Archive for January, 2010

They spelled Nevar wrong

January 31, 2010


Darwin Day petition

January 31, 2010

The people who organize Darwin Day are now doing this petition to encourage Obama to make Darwin’s birthday officially recognized. Here is the link to the petition where you can find the text of the proposed proclamation. And here is the text of the letter to which you’d be signing:

Dear President Obama,

As an American who values scientific inquiry and integrity, I urge you to issue a presidential proclamation recognizing Darwin Day on February 12. Darwin Day is celebrated every year on the anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday in 1809, and is a day in which people gather together to commemorate his life and work. Charles Darwin was the first to propose the groundbreaking scientific theory of evolution by natural selection—a theory that has done more to unify and bring understanding to the life sciences than any other—and Darwin Day is a celebration of this discovery and of scientific progress.

I believe that issuing this proclamation will send a powerful message that scientific discovery and integrity in our society are top priorities—priorities that are needed now more than ever as extremists with narrow ideological agendas are attempting to undermine science in our schools.

Please stand with me and countless others who value science and discovery by issuing the following or a similar proclamation on Darwin Day.

I don’t want to say for sure that this won’t happen, and probably signing it won’t change Obama’s mind on his consistent position of giving in to crazy and/or ill-informed people at every opportunity. But in the spirit of honest inquiry we’ll need real data to confirm that hypothesis, and we can’t get real data unless YOU AND EVERYONE YOU KNOW signs this petition.

JD Salinger (1919-2010)

January 28, 2010

Man, the old fogies have really been dropping like flies lately.

Has anyone looked into whether his death was… phony?

Pic of the day

January 28, 2010

The Republican response to Obama’s SOTU:

Look at this fucking lawyer commercial

January 28, 2010

There are a few things I love about this ad. Obviously the excessive explosions would be one. Another is how he seems to be totally oblivious to them. It’s as if his typical client were the runners-up in Death Race 2000 or government protected witnesses about to testify against mob bosses or something. “Yeah, we get these disfigured walk-ins who were blown up in comically excessive car bombs ALL THE TIME. We even have a special form for that I just gotta stamp. Shirley, can you bring a stack of P2-104s into my office please?”

And notice how he seems to be struggling to not move more than a few fractions of an inch in either direction. He’s probably afraid he’ll accidentally detonate yet another explosive which are apparently all over the place in Pittsburgh.

An update on the ‘MMR vaccines cause autism’ business

January 28, 2010

A while ago I wrote this generic thing about how vaccines don’t cause autism, and part of it dealt with the case of one Andrew Wakefield – specifically reports of him being a fraud who hid conflicts of interest and faked his data.

Now some kind of legal action against Wakefield is imminent. From The Guardian:

Dr Andrew Wakefield, the expert at the centre of the MMR controversy, “failed in his duties as a responsible consultant” and showed a “callous disregard” for the suffering of children involved in his research, the General Medical Council (GMC) ruled today.
Wakefield also acted dishonestly and was misleading and irresponsible in the way he described research which was later published in the Lancet medical journal, the GMC said.

The thing is that this is all happened in England. Meanwhile, Wakefield already moved over here to the colonies and is running a center for autistic children in Texas. And if the FDA or the NIH goes after him here, he’ll probably just pick up and move to South America and try to sell his quackery there.

This doesn’t even have much of an effect on believers either. They’re still backing him up:

The panel chairman, Dr Surendra Kumar, was heckled by parents who support Wakefield as he delivered the verdicts.
One woman shouted: “These doctors have not failed our children. You are outrageous.” She called the panel of experts “bastards” and accused the GMC of being a “kangaroo court”. Another shouted: “This is a set-up.”

This is the problem with injecting a conspiracy without evidence into these kinds of issues. No matter what evidence is presented and no matter what judgement is made against someone, they can always say that the lines of evidence presented are just another part of the conspiracy. Does taking thimerosol out of the MMR vaccine cause autism rates to decrease? Well, no, but that’s just because the conspiracy set it up that way. Does it look like Oswald shot Kennedy? Well, that’s just because the conspiracy wanted you to think that.

You get to have it both ways when you take that kind of position. So when Wakefield’s “research” was originally published, it was kind of taken seriously as possibly having some merit. To his followers, this vindicated Wakefield. Apparently there was no such thing as a huge medical conspiracy against Wakefield back then. And now when the real story comes out about how he acted unethically, that also vindicates Wakefield because it proves how desperate the conspiracy is to, you know, get him. That’s about as close as one can get to being absolutely close-minded because nothing can convince someone in that position to change their mind.

UPDATE: A media representative from the autistic children’s center run by Wakefield which I mentioned e-mailed me asking that I link to a press release they made in response to the GMC ruling, which is of course not hypocritical or anything at all because the alt med industry always cites their critics. Here is my response:

Sure, I’ll be happy to do that as soon as your organization starts linking to Science-Based Medicine and Respectful Insolence.

Seriously though, I think it’s enough to give your side of the story by citing Wakefield supporters cited in the Guardian article. Thanks


Still no word back…

UPDATE II: The Lancet has finally retracted Wakefield’s article which started this phony controversy in the first place.

Quote of the day

January 27, 2010


January 27, 2010

Criminals of the week

January 27, 2010

Pic of the day

January 27, 2010


Mark Twain takes on the snake oil salesmen of his time

January 27, 2010

Mark Twain was awesome. A lot of people date the beginnings of the modern skeptical movement at around the 1970s, when Paul Kurtz was starting CSICOP, Carl Sagan started making counterarguments to the claims of Ufologists, and James Randi started offering money to people who could objectively prove paranormal claims.

But it all goes back further than that and Mark Twain is a great example. He battled the emerging Christian Science school of faith-healing in a largely unknown book, was critical of religion in general in most of his works, and was even critical of belief in free will.

So back in 1905 a patent medicine salesman sent out a leaflet (p1, p2, p3, p4)advertising his “Elixir of Life” which proposed to be able to cure meningitis and diphtheria, among other diseases of “Human, Animal, and Fowl.” I guess today they call this stuff natural supplements which detoxify your body and stimulate the immune system. But they went even further in those days by calling it the “GIVER OF LIFE EVERLASTING.”

The huckster’s problem came when he didn’t notice a prominent name on his list of recipients to his advertisement – Mark Twain’s. Or maybe he was listed under Clemens then. Anyway, Twain decided to have his secretary take dictation on a letter in response. This secretary was apparently not chosen for the job due to her stellar handwriting, so there will be a transcript after the image of the actual letter:

Dear Sir,

Your letter is an insoluble puzzle to me. The handwriting is good and exhibits considerable character, and there are even traces of intelligence in what you say, yet the letter and the accompanying advertisements profess to be the work of the same hand. The person who wrote the advertisements is without doubt the most ignorant person now alive on the planet; also without doubt he is an idiot, an idiot of the 33rd degree, and scion of an ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link. It puzzles me to make out how the same hand could have constructed your letter and your advertisements. Puzzles fret me, puzzles annoy me, puzzles exasperate me; and always, for a moment, they arouse in me an unkind state of mind toward the person who has puzzled me. A few moments from now my resentment will have faded and passed and I shall probably even be praying for you; but while there is yet time I hasten to wish that you may take a dose of your own poison by mistake, and enter swiftly into the damnation which you and all other patent medicine assassins have so remorselessly earned and do so richly deserve.

Adieu, adieu, adieu!

Mark Twain

“An idiot of the 33rd degree” is one of those phrases that need to live on, so I think I’ll be borrowing that one from time to time. Anyway, Twain was probably a little agitated beyond normal by this particular ad since his daughter and son had both been killed by diseases which this product claimed the ability to cure.

Richard Dawkins reads his hate mail

January 26, 2010

This is pretty funny. It’s not very surprising that Richard Dawkins gets a lot of hate mail. Whatever you might think of him, he’s easily the most prominent atheist in the world and as such is an easy target for the religious nuts’ frustration with the popularization of freethought over the past few years. And even knowing that, it’s still funny to hear how worked up people get over this (let’s face it) nerd.

There is a good lesson to be learned here, for both Richard and the rest of us: Make sure to look both ways before crossing the street. You never know when a church van filled with atheist-hunting theocrats might be speeding around your neighborhood.

Pic of the Day

January 26, 2010

These are the tracks left by the Spirit rover on Mars.

Idiotic quote of the day

January 25, 2010

Usually I post quotes I admire by people I admire. This is the exact opposite. But first I have to give a little context.

This guy called Mike Adams runs this pro-quackery website called Natural News. Mike was in some kind of Twitter contest, which is serious business. PZ Myers noticed that some quacks like Mike were in the lead in the health category and encouraged his horde of followers to pharyngulate the polls in favor of Dr. Rachael Dunlop from Australia.

Well, it turns out that the people running the Twitter contest found that Mike’s votes were from new accounts on Twitter, implying at the least that his voters had signed up for Twitter exclusively in order to vote for Mike, which is against the rules. A less generous interpretation would be that they’re just sock puppet accounts.

So Mike Adams lost his shit over this internet contest and made some really funny/pathetic attempts at analyzing the methods and perspectives of skeptics. He claimed to have researched, but doesn’t cite any sources. Orac had a good way to describe it – he is a “pyromaniac in a field of straw men.” PZ also responded, as did Steven Novella. Everyone’s having fun with this Adams character’s apparent mental breakdown. Good times for all.

Now Mike has a new response to the responses, which is even more hysterical (in more ways than one). And here’s where we get to the idiotic quote of the day:

“One such skeptic accused me of being a quack because he said that I believe “water is magical.” Was that supposed to be an insult? I do think water is magical!

I think pregnancy is magical. Human consciousness is magical. Plant life is magical. And water is at the very top of the list of magical substances with amazing, miraculous properties, many of which have yet to be discovered.”

The thing is that we have a pretty good idea of how pregnancy, human consciousness, plant life, and water work, and none of those things require any magic to be explained. And on the latter “point,” (and I’m using that term in the loosest possible sense) I wonder how Mike here knows that water has these “amazing miraculous properties” if, by his own admission and in his own words, those same properties are “yet to be discovered.”

The problem with hypothetical properties which have yet to be discovered is that they appear in exactly the same way as properties which don’t actually exist, regardless of how magical and miraculous they might or might not be. What a sad and miserable existence this Mike person must have to need to believe in magic to have any meaning in his life at all – which is obvious from reading the rest of his gibberish.

Islam news

January 23, 2010

There have been a couple of interesting stories dealing with Islam and its impact on the law, and there’s really not much to say about either so I decided to cover them both in one post.

Muslim Clerics Seek Ban On ‘Funky Hairstyles’ in Indonesia


Dreadlocks and mohawks are all the rage in religious boarding schools throughout Indonesia these days, and so it must therefore be sinful and therefore needs to be banned according to some unnamed clerics in East Java.

Not all Muslim clerics are so enthused about this, though. There’s something called the Fatwa Commission, and its deputy secretary Aminudin Yakub had this to say:

“So far, we have not seen strong evidence to ban it… It could be discussed in future but right now it is not a priority.”

What’s funny is that this same institution found such immoral practices as yoga and failing to vote to be a priority, since they’ve already banned those, too. At least that’s what’s implied by the Telegraph article cited above. The wording in it is a little funny so it’s not clear if that’s the same Fatwa Commission or some other separate fatwa commission. Don’t you hate it when you confuse one fatwa commission for another?

Moaz Ashhabi sentenced to 1 year for falsification of the Koran

So Moaz Ashhabi is this Yemeni journalist who decided to take part in a discussion on the claims of divine nature of the Koran, which somehow has something to do with how it’s chanted. Anywho, Ashhabi wrote an article called “They Corrected The Koran,” which then translates to a year inside a Yemeni prison. And even that seems to be a bit of a plea deal since he’s apologized to pretty much everyone since he was under investigation.