Links and Comments: Criminal Justice; Evangelicals and Divorce; Vaccine Narratives; Anthony Doerr’s favorite science books; Jeffrey Tayler’s latest; social trends and arcs of history

Monday 6 July:

Today’s episode of NPR’s “Fresh Air” has an interview with Adam Benforado, author of new book Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Justice, which applies the developments of the past decade or two in human psychology to the field of criminal justice. The familiar example is the unreliability of eye-witness evidence, which has been acknowledged, if not incorporated into police or legal procedures, for decades. The book (I gather from the interview) also explores how biases creep in about such things about how good-looking the defendant is, how tired a judge is late in the day when he makes a decision, the impossibility of a jury ignoring an overruled exchange just because the judge tells them so, of course the fallibility of memory, and so on. This is further evidence about how the human mind creates a kind of reality in the context of human society that is not an accurate perception of the real world.


Sunday 5 July:

Nice op-ed in today’s LA Times What would Jesus say about same-sex marriage?, about how evangelicals were once upon a time just as adamant about the decriminalization of *divorce* as they now are about the legalization of same-sex marriage. What happened to soften their views: Ronald Reagan, who “divorced and remarried, a clear violation of biblical teaching.”

Evangelicals like to present their position as biblical and therefore immutable. They want us to believe that they have never before adjusted to shifting public sentiments on sexuality and marriage. That is not so.

Divorce — and especially divorce and remarriage — was once such an issue, an issue about which evangelicals would brook no compromise. But evangelicals eventually reconfigured their preaching and adapted just fine to changing historical circumstances.


Same day Sunday 5 July:

Frank Bruni’s column in New York Times, California, Camelot and Vaccines.

In which he avoids a confrontation that anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy pursues. Also Jim Carrey. And Phil Plait in response. What fascinates me about these debates is that they’re not about evidence; they’re about those immune to evidence digging in to the narratives they are committed to… Because why? Because, I suspect, it’s largely a matter of maintaining their personal integrity, never admitting they are wrong or can change their minds. Human nature vs. reality. This is a provisional conclusion….


In the same day’s NYT’s Book Review, a Q&A with Anthony Doerr (who won a Pulitzer Prize for his 2014 novel All the Light We Cannot See).

(What’s fascinating about these Q&As is how authors, or celebrities, who have a public persona based on whatever made them famous, often have quite different interests in their personal lives, including their reading tastes.)

You’ve written a column on science books for The Boston Globe. What are your favorite science books?

“The Lives of a Cell,” by Lewis Thomas; “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen,” by Harold McGee; “Silent Spring,” by Rachel Carson; and “Unweaving the Rainbow,” by Richard Dawkins. My all-time favorite might be “Microbe Hunters,” by Paul de Kruif, a 1926 microbiology classic that brims with humor and fervor and wonder.

Hmm. I admit to never having read Silent Spring, though I have a copy somewhere. I read the de Kruif book in that college ‘breadth’ course about the history of infectious diseases that I alluded to here recently. I have the McGee book on food and cooking, which I’ve glanced through — the concept fascinates me, but it’s not the kind of book you would think to sit down and read through. Lewis Thomas, I just blogged about. And Richard Dawkins, despite his occasionally ill-advised social media posts, is one of the great science writers of our time.


Salon and The Atlantic writer Jeffrey Tayler is posting weekly (Sunday) screeds on the former site, about the invidious influence of religion on American politics and culture in general, in a non-apologetic, uncondescending way rarely seen in mass media outlets (as opposed to personal blogs/sites, like Jerry Coyne’s).

Salon: Let’s kick God off the Court: Marriage isn’t the only place where the law has been infected by religion. It’s mostly about the Supreme Court decision supporting marriage-equality, and the reactions from religious conservatives — Huckabee, Jindal, Santorum, et al. A taste:

A poll conducted a couple of years ago showed that 41 percent of American adults believed the End Times were upon us.  Now, that same segment of our fellow citizens – those who have surrendered their common sense to stubborn faith in a cock-and-bull collection of ancient scribblements (i.e., the Bible) — must feel triumphantly, even gleefully, vindicated.  The Supreme Court’s recent 5-to-4 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges in favor of same-sex marriage surely affirms we’re living through a rerun of the “days of Noah” (times of widespread fornication and sodomy) that are supposed to precede the Apocalypse.  The seventh trumpet, as they would have it, is a-blowin’, the Rapture nigh.

I can’t resist quoting a couple more passages.

Time saw fit to publish Rod Dreher’s melancholy yet foreboding dirge for Christians now roaming astray in a world where “the ground under [their] feet has shifted tectonically.”  God-coddlers, or those worshiping His never-having-existed offspring, must accept “how weak [their] position is in post-Christian America.”  (Hear, hear!)  The First Amendment will offer only “the barest protection to religious dissenters from gay rights orthodoxy.”

“If marriage,” Dreher warned, “can be redefined according to what we desire — that is, if there is no essential nature to marriage, or to gender — then there are no boundaries on marriage.”

Correct. Marriage, a man-made convention, must ever and always remain what man makes of it. If we, again through reason, debate and consensus, arrive at a definition differing from that which has obtained for the past millennia, so be it.

And in conclusion,

What ultimately transpires through all the Christian objections to the Supreme Court’s decision is their mean-spiritedness. Recourse to rancid old myths and “divine” injunctions that would be laughable were they not so pernicious only makes our days on Earth less pleasant, less livable. Some context: In some 5 billion years, our sun is destined to die in a supernova, which will incinerate whatever life remains on our planet. In the extremely improbable event that we humans still exist then, we will have evolved beyond anything recognizable as human today; evolution never stops, never slows. Our habits, customs, and laws need to evolve too.


Monday 30 June:

New York Times has a set of graphs that show Why Gun Control and Abortion Are Different From Gay Marriage.

Graphs that show polling on social issues shows increasing acceptance, over the past 50 years or so, of same-sex marriage, the idea of a black president, the ideas of various other presidents (female, Jewish, etc). While polling about other ideas, gun laws, abortion, and the death penality, do not show similar trends.

So there’s a distinction here (my comments now) about some kinds of social issues, and others. I suspect — assume, based on historical evidence and trends — that if these charts went further back, there would be *of course* similar rising trends about interracial marriage (in the 1960s), women’s suffrage (a century ago), and the religious justification of slavery (150 years ago). Arcs of history.

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