All Concepts are NOT created Equal

“Logical errors are, I think, of greater practical importance than many people believe; they enable their perpetrators to hold the comfortable position on every subject in turn. Any logically coherent body of doctrine is sure to be in part painful and contrary to current prejudices.”
___ Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy, 1945

Some debaters like to argue that all opinions have equal value. To put it bluntly, this is utter nonsense because some opinions diverge greatly from truth. I value logic, so I find ridiculous ideas particularly irritating. Similarly, an argument may follow the rules of logic yet be palpably ridiculous because it is based upon unfounded premises. In short, it is pure fantasy. I value truth, as applied to reality, so I find phantasmagorical claptrap irritating unless it admits, as does fantasy or science-fiction writing, to being fantasy.

We are daily exposed to cherished beliefs that are without empirical support or logical validity. Religious dogma aside, we are daily exposed to ideas that are without empirical support or logical validity.

The trick, obviously, is to discern the difference and to eschew conceptual detritus. There are some quite good websites that outline the principles of Critical Thinking.

Creationists seem to think that being critical of thinking equates to critical thinking. Needless to say, as in so much else, they are irritatingly illogical in their insistence that any of the various forms of creationism have explanatory merit concerning the origins of life, in particular human life. I'll have more to say on this topic elsewhere because creationism in all its fanciful incarnations and pseudoscience deceptions is a pet peeve.

Silly Ideas Index:
å Aginner Syndrome
å Agnostic vs Atheist
å Agnosticism is NOT more rational than Atheism
å Anthropic Apologetics
å Anti-IDiocy resources
å Anti-Stupidity Quotes
å Apologists make Apologies for God
å Autivaccinism
å Battle to Regress
å Behe Retreats
å Besottism
å Bible Bumping
å Black Sheep are Sheep Too
å CAD - Dastardly Stubborn Mean IV Revised Revisited
å Canadians Can be Stupid Too
å Creationism only flourishes amidst Ignorance
å Claims that Scientists find Extraterrestrial genes...
å Complexity Reductio
å Conservative Antisocial Disorder (CAD)
å Dawkins refutes Behe
å Debunking IDiocy
å Declaration of Independent Thinking
å Dei Non Existent
å Demands for Proof
å Desperate Measures
å Dastardly Stubborn Mean IV Revised
å Error Filled Belief Systems
å Fistians and Fuzzy Illogic
å FLQ
å Follow(ers) Up
å Free Speech or Propaganda of Hate?
å Furor over Stupidity
å Hate Tanks
å If there were a God
å In God, Distrust
å Inverse Correlations
å Inverse Correlation: IQ vs Religiosity
å Jones' Kitzmiller vs Dover decision
å Junk Tanks
å Ken Miller on Collapse of Intelligent Design
å LAME thinking
å Lending NO authority
å Moral Absolutism
å Mythonuttery
å Not So-Hidden IDiot Agendas
å Numbers Games
å One Evolution, Many Creationisms
å Pet Peeves
å Out, Damned Spam!
å Myths Revered and Myths Exposed
å Panstupidity and Jumbo-Mumbo
å Pivar vs PZ
å Pseudoscience Chicanery
å Reducible Illogic
å Regressive God
å Silly Ideas
å Sitia Non Grata
å Spirituality, Religiosity, and Madness
å Statistics on Ignorance
å Sum, ergo Cogito
å Tick Tock
å Un-designed Intelligences
å Wedge Document
å What's intelligent . . . ?
å What's Wrong with Religious Apologetics?
å YEC yack





Black Sheep are Sheep Too

Aginners who hold ridiculous beliefs that run counter to received wisdom often cite the fact that others agree with their opinion, claiming that those who concur with the fact-logic-based knowledge of experts are easily-fooled sheep. In other words, other black sheep agree with their anti-expert prejudices.

If one wishes to hold a correct position, one must practice critical thinking, which is not to say that one must be negative about any propositions originating with an expert.

"Critical thinking involves assessing the authenticity, accuracy, and/or worth of knowledge claims and arguments. This process requires careful, precise, persistent and objective analysis of any knowledge claim or belief to judge its validity and/or worth."

It is folly to make the automatic assumption that those who are experts in empirical fields are necessarily, or even likely to be, incorrect in their assertions. Value-based disciplines such as politics are obviously much more vulnerable to personal biases, so the opinions of experts in these fields may be more suspect. Nevertheless, few individuals have the time or luxury to assess all available information in a value-based area, and we must rely upon the expertise of those who have expended considerable time and thought.

The more education one receives, the more that one realizes how little one knows, and the more that one must rely upon received wisdom. Still, one must assess the level of expertise and level of bias of those who pass opinions. It is not wise to trust opinions posted on a website that has been set up for the express purpose of attacking the opinions or positions of experts. (It could be argued that, in our disgruntlement, we attack the opinions of hate-tankers, junk-tankers, and those who display cognitive disorders. However, our criticisms are directed at illogic and misinformation, certainly not at expertise.)

Credible experts possess the following attributes:
1. sufficient expertise in the subject matter in question.
2. claims made are within area(s) of expertise.
3. adequate degree of agreement among the other experts in the subject in question.
4. not significantly biased by subjective motivations or prejudices.
5. expertise within a legitimate area or discipline (related to the subject matter).
6. the authority must be identified.

Silly Ideas

Silly (euphemistically speaking) ideas, for the purposes of this blog, are either
● irritatingly illogical inaninities that are repeated ad nauseam by their devotees
● strongly held opinions about cause and effect that ignore or are ignorant of the facts and that run counter to widely known expert opinion
● ideas that have proved deleterious to their holders or others

● Many if not most ideas connected to an insistence on the 'existence' of one non-existent deity or another are illogical because they insist upon belief despite the lack of supportive empirical evidence when there ought to be empirical evidence. After all, if a purported deity actually created the universe, with or without interference in daily events, then there ought to be unequivocal evidence that links the physical with said deity – just as there is abundant evidence to link known physical laws with the origin of the universe and evolution.

There is no evidence of a deity unless one chooses to label physical laws as being God and to designate scientists as being the true theologians. That is, it is illogical to insist that there is a Creator of the Physical Universe, Life, and Us in the absence of any unequivocal evidence of a single entity capable of creating these tangibles. This illogic includes most perniciously, of course, the various ridiculous forms adopted by insistence upon literal interpretation of the Genesis creation myth.

● Fantasies, such as the supposed existence of the 'soul' or an 'afterlife' that run counter to all that science reveals about the inextricable connection between a functioning assemblage of chemicals and operation of the brain. There is neither evidence for–nor good logical grounds for–any claim that the 'soul' has existence outside current-conscious-thought.

● Claims that 'God is Consciousness', such that some cosmic consciousness directs all that transpires in the universe, or even merely here on Earth, are akin to nonsensical claims for brain-independent souls and an afterlife. Those who believe that the sole motive force is 'thought' have applied very little–or nothing–in the way of analytical thought to their illogical beliefs. The meaning of 'thought' inherent in such illogical equivocation must necessarily be so broad as to bear no resemblence to the accepted meaning of 'thought' or of 'consciousness'.

● Insistence by Bible Thumpers on their holier-than-thou, unethical, absolute moral values that were supposedly dictated by their non-existent deity-of-choice. By unethical, I refer to those illogical attacks that harm others who do not fit into the rigid black and white box dictated by the thumpers' dogma-of-choice. While it is reasonable to decry as immoral any action that deliberately harms others, it is immoral to harm others by censuring activities that harm no-one.

● Denial of the fact of global warming despite the agreement of experts (earth and climate scientists) that rising levels of greenhouse gases (fact) attributable to our burning of fossil fuels (fact) have elevated average temperatures (fact) and increased frequency of extreme weather events (fact).

That'll do for starters!

å Against Theocracy
å Aginner Syndrome
å All Concepts are NOT created Equal
å Anti-Stupidity Quotes
å Assailing the Ineffable
å Autivaccinism
å Besottism
å Black Sheep are Sheep Too
å Canadians Can be Stupid Too
å Claims that Scientists find Extraterrestrial genes...
å Debunking IDiocy
å Demands for Proof
å Dispelling bad arguments
å Dastardly Stubborn Mean IV Revised
å Error Filled Belief Systems
å EQ
å Fear of "Framing"
å FLQ
å FOL-ly
å Free Speech or Propaganda of Hate?
å Furor over Stupidity
å Global Warming Denialism
å Hate Tanks
å Ignorance vs Knowledge
å Inverse Correlations
å Junk Tanks
å LAME thinking
å Lending NO authority
å Mythonuttery
å Not So-Hidden IDiot Agendas
å Numbers Games
å Out, Damned Spam!
å Pet Peeves
å Pseudoscience Chicanery
å Reality & Truth
å Reptilian Brains and Magical Thinking
å Sitia Non Grata
å Statistics on Ignorance
å Sum, ergo Cogito
å The Problems with Polemics
å The Selfishness Gene
å Ultimate Dissonance
å Un-designed Intelligences
å We, the Products of Blind Evolution
å What's intelligent . . . ?

Lending NO authority

We will not provide any direct links to blogs run by and for anti-science, pseudoscience-inventing, religious fanatics, or hate-mongering bigots because to do so would be to unwillingly add to the "authority" of such nonsense. However, we will provide links for anyone interested in googling for such sites.

Search engines, like computers, are blind to the value of content on websites and rank highly those sites that are linked to by more other sites.
To provide a url to a YEC, creationist, hate-mongerer, or any other nonsense, is to inadvertantly appear to be giving that site a vote of confidence, pushing it higher on searches. We will avoid doing this. We suggest that any evolutionist or liberal thinker who agrees with this policy do likewise. It's a start!

Conversely, we will provide urls for sites that, by virtue of supporting truth or being well written, deserve a vote of confidence.

Non-approved creationist sites (junk tanks) are described internally at"
Asses in Genesis, AiG : Discovery Institute : Creation Museum (Cananadian version) :

Non-approved hate tanks:
Family Research Institute :

Persona non grata described internally:
Anti-gay bigot Dr. Paul Cameron :
ID proponent Dr. Michael Behe :
YEC-er Ken Ham, image (see Biblical battle of creation groups) :

The sites that do not deserve any implicit vote of confidence can be googled at:
Answers in Genesis, AiG : Center for Science and Culture : Creation Museum : Discovery Institute : International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design, ISCID : Uncommon Descent blog of William Dembski

Persona non grata can be googled at:
Paul Cameron : William Dembski : Ken Ham :

Anti-Stupidity Quotes

The traditional YEC family adheres to anti-reality beliefs founded in illogic and ignorance.Some unfortunates are not intellectually gifted by virtue of genetic endowment or brain injury, through no fault of their own. These individuals lack the cognitive capacity to learn more than rudimentary knowledge or skills, yet they possess value simply by being humans.

Other individuals have sufficient intellectual capacity to be capable of acquiring understanding, yet they chose not to comprehend reality because of emotional biases. I find such willful stupidity so uttely infuriating that I have decided to collect some quotes that accurately denigrate ignorance:

God of the Gaps:
"The history of science shows us that patching the gaps in our knowledge with miracles creates a path that leads only to perpetual ignorance."
~ Jerry Coyne, The Great Mutator, in The New Republic

Intelligent [sick] design theory:
"As the philosopher Philip Kitcher shows in his superb new book, Living With Darwin, the theory of intelligent design is a mixture of "dead science" and non-science. That is, insofar as ID makes scientific claims (for example, that natural selection cannot produce complexity), those claims not only are wrong, but were proved wrong years ago. And ID is deeply unscientific in its assertion that certain aspects of evolution (mutation, in Behe's case) required supernatural intervention. Behe's attacks on evolutionary theory are once again wrongheaded, but the intellectual situation grows far worse when we see what theory he offers in its place."
~ Jerry Coyne, The Great Mutator, in The New Republic

YECs:
"There is no polite way to say this: people who resist scientific explanations for natural phenomena such as the age of the earth and the fact of evolution are guilty of childish thinking."
~ Sharon Begley in So That's Why Evolution is in Trouble!

Claims that Scientists find Extraterrestrial genes in Human DNA

Try googling "Scientists find Extraterrestrial genes in Human DNA" and you will come up with a number of dubious appearing, and even more dubious sounding, websites purporting that a team led by the fictitious Professor Sam Chung claims that human "junk DNA" indicates the operation of apparent "extraterrestrial programmers".

The first clue that this rumor is itself *junk* is the fact that none of these websites provide a reference or url leading back to the purported original work.

The second clue is the nature and name of the websites (though I admit that "Mimble Wimble" may not inspire confidence).

The third clue is the content itself. To quote the ridiculous article: "The alien chunks within Human DNA, Professor Chang further observes, "have its own veins, arteries, and its own immune system that vigorously resists all our anti-cancer drugs.""

Whatever nutbar perpetrated the original hoax, he or she clearly has absolutely no idea of the nature of DNA, which comprises nitrogenous bases attached to a phosphate-deoxyribose (sugar) backbone. Veins, arteries, and the immune system are comparatively enormous systems whose production and operation is coded for by thousands of DNA segments. DNA itself is merely a very large, though essentially simple, molecule and as such it contains only other, smaller, simple molecules.

The hoax-article proceeds from mistake to mistake to mistake. For example, any legitimate scientist at the Human Genome Project would know that "junk DNA" does contain some coding sequences.

No doubt, the Internet community of creationist nutters, themselves usually UFOs* , will eventually latch onto this hoax as "evidence" for the operation of an "intelligent designer". However, one would have hoped that an *intelligent* designer should not have needed to resort to "junk" DNA.

* Uninformed Foolish Objects

Free Speech or Propaganda of Hate?

I stumbled across this piece of nonsense quite by accident when I googled '"appeal to authority" "acceptable authority"':

“The life span of gays is 20- plus years shorter than the life span of heterosexuals,” states Dr. Paul Cameron of the Family Research Institute, a Colorado-based think tank. “On average, in Norway and Denmark — where same-sex marriage is legal – married lesbians lived to age 56 and married gay men to age 52."[s]

(Internet searches do generate some unexpected hits!)

The statistics seemed highly improbable, so I read the article and researched the sources. I worry when I read "think tank" because those words typically signify something that only passes for thinking in the mind of the founder of the "junk tank" or "hate tank" in question (here, the FRI). Those who set up special-focus websites for the promulgation of prejudiced disinformation probably assume that labelling their organization as a "think tank" will lend an air of legitimacy. They probably do not care that they convince only those who are already equally biased.

Beware of any 'scientist' who has set up an 'organization' that specifically aims to promote his particular prejudice and claims that his pet organization is intended for research. Legitimate scientific research is typically conducted in association with an established academic facility and is published in an appropriate, recognized peer-reviewed scientific journal. Clinical research might be conducted outside a university setting, but it is only legitimized by publication in a peer-reviewed clinical journal.

The Family Research Institute (which solicits donations on its website), "was founded in 1982 with one overriding mission: to generate empirical research on issues that threaten the traditional family, particularly homosexuality, AIDS, sexual social policy, and drug abuse. FRI believes that published scientific material has a profound impact, both in the United States and around the world."

This reader of that "Mission Statement" very seriously doubts that the FRI has any interest in published scientific material–beyond deliberate misinterpretation and misrepresentation, that is. I feel that such doubt is reasonable in view of the the FRI's stated goals, and its printed questions such as "Can Anything Be Done to Stop Gay Rights?". The website's main page contained (as of April 23, '07) only comments on homosexuality. (By contrast, the main page ignores drug abuse, which legitimate sociological research implicates in considerably more harm.)

On to the numbers: Are such figures accurate when the average lifespan in developed nations is increasing? If such purportedly shortened lifespan were attributable to AIDS, this could apply only to gay males because lesbians have the lowest HIV infection rate when compared to gay males, heterosexual males, or heterosexual females. Remember that HIV infection is not confined to gay males despite its having been labelled "the gay disease".

On the topic of AIDS, which made it onto the FRI's attack list: AIDS killed an estimated 206,037 in America between 1995 and 2002. By contrast cancer claimed 557,271 in the US in 2002 alone. Amongst cancer deaths, 31% of cancers in men and 27% in women were attributable to cancer of the lung and bronchus, which are almost invariably secondary to cigarette smoking. Also in 2002, diabetes caused 73,249 deaths, and accidents took 106, 742. If Dr. Cameron is truly concerned about AIDs per se, he ought to be much more concerned about smoking, diabetes, or accident-prone behaviours.

As to the "lifespan" numbers, Dr. Cameron appears to be attempting to monopolize on a combination of small national populations and the sample's very much smaller population of self-reported homosexuals (chosing legal marriage rather than cohabitation). Why else would an American be so interested in life expectancy in Scandinavia?

Is this man claiming that making gay marriage legal leads to early mortality in Scandinavia? Is he concerned that those Scandinavian homosexuals who died quite young would have lived longer had they not legally married a same sex partner, but had chosen instead to stay single or to cohabit? Is he claiming that those same people, whatever their sexual preferences, would have lived an extra twenty years had they chosen heterosexual marriage? Is this man worried for the health of homosexuals? Is he merely concerned about the well-being of adopted children in Scandinavia? You'd be correct to guess that this is not his reason for stating those highly dubious statistics.

To evaluate what is really at play behind Cameron's claims, let's look at the man. (This is legitimate ad hominem and not a fallacious ad hominem.) In 1982, Dr. Paul Cameron co-founded the "Institute for the Scientific Investigation of Sexuality" in Lincoln, which pretentiously title organization later became–you guessed it–The Family Research Institute.

By 1983, Dr. Paul Cameron of Nebraska (clue!) had been dropped from membership in the American Psychological Association for a violation of the Preamble to the Ethical Principles of Psychologists.

What kind of violation? Probably something related to American Sociological Association's 1985 resolution asserting that "Dr. Paul Cameron has consistently misinterpreted and misrepresented sociological research on sexuality, homosexuality, and lesbianism." The ASA noted that "Dr. Paul Cameron has repeatedly campaigned for the abrogation of the civil rights of lesbians and gay men, substantiating his call on the basis of his distorted interpretation of this research."7

Cameron's work has also been repudiated for alleged misrepresentation of data by the Canadian Psychological Association.

It is theoretically possible that the violation of "Ethical Principles" committed by Dr. Cameron that elicited 'dis-memberment' by the American Psychological Association were different issues than those cited by the ASA, but if this is the case, then Dr. Cameron has been a very naughty fellow indeed.

Whatever his reasons for anti-gay bigotry, it certainly appears that Dr. Cameron has made hate propaganda his life's mission.

If Dr. Cameron were truly concerned that expected lifespan is a valid criterion on which to base decisions concerning prospective adoptive parents, then his time would have been better spent in campaigning against adoption by parents who smoke. After all, it is well established that smokers are statistically likely to die about 7 years younger than nonsmokers. Further, the adoptive children of smokers would be exposed to the known health risks of second hand smoke.

However, since Dr. Cameron mentioned no other areas of concern regarding the health or longevity of adoptive parents, and since his mission statement proudly avows an anti-homosexual stance, and since the quoted statistics were for a completely separate nation, and since three professional agencies have criticised Dr. Cameron for biased misrepresentation of data, I believe that I was quite correct to view those improbable statistics with scepticism.

The question of whether or not adoption should be equally accessible to gay couples as to heterosexual couples would prove an interesting subject for reasoned and informed debate. I think that the most important factors to be considered are those relating to the child's psychological well-being.

My personal opinion is that there is no particular reason to believe that a gay couple would be necessarily be a worse choice than a heterosexual couple in terms of their potential to be good, loving, adoptive parents. However, potential adoptive parents currently seem to outnumber available babies. So, given that society remains prejudiced against homosexuals, to place babies in a household headed by a homosexual couple might place those infants at some avoidable risk of psychological discomfort concerning societal prejudices (once they are old enough to be concerned about societal attitudes). On the other hand, since older children are far less likely to be placed in any adoptive home, those children would probably be far better off being adopted by loving, gay parents than remaining in fostering or an orphanage.

Regardless, biased misrepresentation of inaccurate and irrelevant figures should play no role in such a debate when all information on Dr. Cameron and his "hate tank" quite clearly indicate that he is highly prejudiced. Had Dr. Cameron provided reliable statistics that were relevant to the question, then his hateful agenda per se should not mitigate against his argument.

My knee-jerk reaction to obvious hate propaganda is to adopt a view that is diametrically opposed to that of the bigot. This reaction does not persist long, and I prefer to return to assessing the argument on its merits as dispassionately as possible. However, hate propaganda does pique my interest to look for more fallacies of logic and misrepresentations in the diatribes spewed by bigots. This is how I came to be interested in the otherwise pointless ‘intelligent [sick] design theory’, and I just might eventually get around to some research on gay bashing.



The article that I stumbled across was Gays Die Sooner: Implications for Adoption, which was quoted on March 27, 2007 from Christian Newswire on the OrthodoxyToday.org Blog, which stated that "Comments and Pings are both off."


Numbers Games

Used correctly, statistics are an invaluable aid to correct reasoning.

The discipline called 'statistics' is a mathematical science that establishes criteria and techniques for meaningful, mathematical evaluation of numerical data (descriptive statistics, inferential statistics). This discipline is not to be confused with the vernacular meaning of statistics, which merely refers to any collection of numbers connected to a topic.

"Statistics can be made to prove anything - even the truth." ~Author Unknown

"Statistics may be defined as "a body of methods for making wise decisions in the face of uncertainty."" ~W.A. Wallis

As applied within the softer sciences, statistical methods provide the means by which to ascertain whether or not data have arisen purely by chance or whether they accurately reflect that which they are intended to measure. That is, inferential statistics provides confidence limits that indicate the probability that the data have not arisen purely by chance.


"The theory of probabilities is at bottom nothing but common sense reduced to calculus." ~Laplace, Théorie analytique des probabilités, 1820

However, as for so many other areas that are abused by what passes as human reasoning, statistics can be manipulated and misinterpreted to serve the special prejudices of hate-tankers and junk-tankers. The fact that numbers can be manipulated and misinterpreted does not mean that statistics always lie or even that statistics often lie. It is people who lie, and people who are mistaken either through simple ignorance or deliberate self-delusion.

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lampposts - for support rather than for illumination." ~Andrew Lang

"Statistics are like women; mirrors of purest virtue and truth, or like whores to use as one pleases." ~Theodor Billroth

"Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." ~Mark Twain, autobiography, 1904 (there is no actual record of this under Disraeli's authorship)

The oft-cited "Borel's Law" is prime example of the sort of manipulative numbers games to which creationists resort in an attempt to discredit the enormously likely probability of biopoiesis. Here's an example of creationist nonsense:

"...Mathematicians generally agree that, statistically, any odds beyond 1 in 1050 have a zero probability of ever happening.... This is Borel's law in action which was derived by mathematician Emil Borel...."

Rot and twaddle – only a zero probability is a zero probability.

Whenever there are close to or more than 1050 possibilities that the particular event will occur, then the event cannot have zero probability. Even if there was a single chance for that event to occur, the event could occur, so its probability is not zero.

Of course, since for whatever deluded reasons creationists choose to take Genesis literally, those who are already convinced that they are the product of special creation will be enamoured of such a ridiculous argument. No matter how stupid or unlikely an idea, those who dogmatically cling to that idea for emotional reasons will be unmoved by reason, logic, facts, or legitimate statistics.

The other form of illogic that attaches itself to numbers lies in two related but separate fallacies of logic – argumentum ad numerum and argumentum ad populum.

The reverse of these recognized fallacies is a form of fallacio fallacy, namely that just because a large number of credible authorities state something, this does not make the assertions of experts well-founded. Such an assertion is a fallacious argument against authority. The faulty reasoning runs, "I don't like this idea, therefore no matter how many genuine authorities say that such-and-such is true, because I don't want to believe it, all the authorities are incorrect."


Pet Peeves

Here's a partial list of infuriating things that people do:
Obviously at the top of any such list come egregious crimes against humanity such as child abuse, child pornography, etcetera. In this category come those acts of deliberate harm to others that are committed out of selfishness combined with weakness. These are the acts that are universally despised by all except the perpetrators. Not much need for discussion about these, and most of us are fortunate enough to escape or avoid these.

However, we more commonly encounter daily irritants like spam, pop-ups, and junk websites that arise out of human greed and an unwillingness to work for an honest living. I despise these scum because they all want something for nothing. The search engines rank those websites that are not to be trusted – be careful about clicking on any that are dubious and boycott businesses that you know to spam or to advertise on junk-sites. (For example, never click on Nizkor because those scum have made it impossible to close their junk window, as I discovered to my chagrin.)

If we all boycotted spammers and invasive advertisers, the scum could not profit. Fight back – drive them out of business!

I also find telemarketers and charities that phone to solicit contributions – junk mail is bad enough, but dashing for the phone when it's an unsolicited intrusion is infuriating. If I want to buy or contribute, I will do so, and there is no shortage of businesses willing to sell or charities willing to accept donations, so I have no difficulty finding them should I wish to. I have an effective policy on those who invade my privacy – I tell the person who is selling or soliciting that I make a point of never doing business with, or donating to, any business or agency that phones me and I stick to my word. Why should I reward any business or agency that invades my privacy? If they want to advertise, let them support television and printed magazines or newspapers by paying for their advertizing.

Out, Damned Spam!

How best to avoid spam –
Don't trust just anyone with your email address – beware particularly of websites that offer a free widget or newsletter in exchange for your email address. If you must provide an address, equip yourself with a free email address such as you can obtain through yahoo or msn. That way, you can easily close the address if it attracts junk.

It's impossible to completely avoid spam, so I set up my email browser to delete dubious 'senders' or even entire countries. (I don't have any buddies in China, for example, so I simply blocked all emails that come out of China and other such countries.)

Domains seem to be a dime a dozen or are completely free, so lots of scum abuse free addresses provided by yahoo etcetera. You may not want to block all yahoo- or hotmail- senders, but some of the less popular freebie providers will not be a loss. If you get spam from greedyjerk-at-freetoscum.com, then it's better to block the entire at-freetoscum.com domain rather than just greedyjerk, who will have e-morphed to megascum-at-freetoscum.com by next week.

Pivar vs PZ

I sometimes read PZ Myers' popular blog Pharyngula. PZ is a biologist and an atheist who does not suffer foolishness gladly. Unfortunately his critique of the shoddy science in a book called Lifecode has led to a libel suit (pdf).

In this ridiculous suit, "Pivar claims that PZ maliciously called him “a classic crackpot”, with the intent of “holding [Pivar] up to ridicule and embarrassment in this specific area of [Pivar’s] professional endeavors”. The claim also states that this has caused Pivar “considerable mental and emotional distress” as well as financial damages, reparations for which, according to the complaint, should amount to the comically overinflated total reported above."

How does one determine the parameters for calling someone a classic crackpot? My definition would definitely include someone who fictitionalizes relationships with noted scientists and cooks up pseudoscience, then launches malicious lawsuits because he can afford to.

"The specific area of [Pivar's] endeavors"? Pivar is a businessman and not a scientists, so how are we to take this book to reflect professional activities? Perhaps the lawyer was thinking of the oldest profession and believed that Pivar was prostituting himself to creationism. Nah! Nobody prostitutes themselves to creationism, do they? It's probably just lawyer talk to make the law suit sound legitimate.

As to considerable “considerable mental and emotional distress”, my sister is a psychiatrist and told me that in her professional opinion, "anyone who suffers so much distress over being called a "classic crackpot" would be better advised to spend his money on a good therapist rather than a lawyer."

America is a dismayingly litigious nation, but it is not libel to speak the truth and Myers is a credible expert on developmental biology, so his criticisms are likely valid and the suit is unlikely to succeed. Let's hope not! As the Friendly Atheist points out, the book's author, whose science is indeed shoddy, may be following the adage that no publicity is bad publicity.

PZ is wisely remaining silent on the issue.

Update: Pivar withdrew the suit. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall to hear exactly how this decision was reached. Scientific American informs us that Pivar has threatened others through law suits. Could Pivar and his lawyer have come to their senses because of issues addressed in a letter from a law professor? The ridiculous case of the torus versus pharyngula has certainly excited a torrent of negative assessments of Pivar and his book. PZ was gentlemanly about the nonsense.


Sites Elsewhere: The Panda's Thumb : Scientific American : the Lippard Blog : Overlawyered : Positive Liberty : Science after Sunclipse (timeline)



Rigidity and Religiosity

Scene from D.W. Griffith's 1916 movie Intolerance. The film was intended as a sermon against the hideous effects of intolerance.  Intolerance interweaves a contemporary melodrama about the hypocrisy of well-off do-gooders set in the United States, with three parallel stories of earlier times: Christ at Calvary, the razing of Babylon by Persians, and the persecution of the Huguenots in France.In a 2002 study, researchers at the University of Nijmegen examined the relationship between moral attitudes and religiosity. Individual educational attainment also affects moral attitudes, typically resulting in more liberal and tolerant attitudes. These results are nothing new because many studies have demonstrated moral rigidity in the religious and the less educated.

However, the researchers also observed variation in the moralism-religiosity relationship within different countries. They found that the correlation between individual religiosity and moral attitudes was stronger in the more religious countries compared to the more secularized countries. The liberalizing impact of education was stronger in more religiously heterogeneous countries compared to religiously homogeneous countries, and stronger in long-standing democracies compared to short- standing democracies. [s]

A scene from D.W.Griffith's 1915 movie The Birth of a Nation, which glorified the KKK and white supremacy.When compared to other Western nations, including neighbouring Canada, religiosity and moral rigidity in the United States ranks alongside the developing nations. Contrary to its self-congratulatory hubris, the US has very little to brag about because its citizens display a level of ignorance that places it at the bottom of the Western intellectual totem pole.

The image at top left is from David Wark Griffith's 1916 movie "Intolerance". In ironic contrast, the image at right is a scene from Griffith's 1915 movie "The Birth of a Nation", which epitomizes American intolerance toward blacks and glorifies the Ku Klux Klan. I doubt that Griffith ever saw the irony.

Error Filled Belief Systems

It is quite extraordinary to me that some people hold collections of unfounded beliefs while denying fact-based realities. I suppose that these alternative "thinkers" believe that it is better to hold as true that which they wish to believe, and as untrue any fact-distorted information that they choose, for whatever misguided reason, not to believe.

Here are some ridiculous world-views that I have encountered in some illogical and personally unpleasant (for many reasons beyond ridiculous beliefs) individuals:

B (for Bible Biased Bigot): God, also pretentiously called the "Intelligent [sick] Designer", dictated Absolute Moral Truths. All liberal and compassionate views, including tolerance of others' behaviors, and any behaviors that differ from the straight and narrow will lead to inevitable moral mayhem. B's knowledge of sociology ranks with B's level of empathy and compassion somewhere close to zero.

W: Global warming is a myth. W's "reasoning" runs that because the planet has previously had ice ages, then global warming must be attributable only to normal fluctuations. Knowledge of the existence of prior ice ages is the sum total of W's knowledge of paleoclimates and climatology. W finds scientists dull because they say the same things as one another. (I think that the planet would be a very scary place if all scientists concocted ideas based on a personal need for variety!) W knows virtually nothing about medical science, but firmly believes that most disease is a creation of the mind. The Nazi holocaust, according to W, either did not happen or is greatly exaggerated (the latter being a concession to the horrifying film footage). W believes that Jews have exaggerated the holocaust because they suffer a persecution complex. It does not seem to have occurred to W that the Jews have indeed been scapegoated and persecuted repeatedly during European history. W doesn't believe in God (so far, so good) and so does not believe that Jesus was the son of God (fine, since a man cannot be the son of something that does not exist). However, W considers that Jesus the man is a myth and that Jesus never lived (apparently, the Gospels are utter lies rather than exaggerations). Does W the-fact-buster believe in anything? Yes, W believes in the sort of mythical creatures that exist only in fantasy novels .....

There seems, as evidenced by these two, to be an association between truly silly or nasty belief systems and more generalized personality defects. This makes some sense in view of the fact that our personalities are the outward manifestation of our general belief system, and further, that what we choose to believe, when we diverge from evidence-logic-based beliefs, will be greatly influenced by our temperament and general attitudes to the world and others.