Thursday, November 23, 2023

Meaningless, substance less, anything goes, DEI epistemology

 By Mathew Goldstein

Tragically, nonsense is being promoted in academia by professors under the rubric of scholarship. This foolishness is well entrenched at prestigious secular universities and repeatedly appears in renown academic journals. This unfortunate phenomena spills over from the humanities to the sciences. It is often associated with postmodernist Critical Social Justice ideology (not be confused with actual social justice) which in turn is linked to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). DEI is then linked to civil rights, which provides a compelling excuse for smuggling highly dubious Critical Social Justice ideology into all sorts of topics and institutions. This is a big topic, and I am not an expert, but even with a cursory reading of what it is about it is all too obvious that it is both fundamentally mistaken and counter-productive. So called “Epistemological decolonization” is an example. Read the afore-linked Wikipedia article for a description of the destructive hijacking of epistemology by Critical Social Justice ideology.

Unfairness, injustice, colonization, bigotry, economic exploitation, and the like, are not remedied by refusing to take seriously our responsibility to reliably identify what is non-fictional. If there is one reliable method (empirically anchored reasoning), and that method was utilized most successfully historically by white males in Europe, and Europeans unjustly exploited non-Europeans, and utilizing that one method fictionalizes traditional beliefs that were, and still are, considered to be non-fictional by many people, then it does not follow that we need to replace that one reliable method with a plurality of other, unreliable methods, in the name of social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusiveness, or civil rights. This is why the entire enterprise of re-defining epistemology for the purpose of achieving social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusivity, and civil rights, is flat out silly. Yet over and over again, lots of people are proudly claiming to be doing just that. They are corrupting one field of scholarship after another by mistakenly reframing almost all scholarship as being primarily about the single minded pursuit of an ideologically distorted conception of social justice.

The proponents of Critical Social Justice typically refuse to condescend to debating with their opponents. It is not good enough for the opponents of Critical Social Justice to have studied, and be knowledgeable, regarding the claims made by Critical Social Justice advocates. The proponents arrogantly and presumptuously insist everyone must first decolonize epistemology, etc., and actively incorporate such Critical Social Justice advocacy into their worldview to qualify as being competent enough to publicly discuss social justice. This circular, doxastically closed, approach is a classic indicator/symptom of dogmatism which goes together, hand and glove, with intolerance and authoritarianism. It is anti-intellectualism covered up with a superficial gloss of intellectualism. It lacks integrity.

Solicitations of statements of adherence to the tenets of Critical Social Justice, partially disguised as being solicitations for DEI statements, are being included in employment applications as mandatory competitive qualifications for being hired at secular institutions, much like statements of religious self-belief are included as conditions for employment at religious institutions. Instead of deity to worship and serve, there is systemic injustice to destroy. Penitence and evangelism are deemed essential. Students, to qualify as decent people and citizens, are obligated to endorse the complete set of doctrines and practices as instructed by the clerics. 

It is difficult to avoid noticing how deeply rooted in resentment Critical Social Justice is. Some resentment is good, we should resent unfairness. There are a surfeit of injustices that we should resent. However, epistemology is about how we should go about distinguishing non-fiction from fiction. Resentment has no place here. And yes, the true versus false distinction does make a meaningful difference, it is the difference between our beliefs, and our belief based behaviors, being rational versus being irrational. Epistemology is merely one of the academic subjects being undermined by this all encompassing secular ideology, much like epistemology is merely one of the academic subjects undermined by all encompassing religious ideologies (most of theology).

Advocates of populist, almost anything goes, DEI epistemology should consider European white male Aldous Huxley’s accurate observation in his 1932 book “Texts and Pretexts” that what we claim to know is true is often actually false when we fail to anchor our factual claims in publicly available and verifiable, external to ourself, evidence:

It is man's intelligence that makes him so often behave more stupidly than the beasts. … Man is impelled to invent theories to account for what happens in the world. Unfortunately, he is not quite intelligent enough, in most cases, to find correct explanations. So that when he acts on his theories, he behaves very often like a lunatic. Thus, no animal is clever enough, when there is a drought, to imagine that the rain is being withheld by evil spirits, or as punishment for its transgressions. Therefore you never see animals going through the absurd and often horrible fooleries of magic and religion. No horse, for example would kill one of its foals to make the wind change direction. Dogs do not ritually urinate in the hope of persuading heaven to do the same and send down rain. Asses do not bray a liturgy to cloudless skies. Nor do cats attempt, by abstinence from cat's meat, to wheedle the feline spirits into benevolence. Only man behaves with such gratuitous folly. It is the price he has to pay for being intelligent but not, as yet, intelligent enough.

Monday, November 06, 2023

Ayaan Hirsi Ali commentary on Hamas

 Mathew Goldstein

Recent Interview on Fox News

Everything she is saying here is accurate.

Most state medical boards are too inactive

 By Mathew Goldstein

Disciplining physicians who exhibit incompetence or whose conduct is illegal or abusive towards patients is a chief responsibility of the state medical boards. State licensing boards and health care entities, including professional societies, are required to report to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) certain adverse licensing and disciplinary actions taken against individual practitioners. Malpractice insurers and other payers are also required to report all malpractice payments made on behalf of individual practitioners. State level summary information that does not identify individuals is publicly available. 

Public Citizen’s Health Research Group calculated the rate of serious disciplinary actions per 1,000 physicians in each state per year averaged over three years 2019, 2020, and 2021. They defined “serious disciplinary actions” as those that had a clear impact on a physician’s ability to practice. They utilized the information on the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) website ( census) to determine the total number of physicians in each state.

Michigan averaged 1.74 serious disciplinary actions per 1000 physicians.  Michigan’s rate is lower than the highest three rates for the years 2017-2019.  I agree with Public Citizen that the highest rate currently observed is unlikely to be the best that can be achieved nor is it likely to be adequate for protecting the public from dangerous physicians. Many states took no, or little, disciplinary action against physicians promoting disproven or unproven treatments for COVID-19. Public Citizen points out that “data from the NPDB show that by the end of 2021, 9,286 U.S. physicians have had five or more malpractice-payment reports since the NPDB began collecting such information in 1990. This is a malpractice record worse than 99% or more of all physicians who have practiced since then. Yet, dangerously and unacceptably, three-quarters (75%) of these 9,286 physicians have never had a medical board licensure action of any kind, serious or nonserious.” Also “almost half of physicians deemed worthy of discipline by their peers with whom they practice had no action taken by a licensing board.” We can nevertheless assign an A+ (100%) grade to the Michigan rate and grade the other states from that sub-optimal starting point. 

Maryland’s rate is 0.89 which ranks 25th among all states. That earns Maryland an F grade (51%) relative to Michigan’s rate.  Virginia’s rate is 1.02 which also earns an F grade (58%). Marylanders and Virginians, like the citizens of most states, should be concerned about the poor performance of state medical boards. 

Public Citizen notes: “For $2.50 per physician per year, boards can purchase “continuous query” from the NPDB for each licensee. the licensing boards of Florida, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Wyoming enrolled substantially all their licensees in continuous query. All of these states except Wyoming — a low population state for which a relatively few licensure actions could make a relatively large change in ranking position — were among the twenty highest ranked states.” Yet “In 2022 the licensing boards of 29 states had no physicians enrolled in the Data Bank’s continuous query service. Six of those 29 state boards made no single name queries to the Data Bank. Seven state boards only had between one and fifty physicians enrolled.” Those numbers are pathetic.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

An essayist evangelizes for religious “truths”

 By Mathew Goldstein

Religion Unplugged published an article by Paul Prather who describes himself as a rural Pentecostal pastor in Kentucky on October 23 titled An Essayist Evangelizes Readers For Atheism. His article was a response to an article by Kate Cohen published by the Washington Post on October 3 titled America doesn’t need more God. It needs more atheists. Paul Prather somewhat misrepresents her article’s content so you may want to read her article if you read his article. His argument will probably be persuasive to some of the people who read it, which is a reason why I decided to publish a response.

Paul Prather criticizes Kate Cohen’s argument because, he says, “among other things, it fails to understand how people of faith really function in the world.” He starts by claiming that “some myths” were not intended to be taken literally. He then cites the Genesis account of creation as an example. He is correct that myths are not found “in scientific textbooks”, which is a bigger concession to non-theism than he recognizes. He attempts to counter this concession by asserting that the metaphors of his religion are instead “spiritually true” and “eternal, cosmic truths”. The word “truths”,  asserted here with nothing of substance to support it, is carrying too much of his argument with too little justification to succeed.

Religious texts lack credibility for various reasons, including their reliance on stories (a.k.a. myths) that can be interpreted literally or metaphorically with no clear demarcation in the text itself regarding which interpretation is correct. Deities are either ontological facts or fictions. Metaphorical myths, a.k.a. spiritual  truths, are incapable of establishing ontological facts. Spiritual truths are subjective and as such cannot be equated with eternal, cosmic truths which are necessarily objective.

The fact versus fiction dichotomy matters, particularly when we are allegedly discussing eternal, cosmic truth. If the content of religious texts purporting to reveal the existence of deity are all metaphorical then religious texts are no different than poetry or fictional novels. Yet who worships poetry or novels? Poetry and novels can be alluring, if you enjoy poetry or novels then good for you, consider yourself to be lucky. People can participate in weekly poetry or novel readings and occasional seasonal poetry or novel festivals containing lots of metaphors revealing spiritual truths without any ontological baggage attached. Theistic religions are not like that because they are attached to eternal, cosmic truth claims anchored in ontological fact claims, one of which is the existence of deity.

Paul Prather says “doubt is part of any healthy faith“. Doubt should be proportional to evidence. The less evidence the more doubt and the more evidence the less doubt. Doubt should be diminished to the point of becoming insignificant when the evidence is strong. The word faith here is an admission that the evidence is insufficient to rationally compel belief and therefore doubt is rationally compelled, which significantly undermines the ambitious assertion that the same faith reveals eternal, cosmic truth.

Paul Prather then says “Well, on the days that I believe, here’s what I believe.” While our beliefs will change over time as we learn more, for ontological questions it is unlikely that our access to evidence is going to change on a daily basis to justify such daily alternations in our beliefs. When someone says their belief about how the universe operates alternates on an almost daily schedule it indicates that person is probably not anchoring their understanding of how the universe operates in evidence properly. This conclusion is bolstered by the final line in his article, a quote from the Gospels of someone appealing to Jesus for assistance: “I do believe. Help my unbelief!”. If that quote is supposed to qualify as evidence for theism then we disagree about what qualifies as evidence.

Monday, October 09, 2023

What does Hamas want?

By Mathew Goldstein

The mass media does an incredibly, astonishingly, poor (shitty is the word) job of explaining what Hamas wants (the quality of the coverage varies, but a persistently significant portion of news coverage is off-the-rails wrong). At least partly as a result, there is widespread misunderstanding on this subject, even though this is centrally relevant to the conflict and for understanding what is going on. So here is Ismail Haniyeh providing an explanation to an Arabic audience that their political principle is to rule over all of the land currently controlled by Israel with future warfare and they will not relinquish or compromise on that principle for anything less.

In Defense of Naturalism by Gregory Dawes

 By Mathew Goldstein

It is common for people to claim that science presupposes methodological naturalism. An overlapping claim that I sometimes encounter is that any how the universe works claim, even if that claim was previously widely deemed to be inherently supernatural, automatically necessarily becomes reclassified as being a natural phenomenon if, and when, it is verified to be true by virtue of its being true, thereby a-priori rendering supernatural ontology an impossibility. Several years ago Richard Carrier recommended an excellent article on this topic by philosopher Gregory Dawes. Carrier said “I recently found an article from 2011 making a point I’ve long made myself, that the entire notion of a “presumption of naturalism” being axiomatic to history and the sciences is both an error made by some historians and scientists and an apologetic bluff by Christian apologists—and that, instead, naturalism is an evidence-based conclusion in the sciences reached by long experience, and thus is theoretically revisable; it is also based on evidence, and therefore cannot be “swapped out” by simply changing one’s faith commitment or “preferring” a different axiom. I recommend the whole thing …”

The January 2020 article by Richard Carrier is “Naturalism Is Not an Axiom of the Sciences but a Conclusion of Them”. The 2011 article by Gregory Dawes is In Defense of Naturalism,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 70.1 (2011): 3-25. I think it is shame that this understanding that naturalism is a conclusion of the sciences is not more widely acknowledged, recognized, and accepted, even among scientists. Richard Carrier suggests a reason why this is the case: “Of course, admitting that would blow up the world. It would be declaring war on religion. And calling conservative Christians delusional. It’s a political conundrum. But intellectually, Dawes is right.”

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Postmodern epistemological relativism found to be destructive

By Mathew Goldstein

A recently published pair of studies, one from Sweden (Study 1, N = 1005) and the other from the UK (Study 2, N = 417), focused on truth relativism [Julia Aspernäs, Arvid Erlandsson, Artur Nilsson, “Misperceptions in a post-truth world: Effects of subjectivism and cultural relativism on bullshit receptivity and conspiracist ideation”, Journal of Research in Personality, Volume 105, 2023, 104394,

ISSN 0092-6566,

(]. The study did not investigate causality (as is often the case with such studies since evaluating causality is more difficult than evaluating correlations). The researchers identified two types of truth relativism. One that consists of people who believe that truth depends on which culture or group you belong to, known as cultural relativism. The other consists of people who say they primarily rely on their own gut feeling to determine what is true and false. They are convinced that what they personally feel to be true is true, that is to say, that truth is subjective, henceforward referred to as subjectivism.

This study found that subjectivism was correlated with endorsing conspiracy theories, with holding on to beliefs even when faced with facts that contradict them, with claiming to find profound messages in nonsense sentences, and paradoxically, with rejecting the right of others’ to have their own beliefs. The study concluded that subjectivism remained an independent factor for these correlations after controlling for multiple plausible alternative factors, including analytical thinking ability, political orientation, age, gender, and educational level. These same correlations were not found among those who believe that truth is culture-bound. Cultural relativism was, however, positively correlated with “bullshit receptivity”.

"I think many people who emphasise a more relativistic view of what truth is mean well. They believe that it's important that everyone should be able to make their voice heard. But these results show that such a view can actually be quite dangerous," says PhD student Julia Aspernäs at the Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning in Linköping.

I have seen a video of a local church service where they sing in celebration of “faith facts”, undeterred by the self-contradiction. Our experiences can qualify as evidence provided they are experienced objectively from outside of oneself. Although the theologian advocates and non-theologian practitioners of Reformed epistemology characterize it as experiencing god, it is actually subjectivism in practice because what they characterize as “experiencing god” is more accurately described as some combination of feeling, imagining, overgeneralizing, over-interpreting, and the like, rendering it a subjective experience that resides primarily inside the head of the person with that experience.

Monday, August 21, 2023

The World Health Organization promotes quackery yet again

 Mathew Goldstein

David Gorski, a veteran commenter on the Science Based Medicine web site, has published criticism of one of the bigger purveyors of homeopathy and other crank products and treatments for illness, the World Health Organization. Faculty from the University of Maryland, ‘an institution that has featured in this blog many times before since very early on for the uncritical promotion of “integrating” quackery into science-based medicine by its Integrative Medicine program’, participated in that travesty. I recommend his article The World Health Organization promotes quackery yet again

This long-standing problem appears to draw too little attention and criticism. Among the few others criticizing WHO for their brazen endorsement of bad healthcare practices is Jonathan Jarry, who has a Master’s degree in molecular biology, writing for McGill University’s Office for Science and Society, whose motto is “Separating Sense from Nonsense” in an article titled The  World Health Organization Has a Pseudoscience Problem, and a pair of right wing media publishers, the Spectator in the U.K. and Fox News in the U.S.

Medicine is licensed, insured, and regulated while the supplements business is weakly regulated. If you opt for trying to improve your health with natural substances then you may want to consider subscribing to Consumer Labs. They report on what evidence there is regarding various plant, vitamin, and mineral based approaches for addressing various health concerns and which supplement products actually deliver what they claim to provide (for example, they have an article “Do any supplements help prevent or improve cataracts?”). 

There is biology based evidence that high doses of some anti-oxidants via supplements increase the risk for some cancers by stimulating the growth of new blood vessels that feed the cancer cellsStudies show that high levels of vitamin A, C, and E as supplements increases cases of gastrointestinal cancers (stomach, colon, and/or esophageal) in some people, and beta-carotene (a vitamin A precursor) supplementation is similarly positively correlated with lung cancer. Other cancers rely on the same underlying mechanism to form blood vessels, including kidney, skin, and breast cancers.