The Lower Quote, As If You Didn't Know, Is By Richard Dawkins, Son.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Geeks and Nerds

Inspiring? Yes. True? Hell-to-the-yes. Check out this great convocation speech welcoming new students to the University of Minnesota-Morris. (Obviously, there's a hat-tip to PZ here)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

An Analogy for Herd Immunity

I had a discussion the other day with a fellow massage therapist about, what else?, vaccines. When someone commenting on our discussion said that her office had gotten sick but she hadn't, I said that it was likely either luck or the effects of herd immunity. My colleague then said this to me in an exchange after saying that she, "didn't buy that herd immunity had been proven":
...if herd immunity is so effective, then how is it that so many viruses are seeing a revival when so many others have been immunized against it? Wouldn't the theory for herd immunity say that since so many are vaccinated that the people who haven't been would become immune by exposure to those who have been?
This is a real problem when debating. People on the science side just assume that basic ideas like herd immunity are understood when they're not. To clarify, here is a good analogy I came up with to explain it.

Let's say you're a female basketball player. You drive the lane and go up for a jump-shot, but are bumped by another player. Your bra strap breaks. What do you do? The coach calls a time out and you go to the bench with the rest of the team. You explain the situation to the coach, but you can't exactly whip off your shirt right there on the sidelines, exposing yourself to the glares of the creepy sports-fans in the bleachers, so what, then?

Your teammates to the rescue! The other women make a tight circle around you and, in the centre, you are free to take your jersey off to safety pin the strap or just put on a new bra. No worries about exposing yourself to the crowd's stares, you're protected by the other members of the team who are shielding you. They're not worried because they're wearing jerseys and the weirdos can't see anything bawdy on them, so life's good. When the danger of exposure passes, the circle disperses and the previously vulnerable player is safe.

Ok, so replace "creepy stares" with virus, and "jersey" with "vaccine" and you should get it. I realize that the analogy falls apart slightly because if you have a severe allergy and cannot get vaccinated, you never get a "jersey", but that's a minor point when explaining the concept.

Right then, off you go.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I'm Getting Tired

I don't know how Gorski, Novella, Crislip and the others do it. I mean, I do because they're doctors and have exponentially more knowledge than I do. It's getting difficult for me to combat the flood of woo-woo coming at me about the H1N1 vaccine. Mostly it's from my distant colleagues in massage therapy. The woo-woo doth flow liketh a river. I've heard misunderstandings of herd immunity, big pharma conspiracy theories, I've been accused of being a pharma shill (badge of honour, baby), and heard that thimerasol is dangerous...again.

A little while longer and it should be ok. I think I can. I think I can.

Dara O'Briain is Hilarious

I've watched his bit on homeopathy and telling "both sides" of a story (which, if you haven't seen, you should watch it right now), but you should also watch this bit. O'Briain is goddamn funny.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

With or Without Needles? Really?

Here's a picture from a "clinic" near my house. I've been laughing at this sign for a couple months now and kept meaning to bring the camera along to get a pic. Here it is.
Fake-Ass Acupuncture, With or Without Needles
Doesn't this mean that acupuncture doesn't work at all? Admitting you're doing nothing? Stating what we already know? ...I could go on and on.

Monday, October 26, 2009

No Mo' Smallpox!

As of today, smallpox has been gone from us for 32 years. Go science! Phil over at Bad Astronomy has a nice post about it. Go check him out, with his bad self.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Lawrence Krauss

If you have an hour (and you know you do) to watch a great talk, go and check this out. Lawrence Krauss discusses the origins of the universe and how, yes, it could have come from nothing and very likely did. Take that, religious, "why is there something rather than nothing" people.

A super-interesting talk about theoretical physics by a tremendous teacher - I can't wait to get his book on Feynman.

(h/t to The Good Atheist)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Skeptic's Circle 122

The One Hundred Twenty-Second edition of the Skeptic's Circle is now up and live at The Young Australian Skeptics. Enjoy yourself some high-quality skeptical reading and commentary over the next couple of days. Life's alright, folks. Life's alright.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Contrary to the Retards on the CBC News Homepage....

Recently, the CBC's news page put up a headline and article stating that if you got the seasonal flu vaccine, you may be more at risk for the novel 2009 AH1N1 strain. This was an article about an unpublished, un-peer-reviewed, never repeated or seen anywhere else study that freaked the shit out of people. Now a lot of people are re-thinking getting any vaccine.

I'm curious how long it'll take before the CBC (or any Canadian news organization) will talk about this study out of Mexico that has been published in the British Medical Journal stating that getting the seasonal flu shot may just give people some protection against swine flu. I'm guessing a while. I hope I'm wrong and I can post an editorial update tomorrow, but I'm reading a good book at the moment and I don't see that being interrupted.

(h/t to Dr. Mark Crislip over at Science Based Medicine, although he was a tad on the snarky side. Bastard.)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Debate

Here's a conversation I had over on my Facebook account. Please critique what I said and how to see if I can, in the future, handle these types of interaction better. It started with my posting a link to PalMD's post about the HPV Vaccine over at White Coat Underground and saying it was a "great article". The following then transpired, albeit with all identifying names and details edited out. Person A and Person C are both massage therapists like myself.

person a - did'nt a girl die just last week?

person b - Yes, a girl did die last week, but my understanding is that she died after receiving the vaccine in England, which is a different one than Gardasil. And it is not sure that she died b/c of reaction to the vaccine, or something else. But I need to read a bit more.

person c - Mike, are you working as a pharm rep on the side these days or something? You seem MAJORLY invested in this "vaccines are safe" thing... Or are you just on a mission to stamp out social ignorance! ;) BTW, what do you think of this?

me - That girl in the UK (Natalie Morton) died of an undiagnosed chest tumor.

to person c - yes I saw that piece and almost got violently angry at the CBC for airing it. That was from an unpublished, un-peer-reviewed study with no corroboration anywhere in the world. Since the release of that article, this one followed up to show no link.

I am on a bit of a mission of late to try to keep the rational message of vaccine safety out there to combat the nonsense antivax people are spreading. So many people don't read follow up articles (the Morton death in the UK and the seasonal/swine flu link, to name two) and repeat the mistakes.

person c - Fearmongering is how many (on both sides - sorry, I couldn't resist) make money... and I guess that truely is the bottom line! I found the article to be completely void of substance myself...

person a - EXACTLY person c - any douche can write an article , and they do. Mike- I would respect your point of whether or not you 'prove it'. Just like you should respect an anti-vax. point of view: that is some people's reality!
I am just not gonna be happy until you admit that each person is prone to a different reaction in all cases when taking medication! There is not one answer!!! There is not one reaction, and no others! 7 billion people on the planet and no one with the same genetic makeup!! People who have had bad reactions to vaccines lived that reality!! Some die! Who are you to say how most react, all WILL react?!
Kim Jong Il called: he wants his dictatorship back.

person c - LMFAOROTF!!! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Person A, YOU ARE FUCKING AWESOME!!! =D

me - Person A, I can't believe that you seriously think that there is that much difference between people. All of humanity is literally 99.9% identical, genetically. People do better when they're treated the same for conditions.

The anti-vax position is demonstrably wrong and dangerous. If you don't think so, then check out what happens in countries where the rate of childhood vaccinations drops. Kids die. That's the "reality".

I seriously can't believe that people like you, in the health field, are against vaccines or think that they maybe aren't worth getting.

Oh, and modern medical science called - it said that you'd be a senior citizen now without it.

And by the way, points of view don't automatically get "respect". I give respect to people, not any silly nonsense that they believe. If your point of view is that taking oscillococcinum will help your flu symptoms, then I'm going to think you're stupid. I'll still respect *you*, but I won't ask for your opinion on health issues - which is the category you are now in.

person a - OMG such ignorance! Mike that was lame at best. You are a drug company's dream and have bought into their onslaught of propaganda! As if! Your first para? OMG!!?! WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT- NOT ONE IDENTICAL GENETIC MAKE-UP! Why are you saying i'm against vaccines? I can't believe you think all people have the same experience with all things. MAN that's just so narrow minded and i'm surprised. You do know that your original post was some guys science blog? I can't post links, but check out: www.naturalnews.com/023792.html "Girl dies after HPV jab- CDC blames birth control pill". Do you think this person is correct just b/c the wrote an article? Why do you think you know best for all? Abortions for some; tiny, American flags for others!

person c - Person A, you go! Mike, you need to learn to relax (boy, saying that to a MT feels weird) just a little on this antivax thingy. Let people feel what they want to, believe what they wish, as long as it doesn't directly harm anyone - you shouldn't make them feel stupid, ignorant, closed-minded, or uneducated because they don't have 100% faith (and make no mistake, it is faith) in pharm co's drug pushing or latest vaccine. You can't honestly think that it's not a money driven industry that presents itself in the "best light possible". C'mon! And fact is that it is near impossible to match their studies - who would (or could) fund a study that would be large enough to "prove" vaccines possible harmful side-effects (not to mention the ethical issues that would arise from such a study). Don't get me wrong, I am vaccinated - I vaccinated my kids - but it's because I believe that the possible benefits outweigh the possible detriments, not because I think there is no risk involved. Of course, when I say risk I'm not just talking about the vaccine, the vector (where and how and by who) in which you receive any vaccination (or drug of any kind for that matter) must be thought of as well... Okay, now I'm going off on a tangent... sorry 'bout that! lol =P

Oh, and Person A... Mike did post this, and you DID comment on HIS link... so you probably should expect him to have the point of view he has (just look at the title, and this isn't the first vaccine crusade he's been on). Ha! ...and knowing what you're both like I'm not surprised the gloves are comming off! lol

me - Really, Person A? The Natural News? That site is a crank's heaven. It matters *where* you get your information from. I have not "bought into...propaganda", I believe what the mass majority of people who do this for a living do. My original post wasn't just from "some guys (sic) science blog", he's a practicing internist. You know, a doctor. Not a "citizen journalist" like the woman who wrote the article you linked to.

I could show you how 24 million doses of the HPV vaccine have been given with about 14,000 reports of "adverse effects" ranging from mild (about 93%) to GBS and death. I could also point out that none (that's none) of those deaths were related to the vaccine by anything other than time - that is, they happened after the vaccine was administered - and that no medical link has been established to the HPV vaccine.

But really, if you're reading and signing up with the Natural News, then there's no point. It'll always be a conspiracy with "Big Pharma" at the top trying to kill people.

to Person C: I have to reply to this bit you said - "Let people feel what they want to, believe what they wish, as long as it doesn't directly harm anyone - you shouldn't make them feel stupid, ignorant, closed-minded, or uneducated because they don't have 100% faith (and make no mistake, it is faith) in pharm co's drug pushing or latest vaccine."

Point 1 - what the antivax crowd believes does directly hurt people. In the worst instances, it kills people. That's why I feel passionately about it.

Point 2 - No, it's not "faith". What I think about vaccines is based on the best science has to offer and that is testing with double-blind placebo controlled trials. Millions and millions of vaccinations have been given with an extremely small percentage of adverse side effects; that's not faith, that's proof.

If a drug from a "big pharma" company fails these, then it doesn't get passed to the public (and yes, there have been/are/will be in the future failures in the system). Of course it's a money-driven industry - everything is a money driven industry. You said it yourself, it's about evaluating risk.

Person A - Person C - i'm with ya. LOL INTERNIST! DUDE--- IT WAS SOME GUY'S SCIENCE BLOG!! You think the good doctor should not ever be questioned? Man you are so sanctimonious!! Crank's heaven? Have you ever even heard of that site until now? You are not all knowing! If you and I went to med school, we would still have our own opposing points of view!!! LOL...like the degree he has makes him an expert- So you and I know EVERYTHING about english and massage and should never be questioned? Lots of MD's are quacks- you must know this. And lots of MD's would support anti-vax--- and I am not antivax! Some research topics for years and continue to learn new things about them everyday- it's like you have an ego about another's choice. Drug companies have spent billions getting their option for healthcare on your radar-- you are money well invested. I am a realist who is not ignorant to the fact that WE ARE ALL INDIVIDUALS!!! Untwist the pompadore. Don't promote ignorance, man. We should ask alot more questions when it comes to pharm. companies, not less.

Point 1- VACCINES TOO!!!!!!!!!
Point 2- it IS faith- you don't know whether you will have an adverse reaction to a med. until you take it. And don't get me started on placebo- there's your proof about how well meds can work! LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
LOVE LOVE LOVE PLACEBO!!!!

me - Yes, I've heard of the Natural News. It's well known as a place where conspiracy stories about "big Pharma" run wild and where scientific facts get...let's just say they get them very wrong.

I'm not calling you antivax, I suggested that you might be or that you might think that they weren't worth getting judging by your attitude in this and other debates we've had.

I'm not against questioning authority, but when you question and then get an answer that makes sense (like yes, vaccines have caused harm but it's so much less than the diseases they prevent that it is a risk that is well worth engaging - much like driving a car...they kill people every day and yet, here we are still driving...and the vaccine safety record is WELL above that of automobiles), going into the realm of ridiculous conspiracy theories is just irresponsible.

Saying that placebos prove your point just makes me want to go to bed. Literally a facepalm. I agree that this is over. If you hold these views as fervently as you seem to, then when I post any other links/articles regarding vaccines or medicine, there's really no point in commenting.

person c - Don't misunderstand me Mike, I'm not suggesting that vaccines are dangerous (not compared tothe alternatives anyway). I'm not saying that I believe that it's all a big conspiracy. The hard science behind vaccines cannot be disregarded. I'm am suggesting that there can be an argument made against well, anything really... and that money will weight things one way or the other in many cases. I have to admit I can't help but feel sometimes that pharmaceuticals (in general) are a little over-accessible or possibly even overused. But that isn't what you were talking about originally anyway... and I'm not trying to start some kind of holistics argument, so... In the case of this, I'd have to say that people should get the vaccines if they want to, especially if they are in a high risk category. I'm not a doctor, nor do I have any formal education in Biochem or Pharmacy, so I can't really do anything but have faith in the fact that the science is sure and I'm not going to be the statistic that day when I go and get a shot. ;)

person a - Lol are you for real? My view is that we all have different views!! I have never taken a side, I say that some have good responses to meds, some bad. Sorry but it's true. I don't feel strongly either way about the vaccinate/ don't- but I fell strongly when someone tries to propogate ignorance in the guise of 'science'. To what ridiculous conspiracy theory are you referring? You've lost me.
PS- cars don't kill people. People kill people.

I see...now you don't want my comments on your posts b/c you don't want your 'authority' challenged? LOL. Then delete me dude cuz you will always hear me speak my mind- hey we gotta listen to you! I'm sorry, but if we put my comments vs. yours to statistics, I hypothesize, statistically, more would agree on a broader world view. Put that in your pipe and i'll smoke it.

me - Person C, I totally agree that some pharmaceuticals are both over-accessible and overused. A point I once heard an infectious disease doc make was that there are brilliant scientists working for pharmaceutical companies making incredible, life-saving drugs - then those drugs are given to scumbag used-car salesmen to distribute. The proof, however, is in the testing and the usage. Again, I totally agree with your last point with the exception that I don't have faith that I won't be a statistic, I have the weight of millions of safely given doses behind me.

person c - Well, someone gotta win the lottery, get struck by lightning, etc,... or whatever else is more than a one in a million(s) chance. =P

me - Person A, my point is that yes, there are different views out there, but they're not equal. When I hear the "but they make BILLIONS of dollars" argument against large pharmaceutical companies, it implies that they're evil and out to...what? Hurt people? "Big Pharma" isn't all good, but it's not all bad either and the products they produce are generally a net good.

My quip about you not commenting wasn't about "questioning my authority" or any intent to make you stop, just to point out that it's unlikely to be productive. Here's the thing: if you can show me that what you say is true - that is, show me that vaccines are more harmful than good or that treating people for diseases individually rather than by a statistical norm makes for better overall success rates, then I'll be interested enough to start to change my mind.

And with respect to my statistics vs. your comments - science isn't a democracy. I don't care how many people think that the world is 6000 years old, that doesn't make it right.

person a - SIGH. You don't know if the HPV vaccine is safe, or any other for that matter. It is not responsible to profess that one thing (OMG esp. medication!!) is the be all end all for all. What makes you think you know best? You've read articles? What makes you think the author knows anything? OK- you know the vaccine is safe; you know how old the world is; you know how billion dollar companies are'nt interested in marketing their product; you know all motivations and realities for all people. Cool man.

me - What will it take? Over 24 million people have had the HPV vaccination with less than 0.06% complaining of adverse reactions - over 90% of those have been soreness in the arm. What level of safety are you looking for? Whatever it is, it certainly seem unrealistic and hypocritical, seeing as we both drive cars, as I mentioned before

You keep saying that I think I know everything. I've never said that I do, nor have I said that the people I reference do. I'm providing what I can see as the best, most evidenced and safe measures for, in this case, preventing the HPV. If you have any information (apart from your vague, "We're all different, man" bit, then show it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How We Choose Who To Listen To

As a person who isn't a specialist in, well, anything, really, it's difficult to decide who to listen to on technical issues. This goes for anything - is cold fusion possible? Can a person make a perpetual motion machine? What's the real age of the Earth? The universe? Are vaccines safe? Why do I have ear hair?

Nowadays it's different from the past because of the internet; there is so much information out there that it can be extremely confusing for a lay-person to have a well-informed opinion. Let's go through an example to see what the best way is to evaluate what you're seeing.

Take the age of the Earth, for instance. If you look at a variety of sources, you'll see that the general consensus is about 4.54 or 4.55 billion years (ref. 1, ref. 2). These dates are fairly specific and dependent upon dating according to the radioactive decay of lead isotopes, among other ways. If you want to learn about radioactive decay, you can do so at your leisure.

Now, we get to the criticism and alternate views. These are mostly religious, such as this one and this one. The former, from All About Creation, doesn't give an age, but tries to discredit the scientific methods. If you know anything (literally, the first thing) about the scientific Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, you'll know that it says nothing about the origins of the universe or Earth, but these folks say, "Evolution is essentially the atheistic explanation of origins." Well, no, actually. Evolution is how species change over time by mutation and natural selection - it says nothing about the age of the Earth. This, by itself, doesn't discredit their point, but it's certainly not a good start.

The other site, Answers in Genesis, take a more direct route and says that the Earth is 6000 years old and most (all?) of the geologic features and fossils are accounted for by Noah's Flood. The flood from the bible. This website offers no evidence whatsoever apart from appeals to the bible and uninformed critiques of geology like:
As they looked at the thousands of feet of rock layers and fossils worldwide, many early geologists, both Christian and non-Christian, simply assumed that the Flood could not have produced them. Based on this and other antibiblical assumptions, they invented theories that those rock layers and fossils had formed long before man came into existence.
There are no answers here to the obvious point that geologists didn't just "invent" theories, they formulated a hypothesis based on their observations, designed a test (in this case, a long-term test that consisted of waiting to see if there was ever to be found a fossil where it shouldn't be - J.B.S. Haldane's "rabbit in the pre-cambrian"), then awaited the results. Those results have been rolling in ever since and there hasn't been any out of place. In fact, there was at least one that was found where it was predicted to be (ref.).

Back to Answers in Genesis for their reply - here - which is sadly lacking in any logic or reason.

Claims on the geology side are answered with evidence you can learn about, techniques that you can study, and rebuttals that leave you satisfied. The creationist claims are based on accepting the bible as a historical document, pointing out false "truths" (i.e. Both creationists and evolutionists interpret the evidence in light of their presuppositions. - no, they don't. "Evolutionists" -read here "geologists" - observe, make hypothesis, test, get results, interpret, and get peer review...you know, the scientific method), and appealing to emotion & flawed "logic".

In this case, it would do you good to think along the lines of the general scientific consensus. Great, what about something like vaccines?

Well, same process. The general medical consensus is that they're safe with only mild side effects in a very small percentage of people (ref.). The anti-vaccine people say that there are dangerous side effects like autism and that these effect many people, plus the components of the vaccines in and of themselves are dangerous. They cite mercury (thimerasol), aluminium, formaldehyde, antifreeze, and ether among others as culprits (I'm not linking to any of the wack-job antivax sites - they suck and are ignorant and dangerous. If you want to investigate them, do so).

When you check back with the medical sites and sources, they have answers to all these charges (ref. 1, ref. 2), - thimerasol isn't dangerous in the doses given and no testing has found otherwise; aluminium is also safe at the doses given, is well-tested, and actually is an adjuvant making less vaccine necessary to give out; you get more formaldehyde sitting in traffic for a couple hours than in your vaccines; and there's no antifreeze or ether in vaccines. Those last two are just a confusion of basic chemistry between ethylene glycol and polyethylene glycol pisooctylphenyl ether (ref.). The name is similar but the difference is important, as it turns out. One's anti-freeze, the other is a detergent that helps to make cell walls permeable. Easy to confuse.

All this information is out there for you to source and do your own fact checking and research. It's not easy, but if it makes the difference between being as correct as you can be and sounding like a complete dolt, it might just be worth the effort.

A decent rule of thumb is: if the side you're thinking of throwing in with depends on some sort of conspiracy theory (think the 9/11 "truthers", the anti-vaxers and their "big pharma" fear, or David Icke and his shape-shifting reptilian overlords - who I, for one, welcome), you're likely on the side of irrationality. Maybe time to re-evaluate and talk to some scientists.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Alphonse de Valk - Advocating Violence

I just read this short piece in Catholic Insight, a publication I check up on just to make sure they're not too crazy. As it turns out...:
The thesis of the article “Forty years of abortion have passed and no solution, Why?” (by J. Bissonnette) is that Christians, and especially Catholics, have not been radical enough. They have not surrendered their lives to martyrdom. “Abortion will end and it will end sooner and more suddenly than we expect, if we are willing to be bold,” he states.
Anyone else scared shitless reading that? Anyone? Just me, then? Ok, don't say I didn't warn you.

I've slapped Alphonse de Valk down in the past, but that was for being stupid. This endorsement of actual violence is concerning. Nowhere in the summary does de Valk condemn the use of "martyrs" or the use of violence to kill people, which, if I'm not mistaken, is against the law in Canada. Right?

Mr. de Valk (again, I will not refer to clergy as "Father") might want to check out the Criminal Code of Canada, sections 222 and 223. Just a thought.

Alphonse says that there is a "net" closing around Christian professionals and how they're compromising their values. The pertinent quote is:
How Christians respond to this closing net as individuals and how the Church reacts as an institution will determine whether the Church degenerates to the vanishing point, or whether it will be revitalized.
I can only hope for the former.

Good Video from Skepchick

Via Skepchick, we have this great video making great heaps of fun of Creationists. Please pass it around...you know, or don't. Whatever. It's entirely up to you.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Careful - the SKEPCOPs are Watching

I'm perusing the internets, as I am wont to do, and I come across a site called "SKEPCOP", or The Scientific Committee to Evaluate PseudoSkeptical Criticism of the Paranormal. Yeah, you read that correctly. They're watching us and being all, "You guys don't know what skepticism is! We know what it is and what you're doing isn't it! You guys are all CYNICS!" It's quite hilarious. Watch the little embedded video; in it, there's a reference to an essay by one Winston Wu who has apparently:
...written an essay that brilliantly and decisively rebuts the general skeptical arguments against the paranormal. This is among the best essays ever written on the subject, and deserves extensive study.
Wow. I better take at least a cursory look at the thing. Here it is. Click the link for Occam's Razor, if you would; it's argument number three.

Ok, the first bit of the Occam riff is stupid, but bearable. Sometimes the simpler answer is not the truth, that's for real. Occam's razor falls apart from time to time when we know exactly what's going on and the truth is not always super simple. The point, however, is that when the paranormal believer folks try to introduce their pet idea, they treat it as though it were already proven to exist as a viable option. Look at what Wu says in part two:
...what is “simpler” is often relative. For example, having telepathic or clairvoyant experiences in some primitive cultures is very common (e.g. Tibetan, African, Amazonian) and those who have such abilities all their lives consider it ordinary. As Phil Gibbs points out in the same Physics FAQ:
No one has ever proven that these "primitive cultures" actually had any "powers" beyond our own. To just assume that clairvoyance or telepathic powers existed in these people is naive and unscientific. If you have evidence, show it, otherwise, be quiet.

The quip about Dr. Charles Tart's OBE evidence re: the girl reading the five-digit secret number from a shelf above her bed, seems a bit snarky seeing as there is cause for skepticism about the objectivity in the study. "Miss Z", as Tart refers to her, is described as follows in Tart's study paper:
Psychologically, it is extremely difficult to describe Miss Z. My informal observations of her over a period of several months (undoubtedly distorted by the fact that one can never describe one's friends objectively) resulted in a picture of a person who in some ways was quite mature and insightful, and in other ways so extremely disturbed psychologically that at times, when she lost control, she could possibly be diagnosed as schizophrenic.
So she was a "friend". Doesn't mean she cheated at all, but it's something. Tart describes how he came up with the random five numbers in the adjacent room then deposited the target numbers on the shelf above "Miss Z's" room. He says:
My conversation with Miss Z after I had prepared the target was, of course, minimal and could not have given her any clue as to the target number. In future experiments, however, it would be preferable for a second experimenter, who had had no contact at all with the subject, to prepare the targets.
So he prepared the numbers, put them in an envelope, then chatted with her. Not exactly stringent controls. Plus he admits he fell asleep through the night:
Occasionally I dozed during the night, beside the equipment, so possible instances of sleep talking might have been missed.
So these red flags, along with Tart's research never being replicated since he did it in 1968, make for me not buying it. Could it be real? Sure, why not? But if it's as common as Tart makes it seem, it should be proven beyond a doubt by now.

The Occam's razor entry then says this confusing line: "...if I toss a die, it is more likely that I will roll numbers 1-5 than a 6. But that doesn’t mean that a 6 will never come up." This line, while true, is very misleading. If he is equating paranormal events with being the number 6, it's a false analogy because we can look at the six dots on that one special side and, occasionally, yes, a six will come up. No one has ever reliably read another person's mind or "remotely viewed" a place or target. If he thinks they have, then show it.

Then Wu says: "...if someone had an amazing psychic reading at a psychic fair (not prearranged) where they were told something very specific that couldn’t have been guessed by cold reading..." Um, not to be a dick, but cold reading can produce WAY more specific things than a rope and the will to steal. We get a nice window into Wu's "thinking" from this quote:
A skeptic did that to me once when I brought up how a psychic was able to tell me that I had a tragic period in my life when I was 9 years old, without any other information or clue from me other than my birth date. He kept insisting that I gave her clues which allowed her to predict that, even though I guaranteed him that I didn’t.
I love it when the tiny guy with the Napoleon complex insists that his memory is perfect. It's not, no one's is. Especially when he's having an adult conversation about specific events that happened when he was nine. I barely remember three days ago, let alone decades. To be that certain about what he said and did that long ago is delusional.

Go check out this site and their ridiculous nonsense. I just want to chill and enjoy my Bud Light.

(edited: Thanks to Andy for catching my mistake in the paragraph about "rolling a six on a die". I was really tired last night and made a stupid error. My thanks again.)

(edited again: Of course, after being tipped off by commenter Yakaru, the great Skeptico has already covered this topic. Last year. Way to go, Mike, being right up to date on the latest in skeptical news. Thank you. In any event, the full rebuttal to Winston Wu's fallacy-filled essay is to be found here.)

Saturday, October 03, 2009

The Catholic League Are Whiny Crybabies - Surprise

Unhh...does anyone give two flying frisbee fucks about what the Catholic League thinks of anything? I'm curious about that, seriously, because after reading their "review" of The Invention of Lying, it's difficult to imagine a group of more paranoid idiots.

See, in the movie, there's no religion - no lying equals no one inventing an invisible man in the sky to explain stuff - and when the main character makes up what is essentially "Heaven" to comfort another person, it implies that all religions are made up "lies".

Because the writers are from what Bill Donohue and the reviewer would call "Christian" countries, the "lies" reflect those belief systems. Wow. Call Quincy M.D. but don't be blowin' up any ballons, 'cause I'm going to die of not-surprise. How would a crazy, paranoid group of Catholics react to this sort of humour, Sam? Well, like this:
...because this anti-religion—make that anti-Christian—film is laced with some romance and humor, the message it sends is all the more sinister.
The review of the film is by Jeff Field, policy analyst and editor of the Catholic League’s monthly journal, Catalyst. It's a lame, "they're picking on us again" whine. Field complains about the, "in-your-face assault(s) that Hollywood often serves up", but that this movie is worse because it is *gasp* pernicious. It pretends to be a sweet story, but underneath lies an evil atheist agenda to mock religion, convert the faithful, have orgies, do drugs, overthrow the New World Order and take OVER THE PLANET!!.....

Ok, so that's not our actual agenda. There's a lot more sex and a little less overthrowing, but still. Do you think that if the Catholic League had a smidge more...what's that word? ...Faith. That's it. If they had a bit more faith in their message and religion, they wouldn't have to be upset about every time people poke them with a stick and laugh. It's not like there's a shortage of films showing a "godless" person who regains their faith at the end, as though that were some sort of virtue. Lame Christian films aren't, however, mainstream - because they're sentimental pappy crap.

So you Christians suck at two things - thinking, and making movies. If you're going to focus on one, try the former. Please.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Michael Shermer in T.O.

I just got back from Michael Shermer's lecture on Why People Believe Weird Things, obviously based on his book of the same name. It was a good time with a very nearly sold out auditorium. He is a practiced speaker with entertaining slides and video aids and the audience was kept attentive throughout. Even the Q&A at the end was good, although I wanted to ask about whether or not there was any progress on The Skeptologist pilot. Ah well. A fun way to spend a Friday evening.

The Whole Roman Polanski Thing

I realize that this is, to quote Adam Carolla, "fucked out", but I have to weigh in on the Roman Polanski deal. Here's the thing, he had sex with a 13 year old girl in 1977 after drugging her with quaaludes and champagne. Then he sodomized her. Just to make it clear what the guy did, here are the links to the specific pages of the documents from the case. Try to read them and imagine that the girl is your sister, daughter or someone you know and love.

the "I knew she was 13" link to Smoking Gun page - here

the "Roman got the 13 year old champagne" page - here

the "Roman gave a drunk 13 year old a quaalude" page - here

the "Roman tells the drugged, drunk 13 year old to get naked in the jacuzzi" page - here

the "Roman gets naked and joins the drunk, drugged 13 year old in the jacuzzi" page - here

the "13 year old asks to go home and Roman says no" page - here

the "Roman ignores the 13 year old's pleas to take her home and to not touch her" page - here

the "Roman performs oral sex, vaginal sex, and anal sex on a crying, unwilling, drunk, drugged 13 year old who wants to go home" page - here

the "Roman lies to a woman about orally, vaginally, and anally raping a 13 year old girl, then rapes her again, then she leaves, crying" page - here

I'm glad that Samantha Geimer has dealt with what happened to her, but her recovery is not the point here. Also, Polanski's pregnant wife was murdered by members of the Manson family in August of 1969 and I can't imagine what that must have been like, but that's not relevant either. You don't recover from a tragedy by doing what he did to this girl. Regardless of what Geimer says now, regardless of what happened before the crime took place, Polanski is responsible for his actions and for subsequently running away from those responsibilities.

You can do the, "well, it's different in Europe - girls who are 13 can be treated differently...they're more adult and make those decisions" dance, but the fact remains that Polanski wasn't in Europe when he committed this crime.

All you need to think of is this: If his name was Ray Pollard and he was from San Bernadino, would anyone be defending him? The one and only correct answer is, "no". Case closed.

Sorry, one more thing. Here's Whoopi Goldberg saying that what Polanski did wasn't "rape-rape", and that she doesn't know if it was "consensual". Thanks for being a tremendous failure for women the world over, Whoopi.

The View: for only being really against "rape-rape", not just "rape".

I should pat Joy Behar, Melissa Gilbert, and...boy, this pains me, but it is required, Sherri Shepard on the back for standing up to the stupidity that was dribbling out of Whoopi's mouth. Good job, ladies.

(Edit Follow-Up: Now it seems that Polanski agreed to pay $500,000 to Geimer in a settlement agreement, but may have never actually paid the money. Nicely done, sir. Way to seem like even more of an insensitive prick than you did previously, if that's possible.)

Excellent Vaccine Information

These have been making the rounds and I thought I'd pile on this time. Enjoy some good info on vaccination instead of the usual stupid crap foisted on the masses by "celebrity" spokespeople.

And part two!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

British Schoolgirl Dies After Misleading Headline

CBC ran this story Tuesday about the tragic death of Natalie Morton. She collapsed soon after getting the HPV vaccine in England. The CBC article had a section called, "Controversy Over Teenage Vaccines" and mentioned that the vaccine seemed safe, but only passingly.

Now we know the truth - Natalie had a life-threatening tumor in her chest that was, "so severe that death could have arisen at any point." It's a very sad story of a young woman's life snuffed out too soon by a horrible condition and meaninglessly correlated with a vaccine administration that we will, no doubt, hear about as causing the death for years to come.

Nothing on the CBC health page that I could find with a correction, retraction, or update. Nice. Thanks for keeping up, CBC.

(edit: as of now, there is a new short article stating the new information: here)