Atheist bigotry

Can anyone explain how and when Sam Harris became an atheist spokesman? I missed the email.
Which is lucky, because I find many of his views (eg he thinks torture is ok) as repellent and unrepresentative of mine as, say, the average muslim would find the views of the latest islamic wingnut hate figure.
There’s a superb – if unfashionably long – piece by Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian about his response to Murtah Hussein’s article on Al Jazeera. and Nathan Lean in Salon – both of whom pointed out the bigotry expressed by the atheist media stars.

Contrary to the assumptions under which some Harris defenders are laboring, the fact that someone is a scientist, an intellectual, and a convincing and valuable exponent of atheism by no means precludes irrational bigotry as a driving force in their worldview. Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian

I’m talking about Greenwald’s, rather than the other, articles because:

  • I wouldn’t have seen the other posts except for his article;
  • His arguments seem self-evidently true to me; and
  • because his article attracted a flurry of comments. (4913 at the moment of writing this.) I find many of those comments, at the least, disturbing, even allowing for the fact that the Guardian’s comment pages have basically become a vanity publishing platform for trolls.

Commenters referred to Greenwald’s being a gay jew:

“As a gay Jew, you must realise that in most Middle Eastern countries you would be persecuted. The exception being Israel.”

” If Glen expected to be an open and practicing gay man in Qatar he would be imprisoned.”

I presume that these rational beings have not come across the concept of a non-sequitur. The only way to read this is that these people genuinely believe that Islam is a huge monolithic block, that every person born a muslim is responsible for every injustice committed by every other muslim and any other majority islamic state, and so on.

In one comment, a Harris defender complained that his words had been taken out of context, then provided the “context” which turned out to be at least as disturbing as the paraphrase.
I am particularly offended that the pro-Harris writers seek to present themselves as the defenders of a rational scientific worldview. And then take their political and social opinions straight from the “Holy Book of Neocon Ideas about Global Politics.”
“Bugger rationality in that case, then, fellow rational people. Don’t bother trying to understand global politics and religion, because they’re really really hard to follow and you might find your simplistic world views too hard to maintain. Just keep your minds closed and go along with the war and torture stuff. It’s not as if non-atheists are human beings or anything.”
That is the Sam Harris message and it seems to have had at least a greater than zero influence on fools.

Self belief

The philosopher Julian Baggini discussed the silly Pascal’s Wager in the Guardian. He argued that even the Simpsons had presented a more logical view.

even Homer Simpson can see the problem with this: “What if we’ve picked the wrong religion? Every week we’re just making God madder and madder?” (Julian Baggini)

Baggini was sparked by a journal article by Tim Mawson, which basically presented Pascal’s Wager in a slightly new guise:

In this paper, I argue that atheists who think that the issue of God’s existence or non-existence is an important one; assign a greater than negligible probability to God’s existence; and are not in possession of a plausible argument for scepticism about the truth-directedness of uttering such prayers in their own cases, are under a prima facie obligation to pray to God that He stop them being atheists. (Tim Mawson)

What?!? What sort of “atheist” assigns a greater than negligible probability to the existence of a personal god who listens to individuals’ prayer requests and gives them what they ask for? No sort. There must be many church ministers – at least in the non-fundamentalist wings of the christian churches – who wouldn’t accept such a concept of “god”.

In any case, as Baggini points out, the atheist praying for belief would come smack bang up against the question “Which god, then?” It could be very dangerous to pick just one, from the many pantheons of gods that we even know about, and risk enraging all the others. (As in Homer’s Wager, Odin might be mightily pissed off if I were to pick Isis.) Don’t despair, all you other atheists. I think I can solve the problem for you.

If I were to “pray”, the only being I’d be talking to would be myself. Although I am a bit short of supernatural and universe- creating powers, I do actually have the power to make myself believe, unlike any of the better known gods. As the prayee, I therefore choose not to answer my prayer by making myself believe anything.

On the bright side, unlike a more traditional “jealous god”, I am not going to smite myself for failing to worship myself.

Fool for carrying on

The Metro alerted me to a music genre improbably called “Donk.” This seems to be a house-based descendant of the Wigan Casino Northern Soul line (related to Northend Scouse House and with a similar dress code.)

(Bow before my effortless cultural referencing. One of us was trained to do this….)

The Guardian was way ahead of the Metro on the donk-knowledge curve, describing it as

“Bouncy techno meets terrible rapping? Welcome to Donk”

OK, it sounds pretty tasteless to me. But not quite as tasteless as reading a Guardian writer and several commenters expressing a kneejerk sneering and bigoted response to any northern working class artform.

The same Guardian writer has introduced some truly improbable musical styles. Japanese dancehall is my current favourite.

So – in your face, music snobs. Here’s my April free gift to the world.

The bluffers’ tool that you can use to look effortlessly hip.

Invent a genre that you alone know about. Or, if you are musician, looking to corner the market in a new genre, this is the app for you.
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Empty Argument

I know letters pages are traditionally fertile grounds for finding crazy opinions and attitudes but its not that often you get in on the Guardian (especially when compared with the Mail or even BBC Online). Today however we see a familiar empty argument trotted out by someone who apparently has taken offence that Atheists have dared to try and teach children – when everyone knows only the Church are allowed to brainwash.

Patrick Smith, from Essex, writes:

It is great that young people are being taught to think (Summer camp offers ‘godless’ alternative for atheists, 30 July). Alas, it seems Camp Quest will be assuming science is the only way to find truth, a view not shared by most of humanity. Experience of love, music, art and (yes) religion are just as important. Atheists can brainwash as shamelessly as any cult!

Now, correct me if I am wrong but this seems completely flawed. Mr Smith is missing the point by such a large amount it seems he must be talking about something else. I have no personal experience of the atheist camp, so I am (like Mr Smith, I suspect) forced to use the article referenced for background reading.

It seems the children are being taught to think:

The idea behind the camp is to give a “godless” alternative to traditional religious summer camps. In the morning the participants discuss philosophical ideas and learn about subjects such as astronomy.

But nothing there makes me think that it assumes “science is the only way to find a truth.” (I am a bit confused as to otherways to find a “truth” though). Children, 12 years old, discussing philosophy fills my heart with joy and renews some of my faith in human nature. (all irony is intentional). But it continues:

Then in the afternoons they take part in more traditional camp activities. They swim, they run, they climb, they row. In the evening – if the rain relents – they sit round the campfire and toast marshmallows.

Ok – this strikes me as all wholesome, childrens activities. It also carries the implication that they are still active in the evenings. Unless we assume they sit silently around the campfire then they are likely to be listening to music, talking about artistic subjects or learning how to interact with others.

This sort of leaves me confused what Mr Smith is objecting to – unless he feels, like lots of Christians seem to do, that without god being invoked at every sentence then the lessons are meaningless and unimportant. The unintentional irony in that viewpoint is there is a religion where god is mentioned in almost every sentence, and Christians seem to hate it.

For those with strong irony meters and in need of some laughs at the unintentional idiocy that “people with faith” can demonstrate, the comments on the Guardian article about the camp are very funny.

Palin wins hearts – boggles minds

Amazingly, it seems that despite the sheer force of nonsense in her, ahem, speeches, Sarah Palin has won some supporters. No, I cant understand it either.

Reading the comments on the entertaining Guardian piece I linked to previously, shows there are some people with an interesting take on reality. I will try to provide links to the comments but Heather has informed me this doesn’t seem to be working.

For some reason, there are a lot of Americans reading British newspapers [see Heathers Post] and then feeling the need to wade in when ever the Republican party is mentioned. Nearly all are so rabidly anti-Obama it is quite funny. Even funnier are the ones who say we should mind our own business and no one in America cares what we think. The irony is fantastic, and only matched by their ignorance of it.

Anyway, on the current stream of conciousness, which is at least on the American Comment pages… I am aware my recent posts have been long, so I will only look at two funny comments here:

The first s by the very American sounding “JohnQPublic” who writes:

No honest person would have described this debate as anything other than a draw in which both candidates states many falsehoods as truths and didn’t answer the questions posed. No one sets the cause of equal rights for women further back than do self-described feminists.

Well, I am hurt that John Q Public thinks I am dishonest, but in all fairness nothing Biden could have done would have been either as offensive or just plain wrong as Palin. To say she “drew” with him is comical. Bastet only knows what the second sentence refers to…

The second is by the also-American-sounding “FreedomLand.” This one is so good, I’m going to have to take it a bit at a time:

Ahh, is this the male misogynist blog? Opps, no, its written by a woman! Perhaps an Obama-phile in disguise. “The Ring” attacks again, duh…..

The “ring” bit has lost me, however the opening gambit speaks volumes. It is a twist of appeal to ridicule mixed with ad-hominems. It says nothing of value and adds nothing to FreedomLand’s arguments – it does highlight a lack thereof.

For some reason, it has become quite common for a certain type of person to misspell “oops” as “opps” – check out how many times you can see it on FSTDT. It certainly takes the sting out of this attempt at an insult though.

[comment about Palin getting off lightly] No, you are quite wrong, Michelle Goldberg, Barack Obama has been doing precisely that all year. Along comes a woman with executive experience in government and you assume the rules should change to pillory her to your satisfaction.

Choke. Wow. There are loads of people who bang on about how Palin has more experience than Obama. I find it quite weird to be honest, but most worryingly, if she does have “experience” why in Hades’ name does she come across as an ignorant retard every time she sees a camera? If she has “executive experience” where in Asgard is she hiding it?

Palin gets away with murder in front of the public. People hold back on savaging her because it seems a touch unchivalrous and, honestly, it is like kicking a puppy. She is, on the whole, too easy a target to fully ridicule – even here we hold back because so many things just seem to obvious and cruel as she is blatantly educationally subnormal.

You also forgot to mention that her husband is at least part native American Eskimo. What does it mean for a white woman to be married to an indigenous ethnic minority in the USA? Quite a lot really…..

What? A lot of what? The article also forgets to mention she has ten fingers and two ears… Is this a weird implication that Palin gets the “race” vote because she is married to a Native American? Have you seen Obama? I am really confused by this rant.

[comment on her performance being a farce] Well, this IS politics as it is, you know. Its a popularity contest decided by the lowest common denominator in society and usually on the most superficial grounds. Its the same for women candidates as it is for men.

Oh that makes it OK then? Vote for Palin because she is an idiot who appeals to other idiots.

Isn’t America a great place?

I am rapidly trying to convert my urge to emigrate to the US into an emigration to New Zealand

Down wiv da kidz

It is certainly true that if you don’t have a vote, you don’t count in a democratic society.

One of the (many) demonised groups in the UK now seems to be the “youth” – of which the middle aged, middle classes seem to be inordinately frightened. Coincidentally, this is also an age group in which most are unable to vote, and most of those who do, don’t seem to bother. As a result, it seems, they have become fair game for any crackpot ideas. Oddly, they are also a group politicians seem to constantly appeal to (obviously knowing they wont be arsed to vote…). Isn’t the world strange.

Two recent mad ideas spring to mind. First from the Guardian:

Road safety: Impose total alcohol ban for teenage drivers, says chief medical officer
A zero drink-driving limit should be imposed on all drivers under 20, the chief medical officer recommended yesterday, saying that such a ban would save lives.

This hits two of our current “fears.” First it panders to the idea that the UK is in the grip of a “Booze Culture” and secondly it cries that some new restriction will “save lives.” Nicely it wraps all this up by targeting a silent group of society, so the fall out would be minimal (and it was).

For me, despite being neither “yoof” or a novice driver so immune to any resultant laws, this is insane. I completely, 100% fail to see any logic. I am reasonably sure that any young driver mature and grown up enough to go out and stick to the 1 pint limit is also likely to be mature and capable enough to drive sensibly. The problem, and it isn’t just young drivers, is being over the limit.

Some figures are bandied about:

Justifying his call for zero alcohol for 17 to 20-year-olds, Donaldson said they were six times more likely to have a car crash if they had been drinking. A young person who had been drinking was 2.5 times more likely to have a crash than an older person who had been drinking. “I’m aware it is a controversial recommendation, but I believe it would save lives,” he said.

Now, so far I have been unable to clarify this, but I am reasonably certain that the problem is young people are more likely to be over the legal drink driving limit – I seem to recall the alcohol level is not recorded by the police if the person is under the legal limit.

Basically, this is saying young people over the limit have more accidents than old people over the limit, so lets lower the limit for young people.

Madness. But it is the madness that comes from some one with a fantastic knowledge of one subject area (medicine) being given implied authority in another area (crime reduction, driver safety etc).

The next bit really annoyed me. From the Times a few days ago:

Curfew tames feral yobs of Cornwall
An experiment to bring peace to a yob-plagued town by imposing nocturnal curfews on its teenagers had a promising start this weekend when the streets of Redruth in Cornwall were free of the usual intimidating gaggles of youths.
Under the experimental curfew, named Operation Goodnight, parents in the most troubled part of the town have agreed with police that they will keep children under 16 indoors after 9pm, and that under10s will not be allowed out after 8pm.

What a wonderful culture we live in. When you read things like this it really makes you despair for what the adults of 2020 will be like.

I have two big issues with this. First off – why are we sending kids so many mixed signals? We (as a society) say they should be more involved in the community, say they should spend less time on their playstations and more time outdoors, say they should spend more time interacting with others. Simultaneously we say they cant go out, cant hang round together and everything they do means a paedophile will get them.

Secondly, the sheer unadulterated nonsense behind this.

  1. It is a voluntary scheme. So if you are a NAUGHTYKID™©® all you need to do is ignore it. All the good, well behaved kids will stay at home. Hang on, isn’t that the wrong way round?
  2. It is being done with the approval of the parents and targets the children in the most troubled part of the town. What? It actually says “a Sunday Times poll showed that nine out of 10 parents backed restrictions on their own children going out after dark.”

Right, let me get this straight. The parents of these “feral” children want restrictions on when the children go out. They have enough control over the children to stop them going out but wont do this simply because their children are little s***s, they demand that the police tell them to do this.

Nope, still cant get my head around it.

Why in the name of Zeus dont the bloody parents control their children? Why do they have to agree with police to follow this “trial” curfew (which will, no doubt, report a positive outcome and then spread to other areas – just like the criminal nonsense that is congestion charging)?

Our children are fine. They are the same mix of evil little turds and fantastic kind angels they were 30 years ago, 60 years ago, 90 years ago and even 900 years ago.

The bloody feral parents are the problem…. but then, they can vote…

Smug and Selfish

I often wonder about terms like “left” and “right wing” and how well they actually describe people. When you look at different nations the terms mean even less. For example in the US “Left of centre” is still reasonably “right wing” by (traditional) UK standards and weirdly we have a left wing government which is implementing more right wing policy than any in living memory. So I wonder, do the terms still mean anything?

It gets even more confusing when I apply them to myself. Personally, I exhibit left and right wing traits. More than that, I mix wanting to be filthy rich with wanting the general standards of society to be improved. Are these reconcilable? I have no problems with government taxation (I actually think tax is a GOODTHING™®) but the thought of government interference with my life is abhorrent. One area where I was concerned that I had strong left-wing tendencies was in the newspapers. Out of habit, I read the Guardian newspaper each Saturday, which is certainly a “leftie” newspaper. Fortunately, today I find myself seriously add odds with some of its other readership. Maybe I am still a “right winger..”

In the “Money” Supplement, there is a section where people write in with a problem and others give advice on how to solve it. It is normally pretty cheesy stuff about which fair trade presents they should buy for some wedding. Today it was about some one who was struggling to cope with the increased petrol costs and was asking for advice as to how others cope.

As you may have imagined (if you’ve ever read the Guardian), the responses were nearly all along the lines of “it serves you right for driving a gas guzzler” and “Stop whining, there are people worse off in Nigeria” (or where ever). One even suggested the questioner doesn’t “have to live 25 miles from [their] place of work.”

What self satisfying, smug, arrogant nonsense the answers are.

Infuriatingly, this is typical of a certain group of the UK society, most of whom are Guardian readers… They appear to be of the opinion that the massive fuel price rises are a GOODTHING™®© because it will combat climate change and (as most are well off enough to not actually be affected by the increased prices) any side effects are easily tolerable. This is not a “socialist” view point as the whole set up massively disadvantages the poor over the wealthy. Like most things, there is the assumption that a some of money which one person feels is insignificant must be insignificant for everyone else – yet at the same time it carries the idea that the increase will make other change their lifestyle to one the first person feels is “better.” It really annoys me.

Take an example of some one I know very well. This person is very hard working but, to be honest, not very well off. Earning low end of the average wage, this person has to pretty much accept any job offered to them. At the moment, they work 32 miles from where they live. The area is not well enough serviced by public transport to make that viable and, like most people, they own a car that is a few years old (and is used for family tasks at the weekend). Now, with today’s prices they are paying £1.19 per litre of fuel. The round trip journey is 64 miles, and is a mix of traffic. Their car is reasonably economical but, because of the nature of the journey, they rarely get better than 30mpg from it. As a result, each day they are using 10 litres of fuel per day. The simple journey to and from work is costing them nearly £3000 per year. Shocking. This is a only a £600 a year rise over last year, but when you live close to the margins, £600 means an AWFUL lot.

Now everyone has choices. My friend has choices. They could change jobs, but there aren’t any closer. They could move house, but being poor they cant afford one closer to work, they could cycle but it would take hours and they’d have no where to change at work, they could change cars to a more efficient one but (again) they are poor and cant afford a new car.

Switch the example to me. I am not rich (far from it, sadly), however I am better off than my friend. I drive a much more un-economical car to work (albeit a much shorter distance). I live a less environmentally friendly life and, to be honest, if you try to change me through taxation you will leave people like my friend destitute on the streets before it has any effect on me.

How, in the real world, do things like increase fuel prices have any real effect on changing people’s destruction of the environment?

In a similar manner to increasing alcohol tax, forcing shops to up the price of “party drinks” and the like, it has no real effect on the people clamouring for it. All it does is massively disproportionately punish the poor. You don’t even have to be rich to ignore these measures, because the poor will break before the middle classes begin to suffer.

Back to my rant about the Guardian. It is nice to think there is a whole swathe of supposedly “Left wing” Guardian readers who are happy to see poor people suffer even more because it massages their “climate change guilt.” No wonder the Labour party have become right wing neo-Nazis.

Anti-Israel does not equal anti-Jew

Atheist defends Dawkins. Shock, horror. (OK, not.) Still the Times has an unpleasant piece by Daniel Finkelstein in which he distorts something Dawkins said in the Guardian in order to misrepresent Dawkins as anti-semetic.

So Dawkins, a liberal hero, believes, er, that Jews control world power. And, judging from the Guardian, it is now a part of mainstream debate to say so. Perhaps you think I am over-reacting, but I am a little bit frightened.

Well no. What Dawkins actually said is that atheists need some organisation analogous to the Jewish lobby, which had proved its success by the fact that it had managed to

more or less monopolise American foreign policy as far as many people can see.

It seemed obvious to several commentators that
(a) US foreign policy seemed more than a little pro-Israel;
(b) this is not even explicable in terms of the US’s own national interests (oranges versus oil, as one commentator remarked);
(c) it reflects the influence of pro-Israeli American lobbyists and people in power.

This is a huge leap away from saying that Jews monopolise world power, as the blog headline and comments said. However, this misrepresentation of Dawkins was taken by some Times commentators as a given. And stuck together with a self-evidently ludicrous claim that Dawkins wanted to take children away from their parents if the parents taught them religion. To make a general attribution of Dawkins really being a Nazi.

I know. I know. This sort of thing doesn’t even bear recognising as a rational discourse. But still, I think it is worth repeating ad nauseam that opposing Israel does not make one a Nazi.

The Jews suffered terribly in Germany. Why didn’t they get given Germany? They didn’t suffer anything at the hands of the Palestinians. Why did they get Palestine? Well, partly because they carried out a prolonged terrorist campaign against the British government to get it.

Terrorist campaign, note. The British government gave in.

If the USA had not been committed over decades to supporting everything that Israel did, ignoring the complaints of the Palestinians as their land was taken and they were turned into refugees in their own country, there would be no insane jihadists now.

The only quarrel I would have with Dawkins in this is that atheists don’t have an agreed agenda beyond removing religious influence from the public sphere. What else would be the point of atheist lobbyists? Remember the herding cats thing? The capacity to think independently is the strength of rational people, not their weakness.

Mad scientists

Blimey Britain leads Europe in something! Don’t start waving the flags yet though, it’s the number of animal experiments. Peter Tatchell’s Comment is Free points out that animal experiments are at an ll-time high.
The Home Office website provides some details here.

Mice, rats and other rodents were used in the majority of procedures; eighty-three percent of the total. Most of the remaining procedures used fish (9%), and birds (4%).

Dogs, cats, horses and non-human primates, afforded special protection by the Act, were collectively used in less than one percent of all procedures.

The number of procedures using non-human primates was 4,200 down by 450 (10%) from 2005, mainly due to a decrease in old-world primates. The number of animals used was 3,108.

Genetically modified animals were used in 1.04 million regulated procedures representing thirty-four percent of all procedures for 2006, compared with thirty-three percent in 2005 and eight percent in 1995. The vast majority (95%) of these procedures used rodents, most of the remainder were fish and amphibians.

Around thirty-eight percent of all procedures used some form of anaesthesia to alleviate the severity of the interventions. For many of the remaining procedures the use of anaesthesia would have potentially increased the adverse effects of the procedure.

Apparently these procedures are now increasing and will increase further with ever greater demand for GM beings.

One of the people who framed the animal experimentation legislation has very severe doubts about its operation.

Prof Balls said he was dismayed that progress in science had not produced more alternatives to using animals in research. “As a scientist I’m entitled to believe in modern technology to deal with these problems, but I’m disappointed that more effort hasn’t been put into bringing the numbers down,” he said

There are some issues that leap out as you read the bald statistics, such as,

  • if this is just ‘science’, how it is it that the cute pet factor seems to influence the choice of animals? Shouldn’t it be the similarity to human biology that determines their sacrificial value?
  • Is a mouse genetically modified to have disease x really very much like a human being who has developed that disease?
  • What can fish and amphibian experiments tell us about human biology? They might indicate levels of river toxicity.
  • 72% were conducted without anaesthetic, then….

I’m far from absolutist on this. If the sacrifice of some poor mammal can spare great human suffering, then I’d have to go for saving my own species.

All the same, it’s well nigh impossible to skim through a few issues of any pop science magazine without finding large numbers of experiments that are so morally dubious and seemingly pointless that you wonder what ethics committees are for.

The naive observer, i.e. me, would assume that you couldn’t torture animals unless human life hung in the balance and there was literally no alternative way to get the information. These should surely be the mininum requirements.

There has just been a ruling on a judicial review sought by the British Unnion for the Abolition of Vivisection . A High Court judge ruled that the government acted unlawfully in allowing some experiments on primates. Astonishingly, cutting the top of a primate’s head to induce a stroke was seen by the government as causing ‘moderate’, rather than ‘severe’, suffering. The mind boggles at a definition of “severe”.

In any case, I didn’t realise there was a problem with strokes in people who have had the tops of their heads cut off. Wow. that must affect approximately, erm, 0% of the population.

Phone Masts Not Harmful

In today’s Guardian newspaper (and online and here) there is an article explaining how the fears and worries of the “electrosensitive” woo-mongers is unfounded.

Sadly, the Guardian’s “news” editors have chosen to go with the headline:

Research fails to detect short-term harm from mobile phone masts

Now, it may just be my pedantry, but surely that strongly implies there is a short term harm and the researchers simply failed to detect it? The second link above is better and carries the tag line:

Yet another study shows no link between mobile phone radiation and ill health

Which pretty much captures the repetitiveness of this as a research result. The overwhelming weight of science shows there is no evidence of any short term harmful effect from communications masts and the only proven long term risk is from the most popular source of electromagnetic energy itself – the Sun.

In a nutshell, this seems like a well designed study which, like all the others, has resulted in no evidence that people who claim to be sensitive to electromagnetic radiation actually are – this is even something I have mentioned in the past. Repeated tests have shown that if you get an “electrosenstive” and tell them there is a transmitter near by, they evince the effects they claim are caused by “EM.” If they dont know the transmitter is near by, they don’t have the effects. In my unsympathetic, un-medical opinion this is pretty good proof it is all in their mind – for various reasons they are completely making it up. Part of me concedes the symptoms may be real, but it is only a small part of me. Either way, targeting phone masts as the culprit is doing no one any favours. As the Guardian comment on the topic finishes:

What sufferers experience is real and in many cases very unpleasant. But in the light of this evidence we can be pretty certain that phone masts do not cause short term health problems for the vast majority of people. Electrosensitive support groups should recognise this and begin to look harder for other causes of the condition.

Well said. Stop fighting a bogeyman and find the real cause – if there are real symptoms.

As always, there are those who are so wedded to a concept that no matter how much evidence to the contrary is presented, they will refuse to accept it. Sounds a bit religious to me, but never mind. The wonderfully named “Mast Sanity” website is a cited opponent of the recent study, and shows many of the traits you would normally associate with creationists trying to debunk evolution.

Unsurprisingly, Mast Sanity is a screaming example of bad science and a place where spurious arguments are used to dispel the results of the most recent study — I assume similar tactics were used on older studies, I didn’t look into the site that much, what I did read seemed like a check list of logical fallacies and debate-scoring tactics rather than anything reasoned. Some examples include:

We question why psychologrists are doing this research at all since physical changes to the skin and heart rates have been found in other research. Presumably the psychologists ‘believe’ this is all in the mind and this is what they set out to ‘prove’.

Yeah, and when you read the research notes it shows the psychologists set out to measure the physical responses. This smacks of a combination of appeal to ridicule and the laypersons perception that educational disciplines exist in complete isolation of each other. If the researchers had set out to prove the Electrosensitivity was in the mind, this would be obvious from the experimental design, not from what discipline the people who run the experiment come from.

Their conclusion was made possible by eliminating 12 of the most sensitive electrosentive volunteers who had become too ill to continue the study. Even a child can see that by eliminating 12 of the original 56 electrosensitive volunteers – over 20% of the group – that the study integrity has been completely breached.

Wow. First off the 12 people withdrew themselves, they were not eliminated to make the experiment possible. If the other 44 “electrosensitives” were actually electro sensitive, then what would the loss of those 12 change? As for the great “even a child” comment — well really. I have not met many children who can do the statistical analysis required to account for the changed sample sizes, but most would probably make a random assumption as to the status of the experiment. Does that mean they would be correct? Critically, the “study integrity” has certainly not been completely breached, it just gives a larger error bar to the findings.

There is more bad statistics with this bit of meandering nonsense:

One participant in the study questions Professor Fox’s assertion that only four people got all six test correct. He said “I got five [out of six] as during the first three five minute tests on session one, I stated ‘not sure’ after the first five minutes, which was marked as NO, but on session two, three and four I got it 100% right and actually identified the type of signal, so are the Essex [study] numbers meaningful?

I will confess to not really understanding what this is trying to say. One person thinks that more (or less) than four people got all six tests “correct” because he got five out of six in one of them. Blimey. The whole experiment must be flawed then… I would really appreciate it if someone could explain what the above means to me — I must be having a bad understanding day today. Talking about a previous study, quoted by the BBC, Mast Sanity continues:

… We don’t think Dr. Rubin [author of previous study] is qualified to comment on the Essex study as he didn’t even use a shielded room for his own experiments at King’s College and the so called ‘sham’ (zero) exposure was not a zero signal as people have been led to believe.

What makes me laugh about this, is the “pro-sensitives” leap on the shielding issue, and largely it is a cornerstone of their defence against the real science. In a nutshell, it explains why the “sensitives” report effects when no mast is transmitting, but they are led to believe it is. The problem with this is that when the “sensitives” believe the mast is off, they report no symptoms. Is the shielding belief-powered?

With no signs of irony whatsoever, Mast Sanity finishes its tirade with this wonderful bit of woo-spin:

Mast Sanity Spokesperson Yasmin Skelt says “All in all the Media release of this study has been an exercise in spin and propaganda and a poor one for science.

It is the long term health effects where people are forced to live near real Mobile Phone Masts that count and this study in no way covers those.

Great isn’t it? They refer to themselves in the third person and claim the science is spin and their spin is science. New Labour must love the world they have created.

The study was solid science. It certainly was not a perfect experiment, but few ever are. The conclusions drawn are sound and the reasoning is valid. The Woo-Monger reactions have been an exercise in spin and bad-logic, rarely coming close enough to science to be thought of as bad science. The study was very upfront — as have been the media reports — that this didn’t look at long term effects. Sadly, spinning the goal posts to a new location does not invalidate the research — not that the woo crowd have ever worried about that.

Asking if there are long term health effects is a good question, and an area where the research is sketchier which results in less certainty over the answers. That said, the common cries of the “electrosensitives” is that they suffer short term effects (which is why people buy “shielded curtains” and the like) and on this, it is quite probable that they are wrong. Redefining the criteria each time one is falsified is typical of another group who hold to nonsensical beliefs in the face of all evidence. Will Electrosensitivity become the Woo of the Gaps?

[tags]Media, News, EM,Woo, Science, Bad Science, Statistics, Bad Statistics, Electromagnetism, Guardian, Electrosensitivity, Nonsense, Society, Belief, Research, Experiment, Evidence, Logical Fallacy, Spin[/tags]

More atheist footstamping

For those who do not have the regular, erm, pleasure of reading through the Comment is Free blogs on the Guardian websites, there is an interesting one there from yesterday by AC Grayling titled “A force for evil.”

The post makes interesting reading, but as you can imagine the most humour can be found in the comments. Most are pretty unoriginal and just what you expect when ever someone says religion is bad. You can largely group the comments into categories: (with kudos to jackoba who did this before me!)

  1. The ones that say religion is not all bad, look at all the good things it has done.
  2. The ones that say Atheism is worse than religion and point to Hitler (a catholic), Stalin, Pol Pot et al. as examples of evil atheists. (Prime example is the comment by powerday with an ironic twist by longsword later on where he seems to be saying Hitler was an Atheist because he seems to have believed in a Teutonic god rather than the current mainstream Christian god…)
  3. The atheists who complain about atheists criticising theists and suggest we all go back to hiding under the table. (waltzingmatilda1 provides an example of this – and without wishing to be rude, I find this sort of argument very weak and almost cowardly, basically this comment says that because “outspoken” atheists draw negative comments from theists, they should shut up and behave themselves… Blimey…)
  4. People who have no idea what they are talking about, but need to talk (often conflating atheism with a religion or making massive logical fallacy leaps – sadly there are lots of examples of this, but for now I will leave it with mckgus)
  5. People who like to post about how repetitive the argument is. ( :-) )

I am teetering towards the last group at the moment. Sadly, even though there are some intelligent, educated, people writing articles about atheism now, there is a strong sense of repetition there. It is a good sign of the times that so many news portals carry atheist posts now, and this probably reflects the greater divide between theists and atheists. In the UK at least, a generation ago most people were apathetic enough towards religion as to make the distinction meaningless – even the faithful over here were not rabid enough to get worked up about. Now, though, things are quite different. It is interesting that an apparent British person writes this at the end of their comment:

Also, since humanism tends towards strict individualism, autonomy of the self, reason, independent thought etc, on its own grounds, it features a very spurious supernatural being (in the way he can escape from nature), the human of humanism, the self. Not only this, but the underlying liberalistic logic of evolutionary psychology and humanism (competing individuals where co-operation is a secondary and indeed undergirded by self-interest) is doubtless an easy way at an ideological level inwhich to further shure up capitalism, and I cannot help but think that this logic (though not humanism solely, but capitalism) will ulitimately kill more than ‘religion’ ever has, once the seas begin to boil and the world begins to throw out its selfish stewards.

Heavy on the big, long words but light on the sense and logic. (He began his comment with “Where to to begin with the stupidity of what AC Grayling is saying here?” so you got a sign it was going to be good!)

The problem is, as is often the case where something is either right or wrong, the argument eventually gets bogged down. It has been some time since I read a properly “new” article on the topic. Theists as normal, are often the worst spewing out the same tired, boring, reasons why people should believe in god. Graylings article in the Comment is Free, while interesting and well written does not really open any new ground and is unlikely to convert any theists.

With this in mind, I will endeavour to find some examples of mainstream media which has “new” arguments on the pro-/anti- invisible people debate. Personally, I cant think of any new arguments so finding them will be exciting and interesting (and therefore they will get looked at here!).

Looking for a silver lining on the Comment is Free, there are very good comments from olching. F101voodoo and especially jonwaring, but my personal favourite came from sidc:

The only interesting thing about these religion/atheism threads is that the atheists can spell better than the religious nutters.

Well said! :-)

(footnote: the title comes from a comment, not something I thought up myself! )

[tags]Atheism, Theism, Religion, AC Grayling, Belief, Religious Nutters, Beliefs, Belief, Nutcases, Fundamentalist, Society, Culture, Logic, Understanding, Guardian, Nazi, God Delusion[/tags]

If in doubt, appeal to ridicule

Reading through the comment is free part of the Guardian is enlightening, entertaining and a bit saddening. It is enlightening because it shows how confused people become when they want to find a target to attack, it is entertaining because the commenters are, basically, crazy and saddening because once upon a time you would have thought people who read the Guardian were reasonably educated. Obviously in the internet age, this is no longer the case…

Anyway, a rant against the HSE by Simon Jenkins, titled “The zombie health inspectors should be replaced with a risk commission” drew my attention today. As I have mentioned in the past, I am often drawn into the murky world of health and safety much more than I would normally like, so this intrigued me.

The title of the article seems to draw on this part of Mr Jenkins long, repetitive, rant:
Continue reading

Another reason to say NO to ID cards

Now, of late, the Guardian Money’s obsession with demonising “buy to let” landlords has been more than a little annoying. However in Saturday’s paper, the Capital Letters section had a bit which was quite interesting. Capital Letters is a sort of consumer rights thing, where people write in following problems with various companies and Tony Levene sorts things out for them. Very interesting reading most of the time.

Basically, this week, some one wrote in saying that HM Customs and Excise (Now properly known as HM Revenue and Customs) was threatening to take them to court over non-payment of taxes. The person was complaining because they did not owe any tax and they were on the PAYE scheme where tax is deducted from wages at source. The unfortunate correspondent had tried to convince HMRC about this but was unsuccessful. Continue reading