Oh Bill O’Reilly, not the tides again!

May 25, 2011

I’m starting to suspect he’s just fucking with us now.

Chris Mooney disucsses conspiracy theories that won’t die

April 28, 2011

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Chris Mooney disucsses conspiracy theories that…, posted with vodpod

‘Age of Autism’ takes a swing (and a miss) at Chris Mooney

March 20, 2010

Jake Crosby

The other day I wrote a lengthy piece on The Gotham Skeptic that addressed the numerous public defeats of the anti-vaccine movement lately in the media, in the scientific realm, and in the courtroom. And in that piece I expressed the opinion that their movement may have reached their peek last year and has begun the process of decline.

And since writing that story, I’ve at least seen a few mainstream media stories that made me consider whether or not I’d spoken too soon. But I still don’t think that I have. And Age of Autism’s latest post by my old friend Jake Crosby seems to reinforce my original contention in the Gotham Skeptic article. If this hit piece against Chris Mooney by Crosby is the best they can do and is seriously what the anti-vaxxers view as a well-written and well-reasoned article, they’re in bigger trouble than I thought.

Crosby’s piece is blatantly devoid of substance. It’s one of the silliest, most asinine examples of a public hissy fit I’ve ever seen. Once again he return to his famous scare quotes around the word “Science” in name of the popular blog site ScienceBlogs. . .even though even he recognizes that Mooney writes for Discovery, not ScienceBlogs, making the constant references to ScienceBlogs pointless and inappropriate.

And once again he makes baseless, potentially libelous conspiracy accusations without any provocation other than Mooney disagrees with him. Crosby also goes out of his way to point out that last time he criticized Mooney, Mooney never bothered to directly respond to him in a way that attempts to suggest Mooney can’t respond to him. Of course what these delusional egotists in the anti-vaccine movement fail to realize is that their empty conspiracy accusations are not worthy of a response.

Oh, and Crosby also throws scare quotes around a bunch of other words because that’s his idea of insightful and witty commentary.

Hard to believe. . .

Jake Crosby is a college student with Asperger Syndrome at Brandeis University, and contributing editor to Age of Autism

I bow to Jake Crosby’s amazingly impressive credentials. Why can’t I lack even a Bachelor’s Degree while confidently professing greater medical knowledge than every reputable medical organization on the planet?

Stop Jenny McCarthy.

Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum find their celebrity doppelgangers

February 15, 2010

Here’s their posting about it. Okay, Chris isn’t a perfect match for Fred Savage but Sheril found an even better one. I think it’s the dude from Twilight:

Chris went for Christina Ricci for Sheril but I think she’s a dead ringer for Summer Glau:

News From Around The Blogosphere 2.1.10

February 2, 2010

1. $7000 talking sex robot – I’ve blogged before about Roxxxy, the world’s most sophisticated talking female sex robot. Now CNN’s talking about it (her?):

Powered by a computer under her soft silicone “skin,” she employs voice-recognition and speech-synthesis software to answer questions and carry on conversations. She even comes loaded with five distinct “personalities,” from Frigid Farrah to Wild Wendy, that can be programmed to suit customers’ preferences.

We knew this day was coming and now that time seems to have arrived when we can build robotic women who can converse and fake orgasms.

2. Homeopaths admit their products have no active ingredients – The 10:23 homeopathic overdose campaign has driven the New Zealand Council of Homeopaths to admit that their products do not contain any “material substances”:

Council spokeswoman Mary Glaisyer admitted publicly that “there´s not one molecule of the original substance remaining” in the diluted remedies that form the basis of this multi-million-dollar industry.


3. Medical researchers working on a pill to treat Fragile X

Chances are you’ve never heard of the target — Fragile X syndrome — even though it’s the most common inherited form of intellectual impairment, estimated to affect almost 100,000 Americans. It’s also the most common cause of autism yet identified, as about a third of Fragile X-affected boys have autism.

Now a handful of drug makers are working to develop the first treatment for Fragile X, spurred by brain research that is making specialists rethink how they approach developmental disorders.

. . .

“We are moving into a new age of reversing intellectual disabilities,” predicts Dr. Randi Hagerman, who directs the MIND Institute at the University of California, Davis, a study site.

This is exactly the kind of research that will one day defeat autism but from which ideologues like J.B. Handley of Generation Rescue have publicly called a waste of money because they’re obsessed with fruitless vaccine research. Autism is a genetic disorder and our be hope of treating it besides behavior therapies is manipulating the genes.

4. Henrietta Lack’s immortal cells

In 1951, a scientist at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, created the first immortal human cell line with a tissue sample taken from a young black woman with cervical cancer. Those cells, called HeLa cells, quickly became invaluable to medical research—though their donor remained a mystery for decades. In her new book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, journalist Rebecca Skloot tracks down the story of the source of the amazing HeLa cells, Henrietta Lacks, and documents the cell line’s impact on both modern medicine and the Lacks family.

. . .

Henrietta’s cells were the first immortal human cells ever grown in culture. They were essential to developing the polio vaccine. They went up in the first space missions to see what would happen to cells in zero gravity. Many scientific landmarks since then have used her cells, including cloning, gene mapping and in vitro fertilization.

5. Christians literally claim monopoly on aid in Haiti – Now while that might sound like a good thing, according to a voodoo priest, believers are being discriminated against in their efforts to help and deliberately prevented from getting much-needed aid to followers of their religion:

“The evangelicals are in control and they take everything for themselves,” he claimed. “They have the advantage that they control the airport where everything is stuck. They take everything they get to their own people and that’s a shame.

6. Point of Inquiry podcast gets new hosts – Now that D.J. Grothe is leaving the Center For Inquiry (CFI) to take on his new role as president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, he will no longer be hosting the CFI’s weekly podcast series Point of Inquiry. And now his replacement hosts have been announced:  Chris Mooney, Karen Stollznow and Robert Price. For the most part, these are all strong picks. Of course, regular readers may guess that the one person I’m iffy on is Chris Mooney. While I do continue to read and enjoy his blog, The Intersection, one issue that I strongly disagree with him on is his condemnation of so-called “New Atheism” or “militant atheism” as well as his insistence that science and religion can peacefully coexist.  And for this reason, he seems like an unlikely choice to represent the Center For Inquiry, whose secular goals often coincide with that of the more aggressive atheists. Though maybe I’m wrong and his perspective will ultimately just foster more challenging discussions. I hope all three the best of luck.

7. American Atheists trying to buy naming rights to Superbowl stadium for 1 hour? – I think this sounds like a really dumb idea and a total waste of money that could be spent better elsewhere. It would be one thing if they were to buy naming rights to the stadium during the Superbowl or hours before it, but–no, come to think of it, it would still be a dumb idea.

Ginger Taylor: still brick stupid

September 16, 2009

vaccine3A few weeks ago, I blogged about the incredibly dumb open letter by anti-vaccinationist and Age of Autism propagandist Ginger Taylor. The open letter was addressed to Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, and was a response to an article they’d written in the LA Times. Orac then quickly wrote up a great response, to which Mooney and Kirshenbaum simply linked to rather than waste their valuable time just because some blogger chose to address them personally to get attention.

A few days later, another Age of Autism blogger wrote up another, which seemed to serve no purpose other than to chear-lead Taylor’s original article. I wrote a brief response to that too, which included a small error on my part, which was corrected by the cheerleading blogger himself. My mistake was that I was looking at the wrong LA Times article by Mooney and thus couldn’t find the specific quote, though I did surmise that it was a legitimate quote, only quote-mined to distort its meaning. . .which I still stand by. It was a quote where Mooney calls scientists “super smart,” and since then, anti-vaccinationists haven’t failed to continue misrepresenting the context of that quote in order to push their “science is elitist” rhetoric.

Mooney’s intended meaning was to argue that scientists need to learn how to better communicate science to the public and that he feels that’s something that some scientists are stubborn about learning. I happen to only agree with Mooney to a point and think his full thesis on how to communicate science is not much of a solution at all. But the point is that he was not suggesting in any way that when evidence is concerned, scientists can’t see the forest from the trees. He was saying scientists are poor communicators of science. There’s a fundamental difference.

Now, Taylor’s back and she’s still harping on the same misrepresented quote:

The article, a trite interview with Mooney about his book during which he disparaged AoA and treated the vaccine/autism connection as a closed case, reported that Americans were rejecting science because they just were, well… pathetic I guess, and needed to be listening to “super smart” scientists.

If ever there was a more obvious attempt to put words in someone’s mouth. Mooney never called Americans who disagreed with scientific findings “pathetic” and quite frankly, it’s rather arrogant to presume you represent all of America. Further, as I’ve written before, the “super smart” line was not about making an argument from authority as much as the anti-vaccinationists want to pretend that it was in order to use it as a platform to delve into one of the favorite tactics of all cranks, the “science has been wrong before” gambit, which has been discussed many, many times such as here and here.

My letter to them suggested that America might not be listening to the science industries and to people like Mooney because they are treating America so poorly and with such little regard.

Perhaps the answer, Ginger, lies not in the scientists but in yourself. In your original article you stated:

Yet “science” has never done a simple study that took a large group of vaccinated children and a large group of children whose parents chose not to vaccinate them, and compared them for autism incidence!

And my original response:

You mean scientists have never done a study like this one right here that you’ve known about for some time? But let’s be honest here.  All we really needed was this study here. But of course that’s not good enough for you. BIG SURPRISE. What you want, scientists can’t give you because it’s either unethical or impossible to acheive.

So why is it exactly that you feel you can disrespect others by lying but feel it’s outrageous that they should choose not to respect you for lying? But she goes on:

The letter generated a number of responses both privately and publicly in which I (member of the pathetic public in the very same demographic which Mooney suggested that science journalists should be reaching out to) was treated poorly and with little regard.

Again, she tries to appoint herself representative of everyone. No, Ginger. Again, you and your fundamentalist, pseudo-scientific coherts at Age of Autism are pathetic; everyone else is just fine. Most people are capable to objectively hearing out the evidence and forming conclusions based on the evidence instead of their own biases. Ideologues who will never change their minds no matter how compelling the evidence, on the other hand, are not the demographic a science journalist goes out of their way to reach. To borrow an expression from Barney Frank, trying to talk to you is like trying to talk to a dining room table. So what would be the point?

Then Taylor goes on to whine about how offended she was that M&K just let Orac speak for them. Does she link to Orac’s response or actually address Orac’s arguments? Nope. Instead, she tries to intimidate Orac by revealing his true identity. . .which was never really a secret in the first place and make a string of non-sequiters/ad hominems that don’t come anywhere close to addressing the actual arguments. Then after promoting another blog of hers, she dismisses all her critics as “bullshit,” cleverly linking to the book “On Bullshit.” Because of course, that gets to the heart of the matter. Good job, Ginger. Classy and insightful as ever.

She then goes on for another paragraph describing her temper tantrum before ironically accusing her critics of not addressing. . .

“. . .the science or questions that are inconvenient to their stance, have contempt for the people that they are supposed to be serving, the same people whom Mooney says that they should be reaching out to (which is me, whom he will not answer).”

Um, no. You’re projecting again, Ginger. As I pointed out before, there wasn’t any science in your original open letter in the first place. It was just a long rant about how you think scientists and science journalists are big arrogant meanies for not taking your seriously. And similarly, there certainly wasn’t anything resembling science in this latest rant. And this is the third time now in one short blog that you declared yourself representative for all non-scientists.

This entire anti-intellectual gambit gives me flashbacks to Sarah Palin insisting she’s qualified to be vice president because she’s a hockey mom, relates to Joe Sixpack, is attacked by the “gotcha media”, and because her critics are just elitists. Has it ever occured to you Ms. Palin–err, I mean Ms. Taylor, that in certain fields like public office and science, that elitism is a good thing? You’re so proud of your 167,000 emails to Obama but did it ever occur to you that science isn’t a democratic process and that public opinion doesn’t change the facts?

As I understand it, the whole thesis of Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s book is that science literacy is a serious problem in this country. And given that a fifth of all Americans don’t even know if the Earth revolves around the sun or vice versa, that even more than that think that the Earth is 6000 years old, and that many Americans deny the facts of 9/11, I definitely wouldn’t be very proud of your little public opinion poll on the subject, especially since, as Penn and Teller superbly illustrate here, you can get people to support just about anything:

The most reputable health organizations in the country aren’t about to just change their minds about the science just because a bunch of laypeople wrote uninformed letters to the president. That’s simply not how science works. You could get people to write 167,000 emails to Obama saying 9/11 was an inside job; that wouldn’t make it true.

The result for me is that after five years of good faith efforts to have earnest, productive exchanges with people like these, I have given up.  I just don’t care what they think any more.

. . .

And start thinking for themselves rather than swallowing what they read in the paper.

It’s great to encourage people to think for themselves as long as they accept the possiblity that they can be wrong. But there’s your problem, Ginger. You don’t care what experts think, and you never did. You simply have faith in your own conjecture and are uninterested in having those beliefs challenged or scrutinized. And that is why the experts as well as those of us who care about good science, academic rigor, and evidence will never take you seriously.

Chris Mooney responds to Sam Harris and digs himself even deeper

September 16, 2009

I’ve written a lot about my disagreements with the accomodationist view that’s apparently advocated by in Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum’s (M&K) latest book  (here, here, here, here, here, and here). I finally thought I was done talking about M&K’s much criticized book but every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in.

This time it’s Mooney’s response to Sam Harris’ criticisms during his criticisms of Francis Collins. Now I still haven’t read the book at the heart of the controversy and I’m not really planning on it. So I’m not critiquing their book, only their blog response to Harris, which I have read.

Mainly, I wish to focus on this paragraph here in Mooney’s response:

“The point is not to watch what you say, but to understand the context in which you are trying to communicate—and to recognize that most Americans are not going to be dragged all the way from fundamentalism to atheism thanks to the force of reasoned arguments. No matter how much we may wish it, it just isn’t going to happen. Giving them some more moderate stopping off points along the way is the only common sense approach if you want to change minds, or change the culture.”

Here I think Chris is giving away his hand. Harris is right. This is about M&K just trying to get converts who will say they accept evolution. Chris is himself an atheist, and I surmise that if asked about it, he’d say he has good reason for his atheistic position. But his argument condescendingly says that while you and I might be able to understand the full atheistic ramifications of science, some people aren’t as smart as us, so we need to feed them science-lite first to ween them off religion slowly to a less true middle ground. Then once they reach science OT Level III, we can tell them the full truth about Xenu–err, I mean we can eventually get them to embrace full science a lot easier once we’ve gotten them to this bogus middle ground position we originally told them was correct.

It’s just a strategy, a deceptive tactic for manipulating people in order to convert them to our way of thinking. But that’s not what scientific-minded people should do; that’s what the cranks do. We’re better than that. We should be teaching people critical thinking and have enough confidence in our scientific conclusions to expect critical thinkers to embrace it on their own. Even if we assumed that M&K’s tactic was more effective at getting more evolution converts than just being honest with people by admitting the atheistic implications of science, I’d still prefer honesty to Chris’ “giving them some more moderate stopping off points along the way.”