A quick note

Months ago I accepted a position at http://canadianatheist.com but as the policy at the time was more restrictive, I couldn’t move any of my current posts. I am happy to say that the policy has now been relaxed which makes things considerably easier for me. I am not going to move my posts from here but may re-write and re-publish from time to time as some of the posts are rather dated now.


Doctors, you are not helping

It started innocently enough. A comment on Facebook from a patient about how homeopathy was helping them recover and the typical knee jerk reaction from the naive sceptic “Homeopathy doesn’t work”. The quick retort of “My doctor recommends it!” was quickly followed with “but none of the studies show homeopathy works and it is a waste of money.” The entire discussion quickly degraded into “Yes but my doctor has over 30 years of experience in this field and until you can show you have more medical experience for this I will follow my doctor’s recommendation!”

It’s odd that the general public highly respects medical practitioners, especially their personal physicians, but yet there is so much suspicion of science. The general public does not see the medical profession as being the result of science but see them as trusted elders.

Our doctors are not necessarily scientists or critical thinkers. To become a doctor, the average doctor starts with an undergrad degree with some science chiefly biology and physics followed by years of learning how to diagnose patients and treat. In other words, our average doctor is a glorified mechanic for the human body. One only has to look at Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon presidential candidate who is also a young earth creationist (YEC). Most of us would not trust a carpenter to design a house, but we will follow our doctor’s recommendations without question. (I’ll hasten to add that I know there are critical thinking sceptical thinkers in the medical profession since I follow several of them on twitter and Facebook.)

Timothy Caulfield talks about what he calls the “Flat earth-like beliefs”, FEaBel for short.

“But do Canadian universities and health care systems dismiss the practice in the way Neal deGrasse Tyson dismissed flat-earth beliefs? Nope. They offer classes, demonstrations and space for practitioners.” (“Flat earth-like beliefs”)

So what can we do? Any sceptic who trots out the line “Argument from Authority” has a major battle to fight. Not only do the general public lack critical thinking skills, the public respects their medical doctors and any advice they give health wise. We need support from inside the medical profession itself to fight the growing influence of junk science and it’s obvious we aren’t getting this support.

Dr. Brian Goldman, host of the CBC “White Coat Black Art” talks about naturopathy and medicine on one of his episodes Naturopathy what’s the harm?
“At Brampton Civic Hospital, you’ll find the only naturopathic clinic that’s inside the sliding glass doors of a major Canadian hospital.” But he side steps directly calling it bunk. “Dr. Brian Goldman, host of White Coat Black Art says that naturopathy is personal choice people are free to make, but “the choice should be an informed one – that’s they way you avoid possible harm. And that means naturopathic octors who want respectability with the public and integration with physicians and hospitals need to earn it by embracing scientific proof of what they do.””

How are we as sceptics and educators supposed to help people become informed to understand the science when the medical profession out rank us in the eyes of the general public and refuse to help educate people so “the choice is an informed one?”

To be honest, I am not hopeful at all.

(Also published at “Doctors, you are not helping” at Canadianatheist

Chapel Hill

Many posts have been made already on the Chapel Hill shootings, some defending atheists against the charge of being a hateful ideology and some attacking– The one thing I have noticed lacking is the observation that both sides are actually correct.

In reality the term Atheist is now seen as an ideology by many atheists but, is still seen as a simple statement of non-belief in the supernatural by many other atheists. Is it any wonder theists (and some atheists!) pounce upon the atheist as a worldview position? It did not help us make the case that atheist was only one position about gods and the supernatural when some atheists pushed the term Atheism+ either.

The analogy of language with biological systems for such terms as ‘mind virus’ and evolution of language is as true with atheism as it is with feminism. No matter what we do, language change is inevitable– I would argue the new fangled term egalitarianism will also evolve and become a term proponents argue over as well in just a few years, as Identity politics hits that movement(?). I don’t even need to mention the argument over the term Agnostic do I?

This is precisely why I judge people on their behaviours and positions rather than any labels we use. It is why those of us who begrudgingly label ourselves atheist (After all, why is the sane position the one needing a label) are careful to make clear our position. There is no charge of ‘No true Scotsman’ for the usage of ‘atheist’ possible if we have a well defined definition that does not change in response to an attack. Incidentally it is precisely for this reason many organisations write open letters reiterating their positions after any event such as this.

The Chapel Hill shooting is also a real life example of the topics of many of my prior blog posts. e.g. ‘On heroes’,  ‘Propaganda’, ‘In Living Colour’, ‘Us vs. them’, ‘I’m not a true Scotsman’, ‘Why I am still a feminist, ‘I’m not a foot soldier in your war’ and ‘How to argue on the Internet’.

How to argue on the Internet – A guide for the Internet Newbie

I’ve been on the Internet quite a while now, from USENET and IRC to twitter and google+. The one thing that I find striking is there is no guide for the Internet newbie on how to effectively argue.

First you start out with disagreeing with someone and be sure to be sarcastic. “How could you be so stupid to think that?” is a good line to use. If you get a polite response then be sure to come back with your rejoiner in all CAPS LIKE THIS. This demonstrates your opponent is stupid as obviously they can’t read.

If they persist in disagreeing with you, your next step is to wait for all your friends to call them stupid too. Extra points to each team if you can call them one of ‘Homophobe, Transphobe, Racist, Islamaphobe, or just plain MRA or SJW.’ Double your points if they have not demonstrated any of the above but they said something that could be construed that way. (You can do this easily by sticking to twitter to argue.) Remember, these are not people you would want to be friends with anyway so the more you can depersonalise these evil people the better.

If you are arguing on twitter, at this point you should be using a Hashtag e.g. #yourideaisstupid. Be sure to assume everyone using that hashtag is either completely for or completely against.

If they are still wrong at this point, now it is time to call into question their rationality or competence. Use google at this point and find out everything you can about at least one of your opponents then attack their competence in their profession. After all obviously they must be incompetent in something or they would not be wrong. Here’s some examples to use. If they are a female programmer, they are obviously incompetent as women can’t code. If they are a male school teacher, they are obviously homosexual.
Remember, old stereotypes about what men and women can do are useful weapons in your effort to destroy your opponent.

Don’t forget that phrases such as the one I just made above ‘women can’t code’ can be effectively turned into a verbal weapon so don’t forget to take phrases out of context.

Next step is to contact their employers. Someone so incompetent, is a nasty person and should be on the streets where they will be kept away from the Internet and you will win.

Sometimes this fails and this is time to find some hacker friends who agree with you so you can get them to DDoS the person that is wrong. Extra points here if they can claim they are with Anonymous. Double your points if each side DDoS’s and claims they are with Anonymous.

Your last resort is to get one of your hacker friends to SWAT your opponent. After all, they are evil and deserve to be accidentally killed.

Ignore the other side when they complain that your side is using this guide, after all you are the one that is completely 100% right about everything and the other side is absolutely wrong about everything.

I hope you find this guide useful!

In Living Colour

Our first television set was a RCA black and white with a tiny screen– modern colour TV was still years away from the 1950’s. We watched much early Disney and Ed Sullivan and Saturday morning there were the westerns my dad liked. The bad guys always wore black stetsons and the good guys always wore white.

One thing I have learned growing up is never to assume that there are only two sides to an argument. We are not watching old black and white cowboy westerns and people are not always 100% right or wrong. The best policy for me has been to take individual components of a side and examine each issue taken by one side or another as dispassionately as I can– I ask questions, I examine the evidence, I argue it out with others. Sometimes one or two points from one side seems right to me. with many other points seeming right to me from another side.

I can’t do group think for this reason. I reserve the right to express support for some grievance by any group without necessarily agreeing with everything this group says. Remember, any social group will use propaganda tactics whether it is consciously or unconsciously and critical thinking is the prime defense here. I also reserve the right to not be confined by association fallacies, in other words, I try hard to examine points of view without regards to who is saying it. “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day” goes the old adage. This does leave me in the position of sometimes being equally hated by those who do take sides. I am often asked to “Take a side!” or “ Make up your mind!”. Sorry. I just don’t do that.

I have said it before, sometimes I wish people would talk to each other, try to walk in other’s shoes instead of boiling everything down to black and white. People are not ‘isms. People hurt and they lash out. “I guess I’m just a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” (Lennon of course) All I ask of you is to argue in a civil manner without repeating the same boring argument to me and without bullying. I have a large tolerance for diverse points of view provided you aren’t a bigot or bully. There are also appropriate times to argue and, appropriate venues– I don’t really think twitter is one.  Don’t be guilty of “Argumentum ad Twitterum”.

Twitter Abuse

When twitter first put their litle toy together, to me it seemed their idea was to build a simple electronic equivalent of an old fashioned office memo board. Why else would you limit it to 140 chars– taking advantage of a text message from a cell phone– and then provide limited means to limit who could read your tweets? Nevertheless many tweeters do extended tweets mimicking a real blog post, complain that people can read their posts and is therefore defective, and then to add insult to injury assume that anything crammed into 140 chars represents a complete nuanced thought.

The principle of charity is not one that most twitter readers utilise or even know about (http://philosophy.lander.edu/oriental/charity.html) and indeed it’s not only twitter that suffers from the lack of Principle of charity, but twitter with it’s brevity makes it very easy to ignore. It’s just too easy to take one tweet out of context and then cherry pick in order to make anyone look very bad.

Personally if your thing is to string tweets together to make a rant, I’m fine with it. I may ask for clarificaton and I may or may not agree in the end, but that’s what mature intelligent argument is about. I may learn something and you may learn something. I rarely argue on twitter because most argument quickly degenerate into name calling and the infamous “You are BLOCKED”. It sure is hard to change people’s minds by blocking and not arguing your point of view.

Us vs. Them or “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”

When I was much younger I once voted for the Progressive Conservative party of Canada in a federal election and, this has shocked people who know me well. Would I vote for the modern Conservatives? Not at the present time. Does this mean I have changed my political views? Not necessarily as I have voted for different parties for different reasons throughout my life; either they are supporting an issue that I find important or, as Mark Twain reportedly said “Politicians are like diapers they both need changing regularly and for the same reason.”

In the same vein I don’t do labels in the same way as some others do. People are complicated, a tin of peas is not.

When someone has an identity they claim for themselves, I’m fine with that– but I am still going to want to know what your position is in detail. I have had friends hurt by people claiming the label MRA but I have had friends of mine hurt by people claiming the label feminist. What counts to me is not what you label yourself, but how you treat other people. Do you try to put yourself in other’s shoes? Are you willing to listen instead of only screaming? Do you try to negotiate a common position you both can agree to and work together on?

I’ve said I agree with a limited set of feminist ideals in a previous blog post. I also pointed out that these ideals appeared to me to be basic humanist ideals applied to women. There are positions that support men that I agree with, but these are humanist ideals. Here’s an analogy I hope clarifies my point. Somewhere there are two painters assigned to paint a building. One part of the building is to be painted white, the other part painted black. The painter painting the white walls is female and the black wall painter is male. A fight between the painters leaves a mess and the house will never get painted. The house is humanism. In reality of course we have a rainbow of colours for the house and lots of painters.

Mr. Clemens again “Look at the tyranny of party — at what is called party allegiance, party loyalty — a snare invented by designing men for selfish purposes — and which turns voters into chattles, slaves, rabbits, and all the while their masters, and they themselves are shouting rubbish about liberty, independence, freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, honestly unconscious of the fantastic contradiction; and forgetting or ignoring that their fathers and the churches shouted the same blasphemies a generation earlier when they were closing their doors against the hunted slave, beating his handful of humane defenders with Bible  and billies, and pocketing the insults and licking the shoes of his Southern master. – “ “The Character of Man,” Mark Twain’s Autobiography.

People love to form groups or tribes and these groups always end up with politics. I suspect the mindlessness of game theory and evolution explain this. Evolutionarily politics would enable group action which is sometimes constructive but often just plain stupid. I also suspect all of us have the primitive desire to be the alpha in our group and if not the alpha, to feel this power by proxy by showing dominance over other groups — like monkeys raiding other groups of monkeys. Our one concession to civilised behaviour is at least we don’t eat the other group.

“’When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’ ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’” — Lewis Carroll.

I see arguments all the time from various groups, one group tells me I should only be a humanist. If it makes you happy sure. One group tells me I am a egalitarian. They do love to cherry pick my tweets  to support their position! Sure, why not? What is going on here is not that I am uncertain of my beliefs, I’m the master of them, what is going on is politics. I’ve seen some nasty arguments on twitter that reminded me of Canadian parliament. On my bad days I assume the worst, you don’t want to talk, you don’t want to understand each other, you don’t want to make this world a better place, you simply want to somehow control others. On my more charitable days I think you have been emotionally hurt and this blinds you to being human.

All I can do is sit back and sigh.