Readings in Heritability

Charles Murray has a new book out. Yay.

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.

Photo of a backlit sign consisting of stripes and DNA sequence represented in letters (TTAGCACC, etc.).
“DNA” by MIKI Yoshihito, CC BY 2.0

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”

Readings in Heritability
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Mock the Movie: He Can Do That? Edition

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.

This one is available on YouTube. Continue reading “Mock the Movie: He Can Do That? Edition”

Mock the Movie: He Can Do That? Edition

Carrier Victory Celebration

By now, you may know that Richard Carrier dropped his remaining SLAPP suits in November. If you read the settlement agreement, you’ll see he even explicitly said we are free to talk about the allegations and the suit without incurring more legal hassle from him. So we’re going to do that.

Photo of confetti being shot over an outdoor concert audience at night, catching the stage lights.
Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

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.

But for now, we celebrate! Please join us.

Carrier Victory Celebration

Mock the Movie: Welcome to Hell Edition

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.

This one is on Netflix. Continue reading “Mock the Movie: Welcome to Hell Edition”

Mock the Movie: Welcome to Hell Edition

Human, with a Side of Soul

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.

Photo of book cover on a paperback and a Kindle screen. Cover image is blue/purple ink spreading in water on a white background.
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.

Human, with a Side of Soul

Why I Am Not a Socialist

I have a piece in The Humanist this month. I’d originally written this for an anthology on political humanism, which has since been cancelled. It’s titled “Why I’m Not a Socialist”.

Photo of a bas relief in limestone depicting four postal workers in a frame. Three workers wear caps and aprons, holding bags. The fourth, behind them, wears a suit and holds up a package tied with string.
Edit of “WPA Berkeley Post Office” by Hitchster, CC BY 2.0, more information about the relief here

When talking about economic systems at the level of capitalism versus socialism, we’re talking about balancing the power of competing interests. Failure means consolidating power in one set of interests. Currently in the US we’re seeing the failure mode of capitalism, as we did in the 1920s. I refuse to call it “late-stage capitalism” because the steps taken to hobble capitalism during and after the Great Depression demonstrate this is a matter of political power and will, not timing. But today’s United States is an extreme form of capitalism, in which capital is assigned virtues it hasn’t demonstrated, then granted nearly exclusive access to political power based on those virtues.

This is bad. I shouldn’t have to say that, but sometimes it’s worth stating the obvious.

That doesn’t mean socialism is better, however. When it’s running well, socialism is better than failing capitalism. Of course, capitalism running well is better than failing capitalism as well. Honest comparisons of the two ideologies involve contrasting them best to best and worst to worst.

Truth be told, the differences between them aren’t huge.

You can read the whole thing here. I’m sure it won’t be at all controversial.

This essay was paid for by patrons on my Patreon. If you’d like to see more work like this, you can help support it too.

Why I Am Not a Socialist

Interview with John Richards, Anti-Theism International Convention (Updated)

Have you been following the saga that is the new Anti-Theism International Convention? Probably not, so long story short: A new conference was set up in Britain to honor the legacy of Christopher Hitchens. It claimed to have very prestigious (brand new) awards and high tickets prices to match.

Then one of the organizers did an interview on YouTube to promote the conference, and the whole thing was bizarre. It was antagonistic, incoherent, and peaked with sexual assault apologetics that claimed all men had committed assault and involved a (probably joking) threat to assault the interviewer if he attended the conference. Yes, really.

When Hemant Mehta picked up the story, the convention’s other organizer showed up in the comments to say he’d fired the, er, outspoken organizer and was willing to be interviewed. So I did that, or at least I started to. I’m reproducing the exchange here, because edits, deletions, and out-of-order comments make it difficult to follow there. Comments here are posted in the order they occurred.

John Richards [comment edited after my response]: Hi Guys,

It’s John Richards here.

I’m the organizer of the Anti-Theism International Convention.
I hope you might be willing to hear what I’ve got to say about this subject…

Firstly, I’ve sacked Lance Gregorchuk.

Secondly, I have school age daughters and I do not want them to be sexually, physically or mentally abused, or in any way treated badly. NeIther do I want them to think they can get away with making false accusations in future. Continue reading “Interview with John Richards, Anti-Theism International Convention (Updated)”

Interview with John Richards, Anti-Theism International Convention (Updated)

Mock the Movie: True Story Edition

Once upon a time, before the internet, you could claim anything was a true story as long as you set it somewhere your audience would never go. Now, with the internet, you don’t even have to do that. But it does help in either case to set your “true story” somewhere that actually exists. The makers of Monstroid didn’t bother. This Tuesday, we’ll find out what else they skimped on.

This one is available on YouTube.

Continue reading “Mock the Movie: True Story Edition”

Mock the Movie: True Story Edition

The Town Hero

This is another post pulled from Facebook while I wasn’t blogging much. It took me a bit of time to figure out it was related to an attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It could apply to so many things.

Once upon a time, there was a town dealing with a hungry dragon. It had all the usual elements of such a town, with scheduled sacrifices, princesses who were somehow exempt from the sacrifice, chaos among the town council, and a hero with a sword.

The dragon didn’t demand sacrifice terribly often. (Honestly, it probably would have preferred goats over village maidens, but no one had figured out how to ask. And after all, they were only maidens.) The timing was regular and long enough that the town eventually stopped panicking and started thinking. They built a fireproof shelter, losing only five maidens during construction. They built weapons (two more maidens, but who was counting).

During this period, the town hero made many rousing speeches. In fact, he spent so much time speechifying that he simply couldn’t help with any of the construction. Opinion is divided on whether the final maiden was lost for lack of labor, but debate is muted and sometimes condemned as helping the dragon.

Finally, everything was ready. The princesses, who had also been exempt from hard labor, of course, helped to provision the shelter. They trained on the weapons. (They understood that the supply of maidens was not unending.)

The hero showed up at the last minute. The walls of the shelter protected him from dragonfire as well as they did everyone else. As the weapons fired, he stepped outside. His sword landed hard on one claw of the harpoon-riddled beast.

“It is slain!”, he cried. Then the town boosted him into the air, carried him back to the square, and made him senator.

The end

The Town Hero

“Atheist Volunteering”, Phil Session on Atheists Talk

When I first invited Phil Session to the show, he had to turn me down. He had a conflict with an Atheists Helping the Homeless event he was coordinating. He’s a busy man these days, having recently joined the boards of Recovering From Religion and Foundation Beyond Belief. But this Sunday, Phil will join me to talk a little bit about the stereotype of community volunteers as religious and about finding or creating volunteer opportunities for atheists.

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“Atheist Volunteering”, Phil Session on Atheists Talk