Dec 08 2016

Scientists – Welcome to the Skeptical Movement

sterling-law-buildingDonald Trump has just named Oklahoma attorney general, Scott Pruitt, to head the EPA. Pruitt is a known denier of the science of anthropogenic global warming, and in fact has spent much of his time as attorney general suing the EPA over the issue. The conspiracy theorists are now running the show.

This is just the latest in what has been an eye-opening year, which has seen “post-truth” named as word of the year, and has also seen a surge in the notion of “fake news”.

In a recent editorial published in Nature, scientist Phil Williamson argues that:

Challenging falsehoods and misrepresentation may not seem to have any immediate effect, but someone, somewhere, will hear or read our response. The target is not the peddler of nonsense, but those readers who have an open mind on scientific problems. A lie may be able to travel around the world before the truth has its shoes on, but an unchallenged untruth will never stop.

He recounts that his awakening occurred after he had a run-in with Brietbart news over their gross misrepresentation of the science of global warming and ocean acidification. Now he is on a crusade to fight back against pseudoscience online.

For greatest effect, I suggest that we harness the collective power and reach of the Internet to improve its quality. The global scientific community could learn from websites such as travel-review site TripAdvisor, Rotten Tomatoes (which summarizes film and play reviews) and alexa.com (which quantifies website popularity), and set up its own, moderated, rating system for websites that claim to report on science. We could call it the Scientific Honesty and Integrity Tracker, and give online nonsense the SHAIT rating it deserves.

While I completely agree with Williamson that this is a problem and the scientific community should take responsibility for it, I was struck by the complete absence of awareness in his editorial that there is already a movement of scientists, science communicators, and science enthusiasts who are doing this – the skeptical movement. 

Ivory Tower Syndrome

It has been my experience that there continues to be significant pockets of full-blown ivory tower syndrome – academics can become intellectually isolated in their institutions, talking only with each other, and out of touch with the general public. In fact, ivory tower syndrome may be more the rule, with occasional individuals who actively engage with the public.

I have had senior academics tell me directly that it is not worth confronting pseudoscience. There is also the very clear sense that doing so is somehow beneath a real academic. It sullies the reputation.

There are definitely pitfalls in fighting back against pseudoscience, ones that activist skeptics have learned the hard way over the years. Confronting nonsense is a double-edged sword. You can inadvertently legitimize nonsense or its purveyors by giving it attention. Directly debating cranks tends to be a losing proposition (unless you really know what you are doing). Con artists and true-believers do not tend to play fair, and you have to be ready for dirty tricks you will not likely encounter within legitimate academia.

In short it has been my experience that academics largely lack the knowledge and skill set to be effective activist skeptics. Knowing the science, unfortunately, is not enough. You have to know the pseudoscience you are confronting, and the ways in which they twist logic and engage motivated reasoning.

Williamson acknowledges one challenge we face:

Most researchers who have tried to engage online with ill-informed journalists or pseudoscientists will be familiar with Brandolini’s law (also known as the Bullshit Asymmetry Principle): the amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than that needed to produce it.

True, but that is just scratching the surface of the challenges faced by confronting pseudoscientists.

If 2016 has had any positive outcome it may be a wake-up call to the scientific and academic community. This is not business as usual, with a constant background of nonsense in popular culture that academics can safely ignore. The rules have changed, and (sorry for the overused metaphor) the lunatics are running the asylum. While you were toiling away in your ivory tower, the world has changed under your feet.

Welcome to Skepticism

Science is only useful if it serves society, which means society must have a certain level of support for science. There still is a good level of support for science and scientists, but that trust has been massively subverted. As I wrote yesterday over at Science-Based Medicine, surveys show that the public will simply disagree with scientists when the science conflicts with their ideological beliefs. The specific issue of the recent Pew survey was food and GMOs. Those who have a high interest in GMOs and think they are unhealthy simply dismiss the scientific consensus as being too influenced by industry, or they simply believe that there is no consensus that GMOs are safe.

What is the use of having a robust scientific consensus on an important issue facing the public if the public is systematically misinformed about what that consensus is. Those misinformed members of the public have recently shown they are enough of a block to elect a conspiracy theorist as president, who will appoint cabinet members who are hostile to the mission of the institutions they will now lead.

The science of climate change only matters if the public, and through them politicians, know and accept the science.

There are vested interests who find the scientific consensus on many issues to be inconvenient. They have found that they don’t need to win the scientific battle within science journals and universities. That’s too much work, and they can’t win that fight anyway because reality is not on their side. They realized, however, that they don’t have to win over scientists and change the consensus, they can just create websites (blogs, news outlets) that lie about the consensus and sow doubt and confusion. This is the whole “fake news” phenomenon.

The mainstream media was never equipped to deal with this, and their resources, if anything, are dwindling. They have largely been outcompeted by fake news and blatantly biased advocacy, and in many cases have merged with it. They are being absorbed by the blob. There are individual journalists and outlets who seem to have a clue, but they are so far fighting a losing war.

The scientific community has largely ignored the problem. Again, some individuals have had their wake-up calls, but they are few and far between. Williamson is now added to their ranks, due to his personal confrontation with Brietbart.

The good news is that there is already a group of people who have been confronting pseudoscience for decades and have developed some significant knowledge and skill in how best to do it. We don’t have the magic formula, but at least we have already worked through the basic pitfalls.

What we need now is for academia to institutionally wake up. Individuals are welcome, but that is not enough. The institutions of academia need to place a priority on outreach to the public, on engaging with the public conversation, pushing back against pseudoscience, communicating real science, and advocating for higher standards in science news reporting.

This is, in my opinion, a massive problem faced by academia and they are currently failing. Fully engaging with social media is one thing they can do. Fixing their own PR departments is another. Educating scientists on how to communicate with the public, and how to confront pseudoscience, is yet another. Systematically correcting the public record on what is the current consensus of scientific opinion is also critical, as is getting more involved in science education at every level.

Scientists need to be out there, in force, confronting politicians who are advocating pseudoscience, publicly exposing them, and setting the record straight.

The game has changed. Academia needs to change if it is going to remain relevant. An editorial in Nature is nice, but we need much more. We need a profound awakening within academia to the new reality. Trump is not an aberration, he is the new normal.

193 responses so far

193 Responses to “Scientists – Welcome to the Skeptical Movement”

  1. Billzbubon 08 Dec 2016 at 9:40 am

    I hate to say it, but scientists can engage until they are purple in the face, and most people will not pay attention. What we need is a major celebrity to get educated about science and take a stand. A major celebrity bucking the post-truth system will make news and go viral on social media, getting the average person to think about things from a new point of view. It would have to be someone who’s not already a scientist in order to go viral like Snoop Dogg or Bill Murray. Without a kick-start like this, skeptics and acadamia are going to pull their hair out trying to slog through the quagmire of ideological pseudoscience and science denialism. Of course the skeptics and academics need to make this effort, but we also need a cult of personality on our side.

  2. WalterWon 08 Dec 2016 at 10:18 am

    Except the “skeptical movement” doesn’t necessarily have a good track record when supporting real science. I remember when it gave cover to global warming deniers and people who questioned the health effects of smoking, and gave keynote speaking roles at its conferences people who spread misinformation, like John Stossel and Michael Crichton. The movement has improved in both regards, but I can understand why scientists may be a little skeptical of the skeptic’s movement given its history, assuming they know about its past (or even know there is a skeptic’s movement).

    But a bigger problem is the skeptic’s movement simply hasn’t been very effective in promoting science. Skeptics like to complain about science coverage in the media or the popularity of certain crazy bloggers, but they have never really addressed how to tackle science illiteracy and how to get more people interested in science. In other words, skeptics are good at complaining, but they are not good at coming up with solutions. Come up with a communications strategy that actually works and I think a lot more people would listen to you.

    (Also, doesn’t really help win over intelligent people when your most popular media figure is retweeting alt-right memes about Muslims and women, and you refuse to draw the line on that kind of hate speech. But that is a rant for another time.)

  3. Steven Novellaon 08 Dec 2016 at 10:45 am

    Walter – I disagree with your characterization. Global warming deniers were always a minority within activist skeptics, and they were quickly criticized and either marginalized or educated better to the science. I don’t know of any prominent skeptics who doubted the link between smoking and cancer (not in the last 50 years at least).

    I also disagree with your conclusion that the person you are referencing is our “most popular media figure” but that is subjective.

    Skeptics are a loose subculture, not centrally organized, and so there is no way to hold every individual to account. We are not an institution, and no one speaks for the movement.That is just the wrong way to look at it.

    There are also many scientists who say embarrassing things, but that should not disparage science as a whole. The consensus of skeptical opinion on any topic we typically cover is right in line with the science.

    We have also had a bigger impact than you state. We are frequently part of the conversation in media and even with regulators and have a steady influence much greater than our numbers. But yes, it is still overall small, and we need to keep finding new ways to have a broader impact on the culture.

    I agree that having more celebrities in our corner would be great, but that is not the only way. We can also turn scientists into celebrities, like Tyson. If the institutions of science and academia valued the public education in science more, rewarded it more, taught it more, really developed it as a core skill set, then we would be seeing more science celebrities and greater skill and effectiveness across the board. We can’t wait for a white knight to magically appear, we have to change the game.

  4. Johnnyon 08 Dec 2016 at 12:46 pm

    “Skeptics are a loose subculture, not centrally organized, and so there is no way to hold every individual to account. We are not an institution, and no one speaks for the movement.That is just the wrong way to look at it.”

    I’m not entirely sure of this. Or at least it doesn’t always seem to be the case. I think it is more organized and less loose than what you give it credit for. I will elaborate.

    Where I live (Sweden), there is one national skeptical organization. I know the same is true of Norway, Finland, Germany, New Zealand, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Italy, among others. Some countries, such as Spain and the Netherlands have several skeptical organizations. These are all connected to CSI’s network of skeptical organizations, as are skeptical organizations in other countries, as well as various American states. There is also a European-level umbrella organization for skeptical organizaions called ECSO, with CSI as an associate member.

    You have been an activist skeptic for two decades and my lifetime has not yet reached three decades, so you suely know this better than I do. But even though skeptical activism surely can and do exist outside of the skeptical organizations (national as well as local), when I think of “the skeptical movement”, I think primarily of the organizations and the global network they make up. Do you think this is a mistake?

  5. michaelegnoron 08 Dec 2016 at 12:53 pm

    Pruitt’s appointment makes me so happy I’m tingling. I hope he guts the EPA and leaves a smoking rubble, and then nukes it. Next, we need a far-ranging criminal investigation of global warming “science”–which is fraud on a global scale. Attorney General Sessions is the man for that.

    You frauds masquerading as scientists inserted your junk science into the political arena. You even advocated for the criminal prosecution of global warming “deniers”.

    Now the deniers are running the show. I pray you get what you deserve.

  6. Steven Novellaon 08 Dec 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Johnny – these are all loos affiliations at best. There is no vertical organization, no chapters,and no mechanism for quality control let alone establishing anything official when it comes to positions. Skeptical output is mostly individual. If you run a website, then you have editorial control over your website. If you run a conference, ditto. But that is about it.

    CSI is perhaps the best organized, but they have traditionally kept local groups at arms length and keeps the circle of people who can speak for the CSI deliberately very small.

    Skeptics largely organize for meetings. There are occasional bursts of coordinated activism. That is about it.

    It really is just a subculture. Not an institution.

  7. Karl Withakayon 08 Dec 2016 at 1:31 pm

    WalterW:

    “But a bigger problem is the skeptic’s movement simply hasn’t been very effective in promoting science. […] but they have never really addressed how to tackle science illiteracy and how to get more people interested in science. In other words, skeptics are good at complaining, but they are not good at coming up with solutions.”

    Been involved in organized skepticism much in the last decade or so? Been to any major skeptics conferences in the last decade or so? If so, it sure doesn’t seem like it.

  8. Johnnyon 08 Dec 2016 at 1:42 pm

    I’m not sure “loose affiliations” is always accurate here. The national organizations/associations listed collect membership fees, some of them publish magazines, some of them even publish books. I know at least some make statements to the media when an issue of skeptical concern is in the news. The Swedish and Finnish organizations give annual prizes and anti-prizes. But I understand this vary from country to country.

    When I think of “loose affiliation”, I think more of the situation in Denmark, where there is no skeptical organization, but a network of independent skeptic investigators.

    I might misunderstand the way you use the terms here. But at least “movement” sounds more organized than “subculture” (though I agree that a skeptical subculture exists, and would count myself in it).

  9. BBBlueon 08 Dec 2016 at 1:51 pm

    I agree completely that scientists are often poor science communicators and that there is much the skeptical community could contribute to their efforts to do so. I would add that “getting it right” is as much about avoiding overreach as it is countering misinformation.

    Exaggerating claims or making dire predictions that are not supported by evidence is more a problem within science reporting and politics than it is with the scientists themselves, but scientists need to police and correct misinformation as it occurs in both directions. Personally, exaggerations by proponents causes me to lose confidence in information more so than does misinformation from opponents.

  10. bendon 08 Dec 2016 at 2:13 pm

    Steven, Walter has some fair points. A movement with so little visibility risks being represented in the public eye by those with the largest megaphone. I remember watching Penn and Teller’s “Bullshit” where they told me that global warming was nothing to worry about. And I remember watching Bill Maher claim that GMOs were dangerous and vaccines were ineffective and that Germ Theory was false and then shortly after accept an award from Richard Dawkins. Maybe you’d say that Jillette and Maher (and Dawkins?) aren’t really skeptics. That seems like “no true Scotsman” fallacy to me. Maybe some scientists would be hesitant to join up with a group that, rightly or wrongly, is perceived as… occasionally a little looney.
    And while scientists are more likely to be atheist than your average plumber or hedge fund manager, Pew Research tells us that a majority of scientists still claim a belief in God(s) or some higher power. The skeptic movement is often seen as more hostile to theism than it is to pseudoscience (certainly not the case here, on this blog), which was certainly exacerbated by Maher receiving the Richard Dawkins Award. When it comes to communicating science to the public, maybe some scientists are slow to align with a movement that seemingly goes out of its way to antagonize not only a large fraction of the general population but also a large fraction of scientists themselves. Maybe some scientists believe that community outreach on the topic of evolution, for example, would be more effectively performed by Francis Collins than by Christopher Hitchens. Now, for my part, I’ve never felt disrespected among skeptics on account of my Mormonism, but neither will I ever feel like part of the clique while I’m attending Sunday services (where I tell my fellow parishioners that Darwin was right). And I thank God for the work skeptics like Novella and Gorski are doing to enlighten the public. But I can understand why many scientists would feel that communicating science would be best done from a more inclusive venue than the skeptic movement.

  11. Steven Novellaon 08 Dec 2016 at 3:06 pm

    Bend – you are actually making my point that the skeptical movement is not a coherent institution. You are confusing skepticism with atheism. Maher is not a skeptic. He is an atheist. He has never been part of the skeptical community. He is vilified by the skeptical community for his pseudoscientific beliefs. He is simultaneously praised by the atheist community for opposing religion. Richard Dawkins is a science communicator who is also an atheist activist. While I think he is mostly skeptical, clearly the foundations award to Maher indicates that atheism comes first, and skeptics were not happy about that.

    Penn is a libertarian atheist. He is also a magician and friend of Randi. Beyond that, he is not a skeptical activist. Bullshit was mostly a good series, except when it became too libertarian. Penn has buddied up to Dr. Oz and taken anti-intellectual stances against education. His connection to the skeptical movement does not go much beyond Randi.

    There are actually several subcultures within skepticism. I am part of the majority who choose to focus on scientific skepticism, and who do not gratuitously attack religion or wade into purely political issues.

    In any case, it makes no sense for scientists to decide whether or not they should work with “the skeptical movement” because, as should now be clear, that is largely an amorphous blob of many points of view, priorities, and agendas. It only makes sense to consider whether they should engage themselves in skeptical activism (which is what I was talking about) and avail themselves of specific individuals and groups who are scientific skeptics and have a relevant expertise to offer (not just anyone who calls themselves a skeptic).

  12. steve12on 08 Dec 2016 at 3:27 pm

    “There are actually several subcultures within skepticism.”

    And this is part of the problem, for many of the reasons that bend and Walter note.

    All of the people that bend mentioned would call themselves skeptics except maybe Maher. From what little the public knows of the skeptical community, they’re not making any of these distinctions about the subcultures they belong to.

    I agree that the rules have changed, but as a professional scientist and amateur skeptic I think we need to acknowledge the depth of the problem here re: the general public’s perceptions.

    It’s bad.

  13. Karl Withakayon 08 Dec 2016 at 3:30 pm

    Bend, et al, A Point of Clarification:

    The award Bill Maher received was NOT from or awarded by Richard Dawkins or the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and science. Neither Richard Dawkins nor the RDFRS chose, vote on, or influence the choice of recipient or the award.

    More importantly, it was not a skepticism or critical thinking award. It was an atheism award.

    It was an award named “The Richard Dawkins Award” awarded by the Atheist Alliance of America.

    From the Alliance web page on the award:

    “The Richard Dawkins Award is given each year to honor an outstanding atheist whose contributions raise public awareness of the nontheist life stance; who, through writings, media, the arts, film, and/or the stage, advocates increased scientific knowledge; who, through work or by example, teaches acceptance of the nontheist philosophy; and whose public postures mirrors the uncompromising nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins.”

    True, after the fact, Dawkins did express his approval of Maher winning the award, and that resulted in a good deal of criticism of Dawkins in the skeptical community that continues to this day as recently as CSICon this past October.

  14. bachfiendon 08 Dec 2016 at 3:30 pm

    Michael Egnor,

    Reality doesn’t disappear just because deniers of reality (in the science of climate) are going to be running the show.

    Having stated in your now defunct blog ‘Egnorance’ that you’re ignorant about climate science (and having demonstrated that you rely on AGW denialist sources for your threads) indicates that you’re the last person eligible of having an opinion worth taking note of.

  15. Karl Withakayon 08 Dec 2016 at 3:38 pm

    steve12,

    “All of the people that bend mentioned would call themselves skeptics except maybe Maher.”

    Nope. Penn does not call himself a skeptic. He has personally publicly disavowed such an identification or label on several occasions.

    Dawkins also identifies strongly as an Atheist, and has more than one hat that he wears, so to speak.

  16. steve12on 08 Dec 2016 at 3:59 pm

    Karl:

    I don’t think you’re seeing what I’m getting at:

    https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#safe=off&q=penn+jillette+skeptic

    And just take the first one:
    http://bigthink.com/big-think-tv/penn-jillettes-guide-to-skepticism

    Public take: he’s a skeptic. We can subdivide and make nuanced distinctions all we want . Everyone at the Amz!ng Meeting will completely agree.

    The public at large has no idea. What we think DOES NOT MATTER.

    Now how do we change that? I’m not sure that I have an answer, but I know we can’t find it if we can’t acknowledge the problem

  17. steve12on 08 Dec 2016 at 4:01 pm

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penn_Jillette

    “He is also known for his advocacy of atheism, scientific skepticism, libertarianism and free-market capitalism.”

  18. bendon 08 Dec 2016 at 4:26 pm

    Steven, I don’t disagree with you. I’m talking about how the skeptical movement may be perceived. I’m not confusing atheism with skepticism so much as pointing out that that confusion is common. I know that not all atheists are skeptics, but skeptics have often told me that all skeptics are atheists. This attitude, which is by no means universal, plays into the perception that the terms “atheism” and “skepticism” are interchangeable. Well… at least it does so among those who have a passing understanding of the latter as a movement.
    Nor am I forgetting that skepticism isn’t a monolithic entity. Though I’d point out that your argument comes across as somewhat self contradictory, “skeptics don’t all think alike and those skeptics you mention who don’t think alike aren’t skeptics.”
    I know what you’re saying, but can you see the messaging problems that skepticism has here?

  19. Karl Withakayon 08 Dec 2016 at 4:28 pm

    No, I do get what your larger point is, but I still stand corrected on the specific point of Penn -calling himself- a skeptic.

    Penn has apparently both called himself a skeptic and denied such a label at various different times, which led to my error.

    As to the Public Take:
    Well, I guess we start with figuring out how the public at large manages to differentiate between the various different Christians consisting of the Westboro Baptist Church, the Salvation Army, the KKK, regular Sunday Christians, etc.

  20. bendon 08 Dec 2016 at 4:33 pm

    Karl, I’d venture that the difference between Penn and Randi is somewhat less significant than the difference between David Duke and MLK Jr.

  21. steve12on 08 Dec 2016 at 4:41 pm

    Karl:

    “…I still stand corrected on the specific point of Penn -calling himself- a skeptic.”

    No – I seem to remember reading that he said that too! I though it was over blowback about AGW.

  22. Steven Novellaon 08 Dec 2016 at 4:41 pm

    I am not denying that there is a public perception problem for skeptics. It may be worse than you are saying, given that deniers often call themselves skeptics. It is bad.

    What I am advocating in this article is that scientists and academics take confronting pseudoscientists seriously. This would align them with the goals of activist scientific skeptics. (that is a much narrower term than just skeptics). They could also benefit from what scientific skeptics have already learned. I do this in my day job, by the way. I help my colleagues who want to battle pseudoscience avoid common pitfalls.

    I am not suggesting that scientists or academic institutions join the amorphous skeptical community with all its baggage and branding issues. But there are certainly institutions and people that accept the label of scientific skepticism that would be worth working with. The National Center for Science Education is a great example. They do good work. They have no problem with their own branding. They collaborate with skeptics – they are loosely part of the skeptical movement. They are not an atheist organization.

    Science-Based Medicine is another example. We are independent. We have no ties to Dawkins, Penn, Maher, atheists, or anything. We consider ourselves skeptics, but we are mainly physicians and scientists with a specific agenda to promote high standards of science in medicine.

  23. jt512on 08 Dec 2016 at 4:51 pm

    The ways the system works, it is difficult to impossible for a working academic scientist to do significant public outreach. Assistant Professors at research universities have to spend practically every waking minute writing grants, mentoring students and postdocs, and doing research, to earn tenure. Somewhere in there, they have to find time to teach, too. Once they earn tenure, the demands on their time only become worse, as administrative responsibilities are added to the already insane work load.

    I know of exactly one tenured science professor who devotes significant time to public communication of science. He essentially closed his lab to do so. Realistically, therefore, public communication of science will either need to be done by those, like Dawkins, who can specialize in it (which requires funding), or Emeritus Professors, like Jerry Coyne and the late Victor Stenger.

  24. Johnnyon 08 Dec 2016 at 4:58 pm

    “This would align them with the goals of activist scientific skeptics. (that is a much narrower term than just skeptics).”

    I thought the word “skepticism”, in the context of this blog, the SGU, and the skeptical movement, was shorthand for “scientific skepticism”. Is this not the case?

    I also realize here that living in a country with really only one organizational outlet for (scientific) skepticism (with local chapters in various cities and regions around the country) skews my perspective a bit.

    It seems like the sociology of the skeptical movement could be a field onto itself.

  25. RickKon 08 Dec 2016 at 5:06 pm

    Thank you, Michael, for your steadfast representation of the post-truth position. You were an early advocate of tribal loyalty over fact, and I’m sure Trump is your dream candidate.

  26. JJ Borgmanon 08 Dec 2016 at 5:11 pm

    I was a child and a young adult in the 60’s and 70’s. I remember the smog west of the Rockies and the Cuyahoga River fire, leaded gasoline and PCB’s to name a few.

    Why anyone would wish Waterworld on their great-great grand children is a puzzle solved only by a factor of (willful) ignorance plus paranoia.

  27. Karl Withakayon 08 Dec 2016 at 5:18 pm

    “I know of exactly one tenured science professor who devotes significant time to public communication of science. He essentially closed his lab to do so.”

    …and the irony is that such scientists are often denigrated or not taking seriously by other scientists because they are not “real” prolific/practicing scientists. Call it the Sagan Dilemma. 🙁

  28. mumadaddon 08 Dec 2016 at 5:38 pm

    I would like to offer a narrow perspective: nobody I encounter in my everyday life ever even utters the words ‘skeptic’ or ‘skepticism’; except maybe once it happened, and it was one of the doctorate crowd I know through my girlfriend, and even then I think I fed the word to them before they uttered it. And they used it in reference to me.

    I deliberately avoid using the word, because the connotations I think most people have are derived from Holywood movie tropes of the skeptic being a movie foil for for the idea that process doesn’t count, and the less evidence you have for a belief the more you should treasure it.

  29. steve12on 08 Dec 2016 at 5:40 pm

    Provisional plan anyone? This is essentially me reacting to hopelessness:

    1. Union among Skeptics

    Most important step. All of the smaller skeptical organizations need to unite as chapters under a bigger organization that can become well known, rather than spread about small groups. Chapters can be specialists in some cases (SBM is the go-to for medicine, e.g.)

    -This larger group can pool resources, raise $.

    – A charter has to be drawn such that positions of chapter institutions are scientifically defensible and not morally repugnant (i.e., we can’t have a KKK chapter because they don’t like Oz). We want diversity of opinion, but we MUST keep out nonsense and maintain high quality and unassailable ethics.

    – Hire publicists to place pieces across media outlets a la the Kardashians, political groups, or advocacy groups. They all do it and it’s super effective.

    – The organization needs an AFFABLE, high EQ President and spokesperson (Nye or Tyson? Educated celebrity?). And identifiable and trusted face. Our Charleton Heston, if you will.

    2. Union with Scientists and Scientific Institutions.

    – Establish scientific outreach / pub ed offices at Universities with our name on it. This adds legitimacy, at least in some circles.

    – Invite the right kind of scientists (i.e., camera friendly) to collaborate and do media. Most scientists, as jt512 has point out, have 0 time to do a lot of this. But if we have the infrastructure at universities we can try and get many scientists to do a little each – under our flag. Unifying message, skeptics and scientists.

    3. BRAND the movement: Sell the organization as a clearinghouse for BS (through the PR people).

    – Kind of how Politifact or one of those groups works. It’s gotta be simple. Scorecards for politicians, this kind of thing. Grades. Top 10 lists. The media and public love this sh!t. We love the details and the full story. We are alone in this regard.
    Of course, we can have more to offer for those who want more, and we shouldn’t simplify to the point of being dishonest or incorrect. We don’t need to.

    – GET CELEBRITIES. Someone said this above. We’re going to make science and reason “cool”. Star Talk w/ Tyson is a great example of this kind of pop culture meets science approach.

    4. Fight with Power. If 1-3 work, we lobby. Hire K street a$$ holes. I’d love to see money out of politics, but as things stand now we have to be realists.

  30. FuzzyMarmoton 08 Dec 2016 at 7:00 pm

    This is a huge problem–at my university, I think the number of science professors who know what the “skeptical movement” or the “skeptic community” is about 1%. The awareness among working scientists of an active skeptical community is pitifully small.

    What can we do to change this? Clone Dr. Novella. Seriously, the most important thing is for people like him to keep doing what they are doing. Awareness is low, but headed in the right direction. Neurologica, SBM, the SGU podcast… these were the gateways for me into the movement, and I have been delighted to see them grow and flourish.

    It would be cool if there was a “starter pack” for campus skeptic clubs with suggestions, etc. to help them get off the ground.

    It is also important to build connections with journalists. For example, Mike Pesca is a great radio/podcast personality, and his connection with science writer Maria Konnikova has made scientific skepticism a big part of his shows. “Wonks” like Matt Ygelsias, Ezra Klein, and Sarah Kliff at Vox and Jordan Weissmann and Daniel Engber at Slate approach the world through a skeptical, science and evidenced-based lens, although I doubt they’ve heard of skepticism as a movement. These seem like excellent potential allies.

    And thank goodness that skepticism has become distinct form the atheist movement. I came to skepticism because of people like Dr. Novella. Folks like Maher and Penn would have sent me running in the other direction.

  31. michaelegnoron 08 Dec 2016 at 7:29 pm

    [Thank you, Michael, for your steadfast representation of the post-truth position. You were an early advocate of tribal loyalty over fact, and I’m sure Trump is your dream candidate.]

    I do like him a lot, although I was originally a Cruz supporter. Trump is a political genius, and he has brought critical issues, such as immigration and job losses, to the forefront, for which he deserves great credit. He speaks for tens of millions of honest hard-working people who are screwed by Democrat and Republican elites.

    His cabinet appointments are brilliant, none more so than Pruitt. The EPA is a criminal enterprise of far-left greenie psychos who ignore the law, ignore the Constitution, and ignore sanity. He’s going to shred it.

    It’s like putting MLK in charge of the KKK. They’ll scatter like cockroaches.

    An inspired choice. Trump is going to be a great president.

  32. michaelegnoron 08 Dec 2016 at 7:37 pm

    I find this discussion of the skeptical “movement” fascinating. Clearly you folks are in shock since the election. Evidently you recognize that the tide has turned, and people who despise (i.e. understand) you now hold the reins of power.

    Your problem isn’t that you’re a bunch of dimwit atheists (you are) or that you are incompetent at communication (you are). The problem is that you’re not skeptics. You’re shills for establishment science. In every controversy you take the side of the well-funded powerful mainstream scientific establishment,and you slander and try to destroy honest skeptics who ask genuine questions. The real skeptics are the IDers, the global warming deniers, the anti-materialists in neuroscience, etc.

    You’re frauds, pretending to be skeptical while you fellate the powerful in the scientific community. That’s your real problem. And the scientists you’ve serviced for so long are largely morons and liars, and you sense (accurately I think) that your star is setting along with theirs.

    Heh.

  33. tmac57on 08 Dec 2016 at 7:40 pm

    steve12- I nominate you ‘Chief Cat Herder’ ! 🙂

    If I recall correctly, Neil Tyson does not identify as a skeptic with a capital ‘S’. He is a friend of the movement though.
    Same goes for Adam Savage. I heard him specifically disown the label of skeptic and atheist because they had become “toxic” because of all the infighting of late.
    Those losses hurt. I admire them both.

  34. bachfiendon 08 Dec 2016 at 7:50 pm

    Michael,

    Sceptics realise that they’re facing an uphill battle when ignorance is so much easier and emotionally satisfying (as you’ve demonstrated for years).

    It’s hardly a badge of honour to be proud of the fact that you’re ignorant of climate science, yet are ready to make emotional and abusive attacks on climate scientists, and scientists in general.

  35. jt512on 08 Dec 2016 at 8:10 pm

    Egnore wrote:

    Your problem isn’t that you’re a bunch of dimwit atheists (you are) or that you are incompetent at communication (you are). The problem is that you’re not skeptics. You’re shills for establishment science. In every controversy you take the side of the well-funded powerful mainstream scientific establishment,and you slander and try to destroy honest skeptics who ask genuine questions. The real skeptics are the IDers, the global warming deniers, the anti-materialists in neuroscience, etc.

    You’re frauds, pretending to be skeptical while you fellate the powerful in the scientific community. That’s your real problem. And the scientists you’ve serviced for so long are largely morons and liars, and you sense (accurately I think) that your star is setting along with theirs.

    Neurosurgeon, heal thyself.

  36. chikoppion 08 Dec 2016 at 8:11 pm

    HA! Ha ha! Yeah, “the well-funded powerful mainstream scientific establishment” has been absolutely useless for decades. What have they accomplished with their smug elitism? Nothing! Not a single scientific advancement that benefits the human race. Bunch of materialist dopes!

    In contrast, look at the amazing body of work produced by the Discovery Institute. They near-successfully used advanced copy/paste methodology to usher in an entirely new field of science! Onward Pandas and People! You are the true heroes!

  37. Lenalaon 08 Dec 2016 at 8:25 pm

    Let’s not feed the troll. Hate to see another good thread with interesting perspectives derailed. 🙂

    Blogs like this are key to countering the information that is out there and positively contributing to the skeptical community. They at least provide a counter to a lot of the other dubious information that is posted on the internet.

    My own intro into the skeptical community came by the way of Orac’s blog when I was doing internet research on vaccines during the Disneyland measles outbreak. I just had my second child and was concerned with what was going on. I never put much stock in the “vaccines cause autism” arguments, but unfortunately, through mommy blogs, was exposed to lots of Dr. Sears and the potential benefits of a “delayed” vaccination schedule.

    Luckily, I found this community, via Orac, which then led me to this blog, SGU, SBM, and so many other individuals in this community before I went too far down that rabbit hole. It has made me a, I hope, better thinker, and better at understanding how our minds work and how easy it is to not be skeptical on topics that are near and dear to our heart.

    If the outreach that Dr. Novella and all the other skeptics are doing wasn’t out there, then there would be nothing to counter the misinformation out there. Now the question is, how do we popularize it and bring it into the mainstream. It seems to me (though it could be my own bias now that I’m party of the community), that we’re making progress, but we’re still not where we need to be. But even if it only reaches a small group of people, I think the effort is still worth it. 🙂

  38. RickKon 08 Dec 2016 at 8:30 pm

    “He speaks for tens of millions of honest hard-working people who are screwed by Democrat and Republican elites.”

    Ahhh, your reality-distortion field is growing stronger with age, progressing like my father’s dementia. The conservative Catholic who sees Trump as a fit role model. The rich doctor who sees gold-apolstered Trump as the voice of the common man. The Connecticut suburbanite who claims (like the most left-leaning liberals) that it is the elites, and not massive increases in automation that are to blame for the loss of low-skill manufacturing jobs with good pensions. The anti-intellectual intellectual.

    Intellectual integrity is a small price to pay in defense of the tribe.

    You know, if you really want to score some points against the skeptics you despise so much, you might start by not being so dependably, demonstrably and transparently wrong. Self-righteous and wrong is still just wrong.

  39. RickKon 08 Dec 2016 at 8:34 pm

    “gold-upholstered”

    *sigh*

  40. Nitpickingon 08 Dec 2016 at 8:54 pm

    Steve, you saw that a Theranos Board of Directors member is also going to be in the Trump cabinet? Not a great time for science in this country. I hope India and China can keep science going for the next generation or so, until we Boomers finally die off and our successors can reform this nation.

  41. CKavaon 08 Dec 2016 at 9:02 pm

    Michael, you are a prototypical representation of both the short sighted nature and proud posturing of Trump’s online conspiracy clique.

    You will get to enjoy your childish glee at the EPA being crippled by an anti-science ideologue, it will be future generations, including your grandchildren, and those in poorer countries that reap the consequences of the world’s collective inaction.

    And that’s also what makes your outsider anti-establishment rhetoric so transparently false.

    You are cheering an egotistical millionaire who rose to prominence due to a starring role on a reality TV show as being some kind of anti-elitist. His selections for his cabinet also don’t demonstrate any sincere commitment to challenge ‘the powers that be’ instead they are a reaffirmation of business as usual- as lobbyists and figures with deep economic connections to powerful industries are provided prominent positions.

    You’re a naïve ideologue and you’re right to celebrate your crowning election victory but the general arrow of progress over the past 100 years suggests you are on the losing side in the long term. So enjoy this time with your emotionally stunted president and conspiracy prone leaders, because it won’t be like this forever.

  42. michaelegnoron 08 Dec 2016 at 9:20 pm

    [Michael, you are a prototypical representation of both the short sighted nature and proud posturing of Trump’s online conspiracy clique.]

    Victory for the good guys is fun.

    [You will get to enjoy your childish glee at the EPA being crippled by an anti-science ideologue, it will be future generations, including your grandchildren, and those in poorer countries that reap the consequences of the world’s collective inaction.]

    My children may suffer, but the real tragedy will be the starving polar bears.

    [And that’s also what makes your outsider anti-establishment rhetoric so transparently false.
    You are cheering an egotistical millionaire who rose to prominence due to a starring role on a reality TV show as being some kind of anti-elitist.]

    There’s some truth in that. Trump is very imperfect. It’s a testament to your incompetence that this guy beat your ass. It’s part of what makes it so fun. You couldn’t even beat Trump.

    [His selections for his cabinet also don’t demonstrate any sincere commitment to challenge ‘the powers that be’ instead they are a reaffirmation of business as usual- as lobbyists and figures with deep economic connections to powerful industries are provided prominent positions.]

    There are many power centers. The (pseudo)scientific-government cabal has run things for quite a while. Power is shifting back to the more honest productive people among us.

    [You’re a naïve ideologue and you’re right to celebrate your crowning election victory but the general arrow of progress over the past 100 years suggests you are on the losing side in the long term. So enjoy this time with your emotionally stunted president and conspiracy prone leaders, because it won’t be like this forever.]

    I think you’re right. I don’t think we’ll win for more than a generation or two. Your corruption and stupidity will swamp the decent working people eventually. But we will exact a price while we can, and slap you around and make your life as miserable as we can, until we fall.

    Your eventual victory will cost you a lot. I think that’s the best we can hope for, at least in this world.

  43. Maj-Majon 08 Dec 2016 at 9:24 pm

    Steve12, all –

    Don’t you hear it?
    “Hollywood Elites! No surprise they sell out to a bunch of academic godless elitist globalist satanist child-molesters corrupted communist fascist mainstream skeptics. Prison! Or something.”

    Even if the top 10 Hollywood Celebrities agree to dress in turtleneck full time and preach Sagan – so what? What difference does it make?

    You have a barren wasteland in front of you.

    * * *

    Skeptics CAN make a difference – but not like this.

    Instead, imagine this press release, dated 2017:
    ################
    “Social Media Industry giants agree today to establish a goal of 10% of ALL their outgoing traffic directed to Academic Institutions – or to webpages directly linked from Academic Institutions”.
    ################

    And why not? It’s not such a tough sell.
    Don’t we all agree that mandatory schooling is a good idea? Why is this different?

    It can work, and it can be achieved – and it’s an algorithm change that can tilt the overall numbers game. It can create a snowball effect.

    I hate to link to myself, but I have expanded on the rationale and the way to do this here:
    https://medium.com/barkjournal/how-napoleon-became-a-spaniard-cd2ad8fab7f5#.zb273ju4i

    I see this as a game-changer, worldwide – not only in the U.S.

    What can go wrong?

  44. michaelegnoron 08 Dec 2016 at 9:39 pm

    @CKava:

    I find your critique of Trump amusing. He’s a character, but he has genuine and substantive accomplishments. New York real estate is a tough business, and he has done very well in a very difficult line of work.

    Compare him with the man he is replacing. In 2008 we elected a Chicago political hack whose primary accomplishment was “community organizing”. He began his political career in the living room of terrorist bombers, spent 20 years working side-by-side with the most corrupt machine politicians in the country (and never once did or said anything to advance honest government), and spent his Sundays in the pews of a ranting psycho anti-semite racist pastor who he considered his spiritual mentor. He was elected to the presidency based on his skin color and nothing else.

    The presidency was his first real job. His foreign policy has been catastrophic. His economic policy has been a disaster for everyone except the Washington DC crowd. His Justice Department, FBI and IRS have been corrupted beyond anything we have ever experienced, and he has inspired the worst race relations and race riots in half a century.

    His anointed heiress is a gangster who kept a private server to enable her to sell influence in the State Department for hundreds of millions of dollars. Thank goodness our country didn’t become a wholly-owned subsidiary to the Clinton Foundation a few weeks ago. It was close.

    Trump is George Washington/Thomas Jefferson/Abraham Lincoln compared to the scum he is replacing.

  45. chikoppion 08 Dec 2016 at 9:43 pm

    You are smart and well-informed. Tell us more! Tell us more!

  46. Haggardon 08 Dec 2016 at 9:44 pm

    I think it is great that people here offer advice and tips for how the skeptical movement can be better engaged with the public. It is important to curate a collection like this to be refined and worked on by people who are actively participating in the dialogue. It’s a very valuable resource that can be condensed and used in other application, outside of the skeptical movement.

    However, my sense is that while it is an important role, the skeptical movement at large will mainly play a minor role in achieving the goals of effective science communication with the general public. That is not meant to discredit the movement, but I perceive scientists, academics, and researchers as the ones who will have the most direct impact as their work is often in the media in one shape or another. Unfortunately, of this group, it seems that not many are well acquainted with the skeptical community or the knowledge that has been generated there.

    In my opinion, researches and academics, and even stretching into fields such as government in policy creation and others could have an immense impact if they were better educated to be educators about their work.

    Obviously, this is a monumental task, but I think it is achievable.

    My impression is that many researchers, academics, scientists, etc. are mainly out of touch with the general public. It is not their fault, generally, as they tend to have a narrow focus and time constraints that may limit outreach activities. I’m not sure what the answer is, exactly, but if they were somehow shown how important public outreach is, perhaps they would engage with it more often. My impression is that many prefer to just do the work and let it speak for itself. Which in academia, for example, is generally effective, but that does not appear to extend to the general public sphere of knowledge creation (good or bad). And then we have a breakdown in communication. And big problems.

    I’m speaking in very general terms here, but sometimes, it seems as if the scientific, academic, research, et. al. community has little interest in or even respect for public “knowledge”. I think that perhaps this can also be an area of concern. Of course, I will say again, this is not always the case. However, it seems that the general public may perceive this lack of dialogue between them and other forms of knowledge, such as scientific research, academia, etc. and without a relationship, they treat it as an abstract thing, in a similar way that some scientists treat the public at large.

    To those bridging the gap, I think it is a worthy and honourable goal. I suspect we will see the biggest gains in education. But not necessarily starting with the public. It is not entirely realistic to bring the public up to a level of scientific understanding that they can think about and process what information is being disseminated in various fields. While it is a goal worth working toward, I think it is *extremely* complex in comparison to a goal that is, in my opinion, much more readily accessible. That is outreach to scientists, researchers, academics, etc. to become better educators and disseminators of knowledge.

    The skeptical movement does a fine job, in my opinion, of public outreach. I’ve seen Mr. Novella’s quotes in newspapers like The Guardian, for example. While this is good, and important, I suspect a strong, concentrated effort in outreach to the scientific, academic, and research communities would have a very positive effect that could then have an even bigger effect on the general public, simply due to the magnification of voices that are able to more effectively communicate in ways that are respectful, informative, and relevant.

    For example, providing scientists, researchers, and academics with basic and clear education about what is involved in confronting pseudoscience and what effective techniques, talking points, etc. can be used would be of immense benefit to those who have never experienced it. Even providing information about techniques and strategies to get their knowledge placed in mainstream news or information distribution portals would be a huge step forward. Many either don’t have the time and may perceive it as complex (which it is not if clear guidelines and advice is provided), or don’t even know how to go about doing it.

    This is another massive program of outreach, which I know some are engaged in, that could be of real benefit. I just wish it were more focused and somehow amplified. The skeptical movement has done a great job of collecting information directly related to all of this and if it could be delivered to those who need it in a clear, direct manner, I think many people would get a great deal of direct benefit from that knowledge. And ultimately, it will spread out to the general public.

  47. Haggardon 08 Dec 2016 at 9:46 pm

    michaelegnor: “Community organization” is something we need more of, don’t you agree?

  48. michaelegnoron 08 Dec 2016 at 9:54 pm

    [“Community organization” is something we need more of, don’t you agree?]

    Most certainly. Rumor has it that Trump is putting together an organization akin to Obama’s OFA.

    Right wing populists need to learn Alinsky’s tactics. We’re a bit late to the game, but we’re catching up.

  49. michaelegnoron 08 Dec 2016 at 10:02 pm

    Another very important change that Trump will make is to abolish the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax-exempt organizations (eg churches) from getting involved in politics. It’s been ignored by the left for years (think Jeremiah Wright’s church), but it has kept real Christian churches from getting involved politically. Trump has promised to rescind it (he reiterated the promise in a speech tonight).

    This will allow tens of millions of evangelicals to organize in much more effective ways.

    Community organizing. I like it.

  50. bachfiendon 08 Dec 2016 at 10:09 pm

    Michael,

    Trump certainly didn’t win an overwhelming victory. He lost the popular vote by around 2 million votes.

    It’s going to be interesting to see what is going to happen in 2020, if he runs for office again.

  51. Kabboron 08 Dec 2016 at 10:09 pm

    michaelegnor,

    It seems that the ‘real’ skeptics are the ones that happen to align with your particular ideologies. Everyone else must be corrupt or stupid right? Some excellent conspiracy theory level thinking. You actually think that is the explanation for why people disagree with your positions. So imaginative of you.

  52. Haggardon 08 Dec 2016 at 10:13 pm

    michaelegnor: I’m not clear on how your comments are to be applied to the topic being discussed.

  53. Maj-Majon 08 Dec 2016 at 10:21 pm

    humble suggestion –
    don’t feed the troll. ignore unless there’s valuable reason to correct the record. in this case, he’s just rambling nonsense, and i suspect he knows it.

  54. Giovanni Tagliabueon 08 Dec 2016 at 10:42 pm

    The necessary “GMO” denialism and scientific consensus, in Journal of Science Communication, 15 (04), Y01, p. 1-11, http://jcom.sissa.it/archive/15/04/JCOM_1504_2016_Y01
    Let’s keep up the good work! 🙂
    Best regards from Lombardy!

  55. CKavaon 08 Dec 2016 at 11:10 pm

    Maj-Maj I understand the logic of not feeding Mr. Egnor but it sometimes difficult to let the rambling nonsense and childish posturing stand unchallenged. I know it won’t change anything and only encourages further outbursts but the auto-ignore response comes with it’s own drawbacks. I honestly think for long term trolls who show no genuine interest in engagement bans should be considered. In the entire time I’ve been on the site I can only think of 3 or maybe 4 cases where such action was warranted.

    I don’t see any value to engaging with Egnor’s conspiracy driven political ‘analysis’ but its about on par with the critical thinking abilities he displays in relation to homeopathy and pretty much every topic he opines on. Again, he is celebrating the victory of a millionaire reality TV star and his appointment of industry insiders and lobbyists as some kind of triumph against ‘the establishment’. One thing I will give Trump is that he was completely right about the gullible nature of his audience.

  56. Willyon 08 Dec 2016 at 11:21 pm

    Maj-Maj: No, Dr. Egnor doesn’t “know it”. He’s a true believer. He really thinks Trump knows something beyond self-promotion and how to grab money. He likely thinks Trump has “core” values”. Despite ME’s claiming to be a devout Christian, he’s willing to overlook Trump’s many marital infidelities, his pu**y grabbing, his stiffing of contractors and fellow investors, his bragging, his juvenile name-calling, his almost lifelong membership as a Democrat (his son-in-law Jared Kushner was also a Dem until recently). IMO, a great way to “see” the ‘real” Trump is to Google some of Howard Stern’s show transcripts where trump was a guest. After wondering why in the HELL a (sometimes) successful person would stoop so low as to be a guest on Stern’s show, read along as Trump agrees with Howie that Ivanka is “a piece of ass”. Read as he brags that Ivanka is voluptuous and that her breasts are real. Read in amazement as a vulgar shock jock leads (an also vulgar) Trump into one utterly idiotic boast after another, all by blowing smoke up Trump’s skirt. Remarkable, Stern can lead trump by the nose, yet almost half of America thinks Trump has what it takes to stand up to Putin, et al.
    ME thinks, as a neurosurgeon, he knows more than the world’s climate scientists, more than the world’ biologists, geologists, etc. ME thinks Trump will usher in a golden age of sensibility and will “clean house”. He actually thinks Trump has principles!?!? To him, Trump is a savior. You can’t make this stuff up.

  57. steve12on 09 Dec 2016 at 12:29 am

    Maj Maj:

    “Don’t you hear it?
    “Hollywood Elites! No surprise they sell out to a bunch of academic godless elitist globalist satanist child-molesters corrupted communist fascist mainstream skeptics. Prison! Or something.”
    Even if the top 10 Hollywood Celebrities agree to dress in turtleneck full time and preach Sagan – so what? What difference does it make?
    You have a barren wasteland in front of you.”

    Not sure you gave my ideas fair hearing.

    For one, I said a lot more than recruit celebrities. Second, the most important point is that the skeptical movement needs to coalesce under a larger organization. I don’t think the gun lobby would have been as successful if they were a loose collection of hundreds of gun rights clubs instead of the NRA? No.

    I read the link to your idea about weighting search algorithms, and I think it’s quite good, especially since it’s achievable. Much more achievable than any of my ideas, that’s for sure.

    But we also need to compete in the pop culture market place, and we’re not.

  58. steve12on 09 Dec 2016 at 12:58 am

    ” I pray you get what you deserve.”

    Wow – Mikey’s particularly unhinged in his mania on this post. Drunk on power. I’ve ignored him, as is wise, but since the back and forth has begun, it’s time for my occasional reminder that he is an odious racist, homophobe, and sexist, and that his religious shtick is nothing but a cudgel he uses to prop up his White Supremacist politics.

    But don’t take my word for it! See for yourself how far up a White Supremacist’s backside Egnor can get his tongue!

    http://egnorance.blogspot.com/2015/09/a-plug-for-great-book-sjws-always-lie.html
    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Theodore_Beale

    In case you didn’t click on the links, here’s a few more musings from Egnor’s buddy, whose book he recommends, talking about “Vibrants”, his home-grown racial slur for black people:

    http://voxday.blogspot.com/2013/08/vet-killed-by-vibrant-america.html

    Some quotes form that article:
    “It increasingly appears as if the two choices facing America are peaceful segregation or ethnic violence and civil war.”
    “The civil rights vision has failed and appeasement clearly works no better with vibrants than it did with Nazis.”

    http://voxday.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-vibrant-conundrum.html

    From that article:
    “The problem is that there is simply no easy and politically acceptable solution to the challenge presented by these bored young savages.”
    “In the USA, and to a lesser extent in England, European civilization has been noticeably degraded in the last thirty years by African culture.”

    There’s plenty more – he has a whole category on his blog of this racist tripe:
    http://voxday.blogspot.com/search/label/Vibrancy%20is%20our%20strength

    And when pressed by me, he completely embraced Beale and all of his lovely teachings – just so you don’t think this is guilt by association, or that maybe he didn’t realize what was rummaging around in this White Supremacist’s closet:

    http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/the-myths-of-vandana-shiva/

    Michael Egnor is a racist. (As always, just wanna make sure that comes up in any google searches).

    I just want to add some context to Egnor’s gloating over Trump.

    Congrats Mikey!

  59. jayaravaon 09 Dec 2016 at 5:24 am

    My take on this problem of communicating science is that it frequently represents a failure of scientists to connect with people, and especially a failure to engage with the scientific literature on how people assess new information, reason, and make decisions. The psychology of belief seems not to register for scientists.

    Climate change is a good example. Rightly scientists have been changing their minds about climate change for the last few decades. Forecasts go up and down. New information comes to light. New perspectives emerge. New evidence of the actual rate of change becomes available.

    Two things go wrong. Scientists don’t have control over the information flow which seems to have been taken over by journalists. A journalist’s main job is entertainment. So the job of communicating science gets handed to clowns, basically. Here in the UK some scientists are taking back control of the narrative–Brian Cox, Jim Al-Khalili, Alice Roberts, Helen Czerski, et al. But you also get weirdo’s like Richard Dawkins making a big mess all over the place.

    The other thing that goes wrong is how people perceive authority. An authority is someone who *knows*. Someone who knows does not change their mind. So scientists changing their minds in response to new evidence, are not taken seriously by the public as authorities. It’s good science, but it’s bad psychology!

    One of the things that has become clear in 2016 is just how much ordinary people value facts, which is pretty much *not at all*. You cannot win people over with facts. You can, by contrast, win them over with lies. There is plenty of research on this and it ought not to surprise anyone. But scientists generally still don’t seem to get that not everyone is excited by new facts. People need to understand why they should care about a fact, how it connects to their values, how believing or not believing affects their lives. We need to take into account how new information interacts with established belief systems and speak to that.

    At a minimum scientists need to look closely at the science of belief and the science of persuasion. My view is that we could outsource communicating science to any major advertising agency and they’d do a much better job of it than scientists or journalists, because they, amongst all sectors of society, most deeply understand how people make decisions and how to get people to change their minds!

  60. SteveAon 09 Dec 2016 at 7:12 am

    Bachfiend.

    C’mon. You’re allowed to feed Eggnog, but no-one else should feed HN?

    For all his faults, at least HN can keep it civil.

  61. SteveAon 09 Dec 2016 at 7:19 am

    Talking of sceptical resources…

    Does anyone know what’s happening with Bob Carroll’s ‘Skeptic’s Dictionary’?

    I always found it very valuable, though the site could have done with some sprucing up the last time I saw it.

    The site seems to have gone down since he died. Is anyone taking it up again?

  62. Maj-Majon 09 Dec 2016 at 9:26 am

    Willy: “No, Dr. Egnor doesn’t “know it”. He’s a true believer.”

    Perhaps. Maybe his account has been hacked by a 7-years old – it certainly feels like.

    Or perhaps he’s trying to get himself banned in the hope of getting some minor PR out of it.

    Who knows – either way, it feels like a collective waste of time to deal with his gloating rants.

  63. Maj-Majon 09 Dec 2016 at 9:33 am

    CKava:
    Agree. If this comment section had an ignore function, I’d use it. In the absence, I’ll use willpower.

  64. tmac57on 09 Dec 2016 at 10:07 am

    Egnor sounds like he might be trolling for a job in Trump’s cabinet. He could fill the role of Joseph Goebbels from the tone of his rhetoric.
    Michael, could you give us a heads up on the approaching Kristallnacht?
    That would be swell.

    Dang!!! I should not have fed the Hungry, Hungry, Hypocrite. 🙁

  65. Maj-Majon 09 Dec 2016 at 11:09 am

    steve12: “Not sure you gave my ideas fair hearing.”

    You’re right: in my haste to make a point, I lacked nuance.
    I apologize.

    steve12: “I read the link to your idea about weighting search algorithms, and I think it’s quite good, especially since it’s achievable. Much more achievable than any of my ideas, that’s for sure.

    But we also need to compete in the pop culture market place, and we’re not.”

    Let me clarify.

    I don’t expect there’s one silver-bullet solution. I wholeheartedly embrace all efforts to spread critical thinking. Everything helps.

    I also happen to think there’s a disproportion of means.

    If you face the Army of Nonsense in an open field, you are going to be shred into pieces.
    This is different, the Nonsense is an Ocean:
    – They have the highest pulpit.
    – Their people sound largely like Michaelegnor, only worse
    – On top of all the other biases, they now also have the powerful choice-supportive-bias.
    – They often specifically consider anti-intellectualism a virtue.
    – They read infowars

    A bunch of godless know-it-all like ourselves won’t even be able to get close of being heard. They will think you are there to take their gun or something.

    I may sound dismissive – but I’m trying to be realistic.

    This is not like debating some creationist with a PhD in an auditorium – perhaps frustrating, but fair.
    This is more like teaching Thermodynamics during a competitive-eating festival, where everybody is drunk, and they have probably heard you don’t go to Church on Sundays and you may be Satan incarnate.

    And you need to reach those people if you want to make a practical difference. Not the college-degree that perhaps is a bit lacking in critical skills and is a bit unsure about GMOs. Those college-degrees unsure about GMO are already on your side, in a sense – they probably don’t want to crash and burn the EPA because them scientists don’t know a thing.

    The only effective way to have a positive influence on these people, unless you want to wait three generations, is to tilt the balance of their information sources.

    And the shortcut to do so, is simple, fair, and achievable.

    (The idea is essentially the same as “have critical thinking courses in schools” – except that it can literally happen next month on a massive, global scale if done like I proposed.)

    I am eager for criticism on this, because I sure can be overlooking something major.

  66. steve12on 09 Dec 2016 at 1:41 pm

    Thanks Maj-Maj

    In my haste to point out that I put more in my post, maybe I didn’t underscore ow much I like your idea. I went on you page and read the whole thing. It’s great, and I’d be happy to support it in anyway I can. Most of my ideas are pie-in-the-sky, this is not.

    Also agree that we need all the help we can get in reaching the people you mention. I’d love to see a bigger organization of skeptics and scientists that can become well known and infiltrate that space.

  67. BillyJoe7on 09 Dec 2016 at 3:40 pm

    jayarava,

    “But you also get weirdo’s like Richard Dawkins making a big mess all over the place”

    Sounds like you’ve bought right into the narrative of those who deliberately or ignorantly misrepresent pretty everything he has said since he wrote his book “The God Delusion”.
    You might like to have a go at Sam Harris next.

  68. TheGorillaon 09 Dec 2016 at 4:53 pm

    Right Billyjoe, it’s only out of context that Harris advocates ethnic profiling and Dawkins says hilarious shit about Nobel prizes in the Muslim world.

  69. chikoppion 09 Dec 2016 at 6:41 pm

    People don’t share fake news stories because they have reason to believe those stories are true. They share them because those stories appear to validate their preferred narrative. Narrative is far more important to most people than is evidence.

    Before a fact can be adopted it needs to be favorably cast within an existing narrative framework. Take the trope of “Obama’s disastrous economy.” By any objective measure that’s just a silly statement. But for some, the premise that this administration must be a failure is necessary to justify their preferred narrative. Had the economic data been instead presented as evidence that ‘the ingenuity of the everyday, hard-working Americans rescued the economy without government help,’ those same people presently decrying the economy would instead be celebrating it. They would claim it as evidence of their achievements.

    The success of communication relies on understanding the (self-pecieved) identity of the audience. The narrative(s) that people maintain are what creates and protects that identity. Feed the narrative.

  70. MaryMon 09 Dec 2016 at 7:20 pm

    There’s a class of organizations who I feel have completely dropped the ball on this front: the scientific societies. They could (if they chose) be the ones to work very hard at active outreach, combatting nonsense, and supporting the individual academics who come under coordinated attacks of the cranks. Kevin Folta is a prime example of them not being there for him.

    Societies should be funding and defending scientists who choose to be invovled in the public dramas. There are some decent examples of this–like the Meteorological Society on climate science, but not enough.

    Also: I think that we (as the unaligned and amorphous skeptical community) are good at calling out the top nonsense purveyors. We had Mercola’s number long ago. We knew Mike Adams was a nutter pushing Health Danger long before he became more widely known as a crank peddler. We spotted Alex Jones miles away. We have institutional memory for this too (except we aren’t an institution). But individual academics can’t get into head-to-head battles with them. This is another good place for scientific societies. Although it’s hard to know which one’s watch Alex Jones might fall under.

    But I know a lot of academics who find it distasteful to directly call out lies of the likes of Adams. They want to use the “shared values” and kumbayah strategies on the people who read the nonsense and are its victims. Maybe that’s fine–although they can’t really show me evidence that works. But I think more direct assaults on the top peddlers needs to occur. When Dr. Oz was called to the Hill, things did change somewhat. When the FoodBabe was finally exposed in the NYT and other places, it diminshed her influence because anyone passing along her stuff was much more easily countered, dismissed, and ignored.

    I want more calling out in big venues. But that is just my unpopular opinion.

  71. BillyJoe7on 09 Dec 2016 at 11:24 pm

    Right on, Gorilla. 😉

    (And, if that was sarcasm, my response stands unless and until you clothe your naked assertions)

  72. arnieon 10 Dec 2016 at 5:18 am

    BillyJoe7,
    I’m in agreement with you but, looking at Gorillas comment to you in the context of the history of his comments on this blog, leads me to see a robe of sarcasm adorning his “naked assertions” to you.
    Care to clarify, Gorilla?

  73. arnieon 10 Dec 2016 at 5:52 am

    Chikoppi – “The success of communication relies on understanding the (self-pecieved) identity of the audience. The narrative(s) that people maintain are what creates and protects that identity. Feed the narrative.”

    I agree with all that except the last three words. But they’re a bit ambiguous to me so not sure I understand. But rather than feed the audience’s false narrative (when that’s the case), it seems better to me to understand it (as you said) and to respect the audience as well as the power of that narrative for the audience, but then to effectively engage in potential narrative changing dialogue by not directly attacking either the audience or the narrative but by seeking for potential vulnerable aspects of the narrative and artfully planting and nurturing seeds of doubt that might, over time, take root in the audience’s own thinking thus gradually eroding the narrative and providing safe space for a more evidence based narrative to emerge. To “feed the narrative” seems to me to reinforce it.

    In terms of the several trolls on this blog who are pretty obviously immune to effective and constructive communication, I continue to think that the only way to diminish their destructive hijacking of interesting and informative threads is to not be conned into feeding them nor harshly attacking their person or diversionary arguments but rather to take the very difficult path (initially) of simply and totally ignoring them and their comments. I’ve read and understand the arguments for, and fun in, engaging them but I think doing other than “starving” them results in a negative net effect on the comment threads and discourage new or naive readers from engaging with the blog and well-intentioned commenters.

  74. SteveAon 10 Dec 2016 at 8:59 am

    I’m with BJ7 on this one too.

    Dawkins’ contribution to science and scepticism has been huge.

    Unfortunately, if you don’t cleave EXACTLY to the party lines decreed by ‘progressive liberal’ hive-mind, you are the enemy.

  75. ccbowerson 10 Dec 2016 at 9:48 am

    “I’m with BJ7 on this one too.
    Dawkins’ contribution to science and scepticism has been huge.
    Unfortunately, if you don’t cleave EXACTLY to the party lines decreed by ‘progressive liberal’ hive-mind, you are the enemy.”

    With the issues like these, I feel that we shouldn’t feel compelled to pick sides in a black-and-white fashion. We don’t need perfect ‘heroes.’ We should resist the urge to both dump on someone for mistakes or to be an apologist when they make one.

    We should accept that even individuals that we hold in high esteem have flaws, yet their mistakes shouldn’t invalidate their contributions. At the same time, their contributions should not be used to justify their mistakes.

    These people being referenced in the comments are fairly opinionated and outspoken people, and the more words you say, the more likely you are to say something that isn’t quite right. That comes with the territory.

  76. TheGorillaon 10 Dec 2016 at 10:11 am

    The thing is, Harris hasnt’ contributed to literally anything. He has managed to write some pop-literature that proudly dismisses actual academic work – ie, The Moral Landscape explicitly redefines science and says metaethics is boring, Free Will can be summed up in Dennett’s review of it, and the End of the Faith is some reactionary craziness that took off thanks to the post-9/11 world it was published in. Like, he actually writes in that book that it can be acceptable to kill people for their beliefs. But, of course, even though that entire quote is straight from his End of Faith, and in context, Harris fines will somehow decide he didn’t actually mean what he wrote. Is Harris just a terrible writer or does he just say ridiculous things he doesn’t actually mean in order to get attention? Or both?

    Dawkins at least had an actual professional career and has done valuable work with evolution education. His pre God Delusion polemics against religion weren’t even that bad (ie he wrote an okay one against Paley’s intelligent design). But then he writes shit like this:

    “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”

    or

    “Continental Philosophy”. What kind of a Search for Truth is region-specific? Continental Chemistry? Continental Algebra? What nonsense.”

    Second one would actually be a reall cute joke if he were joking.

  77. TheGorillaon 10 Dec 2016 at 10:12 am

    Oh, let’s not forget the “some rapes are worse [better?] than others” comment that the community actually defended him for.

  78. arnieon 10 Dec 2016 at 11:36 am

    CC — I have no argument with your response to to my and BJ7’s response to Gorilla. I wasn’t hero-izing Dawkins or seeing it as a black-and-white matter.

    Gorilla — I’m not saying your specific criticisms have not validity, but let mel nitpick a little: I think you’re doing a false equivalency. Yes, philosophy, chemistry, and algebra can all qualify as “search for truth”, but the methods used and resulting ‘evidence’ relating to “truth” are quite different. That is why “continental philosophy” is a term you will sometimes come across and is not just nonsense while “continental chemistry” and “continental algebra” are nonsense.

  79. chikoppion 10 Dec 2016 at 12:09 pm

    @arnie

    I’m not suggesting supporting a false narrative. Rather, that is necessary to understand why people allow some facts and deny others. To acknowledge the psychology of identity.

    Given two people, one who values ‘righteousness’ and the other who values ‘rebelliousness,’ each has an internal narrative that validates the way in which they perceive themselves. One may reject a set of scientific facts because fidelity to a particular ideology substantiates their status as righteous (and the facts appear to contradict the ideology). The other may reject those same facts due to disdain for a perceived authority.

    The presentation of facts can be managed to avoid conflict with these narratives, which vary by social group. Talented politicians have an innate sense for this practice. Skeptics could learn from campaign managers, marketers, and PR firms rather than steadfastly presenting information in a way that resonates most strongly with those most like ourselves.

  80. arnieon 10 Dec 2016 at 1:00 pm

    chikoppi,

    Thanks for enlarging on your point. I have no problem with that. I guess I didn’t adequately connect your last three word sentence with the larger context.

  81. steve12on 10 Dec 2016 at 2:09 pm

    Steve

    “Unfortunately, if you don’t cleave EXACTLY to the party lines decreed by ‘progressive liberal’ hive-mind, you are the enemy.”

    For some this is true, but I think it’s half the story. These people have a point – but I don’t like how they pursue the point.

    First, Richard Dawkin’s is a hero of mine and I admire Sam Harris. I don’t think that they should be shunned for their views on Islam (some of which I agree, some not), rather they should be challenged and we should argue it out, as we do. I don’t think they are bigots. I think they are wrong on certain issues.

    My major disagreement is the cause of the greater recent historical violence in Islam compared to Judaism and Christianity. I know that Sam Harris (and I believe Dawkins) has argued that the explanation for the greater violence is specific to the scriptures of the religion. This strikes me as indefensible.

    All of these religions have HORRIBLY violent stories, instructions, etc. The notion that the difference in barbarism b/w the religions is explained by the difference in barbarism in their texts seems almost absurd considering how barbaric they all are. When you consider a much more likely first order cause as recent geopolitics, I think the idea becomes that much more untenable.

    What’s troubling are the implications. If we blame the texts, the necessary implication is that while we can moderate Christianity and Judaism, this isn’t really possible for Islam. That’s a dangerous notion that invites greater conflict. There are too many Muslims for us to hope that they all renounce or die.

    But, we should argue this out, not make Dawkins and Harris villains. They’re pretty smart and I think they can handle some debate if the purpose is not vilification.

  82. TheGorillaon 10 Dec 2016 at 6:17 pm

    Steve,

    At what point do you decide people aren’t worth talking to? There has been no shortage of academics explaining to the New Atheists why their views are wrong (bad history, bad philosophy, bad religious studies, bad anthropology, bad sociology, bad politics, etc etc etc), and they are all dismissed as SJW apologists or something like that.

    If people are making false claims that either lead to racism or are themselves racist, and if those same people dismiss experts in the relevant fields who correct them – noting that Harris has expertise in literally no field and Dawkins nothing outside of biology, then I think we are getting to the point where treating them as villains is the proper course of action. They have an audience who they spread this garbage to. “Religion is bad” is not even a coherent thing to say, and yet…

  83. CKavaon 10 Dec 2016 at 8:46 pm

    Harris has a PhD in cognitive neuroscience. I’m not a big fan of his research but to say he has no expertise is completely ridiculous. Similarly, whether you like the guys philosophy or not, he clearly has spent a lot of time thinking about and researching topics like morality. When I listen to him discuss things with ‘serious’ researchers like Jonathan Haidt I don’t find him to be out of his depth.

    That said, he does have big gaps in his knowledge about subjects he likes to discuss- such as current immigration restrictions/methods and relevant demographic trends. However, the kind of blanket dismissal that the Gorilla is offering is based on a strawman filled caricature.

    My field of research is the Cognitive Science of Religion and I still find it worth reading and listening to Harris and even Dawkins. I don’t think it is an accurate presentation of his position to boil it all down to ‘religion is bad’. A fairer representation would be ‘uncritical acceptance of information and promoting a reliance on faith’ is bad.

    If you think Sam Harris/Richard Dawkins are villains, rather than normal people with character flaws/biases, then you aren’t paying enough attention to the current situation. There are genuine villains who are genuinely peddling hatred, bigotry, misogyny and counterfactual information. These are the people that the skeptical community should be getting worked up about and opposing.

  84. BillyJoe7on 11 Dec 2016 at 12:23 am

    CKava,

    Thanks for that defence of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.
    (One of these days I’m going to find something to disagree with you about. 🙂 )
    (And I can already hear cozy calling me a cheerleader 🙂 )

    ————————————–

    Gorilla,

    Regarding Richard Dawkins:

    “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”

    What is your problem with this quote?
    Firstly, it is factually true. The Nobel Prize has been won by 10 muslims and 32 from Trinity College.
    (It is also true that over 200 Jews have won the noble Prize – a fact Richard Dawkins mentioned in a subsequent interview)
    Richard Dawkins’ point was that the Islamic faith acted as a brake on creative activity.
    Do you disagree? Or are you upset by what you and others have interpreted as offensive racism and bigotry? If so, please substantiate this charge. If not, what is your point then?

    Here is an interesting response from a muslim blogger:

    http://blogs.thenews.com.pk/blogs/2013/08/why-muslims-have-fewer-nobel-prizes-than-trinity-college/

    Javed Hassan:
    “And so, what might seem sectarian to us Muslims may just be an insightful comment. But why is it that each time a belief is brought to question, it’s taken as a fascist attack on Muslims”

    “Even if we concede that Dawkins tweet is intended to be offensive and is a form bigotry, is it not worth asking why are there only 10 Muslim Nobel laureates compared to 32 from Trinity college, and some 200 plus Jewish recipients of the prize? Why has there been virtually no major scientific contribution from Muslims after the 13th century? Is it possible that those very forces that have stifled democracy, individual liberty and free speech in Islamic societies, have also restricted the blossoming of ideas generally, and science in particular? Could it be that that freedom in every sphere of human activity leads to the release creative and productive energy among people, and if constrained the society as a whole suffers?”

    “To brandish Dawkins as a ‘Muslim Hater’ on a mission to smear the people seems disingenuous would only be an exaggeration. He may not like Islam, but I don’t see any animus against Muslims as a people. If anything, he might actually have sympathy for the oppression they suffer by various authorities/governments who viciously use religion to deny basic freedoms. He might in fact be doing Muslims a favor by provoking us to ask unpleasant questions about our own heritage. By stifling debate we are likely to remain mired in mediocrity, and ensure that even fewer Muslims receive Nobel prizes than any other comparable group in the future”

    I quote this gentleman because he echoes exactly what Richard Dawkins would have said in his own defense as evidence by what he has actually written on the subject in the past. He attacks religion, not the religious.

    ——————–

    Gorilla,

    Regarding Sam Harris:

    Gorilla: “[Sam Harris] actually writes in [The End of Faith] that it can be acceptable to kill people for their beliefs”

    Firstly, thanks for confirming what I suspected – that you have similar views about Sam Harris as you have about Richard Dawkins. But how did I know that? Because these views are spread about – and mindlessly taken up by others who read these views – by those who misquote, mischaracterise, and outright lie about what these individuals have actually said because they have, for their various reasons, taken a strong dislike for them. Defamation is easier than argument for them. And it works – as we have seem from your own post.

    Here is the full quote from the book:

    Sam Harris: “The power that belief has over our emotional lives appears to be total. For every emotion that you are capable of feeling, there is surely a belief that could invoke it in a matter of moments….The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live. Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense. This is what the United States attempted in Afghanistan, and it is what we and other Western powers are bound to attempt, at an even greater cost to ourselves and to innocents abroad, elsewhere in the Muslim world. We will continue to spill blood in what is, at bottom, a war of ideas”

    There is also a footnote in an attempt to forestall the very misunderstanding promulgated by these people”

    Sam Harris: “We do not have to bring the membership of Al Qaeda “to justice” merely because of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. The thousands of men, women, and children who disappeared in the rubble of the World Trade Center are beyond our help—and successful acts of retribution, however satisfying they may be to some people, will not change this fact. Our subsequent actions in Afghanistan and elsewhere are justified because of what will happen to more innocent people if members of Al Qaeda are allowed to go on living by the light of their peculiar beliefs. The horror of Sept. 11 should motivate us, not because it provides us with a grievance that we now must avenge, but because it proves beyond any possibility of doubt that certain twenty-first-century Muslims actually believe the most dangerous and implausible tenets of their faith”

    Quite a different picture from the one painted by his adversaries isn’t it?
    This whole sorry episode was started by a journalist who tweeted the following “quote” from Sam Harris’ book:

    “Some beliefs are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them”
    (The actual quote was: “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them” which, admittedly is not much different, but why not use his actual words?)

    He added a picture of Sam Harris that made him look like a deranged murderer and, for good measure, called him a “genocidal fascist maniac.”
    This was re-tweeted to the world at large by – guess who? – Resa Aslan and Glenn Greenwald.
    And guess what Resa Aslan said on this very same topic in a subsequent interview?
    Here it is:

    Resa Aslan: “The way you confront an organization like that is twofold. No. 1, you kill their militants. There is no room for discussion or negotiation when it comes to an ISIS or an Al Qaeda militant. They don’t want anything concrete. And if you want nothing that’s measurable or concrete, there is nothing to talk about. You must be destroyed”

    His views are even stronger that that of Sam Harris, who at least added that qualifier: “if they cannot be captured”. Really, Gorilla, if you want to pick a fight, maybe you should go for Resa Aslan and Glenn Greenwald. They are certainly more desereving of a put down.

  85. BillyJoe7on 11 Dec 2016 at 1:29 am

    Gorilla,

    I forgot this quote:

    Richard Dawkins: ““Continental Philosophy”. What kind of a Search for Truth is region-specific? Continental Chemistry? Continental Algebra? What nonsense”

    I haven’t been able to find a sensible account of what this is all about.
    Could you fill me in?
    On the face of it, he seems to be saying that there is no “continental” philosophy, just like there is no “western” science. There is just philosophy and science. As far as I can tell, Richard Dawkins has not said much on the topic of philosophy, but here is a pretty sensible discussion between Lawrence Krauss (physicist) and Julian Baggini (philosopher):

    https://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/sep/09/science-philosophy-debate-julian-baggini-lawrence-krauss

  86. michaelegnoron 11 Dec 2016 at 7:31 am

    Dawkins is right about the intellectual wasteland that is Islam. It’s also a moral wasteland.

    What he (and all of you) neglect to point out is the intellectual and moral wasteland of atheism.

    How many Nobel laureates have the officially atheist nations (Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Khmer Cambodia, etc) produced?

    Why is atheism such a civilizational catastrophe?

    Why is atheism exempt from the (entirely appropriate) critique to which theist beliefs are subjected?

    Could it be because the critiques here are being offered by atheists, and atheist “skeptics” aren’t the least bit skeptical about their own beliefs?

    Perhaps CKava, with his bullshit “Cognitive Science of Religion” research, could shed some light.

  87. michaelegnoron 11 Dec 2016 at 7:34 am

    Nothing is more amusing than listening to people who share the same religious beliefs as Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot lecturing others about religion and evil.

  88. edamameon 11 Dec 2016 at 9:15 am

    Egnor conflating skepticism and atheism is one among 500 other red herrings in this thread. Stay classy.

  89. chikoppion 11 Dec 2016 at 9:20 am

    Huh. I guess that makes religion responsible for any crime committed by a religious person. Gosh, considering, you know…all of history, that sure sounds dangerous.

    Your intellect is impressive. You must be a member of the master race and one true faith.

  90. JJ Borgmanon 11 Dec 2016 at 9:48 am

    “michaelegnoron 11 Dec 2016 at 7:34 am

    Nothing is more amusing than listening to people who share the same religious beliefs as Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot lecturing others about religion and evil.”

    Why would you state an absolute non-sequitur? Nothing is more amusing? Really. Then you are humorless. Shall we equate you and your religion to the adherents of it belonging to a long list of pedophiles, fascists and crime syndicate members to name a few? Of course not. Snark should be turned on and off again when employed as a communication style. If that was not snark, you’ll have no audience with reasonable mature readers.

  91. michaelegnoron 11 Dec 2016 at 10:45 am

    Hey, let’s sort this disagreement out by asking CKava about all of his “cognitive science of religion” research that has been done on atheist belief…

    Oh… wait… there isn’t any “research” on atheism by cognitive “science” of religion.

    Atheism is alway exempt from anything resembling skeptical analysis when the analysis is done by atheists.

    Atheism is the most toxic dehumanizing ideology mankind has ever produced. It sits on a hundred million corpses. In power, atheism has only produced totalitarian hellholes. It makes Islam look like a religion of peace (heh).

    I merely point out the obvious–that atheism is a system of manifest moral and intellectual depravity.

    And what do “skeptics” do when confronted with lavish reasons to be skeptical of atheism? They hiss and throw shit.

    “Skeptics”–i.e. functional or explicit atheists all– are the least skeptical people on earth.

  92. Willyon 11 Dec 2016 at 10:52 am

    Dr. Egnor: Atheism isn’t a belief; it’s an absence of belief. Should we study those who are atheist with respect to Santa Claus? Put another way, I am an atheist with respect just one more god than you.

  93. steve12on 11 Dec 2016 at 11:06 am

    Gorilla:

    “At what point do you decide people aren’t worth talking to? There has been no shortage of academics explaining to the New Atheists why their views are wrong (bad history, bad philosophy, bad religious studies, bad anthropology, bad sociology, bad politics, etc etc etc), and they are all dismissed as SJW apologists or something like that.”

    At the point that I actually think they they’re ill-intended and bigots. I don’t think that’s the case. This is a public debate of great importance, and withdrawing is worse than engaging. Also, I don’t disagree with everything that they’re saying, and I think some critics are afraid to say uncomfortable truisms about the state of Islam, conflating that with racism/bigotry. This needs to be sorted out – it will take time and exchanging points of view.

    “If people are making false claims that either lead to racism or are themselves racist, and if those same people dismiss experts in the relevant fields who correct them – noting that Harris has expertise in literally no field and Dawkins nothing outside of biology, then I think we are getting to the point where treating them as villains is the proper course of action. They have an audience who they spread this garbage to. “Religion is bad” is not even a coherent thing to say, and yet…”

    There is an audience that takes their words and twists them into bigotry. I can’t blame them for that (though there is plenty of stuff I can blame them for re: their opinions on Islam).
    And treating them as villains pretty much cements that audience as a faction that doesn’t speak to others who disagree. If they were white supremacists like Egnor or something, I’d agree. But they’re not. They’re just wrong on a few issues, IMO, and we need to hash it out as a community.

  94. steve12on 11 Dec 2016 at 11:06 am

    CKava:

    “Harris has a PhD in cognitive neuroscience. I’m not a big fan of his research but to say he has no expertise is completely ridiculous.”

    OK, but I’m also a cog neuroscientist and I can tell you that a good deal of what Sam Harris says, some of which I agree with, has nothing to do with his expertise and is way beyond any cog neuro data. We shouldn’t bless his opinions on geopolitics or interpretation of ancients texts with ANY expertise whatsoever.

  95. michaelegnoron 11 Dec 2016 at 11:30 am

    “white supremacists like Egnor”?

    I am not a white supremacist.

    Furthermore, I have black patients and black friends and colleagues. I am preparing now to operate on a black child.

    This is a public forum, and steve12 has libeled me with an odious lie. People who put their lives in my care can read this, including my (many) black patients. I also have the largest immigrant patient population of any neurosurgeon in my county (I conduct a third of my clinics in Spanish).

    Arguments about ideology (atheism) are fair game. Ad hominem libel about race is another matter entirely.

  96. mumadaddon 11 Dec 2016 at 11:43 am

    Steve12:

    “All of these religions have HORRIBLY violent stories, instructions, etc. The notion that the difference in barbarism b/w the religions is explained by the difference in barbarism in their texts seems almost absurd considering how barbaric they all are. When you consider a much more likely first order cause as recent geopolitics, I think the idea becomes that much more untenable.”

    I think people push back against the notion that Islam is ‘worse’ than the other monotheistic religions. I agree with a lot of what Harris has to say on this topic, and I don’t really see it as a case of saying that Islam is ‘worse’, per se. There are many ways in which the big three monotheistic religions differ, and it means that there are problems that are specific to particular religions.

    e.g.
    – The Koran is supposed to be the literal speech of god, dictated to Mohammed, whereas the bible is acknowledged by Christians to be man made
    – Jesus was basically a rebel dissident with no power, whereas Mohammed has considerable power; there is therefore much more content in the Koran regarding issues of state governance

    There is a bunch of factors like this, which are related to the text, it’s supposed provenance, and how it is interpreted, that mean that Islam is way more tied up with politics than is Christianity or Judaism, and the strategy required to disentangle the religion from politics needs to be something different to the process that achieved this with Christianity.

    Also, jihadism is clearly an Islamic concept. Christianity does have a concept of martyrdom, but it’s different from that of Islam — it’s concerned only with individual suffering for the faith, and not with killing infidels. Fundamentalist Christianity and orthodox Judaism are clearly horrendous ideologies that subjugate minorities and reinforce bigotry, and they share this with Islam, but people blowing themselves up in crowded public places is a uniquely Islamic problem, and this difference, I think, stems from the text and how it’s understood. (And I’m not saying that Christians and Jews don’t commit atrocities in the name of their religion, just that they’re different in style).

  97. mumadaddon 11 Dec 2016 at 11:55 am

    “Ad hominem libel about race is another matter entirely.”

    Every time ME bemoans being called a racist, I feel obliged to point out that he actually called me a racist before anyone leveled the charge at him:

    [Translation: we don’t want you to use practical measures to prevent getting infected–instead we want you to accept our doctrines and suppress your nature–but when you do get infected we’ll come and hold your hand while you die.]

    What an enlightened view. Africans have a “nature” that just can’t be suppressed. Dey jus’ gotta rut. Closer to apes, sorta. Giv’em lots o’ condoms, because they sure can’t be expected to behave like morally responsible human beings.

    You fit nicely in the scientific racism of the 19th and early 20th century.

    “People who put their lives in my care can read this,”

    Or is it okay because post anonymously? It’s okay to falsely accused of racism, as long as their patients can’t read it and link it back to them?

  98. mumadaddon 11 Dec 2016 at 11:57 am

    Urgh, don’t know what happened to my brain when I typed that last sentence; it should have read:

    Or is it okay because I post anonymously? It’s okay to falsely accuse people of racism, as long as their patients can’t read it and link it back to them?

  99. steve12on 11 Dec 2016 at 12:14 pm

    Mumaddad:

    I think Islam is in a worse state than the other two. I agree with you.

    Where I diverge is the cause. There are plenty of calls to violence in all the texts, some unique to Islam sure. Some are unique to the others, they’re just not acted on. And that matters! Islam has unique problems, is backward in the modern world, and is more violent – pointing this out is not racist.

    My issue is with ascribing cause to those texts when a much more proximal cause is that most followers of this religion live in a region that has been decimated by Western powers in recent historical times up through today! Anyone with a passing knowledge of recent histry of the region shouldn’t be surprised that this was the result. It was almost unavoidable.

    When looking at the caused of the backwardness of Islam compared to the others, reaching for ancient texts while this glaring first order cause is staring you in the face seems silly to me. Even if both are causal to some degree, we’re ignoring the massive difference in relative contributions.

  100. steve12on 11 Dec 2016 at 12:14 pm

    “I am not a white supremacist.”

    All the evidence is here:

    # steve12on 09 Dec 2016 at 12:58 am

    It is not an overstatement.

    I’m not getting into a back and forth with you again. But you publicly support, many times on your blog and in a book review, a guy who says that blacks have natively lower IQs than whites. It’s all in my post above. That’s White Supremacy.

    You made your bed now lie in it.

  101. JJ Borgmanon 11 Dec 2016 at 12:36 pm

    “michaelegnoron 11 Dec 2016 at 10:45 am

    Hey, let’s sort this disagreement out by asking CKava about all of his “cognitive science of religion” research that has been done on atheist belief…

    Oh… wait… there isn’t any “research” on atheism by cognitive “science” of religion.

    Atheism is alway exempt from anything resembling skeptical analysis when the analysis is done by atheists.

    Atheism is the most toxic dehumanizing ideology mankind has ever produced. It sits on a hundred million corpses. In power, atheism has only produced totalitarian hellholes. It makes Islam look like a religion of peace (heh).

    I merely point out the obvious–that atheism is a system of manifest moral and intellectual depravity.

    And what do “skeptics” do when confronted with lavish reasons to be skeptical of atheism? They hiss and throw shit.

    “Skeptics”–i.e. functional or explicit atheists all– are the least skeptical people on earth.”

    Whoa there, little buckaroo! Consider getting away from the “absolute” rhetoric. There is no “always” or “the most” if all one does is launch assertions. From where I stand, your “obvious” is often delusional.

    I see theism as the most prolific producer of death and misery in human history. I won’t assert that this is the case, but we have mass carnage by the adherents of Yahweh, Muhammad and Christianity beginning from what is written in the Old Testament (think of killing all but a handful with a world wide flood) possibly encroaching on billions of lives over the centuries…yep, theism gets the prize. I think you will have a hard time tallying the score of death and misery between Theism and Atheism. Accusations of moral and intellectual depravity are equally difficult to objectivize.

    Many of us simply don’t believe in your god. There is no link to any sort of general depravity; typically the opposite is the case. We are gentle, compassionate, faithful and helpful, oriented toward helping one another. Well, that, and pushing back against know-it-alls that assert things they can’t back up. Care to join?

  102. michaelegnoron 11 Dec 2016 at 12:44 pm

    “It’s all in my post above. That’s White Supremacy.”

    My views on race and humanity are Catholic. I believe that each of us is created in God’s Image, and each of us is concieved with original sin. It is not a matter of race.

    I have explicitly denounced racism and white supremacy (and black supremacy and any kind of racial supremacy) many times and very publicly.

    I like some things that Vox Day writes, particularly about SJW’s. I have never endorsed his racial views.

    None of that makes me a white supremacist in any way. Yet I am libeled publicly in this blog.

    I come to this thread to express a (rather contentious) point about skepticism and atheism and related political issues, and I get called a white supremacist.

    Aside from the legal risk run by those who do so and by those who enable such libel, I point out that this is an uncommonly clear example of why skepticism and atheism are so reviled.

    To rephrase the old joke, the definition of a “white supremacist” is “someone who’s winning an argument against an atheist”.

  103. steve12on 11 Dec 2016 at 12:45 pm

    And just one more thing on this ugliness w/ Egor:

    If he repudiates the White Supremacist in question I’d be happy to never post anything like this again.

    He’s the one who won’t do it:
    http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/the-myths-of-vandana-shiva/

    What AM I to call someone who over and over again glowingly supports a White Supremacist, then refuses to repudiate that person when given the chance? Should I say he’s White Supremacy-curious?

    This is ALL your own doing. And you can undo whenever you like.

  104. steve12on 11 Dec 2016 at 12:46 pm

    # mumadaddon 11 Dec 2016 at 11:55 am:

    Exactly. HE’s wrong twice over because he called you and me racists in that thread.

  105. michaelegnoron 11 Dec 2016 at 12:54 pm

    @JJ:

    There is no argument. Atheism first achieved state power in 1790 in France, and proceeded to guillotine tens of thousands of people. It’s second ascension to power was in 1917, when it inaugurated the most odious and long-running totalitarian system in history. It’s third ascension to state power was in China in 1949, when it inaugurated the most prolific system of government genocide ever known to man. Then there’s Pol Pot, Kim Il Sung, etc, etc.

    Atheism has directly killed over 100 million people since it’s first rise to state power in 1790.

    Theism has been around since prehistoric times, and has been a mix of enlightened government, ordinary misconduct, and depravity at times.

    Atheism has had a much shorter run, and it is no mix. It is pure hell, when in power.

  106. Maj-Majon 11 Dec 2016 at 12:59 pm

    steve12 :
    “I went on you page and read the whole thing. It’s great, and I’d be happy to support it in anyway I can. Most of my ideas are pie-in-the-sky, this is not.”

    Hey steve12 –
    I’m glad you like the idea – and anything that helps making it happen is precious.

    The immediate goal is to prepare a plan for action, with some supporting documents.

    In order to exchange drafts / etc there’s now a semi-public distribution list. If you want to help the initiative then please join in – just send a blank mail to list1-join@15mc.org (check spam if not getting an immediate reply)

    Of course: everybody who wants to contribute is very welcome to join the list too.

    To recap what me and Steve12 were discussing above:
    – The goal is to increase the online traffic of sites affiliated or linked with academic institutions. Doesn’t matter if such institutions are good or bad – that’s not the focus.
    – This can be achieved if the algorithms of the Facebooks/etc accept to consider any sites linked to Academia worth a *slightly* preferential consideration. (on the grounds of having an educational/social value)

    This is a tiny wedge at first sight.
    However, the snowball effect can be enormous, in many directions. I’ll take the shameless liberty to link again to the rough idea:
    https://medium.com/barkjournal/how-napoleon-became-a-spaniard-cd2ad8fab7f5#.8plovahbk

    We’ll need industry reachout, a PR campaign about it, solid background work to explain why it’s good – then it will happen.

  107. michaelegnoron 11 Dec 2016 at 1:06 pm

    [I’m not getting into a back and forth with you again. But you publicly support, many times on your blog and in a book review, a guy who says that blacks have natively lower IQs than whites.]

    I repudiate ideas, not people. I repudiate (for the millionth time) white supremacy, and all forms of racism.

    Do you repudiate JD Watson? Do you repudiate Darwin? Do you repudiate Galton? Do you repudiate each and every Darwinist and atheist who has published racist claims?

    Does your failure to do so make you a white supremacist?

    Or did you just call me a white supremacist because you were losing an argument?

    As I said, a case in point for why the skeptical movement is so reviled.

  108. steve12on 11 Dec 2016 at 1:15 pm

    The links are there. People can read them and decide for themselves.

  109. michaelegnoron 11 Dec 2016 at 1:21 pm

    Notice also the “show trial” quality to these slurs.

    I have never made any statement supporting racism or white supremacy. In fact I have repeatedly denounced it.

    Yet this commentor demands that I repudiate a person publicly, or he will continue to libel me.

    For steve12, my clear statement of my belief is not enough. I have to repudiate people, publicly.

    Reminiscent of Moscow 1937.

    I’ll say it again: atheists hew to type.

  110. JJ Borgmanon 11 Dec 2016 at 1:56 pm

    @”JJ:

    There is no argument. Atheism first achieved state power in 1790 in France, and proceeded to guillotine tens of thousands of people. It’s second ascension to power was in 1917, when it inaugurated the most odious and long-running totalitarian system in history. It’s third ascension to state power was in China in 1949, when it inaugurated the most prolific system of government genocide ever known to man. Then there’s Pol Pot, Kim Il Sung, etc, etc.

    Atheism has directly killed over 100 million people since it’s first rise to state power in 1790.

    Theism has been around since prehistoric times, and has been a mix of enlightened government, ordinary misconduct, and depravity at times.

    Atheism has had a much shorter run, and it is no mix. It is pure hell, when in power.”

    Yeah, the point slipped right past you, didn’t it. You cannot connect that bad behavior with modern atheism. On antiquity, The Great Flood, The Inquisition, etc cetera. It hurts for you to connect your religious antiquity to your present, which is very present.

    Please pay attention to the words that are written, as you so often suggest.
    And walk your history of atrocity all the way back to about 4000 BCE. I guarantee your eyes will be opened. Unless you insist on looking away from it.

  111. michaelegnoron 11 Dec 2016 at 2:06 pm

    [you cannot connect that behavior with modern atheism]

    That bad behavior is modern atheism.

    It is only in modern times that atheism has grabbed state power. The result has always been totalitarian carnage.

  112. chikoppion 11 Dec 2016 at 2:26 pm

    Skepticism is not atheism (there are Christian skeptics and credulous atheists).

    Atheism has no political or moral foundation. To argue either requires appeal to other positions unrelated to atheism.

    Despots and villains arise from both religious and non-religious origins and justify their atrocities with post-hoc rationalizations accordingly.

    So, with these non-sequiturs dispensed, maybe a return to the original topic is in order?

  113. michaelegnoron 11 Dec 2016 at 3:11 pm

    (there are Christian skeptics)

    Who?

    [Skepticism is not atheism]

    And fish don’t swim, birds don’t fly,…

    [Atheism has no political or moral foundation.]

    The only political form atheism has ever taken at the level of state power has been totalitarian. All formally atheist governments (Soviet, Chinese, North Korean, Khmer Cambodian, East German, etc) have been totalitarian. But maybe someday there’ll be an atheist government that’s not hell on earth… here’s hopin’!

    Atheism certainly lacks a moral foundation, by definition. If you deny God and the afterlife, you deny objective moral standards and ultimate accountability. Unfortunately, your tiny intellect can’t grasp how that might relate to the moral atrocities that atheists in power commit. Must be coincidence!

    [Despots and villains arise from both religious and non-religious origins and justify their atrocities with post-hoc rationalizations accordingly]

    There’s bad on both sides. The problem is that on the atheist side it’s all bad, at the level of state power. Theism is a mixed bag in power. Atheism is pure hell in power. Why doesn’t that fact interest you skeptical types? I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that you’re atheists…

    [So, with these non-sequiturs dispensed, maybe a return to the original topic is in order?]

    Do you mean about whether I’m a white supremacist because I disagree with you?

  114. BillyJoe7on 11 Dec 2016 at 3:36 pm

    All the atrocities that have ever been committed were committed by people who don’t believe in fairies, so if we would all just believe in faeries, the world would be a much better place.

  115. BillyJoe7on 11 Dec 2016 at 3:42 pm

    steve12,

    “a much more proximal cause is that most followers of this religion live in a region that has been decimated by Western powers in recent historical times up through today!”

    That fails to explain why Muslims themselves are the most likely victims of violence in the name of Islam. It also fails to explain jihad, the subjugation of women, FGM, and the killing of apostates and homosexuals.

  116. CKavaon 11 Dec 2016 at 4:55 pm

    @Michael Egnor

    “Hey, let’s sort this disagreement out by asking CKava about all of his “cognitive science of religion” research that has been done on atheist belief”

    I suppose expecting you to even engage in cursory research on a topic before opining is too much to ask. Counter to your assertion there is quite a bit of research on non-belief. Look up the work of Jon Lanman, previously at Oxford now at Queens University, for example. I believe he is currently heading a 3 year project focused on the specific subject you say is never done. Of course, I’m sure you don’t actually have any interest in the research, all you wanted is to be able to make rhetorical points to support your facile arguments.

    “I have explicitly denounced racism and white supremacy (and black supremacy and any kind of racial supremacy) many times and very publicly.”

    Congratulations. That also puts you in the company of many people noted for holding racist views. I haven’t looked into the previous threads so I can’t comment on the validity of people’s critiques but simply saying ‘I’m not a racist/white supremacist’ isn’t a particularly compelling argument IF you are promoting the arguments of racist/white supremacists. If you don’t do that then again, congratulations.

    Also in relation to all the ‘this is typical of liberals/atheists/skeptics’ snideness, isn’t it also pretty true to type for pseudoscience advocates to use veiled legal threats to silence their critics? You’ve apparently accused the very people you are arguing with being racist when it suited your argument, but now calling someone a racist is a step too far? Where is the consistency?

    “The only political form atheism has ever taken at the level of state power has been totalitarian. All formally atheist governments (Soviet, Chinese, North Korean, Khmer Cambodian, East German, etc) have been totalitarian. But maybe someday there’ll be an atheist government that’s not hell on earth… here’s hopin’!”

    Errr… you have heard of Europe, right? Or secular democracies? Might be worth looking into Scandinavia. Even in the US there is a technical separation between state and religion. Here is a helpful map for you in regards states with official religions: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_state#/media/File:Map_of_state_religions.svg

    Also, from the countries you list above how many were/are Communist? Do you think that might be a confounding variable or do you just equate atheist and communist as being essentially the same thing? All stallions are horses therefore all horses are stallions? That kind of thing?

    @steve12

    “OK, but I’m also a cog neuroscientist and I can tell you that a good deal of what Sam Harris says, some of which I agree with, has nothing to do with his expertise and is way beyond any cog neuro data. We shouldn’t bless his opinions on geopolitics or interpretation of ancients texts with ANY expertise whatsoever.”

    I didn’t say his neuroscience PhD makes him an expert on geopolitics. I was specifically responding to the Gorilla’s claim that “Harris has expertise in literally no field”. That’s not true- regardless of what you think of his work/research.

  117. Maj-Majon 11 Dec 2016 at 5:15 pm

    I cringe to see a bunch of extremely sharp people, on a skeptical blog, using up their very precious time chasing one _single_ low-level religious wingnut troll.

    I feel like if I just saw ten Nobel laureates busy convincing one single crazy-cat-lady that it’s not, really, those turtles all the way down.

    And doing so while fire is in the building.

    For the sake of humanity, let’s pick the battles.

  118. edamameon 11 Dec 2016 at 5:25 pm

    Egnor: I guess I missed all the atheist-themed posts here at Dr Novella’s blog.

    Ad hominem, red herring, completely avoiding the original topic, and aiming attacks that are ironically completely misplaced at this site.

    Maybe if you were posting at Pharyngula or some such, you could get some traction. But here? Do you think your charlatanism is fooling us? It’s like you are aiming at Martin Gardner and you don’t even realize your mistake. 🙂

    I’m not sure if you feel like your drunken panegyrics are scoring little moral victories; objectively speaking, you are so off the mark that you are embarrassing yourself with these displays of intellectual dishonesty.

  119. michaelegnoron 11 Dec 2016 at 5:35 pm

    BJ:

    [if we would all just believe in faeries, the world would be a much better place.]

    Faeries are superstitious twaddle.

    Unlike the belief that nothing caused everything for no reason and dirt made life somehow, which is sciencey and evidence-based.

  120. chikoppion 11 Dec 2016 at 5:45 pm

    [michaelegnor] (there are Christian skeptics) Who?

    You, apparently (insofar as you profess above).

    Skepticism is an epistemological framework, not a list of prescribed or proscribed conclusions. Skeptics don’t agree on all issues and disagree about some more than others. I do concede that the number of skeptics who identify as atheists and agnostics is higher than the general population. That’s not surprising for a movement wherein ‘faith’ and ‘revelation’ are considered illegitimate reasons for belief.

    [Skepticism is not atheism] And fish don’t swim, birds don’t fly,…

    Flippant! (But more of a tacit acquiescence than an argument.)

    The only political form atheism has ever taken at the level of state power has been totalitarian. All formally atheist governments (Soviet, Chinese, North Korean, Khmer Cambodian, East German, etc) have been totalitarian. But maybe someday there’ll be an atheist government that’s not hell on earth… here’s hopin’!

    You really want to construct this strawman.

    There is no such thing as an “atheist government.” There is no political, social, or moral principle established by atheism. Regimes are created out of political ideologies. Tyranny, democracy, socialism, monarchy…all these ideologies exist separate and distinct from the question of religion and have been justified by the religious and non-religious alike.

    Atheism certainly lacks a moral foundation, by definition. If you deny God and the afterlife, you deny objective moral standards and ultimate accountability. Unfortunately, your tiny intellect can’t grasp how that might relate to the moral atrocities that atheists in power commit. Must be coincidence!

    Pick up an overview of philosophy’s greatest hits sometime. The assertion that a framework for objective morality isn’t possible without ‘divine edict’ is simply incorrect

    Also, Euthyphro’s delimma, slavery, righteous genocide, and selling women to their rapists. (I assume you are familiar enough with these arguments to not require further expansion.) Thank god we abandoned ‘objective morality’ and began to apply reason to ethics.

    Religious belief is no proof against moral atrocities. History’s ‘religious’ regimes have marginalized, persecuted, subjected, and even massacred others, including their own citizens, based on religious affiliation. Must be coincidence.

    There’s bad on both sides. The problem is that on the atheist side it’s all bad, at the level of state power. Theism is a mixed bag in power. Atheism is pure hell in power. Why doesn’t that fact interest you skeptical types? I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that you’re atheists…

    Yup. Atheists hate democracy, civil rights, and equal justice. It’s all in the charter!

    Nice try though.

    How about secularism? Let’s just keep proclamations about religion out of government entirely. Problem solved.

    Do you mean about whether I’m a white supremacist because I disagree with you?

    I accept and acknowledge that you disavow and condemn racism and its associated ideologies.

  121. michaelegnoron 11 Dec 2016 at 5:47 pm

    [Look up the work of Jon Lanman,]

    Watched a lecture onYouTube. Interesting guy. Let me know when there’s a second guy studying the cognitive science of atheism.

    [“I have explicitly denounced racism and white supremacy (and black supremacy and any kind of racial supremacy) many times and very publicly.”
    Congratulations. That also puts you in the company of many people noted for holding racist views.]

    So my statements that I oppose racism is evidence that I’m a racist. I see how this works…

    [“The only political form atheism has ever taken at the level of state power has been totalitarian.
    Errr… you have heard of Europe, right? Or secular democracies? Might be worth looking into Scandinavia.]

    Actually many of the secular European democracies have established state churches- eg Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland, England and Scotland. A long history of Christian culture and contemporary established state churches correlates very highly with political freedom and prosperity. Even if substantial numbers of the citizens are personally agnostic or atheist, the Christian tradition is of great cultural importance.

    These are the countries in the 20th century with officially atheist governments:Soviet Union, Communist China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, East Germany, Communist Poland, Communist Hungary, Communist Czechoslovakia, Communist Romania.

    Compare and contrast.

    [Also, from the countries you list above how many were/are Communist? Do you think that might be a confounding variable or do you just equate atheist and communist as being essentially the same thing?]

    Not all atheists are communists, but all communist governments are atheist. Perhaps if you were a cognitive scientist, that remarkable association would interest you.

    But wait…

  122. Maj-Majon 11 Dec 2016 at 5:50 pm

    It’s settled, it’s God, and that solves it.

    More specifically, it’s the Christian God.

    Even more specifically, it’s the one particular version of the Christian God that likes to phone Rome instead of Constantinople or something.

    Now that this is settled, can we thank Michaelegnor and go back to more trivial pursuits, like seeing if we can avoid frying the planet in the next 100 years?

  123. CKavaon 11 Dec 2016 at 5:53 pm

    Maj-Maj I hear you but I think folks like Egnor ARE the ones setting the world on fire and should be challenged. Look at the gleeful support of Trump he has expressed. I fully understand exasperation at ME’s thread hijacking and long term commenters’ desire to just ignore him but as long as he is permitted to stay and spew his bile and hypocrisy it is inevitable that some people will engage rather than let his statements stand.

    I’m in favour of long term irredeemable trolls being banned and I agree that it is probably counterproductive to debate them. However, if you are waiting for people to stop arguing with trolls in comment threads I think you will be waiting a very long time, especially now the US has a troll president as a role model.

  124. michaelegnoron 11 Dec 2016 at 5:59 pm

    @chi:

    1) Name a few Christian skeptics.

    2) [There is no such thing as an “atheist government.”]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_atheism

    3) Objective morality presupposes a Source of moral law that is outside of human opinion. Morality that denies God is subjective–the product of human judgement, with no claim to transcendence. That does not mean per se that subjective morality is bad or that objective morality is good, but it does mean that all objective moral systems presuppose God (by definition).

    4) [Let’s just keep proclamations about religion out of government entirely. Problem solved.]

    But this pesky religious stuff keeps getting in the way:

    We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident, that All Men are Created Equal, and are Endowed by their Creator with Certain Unalienable Rights…

    What we really need is Scientific Atheism…

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marxist–Leninist_atheism

    Let’s try that!

  125. michaelegnoron 11 Dec 2016 at 6:07 pm

    @CKava:

    [I’m in favour of long term irredeemable trolls being banned…]

    … because we’re a basket of deplorables…

    [Maj-Maj I hear you but I think folks like Egnor ARE the ones setting the world on fire and should be challenged.]

    You’re right. There is a push-back among Christians and other people of good sense and good will against atheist hate and cultural hegemony (bake me a cake or else!). Trump is just the start of it. Multiculturalism, Islamophilia, screwing the middle class, and race-mongering politics have pissed a lot of decent people off.

  126. Maj-Majon 11 Dec 2016 at 7:26 pm

    @michaelegnor

    Our safety, our material privilege, our freedoms, our health, our better understanding of the stars in the sky – this all is the gift of the men and women who have applied reason and kindness throughout some 100.000 years of human civilization.

    I can’t stand the idea that it might be the generation of people alive today, who fails to pass on this marvelous gift we have received.

    What made us what we are today, is the climb on the ladder of progressive critical thinking:
    it’s essentially all we’ve got.

    That’s the big picture for me.

    Everything else is details – sometimes petty details.

  127. chikoppion 11 Dec 2016 at 7:33 pm

    [michaelegnor]1) Name a few Christian skeptics.

    Skeptics that positively argue Christianity? Francis Collins? Fancis Bacon?

    2) [There is no such thing as an “atheist government.”] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_atheism

    “State atheism is a popular term used for a government that is either antireligious, antitheistic or promotes atheism. In contrast, a secular state purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion.”

    The article then cites a number of republics and communist states that had a policy of persecuting religions as a means to eliminate ideological plurality. In other words, in the service of nationalism. These regimes exist for reasons other than atheism, but enforce anti-theism as an excuse to erode competing institutions (often because they are accused of being agents of foreign powers).

    The same behavior is evidenced in theocracies, where the ideology of the religion is co-opted by the regime and competing religions are persecuted.

    So yes, atheism can be used by authoritarians and dictators in the same way as religion. That makes ‘state atheism’ equivalent to ‘state religion.’ (I oppose both!)

    3) Objective morality presupposes a Source of moral law that is outside of human opinion. Morality that denies God is subjective–the product of human judgement, with no claim to transcendence. That does not mean per se that subjective morality is bad or that objective morality is good, but it does mean that all objective moral systems presuppose God (by definition).

    Outside of human opinion? How many religions are there? How many sects of Christianity (one of which is literally named “Protestants”)? How many changes to Catholic doctrine?

    It’s fine to assert that a premise is universal, but the assertion alone doesn’t make the premise immune to subjective evaluation and interpretation. Objectivism means that there is an objective standard (universally consistent) against which to assess moral questions. See ‘moral universalism’ or ‘moral realism.’

    4) [Let’s just keep proclamations about religion out of government entirely. Problem solved.] But this pesky religious stuff keeps getting in the way […]

    I’m not sure how you meant that last statement to read. I’m a secularist with respect to government. I do not think religion should be cause to either promote or persecute. There are arguments to be had about where and how to draw the line, but I think a mature democracy can handle those ongoing debates.

  128. CKavaon 11 Dec 2016 at 7:59 pm

    Egnor: “You’re right. There is a push-back among Christians and other people of good sense and good will against atheist hate and cultural hegemony (bake me a cake or else!). Trump is just the start of it. Multiculturalism, Islamophilia, screwing the middle class, and race-mongering politics have pissed a lot of decent people off.”

    People who care sincerely about morality and ‘hate’ don’t support someone like Trump. Nor do they cackle with glee at the dismantling of environmental protections.

    The current inconvenient Pope has issued a papal encyclical (available from the vatican here- http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html) that makes the point better than I can: “Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change. However, many of these symptoms indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption. There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.”

    Egnor: “So my statements that I oppose racism is evidence that I’m a racist. I see how this works…”

    No, I’m saying that just stating ‘I’m not racist!’ is not convincing on it’s own “IF are promoting the arguments of racist/white supremacists.” The qualifier here is very important. It’s the second part that is most important because even far right political movements often say they are not racist. For what it’s worth, I don’t think it is helpful to throw around accusations of racism but I don’t know the content of the previous debates so I can’t tell if it is justified or not.

    Egnor: “Actually many of the secular European democracies have established state churches- eg Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland, England and Scotland. A long history of Christian culture and contemporary established state churches correlates very highly with political freedom and prosperity. Even if substantial numbers of the citizens are personally agnostic or atheist, the Christian tradition is of great cultural importance.”

    Yes, there are state churches. Note the map I linked to. However, in most of the countries you list the power/influence of the church is extremely weak. And in relation to the Christian history… well, that’s convenient, so in essence you want to claim any country that is prosperous, regardless of the current demographics of belief as ‘Christian’. Under such criteria I’m not even sure how it would be possible to identify an ‘atheist’ state since religion has existed in pretty much every country in the world for the past few thousands of years so you can always claim it is culturally ‘Christian/Buddhist/Muslim’. Unless you just conflate atheism with communism… oh wait…

    Egnor: “These are the countries in the 20th century with officially atheist governments:Soviet Union, Communist China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, East Germany, Communist Poland, Communist Hungary, Communist Czechoslovakia, Communist Romania.”

    No those are a list of Communist states. Here take a look at this map: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_religion#/media/File:Map_of_state_religions.svg
    See if you can find any other countries not on that list which do not have an official state religion. Hint, it’s most of the globe…

    Egnor: “Not all atheists are communists, but all communist governments are atheist. Perhaps if you were a cognitive scientist, that remarkable association would interest you.”

    I don’t deny that there is an association between communism and atheism. I just deny that the causal arrows go in the directions you suggest. And it still doesn’t make it ok to conflate the two things. All religious fundamentalists are religious, that doesn’t mean that religion in general is the same thing as religious fundamentalism.

  129. CKavaon 11 Dec 2016 at 8:16 pm

    “Name a few Christian skeptics.”

    Oh come on, you a Discovery Institute denizen. Ever heard of Ken Miller? You might remember him from the Dover vs. Kitzmiller case. Or how about Pamela Gay? There are definitely less religious skeptics but that makes sense given the emphasis placed on ‘faith’ and tradition in most religions.

  130. michaelegnoron 11 Dec 2016 at 8:37 pm

    #@chi:

    [So yes, atheism can be used by authoritarians and dictators in the same way as religion. That makes ‘state atheism’ equivalent to ‘state religion.’ (I oppose both!)]

    But state atheism is not equivalent to state religion.

    Nations with state religions are a mixed bag: many (notably the Christian ones) are democratic and free (England, Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, Finland, etc), some (mainly the Islamic ones) are authoritarian.

    All of the nations with state atheism were/are totalitarian. Every fucking one. There are no “state atheist” Finlands or Swedens. There is only the Soviet Union, China, N. Korea, etc.

    State atheism is radically different than state religion, and particularly different from state Christianity.

    All state atheism is totalitarian. Ever wonder why, Sherlock?

  131. michaelegnoron 11 Dec 2016 at 8:42 pm

    From RationalWiki:

    “Skepticon started in 2008 and bills itself as the United States’s largest free conference on skepticism. It occurs annually in November, usually in Missouri. It won an award from Center for Inquiry. Its sponsors included Secular Woman and the National Atheist Party.”

    No “skeptic” link to atheism there. 😉

  132. michaelegnoron 11 Dec 2016 at 8:53 pm

    @CKava:

    [People who care sincerely about morality and ‘hate’ don’t support someone like Trump. Nor do they cackle with glee at the dismantling of environmental protections.]

    As a Trump voter, I’m an irredeemably deplorable immoral hater, I guess. Keep saying that. Trump gains votes for 2020 every time you do.

    [No, I’m saying that just stating ‘I’m not racist!’ is not convincing on it’s own “IF are promoting the arguments of racist/white supremacists.”]

    Darwin was a racist white supremacist, as were a very large portion of Darwinists. Some (JD Watson) are racists and white supremacists today.

    You promote Darwinism. Does that make you a racist and a white supremacist?

    [I don’t deny that there is an association between communism and atheism. I just deny that the causal arrows go in the directions you suggest. And it still doesn’t make it ok to conflate the two things. All religious fundamentalists are religious, that doesn’t mean that religion in general is the same thing as religious fundamentalism.]

    I say it again: not all atheists are communists, but all state atheism is communist. You’re in a field in which you ostensibly study the intersection of religious belief and culture. It would seem that you ought to have quite a bit of interest in this remarkable association between genocidal totalitarianism and atheism.

    But no. You have more important things to do, like insinuate that I’m a racist.

  133. steve12on 11 Dec 2016 at 9:18 pm

    CKava:

    “I didn’t say his neuroscience PhD makes him an expert on geopolitics. I was specifically responding to the Gorilla’s claim that “Harris has expertise in literally no field”. That’s not true- regardless of what you think of his work/research.”

    My bad – I see that you were specifically replying to this error by Gorilla now…

  134. chikoppion 11 Dec 2016 at 9:23 pm

    [michaelegnor] I say it again: not all atheists are communists, but all state atheism is communist.

    Mm…no. Revolutionary France was a constitutional monarchy and then a republic. Revolutionary Mexico was nominally a constitutional democracy. It would be fair to say that governments that have employed some variation of state atheism have predominantly, but not exclusively, been communist (or that state atheism was a preferred policy of communist governments).

  135. steve12on 11 Dec 2016 at 9:37 pm

    “That fails to explain why Muslims themselves are the most likely victims of violence in the name of Islam. It also fails to explain jihad, the subjugation of women, FGM, and the killing of apostates and homosexuals.”

    I believe that it explains all of it.

    If people stuck to the tenets of the bible they’d be doing similarly barbaric things. Modern civilization tempered religion and essentially forced it to re-contextualize or reinterpret their texts. Taken literally, those texts command horrific things be done in Christianity and Judaism.

    Put another way, how come these horrible things aren’t happening? If the texts are the problem, how come the horrible things in Christianity’s and Judaism’s texts are not taking place among Jews and Christians (compared to Islam).

    If you take a civilization and continually retard it’s development form without, steal their natural resources, prop up dictators whose interests are external, bombard and physically destroy them with endless wars – how does that NOT create a backward society that’s ripe for this sort of nonsense?

    The notion that these types of actions over the last few HUNDRED years is not the most proximal cause for what’s happening in Islam_ this makes no sense to me.

  136. CKavaon 11 Dec 2016 at 10:16 pm

    Egnor: “As a Trump voter, I’m an irredeemably deplorable immoral hater, I guess. Keep saying that. Trump gains votes for 2020 every time you do.”

    Aren’t you also railing against identity politics and victim playing culture? I guess not when it suits your arguments. There is a pattern to your patter. People voted for Trump for lots of reasons, not everyone that voted for Trump is an irredeemable deplorable hater. However, people supporting Trump should be held accountable for what they are supporting. In your case you are explicitly supporting an amoral reality TV star millionaire who is doling out positions in his cabinet to various big business insiders and you are cheering it all on while attempting to claim the moral high ground. Lecturing atheists about religious’ people commitment to morality while holding up Trump as your chosen candidate is just a little too much hypocrisy not to mentione.

    Egnor: “Darwin was a racist white supremacist, as were a very large portion of Darwinists.”

    Darwin was a product of his time and the attempts to smear him as a social darwinist are self-serving maneuvers of creationist/ID folk. Nice deflection though!

    Egnor: “It would seem that you ought to have quite a bit of interest in this remarkable association between genocidal totalitarianism and atheism.”

    If atheism was a guiding principle of communism then I would have more of an interest but it is more of a byproduct. The guiding principles of communism are all related to economic relations and class. Religion, so far as it is of interest, is generally only seen as a traditional means of the ruling class to generate false consciousness, meaning it is interpreted through a Marxist lens. It is not lack of belief in deities that is primarily driving communist class politics. For your thesis to be compelling we would have to ignore the current conditions in countries with large atheist populations (that are not communist), the notable success of SECULAR states, and the moral development fostered by the enlightenment and the gradual loss of religious domination over social life. Not topics that are of interest to you.

    Egnor: “But no. You have more important things to do, like insinuate that I’m a racist.”

    I’m not insinuating you are a racist, just pointing out that declaring yourself not the cast iron defence you seem to take it to be. If it was there have been many notable non-racist people who behave very racistly throughout history. But just to be clear: I have no idea if you are racist and I have not looked into the relevant threads people are referencing. I do however have no hesitation in believing that you would engage in hypocritical double standards (using veiled legal threats towards people you previously called racist) and reference dodgy research.

    I can’t help feeling that Maj-Maj’s warnings are becoming ever more prescient.

  137. CKavaon 11 Dec 2016 at 10:23 pm

    “If you take a civilization and continually retard it’s development form without, steal their natural resources, prop up dictators whose interests are external, bombard and physically destroy them with endless wars – how does that NOT create a backward society that’s ripe for this sort of nonsense?”

    Do you think all Muslim societies are backwards and poor? How about countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE? What about Indonesia or Malaysia?

    There are numerous countries that have been exploited throughout history, not all of them end up instituting laws that require the veiling of women in public or make apostasy punishable through death: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/07/29/which-countries-still-outlaw-apostasy-and-blasphemy/.

    Attending to the role of colonialism and exploitation is important but so is recognising that religious traditions can have a significant independent impact on a culture and that not every ill in the world can be traced back to Western intervention.

  138. steve12on 12 Dec 2016 at 12:10 am

    CKava:

    “Do you think all Muslim societies are backwards and poor? How about countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE? What about Indonesia or Malaysia?”

    No, I never said that. The majority of them in the ME are though. The Saudis are ruled by a family of despots that we (I’m American) enable. They’re still backward. Not everyone is SA is wealthy, I’m sure you know. Our fingerprints are all over KSA. Just like the rest of the ME, they know what we’ve done.

    “There are numerous countries that have been exploited throughout history, not all of them end up instituting laws that require the veiling of women in public or make apostasy punishable through death: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/07/29/which-countries-still-outlaw-apostasy-and-blasphemy/.”

    But Christianity has the same texts:

    http://www.answering-christianity.com/sami_zaatri/law_of_apostacy_in_the_bible.htm

    If the texts are causal, what gives?

    “Attending to the role of colonialism and exploitation is important but so is recognising that religious traditions can have a significant independent impact on a culture and that not every ill in the world can be traced back to Western intervention.”

    I agree. That’s why I was careful to say proximal cause rather than exclusive cause. I’m not saying the texts have 0 influence. Culture, religion, it all plays a part. Put how much?

    The idea that we tsk tsk these people – as we blow up their countries and steal their shit – is unbelievable to me. “Why do they hate us?” we ask incredulously. How can these people develop under these conditions? And of COURSE they’re amenable to any movement that accommodated their religious traditions AND swears revenge to those who’ve invaded them, bombed them, undid what little democracy was starting to grow there, etc.

    This already happened, but with communism. You treat people like shit and keep them from developing civilized institutions, and it turns out they are backward, they hate you, and they’re amenable to BS like communism and radical Islam.

    So b/w the historical precedence of communism, similarly barbaric texts in other religions, and a history of violence and exploitation toward these people, I do not consider the texts themselves as the prime mover here. They’re the flavoring.

    These people were going to latch onto some backward nonsense, and the flavor that predominates in their culture was chosen as the type of bullshit.

  139. CKavaon 12 Dec 2016 at 2:20 am

    Why do you think religious traditions are solely about their texts? Those are a part of religious traditions but there are centuries of cultural and social influence that are also a massive part of all traditions. Recognising the influence of doctrine, usually as mediated by religious leaders, is important but looking at the histories of actual religious communities is also crucial.

    As far as the Saudi’s go, yes they are ruled by despots and the US supports them but it would be an ethnocentric projection to condense the vast history of Saudi Arabia and its dynastic rule to ‘the West installed despots’. The Western powers are far from blameless in modern SA history but there are plenty of domestic and regional developments with which they have little control. The allegiance forged between Wahabism and the Saudi dynasty being one such thing.

    I don’t buy the simplistic dichotomising of history into the West (bad) vs. the Rest (good). Treating the West as a single power block is already extremely problematic but what’s worse is that such narratives rob the rest of the world of any agency. All they can do is be exploited and/or react to exploitation. Adopting such a view means ignoring the vast history that is independent and/or not solely focused on the West in favour of a modern black and white morality tale.

  140. BillyJoe7on 12 Dec 2016 at 5:33 am

    Michael Egnor: “Faeries are superstitious twaddle”

    Exactly my point, thanks for agreeing.
    Now…substitute “gods” for “faeries” and you will see the sharp end of my point.
    Oops…

  141. Steve Crosson 12 Dec 2016 at 9:43 am

    @michaelegnor,

    For there to be any discernible objective basis for morality predicated on the existence of a deity, there must be objective evidence available to determine which (if any) deity (out of the countless millions proposed) actually exists.

    Since no one has ever been able to provide such evidence, your supposedly objective morality is completely subjective.

  142. steve12on 12 Dec 2016 at 10:34 am

    CKava:
    “Why do you think religious traditions are solely about their texts?”

    I never said that they were. As I said above, Sam Harris has made the case that the differences in texts are to blame for the differential violence across the big 3 religions. I think this is important; texts don’t change, so if this was the case the implications are dire.

    “Those are a part of religious traditions but there are centuries of cultural and social influence that are also a massive part of all traditions. Recognising the influence of doctrine, usually as mediated by religious leaders, is important but looking at the histories of actual religious communities is also crucial.”

    Agreed. And I never said different.

    “As far as the Saudi’s go, yes they are ruled by despots and the US supports them but it would be an ethnocentric projection to condense the vast history of Saudi Arabia and its dynastic rule to ‘the West installed despots’. The Western powers are far from blameless in modern SA history but there are plenty of domestic and regional developments with which they have little control. The allegiance forged between Wahabism and the Saudi dynasty being one such thing.”

    Yes – again, my argument was not that Islam apart from colonialism and current intervention is great. We did protect KSA and pump them full of $ to spread Wahhabism. But it didn’t start from us, sure. What would KSA look like now if we hadn’t run roughshod over the region, and provided recruitment tools to religious institutions by continually exploiting the region (if not KSA itself)? No one knows.

    “I don’t buy the simplistic dichotomising of history into the West (bad) vs. the Rest (good).”

    That’s good, because I never sold this.

    “Treating the West as a single power block is already extremely problematic but what’s worse is that such narratives rob the rest of the world of any agency. All they can do is be exploited and/or react to exploitation. Adopting such a view means ignoring the vast history that is independent and/or not solely focused on the West in favour of a modern black and white morality tale.”

    I never said any of this. Though I will point out that many peoples around the world have been the victims of state violence over the years, and pointing out their plight is not tantamount to taking away their agency nor is it Manichean.

    I made several specific points in my text, so I don’t know why you’re reaching for arguments I never made instead. The historical analogy, the causal dissociation of the texts across religions, the explanation for how continual subjugation can allow for vigorous institutions of reason – these were my points. And they were in defense of the over-arching point that the difference in the texts of the big three religions are not the prime cause in the difference in barbarism.

  143. chikoppion 12 Dec 2016 at 11:38 am

    But state atheism is not equivalent to state religion.

    Nations with state religions are a mixed bag: many (notably the Christian ones) are democratic and free (England, Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, Finland, etc), some (mainly the Islamic ones) are authoritarian.

    All of the nations with state atheism were/are totalitarian. Every fucking one. There are no “state atheist” Finlands or Swedens. There is only the Soviet Union, China, N. Korea, etc.

    State atheism is radically different than state religion, and particularly different from state Christianity.
    All state atheism is totalitarian. Ever wonder why, Sherlock?

    Well, Watson, I provided an assessment of why in my previous post (which you quoted in part). It’s fine for you to disagree, but you should at least acknowledge my points, which I will reiterate here.

    1) Regimes requiring extreme nationality (wherein the body politic becomes the central ideology through totalitarian/authoritarian means) seek to eliminate competing social institutions.

    2) Theocratic regimes utilize (co-opt and control) one religion as a machine of the regime and persecute all others.

    3) Communist regimes exclude all religions and elevate the state as ideology.

    4) Theocratic regimes are the form common in antiquity, as ‘right to rule’ was believed to be divinely bestowed (the imprimatur of a deity was necessary or at least convenient to legitimate a regime).

    5) Post-enlightenment, forms of government based on social contract were possible. Nationalist forms of these governments have no need to co-opt a religion to serve as the machine of state.

    All totalitarian regimes seek to eliminate competing social institutions. Theocracies utilize religion as a mechanism of the state. Communist regimes exclude all religions.

    In both cases, TOTALITARIANISM is the root. Theocracies are totalitarianism based on ‘divine right’ whereas communist regimes are totalitarianism based on ‘social contract.’ The difference is whether or not the regime co-opts religion to serve as a mechanism of the state.

  144. JJ Borgmanon 12 Dec 2016 at 11:55 am

    “michaelegnoron 11 Dec 2016 at 12:54 pm

    @JJ:

    There is no argument. Atheism first achieved state power in 1790 in France, and proceeded to guillotine tens of thousands of people. It’s second ascension to power was in 1917, when it inaugurated the most odious and long-running totalitarian system in history. It’s third ascension to state power was in China in 1949, when it inaugurated the most prolific system of government genocide ever known to man. Then there’s Pol Pot, Kim Il Sung, etc, etc.

    Atheism has directly killed over 100 million people since it’s first rise to state power in 1790.

    Theism has been around since prehistoric times, and has been a mix of enlightened government, ordinary misconduct, and depravity at times.

    Atheism has had a much shorter run, and it is no mix. It is pure hell, when in power.”

    Of course there is an argument.

    First, we’ve broadly been discussing modern, present and civil atheism…you launched into 18th to 20th century state atheism. I don’t think anyone here has suggested that anyone should be governed under state atheism, rather that the state should be agnostic when it comes to god belief.

    Second, the God who is daily credited with saving lives from tragedy doesn’t get the same credit for lives lost to still births, floods, mosquitoes and so on. Your God is the most prolific murderer of all be it by commission or omission. Those numbers all depend on who you decide to include on the list of the greatest monsters in human history.

    You do like your obfuscation. As does your president-elect. (Can you say kleptocracy?)

  145. TheGorillaon 12 Dec 2016 at 7:03 pm

    I mean in what sense can Sam Harris be said to have expertise simply because he has a degree? The little work her turned out was of… dubious … quality, and he never actually had anything resembling a career as a scientist. For me, expertise requires actively participating and contributing to the field for some amount of time. I don’t deny he has a PhD, but it’s profoundly misleading for people to talk about him as a neuroscientist.

    I think it was BillyJoe who asked for clarification on the continental philosophy tweet. It’s not exactly wrong in principle – I think we can fairly say that the underlying message of his Tweet, for the character limit etc, was true. The issue is that it portrays a profound ignorance of what he’s criticizing – the difference between continental and analytic philosophy bears literally no resemblance to his apparent conception.

    The other guy who responded by quoting the full passage re: killing for beliefs, apparently under the impression I did not read the book… if you think that does anything to save his position there’s just nothing for us to work with. Similar to how you don’t understand the problem with the noleb prize comment — which is fine, understanding why empirically true statements are awful requires background knowledge, but nobody has the time for that.

  146. CKavaon 12 Dec 2016 at 7:49 pm

    steve12: “I never said that they were. As I said above, Sam Harris has made the case that the differences in texts are to blame for the differential violence across the big 3 religions. I think this is important; texts don’t change, so if this was the case the implications are dire.”

    I know Sam Harris’ work and I don’t think that fairly represents his view. He thinks that the doctrines and teachings of a religion are important but these are not solely contained in texts. I don’t think he has any issue acknowledging that the content of religious texts is always interpreted, his argument is that it is misleading to suggest that all religious texts are equally effective at justifying violence or wars. The Old Testament and the Koran are better at this than the Lotus Sutra or Rumi’s poetry, for example. This shouldn’t be a controversial point.

    steve12: “We did protect KSA and pump them full of $ to spread Wahhabism. But it didn’t start from us, sure. What would KSA look like now if we hadn’t run roughshod over the region, and provided recruitment tools to religious institutions by continually exploiting the region (if not KSA itself)? No one knows.”

    You appear to be simultaneously claiming you are not arguing that the West/the US is the primary agency in the ME/the entire world and providing an account of the recent history of Saudi Arabia that essentially presents that exact argument: It’s because of the US that Saudi Arabia could gain dominance and promote Wahabism, without the US’ support, who knows what the region would be like? The agency and history of Saudi Arabia and regional powers here certainly seems less significant to you than the importance of the US’ foreign relations.

    TheGorilla: “I mean in what sense can Sam Harris be said to have expertise simply because he has a degree? The little work her turned out was of… dubious … quality, and he never actually had anything resembling a career as a scientist. For me, expertise requires actively participating and contributing to the field for some amount of time. I don’t deny he has a PhD, but it’s profoundly misleading for people to talk about him as a neuroscientist.”

    A PhD is a qualification intended to signal expertise. His neuroscience work isn’t my cup of tea but it isn’t sub-par for the field. He’s not active in the field, nor was he particularly prolific as a grad student but that doesn’t make his experience irrelevant. Dismissing his qualification because you don’t agree with his views is petty. I don’t like Michael Egnor’s views and I think he has massive problems when it comes to critical thinking and rational argument but I don’t need to dismiss that he has expertise.

    All that aside, I don’t believe Sam Harris even self-identifies as a ‘neuroscientist’ BUT that still doesn’t make it ‘profoundly misleading’ to reference his background. He has more qualifications/experience in neuroscience than probably 99.9% of the population AND much less experience than most active neuroscience researchers- the two things are not mutually exclusive. He also does seem to spend a fair amount of his time researching, writing about and debating about his views on morality, religion, geopolitics, etc. To me that puts him in the category not of a person with no expertise but of an informed ‘commentator’ or ‘writer’ with a particular viewpoint. It’s fine to disagree with his views and conclusions but I think it’s silly to try and dismiss them because of his lack of ‘expertise’.

  147. steve12on 12 Dec 2016 at 11:43 pm

    CKava:

    steve12: “I never said that they were. As I said above, Sam Harris has made the case that the differences in texts are to blame for the differential violence across the big 3 religions. I think this is important; texts don’t change, so if this was the case the implications are dire.”

    Ckava: “I know Sam Harris’ work and I don’t think that fairly represents his view. He thinks that the doctrines and teachings of a religion are important but these are not solely contained in texts. I don’t think he has any issue acknowledging that the content of religious texts is always interpreted, his argument is that it is misleading to suggest that all religious texts are equally effective at justifying violence or wars. The Old Testament and the Koran are better at this than the Lotus Sutra or Rumi’s poetry, for example. This shouldn’t be a controversial point.”

    Well, I never said that Sam Harris said the texts are solely responsible – and I would be shocked if said that. But if you think that it’s not fair to say that he blames the texts in a central way, and much more than colonialism + ongoing intervention then… I don’t know. He’s written a LOT about the texts as I’m sure you’re aware. I can get links if you disagree, but I think it’s completely unnecessary. I mean, he all but came out for the Iraq war (he was squirrelly) and he has defended our wars there in many ways, including by our “intentions” (which I believe is incredibly naïve).

    I really don’t think I’m off here, but if you want more evidence of all this, I will collect links. That’s fair.

    ************************************************************

    steve12: “We did protect KSA and pump them full of $ to spread Wahhabism. But it didn’t start from us, sure. What would KSA look like now if we hadn’t run roughshod over the region, and provided recruitment tools to religious institutions by continually exploiting the region (if not KSA itself)? No one knows.”

    CKava: “You appear to be simultaneously claiming you are not arguing that the West/the US is the primary agency in the ME/the entire world and providing an account of the recent history of Saudi Arabia that essentially presents that exact argument: It’s because of the US that Saudi Arabia could gain dominance and promote Wahabism, without the US’ support, who knows what the region would be like? The agency and history of Saudi Arabia and regional powers here certainly seems less significant to you than the importance of the US’ foreign relations.”

    Again, you’re reading into my words things I didn’t say. “No one knows” literally means that. There was a tradition there, and they were not colonized, but we (I’m using this term rather liberally and across a long range of time) shaped much of the course of the region. Any insinuation of mutual exclusivity of cause would be wrong to posit, and I did not. I was careful not to say that I believe the lion’s share of cause is x or y, because I really am not sure what to think there. I was merely pointing out that the West is not blameless.

    I like Sam Harris and agree with much of what he says. Probably 95%. But I’ve noticed a disturbing trend that 95% is not sufficient, and he is “not to be criticized” in many circles. That’s dangerous.

    Sam Harris’ treatment of geopolitics as an afterthought in the state of Islam is untenable IMO, and this at the least is worthy of criticism and debate. How this level of ongoing devastation and subjugation could be considered anything less than a major element is still beyond me.

    I get it – I have similar hard time looking at Dawkins dispassionately because I’ve always considered him and intellectual hero. So I’m not above this sort of reaction in any way.

  148. CKavaon 13 Dec 2016 at 1:45 am

    steve12: “But if you think that it’s not fair to say that he blames the texts in a central way, and much more than colonialism + ongoing intervention then… I don’t know.”

    I think he blames the doctrines and teachings, not just the central religious texts. But I agree that he sees these as bigger contributing factors than US foreign policy. I think it’s inaccurate to suggest he dismisses the role of resentment of the West however, rather he sees such resentment as deriving from more than just anti-imperialist sentiment. I’d concur.

    As per endorsing the Iraq war, I agree he did broadly endorse the intervention against Saddam but a) I’m not sure how that relates to him emphasising the role of doctrine and b) it doesn’t automatically invalidate his views. It’s widespread liberal orthodoxy now that opposition to all Western involvement in the ME is morally correct but I don’t think the assumptions behind this position are particularly robust. Nor does believing that intervening in Iraq was justified automatically make you a naïve stooge or war monger, it is possible to reach that conclusion while still decrying Bush’ regime and/or how the war and its aftermath were managed. The fact that Saddam’s regime was secular also seems worth emphasising here, since the implication seems to be that Harris’ support for the Iraq war derived from some anti-Islamic sentiment.

    steve12: “I was careful not to say that I believe the lion’s share of cause is x or y, because I really am not sure what to think there. I was merely pointing out that the West is not blameless.”

    Various Western powers have done various terrible destabilising things in the Middle East. There is no debate there. My issue is that many people seem to regard this as really the only significant feature of the region and the only relevant point to address in any ongoing conflict. That seems incredibly misguided to me and based on a bizarre ethnocentric projection masquerading as concern for the ‘Other’.

    steve12: “I like Sam Harris and agree with much of what he says. Probably 95%. But I’ve noticed a disturbing trend that 95% is not sufficient, and he is “not to be criticized” in many circles. That’s dangerous.”

    There is much that I disagree with Sam Harris about but contrary to your experience I tend to find that he is generally unfairly vilified by his detractors, primarily liberals/skeptics. I find him arrogant and dismissive at times and recognise that he also occasionally displays bizarre gaps in his knowledge (given his long term interests) BUT he is also more thoughtful and nuanced than he is often given credit. Like I mentioned, I work in a field which is harshly critical of the New Atheists in general, but I still find him to be worth listening to.

    steve12: “Sam Harris’ treatment of geopolitics as an afterthought in the state of Islam is untenable IMO, and this at the least is worthy of criticism and debate. How this level of ongoing devastation and subjugation could be considered anything less than a major element is still beyond me.”

    I don’t get that impression from his podcasts or writing. I think he is interested in geopolitics but sees religion as being a significantly unacknowledged factor in that context. That’s fair I think. People on the left often parrot the positions on geopolitics of people like Chomsky and Greenwald as if they are incontrovertible fact but this is far from the case. As is often noted and equally often ignored, the primary victims of Islamist movements and repressive regimes are not Westerners but Muslims.

  149. BillyJoe7on 13 Dec 2016 at 5:41 am

    Gorilla,

    “The other guy who responded by quoting the full passage re: killing for beliefs, apparently under the impression I did not read the book… if you think that does anything to save his position there’s just nothing for us to work with. Similar to how you don’t understand the problem with the noleb prize comment — which is fine, understanding why empirically true statements are awful requires background knowledge, but nobody has the time for that”

    That was me as well.

    At least I defended my position.
    It seems you are happy to proclaim that there was something wrong with those quotes without bothering to say why you think so.

    And, just for the record, I did assume you hadn’t read the whole quote, because it clearly does undermine your position. But, if you had read it and still passed on that lie, then you should be ashamed of yourself. I guess I’ll just have to lump you in with Resa Aslan and Glenn Greenwald.

    I also gave some background to the controvery on which you did not feel the need to comment.

  150. TheGorillaon 13 Dec 2016 at 10:55 am

    CKava,

    His followers definitely say he’s a neuroscientist, and last i looked his Twitter bio did (a long time ago though, I’m obviously not into him on Twitter!). To me that really implies active practice. Either way I don’t disagree with anything you say. It’s just how we see words. Plus, it’s wholly irrelevant to the political and religious issues he’s famous for!

    Billy Joe, let’s put it this way – if you were talking to rest aslan, you’d agree it would take a lot of time and effort to have a productive conversation, right? That’s all I mean. Our disagreements here are on things which are pretty fundamental. IE I’m not going to but I think this is a good example – imagine the words that would go into discussing why islamophobia is racism and realize that would only be a slice. I hope I didn’t come off as calling you stupid or something, it’s just a matter of picking battles.

  151. edamameon 13 Dec 2016 at 2:18 pm

    After getting a PhD in neuroscience (or whatever), how long spent as a blogger with zero time in the lab before you don’t get to call yourself a neuroscientist (present tense) any more? This is not a rhetorical question. The answer is actually not obvious, and may depend on the field.

    I think the convention is more to say that so-and-so ‘holds a doctorate in X’ when they are not really actively doing the research anymore. That’s the more honest approach, I think. But when you are still actively engaged in the research, you would say you are an X (e.g., X=neuroscientist). But if you have a doctorate in X but don’t do research anymore you’d be ‘a writer with a doctorate in neuroscience.’).

    At some point, once it is clear he isn’t actively doing research, and is just blogging and stuff, he needs to cut the shit. I don’t know what the year cutoff is, but he is getting very close (unless he has a research lab or something I don’t know about). There are some grey areas: he could be a neuroscience popularizer or something, and the writing be continuous with his research, and people like that are given some leeway. E.g., if he were churning out neuroscience textbooks, teaching, but not doing research, he’d be given some slack.

    But at some point it will have become disingenuous to use the ‘neuroscience’ moniker which carries some authority, when you have simply become is a glorified blogger. That’s my sense anyway.

    OTOH, someone with a PhD can insist on being called ‘Dr’ if they are sort of douchey (I literally know nobody in the US who insists on this arcane Germanic practice).

  152. Maj-Majon 13 Dec 2016 at 2:23 pm

    Steve12: “It’s great, and I’d be happy to support it in anyway I can. ”

    We have given the idea an organized form.

    The website is http://15mc.org

    Next: as soon as we have a couple of thousand shares/tweets, completely achievable, we will start pestering the press (which, i am told from inside, is currently eager for stories like this – so the timing is excellent)

    PR-wise, the educational/fakenews angle is more likely to succeed than the skeptical/critical thinking angle – so pls keep that in mind if you are sharing or talking about this.

    There’s an action plan that I’d rather share on the mailing list rather than on the web.

    Any help or criticism is appreciated // and cheers.

  153. chikoppion 13 Dec 2016 at 2:56 pm

    [devilsadvocate]

    Universities are the ivory towers of liberal socialist elites. Showing preference to such institutions is ideological propaganda that advances social engineering over honest, impartial discourse. The best ideas should stand on their own merit, regardless of the source. The fact that these institutions are given preferential priority is proof that their contributions lack the necessary objective merit to compete.

    [/devilsadvocate]

  154. Maj-Majon 13 Dec 2016 at 4:39 pm

    chikoppi,

    Thanks!

    [helpfulchallengeaccepted]

    The Catholic University of America, cua.edu, is an example of an institution with great courses on computer programming. They are doing a great job in this area (and many others) – they are real experts in their field.

    Crack4profit_xyz.com, is a site that poses as a resource on computers – but in reality is made by people whose intent is to steal your credit card numbers. This is a madeup example, but there are many examples like this that are very real, as we all know.

    Now, if you are interested in computers, both the Crack4profit site and the Catholic University of America will possibly appear in your Facebook timeline. If you are not a super-expert on the topic, you may be equally likely to click and like either, because some sites like Crack4profit can be very deceiving.

    While it may not be possible to completely avoid the problem with human editors, because the internet is so big, still something can be done with the power of computer algorithms.

    With the 15mc initiative, we are saying that in your Facebook timeline, the Catholic University of America, as a respected academic institution, should perhaps appear a bit more often than now. And that Crack4profit tricky site, perhaps, should appear in your timeline a bit less.

    Why would anyone disagree with that, regardless of ideology/religion/personal convictions of any kind?

    [/helpfulchallengeaccepted]

    Would that make sense?

  155. Bill Openthalton 13 Dec 2016 at 5:54 pm

    edamame —
    You don’t need to do research to stay up-to-date in the field. As a matter of fact, research can pigeonhole you in a very specific subfield, and limit the time you can devote to reading and assimilating the papers your colleagues publish in the hope of getting tenure 🙂 .

  156. chikoppion 13 Dec 2016 at 7:12 pm

    [devilsadvocate]

    Catholic university?! So now the Internet is a tool of the Papists!

    Harvard Med?! So now Big Medicine can lie about their cancer-causing psycho drugs!

    Why are all these links to American institutions?! You’re promoting colonialism!

    Why aren’t all these links to American institutions?! You’re promoting globalism!

    Etc.

    [/devilsadvocate]

  157. BillyJoe7on 14 Dec 2016 at 4:53 am

    The Gorilla,

    Seems you don’t mind repeating unsupported and unfiltered accusations.
    Seems you also can’t be bothered to back them up when challenged.
    Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have written books and had numerous debates.
    You have mined a few quotes and think you have the upper hand.
    Pretty sad.

  158. Maj-Majon 14 Dec 2016 at 6:04 am

    chikoppi,

    []

    In real life, when you see some scribble on the wall in a public restroom that says “MONDAY, HOLIDAY”, you are still going to show up at work. That’s because you don’t trust a scribble in a restroom.

    But if you see “MONDAY, HOLIDAY” written as a notice in a Town Hall, you are going to take it more seriously.

    Everybody should be allowed to say “MONDAY HOLIDAY”, or just about anything else, both offline and online.

    But context matters.

    Right now, on a place like Facebook, a restroom bumper sticker and a Town Hall notice look just the same – because there is little context to tell the difference. They are all just items on Facebook.

    As a result, if people like “MONDAY HOLIDAY” enough times on Facebook, someone will not show up at work. And they will get fired.

    What we are proposing is a very specific, transparent, easy to understand simple tweak that gives stuff like Town Hall notices just a bit more weight, on a place like Facebook, than random bumper stickers.

    The way we propose to do it does not cost public money, does not cost virtually anything to Facebook. The implementation time is close to zero. No human intervention needed. No new creation of databases needed.

    [/]

  159. CKavaon 14 Dec 2016 at 10:08 am

    TheGorilla: “His followers definitely say he’s a neuroscientist, and last i looked his Twitter bio did (a long time ago though, I’m obviously not into him on Twitter!).”

    I don’t think he is responsible for how others refer to him and checking his twitter bio just now it says: “Author of The End of Faith, The Moral Landscape, Waking Up, and other books published in over 20 languages. Host of the Waking Up podcast” which seems like a pretty sensible description. I listened to him talk about the issue on a podcast a while back and he expressed discomfort with being labelled as a neuroscientist or academic precisely because he wasn’t engaged in research and preferred to be considered a writer or a philosopher.

    edamame: “After getting a PhD in neuroscience (or whatever), how long spent as a blogger with zero time in the lab before you don’t get to call yourself a neuroscientist (present tense) any more? This is not a rhetorical question. The answer is actually not obvious, and may depend on the field.”

    I think you answered your own question. It will also depend on the individual. Many science popularizers refer to their scientific credentials long after their research careers, if they even had one, have ended. And it isn’t just science popularizers either, Noam Chomsky’s career as a linguist is also raised pretty much every time he writes about/gives a talk relating to politics- despite the fact that the two are entirely unrelated.

    My point is that if you are concerned about credentials being correctly presented then you should apply such concern consistently not just to selectively denigrate people whose opinions you disagree with. If people are consistent in their criticisms then I think that’s fair enough.

    edamame: “OTOH, someone with a PhD can insist on being called ‘Dr’ if they are sort of douchey (I literally know nobody in the US who insists on this arcane Germanic practice).”

    This seems a little off to me. In my experience, at least with US undergraduates, there is a much greater tendency to refer to university teachers using the relevant title Dr. X or Prof. X than is the case say in the UK. I didn’t get the impression that this was a douchey preference of specific teachers/universities but more of the cultural norm? If you are talking about academics self-identifying by saying ‘I am a DOCTOR’, then yes that’s rare, but for people with PhDs to use the title Dr. in a professional setting is completely normal in academia. What I find more objectionable is when people use abbreviations after their name, for instance on the front cover of books: X McX PhD.

  160. chikoppion 14 Dec 2016 at 11:43 am

    @Maj-Maj

    I’m not the one you have to convince.

    Go to r/theredpill on Reddit and explain to them that searches about ethnicity or race are going to favor results from academic institutions. Use a pseudonym and VPN account, because you’re likely to get hate-doxed. Even easier, ask Egnor if he thinks searches about evolution should be artificially biased toward university content. I’m sure he’d be happy to explain why he would oppose that proposal.

    Also, search content alone doesn’t address the problem. “Fake news” sites are already penalized in search algorithms. The problem resides in social networks, from individuals actively promoting false narratives to like-minded friends and associates.

    For a significant portion of the population, if the facts disagree with the preferred narrative then the facts are wrong and the source of those facts is illegitimate. I wasn’t kidding when I characterized universities as bastions of liberal ideology that spread falsehoods and propaganda. That is a very real sentiment for many people. Forcing that content on them is likely to incite a reaction opposite to your intent.

  161. Maj-Majon 14 Dec 2016 at 1:10 pm

    Hi chikoppi .
    Thanks again – I’m very well aware that I don’t have to convince you 🙂

    In any case, happy to clarify a couple of points:

    1. The plan is to address primarily social network traffic. Google is the least problem, in fact – as you point out.
    2. You don’t need to convince a majority of people that this is a good idea, for it to happen. In fact, you don’t need to convince that many people at all. Facebook is not a democracy. It’s a player in the marketplace of ideas.
    3. There is no “artificial bias” applicable to something like a search algorithm or a social algorithm. There are just algorithmic choices. Facebook would increase from something like 13% to something like 14% , in the first year, the traffic going to well-sourced information. That’s literally a few lines of code. That’s literally millions of eyeballs.
    4. Well-sourced information include stuff that Michaelegnor would enjoy, too. If he doesn’t, tough luck: he would have to explain why the Catholic University of America shouldn’t be an authoritative source on Catholic matters.

    Bottom line:
    The big battle is for the algorithms. That’s our world.

    If people who care about critical thinking don’t fight this battle, someone else will win.

  162. chikoppion 14 Dec 2016 at 1:28 pm

    I don’t think we’re assessing social network traffic in the same way. Search algorithms aren’t the primary cause of disinformation. It’s people.

    One person visits (bullshit site X) and reads a story. That person then ‘pushes’ the story to their network through comments and links posted to multiple social platforms. Those recipients, being likeminded, share the story forward. Facebook is never in a position to intervene.

    There was a recently good interview from NPR with a publisher of a fake news site. His site had already been blacklisted by Google and banned from their ad network. It didn’t matter. He operates by producing outrageous content that people want to share and promote as evidence that their preferred narrative is true.

    It’s not that people aren’t being exposed to good information. It’s that they don’t want to acknowledge information that contradicts their biases. Forcing more of that same information on them doesn’t seem like likely to produce the results you hope for.

  163. Maj-Majon 14 Dec 2016 at 4:45 pm

    Hi chikoppi
    Facebook doesn’t work like that.

    True, in the early days, it was more in line with what you say.

    But for a long time now, its algorithms are VERY far from a naïf “show what my friends have shared or commented”.

    In short: Facebook takes in consideration a giant number of factors in deciding how to allocate estate on users’ timelines and elsewhere.

    The number of likes/shares are just one element, which is combined in arcane ways with what FB reads deeply in your ‘social graph’ , with all sort of engagements , variables about real world circumstances, optimized for ad performance, for feature self-promotion, for long term strategic goals…

    The exact algorithm is certainly enormously complex, and is a black box. It has to stay like that, because thousands of people work on trying to trick FB’s system for a profit, and it would be not in FB’s interest to help them.

    All other Social Media platforms work this way, with different level of sophistication. (One of the major changes Twitter made in recent years to their system, is the focus on the “like” rather than on the “retweet”. Why they did that? Because the like gives them much more space to optimize on social graph and complex variables – the retweet just dumbly and transparently retweets)

    If FB decides today to give a bit of a global premium to sites with a purple background, as soon as the tweak reaches their caches worldwide, you would see an immediate increase in purple traffic everywhere.

    (to be sure: I don’t think that Facebook is outrageously evil – in fact, I think they have shown remarkable and clever restraint, given their position of enormous power. The same, and perhaps even more so, is true for Google. )

    Certainly: there is no question that if nobody cared about lizards it would be harder to feed them lizards. But it’s wrong to think that information sources don’t matter. Having a bit more Carl Sagan in your timeline, or having a bit more Alex Jones, makes a difference. A BIG one.

  164. chikoppion 14 Dec 2016 at 5:13 pm

    @Maj-Maj

    Yes, but it’s still a feed driven by inbound content (I accept that maybe I’m not grasping what you’re proposing correctly).

    Let’s say my interest is Benghazi conspiracies, an interest I share with many people in my network.

    Status quo, my feed on the subject is 50/50 misinformation vs. factual information. Post-algorithm, my feed becomes 40/60. What I see are now are more stories, specifically from institutional sources, containing information I am likely already aware of but reject as false, incomplete, or deceptive.

    Do you see what I’m getting at? The ‘quality’ of the information isn’t the issue. Neither, do I think, is the awareness or availability of the information.

    I’m all for trying new solutions. I think the best way forward would be to test your theory on a small scale in several public opinion scenarios (health, science, politics, etc.). Having worked in marketing for many years, I know facts aren’t always an effective way to impact people’s perceptions and decision making (and can sometimes be counter productive). The question I’m interested in is why people want certain things to be true and not other things. I think that’s where the nudge should be applied. I could be wrong, and am certainly willing to be convinced by evidence.

  165. Steve Crosson 14 Dec 2016 at 6:15 pm

    @Maj-Maj,

    Sorry to be a cynic, but chikoppi is probably right. Most people (of any belief system) want to feel that they are right — and most of those same people tend to ignore or discount any information sources that challenge those beliefs. Often, if they even suspect that someone else is trying to influence, i.e. fool them, they will completely ignore that information source.

    The right has been disparaging the “main stream media” for decades. And it has worked spectacularly well in neutralizing any pesky “facts” that try to compete with their preferred narrative. It is hard to imagine a more partisan source than Faux News, but lots of people actually believe that Fox really is “fair and balanced”.

    Any attempt to restore genuine balance will likely fail spectacularly. Look at the huge outcry just 6 months ago when a few FB workers expressed their opinion (without a lot of concrete evidence) that FB suppressed “conservative” news. FB immediately bent over backwards to simultaneously deny it and promise to do better in the future.

    And that is the real problem. The right has done such an effective job of poisoning the well, that way too many “main stream” news outlets are literally terrified of being perceived as biased. Remember, virtually all of them are completely dependent on maintaining a large enough readership to stay in business. The same motivation applies to FB as well — money. No one can afford to alienate a significant portion of their potential user base.

    Thus, mainstream media spent three times as much broadcast time on Hillary’s (99% imaginary) email issues as they did on actual policy issues. Even the supposedly liberal New York Times devoted a huge amount of space and headlines to the “email” question while burying Trump’s many legitimate and far more serious shortcomings in the back pages. This was really blatant. Not sure which (if any) version of Christianity you are most familiar with, but I was taught that Mary Magdalene was a reformed and “forgiven” prostitute. If the Times had covered that story the same way, the headlines would have read “Christ seen associating with prostitute” while any stories about Satan’s lying and corruption would have been deemed too common to be newsworthy.

    I know you are trying to eliminate/deemphasize the “fake news” but it won’t do any good unless you can also convince the audience to accept legitimate news sites — whether or not they agree with the reader’s preferred narrative. And that news really should be wholly independent from the profit motive. When I was a kid, the news division was considered a public service — not a profit center.

    Actually, you summarized the problem in your last line of an earlier post:
    “If people who care about critical thinking don’t fight this battle, someone else will win.”

    The problem is that not enough people do care about critical thinking. Too many people would rather just settle for a (possibly) false sense of security. It is too difficult to put in the mental effort and work required to verify the actual truth of their beliefs.

  166. Bill Openthalton 14 Dec 2016 at 6:21 pm

    Maj-Maj —
    I believe you have too much faith in humanity. People do not hold beliefs proportional to how often they see references on Facebook, so that seeing less, or more accurate references would automatically reduce the silly or false beliefs they hold. Similarly, in the halcyon days of “quality newspapers” people did not hold beliefs because they read articles in their newspaper — they bought newspapers based on how close their beliefs matched those championed by the newspapers. People notice and read what matches their worldview, and ignore opposing information.

    The issue we face is not giving people better information. Humans need to belong to a group, and will use any excuse to create an us/them divide. There will always be a minority to doubt the views and opinions currently espoused by the majority, and in a tolerant society these dissenters will be more visible than their numbers and plight warrant.

  167. Steve Crosson 14 Dec 2016 at 6:49 pm

    @Maj-Maj,

    Now that I spent way too many words explaining why I think you are wrong, or at least why I’m very pessimistic about your chance of success, let me suggest something else.

    Rather than try to change human nature, I wonder if we would have better luck trying to attack the problem at the source. In other words, there should be real consequences for people that willfully create (and perhaps even spread) false narratives. For example, the originators of the “pizzagate” fiasco should spend at least as much time behind bars as the dumb schmuck who believed it and charged in with guns blazing.

    I know that some will claim that this is a free speech issue, but you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater, etc. We already have slander and libel laws that could be used or updated if necessary. I’m pretty sure that lots of lawyer types would gladly step up from ambulance chasing if the stakes were high enough. Regarding pizzagate, probably Hillary, the restaurant owners and even the idiot gunman could all legitimately claim actual damages. Not just to their reputation, but the loss of the election, loss of business, even loss of freedom (in the case of the gunman).

    Obviously, it would be a lot more complicated than I’m presenting it. What if the “story” originated in a foreign country, for example. And how do you differentiate between originator and “spreader”. All sorts of thorny legal questions, but I can’t help but think that something would be better than nothing and we could refine the laws and enforcement mechanisms along the way.

    Realistically, I think the biggest challenge would be overcoming the essential anonymity of the Internet as it is currently implemented. If we could just educate the majority of the world to believe that anything from an anonymous source is probably false, that would be a huge step in the right direction. That might even be something that Facebook or Google or whoever could help with if they just made a habit of very, very, very publicly and regularly pointing out anonymous falsehoods from every color of the political spectrum. Constant PSA’s warning people to not believe anything unless they know for certain who said it (and why) to begin with.

    I’m probably missing something obvious, so feel free to correct me one and all. But I just don’t think that you can fix Facebook (or anything else) in the way you are proposing. The other side will just spin it as one more reason proving that the mainstream media is not trustworthy.

  168. Bill Openthalton 14 Dec 2016 at 7:18 pm

    Steve Cross —
    Don’t forget AGW deniers call themselves skeptics. And anti-vaxers believe they have done the research and proved vaccines cause autism and there is collusion between the government and “Big Pharma”. The GMO opponents see themselves as critical thinkers, and Steven Novella as a Monsanto shill. Letting people sue because they believe someone else is lying is like opening Pandora’s box.

  169. Maj-Majon 14 Dec 2016 at 7:21 pm

    chikoppi / Steve Cross / Bill Openthalt

    I hear you.

    But let me make it extreme to prove a point.

    Would you accept that if the current landscape suddenly changed to 99% misinformation vs 1% well-sourced information, then we would be in bigger trouble?
    Would you accept that an Internet made of 99% Alex Jones would essentially doom humanity?

    I think it’s an assessment that it’s fairly easy to agree with.
    If you accept that, then we agree that the % of information vs disinformation doesmatter.

    And on very large numbers, such as the Facebook ones, even 1% of switch can have an enormous impact. (BTW, There are likely secondary effects that are almost certainly as important as the direct switch itself, )

    (Incidentally, I am not proposing to “inject more institutional sources“. What I have proposed is essentially a system of implicit quality ranking – except that it does not need an external database for quality but just uses the Internet itself as a ranking system, with recognized Academic Institutions as the anchor of it. Essentially not far from what worked for Google in the early days, but applied to Social sites as a matter of industry self-regulation.
    Technically straightforward, socially justifiable.
    I tried to explain it in various documents, but I realize I should make a one-pager version and try to be more clear – so, btw, really thanks for the opportunity)

  170. Bill Openthalton 14 Dec 2016 at 7:46 pm

    Maj-Maj —
    An Internet with 99% Alex Jones might doom the society we’re used to, but not mankind. It would be rather uncomfortable for us, but quite OK for those who grow up in such a society. Like our society would be uncomfortable for people of the 19th century. If I were you, I wouldn’t worry.

  171. Steve Crosson 14 Dec 2016 at 8:44 pm

    Bill O,

    Obviously, that would be a huge concern. But, hopeless optimist that I am (at least when I’m not being irredeemably cynical 😉 ), I’d like to believe that truth would be a pretty good defense.

    Even so, I know that it would not be easy, just that it might be better overall than the current situation. Many safeguards would have to be established (and constantly refined) to cut down on abuse, but, I would like to believe that in the end, the side with the best evidence would triumph.

    That doesn’t mean it won’t be messy. Often, both sides will believe that they are the actual injured party, so there will very likely be suits brought by misguided true believers. But eventually, there will be a clear outcome with legal and monetary consequences. No more of the he said / she said situations where people can continue to claim that their opinion is just as good as the other side.

    Actually, the last part isn’t really true — people will likely be just as divided as ever. But, and I think this is a potentially big deal, at least some of the bad actors will be discouraged before they even start (at least in the case of fake news sites that admit they are fake). And the true believer types will be handicapped both monetarily and legally when trying to spread their nonsense.

    To actually be a deterrent, there must be some pretty serious consequences for the losing side. For starters, the losing side would have to be responsible for BOTH sides legal fees, etc. And, they would have to publish a retraction, or quit marketing their “cure” or whatever other action best illustrates the fact that they lack evidence to support their claims.

    No matter what, it will be a huge investment of time and resources for the legitimate injured party, but hopefully the end victory will make it all worthwhile. Of course, all this presupposes a functioning justice system that is capable of correctly resolving these issues — at least most of the time, even if it does require some appeals along the way.

    I think a lot of people would agree that our current system still has a way to go before we can confidently make that claim. But if we can’t reach that state, then we are probably screwed as a country anyway.

    The good news it that all this new litigation will create all sorts of service industry jobs to replace the lost manufacturing jobs. 😉

  172. chikoppion 14 Dec 2016 at 8:54 pm

    @maj-maj

    As I said, I work in marketing. If I can figure out what makes you tick, what tribe(s) you belong to and what defines your status within that tribe, my chances of selling you something increase exponentially. Not because I alter the facts, but because I can contextualize how the product intersects with your life, which dramatically realigns its perceived value.

    No amount of pummeling with facts is going to persuade climate change deniers. There is a motivated reasoning at work, a comparative value judgement. For some reason, there is more value in denying climate change than in acknowledging the evidence. So long as that disparity in value persists, so long as there is some other thing that they value more which requires denial of the evidence, they will find a way to deny it. Denial is the cost of admission to whatever tribe they find most important in their value hierarchy. The challenge would be to eliminate the conflict between the issue and the tribe by re-contextualizing the issue.

    Then again, I work in marketing. I follow the evidence and if you can demonstrate that a tactic works I’ll happily adjust my premises.

  173. Maj-Majon 15 Dec 2016 at 5:56 am

    @chikoppi and others

    You may find this article interesting:
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/11/google-frames-shapes-and-distorts-how-we-see-world

    from the article:
    “Google’s business model is built around the idea that it’s a neutral platform. That its magic algorithm waves its magic wand and delivers magic results without the sullying intervention of any human. It desperately does not want to be seen as a media company, as a content provider, as a news and information medium that should be governed by the same rules that apply to other media. But this is exactly what it is.”

    The article picks on Google, but the same applies even more so to Facebook and other social networks.

    I stress it again: I do NOT think that Google people (or Facebook etc) are evil.
    Quite the contrary, I happen to think that Google is largely a force for good

    They just find themselves sitting on, essentially, an unprecedented power on the shape of global human civilisation.

    I come as a staunch supporter of free markets, a technology enthusiast, an almost raykurzweilian optimist.

    BUT: I think the article is right in that we are missing a very important conversation here, because it all happened so fast. The global shape of how society accesses information, cannot be left without a thought to some dozen engineers in a room – however smart and well-meaning those engineers are.

  174. Yehouda Harpazon 15 Dec 2016 at 5:58 am

    > # chikoppion 14 Dec 2016 at 5:13 pm
    >…

    > Do you see what I’m getting at? The ‘quality’ of the information isn’t the issue. Neither,
    > do I think, is the awareness or availability of the information.

    That is going too far. People filter their input very aggressively, but there is still
    substantial effect of what the input is, at least for most of people.

    > # chikoppion 14 Dec 2016 at 8:54 pm

    > Then again, I work in marketing. I follow the evidence and if you can demonstrate
    > that a tactic works I’ll happily adjust my premises.

    That is a little bit unfair. Whether his tactics are good or not, Maj-Maj will have quite
    a problem demonstrating they work, because he needs to convince the Facebooks of the
    world first. So at the moment, the tactics need to be considered without demonstration.

    Personally it looks to me like a pretty reasonable idea.

    Another direction is to support Wikipedia and similar approaches, not only by supporting
    it directly, but also encouraging people to check it more often. That doesn’t deal so well with
    news, and conspiracy theorists probably regard it as a government agency, but for
    many many people, if you get them to regard checking Wikipedia as an obvious thing
    to do, it will improve their understanding of the world a lot.

  175. Bill Openthalton 15 Dec 2016 at 7:37 am

    Steve Cross —

    What is the truth? Scientific truths are subject to revision, and in the social, moral and political spheres there are only opinions. How can you stop a social ‘progressive’ from being sure heavily taxing the rich is moral and will cure inner-city problems, or stop a social ‘conservative’ from believing lowering taxes (for the rich) is moral and will cure the inner-city problems? Outside of a very small set of hard facts (those we use in technology), humans accept as truth whatever matches their mental map of the world, and consider those not thinking like themselves at best deluded, but more likely, evil.

  176. Maj-Majon 15 Dec 2016 at 7:55 am

    @Yehouda Harpaz
    “[…]but for many many people, if you get them to regard checking Wikipedia as an obvious thing
    to do, it will improve their understanding of the world a lot.”

    I agree with that.

    If the approach I’m proposing happens, Wikipedia will instantly become one of the first obvious beneficiaries, because the algorithms will from day1 recognize it as a DAI (i.e. a site already implicitly validated by Academic sources by means of existing links)

    I prefer to have the ‘promotion’ of Wikipedia done indirectly this way, through the algorithmic validation seeded by Academic sources, because:

    1) While Wikipedia is by-and-large awesome today, we don’t know its shape 5 years from now. Such things move fast. So if I have to bet, I prefer to bet that in 5 years from now, Yale and Harvard will still be reliable sources. Which means that if we are unlucky and Wikipedia gets massively trolled away, Yale and Harvard will shift more of their linking trust to “newkipedia” – and that will be recognized by the algorithms that we’ll have already in place.
    2) While Wikipedia is quite a global resource, the Academic system is really as global as it gets. There are Universities in every country, and they are easily identified as such. I have no clue if the Portuguese version of Wikipedia is good, but I have moderate trust that there are some fairly decent universities in Portugal and Brazil. While this is not waterproof, it’s still quite ok with me that such Universities get to “decide” what has educational value in the Portuguese language. (Again, Universities don’t have to do a thing to “decide” this – their resources “deciding” it are already on Web and parsed by crawlers, and some algorithms are already giving weight to this. Essentially, I believe we need to push this system further, and make sure that Facebook etc acknowledge the value of this approach too)

    Just in case: I am acutely aware that Yale and Harvard are wicked, degenerate, vicious, sinister places. Despite all such nefariousness, I happen to think that, on balance, it’s a good thing for humanity to raise just a bit their influence relative to the influence of Alex Jones.

    @Yehouda Harpaz
    “Personally it looks to me like a pretty reasonable idea.”

    I agree with that too 😉

  177. Steve Crosson 15 Dec 2016 at 8:54 am

    Bill O,

    Everything you say is true, but there is a wide spectrum of TRUTH. Some things are more quantifiable and objectively verifiable than others. And even if a court case does little or nothing to change public opinion (i.e. change the relative number of supporters of each side), the results can still have a large impact on the world. See Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District for example.

    Anyway, I’m mostly talking about starting with the most egregious examples, e.g. pizzagate. Especially now after that idiot gunman shot up the place. It seems pretty clear that the originator of that story crossed the line separating protected opinion from reckless endangerment.

    IANAL, but it seems to me that we already have plenty of precedent for this type of litigation. From the actual slander/libel laws themselves, to the concept of increasing some penalties for acts that were perpetrated “recklessly”.

    Basically, I just think that there should be consequences for bad behavior. Not in the “eye for an eye” sense, but in the hope that it would be at least a partially effective deterrent.

    I would like to believe that deterence is the primary goal of our justice system instead of simple retribution. It is a whole separate conversation whether that is the actual goal or whether it is the most effective deterrent, but I think it is fair to say that laws have at least some deterrent effect.

    Certainly, there is plenty of room for improvement in both effectiveness and fairness, but the alternative is anarchy. All laws should be monitored to see if they actually accomplish the desired effect, and then modified or even scrapped if necessary. But that doesn’t mean that the effort wasn’t worthwhile in the first place.

  178. Maj-Majon 15 Dec 2016 at 10:10 am

    @Steve Cross

    Using the law to curtail speech, should be used only in very exceptional cases of clear and present danger.

    Everything else puts us on a massively dangerous course, in conflict with modern interpretations of the 1st amendment, and guarantees an almost certain case of should have been careful what we wished for.

    As much as I loathe dumb conspiracies, I strongly believe they are to be dealt with in the marketplace of ideas.

    And yes: Harvard, Facebook, ourselves here – we are all players in the marketplace of ideas. Advocating for more Harvard on Facebook, is playing fairly in the marketplace of ideas. Facebook acting upon it, also totally fair play in the marketplace of ideas.

    Calling law enforcement, it’s not. It will boomerang back on us faster than we can blink. And it will hurt.

  179. Bill Openthalton 15 Dec 2016 at 11:21 am

    Yehouda Harpaz —

    There used to be a time well-meaning ‘intellectuals’ considered Wikipedia unreliable. 🙂

    I think the basic premise is wrong. The problem is not the “poorly-educated majority” believing the false/fake information they see more often than true/correct information. People like these latch on to information that confirms their biases. If they don’t like the Donald, they’ll reject information that shows she’s a rather capable, reasonably pragmatic businessman with a huge ego (I know a few of these), and swallow every scrap of news calling him racist, sexist, and the next Schicklgruber. They would not have voted for him with or without the biased information (fake or real). The same in reverse applies to Trump supporters. There is a minority that will try and vote with their rational mind, and these are usually sufficiently informed not to fall for overly biased or fake information.

    The anti-vaxers, AGW-deniers, moon landing hoaxers, truthers and birthers are a (very vocal) minority that will not be swayed by any amount of correct information on the subject — we know this because we regularly cross swords with them.

    It’s an illusion to think that more education and better information would make all people share your ideas. And it’s an illusion shared by the right and the left (for lack of better words), or they wouldn’t be fighting over what gets taught in the classroom. Most people forget what they learned in school once they passed the exams, choose with their gut, and rationalise their choice afterwards.

  180. Bill Openthalton 15 Dec 2016 at 11:27 am

    Maj-Maj —

    The global shape of how society accesses information, cannot be left without a thought to some dozen engineers in a room – however smart and well-meaning those engineers are.

    It’s better left to those engineers and the users than to politicians and journalists.

  181. Steve Crosson 15 Dec 2016 at 12:26 pm

    @Maj-Maj,

    I’ve always believed that the 1st Amendment does more good than harm, but I can’t help but feel that the spirit of the law has been abused. Opinions (no matter how distasteful) are one thing, and I agree that they deserve to compete in the marketplace of ideas. But blatant lies are something else entirely.

    Admittedly, it’s not always easy to tell the difference, but I think we should at least try. Even the Supreme Court has said that not ALL speech is protected (e.g. shouting “fire” in a crowded theater). And, as I mentioned, we already have laws to address issues of slander and libel. These existing laws could very likely be applied to many of the fake news stories — especially after the fact, when the consequences become real as in the pizzagate incident.

    When you think about it, every law is merely an attempt to balance one person’s freedom of action against another person’s freedom to be protected from the consequences of that action. Stated differently, most of us agree that laws are necessary to prevent others from causing us harm or forcing their will upon us.

    People being able to freely discuss (and argue about) widely varying opinions is an important (and I believe necessary) component of any society — as long as you don’t cross the line from persuasion to coercion. And that is exactly what is happening when clear falsehoods are introduced into the equation. An honest attempt at persuasion is one thing. Making false (and dishonest) statements which have the effect of forcing your will on another person is something else entirely. I believe that we should at least try to protect people from being victimized by verbal force as much as any other kind.

    And really, that is pretty much exactly what the existing slander and libel laws try to do. They even try to ascertain the intent of the perpetrator, and usually consider benign intent to be mitigating. I just think that we can afford to be a little more aggressive in their enforcement and perhaps update them for the electronic age.

    The same principles should apply across all of society. Whether it is food safety laws, truth-in-lending or countless other examples, it has been shown time and time again that lack of regulation inevitably allows some unscrupulous people to commit acts that are detrimental to society as a whole. Demanding evidence from the anti-AGW crowd, homeopaths, chiropractors, and every other fringe belief is a good thing. For that matter, if the “anti-crowd” want to use the same tactics and try to turn the tables, well, that will be a good thing too — especially in the long run. Close examination of ALL the evidence is the only proven way to get to the truth.

    Finally, I strongly disagree with your concern that it will boomerang. There is no slippery slope here, or at least not one that we haven’t already been managing quite successfully. Life is never black and white, and human discourse has always operated across a very wide spectrum. It’s time to move the line a little, monitor the results and adjust as needed.

  182. Steve Crosson 15 Dec 2016 at 12:41 pm

    Maj-Maj:

    Using the law to curtail speech, should be used only in very exceptional cases of clear and present danger.

    Almost forgot the reason I started my rant in the first place. Just what do you consider to be “clear and present danger”?

    Allowing an inimicable foreign government to (perhaps strongly) influence our democratic elections?

    Allowing our (questionably??) elected representatives to ignore AGW and thus jeopardize our future generations?

    You seem to be concerned that the cure is worse than the disease, but what if the patient dies without the cure?

  183. Steve Crosson 15 Dec 2016 at 1:14 pm

    Bill O,

    It’s an illusion to think that more education and better information would make all people share your ideas. And it’s an illusion shared by the right and the left (for lack of better words), or they wouldn’t be fighting over what gets taught in the classroom. Most people forget what they learned in school once they passed the exams, choose with their gut, and rationalise their choice afterwards.

    While I share a lot of your pessimism, I’d like to believe it is not completely hopeless. I mean, even people’s “gut feelings” have to come from some where. It seems like there ought to be some way to influence them at least a little.

    I do think that younger is probably better, and early childhood education/indoctrination does seem to have been pretty successful for most of the world’s religions. I don’t see how it could hurt to start teaching critical thinking skills at an early age.

    To put it another way, if we don’t figure out some way to teach a voting majority how to tell fact from fiction, then we could be doomed as a country and perhaps even as a species.

  184. chikoppion 15 Dec 2016 at 6:33 pm

    Snopes, FactCheck.org, Politifact, ABC News, and AP will help Facebook make good on four of the six promises Mark Zuckerberg made about fighting fake news without it becoming “the arbiter of truth.” It will make fake news posts less visible, append warnings from fact checkers to fake news in the feed, make reporting hoaxes easier and disrupt the financial incentives of fake news spammers.

    “We’re not looking to get into the grey area of opinion,” Facebook’s VP of News Feed Adam Mosseri tells me. “What we are focusing on with this work is specifically the worst of the work — clear hoaxes that were shared intentionally, usually by spammers, for financial gain.”

    Facebook will now refer to fact-checking services that adhere to Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles the most egregious and viral fake news articles flagged by users and algorithms. These include non-partisanship and fairness; transparency of sources, methodology and funding; and a commitment to corrections. Facebook is starting with the five above but hopes to grow that list to dozens to quickly get a consensus on a story’s accuracy.

    Continued: https://techcrunch.com/2016/12/15/facebook-now-flags-and-down-ranks-fake-news-with-help-from-outside-fact-checkers/

    You can probably predict the tone of the comments beneath the article.

  185. Maj-Majon 16 Dec 2016 at 3:24 am

    @ Bill Openthalt –

    It’s better left to those engineers and the users than to politicians and journalists.

    Trust me, I really like engineers a lot.

    But the beauty of elected politicians in charge of taking really big decisions about society, is that if they go insane, then society has a time-tested system to replace them.

    If privately hired engineers go insane, society has no system to replace them.

  186. Maj-Majon 16 Dec 2016 at 3:43 am

    @ Bill Openthalt –

    It’s an illusion to think that more education and better information would make all people share your ideas.

    I don’t want a world where all people share my ideas, because I know some of my ideas are wrong — and I am on a permanent quest to find out which ones.

    But I also trust that my quest, and everybody else’s quest, is more effective in a world with better education and information.

  187. Maj-Majon 16 Dec 2016 at 5:09 am

    @ Steve Cross

    And really, that is pretty much exactly what the existing slander and libel laws try to do. They even try to ascertain the intent of the perpetrator, and usually consider benign intent to be mitigating. I just think that we can afford to be a little more aggressive in their enforcement and perhaps update them for the electronic age.

    No.
    Please let’s not go there.
    Ask Simon Singh what happens when libel laws are ‘a bit more aggressive’ as you advocate.

    I know your heart is in the right place.
    But the purpose of the law should never be to establish what’s the truth in a discussion among peaceful people.

    Finally, I strongly disagree with your concern that it will boomerang. There is no slippery slope here, or at least not one that we haven’t already been managing quite successfully. Life is never black and white, and human discourse has always operated across a very wide spectrum.

    I’m afraid that’s not what history screams to us.
    Human discourse has been constrained by state-given and religion-given “truths” – all the time, with the exception of the short and fragile experiment of liberal-democracy that we are living in.

    We have to fight for the truth, but never ask the tribunals to fight the battle for us.
    That’s the fastest way back to the middle ages.

    Let’s say you succeed with your effort to have tribunals enforcing the truth.
    Now, a judge in Texas is sure that Earth was created in seven days. So it’s going to be enforced, because, after all she’s the judge, and that’s her ‘Truth’.

    You don’t think it’s realistic? You may want to read some of this stuff

    And when this happens, what do you do?
    Perhaps you bring the issue to the Supreme Court, where in 2020 the majority is also convinced that Earth was created in seven days, and is all-too-eager to agree with your assessment that the 1st Amendment is due for some heavy reinterpretation.

    Really, a Michael Egnor dream.

    Remember, whatever happens, the 1st Amendment is on your side.
    It’s your license to fight the good battle for reason.

  188. Maj-Majon 16 Dec 2016 at 5:36 am

    @ Steve Cross

    Almost forgot the reason I started my rant in the first place. Just what do you consider to be “clear and present danger”?

    “Clear and present danger” is a legal doctrine applied to the 1st Amendment

    It essentially means that the law cannot tell you to shut up, unless it’s very obvious that someone is going to get hurt right there.

    Without such a clearly high standard, people may be afraid of speaking to begin with, for fear of later retribution (such fear is called a ‘chilling effect’)

  189. Steve Crosson 16 Dec 2016 at 3:12 pm

    @Maj-Maj,

    You’re trying to make this a free speech issue when that is not the case at all. I’ve repeatedly agreed that the First Amendment is not only important, but necessary for a free and just society. And that all opinions, no matter how distasteful, can and should be expressed and debated.

    But, the First Amendment was only intended to prevent government overreach. It was never intended to protect individuals from the consequences of their own actions (or speech) if those actions (or words) cause harm to other individuals.

    Also, as I’ve mentioned, there is a substantive difference between persuasion and coercion. Manipulating another persons action through the use of known falsehoods is just as coercive as holding a gun to someone’s head. Of course individuals should be permitted to argue about differing opinions with each other or even with the government. But when one side uses blatant falsehoods, especially when there is evidence of harm to either reputation or physical well-being, then the injured party should have some redress.

    Which is exactly why we have slander and libel laws in the first place. I’ve already agreed that there is potential for abuse — which is exactly why Anti-SLAPP laws are being passed. While people can disagree about how strong these laws should be or whether they should exist at all, almost no one thinks that ignoring the original problem (slander and libel) will make it go away.

    Which is more or less what you are advocating if you believe that we can’t or shouldn’t take some kind of action against the purveyors of fake news, or at least the blatant, potentially dangerous kind.

    I’ve already agreed that none of this will be easy or clear cut. Fortunately, in their wisdom, the founding fathers gave us the ability to create new laws and adjust existing ones as needed. Personally, I think that we need to enforce and/or adjust whatever laws are necessary to help protect our democracy. And at least some, if not most, of the fake news is clearly anti-democracy — especially the parts originated by a foreign power in an (apparently successful) attempt to sway our elections.

    Even the whole ‘clear and present danger’ subject is a bit of a red herring. For starters, it refers to free speech, not necessarily applicable to the effects of slander/libel unless the original content was particularly incendiary. And, like everything else, it is always going to be a judgement call anyway. Are the soon to be inevitable effects of AGW a clear and present danger even though the effects may be decades away?

    Finally,

    But the purpose of the law should never be to establish what’s the truth in a discussion among peaceful people.

    is just plain wrong.

    The entire purpose of the judiciary is to separate guilty from innocent, fact from fiction, truth from falsehood. The other two branches may determine right vs. wrong in a legal sense, but it is the judiciary who decides who is right and who is wrong when two parties can’t agree. Especially in civil cases, the courts must decide matters of ‘truth’ far beyond the confines of law. It is the only democratically sanctioned method of resolving disputes. And it is just as important as the First Amendment.

    There is no alternative, or at least no peaceable one. To complain that they get it wrong sometimes is stupid. They also get it right sometimes (e.g. Kitzmiller v. Dover). The only sensible course of action is to improve/fix the process. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

    Once you decide that the only peaceful, democratically sanctioned process for truth determination is irrelevant or incapable, then you’ve already lost.

  190. Maj-Majon 16 Dec 2016 at 5:31 pm

    @ Steve Cross

    I appreciate the thoughtful discussion, thanks!

    I understand you want to make illegal to say ‘scientific falsehoods’.
    Let me ask you something specific.

    1. The day after your “anti-lies” law is passed, we bring AGW (your example) in front of a judge.
    2. It turns out (bad luck) that the judge agrees with Michael Egnor on the topic.
    3. As a result, it’s now illegal to say that the Earth is warming, or to publish scientific data to that effect.

    (The Supreme Court approves:
    “We agree with Steve Cross when he says that the courts must decide matters of ‘truth’ far beyond the confines of law A Federal Judge has ruled that the AGW is false. It is harmful to say otherwise. The clear and present danger doctrine does not apply.)

    This scenario is not unlikely at all. Judges who agree with Michael Egnor are certainly plenty, and it’s now their duty to establish the truth.

    Now my question: what’s the next step?

  191. Steve Crosson 16 Dec 2016 at 10:47 pm

    @Maj-Maj:

    I understand you want to make illegal to say ‘scientific falsehoods’.

    Nope, never said that. I have said that people must be willing to defend their statements when necessary in a court of law, and that we may need to make it a little easier for people to sue so that they can defend themselves against slander or libel. In both cases, the injured party must generally be able to demonstrate actual harm. Not always easy when something as ephemeral as a reputation is involved, but we already have applicable laws precisely because these things can and do happen.

    Really, this should not be controversial. In many areas, we already acknowledge that lies or even just “honest errors” can cause real harm. Our society is way too complex for any one person to be able to accurately assess issues of safety or truthfulness on complex issues. Thus we have the FDA, EPA, numerous financial regulations, etc. Why should something like politics be any different. Fair and honest elections are arguably the bedrock of our entire democracy.

    It is pretty clear that at least some of the “fake news” was intended to damage Hillary’s reputation and cause her to lose the election. As a society, we need to find a way to prevent or at least deter this anti-democratic activity.

    Like it or not, the only peaceable way we have to do this is with the use of the justice system. Everyone should be free to say anything they want, including blatant falsehoods — BUT, they must be prepared to defend themselves against charges of slander or libel.

    You can call that a ‘chilling effect’ if you want to, but IMHO, blatantly false, coercive speech should be chilled. That is the entire point of the law in the first place — to deter illegal behavior.

    I’ve already acknowledged that often both sides are convinced that they are in the right. Which is why the justice system MUST be able to sort it all out. There is no other peaceable mechanism available. And our primary job as a functional democratic society is to make sure that the justice system is ABLE to sort it out correctly. That means electing and demanding knowledgeable and fair judges and juries, as well as electing honest politicians to oversee the entire process.

    Admittedly, we haven’t done a particularly good job of that to date, but that does not mean that the process itself is wrong. Even your example about AGW proves the exact opposite of what you think it does.

    Judging by Trump’s cabinet picks, there is a real possibility that his administration will attempt to take actions that are literally harmful to the US and the entire world. Short of revolution, the only possible course of action is to challenge him in the courts. The Supreme Court is appointed for life and supposedly immune from politics, so ideally, they will restore sanity to the world and constrain Trump’s actions.

    But even if they don’t, the principle still remains. And would be exactly the principle you would want to still be in place should the US survive long enough to eventually elect a government more respectful of truth and reality.

    As I’ve said repeatedly, there is no alternative. If you ignore the lies and fake news, the other side wins by default. Even worse, the longer we allow this casual disregard of the truth to continue, the easier it is for the other side to stack the courts with ideologues who DON’T respect scientific evidence or truth, and then the situation truly will be too late. And that is when WE will be the ones being sued for libel or slander.

    It may already be too late, but the longer we wait to push back, the harder it will be.

  192. ccbowerson 17 Dec 2016 at 12:10 am

    “You can call that a ‘chilling effect’ if you want to, but IMHO, blatantly false, coercive speech should be chilled. That is the entire point of the law in the first place — to deter illegal behavior.”

    The problem is that the point of a “chilling effect” is that it is not specific to the type of speech you are talking about, and will necessarily have broader unintended consequences. One example is that with the changes you imply, there will be, by definition, more opportunity for people with deep pockets and a desire to harm to use lawsuits to chill speech when possible.

    Someone like Trump mentioned above, will benefit from this despite being one of the worst offenders of disregarding the truth. This is because if you are not rich and you sue him, you have a good shot of losing even a case with merit (and if you win, it is likely a relatively small cost to him), yet if he sues you lose regardless of merit, because of $$.

  193. Steve Crosson 17 Dec 2016 at 9:50 am

    ccbowers,

    I share your concerns, and I tried to address them in some of my comments above. That is the reason that many states are proposing Anti-SLAPP laws to try to prevent abuse by people like Trump or anyone else with deeper pockets than the little guy. A few possible suggestions to mitigate that would be making sure that the loser pays ALL expenses on both sides, and also making it easier (or potentially more lucrative) for “deep pocket” law firms to take cases “on contingency” on behalf of the “little guy”.

    Any proposed adjustments will have to be monitored and ‘tweaked’ to make sure the pendulum doesn’t swing too far in one direction or the other. But, that is the entire purpose of a democratic government, i.e. to enable a smoothly functioning society and try to ensure fairness for all. Every democratic government has a process to make new laws and modify existing ones BECAUSE situations change and no one can foresee the future.

    As I see it, there is already an “unintended consequence” of completely unrestricted free speech. And it is undermining the very democracy that is supposed to guarantee it in the first place. Taken to extremes (and we seem perilously close already) it will be impossible to even have a democracy without a “well-informed citizenry”.

    Look, I KNOW this will be difficult. To paraphrase Churchill, it is the worst of all possible solutions — except for all the others. I just can’t see any other peaceful way to even partially control the flow of misinformation.

    And I’ve already agreed that the judiciary doesn’t have the most comforting track record when it comes to deciding cases if you’re hoping that the final decision is based on “reality”. But democracy is the game we are playing, and this is the hand we are stuck with. It is critical that liberals wake up and start paying attention to local and state races and their direct and indirect effects on the makeup of the judiciary. The reason that we have so many anti-science judges (and politicians in general) is because conservatives have done a much better job at “stacking the deck”.

    To repeat, this is a problem that won’t go away unless we try to address it somehow. I don’t see any other effective way, but I’m open to suggestions.

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