Dec 11 2015

Resorting to Violence

GMO_tracking_activistsA Mexican pro-GMO group called Alianza Protransgénicos (the pro-transgenics alliance) was sent two package bombs in the mail. One went off on opening, injuring four people, including the vice-president of the group.

In completely unrelated news, a sister of one of the teachers who was killed in the Sandy Hook massacre, Carlee Soto, has been receiving threats on Instagram, which include publication of her home address.

I know I am not going out on a limb, here, stating the blazingly obvious – such violence is cowardly and abhorrent and should never be a substitute for a compelling argument. I do want to muse about the phenomenon, however.

The anti-GMO attack is particularly interesting, as it reveals the level of emotion and ideological fanaticism that can be present in such groups. Sending bombs to a pro-GMO group is similar to bombing abortion clinics. In the latter case, extreme religious beliefs are the motivating factor, and killing for one’s religion is nothing new. Killing over a debate about farming and food one might assume is quite different.

I think that is the point, however. Many non-religious ideologies are just as fanatical and faith-based as religion. I know that many of my non-believing colleagues focus on religion as the enemy of reason, but this can miss the underlying reality – it is ideology that is the enemy of reason, and ideology can take many forms and does not have to be explicitly about religion.

The anti-GMO movement has, in my opinion, completely lost the scientific debate about the safety of genetically modified organisms. I have written about this many times before and won’t rehash it again. They have resorted to two strategies, making up their own bad science, and conspiracy theories. The conspiracy theories usually surround their favorite villain, Monsanto.

They have articles of faith as well, most notably an appeal to nature. Natural = good, unnatural (however you define that) = bad.

The core problem is that with many activists in the anti-GMO movement their cause is not a scientific debate, it is a fight of good vs evil. Once you frame a conflict in such stark terms, you have become a fanatic (there are real good vs evil struggles in this world, but this isn’t one of them). The pattern is repeated frequently:

One side of a debate, huddled in their echochamber, convinces themselves that they are absolutely correct (even when they have the science completely wrong). They cannot understand how a scientist, politician, journalist, or whoever could possibly disagree with them. They cannot even consider the possibility that they may be wrong (they are just far too deep down the rabbit hole), so the only logical conclusion they can come to is that anyone who disagrees with them is corrupt and lying.

They weave this assumption of corruption into a fantasy narrative, including corporate malfeasance, government corruption, and the convenient labeling of anyone who disagrees with them (including scientists) as a “shill.” Now they are no longer engaged in a debate over published science, they are engaged in a war against an evil alliance. They see themselves as the army of light, and more and more extreme actions become justifiable.

This justifies (in their mind) harassment of public scientists. They successfully harassed Kevin Folta out of the public arena (don’t worry, he’ll be back). They go after your work, your family, and your reputation. It justifies vandalizing scientific experiments.

And now, apparently, it is used to justify attempted murder and terrorism.

I won’t go into detail about the Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists except to say that for them it is a far shorter trip. They begin with the conspiracy. They are already off the reservation, just looking for a target.

I bring up this example, however, to make another point. One of the unintended consequences of social media is that it created the perfect venue for psychopaths and unhinged possibly dangerous individuals. One can lurk anonymously on social media, and harass others with near impunity.

I point this out partly to make the point that I am not arguing that everyone who is anti-GMO is a dangerous terrorist. I do think they are misinformed and perhaps massively misguided, as are anti-vaxxers, anti-fluoridationists, psychiatry deniers, and a host of other subcultures. I do feel that these movements lend themselves to fanatical ideology, and that this process is facilitated by social media.

Further, such movements are going to attract people who are not psychological healthy to begin with, or who are psychopaths and just see an opportunity for exploitation.

BTW – I am not using the term psychopath lightly. A recent study found that people who like trolling online also score very highly on features of psychopathy. This is just one study, but the results are interesting.

Conclusion

The lesson to take from all of this is yet another call for self-awareness. Beware the self-reinforcing behavior of falling into a pit of conspiracy theories, echochambers, absolute thinking, and assuming that those who disagree with your are evil or corrupt.

It seems to me that the echochamber phenomenon is a low energy state, and it takes deliberate work to stay above it. Skeptics can fall into it too, assuming those who disagree with them are gullible. That is why I frequently emphasize, when talking about critical thinking, that cognitive pitfalls are not a phenomenon of other people, they are a phenomenon of people – all people, including skeptics.

Skeptics, however, consciously try to be aware of cognitive biases and work against them. Part of that awareness is the realization that being skeptical does not make us immune to biases (believing it does is, perhaps, the ultimate bias). It just means we work hard against our biases, against the prevailing narratives that we find compelling, and constantly question ourselves.

These are things the fanatics don’t do. They are drowning in their own narrative, which is why they can get to a place where they think it is a good idea to send bombs in the mail to people who are guilty of disagreeing with them.

121 responses so far

121 thoughts on “Resorting to Violence”

  1. arnie says:

    Steven,

    I can’t recall any irrelevant posts since I have been reading your blog, but this one strikes me as standing especially tall in its multi-level relevance in terms of contemporary issues related to science, politics, religion, social media, psychology, etc. An excellent reminder and challenge to all of us who try hard, as aspiring critical-thinking skeptics, to not blindly succumb to these cognitive pitfalls to which everyone is prone, but which are so much easier to identify in others. Thanks!

  2. MikeB says:

    This article is fascinating, and the issue rivets my attention because I would have considered myself anti-GMO until about 8 years ago. I am now utterly supportive of GMOs–they are way cool, and what a privilege it is to be alive to witness these new developments in molecular biology.

    I was an employee at an organic farm, so I simply absorbed–unthinkingly–the “dogma” of the organic religion, not even realizing it was a sort of religion. “Organics” is, after all, a “certified” thing, certified by the USDA, in fact, so it just didn’t occur to me to look too hard into the claims.

    I can thank a skeptic–Bob Carroll at the Skeptics Dictionary–for ripping the fricking scales from my eyes.

    Because I was not myself a “certified” farmer, just an employee, and so only tangentially involved (it wasn’t my “identity”), I dropped the whole thing at once after a reading spree into such books as “The March of Unreason,” “Mendel In the Kitchen,” etc.

    Larger even than the anti-GMO wing, the whole “organics” ideology, I have come to realize, is a Total Load. Like a former smoker, I enjoy ripping them a new one whenever I get the chance.

    Thanks for the article.

  3. mumadadd says:

    “One can lurk anonymously on social media”

    Okay, I’ll stop!

  4. MikeB says:

    I know this is kind of tacky, but I wrote about my experiences and had the piece published as part of an ebook, of which Kevin Folta is part, to be found for free! here:

    https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/380524

  5. pdeboer says:

    Hey, just throwing this out there, but the article about the attack didn’t state that the responsible group was pro organic anti GMO. Maybe its angry organic farmers or something like that. I’d still bet it is a group opposed to GMO on a health basis with poor reason behind it.

  6. hardnose says:

    “Skeptics, however, consciously try to be aware of cognitive biases and work against them. Part of that awareness is the realization that being skeptical does not make us immune to biases (believing it does is, perhaps, the ultimate bias). It just means we work hard against our biases, against the prevailing narratives that we find compelling, and constantly question ourselves.”

    I agree, however most current “skeptics” have fallen into the trap of ideological materialism.

    Einstein, for example, was a real skeptic all his life, but he was never an atheist. That kind of true skepticism has been over-shadowed by scientism and the new atheism, unfortunately.

  7. mumadadd says:

    “BTW – I am not using the term psychopath lightly. A recent study found that people who like trolling online also score very highly on features of psychopathy.”

    🙂

  8. mumadadd says:

    Shamelessness is a psychopathic trait, right?

  9. NotAMarsupial says:

    Please don’t respond to Hardnose. I know it’s tempting, but the comments section is interesting when we don’t have a circular conversation with him. When he or Michael Egnor turn it into their own brand of nonsense then we just run into a Groundhog Day situation. It’d be nice to have some contrary opinions below the line sometimes, but these two just make the same claims ad nauseum.

  10. mumadadd says:

    Okay.

  11. RickK says:

    Newtown, CT, is 20 minutes away from me. The continued obsessive attacks on the parents and others involved in the Sandy Hook shootings are just horrendous. Unfortunately, the freedom our society provides leaves few protections against such harassment. And I agree – the behavior of the crazies in the Sandy Hook hoaxer world is very difficult to distinguish from psychopathy.

    There are the low-level idiots who just buy into conspiracy theories and believe the Sandy Hook hoax theories on principle. But then there is the “violent” fringe, who travel to CT to prowl around the town, accost townspeople, make threatening phone calls, and (recently) call in bomb threats to the schools. They seem to think the entire town of Newtown is filled with robots, like that town in that Simon Pegg movie “The World’s End”. And by dehumanizing the parents and townspeople, these obsessives feel justified in taking extreme action.

    It does feel like there’s a bit of a backlash building, even in popular media, against the conspiracy crazies. More and more crime victims and relatives of crime victims are coming forward with dramatic stories of harassment by conspiracy nuts. Who knows, we may see some easy-to-execute anti-stalking legislation in the near future if this becomes a real media focus.

    An interesting future topic could be the effectiveness of CT State’s decision to withhold details of the Sandy Hook crime scene. Has that decreased the suffering of the parents and community by keeping the images “off the shelves”, or has it fueled a different kind of suffering by energizing the conspiracy nuts?

  12. hardnose says:

    You can recognize ideological group think when people feel threatened and respond with insults to alternate ideas.

  13. mumadadd says:

    I don’t feel threatened — more like a bunch of us have been flogging a dead horse for a couple of years, realised it was a dead horse, and gave it a contemptuous kick as we walked off.

  14. NotAMarsupial says:

    I know I’m violating my own request here, but here goes:

    Hardnose, I’ll admit that referring to your repeated comments about “materialism” as a brand of nonsense was probably harsh (although I think referring to Egnor’s beliefs as such is actually generous). However, I think there comes a time when it’s best to just agree to disagree. It’s obvious at this point that you’re not winning us over with your same repeated comments and the other commenters aren’t going to win you over with their same repeated responses. At some point someone has to step away from the debate until there is a significant development in one party’s evidence.

  15. DanDanNoodles says:

    The hallmarks of a fanatic are well-known, including the tendency to resort to violence. What puzzles me is why fanaticism continues to exist in a time when the hallmarks of it are well-known, and when it is easier than ever to access contrary views.

    It’s one thing when ignorance is forced upon you by circumstances. But I simply cannot understand why people would deliberately choose to be ignorant. 100 years ago, it is easy to see why people could fall into such a trap, but today? Any even slightly aware individual should be able to see their behavior for what it is. Yet not only do people still go down this path, they actively seek to maintain it. No where is this clearer than in anti-vaxer circles, where anyone not completely towing the party line gets immediately and irrevocably banned from their forums.

    The only explanation that I can come up with is pure narcissism — they view themselves as better than everyone else, so they do not feel like they need to listen to anyone but themselves.

  16. Ivan Grozny says:

    Psychopathic fantasies about killing people who don’t share your environmentalist religion are rather common.Here is a video made by one of the these groups that thought it funny to show heads of children sceptical about global warming being blown up by a righteous teacher. The novelty introduced by the anti-GMO crusaders is that they now begin to fulfil the promises.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-Mw5_EBk0g

  17. lagaya1 says:

    On the GMO issue, Monsanto has played a genius move here in Hawaii. The state is starting to license medical marijuana producers, and Monsanto has applied to become one. Now if they produce a really superior brand, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t, there are a lot of people here who will change their view of Monsanto in a flash…well, as much of a flash as pot users are capable of. And this is exactly the crowd who hates, hates, hates Monsanto. They didn’t care about feeding a hungry world, but when it comes to pot, they want the best that money can buy!

  18. RickK says:

    DanDanNoodles – it’s not ignorance, it’s motivated reasoning. And now with the internet, people who want to take a particular (unpopular, unscientific, contrarian, or just plain crazy) position on an issue can find wealth of resources to support their motivated reasoning. An extreme population control, “wipe out all the humans” environmentalist can find several others that think like him, and an extreme business/population growth advocate who despises environmentalism can tap into people like himself, and can also tap into the statements of extreme environmentalists for excuses to support his own beliefs.

    Add to that the same emotional thrill-seeking that has turned the television medium into something so extreme and bloodthirsty, and the reasons to take irrational extreme positions just multiply.

    Fanaticism is an accessible, emotionally gratifying hobby guaranteed to place you into a socially-bonding group of like-minded fanatics.

    Why take up sports memorabilia collecting or amateur geology when you can spend your energy doing battle against the forces of evil by harassing parents of recently-murdered children or by filing FOIA requests against academic scientists.

  19. lagaya1 says:

    By the way, I think there are better choices than to say someone is “off the reservation”. We all know what you mean by it, and I think you’re way too smart to be a racist, but still it grates on some of us.

  20. mumadadd says:

    hn,

    I retract my previous implication that you’re a psychopath. It’s uncalled for. I get pissed off by statements like yours though, because I’ve put so much effort into understanding reality and what constitutes good epistemology, and it seems like most of the time you won’t engage in a proper discussion and actually show your work.

    “I agree, however most current “skeptics” have fallen into the trap of ideological materialism.

    Einstein, for example, was a real skeptic all his life, but he was never an atheist. That kind of true skepticism has been over-shadowed by scientism and the new atheism, unfortunately.”

    There is so much work you’d have to do to back up a statement like that. We’ve been through any single component of it over and over already, so I just took a backhanded dismissive swipe at it.

    Anyway, enough excuses. I’ll try to be either constructive or silent.

  21. BBBlue says:

    Steve,

    If the echochamber phenomenon is a low energy state, then I guess humans could be considered ideology-seeking animals. As societies become more secular, do you think there is a relationship between people rejecting mainstream, organized religion and what seems to be an increased passion for non-theistic, anti-science ideologies? In other words, as one ideology fades are people adopting other ideologies to fulfill some inherent need or is all this passion over GMOs, vaccines, etc. more about the multiplying effect of the Internet echochamber?

  22. BBBlue says:

    NotAMarsupial,

    +1 “Please don’t respond to Hardnose. ”

    -1 “I know I’m violating my own request…”

  23. mumadadd says:

    BBBlue,

    In my own life (white middle-class UK), I almost never encounter religion or religious people, but I do keep finding facets of my friends’ beliefs that are, shall we say, “crunchy”, or “spiritual but not religious”. Based on Facebook posts alone, I’d guess at 50% have fallen for the “natural is good, unnatural is bad” or “science doesn’t know everything and therefore this shit I made up is valid” tropes. Not necessarily representative of the wider population though.

    I still consider religion to be the most dangerous type of ideology given its all-encompassing scope — there isn’t really anything you can exclude from the purview of the almighty creator of the universe.

  24. BillyJoe7 says:

    Einstein on god and religion:

    It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

  25. Johnny says:

    @hardnose

    “I agree, however most current “skeptics” have fallen into the trap of ideological materialism.”

    Not really. If evidence came that supernatural stuff are real, skeptics would change their minds.

    I don’t know exactly what kind of supernaturalism you are into, but I can tell you that it is perfectly conceivable that the supernatural was real.

    Imagine that we lived in a universe were literalist young-Earth Christianity was true. God exists, the Bible accurately describes science and history, and the world is roughly 6000 years old. In such a universe, archeological, historical and scientific findings would regularly confirm what the Bible tells. There would be evidence for a global flood. Our archeological knowledge of the ancient Near East would be in accordance with what the Bible tells about it. There would be no ancient fossiles of species living hundreds of millions of years ago. The only mass-extinction event would be Noah’s flood. Genetic findings would confirm that humans are descended from Adam and Eve, and later from Noah and his sons. And so on.

    This universe is perfectly conceiveable. It’s just not the universe we find ourselves in. We find ourselves in a universe that is billions of years old. We woke up on what turned out to be an ancient world were vast numbers of species before us have perished. And where there is no evidence for anything supernatural. Where we at the basics of it are just another species, another animal, related to all other species.

    “Einstein, for example, was a real skeptic all his life, but he was never an atheist. That kind of true skepticism has been over-shadowed by scientism and the new atheism, unfortunately.”

    Einstein was not religious in the traditional sense. The God Delusion has a good take on it in the early part of the book.

    (I really need to learn how formatting works when commenting on this blog.)

  26. David says:

    “Once you frame a conflict in such stark terms, you have become a fanatic (there are real good vs evil struggles in this world, but this isn’t one of them).”

    But isn’t the section in parenthesis in essence saying “but when I believe it’s a real good versus evil struggle it doesn’t make me a fanatic”? It seems reasonable to me for people to view many conflicts as struggles of good versus evil on some level (though hopefully not an absolute one), and hopefully rational thought makes us more likely to not get caught up in phony conflicts such as the GMO one.

    As an example I’m perfectly comfortable with internally framing the issue of Republican governors denying their states citizens the expansion of the ACA act as “evil”, when that translates to millions being denied healthcare coverage and thousands dying. Does that make me a fanatic? Or are the governors causing their citizens to die the fanatics?

    I guess the answer depends on your politics but I’m perfectly comfortable looking upon it as good versus evil without feeling like I’m a fanatic.

  27. Pete A says:

    Hardnose stated: You can recognize ideological group think when people feel threatened and respond with insults to alternate ideas.

    Yes indeed! You, and your alter ego Michael Egnor, are exemplars of ideological group think: persons who feel so threatened by science and empirical evidence that they frequently respond with insults.

    Here are some highly-relevant quotes (E&OE):
    Science is not committed to the nonexistence of God, as it would be if it were based on metaphysical naturalism. Science is committed to naturalistic explanations. Science does not count any explanation that appeals to God or to supernatural phenomena as a scientific explanation (thus it is committed to methodological naturalism). — Lynn Rudder Baker.

    Science reveals where religion conceals. Where religion purports to explain, it actually resorts to tautology. To assert that “God did it” is no more than an admission of ignorance dressed deceitfully as an explanation… — Peter Atkins.

    One of the most frightening things in the Western world, and in this country in particular, is the number of people who believe in things that are scientifically false. If someone tells me that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, in my opinion he should see a psychiatrist. — Francis Crick.

  28. RickK says:

    hardnose is not here to convince, to be convinced, to debate, to discuss or to argue. He tosses his posts in so he can disrupt Steve’s discussion threads – that’s all.

    Please don’t respond to him. The discussion is about resorting to violence and the extremism that Steve discusses in his post.

    As soon as the discussion turns to Einstein’s religion or yet another rehash of “materialism”, hardnose has achieved his own little personal climax and we all have lost. It is quite possible that hardnose is indeed just an Egnor sock puppet trying to trash Neurologica out of spite because nobody ever comments on Egnorance. Don’t give him the satisfaction.

  29. Pete A says:

    RickK, Dr Novella has his reasons for continuing to allow the apparent (but not actual) derailment by Egnor/hardnose. I have no wish to pry into his reasons; neither do I wish to pry into your reasons for your calls to halt it.

  30. mumadadd says:

    Good luck Johnny.

  31. michaelegnor says:

    Actually, the most serious domestic terrorism threat we face is eco-terrorism:

    (http://www.foxnews.com/story/2008/03/31/fbi-eco-terrorism-remains-no-1-domestic-terror-threat.html)

    The anti-GMO types are wrong, but they’re a pimple compared to eco-nuts, including the AGW crowd.

    And bringing the abortion clinic stuff into it is a cheap shot. One eco-nut (Unabomber) bombed more people than all abortion clinic attacks together, but his terrorism, and the frequent terrorism of greenie wackos never gets mentioned, and obviously it is never imputed to the environmentalist movement or the AGW movement.

    And a Planned Parenthood clinic is that rare locale where the presence of an active shooter actually reduces the death rate in the building.

  32. mumadadd says:

    lol.

  33. mumadadd says:

    “And a Planned Parenthood clinic is that rare locale where the presence of an active shooter actually reduces the death rate in the building.”

    Oof. So for the best, in terms of collateral damage?

  34. mumadadd says:

    I remember, some people are small and globular, some are large windbags who are prone to blogging.

  35. mumadadd says:

    Michael, if zygotes are people, just small and globular, what are gametes? Am I a genocidal maniac for flushing billions of them down the toilet?

  36. mumadadd says:

    Oops, I misspoke. Got my zygotes and gametes all flipped. Soz, Mickster. I’ll bet you thought I was the most effective abortionist ever.

  37. michaelegnor says:

    [Oof. So for the best, in terms of collateral damage?]

    Nope. All deliberate killing is an atrocity. I mourn the three people killed in Colorado, just as I mourn the babies who are killed in PP clinics.

    Killing isn’t that answer to abortion, or to unwanted children.

  38. mumadadd says:

    When does a person become a person? Be as precise as possible.

  39. michaelegnor says:

    Conception.

  40. mumadadd says:

    A person without a heart is still a person, right? Of course.. but a person without a brain?

  41. daedalus2u says:

    The most dangerous terrorism we face is still playing out in the delay of dealing with Anthropogenic Climate Change.

    That will likely displace at least hundreds of millions if not billions.

  42. mumadadd says:

    No brain, skin, heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, appendages, sex, personality, drives, wants, psychology, motivations, talents, curiosity, interests or motives?

    I see.

  43. mumadadd says:

    Still good people though.

  44. michaelegnor says:

    Human persons at one minute of gestation don’t have hearts or brains. At that age, persons are one-celled. There is no contradiction or factual inaccuracy in that.

    In fact, if a zygote did have a heart or brain it wouldn’t be a person, because at that age, persons don’t have hearts or brains. They have a nucleus, cytoplasm, ribosomes,…

    Not all persons look like you, muma. You didn’t have a heart or brain at the earliest stage of your life, either.

  45. mumadadd says:

    And surprisingly good company.

  46. michaelegnor says:

    [That will likely displace at least hundreds of millions if not billions.]

    AGW will displace trillions of people, but they will survive by eating the dead polar bears.

  47. mumadadd says:

    So a tadpole is a frog? A caterpillar is a butterfly?

  48. mumadadd says:

    Whatever something is at some stage in its development is equal to what it is at every stage in its development. Got it.

  49. mumadadd says:

    Or, whatever something is at the stage in its development when you pay attention to it is what was at every stage in its development before you paid attention to it. Yes?

  50. michaelegnor says:

    A tadpole is a member of the same species it will be as an adult. Of course its a frog. A young one. Same for a caterpillar-butterfly. It’s the same organism.

    Human life–all life that reproduces sexually– begins at conception and ends at death. Not a difficult concept.

  51. mumadadd says:

    No! Peoplez is special! They haz soulz! (i mean formz).

  52. michaelegnor says:

    Gibberish, muma.

    Human life has an obvious definition.

    The only question is whether it is ethically right to deliberately kill some human beings because they are unwanted by other human beings.

    I vote no.

  53. mumadadd says:

    Okay, I didn’t say a zygote wasn’t human life. Just that it isn’t a person. Being biologically human, but lacking all those things that make us into people (like a brain, for example), means you aren’t a person.

  54. mumadadd says:

    Do you support the death penalty?

  55. mumadadd says:

    Retracted.

  56. Pete A says:

    Q: When does a person become a person? Be as precise as possible.

    A: Conception.

    Citation required.

  57. michaelegnor says:

    muma:

    [Okay, I didn’t say a zygote wasn’t human life. Just that it isn’t a person.]

    You have the right perspective. There is no question that a human zygote is a human life.

    The question is what rights he/she should be accorded, which is what personhood is all about.

    Persons have different rights at different ages. Fetuses can’t drive. Elderly people aren’t entitled to free enrollment in kindergarten.

    Here’s my view: all human lives are persons, although specific rights vary with age, aptitude, etc.

    There is one right that every human being is entitled to, at every stage of life– the right to life.

  58. michaelegnor says:

    @Pete A:

    [Citation required.]

    I cite this:

    http://www.clipartbest.com/clipart-7caKz8yzi

    @muma:

    I oppose the death penalty.

  59. mumadadd says:

    If you had a patient who was braindead, and his/her family wanted to cut off the life-support, what would you say?

    What if (purely hypothetical) there was a major catastrophe in surgery and the patient’s brain fell out onto the floor, then the nurses trampled all over it. You could keep the patient “alive” artificially. What would you do? What’s the difference?

  60. mumadadd says:

    Shit the bed, you oppose the death penalty? Well I never.

  61. michaelegnor says:

    @muma:

    Brain dead is legally dead, and I have ended life support for hundreds of patients after brain death. There some ethical issues that have been raised, but I agree with the law, and the Church is ok with it as well.

    Regarding capital punishment, of course I oppose it, as all faithful Catholics should. The moral teaching is clear: it is never ethical to deliberately take human life unless the life taken is culpable and it is absolutely necessary to preserve the life of innocent persons.

    Convicted murderers can be incarcerated for life and society thereby protected, and killing them is morally wrong because it is unnecessary to protect innocents. If capital punishment were necessary to protect innocents, it would be moral.

    Killing children in the womb is always wrong.

  62. mumadadd says:

    “You have the right perspective. There is no question that a human zygote is a human life.”

    I see you introduced the word “a”. I meant that a human zygote is life, biologically , and would fall under the category of “human” biology. I do appreciate that these waters are muddy, and call into question the way we categorize things. I wanted to throw another example at you, like: you think a kangaroo embryo is a kangaroo life? But I can’t really go down that road, and will just have to reiterate that killing a person who has no brain is not killing a person.

  63. mumadadd says:

    What about a baby born with no brain? Would you let it die? What if you knew it had no brain before it was born? Half a brain? Half a brain and a 3 month life expectancy?

    Is this different to abortions of convenience?

  64. hammyrex says:

    Apologies for interrupting the abortion debate (how did that happen?), but I thought it worth mentioning this story parallels nicely with one Dr. Gorski did a little while ago about the violent (primarily gun-based) fantasies often advocated by the anti-vaccine movement. Some might find it interesting additional reading:

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2015/12/03/the-violent-rhetoric-of-the-antivaccine-movement/

  65. michaelegnor says:

    A baby with no brain is brain dead. I couldn’t let it die, because it is already dead. I would withdraw life support.

    This never happens, however. Babies are never born without brains. Anencephalic infants have brains–partially, usually the stem and a bit of diencephalon. They have little or no prosencephalon, but they have a brainstem.

    I have cared for many babies with this. I have no problem withholding medical care (surgery, medications, life support, etc) if that is what the family wants. I won’t withhold feeding and hydration.

    Withholding medical care for futility is not the same thing as deliberately taking action to kill the child, which is what abortion is.

    I’ve had anencephalic children live for several years, happily, with their families.

  66. michaelegnor says:

    On the issue of a brain dead patient being the same morally as a zygote who does not yet have a brain, I think that is a misunderstanding.

    A zygote without a brain is a normal healthy zygote. Each of us was one. In fact, if a zygote had a brain, it would be a freak and not healthy at all.

    A brain dead patient is dead. Very different from a healthy normal zygote.

    Having or lacking a brain is not the complete story of personhood.

  67. BillyJoe7 says:

    The first fifty comments have disappeared.

  68. mumadadd says:

    Sorry for derailing the discussion.

    BJ7, I noticed yesterday when viewing the thread on a mobile phone that clicking “load more comments” actually looped back to the first comments, but displayed them under the later comments as though they were new. Teething problems with the new version of WordPress, I imagine. On the plus side, I check the release notes and they have fixed the issue with not closing html tags causing the whole thread to display in italics.

  69. MikeB says:

    Anyone know why the rest of the comments have disappeared? There are not 67 listed here.

  70. mumadadd says:

    Database error…

  71. Fair Persuasion says:

    When do individuals or groups resort to violence against other independent living adults? They could feel threatened by President Obama’s stance on weapons, or Mexicans could believe their farms/jobs are at stake, or traditional farming livelihoods in the Philippines are at stake.
    Some of the violence is assisted by substance abuse because users feel that they have special power above the laws when under the influence.
    Some violent individuals thrive on violence toward any one being targeted by social disapproval.

    With regard to the horrible Sandy Hook murders, the family of victims would have to publicly join the avid gun enthusiasts to stop the harassment on social media. Political harassment is real and dangerous.

  72. hardnose says:

    They’re trying out the new psychopathic troll filter. Maybe the settings need some adjusting.

  73. mumadadd says:

    🙂

  74. ccbowers says:

    “They’re trying out the new psychopathic troll filter. Maybe the settings need some adjusting.”

    I think you’re right. I can read your comment just fine, so it is obviously not working.

  75. ccbowers says:

    I couldn’t resist that easy one just sitting there waiting. Just joking; I think.

  76. BillyJoe7 says:

    It’s impossibe to have a discussion on this blog while comments keep disappearing so I’m just dump some quotes here from stuff I’ve been reading:

    “Philosophy is a road of many paths leading from nowhere to nothing”

    “A philosopher is a man who goes into a coal bin on a dark night without a light looking for a black cat that isn’t there”

    “A theologian does the same, but always finds that cat that isn’t there”

  77. BillyJoe7 says:

    More:

    “Humans have an unfortunate habit of asking questions that have no answers. They then suppose that those kinds of questions are the most “profound” of all. They then proceed to invent answers that are comfortable and appealing. They then come to believe in those answers as “absolute truths”. Finally, they attempt to impose these invented “truths” on others”

  78. Pete A says:

    BJ7, Many thanks for your three-point spot on succinct summary, and for your insightful amplification.

  79. Lukas Xavier says:

    Having or lacking a brain is not the complete story of personhood.

    Why not? Can you give any verifiable example of personhood without a functional brain?

  80. Lukas Xavier says:

    I’ve had anencephalic children live for several years, happily, with their families.

    No. You’ve had families living happily for years with anencephalic children. Not the same thing.

  81. bachfiend says:

    Lukas,

    Good question. Lacking the first 50 or so comments, I feel as though I’ve come late to this conversation. I’m curious as to how Michael Egnor came to crawl out from underneath his rock to throw his word-play comments into the discussion.

  82. ccbowers says:

    “Philosophy is a road of many paths leading from nowhere to nothing…Humans have an unfortunate habit of asking questions that have no answers.”

    These come across as anti-intellectual quotes. What is this you are reading?

    I have come across the cat ones before, but in slightly different forms- as a joke I think.

  83. mumadadd says:

    Ha! The missing comments have just appeared…underneath the latest comments. View on a mobile device, scroll to bottom of comments, and hit “load more comments” and you will see the missing comments in order, fromage the beginning. Odd.

  84. mumadadd says:

    “fromage the beginning. Odd.”

    The button to change language on my phone is right next to the comma button, so I keep accidentally switching to French predictive text. That’s quite a good one though.

  85. michaelegnor says:

    @Lukas:

    [Can you give any verifiable example of personhood without a functional brain?]

    You, when you were very young.

    [You’ve had families living happily for years with anencephalic children. Not the same thing.]

    Anencephalic kids have neurological function similar to newborns. They are content, they cry, they wake and sleep, like all very small infants. Unfortunately they don’t develop beyond this.

    I think they live happily, and their families think so too.

    Why the passion to dehumanize the handicapped and the young?

  86. BillyJoe7 says:

    ccbowers,

    “These come across as anti-intellectual quotes. What is this you are reading?”

    From here: http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/

    Someone linked to a page from this blog recently, though I forget who, which thread, and which page.
    It’s not anti-intellectual. In referring to philosophy, the author (I assume) means philosophy not based in science. Otherwise he’d be wrong, right?
    The bit about theology is spot on though?
    And the questions without answers are of the variety “why is there a universe?”, “why are we here?”, and the comfy answers are “personal god” and “afterlife”.

  87. ccbowers says:

    “Otherwise he’d be wrong, right?”

    Without any context, his brush is far too broad. Taken at face value, he is wrong anyway you slice it. I suspect he has something more particular in mind, but denigrates a huge area of intellectual study as written. Perhaps in context it makes sense, or perhaps it is a joke to be taken in jest.

    As far as the cat joke. Below is a link that looks into more. Some versions of the joke are quite funny:

    “The definition of a metaphysician as ‘a blind man hunting in a completely dark cellar for a black cat that isn’t there.’ To this the metaphysician responded that the only difference between himself and the theologian is that under exactly the same conditions the latter always produces the cat.”

    http://quoteinvestigator.com/2015/02/19/philo-cat/

  88. bachfiend says:

    Michael,

    ‘Anencephalic kids have neurological function similar to that of newborns’.

    No they don’t. How did you ever become a neurosurgeon when your knowledge of developmental neurology is so poor.

    Why the passion to trivialise the abilities of the newborn?

  89. BillyJoe7 says:

    Good catch bachfiend.

    Here’s what NINDS (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke) says about anencephaly:

    http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/anencephaly/anencephaly.htm

    A baby born with anencephaly is usually blind, deaf, unconscious, and unable to feel pain. Although some individuals with anencephaly may be born with a rudimentary brain stem, the lack of a functioning cerebrum permanently rules out the possibility of ever gaining consciousness.

    And…

    The prognosis for babies born with anencephaly is extremely poor. If the infant is not stillborn, then he or she will usually die within a few hours or days after birth.

    Apparently only five anencephalic infants have ever survived more than a few days.
    Apparently Michael knew them all.
    Apparently he disagrees with NINDS because he thinks they are all happy little children.

  90. Lukas Xavier says:

    @michaelegnor

    [Can you give any verifiable example of personhood without a functional brain?]
    You, when you were very young.

    I had a perfectly functional brain when I was young. It hadn’t completely developed, but that’s not remotely the same as missing major parts, which is what anencephaly is.

    Anencephalic kids have neurological function similar to newborns. They are content, they cry, they wake and sleep, like all very small infants.

    The behavior you describe is entirely consistent with reflexes and no awareness (except for contentment, which is something you’re attributing to them, not a demonstrable fact). These behaviors do not in any way demonstrate awareness.

    This argument is the equivalent of running current through a frog’s leg and claiming that because it twitches, it’s still alive.

    Unfortunately they don’t develop beyond this.

    The fact that they don’t develop normally is central to the whole point. They can’t develop because the part that’s needed isn’t there. You can’t just pretend like that doesn’t matter. Or rather, you can, but that would be hideously dishonest.

    I think they live happily, and their families think so too.

    I’m not at all surprised that parents of such a child are desperate to believe that. I don’t think you’re doing them any favors by supporting this misconception.

  91. bachfiend says:

    Lukus,

    I think that when Egnor refers to you when you were very young he means the fertilised ovum, which in his delusion is implanted with a soul at the moment of conception thus becoming a human life, a person.

    I can understand why you didn’t realise that. To do so requires years of study of Egnoropathy in all it’s bizarre manifestations.

  92. bachfiend says:

    Lukas,

    Sorry for the misspelling – it’s rather late here.

  93. michaelegnor says:

    [A baby born with anencephaly is usually blind, deaf, unconscious, and unable to feel pain.]

    Blind in the sense that they don’t have calcarine cortex, yes. Ditto deaf, where they lack Heschl’s gyrus. Most have some thalamus and mesencephalic tectum, and thus vision and hearing may be present in a primitive form, like blindsight.

    [Although some individuals with anencephaly may be born with a rudimentary brain stem,]

    They have a brainstem, not a “rudimentary” brain stem.

    [the lack of a functioning cerebrum permanently rules out the possibility of ever gaining consciousness.]

    We don’t know exactly what it the prerequisite for consciousness. All consciousness in others is inferred by behavior, and people who lack cortex have profound disabilities that make behavior difficult to assess.
    There is no particular reason to assert that cortical function is necessary for consciousness. Arousal is mediated by the brainstem reticular formation. It’s a much more complex issue than just assuming cortex is necessary for conscious experience. The real world isn’t as neat as your simplistic presumptions.

    A more common condition than anencephaly in infants is hydranencephaly (they lack cerebral hemispheres due to intrauterine stroke), and those children (I’ve managed more of them than anencephaly) are clearly conscious–they smile, even interact with family and examiners in simple ways.

    [The prognosis for babies born with anencephaly is extremely poor. If the infant is not stillborn, then he or she will usually die within a few hours or days after birth.]

    If you don’t feed them, of course they die. People usually don’t feed them. If you feed them they can live quite a while. My longest was more than two years.

    bach:

    [No they don’t. How did you ever become a neurosurgeon when your knowledge of developmental neurology is so poor.]

    The only kids you’ve ever dealt with professionally were dead ones. Stick to pathology. I’ll stick to developmental neurology and neurosurgery, which I’ve been doing daily for 30 years.

  94. michaelegnor says:

    [and unable to feel pain.]

    Bullshit. Children with anencephaly and hydranencephaly feel pain intensely. They scream when they have blood drawn, etc. When they have surgery, they need anesthesia.

    If you perform surgery on one of these kids without anesthesia because you think “they don’t feel pain”, you should be criminally prosecuted for assaulting and torturing a child.

  95. Pete A says:

    I was indoctrinated to believe that a soul was implanted at the moment of conception. This raises more questions than it can possibly answer, such as: Did my pet dog have a soul; do plants have a soul; does a house brick have a soul? If not, why not? But the much more important question to ask is: How can we determine whether or not something has a soul? Religions disagree so theology is worse than useless; philosophy is obviously useless.

    Those who claim that lifeforms have a soul own the burden of proof for their claims. “You’ll find out after you die” isn’t an acceptable answer, it’s just an excuse to run business empires that have no end product.

  96. hardnose says:

    Pete A.,

    All those problems disappear for those of us who believe in biological organizing fields.

    Physical fields organize “matter,” it is only logical to think there might be fields that organize “matter” on higher levels — molecules, cell components, cells, organs, organisms.

  97. michaelegnor says:

    @ Pete A:

    Citation required.

  98. michaelegnor says:

    @Lukas Xavier:

    Your arguments denying the humanity of these handicapped kids was more convincing in the original German.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action_T4

  99. Pete A says:

    Hardnose, I agree that it is, or at the very least it seems to be, logical. But, we need to provide a testable hypothesis for this proposed field then actually test the hypothesis against its null hypothesis — otherwise the proposal is mere conjecture.

    We were having an interesting discussion about an informational model of the universe then had it obliterated by the WordPress update. Such is life!

  100. Pete A says:

    Michael, I cannot provide a citation that confirms the non-existence of: life after death; the Tooth Fairy; Santa; and the invisible dragon who lives in my garage. However, the lack of evidence of their non-existence is *not* evidence of their existence.

  101. ccbowers says:

    Yes. Godwin’s Law. A sign of productive discussions, and taking a charitable interpretation of another’s perspective, right Mr Egnor?

  102. Pete A says:

    I seems that the recent update to WordPress auto-deletes comments by default.

  103. Pete A says:

    I wish it would auto-correct my typos!

  104. Paulz says:

    The funny thing Pete, is that it claims that there’s 103 responses still – but I can’t see any of them!

  105. Hoss says:

    http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/resorting-to-violence/comment-page-1/#comment-104773

    http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/resorting-to-violence/comment-page-2/#comment-104773

    http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/resorting-to-violence/comment-page-3/#comment-104773

    Here’s a temporary work around to see all of the comments. They appear to be separated by page number. You can manually change the page number of the URL to go to the different comment pages.

    Hope this helps.

  106. BillyJoe7 says:

    Michael Egnor:

    You should send a corrective letter to NINDS
    And, while you’re at it, to the Cleveland Clinic as well:

    https://my.clevelandclinic.org/childrens-hospital/health-info/diseases-conditions/hic_Anencephaly

    An infant who is born with anencephaly has some or most of the brain missing. These infants are unconscious, cannot feel, and are usually blind and deaf.

    In many cases, some brain tissue may be exposed because parts of the skull are missing. Some infants may have a primitive brain stem at birth. They may seem to respond to sound or touch, but their reactions are involuntary and are caused by the action of the brain stem.

    Anencephaly is a fatal condition. Infants with anencephaly are stillborn in about 75% of cases. Newborns who survive die within several hours, days, or weeks.

  107. hardnose says:

    “I seems that the recent update to WordPress auto-deletes comments by default.”

    But why??

  108. hardnose says:

    “I agree that it is, or at the very least it seems to be, logical. But, we need to provide a testable hypothesis for this proposed field then actually test the hypothesis against its null hypothesis — otherwise the proposal is mere conjecture.”

    You’re right, but it’s probably a hard thing to test. And mainstream science doesn’t believe in it, so they won’t try to test it.

  109. michaelegnor says:

    [You should send a corrective letter to NINDS
    And, while you’re at it, to the Cleveland Clinic as well]

    Goes on my to-do lost…

  110. bachfiend says:

    Michael,

    You’re making unjustified assumptions again, and expanding the topic of discussion to include subjects no one was previously considering. How do you know that I have never professionally treated live children, just because I was a pathologist at some time. Australia isn’t like America. I did 3 years of clinical medicine before specialising including 6 months of paediatrics.

    The discussion was about anencephaly. You’ve conflated it with hydranencephaly, which is a completely different condition, of varying severity, with a persistent rind of cerebral tissue around a variably sized CSF filled space. There’s still cerebral tissue which can be preserved with surgery, by simply inserting a shunt. There’s still cerebral tissue to give consciousness and the ability to suffer. There’s no cerebral tissue in anencephaly. There’s no surgery which is going to return let alone maintain cerebral function.

    I’ve no doubt that you’ve operated many times on children with hydranencephaly. I doubt that you’ve ever operated on children with anencephaly, not without coming to the attention of a medical ethics board.

    Extending the well understood phenomenon of blindsight to children with anencephaly is unwarranted. You can’t claim that it indicates that they may be conscious. People with blindsight aren’t conscious of visual stimuli, because they’re lacking a functioning visual cortex, but they’re conscious of other sensory modalities because they’ve still got a considerable amount of cortical tissue. Anencephalics don’t have any cortical tissue, so using your argument of blindsight they can’t be conscious of any sensory imput. Unless you’ve got some mystical view of the world.

  111. bachfiend says:

    I have now been able to read the point at which Michael Egnor crawled out from beneath his rock and unleashed his inanities.

    They’re very amusing.

    ‘In fact, if a zygote did have a heart or brain it wouldn’t be a person, because at that age, persons don’t have hearts or brains. They have a nucleus, cytoplasm, ribosomes…’ Good to know I don’t have a nucleus, cytoplasm or ribosomes.

    ‘AGW will displace trillions of people, but they will survive by eating the dead polar bears’. Egnor does know the difference between trillions and billions?

    ‘Human life – all life that reproduces sexually – begins at conception and ends at death. Not a difficult concept’. At last something with which I agree. Human life does end at death. There’s no afterlife. Human life does start at conception – there’s a new unique combination of shuffled DNA from the two parents which will develop into a unique individual after the unpredictable events of development and environment. But I disagree that a fertilised ovum is legally a person with rights that trump that of the woman containing it.

  112. Pete A says:

    Michael has committed a fallacy of division by claiming that what exists for the whole (a human being in this case) must also be true of all or some of its parts (the parts that existed at the moment of conception).

    It is similar to claiming that the technical drawings of a house are the house itself. Without the unique DNA that is formed at conception, and without the technical drawings of the house, neither the person nor the house will exist. Even when the foundations of the house have been laid, it is still not a house.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallacy_of_division

  113. BillyJoe7 says:

    BJ: “You should send a corrective letter to NINDS
    And, while you’re at it, to the Cleveland Clinic as well”

    ME: “Goes on my to-do list…”

    Let us know when they have corrected their website. 😉

  114. bachfiend says:

    BillyJoe,

    I’d prefer to see their letter of reply laughing at Egnor. Although it’s obviously (Egnor’s idea – meaning it’s not particularly funny – of) a joke.

  115. elmer mccurdy says:

    There are some evil doctors out there.

    Evil.

  116. elmer mccurdy says:

    This is not in response to the post or the comments, which I haven’t read, by the way. Not interested.

  117. BillyJoe7 says:

    Li’l elmer has come out from behind his mom’s apron strings to grace us with another inane comment.

  118. bachfiend says:

    Well, Michael Egnor has gone quiet for a few days. He must be busy drafting his letters correcting the false impression that neonates with anencephaly can’t survive for years happy and contented. And that neurologically they’re similar to normal newborns.

    Who knows? Perhaps one day one will even become a neurosurgeon?

  119. bachfiend says:

    Or perhaps Michael Egnor is busy writing his idiotic articles on Evolution News? Nope – his last one was dated December 11, and he seems to be scraping the bottom of the barrel, with his question about how we perceive as existing a distant star which we ‘know’ no longer exists, because it has disintegrated as a supernova.

    Nope – supernova don’t disintegrate. They finish as neutron stars or black holes. They’re still detectable as a result of gravitational lensing.

  120. mumadadd says:

    PeteA,

    I have to ask, do you know something we don’t re ME and hn? I notice that they don’t tend to be active on the same thread at the same time. Maybe there is also some similarity in specific flaws in reasoning that connects them. This is pretty scant evidence upon which to confidently assert that hn is ME’s sock puppet though. What gives? What else have you noticed/do you know?

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