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In this article from the NY Times, Anthropologist Scott Atran argues that humans are hardwired to believe in the supernatural--a contention I agree with, despite the fact that I'm an atheist myself. But here's an anecdote Atran cites as proof:

[Atran's] research interests include cognitive science and evolutionary biology, and sometimes he presents students with a wooden box that he pretends is an African relic."If you have negative sentiments toward religion," he tells them, "the box will destroy whatever you put inside it." Many of his students say they doubt the existence of God, but in this demonstration they act as if they believe in something. Put your pencil into the magic box, he tells them, and the nonbelievers do so blithely. Put in your driver's license, he says, and most do, but only after significant hesitation. And when he tells them to put in their hands, few will.

If they don't believe in God, what exactly are they afraid of?

It seems pretty obvious to me what they are afraid of: a painful electric shock and the sudden appearance of Ashton Kutcher bellowing "YOU GOT RELIC'D!!"

Under these circumstances, I, too, would be be wary of the professor's convoluted reassurances as to the safety of the box. That's called skepticism, not faith.


The 2008 presidential race is as engrossing as "Mile two" of the Boston Marathon. "Oh my goodness, Giuliani has pulled within 30 feet of McCain. With only 24.1 miles to go, this has turned into a real nail-biter!"

Presidential campaigns are always ridiculous, but, nearly two years before the actual election, this one has already taken absurdity to a whole dumber level. The latest fashion in manufactured outrage is Candidate A demanding that Candidate B apologize for remarks made by Idiot C.

It's a trap, of course. If Obama apologizes for one of his donor's remarks, then he'll have to apologize for the remarks of all of them. If Romney denounces Coulter's latest comment, he is, in effect, saying "Coulter speaks for me, except in this isolated incident."

Several prominent bloggers, on both the left and the right, have made careers of reprinting the stupidest thing ever written by someone on the other side (usually the 113th comment, by someone named "TrueAmericanPatriot71," in a thread on freerepublic.com or democraticunderground.com) and saying "OMG this is what everyone who disagrees with us believes!!!" This practice appears to have percolated upward.

People said that blogging would transform politics. That prediction looks to be coming true.


I was going to write a Sternly-Worded Email to NPR over a news story they ran last Thursday, but I can't seem to scare up the audio on their website (apparently "Top of the Hour" newscasts aren't publicly archived), which means that I have to recreate the offending passage from memory. And as my memory has more holes that 80's-era acid-washed jeans, my letter would basically come down to "I'd like to call your attention to piece of NPR reporting I have largely fabricated that MADE ME SO ANGRY!!"

Fortunately, I have a place for my wildly inaccurate and unreasonable screeds. It's called a "weblog," or, for short, my "eblo."

Anyway, on a story on the fired attorneys, the reporter said (something to the effect of):

Administration officials claim that that the attorneys were all dismissed for performance-related reasons; Democrats in Congress, however, say that six of the eight fired attorneys had recently received favorable evaluations."
Nnnnnrrrrgh! This drives me crazy!
Dear NPR: Did six of the eight fired attorneys recently receive favorable evaluations, or is this just something the Democrats in Congress "say"? If you don't know, why not do a little research and find out? If you know this to be true, (and you do, if you read the New York Times), why not state this as a fact?

I understand your desire to come across as balanced, but if one side in a debate makes a contention ("they were dismissed for performance-related reasons") and there is evidence that refutes the claim, you can't just ascribe it as an opinion of the other side and call the piece "objective." "Objectivity" doesn't mean "bending over backwards to accommodate both sides," it means "bending over backwards to accommodate reality."



Matthew Baldwin
Professional Ebloer


Well, nothing new there.

Ohhh, Hillary Clinton ...

Posted on March 06, 2007 to News


Or maybe the folks who won't put their hands in the box have seen/read Dune. What's in the box? Pain!

Posted by: Skye on March 8, 2007 11:37 AM

You wrong 'bout this:

"Several prominent bloggers--on both the left (Eschaton) and the right (Michelle Malkin)--have made careers of reprinting the stupidest thing ever written by someone on the other side (usually the 113th comment...."

90% of Atrios' posts are along the lines of "they complain about our 113th commenter (or some obscure professor), yet Malkin herself is on national TeeVee."

How is that equivalent?

Posted by: John I on March 8, 2007 11:44 AM

Fair enough. I picked Atrios out of a hat, because he has featured the "101th Fighting Keyboardists" a number of time, which is essentially an extended riff on "stupid people from the other side." But you're right that it's unfair to equate him with Malkin.

Posted by: Matthew on March 8, 2007 11:55 AM

Good. I was under pressure from my liberal friends to denounce your anti-Atrios comments.

Posted by: John I on March 8, 2007 12:12 PM


Posted by: Matthew on March 8, 2007 12:15 PM

Now I'm confused. Malkin is quite the bit of a bitch. Atrios isn't a bit of a bastard? Okay, Malkin is a bitch, and Atrios isn't a bastard? Oh, I see. I think. Nope, still confused. Oh, you removed their mention from the post?!

Gawd, when will my lunch order arrive? Maybe food will make sense of this for me. I hope it's not a sandwich in a wooden box.

Posted by: jack haas on March 8, 2007 12:21 PM

Lol, Clinton focuses on Women. ROTFL! That was funny.

Posted by: Roshan on March 8, 2007 12:42 PM

Could not agree more with the attorney story. Think NPR is more apt to do this sort of thing and avoid being labeled left or right of center, thus potentially jeopardizing their public funding? It would be sad, but not out of the realm of possibility.

Posted by: Dan B on March 8, 2007 1:10 PM

"Ooohh, Hillary Clinton" LOL...Love it!

Posted by: pete on March 8, 2007 1:12 PM

NPR's been moving further and further into the "he said, she said" mode of reporting lately, and it's quite alarming. It's to the point where they'll report one side's quote and then say "but critics say [the opposite]." Critics. Not even [the opposing political party]. Ugh.

Posted by: braine on March 8, 2007 1:37 PM

Re NPR: It may not be dumbing down, but including the complexity you're asking for. It's awkward to say, "Six of the eight fired attorneys recently receive favorable evaluations, and congressional Democrats are pointing this out." Presumably, it's true. Otherwise a journalist wouldn't allow it to go to air. So, by saying the Dems are saying it, says not only is it true, but the Dems are making hay with it.

Posted by: Anonymous on March 8, 2007 2:01 PM

Did you listen to last weekend's This American Life? It was a repeat, but there was a story about an experiment a psychologist did on children around the age where they're chummy with the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. The psychologist put a box in the center of the room and told the children that there was NOT a monster in the box. Then he left the room, and the children scooted away from the box. In a second experiment the psychologist told the children that a puppy was not in the box. When the psychologist left the room, the children went to look in the box.

Sounds like 1) People don't grow up 2)Scientists get their kicks by putting boxes in the middle of rooms and telling lies.

Posted by: alexarch on March 8, 2007 2:07 PM

Wait. I totally got that wrong. There were puppies, monsters, a box, a psychologist, a room of children, and somehow the experiment proved that children are stupid. But I can't remember how. Listen to the podcast.

Posted by: alexarch on March 8, 2007 2:14 PM

I am already annoyed at "Clinton" headlines. This is like using "Elvis" and assuming readers understand you are refering to Costello.

Posted by: Rob Cockerham on March 8, 2007 3:02 PM

Or using "Kennedy" and expecting people to realise you mean Nigel.

Posted by: Rob on March 8, 2007 3:30 PM

"Ebloer," along with the whole NPR piece, is one of the funniest things I've read in a while. And I read a helluva lot of funny things.

("or for short, my 'eblo'." good lord, that's funny)

Posted by: lu on March 8, 2007 4:44 PM

You know what bugged me about NPR today? Their ad for Archer Danials Midland that said something like "Supporting the family farm since 1920". I almost threw my radio. That doesn't do much for their reliability in my book.

Posted by: Claire on March 8, 2007 5:35 PM

I don't think people are hard-wired to believe in God, they're just in general too lazy to think of anything else to believe. It seems it's OK to believe in God without having any reason whatsoever (that's called Faith!) but atheists have to give reasons. How does that work?

Posted by: Friendless on March 8, 2007 6:16 PM

What NPR did is no different than what most major news sources have been doing for years. They rarely do any actual investigation of any claims by either side, but rather they just turn on the mics / cameras and parrot back whatever it was that someone else already said that day, true or not. This is why I've all but given up the evening news.

Posted by: Frank on March 8, 2007 6:27 PM

NPR went off the deep end the day they hired Juan Williams.

Posted by: pjcamp on March 8, 2007 7:02 PM

The only person who does not subscribe to a belief system is the agnostic. Everyone else has a belief system, including atheists. The person who says, "I don't believe in God" is making a principled statement of faith.

Posted by: daveb99 on March 8, 2007 7:49 PM

In general, you're right about stupid he-said, she-said reporting, but in this case, I think it makes sense.

It's (probably) true that the attorney's have favorable evaluations on file. It's not necessarily true that this fact refutes the Republican's story. Democrats say it does. NPR leaves it to you to decide whether it's possible for someone who is bad at his job could nevertheless have a favorable performance review in his file.

Posted by: straight on March 8, 2007 10:35 PM

'...reprinting the stupidest thing ever written by someone on the other side (usually the 113th comment, by someone named "TrueAmericanPatriot71," in a thread on freerepublic.com or democraticunderground.com) and saying "OMG this is what everyone who disagrees with us believes!!!"'

Kevin Drum, of the Washington Monthly, held a contest last summer to decide what to call this behavior and decided on "nutpicking," initially suggested by his commenter BlueMan. A fine coinage.

Posted by: Rob Lightner on March 8, 2007 11:08 PM

Heehee. "Professional Ebloer" - that's my favorite part of your letter. I can read the entire thing straight except for that line.

Posted by: Tracey Fountain on March 9, 2007 6:35 AM

I found the whole thing funny, but I laughed until I choked on my dinner at "eblo". Simple minds, I know.

Posted by: The Doc on March 16, 2007 5:27 PM