In this, the 125th installment, our gaze falls on HPV vaccinations and Catholic school systems yet again; the interference of a Catholic school principal in student projects upholding gay rights (http://ottawacitizen NULL.com/news/local-news/catholic-school-principal-shuts-down-students-project-on-gay-rights); a CBC Marketplace report on homeopathic vaccines (http://www NULL.cbc NULL.ca/news/health/vaccine-alternatives-offered-by-homeopaths-irresponsible-1 NULL.2852408) known as nosodes; and finally a Legion of Reason Office of Religious Freedom report. But first, last week saw the humiliating demise of Bill 10, which was a preemptive attempt by the Alberta Progressive Conservatives to head off the Liberal opposition party’s Bill 202 which would have allowed the unfettered formation by students of gay-straight alliances. I met with Liberal MLA Kent Hehr (http://www NULL.kenthehr NULL.ca/) at his constituency office in downtown Calgary to discuss Bill 10 as well as public funding of sectarian schools in the province and the LoR discuss those happenings on the most interesting week in Alberta politics in some time.
In this installment, Kris, Twyla, Dean and yours truly the Very Reverend Doctor Randy Tyson explore fascinating topics including the landing of the Philae spacecraft on a comet after a ten year journey; From the “what’s the harm?” files, clients of an acupuncture clinic in Abbotsford BC have been warned (http://www NULL.ctvnews NULL.ca/health/abbotsford-acupuncture-clinic-patients-advised-to-get-tested-for-hiv-1 NULL.2113107) to be tested for HIV and Hepatitis; and finally, two First Nations children have been allowed to reject life-saving chemotherapy for leukemia (http://www NULL.cbc NULL.ca/thecurrent/episode/2014/11/13/first-nations-girls-treatmnent-leukemia/) in favor shall we say, dubious, treatments. We talk about the Hippocrates Health Institute (http://www NULL.cbc NULL.ca/news/aboriginal/doctor-treating-first-nations-girls-says-cancer-patients-can-heal-themselves-1 NULL.2832760) and some views opposing this judicial decision (http://www NULL.cbc NULL.ca/news/aboriginal/first-nations-children-not-well-served-by-chemotherapy-ruling-arthur-schafer-1 NULL.2836141).
But first I think we’ll discuss the impending doom Kris is feeling as she realizes that a bottle of whiskey will be mine in February as infallible Pope Francis tells us that euthanasia is a ‘sin’ against God (http://www NULL.telegraph NULL.co NULL.uk/news/worldnews/the-pope/11233347/Pope-Francis-denounces-euthanasia-as-sin-against-God NULL.html)…
In this instalment: Just when you thought it was safe to go back to viewing movies in theaters, atheists will yet again be completely caricaturized and turned into straw men! Michael Scott, creator of God’s Not Dead, is ignoring the crushing 17% received from the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes (http://www NULL.rottentomatoes NULL.com/m/gods_not_dead/) and in an incredible case of delusional thinking has announced that a sequel to the unintentional comedy (http://www NULL.charismanews NULL.com/culture/45859-god-s-not-dead-2-getting-ready-to-rock-atheists-world) is in the works. No word yet on which religious zealot actors will cast; since our last podcast episode, the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments on whether saying a Catholic prayer (http://www NULL.cbc NULL.ca/news/canada/montreal/saguenay-prayer-case-hearing-begins-at-supreme-court-1 NULL.2797683) – not just a non-sectarian prayer, but a specifically Catholic one – said before city hall meetings in the Quebec city of Sagueny infringes on anyone’s freedom of religion. In a look at two polar opinions (http://www NULL.calgaryherald NULL.com/opinion/op-ed/Lakritz+Keep+religion+city+council+meetings/10292704/story NULL.html), Bishop Fred “You-know-what” Henry (http://www NULL.calgaryherald NULL.com/opinion/op-ed/Henry+wrong+demand+that+religion+confined+church/10308544/story NULL.html) makes yet another appearance (Spoiler alert! I don’t agree with him.); in addition to hockey, maple syrup and Mounties, Canada makes yet another contribution to the world. Or rather, a lack of one, according to a letter signed by 800 scientists (http://www NULL.canada NULL.com/technology/foreign+scientists+urge+Stephen+Harper+lift+restrictions+Canadian+researchers/10310970/story NULL.html) from 32 different countries accusing the current regime in Ottawa of slashing funding for science and gagging federal scientists from speaking on issues such as climate change and fish stocks. But first, and I think everyone could guess what the first topic would be tonight, we’re going to take a look at the two incidents dominating the news in this country, the attacks in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu (http://www NULL.ctvnews NULL.ca/canada/suspect-in-attack-on-2-soldiers-in-quebec-had-become-radicalized-pmo-1 NULL.2062419) and Ottawa (http://www NULL.ctvnews NULL.ca/canada/canada-will-never-be-intimidated-harper-says-after-shootings-in-ottawa-1 NULL.2065443) and some fallout (http://www NULL.coldlakesun NULL.com/2014/10/24/mosque-vandalized-in-what-locals-describe-as-disgusting-crime) from these incidents.
In this installment, we find that the final validation of Big Bang cosmology and evolution (http://www NULL.huffingtonpost NULL.com/2014/10/27/pope-francis-evolution_n_6057378 NULL.html?utm_hp_ref=religion) comes from an unlikely source, at least according to the media, who seem to have forgotten that the Vatican has played fast and loose all along. This time it comes from a guy who also thanked exorcists for showing “Love for those possessed (http://www NULL.huffingtonpost NULL.com/2014/10/29/pope-francis-exorcists_n_6064044 NULL.html).” Let’s face it, we could make jokes on that quote all night long. Homeopaths offer to add the might of Big Placebo in the fight against Ebola (http://www NULL.theguardian NULL.com/world/2014/oct/30/homeopaths-offer-services-fight-ebola) in Africa and a New Zealander MP gets demoted in a plot by Big Pharma to silence him. Federal scientists break their political neutrality (http://www NULL.ctvnews NULL.ca/politics/union-for-federal-scientists-breaks-neutrality-will-campaign-against-harper-1 NULL.2093214) and finally tell Prime Minister Stephen Harper to stuff it. But first I’d like to talk about ways we can get the credulous to listen to reason and look at evidence viz a viz a Facebook conversation I had yesterday. Before we get to that, though, episode 122 was a live video podcast wherein I looked like a boiled lobster and you can view it here (https://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=7VpdUptzQDw).
This week Kris and I have with us special guest Michael Nugent (http://www NULL.michaelnugent NULL.com/), chairperson of Atheist Ireland (http://atheist NULL.ie/). Michael joins us to talk about Ireland’s free speech-violating blasphemy law (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Blasphemy_law_in_the_Republic_of_Ireland), the upcoming referendum on said law (http://www NULL.theguardian NULL.com/world/2014/sep/30/ireland-referendum-blasphemy-law) and non-belief in his native country. This interview was done in conjunction with Atheist Alliance International’s Secular World Podcast. Enjoy!
Later on in the podcast, Jesse Jackson claims racism is responsible for the death of the America’s first ebola patient (http://www NULL.washingtontimes NULL.com/news/2014/oct/9/jesse-jackson-dallas-lawmaker-blame-racism-for-ebo/); outrage over 12-year old being married off in Norway (http://www NULL.ctvnews NULL.ca/world/the-truth-about-thea-norway-s-12-year-old-child-bride-1 NULL.2046750); Surrey, BC Pastarfarian runs for city council (http://www NULL.vancitybuzz NULL.com/2014/10/icbc-pastafarian-running-surrey-city-council/); the Supreme Court of Canada hears arguments for and against legalizing assisted suicide (http://news NULL.nationalpost NULL.com/2014/10/10/supreme-court-gathers-next-week-to-hear-arguments-for-and-against-doctor-assisted-death/); and the town of Cardston, AB votes to maintain its dry status (http://www NULL.ctvnews NULL.ca/canada/cardston-alta-will-stay-dry-after-alcohol-ban-vote-1 NULL.2042626) and we speculate on whether it has a bowling alley and a “Beer Baron”. But first, the population of Canada is about to increase by one later this month as Malala Yousafzai will be made an honorary citizen (http://www NULL.ctvnews NULL.ca/politics/nobel-winner-malala-yousafzai-to-get-honorary-canadian-citizenship-this-month-1 NULL.2048705) of this country.
Later on in this podcast, more blurry video evidence expected to be taken as a slam-dunk for the existence ghosts at a police station (http://m NULL.huffpost NULL.com/us/entry/5884520) in New Mexico; apparently, there are two types of exorcism, regular and irregular, and the Vatican wants to maintain its brand and expect the rest of us to believe The Exorcist to be a documentary; continuing on with Catholic nonsense, the Calgary Catholic School Board has given parents a letter (http://news NULL.nationalpost NULL.com/2014/09/21/debate-over-hpv-vaccine-flares-up-in-alberta-after-catholic-leaders-warn-shots-encourage-pre-marital-sex/) from Church authorities on the evils of the HPV vaccine (here we go again!); in more Catholic news, lest people get the idea that we bash everything Catholic, the papal nuncio to the DR recalled last year for (surprise!) acts of pedophilia has been arrested (http://www NULL.addictinginfo NULL.org/2014/09/24/archbishop-arrested/) and will go on trial, and a bishop in Paraguay has been removed from his post (http://mobile NULL.reuters NULL.com/article/idUSKCN0HK1E820140925?irpc=932) for concealing pedophilia by a priest in his diocese. Good news, indeed, but could still have done better. I wish the Vatican would stop pretending to statehood. Lastly, we have Da Prez makes an announcement about the podcast that we think is pretty cool. But first, uppity Orthodox Jews (http://www NULL.telegraph NULL.co NULL.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11121519/Ultra-Orthodox-Jews-cause-chaos-on-flight-to-Israel NULL.html) expect everybody else not only to respect their beliefs, but accommodate themselves to them. That’s gonna happen.
The Legion of Reason podcast strives to promote the values of skepticism, secularism, atheism, and humanism. Recently it has come to my attention that one of our co-hosts, HJ Hornbeck, has been publicly advancing an argument based on what we feel is a fallacious application of the Bayesian inferential method to alleged sexual assault cases1. The purpose of this disclaimer is to explain why I and my co-hosts unanimously and adamantly reject this argument.
HJ argues that because claims of sexual assault that turn out to be false are relatively infrequent (<10% of reported cases) this should considered as evidence for the truth of any single particular claim of sexual assault, and further, that this should be included as evidence in a court of law.
Illustrative of the error in reasoning evident within this argument is one of the central premises upon which it rests, which can be stated as follows:
P1. X percentage of men commit sexual assault.
P2. M is a man.
C. Therefore the likelihood that M committed sexual assault is X percent.
The ecological fallacy is an error in reasoning defined as “the interpretation of statistical data where inferences about the nature of individuals are deduced from inference for the group to which those individuals belong.”2 This is particularly true if one treats the statistics as if they were gathered under controlled conditions, as is the case here (especially in the fallacious syllogism above). This is nothing more than taking a side based on statistics alone, and not on evidence directly related to the claim. That’s not skepticism.
In not accepting the claim as true on the basis of statistics alone as Haysn suggests, we are not therefor accepting the opposite claim (no assault took place). This would be a false dichotomy and we categorically reject such criticism. To call a claimant a liar or deluded is just as prejudiced as assuming the claim is true on the basis of no more than social statistics.
This argument is prejudicial, poisoning the well even before we get to the examination any evidence directly related to the particular claim in question. Comparing the statistical likelihood used in DNA evidence collected from a victim of sexual assault is not the same thing as using social statistics on sexual assault claims. One pertains to the claim at hand, the other does not. The farthest one can take the statistics on sexual assault claims is that because false claims are uncommon we should take every claim seriously, and we do believe any and all such claims should be taken very seriously. But to go further than this and use these same statistics as evidence to form an opinion on the truth of the specific claim is an abuse of science.
Even more egregious is the claim that no one is ever harmed by a false claim of sexual assault. I’ll put this in all-caps so we are not misunderstood: NO ONE FALSELY ACCUSED OF SEXUAL ASSAULT IS NOT HARMED BY THE FRAUDULENT CLAIM. The false nature of the claim is in itself harm, and aside from the possibility of false imprisonment, the standing of the accused in their career, family and community can be hugely affected, even after the false nature of the claim is discovered.
Each of us would be the first to admit that it is difficult to establish cases of sexual assault. But to tilt the playing field in such a manner is unconscionable. It is this very difficulty in validating such claims that the number of false claims remains low. There is little doubt that would change under the circumstances where the defendant must actually prove their innocence before even getting to a courtroom. It completely destroys the presumption of innocence, a concept of paramount importance in our legal system, and one of the foundations of our democracy. In short, the argument is not only anti-skeptical, it also undermines the core beliefs of humanism and secularism.
1http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2014/09/guest-post-a-statistical-analysis-of-a-sexual-assault-case/ (http://freethoughtblogs NULL.com/butterfliesandwheels/2014/09/guest-post-a-statistical-analysis-of-a-sexual-assault-case/)
2http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_fallacy (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Ecological_fallacy)
Later, Kris, Twyla and I, the Very Reverend Dr. Randy Tyson, discuss happenings a-transpirin’ in Pennsylvania, where a teen is facing two years (http://news NULL.kron4 NULL.com/news/teen-could-get-two-years-for-facebook-photos-with-jesus-statue/) in juvie hall for a Facebook photo of himself saying ‘hello’ to Jesus in a special way; another mockumentary is coming out, this time it’s Nick Cage in a remake of that classic comedy Left Behind (http://www NULL.leftbehindmovie NULL.com/) trying to scare us in to conversion with fictional threats of the rapture; a US cardinal warns (http://www NULL.rightwingwatch NULL.org/content/cardinal-francis-george-says-american-catholics-are-being-forced-live-under-pro-gay-sharia-l) that America is under pro-gay Sharia law (say that without doing a spit-take). But first, local Imam Syed Soharwardy was threatened (http://calgary NULL.ctvnews NULL.ca/calgary-imam-attacked-1 NULL.2005185) in very red-neck fashion and I reveal a recent exchange I’ve had with him.
I know it may seem like we haven’t done an episode in a while, and skipped episode numbers, but we’ve been recording them and I’m going to get rid of the backlog in reverse order. Summer is over in Calgary, and in a very sudden manner. Yesterday the outside temperature was in the mid twenties (high seventies for our metric friends), and today it snowed in parts of the city. And people wonder why I plan on moving to Hawaii. In this episode, an important voice in the atheism movement fell silent recently. Physicist, philosopher and author Victor Stenger passed away on August 25 (http://www NULL.sltrib NULL.com/sltrib/lifestyle/58369338-80/stenger-religion-science-atheism NULL.html NULL.csp) and we acknowledge some of his contributions. I attended Calgary’s Gay Pride Parade and give my impressions of the event. Later, we let out some frustrations over shopping carts and traffic, and a “fake” medium in Quebec City has been charged with pretending to sorcery (http://cnews NULL.canoe NULL.ca/CNEWS/Crime/2014/08/27/21901536 NULL.html). Seriously. That’s a law here. And finally, Kris challenges Twyla, Haysn and me to take the ice-bucket challenge. But first, a major shake-up in a leading skepticism organization (http://www NULL.randi NULL.org/site/index NULL.php/jref-news/2392-los-angeles-office-closed NULL.html).