About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Massimo's Picks

* An interesting article by Harriet Hall in eSkeptic about the placebo effect and how it works.

* Some good food for thought on Iraq and the Middle East from New York Times' Thomas Friedman.

* Defending a science writer who is being sued for libels by pseudoscientific chiropractors.

* I bet you didn't foresee the new trend on TV: psychic shows!

* Keith Olbermann catches Newt Gingrich directly (and presumably unwittingly) contradicting "he who must not be contradicted," Ronald Reagan.

* Philosophy Talk, the program that questions everything... except your intelligence (and their blog is pretty good too!).

* Paul Krugman on how right-wind media and politicians are fanning conspiracy theorists and other lunatics.

* The Federal government has spent $2.5 billion of your money to test "alternative" medicine for the past ten years. The results are rather disappointing...

* Journalist Carl Zimmer on how wiki tools help research on swine flu, and a new model for how science might work in the future.


  1. Right-wind media and politicians? I suppose that is appropriate since you need a good wind for fanning! :)

  2. "...on how right-wind media and politicians are fanning conspiracy theorists and other lunatics."

    For anyone interested in this subject, I've been covering it pretty extensively (see here for example), and I would recommend Dave Neiwert's blog at Crooks and Liars.

  3. c'mon not Tom Friedman! After following his columns for more than 10 years, I have concluded he is generally quite vacuous. I would suggest the following two articles (written by Matt Taibbi) on Friedman for the uninitiated.

  4. Just to add, if you knew Freidman's writing history you would quickly realize why he is sometimes called the state department's stenographer.

  5. Friedman is a joke, as is the liberal media in general regarding US's foreign policy. All this "exporting democracy" school of thought couldn't be more ridiculous. Does anybody seriously believe this?

    The wars are all about "modernism" vs "antimodernism", eh? So why not invade Saudi Arabia, for example? There you have a country where you can't vote, it's ilegal to follow a religion different from the official one, and can be sentenced to death for being gay. Certainly less democratic than many of the nations the NY Times likes to go on and on about (Venezuela, Iran, Cuba, etc.). Oh, but yeah, I forget, they maybe governed by a son of a bitch, but it's "our son of a bitch", so it's OK.

    If an ally of the US massacres civilians, that's OK, 'cause it's for democracy. But if women wear a veil in a country with an economic policy not lucrative enough for our interests, then we are going there to save this poor women by bombing the fuck out of them.

    Let's wake up a bit, they are lying right to our faces.

    PS: word verification is "crack". We are losing the war on drugs in this blog...

  6. Nacho,

    hmm, I must infer that you read a completely different New York Times from the one I do...

  7. Admitedly, I don't read it oftenly as articles like this one are bad for my blood pressure... but I do read it when its articles are linked in the blogs I read, and I do think it has some serious bias in these subjects, as almost all US press. You think they don't?

    Just as an example, here's an interesting comparative study of their coverage of an US ally (Colombia) vs. one that isn't as much (Venezuela), using the model of a book I know you read and liked.


    There are countless examples of things like this.

    And don't you think these "exporting democracy" / "the wars in the middle east are about defending modernism" / etc. are totally bogus arguments? Because it's what Friedman is saying, and I don't think it fits the facts at all...

  8. Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that the NYT is always a balanced and fair source of news. But frankly, it is by far one of the best available in the US or anywhere that I know of (I follow some of the European press).

    btw, I don't think Friedman is defending war as a way of exporting democracy, a la Bush, but he is defending the idea of democracy itself, and I do think a lot of other places in the world (including Saudi Arabia, Iran, and several South American countries) could use a bit more of it.

  9. Yes, there's worse stuff than the Times, of course. But still, even if it's -of course- done more subtly than Fox News, they still justify US' appaling foreign policy, as they've been doing for decades. Maybe with a different excuse (the more right wing media won't justify a war with women's right or freedom from religion, as it doesn't suit their audience as well), but they still do it.

    Bush defended the war as "exporting democracy", yes, but liberals (not all of them, but several) do it too. Friedman says:

    "I have never bought the argument that Iraq was the bad war, Afghanistan the good war and Pakistan the necessary war. Folks, they’re all one war with different fronts. It’s a war within the Arab-Muslim world between progressive and anti-modernist forces over how this faith community is going to adapt to modernity — modern education, consensual politics, the balance between religion and state and the rights of women."

    According to him, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan have something to do with women's rights, consensus and the separation of church and state. And the US of A are stepping in there to help this noble causes, 'cause the US are, of course, the good guys, very concerned about all these things.

    What is exactly the difference between this and "exporting democracy"? It looks like an only slightly modified version to me, called "exporting modernism". Teach consensus with bombs. Etc. Not very different from Hitchens support of war based on "fighting islamofascism".

    Then he goes on to say that the US, rightly or wrongly, has now after the war taught "horizontal dialogue" instead of vertical authoritarism. When Saddam is boss, it's authoritarism. When the US imposes itself, it's called horizontal dialogue.

    It all looks very, very naive, to say the least.

    To be fair to him, he says we can "hate the war" if we want, and tries to make it look as if he's only looking for a way out of this mess, but it's a mess he supported from the beggining, and with similar excuses to the ones he uses today: bringing democracy and modernization to the country, etc. So I find it extremely hard to believe him now.

    PS: protocol, just read those articles... some very funny passages in them. And he does look like a sternographer indeed.


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