Which scientists saved the most lives?

Scientists are the unrecognized benefactors of humanity. How many laypeople will recognize the name of Fritz Haber or Karl Bosch? Togetether they’re estimated to have saved over a billion lives. What about Norman Borlaug? He saved over 259 million lives. Ann Holloway, Samuel Katz, Kevin McCarthy, Milan Milovanovic, Anna Mitus, and Thomas Peebles? Together—over 100 million lives. Andreas Gruetzig? 15,400,000 lives. These people invented synthetic fertilizers, new breeds of wheat, measles vaccines, angioplasty, and so on.

The average person might recognize the name of Edward Jenner, who popularized (but perhaps didn’t invent) smallpox vaccination, thereby saving an estimated 530,000,000 lives; and they’d probably recognize Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, whose polio vaccines saved the lives of over a million people, but I bet you could stop a college student, give them those three names, and none would be recognized.

You can see their stories, and read about (or question) the numbers of lives they saved, at the Science Heroes site. Click on Nils Bohlin, for instance, and learn how his improved three-point seatbelt, produced while he was working for Volvo, is estimated to have saved over 1,300,000 lives:


Now you can question the figures, but there’s no doubt that many lives were saved by antibiotics, smallpox vaccinations, and so on. Sometimes the innovations were sought deliberately, like polio vaccine, and others came accidentally, like penicillin, but it doesn’t matter. What these data do show is that, in the only way that matters to many people—human lives saved or improve—science has made a difference.

When I give lectures about science, I often ask people raise their hands if they would be dead if it weren’t for antibiotics, and many hands go up, for simple infections killed many people before there were these drugs. If you asked people how many would be there if formal science didn’t exist, well, probably everyone could raise their hands, but many of the innovations that kept us here are unrecognized—like having obstetricians simply wash their hands.

Are these people heroes? Well, they didn’t risk their lives, and of course had they not lived, someone else would have produced their innovations. In those senses they differ from traditional heroes. But no matter; what’s important is that science works, and Science Heroes shows that it works to save lives. Can you think of any other area of intellectual or practical endeavor that has improved the lot of so many people? Theology? I don’t think so.

h/t: Nicole Reggia

Did women chess players’ wearing of the hijab help Iranian women? A reader weighs in

The Women’s World Chess Championship is underway in Iran, and, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly, the country (and the World Chess Federation) is requiring that all women wear hijabs. This is not only an infringement on women’s freedom (both the foreign players and the Iranians themselves), but I can imagine that playing in a hijab could be an annoyance if you’ve never worn one before.

In response to World Chess Federation’s (FIDE’s) refusal to contest the hijab requirement, several important players have pulled out of the tournament, most notably U.S. champion Nazi Paikidze-Barnes, who simply refused to wear the covering because she saw it as a symbol of women’s oppression.

Reader Will G., whose words were previously posted in a piece on the Women’s World Champion, took the time to write me an email discussing whether forcing women players to wear hijabs actually advanced the cause of Iranian women, as some people maintained. It appears that it didn’t. I am publishing his email with permission, and note that Will is himself an accomplished amateur chess enthusiast, ranking in the upper 5% of players, so he knows something about the game. And now to his email:


Sibling Teen Chess Masters Banned In Iran For Going Unveiled and Playing An Israeli

Yeah, so that change.org petition to FIDE about moving the Women’s championship from Tehran had the expected effect. It’s good that so many people made themselves known (17,000+ signed!), but the train went a-rolling along anyway. Right now, we’ve reached the quarterfinals in Tehran. (Just look at the pics. Is there anything more depressing outside of war zone photojournalism?)

Remember some of the arguments made for why the free women of the chess world should swallow their pride and play in Iran?:

“It’s not right to call for a boycott. These games are important for women in Iran; it’s an opportunity for us to show our strength.”

“I am firmly against the international community using the compulsory hijab as a means to put pressure and isolate Iran.”

“If Iran can host this event, it will be a big step for us; it will help our women chess players and it will boost women in other sporting fields. It will pave the way for them, too.”

“Calls for a boycott will only disappoint Iranian women and destroy their hopes.”

So, now that some of the strongest female players have shown up and shown they can fianchetto with the best of them, things are looking up for women in Iran right? At least, the ones who play chess?

Golnaz Esfandiari of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty writes:

The Iranian National Chess Team dismissed 18-year-old Dorsa Derakhshani for appearing at the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival 2017, which ran from January 23 to February 2, without the Islamic head scarf that became compulsory in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Her 15-year-old brother, Borna Derakhshani, was banned for playing against an Israeli opponent at the same event. . . 

“Unfortunately, what shouldn’t have happened has happened. Our national interests have priority over everything,” [Iranian Chess Federation Head Mehrdad] Pahlevanzadeh said. He added that there would be no “leniency” for those who trample on Iran’s “ideals and principles.”

“Our national interests have priority over everything. . . ” In these days when a stubby-fingered Caligula occupies the White House, I take solace in the fact that a totalitarian statement like this still has the power to shock me.

Here’s a video of the offending temptress, doing her wicked post-match interview after holding International Grandmaster Damian Lemos to a draw, in a disgraceful attempt to undermine the Islamic State of Iran’s good reputation.

And here’s the offending game her little brother played against an Israeli Grandmaster. To an onlooker, it looks like a painfully dull French defense exchange variation with a significant blunder in a probably drawn endgame (85. g3??), but apparently the real blunder was showing up like some kind of competitor and not feigning illness.

So I ask the pious folk quoted in The Guardian, and everyone who thinks they may have a point: What the hell is wrong with you? How many women’s championships will have to be held in Iran before the misogyny and antisemitism ends? When would you say we are no longer reaching out in love and understanding, but enabling intolerance and hatred?

And finally, I think that the Derakhshani siblings should be made automatic American citizens, if they so wish.


Happy Western chess players, advancing the cause of Iranian women (LOL):



Ideologically motivated teachers indoctrinate students into thinking that science and religion are compatible

It’s one thing to think that science and religion are compatible; it’s another to devise methods of indoctrinating students with that belief—a belief that, after all, depends on how you construe “compatible” as well as which religion you’re talking about. Plenty of scientists, and a considerable number of believers, don’t think science and religion are compatible, and in Faith Versus Fact I argue for incompatibility on the grounds that both endeavors are based, at bottom, on factual assertions about the cosmos, and that only science has a valid method for determining what’s true. That is, the incompatibility rests on grounds of methodology, outcome, and philosophy, which diverge markedly between science and faith.

The big battle between the two areas is, of course, fought mostly in the arena of evolution. Now if you construe “compatibility” as “the ability to be religious and accept evolution at the same time,” well then you’re home free, because many religious scientists accept evolution (examples: Ken Miller and Francis Collins), and many religious laypeople also accept evolution.  But that’s not compatibility; it’s compartmentalization. Another “proof” of compatibility is Steve Gould’s claim that science and religion are “non-overlapping magisteria” (NOMA): the claim that the domains of science and religion are mutually exclusive. As Gould said in his book Rocks of Ages (see my review here), Gould defined these non-overlapping domains:

“Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings, and values—subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve.”

But in Faith Versus Fact I argue that this claim is also wrong—for two reasons. First, religion doesn’t limit itself to studying meaning, purposes, and values; it makes factual assertions, and not just about Jesus and the Resurrection, either. If religion didn’t make factual assertions, then creationism wouldn’t be so popular in America, and nobody would go to the Ark Park. This is why the most vocal opponents of Gould’s thesis are not scientists, but theologians who realize that their faiths do depend on factual assertions (see my book for what they say). Second, “purposes, meanings, and values” are not the sole purview of religion. There’s a long history of secular philosophy, beginning with the ancient Greeks, that deals precisely with those issues.

But there are those who are accommodationists for tactical reasons: if we can convince religious people that evolution is compatible with their faith, opposition to evolution, they say, would wane. This, for instance, was one goal of the National Center for Science Education, and remains the main goal of the organization BioLogos, founded by Francis Collins. That this tactic hasn’t worked very well (forcing BioLogos to devote a lot of its energy and money to Christian apologetics) hasn’t stopped people from pushing accommodationism as a weapon against creationism.

And that is the explicit aim of M. Elizabeth Barnes, James Elser, and Sara E. Brownell, who published an accommodationist “experiment” in the latest issue of The American Biology Teacher, an experiment designed to see whether telling kids that evolution and religion are compatible would make them accept that. Their paper (free online, with pdf here, reference below) was also touted as “resolving the conflict between evolution and religion” by Arizona State University (ASU), where the three authors work.

It’s very clear from the paper, and explicitly stated, that the authors’ aim was to convince students that evolutuion and religion were compatible; it wasn’t just a “let’s-do-this-and-see-what-happens” approach. If that were the case, they should have done the mirror study in which they try to convince students that religion and evolution are incompatible. They claim, though, that if they don’t teach compatibility, religious students tend to see a greater incompatibility after learning about evolution.

I’ll be brief in describing the study. The authors added a two-week “compatibility module” to one first-year class in biology at a “large public university located in the southwest United States.” Surely it must be ASU! Students’ religiosity and their perception about whether religion conflicted with evolution was measured both before and after the module was inflicted on the helpless students. The module included the following:

  • Guest scientists!.  As the paper notes, they had an accommodationist and what appears to be a “control” visit by scientists, which seems unnecessary since the class wasn’t split into two bits. Rather, the “second guest” was added to provide a female role model (why did that add that?) as well as to highlight new research. All quotes are from the paper:

“The students met with two guest scientists during the module. The first guest was a biologist who is a devout Roman Catholic and a public defender of evolution. In class, the students were shown a video of this biologist discussing the potential compatibility of religion and evolution. [JAC: My bet is that this was Ken Miller.] Then the biologist videoconferenced with the students in class and discussed his own journey of reconciling his Catholic faith with evolution. This biologist’s visit was meant to provide students with a potential scientist role model who is both religious and an advocate for evolution, thus demonstrating that religion and evolution do not have to be in conflict. The second guest was an evolutionary biologist and ecologist. She videoconferenced with the class and discussed her research on microbial communities. The purpose of her visit was to provide students with a female scientist role model who studies evolution and to showcase that current researchers are working on evolutionary problems.”

  •  Readings and videos, which included the odious National Academy Report, which is thoroughly accommodationist:

“Students were required to read a chapter on natural selection and a chapter on speciation from their textbook Biological Science (Freeman et al., 2013). Students were also assigned to read a handbook from the National Academy of Sciences entitled Science, Evolution, and Creationism (NAS, 2008). A theme throughout the handbook is that evolution and religion can be compatible with one another. For instance, the handbook explains how science only explores natural causes in the natural world and is neutral to the existence of God. The handbook also includes statements from biologists and religious leaders explaining how religion and evolution can be compatible.

The students also watched videos about evolution itself, and were propagandized about accommodationism by the instructors:

“Similar to the Science, Evolution, and Creationism handbook, the course instructor highlighted that scientists study natural causes within the natural world, whereas religious ideas address questions of morality, purpose, and the existence of a higher power. In accordance with the NOMA paradigm described in the introduction, the course instructor told students that if religion was bounded to address questions of only purpose, ethics, and the existence of a God/gods, then it is not in conflict with evolution. In one of these videos, the instructor described the history of Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection.”

  • In-class activities. These included making a timeline of the universe and evolution, doing a simulation of natural selection, and having a discussion of the evidence for evolution and counterarguments by creationists.

The results.  95 students took the course and the module, and 60 of these completed the pre- and post-module surveys of religiosity and whether they saw evolution in conflict with religion. The results are shown in the graph below; note that the Y axis is “numbers of students”, which aren’t numerous

As you see, the number of students who saw a conflict before the module dropped from 32 to 21 (the graph appears to be erroneous here), and the number who saw them as initially compatible rose from about 14 to 28 (I’m estimating from the graph here, as numbers aren’t given in the text.) Those who were unclear about the issue increased very slightly.  Notably, no student changed their perception from “compatibility” to “conflict”, while 18% of all students changed their perception from “conflict” to “compatibility”.

When the authors looked at religious vs. nonreligious students (they assessed this by deeming students “religious” if they fell in the upper half of the religiosity scale), 28% of religious students changed from either “unclear” or “conflict” to “compatibility”, while 35% of nonreligious students made the same switch. In other words, the module was slightly more effective with nonreligious than with religious students—an unexpected result.


(From paper): The number of students who had a perception of conflict or compatibility between religion and evolution pre- to post-evolution module. “Unclear” means the student’s answer could not be unambiguously characterized as whether they perceived religion and evolution to be in conflict or compatible.

It’s clear that both the authors and ASU think this is a great result, not just an interesting finding, and one that needs to be implemented in many classrooms. As the ASU blurb notes:

Evolution is a historically controversial topic, and those that hold religious beliefs often reject the concept due to a perceived conflict between the two. However, in a study published in the journal American Biology Teacher, a group of Arizona State University researchers proved that evolution and religion don’t need to be at odds in the classroom.

“A ton of our students still don’t accept evolution, and the number one reason is because of their religious beliefs,” said Sara Brownell, a faculty member in the Center for Evolution and Medicine. “We could ask students to choose, but the reality is that for the most part they aren’t going to give up those beliefs to learn evolution. But while it’s often presented in the literature and popular press as an either-or situation, it doesn’t have to be.”

. . . As it turned out, simply talking about the subject went a long way toward clearing the air between religion and evolution. Brownell explained that, due to personal beliefs or the potential for controversy, many teachers shy away from the subject. However, this study demonstrates that embracing the discussion will help keep religious students from rejecting evolution, which Brownell described as the core thread that connects all areas of biology.

As a next step, Brownell and Barnes plan to condense what was previously a two hour module into a ten minute discussion. The thinking is, if they can condense this down to such a short period of time, teachers lose very little class time discussing it and stand to help students a great deal.

My objection to this study is that it was tendentious, didn’t look at the effect of the mirror-image study, used small samples, and, most important, took a particular theological point of view, pushing it on students in a public (state) university. This module requires a special interpretation of religion—one saying that it is not at all in conflict with evolution. Yet many religionists feel otherwise.

In other words, the instructors, in a well-meaning attempt to get people to accept evolution, are propagandizing the students with theological views. That’s clear since they trotted in a religious scientist and let the students read accommodationist literature while denying them arguments about the incompatibility of faith and evolution, which I see as powerful. (Why else are most scientists nonreligious—far more so than the general public?) By pushing a particular view of theology on the students, I see the experiment as a First Amendment violation. Would it be any better if the professor propagandized the students with a view that science and religion are incompatible? For that, at least, is a philosophical rather than a theological view. But if they did that, they’d be excoriated. Such is the eagerness of Americans to “respect” faith—the tendency to believe without evidence.

But in my own view, they should leave the accommodationism or anti-accommodationism out of public school classes. Just teach the damn science, and let the students work out the issues themselves. To do otherwise is to push a certain view of religion on them, one that should be left to parents, private discussion, or preachers. The authors of this paper are going the route of Elaine Ecklund at Rice, who has devoted her career to accommodationism. It’s not a pretty endeavor. And it’s injurious because it lets the students retain their view that faith, belief without evidence, is a valid way to accept religious claims.

By the way, Elizabeth Barnes’s online c.v. shows further entanglement with religion, as she got money from BioLogos:

Biologos Travel Grant: Awarded $500 to cover travel expenses to present research and collect data at the Evolution and Christian Faith 2015 conference hosted by the Biologos foundation. Awarded March 2015.


Brownell (left) and Barnes, apparently overjoyed that they achieved accommodation in the students. Photo from ASU blurb.

h/t: Todd


Barnes, M. E., J. Elser, and S. E. Brownell. 2017. Impact of a Short Evolution Module on Students’ Perceived Conflict between Religion and Evolution. The American Biology Teacher 79:104-111.

A new Field Museum video on non-alternative fact

This new short video, including several of my colleagues at Chicago’s Field Museum, shows scientists at the Museum standing up for the facts about ecology and evolution. I like that, and I also like the absence of anything overtly political. But of course we all know why this was made: it is a political video made in reaction to the Trump administration’s disdain for truth and, in particular, Kellyanne Conway’s statement about “alternative facts”—which now has its own Wikipedia page.

I like the emphasis on facts and the uncompromising statements about evolution, which need to be made to a public that’s largely creationist. In the main, then, I see this as a positive statement. But my feelings are a wee bit mixed, for the video wouldn’t have been made without Trump, so it’s also politically-motivated statement that could have been (but wasn’t) made without political motivation. Nevertheless, it can stand on its own as a commitment of scientists to the truth.

Another political bit: the poster at 32 seconds in saying “ALL humans are immigrants from Africa.” Now if that’s not a reaction to Trump’s misguided executive orders on immigration, I’ll eat my Stetson.  It is true that the ancestors of all modern humans originated in Africa, but, for instance, all indigenous New World humans were more recent immigrants from Siberia. The poster might have been a bit more accurate.

h/t: Don

Readers’ wildlife photos

It’s warmed up a bit in Ontario, and Diana MacPherson has some lovely photos of emerging chipmunks. Below are her notes for a series that could be called “Four Ways of Looking at a Chipmunk”, but which Diana calls “Someone is awake from torpor”:

With the warm weather, the resident chipmunk has woken from torpor and is eating some seeds left out for him/her. Check out the mark on the nose & the mangled ear. I think my chipmunks get in a lot of fights with one another as I’ve seen these ripped-up ears on many different chipmunks and it looks like a bite from another ‘munk! The last photo is amusing because the chipmunk has such a wide open mouth for the seed.

Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) Having a Break from Torpor to Eat a Seed:


Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus)  Enjoying a Seed:


Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus)  Seems to Whisper Something:


Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) Opens Mouth for Seed:


Nicole Reggia, who has apparently rescued at least one member of every vertebrate species in Eastern Pennsylvania, sent four photos. The first is of a hatchling ring-necked snake (Diadophis punctatus), with pennies for scale:


This juvenile groundhog (Marmota monax), who lived in Nicole’s yard with its three siblings, was removed from the yard and temporarily placed in a bucket before the lawn was mowed. Then they were all put back by their burrow.


This box turtle (Terrapene carolina) was snapped having an adventure:

A pet leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius):



Tuesday: Hili dialogue (and a Gusiversary special)

Good morning on a tropical February 21 (2017) in Chicago, with a predicted high temperature of 64° F (18° C) today. It’s a triple-header food holiday, too: National Pancake Day, National Sticky Bun Day, and National Biscuits and Gravy Day. I can get behind all of those, and if you haven’t had good Southern biscuits and gravy for breakfast, well, you haven’t lived. Seriously.

It’s also UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day, and in Bhutan it’s the first of three days honoring the Birth Anniversary (birthday) of “Fifth Druk Gyalpo”, the Oxford-educated “Dragon King” of Bhutan. His real name is Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (འཇིགས་མེད་གེ་སར་རྣམ་རྒྱལ་དབང་ཕྱུག་ in Bhutanese), and what a handsome fellow he is!:


On this day in 1804, the first completely self-propelled steam locomotive chugged out of the Pen-y-Darren Ironworks in Wales.  Exactly 44 years later, Marx and Engels published The Communist Manifesto, and thirty years after that the world’s first telephone directory was published—in New Haven, Connecticut. On February 21, 1918, the very last Carolina parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo. The world’s northernmost known species of parrot, it lived as far north as New England, and there were millions of them. Deforestation and hunting (for feathers)0 helped knock the population down, but the final extinction may have been promoted by disease. Here’s a mounted specimen of one of these lovely creatures that, thanks to our own species, will never be seen again. (I doubt that even George Church could resurrect it.)


On this day in 1947, Edwin Land demonstrated the first “instant camera”: the P9laroid Land, now driven extinct by digital cameras.  On Februay 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated in New York, and exactly ten years later, John N. Mitchell H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman were sentenced to prison for their role in the Watergate coverup.

Notables born on this day include Anaïs Nin (1903), John Rawls (1921), Nina Simone (1933), Kelsey Grammer (1955), and David Foster Wallace (1962). Those who died on this day include Baruch Spinoza (1677), Eric Liddell (1945), author Mikhail Sholokhov (1984), and hockey great Tim Horton (1974)—the man who launched a million donuts; he died at only 44 in a car crash. Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili looks very grumpy, but only because she has nothing to kvetch about. There is not satisfying this cat!

Hili: I’m outraged.
A: Why?
Hili: I have nothing to complain about today.
In Polish:
Hili: Jestm oburzona.
Ja: Na co?
Hili: Nie mam dziś na co narzekać.

And it’s a big day in Winnipeg: the Gusiversary III—the third year from when Gus is estimated to have been born (remember, he was live-trapped as an adolescent, which, because it was winter and the trap was not checked, made him lose his ears from frostbite). In honor of this special day, his staff (Taskin) made a special video. It shows Gus slowly destroying his Ikea box. Be sure to watch to the end:

Happy birthday, Gus!


Every Best Picture Oscar winner—ever!

Yesterday we had a video of every film that ever won an Oscar for Best Cinematography; now it’s time to see every film that won an Oscar for Best Picture up to last year (Spotlight won the award for 2016).

I have seen most of these; below are the winners I didn’t see:

The Great Ziegfeld
The Life of Emile Zola
Gentleman’s Agreement
The Greatest Show on Earth
Tom Jones
My Fair Lady
No Country for Old Men
The Artist
Birdman (I know, I’m remiss)

It was great to see two of my old favorites mentioned (both in black and white): Marty with Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair, and the movie that nobody watches any more: The Best Years of Our Lives, a fabulous film.

Jeff Tayler on what the US should do about Russia

Jeff Tayler has lived and worked in Russia for many years, writing for The Atlantic as a correspondent and editor.  (He also promotes atheism and criticizes religion at places like Slate and Quillette).  This is to say that he has considerably more experience and knowledge about Russia than those of us who rely on the news secondhand. And Russia is a pressing subject these days, what with Putin making incursions into Syria, Crimea and Ukraine, Trump apparently cozying up to Putin and threatening to abandon NATO, and with both the US and Russia still having a huge armament of nuclear weapons.  As I’ve said before, one of the things I fear about a Trump presidency is that he’s sufficiently clueless that he can’t play international politics, especially when the stakes are high, and both he and Putin have virtually unchecked power to destroy us all.

Tayler’s new piece in Quillette, “The deal Trump should strike with Putin“, should be mandatory reading for both leaders, but especially Trump. It avoids name-calling and is simply a sober assessment of the dangers we face and the opportunities that are within our grasp for detente. It’s a long piece, but well worth reading. I’ll give just one excerpt dealing with the issue of Russian “imperialism”:

How would Ukraine figure into the deal Trump should strike with Putin? Trump would renounce NATO’s promise of eventual NATO membership to Ukraine (and Georgia) in return for Russia’s recognition that both countries, while remaining neutral, would be free to join whatever political and economic blocs they choose. This is essentially what both Kissinger and Brzezinski have already proposed. Full implementation of the stalled Minsk Accords, reached in February 2015 and foreseeing autonomy for the Donbas, would end the conflict in Ukraine’s east. This might prompt a violent reaction against the Ukrainian government from the far-right militias fighting on Kiev’s side in the region. Ultimately, though, that would be an issue for the Ukrainian government, not the United States, to deal with.

Additionally, NATO and Russia would withdraw their militaries to pre-2014 postures. NATO would halt and reverse the deployment of approximately four thousand troops to the Baltic states and Poland. (Stationed on a rotating basis so as not to violate the alliance’s Founding Act with Russia, the troops are intended as a “trip wire” and could not, in any case, halt a Russian invasion of the Baltic countries, which would take as little as sixty hours.) Russia would redeploy forces it has moved close to the Baltic frontier, and take out the short-range, nuclear-capable Iskander missiles it has sent to Kaliningrad, on the Polish border. Both sides would cease conducting provocative military exercises, and Russia would stop sending its fighter jets to violate European airspace and buzz U.S. warships.

The status of Crimea presents a significant hurdle to be overcome. The peninsula officially became part of Russia in 2014. A great majority of both ethnic Russians and Ukrainians in Crimea favor remaining within the Russian Federation. To settle the matter, Russia could agree to hold another referendum, but this time under the auspices of the United Nations. If the results show that Crimea’s population wishes to stay within Russia, as is highly likely, the United States should recognize this, and, of course, the White House should drop the Crimea-related sanctions implemented by executive order. If Crimeans choose to return to Ukraine, Russia should honor their wishes.

There’s a lot more, and I haven’t seen anything this informative about the issue of Russia and the U.S.

“Islamophobia motion” in Canada stirs controversy

There’s a great to-do in Canada about a motion (“M-103”, which is not a law but a recommendation) about discrimination, one that singles out “Islamophobia” as deserving special mention. The bill was introduced last December by the Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, a Pakistani-Canadian, and is being discussed now in the House of Commons. Here it is:

Systemic racism and religious discrimination

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; (b) condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and take note of House of Commons’ petition e-411 and the issues raised by it; and (c) request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making, (ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and that the Committee should present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This bill has been criticized for three reasons, with most of the criticism coming from Conservatives. (For a spectrum of opinion, go here, here, here, and here.) Do remember, though, that this is a motion and doesn’t have the force of law.

1.) It doesn’t define “Islamophobia,” and thus leaves open the possibility that criticism of religion itself might be criminalized.

I think this criticism is valid, for, as always, the term “Islamophobia” conflates bigotry against Muslims with dislike of the faith itself. I fall into the latter class but not, I hope, the former. But the latter form is not systemic racism and religious discrimination.  Further, Muslims are not under any classification a “race”, so it’s not racism. Even in the nefarious construal, it is bigotry against believers, not members of a race or even an ethnic group.  If you construe “Islamophobia” as “criticism of Islam” or even “fear of Islam” (which I possess as well), then the motion could be seen as an attempt to quash criticism of Islam as a whole.  Even if I thought it was worthwhile singling out bigotry and discrimination against Muslims in particular, while not mentioning other faiths (see point #2), it would be better to either define “Islamophobia” or, better yet, replace it with a more accurate term. So far, though, Khalid has resisted any changes to her motion.

2.) While mentioning other religions in general, M-103 singles out Islam twice while not identifying other faiths.  

This criticism also has some validity. While “hate crimes” against Muslims, like the murder of 6 people in a Quebec mosque, are on the rise, and are reprehensible, if they’re going to condemn hate crimes against races and religion, they should just say that, and not specify particular faiths?

It’s telling that Islam is singled out for special mention, for while it may be a well-intentioned way to reassure frightened Muslims, some of the support of this motion comes from Muslims who want, I think, to inoculate their faith itself against criticism. And that intention leads to what happened with the Danish cartoons and Charlie Hebdo.

Further, most of the “hate crimes” against believers in Canada are not anti-Muslim, but anti-Semitic. Below are the latest data on “hate crimes” in Canada from a 2013 report by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, a government operation:


Now the number of hate crimes against Muslims in those two years was 45, and against Jews 242.  But that disparity is even greater if you take into account that there are about 1,044,000 Muslims in Canada and only 385,000 Jews. That means that in those years the per capita hate crime rate against Muslims was 0.0043%, and against Jews 0.063%—a rate of anti-Semitic hate crimes fifteen times higher. Were there motions singling out anti-Semitism? I have no idea.  Nor do I really care. I object to the idea of “hate crimes” in general, because what should be punished is the action, not the biases behind it, and determining whether bias is involved is often tricky. Note the case of Craig Hicks, who killed three young Muslims in North Carolina two years ago. The police found no evidence that Hicks had an animus against Muslims in general, or these Muslims because of their faith; nevertheless, the Muslim community and many others continue to insist that it was a hate crime driven by “Islamophobia”.

If you’re going to condemn bigotry against members of all religions, ethnicities, genders, and sexes, then just say that without singling out any particular group. For such singling out gives succor to members of that group without, in this case, providing any solace to Jews or other believers.

I recognize that the statistics may be different now, and Canada can and certainly should collect them to monitor what’s happening in their country, but I still don’t think that the concept of a “hate crime” has much valid use in a democracy.

3.) While the motion is couched in terms of discrimination and bigotry, it could act to chill freedom of speech. 

This is possible, but I don’t see it as likely. It is not, after all, a law, and Canada’s freedom of speech laws will remain the same.

But I must add that Canada still has a “blasphemous libel law” on the books, one that lacks a very definition of what that libel is! It also has laws against “hate speech” and “hate propaganda”, which have been used by those who have, for instance, either denied or justified the Holocaust. Those would not have been crimes in the U.S., nor, I think, should they be. If you censor or intimidate those who deny or justify the Holocaust, then there can be no public discussion that will give evidence for the existence of the Holocaust or the reasons why Jews should not be murdered en masse.

So I’m not too worried about the effect of this motion on freedom of speech in Canada. What Canada needs to do, though, is clean up its “hate speech” laws, get rid of its law against blasphemous libel, and ditch the special category of “hate crimes”.  As for singling out Islam for special protection, I don’t favor that, for it plays into the hands of Islamists whose goal is to immunize their own faith while leaving others open to criticism.

h/t: Diana MacPherson

Protests against Trump at the University of Chicago

I read the twice-weekly University of Chicago student newspaper, the Chicago Maroon, and have noticed over the past few years a clear movement towards identity politics and Regressive Leftism. There is pretty much a unanimity of opinion among its writers, with little attempt to present alternative viewpoints, and many of the op-ed pieces are written by privileged students bewailing their marginalization. I think this reflects the views, by and large, of the student body itself.

Case in point: the headline piece in Friday’s issue, which described a discussion between Robert Costa of the Washington Post and Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager (until June of last year) of Donald Trump. Highlighting Lewandowski, it was sponsored by the University’s nonpartisan Institute of Politics (IOP), and was held at the Quadrangle Club, the University’s faculty club that has small rooms for talks. The press wasn’t invited, but that’s protocol for all IOP talks.

The students protested, as is their right, gathering across the street, chanting, and holding signs.  It’s the nature of their protest that I want to discuss here.

First, there’s the photo accompanying the article; here’s the caption from the paper:

Outside the Quad Club on Wednesday afternoon, a crowd of protestors gathered where Donald Tump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was giving a talk.  Many of the demonstrators were associated with campus organizations including UofC Resists, Fascism Now, and Graduate Students United. In this picture, a child takes aim at a piñata effigy of Donald Trump that was roped over a tree.


Photo: Feng Ye

That image disturbs me, for it explicitly endorses violence, and the hitting is being done by a child, presumably with the approbation of the crowd. Was the kid urged to do it? Most likely, since somebody had the idea of bringing a Trump piñata. And, of course, it was not Trump who was speaking across the street. The whole scenario is disturbingly reminiscent of a lynching.

As I said, I have no beef with peaceful protests that don’t interrupt the speaker, but in this case the demonstrators couldn’t restrict themselves to just having a protest across the street. As The Maroon reported:

Seven students entered the event with concealed posters, and were asked to leave after holding up the signs minutes into the talk. Third-year Ryn Seidewitz held a pink poster that read “Hate Speech ≠ Free Speech,” and was asked to leave after holding up the sign. After she came out, she spoke to the crowd, saying that the people in the event could hear the protesters outside. “They keep patting themselves on the back for how great they are at free and open discourse, but they just kicked us out of the meeting,” she said.

Umm. . . free and open discourse doesn’t include interrupting a speaker. Has Ms. Seidwitz not absorbed the University’s Statement on Principles of Free Expression, which includes this:

Although faculty, students and staff are free to criticize, contest and condemn the views expressed on campus, they may not obstruct, disrupt, or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe.

And of course there’s her poster: “Hate Speech ≠ Free Speech,” which is not only wrong (even true hate speech is free speech so long as it’s not intended to incite immediate violence), but erroneous, for, according to the paper’s report, Lewandowski didn’t emit anything close to “hate speech.”  (That term, of course, really means “speech with which I disagree.”) Finally, it disturbs me that students so explicitly endorse violating the First Amendment.

Seidewitz went on:

“This kind of event makes it clear where the University stands on Trump, and we wanted to show them that they can’t hide behind this idea of free and open discourse and neutrality, because in times like these there’s no such thing as neutrality,” Seidewitz told The Maroon.

Again we see a common misconception: a university’s providing a venue for a speaker does not imply endorsement of that speaker.  And in times like these there is—and should be—such a thing as neutrality, at least on campuses. Regardless of the personal feelings of faculty and the administration, they simply cannot say, “We will host only speakers who endorse a liberal and progressive viewpoint.”

Seidewitz isn’t the only student with misconceptions about freedom of expression. Here are two more:

Other students also expressed frustration with the IOP’s platform of nonpartisan neutrality.

“It’s time that the University get rid of its neutral bullshit dedication to free speech and neutrality, when in reality there’s nothing neutral about inviting a speaker to your campus that represents hate,” second-year Mary Blair said.

“It’s a dangerous normalization of Trump and his ideas to extend an official platform to someone like this,” first-year Philip O’Sullivan said.

Remember that while Lewandowski was indeed Trump’s campaign manager, and is pretty much a diehard conservative, he is not Trump, and in fact was fired by Trump last year.  As for what both students said, including the dismissal of free expression as a “neutral bullshit dedication to free speech and neutrality,” I have no words. This is the censorious attitude of young people that I often worry about, for these students will take those attitudes with them when they leave, and may someday be in a position to enforce them.

Finally, some of the views expressed in the peaceful part of the protest were pretty extreme, in line with the Left’s tendency to characterize all its opponents as Nazis and racists. As the paper reported:

The demonstrators chanted slogans including “No CPD [Chicago Police Department], no KKK, no fascist USA,” “Fuck Corey Lewandowski, fuck white supremacy, fuck the bourgeoisie,” and “Shame on U of C, sold out for publicity.”

Shortly after the event began, second-year JT Johnson encouraged the crowd to enter the building and stop the event. Demonstrators approached the entrance of the building en masse, but Chicago Police Department (CPD) and University of Chicago police blocked the doors.

That speaks for itself. Such signs may express opposition and rage, but do they accomplish anything? They are, for one thing, inaccurate (do they really want to do away with the CPD? Is Lewandowski a member of the almost-extinct KKK?), but they also express the kind of distortion that makes the demonstrators seem unhinged.