I Want to Live: TOS “The Enemy Within”

A transporter malfunction splits Kirk into two beings, one a savage Kirk, one a docile Kirk, while crew members on a freezing planet below cannot be rescued until the malfunction is fixed.

  • In the enhanced graphics, we see a nice planet below the Enterprise orbit.
  • The episode’s cute alien animal is a small dog fitted out with a unicorn horn and a weird long tail.
  • There are curious continuity errors: in the early scenes, Kirk’s shirt has no insignia at all. Then when the evil Kirk challenges McCoy for Saurian brandy, his shirt has the usual insignia; and in subsequent scenes, the docile Kirk’s shirt does also. As the story develops, the docile Kirk wears his green wrap-around shirt for much of the episode, presumably to allow viewers to easily tell the two Kirks apart.
  • This story, written by the accomplished author Richard Matheson (though as always presumably rewritten by the producers to conform to the Trek bible), is curious in several ways. First, it challenges the notion of the transporter, how it dissolves a person at one end, and recreates them (him/her) at the other. What are the implications of this? Is the essence of the person held in electronics somehow, in the interim? James Blish’s one original Trek novel was called Spock Must Die! and it dealt with a similar implication: suppose the transporter created two Spocks? In that case both Spocks are identical and claim to be real. What to do? The topic is the subject of metaphysical qualms. If a Trek transporter existed, would you go through it? That is, if the transporter recreated your entire physical structure, every molecule and every atom, would the result be you? Or would you worry about some essence, a soul perhaps, that might not be transported along with the physical body…? Or leaving the neuro-physiologically discredited notion of soul aside, would you worry that somehow something implicit in the structure of your brain, in an emergent way, not appear in a duplicate? And what if, as these stories suppose, a duplicate would be created? Is that your identical twin?… or some kind of zombie?
  • I think the best understanding of neurology is that such a complete duplicate would in fact be another creature with a ‘soul’, however you choose to think of it, equivalent to yours. On the other hand, I think the idea of such a transporter is not very plausible.
  • Trek premise: this is a relatively early episode, which is why, viewing this later, we can’t point out that the Enterprise has *shuttles* which might go down to the planet to rescue the stranded crewmen.
  • At the same time, this episode exhibits the “it was raining on Mongo” cliché, the idea that some weather condition is happening everywhere on the planet; in this case, that the temperature is dropping in the area where the landing party, including Sulu, is stuck. Maybe so.
  • The evil Kirk hits on his yeoman, Janice Rand, claiming feelings they’ve suppressed, and seemingly about to rape her, until she scratches his fact and struggles free. This would be the first time in the series Kirk has displayed his amorousness, albeit in a violent, atypical way. Later, Yeoman Rand tries to explain, almost excuse what her captain did: “I can understand, I wouldn’t even have mentioned it…” – which by today’s standards is remarkably lame.
  • In terms of the dramatic arc of this story, the ‘evil’ Kirk is captured and restrained relatively early; the last half of the episode consists of several discussions between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, about the idea of good vs evil in the human personality, and how without the aggressiveness of Kirk’s ‘evil’ side, the ‘good’ or docile Kirk finds himself more and more difficult to make decisions. The script, and the direction, are very good here. Spock emphasizes that the docile Kirk’s *intellect* will help him prevail.
  • McCoy has an iconic line in this episode – “He’s dead, Jim”, — though he’s talking about that alien dog with the unicorn horn.
  • The scenes of the crewmen, including Sulu, on the freezing planet below are striking – “Rice wine would be fine too” – but probably not plausible. 117 degrees below zero, and they are still alive huddled under heat blankets?
  • Spock’s comment to Rand, at the very end, is out of character, and rather unforgivably crude – she’s been assaulted and almost raped, and Spock wonders if she didn’t find that version of Kirk had some “interesting qualities”. The actress to who played Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) was unhappy about the scene, and you might wonder if Leonard Nimoy mightn’t have objected, if the series had been further along and his character more firmly established.
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Last week I posted a look back at 20 Years of Locus Online and, having asked my lead contributors over the years for their best or exceptional posts, revisited an 11-year-old essay by film reviewer Gary Westfahl, Homo aspergerus: Evolution Stumbles Forward, in which he identifies his self-diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, and defends the syndrome as a potential evolutionary advance.

I’ll reconsider his essay more closely at a later date, but it inspired me to check out some online autism tests, and to reread the classic novel by Mark Haddon, published in 2003, which is told from the point of view of an autistic 15-year-old boy (though the text of the novel never uses that term, nor ‘Asperger’s’), in a town in England.

The novel starts as a mystery story (the title is an obvious quote from Sherlock Holmes) in which the narrator, Christopher, sees a dead dog late at night on a neighbor’s lawn, dead from a garden fork stabbed through its body. His reaction is to walk over to the dog, pick it up, and hug it. When he’s discovered by the dog’s owner, and then the police, he’s overwhelmed by too many questions and strikes out at the policeman. And is arrested.

His father rescues him, and the narrative proceeds to daily life, as Christopher’s attends a school for students with special needs, and pursues his sincere effort to investigate the dog’s death (by talking to neighbors and making deductions), and his discovery (spoiler) that his absent mother is not dead, as his father had told him. He then sets off on a quest to find his mother, in London — a quest which, considering his aversion to public spaces and unfamiliar circumstances, is surely as harrowing as any hero’s quest.

There are various questionnaires on the interwebs for autism diagnosis, but most of them rely on the same 50 question test (e.g.). I took a couple of these last week, thinking about some characteristics I might share with Gary Westfahl — at what point do a few personality quirks become a syndrome? — and then saw how Haddon’s novel illustrated many of those characteristics.

So here are some personality quirks exhibited by Christopher, divided into two groups…

Group 1,

  • He numbers his chapters in primes, rather than cardinals
  • He knows lots of countries and their capitals
  • He routinely makes asides to the narrative to ‘explain’ something, like the perspective into the Milky Way, (p9b), or how prime numbers are what results when you take all the patterns away (p12.7, an insight that had never occurred to me before, and which I think is rather profound)
  • He plays computer games obsessively, and keeps track of his scores
  • He thinks about heaven, which obviously doesn’t exist, p32; and how when you die nothing is left, p33
  • He’s fascinated by nature and science programs on TV
  • He likes math, and he explains the Monty Hall problem, which he likes because it shows how math intuition can go wrong (!!), how intuition can go awry
  • He explains how “God and fairy tales and Hounds of Hell [from the Sherlock Holmes story] and curses” are “stupid things”, because, as with metaphors, he’s very literal and only understands tangible things
  • He likes how science reveals how things you thought were true are wrong, p80.2
  • He likes drawing floor plans of new places he comes to; knowing the area he’s in makes him feel safer.
  • Aside about the constellation Orion, p125, how it doesn’t look like a hunter or anything else, how the stars are of varying distances.
  • Several times: he doesn’t like people who smoke
  • p153, he mentions computer games Myst and The 11th Hour.

Group 2,

  • His teacher gives him a set of simple diagrams of faces displaying various emotions, since he has a hard time understanding people’s facial expressions
  • Several times: he doesn’t like to be hugged, so his parents invented a touching of hands, fingers spread, in place of that, as a gesture of affection
  • He says he can’t lie. He’s very literal, 18.2, 19t; he’s OK with similes, but disapproves of metaphors, because they imply something that’s not real
  • When confronted by too many questions, he withdraws, and ‘groans’, 7b, and then strikes out
  • He can’t tell jokes, doesn’t understand them
  • He finds people confusing, because they talk without words; they use metaphors, which to him make no sense; p103.7
  • He doesn’t eat anything brown, or yellow (not just for the obvious reasons); reasons on p84
  • He sees four red cars in a row and concludes it’s a good day, as he rides the bus to school; while patterns of differently colored cars mean bad days.
  • He adds up the letters in people’s names to see if they make prime numbers
  • He doesn’t like foods on his plate that touch; if they touch, he can’t eat them
  • He can recall very specifically early memories of this mother, like rewinding a tape; he remembers things exactly, like the date he visited a certain place
  • He doesn’t like new places, because he notices all the details of a place, and a new place overwhelms him
  • When feeling threatened, he has a pocket knife he pulls out of his pocket
  • He notices the patterns on the seat and walls of a train, p185
  • When panicked by circumstances, like adults arguing in loud voices, he turns up the white noise between stations on a radio and holds it to his ears; or he does ‘maths’ in his head, like computing the cubes of the cardinal numbers
  • When panicked by being in public among crowds of people, as in a shopping mall, he lies down on the floor and screams, until his mother takes him away, p201

Will follow up with how these two lists relate to other topics.

Posted in Book Notes, MInd, Personal history | Comments Off on I Can Do Anything: Mark Haddon’s THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME

Wishing Things Away: The Gays, and Abortions

Several recent items about two topics recently struck me as similar in the way some conservatives deny their reality or think they can simply wish them away.

In Chechnya, there have been reports in recent weeks that authorities are rounding up gays (by tricking them via social networking sites) and subjecting them to torture, even murder.

Reporting on People Who ‘Don’t Exist’

Chechnya denies the reports, because there are no gays in Chechnya.

The spokesman, Alvi Karimov, had been asserting that the authorities could not be arresting gay men because gay men did not exist in Chechnya. “I said before, and I repeat now, in Chechnya we just don’t have this problem,” Mr. Karimov told me.

That spokesman may be sincere: he may honestly believe that gay men, as he understands them from the western news media, don’t exist in his conservative Muslim country. At the same time, anyone not blinkered by conservative religion or local monoculture likely understands that gays have existed (if often ‘in the closet’) throughout history, in all cultures; they are the result of a variability in human sexuality that is fundamental to human nature, even if its expression across cultures has varied widely.

Or are there gays but they’re about to be eliminated? President of Chechnya Intends to Eliminate All Gay Men There by Ramadan. They should get their story straight.


Similarly, conservatives think they can make abortions go away if they just repeal Roe v. Wade and/or pass enough restrictive laws to make it as difficult as possible for women to get an abortion. But of course such efforts won’t work: like it or not, women throughout history have occasionally been put in situations in which there seems no better option than to terminate a pregnancy. Laws won’t make such circumstances go away; they will merely drive the procedure underground, making it far more dangerous for the women’s survival.

The Amateur Abortionists:

That is the story of Jane, an underground group in Chicago that carried out thousands of abortions between 1969 and 1973, when abortion was illegal. It’s a story of code names and safe houses, a story of women taking control of their lives and teaching other women to do the same.

Abortion providers and the women they serve now fear that such an underground service may again become necessary. Abortion remains legal, but one conservative justice has just joined the Supreme Court and many are concerned that another will follow. This month the president signed a bill to cut funding to Planned Parenthood and other providers. Many states have enacted laws that make obtaining an abortion exceedingly difficult: About 90 percent of counties have no abortion clinics. In many areas, the procedure is nearly as inaccessible as it was in the days of Jane.

Meanwhile, Nicholas Kristof visits Haiti to see the effects of the US denying funds to a UN agency that provides contraception and abortions, and asks, Trump Thinks This Is Pro-Life?

When President Trump and his (male) aides sit at a conference table deciding to cut off money to women’s health programs abroad, they call it a “pro-life” move.

Yet here in Haiti, I’ll tell you the result: Impoverished women suffer ghastly injuries and excruciating deaths. Washington’s new women’s health policies should be called “pro-death.”

The birth control provided by the U.N. Population Fund averted more than 3.7 million abortions last year alone, health advocates say. So if you’re against abortion, you should support the U.N. Population Fund, not try to destroy it.

To reduce abortions, improve sex education and increase the availability of contraceptives. But religious conservatives are against those too. Expand the tribe at any expense, even the occasional dead mother?

A similar discussion could be made about the current efforts of transsexuals to be recognized, and treated fairly. (I admit the issue of transsexuals was not on my radar more than it was on anyone else’s, until recently.)

To me all these topics reflect the back and forth, but mostly progressive, arc of moral history: the expansion of the recognition of different kinds of people; the transition from thinking driven by religious suppression and magical thinking, to that informed by scientific understanding of human nature and the objective world. In one direction, gays and transsexuals and woman are treated as citizens worthy of self-expression and self-determination; in the other, we get Chechnya, or The Handmaid’s Tale.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson on Science

Dear Facebook Universe,

I offer this four-minute video on “Science in America” containing what may be the most important words I have ever spoken.

As always, but especially these days, keep looking up.

— Neil deGrasse Tyson

Science In America

Dear Facebook UniverseI offer this four-minute video on "Science in America" containing what may be the most important words I have ever spoken.As always, but especially these days, keep looking up.—Neil deGrasse Tyson

Posted by Neil deGrasse Tyson on Wednesday, April 19, 2017

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In today’s NYT Book Review, Yuval Noah Harari reviews THE KNOWLEDGE ILLUSION: Why We Never Think Alone, by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach.

The review’s opening echoes Harari’s own work, e.g.

What gave Homo sapiens an edge over all other animals and turned us into the masters of the planet was not our individual rationality, but our unparalleled ability to think together in large groups.

The book is about how most of us know very little about how the world around us works. For every complex product or process, only the specialists truly understand it.

This is not necessarily bad, though. Our reliance on groupthink has made us masters of the world, and the knowledge illusion enables us to go through life without being caught in an impossible effort to understand everything ourselves. From an evolutionary perspective, trusting in the knowledge of others has worked extremely well for humans.

The problem is,

Consequently some who know next to nothing about meteorology or biology nevertheless conduct fierce debates about climate change and genetically modified crops, while others hold extremely strong views about what should be done in Iraq or Ukraine without being able to locate them on a map. People rarely appreciate their ignorance, because they lock themselves inside an echo chamber of like-minded friends and self-confirming newsfeeds, where their beliefs are constantly reinforced and seldom challenged.

And of course, the discovery in psychology of recent years, that laying out the facts rarely changes anyone’s mind.

Scientists hope to dispel antiscience prejudices by better science education, and pundits hope to sway public opinion on issues like Obamacare or global warming by presenting the public with accurate facts and expert reports. Such hopes are grounded in a misunderstanding of how humans actually think. Most of our views are shaped by communal groupthink rather than individual rationality, and we cling to these views because of group loyalty.

Is there a solution? The book’s authors, and Harari, doubt it. What will happen? My own speculation, as previously discussed: in many ways it won’t matter. We all get along through social contracts and interactions; no one person needs to know all that much; we depend on each other. Where it will start becoming a problem will be when people’s ‘beliefs’ in things that are not true affect the long term survival of their groups.

Posted in Book Notes, MInd | Comments Off on Harari on THE KNOWLEDGE ILLUSION

March for Science

I’ve never marched for any cause — it’s not my style — but I think tomorrow’s “March for Science” is as worthy as anything could be, despite the inevitable casting of science as some sort of partisan issue. It’s the deniers, who are virtually all Republican, who have made it political. Marching for science shouldn’t be any more partisan than marching for arithmetic.

Sean Carroll has this short essay today in The Atlantic: Marching for the Right to Be Wrong

This principle of fallibilism is less clear, though equally important, to the practice of science. We have our wise heroes, our Newtons, Darwins, and Einsteins. But they are not infallible. There is no Science Pope to whom we can turn for final adjudication of sticky research questions.

Precisely the opposite: Science proceeds by showing how our wise heroes were, in larger or smaller ways, mistaken. Einstein overthrew Newton’s cosmos, and modern biologists are improving upon Darwin all the time. You may have a brilliant theory of the universe, but if it is contradicted by an experiment performed by a lowly graduate student, the data wins.

Science and democracy, in other words, both upend the ancient pyramids of power and knowledge: Answers bubble up from the bottom, rather than being imposed from the top.

Republican ideology, which of course overlaps with fundamental evangelical certainty over matters theological, does think they have all the answers from on high. Which is why they conflict with science.

This denial will eventually, in one or many ways, conflict with reality, as I’ve predicted before. People who deny the efficacy of vaccines, will get more diseases. If our governments think climate change is a liberal conspiracy fantasy, then its effects *will* happen, and coastal cities will be flooded in 50 or 100 years.

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Fine, Evie, Fine: TOS “Mudd’s Women”

The Enterprise rescues the crew of a rogue spaceship and deals with Harry Mudd, whose scheme is to sell women to lonely miners on distant planets.

  • In the enhanced graphics, we see a spaceship, complete with nacelles, whereas in the original series, the ship was a blob.
  • Trek physics: the astronomy is dicey. The Enterprise is pursuing this smaller ship, and someone comments that they’re entering an asteroid belt. Really? Are they in a planetary system? You wouldn’t come across an asteroid belt out in interstellar space. But they do, so the plot can cause the destruction of the smaller ship and the Enterprise’s rescue of its crew.
  • Enterprise mechanics: now the crucial items are the “lithium crystal circuits” which burn out, one by one, as the ship over-extends its power to shield the renegade ship. In another episode, the concern is about the matter/anti-matter mix. Are these related? I’m sure the fans rationalized these later, and maybe the producers had some relationship in mind in the series’ ‘bible’, but seeing these early episodes just gives the appearance that these ideas were made up by separate writers without any overall guidance.
  • Thematically, this episode is the most sexist, dated, story in the entire series. The idea is that Harry Mudd, a lovable rogue type, is on his way to transport three beautiful women – who appear throughout most of the story in tight evening gowns – to find husbands. Because, you know, pioneering men out in space are lonely; and these women have no ambition in their lives than to find a husband. Worse, when the women first appear on the ship, the male Enterprise crew members – McCoy and Scott, initially – seem hypnotized by this female beauty, as if their female crew members are, what, sexless, compared to these beauties? And so as the women arrive, and walk down the corridor, the composer, Fred Steiner, offers some swanky, hubba-hubba music.
  • Mudd observes that Spock is part “Vulcanian”; Kirk’s quarters are on deck 12, which doesn’t make sense in terms of later schematics of the ship.
  • OTOH, this episode features a four by two rising three then falling one theme that we hear over and over again, but in different instrumentations, being remarkably versatile to color a variety of different emotional situations.
  • As they’re down to one lithium crystal, they decide to head for Rigel XII, site of lithium miners, just ‘2 days’ travel’. I’ve always thought Trek played fast and loose with real star names, using them for audience familiarity, without any regard for actual positions in the galaxy; I plan to plot them out, suspecting that the implied voyages of the starship would make no more sense than stories about a Navy ship that visited Hawaii one week, London the next, and Antarctica the week after that.
  • In the briefing room hearing scene, note the portrayal of the talking computer. The computer monitor displays a meaningless oscillating sine wave; the voice [by Majel Barrett] is underscored by teletyping sounds. This is a topic for how film and TV play — to this day, arguably, but especially 50 years ago — to intuitive, and wrong, ideas of how computers work; or more generally, how dramatic stories play to audience expectations, rarely, even in SF, challenging them.
  • Harry has a nice line, accused of being a menace to navigation: “My tiny little ship in this *immense* galaxy? A menace to nav—?“, he scoffs. He has a point.
  • Then he mentions planet Ophiuchus Three. Ophiuchus is a constellation, not a particular star. The writers and production staff are not too careful about astronomical nomenclature.
  • And the women are always shown in soft focus, as in movies of the 1940s.
  • Of the three women, Eve McHuron is the only one with any character—she’s frustrated by Mudd’s promises and put off by his wheeling and dealing. Harry tries to mollify her: “Fine, Evie, Fine”, and she fires back, “No it’s *not* fine.”
  • The episode has several interestingly shot scenes, as with Kirk and Eve speaking to each other through a decorative grate in his quarters.
  • Trek physics: the Enterprise arrives at Rigel XII, but its remaining crystal allows only a ‘shaky’ orbit for only 3 days and 7 hours. Huh? A later episode, “Court Martial”, pulls this stunt too, implying that without power, the ship’s orbit will decay. (And “The Naked Time” implied that too.) No. Not unless they’re in such a low orbit that the ship is skimming the atmosphere. Otherwise they’re in space, in free fall, in endless motion without anything to hinder it. Just like the moon is, around the Earth.
  • The enhanced graphics have a better shot of the miners’ camp than the original.
  • Another early Trek theme: a ‘magnetic storm’ affects the ship and planet.
  • Plot point: why doesn’t Childress, the head miner, having gotten his woman, comply with Kirk’s command to provide lithium crystals? Perhaps because Eve, coughing from the dust storm, seems obviously unhealthy.
  • Eve runs off; the Enterprise searches for her from orbit; Kirk and Mudd confront Childress and Eve in his quarters, and reveal to him the secret of the Venus Drugs – that which made the women so alluring. “It gives you more of what you have…” Mudd explains, offering masculine and feminine examples. Eve, having become worn down, gives in to Childress’ desires and takes a pill, but crying out in pathos: “And I hope you remember it and dream about it! Because you can’t have it! It’s not real!!” For me this is the most memorable line of the episode.
  • But then it turns out she’s only *acting* beautiful; she was duped. Is this resolution plausible? I’ve never been completely convinced.
  • Finally, here’s an early episode that undercuts its drama with a flip, comedic ending, not one but two. Mudd, about throwing away the key; Spock and McCoy, about the former’s internal anatomy. These endings became common especially in Season Two, and in retrospect, I find them annoying.
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Link and Comments: Molly Worthen on Evangelicals and Fake News

New York Times’ Sunday Review: Molly Worthen on The Evangelical Roots of Our Post-Truth Society.

The arrival of the “post-truth” political climate came as a shock to many Americans. But to the Christian writer Rachel Held Evans, charges of “fake news” are nothing new. “The deep distrust of the media, of scientific consensus — those were prevalent narratives growing up,” she told me.

Although Ms. Evans, 35, no longer calls herself an evangelical, she attended Bryan College, an evangelical school in Dayton, Tenn. She was taught to distrust information coming from the scientific or media elite because these sources did not hold a “biblical worldview.”

Bryan College is named after William Jennings Bryan, known partly for running unsuccessfully for President three times, but mostly for participating in the famous Scopes Trial in 1925 Tennessee, about the right of a teacher to teach evolution, which was technically illegal, but which attracted national publicity and the participation of famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow. (The event inspired a play, “Inherit the Wind”, which I happened upon early in my reading history, saw a performance of at UCLA when I was a student there, and later saw the film version a couple times, including recently.)

Conservative evangelicals are not the only ones who think that an authority trusted by the other side is probably lying. But they believe that their own authority — the inerrant Bible — is both supernatural and scientifically sound, and this conviction gives that natural human aversion to unwelcome facts a special power on the right. This religious tradition of fact denial long predates the rise of the culture wars, social media or President Trump, but it has provoked deep conflict among evangelicals themselves.

The essay concludes,

By contrast, the worldview that has propelled mainstream Western intellectual life and made modern civilization possible is a kind of pragmatism. It is an empirical outlook that continually — if imperfectly — revises its conclusions based on evidence available to everyone, regardless of their beliefs about the supernatural. This worldview clashes with the conservative evangelical war on facts, but it is not necessarily incompatible with Christian faith.

In fact, evangelical colleges themselves may be the best hope for change. Members of traditions historically suspicious of a pseudoscientific view of the Bible, like the Nazarenes, should revive that skepticism. Mr. Nelson encourages his students to be skeptics rather than cynics. “The skeptic looks at something and says, ‘I wonder,’ ” he said. “The cynic says, ‘I know,’ and then stops thinking.”

He pointed out that “cynicism and tribalism are very closely related. You protect your tribe, your way of life and thinking, and you try to annihilate anything that might call that into question.” Cynicism and tribalism are among the gravest human temptations. They are all the more dangerous when they pose as wisdom and righteousness.

And this cycles back to my PvCs about religion as tribalism.

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Links and Comments: Thinking about the Future; Doctors and Fake News; Polls about Atheists

Slate: Our Puny Human Brains Are Terrible at Thinking About the Future, to follow up on the Elizabeth Kolbert post a few days ago.

Some people regularly connect with their future selves, but a majority does not. And this matters, beyond the links between future thinking and greater self-control and pro-social behavior. Thinking about the five-, 10-, and 30-year future is essential to being an engaged citizen and creative problem-solver. Curiosity about what might happen in the future, the ability to imagine how things could be different, and empathy for our future selves are all necessary if we want to create change in our own lives or the world around us.


Vox: Doctors have decades of experience fighting “fake news.” Here’s how they win. Subtitle: “Some lessons from the health community’s long battle with misinformation.”


  1. Take time to explain why you believe something — not just what you believe and why your opponent is wrong
  2. Make sure your information is reliable and easy to access
  3. Teach them while they’re young
  4. Evidence is necessary but not sufficient
  5. Don’t be afraid to hold misinformation peddlers to account

Lesson #3 is exploited by religions, of course; and Lesson #4 is the the big lesson of recent years about how evidence by itself cannot overcome childhood beliefs and motivated reasoning.


Vox: How many American atheists are there really?; “why most polls on religious belief are probably wrong.”

The article discusses why people are reluctant to admit they might not be believers — to counter the common trend — and in consequence a clever experiment to ask about belief in the context of a long list of questions, in which each participant answers only the number of questions they agree with or not.

My own thought about this, as I’ve mentioned before, is that I suspect there are many people who are smart enough to understand that the supernatural claims of religions have no basis in reality, yet understand that religious tradition and performance have some kind of social good, and so go along with the flow and never express their true thoughts.

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That Dress, and How to Do Science

Slate: Two Years Later, We Finally Know Why People Saw “The Dress” Differently

Two points here. First, the controversy over the color of the dress — blue and black or white and gold — is certainly the most widely-known example in recent years about how the human mind cannot be trusted to perceive ‘objective reality’. There’s only one dress. The answer has to do with how the mind ‘interprets’ color based on assumptions about surrounding lighting — people who experience more daylight saw one color, those who experience more artifical light, another, for the most part.

The article also makes a good point about the need for scientific methodology. It took two years to figure this out, because the author didn’t rush to a conclusion for the sake of a quick publication. Rather, the author did an “internal replication of these findings before seeking publication…”

Good science takes time. I want to be comfortable that my findings are true before publishing them, so that they will stand the test of time. Yet this approach is remarkably uncommon. Given our current science environment, all incentives are aligned to rush to publication and to prioritize quantity over quality of papers. If this is the case, it should not be surprising that scandals—putting entire bodies of work into question and possibly invalidating decades of work—surface with some regularity. Indeed, most of science is currently mired in a “replication crisis,” with only about 1 in 4 reported findings standing the test of time in social psychology. The situation is likely even worse in fields like cancer biology or genomics.

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