Saturday, November 20, 2010

Pope Benedict: Condom use acceptable in certain cases

Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times, is a book based on a series of interviews with Pope Benedict.  In it, Benedict appears to be changing his tune on condom use.  According to an AFP story:

In a series of interviews published in his native German, the 83-year-old Benedict is asked whether "the Catholic Church is not fundamentally against the use of condoms."

"It of course does not see it as a real and moral solution," the pope replies.

"In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality," said the head of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics...
To illustrate his apparent shift in position, Benedict offered the example of a male prostitute using a condom.
"There may be justified individual cases, for example when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be ... a first bit of responsibility, to re-develop the understanding that not everything is permitted and that one may not do everything one wishes," Benedict was quoted as saying.

Let that sink in for a minute.  The pope is saying condom use may be acceptable if you are a male prostitute...  What exactly is this example supposed to illustrate? 

I would love to say that maybe this is a first step toward the Catholic Church becoming a bit more progressive, but I suspect something else completely.  It seems as though the pontiff is trying to seem more reasonable about condom use, while the only instances where it would be acceptable are obviously immoral to the church for other reasons (unless they're about to claim that male prostitutes are doing god's work).  He's trying to appear willing to compromise, while actually making no effective change to the church's stance at all. 

Until the pope, or some other senior church members, recants the ridiculous things said about condom use in Africa to reduce the spread of AIDS, it is impossible to thing anything but the status quo of the Catholic Church.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

International Day of What Now?!

This is just disturbing:
International Day of masturbation on the Qur'an
Description: 
What you DO: Do the Nasty on the Quran, send us a pic of the results.Blur our Nudity, if you can. If not, we will handle it and post it on a site off of facebook, to be viewed by all! Have Fun. Wank on the Quran, Male or Female! EVERYBODY MASTURBATE ON THE QURAN, EVERY DAY! 
Let me be clear about this:  I think the Qur'an is a ridiculous book filled with mostly nonsense, just as I do about the Bible, and every other holy book I've come across thus far.  And I don't particularly care what anyone does to a book they own, regardless of the supernatural significance someone else gives to said book.  And I don't particularly care if an action offends a religious group, particularly if you have a positive message (such as the message sent by Draw Muhammad Day earlier this year).

However, this is offensive, for the sole sake of offending.  There is no message here.  Part of the reason I like Draw Muhammad Day was because it was about creating, rather than destroying.  This is the exact opposite of that.  I think of it this way: if this was supposed to be a day of masturbating on any other book, a book not regarded as holy, for example, I would still be offended by this.  It's childish nonsense, completely uncreative and without any rational message.

So while I support everyone's right to do whatever they wish to a Qur'an, or any other book, it doesn't stop me from also finding these people to be complete morons.

(via Friendly Atheist)

I'm employed again!

Unfortunately, I didn't get the position at Google I interviewed for a couple of weeks ago.  But I was offered a position working on mental/behavioral health software, and I accepted it last week.  I'm looking forward to getting started (which should be Monday).  It feels good to be a contributing member of society once again!

As I said before, I felt like I was busier being unemployed than I was when I was working, so hopefully I can get my schedule back to a more predictable day-to-day routine.  That should also mean more regular posting again.  I know you've all missed me :-).  

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You can help it get better - Patton Oswalt

Recently, Dan Barker's video project called It Gets Better has received a lot of great press, as it should.  If you haven't heard of it yet, get out from under your rock and see The It Gets Better YouTube channel and video.  It's great to see so many people pro-actively reaching out to young gay people who are bullied.

Patton Oswalt, one of my personal favorite comedians, recently posted a response on his website called You Can Help It Get Better (here is the MySpace blog link, since I can't seem to find a permalink for Patton's website).  It serves to remind us that while it does get better for the kids who were bullied in school, those who do the bullying can make it better for them right now.  I wanted to put up an excerpt, but it's all so well-written and thoughtful that I couldn't bear cutting anything.  I'm putting the whole thing here:

I’ve been watching a lot of these “It Gets Better” videos online.   I’m glad they exist.   I’m glad people are making them.   I’d bet, if you could do some sort of poll, you’d find out that saying, “It gets better…” to a younger version of yourself is something that a majority of people would opt to do. The bullied and the bullies. 
I was both.   Bullied, and then a bully. 
So this is my version of an, “It Gets Better” video. Only I’m not addressing it to the bullied.   And I’m not addressing it to the bullies, either. I’m addressing it to the bully’s little friends.

Dear Guy Who Hangs Out With the Bully and Eggs Him On – 
Good move. Really. I know what you’re doing, and I know how it seems like the smart move for you. ‘Cause I did it, too. 
When I was in the fifth grade, I started gaining weight, and by the end of that school year, I was a fat kid.   I’d been skinny and oblivious up until then – free time meant running around outside, playing soccer, climbing trees.   Summer meant swimming. 
But then I got swept up in reading, and movies, and music and other sedentary activities. My mind felt like a blazing stock car engine most days, and I didn’t miss the running around so much.   If I could curl up with a good book, or a drawing pad, or an old monster movie on TV, all the better.   Pretzels and chips and Cokes had the carbs and sugar to feed my swelling, itching brain – especially when I was re-listening to Devo songs. 
By the time middle school started, I had the Victim Kit firmly sewed on.   Cystic acne, headgear and braces, man-tits and a stupid haircut. Sixth and seventh grade were no fucking fun for me. Summer camp was torture, swimming pools were humiliation ponds, sports were a whirling wall of razors I didn’t dare approach. 
By the time eighth grade rolled around, I’d adjusted my strategy.   Figure out who the biggest bullies and abusers were, use my nascent comedy skills to make ‘em laugh and hone their taunts, and become part of the asshole entourage. 
It was a survival strategy. I had a hand in tormenting an awkward girl named Robin in my eighth grade personal hygiene class.   Also a fat(ter), asthmatic kid with a stutter at YMCA camp whose name I can’t remember and countless, faceless others as I glided painlessly in the wake of a trio of bullies whose names I also can’t remember.   I only knew they weren’t bullying me, and were actually glad to see me in the morning, ‘cause here comes a guy who knows seven crueler ways to call someone an asshole or shithead (beyond just “asshole” and “shithead”). 
By junior year of high school the braces and headgear came off, I lost weight and my skin miraculously cleared up.   I got a girlfriend who taught me how to cut my hair. And I carried around (and still carry) a poison vein of self-loathing.   
In someone’s memory – in many people’s memories – I’m a snickering, sneering asswipe who hurt and insulted them while peering out from behind the muscular lats of a bigger, more frightening asswipe. There are times when I firmly believe I should have also ended up like a lot of the bullies – stupid, directionless, job-bound and destined for obscurity, anger and oblivion.   
It doesn’t fix a fucking thing, for me, to try my best to take the underdog’s side now. Or to embrace the awkward and outcast.   That dark slice of regret and disgust with a younger self will never be erased.
So I’m talking to a younger self here – the young Bully’s Little Buddy.   I’m trying to tell you that yes, I know how scary middle school and high school and the world must seem, with this clear demarcation (and it seems to get bolder and uglier every day) between abused and abuser. And I understand exactly why you’d want to be on the side of the powerful, cruel and, by default, secure.   It’s the reason why some poor people get angry about rich people having to pay more taxes. It’s why people join celebrities’ entourages.   It’s why two oppressed, disenfranchised groups fight with each other, instead of the powerful entity that’s oppressing and disenfranchising them. 
All of that is true.   But it doesn’t change the fact that you have power if you choose to take it.   You have power to go stand on the side of the bullied, to stand up to the bullies, to set an example.   You can take a deep breath and look at the popular crowd – are they popular because they’re good, smart people?   Or are they popular because people are afraid of being their targets?   If the second example is the truth, then you can reject them.   You can form your own circle, be your own person, and start thinking for yourself early.
I didn’t. And I won’t blame you if you don’t either.   It’s so fucking hard.   It does get better for the outcast and the bullied.   But you, in the bully’s entourage, can help make it better by taking away part of the bully’s power. 
You can take away you.   And if you take the dare, and do it, you’ll be shocked to see how deep it diminishes the weight and scope and space a bully takes up in the world. And when you see that, and experience it, it’ll be your first – and unarguable – taste of how much weight and scope and space you have. 
I’ll never know.   I never did it.   
Will you? 
Sincerely,
Patton Oswalt

Friday, October 22, 2010

Anniversary

One year ago today, some idiot decided it would be a good idea to start a blog on atheism, science and skepticism.

Since then I think I've learned a lot, both about the subject I blog about, and blogging itself.  One of the reasons I started blogging was to give me an excuse to practice writing regularly (something I hated doing in the past).  It's nice to have a place to write regularly, where I don't have to obsess over every word and phrase.  Looking over my previous posts, I feel like I've become much better at getting my thoughts across since I started one year ago (though I still have a lot I can improve).

It's been pretty slow on the blogging front for me lately.  I've been interviewing for jobs, and been keeping busy tutoring and doing a few other project to pay the bills for now.  It seems I'm busier being unemployed than I was as a graduate student.  Hopefully that changes soon, and I can get some more time to write here.  

Just want to say thanks to all of you who read my blog, especially those who comment and discuss these thoughts with me.  I look forward to continuing writing and learning with all of you.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Job Interview: Funny Questions

So I've been applying for a bunch of programming jobs during the past month, and have been on a few interviews so far.  I've got my big one coming up next week (At Google Manhattan!), so I've been preparing pretty hard for that.  Today, I went to take a logic assessment for another company on Long Island.  The test gave me a made-up programming language, and asked me questions about its syntax and semantics.  I won't go into too many details, since I don't want to give out specifics about the company's test, but one of the questions on string concatenation was something like this:

If GOD="HOLY" and GHOST="WATER", how can we get "HOLY WATER"?

And as I'm taking the test, all kinds of smart-ass remarks are pouring into my brain about where to get holy water.  Of course, I'm in a room with the HR rep and two other candidates, so I tried my best to keep the snickering to a minimum.  Luckily the test wasn't too hard, and I just got a call back for the final interview next week :-).

They don't suspect a thing... MWAH HA HA!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Faulty logic can be fun

This is probably a fake, but it's funny anyway (and it's certainly not a stretch to think that some new-agers would agree with this argument if presented to them):




It surprises me how incredibly bad most people are at understanding even basic logic.  I've always enjoyed logic because its an excellent example of creativity emerging from a deterministic system of rules and premises.  Logical arguments are beautiful; even ones that I don't end up agreeing with are often fascinating to me.  Take the ontological argument, devised by Anselm, for the existence of God (from Curtis Brown's website at Trinity University):

1. God is something than which nothing greater can be conceived.  (definition of "God")
2. If someone understands the concept of God (i.e. the concept of something than which nothing greater can be conceived) then God "exists in the understanding" of that person.  (definition of "exists in the understanding")
3. It is greater to exist in reality than in the understanding alone.  (More precisely:  if x exists in the understanding but not in reality, and y is exactly like x except that y also exists in reality, then y is greater than x.)
4. The fool understands the concept of God (= the concept of something than which nothing greater can be conceived).
5. Therefore (from 2 and 4) God exists in the understanding of the fool.
6. Suppose for the sake of argument that God exists only in the understanding of the fool (i.e. not in reality as well). (This assumption will form the basis of a reductio ad absurdum.)
7. Then we could conceive of something exactly like what exists in the fool's understanding except that it also exists in reality.
8.  The entity that we conceived in 7 would be greater than the entity that exists only in the fool's understanding (by 3)
9. But in that case what the fool conceived was not after all something than which nothing greater can be conceived (after all, we've just conceived of something greater).
10.  So we have a contradiction!  (Between 5 and 9)
11. So the assumption we made in 6 must be mistaken (since it led to a contradiction).
12. So God exists in reality.  (6 was the assumption that God does not exist in reality; since 6 is mistaken, God does exist in reality.)

As mistaken as I think this argument is (for a number of reasons I won't get into, because plenty of philosophers have already pointed them out), its still an impressive argument.  To come up with this argument took incredible creativity on the part of Anselm.  And while I do think it is mistaken, it is quite difficult, when first presented with this argument, to determine exactly where the problem lies.

Most of us are introduced to logic in math classes, when we first learn to construct truth tables, and then go on to prove things such as the congruency of two triangle.  Unfortunately, most of us never learn what other practical benefits logic has in the real world.  I suspect that if more people understood and could apply even a little bit of logic to the real world, clear, critical thinking would also be more prevalent.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

This is what education in the US looks like

Risha Mullins is an educator: an English teacher in Kentucky, who used Young Adult (YA) literature to encourage her kids to read more, which was shown effective when her students' test scores were markedly improved.  You'd think parents and administrators would be happy their kids are reading more, and doing well on their tests.  How did they respond?:

Two years ago this week. A parent whose child had chosen to read Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles, and how that parent sent an email to the superintendent, the board members, the principals, and me saying that I taught “soft pornography.” Remembering the way my stomach hurt when I read the email, how I cried and stayed up all night drafting a nine-page rebuttal that began with, “Literature is my life, and I take my career very seriously. I have worked extremely hard to get students to read, and the school is just beginning to see the impact of that.” Remembering getting called to my principal’s office the next day and berated for sending the rebuttal to everyone the parent had sent to (I did not send it to the parent). Remembering how my curriculum coach said she had thought I'd be fired before she even made it to school that morning.

Remembering how stupid—how naïve—I was to send my rebuttal to the entire English department, thinking they needed to know that literature—our livelihood!—was under attack, thinking that we were a team and that we were supposed to support each other. Remembering the anger, the shock, that surged through me when the only two teachers in my department who bothered replying at all, did so to belittle me with how I had misrepresented “the classics” (which I had not done). Remembering what it felt like when I was asked to resign as the Literacy Committee chair--after only a month in the position--because “it just didn’t look good for the committee right now.”

After that email, my curriculum coach told me—in the principal’s office, with him present—that she had to beg the superintendent not to shut down the Moo Moo Book Club, and that she quoted him when she said, “one more problem with books and the club is gone.” I remember asking if he could do that. And I remember her laughing. Then on October 10, 2008, I received the edict—on signed letterhead: “After investigating the situation and discussing it with Ms. X, I have decided that all books in question in your classroom library and on the Moo Moo Club reading list will be pulled and reviewed…” Every book. Class and club. And yet not a single official challenge had been filed, as  board policy required for a book to be suspended. 

She goes on to describe more and more backlash to her YA literature from parents and administrators alike.  You can read her entire story here (she pulled the original page from her blog because of hostile messages being sent to her former administrators).  I highly recommend it.

I just don't get how other teachers and administrators can be so oblivious.  I know there are going to be crazy parents who don't approve of their perfect Christian children being "corrupted" by those evil books these teachers keep pushing on them.  But you'd think other educators would get behind a teacher who is encouraging reading, and learning about new things.  It's bad enough teachers are constantly assessed with incredibly flawed standardized tests.  But here, a teacher actually improves these test scores while getting kids excited about reading and learning, and there is still no support for her peers and superiors. These kids are going back to hating their English classes, reading less and less, and will be hurt in the long run.

As long as fundamentalist Christian parents are allowed to enforce their beliefs on school districts, this type of censorship will continue to happen.  When Christians get offended, school districts often listen.  My question is: where are the pro-education parents who are upset about the school kowtowing to whims of the fundamentalists?  Why don't I ever hear about a group of parents pressuring the schools to improve science education (including evolution), or adding controversial, thought-provoking literature?  I know these people exist.  Look at the comments on Ms. Mullins' blog post.  There are plenty of people who agree with her, and went through similar experiences in school.

What is the reason schools seem more likely to listen to parents who promote censorship, rather than parents who want their kids exposed to new ideas?  Is it because the second group of parents are disorganized and relatively quiet?  Or is there some other reason religious parents get more attention?

AMA With Michael Behe's Son

I found this this morning while browsing Reddit, and thought it was quite interesting:

Michael Behe is the Intelligent Design advocate famous for his testimony at the Dover v. Kitzmiller trial, and coining the term "irreducible complexity".  His son, it turns out, turned away from his family's Catholic faith and is now an atheist.

He is currently doing an AMA on reddit, and so far it's a really interesting inside peek at both his and his father's beliefs.  (For those of you who aren't redditors: AMA stands for "Ask Me Anything."  It's basically a forum where commenters can ask questions, and the original submitter answers them.)

So if you're interested, ask him anything!

Monday, October 4, 2010

He's not even there!

OK, this is getting ridiculous.

On Friday, the comic strip Non Sequitur by Wiley Miller was rejected by several newspapers due to it's content.  Here is the strip:


So we're now afraid that even mentioning that someone might draw Muhammad will offend?  Miller says it best himself:
“the irony of editors being afraid to run even such a tame cartoon as this that satirizes the blinding fear in media regarding anything surrounding Islam sadly speaks for itself. Indeed, the terrorists have won.”
Exactly.  I don't know why I would trust the media if they are so afraid of offending someone by such a tame political commentary.  It's quite a sad state of affairs we are currently in.

Happiness and Reason

There's a Methodist church just down the road from me, with one of those signs you often see being made fun of on the internet.  Honestly, most of the messages have been benign so far, and a few have even been pretty funny.  A couple of weeks ago it said something to the effect of: "Remember: When your life needs a reboot, Jesus saves" which I thought was quite clever, being the nerd that I am.

I passed by the sign again yesterday, and they had a new message up:

Happiness without reason is the ultimate freedom 

My first thought after reading it was: "That's idiotic.  Do people really prefer being obliviously happy to actually thinking?"  It seemed so alien of an idea to me.  But it got me thinking more about happiness and my belief system.

I don't doubt that some people who believe all kinds of nonsense truly are happy, perhaps even because of those irrational beliefs.  I'm sure some people really are blissfully happy and carefree, because they think God is taking care of them, and that everything is happening for a reason.

Furthermore, I know that being concerned with the atheist community does cause me some unhappiness.  I believe that this cause is important and worth the trouble, of course.  That's why I'm writing this blog.  But it is frustrating to have your character and morals questioned by our opponents, either directly or indirectly. I've had many more positive experiences than negative, but there's no doubt it can be tiresome at times.

Is it possible I could be happier if I weren't so concerned?  What if I was carefree?  I don't see how I could be, it would be unreasonable given the current state of affairs, particularly in America, for non-theists.  But if I were an unreasonable person, it's certainly possible I could be completely oblivious of these problems, and happier because of it.  To me, this leads to two questions:  1. Would I be happier if I wasn't so concerned with being reasonable and rational? and 2. Is being happy more or less important than thinking clearly and critically?

George Bernard Shaw's words came to mind when thinking about all of this:

The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. 

But what exactly makes being sober better than being drunk?  I've drink once in a while, and have always had a good time.  What is it that makes me think being sober is somehow a better state than drunk?

I thought about this for a long time, and my conclusion stems from the commonalities between being sober and being a clear and critical thinker.  I realized that one of the reasons I was having so much trouble tackling this issue is because I was ignoring a very important part of all the questions I was asking.  These were personal questions, and every one of them contained words like "I" "me" and "myself."  These words are often thrown around and used without much thinking.  But I'm a philosopher dammit, and I'm going to be consistent!  When I use words like "I" and "myself,"  I'm not just talking about my physical body or my brain; I'm talking about my "self," the thing that makes me, me.  If you could transfer my identity from my current body to another one, my self is the thing that would need to be transferred.  Nothing else would really be required.*  Some might like to use the word "soul," but I prefer not to confuse with metaphysical language.

The point is this: I may have a good time when I have a few drinks, but there's something about being in that state that make me less "me."  In the same way, I probably could be happier if I let myself be blissfully unaware of the world around me, but that would require a fundamental change to my self.  That person wouldn't be "me," in a very real sense.  As difficult as it can be, I am a critical thinker; it's an important part of who I am, and it helps define other parts of me.  That doesn't mean I can't make changes and improvements to my self and my life, but they are going to come about via rational thought, not just wishful thinking.

In addition, thinking critically gives my self the freedom to make decisions based on reality, the same way being sober gives me more freedom to act based on my reason than being drunk.  I had forgotten about that word "freedom" in the original message on the church board, but it actually turns out to be pretty important (and completely wrong, it seems).  Those people who believe whatever makes them feel good, regardless of evidence, may be happier.  But they are not free.  They aren't free to change their minds, because they have no faculty by which to do it.  Being happy without reason is a simple loop, without any feedback from the real world.  How can you improve your self if you never get any input from the outside?

So after a lot of thought, I prefer being true to myself and thinking critically.  That doesn't mean there aren't things I can do to be happier, but it does mean it's going to take real work.  It's not enough for me to just wish all my problems and concerns away.  If it was, I wouldn't be me.  And I've gotta be me.



* Perhaps it's impossible to transfer my self without using my brain, or even my body.  But if it were possible, my current brain isn't really necessary for any essential reason.  My argument isn't really concerned with whether a self could exist inside another brain; only that if it could, that's all you'd need to transfer.  I'd recommend The Mind's I by Douglas Hofstadter and Dan Dennett for a great collection of essays on this subject.

I'm going to Comic Con New York (i.e., WTF?)

A couple of friends and I are going to NYC this Saturday for Comic-Con.  It's a bit odd; I've never been a big comic book nerd, particularly compared to lots of other science/skeptic bloggers out there.  But what the hell, I'll go and nerd out and report back next week.  Does anyone have a Green Lantern t-shirt I can borrow?

I'm definitely going to try to get to the SMBC panel Saturday afternoon, but other than that, I have no idea what I'm planning to do.  Any suggestions?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Great Agnostic

I finally got around to reading Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby.  It's an excellent history of the secular movement in America, from the founder's conscious decision to leave God out of the Constitution, to freethinkers' involvement in the American civil rights and feminist movements.  I've learned about many American freethinkers, atheists and agnostics of whom I had little, if any, knowledge prior to reading Jacoby's book. I was introduced to the great freethinking feminists, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ernestine Rose and Lucretia Mott, whom I knew very little about before.  I learned more about Thomas Paine and Abraham Lincoln's views on religion.  And most significantly to me, I learned about Robert Ingersoll.

Although I had heard his name mentioned in some books and blog posts before, I didn't really know anything about him.  After reading about him in Freethinkers, and then ripping through a number of his writings and speeches, I can see why he is such a respected American freethinker.  He's probably the reason that freethinking founders, such as Thomas Paine, are so well-known today.

The follow excerpt is from Ingersoll's speech "Gods."  It reminds me that although while we atheists and secularists are often fighting against the influence of religious fundamentalists, we also have a positive message:

Notwithstanding the fact that infidels in all ages have battled for the rights of man, and have at all times been the fearless advocates of liberty and justice, we are constantly charged by the Church with tearing down without building again...
We are not endeavoring to chain the future, but to free the present. We are not forgoing fetters for our children, but we are breaking those our fathers made for us. We are the advocates of inquiry, of investigation and thought. This of itself, is an admission that we are not perfectly satisfied with all our conclusions. Philosophy has not the egotism of faith... 
We are laying the foundations of the grand temple of the future not the temple of all the gods, but of all the people -- wherein, with appropriate rites, will be celebrated the religion of Humanity. We are doing what little we can to hasten the coming of the day when society shall cease producing millionaires and mendicants -- gorged indolence and famished industry -- truth in rags, and superstition robed and crowned. We are looking for the time when the useful shall be the honorable; and when Reason, throned upon the world's brain, shall be the King of Kings, and God of Gods. 

A transcription of the entire speech can be found here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Phil Plait on Pope Benedict's treatment of atheism

Sorry for the lack of pasting lately.  I've been job hunting pretty hard in recent weeks, and haven't had much time to sit and think, let alone write.  I had planned to write a response to Pope Benedict's recent treatment of atheism on his trip to Great Britain.  Here's part of what he said:
Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny”
As I said, I had planned to write about this, but then I read Phil Plait's response on Bad Astronomy, and I couldn't have done any better than he did.  Phil rarely writes directly about atheism on his blog, so when he does I usually take notice.  And this article does not disappoint.  It's the most even-handed and rational response I've seen to these comments, yet it still puts the pope in his place as an ignorant bigot.  I recommend you read the whole thing, but here's a short excerpt:
Now, I’m the kind of person whose first inclination is to give people the benefit of the doubt. So I read the whole transcript of the Pope’s speech, twice, and after thinking about it, I can’t see any way of interpreting the speech as a whole other than as him saying secularism and atheism = lack of virtue and morality = Nazism.


That is such a grossly flawed chain of reasoning that it strains credulity well past its limit. It’s hard to know where to even begin debunking these statements. Maybe to start with, Hitler wasn’t an atheist (though his personal beliefs were unclear; he used religion or the lack thereof to his advantage when needed, for exampleusing atheism as a bogeyman to rally the people against Russia). More importantly, The Catholic Church went way out of its way to support Hitler during WWII*.  [Update: Apparently, the Church's relationship with Hitler was more complicated than I first read. There was condemnation of Nazis, as well as some support. I think the best thing we can say here is that blanket statements about large organizations can be inaccurate, and need to be done with care. The history of this situation is complex.]


Mind you, I am not trying to condemn the entire Catholic religion, or even the Church (the Church then is not the same as the Church today). I am pointing out that what the Pope said in England is pure nonsense, and in fact widely known to be untrue — in fact, studies have shown that secular societies tend to havebetter moral behavior (lower homicide rates, lower infant mortality, lower STD rates, and so on). I would go so far as to say the Pope was being bigoted, equating Nazism and atheism in a way to specifically spur hatred of nonbelievers, or at least amplify mistrust. And given the Church’s support of Nazism at the time, condemning atheists for Nazism is galling.
I know that I would have been more emotional in my reply than Phil was.  And I do think that anger and disgust is appropriate in this case, and responses such as PZ's are fully justified and often useful.  But it's awesome to see such a thoroughly level-headed response have such an impact as Phil's writing so often does.  It's easy to get people riled up with emotion and vitriol, but to me, it's much more challenging to affect people with calm, reasonable argument.  Kudos Phil!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Malicious Software Warning

If you've visited here recently, it may have given you a warning that some code on the site may be malicious (especially if you're using the Google Chrome or some versions of the Mozilla Firefox browsers).  It appears to come from rpc.blogrolling.com, which is where the Atheist Blogroll is hosted.  I've removed the blogroll marquee from my sidebar for now, so this doesn't happen again.  I don't think the blogroll actually contains anything malicious, but I won't put it back until the issue is resolved.  Sorry if the warnings caused any distress, or distrust in the site.

Steve Martin - Atheists Don't Have No Songs

GodlessGirl posted this video yesterday, and the song is now stuck, nay, entrenched firmly in my head.  It's Steve Martin with the Steep Canyon Rangers, singing Atheists Don't Have No Songs.





Seriously, how catchy is that?  I'm now going to a friend's wedding rehearsal at an Episcopalian church.  I also have a habit of sometimes singing songs out loud when I'm thinking of them in my head (without realizing, of course).  Should be an interesting night :-).  

I actually remember seeing advertisements for these shows, and being a big fan of Steve Martin I meant to find out about ticket prices when I got home.  Unfortunately I forgot about it, and I'm now even more upset I didn't go.  Awesome song.  

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Proper Response

What would happen if Pastor Terry Jones decided to burn copies of The God Delusion, instead of the Qur'an?  Anson Cameron speculates:
A spokesman for the Atheist Brotherhood in Australia was quoted as saying: ''We feel strangely unaffected and will seek revenge by raising our eyebrows and shrugging our shoulders. I've already sent Pastor Terry a message wishing him good luck with his ecclesiastical grandstanding, and I feel sure he can grab a TV slot on a Baptist network with a weekly conflagration of tomes he hasn't read and doesn't agree with.''
In Britain and France, countries that remember the Enlightenment, and in Russia, with her seven decades of secularism still befuddling her, nobody burnt Uncle Sam in effigy and mobs of unbelievers didn't riot and burn churches, nor were believers flogged or beaten. So far the body count is nil. Atheists have turned the other cheek. Christians have called this a nasty plagiarism.
We even get a fake quote from Dawkins that I think he would approve of, if I may be so presumptuous:
Professor Dawkins himself, when asked about the burning of his book, said: ''It seems a little old-fashioned and pointless to burn a book in the age of the internet. Like knee-capping a town-crier. Still, the burning of a book is as much a freedom as is the reading of one. It is, to be sure, insensitive and provocative and perhaps foolhardy. But if freedom of speech were not, at times, all of these, it wouldn't need protection by law.''
 Just in case anyone was taking this too seriously, there is a disclaimer:
*All quotes have been concocted for the purpose of clarity and truth.
Although it's satire, I'd like to think this is exactly what would happen if Jones, or anyone else, decided to actually burn atheist books.  Burning books simply makes the point that one prefers ignorance to enlightenment.  And when someone is content with their own ignorance, the only useful response is to shake your head, make a few jokes and move on.

Monday, September 13, 2010

I'm torn on this...

So it turns out that Terry Jones and his band of merry Christian followers didn't have their Quran-fueled bonfire as planned.

When I first heard the news, my first reaction was the Jones was being a complete idiot.  He already got all the negative publicity for planning such an event; to not go through with it now makes him look like a complete coward and someone who, it turns out, doesn't really believe in free speech.

However, one thing he said struck a chord with me:


"Even though we have not burned one Quran, we have gotten over 100 death threats," Jones said. "We feel that God is telling us to stop, and we also hope that ... maybe that will open up the door to maybe be able to talk to the imam." 

Jones said that his church's goal was "to expose that there is an element of Islam that is very dangerous and very radical."
He told NBC that "we have definitely accomplished that mission."
As weird as it feels to say this, it appears to me that Terry Jones is right about this one (other than the "God is sending us a message" nonsense, of course).  Jones was planning on burning some books, books that he owns, or has permission from the owner to burn.  This is met with death threats, a disproportionate response, to say the very least.  This is the hallmark of an extremist ideology.  And yet plenty of people I've talked to about this think that's OK, or at least think that Jones should not be allowed to follow through with his plan.  I certainly didn't support Jones' plan to burn Qurans, but I do support his right to do so.  What I don't support is the threat of violence or censorship against someone exercising his right to free speech, because some people might find it offensive.  Suggesting that it should be stopped is a major insult to the freedoms we possess in America.

I've heard the argument from many people that this action planned by Jones could cause our servicemen currently serving in Muslim countries, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, to be targeted.  The problem with this argument is that it incorrectly shifts blame.  Jones is not responsible for some lunatic attacking an American soldier, even if that person was motivated by Jones' actions.  If I were to attack a Christian pastor because I'm offended by Christians who protest outside of abortion clinics, it's not the fault of the protesters.  (Note that I'm not actually going to attack anybody, I'm using this as an example.)

People act as if what Jones is doing is worse than those who would commit violence because of it, which is completely backwards.  I understand that some people think the Quran is a holy book, but that doesn't give them the right to be violent if someone disagrees.  You do not have the right not to be offended in America; it would be impossible to have the freedoms that we do have (of speech, religion, assembly, etc.).

Although there are plenty of bleeding-heart liberals who want to believe that Islam is a peaceful religion, and those who practice violence and terrorism are not "real" Muslims, the reactions to Jones is more evidence that many Muslims are peaceful in spite of their religion, not because of it.  While violent extremists threaten Jones and his congregation, where are the moderate Muslims speaking out against them?  I've heard far more Muslims (and others) in the media act as if Jones deserves the death threats because of his actions, than those who unequivocally denounce the violent threats being levied.

And so while I think Jones is a complete loon, I also have to agree that Muslim extremism is a significant  threat, and his actions showed that.  Perhaps some will see this media circus and realize that both sides of this argument are extremist loonies, and that religious belief itself is a major contributor to all of this.

Dear Benny by Dan Bull

Rapper Dan Bull has written a number of open letters on a number of topics in rap form.  They're all quite good, and he recently wrote one to "Benny" (a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI):






I like the effect of seeing the lyrics being typed along with the song. Check out his other videos here.  (I especially like his open letter to Lord Peter Mandelson)

Carnival of the Godless #147

Welcome to the latest issue of Carnival of the Godless!  And if you're new to Infallible Failure, thanks for stopping by!  We have a variety of excellent posts for this issue, so let's get right down to business.

Steve Snyder at SocraticGadfly presents Praying Glenn Beck doesn't know his Bible or Jesus, proving that Glenn Beck is a hypocrite, using one of my favorite bible verses (no, not the one with the bears, although I like that one too :-).

Archvillian at A Dark and Sinister Force for Good presents No. YOU Move! about the recent terrorist attack on the construction equipment being used to build a mosque being built in Tennessee, and Sound and Fury, about Bryan Fischer, a man would prefer we ignore the Constitution, and have our government refuse to permit mosques to be built.

Raithie, the Teenage Atheist, presents I'll make my own meaning, thanks, rejecting the theist's offer of apre-packaged meaning of life (via the god of their choice), preferring "the inter-connections of reality; your beliefs, perceptions, environment and those people that you meet and depend on."  Raithie also submitted What is God?, a look at the trouble with arguing over a word without a clear definition.  (This one also has quite an interesting discussion in the comment section, if you care for that sort of thing as I do.)

Romeo Vitelli at Providentia presents a really interesting history of comets being seen as signs of impeding doom and gloom, in his post titled Comet Crazy.

Todd from Edge of Error presents his article: Priest and Rabbi can't agree on how to disagree with Hawking, showing that even when the religious try to argue against us godless folk, they can't even keep their stories straight.

The Barefoot Bum from The Barefoot Bum writes Why the stupid?, about the lack of "sophisticated" theological arguments, even among respected academics, and what the debate between atheists and theists is really about.  He also presents Agnosticism, looking at the different varieties of agnosticism, and the philosophical implications thereof.

Arizona Atheist from ARIZONA ATHEIST presents his long and detailed review of The Evidence Bible by Ray Comfort, called Taking The Way of the Morons (master) to Task: The Evidence Bible Demolished.

That concludes this edition of the Carnival of the Godless.  Thanks for reading, and a special thanks to all who submitted articles!  Submit your blog article to the next edition of Carnival of the Godless using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page. The next CotG, on September 26th, will be hosted by Wheat-dogg's world.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Reminder: Carnival of the Godless this Sunday!

Just a reminder that I'm hosting the next Carnival of the Godless this Sunday, September 12th. If you are an atheist blogger, or know someone who is, and would like to submit an article, make sure you do so soon!  I'm looking forward to reading all the new posts for this week's issue.

Jehovah's Witnesses Are Hypocrites and Cowards

Tip of the hat to Phil at Skeptic Money for the new issue of Awake! (link to pdf), a magazine published by Jehovah's Witnesses:



Apparently I missed that march.  How come no one told me?!

The kicker is this sentence:
 A NEW group of atheists has arisen in society.  Called the new atheists, they are not content to keep their views to themselves.  Rather, they are on a crusade…
Yes, because when I think of JW's, I think of people who keep their views to themselves.  Shame on us atheists for not following their example.  I can't believe a JW actually wrote that seriously.  Maybe it's a clever Poe?

We also get the standard false dichotomy of chance versus design (which Dawkins has refuted over and over again, for a decade or so now), using the peacock mantis' eye

The peacock mantis shrimp, found on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, is equipped with the most complex eyesight in the animal kingdom. “It really is exceptional,” says Dr. Nicholas Roberts, “outperforming anything we humans have so far been able to create.”
Consider: The peacock mantis shrimp can perceive polarized light and process it in ways that humans cannot do. Polarized light waves may travel along a straight line or rotate in a corkscrew motion. Unlike other creatures, this mantis shrimp not only sees polarized light in both its straight-line and corkscrew forms but is also able to convert the light from the one form to the other. This gives the shrimp enhanced vision.
DVD players work in a similar way. To process information, the DVD player must convert polarized light aimed at a disc into a corkscrew motion and then change it back into a straight-line format. But the peacock mantis shrimp goes a step further. While a standard DVD player only converts red light—or in higher-resolution players, blue light—the shrimp’s eye can convert light in all colors of the visible spectrum.
Researchers believe that using the peacock mantis shrimp’s eye as a model, engineers could develop a DVD player that plays discs with far more information than today’s DVDs. “What’s particularly exciting is how beautifully simple it is,” says Roberts. “It works much, much better than any attempts that we’ve made to construct a device.”
What do you think? Is the remarkable eye of the peacock mantis shrimp a product of chance? Or was it designed?

Apparently they think that if a human couldn't make the eye, it couldn't have come from evolution and must have been designed.  How humble of them...

I remember the time I was given a copy of Awake!  I was at a train station, and a woman asked me if I was concerned about global warming.  I said yes, and she told me to read this magazine about it.  At the time, I had never heard of Awake! before, so I had no idea I was being proselytized to.  I read a bit, noticed all of the religious language and bible verses, and realized what I had actually been given.  I took a quick look online and learned that it was a JW magazine.

After thinking more about the interaction with that woman, I started to get really angry.  Not because of her specific religious beliefs, but because she didn't even have the decency to be truthful to my face.  She  was a coward, handing me some piece of paper and running away before I even had the chance to ask her about it in more detail.  What happened to the stereotypical Jehovah's Witness; the one that came to your door, and to your face told you who they were and what they believed?  I may disagree, but at least they are being honest with me.  Do they still do that?  I've never seen one, but perhaps there are some that still do.

This story on Phil's blog got me thinking more about something Hemant at Friendly Atheist wrote about being an outspoken atheist:
When the topic of gay marriage came up, my friend and I had a similar exchange. She believes GLBT people deserve equal rights. She thinks it’s absurd that anyone would oppose gay adoption, gay marriage, gays in the military, etc. But that’s about the extent of her activism.
I’m not gay but I understand the injustice that’s currently taking place in our society and I want to help fix the problem. For the life of me, I can’t understand how anyone could possibly say, “Yeah, gay people should be allowed to get married, but I’m not going to argue with someone who disagrees.” 
So what, you’re just going to stand there and do nothing?! 
How dare some Christians get away with thinking that their relationship is more meaningful than a gay couple’s? Or that their love is deeper? Or that it alone deserves official recognition? 
How could anyone sit on the sideline while this debate gets played out and just shrug it off without saying anything?
Hemant finishes the post with:

I can’t just sit back if I think they’re being irrational. I might not have arguments with every religious person I meet just because the person prays to a god, but if the topic comes up, I’m not about to let it slide.

And I have a lot of respect for anyone else who does the same. 
which actually got me really fired up about logging again, especially since I've had so much trouble getting back into writing regularly since I moved back to Long Island.

And after thinking about my experience with the Jehovah's Witness woman, I realized that its not even enough to just express your opinions, you need to do it openly and honestly.  That's why I don't blog under a pseudonym (although I understand that's not an option for some; I'm lucky enough to have fairly liberal-minded family and friends, and don't feel much personal persecution for my beliefs.  Many others wouldn't be as lucky as I am).

Being willing to openly express my beliefs and opinion gives my message a power that the JW woman's message did not.  It means I have to be open to the possibility that others will publicly disagree with me.  That's not always easy, but it's necessary if you really value the truth.  Lucky for JW's, the truth doesn't seem to be too much of a concern, and so they will continue to be ignorant cowards.

And so like Hemant, I want to say that I respect anyone willing to openly express their opinions honestly, and allow others to express theirs.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Eureka Live Debate with Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins and Ruth Gledhill recently debated on whether science makes the role of God redundant.  You can get the transcript here.  

It's a good discussion in that Dawkins shows, once again, how ridiculous some of the theist's claims are when they try and merge belief in God with our own scientific understanding of the universe.  Unfortunately, it is in a god-awful chat format, and each participant is trying to respond to questions asked by both the moderator and their opponent from three or four chat topics ago.  That would be bad enough, but there are also comments and questions posed by others, turning the whole thing into a giant cluster-fuck of rapid fire questions for both sides, making it look like both of them can't handle the debate.

It's unfortunate, because Dawkins does an excellent job answering most of the questions asked, and goes on the offensive very effectively.  But no one would know that, because unless you're going to scroll back and forth through the chat to figure out what each person is responding to, it's impossible to figure out what they're talking about.

Note to atheist debaters: DON'T DO THIS ANYMORE.  I honestly think this format isn't convincing, and in fact it probably puts us at a disadvantage.  Theists have quite a knack for talking about irrelevant nonsense in debates, but it often sounds good as a one-liner (I believe Dan Dennett calls these sayings "deepities").  And if you can't nail them on it, it sounds as though they are making a coherent, interesting point.  In one example, Gledhill is talking about choosing to believe something, and Dawkins calls her on it, saying:

Either the evidence supports something or it does not. Choice shouldn't come into belief
To believe P is to think that P is true. The only good grounds for thinking P is true is that there is some evidence for P.

Gledhill responds (either to Dawkins or to someone else asking a question, it's difficult to figure out which):




Sometimes, you don't have much choice, admittedly. But I don't see why you should regard such a choice as not possible.



This is obviously nonsense; Dawkins just pointed out why.  But it sounds reasonable.  By saying "You don't regard this as remotely possible, but I am not willing to be that absolute," she takes a middle ground. This tends to seem more reasonable, unless of course there is an argument against it, such as Dawkins' earlier response.  She never addresses Dawkins actual argument against choosing to believe something.  But if she keeps saying the same nonsense, and Dawkins gets caught up responding to other lines of questioning, it appears as though he is giving up, perhaps even conceding defeat.  


Whenever you introduce confusion into a discussion or debate, it is always going to hurt those with the more reasonable position.  If you require yourself to make reasoned arguments, it takes time to formulate a line of reasoning for your position.  If, however, you're willing to play word games and make your answers sound good, it is much easier to obfuscate your lack of a rational basis to stand on when you aren't called to task.


So seriously, don't do this anymore.  It's at best incoherent, and at worst it gives people who are willing to spout meaningless deepities the upper hand.  

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Amazing Atheist on The Ground Zero Mosque

One of the best atheist videos on YouTube I've seen in a while:


Unfortunately, I have to agree with him on Pat Condell.  I've always enjoyed Pat's videos, but I think he's been becoming less reasonable recently, and his focus on how evil Islam is might be clouding his judgment.

Anyway, great video.  Now I need to find out where he shot that...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My Thoughts on Burn a Quran Day

I know I'm a little bit late to the party here, but Burn a Quran Day is coming up on September 11th, and I wanted to get my two cents in.  A number of atheist bloggers have commented on the event, and to be honest, I don't really understand many of their reactions.  As an example, here's what Hemant at Friendly Atheist had to say about it:
Leave it to Christians to teach the world how to show love.
To mark the anniversary of September 11th this year, the non-denominational Dove World Outreach Center church in Florida will host an “International Burn A Koran Day.”
Pastor Terry Jones says he got the idea from “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” and that since the announcement was made, people have been sending him copies of the Koran for the event.
...
It’s amazing: I don’t care for the Koran. I think people have the right to burn their own books. Yet you put it all together like this, and I feel disgusted. 
Many other atheists had similar feelings about the event.

I understand that burning books has a negative connotation, because it is often used to signify rejecting knowledge in favor of blind faith.  But that's not the message here.  Again, the message is that Islam is false, and that it is a violent religion.  I may think that these Christians are being hypocritical given the god awful stuff in the book they are so keen about being sacred, and I certainly don't agree that the Quran is sending people to hell.  But I don't disagree that the Quran is just a book, and has caused a lot of problems in the real world.

Ginx at Anything But Theist made a good point about book burning, that made me really think about my position:

At the core of my ideology is to add more to the world. Even if I could erase all religious texts on Earth, I wouldn’t. It would make the world less rich. We should be adding more to our base of knowledge, not trying to redact it. Book burnings are censorship, an attempt to physically destroy knowledge (though it is merely metaphorical in this instance, because they are only burning a few of the billions of copies of the Quran that are in existence).

However, I think there is a relevant counter-example.  Most of you probably remember Crackergate, when P.Z. Myers desecrated a Catholic Eucharist by putting a  nail through it, and throwing it in the trash.  But what you may not remember is that along with the cracker, P.Z. also threw away pages he ripped out of the Quran and The God Delusion.  In his words:
By the way, I didn't want to single out just the cracker, so I nailed it to a few ripped-out pages from the Qur'an and The God Delusion. They are just paper. Nothing must be held sacred. Question everything.

I don't remember any atheists getting upset about this when P.Z. did it.  I certainly wasn't; I agree that they are not sacred, as nothing should be.  So destroying books doesn't seem to be all that offensive, if we happen to agree with the message.  And while I may not agree with the Dove World Outreach church, I don't think this protest of Islam is any more offensive than Draw Muhammad Day was, with regards to what is being done.  While I'm not going to get involved with an event sponsored by some looney-tunes Christian group, it's not something I'm upset about either.


** I should note that Ginx also said:
"But you know what? To stop a book burning from happening is also censorship. The only time I would physically want someone to step in is if an angry mob descended upon a library with torches, and this is clearly a bring-your-own-book burning. You can do what you want with a Quran you own."
And I don't believe any atheists want to stop Dove outreach from expressing their opinions about Islam and Christianity. I also don't mean to single out Hemant's post; he's just the most well-known blogger than presented a very common opinion about the event, and it was his post that got me thinking about all of this. I still love you HM!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Changes

Hi all!

I hardly ever write about my personal life here, but a lot of changes in my life have been happening, and I thought it was important to share them with you.  It's also why I haven't posted in a few days.

Most importantly, I've taken an indefinite leave of absence from my PhD work.  As much as I enjoyed the work I was doing, I'm not sure research is really what I want to do.  Plus, my advisor didn't have funding for the research, so I was reliant on teaching assistantships from Northeastern from year to year, giving me much less time to work on the research anyway.  So rather than continue on a path I'm not sure is the right one, I decided to take a step back and reassess what I want to do.  Who knows; I may eventually go back to my PhD, but for right now I think I made the right choice.

So, I've moved back to Long Island, NY, where I'm originally from.  My fiancée found a job down here a few months ago and I just moved down on Tuesday (hence no posts this week).  I'm now living with some family until I find a full-time job.  As much as being unemployed sucks, I'm really glad I made the decision to come back home.  In the meantime, I'm tutoring students to make a little money.  So if you're in the Long Island area and need a math/computer science/SAT and GRE prep/beginner trombone tutor, I'm available.*

On a more traditionally positive note, I've lost nearly 50 pounds since March!  I now have a normal weight, according to my BMI, for the first time since high school (maybe first year of college, not sure exactly when I crossed over to overweight).  I did it by centering my Chi, drinking stabilized oxygen and a homeopathic...  Hah!  Just kidding...  I actually counted calories (with the help of caloriecount.com), and eating less calories than I burn each day.  As a wise man once said: "Science, it works bitches!"

I did give myself one "free day" every two weeks, where I don't count calories.  I highly recommend this to anyone trying to lose weight.  It changed my mindset from "I can never eat X again" to "I can have X on Saturday," which makes eating healthy so much easier to handle.  And after a while, I didn't even want to eat tons of crap on my free days; I got so used to eating better that I started to enjoy healthier foods.  Some suggest that a free day every so often can also help you maintain your metabolism, which helps burn more calories when I'm not eating as much.  I'm not sure if this is actually true or not, but it does make a bit of sense to me.  Either way, it has worked for me.

I also started running regularly a couple of months ago, to get more exercise to go with my new diet, and discovered how much I enjoy running.  I'm going to run my first race soon: The Smith Point Bridge 5K on September 11th.  And I'm now a 10 minute walk from a state park with a number of trails I can run on.  If you've never been trail running before, you should try it.  It's like meditation for me.  I'm steadily increase the number of miles I run each week, and I'm hoping to run a marathon some time next year.

So that's all of the stuff going on with me.  I'm starting to get settled in the new surroundings, so I'll start posting more regularly again in the near future.  I'll also be looking for some skeptic/atheist hang outs on Long Island, now that I'm here for a while.  If any of you readers are from the area, let me know!



* I've been finding students recently on a website called wyzant.com.  If I'm not in your area, or you need a tutor for a different subject, you should check out the site to find a tutor who can help you.  And if you're looking to tutor yourself, I'd highly recommend the site.  I've found a number of students via Wyzant, and their website it very easy to use, and very professional  (as opposed to many other tutoring sites I've seen).  OK, I'm done shilling for websites, I promise!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Penn and Teller on Vaccinations

Penn and Teller finally cover the anti-vaccination movement on Bullshit!  And Orac found the full episode available online:


I really enjoyed the intro demonstration, about how even if vaccines did cause autism, vaccinating would still be better than letting kids get sick and die from preventable diseases.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Autism and Ultrasound Response

A while back, I wrote about a news report on Dr. Manuel Casanova, who is studying the possibility of ultrasounds contributing to the rising rates of autism.  To my surprise, Dr. Casanova actually responded in the comment section. I guess that means people actually read the crap I write about them.  Here is the comment he left:

Hopefully you will consider posting this small note. If possible I would like to clarify certain aspects of the controversial TV interview. The same was supposed to be about Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). The reporter took the prerogative of dividing a lengthy interview into sections. I was not consulted in this regard. The part about ultrasound was tangential to the discussion and prefaced by my own comment that any speculations on the subject would be premature. I did provide some mechanistic explanations regarding similarities between the effects of utlrasound in animals and the pathology that we have described in autism. All of this was lost in the small TV clip when it was apprently decided that my personal interests would provide a better emotional response on the listeners. I did publish one article in MedHyp but the same was to make it clear that there are molecular mechanisms that are primed by ultrasound and are apparently abnormally expressed in patients with autism. Otherwise most of our other publications regarding the neuropathology of autism are in journals such as Neurology, Acta Neuropathologica, etc. I can easily see how somebody looking at the small TV clip would take an erroneous impression as to my way of thinking. However, if anybody is interested in further explanations, copies of articles (pdf's), etc, please email me your concerns at m0casa02louisville.edu. I will try my best to answer them.

Best regards,

Manuel

First, I have to say that I really appreciate Dr. Casanova taking the time to clarify the problems with the news report and interview.  It's nice to know that he's concerned with people understanding what he's doing, and the results he has so far.  I plan on emailing Dr. Casanova to get a few of the articles mentioned, to learn more about his work.

And looking back at my original post, I should have been more clear: most of my criticisms should have been aimed at the news report.  I have no issue with Dr. Casanova doing his research. My concern is with a reporter taking some preliminary research, and presenting it with the intent to scare people into thinking common and useful medical procedures are dangerous.  It goes to show that we have to be extremely careful about taking news coverage at face value.

Thanks for the reply, Dr. Casanova.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Happy New Year...

to all you Neptunians out there!

Neptune was discovered in 1846.  Today is the first time Neptune will be in the same position around the sun since it was discovered.  That means one Neptunian year has past since it's discovery.  That's equivalent to about 164 Earth years!

So remember to wish everyone a Happy New Neptune Year! (If you want some odd looks, that is.)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Dinosaur Comics on Rebuttals to Intelligent Design

This is probably my favorite Dinosaur Comic ever:



"Bed bugs have institutionalized stab rapes."  How can you argue with that?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Today... is El Guapo's birthday!

Actually, it's my birthday today, not El Guapo's.  And I'm 25, not "33."  But I am hoping for a plethora of piñatas!


And if you've never seen this movie, then shame on you.  For everyone else, enjoy a round of tequila to celebrate!