Should the Bible be taught to children?

February 25, 2011
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If you hold a rally and no one comes, does it make a sound?

February 24, 2011

As I reported two days ago, the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled to maintain the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA), in a 6-2 decision. And as predicted, the anti-vaxxers are not too happy about it. So what was their great plan?

Last night, my friend Michael De Dora, Executive Director of the NYC Branch of the Center For Inquiry, relayed a link to me via Dr. David Gorski on Facebook. This link. It seems that the co-editors of the recently released anti-vax polemic “Vaccine Epidemic” tried to organize a last minute rally today in NYC to protest the Supreme Court decision…and Bill Gates for completely unrelated reasons. This follows a book launch party they held at NYU, which I attended and have begun a 4-part series reporting about over at the Vaccine Times.

Now I was unable to attend this rally, but from what I can tell from the announcement linked to above, the theme of the event was the exact same as the NYU event:

If you can’t join us in NYC tomorrow, buy a few copies of Vaccine Epidemic and commit to loaning them or giving them to people who will read them. You can always donate a couple to your local library.

There is no “standing still.” Either we move forward, or we fall behind.

It is a formidable act of advocacy to put copies of Vaccine Epidemic in people’s hands. Knowledge is powerful. To open your eyes is to find your voice. And at just $14 each, it won’t break the bank.

Which I guess is understandable since, given that the Supreme Court has already ruled on the subject, what else could they have possibly hoped to accomplish with this rally other than use it as an opportunity to move merchandise?

Of course, it didn’t quite work out that way it seems. Numbers are a funny thing. For instance, in that announcement for the rally, they proudly boast about their 300 attendees at the NYU event. And what’s so funny about that is that five days before that event, the Center For Inquiry and the NYC Skeptics held a Darwin Day event in the very same auditorium, Tishman Auditorium. On that day, I’d asked Michael De Dora what the full capacity of that room was, and he told me 450. which is confirmed on their website.  And indeed, I noticed when attending the “Vaccine Epidemic” book launch that, unlike the Darwin Day event, the anti-vaxxers failed to fill the room to capacity.

But that’s nothing compared to what happened with today’s rally from what I hear. Apparently, their big last minute rally turned up a whopping 18 protesters, which fell slightly short of their predicted turn-out of tens of thousands. Oops.

[UPDATE 2/26/11 – Age of Autism finally posted an entry on the rally. Notice they never mention the size of the turn-out and the only about 10 or 11 people can be seen in their photo. Draw your own conclusions]

 

And on an unrelated note, happy second birthday to my nephew!

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Ultra-orthodox Rabbis see signs of the First Coming

February 24, 2011
חרדים ירושלמים. צולם על ידי אפי ב.

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The recent revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa have convinced some leading Israeli ultra-orthodox rabbis that God is showing his “contempt” for traditional Judaism and that the Jewish messiah is coming:

According to Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Lithuanian sector in Bnei Brak, “Recently it appears that there is a powerful effort to destroy and agitate the world of the Torah, through various attempts to prosecute kollels (centers of advanced rabbinic studies) and yeshiva students.” “When you try to agitate the world of the Torah, God agitates the world, Steinman said.”

And if I’ve learned anything from reading the Bible, it’s don’t fuck angels (Genesis 6:1-7). No seriously, that’s the real reason the Bible gives for the great flood. Read it yourself. Silly rabbi, tricks are for kids.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 2.23.11

February 24, 2011

1. Creationists defeated in Oklahoma – Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern tried to pass a bill that would bar teachers from grading students down on science tests because of that student’s particular belief. This was the latest attempt by creationists to force their way into science classrooms. Fortunately, it didn’t work and the bill was defeated. Sadly though, it was only defeated by a 7-9 vote.

2. Watson moving to Columbia Medical Center – The computer that brutally defeated Jeopardy‘s two greatest champs is being taken to the Columbia University Medical Center in Manhattan where it will be used to help doctors evaluate patients.

“Watson has the potential to help doctors reduce the time needed to evaluate and determine the correct diagnosis for a patient,” said Dr. Herbert Chase, professor of Clinical Medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, in a public statement.

Chase also said that the super genius would lend doctors a hand when it comes to developing more “personalized treatment options” for patients’ needs through use of the Watson software.

3. Bible Fail – When a gay man was attacked, a news crew interviewed one of the attackers’ friends, a wrestler who proudly brandished a tattoo featuring the entire Leviticus 18:22 verse in the Bible, which infamously condemns homosexuality as an abomination. Sadly, this wrestler didn’t keep reading as in the very next chapter, Leviticus 19:28, the Bible condemns tattoos.

4. There’s no such thing as a lie detector

A new report in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, discusses some of the common misconceptions about those proficient in the art of deception, reviews the shortcomings of commonly used lie-detection techniques, and presents new empirically supported methods for telling liars from truth-tellers with greater accuracy.

Lie detectors routinely make the common mistakes of overemphasizing nonverbal cues, neglecting intrapersonal variations (i.e., how a person acts when they are telling the truth versus when they are lying), and being overly confident in their lie-detection skills


Supreme Court rules to maintain National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, 6-2

February 22, 2011
West face of the United States Supreme Court b...

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The Supreme Court just ruled to maintain the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA), 6-2. This is the Act that protects vaccine manufacturers from frivolous tort litigation, so of course the anti-vaxxers hate the decision because this means they’ve more or less lost their battle in the U.S. courts for good. Sure, another controversial case favorable to their position could end up in the Supreme Court in the future, but it’s not likely. So with their embarrassing defeat in the Autism Omnibus cases and now the Supreme Court standing behind the NCVIA, they’ve really got no place left to go.

And of course they’re bitching about this defeat over at Age of Autism, and as always, preferring to invent a conspiracy rather than acknowledge the actual facts. For instance, they still refuse to acknowledge regulatory compliance policies and other measures to reign in the vaccine manufacturers in favor of presenting a woefully naive version of reality where these companies are given total freedom to do whatever they want and show callous disregard for public safety when nothing can be further from the truth, as the Court decision makes clear. That’s where the Court of Federal Claims comes in. It compensates people by letting them petition the government directly. And if a vaccine is not prepared properly or doesn’t have proper directions and warnings, that is grounds for a legitimate lawsuit against the manufacturers. The only thing vaccine manufacturers are being protected from are unavoidably unsafe products.

So who dissented? Shockingly, Justices Sotomayor and Ginsberg with Kagan abstaining. Which only makes me want to scream, WHAT THE FUCK?! It is truly a dark day when I’m forced to side with guys like Justices Scalia and Thomas over the more liberal Justices. Sullivan summarizes what this ruling means over at Left Brain/Right Brain here and at the Vaccine Times here.

The anti-vaxxers have been utterly defeated in the court of science and the court of law. And it seems even the media is mostly through pretending they’re not loons. I’d say we’re definitely beginning to finally turn the tide against this preposterous pseudoscience.

[UPDATE: Orac also covered this story here.]

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Matt Dillahunty demolishes faith and religion

February 19, 2011

There are a lot of well-known atheist activists out there who I admire. And while I agree with most of them on many things, over time, I tend to discover positions for which I disagree with them on. Usually not major disagreements that would drive me away from supporting them, but little things that just demonstrate how diverse our “community” really is.

For instance, just to name a few, Dawkins was at least at one time a supporter of rebranding atheists as “Brights,” a term that few took very seriously. Sam Harris, as far as I know, continues to prefer we had no label at all and every time he brings up meditation and the “transcendent”, is usually met with groans from myself and many others. And of course whenever Christopher Hitchens talks politics, there tends to be moments where you wonder if he’s been replaced by his evil brother, Peter. Though to be fair, if anyone were ever to actually convince me that the Iraq War was a good thing, it’d probably be Christopher Hitchens. Though that’s still not very likely to ever happen. Then of course there are the libertarians like Michael Shermer and Penn Jillette, whose rationality seems to fly out the window whenever they talk about invisible hands of the free market and, in the latter’s case, cite The Cato Institute as if it were a legitimate source of information rather than just a morally bankrupt think tank for ideologues.

But then there’s Matt Dillahunty of The Atheist Experience. So far, after listening to countless YouTube clips of his show, I have yet to ever find any issue that we disagree on. I’m sure I’ll find something sooner or later, but Matt also never ceases to amaze me in how well he’s able to articulate arguments against religion. While I don’t know if he’s invented any arguments that can be said to be new to the debate, he’s certainly come up with particularly strong versions of arguments. For instance, now whenever I get into the horribly immoral system that forms the basis of all of Christianity, specifically god’s demand for blind obedience, I almost without fail borrow heavily from Matt’s “god as mob boss” argument nearly verbatim because I haven’t heard anyone articulate it as well as he does:

But the reason I’m writing this piece today is because I just saw another great video clip where Matt Dillahunty just knocks it out of the park and actually, arguably, leaves his religious critic speechless.

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Shameless self-promotion

February 19, 2011

I am now an official writer for The Vaccine Times, and you can check out my first article here.

And on the same day as my first Vaccine Times article was published, the awesome Dr. Rachael Dunlop, who once interviewed me for The Skeptic Zone podcast (ep. #51), published her first article on the Science-Based Medicine blog.

And both of these events took place on the same day I attended the book launch party for the anti-vaccine book “The Vaccine Epidemic”, sat in the same auditorium as Andrew (fraud of the century) Wakefield and many other anti-vax leaders, and lived to hopefully tell all about it in multiple articles over at The Vaccine Times in the next couple of days.