ID advocates mock determinism, insist on libertarian free will and human exceptionalism

The boys over at the Discovery Institute (DI) spend a lot of time mocking me online, but I rarely pay attention. And when I do, I’m sort of flattered, and for two reasons: they think that what I write here is important enough to attack, and because when those creationist mushbrains go after me, I know I’m doing something right. I despise their ignorant brand of creationism, “Intelligent Design”, whose advocates claim that some unspecified designer, rather than evolution, is responsible for living creatures. It’s an open secret, though, that for them the designer is the Judeo-Christian God (not Allah!), and so they can’t help going after me when I criticize religion.

You’d think that they’d keep their religious motivations secret, for, after all, Intelligent Design was rejected by the courts because it was descried for what it is: a gussied-up form of traditional creationism “designed” to get religion snuck into public school biology classes—like a Trojan Horse with Jesus inside. But they’re so bursting to tell us the Good News that they can’t properly conceal their motives.

The two people who seem obsessed with going after me (if I were PuffHo I’d call them “haters”) are Michael Egnor, a creationist Catholic neurosurgeon whose name allows many puns, and David Klinghoffer, the only Orthodox Jew in the DI.

Egnor’s new post, “Without free will there is no justice“, excoriates me for my determinism, using as an example my recent post on Manson “girl” Leslie Van Houten. (In that post, I argued that after 45 years in jail, and every sign that she’s reformed, Van Houten should be released. Keeping her in jail is not good for either her or society). And Egnor’s piece reminds us that there are still many people who accept libertarian free will.

Egno piece is a good example of how many people misunderstand—deliberately or out of ignorance—how “agency” works. In the case of Abrahamic religionists, most (except for Calvinists) have to believe in libertarian free will, the kind where, if you could rewind history at a “decision point”, with everything absolutely identical to before, you still could have done something differently from what you did. Without that ability to choose between “right” and “wrong,” Christianity, Judaism, and Islam collapse, for what kind of God would reward or punish you in the afterlife if you couldn’t have “chosen otherwise”? And, of course, in Islam and Christianity you’re also rewarded for accepting Jesus as your savior or Mohammed as your prophet.

Therefore, Egnor must argue that determinism must be wrong as an explanation of human behavior, for it not only fails to explain true libertarian free will, which for some reason he thinks we have, but also nullifies the possibility of “justice.”  To Egnor, “justice” absolutely requires us to have libertarian free will, which allows us to assign moral responsibility to people. As many believe, true moral responsibility requires the libertarian you-could-have-done-otherwise form of free will.  But I’ve argued that can still have responsibility without libertarian free will, and can still have good reasons for punishing and rewarding people. What’s not justified is retributive punishment—punishment based on the assumption that you could have done other than what you did, and therefore should be punished for having chosen wrong. My own view is that we’re responsible for our acts, but not morally responsible.

Egnor, of course, has no evidence for libertarian free will, and we have lots of evidence against it (neuroscience, psychology experiments, and, most important, the laws of nature). So Egnor simply asserts that what his faith teaches him is also scientifically true:

We are free agents, influenced by our genes and our environment, but are free to choose the course of action we take. Determinism is not true, denial of free will is self-refuting (If we are not free to choose, why assume Coyne’s opinion has any truth value? It’s just a chemical reaction, determined by genes and environment), and our intellect and will are immaterial powers of the soul and are inherently free in the libertarian sense of not being determined by matter.

We are not meat robots. If we were meat robots, why would anyone listen to Jerry Coyne?

Well, Dr. Egnor, maybe they should listen because the two pounds of meat in my skull is better programmed than are the two pounds of Egnorian head-meat. That is, my meat emits statements that comport better with what rational people observe in the Universe than does Egnor’s faith-ridden meat.

But wait! There’s more!

Justice, which is a principle appropriate to man, presupposes moral culpability, and thus presupposes libertarian free will. Coyne’s system of human livestock management is not a criminal justice system at all.

This is called begging the question: assuming what you need to prove.

Egnor even tries to reject determinism of human behavior by citing quantum mechanics, which shows how desperate he is:

If you “accept science,” you don’t accept determinism, which has been ruled out in physics by an ingenious series of experiments over the past several decades. It is the consensus of physicists that nature is non-deterministic, in the sense that there are no local hidden variables. Coyne’s rejection of the overwhelming evidence that nature is non-deterministic is a rejection of science, just as his denial of free will is a rejection of common sense and reason.

This presupposes either that quantum-mechanical uncertainty gives us free will, which can’t be true (I won’t insult your intelligence by explaining that again), or that the “Bell’s inequality” experiments showing the lack of local realism on the level of particles show that all forms of natural law determining human behavior are out the window.

You can read the rest of Egnor’s article if you wish, and find out how my view of determinism’s implications for punishment is “totalitarian” and “offensive tripe.”

The problem, as I said, is that Egnor has no evidence for libertarian free will except his faith in a God who gave us the ability to override physical law. The funny part is that he admits that yes, determinism can sometimes play a role in justice; but he just won’t go one neuron further and admit that it is completely behind all human behavior.


Of course Van Houten chose to kill, just as millions of law-abiding people choose not to kill. Our choices are always influenced by genes, environment, etc., but that does not mean that we don’t choose. A bad upbringing, bad genetics, brain disease, immaturity, ideological dispositions, and a host of other factors can make it easier or harder to choose a certain course of action, but that course of action is still chosen.

That’s a great example of question-begging. But wait—there’s still more!

In some situations the influences on our choices are so strong that the law declares us not legally responsible for our choices — for example, if we have a psychiatric or neurological disorder that renders us incapable of distinguishing right from wrong. But that does not mean that we did not choose. It means that the law does not hold us accountable for our choice in circumstances in which we cannot understand or comply with the moral standard on which the law is based.

Remember, Egnor isn’t espousing compatibilism here, but pure dualism. He’s immune to reason, for he’s marinated in his Catholicism, but other people may be susceptible to ideas that come from your own meat.It’s those people who compatibilist philosophers should be addressing instead of just sitting in their philosophy-department offices, devising ingenious arguments about how you can have determinism and free will too. What they should be arguing is that we can’t have both determinism and traditional religion.

Mukherjee corrects his new book in light of epigenetics kerfuffle, still defends his mischaracterization of gene regulation

You may remember—but not want to remember—the Big Epigenetic Kerfuffle documented on this website (see list of pieces here). It involved Siddhartha Mukherjee, doctor and Pulitzer-Prize-winning author, who was taken to the woodshed by a passel of famous molecular biologists for distorting the state of epigenetics research in a popular article. Mukherjee’s piece, “Same but different,” was printed in the May 2 issue of The New Yorkern and was a summary of (not an extract from) his new book, The Gene: An Intimate History.

For an overview of the whole episode and the scientific issues at hand, see Chris Wollston’s piece in Nature, “Researcher under fire for New Yorker epigenetics article.” In short, many prominent workers in the field felt that Mukherjee’s piece completely ignored what we know about how genes are regulated—largely by small bits of RNA and “transcription factors”—proteins produced by the DNA—in favor of Mukherjee’s pet hypothesis, “epigenetic” regulation via bases of the DNA methylated by the environment or, alternatively, by the histone-protein scaffolding of the chromosomes. There is, in fact, virtually no evidence for Mukherjee’s thesis, nor for the proposition that inherited changes in DNA, and the traits they produce, can be produced by the environment. That “non-Darwinian” form of evolution is purely speculative, and Mukherjee did note that it was not supported by much evidence.

Initially, both The New Yorker and Mukherjee batted aside the criticisms, but when the issues became public in other magazines and journals, they finally backed down a bit—Mukherjee more so than the magazine, which published only one brief letter criticizing the article. The main defense was that there was not enough space in the magazine to cover the whole field (i.e., to tell the truth), and that a more correct description of gene regulation could be found in Mukherjee’s book.

But now there’s been a bit more defense of Mukherjee—reported on a website article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) by Jennifer Maloney. Maloney first reports that, the publisher of Mukherjee’s new book, Scribner, says it’s “tweaking” it to bring its discussion of epigenetics in line with reality:

“The original book did not need corrections,” [Mukherjee] said. “These were clarifications to reemphasize things that were already in the original book.” Dr. Mukherjee said he would share the changes with the New Yorker so the magazine could decide whether to publish a clarification.

Given the New Yorker’s reluctance to ever admit that Mukherjee’s article was seriously flawed, I doubt a “clarification” will be forthcoming. Still, Scribner’s willingness to correct the book is good news.

But wait! There’s bad news, too! The first bit is that Mukherjee is rationalizing the “tweaking” by implying that it reflects new developments in epigenetics:

“The field is going through a transition,” said Dr. Mukherjee, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning book on cancer, “The Emperor of All Maladies,” was published in 2010. “I’m trying to keep up with it. The science changes literally every day… Fields of science where there’s deep uncertainty still need to be written about. That’s what I do.”

That’s just wrong. Mukherjee’s error was this: not keeping up with the science that had already been done. Since his article and the book came out, there haven’t been any radically new developments changing our current view of gene regulation. In a field where honesty is highly prized, yet so rarely on offer when a researcher is wrong, Mukherjee is simply unwilling to admit that he screwed up.

The other bad news is that one prominent researcher in the field, Danny Reinberg, has decided to characterize the criticism in an ad hominem way (my emphasis):

Danny Reinberg, a researcher in gene expression at Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Maryland and a professor at New York University School of Medicine, is mentioned in the article and helped fact-check it. He said the critics went too far.

“I think that it was a bunch of babies overreacting,” he said. “That piece was written for the public. We scientists… [need to] accept some flexibility.”

Reinberg isn’t just mentioned in Mukherjee’s New Yorker piece—his work, characterized as highly innovative, formed a major part of that article, including his idea that major evolutionary innovations, like the different “castes” of ant colonies, could be due to differential gene expression produced by methylation and histone/gene interactions.

There was strong criticism of Mukherjee’s article, and you can see some of it in the Nature and Wall Street Journal pieces, but all of it dealt not with Mukherjee’s character but with his mischaracterization of science. It’s therefore reprehensible for Reinberg to brush off the critics as “overreacting babies.”  That criticism could be turned on Reinberg himself for ignoring the science to defend a piece in which he’s glowingly portrayed as a scientific revolutionary.

But I’ll leave that be. What is just as odious is Reinberg’s claim, made earlier by others, that any scientific distortion was necessary, engendered by the fact that Mukerjee’s article was both short (it wasn’t) and written for the public. As I’ve said several times, the real situation isn’t so complicated that it couldn’t be described in a few paragraphs. It’s just that the real knowledge we have about gene regulation isn’t revolution—it’s been building since the 1950s.

Wally Gilbert, who won the Nobel Prize for figuring out how to sequence DNA, and who made major contributions to gene regulation, answered Reinberg:

Dr. Gilbert responded with a withering assessment of Dr. Reinberg’s website: “Too silly for words.” He added, “The deeper arguments are really about the nature of evolution and the mechanisms by which genes are controlled.”

Mukherjee had another defender, but one not as nasty as Reinberg:

Geneticist Eric Topol, who praised the book in a review for the scientific journal Cell, said in an interview that the criticism of the New Yorker article was unfair. The science, he said “isn’t settled… The controversy in epigenetics runs deep. It’s been a very confusing topic for a long time. This just brought it out. It was a foil for the ambiguity of the term and the science.”

At least he didn’t make fun of Mukherjee’s critics! (Those critics, by the way, included three Nobel Laureates and virtually every big name working on epigenetics.) But the criticism was not unfair. What was unfair was Mukherjee’s portrayal of the state of research on gene regulation. Yes, science can produce ambiguous results, and the current consensus could change, but it’s not kosher to completely mischaracterize the current consensus.

Finally, the WSJ reports a bit more about the nature of the changes, and, sadly, Mukherjee makes the argument that controversies about gene regulation should be hashed out in professional journals, not the press. And both Gilbert and Florian Maderspacher, an editor of Current Biology who wrote the one critical letter published by the New Yorker, say that even the new revisions aren’t good enough. (I haven’t seen them.)

Ms. Graham [Nan Graham, Scribner’s senior publisher] said the changes in the new edition address a range of issues, from typos and missing photo credits to scientific details.

Dr. Mukherjee “is a perfectionist, and I try to be,” she said. “These are standard corrections on a book of such ambition, with tight deadlines, about a field of science that advances every day.”

The author added more caveats about epigenetics and additional clarification on how genes are turned on and off. He also nodded to the recent maelstrom: “Whether these marks contribute to the activity of genes, how they do so—and what their functions might be—is still hotly, often viciously, debated among geneticists.”

Dr. Gilbert and Dr. Maderspacher said the changes to the book’s epigenetics section didn’t go far enough to satisfy their concerns.

“How much more explicit can one be?” Dr. Mukherjee said. “This is a crossfire of people who are debating fundamental terms… These disputes should be professionally handled in scientific journals.”

Meanwhile, the dogs bark, but the caravan moves on. Or, to use an anglophone rather than an Arabic metaphor, Mukherjee is crying all the way to the bank. His new book has sold 150,000 copies and is in its fifth printing. Why would he want to scotch a moneymaking name by admitting that he screwed up?

h/t: Charleen

Caturday felid trifecta: Sandal Cat, stray kitten interrupts television news, Simon’s Cat Naps

Even though I’m in Poland, you’ll still get Caturday felids—if you want them. Here are the usual three, starting with the famous Sandal Cat, one of the most widely-viewed cat gifs on the Internet. And rightly so.


LoveMeow tells the story (and shows a video) of an adorable stray kitten who interrupted a news broadcast of Nima Shaffe, a reporter for WXYZ  television in Detroit. The station’s report is below, which shows that they called the Humane Society to help the animal get adopted. I probably wouldn’t have done that, for The Humane Society, as far as I know, is not a no-kill shelter, though they might not execute kittens.

The kitten was named “Lucky Seven” because WXYZ is on channel 7.  Here she is, and I hope she found a home:



Here’s a recent episode of “Simon’s Cat Logic,” which includes not only the usual animation, but also some biology information from Cat Expert Nicky Trevorrow. The animation, “Catnap,” begins at 4:57, but be sure to watch Trevorrow’s explanation of why cats sleep in unusual places. And don’t forget that Tofield makes all the cat noises himself.

h/t: Gethyn

Readers’ wildlife photos

One of the most magnificent sights in the U.S. is Yosemite National Park. Sadly, everyone knows this, which makes the main road in the Valley horribly overcrowded. But with a day’s hiking you can achieve solitude and superb views.

Reader Mehul sent some photos he took in the Yosemite area (his full set of photos is here). His notes are indented below:

I wanted to share some photos from a recent 60-mile backpacking trip through Yosemite and Ansel Adams Wilderness.  I have been going to Yosemite for a long time, but the majesty of the place never ceases to amaze me.
Half Dome & Yosemite Falls from Panorama Trail.  This was a training hike for the backpacking trip, called The Yosemite Grand Traverse.


Infamous cables on Half Dome.  The squirrels and marmuts were scaling this 45-60+ degree incline effortlessly.


One of our companions on The Visor on top of Half Dome.


Some kind of a squirrel.  They are domesticated and daring!


Burned out area near our camp, close to Cloud’s Rest.  Mt. Clarke is seen in the background.


Wildflowers near the burned out area.


Not sure if this is another squirrel or a marmot.  We saw both.


Cathedral Peak at sunset:


Lower Cathedral Lake lookout panorama.

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Saturday: Hili dialogue

It’s hard to believe that there’s only one more day left in July! Fall (in the Northern Hemisphere) will be on us before we know, and then  .  . . degeneration and extinction. But I am still sentient, typing this with Hili lying beside me on the couch, furry and purring. It’s July 30, 2016: International Friendship Day—a day to celebrate our pals, human or animal. The holiday was, as is so often the case, created by the greeting card industry (“Big Card”) to sell their stuff, but it’s still worthwhile to take some time to contemplate the value of friends. After all, without them, who would help move our stuff?

On this day in 1956, there was a setback for secularists, as President Dwight Eisenhower signed a joint resolution of Congress establishing “In God We Trust” as the U.S. national motto. Can you imagine a worse one?  It could be fixed by replacing “God” with “Reason,” but there’s no chance that will happen. I now realize that even when this country is mostly populated by nonbelievers, as will happen some day, people will still favor that motto as a sign of Belief in Belief, and regard its elimination as bigotry against faith.  On this day in 1966, England won the World Cup, which hasn’t happened again in the past 50 years. On July 30, 1974, Nixon released the subpoenaed Watergate tapes; exactly a year later Jimmy Hoffa disappeared from a restaurant parking lot, never to be seen again: and, in 2003, the last old style VW Beetle came off the assembly line—in Mexico. I always wanted one but never bought one, though I did get a VW Rabbit when I moved to Chicago. (It died in a car crash, and I now have an excellent 2000 Honda Civic.)

Notables born this day include Emily Brontë (1809), Henry Ford (1863), Casey Stengel (1890)j, Peter Bogdanovich (1939; he directed the best of all American films, “The Last Picture Show”), and Arnold Schwarzenegger (1947). Those who died on this day include Joyce Kilmer (1918; can you name his one famous poem?) and Ingmar Bergman (2007). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili gave me a warm and furry welcome, though I’m a bit dubious about her motives:

Hili: I couldn’t wait for you to get here.
Jerry: Neither could I.
Hili: We have to go to the kitchen and eat something now because we are hungry.
P1040630In Polish:

Hili: Nie mogłam się na ciebie doczekać.
Jerry: Ja też nie.
Hili: Musimy coś zjeść, bo jesteśmy głodni.

Gus sent us a photo of his bedtime; the appropriate saying is “Good night; sleep white; don’t let the bedbugs bite.”


Finally, here’s a gratuitous video of an alpaca cuddling with cats, sent by reader Anne-Marie:

The Princess

The Furry Princess, undoubtedly Poland’s most famous cat, is now four years old, with many years to go. I finally got some quality time with her, and here are some photos of my favorite felid.

Malgorzata squeezes a tube of Japanese “Cat’s snack” into her bowl. Hili eats it with relish (but no mustard):


After the entrée came the plat du jour:


She loves all her food:

A formal portrait:


And of course after dinner she wanted to go out, but, as felids do, she dithered at the door. (Why do cats do that?) A gentle nudge of Malgorzata’s foot on Hili’s butt accelerated the decision. She may be out on the tiles all night.



I have landed!

Don’t expect much out of Professor Ceiling Cat (Emeritus) today, as he got not a wink of sleep on the trip from Chicago to Poland. This was deliberate: I often stay up all night and all day after I arrive, counting on total exhaustion to reset my biological clock. And. . . it sometimes works. But right now I’m barely capable of an intelligible sentence, so enjoy this picture of Malgorzata’s cherry pie with a walnut crust, although you’ll enjoy the looking a lot less than I enjoyed the eating:


p.s. Hili greatly enjoyed the Japanese “cat’s snack” sent by Hiroko–a kind of meat or fish goo that you squeeze out of a small foil tube. She liked it so much that she got another. (See Hili dialogue tomorrow.) I still maintain that this is the first time in the history of our planet that a cat in Poland ate treats sent by a person in Japan to a person in America.

Movies watched on plane (the selection was dire; this was the best I could do):

The Lobster (2016) Two thumbs up. An imaginative drama about a dystopian future in which all single people are taken to a hotel where they’re given 45 days to find a partner—or be turned into animals. I liked it a lot, but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

The Book Thief (2013). One thumb up, one down. A workmanlike recounting of an orphaned girl’s life in Nazi Germany, where she learns to read, becomes infatuated with books, and hides a Jewish refugee. It holds your attention, but is far too mawkish and manipulative of the viewer’s emotions. It’s not helped by repeated voiceovers from the Grim Reaper (no kidding!).

This is Where I Leave You (2014). 2/3 thumb up, 4/3 thumb down. With an all star cast in including Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, Abigail Spencer, and Jason Bateman, the film manages to waste most of that talent (particularly Fey) by embroiling every character in an emotional roller-coaster (centered around a family reunion after the father’s death) accompanied by the emission of far too many bromides and tears. I did, however, discover a new inamorata in the form of Rose Byrne, who is unspeakably attractive and provided the best cameo of the lot.

Elon University students call for disinviting ideologically impure Pulitzer Prize winner

Elon University is a high-quality private college in Elon, North Carolina. It was founded as a Christian school but now is pretty much secular—one of those small and excellent liberal arts colleges that dot North Carolina—and whose state legislature is doing its best to destroy.

Kathleen Parker is a widely syndicated and conservative-leaning (but not batshit crazy conservative-leaning like Ann Coulter) columnist for the Washington Post. Her pieces (you can see a collection here) appear in over 400 newspapers, the widest syndication of any American columnist. In 2010, Parker won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, a high honor. As Wikipedia notes, she’s “a consulting faculty member at the Buckley School of Public Speaking, a popular guest on cable and network news shows and a regular panelist on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and MSNBC’s “Hardball” with Chris Matthews” as well as “an entertaining speaker on politics and culture.”

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Kathleen Parker

You’d think, then, that the students of Elon University would be glad to get a chance to hear Parker speak. But you would be thinking wrong. Why? Because Parker is a conservative, doesn’t fall in line with Snowflake Ideology, and that doesn’t go down well on liberal campuses. In fact, the Elon administration did invite Parker to speak at its Baird Pulitzer Prize lecture this October. But some students struck back, trying to get the invitation rescinded. That, of course, is censorship.

As the Elon Local News reports (you can also find pieces on many right-wing but not left-wing sites), a student named Rebecca Nipper started a petition, soon signed by 300 Elon students and alums, calling Parker’s writings “dangerous”. Here’s a bit of Nipper’s Facebook post published at Campus Reform; I can’t find the petition letter anywhere.

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We learn a bit more about the objections to Parker from the Burlington North Carolina Times-News (my emphasis):

“Parker’s journalism is more than just her opinion,” the petition says, “it’s a consistent attack on all of the things Elon has been working towards – ending sexual assault, increasing diversity, and creating a safe and encouraging environment for all students regardless of gender, race, ethnic background or sexual orientation … It does not matter whether she intends to speak on any of the issues she writes so frequently about in her journalism, we as a university are praising Kathleen Parker for her opinions by bringing her to campus.

Praising her? What about just promoting discussion? And here we see the fallacious thinking behind these protests. If you consider inviting a speaker tantamount to praising her, or approving her opinions, then of course you can’t approve any speakers whose opinions aren’t in line with yours. Students would be better off if they regarded speaking events as educational opportunities rather than as the equivalent of honorary degrees. Even if you’re sure you’re not gong to agree with someone like Parker, hearing her make her case give you a chance to hone and sharpen your own opinions. After all, you must do more than hold them—you must defend them.

What we see here is no-platforming of Parker, regardless of what she wants to speak about.  If you’re familiar with the argot of Scientology, Nipper and her cronies are labeling Parker a Suppressive Person (“SP”), whose every word must be suppressed. Note as well that Parker’s presence creates an “unsafe space”—the usual blather that opinions which don’t jibe completely with those of the Regressive Left are dangerous and somehow promote an “unsafe” climate.

The Pendulum, an Elon student newspaper, gives more information, clarifying that much of the opposition to Parker’s talk derives from statements about gender that the students found problematic:

The petition, titled “A Request for the Removal of Baird Pulitzer Prize Speaker Kathleen Parker,” circulated on social media late last week. It cites segments from her book, “Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care,” and her columns as showing “undoubtable bias against women, sexual assault victims, and people of color.”

“A lot of people think we’re taking issue with her politics, her personal stances — that’s not it,” said Nipper, noting that she and others have read Parker’s book and dove into her Washington Post archives. “(Her book) perpetuates something that’s extremely dangerous and we’re actively fighting against. It’s something the administration has been truly working hard on.

“To have a speaker who actively supports that kind of thinking, brought in by the university as somebody who would speak to everybody, is detrimental and very dangerous.”

Translation: “Anyone who doesn’t agree with my opinion is dangerous.” Finally, the right-wing Campus Reform did get hold of Nipper’s petition, and found some problems with it:

The petition claims that Elon students have found “some very disturbing things” in Parker’s writing that made her unfit. The petition quotes several excerpts from her book to shed light on her allegedly dangerous rebuke of modern feminism.

They include “[a]llow me to translate. There’s no way to make men into women,” and “[t]he reality is that men have been screwed, and not in the way that they prefer.”

Hyperlinks in the Google Doc sent readers to two of Parker’s Washington Post columns, but were written in a way that confuses their actual title. A link to Parker’s “Unanswered questions in Trayvon Martin case” is hyperlinked under “Racial profiling is common sense.” The words “Women are using alcohol as a way to blame men for sexual assault” linked to “Sex after drinking and the war on women.

The Good News is that the University administration slapped the petition down like a buzzing mosquito.  Here’s a tweet from the head editor of the Pendulum, reporting the University’s response as issued by Dan Anderson, Elon’s Vice President of University Communications:

That’s a damn good response, and it should make Ms. Nipper reconsider her histrionic censorship. But it won’t. What will happen to people like her when they enter the real world? In my darkest moments, I imagine that someday they’ll be in charge. And if we get a country run by Pecksniffs like Nipper, I can’t see that it would be much less repressive than a country run by Donald Trump.

p.s. Parker will apparently be speaking at Elon on October 4.

Living in a post-fact world

by Grania

I was watching John Oliver on Last Week Tonight, and it made me laugh and cringe at the same time. It is all very well to snigger at wilful ignorance, but when it is fervently subscribed to by political leaders it can’t bode well for the country, or the world.

Watch this clip (starting at 5.50) in which the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives discusses violent crime rates in the United States. Newt Gingrich just flatly denies the evidence, dismissing it as “liberal statistics” (the data comes from the FBI) and then says while it may be “theoretically right, it’s not where human beings are”.

Leaving aside the special code word  “liberal” which his target audience can be relied on to understand to mean lies and/or stupidity; he is basically claiming that misconceptions are more valid than facts, and that correcting misconceptions is not something he is interested in doing.

I’m always left wondering whether such people are just cynical manipulators of those who believe in them; or whether they actually believe in their own stories.


Even if you are fed up with establishment politics, and I think that this is something that many Europeans share with their American counterparts; it ought to be a worry that a political party seems to be making up their own version of reality as they go along. It is even more worrying that many voters don’t seem to mind – and this isn’t only an American phenomenon: you can see this in the UK in the wake of the Brexit vote*. In an era where it has never been easier to find out the facts, it is peculiar that high numbers of potential voters have decided that the facts are whatever appeals most to their narrative. Are people disillusioned? Cynical? Nihilistic?


*I’m not trying to argue that there weren’t legitimate reasons for having serious reservations about the EU, merely that much of the rhetoric surrounding the referendum had little to do with facts.

Friday: Hili Dialogue

By Grania

Morning all, I’m filling in for Jerry while he is on the last leg of his journey to Dobrzyń this morning.

Today is the end of the world if you are an Armageddon Conspiracy Theorist (a polar flip will destroy the world*); otherwise it is just another Friday (thank goodness) and also International Tiger Day, a day to raise awareness of the plight of this endangered species. The situation is now pretty dire, with estimates as bad as complete extinction of tigers in the wild within 5 years.

You can join the group raising awareness and funds on Facebook here.


In Hili-World today, the feline princess encourages us to tackle difficult challenges speedily so that we can pursue our higher goals.

A: Hili, face the truth.
Hili: Done. Now I’m going back to sleep.


In Polish

Ja: Hili, spójrz prawdzie w oczy.
Hili: Już spojrzałam, a teraz wracam do przerwanego snu.

Happy weekend to you all!


*It won’t, that’s ridiculous. Here’s NASA on the subject.


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