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Monday, May 16, 2016

Tim Minchin's "Storm," the animated movie, and another no-so-good Minchin cartoon

I've mentioned this before but it bears repeating. If you haven't listened to "Storm" then you are in for a treat because now you can listen AND watch. If you've heard it before, then hear it again. The message never gets old.

A word of caution. Minchin may be very good at recognizing pseudoscience and quacks but he can be a bit gullible when listening to scientists. He was completely take in by the ENCODE hype back in 2012. This cartoon is also narrated by Tim Minchin but it's not so good.


  1. "Storm" is great work, if you don't worry about the "putting-down-an-uppity-woman" trope. Minchin himself acknowledges that issue in retrospect here.

    "The Story of You" is sort of okay except for one phrase "that used to be thought of as junk". It actually will be useful to point to when ENCODE people claim that they only said that junk DNA "had function" and didn't really mean that it actually, like, did anything. Then you can look at their names in the Thanks To list at the end of the video and say "so did you explain that to Tim Minchin, or did you give him the wrong impression?"

    1. The problem with that "privilege" argument is it is actually condescending towards the people it claims to protect. What is it actually suggesting in practice -- that you should give women a pass when they promote unscientific woo but only criticize men who do? That's not treating women as intellectual equals but rather as children whose ideas can't be held to the same degree of rigor.

    2. I never used the word "privilege" -- I am allergic to what often goes with it.

      The real incident that inspired the movie was described by Minchin (as recounted in this article). The female member of a couple at a dinner Minchin attended held forth on homeopathy at the end of the evening. Minchin says that in the real-life incident he actually did not respond, and that homeopathy was the only issue she raised.

      So there are artistic decisions being made. Minchin himself now worries about that one. I'm not suggesting that everyone always give women a pass when they promote nonsense, just that one should be aware of the issue. If you found yourself always portraying purveyors of nonsense as women, then you should conclude that the pattern needs to change.

      I think that here, of all places, we see that there are plenty of men purveying nonsense.

    3. As a woman, I didn't see Minchin's response as particularly sexist. In my experience, women do seem a little more prone to medical woo. Men seem slightly more susceptible to political or economic woo.

      I have to admit, I actually did go ballistic at a man who condescendingly explained to me that the only reason I believed Obama's grandmother's death-bed statement that he was in fact born in Hawaii; his official Hawaiian birth certificate; and the report of his birth in a Hawaiian hospital in three different Honolulu papers constituted evidence he was born in Hawaii-- the only reason I could possibly believe that was because I was a Democrat.

  2. As a scientist and atheist, I find this kind of in-your-face mockery of the deeply held views of others to be detrimental to the advancement of knowledge and scientific understanding. It is possible to seek to understand from whence people derive faith-based convictions and to work to redirect their interpretations toward reality. Mockery and dismissal simply force people to put up firewalls and protect their views as somehow beyond scientific inquiry. As publicly funded scientists we have the obligation to promulgate knowledge and to oppose ignorance, but we do this role a disservice if we engage others without respect for their intelligence.

    As an example, consider the arguments linking autism and vaccination. What is clear is that the original studies tying autism to vaccination were a complete sham. They have been retracted as is appropriate in this case. It is also undeniable that vaccination saves lives and even small declines in vaccination rates put lives at risk. However there is good scientifically supported reason to believe that excessive pressure on the immune system during a period of brain development might have negative consequences on brain wiring. Consider the evidence based on 40,000 case studies linking maternal influenza with schizophrenia in the offspring. Many out there will attempt to mock or discredit such evidence as belonging to the anti-vaxxer camp. Such cases illustrate where shutting up and listening before condemning others is the best course of action for scientists to take if they truly care about discovery and evidence.

    1. Would it be OK to indulge in "this kind of in-your-face mockery" if the views of others were not deeply held ?

      And since when does deeply held excuse bad behaviour ?

      Is it only "publicly funded scientists" that should refrain from mockery or does your pearl clutching, couch fainting position encompass the entirety of human kind ?

      If "Mockery and dismissal" are as ineffective and perhaps counter productive as you claim (without a shred of supporting evidence, how very detrimental to the advancement of knowledge and scientific understanding), what in your opinion would be the best course of action ?

      It's my deeply held view that publicly funded scientists should stop telling other public funded scientists to stop indulging in the in-your-face mockery of the deeply held views of others.

    2. I have to say, I'm not really following your line of argument, the patroller. How is using rhetorical tools such as mockery and humour to argue against the fallacious claims of promoters of pseudoscience incompatible with giving a fair hearing to evidence that suggests a link between maternal influenza and schizophrenia?

    3. Indeed steve oberski, it is never acceptable to exhibit rude behavior. It is even less acceptable from the educated elite, who have frankly been handed a cushy lifestyle to permit them to study and teach. My "pearl-clutching, couch fainting position" is simply a matter of showing a bit of respect and gratitude in the form of advocating for actually doing what we're paid to do. That is, explain stuff.

      I'm not saying there's no place for humor or parody, but self-righeous mockery of deeply held views is frankly the domain of schoolyard bully.

    4. lutesuite... Try espousing the position in public that vaccines actually do contribute to ASD. You'll be shouted off the intertubes as a luddite anti-vaxxer. Not necessarily by individuals putting forward intelligent counter-arguments, but rather by self-appointed guardians of truth like Mr. Minchin who laugh at how stupid you are without listening to what you have to say.

    5. There has never been a shortage of reasoned evidence for the safety and effectiveness of immunizations. The people who are being mocked are not the ordinary people who wish the best for their children, but celebrities who misuse their charisma to hurt people, mostly children.

    6. "Try espousing the position in public that vaccines actually do contribute to ASD." Why would you or anyone here do that, Patroller? There are several large scale studies (millions of kids) demonstrating that whatever causes autism it isn't vaccines.

    7. Try espousing the position in public that vaccines actually do contribute to ASD. You'll be shouted off the intertubes as a luddite anti-vaxxer.

      Yes. And so what problem do you see with this? If evidence arises that demonstrates vaccines do contribute to ASD, would this first be revealed in comments sections on the intertubes?

    8. I'm not saying there's no place for humor or parody, but self-righeous mockery of deeply held views is frankly the domain of schoolyard bully.

      Ah. So, in your opinion, mockery becomes "self-righteous" and should be withheld depending on how "deeply held" are the views being mocked, rather than on how deserving those ideas are of mockery.

      I could point out that you don't seem very concerned about how "deeply held" are the ideas which you are attacking here. But I will, instead, refer you to this rejoinder courtesy of Sam Harris:

    9. I've often tried to give clear, just-the-facts answers to questions posed in the Sandwalk comments. I would like to explain things to people who have real questions.

      I've learned that some commentators are just here to argue. They change the subject, slip away to new questions, seeking ways to say, "Gotcha!" These commentators deserve no respect.

      Others are deep in a state of delusion or stupidity -- it's hard to tell which. I think that occasionally mockery helps the deluded re-evaluate their positions. Usually, of course, it's no more effective than polite presentation of the facts, but no worse.

      I think polite conversation is the best first response to comments, but that we have no obligation to continue to be polite to those just playing word games or to the deeply deluded, no matter how sincerely they believe their delusions.

    10. I wonder, if so many people hadn't insisted on giving polite and patient attention to the anti-vaxxers, whether their views would not have become so highly publicized, and we would now have fewer outbreaks of things like mumps.

  3. Patroller, I'm glad for your efforts in patrolling the Internet to not only scold the nasty, sneering atheists and skeptics but to also make sure people are checking their privilege as needed.

    I hear there is this guy called Richard Dawkins out there and he is really, really mean.

    Best of luck with your patrol,

    John Taylor