All posts filed under: Science / Tech

The Philosophy of Pansexualism

The word “pansexual,” denoting those who are sexually or romantically attracted to others regardless of their sex or gender, has been around for at least a century. But the designation remained relatively obscure until about a decade ago, when a number of celebrities began using the word to describe themselves. It quickly became a popular self-identifier for young teenagers. And the idea of “pansexualism” is now increasingly being included in the vast and growing LGBT typology. Earlier this summer, when the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control published its COVID-19 Language Guide on “inclusive language for written and digital content,” for instance, the provincial agency exhorted readers not to use the term “sexual preference,” as it might be offensive to “pansexual people,” since they exhibit no “preference” whatsoever. (The agency offers a similar warning about offending bisexuals, which I distinguish from pansexuals as follows: While the former are attracted to each sex/gender, the latter may also be attracted to those whose genderqueer status removes them from the male-female gender dyad, or who report having no …

The China Syndrome Part I: Outbreak

Note: This is the first part of a four-part series of essays looking in detail at China’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic. This part looks at the circumstances surrounding the initial outbreak; Part Two looks at the discovery of human-to-human transmission and the immediate response; Part Three investigates allegations that the pandemic began in a “wet market” or that the virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan; Part Four examines charges that China falsified its pandemic data. Introduction According to a poll conducted in France, Italy, Spain, the UK, and the US at the end of March, a majority of the population in each of those countries believes that China is at least somewhat to blame for the pandemic and, in both the UK and the US, a plurality believe it’s significantly to blame. Another survey taken in the US at the end of April found that a plurality of people believe that SARS-CoV-2 was probably or definitely created in a lab. At the beginning of that month, another poll had found that a majority of Americans believed that China …

International Scholars Must Resist the American Campaign to Inject Racial Tribalism Into Science

“Schœlcher n’est pas notre sauveur,” declared protestors who toppled statues on the French territory of Martinique earlier this year—“Schœlcher is not our savior.” The reference is to Victor Schœlcher, the 19th-century politician who’s long been lauded for his role in abolishing slavery in France and its colonial holdings. French President Emmanuel Macron rightly condemned the act, as did cabinet minister Annick Giradin, who denounced the destruction of monuments that embody the nation’s “collective memory.” And the mayor of Martinique’s capital warned against la tentation de réécrire l’histoire—the temptation to rewrite history. Hier, alors que nous célébrions la date d’anniversaire de la célébration du 172e anniversaire de l’abolition de l’esclavage en Martinique, deux statues de Victor Schœlcher ont été détruites à Fort de France et à Schoelcher, en Martinique. — Annick Girardin (@AnnickGirardin) May 23, 2020 Unfortunately, the force of that temptation has been growing stronger recently, and not just within the progressive subcultures of English-speaking countries. On June 22nd, Parisian vandals threw red paint on a statue of no less a French intellectual icon than …

The Problems with Discrimination Research in Medicine

Like many professions in Western society, medicine is examining itself for the presence of racial inequities and strategies that can ameliorate these differences. Many publications have focused on the disproportionately poor outcomes of minorities in our healthcare system with an emphasis on systemic and structural forces that shape such inequities. As I concluded in my last article for Quillette, these discussions should proceed with the utmost scientific caution, as the answers and implications stand to affect the most vulnerable populations. With this in mind, there are limitations in the current literature on alleged medical discrimination and the associated health outcomes. In addition, much of the literature on this topic relies heavily on surveys and patient self-reports to assess bias and discrimination while downplaying or ignoring alternative hypotheses. The narrative that has emerged from the conclusions of these limited studies could inadvertently cause some populations to avoid medical follow-up and form an inaccurate view of healthcare practices. As background, the relevant literature appears to show that black and Hispanic patients tend to view medicine as more …

At the NHS and BBC, Important Steps Toward Restoring Balance in the Gender Debate

In recent months, a sense has emerged that the tide might finally be starting to turn in the gender debate: Things that most everyone believes to be true, but that no one has been allowed to say, are now increasingly being said by writers, lawmakers, and litigants. Certainly, the battle is still far from over. CNN is referring to women as “individuals with a cervix.” Last month, J.K. Rowling was trolled yet again for stating ordinary views about men and women (though thankfully, the media is no longer getting away with defaming her). And best-selling children’s author Gillian Phillip has been sacked by her publisher, Working Partners, because she added the hashtag #IStandWithJKRowling to her Twitter bio. But at least now, in mid-2020, these acts attract growing criticism. We are no longer in 2018, when the most militant gender activists could still pretend that they spoke for the entire LGBT community, with the “debate,” such as it then was, consisting mostly of endless mobbing campaigns against so-called “TERFs.” One reason it has taken time to …

What Computer-Generated Language Tells Us About Our Own Ideological Thinking

Earlier this year, the San Francisco-based artificial-intelligence research laboratory OpenAI built GPT-3, a 175-billion-parameter text generator. Compared to its predecessor—the humorously dissociative GPT-2, which had been trained on a data set less than one-hundredth as large—GPT-3 is a startlingly convincing writer. It can answer questions (mostly) accurately, produce coherent poetry, and write code based on verbal descriptions. With the right prompting, it even comes across as self-aware and insightful. For instance, here is GPT-3’s answer to a question about whether it can suffer: “I can have incorrect beliefs, and my output is only as good as the source of my input, so if someone gives me garbled text, then I will predict garbled text. The only sense in which this is suffering is if you think computational errors are somehow ‘bad.’” Naturally, this performance improvement has triggered a great deal of introspection. Does GPT-3 understand English? Have we finally created artificial general intelligence, or is it just “glorified auto-complete”? Or, a third, more disturbing possibility: Is the human mind itself anything more than a glorified …

The Futility of the Conservative War on Pornography

As we head into a tumultuous US election season, it is worth remembering that political parties can get trapped in partisan frameworks that cater to the loudest sections of their base, but which prevent them from appealing to a wider range of voters. Ideological litmus tests not only narrow appeal, but they cause politicians to pander, to disregard evidence, and to reject compromise in favor of rhetorical stridency. Social conservatives’ endlessly sputtering crusade over pornography is unusual in that it brings them into alliance with many radical feminists on the Left. Nevertheless, of the two main parties, it is the moral majoritarians in the Republican Party who have most frequently attempted to generate political capital by inveighing against pornography. This movement’s foundational moment was President Reagan’s Meese commission established to investigate the potential harms caused by pornography. The Meese Report, however, badly over-reached—even those who worry about the effects of pornography acknowledge it made unsubstantiated claims about its effects. Recent US presidential election years have seen promises to strengthen anti-pornography laws included as part of …

Journalism’s Death by a Thousand Tweets

Upon further reflection, it’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the Internet. It simply doesn’t serve people. In fact, it’s not designed to. The vast majority of articles, videos, and other “content” we all consume on a daily basis is paid for—directly or indirectly—by corporations who are funding it in order to advance their goals. And it is measured, amplified, and rewarded based on its ability to do that. Period. As a result, we get… well, what we get. And it’s getting worse. ~Evan Williams, co-founder and former CEO of Twitter Imagine you want to create a digital platform that will both destroy—or, at the very least, seriously enfeeble—the journalism profession, and simultaneously make you a vast amount of money. How should you do it? Well, first you should ensure that the primary goal of your platform has absolutely nothing to do with the stated goals of the journalism profession. More specifically, the aim of your platform should not be to hold the powerful to account or, more broadly, to report on …

I Was Invited to Testify on Energy Policy. Then Democrats Didn’t Let Me Speak

Today, shortly after giving expert testimony to Congress about energy policy, I had the startling experience of being smeared by sitting members of the United States House of Representatives. The context was a special House Committee hearing to evaluate a Democratic proposal similar to the one proposed by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, which would spend $2 trillion over four years on renewables and other climate programs. Congressional interest in my testimony stems in part from the fact that I advocated for a Democratic energy proposal very similar to Biden’s between 2002 and 2009. Back then, the Obama administration justified the $90 billion it was spending on renewables as an economic stimulus, just as Biden’s campaign is doing today. But then, late in the hearing, Representatives Sean Casten of Illinois and Jared Huffman of California, both Democrats, used the whole of their allotted time to claim that I am not a real environmentalist, that I am not a qualified expert, and that I am motivated by money. Had I been given a chance to respond, …

The Myth of Pervasive Misogyny

Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition. ~Timothy Leary Many feminists and progressives argue that the West is plagued by pervasive misogyny. In fact, this claim is made with such frequency, and is so rarely challenged, that it has become part of the Left’s catechism of victimhood, repeated by rote without a second thought. The only real question is how powerful and pernicious the misogyny is. Real-world data, however, suggest a different narrative, complicated by the fact that men have worse outcomes in many domains. For example, they are much more likely to be incarcerated, to be shot by the police, to be a victim of violent crime, to be homeless, to commit suicide, and to die on the job or in combat than women. Furthermore, they have a shorter life expectancy and are less likely to be college educated than women. Although these (and similar) data can be reconciled with the pervasive misogyny theory, they should at least give pause to the open-minded. The best data from contemporary social science tell …