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The Seepage

February 11, 2020

According to Gallup, on the question of which groups Americans would or would not vote for in a presidential election, atheists are totally kicking socialists’ butts! 60 percent would vote for an atheist compared to 45 percent for a socialist. Atheists are still getting edged out by Muslims at 66 percent. Tolerance for an atheist candidate (or, for that matter, a socialist, Muslim, LGBTQ, or gay candidate) drops like a rock when just asking Republicans.

Eugene Scott at the Post looks at how Bernie Sanders is sort of the stand-in for a “none” presidential candidate, though he obviously identifies as Jewish:

Sanders, who says he’s “not actively involved with organized religion,” said learning about the Holocaust from his family and his faith community as a child — he attended Hebrew school and had a bar mitzvah — taught him about the great harms that human beings are capable of unleashing on other human beings simply for being different. …

… Sanders in some ways has helped put a face to the country’s growing religiously unaffiliated population. While it is rare to have a leading presidential candidate not identify with a religion, about one in four (26 percent) Americans is religiously unaffiliated, with a religious identity described as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” according to Pew.

Paul A. Djupe and Ryan P. Burge say that the numbers indicate that Generation Z (please get them another name) may be less none-ish than Millennials. Or at least only equally as godless:

The lesson is clear – the rate has drastically increased with each generation through to Millennials and has since slowed so that Gen Z is so far no more unaffiliated than Millennials. In 2018, 42.8% of Millennials were nones (combining atheists, agnostics, and those ‘nothing in particular’), while 42.9% of Gen Zers were nones. … The upshot is that the population rate of the religious unaffiliated is at least leveling off and may be contracting.

The Brevard County Commission in Florida is found by two federal courts to have violated the First Amendment rights of atheists who were denied the opportunity to offer invocations at commission meetings. Florida Today reports:

… the County Commission on Tuesday will vote on paying damages and legal fees totaling $490,000 to settle the case. … Under terms of the agreement, Brevard County would be permanently banned from continuing its previous invocation speaker selection procedure because those practices “resulted in discrimination in favor of certain monotheistic religions.”

Hey kids, the world is being ruined. Sorry. Our bad. Jason Plautz at the Post looks at how predictions of climate disaster are driving young people to panic and despair. Yeah, welcome to my world, kid:

As climate change continues unabated, parents, teachers and medical professionals across the country find themselves face-to-face with a quandary: How do you raise a generation to look toward the future with hope when all around them swirls a message of apparent hopelessness? How do you prepare today’s children for a world defined by environmental trauma without inflicting more trauma yourself? And where do you find the line between responsible education and undue alarmism?

Here’s another reason to panic and despair. As reported by the New York Times, QAnon is secreting itself into the mainstream:

Matthew Lusk, who is running unopposed in the Republican primary for a Florida congressional seat and openly embraces QAnon, said in an email that its anonymous creator was a patriot who “brings what the fake news will not touch without slanting.” As for the theory’s more extreme elements, Mr. Lusk said he was uncertain whether there really was a pedophile ring associated with the deep state.

“That being said,” he added, “I do believe there is a group in Brussels, Belgium, that do eat aborted babies.”

The seepage of conspiracy theorizing from the digital fever swamps into life offline is one of the more unsettling developments of the Trump era, in which the president has relentlessly pushed groundless conspiracies to reshape political narratives to his liking. In promoting fringe ideas about deep state schemes, Mr. Trump has at times elevated and encouraged QAnon followers — recirculating their posts on Twitter, posing with one for a photograph in the Oval Office, inviting some to a White House “social media summit.” Recently, during a daylong Twitter binge, Mr. Trump retweeted more than 20 posts from accounts that had trafficked in QAnon material.

At the CFI blog, Jamie Hale lays out the components of having good “mindware” capable of processing scientific information and weighing its credibility:

To avoid being bamboozled, think for yourself or go to the source and evaluate the evidence for yourself. … The benefits to building a scientific mind are broad. Being a scientific thinker allows one to read and understand scientific journal articles, helps distinguish science from pseudoscience, protects against charlatans, involves better general thinking skills, is essential to rational/critical thinking, and will help in keeping one informed on matters of policy relevant to science. Below are tips for acquiring the necessary mindware.

A child died from the flu when anti-vaxxers on Facebook encouraged a mom to not give the sick kid Tamiflu as prescribed by his doctor. NBC News reports:

None of the 45 comments on the mother’s Facebook post suggested medical attention. The child was eventually hospitalized and died four days later, according to a GoFundMe started on his behalf by his family.

The mother also wrote that the “natural cures” she was treating all four of her children with — including peppermint oil, Vitamin C and lavender — were not working and asked the group for more advice. The advice that came in the comments included breastmilk, thyme and elderberry, none of which are medically recommended treatments for the flu.

“Perfect, I’ll try that,” the mother responded.

Nathalie Redick at the McGill International Review looks at Americans’ susceptibility to conspiracy theories:

While entertaining these conspiracy theories seems harmless, the truth is that the perpetuation of conspiracy theories in the American psyche throughout history has had lasting effects, even on those who don’t necessarily believe. …

… The ingrained, distrustful nature demonstrated by the proliferation of traditional conspiracy theories and ‘fake news’ has only served to worsen America’s built-in persecution complex. Attempting to correct someone simply leads to more accusations of conspiracy and dishonesty. Unfortunately, dismantling the institutions that perpetuate the harmful ideologies of the American populace is virtually impossible when one considers the historical and emotional scope of their grasp.

Last week, Skeptical Inquirer‘s Ben Radford was the guest on KZRR 94 Rock Morning Show to discuss the misinformation being spread about the coronavirus. Like, for example.

Susan Gerbic reports back from the New Zealand Skeptic Conference, writing at Skeptical Inquirer, “The NZ Skeptics should be very proud of their community. People are friendly, intelligent and open to having their beliefs challenged.”

There’s another center for the academic study of we godless heathens, as retired professor Brian Bolton gives the University of Texas $1 million to establish a new professorship for secular studies. The Austin American-Statesman reports:

UT will be the first public university to have an endowed chair for secular studies, said professor Phil Zuckerman, an assistant dean at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., where the first secular studies program in the nation was created.

“For me, this is a dream come true,” Zuckerman said. “As more and more people are leaving religion, we need to understand who they are and how they live their lives and why they are doing it.”

Rhode Island priest Reverend Richard Bucci won’t allow politicians to receive communion if they support abortion rights, but pedophiles are in the clear, telling local news, “Pedophilia doesn’t kill anyone and this does.”

Jane Riess is not impressed with how The Expanse (the TV version, anyway) portrays Mormons:

“The Expanse” recapitulates that history, albeit almost entirely offstage. The plot point never goes anywhere because the Mormons never go anywhere (here is your spoiler alert). Their ship of dreams is commandeered during an intergalactic crisis and never given back to them. “The Mormons are gonna be pissed,” comments one character as the theft goes down. Another Mormon exodus, another case of getting caught in the middle of a war they didn’t ask for.

The Mormons aren’t just pissed; they are litigious. They want their ship back and appeal to the courts to get it, but their quest for justice comes to naught in the chaos of contested interplanetary jurisdiction. It’s a different century, and yet “your cause is just but I can do nothing for you” is still the primary message the Mormons receive when they seek compensation from the government.

Amazon is not interested in selling books that promote Naziism and white supremacy. Due to Amazon’s size, its decisions on such things seem to be causing some folks discomfort (via NYT):

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said Amazon has the same First Amendment right as any retailer.

“Amazon has a First Amendment right to pick and choose the materials they offer,” she said. “Despite its size, it does not have to sponsor speech it finds unacceptable.”

Physical bookstores rarely stock supremacist literature, for no other reason than it would alienate many customers. The question is whether Amazon, because of its size and power, should behave differently.

“I’m not going to argue for the wider distribution of Nazi material,” said Danny Caine of the Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kan., who is the author of a critical pamphlet, “How to Resist Amazon and Why.” “But I still don’t trust Amazon to be the arbiters of free speech. What if Amazon decided to pull books representing a less despicable political viewpoint? Or books critical of Amazon’s practices?”

A woman in Kenya is accused of witchcraft by relatives when her husband, suffering from bipolar disorder, exhibited destructive behavior. BBC reports:

“I would leave him in the house and one day I found that he had burnt the ceiling, saying there were strange people he was looking for up there.” …

She decided that she would take him to hospital but her relatives would not let her.

They accused Mrs Kiama of casting a spell on her husband.

“His dad came to take him and said: ‘I have been told that my son is sick, I have come because you have bewitched him.'”

Sarah Scoles at Wired looks at what she sees as a blurry line between scientifically legitimate study of the possibility of extraterrestrial life and the largely-dismissed pursuit of aliens that have already been here:

Scientists … exhibit other logical fallacies, when talking about UFOs, that they would deride in others when speaking of traditional disciplines. None other than Stephen Hawking concluded, for instance, that absence of evidence essentially equates with evidence of absence. In this case, if no one has conclusive evidence of actual alien runabouts, they must not have ever visited this planet. The University of Queensland’s Adam Dodd, who teaches media studies and communication, sees their hand-wavy dismissals as “facework”: saving face, keeping up a reputation, by treating a topic scientists have deemed not-science as not-worth-consideration, demonstrating to your peers that you also deem it not-science and are thus a true scientist. Kind of like prophylactically letting everyone at the cool kids’ lunch table know that you also hate *NSYNC, because you know they do and that hating boy bands is cool.

Over 50,000 podcasts and videos about UFOs have been transcribed and catalogued in a searchable database. In case that’s your thing.

Seeing as how today is the New Hampshire primary, let’s hear some literally hard-hitting wisdom from Sweet Meteor O’Death:

NEWS FLASH: You’re not going to win by telling voters that Trump sucks and then just expecting them to swallow the alternative. You need to offer them something to vote FOR, e.g. the end of all multicellular life.


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