July 31, 2023 • 9:20 am

I got zero hours of sleep last night. Zero. That’s twice in four days, so you can well imagine that my neurons are somewhat gummed up.  Let’s have a discussion while I recover (and feed the ducks).

Here’s the new result of a new NYT Siena Poll for the GOP candidates:

With all the indictments against him pending, Trump still looks unbeatable.  My question is this: readers have already prognosticated that there’s no way Trump could see jail time. And even if he’s multiply indicted, I don’t see anybody in the lineup moving ahead of him. This is above my pay grade, but can Trump still be elected President, and serve as President, if he’s convicted of a felony?

Also, do you think any of the candidates above can overtake him? If not, will he beat Biden?

Glenn Loury and Matt Johnson discuss the legacy of Hitchens

July 19, 2023 • 12:00 pm

Who among us hasn’t said to themselves, “I wish Hitchens were here. What would he make of all the identity politics going down?” And indeed, given the man’s unpredictability, it’s hard to know, though Matt Johnson thinks that Hitch would definitely be antiwoke.

Johnson recently came out with a new book, How Hitchens Can Save the Left: Rediscovering Fearless Liberalism in an Age of Counter-Enlightenment.  There’s a six-minute video discussion below, and an intro and Q&A on Loury’s website. Click below to read Loury’s intro and an excerpt, and then watch the video (you can skip the printed Q&A since the text beyond the intro is a transcript).

Here’s Loury’s intro:

Identitarianism is now so deeply ingrained in left-liberal politics, it’s easy to forget that things weren’t always this way. Material economic concerns once formed the solid core of left activism and thought on the domestic front: labor protections, combating economic inequality, providing services for the poor, and so on. Anyone who didn’t put those issues at the center of their politics couldn’t reasonably call themselves a member of the left. Now these quite serious issues have been displaced by a superficial obsession with race and identity. If you’re not calling for “racial justice,” it seems, it doesn’t matter how many warehouse workers you organize. Even Bernie Sanders found himself in the crosshairs of his ostensible allies when he downplayed identity politics in the 2020 Democratic primaries.

Christopher Hitchens was a writer and thinker produced by—but not reducible to—that older tradition of left-wing thought and activism. For much of his life, he was an advocate for organized labor and a strong social safety net. He took the ideas of justice, equality, and democracy very seriously. Sometimes this led him to positions that would be at home on today’s left, as when he advocated for reparations for the descendants of slaves. But sometimes his commitments put him at odds with his fellow travelers, as when he supported the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that Iraqis were being deprived by Saddam Hussein of their right to democratic self-determination.

Hitchens also believed that identity politics was a cheap substitute for what he saw as real political action. My guest this week, the writer Matt Johnson, thinks that, on that issue, Hitchens had it right. In fact, Matt wrote an excellent book about it. There was nobody quite like Hitch. His rhetorical force and precision, his moral clarity (even when he was wrong), and his wit seem in short supply today. I’ve hosted some left-liberals, like Mark Lilla and Norman Finkelstein, who are unafraid to speak out against “their side” on identity politics. And clearly Matt believes that the left can recover something of Hitch’s spirit, otherwise he wouldn’t have written the book. Despite my own political commitments, I hope he’s right.

I’ve read Johnson’s book, and it’s pretty darn good, though if you know your Hitchens well, you may find little that is new. Nevertheless, Johnson’s argument, supported with quotes, is persuasive.

Below, Johnson tells us about the pervasiveness of identity politics, and Loury asks him why are liberals, for instance, so divided given that they can’t agree on fundamental liberal issues.

One comment: Hitchens was in favor of reparations towards minorities, though Johnson implies otherwise. You can see that in this video debate between Hitchens and, ironically, Glenn Loury.

One question and answer:

GLENN LOURY: How Hitchens Can Save the Left: Rediscovering Fearless Liberalism in an Age of Counter-Enlightenment. The great Christopher Hitchens can save the left. The left’s in trouble. It’s worth saving, says Matt Johnson. And one of the reasons it’s in trouble is because it’s immersed in what Hitch called “the sinister bullshit” of identity politics. And Hitchens can save us from that, too. How so?

MATT JOHNSON: He was very opposed to identitarianism, because he saw it as regressive. In one article, he wrote, “If we were dogs, we would all be the same breed.” Emphasizing human difference is unhealthy and it’s tribal and it’s become very obsessive on the left. You know, I’ve listened to you for years, Glenn, you and John McWhorter. I’m not a fan of the DiAngelo school of identitarianism, not a fan of Kendi.

These guys, they really do frustrate me. I look at the history of the Civil Rights Movement, and I wonder what Martin Luther King or Bayard Rustin would say about a movement that encourages large audiences of white people and corporations to look inward and identify and root out the racism instead of just looking at inequities in the society and trying to address them on a fundamental level.

It’s this toxin. It’s so easy to be tribal. It’s so easy to identify with a group. And Hitchens, in Letters to a Young Contrarian, for example, just said that identity politics is a cheap excuse for politics to the extent that the left was enmeshed in it, which it really has been for a long time. It was giving away one of the most important moral principles that it could hold, which would be universalism. We should try to move toward a colorblind society. I know that saying that automatically gets you branded a reactionary. It’s like saying “all lives matter.” You’re viewed as somebody who’s fighting the progress of racial justice in the country. I really do think that that should be the end goal. And if it takes 200 years, so be it. If it takes 500 years, so be it.

But I think there are a lot of people who don’t think it’s the goal we’re striving for. I think they think that race is this eternal fact about us, and racial division is an eternal fact about our politics. And Hitchens always hated that idea, and he thought we could be radical enough to get past it.

Readers’ discussion

July 18, 2023 • 9:15 am

Professor Ceiling Cat (Emeritus) is under the weather today (the Brits would say “poorly”), once again due to severe insomnia. In lieu of posts, I’ll ask readers to engaged in a discussion, and I wonder if it will actually get off the ground.

Here are some topics, but they’re just suggestions:

a. The perennial favorite: will Trump be the GOP Presidential candidates next year? If so, will he beat Biden, whose hat is already in the ring?

b. Is it time to get rid of the word “woke,” replacing it with something like “political correctness”? (Franky, I’m tired of people taking me to task for saying “woke,” though everyone knows by now that it’s pejorative.

c. How much longer will the war in Ukraine last? And what will be the outcome?

d. Should universities and scientific institutions issue “official” statements on politics and ideology (e.g., criticizing the Supreme Court decisions on abortion or affirmative action)? These are almost universal, as you know, but are prohibited at the University of Chicago.

e. Why does Lauren Boebert keep getting elected to Congress?

f.  Why is there something instead of nothing?

g. Breaking news: Trump has been informed that he’s likely to be indicted for refusing to accept the results of Biden’s election, and promoting the events that led up to the January insurrection at the Capitol. Will he be convicted? If he is, will he be jailed? (Note that this is a serious charge!)

Our CFI podcast/discussion

July 8, 2023 • 11:15 am

The Center for Inquiry has put the discussion that Luana and I had this week, along with Robyn Blumner moderating, on YouTube. (You can also see it at the SI site.)  It was fun, but of course given the material we covered in our paper, there’s no way that we could do more than give a brief summary in an hour (45 minutes, really, with 15 minutes of questions at the end.) As usual, I haven’t watched it because I hate to see and her myself talking (not unusual, I think).

If you want to read our paper, “The Ideological Subversion of Biology,” it’ll be online forever, and you can find it here.

Videocast discussion of the Coyne/Maroja paper this evening

July 6, 2023 • 9:00 am

Just a reminder that this evening, starting at 7 p.m. Eastern Ti9me, Luana Maroja and l will discuss our Skeptical Inquirer paper “The ideological subversion of biology” (free at the link.) It would be nice if you read it beforehand, but it’s not essential. The discussion will be started and moderated by moderated by Robyn Blumner, the head of the Center for Inquiry and of the Richard Dawkins Foundation,

The total time should be about an hour, and there will be a few questions for us, posed by listeners, at the end.

My announcement of the even was here; and the official site and registration are here, or click on the screenshot below. You have to register to get the link, but it’s only a matter of providing your name and email.

Fom the site:

In “The Ideological Subversion of Biology,” the cover feature of the July/August 2023 issue of Skeptical InquirerJerry A. Coyne and Luana S. Maroja deliver a powerful and provocative warning about the dangers of trying to make scientific reality conform to the political winds. It’s an absolute must-read for anyone who agrees that science must be objective and empirical—not ideological.

Join us on Thursday, July 6, at 7:00 p.m. ET for a special Skeptical Inquirer Presents livestream with Jerry A. Coyne and Luana S. Maroja, hosted by Robyn E. Blumner, CEO and president of the Center for Inquiry. They’ll discuss how the field of evolutionary and organismal biology has been “impeded or misrepresented by ideology,” how the erosion of free inquiry in science due to progressive ideology is damaging both intellectually and materially, and, most importantly, what can be done about it. If things don’t change, they warn, “in a few decades science will be very different from what it is now. Indeed, it’s doubtful that we’d recognize it as science at all.”

See you there!

Podcast: Ricky Gervais gets the Richard Dawkins award, and the two chat for an hour

June 27, 2023 • 9:15 am

I have to tend rooftop ducks this morning, so posting may be a bit light. As always, I do my best, but ten ducklings and their mom need food and water.

Although I generally avoid watching long videos, I watched this one and highly recommend it.  The occasion was Ricky Gervais getting the 2019 Richard Dawkins Award, bestowed yearly by the Center for Inquiry. I’m not sure why it was posted four years later, but I found it on Dawkins’s Poetry of Reality Substack site along with these brief notes. (UPDATE: I just found that there is a three-year-old video that’s a tad different, with a pre-introduction introduction by CFI President Robyn Blumner. Both videos are otherwise the same.)

The inaugural episode of #ThePoetryOfReality is finally here! Join me & Ricky Gervais, actor, writer, irreverent comedian & poignant tragedian. CFI gave him the 2019 Richard Dawkins Award. Then I had an on-stage conversation with him & Richard Wiseman, psychologist, comedian & conjuror.

Lots of laughs, lots to think about. See for yourself.

Here’s what the award is given for:

The Center for Inquiry presents the Richard Dawkins Award annually to a distinguished individual from the worlds of science, scholarship, education or entertainment, who publicly proclaims the values of secularism and rationalism, upholding scientific truth wherever it may lead.

It has been awarded each year since 2003 and was originally given by the Atheist Alliance of America in coordination with Richard Dawkins and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science (RDFRS). Since 2019, the award has been given exclusively by the Center for Inquiry of which RDFRS is a part. Richard Dawkins must approve the recipient and bestows the award with a personal tribute to the awardee.

The video comprises a really good (and funny) introduction by Dawkins, and then a rousing discussion by Dawkins and Gervais, moderated by an equally lively Richard Wiseman.  Gervais is quick and adept with the impromptu humor, but there’s also some serious discussion of science and atheism. It’s a good package.

Note that Gervais has a beer to quaff during the discussion, an amenity that should be offered to more discussants. It’s a good lubricant for conversation—not that Gervais needs one!

Gervais is a hero of mine: he’s eloquent, funny, and a superb screenwriter and actor (if you haven’t seen “After Life”, do so).  And he doesn’t much care what people think of him. As someone who got that award a while back, I’m really humbled to be in his company—and the company of other recipients, many of whom are also personal heroes, like Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry.

Richard’s introduction goes from 1:33 to 11:39, and the rest of the 74-minute video is the discussion. There’s also a brief private intro and outro by Dawkins.  I was surprised at how young the audience was!

The segments (from YouTube). The links go to the right places, but I recommend watching it all.

00:00:00 Prologue
00:01:26 Introduction
00:12:13 Start of Discussion
00:08:04 The Reward Of Living A Good Life And Ricky’s Belief In Kindness
00:12:32 Ricky Gervais: Confronting Evil With Humor
00:17:07 Fear Of Eternity, Not Death
00:20:41 Analogies And Crocodiles
00:26:46 Cloning Mammoths: An Ethical Dilemma
00:31:19 Atheism Perception And Personal Boundaries
00:37:00 The Debate On The Existence Of God And The Category Mistake
00:40:16 The Importance Of Honesty And Bravery In Comedy
00:45:11 Author’s Thoughts On Their Books And Most Original Contribution
00:50:34 The Differences Between The Us And Uk Versions Of The Office

Skeptical Inquirer discussion on our ideology in science paper

June 26, 2023 • 12:45 pm

A week from this coming Thursday, Luana Maroja and I will appear on a Skeptical Inquirer podcast for about an hour to discuss our “ideology in biology” paper and to answer questions. We’re lucky to have Robyn Blumner, President and CEO of the Center for Inquiry (publisher of the magazine) as our interlocutor. (She’s also executive director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation, which is connected with CFI.)

You can click the screenshot to get more information and to register. I’ve put some relevant information from CFI below, and registration, which is free, is here.  I understand that readers can submit questions during the podcast.

Fom the site:

In “The Ideological Subversion of Biology,” the cover feature of the July/August 2023 issue of Skeptical InquirerJerry A. Coyne and Luana S. Maroja deliver a powerful and provocative warning about the dangers of trying to make scientific reality conform to the political winds. It’s an absolute must-read for anyone who agrees that science must be objective and empirical—not ideological.

Join us on Thursday, July 6, at 7:00 p.m. ET for a special Skeptical Inquirer Presents livestream with Jerry A. Coyne and Luana S. Maroja, hosted by Robyn E. Blumner, CEO and president of the Center for Inquiry. They’ll discuss how the field of evolutionary and organismal biology has been “impeded or misrepresented by ideology,” how the erosion of free inquiry in science due to progressive ideology is damaging both intellectually and materially, and, most importantly, what can be done about it. If things don’t change, they warn, “in a few decades science will be very different from what it is now. Indeed, it’s doubtful that we’d recognize it as science at all.”

Free registration is required to take part in this live Zoom event, so sign up right now.

My letter about binary sex in the San Francisco Chronicle

June 6, 2023 • 10:30 am

Here’s more about biological sex, which has become a hot and contentious topic in politics.

Two days ago I described and criticized an op-ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle by Ash Zemenick, a biologist who works for the University of California at Davis. (He was also first author on a BioScience paper that I criticized.)  The link is paywalled, but if you want to read Zemenick’s piece, it’s archived here.  Here’s the title:

Zemenick’s point, which he tried to make but failed, is that sex in humans (like gender) is non-binary because traits like sex chromosomes, hormones, and genital morphology are non-binary. He dismissed the correct definition of sex, based on gamete size, this way:

Now, let’s consider the most reductive definition of sex. The gametes. What are gametes? Reproductive cells. Eggs and sperm. Sounds binary, right? As a human, you either produce eggs or sperm, yeah? Nah. On average, most cis women and trans guys are born with all of the eggs they may eventually ovulate with. But some are born without them. Some have their ovaries removed. So, they have no gametes. What about them? Cis men and trans women don’t even start producing sperm until the onset of puberty. So, before puberty, they have no gametes. None. Some cis men are sterile. What about them? As you can see, some people, for these reasons, don’t produce or have gametes at all. Therefore, there are three states: no gametes, eggs or sperm. It’s a triplet, a trifecta. Gametic sex is not binary.

As I said, that’s bogus because the biological definition of sex involves having the reproductive equipment to make either small mobile gametes or large immobile ones. This doesn’t require that your equipment is actually functional.  Zemenick’s op-ed simply knocked down a bunch of straw men. Why? Well, Zemenick identifies as non-binary, and I suppose he was trying to find justification in nature for his own gender.  But you don’t look to nature simply to justify your identity. Nature is as it is, and humans are the only animal with members claiming “genders.”  All other animals have biological sexes.

At any rate, I couldn’t let this op-ed go by without trying to correct its biological errors, for it appeared in a big important newspaper. So I wrote a letter to the editor of the Chronicle that was published today. It’s paywalled at the link given in the headline below, but I’ve put a copy below the title.  It speaks for itself. (It’s short because I was limited to only 200 words.)

UPDATE: I’ve now found the letter archived here.

What is wokeism? And a conversation with McWhorter, Loury, and Goldblatt gets banned from YouTube

May 1, 2023 • 11:15 am

Mark Goldblatt, a writer, teacher, and journalist who you can hear below in conversation with Glenn Loury and John McWhorter, wrote this book that came out last October (click on screenshot to access Amazon page). I have no idea why I haven’t heard of it, but I’ll read it very soon:

The link just below gives the ten-minute video discussion and a transcript, part of which I’ve posted:

As you see and hear, Goldblatt sees subjectivity as a defining characteristic of Wokeness, in the short video below from The Glenn Show, featuring Loury and his colleague McWhorter.

Part of the discussion:

JOHN MCWHORTER: The summary of the book is this. This works perfectly.

People often grouped under the umbrella term “woke” share more than a perpetual sense of grievance and attraction to street theater and an intense dislike of straight white guys who drink cheap beer and wear their baseball caps backward. They share a devotion to subjectivism. Their gathering principle is the idea that subjective belief, if it’s heartfelt, trumps whatever objective, verifiable evidence may be brought against it. For these social justice warriors, if you sincerely and passionately believe and injustice is being done, then the effort to determine whether that belief corresponds with reality is a further injustice.

So this sounds like people who are clinically insane, and yet you’re not referring to people who are clinically insane. They are thoroughly sane, usually highly intelligent. What are these people? What do they do?

MARK GOLDBLATT: You know, a couple of weeks ago there was a woman, a conservative author, who was out on a book tour about wokeism and who was asked to define woke, and it just stumped her. So I’ve been working on a generous definition of “woke.” I want to give the people who advocate it the benefit of the doubt, insofar as I can. I think wokeism, in generous terms, is a cluster of advocacy positions that are designed to promote an understanding of and equity for historically marginalized people, historically marginalized communities.

I think on that level, it’s impossible to object to it. It’s the methodology by which that promotion proceeds that is the problem with wokeism. Because wokeism is a religion. I completely agree with you on that. The first time I heard it referred to that way, I think, was Andrew Sullivan talking about “the Great Awokening,” which I think sets it in its past well.

This is good, but it stints the important part: the methodology itself. What about the methodology? Well, for one thing, it tends to be afflicted with grievance, a sense of dogmatism, and, especially performativeness. True Wokeists like to kvetch about societal problems but don’t do anything about them (they equate kvetching with activism).  This is the difference between Social Justice (Wokeism) and genuine “social justice”, like that demanded by Dr. King.  It is this new methodology that has taken the original term “woke”, meaning a sensitivity to societal injustice, and turned it into a pejorative term.

It’s curious that those who are in favor of language evolving nevertheless take the hard line on “woke”, insisting it must retain its original meaning. That, of course, gives the Woke the right to go after anti-wokeists like the three men above, saying “they don’t even know what the term means”, or “it means simply compassion for the downtrodden”, as if these were criticisms of the arguments they’re making. The squabble over whether to use “woke” or some other term like “The Elect” (McWhorter’s original choice) or “Authoritarian Leftists” (one of my choices) is a way of diverting an argument over substance into an argument over semantics. As I said, I will use “woke” in its pejorative sense, as that is now its primary meaning. But I’ll use other terms as well.  My attempt to get readers to suggest the perfect replacement for “woke” ran aground, with most readers just saying, “Oh, hell, just use ‘woke’.”

You can see the entire hourlong conversation by clicking on the “repost” screenshot below. Why wasn’t the whole video left on YouTube? Loury explains it below:

As you may have noticed, the episode of The Glenn Show I posted on Monday, April 24 is no longer available on YouTube. It was removed because it allegedly contains “hate speech.” I, of course, disagree. I do not think any reasonable person can listen to this conversation and honestly call anything either John, Mark, or I said “hate speech.” We do discuss trans issues, and at times the conversation becomes critical toward aspects of the discourse surrounding trans issues. But at no point does anyone suggest that transgender people, as individuals, deserve anything less than full dignity and respect.

YouTube’s policy on hate speech removal stipulates that they “remove content promoting violence or hatred against individuals or groups” that fall into a long list of categories. The idea that anything in the above video promotes “violence or hatred” against trans people or anybody else is absurd. It was removed merely because it questions some of the premises of progressive discourse on trans issues. That is censorship, plain and simple. It is outrageous. And, ironically, it proves exactly the point that Mark makes when he notes wokeism’s prioritization of subjective feelings over empirical facts.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. We’ve reuploaded the video directly to Substack. You can watch it right here in this post, and it’s not going anywhere. No doubt I’ll be discussing this incident further on future TGS episodes. Until then, feel free to share this video widely as you can.

Yes, do watch it.

I listened to most but not all of the hourlong video, and it’s perfectly clear that it was banned from YouTube because Goldblatt makes statements like “a transgender man is a woman, simply as a matter of. . .if language can convey truth, a trandgender man is a woman.” Speech like that is considered “hate speech”, although it’s a perfectly reasonable point of view if by “woman” you mean “biological woman” (this is the way I take it).  Yet a sentence like “a transgender woman is a biological man who identifies as a biological woman” is considered hate speech.

Click below watch the entire video, and I recommend watching it if you have a spare hour. It goes into far more depth than the ten-minute excerpt above.

And the part that led to the banning clearly begins at 26:45., when McWhorter asks Goldblatt why he has a “bee in his bonnet” about the definition of “men” and “women.” In response, Goldblatt makes the heretical statement that sexes in humans are binary and it’s perfectly clear what a man versus a woman is (sadly, both McWhorter and Goldblatt use the “chromosomal” definition rather than the real biological definition based on gamete size). Goldblatt sees “gender” as a mystical kind of “sexed soul”, and McWhorter asks him whether what one feels is in fact a denial of reality or just a statement of observed reality: someone feels they’re of the sex other than their natal sex.

What is ineffably sad about this kind of banning is that Goldblatt says nothing hateful or tranphobic: he merely maintains that, although trans people have almost the same claim on rights as non-transpeople (as usual, sports are an exception), the claim that a “trans woman is a woman” is in one sense a lie.  And it is, if you take the second “woman” as meaning “biological woman”.  This is a perfectly discussable point, but one that’s been rendered taboo by trans activists. McWhorter participates in this discussion, asking Goldblatt in effect, “well, language changes, why can’t we just accept this as another language change?” Good question, but, as Goldblatt notes, it changes more than just language, it requires that we all must sign onto not just a semantic change, but an ideological change it. If we don’t affirm the mantra, we are bad people. At this point Loury jumps in to defend Goldblatt, but it’s clear that McWhorter has not yet applied his many neurons to the sex and gender question.

Anyway, I’ll leave you the pleasure to listen for yourself. If you want to start on the sex/gender stuff, just start the video below at 26:45.