May 31, 2009
Newsweek has done the unthinkable; they’ve criticized Oprah. It’s about time the mainstream media took an interest in crititizing Oprah Winfrey’s dangerous pseudo-scientific nonsense.
Sadly however, the authors of this article aren’t very optimistic that Oprah’s devoted followers will abandon her and adopt reason instead:
At some point, it would seem, people will stop looking to Oprah for this kind of guidance. This will never happen. Oprah’s audience admires her as much for her failings as her successes. In real life, she has almost nothing in common with most of her viewers. She is an unapproachable billionaire with a private jet and homes around the country who hangs out with movie stars. She is not married and has no children. But television Oprah is a different person. She somehow manages to make herself believable as a down-to-earth everywoman. She is your girlfriend who struggles to control her weight and balance her work and personal life, just like you. When she recently related the story of how humiliated she felt when she arrived for a photo shoot to find that she couldn’t fit into the clothes she was supposed to wear, she knew she had every member of the audience in her hand. Oprah’s show is all about second and third and fourth chances to fix your life, and the promise that the next new thing to come along will be the one that finally works.
I’m kinda reminded of a character in the TV series “Nip/Tuck” named Kimber. Kimber is a character that has the determination to really go far but due to her own insecurities manages every season to some new self-destructive direction in her life in the guise of self-improvement, and gradually break free of it, only to fall victim to some new self-destructive behavior next season. That last paragraph quote above describes the Kimber character to a T.
The Newsweek article also takes some nice skeptical shots at Suzanne Somers, The Secret, HPV myths, and of course the queen of pseudo-scientific medical nonsense herself, Jenny McCarthy.
May 31, 2009
Several species of birds are among the smartest creatures on this planet, particularly those in the Corvidae family such as jays, crows, ravens, and rooks. These are considered the most intelligent of the birds. Now the official scientific species name of the rook, frugilegus, is Latin for “food-gathering”, which as the video and article linked to below illustrates is quite apt, since it turns out that rooks show an intelligence and mastery with tools that may even rival the chimpanzee:
The large black birds have astounded scientists by showing for the first time that they are as adept at making and using tools with their beaks as chimpanzees are with their hands.
Given tasks to test their ingenuity, rooks were able not only to select the correct tools for the job but also to fashion hooks out of wire, whittle sticks and select suitable stones.
Scientists said the results showed that the birds, from the crow family, had a high degree of innate intelligence rather than mere adaptability.
It’s looking more and more like being called a bird brain is a compliment.
May 31, 2009
George Tiller, a doctor who performed abortions, was shot and killed while serving as an usher at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas. And the worst part is that the gunman is still at large.
This wasn’t the first time he’d been the target of violence by anti-abortionists. A few years ago, his clinic was vandalized and he was wounded when another anti-abortionist fanatic shot at him. He’s also had to deal with ongoing harassment.
It’s a terrible tragedy what happened in Wichita this day. But some good can still come from it. Feministe has blogged several links to pro-choice organizations that you can donate to in honor of Dr. Tiller.
Another related news item is that PZ Myers has reported about Mike Reagan, who is giving away free copies of a book, Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation, written by (or maybe ghost-written for) his father, Ronald Reagan. PZ’s recommendation:
Everyone order a copy, they’re free; suck the money away from these enablers of killers, and put another copy of their trash into the trash.
Now PZ goes further than I would. Even when I get my hands on a copy of some awful book, I have enough trouble throwing it in the trash or burning it given the associations attached to it. And I have an even harder time encouraging others to willfully destroy books. But I get no such negative associations with recommending rational people order up the books for themselves. What you wish to do with them after that is you own business.
UPDATE: The shooter has been allegedly caught:
May 29, 2009
I can’t believe I managed to get the word “pinky” into the headlines to 2 blogs in a row!
Humanist activists from Georgia have come up with their own unique response to the silly Christian “Promise Rings,” designed to discourage unmarried teens from doin’ it. Of course, Christian Promise Rings were not only completely ineffective in preventing underage sex but also, like with abstinence-only sex education, had the unintended consequence of leading to loads of unsafe sex too.
Unlike the Promise Rings, the only real purpose to the Secular Pinky Swear rings is to promote their humanist values. According to the website SecularPinkySwear.org:
The Pinky Swear is a direct challenge to dogmatic religious pledges, because it demonstrates how secular students can have strong values rooted in reason, how they can commit to being courageous in the face of cultural pressure.
May 29, 2009
What would happen if you gave a lab mouse a human language gene? Researchers at the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology decided to find out. And the answer, it turns out, is that it’ll change the sound of the mouse’s squeak.This might also be the first step to communicating with mice:
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now genetically engineered a strain of mice whose FOXP2 gene has been swapped out for the human version. Svante Paabo, in whose laboratory the mouse was engineered, promised several years ago that when the project was completed, “We will speak to the mouse.” He did not promise that the mouse would say anything in reply, doubtless because a great many genes must have undergone evolutionary change to endow people with the faculty of language, and the new mouse was gaining only one of them.
. . .
Dr. Gary Marcus, who studies language acquisition at New York University, said the study showed lots of small effects from the human FOXP2, which fit with the view that FOXP2 plays a vital role in language, probably with many other genes that remain to be discovered. “People shouldn’t think of this as the one language gene but as part of a broader cascade of genes,” he said. “It would have been truly spectacular if they had wound up with a talking mouse.”
Yesterday was all about the green-glowing monkey but today I want me a talking lab mouse. Although Qui-Gon Jinn pointed out that the ability to speak doesn’t make one intelligent, if cartoons have taught me anything it’s that once you have talking lab mice, it’s entirely plausible they’ll do the same thing they do every night, try to take over the world! Narf!
May 29, 2009
Wikipedia has apparently grown so sick and tired of the cult of $cientology trying to edit their pages, they’ve decided to ban contributions from all IP addresses owned or operated by the Church of Scientology and its associates.
Closing out the longest-running court case in Wikiland history, the site’s Arbitration Committee voted 10 to 0 (with one abstention) in favor of the move, which takes effect immediately.
According to escaped $cientologist Tory Christman, who was at one time a major player in CoS’s Office of Special Affairs, the cult’s propaganda wing, $cientology would flood the internet with propaganda on a regular basis:
“The guys I worked with posted every day all day,” Tory Christman tells The Reg. “It was like a machine. I worked with someone who used five separate computers, five separate anonymous identities…to refute any facts from the internet about the Church of Scientology.”
Christman left the Church in 2000, before Wikipedia was created.
This is the fourth Scientology-related Wikicourtcase in as many years, and in addition to an outright ban on Scientology IPs, the court has barred a host of anti-Scientology editors from editing topics related to the Church.
I’m not too happy about that last part because I’m unsure whether they’re barring legitimate criticism of CoS as well or just false accusations (as if anyone would need to make up false accusations against the cult). But anything to keep the $cientologists from pushing their lies on the public that doesn’t directly infringe upon their first amendment rights is fine by me.