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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
25977 Posts

Posted - 07/20/2009 :  20:10:04  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum (from here on, "M&K") have written a book, Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, ostensibly about the causes of, problems with and perhaps solutions for scientific illiteracy in the USA, but from the various reviews, it seems that M&K are short on evidence for their assertions, and bizarrely claim that PZ Myers is actively harming science literacy through his blog antics (especially CrackerGate).

Chapter One, "Why Pluto Matters," is available to read easily online at the book's website. And if you go to Amazon.com and click on the book, you can "search inside the book" for other text.

For example, you can search for "Webster" (without the quotes) and then read pages 95, 96 and 97 of the book (the start of chapter 8), about the "New Atheist" battle against religion (which starts off with a less-than-fair description of CrackerGate). Pages 98 and on are a little harder to get to (page 100 isn't included at all), but one can find M&K completely missing the point of the "New Atheist" movement, which is not to spark a fight between religion and science, but to eliminate or marginalize a major source of irrationality in the world ("rationality" is not synonymous with "science," but you wouldn't know otherwise from reading the book).

By portraying the "New Atheists" as championing science against religion, it is M&K who are setting up the false dichotomy they claim is being fostered by the "New Atheists." Science certainly can't replace all the "functions" of religion, but rational discussions of morality (completely severed from the false authority of any gods) seem not only possible but desirable, and generally have little scientific basis (right now). Do we need to consult either science or God when considering the morality of theft, or do we just need to have a rational discussion about what theft means in human terms along with when it's acceptable and when it's not?

The thoroughly idiotic claim that the "New Atheists often seek to collapse the distinction between methodological and philosophical naturalism" can be found on page 104. It shows clearly that M&K haven't researched their subject very well (and Mooney claims to be a journalist). But this sort of half-baked assertion gives the authors a springboard (or soapbox) from which to conclude that Richard Dawkins (specifically) is either making a philosophical error or is being a bully (talk about your false dichotomies!). (Mooney did issue an apology of sorts for mangling Dawkins' words in this section, but it fell flat for me.)

On page 105, the "belief in belief" begins (at least in Chapter 8, which mercifully ends on page 106). M&K call for "respect toward those who hold their faith dear" (ignoring the fact that we can respect people while disrepecting their ideas), thus enabling the fundamentalists at the expense of rationality and ensuring that whatever segment of the "liberal" theists falls for their condescention, we will still be faced with court battles over creationism in the classroom and the like, which waste valuable time and resources which could be spent on science outreach which doesn't kiss irrationality's ass.

I've only read about 18 pages of the book (which is why this isn't really a "book review"), and find many problems other than the above. The reviews and discussion of the book in the blogosphere isn't particularly re-assuring that the rest of the book is any better (especially the posts on M&K's own blog!!). What follows is a buttload of links to various posts, articles and reviews about the book and what's in it.

But l

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 07/21/2009 :  23:10:13   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Nice post, Dave. A lot of work here. You can probably guess my position, but Mooney has officially jumped the shark. Mooney consistently and deliberately misrepresents the arguments against his position, I'm assuming because he can't actually counter them honestly, and I've basically concluded he's a lying dirtbag. And as he's turning more and more people against him, he's increasingly becoming more and more irrelevant in the culture wars, which are going to happen with or without his permission.

He can't even meet basic journalistic standards any longer, like basing an entire argument on a gross misreading of the numbers. His also writes, bizarrely, that since investing heavily in the space race after the Russians launched Sputnik "something went very wrong" with science in America.
Science budgets stopped rising and began to fall. Educational investment also declined. Science became ensnared with politics, first the foe of the religious right, then something to be spiked at will by the Bush administration.

The space race wasn't political? But what Mooney really means by "political" is "socially polarizing," and of course it's scientists fault for picking a fight with the religious conservatives. If only scientists would have catered to the superstitious more this whole divide could have been avoided! Man, talk about a boot-licker. His entire "strategy" is one of fearful deference and non-confrontation. Count me out. I no longer cares what the man has to say.


"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
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filthy
SFN Die Hard

USA
14408 Posts

Posted - 07/22/2009 :  02:10:39   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send filthy a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I've been sort of half-assed following this and thus far am not impressed. Also, it has been my experience that if a book starts out medicior, it rarely ends any other way.

I'm going to have to get back to Dave's links, some of them, anyway (Yikes, there's a mess of 'em!), a little later; I'm off to Otter's house in a few minutes.

Hell of a good post, Dave!






"What luck for rulers that men do not think." -- Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945)

"If only we could impeach on the basis of criminal stupidity, 90% of the Rethuglicans and half of the Democrats would be thrown out of office." ~~ P.Z. Myres


"The default position of human nature is to punch the other guy in the face and take his stuff." ~~ Dude

Brother Boot Knife of Warm Humanitarianism,

and Crypto-Communist!

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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13458 Posts

Posted - 07/22/2009 :  08:40:03   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I too think Mooney's train has run off its rails. As has Nisbet's and a few others. To my way of thinking, it's not because they think a soft approach is the best one. That's up to them. It is argued that the approach they favor has been a complete failure. And that may be. (I get oochy about declarations of certainty.) But that's not their biggest crime. What blows my mind is their constant attacks on those who would dare to try something different. As though they have the market cornered on good ideas. They have dug themselves in, gone on the attack, and in doing so they have made fools of themselves.

This whole war bums me out. We are being asked to chose sides or we are one kind of asshole or another. I sometimes feel like I'm being pushed by two camps that use the same Bushism, "you're either with us or against us". I see us as eating our own. Of course, at this point I wouldn't say Mooney or Nisbet represent my views in any way. I see them as bullies and not very smart ones at that.

I, for one, reject the new descriptive phrases that are supposed to define me and my worldview with regard to this war. Partly I reject them because it feels like they are being thrown at me. I have never been much of a joiner, and I have a problem with authority that goes back ages.

I will continue to think of myself as a "skeptic" first and foremost.

All that said, I think Dave has nailed it. And I keep thinking, it didn't have to be this way...

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
25977 Posts

Posted - 07/22/2009 :  10:13:43   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Thanks, guys. It was a lot of reading more than it was a lot of "work." It was very easy to get lost in the comment threads of some of the above blog posts, watching people eviscerate each other over semantics and/or perceived insults.

The truly ironic thing about all of this is that Matthew Nisbet, one-time framing guru to Chris Mooney, is soon to be publishing a piece which warns people away from the "fall from grace narrative" and says we shouldn't blame our current woes on science illiteracy. And despite whatever misgivings I have about Nisbet's version of "framing," at least he's supporting his arguments with references. Nisbet calls the idea that non-acceptance of science by the public should be blamed on the media or the ignorance of the public itself the "deficit model," and refers to it as the "traditional paradigm," as below:
The heavily referenced symbols in this traditional paradigm are popular science outlets such as Scientific American or PBS' Nova along with famous popularizers such as Richard Feynman and Carl Sagan. Often when the relationship between science and society breaks down, science illiteracy is typically blamed, the absence of quality science coverage is bemoaned, and there is a call put out for "the next Carl Sagan."

Deficit model thinking also includes a fall from grace narrative, with various mythmakers hyperbolizing that in contrast to today's culture of "anti-science," there was a point in the past when the public understood--and as a direct consequence--deeply respected science. In the United States, this so-called golden era is often described as the dozen or so years of the "Space Race," the period that stretched from the 1957 Russian launch of the Sputnik satellite to the U.S. lunar landing in 1969.
Am I wrong in thinking that Nisbet is more-or-less flatly contradicting Mooney, here?

More specific to Mooney's HuffPo piece:
In addition, no matter how accurately communicated and understood the science, policy decisions cannot be separated from values, political context, and necessary trade-offs between costs, benefits, and risks (Jasanoff, 2005; Guston et al., 2009; Pielke, 2007). [My bold.]
It's like Nisbet was reading Mooney's mind, and offered a pre-emptive, "you're full of crap" (Nisbet's blog entry on this is from July 9th).

Mooney's got a piece in the June, 2009, Discover magazine (which I'm just now reading) on the vaccination wars. Near the end:
But if the Internet has made it easier for pockets of antiscience feeling to grow and flourish, scientific authorities also deserve some of the blame. “I don't think they woke up that this was a serious problem until maybe 2008,” David Gorski says about the growing antivaccine sentiment. George Washington University's Hotez notes that “the office of the surgeon general, the secretary of Health and Human Services, and the head of the CDC have not been very vocal on this issue.” True, the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, and other governmental organizations feature accurate and up-to-date information about vaccine risks on their Web sites. But that is very different from launching a concerted communications campaign to ensure that the public retains faith in vaccination.

Some outspoken scientists may have actually increased the polarization on this issue. For example, calling those against vaccines “scientifically illiterate”—or, as CDC vaccine expert Stephen Cochi reportedly put it to one journalist, “junk scientists and charlatans”—may just lead to a further circling of the wagons.

The most promising approach to the vaccine-autism issue comes from the government itself. Consider the work

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
Visit Dave's Psoriasis Info, too.
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HalfMooner
Dingaling

Philippines
15831 Posts

Posted - 07/22/2009 :  11:34:21   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send HalfMooner a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Thank you very much, Dave, for all that research and for making it available to everyone in such a well-organized format.


Biology is just physics that has begun to smell bad.” —HalfMooner
Here's a link to Moonscape News, and one to its Archive.
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astropin
SFN Regular

USA
970 Posts

Posted - 07/23/2009 :  09:13:51   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send astropin a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Mooney's gone Looney (sorry, had to).

I would rather face a cold reality than delude myself with comforting fantasies.

You are free to believe what you want to believe and I am free to ridicule you for it.

Atheism:
The result of an unbiased and rational search for the truth.

Infinitus est numerus stultorum
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
25977 Posts

Posted - 07/23/2009 :  21:40:02   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Coturnix went to see Sheril at Quail Ridge Books, and says that she "ably fielded the questions afterwards." But he doesn't mention a single question she was asked, or her answer(s).

Like, just maybe, "what evidence do you have that the so-called New Atheists are causing people to turn away from science?" That would have been a nice one for which to get an answer.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
Visit Dave's Psoriasis Info, too.
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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 07/25/2009 :  22:18:05   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Dave W.
But he doesn't mention a single question she was asked, or her answer(s).

Like, just maybe, "what evidence do you have that the so-called New Atheists are causing people to turn away from science?" That would have been a nice one for which to get an answer.
Yeah, I was interested in checking back in a few days and seeing if any other posters would bother to press Coturnix on that a little bit and ask those questions. Three days later, there's a whopping two comments:
1
Congrats Sheril! That crowd looks great!
Posted by: Isis the Scientist | July 24, 2009 8:34 AM

2
Thanks so much to you and Mrs. Coturnix for coming out!
Posted by: Sheril R. Kirshenbaum | July 24, 2009 9:10 AM
So all we have is a thank you from Sheril herself and some vacuous ass-kissing by her annoying BFF Isis the Crisis, who totally got everything wrong when she tried to wade into the most recent blog wars by taking on ERV. Could there be any less support for that book at this point by regular commentators? I can hear crickets chirping.


"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
25977 Posts

Posted - 07/25/2009 :  23:27:06   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Damn you, H., I've just spent the last hour "checking back" with M&K's blog. Specifically, reading the comments in this stupid thread.

It is unbelievable (yet true) that people are still saying that the "anti-accommodationist" stance is that religious people can't do good science (and that people like Ken Miller provide an objective, empirical debunking of that idea, so the anti-accommodationists must therefore be completely irrational), and that the "New Atheists" are waging a science-vs-religion war.

It's so tremendously insane! These are people who obviously care about science and its communication to the general populace (otherwise, why would they be defending M&K's book?), but they seem to throw rationality and empiricism out the window when the topic of religion comes up. So much so that their main point of "don't be nasty" is utterly forgotten when it comes to the "New Atheists," who they think they can insult with impunity.

I don't bother with irony meters any more. Sure, Dembski and the IDists take a pretty hard toll on irony meters, but they've got nothing on these "be nice to others or I'll strawman you to death" idiots. They want a civil discussion, yet don't have the civility to get their opponents' views correct even in a big-picture sort of way. While the creationists are amusing, these folks almost cause me physical illness, since they're allegedly on "our side." Puke.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
25977 Posts

Posted - 07/27/2009 :  07:37:50   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Jason Rosenhouse now has Part 1 of a 3-part review up. In his own words:
There is too much to address in one post, so I will do three. In the first I will adress what I take to be the broad themes of the book. In the second I will specifically address Chapter Eight, which addresses the “New Atheists” and is, regrettably, wall-to-wall nonsense. In the third I will pick up a few odds and ends, certain discordant notes in the book which, while not really central to the book's main arguments, were nonetheless quite annoying.

...

Short review: Mixed, but generally negative. Much of the book is very superficial and I don't think their proposed solutions are practical.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13458 Posts

Posted - 07/27/2009 :  11:44:05   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Dave W.

Jason Rosenhouse now has Part 1 of a 3-part review up. In his own words:
There is too much to address in one post, so I will do three. In the first I will adress what I take to be the broad themes of the book. In the second I will specifically address Chapter Eight, which addresses the “New Atheists” and is, regrettably, wall-to-wall nonsense. In the third I will pick up a few odds and ends, certain discordant notes in the book which, while not really central to the book's main arguments, were nonetheless quite annoying.

...

Short review: Mixed, but generally negative. Much of the book is very superficial and I don't think their proposed solutions are practical.


Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media from Pew Research Center.

Not sure if I posted this survey before now, but it seems to me that just about all of Mooney's and Kirshenbaum's claims about the publics respect for science needs to be seen under the light of this survey. What becomes apparent in the results of this survey is that the public generally supports science. Scientists come in third, after members of the military and teachers as contributing the most to societies well-being.

The areas of contention like evolution, global warming and other headaches that we must deal with, have little or nothing to do with how science itself is perceived by the public. They really are religious or political issues, and pseudo-scientific claims that the media tangentially supports by not aggressively challenging them.

The survey supports this statement by Jason Rosenhouse in his review of Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future.

There is nothing either stunning or contradictory in any of that. There is no contradiction in saying that Americans are mostly favorable towards science, but also go South on a few specific issues.

Hostility toward evolution is not the result of some all-encompassing antipathy toward science. It is the result of certain very bad religious ideas that too often go unchallenged. Hostility toward global warming is not the result primarily of scientific ignorance. It is that there are powerful interests heavily invested in the status quo, coupled with the basic inertia that makes people reluctant to make major changes to their way of life.

Hostility toward vaccinations does stem largely from ignorance, but anti-vaccers are strongly aided in their views by an unscrupulous media (both traditional and new) that is willing to present uncritically the crassest sort of sensationalist quackery.

The point is that in those areas where we can say that scientific ignorance is leading people towards bad decisions and bad public policy it is because there are powerful social forces working very hard to make sure people remain ignorant. These forces, especially religion, the insatiable quest for short-term profit and ratings, and a basic social ethic that is geared largely towards relentless consumption, are far more prominent in the United States than in Europe. That is why we have these problems in greater profusion here than they do there.

Which means that the solution, to the extent that there is one, is to fight those social forces. Easier said than done.


So yeah, it would be great to have scientists speak out more on issues where politics and religion subvert what the actual science tells us, and for the media to actually report on what they are saying. But scientists are not the ones at fault with regard to those pesky

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
25977 Posts

Posted - 07/28/2009 :  21:53:59   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Only slightly related, but very funny, is Ian Musgrave's "It's all about Science Envy," in which Bill Dembski turns scientists into demigods with the power of the purse. Musgrave does mention the book, and Dembski's attitudes (and his audience) are a big part of the problem that the book is centered on, but these problems aren't going to be fixed either by making scientists into good communicators or by shutting up the "New Atheists." Since the ideas that Demsbki puts forward have all been put through the grist mill a few times by serious people making respectful arguments, and have all been found lacking support for a variety of reasons, it is already long past time to do what needs to be done: the ideas need to be loudly and continuously ridiculed, to the point where anyone who steps in front of a microphone (either literally or metaphorically) with the same ideas is treated as a clown.

The risk/benefit analysis seems to be clear-cut. If ridicule works, then over time, a larger and larger set of ordinary people will laugh the clowns off the stage, clearing the airwaves and the print media for serious people with serious ideas who aren't going to be laughed at (the Internet will never be kook-free). If it simply doesn't work, then we (the ridiculers) still have a fun time doing it. If (a big 'if') one of the ideas being ridiculed happens to turn out to be true, then we eat a little crow (big deal, we already admit that we make mistakes, it's the clowns who refuse to do so). And if (still the big 'if') the ridicule happens to delay acceptance of an idea, if it's true, it will eventually be accepted (see Wegener's Continental Drift and the 40 years of ridicule it got before the evidence was overwhelming). So I'm seeing a big upside, and a fairly tiny downside.

Okay, now that my proposed solution to at least part of the alleged problem has been presented (as if you didn't know already), here are more blog posts about the damn book and its fallout:
20090717 ??:?? — Key Steiger
     Making Science Cool Again

20090720 10:20 — Eric Berger
     Four decades after Apollo, how far have science and society split?

20090720 10:54 — M&K (at HuffPo)
     The American Science Deficit -- and What to do About it

20090720 11:00 — M&K
     40 Years After the Moon Landing: America's Science Deficit

20090721 06:47 — Jerry Coyne
     Chris Mooney on NSF funding

20090721 14:02 — Roger Peilke, Jr.
     A War on Science Policy?

20090721 15:00 — M&K
     Eric Berger on Unscientific America

20090721 16:15 — Greg Fish
     Blog wars: atheists, science writers and the war of words over scientific literacy

20090726 ??:?? — M&K (in the Boston Globe)

[The rest of the list was lost due to a database problem - Dave W.]

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
25977 Posts

Posted - 07/29/2009 :  16:04:57   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Jason Rosenhouse went to see M&K on their tour. Oddly enough, the things in his write-up that aren't about the book itself are the most interesting, like the math illiteracy example (and the reaction to it) and the discussion of Collins running NIH.

Rosenhouse didn't get a chance to ask M&K questions during the Q&A period, so, as he says,
So I didn't get to ask them something snotty, like, "What did PZ Myers ever do to you?"
A real shame, that.

And if anyone thinks that part 1 of his review was a little ambiguous, he says in this latest post,
...I didn't care for the book and thought it had quite a few problems.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
25977 Posts

Posted - 07/30/2009 :  09:29:29   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
ERV says, "Chris Mooney on InfidelGuy tonight."

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13458 Posts

Posted - 07/30/2009 :  10:30:23   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
As per our discussion last night in chat on what's going down on facebook with regard to Chris Mooney, there is this:

Chris Mooney is Not My Friend Anymore . by Barbara Drescher, on July 27, 2009

Chris Mooney took his ball and went home. And closed the blinds. But only to me.

I am, of course, talking about a Facebook relationship (I do not know him personally), which he ended after I dared to state that science illiteracy in America is not the fault of scientists as he and his co-author assert.

When I first met Mr. Mooney at a Skeptic Society Conference a few years ago, I thought he was a brilliant young man with a very bright future. My view today is very different, largely because of the manner in which he and his co-author, Sheril Kirshenbaum, have promoted their new book, Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future…


The article goes on to describe the gruesome details. On a side note, I weighed in on the same thread that Drescher is talking about, which happens to have been started by D.J. Grothe.

Seems that Mooney is not up for criticism anymore. And by cutting himself off from his critics, he is making himself irrelevant. At this point, he seems nothing more than a side show freak, only somewhat less interesting.

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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