Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Wishing all of you a Merry Christmas! Hope you enjoy yourselves fully and stay safe!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Sword of Truth novels scare me.

I am in the process of re-reading the Sword of Truth novels by Terry Goodkind (They start with Wizards First Rule) and really, the books scare me. No they aren't horror, they are brilliant fantasy but wow. Goodkind is truly able to represent the nature of human mind, social psychology and the nature of faith in a stark and wonderful way. Any skeptic or atheist who reads these books will draw striking parallels to the world we live in today, not in any world context but in the rational of the wizards rules and the thinking that is behind the Imperial Order's insane beliefs. I have read the series many times and each time find something else that chills me to the bone. Frankly the things that people believe and the so called reasons for these beliefs scares me quite a bit. I don't usually advocate on here but seriously. Read these books.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mercury fillings debate

Those of you who follow my examiner articles will know that I recently wrote about the safety of amalgam fillings. This article started off a firing of anti-amalgam comments and even hate mail. While I understand that people would be passionate about safety the lack of intelligence of these commentators astounds me. Each comment is a personal anecdote and is usually punctuated by ad hominem attacks one my intelligence. For example Marie Flowers said "this is one of the most ignorant articles I have ever read on amalgam fillings." All I did was present what the FDA and ADA said. I also used the wonderful article at Quackwatch to fill in about the other side. Said Marie Flowers also recommended, which is when I realized that she was not only against mercury fillings, but is an anti-vaccer. This load of crap is right up there with anything else that the anti-vac people come out with. For example on the website they have good old Alex Jones! From the wonderfully wacky Whats Alex talking about today? Oh yeah, vaccines, flu shots, autism, and Alzheimer's. In the same video. BAH!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Reprint of the libalous Simon Singh article

Here is the full unedited version, as published by The Guardian, of Simon Singh’s article that was critical of chiropractors and is subject to legal threats by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) as reported by Holfordwatch and the Quackometer.

To help support Simon's case head over to Sense about Science
Be sure to sign the support statement

Beware the spinal trap
~written by Simon Singh

This is Chiropractic Awareness Week. So let’s be aware. How about some awareness that may prevent harm and help you make truly informed choices? First, you might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that, “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.
In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact they still possess some quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything. And even the more moderate chiropractors have ideas above their station. The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

I can confidently label these treatments as bogus because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Professor Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

Bearing all of this in mind, I will leave you with one message for Chiropractic Awareness Week – if spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

How much is most?

The word most is used many times in speech. Mira Ariel of Tel Aviv University’s department of linguistics has been studying just how much people mean when they use the word ‘most.’ Using various research methods including questionnaires and looking at previous studies done in both America and the UK Prof. Ariel has come up with an answer. According to Ariel’s findings when people use the word ‘most’ they appear to mean 80-95% of whatever sample being discussed.

This appears to be independent of what the objects are; human, animals or inanimate objects, as well as who is using the word. Most linguists until this research had believed that the range fell between 51 and 99% and had the possibility to include 100%. Mira Ariel disagrees with this although her research does fall within these bounds.

While these results appear to be true for now, professor Ariel believes that the range could shift over the next 100 years. This is part of how language works however and the colloquial definition of ‘most’ is different now than it was in the past. Previously the word could easily have meant less than fifty percent; the word ‘most’ merely meant who had the larger portion. This could be a portion of 50% or even less depending on the situation. Linguistic ambiguity seems to be exemplified by a word like ‘most’ but Professor Ariel is working to show that the ambiguity of these words is for the most part in people’s heads.

For information about Mira Ariel's work visit here.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Scientists Create RNA Chains in the Lab

Cross-posted here

A group of Italian scientists have reconstructed a possible early step in evolution. Ernesto Di Mauro and his team used cyclic nucleotides to create long strands of RNA from individual units using primarily water. Many evolutionary biologists believe that RNA was one of the first biological molecules to be present on Earth. The nucleotides used by the scientists merged together in water to form polymers over 100 nucleotides long.

The nucleotides that would have been present on prebiotic Earth would have been based upon simple chemicals and would have been quite easy to form chains. It has been previously shown that RNA precursors can self-assemble into linear polymers but scientists as of yet do not know the origin of informational polymers. Formamide chemistry has the potential to gather all of the precursors needed to form pregenetic informational polymers.

Di Mauro and his team thought that “the solution must have relied on a simple but robust process.” This ideal is why a formamide solution was utilized; it is simple and relatively stable yet still is reactive. The processes used by the team show that the formation of cyclic monophosphate nucleosides is chemically simple and prebiotically plausible. Like prebiotic Earth the solution temperatures used were around 40-60 °C. These nucleotides are similar to those that make up individual pieces of RNA or DNA (A, T, G, and C) with the difference of an extra chemical bond and a ring-like shape. The chains that were made in the lab were done without the use of enzymes or inorganic catalysts to set off the reactions as prebiotic conditions would require.

The non-enzymatic pregenetic polymerization done in this study could have taken place in warm little pond conditions like those depicted by Darwin in Origin of Species. As more information is studied in labs like those of Di Mauro and his collegues the closer scientists are to understanding not only the conditions of prebiotic Earth but the chemical processes which gave rise to biological life. Continuing research into chemical biology will help scientists know just how rare of an even life arising is and help determine the likelihood of it arising elsewhere in the universe as well.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Quick update

Ok, first off an apology for my absence from the blog I have been crazy busy. I am writing for an online essay group, working, going to school and the big exciting news! I am the Portland science writer for the examiner now! check it out! Go me! ^_^ sorry for the self promotion but everyone should read my articles. I will be keeping the science there and the woo here so look for my science news over there. Ill be posting something relevant as soon as I get a chance.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Book review! Phil Plait's Death from the Skies!

The wonderful, talented and amazing Phil Plait awes readers yet again with his book Death from the Skies! Phil Plait is the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, Discovery Magazine blogger, author and astronomer. In Death from the Skies! Phil walks his readers though some of the ways the universe is trying to kill us. This covers everything from getting hit with a meteor to what the fate of the universe may be. Turns out the universe's demise isn't going to be as spectacular as Douglas Adams portrays it in The Restraunt at the End of the Universe. That is too bad but in other news, Phil tells us in no uncertain terms that at some point the universe will succeed in trying to kill us and we won't be there to stare out into the nothingness anyway. This book is a must read for any science or astronomy fan out there, regardless of skill. Phil presents the scenario's in loving detail but which is still easy to follow. From the average reader to the astrophysics PhD. this book will be a favorite for sure.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Free Will

Having recently read Richard Dawkins excellent book The God Delusion and then finding the Scientific American article on free will (Found here) I find myself doing some thinking on the concept of free will. Human experience leads us to believe that we are in control of our actions, desires, and above all which choices we make. I have begun to wonder about if this is true. While I would like to think that the choices I have made are truly mine; it does seem that science has no way to tell me this is true. What in our brains makes humans able to choose for ourselves? It seems to me that from a materialistic point of view our decisions are nothing more than cause and effect. A stimuli leads our brains to trigger a function which causes us to act in accordance to past experience. This leaves the concept of free will as a figment of the mind. A happy coincidence so to speak. We feel that we are really effecting our lives and making our own decisions, why should this be true? Does some outside force give us supernatural abilities to supplant what our brains do? Is the mysterious soul where the seat of our choices lies? If the soul is where free will enters the equation then it can effect the physical realm therefore it can not be incorporeal. If that is the case then we should be able to subject it to testing, although science thus far has shown no evidence of this effervescent soul. As much as I hate to think it, after all I like to think I am in charge of my own path just like anyone else, science has shown me no reason for this to be true. All in all however, despite the lack of scientific evidence for free will, I find myself agnostic about it. I am inclined to believe humans have free will, even if it is just a figment of imagination, and as such I think there is a chance for science to agree with my assessment if only we could design an experiment to show it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New Indigo Children

I recently came across and it just makes me sad.

"Spirited Children offers daily, monthly and summer programs that help your children to connect with their soul. Your child has special gifts."

"Utilizing the Law of Attraction, our programs attract children like yours, creating a social environment that strengthens and supports the special gifts your children bring to this world."

I wasn't aware that a law of physics worked to attract like children. Though many new agers say that it goes beyond physics the evidence does not support that. These two quotes are right on the home page too. I find myself pulling out my skeptical tool kit for this one.

What are spirited children?

"Spirited Children have been labeled with many names like Indigo, Crystal, Rainbow, ADD, ADHD and Autistic. These children come to earth with many special gifts, abilities and sensitivities. Some can see aura's or have phenomenal artistic talent or see and talk to angels and spirits. Others are extremely sensitive to light, sound, chemicals and energies that abound in our modern world. Some are defiant because they are here to change the world. Society places a great number of restrictions on the process of growing."

That was unexpected. Just as an FYI I make that title before I read this part of the website. It looks like I was more accurate than I thought with my title. Apparently, according to the website, all children have gifts beyond our wildest dreams. This is distinctly odd, according to so-called "Indigo Children" are the “beginning of a new consciousness, an actual change in Human nature." As a side note, check out the ten attributes of an Indigo child. I know quite a few children who meet those attributes, most of whom really are ADHD or otherwise mentally ill. This isn't just silly; it is dangerous because many of these problems need interventions to treat. These children need help to get the problems they are having under control and this Indigo child, or spirited children idea, is harming the child because they will have a significantly more difficult time when they get older. This is especially true if the children are mentally ill in other ways for example if they are autistic.

The next part that got me was when spirited children started talking about “human designs.” I am a curious sort and ordered one, but first what is a Human Design? According to the website;

"Human Design is a relatively new system, a kind of synthesis of ancient wisdom and modern science, that combines elements of Eastern and Western Astrology, the Chinese I'Ching, the Kabalah (Tree of Life), the Hindu Chakra system and modern quantum physics."

That is a whole lot of woo and a gratuitous use of the words 'quantum physics.' If you’re interested in Human Design check out the website. As I said, I was interested and ordered myself a human design for free from the site. I am reminded of other pseudo-sciences, astrology in particular. Both human design and astrology are dependent on the Barnum effect, which states that humans tend to personalize vague and generalized statements to make them seem appropriate to any given circumstance. My friend AJ over at Dreaded Memes and I both received the same Human Design, never mind the fact that we were born many years apart, in opposite seasons and very different places.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

google makes me sad

I am horrified. On a whim I googled 'how do we date the earth' I got 209,000,000 responses. The first page has and Four of the first page’s links are about how the bible dates the earth. Sick. Why on, well, Earth does that have anything to do with how we date the earth? It's not like the bible is even remotely an accurate judge of science, which after all is what needs to be used to date the globe.

Just some of the nonsense on these sites:

"But God has told us that His Word is true, and cannot err. So as scholars, believing and unbelieving, have their fun and nit-pick one anther's imaginations, we shall simply believe that there is a solution, and trust in God's Word."

Apparently the bible is true because God says the bible is true which we know because it is written in the bible? That is more than a bit of circular reasoning there. I am not going to go through the full article because frankly it's ludicrous. Look the next website says the same thing!

"There is no reason to believe the earth is 4.5 billion years old. Since the Bible is God's word, and he is the only one among us who was there when creation happened, I prefer to take his word for it. Creation may not have happened in 4000BC, but there's no reason to doubt that Genesis is much closer to the truth than the current state of our science. I do not believe Genesis chapters 1-11 should be accepted in a symbolic sense. I believe they should be accepted in the plain sense of the words in which they were written."

No reason to doubt that Genesis is closer to the truth? I am more persuaded by the fact that the bible was written by man not God and man is flawed. Why wouldn't the bible be too? The same reasoning again, how can the reference for why a book is true be that said book claims it is true?

"A global, year-long, catastrophic Flood did happen at the time of Noah. We can say this with confidence because of the clear authority of the historical record in Genesis."

Genesis was written around 3500 years ago.... the flood (pretending it really happened) was thousands of years before that. How could you even remotely pretend that the guy that wrote Genesis could be an authority on that? Beyond that there is no geologic evidence that any such global flood occurred. Again this is based off a circular argument three websites, three of the same fallacious arguments.

Finally only one of the pages has something even reasonable -

"Belief in a "young Earth" continued among scientists, until the early 18th century, when it became obvious to most researchers that geological processes were exceedingly slow, and must have been accomplished over incredibly long periods of time. A 5,800 year old earth simply was not possible. A hundred years later, investigators studying Egyptian found that "...civilization of Egypt began earlier than the time assigned for the creation of man." 1: Once limited from the time constraints imposed by the young Earth concept, progress in geology and other earth scientists advanced by leaps and bounds."

Huzzah. Finally a group that uses logic and evidence.

Really though, what do any of these have to do with how we date the earth?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Discovery Institute produces a guideline for budding creationists in high school

The discovery institute's CSC section recently released a report about "preparing students to intelligently question Darwin this fall." Casey Luskin prepares three guides for ID students when they are taking biology.
Luskin's first point”

Tip #1: Never opt out of learning evolution"

Sounds good on the surface but then it's explained;

“Despite the one-sided nature of evolution-education, I found that the more evolutionary biology I took, the more I became convinced that the theory was based upon unproven assumptions, contradictory methodologies, and supported weakly by the data. So my first tip is to never be afraid to study evolution. But when studying evolution, always think critically and stay proactively informed about a diversity of viewpoints.”

Unproven assumption, contradictory methodologies and weak data say what? I’ll start with the so-called weak data in tip number 1. Talk Origin's discussion that evolution is a fact has some excellent points about this that I want to bring up. First - there are examples of evolution that are apparent; e.g. modern populations are evolving and the evidence of Homo sapiens and chimpanzees common ancestor. There is so much evidence in support of primate evolution that it is basically a fact. The next point offered is that while in some cases, like about all organisms having a common ancestor, pieces are still being worked out there is no opposing evidence. Because this isn't entirely worked out it is not yet a "fact" and there are reasonable alternatives. Finally the epistemological argument against evolution as fact - nothing in science can be "proven" including evolution. Well, true but in the case of evolution and other theories we are so certain to be 99% certain it is true and really there is always going to be doubt because science is open to being wrong and we will never ever be 100% sure.

Next point "Tip #2: Think for yourself, think critically, and question assumptions."

“Though my professors rarely (if ever) would acknowledge it, I quickly discovered in college that nearly all evolutionary claims are based upon assumptions. Modern evolutionary theory is assumed to be true, and then the data is interpreted based upon Darwinian assumptions.”

I don't think I need to redo my point again even though Luskin feels the need to do so.

“Biological similarity between two species implies inheritance from a common ancestor (i.e. vertical common descent) except for when it doesn’t (and then they appeal to processes like "convergent evolution" or "horizontal gene transfer").”

Common decent concerns genetic origins and says that all life is genetically related. Not necessarily that it is vertical. This seems be a common misconception, evolution is not vertical, it is simultaneous. Next

“Neo-Darwinism predicts transitional forms may be found, but when they’re not found, that just shows that the transitions took place too rapidly and in populations too small to (statistically speaking) become fossilized.”

WHAT? No transitional forms? Hasn't this been beat into the ground? I am just referring you all to Dr. Novella over at neurologica blog and his bit about Archaeopteryx.

“Evolutionary genetics predicts the genome will be full of useless junk DNA, except for when we discover function for such “junk” DNA. Then evolution predicts that cells would never retain useless junk DNA in the first place.”

Yes, we are continuing to find out what DNA does and how it works but evolutionary genetics doesn't move the goalpost. Genetics will, and does only answer the questions we have about how species are related. As scientists learn more, more of the links are revealed. Check out this for a better argument, talk origins is a wonderful place to find the refutations of all these points.

The last bit in this tip is to think independently. It would be nice if people like Luskin practiced this given he isn't open minded about science, specifically evolution.

The final "Tip #3: Proactively study credible scientific viewpoints that dissent from Darwinism. "

What credible viewpoints? Surely Luskin doesn't mean "intelligent design"? Apparently:

“To gain a balanced understanding of the scientific evidence, students may need to take the time to pro-actively research the pro-ID scientific arguments that many faculty may be opposing, misrepresenting, or perhaps even outright censoring. Yes, take courses advocating evolution. But also read material from credible Darwin skeptics to learn about other viewpoints. Only then can one truly make up his mind in an informed fashion.”

What pro-ID scientific arguments? I am not going to dignify this with an argument. It isn't worth it.

We need to be aware of the ID/creationist brainwashing because this is what we are going to be counteracting later when these kids grow up, so watch out. Just when we think the old generation of ID “scientists” will go away, their protégé grow up.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"vitamin B17"

~not my usual article, just something I was worried about~

As many know I do Kempo at a local dojo. Well, tonight we had a chiropractor come in and do a talk about the nervous system and how we can utilize nerves and posture to more effectively take down an opponent. Ok, I give him that much. Knowledge of where the nerves are convenient to strike would be a useful thing, while I am not sure that a chiropractor is the best option to find this out I had no beef with that information. He started off however, talking about acupuncture. I challenged the acupuncture points and he promptly told me that 'science can prove or disprove anything it wants but there is a lot that it can't show, this is one of them.' As to I was in the middle of class I opted not to challenge that load of bunk. Then he ended his demo with the worst (yes worse than acupuncture) bit of all; chakras. You bet I had to bite my tongue for this one. Seriously he was diagnosing emotional problems by looking at the tension around our chakras. I find myself skeptical. After class I challenged him on this and he instead of addressing me, looked to the people I had been talking to and spouted utter nonsense to them and talked over me when I attempted to refute his point. It was so pointless I opted not to continue challenging him.

Then one of the other students brought up his experience with brain cancer. He had been given 6mo to live and told that they couldn't operate because of the cancers location. He went down to Mexico and smuggled in laetrile. Sadly I couldn't remember what that was off the top of my head, only that I hadn't heard anything good. Then he clinched that feeling by mentioning "A world without cancer" by griffin. I looked it up when I got home and lo and behold - It's bunk! Not just bunk but cyanide based bunk. My classmate is lucky to be alive.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Huffpo strikes again

Well Huffpo has done it again. Dissecting beauty products sounds like it could be good, in fact they make a few good lines which are washed out in the usual rubbish, like this decent one:

"For example, most anti-aging skincare average only about 3% active ingredients - just enough for marketing purposes, but not enough to make a real difference in the appearance of your skin."

Isn’t this wonderful, has the world come to an end? Nope. Apparently Huffpo forgot that the usual shtick is nonsense and frankly 3% active ingredient is more than homeopathy has, not that that is hard since homeopathy has no active ingredients. Despite the advertising nature in that bit it actually says that 3% isn't enough! Amazing but lo and behold the next click into the beauty section yields a return to the usual:

"Before talking about antioxidants, we have to look at free radicals. Free radicals are molecules with an odd number of electrons that damage skin cells by stealing their electrons...

Now, for the really scary part: Our bodies don't have a natural defense against free radicals. That's why it's so important to eat a diet rich in antioxidants, nutrients that are proven to "neutralize" free radicals and stop their damaging effects..."

Cleverly for this boost they didn’t know that free radicals are also beneficial; there appear to be metabolic benefits to free radicals... well. I don't think I want my body to have a defense against free radicals personally.

Ah well enough of a bash on Huffpo. This was just nonsense anyway.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Homeopathy nonsense again

Lacking much time to really rant about this right now I will just share the disgusting story I got with my google alert on Homeopathy. Lacking time to go into the article its self I just wanted to comment on the last of the comments left by one Sonya McLeod the article's author:
Here's a novel idea......why don't you actually try homeopathy to see if it works. If it's just placebo, like all the doubters say, then there's no harm in trying it. Experience is the best teacher. After getting a bruise, try taking some homeopathic Arnica pills in a high potency like a 1M potency, a few times in 24 hours. I guarantee you that the bruise will be gone in 24 hours. If you are all so fanatical about science and think it has all the answers then you will be more than happy to conduct this little science experiment.
This pains me in so many ways. First off, I have tried homeopathy, just to see if it works. In fact I have tried the very pills she recommends with no success what so ever. My bruises stayed around just as long as normal. I also tried the pain relief and the sleep aids also with no effect what so ever. Seriously Sonya, no harm at all? I beg to differ. People dying because of the quackery you are spouting off is hardly no harm done. While no, my bruises and back pain is hardly life threatening people have forgone medicine to the point of death. Which in my opinion is quite a lot of harm. That doesn't even bring up the parents who have used homeopathy to 'treat' their children with the result that the child dies. All with no harm done to the homeopath that 'prescribed' the so called medicine. Death's are harm done in my book, perhaps not in a homeopaths.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

ID Proponets attacking Evolution again

Jonathan Wells of the Discovery Institute has attacked Evolution once more in his article "Deepening Darwin's Dilemma." This pile of nonsense brings up the ID believers same old arguments against Evolution and once more, get it all wrong.

To start off with is the mistake that finding more transition fossils instead of adding to our picture of the 'tree of life' actually make the problem worse. Seriously Wells? How many fossils do we need to add to convince you that new ones don't raise more questions? Examples like the transition from Dinosaur to bird question, despite Archeopteryx, is a fallacious argument. The evidence is there and ID proponents can't just claim that the transition fossils don't fill in the gaps especially when you have prime examples like Archeopteryx. Moving on Wells continues the ID argument about the Precambrian fossils and how the fossils are soft bodied. Well, many fossils were soft bodied before and after the Cambrian Explosion and beyond that many of the Cambrian fossils had hard parts. I think this is a good time to point out that the "explosion" in the Cambrian period happened over five to ten (ish) million years. That my friends is far from an explosion on anything but, well, an evolutionary time scale.

Last but not least is my personal favorite nonsense of the whole article. Wells claims that the lack of Precambrian fossils makes the "Darwin's dilemma" more confusing. While yes there are few Precambrian fossils the extreme age coupled with a lack of hard bodies (as Wells had mentioned himself earlier in the article) leads naturally to few fossils. Hard bits fossilize easier than soft parts. Evidence thus far shows that there was not a predilection for hard parts prior to the Cambrian period.

All in all Well's closing statement regarding lack of evidence that the Cambrian phyla are from a common ancestor is simply refuted. There are many more branching points before the Cambrian period to consider before you can dismiss the range of life found in the Cambrian period of having not evolved to get there. This time period was not the origin of complex life which Scientists have evidence for 5 million years before the Cambrian period. Also there are trace-like fossils from more than 1200 million years ago (as opposed to the Cambrian period's 540 million years) and evidence of microbial life over 3000 million years ago. Obviously from that there was a lot of evolution going on prior to the Cambrian period and any attempt to directly link the Cambrian phyla to a common ancestor is ludicrous.

This article is just another example of the ridiculous claims that the Discovery Institute is spewing out and it is a horrible effort to get Intelligent Design (eg creationism) inserted into peoples minds.

**Most of the information on the fossil record was found here**

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Vaccine questions still? Seriously people why?

In a recent story on LA Times website Melissa Healy offers a two page commentary about vaccines which frankly makes me shake my head. The article starts off with a commentary from a mother who is choosing to not vaccinate her child. Claiming that
"the tests on the vaccine in development against H1N1 aren't even completed yet, and that, to Reed [the mother], sounds like a formula for unforeseen problems down the road."
To start off with, just like most flu virus's the only difference in the vaccine formula is that it targets whatever three flu's are going around that season. The H1N1 vaccine is merely a supplement to the regular seasonal flu virus according to the CDC's main vaccine info page. This anecdotal story simply attempts to lend credence to the anti-vac claims by giving it a context the mind is more apt to remember. To make matters worse the mother in the story says that she is not likely to change her mind even if her physician reccomends otherwise. Why on earth would you go to a Doctor for medical advise is you already know you won't listen? All those years of medical school and all the real life experience of the pediatrician is nothing compared to what the anti-vac groups are saying of course. Never mind the fact that the anti-vac claims are nonsense.

To make matters worse for Healy's report is bringing up, you guessed it, the supposed link between Autism and vaccines. Really people, has all the research and all the evidence the scientific community is offering taught you nothing? Apparently because Healy states
"This new generation of vaccine skeptics has been forged by the stubbornly persistent belief -- discredited by a welter of studies -- in a link between vaccines and autism. And it is further fueled by a combustible mix of distrust of drug manufacturers, media outlets and the federal government."
At least she recognizes that the 'link' has been discredited. Seriously people though, why even bring it up again? People aren't going to remember the caveat in a two page article, they are just going to remember 'oh yeah something about autism and vaccines right?' One good thing to say for Healy is that she does try to address the growing number of adults ages 18-49 that aren't current on their vaccines. Healy states that only 37% of these adults got their vaccines last year, where she got that number I don't know but it is certainly plausible.

Oh the next anecdote is the usual; big pharma don't have our best interests at heart which is why this parent isn't getting her child vaccinated. Seriously people yes the pharmaceuticals want to make money, they are a business, but what reason do you have to believe they would deliberately try to harm you? They seriously have done great and wonderful things for our health and our world. The CDC is the one who decides what vaccines are needed each flu season and given our 'best interests' is their job it wouldn't be wise for them to undermine that.

The best part of Healy's article unfortunately comes near the end of the second page. Healy again mentions Autism but spends a decent amount of time refuting the Anti-vac claims regarding the MMR. She cites the AAP's report regarding the studies regarding the MMR, Thimerosol and Autism which rather conclusively shows the lack of any connection between these agents.

Then Healy mentions the supposed hassle of getting both the H1N1 and the regular flu vaccine. Here is the deal people, taking the extra hour to go back to the doctor when the H1N1 vaccine comes out is a heck of a lot easier to work into a schedule than having you or your child sick with influenza for a while. Take the two trips, schedule them so that everyone in the family can get vaccinated at once and enjoy the benefits of having a significantly less likelihood of getting the flu this season and knowing that you are helping protect others who have medical reasons why they can't be vaccinated stay healthy. This nonsense about not getting vaccinated is having a serious impact on our herd immunity and causing people to get sick. Really, it is time to stop and face reality for all the anti-vac people out there. Your 'choice' isn't just effecting you. It is effecting all of us.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What happened to science in the papers?

On a recent scan of my local paper, the Oregonian, I attempted in vain to find the "science" section of the paper. I found to my chagrin that while Business, Education, the environment, politics and weather were well represented I was hard pressed to find a science heading. Where to go from here? I looked under 'more news' figuring that was perhaps where I might find the science section I remember from childhood. No luck there either. It comes close however, represented in this section is the associated press technology section as well as the associated press health section and even a heading for the obituaries. Nothing however to lead a reader to the general science area. How is a science minded person like myself to come across what I thought would be a common area of interest? No hints from the Oregonian website that is certain. I did a search for 'science news' figuring that would bring up something. I didn't get a single hit. Curious now I went to USA Today's website figuring perhaps the Oregonian was too small. After all it is only a statewide paper while the USA Today is a national broadsheet.

Finally, after digging in the site map I find the Science and Space news section. As grateful as I am for this I wonder about the Oregonian. Is my local newspaper doing so poorly that the only science based news they can provide is a reader forum? Even the news on health is done by the associated press, not my local paper. Where are all of the Oregonian science writers? I find myself curious. Surely all of Oregon's science news can't be found under the headings of Technology or Health. What about the news of the NASA Shuttle landing? Or the rocket tests in Utah? Unless you already knew about these news items you have little chance of finding these on the Oregonian website.