Wednesday, October 31, 2007


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.


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?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

7# !fooW

It's that time again. This time, it was an anti-vaxxer that set me off. I dressed a little too warmly today, so I need to cool off badly.

For those who aren't familiar with these entries, ask me a question. Chances are, you'll get a silly answer.

If you can't think of a question, ask about a continuity error in a sci-fi show, and I'll explain it.

I Should Probably Get Back on DDR

Mark H. at Denialism posts about obesity, and people who deny that it's a risk. Since he went through the trouble to find supportive literature, you should probably head over there and give it a look. Common wisdom seems to come out ahead in the science: Too much fatty and/or sugary food is bad. Exercise is good.

Some people object, though, and I find it weird on the conspiracy angle:
What is most amazing is how long it has been known that body fat doesn't cause heart disease or premature death, yet how vehemently people hold onto this belief. "The notion that body fat is a toxic substance is now firmly a part of folk wisdom: many people perversely consider eating to be a suicidal act," wrote Dr. William Bennett, M.D., former editor of The Harvard Medical School Health Letter and author of The Dieter's Dilemma. "Indeed, the modern belief that body fat is a mortal threat to its owner is mainly due to the fact that, for many decades, the insurance companies had the sole evidence, and if it was wrong they would presumably have had to close their doors." That can still be said today, although the obesity interests have since grown considerably larger.
What would the insurance companies have to gain by suppressing health information? Last time I checked, insurance companies generally make money by getting people who will live long, healthy, and safe lives onto their policy. Those people still pay premiums, and if they don't have to collect on claims, they're essentially giving their money to the insurance company for nothing. It seems to me that insurance companies have a vested interest in spreading the best available health information. If they were worried the data they had were wrong, that's all the more reason to give it freely: So that scientists can attempt replication and peer review, potentially correcting mistakes or raising confidence.

If anyone can give me a solid reason against all that, I'm right here.

Anyway, being obese can't be easy. I have no problem with them asking to be treated with respect or with them raging against discrimination. Culturally, we should be more accepting of them. I can restrain myself from making insensitive fat jokes.

But if everything we know about biology and medicine says it's bad for you, take it up with the universe.

71st Skeptics' Circle

It's up at Infophilia.

Open thread, but making fun of people who can't solve Rubik's Cubes is FORBIDDEN!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

All Your Force Gems Are Belong to Me

Been addicted to Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. Especially battle mode, which is ever so fun.

My friend code is 3050 5527 0004

What Skeptics REALLY Think About [Insert Woo]

For those of you directed here by a skeptic you're arguing with, this is what I mean by "woo." It encompasses pretty much everything typically labeled "supernatural," psychics, alternative "medicine," free energy/perpetual motion, religion, denial of well-supported science, giant conspiracy theories, etcetera.

One of the things that always, always irritates me is when some woo follower describes the skeptical stance on some issue of woo. I've never seen one get it right. The dominating causes seem to be: 1) Outright lying (usually done by Big Altie corporations, and any woo selling a book), 2) Parroting someone from category 1 without bothering to listen to the real skeptics they're engaging hit-and-run trolling with, or 3) Complete inability to parse a sentence.

So, for those of you in category 2 and 3, I'll try to make it clear to you in this post what our problem is. I consider myself fairly typical for a skeptic, since I see a lot with similar views.

First: I do not label anything "impossible," except for logical and mathematical impossibilities (click here for explanation of that). For stuff like free energy machines that violate the laws of thermodynamics, I only use "impossible" in a implicit conditional: "That's impossible if the laws of thermodynamics are right."

In other words, if the machine works under controlled conditions (AKA "No cheating"), then it means thermodynamics is wrong. That's a very big claim, so we need very good evidence before believing that it's true. Interestingly enough, it's usually the woos labeling things we can observe and repeat countless times as "impossible." They're often quite willing to put limits on the physical universe for no reason.

Second: I'm perfectly willing to give the woo a test. The problem is that woos typically don't understand that we are very picky about bias. That's why I don't consider taking alternative medicine myself a meaningful test, or inherently cherry-picked anecdotes as useful: I'm biased, you're biased, we're all biased, and the alties never bother to take that into account. Double-blind control studies are the gold standard because they're designed to eliminate bias: If a person doesn't know if he's taking the real thing or the placebo, he can't easily influence the results. A number of woos still somehow complain that the test can be biased, but they never seem to point out how the bias can slip in.

Third: I'm not raging against anything "new", I'm raging against old, broken stuff with new coats of paint and how people use it to hurt others. Even more irritating are the people who defend those nasty people with thought-stopping clichés, rather than just spitting out solid evidence that they're really helping people.

The most subtle, and probably most dangerous effect woo has on people in the long run is isolation against new ideas. New ideas often mean that old ones can be wrong. Skeptics embrace that. When woos refuse to subject their ideas to a test that could prove them wrong, I see a whirlwind of genuine closed-mindedness and rejection of progress. Quite frankly, I see a lot of psychological projection on the part of woos: They accuse skeptics of being mean, isolated, miserable, and old-fashioned when I tend to see woos exactly like that, given the typical trolling.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Doggerel #126: "Offense"

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

One thing that always irritates me, especially when politics are involved, are attempts by woos to frame a debate in terms of who's offended by what. You might be offended by the truth, but that's not our problem. Take it up with the universe.

Woos in general find the act of questioning their pet hypotheses to be "offensive," and therefore wrong to do. Worse is when appeasers and concern trolls show up to claim this is a "sensible" reason to moderate our stance, which typically includes tenets like "nothing is above questioning," "increasing knowledge is a good thing" or "we should make sure our actions will have a meaningful beneficial effect." How do you "moderate" statements like that so that people won't be offended by them?

Also irritating is how they often attempt to claim that our motivations stem from trivial offense, as if we're merely being prudish about the paranormal, rather than seeking to help people escape from a damaging way of thinking. Even worse is when politicians treat grossly unethical breaches of the 1st Amendment as being equivalent to an offensive religious joke: That we're "offended" that our children will be coerced to pray to their god by government-sanctioned peer pressure.

Put simply, the "offense" we feel is the kind any person should feel when someone commits evil. When a "psychic" steals someone's money and time in exchange for false predictions, we should be offended. When an altie treatment kills someone who could have gotten better through proven medicine, we should be offended. When the government coerces vulnerable people in matters of religion, we should be offended. When woos and fundies aren't outraged at these things, it leaves me wondering if they have basic emotion and morality. That's why I tend to call such people, when they reveal themselves, "militant apathists." They seem to have made it their goal in life to make fun of people for caring about anything other than stuff like the latest irrelevant celebrity trivia.

Link Dump

Just posting a bunch of stuff that's caught my attention.

It's no longer a joke: Reiki in the trauma center.

Lee Seigel is an Idiot. You probably already knew that.

Rev. BigDumbChimp wins a mug. Lucky bastard.

MarkCC did a wonderful takedown of a really big IDiot when I wasn't looking.

Halolz: Just because I don't play the latest spiffified Doom clones (and boy, am I going to get some hatin'), doesn't mean I can't find humor in them.

Bush sez NASA can't has monies. Okay, seriously. If he thinks it costs too much, he should try finding something else to trim. Governments do lots of useless things we'd be better off not funding. Besides, the US needs more sciencey things to do. We're already moving down in other fields. If there happen to be any billionaires reading this, though, consider a donation or something.

This is Made of Awesome

You've probably seen it at PZ's place by now, but it seems the Flying Spaghetti Monster has some people doing a particularly good job of spreading the word at a university.

YouTube copy below the fold.

Pointless Question #11

So, you've got a castle to call home. Why does your bedroom have spikes, the kitchen a bladed pendulum swinging from the ceiling, and the armory a trap door that opens every five seconds?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Rant: Why Priests?

You've probably heard this rant before, from lots of other people. A lot of the time I bump into "Non-Overlapping Magisteria," someone says something that almost sounds reasonable: Leave science (what is) up to the scientists to figure out. Leave ethics (what should be) to other people. The big problem comes at the end of the sentence, when they assign a rather bizarre group to be the "other people."

Why are priests, ministers, clerics, clergy, witch doctors, and those guys with the e-meters considered experts on morality? I haven't seen any evidence to suggest that they're more moral than the average person, and often evidence that strongly suggests the opposite. Of course, some fundie'll cry out at this point that they're more 'in touch' with whatever deity, in which case, they're moving into science: If deities exist and have effects, it's a scientific question.

About the only positive experience I can recall right now involving a minister was one that included Star Trek in his sermon, talking about the nature of sacrifice: That of Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Real sacrifice, not the fake, planned kind. Of course, Spock came back through unplanned use of phlebotinum, but no one was expecting it. I'm glad he didn't make a comparison, because Spock is much cooler than Jesus. Even if Jesus could allegedly do ninja water walking.

Anyway, back to the point: I see nothing connecting superstition authorities with morality. If I had to pick an authority, I'd go for someone who had to take a lot of college courses about the various ethical theories out there. If some conundrum came up, he'd at least be able to talk about details, rather than just say 'God said that's a no-no.'

Moving onto my perceptions of priests and such: I think I trust used car salesmen more. The only place I ever see admirable preachers is on television. The fictional kind of television, that is, not news programs. On the news, they're the villains with strangely good PR as the anchors will often suck up to them or parrot apologia for their actions without putting those actions back into the real context they typically provided less than a week before.

I'm again glad I watch The Daily Show. They're willing to replay original clips and engage in actual criticism.

Put simply, I've seen enough nasty preachers and too few good ones that I viscerally place preachers lower than the average human, unless I have prior information about their individual character.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Racket (Rough Draft)

[Setting: A convenience store being run by an ATHEIST]

A GANGSTER and a GOON enter the store, and briefly look around before approaching the ATHEIST.

GANGSTER: "You've got a nice soul there. Would be a shame if something were to... happen to it."

ATHEIST: "Well, I'm not worried about that until someone can prove-"

GOON: (Makes a gesture over an empty shelf as if deliberately and forcefully pushing something over.) "Oops! Sorry about your fairy, there."

GANGSTER: "It's a pity. All sorts of... accidents happen all the time. But we've got some friends of ours who can help... 'protect' ya from this sort of thing."

ATHEIST: (Looks between the two incredulously) "I'm not really interested in that sort of thing."

GANGSTER: "I know what you're thinking, but this is a free service. All you have to do is come to some group meetings every Sunday morning. Though donations and such are appreciated.

ATHEIST: "No thanks."

GANGSTER: "Woah, you think this is a scam or something? Everything's nice and legal. The government even gives us a tax break. In fact, they do some advertising for us, putting logos on coins, getting kids to recite some jingles at school..."

ATHEIST: "I don't feel comfortable with the government doing that. The founding fathers didn't found a nation of sell-outs who coerce my kid to say silly stuff when they don't mean it. Or for other kids to pick on them for not reciting the jingle."

GOON: (Pushes another unseen object over) "Oops!"

GANGSTER: "You see? If you sign up, you don't have to worry about that sort of thing happening!"

ATHEIST: "I've had lots of other people come in here and say that of their organization. They haven't performed any better. Why should I join any of them, and if I did, why you over them?"

GANGSTER: "You heard about that guy whose Bigfoot ended up getting eaten by the Loch Ness Monster? We had that covered until he switched over. Then he switched back."

ATHEIST: "Urban legend. Never saw anyone launching a serious investigation. Anecdotes aren't very good, anyway."

GANGSTER: "What about all those guys who all end up miserable for not signing up?"

ATHEIST: "Typically never see 'em. And customer satisfaction isn't always an indicator of whether or not a product really works."

(To be continued when I think of something resembling an ending.)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Religion is Devil Worship

And now that I have your attention, here's a bit of explanation: Far too many religious people out there practice in a way that strikes me as akin to the devil worship fundie Christians like to call out on anyone who disagrees with them. Or plays D&D. I'm not being really all-inclusive, merely quite broad, since there are weird 'modern' religions that turn their deities into some kind of metaphorical vapor, but they're a different topic for a different time.

[Viking] Anyway... [/Viking]

Here are some of the parallels I see between a lot of religions and devil worship:

1. The entities they align themselves with are evil: There's no getting around it. A lot of the deities out there are big into violence, discrimination, authoritarianism, and so forth. They have to perform all sorts of acrobatics to fool some of the kids. Big thing that got me out of church was a preacher who tried that about Hell at a time I thought everyone there had the moral decency to abolish Hell and other nasty parts from the Bible.

2. They make a pact with the entity for selfish benefit: Pretty much what Heaven is about. They get eternal happy juice injected into their ethereal veins after death because they allied themselves with the right entity. They typically aren't willing to share their alleged utopia with other people, since they tend to agree with the big man's arbitrary deadline of ~80 years (less for undeveloped countries), barring nasty circumstances that typically lower it.

3. They (allegedly) get malign powers they're willing to use against anyone who displeases them: There are plenty of people out there willing to pray for very not-nice things to happen to their enemies. If something bad does happen to one of their enemies, they'll typically give their deity credit and take some for themselves for rallying acolytes to pray for it. Happens especially often with big natural disasters.

4. Access to malign powers is typically performed with hand gestures, occult materials, and foci. Verbal components (including unison chanting), somatic components (clapping hands together, crossing selves, bowing in rough direction of a rock, that sort of thing), symbol, enchanted water/oil, idols, altars, etcetera.

5. False miracles/wonders/whatever: No shortage of fakery in the religion industry.

So, thoughts?