“This is a further erosion of the real understanding of marriage,” DiMarzio told the Daily News. “The state should not be concerned about regulating affection.”
June 27, 2011
June 21, 2011
June 20, 2011
Intellectual black holes are belief systems that draw people in and hold them captive so they become willing slaves of claptrap. Belief in homeopathy, psychic powers, alien abductions – these are examples of intellectual black holes. As you approach them, you need to be on your guard because if you get sucked in, it can be extremely difficult to think your way clear again.
Stephen Law provides us with a field guide on how to avoid falling into these black holes of bullshit by recognizing the signs of intellectual dishonesty relied upon by those who promote them. In this question and answer article from New Scientist, Law explains more.
June 19, 2011
This site is way too cool not to post. It reveals again just how large an interpretative role our brains play in perceiving the world around us… this time involving the auditory sense. But are our perceptions true in fact? Is the subjective interpretation just as ‘true’ as the objective sound? Check out these ten illusions.
(h/t to WEIT)
June 16, 2011
This is probably the most oft repeated question in response to criticisms of faith-based beliefs like religion, complimentary and alternative ‘medicine’, anti-vaccination position, various superstitions and pseudosciences, conspiracy theories, anti-anthropomorphic global warming, evolution denialism, astrology, and so on. An answer with specific causal harm would be very helpful, wouldn’t it?
To the rescue of the reasonable, rational, and critical thinkers comes this wonderful website What’s the Harm? It’s sub-header today reads 368,379 people killed, 306,096 injured and over $2,815,931,000 in economic damages . That grabbed my attention so I delved a little deeper to find out what the site was all about:
Not all information is created equal. Some of it is correct. Some of it is incorrect. Some of it is carefully balanced. Some of it is heavily biased. Some of it is just plain crazy.
It is vital in the midst of this deluge that each of us be able to sort through all of this, keeping the useful information and discarding the rest. This requires the skill of critical thinking. Unfortunately, this is a skill that is often neglected in schools.
This site is designed to make a point about the danger of not thinking critically. Namely that you can easily be injured or killed by neglecting this important skill. We have collected the stories of over 670,000 people who have been injured or killed as a result of someone not thinking critically.
We do this not to make light of their plight. Quite the opposite. We want to honor their memory and learn from their stories.
We also wish to call attention to the types of misinformation which have caused this sort of harm. On the topics page you will see a number of popular topics that that are being promoted via misinformation. Many of them have no basis in truth at all. A few are based in reality, but veer off into troublesome areas. We all need to think more critically about these topics, and take great care when we encounter them.
Many proponents of these things will claim they are harmless. We aim to show that they are decidedly not.
Isn’t that music to the sceptical ear? Yes, but one must remember that these are real people whose stories can mean something if we just pay attention and learn from them.
For example, take the case of Debra Harrison from Wichita, Kansas. She was the founder of Consegrity, a form of energy medicine and faith healing. She rejected medical treatment for herself or her family and died of undiagnosed diabetes.
How about 1100 patients in Montreal who found out the acupuncture needles used on them weren’t properly sterilized and had to get HIV and hepatitis testing?
Or have you ever been warned the all too common result of tinnitus from ear candles?
Informed consent is a key ingredient to granting knowledgeable permission. Our ability to do so in the face of the onslaught of woo brought to us by various public figures such as Dr Oz and Deepak Chopra means we need to do a little more mental work, use a little more critical thinking, exercise a little more our scepticism even when we would prefer to simply believe. Such a site as What’s the Harm makes that job just a little bit easier. I noticed some of the links are broken and suggest that even these stories may also be in need of some scepticism if the evidence for their veracity is lacking. After all, we must be fair and remember the old adage is just as applicable today: what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
(h/t to Steven Novella over at NeuroLogica Blog)
June 14, 2011
In the latest national testing in the States, Americans are losing knowledge of their history, which means their are losing their ability to understand how things were and why things came to be they way they are today. This failure to teach to proficiency in history for public school students is akin to setting them adrift into the world armed only by ignorance of their historical roots. For example, over all, 20 percent of fourth graders, 17 percent of eighth graders and 12 percent of high school seniors demonstrated proficiency on the exam, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. This trend is revealing. Proficiency is one of three categories: “basic” denotes partial mastery of a subject; “proficient” represents solid academic performance and a demonstration of competency over challenging subject matter; and “advanced” means superior performance. Shockingly, only 2 percent of 12th graders correctly answered a question concerning Brown v. Board of Education, probably the most important Supreme Court ruling ever made. I studied it in high school and later at university… in Canada! And to add a revelation of just how apathetic American students are – without blaming parents and school boards and the internet for this failure to educate, although obviously there is great deal here to go around – only9% of fourth-graders could identify the man on the five dollar bill as Abraham Lincoln. Who he was and why he was an important historical figure pales when one considers the fact that the most basic curiosity of why a picture of this guy is on the five dollar bill is lacking from the start.
And this is the country whose leadership keeps lying to the public that it can produce students who will compete successfully against those from the rest of the world… omitting from the proposition that ignorance – whether in history or science or math – is hardly a solid foundation upon which to build its shining future. Yet that is exactly what it is doing: producing students with little knowledge and even less curiosity. The situation reminds me of the wisdom of Edmund Burke (no, I won’t tell you… go look it up) who said, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”
That’s a bad thing, by the way.
June 8, 2011
June 7, 2011
June 2, 2011
The evidence is clear – from a scientific perspective. And this is incompatible with the claim from Genesis that there was an Adam and there was an Eve living in the same place at the same time that brought about an act that upon which human sin and the need for redemption hinges.
It’s factually wrong.
These individuals – humans in the modern sense and not apes or australopithecines – are claimed to be literally true and this means that this claim is open to scientific investigation and verification. So what does the science actually tell us to a very high degree of certainty?
From Why Evolution is True (and a contest!):
Mitochondrial DNA points to the genes in that organelle tracing back to a single female who lived about 140,000 years ago, but genes on the Y chromosome trace back to about 60,000-90,000 years ago, and nuclear genes all trace back to different times—as far back as two million years. This shows that any “Adam” and “Eve” must have lived thousands of years apart, but also that there simply could not have been two individuals who provided the entire genetic ancestry of modern humans, for each of our genes traces back to different ancestors, showing that, as expected, our genetic legacy comes from many different individuals. It does not go back to just two individuals, regardless of when they lived.
So there you have it. Now we can sit back and watch (and wait) for some new theological argument to revisit Genesis and ‘properly’ reinterpret it in this scientific light of fact.
But please note that the theology based on a belief claim (like Adam and Eve as the parents of the human race) doesn’t correct itself. It has no self-correcting mechanism to do so, no means for honest and knowable inquiry; instead, we find the science of methodological naturalism stepping into the knowledge void – maintained and often violently protected by those who assume that respect for religious beliefs is an equivalent respect for what is true and knowable by a different means (NOMA) – and providing us with honest and knowable answers. But there is no way we can determine if such faith-based beliefs are true unless and until we invest our respect into a method of inquiry that allows us to test and verify these kinds of claims. Faith-based beliefs are insufficient and whatever pseudo-answers they provide are untrustworthy. Belief in a literal Adam and Eve is a typical example of a faith-based belief that seems like an answer but is, in fact, simply wrong.
June 1, 2011
Religious intolerance again: In with the Old, Out with New, or Why not stick to an anti-harassment policy for all students rather than include a new homophobia/heterosexism policy?
The short answer is that anti-harassment policies in schools don’t work, and this is being addressed in a Burnaby school district here in Canada. The public response surprisingly seems to be quite polarizing and the school trustees are trying to tread the political waters very carefully. But is it really a public response?
Burnaby, for those readers who may not know, is one of several multicultural and diverse cities making up the greater urban built-up area in the lower Fraser Valley commonly called ‘Vancouver’ (locally called ‘The Lower Mainland’ versus the somewhat confusing Vancouver Island urban population locally called ‘The Island,’ which happens to include the capital city of Victoria!). Greater Vancouver is a major city of about 4 million in Canada’s most western province, British Columbia, and is consistently rated as one of the best cities in the world to live… unless you’re a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered or questioning student, that is. And we know this because under anti-harassment school policies:
- Three-quarters of LGBTQ students and 95% of transgender students felt unsafe at school, compared to one-fifth of straight students. Six-of-ten LGBTQ students reported being verbally harassed about their sexual orientation.
- Three-quarters of all participating students reported hearing expressions such as “that’s so gay” every day in school. Half heard remarks like “faggot,” “queer,” “lezbo” and “dyke” daily.
- Over a quarter of LGBTQ students and almost half of transgender students had skipped school because they felt unsafe, compared to less than a tenth of non-LGBTQ students. (Source)
Compared to heterosexual youths, LGBTQ youth going to school under current anti-harassment policies were more likely:
- To have experienced physical and sexual abuse, harassment in school, and discrimination in the community
- To have reported emotional stress, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts In addition:
- LGB youth felt less cared about by parents and less connected to their families than heterosexual teens, and for lesbian and bisexual females less connected to school.
- When bisexual youth reported high family and school connectedness, their probability of suicide attempts was much lower than for bisexual youth with lower connectedness, even when they had strong risk factors for suicide. (Source)
So why do school districts need to do anything about this at if it stirs up so much heated anti-policy local response which costs trustees their jobs?
The Auditor General of BC has ordered that:
“School districts should: Provide teachers with suitable guidance for encouraging tolerance and respect for students of same sex orientation.” (#9, page 62)
The BC School Trustees Association has stated that:
“the BCSTA encourages and supports school district policies that specifically address the safety concerns of, and prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans-identified students, as well as students who are harassed due to perceptions of their gender identity or sexual orientation; and has the Education committee draft a sample policy to aid school districts in this process.” (Source)
Perhaps most telling are the findings from the BC government’s Safe School Task Force:
“From our conversations with British Columbians all across the province, we have learned that bullying behaviour is often founded in discrimination based on perceived “differences” such as race, disability, gender or sexual orientation; that discrimination can have a negative impact upon student psychological and emotional health; and that bullying can contribute to decreased student participation in school and failure to graduate.”
“The Task Force members heard that even the perception of being homosexual or of being tolerant of homosexuality is enough to result in harassment and intimidation, including both emotional and physical abuse from those who choose to bully.”
“Presenters expressed concerned about the frequent use of homophobic language in schools. For example, the use of pejoratives such as “that’s so gay” have become common in the lexicon of students for describing negative events or as an insult to make students who are, or are perceived to be gay, uncomfortable.”
Against this background, Burnaby has completed a draft policy that states:
a) Teachers shall be encouraged to embed and integrate LGBTQ issues into existing curriculum in age-appropriate ways to help students acquire the skills and knowledge to understand the impacts of homophobia and transphobia upon society, and
b) School staffs shall be encouraged to support LGBTQ people by teaching about their positive contributions to society and modeling acceptance of diversity.
So what’s the big deal here? The school district has to do this and there’s lots of good evidence that something needs to change. But the interesting question is: Why is it that Burnaby – the 12th school district to formulate such a policy in BC – is suddenly faced with such stiff ‘public’ opposition where none existed for the other 11 school districts? Don’t you find that a bit… shall we say… suspicious?
A group known as Parents’ Voice has organized against this policy in Burnaby. They claim to be merely an ad hoc community group of concerned individuals, but when one digs a little deeper one finds that it is in everything but name a religious group. Why are we not surprised that a religious group would be behind some push to keep the old that doesn’t work and protest the new that does? Faith-based belief is immune (read ‘superior’) to contrary evidence, of course.
In their organization’s news release, we find the following comments… with a bit of bold added by me for emphasis, but of course no specific mention of their ad hoc community group’s major religious tie:
Growing numbers of students, parents and other tax-payers are concerned that the Board’s failure to provide full disclosure may be a deliberate attempt to hide the fact that there is a hidden political agenda—an agenda that doesn’t respect parental rights, student’s rights or the Charter-mandated equality rights of Canadians, but instead serves the political interests of activist teachers and their union. Parents’ Voice asks; “If the faith-based community is not considered an ally, does this Board of School Trustees consider them to be the enemy?”
But the game of deceit – what we in the atheist community like to call Lying For Jesus – was exposed when about 100 protesters showed up at the trustee’s meeting and we found out that of the nearly all were members of Burnaby’s Willingdon Church (and almost entirely of Asian descent), who crowded into the packed board room holding handmade signs that read “No to 5.45.” Is this group truly representational of the public? I don;t think so.
One of their spokespeople said “This policy places far too much importance and emphasis on an issue that impacts a few,” said Heather Leung, a local parent with three kids in the school system. “What is being recommended in this draft is a deliberate and systemic strategy to indoctrinate our children with a controversial moral teaching that should be left for families to decide on and wrestle through.” Leung also said the policy labels children and suggests they question their sexual orientation and sexual identity.
Another said ““The draft policy imposes on children the idea that their family is perpetrating negative stereotypes when parents educate their children with the values that are consistent with their moral beliefs,” says George Kovacic. Kovacic believes the anti-homophobia policy uses children as “pawns to promote a particular social agenda.”
So there’s another fine example of religiously inspired intolerance adduced from scripture brought into the public domain (by a tolerated – even celebrated – immigrant minority no less!) – into one of the most successful multicultural cities in the world – attempting to negatively affect needed policy change so that others currently subject to discrimination can perhaps one day be tolerated – even celebrated – by the public at large.
The irony is jaw-dropping.