The Skeptic movement.
I consider myself a small 's' skeptic. That is, I am a skeptic, but not a member of the Skeptic community. I care passionately about science literacy, rationality, and evidence-based decision making. The work being done by Skeptics is no doubt invaluable - combating anti-science/anti-rationality rhetoric, antivaxxers, dangerous altmed practitioners, etc. - but the constituents cannot be trusted to uphold the critical thinking goals of the movement (recent examples of that further on).
But, especially, bigotry has not been rooted out of the community. Misogyny is being combated, at least (skepchick, for example is a site I would consider a mainstream Skeptic hub, now). The ableism, however, is so widespread I have no idea where one would start.
Take, for example, the labeling of every example of irrationality a result of the "mentally ill"; not merely ableist but completely disingenuous. Irrationality is not a product of mental illness. Primarily, it is a product of social institutions which have evolved in the absence of and/or in opposition to rational thought. When you state that irrationality and mental illness are one in the same, you demonize mental disability and you paint a distorted picture of irrationality which diminishes its true scope and effect. Truth factors nowhere into this characterization.
Or, one of the most fucking groanworthy practices in existence - conflating IQ and rationality (/religiousity/value to the movement/gullibility/state of one's vocabulary, etc.) For example, I recently watched an (otherwise pretty good) interview with Richard Dawkins where he mused on whether increasing the worlds' IQ 5 points would eliminate religiousity.
This is completely fucking ridiculous. Forget, for a second, the failings of the century old concept of quantifying general intellect on a one dimensional scale. Forget even that a steady rise of IQ has been observed in most of the world. The very core of the argument is rotten. IQ is designed (not with utter success, but that isn't the point now) to be agnostic to the information the test taker has available - rationality has nothing to do with this, it is completely dependent on available information.
Very "smart", high IQ people believe demonstrably incorrect things. Many have no alternative, rational view of the world available to them. Many do, but are rather more preoccupied defending poor standpoints with leaps of faith and tangled rationalizations. People with low IQ's are perfectly capable of understanding rational concepts like basing belief in evidence. "Raising their IQ" will do jack shit - the notion is based in snobbery, elitism and ableism.
Skepchick recently had an article on this subject, it so happens. I particularly love this graph, linked in the comments, followed by another commenter contending that IQ is "quite good" as a "predictor of success" based on anecdote... Yeah, okay - see what I mean about not living up to the critical thinking goals of the movement?
The reason for this preface is not that I intend to address ableism in Skepticism in this post (sounds like a reasonable topic for another post, though), but because most of the following is a random critique of recent topics from the Skeptic community,
Circumcision and HIV/AIDS
So why is this relevant to Skepticism? Well, note the site: Science-Based Medicine.
I suppose I should make it clear that I am not necessarily on either extreme of the "pro/anti-circ" debate, since it seems like the existence of a supposedly clear binary has led people to polarize with extreme prejudice. This isn't necessarily about that - rather, it's about the apparent efficacy of circumcision in the prevention of HIV/AIDS, the oversimplification thereof, and extremely sloppy reasoning.
I'm going to focus on Africa, which is the focus of this research, despite the fact that the article itself seems to be focused on America.
Does circumcision result in HIV/AIDS prevention in the real world?
"Conclusions: We find a protective effect of circumcision in only one of the eight countries for which there are nationally-representative HIV seroprevalence data.".
"Data from Demographic and Health Survey show that circumcised men in six of 10 African countries (Ghana, Cameroon, Tanzania, Lesotho, Malawi, Rwanda) have higher HIV prevalence than uncircumcised men." (Quote: HIV/AIDS online article, "Male circumcision: a cut above?")
So... no, apparently not.
So why the discrepancy between the real world and trials?
One possibility is that, for some reason, all those African populations which practice circumcision are at higher risk for HIV for unrelated reasons. Correlation is not (un)causation, after all.
Another possibility is that the trials are flawed. One thought: as far as I can tell, in these trials (for example), rather than using already circumcised individuals, men are selected to be circumcised for the purpose of the trial. All three trials were stopped early on an "ethical basis". Perhaps the fact that intercourse is discouraged/less likely for some duration after circumcision (due to the risk of infection and the fact that it fucking hurts) has something to do with it - i.e., the results could be skewed because the circumcised group is simply fucking less over the (shortened) trial period.
I'm sure there are any number of angles I am not considering.
What about the womens?
No convincing evidence exists that male circumcision reduces HIV transfer rate to women. In one study, "17 (18%) women in the intervention group and eight (12%) women in the control group acquired HIV during follow-up." It was stopped early based upon "futility".
It has been suggested that the apparent prevention of HIV in men will essentially "trickle down" to women and result in net benefits for all. I don't know if this is true, but I know it hinges on the observed effects being real in the first place, which I think is on shaky ground, and even then it isn't clear to me how this is supposed to happen (I'm sure an epidemiologist could explain).
I've encountered arguments that any resistance to circumcision as a mitigating tactic against HIV is putting the mens above the womens. The results so far lead me to believe that this is erroneous.
Does this encourage healthy sexual practice?
That I have seen, this is a particularly major worry. Apparently circumcision is being touted in some countries as an alternative to condom usage, with lines like "invisible condom", "you won't need to use a condom", etc. This is extremely dangerous. If this attitude is left uncorrected, we will see a rise in HIV rates for everyone involved, especially the women. It is completely disingenuous to even discuss the subject without acknowledging this.
So, is neonatal circumcision ethical (in Africa)?
That really depends. If the figures really do hold up in the real world (and we should know before long, since circumcision is the next big thing in many African countries), I would contend that yes, it is. Adult circumcisions are much more expensive and complicated than neonatal ones - in Africa, this definitely matters. In the context of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa, I think this could be considered an acceptable breach of ethics. That's if the real world really supports the trials.
The same is not true of America. This is a much richer country with a much lower HIV rate and much higher circumcision rate. All of these negate the whole premise. We can handle waiting until adulthood in order to honor informed consent. The veracity with which we jump into forcing this on children has nothing to do with its effect on HIV - the reasoning is completely transparent. (BTW: The effect on men who have sex with men - the highest risk group in America - is demonstrably insignificant. Why is it different? I have no idea.)
We don't mandate condom use for babies because they aren't fucking. Where possible, we should also not mandate (or practice) circumcision on babies for the same reason.
Besides female genital mutilation also reduces HIV and [things], but we don't endorse that. Same thing, right?
I disagree. Female genital mutilation is in a whole 'nother league from male circumcision (seriously, anyone taking this stance is probably unfamiliar with just what FGM is). Similar ethical boundaries exist (of permanently modifying childrens' bodies without or against their consent), but the two should not be conflated offhand anymore than male circumcision should be conflated offhand with...
Piercing babies' ears. ("By your definition, that’s mutilation, too?")
(Quote: SBM poster)
An (American normative) ear piercing is a tiny fistula in the ear lobe, the width of a pin. Circumcision is the skinning of the head of the penis. They are inequivalent in practically the same magnitude as the last issue.
At the same time, the reasoning behind this makes no sense. So you think the situation is equivalent. So what? Is piercing babies' ears self evidently ethical? No, it isn't. A commenter points out that the practice is illegal in many countries, although I believe this is tangential to its ethics. You would not condone the tattooing, branding, or [non-normative piercing] of children, I imagine. Why is this practice, specifically, left alone?
"Why do people attempt to derail the discussion by using inflammatory language like 'mutilation'?"
(Quote: SBM poster)
(Oh, this is familiar. Wahhh! That word is so divisive!)
While I don't personally use the word "mutilation" for male circumcision, the use of the word to refer to body modification done without consent for no medical purpose does indeed fit the bill. Resorting to tone argument on it is the real derail.
"...wouldn’t [reduced sensitivity] be an argument FOR circumcision since prolonging intercourse seems to be an accepted goal for many men?"
(Quote: SBM poster)
This is the most crass and absurd argument for male circumcision in children. Permanently modifying childrens' bodies with no ability for them to consent and making the post-hoc rationalization that "well, it's better for them anyway" has no defensibility to it whatsoever.
In any case, no statistically significant difference exists between the ejaculation period of circumcised and uncircumcised males - the same cannot necessarily be said of sensitivity, depending on whether the foreskin is a sensitive instrument (me? I got no clue).
"A visitor from outer space might be forgiven for concluding that the most important part of the human body is the foreskin. It is, after all, the only part of the body that has multiple organizations devoted to its preservation in the natural state."
(Quote: SBM poster)
First, I love the alien anthropologist method of isolating human weirdness. Fuck you for fucking it up.
Fuck you some more for erasing the work being done by groups who (also) oppose female genital mutilation, the modification of intersex childrens' genitalia without consent, and other nonconsensual mutilation.
Fuck you even more for making a joke out of the fact that we need those organizations because people keep cutting their childrens' bodies up.
This post consists basically of a few points:
[examples] have been done to lower the risk factor of smoking. They didn't work.
The examples also consist of smoke inhalation which is, you know, the most harmful part. The e-cigarette method, consisting of vapor inhalation, is an erroneous conflation with this group.
If people think it's safer, they'll stay hooked on nicotine.
If it is safer, that seems well worth the risk.
Not enough research.
Here are some links.
And a newscientist article, just for fun.
It's understandable to say that there isn't enough research available, but when you ignore the research that has been done, you're being disingenuous (to be charitable).
And the pearl clutching about e-cigs is bullshit, people. Stop.
On Dark Matters
This is a random post, and I've been wanting to talk about the universe, but really... it's been done better than I possibly could. So, random linkdump.
(Dark matter exists, y'all. It's not even controversial, really. What's controversial is what particle it's made of. We also don't know what particle gives things mass [we're just betting really hard on the Higgs Boson], but we're pretty sure the whole having mass thing is real. Just putting that out there.)
What is Dark Matter?
Dark Matter Part I
Dark Matter Part II
Dark Matter Part III
Dark Matter Part 3.5
Dark Matter Part IV
Dark Matter and Large Scale Structure
Dark Matter Smoke Ring
Fermi May Have Spotted Dark Matter
Dark Matter Detected?
Dark energy exists, too. We just don't know why.
"Dark Energy: What it took to get me to believe"
Dark Energy Part 1
Dark Energy Part 2
Dark Energy Part 3
Dark Energy Part 4
The Cosmological Not-So-Constant