August 17, 2013

What if #time were a lottery prize?

Survey after survey shows that, at least among the full-time employed, among developed nations, Americans work the most hours a week and most weeks, or weeks and fractions, per year of workers in any country.

Much of this likely stems from the old Protestant work ethic and its pop theology cousin, the success gospel, along with secularized variants. Some of it may be a population genetic bit, related to any genetics that drove the restless, the daring and others to become immigrants in America in the first place. (This of course vastly simplifies by ignoring Native Americans who were already here [although they, too, came from elsewhere], Africans brought here involuntarily as slaves, and Europeans sent here involuntarily as indentured servants.)

Anyway, the research numbers are out there. Full-time Americas work a couple hundred hours a year more than their equivalents in other developed nations.

And, we even have a saying related to this: "Time is money."

What if we were able to do a little social psychology research related to that?

What if states had a new lottery prize, per my header, of time? With adequate money to make the time enjoyable without financial stress. 

Let's put it something like this.

The winner of this prize is given either six months or one year of time off. To make sure everything's copacetic per my second statement, let's say the prize comes with money equal to either  six months or one year's income of the average of the top 1 percent, or even 1/10 of 1 percent.

In addition, combining both cash prize with time savings, and with encouragement to do something non-homebound with that free time, let's say the lottery department will auto-pay all the winner's bills over the period at hand. All utilities, auto lease or ownership payments, house payment or rent, various insurance bills., etc.

But, there's one catch.

The winner has to stop working during that six months or one year. (Since this is a thought experiment, we'll stipulate he or she automatically gets his or her old job back at the end of that time.)

Period. You cannot work during that time.

Also, volunteer work cannot be more than 20 hours a week, to make sure volunteering does not become an ersatz job. Ditto on going (back) to college.

In short, you're given the gift of (relatively) unadulterated time.

Or what seems like a gift.

Would many an American consider it a burden instead?

Let's narrow our thought experiment to Americans who are reasonably reflective and self-knowledgeable.

My off the top of my head guesstimate?

About 10 percent would be unsure about how much they like this.

About 80 percent, either in advance or just a few weeks after accepting the prize, would be horrified.

Only 10 percent would embrace it.

To riff on Marx, the American middle, or muddled, class has forged at least a few of its own chains.

I'd love to hear from friends with psychological or philosophical bent about their thoughts.

August 16, 2013

Dear Susan Combs: Stick to miscalculating budget surpluses (updated)

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, even though she's not running for another office in 2014, is again making a naked pitch to Tea Partiers.

Defenders of Wildlife and Center for Biological Diversity are suing the US Fish and Wildlife Service over its refusal to list the dunes sagebrush lizard on the Endangered Species Act, after other environmentalists and oil companies agreed to a Texas Conservation Plan to help the West Texas critter out somewhat, at least theoretically.

Here's what Defenders says about the merits of the case:
“The Fish and Wildlife Service is operating completely in the dark in Texas on this one. Denying Endangered Species Act protection for a species that is clearly imperiled based on a wink and a nod from the state is downright negligent at best, since the Service has no way of validating the quality or effectiveness of the agreements,” said Jason Rylander, senior attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. 

After the lizard spent nearly 30 years as a candidate for endangered species protection, in 2010 the Service proposed to protect the lizard as endangered. This was a promising move for lizard survival, since the species’ narrow range has gotten narrower due to increased oil and gas drilling and herbicide spraying on livestock grazing land. However, 18 months later, the Service withdrew the proposal, citing the conservation agreement with Texas as a reason.
Don't forget that former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar never met an oilman he didn't like, even while in office, before I move you on to any comments by Combs, who helped develop that TCP and who is presiding officer of the legislatively created Interagency Task Force on Economic Growth and Endangered Species.

According to an emailed presser by her:
 At the time, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar lauded the TCP, calling it “a great example of how states and landowners can take early, landscape-level action to protect wildlife habitat before a species is listed under the Endangered Species Act.”
Translated: Salazar showed oilmen how to do neoliberal environmentalism-lite.

And, from that same presser, that task force "assists local communities and governments with maintaining continued economic growth while they respond to ESA actions."

Translated, that means that task force "refuses to price the value of environmental protection, and tourism and recreation based upon protected environments, while continuing to pursue growth often unwittingly subsidized by taxpayers through things like economic development agencies.

Update, Nov. 7: Unfortunately, Combs got a federal judge to agree with her. From a PR email from her office:
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs was granted a motion to intervene in a lawsuit filed by environmental groups against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) regarding the decision not to list the dunes sagebrush lizard (DSL) as a threatened or endangered species.

The court has agreed to hear input from those who would be directly affected by this litigation, according to the Oct. 24 ruling by U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras.

“The judge’s decision ensures that stakeholders who worked on an important lizard conservation plan have a say in the proceedings,” Combs said. “The plan is part of our continuing efforts to help Texas strike an appropriate balance between environmental protection and economic growth.”

The judge ordered the parties to submit a Joint Status Report with a proposed briefing schedule to the Court no later than Nov. 22, 2013.

The lawsuit, filed by Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity, asked the court to require FWS to reconsider its June 2012 decision not to list the lizard. The plaintiffs argued the DSL was not being protected because the Combs-led Texas Conservation Plan (TCP) for the DSL was voluntary in nature, and the partners to the plan were providing too little information to FWS. According to Combs, this is simply not the case.
Well, according to We the Environmental People, this IS the case.

Defenders and CBD say the state and private landowning/oil-extracting partners aren't passing along enough information about how the TCP is actually working.

She says:
More than 110,000 of 197,000 acres of Texas DSL habitat are held by participants who are actively providing conservation measures for the species. 
But, if inadequate information is being provided, how do we know this is true? And, even if it is adequate, that's still just half its habitat.

And, in fact, the lawsuit specifically refutes such claims:
In announcing the lawsuit, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity criticized the Texas conservation agreement, saying it only vaguely described the actions required and leaving specific  conservation measures to be spelled out in certificates between each participant and the state of Texas. They criticized the fact that those certificates are guarded from public access by state law, leaving “no way for Fish and Wildlife, or scientists and other experts, to determine whether such measures are adequate to prevent the lizard’s extinction. The lack of knowledge and transparency in this case not only further threatens the survival of dunes sagebrush lizard, but also sets a dangerous precedent for other species waiting in line for protection.”

Compounding the problem, the two groups said, Texas has delegated authority to implement the agreement to a private entity, the “Texas Habitat Conservation Foundation,” which is run by three lobbyists from the Texas Oil and Gas Association.
Thanks, Kenny Boy Salazar, as well as Susan  Combs.

Oh, and why did you wait two months to speak up?

Finally, per who's filing the suit, this is why we need organizations beyond the realm of Gang Green environmentalists, since they got punked by Susan and Kenny Boy.

#Cardinals call up Wong; what's this mean for Freese?

In what seems to me to be a bit of a surprise move, the St. Louis Cardinals have called up from Memphis second baseman Kolten Wong, touted as the the team's No. 2 prospect after Oscar Taveras.

Regular Cards fans know the longer-term dominoes that Wong's call-up (assuming he makes the grade) entails, or seems to entail.

Matt Carpenter moves to third base, his more natural position, and David Freese gets traded, whether the Cards first sign him to another one-year arbitration deal, a longer-term deal, or not at all.

The bright side is that, with Freese's decline this year, this is a good move for this year.

The bad side is that Freese's continued decline made John Mozeliak decide to do this now instead of waiting for the expansion of rosters in September. That means it's going to be tougher to trade Freese in the offseason if he rides pine a lot.

Of course, Mo could run him through waivers. There's contender teams that could use a 3B of Freese's current level, let alone his potential based on the past two years. Red Sox immediately come to mind.

As for Wong? I've already blogged earlier this year about the Cardinals' baserunning problems. Those start with lack of stolen bases, which Wong will immediately address, but also include hitting into double plays, bad decisions on trying to stretch hits, or stretch advances for runners already on base, and more. Wong should give at least some help overall.

And, if Mo is this aggressive, what about manager Mike Matheny? Does this mean even more time for Matt Adams at first, with Allen Craig going to the OF and either Jon Jay or Matt Holliday taking more days off if slumping, or Carlos Beltran when in need of rest? Stay tuned.

That said, if Jay sits more, that's expecting either Craig or Beltran to play CF. Beltran's the better defensive choice, but that will tax him more.

On the not-so-good side, Taveras is down for the year, finally facing surgery on his troubled ankle. But, this will hopefully fix that high ankle sprain and have him ready for spring 2014.

Finally, on the Cards' infield, will Ryan Jackson get a pre-September 1 call-up? Will he challenge Pete Kozma for playing time?

Frankly, Jackson would be no better, folks. There's a reason he's still languishing in Memphis. Same age as Kozma, same lack of power, same so-so OBP and speed.

Calling up Wong will help. But, the only SS help the Cards are going to get this year is if they get one in return on a Freese waiver-wire trade. That's true for next year, too, unless they decide to re-sign Rafael Furcal and he has something in the tank. That said, Furcal only hit the 150-game mark once in the last six years.

And, all of this ties in with a post I did recently, taking an initial overview of what the Cardinals should do in this year's offseason.

August 15, 2013

Did Elizabeth Loftus watch Clockwork Orange too much?

Elizabeth Loftus/Photo via Nature
Note: With the appearance of a second new article about Loftus, and other matters, this article has been extensively overhauled.

Nature, the British science giant, has a good profile on the good, and not-so-good, of Elizabeth Loftus.

I won't bother going into the good so much. But, I certainly don't dismiss it. We've seen a lot of follow-up on the fallibility of eyewitness memory. We have seen how false memories can be implanted. And we've seen how that can be tied to weird movements like claims of ritual satanic abuse, an explosion in multiple personality diagnoses and more.

The story's good in that it shows Loftus isn't always right, either. And she's not. And, in fact, Pat Fitzgerald eviscerated her in the Scooter Libby trial. She has shed light on the fallibility of memory, but she's overstated things, too.

Part of the problem is that she seems to overstate her claims, in essence, believing that however memories become "repressed," even if another word gets used, they aren't "recovered." Per the Nature piece:
Ross Cheit, a political scientist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, started the Recovered Memory Project in 1995 to document and respond to what he says has been a one-sided debate. There are now more than 100 corroborated cases of recovered memory on his website (http://blogs.brown.edu/recoveredmemory), he says, including some on which Loftus had consulted.

“Loftus is often on the losing side, and she's sometimes wrong in a spectacular way,” Cheit says. Her testimonies, he adds, can be psychologically damaging for the victims. “If you're telling someone you think their memories are false, when they have corroborating evidence that they were abused, that's corrosive.”
That said, part of the problem is linguistic: Just what does "repressed" mean in terms of memory. If I don't think about a traumatic memory for years, why? Isn't it at least possible, Ms. Loftus, that some "subpersonality," even if not a conscious decision, undertook a subconscious decision to bury that memory deeper?
Loftus does not believe that Cheit's site corroborates recovered memories. “He might have some cases of people who didn't think about their abuse for some time and were reminded of it, but as for actual repression, no,” she says. “I cringe at the idea of hurting genuine victims, but when an innocent person is accused, we have a whole new set of victims, and I'm more horrified by an innocent person getting convicted than by a guilty person being acquitted.”
To be honest, I'm not sure how much she "cringes." In the courtroom, while making some notable contributions, she's also just pushed the ball a bit, just to further her ideas, whether or not they're on a totally realistic foundation or not.

And, she makes good money for doing what she does.

Considering that she's been an expert witness in more than 100 cases now, according to the Nature piece's author, it has to be "something" indeed. At $1,000 a pop (and, no that's not an outrageous estimate), that's $100,000. Indeed, there is this:
She is often compensated for her expert-witness work, earning up to US$500 per hour, she says.
That would be $1,000 after two hours, and that's assuming her "billable hours" are only her actual court time. I'm probably underestimating by a factor of three, so, to be liberal, she might have made $300,000 off being an expert witness. That's not counting non-witness legal consulting. That's not counting speaking at conferences.

On the high side, Loftus may have made as much as $500,000 as "the go-to person" for debunking, or "debunking," repressed memory, or "repressed memory." Now, I'll freely admit that's on the high side. But, it's not out of the real of possibility entirely.

Now, I'm not saying that's her primary motivation, but a motivation? Sure.

Loftus hadn't always seemed so "ardent" on this issue, or quite so black and white, at least before she wrote "The Myth of Repressed Memory," with the title signifying her stance.

So, why? Well, as I've wondered, and others wonder too, coming back to that Scooter Libby trial, maybe it's in part "follow the money." And, Nature notes that she's not been shy about this.

Maybe it's also, in part, "follow the glory." Or, "follow the (alleged) martyrdom." All valid rhetorical thoughts.

That's why I wonder how much she "cringes." Stephen Ceci, a co-author with her of one report, says:
There are ways in which traumatic memories of real events can be recalled after being buried for years, he adds, but without hard evidence, it is impossible to distinguish false memories from real ones in court.
So, again, it's a gray area that she treats as black-and-white. And, if she really did cringe that much, wouldn't she, at one of her conferences, tell what she knows, or believes she has discovered, about how to tell when memories are real before cases go to court?

Let's pick up the trail of Ceci, from a new Guardian piece that a friend on Facebook shared:
"Think of some embarrassing event when you were a teenager," he says. "You're not going to dwell on it, but you can recollect it if someone reminds you. Likewise, people can have horrible experiences and not think about them for decades, but are capable of retrieving them when questioned." Another is a rare and poorly understood psychological condition called dissociative amnesia.

It is therefore perfectly plausible that memories of childhood sexual abuse could be buried for years and then recalled, and that motivated forgetting, dissociative amnesia, or some other mechanism could account for some of the allegations in cases that Loftus has testified in. But because of the way in which the entire debate has been framed around the issue of "repression" and "recovery," these nuances have been largely ignored.
Loftus is quoted there as agreeing that this issue is "a little slippery." However, she goes on, as elsewhere, to indicate that the burden should only fall on the other side, and not at all o hers, in the "slippery" gray area at center. And she's not alone. See below.

And, she's hardened her position with the passage of years. In 1997, per this Scientific American article, while she came down hard on therapists "leading on" clients, she even then didn't 100 percent reject the idea out of hand, and she addressed the same issue Ceci does. I note:
(A)lthough experimental work on the creation of false memories may raise doubt about the validity of long-buried memories, such as repeated trauma, it in no way disproves them. Without corroboration, there is little that can be done to help even the most experienced evaluator to differentiate true memories from ones that were suggestively planted.
That said, she was a fair ways down the road then. After all, she had written "The Myth of Repressed Memory" before this. Some time between then and Scooter Libby trial, her position finished hardening. And, her paychecks got bigger.

(I add here that some of her expert witness tesetimony, and talks at both legal and psychological conferences, is about memory accuracy issues unrelated to recovered memories.)

She certainly doesn't seem like a "humanist hero," even if some skeptics want to make her one.

Fortunately, not all skeptics have bought the push to put her on an unskeptical pedestal. Skeptical friend David Gluck has a good piece here at Skeptic Friends Network. Also approaching the issue in part from a linguistic and semantic angle, he notes that "recovered" memories aren't necessarily "repressed," and by Loftus' somewhat circular reasoning, obviously can't be "repressed."

He sums up:
We were right to blow the whistle loudly when recovered memory therapy was doing its damage. We are still right in asking where memories of alien abduction and satanic abuse or memories recovered in some New Age quack therapy are coming from. We must be reasonably cautious when regarding memories recovered in or out of therapy sessions. But we may have lost our way when we assert that every claim to a recovered memory is necessarily false because some claims to a recovered memory are obviously false. We may be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
Indeed.

And all of this gets at another issue with Loftus. Her thinking about consciousness is kind of black-and-white, as I noted above.. She seems to have little room for a "multiple drafts" theory of consciousness proposed by a Dan Dennett, or anything even close to it.

If anything, Loftus' theories of consciousness, or her theories of what types of ideas about consciousness she thinks she needs to fight, look awfully Freudian. Well, Freud died 70 years ago, and Freudianism's been dead 50. Sorry. Time to move on.

When I first wrote this blog post, I wasn't  quite ready to say that she was strawmanning on some of her ideas, but, now I am. I'm also realizing, that, per a FB discussion, she's got plenty of pedestal-builders who are ardent supporters.

That includes assuming that only psychological research, and not readings in (non-pop) neuroscience, cognitive science, or philosophy of mind, even, are "original." Or implying, as I have inferred, that challenging her research on this issue (let along wanting to "toss out" some of it, is the same as wanting to do that to all research on malleability of memory issues done just by psychologists.

But, let me get back to the strawmanning issue.

As I read more of the Scientific American piece ... and her objections to people like Cheit, I think it's more than just semantics over the words "repressed" or "repression."

Rather, I think it's goalpost-shifting, strawmanning, or opening the old Overton Window, whichever you prefer. (That's in addition to her overly black-and-white stance on this issue.)

Having just read his article essentially denying the existence of "scientism," I'm suddenly, and strongly, reminded, of Steve Pinker.

Indeed, Ms. A., I've read original research on issues of memory by psychologists, notably Daniel Wegner, if we are going to trot out who's read what. And, from what I've read of Loftus' own writing, and about her, I'm not aware that she's tried to tie her research to issues of consciousness, free will or lack thereof, and related issues. Wegner, on the other hand, from his point of view, combining psychology and philosophy, without going specifically into issues of false memories or recovered memories, has addressed how his ideas on consciousness and lack of conscious free will relate to memory.

Also (and not to puff neuroscience too much) she's not a neuroscientist, nor is she a philosopher of mind, so she's not researching issues in theory of mind that would have bearing on issues like this.

So, just how strong a scientist is she?

All this is more reason yet to be skeptical of some of her stronger claims in this area. As is new research on "false" memories, showing that some are not "de novo false," but rather, a conflation of two true memories into one new one.

Indeed, as Pat Fitzgerald showed in grilling her as a potential expert witness during the Scooter Libby trial, she's not even that much of a scientist in general.
But when Fitzgerald got his chance to cross-examine Loftus about her findings, he had her stuttering to explain her own writings and backpedaling from her earlier assertions. Citing several of her publications, footnotes and the work of her peers, Fitzgerald got Loftus to acknowledge that the methodology she had used at times in her long academic career was not that scientific, that her conclusions about memory were conflicting, and that she had exaggerated a figure and a statement from her survey of D.C. jurors that favored the defense. 
I think the "exaggerated" is key. I think she's exaggerated other aspects of her work. And I think that, not political disagreements, is why she resigned from the American Psychological Association. And, in fact, under APA bylaws, she should not have been allowed to resign. Its bylaws specify that you can't do that while you're the subject of a formal complaint.

The new Scientific American piece has her saying that she didn't know of the complaints when she resigned. To put it charitably, I don't believe her.

And, that leads to a discussion of ...

Loftus' ethical problems

And, beyond that, skeptics should be very worried about this (as should civil libertarians and others). From the Nature piece:
Meanwhile, her research has shifted into new controversial waters. Taking on board the lesson that memories can be manufactured, she has been investigating the possibility of using those memories to modify behaviour. “We've shown that you can plant a memory of getting sick eating particular foods as a child,” she says, “and we can get people thinking they got sick drinking vodka, so they don't want to drink as much of it later on.”

There is no evidence that any of this will successfully transfer from the lab to the real world. Even if it does, it would violate therapists' code of conduct, and could have unforeseen consequences.

“Lying to children is a slippery slope that makes me uncomfortable,” says Judy Illes, a neuroethicist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. “Can't we alter their behaviour in a positive way, instead of using subterfuge?” But Loftus dismisses the concerns, suggesting that even if therapists cannot do it, parents might want to. “Parents lie to their kids all the time, about Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. Would you rather have an unhealthy kid, or one with a few false memories?”
Well, skeptics, and especially atheists, whether self-identified as skeptics or not, would jump all over those last two sentences and rightfully so.

Beyond that, within parenting, this brings up issues of trust, breaking of trust, and possible trauma from that. Besides, re beliefs in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, or a god, for that matter, who defines what beliefs are healthy or not?

And, when parents get divorced and they have different ideas on child raising, this could be a nightmare. Think Michael Newdow and his daughter and the Pledge of Allegiance lawsuit.

What next? Loftus telling parents to read "Clockwork Orange"? I'm not saying that she's advocating parents use the Ludovico technique to implant false memories or otherwise modify memory, but she's not telling people, in papers linked off the Nature story, what techniques they should and shouldn't use.

I also find it weird that, given her crusade against therapists and counselors for often leading clients into exaggerating memories or worse, Loftus would still tout memory modification.

Also, Ms. A., per discussion on Facebook, I find it "interesting" that you never engaged the part of the Nature piece in my last pull quote, other than to call it "one comment."

That's "too bad," at least. Because, in a second Skeptic Friends Network piece, Loftus has other ethical problems.
Attempts have been made to show personality types that might lend themselves to false memory syndrome. Loftus thinks these women are “weak.”
That's an emotional term, not a psychologically scientific one like "pliable."

But, it's actually worse. The "weak" comes from this passage in a study paper of hers:
“Today, the accused are often men of power and success… The witch accusations… were most often leveled by men, but today the accusations are predominantly leveled by women. Today’s phenomenon is more than anything a movement of the weak against the strong.”
Well, now, we've gone from psychology to sociological presumptions.

Meanwhile, the use of the phrase "false memory" rather than "repressed memory," like Loftus' own use of the word "weak," could itself be seen as prejudicial and biased.

And per comment above about "who she reminded me of," beyond Pinker? Things like this sound Randian. And, noooo, that's not a reference to James Randi.

Psychologist Kenneth Pope, in a piece linked at the first SFN site, adds to these "presumptions" by Loftus:
Making clear her reference by quoting from Hoffer's (1951/1989) The True Believer, Loftus claims that there are two sides to the recovered memory controversy and those on the other side (i.e., those who disagree with her) are True Believers. Noting that she identifies herself as a skeptic, Loftus writes: "On one side are the 'True Believers,'. . . . On the other side are the 'Skeptics,'. . ." (Loftus & Ketcham, 1994, p. 31).  
Wow. Pope himself has no problem labeling this as an "ad hominem."

If a Gnu Atheist pulled one like that, the likes of a Barbara Drescher would surely be all over him or her. The idea that Loftus wouldn't entertain that people can recover some memories makes me think she's moved beyond "skepticism" on this one.

The above are larger ethical issues, ones in which any intelligent layperson, not a professional scientist, if given a blinded "Name X" and a description of actions, would likely raise some eyebrows.

That leads to the question of:

Does Loftus also have scientific ethics issues?

Meanwhile, Pope speculates various ways in which people can detach from memories, for want of a better word:
As noted earlier, such reported memories may be conceptualized as the result of repression, dissociation, implanting, motivated forgetting, directed forgetting, amnesia, betrayal trauma, retroactive inhibition, suggestibility, self-induced hypnotic trance states, personality disorder, thought suppression, retrieval inhibition, cognitive gating, biological protective processes, a clinical syndrome, and so on. 
That's not to say he claims he knows these mechanisms; note the use of the word "may." It is to say that he, like many others, sees the memory issue, and not just "repressed" memories, but memory formation, conflation and loss in general, as much more nuanced than Loftus does.

There's also this, which combines ethical issues with self-contradiction ones:
Loftus says, in The Myth of Repressed Memory (P. 141) “We are questioning the memories commonly referred to as ‘repressed’…” On the same page she makes clear which kind of memories “repressed” ones are. “Because the controversy over repression has become so heated and contentious, clinicians and child protection advocates often use synonyms such as ‘lost,’ ‘buried,’ or ‘dissociated’ to describe repressed memories.” OK, well let’s just take “repressed,” for now. In a study on “Remembering and Repressing” conducted at Lincoln Medical Health Center Substance Abuse Division, Loftus and colleagues, surveyed 105 women for sexual abuse. (It’s interesting that Loftus, an expert in memory, would purposefully chose a sample that might have memory problems due to substance abuse. But that aside…) Loftus and her colleagues found that 57 indicated some form of childhood sexual abuse. When surveying these women for “persistence of memory” 52 women participated in the survey. Of the 52 women that they surveyed they found that 12% claimed to remember parts of the childhood sexual abuse, but not all. And 19% claimed that they forgot the abuse for a time and then later recalled it. Loftus’ study seems to show 31% of the women that she surveyed had partially or totally forgotten their abuse and recalled memories (although, somewhat deteriorated) later (Loftus, Polonsky, Fullilove, 1994)
Ahh, David's too polite to call this cherry-picking, but it is.

Also per the second SFN piece, there's this:
Jennifer Freyd is the author of Betrayal Abuse. She graduated from high school in three years, graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania, got her doctorate at Stanford and was a research psychologist and tenured professor at University of Oregon when she was interviewed by The Oregonian regarding her accusations of childhood sexual abuse by her father. She said she always remembered things her father had done, “continual sexual talk, sitting in a robe so his genitals showed.” After a therapy session she remembered abuse. Jennifer Freyd does not believe her therapist planted her memories. “I’d try to retrieve more memories and asked her to help me. And we never got anywhere. I asked her to hypnotize me — and I couldn’t get hypnotized.” (Mitchell, 1993)

Jennifer Freyd confronted her parents. She did not attempt to sue or press charges. Fourteen months later, Peter and Pamela Freyd formed the False Memory Syndrome Foundation.
If Loftus really were a skeptic, she'd recognize the Freyd parents had "good" reason to create the foundation. So would other psychologists who call themselves skeptics. Indeed, their daughter says that when they went to the press with their side of the story (even though she had taken no civil or criminal action), her parents distorted a lot of stuff.

"Goes to motive, your honor," as to why the Freyds formed the group.

For more questions about her professional / research ethics, here's a decent starting point, though the web publisher appears to have some axes to grind. That's why I said "decent" and not "great." The key takeaways are that some Loftus research has itself uncovered forgotten memories; she fails to allow for dissociation; and, related to that, the biggie, that the "implanted" memory of being lost in a mall can in now way duplicate the trauma of rape or child abuse survivors.

From ethics and research quality issues, we go to another one.

What can we logically deduce from Loftus' findings?

Next, let's ask ... "Just what has Loftus actually 'proved,' or 'disproved'?"

Not a lot, necessarily, according to critics.

Just because the likes of Loftus have done studies about the implantation of false memories, that doesn't itself mean that true memories can't be "lost," "repressed," or whatever language one prefers. That's a logical non sequitur.

Also, Loftus has not at all proven that "lost" memories can never be recovered. She's not explicitly stated that that is exactly her current stance, but it seems close to that. And, it also seems the stance of her most ardent supporters, and the "movement" in general. Such folks seems to (conveniently?) overlook that issues of proof cut both ways in a field like this with a lot of gray area.

But, per the Nature story, admitting to shades of gray in this field would undercut her expert witness, consulting, and speaking fees.

Ms. A. accuses me of conflating stuff in discussion about this. The SFN posts aren't mine, first of all. That said, the intertwining of Loftus' own beliefs (yes, beliefs, not research, by this point) with the work of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation seems clear enough.

And, as for conflation? You... uh, "misled" when you accused me of conflating Loftus and her work with the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. In the past, at least, she was on the Scientific and Professional Advisory Board of the foundation. Oh, and I'm at the point now that I believe you knew that when you made your statement.

Meanwhile, consulting for a group like this run by someone without professional psychological training? Whoa.

Yes, I know that it has other psychologists on its advisory board, like Ulric Neisser. However, they're not the ones speaking at conferences, serving as legal consultants and expert witnesses, etc.

Hey, you don't like it? Blame Loftus or the foundation. It appears you recognize the problems the foundation has, Ms. A., and are trying to distance Loftus from it. Won't work.

I'll admit that I've not read a lot of Loftus, but I'd read a decent amount of her, as well as about her. That said, I've read enough more in the last day to make me even more skeptical than before.

And, to be honest, I've read enough that I wouldn't trust her.

Ms. A. invited a friend to comment, too.

That other person, while a Facebook friend of mine, isn't perfect. I'll stipulate that in one discussion, she misstated what a p-value is, when we were discussing p-value issues in "social" vs. "hard" sciences.

Speaking of all of that, I also note that Loftus has appeared in the past at The Amazing Meeting, a top skeptical convention hosted by the James Randi Educational Foundation. Dots get connected.

That's OK. I've said what I wanted to, and needed to. If neither of you wants to be more skeptical of someone like this, duly noted. We'll see how nuanced some of the ongoing responses are. While not totally holding my breath, for a variety of reasons. I think I'm already being told, indirectly, that faults in not creating "clear communication" is all on the end of Gluck and me.

The defense of Loftus can be ardent, especially when professionals feel their particular approach to memory issues, or their connections within a community, are under purview. Tribalism happens even among social sciences who know what the phenomenon is, after all. (Both people mentioned above have been to at least one psychology conference where Loftus was a presenter.)

And, as I get involved with more discussion on this issue, it appears that, among a certain number of Professional Skeptics(TM) or wannabes that, despite Gluck's warning, that ardent defense, even pedestal-raising, is so ingrained that ... it can't even be rationally discussed.

That's why, in the most recent times I've dropped in a blog post my statement that "Atheism is no guarantor of morality, or of common sense," I've added "skepticism" in there too.

And, Professional Skeptics(TM) have a definite history on this. James Randi overstating what he accomplished when he and Carlos first became an act. Randi quite likely not being fully honest about what he knew about "Carlos's" identity theft and when. Paul Kurtz and others refusing to face reality on Al Seckel for a decade or more. Michael Shermer, Penn & Teller, Brian Dunning and others willfully conflating libertarianism and skepticism, and having many followers sign off on this. And, on this issue, Drescher, Ahironen and others representing what's surely just the tip of an iceberg.

Should we "follow the money" again?

Loftus is certainly in line to pick up even more legal consulting feeds, as well as expert witness fees, should all the further changes she wants to see in courtroom practice go into place. (I'm not saying these ideas are wrong, but that, presenting herself as the "go-to person," she stands to benefit financially. As well as on the walk of fame.)

There's also money to be made on her idea of getting parents to deliberately play around with their kids' memories.

"Child raising and discipline, scientifically proven by the World's No. 1 expert on memory!""

How would that sound in introducing her to a talk radio program or a TV gab show?

Or as a blurb on a new book? Or at a conference where she promised to teach people inside secret skills of memory manipulation?

Now, I'm not saying she would do any of that. I am, though, saying, she easily could.

And, not just to parents and other private individuals. Combine her ideas with the likes of a Cass Sunstein's "Push" ideas, and yikes.

Why is this important?

First, per Ceci's talk about motivated forgetting, we do have particular, if still primarily anecdotal, evidence, about a clear possible mechanism.

It wouldn't fall under "motivated forgetting" in a narrow sense, perhaps, but there's solid anecdotal evidence that drug or alcohol abuse is a tool in "dissociating" from strongly painful memories, and later ending of it can be a tool in regaining them. I'm not sure how much Loftus, or other deniers of recovered memories have looked at that one at all. Sociological surveys, after all, point out the much higher than average rate of substance abuse by "survivors."

Her defenders will dismiss this as anecdotal, but I know people who have recovered memories — traumatic memories — from well in their pasts, without therapeutic intervention that would be considered manipulative by any reasonable person. In fact, in some cases, it was without any initial therapeutic or counseling intervention at all.

And, one of those people was me.

I'm not providing details, but one of those people was me. That's why it's important, to me, as well as for issues of skepticism and ethics.

And, given the fact that Loftus' ardent defenders, not just the two above, but others, don't seem to want to engage the middle ground, there's reason I'm not providing details.

I don't trust them. And, yes, if they see this, that too is their problem, not mine.

What is it with Travis County prosecutors?

Has Rosemary Lehmberg, through some sort of history of drinking that led up to her DWI arrest, set a bad attitude? Assistant prosecutor Brandon Grunewald's facing the same problem; no report yet on just how drunk he may have been, per BAC.

And, we now have "complications." Two people hurt in the Grunewald crash, one of them talking to lawyers. Brandon, you may become "chum" for Rosemary to feed to the sharks instead of himself.

Were Tricky Ricky Perry and his take no prisoners, make no agreements stance not in place, Lehmberg would be outta there already. And, probably, Grunewald would be joining her.

That said, per KXAN's reporting, Lehmberg herself appears to need a PR person. One who would have told her not to say this:
"It's a first offense DWI and I don't know what will happen until I have all the facts," explained Lehmberg. "I have never terminated an employee for a first offense DWI and we have had employees with first offense DWI up and down the ranks."
Yikes. "Up and down the ranks?"

What's needed? In all cases like this, only allowing the governor to appoint a replacement until the next available election date, not for the remainder of the term, perhaps.

For instance, if Tricky Ricky only had the power to replace her until January, 2014, with the replacement to fill out her term being selected in a special election in November along with constitutional amendment voting, there we would go.

Kuff has the latest news: A special prosecutor is investigating whether Perry's threat to veto Public Integrity Unit funding if Lehmberg wouldn't resign amounts to coercion, legally defined.

Perry was the one who started playing politics with this, not local or state democrats. So, unless he would agree to a state law to depoliticize such situations with this position, there's nothing else to do but back a flawed DA, even if flawed staff are riding on her coattails.

That also said, some Austin Democratic attorney had sure as hell better "primary" Lehmberg next election.

And, given that Grunewald's been with the Travis DA's office about 5 years, or when Lehmberg started as DA, and given just how drunk she was at the time of her arrest, yeah, it's fair to ask about cultural attitudes in that office.


August 14, 2013

#ESPN #HOF sucks: Carlos Beltran and #stlcards

Regular readers of sports-related posts at this blog know that I regularly bust ESPN writers in the chops for promoting candidates for the Baseball Hall of Fame that aren't even borderline but are, at best, borderline for being borderline.

David Schoenfield is possibly the worst offender, though he has competition from almost every ESPN/Grantland baseball writer not named Jonah Keri.

And, I don't spare ESPN's hacks even when they tout Cardinals. That's good, because Schoenfeld's latest hackery is Redbird outfielder Carlos Beltran, although his case is actually better than most of Schoenfeld's stupidity.

First, Schoenfeld pulls the old special pleading/sleight-of-hand trick: If we let one borderline player in, then why not another? Schoenfeld here pulls out Andre Dawson who (sorry, Flubs fans) was also a borderline case, though I lean yes.

My basic HOF criteria? I use a mix of modernized traditional stats, first- and second-generation sabermetrics, and old counting stats.

For batters, one baseline is a 110 OPS+ for career. At 123, Beltran qualifies.

But, that alone doesn't guarantee admission.

Next, I go to WAR. Then WAA. I prefer 60 WAR and 35 WAA. Beltran is on the borderline of the first and past the second.

Beltran is still short in the counting stats.

Less than 2,200 hits is probably the biggest weakness in his claim. So is less than, say, 1,400 RBIs.

That's primarily due to nagging injuries throughout his career.

That said, this is where Schoenfeld becomes more of a hack, namely in how he talks about Beltran reaching Dawson in counting stats.

I doubt it.

Also, except for tying for the league lead in games played one year, he has ZERO "black ink." He doesn't have a lot of gray ink.

In other words, stats kind of confirm an eyeball test. Beltran didn't often look like a HOFer. Dawson, even with bad sabermetrics, did at times. And, stats confirm that. More notable black ink and double Beltran's gray ink.

Update, Aug. 14, 2013: Jerry Crasnick has joined his ESPN colleague in the Beltran fluffery.

He focuses on a narrow stat like Win Shares to boost Beltran's case, among other things.

He then pulls the Schoenfield angle:
Wright contends that Beltran is already qualified for Cooperstown as a C-plus or B-minus caliber Hall of Famer -- which would put him in a group with the likes of Joe Medwick and Larry Doby and ahead of Dawson and Lou Brock, among others. With three more productive seasons, Beltran has a chance to surpass 380 career win shares. In the past 30 years, every player to appear on the Hall ballot with 380 win shares has been a first-ballot inductee, with the exception of Tim Raines.
Nope. Poor people already in there is no excuse to put more in.

Then he goes for the trifecta, with this: Did you know Beltran has played in more than 150 games in seven seasons in his career? Out of only 16 total? Wow! Crasnick's down to the real short hairs now, if that's part of his HOF case.

Sorry, we're now at Pick 4. He says Beltran's in the same class as Larry Walker.

Wrong. Not yet.

Now, if Beltran can turn in one more season where he's as healthy as he's been the last two, and with 85-90 percent the productivity of this year, and a second season where he's 85-90 percent as productive as that, we've got a different story.

We'll also have a different story if the ESPN HOF fluffers stop doing so much special pleading.

Good fucking doorknob, you people make me want to barf.

But, given what everyone knows about his past medical history, that's not guaranteed.

That said, this all assumes that Walker's a HOFer, to which I've said no before.

SF Chronicle reverses on paywall because of #Demand

Why?

The short answer is that, worse than editorial shortfalls, it's got massive management incompetence.

Yes, on occasion, newspapers have abandoned paywalls after raising them. Who can forget the unlamented Times Select at the New York Times, after all?

But, in the "Great Paywall Rush" of the last 18 months or so, where more than one-third of US papers have now paywalled at least some content, including all Gannett items other than USA Today, and the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle is the first paper, to my knowledge, to abandon one.

The wall had only been up four months, which isn't enough time to test its effectiveness in terms of revenue, guaranteed non-skimming eyeballs for advertisers, etc.

So, why?

My header's a pun.

Demand Media, sadly known for low-pay "crank it out" filler items, apparently wanted it down.

The Chronicle's parent, Hearst, this spring tapped two top Demand execs to:
(D)igitally turbocharge and jumpstart its flagship but long-suffering newspaper.
A friend of mine speculates that's connected to this announcement.

KQED confirms that the pair of them made the decision. It adds this tidbit:
The Chronicle's former president, Mark Adkins, announced the paywall four months ago, calling the move "one more step in this Chronicle's journey through the digital age." Since then Adkins was transferred to Beaumont, Texas.
Boy, if that's not a fucking exile? But (see below), it's pretty deserved.

On the other hand, Demand hired the two just a month after putting up the paywall. And, the Chronicle's well-documented problems are on the editorial side, as the second link documents.

So, I'd say we can add management problems to editorial coverage problems. If it's true that the Chron is no longer in the US top 25 by circulation, the paywall didn't cause this. It's not a fix, but it's not the problem.

Of course, Gnu Media apple-polisher Matthew Ingram thinks this is good news.

Meanwhile, per Poynter, when your own staffers undercut the paywall, you've got problems beyond the coverage problem. Were I running the Chron, the next time I needed to swing the layoff axe, I know who'd get cut first. Editorial staff who deliberately undercut the paywall, even if it's kind of complicated.

That said, complicated it is! Running two different websites? Whoever convinced Atkins to start such a stupid idea is the one who should have been reassigned to Beaumont first. Though he still should have followed, for signing off on it. (More about how complicated it is here.)

And, you're right next to Silicon Valley, etc., and you come up with such craptacular ideas? You're lucky that your only daily competition is the wingnut Examiner Anschutz puts out.

This all said, much as I continue to find ways, more cumbersome all the time, to work around it, the Times' new paywall was done well. Start with 20 freebies on the meter, then, after you've gotten people hooked to a fair amount of free stuff, cut back to 10. Then, cut off freebie reading on Facebook links and defeat NoScript workarounds.

But, this move does not mean that paywalls in general are going to face new scrutiny.

Unfortunately, from what I've seen, a lot of media-related blogs are following Ingram's inane analysis as their lede.

===

Meanwhile, in journalism news of the weird, GateHouse is going to start a big design center in Austin.

Why?

It has no Texas papers, therefore increasing the possibility of errors made by out-of-state copy editors. While some jobs will be new rather than transfers, it will have a net loss, company -wide, I'm sure. And that idea of selling your design services? Probably won't fly; smaller folks will undercut you and  lot of bigger folks will likely continue to do it in-house.

Meanwhile, rather that do a design hub at one of its newspapers, it will probably pee away money on Austin rent costs, too.

August 13, 2013

Should Wilbur go to waste?

Horse slaughterhouses, and discussion thereof, raise firestorms both emotional and ethical. As does the issue of wild horse management that lies behind this, to some degree.

Texas had two slaughterhouses until 2007; interestingly, a survey by an animal rights group says that, in 2003, 89 percent of Texans were unaware of them.

Slaughterhouses in New Mexico and Iowa, planned for opening, are now on hold after court injunctions.

As I said, there's an issue behind this: Wild horses of the West.

Yes, ranchers don't want them on Bureau of Land Management land in the West, that's one sub-issue. But, since those ranchers also want cougars killed, and have done so, and there's no wolves on those lands, and coyotes can't take down wild horses, if we pulled cows off all that land and turned it over to the horses, this wouldn't be like 15,000 years ago. Eventually, those horses would be rib-showing specimens similar to those we've had at ever more upper-middle-class faux ranches in the last few years.

(And, speaking of that past, the Navajo Nation is in favor of horse slaughter, FYI.)

Yes, wild horses can be sterilized, but that takes a lot of work, and even more if you removed all those cows from the land and let the horse population mushroom.

As for the injunctions against the would-be slaughterhouses? Hey, I'm an environmentalist, but I agree with the companies that using the National Environmental Policy Act to hold horse slaughter to some special standard beyond cow, chicken or pork slaughter is silly. At the same time, having the USDA inspect for the presence of drugs like bute IS legitimate.

As for issues with people eating horses? What makes a horse special? Ahh, some will say: It's smarter than a cow.

Yeah? So is a pig, so if you're eating bacon yourself but fighting the right of others to eat horsemeat, you're a bit of a hypocrite.

You only really have "standing" to talk if you're a vegetarian.

And, if you're in love with "the romanticized West," well, that was a myth all along. And, before 300 years ago, the reality was horseless for 10,000 years.

I'm not saying I "favor" horsemeat for dinner, or horse slaughter. I do favor rational, mythos-free discussion of the issue.

August 12, 2013

#PZMyers, unintentional master of irony, still mismasters religion

Irony usually becomes ironic in part because the person writing doesn't recognize the humor value. Hence, I introduce one Paul Zachary Myers,  warning about the dangers of non-egalitarian church-like organizations within movement atheism.

The irony, of course, is that PZ's Pharyngulacs are a cult just this side of, oh, ... Scientology?

Or, to go to the secular, and non-liberal world, as Rush Limbaugh and his dittoheads?

So, to hear him warning about cult followings (and it's really "movement skepticism," not "movement atheism," that he's throwing hand grenades at along with warnings, in the second half of this blog post) is funny on the one hand, and funny as a rubber crutch on the other.

Meanwhile, PZ again puts all organized religion in whatever stereotyping grab bag suits him at the moment:
What we need to construct are egalitarian institutions that do not simply co-opt the corrupt schema of existing religious institutions. We should be modeling democratic political forms rather than buying into destructive ecclesiastical patterns of organization.
There are many religions denominations and branches not like that.

Quakers sprang to mind immediately. Unitarians are somewhat that way. Arguably, at the local level, Mormons are, for that matter.

Outside of Christianity, Sufi Islam immediately popped into mind. Many animistic/nativist religions also fit the bill.

Anyway, back to the main point.

P.Z. forgot that one you point a finger at someone else, if your hand is doubled into an angry fist, you've got three fingers pointing back at yourself.

It's also funny that P.Z., with his Maoist talk of wanting to create atheist "cadres," would want to preach about egalitarianism.

And also, though P.Z. doesn't like the Block Bot that Atheism Plusers are latching onto, he reportedly does like blacklists.

Well, isn't that a hierarchical thing, too?

Finally, democracy can become mobocracy.

Rush's Dittoheads would never vote against his wishes. Neither would P.Z.'s Pharyngulacs.

And he knows it.

He can even quote another Freethought blogger unblushingly:
One of the joys I celebrate in escaping from religion and church is no longer participating in this unbridled authority and reverence given to the pastor; the position of entitlements. Their needs and desires are always met or a concerted effort is attempted by the membership with much toil and sacrifice. The pastor is doused with honor and respect, given a god-like public image, and proclaimed a truth teller. A celebrity is added to the culture.
After receiving these former religionists with open arms and nurturing their non-belief, how will the secular community respond when they seek leadership positions? Will the secularists, humanists, freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, and skeptics embrace these individuals with greater enthusiasm just because they are ex-pastors? Will they seek to find the true character and uncover those holy skeletons? Will they put forth adequate vetting to determine that their integrity matches their charisma? These are my concerns, because a secular church in the hands of a cult personality is a religion disguised as a humanist community. Will there be a secular church on every corner filled with sheeples?
And, simply not take notice that there's plenty of sheeples posting comments on his own blog.

I mean, I've seen people there, over things like P.Z.'s grenade-throwing at Michael Shermer, say their trust in him is absolute, they'd never disagree with him, etc., etc.

Please, P.Z. don't have a SeaOrg.

Is Center for Inquiry in more #sexism hot water?

Center for Inquiry, arguably the nation's leading secular humanist organization, drew the wrath of many feminists earlier this year, especially within the envelope-pushing Atheism Plus movement, when Ron Lindsay, the CEO of CFI, put many of these feminists on edge with his welcoming remarks at the Women in Secularism conference, organized by CFI. Those remarks led to hosts of the podcast Point of Inquiry leaving CFI, among other things.

In turn, discussions about whether there are enough women in atheism (blogged about here) and related issues have now risen to the fore again.

However, CFI may be in worse trouble yet on these issues.

The Women in Secularism conference was organized directly to address the title issue, but also indirectly to address other issues, such as sexual harassment with atheist and secular humanist organizations (and, also, within professional skeptics' groups).

Well, now, allegedly, CFI had sexual harassment going on under its own roof. And, sexual assault, not just harassment.

Leading female skeptic Karen Stollznow now says she was sexually harassed for four years, and that this included assault.

And, while she doesn't name names, P.Z. does: Ben Radford.

And, he also says it was at CFI.

Update: CFI now has a statement up. And, it's a non-admission admission of guilt. Here's part of it:
However, we would like to make it clear that any suggestion that CFI has been less than diligent in addressing harassment complaints is mistaken. During the administration of current president and CEO, Ronald A. Lindsay, that is since July 2008, CFI has investigated all complaints that have been made to management, and, where necessary, has taken appropriate corrective action. The extent of the investigation’s nature varies from case-to-case, depending on the allegations that are made. Claims requiring extensive investigation may be handled by an impartial outside law firm and/or consultant. Although use of outside impartial investigators can be very expensive, CFI is committed to carrying out as thorough an investigation as necessary. 
Per a comment by Ophelia Benson in PZ's thread, Radford has been disciplined, but, she calls it a "slap on the wrist." Given that, and the last two lines from this graf of CFI's statement, it's unclear whether it's looking further at the issue or not.

In a blog post of her own, a commenter has CFI's current policy/political statement on the issue

Another commenter there even suggests CFI needs to update a previously released "statement," with updating suggestions underlined:
The mission of the Center for Inquiry is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.
The Center for Inquiry, including its CEO, is dedicated to advancing the status of women and promoting women’s issues, and this was the motivation for its sponsorship of a diverse workforce. The CFI Board wishes to express its unhappiness with the controversy surrounding the recent claims of sexual assault and harassment at our office.
CFI believes in respectful debate and dialogue. We appreciate the many insights and varied opinions communicated to us. Going forward, we will endeavor to work with all elements of the secular movement to enhance our common values and strengthen our solidarity as we struggle together for full equality and respect for women around the world.
Back to what's at the root of this all.

All of Stollznow's piece is worth a read, but especially the part about CFI's reaction to her claims, especially after Rebecca Watson made her "Elevatorgate" claims of harassment at an atheist/humanist conference.

Read on:
Following “Elevatorgate”, the company introduced a “zero tolerance policy for hostile and harassing conduct”. When I approached them with my accusations they appeared to be compassionate initially. I spent many hours explaining my story over the phone and days submitting evidence. Then they hired an attorney to collect the facts and I had to repeat the process. I provided access to my email account. I also devoted two days to face-to-face discussions about my ordeal. This “fact collector” also collected a lot of hearsay from my harasser, about how I’m a slut and “batshit crazy”. This tactic of the accused is so common it’s known as the “nut and slut” strategy. I soon learned that the attorney was there to protect them, not me.

Five months after I lodged my complaint I received a letter that was riddled with legalese but acknowledged the guilt of this individual. They had found evidence of “inappropriate communications” and “inappropriate” conduct at conferences. However, they greatly reduced the severity of my claims. When I asked for clarification and a copy of the report they treated me like a nuisance. In response to my unanswered phone calls they sent a second letter that refused to allow me to view the report because they couldn’t release it to “the public”. They assured me they were disciplining the harasser but this turned out to be a mere slap on the wrist. He was suspended, while he was on vacation overseas. They offered no apology, that would be an admission of guilt, but they thanked me for bringing this serious matter to their attention. Then they asked me to not discuss this with anyone. This confidentiality served me at first; I wanted to retain my dignity and remain professional. Then I realized that they are trying to silence me, and this silence only keeps up appearances for them and protects the harasser.
First, from what I see and have learned of Ron Lindsay online, that last line surprises me not a bit. I'm sure it also doesn't surprise people who, even if they didn't find him 100 percent wet on his Women in Secularism comments, were still concerned to some degree by them. The non-admission "admission" adds to that.

And, given all this, and per Benson's "slap on the hand" (Radford got a one-week suspension while already on vacation), he's now claiming he's innocent. Ben, careful. You're likely to end up the A-Rod of all of this. Were I you, I'd go lie low for a while.

*** Update, Aug. 12: SciAm pulled down the post, as Stollznow has Tweeted. Lindsay requested three changes. One of them says Benson's not telling the truth about the suspension being while Radford was on vacation.

This adds another twist. SciAm has pulled the article, but has yet, it would seem, to put up an edited one, or apologize as Lindsay wants. 

I think Lindsay gets No. 1 wrong. Stollznow didn't claim that CFI started its no-harassment policy after "Elevatorgate," just that it toughened it. And, Point 3? None of us knows how good or how bad the "environment" has been at CFI unless we worked there and were subject to it. ***

Meanwhile, I have heard that Radford and Stollznow reportedly had a consensual sexual relationship. Assuming that's true, and per the person (a woman) who said that on Facebook, that doesn't excuse, lessen or diminish the severity of what Radford seemingly did. (I proportion my severity to the unknown details of what he actually did do.)

Rather, it may underscore that he had problems with jealousy.

That said, I'll say no more here. It's unfair, as Blake Smith has noted at Facebook, because Radford may even be limited in what he can say back.

But, back to Stollznow's piece. Her being harassed by Radford is allegedly not all. After detailing her personal history, Stollznow drops the "past history" hammer, and it doesn't look good at all:
I have since discovered that this company has a history of sexual harassment claims. They also have a track record of disciplining these harassers lightly, and then closing ranks like good ol’ boys. Another colleague assured me this was better than their previous custom of simply ignoring claims of sexual harassment.
That said, let's look further at that last line of this pull quote.

Let's not blame all of this on Lindsay.

*** Update, Aug. 12: Richard Carrier says a New York law might constrain what CFI can say, in general, and the law might be kind of a wet dream for evil-minded nonprofits. ***

I have at least one Facebook friend who strongly defends Paul Kurtz, founder of CFI, and arguably a grandfather to much of modern secular humanism.

But, if P.Z. is right about this being at CFI, Stollznow's comment looks like it could (not necessarily "does" but "could") mean this goes back even to Kurtz's time. And, since first posting this, I've heard more stuff, and not all from Gnu Atheists outside the CFI loop grinding axes over it, that indeed Kurtz tolerated a lot of stuff. And, yes, a bit of his toleration could be seen as an older "patriarchy" attitude.

Given that Stollznow mentions "four years" and Lindsay officially ousted Kurtz just three years ago, and she also mentions "previous custom," this doesn't look so good for Kurtz's legacy and upholders of it, either. In fact, it's sad if in this area at least Lindsay and his policies are considered an improvement.

And to think I once wanted, and tried to, work there.

Short and sweet answer to all of this?

CFI needs to can not only Lindsay, but any board members who have significant information about what happened and supported the do-little actions.

It needs to replace Lindsay with someone not a Gnu Atheist, who embodies some of Kurtz's ideas about secular humanism, but who also is a bright-liner on women's issues and has no official past connection of significance to Kurtz.

And, given all of this and more below, while I don't want to destroy CFI, if it's doing to want to be, and continue as, the pre-eminent site of secular humanism and skepticism, it needs a good overhaul.

Meanwhile, on a somewhat related subject, the Block Bot app for Twitter, developed by Gnu Atheist James Billingham, gets a few touts on PZ's page, even though it's a free speech overkill and may itself go against Twitter's TOS, among problems I note here. And a Tumblr site allegedly has already collapsed. Speaking of ...

===

Et tu, JREF?

Meanwhile, Skepticsville is now slouching further toward Gomorrah, it seems.

D.J. Grothe of the James Randi Educational Foundation has faced allegations of, at least, insensitivity toward women in the past. Now, it's claims of full-on harassment. Carrie Poppy also claimed Randi himself promised to take action and didn't, and that's why she quit.

And, PZ has a sense of humor when it's outwardly directed. He notes today is Randi's 85th birthday and he gets a crappy birthday present.

Correction, PZ. If this is true, Randi bought himself a crappy birthday present months ago.

Again, treat this as "it appears." With Stollznow and Radford, the CFI statement is a non-legal admission of guilt, it would seem. Stay tuned on JREF. That said, it's complicated by the fact that, due to Randi's age, Grothe himself is arguably the head of JREF. Even with no names being named, I don't see him putting out a statement within the next 12-24 hours, given that more "nuancing" time is going to be needed.

===

And, some history:

Per other stuff I've blogged about before, including Randi's likely knowledge for years about his lover living off a stolen ID  (that would be Carlos aka  Deyvi Pena aka Jose Alvarez) and doing harm to the real person in the process, what I heard earlier about Seckel (and intimated about others), even allowing for defenders of the old guard to cite Plusers and Gnus as grinding axes, there's still some fire behind this smoke, I think.

And, while I don't have the answer to Kurtz and this particular question, Kurtz, like Randi, has apparently made excuses for other "insiders" in the past. Al Seckel, a much bigger fish than Radford, would certainly be included. (Search for about the fifth occurrence of his name.) I don't know if it was the Darwin fish moneys, or what, but playing cover-up for a deliberate academic fraudster, a person who directly undercuts the skeptical integrity, of a skeptical as well as humanistic organzation, is a massive failure.

Now, that said, I do have to caveat that by noting that CFI has a lot of offshoots geographically separate from headquarters. But, nonetheless, if Stollznow's correct, it's hard to believe Kurtz knew nothing of this. Even if he was starting to be pushed out back in 2008, it's still hard to believe.


And, the "halo effect" may go back 20 years or more, who knows? And, with friends who have a connection to the "old guard," kind of like one Facebook friend who considered himself friends with both Radford and Stollznow, I'm about at the point of silence.

Yes, people like Benson will twist all sorts of stuff out of place. On the other hand, Stollznow herself isn't, as far as I know, a Pluser. So, she personally has no ax to grind. So, again, I don't doubt her story. Carrie Poppy, I know the background less well, but, it's possible.

The other bottom line is that I'm fortunately intelligent enough to not have needed the help of either Professional Skepticism or Professional Atheism to maunder through some intellectual rocks in my life.

Well, no, there's a third bottom line. Lindsay is at least honest in saying that he's looking for rich donors. Given that Randi himself is 85 and there's probably a bit of founder's syndrome about him by now, JREF folks have to be having one eyeball, at least, on the financial future. And, is not this part of why both atheists and skeptics have such big conventions, despite most atheists, at least, saying they don't need or even care for community?

Again, and again: Follow the money.

No, that's not the only reason, but it is indeed A reason. Of that, I have no doubt.

And, there's a fourth bottom line. A fair amount of this could have happened, and more. Lawrence Krauss' name's now been dragged in. But, Gnus could still be overblowing it for their own purposes.

And, beyond legitimate concerns, those purposes would be?

"I am Gnu/Plus, hear me roar." Yep, it's all about the attention. Or, especially among the younger Plusers, the narcissism factor.

Oh, and just as my previous post about Gnus evolved into this, this is probably going to lead to a third post. There's still circles to be squared, speaking of the past, on "skeptics" and libertarianism, skeptics and racialism, etc.

That's another thing that gets me when some people hint that CFI or even JREF couldn't be doing this.

Bullshit. When you tolerate libertarianism, even to the point of science denial, when you have known racialists on the masthead of a "skeptical" magazine, etc., anything's possible.

===

Gnu/Pluser motivation

Do I still trust Gnu Atheists in general, or Atheist Plusers in particular, on these issues?

No.

Example A is the latest from Greta Christina.

It includes allegations that don't name perpetrators, and appear to be vague in general.

It also includes her claims to being a "good skeptic in general." Bullshit.

When you blogged a couple of weeks ago about flirtation leading to harassment, you talked only about male on female unwanted action. You didn't mention female on male, gay, or lesbian flirtation or sexual harassment. And, when I tried to comment about that, by my comment remaining in moderation limbo forever, I figured I was blocked.

So, if CFI needs cleaning up, the likes of you are NOT the people to do it.

Now, for your anonymous accusations ...

PZ throws out what he calls a live hand grenade, an anonymous accusation against Michael Shermer. Not being close to an insider, and never attending any of the conventions, I have not a clue on this one.

And now, Shermer's lawyer's thrown the grenade back. And, PZ's gone scrambling to PopeHat lead blogger Ken White for possible legal protection, even though White agrees with many others and thinks PZ is a fundamentalist atheist moron.

(Update, Aug. 20: Greta Christina gives me another laugh-my-ass off moment, claiming this is NOT an "anonymous complaint," then implies that PZ is Woodward and Bernstein! This ignores that Woodward, at least, eventually became a whore to power and was worried about Mark Felt coming out as Deep Throat in part because of how much potential he had to show how Woodward, or Woodstein, "skated the edge" on truthfulness in details, and occasionally in big picture, at times.)

Given the whole situation, to be honest? I hope PZ's wrong, and Shermer sues his ass off. He's being disingenuous about having "no choice." Maybe we'll get about 10-20 dueling suits and countersuits over these allegations before we're all done.

Unfortunately, Shermer's lawyer, in throwing the grenade back, seems to have kind of neutered it first. The likelihood of an actual suit is slim at this point. Of course, it's arguable Shermer has more to lose by suing than he does by accepting any legalistically narrow apology.

But, there's now a legal fund for Shermer! Set up by an outside party, but Shermer knows and approves.

And, if he follows through with a suit, the fact that PZ did multiple rewrites could blow up in his face, essentially leaving him testifying against himself.

Al Stefanelli reminds us that the potential libel not only applies to the overarching claim, but details of how it allegedly happened. And, he's about right. PZ's about at the level of the National Enquirer, at least the Enquirer of old, which ... got sued multiple times. (And, if he's right about PZ doing this in part for blog hits, Do Not Follow is a simple way to stop that.)

Meanwhile, I'm beginning to think nobody there has a conception of what libel is, in its actual legal sense. I thought Ed Brayton knew better, but he either doesn't, or, as he showed with Block Bot, doesn't care. (But he should; Shermer's lawyer cc-ed him, with the hint that he'd also be a correspondent in any legal action.)

And, for a blog site that was explicitly formed in part for commercial reasons, that's not a good attitude to have.

That said?

Women's first step has to be reporting sexual assaults to the police. If we're going to talk about female empowerment, in the case of sexual assault, society's first step has to be supporting them doing that, not being brave about anonymous allegations being made in public.

And, this is NOT a "blame the woman" issue, namely that one issue involves no women and no straight sexuality. It applies to straight women, gay women, straight men and gay men. (And yes, straight men vis-a-vis gay women can be, if in the minority of the times, harassed, propositioned, and more. Again, it's a minority compared to the other way around, but it happens. Check your own "privilege" in calling "privilege"; your mileage may vary.

Beyond that, there's sociological research that indicates women tend to underestimate the effects booze will have on lowering their sexual impulse control and leading to casual sex.

With that said, just as this post expanded off a previous one, and because my initial contretemps with Stephanie Zvan started over the alcohol-fueled sexual interaction between Julian Assange and two women in Sweden, with that case being closed then re-opened, it's about time to start a new blog post off of this one.

And, as far as getting fucking drunk. That includes not getting drunk on power trips.

Back to the privilege issue. As a newspaper editor, I have reported, off police report and arrest lists, women assaulting men. (I'm now talking non-sexual physical assault.) Yes, it's still a lot less common than men assaulting women, but it does happen. The idea, let alone spoken claim, that women can never do such things is more than "reverse sexism," It's simply sexism, period, and like all sexism, perpetuates stereotypes about both sexes, not just one.

Meanwhile, I've followed up on the current post with a new one, addressing both literal and metaphorical drunkenness in modern "movement" skepticism and atheism.

Update, Oct. 16: At Slate, Emily Yoffe absolutely nails this issue of how young women need to take responsibility and stop getting so drunk in the first place, as part of reducing sexual assault.

And, before Gnus and Atheism Plusers flame me here, on Twitter, or elsewhere, she has all the disclaimers about not blaming the victim, etc.