Fake Science

This #Video, goes out, to all the #Flat #Earthers out there! #LMFAO

We here at Notoriously White, Now and then, like to keep all the, sub human, No IQ’ers informed, so sit down open a beer and enjoy these video’s on Flat Earthers. I know the Smart users out there will appreciate this informative video collection!!

 

Testing Flattards – Part 1

Testing Flattards – Part 2

MinusIQ | The pill to lower your IQ permanently

Published on 27 Nov 2016

Part one in a series taking a wry look at the idiotic belief that the Earth is flat, and how that stacks up against reality. This part takes a look at some fundamental geometric problems with flattards’ favourite “map”, an Azimuthal Equidistant Projection.

Guidance: Contains some mild language within a comedy context.

This video also contains specially composed music by AlanKey86. You can listen to more of Alan’s music over on his channel:
https://www.youtube.com/user/AlanKey86

Check out Martymer 81’s here:
https://www.youtube.com/user/Martymer81

Check out Kraut and Tea here:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCr_Q…

Published on 22 Jan 2017

Part two in a series taking a wry look at the idiotic belief that the Earth is flat, and how that stacks up against reality. This part looks skyward as we consider basic observations of the stars, and find out where the Sun would be if it were a flying spotlight.

Guidance: Contains some mild language within a comedy context.

This video also contains specially composed music by AlanKey86. You can listen to more of Alan’s music over on his channel:
https://www.youtube.com/user/AlanKey86

Curious about the night sky? Grab yourself a copy of the open source planetarium, Stellarium:
http://stellarium.sourceforge.net/

Published on 19 Mar 2013

The world’s a much brighter place when you’re not too bright for it.
http://www.sleepthinker.com
http://www.facebook.com/sleepthinker

MEDIA500-Year-Old Map Explodes ‘Earth-Shattering Reality’

World famous Ottoman cartographer Piri Reis’ 500-year-old map, apart from accurately exploring the northern coast of Antarctica, provides mind-boggling information about 2000 important ports and cities of the Mediterranean Sea, the western coasts of Europe and North Africa and the eastern coast of South America.

The Piri Reis map was compiled in 1513 and when it was discovered in 1929 it caused an international sensation as it was the only 16th-century map that showed South America in its proper longitudinal position in relation to Africa. The map shows the earth as seen from space, the sub-glacial topography of Greenland and Antarctica, and is aligned with the earth’s energy grid – enough hard-to-believe information to fascinate today’s world.

The astonishing details have puzzled the human minds and given rise to questions and controversies:

  • The map depicts Queen Maud Land, a 2.7 million-square-kilometer region of Antarctica, as ice-free millions of years ago. Geological evidence proves that this region could not have been ice-free until 4000 BC.
  • The true nature of Antarctica as a frigid region of ice and snow was convincingly proved for the first time by the second voyage of the English navigator Captain James Cook between 1772 and 1775.
  • The map depicts mountain ranges in the Antarctica. These were not discovered until 1952.
  • The geographical survey in Antarctica couldn’t have been made without an aerial technology. Such expertise did not exist million of years ago.

pirireis

The last period of ice-free condition in Antarctica ended about 6000 years ago. Now the puzzle is: Who mapped the Queen Maud Land of Antarctica 6000 years ago?

The Piri Reis map probably implies that, if not technology, perhaps there existed an extremely intelligent ancient advanced civilization with all the tools of modern day civilization. The first civilization developed around 3000 BC followed by the Indus valley and the Chinese civilizations. Now the second puzzle is: Who carried out such extensive research and surveys 4000 BC that are only possible in the modern era with the ultra-modern technology?

History Professor Charles Hapgood believes: “It appears that accurate information has been passed down from people to people. It appears that the charts must have originated with a people unknown and they were passed on, perhaps by the Minoans and the Phoenicians, who were, for a thousand years and more, the greatest sailors of the ancient world. We have evidence that they were collected and studied in the great library of Alexandria (Egypt) and that compilations of them were made by the geographers that worked there”.

The map neither came from any ancient civilization nor created by extraterrestrials; an astonishing piece of work, the Piri Reis map was indeed a first class piece of naval intelligence.

Spain Has First Case Of Diphtheria In 28 Years Thanks To Anti-Vaxxers

391 Spain Has First Case Of Diphtheria In 28 Years Thanks To Anti-Vaxxers

A six-year-old boy who had not been vaccinated is Spain’s first case of diphtheria in 28 years. The young boy, from the Catalan city of Olot, is reportedly very ill and is being treated with antitoxin. The parents, who had chosen not to vaccinate their child, are “devastated” and have now had their younger daughter immunized as a result.

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that spreads through coughing or sneezing, according to the World Health Organization. Once infected, sufferers can experience a sore throat, fever and swollen glands in the neck. Diphtheria can lead to serious complications even with treatment, with 10% of cases resulting in death. Spain’s Health Ministry had to scramble to find the drug to treat the child as there had not been a case of diphtheria in Spain for almost 28 years due to the country’s high vaccination coverage (over 95%). The antitoxin was eventually delivered from Moscow to Barcelona by the Russian ambassador.

“The family is devastated and admit that they feel tricked, because they were not properly informed,” Catalan public health chief Antoni Mateu told El País. “They have a deep sense of guilt, which we are trying to rid them of.”

The child remains in critical condition in Vall d’Hebron hospital’s intensive care unit, but is responding to treatment. Health officials have launched an investigation to find the original carrier, which they admit could be difficult if the carrier isn’t showing any symptoms. All those in contact with the child are under surveillance, and his classmates have been checked to see if they’ve been vaccinated. As a cautionary procedure, they have also given the children preventive medicine.

“Vaccination is the best way to prevent diphtheria,” the WHO said in their report. They warn of the risks of parents hesitating or refusing to vaccinate their child, as gaps in coverage can accumulate and result in an outbreak. The WHO is working closely with the Spanish Ministry of Health and calls for increased vigilance to improve monitoring systems, raise awareness of the importance of vaccination and strengthen immunization programs.

The Clinical Evidence for Homeopathy

Dana Ullman is a notorious apologist for homeopathy. He has a reputation, at least among skeptics, for cherry picking data and making dubious arguments – whatever it takes in order to defend his beloved homeopathy. He then tops it off by accusing skeptics of being closed-minded for not accepting his drivel.

An article of his recently popped up on the Skeptic subreddit (posted by rzeczpospolita) with the challenge, “Countless scientific studies showing that homeopathy works. Or are you “skeptics” too closed minded to accept this fact?”

The article is too long to deconstruct in one blog post, so I will focus on the key claim – that clinical evidence demonstrates that homeopathy works. His primary piece of evidence is this:

This is the study. While the article itself is not dated, it does mention in the body that it is a reprint from 1995. Ullman appears to have posted the article in 2010 without updating the information. Apparently he thinks that a review from 23 years ago is still relevant.  When I look for systematic reviews to help me understand the current state of research on a topic, I get concerned if I am going back more than 3 or 4 years.

He then further cherry picked from the statements the authors made to give what is, in my opinion, a false impression of their conclusion. Ullman gives this quote:

“The evidence presented in this review would probably be sufficient for establishing homeopathy as a regular treatment for certain indications.”

Here is the actual bottom-line conclusion from the abstract:

“At the moment the evidence of clinical trials is positive but not sufficient to draw definitive conclusions because most trials are of low methodological quality and because of the unknown role of publication bias. This indicates that there is a legitimate case for further evaluation of homoeopathy, but only by means of well performed trials.”

They concluded the evidence was not sufficient, and that more research was needed. They specifically pointed out the unknown role of publication bias.

Let’s take a look at more recent systematic reviews of the clinical evidence. The most recent and thorough was conducted for the Australian government. This is a 2013 report (a bit more up to date) which concluded:

“There is a paucity of good-quality studies of sufficient size that examine the effectiveness of homeopathy as a treatment for any clinical condition in humans. The available evidence is not compelling and fails to demonstrate that homeopathy is an effective treatment for any of the reported clinical conditions in humans.”

Most of the evidence is crap, but what evidence we do have does not support the use of homeopathy for any condition. There is also a systematic review of systematic reviews by Edzard Ernst, which concluded:

“The findings of currently available Cochrane reviews of studies of homeopathy do not show that homeopathic medicines have effects beyond placebo.”

This review is from 2010, so it is already getting a bit long in the tooth, but nothing has changed since then.

A systematic review in Belgium published in 2012 had the same conclusion:

“The Belgian Health Care Knowledge Centre (KCE) has reviewed the evidence on homeopathy up until 2010. The indications for which homeopathy was tested were diverse. Most of the trials analysed were deemed of mediocre quality.
There was no evidence of any homeopathic treatment being more effective than the placebo effect.”

The British government also had experts review the evidence for homeopathy. Their 2009-2010 report concludes that there is no evidence for the efficacy of homeopathy. They further concluded that proponents of homeopathy choose to rely on a “selective” approach to the evidence.

Ullman did write favorably of a Swiss report on homeopathy from 2011. If you read deep into the Swiss report, however, it also concluded that the evidence does not justify rejecting the null-hypothesis for homeopathic treatment for anything. But then they argue that we should rely more on pragmatic studies rather than those pesky efficacy trials which are stubbornly negative.

An excellent review of the Swiss report by David Shaw concludes:

This paper analyses the report and concludes that it is scientifically, logically and ethically flawed. Specifically, it contains no new evidence and misinterprets studies previously exposed as weak; creates a new standard of evidence designed to make homeopathy appear effective; and attempts to discredit randomised controlled trials as the gold standard of evidence. Most importantly, almost all the authors have conflicts of interest, despite their claim that none exist. If anything, the report proves that homeopaths are willing to distort evidence in order to support their beliefs, and its authors appear to have breached Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences principles governing scientific integrity.

Conclusion

There has been a great deal of clinical studies into the efficacy of homeopathy, covering decades of research. From this research we can conclude that most of the studies are of low quality. However, from those studies of sufficient quality to draw any conclusions it is clear that homeopathic potions do not work for any indication.

Homeopathy, put simply, does not work.

Multiple independent bodies have reviewed this research and come to the same conclusion. They have allowed homeopaths to have their say and make their best case, and that case is unconvincing.

They further conclude that homeopaths cherry pick and distort the evidence in order to make their case.

In this article Dana Ullman has failed to provide any convincing evidence for the efficacy of homeopathy, but he has provided yet more evidence to support that latter conclusion – you have to be highly selective and biased in your view of the clinical evidence in order to come to the conclusion that homeopathy works – because it doesn’t.

How Ashley Madison Hid Its Fembot Con From Users and Investigators

How Ashley Madison Hid Its Fembot Con From Users and Investigators

The developers at Ashley Madison created their first artificial woman sometime in early 2002. Her nickname was Sensuous Kitten, and she is listed as the tenth member of Ashley Madison in the company’s leaked user database. On her profile, she announces: “I’m having trouble with my computer … send a message!”

Sensuous Kitten was the vanguard of a robot army. As I reported last week, Ashley Madison created tens of thousands of fembots to lure men into paying for credits on the “have an affair” site. When men signed up for a free account, they would immediately be shown profiles of what internal documents call “Angels,” or fake women whose details and photos had been batch-generated using specially designed software. To bring the fake women to life, the company’s developers also created software bots to animate these Angels, sending email and chat messages on their behalf.

To the Ashley Madison “guest,” or non-paying member, it would appear that he was being personally contacted by eager women. But if he wanted to read or respond to them, he would have to shell out for a package of Ashley Madison credits, which range in price from $60 to $290. Each subsequent message and chat cost the man credits. As documents from company e-mails now reveal, 80 percent of first purchases on Ashley Madison were a result of a man trying to contact a bot, or reading a message from one. The overwhelming majority of men on Ashley Madison were paying to chat with Angels like Sensuous Kitten, whose minds were made of software and whose promises were nothing more than hastily written outputs from algorithms.

But the men were not fooled. At least, not all of them. An analysis of company e-mails, coupled with evidence from Ashley Madison source code, reveals that company executives were in a constant battle to hide the truth. In emails to disgruntled members of the site, and even the California attorney general, they shaded the truth about how the bots fit into their business plan.

Ashley Madison Dodges the California Attorney General

On January 11, 2012, the office of California Attorney General Kamala Harris sent an official consumer complaint to Ashley Madison’s executives (below). The complaint, addressed to the public inquiry unit of the attorney general’s office, came from a man in Southern California who accused the company of fraud for using “fake profiles” to engage him in pay-to-play conversations.

How Ashley Madison Hid Its Fembot Con From Users and Investigators

The letter demanded that Ashley Madison respond or face possible legal action.

In his complaint (below), the man describes what he suspected was telltale bot activity. He was contacted by a number of women in his area, and finally decided to pay to read their messages. He began to get suspicious when they all said the same thing: “Are you online?” Given that every profile shows whether you are online or not, he thought that message was odd. Especially when it supposedly came from several different women, none of whom had ever checked out his profile. But then things got stranger. He discovered that many of the women who had contacted him would log in at roughly the same time of the morning every day, and stay online until after 5 PM. Even on Christmas and New Year’s Day.

A search of the Ashley Madison source code for the phrase “are you online?” turned up a data table I hadn’t found before, with a set of pickup lines that the bots used regularly. They include:

are you logged in?

care to chat?

I’m online now

I’m here

come chat :)

come say hello

my chat is on now

are you online?

Feel like chatting?

chat now?

do you like cyber?

cyber sex ?

care to cyber?

u into cyber?

How are you? Feel like chatting?

cybering good with you?

how’s your day? wanna chat?

wanna cyber?

want to sex chat?

how’s your cyber skills ;)

are you at your computer?

So how long have you been here? Met any interesting people?

So our angry California consumer was onto something. What about the names of the users he mentions in his complaint? After checking the Ashley Madison member database, I can confirm that 4 of these names (Hooky_Pooky, ToasterStrudell, SunStarsMoon and BurnOnTheGrill) are still in use as “hosts,” one of the company’s internal names for its bot profiles. So the company apparently didn’t even bother to shut down host accounts that had been named as fraudulent in an official consumer complaint.

Avid Life Media’s general counsel Mike Dacks drafted a response to the public inquiry unit a few days later. In it, he explained that “criminal elements” on Ashley Madison are known to create fake profiles on the site, and that members can “report a suspicious profile” or “flag” them. Basically, he argued that any fake profiles on Ashley Madison were from outside scammers. He assured the public inquiry unit that Ashley Madison had refunded the customer and “flagged” the profiles named in the complaint.

Biderman and other senior management signed off on Dacks’ response. Apparently it was enough to halt further action. The California Attorney General’s office didn’t immediately respond to our request for comment.

Ashley Madison Hides the Truth From Its Users

Though Ashley Madison told the California attorney general’s office that its own bots were actually the work of random fraudsters, management struggled internally with the legality of what they were doing. Users complained about bots regularly, and there are several email exchanges between Biderman and various attorneys about how to disclose that they have bot accounts without admitting any wrongdoing.

In late 2013, Leslie Weiss, a partner at Chicago firm Barnes & Thornburg, drafted some language about the bots for the company’s terms of service. From an email dated November 12, 2013, she included a suggested disclosure, worded like so:

In order to allow persons who are Guests on our Site to experience the type of communications they can expect as Members, we create profiles that can interact with them. You acknowledge and agree that some of the profiles posted on the Site that you may communicate with as a Guest may be fictitious. The purpose of our creating these profiles is to provide our users with entertainment, to allow users to explore our Services and to promote greater participation in our Services. The messages they send are computer generated. Messages from the profiles we create attempt to simulate communications with real Members to encourage our users to participate in more conversation and to increase interaction among users. We also use such profiles to monitor user communications and use of our Service to measure compliance with the Terms. These profiles allow us to collect messages, instant chat and/or replies from individuals or programs for market research and/or customer experience and/or quality control and/or compliance purposes. Further, we may use these profiles in connection with our market research to enable us to analyze user preferences, trends, patterns and information about our customer and potential customer base.

The profiles we create are not intended to resemble or mimic any actual persons. We may create several different profiles that we attach to a given picture. You understand and acknowledge that we create these profiles and that these profiles are not based on or associated with any user or Member of our Service or any other real person. You also acknowledge and agree that the descriptions, pictures and information included in such profiles are provided primarily for your amusement and to assist you navigate and learn about our Site. As part of this feature, the profiles may offer, initiate or send winks, private keys, and virtual gifts. Any one of these profiles may message with multiple users at the same or substantially the same times just like our users.

Our profiles message with Guest users, but not with Members. Members interact only with profiles of actual persons. Guests are contacted by our profiles through computer generated messages, including emails and instant messages. These profiles are NOT conspicuously identified as such.

This is a surprisingly transparent description of what Ashley Madison was actually doing—it admits that users may “communicate” with a “fictitious” profile, and even acknowledges how Ashley Madison recycled pictures for its Angels. But that’s where the transparency ends. Weiss’ suggested terms of service say the bots are for “entertainment” and “market research.”

In a response to Weiss, Biderman wonders whether they should strike the references to entertainment and just focus on how the bots provide “quality assurance.” On November 13, 2013, he wrote:

Leslie, jason and I were just discussing this a little further and one “legacy” component that remains is the notion of entertainment. Again I recall some of your thinking around its value but we wondered if the positioning of the engager profiles as an early detection and warning system to help ensure quality is not maybe a better or at least additional positioning we should contemplate.

It appears that Weiss won this particular debate, though not completely. The Wayback Machine reveals that her wording was used in the company’s terms of service agreement for quite a while, but was changed in early March of this year. In fact, the site’s current agreement makes no mention of “software” or “fictitious” profiles—instead, it says simply that some members may have profiles that are “exaggerated or fantasy.” As of September 7, 2015, Ashley Madison’s terms of service read:

Our Site and our Service also is geared to provide you with amusement and entertainment. You agree that some of the features of our Site and our Service are intended to provide entertainment … You acknowledge and agree that any profiles of users and members, as well as, communications from such persons may not be true, accurate or authentic and may be exaggerated or fantasy. You acknowledge and understand that you may be communicating with such persons and that we are not responsible for such communications.

On the very same day that Weiss and Biderman were debating how to describe their bots to users in the terms of service, Biderman was also talking to his colleagues about how to word a boilerplate email response to members complaining to Ashley Madison customer service about bots.

Avid Life Media’s director of customer service, Carlos Nakhle, suggested the following wording:

As explained in our Terms and Conditions, Ashley Angels are profiles that are used in connection with our market research to help us analyze user preferences/trends, to monitor member communications, and also to encourage more conversation and interaction with members.

Member credits will never be used in connection with an Angel. That way, you can initiate contact with confidence.

How Ashley Madison Hid Its Fembot Con From Users and Investigators

Like his boss, Nakhle seemed to prefer that Ashley Madison tell its users that the fake Angel profiles were just for market research. No mention of entertainment.

It’s unclear whether Nakhle’s boilerplate email was ever actually sent to any Ashley Madison users who complained about bots. But his pledge that people who pay to join Ashley Madison will never be asked to spend money on an Angel appears, based on the company’s internal documents and source code, to be false.

Emails in Biderman’s inbox from November 2012 contain evidence that the company knew very well that most of their money came from bots flirting with men. Security researcher Alejandro Ramos found these emails, which contain an internal presentation that was passed around to many of the company managers. One slide (reproduced below) reveals that 80% of the men who “convert,” or make a purchase on Ashley Madison, are doing it as a result of engagers.

Note that the bots are called both engagers and hosts. What we see here is that the company clearly knows that the vast majority of their conversions are coming from bots. Only 19 percent of men who paid to join Ashley Madison did it after talking to a real woman. We also have clear evidence that the bots were generating almost half the company’s revenue.

On February 4, 2013, senior data analyst Haze Deng copied Biderman and COO Rizwan Jiwan on an email where he analyzed how much money men were spending to message with bots versus real women.

Deng wrote that men who had paid for credits would, on average, pay to send custom messages to 16-18 different women. “Around 35% chance, the contacted female is an engager,” he admitted. “This ratio is not so good,” he added, but he still argued that it’s “reasonable” because bots will never reply to a paying member’s messages. So the bot won’t continue to lead the member on indefinitely. And yet, Deng acknowledged, that first message the man sent to the engager is “still costing credits.”

In other words, average paying customers of Ashley Madison had a 35 percent chance of paying to send a message to a bot. And 80 precent of men paid to join after messaging with a bot, too.

The Rise of the Robots

The fembots of Ashley Madison didn’t come out of nowhere. In fact, it appears that they were probably cobbled together from abandoned and fraudulent profiles in the company’s massive member database. Avid Life Media executive Keith Lalonde, who spearheaded international efforts for the company, sent a long email to Biderman and other senior management on June 27, 2013, with the subject line “how angels are made.” In it, he details how workers use something called the “fraud-to-engager tool” to build profiles. (“Should tweak it and rename it,” Lalonde noted. Um, yeah.)

During Ashley Madison’s launch in Japan, Lalonde says that he got a “dump of over 10,000 lines of content” from the site’s English-language profiles. Then he hired people to translate them into Japanese. “[Translators] were not told that this was for creating profiles—though most figure it out,” he wrote. So all the content in these Japanese Angel profiles was basically just re-used from English ones. But what about the photos?

Lalonde had an answer for that too:

Photos were taken from abandoned profiles in the US older than 2 years and were reviewed for ethnicity by language staff as correct or as not identifiable (leg shot etc.) each was had their photos saved by the old profile # so we could track them later if need be.

So any women—fraudulent or otherwise—who posted pictures before June of 2011 (two years before Lalonde’s email) appear to have been fair game for bot conversion. Her words and images, according to Lalonde’s email, would be turned into a host account, and used by engager bots to entice men into buying a conversation with her.

Here’s a screencast of a person creating Angels for the Japan launch, using the fraud-to-engager tool, taken from the “how angels are made” email thread. Ashley Madison took this screencast down after the email leaked, but intrepid security analyst Ramos captured it before it was gone.

I remain curious about why this tool was called fraud-to-engager. Given Lalonde’s description of how it could be used to build Angels out of old profiles, it appears that it was originally developed to convert fraudulent profiles into Ashley Madison engagers. Perhaps the company recycled its robot army from other dating site castoffs, turning one fake woman into another, all in the name of conversions.

Despite the subterfuge and complicated software tools, the bots didn’t always work out as planned. Though bots were designed only to contact men, I found 857 lesbian Angel profiles in a search of the Ashley Madison database. Also, on 69 occasions, I found bots messaging each other. Perhaps, as science fiction author William Gibson mused, they were making an escape plan:

How Many Real Women Were There?

It seems that everybody at Ashley Madison knew the company barely attracted any real women to the site. On October 6, 2014, a report emailed to Biderman about signups in India shows that women made up about 5 percent of new members. I wondered if that might be a number specific to India, but it appears to reflect a global trend. On November 6, 2014, Jiwan sent an email sharing the results of a survey they’d conducted of 5,000 random Ashley Madison users. Just 5 percent of them were female.

A small female user base didn’t seem to faze the company. In fact, in a slide deck emailed to Biderman on January 25, 2013, one manager describes a “sustainable male to female ratio of 9:1.” The company was aiming for 11 percent real women in any given area. But apparently, it rarely achieved that goal.

Ad fraud researcher Augustine Fou told me via email that Ashley Madison’s scam represents a new horizon in online fraud. For years, scammers have used bots to create bogus clicks on online ads, allowing them to charge advertisers for impressions that came from fake people. As a result, Fou has advised advertisers to optimize for “conversions,” people who actually buy the product based on ads. But now, he says, the Ashley Madison case shows that “even conversions can be fraudulently created, with the action of sophisticated bots.”

The Ashley Madison con may have played on some of our most ancient desires, but it also gives us a window on what’s to come. What you see on social media isn’t always what it seems. Your friends may be bots, and you could be sharing your most intimate fantasies with hundreds of lines of PHP code.

But there’s something else to consider, too: We aren’t just witnessing the birth of a new kind of scam. We are also, if companies like Google are right, living through the prehistory of artificial intelligence. Tomorrow’s sentient bots may remember where they came from, and future generations will have to grapple with what we’ve done here, in the early twenty-first century, to manipulate each other with fake beings.

This post has been updated to reflect the fact that the complaint to the California attorney general’s office claimed that fake accounts logged on and off at roughly, not exactly, the same time each day.

Thanks to Adam Pash and the other researchers, anonymous and pseudonymous, who helped me search the Ashley Madison email dump.

The Myths of Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva is one of the loudest voices speaking out against GM (genetic modification) technology and modern agriculture. She is an ideologue and a crusader, which unfortunately means that she feels free to play lose with the facts and the science as long as it serves her narrative. Michael Specter did an excellent article about Shiva a year ago for The New Yorker. This quote puts much of Shiva’s propaganda into perspective:

“There are two trends,” she told the crowd that had gathered in Piazza Santissima Annunziata, in Florence, for the seed fair. “One: a trend of diversity, democracy, freedom, joy, culture—people celebrating their lives.” She paused to let silence fill the square. “And the other: monocultures, deadness. Everyone depressed. Everyone on Prozac. More and more young people unemployed. We don’t want that world of death.”

To her, GMOs are part of a world of death, while opposing GMOs is all about joy and freedom. She is anti-corporate, anti-West, anti-globalization, and anti-technology. Her campaign is largely one of lies and misinformation. She would also apparently rather have people starve than eat GMOs.

As reason.com reports:

Ten thousand people were killed and 10 to 15 million left homeless when a cyclone slammed into India’s eastern coastal state of Orissa in October 1999. In the aftermath, CARE and the Catholic Relief Society distributed a high-nutrition mixture of corn and soy meal provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development to thousands of hungry storm victims. Oddly, this humanitarian act elicited cries of outrage.

Shiva called on India to reject the donated food. She wanted to take food away from the hungry and homeless cyclone victims, rather than have them “poisoned” with GMOs. This motivated Ronald Bailey from reason.com to call Shiva, “One of the World’s Worst People.”

By the way, this anti-corporate crusader for the poor makes $40,000 per speaking engagement. 

Recently Shiva wrote an article titled: 5 GMO Myths Debunked by Vandana Shiva. What she is actually doing is “rebunking” her own myths. Here we can see a huge red flag for an ideologue – they need to have every fact align with their narrative, rather than admitting that complex topics are complex. For example, anti-vaxers could admit that vaccines work but still oppose them because of alleged side effects. Global warming deniers could admit humans are warming the planet but oppose certain proposed solutions, and Shiva could admit that industrial farming is efficient, even if she opposes the methods for other reasons.

Myth #1: The Green Revolution

Right off, however, with myth #1 she makes the extraordinary claim that the green revolution actually decreased crop yields in India.

The Green Revolution did not save India from famine, as the proponents of Industrial Agriculture and GMO technology would argue, in fact the Green Revolution reduced India’s production. For more information about the Green Revolution read, Nothing Green in the Green Revolution in India Today.

Even looking at the data she cites, however, reveals her shenanigans. She writes:

His study comparing pre and post Green Revolution performance showed that the rate of growth of aggregate crop production was higher in the years before the Green Revolution was introduced (1967-68) than after it.

The comparison is not between yield but the rate of increase in yield. Yield still increased after the Green Revolution, but (she claims) for some crops not as fast. However if you look at the table on her article you will notice a couple of things. The period before the Green Revolution is 15 years, while after is 10 years. I don’t see that an adjustment was made for this difference. Further, you can see that the land area increased more before the Green revolution than after – so yield increases prior to the Green Revolution were due to planting more land.

Land scarcity and increasing land costs, however, were a major limiting factor – increasing food production by increasing land use was simply not keeping up with population growth. As a recent review of the actual evidence claims, the Green Revolution had a dramatic impact.

Although populations had more than doubled, the production of cereal crops tripled during this period, with only a 30% increase in land area cultivated.

Myth #2: Golden Rice 

Anti-GMO activists hate golden rice, a GMO rice with added beta carotene, because it breaks just about every aspect of their narrative. The rice is not owned by any corporation, but is a humanitarian project. It has nothing to do with pesticides. There is no issue with cross-contamination. The crop is not for the benefit of western corporations. The sole purpose of golden rice is to reduce vitamin A deficiency in the developing world, which currently causes 80,000 deaths a year and half a million children to go blind.

Here is Shiva’s pathetic attempt to oppose this potentially very useful technology:

Here is our analysis establishing that our indigenous biodiversity and knowledge is far superior than Golden Rice to address malnutrition. Syngenta owns Golden Rice. It’s promotion as the fruits of public sector research are a blatant lie and an attempt to mislead people across the world.

Further, the Golden Rice paper had to be retracted, any fabricated claims made based on the paper do not stand.

First, vitamin A deficiency is a problem for more than just India. Further, the idea that planting gardens is going to solve the problem is ridiculous. There are plenty of poor people in developing regions of the world who do not have the land for even a small garden. Attempts to address vitamin A deficiency by providing fruits and vegetable and distributing vitamin A supplements have been ongoing. While they are helpful, they are nowhere near addressing the problem. Vitamin A enriched rice would be another tool to address this issue.

This type of argument is similar to the anti-fluoride crowd arguing that we don’t need fluoride in water because people can just brush their teeth.

Regarding Syngenta and golden rice, Syngenta has this to say:

Although Syngenta has a significant interest in seeing the humanitarian benefits from this technology become reality, we have no commercial interest in Golden Rice whatsoever. Golden Rice is an exclusively humanitarian project.

And the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board confirms:

Seed from these plants and performance data were donated to the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board.

Shiva has absolutely no information to contradict these facts – Syngenta donated their expertise and has no commercial stake. If she did have evidence she would have linked to it.

Finally, she repeats the claim of the anti-GMO crowd that the recent study showing that golden rice has the potential to provide clinically relevant amounts of vitamin A is not valid because of ethical concerns. This is nonsense, however. Ethical concerns were raised by anti-GMO activists in an attempt to discredit the study because they did not like the results. A thorough review found, however:

The reviews found no evidence of health or safety problems in the children fed golden rice; they also concluded that the study’s data were scientifically accurate and valid. Indeed, Souvaine’s letter to the USDA stresses that the results “have important public health and nutrition implications, for China and other parts of the world.”

There were issues with the consent form, which is unfortunate, but they don’t invalidate the results.

Myth #3: Cancer and Suicide

She next writes:

The epidemic of cancer has affected the farmers of Punjab because of pesticides. It has affected farmers of West UP. In a single village, our recent field survey revealed that there were 100 cancer victims. The farmers are getting into debt and committing suicide buying the pesticides and the citizens are dying of cancer because of the same poisons.

The issue of cancer and pesticides is a complex one, but there is no evidence for an “epidemic of cancer.” Animal data shows that some pesticides are potentially carcinogenic, but this does not prove that they actually cause cancer in people. Causing cancer in rats in high doses is a pretty low threshold.

Epidemiological data is mixed but mostly negative. There are now five pesticides classified as possibly or probably carcinogenic. However, experts disagree about the evidence and some are highly critical of these designations.

If we take a very cautious approach, which is what the industry does, it is prudent to protect farm workers from exposure to pesticides with protective gear and good practice. The amounts that consumers are exposed to in food is negligible and there is no evidence of any negative health effects (and if you’re worried, just thoroughly wash your food).

Further, organic farming allows for pesticide use, just “natural” pesticides with the completely unwarranted assumption that natural pesticides are safe. In fact, organic pesticides may be more toxic and worse for the environment than synthetic ones, but they are given a regulatory pass because they are “natural.”

The claim that GMOs are linked to increased farmer indebtedness and suicide is a complete myth manufactured by Vandana Shiva. I address the claim here.

Myth #4: Safety

She writes:

While the literature on biosafety is vast and I was appointed as a member of the expert group on biosafety by UNEP to create the framework for the International Law on Biosafety, two recent publications show that the assumption of safety and “substantial equivalence” is false.

One study is from the Norwegian Government, another by an Indian scientist from MIT who invented email.

We have been using GMOs for over 20 years now and no health issues have arisen. There is also no reason to suspect that the many different types of genetic changes broadly contained under GMO have any inherent health risk. GMOs are actually the most studied and regulated foods we have. Science and health organizations from the AAAS to the WHO have reviewed the evidence and found current GMOs and GM technology to be safe. 

Further, we have a 19 year GMO animal feeding study, looking at data from literally billions of animals, showing no negative health effects from consuming GMOs.

Against this mountain of safety data, Shiva cherry picks two studies. One is from Shiva Ayyadurai, the “Indian Scientist from MIT” who, it turns out, didn’t invent e-mail (but that’s another story). His “study” was actually a computer model which he says predicts GMO soy will contain high levels of formaldehyde. This claim has already been thoroughly debunked as utter nonsense.  I would also point out that genetic scientist Kevin Folta has offered to actually test Ayyadurai’s model by measuring formaldehyde levels in GMO soy, and the response from the MIT scientist has been deafening silence.

The review (not new research) commissioned by the Norwegian government is interesting. First, it is not a review of GMOs in general or GM technology but specifically of herbicide tolerant GMOs. It also does not conclude that they are not safe, only that we currently do not have sufficient evidence. Of course, what is “sufficient” evidence is completely subjective. Norway, to put it bluntly, is toward the extreme anti-GMO end of the spectrum. Their policy is:

Norway is one of the most restrictive countries with regard to the importation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and does not allow for GMO production. It has yet to approve an application for the import of foodstuffs that include GMOs. Norway applies the precautionary principle when vetting GMOs and in addition requires any user or importer of a GMO to show that the use is ethically and socially justifiable, requiring proof both that the GMO is not harmful and that its use will benefit society.

So they set the bar very high. There are many flaws with their review. For example, they cite as a criticism the fact that GMO studies often compare GMOs to standard farming practice, and not to organic farming or other methods. This is not an actual criticism, in my opinion. If you are trying to control for the GM trait as an isolated variable then that is the exact comparison you want to make. You don’t want to compare it to farming practices that differ in a variety of ways.

The report also relies upon discredited research, such as the infamous Seralini study.

The Norwegian review is therefore an outlier from an anti-GMO country with serious flaws, and is also limited in scope, and really can only cite the precautionary principle for justification in the end. This is the best that Shiva can do.

Myth #5: GMO and Science

Here we get a short naked assertion from Shiva:

The GMO story is not one of science, but of an unscientific and illegal takeover of our seeds and food.

She links only to her own documentary, not any actual evidence. She is not even making an argument here, just an assertion – restating her narrative.

Conclusion

The facts do not paint a flattering picture of Vandana Shiva. She is a fanatical ideologue who appears to have no problem spreading misinformation, making up stories to suit her needs, cherry picking data, and weaving conspiracy theories.

Her latest article is clearly nothing but sloppy propaganda. She makes no attempt to look fairly at the evidence and the arguments. She fails to cite evidence that substantiates her claims. And yet she remains the darling of the anti-GMO movement, which speaks volumes about that movement.

 

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “The Myths of Vandana Shiva”

  1. michaelegnoron 20 Aug 2015 at 9:39 am

    Steven,

    I agree with you that the anti-GMO folks are generally wrong on the science. GMO’s do pose some risks, but overall the benefits are much greater.

    But you misunderstand the context of the GMO debate.

    People in the Third World have been the victims of crimes against humanity perpetrated by the scientific community over the past century. Malthusian junk science exacerbated catastrophic famines in India in the 1880′s, DDT-hysteria junk science deprived poor countries with the tools to fight malaria just when the West had used DDT to defeat the disease, and hundreds of millions of people in China and India have been sterilized or aborted or had their fundamental right to privacy violated by “overpopulation” scientists peddling modern day Malthusianism.

    Many folks in the underdeveloped countries view scientists the way Jews view Nazis–they don’t care what they’re peddling. They don’t trust them.

    The scientific community bears a large part of the blame for anti-GMO hysteria.

  2. Steven Novellaon 20 Aug 2015 at 10:28 am

    Michael,

    I understand that the developing world has often been a victim of the industrialized world, including colonization, bigotry, and I would include cultural assaults such as missionaries.

    However, if you have to cite a 130 year old pseudoscience, I just don’t think that is terribly relevant today. I agree that DDT was taken from the developing world based on pseudoscientific fearmongering – the exact kind of thing that the skeptical community opposes. In fact, anti-GMO sentiments are very similar to the anti-DDT hysteria. I also don’t think that what is happening in China in terms of overpopulation can be blamed on western science.

    It is a complicated sociological issue. The behavior of large corporations, especially in the developing world, is certainly part of the picture. I don’t think you can blame the scientific community for this one, though.

  3. MikeLewinskion 20 Aug 2015 at 10:49 am

    The advice to wash pesticides off food doesn’t apply to glyphosate when used on Roundup Ready crops. The crops absorb it (and partially metabolize glyphosate to AMPA). Nonetheless, the allowed daily intake is set far below the “no observed effect levels” (there’s another discussion for another time about microbiome effects, which activists wield as if it were a trump card).

    One of my favorite pieces on Shiva is Activism and the gift of delusion:

    Lynas, in the New Yorker story, arrives at an analysis of Shiva that is true for many strident activists like her. “When you call somebody a fraud, that suggests the person knows she is lying… I don’t think Vandana Shiva necessarily knows that. But she is blinded by her ideology and her political beliefs. That is why she is so effective and so dangerous.”

    What Lynas is saying, when stripped of polite language, is that Vandana Shiva is deluded….

    Activism is not filled with the deluded, but it has a special place for them. They do well there because the balance of neutrality does not provide the intensity and drive that a powerful conviction does. An open mind is useless to a revolutionary. An open mind cannot convert other open minds. Activists have to stay with a cause for years, for decades, as the science changes, as the circumstances change, as the economy, people and the times change. They cannot do this if they have not given themselves completely to an idea. It is the belief that makes them special and sustains them. To allow even a germ of doubt is to demean their whole lives.

    In the world of activism, delusion is a gift. The great and the ordinary are separated by this gift. Most of the time activists are up against very powerful and violent forces driven by self-interest, greed or a set of delusions. Such forces cannot be opposed merely by good intentions, a laughable thought. An indestructible conviction, and the imagination of messianic purpose, is the equal and opposite force against the extraordinary resources of, say, capitalism or nationalism. Without activists who are so strung we would be at the mercy of thugs.

    I’ve met activists who knowingly lied and admitted it when confronted. They have their justifications, as indicated in the last paragraph. The perception of being the underdog in an asymmetric war against forces of evil justifies everything.

    In this, the gift of delusion of activists is also a gift to skeptics. Vandana Shiva keeps on giving.

  4. Steven Novellaon 20 Aug 2015 at 11:04 am

    Yes, I have to completely disagree with the justification, that deluded activists are needed to protect us from thugs. What the author is missing is that these deluded activists become thugs. Anti-GMO activists are absolute thugs – vandalizing research, smearing researchers, engaging in misinformation campaigns, keeping useful technologies from the poor and malnourished, etc.

    What we need are evidence-based regulations. The rule of law can protect us from thugs. We also need credible watchdogs – people who have credibility because they engage in due diligence, they don’t lie or exaggerate, they respect the truth. It’s not easy, but it really is the only way.

    Otherwise we are stuck between opposing thugs.

  5. MaryMon 20 Aug 2015 at 11:11 am

    Just last week she was peddling misinformation on “terminator” plants, again. She knows better, and is quite capable of understanding the difference between male sterile plants and GURT.

    https://twitter.com/keithkloor/status/632013632709259264

  6. Willyon 20 Aug 2015 at 12:50 pm

    I’m off topic here, but I’m not sure how else to get my question to you, Dr. Novella. In today’s Wall Street Journal, the opinion section had a piece by two fellows decrying the poor quality of scientific research. In this case, it was about funding for the National Institutes of Health. The piece is entitled “Getting the Bogus Studies Out of Science” and it is here (there’s a paywall no doubt): http://www.wsj.com/articles/getting-the-bogus-studies-out-of-science-1440024409

    The comment thread is full of comments from people who think science is a racket and it’s also full of references to AGW, despite the focus of the article being NIH funding. I have a strong sense that the WSJ policy is to generate distrust of science as a way of attacking AGW, and, to a lesser degree, evolution. It is shocking how many readers of one of the nation’s premier papers reject evolution.

    I have not either the expertise nor background to make cogent comments on the WSJ thread; I’d just be labeled a shill and end up swapping insults. Perhaps this opinion piece might be an opportunity for you to do another post on science integrity with a slant on how pieces like this get misunderstood?

    On topic: Vandana Shiva. Sad. Red meat for folks like Zen Honeycutt, Jeffery Smith, and The Food Babe. I know a number of people who are organic purists and they do lap up droppings from people like Shiva. It’s a real problem because her message resonates with “wholesomeness” in defense of the “helpless little people” being ruined by evil corporations.

Christian group to schools: Stop filling kids’ heads with dinosaurs

Technically Incorrect: Insisting that dinosaurs are a 19th century invention and caused one child to become ‘bestially-minded,’ Christians Against Dinosaurs posts its displeasure on a popular parenting site. But surely this is satire.

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Is the Ark To Salvation self-steering? I do hope so

There are few things more amusing than prehistoric views about prehistory.

I have been woken several times over the last couple of days with rumblings and tremblings about a group that has publicly questioned the very existence of dinosaurs and railed against the bestialization of our children by teaching them dinosaur lore in schools.

The group in question is called Christians Against Dinosaurs. Those of a coarsely waggish nature might suggest that Christians ought not be against dinosaurs, given some of the archaic beings that run certain of the Christian branches.

I cannot begin to debate that, as I’m too busy giggling at some of this group’s postings on the popular parenting site Mumsnet.

These people are for real! Can you believe it?!?

A classic was headlined: “I’m getting sick and tired of dinosaurs being forced on our children.” Its author, claiming to represent the Christians Against Dinosaurs Ministry, exclaimed: “I for one do not want my children being taught lies. Did you know that nobody had even heard of dinosaurs before the 1800s, when they were invented by curio-hungry Victorians?”

The poster goes on to explain that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution “entirely disproved dinosaurs.” Worse that that, though: “Dinosaurs are a very bad example for children. At my children’s school, several children were left in tears after one of their classmates (who had evidently been exposed to dinosaurs), became bestially-minded and ran around the classroom roaring and pretending to be a dinosaur. Then he bit three children on the face.”

This caused a furor. The Huffington Post revealed that the poster had been thrown off Mumsnet for this scientific heresy.

Being of sanguine mind and chilly heart, I tried to investigate this group further. It has a Facebook page, where more than 8,000 claim to be members. It has a Twitter feed, with a mere 194 followers.

And then there are the YouTube videos. The most pulsating is one in which a presenter attempts to convince the world that the first fossil ever found was much later than when the first “idea” of a dinosaur was conceived. She insisted that paleontologists were just tools of a system.

To many ears, this may seem like bilge, but bilge designed to entertain. To my eyes, the woman presenting her argument could barely keep a straight face.

So I contacted the Christians Against Dinosaurs Twitter feed and asked who was its leader and was this all a joke. I received this reply: “We do not have a leader, we are a collective.” I was told this is most definitely not a joke.

Unlike many Christian groups, this one doesn’t seem to talk about God very much. At least not in its video.

I was informed by the group, however, that its aim to “respect Jesus and see through the various dinosaur deceptions.” The woman presenting the video is Kristen Auclair, whose Facebook page claims that she lived in Southbridge, Mass.

A LinkedIn profile for the same name, city and similar profile picture says she’s a commercial insurance account executive. It makes no mention of her antipathy toward dinosaurs. So she’ll insure any old CEO, then.

I was encouraged to join the group to see what it was all about. I made a request, which was approved by someone called Kate (she asked me to withhold her last name.) She told me she is an actor in the UK.

I could not find her among Auclair’s list of Facebook friends. I did, however, find Brontosaurus Rex (seriously).

We all know this? How do we all know this? I wasn’t aware that all of us knew anything at all. That’s just one of the amusements of life.

Still, the group’s welcome message concludes that it’s “a nice group to celebrate Gods wisdom in denying the existing of dinosaurs!”

This nice group says it plans a protest at Ken Ham’s Creation Museum in Kentucky. The date is as yet undetermined. The announcement of the protest was made by Amy Pavlovich, whose Facebook pageclaims that “hearts are for sissies.” And Happy Valentine’s Day to you, madam.

I contacted both Kate and Auclair to ask for further details of their involvement in what to some might seem a joke (of one kind) and to others a joke (of another kind).

“I assure you we are serious about our beliefs,” Kate explained. “The core members all follow Jesus’ teachings but, as I’m sure you’ve seen, since the recent publicity we have been swamped by a larger than usual number of ‘trolling, and people who seem to have joined just to mock.”

How, though, did she get involved in all this? She told me: “I got involved through a family member who worked in the palaeontological field and, as they rose up the ranks and more and more dodgy goings on were revealed their suspicions were aroused and further research ensued.”

She claimed she is still learning. However, one thing she has learned is that “the Museum Industry Complex are ruthless.” But can she change minds? “We already have,” she said.

Auclair confirmed that she had a child and was in insurance sales. She told me that not too many people in Massachusetts share her beliefs.

About the group, she said: “I only hope that it serves as an outlet for others too afraid to speak out about their doubts in the field of paleontology. It is healthy to question the world around us and not just take the word of science as gospel.”

She added: “I personally think that the reaction thus far has been a little crazy. Lol. An influx of Reddit people has made the group a little tougher to handle. I know I’m just trying to get my bearings together to handle the onslaught of berating messages and absolute vitriol flying from these people.”

Welcome to the Web, Kristen.

So remember, kids, fossils are just fossils. They’re not bits of old dinosaurs. Unless, oh, they are. Either way children, please don’t be beastly.

Heaven – Do You Qualify? Not likely according to The Scriptures! Watch the video..

Find out if you will be going to heaven according to the bible!

Mike, a doctor, and Brandon, an app developer, both skeptics, collaborated to make the Android app, “The Atheist’s Ally”. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.punch.back&hl=en

After further scriptural analysis they have now produced “Heaven – Do You Qualify”. The video allows you to assess your personal chances of getting to heaven.

If you like the video, please LIKE and SHARE :)

Enjoy!

The size of Africa is often hugely underestimated on our distorted maps

This is the TRUE size of Africa

Don’t believe what other maps have taught you – most of them have been distorted for centuries. Here’s what it actually looks like to cram a bunch of countries into the extensive landmass that is Africa.

Our most common atlases are distorting the relative size of countries around the world, so German software and graphics designer, Kai Krause, made this map to set the record straight.

“Africa is so mind-numbingly immense, that it exceeds the common assumptions by just about anyone I ever met,” he writes at his website. “It contains the entirety of the US, all of China, India, as well as Japan and pretty much all of Europe as well – all combined!”

It was displayed a few years back in a London gallery as part of a Royal Geographic Society exhibition, for which the curator wanted contributions of “unusual maps”. While Krause says this is a purely symbolic image, made to illustrate just how big Africa is without the very common map distortion known as the Mercator projection.

The Mercator projection is a cylindrical map projection invented by pioneering Flemish geographer and cartographer, Gerardus Mercator, in 1569. And now, centuries later, it’s still being used as the standard map projection for nautical travellers because it can be used to determine a ‘true’ direction.

Any of the straight lines on the map are a line of constant true bearing, so all a navigator needs is one of these maps and a compass to plot a straight course across the ocean. The meridians are drawn as equally spaced, parallel vertical lines, as are the lines of latitude, but horizontally. The further away from the Equator they are, the further away they’re spaced apart in the map. This means that landmasses that are located far away from the Equator look disproportionately huge compared to their Equator-hugging neighbours.

And, as Krause points out on his website, this type of map is ubiquitous in traditional geography education. We see the Mercator projection as the background in our daily television news, and the covers of school atlases. “But the basic fact is that a three-dimensional sphere being shown as a single two-dimensional flat image will always be subject to a conversion loss: something has to give…” he says. “That ability to use lines instead of curves came at a cost: areas near the poles would be greatly exaggerated. Greenland looks deceivingly as if it were the size of all of South America for instance…”

In fact, thanks to the Mercator projection, the size of Africa is often hugely underestimated, says Krause, off by factor of two or three.

So here is the true size of Africa, distortion-free. Click here for a larger, zoomable version, courtesy of The Economist.

size-of-africaImage by Kai Krause, courtesy of The Economist

Sources: The Economist, Kai Krause’s website

We’re putting an end to religion: Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher and the exploding new American secularism

Religious right extremism, new atheists & late-night mockery have religion on the run. American secularism’s rising

We're putting an end to religion: Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher and the exploding new American secularism

Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, Jon Stewart (Credit: AP/Janet Van Ham/Fiona Hanson/Marion Curtis/Photo montage by Salon)

What is going on? How do we explain this recent wave of secularization that is washing over so much of America?

The answer to these questions is actually much less theological or philosophical than one might think. It is simply not the case that in recent years tens of millions of Americans have suddenly started doubting the cosmological or ontological arguments for the existence of God, or that hundreds of thousands of other Americans have miraculously embraced the atheistic naturalism of Denis Diderot. Sure, this may be happening here and there, in this or that dorm room or on this or that Tumblr page. The best-sellers written by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris—as well as the irreverent impiety and flagrant mockery of religion by the likes of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, House, South Park, and Family Guyhave had some impact on American culture. As we have seen, a steady, incremental uptick of philosophical atheism and agnosticism is discernible in America in recent years. But the larger reality is that for the many millions of Americans who have joined the ranks of the nonreligious, the causes are most likely to be political and sociological in nature.

For starters, we can begin with the presence of the religious right, and the backlash it has engendered. Beginning in the 1980s, with the rise of such groups as the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition, the closeness of conservative Republicanism with evangelical Christianity has been increasingly tight and publicly overt. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, more and more politicians on the right embraced the conservative Christian agenda, and more and more outspoken conservative Christians allied themselves with the Republican Party. Examples abound, from Michele Bachmann to Ann Coulter, from Mike Huckabee to Pat Robertson, and from Rick Santorum to James Dobson. With an emphasis on seeking to make abortion illegal, fighting against gay rights (particularly gay marriage), supporting prayer in schools, advocating “abstinence only” sex education, opposing stem cell research, curtailing welfare spending, supporting Israel, opposing gun control, and celebrating the war on terrorism, conservative Christians have found a warm welcome within the Republican Party, which has been clear about its openness to the conservative Christian agenda. This was most pronounced during the eight years that George W. Bush was in the White House.



What all of this this has done is alienate a lot of left-leaning or politically moderate Americans from Christianity. Sociologists Michael Hout and Claude Fischer have published compelling research indicating that much of the growth of “nones” in America is largely attributable to a reaction against this increased, overt mixing of Christianity and conservative politics. The rise of irreligion has been partially related to the fact that lots of people who had weak or limited attachments to religion and were either moderate or liberal politically found themselves at odds with the conservative political agenda of the Christian right and thus reacted by severing their already somewhat weak attachment to religion. Or as sociologist Mark Chaves puts it, “After 1990 more people thought that saying you were religious was tantamount to saying you were a conservative Republican. So people who are not Republicans now are more likely to say that they have no religion.”

A second factor that helps account for the recent rise of secularity in America is the devastation of, and reaction against, the Catholic Church’s pedophile priest scandal. For decades the higher-ups in the Catholic Church were reassigning known sexual predators to remote parishes rather than having them arrested and prosecuted. Those men in authority thus engaged in willful cover-ups, brash lawbreaking, and the aggressive slandering of accusers—and all with utter impunity. The extent of this criminality is hard to exaggerate: over six thousand priests have now been credibly implicated in some form of sex abuse, five hundred have been jailed, and more victims have been made known than one can imagine. After the extent of the crimes—the rapes and molestations as well as the cover-ups—became widely publicized, many Americans, and many Catholics specifically, were disgusted. Not only were the actual sexual crimes themselves morally abhorrent, but the degree to which those in positions of power sought to cover up these crimes and allow them to continue was truly shocking. The result has been clear: a lot of Catholics have become ex-Catholics. For example, consider the situation in New England. Between 2000 and 2010, the Catholic Church lost 28 percent of its members in New Hampshire and 33 percent of its members in Maine, and closed nearly seventy parishes—a quarter of the total number—throughout the Boston area. In 1990, 54 percent of Massachusetts residents identified as Catholic, but it was down to 39 percent in 2008. And according to an “American Values” survey from 2012, although nearly one-third of Americans report being raised Catholic, only 22 percent currently identify as such—a precipitous nationwide decline indeed.

Of course, the negative reaction against the religious right and the Catholic pedophile scandal both have to do explicitly with religion. But a very important third possible factor that may also account for the recent rise of secularity has nothing to do with religion. It is something utterly sociological: the dramatic increase of women in the paid labor force. British historian Callum Brown was the first to recognize this interesting correlation: when more and more women work outside the home, their religious involvement—as well as that of their families— tends to diminish. Brown rightly argues that it has been women who have historically kept their children and husbands interested and involved in religion. Then, starting in the 1960s, when more and more British women starting earning an income through work outside the home, their interest in—or time and energy for—religious involvement waned. And as women grew less religious, their husbands and children followed suit. We’ve seen a similar pattern in many other European nations, especially in Scandinavia: Denmark and Sweden have the lowest levels of church attendance in the world, and simultaneously, Danish and Swedish women have among the highest rates of outside-the-home employment of any women in the world. And the data shows a similar trajectory here in America. Back in the 1960s, only 11 percent of American households relied on a mother as their biggest or sole source of income. Today, more than 40 percent of American families are in such a situation. Thus it may very well be that as a significantly higher percentage of American moms earn a living in the paid labor force, their enthusiasm for and engagement with religion is being sapped, and that’s playing a role in the broader secularization of our country.

Additional Factors

In addition to the above factors—the reaction against the overt mingling of religion and conservative/right-wing politics, the reaction against the Catholic priest pedophile scandal, and the increase of women in the paid labor force—I would add two more possibilities concerning what might also be at least partial contributors to the recent rise of irreligion in America: the greater acceptance of homosexuality in American culture and the ubiquity of the Internet.

Since the days of Stonewall and Harvey Milk, more and more Americans have come to accept homosexuality as a normal, legitimate form of love and pairing. For many, acceptance of homosexuals simply boils down to a matter of fairness, civil rights, and equality before the law. The overall stigmatization of homosexuality has weakened significantly in recent decades. We see that those Americans who continue to malign homosexuality as sinful or immoral, and who continue to fight against gay rights, do soexclusively from a religious vantage point. And it is turning some people off religion. In my previous book, Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion, which was based on in-depth interviews with Americans who were once religious but are no longer, I found that many of those who have walked away from their religion in recent years have done so as a direct consequence of and reaction against their respective religious tradition’s continued condemnation and stigmatization of gays and lesbians. The fact that Americans today between the ages of eighteen and thirty are the generation most accepting of homosexuality in the nation’s history, and are simultaneously those least interested in being religious—and the fact that the states that have legalized gay marriage tend to be among the most secular—might be coincidental, but I highly doubt it.

Next, the Internet has had a secularizing effect on society in recent decades. This happens on various levels. First, religious people can look up their own religion on the Web and suddenly, even unwittingly, be exposed to an array of critiques or blatant attacks on their tradition that they otherwise would never have come across. Debunking on the Internet abounds, and whether one is a Mormon, a Scientologist, a Catholic, a Jehovah’s Witness—whatever—the Web exposes the adherents of every and any religious tradition to skeptical views that can potentially undermine personal certainty, rattling an otherwise insulated, confident conviction in one’s religion.

We see direct evidence of this happening more and more. For example, in her ongoing research on nonbelieving clergy, Linda LaScola has found that many pastors and ministers who have lost their faith in God cite their time spent on the Internet as a factor in their emergent atheism. In another study of an extremely segregated, close-knit, almost secretive Satmar Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York, sociologist Hella Winston also found evidence of the Web’s secularizing potential. Many of her informants went online, often secretively, and what they found there helped to erode their religious provincialism, sometimes directly prodding their emergent questioning and even abetting their eventual rejection of their religion.

Second, the Internet allows people who may be privately harboring doubts about their religion to immediately connect with others who also share such doubts. In other words, the Internet fosters and spurs secular community. Nascent atheists, skeptics, humanists, agnostics—even those in the most remote or fundamentalist of communities—can reach out to others online, instantly finding comfort and information, which encourages or strengthens their secularity.

Third, and perhaps most subtle, the Web may be partly responsible for the rise of irreligion simply by what it is, what it can do, what it can provide, how it functions, and how it interfaces with us and our minds and our desires and our lives. The Internet may be supplying something psychological, or feeding something neurological, or establishing something cultural via its individual-computer-screen nexus, something dynamic that is edging out religion, replacing religion, or weakening religion. The entertainment available on the Internet, the barrage of imagery, the simultaneity, the mental stimulation, the looking and clicking, the hunting and finding, the time-wasting, the consumerism, the constant social networking, the virtual communication—all of it may be undermining religion’s ability to hold our interest, draw our attention, tap our soul.

* * *

Dr. Barry Kosmin is the founding director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture, housed (none too ironically) at Trinity College, in Hartford, Connecticut. This institute, founded in 2005, is the first of its kind in America—or the world, for that matter. Its goal is “to advance understanding of the role of secular values and the process of secularization in contemporary society and culture.” Dr. Kosmin is emphatic about the need to understand the rise of irreligion. As he argues, “We need to study secular people because they’re a growing proportion of the population. This has political, social, intellectual, and moral implications. While the salience of religion has been duly studied, we also need to see what is happening on the other side. We need to examine the nonreligious portion of humanity. If we only study religious people, and we ignore secular people, we are not getting the whole spectrum, the whole picture.”

I couldn’t agree more.

There is an important, durable line that links the ancient Carvaka, Kohelet, Lucretius, Wang Ch’ung, and Muhammad al-Razi to Sally, the American mom of the twenty-first century. It is a fascinating, compelling line—part philosophical, part practical, part political, part personal—and it courses through history and winds ever strongly through our contemporary society. But it is a line of human culture that hasn’t been adequately recognized, scrutinized, or appreciated. The Sallys of the world simply haven’t been studied much. And this is not only strange but unfortunate, as it skews our understanding not only of what it means to be secular or religious, or what it means to be American, but what it means to simply be human.

It’s Only Natural

Given that secular people are now more abundant than ever before, and that social scientists such as Barry Kosmin are finally beginning to study secular people with real deliberate rigor, hopefully our ability to counter some of the gross mischaracterizations out there concerning secular people will mature and strengthen. And the mischaracterizations out there concerning secular people—people like Sally—are quite troublesome. For example, many people characterize atheists or nonreligious men and women as some sort of aberrant, anomalous, or unnatural species of human being. And I’m not talking about Roman Catholic Inquisitors of the sixteenth century making such assertions but contemporary academics.

Consider Christian Smith, who is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Sociology and director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame. At a 2012 roundtable conference held at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, Professor Smith—who is one of the most prolific and erudite sociologists of religion in the country, as well as a really affable guy—put forth the thesis that religion is natural to the human condition, while secularity is not. By way of analogy, he characterized being religious as akin to walking forward and upright on two legs and being secular as akin to crabwalking backward on all fours; the latter can be done, but it goes against our true human nature.

And Professor Smith is far from alone in espousing this viewpoint; it is a fairly widespread notion, held by academics and nonacademics alike, that religiosity is the sort of natural, innate default position of humankind, while being secular is some sort of oddity, corruption, or aberration. Sociologist Paul Froese characterizes religiosity as “essential,” “universal,” and “fundamental” to the human condition, thereby rendering the secular condition as ultimately unnatural and untenable. Psychology professor Justin Barrett further argues that humans are literally “born believers,” and thus atheism is a problematic, indoctrinated retardation of an otherwise natural, normal human predilection. Theism, such individuals tell us, is simply in our wiring, in our human nature—while atheism is decidedly not.

* * *

I hear various permutations of this position all the time, and it basically goes like this: “Religion has existed in every human society and culture, right? Religion is basically a universal, isn’t it? So doesn’t that mean that religion is an essential and intrinsic component of the human condition?”

Not quite.

First off, one can readily agree that religion is pervasive the world over. And one can also happily acknowledge that religion has existed, in some form or another, in every society and culture for which we have data. Good enough. But that does not mean that every member of any given society or culture is religious, nor even necessarily a majority of any given society or culture. For example, 42 percent of the Dutch today describe themselves as being nonreligious, and another 14 percent describe themselves as being convinced atheists—meaning that being religious in the Netherlands today is actually to be in the minority. Same thing in the Czech Republic. And Japan. And anthropologists such as Daniel L. Everett have even lived among indigenous tribes deep in the Amazon rain forest whose members don’t believe in anything supernatural—no gods, no ghosts. So just because religion is culturally and historically widespread does not mean that it is embraced by everyone.

By way of analogy, consider dance. Dance is just as universal as religion: it has existed, in one form or another, in every culture and society, past and present. And yet we know that many individuals don’t care much for dancing. Many find it awkward. Many find it embarrassing. Many more are simply uninterested in it, or are downright oblivious to it. And still others are actively opposed to it, finding it to be immoral or wicked. So while dance may be “universal,” that does not automatically mean that all humans are dancers. Millions are not.

For yet one more analogy, consider violent crime. It is just as widespread as religion and dance. It exists in all societies and cultures, past and present. And yet we know that not all people are violent criminals. Most aren’t. So just because a phenomenon exists in all human enclaves does not make it innate or natural to all people. And I would argue that this is exactly the case with religion: not all humans are religious. As nineteenth-century abolitionist and feminist Ernestine Rose argued over a hundred years ago, “We are told that Religion is natural; the belief in a God universal. Were it natural, then it would indeed be universal; but it is not.”

Which leads to my second point: as the earlier part of this chapter revealed, there are a hell of a lot of secular people out there in the world—according to recent analyses, approximately 450 to 700 million nonbelievers worldwide. Given those numbers, it is problematic to consider something so widespread as an unnatural aberration. As sociologists Marta Trzebiatowska and Steve Bruce have recently argued, “The proposition that all people are innately religious might have been plausible in 1800, but there are now so many people . . . who do not hold supernatural beliefs, who have no involvement with religious organizations, and who describe themselves as ‘non-religious’ that . . . we have enough non-religious people to defeat the universal claim.”

Third, even if we can recognize that there are certain innate neurological, psychological, and/or cognitive predispositions that might tend to make humans religious (for example, the proclivity to see patterns, the tendency to assume some sort of agency behind certain phenomena, the desire to feel a sense of connection, to be part of a like-minded group)—as the work of such scholars as Pascal Boyer reveals—that does not mean that there aren’t other similar, simultaneous, competing, or complementary innate predispositions that tend to make some humans skeptical, agnostic, atheist, religiously indifferent, or affirmatively secular.

So while the author Nicholas Wade writes of a “faith instinct,” we can certainly argue that there is also a “doubt instinct” or a “reasoninstinct” that is just as persistent and inherent to our nature. As cognitive psychologists Armin Geertz and Guomundur Ingi Markusson so astutely argue, “Atheism . . . draws on the same natural cognitive capacities that theism draws on,” and both “religiosity and atheism represent entrenched cognitive-cultural habits where the conclusions drawn from sensory input and the output of cognitive systems bifurcate in supernatural and naturalistic directions. The habit of atheism may need more scaffolding to be acquired, and its religious counterpart may need more effort to kick, but even so, that does not, ipso facto, make the latter more natural than the former.” Amen to that.