I recently finished my first set of classes toward a BS in data analytics. It’s not very useful advice now, I hope, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend attempting this in the academic quarter containing the most critical election of your lifetime. That notwithstanding, this means I’ve spent the past several weeks immersed in discussions of deriving meaning from numbers.
Surrounded as I’ve been this term with issues of data quality, making assumptions explicit, the limits of the most common statistical tests, and error terms, this “debate” has never been far from my mind. I saw an echo of it again today, and lo and behold, I finally have some time to write about it.
The boys who cry “Postmodernism!” without much understanding of the history of philosophy are all but background noise these days, so I mostly noted their existence once again and moved on. Funnily enough, though, this actually is a postmodernism question. This is all about deconstructing the meaning of the equation. Are we talking about some ideal of “2” and “4”, or are we communicating about something else, where “2” and “4” are abstractions of reality that may be more or less reflective of that reality?
This is what the title says, friends. If you’re not feeling tempted toward despair by the close election results, this may not be what you need to read today. If, however, you’re disheartened by the vote being this close, this is for you.
I’m not here to tell you the United States isn’t racist, sexist, classist, homo- and transphobic. It is. Many of these are founding principles of the U.S., written into our constitution. And it’s good that we’ve spent much of the last four years refusing to let the well-meaning people around us deny that fact. It’s good that more of us are refusing to allow people to duck the social and political consequences of that. It’s good that we’re tearing the wallpaper off these cracks, because we can’t fix them until we do.
It’s less good that we’ve allowed the outcome of this election to stand for America’s willingness to address these problems. This particular election is critical because it determines whether voters still have any power to address them. It isn’t the last word on our thoughts or feelings. There’s far more going on here.
This election reflects:
The Electoral College
Voter registration purges
Voter registration restrictions
Disenfranchisement through the criminal justice system
Insufficient resources dedicated to voting
Changing election rules due to the pandemic
Changing election rules due to court challenges, some of them last-minute
Real and threatened violence aimed at voter suppression
Disinformation campaigns aimed at voter suppression
A well-funded disinformation industry, including a top news channel
A news media unprepared to cope with lies on our current presidential scale
A news media unaccustomed to naming bigotry
A news media scared of being called liberal
A shrinking, increasingly centralized news media
Political identities at odds with voters’ support for policy
Panic and exhaustion
Poor public political education
A long cultural trend saying nihilism and cynicism = cool
I’m missing things. I’m tired. But the point is that this is a huge system with a lot of moving parts that chews up public opinion to eventually spit out a result having more or less to do with that opinion. The result is not public opinion itself.
Many of the parts of that system are racist, sexist, classist, homo- and transphobic because they were set up to be. We know this. We talk about this. We don’t so much acknowledge that this means they’re going to produce results more bigoted than we are as a group of individuals. They’re ours, and we bear responsibility for them, but they are not us.
We’ve made some progress on them over the last four years. We’ve also lost ground on some of them, like the courts. We have so much work to do. This election isn’t about whether we’ve done that work. This election is about whether we’ve done enough to be able to continue. That’s the part to focus on today.
Let me declare my biases up front. I voted for Elizabeth Warren yesterday in Minnesota. She was my first choice among the huge field of Democratic contenders. Like hers, my main priority is seeing as many of her plans as possible enacted. My next four choices dropped out before I got to vote. If I have to choose between Sanders and Biden (I don’t), my choice is Sanders, but the margin is very narrow, based mostly on candidate negatives on both sides, and easily shifted by things like VP choice.
I also spent nearly a decade doing actuarial (pension) math for a living. I’m not a trained actuary, but I have a lot of experience in determining probable outcomes in situations with a lot of variables. More importantly for this post, I’ve spent an awful lot of time identifying and making explicit the assumptions that go into these calculations.
Yes, I’m writing this (or compiling it from various places I’ve talked about the question over the last few days) because of the pressure for Warren to drop out of the race. At best, it’s based on assumptions about what would happen to her votes that don’t match the best information we have. At worst, it’s counter-productive to seeing progressive issues move forward.
Let’s start with the assumptions being made about what will happen if Warren drops out. The two big assumptions are:
People who are prepared to vote for Warren will switch predominantly to Sanders.
Those votes will roll up to enough of a gain in Sanders delegates to prevent a brokered convention.
There’s also a third assumption I’m seeing in my social media that Warren really wants delegates so she can throw them to Biden specifically to prevent Sanders from becoming the nominee. I’ll talk about what can happen at the convention later, but I’m not going to address this assumption directly because:
It’s coming from a small minority even of Sanders supporters.
Those are the same people who think snake emojis are solid politics.
Their reaction to this post will be the same no matter what I say.
Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely hilarious. I was really just looking for a lighter movie than our last several, something we could mock with affection instead of out of self-defense. Then I came across The Werewolf of Washington. Shot and released during the Watergate scandal, it stars Dean Stockwell as a very sincere member of the White House press who just happens to have lycanthropy.
So that’s what we’re doing Tuesday. You’re welcome to join us.
For whatever reason David Silverman decided he needed my attention on Valentine’s Day.
Let's ask 3rd wave feminists thinks about @realamberheard and her taped admission of spousal abuse. Should we shun her forever starting now, or does amber get due process? They pushed against Depp, but now there are recordings. Tag your wokists @szvan how about some dialog?
Is this it @szvan@hemantsblog? Do wokists protect admitted abusers like @realamberheard because revenge for other men? Is that bigotry? Is this social justice or vengeance? Let's discuss with civility (like the old days)
You said I could stop. But before I do, one more question:
Would you support a "more will be named" public list of women who make false allegations against men, thereby hurting feminism, metoo, and real victims of sexual assault? We need to protect society from bad actors, no?
I eventually figured out he thought I should have something to say about this because of the Reason Rally.
Hey @hemantsblog maybe write about the kneejerk expulsion of Johnny Depp from reason rally 2 when @realamberheard made that false allegation now that the recordings of her abuse are out? The atheist movement lost a huge innocent ally that day. Our wokism hurt us huh? Maybe?
I had nothing to do with the 2016 Reason Rally besides deciding at the last minute to attend and to volunteer for the associated conference. I helped out wearing someone else’s name badge.
I didn’t say anything about the original allegations of abuse. I did mention Depp in 2016, but I noted that newbie atheist podcasters weren’t going to learn much from Lawrence Krauss talking in a workshop about how much he enjoyed working with Depp.
Lyz Liddell, executive director of the Reason Rally Coalition, a paid position she likens to a community-building pastor, says organizers were disappointed when Depp and Heard withdrew.
“We were like, ‘Wait! What?’” she says. They then learned about the abuse allegations, she says, and “we absolutely support Amber and hope they can both have success in their personal and professional lives.”
I confirmed with another Reason Rally board member that they have no recollection of a discussion about kicking Depp out. Silverman is offering to testify, but…well, I’ll get to that.
Silverman continued to tag me in gems like this well after being told to stop:
She's an adult who has NEVER done what I asked. Why do I need to heed her command when she is obviously hiding? Hiding is BS. She's a movement leader now and she has responsibilities.
Hadn’t heard of Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class? Well, that’s because his publisher didn’t make review copies available. So the first places to get their reviews out were those feeling no need to take a critical view of the book, like openly white supremacist sites and The Federalist. Unsurprisingly, they think it’s great.
The reviews that do engage critically will take longer. “Critically” here means “Does this accurately represent our best knowledge of the subject?”, rather than “Ugh, don’t like.” Not that those are mutually exclusive. Asking those questions take time.
Some scientists and science communicators have already gotten a head start, however. They can do that without seeing the book because they’ve been dealing with the “evidence” and the arguments on this topic for ages. And of course, because heritability is an easily misunderstood topic, there are some good explainers out there.
So what should you read if you want to learn about heritability from experts rather than political scientists whose prior work on the topic hasn’t held up? Try these articles on the basics and methodological challenges of studying heritability. (Please note that some of these sources uncritically discuss the history of scientific work aimed at a “cure” for autism.) Continue reading “Readings in Heritability”→
I fully and freely admit that the impetus for this month’s movie is wanting to watch Bruce Payne chew some scenery. It’s been a while. I have to admit we might be disappointed by Aurora Intercept, though. Not only does Payne play a hero(!!!) for once in his career, but there’s zero evidence of tooth marks in this trailer. Or dialogue, for that matter.
Save the date for the evening of February 23. We’ve rested, we’ve let the news sink in, and we’re ready to talk. We’ll bring you more news soon as we work out technical details for live streaming and confirm special guests. In the meantime, however, just know that our lips are legally unsealed. We can talk. We will talk.
As much fun as that sounds, one of the things we’ll talk about is the cost of suits like these (and what we can do to help with the problem overall, because we’re activists). We have our final bills now, along with our victory, and totals on the debt we’ve taken on over the last three and a half years. We’ll save the details for the 23rd, but know we’ve only paid off about half our total.
Winning frivolous lawsuits is expensive, so this will be a fundraiser, like much of what we do until this debt is retired. There’s no cost to watch us or ask us questions during the event, but donations to our GoFundMe and to Skepticon help us sleep better at night.
I have the strangest feeling that this is one of those movies we’ll need to take a break after, by which I mean watch something decent with special effects that mean well. We might even have to watch a good movie to take the tastelessness out of our mouths. But whatever. We’re watching Hell and Back anyway. Join us if you can handle it.
Last year, author Gina DeWink asked to sit down with me to talk about souls and the afterlife. I agreed, both because I’m glad when someone doing a project like this reaches out to nonbelievers (I’m not the only one interviewed) and because my views on the topic have radically changed over the years with education. It was fun to talk about why I believed something then that I don’t now.
The book, Human with a Side of Soul, came out a couple of weeks ago.
From her vantage point as an open-minded investigative writer from Middle America, Gina Dewink asks a dozen strangers from the medical, scientific and spiritual realms about soul beliefs—along the way, encountering perspectives such as an environmental consultant who believes she’s lived before, a neurologist studying patients in a coma, a medical mystery who survived more than one near-death experience, a Bible-quoting Atheist and more.
Join Dewink’s spiritual journey as she immerses herself in a culture of online groups, hypnotherapy sessions, a sensory deprivation tank and a Buddhist festival to come out the other side with answers. Is there a common belief woven throughout every opinion? Find out in Human, with a Side of Soul.
Read more about it here. You can find the book at the usual online sources or ask your local bookstore to order a copy for you.