“This American Life” on NPR covers (and denies the existence of) free will

NPR aired a two-part segment, “Where there is a will”, but the second part is about free will, and is hosted by producer David Kestenbaum, who rejects the idea of free will. He interviews two scientists (see below), both of whom also reject free will: Robert Sapolsky and Melissa Franklin.

Note that none of the participants embrace a “compatibilist” version of free will. As with most people, everyone conceives of free will as libertarian “you-could-have-done-otherwise” free will. As Sam Harris noted, this is because we really feel that we have that kind of dualistic agency, and that’s the only reason that libertarian free will is worth talking about. Compatibilist free will is seen as “free will” almost exclusively by philosophers.

Have a listen to this 14-minute segment (click on screenshot) and hear Sapolsky finally come clean as a hard determinist.

Reader David called my attention to this segment, and rather than summarize the piece, let me just append David’s take (indented):

The episode is up now. I listened to it live on Saturday, but free will was discussed only in the last 15 minutes (the rest is on Newt Gingrich, giving him credit/blame for today’s political discourse). Fortunately, they have it broken out into acts 1 and 2 so you can just listen to the free will segment. I thought it was very well done and it’s great to see this discussed in a mainstream forum. [JAC: Agreed!]

Here are my brief notes…

David Kestenbaum did the segment (I didn’t realize he has a Harvard physics PhD)

  • David has been thinking about (lack of) free will for a while but finally got the courage to discuss it on the show
  • Explains 4 forces of physical universe that control everything
  • They leave no room for “free will”

Interviews Robert Sapolsky, Stanford neuroscientist

  • Goal of book “Behave” was to gently lead people to conclude there’s no free will
  • Implications: don’t be so proud, don’t hate people for doing bad things, rethink our criminal justice system
  • Sapolsky says this is all he thinks about these days

Interviews Melissa Franklin, Harvard physics professor

  • No evidence for free will, it’s very unlikely
  • People hoping for magic or God

Woman’s March creator asks the four co-chairs, including Perez, Mallory, and Sarsour, to step down; new accusations surface about conflicts of interest and mismanagement of funds

Teresa Shook bills herself as “Founder of the Women’s March,” and there’s some justification for that according to the Wikipedia page on the 2017 Women’s March (the first one):

In November 9, 2016, the day after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, in reaction to Trump’s election campaign and political views, and his defeat of female presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Teresa Shook of Hawaii created a Facebook event and invited friends to march on Washington in protest. Similar Facebook pages created by Evvie Harmon, Fontaine Pearson, Bob Bland (a New York fashion designer), Breanne Butler, and others quickly led to thousands of women signing up to march. Harmon, Pearson, and Butler decided to unite their efforts and consolidate their pages, beginning the official Women’s March on Washington. To ensure that the march was led by women of differing races and backgrounds, Vanessa Wruble, co-founder, and co-president of Okayafrica, served as Head of Campaign Operations and brought on Tamika D. Mallory, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour to serve as National Co-Chairs alongside Bland. Former Miss New Jersey USA Janaye Ingram served as Head of Logistics. Filmmaker Paola Mendoza served as Artistic Director and a National Organizer.

I haven’t written much about Bob Bland (Bland is a woman whose real name is Mari Lynn Bland), for she hasn’t been on my radar since I’ve been following Sarsour, Perez and Mallory sucking up to Louis Farrakhan and praising cop-killers and terrorists. But Bland was among the four people whom, according to The Hill and other sources, Shook has asked to resign as co-presidents of the Women’s March.  Shook wrote a post on her Facebook page asking for Bland, Perez, Mallory, and Sarsour to step down and “let others lead who can restore faith in the Movement and its original intent.”

Shooks’s reasons are the same one that led Alyssa Milano and then Deborah Messing to separate themselves from the Women’s Movement: the connection of those who lead an supposedly intersectionalist movement with arrant anti-Semites and homophobes, and bigots against transgender people.

Here’s Shook’s post from her Facebook page (click on the screenshot to see the original post):

We also know that the Women’s March, Inc., the firm run by Sarsour et al., organizes only the March in Washington: other cities’ marches are organized independently. Nevertheless, the NYC March has accused Sarsour of bullying tactics, trying to control the NYC March. In return, the Women’s March, Inc. has sued to gain complete control over the name “Women’s March.”

The Women’s March, Inc. is the big vehicle for Sarsour, Perez, Mallory and Bland to remain in the public eye and relevant, though I don’t doubt that in three of these people—I’m excluding the odious Sarsour—there is a real intent to remedy injustice and oppression against women of all stripes. (Sarsour, I think, is in it for her own political ambitions, her own self-aggrandizement, and perhaps to further an Islamist agenda). At any rate, I don’t expect any of these women to go gentle into oblivion. Sarsour, for one, would just go back to being, as she used to call herself, “an ordinary white girl.” Nothing special about that! And so the three have responded on the Women’s March Facebook page (click on screenshot below to go to the post):

Here we see the usual response to criticism of the Women’s March: such criticism constitutes an irresponsible attack on women of color (isn’t it important that all women unite in the Women’s March?). And there’s no sign that these four are going to give up their jobs. However, their movement is splintering rapidly, and I think it unseemly that any women would march under a banner carried by Perez, Mallory, Sarsour, and Bland.

It becomes even worse because, as one site reports, the Women’s March, Inc. leaders are using Nation of Islam members as bodyguards as well as misusing the March’s funds.

This accusation comes not from some outside critic, but from Mercy Morganfield, a black woman who was past president of the Washington, D.C. chapter of the Woman’s March. Have a gander at her comment on Shook’s post below (click on screenshot to see the original). She accuses the co-Presidents of “traveling with a glam squad,” using a Nation of Islam detail as  security guards (if this is true, it partly explains the refusal of Sarsour, Perez, and Mallory to directly criticize Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism and homophobia), of “flying their friends and family everywhere,” and staying in five-star hotels.

If these allegations are true—and the press should surely check on them—then all four co-Presidents should step down immediately (Morganfield wants six people to step down).

The most important allegation to check is Morganfield’s claim that Nation of Islam guards (perhaps the “Fruit of Islam” detail that guards Farrakhan as well) serve as security for the Women’s March. Given Farrakhan’s history of bigotry and the accusations that the Women’s March leaders are in bed with Farrakhan, this is a clear financial and moral conflict of interest. Perhaps some very weak evidence comes from the exchange below (“very weak” because it shows only that Sarsour has a security detail, though it doesn’t specify who they are).

So who does compose that security detail? Inquiring minds want to know.

Of course you won’t read about any of this in the mainstream press, which keeps their hands off women of color. But you can bet that if the Women’s March were a right-wing organization, the press would be all over it like ugly on a frog.


WordPress blocks me again at the behest of Pakistan

I thought my entire website had already been blocked by WordPress in the country of Pakistan after the Pakistani government complained that my posts were “extremely Blasphemous and are hurting the sentiments of many Muslims around Pakistan.” So imagine my surprise when I got another note from WordPress yesterday, telling me that the Pakistani government had complained about the content of one of my posts from three years ago (some Muslim Pecksniff must have been rooting around and found it). As with the last time, WordPress decided to remove the offending content from whatever was sent to Pakistan. The correspondence from WordPress, enclosing the complaint from the Pakistani government, follows:


Nov 19, 22:37 UTC


A Pakistan authority has demanded that we disable the following content on your WordPress.com site:


Unfortunately, we must comply to keep WordPress.com accessible for everyone in the region. As a result, we have disabled this content only for Internet visitors originating from Pakistan. They will instead see a message explaining why the content was blocked.

Visitors from outside of Pakistan are not affected.

You and your readers may be interested in these suggestions for bypassing Internet restrictions.

For your reference, we have included a copy of the complaint. No reply is necessary, but please let us know if you have any questions.

Signed by a WordPress “Community Guardian”


— Begin complaint —
Dear WordPress Team,

I am writing on behalf of Web Analysis Team of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) which has been designated for taking appropriate measures for regulating Internet Content in line with the prevailing laws of Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

In lieu of above it is highlighted that few of the web pages hosted on your platform are extremely Blasphemous and are hurting the sentiments of many Muslims around Pakistan. The same has also been declared blasphemous under Pakistan Peal Code section 295- B and is in clear violation of Section 37 of Prevention of Electronic Crime Act (PECA) 2016 and Section 19 of Constitution of Pakistan.

The below mentioned websites can be found on following URL’s:-


  1. https://whyevolutionistrue.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/momo1web.jpg?w=400&h=585


You are requested to contribute towards maintaining peace and harmony in the world by discontinuation of hosting of these websites for viewership in Pakistan with immediate effect. We will be happy to entertain any query if deemed necessary and looking forward for your favorable response at your earliest.


Web Analysis Team

Apparently my entire site hadn’t been blocked, or there was some error. But YAY! I’m a blasphemer! You might ask what the “offending content” was. It is this cover from Charlie Hebdo, showing the Prophet (PBOH) leading a camel:

Well, we certainly can’t let the Pakistani people see that, can we? One thing is sure: I’ll never go to Pakistan, for there my life wouldn’t be worth a plugged rupee.

The Pakistani government is ridiculous, treating its population like children. But in fact they often act like children, as in the case of Aasiya Noreen (“Asia Bibi”), the Pakistani Christian woman who spent eight years in prison after false accusations of blasphemy, recently set free by Pakistan’s High Court. Many Pakistanis rioted when she was freed, and the country was shut down, the schools closed, and the military sent out to keep order. There is a powerful political party in Pakistan, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), dedicated solely to the punishment of blasphemy. This resembles nothing more than a bunch of spoiled and entitled college students, and this is what happens when those kind of entitled people gain power.

Now my situation is nothing like that of Noreen, but it does show how, at least in Pakistan, religion has poisoned everything. I have nothing but contempt for a government that caters to superstition in this way, and kills people for drawing satirical pictures of a supposed prophet.

And that contempt extends to WordPress. They are in effect acting as an arm of the Pakistani government, censoring what should be free speech so they can sell their product in Pakistan. Facing a conflict between its avowed aims of free speech and its potential loss of revenue in Pakistan, WordPress has chosen to worship the god Mammon.

When this first happened, I complained to WordPress about their acting as an enforcer for Pakistan, but of course I got no reply. All you’ll see by way of justification is their statement above, “we must comply to keep WordPress.com accessible for everyone in the region.” Translation: “we have to block you because we need the money.”

It’s reprehensible, and people should know that WordPress does this.

Readers’ wildlife photos

Luke Hunter, President and Chief Conservation Officer of Panthera, a wild-cat rescue organization highly ranked by Charity Navigator, and worthy of a donation (give here), sent some photos of a hydrophilic jaguar (Panthera onca) from the Amazon, enticing me to visit. I just found these photos, which were sent a bit more than a year ago. Luke’s notes:

If you ever want to see wild jaguars/find yourself in Brazil, there’s a spot in the Brazilian Pantanal where it is virtually certain to see them at the right time of year (the end of the dry season, Aug-early Oct.)—pretty much the only place on earth where that’s true. I was there last month, here are a few shots to tempt you…

The pix are actually from one terrific encounter, we came upon a male striding along the river edge, making no effort to be quiet or covert (making a helluva ruckus actually, moving thru the riparian forest). He came out onto a river beach and strode into the river & swam across in front of our boat. Moments later, a massive female came out of the forest, following him (the magnificently marked cat with her tail in the air, last shot I sent). It seemed she was seeing him off!


Tuesday: Hili dialogue

I was saddened to learn that Chicago has now had its own mass shooting: yesterday afternoon a police-department trainee shot up Mercy Hospital on the South Side, killing three, including an active police officer. The gunman died as well, though it’s not clear whether he killed himself or was shot by the police.

Back to the regular post:

Tuesday (November 20, 2018) is the cruelest day, but Americans have Thanksgiving to look forward to, and a four-day weekend as well. Today, though, is National Peanut Butter Fudge Day, as well as Transgender Day of Remembrance.

On this day in 1789, New Jersey became the first U.S. state to ratify the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution). On November 20, 1805, Beethoven’s Fidelio (his only opera) premiered in Vienna.

On November 20, 1820, as Wikipedia notes, “An 80-ton sperm whale attacks and sinks the Essex (a whaling ship from Nantucket, Massachusetts) 2,000 miles from the western coast of South America. (Herman Melville’s 1851 novel Moby-Dick is in part inspired by this story.”  I didn’t know Moby-Dick was based on something like that, nor that a sperm whale could sink a whaling ship. But the history, at least, is real, and also involves cannibalism! Wikipedia then says this about the Essex:

Essex was an American whaler from Nantucket, Massachusetts, which was launched in 1799. In 1820, while at sea in the southern Pacific Ocean under the command of Captain George Pollard Jr., she was attacked and sunk by a sperm whale. Stranded thousands of miles from the coast of South America with little food and water, the 20-man crew was forced to make for land in the ship’s surviving whaleboats.

The men suffered severe dehydration, starvation, and exposure on the open ocean, and the survivors eventually resorted to eating the bodies of the crewmen who had died. When that proved insufficient, members of the crew drew lots to determine who they would sacrifice so that the others could live. A total of seven crew members were cannibalized before the last of the eight survivors were rescued, more than three months after the sinking of the Essex. First mate Owen Chase and cabin boy Thomas Nickerson later wrote accounts of the ordeal. The tragedy attracted international attention, and inspired Herman Melville to write his famous novel Moby-Dick.

One person was shot so that he could be eaten. You can read more about this at Smithsonian.com (click on screenshot below):

On this day in 1945, the Nuremberg trials, with accusations against 24 Nazi war criminals, began at the Palace of Justice in the eponymous city.  On November 20, 1947 (71 years ago!), Princess Elizabeth married Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten. She became Queen Elizabeth II on February 6, 1952.  Finally, it was on this day in 1985 that Microsoft released Windows 1.0.

Notables born on this day include Kenesaw Mountain Landis (1866; what a name!), Edwin Hubble (1889), Alistair Cooke (1908), Robert F. Kennedy (1925, shot 1968), Suze Rotolo (1943; Wikipedia’s Nov. 20 entry says she’s still alive but she is not; one of her friends told me she died in 2011), Duane Allman (1946), Joe Walsh (1947), Bo Derek (1956), and Ming-Na Wen (1963).

Those who died on November 20 include Christian Goldbach (1764), Leo Tolstoy (1910), Allan Sherman (1973), and Robert Altman (2006). Let us remember that Goldbach’s Conjecture remains one of the most famous unproven theorems in mathematics; it states every integer larger than 2 can be expressed as the sum of two prime numbers.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is sensing the onset of winter, and doesn’t like it:

Hili: I prefer when the leaves are green.
A: Me too.
In Polish:
Hili: Wolałam jak te liście były zielone.
Ja: Ja też.

Matthew sent a cartoon illustrating a feline version of the Turing Test. This is from Zach Weinersmith’s SMBC series:

A tweet from reader Nilou, illustrating the concept of “tough love” in animals:


Tweets from Grania:

This is why you don’t get huge forest fires in Finland:

A cheetah mom trying to herd cubs:

The chewee is remarkably calm:

I’ve known this one for years, but maybe it’s new to you:

Tweets from Matthew. OMG I’d never before seen Tasmanian devil “cubs” (or whatever they call them), but they’re adorable!

The Unbearable Tenacity of Geese:

Nicole persisted!


Comedy wildlife photo awards

The Comedy Wildlife Photography awards are a reliable source of animal LOLs (I posted last year’s winners here). Now this year’s awards are out, and D|Y Photography presents the finalists. Here seven to whet your appetite, but I’m sure I’ll miss some of your favorites. Go over and see the rest.

© Jonathan Irish/The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2018


© Shane Keena/The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2018


© Sarah Devlin/The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2018


© Muriel Vekemans/The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2018

You already know the caption for this one!

© Maureen Toft/The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2018


© Luca Venturi/The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2018


© Luca Venturi/The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2018



More virulent anti-Semitism and calls on Palestinian state TV for getting rid of Israel

If you’re going to indict a country in the Middle East for being an “apartheid State”, the last one you’d say would be Israel. Palestine is far more apartheidish, though I don’t like to use a word specific for a period of South African history.  Jews can’t live in Palestine, although Muslims can live in Israel as citizens, there are of course no Jews governing Palestine, though there are Muslim Arabs in the Israeli Knesset, and the national media of Palestine constantly spews the most virulent hatred toward Jews and Israel. It’s not just criticism of the Israeli government, either, but demands for the extirpation of the country and its engulfment by Palestine.

What’s even worse is the propagandizing of Palestinian children in schools and on state media: making them from a very young age hate Israel and Jews, and turning them into potential “martyrs”. To quote the song from South Pacific:

You have got to be taught to hate and fear
Day after day, year after year
You have got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You have got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six, or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

Needless to say, none of this kind of stuff is on Israeli television. But of course the Palestine-loving Left doesn’t care about these facts. I wonder what they’d say when confronted with the videos. Well, for those with an open mind, let’s have a look at a few recent clips from PA TV, the official television channel of the Palestinian Authority. These come from Palestinian Media Watch (PMW); and all notes below are from its website.

A Palestinian girl calls for war in a show just this month. (The song appears to be her own.)

Palestinian girl Raghad: “All my Arabness calls me to vengeance and liberation…
Thousands of prisoners… call to this great nation and call to millions and say to them:
To war that will smash the oppression and destroy the Zionist’s soul
and raise the Palestinian banner in the world’s sky
And strengthen my word that goes on:
Palestinian, Palestinian, Palestinian.”

Official PA TV host of The Best Home: “Bravo, bravo! You are very talented.”

A childrens-show television host (the same one above) calls for the destruction of Israel (show in 2015):

Puppet Marwan:‎ “How beautiful is the sea and the view. Director, take a shot of it. ‎This is Tel Aviv. Take a look. It was named Tel Aviv after Jaffa was occupied. Can you ‎believe it? Jaffa was here and it became Tel Aviv…‎”

PA TV host:‎ “Good for you, Marwan, you went to see Jaffa and had fun there… My ‎friends, I am telling you that for sure Jaffa, and not only Jaffa but also Haifa, Acre, ‎Nazareth and all the Palestinian cities occupied in 1948 will return to us one day.‎”

A Palestinian girl sings for the extirpation of Israel:

Palestinian girl Nour: “A Zionist stole the land of Palestine,
War, destruction, murder, and wailing,
We were uprooted and the world called us refugees (i.e., in 1948),
We have sacrificed millions of Martyrs for the sake of your return, Palestine…
We said a year, two years – they have become 70 (i.e., since Israel’s creation in 1948),
Rebel, rebel, O people of the giants,
And shoot with your fire, like volcanoes,
So Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa [Mosque] will return to us, O Muslims…
And Allah willing we will be victorious, and everyone will be witnesses,
We are returning. By Allah, we are returning,
Even if the entire world gives up on you, your children won’t, O Palestine…”

Official PA TV host of The Best Home: “Bravo! […] I want to tell you, as my friend Nour has said, we are returning. Soon, Allah willing, we will return to our land… Every one of us can resist the occupation wherever he is, and in our different ways so we can bring back Palestine. Children, are we capable of bringing it back? Are you sure? Good.”

Would you gather from this stuff that Palestine would be satisfied with a two-state solution? I don’t think so.

I’d love to sit Linda Sarsour down and make her watch some of these videos, and then ask for her reaction.

h/t: Malgorazata

Orthodox Jews force El Al planes to divert and land so they wouldn’t be flying on the Sabbath

A regular feature of this site are reports of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jewish men refusing to sit next to women, often involving kerfuffles and lawsuits.  The lawsuits have been successful, and this is one example of how religious customs that interfere with secular regulations should be put aside, especially during airline flights.

Now, however, according to the Times of Israel (click on screenshot below), there’s another version of the Flying Jew Tsouris:

Two El Al airliners took off from New York last Thursday, bound for Israel. Both, however, were late because of dire weather conditions, which got the Haredim very anxious, for Jewish law dictates that you can’t travel in cars and airplanes on the Sabbath, which happens to start at sundown on Friday.  The Haredim got aggressive, either yelling at or even hitting flight attendants, accusing the airlines of lying to them, and demanding to disembark after the plane was already on the runway.  The two videos below show the anxiety in the flying Haredim:

Amazingly, one of the planes actually landed in Athens to let the Haredim disembark so that Yahweh wouldn’t be mad at them, and the other was going to divert to Rome, but continued on instead to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv because of the medical condition of one woman on the flight—a woman who needed to get to Israel.

I’m amazed that El Al actually diverted one of its flights to allow its Orthodox passengers to disembark, which was nice of them (although an annoyance for the passengers whose God didn’t mind them flying), and almost diverted the other flight. But it’s simply ridiculous that this happened in the first place. If the Haredim in New York thought that the delay would put them in the air on Friday sundown, they didn’t have to get on the flight (note: some of them claim that El Al assured them they’d get to Israel before sundown).

The truth here may be a bit hazy, but surely a decent G-d would forgive a Jew flying on the Sabbath if it resulted from a snowstorm. After all, G-d made the snowstorm—and could have stopped it! The Haredim need to chill.


h/t: Mole at the counter

Can celebrity endorsements help people accept evolution?

The short answer to the question above is “yes”. Or so suggests new research on acceptance of evolution published in Evolutionary Psychology (click on screenshot below; access free with Unpaywall app and free pdf is here).

The method: Several samples of people from Canada (most from a “small university in northern Ontario”, probably Nipissing University) were given one of three fictitious passages to read; these passages were either pro-evolution, anti-evolution, or neutral (the last was a summary of a work of fiction). Participant’s religious beliefs as well as demographic data were also taken. There were four experiments in total, and I’ll summarize the results briefly. One of the passages involved my book, though it wasn’t from my book; I’ll put that in along with the “antievolution passsage” as examples of the readings (pictures of the book covers were also included):

1.) Acceptance of evolution after reading the three passages. After controlling for sex and age, the three passages by themselves had no effect on participant’s acceptance of evolution as judged by the often-used MATE test, which has 18 questions. In other words, reading about evolution (or fiction) didn’t affect a person’s short-term acceptance of evolution. (Although acceptance/rejection wasn’t assessed before reading, the passages were randomized among the 150 subjects, presumably taking care of stuff like religiosity—which was negatively correlated with acceptance of evolution).

The fact that students’ reading of the three passages had no overall effect on their MATE scores set up the scenario for the rest of the study, which involved adding endorsements to the passages: endorsements by either an “expert” in evolution (a fictitious professor) or a celebrity (George Clooney or Emma Watson, chosen for their likability and recognition.

2.) Endorsements by a male celebrity vs a male expert; student population. Students again were randomly assigned one of the three passages, and this time each passage was accompanied by a heading indicating it was from a magazine article called “Celebrity book review”, with the celebrity being George Clooney, or “Expert book review”, with the “expert” being fictitious American university professor George Rooney. Thus we have six conditions, with pro-evolution, anti-evolution, and neutral passages, each with an endorsement by a celebrity or expert. Remember that both celebrity and expert could endorse either pro- or anti-evolution stands.

The result was that, compared to the initial non-endorsement condition shown in 1.) above, a celebrity endorsement or a pro-evolution passage raised acceptance of evolution compared to the neutral condition, while Clooney’s endorsement of an anti-evolution passage lowered it compared to the neutral condition. In other words, a celebrity endorsement had an effect on acceptance of evolution.

This was not seen when the three passages were endorsed by an evolution science expert; here there was no effect. The figure below shows the effect of Clooney’s endorsement (left three bars) compared to Rooney’s (right three bars):

(From paper) Figure 1. Mean differences in acceptance of evolution scores across opinion (proevolution, anti-evolution, and control) and purveyor (celebrity, expert) conditions. †p < .01. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

3.) Endorsements by a celebrity vs an expert; “community” population. Here the authors did the same test, but used only Clooney and not the expert, and surveyed 157 people “recruited form various public locations. . . in a small city in Northern Ontario, Canada.” There was no assessment of the passages themselves without endorsement, but the authors apparently assumed that reading the passages themselves had no effect on the MATE score—as was found in the student population.

The result was the same: there was a significant difference between treatments in the expected direction (effects weren’t that large for the pro-evolution endorsement), showing once again a celebrity effect (see below). As I said, there was no test of endorsement by an expert scientist. But there’s a problem because there was no initial test of the effects of the passages themselves, without endorsements, on the “community members”, so there’s that critical assumption that the community mirrors the condition of the students.

(From paper) Figure 2. Mean differences in acceptance of evolution scores across opinion (pro-evolution, anti-evolution, and control) purveyed by a male celebrity among a community sample. †p < .01. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

4.) Endorsements by a female celebrity; student population. Here the celebrity was Emma Watson rather than George Clooney, and there was no comparison with an evolution “expert” (who would presumably have been a woman scientist). Let me show why they chose Watson:

Emma Watson was chosen as the female celebrity because she was included in Time Magazine’s 2015 list of the 100 most influential people. Additionally, AskMen.com (2015) placed her at the top of its list of the Top 99 Outstanding Women, in part because she is “rich, successful, famous, stylish, beautiful, intelligent, personable, and kind.”

Well, that’s more or less the same criteria used for Clooney. And once again the celebrity endorsement had an effect on the data from 158 students recruited from that same “small University in Northern Ontario” (why do they hide its name; it’s obvious!). Here are the data for Watson’s endorsement; the direction and size of the effect (i.e. the degree to which endorsement of evolution increased acceptance or criticism of evolution decreased acceptance) was about the same for Watson or Clooney.

(From paper): Mean differences in acceptance of evolution scores across opinion (pro-evolution, anti-evolution, and control) purveyed by a female celebrity. p < .01. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

The upshot. In this study, among all three groups (with the caveats given above), celebrity endorsement of a position on evolution changed students’ or the population’s views on evolution in the expected direction, whether that endorsement be an affirmation or a criticism. In other words, evolution is like a product that can be sold more readily if a celebrity endorses it (the authors cite data showing positive effects of such endorsement in commercials).

Further, a celebrity had a much bigger effect than that of a fictitious “expert”. In fact, endorsement or criticism of evolution by a scientist had no effect. These celebrity effects occurred irregardless of the effect of participants’ religiosity, which itself was negatively correlated with acceptance of evolution.

Of course there are limitations of these tests. The authors mention the limitation of much of the study to undergraduate students, and to a “young, Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic sample.” Maybe celebrities don’t have an effect on other populations.  But the authors don’t mention another significant issue: the effect was measured only in the short term, presumably within an hour after reading the passages. We don’t know if this kind of “priming” has any long term effect on acceptance of evolution, which you’d need to measure a long time after the students read the passages. What we’re like to see is long-term acceptance, not short-term acceptance.

I guess I’m not surprised at the result, as we know that people tend to accept ideas more readily when those ideas are endorsed by members of their “tribe,” and I suppose that people like Clooney and Watson, who are widely admired, can be considered members of the Canadians’ “tribe.” It’s not clear whether people can see a scientist as a member of their tribe.

But what action does this result suggest if we want people to accept evolution? I suppose it couldn’t hurt to have celebrities endorse evolution, though I’m not aware of any who have. (Of course, celebrities, at least in Hollywood, tend to be liberal and Democratic, and so probably would endorse evolution). So by all means let’s get the NSF to gather celebrity endorsements and publicize them.

Since I’m not a celebrity, though, all I can do is talk about the data supporting evolution, as I’m no George Clooney! Maybe a combination of a scientist and celebrity, as with people like Brian Cox (previously a rock star) or Neil deGrasse Tyson, would work better than scientists alone.

All I can say is that if endorsements work over the long term, that’s fine; but people should also look at the data supporting evolution rather than simply relying on either scientist-experts or celebrities. After all, you can understand why evolution is true without fancy degrees in science.

Readers’ wildlife photos

Today we have the final installment of Joe Dickinson’s photos from his trip to Africa in 2012. Joe’s captions are indented:

There were some female greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) in previous sets, including one facing down a leopard.  Here is a nice male.

We often saw bush elephants (Loxodonta africana) proceeding in line with a large female leading and the smallest member tucked somewhere in the middle.

We did not see very many hippos (Hippopotamus amphibius) completely out of the water.  This one has several oxpeckers on it, probably yellow-billed (Buphagus africanus) based on the pale underside.

We spent some time watching a group of elephants that used a bit of badlands-like riverbank to come down for a drink.  One baby is too young to have learned to drink using its trunk, so it has to get its face down in the water.

Here are a couple of nice groups of plains zebra (Equus quagga).  The second shot also has some impala (Aepyceros melampus) in the background.

And, finally, some more impala, first a fairly large herd and then a group running, with a dominant male in the center.  Can you see also two juvenile males still tolerated within the harem?