Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How to spot a Denialist

For a good overview of how to spot a global warming denialist, and denialists in general, check out this article by Mark Hoofnagle, which lists five routine tactics denialists use:

1) Invention of a conspiracy to suppress the truth
2) Cherry-picking of data and quotes
3) Fake experts
4) Moving the Goalposts
5) Logical Fallacies

I'd add a 6th tactic as well: avoiding the scientific peer-reviewed literature and publishing popular books instead. It is important to be able to distinguish between someone approaching an issue from a good-faith scientific contrarian position and a denialist. Science thrives on debate and disagreement. However, scientific dissenters don't use the tactics above. Einstein, who denialists like to bring up as an example of someone from outside the scientific mainstream being vindicated, didn't resort to any of that. He published his findings, and was vindicated by experimental data. Denialists don't do this, for the simple reason that they rarely have anything to publish. That should speak louder than it does.

I encourage reading the comments to that thread as well, as the denialists show up in droves to provide real life illustrations.

Monday, March 30, 2009

GDP by Year and the Myths it Destroys

Made curious by discussions of the impact of various government programs on the economy, I went and dug up the GDP for the United States for every year since the 40's, and here were the results at the end of each decade, adjusted for inflation to 2000 levels:

1940 $1,034B
1950 $1,777B
1960 $2,502B
1970 $3,772B
1980 $5,162B
1990 $7,113B
2000 $9,817B
2008 $11,653B

That didn't yield any obvious insights, so I calculated the growth by decade, and here are the results:

1940's 72%
1950's 41%
1960's 51%
1970's 37%
1980's 38%
1990's 38%
2000's 48% (adjusted pro rata for 2010)

OK, now we are getting somewhere. Essentially four of those decades are within a few points of each other, with three outliers: the 40's, 60's, and 00's. Now gee, what major events went on in those decades that tend to have a positive impact on GDP?

Wars. Long, drawn out, wars. We had WWII in the 40's, Viet Nam in the 60's, and of course our beloved Iraq War in the 00's. So what does this tell us? Is all the talk about budgets and investments in infrastructure and trickle-down all so much empty rhetoric? Are we devoid of serious influences on our economy besides wars?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Heartland Contradictory Crankery

Tim Lambert has a brief comical summary of the goings on at Heartland's 2009 International Conference on Climate Change. The important thing to take from this is notice how the denialist's arguments are often mutually contradictory. This is a sure sign of crankery, because scientists would begin debate with each other over these differences, rather than taking the Intelligent Design big tent approach and ignoring them as long as everyone is against evol...er, anthropocentric global warming and the political actions it implies. So some say its the sun, some say it isn't, some say it's volcanoes. Some say its a vast conspiracy, while others claim there is no consensus. For some human CO2 emissions are too low to effect any change, while others claim the emissions are too high to have done so. Some say its cooling, some say its warming.

This is not what science looks like. This is what it looks like when people with personal nonscientific motivations against a position grasp at any straw they can to deny it. I'm just glad they gathered in one place so this could be made more plain.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Email: I Voted Democrat Because...

One of the big problems with too many in the GOP these days is their fear of the big liberal bogeyman, a person or group that doesn't really exist in reality, but has been perpetuated via the conservative echo chamber (Foxnews, Townhall, Worldnetdaily, etc.) and kept alive by the epistemological habits of the conservative faithful who associate with no one else, and dismiss anything that conflicts with their worldview as a biased product of the liberal media, elitist universities, Hollywood, etc.

A perfect example of this mindset shows up in an email making the echo chamber rounds called "I voted Democrat because...". A comparison of the contents of this note and reality:

I voted Democrat because...

I love the fact that I can now marry whatever I want.
I've decided to marry my horse.

This is a very revealing way of describing the push to recognize same-sex marriages. It is very reminiscent of the reaction to racially mixed marriages some years ago. I recall one man I debated in person on the subject of his white cousin marrying a black man. His retort was "What would you do if your cousin told you he wanted to marry a sheep?". Two things are at work here: first, the tendency to dehumanize opposing or different groups as somehow not being human, and second, a myopic moral view that essentially says "anyone who doesn't have my morality has no morality at all". The actual argument, that the current definition of marriage, "two people of opposing sexes committed to each other" would fit the modern world better were it shorter by three words, is of course completely ignored.

I believe oil companies' profits of 4% on a gallon of gas are
obscene but the government taxing the same gallon of gas
at 15% isn't.

As one who has no love for taxes, I can sympathize with this sentiment, but it is comparing apples and oranges. Government taxation is based on perceived costs of the taxed item in question, and has little to do with acceptable profit levels for companies. To show how silly this argument is, simply turn it around. What if it were a demonstrable fact that the social costs of driving (road maintenance, ancillary costs of DWIs, insurance, etc.) was indeed 15% of the cost of gasoline? Would we then decide that it was OK for Exxon to make 15% profits? Of course not. Government is not a business, nor should it be run like one. Oversimplified, business is the player in the economic game, government is the referee.

I believe the government will do a better job of
spending the money I earn than I would.

This is stated as if it is obviously false, when it is certainly demonstrably true in many cases. We'd have never built the interstate highway system, gone to the moon in 1969, maintained public parks, or many other deeds that were too long term and not-for-profit to interest the private sector. Like it or not, there are some things on which government does indeed spend the money we earn better than we would have: which is to say, not at all. To argue otherwise is to argue for anarchy.

Freedom of speech is fine as long as nobody is offended by it.

It is hard to know exactly what this is referring to, but if it is church/state separation, it's another red herring. Objections to some religious comments by government officials and employees isn't about offense. It is about constitutionality. Many of us believe the intention of the 1st amendment was to keep government neutral on the subject of religion, and therefore anything that crosses that line must be opposed. One might argue with that legal interpretation, but even if it is completely wrong it has nothing to do with anyone being offended by anything. This argument is also hypocritical, since it is often proreligious groups expressing offense at displays promoting a view other than theirs (think Seattle). Freedom is a two-way street.

When we pull out of Iraq I trust that the bad guys will stop what they are doing because they now think we are good people.

This one is so silly it is hard to understand what exactly is being said. Are the “bad guys” Al Qaeda, or the warring factions of Sunni and Shia in Iraq? Either way it makes no difference. No one is saying anything remotely like the quote above. Some people simply think our occupation of Iraq has inflamed US/Islamic relations and fueled the fires for more hatred of and attacks against the US more than it has reduced them.

I'm way too irresponsible to own a gun, and I know that my local police are all I need to protect me from murderers and thieves.

Whenever people talk like this, I wonder if they realize just how low the crime rate is. Annually, its about 14 acts a year for every 1,000 people annually. That's everything from petty theft to murder, and hardly a justification for gun ownership. However, it is equally unpersuasive as an argument to ban guns. Still, the argument has nothing to do with irresponsibility, and isn't connected to police response times, and so paints a muddled picture of what the gun control debate is.

I believe that people who can't tell us if it will rain on Friday can tell us that the polar ice caps will melt away in ten years if I don't start driving a Prius.

This common anti-global-warming canard reveals a basic ignorance of statistics, in particular the law of large numbers. In short, the LoLN says that groups are more predictable than individuals, and the larger the group, the more predictable it is. For example, if I were to predict the total of the roll of a single die, the expected value is 3.5. However, there is a 33% (2/6) chance that such a prediction will be off by 71% [(6-3.5)/3.5 or (3.5-1)/3.5]. However, if I roll 1,000 dice and predict the total, the expected value is now 3,500, but the probability of being off by 71% is now practically zero, since it would require rolling 1,000 1's or 1,000 6's, both extraordinarily unlikely events. Predicting the total outcome of 1,000 dice rolls is far easier than predicting the outcome of any one of them.

Predicting the temperature is similar. I can't tell with much accuracy at all whether today will be cooler than August 5th, but I can tell with great accuracy that the average temperature in February will be cooler than the average temperature in August. And so it goes with predicting weather decades and centuries in the future. If current trends continue, predicting the melting of the polar ice caps is a snap compared to predicting the rain on Friday.

I'm not concerned about the slaughter of millions of babies so long as we keep all death row inmates alive.

This argument, as do too many arguments on both sides of the abortion issue, ends the argument by merely assuming the point in contention: are those things being aborted indeed babies? No one on the pro-choice side of the aisle would make the comment above, because they do not consider fetuses babies, and because most people on the pro-choice side are very concerned with the number of abortions. Their strategy is to make birth control and information about it more available rather than outlawing the procedure. One can argue against that on practical grounds, but that isn't what the statement above is doing.

Likewise, most people who oppose the death penalty do so because they don't think it is the role of government to execute its citizens, or see death as an irreversible decision in a system full of decisions in need of reversal, or oppose it because they see it as a discriminatory penalty imposed arbitrarily and in a biased manner against certain racial or economic groups. Personally I don't find those arguments persuasive (if a penalty has problems, fix the problems, don't do away with the penalty). But nonetheless, none of those arguments has any logical bearing on whether one considers a blastocyst a baby.

I believe that business should not be allowed to make profits for themselves. They need to break even and give the rest away to
the government for redistribution as the democrats sees fit.

This socialist statement reveals a lack of understanding of Keynesian economics, which says (and recent history supports this) that economic growth is aided by taking money from the top of the financial pyramid, large businesses and the wealthy, where it is most likely to be saved, and giving it to people at the bottom, who are most likely to spend it and send it multiplying through our marketplace via other transactions. No one is saying that businesses should not be allowed to profit, or that there is something wrong with being rich. It's just a simple, very intuitive fact that taking $100 from a billionaire and giving it to someone who is poor is going to benefit the poor person far more than it injures the billionaire.

Now whether it is right to do this is another argument entirely, and that debate needs to be had. However, misrepresenting one side of the argument as being socialist does nothing to further anyone's understanding of the issue, and amounts to ad hominem.

I believe liberal judges need to rewrite The Constitution every few days to suit some fringe kooks who would never get their agendas past the voters.

This shows a lack of understanding of the role of the Supreme Court in our system, which is to enforce the constitutional limits on our democracy. There are some rights, or agendas if you like, that are beyond the rights of the voters to deny in our constitutional system. It makes no difference whether the people promoting these constitutional positions are fringe kooks or not, the constitution must rule. The accusation that judges are rewriting the constitution, or legislating from the bench, hopelessly begs the question. “Activist judge” in the end amounts to “a judge who made a ruling I didn’t agree with”.

My head is so firmly planted up my ass that it is unlikely that I'll ever have another point of view.

This is ironic coming from the party of Rush Limbaugh who recently made it very clear that conservatism does not change. "It is forever." Democrats as a rule do not think like this. Indeed, their willingness to change their views is what makes them Democrats in the first place, and is one of the main reasons conservatives criticize them. Moral relativism anyone? That's not the position of those who don't change. Absolute god-given morality is promoted by the changeless side. Compare Democratic party positions on various issues now compared to 20 years ago, and do the same for Republicans. When it comes to predicting which party will never have another point of view, its not the left side of the aisle the evidence points to.

"A Liberal is a person who will give away everything they don't own."

And of course, any otherwise liberal person who doesn't is called "not a true liberal". The far right is engaging in the No True Scotsman Fallacy with this and just about every statement involving the word "liberal". This email is a perfect example. No one as described actually exists. Actual left-leaning people are a mix of various views, as are conservatives. The far rightwingers have simply created a bogeyman on which to blame all their problems. In church, that person is Satan. In politics, it's The Liberals. Notice their persuasive power is about the same with both.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A New Low in AGW Denialism

For a new low in Global Warming denialism, check out this piece of drivel from one Dan Gainor, where he utters inanities like this concerning [yawn] the recent cold spell many states are experiencing:

"Just ask the diehard global warming activists who showed up in Washington last week to protest the nation’s use of coal. Their event was hampered by nearly a foot of snow in the nation’s capital – enough to freeze out luminaries like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Still, there they were, a couple thousand idiots standing in a winter wonderland, chanting about global warming. What’s amazing is that NASA’s climate chief James Hansen was part of this foolishness. Here we have a man who the left keeps telling us is so smart we need to listen to everything he says and he doesn’t have the public relations sense of a freshman communications major.

I have a news flash for Mr. Hansen – it gets cold in the winter. Sometimes it snows – even in D.C. If you want to promote global warming, look at a thermometer and wait until that red stuff climbs up real high.

This would seem the basis of a good strategy. Cede the winter months to your critics and opponents and keep the global warming activism to times when you might actually get warm weather.

Only a fool would hold a global warming event in a foot of snow – unless he or she was desperate."

Here's a news flash for you Dan Gainor: Everyone with an IQ above room temperature already knows it gets cold and snows in the winter. This shouldn't have to be explained, scientists shouldn't concern themselves with it when addressing the issue, and people like you and so many others here at Townhall need to quit wasting space and time writing about it.

Only a fool, or someone desperate or loony enough to see the scientific consensus on global warming as some sort of conspiracy, would attribute significance to someone's lack of concern over such irrelevancies. Anyone still wondering why the GOP is viewed as the anti-intellectual party, and why the rest of us(many of whom are former GOPers like me) see you as a joke, need look no further than this article as to why. It's embarrassing.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Old Dads, Bad Sperm, Dumb Kids?

It looks like women aren't the only ones with a biological clock. Ours just runs a lot slower than theirs. According to this article, older fathers produce children with slightly reduced cognitive abilities:

A new study of old data on 33,000 young U.S. children finds those with older fathers had reduced cognitive abilities. The differences, however, are slight, and no study has been done to see how such children fare later in life.

"The older a dad is, the worse his children tend to do in intelligence tests," said study leader John McGrath from the University of Queensland.

The reason may involve aging sperm.

"We are concerned that older men accumulate more mutations in the developing sperm cells," McGrath said. "These mistakes then pile up and increase the risks of problems in the children, and it is possible that these mistakes will carry on into the next generation."

The study - a fresh analysis of data on births from 1959 to 1965 - adds to a growing body of work that illustrates there are increased risks to the offspring of men who father them later in life.

A study in 2006 found older men are more likely to father dwarves, due to an age-related genetic mutation in their sperm. Other studies have shown a link between older fathers and increased chances of schizophrenia and autism in the children, McGrath said. The New York Times noted that a 2005 study found children aged 16 and 17 who had older fathers scored lower on nonverbal IQ tests, but so did children of teenage fathers.

That last bit gave me pause. As the authors of the study themselves note, the difference in the results were fairly small, and it is already known that the more involved fathers are in their children's lives the better the children tend to do academically. So it could just be that older fathers have cognitively less-developed children simply by virtue of not being as involved with them as younger fathers. Teen fathers are also not known for their dotishness.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Global Cooling Consensus Myth Debunked

Here is another great installment in the Climate Denial Crock of the Week series, this time dealing with the supposed consensus of science in the 1970's that we were experiencing global cooling and were headed for another ice age. As one should expect with our media, statements by scientists were taken out of context, and portrayed as being more dire, conclusive, and general than they actually were. Some of the tastier tidbits from the scientists and the scientific report that mentioned global cooling:

"Well nobody likes to be wrong. But remember, I never said 'I predict that we are going to induce an ice age. What I said was 'under these assumptions, this is what you get. Other scientists say that could trigger an ice age."

...we do not have a good quantitative understanding of the our climate machine and what determines its course. Without the fundamental understanding, it does not seem possible to predict climate...

The onset of [cooling]...could be several thousand years in the future, although there is a finite possibility that a serious worldwide cooling could befall the earth within the next 100 years.

A leading effect is the enrichment of the atmospheric CO2 content by the combustion of fossil fuels...such effects may combine...to offset a future natural cooling trend, or to enhance a natural warming.

Doesn't sound like a scientific consensus on global cooling now, does it? As should come as no surprise to anyone, the media took the sexiest, most alarmist portions of the report and sensationalized them, making them appear far more certain than they actually were.

The final nail in the coffin was the study of the 71 peer-reviewed studies on the subject from 1965 to 1979:

7 predicted cooling
20 neutral
44 predicted global warming

...global cooling was never more than a minor aspect of the scientific climate change literature of the era, let alone a scientific consensus.

This is a far cry from the consensus that exists now, where practically every major scientific organization in the world supports the global warming theory. Those who claim otherwise are simply engaging in historic revisionism.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How Crazy are They?

If you were wondering just how crazy and frantic some of the far rightwingers were getting, just check out this Townhall article by Phil Harris and the subsequent comments on his doom and gloom scenario where the evil liberals come take away all the guns, close down all the churches via hate crime laws, enforce birth control, and put people in jail for having dissenting political views. Here are some of my favorites:

"our belief in God is being taken out of every little thing and replaced with the atheist's 'be good for goodness sake' motto"

"This is where the 'hate crimes' business is going, all right. It's already a crime to quote parts of the Bible in public in Canada. Soon it will be here, too. Here in New Mexico a photographer was just dragged through the courts for refusing, on religious grounds, to photograph a homosexual wedding. Obviously, having religious convictions will soon be a punishable 'hate crime.' Conservative talk radio will soon be 'hate talk,' another 'hate crime.'

Think of Russia in the 1920s, Germany in the 1930s. They had their Obamas, too, with different names."

"I say WOW in a much different way than the reprobate trolls. They don't realize that they would be among the first taken after the Christians and that we who are praying believers are the only ones standing in the gap for them. This administration and Congress is demonically controlled..remember July 12, 2007..for the first time ever they had a priest of a pagan religion pray the opening Senate prayer. The priest himself is decieved but his prayer was
to the god of this world (I pray that God Amighty will turn his heart away from it and to Himself). If you think about it, everything began to steamroll after that til what we are facing..we fight not against flesh and blood, ladies and gentlemen but against unseen forces of evil that's using these mortals to destroy the only country that has the Judeo/Christian heritage and was and can once again be that Shining City On A Hill. "

"Dear God, please have mercy on us a nation. Not because we deserve it. We don't. We don't even deserve the mercy you have already shown us. We don't deserve any further withholding of your judgment and justice.

As a nation we have made worshiping You a public offense. We have driven You out of our courts and out of our schools. We have glorified every kind of perversity. We have killed our young."

"Mr. Harris, what Bible preacher would give up his guns? Gun ownership is right there in the Bible under the sixth commandment: thou shalt not murder.

That is, not only should we not murder, but we are also commanded to prevent, as much as it is within our authority and ability, the murder of ourself or anyone else. To fail to act to prevent our own murder is just as immoral as being a murderer. If we fail to take the opportunities to justly defend ourself or a third party against a murderer, then we have failed to obey a moral command from God to preserve life.

Let’s hang on to our guns, especially when they start coming for them. The unlawful magistrate must be resisted if we would be like our forefathers in liberty."

"The person who said the right wingers are using fear---well you had better be afraid if you have any opinions on abortion, homosexuality, God (the real God--not the muslim one or the fabricated black Jesus that obama says he has faith in) uns or environmentalism and animal rights. I hope I never have grandchildren because this world is beginning to scare me and I sure don't want any of my grandchildren having to be like some of the people submitting their already submissive, all hail to obama comments. Mindless MORONS.

Why has it become so evil to have an opinion about something? Abortion is murder, I don't like muslims, homosexuality is wrong, I'm sick of the illegal aliens in this country and evnironmentalism, liberalism and animal rights are made -up religions. Christians are being persecuted. They cannot even interpret the Bible as they see it without it being called hate by a bunch of crybaby lace panty wearing 'men'."

"Isn't it interesting that Obama wants to remove the charitable deductions form Income Tax law? I view this as not just a new way to increase tax dollars, but as a direct assault upon our religious freedom. The quickest way to undermine religion in our country is to take away its funding, because without money, the churches and religious can't fight back. Why? Because the churches speak out against abortion and euthanasia. And the churches speak for values, morality, and nuclear family—all dangerous to socialism."

"American government already took giant steps in totalitarian Socialist direction, and the people are not happy.The next logical step to take for the politicial "organizers" in government (hey,that’s what the Bolsheviks were - political activists) is to diminish the Church’s role in the society, because religion is the LAST unifying place against totalitarian rule for unhappy citizens...

The homosexual agenda in America IS that much needed Soviet style political excuse to shut down the churches due to their “hatemongering” sermons, and moral stance on gay marriage. This is like the charges of being a “racist“, or a “global warming denier” - another weapon to be stored and used when needed."

Think of these people the next time you are watching Sarah Palin or Bobby Jindal or whatever version of them pops up at the next political event. This is their audience.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mooney on Will and Global Warming

Chris Mooney has a rebuttal to George Will's recent misleading articles on global warming in the Washington Post. It's a nice bit of debunking, particularly of the ice age myth, and of course the ten-years-cooling myth I've debunked elsewhere:

Will also wrote that "according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade." The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is one of many respected scientific institutions that support the consensus that humans are driving global warming. Will probably meant that since 1998 was the warmest year on record according to the WMO -- NASA, in contrast, believes that that honor goes to 2005 -- we haven't had any global warming since. Yet such sleight of hand would lead to the conclusion that "global cooling" sets in immediately after every new record temperature year, no matter how frequently those hot years arrive or the hotness of the years surrounding them. Climate scientists, knowing that any single year may trend warmer or cooler for a variety of reasons -- 1998, for instance, featured an extremely strong El NiƱo -- study globally averaged temperatures over time. To them, it's far more relevant that out of the 10 warmest years on record, at least seven have occurred in the 2000s -- again, according to the WMO.

I'm of the opinion that this argument that there's no global warming because 1998 was so warm is more idiotic than any other denialist argument save the "Mars is warming" argument. Still, it was nice for Mooney to spell it out so that perhaps more and more people will see that. Mooney's last paragraph bears repeating as well.

Readers and commentators must learn to share some practices with scientists -- following up on sources, taking scientific knowledge seriously rather than cherry-picking misleading bits of information, and applying critical thinking to the weighing of evidence. That, in the end, is all that good science really is. It's also what good journalism and commentary alike must strive to be -- now more than ever.

Indeed, the professional liars in our media wouldn't stand a chance if every one of their viewers/readers checked up on what they said. Sadly, most don't, but then ironically claim they deal with facts instead of emotions. We don't have that luxury any more.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Gunphobia Rears its Ugly Head in Connecticut

For a real life example of hoplophobia, check out this story of a student named John Wahlberg, who made a presentation in class arguing that gun-free zones encourage incidents like the Virginia Tech shootings, and that having all the students armed would produce a safer environment.

Now, whatever one might think of those arguments, I hope we can all agree that this is not the appropriate response:

Shortly after his professor, Paula Anderson, filed a complaint with the CCSU Police against her student. During the presentation Wahlberg made the point that if students were permitted to conceal carry guns on campus, the violence could have been stopped earlier in many of these cases. He also touched on the controversial idea of free gun zones on college campuses.

That night at work, Wahlberg received a message stating that the campus police “requested his presence”. Upon entering the police station, the officers began to list off firearms that were registered under his name, and questioned him about where he kept them.

They told Wahlberg that they had received a complaint from his professor that his presentation was making students feel “scared and uncomfortable”.

Oh yeah, there's ironclad evidence that Wahlberg is a danger to his community and deserving of a little police interrogation. For those who wonder how Republicans are able to keep the Democrats-deal-with-feelings-while Republicans-deal-with-facts meme alive, look no further"

Professor Anderson refused to comment directly on the situation and deferred further comment.

“It is also my responsibility as a teacher to protect the well being of our students, and the campus community at all times,” she wrote in a statement submitted to The Recorder. “As such, when deemed necessary because of any perceived risks, I seek guidance and consultation from the Chair of my Department, the Dean and any relevant University officials.”

Wahlberg believes that her complaint was filed without good reason.

“I don’t think that Professor Anderson was justified in calling the CCSU police over a clearly nonthreatening matter. Although the topic of discussion may have made a few individuals uncomfortable, there was no need to label me as a threat,” Wahlberg said in response. “The actions of Professor Anderson made me so uncomfortable, that I didn’t attend several classes. The only appropriate action taken by the Professor was to excuse my absences.”

The university police were unavailable for comment.

“If you can’t talk about the Second Amendment, what happened to the First Amendment?” asked Sara Adler, president of the Riflery and Marksmanship club on campus. “After all, a university campus is a place for the free and open exchange of ideas.”

Not, apparently, if one has a different view on gun issues than the left-wing party line. Shame on Anderson and the CCSU police. Feelings are not evidence.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Guided Evoluton: An anonymous Tale

I wish I could claim credit for this, but alas, it's from here:

In the beginning God created Dates. And the date was Monday, July 4, 4004 B.C.. And God said, let there be light; and there was light. And when there was Light, God saw the Date, that it was Monday, and he got down to work; for verily, he had a Big Job to do.

And God made pottery shards and Silurian mollusks and pre-Cambrian limestone strata; and flints and Jurassic Mastodon tusks and Picanthopus erectus skulls and Cretaceous placentals made he; and those cave paintings at Lasceaux. And that was that, for the first Work Day.

And God saw that he had made many wondrous things, but that he had not wherein to put it all. And God said, Let the heavens be divided from the earth; and let us bury all of these Things which we have made in the earth; but not too deep. And God buried all the Things which he had made, and that was that. And the morning and the evening and the overtime were Tuesday.

And God said, Let there be water; and let the dry land appear; and that was that. And God called the dry land Real Estate; and the water called he the Sea. And in the land and beneath it put he crude oil, grades one through six; and natural gas put he thereunder, and prehistoric carboniferous forests yielding anthracite and other ligneous matter; and all these called he Resources; and he made them Abundant. And likewise all that was in the sea, even unto two hundred miles from the dry land, called he resources; all that was therein, like manganese nodules, for instance. And the morning unto the evening had been a long day; which he called Wednesday.

And God said, Let the earth bring forth abundantly every moving creature I can think of, with or without backbones, with or without wings or feet, or fins or claws, vestigial limbs and all, right now; and let each one be of a separate species. For lo, I can make whatsoever I like, whensoever I like. And the earth brought forth abundantly all creatures, great and small, with and without backbones, with and without wings and feet and fins and claws, vestigial limbs and all, from bugs to brontosauruses. But God blessed them all, saying, Be fruitful and multiply and Evolve Not.

And God looked upon the species he hath made, and saw that the earth was exceedingly crowded, and he said unto them, Let each species compete for what it needed; for Healthy Competition is My Law. And the species competeth amongst themselves, the cattle and the creeping things; and some madeth it and some didn't; and the dogs ate the dinosaurs and God was pleased. And God took the bones from the dinosaurs, and caused them to appear might. old; and cast he them about the land and the sea. And he took every tiny creature that had not madeth it, and caused them to become fossils; and cast he them about likewise. And just to put matters beyond the valley of the shadow of a doubt God created carbon dating. And this is the origin of species. And in the Evening of the day which was Thursday, God saw that he had put in another good day's work.

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, which is resembleth us not in any ways, but are short and ill-formed and hairy. And God added, Let man have dominion over the monkeys and the fowl of the air and every species, endangered or otherwise. So God created Man in His own image; tall and well-formed and pale of hue created He him, and nothing at all like the monkey.

And God said, Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of the earth. But ye shalt not smoketh it, lest it giveth you ideas. And to every beast of the earth and every fowl of the air I have given also every green herb, and to them it shall be for meat. But they shall be for you. And the Lord God your Host suggesteth that the flesh of cattle goeth well with that of the fin and the claw; thus shall Surf be wedded unto Turf.

And God saw everything he had made, and he saw that it was very good; and God said, It just goes to show Me what the private sector can accomplish. With a lot of fool regulations this could have taken billions of years. And the evening of the fifth day, which had been the roughest day yet, God said, Thank me it's Friday. And God made the weekend.

Again, sometimes all one need do to make a position look foolish is to take it seriously and flesh out all the implications.

Friday, March 20, 2009

When Laughter, not Logic, is the Best Response

One of the most common argumentative gambits employed by promoters of crank science is the ad hominem gambit, where they claim any instance of name calling (you're an idiot!) or other deviation from solid logical discourse such as ridicule or laughter, as an ad hominem fallacy (you're an idiot, therefore you are wrong!) which fails to address the arguments made, and can be a tacit admission of defeat. It really shouldn't surprise us that cranks have developed this rhetorical weapon, since by their very nature they are going to be laughed at and called idiots a lot. The gambit is a survival technique for them, but unfortunately depends on a blatantly false assumption that rips the value out of it. I've never seen it explained more eloquently than this, by Prometheus in comment #10:

"There were these carnival chimpanzees who had been taught to smoke cigarettes so I had a little talk with them about causation, reproducible results and cited several surgeon general’s reports in support of my solid foundation of Aristotelean logic and when they realized I had no smokes or bananas they threw poop at me.

In case you had failed to notice, the appropriate response to absurdity is laughter. Not logic."

This conclusion follows from another little bit of wisdom:

"A man cannot be moved from a position by logic that he did not reach by logic"

Cranks did not reach their conclusions via logic. If they did they wouldn't be cranks, with their cherry picking, their conspiracy theories, and their unwillingness to accept they may have more to learn. All imply a mind that reached its conclusion a priori, and thus, it will be unmoved by logical evidenciary argumentation. When they toss their rhetorical poop at us, one effort of logical refutation is in order, at most. After that, ridicule them, its all they understand.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

An Unbiased Discussion of Bias

We hear the word "biased" tossed around a lot in political discussions. However, what we do not hear a lot is any evidence to support these claims. Instead, the arguments of bias amounts to "they disagree with us". A good example of this circular reasoning can be found in this WorldnetDaily article about Snopes.com, and their handling of the Obama birth certificate controversy. One can read the entire article and find not one example of Snopes botching a story due to bias, nothing of the form "Snopes said X, by relying on biased source A, but a search of credible sources B, C, and D shows X to be false". The closest they come is Snopes' debunking of the myth that fluorescent light bulbs pose health risks, wherein Snopes cites the EPA. However, what is entirely missing is any evidence that the EPA's references should not be considered credible. It is not enough to merely assert that a source is unreliable. Evidence supporting the case needs to be provided. Instead, what you'll see from WND is a lot of "they disagree with us" arguments like this:

The Snopes conclusion refers to an image posted on another website, FactCheck, which in turn cites as documentation of Obama's Hawaiian birth a "Certification of Live Birth" that the Obama campaign posted during 2008.

Critics, however, have pointed out that the "Certification of Live Birth" posted online is not, in fact, the same as a "Birth Certificate," and COLBs have been issued by Hawaii to parents whose children are not even born in the state...

From there we get the standard arguments against Obama's eligibility, without any unbiased corroboration, and without any evidence that FactCheck should not be considered reliable. This is common practice in politics: claiming any sight that disagrees with you is biased. Without independent evidence, however, the arguments fall flat and should not be treated as credible, but rather as sore loserisms. It's the political equivalent of declaring the referees or judges in a sporting event biased merely because they didn't pick your team.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

If Atheists Left America

For the Christians who treat atheists as baby-eating satanists, here's a video for you. An America without atheists would be a dreary place indeed, as the comparisons with other countries with virtually no atheists illustrates.

And no, no one would consider the information in this video as solid science suggesting we'd be better off with an atheist-only nation. If evolution teaches us anything, it is that homogeneity is a dangerous survival technique for a species. Best to have a variety of traits and viewpoints, for no one knows for sure what the future holds.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Red State's Open Letter: Political Suicide

A recent rant from Redstate making the rounds on the net shows just how clueless the ever-shrinking GOP minority is getting, and how their entire position relies on denying reality, inventing conspiracies, dodging issues, and of course, making shit up. Dissatisfied with the recent comments from Michael Steele to the “Rush wants Obama to fail” meme, he gives them this advice:

The next time some stupid reporter asks you what you think of what Rush Limbaugh said about Barack Obama you look that guy in straight in the eye and say this:

“Rush Limbaugh is an American citizen and he is entitled to say whatever he wants about Barack Obama.”
Then ask the reporter if they have a problem with free speech.

Oh yeah, dodge the issue by making a bland comment with which everyone agrees, and then subtly accuse the reporter of asking the question because they have a problem with free speech. That gets the public behind you.

Next, when they ask you if you agree with what he said you tell that reporter this:

“I promise to support Barack Obama just as much if not more than the way that Barack Obama,Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and for that matter the entire Democratic party has supported George Bush over the last few years.”

Then you ask that reporter if he has a problem with that.

If the reporter is on the ball at all, he’ll say yeah, he has a problem with that, because you didn’t answer the question, and instead tried to change the subject to be about Reid and Pelosi’s relationship with Bush in a blatant and desperate attempt at a tit-for-tatism, the sort of thing the public is sick of. Why not start yammering about Bill Clinton while you’re at it?

”Since most reporters seem to love to put their own opinion into every story the report they should jump at the chance.
Try it just once.Turn the tables on them and ask them a question.

Ask them who they voted for.
Ask them what party they belong to.
Ask them if they earn more than $250,000 a year.
Ask them what they think of George Bush or if they voted for Bill Clinton.
Ask them what they think about abortion.
Any one of those questions will have them reeling back and stuttering instantly and I doubt they will answer it.

Uh, no, and their audience will be glad, because they don’t care what he reporter thinks. Let’s review the players in this little play, since Mr. Redstate apparently wasn’t paying attention in government class. The reporter’s job is to ask politicians questions, and to try to get them to answer them. It is not the politician’s place to ask reporters questions, and indeed, such would be an obvious dodge of their responsibilities to the public. Imagine for a moment, a professional athlete answering a reporters questions by questioning the reporter on his sports accomplishments. Absurd you say? Exactly, and even more so for a politician.

Ah…but their reaction will answer your question and all who are watching will see it laid bare. Get in their face.Push back.You are not being interrogated for Pete’s sake.
Don’t worry about being polite with them.
Secretly they hate your guts and you need to realize that.

Oh for Pete's sake, how childish. Everybody hates me. So much for personal responsibility, and believing in things greater than yourself. Reporters are supposed to interrogate politicians, and others playing the political game. That’s their job. Anyone in Steele or Cantor’s position who can’t handle that needs to get a new occupation.

You will never get a fair shake from them so don’t worry about ruffling their feathers a little. Put them in their place. They are nothing more than candy ass T.V. models working for the DNC. Make them look like a fool once in a while. How could it hurt?

Right, assume there is some sort of conspiracy going in. That’ll show them! How could it hurt? It would make Steele and Cantor look like fools and crybabies, that’s how.

I have noticed that when they ask you and other Republicans certain questions that you do not have a good answer ready and start backtracking away form core principles of the party.

Gee, one would think that’d make one question those core principles, now wouldn’t it? However, when one’s principles are based on faith (be it in gods, Laffer curves, or lassie fare makes little difference), such corrective introspection is out of bounds.

For example :”Tax cuts for the rich”
Let’s face it.Pundits know that they can tag you with that question at any time and you have no response and they make you look silly.

Try saying this.

“Of course I support tax cuts for the rich you jackass. Who do you think puts people to work in this country….?The poor?“
Then ask them if someone wants a good job should they turn to a wealthy man or go to a public housing project and which may be more fruitful. Wealthy people put this country to work. Poor people do not. Why are you ashamed to admit that?

Perhaps because it is a lot of unsupported supply-side claptrap. There is no evidence that tax cuts for the rich does anything but increase the bank accounts of the rich. The trickle down theory has been repudiated by three straight GOP supply-sider presidents producing 5 straight years of colossal budget deficits. No boom to be found. But why deal with reality when you can just make shit up…

Remember this.
EVERYBODY wants to be rich.
We all do.What’s so bad about that? This is America.It’s the land of opportunity and the land of the free.It’s not the land of the free lunch.
Why are you so ashamed to stick up for rich people?
What is so great about being poor?
Being poor sucks.
Keep in mind that the person asking you about “tax cuts for the rich” is no doubt a millionaire themself or will soon be.
T.V. people make big bucks and it is the height of hypocrisy for them to be criticizing the rich as if they aren’t themselves or rub elbows with them all day long.
You want to keep in mind that the senior leadership of the DNC are ALL MILLIONAIRES!!!!
Some many times over.

Wow, yeah bud, having Michael Steele rant like a loon will sure help the cause. Making up the fantasy that everyone wants to be rich (I’m sure priests, anthropologists living in the field and soup kitchen volunteers would be amused by that claim) and pretending that proposing higher taxes on the rich is an attack/criticism of them will have just as positive an effect as it had in the last election (ie none). Once again, your suggestion is yet another dodge of the issue, and would likely sink Cantor, Steele and the GOP, not save them.

Here is another little tidbit I think may be helpful.
Stop worrying about every little thing that might offend somebody.
It’s a false premise. Those people aren’t really offended but merely pretend to be to push you into a corner.

The problem here is pretending that any of the criticism of the GOP is based on people being offended. That’s yet another dodge. We criticize you because what you say is stupid, not because it is offensive. For evidence of that, people can read the remainder of redstate’s rant, which is even more embarrassing than what I’ve criticized.

Needless to say, if Cantor and Steele are foolish enough to take Redstates advice, it's going to be a long night in November 2010 for the GOP. Again.

Monday, March 16, 2009

New Scientist on Spotting Religious Agendas in Science

Apparently New Scientist magazine yanked an article on spotting religious agendas in science because of complaints about it. Not being one to let complainers control the rest of us, I checked out the article and found it a worthy read. It might not be a bad idea to have copies of these handy to give away at relevant public events. The more people that understand the games the creationists are playing, the better able to deal with them they will be, as the article concludes:

It is crucial to the public's intellectual health to know when science really is science. Those with a religious agenda will continue to disguise their true views in their effort to win supporters, so please read between the lines.

New Scientist, get your priorities straight. Few topics are as relevant for a science magazine as is that of knowing how to tell science from pseudoscience.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Colbert on Rush

Once again Colbert nails it like no one else can, concerning the cowtowing of official GOP leaders to Rush. Following a clip of Sean Hannity kissing Rush's ass:

"To warrant obsequious crack-licking like that, he must have said something terrible, something like 'The vacuum in Republican leadership has allowed a mean-spirited, lard-assed talk radio mind corpse to become the de facto leader, which is turning an already crippled party into a bickering laughing stock.'"

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Antievolution bill in Iowa

Apparently there is another anti-evolution bill out there, this time in Iowa. Let's hope they get the information on the scam before they do something that will cost them millions in court fees a la Dover.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Dumbest Statement Ever?

I know, I know, it's a tough standard to live up to. But here's Richard from this Townhall thread:

"Of course if you go to any university you will find that in the science department conservatives out number liberals 100 to 1 ..."

Can there be a claim more removed from reality?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What's Less Popular than Legal Marijuana? You May be Surprised

According to a recent poll, legal marijuana now garners about 40% support, which makes it more popular than:

--Opposing stricter gun control laws (40%)
--Congress (26-40%)
--The war in Iraq (39%)
--Decreasing immigration levels (39%)
--Privatizing Social Security (36%)
--Opposing investigating the Bush administration (34%)
--Opposing national, government run health insurance (32%)
--Vetoing stem cell research (31%)
--The Republican Party (31%)
--Dick Cheney (30%)
--George W. Bush (24-34%)
--Decreasing business regulations (28%)
--Rush Limbaugh (28%)
--Mitch McConnell (22%)
--Preventing the openly gay from serving in the military (17%)
--John Boehner (17%)

Soon our time will come.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Spiny Penised Beetles: The Creationist Nightmare

For all the creationists out there, I give you the spiny penised seed beetle. Here's his tool:

Now, please, let's hear the rationale for why an all-loving god would design a beetle with spines on its penis so it can be sure to tear up the insides of the female when they mate.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Who's Buying Porn? Conservatives of Course!

A recent study of anonymous credit card receipts used in purchasing porn has just been done, and while the highest consuming state (Utah = 5.47 subscriptions per 1,000 broadband users) was only three times as high as the lowest (Montana = 1.92), the patterns of usage relative to political and social attitudes was quite comical, and counter-traditional:

After controlling for differences in broadband internet access between states – online porn tends to be a bandwidth hog – and adjusting for population...:

The biggest consumer, Utah, averaged 5.47 adult content subscriptions per 1000 home broadband users; Montana bought the least with 1.92 per 1000.

Eight of the top 10 pornography consuming states gave their electoral votes to John McCain in last year's presidential election – Florida and Hawaii were the exceptions. While six out of the lowest 10 favoured Barack Obama.

Residents of 27 states that passed laws banning gay marriages boasted 11% more porn subscribers than states that don't explicitly restrict gay marriage.

States where a majority of residents agreed with the statement "I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage," bought 3.6 more subscriptions per thousand people than states where a majority disagreed. A similar difference emerged for the statement "AIDS might be God's punishment for immoral sexual behaviour."

Perhaps being denied something makes one desire it more? Perhaps desiring something one feels is immoral would cause one to be more rabid about getting it banned? Thus we get the parade of rabid homophobes (Craig, Foley, Haggart, etc.) who turn out to be homosexual. In any case, once again we have data to test the theories that religion makes people more virtuous and less sinful, and yet even by their own standards, they lose again. They get divorced more, consume more porn, commit more crime, and on and on and on. Whatever explanations may exist for each individual anomaly, the sheer volume and consistency of them begins to make other explanations less and less plausible. Sin and religion go together, whichever be the cause or effect.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Nation of Christians? Fundies Equivocate!

The next time you get into a debate with a fundamentalist who insists that this is a Christian nation, ask them which denominations they consider Christian. Do they consider Catholics Christians? You might be surprised to find many do not. Likewise for many of the more liberal sects. When you go through the list, you'll find that to many fundamentalists (Church of Christ, Nazerene, Pentecostal, Methodists), a very small minority qualify as Christians. Yet when wanting to persuade people that we are a christian nation, they include all those liberal sects. They use a double standard and should be called on it. The only way they can rightly claim the nation is majority Christian, they have to grant that status to Catholics and Episcopalians and all the other liberal sects.

Hat tip to Blaidd Drwg who put it this way:

Since most of the "mainstream" churches tend to define ALL the other sects (of Christendom) as 'non-Christian', it makes one wonder if we are REALLY predominately Christian as a nation. eg. the Holiness/Charismatic/Apostolic folks define Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and even Baptists as 'fallen', 'backsliding', and even 'demonic' - and don't even mention the Catholics, "everybody knows" they are the very spirit of the AntiChrist. Thus, since ~5% of the nation belongs to the B/C/A churches, then by definition (theirs), we are NOT an overwhelmingly Christian nation, and Christianity is, in fact, a minority smaller than 'teh gay'.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Rush Defenders Trying to Have it Both Ways

I must say it's pretty entertaining watching the Republicans bend over backwards intellectually trying to defend Rush's claim that he wants Obama to fail, but the country to succeed. Here's Tim Pawlenty's attempt:

"He was wishing his socialistic policies fail. Not the country. There is clarity around that.... From my standpoint we need to wish President Obama well. We don't need to agree with him on everything. Rush Limbaugh made it clear he doesn't like President Obama's policies. That is a fair critique from his perspective. I don't think he is saying Barack Obama is a failure, I wish ill will on the country. He says I don't like these policies and I hope they are failures."

This is double talk! It's like saying you want the coach's strategy to fail, but you want the team to win! It's nonsensical. Please, anyone out there who disagrees and actually thinks there is coherence in saying you want policies adopted by the country to fail, but you don't want the country to fail; describe for me in detail what that would look like. No hand-waving vague generalities. Specifics. What will the markets look like, what will the unemployment figures look like, what will the government budget look like? Show me how this isn't an obvious and idiotic contradiction, because frankly I don't think it is possible. Pawlenty, like too many in the GOP, are twisting themselves in knots making sure that in the end they bend over and say "thank you Rush!".

Then there's Michael Steele, playing revisionist history a la Michelle Bachman and claiming he didn't say what he plainly did [hat tip ed Brayton].

What drives me nuts here is the "well how is this different than what was done to Bush" nonsense retort from Steele when called on the carpet for Rush wanting Obama to fail.

Here's why it's different:

1) No one said they wanted Bush to fail. No one. What was said was he *IS* failing, and he got criticism for being an incompetent BECAUSE he failed, and we wanted him to succeed, which is why we were so critical in the first place. Really, this isn't rocket science.

2) How is what was said about Bush the slightest bit relevant to what we should do now with Obama? Is Steele arguing that we should do wrong now because we did wrong before and being consistent is more important than being right?

Just once I'd like these lazy media people to be prepared for these totally predictable dodges. They're easy to spot. If you ask someone about the current president and they start talking about past presidents, they're dodging, and need to be called on it.

On the deny-Rush-while-defending-him, get a clue guys. Obama knew that's a losing strategy for you, and that Rush would go along with it because it fills his pockets. Why do you think they chose this strategy? But, but, but, you say, OMG Rush has a listening audience of 20 million. Yes he does. And did you notice the figures on the last presidential scoreboard? Obama 67 million, McCain 58 million. 20 million won't cut it when kissing their leader's ass alienates everyone else.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Denialism = Conspiracy Theories

I've been noting for quite some time the common bonds between the science denialists, be they concerned with evolution, global warming, AIDS/HIV, or the holocaust. One parallel I hadn't quite put together yet was the connection of global warming with fundamentalist Christianity. The fundie aversion to evolution is obvious, by how does a warming earth conflict with Jesus' teachings? Here's one theory:

One possible reason that global-warming denialism is more prevalent in the U.S. than elsewhere is that more Americans than Europeans are Biblical literalists. That involves believing that all biologists and paleontologists are either massively incompetent or deliberately trying to mislead the public about the central facts of their disciplines. [The alternative theory, held by some, is that the entire fossil record is a trick by Satan, intended to deceive those whose faith isn't firm.] I haven't seen any data on the overlap between global-warming denialism and creationism, but thinking about Sarah Palin and her fans you'd have to guess at a strong correlation between the two beliefs.

Global-warming denialism is a special case, of course: the policy implications of the facts about climate change threaten some very large economic interests and some dearly-held political beliefs. So global-warming-denialist brochures are printed on glossy paper. Other than that, though, it's fairly standard-grade fringe pseudoscience, not much different from the folks who write endless papers full of gibberish proving that Einstein was wrong.

How the Mighty IDers have Fallen

Some things don't need much explanation. Here's a bit of the Discovery Institute's latest propaganda, courtesy of Anika smith, and reproduced from here:

Roddy Bollock over at ARN's ID Report has an excellent post illustrating the difficulty Darwinists have with explaining design:


What if you were lied to all your life that a square was a circle? Oh yes, you were told, it's natural to have contrary thoughts, but you must not be deceived by appearances; those things that look like squares are not. They are merely apparent squares. And in reality, you are politely informed, they not only are circles, they must be, because an all encompassing Theory of Circumfusion requires them to be, and you must believe the Theory of Circumfusion. And what if you did? Despite all that was in you; despite what you instinctively and empirically knew, what if you believed? What if?

Imagine that you really bought the lie. You began to see reality not as circles and squares, but as circles and the illusion of squares. And suppose over time you trained yourself, through constant reminder that what you see as squares are not squares, but circles; you actually saw only circles. Now where others see circles and squares you see only circles and imperfect circles. In fact, you find you are somewhat proud of the fact that you seem to be one of the very few people that can understand the Theory of Circumfusion to the extent that you see reality so wonderfully enveloped with circles. You teach with grand authority that your discipline is that of the study of circles that give the appearance of being squares. In fact, your reality becomes so self-evidently true you almost forget that others still see squares.

But you can't forget. Picture your constant chagrin, if not downright irritation, at the constant use among lay people and uninformed (redneck, you say) scientists of the language of squareness. To make matters worse, squareness is always insisted on by the "straight" and "square" crowd, those who speak in vexatious pleonasms such as reference to "straight-edged squares" (as if there are any other kind). They are not squares! you want to shout, they are circles that only have the appearance of squareness! You try your best to be nice, but you find yourself blogging about imbeciles and the mentally ill who adamantly refuse to believe the scientific Theory of Circumfusion and persist in the delusion of the existence of true squareness.


There's nothing like a strong dose of clear thinking to illuminate the debate between evolution and intelligent design.

Uh, yeah Anika, sure [wink wink, nudge nudge]. Clear. Crystal.

Sheesh. My what the IDers have sunk to: doing their best Sokal impersonations.

Friday, March 6, 2009

So Much for Caring About Innocent Life

When social conservatives are asked to contrast their position on abortion (anti) and capital punishment (pro), their pat answer is that the life in an abortion is an innocent one, whereas the life in the death penalty case isn't.

Well, apparently that is just one more argument of convenience, at least for Colorado State Senator Dave Schultheis:

Democrats were outraged Wednesday morning when Republican state Sen. Dave Schultheis said he planned to vote against a bill to require HIV tests for pregnant women because the disease “stems from sexual promiscuity” and he didn’t think the Legislature should “remove the negative consequences that take place from poor behavior and unacceptable behavior.”

Apparently from Schultheis' point of view the guilt of the mother, however poorly justified even that is, trumps the innocence of the fetus. This sort of inconsistency of argument is exactly what one would expect from a viewpoint based, not on reason, but on arbitrary decrees, especially those several centuries old.

Here were Schultheis' actual words:

"Sexual promiscuity, we know, causes a lot of problems in our state, one of which, obviously, is the contraction of HIV. And we have other programs that deal with the negative consequences — we put up part of our high schools where we allow students maybe 13 years old who put their child in a small daycare center there.

We do things continually to remove the negative consequences that take place from poor behavior and unacceptable behavior, quite frankly, and I don’t think that’s the role of this body."

Ancient Siberian Volcano Killed with Poison Gas

Released from its imprisonment behind the iron curtain, the remnants of the supervolcano that destroyed 90% of life on earth 250 million years ago, are being discovered by scientists, with some surprising results.

It had been theorized that the eruption caused
major global warming, and these findings support that contention. But in addition to that, it released a massive amount of poison gas:

But the team also wanted to know what happened when lava infiltrated the area's abundant salt deposits. When heated in a laboratory to 275 degrees Centigrade (527 degrees Fahrenheit), the salts released a host of toxic gases, chief among them methyl chloride, an efficient ozone-killer.

So as bad as the effects of such events are, sometimes it turns out they are even worse.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

What if God Disappeared?

Sometimes the best way to refute a position is to accept it and run with it. Thus, to the argument that there can be no morals without gods, I give you Ed Current.

Rush Debating Obama?

So Rush has challenged Obama to a debate. Interesting. Of course, the likelihood of Obama accepting approaches zero (something everyone, including Rush, knew already), but it's an amusing thought nonetheless. It is also patently ridiculous.

Let's turn this around so political biases won't impede the perception of just how silly this is. Let's take someone on the left, who's deeply partisan, not averse to bending facts to fit his views, with a big mouth, millions of fans, and just for shits and grins, has a weight problem: Michael Moore. Now imagine Michael Moore challenging President George Bush to a debate. Should Bush have accepted? Of course not! He's the President of the United States for crying out loud! Time is not something he has in abundance, and the precedent would be unwieldy to say the least. Are we going to expect every president to accept every debate challenge from famous people, even ones he may mention in political discourse? The idea is ridiculous. Whether the person challenging the president has views with merit or not is completely beside the point.

I think this guy nailed it as to Rush's motives, and the reasons the challenge falls flat. He had his chance to do this for a long time (an interminably long time) during the election. Obama met with Rick Warren after all, he might have met Rush as well: as candidate Obama. But President Obama has better things to do.

What I find amusing is remembering how Rush acted when the Republicans took over congress in 1994 with Bill Clinton as president. Rush went through Clinton's speech at the time, line by line, responding to Clinton's remarks about working with the new GOP congress. Rush kept reminding Clinton, literally jumping up and down with glee (this was on his TV show, which I used to watch, ahem, religiously) that he had just been voted out of relevancy, and the congress didn't need to work with him. The voters had spoken, and they wanted Republicans.

I think that was a good argument then, and it's a good argument now. You had your chance to debate on the battlefield of politics Rush: that's during the elections. You either didn't think of it, or decided against it, but for whatever reason, that's that. Obama is president now, the voters soundly rejected your political position. While you can and should continue to argue that position, you have no business expecting the winner of the game to prove he can score a goal against you.

Finally, what is with this trend with modern conservatives and always wanting to fight their fights on the wrong battlefield? Rush's challenge is not unlike the challenges to debates creationists are always levying at scientists. They avoid the scientific battlefield of the peer-reviewed literature, writing popular books instead. They complain about court decisions that go against them, but don't appeal. They also whine (just as McCain's supporters have) that the reason they lost was because the game was rigged against them. All suggest minds not at all open to the idea that they might be wrong. Thus we get the "I want Obama to fail because I want America to succeed" argument, as if that is the only possible outcome. Such is a dangerous mindset in challenging, changing times. Closed-mindedness is not something we can afford.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Joe, Meet Josh

Joe the plumber (yes, believe it or not he's still around) was recently asked what heads he'd rhetorically bash were he in congress:

"Pretty much anybody that's stood there and said anything bad about our troops, pretty much anybody who sat there and talked treasonous talk about America. Back in the day, really, when people would talk about our military in a poor way, somebody would shoot 'em. And there'd be nothing said about that, because they knew it was wrong. You don't talk about our troops. You support our troops. Especially when our congressmen and senators sit there and say bad things in an ongoing conflict."

Ed Brayton has the video here. Astonishing as it is to most of us, the Joe the Plumber fans love this shit. YeeHAW! Shoot dem Commies! As for the rest of us, a commentor on Ed's blog named Josh put it best:

OH FOR FUCK's SAKE. This shit makes me crazy. As soldiers, our fucking morale is our fucking problem. The fact that a bunch of neocon twits try to make me feel warm and fuzzy by slapping another goddamn yellow ribbon magnet on their SUV doesn't really impress me.

Thanks. I feel supported.

You know what makes me feel supported? When people who have a reasoned view on a given war express that view. I don't give two shits if you're pro or con as long as you have thought out your fucking position. This my country right or wrong shit makes me crazy.

Our job as soldiers is to kick in the doors.
Your job as citizens is to try and make sure that Washington doesn't spend our lives stupidly.

We're doing our jobs, Joe.
Fucking do yours.

Amen Josh.

Harkin's War on Science: Bipartisan Ignorance

As if we needed reminding that ignorance and anti-science attitudes are not the sole propriety of social conservatives, here comes Tom Harkin to make sure we don't forget. Tom was instrumental in the setting up of the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, a government agency charged with investigating and validating alternative medicines. The problem? After a decade and countless taxpayer millions wasted, it has not found a single alternative medicine it could grant scientific validity. And that is not what Harkin had in mind at all:

"One of the purposes of this center was to investigate and validate alternative approaches. Quite frankly, I must say publicly that it has fallen short," Harkin said.

The senator went on to lament that, since its inception in 1998, the focus of NCCAM has been "disproving things rather than seeking out and approving things."

In other words, Harkin had a very unscientific attitude towards this scientific venture. He didn't want evidence found and followed where it led. He wanted his pet therapies declared valid, and to hell with the data, or worse, assumed his own views to be beyond reproach and thus any conclusion that ran counter to them must be flawed.

Thanks Tom, for the reminder than crank science is not bounded by ideology, even if some do foster it more than others. Anyone whose confidence grows beyond the need for evidence can fall into this trap. You can get detailed analysis of Harkin's comments, here, here, and here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Olasky's Dishonest Dialogue on Darwin

We are going to be hearing a lot of ignorant claptrap this year about Charles Darwin, and Marvin Olasky was kind enough to collect a steaming pile of it in one place for examination. It is a sign of crankery to never express the other side's views accurately, and Olasky doesn't disappoint. Right out of the gate, the misrepresentations begin:

"Darwinists are celebrating this month the 150th anniversary of the publication of their hero's breakthrough book, On the Origin of Species. Christians who respond with ridicule of Darwin get nowhere—but understanding a few terms of the debate can help to start a dialogue."

This is a standard attempt to poison the well by labelling scientists and people who accept their findings as "Darwinists" worshipping their hero, as if it were just another religion with a holy prophet given unquestioned authority. This is complete fiction of course, as it is common knowledge that Darwin made many understandable mistakes for a man of his time, as any great scientist of antiquity does. We've learned a lot over 150 years, not the least being the existence of DNA, so while Darwin deserves respect for his accomplishments, his role in modern science is minimal, and most of us spend far more time talking about him to creationists than we do to each other.

This is, of course, the primary reason why those who attack evolution with ridicule of Darwin get nowhere: it simply is not relevant. Back to Olasky:

(1) Let's start with the distinction between types of evolution. Back in 1859 everyone knew that changes could occur within a species; that's how we breed dogs. Darwin's theory was that a process analogous to artificial breeding also occurs in nature; he called that process natural selection, and he postulated that one species could change into another species. (To put it biblically, since God talks about "kinds" of creatures, one kind could become another kind.)

No, that isn't what Darwin said at all. The process of evolution will change a species, or subset of the species, into something else that hadn't existed before. This is not a trivial distinction, for it is what leads people who take Olasky's dissembling seriously to ask why, if evolution is true, don't dogs occasionally give birth to kittens. Dogs may one day give rise to something that we wouldn't exactly call a dog, and which cannot interbreed with whatever dogs still exist, but that something won't be an existing species (or kind, whatever that means).

It's important to know the difference between change within kinds (microevolution) and change from one kind to another (macroevolution). Darwinists who argue for macroevolution often give microevolution examples to "prove" changes. The famous "proof" of moths changing colors as pollution darkened trees was actually a fake, but it could have happened—and that would prove nothing about Darwinism. Bottom line: Critics of Darwin should not be anti-evolution. Microevolution clearly happens; we should always specify macroevolution.

Bottom line, Olasky is talking out of his hat. The moth experiments weren't fake, and this canard has been debunked numerous times. Pasting moths on a tree for purposes of illustration does not a fake make. You can see that and more examples of macroevolution here. But then, you know a conservative is lying when he starts flinging scare quotes around at random. More to the point, there is no difference between macro and micro evolution except degree. For Olasky to support one and not the other is like accepting I can walk across the street but not across town. Note that no one who plays this micro/macro canard ever describes the barrier that limits change to micro levels. There's a good reason for that: none exists.

The rest of Olasky's article continues in a similar vein with discredited arguments from nonexperts (you know you're desperate when you're quoting crank Michael Behe and nonscience entrepreneur Bill Gates in a biology discussion) finishing off with the "gee, it must be designed because I can't imagine how else it came to be" argument. It's the same old tired arguments that an honest person would have already realized were bogus.

Jesus and Pontius Pilate in Perspective

Jesus was a community organizer. Pontius Pilate was a governor.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Stewart on the Not-the-State-of-the-Union Address

Be ready to laugh until you cry as you watch Jon Stewart's priceless commentary on Obama's big speech, and Bobby Jindal's response (at about 6:16 in the clip). Stewart skewers right and left with equal comic fervor.

Obama Seperates US from Islamic Conference

In a move barely noticed in the mainstream press, President Obama has separated the United States from the Organization of the Islamic Conference. How? By reversing the former president's position and joining the United Nations General Assembly statement calling for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality. Yes homophobes, the only people around the world that agree with you are radical Muslims. Think about it.

Something else to think about is how this is going to mesh with those international edicts against criticizing religious ideas, since some of those religions say homosexuality is a sin, sometimes punishable by death. It seems the international community has an irreconcilable difference to work out.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Moore Heads Alabama Governors Race! Yes, THAT Moore

The right-side contraction of the Republican party continues in the south as the Alabama governor's race has a familiar face in the early lead: former judge Roy Moore.

Moore was expelled from his position as chief justice for refusing to remove a replica of the Ten Commandments from his courthouse, and since then has been advocating for traditional American values and ethics with his Foundation for Moral Law.

Yes, because ignoring the law is such a strong family value. To get an idea of the constituency in Alabama, check out this data:

Three-quarters of respondents are pro-life, 87 percent support traditional marriage, 86 percent are anti-tax, 82 percent are pro-gun and 80 percent historically contribute to charitable or political organizations.

They may get the leader they deserve.