Neuroscientist Sam Harris

With Sam Harris consistently being promoted as “a neuroscientist,” and using this label to bash religion and other leading scientists, perhaps we should take a closer look at Sam Harris’s PhD work. After all, since Harris abandoned science after securing his PhD, it is the PhD work alone, all by itself, that Harris uses to self-label as “a neuroscientist.”

It’s not clear how long it took Harris to get his PhD. According to Wiki, he received his BA in Philosophy in 2000 and his PhD in Neuroscience in 2009. He, along with several others, published their work in PLoS ONE: The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief

Statistician William Briggs analyzed the contents of this paper in an in-depth, 7-part series that begins here.

I encourage you to read it all, as Briggs concludes:

During the course of my investigation of scientism and bad science, I have read a great many bad, poorly reasoned papers. This one might not be the worst, but it deserves a prize for mangling the largest number of things simultaneously. What is fascinating, and what I do not here explore, is why this paper was not only published but why it is believed by others. It is sure evidence, I think, that scientists are no different than anybody else in wanting their cherished beliefs upheld such that they are willing to grasp at any confirmatory evidence, no matter how slight, blemished, or suspect that evidence might be.

I do not claim, and I do not believe, that Harris and his team cheated, lied, or willfully misled. I have given sufficient argument to show the authors wore such opaque blinders that they could not see what they were doing and so choose to write down that which they imagined they saw, which was a preconceived, incoherent concoction about how “Christians” would differ from “rational” thinkers.

Ouch.

As for me, I’d like to take a look at some other features of the paper.

For example, commenter Dhay brought this very interesting tidbit to my attention. If you read the Funding section of the paper, you’ll find the following:

The project described was supported in part by Grant Numbers RR12169, RR13642 and RR00865 from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and by a grant from The Reason Project; its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of NCR, NIH, or those of any other funding source. Sam Harris (joint first author) is the Co-founder and CEO of The Reason Project (www.reasonproject.org). The Reason Project is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit foundation whose mission includes conducting original scientific research related to human values, cognition, and reasoning. This affiliation does not alter the authors’ adherence to all PLoS ONE policies on the sharing of data for the purpose of academic, non-commercial research. For this study, The Reason Project provided partial funding for MRI scanner use, subject recruitment, and psychological testing. The other sources of funding had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Dhay noticed something:

… Project Reason had a role in funding MRI scanner use, subject recruitment, and psychological testing, and had the sole role in funding study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, and preparation of the manuscript.

Which I read as saying that without Project Reason funding, Harris’ wouldn’t have been able to acquire his neuroscience PhD. Looks like Project Reason was set up specifically to ensure Harris had funds to get his PhD, for that seems to be what Project Reason actually started out funding, and anything else seems to have come later.

What’s more, Project Reason was originally called “The Reason Project,” and you’ll notice that if you click on the link to http://www.reasonproject.org, it no longer exists. Instead, if you click on that link, it will take you to reason.com, a libertarian news site. We’re told that “The Reason Project is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit foundation whose mission includes conducting original scientific research related to human values, cognition, and reasoning.”

Yet according to Wiki, this is how Project Reason started (HT again to Dhay):

The project will draw on the talents of prominent and creative thinkers from a wide range of disciplines — science, law, literature, entertainment, information technology, etc. — to encourage critical thinking and wise public policy. It will convene conferences, produce films, sponsor scientific research and opinion polls, award grants to other non-profit organizations, and offer material support to religious dissidents and public intellectuals — with the purpose of eroding the influence of dogmatism, superstition and bigotry in the world.[4]
“One immediate need”, according to Sam Harris, “is to build an archive of the best secular resources on the Internet. Registered users can submit their favorite articles, videos, interviews, etc”. Users are also encouraged to make donations: “The leading religious organizations have operating budgets of over $100 million per year. There is no equivalent organization in the secular world. It may take a while, but you can help us build it!”

Project Reason today clearly has an anti-religious mission, as described on its own web page:

Project Reason is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. We seek to encourage critical thinking and wise public policy through a variety of interrelated projects. The foundation can convene conferences, produce films, sponsor scientific studies and opinion polls, hold contests, publish original research, award grants to other charitable organizations, and offer material support to religious dissidents and public intellectuals — all with the purpose of eroding the influence of dogmatism, superstition, and bigotry in our world.

While Project Reason is devoted to fostering critical thinking generally, we believe that religious ideas require a special focus. Both science and the arts are built upon cultures of vigorous self-criticism; religious discourse is not. As a result, religious dogmatism still reigns unchallenged in almost every society on earth—dividing humanity from itself, inflaming conflict, preventing wise public policy, and diverting scarce resources. One of the primary goals of Project Reason is to change this increasingly unhealthy status quo.

So let’s get this straight. Sam Harris was and continues to be an atheist activist and one of the leaders in the New Atheist Movement. His PhD was partly funded by donations to “The Reason Project” and it is safe to assume most of those donations came from members of the New Atheist Movement. And the findings of this research? A region of the brain involved in emotional judgment is behind religious reasoning. Hmmm. Then, after receiving his PhD, it looks like “The Reason Project” was changed into “Project Reason,” an atheist organization with an anti-religious agenda and Harris abandoned academia to devote all his efforts to this agenda.

Now, with all this in mind, does the following part of the paper make much sense to you?

Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

It would seem to me that an atheist activist, being funded by the atheist’s own atheist organization that currently thinks religion deserves “special focus” when it comes to criticism, had a conflict of interest to declare.

And then there is the best part of the article:

Author Contributions
Conceived and designed the experiments: SH JTK MI MSC. Performed the experiments: JTK. Analyzed the data: SH JTK MI MSC. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: MI MSC. Wrote the paper: SH JTK. Performed all subject recruitment, telephone screenings, and psychometric assessments prior to scanning: AC. Supervised our psychological assessment procedures and consulted on subject exclusions: SB. Gave extensive notes on the manuscript: MSC MI.

It’s bad enough that Harris is only “joint first author” on a paper publishing his thesis research and one of four people involved in conceiving and designing the experiment, but what’s this?

Performed the experiments: JTK.

Sam Harris never did any of the experiments for his own PhD thesis! How many science PhD students are out there working on their own PhDs without doing a single experiment? Show of hands? I would guess that is a very tiny population.

Now, when you consider that Harris as a BA in Philosophy and did not do any of the experiments for this research, it makes you wonder if Sam Harris, the man who promotes himself as “a neuroscientist,” has ever performed a single experiment in his life. Suddenly, it makes sense why Harris, The Neuroscientist, would write the following:

What constitutes evidence that there is a path to wisdom at all? From the outside, it’s very difficult to judge—because there are charismatic charlatans who are probably lying about everything, and there are seemingly ordinary people who have had quite profound experiences. From the inside, however, the evidence is clear; so each person has to run the experiment in the laboratory of his own mind to know that there’s anything to this.

It sure looks like the only experiments ever performed by Harris have been “in the laboratory of his own mind.”

And finally, there is his PhD thesis itself. Does anyone know the title of his thesis? If not, see if this sounds familiar – The moral landscape How science could determine human values.

So after getting his PhD, one year later his Project Reason took his PhD thesis and sold it as book. So if you want to get a feel for the depth of science behind Harris’s neuroscience degree, just go to the library and check out The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. What made Harris “a neuroscientist” is the attempt to argue that science can determine what is right and wrong. That sounds more like philosophy than science to me. Of course, since publishing his thesis, then his book, Sam Harris has never once actually used science to resolve a moral dispute.

So the next time you see Sam Harris being promoted as “a neuroscientist” so he can bash another scientist who is religious, remember Harris’s status as “a neuroscientist.”

1. Since getting his PhD, he has conducted no scientific research.
2. Since getting his PhD, he has taught no university/college courses in neuroscience.
3. Since getting his PhD, he has devoted his efforts to his anti-religious think tank and publishing books, such as the one on using drugs and meditation to discover truths about our reality.
4. He received his PhD through partial funding from his own atheist organization.
5. He didn’t do any of the experiments for his own thesis work.
6. His PhD thesis was about how science can determine what is right and wrong and he turned it into a book for sale.
7. Since publishing his thesis/book, Harris has yet to use science to resolve a single moral dispute.

This is the guy who postures as an Ambassador of Science when using his media connections to publicly mock other scientists who are religious.

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76 Responses to Neuroscientist Sam Harris

  1. agrudzinsky says:

    Interesting. Why didn’t he just create a Church of New Atheism with Holy Texts, missionaries, Sunday services, sermon podcasts, collections and offerings, and other bells and whistles? Why reinvent a bicycle to spread beliefs? Religion has already nailed down how to do it, before TV, newspapers, and books. It has worked for thousands of years, it works now. He *thinks* he fights religion, but, in fact, he is *creating* one. That’s silly.

    After all, he is trying to teach people how to make moral choices, how to make one’s life purposeful (that’s what religions do) – all that while opposing religion and stating that the world is all “matter”, void of morality or purpose. So, to fight what he calls a lie and a myth, he has to create his own lies and myths. “Utterly meaningless! Nothing new under the sun!” (Even “New Atheism” is a lie – it’s not “new”).

  2. Michael says:

    Excellent point. New Atheists don’t really have a problem with religion and faith. Those are false flags and we can tell partly for the very reasons you cite. Their problem is with God.

  3. Pingback: Sam Harris, The Poser “Neuroscientist” | hipandthigh

  4. Miguel says:

    I came across your blog as a result of a Google search for something entirely different. However, after reading this post, I’ll not return. Finding fault with atheism, and arguing against its premise is respectable. I’ve not read enough of your posts to determine if you are a scientist as well. But, ad hominem attacks are simply petty.

    Would you criticize the education of a Jewish carpenter, or the first apostles.

  5. Dhay says:

    Miguel > Finding fault with atheism, and arguing against its premise is respectable.

    Finding fault with Sam Harris’ neuroscience qualifications primarily puts in question Harris’ credentials to teach a “scientific” Neo-Buddhism.

    > I’ve not read enough of your posts to determine if you are a scientist as well.

    If you had read the linked articles, you would have found that WM Briggs, a statistician, has ripped into the design and methods of “The Neural Correlates …” at great length, which he is well qualified to do. He tells us there was much more he could have criticised.

    I personally am not a neuroscientist or scientist, just an intelligent layman, but I have found much to add to Briggs’ criticisms; if you wish to look back and pick apart my criticisms – or pick apart Briggs’ criticisms – feel free to do so.

    Um, do you have to be a political scientist to judge politicians, or a social scientist to judge social policy and practice?

    That Harris received neuroscience training and has collaborated in neuroscience research is not disputed. Yet it wasn’t the “The Neural Correlates…” neuroscience research which earned Harris his PhD, but what looks very like a treatise on moral philosophy.

    As Michael pointed out, it is very unclear that Harris’ PhD thesis, “The moral landscape How science could determine human values”, is not primarily a treatise on moral philosophy, a moral philosophy treatise which but uses the conclusions of the two neuroscience papers he earlier collaborated on.

    > But, ad hominem attacks are simply petty.

    Sam Harris has promoted himself heavily as a neuroscientist, hence as someone who can knowledgeably reveal truths about the brain and about consciousness, so it is entirely legitimate to question how much of a neuroscientist Harris actually is. The post was not an ad hominem attack against Harris the man, but a strong critique of the credentials he claims, how entitled he is to claim them, and the teaching and leadership authority he can legitimately derive from them. That’s entirely respectable.

    > Would you criticize the education of a Jewish carpenter, or the first apostles.

    Yes, why ever not. Of course we would assess and take into account the education of a Jewish carpenter, or the first apostles, whenever assessing anything and everything that that education is relevant to; I am astonished that you would suppose otherwise.

  6. Michael says:

    I came across your blog as a result of a Google search for something entirely different. However, after reading this post, I’ll not return. Finding fault with atheism, and arguing against its premise is respectable. I’ve not read enough of your posts to determine if you are a scientist as well. But, ad hominem attacks are simply petty.

    You should have actually read the blog entry. This is not ad hom. When the media promote Harris as a “neuroscientist” and Harris uses this authority to bash religion and religious scientists, I think those on the receiving end of Harris’s bigotry and hate would be interested to know he’s not quite the authority he being sold as.

  7. Dhay says:

    > And finally, there is his PhD thesis itself. Does anyone know the title of his thesis? If not, see if this sounds familiar – The moral landscape How science could determine human values.

    There’s a link in the post above to the thesis at this point, but the thesis is behind a paywall, and inaccessible to me. If there’s anyone out there who can access that “science” thesis, I would be interested in your report on how much of the text is repeated in his philosophy book of the same name, which book I see is actually available online as a pdf at:
    http://skepdic.ru/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/The_Moral_Landscape__How_Science_Can_Determine_Human_Values.pdf

  8. John says:

    I looked at Harris’s dissertation and it seems much of it is about the nature of consciousness, which doesn’t appear to have made it into the book. In turn, the moral science stuff that covers most of the book takes up only one short chapter of the dissertation (and does not include any original research). What I find most striking is that, out of the 400 pages of Harris’s dissertation, only 15 or so present and discuss evidence from his own research (only two experiments). That’s less than 5% of the doctoral thesis! Where’s the neuroscience?

    I found this bit from the Acknowledgments section unintentionally amusing: “[My advisor] is also a model of caution in reporting experimental results. While I learned a tremendous amount from him, I absorbed only a fraction of what he had to teach.”

  9. Dhay says:

    John > Where’s the neuroscience?

    That’s what I suspected. Many, many thanks.

  10. UpstateIslandersFan says:

    Maybe his foundation could pony up a few buck to make him look more the scientist. A white lab coat, perhaps a pocket protector…At the risk of sounding like I’m anti science, I have to little faith in reductionist neuroscience, because of the bold claims it makes and then seemingly contradicts within weeks. It probably started with Benjamin Libet – who was much more parsimonious with his data conclusions to some brain scientist these days – but with the fMRI use, anything and everything is said about the brain. Not that there should be good guys and bad guys in science, but I prefer Jeffrey Schwartz’s outlook. He’s neurotic, eccentric and at times off-putting but he’s willing to go where he thinks the data has taken him, which is to a mind-brain interaction. As a result, he hasn’t always been treated well by colleagues. But as a person with OCD, I’d can see how he makes his case. It sometimes feels like your moving a mountain to resist the burning urge to carry some task out and it feels at times like you actually can take the reins. Peter Fenwick is another clinician who has been rubbished for pointing out seeming contradictions in materialist brain science, and he handles it like a gentleman. It just reminds me of years ago when I had my brain scanned for a multi year study on the genetics of anxiety disorders. Before I was put in a CAT scan machine I was talking to two of the researchers and one of them said to me there were too many people with too much faith in reducing human behavior to CAT, PET, MRI, etc. He described the brain as a thumbprint of sorts with no two alike and even gave me a CD-ROM of mine. Perhaps brain science is the final skirmish in the battle to reduce human existence. I worry that with people’s obsessions with technology they may put too much faith in brain imaging. Perhaps Dr. Sam Harris will be leading the way, bloviating, telling us how unreliable common sense is. I wouldn’t trust him to be my latex salesman, and certainly not my brain scientist!

  11. Eric Pleim says:

    Sam Harris is not a neuroscientist. I looked up what he has done out of curiosity, and the only research I could find was for his dissertation, for which he did NONE of the experiments, had 4 or 5 people help him with, and which did not even address a scientific question. He’s a good writer, and credible debater in favor of the atheistic cause, but when he tries to enlist phony baloney credentials in support of his views, he loses credibility in my eyes, and those of many others I’m sure.

  12. rukart says:

    Wonderful work exposing this racist, torture enthusiast and perverted apologist for US/Israeli atrocities. I’m not in the least surprised to learn his so-called academic pedigree is as phony as the rest of his nonsense.

  13. Larry Olson says:

    Really, it’s not that hard to find the project reason website… Did you even Google it, for crying out loud…

    http://www.project-reason.org/

    Let’s pretend for a moment Sam Harris didn’t even have a PhD. What matters is if what he says is true or not. People with PhD’s practice Homeopathy, Astrology, Scientology…. PhD does not an intelligent person a make (in all cases).

  14. Dhay says:

    Larry Olsen > Really, it’s not that hard to find the project reason website… Did you even Google it, for crying out loud…

    If anyone has complained of difficulty finding the Project Reason site, I’ve missed their complaint. However, a valid complaint would be the difficulty in finding the content that used to be on that site.

    I suspect you merely Googled the Project Reason site (for crying out loud), which since July this year has been stripped of its content. The WayBack archive site shows that Project Reason — “spreading science and secular values” — effectively closed down sometime in May or June 2015; the little previous content relevant to its aims of spreading science and secular values vanished at that time, leaving just three accessible pages. I presume you looked no further than the “Home” page, or you could not have missed that almost all of the old site has vanished.

    The “Home” page contains a click-button link to a second page, which contains the “About” paragraph, and also lists the “Trustees” and the “Advisory Board” members.

    Both pages contain a click-button link to the third, to the “Donations” page: using Google-type weighting, counting the number of links to it, the “Donations” page is evidently the most important of the three, and certainly the most prominent.

    > Let’s pretend for a moment Sam Harris didn’t even have a PhD.

    If we do, that leaves us with a retired neuroscientist who makes a living as a journalist and author of polemical anti-theistic books and articles. His anti-theism stems from the realisation that the Abrahamic religions provide “an almost perfect block” to the Buddhism which he is an evangelist (Bodhisattva) for. He claims to promote the safe, watered down version of mindfulness, stripped of its Buddhist roots, but urges anyone who will listen that they should risk the dangers of MDMA and psychedelics — which Harris stopped using a couple of decades ago because of their unpleasant and dangerous effects — in order to get a taste of something at least a little bit like Buddhist enlightenment.

    Nor is it the watered down modern Western secular version of mindfulness that he is urging on us: he himself is primarily taught by traditional — including karma and the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama — Buddhist Dzogchen teachers, he urges his followers down that same path, and his purpose for meditation is not relaxation, stress-reduction and improved well-being; it is to “challenge and rupture one’s sense of self to the core so you realise there is ‘nothing there’”; that makes Harris’ teaching “radically transformative and a means, among other things, of awaking to the reality that, on the deepest levels, the “self” is an illusion.” Harris intends the mindfulness he is teaching to have the “powerful transformative effects of [his Buddhist] tradition”, not to be the harmlessly watered down secular version of mindfulness.

    People with PhD’s practice Buddhism.

  15. Larry Olson says:

    People with PhD’s practice homeopathy, astrology, and all sorts of strange stuff. I’ve never judged a person based on their PhD. For example, what degree do you have? Rhetorical question since I don’t give a flying fudge. But you might want to post your credentials since you are bashing other people’s credentials. You might also want to address people by their proper names spelled correctly.

    You said the website closed down. Nonsense. It changed domain names. Domain names expire, get taken over by squatters. He has an open public forum where he doesn’t censor posts like yours – why don’t you head over to BOTH his websites, Sam Harris dot Org and Project Reason and talk about this in his forums. No, wait, you’re just a troll. Forget I said that.

    Your whole rant about him being a new atheist is pathetic. If you had done any research on him at all, you would know he is against the whole New Atheist community, label, or movement.
    See The Problem With Atheism on youtube, where he complains about new atheists meeting in hotel ball rooms like some kind of fringe group – he is exactly against this sort of thing. Your slur of him being a new atheist is exactly why stupid atheists should never have called themselves atheists in the first place – it’s got the same baggage as communist, national socialist, libtard, or other slurs.

  16. Kevin says:

    Sam Harris helped CREATE the New Atheist movement with his anti religious drivel. Too bad if he doesn’t like the label or being associated with all the atheists nut jobs that so adored his rants.

  17. Doug says:

    @Larry – your defense of Project Reason is quite odd. You seem to be saying that since there exists a “forums” page (presently inaccessable from http://www.project-reason.org, if you didn’t know the URL, or explicitly search for it, you’d not easily find it) and that Harris has *another* web-site, that everything said about Project Reason in the O/P and the comments is … what, exactly? It is all verifiably true, as a few minutes with a browser will demonstrate to anyone.

  18. Dhay says:

    Larry Olson > Really, it’s not that hard to find the project reason [sic] website… Did you even Google it, for crying out loud…

    I now see that you have misunderstood the OP: having pointed out that the funding for Harris’ PhD was in (evidently large) part provided by Harris’ then Reason Project, the OP then pointed out that the Reason Project became the present Project Reason, confirming this by demonstrating that there is now no such entity as the Reason Project, the former link now pointing elsewhere.

    OP > What’s more, Project Reason was originally called “The Reason Project,” and you’ll notice that if you click on the link to http://www.reasonproject.org, it no longer exists. Instead, if you click on that link, it will take you to reason.com, a libertarian news site.

    How hard to understand is that?

    (Michael, the writer of the OP, wrote a post entitled “Project Reason” in January 2013, and there gave the identical Project Reason weblink to the one you have “corrected” him to. He and his regular readers are well aware of the correct “Project Reason” web address, so possibly you are the only person confused by this passage.)

    Larry Olson > You said the website closed down. Nonsense. It changed domain names. Domain names expire, get taken over by squatters.

    What part of “Project Reason was originally called “The Reason Project”” is it that claims the website closed down? And what part of ”… if you click on the link to http://www.reasonproject.org, it no longer exists. Instead, if you click on that link, it will take you to reason.com, a libertarian news site” – what part of that tells you that the OP was unaware that a domain name change had taken place; rather, it asserts that the domain name also changed.

    OP > With Sam Harris consistently being promoted as “a neuroscientist,” and using this label to bash religion and other leading scientists, perhaps we should take a closer look at Sam Harris’s PhD work.

    Larry Olson > What matters is if what he says is true or not. …
    I’ve never judged a person based on their PhD.

    In your commendable emphasis on not judging someone on their credentials, you seem to have overlooked that Harris is constantly pushing that he is a neuroscientist, emphasising his credentials: his blog proclaims he is a “neuroscientist, philosopher, and best-selling author”; every newspaper article or host introduces him first (or only) as a neuroscientist; the Project Reason Trustee page describes Harris as “the author … … Mr. Harris received a degree in philosophy from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA”. It’s Harris who is implicitly and explicitly claiming we should judge him on his neuroscience credentials.

    But as the OP argues, and on a number of grounds, Harris is no neuroscientist. It’s a false or definitely misleading claim, made by someone who claims never to knowingly tell an untruth. Perhaps you would read the OP, and respond to it with criticisms of substance.

    Larry Olson > But you might want to post your credentials since you are bashing other people’s credentials.

    You use “you” several times, and in a rather incoherent way: your “you” seems at various times to point possibly to me, or to Michael, or possibly to both of us or to some undefined larger “you”; the only certainty is that the “you”s differ; if “you” is me in this case, then plainly you were too lazy to read through the responses to the OP.

    Larry Olson > Your whole rant about him being a new atheist is pathetic. If you had done any research on him at all, you would know he is against the whole New Atheist community, label, or movement. See The Problem With Atheism on youtube, where he complains about new atheists meeting in hotel ball rooms like some kind of fringe group – he is exactly against this sort of thing. Your slur of him being a new atheist is exactly why stupid atheists should never have called themselves atheists in the first place – it’s got the same baggage as communist, national socialist, libtard, or other slurs.

    Harris may declare he is exactly against eg new atheists meeting in hotel ball rooms like some kind of fringe group; yet he is, and always has been, virulently anti-theist; that he is not thereby a virulently anti-theist New Atheist is merely a matter of presentation.

    You might be technically correct, if being a New Atheist is incompatible with teaching the Buddhist religion; Harris has argued (in his “Killing the Buddha” blog post) that “Buddhism’s philosophy, insight, and practices would benefit more people if they were not presented as a religion”; which tells us that Harris is actually promoting the philosophy, insight, and practices of the Buddhist religion, while presenting the philosophy, insight, and practices as not being part of a religion.

    As the old story goes: the sign may say “eagle”, but if it waddles like a duck, swims and dives like … ; I’m sure you know the rest.

    Larry Olson > No, wait, you’re just a troll. Forget I said that. Your whole rant …

    You responded to a long and thoughtful OP by ranting about a couple of nit-picked supposed errors concerning the Reason Project’s re-naming and change of domain name; you made a great fuss, you picked something trivial and magnified it out of all proportion; I call that trolling behaviour. And the error was your own error, an error of comprehension, ie you couldn’t be bothered to read and understand the OP properly. I suspect you didn’t bother to read through the responses, either.

    You are someone who has so far produced no discernible content in your two responses, just loud content-less bluste, amounting to nothing much more than that you don’t like the OP’s tone; and a specious accusation that the OP – or is it me, just who is “you” – is a ranting troll, an accusation which appears to issue from … a ranting troll.

  19. Larry Olson says:

    “Harris may declare he is exactly against eg new atheists meeting in
    hotel ball rooms like some kind of fringe group; yet he is, and always has been, virulently anti-theist; that he is not thereby a virulently anti-theist New Atheist is merely a matter of presentation.”

    And you are an Anti-Atheist, what’s your point? See how I labelled you and now you become a fringe group with a hate website online? How are you not being Anti-atheist by ridiculing and trying to bash as much as possible, anyone who argues against islam and other death cults.

    As for my nitpicking of the project reason website being moved to a new domain name, it was in fact the OP (original poster) who nitpicked someone changing domains. You and the OP are making a big fuss about whether the project is called “project reason” or “reason project” as if the two phrases mean something vastly different, and coming up with a 9/11 type conspiracy theory that Sam Harris has somehow converted the site over to libertarianism, even though he has videos on youtube outlining his problems with libertarianism. If you are not claiming to come up with this conspiracy of somehow linking libertarianism to project reason, you certainly are implying it, whether you realize it or not – or you are implying something equally as absurd of a conspiracy theory. Let’s just leave your conspiracy open to interpretation. Hell, I’m going to make a TRUTH website about sam harris and how he is part of the new world order. He’s a jew! Time to speak the TRUTH on truther.org folks. After all, the jews killed jesus. That’s what this really is about. And jesus was a jew. Wow, I just made a whole website in this post. A whole new truther website. Project reason does NOT mean the same thing as reason project, it’s a conspiracy!

  20. Larry Olson says:

    “In 1991, Kentucky Fried Chicken began to subtly rebrand by shifting the focus to its initials, KFC. There were a lot of urban legends surrounding the switch – like the (untrue) rumors that it was because KFC’s chicken didn’t really contain chicken, or that the company didn’t want to pay royalties to Kentucky. ”

    Conspiracy: Kentucky Fried Chicken and KFC are part of the new world order because they changed names. Every time I drive by KFC I tell my friends about the evil they are doing by changing their original CFK to KFC. Chicken Fried Kentucky is NOT the same as Kentucky Fried Chicken, folks. They changed their website and restaraunt! It’s a giant world conspiracy of chickens no longer being fried, now the chickens are fried in kentucky, or vice versa, I can’t figure it out.

    Project reason becomes reason project – and I have a hard attack because, someone moved the website. Or maybe I had a hard attack from eating too much fried chicken, or chicken fried. Take your pick. Walmart changes their name to Wallies, and I go bazurk!

    “He and his regular readers are well aware of the correct “Project Reason” web address, so possibly you are the only person confused by this passage.”

    Yet he purposely omits linking to the website (the new one) to confuse people an further push his conspiracy. By not linking to the new website (in this post) it allows his conspiracy to go further since posting the link would mean people would clearly see it was a simple domain name change like many other sites go through all the time. For example wal-mart could become walmart without the slash, as a hypothetical. Oh giant conspiracy! Walmart is trying to make dashes control us through mind control of the new world order, after all why would a big company like walmart add or remove a dash! Walmart becomes Wallies (hypothetical) – wow a giant conspiracy, Jesus himself must be watching us and wondering, why are these people splitting hairs over a domain name change that has happened a million times before with corporations all over the world, and non profits.

    Eugenie Scott sometimes calls herself Genie – CONSPIRACY! She is trying to hide her atheist identity and she is playing mind games with us folks! Genie Scott != Eugenie Scott.

  21. Larry Olson says:

    p.s. the hard attack reference was to the band name, hard attack, rather than heart attack, as a joke to see if you would nit pick heart versus hard, similar to how you nitpick project reason versus reason project.

    Christopher Hitchens didn’t have a credible PhD in biology, or physics, or neuroscience, therefore everything Hitchens says about Islam must be invalid reasoning. Only people with PhD’s who are slaves to the ivory tower could possibly have anything worthwhile listening to. Hint hint: if you spend all your time in a lab doing science, you have zero time left for public speaking.

    The Carl Sagan effect is when you right popular books or do tv shows and you become popular, with not much time to do science any more. This does not mean everything Carl Sagan says was wrong just because he spent a lot of time out of science labs since the environment he was in didn’t allow him to have 72 hours in a day to be a celebrity plus be a scientist in a chemistry and biology lab.

  22. Larry Olson says:

    Conspiracy: see how you can right books that are write, and write books that are right. Slashes become dashes. It’s all a conspiracy folks. Nitpick away.

  23. Dhay says:

    A ranting troll and right nutter, by the look of it.

  24. Kevin says:

    I apparently don’t have whatever it takes to truly comprehend the points Larry is trying to make. Could I have a brief synopsis please?

  25. Larry Olson says:

    Let’s see, two people on here seem to be complaining against Atheism as a movement, yet you create an Anti-Atheist movement yourself on this fringe website. You’re against antitheism and atheism movements, but yet you feel satisfied with your own hypocrisy of creating an anti-atheist movement. Hrm. Nope, I can’t comprehend any point being made from this. Anti atheism is perfectly acceptable, but anti theism – wow that’s a sin. Being against a death cult that flies planes into buildings requires a PhD in neuroscience to be truly able to speak up against it.

  26. TFBW says:

    Synopsis: Larry is offended by the opposition to New Atheism expressed on this website, so words words words angry words more words words words very angry disapproving words words more words even more words if enough words I win words words words, etc.

  27. Dhay says:

    That sums it up nicely, TFBW.

    He seems to be flinging shit around wildly here, and also in as many threads as he can. In one of those threads someone called him a Poe, though I’d say he’s a troll rather than a Poe; I don’t think his nuttiness is a pretense; there’s the internal evidence of his incoherent, rambling responses, and there’s also the evidence of his own website.

    If you click on the blue of his name, or otherwise navigate to olsonnb.com, you find Larry Olson is someone obsessed with designing and building devices which violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics, one of which devices “is so simple that this nano tech could easily be built to empirically falsify or verify the second law.”

    I’d be interested in Larry Olsen’s view on whether I’m right, but this sounds very much the same as designing a perpetual motion device, in that reversing (or “violating”) the Second Law amounts to increasing the amount of energy available to produce work, ie energy for nothing, ie working perpetual motion device.

    I wish you rapid progress with your easily built device, Larry Olson, which device sounds like the sort of device every university’s Physics researchers would queue up to help you build, in view of the undoubted benefits to mankind and to their own reputations.

    Having built it, it’s a win-win situation: if you manage to empirically falsify the Second Law — whether or not your devices function as (or can be adapted to function as) a perpetual motion devices — that will make you a very rich man, and also earn you a Nobel Prize; and as a lesser prize, your paper announcing your research in the scientific journals should easily earn you your PhD.

    Or if you manage to empirically verify the Second Law with this device, you win again: you will receive wide acclaim from Philosophers of Science for overcoming the self-defeating problems inherent in Logical Positivism and Verificationism.

    I am pleased to see you have the ambitious and admirable intention to reverse the total entropy of the universe, for the benefit of humankind:

    Pantheists tend to think the universe is godly or wonderous, whereas I see it as cruel and mostly unable to sustain life. The only way one could make it less cruel is to fight entropy by decreasing it in massive amounts (not just slowing entropy, which is possible, but decreasing the total entropy of the universe (which is considered impossible, cough).
    [My emphasis.]
    http://olsonb.com/articles/why-olsonb.html

    I wish you every success in your endeavours to save both humankind and the universe.

  28. TFBW says:

    In one of those threads someone called him a Poe, though I’d say he’s a troll rather than a Poe …

    That was me. Any sufficiently advanced nut is indistinguishable from an over-the-top parody of a nut, so it’s safer to err on the side of assuming it’s a hoax.

  29. Dhay says:

    Looking at Roger Olson’s Sam Harris forum responses, which forum he joined recently and was hyperactively spamming simultaneously with hyperactively spamming here, and also looking at his Project Reason forum responses over the last few years, I see some of his responses (and parts of his website) seem to show deep pessimism and depression.

  30. Sandy says:

    I’m confused. At the beginning of this blog there’s an extract from a critique of a paper published by Harris et al called The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief. The context in which it’s presented implies that this paper essentially describes the findings of Harris’s PhD. Then, towards the end of the post we’re told that the title of his PhD thesis was actually ‘The Moral Landscape: How Science can Determine Moral Values’. This is obviously a completely different topic from one focusing on neural correlates of religious and nonreligious beliefs.

    Quite aside from that, the implication that there is something reprehensible in subsequently publishing PhD work in book form doesn’t hold water. I worked for years as a copy editor for academic publishers and I can tell you that it’s very much the norm for academics to publish their PhD work as books. In fact, many of them seem to sustain their whole careers on various re-writes, and reframings of their PhD thesis.

  31. TFBW says:

    I’m confused.

    Apparently so. Let me see if I can offer a clarification or two.

    This is obviously a completely different topic from one focusing on neural correlates of religious and nonreligious beliefs.

    That’s a reasonable expectation, but if you go past the title and read the abstract, you’ll find that it ends as follows.

    Two studies our lab has done on belief, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), suggest that it is a content-independent process, principally mediated by the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. I discuss this work in light of the current literature on decision-making, the norms of reasoning, moral intuition, the self, consciousness, and related topics in the sciences of mind.

    So, yes, “completely different” by the judgement of any reasonable layperson, but significant and relevant according to the thesis. Your disagreement is not with the author of this post, but with Sam Harris himself.

    … the implication that there is something reprehensible in subsequently publishing PhD work in book form doesn’t hold water.

    If that’s the vibe you’re picking up from this article, then I think you’re misinterpreting. Re-read the paragraph in question again, more carefully. It first states that Project Reason adapted the thesis into a book — not an objection, but possibly carrying the implication that the main purpose of the PhD was to enable the book. It then states that one can “get a feel for the depth of science” behind the degree by reading the book, which seems reasonable. It then makes a concrete objection: that this PhD in “neuroscience” seems more like philosophy than science. This is backed up by the observation that Harris “has never once actually used science to resolve a moral dispute.”

    To be clear, then, the problem is not the act of turning the PhD into a book, but using the aura of credibility granted by the term “neuroscientist” (for which claim his PhD is the only basis) to push utilitarian philosophy as though it were somehow scientific. He’s a two-edged fraud in this regard: on the one side, his claim to the title “neuroscientist” is paper-thin, based entirely on having obtained a PhD in the field — he’s never actually practised science outside the PhD, so he’s the least accomplished of all possible neuroscientists; on the other side, his claim that science can determine human values is based on utilitarian premises, then presented as a scientific argument in support of utilitarianism, hiding the fact that he’s begging the question under a smoke-screen of scientific jargon.

    I hope that clears up some of the confusion.

  32. Michael says:

    I worked for years as a copy editor for academic publishers and I can tell you that it’s very much the norm for academics to publish their PhD work as books. In fact, many of them seem to sustain their whole careers on various re-writes, and reframings of their PhD thesis.

    Is Free Press an academic publisher? Didn’t they also publish The Bell Curve?

    What’s more, it is not the norm for neuroscientists to publish their PhD work as a popular book.

    And…..I never said “there is something reprehensible” about all this.

  33. Dhay says:

    Sandy > I’m confused.

    So was I: when Michael announced that Sam Harris’ PhD thesis was entitled The moral landscape How science could determine human values and linked to its abstract, I was quite startled; up until then I had assumed that his PhD was awarded for his The Neural Correlates … research and paper.

    I wondered how I could have missed that, and found that although Harris lists the “Two studies our lab has done on belief, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)” on his site’s ‘Publications and Lectures’ page, which also lists a number of “The Moral Landscape” entries — these all seem to be to lectures, presumably part of his promotion of the popular-level book of a very similar name/subtitle to his PhD thesis paper — his The Moral Landscape … PhD paper is not mentioned by name or link, not even to the paper’s abstract. (I suspect Michael found it on Harris’ Wiki page.)

    http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/publications-and-lectures/

    Project Reason, while it was functional, included a webpage briefly summarising The Neural Correlates …, with a link on to that paper in PLoS ONE, but — again — no mention of the paper that Harris got his PhD for.

    I find Harris’ continual emphasis on his having a PhD in neuroscience, while omitting to so much as mention his PhD paper’s name and subject-matter, to be rather weird.

  34. TFBW says:

    @Dhay: I suspect that the PhD thesis is allowed to languish in obscurity because Harris would rather that people found his for-sale popular book of nearly the same name. Harris likes to brand himself as a neuroscientist, but he’s an author and speaker by profession. Downplaying the PhD thesis so that it doesn’t steal the limelight from the book is just a marketing strategy which reflects the side his bread is buttered.

  35. Sandy says:

    Excuse me Michael, but your explanation does not clear up my confusion. Your reasoning is so tortuous that it would take a mental gymnast to follow it, and without access to either the thesis or the book, I’m not in a position to either check your assertions or comment on them.
    And, BTW, did I say I worked for Free Press? I’ve never even heard of them. The academic publishers I worked for were highly credible companies, such as Cambridge University Press, Routledge, UCL Press, Macmillan and others, so I do know what I’m talking about. While I can’t claim to have edited a book in neuroscience (that’s not my field), I can’t see why neuroscientists would be any different to other academics in this regard, unless it’s just that there’s less of a market for books on neuroscience.

  36. Dhay says:

    On the evidence of John’s response to me above, the second part (only) of Item #6 in the OP is incorrect. John reports that despite the suspiciously close, indeed near-identical, names of the PhD thesis and the subsequent book, there’s not much overlap of the thesis and book:

    I looked at Harris’s dissertation and it seems much of it is about the nature of consciousness, which doesn’t appear to have made it into the book. In turn, the moral science stuff that covers most of the book takes up only one short chapter of the dissertation (and does not include any original research). What I find most striking is that, out of the 400 pages of Harris’s dissertation, only 15 or so present and discuss evidence from his own research (only two experiments). That’s less than 5% of the doctoral thesis! Where’s the neuroscience?

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2015/01/07/neuroscientist-sam-harris/#comment-8354

    That is, the overlap of thesis and book could be as little as “one short chapter”, plus whatever few pages of each were focused on the fMRI research.

    As regards the first part of Item #6, and each of the other Items, they seem to be correct. And unless I have misunderstood, these Items summarise the preceding arguments.

  37. Dhay says:

    > 4. He received his PhD through partial funding from his own atheist organization.

    I note from the WayBack internet archive that “The Reason Project” was just a stub of a title page, linking nowhere, doing nothing, and certainly minus a ‘Donate’ page, for one complete year from 12 May 2008 until 11 May 2009. The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief was published — ie the experiment designed, experimental subjects recruited, pre-screened and tested, the results analysed and evaluated and the paper written up and peer-reviewed — all this by 1 October 2009.

    What this tells me, I think, is that either there was an extraordinary flood of donations via the website in the five months from May to September inclusive — unlikely, I think — or that the funds behind The Reason Project, hence in turn behind Sam Harris’ The Neural Correlates … research, were gathered almost entirely before The Reason Project started collecting donations from its website. Which possibly means that Harris funded the research himself from his book earnings; or that some other donors (than Reason Project website donors) had provided the funds.

    That’s tax-efficient rather than reprehensible, of course; but it does obscure who the donor was, or who the donors were, who provided funding at the time it was needed to enable the research to go ahead. I won’t believe the research went ahead on the vague promise that The Reason Project would or might in future months and years collect sufficient money in donations to pay for it all.

  38. TFBW says:

    Sandy said:

    Excuse me Michael, but your explanation does not clear up my confusion.

    Given that you’re the only one expressing insuperable confusion here, the root cause is probably not the text itself. It’s possible that you have comprehension problems, but I suspect that you’re just being intentionally obtuse and trying to pass off the blame on Michael in an act of passive aggression because you don’t like what he’s said. Witness the fact that you’ve ignored the other explanatory input here from Dhay and me. So, on the one hand I could take your complaints seriously, and on the other I could write you off as a querulous whiner with no actual interest in understanding the points being made here. My first reply gave you the benefit of the doubt, but your response has removed most of the doubt.

  39. Dhay says:

    Dhay > … all this by 1 October 2009

    Looking further down the PLOS paper, I see the time between The Reason Project opening for donations via its website and the <The Neural Correlates … research paper being received for publication was not five months, it was less than one month. “Received: June 3, 2009; Accepted: September 7, 2009; Published: October 1, 2009”.

    That rather reinforces my point that although The Reason Project funded Sam Harris’ <The Neural Correlates … research, The Reason Project (hence Harris’ research) was not at that time funded by donations obtained via its website.

  40. Michael says:

    Excuse me Michael, but your explanation does not clear up my confusion. Your reasoning is so tortuous that it would take a mental gymnast to follow it, and without access to either the thesis or the book, I’m not in a position to either check your assertions or comment on them.

    Read the rest of the comments around here – you are alone in your confusion.

    And, BTW, did I say I worked for Free Press?

    No, you did not. Did I ever imply you worked for Free Press? No, i did not. Why did I bring up Free Press? Because they are the ones who published The Moral Landscape.

    The academic publishers I worked for were highly credible companies, such as Cambridge University Press, Routledge, UCL Press, Macmillan and others, so I do know what I’m talking about.

    Fine. But given that Harris’s book was not published by academic publishers, your experience with these publishers is irrelevant. You don’t get to defend Harris by getting us all to pretend his book was published by an academic publisher.

    While I can’t claim to have edited a book in neuroscience (that’s not my field), I can’t see why neuroscientists would be any different to other academics in this regard, unless it’s just that there’s less of a market for books on neuroscience.

    Once more, it is not the norm for neuroscientists to publish their PhD work as a popular book.

  41. Dhay says:

    > 7. Since publishing his thesis/book, Harris has yet to use science to resolve a single moral dispute.

    Days after publication of his The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, Sam Harris was asked by a Salon interviewer to give just one concrete example:

    Interviewer: What’s a concrete example of how science can answer a moral dilemma?

    Sam Harris: Many of the basic facts we understand about human well-being don’t even require scientific data at this point. Given that we know that there must be better and worse ways for humans to flourish, we also know that all cultural strategies and personal opinions aren’t on the same plain. We don’t need to run any scientific experiments to know that life in Congo right now is not perfectly tuned to maximize human well-being. You’ve got people being raped by the tens of thousands and hunted with machetes.

    http://www.salon.com/2010/10/17/sam_harris_interview/

    Asked for a concrete example of how science can answer a moral dilemma, Harris instead provided a concrete example — the Congo — where scientific data and scientific experiments would be pretty useless.

    (Yeah, learning lessons from the histories of war-torn regions should be of much more help in deciding how to act concerning the Congo than science — especially neuroscience — could or can ever be.)

    Harris ducked the interviewer’s blindingly obviously forseeable question, one he had years to prepare for — having spent the last few years of his life writing a PhD thesis entitled The Moral Landscape: How Science Could Determine Human Values while simultaneously writing a popular-level book entitled The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values — after several years of PhD-level deep thought and extensive deliberation, Harris was able to come up with exactly zero concrete examples to back his claim.

  42. Dhay says:

    > 7. Since publishing his thesis/book, Harris has yet to use science to resolve a single moral dispute.

    And now, even Sam Harris’ fellow New Atheist, Jerry Coyne, dismisses the idea that Science Can Determine Human Values as the subtitle to Harris’ The Moral Landscape (book) asserts — evidently mistakenly, in Coyne’s opinion.

    In His blog post dated November 27, 2015 and entitled “A disproof of objective or “scientifically based” morality”, Coyne points out the difficulties — in Coyne’s opinion insuperable — in formulating any purportedly ‘scientific’ system of morality based on maximising the well-being of all sentient beings:

    When thinking about how to judge human versus animal suffering, I realized that there’s no objective way to do this, and that when trying to figure out how to treat animals, we must ultimately rely on subjective judgment. While science can help us make such judgments, it cannot give us objective answers, even in principle.

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/a-disproof-of-objective-or-scientifically-based-morality/

    Coyne isn’t thinking only about the impossibility of scientifically maximising the well-being of animals, but also about the impossibility of scientifically maximising the well-being of humans:

    Or if, like Sam Harris, you think that “well being” is the objective criterion for morality, so that the most moral act is the one that maximizes overall well being, then your difficulty becomes this: how do you determine the relative weights of animal well being versus human well being? Science can’t answer such a question because we have no idea how to quantify well being among species, which depends on knowing how an animal subjectively perceives and values its existence. (I also question how science can judge the relative weights of different kinds of human well being, but I’ll leave that aside.)

    Well, Coyne didn’t actually leave aside the unlikelihood of anyone ever being able to scientifically maximise the well-being of humans, did he; Coyne made his disparagement clear, then merely didn’t go into further detail.

  43. Dhay says:

    I see that Project Reason has completed another two stages of shutting down completely.

    Its Forum — formerly still accessible by those who knew the web address, though official links to it were removed a while back — has now been officially merged into the Sam Harris website’s Forum, says Harris website moderator Travis Smith:

    Posted: 09 December 2015 04:01 PM
    Hi folks.
    We’ve merged the Project Reason forums with the Sam Harris forums.
    If you had a Project Reason account, it was moved over. If you had accounts on both with the same email address, they were merged.
    All the posts from Project Reason are now available here. …

    And it’s no longer soliciting new donations and new monthly donations.

    For those who bother to see what remains, it’s now but a Home page which does nothing but link to an About page comprising its charity aims, trustees and advisory board members. Presumably everything will disappear once Project Reason has wound up as a charity.

  44. Dhay says:

    > 4. He received his PhD through partial funding from his own atheist organization.

    An update on Project Reason’s first year: it received one or more donations totaling $125,000 during 2008, and had spent $53,242 by year’s end, leaving $71,758.

    http://www.guidestar.org/PartnerReport.aspx?Partner=networkforgood&ein=26-1643643

    As reported above, this $125,000 — a very round number, I note — was received well before the May 2009 date when The Reason Project opened its website to donations.

    The evidence is circumstantial, but pretty conclusive, that The Reason Project (hence its successor, Project Reason) was set up as a tax-efficient means of covering funding gaps to enable Sam Harris’ PhD research to proceed and continue.

  45. Ron Chu says:

    Having a research assistant actually run the experiment is not uncommon. I’m personally finishing a PhD in neuroscience, and while I’m running my own experiments, I know many graduate students have assistants conduct the experiment. For the most part, testing participants is fairly straightforward, and consists of some debriefing, prep and monitoring. Typically, undergraduate volunteers can be trained to do this in a couple of weeks. The true value that a neuroscientist brings is in the experimental design and analysis.

  46. John Smith says:

    I have a Ph.D. in a STEM field (chemistry) from a large state university like UCLA. Perhaps I can shed some light on whether the issues you’ve raised indicate any devious or unethical behavior.

    First, regarding project reason. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a grad student providing his/her own means of funding, whether directly out of pocket or by raising them from some other organization. If Harris had simply written a check directly to the account holding his graduate advisors research funds, there would be nothing wrong with it. In fact universities and graduate advisors would be absolutely delighted if it happened more often. There is also nothing wrong with creating a third party non profit organization and transferring the funds through it.

    Second, if you think the quality or quantity of Harris’s research did not merit a PhD, that’s between him, his graduate advisor, and his research committee (usually comprising 3 or 4 faculty.) Usually a graduate advisor has total say over how much/little is required to graduate. While most advisors demand a tremendous amount of results requiring many thousands of hours of work, they don’t have to.

    Third, non-research requirements for a PhD are usually rather simple. Typically the requirements are: take a handful of courses over the course of 2-4 semesters, pass a number of exams, give one or more oral presentations, etc. The non-research component of a PhD is a tiny fraction of the overall effort required.

    Nothing you’ve mentioned in this article raises any red flags with me.

    I hope I was able to shed some light.

  47. Michael says:

    I have a Ph.D. in a STEM field (chemistry) from a large state university like UCLA. Perhaps I can shed some light on whether the issues you’ve raised indicate any devious or unethical behavior.

    I never claimed any devious or unethicical behavior. Read the conclusion of the blog entry:

    So the next time you see Sam Harris being promoted as “a neuroscientist” so he can bash another scientist who is religious, remember Harris’s status as “a neuroscientist.”

    1. Since getting his PhD, he has conducted no scientific research.
    2. Since getting his PhD, he has taught no university/college courses in neuroscience.
    3. Since getting his PhD, he has devoted his efforts to his anti-religious think tank and publishing books, such as the one on using drugs and meditation to discover truths about our reality.
    4. He received his PhD through partial funding from his own atheist organization.
    5. He didn’t do any of the experiments for his own thesis work.
    6. His PhD thesis was about how science can determine what is right and wrong and he turned it into a book for sale.
    7. Since publishing his thesis/book, Harris has yet to use science to resolve a single moral dispute.

    This is the guy who postures as an Ambassador of Science when using his media connections to publicly mock other scientists who are religious.

  48. John Smith says:

    By the way – since you are concerned about people’s educational credentials and whether they’ve earned them, I suggest you take a closer look at Kent Hovind, convicted felon and founder of Creation Science Evangelism. While he claims to be a scientist, he has never earned a science degree. He education credentials include a PhD in education from Patriot Bible University, a correspondence school that does not have accreditation for science or any other nonreligious discipline.

  49. Kevin says:

    Never heard of Kent Hovind or his organization, but curious as to his relevance to Sam Harris.

  50. Doug says:

    Perhaps John might be attempting to associate Hovind and Harris?
    “Harris is to atheism as Hovind is to creationism” or that kind of thing…

  51. John Smith says:

    The author of this article sought to discredit Sam Harris’s claim that he is a scientist by attempting to attack the validity of his academic credentials. I thought the author might be interested in the story of Kent Hovind – a man who claims to be a scientist even though he doesn’t even have a bachelor’s degree in science. The only academic credentials Hovind does have are from unaccredited correspondence diploma mill type bible colleges.

    If you haven’t heard of him, it might be because he was just released from federal prison a few months ago, after being found guilty on 58 counts and serving ten years in federal prison. His crimes included tax evasion and threatening federal agents. His wife was also convicted but only served one year.

    Kent Hovind was the founder of Dinosaur Adventure Land and travelled the world lecturing on his own brand of young earth creationism.

  52. TFBW says:

    John, this blog is specifically about New Atheists, so Hovind is of no particular interest. We do appreciate your attempt to make Harris look better by contrasting him with a felon, implying the same contrast for the entire categories of New Atheists and Creationists, but it’s ultimately a distraction technique rather than a counter-argument, so excuse us if we more or less ignore it.

  53. Doug says:

    For what it is worth, a quick trip to the “search” button (top right corner of this page) tells us that “Hovind” has never been referenced on this blog. No doubt one could multiply many times over instances of questionable authorities on many topics… but with zero relevance.

  54. John Smith says:

    It comes as no surprise that Hovind hasn’t been mentioned on this blog previously. He was incarcerated in federal prison before this blog launched and has only recently been released.

    Furthermore, this blog is not concerned with calling out the hypocrisy, fraud, and illegal activity by prominent Christian charlatans. Try searching for Ted Haggard and Jerry Falwell. No hits.

  55. Doug says:

    @John,
    So why did you bring him up? Are you arguing against yourself?

  56. TFBW says:

    Nah, he’s just using the OMG LOOK OVER THERE technique to distract from issues he’d rather not be noticed.

  57. Dhay says:

    John Smith > Furthermore, this blog is not concerned with calling out the hypocrisy, fraud, and illegal activity by prominent Christian charlatans. Try searching for Ted Haggard and Jerry Falwell. No hits.

    You are of course free to start your own blog calling out hypocrisy, fraud and illegal activity. You can then have as many hits as your heart desires.

  58. Kevin says:

    This is a blog about the numerous failings of the New Atheist movement. At no point is the claim made that ONLY New Atheists suck.

  59. John Smith says:

    When you’re finished attacking the academic credentials of Sam Harris, perhaps you’d like to try your hand at a couple of other atheist scientists. Might I suggest you start with:

    Stephen Hawking, and

    Albert Einstein.

    Yes, Albert Einstein.

    I realize that god believers have been counting Einstein as one of their own all along (even though he was raised Jewish and certainly was never in any way a Christian), but his thoughts on god are quite clear from this quote:

    “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/science/2008/may/13/peopleinscience.religion

    Of course, academic credentials have absolutely nothing to do with whether or not god actually exists. You can only win that fight by having the best ideas. The atheists are winning.

    When you’ve finished attacking people’s credentials, perhaps you should try formulating better ideas if you wish to beat the atheists at their game.

  60. FZM says:

    You can only win that fight by having the best ideas. The atheists are winning.

    The Chinese Communist Party is certainly helping to swell the total number of atheists in the world; must be the quality of its ideology.

  61. Kevin says:

    “When you’re finished attacking the academic credentials of Sam Harris, perhaps you’d like to try your hand at a couple of other atheist scientists.”

    Why?

    “I realize that god believers have been counting Einstein as one of their own all along”

    Pretty sure everyone who frequents this site knows Einstein was not a Christian.

    “Of course, academic credentials have absolutely nothing to do with whether or not god actually exists.”

    This claim was never made. In fact, the only people who engage in this sort of argument are atheists. “97 percent of the NAS members are atheists!!”

    “The atheists are winning.”

    Empty assertion, one for which I have seen zero supporting evidence.

    “When you’ve finished attacking people’s credentials, perhaps you should try formulating better ideas if you wish to beat the atheists at their game.”

    I feel nothing but pity for anyone who believes the arguments utilized by New Atheists are anything but terrible.

    However, if you believe atheists have superior arguments, I would welcome your evidence supporting an atheistic worldview. Namely, an evidence-backed explanation for why matter and energy exist, and why this universe has properties enabling life and self-awareness.

    (In case it has to be spelled out for you, attacking Christianity does not in any way make atheism a reasonable position. You have to make a positive case for that. If you can’t, then attacking Christianity for being unreasonable is like a Coke drinker warning a Pepsi drinker that Pepsi has high amounts of sugar, so they should drink Coke instead.)

  62. Kevin says:

    “The Chinese Communist Party is certainly helping to swell the total number of atheists in the world; must be the quality of its ideology.”

    I’m certain John Smith is intellectually honest enough to not use demographics as evidence that atheists have better arguments.

  63. Doug says:

    First John Smith wanted to associate Sam Harris with Kent Hovind. Now he wants to associate him with Albert Einstein? Oh dear. This is an example of “having the best ideas”? Seriously?

  64. TFBW says:

    This is an example of blowing smoke: trying to get focus on anything but Harris’ paper-thin “neuroscientist” veneer. It’s what you do when you can’t actually refute the points being made: you try desperately to frame the issue as though it’s irrelevant.

  65. John Smith says:

    I addressed the issue of Sam Harris’s academic credentials on the merits:

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2015/01/07/neuroscientist-sam-harris/#comment-12014

    I gave my opinion regarding his academic credentials. What more is there to say?

    I am a PhD level scientist (chemistry) and I find the arguments of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins eminently persuasive.

    I am somewhat less impressed with Christopher Hitchens because he was more interested in whether or not deities are benevolent or useful to society. Those issues have nothing whatsoever to do with whether deities actually exist, so I don’t find them terribly interesting, but I generally agree with his conclusions.

    If anyone here can recommend some Theist speakers that can make a good case for their position, I promise I will watch some videos with an open mind. But don’t bother mentioning William Lane Craig or Dinesh D’Souza. I’ve already watched a lot of their videos and found them unpersuasive.

    Ive also read the theological writings of C. S. Lewis and found them rather hollow.

    And please don’t insult my intelligence by trying to push Chick Publications or other fundamentalist nonsense on me.

  66. TFBW says:

    I addressed the issue of Sam Harris’s academic credentials on the merits:

    And Michael responded to that, explaining why it missed the mark (by simply reiterating the conclusion of the original post). Since then you’ve been ignoring that, and trying to re-frame the argument in a manner that suits you and your desire to support Sam Harris. I’m disinclined to engage your other points, as that would constitute cooperation with your attempt to change the focus.

  67. Kevin says:

    i’ve never read any of Dawkins’ work in biology, nor have I read Harris’ work pertaining to neurobiology. As such, if those are the arguments you are referring to, I can’t comment.

    But, if you are referring to their anti-religious writings, then I have difficulty fathoming someone finding those arguments to be persuasive. I found them shallow and simplistic, full of fallacies, and just generally bad. If you managed to find those to be good arguments, then I’m definitely drawing a blank as to anything that you might consider with an open mind. I’d think the realization that even other atheists consider the writings and arguments of New Atheists to be awful – for good reason – would be a better starting point than anyone trying to draw you from Dawkins territory to believer.

    Evidence for atheism, that does not involve attacking alternatives?

  68. Michael says:

    The author of this article sought to discredit Sam Harris’s claim that he is a scientist by attempting to attack the validity of his academic credentials.

    Wrong. I do not question the validity of his PhD. You should take a few seconds to read the first paragraph of the blog entry, as that helps set the context. Note the two links in the first paragraph. If you want to attack me, it’s not a good idea to do it from a position of ignorance.

    I thought the author might be interested in the story of Kent Hovind – a man who claims to be a scientist even though he doesn’t even have a bachelor’s degree in science. The only academic credentials Hovind does have are from unaccredited correspondence diploma mill type bible colleges.

    I would fully agree that Hovind is not a scientist or a scholar.

    I am a PhD level scientist (chemistry) and I find the arguments of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins eminently persuasive.

    There is no evidence you are a PhD level scientist, so don’t expect anyone to think you are.

  69. Dhay says:

    John Smith > I am a PhD level scientist (chemistry) and I find the arguments of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins eminently persuasive.

    I am an educated layman, and I find argument by white coat — theirs or yours — unpersuasive.

    Michael > There is no evidence you are a PhD level scientist …

    John Smith > If anyone here can recommend some Theist speakers that can make a good case for their position, I promise I will watch some videos with an open mind. …

    Evangelists are two-a-penny when you seek them out — hint, they are often associated with churches; but evangelisation of John Smith is something that he apparently expects this website, and its owner and responders to attempt. A little reading would quickly disabuse John Smith of the idea that anyone here would attempt that, so he evidently hasn’t done that basic reading to find out what this site is about. John Smith has PhD level intelligence?

    Then there’s the question of John Smith’s sincerity or otherwise in seeking “a good case for” Christianity; many newcomers have attempted to set up an “it’s your job to convince me” show trial, with themselves as the prosecutor and judge, and have attempted to waste our time before they deign to pronounce their, er, totally fair, impartial and authoritative final verdict; it would be unintelligent of any of us to accept that role of show trial defendant, and it is unintelligent of John Smith to expect any of us to. A little reading would quickly disabuse John Smith of the idea that anyone here would bite, and Michael (the site owner) has often explicitly rejected show trial attempts, so John Smith evidently hasn’t done that basic reading to find out what this site is about. John Smith has PhD level intelligence?

    Hint: the site’s not about Kent Hovind, Jerry Falwell etc; and it’s not about whatever else your personal obsessions might turn out to be. Please do attempt to at least fake PhD intelligence.

    John Smith > And please don’t insult my intelligence by trying to push Chick Publications or other fundamentalist nonsense on me.

    You insult our intelligence — and your own — by suggesting that we would. You have searched this site for references to Kent Hovind, Jerry Falwell, Ted Haggard and “the hypocrisy, fraud, and illegal activity by prominent Christian charlatans”, and presumably you have had the intelligence — or perhaps not — to also search for “Chick Publications or other fundamentalist nonsense”: as you yourself have said, “No hits.” Yet you clearly seem to assume, contrary to both evidence and lack of evidence that we are fundamentalists. John Smith has PhD level intelligence?

    Finally, but perhaps most telling, here’s someone who wants us to make “a good case for” Christianity by presenting YouTube videos; and by the look of his pre-emptive dismissals, that’s all he’s prepared to accept. John Smith has PhD level intelligence?

  70. Dhay says:

    John Smith’s first response here was genuinely informative (like Ron Chu’s, immediately above it), and was and is a useful addition to this thread; after that the response quality plunged: reading wildly over the top crap like “please don’t insult my intelligence by trying to push Chick Publications or other fundamentalist nonsense on me”, I assess that as coming from a kid out for a laugh, jeering, prodding outrageously for an outraged response.

  71. Kevin says:

    That’s because the first response was the only one on topic. Then it devolved into the typical New Atheist strategy of trying to insult Christians and demanding we meet his personal burden of proof, which no doubt will require some sort of scientific evidence that can be duplicated and documented in any lab and published in a peer-reviewed journal. Anything short of that will be dismissed out of hand prior to any actual consideration, and we will once again hear how atheists have the better arguments.

    At least, that’s how the typical Dawkins or Harris acolyte would proceed.

  72. Dhay says:

    It’s interesting to look back through threads like this; you discover new angles on old discussion points.

    In a response above I documented that soon after publication of Sam Harris’ book, a Salon interviewer asked Harris, “What’s a concrete example of how science can answer a moral dilemma?”

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2015/01/07/neuroscientist-sam-harris/#comment-9967

    Although asked for a concrete example of how science can answer a moral dilemma, Harris instead provided a concrete example — rape and machete killings in the Congo — that certainly doesn’t need science to decide its immorality; Harris gave an example, not of “science could” or “science can”, but of “science doesn’t even need to”, or “it’s blindingly obvious without involving science in any way.”

    This was neither a scientific answer nor even a rational answer to the interview question asked.

    In his thesis and book Harris made strong and definite claims that “science could” in principle and “science can” in practice determine human values. So far as I know, Harris has even now, years later, failed to provide any examples of either.

    Harris had spent the previous few years writing a PhD thesis entitled The Moral Landscape: How Science Could Determine Human Values and writing a popular-level book entitled The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. After several years of PhD-level deep thought and extensive deliberation, Harris should have been able to immediately trot out one or more examples, examples selected from what really should have been many carefully thought out prepared examples.

    But Harris ducked the interviewer’s obviously-forseeable request, one that he had had years to prepare for. The obvious conclusion is that Harris couldn’t answer the interviewer’s request for an example, and knew he couldn’t, hence the evasive non-answer.

    The next obvious conclusion is that Harris’ strong claims were lies — if he could have supported them, he surely would have, he was certainly asked to.

    And the next obvious conclusion is, Harris lied. Knowingly. Deliberately. Looks very much as though Harris is a liar.

  73. Caleb Greenwood says:

    I don’t see a problem with his credentials. In my memory of his talks and debates, Harris never flaunted his degree as a show of power; my impression is that he understands it to be nominal.

    There’s a panel discussion with Deepak Chopra where credentials come up, as Deepak was asserting his own multiplicity of degrees. I believe it was Harris who replied – and I paraphrase -“the degree doesn’t matter; we’ve all done our own studies; what matters is if what you’re saying is true”.

    Out of the works of Harris I’ve read, the only time when I think a neuroscience degree would be relevant would be for his book on freewill, but I don’t think active experiment experience would matter for the arguments to be valid.

  74. Michael says:

    You should click on the first link of the blog entry.

  75. TFBW says:

    @Caleb Greenwood:

    Harris never flaunted his degree as a show of power …

    Where on this page does anyone claim otherwise? Quote the statement with which you are disagreeing. You’re either addressing an imaginary argument, or you’ve paraphrased something beyond recognition.

    The core problem is not that he “flaunts his degree as a show of power”, but that he uses the label “neuroscientist” to generate an aura of scientific authority when his actual status as such is nominal at best.

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