Introduction. Who the hell am I and why do you care?

I have been pondering the idea of doing another blog for a while now and I've finally decided it's probably about time I do it. I started one a few years ago called "Scientosis" but ultimately took it down to concentrate on other things. So, I wanted to make my inaugural post to be about the intent and mission statement of this blog. I want to give you some insight into who I am and why I am writing it. Many people (most in fact) aren't going to give a shit about my opinions, I can live with that. I also hope that you don't unilaterally agree with everything I say here; instead, I want to encourage you to think for yourself and to challenge information.

Perhaps that is the primary mission statement for my blog: Assume less; question more

(a motto not all that dissimilar from TheThinkingAtheist, aka Seth Andrews).

Of all the things dominating the news cycle these days, I think the response I see daily on social media tends to share one thing, bad assumptions. Go on and check it out for yourself on just about any news article. Read the tweets back and forth as users comment on whatever news item you've selected, and ask yourself how many of these conversations appear to be between people speaking past one another instead of to one another. After you do that, ponder what the conversation might be like if each side assumed less about their opponent and instead asked more questions. 

When I have done this in my own personal interactions on social media (primarily twitter these days), I have found that people will either settle down and realize the ignorance in their assumptions, or they will continue to assert more baseless assumptions. If they go the former route, I consider the conversation a success regardless of the outcome. If the conversation turns towards assumptions built upon assumptions, then the conversation has died and I tend to remove myself from it. That conversation is no longer beneficial as the person I am conversing with would rather construct an imaginary version of me to combat than deal with reality (this would be akin to a logical fallacy known as a "straw man"). I am not interested in defending a version of my opinions and beliefs I do not possess, it is a waste of all of our time.

I took down my facebook page within a few days of the November 2016 elections in the US. I did so in part because of this aforementioned issue of finding that people tend to speak past one another. Another reason I took it down was because I didn't feel it was helping me emotionally or psychologically in the wake of Trump's election. I figured it would be better to simply step away for a while and rethink how I want to exist in social media space. Ultimately, I've decided not to go back to facebook, and that is due in no small part to its role in allowing the propagation of Russian propaganda in the 2016 election (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/22/technology/facebook-russia-propaganda.html).

What I want to do now with this blog is to provide myself with a platform from which I can vent. Ultimately one of the things I will be venting about on this blog is the reliability of sources, so I must start off by saying that I am a blog ran by an individual and there is probably very little way for you to confirm that. I don't have a business, nor is any of this being funded by anyone or anything. This is a personal project of mine that I am doing in my spare time. Well, what spare time I have as someone finishing a PhD in Geoscience who also has 2 kids and a wife. 

The research linked in my profile (available through my researchgate profile: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/James_Beard2) was however funded through various sources, and you can find the information about the funding of those projects in their respective acknowledgement sections towards the ends of the papers.

Note that my views and opinions expressed in my blog are my own and do necessarily reflect the views and opinions of anyone affiliated with me, nor any organization I have worked for. I do not want to presume that I speak on behalf of my colleagues, friends, coworkers, mentors, and places of employment. 

I have my BS in geology from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, an MS in Earth Science from Syracuse University, and I am currently completing my PhD in Geoscience at the University of Connecticut. All that to say that I know what I am talking about with respect to geology and paleontology, but I don't claim to know everything about either of those subjects. It is also worth noting that my education does not qualify me as an expert on anything outside of the projects, disciplines, and subjects I have studied extensively. So, don't think or assume that my political opinions are any more valid than anyone else's because I have an education. Nor do I want you to assume that my opinion as a scientist on a topic I have not studied in detail (let's say, quantum mechanics or nearly anything in the realm of physics and engineering) is equivalent with my opinion on one I have studied in detail (like marine invertebrates such as brachiopods and bivalves). 

What my education has provided me with are research skills that I can apply more broadly in the writing of posts on this blog. I will try and make it clear when I am being purely speculative and offering opinion, versus providing citations and links to sources and statistics. I want to try and make the distinctions between opinions and facts as clear as I can when I write, but you'll have to forgive me if I fail in doing so at times. 

Lastly for my inaugural post, I want to list some people, news organizations, and media sources I commonly turn to for my primary sources of information. I do this because I also want to make it clear where I get my information from. I don't want to mask anything that would help inform you of my biases. In general, you are going to find that I tend to consume news from liberal and progressive sources (I am a liberal progressive, so that shouldn't be a shocker). If I want to know what conservatives have to say with respect to a specific subject, I will seek it out on common conservative media sources (such as the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, or the Washington Times), but I don't frequent them for my primary news intake.

News organizations: If I watch news, I tend to watch CNN or MSNBC, but I don't have cable and haven't watched any cable news shows regularly in my life. I do however tend to follow people who are on these networks and I will list them below. The one political show I do tend to watch regularly is The View. I enjoy Whoopi and Joy Behar the best, and hope that eventually they'll replace McCain with Ana Navarro. 

Other online media sources: The Hill, ScienceDaily, Reddit

Twitter accounts I follow: StoneKettle, Seth Abramson, and Ed and Brian Krassenstein (obviously you can see all of the accounts I follow on my twitter page @PaleoBeard)

Again, the reason I point this out is for the sake of transparency. I am not trying to pretend that I possess no political affiliation, nor do I want to levy any claim that I am necessarily objective and unbiased. We all have our own biases, and the only way to navigate around them starts with recognizing and accepting them. If I know what my biases are, then I know who, what, and where to go to find a dissenting opinion to challenge my own. Only by doing that will I be able to correct and amend my views. I refuse to remain a static person.

Because of this, you will likely quickly discover that I have changed quite a lot and have occupied polar opposite viewpoints over the course of my adult life. I was raised in Southern Middle Tennessee, and tended to lean more conservative as a teenager and into my 20's. I was a Southern Baptist up until roughly the time I started college. Now, instead of finding me advocating in support of the 2nd amendment, you'll see that I will argue in support of stronger gun laws. When I first started stumbling out of my religion, I became rather staunchly anti-theist. And while I don't like religions in general and certainly won't shed a tear if they cease to exist, I despise personal attacks upon people for their ideology. I don't agree with equating the entirety of one religious group with its worst representatives. I believe in listening to and conversing with the individual. As long as we agree to live in a civil society where neither of us attempts to force our beliefs and values onto one another (or onto anyone else involuntarily), then you and I will get along. If you believe your beliefs/views/opinions mandate that you be allowed to coerce others to believe as you do, then we will likely not get along. 

Lastly, I expect a fair amount of dissent when I write. I welcome it even if I can't get to all of it (look at me, assuming that I would ever get enough response that I couldn't address it all. You'll find that I can be an arrogant asshole at times, I am aware of it and I try my damndest to keep it in check. But this blog is basically me indulging that aspect of my personality so...don't get your hopes up). If you disagree with me or believe I am wrong, by all means tell me in the comments. But make no mistake, simply telling me "you're wrong" will likely do more than illicit mockery. Don't just tell me you think I am wrong, provide evidence and facts and statistics to show it. That way, we all learn.

Cheers

ABeard