Free Speech, pseudonymity and the Web

Where to draw the line between the right to say what we sincerely believe and the right of others not to be insulted, belittled, threatened? Where to draw the line on protecting those who post pseudonymously on the internet?

The Internet has created opportunity. The opportunity for those living under repressive regimes to communicate, to organise, to advertise the fact of their oppression internationally. But also the opportunity for oppressive regimes to trace and document this activity and track down dissidents. And the opportunity for groups with extreme views to advertise and organise racist rallies.

I’m conflicted. My conflict is between ensuring the right of anyone to speak their mind and the responsibility of owning up to those views.

Where to draw the line?

Human Evolution: the evidence evolves!

I see there are new fossil finds in Morocco which have been reported on the BBC. Here is the Nature Letter that reports the new find. What were modern humans up to prior to the flowering of human civilisation that left no mark prior to, lets say, ten thousand years ago? Why the large brains? Why the capacity for complex communication? Why the gap of over a quarter of a million years before the burst into human civilisation?

New Registrations

I just noticed that the Captcha on the registration form was faulty (I’m not sure how long for) which made it impossible for anyone wishing to join in discussions here to register. I’ve fixed it now. My apologies to anyone affected.

Please be assured that the site welcomes new members and I invite those who have tried and been unable to register to have another go. If you experience any difficulties, please email me at alanfox@free.fr. (Unless you are a spammer, of course!)

The Arrival of the Fittest: a book review

Andreas Wagner’s book,The Arrival of the Fittest has been mentioned many times (just try a site search as I’ve just done) since it was published. Petrushka pointed it out in a comment

For anyone interested in whether RMNS can create stuff, I recommend a relatively new book, Arrival of the Fittest. I just bought the Kindle version an haven’t finished, but it has a lot to say about how goldilocks mutations occur.

Much later Mung writes:

Reminds me of petrushka, who is always plugging Andreas Wagner’s Arrival of the Fittest, but will never post an OP on it for discussion.

So I’ve taken the hint and bought the book at last. I can see why people have recommended it. Continue reading

Jerry Falwell Jr, a Trump appointee.

I’m sure the name Jerry Falwell Jr means more to US members than it does to me. A friend passed on a link where I read:

Donald Trump appoints creationist college president to lead higher education reform taskforce

According to Salon:

The focus will be on “overregulation and micromanagement of higher education,” according to university spokesman Len Stevens. This would be consistent with Falwell’s past positions, in which he has opposed federal regulations on funding and accreditation for American schools of higher learning.

Following the appointment of (Calvinist?) Betsy DeVos as Education secretary, should we be concerned for the future of public education in the US?

Climate Change: myth or reality?

There’s no question in my mind the “Intelligent Design” movement has lost all its arguments with Science. Unfortunately, post Trump-it, that fact is now an irrelevance. With Trump’s appointment of Betsy de Vos as Education Secretary, it looks like religious fundamentalism no longer needs its figleaf. What concerns me much more is that a similar fate awaits climate research if his appointment of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State is any indication of future policy on combating climate change. Continue reading

Take the Evolutionary Turing Test!

The challenge, for all and sundry but especially for “Darwin doubters”, should you wish to take it, is to submit a one-paragraph summary of the theory of evolution. The idea is to see if you understand it well enough to fairly summarize the theory so that you pass as a proponent of evolution. We also need some examples from proponents to test the null hypothesis!

To ensure anonymity, please submit your paragraph by private message to me or another admin and we will add it in edit. (Or email it to me at alanfox@free.fr if you prefer.) Continue reading

An Intelligent Design Turing Test

This is an open challenge to all and sundry!

Can anyone represent the views of someone he disagrees with well enough to pass the “Turing Test” and be mistaken for a real proponent of those views? Barry Arrington has recently issued this challenge for skeptics of “Intelligent Design”. He seems to have overlooked the point that the test should be anonymous and also that most remaining active ID skeptics are unable or unwilling (or both, in my case) to participate at “Uncommon descent”. Continue reading

Sandbox (4)

Sometimes very active discussions about peripheral issues overwhelm a thread, so this is a permanent home for those conversations.

I’ve opened a new “Sandbox” thread as a post as the new “ignore commenter” plug-in only works on threads started as posts.

Moderation Issues (4)

Please use this thread for alerting admins to moderation issues and for discussion or complaints arising from particular decisions. This thread has been riessued as a post rather than a page as the “ignore commenter” button does not apply to threads started as pages.

Vincent Torley’s Disappearing Book Review

I guess many folks here are familiar with Dr (of philosophy) Vincent Torley as a contributor of many posts at Uncommon Descent now operated by one Barry Arrington.

Vincent strikes me as a genuinely nice guy whose views are very different from mine on many issues. Possibly one of his most remarked-upon idiosyncracies is his tendency to publish exceedingly long posts at Uncommon Descent but (leaving Joseph of Cupertino in the air for a moment) lately Vincent has become a little more reflective on the merits of “Intelligent Design” as some sort of alternative or rival to mainstream biology. Continue reading

“Species”

On the thread entitled “Species Kinds”, commenter phoodoo asks:

What’s the definition of a species?

A simple question but hard to answer. Talking of populations of interbreeding individuals immediately creates problems when looking at asexual organisms, especially the prokaryotes: bacteria and archaea. How to delineate a species temporally is also problematic. Allan Miller links to an excellent basic resource on defining a species and the Wikipedia entry does not shy away from the difficulties.

In case phoodoo thought his question was being ignored, I thought I’d open this thread to allow discussion without derailing the thread on “kinds”.

President Trump?

I’ve been following the current round of US primaries with some interest. Not ever having visited the US, I have no business criticizing the system or the candidates but I must admit to being fascinated by the progress of Donald Trump and the seemingly growing possibility that he may become the Republican presidential candidate. Presumably, there is also the possibility that he could become the next President of the United States. Continue reading

How and Why: questions for scientists and philosophers?

The late John Davison often remarked that science could only answer “how” questions, not “why”. It seems to me philosophers, perhaps I’m really thinking of philosophers of religion rather than in general, attempt to find answers to “why” questions without always having a firm grasp on how reality works. Perhaps this is why there is so much talking past each other when the explanatory power of science vs other ways of knowing enters a discussion. Continue reading

Suggestion Box

This is my suggestion. Lizzie is happy for any participant to author a thread here. Most regulars already have author status which allows them to publish OPs. Other members have contributor status which allows them to compose posts that will be published on request, although author status is available on request to anyone who’d like to have unrestricted (within the rules) ability to publish OPs.

Whilst I think it is great that we have such wide-ranging (and on the whole rancour-free) discussions, the topics do get mixed and hard-to-follow, especially with the annoying page bug.

I invite anyone to start a new thread on a topic that is getting lost in the cross-talk.

I also invite suggestions from our esteemed clientele. Especially welcome would be a suggestion how to fix the page bug.

Random Genetic Drift: a controversy?

Over my time as a dilettante observer of the science blogging community, I have noticed a certain frisson of controversy over the idea of random genetic drift. Sewall Wright, who with Ronald Fisher and J. B. S. Haldane (Bill Bryson’s observations on Haldane’s research into diving and decompression are entertaining) established the science of population genetics, is credited with coining the phrase in 1929. Thanks to Professor Joe Felsenstein for pointing out his seminal paper. Continue reading