The women who gave us the concept of intersectionality

For International Women’s Day and as part of Women’s History Month, here’s an essay about the black feminists whose work gave us the concept of Intersectionality: http://www.secularwoman.org/salon/Black_Feminists_Intersectionality

(Still haven’t figured out how to activate the comment section, I apologize)

In which I fansquee over my favorite talk at Skepticon

I wasn’t going to do a roundup of talks and workshops of Skepticon, because that stuff Is generally well taken care of by the folks at Skepchick and FTB.

But.

Dr. Monica Miller‘s talk, titled “I Got 99 Problems But God Ain’t One: Hip Hop and Humanism’s New Black Godz” was fucking amazing. And I almost didn’t go, because I don’t music in general, and Hip Hop specifically doesn’t figure at all in my life. So I didn’t think I was going to get much out of that particular event. But I stayed and was glad for it. It was an hour of sociology and cultural analysis beyond the 101-level of explaining to people what “socially constructed” means, and because neither the topic nor the particular perspective on it were something I was familiar with, it was one of these talks in which I felt my brain re-arranging its well-worn ways of thinking about humanism.

Her talk was a discussion of how a humanism can be expressed with religious language, without actually talking about old bearded dudes in the sky etc. Specifically she talked about the way hip hop uses “god talk”, meaning religious imagery and language, to express non-religious, humanist ideas, e.g. criticism of class and race structures, as well as criticism of organized religion*. She mentioned that the history of this practice goes back to the slave spirituals which used religious/biblical language to talk about the very here-worldly topic of fleeing north and described this as a dominant language or framework being pushed on an oppressed people. That framework didn’t get rejected but subverted instead, put to a use different from the one the Christian framework serves/served in the dominant community. In the talk, Dr. Miller also notes that she is suspicious of statistics about the religiosity of America’s black communities, which show black Americans to be extremely religious. The interpretation of religion and the religious framework as a subverted and re-purposed thing which she presented in this talk is one way to think about this supposed religiosity: that despite superficial appearances, it’s not actually always about some “god” out there, but about “gods” in humanity; that it is humanism, expressed through god talk.

What was interesting to me at a more personal level was her self-description as both a functionalist and a deconstructionist. Most of the functionalism I’ve been familiar with until now has tended to view society as a more-or-less unified whole with structures that function for the purposes of society as that unified whole***. A functionalist who focuses on non-dominant groups, and especially on the functions of dominant structures as subverted and re-purposed by the subaltern is deeply fascinating to me. Or, as the Internet used to say, “I am intrigued by [her] ideas and would like to subscribe to [her] newsletter”. Which I can. Because she’s on twitter and she writes at Culture on the Edge, and she wrote a book**** which I have and shall read shortly, and she also wrote this paper and this paper, which I’d also love to read but can’t cuz the university finally yanked my library access *coughhintcough*.

Most importantly though, I hope to see more of Dr. Monica Miller at skeptic and atheist events. Because she’s awesome and her ideas are awesome and she’s a great speaker.[/fansquee]

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*The complete list of songs/videos in the talk:
No Church In the Wild, New Slaves, I am A God, Picasso Baby, and Heaven. For those who can’t do video, or like me can’t process language in music very well, here are the lyrics in text: No Church in The Wild**, New Slaves, I Am A God, Picasso Baby, and Heaven

**Note the Euthyphro dilemma :-)

***with the sole exception of the essay on the Uses of Poverty(pdf), which goes through the effort of distinguishing between benefits to society as a whole, and benefits to the dominant groups within it.

****the price is so high because it qualifies as an academic book/textbook. We don’t make the rules, we just suffer from them.

Forbes is lying about a study to promote AGW denialism

So there’s this Op/Ed piece titled “Peer-Reviewed Survey Finds Majority Of Scientists Skeptical Of Global Warming Crisis” in Forbes right now. It refers to this paper in Organizational Studies, a journal largely focusing on the sociology of organizations.

The Op/Ed piece is blatantly lying about the paper.

Let’s start with the title. For one, the paper is not a survey. Surveys are quantitative, and therefore strive for large and representative samples; this paper was a qualitative study, with a sample selected on the basis of usefulness to the topic, not because it’s representative. Secondly, the author of that Op/Ed piece, James Taylor, claims that a “majority of scientists” is skeptical of AGW. Except that the paper doesn’t study “scientists”; it studies “professional experts in petroleum and related industries”*, and refers to them collectively as “professionals”, not “scientists” like Taylor does. Plus, right in the introduction the paper explains that “there is a broad consensus among climate scientists” about AGW being real. Which is not a group of scientists the paper studies, because its focus is not what the scientists doing research on climate issues conclude from their research. The abstract of the paper (emphases mine):

This paper examines the framings and identity work associated with professionals’ discursive construction of climate change science, their legitimation of themselves as experts on ‘the truth’, and their attitudes towards regulatory measures. Drawing from survey responses of 1077 professional engineers and geoscientists, we reconstruct their framings of the issue and knowledge claims to position themselves within their organizational and their professional institutions. In understanding the struggle over what constitutes and legitimizes expertise, we make apparent the heterogeneity of claims, legitimation strategies, and use of emotionality and metaphor. By linking notions of the science or science fiction of climate change to the assessment of the adequacy of global and local policies and of potential organizational responses, we contribute to the understanding of ‘defensive institutional work’ by professionals within petroleum companies, related industries, government regulators, and their professional association.

In the paper the authors state the purpose of the paper as follows:

Our aim is to examine the construction and disputation of expertise in a contested issue field and the consequences this has for the mobilization for or against regulation.

and

How do professional experts frame the reality of climate change and themselves as experts, while engaging in defensive institutional work against others?

It’s a sociology paper; about social construction of “expertise” on AGW which justifies in the minds of professionals “defensive institutional work, i.e., the maintenance of institutions against disruptions” caused by demands for climate-action. It wouldn’t make sense to study research scientists in climatology for this.
Plus, studying specifically professionals working for oil companies and oil-related industries (in Alberta, no less!) is going to severely skew the proportion of professionals studied who are denialists. Which the authors of the study are quite upfront about**, but which Taylor completely ignores in favor of claims like:

the overwhelming majority of scientists fall within four other models, each of which is skeptical of alarmist global warming claims.

Taylor then quotes parts of the paper where the oil-industry professionals are classified into 5 groups of positions about AGW. Mostly the quotes are ok, but they are trimmed to look less like the “social construction of climate change” categories that they actually are in the paper.

Lastly, Taylor takes a swipe at the authors of the paper (where he once again calls it a survey. dude, no.) for being “alarmists”, because they use accurate terms (“deniers”, etc.); he then claims that because of the obvious pro-AGW-bias of the authors, “alarmists will have a hard time arguing the survey is biased or somehow connected to the ‘vast right-wing climate denial machine.’”. Which is silly, since of course the study is connected to the denial machine; it’s about the denial machine, sampling a group of people who have every reason in the world to deny that their institution (the oil industry) is fucking with the climate.

And then another blatant lie:

Another interesting aspect of this new survey is that it reports on the beliefs of scientists themselves rather than bureaucrats who often publish alarmist statements without polling their member scientists.

Again, this is neither a survey, nor does it study scientists. It confirms that among climate scientists, there is a consensus that AGW is real and a problem. But these folks are not the subject of the study; it’s a study about denialist self-rationalization, so of course it’s full of deniers. Also, it’s of course not “bureaucrats” that publish consensus reports on AGW; unlike the subjects of this study, the IPCC is actually a body of actual climate scientists doing actual research on our climate.

The Forbes article concludes thusly:

People who look behind the self-serving statements by global warming alarmists about an alleged “consensus” have always known that no such alarmist consensus exists among scientists. Now that we have access to hard surveys of scientists themselves, it is becoming clear that not only do many scientists dispute the asserted global warming crisis, but these skeptical scientists may indeed form a scientific consensus.

1)”hard surveys of scientists”, my ass. 2)1/3 of people even within the oil industry agreeing that AGW is a thing and a serious problem, plus another 17% basically answering “I don’t know, and neither do you” cannot in any way be construed as a “consensus” against AGW even among the group studied.

Lastly, and slightly OT, I’ll also note that the denialist goalposts have moved so thoroughly that even in the oil industry, “virtually all respondents (99.4%) agree that the climate is changing”. Now it’s all about whether to do anything about it.

The paper itself is quite interesting, since the concepts they’re analyzing apply to other debates about what is or isn’t scientific and who is or isn’t a legitimate authority on any given topic is relevant to many other areas***, especially where “defensive institutional work” is being done****. Really though, the most amazing thing about it is that a paper examining the ways in which denialists frame their denialism by defining experts as those who agree with them in order to justify defensive responses to attacks on the oil industry ends up being used to define experts (i.e. “scientists”) in such a way that it agrees with denialists and justifies their defensive, anti-regulatory reactions. It’s so very meta.
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* specifically, members of The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA); no research scientists.
**they definitely don’t claim they have a representative sample of “scientists” or “experts on AGW”, since that’s not the point of the study. Quite the opposite, since this is not a quantitative study, but one using qualitative methodology. They’re not interested in how many people believe what, but in the content and diversity of these positions and the methods of justifying them.
**(examples: defining Rebecca Watson as an illegitimate authority in skepticism, because she has a communications degree rather than a science degree; shifting boundaries of what is or isn’t True ScienceTM to exclude many social sciences; hyperskepticism; etc.
****any claim of “you’re harming The Movement”, and “I like this community the way it is, stop trying to change it”, ever.

short thoughts about Occupy Wall Street

1)the We are the 53% site is such a fascinating mix of privilege and internalized class oppression. Some sociologist out there should really delve into it

2)Rachel Maddow’s “Machine Against the Rage” headline is fucking brilliant; so’s the segment it came from: Conservatives in panicked hysteria over Occupy Wall Street

3)Most hilarious protest EVAR: Robin Hood in a kayak

4)The police really fucking hate OCW, don’t they. First, in NYC: the macing of peaceful protesters; the arrests of 700(!)protesters in NYC, and of course shit like this. Now, in Boston: police beat up (elderly) veterans, arrest 50-100 protesters

EDIT: I really should check TYTNetwork before making these posts: Cenk Uygur on “we are the 53%”