Archive for the 'Columns' Category

Column 18: Special “RationalWiki is down” Edition!

It’s funny. Usually, whenever Andrew Schlafly or one of his minions release their crazy ramblings into the wild, I can at least decode the reasoning and the assumptions behind it, even if I don’t agree with it or can otherwise relate to it. But the most recent one of Schlafly’s “Insights” concerning the “secular concept of the ‘past'” really has me puzzled. It may be true that Jesus doesn’t speak much about the past, since he’s generally more interested in the future, but he does refer e.g. to the Law of the Fathers and all that.

And indeed, one of the important differences between Christianity and other religions of the time is actually exactly its emphasis on a linear rather than a cyclical time: That there is a natural progression from the creation of the universe, through the various ages of the world, until the end of everything in the Judgement Day.

So I don’t get it. Apparently, Schlafly has decided to deny one of the central aspects of Christianity as being “secular”, and I don’t understand why. After all this time, he finally has me stumped. So… props to him for once, I guess.

———

Also, this is the official “talk about whatever until RationalWiki comes back online”-thread. So feel free to talk about whatever until… yeah, you get the idea.

Column 17: First Post-Unblock Impressions

It’s now been a couple of days since my unexpected unblock from Conservapedia, and I’ve collected a couple of impressions.

Curiously, it is at the same time much the same place and a much different place from the one I left a little over a year ago. It is much the same in that it still o’erflows with the usual ultra-right wing bias, the usual misconduct by management and their conies, and the usual almost gleeful disregard for demonstrable facts. Nothing new under the sun there.

On the other hand, it is also a much different place. For one thing, it is a much quieter place than it used to be. There seems to be very few actual editors left, and it sometimes takes days to fill up the recent changes list, especially if you only look at the, for an alleged encyclopedia rather important, main space edits. I guess this situation is one that one must expect considering the rather cavalier attitude that most sysops show towards user right and block reasons and such. These thing tend to erode the potential user base over time.

And for another thing – although one that it probably closely related to the first – Conservapedia is seriously messed up right now. And I’m not just referring to the ways in which it’s always been messed up; no, these days, it’s messed up technically as well. I’m getting network timeouts and connection interruptions for hours at a time here. I have no idea how I’m ever going to produce my many valuable contributions under these circumstances.

Nevertheless, I’m there, for the time being and to the extent possibly. And I’m contributing, for some reason unknown even to myself. And I’ve managed to only make one snarky comment in the two days I’ve been there. We’ll see how long I can keep that up.

Until then, good night and good luck.

En Passant: Talkin’ About It…

…or not.

Alright. What in God’s name (sorry) is going on here? We have the Historicity of Jesus article, which after a brief perusal seems at least acceptable, and at least reasonably well researched – even if, as can be expected, the conclusion is given from the outset.

Surprisingly, it does not even appear to be locked. But the talk page, on the other hand, has been thoroughly wiped, deleted and locked. Why? Was there a long, contentious debate with much bile being spit across the ideological chasm, as has been seen on other talk pages? Nah. Just one snide comment.

So again – what’s going on here? Your guesses are as good as mine, and encouraged. I’m looking forward to learning from your constructive contributions!

Column 16: A Pox on Thee!

Lone Grasshopper draws our attention to the fact that this is all Andrew Schlafly wants us to know about smallpox:

Smallpox is an acute, highly infectious, often fatal disease caused by a poxvirus and characterized by high fever and aches with subsequent widespread eruption of pimples that blister, produce pus, and form pockmarks. It is also called variola.

Well, that is… concise. It’s also pretty ridiculous, because there exists an earlier and much longer variant of this articl, which was actually really good. Well-written, informative and concise (at least in the non-Schlaflyan meaning of that term, i.e. imparting much information in relatively little space.)

Mr. Schlafly doesn’t want us to see that, however. He’s pretty adamant about it, too:

Revision as of 10:24, 4 June 2007 (edit) (undo)
Aschlafly (Talk | contribs)
(reverting again; don’t revert back to the longer version or else your account will be blocked)

Now, most of us know perfectly well that Conservapedia cares much more about having a large number of articles to parade on the Main Page than about the actual quality of those articles, but even then, this seems a little extreme. The logical conclusion is that there is something in the longer article that mr. Schalfly doesn’t want us to see, but which would be too obvious to remove specifically. My guess is vaccination is the problem. Probably this paragraph in particular:

Eradication

The annihilation of smallpox—the dreadful scourge of the human race—will be the final result of vaccination.” – Edward Jenner

Jenner predicted shortly after his initial trial vaccination that smallpox would eventually be eliminated as a threat to humanity. Although many western nations had achieved mandatory vaccination programs, other countries could not afford the expense. As early as 1958, the Soviet Union called from the eradication of smallpox by a volunteer effort. Beginning in 1967, the World Health Organization began a world wide vaccination campaign with the purpose of eradicating smallpox. The last natural case of variola major occurred in 1975, and the last natural case of variola minor in 1977.

Most reasonable people agree that the eradication of smallpox has probably been one of the greatest successes of modern medical history, saving countless lives through a coordinated effort of vaccination. Mr. Schlafly, however, seems to disagree, and there is probably a reason for that. Mr. Schlafly, you see, has the distinction of being General Counsel to the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a strongly right-wing medical association which, among other things, is a strong opponent of mandatory vaccination. One can only guess what the good people in the AAPS think of a vaccination campaign like this one, especially a worldwide one perpetrated by an evil socialist international organization like the WHO. After all, one must not lose sight of the essentials here! And one could also guess that they might expect their General Counsel mr. Schlafly to… deal with differing opinions on his “trustworthy encyclopedia” in a smartly fashion.

Of course, some may argue that this is hardly in keeping with Conservapedia’s stated “neutrality to the facts”, but really – what does a little suppression of true and verifiable history and medical facts in the pursuit of economic benefit and ideological motives mean among friends?

Good night, and good luck.

UPDATE: Kelly Ramsey has a similar analysis of this issue and provides some more sources.

Column 15: Open Letter to SharonS, by AmesG

The following letter was first posted on RationalWiki by User:AmesG as a response to certain statements in the L.A. Times article from June 20. It was unsuccessfully attempted to bring this to the attention of the recipient at Conservapedia.

I personally agree completely with the contents of the letter, and am reposting it here to ensure that as many people as possible see it, hopefully including SharonS.

-AKjeldsen/lanfranc

– – – – –

 

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by petty statesmen…
Whoso would be a Man must be a nonconformist…

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Dear SharonS,

I saw the quote attributed to you in the LA Times today. Of course we knew instantly it was you; your interests are fairly unique, and we’re not as dumb as we look. However, some of your statements saddened me. I would like to take the time to address what I feel are misconceptions about the RationalWiki and Conservapedia projects. I thank you, in advance, for your time in reading this. I write this only because I care about the education that you are receiving through Conservapedia, and as an American and a man of some education, there is nothing that I consider more important than the proper education of those younger than myself.

I.

First, I apologize for the vandalism attacks on Conservapedia. I can say categorically that I have no hand in them myself. I can also say that this site is not the launching point of the more recent or persistent ones. Certainly there is a small vandal group here, but that is not all this website is. As a smart person, I am sure you can see past that small facade into the rest of the goals of the project.

II.

Because it always bears repeating, I want to enumerate again the goals of this project and of the Conservapedia “resistance.” We are not pushing an ideology. We are not pushing a world-view. We are not suppressing faith. We respect faith. However, we do not respect the use of ideology and shallow Biblical literalism to confine the world to a narrow frame of reference, ignoring all of the contrasts and questions that otherwise enrich life, and we do not respect the same shallow literalism, which also confines faith in too narrow a frame of reference. We will continue to spend our time resisting those evils.

Here is the problem. At Conservapedia, you are getting one perspective, and one perspective only. Worse, you are being sectioned off from anything that might challenge you. You are isolated from controversy and told that, where debate exists, the answers have been solved in black and white in your favor. But the world is much more complicated than that: so little is black and white in the world, and most of the great questions of our day are shades of gray. And these shades are what make life compelling, and interesting. By shielding you from the shades of gray, and teaching you only one perspective, Mr. Schlafly is doing you a great disservice. For the mind to grow, it must be exposed to shades of gray. Not only are you not learning; you’re also not learning how to learn! To become a full person, you must grapple with dissent, and all of the myriad complexity of the world, with full academic freedom.

III.

You said in your interview that RationalWiki seeks your destruction. We do not seek your destruction; rather, we seek your growth, and the growth of all of humanity through free academic discourse. But we are in favor of some forms of destruction. In brief, insofar as we seek the destruction of barriers to free learning, we do seek Conservapedia’s destruction. Insofar as we seek the destruction of ideologies that discourage free thought, the exchange of ideas, and valuable learning (God’s gift to Man), we do seek the destruction of Conservapedia. Insofar as we seek the destruction of groups that abuse religion to force a political agenda and keep their followers willfully blind to the world around themselves, we seek the destruction of Conservapedia.

However, we do not seek the destruction of Christianity or Christian beliefs. Religion is a powerful force for good. When followed as God intends it, it impels the human spirit forwards to great heights of charity and grace. The truly devout and truly religious do great things in this world. However, no good is ever accomplished by suppressing independent thought, or by approaching the world from a narrow perspective which assumes the preferred outcome. Rather, that is the great evil of all of human history. I will always encourage religion in its pure, unadulterated sense, but where religion goes too far – in seeking to control public policy or redefine science – religion harms those disciplines and itself. We at RationalWiki, as members of the scientific community of freethinking adults, seek to separate religion from science and politics not for the preservation of science and politics, and the hindrance of religion, but rather for the protection of religion, science, and politics jointly and severally. Only when the mind approaches the world free of religious agenda can the mind be free, and only when religion confines itself to the truly spiritual can it reach the levels of transcendence of which it is capable.

IV.

To conclude, I urge you to look beyond Conservapedia, and beyond what you have read before, and read what you have not. I urge you to challenge yourself: pick up an “evolutionist” textbook, and wrestle with the text and the ideas it contains. Pick up a volume on Christian history, or a volume of early Christian theology, and see how St. Augustine of Hippo himself spoke against unifying religion and science. Read about other religions. Read about other countries, and other lifestyles. Expand yourself’, and see how you think of the world afterwards. If, after all is said and done, you remain firm in your convictions, then your convictions will be firmer for the testing. But if they have changed…

V.

Please feel free to write to any of us at RationalWiki. I can answer any questions you have about the law, society, Christian history, and ancient history. My e-mail is Ames@NYU.edu. Many other people are willing to help you, too. You have only to ask. We have nothing to hide.

AmesG 00:46, 20 June 2007 (CDT)

Column 14: “Don’t read a book, write a book!”

Seems like Conservapedia has a new motto!

A motto here, EnFrancaisSVP, is this: “don’t read a book, write a book.” Start with our entry here on the Theory of Relativity and improve it. Learn as your do so, and enter related topics to improve your knowledge and ours. Godspeed.–Aschlafly 22:43, 17 June 2007 (EDT)

I for one think that this is an excellent idea which I can fully support. Throughout my entire academic career, I have been plagued by the misconception that one would need to actually know something about a subject before writing about it. But I realize now that it is, in fact, possible – not to mention much more effective and less expensive in library fees – to simply start writing about a highly advanced subjects and wait for reams of knowledge to spring to life in your mind out of thin air through the Holy Ghost. I shall immediately begin writing that article about the behaviour of top/anti-top quark pairs in Higgs boson fields that I’ve always wanted to write. After that, I expect by tomorrow afternoon, maybe I’ll try squaring the circle with only a compass and a straightedge, just to relax.

It would be overly optimistic to think that there won’t be skeptics. We have to realize that this is rather a novel approach, and many people are quite set in their ways. After all, the great majority of scientists and academics were stupid enough to do their articles the old-fashioned ways, through massive amounts of research and stuff, so they can be expected to be rather biased against this new approach, irrational as it may seem. They are only human, and it is understandable that they’ll be reluctant to recognize that there is a much easier and better method than what they had to go through.

Fortunately, it is easy to refute these atheist nay-sayers. One needs only take a look at the excellent article essay about the “New Ordeal” to see the excellent results that the “Don’t Read, Write” approach can lead to. A fascinating, insightful, one dares even to say groundbreaking analysis of a complex socio-economic subject. Well done! Sure, there are a couple of references listed at the bottom, but we all know those are just there to humor the liberals. It seems quite obvious from the context that the author took the correct and obvious approach and never read those books. As one insightful conservapedian recently noted,

The two new “citations” have no apparent link to the article, any more than the first one does…

I think that you have to recognize that there’s some excellent work going on here. Incidentally, this can also be seen in the author’s bold and novel approach to the use of charts – both of those in the article are completely missing the Y-axis, and it would be hard to respond to that with anything but approval and respect. Unless, of course, you’re an atheist liberal nay-sayer, of course.

Keep up the good work, guys – and good night, and good luck.

Column 13: 1934, Revisited

Ladies and gentlemen. A day has come, a day which we all knew had to come sooner or later. The page Conservapedia:Sysop and Admin Abuse has been locked, along with its Talk page. As of today, there is no official place on Conservapedia where users can publicly complain about misbehaviour on the part of Conservapedia Sysops. (As an aside, it will come as no surprise to see Sysop:TK acting as the locking sysop.)
This was a logical move. The administrative history of Conservapedia shows – as has been extensively covered in previous Columns – a long and consistent trend towards favoring the rights of Sysops and diminishing the rights of common editors. High points in this was the the establishment of the almost farcial Student Panel, the gradual introduction of the Guidelines, and of course the completely extralegal Nights of the Blunt Knives on May 16th and 17th. The locking of this page is simply the logical conclusion of this development.

Actually – and this may come as a surprise – I think this locking is a good thing. More or less everyone who has spent just a little time with Conservapedia will know that the Sysop Abuse page has always been a complete scam. No user has ever gotten anything out of posting complaints on that page; except for a quick boot to the backside, of course. At least now, the management has stopped its futile attempts to delude the editors and is saying straight out in the open: “You have no rights.” This is, strange as it may seem, a move towards transparency. RobS makes it quite clear in a comment on RationalWiki:

Wow. You finally figured that out. I thought it couldn’t be more plain [2]
Conservapedia:Locks and Blocks
This a guideline. It has received approval from senior staff and Mr. Schlafly. It is an adjunct to the Commandments.
  • Sysop’s and Bureaucrats are the Administrators of Conservapedia. Their instructions, as to Conservapedia policy and/or the appropriateness or inappropriateness of user actions, are to be followed. Failure to do so will result in the user being blocked. RobS 12:00, 12 June 2007 (CDT)

In other words: Sysops are infallible and incapable of misbehaviour, and their word is law. Thus, there is no possible reason why anyone would need to complain about any one of them.

Actually, this subject has already been discussed in a Column. As has pointed out back in Column 9: On Legitimate Authority, authority on Conservapedia has never been based on the legal rules. Rather, it is based in a shared charisma that originates with the leader, mr. Schlafly. Charismatic authority is almost by definition opposed to impersonal rules and the rule of law, so this whole development is all too natural.

I would suggest that Conservapedia continue this development by removing the rules pages and those silly Guidelines, and instead simply introduce a new rules page that says: “The only rules on Conservapedia is the Will of the Leader and the words of the Sysops. Conform or leave.” At that point, few people will be in doubt of exactly what is going on and that, at least, must be called a victory for transparency.

Good night, and good luck.


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