Notes and Comment Blog

Another book on science and morality

Feb 16th, 2013 5:58 pm | By

Michael Shermer is writing a book on science and morality, and he’s written a preview or summary or overture at Massimo Pigliucci’s blog.

It looks as if he’s just doing Sam Harris’s project all over again, which seems superfluous, but who knows. A sample from the preview or summary:

Given that moral principles must be founded on something natural instead of supernatural, and that science is the best tool we have devised for understanding the natural world, applying evolutionary theory to not only the origins of morality but to its ultimate foundation as well, it seems to me that the individual is a reasonable starting point because, (1) the individual is the primary target of natural selection in evolution, and (2) it is the individual who is most effected by moral and immoral acts. Thus:

The survival and flourishing of the individual is the foundation for establishing values and morals, and so determining the conditions by which humans best survive and flourish ought to be the goal of a science of morality.
Here we find a smooth transition from the way nature is (the individual struggling to survive and flourish in an evolutionary context) to the way it ought to be (given a choice, it is more moral to act in a way that enhances the survival and flourishing of other individuals).
He wants to know what people think.
Note to my readers: What I am outlining here is the basis for my next book, The
Moral Arc of Science, which I am researching and writing now, so I ask you to
post your critiques here or email me your constructive criticisms (
My role model is Charles Darwin, who solicited criticisms of his theory of
evolution and included them in a chapter entitled “Difficulties on Theory” in
On the Origin of Species. Of course, if you agree with me, and/or think
of additional examples in support of my theory, then I would appreciate hearing
those as well!
So tell him what you think.

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

Torture in PNG

Feb 16th, 2013 5:47 pm | By

A long, horrific article about attacks on “witches” in Papua New Guinea.

One excerpt. Trigger warning.

Angela was naked, staked-out, spread-eagled on a rough frame before them, a blindfold tied over her eyes, a fire burning in a nearby drum. Being unable to see can only have inflated her terror, her sense of powerlessness and the menace around her; breathing the smoke and feeling the heat of the fire where the irons being used to burn her were warmed until they glowed. Would she be cooked, on that fire? She must have known it had happened to others before — and would soon infamously happen again, the pictures finding their way around the world.

The photographs witnesses took of Angela’s torture are shocking, both for the cruelty of the attackers and the torpid body-language of the spectators. Stone-faced     men and women and wide-eyed children huddle under umbrellas, sheltering from the drenched highlands air as Angela writhes against the tethers at her wrists and ankles, twisting her body away from the length of hot iron which a young man aims at her genitals.

There are more horrors, but a nun named Sister Gaudentia managed to save Angela and her mother in the end. Other women are not saved.



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

Sock puppet harasser heads to prison

Feb 16th, 2013 3:58 pm | By

Another dip into the archives. This time our voyage in Time’s charabanc takes us to November 2010. The post was Tragic end of a sock puppet.

A sock puppet goes to jail.

A lawyer was sentenced Thursday to six months in jail after being convicted of an ultramodern crime that was all about antiquity: using online aliases to harass people in an academic debate about the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Oh gosh, who would use online aliases to harass people in an academic debate? I never heard of such a thing.

Prosecutors said Golb crossed the line between discourse and crime by using fake e-mail accounts and writing blog posts under assumed names to discredit detractors of his father, a scholar. Golb said the writings amounted to pointed parody and academic whistle-blowing that he felt were protected by free-speech rights.

The New York Times now revisits.

“This has nothing to do with scholarly debate,” said Lawrence H. Schiffman, vice provost of Yeshiva University and a widely published authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, who became the prime target of Mr. Golb’s online activities. “It has to do with criminal activity.

“Fraud, impersonation and harassment are criminal matters,” he continued. “This was actually designed to literally end my career.”

Using free speech, which is totally ok. Or not.

He started a blog; then another and another, each under a different name. The aliases begot other aliases, known on the Internet as sock puppets: 20, 40, 60, 80. The sock puppets debated with other posters, each time linking to other sock puppets to support their arguments, creating the impression of an army of engaged scholars espousing Norman Golb’s ideas. Using the alias Charles Gadda (from the Italian writer Carlo Emilio Gadda), Raphael Golb published articles on the citizen news Web site NowPublic and linked to them in comments and blog posts written under other aliases. The writings all championed Norman Golb as an honest scholar bucking a well-financed, self-serving conspiracy.

Fraud, in other words. Is that protected free speech? I don’t know, but I have a hard time thinking it should be. I’ve been arguing about this for years, because I think actual falsification shouldn’t be protected free speech, but there are those who think it should. I’m not saying it should get jail time, but should it be grounds for firing for instance? Yes. If David Irving had had an academic job, his falsification of history should have been grounds for firing. Raphael Golb doesn’t have an academic job, but what he was doing was fraudulent as hell.

One of Mr. Golb’s targets was a graduate student named Robert R. Cargill, who created a virtual tour of Qumran for the San Diego museum.

Norman Golb posted an article on the Web site of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago complaining that the film’s script ignored his theory.

Raphael Golb went further, sending pseudonymous e-mails to Mr. Cargill’s professors at U.C.L.A.

“I said this person should be compelled to answer the published criticisms of his work at his Ph.D. defense,” Raphael Golb said. Some of the e-mail messages suggested that Mr. Cargill, who describes himself as agnostic, was a fundamentalist Christian and an anti-Semite.

Mr. Cargill, who is now 39 and an assistant professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa, remembered Mr. Golb’s campaign as a frontal assault meant to thwart his career.

“Any time someone hears the name Robert Cargill, they hear, he’s anti-Semitic,” Mr. Cargill said. “Let’s say I’m applying for a job and I’m in a pool of 10 finalists. When they do background checking, they see this Cargill looks like he’s being criticized as anti-Semitic. We don’t know if it’s legitimate, but it’s safer to go with someone else.”

This is what people are trying to do to all of us: put enough garbage out there that some of it will stick no matter how fraudulent it is.

Cargill traced Golb’s emails to his IP address. Golb pretends that is harassment.

Ronald Kuby, a lawyer for Raphael Golb, last week disputed Mr. Cargill’s characterization of himself as an innocent victim, writing in an e-mail message that “he played a vile role in this case. Among other things, Cargill spend hundreds of hours obsessively tracking down ‘Charles Gadda’ because of the latter’s online criticisms, engaged in his own sock puppetry while concealing it and condemning Golb for the same thing.” Mr. Kuby added, “Cargill is probably a lot of fun to chat with, but he is more than capable of using his hurt puppy persona to manipulate the criminal justice system.”

Mr. Golb put it this way: “Cargill was stalking me.”

Omigod. Yes, the way I “stalk” my harassers to correct their lies and protest their harassment. It’s not the same thing. At least the New York prosecutors get that.

There was this guy Schiffman the Golbs were mad at.

This time, in addition to using sock puppets, Raphael Golb said, he created an e-mail account with the address of, and wrote to Dr. Schiffman’s employers, colleagues and students at N.Y.U., “confessing” to having plagiarized Norman Golb in developing his own ideas about the scrolls.

“Apparently, someone is intent on exposing a failing of mine that dates back almost fifteen years ago,” one e-mail read. “It is true that I should have cited Dr. Golb’s articles when using his arguments, and it is true that I misrepresented his ideas. But this is simply the politics of Dead Sea Scrolls studies. If I had given credit to this man, I would have been banned from conferences around the world.” The e-mail was signed, “Lawrence Schiffman, professor.”

Sitting among stacks of papers, books, conga drums, assorted sneakers and other clutter in his Greenwich Village apartment, a stone’s throw from N.Y.U., Raphael Golb said he had intended the e-mails as obvious parody — that no sentient person would believe a professor would write such things, or sign his missive “professor.” The distinction was important, Mr. Golb said, because the First Amendment protects parody. “I didn’t realize I was dealing with idiots,” Mr. Golb said.

Oh pu-leeze. No, that is not parody, any more than those two Twitter accounts that send tweets under my real name are parody. Parody would not use my real name; parody would not use Schiffman’s real name.

But people did believe the e-mails were real, Dr. Schiffman said. “I was walking out of my office and a graduate student says to me, ‘I got your e-mail from last night.’ I said, ‘wait a minute, what e-mail?’ ”

Dr. Schiffman went to the F.B.I., contacting an agent he had advised on a prior case. “You know how the F.B.I. says, ‘once you’re one of ours, you’re always one of ours?’ ” he said. “It’s totally true. They told me the assistant D.A. to call. ‘Tell him you spoke to us.’ ”

Raphael Golb was naked and asleep when police officers came to his apartment early on the morning of March 5, 2009, arresting him on 51 charges of identity theft, aggravated harassment, criminal impersonation, forgery and unauthorized use of the computers in an N.Y.U. library. He had been up all of the previous night writing comments or blog posts under his various aliases. The officers seized Mr. Golb’s computers and led him handcuffed from his building. Waiving his rights to a lawyer and to remain silent, Mr. Gold denied sending any bogus e-mail messages, telling the investigators that Dr. Schiffman had filed a false complaint “out of maliciousness toward my father.”

[pauses to gaze dreamily into the distance for several minutes]

Mr. Golb remains disappointed that First Amendment advocates, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, have declined to support him, though they were asked. “I’m astonished at their silence,” he said. “I don’t want to inflate myself, but the consequences of this are obvious. When we start to allow prosecutors to act on behalf of resentful professors to whom no harm was done at all, it’s frightening.” Harm was done, you piece of shit. I hope your prison food is full of weevils.

The district attorney’s office declined to speak on the record about a pending case, but in a statement after the verdict in 2010, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the district attorney, said, “Using fictitious identities to impersonate victims is not what open academic debate seeks to foster,” adding: “It is true that the vast majority of identity thieves seek to steal their victims’ money, but in some cases, identity thieves maliciously intend to damage their victims’ reputations and harass them, while cowering in anonymity. Such was the case here.”

Weevils and the feces of weevils.



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

Unmeasured vituperation on the side of the prevailing opinion

Feb 16th, 2013 12:37 pm | By

Whither civility, eh? Dan Fincke has his Pledge. (His what? His pledge? What is he, Louisa May Alcott?) Chris Clarke has his sarcastic pledge. I like Chris Clarke’s better.

I pledge to keep a sense of perspective. Tossing basic civil rights under the bus in order to maintain a jury-rigged superficial peace in a single-issue movement is a bad bargain.

That. Fincke’s pledge (his pledge?) is all too reminiscent of Lee Moore’s attempt to jury-rig peace between harassers and the people they are harassing.

Fincke’s “civility” has resulted in mildew people posting lies about me in his comments, which are still sitting there uncontradicted because Fincke has wandered off somewhere, and new comments are held in moderation. I posted a correction yesterday morning – some 30 hours ago – and it still hasn’t appeared. Civil? Not so much.

“Pitchguest” – safe behind the mask – posted the lies. “Commander Tuvok” – safe behind the mask – repeated them.

Or if we should continue, why not Ophelia Benson, who called an AVfM contributor a ‘stupid bitch’ (despite how she doesn’t use such epithets)

No I didn’t. I called myself that, ironically, in a tweet. I’ve posted that correction before, and we all know “Pitchguest” and the rest of them have seen it because we know they leave nothing of mine unread unmonitored unstalked. They know they’re lying, but they go on lying, and Fincke doesn’t even curate his own comments responsibly. “Civil” ha.

Comments on Chris’s post took me back to one from March 2008. Gosh those were the days. Sheril Kirshenbaum ordering PZ to mind his manners. That in turn reminded me of one at ur-B&W from 2009, citing G Felis (the philosophical primate) quoting Mill.

So have some Mill again, courtesy of Bartleby.

Mill wrote in an age when paragraphs were long – our acquaintance Mr Paden would feel more at home there – and his paragraphs were long even for that age. I’ve made paragraphs where there were no paragraphs. Begging your pardon, Mr Mill.

Before quitting the subject of freedom of opinion, it is fit to take some notice of those who say, that the free expression of all opinions should be permitted, on condition that the manner be temperate, and do not pass the bounds of fair discussion. Much might be said on the impossibility of fixing where these supposed bounds are to be placed; for if the test be offence to those whose opinion is attacked, I think experience testifies that this offence is given whenever the attack is telling and powerful, and that every opponent who pushes them hard, and whom they find it difficult to answer, appears to them, if he shows any strong feeling on the subject, an intemperate opponent.

But this, though an important consideration in a practical point of view, merges in a more fundamental objection. Undoubtedly the manner of asserting an opinion, even though it be a true one, may be very objectionable, and may justly incur severe censure. But the principal offences of the kind are such as it is mostly impossible, unless by accidental self-betrayal, to bring home to conviction. The gravest of them is, to argue sophistically, to suppress facts or arguments, to misstate the elements of the case, or misrepresent the opposite opinion.


Skipping ahead a little.

With regard to what is commonly meant by intemperate discussion, namely invective, sarcasm, personality, and the like, the denunciation of these weapons would deserve more sympathy if it were ever proposed to interdict them equally to both sides; but it is only desired to restrain the employment of them against the prevailing opinion: against the unprevailing they may not only be used without general disapproval, but will be likely to obtain for him who uses them the praise of honest zeal and righteous indignation. Yet whatever mischief arises from their use, is greatest when they are employed against the comparatively defenceless; and whatever unfair advantage can be derived by any opinion from this mode of asserting it, accrues almost exclusively to received opinions.

Punching down, in other words.

In general, opinions contrary to those commonly received can only obtain a hearing by studied moderation of language, and the most cautious avoidance of unnecessary offence, from which they hardly ever deviate even in a slight degree without losing ground: while unmeasured vituperation employed on the side of the prevailing opinion, really does deter people from professing contrary opinions, and from listening to those who profess them. For the interest, therefore, of truth and justice, it is far more important to restrain this employment of vituperative language than the other; and, for example, if it were necessary to choose, there would be much more need to discourage offensive attacks on infidelity, than on religion.

And, for example, if it were necessary to choose, there would be much more need to discourage offensive attacks on feminism, than on ideological sexism.

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


Feb 16th, 2013 10:44 am | By

There’s a nice atheist/freethinkers/humanist con coming up: Apostacon: A Midwest Freethought Conference, in Omaha, September 20-22. Omaha! The heart of the midwest. A place in need of more and more apostates and freethinkers.

A couple of thoughts though. One, not nearly enough women. Four out of nineteen. Not.e.nough.

Two, they forgot to get Vyckie Garrison to speak. Midwest freethinkers and apostates! You’re missing a trick! Vyckie is just up the road from you. Vyckie is No Longer Quivering. You need Vyckie.

Vyckie’s talk at Eschaton 2012 was dynamite. I can’t wait for the video to come out so that you can see for yourselves. She has fascinating material – life as a Quiverfull woman, and what it did to her and her children and her husband, and how much better things are now that she and her children have escaped. She has fascinating material, and she presents it well – not least, she’s damn funny.

They need her.

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

He is over the

Feb 15th, 2013 6:53 pm | By

Ben Radford has been exposed to some straw feminists, and he wants us to know he’s over them.

I am over the male bashing often inherent in feminist writings and slogans; “All men are rapists” is neither true nor fair nor helpful.

“Often inherent in feminist writings and slogans”? What does that even mean? He must mean “inherent in many feminist writings and slogans.” But then what does he mean “inherent”? That’s a very odd word to choose. It’s not “inherent” in anything; it’s either put in by the writer or it’s not. Maybe he means “inherently illiberal” or something like that. It’s a pity he’s not more inherently careful when writing.

And then, he’s right about the silly slogan he quotes, but is that a claim you see a lot? It’s a claim I see never, except from people who just hate feminism, period. He presents it as if it’s a commonplace, but…it isn’t. Not even close.

I am over the wanton slinging of labels like “misogynist” and “sexist” and “sister hater” and “gender traitor” and “rape apologist” to people who dare criticize feminists.

What “wanton slinging”? And notice the list, cited as if they’re all on a level. Notice that the last three are nouns for people but the first two can be adjectives as well as nouns. Notice that calling a claim or a remark “sexist” is not the same thing as calling the person who makes the remark a sexist. Notice the generality; notice that we can’t be sure what people he has in mind; notice the sloppy lazy angry…well, wanton slinging.

I am over social activists, including those whose causes I support, who value emotion and anecdote over truth, facts, and critical thinking.

Uh huh. Like for instance?

I’m beginning to get the picture though. He’s really mad at some people – some people he thinks of as feminists, or feminisssssssts, to be specific – and he’s having a good old rage about them, but he can’t be bothered to be specific, so he just froths generally. That’s truth, facts and critical thinking as opposed to emotion and anecdote, I guess. Good that he values truth over emotion.

I am over thin-skinned “feminists” who blithely and intentionally confuse legitimate questions and criticism of their facts or claims with misogyny and sexism; it is insulting to real victims of misogyny and sexism.

Who are these people? Are they the horribly large and menacing women he dreams about every night?

I can do this. I am over lazy feminist-haters who blithely and intentionally pile up straw feminist after straw feminist without even a stab at trying to back up what they’re claiming. Only I’ll go Radford one better: I have an example in mind: it’s Ben Radford.

I am over blaming TV, movies, magazines, and video games for real-life violence-including violence against women. Just as sexy clothes do not cause rape, violent and sexual images do not cause rape; rapists cause rape.

Wo, I did not know that. I totally thought violent images could actually rape people. I’ve been so confused.

Ok, I’m finished. What’s his problem? Has the whole pink toys blowup festered in his mind that long and that deeply? Did a feminist eat all the ice cream that one time? Does he have a toothache?

Whatevs. But what an unargued and sloppy outburst.




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

God put them into that situation

Feb 15th, 2013 5:55 pm | By

Mary Ellen boiled down the irony of the pope’s retirement very neatly on Monday, but unfortunately in the rush of various flying missiles I didn’t get to it until today.

Guest post by Mary Ellen Foley

Somebody gets into a situation in which their health begins to fail, and if they stay in that situation, it might kill them.  They believe that God himself put them into that situation, but they just don’t feel that they can see it through — the strain is just physically too much.  And anyway, they’d prefer a quiet life, and they want to spend their time studying.

So if this person is a pregnant woman whose pregnancy is life-threatening, the Pope says she has to go through with it even if it kills her.

If this person is the Pope himself, however, he gets to retire.

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

Poverty is caused by poor people

Feb 15th, 2013 3:52 pm | By

The Tories want to re-describe poverty as being not to do with a lack of money. Next project: re-describe hypothermia as being not to do with lack of heat.

The government’s desire to alter the official definition of child poverty risks deliberately downplaying the importance of money just as a series of government policies will reduce the incomes of poor families, a group of senior academics warn in a letter to the Guardian.

Let’s define it as a lack of initiative, shall we? A shortage of grit and determination and ambition? A refusal to get up at 5 a.m.? A habit of eating three pieces of pie every evening?

A consultation on how to measure child poverty more accurately that was launched last November, seeking input from charities and experts into “better measures of child poverty”, comes to an end on Friday. The government believes that a wider definition of what constitutes poverty will give a better picture of what it means to “grow up experiencing deep disadvantage“.

A better picture, eh? So that they can hang it next to the Van Dyke in the library?

Professor Jonathan Bradshaw, the lead consultant on the UK’s contribution to Unicef’s Child Well-Being report, said he believed that the government was “trying to move the goalposts” at a time when child poverty was increasing rapidly.

He described the consultation document as the worst paper setting down government policy direction he had ever read, questioned whether it was written by civil servants and said it read more like it had been “plagiarised from a right-wing thinktank tract”.

He said civil servants had been working for the past 40 years on developing accurate poverty measures, but the document had ignored previous work by the department on the subject as well as ignoring work by academics in the field. The new approach would not work because it attempted to “combine all sorts of things that are the consequence of poverty or may be even be the causes of poverty, but are not a measure of child poverty”.

That’s the best wheeze of all: treating the consequences of poverty as the causes of poverty. That way you get to stop spending money on it, and you get to sneer and judge at the same time. Look at you, you dirty peasant, you never went to school; no wonder you’re poor!

In a speech to launch the consultation, Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, outlined his theory that other factors aside from money caused poverty, highlighting his concern about children growing up in “dysfunctional families”.

He argued: “It cannot be right that experiences so vital to childhood, like seeing a parent go out to work or growing up in a stable family, are not reflected in our understanding of child poverty.” He was critical of the Labour government’s focus on “income as the significant cause and solution”.

Sure enough…

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

Threatened frequently by Islamists

Feb 15th, 2013 3:33 pm | By

More on Ahmed Rajib and the context of his murder.

A blogger who had been critical of Bangladesh’s Islamist groups was killed in the capital late Friday, police said, a day after he attended a big rally against leaders of the country’s largest Islamic party.

Police found the body of Ahmed Rajib, 35 — better known by his online identity Thaba Baba — near his home in Dhaka’s Pallabi suburb, with his head hacked apart with a machete.

“We recovered the machete. It is clear the attacker wanted to murder him. They did not touch his laptop or other valuable objects,” police official Sheikh Motiur Rahman told AFP.

Police have not commented on a possible motive for the killing, but Rahman, citing Rajib’s relatives, said the blogger played a large role in organising the anti-Islamist protests.

Rajib’s brother, who declined to be named, told AFP his sibling had been “threatened frequently” by Islamists angry at his role in the protests and his writings against the religion.

He isn’t the first.

The killing late Friday was the second fatal attack in Dhaka against a blogger critical of Islamist groups in less than a month, after the stabbing death of a self-styled online “militant atheist” by three unidentified men near his office in the upscale Uttara district.

Taslima doesn’t live in Bangladesh any more. Tasneem doesn’t live in Bangladesh any more.

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

Dublin in June

Feb 15th, 2013 12:08 pm | By

Another upcoming event, this time in Dublin. Atheist Ireland is doing a conference called Empowering Women Through Secularism the weekend of 29-30 June 2013. I will be there.

Everybody should go to this! It will be fantastic.

Speakers will include

Fantastic, I tell you.

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

Blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh

Feb 15th, 2013 11:25 am | By

An activist blogger was murdered in Dhaka today.

A blogger and online activist, who was active in the Shahbagh movement, was killed in the capital’s Pallabi area Friday night, prompting the Shahbagh protesters to return to their 24-hour demonstration.

Police recovered the body of 30-year-old Ahmed Rajib Haider, full with indiscriminate stab injuries, from near his Kalshi residence in Mirpur.

I know nothing about the Shahbagh movement, but if he was killed for being an activist, I know something about the movement’s enemies, and thus a little about the movement by inference.

Pallabi police also confirmed that Rajib was an active participant of Shahbag movement.

Rajib used to write a Bangla blog nicknamed ‘Thaba Baba’.

He had also written many blog on the country’s Liberation War and Jamaat-e-Islami’s wicked activities.

About eight hours before his assassination, Rajib posted a status on Facebook calling upon mass people to boycott Jamaat’s media houses, coaching centers, cultural organisations and commercial institutions.

Ah. He was an opponent of Jamaat. Now he’s full of stab wounds, and dead.

Thanks to Tasneem Khalil for alerting me.

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

Brave hero and the impersonation-of-me Twitter accounts

Feb 14th, 2013 4:14 pm | By

Brave hero JREF Saviour ElevatorGATE storifies an “exchange” between two Twitter accounts that use my real name as their handles. No harassment here folks! Public figure! Freeze peach!

Conversation with @OPHELlABENSON and @OpheIiaBenson

  1. ACHTUNG! send us donations to annoy zee haterz ! zend us all the moneys now! #ftbullies#opheliabenson
  2. @OPHELlABENSON who ist dast femfuhrer? You ist dast femfuhrer! Hail thinky femfuhrer Ophitler!

Ain’t that funny? Tim Minchin, look to your laurels.

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

A disproportionate amount of verbal abuse

Feb 14th, 2013 1:29 pm | By

A new study provides evidence that yes Virginia in online gaming women are harassed much more than men. (This is in sharp contrast to philosophy, math, computer science, engineering, the military…wait…)

Using Halo 3 and choosing its most popular playlist as a sample group, they established three gamer tags, each assigned to either a pre-recorded male or female voice, or no voice at all, and recorded the reactions of their opponents after playing back innocous phrases designed to engage, but not anger, them (ex: “Hi everybody” or “I like this map”).

Taking into account negative and positive comments as well as neutral queries, this simple experiment (the full methodology of which you can read here) revealed that of the three gamertags, the one established as female received “roughly three times as many” directly negative comments than the male or control (no voice) gamertag did.

While the conclusions are unsurprising to anyone who plays games online, nonetheless the study provides verifiable evidence that women are in fact on the receiving end of a disproportionate amount of verbal abuse, and the many entries at Fat, Ugly, or Slutty are not isolated incidents so much as they are a grim illustration of status quo.

And the verbal abuse is just for being female, not for saying anything irritating like “I have an opinion on this.”

H/t Sarah Moglia.


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

Oh, did you say something?

Feb 14th, 2013 11:48 am | By

You know that thing where you make a point, and it gets ignored, and then a guy makes the same point – (yes, “you” are a woman in this particular that thing) and the guy you were talking to is all “good point, dude, thanks, I totally get it now”?


Stephanie summed it up in a tweet. (One of the virtues of tweets, innit. Summing up.)

Nothing like watching a male colleague be thanked for making the point I’d just made in a different form. Especially when talking sexism.



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

Baroness Warsi will defend

Feb 14th, 2013 10:29 am | By

The Telegraph rejoices at another paean to theocracy from “Baroness” Warsi.

Baroness Warsi will defend the right of Christians, Muslims, Jews and others to publicly practise their faith insisting that “people who do God do good”.

Her comments come in a speech in London marking the first anniversary of a landmark visit to the Vatican by a delegation of ministers in which she claimed that British society is under threat from the rising tide of “militant secularisation”.

Lots of work done in two sentences.

Warsi will “defend the right” – that’s not under attack. Nobody is taking away anyone’s right to publicly practice a religion, unless (of course) the “practice” is against a law or a set of local rules or the like. If someone’s religion requires her to scream under my windows at 3 in the morning, then I’m going to summon some cops to interfere with her right to practice in that way. If someone’s religion requires her to beat the crap out of her children then social services need to interfere with her right to practice in that way.

“People who do God do good.” Not necessarily. Some do, some don’t. Some do harm. Some do appalling harm.

How was Warsi’s junket to the Vatican a “landmark”? Who cares that it was exactly a year ago? Why is a delegation of government ministers visiting the Vatican – a religious institution, not a real state, despite its status as a pretend state courtesy of Signor Mussolini – at all? And what business does a government minister have attacking secularism? What business does a government minister have promoting or even demanding theocracy? Secularism doesn’t threaten the right to publicly practice a religion. It threatens only religious interference in or replacement of this-world government.

Lady Warsi, who combines a ministerial role in the Foreign Office with being Britain’s first minister for faith, will say that she went to meet Pope Benedict last year “to tell the world that Britain does do God”.

She will say: “There is one big reason why I made the case for faith that day … and why, I have made freedom of religion and belief a priority, and that’s that people who do God do good.”

Why does Britain need a “minister for faith”? For that matter why does “faith” even need a minister for faith?

Warsi is spectacularly clueless if she doesn’t realize that freedom of religion and belief depends on secularism.

H/t Roger.

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

Check your funding

Feb 14th, 2013 9:08 am | By

The Ottawa Citizen reports -

OTTAWA – An evangelical organization that describes homosexuality as a  “perversion” and a “sin” is receiving funding from the Government of Canada for its work in Uganda, where gays and lesbians face severe threats.

Well that seems like bad planning. The funding is for unrelated activities, but the government of Canada should find non-homophobic organizations to fund for unrelated activities.

The federal government has denounced virulent homophobia in that East African  country and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has condemned plans for an  anti-gay bill that could potentially include the death penalty for  homosexuals.

At the same time the government is providing $544,813 in funding for  Crossroads Christian Communications — an Ontario-based evangelical group that  produces television programming — to help dig wells, build latrines and promote  hygiene awareness in Uganda through 2014.

Until Tuesday, the organization’s website carried a list of “sexual sins”  deemed to be “perversion”: “Turning from the true and/or proper purpose of  sexual intercourse; misusing or abusing it, such as in pedophilia, homosexuality  and lesbianism, sadism, masochism, transvestism, and bestiality.”

Not a good fit for work in Uganda.

To be fair, the government is apparently looking into it.

Crossroads defends its position on homosexuality as grounded in  scripture.

“Crossroads’ views on sexuality are informed by our Christian faith and values,” spokeswoman Carolyn Innis told The Canadian Press in an email.

And that’s the problem with letting one’s views on sexuality be informed by one’s Christian faith and values, isn’t it. The views are shitty, and the adjective “Christian” doesn’t make them one bit less so. On the contrary, the adjective creates a halo effect for the views, which shields them from careful reasoning.

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

A valentine for Karen Armstrong

Feb 13th, 2013 3:36 pm | By

Good old NPR, always middlebrow to a fault. Talk about atheism and religion? Well you know what will be said, because NPR wouldn’t allow anything else to be said.

Sometimes the debate between atheism and religion can be enlightening, showing us how both of these different approaches dive deeply into the currents of human experience. Sometimes, however, it can be deeply depressing, devolving into hard lines and acrimony. As an atheist, I often find myself exasperated with what I call “strident atheism.”

The banality, it…well it doesn’t burn. It stifles with fuzzy fluffiness. Atheism and religion are “approaches,” which are different but not more or less accurate. They are approaches that dive (how can an approach dive?) “deeply into the currents of human experience.” Well that sounds profound, but is it right? Not particularly. It’s approximate, and it sounds deep to the unwary and inattentive. If there’s anything I dislike it’s writing that sounds deep to the unwary and inattentive and to no one else.

And then the atheist winds up brightly informing us that he has a brand new label for argumentative atheism, and that brand new label is “strident.”


People in this vein seem intent on ignoring the long narrative of human spiritual endeavor. They often reduce it to histories of ignorance and intolerance. Believers in strident atheism convince themselves that it’s OK to ignore the scholarship on the long and ancient history of human spiritual endeavor. And that brings me to my Valentine.

Oh, god, that is shitty writing. Every word of it is bad. “People in this vein”? And what’s the long narrative of human spiritual endeavor that those people are ignoring? Religion isn’t that narrative. Religion isn’t history of religion. And nobody is a “believer in strident atheism” and the rest of the sentence is just baby talk.

It’s insulting, to use such bad writing on what’s supposed to be a serious news show.

Adam Frank ends with a hymn of praise to Karen Armstrong, despite admitting that she’s not much good.

Armstrong has been criticized for shallowness and for skipping over the subtleties that formal scholarship would reveal. I am sure some of that criticism is true. I can see that she is, indeed, often painting in broad strokes. But like a good science writer, she is opening doors into the history of ideas and experience that we can all follow.

No she isn’t. She’s giving people an illusion of knowledge and a distorted view of the subject.

There is another reason I, a scientist, love Karen Armstrong. All of her writings are illuminated by a deep and resonant compassion. As a scientist I am always interested in universals, things that are always true. Armstrong, who founded the wonderful Charter for Compassion, is interested in the same thing when it comes to human behavior as an expression of spiritual longing. Compassion, she tells us, must always come first, must always be the first concern of a religious life. I am not religious but I could not agree more.

Thank you Ms. Armstrong. Will you be my Valentine?

Gag me. But she doesn’t only tell us compassion must come first; she also insists that all religions put it first, and that’s a damn lie.



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

Daily Mail stalks, harasses, invades privacy

Feb 13th, 2013 2:15 pm | By

Private medical records. Photos taken on the roof of a parking garage. Ultrasound. About as invasive as it could get.

Evan Rachel Wood attacks @MailOnline for horrendous privacy invasion @tabloidwatch @opheliabenson

H/t Stuart F Taylor.

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


Feb 13th, 2013 9:31 am | By

Update February 13 – Well that last update turned out to be a mistake. Anton Hill asked me to update to say there was a truce, so I obliged, but he was bullshitting me. There’s no truce. He’s still talking shit about me on Twitter (compared to my saying nothing about him at all) and he’s still blogging about me, and tagging me in the hopes that his blog posts will infect internet searches about me.

This entry was posted on February 8, 2013 at 5:10 pm and is filed under Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

February 8. Three days after he asked me to update saying there was a truce, and I complied.

Lee Moore is still trying to con people into having a “discussion” with people like this. Yeah right, that’s a good plan.

Update February 5 – We have managed to arrive at a truce behind the scenes, and Anton took the picture down, so that’s progress. He points out that I can’t know he was “pretending,” and he’s right.

Anton Hill hadn’t talked about me enough yet, so he did another post about me today…pretending he’s now in full truce mode.

But he helped himself to a picture of mine to publish (for no apparent reason, unless it’s in hope of inspiring new photoshops) on his post. That’s a peculiar thing to do. I don’t post pictures of people I blog about, except truly public (and powerful) people like the pope. It’s kind of…off, posting a picture of someone for no apparent reason. In the context of all the threats and jeers and photoshops and mutterings about acid, it has a bullying note. It’s not clear exactly which kind of bullying note – whether “look at this ugly bitch” or “here she is, this woman who has ‘chosen to be a public figure on multiple public forums’ but doesn’t want me hassling her on Twitter” or “got a funny caption?” or “hahahaha prune hahahahahahaha” or “photoshop please!” or “I bet you could take her down with one punch” – but it has the note.

I doubt that he has permission to post it. I asked for permission to post it, myself. I asked him on the post if he has permission. The comment got held for moderation, but now it’s posted, so he’s seen it – but he hasn’t bothered to reply.

That’s a “truce”? No, that is not a truce.

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

The home life of a “religious scholar”

Feb 13th, 2013 8:46 am | By

[inarticulate scream of rage and disgust]

PZ tells us what a Saudi father – a “religious scholar” – did to his five-year-old daughter. Read it, if you can bear horrors.

Maryam tells us too.

The father had to pay a little blood money. That’s all. Half the blood money he would have had to pay if Lama had been a boy. (But if Lama had been a boy he wouldn’t have done what he did to her.)

I know heinous child abuse, rape and torture occurs everywhere. I’ve heard some of the worst cases right here in Britain. But it is only under Sharia (and religious laws) that there is always some Islamic justification for leniency or for blaming the mother or child. This case reminds me of an Iranian asylum case I worked on years ago where the Sharia judge told the woman that she was responsible for her child’s sexual abuse as she was not satisfying her husband…

And in the wonderful Islamic tradition of obsessing about females, one Saudi cleric has issued a fatwa calling for parents to put burkas on their babies to prevent child sexual abuse…

Ana Lama

Ana Lama

Ana Lama…

I despise Sharia

I despise Sharia

I despise Sharia…

Sign a petition calling for justice for Lama here.

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