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

Friday, January 24, 2014

Dinesh D'Souza Utter, Epic, Total Fail

I've written about Dinesh D'Souza before here, here, here, and here. Oh, and here. So much suck and so much annoying pretention from such a squirmy little toad of a man. His debates are painful to watch because, well, because he's one of the most annoying little asshats I've had the displeasure of watching.

So it was with a degree (and by "degree" I mean "huge amount") of schadenfreude that I watched the below clip from The Young Turks. Please to enjoy:

Ooooohhhh...mmmmmmmm...right!? It's like that first drink of ice-cold beer on a hot summer afternoon, right after you've been working in the yard for a few hours and you're all sweaty. So delicious.

Well, enjoy that and I'm off to bed, happy in the knowledge that I shall never again have to deal with D'Souza.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Keep Your Kids Dumb

Kirk Cameron.

I bet if you're not an internet geek or deep into the atheist/humanist/skeptic community, that name just brings up pleasant memories of family nights in front of the T.V., hanging out after meatloaf and watching the classics of the 1980's. The Cosby Show, maybe Family Ties, and perhaps even Growing Pains where we met young Mike Seaver. There were mostly laughs, but from time to time there was a "very special episode" where deeper subject matter was tackled, like when Matthew Perry appeared as mom Carol's young boyfriend who dies in a drinking and driving accident. Sadness.

Well, more sadness is on the way because Cameron has for quite some time now been a vocal crazy Christian in bed (metaphorically of course...those gays have to burn in Hell) with an Australian (sorry people - you've got a pretty great country apart from him) fella named Ray Comfort. Comfort has a thing called the Way of the Master, where he espouses insane and ill-informed theories such as "the atheist's nightmare":

Nevermind that the Cavendish bananas we all eat regularly are clones and have been genetically designed (essentially) to have the best taste and disease resistance for us. I do love how the banana has a "point at the top for ease of entry" and that it's "curved toward the face to make the whole process easier." Oh Ray, you sly devil.

Cameron's association with Comfort has led him into at least one unfortunate debate experience where he looked like a toolbag on Nightline, holding up what he believes would be "transitional forms" in pictures of a "crocoduck", a "bullfrog", and a "sheepdog". Please go look up that video (here if you like) because it's hilarious.

Ok, so on to my actual purpose of this post which is to point out that Kirk Cameron, because of his unwavering faith in the bible, thinks it's a great idea to keep children ignorant and not explain anything to them, as discussed in the linked article by some fella named Jay Younts. Younts thinks that teaching obedience is best and save the explanations for the times when it really, I guess, for teaching exactly how many generations of a family you can keep as slaves.
Leviticus 25:44-46 Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever.
Hm, weird how the bible endorses slavery, huh? Yeah....

So Kirk Cameron went on his site and heartily endorsed this message of stupidity. Well, he actually jut pretty much quoted the article outright. Can you imagine being one of his (six!) kids and having to listen to tales from his acting past PLUS ridiculous stories about fucking crocoducks and how homosexuality is, "unnatural, detrimental and ultimately destructive to foundations of civilization" (from an interview with Piers Morgan - watch The Young Turks analyze it below).

So as an overview: Cameron thinks that homosexuality is unnatural (it isn't), bananas are a valid argument against atheism, and a half crocodile/half duck would prove evolution. I think we can take his opinion on how to raise children and stuff it down under.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Vaccinations Work

I was sent this article/graphic today and just had to sigh. Look at the interactive map. Look at all the red (measles). That is a vaccine-preventable disease and it's all over Europe and southern Africa. And, for fuck's sake, look at all the light green in the U.S. That's pertussis, or whooping cough - and it's totally preventable with vaccination. The nonsense that anti-vaccine crusaders spout needs to be effectively countered in the public sphere so parents can see the difference between populations that get vaccinated and populations that don't.

Funnily enough, vaccine-deniers keep asking for exactly that sort of "test". The problem is that when we get clear graphics showing what happens when a population's vaccination rates drop below the level for effective herd immunity, all we hear from them is crickets or lame apologetics. They think homeopathy is just dandy, neglecting the deaths resulting from that ridiculous nonsense. If it does such a piss-poor job not treating something as simply controlled as eczema, what's it supposed to do against something that is scarier and contagious?

If the vaccine-deniers have their way, we'll be swamped in infectious diseases in the coming years. We're getting a preview of what happens when vaccinations stop right now. In Syria polio cases are rising because of war and the resultant political kerfuffle:
The return of this crippling disease and the response, she (Mary Ana McGlasson, RN) says, are a sign that the international aid system is failing Syria's children. "My anger is directed at all parties to the conflict that are slowing down humanitarian aid even by a fraction," McGlasson says. "It's children caught in the middle of that who are suffering, and that's tragic to me."
The humanitarian aid mentioned here is predominantly a rigorous vaccination program for every child.

Also, we can see from Syrian's example, diseases that were almost eradicated can make a screaming comeback.
Once the most feared disease of the twentieth century, polio in most countries had long ago passed into the history books. Syria was no exception. Polio was eliminated there in 1995 following mandatory (and free) immunization introduced in 1964 after the Baath party took power. Yet wildtype 1 polio—the most vicious form of the disease—has been confirmed across much of Syria.
It would not take much to help the affected and stop the spread, but that's not what anti-reality, anti-vaccine nutbars would have you believe. They say that vaccines are dangerous and that these diseases just aren't that bad at all!
What is needed is for vaccinations to be available and taken. It's a safe and simple solution and one recognized as necessary in Syria.
What would an effective response to the outbreak of polio in Syria look like? First, vaccination is a critical component, if the substantial deficiencies in the government’s program are rectified, and the ACU is fully supported. Starting vaccination at birth is essential.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Dana Ullman's "The Case For Homeopathy" Examined

Dana Ullman, "Mr. Homeopathic", has written an article for the Huffington Post addressing some questions about his chosen field while throwing spears of vitriol at skeptics who do not think the evidence is sufficient to warrant belief in homeopathy. Let's take a look at that post and the evidence he provides to see if it stands solidly upon its metaphorical feet.

He begins by stating that the U.S.A. is resistant to homeopathy and is 37th in the world with respect to its health care system. France, by his contrast, is first and ~40% of the population use homeopathy and ~30% of docs there prescribe it. This does not take into account the myriad other factors that relate to a country's health care system (diet, lifestyle, activity levels, etc...) or that the gullibility of doctors relating to their ignorance of chemistry and pharmacology is likely to be more relevant here than anything else. The general population would have the idea that homeopathy is just another "natural" way to cure conditions and diseases, which is how homeopathy is marketed.

Ullman says:
The fact that homeopathy became extremely popular during the 19th century primarily because of its impressive successes in treating the infectious disease epidemics that raged during that time is a fact that is totally ignored by skeptics.
This is not "ignored by skeptics". Homeopathy seemed effective in treating infectious diseases in the 19th century because most people didn't die from the self-limiting conditions they contracted and giving them nothing (i.e. homeopathy) was safer than the invasive medical treatments of the day. It's an easy mistake to make, especially when you have an agenda.

Ullman goes on to say that there are more than, "150 placebo controlled clinical studies, most of which have shown positive results, either compared with a placebo or compared with a conventional drug." However, as Kimball Atwood points out on Science Based Medicine, "The 'supportive research' section of the article may look impressive to the naïve reader. In fact, some of the references support the non-efficacy of homeopathy and the others are hopelessly flawed." I'm sure "Big Pharma" has paid Atwood off for the article.

Moving slightly onward with the article, we see Ullman state that, "testing...homeopathic medicines on cell cultures, plants, animals, physics experiments, and chemistry trials have shown statistically significant effects." One of the references he lists is to a PubMed trial whose conclusion states: "Even experiments with a high methodological standard could demonstrate an effect of high potencies. No positive result was stable enough to be reproduced by all investigators. A general adoption of succussed controls, randomization and blinding would strengthen the evidence of future experiments." So, sure, you could call that "statistically significant", but I would lean heavily towards "more careful research is necessary before making grand claims." Call me old fashioned if you will.

The article then goes into a discussion of hormesis, the idea that small doses of a harmful substance (usually referring to radiation) can provide helpful effects. Ullman compares this to homeopathy and says that skeptics are silent on the topic. I would have a slightly different opinion. See posts on Quackometer and Science Based Medicine to start.

Ullman has two references with respect to hormesis. Reference 17 leads to this PubMed article which mentions homeopathic "medicine" once, speaking only to its "bitter" rivalry with actual medicine. Reference 18 when searched leads to articles written by Ullman himself, or to a homeopathic website - no research.

Look at this quote:
The doses of homeopathic medicines that are commonly sold in health food stores and pharmacies throughout the world are in a similar low dosage range to the thousands of hormesis studies on low-dose effects
A common homeopathic dilution is 30C. That means that a 1:100 dilution has been repeated 30 times. If you check Wikipedia on this matter, you'll see that that means: "1 ml of a solution which has gone through a 30C dilution is mathematically equivalent to 1 ml diluted into 1054 m3 - a cube of water measuring 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 (1018) metres per side, which is about 106 light years. When spherical, then it would be a ball of 131.1 light years in diameter. Thus, homeopathic remedies of standard potencies contain, almost certainly, only water (or alcohol, as well as sugar and other nontherapeutic ingredients)." Not exactly akin to the traditional dose/response curve you see with hormesis. Sorry, Mr. Ullman, this fails the sniff test.

A description of how homeopathy works follows where Ullman says:
Each medicine is made in double-distilled water in a glass test-tube, diluted in a 1:10 or 1:100 solution that is vigorously shaken 40 or more times. Then, this process of dilution and succussion (vigorous shaking) is repeated 3, 6, 12, 30, 200, 1,000, or more times. Although one would think that one is diluting out whatever was in the original solution, the immense worldwide experience using homeopathic medicines over the past 200 years proves otherwise.
No, it does not prove otherwise. At all. The original solution is being diluted out and if you think otherwise, the burden of proof is on you to show the evidence and collect your Nobel Prize in chemistry. If you can't do that - which neither you nor any other researcher has done - then we're pretty much done here.

Ah, except that were not...dammit.

Ullman repeats that homeopathy uses, "extremely small doses" of medicines. This is incorrect because if you'll re-read the Wikipedia link above, there is the highest probability that not one molecule of the original substance will remain in the vial. He claims, "modern-day immunology and allergy treatments derive from the primary principle of homeopathy". No, they don't. Immunology uses small but actual, measurable amounts of attenuated virii to achieve antibody production in the body by stimulating a response. Homeopathy uses no measurable amount of a selected substance to achieve a response opposite to that which the substance causes when given in large doses.

Oh yes, the argument from popularity! Ullman says:
The fact that so many highly respected people and cultural heroes over the past 200 years have used and advocated for homeopathy provides additional evidence for this medical system.
Nope. Not even a bit.
Some of these cultural heroes include eleven U.S. Presidents, six popes, JD Rockefeller, Charles Darwin, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, and scores of literary greats, corporate leaders, sports superstars, world-class musicians, and monarchs from virtually every European country.
You may notice, as I did, that this list is notably lacking in chemists. Weird, huh?

Ullman cites homeopathy's use in parts of the world as a positive and evidence for efficacy. His 21st reference is to a Lancet article (Prasad R. Homoeopathy booming in India. Lancet, 370:November 17, 2007,1679-80.) but when you search it, the first result is to here where you see Indian oncologists lamenting the use of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines (TCAM). They conclude:
Overall, early diagnosis and intervention is critical for effective treatment of many malignancies. Delays in presentation related to the use of TCAM may be an important factor relating to the high rates of advanced disease on presentation and low survival rates in the care of Indian cancer patients. Further research is needed to explore the reasons for using TCAM and to ensure existing issues of delays in help seeking are addressed.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of homeopathy.

So this piece isn't book-length, I have to here skip ahead to what Ullman calls, "A Simple Challenge to Skeptics". He rails on about how homeopathy actually works, you guys, and here's some more references! Oh, his 34th reference is to an article in Chest, discussed at Science Based Medicine here with a fun back and forth in the comments between Ullman and the authors/readers. Ullman's actual "challenge" is stated thusly:
I personally challenge ANY skeptic of homeopathy to try to maintain a family practice and only dispense "sugar pills," rather than real homeopathic medicines. My challenge is simple: while seeing a wide variety of children and adults with various acute and chronic problems, take them off all of their conventional drugs (with the exception of insulin and a small selection of drugs of "medical necessity"), and prescribe only sugar pills...for just one week.
Does anyone else see the problem with this? Ding! It would be completely unethical! Correct! Ullman also overlooks the fact that it's not just that people are getting no actual medicine from homeopathy, but they are getting care, seeming proficiency, a good story of how it (supposedly) works, history, and ritual. It's the same reasons that acupuncture might seem to work, even though it doesn't matter where or even if you insert the needles

You know you're not dealing with greatness when he quotes Deepak Chopra gushingly. He refers to "closed-minded" skeptics who just aren't open to the evidence. We are called "denialists" and, as Chopra said, are "dedicated to the suppression of curiosity." Quite the contrary, I would say. Science is all about curiosity and being open to new ideas, provided said ideas are sound and don't raise more questions than they answer. Then you have to put your new idea on a stand and let everyone try to knock it off; the longer it stays on the pedestal, the stronger an idea you have (think General Relativity or quantum mechanics).

There is nothing in science more exciting than being wrong. The best way for a chemist to get famous, make a career for him/herself, and gain the respect of their peers would be to prove the mechanism for homeopathy and show a repeatable, reliable experiment that is undeniable. Dana Ullman doesn't seem to realise this fact and continues to launch ad hominem attacks against his foes while decrying the same. He picks fights and then yells about being bullied. This is not a scientific mind - it's diluted.

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