Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.


Take her to the explaining room

Sep 23rd, 2014 11:32 am | By

Matt Lubchansky takes a look at dudely atheism.

Ma’am, have you read my book? We aren’t sexists, okay? Everyone else has read the book. It’s just chemistry.

They parody themselves.

 

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



One of these things is not like the other

Sep 23rd, 2014 10:56 am | By

Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland has yet another very long post chiding US bloggers for daring to criticize the important atheist Leaders. I skimmed it, because as I mentioned it’s very long, and also very wordy and repetitive. (He uses the phrase “mostly American” four times. He’s really obsessed with the audacity of us Yanks trying to talk about issues in Anglophone atheism.) I skimmed it, but one thing did stand out:

As an added nuance, in these ‘deep rifts’ within parts of mostly American atheist blogging and activism, some people on both perceived sides have targeted some women in a sexist way. Some people on one perceived side have criticised some women using derogatory terms associated with feminism or body parts. Some people on the other perceived side have criticised some women using derogatory terms such as gender traitor and chill girls.

No. That’s a very sly and very false equivalence. It’s not “both perceived sides.” The two are not remotely equivalent. Hardly anybody uses “gender traitor” and “chill girl.” That’s extremely rare; vanishingly rare. I’ve never used either one (except in the sense I’m “using” them here – to discuss their use as a red herring and false equivalence). They’re rare. Are “cunt” and “bitch” rare on the “other perceived side”?

It’s interesting that Nugent didn’t spell those out, but did spell out the ones he’s attributing to us, the ones that hardly ever appear, the ones that are so much milder. It’s interesting that he drew a tactful veil over the fact that people call us cunts and twats and bitches, while he drew no such veil over the mostly-mythic “gender traitor” and “chill girl.”

“Interesting” is perhaps not quite the right word.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Inviting men and boys to join the fight

Sep 22nd, 2014 6:19 pm | By

Emma Watson, who played Hermione in the Harry Potter movies, said some words at the UN on Saturday.

In her role as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, the British actress andHarry Potter star gave an impassioned speech at UN headquarters Saturday, inviting men and boys to join the fight to end gender inequality:

“I want men to take up this mantle,” Watson urged. “So their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too.”

Right? All that “man up” shit? “Grow a pair”? “Try harder, ladies.” Is that actually fun for boys? Being bullied for showing any feeling other than bravado? Being taught contempt for half the people on earth? It’s bad for both genders.

Then, hours after Watson told the UN it’s a woman’s right to make choices about her body, someone created a website threatening the actress by name.

Online perpetrators have created a website called Emma You Are Next with a countdown clock ticking down to something happening in about 4 days.

While the message doesn’t say what happens when time is up, it was posted on 4chan, the same image-sharing site that leaked nude celebrity photos on Saturday, and earlier this month.

The words “Never Forget, The Biggest To Come Thus Far” appear on the page below a picture of Watson apparently wiping away a tear.

Because how dare she?

Watson hasn’t addressed the threat publicly. But after the first batch of photos was leaked, the actress expressed her outrage on Twitter, writing: “Even worse than seeing women’s privacy violated on social media is reading the accompanying comments that show such a lack of empathy.”

Not only a lack of empathy: an actual enjoyment of tormenting people…especially female people.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



The impoverished struggling starving NFL

Sep 22nd, 2014 5:59 pm | By

Here’s a good idea – end the tax-exempt status of the National F0otball League.

Wait.

The WHAT??

Why the sam hill is the NFL tax-exempt in the first place?!

I have no idea, but it is. So I signed the petition saying let’s not do that any more.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



The creep list

Sep 22nd, 2014 12:31 pm | By

PZ has some new information from Alison Smith. It’s…not exculpatory of Michael Shermer, to put it mildly.

It wasn’t actually the next day that I left Shermer’s room. The entire amount of time that passed between me asking someone to come get me after leaving the party and me calling again to say please come get me I need help and don’t know where I am was around two hours. Some commenters seem to think that I had some kind of morning after regret or something, but in actual fact I was calling it rape immediately.

The other part is – me asking Shermer to be on that panel for the Sex workshop wasn’t a reaction based upon victimization (like, it wasn’t that I was pushing aside how I felt about him in order to accomplish something; and I wasn’t in denial).

It was incredibly calculated – because I knew for an absolute fact that his views on consent were different from the other panelists.

I had a rape crisis counselor on the panel as well, and I was hoping, as the moderator, to steer the conversation over to date rape. I wasn’t going to ‘Gotcha’ him or mention what happened or anything – I just honestly believed that he could stand to have that debate with someone, and maybe learn a thing or two. That’s why I was nice in the e-mail – I didn’t want him to put together what I was doing. I actually laughed when I saw that he was using that e-mail as evidence, because I so carefully crafted it to not sound like I was up to anything. It’s actually proof OF what happened – not against it – and for a brief, wild moment I found that funny.

You know, it’s a real shame that Shermer has never had that conversation. It’s a real shame that he’s never been told that the stuff he does is not ok. It’s a real shame that he decline the invitation to be on that panel.

And there’s a very interesting comment by skeptifem:

oh yeah, and just so people know, my husband dated alison before me. She told him shortly after it happened, and she called it rape from the start. She just didn’t make a huge deal out of it (who would want to? all that happens is you get treated even worse). When the accusations came out we both knew it was true, but didn’t know if it was alison or someone else. Other women involved with coordinating TAM let me know that shermer was on the creep list unofficially circulated by women as a means of self protection.

I don’t know how she can put up with the bullshit people say about this. I hope she makes it through okay. It sounds like she has a ton of evidence. I hope she sues him for sexual abuse.

The creep list. The one that Dawkins and Coyne and Nugent are so pissed off at us for making public. That creep list.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



In this video, you sexually violate a number of unsuspecting women

Sep 22nd, 2014 10:16 am | By

In another part of the forest entirely – a nasty guy who is nothing to do with atheism or secularism (how refreshing!) has made one sexist video too many, and received pushback from Laci Green in an open letter.

You may have noticed that your latest video “Fake Hand Ass Pinch Prank” has garnered considerable negative attention.  In this video, you sexually violate a number of unsuspecting women on the street, many of whom are visibly confused and upset at being touched by you without permission.  One woman even says “I don’t like that!” while you proceed to laugh and touch her more.  In “How to Make Out with Strangers”, made a year ago, you pressure women on camera to make out with you – again, many of whom are visibly uncool with it.  Confused and caught off guard, they painfully follow through with your requests, clearly uncomfortable.  In “How to Pick Up Girls with a Lasso”, you physically restrain women on the street with lassos – many of whom look alarmed to be restrained by a stranger.

Ugh. The guy is Sam Pepper. Apparently he’s quite popular.

People don’t like to be violated and they don’t like to see their friends and girlfriends be violated either (hence the group of men that tried to beat you up in the lasso video).  And yet, history suggests that perhaps you find this humorous.  It is very disturbing that we live in a world where the violation of women and girls’ bodies is not only funny, but profitable, and can garner considerable notoriety and views on YouTube.

We are deeply disturbed by this trend and would like to ask you, from one creator to another, to please stop.  Please stop violating women and making them uncomfortable on the street for views.  Please stop physically restraining them and pressuring them to be sexual when they are uncomfortable.  Please show some respect for women’s right to their own bodies.  While it may seem like harmless fun, a simple prank, or a “social experiment”, these videos encourage millions of young men and women to see this violation as a normal way to interact with women.  1 in 6 young women (real life ones, just like the ones in your video) are sexually assaulted, and sadly, videos like these will only further increase those numbers.

We realize that people make mistakes, and that sometimes it’s hard to see the ripple effect of one’s actions.  We really hope that you will take a step back and consider the power you have to be someone who makes the world a better place.  It’s not too late to make a change!  We invite you to join us in ending widespread bodily violation that takes place in so many forms all around in the world.

Thanks so much.

There are lots of signatories. I’m going to bold one of them, because I’m pleased to see her name there.

Laci GreenMeghan TonjesTyler OakleyTomSkaViHartALBRoss EverettMatt LiebermanMeg TurneyTom FlynnTyrannosaurus LexArielle ScarcellaDan at NerdCubedRachel WhitehurstHannah Witton, Jefferson Bethke, MusicalBethan, Kaleb Nation, Chris Thompson, Michael Buckley, Jared Oban, Liam Dryden, Sanne Vliegenthart, Bryarly Bishop, Nicola Foti, Chescaleigh,Grace Helbig, Wheezy Waiter, Morgan Paige, Nathan Z., MumboJumbo, Miles Jai,Adorian Deck, Alli Speed, Matthew Santoro, Jaclyn Glenn, Hank Green, Rosianna Rojas, Grayson, Taryn Southern, Carrie Hope Fletcher, Adam Hattan, Drew Monson, Josh Sundquist, Mamrie Hart, Strawburry17, Catie Wayne, Hannah Hart,Catrific, Connor Manning, Emily Graslie, Sarah Weichel, Jack Howard, Louise Sprinkleofglitter, Mr. Repzion, John Green, Rob Dyke, Dean Dobbs, Charlie McDonnell, Wil Wheaton, Mitch & Greg at AsapSCIENCE

[MORE COSIGNERS TO COME.  SHARE/REBLOG TO SIGN!]

By all means share or reblog to sign!

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Probably irritated by exaggerations

Sep 22nd, 2014 9:51 am | By

A comment on Annals of dismissive contempt by a first-time commenter calling himself Vincent:

Unless you waterboard them, you cannot “make” someone drink. So, one can never say “he made me drink” without being a hypocrite. That is what Dawkins was talking about, probably irritated by exaggerations like “plying a woman with alcohol”, “sexual predator” and “meat market”. Predators kill, market is where you buy stuff, meat is dead. The use of exaggerations to amplify emotional impact is a sure sign of lack of otherwise convincing arguments. I consider that people old enough to drink alcohol are mature enough to stop drinking before getting themselves into trouble. We live in a world full of dangers for drunks and getting hit on by Michael Shermer is certainly among the least of them. If I ever get so drunk as to wake up in a man’s bed with a dreadful lower-back pain with no memory of how I got there, I would, yes, consider myself partly responsible for what I got myself into. Especially if I let him serve me drinks till I drop while being certain he wants sex with me. Ending up raped cannot be an excuse for acting stupid. If you get home so drunk that you fall asleep with all doors and windows open, and your house gets broken in during the night, that would not be an excuse for the robber, but I’m pretty sure that your insurance company will consider you responsible and will not give you a penny for your sorrow. You can never say that someone “got you drunk”. That is the only thing Dawkins was saying. He is famous for holding hypocrisy in infinite contempt.

Part of that is true; part of it is not. There are two steps to it. There is the getting drunk, and there is the being raped.

Yes, adults are adults, and adults have to take responsibility for doing silly or reckless things. (Adults have to take much more responsibility for doing things that are reckless with respect to other people – getting drunk before driving a car or performing surgery, for instance.) Yes, it can be silly or reckless to get drunk. Yes, it’s very hard to force someone else to drink alcohol, at least in a public place. Yes, adults are better able to cope with manipulation or pressure than children are. All that is true.

But what is not true is that therefore adult women who get drunk are responsible for being raped.

No, it’s not a reasonable expectation that if you’re a woman and you drink too much alcohol at a bar or a party, then one of the men present will walk you to his room and rape you.

What is a reasonable expectation for what will happen if you’re a woman and you drink too much alcohol at a bar or a party? Lots of things – embarrassing behavior, quarrels, throwing up, loud singing, getting thrown out of the bar. But being raped? No, women should not have to factor that into their thinking about how absent-minded to be when counting the drinks.

If a woman drinks too much at a bar or a party and then gets in her car and drives away, she is doing a very bad thing, and that’s her responsibility (although in the nature of things other people present may share some responsibility if they don’t try to stop her).

But if a woman drinks too much at a bar or a party and then the guy next to her leads her off to his hotel room and rapes her – he is the one who has done a bad thing.

I know that’s a very complicated subtle nuanced difficult thought to have. I’m sorry about that. It’s just how life is.

 

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Big drums

Sep 22nd, 2014 8:59 am | By

A friend on Facebook alerted me to an item:

COME ONE, COME ALL TO A PROTEST ON SEPTEMBER 27, 2014 AT THE GATES OF ST. PAUL’S UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY OF WATERLOO, WATERLOO, ONTARIO, CANADA.. A FINAL ATTEMPT WAS MADE TODAY TO CHANGE THE MINDS OF THE UNIVERSITY PUNDITS. MOONSTONE REMAINS OUT OF THE POWWOW.

BELOW IS THE MEDIA RELEASE, THAT WENT OUT THIS EVENING.

On July 21, 2014, the Thunderbird Women’s Big Drum Group and their drum Moonstone, were invited to participate in a powwow hosted by St. Paul’s University College, University of Waterloo on September 27, 2014. The participation would take the form of sitting in the main arbour with the men’s big drum groups. The invitation was subsequently rescinded by the University, when at a secret meeting held on August 26, 2014, witnesses reported that if Coast Tsimshian Elder, Shannon Thunderbird, keeper of Moonstone came to the powwow she would be “forcibly removed or worse.” The threat was issued by Mark Lavallee, Chippewa Traveller’s Men’s Big Drum. Twenty-four hours earlier, when Elder Thunderbird requested to come to the meeting to speak for herself and her drum, she was ordered by a University administrator to stay away.

Three days prior to the secret meeting, Ms. Tamie Coleman, University of Waterloo Graduate Student, was called at her home and threatened, that if she attended the secret meeting, she would never walk again. This threat was issued by Franklin Van Woudenberg, Cedar River Men’s Big Drum. Subsequent to the meeting, another member of the Thunderbird Women’s Big Drum Group, Ms Pauline Moon was threatened with eviction from Aboriginal housing by the sister of Mark Lavallee. As a witness in attendance at the secret meeting, Ms Moon was also told, by Mark Lavelle, that, “If I was a Cree, I’d smash you in the face.” All of these threats have been reported to the Waterloo police.

After nearly three weeks of protests, via emails and letters from both Canada and the United States, Principal Graham Brown, St. Paul’s University College, and Dr. Diana Parry, Special Advisor to the President on Women’s issues and Gender Issues continue to sanction violence towards Aboriginal women by permitting the abusive men’s big drums to remain in the powwow, while banning an innocent women’s big drum group. Furthermore, the University is in Haudenosaunne territory, yet it was only unsanctioned Anishinaabe Elders who decided that Elder Thunderbird and Moonstone were unsuitable based on faulty information and teachings. Moreover, the so-called Elders who made the decision were not the University’s Elders of Record, they were not invited, nor were any Haudenosaunne Elders consulted.

Despite our efforts to right this grievous wrong, the Thunderbird Women’s Big Drum Group and all interested people, have no choice but to protest at the gates of St. Paul’s University College on September 27, 2014, 11AM (10AM for set up). It is my understanding that protesters will be coming from as far away as Ottawa.

Shannon Thunderbird, M.A. Coast Tsimshian First Nations Elder E: voice@shannonthunderbird.com URL: www.shannonthunderbird.com

More: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10204382651820919&set=a.1244548708375.2037808.1069099980&type=1&theater

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

**Even if your teachings don’t align with women at the big drum, you can support us in stopping violence against women. Violence is violence and it has to stop!**

#VAW #INM #IdlenNoMore

www.shannonthunderbird.com

www.shannonthunderbird.com

Tsimshian Artist, Singer, Motivational Speaker on Native Spiritualism, Culture and Social Issues, Storyteller.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Guest post: 12 kittens and 35 cows

Sep 22nd, 2014 8:31 am | By

Originally a comment by canonicalkoi on The arbiter of what feminists should or shouldn’t get upset about, with added video.

I wish someone could explain something to me. Nugent has 12 kittens and 35 cows over tone and language. He gets extremely prissy about language, about how it’s not right to demonize people over things that they haven’t been convicted of in a court of law. So, here’s where I’m confused:

On Nugent’s website, he has a list, a directory if you will, of atheist/secular songs. All well and good. One of those songs is by the extremely talented and personal favorite of mine, Tim Minchin. The Pope Song. C’mon, you know the one that starts out, “Fuck the motherfuckers…..” It seems a strange choice for Nugent to list since it’s chock full o’ outrage (rightfully so). It’s a good song, but let’s look at this. It deals with:

A. Calling the Pope to account for something he was never charged with in a court of law.
B. Equating him and anyone who supports him with a rapist.
C. Equates anyone who ever covered up for an abuser with a rapist.
D. Deals with assuming the stories of all child-abuse victims whether or proven in court or not, are facts.
E. Uses naughty language that could, in no way, be considered conciliatory.
F. Expresses extreme outrage.

So, apparently, if it’s dealing with the Pope and child-abuse, outrage, “naughty language”, assumptions of guilt, are all just fine. If, on the other hand, you have feminists discussing the sexual misconduct of someone in the atheist/secularist “Holy Trinity”, depending on the stories of far more than one woman, dealing with stories that describe a “hunting pattern” astonishingly alike in each description, or dealing with another of the “Holy Trinity” comparing rape with drunk driving and yet a third member saying that that danged estrogen-vibe is why we can’t wrap our lady-brains around logic, we’re to watch our tone and our language, our outrage is all just a fake and, since nothing’s been proven in a court of law, it shouldn’t be brought up in the first place.

I see. If someone could explain that strange dichotomy to me, I’d appreciate it. And Mr. Nugent? You might want to give another listen to The Pope Song. This verse might get it across, especially if you add the words, “or anyone else” to the end of the last line:

“And if you don’t like this swearing this motherfucker forced from me
And reckon it shows moral or intellectual paucity
Then fuck you motherfucker, this is language one employs
When one is a little bit cross about fuckers fucking boys” – Tim Minchin

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHRDfut2Vx0

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Everything they can to pin hateful labels

Sep 21st, 2014 6:00 pm | By

Another one, this time from Dan Arel: one Patheos blogger disagreeing with another Patheos blogger (Adam Lee, who dared to criticize Dawkins (and got called a liar by him as a reward).

Arel doesn’t use punctuation much so what he writes can be hard to follow. With that warning –

Much like Lee, I came to atheism on my own and Dawkins played a major role in my activism, but unlike Lee, I am not ditching Dawkins for simple disagreements.

Lee would most likely argue that these are not simple disagreements however as he seems to have joined the ranks of Ophelia Benson and PZ Myers in doing everything they can to pin hateful labels to Dawkins, instead of dissecting what he has said or simply realize that I cannot agree with everyone on every issue and that sometimes I will disagree with some of my favorite people.

I’m getting tired of this. It’s bullshit. I’m not “doing everything [I] can to pin hateful labels to Dawkins”; I’m taking issue – strongly – with the role Dawkins is playing in making hostility to women, and especially to feminist women, even more entrenched and pervasive among atheists than it already is. We have a right to do that. I’m tired of people treating it as blasphemy against The Heroes. It’s not blasphemy.

…now Dawkins is being criticized for standing up for Sam Harris who found himself in a bit of controversy surrounding a remark he made about atheism and critical thinking being more of a guy thing.

Harris’ remark carried some strong sexist implications, but before he even took to his blog to explain the comment, he was quickly labeled sexist and declared an enemy of women everywhere.

After his full explanation of his remarks, the same who accused him of being sexist continued to do so. Harris explanation did not do a whole lot to change what he said, but they did show, in my opinion that even if those remarks were sexist, and that Harris still needed to be corrected that he was not being sexist, he was just mistaken.

He was just mistaken, in a sexist way. Sure, he was just mistaken, and nothing terrible happened to him for being mistaken. I have a decent readership, but it’s bound to be a fraction of his; why is it so terrible that a blogger disputed his fatuous explanations for the sparseness of women at his talks?

Simply, simply yelling at someone claiming they are sexist is not the best way to influence someone’s way of thinking. Does anyone expect that Harris would just immediately say that he is wrong and everyone else must be right? Of course not. Yet this hostile name calling and finger pointing seemingly upset Dawkins who came to his friends defense, after all Harris and Dawkins are good friends I would assume that Dawkins does not find Harris to be sexist, and Dawkins took to Twitter to ask if bloggers could be faking outrage for clicks in which they get paid…

Yes he did, and that was a cheap and unworthy thing to ask. Blogging is not a way to get rich. I could make more money working at a Burger King a few hours a week; nobody blogs for the money. I write about what interests me, period. I did it for nine years without making any money at all, because I wanted to do it.

Dawkins is right, some bloggers do, does that mean that those like Benson or Myers did? No, and I do think Dawkins was wrong to insinuate they did without proper evidence.
After all, I am a blogger who is paid per click as well, so of course we pick stories people want to read, but it doesn’t mean we are faking our outrage over the topics.

No, we don’t. We really don’t. I don’t pick stories people want to read; I pick what interests me. By this time I know from experience that it will interest other people too, but that doesn’t change the fact that I do not choose stories based on trying to suss what other people will want to read.

Yet this is not sexism, Dawkins may be wrong about clickbating, but is that enough to justify disowning him? I wouldn’t think Lee would either, except other than the Dear Muslima letter Lee spends all his time focused on clickbaiting, except for a one line mention of Dawkins comment about drinking and rape, but Lee never expands on this, he just tells the reader Dawkins is wrong for mentioning clickbating and oh he said this about rape, but by taking no time to explain the context of the tweet, Lee only paints Dawkins in the negative light he is going for and continues to ask his friends why Dawkins is wrong about clickbaiting.

Okay…

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



The arbiter of what feminists should or shouldn’t get upset about

Sep 21st, 2014 5:12 pm | By

Michael Nugent has a terrible, patronizing, let-me-fix-this post chastising Adam Lee for his article quoting Dawkins’s recent forays into anti-feminism. I’m very tired of Michael’s self-appointed let-me-fix-this posturing, and I was going to ignore the post, but then I saw on Twitter that Adam had responded so I clicked on the link, which turned out to be to a comment – a very good comment – on Michael’s post.

You said that you were going to address the question of where my article was “inaccurate”, but the majority of your article is a complaint about various choices of wording I made, the thrust of which is that it’s unfair for me to use emotive language in support of the conclusions I advocate. I reject this.

Over the last few years, I’ve seen some outstanding activists driven off the internet or out of the atheist movement entirely by torrents of horrendous harassment and threats. It’s an ugly silencing tactic, and it’s still going on: Rebecca Watson tweeted that she blocked or reported twelve abusive accounts yesterday. Not last month or last week, but yesterday. I believe that clueless, dismissive, or hostile remarks by prominent male atheists reward this behavior and encourage it to continue. Am I angry about that? Hell, yes! My words were chosen quite carefully to reflect that conclusion.

And that’s one reason Michael’s rush to defend Dawkins and Harris from the terrible verbal violence of a few feminist bloggers is so annoying. Atheoworld is already very comfortable and accommodating to Dawkins and Harris; it’s already full of worshipful guys worshiping them and scorning feminists who criticize them; it’s already deferential and flattering and soothing to them. They don’t need Michael’s help, but he rushes to give it anyway, stepping on us to do it.

The paragraph then refers to comments about thought police, click-bait for profit and fake outrage, which are not issues about sexism or feminism.

That couldn’t be more wrong. These are absolutely issues about sexism and feminism.

In context, what Dawkins was saying is that feminism is a non-issue, that the only reason people write about it and attack him or other atheists for allegedly sexist statements is that they’re acting in bad faith to drum up attention for themselves, or because they’re “outrage junkies” who simply enjoy getting angry over nothing.

As opposed to thinking his dismissive tweets about rape and his fawning tweets about Christina Hoff Sommers are calculated to put us in our place and to work up more rage from the enraged Macho Atheist Faction, and thus harmful to us (and to a larger and better atheist movement).

This is the same kind of demeaning, minimizing rhetoric that’s always used against people who argue for social-justice-based conclusions. It’s used against atheists ad nauseam, for example: that we’re thought police and outrage junkies who want to stop teachers from leading students in prayer, even though that’s a harmless historical tradition that no one ever complained about before. It’s an attempt to deny legitimacy to any criticism of harmful practices that are in accord with conventional wisdom.

But when Richard wrote about outrage in The God Delusion, he was responding to things like the Vatican police, in the nineteenth century, kidnapping Jewish children who had been secretly baptised by Catholic nursemaids. By contrast, when some people have recently expressed ‘outrage’ against Richard, it has been mostly about tweets on Twitter.

Michael, I hope you realize what you’re doing here. Whether you intended it or not, you’re saying that you’ve taken it upon yourself to decide which issues are or aren’t worthy of our attention, and you want to be accepted as the arbiter of what feminists should or shouldn’t get upset about. Even leaving aside the moral implications of a man talking down to feminists in this way, do you think this is a strategy that’s likely to meet with any success at all?

Exactly. Why is Michael taking it upon himself to decide which issues are or aren’t worthy of our attention, and to try to be accepted as the arbiter of what feminists should or shouldn’t get upset about? He’s not the boss of us. Why is he trying to be that?

I’m by no means the first to criticize Dawkins; plenty of prominent feminists and atheists have been explaining for years how certain of his remarks are untrue, hurtful, or founded in ignorance about the viewpoint and experiences of women. I guarantee those women could tell you that whenever Dawkins says something nasty about them, they get a noticeable uptick in harassment. His worse followers treat it as permission. His joint statement with Ophelia Benson was a welcome attempt to mitigate that, but it was years late, and in any case, I think whatever good it did has been mitigated by his more recent reversion to type – lashing out nastily at feminists by calling them dishonest, witch hunters, thought police, etc. Are those comments also “phrased to generate prejudice in readers”? Will you write a follow-up chiding Dawkins for using such language?

It was my suggestion that he could mitigate the harassment he had himself helped to justify. That part was my suggestion; it was his suggestion that we should sign it jointly. That was a good moment – I thought there really might be some hope of improved relations all around. I did. But it was only two days later that he embarked on the “let’s grade rape according to severity” tweets…and it was all downhill from there.

I think Adam’s reply is eloquent, and I think Michael’s officiousness is infuriating.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Sleepwalking towards that feared world

Sep 21st, 2014 11:01 am | By

Adam Lee is taken aback at Richard Dawkins’s comment on Jerry Coyne’s blog post yesterday (the one about Adam’s Comment is Free article about Dawkins).

I saw that comment yesterday, and I saw that it was bad, but I didn’t have time to do it justice. Adam has done it justice; read his post. I want to say a thing or two about it myself.

Thank you, Jerry.

I long ago declared that I would not wish to go on living if I found myself in a world dominated by people who no longer care about what’s true and express open contempt for factual evidence. Either a 1984 world where the Party in power is the sole arbiter of what is “true” and enforces it with violence; or a world where truth is whatever society deems it to be, regardless of evidence, and where dissenters are ruthlessly punished by vitriolic abuse or ostracism rather than violence.

I fear we are sleepwalking towards that feared world, where people shun evidence and despise facts: a world where dogma is king, emotion is queen and evidence is exiled; and where dissent from orthodoxy is suppressed by verbal if not physical jackboots.

What’s this about a world dominated by people who no longer care about what’s true and express open contempt for factual evidence? Excuse me: we have been documenting the things Dawkins types for weeks (in some cases, months). Documenting them. How is that not caring about what’s true? How is it open contempt for factual evidence? How ironic: in complaining about people with a disregard for truth, he tells an untruth about people he dislikes.

Ok wait a second, a partisan of the Dawkins-Coyne faction might say here. Hold on. Why have people been documenting the things Dawkins types? It’s just because you’re looking for fodder for click-bait, right? Right?

No. It’s because Dawkins matters. It’s because he’s not just some random atheist; he’s the most un-random atheist we’ve got. He is by far the most famous recognizable celebrity-like person in the Anglophone atheist movement. (Anglophone, please note. Michael Nugent keeps complaining that global atheism isn’t American atheism, as if we obnoxious Yanks had been pretending otherwise. No, of course it’s not. I’m talking about Anglophone atheism here.) Now an atheist celebrity isn’t a real celebrity by the usual standards; Dawkins isn’t a movie star or rock star or basketball star; but he is a celeb in this particular niche. He’s the celeb.

As such, he does a lot to set the tone of said atheist movement.

That tone sucks.

We – we naughty critics, we bad people who keep documenting what Dawkins says on Twitter – we would like to have a better atheist movement with a less sucky tone. We would like to have an atheist movement that’s not sometimes absent-mindedly and sometimes determinedly contemptuous of women. We think it would help if Dawkins set a better tone.

Or at least I do. I think the others do too; I think that’s basically why any of us do this; but I haven’t polled them and I don’t know that they would word it this way.

But I’m pretty sure that’s the gist of it. The atheist movement is way too riddled with casual sexism, and Dawkins has done a lot to make it that way, and we would like him to stop doing that and do the opposite instead.

There. Now back to his staggeringly hyperbolic and self-pitying comment.

Either a 1984 world where the Party in power is the sole arbiter of what is “true” and enforces it with violence; or a world where truth is whatever society deems it to be, regardless of evidence, and where dissenters are ruthlessly punished by vitriolic abuse or ostracism rather than violence.

And he’s claiming that bloggers criticizing him, on the basis of things he has said and done, are or look like or are leading to a world where truth is whatever society deems it to be, regardless of evidence, and where dissenters are ruthlessly punished by vitriolic abuse or ostracism rather than violence? Really?

It’s so tempting to do a Dear Muslimo about that. So tempting.

I fear we are sleepwalking towards that feared world, where people shun evidence and despise facts: a world where dogma is king, emotion is queen and evidence is exiled; and where dissent from orthodoxy is suppressed by verbal if not physical jackboots.

Verbal jackboots: like, Richard Dawkins said the following clueless sexist thing on Twitter today.

Really?

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Help Vyckie Garrison

Sep 21st, 2014 8:43 am | By

Got any spare cash burning a hole in your pocket? You could do worse than helping Vyckie Garrison of No Longer Quivering keep her house. The appeal is here. A friend of hers writes:

I know I have a deep gratitude for the support she’s given freely to dozens of former QFers who’ve come to No Longer Quivering for help in escaping and recovering from spiritual abuse. She’s poured her life into the website and support group, as well as helping other Quiverfull walkaways to establish their own websites in order to increase awareness of the problem of spiritual abuse: The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network at NLO. In honor of Vyckie’s hard work helping others I have started a crowdfunding campaign as a project of NLQ to raise the money necessary to save Vyckie’s house. Vyckie has agreed to allow me to share this part of our FB chat conversation in order to let others know about her desperate situation.

I’m proud to say this courageous woman is my friend. She’s struggled to support herself and her family after leaving the Quiverfull movement. While Vyckie has been instrumental in helping others she now needs help to stay in her home with her children.  It’s why I’m asking you to help her, particularly if you’ve been helped by Vyckie and NLQ.

Please spread the word.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Isn’t it obvious?

Sep 20th, 2014 6:29 pm | By

Adam Lee thinks Dawkins needs better defenders.

This week, I published a column in the Guardian arguing that Richard Dawkins’ sexism is overshadowing his contributions to the atheist movement. It got, shall we say, a large reaction. But not all negative, I hasten to add! I was very pleased with the amount of praise and compliments it attracted – I heard from a lot of people who told me that I said exactly what they’ve been thinking (including this piece by Allegra Ringo in Vice, published the same day as mine).

Because believe it or not, Jerry & Russell & Michael & the rest of the gang, we are not the only ones who are noticing Dawkins’s Twitter freakouts, and he’s not actually doing a fabulous job of PR for atheism right now. You clearly want to think it’s all just an attempt to grab the throne for ourselves or some such damn fool thing, but it’s not. I, for instance, would like a much less sexist atheist movement. I have zero hope of getting it at this point, but that’s what I want.

Calling Adam a liar, for instance – not great PR.

@LvAryaSta But why do you believe that liar in the Guardian? Isn’t it obvious that what he says is false?

Obvious? No. Not obvious at all. Hidden.

Note, it’s not just that he disagrees with my criticism – he thinks I’m lying, as in deliberately setting out to deceive. This, unfortunately, is of a piece with Dawkins’ recent pattern of assuming bad faith on the part of any atheist who criticizes him (“clickbait for profit”), and acting as if this means the criticism itself doesn’t need to be answered. (“Isn’t it obvious?” After all this time, he can’t even comprehend why people might object to anything he says. I think this post on Underverse offers an excellent explanation of why that is.)

Since everything in my Guardian piece was based on public statements that Dawkins has made, if I’m lying or misrepresenting anything he’s said, it ought to be very easy to prove. Just cite a claim that I attributed to Dawkins, then point to the corresponding place in his public record to show that what he actually said was the opposite. For a rational community like us, that should be a simple task.

Has anyone done it yet? Not that I’ve seen. Just Coyne calling Adam pathetic.

The evening it went up, I heard from Miranda Celeste Hale, who I gather is a friend of Dawkins. She expressed surprise that the Guardian published my piece at all (shock, horror, an atheist Thought Leader is being criticized!), and repeatedly accused me of dishonesty. Was she able to substantiate that charge? Judge for yourself:

There follows a Storify, in which Adam keeps asking for examples, and Miranda keeps saying “you were dishonest!!” over and over. It’s pretty funny.

UPDATE: Another defender of Dawkins joins in: Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True. He’s none too pleased with my article, although, yet again, he declines to specify exactly what about it is false: “I won’t bother to dissect it in detail”. I posted a comment in reply.

Here’s how it starts:

Hiya Jerry,

Well, this is unexpected. I remember when we met up for dinner in Chicago in 2011 – I still appreciate the hospitality you showed me and my wife in giving us a guided tour of the U of Chicago campus. I guess I shouldn’t expect a callback if I return to Chicago any time soon?

You disagree pretty strongly with my article, that’s obvious. Fair enough. But you know what I noticed? You’re not the first critic who said I’m a terrible person for writing it, but who declined to say in any detail which parts of it are false (“I won’t bother to dissect it in detail”). Richard Dawkins himself accused me of lying, but wouldn’t or couldn’t say what specifically he thought the lie was.

Because it’s “obvious”…

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



He has never heard a sexist word pass their lips

Sep 20th, 2014 5:44 pm | By

As some of you have already seen, Jerry Coyne has written a blog post complaining that Adam Lee has had the unmitigated temerity to criticize Richard “Beyond Reproach” Dawkins. This is great, isn’t it? Constantly being told by Important Guy Atheists that other Important Guy Atheists must not be criticized by underlings? It’s like being a nun, or a corporal.

One of the most despicable attacks on Richard Dawkins in recent years (and that’s saying a lot!) has been posted at the Guardian; it’s by Adam Lee, atheist blogger who writes at “Daylight Atheism”. I won’t bother to dissect it in detail because reading it makes me ill. Dissing Richard is a regular thing at the Guardian these days, and there’s no shortage of unbelievers willing to answer the call. Lee’s piece is called “Richard Dawkins has lost it: ignorant sexism gives atheists a bad name.” Read it and weep. If you cheer, you shouldn’t be reading this website.

Blog, he means. It’s a blog. Why Evolution is True is a blog.

It’s one-sided, quoting only the anti-Dawkins Usual Suspects, and accuses not only Dawkins but Sam Harris of “ignorant sexism.” To do so, Lee relies on quotes that have been cherry-picked by people determined to bring down Richard and Sam.

Two men who have not a trace of “ignorant sexism” anywhere in their makeup. No sir! They are the most unsexist two men on the planet. All these quotes that people keep coming up with are…are…they’re forgeries, that’s what!

It’s time to end this relentless and obsessive hounding of Dawkins and Harris.

And go back to treating them as sacred and untouchable, like the Prophet! Right? Should we be adding pbuh to their names too?

And let me say this: I am friends with both Richard and Sam, have interacted with them a great deal, and have never heard a sexist word pass their lips.

Ahhhh well then. That’s definitive. The fact that I think a lot of things “Richard and Sam” have said are sexist is just because I have that overactive womany radar for sexism, which is obviously wrong. The people we want deciding what isn’t sexist are of course men who are friends with men who are said to have said sexist things. Only they know! And only they have sufficiently sluggish radar to do the job properly.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Sam Harris is one of its latest victims

Sep 20th, 2014 5:09 pm | By

A few days ago Andrew Sullivan put on his George Will hat and did a big harrumph about political correctness run mad. Apropos of what? Why, poor browbeaten (or should I say pussywhipped?) Sam Harris. I usually don’t expect to see Sullivan leaping to the defense of vocal atheists.

Writers are not just condemned any more for being wrong or dumb or rigid. They are condemned as sexist, racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, blah blah blah – almost as a reflex in trying to discredit their work. That’s particularly true when it comes to fascinating issues like race or gender or sexual orientation, where liberalism today seems to insist that there are absolutely no aggregate differences between genders, races, ethnicities, or sexual orientations, except those created by oppression and discrimination and bigotry. Anyone even daring to bring up these topics is subjected to intense pressure, profound disapproval and ostracism. This illiberal liberalism is not new, of course. But it’s still depressingly common.

Bullshit. There’s a difference between saying there are no aggregate differences at all, and saying it’s both lazy and destructive to point to such differences as the explanation for all forms of inequality. Oh and it’s a third thing, too – self-serving. “It’s just the difference between men and women, I don’t have to do anything, shut up and go away, but first bring me a beer.”

Sam Harris is one of its latest victims. There sure is plenty to disagree with Sam about – and we have had several such arguments and debates. But the idea that he is a sexist – and now forced to defend himself at length from the charge after a book-signing discussion – is really pathetic.

Why? Why is it pathetic? How is it pathetic? Sullivan doesn’t offer one word to substantiate the point; he just announces it.

Then he quotes what Harris said to Boorstein about Y women so dumm why his audiences skew male*.

This is impermissibly sexist because it assumes that there are some essential biological and psychological differences between men and women, and for a certain kind of leftist, this is an intolerable heresy. If that truth cannot be suppressed or rebutted in a free society, its adherents must be stigmatized as bigots. It’s a lazy form of non-argument – and may have been payback from Boorstein after Harris and she differed quite strongly on the power of fundamentalism in American culture.

But Boorstein’s premise – that because many more men than women seem to buy and read his books, there must be some sexism at work – is preposterous.

Cheap, lazy, and mindless. You know what’s much more likely to explain why there are fewer women than men at talks by Sam Harris? The fact that guys like Sam Harris, and Sam Harris himself, talk cheap lazy mindless bullshit like this. Before maundering about women’s womany natures, maybe pause to think about jeers and sneers like these. Ahhhhhhh! The light dawns. Women have better things to do than sit at Harris’s feet listening to him explain about women.

*Hyperbole crossed out in favor of more accurate summary in deference to a reasonable objection by Ron Lindsay.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



I don’t want to play this, then

Sep 20th, 2014 4:37 pm | By

Father. Daughter. Superhero board game. Open the box. No female characters.

“What girl can I be?” Cassie asked, digging through the game pieces.

“I don’t think there are any girls, sweetie,” I said, anger building in me. Cause really, DC & Wonder Forge? WTF? You know it’s 2014, right?

Cassie put down the game pieces. “I don’t want to play this, then.” She turned and moved to leave the room, and it broke my heart. In part for her, and in part because I love superheroes, and this should be something we can share.

He thought of a solution: make their own female characters. They did; problem solved.

Cassie loves it and wants play every chance she gets. And this is why I am so pissed about the whole “no girls” thing. In addition to illustrating how they remain creatively stuck in the 60′s, DC is leaving money on the table by continuing to make their merchandise exclusive to boys.

And they are exclusive. I know many would argue that a kid should be able to handle playing a character that’s not their own gender sometimes. I agree! But why should that mean only the girls have to suffer that?

It’s like this: boys are future men, and men (in the aggregate! I said in the aggregate, stop yelling at me!) just are more into heroics, while girls are future women, and women (siiiiiiiigh in the aggregate siiiiiiiiiigh) just are more into that estrogen vibe.

I think businesses tend to make decisions based on more monetary concerns. Maybe statistically it’s more likely to be four boys playing, and they want to cater to that. But if so, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you market only to boys, don’t be surprised boys are your only market. And don’t be surprised if the boys with sisters and female friends end up playing something else entirely.

When comics and game designers exclude or otherwise diminish the role of female characters, they are really telling girls they are not welcome. That sure, they canplay, but they can’t have full immersion. Full immersion is for boys only.

And fuck that.

I fixed this shitty game, but I shouldn’t have had to. We have a right to expect (and demand) that comics companies and the game designers they license to do better. Sure, it’s a free country and they have a right to make boys-only games if they want, but we don’t need to support it, or stay quiet about it.

Oh please, you’re just looking for ways to be offended.

Peter W Brett wrote the piece and the Mary Sue reposted it.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



We don’t have to go looking

Sep 20th, 2014 12:51 pm | By

Amanda Marcotte is amusing about Sam Harris and his tantrum about horrid people saying he said something sexist and wrong and silly.

Nah, he can’t be wrong. He’s Sam Harris! And so he’s going to drown us in words to show how mean we are to criticize him about his suggestion that being female makes us less critical and ugh, getting a headache now. Let’s just get into it. His response is titled, “I’m Not the Sexist Pig You’re Looking For“. Indeed, as his comments showed, we don’t have to go looking for sexist pigs, as they happen to fall right in our laps. I would like, in fact, for sexist pigs to quit falling in my lap, honestly.

Exactly. He accused me of going looking for it, but not at all – I happened to see it (on Facebook, because someone posted the link – that’s a thing that can happen), and when I saw it, I saw that it was bad, and I responded to it. That’s all. No need to go sniffing for truffles.

He starts with saying the “estrogen vibe” thing was a joke. Okay, but that doesn’t change the fact that he suggested being good at the “critical posture” is inherently male, something you’d think that he would have learned is completely false in the days after this quote. Then this:

And when I shifted to speaking about atheists as a group, I was referring to active atheists—that is, the sort of people who go to atheist conferences, read atheist books, watch atheists debate pastors on YouTube, or otherwise rally around atheism as a political identity. I was not talking about everyone on Earth who doesn’t believe in God.

Yep, a lot more male than female atheists are active about it. This should be considered evidence not that women are less critical—they are just as likely to come to the conclusion that there is no god as men—but that there’s….something….unappealing about organized atheism. Perhaps the swiftness [with] which women are treated like biologically inferior helpmeets might have something to do with it?

Or even a lot to do with it? I know I’m feeling very wary of organized atheism and organized atheists right now.

…the acerbic tone that offends him so greatly that he goes into italics-bonanza mode should suggest perhaps that he is not as masculine and tough and women are not as soft and receding as he thinks. On average, even. Also, the reason a lot of women hated Hitchens is Hitchens thought we were inferior by dint of biology. I find that offensive whether you say it gently or say it acerbically. It’s the content, not the tone. Or, as the calm, rational manly man Harris would write, it’s the content, not the tone.

Or sometimes it’s both.

I gotta go. The manly atheists have worn me out today.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Justice and mercy in Iran

Sep 20th, 2014 11:49 am | By

Let’s take a moment to be grateful for something. I’ll choose not being a blogger in Iran. I’m so glad I’m not a blogger in Iran. One guy who is a blogger in Iran has been sentenced to death for insulting the prophet. You’d think somebody who has been dead for 1400 years could put up with being insulted – I mean who gets upset if someone insults Alfred the Great or Boethius or Eirik the Red? But Iran is different that way.

According to an ‘informed source’,speaking to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Soheil Arabi, 30, had kept eight Facebook pages under different names and admitted to posting material insulting to the Prophet on these pages.

Mr Arabi, who was arrested along with his wife in November last year by agents from the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), is said to have written the “material without thinking and in poor psychological condition”.

Branch 75 of Tehran’s Criminal Court, under Judge Khorasani, found Mr Arabi guilty of insulting the Prophet, or “sabb al-nabi”, on 30 August.

Maybe the NFL should try that. Maybe it should try to make it a crime to insult a dead football coach.

But no – even the NFL wouldn’t think that would fly.

Article 262 of the Islamic Penal Code states insulting the Prophet carries a punishment of death, however, article 264 of the Penal Code says if a suspect claims to have said the insulting words in anger, in quoting someone, or by mistake, his death sentence will be converted to 74 lashes.

The anonymous source claims: “Unfortunately, despite this Article and the explanations provided, the judges issued the death sentence.

“They didn’t even take any notice of Soheil’s statements in court in which he repeated several times that he wrote the posts under poor [psychological] conditions, and that he is remorseful.”

A mere 74 lashes – for “insulting” a guy who’s been dead for centuries. Justice itself.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Guest post: A Statistical Analysis of a Sexual Assault Case

Sep 20th, 2014 10:47 am | By

Guest post by J H Hornbeck
(part 1: statistics for the people, and of the people)

I just can’t seem to escape sexual assault. For the last six months I’ve analyzed the Stollznow/Radford case, and more recently finished an examination of Carol Tavris’ talk at TAM2014, so that topic has never wandered far from my mind. I’ve bounced my thoughts off other people, sometimes finding support, other times running into confusion or rejection. It’s the latter case that most fascinates me, so I hope you don’t mind if I write my way through the confusion.

The most persistent objection I’ve received goes something like this: I cannot take population statistics and apply them to a specific person. That’s overgeneralizing, and I cannot possibly get to a firm conclusion by doing it.

It makes sense on some level. Human beings are wildly different and can be extremely unpredictable because of that. The field of psychology is scattered with the remains of attempts to bring order to the chaos. However, I’ve had to struggle greatly to reach even that poor level of intellectual empathy, as the argument runs contrary to our every moment of existence. This may be a classic example of talking to fish about water; our unrelenting leaps from the population to the individual seem rare and strange when consciously considered, because they almost never are conscious.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a familiar example.

P1. That object looks like a chair.

P2. Based on prior experience, objects that look like chairs can support my weight.

C1. Therefore, that object can support my weight.

Yep, the Problem of Induction is a classic example of applying the general to the specific. I may have sat on hundreds of chairs in my lifetime, without incident, but that does not prove the next chair I sit on will remain firm. I can even point to instances where a chair did collapse… and yet, if there’s any hesitation when I sit down, it’s because I’m worried about things stuck to the seat. The worry of the chair collapsing never enters my mind.

Once you’ve had the water pointed out to you, it appears everywhere. Indeed, you cannot do any action without jumping from population to specific.

P1. A brick could spontaneously fly at my head.

P2. Based on prior experience, no brick has ever spontaneously flown at my head.

C1. Therefore, no brick will spontaneously fly at my head.

P1. I’m typing symbols on a page.

P2. Based on prior experience, other people have been able to decode those symbols.

C1. Therefore, other people will decode those symbols.

P1. I want to raise my arm.

P2. Based on prior experience, triggering a specific set of nerve impulses will raise my arm.

C1. Therefore, I trigger those nerve impulses.

“Action” includes the acts of science, too.

P1. I take a measurement with a specific device and a specific calibration.

P2. Based on prior experience, measurements with that device and calibration were reliable.

C1. Therefore, this measurement will be reliable.

Philosophers may view the Problem of Induction as an infinitely-wide canyon, but it’s a millimetre crack in our day-to-day lives. Not all instances are legitimate, though. Here’s a subtle failure.

P1. This vaccine contains mercury.

P2. Based on prior experience, mercury is a toxic substance with strong neurological effects.

C1. Therefore, this vaccine is a toxic substance with strong neurological effects.

Sure, your past experience may have included horror stories of what happens after chronic exposure to high levels of mercury… but unbeknownst to you, it also included chronic exposure to very low levels of mercury compounds, of varying toxicity, which had no effect on you or anyone else. There’s a stealth premise here: the dose makes the poison. It’s not hard to come up with similarly flawed examples that are more subtle (“Therefore, I will not die today”) and less (“Therefore, all black people are dangerous thugs”).

Hmm, maybe this type of argument is unsound when applied to people? Let’s see:

P1. This is a living person.

P2. Based on prior experience, living persons have beating hearts.

C1. Therefore, this living person has a beating heart.

Was that a bit cheap? I’ll try again:

P1. This is a person living in Canada.

P2. Based on prior experience, people living in Canada speak English.

C1. Therefore, this person will speak English.

Now I’m skating onto thin ice. According to StatCan, only 85% of Canadians can speak English, so this is only correct most of the time. Let’s revise it a bit:

P1. This is a person living in Canada.

P2. Based on prior experience, about 85% of people living in Canada speak English.

C1. Therefore, there’s an 85% chance this person will speak English.

 

Much better. In fact, it’s much better than anything I’ve presented so far, as it quantifies and puts solid error bars around what it is arguing. The quantity was gathered by professionals in controlled conditions, an immense improvement over my ad-hoc, poorly-recorded personal experience.

Mind you, it wouldn’t take much effort to track down a remote village in Quebec where few people could talk to me, and the places where I hang out are well above 85% English-speaking. But notice that both are a sub-population of Canada, while the above talks only of Canada as a whole. It’s a solid argument over the domain it covers, but adding more details can change that.

Ready for the next step? It’s a bit scary.

P1. This is a man.

P2. Based on prior experience, between 6 and 62% of men have raped or attempted it.

C1. Therefore, the chance of that man having raped or attempted rape is between 6 and 62%.

Hopefully you can see this is nothing but probability theory at work. The error bars are pretty huge there, but as with the language stat we can add more details.

P1. This is a male student at a mid-sized, urban commuter university in the United States with a diverse student body.

P2. Based on prior experience, about 6% of such students have raped or attempted it.

C1. Therefore, the odds of that male student having raped or attempted rape is about 6%.

 

We can do much better, though, by continuing to pile on the evidence we have and watching how the probabilities shift around. Interestingly, we don’t even need to be that precise with our numbers; if there’s sufficient evidence, they’ll converge on some sort of answer. One flip of a coin tells you almost nothing about how fair the process is; a thousand flips taken together tells you quite a lot, and it isn’t pretty. Even if the numbers don’t come to a solid conclusion, that might still be OK; you wouldn’t do much if there was a 30% chance your ice cream cone started melting before you could lick it, but you would take immediate action if there was a 30% chance of a meteor hitting your house. Fuzzy answers can still justify action, if the consequences are harsh enough and outweigh the cost of getting it wrong.

So why not see what answers we can draw from a sexual assault case? One problem: discussing sexual assault is a great way to get sued, especially when the accused in question is rumoured to be unusually litigious.

So instead, let’s discuss birds

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)