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

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sid the Science Kid Gets Vaccinated

If you're looking for a cool kid's show about science, check out Sid the Science Kid. It's hilarious for adults too, and it covers scientific topics in a kid-friendly way. Take a look at this episode on vaccinations for example:
It even mentions Ignaz Semmelweis for crying out loud. The website seems good, although the videos are only available in the U.S. (boo) and the positive messages about science and thinking are really hope-inspiring about the future. Keep it up, Henson company and PBS!

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Contagion - A Review

I just went to see the movie Contagion, and I must say, it was pretty great. The movie chronicles the reactions of primarily the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the general public to an uncontrolled very serious pandemic.

There will be spoilers here but I will write them in white text so if you want to read them, just highlight any "blank" areas.

The way the CDC proceeded, led by Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne), and dealt with other government agencies and the military was generally believable and sound with one notable exception which I will delve into below. The ancillary characters are well-played and you really feel for Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon) when both his wife and son-in-law die from the virus, for Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) when she contracts the virus she is trying to protect the public from and dies, and for many of the other smaller characters.

The scene with "Health Ranger" blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) and disease scientist Dr. Ian Sussman (Elliot Gould) is funny in that Sussman says that being a blogger is not like being a journalist and that, "...blogging is like graffiti with punctuation." I really hope a medical blog starts soon with the title "Punctuated Graffiti". That needs to happen.

The one scene that bothered me a bit was an interview on CNN (or its movie counterpart) where Dr. Sanjay Gupta - playing himself - is interviewing Dr. Cheever while the pandemic is in the throes of killing millions. The obligatory contrary viewpoint is offered by Krumwiede who says the standard conspiracy stuff about the CDC and WHO being "in bed" with Big Pharma and that Cheever won't tell everyone that there is a cure for the virus in forsythia, which Krumwiede is promoting, for which he is getting paid very well. When Dr. Cheever hears about the "cure", he says that the CDC are looking at all options and are checking into forsythia, "...along with other homeopathic remedies".

Now, anyone who knows anything about homeopathy will know that the head fella at the CDC would never, NEVER say that they're looking at the utter nonsense that is homeopathy for help during a killer pandemic. It was the only laughable moment in and otherwise fantastic movie.

The ending is freaky as well (not that you'd know from the exit-mumblings of the tweenagers who said things like, "Gaahh, that was the lamest movie evaaarrr") where the film-makers take you rapidly through the process of how the virus came to patient zero. It was interesting and plausible and scarily easy.

That's about it. Check it out, but try to stay away from the mumbly tweens. They should all go see Drive Angry - shot in 3D or something anyway. And stay off my lawn.

I hope the spoilers didn't mess anybody up.

Friday, September 09, 2011

What Was That About Transitional Fossils?

One of the "arguments" we skeptic folks get from cdesign proponentists is that there are no transitional fossils. Never mind that there are thousands of fossils showing intermediate stages of evolution between known forms; never mind that Professor Neil Shubin, Dr. Ted Daeschler, and Professor Farish A. Jenkins, Jr. used the existing fossil record and a great scientific theory to predict where to look for tiktaalik and then found it. That's all irrelevant. They just keep repeating the same horse-shit again and again hoping against hope that they'll convince themselves and others that they're right.

Well, they're wrong. A new article in Forbes magazine talks about Australopithecus sediba and what a great find it seems to be and how it just may change our understanding of the history of our species. It's fantastic.

See the key distinction there between science and nonsense? Science makes testable predictions and then goes out and tests them. In the real world. Finding tiktaalik, finding the planet Neptune, and now finding Australopithecus sediba make for a formidable shelf to argue against.


Not to mention these. Nah, there's no transitional fossils. That's just crazy talk.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Didn't I *Just* Write About This?

Via Scott Gavura (aka @pharmacistscott on the Twitters) we get this article about Pretty River Academy in Collingwood, Ont. which replaced their wifi with ethernet over the summer. Principal Roberta Murray-Hirst said, "We like to be proactive and obviously safety is always a concern..." Yes, proactive. Buzzwords and the like and such. New paradigms. As Meyer, a writer for Krusty the Klown, said:
Excuse me, but "proactive" and "paradigm"? Aren't these just buzzwords that dumb people use to sound important? Not that I'm accusing you of anything like that....I'm fired, aren't I?
The sensible reason for replacing wifi would be this, quoted from the article: "...the new hard-wired Internet system is actually faster than their previous system and gives teachers control over when students can go online." See, control when the students go online. Great. But saying that it's a danger is, well, I'll let commenter "SteveinToronto" say it:
I can see cutting the wi-fi to prevent kids from accessing the internet and cheating - however to say their cutting it due to safety concerns is crazy.
You can read my previous post for more information on wifi, the WHO, and safety.

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The WHO And Their Cellphone Nonsense

or "Horton Heard a Whaaa?"

I keep hearing about the friggin' World Health Organization (WHO) and their position on cellphone radiation possibly causing cancer. This has made the lunatic fringe lose their collective shit and spray it all over us; especially with respect to the wifi in schools issue. I was listening to CBC radio recently and some lady (please read this like Jerry Lewis/Bill Burr) came on and declared that the WHO said cellphones and their radiation could maybe cause cancer and we should all be terrified and bury our heads and stay away from wifi at all costs and the sky is falling. ...I'm paraphrasing.

So I decided to check it out.

Reading the article Behind The World Health Organization's "Cancerous" Pronouncement On Cell Phones was interesting because it walked through the process of how the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) came to their conclusion regarding cellphone radiation. Check this:
Hints that not everything was harmonious in the IARC process seeped out but have not been pursued. These include the dismissal from the committee of one of the foremost experts on non-ionizing radiation, a Swedish epidemiologist, due to a “conflict of interest” and the resignation from the committee of an epidemiologist specializing in brain tumors at the National Cancer Institute.
Hmmm, seem weird to you? Seem like they, maybe, wanted a certain message to get out and, perhaps, dismissed the naysayers? What about this:
...in all of the evidence reviewed there was one animal study that showed “weak evidence” of carcinogenicity and one study in the “other evidence” category providing what was also judged to be “weak evidence.” The vast majority of the experimental evidence showed nothing.
So what the hell happened to make Sally Pee-Pants on the CBC get all freaked out? Where did the message come from? Then there was this bit of information:
...there were the human (epidemiology) studies. These have been reviewed critically by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, which found no convincing evidence of a link between cell phone use and the occurrence of brain tumors.
Well Jesus in Levi's, what the fuck? It struck me as odd as well that the group of about 30 people looking at the evidence for and against were broken up into four sub-groups that considered, "epidemiology, dosimetry, animal studies, and 'other relevant evidence'", but the only thing voted on at the end of the meetings with respect to the recommendation was epidemiology. Things that make you go, "hmmmm...."
...the conclusion should have been that – although we have not monitored the effects of cell phone use for long enough – the substantial evidence currently available provides no suggestion that cell phone use contributes to the risk of brain tumors.
Yeah, exactly, so what the fuck?

Then I checked out the reference within the previous article, Misdiagnosing Cell Threat. It was interesting because it talked about the evidence:
...brain tumors are extremely rare, and their incidence has changed little in most advanced industrial countries over the past two decades. In Scandinavia, which has excellent registration of all cancer cases and where cellphone use was widespread early on, there is no evidence of an increase in different types of brain tumor.
...and...
...cellphone technology makes use of radio frequency energy, which is millions of times less powerful than ionizing radiation, such as X-rays and gamma rays that can damage DNA and other molecules in a cell and potentially initiate cancer. There is no known mechanism whereby radio frequency energy can induce or promote cancer.
Right, so the electromagnetic spectrum is pretty wide and the reason that the light from a 60-watt bulb isn't harmful but an x-ray machine is, is that the waves from the light bulb are too big and far apart to do any damage to your cells/DNA/molecules. X-rays and the like are small and rapid and can wreck DNA and knock electrons off molecules, hence these are known as "ionizing radiation". Cellphones give off non-ionizing radiation, which can't hurt us and have never been shown to be dangerous. It's like trying to pound in a nail with a Nerf hammer. It won't work because the particles in the Nerf are too far apart and they'll just wrap around the nail and do nothing. A steel-head hammer has particles that are dense and hard and when they hit the nail, they'll drive that bastard into hardwood fast and clean. It's sort of like that.

The author here wraps up this article by stating:
...we can never prove a negative or exclude the possibility of a minuscule risk, no matter how large the study. So even when expert bodies concede that there is no convincing evidence of a threat, we get impossibly vague advisories like the current one warning us of "possible carcinogenicity."
Makes sense, and vagueness is one thing that the fringe weirdos take full advantage of to make it look like the beautiful blue above you is crashing down on your goddamn bregma.

Next I checked out the actual WHO document talking about the classification of materials at which they looked. It was a report called IARC Classifies Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields As Possibly Carcinogenic To Humans...catchy. The classification system they use goes from Group 1 (known carcinogens to humans), Group 2A (probable carcinogen to humans), Group 2B (possible carcinogen to humans), Group 3 (not classifiable as carcinogen in humans), and Group 4 (probably not carcinogenic to humans). Electromagnetic radiation from cellphones is included with "Group 2B"

In case you were wondering, Group 2B is defined as:
This category is used for agents for which there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. It may also be used when there is inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in humans but there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. In some instances, an agent for which there is inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals together with supporting evidence from mechanistic and other relevant data may be placed in this group. An agent may be classified in this category solely on the basis of strong evidence from mechanistic and other relevant data.
In case you were wondering, group 2B includes terrifying things and habits such as coffee, carpentry and joinery, the antioxidant caffic acid, gasoline, marine diesel fuel, perineal use of talc-based body powder, occupational exposures in printing processes, and Asian pickled vegetables. Horrifying.

I particularly enjoy "perineal use of talc-based body powder". I imagine a conversation between myself and a WHO-representative:

Me: Boy, I love talc on my balls and taint.
WHO-rep: You know, you might want to curb that habit as it is possibly carcinogenic.
Me: Oh, yeah, I read that report. You're a silly person and my under-carriage is in need of drying and friction-reduction. Good day, sir.
WHO-rep: I would encourage you to rethin...
Me: I SAID "GOOD DAY, SIR"!!

Ok, so we can say that the WHO likely had a pre-ordained message they wanted to get out, probably because they want to be all precautious and such. It seems like the same product the anti-vaccine assholes would put out on purpose to stir up the shit and make a controversy out of nothing. I don't think the WHO is as stupid or malicious as the anti-vaxxers, but you never know. Bottom line, cellphones and wifi are safe according to all available evidence.

Much like...for example...coffee.

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Thursday, September 01, 2011

Riots Are Normally So Calm and Controlled....

Over at CBC news, the lead article today is this one where it says that the riots after the Vancouver loss in the Stanley Cup were "unpredictable".

In other news, Jackie Chan is still alive and if you try to cook a hot dog in a fire with just your bare hands, you'll but the shit out of yourself.

Canadian news: The Painfully Obvious, Again and Again.

Pastor Michael Stahl is a Moronic Asshole

This dimwit, named "Pastor Mike", wants (in the U.S.) a national registry of atheists. You all know by now that he compares atheists to,"convicted sex offenders, ex-convicts, terrorist cells, hate groups like the KKK, skinheads, radical Islamists, etc...", so he's obviously one of the many multitudes of uninformed idiots who think they know much more than they do about we non-believers.

"Pastor Mike" explains one reason he'd like to have this list:
My family and I would sure like to know how many of those 109,000 are ADMITTED atheists! Perhaps we may actually know some. In which case we could begin to witness to them and warn them of the dangers of atheism.
I have an idea - I'd like to have a National Registry of Sanctimonious Annoying Motherfuckers who want to talk to me about Jesus so I can avoid them like the damn plague. Could we get on that, please?

The "dangers of atheism", indeed. How many stories of pastorial rape and molestation are reported every week? Maybe we could tell "Pastor Mike" about the dangers of belief in childish nonsense.

...douchebag....