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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News From Around The Blogosphere 4.2.10

April 2, 2010

1. Researchers find aging gene in worm

Scientists funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) at the University of Birmingham have discovered that a gene called DAF-16 is strongly involved in determining the rate of ageing and average lifespan of the laboratory worm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) and its close evolutionary cousins. DAF-16 is found in many other animals, including humans. It is possible that this knowledge could open up new avenues for altering ageing, immunity and resistance to stresses in humans.

Of course it will be years before any practical application to humans comes out of this, if ever, but it’s cool none the less.

2. Exorcist discovers Satan behind media’s accurate coverage of Catholic sex scandal – We’ve already gotten one exorcist to claim that Satan was possessing the Church leaders into performing the rapes in the first place. Now another exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth, has publicly stated that the media’s desire to inform the public of these crimes, particularly at the New York Times, was “prompted by the devil.” I could have told you that. I mean, really, when was the last time the media was sincerely interested in honest journalism?

And speaking of demonic journalists. . .

3. Simon Singh reports once more in The Guardian – After winning his appeal, Singh wants to remind people that the battle for libel reform in the UK is only just beginning.

4. Filipinos celebrate this Zombie Weekend by crucifying themselves – This is an annual tradition in the Philippines on Zombie Weekend where many Filipinos choose to re-enact Jesus’ zombie-fication by actually nailing themselves to wooden crosses.

The Catholic Church disapproves of the annual ritual of devotion but says it cannot stop people in Asia’s largest Roman Catholic country from being voluntarily nailed to a cross or flagellating themselves, only educate them that it isn’t necessary.

Yes, the Catholic Church would much rather they celebrate in a more traditional fashion, by raping young boys and covering it up.

5. Scientists discover gene and part of the brain controlling gullibility, the WTF1 gene – And if you believed that then you have the WTF1 gene. April Fools!

Now speaking of April Fools. . .

6. Shroud of Turin is back in the news – Despite the fact that the face merely looks like the male model who happened to pose as Jesus in Renaissance paintings and despite its total debunking as a several hundred year old forgery, somehow someone has resurrected (hehe, see what I did there) the debate. And it couldn’t come at a more perfect time as it perfectly coincides with my April Fools piece in the Gotham Skeptic about the discovery of Jesus’ face in a Rorschach Test. Check it out.


Congratulations to Simon Singh and to UK libel reform!

April 2, 2010

Simon Singh just won the appeal in the libel suit brought by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) over his article, Beware the Spinal Trap. Because UK libel law is ass backwards, putting the burden of proof on the defendant, the court was not easy on Singh and the judge originally ruled against him based solely on his use of the word “bogus,” interpreting it as claiming deliberate deception on the part of the BCA even though no dictionary defines the word that way. So now the higher court has ruled that the first ruling was in error:

The new ruling, in essence, says that Simon’s statement were an expression of his opinion, not a fact of the state of belief of BCA chiropractors. Therefore Simon can use the “fair comment” defense. This puts him in a very good position to win the overall case.

Also, the full judgment is here (PDF).

The battle for UK libel reform isn’t over yet but this is definitely a major step in the right direction.


Simon Singh is now a folk hero

March 31, 2010

Ariane Sherine’s “The Simon Singh Song” promotrd libel reform in the UK while making a folk hero in the process:


News From Around The Blogosphere 3.12.10

March 13, 2010

1. Texas school board pushing Conservative and Christian spin on American history – Who’s pushing it? Why it”s the recently voted out creationist Don McLeroy. Essentially, they feel that American history is too liberal and atheist, so therefore, students should be taught about all those times Conservatism won out. That should be easy, right? Slavery? No. Keeping evolution out of schools? No. Black suffrage? No. Women’s suffrage? No. Segregation? No. Abortion? No. I guess they want a class to teach about the Great Depression that followed 12 years of conservative presidents, the early 90’s recession that followed 12 years of conservative presidents, the current economic crisis that followed 8 years of conservative rule, and of course Watergate.

2. A Winnipeg man, Rob Johnstone, struggles to find non-religious alcohol rehab program – I don’t understand why everyone’s always whining that AA is religious. Just because a group of people congregate in a church to kneel before god, pray to that god for strength, confess their sins, and acknowledge that they’re sinners by nature and thus powerless to change their sinful ways–that’s no reason to accuse AA of being a religion.

3. ‘Under God’ sustained in Pledge by Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals – By a final vote of 2-1, Michael Newdow lost again to get the ‘Under God’ removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. That’s a very small amount to lose by though. At least someone in that decision was persuaded so that leaves room to be hopeful that we may prevail in the near future. Here’s the decision (PDF). Newdow’s next step is to ask the appeals court to rehear the case. If that’s rejected he says he’ll appeal to the Supreme Court.”

4. Ancient DNA found in fossil bird egg shell –

“We were really surprised to discover that ancient DNA is well-preserved in fossil eggshells, particularly the heaviest bird to have existed the elephant bird called Aepyornis, which is now extinct,” said Murdoch doctoral student Charlotte Oskam, who undertook the research.

5. Scientists discover 600 million-year-old origins of vision

By studying the hydra, a member of an ancient group of sea creatures that is still flourishing, scientists at UC Santa Barbara have made a discovery in understanding the origins of human vision.

. . .

Hydra are simple animals that, along with jellyfish, belong to the phylum cnidaria. Cnidarians first emerged 600 million years ago.

“We determined which genetic ‘gateway,’ or ion channel, in the hydra is involved in light sensitivity,” said senior author Todd H. Oakley, assistant professor in UCSB’s Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology. “This is the same gateway that is used in human vision.”

There once again goes the “irreducible complexity” of the eye argument. And of course for those keeping track, that’s 599,994,000 years before the existence of the entire universe, according to Young Earth Creationists.

6. Simon Singh leaves The Guardian

“Being sued for libel is not only ruinously expensive, writes Simon Singh, it takes over your whole life. Which is why this will be his last column”

This is deeply sad. Singh is a fantastic science journalist and we could use people like him more than ever. But it’s inspiring to see him continue to fight for his article exposing chiropractic and for UK libel reform.

7. Surgeon goes into the faith healing business

Dr. Issam Nemeh is a certified surgeon in Cleveland, Ohio but is now using his hands more for praying over people. Numerous medical miracles are being reported by people after visiting and being prayed for by Dr. Nemeh. However, Nemeh refuses to accept the credit for any miracle that takes place with an individual. He says GOD heals people with the Holy Spirit. Nemeh insists he is only an instrument.

Well, we agree on one thing:  he’s a tool.

8. Cancer researchers in British Columbia make lymphoma ‘breakthrough‘ –

The discovery by a team of 26 scientists from throughout North America and Europe shows a new way to predict the 15 to 25 per cent of patients who will have a poor prognosis if they aren’t treated more aggressively from the time of diagnosis.

As Carl Sagan said, science delivers the goods.

9. $cientologists try to censor German film

Bis Nichts Mehr Bleibt, or Until Nothing Remains, dramatises the account of a German family torn apart by its associations with Scientology. A young married couple joins the organisation but as the wife gets sucked ever more deeply into the group, her husband, who has donated much of his money to it, decides to leave. In the process he loses contact with his young daughter who, like his wife, is being educated by Scientology instructors.

Scientology leaders have accused Germany’s primary public TV network, ARD, of creating in top secret a piece of propaganda that sets out to undermine the group, and have demanded to see it before it is broadcast.

Oh, come on! When have the Germans ever been known for making propaganda films? Kidding. I hope the film makes a gazillion dollars.


News From Around The Blogosphere 2.22.10

February 23, 2010

1. Sign the online petition to support libel reform in the UK – You don’t have to be from the UK to sign it. And you can find out more at the Libel Reform website.

2. Why loved ones of Andrew Wakefield should maybe go on suicide watch – Okay, this article by David Gorski doesn’t actually announce any breaking news about Dr. Evil but it’s an excellent summation of why these have been the worst two months of his life as well as the worst two months of the whole anti-vaccine movement since the initial publishing of Wakefield’s now retracted Lancet paper twelve years ago.

Now that even Wakefield’s own Thoughtful House has told him to leave, there’s really not much of a chance that he’ll ever work in anything resembling the medical field again. At best, he’ll have to make his leaving going on speaking tours where he’ll just be speaking to his slowly diminishing echo chamber of followers. This cannot be where he thought his life would end up. Now I’m not saying I’m hoping for him to kill himself. Zeus knows he’d only become a bigger martr to the anti-vax crowd. But it’s really looking bleak for him so I can’t say I’d be surprised if it happened.

And in other good news in the fight against bogus medical quackery. . .

3. UK’s NHS is expected to stop funding homeopathy with tax dollars – 2010 is already shaping up to be as crippling to homeopathy as 2009 was to $cientology.

4. And guess who’s dismissing the recent Pediatrics study on autism – That’s right, it’s our old friend Jenny McCarthy.

5. Virginia Del. Robert G. Marshall apologized for saying people with disabilities are punishments from “God” against women who had abortions

Virginia Del. Robert G. Marshall apologized Monday to people with disabilities for remarks suggesting that women who have abortions risk having later children with birth defects as a punishment from God.

Marshall (R-Prince William) made the comment Thursday at a news conference calling for an end to state funding to Planned Parenthood. Calling the nonprofit group “Planned Barrenhood,” Marshall joined the Virginia Christian Alliance, several African American ministers and others who blamed the abortion provider for a host of social ills.

“The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion who have handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the firstborn of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children,” Marshall said.

But don’t worry. I’m sure Sarah Palin, defender of the disabled, will speak out against this Republican any moment now for his insensitivity. Yup, any moment. It’s coming. Just gonna keep waiting for that condemnation from Sarah Palin, the only politician who wouldn’t dream of exploiting sympathy for her Down Syndrome kid. Sarah, we’re waiting! I definitely recommend everyone literally hold their breath because, based on the recent Family Guy incident (which incidentally that episode had an awesome skeptical plot about psychics), that’s how soon we should expect to hear Palin’s moral outrage about insulting the disabled.

Well while we wait, let’s watch Angie the anti-theist, who’s having an abortion. . .right now:


Richard Horton now has grounds to sue Mark Blaxill

February 17, 2010

I’ve been a big supporter of the movement to change libel law in the UK, where the burden of proof is unfairly placed on the defendant. However, until it is changed, I see no reason why those defending science should be handicapped and unable to take advantage of it as the cranks have.

Now few pseudoscience movements have been as quick to try and exploit the law to silence their opposition as the anti-vaccine movement. Their prophet Andrew Wakefield tried to censor his opposition in 2004 by suing Journalist Brian Deer for a documentary he made exposing the truth about vaccines. And just two months ago, Barbara Loe Fisher issued a libel suit collectively against Journalist Amy Wallace, Dr. Paul Offit, and Conde Nast in the U.S. simply over Wallace’s inclusion of a quote by Offit stating that Fisher “lies.” Of course, since her case is in the U.S. where the burden of proof is on the plaintiff, in my opinion, Fisher doesn’t have a case and has only opened the door for the defense to dig into her past and freely introduce as evidence any number of instances where her statements did not line up with the facts.

But why do I bring this all up now? Because Age of Autism’s editor, Mark Blaxill was shamelessly given space in USA Today to spout his inane conspiracy theories about medical boogymen out to get our kids and had this to say about Richard Horton:

In George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, a memorable scene follows the protagonist (working at the satirically named Ministry of Truth) as he rewrites the news to erase a man’s life and work from history. That’s what Richard Horton, editor of the British medical journal The Lancet, just attempted when he retracted a case series report by Dr. Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues at the Royal Free Hospital from the scientific record. Horton should be ashamed of himself, and anyone who believes in the free and open discussion of controversial scientific questions should be concerned about what has happened to our civil discourse in the process.

There’s a lot of name-calling and misinformation swirling around this issue that should stop.

Of course you got to love how internally inconsistent Blaxill is, condemning all the “name-calling” in the very next paragraph after, you know, name-calling.

Now I could go on a rant where I point out how Blaxill abuses Orwell, ironically using the free press provided to him to spout his hysterical criticisms of Big Brother without fear of being disappeared in the night after being ratted out by his neighbor, but I’d rather stick to his potentially libelous accusation.

Now I personally do not consider this minor opinion piece as libel, and in the U.S., it would never hold up in court. However, Richard Horton is not a U.S. citizen. He’s from the UK, where Journalist Simon Singh literally lost the initial ruling in a libel suit against him simply because the judge chose to interpret his use of the word “bogus” as implying intentional deception even though no reputable dictionary associates deliberate deception with the word “bogus.”

So I have got to think that unambiguously calling the editor of one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world a deliberate, willful agent of misinformation in league with Big Brother is an actionable offense in the UK. It’s way worse and more explicit than calling chiropractic “bogus” within a lengthy article that exposes chiropractic to indeed not work. And unlike Singh, Blaxill clearly has a dog in this race. It’s in Blaxill’s best interests to promote a general distrust of any medical authority who disagrees with him, so that shows mens rea, the legal term for criminal intent. And the statement itself can be argued to constitute as actus reus, the legal term that refers to the actual criminal action. Together, theoretically, that’s sufficient for Horton’s attorney to prove a prima facie case, where the plaintiff has enough evidence to begin legal proceedings.

Just something to think about, Horton.

But before I end this piece, I’d like to take a minute to answer Blaxill’s challenge:

Anyone convinced that Wakefield is the problem should ask a simple question: Can you name a single instance of fraud or misconduct by Wakefield, describe it simply without deferring to the authority of some faceless tribunal and defend the evidence to an informed skeptic? You won’t succeed. Why? Because the evidence clearly shows there was neither fraud nor misconduct.

How about from Wakefield himself? He a good enough source for you?

Yeah, for future note, it’s never a good idea to tell a room full of total strangers about your medical misconduct. You never know who might be recording it to expose the bogus information provided by those trying to sweep your crimes under the rug.

And just for fun, here’s the complete GMC ruling on Wakefield, detailing his medical misconduct and here’s Brian Deer’s investigative report exposing Wakefield’s fraud.

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