This Zoo is Going to Kill Itself Off

December 12, 2016


The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.

You might have heard something about the CIA saying that, yeah, Russia definitely tried to tip the election for Trump by hacking the political parties and other major figures. Trump, who essentially is a walking conspiracy theory, dismissed the U.S. intelligence apparatus thusly:

Can you imagine if the election results were the opposite and WE tried to play the Russia/CIA card. It would be called conspiracy theory! 

Former Bush-era UN ambassador John “The ‘Stache” Bolton says the Russian hacking could be a “false flag.” Hey, why not?

The State Department may soon be led by the CEO of ExxonMobile. That kind of sounds like the intro to a dystopian novel. The Department of the Interior may soon be led by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who of course is a climate science denier. And if you work at the Energy Department and maybe helped on Obama’s climate initiatives, Trump is looking for you.

Jonathan Chait says Trump’s incoming administration represents “the Republican Party’s flight away from empiricism, or intellectual seriousness of any kind,” and, “The total capitulation to pseudoscience is simply another indicator of a party that has left any sense of pragmatism far behind.”

Oh my goodness, I just saw this: Veteran atheist activist Rob Sherman might have died in a plane crash. The body has not been conclusively identified, but it was his plane.

CFI–UK’s Stephen Law does a “breezy piece” on some of the fundamentals of skepticism, and you know it actually is rather breezy:

I call these kinds of belief system intellectual black holes. Once you’ve been sucked in, it can be very hard to think your way out again. If we want to immunize the next generation against such dangerously seductive twaddle, let’s at least make sure they understand the warning signs.  

The National Center for Transgender Equality releases a major survey that shows advances in rights, but little improvement in how people are treated from day to day. AP:

According to the survey, problems of discrimination were particularly high for transgender people of color, those with disabilities, and those living in the U.S. without legal documentation. 

RealClearScience posts a listicle of the worst junk science of 2016. Cupping, new Zodiac signs, anti-vaxxers, and more. 

CFI opposes the proposed ban on full-face veils by Angela Merkel, but it’s also important to remember how oppressive and threatening the imposition of veils can be, as shown in this NYT report by Rukmini Callimachi on the situation inside the Islamic State, where physical punishment is meted out for women who even accidentally let their eyes be visible. 

While the Japanese people are largely united in their belief in the dangers of climate change, there is one very troubling holdout that doesn’t seem to care so much: Young people:

Interviews with several Japanese students and office workers ages 22 to 26 elicited similar responses to arguments for the need for urgency on fighting climate change. The young cited the huge scale and timeline of the problem, a feeling of powerlessness, silence from the media, and preoccupation with more important issues. 

Antone Martinho at Aeon looks at whether science has vastly underestimated the consciousness of non-human animals. This piece also recommended for abundance of cute-duckling content:

Even for seasoned scientists, it’s hard not to assume that animals are thinking. There was one clever duckling in the experiment that noticed the rotating booms above the testing chamber that controlled the stimuli he was meant to be watching, and spent the rest of the trial intently staring at the mechanism, looking contemplative. We named him Plato. 

Hillary Rosner at NYT alerts us to the existence of “faith-based” health insurance plans, that aren’t technically insurance, and get those nice religious exemptions from the law. The thing is, they cost a lot less than regular insurance, but also ask you to affirm belief in things that, if you’re reading this, you almost certainly do not.

Alheli Picazo at the CBC says the U.S. is actually doing something right (can you believe it?) on homeopathy, and Canada should follow suit

Emily McFarlan Miller reminds us that the recently-departed John Glenn, though a man of science, was also a believer:

“I don’t see that I’m any less religious by the fact that I can appreciate the fact that science just records that we change with evolution and time, and that’s a fact,” he said. “It doesn’t mean it’s less wondrous and it doesn’t mean that there can’t be some power greater than any of us that has been behind and is behind whatever is going on.” 

NASA and Stephen Hawking are exploring the concept of “nano-starships” they call StarChips that could reach Alpha Centauri in twenty years. 

LogiCalLA is coming next month, with quite a few CFI friends like Joe Nickell, Elizabeth Loftus, Harriet Hall, and more. 

Hey, what’s going on at CFI On Campus? Let’s find out! [Waves you to walk with me, jauntily heads over to an email as bouncy piano music plays.] Well look! It’s the Campus Inquirer! It’s got stuff on secular holiday observances, Darwin Day, and more! [Smiles to the sound of a “ding!”]

The New York Times’ executive editor, Dean Baquet, points out a hole in the media’s understanding of human beings:

I think that the New York-based and Washington-based too probably, media powerhouses don’t quite get religion. We have a fabulous religion writer [Laurie Goodstein], but she’s all alone. We don’t get religion. We don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives. And I think we can do much, much better.  

Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute says the right has its own version of “political correctness” which he calls “patriotic correctness.” 

Sci-fi author Connie Willis wants to be clear that she is not a psychic

The theatrical metal band Nightwish releases a new DVD set that includes the on-stage appearance of Richard Dawkins, which they called “mind-blowing.”

Quote of the Day:

Robert Wright at NYT unpacks some fantastical assertions by the late biologist William D. Hamilton about how evolution on Earth might have been “directed.” Wright’s piece is kind of a lot of digest, but Hamilton’s whimsical notion is fun all by itself:

“Yes, yes. There’s one theory of the universe that I rather like — I accept it in an almost joking spirit — and that is that Planet Earth in our solar system is a kind of zoo for extraterrestrial beings who dwell out there somewhere. And this is the best, the most interesting experiment they could set up: to set up the evolution on Planet Earth going in such a way that it would produce these really interesting characters — humans who go around doing things — and they watch their experiment, interfering hardly at all so that almost everything we do comes out according to the laws of nature. But every now and then they see something which doesn’t look quite right — this zoo is going to kill itself off if they let you do this or that.” So, he continued, these extraterrestrials “insert a finger and just change some little thing. And maybe those are the miracles which the religious people like to so emphasize.” He reiterated: “I put it forward in an almost joking spirit. But I think it’s a kind of hypothesis that’s very, very hard to dismiss.”

The headline almost writes itself: “World-Class Scientist Says Miracles Can Happen!” The subhead would add: “Extraterrestrials may play a role.”

* * *

Photo credit: sweet lil’ bunny via / CC BY-NC 

Linking to a story or webpage does not imply endorsement by Paul or CFI. Not every use of quotation marks is ironic or sarcastic, but it often is.

Follow CFI on Twitter: @center4inquiry

Got a tip for the Heresy? Send it to press(at)!

News items that mention political​ candidates are for informational purposes only and under no circumstances are to be interpreted as statements of endorsement or opposition to any political candidate. CFI is a nonpartisan nonprofit.

The Morning Heresy: “I actually read it.” – Hemant Mehta