Posts Tagged ‘atheism’

Why are there so few high quality science communicators?

May 22, 2014

 

If civilization was a person, the scientific method, and the knowledge gained from it would not only constitute the brain and heart, but also all the major organs necessary to support life.  Or to put it another way, without the scientific method and the knowledge gained by it, civilization as we know it would cease to be, and we would be back to living in a very VERY bleak world.

Sadly societies in general seem to be happily, maybe even wilfully ignorant of just how much our civilization and quality of life depends on this method, and the knowledge gain by it. So why is this? Who, if anyone is to blame?

Well scientists have to take their share of the blame for this, in that if anyone can promote science, it’s them.  However speaking as a research scientist I KNOW why communicating science/ debunking pseudoscience (in science circles) is generally seen as a gamma rate objective, typically only pursued by betas.

The metrics by which scientists typically measure their success is by how much research money they bring in, and how much stuff they publish.  Nowhere in this equation is communicating science valued or rewarded.

-Communicating science takes time, which practically means the more time you spend communicating science, the less time there is to ‘succeed’ in the metrics used to determine success.

 

In many ways science has been corrupted by the access to data.  20 years ago, there were no easily accessible ‘metrics of success’ like the h-index and citations.  People didn’t/ couldn’t waste as much time worrying about it.  Now things like the h-index can be easily obtained with a few mouse clicks and are widely accepted and used for determining the success of an academic.  The game has slowly changed from ‘who can do the best research’ to ‘who can get the better h-factor’.  Now this is not to say the h-index has no value, in that it is correlated to the achievements of an academic but the correlations is not great and more importantly the index is relatively easy to game for personal advantage.

 

That’s really it in a nutshell.  Once you have defined a metric for success, it is expected that people will try to optimize how they score on that metric….. they will start to game the system.  This is the research equivalent of that often heard student question ‘will this be on the test’.  That’s the tipping point between where the student has gone from being there to actually learn, to being there to simply get the highest mark they can on the test.

 

Simply put, if ‘success as defined by h-index’ is what you are after, gaming the system is now the name of the game. Or put another way, if you are honestly doing the best science you can, you will not be able to compete in ‘success metrics’ with an equally talented scientist who’s playing the game of ‘winning in success metrics’.

 

If the system is set up such that scientists have no incentives for communicating science, then it is small wonder that there are so few high quality science communicators out there?

The Price of saying ‘Good-bye’

September 16, 2012

So I was listening to my ipod the other day, and bugger me a track comes on that I’ve not heard for a long time .  It was the track that I was playing on ‘the long drive’ across Wyoming.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I was probably on a day or so away from dying.

I’d arrived near Laramie in the summer of 2007 after driving some 2000 miles from upstate NY and I had an ‘upset stomach’.  I figured it was food poisoning or something and drove up into the Snowies, west of Laramie.  The evening and night was all alone in a car park, with a fever, and what I would call ‘low level hallucinations’, in that when I closed my eyes I would see vivid colors that would take the shape of familiar objects and do really surreal things.

The next day I really wasn’t feeling any better, and certainly not well enough to do anything, and so I limped Westwards.  By this time I was getting worried.  If it was food poisoning, it should be getting better by now, and if anything it was getting worse.  I picked up the interstate I80 and headed West.  It was late afternoon by the time I got to Rawlins, and I was weighing in the balance if I should head to a hospital.  In the end I decided I would head onto Rock Springs and if I was not getting better by then I would go looking for medical help.  That drive turned out to be particularly tormentful, with the pain getting progressively worse and in the failing light.  To make things worse, it turned out the GPS was out of date, and inside my head there was a wail of despair that went off as the GPS announced ‘now arriving at destination (hospital) on right’, when it was clear there was no hospital here.  Thankfully Rock Springs was a fairly small place and a little further up the road I found a Hospital sign.  It was only on getting out of the car I realized something was really really wrong.  All the time I had been in the car, all I had to do was essentially set the cruise control and keep the car on the road.  On getting out of the car, I found the movement so painful that I could barely walk.

The tormentful drive across wyoming. Incidentally, a couple of years later I returned along exactly these roads to fly my plane in the snowies. It was really a very traumatic experience as i had so many painful memories of this road. Had a similar experience when I broke my wrist coming off a pedal bike. About a year later I cycled up to the same junction and was again stunned at the power of the involuntary physiological response.

The fever made my stay in the waiting room a really quite surreal experience.  While they were checking my insurance details I sat very still, and very quietly in an almost transidental calm, like I was only watching my life.  The thing that really sticks with me from that waiting room were the parents opposite me, getting progressively more frantic as they went from credit card to credit card trying to get something that would pay for their childrens treatment. It was an unpleasantly disturbing sight seen through the eyes of one whose my mind wasnt quite right and who, by now was dealing with the unconformable realization that there was something very wrong with him.

When a doctor finally took a look at me, it took him minutes to come to the conclusions ‘appendicitis’.  They took blood, and at some did some form of imaging that required a tube to be shoved up my ass and significant amounts of dye to be injected.  I was assured this would be quite painful, although to be honest at this point I was in so much pain, and in such a dazed state that I just didn’t care. Not even a little!

All this confirmed what they had suspected all along, and that they would operate in the morning (less than 12 hrs after arriving).

Now I knew the risk of death in the operation was small, and the chances of death if they did not operate were all but certain, but nonetheless, when they came to put me out for the operation, that this might be the final curtain call.  Complications as unpredictable as they are, it turned out, my appendix was actually fairly far gone and gangrenous and as a consequence my appendix scar is longer than most!

So these were the memories that came flooding back when I heard this track, and then I remembered something else.

-I had chose not to contact my parents, and the uncomfortable things I had weighted in coming to that decision.

I knew that the chances of death were small but real, and in that case, all my parents would ever know of this is that their son had died of complications in Wyoming.

-So how could I not tell them I hear you ask?

Well, I also knew the operation was something I had no control over, and nor would they.  That is that if I told them I knew they would worry terribly, my mother especially as they could do nothing other than powerless wait on the other side of the world to hear if their son was going to live or die.

… and there, as I stood waiting for a bus, listening to my ipod, it suddenly dawned on me that this was the price of saying good-bye to your loved ones.

It also prompted me down the rather uncomfortable line of thought of what sort of risk of death would you need before the balance was tipped from ‘the probability is small, and the matter is out of everyones hands, so I will spare my parents the emotional grief’ to ‘the probability is high, and even though it’s out of everyones hands, I want to talk to my loved ones for maybe the last time.  What would be the tipping point? 10 %? 30 %? 90%?

I’m curious as to your thoughts on this.  What would you have done?

-You are on the other side of the world and with a risk of death, maybe big, maybe small.  Would you spare your loved ones the anguish? Or does the necessity for the closure of talking to your loved ones, maybe for the last time win out?

A+ (atheism plus), For A Third Glorious Age of Total Agreement

August 26, 2012

New Atheism” was built on the backs of heavyweights who had all written hard hitting best sellers. The social fabric was shaken by the approach of Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins and Dennet, appropriately dubbed no less than ‘the four horsemen’.

Now a series of bloggers, with conspicuously few achievements between all of them have decided that the community needs to be cleansed of subversive thought by expelling everyone who disagrees with them, and they are the ones to do it with a new movement called ‘Atheism Plus‘. The properties they most associate with folk like the horsemen are ‘old’ ‘white’ ‘male’ and ‘privileged’ (see below). Indeed a New Statesman article frequently quoted by the Freethoughtbloggers who started this, states quite clearly that:

“Atheism+ is a reaction against the “New Atheism” of Richard Dawkins”.

However they somehow manage to completely overlook the fact that the horsemen achieved their level of notoriety and recognition through ability and hard work, culminating in a series of best selling, ground shifting books: The God Delusion, God is NOT Great, Letter to a Christian Nation and Darwins Dangerous Idea to name but a FEW. The results of this can be seen when looking through the adword statistics where it actually turns out that Richard Dawkins alone is bigger than Atheism!

The Beatles may have been more popular than Jesus, but looks like Dawkins is now more popular than Atheism!

Dawkins, just so we are clear, has the prestigious academic title of Fellow of the Royal Society. That might not mean much to many, but it’s one of the higher awards given out by the Royal Society to people who made ‘ a substantial contribution to the improvement of natural knowledge, including mathematics, engineering science and medical science”.
Seriously is there anything in the entirety of the ‘Atheism Plus’ movement that can even approach this level of accomplishment?

So the founders of ‘Atheism plus’ have decided that, despite their lack of any real achievement, that the real thing atheism needs right now is to throw the likes of the horsemen under the bus and to form a splinter movement (click, its sooo appropriate).  That’s right the ‘Atheism plus’ will be gloriously free of older white men, irrespective of their actual contributions or achievements.

Jennifer McCreight, the founder of ‘Atheism Plus’ says what she thinks about old white men. Oddly enough ability and achievement don’t seem to factor into this equation at all!

So what are the founding principals of ‘Atheism plus’?

We are…
Atheists plus we care about social justice,
Atheists plus we support women’s rights,
Atheists plus we protest racism,
Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,
Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism.

So ‘Atheism Plus’ gets off to this incredibly bad start where of their guiding principals, 2-4 are subsets of 1. Why that is becomes obvious when you see what’s bottom of the list of the ‘Atheism Plus’ manifesto. Bottom of the heap, no. 5 of 5 is ‘the use of critical thinking’. Yup critical thinking is bottom of the pile for ‘Atheism Plus’. I find it even more amusing as I am an atheist because of critical thinking (1. methodology, then 2. conclusion, y’know the logical way of doing it), whereas they start with the assertion that they are ‘Atheists Plus’, then later decide that critical thinking is a good thing. Conclusion before the methodology? very ass backwards!

Now enter the fray another Freethoughtblogger, held to be one of the more sane and rational FTBers (apparently), one ‘Richard Carrier’. Richard sets the standards high by asserting:

” And Greta Christina and others have taken up the banner: Atheism Plus: The New Wave of Atheism. I am fully on board. I will provide any intellectual artillery they need to expand this cause and make it successful.”

..and that would be all very fine and well if the rest of Carriers blog wasn’t so ridden with wildly over the top polarizing rhetoric of eradicating and purging dark evil impurities that threaten our purity of essence (as someone has noted, it sounds more like Mccarthyism and Ayn Rands hate child). Indeed, I can say without a hint of hyperbole or exaggeration that is more Third Reich like than ‘Third Wave of atheism’ like. Whats that? Godwins law I hear you say? Well judge for yourself! You really have see it to believe it…..here’s some highlights!

“Don’t assume that because someone else did that, that it’s covered and you can give it a miss. No, we need to show numbers. So speak out wherever you see these two sides at loggerheads, and voice your affiliation, so it’s clear how many of us there are, against them. And this very much is an us vs. them situation. The compassionate vs. the vile. You can’t sit on the fence on this one. In a free society, apathy is an endorsement of villainy.”

and

“Those who don’t, those who aren’t shamed by being exposed as liars or hypocrits, those who persist in being dishonest or inconsistent even when their dishonesty or inconsistency has been soundly proven, is not one of us, and is to be marginalized and kicked out, as not part of our movement, and not anyone we any longer wish to deal with.”

(yeah thats the way to win hearts and minds with your intellectual artillery!)

and

“I call everyone now to pick sides (not in comments here, but publicly, via Facebook or other social media): are you with us, or with them; are you now a part of the Atheism+ movement, or are you going to stick with Atheism Less? Then at least we’ll know who to work with. And who to avoid.”

and

Yes, it does. Atheism+ is our movement. We will not consider you a part of it, we will not work with you, we will not befriend you. We will heretofore denounce you as the irrational or immoral scum you are (if such you are). If you reject these values, then you are no longer one of us. And we will now say so, publicly and repeatedly. You are hereby disowned.

Yup, it’s real unashamedly divisive, brazenly polarizing totalitarian ‘you’re either with us or against us’ type stuff. But the really disturbing thing here is that if you do not entirely back ‘Atheism Plus’s dogmatically stated priorities, you are to be marginalized, excluded and attacked. To many of those who have escaped cults such as Scientology, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormonism this is the sort of viciously vindictive talk of retributional tactics that would likely give you flashbacks! It is this stated desire that people rather than ideas should be targeted that I find most disconcerting. OBEY OUR DOGMA OR BE DECRLARED A SUPRESSIVE PERSON! (you really should read this article, it is frighteningly similar to Carrier vision for ‘Atheism plus’).

But Carrier with his ‘intellectual artillery’ really doesn’t seemed to have thought this one through. So lets see, if American Atheists do not rename themselves ‘American Atheists Plus’, and identify themselves as ‘Atheists Plus’, Carrier will ‘know who to avoid’?
Well that’s an interesting proposition because it turns out that Richard Carrier and Greta Cristina are both scheduled to speak at the 2013 American Atheist convention in Houston.

Oh yes, it’s time for very red faces to take their list of world class achievements (/sarcasm) and ‘intellectual artillery’ and eat a very very VERY juicy slice of humble pie.

Given that American Atheists are NOT going to rename themselves as ‘American Atheist Plus’, or identify with this splinter group, this puts Richard Carrier and Greta Christian in a very difficult situation. Personally I think Carrier should write to David Silverman (a good guy!), the head of American Atheists in exactly the same terms he wrote to someone on his blog who said that they would remain, ‘just an atheist’

‘Atheism Plus’  should really stick with his guns here and tell these inferior ‘American Atheists’ what they think about them.

If they had any dignity or commitment to their ‘third glorious age’ of ‘Atheism Plus’, they would lead by example and write to David Silverman telling him that he, and his organization, is to be marginalized and excluded as there is no room for fence sitter in their new empire of pure ‘Atheism Plus’ and they will no longer be attending any conferences run by these mere inferior ‘atheists’. Indeed, personally I would encourage them to hold with their beliefs and splinter off with their pious, self-righteous, holier-than-thou ‘witch hunting’ sect.

But I’ll wager their commitment to ‘Atheism plus’, despite all their pompous rhetoric, is paper thin, and that we will not rid ourselves of these Mccarthyism type atheists so easily. I’ll wager the parasites will realize that without ‘New Atheism’, which let us not forget was born from the achievements of people with actual ability, y’know hard hitting heavyweights types, they cannot survive.  I expect that they will now start trying to weasel their way out of this by any and all means necessary as long as the conclusion is ‘no, it’s okay for ME to attend mere atheist conferences, its just everyone else who should shun and marginalize these mere inferior atheists’

I guess we will have our answer soon enough about Richard Carrier and Greta Christinas commitment to ‘Atheism Plus’ by whether they pull out of the American Atheist convention or not.

Skepchick: Embrace Victim-hood!

July 24, 2012

Westboro Baptist Church being allowed to perform the protests they do highlights exactly how much the US as a whole recognizes the importance of free speech.  Of course I don’t agree with WBC, but it nonetheless underscores the high regard that first world nations have for folks to have the freedom to express themselves. Y’know its one of those ‘I disagree with what you say, but will fight to the death for your right to say it‘ type things.

Now lets compare this attitude to that of Surly Amy (Amy Roth) over at Skepchick.  She was apparently reduced to tears simply because someone wore a Tshirt (see below).  Not only that, she seems to be working on the delusion that she has the privilege that the rest of the world owes it to her to make sure she is never offended.  In her own words:

“I think one of the most hurtful things I experienced while attending TAM was Harriet Hall’s Tshirt that she wore three days in a row. I told her through tears, in the speakers’ lounge, that it was dehumanizing and gender/color blind and very hurtful to me specifically as a person who does have to deal with harassment regularly.”

Yes this is exactly the T-shirt that Amy Roth describes as “dehumanizing”

If you are banging your head on the desk in disbelief at the moment I just want to remind you that this is a girl who blogs regularly on skepchick, and has been supported by freethoughtblogs.  She’s also the girl who makes those little ceramic pendants that many people wear (or maybe used to wear at conferences before Amy’s crying over a Tshirt antics).  Indeed the only way I think you might have a chance of explaining her self-centered position to Amy is though the concept of reciprocation.  How would she feel if I were to be in tears because of people wearing those little ceramic pendants at conferences, suggesting that they indicate people support her anti-freespeech position, and that merely wearing these pendants is ‘dehumanizing’ and ‘very hurtful to me’, with the clear expectation that everyone else should conform to behaviors that I do not find hurtful or offensive: anything less would just be hateful.

Yup, I’m pretty sure Amy would fairly quickly come around to the position that just because someone takes offense at a t-shirt (or similar), no how matter how hysterical the outburst, it really should have no impact on the way conferences are run.

Now it turns out Amy Roth has since issued a ‘clarification’.  It’s often said that a clarification is not made to make oneself clear, but to put oneself in the clear.  Regrettably that only works if you are honest and/or competent, rather than just the shamelessly self serving ‘Rebecca Watson’ type attempt to rewrite history.

So initially Amy writes:

July 17, 2012 at 11:32 am“I think one of the most hurtful things I experienced while attending TAM was Harriet Hall’s Tshirt that she wore three days in a row. I told her through tears, in the speakers’ lounge, that it was dehumanizing and gender/color blind and very hurtful to me specifically as a person who does have to deal with harassment regularly.”

Well that seems pretty clear to me as to what Amy thought the score was, and then one day later this becomes:

July 18, 2012 at 9:42 am  “So know that just a ‘silly tshirt’ did not reduce me to tears. Sadly, there was a lot more going on.”

Yup in just one day, a T-shirt goes from “dehumanizing”, “gender/color blind” and “very hurtful” to now just a “silly tshirt”.  Think someone is trying to shamelessly rewrite history there Amy!

But this is peanuts compared to the Skepchick dishonesty.  Initially Amy writes:

July 17, 2012 at 11:32 am “I said I was glad she felt safe and that I wouldn’t have sent 22 women to the event if I didn’t think it was safe for them either. So who was she talking to?”

Bravo Amy for saying how you think TAM is safe.  Great so what was all the ‘we want a policy and to lynch someone at TAM’ tantrum of FTB and skepchick all about?

Oh wait…. wait… Amy is about to retell the story….

July 18, 2012 at 9:42 am “I hope that Harriet will realize why it was so hurtful and why I was offended by both the front and the back. Some of us have been harassed at events and do not feel safe. The shirt was also hurtful to those in that context as well.”

Bravo Amy, Bravo (slow hand clap), so now we have two sequentially, mutually inconsistent accounts of ‘history’ from the same person, both given within about a day of each other.  One in which TAM is safe, and that’s why you have worked to send people there, and in the other versions of ‘Skepchick’ history, where you worked to send people to an environment that was not safe, indeed that you worked to send women to an environment populated by “gropers and PUAs and drunk fumblers“.  **SLOW HAND CLAP**

Amy concludes with this:

“I have a lot of respect for Harriet, I hope that at some point she will realize that she could have sent the message she wanted without using the name of the blog I write for in the wording and that it was unnecessary.”

and

“I will continue to try to be a better person and I will continue to try to help other people get involved and to set an example of kind, productive, proactive behavior in hopes that more people will follow my lead than the those who want to mock and belittle.”

The sheer double standards here is knee weakening!  Not two posts from one her blog entries on Skepchick, Rebecca Watson is saying that people (notably myself and Paula Kirby) who disagree with them on reason based arguments, actually all think they are a Totalitarian Nazis clique. (FACEPALM)

The last person I saw with such a relish for playing the professional victim was Dawahfilms.  Now Rebecca ‘Rape threat’ Waston just can’t resist the temptation to play the victim again.  I guess it’s like trying to teach an old dog new tricks 😦

Great Amy, so on one hand you are reduced to tears because someone uses the name of the site you blog for, and on the other you have no problem with that same blog suggesting that someones reasoned argument is invalid because you (skepchick) claim they think you are nazis.  Wow a great double whammy there of professionally playing the victim and wholesale well poisoning.  That’s right, professional victim Rebecca ‘rape threat’ Watson leading the Skepchicks effort to ‘set an example of kind, productive, proactive behavior in hopes that more people will follow my lead than the those who want to mock and belittle.’ by suggesting that those who disagree with her think they are Totalitarian Nazi.  Damn not seen anyone so zealously eager to embrace victim-hood since dawahfilms.

Thursday July 14th (Well paint me red and call me tickled pink!)

July 14, 2011

For the large part when I’m on the road I like to fly ‘under the radar’, keeping myself to myself.  Where travel’s involved, that mostly involves sleeping in the car: it’s just you just spend minimum downtime between getting to places that way.  You can find somewhere quiet before it’s fully dark, and be on the road in the grey dawn, well before sunrise.  Sure it’s SMALL, cramped and uncomfortable, I mean the car is so full of stuff that there is zero chance of putting the seats back or anything. But it also comes with some wonderful gems of moments that otherwise you just wouldn’t experience.  Really wholesome, beautiful moments, like putting your feet up with a near panoramic view of dusk moodily creeping over the San Juans in the Rockies,

Or waking up to the pregnant imminence of the oncoming sunrise on the high plains.

In that sense Vegas is somewhere I would normally drive through.  No one knows I came, no one knows I left.  However I put out a tweet earlier this week saying I was hoping to make it to TAM (still going to be a hard days drive though (~11 hrs)).  Wasn’t even sure what was going to happen when I got there.  So I got in touch with Ashley the other day, just to keep he up to speed that it was now likely that I would actually make it, only to be told that I was expected to the level where accommodation had been arranged!

That blew my little cotton socks off!  My plans had merely gotten as far as ‘get to Vegas!’, with everything after that falling into the ‘improvise and adapt’ category and it was just really nice to find out that someone had heard that I was incoming and was looking out for me.

HAPPY BUNNY!!!!

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