Bad Comments Round #2: Jacqueline Howett, Responding to Criticisms, and the (Usual) Dangers of Positive Thinking

For Bad Comments Round #1, click here.

I’m not a published author. My aim is to write books one day, but for now, my focus is mainly to read them. (This reminds me of Schopenhauer’s statement that “buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them”.) However, I have learnt to a small degree how to deal with critics.

Maybe it has to do with the subject matter I deal with – sensitive ethical topics that happen to be my research focus like infanticide, suicide, and so on – but I’ve learnt to focus only on necessary commentary. That is commentary that actually adds to the discussion, by pointing out flaws in my argument and view. Continue reading

Pray the Gay Away With Help from Apple

As an iPad user, I’ve found it useful as this amazing and beautiful piece of tech appears to give you access to the legendary iTunes Store. They have ‘an app for everything’ it seems: from document taking to video-watching, from a working guitar to a usable DJ rig. And yes, they even have an app to get rid of your pesky homosexuality.

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Antinatalism and Death: A Quick Answer

A common question posed to antinatalists is: If you think life not worth living, why not kill yourself?

Sister Y replied to a commenter (on my column at 3quarksdaily), who asked this question. Sister replied by saying:

Two birthdays ago, my friends had a surprise party for me. I was in a very antisocial mood at the time, and it was a very unpleasant experience – but I suffered through it because I didn’t want to hurt my friends’ feelings. I didn’t just walk out and leave the party (though I feel I morally could have done, if it were bad enough for me). But mostly I wish they hadn’t had a party for me in the first place – I would have been better off if they hadn’t.

Thus others’ considerations are taken into account, but show that if they had never had a party for her in the first place, there would be no reason to maintain one’s attendance at all. ‘Ditto my mom giving birth to me,’ Sister says. ‘I wish she hadn’t, but my family and friends would be very sad if I peaced out of the party (though I still have a moral right to commit suicide).’

I think Sister provides an excellent analogy in her answer, though she doesn’t pretend it covers all questions. Furthermore, it at least begins an answer that need not pretend to be all-encompassing.

I’ve heard the party analogy used by Christopher Hitchens, too. As Hitchens indicates, it’s bad enough having to leave the party (called ‘life’) early; it’s worse still leaving and knowing it is continuing without one attending. It seems a good reason to defend the voluntary extinction of the human species: If there is no one continuing the party, if everyone leaves at the same time or closer to one’s own leaving, then dying isn’t as hard since there will be no human person that will miss or yearn for us, or be continuing ‘the party’ at all. I would hate to die knowing that people are continuing enjoying life. I would be more comfortable with death if I knew everyone, the entire human species, was ending itself at about the same time voluntarily.

New 3QD Column: Mob Morality

Larry Tate, from ‘I Hate What You Said’, has summarised my latest column in what 3QD editor, Abbas Raza, has indicated is a wonderful and humourous summation. It’s only a paragraph long and, actually, does a good job of posing the right questions.

From my column:

What is it about topics like incest,bestiality, necrophilia and cannibalismthat urges us to pick up pitchforks and torches? A more important question, however, is whether these topics automatically or necessarily should elicit outrage enough for us to target those who perform these acts. I think not.

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I was expecting more trolls, but the discussion actually seems fairly inviting.

South African Science & Skeptic Podcast: Consilience Episode 1, feat. Steven Novella

Angela Meadon, Michael Meadon and Owen Swart, some of our most prolific and passionate skeptics (yes to get more hits, it is spelled with a “k”), have just released their first episode of their new podcast, Consilience. Have a look at their first episode. They got the wonderful Steven Novella for an interview — which shows either their persistence, Novella’s friendliness, or a ridiculous amount of time. I imagine, though, it is all three.

The topic for this episode sounds wonderful. After listening, let them know what you think. Before the trolls are released, at least give them time to start doing the podcast though. Stay under your bridges until then.

Congratulations to the wonderful team. That’s a helluva way to start. This is good news for the spreading of scientific ideas in South Africa and, of course, Africa in general. I’m very glad to see this. Please spread the word.

Public Science Fail?

Some time ago, a big science news-story received this response from another researcher. For now, it’s not important what the story was (we’ll come to that shortly).

There’s a difference between controls done to genuinely test your hypothesis and those done when you just want to show that your hypothesis is true.  The authors have done some of the latter, but not the former.  They should have mixed pregrown E. coli or other cells with the arsenate supplemented medium and then done the same purifications.  They should have thoroughly washed their DNA preps (a column cleanup is ridiculously easy), and maybe incubated it with phosphate buffer to displace any associated arsenate before doing the elemental analysis.  They should have mixed E. coli DNA with arsenate and then gel-purified it.  They should have tested whether their arsenic-containing DNA could be used as a template by normal DNA polymerases.  They should have noticed all the discrepancies in their data and done experiments to find the causes.

I don’t know whether the authors are just bad scientists or whether they’re unscrupulously pushing NASA’s ‘There’s life in outer space!’ agenda.

The body of scientific knowledge attacked is thoroughly scarred. It’s hard to imagine it ever taking any further steps toward wider, scientific consensus.  If what Professor Redfield claims in this paragraph is true, which I think it is, we have a number of problems: pushing a bias, proving a preconceived hypothesis, setting up bad or no controls (whether as a group or method), testing alternate hypotheses. Continue reading

Ask the Atheists: Stones and Feathers

I was happily informed today that I am an answerer on the wonderful website, I have answered two questions so far, but I’m intrigued and rather happy with the format of the whole website. The editor has specifically asked us not be nasty or dismissive of questions; it doesn’t mean we must answer every one of course, but, when we do, to try explain gently since the questioner has bothered to come to the website and deposit a nugget of curiosity.

I’m not sure what the site traffic is like, but frankly that’s not of interest to me. Having recently faced students asking me what to do with some new found doubts in their religious faith, I’ m attempting to learn methods of education that actually are efficient. This doesn’t mean being always gentle or always brutal, but learning to be sensitive to the environment, contender and context to know whether to use stones or feathers to get them to change their position.

Do have a look at the website and please provide feedback on what you think of the site. Now, my next aim is to one day be a panelist on this site.