Wednesday, August 28, 2013

In Support of Chelsea Manning

I've maintained a focused disinterest in the Manning case. I genuinely have little interest in the administrative affairs of the military of other nations and choose to employ the time saved in perhaps more productive endeavours.

That said, it has come to my attention that Chelsea Manning has asked that she be referred to by the name she chooses, and by the pronouns with which she most identifies. This minor request seems most reasonable for a woman who will likely spend the next three and a half decades in prison.

I don't speak of it often, but I've had genital surgery. Several times. I've had medically necessary circumcision at age two, I had an undescended testicle corrected when I was about 11, and at the age of 16 I had another testicle ruptured in a kickboxing competition. As it healed a fluid filled sac developed around the injury which had to be surgically removed.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Richard Dawkins' Twitter Followers

I remember the first time I met Muslim apologist Adnan Rashid. He, Hamza Tzortzis and other members of the Islamic Education and Research Academy were running a stall on my route home and he attempted to convince me evolution could not be true because of 'irreducible complexity'. As he waxed lyrical on the complexities of bacterial flagellum (a whiplike appendage that enables movement in bacteria) I realised he was liberally borrowing from the work of Christian creationist Michael Behe.

Rather than point out the incongruity of relying on such a source I said it seemed odd to offer a mechanism that allows the spread of devastating diseases like Legionnaire's as evidence for a loving God. He paused, folded his arms, fixed me with a gaze that conveyed seriousness and then asked "what would happen if all the cells in your body lost their flagellums?".

Some with an interest in biology may have chuckled at the above. Bacterial flagella by definition are attached only to bacteria, facilitate movement, and as a general rule the cells in my body have no particular need to independently decide to relocate. It demonstrated the lightest skimming of Christian creationist material and a near complete misunderstanding of Behe's rather poor argument. (Those interested can see it debunked in full here. You can watch footage of Rashid losing an argument with PZ Myers here.)

The second time I shared a room with Rashid was at the World Atheist Convention in Dublin, 2011, when he asked a ponderously long and dreary question of Dawkins. I shared my anecdote with Dawkins who chuckled briefly. I thought it might be interesting to look at his Twitter account.

Word Cloud

I took a sample of five thousand of Dawkins' followers and examined their Twitter biographies, running them through a program that counts the frequency of words folk use to describe themselves and assembling an image where most frequently used words are shown in greater sizes. Dawkins' followers are likely to describe themselves using words like student, science, university, teacher and atheist. (On a general note, an improbably high number of tweeps describe themselves as writers. I do hope they have day jobs.)

Words noted by their absence include homeopath, Hare Krishna, acupuncture and miracle. It seems the head of the foundation for reason and science has done an admirable job of attracting those interested in both fields.

These results are indicative only. Again working off the same sample of five thousand Twitter accounts, I ran the first names through a script I wrote to estimate gender. It isn't overly complex - I have a list of known masculine names and a list of known feminine names. Based on the results it seems that 75% of Dawkins' followers have masculine names.