A defense of “denial” and “debate” on climate change

LeedsSkepticsTalkI gave a talk at the Leeds Skeptics last night – part of a mini-tour talking about “Denying the Evidence: Why People Reject Science and What We Can Do About It“. During the Q&A I was asked whether using the term “denier” was an attempt to shut down the debate over climate change. These are two interesting issues which I’ll take one at a time.Read More »

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The Science of the Sunday Assembly

[From the outset, it’s worth stating that I’m an atheist (in the soft sense), an agnostic (in a firmer sense), but probably best-described as a Humanist]

Humanists, skeptics, and atheists like to pride themselves on being rational and evidence-based. However, the Sunday Assembly (which I have been helping to organise a bit in Leeds) seems to have brought out the worst kind of ignorant twaddle that I have heard from the community in some time. Most of this seems to centre on “you’re doing something that looks a bit like what people do in church, and that makes it bad”. No attempt at understanding why churches do those things, nor why churches have (until recently) been very successful. With that in mind, here is some science behind the Sunday Assembly:Read More »

How much of an academic paper can you post online? Most of it!!

Edit: As was pointed out in the comments, you can find self-archiving info for most journals at http://www.sherpa.ac.uk/romeo/ [h/t Laurent]

I have been a bit frustrated about scientific publishing, as you might have been able to tell if you read some of my earlier posts on open access in academia.  I posted earlier this week about Aaron Swartz and the legal predicament in which he found himself when he downloaded huge numbers of scientific papers.  I was frustrated at the lack of access that most people experience to academic publishing, but didn’t want to resort to breaking the law to remedy the situation.  However, a certain amount of that frustration could have been relieved had I just taken the time to figure out where the boundaries lie in the copyright documents that I sign when I publish papers.  I decided to have a look to see how many of my rights remain, and I was quite interested to find out that I can post a reasonable amount of information on the web without breaking any laws.  As ever, this isn’t legal advice.  However, there do seem to be a few generalities that others can use to guide the release of their publications depending upon the publisher that owns the journals within which their papers are published:Read More »

The (current) limits of open access and #PDFtribute

EDIT [18/1/13]: At almost exactly the same time as I was posting about how the revolution was coming, the revolution started.  Mathematicians are setting up community-run, open access journals independent of larger publishers.

I had never heard of Aaron Swartz before he died.  Swartz was 2 1/2 years younger than me and spent his life working on, with, and around the internet and its various limitations.  I have a lot of respect for what he accomplished, not only in terms of the technical progress that he was a part of, but also because of his philosophy about open access to information.  In the wake of his death, supporters took to Twitter to post free copies of their publications, whether or not the material was in the public domain.  This reflects Swartz’s actions in downloading millions of academic papers from the MIT network which precipitated the court case that he was fighting when he chose to end his life.Read More »

Sexism is a (horrible and depressing) fact

When I posted the proposed method to look at diversity in skeptical/atheist conferences, one comment was particularly illuminating.  I stated that part of the motivation for the exercise was that:

“…there is clear and unequivocal discrimination against women in a wide array of situations and so we should be conscious of that bias when we choose speakers for conferences.”

A commenter responded that:

“Ok, I’m not sure as to what you are referring, it appears you are just performing some vague political posturing. If there were clear, and unequivocal discrimination against women at these conferences, you wouldn’t need a study to demonstrate it. It would be clear and unequivocal, such as a sexist, limiting clause in an organization’s charter. No such thing exists, so your point seems moot.”

Unfortunately, the commenter is taking a very simplistic view of sexism.  Systemic sexism of the kind to which I was referring is an insidious and far-reaching problem.  This post is a quick review of some empirical demonstrations of the subtle and systemic bias that women face, because it is clear than some people need to be made aware of the extent of the problem.  This is not a post of vague anecdotes, though – these are scientific studies.Read More »

“The UK is 25% non-religious”: what does that mean…?

I am prepping a few new posts to get the blog up and running after a brief hiatus.  However, I wanted to highlight the recent UK census results that were published on 11th December 2012, because I think that this is an issue that deserves more attention than it gets.  In particular, the number of people identifying as having “no religion” increased from 15% of the population to 25%, while the number identifying as “Christian” declined from 72% to 59%.  The implications for British society are two-fold:

1. Britain is not a Christian country

The decline in Brits identifying as Christian is compounded by the issues of belief vs belonging: a lot of people identify as Christian for cultural reasons rather than any theological motivations.  For example,  only 48% of people identifying as “Christian” believe that Jesus was a real person, only 15% of people attend church once per month, and those numbers are declining.  All this talk of basing government policy (which affects us all) on the morality of a book believed in only by a few is now officially bunk.

2. The Church of England no longer deserves special status

People are often amazed when they learn that there are 26 bishops who sit by right in the House of Lords.  This is anachronistic at best, but when those bishops vote as a significant bloc in derailing progressive legislation on issues such as euthanasia, and LGBT rights, it is nothing short of obscene.  There is no reason now not to go ahead with disestablishment – the removal of special status from the Church of England in terms of tax breaks and legislative roles.  This lack of progressive thinking on the part of the Church is clearly demonstrated through the rejection of the motion to permit women bishops, which failed to pass in November 2012.

The UK will be much healthier when it is governed based on secular, humanist values that both reflect contemporary society and allow change over time.