The Faith and Fables of Thunderfoot

faith (feɪθ). Noun

  1. strong or unshakeable belief in something, esp without proof or evidence

Collins English Dictionary

Back in March, I wrote a strongly-worded, some might even say scathing, critique of Philip Mason’s evidence-free opinions on the role of sexual dimorphism in aptitude/preference for physics. (Mason, in the guise of Thunderf00t, now has a considerable track record of posting hyperbolic anti-feminst rants, often on the subject of Anita Sarkeesian, which have won him a dedicated following in certain online communities and made him a pariah in others).

After uploading that post (“When atheists ape creationists…“), I contacted Mason to make him aware of what I’d written, to give him the opportunity to respond, and to ask whether he would like to debate the issues. The e-mail exchange with Mason, in its entirety, is below.

I will leave it up to the reader to draw their own conclusions as to Mason’s oft-stated commitment to reasoned, informed debate.

(The video to which I refer in the final e-mail of the thread below is here.)

Edit 09/08/2016 A comprehensive dissection of the claim that sexual dimorphism underpins aptitude/preference for physics (or other STEM subjects) is here.


To: Philip Mason
Date: Thu, 10 Mar 2016 13:51:13 +0100
Subject: Sexism in science
From: philip.moriarty@nottingham.ac.uk

Dear Phil (if I may),

Apologies for the e-mail out of the blue. I’ve just been reading this month’s Physics World, which contains a number of articles related to diversity, microagressions, sexism, LGBT communities etc… in physics (but, more generally, right across science). See http://blog.physicsworld.com/2016/03/01/physics-for-all-the-march-2016-issue-of-physics-world-is-now-out/ The last time we discussed these types of problem (on the MSS last year), I think we’d possibly both agree that it wasn’t the most productive of exchanges. It’d be good if we could revisit this?

I find it intriguing that despite our similar stances with regard to atheism and the value of science and rational argument in general, we seem to be diametrically opposed when it comes to issues related to sexism, feminism etc.. Over the years I’ve been involved in a number of debates which were in what might be best described as “spat” format: 500 word e-mail exchanges back and forth. (Here’s an example with regard to public vs private funding of science (although the word limit was often breached!) — http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/~ppzstm/pdfs/papers/2010/kealey_public.pdf )

Is this something you might consider doing? I think that a debate along these lines could be very useful and organisations such as the IOP, RSC, RS etc.. may well be interested. If you’re interested please e-mail me at philip.moriarty@nottingham.ac.uk and we can try to hammer out the details.

Best wishes,

Philip

Philip Moriarty, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Nottingham



From: Thunder Foot
Sent: 15 March 2016 14:23
To: philip.moriarty@nottingham.ac.uk
Subject: RE: Sexism in science

Yeah… i’d like to… but honestly Im massively overstretched as it is…. and the next 5 months are a nightmare (3 trips to us… 1 to france.. 1 to uk….1 to germany)

for me….. feminism grew out of noble and laudable goals… but once they were achieved… they are now more and more obsessed with trivial first world issues.  Most of which I dont give a shit about…. but when you get half a million dollars to study feminist glaciology…. it undermines the credibility of science. http://phg.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/01/08/0309132515623368.abstract

I’ve got nothing against the idea of a discussion.  However for me the obvious place to have such a discussion is on my channel.  More eyes will see it.

Part of me kinda likes the idea… if only cos so few are willing to stand forward and openly defend feminism.

Best wishes,

Phil

[Note added to transcript: I address Mason’s comment re. that glaciology paper in the blog post to which I refer below (see e-mail sent 01/04/2016)]


From: Moriarty Philip
Sent: 15 March 2016 14:34
To: ‘Thunder Foot’
Subject: RE: Sexism in science

Hi, Phil.

Thanks for responding. While I’d be happy to discuss this on your channel, I much prefer to debate via the written word. We’re both academic researchers – it’s our natural “forum” (!). Although I work with Brady Haran quite a bit on the Sixty Symbols videos, I don’t actually watch too many science(-related) videos online – I prefer to read.

Perhaps there’s a way of combining both? What if I write a blog post that lays out my thoughts/concerns and you respond via your channel? I’d be then happy to either respond in writing via my blog or upload a YouTube video in response.

Would that work? There’s no urgency, of course, but, as you say, I think it’d be good to debate this. (I’ve got a trip to Ethiopia coming up at the end of the month so I’d aim to write the blog post before Easter).

Best wishes,

Philip


From: Moriarty Philip
Sent: 01 April 2016 16:54
To: Thunder Foot
Subject: Blog post

Dera [sic] Phil,

Here’s the blog post I mentioned in my previous message: https://muircheartblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/27/when-atheists-ape-creationists-the-fallacies-of-the-anti-feminist/

Best wishes,

Philip


From: Moriarty Philip
Sent: 24 May 2016 16:10
To: Thunder Foot
Subject: Debate?

Phil,

[Please excuse this e-mail out of the blue. I’m exam marking at the moment and any displacement activity I can find is seized upon…]

I don’t know whether you got a chance to read that blog post?

I’ve been astounded at the level of (wilful?) ignorance of the scientific method — and the naïve credulity in the idea that a peer-reviewed paper is always correct! – by those posting comments under a video Kristi Winters made about the post (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwTxXkh9_Hc ). It’s rather dispiriting that those who would claim that they debate rationally and scientifically have such a weak understanding of just how science works.

You mentioned previously that you’d be happy to debate the sexual dimorphism issue at your channel. If you’re still up for it, I’d be keen, particularly if we could broaden the discussion out to cover just how science works (and that cherry-picking a paper on the basis of a two-minute Google search for keywords and crying “Gotcha” is not credible scientifically).

The end of term is nearing and once I get examiners meetings (and external examiners meetings in Ireland) out of the way, I could find some time for a debate in late June/early July if that worked for you?

Best wishes,

Philip

Philip Moriarty

Professor of Physics and Undergraduate Admissions Tutor, School of Physics & Astronomy, University of Nottingham


From: Thunder Foot
Sent: 24 May 2016 18:57
To: Philip Moriarty
Subject: RE: Debate?

meh… maybe you should consider the option you got your head stuck up your ass.

see… at least I extend you the courtesy of talking to your face as I would behind your back.

FYI, the reason I stick with my ‘childish pseudonym’ is cos I like to think that an idea stands on its merit.

Keep up the good fight though, its always good to see a white man infantalizing women in the name of feminism to the extent that he believes they cant do physics unless someone hold their hands and encourages them, and then having the lack of self awareness to think that ‘he just wants women treated as equals’

oh…. n btw… Im at a reactor doing an experiment…. and Ill be doing another at another reactor at the end of june.
enjoy your teachin or markin…. or whatever it is youre doin

🙂

Thunderf00t


From: Moriarty Philip
Sent: 02 June 2016 09:24
To: ‘Thunder Foot’
Subject: RE: Debate?

Good morning, Phil(ip).

My apologies for the very long delay in responding. It’s been exam- and report-marking season. EPSRC also decided to ‘helpfully’ have the deadline for their latest strategic equipment fund round of applications coincide with the exam period.

From the rather aggrieved – and, it must be said, somewhat less-than-erudite — flavour of your reply, should I take it that you’re not particularly keen to debate the issue of gender balance in physics with me? Should I take your response as a heartfelt “no”?

If so, that’s a great shame, particularly as, for example, there’s this IOP-organised meeting coming up soon: https://www.iopconferences.org/iop/frontend/reg/thome.csp?pageID=488193&eventID=923&eventID=923&CSPCHD=0040032r0000shoPIa5nUEwhzHfdbrhpcMvxnnotaDY1OpOme$

A debate re. your evidence-free claim that the gender balance in physics is dominated by sexual dimorphism would have been especially timely in the context of that IOP event.

Nonetheless, I can understand entirely your reticence to debate. Remarkably, in the space of just a few short  (and exceptionally poorly punctuated*) lines, you manage to make a considerable number of entirely unfounded claims and provide no justification or evidence for your assertions. This is hardly the most encouraging response when it comes to the potential for a well-informed and productive debate.

Let’s deal with your responses, such as they are, one at a time, and in order of appearance.

“meh… maybe you should consider the option you got your head stuck up your ass.”

You’re in your forties, Philip, and a reasonably accomplished postdoctoral researcher with a PhD in chemistry. I can’t believe it’s entirely beyond your wit to address my points without sounding like a seven year old child in a playground? (Actually, that’s rather unfair of me. My son is seven and he’s capable of much wittier and pithier ripostes than “Hurr..hurr..head up your ass”.) Moreover, last time I checked you were British. Surely you mean “…head stuck up your arse”?

“see… at least I extend you the courtesy of talking to your face as I would behind your back.”

This is a remarkable assertion and shows a complete absence of any type of thought, critical or otherwise. In what sense am I speaking “behind your back”? I sent you a link to the blog post I wrote, which was critical of you, over two months ago, i.e. directly after I wrote it. You didn’t respond.

I then sent you a link to the discussion – on a public forum – under Kristi’s video. In other words, I brought my comments to your attention. In just what sense is this “speaking behind your back”? I was entirely open and honest with you – I sent you the links. Moreover — and I’ll have more to say on this below — I post everything online under my own name. I do not hide behind a pseudonym.

YouTube and the WordPress blog are public platforms. Everything I have said about you there has been said in the open. If you are keen on making all of our exchanges public, I would be very happy indeed to post this e-mail thread online. Let me know if you’d like me to do that.

It’s good, however, that, on this point at least, I agree entirely with you – openness and transparency online are extremely important. I have no time at all for the intellectual cowardice – or, too often, just basic rank cowardice — that so often underpins online ‘communication’. (See, for example, https://muircheart.wordpress.com/2015/09/04/we-are-anonymous-we-are-legion-we-are-mostly-harmful/ and https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/should-post-publication-peer-review-be-anonymous .)

So, as I say, let me know if you’d like me to post this exchange online just so everything remains above board and all of my comments to you are publicly viewable.

“FYI, the reason I stick with my ‘childish pseudonym’ is cos I like to think that an idea stands on its merit.” 

I’ve heard this type of argument before. Repeatedly. I find it utterly unconvincing for the reasons discussed in the blog post and THE article linked to above, and in this: https://muircheart.wordpress.com/2015/12/09/where-two-tribes-go-to-roar/

Context is key in debate. Anonymity sets up an asymmetry in communication – see the editorial by Mike Blatt that is cited in the THE article — that is too often merely a means for one of the proponents in the debate to “cover their arse” and not have to stand behind the points they’re making. It’s basic intellectual cowardice in so many cases. (There are exceptions, but you’re not one of them).

If you’re of the opinion that ideas should stand on their merit, why are you included as “Mason, PE” (or similar) in the list of authors on the scientific papers to which you’ve contributed? Why not submit the papers pseudonymously?

This lack of coherence and self-consistency in your arguments is disappointing. But, and to reiterate what I said above, it puts your reticence to debate in context.

Keep up the good fight though, its always good to see a white man infantalizing women in the name of feminism to the extent that he believes they cant do physics unless someone hold their hands and encourages them, and then having the lack of self awareness to think that ‘he just wants women treated as equals’

Citation needed here. (And we both know just how flawed the traditional peer review system can be at times — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLlA1w4OZWQ – so I’m not even asking for peer-reviewed citations. Blog posts will suffice. We should get beyond this idea that peer review represents some type of gold standard.).  Please show me where I have infantalized women – specific quotes would be helpful.

More importantly, your evidence-free mini-rant simply evades the issue. The blog post I wrote makes a very basic point. Please address that point without obfuscating about what you perceive as “infantalization”. Your claim is that the gender balance in physics is largely due to sexual dimorphism. Do you continue to stand behind that claim? If not, good – we can call an end to this exchange. If, however, you remain of the opinion that the 80:20 gender balance in physics is due to sexual dimorphism then please provide evidence for your claim. This is the core theme of that blog post.

As regards “infantalisation”, however, there’s an interesting point here. One of the key reasons I became a lecturer is that I thoroughly enjoy teaching. (I get just a little peeved when university teaching is seen by some as secondary to research. Even the language we use – “teaching load” – helps preserve this perception.) I’m interested not just in higher education but secondary and primary teaching and learning, and just how children’s perception of their abilities –coupled to positive and negative feedback – can affect their learning.

Go to a primary school and ask the infants/children there to draw a picture of a scientist. You know what they’ll draw, right? (Something like this: http://previews.123rf.com/images/sararoom/sararoom1303/sararoom130300042/18430036-Vector-illustration-of-Cartoon-Scientist-Stock-Vector-science.jpg ) I’ve done this ‘experiment’ quite a few times.

Are you really saying we shouldn’t challenge that stereotype?  (And there’s been very good progress in this regard by the RS, RSC, IOP, and RCUK of late).

If your (tediously clichéd) ‘counter-argument’ is going to be something along the lines of “Well, kids should just toughen up. They should learn to do whatever they like regardless of feedback and societal pressures”, consider just why you like to hide behind a pseudonym. Is it possibly because you’d take feedback rather more personally if you had the intellectual courage to put your given name to your arguments?

”oh…. n btw… Im at a reactor doing an experiment…. and Ill be doing another at another reactor at the end of june. enjoy your teachin or markin…. or whatever it is youre doin 🙂 Thunderf00t

I’ll re-re-reiterate, Phil. You’re in your forties. You’re a research scientist. You’re clearly reasonably bright. It’s disappointing to have to read this type of lazy, unpunctuated, barely literate response* to the detailed arguments I’ve made. If you’d like to reconsider the possibility of a debate, I’m fairly flexible during the summer, although I’d prefer to avoid August due to holidays and the A-level results period (as I’m UG admissions tutor).

Philip

P.S. Do let me know if you’d like me to post this online, just to keep all of our exchanges open and transparent.

*If you’re going to argue that grammar and punctuation are not important in (science) communication, please address the points I make here: https://muircheart.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/moriarty-physicists-punctuation-communication/

In addition to those points about the value of words in physics (and, more generally, in the physical sciences), a lack of connectivity and coherence in writing can often be indicative of poorly organised and incoherent thinking. You might like to bear this in mind, particularly when it comes to writing grant proposals and the like.


From: Thunder Foot
Sent: 02 June 2016 15:24
To: Philip Moriarty
Subject: RE: Debate?

meh… dunno how old you are…. but learn brevity.

tl:dr


From: Moriarty Philip
Sent: 02 June 2016 21:04
To: ‘Thunder Foot’
Subject: RE: Debate?

Dear Phil,

I’m enjoying this exchange a great deal. It’s remarkably informative, despite – actually, make that because of — the semi-literate brevity and amusingly weak evasiveness of your responses.

You’re a research scientist with a PhD who apparently can’t parse a few paragraphs of text? It’s  beyond your reading comprehension and debating capabilities to respond, in grammatically correct and coherently phrased English, to a detailed rebuttal of your evidence-free ‘arguments’? Really?

Instead we get a thoroughly weak, wholly unconvincing, and astoundingly lazy “TL;DR”.

Now, either your reading level is below that of the average 12 year old or you’re being willfully evasive for reasons that we both know.

All this from someone who is ostensibly a proponent of rational, informed debate and a pioneer (*cough*) of the PEARL methodology?

As I said, wholly unconvincing.

It’s also rather funny to be told of the virtues of brevity by someone who has chewed up a great deal of internet bandwidth on lengthy rants and diatribes.

Just in case you didn’t make it to this point – *Too many words. So many words. How can anyone ever process that many big words? And they’re polysyllabic too. That’s. Just. Not. Cricket.* — I’ll send you a separate e-mail, written in monosyllabic text so it won’t challenge your reading comprehension too much, with the key points.

Philip

Philip Moriarty, Professor of Physics and Undergraduate Admissions Tutor, School of Physics & Astronomy, University of Nottingham


From: Moriarty Philip
Sent: 02 June 2016 21:52
To: ‘Thunder Foot’
Subject: RE: Debate?

<TL;DR mode mail>

<Mono>

O.K. Phil, here we go…

  1. Is it OK to post our mail trail on the web?
  2. Where are the ‘facts’ that back up your claims? See  https://muircheart.wordpress.com/2016/03/27/when-atheists-ape-creationists-the-fallacies-of-the-anti-feminist/
  3. Do you want to de-bate* on the web? If so, when?

</Mono>

</ TL;DR mode mail>

There you go. Couldn’t put it more simply.

[*Yes, I cheated here. Sorry. Was going to go with “rap” as the closest monosyllabic word but just couldn’t bring myself to write that. Too painfully naff. I’ll just have to hope you can parse the polysyllabic word “debate” now that I’ve broken it down for you. If that doesn’t work, we could perhaps try phonetics?]

Note that I have been involved in quite a number of debates in the past. None of those with whom I’ve previously debated have been so lazy and disingenuous as to respond with, in essence, “You write too much. TL;DR”

Here are a few examples of what real debate (based on reasoned logic (RL)) looks like:

http://www.softmachines.org/wordpress/?p=70

http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/~ppzstm/pdfs/papers/2010/kealey_public.pdf

http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/~ppzstm/pdfs/papers/2008/doubleday_should.pdf

If you check – though, be warned, there are lots of words (literally thousands) and you may find it challenging – you’ll not find a single “TL;DR” in those debates.

As I said in my previous messages, given that you are very keen on openness and transparency in debate, I’m sure that you’ll be happy for our email exchange to be posted online? [Point 1 above].

I also look forward to hearing from you re. a definitive answer re. a debate. [Point 3 above]. Although I suspect that once again you’ll disingenuously evade the issue (for the third time running). It’d be good if I was wrong on this matter of evasion and you salvaged some semblance of credibility…

[And if it makes you feel more comfortable,  I promise to use your “Thunderfoot” handle during the debate. Can’t say fairer than that now, can I? I know how important your pseudonymous safe space is to you. It’s clearly challenging for you to be open and honest with your identity. It just takes a little bit of courage. If you take it slowly, in stages, I’m sure you’ll eventually be able to out-grow your reliance on silly monikers.]

All the very best,

Your fellow physical chemist/chemical physicist,

Philip


From: Moriarty Philip
Sent: 02 June 2016 21:58
To: ‘Thunder Foot’
Subject: RE: Debate?

Tsk. Dammit.

Of course “OK” isn’t monosyllabic. My sincerest apologies.

Let me modify that so that it’s easier for you to parse…

“1. Is it fine to post our mail trail on the web?”

Hope that helps.

Philip


From: Moriarty Philip
Sent: 02 June 2016 22:06
To: ‘Thunder Foot’
Subject: RE: Debate?

P.S. To save you some time, if I don’t receive a response from you before next week I’ll assume you’re happy for our e-mail exchange to be posted online.


From: Thunder Foot
Sent: 05 June 2016 22:42
To: Philip Moriarty
Subject: RE: Debate?

lol… replies to ‘learn brevity’ with FOUR emails.

however, you trolling effort is good.


From: Moriarty Philip
Sent: 06 June 2016 05:19
To: ‘Thunder Foot’
Subject: RE: Debate?

Dear Philip,

So yet again you avoid answering the very simple questions I asked. That’s a quite remarkable – and, once again, deeply amusing — level of disingenuity, evasion, hypocrisy and spinelessness.

As for “trolling”, you could perhaps consult a dictionary as to the definition of that term. Moreover, and correct me if I’m wrong, but haven’t you spent quite a bit of your time online railing against “professional victims”? That you’d now weakly cry “troll” instead of addressing my points is beyond ironic.

I have asked you to back up your claims with evidence. Simple as that. Your inability to do so, and with such a lack of maturity in communication, speaks volumes.

I’ll write a blog post and make a short accompanying video about your inability to (i) address the points made in the blog post (and elsewhere), and (ii) to communicate like an adult. I won’t quote from your e-mails (because you lack the integrity to respond to my request about posting our exchange online) but it’s not as if I can’t find similar vacuous comments from you online. Indeed, I’m spoilt for choice.

My expectations were low, Philip, but I’ve been genuinely astounded by your behaviour in this exchange. You’re in your forties yet you respond with all the wit and sophistication of a 10 year old who hasn’t got a particularly good grasp of the rudiments of grammar and punctuation, let alone an understanding of how to debate.

Disappointing, but hardly unexpected.

Philip


From: Thunder Foot
Sent: 06 June 2016 08:39
To: Philip Moriarty
Subject: RE: Debate?

Oh noes! the nottingham prof. is gonna to publish the his last half dozen emales where he trys to troll me with childisy insults! Thatll shows he a grown up!

Does this mean we not friends anymore? Yknow phil if I thought u werent my friend, I just dont think I could bear it.


From: Moriarty Philip
Sent: 06 June 2016 12:34
To: ‘Thunder Foot’
Subject: RE: Debate?

Good morning once again, Philip.

No “TL;DR” this time? Interesting. It seems that you indeed have quite some difficulty parsing arguments written in anything but the simplest of words. I’m afraid, however, that I’m not going to continue to reduce my writing to <mono> mode simply to make up for the deficiencies in your reading comprehension. You’re just going to have to put the effort in (or resort yet again to the lazy “TL;DR”).

Nonetheless, and as I’ve said before, I’m really enjoying this exchange. You continue to make me laugh a great deal. I particularly like being chastised for “childisy insults” by someone who opens up their message with “Oh noes!” and closes with “Yknow phil if I thought u werent my friend, I just dont think I could bear it.”

Fantastic.

Given your clear and demonstrable lack of ability/unwillingness to parse even the most basic of arguments  — “TL;DR”, remember? – let me clarify the difference between groundless/childish insults and pointing out simple home truths, Philip.

  1. I said that you were evasive. This is demonstrably the case. You’ve yet to address the points in the blog post, despite numerous requests. I asked for some evidence of your claims re. sexual dimorphism underpinning aptitude/preference for physics. You’ve provided nothing but a series of replies, for want of a better word, which have been vacuous in the extreme.
  1. I said that you were disingenuous/dishonest. I stand by this until you provide evidence to the contrary. You have banged on at length about the importance of evidence in a lengthy series of videos. You have even self-importantly proclaimed yourself to be a “PEARL”-ist. (Did I mention that you make me laugh a great deal? For a grumpy old Irish bastard like me that’s a real talent  you have.) Yet when challenged to provide evidence for a major claim you made about gender balance in physics, you repeatedly refuse to respond. Instead you resort to “TL;DR”. This is hardly “reasoned logic” now, is it? Thus, there is an inherent disingenuity and dishonesty in your responses.
  1. I said that you were childish in your responses. You need only read over your e-mail messages to see this. (Admittedly, having to switch to <TL;DR> and <Mono> mode to respond to you is hardly how adults should communicate but given that you lacked the courtesy and integrity to address the points I made in a reasoned and reasonable way, I was left with no choice. In any case, it seems that <Mono> mode is indeed useful as a means of extracting a response from you). I also said that your ability to communicate was, respectively, below that of a 12 year old, a 10 year old, and a 7 year old. I realise it’s a long time since you’ve been at primary/secondary school — and I don’t believe you have kids? (Excuse me if I got that wrong) — so you might have lost track of typical writing abilities in Year 2, Year 5, and Year 7.
  1. I said that your reading comprehension and debating skills were extremely poor. You have singularly failed to address any of my points. You have responded on more than one occasion with “TL;DR”. That not only highlights an exceptional level of immaturity but clearly shows that your claims to value reasoned debate are empty.

I’m assuming from the sledgehammer sarcasm of your most recent response that you’re more than happy for me to post our exchange online?

I look forward to your next response. My hopes aren’t high that it’ll be of any higher quality than your previous replies, but I’m hoping that at some point you’ll muster the integrity and wit to make this ‘debate’ a little more challenging for me. In the meantime, however, I’m very happy to continue chuckling.

Philip

P.S. Note that I include my affiliation below because while one aspect of this exchange is indeed not connected with my role at Nottingham, as an admissions tutor I dislike seeing unjustified, uninformed, and evidence-free claims about aptitude/preference for physics being made.


From: Moriarty Philip
Sent: 06 June 2016 13:22
To: ‘Thunder Foot’
Subject: RE: Debate?

P.S. Apologies. I forgot to say that, given your inability to communicate in any type of mature manner,  you may not be aware of the appropriate protocols.

When I say “Is it OK to publish our exchange online at my blog?”, there are two possible responses:

  1. Yes, that’s fine.
  2. No, I’d prefer you didn’t.

It’s a shame that we have to reduce it to this, but I’d appreciate either a response of “1” or “2”. Evading the question yet again will simply underpin your lack of honesty and intellectual integrity.

Thank you.

Philip


From: Thunder Foot
Sent: 06 June 2016 14:01
To: Philip Moriarty
Subject: RE: Debate?

youre lack of self-awereness amuzes me,


From: Moriarty Philip
Sent: 06 June 2016 14:24
To: ‘Thunder Foot’
Subject: RE: Debate?

Dear Philip,

So, yet another evasion. What’s that, seven and counting at this stage?

What a remarkable lack of integrity. As you’re never slow to point out, you’re a scientist. You’re meant to base your arguments on an honest analysis of data and evidence. I’ve not experienced anywhere near this level of dishonesty, evasion, and non-existent argumentation in any debate in which I’ve been involved previously. That includes a number of lengthy debates about religion (stemming, for example, from this: https://muircheart.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/sure-youre-not-meant-to-take-it-seriously/ )

So, well done on setting that particular precedent — those of faith have soundly thrashed you when it comes to the ability to debate. That’s just what those of us who are atheists really need: a nu-atheist (and, lest we forget, self-proclaimed PEARL-ist) with a demonstrated inability to address rational arguments in anything approaching a mature, considered and logical fashion.

Why is it that I also get the strong impression that you’re patting yourself on the back for your “ironic” use of deliberate misspelling? That really would take the childishness to another level. It simultaneously ups the comedy factor by quite a large amount, however, so, please, keep it coming. You’re brightening up my afternoon immensely.

Philip


From: Thunder Foot
Sent: 06 June 2016 15:08
To: Philip Moriarty
Subject: RE: Debate?

meh…. okay… you’re just to dumb to realize when youre being trolled.

However honestly, while trolling you is kinda fun…. oh who am i kidding… ive not laughed so hard for ages.. (OH PLEASE, for the love of god publish the emails)…… the reality im just way too busy for this sort of petty crap.

thanks for playing….oh n next time trying being honest, and you might find it reciprocated.

-end-of-line-


From: Philip Moriarty
Sent: 06 June 2016 15:25
To: Thunder Foot
Subject: RE: Debate?

Thank you, Philip. On the seventh/eighth/nth attempt, you finally respond to a request to publish the e-mail trail. I appreciate this.

Note, however, that you still have evaded responding to the points made in the original post. It’s lazy, immature and disingenuous in the extreme to now state “Oh, I’m just trolling you”.

You made a particular, and specific claim: sexual dimorphism underpins aptitude/preference for physics. And now, despite all your assertions about your PEARL credentials, you behave just like those you’ve criticised in the past. You fail to provide evidence and resort to a petty, lazy, and entirely unconvincing, “Oh, I’m just too busy for this”.

What you mean is that when faced with a comprehensive rebuttal of your evidence-free claims, you fold.

To say that “You’re just too busy for this” is entirely transparent nonsense. You spend a great deal of your life online slagging off all and sundry. Shooting down creationist arguments is simple; it’s like taking out fish in a barrel. Any scientist with even a modicum of debating aptitude can do this. When, instead, you’re asked to justify your evidence-free claims in the context of a slightly more challenging argument, I’ll say it again — you fold. Entirely. And resort to breathtakingly immature retorts.

But, once again, thanks for finally having the decency to stop evading my question about publishing the email trail. If you’d had the courtesy to do this right from the start I’d not have had to be so irritatingly persistent. Sometimes, however, and particularly with those who are being disingenuous from the off, that level of persistence is necessary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uwlsd8RAoqI

I’ll send you a link to the post and video when they go online.

Philip


 

Three pints of lager and a quantum of physics, please

“So what you’re saying with this quantum particle stuff, right, is that it’s like taking a single wave out of the ocean? We can’t easily, um, isolate that one wave? We have to somehow freeze all the other waves?

Is that it? Have I got it?”

Well, sort of…

It’s questions like those that mean I love speaking about science in venues far outside the traditional academic comfort zone. This time the queries didn’t come from the depths of a cavernous lecture theatre, nor from a keen student during a visit to an A-level college, nor was it asked of me following an open day lecture at our university. Instead, I was quizzed during a Skeptics In The Pub event in a packed room in the wonderfully-monikered Holy Inadequate pub in Stoke-on-Trent last month.

The Skeptics… meetings are based on a very simple ‘equation’: speaker + audience + alcohol = fun, informal and informative discussion. I’ve spoken at a number of these meetings over the last year and have always been extremely impressed by the willingness of the audience to interact and ask probing questions. Some of these questions can initially take me aback but, more often than not, a good dialogue ensues and I end up seeing some aspect of science in a different light.

The science-in-the-pub experience has recently gone global with the arrival of Pint of Science in 2013. I spoke both at this year’s launch event for PoS (as described here) and at the festival itself the week before last, in the “Making The Future” event in Nottingham. In just three years PoS has grown so that it spans 20 cities in the UK, with events now also happening in five different continents.

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What I find remarkable is that the level of interaction and discourse during these pub-based events can often be much greater than at international scientific conferences I’ve attended. The audience generally doesn’t have a background in science beyond the physics, chemistry, and/or biology they learned at school and that means they don’t get hung up on some obscure technical aspect of the work; they’re much more interested in the broader picture than the minutiae. This is very refreshing, if not a little scary at times. As a PoS speaker, you’re continually thinking on your feet; there is no script and it’s extremely difficult to second-guess what a question might be (in a way that’s usually possible at a scientific conference).

Those of us at the University of Nottingham involved with the family of channels developed by the talented and prolific Brady Haran have got used to this unnerving-at-times format over the years. Since 2009, a considerable number of us in the School of Physics and Astronomy have worked with Brady on the Sixty Symbols channel with the aim to explain physics concepts to as wide an audience as possible.

Brady, as film-maker and interviewer, plays an exceptionally important role in this. As someone who has an intense interest in science but is not a scientist, he asks the questions that many in the Sixty Symbols audience will be thinking. This can not only prompt many off-the-cuff conversations with Brady during the video but can seed further discussion and debate among the Sixty Symbols audience in the YouTube comments threads. (This below-the-line commentary often bucks the trend for the quality of discourse on YouTube, which, as this xkcd cartoon lampoons so well, too often embodies the condensed collective stupidity of humanity).

Online interactions are all well and good, of course, but nothing beats engaging with an audience in a venue where you can see the whites of their eyes. This “real time” interaction can not only be a huge amount of fun, it often stimulates quite deep discussion which can border on themes in philosophy and metaphysics. (This in turn can occasionally work to the speaker’s disadvantage, particularly if one of the audience members fancies themselves as a sage who has been callously ignored by the “establishment” and wants to wax lyrical, and at great length, about their particular revolutionary grand unified theory of everything).

One recurring theme in my science-in-the-pub presentations, which incorporates some of these philosophy aspects (of the cod variety and otherwise), is the deeply frustrating quantum pseudoscience peddled by the likes of Deepak Chopra. I’ll be speaking on this topic again for the Cheltenham Skeptics… society next week and will, as ever, be making the somewhat contentious point that we scientists have to shoulder some of the blame for the woo generated by Chopra et al.

A burgeoning “quantum life coaching” industry has built up around the type of nonsense that Chopra et al. generate. Skeptics In The Pub, Pint Of Science, and similar initiatives are exceptionally important in not only disseminating science in an engaging way, but in providing a platform to counter quantum woo and the many other breeds of pseudoscience out there. As tonight’s Skeptics… event in Nottingham, How To Be a Psychic Conman, shows, there’s huge entertainment value in debunking the more outlandish claims. And hosting these events in pubs means that we’re not necessarily preaching to the converted…

Sixty Symbols ENTHUSEs…

After a number of what must have been close-to-interminable video editing sessions (involving sifting through a quarter of a TB of footage!), earlier this week Sean Riley completed the Sixty Symbols video on the ENTHUSE team’s visit to Ethiopia. The video was uploaded yesterday. Here it is.

I could not be happier with the video — Sean has done a stunning job  of capturing the entire Ethiopia experience, condensing a very packed seven days into an engaging 18 minute film. It’s been very well-received by the Sixty Symbols audience, who have left many kind and affecting comments under the video. (There have also been some gripes about the background music below the line in the comments thread, and one or two rather nasty racist comments, but this is YouTube after all. It’s hardly always a forum for the most erudite discussion one could imagine.  Cue xkcd cartoon…)

For what it’s worth, I love the music in the Sixty Symbols video. It was written by Alan Stewart, an immensely talented musician (and physics teacher) with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work in the past (on this phi- and pi-inspired prog rock instrumental). (I hope that Alan and I can find time to work together again in the future — I learned so much from him.)

We’re starting to gear up for the next visit to Ethiopia, exploring alternative funding options. I’ll provide updates here at Symptoms… over the coming months.

Doing Nottingham proud

This is a guest post by Christine Cleave, a member of the ENTHUSE project team. It is the last post in the ENTHUSE series. Christine’s post captures exactly my thoughts and feelings on working with Emma, Jarrod, Jeremy, and Tiago in Ethiopia — it was an honour to be part of a project which benefited so much from their enthusiasm, commitment, knowledge, skills, and company.


It is now a little while since experiencing the heat of Adama with the ENTHUSE team. Despite the fact that I have made regular visits to Ethiopia to teach practical work to teachers since October 2008, this was a landmark trip because the team members from the University of Nottingham helped to make a difference in new and significant ways.

In their brief they were asked to devise an experiment which required materials that could be obtained locally. Our walk to the local shops to buy these things took the Nottingham students past the shoeshine boys, the pavement stalls and the beggars, a vibrant testimony to the difficulties of most of the Ethiopian population to making ends meet. They experienced the humour and kindness of the shopkeepers, when buying such things as straws and sponges. And they engaged with it all at every stage. Their own blogs show their lasting impressions.

I shall remember the clarity of their communication, whether they were explaining the Physics of taking a sealed bottle of water from Addis Ababa to a lower altitude at Adama, or talking about electronics or neutron stars. I celebrate the fact that their demonstrations were carefully thought through and planned so that they really worked; one resulted in teacher excitement at finding the number of atoms in a pencil mark on paper.

The students showed personal qualities of resilience and determination in difficult situations – when the electricity or the water wasn’t working in the labs, when exhausted in the heat or not quite adjusting to the food, when asked to be flexible about where or when they did their teaching and when requested to fetch and carry apparatus. They never moaned!

I have to admit that I had a wonderful time, as I got the chance to sit around with them over meals and just talk about physics. Physicists have a unique sense of humour!

The Nottingham students gave us the chance to extend the project in new ways, especially in helping the teachers to experience what it was like to get real data and to question why we didn’t all get the same answer when making measurements.

They absolutely made the most every experience on offer, whether faced with eating colossal quantities of injera, or sleeping under huge mosquito nets.

The University can have immense pride in their graduates and undergraduates. These young people were stunning ambassadors – able to use their education and also to engage sensitively with others from a very different culture. They gained the warm respect and thanks of the Ethiopian teachers.

 

Fear and Loathing at Frontiers

I’m reblogging this important post by Leonid Schneider on the atrocious behaviour of the Swiss publisher Frontiers. Instead of binning the next e-mail I receive from them, I’ll respond with a link to Schneider’s post…

For Better Science

Many scientists have been receiving unsolicited emails from the Swiss publisher Frontiers, with invitations to submit papers or become peer review “editor” with this Open Access (OA) publisher. In fact, the Holtzbrick-owned Frontiers are occasionally criticized for these activities, which were compared to spamming. These “spam” emails however are not written by robots, but by actual human beings, usually interns. Many of them do not seem very happy about their jobs with Frontiers, as one can read at the employer-evaluation portal Glassdoor. Most of the criticism is directed against middle management, who, as I have previously shown, sometimes nonchalantly manage academic topics way outside of their professional competence.

Now, you can learn what goes on inside the Frontiers “spam” factory from a first-hand source.  I was approached by a reader of my website, who turned out to be a former full-time employee at Frontiers. This person…

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Where pints, papers and protocols collide…

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I’m writing this on the train back from St. Pancras to Nottingham, having spent this morning at the launch of the 2016 Pint Of Science festival. Pint Of Science is a fascinating initiative which, as you might glean from the moniker, aims to bring science into the pub; scientists stand up in their local (or not-so-local) and wax lyrical about their, and others’, research for forty minutes or so.

I’ve spoken at a couple of “pub science” events, including Skeptics In The Pub and SciBar, and have thoroughly enjoyed them. (I’ve got a couple of Skeptics… talks coming up in the coming months). I’m always impressed by the quality of discussion that follows the talk (or, better, kicks off during the talk!) — I’ve often had much more challenging questions from non-scientists in pubs than I’ve had following presentations I’ve given at international scientific conferences in my research field.

As a relative newcomer to the public engagement game, Pint Of Science is expanding at a seemingly exponential rate. From just three “nodes” – Oxford, Cambridge, and London – in 2013, the initiative now involves twenty cities in the UK (including Nottingham – we joined this year) and spans five continents.

I spent a little time this morning chatting with Michael Motskin and Praveen Paul, who established Pint Of Science just three years ago, and was impressed to hear that they are now inundated with requests to join the PoS network. The upcoming festival, which this year runs from 23- 25 May, involves each of the “nodes” in the PoS network running pub science talks in parallel (across the world) – a major organisational undertaking which is only made possible through the fantastic efforts of the talented team of volunteers who drive the various events.

This morning’s kick-off event involved four of this year’s PoS speakers (including yours truly) giving a short “taster” of their talk. I covered the single atom/single molecule manipulation stuff that has been the focus of our research here at Nottingham for a number of years but it’s the other talks I want to focus on here. I learnt a huge deal this morning via a number of fascinating and engaging presentations — the PoS audience next month has a real treat in store.

Clare Elwell discussed her group’s hugely impressive work on brain imaging with near-infrared light. Although I’m familiar with functional MRI (and other techniques) being used to map the brain – I’d have to have been living in one of Nottingham’s famous caves not to be aware of this, given that our School boasts a group of highly influential MRI researchers, and Nottingham’s own Peter Mansfield won the Nobel prize in Physiology/ Medicine for the invention of MRI – I hadn’t previously encountered the use of IR to probe brain activity. I was riveted by Elwell’s talk. Not only has her group developed a low-cost and highly portable imaging unit but they have used it to carry out the first brain imaging of infants in Africa (as part of a project to ascertain the effects of malnutrition on brain development, now funded by the Gates Foundation).

The next presentation was from the duo of Mark Thomas and Alejandro Gavez-Pol, and was a complete change of theme – a description of just how art and culture drive human behaviour and evolution. (Their talk is part of PoS’ new Creative Reactions initiative). I was particularly fascinated by Thomas’ discussion of a model he and his colleagues had developed which illustrated that a certain critical population density was necessary to drive cultural development. (Any physicist who hears the term “critical point” immediately starts thinking about phase transitions and the like. We squalid state physicists with an interest in the thermodynamics and kinetics of crystal growth also start wondering about percolation pathways and connectivity…) Gavez’s energetic presentation on art representing science complemented Thomson’s talk wonderfully, and provided lots of food for thought on the matter of creativity in art and science.

The launch event came to a close – well, at least the ‘formal’ proceedings did – with an informative talk from Gabriele Lignani on a gene-editing technology called CRISPR. I’ve got to come clean here and admit my ignorance – I was not at all familiar with the CRISPR technique, despite it featuring heavily in a range of journals and magazines over the last year (as Gabriele highlighted). It’s arguably not the most memorable of acronyms, however. (Having said that, it’s a heck of a lot more memorable than the unexpurgated long-form name of the technique: Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats). I was once again blown away by the ingenuity of biotechnologists in harnessing and adapting natural processes (in this case, a bacterial activity) in genetic engineering.

After the talks there was a great deal of conversation, fuelled by nibbles, drinks, and a bespoke PoS cake…

I very much enjoyed the PoS launch and I look forward immensely to participating in the festival in Nottingham next month. My only regret is that with all those science talks going on simultaneously across the world, I’ll not be able to take it all in.

(Special thanks goes to Hetty Tapper, who not only invited me to speak at the launch event  but kept me informed over the last couple of weeks about progress with PoS 2016 (and sent me the photo below of the PoS team with today’s speakers)).

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“If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it”

This a guest post from Jeremy Leaf, a third year PhD student in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Nottingham and a member of the ENTHUSE project team.


 

It is one of our first electronics sessions. An Ethiopian teacher is learning how to use a multimeter and breadboard. Having measured the resistance of a number of discrete resistors using a multimeter, I suggest he try to measure them in series using the breadboard. He chooses two resistors and, on paper, calculates what the total resistance should be. He then carefully measures across both resistors in series. The teacher’s face lights up as he breaks into a wide smile. The theory is correct.

The process of learning a physical theory, and then observing it manifest itself in an experiment, is a vital pathway to understanding physics. It allows us to grasp difficult concepts and truly understand their nature. Unfortunately, in Ethiopia, physics education stops at the textbook. The education system has neither the funds nor expertise to employ physical experiments in their schools. Our assignment was to show how experimental physics could be taught using locally available materials. We also employed some more advanced apparatus, such as multimeters and breadboards, in the hope that they would be able to acquire these in time.

Simple apparatus and experimental concepts that we take for granted are often totally new to many physics teachers in Ethiopia.  This project was an exciting opportunity to make a small but meaningful impact on the futures of those who go to school here, as well as forge a link between our two countries. Education is key for this country to develop a generation of young Ethiopians that can think critically and creatively. I feel immensely privileged to have been a part of that process.