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In defense of dangerous ideas - Comments

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 1 by Steve Zara

Is homosexuality the symptom of an infectious disease?


I really wish he had not included this one. It is dumb. He would have to postulate an infectious disease that had precisely the same symptoms in all great ape species, in most mammals, even in birds.

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 13:17:00 UTC | #54919

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 2 by Quetzalcoatl

Is homosexuality the symptom of an infectious disease?


No, you pillock. That's just stupid.

Sometimes dangerous ideas are easily answered.

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 13:28:00 UTC | #54921

Smith's Avatar Comment 3 by Smith

steve99 wrote:

He would have to postulate an infectious disease that had precisely the same symptoms in all great ape species, in most mammals, even in birds.


Maybe Pinker didn't mean to ask: Is homosexuality the symptom of an infectious disease that in fact is the only cause for homosexuality?

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 13:35:00 UTC | #54923

Dr Benway's Avatar Comment 4 by Dr Benway

Or it may be the case that homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is the consequence of several developmental factors, and in some cases, infection alters at least one of those factors in such a way that homosexuality is more likely. This mechanism would not require a "gay bug" causing gayness across species. Just some immune response altering something like testosterone levels at a crucial developmental moment.

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 13:39:00 UTC | #54924

DV82XL's Avatar Comment 5 by DV82XL

It's a valid 'dangerous idea' because it is outside the norm, it doesn't need to be right.

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 13:42:00 UTC | #54925

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 6 by Quetzalcoatl

I thought one of the postulated mechanisms for homosexuality was males who have parts of the brain linked to desires and attractions that have developed in a more female way. Sorry for that terrible sentence, but the hour is late and I only half remember it. It's very unlikely that you could raise someone who's gay to be straight, and vice versa. That's why these fundamentalist "We can make you straight for $1000" camps can never work.

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 13:42:00 UTC | #54926

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 7 by Quetzalcoatl

Or it may be the case that homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is the consequence of several developmental factors, and in some cases, infection alters at least one of those factors in such a way that homosexuality is more likely. This mechanism would not require a "gay bug" causing gayness across species. Just some immune response altering something like testosterone levels at a crucial developmental moment.


It's an interesting idea, but surely by now somebody would have spotted a correlation?

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 13:48:00 UTC | #54927

baal's Avatar Comment 8 by baal

...OK, apart from the seemingly ridiculous question about homosexuality, what do you think of the article? :-)

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 13:49:00 UTC | #54929

Smith's Avatar Comment 9 by Smith

Can we ask: Is heterosexuality the symptom of an infectious meme?

The answer is probably yes, just looking at all those high-profile closet-gay pastors and republicans being haunted by that sodomy meme.

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 13:54:00 UTC | #54930

Dr Benway's Avatar Comment 10 by Dr Benway

It's an interesting idea, but surely by now somebody would have spotted a correlation?
Hehehe. Welcome to the fascinating realm of neuropsychiatry, where the graphs are so fuzzy, we must hide them from the physicists lest they beat the living shit out of us.

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 13:55:00 UTC | #54932

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 11 by Quetzalcoatl

Ah, quantum graphs, I've heard of them. Like electrons where you can only see vector or position, not both, with these graphs you can only see one axis at a time, and they tend to change when you're not looking!

On a more serious note, I would have thought it would be difficult to prove a correlation, given that genes can have multiple functions according to how they're expressed. Or am I just talking out of my arse, Dr?

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 14:00:00 UTC | #54933

gr8hands's Avatar Comment 12 by gr8hands

His "dangerous to air dangerous ideas" section is weak, but only because the arguments themselves are weak, and it is clear that he doesn't really believe in them.

However, he is right in that it should be debated -- which, of course, defeats the purpose of not airing dangerous ideas.

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 14:06:00 UTC | #54935

Dr Benway's Avatar Comment 13 by Dr Benway

I would have thought it would be difficult to prove a correlation....
Yes, because the correlation between any proposed cause and its effect is so low in the behavioral sciences. It's a muddle that's going take a long time to sort.

Example: If one identical twin is schizophrenic, there's about a 40% chance the other twin will be schizophrenic. What's accounting for the 60% who don't get schizophrenia, in spite of having all the same genes? Dunno.

You can publish in medicine even if your study might be the result of chance 1/20 times. For comparison, they don't let the physicists publish unless they've got results that couldn't happen by chance 1/10,000.

Physicists predict things using quantum mechanics, and get results matching to within 1/100,000. That's 100% correlation, from where I'm sitting. Behavioral science will never be that good.

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 14:19:00 UTC | #54938

Mushroom's Avatar Comment 14 by Mushroom

Excellent article. Airing dangerous ideas in public is extremely difficult to do sensitively, but it's gotta be done.

It's nitpicking a bit, but this line was silly.

logicians tell us that a system of ideas containing a contradiction can be used to deduce any statement whatsoever, no matter how absurd

That's only true because "x implies y" in logic is defined to be always true when x is false, so e.g. "the pope shits in the woods" implies "the bible is true" is a true proposition. All this means is that logical "implies" doesn't capture the meaning of implication in normal English, as Pinker surely knows.

As for the homosexuality question, I don't think it's ridiculous on its face. As others have pointed out, an affirmative answer wouldn't rule out other causes of homosexuality. Wikipedia can't be considered a reliable source for such a controversial topic, but it has an interesting discussion if you're interested

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pathogenic_theory_of_homosexuality

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 14:38:00 UTC | #54943

NMcC's Avatar Comment 15 by NMcC

I'm not a big fan of Pinker having once heard him say that, when he was younger, he viewed the police as oppressors as he believed people were basically good and needed no coercion from the state authorities to behave well. This idealism of his, however, was shattered when the police in Toronto (I think it was there) went on strike for a day and loads of people used the opportunity to loot shops. Pinker was, apparently, amazed at the fact that poor people would take things from shops whenever the fear of arrest was removed, but he neglected to see any significance in the fact that rich people didn't feel the need to do likewise.

Now, he hands us this gem:

"Even if one has little sympathy for the cynical Marxist argument that ideas are always advanced to serve the interest of the ruling class...."

Really? This is a (cynical) 'Marxist' idea is it? It's the first I've heard of it. How on earth did the whole body of socialist ideas (most of which were in existence before Marx knew about them) get promulgated then, through mind reading?

What Pinker means to say, I presume, is that the ideas of the ruling class, according to Marx, are the generally accepted ideas of a particular epoch since the class that has the material means of production at its disposal tends to have the major means of mental production at its disposal as well.

But that is nothing like what Pinker is here claiming.

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 15:20:00 UTC | #54950

Damien White's Avatar Comment 16 by Damien White

Some years ago in Britain Enoch Powell was pilloried for asking questions about the validity of Asian immigration into the UK. Today, it seems to be a dangerous idea to even acknowledge that he may have been proven right.

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 15:21:00 UTC | #54951

JohnF's Avatar Comment 17 by JohnF

". Comment #58109 by steve99 on July 23, 2007 at 2:17 pm

Is homosexuality the symptom of an infectious disease?



I really wish he had not included this one. It is dumb. He would have to postulate an infectious disease that had precisely the same symptoms in all great ape species, in most mammals, even in birds.
"

The whole article went right over your head, back to the shallow end for you.

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 15:32:00 UTC | #54953

jonecc's Avatar Comment 18 by jonecc

Enoch Powell was a spiteful bigot, and has not been proven right. He argued that different races would be unable to live together without descending into a state of permanent conflict, and the history of the last twenty years shows him to have been dead wrong.

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 16:17:00 UTC | #54959

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 19 by Steve Zara

The whole article went right over your head, back to the shallow end for you.


It seems my comment went over *your* head. The point of the article was to list statements that *may* be right, but are perhaps not discussed because they are too controversial.

Suggesting that homosexuality could be caused by a disease, when it arises in so many forms in so many species, is extremely poor science, so including it seriously diminishes quality of an otherwise interesting article.

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 17:34:00 UTC | #54969

Dr Benway's Avatar Comment 20 by Dr Benway

Suggesting that homosexuality could be caused by a disease...
Well the question is badly worded, as it suggests homosexuality is a disease. I'd have preferred, "Might infection or immune reaction during development contribute to human sexual orientation?"

I know of no data to suggest this might be the case, BTW.

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 18:03:00 UTC | #54972

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 21 by Steve Zara

"Might infection or immune reaction during development contribute to human sexual orientation?"

"Might infection or immune reaction during development contribute to human sexual orientation?"
Very unlikely, I would have thought. Frequencies of homosexuality seem to be pretty constant throughout history and cultures. An infection is unlikely to be so regular.

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 18:10:00 UTC | #54973

Dr Benway's Avatar Comment 22 by Dr Benway

I think twin studies for homosexuality have concordance rates of about 40-50%. So the environment is chipping in for about half the cause.

What are environmental factors? Oh, gosh. Let's see. Off the top:
- Birth trauma
- Toxins
- Nutrition
- Infection
- Education
- SES
- Travel
- Stress
- Peer pressure
- Religion
- Oops! Nearly forgot about mom.

Infection early in life is an environmental factor on the table for stuff like sexual orientation, OCD, Tourette's, language delays, mathematical ability, schizophrenia, kitchen sink, etc.

How to get around your excellent point re: rates being constant over time and place:
- infectious agent accounts for only 10% of the environmental contribution
- prevalence of infectious agent is relatively constant
- effect on sexuality only noted if infectious agent hits at specific moment in development
- sixteen different infectious agents may have the same effect on sexuality

Lots of ways that a genuine causal factor can get buried in noisy data.

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 18:36:00 UTC | #54974

VinceMcD's Avatar Comment 23 by VinceMcD

I don't think the point is to debate the "dangerous ideas" here; however the author raises a great point.

I believe that discussions about these topics need be happen no matter how outlandish. It first serves to debunk those ideas based in horse shit, secondly it will educate and expose others to reason so that we understand why an idea is crap, and not just dogmatically regurgitating what we heard on a sound bite or the moron next door told us.

Idealistic tangent: if more people practiced this type of discourse we may just make some headway and open a few minds.
[taps shoes together 3 times and hopes]

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 18:42:00 UTC | #54975

Fire1974's Avatar Comment 24 by Fire1974

A dangerous idea might be, "Are people of Eurasian decent intellectually superior to other ethnicities, given that Eurasians were the first to develop written language and farming, as well as conquer four other continents ect.?"

The wrong way to answer this question is to immediately brandish it as elitist racism (even though it is).

The right way would be how Jared Diamond investigates it scientifically, (read Guns, Germs and Steel). He discovers that geography and natural recourses have everything to do with it and not the organisms(us) themselves. Hence there is no evidence for a racial/ethnic precursor to greater intelligence.

The point Pinker is making is that we should REALLY answer these questions and not let reactionary thinking hinder science and inquiry.

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 20:33:00 UTC | #54983

Russell Blackford's Avatar Comment 26 by Russell Blackford

What's not clear to me is how much the questions listed match the actual "dangerous ideas" in the book.

More generally, Pinker is clearly right except for one odd thing. It's news to me that baby boomers are more PC than Generations X and Y. That seems to be Pinker's anecdotal experience, but it doesn't really match mine.

I think that the degree to which intellectuals are willing to entertain non-PC dangerous ideas has more to do with factors other than age, and if anything my Gen X friends and acquaintances strike me as more PC than my boomer ones. After all, boomers grew up during or shortly after the 1960s sexual revolution, which was not a PC time; PC, with its big streak of puritanism, is as much a reaction against the sexual revolution as a continuation of it. Not sure about Gen Y, but a lot of teenagers and twenty-somethings seem to be at least as close-minded as their parents. I don't really see the contrast that Pinker does between PC boomers (like him and me, presumably) and their bemused Gen Y kids or students.

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 20:55:00 UTC | #54985

Damien White's Avatar Comment 25 by Damien White

jonecc, as it was not my intention to start an argument, but rather to point out a 'dangerous idea' which might be worthy of discussion on an atheist's forum, i'll perhaps word my comment a little better.
Enoch Powell suggested that a large amount of Asian immigration into Britain might not be a good idea as it would bring two cultures into close proximity, and that the inability of those cultures to adapt to each other would cause tensions and violence.
And this is precisely what has occurred. Islamic fundamentalists are now killing people. How was Enoch wrong?

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 20:55:00 UTC | #54984

logical's Avatar Comment 27 by logical

Yes, each of the abovementioned ideas is dangerous, because each can be used as justification (and some are put this way).
There are ideas (or better connections between facts) which should be worded very carefully.
Causal explanation is not the same as justification!!!
The example to put homosexuality as "infectious disease" is a good one, because if people who want sex with people of their own gender can detect early in their lives that this is so and live these relationships they have no children by accident and probably only a small number of wanted ones. The outcome of a description in the usual (oldfashioned?) hereditary way is clear - and the conclusion that there are so many because the religions have enforced heterosexual lifestyles without any birth control for so long is easy to see. Using the concept of "infection" turns this around to promote censorship and/or invokes the use of the penal law system.
(Apply the effect to rapists...)

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 22:29:00 UTC | #54987

Alovrin's Avatar Comment 28 by Alovrin

I get his point about not being afraid to ask difficult questions.
But about 60% of these questions are just plain silly, and often badly worded.
My blood pressure doesnt go up, but my eyes roll in a derisive manner.

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 22:49:00 UTC | #54988

sbooder's Avatar Comment 29 by sbooder

I think some of you better read the article again because you seem to have missed the point.

The questions at the beginning of the article are not the authors stand point, but devices meant to illustrate the premise of the article.

Take the Homosexual question (which you all seem to have picked on). The author is not saying that homosexuality is caused by disease, but rather if someone comes up with the question is homosexuality caused by disease should it be dismissed just because our knee jerk reaction is governed by a moral sense of outrage at the very question its self, or should we give air and time to address the question, no matter how abhorrent we might think it to be; on the bases that addressing the question may; no matter how ugly it may be, found to be true ( and no I am not saying it is true), but should we ignore questions just because we do not like them?

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 22:54:00 UTC | #54991

pewkatchoo's Avatar Comment 30 by pewkatchoo

jonecc

Enoch Powell was a spiteful bigot, and has not been proven right. He argued that different races would be unable to live together without descending into a state of permanent conflict, and the history of the last twenty years shows him to have been dead wrong.

Really. I think that this article also went straight over your head. Powell aired a dangerous idea and was pilloried for it. So much so that the actual problems that did eventually arise were not even considered. I would postulate that Powell was probably half-right, but the reaction against what he said made it impossible to challenge the wisdom of uncontrolled immigration without being labelled racist. The major problems, of course, have arisen not because of skin colour but because of religious and cultural differences. So Powell was sort of right. The problem is that because it was a politician saying it, and not a respected "social scientist" (I don't normally use quotes to denote significance) his ideas were totally rejected without any honest enquiry. We might have saved ourselves a lot of grief if we had at least taken it a bit more seriously.

Just because you don't like the messenger or the message does not necessarilly invalidate it.

Mon, 23 Jul 2007 23:34:00 UTC | #54995