Various Lies

Friday, November 25, 2011

Statements of Lack of Faith

I am a fairly recent atheist. I'm really more of a Judeo-Christian agnostic, but I have a suspicion this is just old habits dying hard. It's not been an easy journey and it's only recently that I've become more outspoken. This is partly due to becoming more aware of important civil liberties issues that I've read about ('enforced' public school prayers, the 'war on Christmas' being used to suppress diversity) and partly because I'm getting tired of the sanctimonious lies and hypocritical whining of Christians and the militant hate expressed by Muslims. Another important motivator has also been the common view that Christians seem to take, that because they are God's new chosen people* He wouldn't let them come to harm, thus scientists are liars and frauds and climate change is not man made etc. This affects me and my family directly (for e.g. warming up the planet we have to share) and indirectly (for e.g. I'm paid by Federal monies allotted to the National Institutes of Health (NIH); any attack on science is an attack on the meagre wage I get for serving the public good as a scientist).

Three recent events are of note and have spurred this little, meandering post and the two to follow when time permits.

A couple of weeks ago I made my first public statement of (lack of) belief. I read bloggers and writers who are great with their words when it comes to describing and defining their lack of belief in any higher/spiritual power. I've been curiously concerned about how I might speak up if asked about my opinion. I was at a bar with a friend and she was chatting to a gentleman, a dancer and choreographer. She is a Christian and so was this chap. I forget how the conversation moved round to this spiritual realm, but as they made the usual mumbling statements of faith, I stated that i was an atheist. You could have heard a pin drop.

"No you're not!" My friend exclaimed in the tone of voice usually reserved for young adults who make outlandish statements ("I'm going to buy a motorbike mom!")

"Yes, I am." I replied.

The dancer spoke up, curiosity in his voice betrayed by the fear and revulsion on his face. "Why do you think you're an atheist?"

I ignored the condescension of the statement, although I must admit I nearly used it as a springboard for a feisty rebuttal on manners. Heart thumping I paused for a moment and then spoke up "I am an atheist because after searching hard, I can find no evidence that there exists any higher power or any need for there to be a god. I can't believe in something I can find no evidence for."

His reply was a thoughtful, "Oh!". He briefly tied the common PoF tactic of asking me if I therefore believed in love etc., something I've since faced a few times and torn apart with ease. The idiocy of these statements simply betrays a lack of thought and reasoned argumentation on the part of the asker. My friend then steered the conversation back to more libatious matter and we ordered another round of drinks.

I think I handled it OK.

*An inherent LOL to poke at these people is each little sect thinks they're the chosen on and all the rest are hell-bound frauds. This is a very fun stick to poke them with....People's Front of Judea etc.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

SfNBANTER - A Review

What can one say about SfNBANTER -the premiere social event of the fall conference season? Once again hostess Dr. Becca excelled with another exemplary venue, menu, cocktail list and guest list. As exclusive as ever, the event was nevertheless overrun with the twitteratti and bloggeratti.


Dr. Zen wins the SfNBanter style award, again!

One must open with a very sincere Thank You to Jonathan Gross and the BioData team for sponsoring the event. It was great to meet Jonathan in the flesh finally, and chatting to the BioData team was fun and added a sense of relevancy to the wired nature of the event. After all, who better to sponsor a Tweetup than an informatics company with a very active social media presence?

This writer met old friends from the IRL (@mocost next time I'll manage more than "hi", @aechase, as ever a pleasure), old friends from the real (on line) world (including the mysterious and prolific @Scicurious and some true pseuds who must remain nameless, but know who they are), and made acquaintance with new peeps. Particular highlights were getting an awesome brain-Xmas tree ornament from @artologica, stalking @loveofscience, punking @mikechorost, losing a bet with @sugarscientist, making @artfulaction blush and swapping zombie tales with @bradleyvoytek. @noahWG and @genetrapper bought me beer, and thus consolidated themselves in the deep, fuscus and wormridden core of my heart for evermore.

A very special moment of the evening was meeting with some of my Scientopia peeps who I've known for years, but never met before IRL. And apologies once again to Drugmonkey for disappearing, and Namnezia for not saying goodbye. I was a case study in nicotine overdose by the end of the night and a brief palate cleaning walk around the block turned into an epic stumble home via a late night pizza parlour and meeting a poor homeless woman who wanted me to help her walk to Massachusetts. The state, not the Avenue...

I wish I could throw out a Heyya to all the folks I met, but the mixture of beer, avatars and real names was dizzying. Even i got confused about how to introduce myself. And that i think is the key to these events. Living online allows us to escape, expand or avoid daily social strictures, be they work or family indicated. Online we can be freer in our expression and find an audience of friends and peers to share our thoughts and writing with.  It was great to meet so many cool, wired and desiccated dedicated folks from all ranks, fields, and social backgrounds.

So join us next year in New Orleans for #sfnbanterIII - in 2010 we celebrated with SfNPosterface in a nightclub with 2000 people. In 2011 we proved we have traction in DC. What will we do in 2012 in the French Quarter?....One positively shudders to even contemplate the debauched science we'll conjure... ;)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

It's that time again

I'm late, I'm late, I'm late. Well, it's been a tumultuous yeah and I've not been a very active blogger to be sure. But, that's par for the course. I've been doing this since 2004 and you have good times and bad times, times when you're feeling inspired to write, and times when you're not. But now there's some impetus - The Greatest Show on Earth is coming up (next week!).

It's Go Time

The Society for Neuroscience are holding their annual meeting, as is their wont, and this year we're back in Washington DC. last time the meeting was in DC I had to catch the red-eye from Las Vegas the day before my presentation, where I had been attending the orientation for the new members of the Board of Directors of the National Postdoc Association. Ironically, I'm no longer on the Board and now they hold it in DC the week before SfN. Anyway, that was in 2008, I was still a Labrat and the world was only just realising how desperately bankrupt it was.

In 2010 myself and M'Belov'd Colleague Dr. Becca covered the event in San Diego, and ran a serious of semi-coherent videoblogs for it. I think they're fun, and the out-takes are simply FTW. I also ran a review of the SfN Neurobloggers, both before and after the conference.

My comment then, as now stands - the Society is making a farce of its efforts to engage a wired audience. Last year only a couple of the Neurobloggers were actually, y'know, bloggers. Some have kept up with the blogging more or less, but there was no effort on behalf of the Society to seriously screen entries based on anything credible like credentials, experience, following etc.

Surely, and really, fucking obviously, if you're trying to get more attention to your conference in the wired world, it would make sense to gather a stable of popular, talented and proven science bloggers to cover the event. Right?


They wouldn't make the same mistake twice they?

Would they?

Even after a few of "us" actually contacted the Society In Real Life and spoke to them about it.



Yes. Yes, they would. #DFS.

They're making no fucking effort to advertise this at all as usual. The SfN hashtags on twitter are being run by the usual Twits, and thankfully it's self-organising well. But once more they've picked a stable of writers, with a couple of very notable exceptions, who are totes WTF.

Zen Faulks has beaten me to the punch this year, so here's linklove to Zen. To whit:

"Last year, I wrote about the puzzlement about the Society for Neuroscience’s choice of official bloggers. I didn’t recognize a one.

With today’s announcement of the Neuroscience 2011 neurobloggers, I confess I am still baffled by the SfN’s social media strategy. Unlike last year, year, I do recognize one blogger, the mighty Scicurious [Ed: I'll add Jason Snyder of Functional Neurogenesis to this too]...I’m most baffled that two blogs didn’t exist at all a week ago, which happened last year, too. The application to be a neuroblogger asked for samples, including previous conference coverage...


Seriously, I just don't fucking get it. Why bother having a call for applicants if the entire process is so desperately farcical. Last year I worried that the n00bs were opening themselves up for a shit storm because of the possible attention. However, by all accounts traffic was so low it was moot. I know Jason and Scicurious will do excellently, and as usual they'll likely get good traffic. The rest of you, if you actually exist, have fun, but don't sweat it. The entire thing seems to be a waste of time and effort unless you're already up and running. And if you are, you don't need this faux 'boost' from a Society that clearly doesn't give two shakes of a fuck about promoting itself, or you, to the Wired World.


FWIW, I'll be attending sporadically and blogging when I can - I have some family business to take of while I'm in the area so i'm staying in Annapolis and commuting.

Most importantly::: I'll see y'all at BANTER. mad levels of props to M'Belov'd Colleague Dr. Becca for organising the whole thing while I've been Blogger in absencia this year.

This is the second (annual?) blogger and tweeter hang out and if it's even close to last year, you'll need a free schedule Tuesday morning, and a handful of aspirin with that morning coffee.

Remember, if you don't want to out your Pseud, take your fucking name tag off before you go into the bar, or write your Pseud on the back of it, wear it in reverse and geek with pride.

See y'all on Monday ;)