This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

Comments by Tim Marsh

Go to: Jury Awards Father $11M in Funeral Case

Tim Marsh's Avatar Jump to comment 15 by Tim Marsh

But epeeist, surely you're not suggesting that an amount of distress has been measured (somehow) that is worth something in the area of 11 million dollars? That had the Phelps' not protested this funeral, the improvement in the father in question's current life or mental state would be worth US$11,000,000?

Either way, when speaking on matters of communication and expression, the consequentialist notion of "you did damage, pay for it" starts to weaken when the 'damages' are not, in fact, easily 'measured', and the resulting 'damages' are not so reliably contingent on the 'attack' in question as in the case of physical assault.
A good rule of thumb I have always employed is, it is unethical to knowingly hurt the feelings of others when there is nothing to be accomplished by doing so, but making it legally punishable to hurt someone's feelings is to move a little too close to a kind of 'emotional fascism'.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 02:36:00 UTC | #80177

Go to: Jury Awards Father $11M in Funeral Case

Tim Marsh's Avatar Jump to comment 12 by Tim Marsh

Bertybob, I don't understand. The Phelps' are non-violent, and neither advocate nor request violence. The only violence that seems likely to emerge from their protests are from those offended by what they say, which needless to say, doesn't really count.

They certainly advocate intolerance towards homosexuals, but they also give very much a "it's too late now, you're doomed" impression, rather than suggesting "violent rejection of homosexuals would be a good idea because it would save you all". I'm not too clear on this, but it is my understanding the inciting of "hatred" is covered by free speech, but hatred that incites violence is not.

Thu, 01 Nov 2007 02:03:00 UTC | #80169

Go to: Jury Awards Father $11M in Funeral Case

Tim Marsh's Avatar Jump to comment 2 by Tim Marsh

eric, I don't know you, obviously, but that was a horrible thing to say.

macros, not a great deal better.

For shame.

Wed, 31 Oct 2007 23:51:00 UTC | #80133

Go to: Larry King Interviews Kathy Griffin

Tim Marsh's Avatar Jump to comment 59 by Tim Marsh

Yorker,
I find your position both remarkable and horrifying. It seems that you have recognised two noteworthy trends in the general public-
a) widespread religious-credulity, and
b) a discourse stifling culture of anti-intellectualism.
You have also noticed the necessary relation between the two, as the seeming plausibility of a religious stance thrives in the acceptance and non-opposition of inadequate reasoning.

Yet your proposed solution to this combined problem isn't to address these related issues together, but rather, to attempt to rework and limit the now normative expression of atheism so as to fit it within the paradigm of unjustified, populist anti-intellectualism?

You are not doing the public any favours by assuming in them a raw inability to better themselves intellectually. You sir, are part of the problem.

Thu, 20 Sep 2007 08:34:00 UTC | #68575

Go to: Youtube hater, I respect your right to free speech.

Tim Marsh's Avatar Jump to comment 4 by Tim Marsh

I will say this about Brian Sapient, despite his often disappointingly juvenile response style, I love the name of his group.

"Rational Response Squad"

If there were an Australian Rational Response Squad, surely, I would attempt to join it. I suppose I could try to start one.. but then I may be infringing their copyright.

Sat, 15 Sep 2007 23:11:00 UTC | #67058

Go to: His word: Attacking religion can seem like breaking a butterfly on a wheel

Tim Marsh's Avatar Jump to comment 20 by Tim Marsh

Dr. Dawkins,
For what it's worth, I thought The God Delusion was delightfully funny.
It has even found its way into my vocabulary, to the point where as a response to highly obvious 'why' questions, I have taken to responding in my best 'Richard Dawkins' accent, "Why indeed?", as a nod to your section on the importance of teaching comparative religion.

Sat, 23 Jun 2007 09:38:00 UTC | #48509

Go to: Can we really learn to love people who aren't like us?

Tim Marsh's Avatar Jump to comment 85 by Tim Marsh

philos said:

Fair point - however I would change it to "We should be moral for the sake of being moral", with moral being defined by the Zeitgeist of the day. "Because it feels good" is dependent on the person feeling it and so may be unreliable in a statement such as this; one particular person may be a sociopath, and their feeling good is definitely different than the accountant down the street.
I think perhaps Robert was being a tad simplistic in his account of why one should be moral. It would seem that in his otherwise ubiquitous endorsement of rational conduct, he has not seen it necessary to mention the central role that reasoning should play in anyone's moral judgments. He (quite rightly) considers that it should be a given.
Our biologically-based moral intuitions are a fine start for most of us, in terms of regulating our behaviour, but they are by no means the end of the story. Even in the total absence of neurophysiological empathy (as is the case with people who suffer from extreme psychopathy), we can conclude stable moral principles in a social context, provided we take a rational stance and are supplied accurate information. All persons capable of understanding the mental conditions of others, the social value of altruism, the reciprocal benefits of altruism, and who can make their decisions without duress, will come to the same (or at least a similar) conclusion about how we should treat one another. It is under exceptions to these conditions that it is common to find functional and ideological betrayals of morality, and this is true both for those of us with altruistic intuitions, and those of us without (though the former stand a better chance of coming out moral regardless, simply due to a visceral distaste for harming others).

However, as an example, let's say you were wrongly convicted of murder (you are truly innocent but no one believes you no matter how much you explain yourself - after all, you are right, the whole court system is wrong). You have served your time and now live in a nice suburban neighbourhood. You are seen in the eyes of your neighbours as malicious, evil and untrustworthy. Flyers go out about you and how dangerous you are.
I should point out here that, in your very framing of this example, you have established unreasonable, untrue, and (I suppose for the sake of your point) unchangable presuppositions in the 'judging group'. By these parameters, you are justifying what is ultimately an unnecessary and likely insincere level of pandering and self-promotion, logically akin to justifications for violence that take the form "What if a maniac, who was impossible to find or reach, was going to stab your daughter, unless you...".
I think perhaps that even you have overlooked the fact that what you are describing is a no-win situation. If we are to be loyal to the conditions you describe, it would be impossible to convince these people that you are not a murderer. But to say this goes beyond saying that these people understand you as a 'person who has, in the past, committed a murder', they are people who see you as possessing the ongoing potential to commit murder. Under this condition, should they ever trust you? After all, if this cognitive structure can never be altered, even if you desperately went out of your way to prove yourself a good person, you would never be regarded as such, you would regarded as (at best) a good murderer. Naturally, people's first suspicion would be that you are going out of your way for the sake of an ulterior motive, and funnily enough, they would be right.

To parallel this with the case for atheists, it would achieve little to convince people that atheists, despite being morally-bankrupt hedonists who seek to erode society and are destined for hellfire, we are willing to behave nicely. It is only through promoting the truth of what it is to be an atheist, that we can overcome these misconceptions themselves. To go over the top, and assume such positions (which by the very conditions of reason that we are supposed to rely on, are unnecessary) will only serve to demonstrate precisely what similar actions would from an undoubted murderer. The public will be left wondering "What are they up to? Who're they trying to fool?".
I do not speak for all atheists, but I would like to suggest that I, at least, am not in the business of 'fooling' anyone, and as such have no interest in depicting myself as anything but what I am. A good person, for reasons that are my own.

Sat, 09 Jun 2007 21:24:00 UTC | #46061

Go to: Al Gore on Reason

Tim Marsh's Avatar Jump to comment 49 by Tim Marsh

Robert said:

Creationism is driven by the concept of special creation to oppose the implication of all evolutionary models, which unavoidably conclude that we (and all things) are the result of heartless and discriminatory processes, and we are therefore extraordinarily lucky to be here; Creationists believe that the Universe's existence is contingent on our presence, instead of the other way around.
I'm going to have to disagree with you on this one, good buddy. By your broader definition of 'creationism', there are literally no Christians who are NOT creationists. Now, while in the strictest sense this is how things 'should' be, if all Christians thought their beliefs through to their ultimate conclusion, it is not a useful distinction in terms of describing reality.
The vast majority of Christian moderates simply do not put the thought into their stance necessary to make so bold a claim as 'I believe the scientific consensus on evolution is somehow wrong, and therefore a supernatural explanation is better'. As such when one uses the term 'creationist', one is specifically referring to a Christian who is so unreasonable, and takes this business so seriously, that they are willing to stand in opposition to a wealth of natural science.
Thus, at least for this day and age, I think definitions of 'creationist' should be reserved for those who postulate a great deal of direct supernatural intervention in the origins of life and the world. If only to preserve the utility of the word.

Sat, 26 May 2007 08:42:00 UTC | #42261

Go to: Catholic Church Reconsiders Limbo

Tim Marsh's Avatar Jump to comment 16 by Tim Marsh

devolved said

At his death Jesus was crucified with two criminals. One cursed him the other asked "…"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

And the criminal asked Jesus
"Is such a thing possible?"
To which the lord replied
"its easy when youre jesus lol"

Seriously devolved, who are you even talking to? I'm sure you know some people in your life who enjoy hearing simple assertions that are not, and in essence cannot be, substantiated. If you just want to hear yourself type, do us a favour and don't hit 'Submit' when you're done.

Mon, 21 May 2007 02:18:00 UTC | #40492

Go to: Freethinking Ruins All Things

Tim Marsh's Avatar Jump to comment 55 by Tim Marsh

I patiently read through this article, waiting for Mr. Larison to move from unsupported assertions into some realm of evidence, or at least to make some claims that were anything more than purely opinionated generalisations. He never did.

This appears to be one of many theistic works which rely on an approximation of 'poetic' language to give the illusion of grandeur and authority, in order to mask the fact that the author is simply making direct claims about reality, while offering no evidence that what they claim is true. Yet another apparently 'self-evident', non-empirical exploration of a complex issue, which is only meaningful to those who have already come to the same conclusion and only wish to hear their own sentiments echoed back at them.

Were this a wikipedia entry, needless to say the words "citation needed" would appear in just about every sentence.

Fri, 18 May 2007 11:07:00 UTC | #39808

Go to: Cardinal: homosexuality a form of prostitution

Tim Marsh's Avatar Jump to comment 51 by Tim Marsh

The most troublesome thing in this article, as I see it, is the mention of the assembly of Latvian doctors willing to claim (I can't imagine on what grounds) that homosexuality is an 'illness' that involves dependence and fixation on the 'immoral'.
There is a wealth of evidence that addresses the developmental psychology of sexual preference, and how a lessened 'rigidity' of assumed heterosexual preferences is best conceived as a predictable product of a population that selects for altruism and group-harmony.
Even to those who are close-minded or simply ignorant on evolutionary biology and rational ethics, seem capable of understanding that scripture-inspired claims to the 'immorality' of homosexuality cannot possibly be true if homosexuality is simply an unavoidable and natural phenomena in the human condition.
If you'll pardon to gay-rights parallel, this message needs to come out!

Sat, 12 May 2007 10:29:00 UTC | #37279

Go to: Martin Amis reviews The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left by Ed Hussain

Tim Marsh's Avatar Jump to comment 16 by Tim Marsh

_J_, mine too! :D

Sat, 05 May 2007 13:29:00 UTC | #35122

Go to: Pope abolishes limbo

Tim Marsh's Avatar Jump to comment 173 by Tim Marsh

And the regression of devolved's position continues. Let's see how he's responded to small, selective parts of what I've said:

I respect Tim's belief but disagree with his inference.

This from a man (I'm assuming) who has said "Again "It's rubbish" or "I've read it and it's very poor" hardly qualifies." and continually demands open reasoning and evidence. I've spelled out the logic of my claims quite clearly, and yet you feel you don't need to address this and attempt to point out where a supposed error has occured, you're content to say "I disagree"? It's like you're declaring the rules but don't feel you have to follow them!

If God created everything in the beginning evolutionary scientists will have wasted huge amounts of time, money and energy on pursuing the wrong explanation.

That may be one of the biggest 'If's I've ever seen. Not only is 'evolutionary biology might be a big waste of time' a very different statement from 'evolutionary biology is a big waste of time', but it is just good scientific process that the forming of an alternate hypothesis is no reason to reject the original, working, theory, particularly when the alternate hypothesis has no empirical data to support it (and also makes no testable predictions).
Regardless, evolutionary theory is in many ways the centre-stone of modern biology, and it is not a gross exaggeration to claim that 'nothing else in biology makes sense' in it's absence anymore. Even if evolution by natural selection turns out to be only instrumentally useful (my money's on useful and true), one cannot deny (though you try) how exceedingly useful it has been to our understanding of everything in biology.

You are correct in saying that the paradigms are not equally effective. It's rather as if two men are standing on Plymouth Hoe looking out to sea, each looking at the Spanish Armada through a telescope. One says "Those ships are a long way off" and the other say, "They're very close to shore".

Actually, it's not like that. You're implying that scientific inquiry is a kind of conservative approach to a problem, that even if not correct, allows us to get more done. This is a gross underestimate of the rift of utility between the paradigms.
A better analogy would be:
Two students are given a solvable math problem, in which you are required to show your working, and receive marks of every step of correct calculation you do. At this point in time, neither student possesses the knowledge to correctly calculate the final steps of the problem, but they have been taught enough to get most of the way through.
Student A enters with the paradigm "This problem is unsolvable, so why bother?" Student B enters with the paradigm "This problem is solvable, and I could potentially get it if I tried".
Needless to say, not only is Student B going to get more marks, but Student B is also ultimately correct. Even when regarding what are (apparently, according to creationists) uncertainties and unknowns in scientific inquiry, history shows us that you will always be more correct to assume "Even if we don't know it now, we will eventually be able to, and will endevour to get as close as possible", rather than "Not knowing this proves our ignorance, and we should embrace a position of ignorance".

There is not one single technological advance that owes anything at all to a belief in evolution. I'd go further and suggest that if operational science ignored the evolutionary paradigm it would not hinder its activities.

Wow! Talk about making an assertion with no evidence! :o
It looks like this assertion was made without any checking either!
I have already mentioned that evolutionary theory essentially 'ties biology together' in that it allows biologists to remove all pointless speculations of 'purposes' behind adaptations, and view things in survival and transmission paradigms. How about this?
Essentially all the methods in the science of phylogeny are based on the theory of evolution, and phylogenetic findings have formed the basis of most of greatest advances to date in population genetics, relating to gene-transfer (even wikipedia will back this up, and it's free for everyone to check).
Immunology, and many of the treatments devised through it, owes much of its success to the evolutionary understanding of the formation, development, and limitations of the immune system, as well as helping us understand how infections will transmit between species. Not to mention that the actual process of evolution is visible on the level of small pathogens, and the understanding of how viruses and various microbes evolve in bodily environments is vital to understanding, pre-empting, and treating them.
And as you may not have realised, without an evolutionary paradigm, we wouldn't have the understanding of horizontal genetic transmission we have today, which is paving the way for all of the most promising gene-therapy treatments in current research (See Medstrand P, van de Lagemaat L, Dunn C, Landry J, Svenback D, Mager D (2005). "Impact of transposable elements on the evolution of mammalian gene regulation". Cytogenet Genome Res 110 (1-4): 342-52. for more information, it should be on Google Scholar).
Your last claim, about biology getting on just fine without evolutionary theory, is so baseless it's difficult to address. But I'll just reiterate, the evolutionary paradigm allows us to view all biological structures in terms of functionality, survival adaptation, and generational transmission. No other paradigm (least of all some predictionless 'design' paradigm) yields as much success in understanding why biology is the way it is.
So to be frank, evolution has already made too much of a contribution to science to be 'scrapped from the record', ever. Anything shocking we're likely to find in the future will be more information about how evolution works, since we've already settled whether it works.

Mon, 30 Apr 2007 20:44:00 UTC | #33729

Go to: Pope abolishes limbo

Tim Marsh's Avatar Jump to comment 152 by Tim Marsh

And let's not forget the biblical literalists who suggest that all animals, including strict carnivores and carnivorous dinosaurs, used to be 'plant eaters', despite their various morphologies adapted specifically for the catching of prey and the eating of meat.
This is, of course, based entirely on a section of Genesis where God gives all the animals 'green herbs' to eat (its ambiguous), and also the fact that carnivorous dinosaurs would've wiped out mankind if they coexisted.
They are different accounts of when they started eating meat (after original sin, or after the ark-incident), needless to say.. none of it is true.

Sun, 29 Apr 2007 20:29:00 UTC | #33449

Go to: Pope abolishes limbo

Tim Marsh's Avatar Jump to comment 148 by Tim Marsh

Billy Sands, can I just say, you're doing a great job here supplying information on genetics. You are a credit to atheism!

Sun, 29 Apr 2007 05:43:00 UTC | #33311

Go to: Scientists look to disrupt the brain chemistry of violence

Tim Marsh's Avatar Jump to comment 19 by Tim Marsh

Steelman, as I've already said in my first post, "I am not suggesting that medical understandings cannot be misused to justify terrible social policies."
I am certainly not interested in promoting a 'Gattaca-esque' world of speculative liabilities and medically-driven paranoias, nor am I a particular defender of gross over-medication and commercially driven pharmaceuticals (as we see all too much of in America today). I will, however, defend the assertion that most maladaptive behaviours are ultimately the result of ignorance or abnormalities.

Now, 'abnormality' is, of course, as difficult a concept to define as 'normality', but I speak specifically in functional and distress-based capacities here.

You said:
"I've known plenty of people who knew quite well that what they were doing was wrong, but did it anyway. They knew their acts were wrong because they wouldn't have wanted anyone to treat them similarly. Yet they committed the acts because they felt they were somehow justified in doing so."

Feeling "they were somehow justified in doing so" is precisely the kind of problem I mean. While the majority of 'wrong-doers' (a nebulous term, to be sure, but I'm unable to think of a better one just now) are almost certainly not cognitively incapable of behaving otherwise, our current understanding of the algorithmic process of neurocomputation suggests that we will always elect to behave in the manner that seems the most beneficial to us. We are, after all, rationally self-interested, and as such only processing irregularities, strong innate or conditioned intuitions, and simple 'incorrect' information is what leads us to do things that are a genuinely bad idea.

In theory, education is negatively correlated with aggression and social dysfunction because it permits one to have a more informed and balanced world view. Higher economic brackets and standards of living are negatively correlated with aggression and social dysfunction (though they're not without them) because people who have lived through fewer damaging and confrontational life experiences will have fewer maladaptive intuitions conditioned into them by abusive situations and cognitive dissonance coping. And people with underactive amygdalas tend to have psychopathic tendencies and more extensive criminal records because they do not intuitively empathise with fear and suffering in others as easily as the rest of us do.

While I realise that, practically, people's misdeeds often need to be handled as if the decisions they made were made without any uncontrollable biases, but from a medical and psychological perspective I think it's important that we keep in mind that in essence 'bad' people are as much a victim of their biology and circumstances as those they may harm. And hence if there is anything that can be done to intervene in this, be it improved welfare, better education, counselling/cognitive therapy, or (dare I say it) dysfunction-balancing medications, it would be downright unethical to reject such interventions on the grounds of some kind of 'sanctity of the natural mind'. The minimisation of human suffering has to come first.

Sun, 29 Apr 2007 05:01:00 UTC | #33307

Go to: Pope abolishes limbo

Tim Marsh's Avatar Jump to comment 145 by Tim Marsh

devolved, it's clear you have quite the passion for invoking the concept of 'presuppositions'. You're convinced that the fact that the scientific paradigm and a theistic paradigm both rely on 'different presuppositions', implies that the scientific paradigm and the theistic paradigm both rely on 'different and equal' presuppositions. This is your fundamental mistake, as it is desperately untrue.

Aside from the core assumptions of reliable phenomenology that we all have to make to interact with the world, the basic schism of presuppositions between scientific and theistic paradigms is as follows:
The Scientific Paradigm - Things that are immaterial, incorporeal, 'impossible' by the apparant mechanisms of physics, do not exist, at least not in a testable sense useful for making explanations.
Theistic Paradigms - Events, interventions, and agents, that are supernatural, entirely speculative, untestable and impossible by the apparant mechanisms of physics, do potentially exist and can be used in forming explanations.

I will grant you that these are both presuppositions, which in essence are equally arbitrary as either one tends to be made before the consideration of evidence. The issue is, are they equally useful? Certainly not!

The former forms the basis of problem-solving inquiries, dealing exclusively in the observable, conservatively conscious of their own ability to be disproved. Essentially every useful technological and medical breakthrough in history is the result of this method.
The latter, however, has an inherent problem, in that crediting unknown and unknowable values in explanations is essentially an infinite sphere of freedom. As there are no criteria for judging the merit of one non-disprovable supernatural assertion over another, all are equally valid, and equally invalid. Hence why assertions of celestial teapots, invisible pink unicorns and flying spagetti monsters are useful in demonstrating that just because an idea can be articulated, doesn't make it credible.
More importantly, the allowance of supernatural elements in explanation does not allow for any reasonable point of excess. As soon as one accepts that supernatural intervention is acceptable in the explanation of somethings origins or function, one does not need to go any further. As soon as the supernatural is invoked, explaining stops, and this in and of itself should make it abundantly clear that supernatural 'explanations' do not, in fact, explain anything. They just 'happen', apparently, through a process that we have no access to, and should stop looking for.

There is an undeniable historical trend of theistic explanations taking place only in times of ignorance, to later be found incorrect and replaced by material explanations. Nowadays, in defence of personal stakes in theistic beliefs, 'explanations' dependant on supernatural agents reappear at any point where doubt or incredulity can be inserted into existing scientific accounts. It is not only bad science, but simple intellectual dishonesty.

As for your account of the anthropic principle, its superiority over supernatural-design theories is based not only in its plain and simple logic in predicting observations (which you seem to miss, still, despite having it repeatedly spelled-out), but also in how it does not need to postulate anything that is (for lack of a better word) impossible, in order to explain our proximity to a low-probability situation.

Sat, 28 Apr 2007 23:07:00 UTC | #33256

Go to: Scientists look to disrupt the brain chemistry of violence

Tim Marsh's Avatar Jump to comment 10 by Tim Marsh

Well said, William (Comment #35594).
It astonishes me how quickly some people here are reacting in anticipation of some kind of mind-tampering Orwellian nightmare. Are we forgetting that the realistic treatments for prefrontal and amygdala abnormalities (such as corrective surgeries, serotonin, and perhaps even gene therapies for underactive endocrine glands) would not only be useful for quelling future violent incidents, but would also improve the patient's quality of life?
It is generally a safe assumption that people do not elect to do bad things, in the full and unbiased understanding that it is bad. Be it due to misinformation or impulsivity, when a person does 'wrong' they simply don't know any better, or can't help it.
If you were a person who was very easily irritated, lashed out uncontrollably, and had various lifestyle and personal problems associated with this, wouldn't you welcome medical interventions that would not only make you feel calmer and open more social avenues, but also make everyone else around you safer?

I am not suggesting that medical understandings cannot be misused to justify terrible social policies. But it is certainly an excessively conservative approach to resist medical policies, which would be beneficial to everyone involved, because of the remote possibility of the insidious support of blatant human rights violations. In the psychological community at least, people aren't nearly so zealous.

Also, Mind_Rebel, for once you and I agree. :)

Sat, 28 Apr 2007 00:45:00 UTC | #33078

Go to: 'The Day They Kicked God out of the Schools' & Rebuttal

Tim Marsh's Avatar Jump to comment 42 by Tim Marsh

It continues to astound me, how theists of various sorts (usually Christians, I suppose, but I've seen others) are so very happy to put up arguments like these, confident that the connections they're asserting are so intuitive and obvious to everyone, that they feel no need to demonstrate them. They will sit back and make implications, literally one list of things followed by another, without any claims of concrete causality, and feel that they've struck a blow for their side.
Simply astonishing...
And yet this luxury of inferring causation from uselessly broad and cryptic observations seems to only be enjoyed by those speaking on religious topics. If I were to cite previous decades worth of legalisation of abortion, outlawing of violence against children, and responsibility-oriented sex education in schools, followed immediately by "And yet now we're asking ourselves why our children have statistically higher overall IQs than they did in the 1950s", people would have a great deal of difficulty finding the connection I was implying. And so they should, there isn't one.
Is the strength of videos like "The Day They Kicked God Out Of Schools" that it simply links together things many Christians don't like, and attribute them to problems in the world? Is the causal link easy to accept for them, simply because they want it to be so?

I also couldn't get over how the video somewhat highlights its own lack of consideration of the issues, when it claims at the end that 'our children' 'have no conscience', 'don't know right from wrong', and it 'doesn't bother them to kill strangers'. The video can only be saying one of two things here.
1) This is a broad social effect, which all children brought up in this 'godless' environment are victim to, or,
2) This only selectively affects all the school-shootings kids, and the ones who will do so in the future.
Now, if the answer is 1), why aren't all of our children committing unphathomable amoral murders regularly? And if it's 2), what are the unique properties of these kids that make this 'overall influence' effect them and not others? Aren't those the variables we should be interested in, if all the other kids are harmless (dare I say, mostly good)?
In its uselessly broad crisis-mongering, the video exposes its own fundamental inadiquacy in offering any explanation for why school shootings occur.

Mon, 23 Apr 2007 21:03:00 UTC | #31845

Go to: Doctors Opposing Circumcision: An Appeal for Misha

Tim Marsh's Avatar Jump to comment 107 by Tim Marsh

Regarding the issue of the HIV/AIDS prevention studies in Africa, did anyone give the methodologies of those a good look? Did any one check what they're basing their claims on?

I looked them over, and was struck by two points of interest:

1) The trials were not standardised, nor were there infection and control groups, which I suppose would be obvious considering this is about HIV infection. It would hardly be ethical to have groups of circumcised and uncircumcised men, all uninfected, and then have them all have standardised sex with HIV-positive women, then measuring how many of them develop AIDS.
What they did do was this. They rounded up around 3000 heterosexual men without HIV, circumcised half of them, then released them out into the world again. After a few months, they brought all the men back in, and tested them for HIV. Around twice as many uncircumcised as circumcised men returned HIV-positive.
There was, however, not even any attempt on behalf of the researchers to measure the commonality of these men's experiences. How many times they had sex in the testing period? How many times it was unprotected? How many times it was with a HIV-positive partner? Nothing. They didn't even attempt to account for the period of discomfort associated with those men who were recently circumcised, in which time it would be more uncomfortable to have sex than usual.
They just sent them off, brought them back, and counted who had AIDS and what group they were in. No idea what happened in the middle, so the results definitely are not measuring exclusively (if at all) the effect of circumcision in HIV transmission.

2) The size of the actual infection groups. The methodology seems quite biased from the onset in favour of their hypothesis, when you consider that the sample group was very large, the infected percentage very small, and yet they report percentage difference between infected groups? To recap on the Kenya study-
3.4% of the uncircumcised group were infected.
1.6% of the circumcised group were infected.

Yet rather than reporting this directly, they focus on the fact that 3.4 is twice as large as 1.6. Such a small variation in such a large sample size, especially when there is absolutely no standardisation of the subjects' sexual experiences (nor the impact of circumcision on immediate sex-life), is far far more likely to be the result of sampling variability than any real group difference. I realise it's quite difficult to give a variance with standard deviation when all you're measuring is 'HIV-positive, yes or no?', but some attempt at establishing how robust the trend was should've been made.

These findings, particularly how they were reported, go beyond sloppy. They're willfully deceptive.

EDIT: Regardless, this is child abuse of the highest (or near highest) order. I can't imagine how the father can actually insist on going through with such a thing, after witnessing his own son's definite wishes not to have this done to him. :(
Enforcing your religious standards on your children passively is bad enough, particularly with such irreversable acts as circumcision and other surgeries. But to do so against your child's protests? It frightens me to think of religious motivations being so influential, in a nation with freedom of religious belief no less!
...I can't help but feel like an ass for not expressing my outrage over this actual incident in my original post...

Tue, 17 Apr 2007 18:12:00 UTC | #30177

Go to: Nisbet and Mooney in the WaPo: snake oil for the snake oil salesmen

Tim Marsh's Avatar Jump to comment 7 by Tim Marsh

MIND_REBEL: If you're not with us, then your against us. Theism had it's chance-it failed. Now it's our turn to turn the tables and fix all the problems that religion has created.
Your aggressive, absolutist, sectarian thinking is really unbecoming of someone who is supposedly a rationalist and social-progressive.
I worry that your persona here is simply a mean-spirited parody of a confrontational dogmatist, framed in the incompatible paradigm of rational atheism.
You are either a ham-fisted, satirical theist, or a comically childish atheist. Either way, grow up man.

Sat, 14 Apr 2007 22:27:00 UTC | #29470

Go to: The Coulter Hoax: How Ann Coulter Exposed the Intelligent Design Movement

Tim Marsh's Avatar Jump to comment 16 by Tim Marsh

Incredulity has always been my favorite response to the outstandingly poorly reasoned. It's a testiment to the observation that 'the reality of dogmatic thought often exceeds our capacity to parody it'.

Mon, 09 Apr 2007 21:09:00 UTC | #28383