Piers Morgan’s self-emasculation

I don’t frequently comment on “current events” because by the time there’s enough information out there to make an informed decision they’re no longer current.

But here’s one observation regarding the last day or so of Pier’s Morgan’s triggered-snowflake meltdown over women invading his safe space…

Piers Morgan 12 hours ago:

morgan_1

I’m planning a ‘Men’s March’ to protest at [sic] the creeping global emasculation of my gender by rabid feminists. Who’s with me?

Piers Morgan 1 hour ago:

morgan_2

Given 127k more people now follow me than you, I’d pip down, [Lord Sugar]

Yeah… about that. Dude, if you’re getting into a petty spat with Alan Sugar about who has more Twitter followers, it’s not the ‘rabid feminists’ that are making you feel emasculated.

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Every Conversation With A Brexiteer Ever

Well, perhaps not ever… but this seems to be the summary of many:


Leaver: It was a vote, you have to accept it!

Remainer: But the referendum was only ever advertised as advisory, it was never legally binding for the government to enact. So it really should be given parliamentary approval in a free vote. Particularly, the terms agreed upon after 2 years of Article 50 negotiations should be ratified through our representative democracy.

Leaver: It was a vote, you have to accept it!

Remainer: But perhaps it’s dangerous to just enact something without proper expert consideration, especially now that multiple Vote Leave promises have been rescinded and it’s become clear that the population may have been (read: definitely were) mislead. The political and economic landscape has changed significantly since June, so you can’t say a decision taken by non-experts in one situation should be, by default and without consideration, applicable to a much different different situation at a later date.

Leaver: It was a vote, you have to accept it!brexit_recession

Remainer: But it was a very small win for Leave. The margin was a few percent, almost on par with a margin of error. Given the number of people expressing regret over their vote – a proportion that polls suggest would be high enough to swing the referendum in a different direction if it were done today – is it wise to plough on without further due consideration? Can we not take into account further opinion polls taken after a reflection on the impacts to the value of our currency, the economic impact, or the fact that many Vote Leave promises turned out to be complete fabrications?

Leaver: It was a vote, you have to accept it!

Remainer: Okay, but we have a constitution based around representative democracy. We elect people to make decisions on our behalf based on the fact they can take the time and do enough research to make an informed decision, whereas the general public can’t afford the time. In line with both the country’s precedent-based constitution, parliament should have a final say in both leaving the EU and accepting post-EU terms. They should take popular opinion under advisement ( as this was advertised as, and as they’ve always done) without accepting the narrow referendum result as a mandate for sweeping, unilateral change.

Leaver: It was a vote, you have to accept it!

Remainer: Thing is, many aspects of democracy require supermajorities to enact rather than 50% +1. Things like amending the US constitution, for example. That’s precisely to stop bad decisions being made on the back of popularism and to ensure broad, representative consensus rather than making sweeping changes when there’s a clear split and the margin is tight. It’s also why arguments about the counterfactual case of ‘Remain’ winning by a small margin don’t hold up – because you don’t need to get a supermajority or a large margin in favour of the status quo to keep with the status quo, because there would still be no strong mandate for change. This is also the essence of basic conservatism, incidentally, as well as part of mainstream political thought about democracy since the term was invented.

Leaver: It was a vote, you have to accept it!

Remainer: Part of the democratic process is that you can’t just accept things blindly, even when popular – as you have to have safeguards against a tyranny of the majority, where the rights of minorities can be removed or oppressed just because a majority says so. If some groups will be more negatively affected by a decision than others, then not everyone is equal when it comes to a simple ballot. Something that sounds good to a large number of people but will probably not affect them might be absolutely devastating to a small number of people who will never have their voice heard in a popular vote. This should be taken into account when taking the voting results into consideration as this forms the basis of a representative, egalitarian and equal society – again, the basis of democracy and mainstream political theories of justice.

Leaver: It was a vote, you have to accept it!

Remainer: Democracy doesn’t begin and end at voting. It starts at representation, and ends with beneficial decisions made through consensus – with voting as a means, not an end. It’s an involved process that continues beyond just voting when and where they tell you. There are countless opportunities to petition, or get involved in decision making. It doesn’t stop, it continues. That’s the actual point of democracy if we want it to mean something positive and beneficial rather than just hanging on the idea that it’s a popularity contest and the majority rules. Leaving it at “vote, and the majority rules!” is a really stunted view of democracy, one which really limits its ability to do the most good for the most number of people – particularly so when the question asked of the populace at large is a simple binary but the real-world options and their ramifications are numerous, complex, and nuanced.

Leaver: It was a vote, you have to accept it!

Remainer: Fine, fine… but… how? How are we going to implement this? The vote was a binary choice of in/out. There was no concrete plan suggested at all – especially by the people pushing the ‘Leave’ option. We’ve literally been left alone to figure this out. Sure, we can do it… but there are no details. What are the details? What do you actually want?

Leaver: It was a vote, you have to accept it!

Remainer: Fuck it, I can’t be bothered with this shit anymore.

Leaver: SEE! YOU SILL LITTLE REMOANERS CAN’T ENGAGE WITH ANYTHING! WHAT STUPID IDIOTS YOU ARE!!! ALL YOU DO IS CALL US RACIST FOR BEING BRITISH!! YOU DON’T HAVE ANY ARGUMENTS, JUST INSULTS!! NOW SHUT UP! IT WAS A VOTE, YOU HAVE TO ACCEPT IT!


Addendum: The high court rules that parliament should vote on leaving the EU. Good. This isn’t about preventing Article 50 being invoked, it’s about making sure it’s done with our actual sovereignty intact, through the due process of our representative parliamentary democracy. It’s about making sure that the more complex and nuanced options available in reality, and not on an idealised voting slip, are explored democratically. If you’ve bleated on for a year or so about us leaving the European Union in order to restore our “sovereignty”, and then supported the government unilaterally and autocratically passing a law without parliamentary approval, then you are – plain and simply – a hypocrite. If you still can’t wrap your head around this, read here, and keep reading until you understand.


Addendum 2: If any of the above sounds like “bullshit” or “whining” to you, or you still think “but democracy is about voting”, I suggestion you begin with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s article on democracy. Rather interestingly, it doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about voting, because – louder for the people at the back – democracy doesn’t begin and end at a vote.

The Predictability of Science Churnalism + Bonus Sweary Rant

Ca. 20 hours ago, I dropped the following comment on Facebook:

Currently trending is that the Philae lander has perhaps found life on a comet… yeah, if that turns out to be verified and not just media mis-reporting of one lone nut with an incredibly tenuous association with NASA I will physically eat my shorts.

Now, I should reiterate that as I wrote that I had read absolutely nothing about the story on the Philae lander. I had no idea about the specific claims made. All I knew was the phrase “Trending: Philae: Comet That Spacecraft Landed on Could Have Alien Life, Scientists Say”. That’s all.

How much of it did I get right without even looking? Well, it’s obvious innit?

The pattern has become so predictable it was possible to get pretty much all of it right from seeing the mere fact that the story was trending. “Found alien life”? No. Just no. “Scientists say”? Nope, it was one lone nut, namely Chandra Wickramasinghe. “Evidence”? Smevidence.

The only thing I didn’t get right was “tenuous association with NASA” – not surprisingly, Philae is an ESA project, not a NASA one (idiot – though perhaps I just had the EmDrive on the brain). Still, that tends to fit the pattern; since it employs nearly 20,000 people and is associated with countless others, it’s not hard to have a connection with NASA, and “NASA claims” makes a pretty headline no matter the article content.

Still, the story trended anyway.

ALIEN LIFE? Astronomers say there are signs of possible alien life on Comet 67P, after studying data from the European Space Agency’s Philae Lander.

….ABC7 News said.

Philae’s comet may host alien ‘life’: astronomers

….Some other guy said.

Scientists have spotted what some believe to be evidence of life on the Philae comet.

….I Don’t Fucking Understand the First Thing About Science said.

….

…said the Daily Mail because for the last few months I’ve set AdBlock to kill anything from that site and my life has been so much better ever since. Although I’m told their article was on form.

Mere hours later, the refutation articles finally caught up. Bullshit, called Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy (in a near-identical reflex-action to mine). Nope nope nope said Rachel Feltman in the Washington Post. What a croquembouche of solidified emu excrement declared… well, pretty much anyone who knows even the first thing about the subject.

Why do we even bother with the refutation articles? The pattern is quite literally that predictable. Why not just write the generic post – titled “No, Scientists Didn’t Do The Thing You Read About” – and point to it? We can have a few set phrases like “It turns out that the evidence they presented has a more simple, parsimonious and perfectly expected explanation” and “No, the scientist in question wasn’t actually associated with the research project” and absolutely certainly “The claims weren’t published, they were just mouthed off in an email to the press desk” and words to that effect.

It would save so much time.

— Note, profanity begins here —

Mainstream popular science right now is a fucking shambolic piece of cunting horse bollocks. We thought it was bad before, but it hasn’t got much fucking better. The rise of the internet and – buzzword alert – social media has given us easier and more ready access to experts than ever before, but still these fucking fucktarded fucking newspapers, sites and the people who read them still gobble up any old shite guffed up by fucking moron that tells them something.

Lone Nut: “Hey, I’ve got a fucking PhD, kind-of, doesn’t matter that I’ve spent the years since plucking shit-covered morsels of Wrong out of my hairy anus and flinging them at the fucking internet, I have a crank theory for you to post!”

Shitty Newspaper: “Oh, sweet, dude, just what we needed! We haven’t undermined the public’s trust in science for fucking ages!”

Lone Nut: “Yeah, you take that sweaty morsel of shit I just told you!”

Shitty Newspapers: “Yes, sir, please feed me more of your shit! I love it because I’m a filthy fucking whore!”

That’s basically what happens. Each. And. Every. Fucking. Time.

It has been over a decade since Andrew Fucking Wakefield shat all over our collective consciousness with his outright fucking fraudulent claims about autism and measles jabs – and now people are starting to fucking die because of it – and the shitting papers still haven’t learned their fucking lesson about basic fucking fact-checking before jumping to publish some trumped up fucking dingo’s kidneys coming from some twat-mouthed cockwomble.

Just fucking admit it you cunts – you’re not fucking writing science articles, not even fucking popular science articles. You’re writing fucking clickbait for shit’s sake! Or worse, you’re trying to fuck about with peoples’ perceptions of what science even fucking is so that when you publish your own fucking horseshit like “vaccines cause AIDS” and “climate change isn’t real” people will believe your version of events because “Hey, scientists thought there was life on a comet! What idiots!”

Something needs to fucking change. Fucking pronto.

We still need scientists on Question Time

Not too long ago, Martin Robbins of the Lay Scientist blog pointed out an interesting fact about the BBC’s Question Time programme: that since the 2010 general election, there have only been two scientists on the panel. Expected? Unusual? Compare it to 13 comedians over the same period, and 2 appearances by Katie Hopkins, whose only claim to fame is… erm… someone drop me a line in the comments; I have no fucking clue why Katie Hopkins is worthy of people listening to her.

But now, a few months after that, the observation has filtered its way into Points of View.

Though first, a quick jargon buster – UK readers can skip this:

  • Question Time – A BBC politics-themed panel show where a selection of public figures answer topical questions from an audience while David Dimbleby tries to keep order. Apart from the token “light-hearted” question that usually ends it, this show is Serious Business. It’s the show Simon Foster is prepping for at the beginning of In The Loop before Malcolm Tucker extremely politely informs him he’s no longer invited.
  • Points of View – The show where the BBC’s dirty laundry gets aired in public in the form of viewer comments (originally via letter, then telephone and now increasingly via email or video submission) that call out why the BBC are currently sucking at everything ever. Usually mundane and banal as all hell because these comments are quite literally a hair’s breadth above YouTube comments, but hey, few if any for-profit media will do this.

So the question of scientists was brought up on PoV, and the QT producers responded. The executive editor responded thusly (you may be able to catch it on iPlayer, luckily Question Time is the very first thing in the show.):

“Question Time” regularly bids for a number of prominent scientists and guests with a scientific background. However, many scientists do not wish to discuss issues outside their individual field, or express their political views. The nature of the programme also means we do not know which questions we will be discussing in advance so we can never guarantee to scientists that their area of expertise will come up in the programme.

Perhaps they have regularly looked for scientists and the scientists refused. However, I have to doubt that the producer tried very hard, or encouraged scientists, or made it the most accessible format for them. We absolutely have no shortage of public intellectuals in STEM fields willing to vent their spleen on politics. Dawkins has done the BBC’s HardTalk and Newsnight before and is prone to firing his mouth off (I’m not condoning him as an ideal candidate, just that he’s a candidate who clearly is interested in talking outside his field of expertise) and Cox has done a fair share of 10 O’Clock Live performances and causing stirs over Twitter.

Many scientists are very much into their politics and not without good reason. We’re embedded in politics daily, and will forever be stuck with political principles, laws and edicts whether we like them or not.

For a quick instance, the effects Scottish independence on research collaboration between a future independent Scotland and England, and its effect on higher education funding, is a massively complex issue. It’s also potentially devastating, yet something that not all politicians are in a position to discuss in detail… because few even realise it exists as an issue. Yet it is a core issue for those in EaStCHEM, some of whom I had a lengthy discussion with on this very topic a few months ago. As we approach the referendum on the subject, the odds of independence being broached on Question Time will approach certainty – and to not have someone with vested interest in higher education and inter-university collaboration there to put this forward would be just plain negligent towards the BBC’s duty to inform the public.

But why might scientists not, even if offered, choose to accept an invitation to sit on a panel?

Thanks to the general side-lining of their political opinions in the mainstream, scientists are akin to any other minority group – prone to being made uncomfortable and likely to not bother even trying purely because of the dominance and attitude of the majority. Our ability to interact with the political sphere is diminished both by the nature of science (being a all-consuming occupation) and the hostility generally held towards evidence-based approaches by mainstream politics and political media. Such political candidates and political journalists appearing are all ideologically lead, and potential science-based panellists need reassurance that taking an evidence-based approach isn’t going to be shouted down for saying something unpopular. Not that such views are unpopular; there is evidently a strong demand for such people from those at the intersection of science and politics (the BBC even saw fit to respond to it on Points of View, so evidently recognise it as legitimate criticism) and there are evidently scientists who are very politically savvy. Martin Robbins was one of a handful of scientists who assessed each main party for the Guardian in the run-up to the 2010 election and the result was one of the most informative pre-election pieces written.

We need more of a drive to get these experts heard in the mainstream political sphere and to give them the confidence to speak outside their area of expertise if needed. This is something that needs to come from producers who need to start clamouring harder for these people, rather than making half-hearted attempts to reach qualified scientists and then make a far bigger deal out of their celebrity-du-jour.

While the programme might not be able to control the exact questions asked – a format that is a double-edged sword favouring spontaneity and a degree of sincerity over thorough and informed answers – it’s still reasonable to at least predict the topics that might come up. Education is almost a certainty every time. Energy policies and environment can be predicted based on what is in the news that week. Had a natural disaster recently? Climate change will pop up. New policy introduced on higher education funding? Christ-on-a-jetbike that’s a sure thing!

Or you know what? Just fucking risk it.

See what insight they can give thanks to their backgrounds; after all, this is why journalists, authors, comedians, presenters or I-don’t-know-why-you’re-famous-types get invited on. This is what makes the second part of the response given on Points of View so galling: if you can’t guarantee the questions that are asked, then you’re really not getting in panellists because of their specific expertise, but because of the experience their background confers on them. In that case any scientist is going to have just as much to say as any MP. All Question Time panellists, by the nature of the format, are going to be out of their depth.

Perhaps scientists could offer a new evidence-based insight that would otherwise be lost in sea of table-banging rhetoric. Or give an opinion based on being actual university-level educators. So what if you have a chemist on there and nothing chemical gets brought up? So what if there’s an evolutionary biologist on there and they only discuss climate change? They invite Melanie Philips and Peter Hitchens on regularly and “how can you be an obnoxious right-wing twat?” is pretty much never asked.

Just get the scientists on there and let them be heard. We can fill in the details later.


Addendum: I’ve spotted the Change.org petition on this making the rounds on Facebook and whatnot. It’s a nice idea, but now pretty much redundant given the response shown on PoV. Merely asking for it again is, frankly, just  petulant. What we need to focus on is a) why the BBC should try harder to attract scientists, and b) suggestions about how this can be brought about.