Suggested readings, #145

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Some Americans are hesitant about Covid vaccines. But they’re all-in on unproven treatments. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has refused to say whether he’s received a booster shot. He’s suggested, misleadingly, that Covid-19 vaccines cause infertility. He hired a surgeon general who has questioned the data surrounding vaccines and called those who refuse to be immunized “brave.” But when it comes to experimental Covid therapeutics, DeSantis and his government are all-in — even when outside researchers, the Food and Drug Administration, and the medicines’ own manufacturers say they don’t work. … (STAT)

Book ban efforts spread across the U.S. In Wyoming, a county prosecutor’s office considered charges against library employees for stocking books like “Sex Is a Funny Word” and “This Book Is Gay.” In Oklahoma, a bill was introduced in the State Senate that would prohibit public school libraries from keeping books on hand that focus on sexual activity, sexual identity or gender identity. In Tennessee, the McMinn County Board of Education voted to remove the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “Maus” from an eighth-grade module on the Holocaust because of nudity and curse words. … (New York Times)

Is SETI a failure of skepticism? I realize that the title of this article is a bit confrontational. To be very clear, I’m going to be explicit in a few things that I might be able to take for granted: First, when I use the term skepticism, it refers to the positions taken by Martin Gardner, Ray Hyman, and James Randi when they formed Sanity in Research (SIR), which was later formalized as the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), now the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI). Second, there are people who are prone to reaching conclusions that aren’t supported by the available facts. We often reach conclusions because we like them, even if the facts don’t support those conclusions. We are led astray by cognitive biases and illusions and other flaws that are built into the ways we think. Skepticism tells us that the use of science and reason is vital to overcome these tendencies. This was simplified and popularized by Carl Sagan in the well-known phrase “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” This has been distilled to its core in the phrase “I Doubt It” from CSI. … (Skeptical Inquirer)

I ditched my smartwatch, and I don’t regret it. My rock bottom was when I caught myself at a nice dinner, transfixed by my phone under the table. I was opening the app for my smart watch, checking whether the numbers it assigned to my “training status” had improved since I finished my run an hour ago. The numbers hadn’t budged, so I closed the app and refreshed it, frowning a little. Was it broken? My companion asked what I was doing. “Nothing,” I lied. … (New York Times)

On chess. In the last year, chess has grown enormously in popularity following the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit. As our lives have been suspended in lockdowns, ill-health and uncertainty about the future, the chessboard has become a kind of refuge. A space of intelligibility governed by certain simple, causal rules and spatial parameters – two sides, thirty-two pieces, sixty-four squares, and a mere 10^120 possible moves. Chess speaks of the dream of reason to master fate. Developed in 6th century India and Persia, perfected in the Islamic Golden Age, and a staple of European intellectual life from the courtly love of medieval knights to the Parisian café-tables of Jean-Paul Sartre and Marcel Duchamp, chess differed from other games like dice or backgammon in its emphasis on free will. Unlike the gambler who chances all on the roll of the die, a somewhat fatalistic resignation to life’s chaos and unexpected bounty, the chess-player ventures using nous and strategy. For that reason, whereas games of luck were largely considered haram in Islam, included in a list of games forbidden for Jews by the theologian Maimonides, and frowned-upon by religious authorities in medieval Christendom, chess was exceptional in indicating the rewards of mental striving in a rules-driven universe. … (The Philosopher)

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Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

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