Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

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oprah drinks the antivax kool aid, from Bad Astronomy

May 4, 2009

Dr. Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, posted this earlier today on his blog, Bad Astronomy.

I knew that Oprah Winfrey was prone to antiscience; she has all sorts of New Age nonsense on her show, and the one time Randi was on in recent years he found the experience frustrating; Oprah unabashedly promotes all kinds of superstitious garbage.

But now she’s gone way, way too far: she’s signed Jenny McCarthy — notorious for her misleading statements about vaccines and autism — on for a multi-platform deal.

McCarthy has advocated a link between autism and vaccinations for years. She has written and spoken about it at length in very large venues like Oprah’s and Larry King’s shows, but her claims are wrong. Worse, they’re dangerous: by claiming vaccines are dangerous, she is scaring parents into delaying or even preventing their children from being vaccinated.

I don’t think this threat to the health of our children can be overstated: we have already seen a dramatic rise in outbreaks in preventable diseases due to the rise in media presence of antivax claptrap, and there have been deaths of children, deaths of babies, because of it.

And now Oprah is giving the premier mouthpiece for this movement a huge loudspeaker.

The timing of this couldn’t be more ironic, with Australian TV slamming the antivax movement due to the death of a four-week-old infant girl from whooping cough — a death directly related to the antivaxxers in Australia — with a growing response online to the distortions and outright lies of the antivaxxers here in the U.S, and with antiscience knee-jerking exacerbating the global reaction to swine flu.

Oprah: you have screwed up on this one, and in a huge, huge way. Jenny McCarthy has loudly and publicly increased fears over vaccinations based on nonsense and bad science. By giving her a platform, you are virtually guaranteeing that vaccination rates will decline further, there will be more outbreaks of easily preventable diseases, and therefore we’ll see an increase in deaths of children all around the world. You have claimed to want to make the world a better place — and you have actually done so in many ways — but this one act will completely negate any good you’ve done in the past.

Antivaccination rhetoric kills. It is that simple.

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evidence: creationists are doing it wrong

April 9, 2009

(from Suburband Panic)

We’re going to illustrate a common misuse of evidence by resorting to one of my favorite rhetorical tropes: the television police procedural, or the Law & Order example.

The tough but secretly sensitive detectives of Law & Order: Zoo Patrol are on the case. A rare primate, a librarian orangutan, has been found murdered in his book-filled enclosure at the Manhattan Animal Sanctuary. The orangutan was recently acquired by the zoo, after he was confiscated in a raid of an illegal animal smuggling ring.

Read the rest…

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state board of edu-ignorance

March 27, 2009

From Skepchick.org

Science Takes a Hit in Texas
March 27th, 2009 by Sam Ogden

Well, it finally came to an end today. This afternoon, the Texas State Board of Education adopted new science standards for the public schools in Texas. The new guidelines include language that leaves the door open for creationists to wedge religious myths into the science curriculum. The vote on the overall standard was 13-2 to adopt.

The debate was heated at times, and confusing at other times, but there was a lot at stake for students all over the U.S. And ultimately, they are the ones who will suffer the sins of the board.

I’ve personally followed and blogged about this story for two years now, and was disappointed that, despite the hard work and spot on recommendations by the teachers, review committees, and outside parties, like the Texas Freedom Network and the National Center for Science Education, board members let politics and, worse, religious beliefs guide their decisions.

It remains to be seen just how deeply today’s vote will impact students, but you can bet we’ll be talking about this unfavorable outcome for a long time to come.

See the press release from the Texas Freedom Network after the fold.

The Texas Freedom Network has released the following statement on the final adoption of science curriculum standards by the Texas State Board of Education today:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 27, 2009

TFN President Kathy Miller: Texas State Board of Education Adopts Flawed Science Standards

The word “weaknesses” no longer appears in the science standards. But the document still has plenty of potential footholds for creationist attacks on evolution to make their way into Texas classrooms.

Through a series of contradictory and convoluted amendments, the board crafted a road map that creationists will use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking established science into textbooks.

We appreciate that the politicians on the board seek compromise, but don’t agree that compromises can be made on established mainstream science or on honest education policy.

What’s truly unfortunate is that we now have to revisit this entire debate in two years when new science textbooks are adopted. Perhaps the Texas legislature can do something to prevent that.

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how big is earth?

March 18, 2009

(from r4ycluster, youtube)

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texans and creationism

March 15, 2009

The down side of living in a state the values its, uh, values with such ferocious certainty is that people here often do so without regard to relevancy. I would take a thousand meek souls with a thoughtful brain each than any number of dim-witted with stalwart minds with nary a critical thought around.

From Bad Astronomy comes a story regarding the ongoing debate in the Texas State Board of Education chambers regarding the “strengths and weaknesses” idea. A bill has been passed that will insert this phrase into the educational requirements for science teachers in regards to scientific theories. The essence here is to allow a back door for intelligent design, creationism, and other nonsense into public schools.

While the “academic freedom” purported by IDers is nonsense, there is something to be said for validation of the field and the content therein. However, this is where the ID crowd misses the boat, because such validation comes from evidence and predictions that can be discovered through this evidence. Intelligent Design proponents offer nothing of substance, but they cannot be ignored.

Oh, Texas, would you quit kissing your own ass and realize how your silly, backward religio-social ideas of how the world ought to work are not as great as you imagine?

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the faith cake

January 12, 2009

Because realizing why religion and science don’t belong in the same argument is the first step.

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a dissection of intelligent design arguments

December 3, 2008

I have been scouring the net recently in a bit different fashion than normal. I have allowed myself to read some of the blogs and news reports from sites focusing on Intelligent Design. Most notably, I’ve been reading Evolution News and Views, run by the Discovery Institute, an organization dedicated to the advancement of intelligent design in culture and education. If you follow the link above, you can get the full bite of the article I’m about to tackle.

Our author, Casey Luskin, one of the public relations people for the Discovery Institute, posted an article yesterday about a book, Life on Other Planets by Rhonda Lucas Donald. Right off the bat, he skews some information he quoted.

“The second page of the first chapter of Life on Other Planets, in large letters, reads:

A Recipe for Life

For life on Earth to exist, you need at least three things:
1. organic molecules
2. water
3. energy”

(Rhonda Lucas Donald, Life on Other Planets, pg. 6 (Watts Library, 2003), emphasis in original.)

While that statement may be technically correct, it’s kind of like saying, “For a computer to exist, you need at least three things: wires, microprocessors, and electricity.” Some parts are harder to obtain than others, but even if you get all the parts necessary for a computer in the same box (rather than just these mere three necessary components), you’re still not remotely close to having a computer.

It should be noted that Donald states in the book, according to Mr. Luskin’s quote, that organic molecules, water and energy are all needed for life to exist. They are not the only components, but they are necessary as a fuel for the system of life. He makes this point, but still argues that Donald attempts to prove they are the only things necessary. If Donald did indeed make this arguement, then Luskin left out some information. If not, Luskin is misinterpreting the information from the passage.

In the next paragraph, Luskin tries to make a case for the standard ID argument about “information.”

One extremely important component that is missing from our “recipe” for a computer also happens to be a key component of all life: information. As origin of life theorist Bernd-Olaf Kuppers said in his book Information and the Origin of Life, “The problem of the origin of life is clearly basically equivalent to the problem of the origin of biological information.” Somehow, that key ingredient of life’s recipe was left off the list in Life on Other Planets. Might that be because experience teaches that the sort of information we find in life — complex and specified information — has only one real common source: intelligent agency?

I am no scientist, but I often wonder why creationists and ID proponents alike keep replacing the letters D, N and A with “information.” Everything I’ve learned about how life, in general, operates has been boiled down to what the DNA says it should do. Will a lady bug eat aphids? Will photosynthesis occur in yon oak tree? Will simple and complex organisms alike live in climate inhospitable to humans and most other life known? All this and more is “information” delivered to each living thing in its DNA. So why not call a spade a spade?

Also, he tries to promote the idea that the only way a creature has DNA (I’m gonna use the real term, okay?) is because of “intelligent agency,” and it is through “experience” that we know this. What sort of experience? Where is your research? What peer-reviewed journal can I find this in, Mr. Luskin? America wants to know, Mr. Luskin?! The world waits!

After this, came a couple of ad hominem attacks:

Aside from the fact that “bing” isn’t much of a descriptive scientific term that tells the reader anything…

Neither is Intelligent Design, Mr. Luskin.

Despite the patent overstatements and blatantly false oversimplifications of origin of life research in this book, the Dewey Decimal call number for Life on Other Planets was 576.8 or “Life Sciences, Genetics and Evolution.” In my view, if you’re going to market these kinds of false speculations to kids, better forewarn them by classifying the book in the 800s — fiction.

Believe it or not, libraries follow a set of cataloging rules, such as the International Standard Bibliographic Description that makes it easier to find the same materials in different locations.

And to boot, Mr. Luskin, don’t insult librarians by claiming they don’t know how to do their jobs. They rely on information to do their job, unlike you, who makes most of your content from false premise, special pleading, and the occasional straw man.