Category: personal and none of your business

Anatomy of Science Denial

In a recent post, I wrote about the similarities between those who deny the legitimacy of global warming science and those who deny the legitimacy of GMO science (specifically, that GMO foods are safe to eat). I could add to this list; denial of the safety of vaccines, denial that evolution occurs, and, most amazingly, denial that the earth is round. To keep it simple, I’ll stick with the first two.

In both cases, pretty much every major scientific organization in the world with recognized authority and expertise in these subjects has made a statement. The globe is warming due to human activities; there are no negative health effects from eating GMO food.

A scientific consensus is a hard barrier to overcome, but if people base a belief on ideology, they will always come up with something they think trumps science. While happily accepting scientific conclusions about, say, geochemistry, this reasonable attitude flies out the window when it comes to their pet ideology-bound subject.

When there is a scientific consensus, the obvious task of the denier is to somehow de-legitimize the science, and explain why it’s wrong for their special subject. Typical strategies:

  1. Claim the consensus doesn’t really exist. They will say, “It’s not true that 97% of climate scientists accept the fact of global warming.” (Change a few words for GMO food safety.) This leaves a problem in explaining why most every scientific board and professional organization in this field of study around the world happens to hold the same view when interpreting the evidence.
  2. Point out studies that contradict the consensus. There are always studies that conflict with the consensus. If there weren’t, you would have to be suspicious that science was even happening. General agreement emerges when all the evidence is weighed by people who know how to fairly evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of research studies and how they balance each other. Citing a few one-off studies that support your view doesn’t cut it. Especially egregious is citing badly designed or underpowered research that may be published in a journal with little or no reputation for serious science. My response to this tactic is, don’t talk to me, talk to the scientific community. When all these organizations that currently support the consensus start to change their mind, I’ll believe you. They are the experts, not me.
  3. Claim that money or another corrupting force is influencing the science. I’ve heard this one before for both of these issues (GMO and climate science): “Those scientists just want to keep their grants going,” or “Lots of those scientists are linked to corporations, so their data is suspect.” Then why do the findings that lead to consensus still hold up over decades? Why do the data keep pointing in the same direction? Maybe you can fool some people some of the time, but a broad area of science in which most every journal and every professional organization has been hoodwinked for 30 years (GMO) or 50-75 years (climate)? They somehow never realized the extent of the subterfuge? Not likely. Oh wait! Maybe they are all in on it. See next bullet point.
  4. There is a conspiracy to hide the truth. This requires literally thousands of people to be in on a secret plot to distort the facts and put one over on the entire world for decades. And no one ever comes forward to expose the nefarious plot. If you accept this, you must also wonder whether a conspiracy exists across the board, and all our knowledge is in doubt. Cue the X-Files theme music.
  5. Move the goalposts. This is the strategy of saying, “O.K. Maybe X is true, but what about Y?” In other words, once you’ve convincingly made a point, it’s suddenly no longer good enough. You must prove more and more and the demands never end. I think that people who move the goalposts usually aren’t acting in good faith. They’ll concede part of the argument for one conversation, but before long they are right back to claiming to the original argument, having conceded nothing. It’s not about getting at the truth, it’s about winning an argument.
  6. The shill. This one is surprisingly common. If someone disagrees with you, they must be getting paid by Big Agriculture, or Big Climate, or Big Pharma, so you can disregard everything that person says. It’s the assumption that there’s no way someone can honestly come to a differing opinion. If true, then where’s my paycheck, damn it?

To sum this up, I need to repeat two things I’ve already said:

Pretty much every major scientific organization in the world that has authority and expertise in these subjects has made a statement. GMO foods are safe. Global warming is happening. And so on for vaccines, evolution, and a round-y world.

When all these organizations start to change their mind, I’ll be persuaded to change. They are the experts. If you know more than they do, if you are a bold rebel that will show us the truth, then get into the game at the level where great ideas are published and debated and hashed out. Do excellent science and don’t make the excuses I’ve listed above.

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recent right-wing/racist terrorism and murder, USA

A few days ago I read about a state representative here in Washington State (Matt Shea) who produced a manifesto about a Bible-based war. He wants a war to install a theocracy in the U.S. (because that’s worked out so well in the past, I guess.) The document says that if the enemies of his Christian army refuse to agree to terms of surrender such as “No same-sex marriage,” and “Stop all abortions,” then the solution is to “kill all the males.”

It’s the kind of written statement you find in homes of maniacs after they’ve gone on a killing spree. If Shea becomes one of these maniacs in the future, I guess it will be a surprise to no one. He would join a long list of them. Below is a list of wingnut murders and attacks in the U.S. in the last three years and five months.

Yup. Only a few years worth. It doesn’t go back, for example, to 2012, when a white supremacist killed six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Or to 1995, when 168 people died in an Oklahoma bombing carried out by two right-wing Christian militia “patriot movement” members. It doesn’t include any of the police killings of unarmed black men. Even for the last few years, this is not a comprehensive list by any means – just what I could find with some web searches.

  • November 2, 2018. A man walked into a Tallahassee yoga studio with a gun and murdered two women before killing himself. He had previously made videos of himself ranting against black people, women, and immigrants. He had been arrested twice for assaulting women.
  • October 26, 2018. A man visited a Pittsburgh synagogue and shot and killed 11 people. He hated Jews and railed against migrant caravan “invaders.”
  • October 25, 2018. After trying to enter a predominately black church in Kentucky, a gunman went to a Kroger store and shot and killed two black women. He told a white bystander: “Whites don’t shoot whites.”
  • October 2018. A man mailed pipe bombs to various liberal politicians and other well-known liberals. Here’s one window in the accused perpetrator’s van:
  • sayocvan
  • February 14, 2018. A man shot and killed 17 people at a Florida high school. His social media posts contained anti-semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-black insults. He had an Instagram account with a photo of a masked person (presumably himself) wearing a Trump MAGA hat. He decorated his backpack with swastikas and also etched swastikas onto the ammunition to brought into the school.
  • January 20, 2018. A university student was found dead in California, stabbed more than 20 times. Two days later a member of a neo-Nazi group (Atomwaffen Division) was arrested and charged with murdering the Jewish, gay student.
  • August 12, 2017. In Charlottesville, Virginia, a man drove his car into a crowd of people who were protesting a neo-Nazi “Unite the Right” rally, and killed one person. He was a Trump supporter who said he also loved Hitler.
  • May 26, 2017. A self-described white nationalist harassed a young Muslim woman on a train in Portland, Oregon. Three men came to her defense and he slashed them in the neck with a knife, killing two of them. Referring to these men, the perpetrator said, “That’s what liberalism gets you.”
  • March 20, 2017. A 66 year-old black man was stabbed to death on the street in New York City. The man arrested for the murder is a white nationalist who told police he had come there from Maryland in order to kill black men. He said he read a lot of alt-right web sites like the Daily Stormer.
  • January 29, 2017. A man killed six worshippers at an Islamic Cultural Center in Quebec City, Canada. He espoused right-wing causes, and in the previous 28 days he had performed internet searches for “Trump” more than 800 times.
  • October 14, 2016 In southwest Kansas, three men were arrested for planning a bomb attack against Somali-Americans. Two of them were vocal Trump supporters, They were all anti-immigrant.
  • November 27, 2015. An armed attacker killed one police officer and two people at Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was an evangelical Christian and told detectives he was against abortions and “the selling of baby parts,” the latter being a false allegation promoted in deceptive undercover videos released by an anti-abortion group.
  • August 19, 2015. Two Boston men beat a homeless man with a metal pipe and urinated on him. They thought (wrongly) that he was an undocumented immigrant. “Donald Trump was right,” they told police. “Illegals need to be deported.” Trump was a candidate for president at the time. This is just one such attack I came across. There are likely plenty of these non-fatal incidents.
  • July 23, 2015. A man in Lafayette, Louisiana, had been known to praise Adolf Hitler, to advocate for violence against people involved in abortions, and to praise the man who murdered nine blacks in a church the month before. He walked into a theater showing Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck movie and murdered two people with a gun, later killing himself.
  • June 17, 2015. A gunman entered a church in Charleston, South Carolina and murdered nine black people. He was a white nationalist.

What about the man who murdered 58 people in Las Vegas in October, 2017? The officially conclusion is that his motive is unknown. We do have the testimony of someone who met with the killer less than a month before the incident. This man said the murderer was ranting right-wing conspiracies about FEMA camps and gun confiscation.

How long before I make another list like this one, filled with fresh murders? I don’t see any trends right now that would slow it down.

 

the official voters’ guide greatest hits

I love the King County Voters’ Pamphlet! Join me in an exploration of five of the best statements in the 2018 August primary guide.

1.
Let’s start with a great one. This is part of a candidate statement for a U.S. Senate hopeful:

… stop Seattle emerald degenerate super smart freaking idiot, who bring Seattle to number One Fascist City in America with Nazi Social Democrat Mafia with progressive Gestapo principle. That always choose dirty garbage rats that drink from fat cat toilet and who make your life miserable and brought up to total collapse. Enough is Enough.

There’s a lot to ponder here, as well as handy phrases I might want to use in the future (“super smart freaking idiot”). I know lots of voters are thinking, “I want to elect the dirty garbage rat guy,” but then they get to the part about drinking from the fat cat toilet, and it puts them off. That’s how it went for me. Enough is enough.

2.
For the second example, here’s a different U.S Senate candidate. He lists his policies on various subjects, including this one:

China – Kick Xi jinping’s Ass, by blockading, then Conquering China by firing the necessary number of Tomahawk Cruise Missiles to destroy all Nuclear Targets, all Air Defense Targets, all Military Targets including each and every Chinese ship, submarine and airplane launched from a safe distance with a goal of no loss of American Life and with no US ground troops used until after China’s unconditional surrender.

Conquering China is a bold foreign policy. How do we do it? It’s easy! Just disable their entire military before they fire a shot or launch a single nuclear missile. Can’t believe no one thought of that before. But why conquer China? Who needs a reason … maybe we just feel like it. He sounds like our current national security advisor, John Bolton.

3.
Now let’s change the pace completely and get down to a more local level. One candidate for legislative district representative lists his experience, education, and community service record:

Community Service: Long time recycler.

His sacrifice and service are impressive, but how long is “long time,” and does he wash all the peanut butter out of the jar before tossing it into the recycle bin?

4.
Another legislative district representative candidate, says, as part of his statement:

It would be nice to add a state holiday on Good Friday.

Agreed. It would be nice to include these holidays as well: L. Ron Hubbard’s birthday, Arapaho Sun Dance Day, and Mahavir Jayanti.

5.
Finally, there is one legislative district representative who lists his professional experience, and includes this:

“… a member of Cigar Rights of America …

Cigars need rights? No, that’s not it. I looked it up. He’s fighting for the right of citizens to enjoy premium cigars. According to Cigar Rights of American there is pending federal legislation that will “ban walk-in humidors, deface or cover cigar box artwork, and require manufacturers to submit their blends for ‘testing’ before they can be sold.” I’m actually sympathetic to his cause because cigar box artwork is cool, but he’s not in my district.

Cigar_Box

That’s all for this election, except one bonus message from a man running for U.S. Representative. He wants Boeing and NASA to: “harness the universe’s unlimited source of power within Magnetic Propulsion Generation.” He also discusses the beauty of Washington State, which was made by our creator “with his bare hands.”

That’s how I make this blog — bare-handed.

ask the non-believer

It seems like a fair number of people are curious about the non-religious. I wouldn’t have thought there would be many questions, but I’ve hung around Quora for a while, and seen lots of wondering. Here are common questions that I’ve been reading along with my short answers.

What is the philosophy behind atheism and what does it contribute to the world?
It’s not a philosophy. It means not believing in gods. That’s it. If you don’t believe that elves exist, no one asks you about your elf-less philosophy and what it’s contributing to the world.

Why don’t you believe?
Lack of evidence. Keep in mind that what a book says is not evidence, the number of people who believe in gods is not evidence (and neither is how smart some of the people are), the fact that someone had a deep, life-changing experience is not evidence, and neither is “But just look at this amazing world!” Also, deeply studying religious philosophy does not produce evidence. It seems much more plausible that people came up with gods, not vice versa.

What would it take to convince you that the god I believe in exists?
I’m not sure, but if all the starving people in the world were fed immediately, and if all diseased and suffering children were cured and given peace and joy right now, that would be a good start. Of course, the god or gods would need to appear and claim credit. I still wouldn’t know if this was actually the result of a god or some super-technology by aliens, but go ahead and ask your god to do this in case it hasn’t occurred to him/her/it.

How do you know for certain there are no gods?
I don’t know for certain. I put gods in the same category as leprechauns. I can’t say for sure they don’t exist, but assume they don’t. I suppose someone might try to say I’m really an agnostic, but would you say you’re agnostic about leprechauns? I wouldn’t.

Where do your morals come from without religion?
People are born with the capacity for empathy. It’s common in social mammals that have to band together to survive. Good parents encourage it. Innate traits aside, it’s also common sense not to want to live in a society where murder, cheating, and robbery are rampant.

If there’s no god, then where did the universe come from?
I don’t know. If you say a god created it, but you don’t have evidence of that, and you also can’t say where the god came from, then your answer is worse than “I don’t know.”

Why do you want to stamp out religion?
I don’t. I can live peacefully with religious people, and I don’t go door to door asking folks if they’ve heard the good news about the lack of gods. There is a vocal group of religious people who want to  reduce or eliminate many civil rights and to end the separation of church and state. Only those people I will actively oppose.

P.S. That’s just the way I am.
In case this helps round things out, I also doubt the existence of spirits, ghosts, telepathy, reincarnation, and other things we have no evidence to support. No astrology, no homeopathy, and no magic. Life is a fabulous parade of discoveries, facts, experiences, and sheer amazement — no need to add wispy fantasies to the mix.

building the back-scratching octopus, part 2

As mentioned in the last post, the octopus must be finished soon. Here are the latest additions.

Draped seaweed – A sea-weedy fabric curtain from a thrift store, cut in strips and hung from a pipe-cleaner collar.

Tentacle holder – Tentacles are pinned to another piece of vaguely sea-like material (this may have been something that tied back drapes) and then hung around the neck.

Sea shoes – Because octopus don’t have human-like feet, this is an embarrassing necessity. I took the sleeves cut from a old green shirt and stretched them over shoes. Hopefully no one will notice that I’m not really a cephalopod.

seaweed1tentacle_collarsea foot