Here are the mallards!

Did you spot all three mallards in this morning’s photo from Gregory James? Here’s the reveal:

Gregory added this:

There’s a puzzle I have. There are a couple of bird houses in the marsh and a third one, on the far right, that is of a sort I’ve never seen. It is kind of like a hollow log on it’s side, stuck on a pole. There were a few of these at the site and I have no idea what kind of bird they are intended for.  Any idea?

Nick Cohen and Stephen Fry on Cambridge Uni’s weaselly free-speech policy

Two of my favorite Brits, Nick Cohen and Stephen Fry, have both published pieces—in The Spectator and Sunday Times respectively decrying Cambridge University’s speech code and describing new attempts to reform it. You can access Cohen’s piece by clicking on the screenshot below, while Fry’s is largely behind a paywall. (Judicious inquiry might yield you a copy of Fry’s article.)

The Spectator:


Sunday Times:

What happened is that in March, Cambridge issued what Cohen calls a “woozy and authoritarian” update on their freedom-of-speech policy, which you can read here.

There are several problems with that statement. The most pressing, and one that has been subject to pushback from Cohen, Fry, and a group of Cambridge academics who are proposing a revision of the update, is that the demand should be not for respect for opposing views, but “tolerance” for them. Emphasis in the Cambridge statement below is mine:

The University of Cambridge, as a world-leading education and research institution, is fully committed to the principle, and to the promotion, of freedom of speech and expression. The University’s core values are ‘freedom of thought and expression’ and ‘freedom from discrimination’. The University fosters an environment in which all of its staff and students can participate fully in University life, and feel able to question and test received wisdom, and to express new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions within the law, without fear of disrespect or discrimination. In exercising their right to freedom of expression, the University expects its staff, students and visitors to be respectful of the differing opinions of others, in line with the University’s core value of freedom of expression. The University also expects its staff, students and visitors to be respectful of the diverse identities of others, in line with the University’s core value of freedom from discrimination. While debate and discussion may be robust and challenging, all speakers have a right to be heard when exercising their right to free speech within the law.

Both Cohen and Fry glom onto this statement, as “tolerance” is what we need, not “respect” for opinions that may be odious. Does one “respect” the opinion that female genital mutilation is okay, or that Muslims should be banned from immigrating? Or that vaccinations are dangerous and there’s no global warming? No, one tolerates the views and their proponents insofar as one argues with them, civilly but also passionately. But such views deserve no respect.


At its heart [the skirmish between the statement and its critics] is a distinction with a difference worth fighting over: the line between ‘tolerance’ and ‘respect’. Tolerance is an old liberal virtue that is tougher than it looks. After the devastation brought by the wars of religion, the early Enlightenment decided, in the words of John Locke, that ‘the civil magistrate has no jurisdiction over souls’.

To tolerate one’s opponents meant that you did not ban them or punish them for their religious or political beliefs. But that was all. You remained free to offend and challenge them. You most certainly had no obligation to ‘respect’ ideas you regarded as ignorant or dangerous or both.

The demand for respect is the demand to bite your tongue and not to argue against what you believe to be wrong. To respect people, groups, ideologies or institutions is to bow down before them, accept them on their own terms, and refrain from criticism. No wonder gangsters demand it.

As Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at Cambridge, says, in a free university, no one has the ‘right to demand that we be respectful towards all beliefs and practices: on the contrary, we have a right, in some cases practically a duty, to satirise and to mock them’.

I’m glad Cohen mentioned mockery, a powerful weapon against nonsense, and which is clearly not respectful but sometimes better than simple counterargument. (Indeed, mockery could be seen as a “counterargument” that emphasizes the silliness of your opponents’ arguments.)


A demand for respect is like a demand for a laugh, or demands for love, loyalty and allegiance. They cannot be given if not felt.

There are many opinions, positions and points of view which I find I do not and cannot respect. That is surely true for all us.

Even if someone were to pull out a gun, point it at my head and demand respect for their opinion, I could not with any honesty offer it. Fear and dread would certainly elicit a trembling acquiescence — but real respect? That cannot be supplied to order. It comes from somewhere else.

To be forced to feel other than we do is manifestly an impossibility. Therefore what is really being asked is a pretence, a display of lip-service, which in a university whose reputation is founded on empirical and rational inquiry, open argument and free thought, is surely inimical.

Doubtless we can all hope for respectful attitudes in matters of debate and interpersonal exchange — much as we hope for friendly manners in all circumstances — but to burn respect into statutes and protocols is absurd, or worse. Such an impulse tips over the line into thought control.

A free mind is obliged to respect only the truth. There is so much passion and distress fomenting the debate on campus freedom and academic discussion that decisions are made and policies implemented on the basis of fear rather than reason or sense.

There are other issues as well, and a big group of academics has forced Cambridge to take a faculty vote on three proposed amendments of the free-speech statement (see proposed revisions #1, #2, and #3). All these proposed changes are sensible and salubrious. Voting will end on December 7.

There’s one more statement that stuck out to me: the reasons why speakers can be deplatformed:

The University will not unreasonably either refuse to allow events to be held on its premises or impose special conditions upon the running of those events. The lawful expression of controversial or unpopular views will not in itself constitute reasonable grounds for withholding permission for a meeting or event. Grounds for refusal, or the imposition of special conditions, would include, but are not limited to, a reasonable belief that the meeting or event is likely to:

include the expression of views that risk drawing people into terrorism or are the views of proscribed groups or organisations;

incite others to commit violent or otherwise unlawful acts;

include the expression of views that are unlawful because they are discriminatory or harassing;

pose a genuine risk to the welfare, health, or safety of members, students, or employees of the University, to visitors, or to the general public; or

give rise to a breach of the peace or pose an unacceptable security risk.

The last three points in particular look to me like an especially slippery slope, which the critics, when proposing their revision, single out as “restrictive, vague, and now illegal”. Even the proscription against “drawing people into terrorism” is problematic. Does praise for Hamas count like that?

At the end of his piece, Cohen calls out both the American Right and Left and warns of another slippery slope: that of “respect”:

We are in our own religious wars now. The US right is so convinced Democrats are infidels it cannot admit the truth that it lost an election. The version of the left formed by the social justice movement believes in shaming and banning with the fervour of a pre-Enlightenment Calvinist. You can see why tolerance is out of fashion at Cambridge. The danger lies in the promotion of the slippery concept of respect by a university, which once insisted on precision. When I asked Arif Ahmed why he was mobilising academics against respect, he quoted the argument of the Cambridge philosopher Simon Blackburn: ‘The word seems to span a spectrum, from simply not interfering, passing by on the other side, through admiration, right up to reverence and deference.’

Its multiple meanings suited ideologues wanting to impose conformity. ‘People might start out by insisting on respect in the minimal sense, and in a generally liberal world they may not find it too difficult to obtain it. But then what we might call respect creep sets in, where the request for minimal toleration turns into a demand for more substantial respect, such as fellow-feeling, or esteem, and finally deference and reverence.’ At the extreme it reaches the terminus of, ‘unless you let me take over your mind and your life, you are not showing proper respect for my religious or ideological convictions.’


h/t: John, Dom

U of C President Robert Zimmer issues statement supporting faculty’s freedom of speech

Yesterday I reported on a fracas going on in my university’s Department of Geophysical Science. An associate professor, Dorian Abbot, put up four YouTube videos (now removed) questioning the department’s procedures for diversity and inclusion, as well as the need for affirmative action as opposed to pure meritocracy. A group of students and alums reacted with outrage, demanding in a letter to the Geophys Sci faculty that Abbot be punished and the department undergo all sorts of procedures to ensure that this “bigotry” never happen again—or at least without sanctions on the perp.

In response, a petition addressed to President Robert Zimmer went up, and as of this morning had been signed by 7,123 people (click on screenshot), including Steve Pinker, who tweeted about it (click on screenshot below to see the petition):

As Reader Coel noted in his comment yesterday, Zimmer didn’t lose any time defusing this controversy, for yesterday he issued this statement (click on screenshot), which I reproduce below in its entirety. It doesn’t pull any punches, and renders the petition moot.

Though Zimmer’s statement was clearly prompted by l’affair Abbot, it properly doesn’t mention his name, but simply upholds the principle that faculty members can say anything they want without fear of retribution, unless the statement violates the law or University policy. Abbot’s statements, whatever you think of them, don’t constitute such violations. (Bolding in the statement below is mine.)

To:        Members of the University Community
From:    Robert J. Zimmer, President
Re:        Statement on Faculty, Free Expression, and Diversity
Date:     November 29, 2020

From time to time, faculty members at the University share opinions and scholarship that provoke spirited debate and disagreement, and in some cases offend members of the University community.

As articulated in the Chicago Principles, the University of Chicago is deeply committed to the values of academic freedom and the free expression of ideas, and these values have been consistent throughout our history. We believe universities have an important role as places where novel and even controversial ideas can be proposed, tested and debated. For this reason, the University does not limit the comments of faculty members, mandate apologies, or impose other disciplinary consequences for such comments, unless there has been a violation of University policy or the law.  Faculty are free to agree or disagree with any policy or approach of the University, its departments, schools or divisions without being subject to discipline, reprimand or other form of punishment.

That said, no individual member of the faculty speaks for the University as a whole on any subject, including on issues of diversity. In turn, the University will continue to defend vigorously any faculty member’s right to publish and discuss his or her ideas.

The University is committed to creating an inclusive environment where diversity is not only represented but individuals are empowered to fully participate in the exchange of ideas and perspectives. As University leaders we recognize that there is more work to be done and are strengthening initiatives to attract faculty, students and staff of diverse backgrounds.

Zimmer could not have been clearer or more articulate about defending the freedom of speech of our faculty, which also holds for students and staff.  Note that he defends the right of the faculty to speak about “issues of diversity,” as did Abbot, but also defends the inclusivity of the University.

Although the letter to the faculty from Abbot’s critics doesn’t demand an apology from him, it does mandate a number of actions that clearly represent “discipline, reprimand, and punishment.” Those can no longer be imposed on Abbot, though of course faculty and students remain free to criticize him and to snub him, though they can’t create a workplace for Abbot that is seen as harassment.

What I like about the letter is not only what it says, but that, while responding to a controversy, does not name names, which would represent an unwarranted singling-out of Abbot. If only other university presidents could show this moxie!

Faux Duck o’ the Week

I completely forgot about Sunday’s Faux Duck O’ the Week, being occupied yesterday with The Auction and all. But better late than never, and here’s the latest in biologist John Avise‘s series of waterfowl that resemble ducks but aren’t. Can you guess this species?

His captions and Fun Duck Facts are indented. (To see the ID, Fun Duck Facts, and range map, go below the fold.)

At its summer home in Central Alaska:

Close-up in breeding plumage:

Frontal view:


With next week’s species to its left:

Click on “read more” for the identification, John’s Fun Faux Duck facts, and a range map: Continue reading “Faux Duck o’ the Week”

Monday: Hili dialogue

We’re slowly squeezing our way out of the Annus Horribilis of 2020: it’s November 30, 2020: National Mousse Day.  (Hili misread it as “National Mouse Day”, became all excited, and I had to give her the bad news.) It’s also Methamphetamine Awareness Day and Cyber Monday, the latter encouraging online shopping.  Estimates are that today will the biggest online shopping day in history, with over $13 billion to be spent.

News of the Day:

Wisconsin finished its state-wide recount of Presidential votes, funded by $3 million from the Trump campaign’s coffers. The upshot: Biden still wins, and even garnered 87 more votes than he had before. Some voter fraud! And the good news is that Trump spent nearly $34,500 for each Democratic vote added to the total.

More good news: the rumor continues that the Bidens will get a cat when they move into the White House, the first since W.’s black cat India. (I mistakenly thought that the Clintons’s Socks was the last First Cat.) They already have to d*gs, which is enough, for crying out loud, but I’m not believing a White House cat until they really have one.  After all, this is what the New York Times reports:

In an interview with Fox 5 in Washington, D.C., Dr. Biden hinted that if her husband won the presidency, she would not mind getting a cat.

“I’d love to get a cat,” she said. “I love having animals around the house.”

The cat’s breed and name were not immediately available. Representatives for Mr. Biden did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

Yeah, and I’d love to have a private chef, too, but I’m not getting one.

The downside of d*gs was instantiated yesterday when Biden sustained a hairline fracture in his foot from playing with his German Shepherd. He’ll have to wear a boot for a while.  See: a d*g could kill the President! You don’t play with cats like that (though Biden might trip over one.)

People are already blaming the accident on the Bidens’ cat, even though they don’t have one yet!

Thomas Friedman tells us why we should worry less about Iran’s getting nukes (it would be suicidal for them to use first against Israel, so he says, but perhaps they don’t care, getting all those virgin in Paradise and all) and worry more about precision-guided missiles, which it used in 2019 to destroy one of Saudi Arabia’s most important oilfields. This is the issue Biden will face, compounded by the new alliances between Israel and countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

 Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 266,758, an increase of about 800 from yesterday’s figure.  The world death toll is 1,466,289, an increase of about 6,500 over yesterday’s report. 

Stuff that happened on November 30 includes:

  • 1782 – American Revolutionary War: Treaty of Paris: In Paris, representatives from the United States and Great Britain sign preliminary peace articles (later formalized as the 1783 Treaty of Paris).
  • 1803 – The Balmis Expedition starts in Spain with the aim of vaccinating millions against smallpox in Spanish America and Philippines.

The upside (from Wikipedia): “Jenner himself wrote, ” ‘I don’t imagine the annals of history furnish an example of philanthropy so noble, so extensive as this.'”
The downside (ditto): “The expedition sailed on Maria Pita and carried 22 orphan boys (aged 8 to 10) as successive carriers of the virus. . .”

  • 1803 – In New Orleans, Spanish representatives officially transfer the Louisiana Territory to an official from the French First Republic. Just 20 days later, France transfers the same land to the United States as the Louisiana Purchase.
  • 1872 – The first-ever international football match takes place at Hamilton Crescent, Glasgow, between Scotland and England.
  • 1936 – In London, the Crystal Palace is destroyed by fire.

Here’s a photo of the Palace a few days after it was destroyed:

  • 1954 – In Sylacauga, Alabama, United States, the Hodges meteorite crashes through a roof and hits a woman taking an afternoon nap; this is the only documented case in the Western Hemisphere of a human being hit by a rock from space.

Here’s where the meteorite crashed through the roof and ceiling:

Mrs. Hodges, mayor, police chief examine hole caused by a meteorite that struck Mrs. Hodges in Sylacauga. University of Alabama Museum of Natural History.

Here’s the unfortunate victim. Look at that bruise—good thing it missed her head!

Hodges was napping on her living-room couch at mid-day when the meteorite came through the ceiling, hit a console radio, and smashed into her hip. Awakened by the pain and noise, she thought the gas space heater had exploded. When she noticed a grapefruit-sized rock lying on the floor and a ragged hole in the roof, she assumed children were the culprits. Her mother, Ida Franklin, rushed outside and saw only a black cloud in the sky. Alabamians in and around the area saw the event from a different perspective, with many reporting that they had seen a fireball in the sky and heard a tremendous explosion that produced a white or brownish cloud. Most assumed it involved an airplane accident.

(From National Geographic): Moody Jacobs shows a giant bruise on the side and hip of his patient, Ann Hodges, in 1954, after she was struck by a meteorite. PHOTOGRAPH BY JAY LEVITON, TIME & LIFE PICTURES/GETTY IMAGES
Here’s Mrs. Hodges recuperating, smiling while Mr. Hodges examines the errant meterorite:

It is a great album, and here’s my favorite song from it in 1987. This is a live performance, but clearly lip-synched:

According to Wikipedia, the song was written by Steve Porcaro of Toto:

The first version of “Human Nature” was written and composed by Steve Porcaro of Toto. He wrote the song when his first-grade daughter came home crying after a boy pushed her off the slide. He blurted out three reasons for the incident to comfort her: the boy liked her, people can be strange, and it’s “human nature”. He recorded a rough demo of the song in their studio while the Toto song “Africa” was being mixed

  • 1995 – Official end of Operation Desert Storm.
  • 2005 – John Sentamu becomes the first black archbishop in the Church of England with his enthronement as the 97th Archbishop of York.

Notables born on this day include:

Here’s the Teatro Olimpico:

(From Wikipedia): Teatro Olimpico. Theater located in Vicenza, designed in 1580 by the architect of the Renaissance Andrea Palladio. It is generally considered the first permanent covered theater of modern times. View of the stage wall (Scaenae frons), the stage, and the orchestra pit.
  • 1554 – Philip Sidney, English soldier, courtier, and poet (d. 1586)
  • 1667 – Jonathan Swift, Irish satirist and essayist (d. 1745)
  • 1835 – Mark Twain, American novelist, humorist, and critic (d. 1910)
  • 1874 – Winston Churchill, English colonel, journalist, and politician, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1965)
  • 1912 – Gordon Parks, American photographer and director (d. 2006)

Here’s one of many photos taken by Parks of black life in Washington, D.C. (did you know he also directed the movie Shaft?):

  • 1924 – Allan Sherman, American actor, comedian, singer, producer, and screenwriter (d. 1973)
  • 1929 – Dick Clark, American television host and producer, founded Dick Clark Productions (d. 2012)
  • 1936 – Abbie Hoffman, American activist and author, co-founded the Youth International Party (d. 1989)
  • 1937 – Ridley Scott, English director, producer, and production designer
  • 1943 – Terrence Malick, American director, producer, and screenwriter

Malick’s film “Days of Heaven” (1978) is one of the finest American movies (far outstripping “Tree of Life”, a pretentious epic), and perhaps the most beautifully filmed ever. Here’s the trailer:

  • 1947 – David Mamet, American playwright, screenwriter, and director

Those who expired on November 30 include:

  • 1900 – Oscar Wilde, Irish playwright, novelist, and poet (b. 1854)
  • 1954 – Wilhelm Furtwängler, German conductor and composer (b. 1886)
  • 1979 – Zeppo Marx, American actor and comedian (b. 1901)

Zeppo was the “straight” Marx brother, and, with Gummo, the least famous of the five. In the five Marx Brothers films he was in, Zeppo played the straight man. Here he is:


Zeppo’s real name was Herbert Manfred Marks,

  • 1996 – Tiny Tim, American singer and ukulele player (b. 1932)
  • 1999 – Charlie Byrd, American guitarist (b. 1925)
  • 2007 – Evel Knievel, American motorcycle rider and stuntman (b. 1938)
  • 2018 – George H. W. Bush, American politician, 41st President of the United States (b. 1924)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is weary of the world:

Hili: Every day is a challenge.
A: That’s true, but what do you have in mind?
Hili: What to do, where to go?
In Polish:
Hili: Każdy dzień jest wyzwaniem.
Ja: To prawda, ale co masz na myśli?
Hili: Co robić, dokąd iść?

From Facebook:

An illusion from rock. The two blocks aren’t just gray: they’re the same gray:

From David. I think they used whatever sticker they had for “seedless”!

Tweets from Matthew. The first one is a groaner:

More about the putative White House cat:

The aliens took their monolith back!!!

. . . instead of a palooka, which is what I am.

This really doesn’t need translation. And one day I will see the Aurora. Sound up.

This is really a weird collection of dreams!

Matthew says that this is “a book of genuine but rude UK names” (names of people):

Matthew discovers what we’ve known for a long time:

Here’s the frog!

(Actually, as several readers noticed this morning, it’s not a frog but a toad. I don’t know from toads.) I’ll insert here some words that Greg Mayer sent me when I just asked him the difference between frogs and toads, and whether each group is monophyletic (has all the descendants from one common ancestor):

The English language is inadequate for the diversity of tailless amphibians (order Anura), because there were only two kinds of anurans in England: frogs and toads. Each of them belongs to a family, usually called “true frogs”, Ranidae, and “true toads”, Bufonidae. The other 30+ families of anurans are shoe-horned into the two English common names. Sometimes there are species with the common name “toad” and “frog” in the same family.

The families of true frogs and true toads do express two major tendencies in anuran adaptation to the environment: long-legged, smooth-skinned, semi-aquatic jumpers, often greenish– frogs; and short-legged, warty, terrestrial hoppers, often brownish– toads.

The species in the photo is a true toad (family Bufonidae), but without a better picture and/or locality data, I couldn’t go further. It does look like a Bufo.

So, did you spot the frog toad in this morning’s photo from Alex Kleine? Here’s the reveal, with a circle around the beast and then successive enlargements:

A kerfuffle about diversity and inclusion at the University of Chicago

Actually, the word “kerfuffle” may not be appropriate here, as this is a pretty serious conflict between, on the one hand, a professor who takes issue with his department’s policies about diversity and inclusion, and, on the other, students and alumni, who, outraged by the professor’s opinion, have taken steps, in a letter/petition, to get the professor severely punished for expressing his views on YouTube.

The whole issue is concisely summarized by my law-school colleague Brian Leiter on his website Leiter Reports (click on the screenshot):

The (associate) professor is Dr. Dorian Abbot in our Department of Geophysical Sciences, who posted four YouTube videos, with slides, taking issue with some initiatives about diversity and inclusion. His talks emphasized the need for a meritocracy rather than “quotas” of minority applicants, and as well as asserting that it’s not the business of universities to promote social justice. Unfortunately, although I watched the videos earlier, Abbot has taken them down, though his slides are still online (see the first sentence of Leiter’s excerpt below). Here’s one slide that was guaranteed to cause problems for him:

Here’s another of Abbot’s slides. (The “Holdomor” refers to the Soviet genocide by famine of the kulaks (rich peasants) in 1932-1933 in Ukraine.

This stuff is guaranteed to anger those who see social-justice work, at present, as one of the most pressings things a university can do in its official capacity. Further, criticizing identity politics, when they’re the predominant kinds of politics on campus, is just not on. The backlash against Abbot was strong and severe (and probably predictable), and is summarized by Leiter below.

Have a look especially at the letter to Abbot’s department from 162 people affiliated with the University of Chicago and Geophysical Sciences (their names are unfortunately blacked out, though I think signers should make their names public). The letter demands all kinds of accounting and punishments for what Abbot did.  These including giving Abbot’s graduate and undergraduate students a way to opt out of his mentorship and teaching, making a departmental statement that Abbot’s videos were “unsubstantiated, inappropriate, and harmful to department members and climate” (the exact “harm” that occurred isn’t specified), and measures like this:

[The department should] Implement accountability measures to address patterns of bigoted behaviour in both the department’s hiring/promotion/tenure process and teaching opportunities. For example, faculty who persistently engage in bigoted behaviour should be prevented from taking on teaching roles, new graduate students/post-docs/staff, and committee responsibilities.

Below is part of Leiter’s post about the issue, and I have to say that I agree with much of it. I don’t agree with everything Abbot said on his videos or in his slides (as I’ve repeatedly said, I favor some form of affirmative action in hiring professors or accepting graduate students), but neither do I agree that Abbot, for exercising his free speech as a professor, and raising issues that do deserve some discussion, should be demonized and punished in this way.

My preferred response, were I a student or faculty member who took issue with Abbot’s claims, would be counterspeech: rebutting them. The anger evinced in the letter to his department seems to me a huge overreaction, but in line with many responses to “anti-woke” stuff on college campuses. But of course the letter-writers have every right to say what they want about Abbot and demand that he be punished. I don’t think he should suffer demonization in this way, as it represents a chilling of speech: if you oppose the au courant ideology, you will be attacked big time, and who wants to undergo that?

I recommend you look at the links. From Leiter, and  note that there’s a petition supporting Abbot’s freedom of speech that you can sign:

You can see the slides that formed the basis for his presentations to his colleagues here,  herehere, and here; his own account of events is here.  I agree with some of what he has to say, and disagree with other parts.  But his views are not “hateful,” “harmful” or out of place in a university that values free discussion on important issues.

For dissenting from “diversity” orthodoxy, Professor Abbot has now been subjected to a disgraceful public denunciation by postdocs and graduate students in Geology (and other UChicago science departments (complete with fictitious claims about “aggression” and “safety”).  The public version of the letter omits the names of the benighted grad students and postdocs.  But some faculty and postdocs have gone public with their delusional responses:  for example, Assistant Professor Graham Slater’s Twitter thread is here  (do review the actual slides to see how unhinged this take is), and the reaction of a geology postdoc at Chicago, Michael Henson (also here).

There is now a petition in support of Professor Abbott here which I encourage readers to sign.

Leiter adds this:

There’s very little extramural speech that ought to have any bearing on hiring or promotion decisions in universities, but open contempt like that above for academic freedom and lawful expression–which are foundational to the academic enterprise–probably should count against someone.  (We’ve touched on this issue before.)  If people like Slater and Hanson carry on like this now, what kind of damage will they do to their departments and disciplines once they have tenure?

I don’t like anyone being punished or demonized for exercising freedom of speech, but the people who will suffer from this are not those who came out against Abbot, but Abbot himself. Perhaps he didn’t realize what a beehive he was entering with his YouTube videos, for much of the country is simply unaware of social-justice conflicts. But freedom of speech is paramount, and if people don’t like what Abbot said, they can avoid him, leave his mentorship (but not his classes, I think!), or criticize him. And that’s as far as it should go. We needn’t call for his head on a platter.

A charity eBay auction for a fancy autographed and illuminated copy of “Faith Versus Fact”

We have a lovely book up for auction, with all the proceeds going to charity! But first, some backstory.

In 2015, artist Kelly Houle and I collaborated to produce a multiply-autographed and wonderfully illustrated and “illuminated” copy of my first trade book, Why Evolution Is True (2009). I’d been collecting signatures of luminaries in the book for five years, and, when there were quite a few, Kelly added some wonderful artwork (see the preceding link) and we auctioned it off on eBay. All the proceeds went to Doctors Without Borders, and charity auctions on eBay are hosted for free, without eBay taking a cut.

Amazingly, we got over $10,300 for the book, and so the charity made out well. Kelly and I were immensely pleased. Here’s the 2015 auction result (click for the link to eBay):

Well, in 2015 I wrote another book, Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible, and again I’ve been collecting signatures for five years, schlepping the book from meeting to meeting, and friend to friend, with the plan of auctioning it off again for charity. Kelly again agreed to do the art, and so we were off.

The result is below: we have even more signatories than before, including three Nobel Laureates, and you can see a list and photos of the signatures (many signers wrote messages) below. I’m sure you’ll recognize most of the signers; my intent was to get as many secularists and humanists as possible. We wound up with 28 signatures—not including mine and Kelly’s, which are both in there too.

It’s now time to release the book to the buying public and see what they’ll offer for it.

It’s just gone up for auction now, at this link, and the auction will run for ten days. This time all the proceeds go to Helen Keller International, a wonderful and efficient charity that helps prevent malnutrition, disease, and blindness—largely in children (see below). The organization was founded by Keller herself along with George Kessler, and it’s worth reading a bit of the backstory in the organization’s Wikipedia entry. A bonus this time is that Friends of Helen Keller International will match our donation dollar for dollar, so the buyer will have twice the positive impact as usual.

The auction copy, a hardback:

Here’s the alphabetical list of signers, with Wikipedia links to each one:

Kelly also signed her cover illustration (see below):

Can you find them all?

Inside front cover:

Half title page:

Inside back cover:

Closeup: Annie Laurie Gaylor, James Randi, and Richard Dawkins:

Full title page (signed by JAC with his cat drawing):

Kelly drew a curled-up cat on the dedication page:

From Kelly (henceforth, her words are indented):

I illustrated the title page that falls after the introduction with a quote from Faith vs Fact: and my adaptation of a painting by Maria Sibylla Merian showing the stages of Cocytius antaeus [Giant Sphinx Moth] from her book Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium. Merian observed and drew insects at a time when butterflies and moths were thought to appear spontaneously from the ground.

The whole illumination is held up by a pen, an important tool of science for recording observations. The banner has another quote from Faith vs Fact translated into Latin: “fides non virtus in scientia.”

Illustrating this page was a challenge because of the paper. I wasn’t able to use my calligraphy pen, so it’s all done with a regular ball-point pen and colored pencils. I added very dry gold mica paint to the pen nib and holder.

Pupal stage as observed and drawn by Merian:

Pen nib with caterpillar, larvae, and small moth after Merian:

Jerry’s initials “JAC”: in cat calligraphy [and Kelly’s signature]:

Kelly illuminated the chapter headings as well:

Finally, we have lagniappe from Kelly:

I’ve added something special to the book, too. It’s an anamorphic mirror portrait of James Randi. The mirror will come with the book. If you go to the page with James Randi’s signature, turn the page and set the mirror down right behind it, his image appears in the mirror. Like magic, but it’s not.

Again, if you’re interested in this item, know someone who might be, or are willing to advertise the auction on social media, feel free to do so. Again, the link is here.

Further, Kelly has some auction artwork on her own eBay shop for which 10% of the proceeds go to HKI as well.  Those donations, too, will be doubled with a kick-in by the Friends of HKI.


We selected Helen Keller International as the recipient charity because of its good work in preventing blindness and malnutrition, its big bang for the donor’s buck, its sterling reputation, and the fact that the vast majority of its donations go to helping people, not to administration or promotion. Kelly found this charity when it was recommended as one of the best charities to donate to by Peter Singer on his page “The Life You Can Save“. As that site says,

“Our charities have been rigorously evaluated to help you make the biggest impact per dollar. Find an organization you support, or simply split your donation between them all. When you support one of the recommended charities, The Life You Can Save does not charge any fee or receive any monetary benefit from that transaction.”

The low overhead of HKI:

Every penny of the auction funds will go to HKI, and the bang is doubled because of HKI’s current donation-matching protocol.

Their work is international, and in several areas of help (click on all screenshots to go to the sites):

HKI receives the highest rating—four stars—from Charity Navigator:

If you have big bucks, or know someone who does—and who is a humanist or secularist—you might call their attention to this auction. We hope, of course, to raise as much dosh as possible.

Thanks to the signers, and to Melissa Pugh for collecting some of the signatures at the 2016 Reason Rally.

Spot the frog!

We’re back with another “spot the. . .” feature, originally started by Matthew as a “spot the nightjar” contest. Today’s photo comes from Alex Kleine, who says this:

Since the wildlife photo tank has been running low, I thought I’d might entertain the readers with another “find the camouflaged animal” game.

The story came as I was walking on a path at West Rock State Park in Connecticut near Lake Wintergreen when I stumbled upon this well-camouflaged frog. I do not know the species of this particular one though your readers could help venture a guess. Attached to this message firstly is the game photo, along with the answer highlighted in red and some other photos of the frog after the game has been completed.

Hopefully the photo quality isn’t too blurry with the smartphone camera I used at the time.

Can you spot it? (I count this one as “pretty hard”.)  The reveal comes at 1 pm Chicago time. Click the photo to enlarge.