Hear me ramble in other media!

For those of you who like hearing what I have to say and yet are simultaneously tired of reading my long-winded text blocks, here’s some fancy new ways to get your fix:

Check out my Skepticamp talk on the history of the relationship between science and the media, and how we can navigate it to parse the truth from the hyperbole!

And now that you’ve heart all about the problems of media, take some time to hear the good stuff! Give Life, the Universe & Everything Else a gander – I’ll be on the panel occasionally, just like I am in the latest episode discussing “What’s the Harm?” in alternative medicine. We’re the top “New and Noteworthy” podcast on iTunes in Science & Medicine, and also in the top 25 of popular Science & Medicine podcasts as of right now!

And hey, if you really can’t live another day without reading an Orac-ian block of text, I’m also blogging for Skeptic North now, where I’ve already been trolled for my post on the evils of pox parties and the lack of informed consent in the anti-vax movement.

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Filler – so sue me!

So I know I’ve not posted anything in forever (since my first week of classes, as it turns out), but I just wanted to post a few quick things:

– As it turns out, being a medical student is rather time consuming. It’s not to say it’s quite as bad as some people seem to think it is, but I’m also living by myself, so keeping on top of feeding myself, doing yard work, cleaning house, etc. in addition to studying ends up eating up a lot of my time. So hence my lack of time to compose insightful, brilliant opuses of skepticism. Or you know, even the usual sort of thing I write.

– I don’t have TV anymore and I miss being able to watch Mythbusters. So I followed them all on Twitter. Tory was live-tweeting this Sunday’s episode where they were launching anvils into the air (via explosion, of course). Jealous, I tweeted:

I was maybe a little too excited when he tweeted back.

He made a very good point, and so I didn’t drop out. Yet. Tuition isn’t due until the end of September… so there is still time. Ha ha. Alternatively, I’m hoping they need a doctor on the set. I’d totally do it for free. I love science.

– I spent a lot of time this summer at the St. Norbert Farmer’s Market, and I’ve finally been annoyed enough by the various insane things being peddled there that I decided to blog about it. It’s a work in progress, but here’s some clues: negative ions, biofeedback subluxations, and raw diet. You would not believe how adamantly people buy into it. I actually unintentionally got into an argument about it with one of the customers of these people because they randomly came up to me and tried to convince me, too.

– I also have a lengthy piece on stem cells that I don’t know what to do with for the moment. It’s more educational than controversial – unfortunately but once again science demonstrates that there are no absolutes, and every answer has the caveat “…but it’s not quite that simple.”

– I have a scheduled, testable course lecture on CAM use in cancer coming up in October. It’s being given by the head of the local CAM institute, so I fully expect to have a plethora of blog material from it. It is our only scheduled CAM lecture, but fortunately we have a few vocal skeptics in the class, so it could be an interesting class.

– I am totally procrastinating on studying for my upcoming ominously looming midterm right now. I just thought you should know if you hadn’t figured it out.

Speaking of procrastinating, here's a picture of the grizzlies at the Calgary Zoo. Guess what I did on Saturday...

Skepticamp Winnipeg is coming up forthwith!  September 17th! Aqua Books! Come see all the interesting people give talks on nutrition, fallacies, polyamory, free will, perpetual motion machines… oh, and some pseudonymous blogger is doing a talk about Science in the Media (and how to find out the truth of things). I’m quite excited for it. Let us know that you’re coming here.

Ethical family planning, or, In which I ask a lot of rhetorical questions I can’t answer.

Being of a childbearing age in a committed relationship leads to a lot of pressing questions of a child-bearing nature. I, personally, don’t find the concept attractive for a myriad of reasons (pragmatic and emotional). The most frequent excuse I give to the well-meaning baby-loving types is my genetics – I come from a family history of early onset cancers of a few different varieties, auto-immune disease, and genetic high cholesterol, in addition to my own general feebleness and frailty. My significant other has a similar family history, with inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes thrown in there for extra fun. Neither of us are particularly healthy specimens of our species, and I’m quite content with removing myself from the gene pool of an already over populated planet.

I have always thought to myself that truly, passing on my sad, feeble, recessive genes could nearly be called child cruelty, given the nearly inevitable poor health any such offspring would have. We live in the age of genetics, of genome sequencing, of really cool new breakthroughs that can accurately identify genetic predispositions to everything from HIV susceptibility to autism spectrum disorders to that thing that some people can do where they fold their tongue up all funny.

Doing this is a dominant trait. I can't do this (or other tongue folds.) Damn you, recessive genes! (Photo from volver-avanzar on Flickr)

In any case, it’s gotten to the point where numerous companies have popped up to do private DNA testing to “screen” for specific genetics (the majority of which are useless for determining your health, like your blood type, and the ability to fold your tongue, both of which can be determined in a cheaper and much more practical way.) In any case, there certainly exists the distinct possibility that in the not-too-distant future, everyone will be screening for genetic susceptibilities to disease, because we all certainly have them, and certainly they can be important for making family planning decisions. If you and your partner are both carriers for a particular risk factor, 25% of your children will receive a double hit of that risk factor, or worse, have full-blown disease. Some might question whether that is something that we should know, but I think that’s a silly question to ask. Sticking your head in the sand because you’re afraid of the implications solves nothing. People are welcome to make their own decisions for their own health, but when you are talking about the theoretical health of your theoretical child, I don’t think ignorance is appropriate. If you and your partner are both carriers of infant Tay-Sachs disease, a progressive and painful genetic condition which results in children typically dying horribly by three years old, you should probably take that into consideration when thinking about having children. Having a severely disabled child that you know that you will outlive is not a burden that every couple is prepared to take on. But what about if your children will be at increased risk for breast cancer or stroke? At what point do you switch from having a “healthy” child to a “sick” child, especially when the majority of us have multiple genetic risk factors and carry potentially lethal but extremely rare genes that we are simply unaware of? And if we are all genetically “sick,” then hasn’t the word lost all meaning?

Would your fear of passing on the BRCA1 (Breast cancer 1) gene play into your desire to have children? And if it would, are you equally worried about the alleles that we don’t even know about yet? And if it wouldn’t, at what point would it become a factor? And how much of a guarantee do you need before it becomes a consideration? Does 25% worry you, or does it need to get to 50% or 75% before you give it a prominent spot in your mind? What about 100%?

Even more interesting is an experience I had today with an individual with a serious genetic disorder. His life is full of doctors’ appointments and treatments to keep him alive, and 100% of his children will be carriers, in addition to having milder symptoms themselves. Would you have a child if you knew that it would be sick? And perhaps more importantly, if you were sick yourself and unsure if you would be able to be around to help raise them?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions – clearly, in a lot of situations, environment plays a large role, and that is something you can change to prevent issues. There is screening and increased vigilance for those genetically at risk. I think it is safe to say that carrying a risk factor for something that is by-and-large environmentally based, like cardiovascular disease, is something that wouldn’t prohibit most people from having a child. Being assured that all children would be miscarried or stillborn is probably something that would prohibit most people from having children, to save themselves the emotional trauma. There is a line between those, but where, and how much does it move between individuals, over time, over situations? And truly, how can you ever know what the right thing to do is without asking the person it will affect the most?

These are the sort of questions that run through my mind – feel free to answer them with your opinion and how you derived that answer. My feeling is that parents should be emotionally, physically and financially prepared to cope with a child with potential congenital abnormalities, but as long as they go into it with hearts and eyes open, who am I to interfere? And if they do not have the resources to care for a potentially ill child and so abstain from having children, who am I to look down my nose? I would say that it is morally undesirable to willfully have children with genetic problems is if that family is unable or unwilling to provide appropriate care and support for that child, much as you would say for any child, only accounting for the increased amount of care necessary. Apart from that, feel free to have kids when you like, with whomever you like, as many times as you would like.

Just, please, before you do: think of the children.

Apparently, creationists love me

I don’t know whether I should be flattered that I appear to be that notable, or offended that my points seem to be so categorically missed. First the wrath of the geocentrists, now this.

So, way back this spring we took a gander on down to Winnipeg’s Creation Museum – yes, it exists, and yes, it is in a church basement, and yes, the church is full of people who believe in a literal Genesis story (which one, it’s still not quite clear), replete with Adam and Eve and plant-eating T-Rexes. There was a question and answer period after the tour of the “museum” (room). John Feakes, the pastor of the church, was an amiable, genuinely nice guy, but he was espousing some very odd interpretations of reality, including those which even Answers in Genesis has distanced itself (like the “human” tracks along side dinosaurs at the Paluxy River, which are pretty much irrefutably also the tracks of dinosaurs. Or you could go with giant humans with feet that look remarkably dinosaur-like in nature. Sure.)

In any case, in the question period, I asked him something along the lines of how he could refute the molecular evidence for evolution – that evolution predicts structural homology, that was used to create trees of life, and molecular biology has been used to confirm those exact same trees of life (with a few surprises which now explain a lot more about how life evolved). His response… well, I’ll let him tell the story in a lecture that he gave to the faithful. (This comes in at about the 51 minute mark)

Now I locked horns with a couple of atheist groups now, uh, last… year? They came out to see me. We talked for five hours on evolution and creation and all that kinda stuff. And one girl, she stood up at Q&A time, and she was very adamant, she said “I’m a scientist, and evolution has been proven, and now we can draw family trees based on the molecular data, and it’s just so scientific.”

And I said “Okay, just a minute here. Umm you’re telling me now, did whales evolve from galloping terrestrial mammals like cows, or something else? Right? Okay now, and we got into this whole thing where now the new molecular data shows they actually evolved from hippo-like creatures. [Sarcastic] Right.

I said “Okay, so are you saying that your family tree based on how these things look got replaced by a tree based on the molecular data?”

She said “Yes, that’s true.”

I said, “Okay, now, I want to tell you what Dr. Klassen said, because he is a flag-waving evolutionist. He was out debating creationists; he debated Duane Gish, back in the 80’s.” I said, “he said ‘If these things don’t line up, evolution’s been falsified.'”

[mimicking me with incredulous sputtering] Well that’s just his opinion and… [trails off]

Well, I’m not going to say he misrepresented me because I think he is more honest than most creationists – notice the “cow-like” and “hippo-like” animal references, rather than crocoduck accusations. He also prefaces this reference to me by talking about how the morphological tree of life based on morphology is rubbish, that it’s been thrown out and taken back to square one with the evolutionary tree. This is of course, completely false. Here’s a 2009 paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that looked at just that – comparing molecular to morphological data in mammals and molluscs. It turns out, in the overwhelming majority of genus, we were spot on with our homology data, or a single branch got bumped to another genus. Keep in mind that this is specific stuff here, it’s distinguishing between Homo sapiens, Homo habilis, Homo neanderthalensis, etc. Of our entire genus, one branch would be booted out and go, no, that’s really not as closely related to those as we thought, they’re better suited to say, Australopithecus.

The Tyrrell Museum is my favourite museum ever. Seriously, if you've not been, go. There's a great exhibit on evolution right now. (Plus lots of other fantastic things)

Of course, this is not a perfect analogy as from my understanding of the paper it was referring to only living species – however, consider that there are 20 species of common house mouse in the Mus genus presently, and any movement of those branch points to a different genus (say, a field mouse) counts as a hit. 65.8% of the time, molecular biology confirms exactly what we had figured out by phylogeny. 65.8% of the time! And this is being extraordinarily stringent, allowing for no minor corrections. If you include these minor corrections (a single species being moved from field mouse to house mouse origins, or inclusion of other branches which were thought to have diverged earlier), we were now right 87.3% of the time. What are the odds of a random, incorrect theory based on wild assertion getting two completely separate, independently verified pieces of data to agree 87.3% of the time. The other 12.7% of the time where we were wrong? Well these are the surprises that John Feakes points out. Look at this 12.7%, he says, and please ignore the 87.3% of the time that they got it right. Keep in mind, also, that this is from within Classes – certainly no mammals were being shown to be more genetically similar to molluscs or vice versa.

This seems like a good time for a happy dinosaur break.

So yes, I did agree that the whale was a surprise. Yes, I should have been able to form a better argument than saying it’s an appeal to authority (but truly, it was the first time I’ve ever encountered the “so-and-so said” technique and was shocked by it.) None of that changes the fact that, the majority of the time, we were absolutely right. And the overwhelming majority of the time, we were very nearly right. No amount of personal incredulity will change the fact the odds of this happening by mere chance are extraordinarily low (p=0.029).

Which are, shockingly, still better odds than your family ever having taken a recreational slide down Apatosaurus' neck

In fact, the authors of this papers state that “These results likely represent a worst-case scenario for morphogenus monophyly. Much of the compiled molecular work focused on ‘problem taxa,’ those known to be resistant to morphological analysis (e.g., freshwater bivalves, oysters, bovids).” These data are merely a conservative estimate on how right we were, based on data with a bias towards areas of morphological contention, and further works under the assumption that our genotyping techniques are perfect – and of course, errors are always possible. And they still were completely right in 65.8% of mammals.

If that isn’t evidence, I don’t know what is.

This was not my ancestors' family pet 6000 years ago, this is a the sort of thing that ate my shrew-like ancestors 20 millions years ago.

Oh, and as a final note, I resent being referred to as a “girl.” It implies immaturity, it’s condescending and it’s dismissive. It makes me sound like I’m playing dress up with big-girl pants. No one would refer to the guys who stood up to ask questions as “boys.” I don’t think it’s too much to ask to request the same level of respect.

Integrative and allopathic medicine: a skeptical medical student’s rant

It’s no mystery that I am not a fan of CAM (complementary and alternative medicine), and not because I’m a Big Pharma Shill or been brainwashed by exhaustive campaigns by evil corporations. It’s not that I hate herbs, hate Chinese people, and hate things that are different that I don’t understand. The majority of the time I spent in a research laboratory (5 years, including time as a summer student), I spent it doing research into nutrition and functional foods. I worked with people studying the biochemical effects of exercise on health. I understand the role of preventative medicine and lifestyle interventions more than most people and I strongly advocate them. As part of, you know, medicine.

The term “allopathic medicine” was coined by Samuel Hahnemann, who contrasted it with, unsurprisingly for those of you who recognize the name, homeopathic medicine. It’s a derivative term from the Greek word allos meaning other, implying that the treatment opposes the disease, in contrast to homeos (“like”) cures. That homeopathy continues to persist 168 years after Samuel Hahnemann is a farce – that it is presented to medical students without any iota of explanation or critical thought is a tragedy. Observe:

From the AFMC (Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada) Primer on Population Health, required reading for my class, with the offending phrases bolded by me:

Contemporary Western medicine is increasingly being challenged to consider how to respond to perspectives and treatments other than those of conventional allopathic medicine. One response has been to propose ‘integrative medicine’ as a collaboration between biomedical approaches and other healing traditions, including herbal remedies, manual interventions such as massage therapy or chiropractic, and mind-body practices such as hypnosis. Similarly, the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine trains naturopathic doctors who employ natural therapies as well as using the more standard medical diagnostics of allopathic medicine.

Integrative medicine is about changing the focus in medicine to one of healing rather than disease. This involves an understanding of the influences of mind, spirit, and community as well as of the body…
…Whereas allopathy implies opposing the symptoms of disease, homoepathy implies working with the disease by stimulating the body to produce its natural defensive (e.g., immune) responses.For a time during the mid-nineteenth century, homeopathy (treating like with like) was a serious rival to the allopathic approach, but the development of the germ theory gave allopathy a scientific foundation for many of its remedies. However, by the mid twentieth century disillusionment began when, despite advances in ‘the conquest of infectious disease’ hospitals remained full and waiting lists stayed long. This may have reflected a rising demand for care induced by the perception of its success, but the very success of allopathic medicine (along with improved social conditions) enabled people to live long enough to suffer degenerative diseases for which the allopathic approach is less effective. Moreover, the allopathic approach has some undesired consequences including the rapid increases in costs and the large numbers of people with iatrogenic disorders.2 While allopathic remedies are often highly effective, practitioners are also aware that the best cure may be for the patient to simply restore balance in their life and get adequate sleep, exercise, and good nutrition.

Did you spot all the devious false equivalences and straw men drawn there? Did you notice the bait and switch set up with massage therapy being touted as alternative? Integrative medicine is not a collaboration between biomedical approaches and “other healing traditions” – it’s the infusion of pseudoscience into science. There is no need to worry about traditions when designing a treatment program. You figure out what works best, and you use it. We don’t continue to give people radium for high blood pressure simply because some people in the past thought it was a nifty neat-o idea! Notice also the mention of naturopaths as if they were an equivalent but separate kind of doctor, as if drinking powdered deer horn tea had the same level of efficacy as prescribing a statin.

The idea that “allopathic” medicine is focused on disease rather than healing is a ridiculous notion that I am ashamed to see presented by the people who are overseeing the curricula of this country’s medical schools. In my first week here, the concepts of the spectrum from health to disease, the need for population-based intervention, and the need to treat patients as individuals and not diseases has already come up. We’ve also already talked about treatment – but what is the point of talking about treatment if you don’t understand the disease? I mean, it’s all well and good that Mrs. Johnson comes in vomiting blood all over, but I’m pretty sure that thinking hard about being healthy and taking a nap isn’t going to prevent her form going into hemorrhagic shock! Only once you understand the disease can  you design a treatment. If you think her vomiting blood is from possession by an evil forest spirit, you’re going to proceed quite a bit differently than if you realize that Mrs. Johnson has a ruptured blood vessel in her stomach. The whole purpose of medicine is to achieve wellness! No amount of pre-scientific thinking or feel-good nonsense is going to save Mrs. Johnson’s life!

And of course, the criticisms that because “allopathic” medicine works so well, now people are living long enough to deal with issues that it can’t treat. So, when Mr. Wong comes into your clinic, presenting with symptoms of Alzheimer’s, clearly the only answer is to abandon the system that works really well at everything else, and try some random stuff that has no evidence to support it. This is the same sort of tactic that creationists use in the “God of the gaps” arguments. We don’t know, so God did it. We don’t know, so let’s use reiki. The absence of evidence for something does not mean you get to fill in the blanks with your chosen brand of unsupported beliefs. If there is a gap in our knowledge about what to do with an Alzheimer’s patient, we should research into causes (and subsequently treatments) of Alzheimer’s disease. Plausible, mechanism-based treatments. They don’t need to be drugs; there’s been psychological-behavioural research being done into mental training exercises (most of which has come up short in translating to increased everyday functionality.) Maybe we need to do more to prevent head trauma injures like concussions during sports activities. Maybe we should look at how alcohol and drug abuse can lead to dementia later in life. All of these are well within the realm of medicine, and require no magical thinking. They are testable hypotheses and should be pursued. Until we have an answer, you don’t get to fill the gaps with the nonsense du jour.

Did you also notice that homeopathy is given a one-off vaguely plausible sounding mechanism without any sort of definition as to what it might be? They make it sound like homeopathy is like vaccination, dealing with it not only credulously but dishonestly. How many students are going to read that claim, assume it correct, and go on to think that is is a perfectly legitimate form of medicine?

It’s unsurprising that they also bring up iatrogenic diseases, which can be literally translated to mean “healer-caused” diseases. These diseases range from anemia due to excessive blood draws in the hospital, to hospital-aquired (nosocomial) infections, to potentially lethal drug side effects. They are a major issue in medicine, especially when they are preventable, as in nosocomial infections (which can be prevented by proper cleanliness techniques) or worse, when someone screws up. There are failsafes in place for mistakes, and are why hospitals have adopted a team approach, but they inevitably will happen. However, this is not an argument for throwing the whole system, which we’ve already established works quite well. This is an argument for making the system better, for preventing the mistakes, for increasing communication within a team, for finding more failsafe systems, for being pro-active. The system isn’t broken, it’s just not perfect. You shouldn’t replace something that works but has side effects with something that doesn’t work but has none, especially since the lack of side effects are due to the fact that it doesn’t work. 

This is, of course, also assuming that “traditional” medicine has no side effects, which the anti-vaccine crowd has shown us that it can have. Eschewing modern medicine kills people. If people forsake their family physician for a naturopath, they will cannot be given prescriptions if they need them. If Mr. Sullivan is an overweight, 58-year old pencil pusher with genetic high cholesterol and an impending heart attack, then advocating a healthy diet and more exercise is important. But given his genetic preponderance and his previously sedentary lifestyle, no amount of oatmeal will help. In addition to lifestyle counselling, he desperately needs pharmaceutical intervention, possibly stenting to keep his heart’s blood vessels open, and an intensive monitoring of his blood lipids. If he dies of that heart attack, and the naturopath did not refer him to a physician when first line defences fail, that naturopath is responsible for his death. Just as letting someone get hit by a bus because you don’t want to rumple their suit jacket makes your failure to act lethal, so does dependence on pre-scientific thinking while avoiding science-based medicine cause people to die. Naturopathy, at its core, is based on true principles (that we get drugs from the natural world, there’s a science based on it called pharmacognosy), but in practice is little more than hand-waving, placebo-effecting ridiculousness. On the Canadian Association for Naturopathic Doctors, the website linked to by the AFMC’s primer, they recommend for colds & flus:

To aid the elimination of toxins through the skin induce perspiration by taking long hot baths, using an infra-red sauna or steam room. Increasing perspiration through the skin is one of the safest and most effective ways of eliminating toxins.

You know, unless you get dehydrated and die.  I hear that making people who have a fever sweat even more is really sound medical advice. To get rid of toxins. Right.

So no, Association for the Faculties of Medicine of Canada, I don’t think that we should consider integrative medicine and the “treatment of mind, body and spirit” in our practice. A doctor is not a shaman, nor should they attempt to be. I think physicians should be compassionate, caring, understanding, attentive, and open with their patients. They should be concerned for their patient’s autonomy, their mental health, and their feelings. They should strive to give them the best care, based on the best evidence available.

TL;DNR: I don’t think that there is any room, when people’s lives are at stake, for bullshit.

 

Update: Somebody famous read this article and liked it enough to link it on their Twitterfeed! Scott Gavura (@PharmacistScott), blogger of Science-Based Pharmacy and occasional writer for Science-Based Medicine.

Top three things that have appalled me today!

Apologies in the break in posts – I’ve moved provinces to begin medical school, but I’ve started classes and gotten settled in now, so all should be well. Also, hooray, I’ve finished the first draft of my thesis!

Number 3

Made by Nestle, whose corporate slogan has recently been updated to "Nestle makes the very best effort to hold onto antiquated sexist marketing schemes despite all better judgement"

You can sort of see what they were going for in 1976 when this chocolate bar first came out – chocolate is a “girl” thing so they were trying to include men into their market. Perhaps in 1975, perhaps any man who ate a dainty looking chocolate bar had his gender identity put into serious question. I don’t know, it was a different time. In any case, this is a common marketing scheme in the chocolate industry. Snickers and O Henry bars both have advertising campaigns which prominently or exclusively feature hungry men going for a tasty hunk of chocolatey diabetes to quell the need. There’s nothing wrong with targeting your marketing like that (and the “You’re not yourself with you’re hungry” commercials make me laugh).

But seriously, “It’s not for girls?” Seriously? I mean, even if they’re going for “it’s not for wimps” concept, which I still take offence to, couldn’t they do it in a way that doesn’t tell 50% of their potential market that they are undesirable as customers? And they even take use a derivative, dismissive word (girls). Why not market it as “Chocolate for men?” They also make separate packaging for the British military on which it says “It’s not for civs [civilians].” That’s fine! This product is only going to military personnel, and they’re trying to imply that the chocolate is as awesome as the members of the military. FINE. But don’t say Yorkies: It’s not for retards. It’s stupid, bigoted, and condescending.

Yorkies: It's not for cheese-eating surrender monkeys.

Number 2

Britain set ablaze as unrest sweeps throughLondon, and other UK cities, in 3 days of riots

What the hell, London? Don’t get me wrong, I am all for peaceful, positive protest. It’s the moral high ground when things are not as they should be. I don’t know the full story behind the cause of these protests (there was a gunfight with police during which a 29-year old man was killed) and perhaps police violence is a major issue in the area, which has many disadvantaged populations and economic issues. I see no problem with protesting outside the police station to make sure that justice is served for the man who was killed.

What I do have a problem with is this:

More here

And not just one night where oops! things get out of hand, someone in downtown Vancouver thinks it would be awesome to loot or light that garbage can on fire because the Canucks lost. This is the third night in a row that there has been massive destruction of private property. There is no justification for this. It appears that organized crime is using the chaos to capitalize on the situation and initiate the looting and destruction. I repeat, what the hell, London?

Number 1

Michelle Bachmann is a front runner as a Republican Presidential candidate. You know, the one who’s married to a guy who has an alleged de-gaying program. The one who advocates intelligent design. The one whose platform isn’t just a violation of the separation of church and state, it’s based on advocating religion. The one who believes that all abortions, no matter when, how or why (including medical emergencies which could kill the mother), are wrong. The who believes that the law comes from and should be based on the Bible and only the Bible. This woman has a shot at being the next leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world, whose economic problems are presently shaking the global market, whose problems ripple back to us.

If that doesn’t appall you, then I don’t know what will.

Where is the objective morality?

My recent evenings have been spent at my computer logged into a Christian chat room. I recently viewed a video on Youtube promoting this chat room as the atheists defeat zone, the narrator exclaimed that Atheists have lost 31 debates, in a row, to the theists of this chat room. Challenge accepted.

And he has fricken laser beams that shoot out of his eyes! Evolution Win!

Being a curious cat, ever ready to punce on something shiny, I clicked the links and logged in. I was immedatly bombarded with “Atheists have sex with goats” and other derivitives of the concept of beastiality. A fellow by the screen name of American Christian proclaimed “This is the reason I will never ask an atheist to look after my dog.”

The conversation was based on objective morality being proof of a god. The theists argued that god gives morality and therefore anyone not subject to gods “law” would be free to do whatever they want including rape, torture, murder, theft etc. without consequence or rational thought. To a theist, objective morality falls under the umbrella of God and without belief in the almighty dictator a person is incapable of being objectivly moral.

With garlic butter.... /drool

I argued that a belief in god is not a requirement nor is it recommended to be objectively moral. I cited the many immoral people who believe in god far exceed those that do not in federal prisons. I also argued that morality is a product of civilization.

Bottom line, Religion does not make you moral. Morality is a product of social pressure. What is perfectly moral in the middle east, could be considered completely atrocious here in North America (ex. Women being stoned for adultery, female genital mutilation, arranged marriages, etc.) and vise versa (ex. Eating pork, Pornography, bikinis , etc.). Morality is a philosophical manifestation of social norms and has demonstrated that neither a God or humanity has the slightest clue as to the proper interpretation of the rules of objectivity.

The conversations then turned when a man by the screen name of Nephilimfree decided to exclaim that “science has disproved evolution!” He then went on to babble for nearly half an hour citing every creationist unsubstantiated claim he could in support of a god created world. He then posted several articles where he quote mined the first paragraph, which was meant to sensationalize the actual study, which stated that “Hundreds of natural selection studies could be wrong.” This character refused to stop talking and allow an opposing view point to come into the discussion. He repeatedly kicked a speaker off of the microphone with his abused moderator privileges.

Plugs ears "LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA!"

Yesterday, I came across this story in which a man killed his 4 year old boy under suspicion that he was a homosexual and a 28 year old woman for being infertile. Both these killings were done in the name of christianity and ultimately a personal god.

At least the fish get fed, right?

I asked what these christians thought about this man. They said it was gods will or something to that effect. To be fair, one person said it was wrong and he should be punished by law. Christians are not all bad. Just most of the crazy ones are.

In Which I’m an Axe Grinding Whinger

Well, the trolls finally found my blog posts from this spring, in which I am accused of conspiracy, lies, and scientific tyranny. Yay! I know, I know, don’t feed the trolls and all, but I would like to point out one simple thing: I honestly don’t care about geocentrism. I’m not a physicist, I’m not an astronomer. I am nothing more than an astronomy cheer leader, because I have always been fascinated by the stars and the planets and the galaxies. I was sort of sad when Pluto was downgraded from planetary status, but in a momentary “d’aw shucks” sort of way. I mourn the death of the American space program, that I never got to see a shuttle launch (though we did fly over Cape Canaveral once when a shuttle was on the launch pad. I took pictures). Any major changes to astronomy would interest me, because I have no vested interest in one theory or another. String theory can come or go – I’m a biologist and it makes no difference to me.

The hilarious thing is that apparently, according to my trolls, I have an axe to grind, and I am sitting here bitching and complaining and protesting because that’s all I do. This delights me, because I’m a busy woman with my own science to worry about. I had never even heard of geocentrism before I saw it on a Kijij listing for the lecture, and since I wrote the articles I have not worried about it for a moment since (barring my post earlier this week about the movie, which I wrote on a 10 minute break to lament science education). I wrote two comedy-based articles debunking the talk for the amusement of my fellow skeptics, and that was the end of it.

Now, I’m being challenged as a liar who misrepresented the evenings, even by those who have seen copies of the events that went on. What I find interesting is that these are only wild assertions. Which part, specifically, is untrue? Although I have not yet gone back to transcribe his talk, I certainly could to prove my point. Or perhaps, yes, I made a typo, or didn’t cover something in the notes I took. However, it is difficult to respond to such criticism if you don’t mention what I’m wrong about.

And yet, even though I spend both summaries asking over, and over, and over, “Please, somebody, just show me some evidence!!” none of them have presented any direct evidence for geocentrism. They all fall prey to the thinking of many creationists: if the current theory is wrong, then mine must be right! I am open to the concept that there is a better explanation for the way the world is than Newtonian physics. However, you must present this alternative theory!

In a geocentist world, this is what the solar system looks like. Please explain why planets are doing weird little circles all on their own. Please explain why Mercury never slams into the Earth. Please explain the forces that sustain this model.

Until then, truly, I’ve moved on with my life. The universe is not the focus of my scientific work and what frame of reference we use to describe it doesn’t particularly matter to me. This is not my field. I have far more to “whinge” about when it comes to people promoting medical quackery. You know, the stuff that is actually killing people.

Awesome robotics and unfortunate acronyms

Cyberdyne’s robotic exoskeleton, designed to help increase mobility in the elderly and assist people with heavy lifting in their workplaces, is being used to help a paralyzed Japanese man tour historic sites in France. It’s not quite as exciting as the headline makes it out to be – his carrier will be wearing the robo-suit, not him. Still, it’s fantastic that they’re finding diverse applications for this really cool technology. Reading muscle impulses isn’t far off from actually helping those whose nerve impulses in the brain don’t reach their intended targets. It looks like such technology will be possible in my lifetime, which is fantastic!

Still, I do wish they didn’t call it the Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL). Seriously? Have these people never seen 2001:A Space Odyssey?

You've clearly never taken a marketing class, Dave.

Via: Discovery News