Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My interview at Radio Freethinker

In which I discuss women in skepticism (it's a little less than half way in*).

I was a bit sleep deprived thanks to a long post-talk pub night the evening before, and the interview took place early morning sans coffee, so I don't quite remember what I said. Something about ladies and skepticism and such.

A ringing endorsement, I know. Oh well, go listen! Thanks to Ethan and Chloe for having me be a part of the show.

*That's what she said.**

**Aren't I the best spokesperson for women?

Help Ask an Atheist!

Remember earlier this month when I congratulated Seattle's Ask an Atheist television show for sweeping its channel's awards? Well, unfortunately that channel is going to be dead come December 31st thanks to a lack of public funding. Ask an Atheist doesn't want to die with it, so they're asking for some help. They'll be moving to commercial radio (KLAY 1180 AM in Lakewood), but that takes some money. You can help them in two ways:

1. If you're a fan of the show but not near Seattle, you can donate. Remember, you can watch all of the episodes online!

2. If you're in the Seattle area, there will be a comedy benefit show in Tacoma on December 9th. What's not to love about godless humor that helps a good cause?

Don't you want to be able to say you helped fund the first commercial atheist show in the country? You know you do. Or at the very least, you know you want to keep me supplied with local godless inspiration. Everybody wins!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Anti-vaxxer madlibs

I filled in the blanks!
Don't you hate that you get sick every time you go to Canada? It certainly can't be because you got infected before you went to Canada, because we all know correlation implies causation, and that no other variables other that you going to Canada preceded getting sick. Therefore, crossing the border made me sick. I knew this would happen! ...What, confirmation bias? What's that?
Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? Except people say this same exact thing about getting flu shots, not crossing the border. Sigh.

But yeah, apparently I have some non-strep throat virus that's been going around campus. You know it's good when the nurse exclaims, "Wow! [Your tonsils] look God awful!" Thankfully it's not too bad since there's nothing they can really do about it other than decrease some of the throat pain. Last time I had codeine I had Iron Chef sleep walking hallucinations, so this may be interesting.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sexy feminism?

Feminism is about choice. Sometimes I think if I repeat that enough, people will get it. This time I'll let another blogger repeat it for me, since I think she's spot on:
Feminism (at least my brand) doesn't oppose sexiness, but it opposes compulsory sexiness.

It's the difference between putting on makeup to look like your slutty fantasy, and putting on makeup to leave the house. Between wearing heels because they make your ass tight and your legs long, and wearing heels because they're in your dress code. Between smiling at a sexy stranger and having "hey honey, why aincha smiling" yelled at you. Between having sex because your pussy is wet and your muscles are quivering, and having sex because it's time to put out.

And I'd go further and say it's also the difference between being a sex worker because that's a legitimate career option, and being a sex worker because it's the only way you can eat. It's the difference between sexified female bodies being used as porn, and them being used as decorations and advertisements. Maybe most importantly, it's the difference between women being taken seriously when they talk about sexuality, and women not being taken seriously when they're not sexy enough.
And I'd add that the opposite is also true. It's the difference between dressing modestly because it's comfortable or keeps you warm, and dressing modestly to avoid being jailed or raped because you were "asking for it." Between liking football and Grand Theft Auto because they entertain you, and liking football and Grand Theft Auto because you don't want to dare to have stereotypically "girly" hobbies. Between forgoing makeup because you're too lazy in the morning and forgoing makeup because otherwise you won't be taken seriously at work. Between choosing nerdy t-shirts because you think they're funny, and choosing nerdy t-shirts because your friends will heckle you if you wear anything feminine.

Compulsory anti-sexiness is not the solution to compulsory sexiness. There's not one right way to be a woman.

I'm back!

And I'm about to go pass out somewhere. My Canada speaking trip was fun, but I'm exhausted now that I'm home. I'll write up more about my trip later, but for now I leave you with one very important question to ponder:

Why does Canada get Cadbury chocolate products year round? Why must we wait until Easter time for Cadbury eggs, when they have delicious stuff like Caramilk bars? Totally unfair.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sexy + Smart = Scary

I've been busy getting ready for my Canada trip, so I missed this little debate while it was first bubbling up. tl;dr some feminists are cranky that there are science cheerleaders because the only reason a woman would act sexy is because she's been brainwashed by men.

Ow. I just strained an eye muscle from rolling them too hard.

Thankfully I don't have to waste my time replying to think bunk, since ERV has already eviscerated it:
Not the oh-so-civil ZuskAIDS! She wants everyone who doenst conform to her stereotypes to SHUT UP!!!
Let's say the Science Cheerleaders do keep one girl in advanced science or math classes, but make three other girls feel like they have to pornulate themselves in order to be 21st Century Fembot Compliant While Doing Science, and make five d00ds feel like it is perfectly okay to hang up soft porn pictures of sexay hawt babes in the lab and harass some colleague because hawt science women WANT to be appreciated for being sexay and smart!
Once again, women cannot be attractive and smart in Zuskas world. Women cannot enjoy being cheerleaders. Women cannot enjoy sex. NEWSFLASH, HAG-- Making women feel like they have to change themselves to appease a stereotype, whether its TEH D00DS or YOURS is BULLSHIT. Girls/Boys who want to cheer and go into science SHOULDNT be degraded anymore than girls/boys who DONT want to cheer and go into science.

SO STOP DEGRADING THE ONES THAT DONT FOLLOW YOUR STEREOTYPES.

It's funny how feminists can't comprehend the concept of letting women do what they want. Actually, no, it's not funny anymore - it's fucking aggravating. This is why people think all feminists are humorless, sexless man-haters - not because of your personal choices, but because you try to police others. Don't try to pin the cause of feminist stereotypes on "sexy feminists" when you're the ones perpetuating the stereotypes.

It's a sign

Apparently God hates feminism. Or at least, God hates feminists talking about how God hates feminism. My talk last night was effectively canceled due to massive amounts of unseasonable snow in Vancouver. It wasn't too horrible to drive in if you went slowly - more slush than the black ice Seattle got. But SFU is perched on top of a mountain, so they canceled afternoon classes. Which meant:

1. No buses were running to campus. Apparently some of my readers attempted to get to my talk, but couldn't because of this issue. Sorry guys!
2. College students happily ran home to play in the snow/sleep/drink heavily early. Or to make sure they could get home at all with the snow. I don't blame them; I probably would have done the same.
3. The office in charge of unlocking projectors refuses to unlock the one in the room I was speaking in since classes were officially canceled, so no PowerPoint for me and the hardcore students who still showed up to my talk.

Thankfully I wasn't required to illustrate my talk through interpretive dance. Instead we went to a restaurant on campus to eat and drink. I ended up giving an informal version on my talk on someone's laptop, but most of the night was spent educating me on everything Canadian. I think I have a vague grasp of Canadian politics now. Though of course, they could have been making everything up and I wouldn't have been the wiser. Those wiley Canadians.

The rest of my talks should still be on, since what seemed to be a foot of snow magically melted overnight. Apparently God is totally cool with me poking fun at the Creation Museum, but not the Bible.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Vancouver or bust!

I'm leaving for my Canadian speaking tour this morning! Here's my schedule, as a reminder:

Simon Fraser University Skeptics
Thurs. Nov. 25 3:30-5:30 pm in AQ 5037
Atheism and Feminism
Hour talk followed by Q&A
Free & open to the public
Likely impromptu pub night to follow

University of British Columbia Freethinkers
Fri. Nov. 26 7-9 pm in Buchanan A203
My Trip to the Creation Museum
Hour talk followed by Q&A
Free for members, $2 for general public
Post talk drinks and fun somewhere

CFI Vancouver
Cafe Inquiry with Jennifer McCreight
Sat. Nov. 27 11 am-1 pm at SFU Harbour Centre
Tentative topic: Closing the gender gap in skepticism
20 min talk followed by discussion
Free & open to public (donations welcome)

British Columbia Humanists
Sun. Nov. 28 9:30-11:30 am at Oakridge Seniors Centre
Boobquake & Its Aftershocks
Hour talk followed by Q&A
Open to public & donations welcome ($2 suggested)

The pub nights are up in the air (apparently one of the planned places closed, whoops), but I'll announce where we're going via Twitter as soon as I know.

Well, that's assuming I get there at all. Apparently it's snowing all between Seattle and Vancouver. Gulp. Leaving early and driving slowly...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Snowpacolypse 2010!

That's what Seattlites are already dubbing last night. Only two inches of snow fell in my neighborhood, but I'm reevaluating my Midwestern instinct to heckle. When your city is hilly and severely deprived of snow plows and de-icers, this is the result:



My favorite "Oh nooooooooooo" moment is when the bus appears around 3 minutes in, and proceeds to fail. I road the bus home last night, but thankfully my route didn't need to conquer any major hills.

Because the roads are basically made of ice, school was canceled. You know it's bad when universities aren't even sending their grad students in. Of course, I'm used to living in Indiana, where we have an army of snow plots ready to make the road spotless at the sight of a single flake. The only time school was canceled for us was when the power went out because of a storm. Ah, the fond memories of walking to class in below zero weather during a blizzard.

Instead I'm huddled up next to my not-very-effective space heater in my much-too-cold basement apartment preparing for my trip to Canada. I was planning on leaving Thursday morning, but now I'm a bit worried about the weather forecast:I was already worried driving on Thanksgiving Day and dealing with crossing the border, but now there's going to be rain and snow too? Gah. I just hope I get there in one piece. If I don't make it to my talk on atheism and feminism, I'm sure people would be happy to have an open discussion about atheism and skepticism for the ten billionth time.

EDIT: I'd just like to add that I've heard at least three different sirens during the time it took me to write this post. Snowpacolypse chaos!!!

Pope: condoms not just for gay prostitutes

When the Pope recently decided that condom use was okay when preventing the spread of AIDS, many people were suspicious of the example he used - gay prostitutes. Did that mean it was only okay when there was already zero possibility of pregnancy? Was this the Catholic Church snubbing women yet again?

The Vatican has released a clarification today that condoms can be used to prevent AIDS by all genders and sexual orientations:

The pope's comments in the book implied that he was referring primarily to homosexual sex, when condoms aren't being used as a form of contraception. Questions arose immediately about the pope's intent, though, because the Italian translation of the book used the feminine for prostitute, whereas the original German used the masculine.

Lombardi told reporters Tuesday that he asked the pope whether he intended to refer only to male prostitutes. Benedict replied that it really didn't matter, the important thing was the person in question took into consideration the life of the other, Lombardi said.

"I personally asked the pope if there was a serious, important problem in the choice of the masculine over the feminine," Lombardi said. "He told me 'no.' The problem is this ... It's the first step of taking responsibility, of taking into consideration the risk of the life of another with whom you have a relationship."

"This is if you're a man, a woman, or a transsexual. We're at the same point. The point is it's a first step of taking responsibility, of avoiding passing a grave risk onto another," Lombardi said.

[...]In the book, the pope was not justifying or condoning gay sex, condoms as a means of artificial contraception or heterosexual sex outside of a marriage. He reaffirms the Vatican opposition to homosexual acts and artificial contraception and reaffirms the inviolability of marriage between man and woman.

But by broadening the condom comments to also apply to women, the pope is saying that condom use is a lesser evil than passing HIV onto a partner even when pregnancy is possible.

"We're not just talking about an encounter between two men, which has little to do with procreation. We're now introducing relationships that could lead to childbirth," Martin said.

The Catholic Church hasn't quite joined us in the 21st century, but making it to the 20th century is a good first step. This decision will save countless of lives, even if it is just a publicity ploy to distract people from their child molestation scandal.

...Sooooo, can someone explain to me how the concepts of the "infallibility of the Church" and "papal infallibility" meshes with "changing your mind"?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why atheism is the most skeptical position

Some people claim that I don't know what "skepticism" is really about because I haven't read the "fundamental" skeptical books. Which was shocking to me, since I thought the concept of skepticism was fairly simple - it's just the application the scientific method. Of course, other people just claim I haven't studied the philosophy of science enough to understand how science really works.

Hell, if a grad student in the sciences can't discuss skepticism because she doesn't have enough background, I guess those skeptical organizations will be waving goodbye to members who don't have the proper skeptical credentials. Let's leave it to the "professional" skeptics.

But while we're on the topic of appealing to authority, let's look at how Michael Shermer, co-founder of the Skeptics Society, defines skepticism in his "Skeptic's Manifesto":
Modern skepticism is embodied in the scientific method, that involves gathering data to formulate and test naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. A claim becomes factual when it is confirmed to such an extent it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement. But all facts in science are provisional and subject to challenge, and therefore skepticism is a method leading to provisional conclusions.
Huh, that's exactly how I've always defined skepticism! I wonder if Michael Shermer knows he needs to go read some more books and brush up on his philosophy of science?

I previously thought this discussion about skepticism and atheism needed to die already. The horse hadn't just been beaten to death - it has already decomposed and had its molecules reassembled into the surrounding flora and fauna. But some people continue to miss the point, so people keep talking about it. Yesterday I showed up to my first official meeting of the Seattle Atheists (which was awesome, by the way), and what was the panel discussion on? Yep, skepticism versus atheism.

What was curious about that discussion was how different it was since an atheist group was hosting it, rather than skeptics. The atheists freely admitted that not all atheists are skeptics. Some, at least initially, reach their decisions thanks to emotional or value-based arguments, and don't skeptically examine religious beliefs until later (if ever).

But to those of us who came to atheism through skeptical analysis of religion, it was literally inconceivable how skeptics couldn't be atheists. The only explanation the panelists could think of for this current debate was that it was based on public relations, not intellectual merit - that yes, skepticism leads to atheism, but please hush about it so we don't scare away the religious members. Yet there's another explanation often given - that you can't directly test the God hypothesis, therefore please hush about it.

And that's where I must call bullshit.

To understand why I call bullshit (oh my, crass language! I must not know what I'm talking about!), let's review Wikipedia's decent summary on the null hypothesis:
The null hypothesis typically proposes a general or default position, such as that there is no relationship between two measured phenomena,[1] or that a potential treatment has no effect.[2] [...] It is typically paired with a second hypothesis, the alternative hypothesis, which asserts a particular relationship between the phenomena.

[...]Hypothesis testing works by collecting data and measuring how probable the data are, assuming the null hypothesis is true. If the data are very improbable (usually defined as observed less than 5% of the time), then the experimenter concludes that the null hypothesis is false. If the data do not contradict the null hypothesis, then no conclusion is made. In this case, the null hypothesis could be true or false; the data give insufficient evidence to make any conclusion.

I've always viewed atheism as the null hypothesis. It is the general, default position that makes no claims. Now, there are many, many alternative hypotheses. Zeus exists. The Flying Spaghetti Monster exists. The particular Judeo-Christian God worshiped by the Second Baptist Church in Richmond, VA exits. Atheists have come to the conclusion that these hypotheses are wrong, not only because they lack evidence (needed to reject the null hypothesis of atheism), but because they're not even internally consistent claims (contradictions in the Bible, the inability for an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving being to exist, yadda yadda).

"But what about a deist God?" you ask. "What about a definition of God that's wishy-washy and nebulous? God is love. God is in all of us. You can't even test those!" Exactly. And since you can't test them, you can't gather any evidence for them. And since you can't gather any evidence for them, you fail to reject the null hypothesis of atheism.

Am I 100% certain that no deity at all exists? No, but you'd be hard pressed to find an atheist who is - even Richard Dawkins wouldn't claim to be. Technically we're agnostic to some extent, and that's a whole other debate that's wriggling through an earth worm by now. But atheist vs. agnostic semantics aside, the point stands that the scientific method, when applied to belief in God, does not lead to deism or theism.

I guess this is an elaborate way of saying that the burden of proof lies on those making the claims. That seems to be fine when skeptics are dealing with psychics and Bigfoot, but not with God. If you want to avoid it for PR reasons, fine - I disagree with you, but you can run your organization however you like. But if you claim to avoid religious beliefs for skeptical reasons, then, I reiterate, you're not being fucking skeptical.

Lies, lies I tell you!

First I'm told Seattle is a godless paradise, and I receive religious spam at my apartment the first day. Then I'm told it basically never snows, and now this?!


Very clever ploy to get me to move here, Seattlites.

Though everyone has told me when it does snow, people here flip out. After a couple of minutes standing at my bus stop, I can confirm this. This Midwesterner will continue to laugh at drivers spinning out in a half inch of snow.

...As long as the bus actually ends up coming, and gets me to school in one piece.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hooray, a boy! Meh, a girl

That seems to be the opinion of this expecting grandfather. He's a lawyer asking a (female) judge for a provisional recess in case his grandson turns out to be a boy.

Should the child be a girl, not much will happen in the way of public celebration. Some may even be disappointed, but will do their best to conceal this by saying, “as long as it’s a healthy baby.” My wife will run to Philly immediately, but I will probably be able to wait until the next weekend. There will be happiness, though muted, and this application will be mooted as well.

However, should the baby be a boy, then hoo hah! Hordes of friends and family will arrive from around the globe and descend on Philadelphia for the joyous celebration.

Joyous celebration about chopping off some skin from a baby's penis. Thank you, religion.

I think he's trying to be funny, but he just comes of as a sexist asshole. Seriously, imagine being this guy's granddaughter and Googling Grandpa's name years later. Nothing says "I love you" like "Well, I gueeessss it's okay you're a girl, though I really wish you were a boy."

I love the judge's response:
Mr. Epstein will be permitted to attend the bris, in the joyous event that a son is born. But the Court would like to balance the scales. If a daughter is born, there will be a public celebration in Court, with readings from poetry celebrating girls and women.
Sad it takes an order from a judge to celebrate the birth of a baby girl.

(Via Butterflies and Wheels)

My brain scares me sometimes

Last night I had a dream that I was discussing Harry Potter fanfiction on a bus with my friend Julie. Little did I know, Dan Radcliffe was also on that bus, so he came over and sat near us. He started flirting with me and lamented the fact that women only want to date him because he plays Harry Potter, not for his real personality. Before I'm able to say that I like his real personality, he has to leave because he's playing Mulan in the live action version of Mulan. So he dresses up in Mulan-drag, but then aliens come and abduct everyone there but me. Then different benevolent aliens come and tell me that I'm the only one who can save them, but to do so I have to be transformed into a monkey. So I'm transformed into monkey-Jen, and transported to the alien ship by a collapsable R2D2. But I never actually rescue anyone because I waste too much time pondering why I can still speak English if I have a monkey body.

Lesson: Never eat suspect Chinese food right before going to bed. What the hell, subconscious.

Bonus Internet Poitns for whoever can come up with the best interpretation of my dream.

Pope okays condom usage?!

I thought this was going to be a link to the Onion, but it's real:
After decades of fierce opposition to the use of all contraception, the pontiff will end the Catholic Church's absolute ban on the use of condoms. He will say that it is acceptable to use a prophylactic when the sole intention is to "reduce the risk of infection" from Aids.

While he will restate the Catholic Church's staunch objections to contraception because it believes it interferes with the creation of life, he will argue that using a condom to preserve life and avoid death can be a responsible act – even outside marriage.

Asked whether "the Catholic Church is not fundamentally against the use of condoms," he replies: "It of course does not see it as a real and moral solution.

"In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality."

He will stress that abstinence is the best policy in fighting the disease, but accept that in some circumstances it is better for a condom to be used if it protects human life.

Okay, so he still has a antiquated and judgemental view of human sexuality... hell, he is the Pope after all. But this is a huge step in the right direction. The Catholic Church is finally saying that the well-being of humans that are currently alive is more important that the potential human you're stopping with a bit of rubber.

The theological logic is certainly screwy, like usual - it's only okay because living gives you the potential to stop sinning later, not because living is more important than wasted sperm. But for right now, I don't care. This will have a profound effect in AIDS ridden countries in Africa and potentially save many, many lives. Not to mention this basically greenlights all Catholic couples to use condoms. I can see the logic now - "Well, we're primarily using them to stop AIDS, damn that no-baby side effect!"

Though the cynic in me thinks this is just a PR move to get people distracted from the whole child-molesting scandal. Sorry Pope, haven't quite forgotten about that.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Two more cents on skepticism and atheism

Honestly, I'm getting sick of the whole skepticism vs. atheism debate. But I'm an opinionated blogger, so I have to give my thoughts on the latest issue between the two movements.

Skepticon 3 is currently underway in Missouri. While I'm very jealous that I'm not there, Jeff Wagg is very butt-hurt because it looks too much like an "atheist conference." What makes it so godless? The fact that 3 out of 15 talks explicitly discuss religion.

I know. Such godlessness.

Wagg continues the typical whining that such "emphasis" on atheism will only hurt the skeptical movement, even though skeptical events continue to grow. JT Eberhard, organizer of Skepticon and all-around badass, artfully replies to Wagg's critiques of the conference:
"What I do think is that Jeff is not playing fair (see earlier bit about speakers giving non-religion talks that would take any equitable onlooker a whole ten seconds to look up) by not presenting the full picture of our event either intentionally or from a lack of sufficiently digging into it to see what we’re about. Either way, bad form. I also think he’s relying too much on his personal anecdote and not on the evidence around him (see the rising numbers of both Skepticon and TAM). I don’t have an issue with Jeff because he’s being pedantic or critical. I have an issue because he’s wrong."
And PZ replies to the nonsensical idea that religion is somehow off-limits to skepticism:
"Skepticon does have a strong anti-religion emphasis. So? This is a subject open to criticism, and it's perfectly fair to apply skepticism to religion as much as we would to dowsing or Bigfoot. If someone had organized a skeptics' conference with an emphasis on, for instance, quack medicine, I doubt that anyone would have squawked that "it's harming the cause!", "it'll make skeptics who believe in homeopathy uncomfortable", or "it's diluting medicine and destroying skepticism"."
But I'm going to take it one step further. Religion shouldn't just be included in skepticism. Religion is one of, if not the most important issue people should be skeptical about.

Seriously, what affects people the most? Believing in dowsing? Giggling at a horoscope? Perpetuating ghost stories? Searching for Big Foot? Or superstitious religious beliefs that are held by the majority of the population, and not only irrationally alter your behavior in almost all aspects of your life and affect the lives of those around you, but result in the suffering and death of millions of people?

Sticking to talking about psychics and UFOs because we want to artificially inflate our numbers is ridiculous.

Look, there are certainly religious beliefs that are benign enough and don't end in the Crusades. And there are certainly instances of beliefs in psychics, astrology, and ghosts that do harm people. But to suggest that religious belief isn't at least as harmful as important topics like homeopathy, chiropracty, or alternative medicine is frankly delusional.

I got interested in the skeptical movement because I liked having a term that implied I didn't limit my skepticism to religion. You don't get to ban that type of skepticism because you're worried about the PR problem. And if you don't think you should be skeptical about religion, then you're not being fucking skeptical.

Now, can we stop with the hand holding and move on?

My own contribution to the War on Christmas

I have a new geeky Christmas card design available in my store. The Christmas Tree of Life:And don't forget my Darwinian design from last year:If you're going to send Christmas cards to scientists or freethinkers, why not do it with a biological twist? Discounts are available if you order in bulk, so go check them out!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The War on Christmas: Now with biological warfare

I'd totally go buy a little Christmas tree just to hang these adorable ornaments:Of course, I'd rather buy the normal plush microbes to stick in the tree so I can keep displaying them all year long... But come on, how can you not love mononucleosis underneath some mistletoe?! So adorable.

...Yes, I know: biologists are weird.

Racial diversity in the atheist community IS our problem

The Guardian has an interesting article up by Alom Shaha on "The accidental exclusion of non-white atheists." I'm not sure if this was intentional, but it's a timely follow up for the recent kerfuffle about the apparent lack of women in the atheist movement. One of his main points is that the atheist movement needs to actively try to fix its diversity problem. I think he's spot on, and the same applies to women:
While black and Asian people may not be actively excluded from atheist and sceptic gatherings, the lack of black and Asian people as speakers or audience members might be one reason why many black or Asian people feel such events are not "for them". So, even if there's no deliberate exclusion, there is accidental exclusion. Perhaps some people are genuinely unaware of this, but perhaps others are just hoping the problem does not really exist.
We're not saying we need to go knocking on doors of religious minorities and target them for atheist evangelizing. We're saying we want minorities who are already atheists to feel comfortable within our movement. One way to promote inclusivity is to invite minority speakers to conferences or local events, or to encourage current minority members to consider more active leadership positions.

Shaha repeatedly states that he does not think the atheist movement is inherently racist or purposefully excluding minorities. I thought he was being overly polite until I started reading the comments at The Guardian. They're almost unanimously oblivious, stating there's no such thing as an atheist movement or community. Look, just because you're an atheist who doesn't feel the need to be outspoken or talk to like-minded people doesn't mean we don't exist. Is this a British thing, since atheism is so much more common and accepted there?

But my main beef is with the comments that deal with race, which have no excuse. For example:

"This article is a disgrace. Why is it that anything that happens to be white must become more diverse to become a "community"? What a crock of poo. Very expensive deficit causing poo, I might add. You fools would be better off worrying about the genocide of Iraq's Christians, and the general bad feeling towards minorities in the mulsim world, than worrying about atheists being too white."

"If people really are so simple-minded as to prefer the company of people of their own colour, then that's their problem, and neither atheists (nor Christans nor Hindus nor Muslims nor Jews nor anyone else) are under any obligation to go out of their way to accommodate them."

"oh god ... AGAIN! what is wrong with these awful "white men"?? Why are we so bad? just out of pure contrarianism, i am going to campaign for the atheist movement to be a 'white males only' movement. i want it to have clubs, and bars and so on, where we are allowed to keep females and other races out. just so so bored of "minority" bleating on the subject of "white men" - gone far too far."

"What, practically, do you think white atheists should do to encourage black and asian involvement? It's hardly their fault that asian people (for example) feel a cultural pressure not to get involved, and it is not their fault that asian people feel more comfortable with their own kind (as you suggest). You seem to be blaming whate atheists for a problems which are not of their making. The onus is on minorities, not the audience to which your article is addressed."

Those are facepalm worthy to say the least. But maybe that sort of stupidity and insensitivity is only from people who think the atheist movement doesn't exist?

Then I read this comment at the Richard Dawkins Foundation website, presumably from someone within the community:

"We (like there is a 'we' in the atheist community) should have second best speakers at events, choose them solely on the colour of their skin, otherwise we might appear racist.

We should have second best speakers at events, choose them solely on the colour of their gender, otherwise we might appear sexist."

Whoooooooosh.

The assumption that minority speakers are inherently second best? Now that is racist and sexist.

This is identical to atheism's so called "women problem." It's not that we lack worthy non-white atheists: It's that we have plenty of wonderful non-white atheists who we forget about. If you think people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Maryam Namazie, Hemant Mehta, Ariane Sherine, Salman Rushdie, and Debbie Goddard are "second rate," you are part of the problem.

Where it really needs to be improved is at conferences. Events like TAM seem to be improving its representation of women, and it's not just tokenism - I thought all of the female speakers were brilliant. But you know who some of the most disappointing speakers were? People who keep getting re-invited because of their fame, but just re-hashed old talks, gave crappy Q&A sessions, or bored everyone to tears. When all of those people happen to be old white men, it certainly doesn't look good. Even if it's the unintentional effect of attempting to sell tickets, it makes it seem like someone is choosing second-rate old white male speakers over first-rate minority speakers.

I'm sure it's not deliberate, but if we don't fix our diversity problem now, we're going to have oodles of problems down the road (check out Greta Christina's talks about the parallels between our movement and the GLBT movement, and you'll know why). We need to start being more inclusive if we want the atheist movement to be successful. This is already starting to happen, with groups like the African Americans for Humanism and L.A. Black Skeptics becoming more and more active.

But denying we have the problem and that it's our job to fix it? Not helping, people.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How to cure a feminist

Oh noes! First we have to worry about catching The Gay...now this!
According to this highly scientific graphic, I'm already around Stage 2 of the recovery process. I mean, I'm not a vegan, and I shave my armpits. I wonder who's been working so hard at purging that vile Manus haterii from my body!

(Via STFU, Conservatives)

Philosoraptor, the geneticist

Discussed in one of my classes yesterday:
The corollary was "If a gene falls in the woods, does it make a noise?" This is what happens when you give grad students too much coffee.

Genetics geeks - feel free to discuss.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

14 year old stands up for gay-defending teacher

Graeme Taylor is my new favorite person in the world. He's an openly gay 14-year old who eloquently defended Jay McDowell, a teacher who had been recently suspended without pay at his school in Howell, Michigan. What horrible thing did McDowell do that warranted this suspension? He told a student to take off a confederate flag belt buckle and removed two students for making anti-gay remarks.

You can hear Taylor's speech to the school board here:





Videos like this make me simultaneously proud and disappointed. Proud that young people can so eloquently understand and defend the rights of minorities...and disappointed that so-called adults still don't get it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The lesbian agenda...

...is to not abuse their children or force them to be homosexual.
The paper found that none of the 78 [National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study] adolescents reports having ever been physically or sexually abused by a parent or other caregiver. This contrasts with 26 percent of American adolescents who report parent or caregiver physical abuse and 8.3 percent who report sexual abuse.

[...]On sexual orientation, 2.8 percent of the NLLFS adolescents identified as predominantly to exclusively homosexual.
I can't wait for the religious right to desperately attempt to spin this into showing how everyone deserves a Mom and Dad, or that gays aren't fit parents, or that gays secretly want to turn children gay. Really, what can they say? The heterosexual abusers aren't True Christians? 2.8% homosexuality is still too much?

...Oh wait, that's exactly the sort of stuff they're likely to say. I give it a day before a press release is out.

When are people going to realize it's better for children to be raised by adults who want them than by adults who can accidentally create them?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

THIS is what religious oppression looks like

To all the Christians who have persecution complexes due to people simply disagreeing with them, despite being the privileged majority religion in their country... Maybe this will put religious oppression in perspective for you:
[Asia] Bibi has been held in prison since June last year. The court heard she had been working as a farmhand in fields with other women, when she was asked to fetch drinking water.

Some of the other women – all Muslims – refused to drink the water as it had been brought by a Christian and was therefore "unclean", according to Mrs Bibi's evidence, sparking a row. The incident was forgotten until a few days later when Mrs Bibi said she was set upon by a mob. The police were called and took her to a police station for her own safety.

Shahzad Kamran, of the Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan, said: "The police were under pressure from this Muslim mob, including clerics, asking for Asia to be killed because she had spoken ill of the Prophet Mohammed.

"So after the police saved her life they then registered a blasphemy case against her." He added that she had been held in isolation for more than a year before being sentenced to death on Monday. "The trial was clear," he said. "She was innocent and did not say those words."

While most blasphemy cases are successfully appealed in Pakistan, Bibi is still likely to be further harassed or even killed during the trial.

Situations like this are absolutely horrifying and really highlight the immature attitudes of some privileged Christians, like the one in my earlier post. Those "militant New Atheists" simply disagree with you and vocalize their disagreement. Notice how we're not throwing you in jail or murdering you. Whining about how you're a martyr because your feelings are hurt trivializes the deaths of millions of people who have been and continue to be killed in the name of religion.

Some religious people are so anti-blasphemy...until they realize their beliefs are blasphemous to someone else. How the tables do turn when you're not in a position of privilege.

Canada, here I come!

I'll be speaking at four different skeptical groups in Vancouver next week*. Here's my crazy schedule (links go to facebook events):

Simon Fraser University Skeptics
Thurs. Nov. 25 3:30-5:30 pm in AQ 5037
Atheism and Feminism
Hour talk followed by Q&A
Free & open to the public
Likely impromptu pub night to follow

University of British Columbia Freethinkers
Fri. Nov. 26 7-9 pm in Buchanan A203
My Trip to the Creation Museum
Hour talk followed by Q&A
Free for members, $2 for general public
Post talk drinks and fun at the Frog and Firkin

CFI Vancouver
Cafe Inquiry with Jennifer McCreight
Sat. Nov. 27 11 am-1 pm at SFU Harbour Centre
Tentative topic: Closing the gender gap in skepticism
20 min talk followed by discussion
Free & open to public (donations welcome)

British Columbia Humanists
Sun. Nov. 28 9:30-11:30 am at Oakridge Seniors Centre
Boobquake & Its Aftershocks
Hour talk followed by Q&A
Open to public & donations welcome ($2 suggested)

I've never been to Canada before, and I can think of no better way to pop my Canada-cherry than hanging out with a bunch of skeptics and heathens. Especially since my other option for Thanksgiving break was sitting in my apartment dreaming about all the delicious food I'm missing out on since I wasn't going home this year. A mini-vacation to Vancouver is a wonderful alternative, even though I'll probably spend my time between talks working on homework. At least I'll be working on homework in Canada.

...Though to show how much of an ignorant American I am sometimes, it didn't originally dawn on me that Canadians don't have the same Thanksgiving holiday as us. I promise to keep the stereotypical questions about bacon, hockey, and Celine Dion to a minimum.

*And by next week, I mean in two weeks. I have no concept of time, apparently.

Who doesn't like a 2X multiplier?

The Secular Student Alliance is having a fundraising drive, thanks to a generous donor. Ron Verstappen has pledged to match all donations to the SSA up to $15,000 until New Years Eve. That means if you make a tax exempt donation before January 1st, your donation is effectively doubled! As a board member of the SSA, I can't stress enough how wonderful this organization is. Young people are the future of secularism and skepticism, and we want to be able to provide resources to our skyrocketing number of groups.

If you need a little more motivation to donate, Ashley Paramore (aka, healthyaddict) will be having a live video fundraiser tonight starting at 9pm EST. I heard there will be games and geeky prizes!

Looking at your vagina, or criticising religion?

Which offends religious people the most?

This is a toughie. Why don't we look at the faux controversy coming from Dartmouth College. Mayuka Kowaguchi created "The Orchid Project" for her sexual health peer-advising group on campus. What was this horrifying project? Small hand mirrors were distributed to women on campus, with an accompanying note describing female anatomy and the statement that the project was "to shift [women’s] perspective from the expectations and limitations of belief patterns, societal cultural or religious conditioning."

Cue the religious hysterics:
If these mirrors were truly meant to encourage the consideration of issues surrounding body-awareness, then, I believe, those who consider themselves to be members of Dartmouth communities of faith — which do not support acting on this knowledge in a sexual fashion — would not have been offended.

[...]This is one of many occasions where I have found the liberal body at Dartmouth to completely violate those principles that it purports to advance: respect and freedom. Regardless of the offensiveness of the message, if the Orchid Project’s main goal was to encourage consideration, what possessed them of the idea that a direct attack on all faiths was the way to do that?

[...]The body of believers at Dartmouth and the body of non-believers would often mutually benefit from sitting down and “considering” the issues surrounding sexuality. Respectful discussion will only bred further respect and discussion, but blatant attacks on an entire outlook on life, will only bred further animosity, ignorance and offense."
Oh boo hoo! Someone dared to suggest that my religious beliefs are wrong! Don't they know that criticizing belief patterns and societal culture are okay, but irrational religious beliefs are untouchable? Who missed the political correctness memo?! Help, help, I'm being oppressed!

I can't even conceive how someone can read that initial statement to mean that all religious beliefs are completely wrong, unless they're trying to play the victim. And then turn around and presume to speak for every religious person at Dartmouth. And then go and condemn "acting on this knowledge in a sexual fashion," thus proving the initial point that some religious beliefs can lead to sex-negative beliefs.

If you think a simple suggestion that you're incorrect is a "blatant attack," then what the hell is "respectful discussion"? Bashfully going "Shucks, whatever you want to believe must be right! I sure won't ever present a viewpoint that disagrees with you! Because your beliefs cannot be criticized, even if it means my beliefs must be silenced"?

Fuck that. I'll respect your beliefs once they're deserving of respect - that is to say, when they're not based on some ancient book about a invisible sky daddy and his zombie self-child that was scribbled together by some misogynistic dudes in a desert - or whatever particular illogical mythology you prefer to subscribe to. Feel free to keep believing, but don't assume that gives you immunity from criticism. Pleasantries and political correctness only allows insane ideas to flourish.

Why are so many people starting to criticize Christianity? It's not a mass conspiracy - it's because you're wrong.

So back to my original question: I guess that's a vote for "criticising religion." Meh, I'll go look at my own vagina too, just in case.

(Via Jezebel)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Me-ow-sis

What I saw:
What I thought: "Ha, biology lolcat! Wait... That's not identical, obviously one has some sort of somatic mutation if that's mitosis. The image would fit better if they were making a joke about meiosis, since crossing over occurs during meiosis I, resulting in non-identical daughter cells. But then what would meiosis II result in? Half-cats? Kittens?"

Goddammit grad school, you're making me overanalyze funny pictures of cats. I'm doomed.

More Magazine interview online, now with Feminist Drama!

More's piece "What the New Feminists Look Like" is (finally) online. You can check out my interview and all the other New Feminists' interviews there. I'm a bit sad that our video interviews didn't make it online - or at least, haven't yet. I basically geeked out about how more feminists should embrace science and skepticism. Of course, that's what I talked about during my phone interview, and the article is still predominantly about boobquake... Sigh, journalism.

On a related note, More is holding a panel on Young Leaders in Feminism in New York tomorrow based on this piece, and there's already been a bit of controversy. Jessica Valenti, author and founder of Feministing.com, dropped out of the panel when she realized one of the other "New Feminists" falls into the category of "conservative women who have long fought against feminist ideals and goals are now identifying as feminists in an attempt to woo women’s votes for the GOP."

Her reason for not participating will make sense to my readers:
"But I do think their participation is a strategic mistake. It’s like debating someone who insists that the sky is red – what does it accomplish besides lending credibility and valuable activist energy to a laughably false assertion?"
Creationists, anyone?

As someone who has had her "Feminist Card" revoked too many times to count for being too sexual or too critical of religion, I generally hate hearing that someone is "not a true feminist." But it ceases to be a No True Scotsman Fallacy when you're the antithesis of what that feminism actually is about: equality for the sexes. That includes allowing women to make choices that don't necessarily agree with your personal morals or opinions, like being in porn, waiting until marriage to have sex, getting an abortion, or being a stay at home mom.

Seriously, the next time I hear Sarah Palin being called a feminist, I will puke. And in case you say it to purposefully get a rise out of me, I will aim my puking at you.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Why my building has key cards


Now I just need to figure out how to make the doors say "Good morning, Ms. McCreight" instead of "Beep." Then I'll really be living in a sci-fi movie.

(Alternate reason why my building has key cards: To keep the undergrads out. I like my reason better.)

EDIT: I originally had pi = 0.6 because my project is currently looking at heterozygosity in humans, which is represented by pi, but I realized the inevitable nerd rage I would invoke when people would think I was too stupid to realize pi (approximately) = 3.14. So x it is.

...I have become too nerdy to make nerdy jokes, gah.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Speaking in Bothell, WA this weekend

If you're in the Seattle area and want to join some skeptics for dinner while listening to me talk about boobquake, you're in luck! The Seattle Society for Sensible Explanations (run by the wonderful SkepDoc, Harriet Hall) is hosting me this Saturday, November 13th. All the information you need is at their website (along with a very flattering bio of yours truly *blushes*). You must RSVP by Wednesday if you want to attend.

See you there!

Goddamnit, astrology

One of my friends grabbed a copy of The Stranger before our bus ride to HUMP. He suggested he should read my horoscope for fun since my birthday was included in that week's edition. After giggling about how astrology is amusing bullshit, I suggest he read me three different horoscopes, and I'd have to guess which one is mine. We agonized over the experimental setup for a bit ("But I know you're a Scorpio! What if my tone of voice is different for that one? And there's still a high chance you'll pick yours randomly..."), then said fuck it and played our little game anyway.

I was impressed. These went beyond your usual astrological predictions and utilized other types of superstitions as well. The first one he read was all about how you should get personalized homeopathy that week. "Well, that's definitely not mine," I quipped. The second one could have applied to me if I stretched, but I waited to hear the third:
"Technorati, a search engine for blogs, says there are well over 100 million blogs on the internet, and that figure doesn't include millions of Chinese-language blogs. So self-expression is thriving on a global scale, right? Not exactly. Most blogs-the estimate is 94 percent-have not been updated for at least four months. In accordance with the current astrological indicators, I expect you to do something about this problem. Refresh your blog in the coming week, or consider launching one if you don't have one. But don't stop there. Use every other way you can imagine to show the world who you are. Be articulate and demonstrative and revelatory."
Me: Well, obviously I have to pick that one.
Friend: That's Scorpio!
Me: You're shitting me.

We had a good laugh at the insane coincidence, but that's all it was. As our other friend rightfully noted, it's still written vaguely enough to apply to everyone. Regular blogger? Keep up the good work! Have a defunct blog? Update it! Been thinking about blogging? Start one! Don't even know what the hell a blog is? Express yourself in any way you want!

These are why horoscopes are so effective in duping people - they're written so no matter who you are, they sound oddly specific. And while it's all fun and games for some people, others get hurt.

"Ask an Atheist" dominates Seattle public access TV awards

A big congratulations to my fellow Seattle heathens. Ask an Atheist, a public access television show that answers live questions about atheism, won four awards at 2010 SCAN Awards: Favorite Religious, Spiritual, or Faith Program, Favorite Locally Produced Program, Favorite New Program of 2010, and Favorite Studio/Live Program. Apparently their wins made the award ceremony amusing:
The event featured musical acts by local talent including: a gospel choir who did not appear to enjoy our success, a solo acoustic folk act, and some traditional Indian music from the host of another show on SCAN, ‘Bandish‘. Our success at the event turned us into a bit of a joke about half-way through the show, with Warren Etheredge of ‘The High Bar’ asking if our success was part of “God’s plan”.
Congratulations, Ask an Atheist! Their shows are also available online, so check them out here!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

I watched someone fuck a crucifix

That's my special way of saying that HUMP was fucking brilliant. Or brilliant fucking. Whichever way you want to look at it, it was amazing.

Me: *takes out a pen and paper*
Friend: ...Are you going to take notes?
Me: I'm a blogger, shush!

It's hard to explain exactly how much awesome was packed into these videos, but here were some highlights, including my personal picks for the awards:
  • Stop motion porn, with a literal pearl necklace representing ejaculation...and becoming a pearl necklace.
  • A fivesome...where two of the participants were alien blow up dolls.
  • Fucking on a pile of coffee beans, resulting in the beans being cutely stuck to the guy's butt.
  • "Bukkake Circus" - yes, it involves bukkake AND scary clowns. I don't know if it was more or less scary because it was animated.
  • A beautifully artistic video on fireplay
  • Items laying around indicating a raunchy public sexcapade...pan to the police car, only to find a couple that looks like your mom and dad sitting in the back. Hilariously cute ending.
  • Claymation monster sex.
  • The best It Gets Better Project video ever. The guy is trying to give a serious talk while being blown off camera. Once the camera pans out, they fuck like bunnies to prove that it indeed gets better. Much better.
  • A funny yet hot video on the do's and don'ts of electricplay, where no people were actually shown, but the audio alone was amazing.
  • While the electricplay video was really hot, I had to vote for the most blasphemous video for Best Kink. It started with a nun masturbating to a photo of Jesus. I was dying at "Fuck me hard, Jesus!" but it just kept getting more and more blasphemous. She squirted all over a photo of Jesus. Then she finds some random guy on the street to blow, the whole time the both of them saying stuff like "My boyfriend Jesus is going to punish me for this...eternally." The climax of the video involved the nun sticking the long skinny part of her crucifix necklace into the urethra of the guy's penis. I already find sounding (yes, it has a name) uncomfortable to watch, but I think the fact that it was with a crucifix suitably shocked most of the audience. Oh, and while it was happening, the guy said "I feel the Lord inside me!" Yeah, now you know why I had to vote for this.
  • My vote for Best Sex went to the video where we learned that the logos for Apple and Nike were created after some hot as hell gay sex. Like, wow. The only bad thing about this video is that it means there are too more super attractive guys in the world who are gay *shakes fist*
  • The video I picked for Best of Show and Best Humor was insanely witty, and definitely received the most laughter from the audience. They took an episode of America's Funniest Home Videos and made porn videos to replace the original ones, but they fit absolutely perfectly with the host's commentary and audience reactions. They even had pornified commercials, which were just as perfect. I laughed so hard I started to cry.
People kept asking me, "Don't you think it's going to be awkward watching porn in a room full of strangers - or worse, with friends?" Obviously those people don't know me that well. The first video was super funny, which helped diffuse any tension that was in the room. But watching with other people is what made it even more enjoyable. Hearing the audience laugh or cry "aaauuuuugggghhhh" in unison was great, as was glancing over to see my friends' reactions to a particularly funny or horrifying bit.

Friend: *whispers* That was my first gay sex video I've ever watched!
Me: *shakes hand*

Overall, I was impressed by the quality of the videos. Most were very well done cinematically and artistically. And honestly, the people were way more attractive and the sex was way hotter than your stereotypical porn because it wasn't super fake. Seriously, porn industry, not everyone needs a foot long cock and fake boobs to make something erotic.

And a personal highlight - I finally got to meet Dan Savage! When we were waiting to go inside the theater he recognized me, said hello, gave me a hug, and then we chatted for a bit. I can't get over how I listen to his podcast and read his posts on Slog religiously, and then he's telling me that he reads my blog every day and is looking forward to my review of HUMP. It's just so bizarrely awesome to have someone you respect so much say that. So, uh, hi Dan, and thanks!

HUMP managed to exceed my expectations, and I had pretty high expectations going in. This is definitely becoming a yearly tradition for me as long as I'm in Seattle - and maybe even beyond that!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Not that this is shocking, but...

"Money for Science May Be Scarce With a Republican-Lead House." From the NYTimes:

In the Republican platform, Pledge to America, the party vows to cut discretionary nonmilitary spending to 2008 levels. Under that plan, research and development at nonmilitary agencies — including those that sponsor science and health research — would fall 12.3 percent, to $57.8 billion, from the Mr. Obama’s request of $65.9 billion for fiscal year 2011.

An analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science looked at what would happen if all of the agencies were cut to the 2008 amounts. The National Institutes of Health would lose $2.9 billion, or 9 percent, of its research money. The National Science Foundation would lose more than $1 billion, or almost 19 percent, of its budget, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would lose $324 million, or 34 percent.

And guess who gets to apply for NSF and NIH fellowships and grants next fall? Yep, me! As if they weren't hard enough to get already. I wasn't planning on applying for fellowships this year, but maybe I should while there's still money left.

Well, at least I'm in a somewhat more secure situation. My program guarantees a stipend for the full five years, so I'll still be able to pay rent and feed myself. And my department has one of the most well funded research programs in the university, so my research project will still probably have funding, especially since I'll be working on humans (humans really like to pour money into studying themselves).

But the vast majority of science graduate students aren't so lucky. Even right now, it's common for graduate students to depend on outside fellowships for their stipends. And if you're not working on some sexy topic like human disease or biological warfare agents, those grants are going to become even more competitive.

I'm not so much concerned on missing out on the prestige and small raise that would come with an NSF fellowship. I'm concerned that the United States is likely going to fall even farther behind in science.

But hey, I can always go abroad for my post-doc...

I'm going to HUMP tonight!

...I mean the noun, not the verb! HUMP is Dan Savage's brainchild - an amateur porn film festival right here in Seattle. I'm super excited. Everyone I've talked to who's been before says it's amazing - you know it's going to be good when there's a prize for "Best Humor." And I hear the gays usually outdo the breeders, which is even better.

I still think a graduate school themed porno is just begging to be made. Think of the possibilities:

Student A: Sigh, another night all alone in the lab.
Student B: *knock knock* I have a reagent delivery for you... in my pants.
Student A: Oh yeah baby, make me matriculate! *six years later* Almost... there...

It would give a whole new meaning to "interdisciplinary collaborations."

Feel free to amuse yourself with amusing graduate school themed innuendos and title suggestions in the comments.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Can I try to Pharyngulate a poll?

The Bad Faith awards are up at the New Humanist. You can vote for who was the biggest "enemy of reason" in 2010. Let me point out who one of the choices is:
Ahhh!!! My arch-nemesis! ...If saying a stupid thing about women and science that I later mocked and accidentally turned into a viral boob related meme qualifies someone for arch-nemesis status.

Anyway, you can vote for whoever you want, since there are plenty of "deserving" candidates, but I'll be voting the pro-boobquake ticket.

Awww, I missed the Scientologists!

Their exhibit "Psychiatry: An Industry of Death" was rotating in Seattle. And when I say rotating, I mean it was temporarily in an old Hollywood Video Store. And when I say exhibit, I mean insane propaganda filled screed. Of course, I guess it's easy to be anti-psychiatry when you believe the alien Xenu came to Earth millions of years ago to drop hydrogen bombs into volcanoes and we're now all infected with the ghosts of his victims. To them, real psychological disorders probably seem normal in comparison.

Anyway, it closed for good last night. I'm secretly thankful, because I know the masochistic blogger in me would have felt compelled to check it out. Now I can just giggle about it without the inevitable facepalming.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My guest post on atheist women at Ms. Magazine

A couple of days ago Ms. Magazine's blog ran a piece claiming there were no female atheist leaders or forces, and that the atheist movement was unwilling to address the problem. After I posted my response and it spread around the atheist community, Ms. Blog asked me to do a guest post to "rectify" the previous article.

It's up now. Here's the beginning to give you a taste:
Where Are All The Atheist Women? Right Here

Is it accurate when the media portrays the atheist movement as a club for old white men? It’s undeniable that most of the time men outnumber women, whether you’re looking at conference attendees or conference speakers, blog readers or best-selling authors. But when Monica Shores wrote that “no women are currently recognized as leaders or even mentioned as a force within the movement,” the atheist community cried out.

Why? Because it’s blatantly untrue.

You can read the rest of the article here.

It's hard squeezing everything I wanted to say when working with limited space, but I tried to give a more accurate representation of all the wonderful atheist women we have in the movement. Hopefully the nonreligious women who read this piece will realize that, yes, there is a community that's welcoming to them.

Someone please make this for us evolutionary biologists

This man is a genius:
Tired of arguing with climate change deniers in 140 character quips, [Nigel Leck] wrote a script to do it for him. Chatbot @AI_AGW scans Twitter every five minutes searching for hundreds of phrases that fit the usual denier argument paradigm. Then it serves them up some science.

Those responses are pulled from a database of hundreds of responses that the software matches up to the argument made by the original tweeter. Those who claim the entire solar system is warming are met with something like: “Sun’s output has barely changed since 1970 & is irrelevant to recent global warming” followed by a link to corresponding scientific research.

People on the other end of an argument don’t usually pick up on the fact that they are arguing with a program and will continue the argument. And AI_AGW continues to fire back responses. Even when the tweeter keeps throwing the same argument at the chatbot, it will respond with a variety of different arguments and links.
Programmers, please get on this. It gets so old dealing with the same ignorant arguments over and over again. I would kill for an automated Index to Creationist Claims. Sure, we may only educate a small fraction of people making the claims - the ones who are open to science but simply haven't learned about evolution. But the rest of the time, the hilarity of watching hardcore creationists argue with a bot would make all the effort worth it.

Compared to the rest of the tree of life, your sex life is boring

Man, the news seems to be Animals After Dark the last couple of days. As a sex-obsessed biologist, I can't exactly complain. Here are some neat stories:
  • Male wasp spiders only get one chance at love, since females eat them after mating. How romantic. It used to be believed that males preferred larger, more fertile females, but it looks like what male spiders really dig are virgins. I guess it's not a bad strategy when the first male to mate with a female is most successful. Well, as long as he remembers to snap off his genital inside of her to form a chastity belt. (What, did I make some of you uncomfortable? Look, I had to stare at a scary spider to read that article for you, so shush)
  • Move over, Mary. A female boa constrictor has given virgin birth twenty two baby snakes. Parthenogenesis - the development of an embryo without fertilization from a male - has been documented in reptiles before, but this case is unique. You're probably familiar with how sex is determined in mammals - XX are female, XY are male. It many reptiles and birds, the homogametic (same sex chromosome) sex is reversed - ZZ are male, ZW are female. The surprising thing is that all of the virgin offspring were WW, which was previously thought to be nonviable. They are all essentially half clones of their mother, resulting in a duplication of just half of her genome. That, or God is sending an interesting message with his species choice for the second coming.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Why I care when the media represents atheists as sexist

This comment by Amber Surface from my earlier post was so spot on, I wanted to highlight it here:
What I find most disconcerting about pieces like this is that I know some young woman is sitting at her computer, wondering if she should even bother coming out of the religious closet.

She notes the similarities between her religion and new atheism. Her religion minimizes her contributions as a human being, but this article portrays the "new atheist movement" as doing the same. She can't find a strong, female leader in her religion because of the patriarchal roots, but this article shows that she likely couldn't find a female leader to whom she could relate, either. Her religion reduces her to chattel and objectifies her, but so do the new atheists with their "sexiest female atheist" lists.

She notes the differences. Her religion offers her community, but new atheism doesn't seem to want to welcome her or provide a social network. Her religion is generally accepted by society and her friends and family, but new atheism obviously generates distrust and dislike.

The article in Ms., a largely respected and once incredibly progressively feminist magazine, illuminates these issues to help her decide. It doesn't seem that difficult a choice once some journalist presents the arguments in this manner.
We have the potential to reach so many women when something like Ms. Magazine talks about atheism. I'm not even asking for editorials that try to convince people to become atheists. Right now I'd settle for honest representation of the atheist movement and acknowledgment that female leaders do exist. Making just one more person feel less alone in their disbelief is worth it.

But no, instead they've probably scared off the female atheists, not to mention ones who "aren't religious" or who are generally skeptical of organized religion. And those new female allies are going to have a hard time finding blogs like mine when Ms. Magazine continues to delete (or moderate?) every comment that links to my rebuttal post.

Journalism at its finest.

EDIT: Some readers say comments are finally getting through moderation. I still can't see any, but it may be an issue on my computer.

I was just contacted by Ms. Magazine about doing a guest post on the same blog about women in the atheist movement to "rectify" the lack of female atheists in the original article. Obviously I'm taking them up on their offer - now I just have to try not to screw it up.

Atheist Christmas Carol contest winners!

Today is the release of the American edition of The Atheist's Guide to Christmas! It features a bunch of new authors, including yours truly. A week ago I started a contest to give away a couple free copies of the book:
Write new lyrics for an old Christmas carol that have a godless or scientific theme.
All of your entries were so brilliant that I had an extremely hard time picking the winners! Please forgive me if yours wasn't chosen - it was tough. Here are the three winners who will be receiving copies of the book:

Winner #1: Chabneruk
To the tune of "The 12 Days of Christmas":

"On the first day a big mess exploded loud and free - remember the Big Bang Theory.

On the second day the suns and the planets came to be. No lifeforms yet,
but remember the Big Bang Theory.

On the third day volcanoes erupted ceaselessly. 'Twas pretty hot, no lifeforms yet, but remember the Big Bang Theory.

On the fourth day the landmasses grew above the sea. No God involved, still pretty hot, no lifeforms yet, but remember the Big Bang Theory.

On the fifth day the first cells swam around with glee. Naaaature is hot! No God involved, weather now fine, lifeforms are there, but remember the Big Bang Theory.

On the sixth day there's backbones and eyes for all to see. Pretty cool stuff, Naaature is hot! No God involved, weather now fine, lifeforms are glad, but remember the Big Bang Theory.

On the seventh day some lifeforms came ashore to pee. They had legs a-running, pretty cool stuff, Naaature is hot! No God involved, weather now fine, lifeforms are glad, but remember the Big Bang Theory.

On the eight day the lizards ruled the land and sea. Introduce extinction, legs a-running no help, pretty cool stuff, Naaature is hot! No God involved, weather rather cold, lifeforms are few, but remember the Big Bang Theory.

On the ninth day some pre-apes decided to stand free. Soon they were dancing, around camp fires, with legs a-running, pretty cool stuff, Naaature is hot! No God involved, weather still cold, lifeforms have fun, but remember the Big Bang Theory.

On the tenth day the first priest invented idiocy. Gods everywhere now, they want us dancing, with legs a-hurting, oh, what a shame - aaall without proof! Gods getting pop'lar, weather now warm, lifeforms do pray, no one knows the Big Bang Theory.

On the eleventh day the churches controlled the minds unfree. Just one God, which one is right, they want crusaders, with swords a-slinging, oh, what a shame - aaall without proof! Monotheism, weather quite dark, lifeforms do pray, no one knows the Big Bang Theory.

*pitch upwards*

On the twelfth day the clever ones finally broke free! No more Gods, but atheism, science is right, tell the believers: "No swords a-slinging, no holy war, Naaature is hot!" Jen writes her blog, weather is sunny, lifeforms shall think and we all love the Big Bang Theoryyyyyy!"
Winner #2: Ray
To the tune of "Angels We Have Heard on High":

We four horsemen honestly are
Unimpressed by Yaweh so far.
Explanation for creation?
Really, he's quite subpar.

Chorus:
O-oh
You can wonder at the night
You can call yourself a "Bright";
Not a smidgen of religion
Do you need for living right!

Harris:
If you think some cultural swill
Makes it right to torture and kill,
That's perverse, not just diverse:
Maybe you're mentally ill.

[Chorus]

Dennett:
Made by evolution are we,
Built to act beneficently.
Since we're soulless, we control us:
We can be truly free

[Chorus]

Dawkins:
Nature's strange selection machine
Need not make you nasty or mean
Or a creep. The nicest people
Came from a selfish gene

[Chorus]

Hitchens:
Humans shouldn't cower or crawl;
Faith just makes us hateful and small,
We'll start growing strong by knowing
God isn't great at all!
Grand Prize Winner: Quester

Really, there's no difference in the prizes, but every one of Quester's songs cracked me up, so I thought they deserved special distinction:
To tune of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer":

There's Mercury, Saturn,
Neptune and Venus,
Jupiter, Earth,
Mars and Uranus,
but someone has morphed
our ninth planet into a dwarf.

Pluto's a minor planet
according to the IAU.
Better not criticize them,
or they will redefine you, too.
Eris may be more massive
and Ceres trying to compete
but now that we've demoted Pluto
our solar system's incomplete.

From 1930 to 2006
Pluto was planet nine
but a recalculation of it's mass
put it's status in decline.

Still, Pluto is special
Maybe soon IAU'll agree
To re-redefine the moon Charon
and Pluto as a binary!


To the tune of "Silver Bells":

Get yourself some ferrous metals-
nickel, iron, cobalt, steel,-
each of these
are attracted
to magnets.

They have north poles
and have south poles.
Opposite poles attract.
But can anyone tell me how magnets work?

Miracles. Miracles?
That might satisfy a clown posse.
Hypothesize. Experiment.
Maybe we'll find out the truth!

Running current
through a wire
creates a magnetic field
so this may involve
moving electrons.

The Ampere model
of the magnet
presumes circular bound currents,
but who even knows what
that means?

Miracles. Miracles.
These mark the place we have stopped thinking.
Magnetic force? Magnetic fields?
Reality can blow us away!


To the tune of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town":

"You better watch out
You better beware,"
Sedighi warns us
all to take care,
"women are immodestly dressed."

"They corrupt chasity,
lead young men astray,
the power of their cleavage causes moral decay.
Women are immodestly dressed."

Can miniskirts cause earthquakes
as Sedighi insists?
Let's put this thory to the test!
What scientist could resist?

So, pull on short shorts,
or something tight-fit,
choose your best weapons
and laugh for a bit.
Maybe we can cause a boobquake!
Congratulations to Chabneruk, Ray, and Quester! Like I said, it was really difficult picking three, since you guys did an excellent job. Here are some honorable mentions that I also enjoyed:

Even though UncountablyFinite couldn't get his camera to sync, I was impressed by his singing ability!


Elizabeth Anne also impressed me with her singing ability, and got bonus points for raunchy lyrics:


EdenBunny's songs make the Grinch in me giggle:
To the tune of "Oh Christmas Tree"

Oh solstice tree, oh solstice tree,
Leftover ancient ritual,
It seems to be
The masses re-
-spect it ‘cos it’s habitual.

Oh what a joy to kill a tree,
Expend much electricity,
Eventually, the waste will be,
Disposed of quite expediently.

Oh solstice tree, what fun to see
Your pointless luminosity.
Oh solstice tree, oh solstice tree,
Environmental atrocity.


To the tune of "Deck the Halls"

Fa la la la la, la la la la.
In our public education,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Answer reason with defiance,
Fa la la, la la la, la la la.
Totally ignoring science,
Fa la la la la, la la, la la.
Kids believe what they are to-old,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Earth is six thousand years o-old,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
God used melanin to da-amn,
Fa la la, la la la, la la la,
All the descendants of Ha-am,
Fa la la la la, la la, la la.

Schools can make religious pitches,
Fa la la la la, la la la la,
Kill the homos and the witches,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
We are normal and they’re o-odd
Fa la la, la la la, la la la,
Because that’s the word of Go-od,
Fa la la la la, la la, la la.
Good thing Ray won with his other song, because I think she momentarily forgot who was judging this contest:
To the tune of "Must Be Santa Claus"

Who’s got a beak and a bunch of arms?
Squid’s got a beak and a bunch of arms.

Who wins our love with its squiddly charms?
Squid wins our love with its squiddly charms.

Beak and arms, squidly charms:

Must be cephalo-
Must be cephalo-
Must be cephalo- cephalopods!

Who lies around in Jurassic shales?
Squid lies around in Jurassic shales.

Who’s inspiration for Lovecraft’s tales?
Squid’s inspiration for Lovecraft’s tales.

Beak and arms, squiddly charms,
Long time gone, Cthulhu ftagn:

Must be cephalo-
Must be cephalo-
Must be cephalo- cephalopods!

Who washes up on the ocean shores?
Squid washes up on the ocean shores.

Who likes to shoot spermatophores?
Squid likes to shoot spermatophores.

Beak and arms, squiddly charms,
Long time gone, Cthulhu ftagn,
Ocean wrecks, freaky sex:

Must be cephalo-
Must be cephalo-
Must be cephalo- cephalopods!

Who’s in the order called Teuthida?
Squid’s in the order called Teuthida.

Who’s also found in Spirulida?
Squid’s also found in Spirulida.

Who’s got a cell of enormous size?
Squid’s got a cell of enormous size.

Whose cell has won the Nobel prize?
Squid’s cell has won the Nobel prize.

Beak and arms, squiddly charms,
Long time gone, Cthulhu ftagn,
Ocean wrecks, freaky sex,
Teuthid taxon, giant axon:

Must be cephalo-
Must be cephalo-
Must be cephalo- cephalopods!
And finally, Fredjs73 wins the award for "Putting Your Fantasies About a Blogger To Verse And Making Her Laugh Instead of Run Away." A dangerous award to attempt, but exciting to win, I'm sure (his bashful pre-apologizing and my twisted sense of humor helped).
T'was the night before Christmas and all through the flat
Not a Guinness was pouring, from neither bottle nor vat.
The stockings were hung by the bedpost with care
While the fresh scent of Astroglide hung through the air.

The heathens were nestled all snug on the floor
While visions of Jager Bombs tormented them more.
Sweet Blag Hag in her blanky and I in the buff
Had just finished up from some lovin' 'n' stuff.

When out on the street there arose such a clatter
I tripped o'er my cockring to see what was the matter.
Away to the door with my hands on my junk
For to not shock my old neighbor, Miss Gwendoline Funk!

I tore open the door and felt chills in me nuts
Without care, without worry for appearing a klutz.
When, what to my unsober eyes should appear,
But an ol' rusted nineteen-ninety-nine blue Cavalier!

With a little old driver, so lively and wired,
I knew it a moment - it's ol' PZ Myers!
More rapid than vertebrates, his coursers they came
Through his full and grey beard he did call them by name.

"Now, Sepia, Architeuthis, Cuttlebone and Radula!
On Nautilus, Onykia, and smug Argonauta!
Go up to the porch to that uncircumsised guy!"
And once they had done so, what did I espy?

A bottomless case of both beer and vermuth
What treasure, what wonder and what generous couth!
Said PZ "Now, sir, you must tend back to Jen
For methinks she is waiting for some lovin' again!

I reached in the case but more than beverage I saw
T'was a coupon for pizza, poutine and cole slaw!
I thanked him and smiled, both some horny and famished
When PZ he pointed, "To thy bed ye be banished!"

Away he then flew with his wet, squishy crew
Into the cold night back to blog and review.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight:
"Happy Christmas, now back to pleasure Ms. Jen McCreight!
Man, you guys were great! I'm looking forward to seeing YouTube videos of these pop up closer to Christmas. Well, maybe the last one doesn't need animation...

Thanks to everyone who participated!