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Culture war games: too good not to be true

Where Now for New Atheists?
By Helen Pluckrose

Western society had made good progress towards being able to criticize or mock sacred ideas and promote reason and evidence as a basis for knowledge over subjective belief and revelation. The consensus that religious ideas were entitled to a respectful deference not afforded other ideas had begun to be shaken. However, the last few years has seen something of a reversal. Skeptical, secularist liberals, by promoting skepticism and critical thinking and a respect for evidence over subjective experience and personal “truths,” are accused of a bullying intolerance and even bigotry even though religious privilege still dominates society. The balance is swinging back again against the skeptics, the empiricists, the rationalists and the universal liberals, but the pushback is not driven by the religious.

Western society’s resurgence of respect for subjective and unevidenced narratives and lived experience comes from a philosophical shift in the largely secular Left. The postmodern shift towards irrationalism, subjective truth and faith-based thinking opens the door again to religion, particularly those of minority groups, but also quasi-religious theories and movements within Social Justice. As science and reason and universal liberalism became associated with an oppressive, ruling, western, white, male elite in postmodern theory (thereby “erasing” the contributions of scientists, rationalists and liberals who do not fit the description), the demand to respect “alternative ways of knowing,” unscientific truth claims, irrational belief-systems and illiberal values intensified.

Don’t Believe in God? Maybe You’ll Try U.F.O.s
By Clay Routledge

Just a couple of decades ago, about 95 percent of Americans reported belonging to a religious group. This number is now around 75 percent. And far fewer are actively religious: The percentage of regular churchgoers may be as low as 15 to 20 percent. As for religious belief, the Pew Research Center found that from 2007 to 2014 the percentage of Americans who reported being absolutely confident God exists dropped from 71 percent to 63 percent.

People who do not frequently attend church are twice as likely to believe in ghosts as those who are regular churchgoers. The less religious people are, the more likely they are to endorse empirically unsupported ideas about U.F.O.s, intelligent aliens monitoring the lives of humans and related conspiracies about a government cover-up of these phenomena.

Conspiracy theories about Grenfell are understandable, but unhelpful
By Martin Robbins

There’s comfort though in the idea that “the system” cares about us, even if that interest is malevolent; and deep discomfort in realising that the system can leave us anonymous, unmeasured, and lost.

Compounding this is a public mood of escalating paranoia. The tone of the recent election was set by two Trumpian leaders, each disdainful of journalists, intolerant of scrutiny or criticism, and speaking only to their own intensely polarised bubble. Social media, long promoted as an engine of democracy, has become an agent of division, increasingly dominated by hyper-partisan blogs pushing stories so dishonest that even the old-school tabloids would have baulked at publishing them.

Mistrust of politics is at an all-time high, yet rather than having the backbone to tackle the problem our party leaders have sought to exploit it, each operating under the fatally mistaken belief that a wholesale degradation of public discourse will only hurt the other side.

The Normalization of Conspiracy Culture
By Adrienne LaFrance

There’s a popular science-fiction podcast, Welcome to Night Vale, developed around the idea of life in a desert town where all conspiracy theories are true. It was first released in June 2012, the summer before a U.S. presidential election, at a moment when Trump was test-driving a new anti-Obama conspiracy. “I wonder when we will be able to see @BarackObama’s college and law school applications and transcripts,” he tweeted the day Night Vale launched. “Why the long wait?”

Joseph Fink, who co-created the podcast, says conspiracy theories today are continuing to function the way they always have. Conspiracy theories are easy ways to tell difficult stories. They provide a storyline that makes a harsh or random world seem ordered. “Especially if it’s ordered against you,” he says. “Since, then, none of it is your fault, which is even more comforting.”

“That said, more extreme conspiracy theories are becoming more mainstream, which is obviously dangerous,” Fink adds. “Conspiracy theories act in a similar way as religious stories: they give you an explanation and structure for why things are the way they are. We are in a Great Awakening of conspiracy theories, and like any massive religious movement, the same power it has to move people also is easily turned into a power to move people against other people.”

We Are Cowards
By Noah Rothman

There have been other, briefer and less violent confrontations between alt-right agitators and “Antifa,” to say nothing of the confrontations between both organizations and law enforcement, but none of them seared themselves into the national consciousness like the events in Virginia. All the while, a culture of romanticized political violence was taking root in the psyches of America’s political activists.

For a year, the left has muddled through an intramural debate over whether it was noble to physically assault white supremacists (like the kind that was meted out against Richard Spencer earlier this year). For its part, the alt-right has evinced violence. “A man wielding a sword hunted and killed a black man in New York City,” National Review’s David French noted. “A member of an ‘alt-Reich Nation’ Facebook group killed another black man in Maryland. A man opened fire on two immigrants at a bar in Kansas, killing one. A white supremacist in Portland murdered two men on a train who intervened when he harassed a Muslim and her black friend.” In 2016, the violence committed by Trump supporters at his explicit behest was well covered, but the organized campaign of counter-violence—a campaign that long outlasted the president’s incitement—was not.

The Rise of the Violent Left
By Peter Beinart

When antifascists forced the cancellation of the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade, Trump supporters responded with a “March for Free Speech.” Among those who attended was Jeremy Christian, a burly ex-con draped in an American flag, who uttered racial slurs and made Nazi salutes. A few weeks later, on May 25, a man believed to be Christian was filmed calling antifa “a bunch of punk bitches.”

The next day, Christian boarded a light-rail train and began yelling that “colored people” were ruining the city. He fixed his attention on two teenage girls, one African American and the other wearing a hijab, and told them “to go back to Saudi Arabia” or “kill themselves.” As the girls retreated to the back of the train, three men interposed themselves between Christian and his targets. “Please,” one said, “get off this train.” Christian stabbed all three. One bled to death on the train. One was declared dead at a local hospital. One survived.

Revulsion, fear, and rage are understandable. But one thing is clear. The people preventing Republicans from safely assembling on the streets of Portland may consider themselves fierce opponents of the authoritarianism growing on the American right. In truth, however, they are its unlikeliest allies.

How the U.S. Lost Its Mind
By Kurt Andersen

Conservatives hated how relativism undercut various venerable and comfortable ruling ideas—certain notions of entitlement (according to race and gender) and aesthetic beauty and metaphysical and moral certainty. Yet once the intellectual mainstream thoroughly accepted that there are many equally valid realities and truths, once the idea of gates and gatekeeping was discredited not just on campuses but throughout the culture, all American barbarians could have their claims taken seriously. Conservatives are correct that the anything-goes relativism of college campuses wasn’t sequestered there, but when it flowed out across America it helped enable extreme Christianities and lunacies on the right—gun-rights hysteria, black-helicopter conspiracism, climate-change denial, and more. The term useful idiot was originally deployed to accuse liberals of serving the interests of true believers further on the left. In this instance, however, postmodern intellectuals—post-positivists, poststructuralists, social constructivists, post-empiricists, epistemic relativists, cognitive relativists, descriptive relativists—turned out to be useful idiots most consequentially for the American right. “Reality has a well-known liberal bias,” Stephen Colbert once said, in character, mocking the beliefs-trump-facts impulse of today’s right. Neither side has noticed, but large factions of the elite left and the populist right have been on the same team.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s medical woo gets demolished
By Jerry Coyne

Over the years, goop has offered a number of bogus products and health advice, including taking megavitamins (useless), steaming your vagina (useless and dangerous), detox regimens (useless), crystal healing (ditt0), and skin stickers purported to recharge and heal your body by being programmed with different “frequencies” (useless and expensive).

The stickers, I think, were the last straw. They were touted as incorporating material used by NASA, but NASA denied it, and one ex-NASA official said they were “bullshit.”

All the “wellness” products Americans love to buy are sold on both Infowars and Goop
By Nikhil Sonnad

There’s Duck Dynasty America and Modern Family America. There’s “gosh” America and “dope” America. Sometimes, though, Americans unite around a common idea. Like the healing powers of eleuthero root, cordyceps mushrooms, and “nascent iodine.”

Near the end of a profile of Amanda Chantal Bacon, founder of the “wellness” brand Moon Juice, the New York Times Magazine noted that many of the alternative-medicine ingredients in her products are sold—with very different branding—on the Infowars store. That’s the site run by Alex Jones, the radio show host and conspiracy theorist who has said that both the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Boston Marathon bombing were staged. Moon Juice is frequently recommended by Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness blog, Goop; it’s a favorite of Hollywood celebrities and others who can afford things like $25 “activated cashews.” Infowars, on the other hand, is a dark corner of the American right, heavy on guns, light on government intervention, and still very mad at Obama.

Sandy Hook hoaxer gets prison time for threatening 6-year-old victim’s father
By Derek Hawkins

Sandy Hook hoaxers have peddled conspiracy theories about the mass shooting in online message boards, blogs and grainy YouTube videos. Their main allegation is that the massacre was a “false flag” or fake attack orchestrated by government officials to build support for gun control. There is no credible evidence supporting such a claim.

Hoaxers have harassed numerous parents and relatives of the Sandy Hook victims over the years, and Richards is the latest to atone for such actions.

In 2014, a self-proclaimed hoaxer in Virginia was sentenced to a year in prison after he stole Sandy Hook memorial signs from playgrounds honoring the victims. The following year, a Brooklyn man received a one-year suspended sentence for intimidating the sister of Victoria Soto, a slain Sandy Hook teacher hailed as a hero for shielding her first-graders during the attack.

Pizzagate: From rumor, to hashtag, to gunfire in D.C.
By Marc Fisher, John Woodrow Cox and Peter Hermann

Segol called the woman and spelled out his baroque story. He quoted from an H.G. Wells story called “In the Days of the Comet,” and he wondered whether the symbols on the sign — crescents and stars — might reveal a message about sexual misdeeds or satanic rituals.

The woman listened to some of this, then told Segol, “You’re an idiot.” She hung up on him.

He is undeterred. He sends letters to the president of the United States and the chief justice, and to newspaper editors and reporters, and to TV and radio hosts. He calls The Post to explain how the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage connects with the symbols on the Comet sign. He calls to explain why his family left him. He calls to say why the death of a former CIA chief may be connected to Pizzagate. He calls to ask whether the neighborhood around Comet is known for murderers and thieves.

“We’re living in such a queer time,” Segol said. He said his investigation of Pizzagate is “a work of art. I tell my kids, ‘There are no mysteries, only facts unknown.’ ”

What Churchill And Orwell Had In Common: Both Could Say, ‘My Side Is Wrong’

RICKS: (Reading) The struggle to see things as they are is perhaps the fundamental driver of Western civilization. There is a long but direct line from Aristotle and Archimedes to Locke, Hume, Mill and Darwin and from there through Orwell and Churchill to Martin Luther King writing his “Letter From Birmingham City Jail.” It is the agreement that objective reality exists, that people of goodwill can perceive it and that other people will change their views when presented with the facts of the matter.

INSKEEP: Do you think that we as a society still agree on that?

RICKS: No, I don’t think we do. Increasingly, Americans seem to believe that you can have your own facts, you can ignore the evidence. And this is not just a hit on the right. This is a hit on the left as well. And related to that, I see less support for a fundamental view of free speech as key to our society. But when I see people on the left saying it’s OK to punch Nazis on the streets, I really disagree with that.

INSKEEP: Or push them out of college campuses.

RICKS: It worries me. Free speech for the marginalized, the abused and even for the repugnant is essential.

Why Even Nazis Deserve Free Speech
By Greg Lukianoff and Nico Perrino

What does history suggest as the best course of action to win the benefits of an open society while stemming the tide of authoritarians of any stripe? It tells us to have a high tolerance for differing opinions, and no tolerance for political violence. What distinguishes liberal societies from illiberal ones is that liberal societies use words, not violence or censorship to settle disputes. As Neier, a Holocaust survivor, concluded in his book, “The lesson of Germany in the 1920s is that a free society cannot be established and maintained if it will not act vigorously and forcefully to punish political violence.”

But we should not be so myopic about the value of freedom of speech. It is not just a practical, peaceful alternative to violence. It does much more than that: It helps us understand many crucial, mundane and sometimes troubling truths. Simply put, it helps us understand what people actually think—not “even if” it is troubling, but especially when it is troubling.

Words Hurt
By Brendan O’Neill

Words hurt. They’re meant to. Christians were hurt by the demands of gay-rights activists. The Church felt genuinely rattled by Copernicus’s insistence that the Sun, not the Earth, was at the centre of the solar system. Monarchists were deeply wounded by European revolutionaries who publicly questioned the link between God and Kings. Those ideas hurt people – they were designed to. So much of the freedom and enlightened comfort we take for granted today is a gift of people who used their words to hurt – to hurt the authorities, traditionalists, the backward, the wrong. If it were not for the power of words to wound, to bring about mental and social upset, our societies would not be as free as they are today.

Trump Is on the Losing Side of the Culture War With Transgender Military Issue
By Steve Chapman

… overtly religious appeals have lost potency. In 2004, the Pew Research Center notes, only 11 percent of white evangelical voters wanted to legalize same-sex marriage. Now it’s 35 percent. Support among Catholics has gone from 36 percent in 2004 to 67 percent today.

Attitudes toward transgender people have grown more liberal even though most Americans don’t know many of them, if any. But the parallel with gay rights is too compelling to ignore.

Once the norm has been established that gays should be full and equal members of society, it’s hard to rationalize penalizing transgender people. In a free and modern society, the nature of inclusion is to expand, not contract.

Larry Summers: Elite universities are largely failing to meet the challenges of the Trump era
By Lawrence H. Summers

… at a time when the United States faces momentous challenges, I am discouraged to see universities turn inward and embrace an Orwellian paternalism in an effort to reduce what is seen as victimization. Something has gone badly wrong when the chancellor of the largest state university system is pushing faculty attendance at seminars where faculty are trained that it is wrong and even racist to say that “America is a land of opportunity” or that “meritocracy is a good thing” or that “with hard work you can achieve your dreams.”

Words Which by Their Very Utterance Inflict Injury
By Conor Friedersdorf

These students, who seek to weaken free speech norms, do not see how vulnerable to punishment their own speech would be under an alternative paradigm. Not only are they dubbing someone a “fascist,” a word the Supreme Court specifically held to inflict injury at its very utterance, they are doing so at a moment when there is a national movement urging the punching of fascists—and a White House and Congress that leans on authoritarian-inflected populism more than any in a generation, making it especially likely that new speech restrictions would be used to suppress dissent.

It is similarly easy to see how another strategy of critical race theorists—the attempt to punish some speech by declaring it “group libel”—could be coopted to punish everything from pro-Palestinian activism to group insults like “fuck the police” or “fuck white tears,” or even analytic claims about “white fragility” or “cisgender privilege.”

Is Free Speech Under Threat in the United States?
By Commentary Magazine

Jonathan Rauch

Censorship harms minorities by enforcing conformity and entrenching majority power, and it no more ameliorates hatred and injustice than smashing thermometers ameliorates global warming. If unwelcome words are the equivalent of bludgeons or bullets, then the free exchange of criticism—science, in other words—is a crime. I could go on, but suffice it to say that the current challenges are new variations on ancient themes—and they will be followed, in decades and centuries to come, by many, many other variations.

What CNN’s Threat to Dox a Redditor Tells Us About the State of Journalism
By David Harsanyi

No, this isn’t a First Amendment issue. Just because one of the nation’s most powerful journalistic institutions has the power to track down and ruin the lives of random Reddit users doesn’t mean it should. And just because it can coerce apologies, implicitly or explicitly, doesn’t mean it should. At the very least, it’s an abuse of its power and a waste of its resources.

Amateur Sleuths Aim to Identify Charlottesville Marchers, but Sometimes Misfire
By Daniel Victor

There is considerable controversy around the practice of “doxxing,” a term for publicly identifying, often with sensitive personal details like addresses, phone numbers and employer information, — people who were otherwise anonymous or semi-anonymous. Many social media platforms, including Twitter, consider it a violation of their rules.

But it is also a standard practice in journalism to track down and identify individuals caught up in a public news event. While professional news organizations have had their fair share of misidentifications, the ability of anyone to launch a name to national prominence with a few mistaken retweets has heightened the likelihood of destructive mistakes.

As news organizations have learned — sometimes through high-profile mistakes — misidentifying a person accused of wrongdoing can have bad consequences, from lawsuits to a loss of credibility.

Gawker Documentary Fails to Make Case for Publishing Sex Tape
By Glenn Garvin

Founded in 2002, Gawker regularly trafficked in sex tapes and such scoops as the grooming of Republican senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell’s pubic hair. Founder Nick Denton, the British journalist who built Gawker into the centerpiece of a $200 million online media empire, routinely defended his celebrity-bullying scandal sheet as a champion of truth and democracy in a world of lickspittle mainstream media. “Everybody knows what usually appears, certainly, in the establishment media bears little resemblance to what’s really going on,” he says in Nobody Speak. Speaking truth to Bristol Palin and Justin Beiber!

Most fundamentally, it’s in the documentary’s assumption that the jury verdict punished Gawker for truthfully reporting the peccadillos of the rich and powerful. (If a broke pro wrestler can be considered either one.) If Gawker had merely written that Hogan slept with his best friend’s wife, Hogan could not possibly have sued him; truth is an absolute defense against libel.

But the wrestler didn’t sue for libel. He went after Gawker not for what it said, but for invasion of privacy in what it showed: an intimate act, performed in private, taped without his knowledge or consent and then stolen by third parties. If that’s not a breach of privacy, then literally nothing is.

And outlawing third-party help for legal costs might have backfired badly on Gawker, too, which had its own financial angel during the lawsuit: It funded its legal war chest by selling a chunk of itself to a Russian oligarch named Viktor Vekselberg for an undisclosed but no doubt hefty sum. How much money was involved? What control over Gawker‘s fearless editorial voice did Vekselberg get? Nothing about that in Nobody Speak, which sees American billionaires as an existential threat to freedom of the press but takes its own name quite literally when it comes to Russian billionaires.

The Most Common Error in Media Coverage of the Google Memo
By Conor Friedersdorf

Most journalists strive to do their jobs with rigor and accuracy, just as most chefs try to put out good food, but occasionally send out a plate that is undercooked or over-salted, being fallible humans working under deadline pressure. But their journalistic blind spots and confirmation biases that no human can completely escape are exacerbated by an aggressive cohort on social media that reacts angrily when journalists present themselves as proceeding with dispassionate rigor on stories related to social justice, as if simply interrogating the least charitable interpretations of something like the Google memo is objectionable. That is shortsighted even from the perspective of understandably angry social-justice activists. A reputation for rigor is indispensable if journalism is to persuade anyone of that which they do not already believe. Mischaracterizations rooted in group think undermine otherwise factual articles. Social-media activists ought to stop heckling chefs who are trying to measure precisely.

To me, the Google memo is an outlier—I cannot remember the last time so many outlets and observers mischaracterized so many aspects of a text everyone possessed.

Journalism Historian: CNN’s Malpractice Is ‘a Gift From Heaven for’ Trump
By Nick Gillespie

Gillespie: It’s interesting to mention the Iraq War because I guess it’s still combat operations have ended, but we sent more troops there. We’ve got people in Syria. We’re still in that part of the world. Obviously, the mainstream media also did really bad work about weapons of mass destruction, whether it was the Post or the New York Times. USA Today was more skeptical, but you have that. Even as we forget the individual cases, and I admit I hadn’t thought about Jessica Lynch in years, but now that you bring that back, you look at people like Brian Williams, the NBC Nightly News anchor who gets fired or suspended for lying about stuff again related to war situations.

But then he takes a paid vacation and then comes back, and he’s on MSNBC. The press, or not the press, but legacy media, big media companies almost seem to be thumbing their nose in the idea of like that, that lying consequences or errors have consequences.

Campbell: You’re right. Although the Scaramucci case of CNN, it’s proven that the journalist can and do pay a high price. But in the Jessica Lynch case, the reporters on that story, their careers did not suffer at all. As I said, they never explained how or why they got it so badly wrong. That story, the Lynch story has the effect of really concealing the story about the real hero of that ambush, a guy who either stayed behind or left behind, an American who did fire and attacking Iraqis until his ammunition ran out. The Post was never interested in that story, the story of Sergeant Donald Waters who was captured by Iraqis and executed on the battlefield.

That story was documented later on, but the Post never want to touch it, never want to get close to it. The story about Jessica Lynch, a young woman, a female in the military was far more enticing, was far more electrifying to the Post. It was a story that was picked up by news organizations around the world. Everybody was running that story. It was too good not to be true, and it proved to be quite wrong.

When Silicon Valley Took Over Journalism
By Franklin Foer

Once a story grabs attention, the media write about the topic with repetitive fury, milking the subject for clicks until the public loses interest. A memorable yet utterly forgettable example: A story about a Minnesota hunter killing a lion named Cecil generated some 3.2 million stories. Virtually every news organization—even The New York Times and The New Yorker—attempted to scrape some traffic from Cecil. This required finding a novel angle, or a just novel enough angle. Vox: “Eating Chicken Is Morally Worse Than Killing Cecil the Lion.” BuzzFeed: “A Psychic Says She Spoke With Cecil the Lion After His Death.” “From Cecil the Lion to Climate Change: A Perfect Storm of Outrage One-upmanship.”

In some ways, this is just a digitally enhanced version of an old-fashioned media pile-on. But social media amplify the financial incentive to join the herd. The results are highly derivative. Joshua Topolsky, a founder of The Verge, has bemoaned this creeping homogenization: “Everything looks the same, reads the same, and seems to be competing for the same eyeballs.”

You Are the Product
By John Lanchester

We may collectively have an interest in sustaining creative and imaginative work in many different forms and on many platforms. Facebook doesn’t. It has two priorities, as Martínez explains in Chaos Monkeys: growth and monetisation. It simply doesn’t care where the content comes from. It is only now starting to care about the perception that much of the content is fraudulent, because if that perception were to become general, it might affect the amount of trust and therefore the amount of time people give to the site.

Zuckerberg himself has spoken up on this issue, in a Facebook post addressing the question of ‘Facebook and the election’. After a certain amount of boilerplate bullshit (‘Our goal is to give every person a voice. We believe deeply in people’), he gets to the nub of it. ‘Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99 per cent of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes.’ More than one Facebook user pointed out that in their own news feed, Zuckerberg’s post about authenticity ran next to fake news. In one case, the fake story pretended to be from the TV sports channel ESPN. When it was clicked on, it took users to an ad selling a diet supplement. As the writer Doc Searls pointed out, it’s a double fraud, ‘outright lies from a forged source’, which is quite something to have right slap next to the head of Facebook boasting about the absence of fraud. Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter and founder of the long-read specialist Medium, found the same post by Zuckerberg next to a different fake ESPN story and another piece of fake news purporting to be from CNN, announcing that Congress had disqualified Trump from office. When clicked-through, that turned out to be from a company offering a 12-week programme to strengthen toes. (That’s right: strengthen toes.) Still, we now know that Zuck believes in people. That’s the main thing.

Silicon Valley: A Reality Check
By Scott Alexander

If a deeply good person crusading for a better world enters Silicon Valley, she’ll find herself surrounded by deeply good people crusading for a better world. She’ll see mobile apps that track tropical diseases, clean energy startups that fight global warming by directly sucking carbon dioxide out of the air, companies bringing microbanking to poor Nepalese villagers, and boutique pharmaceutical labs searching for cures for orphan diseases.

If a futurist enters Silicon Valley, she’ll find herself surrounded by futurists. She’ll see neural nets and deep learning, reusable rockets and flying cars, high-throughput genome sequencing and CRISPR, metamaterials and nanotechnology.

If a social-media-obsessed narcissist whose view of the world begins and ends with his own Instagram page enters Silicon Valley, he’ll find himself surrounded by social-media-obsessed narcissists whose view of the world begins and ends with their Instagram pages. He’ll see a bunch of streaming video services and Uber-for-hair-products apps and elite pay-to-play dating scams and people trying to disrupt the gymwear market.

And if one of those people who talks about “the cloud” all the time enters Silicon Valley, he’ll find himself surrounded by people who talk about “the cloud” all the time. I have no idea who these people are or what they’re doing, but they all seem really happy with each other and I’m glad they’re enjoying themselves.

They’ll all have their blind-men-and-elephant view of what kinds of things Silicon Valley “does”. And they’ll all be sort of right.

(thinkpiece writers: “Can you believe that Silicon Valley only makes products for shallow elites obsessed with the latest fads? It’s the strangest thing!“)

VOX Goes From “junk” To “no good”: That’s a Bit of Intelligent Progress
By Richard Haier

In my experience, presentations of research data to non-specialists easily fall into overly simplistic conclusions and charges of cherry-picking evidence. Here are three things to keep in mind as you form your own opinion of what the data mean: 1) intelligence is a function of the brain and no story about the brain is simple, 2) no one study is definitive, 3) it takes many years to do independent replications and sort things out until there is a compelling weight-of-evidence to support some interpretations over others. We all should be careful when advocates for a particular point-of-view claim the moral high ground. The science will sort itself out — it always does.

The Psychology of the New McCarthyism
By Lee Jussim Ph.D.

Now consider the storybook image of the scientist as someone who strives for objectivity. If it were true, studies of comparable scientific quality will be similarly influential, even if they produce different outcomes, because they both have comparable claims to reveal something true. But this is not the case. Papers in my home discipline of social psychology that can be used to craft narratives advancing social justice are generally cited far more than papers of equal or even higher scientific quality that contest those narratives. Here are two concrete examples.

When a paper finds stereotype bias, it gets nearly 1,000 citations but when a failed replication of that same study gets published, it gets 30.

When a paper reporting a single study finds evidence of bias against women in STEM it gets 600 citations; when another paper reporting five studies finds gender bias favoring women, it gets 70 citations.

Contra Grant On Exaggerated Differences
By Scott Alexander

Meanwhile, men make up only 10% of nurses, only 20% of new veterinarians, only 25% of new psychologists, about 25% of new paediatricians, about 26% of forensic scientists, about 28% of medical managers, and 42% of new biologists.

Note that many of these imbalances are even more lopsided than the imbalance favoring men in technology, and that many of these jobs earn much more than the average programmer. For example, the average computer programmer only makes about $80,000; the average veterinarian makes about $88,000, and the average pediatrician makes a whopping $170,000.

As long as you’re comparing some poor woman janitor to a male programmer making $80,000, you can talk about how it’s clearly sexism against women getting the good jobs. But once you take off the blinders and try to look at an even slightly bigger picture, you start wondering why veterinarians, who make even more money than that, are even more lopsidedly female than programmers are male. And then you start thinking that maybe you need some framework more sophisticated than the simple sexism theory in order to predict who’s doing all of these different jobs. And once you have that framework, maybe the sexism theory isn’t necessary any longer, and you can throw it out, and use the same theory to predict why women dominate veterinary medicine and psychology, why men dominate engineering and computer science, and why none of this has any relation at all to what fields that some sexist in the 1850s wanted to keep women out of.

How climate scepticism turned into something more dangerous
By David Runciman

This behaviour has clear echoes of an earlier attempt to challenge the scientific consensus: the campaign by the big tobacco companies to dispute the link between smoking and cancer. Although many of these businesses recognised as far back as the 1950s that the science was sound, they funded a body of widely disseminated research designed to throw doubt on that view. Their goal was to keep the public open-minded about the dangers of cigarettes, and therefore to keep as many of them puffing away for as long as possible. It was a purely cynical business strategy, and in some cases it was criminal as well. It worked to the extent that it bought the tobacco industry time to reorient its investment and marketing to take account of the new reality. But in the long run it failed. No reasonable person – and certainly no serious politician – now doubts the link between smoking and cancer. The fate of tobacco can give hope to people who worry that the truth is always outgunned: the science won out over the cynics in the end.

Predatory Journals Hit By ‘Star Wars’ Sting
By Neuroskeptic

Inspired by previous publishing “stings”, I wanted to test whether ‘predatory‘ journals would publish an obviously absurd paper. So I created a spoof manuscript about “midi-chlorians” – the fictional entities which live inside cells and give Jedi their powers in Star Wars. I filled it with other references to the galaxy far, far away, and submitted it to nine journals under the names of Dr Lucas McGeorge and Dr Annette Kin.

Four journals fell for the sting. The American Journal of Medical and Biological Research (SciEP) accepted the paper, but asked for a $360 fee, which I didn’t pay. Amazingly, three other journals not only accepted but actually published the spoof. Here’s the paper from the International Journal of Molecular Biology: Open Access (MedCrave), Austin Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics (Austin) and American Research Journal of Biosciences (ARJ) I hadn’t expected this, as all those journals charge publication fees, but I never paid them a penny.

A pirating service for academic journal articles could bring down the whole establishment
By Keith Collins

The subscription fees charged by academic publishers have risen so high in recent years that even wealthy American universities have said they can’t afford them. When Harvard Library reported its subscription costs had reached $3.5 million per year in a 2012 memo, for example, it said the fees were “fiscally unsustainable,” and the university asked its faculty to stop publishing research in journals that keep articles behind paywalls.

Medical journal editor sacked and editorial committee resigns
By Anna Patty

Elsevier in 2009 declared as “unacceptable” its creation of publications in 2000 to 2005 that were sponsored by Merck to promote the drug Vioxx, which was discontinued because of its links to safety risks, including heart attack.

“The publications were mainly directed at the products of those companies, but their overall appearance and the way they were published made it look like they were real journals,” Professor Zimmet said.

Professor Zimmet said the anti-vaccination movement was fuelled by the research published in the Lancet, an Elsevier publication.

He said: “They have a bad track record in terms of the Lancet, which in 1998 published an article linking the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine as a possible cause of autism.” He said that it was found to be questionable research, but it “took 10 years before the Lancet retracted it”.

Anti-vaccine activists spark a state’s worst measles outbreak in decades
By Lena H. Sun

“It’s remarkable to come in and talk to a population that’s vulnerable and marginalized and who doesn’t necessarily have the capacity for advocacy for themselves, and to take advantage of that,” said Siman Nuurali, a Somali American clinician who coordinates the care of medically complex patients at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. “It’s abhorrent.”

Although extensive research has disproved any relationship between vaccines and autism, the fear has become entrenched in the community. “I don’t know if we will be able to dig out on our own,” Nuurali said.

Anti-vaccine activists defend their position and their role, saying they merely provided information to parents.

“The Somalis had decided themselves that they were particularly concerned,” Wakefield said last week. “I was responding to that.”

He maintained that he bears no fault for what is happening within the community. “I don’t feel responsible at all,” he said.

Psychologists Open a Window on Brutal C.I.A. Interrogations
By The New York Times

Abu Zubaydah, taken into custody in 2002, was the first detainee to be waterboarded. The United States government believed he was a top leader of Al Qaeda, though it later abandoned that claim.

At a secret C.I.A. jail in Thailand, he provided useful intelligence to F.B.I. agents who questioned him using traditional methods, including rapport-building. But worried that he was holding back information, which the C.I.A. later concluded he never had, agency leaders chose to use extreme physical force to break him.

Drs. Mitchell and Jessen were sent to the jail to carry out the techniques, including waterboarding. Water was poured over a cloth covering Abu Zubaydah’s face to simulate drowning. He underwent the procedure 83 times over a period of days; at one point he was completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising from his mouth, according to the Senate report. A newly declassified August 2002 cable from the prison to headquarters noted: “At the onset of involuntary stomach and leg spasms, subject was again elevated to clear his airway, which was followed by hysterical pleas. Subject was distressed to the level that he was unable to effectively communicate or adequately engage the team.”

In his deposition, Dr. Mitchell, who once said that most people would prefer to have their legs broken than to be waterboarded, disagreed with a lawyer’s reference to the practice as painful. “It sucks, you know. I don’t know that it’s painful,” he said. “I’m using the word distressing.”

Deal reached in lawsuit over harsh CIA interrogations
By Nicholas K. Geranios

But the group Physicians for Human Rights said the case shows that health professionals who participate in torture will be held accountable.

“These two psychologists had a fundamental ethical obligation to do no harm, which they perverted to inflict severe pain and suffering on human beings in captivity,” said Donna McKay, executive director of the group.

Why Americans have come to worship their own ignorance
By Brian Bethune

Q: How are experts themselves contributing to this? They are not blameless victims in your book.

A: Absolutely not. Experts have to own a lot of this. First of all, we make mistakes and have to be more transparent about them. Second, because it’s so difficult to talk to the public, we take the easy way out. We choose to talk only to ourselves. I was speaking with a scientist recently about my book, who said, “I don’t understand what this book is about. I don’t encounter any hostility to experts.” And I said to her, “Because you don’t talk to anybody but experts.” If you’re literally a rocket scientist, and the only other people you talk to are rocket scientists, you don’t have a problem. That insularity among experts is a serious issue because it means we’re failing in our duty to our client—that is, to society—to get out there and to transmit what we know. People ask me why I’m so engaged on social media and why I do so much public speaking. I argue it’s because it’s part of my professional responsibility as a teacher. The other place where I would point fingers at the educated class, particularly scientific elites, is they don’t seem to understand that knowing things is not the same thing as winning a policy argument.

Q: I assume your “what hostility?” scientist really is involved in rocketry; try public health and addressing a town hall meeting on fluoride.

A: Part of what I argue as a solution to this is experts need to get out and go to those town halls, take their lumps and forcefully engage the public back. This is something experts are inherently uncomfortable doing because people who work with knowledge and information tend to come out of institutions with collegial norms of discussion and very clear rules of debate. Scrapping with the public over what’s true or false is very uncomfortable for most experts, but they need to do it because, otherwise, that space gets filled by charlatans and demagogues. Experts are going to have to re-engage the public with patience, with fortitude, and with an absolute insistence on empiricism and rationality. And humour—did you see those doctors on Jimmy Kimmel? “Remember that time you had polio? No, you don’t. Because your parents got you f—king vaccinated.”

of course, there’s the backchannel
By Freddie deBoer

When within-group criticism is only voiced privately, there’s no opportunity for the group to evolve, to shore up its weakness, to evaluate its own problems, to correct its own course. And political movements have to evolve or die. It’s a classic cause of political self-destruction, when a group’s inner dynamics become so ossified and conformist that no one is willing to point out the group’s problems. That’s the condition in far too many left spaces today: a near-total inability to point out the cracks in the foundation for fear of being shamed yourself.

The Toxic Drama on YA Twitter
By Kat Rosenfield

Many members of YA Book Twitter have become culture cops, monitoring their peers across multiple platforms for violations. The result is a jumble of dogpiling and dragging, subtweeting and screenshotting, vote-brigading and flagging wars, with accusations of white supremacy on one side and charges of thought-policing moral authoritarianism on the other.

Representatives of both factions say they’ve received threats or had to shut down their accounts owing to harassment, and all expressed fear of being targeted by influential community members — even when they were ostensibly on the same side. “If anyone found out I was talking to you,” Mimi told me, “I would be blackballed.”

The Uproar Over ‘Transracialism’
by Rogers Brubaker

Overt threats to academic freedom, like the Hungarian government’s attempt to shut down the Central European University, can be directly challenged. The more insidious danger is that of self-censorship. Will teachers avoid assigning controversial materials or discussing controversial views in class? Will professors stop exploring controversial topics in their research? The risks are much higher for those, like Dr. Tuvel, without the security of tenure. But even tenured faculty may opt to stick with safe topics. Reflecting on the Tuvel affair, the tenured feminist philosopher Chloe Taylor wondered “if I should not write or teach on certain topics that make me vulnerable to attack.”

Google Can’t Seem to Tolerate Diversity
By Elaine Ou

Suppressing intellectual debate on college campuses is bad enough. Doing the same in Silicon Valley, which has essentially become a finishing school for elite universities, compounds the problem. Its engineers build products that potentially shape our digital lives. At Google, they oversee a search algorithm that seeks to surface “authoritative” results and demote low-quality content. If the company silences dissent within its own ranks, why should we trust it to manage our access to information?

These slides from Google’s diversity training program help explain why fired engineer felt silenced
By John Shinal

At least two of the slides back up some of the claims by fired engineer James Damore, who after attending such a session wrote a memo calling Google “an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.”

The memo led to his firing and has ignited a nationwide firestorm over what he wrote and how Google management has responded.

Many slides from the diversity training decks use real-world examples to explain how conversations can be unintentionally biased. One slide, for instance, suggests that an employee who tells another, “The interface needs to be so simple your mother can use it,” is guilty of “stereotype bias.”

Other slides, however, may explain why Damore thought Google “has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence.”

For instance, in a slide titled “Off-topic for this session,” the first point underneath that heading reads: “Debating whether bias exists at your organization.”

That suggests any argument that Google is not biased is unwelcome at the diversity sessions, which are voluntary.

Another slide titled, “Create a safe learning space,” includes this instruction: “Don’t repeat what people said in this room.”

Why Google was wrong: Did James Damore really deserve to be fired for what he wrote?
By Peter Singer

There is scientific research supporting the views Damore expresses. There are also grounds for questioning some of this research. In assessing Google’s action in firing Damore, it isn’t necessary to decide which side is right, but only whether Damore’s view is one that a Google employee should be permitted to express.

Pichai also quotes Google’s Code of Conduct, which expects “each Googler to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination.” Damore’s memo did not harass or intimidate anyone, and in a society that protects freedom of expression, there was nothing unlawful about it. Was it biased? To show that it was, it would need to be demonstrated that Damore was biased in selecting certain scientific studies that supported his view while disregarding others that went against it. Perhaps that case could — and should — be made, but to do so would take some time and research. In any case, Pichai does not attempt, in even the most cursory way, to make it.

Ironically, what Pichai has done, in firing Damore, is precisely contrary to the passage that he quotes. He has created a workplace culture in which those with opinions like Damore’s will be intimidated into remaining silent.

Against Signal-Boosting As Doxxing
By Scott Alexander

… let him who is without sin throw the first stone. Have any of you ever said or done anything which, if signal-boosted, would be very embarassing and might prevent you from getting a job?

Before you answer, consider this: the person signal-boosting you has much wider reach than you do. There are now tens of thousands of people in the world who know you only as the guy who said that one embarassing thing one time. For that matter, anyone who Googles you will know you only as the guy who said that one embarassing thing one time. All of your triumphs, all of your defeats, all your loves and fears and follies – none of these exist in the public mind. All that exists is that you once told a racist joke on the 26th of March, 2014, which someone managed to dredge from your Twitter feed to turn into the One Thing Everyone Knows About You.

Never told a racist joke? Someone will find something. Maybe you’ve been a sex worker once – hope you didn’t put your picture up on the Internet, or else Reason columnists will say it’s not “doxxing” to merely “signal-boost” it so that everyone knows. Heck, even watching porn is enough to get people fired some places. Maybe you were stupid enough to admit you were gay or trans under something traceable to your real identity. Maybe you voted for Trump (a firing offense in some places) or against Trump (a firing offense in others). Maybe you committed a crime someone can find on a public crime database, or maybe you said something perfectly innocent which can be twisted into a sinister “dog whistle” out of context.

Planet of Cops
By Freddie deBoer

The idea of the panopticon is one of the most tired and clichéd bits of theory talk you’ll find, one that reliably makes its way into every undergraduate paper and TV recap. It’s also wrong. See, the panopticon says we all get watched all the time, but there’s still a division between the guards and the prisoners. There’s still people who do the watching separate from the watched. And that’s not real life. No, in real life we’re all guards and prisoners at the same time. We are all informants on each other. Contemporary political culture is an autoimmune disorder. Do you enjoy living like this? Are you not exhausted? Don’t you want to break out? Or are you happy here, content to judge and judge and judge and never stop judging? Then congrats. Welcome to the nation of finks, planet of cops. Enjoy. Enjoy. Enjoy.

How to Win Friends and Stigmatize Nazis
By Conor Friedersdorf

There is a diminishing marginal utility of stigma. The more it is applied to everyone and every thing that could be deemed in any way problematic, the less effective it is when marshaled to bolster norms like the ones against the Nazis and the KKK. The more that the center-left tries to tar mainstream conservatives as Nazis, or at least worth firing; or the center-right tries to conflate Black Lives Matter with the KKK; the harder it will be for the center to hold against the fringes. The more that the average American without any hate in his or her heart fears they, too, may be set upon by a mob charging them with a transgression against a taboo, the more they will undermine the power of informal social sanctions in self-defense, or regard them as tools of opportunism, not anti-extremism.

But make no mistake: Every American has a civic obligation to oppose the forces of hate and civilizational destruction even if some “on the other side” are being unfair to them. Our forefathers fought fascists and Stalinists. To refrain from opposing the most odious elements of the left or right because some folks on the other side were mean to you on Twitter is a shameful abdication.

Are Campus Activists Too Dogmatic?
By Victor Tan Chen

At the core of the issue is a troubling tendency, on both the left and right, that goes well beyond college campuses: a consuming obsession with sin. Given the right’s religious base, it’s not all that surprising that conservatives focus on moral transgressions—whether they violate God’s divine law, America’s founding ideals of liberty, ’50s-style norms of sexual behavior and good housekeeping, or other codes of conduct. But the left can be prudish and judgmental about the evils it holds in special contempt, too. On college campuses in particular, activists often take an almost religious approach to politics, rooted in a belief—sometimes stated, sometimes implied—in the irredeemable sin of America and its mainstream. Their work on vital issues gets diverted from real-world objectives and takes on the character of a church revival, with rituals to express its believers’ sin and salvation, and a fundamentalist attention to language and doctrine.

not all politics is identity politics
By Kenan Malik

… as the new anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim movements and the rise of the identitarian right reveal, the reactionary forms of identity politics has returned with a vengeance. If other groups can protect their particular history and heritage and cultural identity as essential to their social being, runs the argument, why can’t whites? Many liberals now defend ‘racial self-identification’ as simply another form of identity politics. One of the consequences of the mainstreaming of identity politics is that racism has become rebranded as white identity politics.

Mark Lilla Vs. Identity Politics
By Rod Dreher

What should we learn about identity politics from the terrible events in Charlottesville?

First, obviously, is how inflammatory identity can be. I’m struck by the psychological parallels between the Charlottesville killer and the marginal types who are drawn to political Islamism in Europe. These kids tend to be loners, often from broken homes, who find in identitarianism what they think is an explanation of all their resentments, and a program for striking back. It gives them a purpose and a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves. And once they are sucked in, the logic of the ideology drives them relentlessly toward violence. The content of the ideology matters, in both cases. Political Islamism is about Islam (a perversion of it) and the racist alt-right is about the right (a perversion of American conservatism). We need to recognize both facts.

Second, for my side, the lesson should be that left identitarianism is a dead end. It does not unify anybody and it only plays into the hands of the alt-right by inflaming passions. We need to recognize that.

Third, for the conservative movement, the lesson is that you own this. Yes, you are horrified by what happened and you condemn it in no uncertain terms. But you have failed to police your side, you have sanctioned indifference to truth, fallen silent in the face of demagogues (Beck, Palin, Hannity, Trump), tolerated a horrifying internet subculture, demonized your opponents, and inflamed hysteria. By not attacking white nationalism you have abetted it. Just as moderate imams in Europe preferred not to see what was happening in their mosques, so you have been in denial about the environment you created. It is time to pluck the identity beam out of your own eye before complaining any more about left identity politics.

The Unfortunate Fallout of Campus Postmodernism
By Michael Shermer

Students are being taught by these postmodern professors that there is no truth, that science and empirical facts are tools of oppression by the white patriarchy, and that nearly everyone in America is racist and bigoted, including their own professors, most of whom are liberals or progressives devoted to fighting these social ills. Of the 58 Evergreen faculty members who signed a statement “in solidarity with students” calling for disciplinary action against Weinstein for “endangering” the community by granting interviews in the national media, I tallied only seven from the sciences. Most specialize in English, literature, the arts, humanities, cultural studies, women’s studies, media studies, and “quotidian imperialisms, intermetropolitan geography [and] detournement.” A course called “Fantastic Resistances” was described as a “training dojo for aspiring ‘social justice warriors’” that focuses on “power asymmetries.”

If you teach students to be warriors against all power asymmetries, don’t be surprised when they turn on their professors and administrators. This is what happens when you separate facts from values, empiricism from morality, science from the humanities.

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