The Week in Conspiracy: Post TAM 2012 edition

July 17, 2012

For the last several weeks, I’ve been teaching, packing, hunting for a house, and preparing for my TAM panel. It turns out that when I’m not writing this feature, I do feel as if something is lacking, so I am making a great lunge at normalcy by coming back and writing another Week in Conspiracy. After TAM, a new project is in the works that is going to take this to the next level. More to come. But we are assembling the super-friends to start this sucker up. Needless to say (a phrase that should not exist) when you get a couple hundred skeptics in a bar together, the ideas come fast and furious (another phrase that shouldn’t exist, but for different reasons). I’ve been meticulously gathering the woo as I always have, so there are no gaps in the coverage, just gaps in publication.


Well, it looks sort of unavoidable that I’m going to have to talk about the mass shooting in Colorado. Damn it. But were not 24 hours into the aftermath and I’ve seen the CIA, FBI, MK-Ultra, and Obama targeted as possible culprits. I’m only going to point out a couple of the worst…people in general who have decided to fap furiously to the misery.

Lone Deranger ‏@postielinley
Alex Jones Says Aurora Shooting Was Staged By Obama  // Proof Alex Jones is a complete fucktard
Retweeted by Rhys Morgan

Enough of that. On with the other not news at all:

Twit of the Week

This week’s twit award goes out to the IntelHub, who sent (or “communicated”) this highly ironic tweet:

Obama Seizes Control of All Communications Systems With Executive Order: — IntelHub (@IntelHub)

I would be remiss if I did not mention Josh Bunting’s quip on twitter:

Josh Bunting (@josh_b42)
7/22/12 6:13 PM
Michele Bachmann = M.B. = Muslim Brotherhood. Coincidence?

Conspiracy Theory of the Week

This week’s winner was flagged by Brian Gregory, and it made me very happy: “Earth landing ‘totally faked,’ claim Martian conspiracy theorists.”

That’s all for now, folks! Expect another slight hiatus as I finish up my summer class and move to Wisconsin. I leave in, like, a week and am pretty excited. Got a little house with…gasp! office. No more typing in the living room, no siree! I also have a couple of badass projects in the works, as always. But these are super-badass. For real. MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!


Can Science Rape Nature?

July 16, 2012

I don’t mean metaphorically. I’m not talking about fracking damaging Mother Earth. Can science literally rape nature in the same way a man can rape a woman?


This may seem obvious, but there was a bit of a kerfuffle at the Skepticism and Humanities panel at TAM 2012. Bob was talking about the Sokal Hoax, which is sometimes used to attack the Humanities in general. Of course, dismissing several disciplines on the basis of one data point is a failure in critical thinking. Bob was pointing out that it is only a small but vocal minority of post-modernist/post-structuralist scholars who have made radical and silly pronouncements that fly in the face of logic and common sense. One example he cited was the idea that masculine science rapes feminine nature. I made an off-the-cuff joke about nature asking for it. That may have been unfortunate, but–hey–it just slipped out of my mouth. More importantly, I was trying to highlight the absurdity of the accusation: abstract concepts don’t have sexual identities, and they can’t rape each other. Personification isn’t real.

To be clear, Bob was discussing a specific type of academic feminism. There is a lot of great feminist literary criticism: some discussing female authors, such as Aphra Behn and Lady Mary Wroth, whose work was under appreciated for many years; some discussing the treatment of women in works by male authors. But there is a type of feminist scholarship that sees masculine oppression in science, logic, reason and in writing and language itself. Specifically, Bob had in mind Sandra Harding who, in her 1986 book The Science Question in Feminism, called Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica a “rape manual.”

A number of leading proponents of post-structuralist feminist theory, such as Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cisoux and Luce Irigaray, also attack the supposed patriarchal, masculine oppression of science and reason. They decry the phallogocentrism of language and call for an écriture féminine in which the female body is inscribed on the text. As far as I can tell, this inscribed female body has been reduced to a womb and lactating breasts. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with nurturing and motherhood, but you know what? Logic’s pretty cool, too. And mothering without critical thinking seems to lead to stupid things, like not vaccinating children. To give an idea of how absurd this variety of feminism can get, Irigaray has characterized E=mc2 as a “sexed equation” because “it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us.”

Rape is a vicious, vile, unforgivable crime, but saying that science, an evil masculine entity, rapes nature, a nurturing feminine entity, trivializes rape, demonizes men and makes women look like illogical idiots.


Further reading:

Dawkins, Richard. “Postmodernism Disrobed.” Review of Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont’s Intellectual Imposters. Nov. 1998.

Mandelker, Stephen. “The Radical Feminist Attack on Reason.” Reason Papers, Issue 19. 50-55.

Back from #TAM2012

July 15, 2012

An amaz!ng weekend to be sure. One night, I joined about 10 people from IIG West to go and protest in front of where Sylvia Browne was appearing, the Imperial Palace, perhaps the dumpiest hole in all of Vegas. We were there for about an hour or so, and Susan Gerbic and Ross Blocher made a video, which was shown after Lawrence Krauss spoke and before Penn and Teller appeared.

Also, I want to share with you my favorite photo from the trip, taken by Miranda Celeste Hale during one of the workshops:

I had a great time and will surely share more of the more memorable moments with you in the next couple of weeks. During the after-hours meetings in the Del Mar lounge, we had some pretty great conversations which may lead to some remarkable collaborations.

Stay tuned!


Ken Ham’s World of Wonder and Bollocks (written on the way to #TAM2012)

July 11, 2012

Recently Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis, published an article where he wagged his finger at the “secular world” following the widely publicized revelation that a Christian “science” textbook suggesting that plesiosaurs might be alive in Loch Ness. As I have spent the last couple of days working with my students on logical fallacies, the deep logical errors in his argument popped out like…big…popping things.

Part of the problem that Ham has with coverage this goofy not-a-science-book has garnered, I suspect, is that he sees that his claims are not so very different, and that creationism has always been allied with cryptozoology. If you visit the Creation Museum, it quickly becomes clear that its directors believe almost exactly what the Louisiana textbook claims, that humans coexisted with dinosaurs in the recent past. So fervent is their belief that the Creation Museum actually presents medieval dragon stories like Beowulf as evidence of recent dinosaurs.

Mess with the Bible all you want, Ken, but when you start messing with Beowulf, you have English majors to contend with.

According to Ham:

As I wrote on Facebook last week, there is no textbook, whether Christian or secular, that is perfect! But what’s more is that the secular world has often put forth numerous scientifically untenable theories.

This is damned close to the tu quoque fallacy, which says, “Yeah, well, you’re wrong too!” This of course does not make the original proposition any more true or acceptable, but he seems not to realize the depth of the ridiculousness of even his medieval “dragons.” Pointing out problems with “secular” theories, does not give any credibility to your monumentally bizarre assertions. I like how he says that putting the Loch Ness Monster in a biology text makes it merely “not perfect,” not “completely laughable and misguided from its ill-conceived botch of a conception. Let’s take his examples of “secular theories” one by one:

1) Aliens seeded life on earth (known as directed panspermia). Francis Crick, a codiscoverer of the structure of DNA, promoted this idea.

Indeed, this assertion strikes me as unlikely as it is so unnecessary. Everything that we need for life is found in abundance throughout the universe. But the funny thing is how closely it mirrors the creationist argument: some mighty person from elsewhere shows up and seeds the planet with life. By your own logic, Ken, the only thing different between what you’re saying is feeble and what you preach is the fact that you believe it! And the other thing is that I suspect directed panspermia is more likely than the God hypothesis because you don’t need to invoke a deity to get that process started.

2) Birds are essentially modern, short-tailed feathered dinosaurs.

How is this scientifically untenable? This is actually pretty close to the standard model of evolution. Without evidence that it is merely fanciful thought, the claim that birds are little dino descendants is a bald assertion.  Life arose from non-life. (This goes against what biologists call the Law of Biogenesis, which says that living things can only come from other living things.)

Life arose from non-life. (This goes against what biologists call the Law of Biogenesis, which says that living things can only come from other living things.)

Alright. Let’s go back to Louis Pasteur. Pasteur’s formulation certainly still applies to complex life like bacteria, which was the original model. We’ll never see a bacterium spontaneously jump together out of atoms. However, we’ve learned things since the 19th century about the origin and nature of life. Science has moved well beyond the 19th century, Bucko. By suggesting that the Law of Biogenesis applies to the most simple chemical replicators out of which life evolved, Ken has created a straw man and demolished a weakened form of the argument that actual scientists make.

Humans evolved from an ape-like ancestor (which really means humans are just apes).

Yes. We’re apes. Apes with iPads and mortgages, but apes. The problem with this is that this is another bald assertion. It’s a lot like an argument from personal incredulity. “It’s untenable because I don’t accept it.” Wrong, kiddo. The universe is utterly indifferent to your malformed opinion of it.

Aliens from outer space built the pyramids.

Oh, that’s hardly mainstream evolutionary theory! This is not a bad argument because of its being secular. It’s a bad argument because it flies in the face of all available evidence. If the intended argument is: “Secularists produced ancient astronaut theories, therefore secularism is bad and somehow evolution is false…” Yeah, this is just a non sequitor. I’m not even sure that it counts as a thought.

Secularists can often say outlandish or wrong things—and get away with it. For instance, noted evolutionist Richard Dawkins admitted in an interview with Ben Stein that life could have been “seeded” on earth by aliens. And yet Christians are highly scrutinized in this very secular world.

Of course it “could” have happened, but what do you think the chances are that he thinks it is “likely”? I mean, we could have left some sort of hardy critter on the moon when we visited there. Such a development is completely plausible within living memory, and in the eyes of the descendants of the bacteria that we left there, we would have been aliens that seeded life there. So, what you are mocking might actually have already happened in recent human history!
Furthermore, Dawkins is scrutinized. He is a peer-reviewed professional. He doesn’t have to rely on an in-house vanity press like the Answers Research Journal. What makes you sad, it is clear, is that your religious beliefs are at all subjected to critical examination, and that when they are held up to the light of serious (or even casual) scrutiny, they are invariably rejected.