2010 This Year In Skepticism – January

January 2, 2011

Here is the first part of my look back at the big skeptic-related news stories from last year. I’m just covering last January in this piece but I’ll try to cover more than one month in the next installment.

Yet another well-designed study hit another nail in the coffin of the hypothesis that the MMR vaccine is linked with autism. Then researchers concluded that there was a lack of evidence supporting special diets for autism.

New smart phone apps emerge that debunk creationism

California said no to creationist curriculum

Pat Robertson blamed the Haitian earthquake on a mythical pact the nation never made with the devil–true story–thus earning him a nomination in the douchebag of the year awards.

Vatican Bank accused of laundering $200 million.

Stephen Baldwin said he’d rather see his daughter die than lie about Jesus, earning him a solid nomination in the douchebag of the year awards.

The arrest of the businessman responsible for selling dowsing rods, aka magic wands, as bomb detectors.

UK’s General Medical Council concluded that anti-vaccine prophet Andrew Wakefield acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly.”

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledges $10 billion to vaccines and Doctors Without Borders vaccinates 2,100 kids against Measles in Pakistan – both were big victories for public health around the world.

Skeptics fail in homeopathy-based suicide attempt – The 1023 campaign sparked a great deal of attention on this little publicity stunt and made homeopathy look incredibly stupid.

Star of Scientology orientation film gives farewell performance – Larry Anderson, an actor and long-time member of $cientology who starred in their orientation film left the cult.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 12.27.10

December 27, 2010

1. Christianity loses majority in England – For the first time, an annual British Social Attitudes survey suggests Christianity does not represent the majority of British citizens, with only 42% self-identifying as Christians while 51% now saying they have no religion. America is making progress in that area as well bu still has ways to go, as 26% of Millennials saying they’re religiously unaffiliated compared with 20% of GenXers and 14% of Baby Boomers.

2. What’s the harm in voodoo? – a Haitian mob has taking to lynching voodoo priests over the belief that voodoo is the cause of the recent cholera outbreak. It should be noted that Germ Theory was being argued as early as at least 1700 by physician Nicolas Andry as an explanation for small pox and other diseases and that John Snow contributed to the formation of the germ theory when he traced the source of the 1854 cholera outbreak in Soho, London. And for those keeping track, the Haitian cholera outbreak being blamed on voodoo is happening in the year 2010, over a hundred and fifty years later. That’s like attributing the dishwasher (1850), sewing machine (1851), and pasteurisation (1856) to demons.

3. I usually don’t like seeing children get spanked but PZ does it so well – Occasionally, PZ Myers posts a particularly egregious creationist email he gets and has his fun dissecting and demolishing its points. This time, it was an email from a creationist claiming to be a 12-year-old boy. Now normally I would say leave the kid alone as it seems overly cruel to publicly ridicule someone so young. But to the kid’s credit (if we take his age at face value), it’s fairly well written for a 12-year-old (minus some glaring typos) and it’s actually precisely the same arguments we hear from adult creationists all the time, so I can’t really fault PZ for using this email as chance to educate.

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Christian Missionaries to Haitian survivors: convert or die

March 1, 2010

You may think I’m being overly dramatic in that headline but Pastor Frank Amedia of Touch Heaven Ministries pretty much said just that:

“We would give food to the needy in the short term but if they refused to give up Voodoo, I’m not sure we would continue to support them in the long term because we wouldn’t want to perpetuate that practice. We equate it with witchcraft, which is contrary to the Gospel.”

This is why no matter how much good is done by missionaries, it will never be a moral act and will never earn my respect. These assholes use food to bribe the less fortunate into converting and if given a choice, would rather people starve to death than live out long, healthy lives as non-Christians. Where’s this objective morality I hear so much about?

Is it any wonder that Haiti’s supreme Voodoo leader vows to wage war against the evangelicals?

Haiti’s supreme voodoo leader has vowed to wage “war” after Evangelicals attacked a ceremony organised by his religion honouring those killed in last month’s massive earthquake.

The attack on Tuesday in the capital’s sprawling Cite Soleil slum came amid rising religious tensions, as Protestant Evangelicals and other denominations recruit followers in the wake of the earthquake that killed more than 200,000.

Some of the fresh converts have said they did so because they believed God caused the earthquake.

“It will be war – open war,” Max Beauvoir, supreme head of Haitian voodoo, said in an interview at his home and temple outside the capital.

Yup, another problem made infinitely worse by religion.


A first-hand account of Scientology’s work in Haiti

February 4, 2010

Okay, we all already knew that $cientologists were deluded, but who knew they were this incompetent?

I knew we were traveling with doctors and EMTs, but I didn’t expect to see 50 scientologists, in their yellow shirts with Volunteer Minister on them. They were completely unprepared for going to a third world country, let alone a disaster zone. One girl was in designer cowboy boots. I asked her if she’d brought any sturdier footwear.

“Oh no, these’ll be fine.”

I asked another guy what he’d packed and he said he hadn’t bothered to bring soap or toilet paper or food, but that he’d just “buy whatever I need at Port-au-Prince airport.” I couldn’t break it to him.

While they didn’t bring food or water, they figured they’d just buy it with their giant bankroll when they got there. . .because of course we all know post-earthquake Haiti has plenty of food and water to go around. Oh yeah, and they had no one with them who could speak Creole. Good thinking!

But at least their efforts of “touch healing” were appeciated:

One of the doctors and one of the nurses told me that the wounded started coming to them to tell them they didn’t want to be treated by the people in the yellow shirts.One nurse told me that the Scientologists actually caused harm — they gave food to people who were scheduled to go into surgery. That then led to complications in the operating theater.

No wonder $cientology is falling apart. These people are fucking idiots.


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.

Outstanding!

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.


Baptists kidnap 33 Haitian children for Jesus

January 31, 2010

Some of these are the actual would-be kidnappers

A group of Baptists were arrested for trying to kidnap 33 Haitian children for Jesus

Ten U.S. Baptists detained trying to take 33 children out of earthquake-shattered Haiti without government permission say they were just trying to do the right thing, applying Christian principles to save Haitian children.

Prime Minister Max Bellerive on Sunday told The Associated Press that the group was arrested and is under judicial investigation “because it is illegal trafficking of children and we won’t accept that.”

Well, the Bible does demand the selling of daughters into slavery (Exodus 21:7-8:

21:7 And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do. 21:8 If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.


News From Around The Blogosphere 1.23.10

January 24, 2010

1. Man may be capable of running 40 MPH

The newly published evidence identifies the critical variable imposing the biological limit to running speed, and offers an enticing view of how the biological limits might be pushed back beyond the nearly 28 miles per hour speeds achieved by Bolt to speeds of perhaps 35 or even 40 miles per hour.

2. UK bans dowsing rods posing as bomb detectors – I’ve blogged before about the bogus bomb detectors used by Iraqi military officials. Glad to see the media isn’t dropping the ball on reporting this sham.

3. The other day I posted this clip of William Shatner asking “psychic” John Edward some great hardball questions:

Well I didn’t see this clip from the end of the show that seems to further suggest that you can’t fool Captain Kirk:

4. John Travolta & other $cientology vampires feed off Haiti disaster victims – I probably shouldn’t be surprised. After 9/11, Tom Cruise showed up to get the cult free publicity by giving the FDNY bogus “detox” treatments and the $cientologists showed up after Virginia Tech in the wake of that atrocity. They really have no shame.

5. Vanity Fair visits the Creation “Museum” – And they brought Paul Bettany, the atheist actor who portrays Charles Darwin in the new film “Creation” with them to take photos. My favorite part of the article was this:

The Creation Museum isn’t really a museum at all. It’s an argument. It’s not even an argument. It’s the ammunition for an argument. It is the Word made into bullets. An armory of righteous revisionism. This whole building is devoted to the literal veracity of the first 11 chapters of Genesis: God created the world in six days, and the whole thing is no more than 6,000 years old. Everything came at once, so Tyrannosaurus rex and Noah shared a cabin. That’s an awful lot of explaining to do. This place doesn’t just take on evolution—it squares off with geology, anthropology, paleontology, history, chemistry, astronomy, zoology, biology, and good taste. It directly and boldly contradicts most -onomies and all -ologies, including most theology.

6. Denmark’s Prime Minister says burqas not welcome in Denmark – Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and according to its Prime Minister, it’s the burqa:

THE face-covering burqa and niqab veils worn by some Muslim women “have no place in Danish society”, Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen has said. “They symbolise a view of women and humanity that we totally oppose and that we want to combat in Danish society,” he said.

Denmark was “an open, democratic society where we look at the person to whom we are talking, whether it’s in a classroom or on the job”.

“That is why we don’t want to see this garment in Danish society,” he said.

Now why can’t the U.S. have politicians with that kind of balls?