Trump administration plans to privatize public broadcasting and deep-six the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities

From The Hill we hear of the Trump administration’s plan for slashing government spending (my emphasis):

Staffers for the Trump transition team have been meeting with career staff at the White House ahead of Friday’s presidential inauguration to outline their plans for shrinking the federal bureaucracy, The Hill has learned.The changes they propose are dramatic.

The departments of Commerce and Energy would see major reductions in funding, with programs under their jurisdiction either being eliminated or transferred to other agencies. The departments of Transportation, Justice and State would see significant cuts and program eliminations.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be privatized, while the National Endowment for the Arts [NEA} and National Endowment for the Humanities [NEH] would be eliminated entirely.

Overall, the blueprint being used by Trump’s team would reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years.

This is all hard to bear, but I’m especially distressed to hear of the elimination of the NEA and NEH. What will replace government funding: corporations who slap their name all over the arts, and discourage inventiveness? Have a look at the NEA’s 2015 annual report, or the NEH impact report, to see the good things these organizations do. As for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, privatizing it will simply fill a once-engrossing venue with annoying ads—if the CPB survives at all.

If you want to argue that the arts and humanities are superfluities in a time of financial constraint, consider that they, along with much of science, deeply enrich our culture, or, as someone said, “make our country worth defending.”

What’s next: slashing of science? For the fact is that much of science has no practical value, but forms an intellectual pursuit designed to satisfy our curiosity about nature.  True, we can’t predict what practical benefits can come from funding weird-sounding projects, and that has often served as a justification for such funding, but really, much of basic research is there not to make us richer or more technologically advanced: it’s to enrich our brains.

I love this quote, also from Mencken (his Chrestomathy) about the scientist:

“The value the world sets upon motives is often grossly unjust and inaccurate. Consider, for example, two of them: mere insatiable curiosity and the desire to do good. The latter is put high above the former, and yet it is the former that moves one of the most useful men the human race has yet produced: the scientific investigator. What actually urges him on is not some brummagem idea of Service, but a boundless, almost pathological thirst to penetrate the unknown, to uncover the secret, to find out what has not been found out before. His prototype is not the liberator releasing slaves, the good Samaritan lifting up the fallen, but a dog sniffing tremendously at an infinite series of rat-holes.”

And who is being vetted as Trump’s science adviser? Don’t ask!

h/t: Ken

Lawrence Krauss’s new book on the history of modern physics

Physicist Lawrence Krauss made quite a stir with his previous book, A Universe From Nothing. He took a lot of flak for defining “nothing” as a quantum vacuum, which of course could indeed produce a universe through the appearance of particles that pop into and out of existence, yielding the Big Bang. Theologians and philosophers, affronted, quibbled about the definition of “nothing” (see this review by David Albert, which is mean-spirited but makes a point.) But for a refutation of the “something from nothing” issue, see Michael Shermer’s latest column in Scientific American: “Why humans prefer to be the center of the universe,” where, inspired by Krauss’s new book (below) and others, Michael compiles a list of six responses, including this:

Nothing is nonsensical. It is impossible to conceptualize nothing—not only no space, time, matter, energy, light, darkness or conscious beings to perceive the nothingness but not even nothingness. In this sense, the question is literally inconceivable.

and this telling argument:

Nothing would include God’s nonexistence. In Leslie and Kuhn’s taxonomy of “nothings,” they list what categories of things might be included in “something” that would be negated by “nothing”: physical, mental, platonic, spiritual and God. . . .

But to the issue at hand: Krauss has a new book, The Greatest Story Ever Told. . . So Far: Why Are We Here?coming out on March 21. The title is of course an antitheistic riff on the 1965 movie “The Greatest Story Ever Told”, a biography of Jesus.  This book, however, appears to deal mostly with the history of quantum mechanics and the Standard Model, so it may be far less controversial.  Given the “why are we here?” bit in the title, though, I suspect Krauss won’t refrain from showing the superfluity of God in physics. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

In the beginning there was light but more than this, there was gravity. After that, all hell broke loose…This is how the story of the greatest intellectual adventure in history should be introduced – how humanity reached its current understanding of the universe, one that is far removed from the realm of everyday experience. Krauss connects the world we know with the invisible world all around us, which is removed from intuition and direct sensation. He explains our current understanding of nature and the struggle to construct the greatest theoretical edifice ever assembled, the Standard Model of Particle Physics — and then to understand its implications for our existence. Writing in the critically acclaimed style of A Universe from Nothing, Krauss celebrates the beauty and wonders of the natural world and details our place within it and how this shapes our understanding of it. Krauss makes this story accessible through profiles of the scientists responsible for these advances, and clear explanations of their discoveries. Krauss takes us on a tour of science and the brilliant personalities who shaped it, often against political and religious indoctrination, enduring persecution and ostracism. Krauss creates a captivating blend of research and narrative to invite us into the lives and minds of these figures, creating a landmark work of scientific history.

The Amazon page includes a lot of short blurbs, including Eric Idle’s endorsement: “I loved the fight scenes and the sex scenes were excellent”. Here’s Shermer’s own blurb:

“In every debate I’ve done with theologians and religious believers their knock-out final argument always comes in the form of two questions: Why is there something rather than nothing? and Why are we here? The presumption is that if science provides no answers then there must be a God. But God or no, we still want answers. In A Universe From Nothing Lawrence Krauss, one of the biggest thinkers of our time, addressed the first question with verve, and in The Greatest Story Ever Told he tackles the second with elegance. Both volumes should be placed in hotel rooms across America, in the drawer next to the Gideon Bible.” — Michael Shermer

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I will of course be reading this book (Lawrence: if you’re reading this, send me a free copy!), and, while I’m at it, would like to recommend another good book on quantum mechanics, which is much tougher going but immensely rewarding. It’s this one (click on screenshot to go to Amazon page), which summarizes the history of QM in 40 episodic chapters.

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Tomorrow, tomorrow, I hate ya, tomorrow

UPDATE: I should have done my usual checking, as the quote appears inaccurate, with the word “narcissistic” added. The correct quote is given in the comments, which is still pretty good, though we’ve had people close to downright morons in the Oval Office before.

As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

*******

The prescient and always entertaining H. L. Mencken, writing nearly a hundred years ago:

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Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Joe Dickinson sent some photographs of cormorants; his comments are indented.

Walking recently along the Eastcliff pedestrian path in Santa Cruz, we had a nice look at some cormorants in the lower branches of a tree hanging out over the cliff.  That prompted me to go to my archives for some other favorite shots of cormorants and their cousins.

First the instigators, a pair of double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus), one in a characteristic pose with wings spread to dry.

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Two other species found locally are Brandt’s cormorant (P. penicillatus), seen here on a seaweed nest atop a piling, and the pelagic cormorant (P. pelagicus) shown as a pair in graceful ballet on a pier railing.  Both are at Moss Landing, a few miles down the coast.

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Here are a couple of shots of the flightless Galapagos cormorant (P. harrisi).  This is the only flightless cormorant, but loss of flight is, of course, fairly common in island endemics.  Note the greatly reduced wing size.

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Here is an African reed cormorant (Microcarbo africanus) seen at Chobe National Park in Botswana a few years ago.

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That last bird was mistakenly identified by our guide as an anhinga (sister group to cormorants).  The resemblance (general build) is evident in this actual anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) seen in the Florida Everglades.  The second shot shows that same wings-spread pose.  There is an African species of anhinga, also called the African Darter but, like the American species, it has a straight beak without the hook seen in all of the cormorants.

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Finally, another pelagic cormorant in a sort of “me-and-my-shadow” shot with a slightly more distant cousin, the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis).  They were photographed a bit up the coast from Santa Cruz at Wilder Ranch State Park.

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Thursday: Hili dialogue

It’s Thursday, January 19, 2017; posting will be light today as I have a piece of journalism to do, so bear with me. It’s National Popcorn Day, a comestible that I find an adequate substitute for dinner when I just can’t face cooking. It’s also the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe (1809, died 1849), marked by the Poe Toaster at his grave in Baltimore. What is the Poe Toaster? Here’s Wikipedia’s story:

Poe Toaster is a media epithet popularly used to refer to an unidentified person (or more probably two persons in succession, possibly father and son) who, for over seven decades, paid an annual tribute to American author Edgar Allan Poe by visiting the cenotaph marking his original grave in Baltimore, Maryland, in the early hours of January 19, Poe’s birthday. The shadowy figure, dressed in black with a wide-brimmed hat and white scarf, would pour himself a glass of cognac and raise a toast to Poe’s memory, then vanish into the night, leaving three roses in a distinctive arrangement and the unfinished bottle of cognac. Onlookers gathered annually in hopes of glimpsing the elusive Toaster, who did not seek publicity and was rarely seen or photographed.

According to eyewitness reports and notes accompanying offerings in later years, the original Toaster made the annual visitation from sometime in the 1930s (though no report appeared in print until 1950) until his death in 1998, after which the tradition was passed to “a son”.Controversial statements were made in some notes left by the post-1998 Toaster, and in 2006 an unsuccessful attempt was made by several onlookers to detain and identify him. In 2010 there was no visit by the Toaster, nor has he appeared any year since, signaling an end to the 75-year tradition.

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On this day in 1853, Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Il trovatore had its first performance in Rome, and exactly 100 years later over 70% of all American television sets were tuned into I Love Lucy to watch Lucy give birth to Little Ricky. On January 19, 1978, the last VW Beetle was made in Germany (they’re still made elsewhere). I never had one, but I much admired them and rode in many.

Notable people born on this day include, besides Edgar Allan Poe, James Watt (1736), Robert E. Lee (1807), Paul Cézanne (1839), Lester Flatt (1914), Phil Everly (1939), Janis Joplin (1943), Dolly Parton (1946) and Cindy Sherman (1954). Those who died on this day include Thomas Hart Benton (1975), James Dickey (1997), Hedy Lamarr (2000), Wilson Pickett (2006) and Stan Musial (2013; one of my baseball heroes and a great guy; I watched him play once). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is affronted at not having a proper place to sleep:

Hili: This is an imitation
A: What of?
Hili: A proper cardboard box.
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In Polish:
Hili: To jest imitacja.
Ja: Czego?
Hili: Porządnego kartonu.

A monument to lab mice

This photo, from a site apparently called 9gag, is labeled as “In Novosibirsk there is a monument to all the lab mice who lost their lives in DNA research”.

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h/t: Arno M.

Sociologist rebukes Dawkins for not seeing humans as “sacred”

Oh, the indignities suffered by poor Richard Dawkins! The latest is a rebuke by John H. Evans, a professor of sociology at the University of California at San Diego. Evans’s article in last August’s New Scientist found its way to me today (click on screenshot to get partial article; it’s not free), though for some reason its title has changed to “When human rights become human wrongs.”

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The answer to Evans’s question is, according to New Scientist’s increasing goddiness, “Yes!” The point Evans makes, using experimental surveys, is that if we see humans as simple biological machines, we’re likely to go down the path of eugenics, torture, and the selling of organs.

Evans first concocts three ways to “define” humans:

Today, there are three influential and competing definitions. The first is the Christian theological view that humans are made in the image of God. The second is a more philosophical position that defines humans as possessing certain capacities, such as self-consciousness and rationality. Finally, there is the biological view, where humans are defined — and differentiated from animals — by their DNA.

Well, I’m not sure that the second definition differs materially from the third, since rationality and self-consciousness are products of our DNA, and in fact I doubt that we’re the only species that is self-conscious. (We’re certainly not the only species that is rational!) And the DNA “definition” seems a bit ambiguous. Regardless, Evans then asked 3500 Americans which of the definitions they most accepted, and then asked them questions about how to treat other humans: whether we could allow the sale of organs, suicide for the terminally ill “to save money”, torture of suspected terrorists, and so on. The results are as expected:

What came out was very striking. The more a respondent agreed with the biological definition of a human, the more likely they were to see humans as being like machines and the less likely they were to see them as special, unique or all of equal value. On the human rights questions, they were less willing to stop genocides and were more likely to accept buying kidneys, suicide to save money and taking blood from prisoners.

In contrast, those who agreed with the theological view were less likely to agree with suicide to save money and taking blood from prisoners against their will.

Shockingly, then, the critics appear to be right. People who agree with the biological definition of a human are also more likely to hold views inconsistent with human rights.

This isn’t that surprising: advocates of human exceptionalism, especially those of the theological variety, are surely going to value people more, especially if they’re seen to have souls. I wonder what the results would have been had they asked questions about animal rights? After all, animals suffer, too—they just can’t articulate it like humans can. There is something to be said for Peter Singer’s view that human exceptionalism and its moral consequences are fictions: we rest on a sliding scale with other species in our ability to suffer, and of course there’s no limit to the amount of animal suffering that many people will accept in the name of medical research (after all, you can kill millions of mice to save 100 humans), of factory farming, and of entertainment in zoos and aquariums.

Evans concludes that “these findings suggest a real problem for those who subscribe to both the biological view of humanity and to human rights.”  In the end, though, the proof of the pudding is in the behavior of people, not in how they answer sociology questions right after they are asked to agree with a definition. Are the “biological definitionists” really more immoral? We don’t know.

Given that humans are biological machines—albeit complex ones that can articulate physical and emotional pain—what are we supposed to do? Promote religion? Keep emphasizing human exceptionalism? Evans apparently prefers the second solution, and then high-handedly lectures Richard Dawkins on what he should do to stop this debasing of humanity (my emphasis):

The most influential person in that position today is Richard Dawkins. He is an advocate of the view that humans are DNA-based machines. He is also an honorary vice president of the British Humanist Association, which promotes human rights and recognises “the dignity of individuals”.

In light of my results, many humanities scholars would see some tension between these two positions. I do not doubt anyone’s sincerity in believing in both the biological definition of the human and in human rights, but promoting the former risks undercutting public support for the latter.

What is to be done? If Dawkins’s priority was human rights, he could switch to teaching us that we are made in the image of God. This isn’t going to happen, and it shouldn’t; nobody should change their view of what a human truly is. In any case, Christian definitions of the human have not always been a recipe for the humane treatment of others.

The answer, I think, is for influential people like Dawkins to try to sever the link the public apparently makes between definitions and treatment. The way to do this is to promote the idea that however a human is defined, humans are sacred.

This sacredness does not have to be of the religious variety: it could be based on secular ideas of dignity found in many European constitutions, treaties and human rights documents. (Incidentally, I suspect that if my study was replicated in a secular European country, it would get similar results. Fewer people would subscribe to the theological view, but attitudes to human rights would be tempered by secular notions of dignity found in those constitutions and treaties).

Therefore, whenever we talk about the biological view of humans, we must also say that it does not mean we should treat people like machines. Dawkins, to his credit, often does this in interviews, but he should redouble his efforts. Yes, the public is apparently making the mistake of mixing up an “is” (what humans are) with an “ought” (how they should consequently be treated). But academics need to be attuned to the fact that some ideas have unintended consequences.

I suppose there’s at least something to be said for Evans’s article, in that it emphasizes the values of secular humanism. But in fact most of us who subscribe to the biological view of humans as a hypercerebralized species also adhere to humanism. If you have to single out one on a questionnaire to which you most adhere, you may get the result that Evans got. But I suspect most of us can simultaneously adhere to a biological view of humans and to humanism as well. If we couldn’t, scientists would be a cold and evil lot—the worst moiety of humanity.

As for Evans’s tut-tutting of Dawkins, who constantly emphasizes humanism, it’s just patronizing and reprehensible.

h/t: Nicole Reggia

 

The secret of zebra stripes solved—or so scientists say

Over the past five years I’ve written several posts on the long-standing and vexing question, “Why on earth do zebras have stripes?” (See posts here, here and here.) If you’ve read those posts, you’ll know about the experiments that seemed to settle the issue, or at least that gave a good indication of the evolutionary forces that promoted the evolution of this striking pattern.

One clue is shown below: a figure from a paper that I described in an earlier post (my emphasis). The top part shows the distribution of various striped equids in Africa (the green and orange are unstriped Asian equids) and the bottom shows range maps of two groups of biting flies: tabanids (horseflies) and Glossina, the tsetse fly; both of these carry equine diseases and also promote infections and blood loss. As I wrote at the time (my emphasis):

Here’s the association between the historical (not present!) ranges of equids and of tabanids and tsetse flies; equids at top (zebra ranges striped!) and flies at bottom. Note that tsetse flies (Glossina) aren’t found outside Africa. E. kiang is an unstriped wild ass, E. africanus is the African wild ass, having thin stripes on its legs, E. hemionus is the onager, an unstriped wild ass, and E. ferus przewalskii is Prezewalski’s horse, a rare wild horse thought to be the closest living relative of the domestic horse.

The correspondence is pretty good, although not perfect, since flies live in some areas where zebras don’t. The crucial observation, though, is that biting flies always occurred in areas where zebras lived.

Note, too, that unstriped equids don’t generally coexist with either kind of fly, though the African wild ass, which does have thin striping on its legs, does live in areas with horseflies.

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This is a correlation, not a causation, but an earlier experiment (link given below) showed that these flies indeed do avoid landing on striped surfaces. We’re not quite sure why.

Now the entire issue, and all the various hypotheses that have been raised, are discussed in a new book, Zebra Stripes by Tim Caro, which itself is summarized in a new piece in Wired magazine, “The man in the zebra suit knows the secret of the stripes.” The book is shown below, but, as Wired notes, it’s not written for the layperson:

This is not a book for casual pop science readers. It is a book about doing science, full of every detail you’d need to reproduce any of the experiments done in the book: distances for viewing pelts; reflectance values for zebra hair; thermal camera settings for taking infrared pictures; speaker settings for playing predator noises; histograms, leaf and tree diagrams, scatter plots; page after page of references. This book is for scientists, or those who wish they’d become scientists. And as treats for the latter, there the anecdotes of Caro’s scientific antics: Tales of how he systematically worked through each hypothesis until he figured out the secret of the stripes.

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But that’s okay, for if you’re not a scientist, the Wired article is a good description of all the hypotheses raised about the pattern (Alfred Russel Wallace was the first to consider its evolutionary advantage) and how they were tested and refuted, winding up with what seems to be the correct idea. I’ll just list the leading hypotheses and you can read about the tests at Wired.

  • Hiding from predators (breaking up the animal’s outline). Nope.
  • Warning predators: an “aposematic” pattern indicating that zebras are dangerous to attack. Nope.
  • Confusing predators by making it difficult to single out an individual to kill. Nope again
  • Social recognition: a way to enable one zebra to recognize a member of the same species. Still nope.
  • Temperature regulation: the contrast between heat-absorbing black stripes and heat-reflecting white ones might create a convection current to cool the animal. Not likely.
  • Avoiding flies (something I hinted at above). Experiments described in my earlier posts show that flies simply don’t like to land on a striped pattern.

And indeed, the last hypothesis seems to be the right one. As the Wired article notes, Caro did a cool experiment, though he risked incarceration! (There were of course other experiments too.)

Looking back on how he wound up walking down a dusty Tanzanian road in the midday sun draped in a zebra pelt, Caro admits he should have consulted an insect expert. “I knew from the literature that certain kinds of biting flies didn’t like landing on black and white surfaces,” he says. He also knew that the insects were attracted to movement. So, he would put on the pelt, trudge for an hour, and have his assistant count the number of tsetse flies that had landed on him. For science, he did the walk again, draped in a wildebeest hide.

And? “I really started to see results at this point,” he says. The flies did not like the stripes! “It was an elevating experience, at last after ten years working on this project I started to see a positive effect on one of these hypotheses.” He did more experiments, including setting up striped fly traps (no more walking down dusty roads). With each new experiment, the evidence lined up to support the anti-insect hypothesis. Eventually, Caro and his colleagues did a map analysis, overlaying the ranges of various biting flies and insects with the places where zebras, and their non-striped cousins like the Asiatic wild ass, ranged. “It’s a slam dunk, if you like,” he says. “You find striping where you have high biting fly abundance.”

Caro has no lingering doubts about the connection between flies and stripes. Now, he wants to find out exactly how the flies forced the stripes’ evolution. One question is about the flies—why are they repulsed by black and white? Another is whether the zebras adapted this anti-fly defense because they are particularly susceptible to blood loss, or to diseases the flies carry. Not so annoying anymore.

I summarized Caro and his colleagues’ 2014 Nature paper on the fly hypothesis (the paper was tersely called “The function of zebra stripes“) in an earlier post, from which the range maps above were taken. (See also a suggestive 2012 paper in the Journal of Experimental Biology by Ádám Egri et al.)

I think Caro’s conclusion is pretty strong, but not quite so strong as to say, “We needn’t do any more experiments.” Still, the Fly Hypothesis is the best one going, and if you take no other lesson from this post, just remember that zebras probably have stripes to ward off biting flies.

Here’s Caro in his zebra suit, looking for all the world like an escaped prisoner. What sacrifices we make for science!

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h/t: Greg

Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ brain scans

Today’s Jesus and Mo strip, called “drugs” is based on a Daily Mail report on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the brains of 19 “devout Mormons” (what—no other faiths?). When the Mormons were scanned while undergoing religious experiences, like reading scripture or watching Mormon videos, the fMRIs (which show blood flow to various parts of the brain) revealed activation of several parts of the brain, notably including the “nucleus accumbens”, a bit that also lights up during hedonistic experiences like taking drugs or listening to music. (You can read the paper in Social Neuroscience here, though I haven’t done so.)

At any rate, Jesus is willing to see how other stimulants affect him, but of course Mo is forbidden from drinking or listening to music. My suspicion is that Jesus’s “drug”, which appears to be a Guinness, isn’t strong enough.

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Secular conference on freedom of conscience and expression: London, 22-23 July

On July 22 and 23 of this year, there’s an International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression in the 21st Century in London, featuring a diverse and distinguished panoply of speakers.  The description:

Join notable free-thinkers from around the world for a weekend of discussions and debates on freedom of conscience and expression in the 21st century at a spectacular venue in central London during 22-23 July 2017.

The exciting two-day conference will be a follow up to the historic 2014 International Conference on the Religious-Right, Secularism and Civil Rights and will discuss censorship and blasphemy laws, freedom of and from religion, apostasy, the limits of religion’s role in society, LGBT and women’s rights, atheism, secular values and more.

Speakers from countries or the Diaspora as diverse as Algeria, Bangladesh, Canada, Egypt, France, India, Iran, Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Ireland, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Palestinian Territories, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Turkey, Tunisia, UK, Ukraine, US and Yemen will gather in London to defend freedom of conscience and expression and argue that freedoms are not western but universal.

The conference will highlight the voices of people on the frontlines of resistance – many of them persecuted and exiled – as well as address challenges faced by activists and freethinkers, elaborate on the links between democratic politics and free expression and conscience, promote secular and rights-based alternatives, and establish priorities for collective action.

Art and culture will be integral to the event as will lively debate with the dauntless use of the free word.

Tickets for each of the two days, which you can buy here, are £85; and if you want the full experience, including dinner and drinks, it’s between £230 and £260. What struck me is the list of participants, which I’ll give in full:

A C Grayling, Philosopher
Abdalaziz Alhamza, Co-founder and Spokesperson of Raqqa is being Slaughtered Silently
Ali A. Rizvi, Pakistani-Canadian Writer, Physician and Musician
Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, Egyptian Feminist Activist
Alya Al-Sultani, British-Iraqi Vocalist and Composer
Ani Zonneveld, Founder and President of Muslims for Progressive Values
Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, Co-Presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation
Benjamin David, Editor-in-Chief of Conatus News
Bonya Ahmed, Activist, Writer and Blogger at Mukto-Mona
Cemal Knudsen Yucel, Co-Founder and Chair of Ex-Muslims of Norway
Chris Moos, Secular Activist
Clive Aruede and Lola Tinubu, Co-Founders of London Black Atheists
Dave Silverman, President of American Atheists
Deeyah Khan, Filmmaker
Djemila Benhabib, Author and Activist
Elham Manea, Yemeni-born Author and Human Rights Campaigner
Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, Iraqi Founder of Global Secular Humanist Movement
Fariborz Pooya, Bread and Roses TV Presenter and Editor
Fauzia Ilyas, Founder of Atheist & Agnostic Alliance Pakistan
Gina Khan, One Law for All Spokesperson
Gita Sahgal, Director of Centre for Secular Space
Gona Saed, Co-Founder of Kurdistan Secular Centre
Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Award-winning Playwright
Halima Begum, Ex-Muslim Feminist Researcher and Blogger
Hassan Radwan, Agnostic Muslim Khutbahs blog
Houzan Mahmoud, Culture Project Co-Founder
Ibn Warraq, Writer
Imad Iddine Habib, Founder of Council of Ex-Muslims of Morocco
Inna Shevchenko, FEMEN Leader
Iram Ramzan, Journalist and Founder of Sedaa
Ismail Mohamed, Egyptian Atheist and Founder of Black Ducks Talk Show
Jane Donnelly and Michael Nugent, Atheist Ireland’s Human Rights Officer and Chairperson
Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship
Karima Bennoune, UN Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights
Karrar D. Al Asfoor, Co-founder of Atheist Alliance Middle East and North Africa
Kate Smurthwaite, Comedian
Kenan Malik, Author and Broadcaster
Lawrence M Krauss, American Theoretical Physicist and Cosmologist
London Humanist Choir
Maajid Nawaz, Founding Chairman of Quilliam Foundation
Marieme Helie Lucas, Algerian Sociologist and Founder of Secularism is a Women’s Issue
Mario Ramadan, Co-Founder of Freethought Lebanon
Maryam Namazie, Iranian-born Rights Activist, Writer and Conference Organiser
Nadia El Fani, Tunisian Filmmaker
Nasreen Rehman, Co-Founder and Chair of British Muslims for Secular Democracy
Nina Sankari, Polish Secular Activist
Noura Embabi, Muslim-ish President
Peter Tatchell, Human Rights Campaigner
Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters
Rana Ahmad, Head of the RDF Arab Atheist Community
Rayhana Sultan, #ExMuslimBecause
Richard Dawkins, Author and Scientist (subject to availability)
Sadia Hameed, Spokesperson of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Sanal Edamaruku, Founder and President of Rationalist International
Sarah Peace, Nigerian Artist and Director of Fireproof Library
Savin Bapir Tardy, Counselling Psychologist for The Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation
Shelley Segal, Singer/Songwriter
Sukhwant Dhaliwal, Founder and Editorial Collective Member of Feminist Dissent
Tasneem Khalil, Swedish-Bangladeshi Journalist and Editor of Independent World Report
Teresa Gimenez Barbat, MEP, Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and Euromind
Usama al-Binni, Arab Atheists Network Activist
Victoria Gugenheim, Award-winning Body Artist
Waleed Al Husseini, Palestinian Writer and Founder of Council of Ex-Muslims of France
Yasmine, Confessions of an ExMuslim
Yasmin Rehman, Women’s Rights Campaigner
Zehra Pala, President of Atheism Association of Turkey
Zineb El Rhazoui, Moroccan-born Columnist for Charlie Hebdo

I know some of these people, and have heard of many others, and I wish I could go. The only issue I have is how, with so many speakers, everyone’s going to get a chance to talk! I count 67 people on the list above, and even if there were 8 hours per day of talks, that’s a maximum of 15 minutes per speaker. Perhaps there will be panels.