Friday, December 28, 2007

Glarbagnostic

I don't know if there's a Glarb or not.

I don't know if we could even understand Glarb if we found one. Glarb is just one of those things so infinite, it defies mortal understanding. After all, if glarbs exist, they'd be flarschnikit and beyond the physical restraints of the universe, just like love and morality are flarschnikit. Since those things are all flarschnikit, they must be related. Aglarbists obviously can't believe in love or morality if they don't believe in Glarb, since they deny anything flarschnikit by extension. That's why everyone should believe in at least one glarb, whether or not any really exist.

If you think about it, there are so many things in this world that are gobatastic, which means they couldn't arise naturally. There's nothing in science that can explain gobatastic features, but scientists insist on researching anyway. Glarbists have mathematically proven that gobatism cannot spontaneously increase without outside assistance. Scientists insist that we define a method of measuring gobatism, but that's really their job, since they're the ones who have to show an increase.

What's really irritating is that aglarbists are so disrespectful towards glarbism, saying it's nothing more than unfalsifiable nonsense and word games, when glarbism has contributed so much to the world, bringing knowledge of the flarschnikit to mankind. Morality is flarschnikit, so it's only natural that we'd be the ones to talk about it, while science should just stick with all the non-flarschnikit material things in world.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Coming Attractions

Well, the Decemberween break is over, and we all know the true meaning of it all. Anyway, I've managed to average just a little over a post a day this year, despite gaps in the last couple of months. Anyway, stuff you can look forward to, if I get my stuff together properly:

1. Podcast with my brother. We're mostly going to ramble aimlessly and see if any direction emerges. Going to have an interesting time with editing, since my brother's the sound-oriented one and left his laptop's charger in Austin. We can probably make do with some cheapo free software for the first experimental podcast. I was thinking of doing it on New Year's, but we'll see. We're kind of loose at the moment. You can send me some emails with questions, weird woo websites, or whatever until then. Think we could try doing regular, low-stress, low expectation 10 minute bites after that. Small enough to fit on YouTube with some helpful graphics and visuals, maybe, since I've got my account up and empty. Please bear in mind that I'm keeping your expectations low in the off chance that A) we do this, and B) blow you away if we really, really surpass them.

2. Skeptiplomacy: The setbacks, dropped communications, and outright procrastination have been numerous, but I've got a map mostly done. It may need some suggested tweaks by people who've already played the game, since I'm trying to keep some balance in between nations and the utility of fleets and armies. I can email a copy of the Illustrator files if you contact my inbox.

Here's the email, if it's not obvious enough:

Why You Woos Got to Be Such a Downer, Grrrrrl?

Caution: This post is trying to recapture the foam from one of my classic rants, though the bulk of it spent some time cooling in a .txt file before posting.

Those of you who've followed earlier rants in comments, as well as the original know that I've gotten quite bitter towards a lot of woos over my blogging career. Given the responses from an earlier survey, it seems it's very understandable for my regulars.

Of all the woos out there, I think alties deserve particular ire. These are people who often actively harm people. They have very low standards for what they'll use, and yet the very high standards we demand of the FDA don't meet with their approval, and when we tell them to raise their standards even a little bit, they reply with a rant about why they, in their hubris, should be allowed to ignore epistemology, the scientific method, and so forth. And these people essentially demand the right to experiment on humans willy-nilly, without basic protocols. Even if the woo is one of the types that has little or no effect, that kind of attitude is scary. What it amounts to is they're asking for us to return to the pre-FDA days when anyone could sell alcohol, poison, or useless/harmful gadgetry as panaceas. Real medicine isn't perfect, but it's much more preferable to those times. What really tears it is that these people openly exploit desperation of the terminally ill or chronically suffering by suggesting their 'treatments' under said sloppy experimental conditions because they can ask one of the most dangerous phrases in the English language: "what's the harm?" The best way to describe it: "Since we don't know what will work, throw money at me so that I can experiment in a manner that even if this unproven or even debunked and harmful idea works, it'll still be unproven because we made sure we were sloppy." It's as if they think they have the right to treat people's lives as playthings.

Next on the list are the cdesign proponentists who pose a more insidious threat. They want us to throw science standards out of education to allow their particular brand of woo in. This is attacking the one place where we can help the most: Children. Indoctrination is a very difficult thing to overcome. If we can teach children to rely on evidence, and not arbitrary authority, religion will not have so much gullibility to latch onto. IDiots invent false controversy, and thus try to elevate their pre-scientific concepts as equals to everything the evidence has taught us. The last time I checked, "Intelligent Design" has failed to even specify what sorts of evidence would prove or disprove their "hypothesis". They often have to cover that up by making false appeals to emotion, claiming that Darwin endorsed eugenics (which he didn't) or that eugenics fan Hitler endorsed evolution (which he didn't). Not that it particularly matters. Hitler also believed in gravity. In addition to those overt lies, they have to include straw men like evolution being "random". I'm getting to the point that if a Creationist makes any of the usual claims about randomness and chance, I'll just assume they made a conscious decision to lie. Many similar lies are included about the alleged "weaknesses" of evolution which have little to do with any actual weaknesses (which we should leave to the scientists who actually study the stuff to iron out and detail for us, rather than making 150-year-old presumptions that were addressed long, long ago).

Next up are the various "psychics": People who'd be ripe for the JREF Paranormal Challenge right off the bat. A very large chunk of them deal directly with those grieving over death. The psychic "detectives", who just generally aren't very helpful, and the mediums, who spout uninformative plattitudes once they've fished out a few details. The Queen of Particularly Evil Psychics, Sylvia Browne, plays a bit of both. So far, she doesn't exactly have a good record on the detective front. James Randi challenged her long ago to work the JREF Challenge, and she's still a no-show. The corresponding King of Particular Evil Psychics happens to hold the title of The Biggest Douche in the Universe, and for good reason: All he does are typical cold reading tricks and the like. When you play games like that with people's memories, you can cause great harm to those memories. On the telekinesis side, you've got people like Uri Geller doing cheap magician tricks and winning gullible followers. Of course, if anyone disagrees with my assessment, they should probably get one of them to pass the challenge. It's out in the open.

Next: Conspiracy theorists. It's not at all uncommon for any kind of woo to quickly fall into this. These people exist to make excuses for failure, whether it's personal failure, the failure of their favorite woo, or just the general nastiness that exists in the world. These people exist to defy Occam's Razor. If there's a simple physical explanation for something, you can count on them to create 20 rival Illuminati sects covering everything up so that it just looks like the laws of physics work. Oddly, these magical sects can still operate in secrecy in highly advanced nations during the information age.

Final category for the time being: The 'magitek' crowd, coming up with devices that allegedly break the laws of physics. Cold fusion's had a lot of history, and perpetual motion even moreso. Technology's given us a lot of nifty stuff, but the key difference between real technology and the woo stuff is that real technology works. The woo stuff doesn't. It'd be really nifty if the laws of thermodynamics can be overturned on more than the microscopic level (and reliably), but if you can't get 'em running, I won't be investing. Everyone else who invested in those promises lost their money. Give me a damn good reason why your gizmo stands any better of a chance.

Now, on to general ranting: What woos all have in common is that they won't subject themselves to reasonable tests. They're perfectly fine with everyone else in the world giving a care about actually testing whether or not they're helping, but they refuse to do the same. Scientists actually care whether or not they're doing the right thing, and they're open to inquiry relevant to that question. Unlike a woo, a scientist is capable of admitting he might be wrong, or that he made a mistake. Naturally, there's some ego to resist the necessary humility, but that's natural. Woos, despite bringing that up for scientists never display that. It's always "I know what I saw!" or something equivalent that presumes infallibility of personal experience. Or of personal anything.

Because of that, whenever I see a hit-and-run woo troll spouting stock lines about arrogance, I keep mentally translating it as "You're an arrogant skeptic to think an infallible being like myself could be wrong!"

As a skeptic, I could be wrong, and there could be a fairy under every garden (evidence, please. Really. Please). It'd be really cool, but unlike in television, cool does not equal plausible.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Over the F^&king Edge

I just got done with a rant about homeopaths, and now I find out about this. The gloves are off! This is a "WILD THREAD!" before it even gets down to the comments. Don't click below the fold if you're uptight about language. (Original source)

A MAN USES A FUCKING KNIFE TO FUCKING KILL SOMEONE AND GETS OFF WITH A LIGHT SENTENCE FOR BEING OF "GOOD CHARACTER?!"

What the fuck is wrong with the world? What kind of shit is this?! A gun can at least plausibly be accredited to accidental discharge: One accidental flick of the finger or badly-timed tensing of the hand could send a lethal velocity bit of metal in someone's direction. I may not know much about knife fighting, but it seems to me to kill someone with a knife, you have to maintain a grip and put some fucking muscle into swinging it. It's not easy to accidentally stab someone. If you can't put it in your head that lashing out at someone with a sharp piece of metal has potentially lethal consequences, you do not belong in society. At the very least, this guy's sentence should be measured in fucking decades.

The fact that alcohol enters into it just makes things worse. I'm not against some moderate drinking to relax you, loosen up, or whatever you non-teetotalers do, but drinking to the point that you can fucking forget that swinging sharp pieces of metal can kill? I'd certainly like to know if this guy had previous experience with being a mean drunk, because that would make him even more culpable for choosing to imbibe something in quantities that makes him irate.

The fact that York got abusive before the incident just fills me to the brim with skepticism about the self-defense plea. I may normally be quite squeamish about the death penalty, but if a proper judge had given him the death penalty (that's not available in Australia, is it?), I would strain to find a reason to complain right now.

Homeopathic Foam

I've been getting particularly irritated by some homeopaths that showed up at Orac's place. Don't be surprised if I post a !fooW entry soon in an effort to cool down with humor. For the time being, I'm going to take my self-censorship down a notch in order to more effectively convey my disgust.

It really burns me up when someone suggests trying a treatment myself. I don't have the hubris necessary to presume I'm unbiased. When someone asks me to make a medical determination for myself, based off a personal trial, they're presuming that I'm as arrogant as they are. We have double-blind control studies for a reason, people: They're designed to eliminate bias! Do you honestly suggest that sloppiness, dumb luck, and deliberately maintained personal bias are necessary parts of research? If so, I can see why post-modernism is so popular among woos: Post-modernism applied to science means never having to say you were wrong.

Science requires us to know how we could be proven wrong. A high-quality study showing a homeopathic effect would do that for me. State the effect of a homeopathic "remedy" to be studied. Get a large number of people, give half a placebo, and give the other half the treatment being studied. Make sure neither the people getting the pill nor the people handing out the pills know which is which. Produce a significant difference between the two groups: Show me that the stated effect shows up more often in the real deal than in the placebo. Lather, rinse, and repeat a couple times in independent labs a couple times for good measure. That's pretty much all I'm asking for. I wouldn't trust a pharmaceutical that went through anything less, and yet homeopaths ask that I drop that standard specifically for them. Sorry, but I'm not going to give one faceless corporation any special treatment over any other faceless corporation. They all have to meet the same high standards before I'll subject my body and wallet to their stuff.

I've just imagined a scene that summarizes my thoughts when an altie asks me to try it myself: Imagine an honest senator (I know it's hard, but bear with me) being asked by a corporate lobbyist to grant his particular company exemption from all accounting and product testing standards. Said lobbyist offers nothing in exchange, and no reason why the suggestion would support the people's interests.

That's one reason I tend to see Big Altie as a wretched hive of scum and villainy. They ask that the "law" of science not apply to them. They ask for more and more concessions, never meeting any of the demands the rest of the world has to live up to.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Quote of the Time Being #15

"Religion is just an excuse. Religion allows you to say "I'm not greedy--God wants me to do this." - Anon

Monday, December 10, 2007

In the Dog House #2: Virtual Boy Done Right?

It's been a long time since I posted the first of these entries, but here goes:

I think one of Nintendo's greatest failures might be able to succeed today, if it's done right: The Virtual Boy. I actually have one. (At the time, I was thinking about collecting Nintendo failures to evaluate them for myself) I got it several years ago in exchange for a stack of mediocre Magic: The Gathering cards. Got it with Mario Tennis and Telero Boxer. I kind of liked the latter, even though it's a pretty short game.

Problems with the system were myriad, and a lot of them are accurately covered into the linked Wikipedia entry, and here's some ideas, observations, and so forth to hopefully deal with them:

1. Portability. The VB most definitely suffered from a lack of portability, but given miniaturization since then, I think many issues can be dealt with. Since the VB got so many aspects of portability wrong, though, this requires a fair bit of discussion for some of the people who don't know the extensive nature of the wrongness.

a. Weight: The VB weighed as much as a brick. That, combined with its sheer bulk cuts deeply into how easily you could move it about. Up-to-date technology would make a better version easier.

b. Parts: You had the big eye part, the controller, the power supply (more on that, later), the stand, and appropriate wires. If I were to redesign the thing, it'd probably have a decent battery built in and a small wireless controller you could snap on somewhere for portability and recharging its battery. A charger cord would be available, but it'd be optional during gameplay.

c. The stand: The stand that came with the VB couldn't be adjusted vertically, which left me searching for a surface/chair combo that got it right for me. I'd replace that cursed thing with a strap to keep it on your head, like all the other virtual reality things were supposed to be like during that craze. Include some testing to maximize the number of heads it can fit on via adjustments.

2. Lack of social gaming: Two video outputs built for one person's set of two eyes. That was it. "Hey, I'm fighting the last boss, and winning!" "If you say so." I think the best solutions for that would be online multiplayer and some TV connection that'd let other players view the game world.

3. Controller issues: Some people thought the VB controller was weird, having two directional pads, and a pair of underside buttons. One idea I have in mind for my hypothetical improvement: Have Wiimotes as the controller, and see about including motion sensing as a part of the system. Problem with this is that it could lead to 'kitchen sinking' the whole thing, and adding all that weight I don't want back onto the system.

So, anyone else have ideas or Virtual Boy trauma to share?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

75th Skeptics' Circle

It's up at Pro-Science.

Open thread as usual, except calling milk chocolate M&Ms 'plain' is FORBIDDEN!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Sorry for the Silence

You know how meatspace goes at times. I've had some work piling up, some reassembly of my computer at work, my brother visiting over the holidays (and soon some more), and so on, so what I thought would be a relatively calm period has been pretty lively in meatspace.

Extra apologies for my GM (again) for not being around to continue my part of the game. I hope to get back to full activity tomorrow, or maybe even tonight.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Texas: Doomie-DOOMED!!!

A while back, my dad and I went to visit my brother and see Barbara Forrest lecture about the research that went into utterly humiliating the cdesign proponentests (including the original discovery of that snippet), and had a good time. Even met Martin Wagner of the Atheist Experience, who I probably should have plugged much earlier. Anyway, it seems someone in Texas got fired for bringing her up.

PZ has some quotes there, and I think he's got it right: This is about a philosopher of science talking about science education. Seems my home state can't wait for me to move out in disgust or something. They're giving me plenty of reasons.

Anyway, as Phil Plait is fond of saying, with one of my favorite lolanimal pics:

Texas:

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

YouTubin'

I only recently got my own YouTube account under the name of "TheBronzeDog" (that's THE Bronze Dog, since some imitator out there thinks he's the real Slim Shady.)

Any thoughts on what I could try posting? One thing I contemplated was something along that guy's take on Job. I could probably do a little construction paper-esque animation along those lines with the right program.

Pointless Question #15

There's an army of mooks breathing down your back as you work your way through the villain's lair. The manage to corner you at a dead end. So why are they only coming at you one or two at a time?

Doggerel #131: "The Illuminati!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

There are so many woos out there, when faced with contradicting evidence, are quick to resort to claiming the Illuminati and other massive conspiracies headed by mustache-twirling villains manufactured it to keep the poor persecuted martyr down.

Of course, woos, typically lacking a sense of scale, don't realize how huge these conspiracies would have to be to accomplish such a masquerade. Such secret societies would require millions of people to sustain, all with fell intents or sufficient cowardice to remain silent. Science isn't performed by lone scientists these days: The obvious sorts of things tend to be heavy on resources required. The subtle effects tend to require lots of tedious replication and repetition left up to subordinates to monitor.

Anything else would often be easier to demonstrate publicly. That's kind of what the James Randi Paranormal Challenge is about. Even if the woo doesn't apply for the challenge itself, the general concept would still be quite applicable: Skeptics usually can come up with very specific, very reasonable challenges that the woo can try to meet. Usually, this will lead to the woo claiming the skeptic is in on the conspiracy, despite any rules that would prevent tampering by either side.

In short, invoking the Illuminati excuse serves as an escape hatch any woo with a tinfoil hat can use to avoid any challenging evidence, or any test of their favored woo. Repeated use can lead to the absurd, such in the case of some Creationists I know: They typically deny the physics behind radiometric dating and relativity, which is the basis for atomic clocks and the global positioning system, and suddenly my ability to visit my brother without reading a paper map is, as a natural extension of the original claim, a lie.

All Your Force Gems Are Belong to Me (Again!)

Last time, I tried to play against a few of you on The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, but I couldn't connect with anyone. So I'm thinking of an excuse to try to get a group of players on at the same time: Let's try to get a tournament set up.

Here's what I'm thinking after we get enough players (minimum 4):

Each round will be best 2 out of 3 on random playing fields, single elimination.

Players will leave a comment after each battle on an appropriate thread, reporting the results.

Eliminated players will compete to determine details like 3rd place if they feel like it.

Grudge matches will be held afterwards.

So, anyone interested?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Pointless Question #14

So, you've gotten to the airlock of the space station that's been set to self-destruct with plenty of time to spare. Why do you wait until the last second to blast off in your spaceship?

Create-a-Critter #3: Prison Pill Occupants

Just recently came up with a location concept for a campaign world of mine. The plane involved is essentially a big empty pit that fiends use as a dumping ground. The specific location this post deals with is a prison shaped like a giant capped-off carbon nanotube, like a big hexagon-coated headache medicine floating in a particularly empty bit of void. Now, for the theme behind the occupants:

You know the comic book scenario where a superpowered villain gets a pardon in exchange for using his powers for some corrupt government purpose? This prison is for that sort of thing: All the occupants have exotic powers, and the prison is designed to hold them until the owners need one of them, about once every couple centuries or so.

Needless to say, most of the ones that haven't been put in some form of stasis are in a foul mood. Most are of the "Outsider" type, and more or less immortal, others are constructs, and a few mortals, who are typically held in stasis. The exotic powers, well, that's up to your imagination, but if you need help thinking of something, try perusing one of the various alternate magic systems out there.

Additional critters I could use some ideas for: The constructs that serve as the guards and warden, as well as the owners of the place.

I'm Back!

Sorry I've been gone for a bit, but I've been stuck in the time warp that is Thanksgiving, entertaining family. Oh, the adventures I had.

Anyway, I've got a D&D group to catch up with tonight after some absence, so I'll begin posting some stuff to get me in the mood, so there's going to be some geekery going on.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I Hate Communism and Nazism

There, I said it, just in case someone comes up with a dare for me, thinking I won't bad mouth a lot of stuff because his local clergy brainwashed him into thinking the Cold War is still going on and anyone who disagrees with him is a Rusky.

Stalin was a villain for sending people to gulags and to executions for political "crimes" like exercising free speech in favor of evolution and heredity. Stalin operated in the same manner as a theocrat, declaring this or that theory as "a bourgeois pseudoscience" for not supporting The Party. Sorry, but government officials are no more entitled to their own facts and evidence than churches are. Stalin was evil in many ways, but he was evil for the same reason the directors of Inquisitions were evil.

Lots of Communist leaders engaged in mass purges, also a very big evil that I will never condone. I'm sure all my atheist friends here will agree that such things are evil. Mass killing is also bad if done in the name of some insane racial ideology, not just because it's mass killing, but also because it makes the human gene pool even shallower than it already is. It also involves a great deal of hubris to think that we have the ability to determine superiority, since that would require calculating a dizzying number of factors. That's why Hitler was unambiguously evil, too. And stupid on the biology front, to boot.

What a lot of this boils down to is that I think the various fascist and communist tyrants are evil are for the same reason I think violent fundies of all stripes (that includes those who threaten people with invisible violence in Hell) are evil. They're the same thing with a few cosmetic changes.

The only "persecution" I'm going to do involves making fun of people in ways that typically expose their fallacious thought. Everyone agrees with me, right?

Call for Doggerel

Just thought I'd see about encouraging some suggestions for the Doggerel series. I haven't been posting as much, lately, and it'd be helpful to have a fresh batch of suggestions. Useful sources and suggested helpful images would be nice as well. Back when I was starting the list, I was contemplating doing a 50/50 split between "catch phrases" and "buzzwords." I fell behind on buzzwords, and have been trying to catch up to even out the series. You should be able to grasp the meaning by looking at most of the lower end of the index right now.

Legendary Legend or Mysterious Mystery?

Orac's been keeping up with an obvious urban legend, and here's his latest. What really annoys me is that when the woos "researching" it keep failing to find evidence of it, they just add another level of conspiratorial thinking on top of the previous level.

Here's the rundown of the legend: Supposedly, some kid by the name of Chad Jessop "cured" his melanoma with some "natural means", but The Big Bad Government is forcing him to undergo chemotherapy (which doctors say is not appropriate for the condition, anyway), and when his mother showed up in court to protest, somehow the judge threw out her right to hire an attorney, had her arrested without anyone present raising a massive stink, and issued an omnipotent gag order that forbade the press from talking about it.

You buying this? No, me neither.

Add onto the absurdities of the tale, people who tell us, essentially, "Some unnamed guy who personally knows them says it's true" or "I'm that guy. It's true." Yet, despite all these alleged witnesses, there's no evidence that can be tracked down, no paper trail, and, apparently, no one can even name the judge who allegedly did this (UPDATE: Someone named her and pulled out a spontaneously combusting straw man in the process). It seems like every time someone adds another red flag that signals "urban legend!", they claim it's evidence in favor of it being a growing conspiracy.

It seems to me like a case of woos having to convince themselves they were right beforehand, like Akusai expressed. Here, they have a story of villains obviously in the hands of the evil Big Pharma doing evil things and covering them up perfectly. Sounds a lot like that urban legend about this woman getting a magic carburetor part that pushes her up to 300 mpg before the Men in Black steal it and cover the whole thing up. Well, gee, the woos keep telling us Big Pharma/Big Oil is villainous and do those sorts of things, therefore this legend must be true. (And I certainly won't argue against Big Oil being bad, but that's not my point.)

The latter tale about the magic carburetor doesn't strike me as much different. It involves something that any rational person should see as fishy (one single part no one can get giving a car efficiency higher than the laws of physics allow), and evil people who cover it up, despite the fact that if such a thing existed, it'd be plastered all over the internet and available for testing by anyone. They invent a crime (creating and not releasing a super fuel efficiency booster/free energy machine) and a cover up.

The Jessop tale involves believing in a judge who can violate the Constitution at will and silence everyone about it. On top of that, it requires believing that not one person was willing to violate the gag order. They invent a series of crimes (Constitutional violations, needlessly subjecting an allegedly cured individual to an uncomfortable and probably expensive medical procedure) and a cover up.

Both of these smell like propaganda to get people angry at a particular enemy. It's like a recruitment drive for alties and free energy woos. Make a cartoonishly evil villain and hope they don't notice the cartoonishly part so that they can join you (and maybe send money) in the fight against the fake evil. Usually because you don't think they're smart enough to understand the real, more understated evil, or even if there's a real evil to combat.

I'm not saying the tale's impossible (that's a word largely slated for woo use), but everything about it is a red flag against its probability. I could very well be wrong, and such a travesty could possibly have happened. But I see no convincing evidence it did. I'll change my mind when the evidence comes in, because I'm not interested in being right beforehand on gut instinct. I'm interested in being right at the end, based on evidence.

Whether woos like it or not, it's okay to be wrong on your first guess. The coolest things happen when scientists find out they were wrong, because that means they've developed a better picture of what's right and change their mind accordingly. Woos, however, will stay the course, rather than admit they're fallible.

EDIT: If there's any truth at all to this story, here's what I think it probably is: Kit got treated with caustic black salve, and was (hopefully) cured, getting a nasty scar when surgery would probably have been much cleaner, safer, and definite. Mother gets stuck in some red tape about insurance, which gets exaggerated into the propaganda tale it is now. After the truth comes out, there'll be a possibility that the caustic salve didn't get it all, and if it resurfaces, the woo community will just ignore that, preserving their popular melodramatic fiction over the actual events where they may be the ones to blame.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Solipsism Lite

I've had a few run-ins with trolls who believe that reality is subjective, and that our skepticality is ruining their magic whenever we show up. Awfully convenient excuse as to why they can't pass the JREF test. Anyway, it seems to me that there are a lot of problems with believing this sort of nonsense. Even before they get to quoting Yoda.

As I pointed out in the linked comment thread: If our expectations affect reality, why do scientists sometimes get wrong predictions? If a bunch of scientists are convinced Drug A will cure Disease B, why do any of them get negative results? If one group of scientists get positive results and encourage replication, why do skeptics performing the replication sometimes get positive results?

I suspect that most of these subjectivists would start reading minds by claiming that someone's subconscious held the opposite view of their conscious mind. Some will even go so far as to state that someone is being dishonest in their stated opinion. Cynicism, ho!

Whatever their excuse, this subjectivist universe would have to be extremely complex and unpredictable compared to an objective one. One would wonder how the universe could get to the way it is, with multiple people interacting. I would think if existing beliefs shape the operation of the universe, we'd all be parallel solipsists or something. I guess it would explain why woos can never hear our real stances on issues, and instead only hear what they want us to believe.

Of course, that's more easily explained by woos being closed-minded bigots most of the time.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Quote of the Time Being #14

From RickD, commenting on Pharyngula:

"It seems sad to me that the ferocious god of the Old Testament has been reduced to a god of the gaps hiding in quantum mechanics. Where's the fire and brimstone? Where are the pillars of salt? Where are the fiery ladders from heaven? The burning bushes? The parting seas?"

That's one reason I can't take a lot of "he's already proved his existence in a vague, unspecified way" and "you'll find out when you're dead and in torment" comments when I ask for spectacular, decisive evidence of a deity's existence, like RickD is. What's so different these days that prevents the various deities from showing off like they allegedly did in the olden days?

Doggerel #130: "The Corporations!"


"There is no world, anymore! It's just corporations!" - Number Two, trying to explain to Dr. Evil why legitimate business makes more sense than zany world domination schemes.

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Money is a major source of power in this world. It's hard to doubt that, or that it can lead to corruption. The problem for woos who like to paint a picture of corrupt CEOs controlling everything is that science has safeguards against that sort of thing. Corrupting all the scientific studies around the world on a topic would pretty much require millions of people being subject to bribes. That would include direct competitors and idealists.

That's one reason I have a hard time buying the idea that some unspecified corporate masters could control results in scientific studies. They might be able to get away with falsifying one study conducted by members on their own payrolls, but that's what independent replication and peer review are for: They can't buy off everyone.

At this point, woos will typically descend into deeper cynicism, suggesting that everyone except their camp can indeed be bought off, and for cheap. They'd rather we believe the world is a simple black-and-white place, and that any large amount of money conveys near-omnipotence within administration and bureaucracy of those below. It's a rather sad way to view the world, but I digress. Such conspiracies are untenable because of the sheer number of conflicting forces in the world, and even within corporations.

Even more than that, it presumes the corporation in question is actually evil. Woos seldom stop to think that a corporation might actually be doing something good, or that doing good might actually be in the corporation's best interest. For a lot of pharmaceutical companies, I can imagine producing highly useful medications for a variety of conditions would be very good in the long term: If everyone lives a long, healthy life, chances are, they'll be major consumers in old age, when natural breakdown kicks in.

All in all, this is a subject change. The fact that a corporation may be involved in a study is typically irrelevant, no matter what devious motives you can dream up: The scientific method is designed to combat bias. Unless the woo can demonstrate how and where that bias could affect the study's results, it's meaningless.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Something I Really Hate About Quackery

It's unethical human experimentation. That's what it typically boils down to, especially when "try it yourself, anecdotally" is favored over research for the informed half of informed consent.

Ethical human experimentation involves willing, informed people. The only information I can think to hold back would be whether they're in the control or treatment group. People undergoing experiments should be aware of possible side effects. This information should have come from what we know of chemistry, biology, and animal experimentation.

I'm sure someone will come along and provide a little more detail on the different, necessary phases of trial.

Alties, on the other hand, don't bother with that sort of stuff. They get an idea in their head about what causes a disease, generally don't test it or they rely on exaggerations of actual studies that make modest claims. From that point, they'll typically move on to coming up with a treatment for the alleged cause without testing for it. I've seen it come up a lot with anti-vaxxers going over the 'autism is caused by thimerosal transforming into an unknown mercury compound' line, followed by chelation routines where they never bother testing for the chemicals they're chelating for. I doubt quacks would perform a test that'd negate the excuse for potentially expensive routines.

When an altie tells you to try something before concluding whether or not it works, they're usually end up being tight-lipped about further details. They also ignore the necessary details in determining causation. A lot of problems clear up, improve, or at least fluctuate on their own, regardless of treatment. That's why double-blind control studies are so vital: They let you see the difference between inaction and the treatment. Alties would rather we believe a living, organic body is no more complicated than a toaster, therefore we shouldn't worry about details like that. On/Off switches and light/medium/dark dials are obvious, therefore, they can fiddle around with whoever without worrying about potential nastiness. If things go badly, they can just refuse to publish your testimonial and cherrypick some good ones. It's not like they have to keep records like medical scientists do.

What Would it Take to Convince Me?

Just felt like bringing this up after reading a bit of a Conservapedia troll-bashing.

So, what would it take for me to believe in the Christian god? Well, one item that comes to mind is this, which should be trivially easy for an omnipotent deity: Make a Longview cane sugar Dr Pepper (1 pint) poof into existence with a flash of light and smoke onto this CD sleeve next to my keyboard at the moment I click "Publish Post."

...Nope. You can bet that if a fundie comes in here, he'll try to rationalize it as God not wanting me to believe *yet* or something about being obligated to work in mysterious ways in recent centuries, rather than the 'vulgar magic' style miracles described in the Bible.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Pointless Question #12

You know those slews of generic soldiers that make up your army that never talk, and look all the same except for class and possibly gender? What do you think they're doing when you and your super-powered friends and enemies are going through a cutscene?

And why do they make you fight Wiegraf by yourself?

A Very Special (Belated) Halloween Episode

Earlier this year, I arbitrarily remembered a Halloween special I watched a bit of when I was a kid, so pardon me if the scenes are a bit disjointed as I present them. If anyone can get me a link to an online video so I can refresh my memory, it'd be appreciated.

Anyway, this blog post is brought to you by our favorite stop-motion animation show declared blasphemous by one of the young Flanderses: David & Goliath.

The earliest scene I recall from the episode is David being out with his dad, doing some beekeeping. David, noticing how effectively the mesh conceals faces from a distance comments, "Gee Dad, I bet no one could see me under this!" Thus begins David's realization of the fell power of anonymizing headgear, only to be interrupted with his dad's comment, "God can see you."

Even when I was a kid, the anviliciousness caused a bit of head trauma. Yeah, God's tougher than Superman. God can see through lead, and he's not afraid of little green rocks. The Sunday school teachers can stop drilling that into my head. They did it a little too well, though, since I grew up to realize the various paradoxes, contradictions, and so forth. Anyway, back to the claymation.

Halloween's come, and David's dressed up in a cheap astronaut costume, complete with a helmet that obscures everything except his eyes. Granted, most of us probably had cheap costumes when we were kids, but I guess I'm just used to characters on TV shows having better ones than me. He's also put Goliath in a tiger-striped dog shirt, thus getting the canine in on some potential trick-or-treating. Hope chocolate's not involved. Anyway, he gets to a party and wins the prize for best costume as 'the man from Mars'.

Next scene I recall involves Orel, I mean David going out trick-or-treating with some Bad Kids, and the emphasis turns towards tricking. I forget if it was egging, TPing, or whatever, but they get interrupted by the objections of their target and run off into the night, with David pausing long enough to display guilt in front of the camera. In the next scene, he's out of costume and trying to rationalize his actions by blaming his Halloween persona. Goliath is trying to do the same with his Tiger personal for biting David in some scene I have no recollection of.

I suspect this is the point I tuned out because I just couldn't buy the characters. Looking back with my adult eyes, I think I can imagine God being mentioned a lot, and given the anvilicious setup from dad at the beginning, the lesson was going to be "Can't Get Away With Nuthin'."

The real lesson: You can hurt someone (or, in David's case, horribly inconvenience someone with otherwise unnecessary cleanup), and even if you don't get caught, you'll know it. You can't blame it on the mask you wear (and you're stupid if try) because you're responsible for your own actions.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Homebrewin'

Well, I'm finally doing something with PSP homebrew. I got one of the new slim PSPs, and using that for corporate purposes, like playing Final Fantasy Tactics. I'm using my old one for homebrew software.

Just recently downloaded PSPRadio, and having a bit of difficulty finding the right option so that I can listen to (and possibly record) the Capitol Steps tonight.

Anyway, anyone else do PSP homebrew (preferably of the not-horribly-illegal type) and have recommendations for games? I know I'm going to be getting Cave Story, for one, but I'd like to know about more.

Monday, October 29, 2007

I Love Parallels

Today's Non-Sequitur just reminded me of John Best's recent performance, which involved avoiding any answers about mercury compounds and autism, like which one he claims is responsible for autism, how it's formed from thimerosal, yadda, yadda. He seemed more interested in bragging about a lucky streak at the horse races than providing information. Because we all know, people who bet on horses successfully are smart, and should be blindly obeyed as the sole voice of authority. Who needs verifiable evidence?

Here's the original thread all this happened in. 180 comments, including some nice, long ones, so make sure you have the time.

Friday, October 26, 2007

If There Were No Traffic Cops...

...would you turn the road into a demolition derby?

It seems some fundie commenters might just answer 'yes.' Take a break to read the nihilism of a troll my circle of friends is quite familiar with.

I don't need law enforcement of the natural or supernatural kind to behave. I have compassion for my fellow sentient beings. When I'm at the grocery store, I put up shopping carts that barbarians placed in the exact center of good parking spots. If I take an item off the shelf, and the remainder are way in the back, hard to reach, I will bring a few closer to the front for the next person's convenience. And that's just the tiniest of things I do. (Need to start getting my checkbook ready for a slew of donations, by the way.)

Why do I do these things? Well, for starters, the world would be a better place if everyone was generous. Altruism helps everyone, and altruism helps oneself: People have an instinct for reciprocation:

"Scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours."
"Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself."

It's the concept behind returning a favor. Doing kind things for others makes them more willing to do kind things for you. Hence, if I want something kind to be done for me, I should be kind to others. If I don't want nasty things done to me, I shouldn't do nasty things to others. It's probably written in our DNA somewhere. It's also taught to most of us at early ages. Even if it's not explicitly taught, we tend to learn by observation.

For the typical divine command theorist, such concepts are alien: They only know obedience, not love or compassion. They typically require bribery (Heaven) and blackmail (Hell) to reach a decision. When I try to imagine what it's like to be one of them, I think of an animal just barely intelligent enough to understand the concept of deferring gratification. This animal is locked in a cage, separated from all other members of its kind, and is promised a reward from the food slot if they hit the right sequence of buttons. They don't care what the buttons do (no matter how horrible it is), just whether or not something will come tumbling down from the machine.

Awkward, But Cool

Well, Randi relayed it, Akusai posted his, and now I'm doing it.

For those who don't follow links, it's a little site that takes your birthday to determine your past life.

My results were... interesting, I guess:
I don't know how you feel about it, but you were female in your last earthly incarnation.You were born somewhere in the territory of modern Portugal around the year 1375. Your profession was that of a sailor or shoemaker.
I was a pirate chick! I'm not into fantasizing about being the opposite sex (not that there's anything wrong with that- being the opposite sex or fantasizing about that sort of thing), but I think I can try imagining it: Captain that runs an abnormally clean ship, wearing a set of clothes that could pass as a naval uniform: Nothing revealing, but worn just tight enough to get the imagination going, especially combined with the right postures and body motion.
Your brief psychological profile in your past life:
Inquisitive, inventive, you liked to get to the very bottom of things and to rummage in books. Talent for drama, natural born actor.
A pirate chick with panache!
The lesson that your last past life brought to your present incarnation:
The world is full of ill and lonely people. You should help those, who are less fortunate than you are.
A pirate chick with panache and a heart of gold!

Okay. Back to feeling awkward about that bit of woo.

72th Skeptics' Circle

It's up at the Quackometer blog.

Open thread as usual, except chewing gum is FORBIDDEN!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Survey: Do I Need Leash Laws?

Just thought I'd see what you people think: Regulars may have noticed that I've gotten bolder over time, and not the least bit afraid to show an intolerance for objective evil. I'm also on something of a campaign to reclaim positive language to describe skeptics and I won't hold back about calling woos for what they are.

So, any thoughts about the less-restrained me?

Not a Good Sign

I tried going to the Quackometer blog to submit some late entries to the Skeptics' Circle, but I can't seem to get the page to load. I tried it a couple days earlier and thought it might have been just the uncertainty of the net.

So... Is Le Canard Noir face down in a ditch somewhere? Has the Society of Homeopaths taken their thuggery to the next level?
Or is his ISP just acting up?

UPDATE: Whew! False alarm. Sorry. My brother couldn't load it when I asked him to check, so I got a little more worried.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Doggerel #129: "The Right!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Just like there are woos on the right who complain about the left, there are woos on the left who complain about the right. And both are usually willing to label any skeptic as part of the opposition, regardless of their actual political views.

But, of course, that's a subject change: The scientific method has a habit of depoliticizing the results. No matter what political party you belong to, an experiment will generally get the same results under the same protocols.

I often find myself being attacked as an alleged conservative (and specifically pro-Bush) whenever 9/11 twoofers come up, erecting straw men claiming that I blindly agree with anything Bush says. Of course, I have a hard time agreeing with anything he says, but that's a different topic altogether. Whether the twoofers or Bush like it or not, the science behind the investigations is pretty solid. Nothing requires explanation with space lasers, magically silenced explosives, or super stealth ninja demolition experts. The fact that Bush was involved doesn't magically negate the laws of physics, the validity of research methods, or make plausible the administrative nightmare of covering up a highly visible event.

The other times I find myself accused of being on the right is when I'm defending real medicine and attacking quackery. Like it or not, demanding rigor for testing potential life-or-death products, transparency, and accountability are something most people are supposed to be able to agree on. I can only imagine someone who goes by an exceptionally hard line version of "caveat emptor" would object to it.

Skepticism tends to be conservative, but only in the non-political sense of the word: If an existing explanation isn't broken, don't fix it or replace it unnecessarily. Woos, however, just don't seem to be at all interested in proving the break before jumping to "new" conclusions.

Why am I not Surprised?

Little tidbit of news I received today: Apparently a celebrated church member steals money for a living, dies, and gets praise anyway. The article shows me a number of ways that fundies can be really stupid and arbitrary about morality. They just can't come out and speak ill of people who are truly evil.

First, for those who didn't click through, here's a bit of background:

"Derrich was most like Jesus in that he gave," the funeral program at Great Hills Baptist Church in Northwest Austin said of the man who attended weekly Bible studies and flew relief supplies to hurricane victims.

But since his death, lawsuits have flooded the probate court in Austin claiming that what Pollock really did was take.

Sixty-two lawsuits have been filed against Pollock's estate, his wife and a few of his friends, painting a portrait of a man who used his charm to bilk friends and fellow believers out of millions of dollars. Most of the suits say he used a scheme called System Five involving big promises and enormous amounts of life insurance that he began buying in 2004.

It sounds to me like his generosity towards hurricane victims was an attempt to relieve his conscience. Reminds me of a Doctor Who quote (thanks go to Bourgeois_Rage for finding exact wording):
Doctor: "You let one of them go, but that's nothing new. Every now and then, a little victim's spared. Because she smiled... because he's got freckles... cos they begged... and that's how you live with yourself. That's how you slaughter millions. Because once in a while, on a whim, if the wind's in the right direction... you happen to be kind."
If this had been the result of open theft to aid the unfortunate, I might be a bit more forgiving, but con artists don't merely cause property loss: They betray trust for a living. Treachery is how they put expensive food on the table. The sending of these supplies was probably just this guy's tiny, occasional, random act of kindness he uses to not feel bad about all the evil he does.

Just to put the thing in scale:

$4 million, according to a lawsuit. And bankruptcy records filed by his wife, Julee Pollock, show that more than 100 investors are owed more than $7 million. The bankruptcy records include not only the amount people invested, but also the profit that investors claim they would have earned.

In the lawsuits, investors say they should be paid back with the $9 million in life insurance that Derrich Pollock took out on himself because, they say, he used their money to pay the insurance premiums.

He had promised investors that if anything happened to him, they would be paid back from the life insurance policies, according to lawsuits and a letter from the state securities board to an insurance company lawyer. The beneficiaries of the insurance policies were his wife of 20 years and at least two friends, who have all declined to comment.

One of the beneficiaries, Rod Watkins, is an associate minister at New Life Family Fellowship Church in Caddo Mills, about 40 miles northeast of Dallas. The church has also filed a lawsuit against Pollock's estate claiming that it lost $885,000 in investments.

Investors were motivated by trust.

And that last part is what this is about. To a con artist, the trust of other people is nothing but a tool towards his selfish ends. They are not nice people. But that doesn't stop people from rationalizing:
"Derrich was exactly like the rest of us, a sinner who rebelled from a holy God and fell far short of his glory," Rowley said.
He didn't just fall far short of an allegedly omnibenevolent being: He fell far short of any civilized person. There's a reason why we have a habit of putting people like this, known as criminals, into big buildings where they'll have a hard time hurting other people.
"No, Derrich didn't stop sinning after he became a Christian," Rowley said. "The difference between him and other sinners was he was simply a sinner saved by God's grace."
And we have the fundie lesson for today: There's no point to being a minimally decent person as long as you're supporting the right sort of diabolism.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

This Ever Happen to You?

I stopped playing Lumines for PSP when I ceased being aware of playing it.

...At least, I think I quit.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Anthony Who?

Well, I've seen his name once before, but someone's brought up a fundie's fetish for the conversion of the world's leading atheist a fair number of my atheist friends hadn't heard of: Anthony Flew. Mostly it's been stories of alleged conversion that touted him as such. Of course, it's pretty much meaningless to assign a leadership role for a community that generally scoffs at authority. (EDIT: Fixed tone a little bit)

So I did a little quick bit of searching.

First thing I found: Here. Apparently a guy who had some personal correspondence.
But he is increasingly persuaded that some sort of Deity brought about this universe, though it does not intervene in human affairs, nor does it provide any postmortem salvation. He says he has in mind something like the God of Aristotle, a distant, impersonal "prime mover." It might not even be conscious, but a mere force.
Doesn't sound like something I'd label as a "god." And it dips into vitalism after that:
In formal terms, he regards the existence of this minimal God as a hypothesis that, at present, is perhaps the best explanation for why a universe exists that can produce complex life. But he is still unsure.
What? Isn't the piles and piles of research into how simplicity can beget complexity (irreducible and otherwise) via evolution enough?

Direct quotes from here on:
I do not think I will ever make that assertion, precisely because any assertion which I am prepared to make about God would not be about a God in that sense ... I think we need here a fundamental distinction between the God of Aristotle or Spinoza and the Gods of the Christian and the Islamic Revelations.
In short, not anything worth labeling as a deity. But he cranks into vitalism again:
[In fact] the only reason which I have for beginning to think of believing in a First Cause god is the impossibility of providing a naturalistic account of the origin of the first reproducing organisms.
That's the naysayery of woo, there. How do you prove something is impossible without knowing every law of physics? We can do it in math because the rules are pretty well laid out for those proofs. Thankfully, it seems he broke out of that stupidity:
I now realize that I have made a fool of myself by believing that there were no presentable theories of the development of inanimate matter up to the first living creature capable of reproduction.
In short, he didn't do the research. It goes downhill from there. Read the rest. I think the article's author makes a pretty good summary of what I'm thinking at this point:
"So what is your final evidence? What is the, what was the clincher for you, Professor Flew?" Flew gives no answer at all, but rambles on about how his newfound deism is no big deal and just an opinion, a conclusion that is "pretty thin." But what he bases this "pretty thin" conclusion on he still fails to say. Later in that same interview he says "I haven't really formulated what I do believe," but it sounds as if he hasn't even formulated why he believes. And I've heard nothing to suggest anything has changed this past year.

Monday, October 15, 2007

8# !fooW

Okay. I REALLY need cooling off. Please do me the favor of keeping this thread moving. I had the older !fooW entries get up into 20's and beyond, and it was really fun. Since the thug made a personal appearance over at Respectful Insolence, I'm overheating.

So, for non-regulars, this series is about asking questions in order to get a silly answer from me. Since I really need some good laughs to retain my sanity, please make your questions silly. Who knows, you might actually get a serious answer from me, if it's sufficiently funny.

Doggerel #128: "The Left!"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

One thing that always annoys me is when woos start bringing politics into epistemology. It doesn't matter where on the political spectrum I fall when I make an argument. If the data says reality has a liberal bias, like Stephen Colbert once commented, well, you'll just have to accept that. If you don't, at least dispute the validity of the data, the gathering methods, and so forth. In short, do science, not politics. Don't bring in political affiliations. It'll only make you look bad.

I'll freely confess that a lot of the science places I visit have a noticeable liberal bias. That, of course, has no bearing on whether or not they present sound arguments. Science often involves the art of eliminating bias from studies. That's what double-blinding is for in many studies, and why independent replication is so important.

Currently, the left is more associated with science (and some brands of woo, unfortunately), but I suspect that has more to do with the large number of religious conservatives hijacking that end of the spectrum for their fundie wooism. At least, that's how some nostalgic conservatives and moderates tell it through potentially rose-colored glasses about an era when the conservatives were once the practical, reality-based group.

But true or not, that's neither here nor there. The point is, don't bring up politics in a debate over scientific fact. You may just find yourself facing a conservative skeptic who just happens to not live up to the stereotypes those in the woo ivory tower told you about.

Doggerel #127: "Unexplainable"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Many of my regular readers have probably noticed that I perceive woos to be eternal pessimists. The fact that they can casually throw around the word, 'unexplainable' is one of the surest signs of their defeatism. A scientifically minded person will more sensibly put modifiers on it like, 'unexplainable under current models' or, more appropriately, 'unexplained.'

Whether the woos like it or not, people have great potential. Just because we haven't solved a problem yet doesn't mean we'll never solve it. As suggested above, a scientifically minded skeptic sees weirdness as a speed bump, not a brick wall. When we see some 'anomaly' touted by lovers of psychics, alternative "medicine," or religion, we immediately start thinking of possible explanations, up to and including flawed perceptions. Usually, the woos will begin dismissing our ideas as 'impossible' (displaying more of their naysaying) for no reason, or just pretend we never said anything.

The wonderful thing about science is that new answers lead to new questions about the order of the universe(s). We always have new things to explore and poke with various instruments. We'll always have the joy of unraveling mysteries. The typical claustrophobic woo, however, has a handful of answers for everything that involve no detail. "It's psychic power, working on unknowable principles we're incapable of delving into, much less utilizing in a meaningful manner" isn't exactly a positive attitude. It sells civilization short. It conveys an attitude that we already know everything we can know. It erects walls around us.

I'd rather take the optimistic approach and live under the idea that we're capable of understanding the world around us. Thankfully, modern civilization, whether woos appreciate it or not, is pretty compelling evidence that the universe isn't an incomprehensible mess.

WILD THREAD: Test Type That Always Goes Berserk

Well, given all sorts of woo thuggery that's been going on, lately, I'll give everyone a chance to vent uncensored, like I'd like to do. Please note that it'll be pretty much dishonest to use quotes from here, since this thread is intended to contain exaggerated, emotional response to the cowardly efforts of Big Altie and such to suppress freedom of information. We're raging symbolically, not debating literally.

An Old Troll Got Even Nastier

Woo thuggery never rests, apparently. John Best, AKA Fore Sam takes after the Society of Homeopaths and attacks a weak point other than his target. Rather than deal with reality openly and directly, he takes a route even more cowardly than the woos of SoH: Going after Kevin Leitch's daughter.

Stuff I've previously done with this thug, who I will now call a thug at every opportunity: Appeal_to_Ridicule #1 & 1.1.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Naysaying of Woo #1: Timey Wimey Ball

Welcome to what is the first edition of what may become a series. Woos recklessly throw around "naysayer" and similar words, as if they were really that applicable to skeptics. I should probably make a Doggerel entry on that word, sometime.

Anyway, I'm going to spend posts like this explaining the cynical side of woos I encounter. Forgive me for not linking, but this example came from a JREF thread a year or two ago, but it probably won't be hard to find a similar woo.

The topic: First causes versus causality loops.

I've got a lot of sci-fi fans, so they'll probably know quite well what I'm talking about with causality loops. In Treknobabble, it's called a predestination paradox: A causes B causes C causes A.

Anyway, I bring this up, because I bumped into a theist woo who said that there are no alternatives to a First Cause being God: It's impossible for the universe to be different than his anthropocentric expectations. Many of you probably know many right off hand: Infinite regress, an acausal universe (without a cause), etcetera. I'll leave it up to the guys who study branes, super strings, and rarefied luminous spaghetti fired through a REALLY big particle accelerator to figure out what evidence to look for to settle the issue. Anyway, he objected to all of these, including my suggestion that the universe might be self-causing.

He claimed that such a causality loop would require a deity to jump start it. Star Trek and Doctor Who may rock, but I'm not about to subscribe to their temporal mechanics in the real world. Let's look at how my suggested loop works:

A is caused by C.
B is caused by A.
C is caused by B.

Each event has a cause that's already accounted for. There's no need for anything outside. If something from outside did cause the loop, it seems to me that it wouldn't really be a loop.

As The Doctor said, accurately, "People think of time as a strict progression from cause to effect..." (Though, admittedly, the rest of that statement could be seen as a handwave of unanticipated paradoxes and continuity breaks in the series) That's where the problem lies: This woo was substituting everyday thinking, rather than the necessary creative thinking science requires when you get that far afield. Time has all sorts of potential for unintuitive tangles, and we haven't even researched it that much. We've already shown the world that 'common sense' doesn't necessarily apply. That's where all the weirdness of relativity and quantum mechanics come in. Science lead us to those, not closed-minded woo. Scientists may balk slightly at the absurd, but if the evidence comes in favoring the absurd, we can accept that we live in a universe that allows absurdities. We aren't so arrogant to assume that the universe must always live up to expectations or first impressions.

Woos, on the other hand, seem to have a hard time accepting that the universe isn't ruled by their expectations, like the example above, where the woo couldn't break out of everyday linear thinking. I could go on, but I think I'll save more for later examples that I will link to.

BRONZE DOG SMASH!

I've been really ranty, lately, and for good reason. Anti-vaxxer trolls who have no qualms about exposing their children to potentially deadly diseases. Psychic-lovers who try to project their unchanging, claustrophobic worldview onto skeptics. And the last straw here: Homeopaths who try to perform the internet equivalent of book burning. Orac and others chose a very appropriate phrase to describe the nature of those homeopaths, and I think it applies quite well to the actions of countless other woos: Thuggery.

I've seen it lots of times. The first I was aware of was Uri Geller, who tries swinging his legalistic weight around wherever he could. And he still is, by making false copyright claims against any YouTube video he's in. Or at least against the ones that dare to criticize him.

9/11 Twoofers censor everyone who doesn't agree with them, even other Twoofers, often including a vacuous threat about how they'll eventually punish everyone who spoke out against their idiocy as traitors to the state or whatever, even though they're exercising one of the rights the US was founded for: Freedom of speech. Of course, I've never heard of a Twoofer place that doesn't censor skeptics.

A large number of the ID crowd engage in it, too: They'll carefully filter comments to keep any dissent out of their blog, and when they're caught embarrassing themselves with a particularly stupid post, they'll often just delete it.

The repeated efforts of these thugs against freedom of speech and for selectively erasing information has just really gotten to me, lately. The actions of woos I meet on the internet, and those vacuous legal threats is just so wearing, it often leaves me wondering if they're all out there to set up an information control state where criticism is forbidden by the Thought Police. I seriously wonder if woos are actively trying to make the world a worse place for their personal benefit.

When skeptics criticize, they don't destroy information. They add information. They point out things the woo leaders hope will go unnoticed. They shine light a light while the woos seek to plunge us back into the demon-haunted world.

I'm severely tempted to just come out and start substituting "thug" where I would normally use "woo." Because that's what they typically are, in my experience. They're all cowardly bullies who will stoop to any low to win, whether winning means turning a larger profit or stroking their oversized, fragile egos. That includes bringing a flamethrower to the library, apparently. The difference is that on the internet, they can just be prepared to throw money at the problem and hope that someone involved isn't willing to stand against the intimidation. They aren't interested in debate. They're interested in using their wealth and corporate power to intimidate their critics, so that they can continue making a buck at the expense of children and desperate people. They are truly despicable monsters.

Big Altie Attempts to Suppress Truth

It seems Le Canard Noir posted a little something some homeopaths felt threatened their bottom lines, so what do they do? Engage in scientific and logical debates about the merits of the post? Of course not. They used the threat of government force against his ISP, and they caved.

Thankfully, skeptics aren't the kind to tolerate such base means of opposing criticism, so the article has been reposted elsewhere. And here:




The Society of Homeopaths (SoH) are a shambles and a bad joke. It is now over a year since Sense about Science, Simon Singh and the BBC Newsnight programme exposed how it is common practice for high street homeopaths to tell customers that their magic pills can prevent malaria. The Society of Homeopaths have done diddly-squat to stamp out this dangerous practice apart from issue a few ambiguously weasel-worded press statements.

The SoH has a code of practice, but my feeling is that this is just a smokescreen and is widely flouted and that the Society do not care about this. If this is true, then the code of practice is nothing more than a thin veneer used to give authority and credibility to its deluded members. It does nothing more than fool the public into thinking they are dealing with a regulated professional.

As a quick test, I picked a random homeopath with a web site from the SoH register to see if they flouted a couple of important rules:

48 • Advertising shall not contain claims of superiority.
• No advertising may be used which expressly or implicitly claims to cure named diseases.

72 To avoid making claims (whether explicit or implied; orally or in writing) implying cure of any named disease.

The homeopath I picked on is called Julia Wilson and runs a practice from the Leicestershire town of Market Harborough. What I found rather shocked and angered me.

Straight away, we find that Julia M Wilson LCHE, RSHom specialises in asthma and works at a clinic that says,

Many illnesses and disease can be successfully treated using homeopathy, including arthritis, asthma, digestive disorders, emotional and behavioural difficulties, headaches, infertility, skin and sleep problems.

Well, there are a number of named diseases there to start off. She also gives a leaflet that advertises her asthma clinic. The advertising leaflet says,

Conventional medicine is at a loss when it comes to understanding the origin of allergies. … The best that medical research can do is try to keep the symptoms under control. Homeopathy is different, it seeks to address the triggers for asthma and eczema. It is a safe, drug free approach that helps alleviate the flaring of skin and tightening of lungs…

Now, despite the usual homeopathic contradiction of claiming to treat causes not symptoms and then in the next breath saying it can alleviate symptoms, the advert is clearly in breach of the above rule 47 on advertising as it implicitly claims superiority over real medicine and names a disease.

Asthma is estimated to be responsible for 1,500 deaths and 74,000 emergency hospital admissions in the UK each year. It is not a trivial illness that sugar pills ought to be anywhere near. The Cochrane Review says the following about the evidence for asthma and homeopathy,

The review of trials found that the type of homeopathy varied between the studies, that the study designs used in the trials were varied and that no strong evidence existed that usual forms of homeopathy for asthma are effective.

This is not a surprise given that homeopathy is just a ritualised placebo. Hopefully, most parents attending this clinic will have the good sense to go to a real accident and emergency unit in the event of a severe attack and consult their GP about real management of the illness. I would hope that Julia does little harm here.

However, a little more research on her site reveals much more serious concerns. She says on her site that ’she worked in Kenya teaching homeopathy at a college in Nairobi and supporting graduates to set up their own clinics’. Now, we have seen what homeopaths do in Kenya before. It is not treating a little stress and the odd headache. Free from strong UK legislation, these missionary homeopaths make the boldest claims about the deadliest diseases.

A bit of web research shows where Julia was working (picture above). The Abha Light Foundation is a registered NGO in Kenya. It takes mobile homeopathy clinics through the slums of Nairobi and surrounding villages. Its stated aim is to,

introduce Homeopathy and natural medicines as a method of managing HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria in Kenya.

I must admit, I had to pause for breath after reading that. The clinic sells its own homeopathic remedies for ‘treating’ various lethal diseases. Its MalariaX potion,

is a homeopathic preparation for prevention of malaria and treatment of malaria. Suitable for children. For prevention. Only 1 pill each week before entering, during and after leaving malaria risk areas. For treatment. Take 1 pill every 1-3 hours during a malaria attack.

This is nothing short of being totally outrageous. It is a murderous delusion. David Colquhoun has been writing about this wicked scam recently and it is well worth following his blog on the issue.

Let’s remind ourselves what one of the most senior and respected homeopaths in the UK, Dr Peter Fisher of the London Homeopathic Hospital, has to say on this matter.

there is absolutely no reason to think that homeopathy works to prevent malaria and you won’t find that in any textbook or journal of homeopathy so people will get malaria, people may even die of malaria if they follow this advice.

Malaria is a huge killer in Kenya. It is the biggest killer of children under five. The problem is so huge that the reintroduction of DDT is considered as a proven way of reducing deaths. Magic sugar pills and water drops will do nothing. Many of the poorest in Kenya cannot afford real anti-malaria medicine, but offering them insane nonsense as a substitute will not help anyone.

Ironically, the WHO has issued a press release today on cheap ways of reducing child and adult mortality due to malaria. Their trials, conducted in Kenya, of using cheap mosquito nets soaked in insecticide have reduced child deaths by 44% over two years. It says that issuing these nets be the ‘immediate priority’ to governments with a malaria problem. No mention of homeopathy. These results were arrived at by careful trials and observation. Science. We now know that nets work. A lifesaving net costs $5. A bottle of useless homeopathic crap costs $4.50. Both are large amounts for a poor Kenyan, but is their life really worth the 50c saving?

I am sure we are going to hear the usual homeopath bleat that this is just a campaign by Big Pharma to discredit unpatentable homeopathic remedies. Are we to add to the conspiracy Big Net manufacturers too?

It amazes me that to add to all the list of ills and injustices that our rich nations impose on the poor of the world, we have to add the widespread export of our bourgeois and lethal healing fantasies. To make a strong point: if we can introduce laws that allow the arrest of sex tourists on their return to the UK, can we not charge people who travel to Africa to indulge their dangerous healing delusions?

At the very least, we could expect the Society of Homeopaths to try to stamp out this wicked practice? Could we?