Cara Santa Maria talks science and religion on the Nerdist Podcast

May 17, 2012

A few months ago, I had no idea who Cara Santa Maria was, but I’m quickly becoming a huge fan. I first discovered her when she was announced as a leading contributor to the Huffington Post’s Science section. And if ever a publication was in more need of one since in the past, the Huff Po’s idea of an expert on medicine included Jim Carey and Jenny McCarthy.

Still, after the announcement, I started following Cara Santa Maria on Twitter, but hadn’t really checked out her work until very recently when she did a great video piece in her column called “Talk Nerdy to me”  that investigated the scientific research for intercessory prayer. Since then, she did several interesting pieces including one involving a conversation with Chris Mooney, whom I have a kind of love/hate relationship with if you’ve read my past writings on him. But one thing I loved about Cara Santa Maria is how she couldn’t be further from the science nerd stereotype. She is a young, attractive woman with a kind of rock n’ roll look who is just great at communicating science to the public in a fun and entertaining fashion.

But then she started to turn up as a semi-regular co-host on The Young Turks internet show, which I’ve been a huge fan of for awhile now. And if I had any doubt that she wasn’t stalking me, now she turns up on my current favorite podcast (now behind Filmspotting and The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe) , the Nerdist Podcast. On that show, they cover a lot of fascinating topics, but almost inevitably once they began discussing about criticism her pieces have generated, they got into a lengthy discussion of her hate mail from religious fundamentalists who reject evolution and insist on the existence of a soul despite all the evidence to the contrary, etc.

It’s just a really great conversation about communicating science to the public and dealing with denialists who reject scientific facts. Plus there are dick jokes! Here’s a link to the episode. And as they say on Nerdist, enjoy your burrito!

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News From Around The Blogosphere 3.11.10

March 12, 2010

1. School cancels prom to turn students against gay teen – Constance McMillen was planning to wear a tuxedo and attend the prom with her girlfriend in a small town in Itawamba County, Mississippi. And after the ACLU stopped the school from denying her right to attend the prom the school got even by canceling the whole thing and making the student body know it was McMillen’s fault. And the town’s mayor chimed in, supporting the school. Because that’s just the kind of classy folks they have in Itawamba County, Mississippi.

2. Zimbabwe anti-vax religious sect gets 100 killed – Who needs vaccines when you’ve got prayer? Except, you know, if you actually want people to live.

3. Pope’s exorcist finds the devil isn’t in the details but in the Vatican – Rev. Gabriel Amorth has the silliest resume on Earth. He’s been the chief exorcist for the Vatican for 25 years. His favorite movie? You guessed it. It’s The Exorcist. He alleges to have treated over 70,000 cases of demonic possession and sadly, I have no reason to doubt that claim.

But even the fearless priest becomes still, his voice grave when asked whether the devil can strike inside the Vatican City.


“He has tried already. He did it in 1981 by attacking John Paul II by working with those who armed Ali Agca. And also now with the attack on Christmas Eve night when the crazy woman pushed down Benedict XVI.”

. . .

Amorth confesses, “The devil resides in the Vatican.”While admitting that it is hard to prove, he says the consequences of the devil’s work are evident: Cardinals who don’t believe in Jesus, bishops who are linked with the devil. As early 1972 Pope Paul VI talked about the “smoke of Satan” that hovered in the Vatican, but it is more recent events like the pedophilia scandal the church is confronted with and the grisly murder by a Swiss guard of his commander and wife that Amorth uses as evidence of the devil’s presence.

Apparently humans can’t do anything against the Church without it being attributed to the devil.

4. More child abuse for Catholics to downplay – Two ex-Vienna choir boys have come out with accusations that they were raped by Church officials. But remember. It’s really the devil that’s doing it.

5. Robert Kennedy Jr. spreads false, malicious rumor in the Huff Po – The media has wised up to the anti-vaxxers, so the only source willing to take them is the Huffington Post due to its total lack of anything that could even remotely be considered by anyone on planet Earth as journalist standards. So now the anti-vaxxers got their man, RFK Jr. to push their libelous accusations about Dr. Poul Thorsen. Of course not a single word of it has any basis in fact. But then again, when have the anti-vaxxers or the Huffington Post ever care about facts?

But here’s one interesting story posted at the Huff Po:

6. Buying ghosts in a bottle – I have to at least give credit to the scammers for creativity. And it’s nice to see such witty skepticism expressed in the MSNBC clip embedded on the page.

7. PZ Myers eats your god with vegemite:

Deepak Chopra: ‘Only Spirituality Can Solve The Problems Of The World’

March 3, 2010

Deepak Chopra has written another fluff piece in the Huffington Post called “Only Spirituality Can Solve The Problems Of The World.”

How you might ask?

If there is anything that will at this moment heal our wounded planet with its immense problems of social injustice, ecological devastation, extreme economic disparities, war, conflict and terrorism, it is a deeper experiential understanding and knowledge of our own spirit.

How you might ask again?

If there’s anything that WILL heal this planet? I would like Deepak to name one problem in the world HAS BEEN solved by spirituality. Just one will do. Then I’d like him to explain how spirituality will give us practical solutions to human trafficking, third world poverty, heart disease, the sky-rocketing unemployment rate, the AIDS crisis in Africa, the crisis in Haiti, or any of the millions of real problems we face in this world.

Sorry Dee, but the answer to our problems is science, reason, and education. Science delivers the goods, not ancient superstitions repackaged as New Age Mysticism.

If ever I doubted the fact that Deepak Chopra has no clue how to address the practical concerns we face in our modern world and is nothing but a life-sized fortune cookie handing out a bunch of trite, easy answers, I will never doubt this again.

Deepak Chopra: pathological bullshitter

December 1, 2009

Deepak Chopra doesn’t understand skepticism or, you know, reality

Statistically, cynical mistrust is correlated with premature sudden death from cardio vascular disease. Since the skeptics who write venomous blogs trust in nothing, I imagine that God will outlive them. In the interests of better health, these people should read scripture, or at least a poem, twice a day. Doctor’s orders.

A doctor of what, Deepak? Straw man arguments.

No skeptic, to my knowledge, ever made a major scientific discovery or advanced the welfare of others.

Ever hear of Socrates? Plato? Benjamin Franklin? Edward Jenner? Charles Darwin? Albert Einstein? Stephen Hawking? Harry Houdini? James Randi? Carl Sagan? Hell, you constantly reference Richard Dawkins in your article, Dee, and obviously he’s been a science educator for decades and is largely responsible for advancing the idea of memes. So your article lacks even internal consistency.

Typically they sit by the side of the road with a sign that reads “You’re Wrong” so that every passerby, whether an Einstein, Gandhi, Newton, or Darwin, can gain the benefit of their illuminated skepticism.

Guess you have heard of some of the skeptics who have advanced human welfare afterall. It’s a shame that you fail to grasp the difference between someone who shouts people down out of hand and someone demanding scientific claims be backed up with physical evidence and reasoned logic.

That being said though, as much as you New Age guru types love to insist that everyone’s right and no one’s ever wrong (except apparently their own critics), some times people really are wrong. And in such cases, the intellectually dishonest thing to do is to tell them that they are wrong, ideally while describing the reasons that led to the conclusion that they’re wrong.

For make no mistake, the skeptics of the past were as eager to shoot down new theories as they are to worship the old ones once science has validated them.

I’m confused. Are you criticizing unnamed, hypothetically skeptics of the past or current skeptics like your favorite target, Richard Dawkins. Speaking of which, can you please cite a single example of Dawkins unreasonably shooting someone down without being able to back up that position with substantive evidence?

It never occurs to skeptics that a sense of wonder is paramount, even for scientists.

Are you kidding? Carl Sagain didn’t have a sense of wonder?

Neil DeGrasse Tyson doesn’t have a sense of wonder?

Richard Dawkins doesn’t have a sense of wonder?

I beg to differ. In fact, the only dismissive one here seems to be you, Dee.

Einstein insisted, in fact, that no great discovery can be made without a sense of awe before the mysteries of the universe.

Again, your preposterous article lacks internal consistency. Does Einstein lack a sense of wonder or insist on it? Which is it, Dee?

Skeptics know in advance — or think they know — what right thought is.

That’s a denier, Dee. A skeptic is someone who weighs the evidence and bases their conclusions on evidence. It’s you who arrogantly professes greater knowledge than can be demonstrably proven and chastises those who have the audacity to disagree with you. Pot. Kettle. Black. Chopra.

Thirty years ago no right-thinking physician accepted the mind-body connection as a valid, powerful mode of treatment. Today, no right-thinking physician (or very few) would trace physical illness to sickness of the soul, or accept that the body is a creation of consciousness, or tell a patient to change the expression of his genes.

Wow. There’s so much that’s wrong with those two sentences that I don’t even want to attempt a point-by-point critique. Soul? Dee, care to present some evidence for that soul that “right-thinking” people believe in so much?

Dee, you’re right about one thing. No sane, rational person would doubt that you’ve got a big imagination. The problem, however, is that perhaps you’ve overdosed on the stuff. Maybe you should switch to pot. Less long-term brain damage.

Homeopathy kills 9-month-old

May 5, 2009

Homeopathy strikes again:

THE parents of a nine-month-old girl who died from septicemia were responsible for their baby’s death because they shunned conventional medical treatment for her eczema in favour of homeopathic remedies, a court heard yesterday.

A homeopath, Thomas Sam, 42, and his wife, Manju Sam, 36, are standing trial in the NSW Supreme Court charged with manslaughter by gross criminal negligence after they allegedly resisted the advice of nurses and a doctor to send her to a skin specialist.

As sad as it is, it’s not surprising. This is just another name to add to the list of people who have been either killed or harmed because of misplaced trust in homeopathy. I hope the homeopaths go away for a long, long time.

And on a related note, one thing that has surprised  science bloggers everywhere today is that the Huffington Post (home of nonsense not even fit for the National Inquirer to print) actually posted a science-based article about homeopathy.

Jim Carrey getting dumb and dumber

April 23, 2009

Once again The Huffington Post, the 1 publication that makes The National Inquirer look like The Washington Post by comparison, hosts an article by an anti-vaccinationist. But this time it’s not David Kirby or Dan Olmstead. No, this time it’s by comedian and movie actor Jim Carrey.

Recently, I was amazed to hear a commentary by CNN’s Campbell Brown on the controversial vaccine issue. After a ruling by the ‘special vaccine court’ saying the Measles, Mumps, Rubella shot wasn’t found to be responsible for the plaintiffs’ autism, she and others in the media began making assertions that the judgment was in, and vaccines had been proven safe. No one would be more relieved than Jenny and I if that were true.

First of all, there is no controversy, only the manufactured one presented in the popular media.

Second, all 3 test cases Carrey alludes to concerned MMR vaccines, thimerosal-containing vaccines, and the combination. The hearings also gave information on whether MMR or thimerosal separately caused autism. And these were the 3 cases chosen by the lawyers representing the parents for the very reason that they represented the strongest cases they had against the vaccines. And they still lost.

Third, the vaccines HAVE been proven safe, so according to you, you and Jenny should be ecstatic. But your not. And that’s because Jenny is a D-list actor whose fame, fortune, and self-worth almost entirely relies now on her role as advocate for autistic children who have been “injured” by vaccines. She also loses her scapegoat and is left with no one to blame for the senseless tragedy of having a child who struggles to connect to the rest of the world. You take that away from Jenny and what has she got left? What’s her legacy? A DVD copy of “Witless Protection?” And you, Jim, would lose the activist girlfriend you love and have to accept that you’re just dating a crazy person.

But with all due respect to Ms. Brown, a ruling against causation in three cases out of more than 5000 hardly proves that other children won’t be adversely affected by the MMR, let alone that all vaccines are safe. This is a huge leap of logic by anyone’s standards. Not everyone gets cancer from smoking, but cigarettes do cause cancer. After 100 years and many rulings in favor of the tobacco companies, we finally figured that out.

Next we have this straw man. Of course Ms. Brown’s position isn’t solely based on 3 small court cases, but additionally numerous clinically controlled studies each analyzing the data of thousands of people as well as the overwhelming number of expert opinions. The data is so strongly against the vaccine-autism hypothesis and so much in favor of genetic causes that you could say it fits “like a glove!”

Compare that to the number of reputable studies that supports Carrey’s view (Total number = zero).  How about this, Jim. When you can present numerous reputable studies that support your position, by all means present the results to the scientific community. Sound good? Allllrighty then!

In actually, applying Carrey’s own analogy, his position more closely resembles those who would claim that not enough evidence supports a link between tobacco and cancer as the same quality scientific research that support such a link between tobacco and cancer suggest no link between vaccines and autism.

The truth is that no one without a vested interest in the profitability of vaccines has studied all 36 of them in depth. There are more than 100 vaccines in development, and no tests for cumulative effect or vaccine interaction of all 36 vaccines in the current schedule have ever been done. If I’m mistaken, I challenge those who are making such grand pronouncements about vaccine safety to produce those studies.

Actually Jim, every vaccine as well as ever drug is required to go through years of clinical testing before being put on the market, so literally hundreds of long-term and short-term studies have been conducted on each vaccine. Further, scientists have compared the rate of autism between vaccinated and unvaccinated populations in multiple countries and found no meaningful difference. Further, as I pointed out in a blog post yesterday, the U.S. vaccine schedule includes 13 more vaccines than the UK does by the age of 2, and yet the UK has a larger autism population. But of course your position doesn’t appear so doomed if we just throw out all the facts and wipe our memories. Oh, the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!

If we are to believe that the ruling of the ‘vaccine court’ in these cases mean that all vaccines are safe, then we must also consider the rulings of that same court in the Hannah Polling and Bailey Banks cases, which ruled vaccines were the cause of autism and therefore assume that all vaccines are unsafe. Clearly both are irresponsible assumptions, and neither option is prudent.

I guess this isn’t one of those days where Jim is incapable of lying.

A. The Hannah Poling case was not tried in the same special courts as the first 3 Autism Omnibus cases.

B. The Hannah Poling case wasn’t won but rather ended in a settlement and was specifically not included as a test case in the Autism Omnibus cases because of her pre-existing condition, a mitochondrial disorder that made her a unique case. And the Bailey Banks case also didn’t rule that vaccines cause autism but because of the complexity of the science, it’s easy for propagandists to fool people into thinking that was the finding so I recommend reading the link above for more detail about that case.

In this growing crisis, we cannot afford to blindly trumpet the agenda of the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) or vaccine makers. Now more than ever, we must resist the urge to close this book before it’s been written. The anecdotal evidence of millions of parents who’ve seen their totally normal kids regress into sickness and mental isolation after a trip to the pediatrician’s office must be seriously considered. The legitimate concern they and many in the scientific community have that environmental toxins, including those found in vaccines, may be causing autism and other disorders (Aspergers, ADD, ADHD), cannot be dissuaded by a show of sympathy and a friendly invitation to look for the ‘real’ cause of autism anywhere but within the lucrative vaccine program.

Ah, now we get at the meat of Carrey’s argument. Don’t listen to the experts and their evil science. Listen to me, an actor with no medical knowledge whatsoever because I have anecdotal evidence. This isn’t merely about blindly following the CDC or the AAP (incidentally 2 of the most reputable medical institutions in the world). First of all, virtually every medical expert in the world agrees with them on this issue. But more importantly, the evidence is so overwhelmingly supporting them. And the scientific method is specifically designed to weed out fraud over time, as in the case of Jim and Jenny’s hero Mr. Wakefield. But this whole dishonest and inconsistent elitism gambit of first criticizing the experts that disagree with them and then trumpeting their cherry-picked “experts” is quite common among anti-vaccinationists, as is evidenced here.

Further anecdotal evidence alone is among the weakest forms of evidence possible, and no matter how high you build a pile of shit, it will never turn into gold. Indeed, if anecdotal evidence alone was worth anything, we’d all have to accept that millions of people have been adbucted by aliens.

With vaccines being the fastest growing division of the pharmaceutical industry, isn’t it possible that profits may play a part in the decision-making? That the vaccine program is becoming more of a profit engine than a means of prevention? In a world left reeling from the catastrophic effects of greed, mismanagement and corporate insensitivity, is it so absurd for us to wonder why American children are being given twice as many vaccines on average, compared to the top 30 first world countries?

Yup, now it’s all about building a conspiracy. If drug companies wanted to make money off of autism and had the power to put unproven drugs out on the market, don’t you think they would have put out some kind of drug product that allegedly treats autism that might actually make them money as opposed to just continuing to sell many unprofitable vaccines. And yes, most vaccines are not very profitable at all. And what is Jim getting at here anyway? Is he suggesting that vaccines are a sham medical product? And since vaccines have proven to save millions of lives every year and haven’t proven to seriously harm many people at all, how can any sane person suggest the risk is greater than the reward? If Jim’s going to flat-out say that medical professionals are letting children be poisoned for their own monitary benefit he’s going to have to back that up with facts. So far, he’s presented none, only paranoid suspicions. And we receive more vaccines because they’re effective in preventing disease. It’s unfortunate that most countries don’t have as strong a vaccine program as we do. Maybe that’s why the mortality rate in most countries is greater than in the U.S.

Paul Offit, the vaccine advocate and profiteer, who helped invent a Rotavirus vaccine is said to have paved the way for his own multi-million dollar windfall while serving on the very council that eventually voted his Rotavirus vaccine onto our children’s schedule.

Yup, Offit’s a “profiteer” because he’s such an expert in his field that he invented a life-saving vaccine that helps millions of people. How dare anyone ever profit off of saving lives. I guess firefighters are profiteers too as are police officers and surgeons. This is nothing but shamelss ad hominem. You know what, Jim? Someone has profited off of every medicine you’ve ever purchased. That’s how capitalism works! Maybe you shouldn’t buy groceries either because your grocer is a “profiteer.”

Okay, I think I’m done with this nonsense. Jim makes a fine actor and comedian, and a lousy thinker.

[UPDATE: Orac reports this story too here and by Left BrainRight Brain/autism blog here]

Huffington Post endorses magic

March 27, 2009

I have to agree with Steve Novella that it’s not at all shocking to me that the Huffington Post has published a piece endorsing the “Science of Distant Healing.” For some reason I can’t create a link, so you can find Steve Novella talking about this here:

As Steve says:

Any publication with the lax journalistic standards that would allow such rabid antivaccinationist nonsense to be published under its banner is capable of almost anything.

You can go to the URL above to learn more about this. I’m just content to say this is preposterous and anyone who believes this crap is delusional.

Brian Deer exposes lies in Andrew Wakefield’s slander

March 18, 2009

There’s a long history to this one. Andrew Wakefield from the UK is almost single-handedly responsible for the recent incarnation of anti-vaccine hysteria. In 1998 he published a study that suggested MMR vaccines caused or contributed to autism. After a few years, scientists discovered huge flaws in his findings, dismissed the study as crap, and Wakefield was discredited with serious allegations against him. And all the co-authors of the Wakefield study rejected their own study.

But then Wakefield brought his nonsense to the U.S. where he made a number of political allies to help rebrand himself as a kind of messiah exposing the big medical cover-up that vaccines are to blame for autism. They were good marketers and sold these claims to parents of autistic children desperate to make sense of why this happened to their child and looking for someone to blame. As more and more studies started popping up that overturned Wakefield’s original findings, the vaccine claims started to morph.

It was getting harder and harder to continue to blame MMR vaccines, so Wakefield and his allies gradually began to shift their claims to include thimerosal, a mercury preservative that some nations had removed from vaccines in the 90’s as a precaution and that was removed from almost all U.S. vaccines in 2001 mainly to shut up ill-informed critics. The claims continued to morph to keep the old anti-vaccine game alive in the publics mind as more and more studies emerged debunking them.

Then back in September a study very similar to Wakefield’s was conducted. This time though, steps were taken to eliminate some of the problems with Wakefield’s orginal study. Further, one of the scientists involved was a diehard member of the anti-vaccine movement. But something interesting happened. When this study showed that Wakefield was dead wrong, this anti-vaccinationist threw in the towel and accepted the reality that Wakefield was wrong and that vaccines don’t cause autism. This was, if I’m not mistaken, the 16th study to directly challenge and refute Wakefield’s previous and current claims.

That brings us to about a month ago, when journalist and Wakefield critic discovered irrefutable evidence that Wakefield either deliberately fabricated information in his original 1998 study or was an unbelievably incompetent fool with the odds leaning heaving in favor of the former. Anti-vaccinationists were left with no other option but to declare thermonuclear war against Deer in a huge campaign to destroy his character.

Now, Brian Deer speaks out and exposes the latest flat-out lies being perpetuated against him and in defense of already long discredited Wakefield. And it turns out their lies aren’t even very good and are easily proven false.

Bad Astronomy picked as one of’s 25 Best Blogs of 2009

February 17, 2009

Congrats Phil. I’m especially excited because they excerpted a clip of him blasting antivaccinationists. Unfortunately, also gave the insufferably anti-vaccination Huffington Post too.

News From Around The Blogosphere 11.2.08

November 3, 2008


Palling around with terrorists – A fantastic testimony of someone who spent far more time with members of the 60’s radicals The Weathermen than Obama ever did that further illustrates the absurdity of the McCain/Palin accusation.

2007 Godless billboard-Hoboken, NJ

Regarding all that godlessness stuff going on in North Carolina – Many of us were very happy when we heard that Kay Hagan had attended an event that included the Godless Americans PAC and were very angry at the vile bigotry displayed by the Elizabeth Dole campaign because of it. But then of course Hagan’s response to the Dole campaign left us almost as angry, so angry that after donating to the Hagan campaign, Friendly Atheist wrote them a complaint letter. Also found here is the response to that letter from Hagan’s staff.

Refusing to give candy to a baby:

That’ll teach kids not to choose liberal parents!

The votes have been tallied. Find out which creationist won Thunderf00t’s 1st annual Golden Crocoduck Award. It probably won’t come as a big surprise:


Stop Jenny has received a few more shout-outs from Steve Novella, Kristina Chew of Autism Vox, and Peter Vlasveld.


New article in Huffington Post shows authors total and complete ignorance of medical science–so what else is new? – Sloane Barnett writes about allergies in children, and to quote PalMD:

She is about as well-informed about health issues as Bill O’Reilly is about anger management.

Yau-Man Chan discusses growing up with Chinese “medicine”

Atheist author Julian Barnes discusses death and atheism – In this interview he makes one point that I found particularly interesting:

America is one grand exception indeed. America manages to combine extreme materialism with extreme religiosity, and it is a bizarre thought that in this presidential cycle, we could have had a woman in the White House, we might have a black man in the White House, but if either of them had said they were atheists neither of them would have had a hope in hell, all too literally.


Motor Protein Found That Rewinds DNA – “Two biologists at the University of California, San Diego have discovered the first of a new class of cellular motor proteins that “rewind” sections of the double-stranded DNA molecule that become unwound, like the tangled ribbons from a cassette tape, in “bubbles” that prevent critical genes from being expressed.”

And even though Halloween is over, how can you resist Stan Lee reciting The Raven?