Tuesday, January 31, 2012

House did not do the research

Written Jan. 24:
House recently aired an episode called "Better Half", which features an asexual couple.  Here's a sneak peek and full episode on Hulu.  Reportedly, its portrayal was very negative.  So it's time for another case of "Let's watch TV and judge its sensitivity to marginalized groups".  Order!  Order!  But before I watch the show and write the second half of this post, I have some preliminary comments:

1. I am a fan of House.  It is literally the only TV show I watch.  Therefore, I'm inclined to be forgiving of the show, and might not agree with the negative reports.

2. Sometimes people assume that Dr. House is always in the right.  Sort of the whole point is that House is a diagnostic genius, and sees through a lot of BS in society, but he can also be blind to his own BS. Typically, none of the characters in the show are completely right, they just represent different perspectives.

So for example, I found a complaint about an episode where House gets it wrong on Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome.  But it's unclear to me the degree of wrongness, because the complaint focuses mostly on House's behavior.  Is it bad because of poor research, or is it bad because no other characters offer more positive opinions, or is it bad because viewers are likely to agree with House regardless?

3. Sometimes people expect characters of their minority group to be perfect angels.  But that doesn't work in a story.  In fact, it would stand out in a show where "everybody lies".  Therefore, I will be tolerant of some degree of lying/drama/character development on behalf of the asexual characters.  But if the asexual characters are wrong, they should be wrong in a non-stereotypical, unpredictable way.  For example, instead of, "After trying sex, I decided I was really a nymphomaniac with repression issues", it would be better if it were, "I was wrong to be so defensive about my hormones, because it turns out I have high testosterone, unrelated to my orientation."

 Written Jan. 31, after watching show:

Conclusion (no spoilers):
Yeah, there's really no way for me to see this story in a positive light.  It's not just Dr. House being the person he is, but the factual events in the show not reflecting the reality of asexuality.  Instead, the factual events played into a few common myths about asexuality, meaning that the writers failed to understand just how insensitive the narratives were.  Lastly, while different characters offered different perspectives on the asexual couple, the "positive" perspective from Dr. Wilson was patronizing, and effectively a strawman.

Otherwise, the episode was okay, as far as House goes.

Spoilers below

In this episode's side story Dr. Wilson has a married patient who claims to be asexual.  Upon mentioning this to Dr. House, House bets that he can find a medical cause.  So far, nothing wrong, since that's just what House would do.  The problem is that, in this fictional universe, House turns out to be right.  The wife had been lying to her husband for the last ten years, I guess because she believed this was necessary to make the marriage work.  The husband has a brain tumor which lowers his libido and causes erectile dysfunction.

The biggest factual error here is equating asexuality with low libido and erectile dysfunction.  Your typical asexual has typical libido, typical sex drive, and does not have erectile dysfunction.  To spell this out, imagine someone who has fully functioning sexual arousal, but gets aroused at random intervals rather than when seeing someone attractive or even being with someone they love.  Or imagine someone who gets physically aroused but doesn't connect this experience with interpersonal intimacy.  If an asexual has low libido or erectile dysfunction, that would be unrelated.

In the real world, the asexual guy would have pointed out to House that his asexuality was unrelated to his libido (or better yet, point out that he already had a functioning libido).  But I guess the characters in the show can't have any more of a clue than the writers do.  Too bad, the extra twist would have made the story more compelling.

The worst part about it is that the factual inaccuracies play into myths about asexuals which people are already inclined to believe.  Asexuals are either lying, deluded, or sick.  Something must be wrong with their brain or their dick.  The show referenced other narratives, such as hormonal problems or childhood abuse, which I took to signify that the writers did some minimal research.  But apparently not enough.

However, I must reluctantly give points for wife's non-stereotypical motivations for lying.  As far as I know, asexuals are not commonly accused of lying about their sexuality in order to maintain a relationship with an asexual partner.  I mean, that just comes out of the left field, and wasn't explained very well.  And for ten years too.  It's a "delightful" inversion of the myth that asexuals are hiding themselves to trick sexuals into bad relationships.  Only it makes even less sense.

One of the things I like about House is that each character will offer a different perspective on any given issue.  It's fun to watch the perspectives interact and collide, while simultaneously developing the characters.  Since it was only a side story, only a few characters commented.  Probably the most positive was Dr. Jessica Adams, who went so far as to suggest House could be wrong.  And then she casually gave up that line of thought because of a one-liner from House?

The other perspective came from Dr. Wilson.  Wilson just didn't want House messing with his patients' marriage, and thought it might be better to leave them happy as they are.  He says it's destroying a person's identity, like proving to a gay man that he's straight.  He thinks they were happy, even if it was based on lies.  I think this is completely patronizing.  I don't want people going around trying to disprove my asexuality, but this isn't because I'm afraid of the truth.  It's because people are generally ignorant and think they can disprove it when they can't.

Wilson's perspective on this issue is in character for him.  But the way it's written, the conflict is, "Should we let them live a lie, or tell them the truth?" when the conflict should be "Are we really disproving a person's orientation, or are we just biased by our prejudices?"  The very framing of the conflict is all wrong.  I'm not convinced the writers know what a positive perspective on asexuality even looks like.

Other perspectives on this episode.
There is also an ongoing petition.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The relatively prime graph

Wow, it's been some time since I've posted a puzzle!  Here's a simple pure math puzzle off the top of my head.

Back in middle/high school, I would kill time in classes drawing graph of all the points (n,m) such that n and m are relatively prime.  Relatively prime means that there is no integer greater than 1 which divides both n and m.  The graphs would look something like this:

The black squares represent (n,m) where n and m are relatively prime, while the white squares represent (n,m) where n and m are not relatively prime.

The question is, can you find a 3x3 white square somewhere in this graph?  In other words, find N and M such that (N,M) are not relatively prime, nor are the eight surrounding pairs, (N-1,M-1), (N,M-1), (N+1,M-1), (N-1,M), etc.

It's not a particularly elegant problem, but think of it as open-ended.  There are many solutions, and many methods will work to find them.  Can you find one?

solution posted

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Superconductors: a picture of progress

In any introduction to superconductors, you can find a brief explanation of the history.  The first superconductor ever discovered was Mercury, which only superconducts below 4.2 K.*  As more superconductors were discovered, this temperature slowly increased, but theory predicted it would never grow beyond 30 K.  And then in 1986, there was a breakthrough and high temperature superconductors were discovered!

*K is a unit of temperature relative to absolute zero.  Room temperature is 290 K.

My favorite part is always the timeline, which shows the critical temperature (Tc) of superconductors vs time of discovery.  It sort of looks like you could fit it with an exponential curve:

But the exponential fit is highly misleading!  If it were really following the exponential curve, we'd have discovered superconductors that work even at oven temperatures.  The real progress looks more like this:

If anything, this looks more like a logistic function.  But if it's a logistic function, that implies that we're hitting a limit on high temperature superconductivity.  I'm not sure about that... we could have another breakthrough around the corner.

It sort of looks like the field of superconductivity has had large periods of stagnation.  But this is not true!  It appears like there's hardly any progress from 1941 to 1968, but in fact 1957 was when BCS theory was proposed as the explanation for superconductivity.  That's a huge step of progress!

The lack of progress after 1986 is also illusory.  A lot of progress was made in characterizing high temperature superconductors, as well as finding technological applications.  And in 2008, a whole new class of iron-based superconductors was discovered, but isn't shown because it has a lower Tc than the copper-based superconductors.

I feel like this is a little lesson in predicting scientific progress.  It is true that there is always progress, but if you look at any particular aspect, say the highest temperature superconductor, it does not progress the way you expect!  Sometimes progress comes in jumps and spurts.  And sometimes progress comes in the form of understanding the obstacles to moving forward.  The question isn't necessarily, "How can we overcome these obstacles?" but instead could be, "Is it even possible to overcome these obstacles?"

A note on the graphs: I gathered the data points from various sources (mainly Wikipedia).  However, I may have missed a few superconducting materials, and not all sources even agree on the dates and temperatures.  Therefore, I will not vouch for the accuracy of every detail, and I don't care to list the materials, dates, or temperatures.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Science vs Acne: followup

Some time last year, I talked about doing "an affectionate parody of science" by half-assing an experiment with acne treatments.

On one side of my back, I tried using hot pads.  On the other side I used some acne medication.

So it turns out that hot pads might be effective, but they're too much work!  I'd have to heat up some water, then pour it on the pad, and hold it against my back for the small window of time when the pad was neither too hot, nor too cold.  This window was shorter than three minutes, so I'd have to repeat a few times.  And then I'd have to do it again for each pad-sized unit of area on my back.  In practice this meant that I gave up on hot pads entirely after a few weeks.

The acne medication, on the other hand, appears moderately more effective than hot pads (or no treatment).  The medication I was using was tea tree oil.  That sounded really dubious to me, so I didn't expect it to work, but it did.  Apparently, it's a legitimate acne medication, shown to be about as effective as benzoyl peroxide.

As I said before, I drank some "skin detox" tea so that I could later find some excuse to credit the tea instead of crediting the actual acne treatment.  It seems hard to believe that drinking this tea could continue to have an effect for two months, (but only on the side of my back with the tea tree oil, and not during the winter break when I stopped using tea tree oil).  But the facts speak for themselves!  A single empirical observation trumps all the theoretical arguments in the world.  It's herbal tea, man.  Goodness is real nature, or so the tea told me.

More seriously, I drink a lot of herbal tea, but not because I think it's healthy.  Technically speaking, herbal tea is just tea that's not made from the herb Camellia sinensis.  It's made from other plants, such as chamomile or chrysanthemum.  Chrysanthemum tea is great.  In an alternate universe, we would call chrysanthemum tea tea, and all other teas herbal teas.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Math-ive attack

Warning: this post is part of my quest to find increasingly ridiculous excuses to talk about math.  But first, some music.

When listening to Massive Attack's song "Future Proof", the part that stands out to me are those beeping sounds that continue through the entire song.  Most of the time, the beeps cycle quasi-randomly between three pitches in some kind of inscrutable arpeggio.

So the question is, does the sequence of pitches actually come from a random number generator, or does it just sound random because it goes by so quickly?

I wouldn't put it past artists to use randomness in their music.  I swear, some of the other bands I listen to must compose lyrics by pulling words out of a hat.  And if Wikipedia is to be believed, there is a long history of using chance in musical compositions, and the practice is known as aleatoric music.

On the other hand, humans are terrible at generating and recognizing randomness.  Maybe the composer wrote a sequence of pitches that seemed random to them, but which does not resemble a typical randomly generated sequence.  Or maybe it's not even meant to sound random, but sounds random anyway because humans are so terrible at recognizing it.

Perhaps this can be cleared up if I transcribe a small segment of the music.  The following represents the sequence of pitches starting at 3:35, until the chord change at 3:41:

3223 2132 1232 1132 1232 1323 2123 2132

(Note: If a note is of double length, I'm transcribing it as a repeated note.  I can't guarantee that my transcription is free of errors.)

Now that we have a transcription, it's an open-and-shut case.  This sequence was probably not created by a random number generator.  If it were randomly generated, you would expect about a third of the numbers (give or take a few) would be followed by a duplicate.  In other words, there should be a lot more double-length notes, and probably even some triple-length notes.  Here is a randomly generated sequence for comparison:

1131 2131 3133 3121 3133 1112 3311 1213

Observe that there are three doubles and three triples.  Massive Attack's sequence, on the other hand, only has two doubles.

You might also observe that the randomly generated sequence has sixteen 3s, four 2s, and twelve 1s.  This may seem strange, since you would expect each digit to appear about ten or eleven times.  But that's just the way randomness goes sometimes.  But if we accept that randomness sometimes produces outliers, shouldn't we also accept the possibility that randomness produced Massive Attack's sequence even though it includes only two doubles?

The answer is that we are using trickier reasoning here than it may first appear.  A true random number generator is equally likely to produce any sequence of 32 digits.  A random number generator is no more likely to produce the sequence I showed than it is to produce Massive Attack's sequence.  Our reasoning really has to do with what sequences are most likely to be produced by a human.

And the thing is, we don't really know the probability that a human will generate any given sequence.  There are 3^32 sequences, and it's just not possible to collect that many statistics.  So the first thing we do is we classify those sequences by some simple property.*  For example, I chose to classify the sequences by the number of doubles and triples.  The idea is that instead of 3^32 different sequences, we just keep track of the set of sequences with one double, the set of sequences with two doubles, and so forth.  It's (somewhat) well-known that when humans try to imitate random number generators, they tend to underestimate the typical frequency of doubles and triples.  So if a sequence has relatively few doubles and triples, that tends to support the hypothesis that it was a human imitating randomness.

*This is much like the way we group microstates together into macrostates in order to define entropy. [/physics]

Note that we can come up with more hypotheses to explain the sequence.  For example, perhaps they used a random number generator, but ignored most repeats.  Or they could have used a random number generator in some other way.  This would be difficult to disprove.  However, I believe in a fourth hypothesis, which is that it's meant to sound wandering and mysterious, but is not meant to imitate randomness.  I observe that the transcribed sequence has three copies of the sequence 3212321, which is the kind of pattern that seems very unlikely to be produced by a random number generator, but much less unlikely to appear in deliberately composed music.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Reflections on grad school

I am in my second year of a graduate physics program.  Students typically earn their PhD after five or more years.  In a few years, I will be at a completely different stage of research, and have a completely different perspective.  But right now, grad school is still somewhat "new".

My point of comparison is undergraduate university.  I thought undergraduate physics was really easy.  Obviously, I had many classmates who disagreed, which goes to show that my perspective is not necessarily representative.  But that was me.  I do very well in a class environment.  I never had to study for tests because I already understood the material from the time it was mentioned in lecture.

Grad school is not a class environment.  Or at least, not most of it.  I've been taking a few classes every semester, but they are not very important, and the grades don't really matter.  Soon I won't have any more classes to take.  At that point, I'll divert all my attention to research, which is the real centerpiece of physics graduate school.

My impression is that research uses a different set of skills from those used in classes.  It's hard to say exactly what that skill set is, but it includes self motivation, good communication skills, and good paper-reading skill.  For me, this is somewhat of a disappointment, because I may be great in the classroom, but I am only decent at research skills.  'Twas to be expected, since life isn't a series of lectures, but still.  I am most annoyed by all these papers.  There is something to be said for the compact and efficient way that physics papers present information.  But one thing I would not say for papers is that they are welcoming to people who are new to a topic.  I would have a much easier time of it if they were in lecture format.

I came into grad school wanting to do theoretical physics, but now I am doing experimental physics.  That's the way a lot of people do it, actually.  For whatever reason, incoming students' interests skew towards theoretical, even though there is more room in experimental.  An obvious possible cause is that theoretical physics is glamorous.  String theory and cosmology are also glamorous, and thus also overrepresented among incoming students' interests.  I've also heard it suggested that incoming students want to do theoretical physics because most undergraduate work is essentially theoretical.  Students want to do more of the same, and think theoretical research will fit.

Myself, I just liked the idea of solving mathematical puzzles.  I've been a puzzle enthusiast for a long time, as you know.  But I was open to the idea of doing experimental physics.  So I tried it.  And now I see there are a lot of advantages to experimental work.  And the thing is, I still get to solve puzzles!  Last semester, I spent a lot of time trying to explain a feature in our data.  I talked to a theorist about it, and he suggested a direction, but I still had to work out the rest.  It was quite satisfying.  This made me realize, experimentalists will always have an abundant supply of their own problems to solve, and theorists can't solve all of them.

I'm not sure what theoretical physics is like, but I suspect that it is not really much like undergraduate study after all.  They probably have to read lots of theoretical papers, which are like ten times harder to read than experimental papers.  And they probably do most calculations by computer modeling rather than pencil and paper like undergrads do.  And I bet it's more stressful because it's more competitive too.  Or so I imagine.

So yeah, I like where I am.  My advisor fits the "perpetually absent" archetype, which suits me fine.  I've met her several times, and she gives a great pep talk.  Most of the time I just refer to the other grad students and postdocs for help, and they are very helpful.  I have no complaints so far.  Let's see if that changes in a few years!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I'm an organ donor

Everyone should be an organ donor.  You won't need organs when you're dead!  And among the living, there's always a short supply of organ transplants.

I don't really know anything about organ donation that you can't learn on the internets.  But I'm enthusiastic about it.

For some reason, organ donation isn't an issue that skeptics talk about much, but it well could be.  Many people don't become organ donors because they believe in myths that aren't true.  My favorite one, because I used to think it was plausible myself, is the idea that doctors won't try as hard to prevent your death if they know you're an organ donor.  But now I realize that it doesn't pass the smell test.  Even if we thought doctors were completely irrational, it's not even the same set of doctors who check organ donor status.

Oh, and just to make things interesting, there's a strange relationship between religion and organ donation.  It turns out that most major religions* allow, or even encourage, organ donation.  And there are lots and lots of educational materials out there which say so.  Because people need to be informed about their own religious beliefs, or they might get them all wrong!

*The only notable exception is Shintoism.

But seriously, according to a study, 8% of non-donors in the US cite religion as their reason for not being organ donors.*  But it's not so straightforward as religiosity discouraging organ donation, because we're ignoring people who become donors because of their religious views.  Another study** found that stronger religious views were correlated with more positive attitudes towards organ donation.  I also found a paper which discussed multiple factors which may affect people's decisions, including a sense of spiritual connection with recipients, and a sense of spiritual concern for body integrity.  The paper finds that the former is correlated with organ donation among women, and the latter is anticorrelated with organ donation among men.

*Most people cite at least one of the myths about organ donation.
**Unfortunately, I don't have access this this paper, so I can't say much about it.  But it's based on 190 undergraduates at a small midwestern University.

So that's about all the statistics I found.  Draw your own conclusions from them.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Sexism, transphobia, and uncertainty

As you likely know, there is an ongoing discussion about how women can be made to feel uncomfortable in the atheist and skeptical communities.  A post on Friendly Atheist explains how the problem is not with single incidents of men flirting with the women:
Being propositioned ... or flirted with at a conference will not make most women feel devalued. Being propositioned several times, or feeling like most men only approach you for the purpose of getting in your pants, can.
This reminds me of an anecdote, which may seem only tangentially related.  I have a friend who one time told me about her experiences looking for women.  She said that she had been rejected many times because she is trans.  This is not too surprising, because plenty of lesbians and bisexuals are transphobic.  And even among people who are not openly transphobic, many of them still feel uncomfortable actually dating transgender people.

And I, ever the skeptical thinker, commented that in any particular case (excluding cases where people were being openly transphobic), there was no way of knowing that people were rejecting her because she was trans.  People could just be disinterested for whatever reason, and it doesn't even necessarily reflect on her.

But she explained to me, individual cases may be uncertain, but if you look at the whole series of rejections, it's reasonable to claim that some of them were caused by transphobia, though we may not know which ones.

I had been thinking of it superficially, looking at an individual case, weighing the evidence for and against transphobia, and I concluded it was uncertain.  But I should have thought about the deeper implications.  What do you actually do with this uncertainty?  Will you just sit back and take it?  Hope that everyone involved has good intentions, rather than concealing bad ones?

The uncertainty just makes it worse.  When every case is uncertain, you have no one in particular to blame.  You can't complain about any particular case without people dismissing the case as uncertain.  You can't complain about rejection, because by itself there is absolutely nothing wrong with rejecting a trans person.  The problem is in the pattern.

Similarly, by itself there is absolutely nothing wrong with hitting on a woman.  There are more or less awkward ways to hit on people, but if it were just a one-time thing, I think most women could tolerate being hit on in even the most awkward situation.  The problem is in the pattern.

And yet, every time the internet blows up over sexism, the focus is on a single case study.  What's up with that?

Friday, January 6, 2012

A new favorite blog

Queereka is a blog specifically about the intersection of skepticism and queerness.  I have been looking for a blog like this for years, and it's finally appeared as a new sister site to Skepchick.

(If you're wondering if it includes asexuality, the answer is that it has not been mentioned yet.)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Making fun of sexualities: godless edition

As I've said before, lots of people who are supposedly sex-positive aren't very good at it. Sometimes, they say stupid things which damage sexual freedom, because they just never really thought about it.

I think it is important to show specific examples of this, so I collected a few. These are not meant to be especially disgraceful examples or anything, just little examples that came to mind. All these examples come from the atheist community, not because atheists are the worst or only offenders, but to make it more relevant to all my atheist readers.

Christopher Hitchens, in his book God is Not Great, repeated the myth that Orthodox Jews are religiously required to have sex through a hole in a sheet. I looked this up, and Hitchens has since recognized that it is an urban legend, and removed it from newer editions.  Good for him, my respect for Hitchens just went up a notch.

But even if we believed the legend were true, why is that relevant?  So what if a group of people has sex through a hole in a sheet?  And if you're attacking, or even just joking about the "hole-in-a-sheet" practice, it will make kinky people feel unwelcome.

It sounds an awful lot like making fun of people for what you view as sexual deviancy.  In fact, that's exactly what it is.  The urban legend primarily comes from the non-Orthodox Jewish community as a joke at the expense of Orthodox Jews.  It's an old story: Group A dislikes group B, and then makes up rumors about the deviant sexual practices of group B.  If Hitchens had played his cards right, this would have been a great example of how religious affiliation poisons everything.

Here's another example, one that happened to me personally.  Friendly Atheist posted the results of OkCupid statistics, which showed how many people claim to have never masturbated, binned by religious affiliation.  Then he asked people to come up with amusing theories for the results.  This prompted many jokes along the lines of:
This chart can be more effectively broken down into two categories: Those who masturbate, and those who lie about masturbating!
Because anyone who claims to not masturbate is just being silly, and we should point and laugh at them.  I get that people lie about masturbating (and that this likely accounts for most of the poll results), but this is just incredibly poor taste.  People who do not masturbate usually grow up feeling ignored and erased.  And then when anyone finally acknowledges the possibility, they make a joke about it, and then a dozen more people jump in and make more jokes about it.  It is not a single joke which is the problem, it's the entire behavior pattern which is the problem.

When I reacted negatively, people offered helpful comments like this one:
Miller sounds a bit... backed up. There's surely something that could help that.
I said that I personally know people in the asexual community who do not masturbate.  This is a red herring, since asexuals aren't significantly less likely to masturbate (though perhaps they are more likely to admit not masturbating). But for whatever reason, people are more hesitant to make jokes when they realize they're making fun of an actual sexual orientation, something that people actually live through.  This is kind of stupid... what did they think they were doing?

My last example is when atheists (primarily liberals, really) attack Ann Coulter by insinuating that she is transsexual.  For an example, see virtually any liberal discussion about Coulter; it's about as likely as references to Hitler.  This one really pisses me off, and my mind drifts to the fact that people literally get murdered for being transgender.  Other people on the internet said it better.

Humorlessness is tough to sell, but making fun of sexualities is heartless, harmful, stupid, and I can't laugh at it anymore.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A jaded look at agnosticism

When I first identified as an atheist, I took interest in arguments over the definition of atheism and agnosticism.  But over time, I have come to hate these arguments.

I freely admit that not all of my hate is for good reasons.  For example, I hate the sheer number of cliched arguments involved.  I hate analogies about baldness, collecting stamps, and fairies.  I hate distinctions between lack of belief and belief of lack.  I hate arguments over negation and certainty, even if they happen to be good arguments.  As for this diagram...

 I have seen so many variants on this diagram.  (Source)
...I think it needs two more dimensions.
 The horizontal line in the middle represents people who think that there is no way to tell whether the diagram is or is not BS.  ...with apologies to the creator of the original.

These are silly pet peeves of mine, but I think there are also some good reasons to dislike arguments over atheism/agnosticism.  I believe that the arguments are mostly made of relative opinions.  That is to say, identifying as agnostic or atheist mostly has to do with how you see yourself relative to others.  Are you constantly bothered by those atheists, or are you sick of those agnostics?  It's all about who you want to use as a foil to yourself.

And since the arguments are primarily about your personal experiences and impressions of the other side, it all ends in stereotyping.

Supposedly, agnostics are accomodationists and atheists are more confrontationalist, and this stereotype is the basis of much defense and criticism of agnosticism.  But the stereotype simply isn't reflected in my personal experience.  Many agnostics I know are aggressive critics of religion.  I suspect this may be most true in the atheist community, where the agnostics are usually outspoken contrarians.  I do not think my experience reflects any general characteristic of agnostics, but it makes me think the stereotypes are unfounded.

Often, these stereotypes are encoded in the definitions.  For example, agnostics sometimes define agnosticism as lacking certainty about God.  The implication being that atheists are 100% certain and dogmatic, or they're too stupid to realize that they're actually agnostics.  Atheists sometimes use a broad definition of atheism, with the intention of arguing that agnostics are either religion-apologists, or too stupid to realize that they're actually atheists.

There's supposedly a substantive issue underlying atheism/agnosticism arguments.  That is, is the existence of god discernible?  Agnostics say no (unless you're talking about the silly sky-daddy kind of god).  Atheists say yes (unless you're talking about the useless deist kind of god).  This supposedly substantive disagreement, when properly understood, boils down to what kind of definition of god you think is most relevant.  That is to say, the disagreement is not all that substantive.  I'm not convinced that the substantive gap between an atheist and an agnostic is any larger than the substantive gap between two agnostics.

And I can't say I really care about this hair-splitting.  Virtually every other issue which people argue over, they don't worry about degrees of certainty.  For instance, why don't people argue over whether they're certain about the success/failure of the free market?  It's just this issue, and you hold one position or another, or you don't argue either way.

I identify as atheist because I wish to take a position against religious beliefs.  I don't identify as agnostic because that is a game I refuse to play.  When I find that other people identify as agnostic, atheist, or agnostic atheist, I don't ask why, because I'm sick of hearing about it.