The Women’s Congressional Hearing (with apologies to Nellie McClung)

With apologies to the indomitable Nelly McClung

SCENE

[Interior of congressional hearing chamber. Behind a large and impressive wooden table sit three middle aged women in well-tailored suits, hands neatly folded in front of them.]

CHAIRWOMAN: Welcome, all, to this House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on the insurance coverage of erectile dysfunction medication and religious liberty. The chair recognizes the esteemed panel.

Today we are here to discuss the recent White House proposals regarding pharmaceutical coverage. The Obama administration wishes to force private insurance companies to provide coverage for erectile dysfunction medications. I’d like to ask the panel to provide an opening statement.

REV. CHASTITY: Thank you Ms. Chairwoman. The Obama administration has put a stranglehold on religious liberty in this country by forcing all Americans to accept practices antithetical to Christian doctrine – that is, that we should all pay for men in this country to be having recreational sex. The Bible clearly condemns sexual activity that is not for procreation – in Genesis 38:9-10, it stats “He spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring…What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight.”

These men are sinful, and the people of America should not be held financially captive by the lustful, wicked ways of the godless left wingers of this country. Jesus said, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” We, as Christians, should not be forced by an overbearing government to fund mortal sins!

CHAIRWOMAN: Thank you, Reverend. I’d like to now ask the panel to comment on whether this medication could be seen to be medically necessary.

DR. PROSTATE: Oh, definitely not. Sexual activity is entirely optional. In fact, erectile dysfunction isn’t so much a medical condition as just a normal part of aging. Men have lived for centuries without drugs that allow them to have sex for purely recreational purposes and I certainly don’t see why they have suddenly been rendered unable of coping. Indeed, it seems that popular media portrayals of older men like Hugh Hefner as sexually active has lead to a move away from traditional values. There is really absolutely no medical reason why individuals would ever need to have sex beyond their child-raising years. It is excesses in the medical system like erectile dysfunction treatments that are sending health insurance costs skyrocketing.

I’d also like to preemptively counter the point that sometimes erectile dysfunction medication can be given for legitimate medical issues and say: the majority of erectile dysfunction drugs are given to people who want them for recreation, not people who need them. Sexually transmitted infections in elderly populations have been on the rise since the introduction of erectile dysfunction medications. Adding barriers to access will prevent people from being sexually active and prevent the spread of STIs. The best way to prevent erectile dysfunction is to abstain from sexual activity. Everybody wins and nobody needs to pay out of pocket for somebody else’s jollies.

CHAIRWOMAN: Thank you, Doctor. And now, could we have a final word from Senator McClung?

SEN. MCCLUNG: We have heard men speak out in support of the Obama administration’s proposed coverage, and although some may be well-spoken and seem capable, we must remember that men are ultimately weak at heart and easy to be persuaded into sexual activity by women and the media. Supporting the use of erectile dysfunction medications puts these vulnerable men at risk of being preyed upon by women, and promotes irresponsible usage of the medication. This could lead to promiscuity, STIs, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, and other horrors that plague our modern society. If I may be so bold as to paraphrase the words of my great grandmother:

If men were all so intelligent as these representatives of the downtrodden sex seem to be it might not do any harm to allow them access to erectile dysfunction medication. But all men are not so intelligent. There is no use in allowing men to have Viagra. They wouldn’t use it. They would let the pills spoil and go to waste. Then again, some men would have sex too much…Giving men Viagra would unsettle the home….The modesty of our men, which we reverence, forbids us giving them Viagra access. Men’s place is in the workplace, not the bedroom..It may be that I am old-fashioned. I may be wrong. After all, men may be human. Perhaps the time may come when men will be responsible enough to have sex with women for reasons other than procreation–but in the meantime, be of good cheer. Advocate and Educate. [adapted from Nelly McClung, The Women’s Parliament]

[Thunderous applause erupts]

CHAIRWOMAN: Well said, Senator McClung. If there are no further opinions-

LONE MAN IN CROWD: Wait, don’t we get to-

CHAIRWOMAN: I’d like to thank the expert panel for their time and we will await the committee’s decision.

[The hearing chamber noisily clears out.]

END SCENE

If you have no idea what this is about, read here. If you are horrified that the words of a suffragette 99 years ago resonate today as much as they did then, SPEAK UP!

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.

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.

In Which The Universe Revolves Around Robert Sungenis – Part 2

See Part 1, in which I discuss the lecture, here

Let me begin by apologizing for the delay in completing this analysis. Needless to say, it was a daunting task to dissect the debate in a comprehensive way. Although I cannot possibly encompass the extent of ridiculousness that occurred that evening, I humbly offer my very best attempt. 

“A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.”

– Charles Haddon Spurgeon, often falsely (and ironically) attributed to Mark Twain

After “Dr.” Sungenis’ performance the previous evening, I must confess that I was quite excited by the prospect of having someone debate him. He clearly was an experienced orator, but it was hair-pullingly aggravating to have to sit through a solid hour of his verbal diarrhea. The prospect of someone calling him out on his insane conclusions delighted me, though I must admit that I had trepidations as well. I knew in advance that the individual who had stepped forward to debate Dr. Sungenis was not a professor of Astronomy, or even a graduate of that program. They had recruited, with a week’s notice, an undergraduate student. A knowledgable undergrad, but nonetheless, it hardly seemed fair.That none of the faculty stepped forward to open the can of proverbial whoop-ass was disappointing. I would have sorely loved to see him verbally eviscerated.

Nonetheless, the introductions began on a similar note as the night before. Mr. Adam Cousins, undergraduate. Dr. Robert Sungenis, doctorate! Again, the moderator emphasizes Dr. Sungenis’ penis thesis length, as if this should be impressive. I believe we have happened upon a new fallacy, my friends:

Argumentum ad book length-ium

Although, perhaps I should give some credit, as I confess that unlike the good doctor, I would probably not be able to vomit 700 pages worth of logically untenable text. I suspect I would be all tuckered out by page 40 and be ready for a nice cup of tea and a nap.

In any case, the statement to be debated was “A geocentric system is a false cosmological assumption.” Notice that this put Adam on the positive side of the debate – it was his job to defend reality, rather than to attack Dr. Sungenis’ argument. It was also worded in such a way that it could not be argued that geocentrism can be a useful cosmological assumption, as a frame of reference, say, in the orbit of the moon. Ultimately, the debate was asking Adam to prove Dr. Sungenis as wrong, rather than Dr. Sungenis having to prove himself correct. It is a subtle distinction, but utterly key in maintaining an unfair advantage. As long as Dr. Sungenis could plant some seed of a doubt, demonstrate that in some minute way that geocentrism was possible, the debate was his to win.

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