The Shallows

Sep 4th, 2005 7:08 pm | By

And not only why is it deeper, but why is it considered a level of explanation? That’s a serious, literal question. I really don’t understand what it means – to talk of a deeper level of explanation based on unsupported assertions as opposed to a shallower level of explanation based on warranted assertions. How can explanations that float free of any rational epistemic requirements and checks and standards be deeper than those that are constrained by what we are able to figure out about the real world via tested methods? To put it more bluntly, how can explanations that are simply made up be deeper than those that are the result of careful inquiry and investigation? Is that what ‘deeper’ means? Made up? Fantasy based? Inventive?

How, in fact, can explanations of that kind explain at all? How can an explanation that is not tethered to evidence or investigation actually explain?

The whole idea seems to work the same way the idea of ‘alternative’ medicine works. What is alternative medicine alternative to? Medicine that works. Medicine that works, as doctors and medical researchers patiently (and impatiently) point out, is simply medicine. If it works, it works, and doctors will prescribe it. If it works, furthermore, it can be shown to work. If it works, it is possible to produce evidence that it works. Proper, replicable evidence. If it is not possible to produce such evidence, then what reason is there to think the medicine in question does work? So alternative medicine is simply a friendly name for medicine that, as far as has so far been shown, doesn’t work. It is also medicine that does not have to meet any standards or pass any tests – because that’s what non-alternative medicine does. Same with God and religion and deeper levels of ‘explanation.’ Deeper levels of explanation simply means explanation that doesn’t explain. Alternative explanation, one might call it. Homeopathic holistic alternative explanation, that doesn’t explain a damn thing, but simply tells a story. About as deep as the drop of sweat on a gnat’s eyebrow.



The Deeps

Sep 4th, 2005 6:38 pm | By

Let’s talk a little more about this idea of ‘a deeper level of explanation than the laws of physics’ that Paul Davies refers to.

…belief in God is largely a matter of taste, to be judged by its explanatory value rather than logical compulsion. Personally I feel more comfortable with a deeper level of explanation than the laws of physics. Whether the use of “God” for that deeper level is appropriate is, of course, a matter of debate.

What’s interesting about that is the question of what the word ‘deeper’ is gesturing at. Well, what is it? What makes this putative deeper level of explanation deeper? Deeper than the laws of physics, and possibly to be identified with ‘God’. So it’s something outside nature, necessarily, because otherwise it can’t be ‘deeper’ than the laws of physics, it would be on the same level. So therefore the usual tools and methods for inquiry into nature (stars, dirt, humans, nematodes, bacteria, psychology, fire, weather) are irrelevant, because we’re after something different, and deeper. So…we have to avoid the usual methods of inquiry then. We have to use different methods. What other methods are there? The ones that are not useful and are not legitimate in inquiry into nature. Ones that don’t consult evidence or logic, ones that don’t submit to testing and peer review, ones that don’t have to produce replicable findings and checkable sources and evidence.

Unless I’m missing something, and there’s some third option? Something that is on a ‘deeper level’ than the law of physics, yet still relies on evidence and logic and peer review, but a somehow different kind of evidence and logic and peer review from the kind that the laws of physics rely on? But…what would that be? Do tell me, if anyone knows. We could call it The Third Way.

But meanwhile I have to operate on the assumption that there are only two options. There is rational inquiry carried on in the usual way – in history, forensic investigation, detective work, daily life, as well as in science – and there is the other thing. So it is the other thing that provides a deeper level of explanation. How? By not having any constraints. By being free as air, free as the wind blows, free as Emma Goldman on her best day. By floating free of any requirement to back up its assertions and truth claims.

Okay, so what I want to know is, why is that level deeper? Why is it not, rather, incomparably more shallow? Why is it not a mere thin layer of spit compared to the deepest part of the ocean?



Barrel-scrapings

Sep 3rd, 2005 9:42 pm | By

I must say, I’ve been a little surprised at some of the reactions to my (fairly mild, I think) comments on New Orleans.

They reinforce what I said to a different reader last week: that I’m emphatically not a tragic realist, who thinks ‘the strong do what they want and the weak endure what they must.’ No. On the contrary – I think we have to fight and resist, argue and keep on arguing, not give up, not lie down, not surrender, and certainly not shrug and say ‘that’s just how it is’ and go about our selfish business. I’m a little shocked at the amount of ‘that’s just how it is’ I’ve received in the past couple of days, in censorious emails as well as in comments.

This for instance, from an academic: ‘Please focus on what can be done to help the poor people of New Orleans. Spare us the superior morality stuff.’ I replied, and was replied to in turn: ‘I doubt that many of us need reminding that inequality exists in the US. Indeed, it’s a fact of life everywhere on this planet.’

True, inequality is a fact of life everywhere on this planet. So – ? So there’s no point in talking about it? So it’s wicked to talk about it (because, the first message said, catastrophic events are exploited for ‘political gain’)? But that doesn’t follow, and it isn’t true. All sorts of things are a fact of life on this planet; some of them can and should be changed; it’s worth trying to change them. Why wouldn’t it be? How can the fact that inequality is a fact of life everywhere possibly mean (all by itself) that it’s necessary to rebuke people for mentioning it or condemning it?

For another instance, ‘As for the the rich living on high ground, in any culture that has ever existed part of the definition of being rich is to live on high ground.’ Actually that’s not true – in volcanic areas it’s the other way around. But that’s a side issue. The central one is the same as the first. Yes, the difference between rich and poor is an old one and a widespread one – so what? It doesn’t follow that there’s no reason to discuss it. It doesn’t follow for instance that there is no difference, or no difference that matters, between relatively small gaps between rich and poor, and enormous ones. It also doesn’t follow that there is no difference between having a small underclass and having an enormous one. These things are eminently discussable (and in fact there are quite a few perfectly respectable academics who do discuss them), so the cold scorn of my critics has surprised me.

The hell with tragic realism.



Gnashing of Teeth

Sep 2nd, 2005 7:07 pm | By

I have other stuff I wanted to mutter about, but it’s hard to think about anything else right now.

I watched a lot of cable news last night. Shattering stuff. ‘We need help, sir, we really do.’ ‘Look at these old people over here – look at this little baby.’ People in floods of tears, people mopping each other’s faces, people angry on behalf of those older, younger, weaker, frailer than themselves. People desperately needing water. (We all know what it’s like to be thirsty – imagine being that thirsty for four days! While watching people around you dying of dehydration – knowing if you don’t get water you’ll all die soon.) People who’ve lost everything they had, who went to the convention center as they were told, to be evacuated.

You should see the New York Times today. Huge headline the width of the page: Despair and Lawlessness Grip New Orleans as Thousands Remain Stranded in Squalor. Under that a huge photo nearly the width of the page, of a body floating in the floodwater. Not the usual NY Times, not the usual Nawlins, not the usual anything.

State officials have described the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as a national disgrace.

Much of the frustration has been directed at the national authority, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema). The head of the New Orleans emergency operations, Terry Ebbert, has questioned when reinforcements will actually reach the increasingly lawless city. “This is a national disgrace. Fema has been here three days, yet there is no command and control,” Mr Ebbert said. “We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can’t bail out the city of New Orleans.” One man, George Turner, who was still waiting to be evacuated, summed up much of the anger felt by the refugees. “Why is it that the most powerful country on the face of the Earth takes so long to help so many sick and so many elderly people?” he asked.

New Orleans’ mayor expressed some rage in a radio interview – there is an audio link to the interview on this page. He and the interviewer both lose it at the end.

The Times points out what should be obvious – that the unbelievable mess in New Orleans shows up the usually papered-over or shoved-aside inequality in the US.

The scenes of floating corpses, scavengers fighting for food and desperate throngs seeking any way out of New Orleans have been tragic enough. But for many African-American leaders, there is a growing outrage that many of those still stuck at the center of this tragedy were people who for generations had been pushed to the margins of society. The victims, they note, were largely black and poor, those who toiled in the background of the tourist havens, living in tumbledown neighborhoods that were long known to be vulnerable to disaster if the levees failed. Without so much as a car or bus fare to escape ahead of time, they found themselves left behind by a failure to plan for their rescue should the dreaded day ever arrive…In the days since neighborhoods and towns along the Gulf Coast were wiped out by the winds and water, there has been a growing sense that race and class are the unspoken markers of who got out and who got stuck.

NPR cited and talked to the author of what sounds like a highly relevant book, this morning – Unnatural Metropolis: Wresting New Orleans from Nature. He talked about the role of race and class in the city’s geography. Richer people live on the higher ground, the poor live on the low ground. If you have money, you’re safer, if you don’t, you’re not. If you have money, you can leave town, if you don’t, you can’t. And that’s that.



Water, Water, Water, Water – Hurry Up!

Sep 2nd, 2005 2:57 am | By

Why is it taking so long? There are relief supplies there, we’re told. Why can’t they get them to the convention center? I can see why it would be slow to take them to widely scattered areas – but they can’t even take them to the convention center?

Which has quite a few dead bodies in it now. Well – it will have a lot more in the morning. After four days with no water…

A reporter on ‘The World Tonight’ told us about an elderly man with diabetes who asked if he could buy some water from the reporter – and that there were a lot of requests like that. It’s just a nightmare.

Bush explained this morning that things were moving slowly because nobody foresaw that the levees would break. Really – then why was everyone foreseeing exactly that on Sunday? Isn’t that why the Mayor issued the mandatory evacuation order? Isn’t that why the possibility of a category 5 hurricane hitting New Orleans directly is one of the top items on the list of potential national disasters, along with terrorist strikes and earthquakes? Yes, as a matter of fact, it is. But Bush didn’t realize that. Now that’s what I call doing your homework, and your job.



Rushdie on Today

Sep 1st, 2005 7:55 pm | By

I’ve transcribed some of that chat with Salman Rushdie on ‘Today’ last Monday, because he said several excellent things, worth preserving.

First he was asked his opinion of Muslim ‘leaders’…

Well for a start I’m not sure how much of a ‘leader’ these people are – it’s interesting – sort of a moot point about how many people actually follow them. But I think the mistake is to see these people as being somehow the voice of moderation. Sacranie and his deputy Banglawala have been very very vociferously hard-line on a range of issues for a long long time, and I think the Panorama programme kind of exposed that.

Then he said he wasn’t very confident that people like Sacranie would change much:

I think what really needs to happen is that the very large majority of British people of Muslim origin who don’t want to be just defined in terms of their religion start speaking up and creating a genuine voice which represents the majority rather than these kind of minority figures claiming to be…claiming to be important.

Today: But how does that happen? It doesn’t just happen spontaneously does it.

Rushdie: No it doesn’t. I think it’s quite encouraging that there are beginning to be voices speaking up saying ‘We don’t accept these leaders’ – there needs to be an organization but I don’t see it happening, but, you know, that’s not for me to organize.

Today: You’ve also been quite critical of the Prime Minister for relying on people of that kind in the fight against terrorism.

Rushdie [earnestly]: Yeah, I think it’s a very bad mistake – I think if you look in the papers right now, you have a two thirds majority of the British people objecting to the introduction of faith-based schools and yet that’s an absolutely central plank of the government’s policy. If he thinks that more religion is going to solve the problem, then not only is he in my view wrong, but he’s also seriously out of step with the country.

Today: Change has to come from within the Islamic community.

Rushdie: Yeah I think that’s right, but the point I’m trying to make is that even to describe it as ‘the Islamic community’ is in a way to go down the road of communal politics. It’s important to see that for most people of Muslim belief or Muslim origin in this country, they have a range of political and social interests which have nothing to do with whether or not they’re religious, and it’s that ordinary political agenda which needs to emerge amd be concentrated on, rather than this kind of faith-based approach.



Haack v Ruse

Sep 1st, 2005 7:17 pm | By

Another passage from Haack’s book that is relevant to Ruse’s argument.

The commitment to naturalism is not merely the expression of a kind of scientific imperialism; for supernatural explanations are as alien to detective work and history or to our everyday explanations of spoiled food or delayed buses as they are to physics or biology. And the reason is not that supernatural explanations are alien to science; not that they appeal to the intentions of an agent; not that they rely on unobservable causes. The fundamental difficulty (familiar from the central mystery of Cartesian dualism, how mental substance could interact with physical substance) is rather that by appealing to the intentions of an agent which, being immaterial, cannot put its intentions into action by any physical means, they fail to explain at all.

Just so. Which is why it’s so irritating when religion-symps say, or jeer, that science can’t explain everything. Meaning religion can? Or meaning religion can explain the bits that science can’t? But religion can’t explain anything – not anything at all. Not really. It can pretend to, but it can’t actually do it. Answering ‘magic’ to every question really doesn’t explain anything whatever, does it. Well, answering ‘God’ for all questions that science can’t answer amounts to the same thing. If science can’t answer it, that means it’s the kind of question which can’t be answered by means of inquiry. Well – what else is there? Is there some other kind of epistemic endeavour that genuinely does find out things, but does it with completely different (yet still reliable, testable, coherent, logical, repeatable) methods? Some kind of science+++? Some kind of >science? No. No, what people mean when they say ‘science can’t explain everything’ is that there are some things that can only be explained by making up the explanations out of our own dear heads, without checking them against anything. And that isn’t an explanation. It’s a story, or an aphorism, or a pretty thought, but not an explanation.

It’s irritating in the same way when people say, as Michael Ruse did in a review of Dawkins’ A Devil’s Chaplain last year, that religion asks ultimate questions.

People like Dawkins, and the Creationists for that matter, make a mistake about the purposes of science and religion. Science tries to tell us about the physical world and how it works. Religion aims at giving a meaning to the world and to our place in it. Science asks immediate questions. Religion asks ultimate questions. There is no conflict here, except when people mistakenly think that questions from one domain demand answers from the other. Science and religion, evolution and Christianity, need not conflict, but only if each knows its place in human affairs – and stays within these boundaries.

I pitched a fit about this at the time – but that’s no reason not to pitch another. There is a conflict here – unless one is content to accept empty answers to questions, and ‘meaning’ based on the empty answers to those questions. It’s just way too easy to think we can be rational in one ‘domain’ and out in the ozone in the other ‘domain.’ Of course lots of people do that, but it doesn’t follow that philosophers ought to encourage the practice. It’s a dereliction of duty, if you ask me.



A Knife-edge

Sep 1st, 2005 6:16 pm | By

And here it is.

We take it for granted, you know, the comfortable safe manageable world we live in – those of us who do live in a world like that. That seems (to us) like the natural way of things, the normal state of affairs. In many parts of the world, normal life is more like the inside of the New Orleans Superdome, but we think normal life is less hot and crowded and smelly and unsafe and miserable than that. We think it’s normal to be able to get drinkable water and eatable food whenever we want them, to be able to take a shower and use a toilet whenever we need to, to have clean clothes, lights, a place to live. We forget how fragile, how precarious all that really is. It can be gone in a second. We’re used to that thought for China, Bangladesh, Niger – but we’re not used to it for ourselves. Or we haven’t been. But it wouldn’t take much. A global drought, for example, that ruined the wheat harvest in the US as well as everywhere else. Food shortages – higher prices – a war of all against all. Hobbes, meet Malthus.

It’s pretty unsettling to see how badly things are going in New Orleans. They (the officials) can’t even distribute drinking water, apparently – even though people die after three days without water, and it’s been more than three days now. Civilization is a very, very fragile thing. As is life.



Deeper Levels

Sep 1st, 2005 3:36 am | By

Susan Haack takes issue with Paul Davies in Defending Science – Within Reason.

In The Mind of God, Paul Davies, also a physicist, but a believer (and winner of the million-dollar Templeton prize ‘for progress in religion’) concludes that ‘belief in God is largely a matter of taste, to be judged by its explanatory value rather than logical compulsion. Personally I feel more comfortable with a deeper level of explanation than the laws of physics. Whether the use of “God” for that deeper level is appropriate is, of course, a matter of debate.’ This, from the idea that explanatoriness is just a matter of taste, through the play on ‘deeper,’ to the insouciance about the meaning of ‘God,’ sounds to me like – well, a million-dollar muddle.

Same here. That ‘deeper’ is rich. Why are made-up ‘explanations’ considered deeper, more profound, more admirable than the other kind? And then, explanation is strange too – common, but strange. What explanation? What explanation? Why do people find it explanatory to say ‘God’ to questions like ‘why is there something rather than nothing?’ or ‘why is there life?’ or ‘why is there Mind?’? Why is the word ‘God’ considered an explanation? Why doesn’t it sound like what it is – either a silly refusal to say ‘I don’t know’ or a dressed-up translation of ‘I don’t know’ or both. ‘God’ is not explanatory. If you say ‘who ate the last brownie?’ and the answer is ‘God’ do you feel as if your understanding has been increased?

Gotta go. The sun is about to set spectacularly over Puget Sound and I have to rush out to get the whole panorama (I can see it from here, but I like the sweeping view from The Wall). Who made the sun to set? God. Or not.



Telling the Truth About Polio

Sep 1st, 2005 1:40 am | By

More on the return of polio and why it has returned. Allen Esterson did some research and found this article at News-Medical.

Almost two years after radical Islamic preachers in Nigeria influenced parents against having their children vaccinated against polio for fear it was part of a U.S. plot against Muslims, a Nigerian strain of the virus that causes the crippling disease has occurred as far away as Indonesia. Many residents in Kano, northern Nigeria’s largest city still refuse to have their children vaccinated, not just against polio but against other childhood diseases such as measles. Mustafa Balarabe a 37-year-old father of four said his children wouldn’t be vaccinated, citing “the general Western plot against Muslims worldwide” as the reason. An imam in Kano, 50-year-old Ibrahim Abubakar, was unapologetic and said that the boycott of the polio vaccine in Kano was necessary to fulfil the religious injunction, which tells them to find out about a thing when they have doubts…

Good ‘religious’ injunction. Doubts of course are often highly useful and to the purpose – even without religious injunctions. There are certain email messages one may receive, for example, that one may seriously and correctly doubt contain any electronic information one wants to look at. Similarly, if a frenzied and not altogether clean stranger sitting next to me on the bus pulled a half-eaten sandwich out of a pocket and offered it to me, I wouldn’t say ‘thank you’ and eagerly wolf it down. I would have doubts. But – there are other factors, other variables. If I were on the verge of death from starvation, my doubts about that sandwich and its provenance might be outweighed by my urge to survive. So with polio vaccine. There is, for example, room for doubt about the existence of a ‘general Western plot against Muslims worldwide.’ There is also compelling motivation to avoid polio. Thus doubt about the vaccination was in competition with potential doubt about other matters, in this case; the imam seems not to have taken those other matters into account.

Fifteen other countries where polio had been eradicated have been re-infected from Nigeria since 2003, when northern Islamic leaders led a vaccine boycott, claiming the immunization campaigns were part of a U.S. plot to infect Muslims with AIDS or render them infertile. American officials have repeatedly said there is nothing to the allegations. Regional governors blocked U.N.-backed vaccination drives for several months, until they were satisfied in May 2004 by the purity of a vaccine, imported, ironically, from Indonesia. The preachers said supplies from a Muslim country could be trusted.

Really. The same way Iraq could be trusted not to attack Iran in 1980 for example? Where does this blithe trust in ‘Muslim’ countries (Indonesia does contain non-Muslims, after all) come from? Selective attention, apparently.

Since 2003, the paralysing, waterborne illness has spread from Nigeria to Sudan, where it has infected 149 people. Along with 10 other west and central African nations, it has also spread to Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia, but vaccination campaigns have averted major outbreaks in those countries. Nigeria poses the most serious risk, with its population of around 130 million, many of whom travel widely. The spread of the disease to Yemen last month was considered by WHO as “a major epidemic,” with 22 cases confirmed in a country that had previously been considered free of polio.

Well…those countries would seem to have some reason not to trust Muslim clerics giving advice on vaccinations, at any rate. Nice going, guys. Polio was nearly gone, and you’ve brought it back. Clever.

Allen also found this article in The Scientist.

The outbreak of the disease marks reappearance of wildtype polio in Indonesia for the first time since 1995. Molecular epidemiologists working for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have in the past few days clarified the likely route the virus took from Nigeria to Indonesia…Some press reports have suggested that Saudi Arabia or the Sudan might be the immediate source, Kew said, but “the genetic data suggest that most likely pathway was Nigeria to Chad to Sudan to Saudi Arabia to Indonesia.”…A recent CDC study demonstrated that at least 14 previously polio-free countries had importations of strains from the Nigeria-Niger endemic strains of 2003 and 2004. “Nigeria is a highly endemic country; it’s the heart of the poliovirus circulation in Africa,” said Christopher Maher, chief epidemiologist for the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) polio eradication group. Unfounded rumors the inoculation was made unsafe as part of a Western plot to make Muslim children infertile caused several northern Nigerian provinces to stop vaccination campaigns in 2003. The suspension, lasting 12 months in some areas, seeded polio outbreaks across central Africa countries.

What a depressing mess.



Dodgy Ruse

Sep 1st, 2005 1:39 am | By

Michael Ruse is another. Funny, strange, puzzling; something like that. There’s this interview in Salon – which means you have to page through an irritating pictorial (therefore slow to load) ad to read it, which is why I hardly ever link to Salon, but there it is in case you want to read the whole thing. It’s about his latest book and the usual subject – ‘evolutionism’ is religion blah blah.

But he thinks evolutionists must purge themselves of reflexive anti-religious fervor, and acknowledge at least the potential validity of the classic Augustinian position that science and theology can never directly contradict one another, since science can only consider nature and God, by definition, is outside nature. Without this consciousness, Ruse suggests, evolutionism is in fact a secular religion, a church without Christ. And if that’s what it is, what is it doing in biology class?

Okay – science and theology can never directly contradict one another, since science can only consider nature and God, by definition, is outside nature. Fine – but then what is theology, exactly? The study of something that can’t be studied? Inquiry into something that can’t be inquired into? Research in a subject that is incapable of being researched? An ology that has no ology? It has to be. Because if ‘God’ is by definition outside of nature, then we (who are well and truly inside nature) don’t and can’t – by definition – know anything or find out anything about it. Obviously. So then what is the upshot of this position that science and theology can never directly contradict one another? Surely it’s just that one is a field of inquiry and the other is…an empty postulate. A gesturing at something that – by definition, remember – is outside nature and therefore completely inaccessible and unknowable. Well, fine – I’ll buy that. God is outside nature therefore nobody (since all the anybodies we know are part of nature, not outside it) knows anything at all about it and therefore there is nothing whatever to say about it. So why talk about it at all?

But of course that’s not what people mean by God, is it. People mean something they do claim to know a lot about. Well, you can’t do both, as Kingsley Amis so wisely though belatedly said. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say God is outside nature just long enough to shut up the pesky scientists, and then go blithely back to talking bollocks about God when the scientists have gone back to their petri dishes and statistics.

I’m all in favor of social prescriptions, and I’m not knocking anybody for being an atheist…But I want to see what grounds you have for saying that, and whether or not your positions follow from one another. If they do, maybe you should ask yourself, “Am I not being a hypocrite in teaching evolutionary biology in American schools?” Given the fact that it’s clearly illegal. You’re not allowed to teach religion in biology class. I can’t understand why I can’t get through people’s thick skulls on this one. If in fact Darwinian evolutionary theory implies atheism, then you ought not to be teaching it in schools! It’s not good enough to say, “Well, I’m a National Socialist. But the fact that that meant a lot of Jews were hauled off to Auschwitz, that’s not my worry!” It bloody is! If your theory leads to 6 million Jews being made into soap, not only is there something deeply troubling about your theory, but you’ve got a moral obligation to face up to its implications. If this theory leads to atheism, then it’s got religious implications.

I beg your pardon? Thinking evolutionary biology hasn’t turned up any sweet little god-things curled up inside acorns or flying around bottle-brush trees is analogous to making Jews into soap? Is that the best analogy he could think of? Is that a good analogy? Is that even a coherent analogy?

Plus there’s the peculiar argument that if evolutionary theory implies atheism then teaching evolutionary theory is teaching religion. Eh? What he means seems to be something like ‘evolutionary theory does not need or draw on the God hypothesis to explain it therefore it is religion’ – which makes no sense. Besides which, since God is – by definition, remember – outside nature, God can’t have any role to play in evolutionary theory, because that would be dragging something outside nature into something inside nature, thus immediately making it part of nature, therefore no longer God. So…Ruse seems to be claiming that you can’t teach anything except theology in US public schools. If you’re not allowed to teach anything that doesn’t use ‘God’ to explain it – because that is atheism, which is religion, which is not allowed in public schools – then you can teach only theology. Which, we have already found, on Ruse’s own terms, means teaching nothing.

I must be missing something. Ruse isn’t silly. But this whole argument looks to me like just pure having it both ways. Making God transcendent as long as that’s convenient, and then making it part of nature when that is. But it has to be one or the other. It’s either outside nature or inside it, it can’t be both.



Polio and ‘Public Figures’

Aug 30th, 2005 8:12 pm | By

Here we have a media watch item. A rather strange one.

I noticed it late yesterday when I posted this item on the polio outbreak in Indonesia (dated today but I saw and posted it yesterday my time – today UK time). I noticed something missing that I was pretty sure I had seen in previous BBC articles on the subject – a paragraph on how the outbreak was thought to have started. Previous articles had, I thought, mentioned the fact that Muslim clerics in norther Nigeria had urged people not to get vaccinated (and not to vaccinate their children – with horrible results) because the vaccine was contaminated in a US plot. That item wasn’t in this latest article. Later yesterday, I listened to the World Service, which reported the same story. This time, the reporter did mention what was thought to be the origin, and did mention northern Nigeria, whereupon I listened very closely – to hear that ‘public figures’ had spoken against the vaccinations. Public figures – period. I was gobsmacked, and outraged. The BBC is now keeping it secret that polio is making a comeback when it had been nearly eradicated, because of stupid, destructive clerical behavior? Keeping it secret on the World Service, which could be listened to precisely by people who might very well need to know that? Why?? And how can they?!

Allen Esterson noticed the same lacuna, and emailed me about it, with links to further sources that were not as forthright as they ought to have been – including UN sources. He also emailed the BBC, he told me. Well, they may have paid attention. (Perhaps other people noticed and emailed too. One can hope.) The story has been updated, and the paragraph is now there.

The country was free of the disease for 10 years – but in March 2005 a 20-month-old boy in Java was infected. Since then more than 200 polio cases have been reported in the country. Officials believe the outbreak can be traced to Nigeria, where vaccinations were suspended in 2003 after radical clerics said they were a US plot.

I was right about having seen the paragraph in previous articles, I found – this one from July 22 for instance.

Okay, Beeb, well done for correcting it on the screen. Now, include it in World Service broadcasts too, okay? Never mind ‘offending’ people: this is life or death, paralysis or non-paralysis. Don’t mess around.



Can You Say ‘Average’?

Aug 30th, 2005 7:10 pm | By

Oh, come on, Beeb – can’t you write headlines better than that? “‘Men cleverer than women’ claim”? “Academics in the UK claim their research shows that men are more intelligent than women.”? Come on – pull your socks up, or get on your bike, or something.

A study to be published later this year in the British Journal of Psychology says that men are on average five points ahead on IQ tests.

Hello? That’s not the same thing as saying ‘men are more intelligent than women’? At all? Surely, surely, you know that, if you think about it for five seconds. Think of the stupidest man you know. Now think of the cleverest woman you know. Is he more intelligent than she is? I rest my case.

But, maybe they really don’t know that. It is a common mistake. I heard Andrew Marr make it a few months ago, and he’s not thick – in fact he’s probably one of those men who are more intelligent than quite a few other men. But he said to Steve Pinker on ‘Start the Week’ that Larry Summers had said ‘men are better at science than women.’ I let out one of those exasperated whines one does let out when hearing people say stupid things on major media outlets: ‘That’s not what he said!’ and Steve Pinker said wearily, ‘That’s not what he said.’ But if Marr got it wrong, the chances are that most people get it wrong. The comments on that BBC article seem to confirm that, too – hardly anyone points out the mistake.

That’s quite tragic, really. It could mean that most people actually do think that all men indeed are more intelligent than all women. How depressing.



Rights and Conventions

Aug 29th, 2005 10:36 pm | By

Something Norm said today that I’ve been wondering about. I can’t quite figure out how it works…

There’s a sense in which all concepts are social constructs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean – though it sometimes does mean – that what the concepts refer to are merely a matter of convention, of moral and cultural context, or what have you. It is true that some of the rights a person enjoys are a consequence of belonging to a particular community (your right to a British passport), or are relative to a given status she enjoys (as an old age pensioner), or the result of his past actions (as the party to a contract of sale). But there are other rights which a person possesses simply in virtue of being a human being. This is why we call them basic human rights. The right against being tortured is one of them. Even the most repugnant of individuals and those guilty of grave crimes, equally those merely suspected of some crime, share with everyone else the right not to be tortured. So the policy of not returning people to countries in which they face the danger of being subjected to torture ought to be upheld and defended.

There’s a whole large literature about this, of which I have read perhaps a page or two, so I’m stumbling around in the dark here, but – I don’t see how human rights can be anything other than a matter of convention. I don’t see how they can be anything other than social. Suppose you’re in a canoe paddling up a river (I read an account of just such a situation by an Australian philosopher once) and you’re attacked by a crocodile. You have a human right not to be tortured, which the crocodile is flagrantly disregarding. And – what? Nothing. What do human rights mean in such a situation? Nothing, that I can see. Surely human rights depend – quite heavily – on enforcement, laws, protection, recognition. So surely as a matter of brute fact, it is the case that all the rights a person enjoys are a consequence of belonging to a particular community – if they are real rights that she really does enjoy, at least, as opposed to being rights that no one in her world pays the smallest attention to. Some societies – a lot of them, actually, unfortunately – don’t respect human rights, or respect some but not others. Some human rights appear to be doomed for the foreseeable future in Iraq, thanks to the role of Islam in the constitution. So in what sense are rights not conventional? What does it mean to possess rights that are not enforced? Is it just a way of referring to rights we think people ought to have? I certainly have no problem with that; I’ve been talking about violations of [what ought to be] women’s rights in Niger, Pakistan, Guatemala, China, all over the place lately. But even then I don’t see how that makes such rights not a convention. We think women ought to have them, other people don’t; we can’t hold up anything labeled ‘human rights’ to show the other people and silence them once and for all. I wish we could, but we can’t.

Update: Norm points out that I don’t actually disagree with him after all. Since I said in an email message, “But I don’t mean that I think rights are a ‘mere’ convention – I’m happy to say they’re more than a convention – but I don’t see how they can escape being a convention too” – when he had said in the post I was wondering about, “There’s a sense in which all concepts are social constructs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean – though it sometimes does mean – that what the concepts refer to are merely a matter of convention, of moral and cultural context, or what have you.” (emphasis added) Well don’t I feel silly. I’m not quite sure whether I talked myself into something, or simply ignored the word ‘merely’ the first time and thus misread him* – but either way I’m a simp. Oh well. I quite enjoy talking about what kind of thing rights are, so it doesn’t matter – apart from disagreeing with Norm when I didn’t of course. But I have a right to be forgiven, so I’m sure I will be.

*Close reading! How many times do I have to tell you!



Sense and Sensitivity

Aug 29th, 2005 6:35 pm | By

Galloway’s a funny guy. Maybe not as funny as Pat Robertson (‘I didn’t say “assassinate”!’ ‘Okay I’m sorry, I’m rilly sorry, I was just in a mood that day.’) but still pretty funny. Okay not really funny, more like disgusting, but I get so tired of pointing out how disgusting people are. Still – he is.

Mr Galloway, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, said TV executives had to be “very sensitive about people’s religion” and if broadcasters did not show sufficient sensitivity they “had to deal with the consequences”. He said: “You have to be aware if you do [offend people’s beliefs] you will get blowback. You should do it very carefully, especially if you are a public service broadcaster.”

Thenthitive. They have to be thenthitive – and if they’re not thenthitive enough, then blam! Okay? Got that? Be thenthitive or I’ll kill you.

Rushdie called him on it, as well he might.

“Is that a threat?” asked Rushdie during the debate at the Media Guardian Edinburgh international television festival. Describing Mr Galloway’s argument as “craven”, the author said: “The simple fact is that any system of ideas that decides you have to ringfence it, that you cannot discuss it in fundamental terms, that you can’t say that this bit of it is junk, or that bit is oppressive … we are supposed to respect that?”

It’s craven, it’s stupid, it’s mindless, and it means we can’t discuss things properly. Which is pretty much how things are: there are all sorts of subjects that don’t get discussed properly because there’s way too much senstivity about ‘people’s beliefs’. A lot of people believe that women should be subordinated, locked up, owned, and without rights, and a lot of other people who don’t believe that nevertheless keep silent on the subject out of brain-dead sensitivity to ‘beliefs’. Call it Gallowayism, if you like, or hypertrophy respectis.

Sad about Kashmir.

“I have a deep feeling for Kashmir, and I just had to write this book,” Rushdie said. “[But] it’s very hard to write about real events. It becomes unbearable. The challenge in writing this book was: how do you write about these things bearably without sweetening the pill?” Rushdie said Kashmir had changed since the 1950s and 1960s. “There was no radical Islam in Kashmir then – it was pacifist, Sufist – and it had nothing to do with jihad. But in the last half century this terrible fundamentalism has got hold of the region.”

Like so many regions. Terrible nightmare – and not one to be respectful or sensitive about; one to be resisted and fought.



‘Gender Segregation’

Aug 28th, 2005 9:42 pm | By

I was going to say more about Juan Cole anyway, because a further point had occurred to me – a further bit of peculiar, evasive rhetoric. So it’s all the more motivating that commenters think I’ve misread him. I don’t think I have – not in the Vincent post. Cole may well be a great source of information in general, but I think this particular post is baaaad.

A little repetition here.

Clueless Americans don’t understand the principle of gender segregation for the most part, and if they do understand it they are horrified by it. But in large swathes of the world, it just is not considered right for a male to be in the company of an unrelated female. It isn’t just a matter of sleeping around, as my wingnut correspondents assume. It is being alone in the company of an unrelated man or woman, and having that be known publicly. Male honor is invested in the protection of the virginity of female relatives…Clueless Americans don’t understand gender segregation, and they don’t understand clan honor as practiced in most Arab societies. We American men aren’t dishonored in particular if our sisters sleep around, though I suppose in high school it can’t be pleasant for a guy to have everyone taunt him that his sister is a slut. But in Arab culture, a brother can’t show his face in public if his sister is known to be a slut.

There is one hell of a lot of bad faith in that passage. Notice the phrase ‘gender segregation,’ for instance. What does that sound like? Oh…maybe a school with separate classes for boys and girls, something like that. At any rate a system that is neutral between the two genders: both are segregated, both are separated, both get on with their lives. But of course that’s not the arrangement he is describing with that anodyne phrase. No. The system in question is one in which women are imprisoned; confined to home, required to ask permission from a male relative in order to leave the house, required to wear a tent when they do go out, while men are not confined to home, not required to ask anyone’s permission to go out, allowed to dress in clothes that don’t impede their movement or suffocate them. In which men are allowed to live generally free lives, to work, to go where they like – except for private houses where women are confined – and women emphatically and comprehensively are not. ‘Gender segregation’ doesn’t really characterize such a system accurately – the phrase gives a misleading impression.

Then notice the unmarked shift he makes. He starts out pretending to be gender-neutral, then suddenly in the fifth sentence, things change. ‘Male honor is invested in the protection of the virginity of female relatives…’ Ah. So it’s not symmetrical after all. It’s not about both genders. Female honor is not invested in the protection of the virginity of male relatives. No, it’s just male honor, and female virginity. But that’s not ‘gender segregation’ then, is it – it’s female segregation. So why did Cole euphemize it? Because…he wants ‘clueless Americans’ to accept it as routine and normal and not a problem? I don’t know. But the point is, euphemize it he did. He also completely failed to mention the fact that plenty of women in those ‘large parts of the world’ that have ‘gender segregation’ hate it and want to be free of it. It’s not just ‘clueless Americans’ who find the segregation and subordination of women repulsive.

And then notice one more shift. ‘But in Arab culture, a brother can’t show his face in public if his sister is known to be a slut.’ He doesn’t use scare quotes on the word, or say ‘thought to be a slut,’ or dissociate himself from the nasty idea in any way. And more than that – all he’s been talking about in this passage is unrelated people of opposite sexes being in each other’s company. So he is apparently accepting the idea that a woman who has been in the company of an unrelated man is a slut. And then (he managed to pack a hell of a lot of nasty stuff in that one brief passage) he appears to endorse the idea that a woman who ‘sleeps around’ (meaning not defined) is a ‘slut’ – while a man is not. Men are people who are shamed if their sisters ‘sleep around’ and are ‘sluts’ while women are people who shame men if they ‘sleep around’ and are ‘sluts.’ Period. It’s all a tad asymmetrical – and just a tiny bit misogynist. Frankly.

The whole system of clans, clan honor, and the investment of male honor in the protection of the chastity of females may be horrific. But it is the norm in much of the world (it operates to some extent in parts of Africa, in South Asia and in Central Asia, as well). Not understanding and respecting it can get you killed when you are out there.

A couple of readers said he was just describing, just giving a warning. That passage looks more like a somewhat neutral warning (although the ‘may be’ is odd, given how often the women end up dead, and how stunted and deprived their lives are in the process of all this aggressive ‘protection’), but given what he said in the first quoted passage and much of the rest of the post, I don’t buy it. I don’t think that is all he was doing. If it is all he was doing, then he did a damn bad job of it.



Independent Letters

Aug 27th, 2005 8:07 pm | By

Allen Esterson has pointed out to me some interesting letters in the Independent lately. On Wednesday for instance, this one from Dr Shaaz Mahboob, among others:

Most secular Muslims are not members of any of the leading religious groups, nor do they follow religion with strict enough vigour which would allow them to be considered for membership of any of the leading so-called Muslim representative groups such as Muslim Council of Britain or its affiliates. Secular Islam in Britain is feeling marginalised. Without adequate platforms it is being ignored by both the media and the Government.
All that MCB and other hard-line Islamic organisations are doing is taking advantage of the lack of leadership from within the secular majority of Muslims. They tend to “Islamicise” every single issue that is faced by ordinary Muslims, thereby diverting the attention from the real core social issues. The latter include failed integration, due to self-imposed segregation by community elders hell-bent on maintaining the cultural customs that they brought with them at the time of migration to Britain. Other problems are purely economic, such as unemployment and obstacles faced by Muslim women joining mainstream careers.
For successful integration of both Muslims and Islam into the British society, the voice of modern, moderate and secular Muslims needs to be heard and brought into the mainstream.

And today this from Raza Griffiths along with several more:

As someone from a Muslim background, I find the Muslim Council of Britain’s defence of its right to promote its illiberal views by reference to freedom of speech somewhat disingenuous. Not very long ago many of its members openly supported the murder of Salman Rushdie because he had criticised Islam. The vast majority of Muslims who are moderate now need to move beyond the MCB, which is bringing Islam into disrepute and exacerbating the negative stereotypes that Muslims have to endure.

Keep at it, epistolarists. Keep chipping away at the stupid idea that all Muslims and people from a Muslim background share the ‘illiberal views’ of the MCB. It might sink in some day.



We Had to Destroy the Woman to Save Her

Aug 27th, 2005 2:41 am | By

I haven’t read Juan Cole before. The snippets I’ve seen here and there that other people have quoted didn’t appeal. But I saw this astonishing item at Drink-soaked Trot Popinjays, so I thought I’d pass it on.

Was American journalist Steve Vincent killed in Basra as part of an honor killing? He was romantically involved with his Iraqi interpreter, who was shot 4 times. If her clan thought she was shaming them by appearing to be having an affair outside wedlock with an American male, they might well have decided to end it. In Mediterranean culture, a man’s honor tends to be wrought up with his ability to protect his womenfolk from seduction by strange men. Where a woman of the family sleeps around, it brings enormous shame on her father, brothers and cousins, and it is not unknown for them to kill her. These sentiments and this sort of behavior tend to be rural and to hold among the uneducated, but are not unknown in urban areas. Vincent did not know anything serious about Middle Eastern culture and was aggressive about criticizing what he could see of it on the surface, and if he was behaving in the way the Telegraph article describes, he was acting in an extremely dangerous manner.

Errr. If her ‘clan’ thought she was ‘shaming’ them…then they might have decided to ‘end’ it. End it. By which he means, murder them; by which he means, shoot both of them multiple times. Well, yeah, I suppose that is one way to ‘end’ something. I suppose if someone stands too close to you at the bus stop, you can ‘end’ it by killing her. But in all fairness, that’s not what is usually meant by ‘ending’ an affair. Not to mention the fact that there wasn’t an affair anyway. Cole appears to have read the Telegraph article he linked to very sloppily. It doesn’t say they were having an affair, or that they were ‘romantically involved,’ and it says several things to indicate that there is a lot of room for doubt that they were – such as the fact that Vincent was planning to marry his interpreter for visa purposes, and that his wife was aware of that. The popinjays link to a site that posts a letter Vincent’s wife wrote to Cole. It makes for warm reading.

But even apart from that – the rest of it is staggering all on its own. ‘In Mediterranean culture, a man’s honor tends to be wrought up with his ability to protect his womenfolk from seduction by strange men.’ Excuse me? Protect? By killing them? That’s ‘protection’? He himself acknowledges (without apparently noticing that he’s done so) the nature of the protection in the very next sentence – ‘Where a woman of the family sleeps around, it brings enormous shame on her father, brothers and cousins, and it is not unknown for them to kill her.’ What’s the deal, here? Did it take him so long to compose and type the 33 words between ‘protect’ and ‘kill’ that he forgot he’d said the first by the time he got to the second? Or is he just stupid. Or is he worse than that, is he so intent on making ‘honor’ killing sound vaguely acceptable that – that he can write a piece of dreck like that.

Update. He’s even worse than I thought. He wrote a follow-up post in reaction to Lisa Ramaci-Vincent’s reply to him. (But he calls her ‘Mrs Vincent’ – which is obnoxious, to put it mildly, since she signed herself Lisa Ramaci-Vincent. Why does Cole get to decide what her name is? Why does he get to correct her on her own name? More concern for male honor?) It’s enough to put me off me dinner.

Clueless Americans don’t understand the principle of gender segregation for the most part, and if they do understand it they are horrified by it. But in large swathes of the world, it just is not considered right for a male to be in the company of an unrelated female. It isn’t just a matter of sleeping around, as my wingnut correspondents assume. It is being alone in the company of an unrelated man or woman, and having that be known publicly. Male honor is invested in the protection of the virginity of female relatives, and a conviction that something improper may have occurred would be enough in some instances to cause a vendetta. It is not just a Muslim thing. Many Orthodox Jews and Middle Eastern and Balkan Christians feel the same way.

Clueless Americans don’t understand gender segregation, and they don’t understand clan honor as practiced in most Arab societies. We American men aren’t dishonored in particular if our sisters sleep around, though I suppose in high school it can’t be pleasant for a guy to have everyone taunt him that his sister is a slut. But in Arab culture, a brother can’t show his face in public if his sister is known to be a slut.

The guy’s a piece of work.



‘Messianic-hysterical extremism’

Aug 26th, 2005 7:43 pm | By

Secularism, secularism, secularism. I’m tempted to get a bunch of t shirts made with ‘Secularism’ bannered across the front and back.

The prospects for secularism in Iraq are not looking very good. Actually they’re looking terrible.

Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq was a centralised and largely secular state. Now, if the Shia religious parties get their way, it will be a decentralised state with a pronounced Islamic identity. The draft of the new constitution describes Islam as “a main source” of legislation and stipulates that no law may contradict Islamic principles.

Great. There go women’s rights, for a start.

In many ways, Iraq is already dramatically different from the place it was just a few years ago. Mixed marriages between Sunni and Shia, once taken for granted, are becoming problematic. In many parts of the country, women dare not walk bare-headed in the street. And reports from parts of the lawless north-west paint a grim picture of Taleban-style rule by radical Sunni militants.

Peachy. Communalism and terrorized women. Heaven on earth, the shining city on the hill.

MCB Watch has an excellent article on Panorama, Mawdudi and Selective Quoting, which includes a long quotation from Mawdudi’s Islamic Law and Constitution:

Islamic State is Universal and All Embracing
A state of this sort cannot evidently restrict the scope of its activities. Its approach is universal and all-embracing. Its sphere of activity is coextensive with the whole of human life. It seeks to mould every aspect of life and activity in consonance with its moral norms and programme of social reform. In such a state no one can regard any field of his affairs as personal and private…The excellent balance and moderation that characterise the Islamic system of government and the precise distinctions made in it between right and wrong elicit from all men of honesty and intelligence the admiration and the admission that such a balanced system could not have been framed by anyone but the Omniscient and All-Wise God.

Well exactly. This is why people loathe and fear ‘a state of this sort’ – because it pries into every corner of people’s lives and then beats the crap out of them or extorts bribes (or both) if it doesn’t like what it finds. Marjane Satrapie illustrates this in Perseopolis. People used binoculars to peer into other people’s windows and then report them for having parties, dancing, playing music, playing cards. Not to mention of course the notorious constant supervision of every tiny detail of women’s dress, down to the individual hair showing. Nothing is personal, nothing is private. Spiffy. Let’s all live in an ant farm.

It is clear from a careful consideration of the Qur’an and the Sunnah that the state in Islam is based on an ideology and its objective is to establish that ideology…It is a dictate of this very nature of the Islamic State that such a state should be run only by those who believe in the ideology on which it is based and in the Divine Law which it is assigned to administer. The administrators of the Islamic State must be those whose whole life is devoted to the observance and enforcement of this Law…Islam does not recognise any geographical, linguistic or colour bars in this respect. It puts forward its code of guidance and the scheme of its reform before all men. Whoever accepts this programme, no matter to what race, nation or country he may belong, can join the community that runs the Islamic State.

Notice something missing from that lovely egalitarian list of things Islam ‘does not recognise’? Yeah – gender. Whoever accepts this programme can join the community that runs the Islamic State – except, of course, women. Because they are the ones being run, not the ones participating in the running. That is part of the very ‘ideology’ in question.

I prefer Amos Oz’s view of things. Of the settlers, for instance:

They have their own dream. The first stage is the “whole land of Israel,” filled wall-to-wall with Jews-only towns. True, Palestinians and Thai workers can come in to do the dirty work, but no more. The second stage is to transform Israel into a halachic state, a country ruled by Jewish religious law. Elections, the Knesset, the government and the courts may continue to function, but settler rabbis will decide just what issues are appropriate for these bodies to decide, and what issues are too “holy” and important to be left to the people and their elected officials. In their dream world, there is no place for secular Israel: Its culture is not culture, its values are not values, its opinions are not opinions.

Sounds like that South Carolinian utopia we heard about recently.

But we non-religious Israelis also have a dream. We want to live in an enlightened, open and just country, not in some messianic, rabbinic monarchy, and not in the whole land of Israel. We came here to be a free people in our own land. To be a free people means each person is entitled to choose which parts of Jewish tradition are important to him, and which to leave behind. It means to have the freedom to run our country according to our free will, rather than rabbinic dictates…For more than 30 years, the settlers’ dream has choked the dream of free Israelis. The dream of the whole land of Israel and a messianic kingship drains daily the hope of being a people free to build a just society.

Dreams can be nightmares…

This is the border without which we will have no state and without which there is no freedom, no society, nothing but fiery zealousness, messianic-hysterical extremism, and complete destruction…

Fiery zealousness – make it go away. Patrol that border.



Colin Blakemore

Aug 25th, 2005 2:28 am | By

I can’t help wondering…was it really about the guinea pigs? Or was it mostly about being a Protester, an Activist, a Rebel. Was it more about tormenting people than about rescuing animals. I can’t help suspecting, just as I can’t help suspecting similar things about those four guys on July 7. Zealots are like that. That’s why zealots are mostly so horrible.

Some protests at Darley Oaks farm have been peaceful. But other activists launched a campaign of intimidation against the Halls, their family, staff and suppliers. Their tactics, denounced as mob rule by some in the medical research industry, included hate mail, malicious phone calls, fireworks, a paedophile smear campaign, paint stripper on cars and arson attacks. The protests appeared to culminate in the theft in October of the body of Gladys Hammond, mother-in-law of Christopher Hall from the churchyard in Yoxall.

That sounds to me like cruelty for the sake of it, not for the sake of a goal. Just like those shits who gather outside abortion clinics and torment women on their way in.

Colin Blakemore talked about animal rights and the opposition to it and public opinion on ‘The World Tonight’ last night. He talked to Jeremy about the same subjects in the interview in Jeremy’s book What Scientists Think.

Ninety-nine percent of physicians in the United States say that it is essential to use animals in medical research; and more than ninety-five percent of British physicians say the same thing. So whilst it is important to listen to maverick opinion, it is clear we shouldn’t put too much weight on it when one considers that the American Medical Association, the Royal Society, the British Medical Association, and the General Medical Council all state that animal experimentation is necessary.

He also talked both on ‘The World Tonight’ and in the interview about what a huge majority – 90% – of public opinion agrees that animal research is necessary, which is a large shift in opinion from what it had been.

The support from the media, in particular, was quite extraordinary and a big surprise; virtually the entire spectrum made strong statements about the importance of animal experimentation. So the debate served a useful purpose; it produced a kind of national solidarity, which was much needed. This is also reflected in public opinion. The latest opinion poll shows ninety percent of the population in support of animal research. It is significant that there is no other major issue where you get this kind of consensus; we still treat the issue of animal research as if it is highly controversial, as if the public haven’t made up their mind; but they have made up their mind.’

But, the interviewer pointed out, the opinion poll Blakemore is referring to phrased its questions in a particular way (as opinion polls do). ‘For example, one question asked whether people could accept animal research for medical purposes, where there was no other alternative. But, of course, it is precisely the claim of the animal rights lobby that there are alternatives to animal research.’

‘Well, if there are, let’s see them delivered by those people who claim that there are,’ Blakemore responds, when I put this to him…’If there are alternatives, let’s see them. We want them. I don’t know of a single person who uses animals in their research who wouldn’t rather use an alternative.’

The whole interview is interesting. They all are. The Susan Greenfield one is my favourite, but they all are.