James Randi responds to Storr’s ‘Social Darwinism’ quote

Will Storr has a new book out about belief and skepticism. In it is a controversial quote by James “The Amazing” Randi. Randi has now responded to this controversy.

Here is an example of the pieces that came out berating Randi’s comments.James Randi: Let Survival of the Fittest “Act Itself Out” On Those With Low IQ and “Mental Aberrations” | TDG.

I’m a believer in Social Darwinism. Not in every case. I would do anything to stop a twelve-year-old kid from doing it. Sincerely. But in general, I think that Darwinism, survival of the fittest, should be allowed to act itself out. As long as it doesn’t interfere with me and other sensible, rational people who could be affected by it. Innocent people, in other words.

I received this direct quote from Mr. Randi through the James Randi Education Foundation:

The statement “I’m a believer in social Darwinism,” did not come from me. In fact, I had to look up the expression to learn what was being referred to. This attack appears to be calling me a Nazi, nothing less. I demand that Mr. Storr refer me to the original sources to which we assume he has referred. Until then, I’ll only say that he has carefully selected phrases and statements out of context, not the sort of referencing that I would have expected from him.

More reviews of The Heretics.
The Heretics: Adventures with the Enemies of Science by Will Storr – review | Books | The Observer.

The Heretics by Will Storr: review – Telegraph.

Going by the previous stories we have posted about Randi, it is clear he has many enemies who delight in any misfortune. That’s not the purpose of this site nor part of my philosophy. No one is perfect and we all hold beliefs that other may find different or objectionable. That does not necessarily take away from the larger body and goals of our work.

I know many have read and commented on this topic in the Skeptic circles. I welcome your comments but please note that I WILL NOT publish disparaging or potentially libelous comments here. They will not be approved or will be removed. Your comments MUST add something to this story.

  82 comments for “James Randi responds to Storr’s ‘Social Darwinism’ quote

  1. March 1, 2013 at 11:29 AM

    “Steve expresses my feelings on the matter quite well. I believe that if the sale and use of drugs were to be suddenly legalized, first, the entire criminal community would be almost instantly crippled due to lack of income, on an international scale. Second, those individuals who were stupid enough to rush into the arms of the mythical houris and/or Adonis’s they would expect to greet them, would simply do so and die – by whatever chemical or biological fate would overcome them. Third, the principle of Survival of the Fittest would draconically prove itself for a couple of years, after which Natural Selection would weed out those for whom there is no hope except through our forbearance, and I’m very, very, weary of supporting these losers with my tax dollars. As reader Wellcome points out, our species – the American sector – made the very expensive and very failed Prohibition experiment, yet we have survived cancelling that error, rather well.

    Any weeping and wailing over the Poor Little Kids who would perish by immediately gobbling down pills and injecting poison, is summoning up crocodile tears, in my opinion. They would – and presently do – mature into grown-up idiots, and Darwin would be appalled that his lessons were ignored.”

    [Source]

    If it quacks like a duck…

    So now I ask you, Sharon: What do you think of Randi’s ‘beliefs’, even if he doesn’t want to call them Social Darwinism?

    • March 1, 2013 at 11:32 AM

      RPJ: I stated my thoughts above. I’m not going to agree with everyone and I’m not much for “hero” worship. But I’m not going to throw someone’s life’s work out because I disagree with them on a few areas. I’d have NO one to talk to. He is from another generation. We all have our “issues”. We’re human.

  2. Kitty Lapin Agile
    March 1, 2013 at 11:30 AM

    that’s horrible, If you are making a claim that Randi said something, they need to provide a primary source. I am not a fan of quote mining and it is bad journalism as was as dangerous. You can’t change history (what someone has said or done) to fit your agenda. It’s wrong. It’s called telling a lie.

  3. March 1, 2013 at 11:39 AM

    Thanks Sharon!

  4. March 1, 2013 at 11:41 AM

    Most people, including many scientists, do not fully understand Darwin and his theory of evolution. There is a flaw in their reasoning as they think humans are capable of self-determination. If they were, that would contradict Natural Selection.

  5. Bob
    March 1, 2013 at 11:58 AM

    The “other generation” argument doesn’t sway me, honestly. When I think of the Swift Blog quote above, I marvel at the extreme opposites that people can hold in their head simultaneously. I think that if you were to substitute “drug users” for “victims of woo/psychics”, both are people who are caught in bad situations because of unwise decisions, you wonder how both thoughts could originate from the same mind. Again, it’s a matter of disagreeing and engaging like adults.

    • March 1, 2013 at 12:02 PM

      The irony is that 25 years ago similar arguments were used, but instead of drug users the ‘undesirables’ that some people wanted to be weeded out by ‘Natural Selection’ were AIDS victims –most of them members of the homosexual community…

  6. Eve
    March 1, 2013 at 12:07 PM

    I am deeply disappointed with Randi. How could he spell a plural as a possessive (“Adonis’s”)?

  7. One Eyed Jack
    March 1, 2013 at 12:13 PM

    @Michael Greening

    I don’t understand your statement. Are you arguing that many scientists believe self determination is a part of evolutionary theory?

    The two concepts are not even in the same field.

  8. March 1, 2013 at 12:16 PM

    I was disappointed when I read the quote RPJ linked to here a couple of weeks ago, but I am disappointed by things that Randi says quite often. I am disappointed by some of the things my husband says. Hell, I’m sometimes disappointed in myself.

    As Sharon noted, we cannot agree with everyone on everything. Randi has his views on this subject and I have mine. But I don’t vilify him for it or make up quotes to paint an uglier picture of it. Instead, I try to understand why he things this way. I believe that I have a handle on where these ideas come from and, although I disagree with them, I don’t think he’s evil for thinking them. I just believe that they are short-sighted and lack some nuanced thinking.

    • March 1, 2013 at 12:33 PM

      >”As Sharon noted, we cannot agree with everyone on everything. Randi has his views on this subject and I have mine. But I don’t vilify him for it or make up quotes to paint an uglier picture of it. Instead, I try to understand why he things this way. I believe that I have a handle on where these ideas come from and, although I disagree with them, I don’t think he’s evil for thinking them. I just believe that they are short-sighted and lack some nuanced thinking.”

      I believe that Greg’s intention in writing the article Sharon linked to at the beginning of this post, was not to ‘berate’ Randi or his viewpoints, but to point out how the Skeptic community is so willing to give him a free pass over this, with only a handful of skeptic blogs willing to state their disagreement over his ideas about ‘survival of the fittest’ and what not.

      If someone like say, Rupert Sheldrake, had been caught mentioning something similar, you can bet that the majority of the online Skeptical community would have jumped on the opportunity to criticize him, faster than you can say ‘morphogenetic fields.’

      So that double standard is an issue that, IMHO, the Skeptic community has to work on. Otherwise they are no better than religious groups trying to close ranks when some of their members are accused of child molestation.

      • March 1, 2013 at 12:46 PM

        RPJ: NO ONE gives Randi a free pass. Consider the comments on that older post and what happened when he said something offbase about global warming. If anything, skeptics are BRUTAL to each other. This often hurts us as a community but it has some merit.

        I VEHEMENTLY disagree on the double standards as applied to the entire “skeptical community”. I REALLY have been irritated by the broad brush stereotyping of “skeptic”. You KNOW this, RPJ, and so does Greg and others I have engaged with. It is not correct to lump us all into one monolithic bunch.

        Other skeptic blogs will delight in news about a chiropractor arrested for tax fraud, for example, in a sly suggestion that they are rotten through and through. But I see a difference there and will not blow the issue up beyond it’s boundaries. Same with this one. As I note above, certain people have DELIGHTED in Randi’s misfortunes. That’s their opinion but in no way is it reasonable to suggest that we should also. Some of us may have more personal relationships and have seen the overwhelming good that some “bad” people do everyday.

  9. March 1, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    We’ve all heard how passionately Randi speaks on behalf of those who have been victimized by charlatans and basic human delusion. He seems to do this with unmitigated empathy and compassion. Clearly, he doesn’t place drug users (and perhaps other individuals; we’ll see) into that category, and possibly from his own perspective there’s no inconsistency. I do agree with Sharon that the work is separate from the man and from what I perceive to be his unfortunate flaws — but it certainly bears upon the conversation about bias and its effect on the doing of skepticism. I’d like to see this turn of events as an opportunity to develop that conversation.

  10. drwfishesman
    March 1, 2013 at 12:59 PM

    There are people I dearly love whose viewpoints on certain issues makes me want to pull my hair out. I put their viewpoints in perspective and consider their motivations and reasoning. Even if entirely accurate, this quote would not take away my respect and affection for Randi given his collective efforts. I don’t have a realistic expectation that people are going to agree with me or even be right all the time. The skeptical community is a spectrum of people just like any other group dynamic.

  11. March 1, 2013 at 1:01 PM

    First, at the very least I am glad to see that Randi posted a response to the social Darwinism statement. I was getting uneasy with the lack of a response. If there is no support for the statement then it ought to be retracted. If evidence comes out that Mr. Randi actually stated the Darwinist quote as reported it is terribly disappointing. Randi’s statements on drug addicts is also more than just a bit uncomfortable. We are talking people at the end of the day, and not statistics. While I think noting Randi’s generational difference is not illegitimate, it’s not curative. On the other hand, there is not a skeptic out there who I have agreed with everything they have stated in public or private that was made public either on skepticism or non-skeptical issues. In a few cases there are some I disagree with often, but still respect them for certain past and ongoing contributions.

    Randi has the burden of being not being not only a public figure, not only outspoken, but a long record to find statements which are disagreeable. I know I have been dead wrong on things upon reflection. I would hate to have prior idea haunt me forever.
    If all the statements are true does this put Mr. Randi in a different light for me personally, probably it will to some extent. Does it take away from his body of work over half a century of work, most likely not. Does this alter my appreciation for the JREF with TAM and all the connected other activities, no. Unless the JREF release a statement that the official policy of the JREF is to endorse social Darwinism and/or Eugenics I can separate the organization his has created from the man.

  12. March 1, 2013 at 1:07 PM

    I’m glad to see Randi respond. I want to give a more thoughtful reply that what I am doing right here – but don’t have time as I am at work. That being said, I have ordered Storr’s book from the UK and waiting patiently for it to arrive. If it had been available digitally I would have already read it and moved further along with my own assessment.

    I find Randi’s comments about drug users on SWIFT to be reprehensible and won’t be an apologist for a stance which is insensitive, wrong and counter to my own view of what a humanist’s requirements are to his or her fellows.

    That being said, there is also a culture of “Darwin Awards” simplicity in the US that stands in stark contrast to the actual facts of evolutionary theory. The “nameless idiots who remove themselves from the gene pool” attitude is common on the Internet, but I have never seen that lack of empathy in real life with any of the people I’ve heard say such things online. The imaginary “victims of their own choices” Randi dismisses in his hypothetical scenario don’t have the emotional tethers that real people one has met or knows.

    I think Randi is human – and everybody makes mistakes. He’s wrong in that Swift post – but I sincerely hope he’s being misquoted by Storr in the book. I look forward to reading the whole thing in context and further evaluating the impact of these excerpts. With UK libel laws being what they are, I would hope Storr has strong evidence to back up his text. A recording perhaps? We will see – but I think a proper skeptical position would be to check the primary sources first, not just the Internet rehashes.

    -Blake Smith, host MonsterTalk

  13. March 1, 2013 at 1:12 PM

    Yes, almost everyone I come across think they have self-determination. Few people accept the full implications of evolution. It is the same field.

  14. March 1, 2013 at 1:20 PM

    @jack

    my piece in shropshire live on-line magazine explains

  15. RDW
    March 1, 2013 at 1:35 PM

    I’ve got to say, I agree with much of what Mr. Randi has to say on this matter. I’ve said similar things in private for decades. I should clarify, though, that there is a very real difference between Marijuana and any of the other illegal drugs. Heroin, Cocaine, and Meth are extremely addictive and very debilitating, and should not be tolerated for widespread use in the general population, at all. However, Marijuana (NOT Addictive, in the least) is much less harmful, for adults, and could even displace Opium Poppies from places like Afghanistan, if things were done right. Legal, licensed Marijuana could be produced domestically cheaply, sold for a rather large amount of money, with the net profit going towards counter actions against other, more harmful, drugs. If one’s ability to use Marijuana hinged on a person’s compliance with other laws ( drunk driving, assault, theft, robbery, etc. ) it might go a long way towards compelling people to behave in a kinder and more rational way towards their fellow man. And as far as leaching tax money ?? I agree with Mr. Randi. A LOT of people breed, and do a horrible job of parenting, at other people’s expense, with the primary goal being to scrape together enough money to buy drugs.

  16. March 1, 2013 at 1:38 PM

    I’m having a hard time formulating this, so bear with me, but many years ago Randi disappointed me a little with something he said, and his response to an email I sent. I could have written him off, and ignored his life’s work, but I decided to remain supportive of him and the JREF. No one is perfect, not our heroes, not our friends, not our foes.

    I don’t believe that Randi believes in “Social Darwinism” as a whole, but I do hope he looks at what he said about drug users in the pasts and reconsiders the apparent lack of empathy. I have observed a softening around the edges with Randi since the early ought’s and maybe he’ll change his mind on this.

  17. March 1, 2013 at 2:03 PM

    >”RPJ: NO ONE gives Randi a free pass. Consider the comments on that older post and what happened when he said something offbase about global warming. If anything, skeptics are BRUTAL to each other. This often hurts us as a community but it has some merit.”

    Well, I’m not perceiving the aforementioned brutality in the comments posted in this thread so far. Perhaps it’s the result of my personal bias ;)

    >”It is not correct to lump us all into one monolithic bunch.”

    Agreed. I would also request the same for us ‘woo people’ who have an interest in ‘pseudo-scientific’ things like flying saucers & telepathy ;)

    • March 1, 2013 at 2:12 PM

      RPJ: “Well, I’m not perceiving the aforementioned brutality in the comments posted in this thread so far. Perhaps it’s the result of my personal bias”

      You can see that in other posts, it hasn’t gotten here yet though some have expressed their disgust. And I doubt they will soon forget it. But the point they are making is that it is not right to narrowly focus on this point to the ignorance of the rest of his life’s work. Once again, note that we can appreciate people on their accomplishments and merits without subscribing to blind “hero worship” and standing by EVERY comment. Many here have noted that.

      • March 1, 2013 at 2:19 PM

        >”Once again, note that we can appreciate people on their accomplishments and merits without subscribing to blind “hero worship” and standing by EVERY comment. Many here have noted that.”

        Very well. Do you believe that someone as intelligent as Randi actually had to look up what Social Darwinism is, as stated in his quote given by the JREF?

    • March 1, 2013 at 2:50 PM

      Not being brutal doesn’t equate to giving a free pass.

  18. March 1, 2013 at 3:06 PM

    Right now I’m conducting an online investigation on some of the most important Skeptic blogs in the web (Pharyngula, Friendly Atheist, Cynical-C, Bad Astronomy & Bad Science) to see if I can find any post or comment re. Randi’s statements on this matter.

    So far I’ve found nothing. If that is not a free pass then I don’t know what it is.

    If someone care to provide some links, I’d greatly appreciate it.

  19. March 1, 2013 at 3:12 PM

    I have taken the time to speak to Will Storr, and he played me the interview in question over the phone.

    With all due respect, I think it’s him Randi should be speaking to. Perhaps Will can then send the interview to Randi so that he can hear what he said? http://hayleyisaghost.co.uk/james-randi-social-darwinism/

  20. March 1, 2013 at 3:21 PM

    RPJ, you realize that post was four years ago, right? And Pharyngula, the Friendly Atheist, Cynical-C? You think that PZ Myers was paying attention to Swift and gave Randi a “free pass”? I’ve never even heard of “Cynical-C”.

    What bloggers do and do not choose to comment on, even those which are closely aligned with the JREF mission, like Bad Astronomy, isn’t a good measure of how the community feels about a leader. The internet gives a pretty warped view of such things as it is, but “conducting an online investigation” by searching what YOU think are “important Skeptic blogs”? Really?

    • March 1, 2013 at 3:28 PM

      The post I linked is 4 years old, but we’re talking about due to the current publication of Storr’s book, AND the quote that appears in the book. Let’s not confuse oranges with apples here shall we?

      Do you have any suggestions on which Skeptic blogs I should be looking in?

  21. March 1, 2013 at 3:33 PM

    Yeah, we are talking about it because SOMEONE WROTE ABOUT IT. Doesn’t that count as criticism? Or will nothing short of total condemnation satisfy you? People are not so black and white, nor should they be.

    “Do you have any suggestions on which Skeptic blogs I should be looking in?”

    Perhaps reading my comment again more carefully might answer that question for you. Look at the comments on the post you linked to. THAT is a better indication of how the people who read that post felt about it. Even that will only tell you what people who took the time to comment felt.

    • March 1, 2013 at 3:41 PM

      >Yeah, we are talking about it because SOMEONE WROTE ABOUT IT. Doesn’t that count as criticism?

      I’m not talking about condemnation. I’m talking about how the online Skeptical community –and I’m not including The Heretics’ author among them– is choosing to address (or not) how Randi is being portrayed in Storr’s book.

      You’re right though. The online skeptical community (like many other social networks) is not an accurate representation of how skeptical people in Meatspace act. Online the most notorious voices are the ones who shout the loudest, and drench their words with vitriol against people who disagree with them. Such is the problem of digital anonymity.

      But we’re all citizens of the Bloggosphere, so what transpires there should matter to all of us.

  22. March 1, 2013 at 3:46 PM

    “But we’re all citizens of the Bloggosphere, so what transpires there should matter to all of us.”

    I couldn’t agree less.
    But you don’t seem to be interested in anything less winning an argument, here, so I’ll let it go at that.

  23. March 1, 2013 at 4:16 PM

    What is wrong with being a social Darwinist anyway?

  24. drwfishesman
    March 1, 2013 at 4:28 PM

    I’m not understanding the controversy other than Storr says he made the comments and Randi says he didn’t. Post the audio of the interview and provide the evidence so people can determine for themselves what was said. If it’s about the content of the comments made by Randi, then they really aren’t the most controversial viewpoints IMO. I don’t prescribe to them, but I disagree with just about everybody on something. I’ve been aggravated by Dawkins, Shermer, Plait, Watson, Harris, the Novella brothers, Hill, Nickel,and Radford at sometime or another. I still respect the work they do and for the most part feel pretty comfortable with considering myself a fellow skeptic. I guess I just find this particular controversy, well….boring, but maybe I’m missing some nuance.

    • March 1, 2013 at 5:01 PM

      >I guess I just find this particular controversy, well….boring, but maybe I’m missing some nuance.

      Then perhaps you haven’t studied all the atrocities that were committed in the past, all on behalf of Social Darwinism, like forcibly sterilizing mental patients and/or other types of ‘undesirables.’

      Just remember that the term ‘undesirable’ is rather flexible depending on the social values of a given culture. Not too long ago homosexuals were labeled as such –Turing anyone?

  25. March 1, 2013 at 5:01 PM

    Storr has stated he does not want to post the audio, but has made it available to at least one skeptic, so perhaps Sharon could arrange to hear it too? If you follow Hayley’s link to her blog above you can see this. Now I only have Hayley’s word for it, but I know her work and I’m sure Mr Storr would soon state if it were not the case. http://hayleyisaghost.co.uk/james-randi-social-darwinism/

  26. March 1, 2013 at 5:21 PM

    > I’ve been aggravated by Dawkins, Shermer, Plait, Watson, Harris, the Novella brothers,
    > Hill, Nickel,and Radford at sometime or another. I still respect the work they do and for
    > the most part feel pretty comfortable with considering myself a fellow skeptic.

    Ditto, well said.

    • March 1, 2013 at 5:48 PM

      What Tim said about what drwfishesman said. Also, I am very curious about what any of this has to do with science. The book is supposed to be about enemies of science, right? Not enemies of progressive liberal values.

  27. drwfishesman
    March 1, 2013 at 5:34 PM

    I’m aware of the atrocities committed. That’s why I don’t agree with the statement. I’m just also aware how people like to package things in neat little bows an ribbons and find easy solutions to social ills. Drugs are a complex problem that covers many causes. I doubt if Randi were presented with a case of a person genetically predisposed to drug addiction, raised in a violent home, sexually or physically assaulted at a young age, and grew up with drugs readily available would he feel the same about casually dismissing drug users in such a cavalier fashion. That’s why I don’t get the controversy. I know (and so do you) that Randi doesn’t ascribe to the concept of Social Darwinism that includes “undesirables” being rounded up and executed, or sterilized, or left to self-destruction despite the statement being attributed to him. I’m sure he has normal frustration with people who have a self-destructive indulgence being a drain on resources that could go to truly needy people. It’s a common enough complaint that is uncontroversial on it’s face. Most of us just know that human behavior is complicated and being left to their own self-destruction won’t solve anything. So the issue is 1) did he even say the comment 2) if he did, what is the context and was he trying to wrap up a complex problem into a too simple solution and 3) will he clarify his position and apologize for the Social Darwinism mistep.

    Honestly, whatever the outcome will not change my opinion unless he suddenly embraces radical eugenics and eradication programs, which we all know he won’t do. So again….boring.

    • March 1, 2013 at 5:50 PM

      >” That’s why I don’t get the controversy. I know (and so do you) that Randi doesn’t ascribe to the concept of Social Darwinism that includes “undesirables” being rounded up and executed, or sterilized, or left to self-destruction despite the statement being attributed to him”

      Very well then. Let’s forget about how un-PC we all find Randi’s comments. If nothing else, the thing why the Skeptic community ought to address this matter is simply because Randi’s position is unscientific. It is a distortion of Darwin’s theory used as an excuse to enforced a certain political agenda.

      Given how the JREF & their many supporters has risen up to represent the defender or Rationalism & Science against a demon-haunted world, it’s strange how nobody is particularly bothered by the unscientific remarks made by their founder. Yes, I’m aware that was not the case when Randi questioned global warming, so why is now different?

  28. March 1, 2013 at 5:42 PM

    I’ve been aggravated by many of the above list of sceptics, and Playfair, Colvin, Cornell, Wiseman, Blackmore, Hyman indeed a veritable who’s who of modern parapsychology which would be tedious to type in full. I find myself irritated far more frequently by my friends and loved ones, and even my cats. None of this reduces my regard for them as people, and I’m sure I have loved ones who hold ideas just as wacky as a few of those held by Randi in different ways. However the row now seems to be about what was actually said, and Randi appears confused and upset on this, but to have said what was quoted.

    I disagree with many in the parapsychological community on politics and many other things – many involving parapsychology. Randi’s politics remain his own regardless of whether we agree or disagree, but the suggestion Storr misrepresented him is an unfortunate and serious allegation, and I hope it is cleared up.

    Still, I don’t think worth getting upset about. These things get very heated, and not sure why.

  29. drwfishesman
    March 1, 2013 at 5:56 PM

    Yeah, I’ll give you that..If true, it’s a pretty unscientific statement. But mildly irritating is a far as I could manage about that too. You have to admit RPJ, it’s a pretty yawnfest controversy.

    • March 1, 2013 at 6:00 PM

      >You have to admit RPJ, it’s a pretty yawnfest controversy.

      It kinda was. That is, until Randi himself claimed to have been misquoted by the author –something which seems pretty unlikely, thanks to Hayley’s post.

  30. March 1, 2013 at 5:57 PM

    drwfishesman wrote “Honestly, whatever the outcome will not change my opinion unless he suddenly embraces radical eugenics and eradication programs, which we all know he won’t do. So again….boring.”

    I could not help but immediately think of this quote attributed to Randi from Storr as I understand it???

    “I think that people with mental aberrations who have family histories of inherited diseases and such, that something should be done seriously to educate them to prevent them from procreating. I think they should be gathered together in a suitable place and have it demonstrated for them what their procreation would mean for the human race.”

    There is more. Is that not radical enough drwfishesman?

    Once again, I don’t actually think it matters if we have a difference of opinion with James Randi. However when facts are involved, as with the nonsense about Nazareth never existing, or AGW being rubbish, or — take your pick from what his detractors offer – then it matters. Facts, historical, scientific, even who said what, matter. Opinions – hey everyone has some. Facts we can work with.

  31. March 1, 2013 at 6:56 PM

    This is a good view of it. http://www.thetwentyfirstfloor.com/?p=7832

  32. drwfishesman
    March 1, 2013 at 8:46 PM

    RBJ – yeah I can see how the ambiguity about the quote could be controversial to some, just not by me. But I have no reason to believe the Hayley is being anything other than genuine at this point.

    Chris Romer – If you want to talk about facts then you must take ALL the facts, not cherry-pick one quote or interview. In total, is there a pattern of behavior or impression that would lead you to believe that James Randi believes in radical sterilization of people with mental aberrations or history of inherited disease? Or is it more likely he made a ill-informed generalization that he will likely eventually apologize for? If you believe that Randi is that type of man, then that’s fine, I just don’t think the evidence for that is compelling.

    If he said it I’ll be irritated and roll my eyes. I will still take his work in total. If that means I give him a pass, then I’m OK with that. I’m pretty confident in my identity to handle Randi being wrong about something and still respecting the man and what he (mostly?) stands for.

    • March 1, 2013 at 9:49 PM

      >”In total, is there a pattern of behavior or impression that would lead you to believe that James Randi believes in radical sterilization of people with mental aberrations or history of inherited disease? Or is it more likely he made a ill-informed generalization that he will likely eventually apologize for? If you believe that Randi is that type of man, then that’s fine, I just don’t think the evidence for that is compelling.”

      Let’s explore this from another perspective: Many people support the JREF because, they say, it has helped expose fraudulent hucksters –mediums, palm readers, psychic healers, what have you– who take a malevolent advantage of victims in distress. So it would seem the JREF and Randi himself are very concerned for the well being of innocent folks, who don’t have enough discernment to know when they are being duped, or even harmed. The JREF is a paladin for people who don’t know any better, right?

      But then, we find Randi has no sympathy for individuals who deliberately choose to endanger their health by consuming illegal substances.

      So why this dichotomy? Why this concern for people who take homeopathic medicines, and not for people who take hard drugs?

      • March 1, 2013 at 10:05 PM

        “Let’s explore this from another perspective”

        No, let’s not. You wish to debate, go to the thread I have on the JREF forum. Points have been made all around. Right now, we are not getting anywhere.

        It’s unfortunate that many people would like to rub Randi’s nose in this. Many of us who work to promote skepticism neither “worship” Randi, as has been suggested, or give him a pass. If you were in the thick of things, you would know this. But I’ve lost patience today with many who have delighted in this news and are using it to stir up controversy.

        We are WELL AWARE of the moral and scientific issues at play here and can deal with them as we see appropriate.

        • March 1, 2013 at 10:34 PM

          You’re right. There’s no point in continuing this.

          Have a good weekend, everyone –I do mean it :)

  33. March 1, 2013 at 10:11 PM

    I am not even a fan or a James Randi supporter (although he does a good at debunking charlatans,I don`t like him personally,but that`s not the point),but trying to portray him as as some kind of crypto Nazi is utterly ridiculous. What next?, accusation of antisemitism?.

  34. drwfishesman
    March 1, 2013 at 10:15 PM

    Sorry idoubtit…I sometimes forget this is a comment section not a forum.

  35. March 2, 2013 at 9:38 AM

    I’m going to ramble a bit – so please bear with me. And I need to preface by saying that I lament that it is highly likely due to a variety of things that what I’m writing here will be misinterpreted. Despite the ease with which the Internet allows everyone to talk at each other quickly, I haven’t seen that it has improved comprehension, or subjective interpretation. So…somebody get on that.

    When I first saw this issue being discussed it was a twitter exchange between Daniel Loxton (@Daniel_Loxton) and Greg Taylor (@DailyGrail). Greg was complaining that nobody had challenged Randi’s original SWIFT post where he made such dismissive comments about potential deaths should powerful narcotics be legalized. So I read Greg’s post about Storr’s book, then went and read the SWIFT post in question. And then I read the comments under Randi’s post and saw that there were responses in that thread *did* reject Randi’s position. But there was no community-wide condemnation of Randi’s unempathetic stance.

    I *think* Greg’s point was that the original comments were horribly insensitive and should have been condemned publicly by prominent skeptics. They sounded like Social Darwinism to Greg – and they sound like it to me.

    Social Darwinism as a social movement was a horrible misinterpretation of Darwin’s theories. It looked at the complex results of natural selection and assumed that human-selection could be used to improve human genetic stock in the way that people breed horses or prize bulls. And it did much evil and worthless work – and it was pseudoscience! It is *still* pseudoscience.

    This kind of pop-culture interpretation of how natural selection might be manipulated is a gross misapplication of cause in the effort to produce an effect which simply will not emerge out the other end. I don’t have time to enumerate all the ills of the world which emerged from people in positions of power applying what they felt was their moral-imperative over their “inferiors.” The list is long and shameful.

    But to Greg’s point, why has Randi gone this far in his career while espousing such nonsense as this? I suspect it is because Randi does *NOT* go around espousing ideas such as this. He commented on it once time in a SWIFT post and then Will Storr followed up on that idea in an interview and Randi went back to his uncritically-examined default position. These ideas have not been a mainstay of Randi’s work, they have not been a frequent topic of his lectures; in short they represent a blemish on his public face but don’t constitute his complexion.

    This is not Randi’s first error and it won’t be his last. His position on AGW was also scientifically untenable and his public comments on that were swiftly countered by many prominent scientists who explained to him that the scientific consensus is in on that matter.

    Randi’s denial of making the comments is troubling if he has a deep-seated belief in Social Darwinism – but not if he’s just an octogenarian who forgot he’d said something on the record. I can imagine a lot of scenarios where he might have been led through an interview to a defensive position where he then regurgitated his casual ignorance of the nuances of Darwin – and expressed a lack of empathy for hypothetical victims of an unlikely legal scenario.

    And Greg wonders why prominent skeptics aren’t swooping in to attack Randi for this lapse. I want to address why I haven’t yet. I can’t speak for anyone else.

    After reading the Swift post and excerpts of Storr’s work on Greg’s post, I decided to investigate. That’s what I believe most skeptics should do when faced with a mystery. I wanted to go to the Primary Source – Storr’s book. Unfortunately for my research it wasn’t for sell digitally or in the US at all. So I ordered it from Amazon UK and it should be here in the next few days. My plan was to read the quotes in context, and if it turned out they weren’t quote mining then I would contact Storr and ask for a copy of his notes or recordings. And then my plan, after looking at all of that, would have been to contact Randi and ask for comment.
    Skepticism is often a slow and methodical process. But this course seemed much more likely to result in an accurate understanding of the quotes, their accuracy, their veracity and their context.

    I was delighted to see that Haley Stevens took the same tack. For all I know dozens of skeptics may have done the same. I say *dozens* because in my experience while there are many skeptics who like to support science, only a small subset of them have the time and drive to follow through on research for topics like this. For many skepticism is not a task, it is a little mental toolkit they use to figure out if something they read is *probably* true or not. Working it down to a publishable conclusion is outside the scope of what most of us have time to do in our lives. (This is one reason why skeptical blogs are often really just opinion and commentary – research is a time consuming business.)

    We are not slaves to the news cycle in skepticism, but we should have a slavish devotion to the evidence. I am painfully aware that even that is not enough. Evidence then requires interpretation which to an angry outsider might seem like equivocation, apologetics, etc… Skepticism can’t always tell us precisely what human words and actions mean so it is not unusual for us to wrap up our conclusions with adjectives like “probably,” “likely,” and “suspected.”

    But I’m inclined to believe Haley did exactly what she said she did and heard what she said she heard. And I wish that Randi had contacted Will Storr and asked about the quotes before making a public statement. He must have more confidence in his memory than I have in mine.

    What I would like to see is for Randi to talk with Storr and hear the recording himself. If the recording says what Storr says, I’d like Randi to retract his denial and address the issue of his unempathetic and unscientific hypothesis of what would happen if addicts had unhindered access to potentially lethal drugs.

    To be clear – and that may not even be possible – I am not talking about Randi’s stance on drug legalization. I am talking about his ideas of what would happen to nameless, faceless strangers if they were allowed to drug themselves to death. That happens now – right now. People buy drugs (illegally and legally) and overdose on them and die or get brain damage. Children are born with horrible addictions because their mothers can’t resist dosing while pregnant. It doesn’t have to be a hypothetical question for the sober to ponder – it is a real problem right now and while I haven’t spent much time crusading against drugs I don’t think there is a morally sound position which ends with “the addicts who couldn’t handle their habit died, and the species lived happily ever after.”
    And I doubt Randi would take that position on a stage even if he casually took it in a conversation or a blog post.

    I have met Randi a few times and I have enjoyed his company. I like him personally and appreciate what he’s done to promote critical thinking. But every skeptic I know has an incurable condition – the human condition. Being aware of bias is like being aware of the blind spot in your vision – you still have it and there’s not much you can do about it.

    I gather what many of Randi’s opponents would like to see is for him to be drummed out of Skepticism. And I imagine they see anyone defending him as “the troops” gathering around a wounded warrior. But that’s not what I see. I see people ignoring what they see as casual errors of logic by an individual talking outside his expertise. I see people bothered by the comments and asking for more details. I see people trying to get the facts. And I see the most common of all Internet behaviors – people who know few of the facts running around and making accusations, political posturing, name-calling…

    While I don’t like to see Randi’s critics gloating at his mistakes, I’m glad he has critics. We all need critics. They make us check ourselves. There may be nothing more dangerous than being unquestioned.

    Is it possible that Randi still has an explanation that allows that the comments made were true, but not what he meant? Maybe – but what I really hope he has is a retraction of his denial and an acknowledgement that it is unbecoming of a leader to dismiss anyone as worthless and expendable because they didn’t have the same willpower or intellect or circumstances of birth.

    Skepticism (the social movement, not the methodology) demands heavy questioning and where there are clear answers it demands its leadership adhere to reality. Social Darwinism is pseudoscience. I hope Randi’s next actions are becoming of a leader.

    -Blake Smith | Host, MonsterTalk

  36. Eve
    March 2, 2013 at 10:15 AM

    Blake, that was some thoughtful, eloquent rambling. Well done.

  37. March 2, 2013 at 10:21 AM

    I hope you’re posting this, or something like it, elsewhere as well, Blake. You’ve articulated so much of what I like to think skepticism stands for, so little of which seems to make it into the spotlight lately.

  38. March 2, 2013 at 10:39 AM

    Blake is my hero. I have so much admiration for you, man. Thank you.

  39. drwfishesman
    March 2, 2013 at 10:44 AM

    Wow. Well done Blake. If that’s your “rambling” then I’d hate to see you when you are being lucid. Like Eve said…thoughtful and eloquent. I sometimes struggle to present my points in an effort to be concise, but sometimes a topic warrants the time and effort of a longer, well-written reply.

  40. March 2, 2013 at 12:02 PM

    Ditto, again – great comments Blake.

  41. March 2, 2013 at 12:52 PM

    Randi was not the first to make these statements or hold these beliefs. Many of the people that you pass on the street believe that same thing, but they are afraid of public rebuke and simply do not express it.
    “Inconvenience, suffering and death are the penalties attached by Nature to ignorance as well as incompetence and are also the means of remedying these. Partly by weeding out those of lowest development, and partly by subjecting those who remain to the never-ceasing discipline of experience, Nature secures the growth of a race who shall both understand the conditions of existence, and be able to act up to them.”
    Herbert Spencer, Philosopher, 1820-1903
    http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2011/11/a-bleeding-heart-history-of-libertarian-thought-herbert-spencer/

  42. March 2, 2013 at 4:34 PM

    @Blake Smith
    Quite eloquent indeed, but you have yet to define what is “Social Darwinism”.If you study the historiography of social Darwinism,its political,social,cultural,ideological expressions & implications,Social Darwinism comes out as a school of thoughts,not as a monolithic “pseudo scientific” ideology.

  43. March 2, 2013 at 4:36 PM

    The quote from Will Storr’s book: “I’m a believer in Social Darwinism.”

    What Haley heard during the interview that quote is based on (she confirmed it to me that these statements are corresponding): “I’m a believer… if you call that Social Darwinism, I would have to agree.”

    What Randi said: “The statement ‘I’m a believer in social Darwinism,’ did not come from me. In fact, I had to look up the expression to learn what was being referred to.”

    When you put these pieces together a charitable interpretation of Randi’s actions emerges that doesn’t seem to be that inconsistent with what he actually said. I can’t say the same of Will though, his editing process seems troubling to say the least.

    Maybe that’s why he’s reluctant to release the audio interview.

  44. One Eyed Jack
    March 2, 2013 at 4:40 PM

    @Michael Greening

    my piece in shropshire live on-line magazine explains

    Searched it. Read it. Not buying it. Certainly, much of our life is influenced by the factors you mention, but it’s not deterministic.

    I think you need to delve into Chaos Theory. It would compliment your area of interest.

    As I do not wish to derail this thread, this will be my last comment on this topic.

  45. March 2, 2013 at 9:07 PM

    Allow me to address the present brouhaha that has arisen about some very much misunderstood and misconstrued comments that have been assembled to produce an unfortunate situation involving reporter Will Storr and myself. I offer you less than 800 words to plow through…

    Until just recently, I did not recall having spoken with Mr. Storr years ago about certain comments posted on randi.org, and I barely recall that event, even now This is an understandable lapse, since I’m constantly being interviewed, and often under circumstances that call for my attention to be otherwise directed, Also, some interviews occurred during a time of my life in recent years when my health – and thus my cognition – were not at their best. The unfair suggestion that Mr. Storr tried to provoke me, or that he’s a “bad guy,” is something I must dismiss, since I believe I would have remembered that sort of behavior. In any case, I now know much more about the described encounter, and I maintain that I would never have said I was a Social Darwinist, since I only recently learned in detail what that term really means, and in fact I was quite ignorant of the history of the movement organized around that false idea. I’ve been surprised that this was not obvious to people discussing the matter, but I accept that the conversation with Mr. Storr went just as described. No problem with that.

    I have said, many times, that I would do anything to prevent any young person from taking up drugs, and in fact I have had two instances in years past when I spent a lot of my time and money trying to do just that, and I failed. One of these people died, and the other, I was told a few years ago, is still a barely-surviving and tortured addict. That failure on my part still haunts me.
    Survival of the fittest works very well. It’s what is responsible for the present success of our own species, despite what individuals try to do to make us fail. In our work with the JREF, my colleagues and I try to get individuals to think about what they’re doing by wasting their lives in acceptance of superstitious nonsense, because there are just no charities or government programs that provide that much-needed service. Folks, we care.

    Though my Foundation is small, we’ve had a measurable and important effect on both young and old, internationally, and countless persons have expressed their thanks to us for educating them against false beliefs and attitudes. There are few greater rewards than that.

    Now, contrast that with the fact that there are massively-funded, very widely publicized, very active charities and agencies that constantly demonstrate to the public the damage done to them by narcotics or alcohol, the dangers of using them, the dire results on individuals and on families, and the very real penalties – health-wise and financially – that are thus incurred. I have always believed that people should be held accountable for the bad decisions they make, especially when society spends so much in time and resources to warn them of the likely consequences. I cannot understand how any informed adult who is aware of the facts may still choose to misuse drugs or alcohol. I believe that they should simply get out of the way of those who want a cleaner, better, safer and productive environment in which to raise their families.

    I’m well aware that I sometimes “shoot from the hip” and speak on things about which I know very little. In this present situation, I published my personal opinions about drug addiction without knowing very much about the neuroscience behind addiction, or the addiction recovery field. Not only did I say some deeply regrettable and insensitive things, but as I’ve learned more about the questions and issues at hand, I accept that I have been wrongheaded on a number of topics related to these issues. Even at 84, I’m still learning. Please bear with me, folks.

    I also want to express that I’m angry, very angry, at those who attribute motives of anything but altruism and charity to the JREF, because I know that my valued colleagues are of like mind with me. Again, we deeply care.

    I ask you to care, too. When it’s pointed out to me that I’m wrong, as it has been by my colleagues in this instance, I admit my mistakes, only asking that the JREF and I not be treated as targets, fun objects to attack. I never make apologies for expressing my honest opinions, I’ve never even hinted that I’m perfect, and I have recognized faults, I’ve made errors, and I know it. I can only hope that my earnest and honorable efforts will survive my peccadilloes…

    Agreed…?

    James Randi

  46. March 2, 2013 at 9:50 PM

    An excellent response to a situation that could have threatened to rumble on and on and cause a lot of unneeded ill will.

    Also an excellent example of how a skeptic should respond to criticism and it reminds us that it is a virtue in skepticism to admit our mistakes and re-evaluate our positions.

    I hope Sharon doesn’t mind but as we have run this on Skeptic News we have linked back here and quoted a little of the above. This is kinda because ethically we felt we had to give equal prominence to both the criticism and the response.

    Our thanks also to Mr Randi for his clarification.

  47. Bob
    March 2, 2013 at 10:14 PM

    I’m glad to see Randi’s more informed response. Bearing with him.

  48. March 2, 2013 at 10:50 PM

    OK, that resolves that. Randi expresses his human compassion, but sticks to his point. I think we have all expressed strong opinions at one time or another that others may find disturbing, or distasteful, but we are all entitled to our opinions. Beliefs are rarely as dangerous as actions – and while Randi may express strong beliefs here, he mentions actions that seem to be belie them, being based in human compassion. I think most of us can relate to that, and i hope with many of us our “bark is worse than our bite”. Critics of Randi will be appalled as always — but my criticism will always be on factual issues, not opinions or beliefs.

    More importantly James Randi agrees Will Storr acted in good faith; both parties can now move on without any rancour. The facts have been established; no stain remains on Will’s reputation. It is a shame that the dispute arose, but as someone who has worked in TV and been genuinely puzzled to see what I apparently said when an interview is played back, or regretted saying some things (as Hayley can attest ), I understand. Will Storr does give a very warts and all picture of human beings –I recall thinking after reading his book Will Storr versus the Paranormal if I ever met him I would be very careful what I said, so as not to be embarrassed later. :)

    It was good to see James Randi post a few times on different forums, and I think we all appreciate him making the effort. I have known other “big name” skeptics who did not even bother to clarify or defnd themselves in such situations, but just dismiss the concerns. I’m glad Randi remains as forthright and outspoken as ever! I wish him good health, and all best things, in my woo-ish way.

    cj x

  49. March 2, 2013 at 11:03 PM

    My first though also was “just when was this interview done?” Knowing Randi has had serious health issues and major heart problems (mechanical only!), throw in his age (hey I’m including anyone over 50 in the “what did I just say, wait, let me reword that… frankly being old sucks!”) and what perhaps a person is not in tip top condition to express themselves. In cases where people go “wow that certainly does not sound like him.” from close friends that have years of knowing the person, it says to me “Maybe this needs to be revisited?” Or “is this truly the sentiment being expressed?”

    Thankfully some nice people checked here.

    Things are clear because people took time, which is what skeptics do. We investigate, interview and listen to all sides.

    Thank you Randi, for showing us how situations like this should be handled! (and those others involved).

  50. March 2, 2013 at 11:49 PM

    Thank you Randi, well daid.

  51. March 3, 2013 at 12:06 AM

    Can I say, “I told you so” now? Or would that make me a smug jerk? :-) Just applying some levity here.

    That was a great response from Randi of course, which I think most people who follow what the man writes and the interviews he does will find as no surprise. He was honest, compassionate, and contrite, which also no surprise. So now, i will go back to what i was doing before I noticed this nontrovercy and maybe read more Flim Flam..

  52. March 3, 2013 at 12:42 AM

    Er, well just in response to kitty and drwfishesman – to be fair, if James Randi had checked with Will Storr before denying the interview, and issuing the denial that led to I doubt it’s article, *then* it would have been a non-controversy. I think we should thank Hayley for getting to the bottom of it, and Will for his restraint in not just posting the interview.

    It’s resolved now — people can choose to be offended at Randi’s attitudes or not, but the whole denial and retraction thing can now be forgotten. However I don’t think anyone can be smug here — well maybe Will Storr. We have simply learned what we already knew – be cautious in making claims without checking the facts – the best of us can make mistakes, as Randi has always freely admitted.

    cj x

  53. March 3, 2013 at 3:06 AM

    Mr Randi. you don`t have to justify yourself, this issue is utterly ridiculous,akin to intellectual terrorism. Altruism is a sentiment that makes people feel good about themselves, a narcissistic & nonbrilistic expression of self satisfaction & personal accomplishment.

  54. March 3, 2013 at 3:19 AM

    You are all incorrect, including Herbert Spencer, Mr Storr and Mr Randi, as you have not grasped basic logic. However that is not your fault, ultimately there is no such thing as fault, or good, or evil, or right, or wrong. see http://www.shropshirelive.com/2013/02/27/why-do-most-of-us-believe-something-that-cannot-be-true/

  55. March 3, 2013 at 3:20 AM

    Someone threw a “Social Darwisnist” accusation at Randi and the “Skeptics community” (Aka rational & critical thinkers) took the bait & reacted like barking little dogs, what a disgrace….

  56. March 3, 2013 at 3:28 AM

    @Michael Greening.
    Of course there is no such thing as fault,good,evil,right or wrong,especially in regard to moral issues.What is the acceptable level of altruism?,Individually we are entitled to different level of human compassion. This whole issue is a farce

  57. March 3, 2013 at 3:41 AM

    @Jack

    I agree that everything is not deterministic there is also chance. This combination will not give us self-determination.

  58. March 3, 2013 at 3:56 AM

    @Unsocial Darwinist

    I agree with your earlier comment about altruism. However compassion is a similar word. Both describe states but may not exist themselves.

  59. March 3, 2013 at 4:56 AM

    @ Michael Greening
    I appreciate your feedback & respect your intellectual honesty,quite refreshing indeed.I consider myself hyper skeptical but always refused to be associated with the self-proclaimed Skeptics community Aka self absorbed & self righteous individuals, who more than often behave like their arch enemies.We judge people by their actions not on thoughts. Bien pensance (right thinking) is a cancer.

  60. March 4, 2013 at 7:48 AM

    I very much appreciate Randi’s response. The charitable interpretation of his comments is that he is not a “Social Darwinist” but some of his views do seem to match views used by that movement. That disappoints me, but I think Randi rightly points out that he is human and gets it wrong sometimes. We all do.

    I think Randi’s critics will howl that we vilify our ideological enemies over their every foible but forgive the largest wrongs of our heroes. There’s probably truth in that – but I am relieved that Randi has responded. I’m also glad that Haley Stevens did the work she did, that Will Storr shared his recording and that this has been resolved without a ton of Internet Drama (TM).

    That being said, I think Randi’s comments on “survival of the fittest” is an oversimplification of a complex scientific matter. I’m not a biologist but I do consume a lot of biology reading material. My limited understanding of natural selection is that it is a highly complex system which gives favor to those individuals who are best able to survive and reproduce. Drug Addiction is not a single ailment. Someone may be able to drink socially and stop whenever they want – then the first time they get injured and need pain medication they find that they are addicted. And of course most addicts don’t just exit the stage via an overdose. Some live for years as addicts and function, others destroy their livers and have painful conditions in their later years. And many addicts are loving parents, loving children, productive citizens – who just have this incredible burdensome habit they can not easily toss off.

    That being said, *my opinion* is that science has shown addiction to be a much more complicated problem than the simplistic rhetorical version Randi refers to.

    And that’s it in a nutshell. I disagree with Randi on his application of “survival of the fittest” to drug addicts, agree with a lot of what the JREF has done and what Randi does, and hope that skeptics are mature enough to recognize that a hero doesn’t have to be perfect to be heroic.

    As a community we need to be aware that the things we do to our ideological counterparts become their expectations of how we should treat our own members. I believe we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. It isn’t that difficult to have a civil discussion on the Internet – it’s just not as exciting as the mud-slinging drama-fest that seems to be an emergent property of forum discussion.

  61. March 4, 2013 at 8:11 AM

    The historian in me has to note that Herbert Spencer created both the notion of “Social Darwinism” his term, but also as a friend and correspondent of Darwin the phrase “survival of the fittest” first used the phrase in his Principles of Biology (1864). Darwin replaced in many cases the term “natural selection” in on the Origin of the Species with “survival of the fittest” for the 5th edition onwards (1869) though modern editions revert to the original,given that Natural Selection is survival of the most adapted to the environmental conditions that prevail, not “fittest” in the sense normally understood. So yes everything you say is completely true, but Spencer who advocated Social Darwinism originates that unfortunate phrase.

    Almost every ideology has tried to claim “scientific legitimacy” from Darwin at some time. There is an interesting project on the subject here – http://unbound.co.uk/books/the-dissent-of-man/ – that I would encourage people to support, though there is a considerable literature already on the misapplication of Darwin’s ideas in culture, politics and ideology.

  62. March 4, 2013 at 9:54 AM

    Social Darwinism seems to mean different things to different people. I would prefer the much more general term ‘Cultural Evolution’, with culture meaning everything that is not biological. Cultural evolution could be partly driven by the ideas of Jean-Baptist Lamark, if (perhaps) over-compensation plays a part in addition to Natural Selection? I’m not sure about that. For me ‘everything’, biological or cultural, is the result of just two factors – past events and ‘original’ chance.

  63. Mr. Shreck
    March 4, 2013 at 12:49 PM

    Even cast in the shadow of that nefarious label I find Randi’s comments (as presented by RPJ) completely sensible as they make a distinction that many people have a hard time making: Not endorsing a specific response to a problem and denying the science of the problem are not the same thing. It’s a weird mental back-formation and probably a named cognitive bias or logical fallacy if I would just go search for it.

    In this case, Randi is skeptical of spending public resources on curing or imprisoning addicts. I am too, and I think our history with prohibition (huge and upward trending expenses) and the statistics of addiction (rates essentially flat) bears it out. Does it make sense to diminish the potential of one group of people (taxpayers) by shifting their resources to another (addicts)? It’s a classic political problem that is clouded by sympathy. Why, of course we should all pay for these folks to have treatment! Are you a monster? Do you hate (choose one apropos to the topic: addicts, the poor, racial minorities, gay people)? This is too often where the conversation goes if you dare challenge the idea of big public intervention in a problem, even when you can show the intervention has had disastrous consequences and not solved the problem, as is the case with drug prohibition.

    A similar thing goes on in the AGW debate. People who accept the facts of global warming but are skeptical of proposed solutions get tarred and feathered as anti-science “denialists” because not to pursue the big intervention is tantamount to not believing there is a problem. “Just do something!” is the mentality. Well, ideally we’d do the smart thing that optimizes our evolutionary potential, right? Not just something that makes us look concerned and busy now but may well turn into a disaster that harms more of us than the problem we wanted to address.

    Please delete this comment if I’ve gone too far afield. As usual, I’m sitting here skeptical to the point of potentially life-threatening analysis paralysis. Can we get some government funding for a cure?

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