Friday, May 29, 2020

Links 29 May 2020

Capital from the Temple of Mars Ultor, Rome

Should we throw ourselves into fighting bad ideas, or ignore them? For a while in the early 2000s scientists threw themselves into combating creationism, but it had no effect on believers, so they stopped. Since the mainstream media stopped covering creationism, support for it seems to have declined. Does it ever happen that a debate changes anyone's mind on issues that matter to people?

87-minute video of what was supposed to be a blockbuster Pompeii exhibit at the British Museum.

Journalist Gwern on the ways life has gotten better over the past 35 years.

Failure of the Edenville Dam in Michigan caught on video.

The pandemic in Florida.

The ancient art of the Bookcase Flex.

Amusing photo set of people "interacting with architecture."

NY Times story on the lawsuit that has erupted in the world of wolf-kink erotica. Is it possible for anything to be original when all the stories draw on a fund of elements from a vast world of fan fiction?

Beating the bounds.

Timeline of when ideas first appeared in science fiction. They say the robotic housemaid dates to 1899, power roller skates to 1909.

The British Museum's blog is running a series of travel guides to historical cities: Nineveh, Rome in the first century ADearly 19th-century Edo.

Opponents of the idea of big migrations in the European Bronze Age argue that there is too much cultural continuity for that to be reasonable. These archaeologists did a detailed study of burial practices and funerary artifacts in that time and found that there is a major cultural break.


David said...

On your first point, I'm not sure why one would belabor the point that a debate didn't change any of the opponents' minds. The purpose of debate isn't to change the minds of the already committed, but to "heighten the contradictions" and draw lukewarm or potential allies to one's own side. There are a number of tactical goals involved, including goading the opponent into saying or doing something stupid.

Consider that, in a putative situation where Jesuits and Calvinists debated in the square of some early modern European town, the goal wasn't for them to change each other's minds, but to win more converts to their side from among the neutrals and tighten the bonds with waverers and the half-convinced.

In other words, debate is about power, as other tactics are. In the case of creationism, debate could fire up the rational wiki types for the science cause and true believers for the creation cause. But to really increase numbers on the science side, it turned out a slow burn of satire, pop culture turning preachers into villains, pointing out the general uncoolness of the bible-thumpers, and warning parents that children educated in creation-friendly school systems would be less attractive to colleges, were more useful.

I'm not saying debate is bad. Politics is about power, not reason.

David said...

I would add that one goal of debate is for the contending sides to perform their passion and conviction, what we call today their "authenticity." People--not the opponents, but the waverers, the neutral, the fearful, and the lukewarm--find such things persuasive.

Note that authenticity in this sense is not merely a modern fetish. It's one reason Ignatius was a great leader of the Counter-Reformation, and Leo X was not. (Authenticity as true-selfhood, on the other hand, although I still think it's not just some false modern contrivance, I admit does have some modern fetish aspects.)

David said...

At the risk of hogging the thread: the more I think about it, the more it seems to me that debate--in addition to having some of the qualities I've already said--is simply a very basic, foundational form of human social interaction. Debating debate's merits may be a little like trying to question fear or love or anger on a rational basis. It's just something humans do. Indeed, there's been an argument recently that reason itself is secondary in human evolution to the impulse to debate. Debate may be one of the most effective ways we have of marshalling social power--certainly more effective than dominance by force, though perhaps less effective than habit and upbringing. But that social power may well work in ways that don't quite translate into "changing minds."

Shadow said...

The creationism debate affected scientists, if not the science. Question any part of evolution and you will quickly be turned into a creationist by scientists and their (at times mad dog) acolytes, even if you are an atheist. (See what happened to the philosopher Thomas Nagel when he published his Mind and Cosmos book. In it he questioned certain aspects of biological evolution and materialism and reductionism, and boy did he get stoned.) It's very tribal.

David said...


I don't know about Thomas Nagel or his treatment at the hands of scientists. But surely, in the whole creation-vs.-evolution debate, the pose that creation activists (not chin-stroking philosopher types like Nagel) are merely "questioning" the theory has been just that, a pose. Its purpose is to attract support by making creationists seem mild and reasonable, while goading the evolutionists into playing the role of Sheriff Clark (the spluttering jackass who answers peaceful demonstrators with fire hoses and police dogs). Well, that's debate, and in this case, score one for the creation side. Ultimately, though, the evolutionists won a major round when that judge, I believe it was in Pennsylvania, called the creationists on their rationalist pose as a mask meant to hide a specifically sectarian, Bible-based agenda. Again, that may not be Nagel, but the place of revealed, scriptural religion in society is the real stake of this debate, isn't it?

Shadow said...

Yes, it was Pennsylvania. That was a good ruling. I always wonder how a judge manages when he or she is adjudicating a case that requires a special expertise, but somehow they do manage. I thought the judge in the now quite old AT&T antitrust law suit did a great job too. He had to become an antitrust and telecom law expert.

There should be room to disagree without being called a name. The Creationists didn't won the Creation War; they lost it. But they still won, because now evolutionary scientists see Creationists behind every disagreement and under every bed. It always becomes a contest between science and Creationism, and scientists and their apostles are too quick to dismiss someone as a hidden Creationist or as a Creationist who doesn't know he's a Creationist. Let it breath guys. Have faith in yourselves.

JustPeachy said...

Wow, Slate has a big chip on its shoulder about FL and DeSantis. They could've cleared some of that up just by, you know, asking some people who live in Florida?

The state may not have issued stay-at-home orders until April 1, but our county (tourist economy) shut down March 18. There was no reason for the rural counties north of us to do likewise-- and their COVID numbers have borne that out. Yes, beaches are very healthy places for recreation. But you know what? Mainstream media outlets were still freaking the hell out about Jacksonville beach re-opening (it was the first to do so), and posting a bunch of deliberately misleading "crowd" pictures (turns out if you photograph a bunch of properly-distanced people at *just* the right angle, they look like they're all really close together... ). Meanwhile, closing the beaches was the RIGHT thing to do in places like my county, not because beaches are hazardous, but because we can't check ID and limit the beach to locals-only. Closing the beaches makes the tourists go away. In our county, the beaches on the Gulf were all closed, the announcements were plastered everywhere, we made a big rah rah about it, and that sent the spring breakers home (which kept our police from having to break up alcohol-drenched house parties with 75 coeds and drug dealers crammed into a 3-bedroom condo twerking). Meanwhile, the locals were enjoying the fresh air and sunshine... on the shores of our lovely bay. This did not make the news, oddly enough. That's the bayshore, not "the beach."

FL DoH numbers do not match CDC numbers, because FL is only publicly reporting RESIDENT numbers. Imagine what a hostile media outlet like Slate would have done, if we had to include all the tens of thousands of people getting off of cruise ships, plus all the rich jerks fleeing NY and NJ to come stay in their timeshares here, and bringing it with them! Let their own states tally them. In spite of all that, our hospitals have never once been over capacity. The woman, Rebekah Jones, who was fired and styles herself some kind of whistleblower, is nothing of the sort. She's not a scientist of any kind, and she's facing criminal charges for stalking and harassment of a former student-- after she posted "revenge porn" nude photos of him online. Think she's not the sort who'd try to smear an employer after getting fired? Slate could have found that out in two minutes if they'd bothered to use a search engine. If they were going for any kind of objectivity, I'd expect them to include DeSantis' rebuttal to her claims. If they don't believe DeSantis, perhaps they could engage in some journalism and look into it.

Miami-Dade county may be similar to Dallas in overall numbers, but it's not remotely similar in urban density. Dallas population is spread out over most of the county, with a little bit of sparseness in the southeast corner. Miami-Dade is a huge county with the entire population jammed into about a third of the land area, on the eastern edge. The rest is the Everglades: a vast, trackless swamp filled with alligators and Burmese pythons. The comparison is ignorant and misleading. Do these people even know how to use Google maps, or do they just not care?

Florida is doing better than NY, NJ, PA, and MI, because we jumped on the nursing home problem-- old folks in care homes are the most vulnerable, and FL has A LOT of them. DeSantis sent out testing and infection control teams to address the problem early, starting with facilities that had recently been cited for infection control issues. Those other states MANDATED that long-term-care facilities take on COVID patients. With some predictable and horrifying results. How are they getting a pass for that? Isn't that criminal negligence?

Shadow said...

"(turns out if you photograph a bunch of properly-distanced people at *just* the right angle, they look like they're all really close together... )."

I believe it's called foreshortening, and you can see it in any landscape painting or photo. Another way the media manipulates viewer reaction is by zooming in on a protest to make it look like there are many protesters when there aren't. Why not give us a panoramic view so we can better understand context? Both are tools for promoting narrative over facts.

David said...

Still on the debate issue: I've now read the SSC article about debating creationism, and it's worth noting that, while debating creationism had little effect on it, so has ignoring it. That is, debating them didn't actually increase or decrease their support, and ignoring them failed to do either as well.

In other words, if there's a movement one doesn't like, you can't say with much confidence, "Just ignore them and they'll go away," because that doesn't always happen. At the same time, you can't say with much confidence, "we've got to do something," because the thing you do can make the situation worse--or not change it at all.

Perhaps another way of thinking of it is, many conflicts are prolonged battles of attrition. The most important tactic is sticking with it. Everything else is detail. And in the end, you may win the point, or everyone may simply give up in exhaustion. Or it may only look that way, before the conflict comes back in a new (perhaps worse) form.

JustPeachy said...


Yes, It was not lost on us that in the national news, they used the foreshortened pictures, but in the local news, they used drone footage that panned the whole beach. And showed everyone behaving with remarkable caution and restraint, no towels on the beach, appropriate distances maintained.

Then you wonder why anybody trusts ANY national media about anything. That was a really simple story, and it would have been really easy to get it right. So was that incompetence, or lying?

Shadow said...


To believe it is incompetence is to believe they didn't know about foreshortening (compression) and how it creates the illusion of objects (people) being packed closer together than they are. Given their profession (journalist, photojournalist) I find that hard to believe. So what's left? The narrative.