News From Around The Blogosphere 7.30.08

July 31, 2008

There’s still no planet Starbucks but they can name a species -Remember that old sham years ago (it’s probably still around) where you were told that for a little money, you could get a star named after you or someone you loved? Well, that was bogus and in many cases the star you named didn’t even exist. But for the right price, you CAN name a new small species. Just don’t pick one of the names that are already names of species like: Mick Jagger, Marilyn Monroe, the members of the Sex Pistols, or the fish species dubbed beeblebroxi, a tribute to the character Zaphod Beeblebrox in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And finally, there’s actually an species named:

Is that the Virgin Mary on your restaurant floor drain or just rust?

-Classic case of pareidolia. I’m sure it’s not as tasty as the Virgin Mary on the grilled cheese sandwich:

Oh, and on a related note, here’s Jesus Cat:

Jesus Sucks -That’s according to a television comedy show host who commissioned to have an airplane fly across Toronto while waving a banner with those two words printed on it. Of course many Christians with no sense of humor are deeply offended.

Astrologer fails to predict Earthquake–there’s a shock for you:

Just when you thought it was safe to defile crackers again… -This really is the story that won’t die. Crackergate is back on! PZ Myers responds to another set of religious yahoos who can’t accept that we don’t have to show respect for their dopey sacred cows and that’s just the way the cracker crumbles.

Karl Giberson talks gibberish

-I know. I know. It was the best title I could think of at the time. Anyway, here PZ Myers presents his rebuttal of Giberson’s claim that atheist activists are fundamentalists of the religion of science. Yeah, like we never heard that shite before. It’s all part of the creationist Orwellian strategy of framing:

Religion is Science
Science is Religion

I’m calling bullshit!

Phil Plait’s follow-up comments about Ed Mitchell & the UFO believers -Phil addresses the logical fallacies of those who responded negatively to his blog about Apollo 14 Astronaut Ed Mitchell’s claims (also reported on here at Skepacabra) that he knows for certain that space aliens have been to Earth and that the government is covering it up.

Anti-vacciner booth infiltrate Netroots Nation -These vampires are everywhere. Perhaps it’s advisable to always carry a wooden stake and cloves of garlic for just this sort of occasion.

Most & Least Religious Colleges in the U.S. 2008 -Damn, NYU didn’t make the list of least religious! I thought I left a better impression. Oh well, at least New School, where I gained my graduate degree is on the list.

How Real Science Works -A great article that tries to demystify this strange thing we call science. So how does science work? I’ll give you a hint. It requires a lot of hard work and does not work by making shit up. Sorry creationists.

RationalWiki to the rescue -This is a great source of skeptical inquiry. Check it out.

And now a moment of science:

Did Dinosaur Soft Tissues Still Survive? -New research challenges suggests that the supposed recovered dinosaur tissue is in reality biofilm – or slime. Sorry again, creationists.

Possible ‘Sleep Gene’ Identified In Fruit Flies -In a recent study of fruit flies, researchers identified a gene that controls sleep.

Lost An Appendage? Grow Another -Understanding the molecular pathway responsible for limb regeneration in some animals is a research objective for MBL investigator William R. Jeffery, a former director of the MBL Embryology course and professor of biology at the University of Maryland.

You might be delusional if…

July 30, 2008

Belief in pseudoscience begets belief in more pseudoscience, folks. And after you’ve interacted with enough delusional people certain patterns begin to emerge.

So here are just a few tell-tale signs of delusion that I came up with. Feel free to make your own additions to this list in the comments section or argue against any of them. Some non-delusional people fit 1 or 2 of these, but I don’t think sane people should agree with too many more than that.

You Might Be Delusional If…
1. You think there’s a grand conspiracy where the whole government in general, the whole media in general, and/or a whole industry such as, say, the medical industry in general is really out to get us all for A. their own evil pleasure, B. to make profit and like The Underpants Gnomes from South Park have no clear Step 2, C. to control the world somehow, D. for reasons that don’t concern you as all that is important is that some authority figure or a small fringe group of authority figures tells you this is true while the overwhelming majority of experts deny these claims. Extra credit if when you mention the conspirators, you include the epithet “Big” in front of the group, such as “Big Pharma”, “Big Government”, “Big Media”, “Big Oil”, or “Big Underwear.”

2. You think there’s a grand conspiracy run by super geniuses who have successfully removed all empirical evidence of their crimes that fools virtually every expert but were stupid enough to leave just enough anomalies to have the “truth” exposed by a minority of people who have no expertise in any relevant field. And the amount of effort needed to cover up the crimes clearly would require thousands of obedient mystery henchmen all of whom are reliable enough to keep the secret.

3. You’re shocked that other people don’t find blurry photos/videos of the paranormal nearly as convincing as you do.

4. You consider lack of evidence for a conspiracy to cover up a crime or for the paranormal to be even more evidence that it’s real. After all, isn’t the file a little TOO CLEAN, almost as though conspirators snuck in and removed incriminating data.

5. You have an unhealthy obsession with the films “V For Vendetta” and “The Matrix,”so much so that you fill your Myspace page with iconography from the films.

6. Incidentally, you find yourself loving Ron Paul even though this is entirely unrelated to your particular conspiracy or paranormal belief.

7. You think everyone else is blind to the obvious truth and join a movement with the word “Truth” in the title so you don’t forget that you do indeed know The Truth.

8. The only videos favorited in your YouTube account relate to conspiracies, secret societies, the paranormal, alternative medicine, comforting self-help messages that explain how materialism (aka reality) is nonsense and you have the power to achieve magic with enough will power. Bonus points if those last type of videos cite Quantum Theory as the explanation for how this is possible.

9. You find yourself making more than one “Down The Rabbit Hole” reference to Alice in Wonderland a week or more than one reference to George Orwell’s 1984 a week, and in the process, devalue Orwell’s message.

10. You have an unhealthy obsession with many different “mysterious” conspiracies and paranormal phenomena that don’t necessarily have any connection to one another.

11. You’re convinced that making a series of outrageous evidence-less claims in all capital letters is a rational and convincing argument. (This one courtesy of a Myspace user named: “THEYRE LYING TO US!! 9/11 WAS AN INSIDE JOB”

12. David Icke and Alex Jones are your heroes.

13. Despite the fact that you’re certain you know there’s an evil conspiracy that has committed the worst crime imaginable and despite you’re knowing exactly who the culprits are, you still feel the best use of your time is to try to convince random people on the internet who don’t believe you that the conspiracy is indeed real rather than, say, actually trying to stop the evil conspirators by any means necessary.

14. You find yourself making similar arguments implicitly made here by a moon hoaxer (note: this is actually a rather lengthy response to a Moon Hoaxer by Tom Dickson).

15. Despite being absolutely convinced that your own government is involved in a grand conspiracy in which their evil and their power are shown to know no bounds, you still think it’s a good idea to keep living in your home in the very country where this government rules and continue to live a fairly normal life where you can easily be found while trying to expose the conspiracy on public forums on the internet, all the while not finding it at all odd that the government (who you believe has secret police) haven’t bothered to come after you to keep you silent.

16. Everyone who doesn’t agree with you or does not accept “The Truth” is either blind to the truth or part of the conspiracy. Bonus points if you use the word “sheeple” to describe the former.

News From Around The Blogosphere 7.29.08

July 30, 2008

TV watching possibly linked to autism –  “Cornell University researchers are reporting what appears to be a statistically significant relationship between autism rates and television watching by children under the age of 3.” This is the kind of thing you get when you confuse correlation with causation. You could make the same claim about the rise of the internet correlation with the rise of autism except for the fact that there is no proven rise in autism at all. We’ve broadened the definition of autism and made it more visible, but there still is no proof that autism is on the rise or that it is “an epidemic.”

NASA turns 50 Today! – On this day in 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law legislation creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. This is another example of why it’s important for a president to have an understanding of science. Just like presidential administrations have foreign policies, they have science policies. Presidents often make major decisions that have lasting effects on the direction of science.

City Workers in Birmingham are not reading this right now -The Birmingham City Council has installed blocking software on their computers that block out atheist websites. And atheist content isn’t alone on the blocked list. The following subjects are blocked: “witchcraft or Satanism” and “occult practices, atheistic views, voodoo rituals or any other form of mysticism”.

How YOU can put evolution back into museums -Colin Purrington provides a list of helpful ideas on how the average person can help promote further emphasis on evolution in museums. Remember: only you can prevent creationist nonsense! (Note: This is less likely to work in art museums)

Evolve-Eyes on History Channel Tonight -Okay, I’m a bit late in reporting it but I’m sure they’re rerun it. And I’ve already seen creationists slam it before seeing it, so it’s gotta be good! Biologist PZ Myers’ running commentary of the program.

NY Times op-ed calling for closer monitoring of UFOs -Oh yeah, we’ll get right on that. [rolls poorly evolved eyes]

An English Holocaust Denier In New York -Infamous Holocaust David Irving after being released from Austrian jail for the crime of “trivializing the Holocaust” (that for the record, is something I don’t think should be a crime), is touring the U.S. to spread his unique brand of nonsense and Anti-Semitism. Along for the ride is his friend and partner in crime, Michael Santamauro (owner of the New York-based roommate service, who specifically aided Irving in tricking a church’s priest into hosting the lecture by claiming the speaker was the leader of an anodyne “book club.” This news even managed to get The Huffington Post to take time away from their busy anti-vaccine propaganda, usually provided by David Kirby to publish an article by Max Blumenthal about David Irving’s recent visit.

Another important part that’s necessary to comment on is the role Christopher Hitchens plays in the story. Hitchens had in the past published what some have called a favorable article on Irving and Irving has himself claimed that he and Hitchens are friends. Apparently though, nobody told Hitchens this, as he’s written an essay where he rips Irving apart.

And now a moment of science:

Amazon Insect Diversity Due To Ice Age? -“Ice age climate change and ancient flooding–but not barriers created by rivers–may have promoted the evolution of new insect species in the Amazon region of South America, a new study suggests.”

News From Around The Blogosphere 7.28.08

July 29, 2008

The One and Universal Smokers Church of God -Yes, that’s right. There’s now a church devoted to smoking, which cafe owners have embraced to get around Dutch smoking bans. Because of course there aren’t enough churches already.

15 Films that Offended Religious Groups. -And ironically none of them was Deliver Us From Evil, the documentary which focused on a Catholic priest who raped hundreds of children and which the church conspired to cover up and help escape justice. Why would that offend them?

Discovery Institute nailed by Hitchens -After Christopher Hitchens talked about blind cave organisms and how they argue against linear progression in evolution, The Discovery Institute fired back with this best explanation. And well, their best explanation was pretty awful. This round goes to Hitchens.

Virgin Mary in sari and Joseph in loincloth and turban -Did I miss that chapter of The Bible? Well, George Carlin was right. The businessman doesn’t hold a candle to the religious. These are the tactics of the people who know the word of god? Really? Suddenly god’s looking like a used car salesman.

The Leviticus Challenge -Pastor Daniel Harrell of Boston’s Park Street Church decided to specifically follow the book (since it’s so often ignored in church) and have others do it with him. But what about all the stuff Leviticus is known for that talk about gays, avoiding women who menstruate, and animal sacrifices? Oh, they’re ignoring that part. Afterall, nobody expects someone who says they’re going to follow the entire book of Leviticus to actually follow the entire book of Leviticus. Don’t be silly. Have you read that thing?

Some intelligent design, huh -God must be getting sloppy in his old age. Behold! The Pig Monkey! Kinda cute. The article doesn’t mention any name for it, so I’ll make a suggestion. How about Ken Ham?

And now a moment of science:

‘Feeling’ Robots Learn To Read Human Emotions -“European researchers are developing robots in tune with our emotions. Feelix Growing is developing software empowering robots that can learn when a person is sad, happy or angry.”

News From Around The Blogosphere 7.27.08

July 28, 2008

A Saudi man has announced he will wait five years to consummate his marriage to a ten-year-old girl-Well at least she’s older than Mohamed’s wife.

Vaccine Nation -New anti-vaccine propaganda film that according to “Doctor” Buttar, is “From the award-winning director of The Drugging of our Children, Gulf War Syndrome: Killing Our Own and AIDS Inc. – comes the latest film of critical social importance: Vaccine Nation.” This filmmaker sounds very sane [rolls eyes]. And I wonder what awards exactly this guy has won. If anyone has any info on this film, please let me know. Thanks.

And now for a moment of science:

Watch A ‘New Star’ Make The Universe Dusty -“Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer, and its remarkable acuity, astronomers were able for the first time to witness the appearance of a shell of dusty gas around a star that had just erupted, and follow its evolution for more than 100 days.”

News From Around The Blogosphere 7.26.08

July 27, 2008

First, I’d like to thank the New York City Skeptics and Lori Lipman Brown of the Secular Coalition for a great lecture and The Skepchicks for an awesome after party.

And please check out the Action Alerts from the Secular Coalition and get involved.


Crackergate fallout -They failed to get PZ fired but sadly Webster Cook and his friend didn’t fare so well. Cook has been impeached and his friend Benjamin Collard is facing harassment and intimidation from their own school, the University of Central Florida. If you want to help fight this injustice, then register your complaint with the university’s president, John C. Hitt. Here is a copy of my message to Mr. Hitt:

I am deeply saddened and disturbed by the unjust actions taken by your university against students Webster Cook and Benjamin Collard. It is reprehensible for you to bow to the demands of political ideologues and allow your institution to be a tool for Bill Donahue’s harassment and intimidation tactics. This is a man with a long history of condemning anything he doesn’t like. Well, this nation wasn’t founded to please Mr. Donahue. That your university chose to value a cracker and the absurd demands of an angry mob over its commitment to higher education shows a sincere lack of judgment and a failure of your university to uphold its values in the face of adversity. I assure you that until this grievous error is rectified I will do everything in my power to put pressure on the media to keep this story alive, to personally and closely monitor your activities, Mr. Hitt, and to publicly criticize your university. We’ve got our eyes on you, Mr. Hitt. And we can be just as loud as Mr. Donahue and his drones. “

The Fate of science education in Texas is being decided right now -Find out how you can take action and stand up for science by clicking on the link above.

Blogger Phil Plait, The Bad Astronomer, interviewed at Comic Con

-Phil ROCKS!

And now a moment of science:

Adult Stem Cells Activated In Mammalian Brain -“Adult stem cells originate in a different part of the brain than is commonly believed, and with proper stimulation they can produce new brain cells to replace those lost to disease or injury, a study by UC Irvine scientists has shown.”

More Rational Responses to Creationist arguments

July 26, 2008

Can science determine whether someone loves you or not?

To a large degree, yes.

The Fine Tuning argument:

“Amazing fine tuning occurs in the laws that make this [complexity] possible. Realization of the complexity of what is accomplished makes it very difficult not to use the word ‘miraculous’ without taking a stand as to the ontological status of the word.” George Ellis (South African astrophysicist)

The logical fallacy of the fine tuning argument is The Fallacy of Misused Statistics, aka The Lottery Fallacy. The argument is basically saying it’s impossible for anyone to win the lottery because all 6 numbers have to line up perfectly. But of course people win the lottery every day, not because they play every possibility but because so many people play that it’s statistically likely that SOMEBODY is going to pick all 6 winning numbers. If you and Ellis choose to view winning the lottery as “miraculous,” feel free. Though I think you’ve set the bar for the miraculous quite low.

Of course we’re dealing with a larger data set with the universe but the principle is the same. The odds of the universe coming out exactly the way it happens to be is orders of magnitude less likely than a particular numerical sequence coming up in the lottery. But it’s a fallacy to assume the universe had this end result involving human beings in mind and that if one thing was different, no other alternative exists. This is also sort of a false dichotomy. It’s kind of a macrocosm of Behe’s irreducible complexity argument. But if the universe were even slightly different, who’s to say entirely different forms of life wouldn’t have come about? If so, and they evolved to higher order thinking, who’s to say they wouldn’t be making the same assumption that the cosmic lottery had to come up the way it did to justify their existence?

Indeed, what we find is a planet where 99% of all the species who’ve inhabited it have already lost the cosmic lottery and gone extinct. We come from the limited perspective of having won the lottery, then working backwards creating post hoc rationalizations for our win as if it were destined to be so, though there is no evidence to support this.
For further insight into this fallacy, find out how HIV Deniers use the same reasoning on The Skeptic’s Guide To The Universe podcast 59 (55 minutes into the show).

News From Around The Blogosphere 7.25.08

July 26, 2008

A closer looks at alternative medicine’s 2 most recent epic failures -Steven Novella talks about doctors weighing the risks against the benefits of treatments. But if there is no benefit to the treatment because it is based upon pseudoscience, as in the recent cases of Dawn Page and quack Thuong Nguyen, then any risk is unacceptable.

Not all crazy astronauts run around in there space diapers -Apollo 14 Astronaut Dr. Edgar Mitchell says not only does he know for a fact that aliens do exist in the universe, but that they’ve been to Earth…a lot. Oh, and of course those pesky men in black working for the government. Wow, someone should make a movie about this or something. And why didn’t I see the Congress voting on the funding this initiative on C-SPAN? And where’s the evidence after 60 years? And why hasn’t the men in black killed Mitchell for leaking all this?

Baylor University president EXPELLED for not accepting creationism -Oh, sweet irony! But the cdesign proponentsists were after “academic freedom.” And didn’t Ben Stein say it was the creationists who were being oppressed?

Creationist Campaign to de-popularize Pro-Evolution videos -Oh, you kooky creationists and your dishonest methods!

1,500 animal species practice homosexuality–and love every minute of it -They’re deer. Their queer. Get used to it.

cdesign proponentsists manufacture threat to livelihood of the recipient of their insipid, bogus award -This wouldn’t be the first time (see: As of yet, no creationist can be found who’s actually lost their jobs from merely believing in their magical explanations. (And see: above story about Baylor University).

High School Atheist To Be Honored -Dawn Sherman is the 14-year-old activist who fought against the mandatory moment of silence law in Illinois and “got God banned from Homecoming.”

And now a mandatory moment of science:

Scientists Solve Aurora Borealis Mystery -NASA determined that the lights correspond to magnetic explosions caused by the stretching and retracting of the Earth’s magnetic field as we orbit the sun.

C’mon Tom, come out of the closet

July 25, 2008

This has been one hell of a bad year for The Church of $cientology or CoS. Things kicked off in January when the internet hacker group known as Anonymous leaked the now all too famous video of Tom Cruise receiving his giant amulet or the $cientology “Freedom Metal of Valor” (whatever!) from the church and the even more famous propaganda video shown that night. If I’m not mistaken, I believe Anonymous leaked this video the same day as the release of Andrew Morton’s unauthorized biography of Tom Cruise, which offers a scathing account of $cientology. Then Anonymous went viral after declaring all-out war on $cientology, with massive web content exposing the truth about $cientology and regular protests outside $cientology centers in major cities around the world. Regardless of one’s opinion of Anonymous itself, they’ve managed to create the perfect weapon against a cult that has survived with the extreme intimidation tactics such as suing their critics, framing them for crimes, or canvasing their neighbors with false accusations as part of their Fair Game Policy. And make no mistake; $cientology is a cult. What makes Anonymous so effective is the fact that they’re, well, anonymous. Anonymous is a decentralized campaign with no clear leaders and where its members often wear Guy Fawkes masks shielding their identities. This makes it impossible for $cientology to cut off the head and allows Anonymous plausible deniability if any one or members behave irresponsibly or criminally. So after decades of intimidating critics, $cientology seems to have met their match, an army of anonymous young people with no clear leaders armed with picket signs and the internet.

But it got worse for $cientology. Two former upper-level members became more active and outspoken than ever before in exposing CoS for what it really is: Tory Christman and Mark Bunker. (I highly recommend checking out the playlists on this page, especially this one).

Then $cientology’s plans to torpedo John Sweeney’s investigation on The BBC’s program Panorama blew up in their face (as did Sweeney–which was likely their plan). Then $cientology’s leader David Miscavige‘s niece, Jenna, escaped the cult. She joined up with other recovering CoS kids and made an anti-$cientology website. They confirmed reports of the child slavery that happens when members join the CoS group called The Sea Org. Here’s a news report that discusses the cult’s penchant for child labor.

Then upper-level CoS member Jason Beghe, an actor, escaped. Beghe was the subject of a viral video interview, where he too exposes CoS as a cult.

Then Radar magazine published a lengthy expose on Cos. And finally, last month, a previously unpublished article from six years ago describing $cientology’s greatest legal defeat finally made its way on the pages of The Village Voice. Oh yeah, and their plans to have actor and new $cientolgist Wil Smith fund a school to indoctrinate children was exposed. Oh yeah, and Katie Holmes did not get to reprise her role in the much praised Batman sequel.

So this year has no doubt been an unmitigated disaster for The Cult of Scientology. Given that high ranking members have been dropping like flies, I suspect it won’t be long before even Tom Cruise comes out of the closet and leaves $cientology. If that happens, he will likely become their most public critic.

Fair Game?

News From Around The Blogosphere 7.24.08

July 25, 2008

ABC news site features What’s The Harm -Probably the most frequently asked question of skeptics concerning why we fight pseudoscience is “what’s the harm?” Well, here’s the answer.

A bad week for alternative medicine -On Monday, Radovan Karadzic was revealed to be working as a healer. On Tuesday, we learned that a woman suffered brain damage after a detox. Rose Shapiro explains how to spot a quack. Another excellent guide to basic skeptical advice.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, why are you the greatest lier of them all? -Researchers find that mirrors have profound effects on our psychology.

Crackergate is officially over! -For those who haven’t been following the epic saga that’s been Crackergate, it all began with Webster Cook took the Eucharist, an object so sacred to Catholics they call it the Body of Christ, “hostage”. Many Catholics responded by calling the incident a “hate crime.” Bill Donohue of The Catholic League was outraged. To put this in perspective, this is the same guy who was outraged last year over a chocolate Jesus sculpture and Kathy Griffins’ Emmy Awards acceptance speech (Her response to Donohue)and who who’s been outraged in past with: the film Dogma, the underrated ABC series Nothing Sacred, singer Joan Osborne for the song “One of Us,” The Golden Compass, South Park for the Cartoon Wars episode, and many, many others.

ANYWAY! This overreaction to the taking of the communion wafer, led science blogger PZ Myers to write  this blog here where he promised to get his hands on one and desecrate it. Then surprise, surprise, Donohue was pissed. Are you following me so far. Good. So PZ fired back at Donohue and his drones who have been flooding him mailbox with hate mail and death threats,

Behead Those Who Insult Crackers

Behead Those Who Insult Crackers

which led to sender being fired. But then came the twist. A confession revealed 1-800 Flowers had fingered the wrong person. Then somehow PZ was considered a danger to Republican security. Hate mail continued to pour in, pleading for PZ to spare the defenseless cracker and to desecrate the Koran instead. And that pretty much brings us to the present story, posted above. The cracker has been desecrated, the job is done, and the world continues to revolve around the sun. And this is go down as one of the stupidest chapters in human history.

Michael Shermer’s latest article in Scientific American -How Anecdotal Evidence Can Undermine Scientific Results.

DROP THAT CELL PHONE NOW! or don’t. It doesn’t matter. -This whole cell phones causing radiation hypothesis is getting old. I remain totally underwhelmed by the evidence. I’ll try using my cell phone extra often to  express my disgust with this silly fearmongering.

And now for some science news:

Largest Sample Of Very Distant Galaxies Ever -“New Hubble Space Telescope observations of six spectacular galaxy clusters acting as gravitational lenses have given significant insights into the early stages of the Universe. Scientists have found the largest sample of very distant galaxies seen to date: ten promising candidates thought to lie at a distance of 13 billion light-years (~redshift 7.5).” Hear that Young Earth Creationists? 13 BILLION LIGHT-YEARS!

Dinosaur Super-tree Shows Slow Evolution At End -“An international study, led by the University of Bristol, shows that during their last 50 million years of existence, dinosaurs were not expanding as actively as had been previously thought and that the apparent explosion of dinosaur diversity may be largely explained by sampling bias.”