News From Around The Blogosphere 4.30.10

April 30, 2010

1. Atheist who won Ray Comfort’s hand-made vest uses it to promote rationalism – A few weeks ago, Ray “The Banana Man” Comfort made a video advertising that he’d made a vest that we wanted to give away to atheists. It was his latest desperate stunt to get attention. Now an atheist has won the vest and found a very awesome way to use it to promote a good cause. She’s auctioning it off an eBay and giving most of the proceeds to Foundation Beyond Belief! Thanks Ray!

2. ‘Psychic healers’  scam people out of $62,000

“They basically were able to convince the victim that some money she had gotten was cursed money and that somehow that curse had transferred to other money that she had,” said Chicago police Detective Milorad Sofrenovic of the Grand Central area. “They told her that in order to be able to remove this curse, they needed to take this money physically to a shrine in Indiana and with prayers drive the curse from the money.”

Damn that cooties!

For the last time, it's Sea-man!

3. Fake rabbi tricks women into thinking his semen is holy – The story I remember the most from The Decameron was the tale of the priest who teaching a woman how to put the devil back into the Hell. By devil he meant his penis. And by hell, he meant her vagina. This story is a lot lot like that only its a guy pretending to be a rabbi and he convinced women that his semen could heal body and soul. And of course he could pass this holy power to them through touch and by cleansing their bodies. And of course they bought it. Of course, had he not used religion to lure them into a false sense of blind trust, this probably never would have happened. Silly rabbi. Tricks are for kids. But where can I find women this gullible?

2 leading psychics’ cold readings that are full of fail

April 30, 2010

Two of the world’s leading grief rapists fail miserably in their games of 20 questions:

Now I’ve only done one cold reading in my life, in the comments section of this very blog:

Don’t waste time for Rosemary. I’ll do it. Your mother says she’s in a wonderful place. She loves you and she knows how much you love her. She wants me to acknowledge a piece of jewelry you wear and/or old photograph you keep framed by your bed that reminds you of her. Oh, and I’m getting a what looks like either the letter J or the letter M that is somehow associated with your mother.

And that one was free on account that, like Rosemary, I have no actual psychic powers.

And I was given very high marks:

I appreciate the free reading. I realize you make no claims as does Sylvia Browne so it means a lot. Ever since I lost her in 1976 I have always wanted a reading, but never trusted a pychic enough to pay for one.

My mother’s name was Jane, so you got the “J” right. There were two “M’s” in her maiden name, and her sister’s name was Marian, in fact. My Aunt Marian was also like a mother to me.

I thought you got the rest wrong at first glance but had to think about it.
I do have a framed picture by my bed near it, kind of next to it, and have all of her old jewelry but don’t think I wear any of it regularly. The jewelry is also next to my bed.

If you get any other feelings I would welcome more.

I am extremely psychic, have predicted that someone was going to die and when, and they did. Very disturbing and haunting. Not much of a gift but more of a curse.

I don’t channel from dead people but I can read live people pretty well. I can see things other people don’t. I can take an initial dislike to someone and see a vision where something isn’t right. I have had dreams come true and predicted at least one disaster through a dream. Dreamt people died and actually heard a news broadcast before George Wallace was shot that he was shot then came home and heard the same broadcast, although it was real that time.

Thanks. I look more to hearing from you.


Praise from Caesar.

So I have a 100% accuracy rate, so clearly I’m a better psychic than both John Edward and James Van Praagh. It’s statistical fact. Suck it, bitches!

Gary Null gets a taste of his own bad medicine

April 29, 2010

With my products, you'll be pissing blood in no time!

Gary Null, who’s been described on as “one of the nation’s leading promoters of dubious treatment for serious disease, ” has overdosed on his own shitty health product. He’s literally had a taste of his own medicine and it didn’t agree with him.

He’s now suing the manufacturer of his own product, a product that literally has his name on it because taking Gary Null’s Ultimate Power Meal led to a Vitamin D overdose from the supplements it contained.

The buff “Joy of Juicing” author, whose products include Red Stuff Powder and Gary Null’s Heavenly Hair Cleaner, claims he suffered kidney damage and was left bloodied and in intense pain from two daily servings of the supplement.

“Null continued to take the Ultimate Power Meal, all the while thinking that it would help him, and relieve his condition; instead, it made him worse,” the suit says.

No, seriously. He really has products called Red Stuff Powder and Gary Null’s Heavenly Hair Cleaner, and people never suspected they were buying potentially dangerous crap. Of course, it will be fun to see how this all plays out because just about every quack on Earth touts the miraculous healing properties of Vitamin D. It’s been said to cure everything from AIDS to cancer to autism.

Well what can I say? It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving individual. Of course Null’s claiming that the manufacturer botched the supplements, and so he’s filed a suit in Manhattan Supreme Court against the manufacturer, Triarco Industries.

“Null would later be told that if he had not flown back to New York and seen his doctor, then he could have died within a short period of time,” the suit says.

The suit says Null, 65, is still suffering the effects of too much Vitamin D.
. . .
“Even now, Null’s condition is questionable as he continues to occasionally urinate blood,” the suit says.
Well at least there’s that to smile about. Also, a bunch of people have declared that they’d never buy any of Null’s shitty quack products again:
“Null, in the midst of all this, while he was suffering in bed, had dozens of his customers calling him, along with condemning and threatening him,” the suit says. “In fact, they threatened that they would never buy any product of his ever again.”
That may be the single best decision they ever make.

Girl tries to convert graduation audience & faints

April 28, 2010

The video is somewhat disconcerting. But is it wrong that I also found it somewhat hilarious. And was she beginning to speak in tongues?

Wow, just wow. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why we have mental institutions.

Anti-vaxxers showing sour grapes over Frontline’s ‘The Vaccine War’

April 28, 2010

Last night PBS aired an episode of the show Frontline titled “The Vaccine War.” The entire show is now available online here. And while not perfect, the show did a fairly good job of objectively and accurately reporting the facts. So of course the anti-vaxxers ain’t pleased.

Jay Gordon ain’t happy. How dare they not include any of his interview in the final edit? It must be a conspiracy!!!! A conspiracy, I tell you!!! Whoa there, Jay. Welcome to the world of television media, where producers have to find a way to fit many hours of content into a coherent one hour narrative. Did I bitch and complain when I never heard back from the documentarian I gave a preliminary 10-15 minute phone interview to about the Stop Jenny McCarthy site? No. I’ve logged and edited hundreds of hours of footage myself, so I realize how fucking difficult it is to figure who you want to devote time to interviewing on camera and which footage you have to unfortunately leave on the cutting room floor.

But the best hissy fit of course goes to Queen Anti-Vax herself, Jenny McCarthy. The Huffington Post, with its non-existent journalistic standards, happily posted her unstructured rant. Her main point (and I use the term “point” loosely here) seems to be that Frontline promised that they’d conduct a fair investigation and she’s interpreted this to mean that they promised her they’d interview all those actual scientists on her side of the issue instead of making it a scientists versus parents story as they did. And of course it’s an unfair stereotype, though not for the reason Jenny thinks. It’s unfair because Jenny and her anti-vaxxer cult don’t speak for all parents. In fact most parents still believe in vaccinating their children. Jenny doesn’t even speak for parents of autistic kids, as most of them hate her guts to for repeatedly describing autistic kids as soulless, broken pieces of shit. Sadly, that side of the story didn’t make it on the show either.

But as for all those “scientists” who actively support the anti-vaxxer agenda? I can pretty much count them on two hands:  Wakefield, Gordon, Tenpenny, Blaylock, Sears, Mercola. And a couple who slip mind mind at the moment. And while not interviewed, Wakefield was represented in the show. The fact is that this is a war between those on the side of science and an hysterical cult of well-meaning scientific illiterates and ideologues. The science is squarely against Jenny and the show did an fairly accurate job of showing this.

Also worth noting  is that Jenny didn’t point out a single demonstrable fact that the show got wrong. No, instead she whined about how unfairly she felt she was treated by I guess not having the whole show devoted to her interview even though anyone can watch her interview and J.B. Handley’s interview in their entirety online and even though fairness would have excluded them and Barbara Loe Fisher as interview subjects entirely given their lack of expertise.
And that brings me to another amusing element of Jenny’s rant. She’s insisting that Frontline should have interviewed scientists on her side because she, Handley, and Fisher are just parents of autistic kids turned activists. Her point is that she, Handley, and Fisher are not qualified. Funny how their lack of credentials is only an issue to vaccine deniers when the cameras are rolling.
And Jenny further shows her contempt for her readers by bringing up the whole Paul Thorsen case, insinuating the outside activities of some minor player in just one of many studies that disproves her position is somehow relevant. What does Poul Thorsen allegedly stealing money from the CDC have to do with the science that shows you’re wrong, Jenny? This is nothing but a disgraceful dodge to avoid addressing the real issue, the science. But of course Jenny doesn’t understand the science, so she’s got to resort to red herrings and ad hominems. Again, she couldn’t find a single fact presented in the show that was demonstrably wrong.

Meanwhile the show pointed out serious holes in the anti-vaxxers’ claims. Anti-vaxxers fail to consider that autism is just as prevalent among the unvaccinated as it is the vaccinated, that there are at least as many cases where early autism symptoms had no timing coincidence with vaccines at all, and that boys are four times more likely to develop autism despite both genders receiving equal numbers of vaccines. According to the anti-vaxxer position, all three of these facts are IMPOSSIBLE!

NECSS 2010 – Keynote – D.J. Grothe

April 28, 2010

Two weekends ago, NYC hosted the second annual North East Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS), a joint venture by the NYC Skeptics and the New England Skeptic’s Society. The following was D.J. Grothe’s keynote address about what skepticism and the skeptical movement are all about:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “NECSS 2010 – Keynote – D.J. Grothe“, posted with vodpod

Mississippi Burning Stupid

April 27, 2010

Fresh off the heels of the national disgrace revolving around Constance McMillen’s high school prom, Mississippi is at it again. If you remember, McMillen’s high school was run by hatemongers who could not tolerate a lesbian attending the prom with her girlfriend and dressed in a tuxedo, so they tried to exclude her. When the ACLU told them they couldn’t do that, they officially canceled the prom altogether. At least, that’s what they wanted us to think. Another prom was secretly organized that included everyone except McMillen and some other unpopular kids. This led to confusion as to who the adults really were in that school.

Well now yet another lesbian student, Ceara Sturgis, had her photo expunged from her high school yearbook because she was dressed in a tuxedo like a man. I guess there’s nothing Mississippi hates more than androgyny.

But that’s not all. Guess who’s coming to Constance McMillan’s graduation. If you guessed the Westboro Baptist Church planning to protest Constance, you’re absolutely correct!

And the children running Itawamba Agricultural High School better not complain about it either. As far as I’m concerned, the children running Itawamba Agricultural High School have no right to object to the Westboro Baptist Church. As bad as the WBC is, at least they’re honest. They never set up an elaborate ruse in order to break the spirits of a young girl. That’s beneath them.

Richard Wiseman will control your mind

April 27, 2010

Atheism, as much a passing fad like television

April 27, 2010

In his latest piece, a blogger named David Hart is expressing an idea I’ve heard before. He argues that “New Atheism” is a passing fad. Here’s a taste of the kind of intellectually black hole found within:

Take, for instance, the recently published 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists. Simple probability, surely, would seem to dictate that a collection of essays by fifty fairly intelligent and zealous atheists would contain at least one logically compelling, deeply informed, morally profound, or conceptually arresting argument for not believing in God. Certainly that was my hope in picking it up. Instead, I came away from the whole drab assemblage of preachments and preenings feeling rather as if I had just left a large banquet at which I had been made to dine entirely on crushed ice and water vapor.

Um, have you ever considered that their goal wasn’t to provide you with “at least one logically compelling, deeply informed, morally profound, or conceptually arresting argument for not believing in God”? That would be shifting the burden of proof, which is on the theist to prove their particular tribal god exists.

Yeah, I could spend all day on this article but since PZ Myers already did that, I’d rather just focus on this idea that the popularity of atheism is just a fad. Let’s look at some statistics, shall we? Current polls show that the self-identificed religiously unaffiliated in the U.S. are at 16%, which is pretty much double what it was in the early 90’s. Now let’s look at another recent poll. Christianity has declined by 10% in the U.S. over the past two decades. How about a poll from this month that shows 26% of Millennials (those born after 1980) are religiously unaffiliated, compared to 20% of Gen Xers and 13% of Baby Boomers?

If the rate of religiously unaffiliated continues to rise at a similar rate as it has for at least 70 years, we can expect to see a third of the next generation following the Millennials to be religiously unaffiliated. A fad, Mr. Hart? No, there seems to be a very consistent pattern here that rather perfectly correlates with progressing media technology.

The selfishness of anti-vaxxers and why they suck at game theory

April 26, 2010

Today, Orac posted a story about an upcoming PBS show called The Vaccine War that promises to look at “both sides” of the “controversy” surrounding vaccines. Now so far it looks like it will be weighted more on the side of the medical experts despite the false balance between experts and celebrities.

But what really got my attention was a video clip of the show that Orac embedded in his article. Unfortunately, I was unable to embed it here. So I will refer people to Orac’s piece (click the link above) to watch it.

What disturbs me about the mothers featured in the video (other than the complete lack of, you know, fathers because the idea that anyone would want to hear the opinions of male parents is just madness!) is the complete inability of the mothers in the clip to recognize the blatant, inherent flaws in their own logic and their solipsistic inability to see the big picture. According to these mothers, while vaccines may benefit the health of the society as a whole, their only concern is for the welfare of their specific child and fuck everyone else.

Now first of all, vaccines are the safest form of medical prevention mankind has ever produced and the benefits far outweigh the risks. So we’re dealing with a false choice here. It’s not a protect the individual versus protecting the group scenario. That’s silly.

The second problem I have with their position the interviewer tries to address, though his facts are just flat-out dismissed because the women say they just don’t believe it. Apparently, reality is shaped by what these few scientifically illiterate mothers consider to be believable. Anyway, my second problem with their position is this naive false dichotomy that vaccines either work 100% or 0% without any room in between. If I were the interviewer, I’d have asked if they thought condoms were either 100% safe and effective or 0% effective. Then I’d ask them if cars crash 100% of the time or 0% of the time. Then maybe I’d hold up a yellow card and ask them whether the card is red or blue.

But my main problem is that they’re clearly being told  in that segment the fact that whether they choose to vaccinate their kids or not does in fact affect the health and safety of others, including infants too young for the vaccines, those with specific medical conditions preventing them being vaccinated, and of course those just like the children of these women who go against their own interests by simply choosing not to vaccinate their kids when they otherwise could.

So if we follow their logic to its inevitable conclusion, they’re encouraging other parents to be just as negligent as them, and in doing so actually INCREASE the likelihood of their own kids’ deaths. Not only are they not vaccinating their kids in the name of protecting the individual over the group while relying on the vaccinations of others to protect them, but in the process, they are encouraging fewer people to vaccinate, in effect diminishing the very herd immunity their children and others take for granted and lean on for protection. A comparable example is drunk driving.  One could apply the same flimsy arguments to the personal freedom to drive drunk.

These women are like the Gungans from The Phantom Menace only at least the Gungans were smart enough to eventually recognize that they live in an interconnected world where sometimes what’s best for the individual is doing what’s in the best interest of the group. This is a lesson that even chimpanzees and thousands of other species on the planet have figured out, and yet these morons can’t seem to grasp the concept.

The problem is they can’t see beyond themselves. What they lack is even a basic understanding of game theory.  A Nash equilibrium is created when the players make the best decisions they can, taking into account the decisions of the others. It’s that taking the other players’ decisions into account part that’s the important part. Now Nash’s equilibrium doesn’t necessarily guarantee every individual involved will ultimately benefit but it does improve the likelihood of success.

A classic hypothetical used to test Nash’s equilibrium is the Prisoner’s Dilemma:

Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies (defects from the other) for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent (cooperates with the other), the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?

In the case of vaccines, it’s a little different. If everyone plays defect, the result is essentially an execution for all. This is a terrible strategy, one that could potentially kill us all.

A variation on the Prisoner’s Dilemma is featured in the film The Dark Knight: