Listen live to the Supreme Court hearings on the case of a website designer refusing, on religious grounds, to create a wedding site for a gay couple. And once again Justice Thomas is actually asking questions!
I’m betting a 6-3 vote for the web designer; with the new Court, this isn’t rocket science.
The Supreme Court is hearing arguments on Monday in a First Amendment battle pitting claims of religious freedom against laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
A web designer in Colorado, Lorie Smith, said she was happy to create graphics and websites for anyone, including L.G.B.T.Q. people. But her Christian faith, she said, did not allow her to create messages celebrating same-sex marriages. A state law forbids this kind of discrimination.
Here’s what else you need to know:
The ruling could have enormous consequences. Ms. Smith’s supporters say a ruling for the state would allow the government to force all sorts of artists to state things at odds with their beliefs. Her opponents say a ruling in her favor would allow many businesses to refuse service to, say, Black people or Muslims based on odious but sincerely held convictions.
If the case sounds familiar, it is. The court ruled in a very similar one in 2018 involving a baker of wedding cakes in Colorado but did not settle the question of whether the First Amendment permits discrimination by businesses open to the public based on their owners’ religious convictions.
The court might have to give guidance on what kinds of businesses are engaged in expression. In the 2018 case, the baker’s lawyer was closely questioned about where to draw the constitutional line, but her answers did not reveal a consistent principle.
I prematurely published a half-finished Hili dialogue meant to go up tomorrow. If you get it in an email as a subscriber, please ignore it. It will be posted around 6:45 Chicago time tomorrow, and because it was posted by accident once, you won’t get the email. So go check the website itself tomorrow morning. (I always recommend that anyway because I often update or change posts.)
I’m writing something else today, so posting will be nil after this. But it’s the three-day weekend, with many people having already taken off, so relax and read a good book. (I recommend Horse: A Novel, by Geraldine Brooks (she previously won a fiction Pulitzer). I’ve just finished it and it’s an unusual and engrossing read.
Or, if you want, please use the comments to discuss whatever you want: the World Cup (Germany lost to Japan), what you’re eating or drinking for the holidays, the rotten state of the world, the new mass shooting in a Virginia Wal-Mart (6 dead).
Or, ASK ME ANYTHING! I’m feeling expansive (not as expansive as your belly will be tomorow), but you know to avoid the more personal questions. . .
And have a great Thanksgiving. A better Hili will be up tomorrow a.m.
Five days ago I wrote about the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) signing onto an amicus brief in an appeal arguing that a 10-year-old transsexual girl (taking puberty blockers) be allowed to play on her school’s girls’ softball team. The initial case denied that girl the right to play based on an Indiana state law barring transgender females from student sports teams. Now I have no issue with fighting for a girl that young to be able to play, but the serious problem was that the appeal was trying to overturn the law in general, not just give one young student an athletic right.
In other words, the FFRF was supporting the right of transgender girls and adolescents to play on any public school sports team, even if they were medically untreated or had gone through puberty. Not only is that unfair to women and girls in general (it would spell the end of fair competition in sports up through grade 12), but it’s way outside the remit of the FFRF, which is dedicated to keeping church and state separate, as well as mitigating the harms of religion in American society. A few of us brought this to the attention of the FFRF, who defended their participation because opposing transgender issues is a religious issue, though not one of the main goals of the FFRF.
I’ll preface this post, which shows the FFRF expanding into realms even more far removed from church-state issues, with the way I began my previous post:
I’ve always been a fan of and a member of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF). I am on their Honorary Board of Directors, and in 2011 received their “Emperor Has No Clothes Award”, which as they say is “reserved for public figures who take on the fabled role of the little child in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale and ‘tell it like it is’—about religion.” I’ve was very honored with their recognition, and humbled to be added to the many people I admire who have also gotten the gold statue of the naked emperor—a statue made by the same company that makes the Oscars.
Lately, however, the FFRF has crept out of its bailiwick of enforcing separation of church from state, and is, like the ACLU and the SPLC, engaged in matters of social justice. Well, that’s their call, and I wouldn’t beef about it unless I thought they’ve undertaken campaigns that are unwise.
This time, the FFRF is making a push for disability rights. While I’m in favor of disability rights, I don’t see them as connected in any way with the separation of church and state. This latest move, on top of the unwise support for transsexual girls participating in public school sports (especially when they’re post pubescent), shows that the organization is expanding into the realm of social justice, just as the ACLU and SPLC has. In general, I see such an expansion as unwise, especially when it involves misguided stands like those about transgender women athletes.
On to the FFRF’s latest remit. One of my favorite paper magazines/newsletters is the FFRF’s monthly publication Freethought Today, which is now online. And if you go to pages 2 and 3 of the latest issue, you’ll find two long articles on disability rights and “ableism”: “More discussion needed about ableism, disability” and “Disability rights in post-Roe America.” The second one—the author is Sammi Lawrence—covers a whole page, begins by making a tenuous connection between disability rights and church-state issues. Emphasis below is mine, but notice how she bundles disability rights together with Christian nationalist ideology:
Disability rights are a state/church issue.
While America’s conscience has not consistently recognized this, there are clear ties between the Christian nationalist ideology that pervades legislation and the ongoing reality of stagnant and inadequate disability rights laws. The dangerous theocratic Christian ideology that led to Roe v. Wade being overturned is the same ideology that continues to play a part in the oppression of the 61 million disabled adults across the United States. This ideology has guided both harmful disability rights policy and the dismantling of abortion rights. To put it simply, if you care about disability rights, then you also care about the separation of state and church
It goes on, analogizing disability rights with abortion as issues of “bodily autonomy”, issues supposedly a plank of Christian nationalism:
Ever since Roe v. Wade was overturned, the issue of bodily autonomy has remained at the forefront of people’s minds. Bodily autonomy is the simple concept that individuals should have the right to control what does and does not happen to their bodies. The Christian worldview is often one in which an individual’s bodily autonomy is subject to debate and compromise whenever that autonomy conflicts in any way with Christian ideology. Too often, the individual whose bodily autonomy is up for discussion is not even invited to the debate, let alone given a seat at the metaphorical table. Those who are anti-choice view a person’s body, typically a woman’s body, as the conduit for something “greater,” a vessel that is subject to a god’s will, whether that will be an unwanted pregnancy or a disability.
The author continues with a long defense of rights for the disabled, mentioning from time to time their connection with religion:
The first [aspect of what Lawrence calls the “Christian model of diability”] is that disability is a punishment from God or exists as a means through which God may display his alleged greatness. To provide but a few examples:
“And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11)
And, my personal favorite, in the book of John, Jesus heals a blind man who was born blind for no other purpose than so Jesus could heal him later: “As [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9) The disabled person is viewed as morally inferior, as a living warning against disobedience or a walking advertisement for God’s mercy.
This viewpoint is reflected in Christians who insist upon praying for disabled people’s disabilities to go away. Many, if not most, disabled people will at some point have the awkward and condescending experience of some well-meaning Christian wanting to pray to God on their behalf to ask God to “cure” or “fix” their disability.
Well, being blind is something that most people would regard as a handicap, a “disability”. (I know, the new term is “differently abled”.) As for the prayer, that’s okay so long as we realize it doesn’t work and so long as you don’t hector the disabled with religious stuff like prayer.
Lawrence emphasizes that disabilities aren’t caused by supernatural factors. That they are the result of natural factors falls under what Lawerence calls the “medical model of disability”, a view that few rational people hold:
The Medical Model asserts that disability is always “bad.” It is an abnormality that must be fixed or cured. Under this model, health care professionals, and authority figures generally,hold the exclusive power to cure, fix or accommodate a disability. Disabled people are told that they do not know what is best for themselves, that their input in their own treatment, accommodations and life choices are unnecessary and unpersuasive, and that they should be content with the choices that are made for them.
I would argue that yes, disabilities are in general bad, and most who have them would make them go away if they could. But I don’t know many people who argue that disabled people are hectored to be cured rather than being offered help (if help exists).
Lawrence’s own view is the one held by those of us with a rational mind, including the religious (is that an oxymoron?):
In contrast, contemporary disability advocates reject the Medical Model in favor of viewing disability as something that is neither morally good nor bad. Disability is simply one facet of an individual’s identity and a key component of how they socialize with the world. The disabled individual should, to the greatest extent possible, be in charge of their own life and medical decisions and be granted the same bodily autonomy that any other non-disabled person would be granted.
Nobody but some non-Christians would say that disabilities are MORALLY bad, anyway, but who could disagree with Lawrence here? Although I have my issues with deaf people deciding not to deal with the deafness of their children so as to perpetuate “deaf culture”, that’s only tangential.
So Lawrence, who is disabled, advocates ably for the rights of other disabled people. The problem is that this is an issue for disabiity rights organizations, not an organization devoted to religious and Church-State issues. After all, the “Medical Model” really has nothing to do with religion, and as I note below, the connection forged between disability rights and Christian nationalism is unconvincing and poorly confected.
So I wrote to Dan Barker (also mentioning the transgender “mission creep” of the FFRF), and here’s part of my email:
. . . . I saw that the FFRF used this same argument fordisability rightsin the latest issue of your newsletter. The first three pages of the newsletter contain nearly two pages of arguments about disability rights, andone of themmakes this argument (my emphasis):
Disability rights are a state/church issue.
While America’s conscience has not consistently recognized this, there are clear ties between the Christian nationalist ideology that pervades legislation and the ongoing reality of stagnant and inadequate disability rights laws.The dangerous theocratic Christian ideology that led to Roe v. Wade being overturned is the same ideology that continues to play a part in the oppression of the 61 million disabled adults across the United States. This ideology has guided both harmful disability rights policy and the dismantling of abortion rights. To put it simply, if you care about disability rights, then you also care about the separation of state and church
Now I have no quarrel with fighting for disability rights, but:
a. Disability rights have nothing to do with church-state issues (have you seen evangelists railing against the disabled?)
b. You could say “there are clear ties between the Christian nationalist ideology that pervades American and the ongoing reality of X” (add under “X” your favorite social justice issue).
This, plus the transgender activism that we’ve discussed, makes me worry about “mission creep” of the FFRF: that you’ll dilute your strong efforts at separating church and state with various other aspects of social justice activism. I have nothing against most of that activism (though I do have with transgender participation in sports), but it is after all called the FFRF, and the forces of theocracy, especially in the Supreme Court, are rising again.
If Dan replies, I’m not going to put it here, as his end of the correspondence should be private. All I can say is that I suspect the FFRF will ignore our beefs (several of us wrote him). I also predict that the FFRF will continue to expand into non-religious areas of social justice, justifying them by drawing tenuous connections between religion and the areas chosen. After all, can you think of any issue that can’t be framed as a “Christian nationalist” one? I just thought of gun rights, and of course you could say that Christian nationalists own more guns than nonbelievers, which is probably the case. And you can probably justify this by showing a history of Christians using and approving of guns (e.g., Lauren Boebert and many other Republicans). But that’s a correlation and not a causation, because the tribalism of Christian nationalism is connected with guns, but not because they’re mentioned in the Bible.
I’m writing this post to make people aware of what’s happening at the FFRF. I still love the organization and am a huge fan of Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, the co-presidents, but am afraid that the organization is going woke. One of my friends characterized this creep as a supplement to British historian Robert Conquest’s “laws of politics” (have a look at them). The new law:
“Any organization that is not explicitly and constitutionally right-wing will sooner or later become left-wing.” In the past 3 years, substitute “woke” for “left-wing.”
I was surprised to see any article in the New York Times questioning current medical treatment for becoming transsexual, but this article does. And it’s written by two investigative reporters who actually read the scientific literature on puberty blockers. In fact, the article ends, like a scientific paper, with a list of seven references from the literature on the effects of puberty blockers on bone mass. Bona fides first:
Megan Twohey is a prize-winning investigative reporter and a best-selling author who has focused much of her work on the treatment of women and children. @mega2e•Facebook
Christina Jewett covers the Food and Drug Administration. She is an award-winning investigative journalist and has a strong interest in how the work of the F.D.A. affects the people who use regulated products. @By_Cjewett
Click on the screenshot to read it at the paper itself, or see it archived here
I found the article pretty good for what it is, though a bit scattered, going back and forth between the medical effects of puberty blockers, the effects of transitioning on people’s well-being, and stories of “desisters” or “detransitioners” who went back to their birth sex. There are a few lessons to learn here.
Puberty blockers are of unknown safety. These are drugs given to adolescents or children at various stages of puberty to allow them to “pause” their puberty while they ponder whether they want to become transsexual. While there have been many claims that these drugs are perfectly safe and that any halting of puberty can be reversed if patients changes their minds (most don’t, but go on to full transitioning), studies show pretty convincingly that the drugs have a deleterious effect on bone density, though the effect is lessened if patients take the drug (Lupron is one example) in early rather than late puberty. The effects on bone density can be so severe that they can cause osteoporosis or permanent bone damage.
. . .there is emerging evidence of potential harm from using blockers, according to reviews of scientific papers and interviews with more than 50 doctors and academic experts around the world.
. . . A full accounting of blockers’ risk to bones is not possible. While the Endocrine Society recommends baseline bone scans and then repeat scans every one to two years for trans youths, WPATH and the American Academy of Pediatrics provide little guidance about whether to do so. Some doctors require regular scans and recommend calcium and exercise to help to protect bones; others do not. Because most treatment is provided outside of research studies, there’s little public documentation of outcomes.
But it’s increasingly clear that the drugs are associated with deficits in bone development. During the teen years, bone density typically surges by about 8 to 12 percent a year. The analysis commissioned by The Times examined seven studies from the Netherlands, Canada and England involving about 500 transgender teens from 1998 through 2021. Researchers observed that while on blockers, the teens did not gain any bone density, on average — and lost significant ground compared to their peers, according to the analysis by Farid Foroutan, an expert on health research methods at McMaster University in Canada.
The findings match what practitioners of the treatment have seen, including Dr. Catherine Gordon, a pediatric endocrinologist and bone researcher at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “When they lose bone density, they’re really getting behind,” said Dr. Gordon, who is leading a separate study on why the drugs have such an effect.
The authors give other anecdotal evidence of blocker damage, like this one:
A transgender adolescent in Sweden who took the drugs from age 11 to 14 with no bone scans until the last year of treatment developed osteoporosis and sustained a compression fracture in his spine, an X-ray showed in 2021, as reported earlier in a documentary on Swedish television.
“The patient now suffers from continued back pain,” medical records note, describing a “permanent disability” caused by the blockers.
The scant data we have to date suggests that the reduction of bone density accompanying the use of blockers, even if followed by hormone treatment, may not lead to full recovery of bone density and strengh.
Many doctors treating trans patients believe they will recover that loss when they go off blockers. But two studies from the analysis that tracked trans patients’ bone strength while using blockers and through the first years of sex hormone treatment found that many do not fully rebound and lag behind their peers.
That could lead to heightened risk of debilitating fractures earlier than would be expected from normal aging — in their 50s instead of 60s —and more immediate harm for patients who start treatment with already weak bones, experts say.
“There’s going to be a price,” said Dr. Sundeep Khosla, who leads a bone research lab at the Mayo Clinic. “And the price is probably going to be some deficit in skeletal mass.”
There may be long-term effects of puberty blockers on other parts body (e.g., the brain) that, says the article, might not show up until “decades later”. The fact is that there is very little research on the medical effects of puberty blockers, which is why several European countries are using them solely on a clinical-trial basis (England is contemplating this). The lack of data explains why this article concentrates almost entirely on bone density. Only when we have more data on more traits will adolescents contemplating transitioning be able to make a fully informed decision.
That said, the bone-density issue, which can be ameliorated if you give blockers early in puberty or treat later with calcium and medicine for osteoporosis, is not sufficiently daunting that, at least according to some doctors, it should not lead transitioners to change their minds or to transition by direct hormone treatment without the “pause” of blockers. Still, we have to remember that there are no tests of the long-term effects of the blockers. That will take considerable time. Research is in progress:
Long-awaited research funded by the National Institutes of Health could provide more guidance. In 2015, four prominent American gender clinics were awarded $7 million to examine the effects of blockers and hormone treatment on transgender youth. In explaining their study, the researchers pointed out that the United States had produced no data on the impact or safety of blockers, particularly among transgender patients under 12, leaving a “gap in evidence for this practice.” Seven years in, they have yet to report key outcomes of their work, but say the findings are coming soon.
Puberty blockers are not approved by the FDA for halting puberty and are used off label. And some companies don’t even want FDA approval, presumably because it may not come.
My emphasis below:
There is no centralized tracking of blocker prescriptions in the United States. Komodo Health, a health technology company, compiled private and public insurance data for Reuters, showing a sharp increase in the number of children ages 6 to 17 diagnosed with gender dysphoria, from about 15,000 in 2017 to about 42,000 in 2021. During that time, 4,780 patients with that diagnosis were put on puberty blockers covered by insurance, the data shows, with new prescriptions growing each year. But the data does not capture the many cases in which insurance does not cover the drugs for that use, leaving families to pay out of pocket.
Some leading American practitioners asked AbbVie and Endo Pharmaceuticals, maker of another blocker, to seek F.D.A. approval for the drugs’ use among trans adolescents. The drugmakers would have to fund research for a patient population that made up just a small part of their market. But the physicians argued that regulatory approval could help establish the safety of the treatment and broaden insurance coverage of the drugs, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year. In the end, AbbVie and Endo said no. The companies declined to comment on the decision.
To me, this is odious. These companies are putting profits before patients. What company wouldn’t want to know whether the drugs they make are safe?
Most patients who take blockers continue on to hormone therapy, i.e. to fuller transitioning. And according to the article, in general those who complete transitioning are happy with their decision.
Like Ms. Chavira, most patients who take puberty blockers move on to hormones to transition, as many as 98 percent in British and Dutch studies. While many doctors see that as evidence that the right adolescents are getting the drugs, others worry that some young people are being swept into medical interventions too soon.
. . .The first trans patient treated with blockers, from age 13 to 18, moved on totestosterone, the male sex hormone. Halting female puberty had offered emotional relief and helped him look more masculine. As the Dutch clinicians prescribed blockers, followed by hormones, to a half-dozen other patients in those early years, the medical team found that their mental health and well-being improved.
“They were usually coming in very miserable, feeling like an outsider in school, depressed or anxious,” recalled Dr. Peggy Cohen-Kettenis, a retired psychologist at the clinic. “And then you start to do this treatment, and a few years later, you see them blossoming.”
The general take I have on this article is that most people who decide to become transsexual are happy with their decision, despite the potential dangers of puberty blockers (they likely don’t know the scientific effects on bone density, and of course we don’t know the full scientific effects on the rest of the body). Is an informed decision then possible? Well, we don’t have all the medical data to say “fully informed”, but the feeling of relief that many describe when they transition suggests that in the absence of long-term studies, they can do three things:
a. Get “nonaffirmative” care. Since a hefty percentage of those who feel they’re in the “wrong” body (but don’t take puberty blockers) wind up gay rather than becoming transsexual, this suggests that an objective therapist, not committed to transitioning, should work with the patient beforehand. After all, transitioning, besides making you sterile, may have unknown medical effects, and presumably children who become gay are no less happy than those who transition.
b. Do not take puberty blockers but go directly from a child or adolescent to hormone supplements that cause permanent changes in your body. This, however, gives the young person no time to contemplate changing their gender, and surely you have to be old enough to give informed consent (see below).
c. Wait until you’re finished with puberty to start transitioning. Although this may prolong gender dysphoria, it staves off any deleterious effects of puberty blockers and also gives you some additional age that is supposed to be correlated with wisdom. This is the solution I recommend, but one that not everyone is on board with.
As Luana Maroja wrote the other day, American science is becoming an appendage to ideology, and if facts don’t fit the ideology, well, we can just change the facts. We can also change the words used in medicine and science if they offend even a few people, and those changes come at the expense of scientific clarity.
The American Medical Association (AMA), for instance, issued a mammoth 54-page guide to ideologically proper language, beginning with a land acknowledgment to the Native Americans who once occupied the land occupied by the AMA’s headquarters, complete with the latest usages calculated to offend as few people as possible: words and phrases supposedly having “the potential to create and perpetuate harm.” Some are okay but many are Pecksniffian, like this one. The second column are the offending phrases, the third gives the AMA’s replacement words.
Fortunately the AMA doesn’t go after “woman” or “mother” the way many have, replacing them with words like “womb-bearer”. But the New Zealand Midwifery Council has, as described in this article by Sarah Donovan, a sociologist at in the Department of Public Health at New Zealand’s University of Otago, who has also worked as a midwife. She’s also described in the article below this way: “Dr Donovan is a Health Sociologist and Adjunct Fellow in the School of Social and Cultural Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. She has previously undertaken research and policy advocacy on menstrual wellbeing, breastfeeding, and period poverty among New Zealand school pupils.”
But she’s angry at the bowdlerization of the Midwifery Council’s guiding document, which used to include the words “mother” and “woman”, but doesn’t any more. Click to read:
The words appear to be mostly Donovan’s:
The Midwifery Council of NZ is updating its Midwifery Scope of Practice guidance for midwives to entirely remove the words ‘mother’ and ‘woman’.
Health researcher and former midwife Dr Sarah Donovan says the move is likely to be out of step with public expectations in New Zealand about the profession of midwifery, including how it describes who it cares for.
The Midwifery Council is required by the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act (HPCA) to prescribe the scope of practice of a midwife. The Scope defines what it means to be a midwife in New Zealand.
With midwifery arguably the most woman-centred and mother-centred of all health professions, Donovan says clarification is needed on what evidence base and advice underpinned the Midwifery Council’s decision to remove these words entirely. The words ‘wahine’ and ‘māmā’, used almost universally in other maternity care material in New Zealand are also not used anywhere in the English language version of the document. The lack of these words seems conspicuous considering the inclusion of te reo in the English version for other terms.
“For a lot of people this will probably not make sense. Why erase these important words from midwifery in New Zealand? If this is about being inclusive, there is scope for terms to be used alongside each other. My understanding of what inclusive language in healthcare means is that it actually includes rather than excludes; it is additive of new terminology rather than removing widely-recognised and culturally cherished terms such as ‘mother’ and ‘māmā’
A reasonable question to ask would be – has the Midwifery Council actually sought the views of the population they serve, and of the wider NZ public on removing the words ‘mother’ and ‘woman’ from Midwifery care in NZ? Have they asked mothers-to-be as a group how they would wish to be described instead?”
And a document comparing some of the changes (there are more). Note that the word whānau doest not mean “woman” in Māori but, in this context, “extended family“. In other words, anyone. The words “woman” and “mother” have been expunged.
We believe the revised scope is whānau centred. It upholds the mana of Te Ao Māori and Tangata Tiriti worldviews. It is inclusive and affirms and enables us to practice in ways that meet the needs of all whānau in Aotearoa. The revised scope will support our ability to address a detrimental imbalance of representation, understanding and appreciation of Māori knowledge, values and practice.
The words are gone because “mother” and “women” are not inclusive enough, for they don’t include biological women who identify as men (and perhaps have had medical treatment to make their bodies more similar to those of men). One could perhaps avoid this problem by using “biological women”, which is accurate, but that too would offend transsexual women, who are surely a tiny minority of people to whom this document applies. At the expense of clarity, they use a word that means “extended family” rather than either “woman”, “mother”, or, for that matter, “trans woman.”
UPDATE: Reader Enrico called this article to my attention; it’s very relevant to Scientific American’s claims here, which it doesn’t support. Click to read (and subscribe if you read regularly):
Ritchie parses the many meanings of this slogan, but here’s the one that Scientific American appears to use:
The first point they might be making is what we might call the argument from inevitability. “There’s no way around it. You’re being naive if you think you could stop science from being political. It’s arrogance in the highest degree to think that you are somehow being ‘objective’, and aren’t a slave to your biases.”
But this is a weirdly black-and-white view. It’s not just that something “is political” (say, a piece of research done by the Pro-Life Campaign Against Abortion which concludes that the science proves human life starts at conception) or “is not political” (say, a piece of research on climate change run by Martians who have no idea about Earth politics). There are all sorts of shades of grey – and our job is to get as close to the “not political” end as possible, even in the knowledge that we might never get fully get there.
The old saying goes that “all science is political”, a saying that is true only if you stretch the meaning of either “science” or “political”. I’m baffled, for instance, to understand how my work on the genetics of hybrid sterility in Drosophila is political. But don’t worry: the ideologues will find a way to make it so. “You’re doing your work in the milieu of a culture,” they’ll babble, “and decisions about what to fund and publish are explicitly political.” Blah blah blah.
But this trope has just been taken up by the editors of Scientific American, which, as you know, has gone “progressive leftist” (aka “woke”) over the last couple of years. I’ve called them out on this a number of times (see all my posts here)—not only for littering a science magazine with politics that are irrelevant to the magazine’s original mission, but also for doing so in a silly way. The silliness has involved, for example, accusations that Gregor Mendel was a racist and a pompous rant about why the term “Jedi” was inappropriate for social justice work (“JEDI” had been use to stand for “Justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion”). Finally, the magazine has made editorial claims that are either dubious or false (see here for some), including the equation of inequities with structural racism.
Several people have gone after the magazine for its transformation into an arm of wokeness. Besides me, they include Michael Shermer, who wrote over 200 columns for the magazine, but was given a pink slip because he was deemed ideologically impure (see his video on the issue here).
Now, apparently stung by the criticism, the editors of the magazine have written an editorial explaining their wokeness. The title below tells the tale. Every story, they claim, is a science story, including stories about social justice. (What they should have said is that “every social justice story is a science story.”) Either way, their defensiveness doesn’t address the fact that people read the magazine largely or entirely for the science, and can get social justice rants in a gazillion other places. And in response to the criticism of both inappropriateness and scientific accuracy, they promulgate still more scientific inaccuracy and then blame the criticism on—yes, you got it—”wealthy white men”. When reader Barry read this defense, he asked me: “Did Scientific American write this as a response to you?” Well, I’m not the only objector, but I think I had a role in it, and for that I’m pleased.
Click to read:
Here’s their defense:
Critics sometimes tell us that Scientific American has strayed from what might be called “classical science content” and is wading into subject areas where we don’t belong.
This claim bubbles up most often when we publish stories related to social justice or human rights—on the research supporting health care for transgender people, for instance, or abortion as basic medical care. A Twitter user replied to an opinion piece against forcing trans girls to play on boys’ sports teams by writing, “You should probably move everything back to science, facts and stats and leave the ‘wokness’ [SIC], narrative skewing and agenda setting behind. It’s not good for your credibility.”
And in response to a recent job listing that described our commitment to diversity and inclusion, someone else tweeted: “Advancing DEI & Social Justice is not something any truth-seeking institution or organization should prioritize.”
These detractors are telling us to “stay in our lane,” that scientific inquiry is a pure, clean, completely objective enterprise, and that what we publish should be devoid of politics or the perspectives of people who are affected by the culture of scientific research. But the truth is that science is relevant to every element of society, including policy and politics.
In other words, they are free to editorialize about anything they want, for our world is an empirical world and thus everything in the world is “scientific”. But this misses the two relevant points above: people don’t WANT in-your-face wokeism in a magazine devoted to popularizing science, and, second, their editorializing is purely one-sided (they rejected my offer to write an op-ed) and makes dubious claims. I’ll give you one of those claims in a minute. But shouldn’t op-eds in a science magazine, even if you have to run them, allow for different points of view. Why not a column explaining why E. O. Wilson and Gregor Mendel were not racists.
I’m not doubting that science has implications for morality. If you think abortion is okay up to the point when a fetus becomes viable, then determining when it’s viable, which will change with medical advances, can affect your views of abortion. I’m objecting to both the inclusion of one-sided editorials as well as the poor research and dubious claims that to into them.
Here’s one of the “important social issues” that they claim to clarify in their article (this was not from an op-eds):
A recent feature article we published challenged some of the popular perception of Viking culture as male-first, might-always. Michèle Hayeur Smith, an anthropological archaeologist at Brown University found that Viking women controlled the production of tradable textiles, making them economic leaders in this society that is romanticized by white supremacists and incels (which stands for “involuntary celibates” and is an identity claimed by misogynist groups).
You can judge the “importance” of this finding, but note the emphasis on “white supremacists”, “incels” and “misogynists”. This isn’t pure science: it’s using history to reinforce an ideology. They also justify the history of their magazine, and their endorsement of Biden:
And here’s one item that’s misleading:
Using data-driven reasoning and analysis, science has solved problems and given us answers to major societal questions. For instance, after sequencing the human genome in 2001, the researchers who analyzed our strings of genetic code showed there were no significant differences among humans corresponding to racial categories. This helped change the narrative around the inherent meaning of race—that it is a social construct, not a biological one.
Even “self described race” by Americans has a biological meaning but, more important, such an idea leads to the rejection of geographically distinct populations as having any relevant biological differences, which is not true. (I don’t use the word “race”—I prefer “ethnicity”—because “race” is misleading, wrong in its classical construal, and also has a fraught history, but even in its classical misleading usage it has some connection with biology, for self-identified “whites,” “blacks”, “Hispanics” and “Asians” can be distinguished by a subset of genes with nearly 100% accuracy.).
In 2020, the editors of Scientific Americanendorsed Joe Biden for president. A Twitter user said: “Getting political means getting biased and a magazine that has ‘Scientific’ in its name should not be biased.” In truth, we have a long history of weighing in on divisive political issues. In April 1950, the magazine was set to publish an article written by physicist Hans Bethe (who had worked on the Manhattan Project) that was critical of the development of the hydrogen bomb. When the federal Atomic Energy Commission got wind of the manuscript, agents burned all 3,000 copies of the issue that contained the article. More than 30 years later, we published technical criticisms, also by Bethe and other physicists, of a space-based missile defense system known as Star Wars.
Note that they mention twice that they’re responding to Twitter users! Yes, of course Trump was odious, but he was not odious for scientifically-related reasons, but for moral and political ones—political considerations that had little to do with science.
But below is the most telling paragraph in the piece, the one where they say that people like me are telling them to “shut up”—a form of censorship. And those people are old rich white men (what race, sex, and wealth have to do with it is beyond me). Yes, I am criticizing them for polluting their magazine with irrelevant political views (many of which I agree with), and for writing wonky editorials. I am not censoring them! My view is that, as a science magazine, they should be institutionally neutral, like a university. Why? Because infusing science with woke ideology, and implying that the former justifies the latter (or vice versa) will serve only to reduce the public’s respect for science. Remember, horrible though it is, nearly half of Americans like Trump and other Republicans. Is it worth associating progressive Leftism with science in a way that makes people see science as a political venture, many losing respect for it, at the expense of educating people about science?
Scientific American has made its decision: parade its progressive Leftist virtue while turning many off the magazine, and perhaps off science in general. But the old rich white men (LOL) will not be silenced either, for everyone has a right to criticize the magazine. Criticism is not censorhip, for crying out loud!
Can you believe this?:
Telling us or scientists or other science writers to “stay in our lane” is a tactic to silence people with relevant expertise from weighing in on divisive issues. In some cases, the criticism attempts to maintain the power of wealthy, white, male members of society. This criticism comes most often when we report on science relevant to the health and well-being of disempowered groups, suggesting it is not a pure rejection of the fact that there is science behind social issues. Science is everywhere, and we at Scientific American are going to continue to cover the science relevant to social justice and the most vital questions facing human society.
I went to sleep ignoring the election results last night, as I didn’t want to perturb my sleep (my insomnia appears to be abating, though). But as soon as I got to work, I checked the news, expecting to see a rout of the Democrats but immensely pleased to see that it didn’t happen. Even the Senate is still up for grabs, though, as predicted, the House probably went to the GOP. But several Republicans, notably Mehmet “Anas platyrhynchos” Oz, appear to have gone down to defeat. If no Republican candidate in Georgia gets a majority, the two leading contenders (including Herschel “I didn’t pay for abortions” Walker) will have a runoff election.
Here’s the Washington Post’s headline (click to read):
As for who’s winning in the national legislative races, the NYT, as of 6:30, appears to have more up to date results (click to read):
The Senate may still stay Democratic, as Mehmet Oz and Herschel Walker, both Republicans, were defeated. As Five Thirty Eight notes:
It’s early Wednesday morning and we don’t yet know which party will control the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. And based on simulations using FiveThirtyEight’s final forecast, the projections we do have suggest Democrats are now slight favorites to maintain their narrow edge in the Senate while ABC News estimates that Republicans have 207 seats to the Democrats’ 188, putting the GOP in position to win a majority. Still, it’s likely to be some time until we know whether those outcomes have actually happened and what the final numbers will be in each chamber.
. .. . Coming into Election Day, Democrats and Republicans each held 50 seats in the Senate, but Democrats held power via Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote.1 To shift the balance of power, Republicans needed to win one net seat. But as things stand, the Senate will include 48 Democrats, 47 Republicans and the occupants of five as-yet-unprojected seats in Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Wisconsin.
But one race where we do have a projection from ABC News is of critical importance to the Senate math: Pennsylvania. Earlier this morning, Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman defeated Republican Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, capturing the seat held by retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey. As a result, Democrats just need to hold on to two of their three most endangered seats — Arizona, Georgia and Nevada — which significantly improves their odds of reaching 50 seats.
As for Georgia, it’s too close to call, and if there’s a runoff between Warnock or Walker, I suspect the libertarian votes will go to Warnock, ensuring a Democratic seat.
Of that trio of Democratic-held seats, Georgia’s outcome seems pretty clear at this point, too. That would be another runoff, for those who didn’t get enough of that last cycle, when Democrats won runoffs for both of Georgia’s Senate seats to capture the chamber. Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker are each right at about 49 percent, with a Libertarian candidate garnering the other 2 percent — enough to force a Dec. 6 runoff by preventing either Warnock or Walker from winning an outright majority.
As for the House of Representatives, it’s very likely it will fall into Republican hands. But remember, the Senate controls all Presidential judicial appointments, so if it stays Democratic (and with Harris breaking ties), the GOP won’t get to stack the judiciary with hyper-conservatives. There will still be a legislative stalemate if the House goes Republican.
About the House:
Of that trio of Democratic-held seats, Georgia’s outcome seems pretty clear at this point, too. That would be another runoff, for those who didn’t get enough of that last cycle, when Democrats won runoffs for both of Georgia’s Senate seats to capture the chamber. Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker are each right at about 49 percent, with a Libertarian candidate garnering the other 2 percent — enough to force a Dec. 6 runoff by preventing either Warnock or Walker from winning an outright majority.
. . . Republicans are in line for a majority because they gained many of the seats they were supposed to capture, and they are also well-positioned to win some toss-up races as well as seats in which they were underdogs. Florida Republicans had a banner night, particularly in the House: They picked up a couple Democratic-held seats that GOP mapmakers made redder in redistricting (the 7th and 13th districts) as well as a couple of newly drawn, Republican-leaning open seats (the 4th and 15th districts). Elsewhere, the GOP flipped slightly red-leaning seats held by Democratic incumbents in New Jersey’s 7th District and Virginia’s 2nd District while winning two reddish, Democratic-held open seats in Tennessee’s 5th District and Wisconsin’s 3rd District.
As the NYT notes, even the pistol-packing Jesus-ite Lauren Boebert may be defeated:
The election in Colorado’s Third Congressional District was surprisingly tight, with Representative Lauren Boebert, a far-right provocateur who heckled President Biden during his State of the Union speech, locked in a close contest with Adam Frisch, a Democrat. The Associated Press has not called the race.
Voters in California, Michigan and Vermont chose to enshrine abortion protections in their state constitutions on Tuesday, The Associated Press said.
A vote in Kentucky on whether to amend the State Constitution to say there was no right to abortion was too close to call as of early Wednesday.
. . . Voters in Maryland and Missouri approved ballot measures on Tuesday to legalize recreational marijuana, according to The Associated Press, adding those states to a list that has swelled in recent years. But similar efforts were also shot down in Arkansas and North Dakota — a mixed result that underscored the varying public attitudes over marijuana use.
What’s wrong with North Dakota?
. . . In Iowa, voters, by a wide margin, supported an initiative enshrining gun rights in an amendment to the State Constitution that declares that residents’ ability “to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
From the WaPo on the abortion measures:
On Tuesday, both California and Vermont were on course to add abortion rights to their constitutions by an overwhelming margin, as expected. A similar measure was ahead in Michigan, 53 percent to 47 percent.
Perhaps most notably, though, a pair of red states — Kentucky and Montana — also appeared prepared to turn aside antiabortion measures such as the one in Kansas. The Kentucky measure would clarify that the state constitution contains no right to an abortion; the Montana measure would require health-care providers to try to save any infant born alive, including after attempted abortions.
Kemp had been seen as the favorite in the race for months, with Abrams unable to capture the momentum she experienced in 2018 and hampered by broader voter discontent with Democratic control of Washington.
The victory reasserts Republican control of the executive office in Georgia just two years removed from Democrats winning both of the state’s US Senate seats and President Joe Biden becoming the first Democrat to win the state since Bill Clinton in 1992.
Abrams’ defeat is a tough blow for Democrats who have long sought to elevate her in a state that, until recently, had been dominated by Republicans. After losing to Kemp by less than two percentage points in 2018, Abrams was among the women considered to run alongside Biden. She is often touted as one of the most influential Democrats in the country, despite currently holding no public office.
Kemp’s victory is a clear sign that economic arguments made by Republicans were more powerful in 2022 than Democrats’ focus on abortion.
Without a win there, her ascendancy as a future Democratic star may have ended.
As for abortion’s impact on the election more broadly? The good news for Democrats on Tuesday was that lots of voters — nearly 3 in 10 — said abortion rights were their most important issue, which was nearly as large as the share of voters who named inflation, according to network exit polls.
Abortion ranking nearly as high on the list of priorities as the most significant economic issue (and the GOP’s top issue) would seem to be a good thing for Democrats, since the economy almost always tops people’s list of concerns. But voters trusted the GOP more on every other issue tested: crime, gun policy and immigration.
So how did Democrats beat expectations on Tuesday? Surely Roe v. Wade being overturned played a role, delivering the Democrats turnout fuel in an election in which they had been lacking it — and an election whose fundamentals favored the opposition party. The court decision’s effect showed up almost immediately after it came down, with Democrats suddenly overperforming in every special election.
But this election wasn’t just about the relative strengths of the parties’ bases — it was also about independents. Exit polls currently show that independent voters favored Democrats 49 percent to 47 percent. That’s not a big victory, but it is highly unusual for a midterm election. The opposition party has won independents by double digits in each of the last four midterm elections, but the GOP might lose this group when all is said and done in this one. (Exit polls get readjusted as results roll in.)
Well, well, well. . . here we have a big article from the New York Times that touts ghosts, implicitly assumes that they exist and haunt houses, and tells readers how to live with them. Save for one barely noticeable caveat about naturalistic explanations for one “ghostly” phenomenon, you will find no doubt about ghosts, and nothing about investigations of whether they exist. (Ghosts, as you know, are taken to be the returned spirits of people who are dead.)
I’m not sure why the NYT keeps writing about these paranormal phenomena as if they are true, without giving the proper caveats. (e.g., “Note to reader: These are all anecdotal reports. Further scientific investigation has shown no evidence for the dead reappearing.”) It may be because younger folk, possibly the target demographic for the paper, is more credulous about these things. (See below.)
Click on the screenshot to read:
The article gives several anecdotal accounts that have the inhabitants of some houses think that their homes are haunted. I’ll give just one:
Lisa Asbury has lived in her home in Dunlap, Ill., for three years now. But the paranormal activity she’s observed began in her old home in 2018, following the death of her husband’s grandfather, and is identical to what she’s been experiencing now, she said. Ms. Asbury, 43, said that she’s seen objects fly off shelves, lights flash in multiple rooms and fan blades start turning suddenly. “I hear my name being called when I’m alone, phantom footsteps, our dogs barking while staring at nothing,” she added.
But nothing has felt aggressive, Ms. Asbury said. Just attention-seeking. “I believe our spirits to be family,” she said. “I get the feeling that we have different family members visit at different times.”
And though it was unsettling for a while, she’s figured out how to live within the ghostly milieu. “Usually if something occurs, we will acknowledge it out loud or just say hi to the spirit,” Ms. Asbury said.
Notice the advice, mentioned in the article’s title, about how to live with a ghost. Be friendly and maybe your ghost will be friendly too, like Casper:
There are many more examples, but that one will suffice. The paper explains the surprising ubiquity of the belief that one’s house is haunted.
Many Americans believe that their home is inhabited by someone or something that isn’t a living being. An October study from the Utah-based home security company Vivint found that nearly half of the thousand surveyed homeowners believed that their house was haunted. Another survey of 1,000 people by Real Estate Witch, an education platform for home buyers and sellers, found similar results, with 44 percent of respondents saying that they’ve lived in a haunted house.
Crikey! That’s a lot of credulous people. The believers tend to be younger, and the difference in belief between Gen Zers and baby boomers is substantial: almost twofold:
There are generational differences in who believes in ghosts. In the Vivint survey, 65 percent of Gen Zers (defined as people born between 1997 and 2012) who participated in the survey thought their home was haunted, while 35 percent of baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) surveyed thought the same.
Why so many? The paper gives several explanations:
Researchers attribute increasing belief in the supernatural to the rise of paranormal-related media, a decline in religious affiliation and the pandemic. With so many people believing that they live with ghosts, a new question arises: How does one live with ghosts? Are there ways to become comfortable with it, or certain actions to keep away from so as not to disturb it?
Note the implicit assumption that ghosts are real. Here are more explanations, with this one obvious: if ghosts were real, there would be some kind of afterlife:
Sharon Hill, the author of the 2017 book “Scientifical Americans: The Culture of Amateur Paranormal Researchers,” added that “many are no longer fearful of ghosts because we’ve been so habituated to them by the media.”
Haunted houses can also be “a way to connect to the past or a sense of enchantment in the everyday world,” Ms. Hill said. “We have a sense of wanting to find out for ourselves and be able to feel like we can reach beyond death. To know that ghosts exist would be very comforting to some people.”
Gen Z “might be searching for meaning in new places,” Ms. Hill said. “If the modern world they live in isn’t providing food for the soul, if capitalism is a system that drains us of personal enlightenment, it’s not hard to figure out that younger people will search elsewhere for that and find the idea of an alternate world — of ghosts, aliens, cryptids, et cetera — to be enticing to explore.”
The pandemic also played a role in society’s relationship with houses and ghosts.
The salience of death in our culture increased, igniting a desire for evidence of an afterlife for some people. “Think of all the sudden, and often not-sufficiently-ritually-mourned deaths during Covid. Many times people lost loved ones with no last contact, no funeral,” said Tok Thompson, a folklorist and professor of anthropology at the University of Southern California.
. . . Many experts also attribute a decline in religious belief to fostering a belief in the paranormal. A 2021 Pew Research Center survey found that nearly 30 percent of Americans were religiously unaffiliated, 10 percentage points higher than a decade ago.
Why can’t they just become adherents to naturalism instead of to spiritualism manifested as belief in the paranormal?
One note of interest:
Most states don’t mention paranormal activity in real estate disclosure laws, but New York and New Jersey have explicit requirements surrounding it. In New Jersey, sellers, if asked, must disclose known information about any potential poltergeists. In New York, a court can rescind a sale if the seller has bolstered the reputation of the home being haunted and takes advantage of a buyer’s ignorance of that notoriety.
The article adds that having a reputation of being haunted can actually boost the value of a home.
The article gives only one naturalistic alternative to the paranormal mentioned in the entire article:
“People weren’t normally around all the time to notice the normal noises of a house as it heats up from the sun during the day and then cools in the afternoon. With everyone inside, there was even less noise outside to drown out the typical sounds,” Ms. Hill, the author, said.
But of course the phenomena recounted in the anecdotes, including ouija-board stuff and dogs mysteriously appearing outside, aren’t explained by houses heating up and cooling down.
And that’s it for alternative explanations. And the article’s last paragraph serves to buttress the notion that ghosts are real:
Karla Olivares, a financial consultant living in San Antonio, Texas, said that growing up in a house she believed was haunted has made her more accepting of the unexplainable happenings that have occurred in other places she’s lived or visited.
“When I feel something now, I acknowledge it. It’s also made me become more spiritual myself,” Ms. Olivares, 27, said. “Now, I feel that it’s all around me, and I won’t get surprised if I feel something again.”
Well, what can you expect of a paper where an Anglican priest touts God in her weekly Sunday column? Both ghosts and gods are paranormal phenomena, and the NYT has a history of touting stuff like tarot cards, reincarnation and astrology.
FYI, the author of the piece is identified this way:
Anna Kodé is a reporter for the Real Estate section of The Times. She writes about design trends, housing issues and the relationship between identity and home.
There’s no mention of her being conversant with scientific investigation of the paranormal.
Yesterday I described how a claim by Wehi et al. that the Polynesians were the first to discover Antarctica (in the eighth century!) had been debunked—twice. The claim was based purely on oral legend written down in the 19th century and then mistranslated and misinterpreted. There’s no doubt that Wehi et al.’s claims were dead wrong, even on the basis that the Polynesians didn’t have boats then that could go anywhere near Antarctica. I’ve put references to the Wehi et al. paper and the two rebuttals at the bottom of this post.
Now I’ve discovered that the same Priscilla Wehi, along with several of her colleagues on the Roy Soc NZ paper, also wrote a related paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution that same year, making the same bogus claim about the Polynesians discovering Antarctica, and even expanding it. Click to read:
Here’s part of the claim:
Human voyaging into Antarctic waters by Hui Te Rangiora and his crew on the vessel Te Ivi o Atea in around the seventh century (Fig. 1) may have followed cetacean migratory routes from Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. In so doing, they were perhaps the first humans to set eyes on Antarctica; evidence of their likely discovery lies in its name Te tai-uka-a-pia which denotes the frozen ocean, as well as oral accounts handed down through the generations. Similarly, accounts of the flora, fauna and physical geography indicate sub-Antarctic as well as likely Antarctic visitation by Hui Te Rangiora and his crew (Fig. 1); thirteenth century Māori sub-Antarctic exploration is well-established archaeologically. Later nineteenth century sealing and whaling and Māori and Moriori settlement in the Auckland Islands continues this voyaging legacy. Other noted Māori explorers of the Antarctic region include Tamarereti, who pursued the origins of the aurora australis (Fig. 1). These traditions record enormous ice cliffs with towering mountain ranges behind them, with nowhere to gain a footing, and suggest that those with Tamarereti gained an understanding of the physicality of the Antarctic region, including the Antarctic Circle. Hui Te Rangiora’s descendant Te Aru Tanga Nuku hundreds of years later also journeyed far into southern waters
And part of the timeline of human events occurring in Antarctica, clearly showing the Polynesian precedence:
Every bit of the above is wrong. Antarctica was first glimpsed by a Russian expedition and a separate British expedition in 1820—within three days of each other. Publishing what’s above is like saying “ancient narratives of the people of South America show that they were the first to settle Polynesia.” (That’s what the Kon-Tiki expedition tried to prove.) But that’s wrong.
Nature E&E is of course far more prestigious than the Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand and Polar Record, where the original paper and rebuttals were published.
The rest of the paper is a long argument for including Indigenous peoples’ knowledge in the management of Antarctica, implying that they’ve been excluded by colonialism. I have no strong feelings about this except that there are other possible reasons besides bigotry. But the falsity of the claim above does somewhat deflate their argument:
By highlighting Māori connections with Antarctica the continent, Antarctica the seascape and Antarctica the living entity of human-kin relationships, we challenge the intellectual legacies of Antarctica framed within existing mindsets and expand these to grow alternative conceptions of human relationships and responsibilities to Antarctica and the seas that surround it.
My point instead is that Nature Ecology & Evolution published something palpably wrong and, worse, OBVIOUSLY wrong—but they didn’t catch it or correct it. A colleague told me to write a response, but it’s not worth my time, and besides, this uber-woke journal wouldn’t accept it.
Let the readers of this journal continue to believe false claims, or, if you’re a Nature editor reading this, why don’t you issue a correction? It would take only two lines.
Wehi, Priscilla M., Nigel J. Scott, Jacinta Beckwith, Rata Pryor Rodgers, Tasman Gillies, Vincent Van Uitregt, and Krushil Watene. 2021. “A short scan of Māori journeys to Antarctica.” Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand: 1-12.