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.