In Focus

This section of the site is where we get specific, examining particular examples of truth claims rooted in ideology rather than evidence, frivolously casual dismissals of science, truth and reason, and other forms of fashionable nonsense. Each section comprises an overview of the particular subject area, plus links to relevant external internet resources and recommendations for further reading.


Steve Fuller

Oct 31st, 2009 | By

Steve Fuller is a prolific sociologist of science, of the social constructionist school. He testified in the Kitzmiller trial in Dover, Pennsylvania in October 2005, as an expert witness for the defense. Amusingly enough, the judge cited his testimony in finding for the plaintiffs; his expert testimony turned out to be something of an own goal.

Professor Steven William Fuller testified that it is ID’s
project to change the ground rules of science to include the supernatural…This definition was described by many witnesses for both parties, notably including defense experts Minnich and Fuller, as “special creation” of
kinds of animals, an inherently religious and creationist concept…Moreover and as previously stated, there is
hardly better evidence of ID’s relationship with creationism

Read the rest



The Ryan Report

May 23rd, 2009 | By

In Dublin on May 20 2009 the Commission to Investigate Child Abuse released its report on abuse of children in industrial schools run by religious orders in Ireland. The period covered by the Investigation Committee Inquiry is from 1936 to the present, but “mostly from a period during which large scale institutionalisation was the norm, which was, in effect, the period between the Cussen Report (1936) and the Kennedy report (1970).”

As Patsy McGarry put it in the Irish Times, “The report, that runs to thousands of pages, outlined a harrowing account of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse inflicted on young people who attended schools and institutions from 1940 onwards.” Ireland and the rest of the world read … Read the rest



Women Under Theocracy

May 9th, 2007 | By

The lives of most women in the industrialized world have improved enormously over the past hundred years, and especially so, in social, cultural, political, and human rights terms, over the past forty. But in the rest of the world, a great many women lead lives of misery and sometimes of plain horror. They are often considered and treated as the property of men: as children they are seen as burdens, to be married off as soon as possible, and as adults they are sex tools, reproductive machines, and domestic labour. When things go wrong – when sexual rumours are floating around, when the crops fail, when a child falls ill – they are scapegoats to be punished, often ferociously. They … Read the rest



Cartoons

Mar 14th, 2006 | By

The cartoons of the prophet Mohammed were published in the Jyllands-Posten on September 30. On October 17th the Egyptian newspaper al-Fagr reprinted some of the cartoons (calling them a ‘continuing insult’). On October 20th ambassadors from ten majority-Muslim countries complained to the Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who said, ‘The government refuses to apologize because the government does not control the media or a newspaper outlet; that would be in violation of the freedom of speech.’

Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Aboul Gheit wrote to the Danish PM and the UN. In December the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, sent a letter to the Organisation of Islamic Conferences, which had complained about the cartoons. … Read the rest



Einstein’s Wife: Mileva Marić

Mar 8th, 2006 | By

In the more innocent world of the 1950s there used to be on BBC radio a comedy programme called (appropriately) “Does the team think?” in which the participants were called upon to answer such tricky questions as “Who composed Beethoven’s 5th symphony?” An up-to-date version of this line of question might take the form “Who produced Einstein’s theory of special relativity?” Only in this case some people take the view that this is an entirely pertinent question, and indeed go further and would ask who wrote Einstein’s celebrated papers of 1905 on Brownian motion, special relativity, and the photoelectric effect.

It is not the case, of course, that they are suggesting that Einstein had no hand in writing these papers, … Read the rest



Michael Ruse on Religion and Science

Sep 10th, 2005 | By

Michael Ruse has a new book out: The Evolution-Creation Struggle. He has written a number of articles and reviews and given a few interviews on related subjects in the past year or two.

There was for instance this review of Richard Dawkins’ A Devil’s Chaplain in December 2003. In it he took strong issue with Dawkins, despite, as he says, their friendship: ‘Richard Dawkins once called me a “creep.” He did so very publicly but meant no personal offense, and I took none: We were, and still are, friends.’ He disagreed (and disagrees still) with Dawkins’ criticism of religion, which he calls a ‘crusade of nonbelief’. It is his view (at least in some of his recent articles and … Read the rest



Enlightenment or Submission

Aug 30th, 2005 | By

Many people and groups have called (especially, for obvious reasons, recently) for the secularization of Islamic societies, for reform of Islam and Koranic laws, and for less attention and publicity for fundamentalist groups and putative ‘leaders’ and ‘representatives’ like the Muslim Council of Britain, and more for secular and rationalist groups and individuals.

Salman Rushdie for example:

However, this is the same [Iqbal] Sacranie who, in 1989, said that “Death is perhaps too easy” for the author of “The Satanic Verses.” Tony Blair’s decision to knight him and treat him as the acceptable face of “moderate,” “traditional” Islam is either a sign of his government’s penchant for religious appeasement or a demonstration of how limited Blair’s options really are…The

Read the rest



‘Victims of Jihad’ Conference

Aug 27th, 2005 | By

A one-day conference was held at the United Nations in Geneva on April 18 2005, titled ‘Victims of Jihad: Human Rights Abuse in the Name of Islam’. The conference occurred during the last week of the 61st session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. On April 12, the Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution condemning the ‘defamation’ of religion. The resolution, titled ‘Combating Defamation of Religions,’ expresses ‘deep concern that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism.’ The ‘Victims of Jihad’ conference cast doubt on the wording of that resolution, and the thought behind it.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Azam Kamguian, and Ibn Warraq all addressed the conference, and all kindly sent the … Read the rest



Animal Rights and Medical Research

Aug 24th, 2005 | By

Some UK animal rights campaigners take the movement to have won a great victory. More rational proponents of animal rights may well think the victory is decidedly Pyrrhic.

The Darley Oaks Farm in Newchurch, Staffordshire, which has been breeding guinea pigs for medical research for more than 30 years, has decided to stop because of a campaign of intimidation by ‘activists’. The owners of the farm and employees have received death threats, and the body of a relative was stolen from a churchyard in October 2004 and has never been found. Suppliers of the farm were also subject to intimidation, as the BBC reported:

Rod Harvey supplied fuel to the farm and endured four years of abuse from activists

Read the rest



A Law Against Incitement to Religious Hatred

Dec 8th, 2004 | By

Home Secretary David Blunkett wants to make incitement to religious hatred a crime. A good many people are queuing up to express doubts, as they did last July, when Blunkett was flogging the idea on ‘Today’ by saying that people would still be allowed to express opinions about religion – as long as they were sensible. Johann Hari said many good (even sensible) things then:

One of the unfortunate side-effects of multiculturalism is that it has made even the left reluctant to criticise religion. Any attack on other belief systems is seen as tantamount to racism – a trend that David Blunkett seeks to reinforce with his proposals to criminalise ‘incitement to religious hatred’. This is a false link: we

Read the rest



Nonsense Files

Jul 29th, 2004 | By

This one is self-explanatory. It’s where we store the irrationalist, social constructivist, postmodernist, ‘High Theoretical’ and other Nonsense that we find. Check it often, because there is always more.

External Resources



Freud

May 7th, 2004 | By

Fashionable Nonsense, as we have observed before, is a Hydra with many heads, a book with many chapters, a motel with many rooms, a folder with many files. There is, in short, no end to it. But in the great thronging crowd-scene that is Fashionable Nonsense, there is one exemplar that stands out like Abe Lincoln addressing the Munchkins. Freud and psychoanalysis are in a class by themselves for their ability to go on being taken seriously and at face value by otherwise rational intellectuals, in the teeth of all the evidence.

It’s not as if it’s a closely-guarded secret. Jeffrey Masson’s publication of the Freud-Fliess letters in 1985, for example, got a lot of attention and sparked much controversy … Read the rest



Hindutva on the Attack

Jan 8th, 2004 | By

Optimists like to think, and say, that religion and secularism can co-exist peacefully. That each has its own realm – its Nonoverlapping Magisterium, as Stephen Jay Gould so mistakenly called it – and there is no need for rivalry or conflict. That ‘science’ (which is never defined when such assertions are being made) can answer the questions in its realm, and religion can answer the questions in its. Of course, that raises the obvious question, can it really? Can religion really answer the questions that ‘science’ (i.e. rational inquiry) cannot? ‘Answer’ in what sense? In the sense of saying something? No doubt it can do that, but then so can anyone else. In the sense of saying something true? But … Read the rest



Hear the Noise

Dec 14th, 2003 | By

Vaccinations are one of the great success stories of modern medicine – so successful, perhaps, that people have become complacent about the diseases vaccines prevent. At least, the bizarre panic over the triple jab for measles, mumps and rubella, the MMR jab, would suggest as much. Add a chronic background suspicion of science and doctors and the medical ‘establishment,’ along with the standards of evidence, peer review, accountability, rationality, statistics and risk-assesment that are fundamental to the way all three function, and you have the recipe for a full-blown attack of the irrationals.

In 1998 Andrew Wakefield, a research scientist at the Royal Free Hospital in London, published a paper showing that he had found traces of the measles virus … Read the rest



Bad Writing

Oct 26th, 2003 | By

Ophelia Benson

It may seem like an exercise in administering corporal punishment to a deceased equine quadruped, to say harsh things about academic Bad Writing – but of course it’s not, for the cogent reason that the horse is not dead. Academic Bad Writing is indeed old news, and no secret. But it is also on-going: a thriving, flourishing, burgeoning industry with all too much product. The market is saturated, indeed the water is up over the second floor windows, but the rain keeps falling. The vampire keeps waking up every night to find fresh blood, so all we can do is keep pounding away on the stake through the heart.

Of course, one reason academic bad writing is evergreen … Read the rest



Academic Bill of Rights

Sep 19th, 2003 | By

The move by the Republican governor and legislature of Colorado to make something called the Academic Bill of Rights a part of state law raises a lot of interesting questions. At first glance it would seem to harmonize well with the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Compare our stated goals in ‘About B and W’ with item one of the Academic Bill of Rights.

Ours:

There are two motivations for setting up the web site. The first is the common one having to do with the thought that truth is important, and that to tell the truth about the world it is necessary to put aside whatever preconceptions (ideological, political, moral, etc.) one brings to the endeavour. The second has

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Science and Religion

Jul 17th, 2003 | By

There is an entrenched idea, even among many atheists, secularists, skeptics that arguments about religion – arguments between atheists and theists, science and religion, believers and non-believers – are futile, at best a waste of time and at worst offensive if not cruel. But the trouble is there seems to be no such idea on the other side. Believers and theists seem to have no hesitation or diffidence whatever about assuming their beliefs are both true and synonymous with virtue, and saying as much. This is a peculiar arrangement, any way you look at it. The side that has it right, that considers evidence and logic and probablities, is politely silent. The side that, if forced to choose between evidence … Read the rest



What is Elitism?

Jun 6th, 2003 | By

Fashionable Nonsense is a fabric of many threads, a sea fed by many rivers, a library with many volumes, a dog with many fleas. But there are also a few themes or core assumptions that play a role – that are ‘foundational’ – in most if not all of these many mansions: anti-essentialism, anti-realism, relativism, pretensions to transgression and rebellion and épater-ing; projects of unmasking, exposing, demystifying – every FNer a Toto pulling back the curtain that hides the Wizard; concern with hidden agendas and concealed power drives; and various kinds of make-believe anti-elitism.

The elitism question is a complicated matter, not least because of the widely-observed paradox that claims of anti-elitism emanate from academics who write a language of … Read the rest



Higher Education and its Discontents

May 14th, 2003 | By

Higher education is a site where a lot of disputes, tensions, disagreements, irreconcilable opposites and incompatible goals meet and clash. Proxy battles are fought there rather than in the marketplace or the courts or government because the stakes are so much lower, having comparatively little to do with profit, prison, laws, or bloodshed. So silly or perverse or evidence-free ideas get a stage to rehearse on, and sometimes drown out better ideas – and Fashionable Nonsense is born.

We have a hard time even deciding what education is for. Many people, probably most, think it’s purely vocational. People go to university because if they don’t they’ll have to do dreary boring difficult low-status jobs for no money all their lives. … Read the rest



Whose Bones?

Apr 12th, 2003 | By

Archaeology, Anthropology and other scientific, research-based, evidence-dependent fields of study sometimes come into conflict with indigenous peoples in the areas they examine. A particularly long-standing and deeply felt grievance has been the wholesale and non-consensual removal of indigenous artifacts and human remains, by mostly non-indigenous scientists, to museums and universities. Indignation at this state of affairs on the part of the people whose artifacts and relatives’ skeletons these are is entirely understandable, but it is possible that the situation has now been over-corrected.

Many scientists, historians, and researchers, while agreeing that some collections should never have existed in the first place, consider that others should not be returned now, because they are so old that direct tribal affiliation is impossible … Read the rest