Thursday, September 14, 2017


A very shy little octopus. Image source.
1. Beijing bans new bikes as sharing schemes cause chaos (posted September 8) Yepppp I'm in Shanghai and within the past year-ish a bunch of these bike-sharing apps have appeared and it's getting out of control, there are tons and tons of these public bikes all over the sidewalks, rows and rows and rows of them in front of subway stations, etc.

2. Missouri Court to Hear Landmark Case on Satanic Temple Abortion (posted September 8) "On May 8, 2015 TST [The Satanic Temple] filed both state and federal lawsuits against the state of Missouri on behalf of Mary Doe, a pregnant woman seeking an abortion. Missouri law requires that all women seeking to lawfully terminate their pregnancy must be given reading material claiming that life begins at conception. They must also endure a 72-hour waiting period between their initial appointment and their actual abortion procedure. TST objects to these restrictions on religious grounds because they violate the organization’s belief in the inviolability of one’s body."

3. LGBT groups denounce 'dangerous' AI that uses your face to guess sexuality (posted September 8) All right I work in AI, specifically computer vision, so I have some opinions about this. First of all, the algorithm in the study correctly guessed "gay" or "straight" 81% of the time for men and 74% for women. That's a really significant result in a scientific sense, but it's not 100%, so it's not like we can use this for anything that really definitely needs to be reliable and has practical effects on actual people's lives. Often when scientific findings are reported in the media, the headline makes it sound like the result is way more absolute and definite than it really is (my favorite example of this was a headline I saw once that said "Facebook knows when you'll break up" which was about a study that showed people posted statuses with words/phrases like "break up" more often in certain months than in others).

Also the study only looked at white people, and only people who identified as gay or straight (not bi, ace, or any other possible orientation). And it used photos from a dating site as its data set- perhaps what it's actually telling us is gay and straight people present themselves differently when specifically looking for a partner on a dating website. Maybe if the study used ID photos or photos from some other context, there would have been a different result. (Seriously, I think it's EXTREMELY SIGNIFICANT that these were photos posted with the SPECIFIC INTENTION of finding a romantic partner. Not just any old photos.) More research is needed.

So the result is extremely limited and not anywhere near 100% reliable (but still very interesting and cool to anyone working in AI or computer vision!) so of course it shouldn't be used to actually do actual things to actual people. Of course it wouldn't be scientifically sound to decide someone must be gay, on the basis of this algorithm alone, and then treat them badly because of it. (Or, if you want a laugh, I read another article on this study which mentioned maybe it could be useful for teenagers who are questioning whether they could be gay. LOLOLOLOL as if a computer with 70-80% accuracy knows you better than you know yourself.)

But. Historically, people in power have used "science" as an excuse to oppress certain demographics. It doesn't matter that those of us who actually understand the science can see that it in no way justifies discrimination- all that matters is that someone is claiming that "science" is on their side, and getting away with it. (Exhibit A for "getting away with it": headlines completely misrepresenting the results of the study to make it sound much more absolute and immediately practical than it actually is.) So it's good to be extremely wary of how results like this could be used as an excuse to hurt people who are perceived as gay.

4. Chapters 21-23 - An Atheist Reads Evidence That Demands a Verdict (posted 2013) In this video, Shives discusses a BUNCH of differences between the creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2. And I'm angry in the way only an ex-evangelical can be: This stuff is so damn interesting and this is the FIRST time I'm hearing about it. I studied and memorized the bible my whole life and I was carefully trained not to notice that Genesis 1 and 2 are so different that probably they have different authors. I knew that the correct apologetics answer is "Genesis 1 and 2 don't contradict each other- chapter 2 is just giving more details about the part in chapter 1 where God created people." I was taught that answer before I even had a chance to think for myself "hey why are there two different creation accounts?"

On that note, does anyone have any recommendations for books about the documentary hypothesis? (The documentary hypothesis is the idea that the Pentateuch is compiled from sources from 4 different authors, which we call J, E, D, and P. Yeah real biblical scholars don't think it was all written by Moses.)

5. The First White President (October 2017 issue) "Indeed, the panic of white slavery lives on in our politics today. Black workers suffer because it was and is our lot. But when white workers suffer, something in nature has gone awry. And so an opioid epidemic among mostly white people is greeted with calls for compassion and treatment, as all epidemics should be, while a crack epidemic among mostly black people is greeted with scorn and mandatory minimums. Sympathetic op‑ed columns and articles are devoted to the plight of working-class whites when their life expectancy plummets to levels that, for blacks, society has simply accepted as normal. White slavery is sin. [N-----] slavery is natural."

6. Hurricane Irma Is So Powerful it Sucked Ocean Water Away in the Bahamas (posted September 10)

7. Coping with Suicidal Thoughts (pdf) [content note: suicide] Wow, I don't think I've ever seen a resource like this before, with extremely practical steps that one can take to stay safe.

8. Were You On This Delta Plane That Flew Into Hurricane Irma? (Updated) (posted September 6) Wowwww.

9. B4NP Podcast Episode 19: “The Bible and Intersex Believers” with Megan DeFranza (posted September 11) Also check out her website: Intersex And Faith.

Have a good week everyone~

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