Skeptics Aren’t The Big Bad Negative People You Think They Are

It was back around 2005 I think. I was reading a book called The Field, by Lynne McTaggart, which was explaining how science is starting to show that there is a ‘field’ in the universe which connects everything in a conscious and health-related way. It was dabbling in quantum mechanics and refering to studies related to the memory of water, the ability for people to perform remote healing (with thoughts and/or prayer), and even went in to the potential for tapping this field to draw free energy from it.

It was an intriguing book, and I found myself, quite proudly I will admit, thinking of how all of ‘those skeptics’ out there wouldn’t read a book like this.

“They would probably dismiss it out of hand. Arrogant jerks. Not me. I’m open minded, and willing to give anything a go. Afterall, who is to say that we can’t draw power from quantum fluctuations? Seems reasonable enough to me! You know, that is what is wrong with those skeptics – they dismiss ideas too quickly without really giving them a chance. How do you know you won’t miss an amazing breakthrough because you dismissed it before you gave it a chance??!? Better to be open minded and give everything a chance…” I found myself thinking…

It is funny what a few more years of open minded thinking and genuine investigation will do to you. I have no become one of those arrogant jerks. At least, that is how I am perceived by people who haven’t yet completed the journey I have.

You see, at the time I was reading the book, I was studying Molecular Biology at university. Since completing my one year full time research in a lab, I have also gone on to teach first second and third year university student lab techniques and basic science. So I was able to really engage with one part of the book directly – the section which discussed the amazing research done by Jacques Benveniste, which claimed that water had a memory, and that when serially diluted to infintesimal amounts, the activity of the ingredients would increase. The book claimed that his research had demonstrated it. I could actually go and access his published papers. I could actually test the claims. More importantly, I understood exactly what was being claimed, and was able to consider it in an informed, detailed manner.

And unfortunately, it was pretty clear that the whole thing was a load of shit.

Basically, the claim was that one of the most basic, constantly run of the mill aspects of scientific daily life – that if decreasing activity with dilutions, suddenly reversed itself at some mystical magical dilution point. To help visualise this, here is a line graph of the basic principle:

As you dilute an active reagent, it has less activity!
As you dilute an active reagent, it has less activity!

So basically, if you have some molecule which reacts in some measurable way, then when you dilute the original sample to half concentration, you get half as much activity out of the same volume. der right? If you use half as much detergent on your dishes, it has half as much cleaning activity! Try using 1/10 the amount of detergent next time you wash up. Then try doing taking 10ml out of the sink, and using that to provide the detergent for the follow load of dishes. Obviously, the activity of the detergent is going to become useless. There simply isn’t enough to do anything.

So anyway, the claim was that if you keep doing this, suddenly, water would remember its active agent, and would act as if it had it in it. It would ‘remember’ the active agent, and be active itself. Basically, the claim was that it would do this:

memory of water
dilute something far enough, and it gets more active again!

This was the claim. Dilute an active agent far enough, and the water itself suddenly starts being active again, despite the fact that there is actually zero particles of the active agent in it.

The book very clearly made it sound like this research had been done, had been demonstrated, and was an amazing break through. not only did water have a memory, but apparently it could be activated over the phone. Hooray. Praise science!

Unfortunately, no one else has ever been able to replicate the findings. And this principle is so easy to test, that really, anyone can do it. It just doesn’t work. It is false. it is wrong, and it is a lie to act like there is something here. There isn’t. This is the fact. But when I read the book, I had no idea that this was the supposed principle behind Homeopathy. I had no preconceived notions. I wasn’t dismissing anything out of hand. I had no idea how homeopathy was claimed to work, and I read the entire thing in good faith. It sounded fantastic, and I wanted to believe it. It just failed to live up to its claims in the end.

I had an open mind. I approached it genuinely. And in the end, with investigation, and a reasonable approach, it was 100% clear that the whole concept was made up. Someone lied. Simple. So now, whenever someone talks to me about the memory of water, I feel very confident in my appraisal: it is nonsense. Complete rubbish, based on wishful thinking with zero science to back it up. And by extension, homeopathy falls apart without this most surreal claim. So that, combined with numerous other events and readings and discussions I have had over the past 6 or so years leave me in a position where I feel justified at concluding: homeopathy is nonsense.

So now I am a closed minded jerk skeptic.

And that was just the memory of water part of the book. Around the same time I spent an hour next to my uncle’s wife in a car talking to her about her psychic powers. She is a real psychic. She gets paid to do psychic readings, she has a slot on the radio – she even TEACHES people how to be psychic. She is the real deal. I wanted to believe. I wanted her to give me something, something real, something to show me that she really could …read minds? see the future? whatever it is that psychics are meant to be able to do. I really wanted it!

Instead I found out that she just lets her mind wander, and lets images come to them and tells people what she sees. It was all underwhelming at the time, and I left feeling pretty meh about the whole thing. Again, in the years since then I have come a long way in my education and understanding of the world. I have learned about psychology and the human mind, and all of its terrible terrible failings. The studies which have shown how susceptible people are to believing things, and assenting to perceived authority figures. About people filling in gaps, and detecting patterns where there are none. I have watched Derren Brown and other mentalists demonstrate the techniques which psychics use (whether they realise they use them or not), and do so far better than any psychics can. I have seen too many of the most famous psychics be shown up as frauds by investigators like James Randi. I have seen too much. I have learned too much. I didn’t start out closed minded. I didn’t decide psychics were bullshit. I started out hoping to be shown something real. I wanted to believe. The evidence, the facts, and the information just got in the way.

So now I am an arrogant jerk skeptic again. So closed minded….

And the person who lent this book to me way back then was actually reading it because of the implications about power generation. See he was an entrepreneur and home inventor. He had invented a power generation system in his garage and was attempting to make generators from it. You may have seen similar generators online – they use magnets and coils and generate more power than you put in them to get them started. I watched this thing working in his garage, and he showed me dials showing how the voltage coming out of it was higher than the input…. and I knew that you could change the voltage without there being more power, but fact is that I am not an electrical engineer, and I am quite ignorant about electricity in general, so I couldn’t really question it. He was sure they were generating power, so I trusted him. He wasn’t an electrical engineer either. Or a physicist. But those egg heads didn’t understand it. They were all too invested in their paradigm, and couldn’t see the truth when it was put in front of them.

I believed him. I wanted it to be true. I mean, seriously – a free energy generator. And I know the usual complaint is that you can’t get energy for free! Well yeah, but solar panels can harvest energy from UV radiation, so who is to say that this generator isn’t harvesting energy from ‘the Field’ like the book implied? Seriously – it is a valid point. Maybe one day we will invent a power generation system which takes power from the micro fluctuations in quantum particles. Well at least so my completely ignorant mind still wants to believe. Anyway, how awesome would it be to know the person who invented cheap free energy for the world? You know, like Nikola Tesla did before he was sabotaged….

But for the seven years that I was involved in this persons life – the whole time of which he was working on this project – one thing continually bothered me. If it really generated power – why wasn’t he using it to power things? I believe there were reasons, related to the dirty outputs or something (fluctuating waves or something – again, more shit I didn’t understand!) but seriously, we’re looking at going on to almost 10 years now, and I have still heard nothing about any progress on this project. I don’t believe they have any power units being produced, nor have they expanded in to large scale power stations.

I am disappointed. I still want to believe in it. I still want it to be true. But there is a point at which you have to stop living in the fairytale world where wishing things would be true makes a difference, and accept that the likeliest thing here, is that they simply don’t understand the facts of the situation. That they keep finding excuses to justify failure, when the experts simply understood the entire situation from the beginning.

This is really one of the biggest things I have learned over the years as I worked my way towards miserable old arrogant jerk skeptic, is that at the end of the day, someone who is genuinely knowledgable about a subject, can dismiss ideas out of hand sometimes. Or if not dismiss ideas, can at least call Bullshit on someone attempting to spin jargon, and getting it all outright wrong.

Being somewhat well trained in biology and philosophy and the history of science, I have studied evolution more than most people out there. I understand the biology of it, I understand the philosophy behind it, and its history. I have literally studied all of those elements, as well as engaged with every other aspect of it in a more casual discussion format. So I get evolution. Really well.

So when someone comes up and says that Humans were placed here by Aliens, I can VERY confidently dismiss that idea completely out of hand. Because I know how much evidence we have for the fact that humans evolved from apes. The idea that we were placed on this planet with so many nearly identically related species, with intermediate fossils scattering the area clearly found to be our local origin point, our historic migratory pattern our of africa, always found with epoch appropriate technology, all discovered with numerous lines of completely independant verification – when you actually understand this stuff, and know that there is well founded evidence behind it all, then dismissing some guys idea is the only reasonable thing to do. It is not reasonable to pay their ignorance of the evidence the same credibility as the weight of knowledge of evidence on the side of the expert. This is not arrogance, this is reality.

It is like taking your car to a mechanic because it broke down after you put sugar in the fuel tank and arguing that sugar is a carbon based material, like petrol, therefore it works, so therefore it must be something else which caused it to break down – and then getting indignant when the mechanic out of hand dismisses your claims. How dare that mechanic be so arrogant as to ignore your arguments? He should at least check to make sure other things aren’t broken! He clearly hasn’t seen the same information as you. Maybe you should take him to your sugar-as-fuel youtube videos, and he will see the light!

No. The professional understands more than you do. His knowledge isn’t brain washing. It is experience. It is accumulated knowledge of a reliable and trustworthy nature.

Yes it is true that sometimes people can be self-assured and be wrong – but as a whole, as we move forwards in scientific research, these areas are getting smaller and smaller and more and more detail orientated. Scientific paradigm shifts of the sort seen back in Galileo’s day and with Darwin happened in the past because the scientific bodies were establishing themselves then. Science, as a human endeavour, was being born. There were birthing pains as the old ways of dogma (typically religious) were being over thrown. Yes dogma still exists, and yes some people are still arrogant. but as a whole, NO, evolution is not just as realistic as creationism and not just as likely to be overthrown by some new theory. NO, atomic theory is not just as likely to be over thrown by a new theory as the theory of phlogiston was. Or as Isaac Assimov very clearly argued in this great paper, our understanding of the shape of the earth is not just as likely to be wrong as a belief in the earth being flat was.

We are not swapping one arbitrary belief for another – we are gradually ratcheting our understanding of the universe closer and closer to the truth with accumulating evidence.

Skepticism is, in my opinion, just a label for people who, like me, have been through a journey where we all end up realising this same simple fact. That evidence doesn’t change. And when you actually consider all of the evidence together, the scientific leaders of each niche field actually do know what they are talking about. Far better than anyone else. No one of them is right. But the peer-system of research, review and revision works really well over the long run. And things which have been around for a while, and independently verified and tested – they are pretty much here to stay, tried and tested, facts.

And when someone comes out of one field, and claims to know more about another field than the people in that field – if the people in that field dismiss their claims out of hand, it is usually because they are dismissable. They are nonsense. Being a doctor does not equip you with knowledge about quantum mechanics, no matter how smart you are. If you want to disrupt another science, then you still need to go through the process of studying it and genuinely understanding the history and research, and reptition which has got it to the situation it is in. Not just make wild statements and expect people to accept them because you have some authority in another field.

Sadly though, the general public have no idea of this, so when people like Deepak Chopra do exactly this, declare “I am a doctor! I must therefore be very smart” and then proceed to talk about things related to quantum mechanics despite having been told numerous times by professional physicists that what he says doesn’t make sense, and simply doesn’t work that way, the public have no way of understanding this conflict, and so trust him (he IS a doctor afterall!), and thus buy his books, attend his talks, and make him shit loads of money, while he flat out lies to them.

So here we are again, i am that arrogant jerk of a skeptic who outright dismisses someone who lots of people love and adore and surely isn’t doing any harm etc. But fuck Deepak. He is an arsehole who peddles bullshit for profit at the hands of ignorance and he knows it.

I have believe in, and slowly been educated out of so many false beliefs I feel like I should feel ashamed. I feel like a fraud skeptic whenever I go to conventions. It seems like everyone else has always been so smart and not fallen for this shit. But I kept trying things.  My current girlfriend has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). This is a disease that is so poorly understood, that there is no concensus even where to do the research on it! What do you do when trying to treat a disease which has no known cause, and no known treatment? You try everything. To this day, while I am steeped in my skeptical position, I still encourage her to try things which I am 99% sure won’t do shit, but fuck it right – maybe the placebo affect will help at least? So we have been trying variations of vitamin and dietary supplements. We even tried buying an oxygen machine to try pumping a higher concentration of oxygen in to her lungs. We went to a clinic where she was taught the Emotional Freedom Technique – which basically comes down to tapping on parts of your body whenever you feel stressed, in order to reduce your stress.

It sounds like complete BS from the outset. But you know what – I still give it the benefit of the doubt. I still wonder whether the simple act of distraction can play a significant role and reducing stress and anxiety – two experiences which are very much of the mind, and as such could be distracted from. And maybe if we could distract anxious and stressed minds from their anxieties and stress, maybe that would calm them, and in doing so, stop any cascade affects which come from the stressed state and cause harmful states in the body? Maybe this treatment will help?

But here is the real problem isn’t it? This is one of those areas where BS peddlers get in: We are talking about a subject which exists in an area of genuine ignorance. Not only do I really really not understand how the brain works, and how physical activities and chosen behavioural patterns affects the brain, let alone how the brain and activities in it can cascade down in to real physical chemical changes in the body – but sadly, neither does anyone much else. Doctors know a lot more than I do, but this brain-body-psychology cross over is still just too damn complicated. This is why disease like CFS and depression and many others are such a large problem. If we don’t understand the system in its natural state, how the fuck do we fix it when it is broken?

So I will keep hoping these people who claim to have a cure are right – but the reality is that they are just making shit up, and selling it without any real evidence. And they get away with it because hope is a powerful thing, and because the placebo affect exists, and people can’t differentiate correlation from causation. Oh, and they attribute causation to whatever they want to, rather than attempting to identify the actual cause. So when someone does come out of a bad CFS period, they attribute it to whatever new treatment they had started, despite the fact that it may well have been a spontaneous remission, or a result of a lot of contributing factors.

This is why science matters. Rigorous, independent investigation which identifies the real causes of things make a difference. They progress understanding, and create repeatable technolgies. Cures. Fuels which work. Microwaves which cook. Data transmission around the world.

Bonus points if you can identify the science in question
From XKCD

While people who sell lies for profit undermine the evidence based system which works. By tricking the public in to thinking that their ignorance is just as good as the knowledge of experts, it makes a public question the value of science, resulting in political weakness. Science gets less funding. Education gets less focus. Society stagnates and we all suffer. I wish we had a machine which could do one of those ‘Ghost of Chistmases yet to come’ deals and show what the world would be like if we really did just throw our hands up in the air and say that the Deepak chopras of the world had the same claim to knowledge and information as all of the actual experts.

So yeah, now I have become one of those people which I once fancied myself better than. In my ignorance I was sure I was better than the people who had ‘made up their minds’ and were ‘arrogant’ and missing opportunities. Now, in my state of less ignorance, I am much more clearly aware of the flaws of so many more claims that I can cut through the crap much faster. With less ignorance, I see that most skeptics are not close minded – they are just more informed. Because sometimes information really can exclude possibilities!

 

 

 

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Beliefs I have held until someone reminded me to actually think about them…

I know I am not alone in doing this – holding beliefs which you have simply never thought about. In fact, I am pretty sure it is the default position of pretty much everyone. We all get raised a certain way, and we get told certain things, we read them in newspapers, we hear them repeated on sitcoms and panelist shows – and for the most part they really don’t matter… so we just accept them as true.

This thread is dedicated to chronicling little awakenings of thought on these previously un-thought-of factoids in my life. This list is not meant to absolutely conclusively say that these popular-claims are definitely wrong. My point is simply that I had never thought of them before. Now that I have though, I DO happen to think they are wrong, and I will argue why i do so. But by no means am I certain that I am right! I have only just started to consider the situation!

Different Alcohols Cause Different Types of Drunk

I have always thought this to be true. Heard it from many people. Lots of people will agree when you talk about Rum being a violent alcohol for example. I have heard several independent people tell me that Rum makes them aggressive. But in realtiy, alcohol is alcohol. The flavouring added to it, and the processes used to derive it don’t change the fact that the thing which makes you drunk, is Ethanol. And it is the same in all alcohols.

The reason there may be some ‘truth’ to it, is because our psychology is far more willing to be told what to do than we wish. Social cues, expectations, and things like that may make people repeat the myth just because they expect it to happen.

There is also a slight chance that the other additives and chemicals may have an impact on the process of getting drunk – but that would be interesting in its own right, and not have anything to do with the alcohol itself.

Men Reach Their Sexual Peak around 18, Women around 30

I feel so stupid writing that. But that is sort of the point of this process – how easy it is to believe things just because you don’t actually think them through. Someone says it, and you don’t care at the time, so you accept it as true. I accepted this pearl of wisdom as true too. But if you actually think about it, it doesn’t make any sense!

I believe this idea is regularly repeated in society because 18 year old boys seem to be so horny while their peers tend to turn them down a lot. While older women seem much more forthcoming sexually. At least, that is the social narrative anyway. That is the perception most people have.

I suspect there may be an element of truth behind it though – just not related to actual biological sexuality. Instead, I suspect that younger girls, in traditional families at least, are raised in such a way that they think it is their duty to be virgins, and pure and all that BS. And anyone who sleeps with more than one boy is a slut etc. While boys don’t get that same lecturing. It isn’t until the girls grow up and out of their upbringing that they realise they have been lied to and tricked, and so finally let their defenses down and start doing what they actually want to do, which is what nearly everyone really wants to do, fuck people.

So I think it is fair enough to look at our society and see horny teenage boys, prudish teenage girls, and then sexually active 30+yo women and also sexually active 30+ yo men, and reach the conclusion which provided our heading above. It is just unfortunate that aside from the social pressures to behave this way, I strongly doubt there is any actual truth to it.

For one thing, why would women evolve to be sexually active at around the same age they could be grandparents? (seriously! Evolutionarily speak, 30 is grandparent age since you should be having children as soon as you reach puberty which is quite often 12yo!). Secondly, in most societies ever studied, it tends to be older men with younger girls than the other way around. So why would our biological functions directly contradict our most reliable species-wide actions?

No, this idea makes no sense at all. It seems clear that males and females reach their sexual peaks at the same time – shortly after puberty, right when their bodies are at their most healthy, strong and capable of providing food for new offspring, bearing those offspring and raising those offspring for another 15 or so years without dying.

 

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Re-Legalise Cannabis

A petition has been started to re-legalise cannabis in Australia. I have signed it, and I think every other person in Australia should sign it too. There are so many reasons to legalise it that it makes me angry that anyone even needs to argue the point any more. A quick summary of some of my favourite facts:

  • There are zero known deaths from Cannabis use
  • It is less addictive than Tobacco, Alcohol and even Caffeine!
  • It has numerous known medical uses and helps improve the lives of millions of people suffering with debilitating diseases
  • It is significantly less harmful than alcohol and tobacco (and many many other legal substances too), with only two negative things associated with it, a lowering of IQ when used by teenagers (only in teenagers), and it may amplify the experience of schizophrenia (only the mental experience of it – while softening all of the other problems associated with the disease).

And many more which just get harder and harder to put in to dot point summary. Like incarceration issues, cost to police issues vs revenue from taxation. And the advantages of regulation vs prohibition – the end of drug cartels… sooo many damn things is just makes me angry writing them all.

Anyway, what I really wanted to do was just list 3 great documentaries I have seen over the past few years which make all of these points far better than I do. WATCH THEM. Then help us make the world a better place.

The Union

Probably the best, most comprehensive video on the state of Marijuana legalisation in Canada and the USA, the Union was released in 2007 and so is a little out of date now that Washington state  has actually legalised marijuana, but is otherwise still perfectly relevant. Particularly since the USA federal government still considers Marijuana use something which deserves prison sentences.

When We Grow

A shorter documentary made on a tiny budget for the UK audience. When We grow was made to raise awareness of the same marijuana issues faced in the UK (without the insane prison problem the USA face). A great documentary and absolutely worth watching as well:

Breaking the Taboo

Breaking the Taboo is the most recent video, and in looking to add the full video to this post I have found out unfortuantely, that they have taken the full version offline. It looks like that made it available for a short time just to promote political action. Now the documentary has moved to a new phase of hosting live screenings of it in a film festival type arrangement.

So instead, here is a link to their Youtube Page. In short though, Breaking the Taboo is less about Marijuana itself, and more about the international war on drugs and the harm it has done. It has numerous world leaders in it showing their support for ending the war on drugs including Bill Clinton, Richard Branson, and the presidents of Switzerland and Brazil from the late 90s. It is narrated by Morgan Freeman.

What About Australia?

I don’t know of any documentaries from Australia yet. The petition which started this post used the UK film to make its point, and of course, it is as good as we need really. The differences between their situation and ours are mostly minimal. But I would be interested in seeing a professionally made documentary like these ones being done for Australia and showing our own failures, and the harm it causes us.

If you do want to vote for a serious party which will actively fight to legalise cannabis use in Australia, have a look at the policies of the Sex Party.

All Opposed….?

I would love to hear from anyone who disagrees with the idea of legalising Cannabis. What reasons do you have for your stance?

 

edit: Also, forgot about this one, coming soon:

The House I Live In

Another one moreso on the War on Drugs than cannabis specifically, but all incredibly relevant.

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Follow up thoughts on differences between men and women…

So I had a few discussions because of the article I wrote yesterday which was a brain dump of some of my thoughts on the fact that men and women are almost certainly different (mentally and emotionally speaking). Over the course of some of these discussions, new thoughts emerged, and I wanted to get them down this morning. This was largely why I wrote the piece – just trying to get my own thoughts on a complicated and confusing subject together.

New Simple Argument

So, first of all, here is my new 1 sentence basic argument against anyone who believes that men and women are innately mentally, emotionally and/or behaviorally identical:

“So men and women are different genetically, developmentally, biochemically and physically – but mysteriously they are identical mentally?”

Transsexuals Might Disagree?

The fact that some men want to be women, and some women want to be men doesn’t contradict my position here – it in fact validates it. Because it shows that the identification of a sexuality is not merely socially constructed. We have here people who have been raised as one sex, given all of the same toys as everyone else, and shown the same sexual propaganda as the rest of us, etc and in spite of it all, something in their brains screams at them so loudly that they FEEL wrong behaving the way everyone expects them to, that they instead choose to deal with some of the most atrocious vilification our society hands out in order to feel comfortable in their own skins.

So your choices (as best I can figure) to deal with the sexual-identification issue, is that either every single transsexual person has had some anomalous environmental pressure in their early childhood which made them flip their sexual identity – OR – you accept that sexual identity is something which was programmed in to them genetically, developmentally and/or biochemically.

Surely No One Thinks that…

I got this response from a few people, a few times. Of course no one thinks that men and women are the same! Well…I wouldn’t have bothered writing the article yesterday if it wasn’t the case. It seems to be surprisingly common, with several people encountered the other night who seemed quite certain of it, as well a few comments in my discussion since which also reported their own experiences of people refusing to acknowledge that men and women might be different.

One interest tweet response I got made reference to the point I raised about how people used to argue that the different races were different – but no longer do, so maybe this line of argument I am making is just as erroneous as those old ones! Of course I disagree completely, and I think my 1 line argument above alone is sufficient reason why. Races have slight variations on superficial physical features as their only point of difference – but otherwise are genetically, biochemically and developmentally similar. Hence there is no reason to suspect that races are particularly mentally different from each other either. Men and Women, of all races, are persistently and constantly different across all of these things in significant ways.

Ought from Is – The Naturalistic Fallacy, And Judging the Sexes

And my final thought for now on this, is to make a very strong note that at no point in any of this have I set out to prescribe what should be. There is nothing about the fact that men and women are different which prescribes a way they ought to be, or how people ought to be treated. More importantly perhaps, there is also no value judgement being made about these facts. I absolutely reject the idea that any one sex is better than the other. Although I do generally find myself liking women a lot more than men, so maybe I think women are better?

But seriously, the idea that x and y are different means that x must be better than y is a complete non-sequitor. There is zero connection between difference and ranking! And the idea that one sex or another could be better, or more valuable, or more important is as absurd to our society as it is biologically. You can’t have one without the other!

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Feminism, Sexism and Biology

I attended a panel discussion last night at Soho Skeptics called “Challenging Geek Stereotypes” – specifically female-geek stereotypes.

I think I have mostly avoided feminism issues for most of my life, but over the last couple of years I have become more and more involved in it. Just incrementally. But now I think I am on the cusp of full blown involvement because I not only care about equality, but I worry that large portions of the feminist movement are very seriously shooting themselves in the foot.

To cut straight to the chase, I noticed last night listening to this panel that it seemed like there was a pervasive implicit agreement that Men and Women are fundamentally the same. In the way where a debate about racism would have everyone agreeing that Black and White people are fundamentally the same, skin colour isn’t important – so too penis vs vagina isn’t important and we’re the same deep down. Unfortunately, I believe, biology just flat out contradicts this. Men and Women ARE fundamentally different, and if I am correct in this fact, then pretending they are not and trying to work from a ‘blank slate’ origin towards equality will create more confusion and difficulty than not.

Are Men and Women Different?

On one level, obviously they are. For a basic introduction to this, the wikipedia article on ‘Sex Differences in humans‘ seems as good a place to start as any. However when talking about being the ‘same’ in this context what we are really talking about is emotionally. Mentally. Instinctively. Are our personalities fundamentally different? Or is all of the difference we see in our society a function of our cultural conditioning?

It is the confusion of our cultural conditioning which makes it a hard question – because no one is brought up a blank slate. Everyone is influenced, and groomed, and manipulated – we can’t be sure what traits are ‘nature’ and what ones are manufactured through precise ‘nurture’. So it is a challenging question – however, i think an understanding of evolutionary theory and biology is enough for anyone to see that Men and Women are necessarily different. Different Emotionally. Mentally. and Instinctively.

It IS all about Sex

One of the first people I spoke to after the talk about this observation of mine kept pulling me up when I mentioned the sexual reproductive strategies used by either sex in an evolutionary context. She complained that I was focusing on the sex as if it was of core importance, when she didn’t think it was. So I am going to start there – Sex IS of core importance.

We are a result of evolution. This is certain. Evolution has crafted us to the ultimate reproductive tools. And reproductive success is EVERYTHING to evolution. Nothing else matters. And reproduction is about 1. Having offspring, and 2. Ensuring those offspring survive. This is a biological fact, and just as applicable to humans as it is to every other sexually reproductive species.

So everything evolution selects for is about successful reproduction. Sex is the method of reproduction in all vertebrates, and so sex is central to everything about us. Everything we have evolved, whether it be balance, strength, speed, endurance, a digestive tract – ALL OF IT is so that we can achieve reproduction via sexual intercourse – and in some species – continue to provide for those offspring to a degree.

Successful Sexual Strategies

So we have two sexes. In humans, and all vertebrates. The definition of the sexes really just comes down to which one provides the greater or lesser investment to sexual reproduction. Females provide the greater investment in terms of cellular material. When we specifically talk about species which also involve internal gestation, then the consequence of sex for the two sexes is immediately starkly different. Males spend mere seconds engaging in sex, and are not committed beyond that. Females on the other hand risk committing themselves to months worth of sharing their limited energy and nutritional supplies with a parasitic organism, inability to mate with ‘superior’ males during that time, and potential risk of complications which could result in death. The difference between these two realities is stark!

This disparity is very physically real. And contrary to popular desire to discount the affect of evolution on the mind – evolution made our brain! It is the thing which created the nature of our brain which is open to the affects of nurture! btw, in case you were wondering, the answer to the Nature vs Nurture debate, it is Nurture VIA nature. It always has been both, but if it wasn’t for evolution crafting the malleable brain, there would be nothing for nurture to act upon! And thus it is here. yes, we are malleable creatures. Yes you can manipulate people in to certain patterns. It seems incredibly unlikely that Pink is somehow inherently Female, from a biological perspective – but that does not mean that there aren’t innate differences! Particularly when it comes to innate desires towards sex, and reluctances to participate in sex!

When there is clearly a biological disparity between successful evolutionary strategies of the two sexes, it makes sense that each sex will approach the problem of ‘Who do I mate with?’ differently! Males have endless sperm and can mate freely without risk. Females suffer from months of inability to select new superior mates when pregnant, are forced to give up large percentages of their limited nutritional and energy supply to a parasite organism, and worse than that, they risk death in child birth – all from engaging in sex. The idea that women would think and feel about sex exactly the same as men is absurd!

But in our modern world, we can choose to be…

Yeah yeah yeah. We’re all enlightened clever intelligent persons now aren’t we? We are no longer victim to our animalistic past are we? Of course not. That is why we all choose to ignore our programming and rationally think through the fact that we have contraceptives, antibiotics and abundant food, and spend all of our spare time engaging sex with numerous partners, often people we don’t even know. right?

Oh, you don’t want to do that? Why not?

See, it is easy to justify what you want, but you still haven’t choosen what it is that you want. Our evolutionary past controls us more than any of us want to admit.

“Human beings aren’t rational, but rationalizing, animals.” -Robert Heinlein

I want to stop eating Chocolate, and carbohydrate rich foods. But damnit, my brain keeps telling me they TASTE SO GOOD! Why don’t I just choose to stop enjoying them? We are slaves to our evolutionary past until we can actually change our biology – or so comprehensively agree to ‘train’ each new generation to act and think the ‘right way’ that it looks like it is natural.

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HomeopathyPlus! and Curing Autism with Homeopathy – a rebuttal

The website HomeopathyPlus – the winner of the 2012 Australian Skeptic’s Bent Spoon award – has a page which lists a number of letters which it claims were written by mothers of children who were cured of their autism by Homeopathic practitioners. A request for a rebuttal has come through on rbutr, and being unable to find a direct rebuttal myself, I went to the Reddit group Debunk This to see if they could help out. They provided some valuable points, but no articles either, so I have decided to write my own Direct Rebuttal to this page, summarising the points made in the Reddit post.

  1. There is no evidence or way to verify that any of these people are real.
    All of the letters only refer to the children by their first name, and provide no name or contact details for the mothers who wrote the letters. It is possible that these letters are complete fabrications for all we know. It is important to note this fact, because we are dealing with anecdotes here. There is no clinical trial, no records, no evidence of any measurable kind to assess. Simply anecdotes by unknown people who may or may not exist.
    Side note: All of the pictures associated with the stories are stock photos.
  2. The Homeopathic Cure may be no different than the outcome of standard development and hard work
    Autistic children learn how to cope with their autism, and natural development changes them. All of these stories don’t really reveal anything happening here which could not happen spontaneously without homeopathic interference. Without real information on the severity of the autism, and with no knowledge of who actually diagnosed the children, these stories provide very little insight.
  3. Homeopathy fails on all scientific front to be a feasible treatment
    This is the ultimate point which should give everyone a reason to suspect that there is false attribution going on here (ie: The ‘remission’ of symptons happened spontaneously or through development or some other treatment rather than homeopathy). Homeopathy ultimately relies on the claim that water can ‘remember’ particles which have previously passed through it, and then use this information in some productive way. After significant amounts of time and money spent trying to demonstrate this or find evidence for it, it never has been. And there is endless amounts of scientific research and applied technology which contradicts it.

    Homeopathy is unscientific. Clinical trials of it are no different to statistical variations on a placebo. To claim that homeopathy can cure autism, you need a lot more than 6 anecdotes from unidentified people.

If you found this rebuttal through rbutr, share it with everyone! And look

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rbutr in final 52 of the News Challenge

Just a quick post to happily announce that rbutr has made it through the first major culling of the Knight News Challenge, and is in the top 52. We are now awaiting the expert review process where and the final selection prcess by the foundation’s board, and then being announced as one of the final 5 (or so) winners!

Read more on the rbutr blog: http://blog.rbutr.com/2012/04/knight-foundations-news-challenge-places-rbutr-in-its-top-52/

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Public Beta and Annoying Hackers

So mid way through last week Ben Goldacre kindly tweeted about rbutr, and our traffic exploded. In response, we decided to quickly open up our beta testing and allow people to start registering and downloading the app freely. So now we’re basically live! People are registering often and new links are being added all the time.

In the meantime, some annoying wordpress exploit seems to have been hit by an automated system and our blog has been compromised. Nothing serious has happened to it, they have just altered our .htaccess file so that everything redirects to their website. Basically, they broke our blog and we haven’t figured out how to fix it yet. We’re looking in to moving to another server which will hopefully fix the exploit (my host hasn’t even replied to the four or so emails I have sent them. Very disappointed with that.)

Also, the first rbutr members email is about to be sent out. Just to let everyone know what is happening, and who has been doing good rbutr work 🙂

 

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rbutr Beta Testing Starts Soon

We’re just making the final adjustments now, and running some quick tests to make sure things work before we send out the emails to all of our Beta tester registrants. If you have not entered your email address for the beta testing, then you will not be able to participate in this first round, but we will be accepting more registrations in preparation for a larger second wave of testers.

http://rbutr.com is where you can register for participation! You should 🙂

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Promoting Specific Agendas With rbutr

Reposted from the rbutr blog:

I have been contacting people about rbutr over the past few weeks in an attempt to guage community interest in the app and to see if anyone will actually use it (probably just about the most important thing when building a new application…) and this concern has already been brought to my attention at least once, and I saw it again in the comments to a New Scientist article on one of our predecessors – Dispute Finder (Think Link): http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17339-dispute-finder-web-tool-gives-two-sides-of-a-story.html

Reader ‘Jon’ commented:

This is potentially a dangerous tool. All the climate change deniers will flag all the scientific pages, and point to their blogs. Then an unknowing citizen searches climate change and thinks there is a real debate. That’s just frightening.

So it is worth addressing these concerns before I hear them much more. Anyone who is so uncertain about their own position on a subject that they are afraid of people hearing an alternative perspective, really ought to be looking in to their own beliefs a lot more. Or to put it another way, let me quote one of my favourite quotes of all time:

“John Stuart Mill… argued that silencing an opinion is ‘a peculiar evill.’ If the opinion is right, we are robbed of the ‘opportunity of exchanging error for truth’; and if it’s wrong, we are deprived of a deeper understanding of the truth in ‘it’s collision with error.’ If we know only our own side of the argument, we hardly even know that; it becomes stale, soon learned by rote, untested, a pallid and lifeless truth.”
-Carl Sagan, Demon Haunted World

I believe this quote captures a philosophical sentiment which is so important, that the fear of ‘abuse’ at the hands of “the enemy” is made completely irrelevent. Particularly when that fear is raised in relation to an app like Dispute Finder, or rbutr. Remember, rbutr is not Fox News – it won’t pretend to be Fair and Balanced while constantly spinning each story a particular way. rbutr is just a tool – it has no bias, only it’s users do. And if you see someone exhibiting a bias, you have just as much power to counteract it as they have to enact it.

Websites with bias already exist. Social media and search engines already allow people to share and search for these biased websites. What rbutr is going to change about this equation, is that your ‘filter bubble‘ will have a permanent hole in it – a nice little rbutr sized hole, where you can choose to step out in to the big wide world of ‘someone else’s opinion’ any time you want.

And that is pretty cool.

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