Notes and Comment Blog

Universities are happy to ordain and celebrate the lofty ideals of academic freedom

Jul 4th, 2015 9:26 am | By

Bruce Barry, a professor of management and sociology and a board member of the Tennessee ACLU, has an informative take on whether or not academic freedom is a license to provoke without consequences.

The rules are different depending on whether the university is public or private; academic at public universities have more protections.

After having his job offer rescinded, Salaita filed a federal lawsuit claiming that his rights to free speech and due process had been violated; a judge’s ruling on whether Salaita’s lawsuit can go forward is expected any day.

That kind of constitutionally based lawsuit isn’t available to Grundy at Boston University or to Hough at Duke since their appointments are at private institutions.

Although Grundy and Hough cannot claim a constitutional infringement on their rights, they can appeal to the principle of academic freedom.

Which sounds like saying they can make grand rhetorical claims and hope that gets them somewhere, but actually it’s more concrete than that.

This is what distinguishes the occupation of professor from other kinds of employment: universities pledge (in the form of an implied contract) to respect professors’ free speech rights beyond what typical private sector job holders can expect, when they make academic freedom a foundational principle.

I didn’t know that about the implied contract. The link takes you to only the first page of the article, and the first page doesn’t discuss the implied contract, so I don’t know more than I did before I clicked it. An implied contract sounds like just another rhetorical claim, but the link seems to imply (there’s that word again) that it’s not. What Barry says next seems to confirm that:

Universities are happy to ordain and celebrate the lofty ideals of academic freedom, but they are also quick to couple them with cautionary caveats.

At Duke (where Hough is), the faculty handbook cedes to professors the right “to speak in his or her capacity as a citizen without institutional censorship or discipline.” Duke warns, however, that the right to “espouse an unpopular cause” carries with it “a responsibility not to involve the university.”

Making a similar pledge, the handbook at Boston University (where Grundy is) adds that a professor’s right to speak as a citizen carries “special obligations” to be accurate, exercise restraint and respect others’ opinions.

With reasonable-sounding but rather vague conditions like these, universities (both public and private) have reserved the ability to impose boundaries on “outrageous expression” that the professor might assume is protected by academic freedom.

Tricky, isn’t it. Difficult. A mine-field. An “implicit contract” to a lofty abstraction coupled with vague stipulations…wear protective gear.

The question of when a professor’s provocation becomes actionable cause for termination is a hornet’s nest of subjectivity around the meaning of words like “offensive” or “bigoted” or “harmful” or “restraint.” A university that chooses to act against the professor – as Illinois did against Salaita – puts itself in the uncomfortable position of having to explain what these terms mean and where lines are drawn.

Instead of appeasing offended stakeholders by drawing lines in shifting sand, a more enlightened approach prioritizes a free exchange of ideas over the “dubious judgment” of a free-speaking professor.

That’s the path Duke and Boston University are following: condemn the objectionable remarks while preserving the professor’s freedom to make them, leaving a verdict to the court of public opinion.

This of course is to do with actual jobs, paid tenured contractual jobs. The bar is high for actual jobs; it’s not as high for honorary and/or pro bono positions.

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

Even for Batman

Jul 3rd, 2015 4:27 pm | By

Henry Louis Gates got seduced by Hollywood fame.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a popular and revered scholar who has written many acclaimed books and made many acclaimed documentaries about black history (and was also forced to drink a beer with the white cop who arrested him in his own home, because that’s America for you).

However, he is now most famous for letting the now-single life-ruiner Ben Affleck hide his slaveholding ancestors from the world to spare Affleck the shame of being a white American with a past.

Well at least it wasn’t Charlie Sheen…

“Finding Your Roots,” his PBS genealogy show on which notables like Tina Fey and Nas find out what their long-dead relatives were like, has been shelved, with apologies all around. It’s one of the more esoteric pieces of celebrity flotsam to surface from the giant Sony email hack. Gates was done in by a disastrous series of emails with Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton about Affleck.

In case you missed the kerfuffle: Affleck discovered through the show that, way back, his family owned slaves. He was not amenable to this information being shared with the world, because slavery is wrong and Affleck is above such things as being connected to America’s horrific history. He told this to Gates, who agonized with Lynton over whether or not to honor his famous guest’s demand. Gates then cut all references to slavery out of the Affleck episode, though he said he did it because he found more interesting material. Nobody knew about any of this until the emails were uncovered in April.

It’s odd to say “way back” and “his family” in the same breath. If it’s way back then it’s not exactly “his family” but a branch of his family. Suppose it’s four generations back: then that’s one of sixteen great-greats. If five generations, it’s one of 32. If Gates had told Affleck that maybe he would have calmed down, but then again that would go against the implication of “Finding Your Roots,” which is (or was, now) that it’s worth hyperventilating over even one of 32 (while ignoring the other 31).

In his Affleck emails, Gates openly admits that he is compromising himself. He knows what he is doing, and he is very honest about it:

“To do this would be a violation of PBS rules, actually, even for Batman.”

“It would embarrass him and compromise our integrity.”

“Once we open the door to censorship, we lose control of the brand.”

And yet. Gates acquiesced. You can’t accuse him—a Harvard professor, Emmy-winning documentarian, MacArthur genius grant recipient—of not knowing what he was getting into. After all that, he did exactly what Ben Affleck told him to do. Now, he’s the most famous black studies professor in America who colluded in the suppression of a story about slavery.

Yes but he got to hang out with some movie stars.

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


Jul 3rd, 2015 3:13 pm | By

Via GodlessUtopia on Twitter:

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

Their fundamental right as believers

Jul 3rd, 2015 3:08 pm | By

Jesus must have been watching that video of the bashful young Catholics coming out homophobic.


The Patreon in case you want to support blasfemious cartooning.

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

Why do we force penguins to apply to Harvard?

Jul 3rd, 2015 11:49 am | By


Roisin O’Connor asks in the Independent

Why do we reduce a woman’s work to whether it’s feminist or not?

Eh? First of all, “we” don’t. Hating on feminism is a thriving business (and an even more thriving hobby). Second, even among people who do see things from a feminist point of view, very few of them “reduce a woman’s work to whether it’s feminist or not.” That rhetorical question is sort of like asking “why do we force-feed children stale Raisin Bran?” It assumes facts not in evidence, and it’s kind of random.

It comes at the end of a piece explaining why a new video about torturing and murdering a woman is a great thing.

Rihanna has directed the music video for her latest single ‘Bitch Better Have My Money‘, and it is violent, intense and unnerving, raising all sorts of questions without answering any of them.

In the opening scenes we see a blonde-haired woman with a fluffy dog kissing her boyfriend (‘The Accountant’) goodbye and getting into a lift, where Rihanna is waiting with a Louis Vuitton case. The lift doors open on the ground floor, and Rihanna emerges dragging the trunk, which appears to have become suspiciously heavier.

The woman is then dragged around by Rihanna and two sidekicks, at various points she is stripped naked and hung upside down, hit over the head with a bottle, and forced to down vodka and take drugs.

Sound fun? Not to me. I don’t like watching pretend-sadism onscreen.

The people criticising Rihanna for her highly stylised video are happy to gush about Quentin Tarantino’s genius and his creative vision, and controversial as he is they would rarely question his authority as an auteur. There was little fuss over the raped and murdered bank teller in From Dusk Till Dawn, the brutalised prostitutes in Frank Miller’s Sin City, or the bikini clad college girls snorting coke and shooting down pimps in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, all of which are hailed as “cult classics”.

I wonder if O’Connor actually knows that. I wonder if she knows they are the same people at all. I’m betting she doesn’t, because it’s been my experience that people who like hipster violence in entertainment like it across the board…and don’t give a rat’s ass about feminism.

So back to her question, which wraps up the piece.

Why do we reduce a woman’s work to whether it’s feminist or not? Rihanna certainly doesn’t care what you think, she’s counting the money she just got back, the Queen of DGAF.

Well sure, and the people who get lots of money from other misogynist cultural products also don’t give a fuck what I think. So what? Rihanna’s bank account isn’t by itself an argument.

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

She worked hard but her writing wasn’t great

Jul 2nd, 2015 5:05 pm | By

So this guy teaches a fiction class at Emory. He’s there for only two years, on a fellowship, which turned out to be fortunate for him.

Blunt and scabrous, he prides himself on being frank with his students. “My class is like a truth-telling, soothsaying class, and I tell them no one is going to talk to you like this, you will never have another class like this,” he says.

One student, he says, a freshman woman, sat besides him throughout the course, actively participating. At the end of the semester, he gave her a B+, because, although she worked hard, her writing wasn’t great. “They don’t really understand that they can do all of the work, and turn in perfectly typed up, typo-free papers and stories, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to get an A, because quality matters, talent matters,” he says.

So, according to the story, she accused him of sexual harassment.

The director, he says, told him, “I know this is bullshit, you know this is total bullshit, since you’re gay, [but] you really don’t want to deal with this bullshit. Just give her the grade.” Asked about this, the director says, “I don’t recall that, but I do recall advising him that as with all faculty, per our policy, that this was up to his discretion and thus his decision to make.”

Spoiler: he gave her the grade, but then like The Lord he took it away again.

Recently, there’s been much discussion of what some say is a growing intellectual chill and sexual panic on campus. In the latest example, on June 19, Teresa Buchanan, a tenured associate professor of education at Louisiana State University, was fired from the school where she’d taught for twenty years for using off-color language. Her alleged offenses included saying, in class, “fuck no” and making a joke about sex declining in long-term relationships, as well as using the word “pussy” in an off-campus conversation with a teacher. Reached by phone, she says she had no memory of saying “pussy” to anyone, but said that, if she did, it likely would have been in a conversation about how teachers must learn to handle irate parents. “If a parent is very angry and says, ‘You need to do a better job, you little pussy,” you need to know how to react. I wasn’t calling anybody that word.”

Indeed, a faculty committee determined that there was no evidence that her words were “systematically directed at any individual.” Nevertheless, the committee said her language created a “hostile learning environment” that constituted sexual harassment. It recommended that she be censured and nothing more, concluding: “The stress already inflicted on Dr. Buchanan by the…hearing process itself is seen as an adequate punishment, given the nature and apparent infrequency of the noted behaviors.” The administration rejected that and decided to go further, dismissing her. She plans to sue.

I’m not surprised she plans to sue – she had tenure. Tenure is supposed to protect academics from being fired for trivial reasons. (Note: I’ve never thought Tim Hunt should have been fired from anything.)

There’s also Laura Kipnis, brought up on charges for writing an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Part of the problem is that administrators are now business people as opposed to academics. They think they’re doing customer relations.

Colleges and universities, says Hancock, are “increasing not run by faculty or former faculty. They’re run by professional administrators who have a customer service or client service attitude towards students, as opposed to an educational attitude.” Indeed, according to the Delta Cost Project, an American Institutes for Research program that studies the rising price of higher education, at most four years colleges and universities the average number of faculty and staff per administrator declined by around 40 percent between 1990 and 2012.

Buchanan attributes her firing, in part, to a disjunction between the values of the administrators and those of the professoriate. Starting about 10 years ago, she says, “We noticed that every new administrator that came to LSU had the discourse and language of a business person. So, for example, my dean calls himself the CEO of his organization.”

They don’t know from freedom of inquiry or why philosophy must be argumentative. They know from customer satisfaction, which is a whole different thing. Running a hotel is different from running a university, or at least it ought to be.

Thus there’s a symbiosis between student demands for emotional safety and the risk-aversion of bloated bureaucracies. The students may be inspired by radical ideas, says Michael Bérubé, a literature professor and director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Penn State, but “they wind up playing into the hands of a faceless and possibly pernicious bureaucracy.” The kind, for example, that orders investigations of feminist professors for writing inflammatory essays, or fires people for saying “fuck.”

And then there’s the whole “we’ll show you” problem.

Bagenstos describes a combination of bureaucratic caution and passive aggressiveness. The Obama administration has famously stepped up the use of Title IX against schools that have failed to respond adequately to the problem of campus rape, and in response, colleges are overcorrecting. “If you talk to administrators at universities around the country, they are really responding in a deeply overwrought way to the expansion of Title IX enforcement by the Obama administration,” says Bagenstos. “I think what’s going on in part is this reaction: You’re really going to make us do all this stuff we don’t want to do, we’ll show you it’s ridiculous by going the last mile and the next mile beyond that.”

Sulky babies running the hotel – not ideal. Academics should be worried.

That is, if they care about advancement in academia. Levinson, who just finished his stint at Emory, does not. He says he never wants to teach undergraduates again, and thus sounds almost merry as he unloads his disgust with the whole process. “The academic world can go shove itself up my ass,” he says. “I’d rather dig ditches than have to deal with a bunch of spoiled rich white kids.”

Ultimately, Levinson says, he gave in to a combination of administrative pressure and fear of being forced to endure the bureaucratic gauntlet of a sexual-harassment investigation. One administrator, he says, told him that while he could fight the potential charges, “at the end of the day he was like don’t bother, it doesn’t even matter. It’s just a stupid grade.” Levinson changed it.

Then, when his fellowship was over and he’d left campus, he logged back in the system and changed it back.

Digging ditches is not a bad gig.

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

Guest post by Leo Igwe: Save the Kano Nine: An Open Letter to Buhari, Ganduje and Sanusi

Jul 2nd, 2015 1:31 pm | By

To President Buhari
To Governor Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje
To Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II

We are writing from the International Humanist and Ethical Union, a human rights advocacy organisation accredited as an NGO at the United Nations Human Rights Council. We write to express our distress and deepest concerns over the death sentences reportedly handed down to nine individuals in Kano state this week. Our concerns include the following:

We are appalled that a death sentence should be considered a legally enforceable punishment in any circumstance. In this case where the “offence” committed appears to be little more than the expression of a minority religious belief, the death sentence is particularly disproportionate and constitutes an egregious violation of the right to life.

We object fundamentally to the notion that “blasphemy” is treated as a criminal offence. The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and numerous other bodies and experts, have repeatedly called for the abolition or repeal of laws prohibiting “blasphemy”, which in practice criminalize the expression of religious beliefs. The fact that some religious ideas conflict with other religious ideas, or cause offense to other religious believers, is no reason to curtail the right to freedom of religion or belief, and to freedom of expression, and yet under the Sharia courts’ “blasphemy” prohibition, both these human rights are clearly being violated.

We understand that Abdul Inyas, Hajiya Mairo Ibrahim, and the other seven convicted of blasphemy this week are all of the centuries-old Sufi Tijjaniyya sect, whose annual Maulud ceremonies are sometimes regarded as blasphemous or provocative by other Muslims who perceive the sect as elevating Tijjaniyya religious figures above the status of the Prophet Muhammad. Reliable local reports of the mob violence surrounding the initial arrest of Abdul Inyas, and of ongoing threats of violence should Abdul Inyas and his co-accused have been acquitted, constitute serious pressure on the judiciary and raise the most severe doubts about both the decision to prosecute, and the trial itself. The trial was conducted in secret, with no transparency, many of the names of the co-accused not released, nor the name of the judge. The initial and ongoing threat of violence and the closed nature of the trial, the obscurity around the exact nature of the charge, and the doctrinal basis of the court, lead us to conclude that the right to a fair trial has been violated.

Our understanding is that federal intervention, citing the constitution (Section 38, subsection 1) which is superior to any court, could enable these horrendous and illiberal convictions to be lawfully overturned in a civil court. We urge you all to do whatever you can to seek true justice, respecting and restoring the human rights of those accused, and to work to end the malicious and unjust use of “blasphemy” as a criminal prohibition anywhere in Nigeria.


Andrew Copson,
President of the International Humanist and Ethical Union

Leo Igwe,
Nigerian Humanist Movement

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

Distortion up front, correction at the back

Jul 2nd, 2015 1:10 pm | By

The Guardian wrote an editorial on the Tim Hunt question…a shockingly misleading one for the first two paragraphs. Wouldn’t you think newspapers would manage to get the basic facts right, especially three weeks in?

Those first two paras:

It is three weeks since Sir Tim Hunt, a Nobel prize winner, shared his sexist opinion of female scientists – distractingly sexy, prone to weep when criticised and best segregated at work – with a room full of science writers. His remarks were relayed into the Twittersphere by several of those present, including British-based science writer Connie St Louis. At once, he came under global and sometimes viciously personal attack on social media. He delivered a non-apology on BBC radio. According to his wife, also a senior scientist at UCL, it was made clear to her that to protect UCL’s reputation, he had to resign.

Within 24 hours of his after-dinner speech, he had gone. By the weekend, he was complaining to sympathisers that he had been hung out to dry, unleashing a wave of support that included famous colleagues such as Richard Dawkins and Brian Cox. Today Jonathan Dimbleby joined the protest. Next week, UCL’s council meets and the Hunt affair will once again be on the agenda. This bitter mix of resentments amplified by the polarising environment of social media should have met a calmer official response. But the professor still had to go.

Unbelievable, isn’t it? It sounds as if UCL told Mary Collins that Hunt had to resign from an actual job at UCL. It sounds as if Tim Hunt had a regular academic job at UCL that he was forced to resign. No one who didn’t already know could possibly tell from that opening that the Guardian is talking about an honorary professorship, one explicitly held at the pleasure of UCL and subject to withdrawal at any time – not a regular tenured job with a contract and salary. It would be interesting to know how much of this ridiculous fuss has been caused by the abject failure of news organizations to make that clear from the beginning.

Only in the third paragraph does the Graun admit that it was an honorary post that Hunt was pushed to resign (assuming it’s true that he was pushed). That’s three paragraphs too late.

It goes on to say grudgingly that sexism in science is bad ok, but all the weight was put on the bogus claim that Hunt was forced to resign. Nice job, Guardian.

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

Everything is aired in the bracing dialectic wind

Jul 2nd, 2015 11:19 am | By

From Rebecca Goldstein’s Plato at the Googleplex:

Plato presents the journey to the light as a largely solitary one, though some unseen person does yank the prisoner out of the cave; but the format of the dialogues (as well as his having founded the Academy) encourages the view that, on the contrary, Plato conceived of philosophy as necessarily gregarious rather than solitary. The exposure of presumptions is best done in company, the more argumentative the better. This is why discussion round the table is so essential. This is why philosophy must be argumentative. It proceeds by way of arguments, and the arguments are argued over. Everything is aired in the bracing dialectic wind stirred by many clashing viewpoints. Only in this way can intuitions that have their source in societal or personal idiosyncrasies be exposed and questioned. [pp 38-9]

Good eh?

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

No Fifth for you

Jul 2nd, 2015 10:51 am | By

Poor Duggars. They’re still in the weeds, trying to figure out why god won’t pluck them to safety.

According to In Touch, which first broke the molestation story involving the former “19 Kids and Counting” star, one of 27-year-old Josh Duggar’s victims who isn’t in his immediate family will be filing a civil lawsuit against him.

The anonymous source who told In Touch about the lawsuit added that it could be very damaging not just for Josh, but the entire family, because as a civil proceeding about a crime whose statute of limitations has expired, neither he nor his parents would be allowed to plead the Fifth to avoid self-incrimination.

Aww…so they have to spill or be in contempt?

Being forced to answer uncomfortable questions about when they knew about Josh’s behavior — and after they learned about it, what measures they took to protect his siblings and their friends from him — could put the future of “19 Kids and Counting” in even greater jeopardy than it already is.

Or, who knows, it could just prompt even more on-air crying and complaints of martyrdom to the Libbrul Agenda.

Legal experts told In Touch that the victim will be eligible to sue Josh Duggar under Arkansas Code Annotated Section 16-56-130, which stipulates that victims of a sexual assault can bring civil litigation against their attackers whenever they begin to feel the effects of the abuse — even if that occurs years later.

I wonder if there are similar stipulations in states where Bill Cosby pursued his hobby.


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

How The Times science journalism rolls

Jul 2nd, 2015 9:27 am | By

Chapter 72 or thereabouts.

Hilda Bastian ‏@hildabast 4 hours ago
@deborahblum @david_colquhoun @David_Dobbs How The Times science journalism rolls … 1/2 #Yeesh

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Honorary fellowship is conferred by UCL to people who “have attained distinction in the arts, literature, science, business or public life”. The Times approached those fellows whose contact details were available online. Of those who responded, 21 criticised the university, four were neutral and none backed UCL.

Notice the problems? How can they know “those who responded” were representative of anything? How can they know people who took the opposite view didn’t just decide not to give the Times any more oxygen? How can we know the Times really did approach “those fellows whose contact details were available online”? Haha we can’t, they didn’t even approach David Colquhoun, whose contact details are available online.

David Colquhoun ‏@david_colquhoun 3 hours ago
@whippletom @hildabast @thetimes I’m an Hon Fellow of UCL since 2004, and I wasn’t asked so even apart from lw response, it’s dodgy

Hilda Bastian shared her comment on the Times article:

Hilda Bastian ‏@hildabast 4 hours ago
@deborahblum @david_colquhoun @David_Dobbs And my comment in reply (the link in it: …) 2/2

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This is an utterly extraordinary piece to come from a science editor. Conducting a survey of a subset of a group of over 300, and reporting such a small response, without reporting how many were in the subset is terrible whether judged by scientific standards or journalistic ones. A reader can only assume that either very little effort was made to find contact details of more than a few – or that the main result of this “survey” is very few responded, and generally those who were unhappy about the Tim Hunt situation.

I’m genuinely mystified, too, about the statement about Jeremy Bentham “turning in his grave”. He was a reformer, hundreds of years ahead of his time on issues around women’s rights and roles in society.* What reason is there to suppose he would be anything but progressive now?


Thank you Rupert Murdoch.

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

Guest post: So, should I make poutine instead?

Jul 2nd, 2015 8:23 am | By

Guest post by Anthony K, inspired by a conversation about multicultural cooking and eating as “appropriation.”

“Hi, you’ve reached ‘Livin’ Liberal’. Anthony from Edmonton, you’re on the line.”
“Hey, love the show. First time caller. It’s Canada Day, and we’re going to a party. My wife wants me to make avocado dip. Is that allowed?”
“Well, that depends. What’s your nationality?”
“Canadian. So, should I make poutine instead?”
“Do you speak French?”
“I know where my aunt’s pen is.”
“Then, non. What’s your ethnicity?”
“Croatian and Lithuanian. But I don’t speak those languages either.”
“Alright. Well, what’s the first thing your parents taught you to cook?”
“Breaded fried chicken.”
“No good. What else?”
“Oh, I remember we ate a lot of potato pancakes. That’s a Lithuanian thing.”
“Are you Jewish?”
“No, we were Catholic. I think the Catholics appropriated the potato pancakes from the Jews. My grandmother used to bake bagels before church.”
“Well, I think we can give you a bit of a pass. Thanks for call—”
“—I hate ’em.”
“What’s that?”
“Potato pancakes. Can’t stand them.”
“Alright, well, what do you like to cook that’s close?”
“Roti. First thing I taught myself to cook. And curry.”
“But you’re not—”
“Nope. Not as far as I know.”
“Well caller, there’s only one thing you can do: fake sick and stay home. Thanks for calling.

Folks, you’re listening to ‘Livin’ Liberal’. You check your cat’s litterbox, but do you check its privilege? Find out why you should after these messages from our sponsor.”

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

What’s next? Donating the proceeds from sale of his unicorn?

Jul 1st, 2015 5:20 pm | By

A blistering explanation of what’s sexist about the backlash against the response to Tim Hunt’s day out by medical doctor Amy Tuteur.

Tim Hunt made offensive comments about women scientists in front of a group of women scientists. He apologized and he resigned.

Many men feel very bad about this.

No, not bad about the fact that Hunt felt free to humiliate women at a meeting designed to honor them. Be serious! They felt bad that any male scientist should be held to account for his not so subtle put down.

Maybe they wouldn’t mind it so much if he were a young bench scientist – but Tim Hunt is senior and important. Senior important guys shouldn’t be held to account, because not being held to account should be one of the perks of being senior and important.

There are a few apologists that are willing to acknowledge the obvious, but then minimize its significance. Jonathan Dimbleby, a broadcaster and writer has resignedhis honorary appointment at University College of London, in solidarity with Tim Hunt.

According to Dimbleby:

This is not an offence that should be enough to ensure a distinguished scientist should be told to resign his position.

Woah! What’s next? Donating the proceeds from sale of his unicorn? Nothing like demonstrating your support (resigning an honorary post) in a way that changes nothing and costs you nothing.

I like the unicorn line.

Moreover … and let me see if I can spell it in terms Hunt’s apologists can understand … the issue is not the joke. The issue is the gender bias behind the joke. Someone who feels free to make women the butt of his jokes at a conference designed to honor women may be so clueless about his own gender bias that he feels equally free to display and act on it in his treatment of his female graduate students.

Tim Hunt was entirely free to make offensive remarks to women. Connie St. Louis was entirely free to report his remarks. UCL was entirely free to condemn him for it.

The fact that apologists think there should be no consequences for Hunt’s speech, but condemnation and worse for those who were offended by it, is a classic tactic in dismissing gender bias, and it is unacceptable.

Damn right.

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

Just like treat her like you don’t even like her

Jul 1st, 2015 11:13 am | By

Frontline did a show on trans children and adolescents yesterday.

One was Alex Singh.

As he and his family navigate this new landscape, Alex also been forced to grapple with fundamental questions about gender and identity — beyond a beard or an Adam’s apple, for example, what does it take to be a guy?

“I always like see these really cool guys and I’m always like, I want to be like them,” says Alex. “Morgan and Ben were those like cool guys that I wanted to be like. Once I really realized that they were perfectly fine with me being transgender, it was like a whole new world for me.”

In the show you see the three of them hanging out and talking. One thing that one of the cool guys jumped right out at me, in a mix of sorrow and anger and frustration…

In the video below — the second in a series of Facebook first mini-documentaries from FRONTLINE tied to our new film, Growing Up TransBen and Morgan share some advice with Alex. For example, “If you have to burp, just let it fly.” And when it comes to talking to girls, “try not to really show any emotion … just like treat her like you don’t even like her.”


No, don’t do that. Don’t be an asshole. Don’t buy into the message that being a guy requires being an asshole. Don’t train yourself to have no feelings, and don’t train girls to put up with being hit on by guys who don’t even like them.

The advice, Alex says, has helped him to fit in.

“The like tactics and all the information that they’re giving me, I definitely use it,” says Alex. “People thought I was weird so I think they just kind of push away. Now that I have friends that actually like accept me and respect me, that are guys, I feel very comfortable and I feel like I’m definitely more … guy-ish, I guess. You could say. I’m more myself.”

Or more like them, which is just sad.

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

Church fires

Jul 1st, 2015 10:02 am | By

An AME church burned to the ground last night in Greeleyville, South Carolina. It was burned down once before, twenty years ago. An anonymous fed told reporters the preliminary indications are not arson.

The predominantly African American congregation is more than 100 years old. Their church building had previously been burned to the ground in June 1995, almost exactly 20 years before Tuesday’s blaze.

Two young white men with ties to the Ku Klux Klan were arrested in connection with the fire, according to documents from House Judiciary Committee hearings held in 1996. The men were members of the KKK during the time of the burnings, but since renounced their membership, their lawyer said.

Arrested but not tried or convicted? The Post doesn’t say.

Many onlookers on social media speculated that it had been intentionally set, the latest in a number of arson cases at black churches that have broken out since nine people were slain in a hate-fueled shooting at Emanuel AME in Charleston last month.

Pete Mohlin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in North Charleston, told the Post and Courier that the Greeleyville area saw a great deal of lightning between 6:30 and 7 p.m. But, he added, there is no way of knowing whether lightning started the fire.

Jim Lippard pointed out on Facebook that there are a lot of churches in this country, so there are bound to be a lot of fires, and we need comparative numbers.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is also on the scene. The agency is leading investigations of five other fires that have struck Southern predominantly black churches in recent weeks. So far, three of the incidents have been identified as arson or potential arson, but none are confirmed to be hate crimes.

Church fires are not all that uncommon, according to a 2013 report from the National Fire Protection Association, the trade association that develops fire codes. The group found an average of 1,780 fires per year at churches, mosques, temples and other religious buildings between 2007 and 2011, of which 16 percent were intentionally set. It does not identify how many of the blazes turned out to be hate crimes.

On the other hand none of the intentional ones were messages of friendship, I think we can all agree.

Churches have long been symbols of freedom and sites of resistance in the African American community. Much of the political organizing and activism of the civil rights movement took place in church sanctuaries and involved religious leaders.

In his eulogy at the funeral of Clementa Pinckney, pastor at Emanuel AME who was slain in the shooting, last Friday, President Obama called the black church, “Our beating heart. The place where our dignity as a people is inviolate.”

But their political and cultural power has also made these congregations targets in high-profile attacks like the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and in hundreds more smaller and less widely-covered incidents.

Next time send a letter.

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

Quite the rabbit hole

Jul 1st, 2015 9:20 am | By

Phil Plait says ALL the things.

He starts with Tim Hunt’s day out.

He made a series of sexist comments, saying that the problem with “girls” in science is that they fall in love with the men, the men fall in love with them, and when you confront them they cry. He then went on to suggest labs should be single-sex.

He thought at first it was a very bad joke, but found there’s more to it than that.

Many science journalists were at the lunch and witnessed the whole thing, including Deborah Blum, Ivan Oransky, Charles Seife, and Connie St. Louis. After discussing what they saw and heard, they decided St. Louis should write an article about it on her blog at Scientific American. What’s very important to note here is that both Blumand Oransky have corroborated St. Louis’s report, multiple times. Seife did as well. Blum asked Hunt about his comments, and he confirmed that he thought women were too emotional to work with men in labs.

In other words, it’s clear that even if he framed it as a joke, he was being sincere in his meaning and intent.

As is so often the case with jokes, especially with snotty put-down jokes like this one. The disingenuous claims of shock and disbelief about this strain my credulity until all the bolts pop out. You have to live inside a tree trunk to be unaware of people who use “jokes” as ways to get away with saying shitty things.

Plait goes through the response, #distractinglysexy, the resignations from his honorary position at UCL and the board of the European Research Council and the Biological Science Awards Committee of the Royal Society, and reminds readers that these were all honorary positions and he lost no income by resigning them.

At this point the backlash began. Richard Dawkins, who, honestly, should know better by now than to wade into controversies about sexism, defended Hunt against what he termed a “witch hunt.”

He should know better, shouldn’t he. People keep telling him. He keeps ignoring those people.

Hunt’s comments and the defense of them were bad enough, but the situation has taken an even worse turn.

The execrable Daily Mail has waded into this. On Friday, it published what can only be called a hit piece on Connie St. Louis which, bizarrely, was endorsed by Dawkins.

Bizarrely in some ways, but not in others. Bizarrely if you expect him to have standards, but not bizarrely if you know how intensely he hates feminism at this point.

To say the article is problematic is to severely understate the case. It attacks St. Louis’s credentials; however, she is an award-winning journalist, former President of the Association of British Science Writers and was recently elected to the Board of the World Federation of Science Journalists. The City University London (where she is a Senior Lecturer) has publicly supported her after the Daily Mail article came out. St. Louis points out numerous errors in the article there as well.

But at least its heart is in the right place.

Hahahaha totally kidding.

And now another attack piece on St. Louis has been posted on the far-right-wing Breitbart site, saying she has become immune from criticism because she’s black.

Yes, you read that right. And that’s not all. In a sentence so tone deaf I’d swear it’s parody, the author, Milo Yiannopoulis, writes:

St Louis is responsible for the sacking of Sir Tim Hunt, a Nobel prize-winning biochemist who became the target of an online lynch mob after his comments about women in science were taken out of context.

Yes, again, you read that right. You might ignore the obviously incorrect statements in that one sentence (Hunt wasn’t sacked, he was asked to resign from an honorary position; and as we’ve seen his comments were not taken out of context), but it’s much harder to ignore that, in an article attacking a woman because she’s black, Yiannopoulis used the phrase “lynch mob.”


Yiannopoulis, for his part, is a vocal advocate for Gamergate, a movement that claims it’s  “actually about ethics in gaming journalism” (a phrase so thin it’s become a standard Internet joke), but which has also been viciously attacking women online. Yiannopoulis appeared on the British 24 hour news channel Sky News to “debate” this topic with Dr. Emily Grossman; while glib, his arguments were unconvincing, and unsurprisingly Grossman has been receiving misogynistic backlash for her appearance (that link also shines a light on more of Yiannopolous’s incorrect statements).

Clearly, this is quite the rabbit hole.

Isn’t it? Isn’t it just? It should have been over three weeks ago, and instead it’s grinding on like the mills of god.

The good news is that at least this important issue is getting airtime, getting discussed. The problem is it’s also getting hijacked, distorted, and drowned out by nonsense. This happens every time institutionalized sexism is discussed.

That’s the upside: lots of good writing, and lots of people better known.

Thank you Phil Plait.

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

Thankfully former

Jul 1st, 2015 8:22 am | By

Tim Fenton at the blog Zelo Street has, like me, been watching the obsessive bullying by Louise Mensch of anyone who reported on Tim Hunt’s crappy sexist “jokes” at that fateful lunch in Seoul.

[A]s the first paper to indulge in whataboutery over Hunt’s comments was the Murdoch Times, it should surprise no-one that (thankfully) former Tory MP Louise Mensch has gone off on one about the story – and is still at it, two and a half weeks later. “He said it in a very lighthearted manner with no outward hint of malice, condescension, or derision” she claims of Hunt’s remarks, omitting that this was someone’s opinion, delivered after the event.

He shares a lot of her rude, aggressive, imperious, threatening tweets – a lot yet they are a fraction of the number she has sent. Stuff like this –

– and my favorite for sheer peremptory issuing of orders yesterday, this –

She talks like a cop or a prosecutor. On Twitter.

And she wasn’t letting Ms Bishop off the hook: “answer the question did you personally demand his resignation before speaking to him or establishing the facts … did you personally speak to Connie St Louis whose account is a proven lie”. Ms St Louis might have something to say about that. But what Ms Mensch has to say about Tim Hunt will not move the story forward one millimetre.

She’s been banging on about this for the last fortnight. Incessantly and obsessively. Nobody who matters will care what she writes.

All that, in aid of saying sexist “jokes” weren’t sexist. What a noble cause.

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

If a highly respected and liked Nobel Laureate can say it

Jun 30th, 2015 5:27 pm | By

Something Hilda Bastian said in a comment on Dorothy Bishop’s post on the media spin of Tim Hunt’s day out.

The differences here do not seem to be so much “what” was said, but whether or not it was meant to be “self-deprecating.” And that is rather beside the point. The statements included some extraordinarily hurtful stereotypes about a gender, and about one gender in the scientific workplace. That sends a message, if a highly respected and liked Nobel Laureate can say it, then there’s something ok with it. The outpouring of both sexist, misogynist, and now racist statements across the comment streams of newspapers and the internet generally, with people clearly thinking they have some kind of common cause with a Nobel Laureate, proves the point of how harmful social sanction for sexist remarks can be. That’s not less so if it’s a joke, and not less so if they are not intended to be malicious. Saying afterwards “hey, just kidding!” doesn’t make it alright.

All of that. This whole phenomenon of people raging about feminist lynch mobs is yet another bit of social sanction for sexist remarks (and sexist diatribes and sexist rants and sexist lectures). I’m not as depressed and disgusted as I might be, because there are a lot of excellent people pushing back against the sexism…but I’m still pretty disgusted by how quick people are to attack feminism while denying obvious sexism.

Those who think attacks on Tim Hunt are wrong, but attacks on journalists doing what journalists are mean to do are fully ok, are being utterly hypocritical. Our societies need scientists and journalists. And we need to be able to debate issues without ad hominem attacks. Tim Hunt is clearly a good and highly respected person – and so are Connie St Louis, Deborah Blum and Ivan Oransky. Attempts to denigrate them as people are sickening and the sooner it stops, the better. In particular, the attacks on Connie St Louis, which include a vast amount of racist bile, are colossally offensive. That our society seems unable to stem the misogyny and racism that has been unleashed is the strongest possible argument for why respected people must not themselves add discriminatory remarks to the public discourse.

Exactly so.

City University London has released a statement in support of Connie St Louis:

29th June 2015

A spokesperson for City University London said:

“We have spoken to Connie and are satisfied that her academic qualifications are correct. We will be working with her to update her profile page to include more recent publications and professional activities.”

Connie St Louis, a Senior Lecturer in Journalism at City University London, said:

“An article in Saturday’s Daily Mail makes a number of inaccurate and misleading allegations about me, and attempts to discredit me after I reported comments by the Nobel prize-winning scientist, Sir Tim Hunt.

“I reject the accusation that I have ‘hounded’ Sir Tim. The action I took was to draw attention to comments that Sir Tim made during a speech to delegates earlier this month at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul. A number of newspapers and broadcasters around the world, including the Daily Mail, reported the story and quoted me. I consider that by reporting controversial comments by Sir Tim I was simply fulfilling my role as a science journalist.

“Since the story broke, the response to the story has been overwhelmingly positive and has resulted in the excellent #distractinglysexy campaign. However, recently I have been subjected to an increasing number of personal attacks, including receiving a number of abusive e-mails and I have also been attacked on social media. Now my professional reputation is being attacked by a story which draws attention to an out-of-date version of my website profile that I will be updating.

“I should perhaps not be surprised by the treatment I have been receiving for reporting, as a science journalist, Sir Tim’s comments about women scientists. Nevertheless, I am disappointed that the Daily Mail has chosen to publish such an inaccurate and misleading article.”

So there’s that.

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

“Bigoted is a huge word that gets thrown around”

Jun 30th, 2015 3:38 pm | By

Have the sick-basin handy for this one.

You’re not alone. [voice choked with tears] You’re not alone.


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

Call him a cynic

Jun 30th, 2015 3:28 pm | By

One of those think-pieces that just don’t need to be written…by Charles White, Deputy Editor of The Tab Durham.

Last week saw a landmark moment as LGBT and straight people celebrated equal marriage in America and another year of Pride –– just by changing profile pictures on Facebook.

You must have seen the rainbow photos which started appearing on your newsfeed from Saturday. If you’re straight you can add the colours to your profile and everyone will know you’re down with Pride.

Call me a cynic, but how long do you really think these pictures will stay up? In a few days, they’re bound to disappear –– one by one, Rainbow filters will be replaced by Instagram Valencia again.

I don’t have an opinion on the subject…but even if I did, so what? They disappear or they don’t, so what? They were a celebration; who says they have to be permanent, or stay up for at least a month, to be ok? What need is there for cynicism about them?

Straight people can rest assured they’ve done their job. Everything around the world is great so, sit back, relax and change your Facebook profile picture back again.

These worthy right-on types have a time limit for this sort of thing. So how long? A week? Two?

This sort of easy slacktivism is the equivalent of “one like = one prayer”. Both are nonsense and an offensive simplification of reality.

Hey! Fuck you – I’m a straight people and I don’t think I’ve “done my job” – the thought never crossed my mind. I don’t have any illusion that a rainbow profile on Facebook means everything around the world is great. Sheesh – give us a Dear Muslima while you’re at it.

It’s not “slacktivism” – nobody I know of confused it with any kind of activism.

There is a dangerous foe we queers need to prepare against and it might just be you, the fair-weather ally.

Listened to one too many Ariana Grande bangers in the union bar, didn’t you? And now all of a sudden you’re ready to take on the heterosexual hegemony.

Was it a celebration of marriage equality? Well I don’t remember you flying to Belfast and to tear down the Peace Walls in an act of sheer ruddy queer optimism.

That’s a dumbass thing to say when writing a piece for a general audience – of course he doesn’t remember “me” or “us” flying to Belfast, because he has no idea who we are in the first place, so how could he?

Are you going to keep that banner up till every single queer in the world is liberated? Or will you just change it subtly in a couple of days and hope nobody notices?

It’s almost like you want them to notice so you can get more likes on yet another profile picture. Summer’s coming up so your beach bod needs immortalising in a perfect profile picture of hot brilliance, not worthy of being obscured by a rainbow.

And on it goes in the same vein, for many paragraphs, with several people’s profiles singled out for sneering. One interrogation too many.

I could easily see finding the rainbows personally irritating and cloying, and saying so, but that’s not political, it’s just a matter of taste. I have Grump-taste, so I know all about finding things too sentimental and saccharine, but spitting in people’s faces for no reason is a whole other thing.

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