This Week In God 8.10.11

August 10, 2011

1. Three great blogs moving – PZ Myers’ blog, Pharyngula, has moved from Scienceblogs to freethoughtblogs. Though he still posts some of his material at the old site, I’m not crazy about this move because because freethoughtblogs seems more atheist-focused whereas scienceblogs at least gives the impression of Pharyngula being more science-focused, regardless of whether the actual emphasis changes or not. Hermant Mehta has also moved his Friendly Atheist blog to Patheos, a site hosting blogs from many different religious and spiritual perspectives. I think this one was a good move because it gives Mehta’s atheist blog a great opportunity to gain readers among the religious, and this could possibly change some people’s views about atheism. And lastly, blogger Greta Christina will be soon moving her blog to freethoughtblogs. I’m fairly neutral about this because she’s already got a strong atheist readership, so I don’t expect much change one way or the other in terms of her readership.

2. Speaking of PZ Myers, he too has now publicly taken a position on the American Atheists’ lawsuit over the “9/11 Cross.” It seems that even that nasty militant atheist that Jeff Wagg today (I think quite unfairly) called the “FoxNews of atheism” in a tweet agrees with me that it’s just not worth the effort and that we’ve got bigger fish to fry:

I can understand that in principle it’s promoting religion, and I look at that random chunk of steel that forms a crude cross and can see that it is abysmally stupid to consider it a holy relic, but man, if atheists have to police every single act of stupidity committed by the human race, we’re going to get very, very tired. We need to pick our battles better, and this one is just plain pointless.

3. Stephen Hawking’s Curiosity refutes god on Discover Channel – You can watch the whole first installment at the link above…at least for now.

4. Jonathan T. Pararajasingham follows up his videos of 100 academics explaining their atheism with a 25-minute video of 20 academics and theologians explaining why they believe in god. The former is a wonderful collection of brilliant thinkers making intelligent arguments in favor of atheism while the latter is a depressing example of how motivated reasoning can poison the minds of otherwise intelligent people, causing them to make the most asinine and incoherent arguments to defend their indefensible faith.

5. Evolution wins out in Texas – Okay, I’m very late on this story. So sue me. The Texas Board of Education has unanimously come down on the side of evolution in a 14-0 vote, approving scientifically accurate high school biology textbook supplements from established mainstream publishers, rejecting the creationist-backed supplements from International Databases, LLC.

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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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Blog-amonium breaks out at Scienceblogs

July 20, 2010

I’ve already written about what I think has been officially dubbed PepsiGate, where those in charge of Scienceblogs accepted money from PepsiCo in order for the company to establish its own ad-blog among the most highly regarded science blogs perhaps in the world, as well as the Scienceblogs backing down and telling PepsiCo to get lost in response to the outrage of both its other bloggers and many others.

But it seems that didn’t end the controversy. No, rather it’s gotten far worse. Numerous bloggers have left Scienceblogs including one of my favorites, Peter Lipson aka PalMD for reasons he lays out here. The status of another favorite Scienceblogger of mine, Orac, is at this time uncertain. And PZ Myers is ON STRIKE! That means that the only one there that I read regularly is Abbie Smith aka ERV, and I generally only check in on her page once a week.

This is a major blow to science journalism and I really hope this situation is resolved for the best soon. Good luck to everyone.

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ScienceBlog’s PepsiCo blog has gone flat

July 8, 2010

Yesterday I reported about the highly controversial blog from PepsiCo that was to be added to the regular roster at ScienceBlogs.

Well, it’s not happening. Public outrage has won out. PZ Myers reported this statement from ScienceBlog’s Adam Bly:

We have removed Food Frontiers from SB.

We apologize for what some of you viewed as a violation of your immense trust in ScienceBlogs. Although we (and many of you) believe strongly in the need to engage industry in pursuit of science-driven social change, this was clearly not the right way.

How do we empower top scientists working in industry to lead science-minded positive change within their organizations? How can a large and diverse online community made up of scientists and the science-minded public help? How do companies who seek genuine dialogue with this community engage? We’ll open this challenge up to everyone on SB and beyond in the coming days so that we can all find the right solution.

Well that was the shortest controversy ever.

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ScienceBlogs response to new PepsiCo blog illustrates why Jake Crosby is dead wrong

July 7, 2010

Skepacabra is in no way sponsored by Pepsi or any other commercial enterprise.

I’ve been talking a lot lately about the flagrant hypocrisy of vaccine denialists, and particularly those at Age of Autism, who condemn their critics as “Big Pharma Shills” while ignoring their own far more serious conflicts of interest.

Now last year, young Jake Crosby started writing for Age of Autism. He was exactly what they look for over on that site. He was young, dumb, and without any medical or scientific background. Now young Jake appeared on my radar for the first time when he write a lengthy 2-part hit piece on ScienceBlogs and Seed Magazine, which maintains it. I wrote a 2-part response to young Jake’s blogs here and here. Now ScienceBlogs is home to possibly the most popular science-related blogs in the world. Among its writers are PZ Myers, Orac, PalMD, Jason Rosenhouse, Abbie Smith, and many more.

Now young Jake’s entire lengthy 2-part attack on ScienceBlogs really only made one argument, the vaccine denialists’ favorite. He called every science writer as well as the editors of the site big pharma shills (Actually, this is the only argument young Jake EVER makes against his critics. See:  here, here, and here). And his justification for this libelous accusation essentially boiled down to the fact that ads appear on the blog pages…even though few if any are related to pharmaceuticals, the ads cycle randomly and are not under the control of the writers, the writers are under no orders to hold back any criticisms of the site’s sponsors, and none of the writers on the blog make enough money off of the blogs to even make a living wage, not even PZ Myers, who arguably has the most popular English-language-speaking science blog in the world.

Now it didn’t bother young Jake that on several occasions, the bloggers over at ScienceBlogs did in fact condemn organizations whose ads appeared on their page and even expressed public outrage upon learning from readers that ads for certain institutions the bloggers despised appeared on their blog page.

He also never bothered to acknowledge the shilling done on his own website, which unlike ScienceBlogs, is covered with specific, targeted ads for products and organizations who clearly benefit from the ideology Age of Autism is selling.

But now a new blog has come to ScienceBlogs, one by PepsiCo, and big greedy shills that they are, many of the ScienceBlogs writers are expressing everything from concern to outrage over the encroachment of a commercial corporation onto their turf.

For instance, PalMD says:

The problem is not that Pepsi is “corporate” or “commercial”. This is not about “selling out to The Man.” What Pepsi produces and how it does is ironic but beside the point. The main problems are:

  1. Lack of transparency, which is somewhat improved
  2. Visual appearance, despite caveats, very similar to “real” science blogs
  3. Content produced by and for the benefit of the company that bought the space
These create all sorts of ethical problems.  It also erodes the credibility of some of us in a couple of ways, but I’ll speak only for myself.
I have spent a bit of time and energy building a little credibility with mainstream journalists, engaging them online and in person, and have started writing for a more mainstream outlet,  I enjoy my role as both a writer and a physician; the more I read about journalism, the more I find myself questioning the best way to do what I do.  Given the multiple ethical challenges to what I do, I don’t appreciate being dragged into a new one with no warning.
One of the more fortunate things at ScienceBlogs has been the recruitment of experienced science writers such as Maryn McKenna, David Dobbs, Rebecca Skloot, and Deborah Blum (yes, I left some of you out, but it’s busy here tonight).  This gives me additional opportunities to learn the craft, but if they all run away from here, I lose out (as do our readers).
I have relied on a reputation (even if I were my only reader) of independence.  Ads are inevitable and not undesirable, but deceptive advertising that looks very much like my own content poses special problems for me (and for other medical bloggers).

And the always polite PZ Myers says:

They aren’t going to be doing any scienceblogging — this is straight-up commercial propaganda. You won’t be seeing much criticism of Pepsico corporate policies, or the bad nutritional habits spread by cheap fast food, or even any behind-the-scenes stories about the lives of Pepsico employees that paints a picture of the place as anything less than Edenesque. Do you think any of the ‘bloggers’ will express any controversial opinions that might annoy any potential customers?

There won’t be a scrap of honest opinion expressed over there that isn’t filtered and vetted by cautious editors before making it online, and it will all toe the Pepsi line. It’s going to be boring. It’s going to blur the line between blog content and advertising. It’s going to be bloodless dull blogging that will diminish the Scienceblogs brand.

See somewhere in between these two opinions is precisely what one ought to expect from honest journalists who aren’t simply all about the all might dollar. Now with Age of Autism, the situation is far more distressing because it isn’t just any companies advertising with them but companies like Lee Silsby who sell bogus autism treatments, a product that clearly benefits from a website devoted to getting people to buy bogus autism treatments.

Now as far as amoral corporations go, I admit that I actually like PepsiCo. They’ve stood up to the bigots at the American Family Assocation and have continued to support LGBT issues with large financial contributions. So I’m inclined to think they’re a far more ethical corporation than at least BP or the Catholic Church, for instance. But that’s not the point. It is disconcerting to see ScienceBlogs give a platform for a corporation to potentially use to exploit the name of science for their own propaganda, especially since their wealth provides them with more than enough other platforms. But the important thing here is that the ScienceBlog writers have not sold out while the Age of Autism writers have never even sold in to begin with.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 12.4.09

December 5, 2009

1. Sexiest scam I’ve seen all day – DETOX PANTS!!! – Debenhams has launched Peachy Body Pants, the ‘cellulite-busting pants’.  How it works seems to involve green tea as an anti-oxidant and of course the removal of toxins (always with the toxins). The secret of these magical pants is that, like every other pair of pants, they don’t help against cellulite.

Polyamide Meryl Skinlife (whose acronym is the not very attractive PMS) ‘accumulates and transfers moisture to the surface of the filaments [which] allows it to easily absorb and transport perspiration.’ It’s also ‘the first bacteriostatic microfibre’ according to a specialist textile website.

So PMS pants help prevent a nasty sweaty crotch full of tiny living things, which is a blessing if you’re going to be wearing them eight hours a day for 21 days. You really don’t want festive thrush.

But they sure are nice to look at on the model.

2. Scienceblogs and National Geographic merger – The greatest source for science blogs on the web is joining forces with National Geographic. The folks at Age of Autism are going to love that. I just wish I could be there and see their faces when they hear the news. I’d pay real money to see that.

3. The most egg-cellent Jesus pareidolia yet –

Yes, clearly two intersecting lines is far too intricate a pattern to be explained by chance alone. So once again, can Bill “I love child rapists” Donohue and Michael “autism’s make believe” Savage please explain to me again why that Curb Your Enthusiasm episode was so offensive?