner is a higher priority than your commitment to polyamory - it's just not that big of a deal to you.

With that criteria, it is entirely logical and reasonable for one person to choose a monogamous relationship structure.  Using logic, a different person may arrive at a different conclusion than I have because that person has information that I lack or vice versa.  Much like my rant about the Fanboys, who want to insist that they have the answer for me without having all the information about the situation, or who have different priorities than I do & refuse to accept that another set of priorities are valid for other people, this is a matter of perspective and two people can arrive at different conclusions, even if they use the same, or similar, tools, such as logic.

Skepticism is a process.  It requires that one investigate a claim, no matter who is making that claim.  The scientific method is inherently skeptical in that it investigates claims, using a process that is designed to reduce human bias and come to conclusions that are reasonably empirical and free of human fallacy.  It is a long, slow process that requires many different people and many different tests precisely because of the possibility of human error.

And one of the things that humans are prone to do, is to apply their skepticism inconsistently.  A person can be a logical, rational, analytical, skeptical person in general, and still have one or some subjects about which they do not apply their logic, their rationality, their analysis, or their skepticism.  In fact, that's pretty much everyone.  Albert Einstein, noted brilliant scientist, refused to accept the idea of a universe based upon probability at the quantum level, which prevented him from doing any significant work in quantum physics.  His entire life was devoted to the pursuit of scientific inquiry, which, as I've already pointed out, has at its heart skeptical inquiry.  And yet, this was an area he was quite irrational about, in his refusal to accept the evidence presented to him.  He died, still refusing to accept quantum physics.  

Linus Pauling is a Nobel Prize winner.  Pauling was included in a list of the 20 greatest scientists of all time by the magazine New Scientist, with Albert Einstein being the only other scientist from the twentieth century on the list. Gautam R. Desiraju, the author of the Millennium Essay in Nature, claimed that Pauling was one of the greatest thinkers and visionaries of the millennium, along with Galileo, Newton, and Einstein. Pauling is notable for the diversity of his interests: quantum mechanics, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, protein structure, molecular biology, and medicine. In all these fields, and especially on the boundaries between them, he made decisive contributions.  However, Pauling got sucked into the idea that megadoses of vitamin C can cure cancer.  He published lots of papers on the subject, all of which were refuted on the basis of flawed methodology and his conclusions were not repeatable when others tried to replicate his tests.  In the end, it was concluded that vitamin C, in regular or megadoses, did not cure cancer and did not prevent colds.  Pauling, who megadosed until his death, died of cancer.

Both examples are men who are considered brilliant scientists, and as I've said, skepticism is inherently at the core of science.  And yet, both men held in reserve some subject for which they would not apply their skepticism.  This does not invalidate their contributions to science and they deserve the accolades they have been given for their advancements in science.  Their ideas are valid, regardless of what *other* wacky ideas they might also hold, because their valid ideas stand up no matter who is making the claim.  Unlike faith-based, authoritarian systems, claims are not true because Someone said so, claims are true no matter who says so, and true claims are accepted even if the Speaker is batshit crazy on all other subjects (but maybe we'll reserve acceptance until someone a little less batshit crazy comes up with the same conclusion using legitimate testing methodology).  For instance, Phrenology was the first discipline to claim that the brain had specialized areas.  Of course, bumps on the head don't tell us jack shit about the brain, but the idea that our brains are not just one big lump of grey matter was tossed out when evidence came to light.  Scientists didn't ignore phrenologists because they were crazy, they ignored them because they were wrong, but the itty-bitty part they got right was accepted even though the wacky phrenologists claimed it.

People are admired and revered for their contributions, but the science and skeptical communities know that people are still just people, not 2-D movie heroes (watch the Star Trek movie First Contact, where the crew goes back in time to discover that the inventor of warp drive, and consequently the father of their entire society, was a drunk bastard with an attitude problem, who just happened to also be a brilliant physicist, who hated hearing that they built a statue in his honor and taught about him in school, and who was nothing like what the textbooks said he was.  Also watch the Jaynestown epsiode of Firefly, where an entire town makes a hero of the most disreputable, selfish, ego-centric members of the crew because he happen to drop a load of money on an impoverished indentured slave town - the good works was good works, but the people are complicated & not as equally good as their works).  People are complicated, and even the most dedicated skeptics can be unskeptical about some things they hold dear.  That's why we have science, to discover the truth even when we really want to believe in something false.

Which brings us to the other event.  A particular astronomer has been singled out because she is a good astronomer, a science popularizer, and a Christian.  Some people in the skeptical community want to make skepticism an atheist movement, which would necessarily remove all skeptics who have some sort of religious beliefs.  I'm reminded of a Babylon 5 episode where a culture built some technology that would weed out the alien influences that had been seeded in the society to destroy them.  The technology was designed by religious zealots and designed to kill the "impure".  The problem is, there was no possible way to define "pure", since *everyone* had something different than everyone else.  So the technology destroyed the entire race.

Some people want to cry hypocrisy of certain skeptics for allowing a religious believer into the ranks.  And then there are others, like me and PZ Myers and DJ Grothe, who say that people are not skeptical of all subjects, all the time, and what matters are the claims.  If a person is in favor of science, advances science, and promotes skepticism, they are, by definition, a skeptic, even if they hold a sacred cow, or, as Penn & Teller say on their show, a gris gris.  Their legitimate claims benefit society and the scientific and skeptical communities as a whole.  The individual should be welcomed in, but that does not mean that their beliefs or claims will not be scrutinized.  

For the most part, a skeptic can and will respect a person, and fully believe that a person has the *right* to hold any particular belief, but this does not equate to respecting any given *belief* that the person in question might hold.  That's how science gets done.  If we just sat by in awe because someone famous said something, we'd never have corrected the flaws in their theories and claims, bringing us to an ever greater understanding of the universe.  This astronomer is a respected astronomer.  She does good science.  She promotes science education.  She leaves her religious beliefs out of the classroom.  We respect her for that and we welcome her into the folds of the skeptics.  But we are not required to also leave her religious beliefs untouched, especially when they come out into the public sphere.  We can hold her in high esteem while not hiding our opinions on her religious beliefs.  And we can have a conversation with her about skeptical topics without bashing her repeatedly for her religious beliefs when that's not the topic at hand.  There's nothing hypocritical about treating people with respect while not respecting a belief, nor about sticking to the topic at hand about which we are in agreement while we disagree about other topics.  
  • A skeptic can respect a person who holds other beliefs, including beliefs that the skeptic does not think are "rational".  
  • A skeptic can disagree with, and even not respect, a set of beliefs while respecting or befriending a person with those beliefs.  
  • Holding a particular worldview in common with a skeptic does not automatically make that person a skeptic - plenty of people are atheists who are not skeptical, either about atheism or about other subjects.  It's the process that makes someone skeptical, not whether they reached the same conclusion.
  • Being skeptical or rational does not automatically mean two people will reach the same conclusion, depending on the subject, particularly those subjects for which subjective criteria are valid for informing one's conclusion.
  • No one, including skeptics, are 100% skeptical about everything they do, think, feel, believe in, or choose 100% of the time.
  • Some skeptics *strive* to be skeptical in all areas, and others are willing to section off a subject as outside of their skepticism, and both can be called "skeptical", or be under the umbrella of the "skeptical community".
There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of what skepticism is, and a knee-jerk response to be offended at skeptics just for being skeptics:   When a skeptic speaks her mind, she must necessarily be insulting everyone else around her, especially if she claims to use logic as her tool of choice.  And a skeptic can't possibly be friends with someone who isn't a skeptic.  And, of course, a skeptic is always a skeptic about everything, all the time.  So if a skeptic *doesn't* bash in a friend or colleague for his non-skeptical beliefs, she's necessarily a hypocrite, but if she does bother to mention her own atheistic beliefs or point out where the non-skeptic might be wrong, then she's rude, arrogant, and condescending.  It doesn't matter what the atheist or the skeptic says or does, we are wrong, mean, hateful people who should go sit down and shut up, so as to not make anyone else feel bad about themselves.
joreth: (arrogance)
I finally created a facebook page. Some friends ONLY use facebook for communication, so apparently I was missing out on party invitations because they were being sent through FB and not being sent out through email, Evite, or even phone and SMS. So I created one for the sole purpose of receiving communications from friends who won't use any other method (I did the same for myspace when it got popular).

Also, this year was the 15th anniversary of my high school graduation, and a couple of old friends had come out of the woodwork, making me nostalgic. So I created another FB account with my real name for family & schoolmates to find me who wouldn't know to search for "Joreth" if they wanted to find me. I've spent my entire online life not using my real name (because in the beginning, it was "dangerous" for a young woman to put too much personal info on the web where "anyone", i.e. rapists & serial killers, could see), so anyone from before the internet would have no clue who "Joreth" is.

In my real-friends account, I am also connected to some co-workers, since some of them *are* real friends, but through them, ALL my coworkers found me. That's not too much of a problem, since I don't intend to do anything with that account other than receive invitations and a big part of my job is networking, but my facebook *does* have a link to my website, LJ and Twitter feeds. I also have caught myself casually mentioning tweeting while at work, and some coworkers have asked for my Twitter name.

Those of you who don't follow me on Twitter - I use it in much the same manner as I use LJ, only 140 characters make my comments sound even more brutal, since I have to pack all that condescension and sarcasm into single sentence soundbites. Even when I'm not picking on someone, a text-only medium tends to make plain and to-the-point speech patterns "sound" angry, arrogant, or cranky. And, of course, I do get into flame wars, which ARE angry, and sometimes arrogant.

I have tweeted a couple of things, one of them very recently, only to realize afterwards that the people I was tweeting about either do or might read my Twitter feed. The things I have said were snarky or condescending, basically making fun of people who might be reading what I'm tweeting.

But, I need some kind of outlet for the things I am faced with that are silly, stupid, or frustrating. And that's what the internet is for. In an industry like mine, we are often friends, friendly, or social, with our coworkers, and networking is a HUGE part of my business, as I mentioned. So the internet makes it more difficult to play the politics game (which I sucked at to begin with). I am unwilling to give up the freedom and the luxury I have enjoyed with my personal online spaces, like LJ and Twitter, which give me places I need to let off steam.

I fully believe that people should be judged by their employers on actual skills & co-worker compatibility, and what people do in their off-time should have no bearing on their status and position at work (unless, of course, they are plotting to undermine the company in their off-time). And I will not censor myself in person or online when I am breaking no laws and not naming clients for the sake of appeasing a close-minded or conservative employer or co-worker. So I decided to write a disclaimer for any coworkers who have recently started following me online. The following is adapted from my Disclaimer on Twitter:

Some of my coworkers may be following me on Twitter. I will occasionally say things that might offend you. This is Fair Warning.

I will say it directly to you if you want, but usually I make my overall position known & leave it at that that to keep peace on jobsite.

I make no secrets about being atheist & my position on supernatural beliefs & alt. med (or anything else, for that matter), but LiveJournal & Twitter is where I go to vent & make fun.

This is why I said on FB that people really shouldn't follow me on Twitter or LJ.

If my opinions here insult or offend you, you're better off not following me. I will not say anything here I wouldn't say to you directly, but unless you are actually getting in my face about something, I tend to keep those kinds of comments to myself while at work & laugh about them to my friends and partners later.

We have to work together, and we will end up working together again in the future, so keeping the peace is important. I will never lie or pretend to like someone I don't, but I will be polite and civil & try to avoid an argument if you are also not trying to start an argument (however, yelling or insulting me is never taken passively, even from coworkers or employers).

I will state, plainly, my position on the subject once, maybe twice, and then let it go. If you continue to talk about something I find silly, but you aren't being insulting, I will mostly just smile and nod.

However, if I compliment you or say something nice, it will always be sincere & I am not being two-faced. I can like & even admire someone while thinking certain beliefs are silly.  No one agrees 100% with anyone, and disagreeing with you (or thinking something you just said is ridiculous) does not mean I don't like you or wish you well.

If you're content to agree to disagree at work, then so am I. I won't get in your face unless you insult me at work first :-)

Topics I'm likely to rant about or make fun of here:
religion, alt. medicine, ghosts, aliens, conspiracy theories, gender differences, homophobia, anti-gay, racism, sexism (in either direction), monogamous drama in r'ships, narrow views on sex & relationships, undeserved arrogance, mistakes at work due to negligence, laziness, or stupidity, anti-intellectualism, pulling attitude or "rank", refusal to do a certain task because it's "beneath" you, reliance on education w/no real-world experience, one-up-manship, and thinking you know better than the veterans in the industry just because you have a degree (so do us veterans, btw).

I will call you out for racist or sexist remarks and just plain incorrect facts while in person, and how you receive that correction will determine if I push the issue or let it go.  But for everything else, once I've indicated I do not share your belief, I won't keep picking on you, but I will laugh about it here, on Twitter, and with my friends who share my views.  If you don't like to see your beliefs mocked, particularly by someone who is friendly towards you in person, I suggest that you do not follow me on Twitter or LiveJournal.

Feel free to make fun of me in your own online spaces (I know plenty of people do, especially for the polyamory & kink stuff), just be civil at work & don't sabotage anyone's career just for personality conflicts, because we are talking about personality quirks or personal beliefs, not actual skill or ability on the job. Actual issues of safety or skill should be taken up with supervisors in a professional manner within the proper chain of command.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
There's a great quote going around Twitter right now (courtesy of @hemantmehta):

Radical Muslims blow up buildings. Radical Christians shoot abortion doctors. Radical atheists write books.

The "New Atheist" movement is gaining speed, and it's all about equal rights for atheists and being "out" about being atheist. Atheists are tired of being denied the right to run for public office because of their atheism, tired of being the category that people are most likely to disown their children for if they marry us, tired of being accused of immorality and nihilism and having that justify persecution of atheists in the absence of any actual criminal activity. We're also tired of seeing immoral and criminal activity going excused and unpunished when performed under the blanket protection of "religion" and "religious freedom".

People like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens are accused of being "strident" and "shrill" for publicly declaring their atheism and for not backing down from holding people accountable for their actions just because they claim belief in magical sky fairies. We are told "it's OK if you don't believe in god, just don't rub your atheism in everyone's face."

Sounds a lot like "I don't care what you do in the bedroom but don't rub our noses in it".

Basically, we're being told to shut up about our ideas. Even certain atheists have been known to tell us to be more polite to the religious because talking about it to religious people is "rude" and not likely win any converts, or even any battles for civil rights.

Keeping quiet about our lack of faith only served to get us executed in the past and kept as a powerless minority, so I don't see why I should continue that tactic now. It didn't work for us then, but those "strident" atheists are making us more visible, so that we cannot be as easily discriminated against anymore.

But, the point I'm trying to get at, is that people complain when atheistic ideas are even mentioned at all. Even when those ideas are simply "I am an atheist" and not even direct complaints or accusations towards other religions. I only want to be allowed to talk about my worldview in the same manner, and with the same respect, afforded to everyone else, and that is not currently the case.

And I think that's because religious people don't realize just how often their religion is "mentioned" in public, and how much automatic acceptance there is for their religious views. Even among contentious religions, it is assumed that one *is* religious to some degree. When a Christian wears a cross around his neck, or has Jesus tattooed on his forearm, it is a blatant proclomation of his faith. When a Muslim wears the veil, or wears a turtleneck and jeans in 100 degree weather, it is a proclomation of her faith. But when I wear a t-shirt with a giant A on it, I get an email saying that shirt is not welcome in the home of a Christian acquaintance because it is personally insulting to her & I have invaded her sanctuary, in spite of the fact that it doesn't make any statements about her religion, nor did I do so verbally, and it was known I was an atheist before being invited to the home.

Polyamorists and other people with alternative sexualities get the same kind of double-standard that, I believe, is the result of the privileged class not noticing their privilege, or that they announce their privilege all the time. There is this enormous sense of entitlement of privilged people that they deserve this privilege and others don't. Wearing a wedding band announces to everyone who can see what your marital status is. When a gay man is told he cannot hold hands with his lover in public, or a polyamorist is told that no one wants to hear the details of their disgusting sex life, a monogamous heterosexual is allowed to announce to the world, through his wedding band, that they have a regular sexual partner of the opposite gender - particularly if they have kids.

No, I'm not saying I should be allowed to talk about the orgy over dinner in a public restaurant with kids running around. I'm saying that certain groups of people, because of the privileges they enjoy as being part of a perceived majority, are, in fact, "rubbing our noses in it" in this context. Which is to say that actions, gestures, symbols, and speech that they don't even notice, that they take for granted as allowable, give the world the exact same information about them that they wish to silence from those who are not them.

You may not want to imagine two gay men having sex, and the sight of two men holding hands brings that image to your mind, so you accuse homosexuals of "rubbing your nose" in their homosexuality (trust me, if your nose were being rubbed in teh gay, you wouldn't mistake it for hand-holding!) because you cannot help picturing something you find personally unpleasant.

I hate to break it to you, but your heterosexual wedding band, holding hands with your spouse of the opposite gender, putting pictures of your children on your desk at work - all these things are symbols of a relationship that our society makes certain assumptions about. And those assumptions are that you are doing exactly those things that you don't want to imagine other people doing. It may or may not be true, but your wedding band *implies* that you have a sexual relationship with someone of the opposite gender, and it would be reasonable for someone to make that assumption, barring any other clues to the contrary. It may or may not be true, but your cross around your neck *implies* that you believe a whole host of ideas that are collected around a certain poor Jewish man who may or may not have existed several centuries ago. Your cross announces, loud and clear, some things about you that maybe I don't want to have my nose rubbed in.

And it is your right to wear that cross. It is not my right to be protected from people I find annoying, nor is it even healthy for me, from a sociological standpoint, to insulate myself from contrary ideas. However, as a member of the privileged class, people don't call you "strident" or "shrill" for wearing your cross, reading your Bible in public, or even writing a blog on how to be a good Christian husband. People have to take drastic action, such as the pre-meditated murder of another human, before they are classified as "radical" or "militant" or even "immoral".   Gays and Polyamorists are accused of being pedophiles and preemptively penalized and punished, yet Christian pedophiles are merely shuffled off to other parishes where the people don't know of their past and can't adequately protect their children from suffering the same fate - and demanding the management responsible for this atrocity be held accountable is the "insulting" part.  People have to actually stand in front of me and call me names before I'm allowed to be "insulted", and even removing my civil rights is not always enough to be considered "discriminated against" but asking for a religious-neutral holiday season in government offices out of respect for the Founding Fathers' intention of a separation of church and state is somehow a "war on Christmas".

All I have to do is wear a red letter A, a heart and infinity symbol, hold hands with 2 men at the same time, or make a simple statement "I am an atheist/polyamorist/insert-non-mainstream-label-here" without even addressing someone else's beliefs or lifestyle choices, to be accused of "insulting" someone else. All I have to do is be unapologetic about being atheist, in order to be considered "strident" or even "militant". When someone of a religious faith claims, either through words or symbols, that they absolutely know, without a doubt, that their beliefs are completely true and everyone else is wrong, that person is not allowed to be questioned or doubted or challenged, because that would be rude. But if I claim that I am *reasonably* certain that my own beliefs are true because the evidence suggests it, however, I am willing to change my opinion if new, compelling evidence surfaces, that is *also* rude, usually because people feel that I am *still* challenging, questioning, or doubting someone else's faith.

I don't see how making assertions that one's religious faith is the true one is not any more "challenging", "questioning", or "doubting" the beliefs of others than my own lack of religious faith is. If you are allowed to make a statement about yourself, such as your religious beliefs, your marital status, your orientation, your political views, whatever, then I should be allowed to make my own statement in equal situationally-appropriate methods. Whether you, personally, choose a particular method or not is irrelevant - you are allowed to choose. You may not wear a cross around your neck, but you could. You may not hold your wife's hand while walking down the street, but you could.

And that's the point. You can choose. You can choose your religion and your expression of such, you can choose your relationship structure, and you might not be able to choose your orientation but you can choose to act on it or not. You have that freedom. I am asking for no more or less than that. The only way for you too keep your own freedom to choose is to allow me to have the freedom to choose. Because once we allow for the possibility of removing individual liberties, there is nothing stopping anyone from removing yours for no other reason than because they disagree and they happen to be bigger or louder than you.

Wearing a Scarlet Atheist pendant is no more "strident" than wearing a cross pendant. Putting the Darwin fish on a bumper is no more "shrill" than putting on the fish. Holding hands with someone of the same gender, or with multiple people, is no more "rubbing your nose in it" than holding hands with your spouse or partner of the opposite gender. Demanding the right to hold public office, to not lose a job because of some archaic and biased "morality clause", to being taken seriously while under oath, to not suffer harrassment, to not be denied public services, to being allowed to write a book that outlines my ideas, is not "militant" or "radical" anymore than you demanding the same privileges. Killing people is radical. Proposing the takedown of the government by force is militant. Publicly declaring "I don't believe I'll go to Heaven when I die" and "I love two people at the same time and they're OK with that" is not.

If you don't like my ideas, that's OK, we don't have to be friends. My feelings aren't hurt by that. You don't have to invite me in for tea and biscuits. But you do not get to claim the privilege of having your ideas protected from the very actions you subject mine to. When you remove your cross or wedding band, defer all comments and expression about your religion, your spouse, your children, and any interest in the opposite gender, out of respect for me and my differing opinion (either in public or as a guest in my home), I will do the same.

However, it would be easier all around if we did not censor ourselves to such a degree, and you just learned to get over the fact that not everyone is like you, and being oneself, simply expressing the nature of ones choices, beliefs, and preferences, is not a personal insult *to you* any more than expressing yourself is a personal insult to me. If it is, well, I'm not insulted at the mere expression of you, I tend to get insulted at the expression of your misguided perception of me.

If you feel you need to tell me that I cannot express who I am when I'm around you, then we have far too many differences to socialize together. And that's perfectly reasonable to avoid interaction with someone whom you feel is unpleasant to be around. But it is not reasonable to tell me to censor behaviour, ideas, or symbols that would be acceptable coming from someone of your own preference, or even different but less offensive preferences. If you can wear the cross, I can wear the A. If you don't choose to wear a cross but allow others in your presence to wear a cross, or a star, or a triskelion while simultaneously telling me that my symbols are "insulting" to you, then you are being a sanctimonious hypocrite with an inflated sense of self-importance and entitlement to your privleged status.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Much like the poly community, the pro-science and skeptical communities are suspiciously lacking representation in culture and art.  Obviously, this doesn't mean there is NO art or culture with a science base, it means that, in the general population, entertainment and art seem to favor mysticism, supernaturalism, ignorance, and fear.  

Now, like most skeptics I know, I can enjoy a wide range of entertainment and art, even that with a supernatural bent, providing it's at least internally consistent.  I mean, in a universe where thinking really hard really does make lightning shoot out of your fingertips, I'd probably be inclined to believe in mysterious forces too - after all, there would be evidence for them.  

But what bothers me is the sheer preponderance of movies and books and other forms of art and entertainment whose moral is to punish for curiosity and scientific advancement.  Even with our predilection for trying to kill ourselves with ever more advanced technology, we have ALSO managed to increase the quality of life for every human on this planet when not blocked by conservative, superstitious, fearmongering dictators.  In spite of our ever-increasingly devastating methods for death, our wars have gotten progressively less bloody, & with a lower body count.  The higher and messier death tolls remain with older methods of war.  Of course, war, by its nature, is bloody and deadly, so please, let's not get off on a tangent debating war - I'm not saying I'm in favor of it, regardless of how advanced the battle technology is.  The point is that technology, in addition to being used for evil, has, by and large, been used for good and every time something new is discovered & the troglodytes cry out "it's the end of the world, you'll destroy us all", it hasn't been and we haven't, even when we could have.

So, I bring you two things.  The first is a new Pro-Science & Pro-Skeptic Movie list.  I'm creating a Movie List on Netflix - movies that I have personally watched, or can take on very good authority, that show things like: the hero using science or skepticism to solve the day; the bad guy being a proponent of mysticism, woo, pseudo-science, magic, or religion; the bad guy NOT being a Mad Scientist who will destroy the world because of his tinkering; a message of enthusiasm for responsible science; etc.  I will include TV shows, but for the sake of brevity, since Netflix lists each season individually, I'll just list the first season & let ya'll figure out that the entire show is probably more of the same.  I like using Netflix lists, in spite of requiring you to have an account to view it, because people can immediately put suggested movies in their queue, rather than going out to find it on Amazon or Blockbuster and purchasing something they don't know if they will enjoy.

I suppose, like my Poly-ish Movie List, I will include documentary or non-fiction - for those exceptionally entertaining examples like Carl Sagan's Cosmos and Mythbusters, but I'd like to focus on fiction.  There are entire networks devoted to nonfiction, pro-science stuff, and tons of educational materials, and that would completely overwhelm the list if I included all examples of non-fiction.  So let's focus on *entertainment* and *art* that happens to be pro-science or pro-skepticism or uses science/skepticism as the vehicle for the story.  There are some good ones out there.  This is intended to be a growing, dynamic, list, so keep checking back.  I welcome suggestions!

The second thing is a comic strip that illustrates and supports my point.  What would sci-fi movies look like if cavemen made movies using our sci-fi plots?  We, as a society, are constantly yelling about the threat that science is to us, our culture, and our planet, and we make movies that exaggerate this perceived threat, which only adds to the fear the public has about science.  Yet, every time we go back and watch a sci-fi movie from a past era, those of us in the "future" laugh at the totally wacky fears portrayed in the movie.  Of COURSE it wouldn't happen like that!  With our 20/20-hindsight vision, we can see how ridiculous that fear is!  But then we go right back to accusing today's scientists of "playing god" and "messing with nature" and "things we can't possibly understand".

And, because it ALWAYS happens, yes, I KNOW that sometimes science screws up. Sometimes we create medicines that do more harm than good. We create weapons of mass destruction. We fuck up the environment & lose species to extinction. That's not the point. I, and all proponents of science, are not now saying, nor have we ever (to the best of my knowledge) said, that science is a utopia of technology, always done for the betterment of mankind, etc. I am saying that more good than harm has come from science - that the good that has come out far exceeds the harm that has happened, and the fears that science will be the destruction of all have been unfounded every time they've come up so far.

Out of all the tragedies that science has actually contributed to, it was science that managed whatever corrections were developed in response. Wars kill people, but medical technology advances at a faster rate during war & are built upon after the war ends. Environmental disasters happen, but technology is what is ultimately used to clean up the mistake and prevent it from happening again. People live longer, eat more, are overall healthier, and with more leisure time, can afford to help people not of their own tribes (who are often prevented from enjoying the same luxuries as health and longer life span by superstitious leaders) and choose more conscientious environmental endeavors. These things would not be possible without scientific advancement, and refraining from scientific advancement has never prevented death and destruction and, in many cases, encourages it.


Stupid LJ and their stupid no-javascript rules! I am unable to post any rss feeds anywhere in LJ, after searching for a way all day. I did, however, finally manage to build an rss feed reader onto my website that I am happy with. So, here is a list of Skeptic Movies and here is a list of Poly-ish Movies, both of which are pulling content directly from the Netflix lists and will self-update so I don't have to maintain multiple lists.
joreth: (Kitty Eyes)
Many times I've been asked for a list of URLs about polyamory or the various issues surrounding skepticism, only to suddenly draw a blank on all my favorite websites.  I'll be talking with someone, introducing them to a brand new concept, and they'll ask me where they can learn more about it, and I won't be able to remember.  I've written about this most recently in the post about making Skepticism CDs to hand out for this purpose.

I've also been asked, on more than one occasion, what other people who find themselves in this situation should do when *they* are asked for more resources.  My solution to the poly issue has been to add a handful of URLs to the back of my Poly Tees business cards, but this isn't necessarily a good solution for other people who are in this situation.

So, I have created Reference Cards - one set for polyamory and one set for skepticism.  These PDF files can be printed onto standard white business card paper that you can buy at Walmart, Kinkos/FedEx, and any office supply store.  They are double-sided, with a definition of the term on the front and a list of URLs on the back.  Feel free to download them, print them, and hand them out to whomever you want, or use them as a template for creating your own.  I am now keeping a couple of each in my wallet, and bringing a bunch to poly meetings for the newbies.

The Polyamory Reference Cards:*

The Skeptical Reference Cards:

*The Poly Reference Card image has the old, incorrect Purple Mobius, but the file itself has the correct Mobius.  I was just too lazy to take a new screencap.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)

 I routinely get into conversations with people IRL that end up with me rattling off a list of podcasts that explain something I'm trying to explain, such as why taking megadoses of vitamin C doesn't make your cold go away faster or what a logical fallacy is or the difference between atheism and agnosticism or why crop circles are hoaxes and not evidence of alien visitation.  I find myself needing to reference books whose names I can't remember, prominent experts whose names I can't remember, and podcasts whose episodes I can't remember.  

The last gig I worked was for a super-food pyramid scheme which, fortunately, most of my coworkers saw for the fraud that it was, but it tended to spark conversations about how they were fake but this other wacky belief wasn't (like the guy who tried to convince me that eating a teaspoon of pure cinnamon would make you vomit because he saw it on YouTube and flat out refused to believe me when I said I used to munch on cinnamon sticks all the time as a kid without getting sick), or the girl who thought all that was bunk, but crop circles really made her think there was something spooky going on.

My long list of references is hard enough for me to remember, let alone the person I'm arguing with, and one person I was talking to sounded interested in hearing all this "evidence" I had for why her beliefs were wrong and wished there was some way she could just get a sample of all the podcasts and a list of books.  So I thought, "if only I had a CD with all the podcast episodes I most commonly reference when I argue with coworkers.  I already have several saved in a playlist on my iPod, but then I have to play my iPod for them, and with a CD, they could take it home and listen to them all!"

So I am now putting together a list of audio files that I can burn to a CD (hopefully one of those mini discs) and carry a bunch around to hand out to people.  I've decided to make 2 separate playlists - one to address woo and pseudosciences and the other to address religious claims.  Here's what I have so far:

Religious claims:
  • What is Evolution? (Evolution 101)
  • What is NOT Evolution? (Evolution 101)
  • What is Irreducible Complexity? (Evolution 101)
  • Mr Deity and the Magic
  • Mr Deity and the Identity Crisis
  • Mr. Deity and the Magic, Part Deux
  • Eugenie Scott - The Dover Trial: Evolution vs. Intelligent Design (Point of Inquiry)
  • Edward Tabash - True Meaning of Church/State Separation (Point of Inquiry)
  • Joe Nickell - The Relics of the Christ (Point of Inquiry)
  • Joe Nickell - The New Idolatry (Point of Inquiry)
  • Alan Dershowitz - Blasphemy (Point of Inquiry)
  • Skeptoid #10: An Evolution Primer for Creationists
  • Skeptoid #65: How to Argue with a Creationist
  • Skeptoid #76: Who Kills More, Religion or Atheism?
  • Skeptoid #82: What Do Creationists Really Believe?
  • Big Thinkers: Why Does Evolution Matter? (NOVA scienceNOW)
  • This American Life #290: Godless America
  • audio of me recommending my favorite critical thinking books & html file with hyperlinks to my book recommendations

Science, woo, and pseudoscience:
  • Carol Tavris - Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me (For Good Reason)
  • inFact: Wheatgrass Juice
  • inFact: New Age Energy 
  • inFact: Fast Food Phobia 
  • inFact: Nuclear Energy 
  • inFact: Ghost Hunting 
  • Joe Nickell - Skeptical Inquiry vs. Debunking (Point of Inquiry)
  • Andrew Skolnick - The Dangers of Alternative Medicine (Point of Inquiry)
  • Joe Nickell - Aliens and Abductions (Point of Inquiry)
  • James Randi - Science, Magic, and Future of Skepticism (Point of Inquiry)
  • Bill Nye - Changing The World With Science Education (Point of Inquiry)
  • QuackCast 2. Echinacea 
  • QuackCast 3. Homeopathic Theory 
  • QuackCast 5. Placebo Effect 
  • QuackCast 7. Theory of Acupuncture 
  • QuackCast 8. Acupuncture's Efficacy 
  • QuackCast 9. Lies, Damn Lies and the use of alt med 
  • QuackCast 11. Evidence to Support Efficacy and Complications of Chiropractic
  • QuackCast 22. Boost your immune system And die 
  • Quackcast 27. Acupuncture and Chiropractic Update 
  • QuackCast 28 Vitamin C and the Common Cold 
  • QuackCast 29. Reiki and Theraputic Touch 
  • Quackcast 30. Lets Kill The Children or A Defense of Vaccines.
  • 'The Baloney Detection Kit' featuring Michael Shermer of Skeptic Magazine (Richard Dawkins Foundation TV (RDF TV))
  • Skeptics' Guide To The Universe #109 - Aug 24 2007 Perry DeAngelis 1963-2007; The Psychology of Belief
  • Skeptics' Guide To The Universe #118 - Oct 24 2007 Interview with Joe Nickell; News Items: Autism and Vaccines, Ben Stein on OReilly, James Watson Followup, The Dangers of Pseudoscience; Your Questions and E-mails: Honey, Flu Vaccine Myths; Science or Fiction; Skeptical Puzzle
  • Skeptoid #01: New Age Energy
  • Skeptoid #06: Wheatgrass Juice
  • Skeptoid #19: Organic Food Myths 
  • Skeptoid #34: Homeopathy: Pure Water or Pure Nonsense? 
  • Skeptoid #37: How to Spot Pseudoscience 
  • Skeptoid #42: Whacking, Cracking, and Chiropracting 
  • Skeptoid #47: Free Range Chicken and Farm Raised Fish 
  • Skeptoid #53: Inside the World's Most Haunted House 
  • Skeptoid #61: Irradiation: Is Your Food Toxic? 
  • Skeptoid #73: A Magical Journey through the Land of Logical Fallacies - Part 1 
  • Skeptoid #74: A Magical Journey through the Land of Logical Fallacies - Part 2 
  • Skeptoid #78: Medical Myths in Movies and Culture
  • Skeptoid #81: Ghost Hunting Tools Of The Trade
  • Skeptoid #83: The Detoxification Myth 
  • Skeptoid #85: World Trade Center 7: The Lies Come Crashing Down 
  • Skeptoid #86: MonaVie and Other "Superfruit" Juices 
  • Skeptoid #88: Super Sized Fast Food Phobia 
  • Skeptoid #92: The Terror of Nuclear Power
  • Skeptoid #93: Apocalypse 2012 
  • Skeptoid #109: Will the Large Hadron Collider Destroy the Earth?
  • Skeptoid #112: Genetically Modified Organisms: Jeopardy or Jackpot? 
  • Skeptoid #117: How Dangerous Is Cell Phone Radiation? 
  • Skeptoid #127: The Truth about Aspartame 
  • Skeptoid #151: The Placebo Effect
  • Skeptoid #157: High Fructose Corn Syrup: Toxic or Tame?
  • Skeptoid #162: Locally Grown Produce 
  • Skeptoid #166: Organic vs. Conventional Agriculture 
  • Skeptoid #180: Vaccine Ingredients 
  • Skeptoid #200: Buy It!
  • Skeptoid #227: Boost Your Immune System!
  • Here Be Dragons - video about critical thinking by Brian Dunning of Skeptoid
  • Tiny Holes (on the LHC) (Nova scienceNOW)
  • The 2012 Hoax (Nova scienceNOW)
  • audio of me recommending my favorite critical thinking books & html file with hyperlinks to my book recommendations
**I've had to update my list.  There is too much data on the Woo list to fit on a standard CD and I didn't want to put it all on a DVD because I want it to play in the widest range of players (computer, car CD player, etc.).  So I am removing the video files (fortunately, all the inFact episodes have an audio Skeptoid episode to replace it).  I am considering making a separate DVD for only video files.

Do you wish you had a CD like this? Steal the list and download these episodes to make your own CDs! All are available for free on iTunes (you can download just the specific episode if you don't want to subscribe).

Possible Video Podcast DVD:
  • inFact: Wheatgrass Juice
  • inFact: New Age Energy
  • inFact: Fast Food Phobia
  • inFact: Nuclear Energy
  • inFact: Ghost Hunting
  • inFact: Vaccines
  • 'The Baloney Detection Kit' featuring Michael Shermer of Skeptic Magazine (Richard Dawkins Foundation TV (RDF TV))
  • Here Be Dragons - video about critical thinking by Brian Dunning of Skeptoid
  • Mr Deity and the Magic
  • Mr Deity and the Identity Crisis
  • Mr Deity and the Magic, Part Deux
  • Mr Deity and the Planes
  • Mr Deity and the Skeptic
  • Mr Deity and the Science Advisor

I'm also adding the following booklist to the CD in the form of an audio file of me naming the books and authors, with some Symphony of Science music remixed underneath

joreth: (anger)
Out there on teh interwebs, there seems to be a huge misunderstanding about how people display their emotions.  I understand, really, that in a text-based medium without facial expression, body language, and vocal tone and inflection, it can sometimes be difficult to tell what emotion someone is feeling when they write their responses in a blog or forum, and we often project what *we* would feel if we used those words.  

People seem to mistake a correction and a difference of opinion for someone getting angry or upset, particularly when the person being corrected has some sort of attachment to the concept being corrected.  We see this all the time, and I journal and tweet about it.  Anyone remember the series of posts that went something like this:

"The sky is blue"
"Dude, you're wrong, the sky totally is too blue!"
"That's what I said, the sky is blue"
"No way man, the sky is so not green!"
"Buddy, that's not what I said.  I said the SKY is BLUE"
"Why are you attacking me?  You're so angry and filled with hate!  My opinion that the grass is blue is every bit as valid as yours!"
"Uh, WTF?  Are we in the same conversation?"

Which series you ask?  Well, that's my point - it happens over and over again.  This happens to people who self-identify as skeptics, as science-based, and as rationalists all the time, me especially.  Apparently, having a difference of opinion automatically means (to some people) that the person holding the difference of opinion must be angry about it.  And that's just not true.  Sometimes, the further down a disagreement we go, the more frustrated we can get when arguing with someone who clearly has no clue what he's talking about.  But frustration is not the same as anger.

So I'm going to give a couple of examples to illustrate the difference to help ya'll out.

This is an example of a post from someone who spotted a factual error or believes there is some kind of incorrectness and is pointing it out:

In your post, you made several logical fallacies, including a straw man argument, a non-sequitor, a false dichotomy, a false premise, and begging the question.  Since you made those errors, I have to assume you do not understand the very foundation of the subject you are arguing, so here entails a very long, wordy post to explain the basics before I can even begin to tackle the arguments themselves.  Now here is a long section tackling each of your arguments in turn because it takes only a sentence or two to throw out a a handful of falsehoods but it takes volumes of text to correct them.  Here I might follow up with a personal anecdote to illustrate my points, along with citations if I have them.

Notice there are no inflammatory words, no emotional language (except, perhaps, condescension - whether intentional or not, people who address the argument itself in a debate tend to sound like they're being condescending and sometime's they are, but many times they're not), no cussing, no name-calling, no insults, no exclamation marks or capital letters, no snide comments about your mother or your character.

Now let's look at an example of someone who is angry while posting:

Look you fucking moron, I wasn't fucking angry until you kept insisting I was angry.  Quit fucking assuming you have any goddamn motherfucking clue about what I feel!  You have the fucking NERVE to assume you know ANYTHING about me, let alone assume you know BETTER how I feel than *I* do, you pissant little asswipe?!?  Now go put your tiny little pointy head back up your ass and FUCK OFF so the rest of us grownups can get on with the conversation!

Here, we see cussing, we see emotional language, we see all capital letters and exclamation points, we see name-calling, we see snide remarks about your character, we see nothing addressing the topic at hand, and we see obvious, intentional condescension.  

Please make note of the difference.  

Having a difference of opinion or pointing out an error does not automatically mean that the person making the post is feeling any particular emotion at the time of posting.  Making a well-thought-out, verbose post also does not necessarily indicate the poster's emotional state.  As someone once said, correcting lies and falsehoods is complicated because a lie is off running, out the door, and has circled the globe 3 times before the truth has even tied its shoes.

It is in your best interest to leave the assumptions about people's emotions out of the dialog and address the points at hand.  Even if the person *is* angry, stick with the points being brought up unless and until the poster is so angry that there is no useful information in the post to dialog about, at which case, asking the poster if they are angry and suggesting resuming the discussion later might be appropriate.  But simply disagreeing with you does not, automatically, imply that someone is angry, even if they are long-winded.  And if they say they are not angry when you accuse them of such, accept that at face value and go back to the topic, because telling someone you know how they feel, especially after they've said you are wrong, usually results in making that person angry anyway.
joreth: (frustration)
 I'm an activist, a community leader, and somewhat of a public figure.  As such, I am often "in character" or "on stage", meaning that there are some topics it is not advisable to rant about publicly and some behaviours I cannot allow myself to express while in the role of that community leader (or ever, some might say), lest it reflect poorly on the community I am leading or the subject I am fighting for.  We are expected to always think about how we reflect upon our cause because outsiders can't seem to wrap their little minds around the fact that a person who is good at fundraising might ALSO like partying on the weekends and one activity does not affect the other, or that sometimes, we get our feelings hurt or get angry or have any other human emotion, sometimes at inopportune times.

This means that, when someone criticizes me for something I'm doing or not doing in the role of community leader, I'm supposed to smile, and thank them for that criticism, and take that criticism to heart, possibly implementing it at the next opportunity, with grace and dignity.

It also means that I can't say things like "dude, your suggestion sucks and you're a moron" or "yeah, already doing that, but thanks for not noticing!" or "great suggestion, now do you want to explain to me how I'm supposed to fund this little scheme of yours?" or "do you have any fucking idea how massive and impractical it would be to implement that?"

So I'm going to say those things here, even at the risk of offending members of my various communities who might think I'm talking about them (even if I'm not).  Because, like all other community leaders, I'm still only human and I still lose my temper and need to vent.  And, hopefully, seeing me blow my top may make others realize that all community leaders are not supermen, and they have their own limitations too, so that maybe we'll all treat our community leaders with this in mind so that they don't *have* to expose themselves this way and their reputation as the calm, cool, collected leaders remains untarnished.

Fortunately, I have never had that reputation online, so even though I might offend someone, it really shouldn't be unexpected of me.

Something that gets really frustrating to hear as a community leader is "I have a great idea for the community!  You should do these 10 things and take on these 8 projects!"  Yeah, great, except chances are, if I haven't already done it, there's probably a reason for that, namely I don't have the time, money, or expertise to do it (or it's been tried and failed, is another common reason).

Most of what I do as a community leader is volunteer.  Scratch that, ALL of what I do as a community leader is volunteer.  I volunteer my own time, and often my own money, to provide things for the community that the community has asked for.  I'm happy to do so because I think it's necessary.  But when I'm the only one stepping up, it can rub me the wrong way to be told that there is *more* I should be doing.

I dedicate most of my waking hours to working on forms, organizing events, building and maintaining websites, even going so far as to learn complete new sets of skills for the purpose of having a member of the community qualified to teach others those skills.  I even steal time while at work to get stuff done.  I bought new hardware to record podcasts; I invest in graphic software & learned how to do graphic editing to make the websites I maintain look presentable; I interact with the general public & talk about polyamory & facilitate group discussions & give presentations even though it is physically and mentally exhausting & I have to pass up on personal plans to recover.  I do A LOT.

And that's not intended to generate any sympathy, as I said, I'm happy to do what I do.  I turn down those things I can't do, and I don't overextend myself, or I try not to.  I have a lot of "causes" that I don't organize for because I just don't have the time or energy for it.

But when I *do* put forth all this effort, all this time and energy, only to have people tell me that I'm not doing enough, when those same people haven't done *anything* for the same cause, I get a little bitter.  I am a COMMUNITY leader, not a dictator.  This is not all about me, this is about everyone.  So since it's not all about me, it also shouldn't be all ON me.

I'm also not fishing for praise - I don't need to hear how wonderful everyone thinks I am right now, that's not what I'm complaining about. I'm not feeling underappreciated, I'm feeling overwhelmed and resentful.

I know, I know, I've heard the rants from other community leaders before - this is just what it's like to be a community leader.  Everyone wants the benefits but no one wants to do the work.  But this is the reason why so many community leaders, and the poly community specifically, suffer from Activist Burnout.  So many of us burn out after only a few years because we continue to feel as though there is always more work to be done than we can possibly get done, and we see so few people stepping up to pitch in and help.  If we are supposed to be a community, how about we all contribute to its wellbeing?

I was part of one group of people who all gathered to brainstorm about what to do to help the community grow.  Everyone threw out tons of ideas & we all got excited about the bright new future it seemed we'd have with all these projects and possibilities & creative people at the helm.  When it came time to sign up for each of those ideas, to volunteer as people to implement them, suddenly everyone started shuffling their feet and explaining how swamped they were with these other Really Important Things.  I have, in the past, offered to do the preliminary organization for something, and asked for volunteers to assist with certain details or aspects of the project, only to have 20 people sign up and 2 people contribute 1 thing each, leaving me with the bulk of the work.

At one particular meeting for organizers, the organizer of *that* meeting spelled out, on the invitation, that members of this group should not volunteer for projects if they didn't actually want to help, or if they only thought they could *maybe* help.  Only people who were actually committed to helping should actually volunteer.  I thought this was a good idea and inwardly raged that it needed to be said at all.  But it's incredibly disheartening to head up a project and have none of the people who said they'd help actually help.  That's the main source of Activist Burnout - the activist takes on progressively more and more work because the people she was depending on to support her keep dropping out & she begins to feel that if she doesn't do everything herself, nothing will ever get done (sometimes it's a perfectionist ego, but more often, it's because shit really won't get done).

The sad part was that people actually got upset at the request to not volunteer if you don't intend to follow through.  I didn't really understand what the objection was, so I won't attempt to repeat it here.  But I was surprised to see that anyone would be upset at this.  The organizer merely communicated what all of us community leaders and organizers already know - that it really fucking sucks to have most of your team disappear on you when you were counting on them to complete an integral part of the project, so please don't do that.  

One project I once volunteered for was actually originally suggested by someone else, who, over time, managed to retreat further and further from the project, leaving me defacto in charge simply because I was the only one left out of the original brainstorming team who was actually doing *anything*.  I volunteered because I believed in the goals of the project, and I had a few specialized skills that I thought I could contribute.  I have since learned a bunch of other new skills to take up the slack left by the qualified people who found Really Important Things to do & bailed out.

So, that's basically my rant.  I'm getting frustrated with people suggesting to me that I ought to do more for my various communities, particularly when those suggestions come from people who have yet to contribute anything to those same communities.  So people, if you have a suggestion for your community leaders and organizers, while we really do appreciate feedback and suggestions, what would really please & help your community leaders would be for you to volunteer to (and follow through with) assist or head up whatever it is you're suggesting.  

Telling  your community leader that what the community needs is a nationwide drive to sell Christmas ornaments with the symbol of your particular community to raise awareness would go over a lot better if, instead of saying "so how about you get on that?", you said "and I will personally hand-paint all the ornaments & distribute them to our sellers across the country".  We really do want your feedback, but we really NEED your assistance.
joreth: (anger)
 So, I'm having a little trouble understanding why people use the phrase "reality-based" to be slanderous.  I've heard it in several contexts now, but apparently, basing one's decisions in reality is supposed to be bad?  I'm not talking about an inability to enjoy fiction novels or disliking Avatar because it's "not based in reality", I'm talking about opinions and decisions regarding how the world works and how one lives one's life.  Shouldn't those be based in reality?  Shouldn't we be willing to change our minds if the evidence suggests that reality is not the way we want it to be?  Is it really preferable to insist that I can fly when all the evidence suggests that I can't? 

So I got a notification about an opinion piece regarding the recent study findings that "abstinence-only education works" (which is not exactly what it says, btw), and the teaser seemed to imply that both that study and a comprehensive-sex-ed study had flaws or was incomplete.  OK, not having read either one, I'm willing to accept that as a possibility.  

But then it went on to show a distinct anti-liberal bias in its conclusion:

These long-term ambiguous results—at enormous cost to taxpayers, I might add—never bothered liberals until abstinence education came along. If one didn’t know better, one would think that many were more interested in promoting a worldview than in reducing teen pregnancy. As Jay Greene and Maggie Gallagher have noted, the Obama administration recently released a long-suppressed report concluding that any gains experienced by children in Head Start disappear by the end of first grade. You probably didn’t hear the reality-based community announcing that Head Start doesn’t work. Reality, it seems, is all in the framing.

So this guy is confusing a liberal political agenda with the scientific-minded and science-based community's insistence on using evidence to base policy decisions.  I also followed the link to both Jay Greene & Maggie Gallagher to see what they had to say about this Head Start report, since I was unfamiliar with either Head Start, or the report on it.  I also read the official summary of the report, and it didn't actually say that "any gains experienced by children in Head Start disappear by the end of first grade", it said that a bunch of different things, some individual gains not lasting until first grade being one of them.  I wrote a letter to the editor, and I'm publishing it here as an Open Letter To the Editor of the City Journal:

As we have shown countless times when a medical treatment has been shown to be ineffective and consequently thrown out, if the studies actually show that Head Start is ineffective, then the reality-based community would most definitely change its tune. That's what "reality-based" means, y'know, based in reality.

When the evidence is there, the opinions are changed along with the evidence.

If you didn't hear anything from the reality-based community, it's probably because the report didn't make news.

Do not confuse a liberal political agenda with "the reality-based community". That many liberals are also reality-based does not mean they are interchangeable. One is a political affiliation, the other is a method of evaluation. Many liberals are most definitely not "reality-based", and many conservatives are.

Having had the chance to skim the report, it's too simplistic to say that Head Start "doesn't work". Rather, the study found certain elements of the program showed significant benefits and other elements of the program had no significant benefits or negative benefits. This is a mixed review, not a negative one, and the results can be used to better refine the program in the future. The study was to determine whether it was better to enroll children at age 3 or at age 4, and compared Head Start students to students who had the opportunity to enroll in other programs, not a comparison between children in Head Start vs. children with no preschool program at all.

"In sum, this report finds that providing access to Head Start has benefits for both 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds in the cognitive, health, and parenting domains, and for 3-year-olds in the social-emotional domain. ... Moreover, several subgroups of children in this study experience benefits of Head Start into 1st grade."

This is a preliminary study, and highlights areas of interest. There are more variables that need to be eliminated to come to any conclusions, but there are several areas here which suggest a modification of the program according to those aspects which do not appear to have a significant impact.

And *that* is a "reality-based" reaction, not a knee-jerk reaction to automatically dismiss or accept a preliminary study based on political affiliation.

I just don't understand why "reality-based" is a slur.  I think George W. Bush said something once about reality having a liberal slant.  As the old Point of Inquiry segment used to say, "...rational thinking, science, and secular values, what one advisor to the Bush Administration dismissed as the reality-based community.  Who could have imagined that reality would need defenders?"  

Something I didn't say in my letter, and wanted to, but really wouldn't have benefited my message, was that many liberals are complete and total wackaloons that have no bearing on reality whatsoever, just like many conservatives.  Crazy doesn't care about party lines.   Is there really much difference between a fundie Christian letting his kid die because it's against his religion to visit a doctor, or a Newager letting her kid die because Deepak Chopra said don't take chemo?  Fundies shooting abortion doctors or animal-rights terrorists blowing up labs - same difference, all crazy.

If someone claims to be "reality-based", you can't automatically assume their party affiliation.  I have a particular bias against the Libertarian party, for instance.  I tend to think that the *party* is based on an extremely high degree of naivete.  However, I know some people who identify as libertarians who are incredibly grounded in reality, who base their decisions and opinions on the evidence available, and who change their minds when the evidence is there to support the other side.  I tend to be socially liberal but economically conservative.  I manage to piss off feminists and "traditionalists", often at the same time.

If someone claims to be "reality-based", but doesn't actually follow the evidence, the conclusion is not that "reality-based" isn't based in reality, it's that the individual is using the wrong label.  Just like a Catholic who is pro-abortion, birth control, divorce and re-marriage isn't actually a Catholic according to the definition, regardless of personal use of the label.  Just like a monogamist who has extra-marital sexual relationships isn't actually a monogamist, even if they can manage some complicated definition-altering that concludes that sex with prostitutes doesn't count.  

By definition, the "reality-based" community is a community who is based in reality.  Period.  If the evidence shows something, then that's what the community goes with.  If new, robust, conclusive evidence shows something different, then the community changes its collective mind.  But if the evidence is preliminary, ambiguous, sketchy, or dubious, then the community may reserve judgement temporarily.

And disagreeing with you does not automatically make the reality-based community "all in the framing".  It may just mean that you're wrong.
joreth: (Default)
Someone on the Poly Weekly forums asked if those of us who are atheist have our atheism affect our polyamory, and that sparked a Poly Weekly discussion topic.

It was an interesting discussion, but there were a few points I did not have time or opportunity to make, so I'm going to make them here.

One of the problems with the argument "the 'experts' just KNEW that the world was flat, so we shouldn't trust that the 'experts' KNOW anything they claim to know today" (besides the fact that the flat-earth hypothesis is a myth) is that the "experts" being brought up are usually "experts" before we developed the scientific method. It was also mentioned in passing how surprising it was that "we used to believe" that smoking was healthy. That's not true either. The use of the slang term "coffin nail" to refer to cigarettes dates as far back as the 1880s. What we see in the fictional universe of Mad Men was a time in our history when the Advertising industry told everyone a lie to sell a product that had very little in the way of actual scientific data one way or the other (although it was *believed* by many to be harmful, we just didn't have scientific data to support that conclusion prior to the development of the scientific method). The advertising industry is notorious for skewing, biasing, fudging, and outright lying to sell products and always has been. But thankfully, we now have agencies in place to investigate fraudulent claims and hold those committing the fraud accountable (although, like any human endeavor, it is not perfect).

It is true that "experts" are human and therfore make mistakes, and we do not know anything with 100% but ... well, Greta Christina has an entire blog post about that, so let me just point you there:

One: You can never be 100% certain that you're right about anything.

Two: Therefore, all ideas are equally likely to be true, and equally valid.

(Three: Therefore, my idea is right. But I think it's pretty obvious why that one's wrong, so I'm not going to bother shooting that particularly slow fish in that particularly small barrel.)

Okay. First of all, Two does not follow from One. Yes, it's true, we can never be 100% sure of anything (except perhaps our own existence). The history of knowledge is full of mis-steps and false assumptions... and besides, everything we see and experience could all be an illusion. We could all be in the Matrix, or something.

But the fact that we can't be 100% sure of any idea doesn't mean that all ideas are equally likely or unlikely.

The fact that we can't have 100% certainty doesn't mean that we can't assess which ideas are more or less likely. We can't know for 100% certain that the earth orbits the sun -- it could all be some horrible Satanic deception, or space aliens playing a practical joke -- but we can be pretty darned sure that it's very likely indeed. And we can't be 100% sure that Bertrand Russell's china teapot isn't orbiting the sun -- maybe it's too small to be seen by our telescopes, or maybe it's an intelligent teapot and is playing a cheeky game of hide and seek -- but we can be pretty darned sure that it almost certainly isn't.

And of course our beliefs are influenced by our preconceptions and assumptions, biases we can never completely filter out. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. That's the whole point of the scientific method. Everything about it -- control groups, double-blinding, placebo controls, peer review, transparent methodology, the expectation of replicability, all of it -- is an open acknowledgment that scientists are just as prone to seeing what they want and expect to see as everyone else. It's an open acknowledgment that scientists are fallible... and that they therefore need to try to screen out fallacy, as much as they can. These techniques don't eliminate uncertainty -- but they reduce it, and by a fair amount. They give us a significantly better chance that our theories might be right. They can’t give us absolute truth, but they can give us a pretty good approximation of the truth... an approximation that gets better and better over time.


Science keeps changing -- so how can we trust it? One of the problems is that people who distrust or dismiss science often say things like Layne did, that "history is also littered with disproved and discredited science" -- and that this somehow discredits science.

But people who value science don't see this as a sign of science's failure. On the contrary -- we see it as a sign of its success, of science working exactly the way it's supposed to. When enough evidence comes along that contradicts a theory, that theory gets discarded and replaced by a better one. A theory is only as good as the most recent results.

Now, obviously, there's a limit to this "most recent result" thing. As a science professor of mine once pointed out, if one of his students got a result that the density of helium and the density of lead were identical, that professor would not be rushing off to publish the results in "Science." He would, instead, be checking to see whether that student had turned on their scale.

That's where the whole "extraordinary theories require extraordinary evidence" thing comes in. If a theory has stood up for decades or centuries, if it's explained all the evidence so far and done a good job of predicting new evidence, then one anomalous result won't be enough to make everyone question the theory. And it shouldn't. Anomalous results happen too often -- and they too often turn out to be explainable by something in the "they forgot to turn on their scale" department. A really solid theory that's held up for a long time needs a metric shitload of evidence for it to be discarded and replaced.

And here's the thing: Of course it's true that scientific theories have been discarded and replaced. But they've consistently been replaced with other scientific theories, other naturalistic explanations of the world. This is the point I was making in The Unexplained, The Unproven, and The Unlikely -- not that naturalistic theories never get replaced, but that they never get replaced by supernatural ones. (Not ones that are supported by mountains carefully collected, carefully controlled, peer-reviewed, replicated, etc. evidence, anyway.)

Anyway, this problem still doesn't contradict the central assertion -- that the scientific method is the best method we have for minimizing human error and bias in observing the world and trying to explain it.

Another problem with the argument is that, when we *do* find something that is flawed or incorrect, we are not usually swapping out chunks of theorys 1:1. Usually, the overall theory remains accepted, and it's only certain details about it that get refined, and the amount of information we have recently discovered is actually being ADDED to our body of knowledge, not necessarily replacing it evenly.

For example, using the argument that learning something new that contradicts existing theories, one could say that the Theory of Relativity basically "disproved" Newtonian gravity.  But it also explained why Newton's equations worked.  i.e.- Newton's laws work perfectly for the world in which we live, and can be used to make accurate predictions in environments where you aren't dealing with extreme speeds or extreme masses. In those situations Newtonian gravity no longer makes accurate predictions. Relativity explains both Newtonian gravity and also works in the more extreme situations.  This is an example of adding to our existing knowledge.  A new scientific theory only gets accepted once it is proven to work AND it covers all the same things the theory it is replacing covers.  So we didn't just throw out Newton's Theory of Gravity because we discovered something new that contradicted it.  We added to our understanding of the world by adding Einstein's Theory of Relativity, which confirmed Newton's Theory for a set of conditions, plus covered a few things that Newton's Theory didn't cover.

...under a well-crafted, well-controlled experiment, a lack of falsification does count as verification, since such an experiment ranges over the full scope of possibilities in the problem domain. Should we ever discover some place where gravity did not function, and rain fell upward, this would not falsify our current theory of gravity (which, on this view, has been verified by innumerable well-formed experiments in the past) – it would rather suggest an expansion of our theory to encompass some new force or previously undiscovered interaction of forces. In other words, our initial theory as it stands is verified but incomplete.
Of course, we don't know EVERYTHING, and what usually makes the news are those topics that are on the frontier of science, where we particularly don't know everything about that topic. But, then again, those topics are not typically stated with reasonable certainty either precisely because they are so new and they haven't stood up to the same tests of time and rigorous investigation that other ideas have. We are aware of, and admit, that different ideas have different amounts of certainty, it's not an all or nothing dichotomy.  It's not "we either know this for sure or we don't know it at all", rather it's "we're about 98% certain this is true" or "this conclusion has only a 48% chance of being true" (OK, that's not the language used, I'm paraphrasing for laymen).  In other words, we can be pretty damn sure that something is true and we can also find something interesting that might be true but that needs more research.

As Richard Dawkins says, "there are no cultural relativists at 30,000 feet". What that means is that we can safely say that we KNOW that we're in an airplane and we KNOW how to make an airplane fly. If you want to get all solipsistic and insist that we can't KNOW for 100%, you can say that, but these are things we know with a high enough degree of certainty, with a probability close enough to 100%, that we can behave AS IF it's 100%.

Of course planes crash, but those are mechanical failures, which we ALSO know about, not flaws in the knowledge of how planes fly. When a plane crashes, we don't look at the engine and say "well that's strange, we had no idea that a torn fuel line would result in loss of fuel and subsequently a crash.  That was totally unpredictable and totally against all that we know of mechanized flight".  We might not immediately know what the problem is, but when the problem is discovered, its result fits quite squarely in with our understanding of how planes work.  In other words, we might not immediately know that the fuel line had a hole in it, but when we discover it, loss of fuel is exactly what we'd expect from a hole in the fuel line.  

We can predict with an extremely high degree of certainty what will make a plane fly and what will make it fall out of the sky and what, specifically, will happen when any individual component fails during flight. When we step onto that plane, we are betting with our lives that a handful of scientists really did KNOW their numbers, and the concept of reality being subjective and we all have our own "reality" based on what "makes sense to us" does not apply.  If that were true, then anyone who thinks that heavier-than-air flight just doesn't make sense would be able to get on a plane and that plane wouldn't fly because his "reality" is different from mine, and in his "reality", heavier-than-air flight doesn't "feel right" to him.  But the reality is that the plane flies regardless of our personal, subjective, feelings or even individual understanding of plane mechanics.  This reality exists outside of us, it is empirical, and it exists whether any person wants to believe in it or not.  And empirical truths are something that we can "know", with a reasonable degree of certainty, and those that we do claim to "know" are extremely unlikely to be proven wrong by future research.

Some scientific explanations are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them. The explanation becomes a scientific theory. In everyday language a theory means a hunch or speculation. Not so in science. In science, the word theory refers to a comprehensive explanation of an important feature of nature supported by facts gathered over time. Theories also allow scientists to make predictions about as yet unobserved phenomena, ... A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. Such fact-supported theories are not "guesses" but reliable accounts of the real world.

So to say that everyone has his or her own "reality" is not true at all. There are objective and empirical truths, and it is possible to KNOW them. 100% certainty is not required, we can be certain ENOUGH with the scientific method as our process for learning the world around us and for reducing the effects of human bias. What I FEEL is not a good indicator for what actually IS because of all the crazy things our brains do to trick us(1). I can FEEL attacked, but that doesn't mean anyone necessarily attacked me. And we can have empirical evidence and observations that are not subject to our personal perceptions (like outside observers, a video camera, even a rational analysis, in the "attacked" example) that can confirm how well our "feelings" actually match reality.

But science dispels propaganda because it eliminates bias by design; it has to because it’s an investigation, not a predetermined conclusion like religion is. So every proposition must be requisitely evidential and potentially falsifiable, and must be subjected to a perpetual battery of independent and unrestricted tests wherein anyone and everyone who thinks they can is welcome to try and find and expose from flaw in it –to correct it. ...

Science is necessarily rational and empirical. That means that whatever we believe isn’t a matter of choice; its an obligate condition imposed upon us by our knowledge of the evidence, and that position will only change in accordance with our understanding.

There are an awful lot of individual subjects to look at skeptically, or to ask how skepticism and rational inquiry play a part in decision-making processes or in everyday life, far more than I could possibly cover in a single journal post, or even several.  There are some great podcasts that cover exactly these kinds of topics, from what the scientific method is, to how it's used, to specific topics that are evaluated.  These podcasts do a much better job of explaining what I tried to say here, because they can go into so much more depth and nuance over time and over a series of episodes than I can get in this single post.  They're also more entertaining to listen to than I am to be read.

All of the following recommendations can be downloaded through iTunes, although I am providing links to websites for convenience of those who do not use iTunes or have iPods.  It is not necessary to have either to listen to podcasts, but installing iTunes (free) will allow you to subscribe to a podcast, which will download each new episode automatically to your computer, to be listened to at your leisure.  Individual names are linked to their Twitter accounts, most of which I also follow.

I STRONGLY recommend listening to Skeptoid, which is kind of like Snopes in that it takes a look at specific topics in pop culture and investigates the myth or reality behind the legend.  These are particularly great because the episodes are only about 15 minutes long.  The host, Brian Dunning, has also started a video podcast of the same topics, called In Fact, which is appropriate for use in the classroom and great for visual learners, like me.

Next, take a listen to The Skeptics Guide To The Universe, which is a panel of 5-6 people with various science-y type jobs and backgrounds, as they discuss current news items & pop culture.  This is a GREAT way to learn how the scientific method is used in practice, in every day life.  The Skeptics' Guide 5x5 (on the same page) is five minutes with 5 people on topics that aren't covered in the longer show.

I also recommend Point of Inquiry, which is more of an interview show with DJ Grothe who does a fantastic job of playing "Devil's Advocate".  He talks to leaders of the scientific community, authors, philosophers, and pop culture members of the media who support rational and skeptical inquiry and asks them the hardball questions, often the questions of the opposition, but without coming off as belligerent or rude or antagonistic (something I have yet to learn).  He really gets to the meat of the matter.  DJ has recently gone on to become President of the JREF (James Randi Educational Foundation), and will be hosting a new podcast called For Good Reason.  I recommend going back through the PoI archives to listen to old episodes, since DJ is worth the effort & won't be hosting PoI any longer.  I'm not sure who will be taking over, but I'm sure he'll be just as great, if different.

Mr. Deity is a deliciously sarcastic, snarky video podcast that pokes fun at Christianity specifically, using biting humor to illustrate the logical fallacies and circular reasoning so often found in religious beliefs.  My absolute favorite character is the Devil.  Watch it, and you'll understand why, especially when you get to the Magic episodes.

For a more practical, day-to-day what's-the-harm look at non-scientific beliefs, listen to Quackcast with Mark Crislip.  He is an infectious disease doctor and he also uses snark and ridicule, along with actual scientific research, to investigate the claims made by alt-medicine.  This is a great podcast for seeing exactly what harm can befall someone for not using rational inquiry and critical thinking and substituting that with magical thinking.  

Also visit What's The Harm, a website that highlights exactly what's the harm with just letting people have their wacky beliefs, live and let live, if they don't do it to me then leave it alone.  Problem is that it's so often live and let die, and they *do* do it to me, but What's The Harm will cover all that in detail.

I have yet to listen to these following podcasts (or I've listened to one or two episodes only), but they all come highly recommended by the same people who first turned me on to the podcasts I recommended above.  They are all on my list to start listening once I've caught up on all the others in my queue:  Skepticality, Reasonable Doubt, The Naked Scientists, The Non-Prophets (out of Austin, Texas), and The Skeptic Zone (out of Australia) with the AWESOME Richard Saunders & Dr. Rachie (of the recent Shorty Awards incident).

1. I strongly recommend reading books like "How We Know What Isn't So" and "Why People Believe Weird Things" and "How To Think Straight" and "How to Think About Weird Things" and "Demon Haunted World" and "How We Believe" for a better understanding of why what we "feel" isn't a good enough reason to believe it is so and why it is so important to use critical thinking and the scientific method to sort out reality from subjective perception.

I also recommend visiting my YouTube Channel for Awesome Science Stuff and good Atheism videos.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
 Sometimes, woo quacks, IDiots, and Newagers are so far wrong that the only way to fix things is to take a time machine back to their kindergarten and start all over because their wrongness is hopelessly entangled in the very basics.

Take Mike Adams, aka HealthRanger, for example.  Last week there was something called the Shorty Awards, where anyone on Twitter could vote for their favorite other Twitter user for, well, pretty much anything. At the end of the contest, the winner got a "Congratulations! People like you!".

Like everyone else, HealthRanger massed his minions to vote for him. Except, according to the stated rules, votes coming from Twitter accounts that were created just to vote (i.e. created immediately before vote tweet, having no other tweets except the vote tweet) would be disqualified.

Well, one of the supporters for HealthRanger's main competition, an actual doctor from Australia named Dr. Rachie, notified the Shorty Awards of the fraudulent votes & HealthRanger got disqualified. Although I got a hefty dose of what The Bad Astronomer calls "shadenfruedalicious", I have to agree with Orac that HealthRanger shouldn't have been disqualified because there was no hard evidence that he was the one responsible for the fraudulent votes. Instead, all those votes should have just been removed in the audit that is part of the Standard Procedures for the Shorty Awards.

Anyway, HealthRanger wrote a scathing article on his blog (I don't have the url) where he accuses the skeptics of lying and cheating (I <3 Irony). He then also wrote an eye-bleedingly long and wrong blog post about What Skeptics Believe. As the critic in the URL I linked to above says, there are more Straw Men in this essay than a Wizard of Oz convention. His idea on how the world works is so fundamentally wrong, that the only way to even hope to correct all his wrongness is to go back in time and start over from scratch. "It's turtles all the way down" takes on a whole new meaning here. It's WRONG all the way down.
joreth: (Silent Bob Headbang)
In October, 2009, we lost a great man. Basava Premananda was a skeptic from India who spent his life fighting woo, pseudo-science, and so-called "magic". He lived in a time and place where skepticism is met with true harm to life, including death. His lost battle with cancer is a terrible loss to our cause.

One of his last gifts to humanity was to write a letter from his deathbed to continue to fight woo by declaring that, faced with his imminent death, he has had no deathbed conversion to spirituality. One of the things the religious insist on claiming is that there are no atheists in foxholes and that any life-threatening situation will spontaneously create a belief in the divine. The idea is that atheists aren't really atheists, we don't REALLY disbelieve in god, we're just mad at god, and as soon as we have to face the reality of our death and possible non-existence or eternal punishment, our hidden belief in god will pop back and we will beg forgiveness and to be saved. Which is patently untrue.

So, anyway, on his deathbed, Premananda wrote a statement denying any such deathbed conversion. And I archive it here for convenience.

Declaration of attitude and temperament

I, B. Premanand s/o late Sri Basava Prabhu, 80 years of age resident Chettipalayam Road, Podanur, sound of mind though suffering from physical complications caused by metastases in many organs caused by carcinoma of the stomach herein solemnly wish to place on record the following:

I have been closely associated with the rationalist movement from 1975 onwards and have been a rationalist of full conviction since then and continue to be so.

It is common for the purveyors of superstitions and such anti rational forces to start spreading rumors about rationalists turning to god and other supernatural forces at the end of their lives and becoming devotees of gods and god men of various types.

It is also claimed that at times of crises that we staunch rationalists through the major part of our lives, turn to spiritualism and religion.

I wish to clarify that as on today the twentieth of September, 2009 I remain a staunch rationalist and wish to place on record the following:
  • I continue to be a rationalist of full conviction.
  • I do not believe in any supernatural power. All the powers that we encounter are in the realm of nature and nothing exists beyond that.
  • I do not believe in the existence of the soul or rebirth.
  • I have not turned to any religion, god or any sort of spiritual pursuits.
  • When I pass away I shall be leaving only my body which is to be donated to a medical college and no spirit or soul to cause problems for the living.
I want to convey to all that the struggle against the exploitation by god men and so called supernatural forces is a long and hard one but the ultimate victory will be ours.

My very survival has been a challenge to astrologers and their so called “science” of astrology, as they had all predicted that I would die soon after birth and refused to cast a horoscope for me.

I wish to convey to my colleagues of the rationalist movement to continue the work that I have been doing with renewed vigor and that will be the best of tributes for me.

Abhirami Hospital
(B. Premanand)
Witnessed by: Dr. Maya Prabhu and Suneera
joreth: (Silent Bob Headbang)
 I posted when I sent in my De-Baptism certificate and request to be taken off the registry for the Catholic Church so they could no longer use me in their census-taking.  I really was expecting to be ignored, but when I did a vanity-search on Google (that's where you search the web for your own name), I came across a webpage for The Diocesan Bulletin, apparently the internal newsletter for the diocese in which I was baptized.  

In the newsletter, I saw a request for my baptism certificate.  My name and birthdate were mentioned, but nothing else.  I don't know what the outcome will be, but the church is doing *something* about my request!  I'm shocked and pleased.
joreth: (polyamory)
I took part in an online survey of polyamorous people that is looking at their spirituality and spiritual views. When I saw "spirituality" in the title, I believed that there would be a bias under her research and I felt it was important to make sure that atheists and non-pagans got represented because I was pretty sure that the pagan community would be over-represented. It's very frustrating to me that pagans are so much a visual part of the poly community that non-pagans often avoid "poly communities" because they feel as though they'll have nothing in common other than the polyamory, and that the polyamory will look quite different, and sadly, that's often true, in my observation.

>Please note, it is not my intent to dump on pagans here. I'm not saying that pagans intentionally push out people of alternate viewpoints, and, in fact, many of the pagans that I know personally are quite welcoming of people with different spiritual outlooks. It is my intent to point out a, perhaps, overly subtle discrimination or imbalance in the poly communities, which is that poly people who do not have strong spiritual viewpoints are under-represented and overshadowed, and that the statistical data on polyamory may be incorrect because of the lack of connection or outreach with non-spiritual poly people by the rest of the community and by researchers.

This study has covered almost exclusively pagan polyamorists because they're who are most visible and often participate in the community, and therefore things like studies & media events. Although pagans are still free to join in the study, I would like to encourage poly people of other spiritual or non-spiritual outlooks to chime in to get a better representation of the actual diversity among spiritual beliefs in the poly community. The first part is an online survey, and then, if you qualify (I forget what the qualifications are), you may be asked to do a phone interview, completely anonymously, for research purposes and not for any form of media or public presentation.

I just completed this phone interview, and, although this study has been going on for some time now, I was the first atheist the researcher had spoken to, and she had a host of misconceptions about what atheism is and isn't and how religious views do or don't affect one's relationship structures. She was very appreciative of the alternate viewpoint and the opportunity to have her biases made clear to her that were completely overlooked by both herself and her approval committee in her word choice and assumptions (for the record, I did not tell her she was biased, I answered her questions and she revealed to me that she had found a bias in her thesis wording through my answers and so thanked me). So I am hopeful that my contribution will prove to be very beneficial in present and future poly research and I urge others to contribute as well, since my views are not the same as, or necessarily representative of all atheists, but currently, I'm the only atheist voice in this particular research study.

Please also feel free to forward this request on, particularly to non-pagan polyamorists. I realize it may come across that I am trying to push aside pagans or pad the numbers in a non-pagan favor, so I want to be clear that I am not trying to do that. But I do feel as though the non-pagan polyamorists are much higher in number than the current research suggests, so I am particularly encouraging non-pagans to get out there and help make the statistics more accurate. It's not a matter of "let's outnumber the pagans!", it's a matter of better representation of other types of polyamorists. Pagan polyamorists are very well represented, but other groups are not, as evidenced by the fact that I am the only atheist the researcher has talked to, and I happen to know I'm not the only atheist polyamorist out there :-)
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Greta Christina has decided to start posting her Atheist Memes in her blog once a week instead of daily, although she will continue to post them daily on her Facebook page (since I don't have a Facebook, I get them from her blog).

So here are this week's Atheist Memes:

Disagreeing With Religion Is Not The Same As Opposing Religions Freedom
Our choices for dealing with different religious beliefs aren't limited to uncritical ecumenalism or fundamentalist theocracy. We can question and criticize religious beliefs we disagree with, while passionately supporting religious freedom and people's right to believe whatever they like. That's where most atheist activists are coming from. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Religious Beliefs Affect People's Decisions And That's Why We Care
The reason many atheists care what other people believe is that beliefs affect decisions. Including political decisions. Political decisions should be made based on evidence about what works in this world, not on what an invisible being whose opinions we have no way of evaluating supposedly wants in an otherworldly realm nobody can agree about. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across. (Posted the day after same-sex marriage lost in Maine.)

Pascal's Wager Is A Bad Reason For Religious Belief
"Believing is a safer bet than not believing" is a terrible reason to believe in God. Which God should we bet on? If we're believing in God just to hedge our bets in the afterlife, which of the thousands of contradictory religions should we follow? And how would that be sincere belief? Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Unfalsifiable Claims Are Not Useful
If there's no possible way to show that a hypothesis is wrong -- if any possible event can be interpreted to confirm a hypothesis -- then that hypothesis isn't useful. And that applies to religion. If anything that happens, bad or good, can be seen as a sign of God's existence, then God's existence is indistinguishable from God's non-existence. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Atheists Are Happy Too
Atheism doesn't mean cynicism, nihilism, or despair. Atheists can and do have happy lives, full of meaning and joy, and with comfort and solace in difficult times. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Where Did God Come From?
"Something had to have made the universe, things don't just make themselves" is not a good argument for God. If things can't just exist forever or pop into being out of nothing... where did God come from? And if God can have existed forever or come into being out of nothing... why can't that be true for the universe? Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Religion Is A Hypothesis
Religion is not just a matter of personal opinion or different perspectives. It's a hypothesis about how the world works and why it is the way it is. And it's not unreasonable or intolerant for atheists to treat it as a hypothesis, and to point out when that hypothesis is inconsistent with the evidence. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
I am declaring my De-Baptism to the Catholic Church and requesting that I be removed from their list of saved souls that is used for statistical purposes. I have written the following letter and I am putting it in tomorrow's mail along with my De-Baptism certificate:

Most Holy Trinity Parish
Records Department
2040 Nassau Dr.
San Jose, CA 95122

To Whom It May Concern:

I was born on ________. I do not have my Baptismal date, but it was shortly thereafter I was baptized in San Jose, CA and my family attended Most Holy Trinity Church.

I wish to declare my formal defection from the Catholic Church in accordance with canons 1086, § 1, 1117 and 1124 of the Code of Canon Law as mentioned in notification Prot. N. 10279/2006 from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

I hereby reject the teachings, dogma and authority of the Roman Catholic Church and any benefits, so-called sacraments, graces and blessings supposedly bestowed upon me, either in the past or the future. Furthermore, please note that I make these statements personally, consciously and freely.

Having been subjected to the Rite of Christian Baptism in infancy (before reaching an age of consent), I hereby publicly revoke any implications of that Rite and renounce the Church that carried it out. In the name of human reason, I reject all its Creeds and all other such superstition in particular, the perfidious belief that any baby needs to be cleansed by Baptism of alleged ORIGINAL SIN, and the evil power of supposed demons. I wish to be excluded henceforth from enhanced claims of church membership numbers based on past baptismal statistics used, for example, for the purpose of securing legislative privilege.

If de-baptism is not an option, please excommunicate me as an alternative. The main point is to be removed from your records as a member of your organization for statistical, legal, or resource/exemption purposes.

If this is not the correct agency to correct this clerical error, please tell me who I should contact.

I respectfully request confirmation that this act has been noted in the baptismal registry (cfr. can. 535, § 2) with explicit mention of the occurrence of a ‘defectio ab Ecclesia catholica actu formali’.”

joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Today's Atheist Meme of the Day:

"We can't prove or disprove God with absolute certainty, so I'm going to trust my intuition" is a terrible reason to believe in God. There are thousands of religious beliefs, many completely contradicting each other. And every believer's intuition says something different. How do we tell which of these beliefs is right? Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get acros

It's so frustrating to be presenting logic and reason and evidence, only to have someone respond "If you felt what I felt, you would KNOW that there is a [insert supernatural claim here]."

The problem is that EVERYONE who has that supernatural claim, has it because he has "felt" it's "truth".  They can't all be correct.  In fact, we happen to have evidence of some very specific individuals that they are not correct.  Some are mentally ill.  Some are physically damaged (as I tweeted yesterday, hyperreligiosity is a symptom of epilepsy and brain damage and can be induced medically).  Some are scam artists and frauds and don't believe a word of their claims.  Some are genuine believers who have been scammed by demonstrably false claims.

Everyone believes their own intuition when they make declarative statements like this.  Since they can't all be right, why should I believe that yours is the right one over the millions of other claims who are just as vociferous, just as convinced, that their claim is the right one?  And why should I even believe my own?

"A lie is a lie even if everyone believes it.  The truth is the truth even if nobody believes it." ~David Stevens.  This is why we have the scientific method.  It reduces the potential of human flaws like confirmation bias, mental and physical barriers, and fraud.  It makes no sense at all to believe intuition, knowing what we know about human fallibility, without empirical, independently-verified evidence to support it.  

Intuition is very important.  It's where we should begin.  It is what gives us the ideas and perhaps even the creativity to begin investigation.  But it is not where we should stop.  We must be willing to let go of our most cherished beliefs if the evidence does not support it.  And, as mentioned in a previous Meme post, every single time we have had the ability to investigate a supernatural claim about the universe, a natural explanation has turned out to be the answer.  

So, with millions of people all offering conflicting claims of personal intuition, and thousands of experiments proving them incorrect, and each time an experiment can be done, it has always proven it incorrect, why would I choose to believe someone's unsubstantiated personal intuition?  It's always been wrong before, and I have no way to distinguish the wrong ones from the potentially-right ones without independent, corroborating evidence.  

No, it is safer to assume that nothing special is going on ... until someone can prove that something special is going on.  The odds are in favor that nothing special is going on.  But, if your intuition is telling you that something special is going on, by all means, investigate it.  And when you have proper, empirical, independent evidence to support your intuition, then I will re-evaluate my position that nothing special is going on.

But your intuition alone is not good enough.  If it were, then what's to stop his intuition from being good enough?  And hers?  And theirs?  And every other crackpot in existence, past, present or future?  Intuition is fallible, so you need to give me something a little better to work with.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Today's Atheist Meme of the Day:

Yes, some atheists can be jerks. Especially on the Internet. Some people in every group can be jerks -- especially on the Internet. This doesn't make atheism an inherently jerky worldview. And it doesn't make atheism mistaken. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across

1) The internet is where a lot of people go to vent.  So you'll often see people here when they're in a bad mood.  This is not the entirety of who they are.

2) The internet brings us face to face with people who piss us off.  So you'll often see people after someone has provoked then with stupidity.  This is not the entirety of who they are.

3) The internet often provides people with a constant, regular, repetitive stream of stupidity.  When you've been insulted enough times, when you've been attacked enough times, and when you've just seen something stupid enough times, offered a correction, then heard the next person say the exact same thing as though the correction hadn't been offered just then, or thousands of times before on hundreds of other websites/forums/IM chats, well, people get a little cranky when they feel they have to repeat themselves.  This is not the entirety of who they are.

4) The internet removes tone and vocal inflection and body language from communication.  When a person is of a rational / logical / scientific mindset, the pragmatic language used is often "heard" as angry, condescending, arrogant, or rude in the absence of *real* clues to the person's frame of mind.  Just because the reader projects emotion onto text or thinks everything is about him, does not mean that atheists are angry, jerks, or assholes anymore than any other collective is (unless the collective happens to *be* angry people, jerks, or assholes).  So, in this case, not only is this not the entirety of who they are, it's often not who they are even at that moment.

So, yeah, some atheists lose their temper.  Some atheists are not good at presenting their side of the argument.  Some atheists get things wrong.  Just like everyone else.  A person is not an "angry person" just because you saw them get angry in the middle of an argument.  Everyone gets angry in the middle of an argument.  That's kinda what an argument is.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Today's Atheist Meme of the Day:

It is hypothetically possible that, if you jump out the window, fairies will carry you to the ground. You can't prove with 100% certainty that it won't happen. Are you therefore going to jump out the window? If not, why would you base any other major decision on a religious belief you have no evidence for but that can't be 100% disproved? Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Today's Atheist Meme of the Day:

In human history, supernatural explanations of phenomena have been replaced by natural explanations thousands upon thousands of times. Natural explanations have been replaced by supernatural ones exactly never. So why would we assume that any given unexplained phenomenon is probably supernatural? Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across

What else is there really to say here that hasn't already been said a million times?  Every single time a supernatural explanation is proposed for a phenomenon, as soon as we develop the technology to look into it, a natural explanation is revealed.  Every single time without fail.  Ockham's Razor, the Null Hypothesis, even the "better safe than sorry" method of the opposition, all suggest that, when we don't have an answer, instead of saying "god did it", we should just assume "no god did it" until proven otherwise.  Maybe when god actually *does* do something, I might be more willing to entertain the possibility that something supernatural was the cause in the absence of any other data.  Until then, it's so unlikely that I can reasonably behave as though it is untrue.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)

So, to summarize, a group of cheerleaders for a high school made giant banners with bible verses on them that the football team ran through. A Christian law student, attending one of the evangelical universities, told the school district that the banners could get the school sued for violating the separation of church and state.

The school district and constitutional experts agreed, and the cheerleaders were required to stop printing bible verses on their banners.

The religious members of the town got all offended and started bringing their own signs with bible verses and religious sayings on them. The attitude of the people interviewed seem to be "You gonna take away our religion in our schools? Well, we'll just bring our own damn signs! How'dya like them apples, you mean old atheists?"

Except they missed the point.

Bringing personal signs are fine. It's an expression of Free Speech. Annoying, but legal. I have no LEGAL beef with their actions here, and apparently neither do anyone one else.

A 17-year old atheist was quoted as saying, pretty much the same thing. He finds the shoving of bible verses down his throat in public to be annoying, but he acknowledges that they have a constitutional right to do so.

Unlike the Christian groups who seek to ban, fine, and censor the atheist groups for their billboards and bus signs. And what about the non-Christian religious fans in the audience? How do we suppose these same incensed Christians would have reacted if a Muslim girl was a cheerleader and she wanted to quote the Koran on some game day? Judging by the typical reaction of Christians to non-Christian expressions, and judging by these people's determination to believe that their town is a Christian town, and their god pays enough attention to take sides in high school football games, I'm willing to bet money they would have been pissed off if a Muslim cheerleader quoted the Koran on the banners.

One cheerleader is quoted as saying "We are representatives of the school, but we’re also individuals, and we have the right to believe whatever religion we want."


How many times do we have to say that we are not trying to legislate WHAT YOU BELIEVE?  We are trying to prevent YOU from legislating what WE believe.

The government can not endorse any religion over any other religion, and the only way to make sure of that is to keep all religious expressions out of government-sponsored activities and entities.

You have the very freedom you have to worship your crazy, temperamental, vengeful, misogynistic, contradictory, and completely illogical god PRECISELY because we separate church and state.  If we did not, your ass-backwards fundie beliefs would be illegal for not being the version of religion that was around when the country was founded and its religious clauses were written into law.  You people would not hold government offices (unless you practiced your religion in secret) until/unless your church organized well enough to overthrow the government to replace the head of state with one of your own, if ya'll didn't get arrested for treason first.

The article also says "in losing the battle, we have won the war".

No you haven't, this was our whole point from the beginning.  You CAN have personal religious signs if you want to.  No one is contesting that and none of us ever did.  Unlike you people, we are not trying to legislate your beliefs, nor are we trying to curtail your Freedom of Speech.  Our fight to keep religion out of our government is NOT a slippery slope to rob you of your beliefs.  We hope to do that by convincing you that your beliefs are wrong, not by dictating to you or mandating that you not believe them.

Every time one of us heathen liberals does something with the intention of holding up the spirit of the Constitution, such as enforcing the separation of church and state, or attempting to legalize gay marriage (anti-discrimination, under the all-men-are-created-equal thing), the religious radicals get all up in arms about how we're going to march into people's homes and rip their religion away from them; we're gonna line the schools with armed soldiers to prevent children from praying or storm the churches to carry away pastors from the pulpit for making their outrageous religious claims.

And that's just not so, as this situation proves.

You can believe any fool thing you want to.  You can express your beliefs in almost any way you want to.

What you cannot do is force others to believe what you believe.
What you cannot do is force others to listen to your message if they don't want to.
What you cannot do is use your Freedom of Expression to limit anyone else's freedoms, such as inciting a riot or discriminatory practices.

The only thing that keeps people of other religions and other denominations of your own religion from doing these things to you are the very laws and Constitutional amendments that prevent you from doing it to us that we insist on upholding.  

That very law that made the cheerleaders take down their banners prevents the school district for spending money on and promoting our own atheist beliefs, or Muslim beliefs, or Hindu beliefs, or Wiccan beliefs, or Satanic beliefs, or Flying Spaghetti Monster beliefs, or Pink Unicorn beliefs, or Russell's Teapot beliefs.

(And no, contrary to popular propaganda, science does not promote atheism, it says nothing at all about god or a lack of a god ... it's just that science-literate adults tend to lose their faith in religion when religions make claims about the world that prove to be wrong, and when they apply their logic and critical thinking skills to their ancient tomes written by Bronze-age sheepherders and find them somewhat lacking in accuracy and modern-day applicability).

You didn't win any "war", and no one is telling you what to believe.  At least one of you was smart enough to understand what Separation of Church And State means, and that's all we've ever asked for.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Today's Atheist Meme of the Day:

Most atheists passionately support believers' right to believe and practice whatever religion they like, and we oppose anti-religious discrimination as vehemently as anti-atheist discrimination. We may disagree with what people believe -- sometimes passionately and vocally -- but we will defend with equal passion their right to believe it. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across

It was actually quite disheartening to see the same-sex rights groups distance themselves from atheists because they are afraid of the taint that being associated with atheists would bring in their fight for acceptance from mainstream society.  Atheists were the first non-gay-themed group to stand up behind the gay rights movements, and pretty much any other civil rights group.  

Much like the ACLU (whom one can argue can be obnoxious and seems to be wanting to pick fights with people for the sake of picking fights with people, as people are wont to think of atheists), atheists are all about freedom and equality (with, I'm sure, some individual exceptions).  The core of atheism is a love of truth and rationality and logical and critical thinking.  If you passionately hold those ideals, then any form of discrimination becomes your opposition because truth and rationality and logical and critical thinking reveals the flaws in discrimination. 

Discrimination is not based on rational, logical, or empirical reasons.  It's based on fear and ignorance.  If one became an atheist by way of rational or logical thinking, eventually this way of thinking leads one to dismantle the fear and ignorance that is the foundation of discrimination.  If one became an atheist by way of evidence-based conclusions, then one requires evidence to justify discrimination, and there simply isn't any evidence to support it.  Therefore, much like religious claims, discrimination gets thrown out as an acceptable belief structure or societal structure.

I will argue and provide evidence and attempt to dissuade you from your untrue, supernatural, illogical, irrational beliefs because I think those kinds of beliefs create errors in judgement which then affect your actions, which then affect my life.  But I will fight for your right to believe any silly thing you want to believe.  I don't think you should be *forced* to believe something or prevented from believing something, nor do I even think that's possible.  That's not the same thing at all as trying to change your mind, nor is it the same thing as imposing regulations over your *actions* when those actions affect other people.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Today's Atheist Meme of the Day:

Atheism doesn't mean having a closed mind. Atheism simply means concluding that God probably doesn't exist. It means we've considered the idea of God and rejected it as implausible, but will reconsider if we see new evidence. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across

I've gone on about this at length in my post about Atheist vs. Agnostic, so I won't rant about it again today.  But I was listening to some back episodes of skeptical podcasts today, and some interview with someone (I forget which podcast and I forget who was interviewed) pointed out that those who believe in the supernatural and accuse skeptics of being close-minded are actually the close-minded ones themselves.  Because they've concluded that there is, absolutely, 100% certain, that there is whatever paranormal entity is being discussed, and the possibility that there isn't is rejected.  They have closed their minds to this option.

Note, it's not the conclusion that "there is no god" that is rejected, it's the *possibility* that the non-god hypothesis is true that is rejected.  As opposed to atheists, who have rejected the conclusion that there is a god, but not the possibility that the god-hypothesis could be true if enough evidence is presented.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Today's Atheist Meme of the Day:

Our minds are wired by evolution to see intention and patterns, even where none exists. So we have to be careful about assuming that a pattern or intention is really there, just because it seems like it. And that holds for God and religion as much anything else. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across

I'm particularly at risk for this, it seems.  So I have to remind myself, I have to write things down, I have to double check, and I have to ask for outside opinions to make sure that the pattern I'm seeing really is a pattern and not pareidolia creeping in to a random happenstance (especially for a small sample size or a short time frame, etc.) and that I'm not falling victim to confirmation bias.

But this seems to be the very basis of supernatural belief.  I dreamt it and it came true, therefore I'm psychic.  I prayed and it happened, therefore god intervened.  

Read "How We Believe" by Michael Shermer, "Why People Believe Weird Things" by Michael Shermer, & "How We Know What Isn't So" by Thomas Gilovich (and pretty much any other book on the Skeptic's Reading Guide over at The Skeptical Pervert).
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Today's Atheist Meme of the Day:

There is real discrimination against atheists, in the U.S. and around the world. Atheists have been fired, denied custody of their kids, threatened and denied promotion in the military, vandalized by neighbors, expelled from school, and more... because of their atheism. And in some countries, atheism is against the law, punishable by death. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

I find it ironic (and infuriating) that American Christians are all up in arms over "The War On Christmas" and shout from the pulpits that they are being "discriminated against" when rationalists insist on the separation of church and state as our country's founders intended.  When they start having their children taken from them just for believing in god (and not for actually harming their children because their god said to), then I'll give weight to their complaints.

Until then, I cry "hypocrite".
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Today's Atheist Meme of the Day:

"People find religion comforting" is not a good argument for why religion is true. Wanting something to be so doesn't make it so. Plus, many believers don't find religion comforting -- they find it upsetting, confusing, guilt-tripping, and demoralizing. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across

I really, really, REALLY want for stupidity like this to be fatal.  Clearly, wanting something to be true doesn't make it so.

"A lie is a lie even if everyone believes it.  The truth is the truth even if no one believes it."
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Today's Atheist Meme of the Day:

Making an argument is not the same as forcing your beliefs on others. Many atheists would like to see a world without religion.... but we don't want to accomplish that by making religion illegal, or in any way forcing people out of it. We want to accomplish it by -- snicker -- persuasion. We're crazy dreamers that way. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get acros

When people are confronted with someone who is passionate about his beliefs, who genuinely cares for the people he's talking to, people often mistake that enthusiastic position for imposing or forcing his will onto others.  These are not the same things.

I have been called argumentative in the past.  No, it's true!  When I hold a belief strongly, I hold it because my investigation and the available evidence has led me to believe it is true, or at least, reasonable to operate as if it were true.  And when one of those beliefs includes a concern for the physical, mental, emotional, or psychological safety of another human being, particularly a person I care about, I may argue relentlessly to try and persuade that person that my viewpoint is the correct one.

Many people do this.

The difference is that I am not trying to *force* them to do things my way, I'm trying to show them that my way is actually the right or best or optimal way so that they *agree* and then will *want* to do it that way too.

If I were trying to force my belief system onto someone, I would try to pass a law, or I would use my authority over them in whatever capacity I might have, to make them do things my way whether they wanted to or not.

This is what parents do when raising children (I'm not saying it's an entirely unwarranted method, just that arguing is not the same thing).  When a parent takes the time to argue with their child, to explain to them why this is the best course of action, that's not imposing their will onto the child.  When a parent says "because I'm the parent, that's why.  Now don't talk back", that's forcing their will onto the child.  Both methods have an appropriate time, place, and subject matter.  But they are not the same method.

When the radical right-wingers pass laws outlawing abortion and birth control because they somehow believe that a book written 2,000 years before abortion and birth control existed actually says to outlaw abortion and birth control, and they make everyone who holds different beliefs about abortion and birth control conform to the same rules - that's forcing one's beliefs onto someone else.

When the radical left-wingers try to pass laws banning genetically engineered food products that save millions of lives from death by starvation because they believe there is some connection to Mother Earth and we are messing with the "natural harmony", completely in the face of all evidence to the contrary, and prohibiting the rest of us, including the poor and starving, from the choice to eat or die -  this is forcing one's beliefs onto someone else.

But when I sit with you and present my point of view along with the reasons why I hold that point of view, even if I get angry, even if I get frustrated, with the intention of changing your mind - this is not forcing my beliefs.  This is argument and persuasion.  You might not like it.  You might wish I'd just shut up and go away, and that's reasonable.  I certainly don't wish to sit still to listen to a fundie or a newager spew what I consider to be complete and utter bullshit (although I did listen long enough to know that what they're speaking is bullshit and didn't just ignore them because their opinion differed from mine).

But do not confuse my argument with force.  It is not the same thing at all.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Today's Atheist Meme of the Day:

Intuition is important and useful. But it's also very fallible. Among other things, it strongly biases us towards what we already believe, or what we want to believe. And that's just as true about religion as anything else. That's why atheists think intuition, by itself, isn't a very good argument for God. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across

I've written recently about the value of utilizing one's emotions and intuition in making decisions, in being happy, and in being "lucky".  But that's not the end of the line - it's the start.  When it comes to answering questions about the real world, the natural world, intuition really sucks as an answer.  It might be a place to start; it might give us the questions that we should seek answers to.  But it is not the answer in and of itself.

If our intuition tells us that there's something "more" going on, we should take that as a signal to investigate what that "more" is.  We should not take that as the answer that there is something "more", as in: supernatural.

Intuition, emotions, perception, these are all valuable tools.  But the tools must be used properly.  We shouldn't pick up a hammer and expect to get a nice lathed table leg with it.  I suppose it's possible that someone skilled enough with a hammer could do it, but really, the hammer should be used for hammering stuff.  Emotions and intuition are great warning signals.  They are tools to notify us about things, but reason, logic, and analysis are what we should be using to determine what that emotion and intuition are trying to tell us.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Today's Atheist Meme of the Day is:

It's not reasonable to say that only trained theologians are competent to discuss religion's validity. Most atheists aren't interested in the religion of a few theologians: we care about religion as it's believed and practiced by the vast majority of believers. Besides, many atheists have studied modern theology... and found it wanting. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across

Many religious advocates will end a debate with the idea that if you haven't spent your whole life studying this particular religion, you're not in a position to dispute it.  That is not a valid debate tactic.  It's a discussion ender.  I should know, I've used it myself.

When a person uses this line, it means "I don't have the patience to discuss this with you any further."  It also means that I don't believe you fully grasp all the concepts required to continue this debate.  It's condescending.  So am I, which is why I use it when I've lost my temper and my patience.

There are 3 problems here.  The first is what Greta Christina says, which is that we may not be discussing the theological religion, we may be talking about the greater harm as practiced by people who also aren't trained theologians.  I don't really care all that much that the more accurate translation of some 2,000 year old scroll said "servant" and was mistranslated to say "woman".  What I care about is now, 2,000 years later, millions of people are following the version that says "woman", or worse, believing some guy who claims that it says "unmarried, virginal women" without even reading for themselves the mistranslated version to see if that's what it really says.  That it once said "servant" is interesting, but not really my point when I talk about the harm that religion does in the world or why I don't believe in deities.

The second is that these theologians didn't spend their whole lives studying the thousands of other religions throughout history before rejecting all of them and choosing this one.  So they had better find another reason to dismiss me or be prepared to have their argument dismissed when they can't explain why they didn't apply the same criteria to their own rejection of religion.  No, they chose this one, usually, because it was how they were raised and it's the one they're most familiar with it.  What they *really* mean is that they hope they can finally convince you once they've fully indoctrinated you like they were indoctrinated themselves.

And the third is that one does not need to study all the intricate little details of a hypothesis to reject it when it's basic premise is false, flawed, unlikely, improbable, or flat out impossible.

I do not need to spend 20 years studying the Flying Pink Unicorn Theory, learning all the ins and outs of how he flies through the air farting rainbows and cures cancer only in really *deserving* little boys and girls before I reject your statement that there is a magic pink unicorn in your backyard that instantly transports itself to Guam the exact moment anyone looks at him.  It's so highly improbable on its face that I don't need much more information than that unless the information you have is actual, scientific proof that is falsifiable, replicate-able, has been replicated, and peer-reviewed and accepted, that not only suggests that this theory is true, but also answers all the other questions that the theories without the pink unicorn had previously answered.

And, besides that, I did study religion, and I continue to study religion.  So nyah.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Today's Atheist Meme of the Day:

"Lots of smart people believe in God" is not a good argument for why God exists. Plenty of smart people, throughout history and today, have believed things that were mistaken. Smart people are not immune to error... especially when it comes to beliefs they're deeply attached to. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across

The point is not who said it.  The point is, does the statement have validity and can it stand on its own no matter who says it?  That's the real benefit of the scientific method.  We don't believe in evolution because Darwin said so.  We accept evolution because, no matter who says it, it holds true and no matter who denies it, the truth stands.  Darwin just happened to be the guy to get the paper written on it first (and just barely, at that - some other guy came along with a similar idea and tried to report on it before Darwin felt ready to publish his own ideas).

The Argument from Authority is a logical fallacy.  It is convenient to take someone's word for something when that person has given evidence that he usually knows what he's talking about.  We can't actually fully analyze and study and understand everything we hear.  Sometimes we do have to take "on faith" that what someone says is true.

But the difference between this and the logical fallacy is that we are not accepting that the statement is true just because someone said so.  The statement still has to hold its own.  And if the consensus among people who dedicate their lives to studying the subject disagree with the Authority Figure, then the validity of the Authority Figure must be questioned.

With science, any claim *could* be researched by anybody if they wanted to put in the time and effort to research it and attempt to replicate the study.  So maybe I, as an individual, do not have that ability right this moment because I don't have the background or the money for school to get the background.  But because the statement is researchable, others can research it too.  And if no one else comes up with the same conclusion, then the statement does not stand on its own. 

I don't have "faith" that it's true because someone famous said so.  I believe it's true because I can follow the evidence and so can anyone else, and the evidence consistently points in this direction no matter who is looking at it, provided one is using the scientific method to reduce human error and bias.

It's not true because He said so.  It's true because it's true, and I just happened to hear about it because He said so.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Today's Atheist Meme of the Day:

Atheists are not solely governed by logic, evidence, and science. We're also shaped by passion, emotion, intuition, and personal experience. What with us being human. We simply think that logic and evidence are best suited to questions of what is and isn't true in the real, non-subjective world. Including the question of whether God exists. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

This one drives me nuts. First of all, the assumption that we are heartless, have no feelings, or even disapprove of feelings, is completely and totally incorrect. We are human and "feelings" are a huge part of the definition of what it is to be human.

Second of all, why is it considered a "bad thing" to be governed by logic, evidence, and science? Science itself is done by people who are passionate about the subjects they are studying. Scientists find beauty, are overwhelmed by emotion, make intuitive leaps, just like everyone else. The only thing that logic and science tries to do with regards to emotion and passion is to make sure that emotion and passion is actually rooted in reality. It doesn't seek to eliminate it all together, that's not its function. 

The most rational, logical, analytical people I know are also some of the most passionate, exuberant, emotionally-driven people I know. These things go hand in hand. The difference is that the rational, logical, analytical people direct their passion and their emotion towards things that actually exist, things that are real, things that can DO something for them, things that can affect them in real life.

 I think that makes the potential for a stronger, more intense, more fulfilling emotional experience - when it's based in reality and not in fantasy. 
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Today's Atheist Meme of the Day:

Atheism is not arrogant. It's no more arrogant to say, "I really think I'm right that there is no God" than to say, "I really think I'm right that there is a God." In fact, atheism is often a humbling philosophy, one that sees humanity as a very small, brief facet in the vastness of space and time. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

I never quite understood how "I KNOW the answer, and the answer is that God created everything FOR US" was humble and "I'm not sure what the answer is, but we're working on it, and so far it looks like I'm pretty inconsequential" was arrogant.

I'm arrogant about a lot of things, but I just don't see how atheism is one of them.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Today's Atheist Meme of the Day:

The reason many atheists care what other believe is that people act on their beliefs. We care for the same reasons Democrats care what Republicans believe, and vice versa: we think religion is a mistaken idea about the world, and we think it does more harm than good. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

The day that people stop using supernatural and non-scientific reasons for the basis of their public policy is the day I will return to the Live And Let Live method of religious tolerance.  Since many forms of religion outright require their religious beliefs to be enforced onto others "for their own good", I am doubtful of my stance changing any time soon.  I am unable to Live And Let Live when those I am letting live subscribe to Live And Force Everyone Else To Live As I Do Or Die.

This goes for conventional religion and it goes for woo and pseudo-science.  I am as equally appalled at the idea of Reagan consulting an astrologer for making policy decisions as I am at Dubbya for declaring a holy war in the Middle East, claiming his decision to invade was mandated by his god.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Today's Atheist Meme of the Day:

Intuition and emotion are valuable... but they're of limited use in figuring out what is and isn't true in the external world. They're too subject to rationalization, confirmation bias, etc. And "Does God exist?" is a question about what is or isn't true in the external world. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get through.

Intuition and emotion are indeed valuable.  They make a significant part of the human experience.  They are often part of what defines us as human.  They are wonderful, awesome, amazing qualities.

But they are subjective.  They do not do a very good job of examining what is true.

What is true, is true whether anyone believes it or not.  What is true, is true whether anyone likes it or not.  And what we feel is not always what is true.

This doesn't mean that the feeling itself isn't true.  No, if you have a feeling, you are, for truth, feeling that feeling.

But what you are feeling that feeling *about* may or may not be *true*.  

We have a very good evolutionary advantage for developing brains that *feel* something, based on intuition or hunches or guesses, or even for no particular reason at all.  It's a survival trait.  If you *feel* that there is a big carnivore in those bushes over there waiting to eat you, acting on it but being wrong about it isn't all that harmful from an evolutionary standpoint.  But not "feeling" that there is a large carnivore in those bushes over there waiting to eat you and being wrong about *that*, well, you can see how a person with that trait might not live long enough to pass on the genes for not-feeling.

So feelings and intuition are good for survival.

But they're not good for understanding the world around us past a mere survival standpoint.  

We have a lot of evolutionary history to overcome in our effort to understand the universe.  That's where the scientific method comes in.  The scientific method does a very good job of limiting the effect of our subconscious Pascal's Wager.  But it's a learned skill, not necessarily an innate one.  Oh, the curiosity might be innate, but learning to recognize when we make a logical fallacy, when we're being subjected to confirmation bias, when we're suffering some form of pareidolia, or any of the other reasons Why We Believe Weird Things takes a lot of effort and often requires some sort of backup system, like a friend to give you a reality check.

So, by all means, continue to *feel*.  Continue to experience your emotions and your intuitions.  These are good things and serve a purpose.  But when your intuition, when your emotions, when your *feelings* are trying to tell you something about the external world, something that can be empirically answered yes or no, something other than inside your own head, do a reality check first.  Eliminate confirmation bias.  Eliminate pareidolia.  Ask people who don't already agree with you (otherwise known as cherry-picking the data).  

Unless your version of god is completely and totally hands-off (in which case, he might as well not exist for our purposes here), the question of whether or not there is a god is, indeed, a question of empirical truth.  Either he does or does not exist.  If he is capable of manipulating or interfering with or impacting the external world in any way, he is a question of empirical truth.  In matters of empirical truth, our "intuition" and our "feelings" are not good methods of determining the answer.  They're not supposed to be, that's not their function.  So enjoy them for what they are.  But when answering questions about the nature of the physical, external world, use the proper tool, the one whose function it is to answer questions about the physical, external world, not just save us from predators "in case".  Use science.
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
This is totally what it feels like arguing with theists:

joreth: (Default)
Since 1963, AMERICAN ATHEISTS has been the premier organization laboring for the civil liberties of Atheists, and the total, absolute separation of government and religion. It was born out of a court case begun in 1959 by the Murray family which challenged prayer recitation in the public schools. That case – Murray v. Curlett – was a landmark in American jurisprudence on behalf of our First Amendment rights. It began:

Your petitioners are Atheists, and they define their lifestyle as follows. An Atheist loves himself and his fellow man instead of a god. An Atheist accepts that heaven is something for which we should work now – here on earth – for all men together to enjoy. An Atheist accepts that he can get no help through prayer, but that he must find in himself the inner conviction and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue it and to enjoy it. An Atheist accepts that only in a knowledge of himself and a knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that will help lead to a life of fulfillment.”
joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Today's Atheist Meme of the Day:

"We don't currently understand X" is not a good argument for why "X must be caused by God or the supernatural." Without solid, positive evidence for why X is caused by God or the supernatural, this isn't a real argument -- it's just dodging the question. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get through.

Saying that anything we don't understand is therefore created by god doesn't actually answer the question of whatever it is that we don't understand.  It isn't useful, it doesn't tell us anything, and it doesn't give us the information we need to make predictions about the occurrence.  It's just another placeholder for "we don't know".  We can't DO anything with that as an answer.  And since the ultimate plan of god is supposedly unknowable, it really is just another way to say "we don't know".

And since every single time a supernatural entity was invoked as an "explanation" that science was able to investigate, every single time science has found an explanation that didn't end in "god did it".

The god-did-it answer is not an answer.  It's a dead end that does nothing to further our understanding of the universe.  We are where we are in society, in history, in achievement, because people did not accept that "god did it" was a suitable answer.  As we've gradually uncovered more and more real reasons for things, society and the quality of life for humans and the rest of the planet, have gotten demonstrably better.

Not perfect.  But better.

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