Monthly Archives: April 2020

Alaska school board bans five great books from high-school English courses

Why Evolution Is True

As Clarence Darrow said in his eloquent summation at the Scopes Monkey Trial: “Ignorance and fanaticism is ever busy and needs feeding. Always it is feeding and gloating for more.” To “ignorance and fanaticism” we can add “policing what other people can hear or read”, and a good example of that took place this week in Alaska, in particular in one school board that’s very hungry and gloating for a lot more.

The Matanuska-Susitna School Board,(MSSB) serving the second largest school district in Alaska (about 16,000 students), has just committed a dire act of censorship. (That district includes Wasilla, the city where Sarah Palin was mayor before she became infamous.) First, take a look at this list of five books:

 “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison

Catch-22” by Joseph Heller

The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien

I Know Why the Caged Bird…

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Trump was not being sarcastic with his stupid remedies for coronavirus

Why Evolution Is True

At his next-to-last press conference, “President” Trump suggested that effective treatments for Covid-19 infection could include shining UV or “other” light into the body, either through the skin or in other ways. He then suggested that injection of disinfectant into the body could effect a remarkable cure. You can see his statement below, as well as his responses to questions by the press.

According to CNN, Trump now says his comments were “sarcastic”:

Doctors and the company that makes Lysol and Dettol warned that injecting or ingesting disinfectants is dangerous. But when Trump was asked about the comments during a bill signing on Friday, he said, “I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen.”

He then suggested he was talking about disinfectants that can safely be rubbed on people’s hands. And then he returned to the sarcasm explanation, saying it was…

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Indelibly sear this into the national public and political DNA: evidence-based prevention saves many lives. So let’s all honour our COVID-19 heroes.

Simon Chapman AO

If we went back two months, “epidemiologist” was a word you might need occasionally to complete a crossword. But now we hear it all day long. Throughout each day, we see and hear people who with a few exceptions, have never been household names. Most prominent have been  Brendan Murphy, the chief medical officer and secretary of the Department of Health and Aging;  his deputy, Paul Kelly, as follicularly challenged as his more famous musician namesake but lately also bringing us daily salve in the form of hopeful news about falling new cases; and the peerless Norman Swan, for 35 years the presenter of ABC’s The Health Report, mandatory listening for all seriously interested in evidence-based health and medicine.

There’s also Professor Raina McIntyre from UNSW, a global expert in pandemic epidemiology; state chief health officers like NSW’s Kerry Chant, also with post graduate qualifications in…

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How can we erode self-exempting beliefs about COVID-19 contagion and isolation that might subvert flattening the curve?

Simon Chapman AO

Cognitive dissonance is a much-studied phenomenon concerned with a branch of the mental heuristics that people use to enable them to sustain particular beliefs or behaviours in the face of overwhelming evidence that could swing a wrecking ball at the foundations of those beliefs and behaviours. Coined by American psychologist Leon Festinger in 1957, cogntive dissonance theory suggests “we have an inner drive to hold all our attitudes and behaviour in harmony and avoid disharmony (or dissonance). This is known as the principle of cognitive consistency. When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviours (dissonance), something must change to eliminate the dissonance.”

Self-exempting beliefs about smoking

Early in my career I was struck by the multitude of ways that smokers rationalised their smoking, in the face of what US Surgeon Antonia Novello noted 30 years ago that “It is safe to say that smoking represents the most extensively documented…

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More on coronavirus: ask the doctor!

Why Evolution Is True

My primary care physician, Dr. Alex Lickerman, has written the sixth part of his series on coronavirus and the pandemic, which you can access by clicking on the screenshot below. It also links to the previous five pieces. And, as with part 5, Alex has kindly offered to answer readers’ questions in the comments. Ask him anything (about the virus and pandemic, that is)! He might not have time to respond to everyone, but he’s told me he will have some discussion with the readers here.

Be aware that when Alex refers to SARS-CoV-2, that is the virus that causes the disease COVID-19.

Do read the piece, though, before posing any questions. The topics covered include the following:

  • Why do we have to do those onerous double-blind tests of antiviral drugs? Why can’t we just give them to people if they look propitious?
  • What’s the value of antibody…

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Hoax: a crazy hilarious paper in a predatory journal

Pretty funny.

Why Evolution Is True

This paper, pointed out earlier today by my Chicago colleague Brian Leiter, highlights one of the scandals of scientific publishing: predatory journals that will publish anything, allowing researchers to inflate their c.v.s while the journal rakes in outrageous “publication fees.”

The upside is that the paper is fricking hilarious, and so transparently nonscientific that it’s amazing that even an abysmal journal would publish it. Perhaps they don’t care—perhaps all they want is the dosh. But this paper is the result. Click on the screenshot below to go to the paper. Download it quickly, for I have a feeling it will be gone soon. . .

(If it disappears, you can always get a pdf from yours truly.)

Behold: “What’s the Deal with Birds?”

I mean, if the abstract and keywords don’t give it anyway, somebody’s asleep at the wheel:


Many people wonder: what’s the deal with…

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Lessons from the Fall of Rome

The Godless Theist


In this article I discuss the key historical factors contributing to the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and what lessons we can learn from this pivotal historical event.


The fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century is one of the pivotal events of world history. For over seven centuries the Romans had dominated the Mediterranean, spreading Graeco-Roman civilization throughout much of Western and Southern Europe, North Africa, and the Near East. Much has been written in the succeeding centuries attempting to account for the collapse of such a powerful and long-lived empire. In this essay I want to consider this question from the perspective of what lessons might be pertinent from this period in informing our responses to political and social problems in the present. While I believe the past is a valuable source of wisdom for the present, care must be taken in…

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Part 2 of Ken Burn’s “The Gene” broadcast tonight

Why Evolution Is True

The tweet below came from Matthew, who may in fact be featured in this documentary. This tells us that Part 2 (the last part) of Ken Burns’s documentary “The Gene: An Intimate History” will be broadcast on PBS tonight. And it will probably be available for free on the show’s website for at least a short while. The broadcast is at 8 p.m. Eastern time, 7 p.m. Central; for other times, consult your local PBS station.

This part is called “Revolution in the Treatment of Disease,” and so will be more medically than historically oriented.  The summary is indented:

Part Two begins with the story of the signature scientific achievement of our time: the mapping of the human genome. As scientists learn to read the genetic code, they grapple with the dangers inherent in increasingly sophisticated and easily available methods of intervening in the very essence of what makes us…

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A new Ken Burns series on genes and genetics

Why Evolution Is True

Both Matthew and reader Leon alerted me this morning to a new two-part series (four hours total) by Ken Burns, based on Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book The Gene: An Intimate History. You can watch the first episode (aired on PBS last night) by clicking on the screenshot below. I just learned about it, and haven’t yet watched it, but Matthew—who’s featured in it seven times—has, and has provided a brief précis below the screenshot. I’d recommend watching this at any time, but certainly now that most of us are housebound, searching for videos and other stay-at-home activities, it’s a good substitute for more mindless stuff.

The first episode is called “Dawn of the Modern Age of Genetics”, and has this summary:

Part One interweaves the present-day story of the Rosens, a young family on an odyssey to find a cure for their four-year-old daughter’s rare genetic disease, with stories of the…

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The Sleepwalkers by Hermann Broch – A Summary

Books & Boots

On the back of the book, on Wikipedia and in various other locations, large claims are made for The Sleepwalkers, the trilogy of ‘modernist’ novels by Austrian writer Hermann Broch. They are all along the lines of it being ‘a portrait of a world tormented by its loss of faith, morals and reason’.

Having read all three novels quite carefully, the aim of this little essay is to question some of these claims and to put the trilogy into a broader historical perspective. If this seems a questionable thing to do, then bear in mind that the novels themselves – especially the third one – include long passages which take a very highbrow, Hegelian view of history, and which analyse the development of Western culture since the Renaissance right down to the present day.

In other words, rather than applying an alien and academic approach to what are essentially fictions, it’s…

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