News From Around The Blogosphere 2.7.11

February 8, 2011

1. FBI investigating Scientology for human trafficking – A recent profile on ex-Scientologist and Oscar-winner Paul Haggis in the New Yorker also discussed an ongoing FBI investigation into the allegations of abuse by Scientology’s leader David Miscavige, and the enslavement of members of  the Sea Org:

The laws regarding trafficking were built largely around forced prostitution, but they also pertain to slave labor. Under federal law, slavery is defined, in part, by the use of coercion, torture, starvation, imprisonment, threats, and psychological abuse. The California penal code lists several indicators that someone may be a victim of human trafficking: signs of trauma or fatigue; being afraid or unable to talk, because of censorship by others or security measures that prevent communication with others; working in one place without the freedom to move about; owing a debt to one’s employer; and not having control over identification documents. Those conditions echo the testimony of many former Sea Org members…

And speaking of Scientology…

Tom Cruise

2. Is fictional Unitology in ‘Dead Space 2’ related to Scientology? – The videogame’s creative director says the similarities are just a coincidence, saying the inspiration came from Carl Sagan’s “The Demon-Haunted World”, but his dismissal seems less than convincing given the similarities.

3. One flu vaccine to rule them all? – Researchers may have found a universal flu vaccine to end all flu vaccines. Though it’s worth noting that the trial had only 22 subjects, but bigger studies are in progress.

4. That time of year again for another ‘invisibility cloak’ story – Every year there’s another story about an invisibility cloak on the way with the requisite reference to Harry Potter. Here’s the latest one about a cloak that hides objects, rather than people, and without the use of metamaterials.

5. 1 in 8 U.S. biology teachers are creationists– This is a shocking statistic. Roger Ebert had an appropriate response to this on Twitter, analogizing this to the hypothetical statistic of 1 in 8 math teachers believing 2+2=5.

6. Florida court sides against anti-vax mom in custody battle – This is great news to hear a court rule so decisively against a parent specifically because their anti-vaccine beliefs directly endanger that child’s life. Hopefully, this will help set a precedent in all U.S. courts.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 3.10.10

March 11, 2010

1. I’ll have water on the rocks – Turns out we didn’t need to blow up the moon to find water because there was water in the rock samples we got decades ago the whole time:

The water levels detected in Apollo moon rocks and volcanic glasses are in the thousands of parts per million, at most—which explains why analyses of the samples in the late 1960s and early 1970s concluded that the moon was absolutely arid.


2. Debunking creationists? Yeah, there’s an App for that – I blogged before about the The Counter-Creationism Handbook App but this one, Creationist Claims, is specifically for the iPhone.

3. Song For James Randi – Randi has now been immortalized in song, thanks to Tense Kids.

4. Human culture may have a powerful effect on evolution

Although it does shield people from other forces, culture itself seems to be a powerful force of natural selection. People adapt genetically to sustained cultural changes, like new diets. And this interaction works more quickly than other selective forces, “leading some practitioners to argue that gene-culture co-evolution could be the dominant mode of human evolution,” Kevin N. Laland and colleagues wrote in the February issue of Nature Reviews Genetics. Dr. Laland is an evolutionary biologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

5. New study furthers evidence of flu shot benefits

An unusual study done in 49 remote Hutterite farming colonies in western Canada has provided the surest proof yet that giving flu shots to schoolchildren protects a whole community from the disease.

Although previous studies have demonstrated what scientists call “herd immunity,” none have been so incontrovertible, because they were done in less isolated places with more sources of flu passing through. Also, only one other study, done 42 years ago, immunized over 80 percent of a community’s children, as this one did. Success repeated in many separate communities with very high vaccination rates implies that the shots themselves — rather than luck, viral mutations, hand-washing or any other factor — were the crucial protective element.

So will the anti-vaxxers come around? Of course not. They’ll be throwing every excuse possible to reject this study and slander those who conducted it, the journalist who wrote the article, and the NY Times itself.

And speaking of the flu. . .

6. Stephen Novella gives an update on the H1N1 flu – Just because the media stopped talking about it, it doesn’t mean H1N1 didn’t have serious consequences. Fortunately, despite the massive anti-vaccine campaign against the vaccine, many Americans actually did get the vaccine and the seasonal flu vaccine, leading to a solid victory for medicine. While the numbers of those infected and who died of H1N1 were a bit high, the seasonal flu ended up doing far less damage than usual. Of course once again the success of vaccines will be exploited by the deniers who regarded the hype surrounding H1N1 as nothing but fear-mongering to get people to get the poisonous vaccines. But at least they can’t point to many cases of vaccine injury either, so it kinda evens out in the end anyway with fewer deaths than we feared, making it a cause to celebrate.

7. Another pharmacist refuses to do her job for her religion

Janine Deeley, 38, thought the woman was joking when she took her on one side and said : “I don’t give out contraceptive pills because of my religion.”

The mother of two teenage daughters, from Wybourn , Sheffield, said : “I couldn’t believe the arrogance of the woman . Who is she to refuse to give me properly prescribed legal drugs?

“The irony is that one reason why I am prescribed the pill is because I suffer from endometriosis which causes painful periods.

I don’t know if that counts as irony but misappropriates of words aside, this is ridiculous. If your religion prevents you from doing your job, get another job. It’s that fucking simple!

Ken Ham now runs a traveling circus

March 1, 2010

Ken Ham is taking his little side show known as the Creation “Museum” on the road. The Friendly Atheist seems to think this is a bad thing.

I disagree.

Now those previously prevented by distance from seeing P.T. Ham’s Greatest Show on Earth will be able to experience his collection of freaks first-hand.

Let’s face it. Ham’s little attraction is not on its own going to change anyone’s mind. The only people who will come out convinced are those who walked in already convinced along with their unfortunately indoctrinated kids, to which this will merely reinforce the brainwashing that’s already taking place.

So what makes this makes this a good thing is it will likely draw more attention to Ham’s “Museum,” which I want possibly more than Ken Ham. Often when fanatics push too much it leads to an even greater push back. For instance, history may ultimately find that Prop 8 was the best thing to ever happen to the Marriage Equality Movement.

I think this would be a great call to arms for creationist critics to rally together via the internet to organize regional sneak attacks on Ham’s traveling freak show using Anonymous’ war on $cientology as a model. I’m not afraid of Ham’s “Museum” and nobody else should be either.

The rise and fall of YouTube’s top posterboy for creationist stupidity

January 10, 2010

Our story begins two years ago. For those who don’t know, VenomFangX, aka 22-year-old Shawn, was YouTube’s most popular creationist/Christian evangelist. And during his time on YouTube, he made a lot of enemies not just for his ignorance but for his unparalleled arrogance, narcissism, censorship of ALL negative comments on his videos, and hypocrisy. This led to him practically becoming the star of popular YouTube atheist Thunderf00t’s brilliant “Why people laugh at creationists” series, which earned him the nickname PCS or the Posterboy for Creationist Stupidity.

Shawn decided to challenge Thunderf00t to a debate. Thunderf00t however declined to acquiesce to his request on the grounds that it’d be like Miss Teen South Carolina debating Stephen Hawking on black holes and the existence of gravity, while also exposing Shawn’s total dishonesty.

After viewers got a glimpse of his wealthy parents’ house where he lives and after previously making a specific point of mentioning how he doesn’t accept donations, he soon begged his sycophantic followers for a better camera to better spread “God’s” word. Around that same time he also reported that he’d lost his job as some retail clerk because he was pushing his unwanted Kent Hovind shwag on customers. He seemed genuinely surprised that management frowned on this. So this motivated him to start up a whole new website devoted to his “ministry.” There he called on his fans to donate money to his site under the fraudulent promise that Shawn would donate a portion of those proceeds to a children’s hospital. The only cause that money went to was himself. There was also a brief incident where another well known religious nut on YouTube, Anthony Powell aka Tony48219, who had frequently cited VenomFangX as his inspiration, was involved in a murder/suicide. And while Shawn’s top critics didn’t blame him for Anthony’s behavior or anger, it was nearly impossible to not see how such an unstable personality would be attracted to the fanaticism found in Shawn’s videos.

Then Shawn made a melodramatic formal announcement that he was permanently shutting down his YouTube account due to alleged death threats against himself and his family, followed by an unhalted continuation of his videos. Must have been sweeps week. He did however delete all or most of his previous videos, leading some to wonder if this was all just an act to play the martyr while inventing a convenient excuse to erase all the firmly debunked videos of his past.

But then Shawn started to get ambitious, which led to him getting sloppy. He was caught dishonestly trying to censor his critics by being either directly or indirectly responsible for false DMCA copyright notifications against some of his chief critics, such as Thunderf00t, which backfired when those more knowledgeable of the law informed him that this was a serious legal offense. But when given the opportunity to have Shawn permanently removed from YouTube and take legal action against him, Thunderf00t showed him mercy by dropping the whole matter provided Shawn agreed to go into self-exile from YouTube for one year.

What Shawn failed to consider due to his total ignorance of the law was that use of clips from his videos was protected under Fair Use because his critics included commentary on the material. His claim, based on the misunderstanding of YouTube’s policy, was that the moment he removed a video from his channel that footage ceased to be within Fair Use. Apparently he thought that the legal expectation was that everyone using clips from other Youtubers’ had to remain constantly aware of whether the original source material was still available on YouTube or not. He also left a digital paper trail acknowledging his role in the illegal action and further illustrating extreme dishonesty. Amusingly, as you can see in the last video linked to above, Shawn opened himself to a world of trouble by upping the cockiness as he foolishly believed he was calling an empty bluff. His overconfidence was his downfall as his opponent was holding a Royal Flush.

After making this video a year ago, the VenomFangX channel went into hiatus for awhile. That is, until seven months ago. That’s when Shawn handed over his VenomFangX YouTube channel with all its sycophantic subscribers to the equally deranged YouTuber Gerrup. Then after Thunderf00t met to discuss evolution with creationist Ray “Banana Man” Comfort, VenomFangX made another request for a formal debate with Thunderf00t, to which he agreed on the condition that Shawn come back to YouTube to make more creationist videos. He made this counter offer because quite frankly Thunderf00t realizes that Shawn’s videos only further illustrate how idiotic creationism is and that his only fans are those who already believed similarly to him from the start. But it is an important point that Thunderf00t invited Shawn to return to YouTube as Shawn would later go on to insist that his chief critics were out to silence his voice and get him off YouTube.

Then just recently, Shawn resurfaced on YouTube with a video announcing that he’s now attending college while unintentionally showing just how disconnected he was from the other students around him. Though I could not find that video, here’s a parody of it, which incorporates Shawn’s actual audio.

And that brings us to the final VenomFangX controversy. Popular YouTube atheist, DPRJones made a series of three videos titled, “Why people hate you, VenomFangX” (here, here, and here). In it, he outlined Shawn’s history on YouTube and made a rather compelling case for why he thinks Shawn might be a sociopath. This led to Shawn trying to pull the EXACT same tactic he’d tried on Thunderf00t on DPRJones’ videos. Again, he issued false DMCA claims and again his defense was based on the same exact false interpretation of YouTube’s policy. Despite the fact that this was explained to him the last time, he claimed the policy is that the moment he removed a video from his channel that footage ceased to be within Fair Use.

So then DPRJones gave Shawn a warning to take down his account within ten days, similar to what Thunderf00t had initially done. This led to a lengthy email exchange between the two, chronicled in another series of three videos (here, here, and here). In them, Shawn trotted out the old claim that crazy people had threatened his life and the lives of his family. Though, suspiciously, that didn’t seem to deter him from returning to YouTube the last time. He then proceeded to refuse to accept any responsibility for making his own enemies and refused to accept that by entering the public domain, he opens himself up to legitimate criticism in addition to more or less blaming DPRJones for inciting such threats by merely posting legitimate and intellectual criticisms. The whole exchange is just an ocean of transparent lies, strategic emotional appeals, denials of responsibility, logical fallacies, and just incoherent gibberish.

This was followed by Shawn’s bravado again as he threatened to “take a huge chunk of videos down with me.” So after already undergoing all the other stages in Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief, Shawn at last arrived at Acceptance:

But again, as with the Thunderf00t incident, he thought he was calling a bluff when his opponent had the far superior hand, so he included some of that classic VenomFangX bravado even though its only led to ruin. As one can see from the above video, he refuses to accept responsibility for his actions, blames those he wronged for his troubles when he has no one to blame but himself, and makes a whole lot of excuses to give the impression that leaving YouTube was his choice when it wasn’t. And then, to add insult to injury, he chooses to not walk away without first slandering the critic he himself had wronged. I guess the kid never learns.

Here’s a few reactions to the death of the VenomFangX channel:



VelcroBanana – He and DPRJones also commented on Shawn’s ridiculous accusation here and exposing his final piece of deliberate dishonesty.

So with that, so long Shawn. I’d like to say it’s been fun but, you know, like most other people, I can’t stand you.

DPR, sue the fucker for slander!

News From Around The Blogosphere 1.4.09

January 5, 2010

1. Researchers conclude that G-spot is a myth

The scientists at King’s College London who carried out the study claim there is no evidence for the existence of the G-spot — supposedly a cluster of internal nerve endings — outside the imagination of women influenced by magazines and sex therapists. They reached their conclusions after a survey of more than 1,800 British women.

2. Egyptian med students not the sharpest tools in the shed – Apparently Egyptian med students have it in their heads that masturbation causes blindness. Yes, I said that these were the Med students!

Baher Ibrahim writes that young women, expected by the conservative Egyptian society to be white virginal emblems of chastity, often wouldn’t know a penis from a bratwurst (I’m talking the literal food here). Meanwhile, many of the guys get their sexual knowledge from watching porn, which doesn’t do women any favors, no matter what country you’re in.

Bad or non-existent sex ed also fails to teach people to protect themselves against STDs. One student interviewed recalls a professor pinning the failure rate of condom usage in protecting against HIV/AIDS at 15-20% (it’s actually close to zero). Unsurprisingly, women are at particular risk for the disease, which spreads primarily through unprotected heterosexual sex, due to a severe lack of information on the subject. And, oh abstinence-until-m

3. Creationists given potentially unparalleled power over children’s textbooks – Texas and California are the two states that largely determine public school textbooks for the rest of the country. But now that liberal California can’t afford to buy new textbooks until 2014, Don McLeroy and his ultraconservative gang may have all the power. We’re going to need Eugenie Scott and the National Center for Science Education more than ever now.

4. British skeptics launch ’10:23 Campaign’ against homeopathy – The name comes from the Avogadro Constant, the scientific principle in which homeopathy would violate…if it were true. I also love their slogan:  “Homeopathy: There’s Nothing In It.”

5. Black Atheist is cast member on MTV’s ‘Real World’ – Apparently, one of the cast members of the latest season of the Real World, Ty Ruff, is a black atheist. I only mention his skin color because there doesn’t tend to be many black atheists.

According to  his bio:

… Despite growing up in the church, he is anti-religion and thinks believing in God is a crutch…

6. Atheist Foundation of Australia put up bus ad in Tasmania – The slogan is, “Atheism: Celebrate Reason!” I like it.

7. New study finds chimpanzees have culture too

A new study of chimpanzees living in the wild adds to evidence that our closest primate relatives have cultural differences, too. The study, reported online on October 22nd in Current Biology, shows that neighboring chimpanzee populations in Uganda use different tools to solve a novel problem: extracting honey trapped within a fallen log.

Kibale Forest chimpanzees use sticks to get at the honey, whereas Budongo Forest chimpanzees rely on leaf sponges — absorbent wedges that they make out of chewed leaves.

“The most reasonable explanation for this difference in tool use was that chimpanzees resorted to preexisting cultural knowledge in trying to solve the novel task,” said Klaus Zuberbühler of the University of St Andrews in Scotland. “Culture, in other words, helped them in dealing with a novel problem.”

8. Lifeless prions evolve or another bad day to be a creationist

Scientists from The Scripps Research Institute have determined for the first time that prions, bits of infectious protein devoid of DNA or RNA that can cause fatal neurodegenerative disease, are capable of Darwinian evolution.

The study from Scripps Florida in Jupiter shows that prions can develop large numbers of mutations at the protein level and, through natural selection, these mutations can eventually bring about such evolutionary adaptations as drug resistance, a phenomenon previously known to occur only in bacteria and viruses. These breakthrough findings also suggest that the normal prion protein — which occurs naturally in human cells — may prove to be a more effective therapeutic target than its abnormal toxic relation.

News From Around The Blogosphere 12.3.09

December 4, 2009

1. Men may be doomed by their sperm

Men carry the seeds of their own destruction in the genes present in their sperm, research suggests.

Scientists working on mice have highlighted a specific gene that, although carried by both sexes, appears to be active only in males.

They believe it allows males to grow bigger bodies – but at the expense of their longevity.

2. Roger Ebert gives both creationists and New Agers the thumbs down – Ebert is growing awesome in his own age. First, he panned both the style and the science of Ben Stein’s awful mockumentary last year. Then earlier this year he wrote about his atheism. And now he’s done it again. This is up there with your review and follow-up remarks regarding The Brown Bunny.

3. Age of Autism has removed their entry with the controversial Thanksgiving image – But it’s still available thanks to Google’s cache. Suck it, Handley, Crosby, Wright, Stagliano, and the rest!

4. NY state senate says no to gay marriage –  Wow, this is disappointing. It’s New York, dammit! Home of Greenwich Village and Broadway. How is it possible that NY can’t pass gay marriage?

5. Dating site ‘True’ screens out “marrieds & felons & atheists” – I think Friendly Atheist nails all the obvious questions that come to mind:

How exactly do they screen for atheists? For that matter, how would they know who’s married or a felon? They’re assuming a lot of honesty in these online profiles…

6. Rick Warren doesn’t just know the mind of ‘God’ but the mind of every atheist

“People become atheists because of hurt, then seek intellectual arguments to validate their desire to live without God.”

That’s an interesting hypothesis there, Rick. Care to back that little gem up with demonstrable evidence.

7. Religious classes count for GPA in Poland

The Constitutional Tribunal has ruled that grades awarded for religion classes in school can count towards a pupil’s grade point average.

Two years ago the Democratic Left Alliance asked the Tribunal to look into the case, believing that it was discriminatory towards schoolchildren who came from atheist families or who had other beliefs.

Institute for Creation Research honoring scientists?

April 30, 2009

creationistsThe Institute for Creation Research is apparently responsible for a number of Facebook fan pages for numerous scientists including: Louis Pasteur, Robert Boyle, Charles Bell, William Kirby, James Clerk Maxwell, and George Washington Carver. But it’s not the science the ICR seems to be interested in but the scientists themselves, particularly their creationist beliefs. Take this excerpt from the George Washington Carver page:

George Washington Carver was one of the great scientists who honored God as the Creator. Carver revolutionized agricultural science, and his studies of nature convinced him of the existence and benevolence of the Creator.

Carver’s actual achievements are totally irrelevant to the ICR. All they care about is that they get to exploit his good name and the fact that he happened to have been a creationist (because he lived before Darwin) in order to make the standard creationist argument from authority. In other words, they get to say, see evolutionists, even brilliant scientists accepted creationism. Of course, this is no more a valid argument than justifying slavery by pointing out that many of the great Founding Fathers of the U.S.  owned slaves or justifying a heliocentric view of the universe because Archimedes might have held that view in his time. So what? That’s not a valid evidential argument for why we should still believe what people in less scientifically advanced times who happened to be brilliant in their own time believed.  Then of course there’s still Project Steve, the NCSE’s genius response to creationist arguments from authority.

If this is the kind of argument they find convincing, they should know that Carver also didn’t believe in computers, the internet, television sets, vaccines, antibiotics, or automobiles either.

Debunking long dead creationists

February 17, 2009

John Holbo came across an old 19th century book of poetry that makes one of the worst arguments for design I’ve ever heard. Not surprisingly, it bares slight resemblence to Ray Comfort’s “Atheist Nightmare” argument: “The Atheist and the Acorn”, by Anne, the Duchess of Winchelsea.

Methinks this world is oddly made,
And every thing’s amiss,
A dull presuming atheist said,
As stretch’d he lay beneath a shade,
And instanced it in this:

Behold, quoth he, that mighty thing,
A pumpkin, large and round,
Is held but by a little string,
Which upwards cannot make it spring,
Or bear it from the ground.

While on this oak, an acorn small,
So disproportion’d, grows;
That, who with sense surveys this all,
This universal casual ball,
Its ill contrivance knows.

My better judgment would have hung
The pumpkin on the tree,
And left the acorn, lightly strung,
‘Mongst things which on the surface sprung,
And small and feeble be.

No more the caviller could say,
Nor further faults descry;
For as he upwards gazing lay,
An acorn, loosen’d from its stay,
Fell down upon his eye.

The wounded part with tears ran o’er,
As punish’d for the sin:
Fool! had that bough a pumpkin bore,
Thy whimseys would have work’d no more,
Nor skull have kept them in.


I found the illustration here, and was saved from having to scan it. The poem can be found elsewhere on the web, in slightly different versions. Here, for example.

My refutation:  falling coconuts kill more people each year than sharks.