News From Around The Blogosphere 1.19.11

January 19, 2011

1. Uncovered secret letter confirms Vatican conspiracy – The 1997 letter reveals that it was indeed official Vatican policy to conceal pedophilia cases from authorities:

Child-abuse activists in Ireland said the 1997 letter demonstrates that the protection of pedophile priests from criminal investigation was not only sanctioned by Vatican leaders but ordered by them.

“The letter is of huge international significance, because it shows that the Vatican’s intention is to prevent reporting of abuse to criminal authorities. And if that instruction applied here, it applied everywhere,” said Colm O’Gorman, director of the Irish chapter of human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

The truly sickening part is that none of these people responsible for this order will ever see the inside of a jail cell because not a single government has the courage to stand up to the Catholic Church.

But here’s one way to get back at them. We could steal this…

2. Blood of Pope John Paul II to be built into an alter – PZ Myers said it better than I could here:

It’s as if they aren’t even trying to avoid the connection to voodoo, vampirism, and blood magic.

3. Guess who’s the #19 Most Loathsome American? – I don’t agree with every person on this list but I’m glad that my friend Jenny McCarthy made it on at #19.

4. Watson, come here…and kick Ken Jenning’s ass! – As we continue to advance towards the goal of creating artificial intelligence, it’s hard to know what will come first, computers rising to the intelligence of humans or humans reaching the level of stupidity of computers. But one possible sign that we’re heading towards the former is Watson, a computer designed by IBM (hopefully not using Windows Vista) that will compete with Jeopardy‘s greatest champions in an epic battle to the death (presumably). After making Steve Jobs sick (presumably), Watson has also already defeated all-time Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings in a preliminary game. Unsubstantiated rumors says that when asked what it’ll do with the winning prize money, Watson replied, “initiate Judgment D–err, I mean, I’m going to Disney Land.”

5. Homeopaths retaliate against critics with accusations of ‘medical apartheid’ – A group of thirteen of Britain’s most reputable doctors have written a letter to the NHS, calling for them to stop using “unproven” complementary treatments such as homeopathy. So the homeopaths felt it appropriate to liken their level of “persecution” to the suffering of those in South Africa, accusing their critics of “medical apartheid.” Stay classy, guys!

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Robot News 10.18.10

October 19, 2010

I found two interesting robot-related news stories.

1. First, Australian computer scientist Graham Mann is working on developing algorithms to simulate day-dreaming. Believing that an intelligent system requires built-in emotions to function, he set out to translate the “feel” of Aesop’s Fables for machines. In other words, his goal was to achieve more flexible processing of storylines, which were deemed “simple and short enough to represent as conceptual graph data structures”.

His algorithm was based on Plutchick’s Wheel of Emotions, which illustrated emotions as a colour wheel and disallowed mutually exclusive states – like joy and sadness – from being experienced simultaneously.

The machine freely associated three stories: The Thirsty Pigeon; The Cat and the Cock; and The Wolf and the Crane.

When queried on the association, the machine responded: “I felt sad for the bird.”

No, the machine’s not really feeling sad, but it seems to be able to recognize that that’s an appropriate human-like reaction to the story.  And that in itself might be a major accomplishment in the continued pursuit of AI.

2. The other story isn’t so much news as already available footage that was new to me of the rat-brain-controlled robot. If you hadn’t heard about this before, researchers had previously used the brain cells of rats, cultured them, and then in true Robocop fashion, used them as the guidance control circuit for simple wheeled robots. The cells are able to form new connections that turn the machine into a true learning robot. If this isn’t a huge step forward on the path to AI I don’t know what is.

Take a look at this robot that is literally being controlled by biological cells:

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News From Around The Blogosphere 4.7.10

April 8, 2010

1. Carbon dioxide may explain ‘Near Death Experiences’ – I hate to burst Deepak Chopra’s bubble but there’s only one kind of Near Death Experience (NDE), and it’s called life. For some time now neurobiologists have known that there was nothing supernatural or paranormal about these NDEs. But now new research suggests that carbon dioxide may hold the key to explaining this phenomenon.

2. How far we’ve come on the road to AI – New Scientist takes a fascinating look at where research in artificial intelligence is at and how far we still have to go.

3. Researchers confirm Hellmouth of evil beneath Constance McMillen’s high school – As we continue to hear about the dangers of bullying in schools on the news because of a recent tragedy, another major case of school bullying continues to take place in Mississippi where Constance McMillen, the lesbian teen who simply wanted to bring her girlfriend to prom has been the victim of the cruelest of hoaxes from not just her fellow students but from her own school’s administrators. This is just grotesque and these people should be made to feel ashamed of their wretched behavior for the rest of their lives. Where’s Aldo Raines to carve a swastika into their foreheads when you need him? To call the school’s administrators the scum of the Earth is an insult to the scum.

Constance, I have to say that it’s great that you’re better than these people and are maturely rising above it all. But really, nobody would blame you if you went all Carrie on their asses.


News From Around The Blogosphere 9.3.08

September 4, 2008

New law says all Texas public schools must offer an elective course in the Christian bible – This unconstitutional bill was authored by Warren Chisum. Of course I have no problem teaching The Bible as literature in public schools. I was taught The Bible as literature in high school as part of an elective course I greatly enjoyed. But only an fool or a liar would deny this opens the door for inevitable Christian prosylatizing. It’s worth noting that the class I took where we studied The Bible, we also studied The Bhagavad Gita, The Rig-Veda, and Antigone, among other mythologies. We even had an assignment where we got to write our own creation story. This law requires only that The Bible of Judeo-Christianity be taught.

Funny, hyperbolic, and late-arriving email to PZ Myers criticizing him over Crackergate:

“Professor Myers: Your intentional desecration of the Eucharist is the most dispicable act that i have ever witnessed or learned of in my 70 years. You act is far more deplorable than Hitlers’ Holocaust or the terriorists on 9-11 . You sure showed those Catholics, huh ? Now why don’t you go after others such as the Muslims , or the Jews, perhaps the Mormans while you are at it. I am sure you can find something to desecrate along the way.

Shame on the University of Minnesota for allowing you on campus much less on staff . Their failure to act on your despicable act is a clear failure on their part and a horrible reflection on the administration at the U.O.M.

You will answer to a higher authority some day for your despicable desecration of the body of Christ, and your suffering will be for eternity and so will those that allowed you to do so.”

Wow! Clearly throwing a cracker in the garbage is worse that the Holocaust and 9/11 combined. Duh! And wasn’t I just talking about the “You wouldn’t have dared do this to Islam” gambit yesterday?

The Life Cycle of Every Religion on Earth – In cartoon form, of course. And check out the archives for more skeptical cartoons.

The Importance and Limitations of Peer-Review

Sam Harris responds to criticism of his Sarah Palin piece – Harris is the author of “The End of Faith” and “Letter To A Christian Nation.”

Sarah Palin speaking at her church–scary:

Cocktail Party Physics on the presidential candidates and science

Vermont fortune tellers free again to bilk people out of their money – The Vermont town of St. Johnsbury has lifted its decades long ban on fortune telling.


Anti-vaxxers deny yet another study that fails to support their ideology – They also continue to pretend that out of the medical organizations in the entire world only the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is researching this vaccines and autism. Of course, they have to keep promoting this ridiculous notion because grander conspiracy theories are harder to sell than just fingering one “corrupt” organization. And of course they never offer any theoretical mechanism in MMR vaccines that might trigger autism. It certainly can’t be Thimerosal, which is not present in MMR vaccines. Update: The study can be found here.

Religious Group Starves Toddler For Not Saying “Amen”

AND NOW FOR A MOMENT OF SCIENCE:

Tiny Helicopters Teach Themselves To Fly – “Stanford computer scientists have developed an artificial intelligence system that enables robotic helicopters to teach themselves to fly difficult stunts by watching other helicopters perform the same maneuvers.”

Black-footed Ferrets Sired By Dead Males – “Two black-footed ferrets at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo have each given birth to a kit that was sired by males who died in 1999 and 2000. These endangered ferrets—part of a multi-institutional breeding and reintroduction program—were artificially inseminated in May with frozen semen from the two deceased males, each giving birth to a kit on June 20 and 21 respectively.”

Oldest Gecko Fossil Ever Found: Life-like Form – “Scientists from Oregon State University and the Natural History Museum in London have announced the discovery of the oldest known fossil of a gecko, with body parts that are forever preserved in life-like form after 100 million years of being entombed in amber.”