Friday, 15 October 2010

The Caring Neanderthal

Good morning and I hope people are going to have a pleasant weekend.

It gives me great pleasure to post about a new article and book on the evolution of compassion which has been co-written by one of my close friends. The Prehistory of Compassion, by Penny Spikins, Holly Rutherford and Andy Needham is a book concerning empathy and the role it plays in our evolution.

The proposal focuses on the concept that altruism and compassion derive from a successful evolutionary tactic according to Dawkins’ “Selfish Gene” concept. Spikins, Rutherford and Needham use this idea to evaluate whether or not compassion is a successful tactic and one that may have assisted us in our evolutionary success.

Penny Spikins, a Professor of Archaeology at the University of York and first author, has been interested in the evolutionary role of emotions for a few years. The ideas present in her book and the evidence she provides with her co-authors are matters that she’s discussed in seminars. This article shows the culmination of these debates and touches on a lot of evidence that was used in the seminars. As a result, the book shows a wide-range of ideas in how compassion evolved, the use of it in evolutionary terms as well as possible limitations. 

As a former student of Penny’s and a former devil’s advocate to Andy’s ideas, I find it hard to find many criticisms in their paper. The concept is valid and has plenty of evidence in the form of burials, primatology and palaeopathology. However, is it the major factor in all of these cases? Are there other emotions that have played just as important parts in our evolution that haven’t been considered? Has the evidence been misinterpreted in some cases? These are possibly some of the questions that the researchers might give answers on soon. 

In conclusion though, the main aspect to remember is this. We are social animals. Empathy and compassion are needed in these situations as strategies to cope with group living. The examples given from primates demonstrate that these social animals display similar qualities. As a result, Spikins, Rutherford and Needham argue strongly for emotions, especially empathy and compassion to be given consideration when establishing the factors for human evolution. 

Relevant Links

Burial Outrage

In other news, the Ministry of Justice have imposed restrictions on human remains from archaeological excavations. The Ministry has decided to impose the 1857 Burial Act upon archaeologists which has caused outrage as it requires the remains to be reburied within 2 years.

Now I am confused on why they have done this. I can understand some people’s reluctance for human remains to be kept in the hands of archaeologists and this is why most burials that are attributed to particular religions are given to those religious authorities, therefore Christian remains are overseen by the Church and Jewish remains by the Jewish authorities, etc, etc. This I feel is a fair system, allowing a bond of respect to exist between the archaeologist and the religious. 

Furthermore, two years is not particularly a long time to study remains. For my dissertation I looked at 17 skeletons from a collection of 63 which had been excavated in 2002. I started looking at these in 2007, five years after! In addition, the analysis done by the archaeologist on site was considered shoddy by many of the experts I consulted, misidentifying pathologies and in some cases not noticing them. 

Another question that must be asked is what happens to those remains that have been in teaching collections? Does this mean the University of Bradford has to rebury its extensive collection of archaeological remains and therefore lose its reputation as the University to study Osteology? Photographs are only so helpful when analysing remains and often archaeologists encounter diseases, such as Leprosy, TB and syphilis which had greater effect on us before antibiotics. This could be a severe blow to the archaeological as well as the medical community.

With all these flaws in the argument as well as the aspects outlined in the Guardian I feel that this is going to cause a lot of outrage in the archaeological world and I do wonder how many collections will mysteriously become less than two years old.

Other News

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Druidry is now a religion

Recently I read on the BBC News site that Druidry or Druidism has been recognised as a religion by the Charity Commission. The story here, outlines the acceptance of this belief.

Now the problem I have with Druids is not their core beliefs which worship the natural world, but the appropriation of prehistoric monuments and remains by their faith. The current model comes from 17th-19th Century Romantic views on Iron Age practises and are in conflict with current archaeological thought. Druids avoid sacrificing animals and people in the modern era because it goes against modern ideas. They have essentially made up this Romanticised ideal of how Druids used to be, if they actually existed. For example, I recommend noting the Druid, King Arthur Pendragon's name, which sounds to me, linked to Thomas Mallory than any actual "Celtic" Arthur or druid.

Druids also come into conflict with archaeologists over prehistoric human remains which they claim repatriation rights. This article from the BBC here, shows how they fought for the remains of a Neolithic child from Avebury, an era of prehistory far removed from their "Druids" by about 2 000 years.

My main concern is that this will give a form of legitimacy to the druids, letting them argue more eloquently for monuments and remains which are not related to them. This would be bad for archaeology as it could mean that prehistoric monuments are treated by druids as their Churches, creating additional conflict between them and archaeologists.

In other news, here is an article outlining the faulty reporting made by journalists on the ADHD story. Whilst I appreciated the scientific coverage and rebuttal by experts in the news, I feel that some, such as one Professor on the BBC, may have been a little too harsh on the journalists trying to interview him on his opinions on the case.

And unfortunately a new ID centre has opened in the UK. Claiming to focus on science rather than religion, hopefully it shall go the same way as Christian Voice, unheard and ignored.

Finally, the Guardian has some good articles on the problems the coalition will cause by cutting funding to science research, an area which frequently produces a good profit.

Science Funding in the UK

Friday, 24 September 2010

The definition of kinds

Recently, as I’ve been working with animal remains, I’ve become increasingly aware of the difficulties creationist thinkers have with defining the word “kind”. They use it a lot to try and get round the problem of speciation. Most creationists try and use it to suggest that animals can speciate within their own kind, but no further, so fish cannot evolve into an amphibian and no matter how many pennies you get, you can’t make a pound. Now the many problem with this is that they never define what a “kind” is. In one topic, I discussed with a creationist, he came up with three definitions, a genus, a biological family and types of enzymes. This short essay attempts to show why the current terminology for taxonomy is adequate for its task and that the concept of “kinds” used by creationist thinkers is fundamentally flawed and has no bearing on taxonomy.

Firstly, let us deal with the idea that a kind is a species. Unfortunately for creationists this is disproven by numerous account of speciation. For example here are a few papers which document these events in both the lab and the wild:

A Molecular Reexamination Of Diploid Hybrid Speciation Of Solanum raphanifolium by David M. Spooner, Kenneth. J. Sytsma and James F. Smith, Evolution, 45(3): 757-764 - DOCUMENTATION OF AN OBSERVED SPECIATION EVENT

Chromosome Evolution, Phylogeny, And Speciation Of Rock Wallabies by G. B. Sharman, R. L. Close and G. M. Maynes, Australian Journal of Zoology, 37(2-4): 351-363 (1991) - DOCUMENTATION OF OBSERVED SPECIATION IN NATURE

Evidence For Rapid Speciation Following A Founder Event In The Laboratory by James R. Weinberg Victoria R. Starczak and Danielle Jörg, Evolution 46: 1214-1220 (15th January 1992) - EXPERIMENTAL GENERATION OF A SPECIATION EVENT IN THE LABORATORY

Evolutionary Theory And Process Of Active Speciation And Adaptive Radiation In Subterranean Mole Rats, Spalax ehrenbergi Superspecies, In Israel by E. Nevo, Evolutionary Biology, 25: 1-125 - DOCUMENTATION OF OBSERVED SPECIATION IN NATURE

Experimentally Created Incipient Species Of Drosophila by Theodosius Dobzhansky & Olga Pavlovsky, Nature 230: 289 - 292 (2nd April 1971) - EXPERIMENTAL GENERATION OF A SPECIATION EVENT IN THE LABORATORY

Founder-Flush Speciation On Drosophila pseudoobscura: A Large Scale Experiment by Agustí Galiana, Andrés Moya and Francisco J. Alaya, Evolution 47: 432-444 (1993) EXPERIMENTAL GENERATION OF A SPECIATION EVENT IN THE LABORATORY

Pollen-Mediated Introgression And Hybrid Speciation In Louisiana Irises by Michael L. Arnold, Cindy M. Buckner and Jonathan J. Robinson, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 88(4): 1398-1402 (February 1991) - OBSERVATION OF A SPECIATION EVENT IN NATURE

Attempting to claim speciation does not occur is therefore foolish and displays an ignorance of biology. The fact that creationists working in the field of Baraminology have not settle on this definition shows that they to find this problematic.

Another proposal is that a “kind” is a genus. Now, to me, working with animal remains and having to look up their names, the problem is already apparent. Let us look at the Pig Family or Suidae. Now the domesticate pig and Wild Boar are in the same genus (Sus), however, the Warthog genus (Phacochoerus) isn’t. Therefore, even creationists cannot accept this proposal as acceptable as according to them, they are “pigs”. The same also applies to the Cheetah, (Acinonyx jubatus) which is not part of the Panthera genus of lions, leopards, tigers and jaguars yet is clearly a big cat and related to them. Therefore this concept of “kinds” being the equivalent of the genus is wrong.

Concerning the biological families, this backfires on creationists spectacularly again. If we consider the Homindae family, this contains us, chimps, gorillas, etc. If we ask any creationists, I’m sure they will deny that we have a common ancestor with chimps nor that we belong in the same kind as them! This renders their concept of “kinds” as being unable to apply to their own standards.

Furthermore, with the two above definitions, scientists have come up with them for specific purposes. In taxonomy terms, genus and family have specific meanings and this alternative idea, “kinds” serves no purpose. Genus and Family are used to describe how closely related species are according to traits, both physical and genetic. This leads to a system which accurate describes how closely related modern species are to one another. Whilst it is very good at this, it is not so good when referring to past specimens such as Australopithecus, Ardipithecus and this has led to researchers in this field to describe the system as imperfect (taken from a seminar with Terry O’Connor). As a system it is not good at showing how one genus may evolve out of another (for example, Homo from Australopithecines), nor is it completely reliable when we examine extinct species such as Homo habilis (which may or may not be a species). However, this may be due to Linnaeus purposefully designing a static system as he was unaware of Evolution (Holmes, 2009, Pg 48). 

Another suggestion from creationists is that a kind could be:
“Taxonomically, a kind is a group of organisms that share a basic set of exclusive synapomorphies. Members of the same kind, usually, should be able to interbreed although the resulting offspring may prove to be infertile.”
Taken from here

Now let us look at the Big Cats again, especially from the genus Panthera. In this case, Lions and Tigers definitely can interbreed and so can Lions with Leopards and Jaguars, in fact all of them can with one crucial exception. Leopards and Tigers have all be noted to have never produced any living hybrids. Furthermore, Leopards can produce hybrids with Pumas, a Pumapard. So is the Puma included into this “kind” despite the fact it can’t mate with anything else in the Panthera genus? What about the Wholphin? It is clear that by using the word “kind” in this context would seriously confuse taxonomical issues and would be impossible to use. Furthermore, this is not delving into the term Synamorphy which confirms Evolutionary theory concerning common ancestry.

The problem encountered with the Big Cats also arises with the Larus Gull. This genus is known as a Ring Species. Does that mean that these species are all the same kind?

In general the concept of “kinds” is wrong on various grounds mainly:
1. There is already established words for taxonomy.
2. No creationists can define the term in a rigorous fashion that is of benefit for taxonomy.
3. Animals interbreed in such a variety of ways and produce various hybrids that defining a category for “kind” is near impossible.
4. It admits the possibility that humans could have evolved from an earlier version (which no creationist will admit to) defeating their argument.

With this in mind, we are then directed back towards the normal methods of taxonomy, using definitions of species, genus, etc. Whilst there is some debate occasional about what constitutes as a species, (see the species problem) the system allows the definitions to be rigorous and furthermore provides more precision than “kinds”. Furthermore, it can be adapted from its original static state to show the evolutionary past of a species at the present moment in time. The subclass Elasmobranchii, which includes Skates, rays and sharks, indicates that these fish are more closely related to each other than a shark would be to a rabbit fish. These members of the class Chondrichthyes would be more closely related to each other than another member from the Infraphylum Gnathostomata (vertebrates with jaws) such as a crocodile.

Therefore, whilst the current system of taxonomy can obscure the fluidity of Evolution at the same time it can provide a great aid in deducing the relationships and connections between current species, genera, etc. The current system provides a service for biology that Baraminology, the creationist study of what constitutes a “kind”, cannot provide.

Holmes, R., (2009) The Age of Wonder,  Harper Press UK

Interesting articles

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Its a kind of magic

A sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic according to Arthur C. Clarke. This statement sums up the current situation with science. As a populace we consider science as magic, carried out by a select few who can understand the arcane secrets of this discipline.

Terry Pratchett along with Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart have also noticed this trend and satirises it in a series of science novels called “The Science of the Discworld”. Set on Pratchett’s Discworld, the novels feature the adventures of the wizards as they try and understand the Roundworld (our world) which they created in a magical accident along with some science lessons provided by Cohen and Stewart. The novels deliberately draw parallels with scientists and wizards as well as the university structure that many research scientists work within.

When considering this idea, it does not seem so far-fetched. A lot of scientific disciplines derive from studies that could be considered a form of magic in origins. For example, Astrology, with its magical abilities to predict the future produced the modern science of Astronomy. Alchemy paved the way for Chemistry and it was a theologically trained Natural Scientist (Charles Darwin) who overthrew the Church’s teachings of Creationism and wrote Origin of Species, producing the science of Evolution. It does seem apparent then that science and magic have common origins. Both try and influence our perceived reality.

However, as most students of science will probably be thinking now, science relies on something that separates it from magic. Science relies on observable reality and the concept of repeatability. A psychic radio presenter may have been able to entice a cat to her home (probably due to luck more than any powers she might have), however, it is unlikely that she would be able to perform this feat again, unless her neighbours regularly lose their cats. Magic, or anything that invokes a supernatural (i.e. unobservable) force is not subjected to the same rigour in any shape or form. 

Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of the rigour, or if they are, they assume that their particular brand of mysticism is subject to the same scrutiny as a scientific paper, running the gauntlet of peer review. This has led to a popular following amongst the Pseudo-sciences, creationism, homeopathy, psychics, etc, who refer to half-baked “scientific tests” that they have been subjected to and found to have “worked”. As there is a lack of criticism sometimes for these people, their followers can use their mystique to ape science, effectively blurring the line for the general populace between what is science and what is magic. 

The lack of knowledge in how science works has led to pseudosciences being considered on par with actual science. People are unable to distinguish our advanced technology from the magic of detox baths and ear candles which are touted as scientific. In essence, science has become too “hard” for the layman. All the explanations we learn at school are inadequate and seem unrelated to real life. This is why scientific theory and the scientific method are the most important aspects of science as it is a useful framework which produces far more benefits that memorising ligand colour changes as they react (an activity I was required to do for my A2 chemistry and has thankfully been dropped). Science is indeed a kinda of magic to people, especially with the effects you can get from some special experiments like Old Nassau (a fairly impressive colour change experiment). However, it is not magic, it is how the world works.

Interesting articles

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Restarting (again)

Hello and I am back again from another vacation from the blog. Currently I am working as an intern for a museum and I hope to share some of the experiences with you at a later date. Firstly though, I wish to start off discussing stereotypes.

Here are a few letters I have noticed from the Metro newspaper that I’ve been reading on my way to work.

Andrew McRae claimed atheism is not based on faith. However, it is equally impossible to scientifically disprove the existence of God as to prove it; belief is required to get to either conclusion, so therefore atheism is as much a faith as any other. Except, of course, that it does far less good for society as a whole. Has anyone ever heard of Atheist Aid or Atheists Against Poverty? No, I didn’t think so.

by Jeremy Clack

All the swans on my lake are white. There has never been a swan on the lake that was not white; therefore all swans are white. To an Australian, the arrogance and illogicality of this assertion would be breathtaking and yet it is the standard of argument advanced by atheist correspondents. If your neighbour were to win the lottery several weeks in a row, you would suspect something was amiss, yet the atheist assertion that life arose by random chance is many more times less likely than this. To deny that this requires faith is questionable at best. 

by Jonathan Youdan

Now to me I’ve noted several untrue stereotypes and strawmen in these arguments:
  1. Atheists are arrogant.
  2. Atheists don’t give to charity.
  3. Atheism is illogical.
  4. Atheism states that life is random chance.
  5. Atheism says there is no God, for certain.
  6. Australians find atheists arrogant (which of course calls into question the existence of Tim Minchin).

Now as someone who has some understanding of what atheism and science is, I find the letters puzzling. They make several assumptions that are ignorant. Let’s go through why this is the case.

1. Atheists are arrogant
Again I disagree. In fact, someone like myself, who only postulates that as there is no evidence for any deity then there is no point in worshipping one, I find this bewildering. I’m not saying I am definitely correct, I am simply applying a logical argument. It is arrogant to state for certain any way and the atheists that do this could be considered arrogant in their beliefs. If we consider the case of Darwin, who turned away from the traditional Christian God due his life experiences, would anyone consider him arrogant?

2. Atheists don’t give to charity (or be involved with them).
Again, I used to regularly give money to the NSPCC and I have walked dogs for two charities. Furthermore during the Haiti earthquake, the British Humanist Association (a registered atheist charity) set up an organisation to allow people to donate to secular charities that were assisting the aid for Haiti. This initiative actually came under criticism from atheists as they felt that this was un-necessary and that they were just giving to any reputable charity. I honestly cannot see how being religious in this case makes someone a better person.

3. Atheism is illogical
Atheism is the simple lack of belief in any deity as there is no evidence. As someone pointed out in the Metro, not believing in unicorns is considered logical.

4. Atheism states that life is random chance.
This one is partially true, if we ignore the fact that atheism is not science. It is chance that life exists on Earth in its present form, but as we understand Evolution is not completely random since there is some form of selection, natural selection. As we are unaware of the exact circumstances surrounding the start of life, it is a bold claim. Until we can produce a living cell from elements without artificial intervention and tinkering like Craig Venter did, we cannot say for certain how random a chance life is. It could be that with the huge amount of space and time in the universe, life is certain.

5. Atheism says there is no God for certain
Again a fictitious claim. Especially as the BHA bus slogan was “There probably is no God”.

6. Australians find atheists arrogant
A very bold claim considering there are Australian atheists such as Tim Minchin who would have a field day with this bloke.

In all, this article shows that the people here are writing from ignorance. They have picked upon a general stereotype generated by people about atheists. Now this stereotype is very unpopular which is a pity as it prejudices people against those without any religious convictions and helps create inequality. Now I could ruin this point completely and act in a manner which confirms some of these beliefs in atheists right here. I could slate religion completely and as such completely invalidate myself. But I will not simply to prove otherwise. I consider Quakers as a very open-minded sect and I enjoyed the time I spent at Bootham School as the values mirrored my own and I suspect the values of many atheists. Now as Quakers are very individualised, this means that I cannot stereotype them, however, the values that they preach at places like Bootham School and the Quaker societies in York, mean that I can label some of the Quaker groups that show the thoughtfulness of some religious people.

Stereotyping in essence is something we’ve produced from our instincts. Spotting patterns is an intrinsic part of being human and this predictive “software” can be faulty. Instead, careful thought is required in order to avoid this.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Historical Science

Recently I've come across a rather peculiar argument from the creationists which is the subject of my last post.

From Answers in Genesis:

Operational (Observational) Science: a systematic approach to understanding that uses observable, testable, repeatable, and falsifiable experimentation to understand how nature commonly behaves.
Operational science is the type of science that allows us to understand how DNA codes for proteins in cells. It is the type of science that has allowed us to cure and treat diseases, put a man on the moon, build satellites and telescopes, and make products that are useful to humans. Biblical creationists believe that God has created a universe that uses a set of natural laws that operate consistently in the universe. Understanding how those laws operate is the basis for scientific thinking.
Some events defy natural laws. Christians refer to these things as miracles, but naturalistic science must find a way to explain these occurrences naturally. This approach rejects miracles in the Bible because they cannot be explained using natural laws. Such scientists occasionally try to explain the miracles in the Bible as natural phenomena, but this ultimately undermines the authority of God and His Word.
Historical (Origins) Science: interpreting evidence from past events based on a presupposed philosophical point of view.
The past is not directly observable, testable, repeatable, or falsifiable; so interpretations of past events present greater challenges than interpretations involving operational science. Neither creation nor evolution is directly observable, testable, repeatable, or falsifiable. Each is based on certain philosophical assumptions about how the earth began. Naturalistic evolution assumes that there was no God, and biblical creation assumes that there was a God who created everything in the universe. Starting from two opposite presuppositions and looking at the same evidence, the explanations of the history of the universe are very different. The argument is not over the evidence—the evidence is the same—it is over the way the evidence should be interpreted.
Evolutionists often claim that people misuse the word “theory” when discussing science and don’t make a distinction between a scientific theory and the common use of the word “theory.” You may say, “I have a theory about why Mr. Jones’ hair looks funny” but that theory has never been compared to a broad set of observations. This is not the sense of a theory in science.
I included the first part for comprehension and whilst its wrong, as creationist literature is, it is the second part that puzzles me.  The past is not directly observable, testable, repeatable or falsifiable according to AIG. From this they extrapolate that the science used to study the Big Bang and Evolution is flawed, subject to interpretation. Which of course, is bullshit and twisting historical studies.

I cannot deny that our perception of the past is often interpretation. Stand two archaeologists in front of an excavation and more often and not they will produce different interpretations of what is going on. And so far, creationists look to have understood this part. However, what they have failed to grasp is that this is due to variables that require direct observation. In a court case, this argument would be pretty weak if the defendant's fingerprints were on a gun used to shoot and kill someone which was found in his possession after he was seen running away from the scene. It is very unlikely that someone else killed them (despite the stories in Luther and Life on Mars). Even then, you could more or less guarantee that the murder weapon was a gun. People are often unpredictable elements requiring observation to guarantee their actions. Other things aren't always as whimsical. If I looked at a skeleton and saw an arm like this:

I can guarantee that the individual suffered from an infection around his ankles. This is undeniable and the message behind my previous post. Evolution relies on the same type of evidence, using the same techniques which have been tested throughly on modern samples and then adjusted for possible rates of decay/error. It also uses more than just physical objects but molecules as it looks at DNA and the current evolution of species. Answers in Genesis have ignored this in their pretty little hypothesis and it has led them to formulate a deception.

Hopefully next week I shall also look at why people practice these deceptions....

Scientists find sell by date

Journal of Imaginary Sciences, 2010, Vol 34

Scientists find sell-by dates on bones

A new discovery made by scientists has shown that scientific evidence has a sell-by date as a controlled collection of skeletons has disappeared from the Manchester Museum. 

The scientists set up the experiment to falsify a claim made by the Creationist group, Answers in Genesis, that historical scientific theories are interpretations rather than objective concepts of scientific evidence. In order to do this, they demonstrated that this meant the scientific evidence such as human remains would have a sell-by date. They attempted to demonstrate this by seeing if any evidence would change under observation. 

"As we came in one morning the bones were found to be missing. We would normally suspect somebody stealing these remains, due to their value, however, since they were part of this test, we suspect that the people in Answers in Genesis were right and that the open window is a concidence."

Answers in Genesis spokesperson commented:

"This highlights the problems with historical theories such as Evolution and shows how we should treat Creationism on par with Evolution."

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Placebo, the new wonder drug

Journal of Imaginary Sciences, 2010, Vol 33

Placebo pills, the new wonder drug

Doctors have released a new wonder drug today which they state has a 60% effectiveness against all known illnesses. The drug known as the Placebo is a little white pill which doctors claim has the same impact as homeopathy and other alternative medicines. A leader doctor had this to say.

The great thing about this new drug is that there are no side-effects, unless needed, it is extremely cheap to make, will reduce the dependency on antibiotics that people have and it is based upon observable medical trials. Currently we are advising doctors in the best ways in which they can present the medicine in order to assist the success rate.

The drug's ingrediants are being kept under strict secrecy at the moment, but from the display of different products, it seems that it has a wide variety of uses as well as being able to be dispensed in a variety of ways. However, some alternative medical practioners have other ideas.

This is mocking our ideas and concepts. They are using our own methods and practices but merely using sugar to try and treat people. It is outrageous they would do this.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Teaching, serious business.

And I'm back. I apologise for the lack of posts, but it has been a very busy two months.

Last month I withdrew from the teacher training course I was on as I felt it wasn't for me. Towards the end I was working constantly day and night trying to keep up with the workload. With that in mind, I'm glad I left the course as it has considerably improved my life. However, I have been left with the utmost respect towards teachers with their considerable workload. So if you ever see one of your old teachers in the pub, buy them a pint. After all, they spent hours trying to drill into you, knowledge that you need for later life, thinking of the best ways to do it, whilst coping with political demands for how they should run their jobs and losing a lot of social time during it. Especially as you may have been taught by them during puberty, a period of development that most parents dread, nevermind the less respected teacher...

I would go through the news, however, I feel places such as Bad Science which are mentioned on my blog, give far more detail than I could manage here.

However, I thought I would have fun with a dissection of idiotic drivel and a humorous post making fun of the concept of Pascal's Wager. Please note dear reader (in case you are one of the people unable to read the motto) this is only a satire and I do not think these highly respected and elderly individuals would get up to such energetic disputes. They might have a heart attack!

Here is an email my girlfriend got at work. If you receive this email, you may wish to write back with the following criticisms.

Sorry, i was wrong!
In the age of fifty years Mohammed married a six years old girl (Aisha bint Abu Bakr), the apostle of the Islam started to sexually abuse the child when it was nine years old. Aisha was the daughter of Abu Bakr and one day when Mohammed visited Abu Bakr's house, he got to know her. Aisha was a cheerful, liveliest small girl and Mohammed was very impressed of her kind, so he started joking with her . . . Sahih Bukhari 7,62,64: Aisha told that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., till his death) (1). Mohammed was a friend of slavery and was caught by one of his many wifes, when he had sexual intercourse with his slave Maria al-Qibtiyya. Maria herself was a present of someone . . . The holy Quran (24:33): "If your slave girls desire to keep chaste, you shall not force them to prostitution. And whoever forces them, then Allah, seeing that they are forced, surely is Forgiving, Merciful."
Muslim 8,3371: Abu Sirma said to Abu Sa'id al Khadri: 0 Abu Sa'id, did you hear Allah's Messenger mentioning al-'azl? He said: Yes, and added: We went out with Allah's Messenger on the expedition to the Bi'l-Mustaliq and took captive some excellent Arab women; and we desired them, for we were suffering from the absence of our wifes, (but at the same time) we also desired ransom for them. So we decided to have sexual intercourse with them . . . But we said: We are doing an act whereas Allah's Messenger is amongst us; why not ask him? So we asked Allah's Messenger, and he said: It does not matter if you do not do it, for every soul that is to be born up to the Day of Resurrection will be born (1). Muslim 8,3432: Abu Sa'id al-Khudri reported that at the Battle of Hanain Allah's Messenger sent an army to Autas and encountered the enemy and fought with them. Having overcome them and taken them captives, the Companions of Allah's Messenger seemed to refrain from having sexual intercourse with captive women because of their husbands being polytheists. Then Allah, sent down regarding that: "And all married women (are forbidden unto you), except those whom your right hands possess" (Quran Sure 4:24). This means that Mohammed, the apostle of the Islam, and his friends have raped defenseless, married women and that Mohammed really tried to justify this through religion (1)! Rape of married women, child abuse through an over fifty years old man and a live full of blood, fear, violence, oppression, massmurder, dispossession and slavery, Mohammed surly had also many good ideas, but of course he wasn't one of the holy messengers of God, it never has given a need for five Islamic prayers a day, for Ramadan, to wear a headscarf . . .
There are two different opinions regarding to the emergence of this world, some people think, that this world with all live and all events would be a tiny part of the logical causal chain which started with the big bang, the others are convinced of it, that it is finally the fault of Adam and Eve because they have not observed the one holy law of God: "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her . . ." According to the religious view the big bang is a willfully deception of God, a scientific explanation for the emergence of this world which was given, because without the doubt in God, it wouldn't be possible to test the faith and unbelief of mankind and the sense of this world would get lost. On the other hand, a causal chain out of cause and effect can not have a beginning respectively emerge out of nothing, this contradicts to the laws of science, therewith there's not only no cause before or for the big bang, but also no energy which would have been necessary for the big bang, even not a tiny disbalance between anything. If two fingers are pressed together, is nothing between them or rather no matter, thrust therein that the universe, the human himself and the bright world which surrounds the human not emerged out of the completely harmless nothing between two fingers or without God, this is simply an imagination which was invented by some humans and which is finally impossible. In the first states of the USA such stories were deleted already successfully from the curriculum, so that they weren't taught any more to the children in the schools. Depriving children of their faith is a serious crime, it's in the hands of our generation to stop the systematic and unfair education of many million children to the unbelieve!
If the big bang could have happened without God, practically everything could have emerged out of this, but this universe was build exactly so, that the suppositions for live are given, for example without voltage no brainwaves could flow, without radiation this world would be dark and ice-cold, without atoms and the possibility to build molecules live would be impossible, the same would be without many other chemical properties and reactions or without elements like oxygen or carbon or hydrogen or . . ., also the lost of continuity or time or space or matter or the three states of matter or movement or physical or chemical energy or different agencies or . . . would make live finally impossible. Without intelligence something absolute senseless would have emerged out of the big bang or out of nothing, but of course no live. Yes, the frightening recognition is, that the universe was constructed deliberately exactly so, that the suppositions for live and higher live are given!
For the alleged chemical evolution of live, a first living and survivable unicellular organism would have been necessary, but a just 10 µm large cell, a very complex, perfectly compound, three-dimensional puzzle or a survivable machine out of at least 10 quadrillion pieces (16 g/mol), atoms of different kind and attribute, impossibly could be washed together in an unrealistic puddle out of cytoplasm, be bound together in the same second by many different chemical processes into a flexible unit and get enliven also in the same moment, to start to breathe, to eat, to grow . . . and to produce randomly complete and living self-copies, which will grow up some day to intelligent structured humans. If we are honest we must admit, that even not only one single dead DNA strand could be washed together in a liquid. Already the DNA strands of the first survivable cell must randomly have conformed exactly to the cell construction, beside this DNA strands are written in a very high programming language, until today nobody can understand how or by which encoding systems this codes get transcribed into commands, movements and material constructions. For the DNA strands and for every of the different cell organelles of the first survivable cell must also have been directly there the belonging to copysystems or already the first cell division would have been impossible, the human even wouldn't be able to build the technology of only one material system which could copy itself, try to build a computer which could copy itself!
The functions of cells partially happen on the molecular and atomic level, if the dateless old atoms, out of which we and the cells are set together, would be as big as table tennis balls, an average human brain with 1250 to 1375 g would take in a little bit more space than the whole planet earth with its diameter of 12700 km (13,5 g/mol, the volume of a table tennis ball is 33,5 cm^3), it's a wonder that a grown thinking machine of such complexity ever could work without going defect. If the 10 quadrillion atoms of a 10 µm large unicellular organism would be as big as table tennis balls, this unicellular organism would take in the whole city Tokyo by a hight of more than 500 meters. If God would build a machine out of 10 quadrillion atoms of different kind and attribute, this machine wouldn't die any more after its commissioning, because it really would start to breathe, to eat, to grow, to move . . . to survive independently in its world and to divide itself many trillion times, to conquer the planet and to travel to the moon. If God would construct a machine with such properties, it would be so small, that we even couldn't see it with our multicellular eyes. We have got no idea about the intelligence of God, the creator out of nothing, but surly it's not grateful to use the by God constructed brain to say, that a dirty puddle was the inventor of live.
A just 10 µm large unicellular organism is a very complex, perfectly compound, three-dimensional puzzle out of at least 10 quadrillion pieces of different kind and attribute, but a chemical evolution even wouldn't be able to wash correctly together a DNA string or a two-dimensional computer program character string out of 1000 signs, which is written with only 10 different letters, because with every sign, which will be attached after the first sign, the probability that the program was written correctly sinks by the factor 10, so the probability that a computer program out of 1000 signs will be written correctly by random or will be washed together in a dirty puddle is 10^1000 (a 1 with one thousand 0). In contrast to this, today we know, that the whole universe contains less than 10^100 atoms totally and that it is less than 10^18 seconds old. If the universe would be 100 times smaller or younger, the chance that the chemical evolution really happened would be 100 times less, if the 1000 sign computer program would be 100 times shorter, the chance that the chemical evolution really happened would be 100 times bigger, so we can stroke out the zeros: 10^1000 - 10^100 - 10^18 = 10^882. We have reduced the whole universe to one atom and an age of one second through only 118 letters! So the iron proof for the absolute impossibility of a chemical evolution was written down!
A long time ago was created a world which seems to be produced and controlled by random and in which we can decide without the fear of God, so it would be good to decide just like Jesus would have done (1,2). Even if this world seems to be produced and controlled by random, Jesus told us that God decides about everything, even on which side a coin will fall or when a bird will die. Jesus said that whatever a man sows, this he will also reap, so the good and the bad that we effect, in any way will also be our own destiny. It was also said that the good what we can reach for God in this world, will be our own richness in the eternal Paradise. The live in this world seems to be real and its existence is also only a wonder, so are we the causal chain out of nothing, a network in the dark which thinks about itself and starts to believe in God or are we made by an insidious and everything-observing intelligence? Some humans will be happy for 100 years and some will be sad for 100 years, but when this life ends the eternity will begin, so why to life for a worthless dust particle when it comes about the entire universe.
This chain letter was sent to millions of people worldwide and can also be published or forwarded.
This email was sent over an anonym remailer string and can't be answered.
1. Whilst Islam may have its faults, so does Christianity. I will not go into details trying to refute any points as I know next to nothing about this religion, however, I feel that when we look at the behaviour and apparent justifications of some Christians, it is extremely hypocritical to even consider pointing out the flaws of Islam from a fundie perspective which considers us all sinners because someone in our mythical ancestry ate an apple.

2. The author of the email does not know anything about the science behind the Big Bang. Physicists have been pondering what caused this sudden expansion and have derived a number of scenarios including string theory. The problem is testing these ideas, however, Turok has some interesting ideas on how to do this...

Wired article here

The great thing here is that it underlines the whole beauty of science. Fundies, such as the author of the email, have an answer. They stick to this answer because it explains things very neatly to them, however, it does not answer a lot of questions nor does it become useful in any particular way. Science on the other hand, demands some way of testing these answer, to attempt objectivity and restrict personal bias. It allows people to think and question interpretations and in general, make people aware of how brilliant things are as well as keeping us humble with what little we know.

3. So before I was even conceived of as an idea, never mind my parents or grandparents or great grandparents, two people condemned us to be sinners because they were told by the ultimate power not to eat some fruit? Shouldn't this power have already anticipated and expected this? To me it seems rather sadistical. And lacking in evidence.

If two fingers are pressed together, is nothing between them or rather no matter, thrust therein that the universe, the human himself and the bright world which surrounds the human not emerged out of the completely harmless nothing between two fingers or without God, this is simply an imagination which was invented by some humans and which is finally impossible.

If anyone can interpret this sentence I would be grateful. I honestly don't understand it. All I can say is that there is loads of space if we consider it, between the fingers. The electrons in the atoms are repelling each other apart, this means nothing ever touches each other.

5. In the United States, the founders intended to separate Church from State, to ensure that no religion is able to be more influential than the other. This First Amendment protects this fundies rights along with everyone else in this country. I feel it is a justified law which goes far in respecting a child's right to learn about other ways of life and not be blindly indoctrinated as the author suggests.

6. The author makes the mistake of assuming that because the conditions are right on this planet for Earth, God exists. This is the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy which equates this to firing three shots and drawing bullseyes around them before declaring yourself an expert marksmen. A dose of Douglas Adams is highly recommended.

. . . imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be all right, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.

Furthermore, I have just read Stephen Jay Gould's amazing book: Wonderful Life which argues against this idea that everything is set in stone in elegant prose. I recommend it to everyone.

7. The author then mistakes Evolution with abiogenesis. Evolution simply explains the diversity of life and how it evolved from one cell. Abiogenesis is the field which examines how life arose. This is not relevant and many theists believe that Evolution works.

8. This paragraph is a bit of a Gish Gallop, so this might take some time. The author makes the argument from design using irreducible complexity. This idea is flawed in many ways, not at least as scientists look at structures, they often find that IC is disproven. This idea stems from lack of knowledge, we don't know how this happened at the moment, so we won't find out later. This is what science should always avoid as it is clear that given enough time, something new will be found out. Abiogenesis is a fairly new science and extremely exciting. It has been proven very recently that we can create artificial life, i.e., using scientific equipment and methods to construct a cell, see this exciting article for more. With this and the research carried out on abiogenesis, it shows that it is possible to produce good ideas of how life arose.

9. Now the author says that DNA is too hard for us to understand therefore, life could not arise naturally. I find this extremely arrogant and amusing. I spent a minute on wiki before finding a relevant article which shows how DNA works, suggesting the author is making arguments from personal ignorance. Considering we have only had knowledge about how DNA works for less than 60 years, I think this is an "I dunno" argument. This should be ignored or extra information asked for.

10. Besides the usual, "this is so complex it couldn't have happened naturally" argument, the author begins to discuss chance. Now the problem is, as most people know about Evolution, it isn't chance. Evolution has natural selection selecting positive traits with some neutral mutations also occurring. So if something is advantageous, it will be fixed into the DNA because of the principle that if you can survive to breed, it is passed on. Richard Dawkins discusses this in the Blind Watchmaker, using the computer program generating random letters to form the words "Methinks it is like a weasel". I'll let Dawkins explain the rest:

We again use our computer monkey, but with a crucial difference in its program. It again begins by choosing a random sequence of 28 letters, just as before ... it duplicates it repeatedly, but with a certain chance of random error – 'mutation' – in the copying. The computer examines the mutant nonsense phrases, the 'progeny' of the original phrase, and chooses the one which, however slightly, most resembles the target phrase, METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL.

By repeating the procedure, a randomly generated sequence of 28 letters and spaces will be gradually changed each generation. The sequences progress through each generation:


He continues with:

The exact time taken by the computer to reach the target doesn't matter. If you want to know, it completed the whole exercise for me, the first time, while I was out to lunch. It took about half an hour. (Computer enthusiasts may think this unduly slow. The reason is that the program was written in BASIC, a sort of computer baby-talk. When I rewrote it in Pascal, it took 11 seconds.) Computers are a bit faster at this kind of thing than monkeys, but the difference really isn't significant. What matters is the difference between the time taken by cumulative selection, and the time which the same computer, working flat out at the same rate, would take to reach the target phrase if it were forced to use the other procedure of single-step selection: about a million million million million million years. This is more than a million million million times as long as the universe has so far existed.
In essence what Dawkins is saying is that natural selection decreases the time taken significantly in this program. This highlights the flaw in the author's argument, Evolution and abiogenesis are not random, if something works just slightly better than the rest, it will be selected. Change is gradual, not sudden.

11. The author finally ends up with a meaningless paragraph stating that God controls everything. So why did he make two humans that were without choice, eat an apple that he knew they would do and controlled them to do so before punishing them? Furthermore, how does the author know he is right, or for that matter, how does he know the Bible is God's word?

I feel that this is required and furthermore, accurately demolishes the author's illogical argument.

Any comments or any requests to gain access to Craig Venter's paper just email.

Pascal's wager

Journal of Imaginary Sciences, 2010, Vol 32

Pascal's Wager causes riot amongst religious leaders

Today religious leaders had to be separated as a theological discussion turned into a argument of might.

Since Darwin produced his ideas on natural selection, religious leaders have been attempting to combat this idea with worked out creation stories, suggesting that you should believe in religion due to Pascal's Wager. However, one of the key criticisms presented by scientists was that there are too many religions to determine which creation story should be taught.

With this thought in mind, religious leaders including the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, some senior rabbis and imams, proceeded to organise an event to determine which faith should be represented.

During the three day event, leaders of every faith proceeded to make arguments for their cause. However, this turned violent as the arguments began to focus on the negative qualities of each religion.

"Well, it really began when one senior Muslim official heard a Jewish rabbi refer to Mohammed as a paedophile. Then it turned nasty" said one anonymous source. There was a lot of name calling, then pushing and shoving before finally, someone nearly pushed the Pope over. Then, the Archbishop of Canterbury used his mace to crack a few heads open. Last thing I saw was the Archbishop in a headlock with a cardinal shouting something about Henry the Eighth..."

Atheist observers were extremely amused at the scene and helped restrain some of the more violent religious officials.

"I thought we weren't meant to have the moral high ground here..." one atheist chortled. "At least it shows that no matter what religion, people are generally the same....

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Human brain mutations.

I stumbled across today, an interesting article on Colin Blakemore's proposition that a single mutation caused a massive development in the human brain. Unfortunately, whilst I can have great respect for Professor Blakemore's previous work, I am not entirely convinced by his propositions.

Let us see what Professor Blakemore has to say:

How Human Brains got bigger.
BBC News interview

Now Blakemore is not saying, Evolution did not happen in these cases, nor that the Evolution that occurred but that it seems to be a mutation that has not been influenced by Natural Selection.

I was asked to give the Ferrier prize lecture at the Royal Society and as this is the society's 350th anniversary I decided to do something special and face up to the issue of the human brain. The question is: why is it so big compared to the brains of our predecessors, such as Homo erectus? Until 200,000 years ago, there had been a gradual increase in brain size among hominins, starting three million years ago. Then, abruptly, there was a remarkable increase of about 30% or so.
Now I've just ferreted out one of my favourite graphs on this situation. People that are familiar with Talk Origins may be familiar with this graph:

As we can see, from the cranial capacities, the trend in general is an increase. Now if we look at the increase in cranial capacity from 250 000 years to now, there is no startling, fantastic changes to be honest. The rate of growth seems to fit the general trend of cranial capacity growth, in that it has increased in the predicted gradient.

How have scientists explained this jump in brain size?

Many have argued that if there was a dramatic increase in brain size, there must have been a fantastic advantage that came with it: improvements in tool construction, more complex language and other cultural changes. In other words, they say simple natural selection explains what happened.

I think Blakemore underestimates the power of tool construction. Making tools is one of the major human accomplishments. We do it in a way which is far more complex than any other animal. We can visualise the shape we want in the rocks, we can use tools made out of bone and wood and this only really occurs later, even after we gain this massive brain. Furthermore, I think he's putting the horse before the cart. The increase in brain capacity allowed society to advance, as can be shown by the level of culture and the relationship to brain size. In all, Blakemore seems to show very little understanding of these matters.

So what is your take on this view?

I think they're fooling themselves. There was very little change in human behaviour at this time, as far as we can see from the fossil record – certainly not one that is explained by a sudden jump in the size of the human brain. These hand-waving arguments about tiny changes in culture explaining the emergence of such a huge change in brain structure just doesn't hold water. It's like arguing that a reptile suddenly developed fully formed wings and then sat around for 200,000 years before suddenly saying: Oh my God, I've discovered I can fly. It's ridiculous.

No Colin, its like letting a child learn how to count, then, once their brain is developed enough, teaching them that 2+2=4. That's a completely fallacious argument. If you never taught a human how to count and then give them a spontaneous equation to solve, you don't expect them to do it. What it is more like is having the reptile using flaps of skin to glide, before eventually, after some evolution, to start to fly. There is no lack of evidence that Homo erectus used their brains to form social connections and advanced tool making. What the difference is, however, like anthropologists including Stephen Mithen have said, is that they were limited in comparison to us. Increase in intelligence led to better social skills, better imagination and better tools, that is clear evidence for a mutation to have a positive effect, which leads to it being selected. All the bullshit about it not being part of natural selection is rather problematic.

So what did happen?

Genetic studies suggest every living human can be traced back to a single woman called "Mitochondrial Eve" who lived about 200,000 years ago. My suggestion is that the sudden expansion of the brain 200,000 years ago was a dramatic spontaneous mutation in the brain of Mitochondrial Eve or a relative which then spread through the species. A change in a single gene would have been enough.

OK, now here are two major problems. Firstly, Colin is making the statement that Mitochondrial Eve or a relative is the one that got this massive mutation that expanded the brain. He puts it at 200 000 years ago. Now I think he's misinterpreted the Mitochrondrial Eve Theory. What the theory proposes is that Mitochondrial Eve is our last comon ancestor. Yes all our DNA can be traced back to her, but this is because other lineages have become extinct in the 200 000 years. Evolution happens at population level, not individual level.

The second problem is that this does not account for our sister species, the Neanderthals. A species with an equivalent and even greater cranial capacity which is missing from Colin Blakemore's argument. I think we can safely establish that Neanderthals are definitely a separate species from our own.

The arguments that Colin Blakemore puts forth are riddled with problems, some of which I think may be derived from his lack of expertise in the field. Whilst I can see that within his own field he is definitely an established expert and if I had the experience I would hesitate to even begin to criticise him, I think he has gone outside his field completely. I've not touched upon the genetics behind this, nor the arguments put forth in published journals testing this problem. I suspect that his standing has led the Guardian and the BBC to take his word as granted in this area without judging the worth of his arguments.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Flight from Science & Reason

Recently on my half term break I finally managed to pluck up the courage to read The Flight from Science and Reason, a collection of essays by scientists on the pseudosciences, which were attacking science quite vigorously.

Previously I've used it for the occasional essay, such as this one, about James Trefil's contribution, however, I've never read it from cover to cover which is a pity. This time though, I managed to cover the whole book.

One of the things that struck me is the lack of some issues which skeptics seem to miss. Afrocentrism and Feminist criticism of science are one of two areas. After reading one article on ecofeminism, I turned to the net and started analysing the sources on ecofeminism, the belief that it is a patriachal society which is destroying the environment.

After a bit of searching, I came across this article. What is Ecofeminism anyway?

The article is by Catherine and Colleen McGuire.

Lets start out with the basics shall we?

As a practice, ecofeminism is as ancient as our species. Many ecofeminists believe that the nature of our species is more in line with how we lived prior to the debut of written history. This period, extending back as far as 250,000 years ago, was a time when cooperation—not competition—was valued and necessary for species survival. New archeological discoveries of early civilizations in Mesopotamia yield a vast array of evidence that an egalitarian lifestyle and a unity with nature were prevalent among ancient peoples of those regions. Theories supporting territoriality, survival of the fittest, or man the great hunter are appearing to be inadequate, if not false.
Somehow they've managed to make a strawman of archaeology here. The fact that humans are both hunters and gatherers has been evident throughout our history. This seems romanticised. What's next? Should we not be blamed for the extinction of the Neanderthal?

Women's spirituality, such as goddess spirituality, has likewise left a distinct imprint on ecofeminism. Alienated by male-centered hierarchical religions, Westerners—especially women—are increasingly turning to spiritualities which validate female divineness and equality. Many people are also (re)embracing shamanism, the ancient, nature-based spirituality that was originally practiced by all humans everywhere, and preceded female-centric spirituality.
Here we have a bold claim. Ecofeminists are spiritual. This should set anyone's woo meter blinking. This was a major criticism made by authors in FfS&R, in that eco-feminism concentrated on this spirituality reference rather than the cold hard facts.

Although there is no one "correct" ecofeminism, most ecofeminists would agree with the core precept that the domination of women and the domination of nature are fundamentally connected. In other words, violence against Mother Earth came to be intertwined with an emerging urge to subdue and control women. These twin oppressions were created and are perpetuated by an ideology called patriarchy. Pinpointing the origins of patriarchal thought and practice is as elusive as trying to identify who invented the wheel. Suffice it to say, Western patriarchy arose roughly 5,000 years ago and has discombobulated our planet ever since.
So all women care for nature? What about the men? If there is one thing I hate is a reverse sexist position that some feminists produce. Note though the woolly claims. No substance and nothing to tie into the archaeological record.

The Western patriarchal belief system also places higher value on linear, mechanistic, analytical, and rational qualities. The intuitive, emotional, anarchic, and earthy are negatively perceived as passive, weak, irrational—and female. Nature is paradoxically considered inert, dead mass and a wild, chaotic force. By either reckoning, nature is to be dominated and harnessed for human ends. By extension, the patriarchal mind objectifies, controls, and devalues all that is labeled "female."
I suspect there is a sly attack on science there. Last time I checked, it was a male scientist who came up with some of the best points about nature, Darwin. To quote him:

There is a grandeur in this view of life.
Both women and men are socialized to accept these man-made values. Although men, too, are harmed by patriarchal practices, they nonetheless benefit from them at the expense of women. For example, men own 99% of the world's property while women perform two-thirds of the world's labor. Another example: men rarely shoulder the physical, social, political, or psychological consequences of the experience of rape (unless sexually abused as children or as prison inmates). It is women of all ages who are burdened with the psychic fear induced by a climate in which the threat of sexual violation looms like a distant rain cloud: sometimes miles away, other times hovering right over us.

Wow, a fear speech. I think what is confusing is that later on we get this claim:

Attacking patriarchy is not the same as male-bashing. The masculine sex is not "the enemy." Rather, patriarchy is a particular way of thinking whose practitioners can be of any gender.
OK, this is a separate section and might not have been written by the McGuires, however, its clear that it goes against what they say. Furthermore, they also say:

We as a species are in an arrested state of adolescence as insecure egos (mostly male)
A few more points:

  • Overpopulation is inevitable when the control of reproduction is wrested away from women, and educational and contraceptive resources are not broadly disseminated.
  • In ancient times, women exercised exclusive self-determination over their bodies. Our foresisters had extensive holistic knowledge about birth control, abortion, birthing, and other gynecological concerns.

  • Maaaaaaaaaggggggggic eh?

    I can keep on, but its obvious that from points made by articles such as this, eco-feminism is merely a front for another form of reality denial. This romanticised idea of history (or should that be herstory?) and the rejection of logic makes these a topic of skepticism. The only problem is that as a member of the gender with the cursed chromosome, my viewpoint is probably patrichal and biased, despite my private beliefs on equality. Furthermore, it is disrespectful towards those who work against climate change by confusing the issue with woo and pseudoscience/ the rejection of science.

    Sunday, 31 January 2010

    This is not real...

    Good evening and I thought I would start this post with a reminder that the preceeding article is not real. This is due to reports that yet again someone has actually mistaken my blog for the real thing. I can definitely assure people that Gavin Schofield is not in a coma although I do find the fact he described stomach pumps as rocking slightly disturbing, however, this might be due to excessive alcohol consumption after the event if this is true.

    I've been following the 10:23 campaign recently and it looks very interesting.

    Possibly with the combination of the recession and the campaign, MPs are expected to publish a report concluding that homeopathic remedies should not be on the NHS. I think this is a good idea and in the words of Professor Ernst may make pharmacists like Boots, healthcare professionals, not the shop keepers.

    The Guardian has an article by Martin Robbins which outlines his reasoning behind joining the campaign and the evidence which shows the problems of homeopathy. Another article to read on this matter is Ben Goldacre's discussion of his Lancet article in 2007.

    In all I hope this campaign has had the impact it intended. For further information please visit 10:23 Campaign Website.

    500 Skeptics hospitalised in overdose horror

    Journal of Imaginary Sciences, 2010, Vol 31

    10:23 Campaign is marred by hospitalisations

    Yesterday, tragedy struck as 500 protestors against homeopathy were rushed to hospital after suffering from the massive overdose they took.

    The 10:23 campaign was designed to protest against the selling of homeopathic remedies at the pharmaceutical store, Boots. In order to demonstrate that these pills were apparently non-functional, the campaign managers suggested that the protestors should down a bottle of homeopathic pills each at 10:23, a symbolic note of the Avagadro's constant, the number of atoms that make up one mole.

    The campaign was organised by Michael Marshall, head of the Merseyside Skeptics Society, a branch of Skeptics in the Pub and was carried out, outside Boots stores across the country in Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, etc.

    However, tragedy struck, as a few minutes after the videos were took, the protestors started to feel unwell.

    "Well a few minutes after I took the medicine, I started to feel very nauseous, and promptly threw up. Thankfully I did because it stopped me from absorbing most of the effects" one protestor said.

    Currently, Gavin Schofield, leader of the Greater Manchester Skeptics as seen on the video, is reported to be in hospital in a coma, whilst Michael Marshall, the head of the campagin is said to be recovering in his bed, but still in a critical condition.

    Paula Ross, chief executive of the Society of Homeopaths, stated:

    "This ill-advised stunt shows the dangers of skeptics becoming closed-minded in the effects of alternative medicines. I feel sorry that people are stupid enough that they overdosed on these medicines in an attempt to prove these ineffective. I hope the survivors will have more sense in future."

    Ben Goldacre, author of the book Bad Science, doctor and journalist for the Guardian column "Bad Science" commented:

    "I've commented several times on homeopathy being ineffective from clinical trials. After seeing the results first hand from yesterday I am shocked I ever thought homeopathy was harmless."

    James Randi, the famous magician cum skeptic has also been criticised for his part in this misadventure. Years ago, Randi was noted for including in his act, a description of how he overdosed on a bottle of homeopathy pills in front of an audience and suffered no side effects. This account, along with the later attempts by Belgian Skeptics is thought to be the inspiration for Michael Marshall's foolish attempt.

    Saturday, 23 January 2010

    The first podcast!

    After a bit of work I've successfully completed my first podcast!

    The Genetic Evidence for Human Evolution

    Also here as well:

    I apologise for sounding blocked up on it, but comments and suggestions would be appreciated greatly.

    Links for the cast are as follows:

    Cann, RL; Stoneking, M; Wilson, AC (1987), "Mitochondrial DNA and human evolution", Nature 325 (6099): 31–6

    Jones, M. 2000, The Molecule Hunt, UK

    Leakey, R. & Lewin, R. 1993, Origins Reconsidered, UK

    The Chimpanzee Sequencing and Analysis Consortium, 2005, Initial sequence of the chimpanzee genome and comparison with the human genome, Nature, 437: 69-87

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