News From Around The Blogosphere 8.31.11

September 1, 2011

The pale blue dot--that's home. That's us.

1. Earth:  home to 8.7 million species – At least that’s the latest estimate. Two of each of them fit on Noah’s Ark. And if you believe that one, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.

2. Sam Harris corrects David Eagleman about atheism – I was unfamiliar with the term, “possibilianism,” but I certainly recognize the position. Eagleman thinks he’s found a position in between atheism and theism; he’s wrong. As Sam Harris says, what he describes is by any other name…atheism.

3. Bill Nye teaches climate science to Fox Business’ Charles Payne   – Bill demonstrates in this clip what a superb science communicator he is. He manages to hold court and deliver a fairly lengthy speech without even once being interrupted by a Fox pundit. It’s remarkable! Even better, when Payne tries to move the dialogue away from the science towards a personal attack on Al Gore, Bill brilliantly takes a moment to first repeat his key message, that global warming is an indisputable fact,  before giving a perfect political response that manages to neither “defend” Gore, who denialists like to pretend personally invented the “myth of global warming” nor falling into the trap of saying something that might be later taken out of context to portray Gore as some wacky alarmist. It’s a perfect performance and a solid win for science communication. That’s why we call him “The Science Guy.”

4. An atheist billboard rejected in Nashville – So what was so shocking that it was too hot for Nashville?

“You don’t need God — to hope, to care, to love, to live.”

How dare those mean, ol’ nasty Gnu Atheists!

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News From Around The Blogosphere 8.21.11

August 22, 2011

1. Bionic leg gives amputee natural gait – Once again, science achieves where gods have failed, creating a practical prosthetic leg that closely simulates the function of a biological one. Now unfortunately, the article was unclear whether the leg comes with a Six Million Dollar Man/Bionic Woman sound effect option.

2. A pro-science GOP candidate? – Republican presidential candidate John Huntsman has come out in support of both evolution and climate change. It began with a Twitter post where they tweeted: ”To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming.  Call me crazy.”  He then went on ABC’s Sunday morning show This Week and came out even stronger in support of science. And in doing so, he’s proven to be the only GOP candidate who seems to have graduated from elementary school and has immediately moved up to the top of my list of who I’d like to see running in the general election against Obama…at least out of the options that are currently on the table…which admittedly doesn’t say much.

I'm pretty sure this is the right Rhett S. Daniels

3. Science blogger silenced by quack’s lawsuit – Fortunately, U.S. libel cases are notoriously hard to prove and Rhett Daniels doesn’t seem to have anything even resembling a good case. But at least for the time being, René Najera has been successfully silenced by this intellectual coward’s bullying tactic.

4. Can science engineer a human with bulletproof skin?

By mixing the genomes of spiders and humans, researchers say they can create genetically altered human skin that could withstand a bullet fired from a .22-caliber long rifle.

They just better make sure this spider-man is taught that with great power comes great responsibility. This story sounds pretty far-fetched but it still makes for an interesting read.

5. JREF targets famous ‘psychics’ following Nightline episode – Last week’s episode of Nightline looked at the world of alleged psychics. It did a pretty decent job of representing the skeptical side, featuring guys like Banachek and James Randi himself voicing their criticisms and mimicking standard mentalist tricks. And now the James Randi Educational Foundation is following up the piece by issuing personal invites for several of the famous psychics featured in the show such as James Van Praagh to apply for their Million Dollar Challenge. Of course, one doesn’t have to be psychic to predict they’ll either ignore the challenge or refuse to take it with a silly excuse.

6. Psychic family caught in fraud case:

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And the award for most unfortunately (or awesomely) titled headline goes to…

September 22, 2010

And the award for most unfortunately (or awesomely) titled headline goes to…”Samoan clerics finger homosexuals over global warming.” OH NO! They didn’t! They did. Well, I guess if you’re going to finger homosexuals, global warming is as good a reason as any…if you’re into that sort of thing.

But putting aside that awful (or awesome) title, yes, some religious nutjobs really are trying to blame climate change on the gays. But to be fair, it fits with the title of the conference in which this idea was presented:  Climate Change and Creativity. Say what you will about how the idiocy of this hypothesis is only rivaled by that of the cleric who inadvertently sparked “Boobquake,” but you have to admit, it’s nothing if not creative.

However creative as it may be, suffice it to say, it lacks one moderately important ingredient…evidence:

Details of exactly how the ministers think homosexuals are pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere, thereby trapping heat around the planet, driving up the average temperature and causing massive economic and environmental dislocation are scant.

It may be that the clerics are understandably worried about rising levels of sex tourism in Samoa fuelled by cheap air travel and consequent rising energy consumption, though why this would be a gay-only problem is a mystery. But we suspect their latching onto climate change as a consequence of gayness is informed by a more biblical sense of cause and effect.

But while gays may not be dominating everyone else in air travel but this week, they do seem to be dominating the headlines as the notoriously anti-gay pastor of a 33,000 parishioner megachurch, Baptist Bishop Eddie L. Long, as it turns out, was coercing young male parishioners into sex:

Two young men in Georgia said Tuesday that the pastor of a 33,000-person Baptist megachurch, Bishop Eddie L. Long, had repeatedly coerced them into having sex with him.

In two lawsuits filed in DeKalb County, the men said that Bishop Long, a prominent minister and television personality, had used his position as a spiritual counselor to take them on trips out of state and perform sexual acts on them.

Shocker.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 8.3.10

August 3, 2010

Yup, I’m very behind again, so bare with me.

1. Former writers for ScienceBlogs find a new home – I’ve written already about “PepsiGate,” the controversy that led to many of the leading science bloggers on the web to leave their home at Scienceblogs. Well, now at least many of the bloggers who left, including one of my favorites, PalMD, have moved to Scientopia. And their joining other bloggers who had no previous connection to ScienceBlogs, so hopefully this will become yet another hub for amazing science coverage that the mainstream media is failing to cover. And PZ Myers, Orac, and Abbie Smith are all remaining at ScienceBlogs.  I personally don’t really care where they’re posting their material just as long as this incident hasn’t deprived the internet of great science bloggers.

2. New study again proves the Earth is warming

The 2009 State of the Climate report released today draws on data for 10 key climate indicators that all point to the same finding: the scientific evidence that our world is warming is unmistakable. More than 300 scientists from 160 research groups in 48 countries contributed to the report, which confirms that the past decade was the warmest on record and that the Earth has been growing warmer over the last 50 years.

Oh great! Now even Earth is falling for Al Gore’s evil liberal agenda.

3. Monkeys hate flying squirrels – C’mon, who doesn’t hate flying squirrels. Fuckin’ rodents think they’re so clever because they got built-in hang gliders. Humans had to actually build our flying technology; they were just born with it. That takes no great accomplishment. I’d like to see a flying squirrel build a 747. But maybe that’s just me. So why do monkeys hate them?

This riled-up response is probably just a false alarm, with the monkeys mistaking the squirrel for a predatory bird. On the other hand, male macaques – some of whom give chase and even attack a harmless rodent – might be trying to impress females in their troop.

Although this tough-guy motive was not proved in a new study, “it is possible that adult or sub-adult male monkeys may be ‘showing off’ their fitness” as potential mates, said Kenji Onishi, an assistant professor of behavioral sciences at Osaka University and lead author of the paper being published in the current issue of the journal Primate Research.

I like my reason better.

4. How high can Virgin Galactic take you? – Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic now has two fully operational private spacecraft: SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo (aka Enterprise). And for the low, low price of $200,000, they’ll take you about 68 miles above the Earth’s surface, or 6.2 miles above  the Kármán line, the boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. Now’s the time for Captain Kirk to start offering cheaper flights with Priceline.

5, Mind reading machines are science reality

It is possible to read someone’s mind by remotely measuring their brain activity, researchers have shown. The technique can even extract information from subjects that they are not aware of themselves.

So far, it has only been used to identify visual patterns a subject can see or has chosen to focus on. But the researchers speculate the approach might be extended to probe a person’s awareness, focus of attention, memory and movement intention. In the meantime, it could help doctors work out if patients apparently in a coma are actually conscious.

I can't handle the truth!

6. Anti-vaxxer Meryl Dorey is a lying bitch – The other day, Meryl Dorey of the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN – [snicker] ) responded to the accusations made against her that her organization misinforms parents and that they’ve harassed the McCaffery family, whose 4-week-old baby Dana died of pertussis because she was too young to be safely vaccinated and those around hadn’t been vaccinated either. Of course, she denied any wrongdoing of any kind. But now the McCaffery’s have responded to her response. And big surprise. She lied…a lot.

7. Self-sustaining robot has artificial gut – I do love my robot news. A robot, Ecobot III, eats dead flies for sustenance. It’s pretty inefficient now but it’s hard to imagine the possibilities for how far this research could take robot technology in the future.

8. Supplements found to be unsafe – I know it sounded like a great idea for supplements to not be regulated to confirm they are safe and effective but it turns out that, shockingly, not verifying these products are actually safe is a really, really bad idea. I know. Who knew?

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Does astrology disprove climate change?

February 27, 2010

Well South Dakota thinks so:


News From Around The Blogosphere 2.12.10

February 13, 2010

Happy Darwin Day everyone!

Also save the date June 21 because it will Global Atheist Solidarity Day!

1. Secular Coalition for America receives a gift of $500,000 from philanthropist Todd Stiefel

2. Need information to counter global climate change deniers in a hurry? Don’t worry. There’s an app for that.

3. Creation Science Fair? – It’s not very fair to science.

4. Measles outbreak in South Africa

The cause of a measles outbreak sweeping South Africa has not as yet been determined, but initial suspicions point to religious objections and unfounded fears that immunizations against the disease increase the risk of autism in children.

Thank’s Jenny McCarthy!


Collection of responses to James Randi’s unfortunate comments about climate change

December 18, 2009

I have enormous respect for James Randi. As the father and de facto leader of the modern skeptical movement, he has done more to promote critical thinking than almost anyone else alive. But even skeptics can be wrong from time to time. And even skeptics can fall victim to common logical fallacies.

Unfortunately, for Randi, that day has come as he’s written two rather credulous and poorly reasoned essays (here and here) expressing his doubts about some of the current established science regarding global climate change. I think the best takeaway from this situation is that it’s situations like this that really prove how skeptics differ from religions and other groups that revolve around an ideology. While skeptics may admire leading figures in the movement, no one is above reproach or criticism. Not even the father of the movement itself. Skeptics don’t worship James Randi. We don’t blindly accept the positions of Michael Shermer or Phil Plait or D.J. Grothe, or Stephen Novella, or Richard Dawkins. And even though we’ve come to rely heavily on their experience and opinions, the moment they seem to stray from the path, so to speak, or take a position based on logical fallacies, they’re going to be bombarded with criticisms about it. But unless they slide too far down the skeptic spectrum and do a lot more damage to what blogger Jesse Galef calls their “skepticism street cred”, they still have a seat at the table.

But it certainly is disappointing to hear that the de facto leader of the skeptical movement is beginning to sound a bit like a global warming denier. And it’s even more disconcerting that, given his role in the movement, he would be naive enough to nonchalantly publish these controversial thoughts for all to see without considering how it may impact the larger movement and without first doing far more research. As Greg Laden said, he should have known better.

But on a larger level, it doesn’t really matter what Randi thinks about climate change because the strength of the very movement he empowered is that we don’t rely on authorities to tell us what to believe but rigorously demand evidence for scientific claims.

For now, I don’t have much else to say about the matter that hasn’t been said better by someone else already. So I’ve decided to post links to others who have commented.

First, there’s Massimo Pigliucci, who I think nailed every point I can think of perfectly.

Some other commenters:

PZ Myers Part 1

PZ Myers Part 2

Phil Plait

Orac

James Hrynshyn

Daniel Florian

Greg Laden

Le Canard Noir at The Quackometer