Friday, August 31, 2007

Republicans on Larry Craig

The Republican reaction to the Larry Craig fiasco has been interesting, and somewhat telling. For the most part they are bringing out all the political argumentative fallacies to evade the issues at hand. First up, there is Linda Chavez' article where she brings out the old saw that a democrat in the same situation wouldn't have been treated the same way by the media. The problem is, as with most articles like this, the complete lack of any evidence to support her position. Her article is chock full of "I can't imagine" and "I suspect", which means all she is doing is supporting her speculation with more speculation. Too typical, and unpersuasive.

Michael Reagan doesn't pussyfoot around, going right for the Clinton gambit in his first paragraph, before launching into a muddled analysis questioning why people think Craig is a hypocrite. One would think it'd be obvious.

Then we get Kevin McCullough’s ignorant bizarre theories on homosexuality, and how somehow Craig is right, even though McCullough doesn't refer to any rightness in his article.

And of course anyone watching Hardball with Chris Matthews last night got to see Tom Delay dance madly to avoid saying anything bad about Craig, and of course, talking about the sins and peccadillos of Bill Clinton and other Democrats.

The pattern is obvious: avoid the real issues, and play the "who's a bigger hypocrite game". Blame the media, blame the gay activists, blame the Democrats, and of course, as every Republican with no real logical case to make does, talk about Bill Clinton, you know, that guy that hasn't been in the White House since before 9/11. Do everything except talking about the actual issue and leveling criticisms of Craig's ridiculous behavior. So much for the party of family values and personal responsibility.

Kudos to Debra Saunders who gets it right with a hard hitting commentary, and finishing with asking Craig to resign. That's the way intellectually honest people deal with such issues, not by pretending that you are exonerated if you can only claim the other party does bad things too. Politics is not a football game, where your side wins as long as you are less bad than the other side. If our politicians are immoral hypocritical scoundrels as Larry Craig appears to be, we all lose.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Blue Man Group Planet Earth Routine

Take a look at the most entertaining environmental video I've ever seen.

Update on the Anti-Gambling Bill WTO Dispute

At Dispatches, Ed has a good summary of the latest round in the battle between the US government and the WTO over the recent anti-gambling bill. Here is a Ed's summary:

"Antigua, which is home to several online gambling companies, filed a WTO complaint against the US and won. The US appealed and Antigua won again. Now the US is refusing to comply with the ruling, despite the fact that we complain when any other country doesn't comply with WTO rules. And this has led to something of a standoff."

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I also submit that for the most part, people in the world don't hate us because of our wealth and our freedom. People hate us because we so often act like we can do whatever we damned well please.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

David Limbaugh's Alternate Reality: The Securalists are coming!

David Limbaugh wrote a recent column accusing critics of Christianity and the Religious Right of being hypocrites. Amazingly, Limbaugh seems to be one of these people whose perception of the world is so biased by his religiousity that he can actually believes Christians suffer oppression in a nation where they hold all the political positions of power:

”It's no longer surprising that those screaming most loudly against Christianity and its influence on public policy in America often employ the same tactics and represent the same dangers they falsely attribute to Christians. Christians have far more to fear from the secular thought police than the other way around. “

It is telling that people like Limbaugh naturally assume nefarious motives on the part of his opponents. The idea that those of us critical of religion are so for the simple reason that we see it as 1) Baseless and 2) Often destructive, is not even considered. Despite Limbaugh’s claim to defend absolute truth, he is at heart a relativist, into which so many of the pious morph when “the truth” stops favoring them. He is correct. They are a social nuisance. They also seem blinkered to basic similarities between themselves and the Islamic culture they so revile. Believe me guys, from this atheist’s point of view, you are both basically loony. Sure the Muslims are loonier than the Christians, but they also have balls, so to me it’s a wash. Limbaugh would ignore all this with statements like this:

”The secularists' criticism goes beyond decrying the Christian Rights alleged hostility to church-state separation. They claim strong religious belief leads to oppression, tyranny and violence.

First, notice the dishonest demonization of his opponents, as if it is made up entirely of atheists. Fact is many who resist the cultural changes Limbaugh would enact are Christians, such as Barry Lynn, pastor and president of Americans for Separation of Church and State. But why bother with reality when one can pretend the battle is only against the godless? And yes sir, when one rules from an arbitrary book or prophet demanded to be taken on faith, oppression, tyranny and violence are inevitable. Whether it is faith in the God of Muhammad, Stalin and THE STATE, or Pol Pot’s Anka, the result is the same grisly tale. This is because there is no way to rectify differences in faith. There is no rhyme or reason, one either believes or one does not. You believe god came down to earth, died for man’s sins, and rose after 3 days, and, if you follow the theology consistently, that those who disagree will spend eternity in hellfire. Muslims believe you cannot make a picture of Mohammad, and to do so carries the penalty of death. There is no way to reconcile the two.

Once you give up civilized methods of dispute resolution: science, logic, chance, or arbitration, all that remains is violence, to gain power, oppression to maintain it, and tyranny as a result. It is not only historical, it is inevitable. Has it really passed Limbaugh’s notice that we have been at war, off and on, with the most religious nations in the world, for six decades at least?
From here Limbaugh completely jumps the shark, attempting to make the case that Christians clinging to an absolute truth based on faith is something we shouldn’t worry about, but the gods forbid if scientists take their evidence-supported provisional truths seriously.

”They even suggest the mere defense of absolute truth is dangerous…If anyone is guilty of wanting to foreclose debate and impose their values on others, it is these hyperventilating secularists.

They are the ones who have decreed there's a consensus on global warming and attempted to stigmatize dissenters as paid mouthpieces for ‘evil’ energy companies. With their absence of self-reflection it must never occur to them that in their professed monopoly on ‘science,’ they squarely violate the fundamentals of the scientific method by forbidding debate and insulating their theories from scientific scrutiny.”

Here again we see the problems with the religious mindset. Limbaugh can’t see the difference between evidence-based science and religious proclamations. All are mere decrees. The earth orbits the sun, Jesus was the Son of God, and the speed of light is constant are all equivalencies to Limbaugh. The fact is there is a large scientific consensus on global warming (which, as with all science, could change in the face of contrary data). Limbaugh may argue they are wrong, but to argue the consensus doesn’t exist, but has merely been decreed, is simply Limbaugh putting his fingers in his ears and shouting “La La La I can’t hear you!”, just as he does with the existence of his religious opponents.

Likewise, this “monopoly on science” exists only in Limbaugh’s head. Also, as I have asked before, what is it with conservatives and their obsession with scare quotes? There’s no reason to have quotes around “science” above. It’s just a way of attempting to poison the well when you don’t have the intellectual goods. Just imply the science isn’t really science, you don’t have to actually, you know, support your claims or anything.

Ditto with the claim the denialists are forbidden from the debate. They had their day in the debate, and in many ways they still do. They aren’t forbidden to compete, they are simply competing and losing. The mainstream anthropocentric global warming theory isn’t insulted from the denialists’ competing theories. It simply is of much higher quality, ie, it explains the data in a superior way, on the rare occasions where the denialists proffer an alternate theory at all.

For a man who respects absolute truth disconnected from evidence, Limbaugh sure has a hard time understanding provisional truths based on evidence. It should be easy, but to him, all disagreements are merely matters of opinion. You know why? Because that is the case with religious arguments, and that’s the only kind he understands. Speaking of which, he of course falls for that religion masquerading as a science, Intelligent Design:

”They malign intelligent design proponents for daring to subject their dogma -- and distortions -- to the rigorous re-examination scientific methodology requires.”

This is a statement that brands the speaker as either ignorant of the subject, or a bald faced liar. Intelligent Design proponents have been invited, nay begged, to enter into scientific debate. “Show us your evidence!” they are asked. “Publish in the peer reviewed literature!” they are begged. They are maligned because they refuse these invitations, refuse to engage the scientific community on scientific grounds, instead ignoring the many substantive criticisms they have received, and choosing instead to conduct a PR campaign aimed at selling popular books, altering academic standards at the secondary level, and misrepresenting science and scientists at every turn. One of their most common forms of lying, taking scientific quotes out of context and presenting them as meaning the opposite of what they actually mean, actually has its own name: quote mining. Michael Behe’s irreducible complexity and Bill Dembski’s explanatory filter have been taken apart by scientists, with nary a substantive comment, or adjustment in the theories, coming from the IDers. The dogma dodging scientific scrutiny is that of the IDers, and if Limbaugh truly does not understand this, he is revealing poor editorial judgement opining on a subject on which he is so ignorant.

Limbaugh’s next gaffe is another one common to the Religious Right: the idea that being prevented from imposing their values on everyone else equates to values being imposed on them.

”The secular left condemns traditionalists for ‘legislating morality’ and invading our bedrooms. Their quasi-religious fervor apparently blinds them to their efforts to wield governmental power to impose their own values, whether on homosexual marriage, abortion, wealth redistribution or socialized medicine. “

So to reason as Limbaugh does, allowing people to marry who they choose imposes values on him, the same as telling them they may only marry those approved by Limbaugh. This is simplistic for-us-or-against-us nonsense, and applies equally well to laws allowing abortion. One could be forgiven after reading Limbaugh’s screeds for concluding that he thinks someone is going to try to force him to marry a man and have an abortion. Now that would be someone else imposing their values on Limbaugh.

The important thing to remember here is the problem is not battling values per se. Limbaugh is correct to note that socialized medicine and progressive taxation are based on values. But what makes the values he tries to impose on others a problem is that they are based solely on religious values, and we are supposed to have religious freedoms in this country. We have a constitutional amendment that addresses that issue, and it doesn’t favor Limbaugh’s view. In our private lives, we can make our decisions based on any values we like. The values behind our laws, however, are supposed to be based on secular purposes. Limbaugh wants none of that, and further exhibits his biased view of our culture:

”Alas, none of this should surprise Christians, who surely understand we are reaping the ravaging effects of a secularist, atheistic worldview that has finally become dominant in our postmodern culture and has claimed absolute truth as its casualty. “

Oh that his claims that the secular worldview dominates were true. Alas, we still live in a country where to be president, one must declare one’s piety, where religious organizations get favored status in the law, and science textbooks have their biology sections watered down, not because of any scientific controversy, but simply because they offend the sensibilities of fundamentalist Christians.

As far as absolute truth goes, it deserves to be a casualty of any advanced society. It is an embarrassment to our society that such a view still lingers on, despite the vastly superior option of provisional scientific truth which has proven itself time and time again. Doubt, not faith, is what has fueled man’s rise from the dark ages. You remember the dark ages right? It was the time when views like Limbaugh’s were allowed run rampant, unfettered by silly nits like constitutional limitations. I’d much prefer continued reaping of the progress we have made since then, but I guess I’m just a silly securalist.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Why Keep Score? The Psychology of Winning

Its amazing what you learn at the ball field, especially when the players you are watching are 8. Passing ambulances call for an unstated time out for rubbernecking. Outs are more exciting than runs, and for good reason: there are fewer of them. And of course there is the concern by some parents that their children are going to be traumatized for life if they strike out, or lose a game. I have even heard of some leagues that do not keep score, in order to keep the children focused on the important part of the game, which is having fun. These people miss the fundamental point and purpose of sports, and in doing so they strip it of its value.

Think of the lessons you want children to learn from playing sports: teamwork, strategy, adapting to difficulties, dealing with failure, dealing with success, sacrificing individual glory for team success, hard work, discipline, and the value of practice.

Now look what happens to these lessons when score is removed. With no score there can be no winning and losing, which means no success. No learning how to lose with pride, or to win with class. What difficulties are there to adapt to if there is no losing? How can one sacrifice for team success when there is no success?

If you are expecting a Lombardi-esque speech about the importance of winning, you are going to be disappointed. The point of games is not the winning or losing. It is the journey, not the destination, that matters. Just like much of the benefit reaped from the moon landing was in what we learned/invented on the way (Velcro, microwaves, etc.), rather than what we got once we were there, the benefit in sports comes from one learns and goes through in the attempt to win.

In a way, sports competition prepares us, in a fairly risk-free environment with artificial goals, for those conflicts in real life with life and death goals. A scoreboard is just a measuring stick of how the children are doing. So they get upset if they do poorly. So what? That will teach them to learn the above lessons better, and after all, it really is just a game. Better to have a child learn the lessons of teamwork in a sport where the only harm is a bruised ego, than to learn it later in life in an emergency like a fire where lives are at stake.

Think about war games, everything from chess to computer simulations. They are exercises to improve performance. Without scores, and the agenda to achieve good ones, the exercise would fail to have value. And of course, the real potential for damage is removed so the soldiers using them don’t die learning lessons that would result in death on the real battlefield. Likewise with sports. Children learn lessons with little cost. They only learn the lessons with a game, and you only have a game with a score. With a score you have soccer. Without it, you just have people kicking a ball around.

To take another example, I once had the host of a friendly neighborhood poker game inquire as to the seriousness of my play. He could not understand why I would care if I won or lost in a penny ante game where one’s winnings on a good night would be less than anyone’s hourly wage at the table. I told him that attempting to win was the whole point, whether we are playing for $1,000 or matchsticks. There is where the challenges in strategy and psychology rise. Without that, we are merely sitting around a table taking turns winning little lotteries.

So let your kids play sports, and have them play, within the rules, and with good sportsmanship, to win. No child ever died of grief from taking a beating at a sport. Losing, failing to get what one desires, even sometimes after a ton of hard work and sacrifice, is a part of life. Best they learn that lesson while they are young, where they have little to lose. Let them learn, as this cocky 11 year old did, that no matter how good you are at a game, your team can still get beaten 77-0 if your teammates are not up to snuff. We can’t expect them to handle meaningful successes and failures as adults if they can’t handle meaningless successes and failures of childhood games.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Bill Sali: Out of Context?

Republican Bill Sali got into a bit of hot water recently defending those that disrupted a Hindu prayer opening congress. He has responded to his critics, and attempted to explain his very bigoted remarks (more on those later), but it was less than convincing. Sali claims “Christian beliefs have been essential to our country's well-being”, as have many others before him. I wonder, what could be these beliefs be? Do unto others? That’s a universal value, found in cultures across the globe, Christian and non-Christian alike. That can be no more called a Christian belief any more than wearing pants can be called a Christian fashion statement. Ditto for the notion that laws against murder and theft are based on Christian beliefs. Every culture on the planet has such laws. For a belief to validate Sali’s claim, it would need to be some unique, defining Christian belief.

But have the trinity, Jesus’ resurrection, or resting on Sundays, been essential to our country’s well being? This appears clearly false, judging from the comparative well-being of nations that haven’t valued these things. There are, however, aspects of our system that I would grant wholeheartedly have been essential to our country’s well-being, such as the principles of democracy, a fair trial, private property, political checks and balances, judgement by one’s peers, individual rights, and capitalism, among others. None of these is in the slightest bit derivative of the Christian religion, and some appear to be directly contrary to it. Jesus was not a capitalist, nor was he enamoured with the idea of ownership of worldly things. Jesus said “judge not”, not “judge your peers”.

So this claim that America owes much to Christian beliefs, repeated like a mantra as if it were self-evident, is utter nonsense. I say with a straight sober face, and with not a trace of humor, that the people of Iran have far more to thank Christian beliefs for, than the average American does. Laws according to God, reverence for the holy book as a given in life, ignoring science when it treads on religious dogma, declaring all those that disagree as evil, these are the values of American society derived from Christian beliefs. Not a pretty sight, is it? It would be even uglier if the theocrats like Bill Sali, who have taken over the Republican party, got their way.

Sali claims his statements were taken out of context, but what context validates this:

"We have not only a Hindu prayer being offered in the Senate, we have a Muslim member of the House of Representatives now, Keith Ellison from Minnesota. Those are changes -- and they are not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers..."

His attempts to explain reek of Archie Bunker:

"Others may argue just as strenuously that their particular religion - be it Hinduism or Buddhism, Islam or Vodooism - makes this country great, and they are free to do so. I won't agree with that assessment, but I will defend their right to practice their faith and share their opinion publicly. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are pillars of our constitutional government."

Right Bill, and your choice of Voodoo as a comparison to those religions that disagree with yours was chosen out of love and an effort to find a good example of the other side. It is also comforting that the rights of those of us who don’t agree with your religious views will be defended by you, so long as we don’t run for congress. The founding fathers must be rolling over in their graves to be so misrepresented.

Bill Sali, like every American, has the right to hold whatever religious views he likes. He can think God’s providence has protected America if he likes. He can think the Hindu prayer was a load of meaningless gobbledygook…I know I do. Just remember that in your role of congressman in the US government, the Constitution of the United States, not the Bible, takes precedence. Give to Caeser what is Caeser’s.

Can Miss Teen South Carolina find the U.S. on the Globe?

Miss Teen South Carolina was asked why she thinks 1/5 of Americans can't find their country on a world map. You would think she'd have a better idea, because from the sound of her answer, it appears she is one of them. Who said beauty pageants are all about beauty?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

IDers Give the anti-Science Game Away

A recent exchange on Uncommon Descent really illustrates the difference between the open inquiry of science and the closed procedures of a cult.

The following question was asked:

"So if ID is not creationism, then exactly who is the designer? Isn’t he the same as the creator? Creator (a person who creates), designer (a person who devises or executes designs, esp. one who creates), they sound the same to me. Can you tell me how they are different?

Is the designer a person, a supernatural being, an energy force, a deity, or what? Help me out here. Persuade me."

Now one would think on a site dedicated to discussion of ID that such a question would not only allowed, but welcome. After all, the IDers are adamant about not being creationism, so they should welcome a chance to clarify the distinction. However, this is the last thing they want, and the kinds of responses their side offers reveals why. One commentator responded this way:

”Your argument is beyond stupid. It is not necessary to know the identity of the designer to know something is designed and it never has been. This whole idea that the identity of the designer must be known to detect design is such a blatant logical fallacy it is laughable. It is clearly a bad argument thought up by people without a good argument in order to convince the gullible.”

Notice the complete lack of substance. No explanation of why the argument is stupid, a restatement of the position in question, a flip dismissal, and a little poisoning the well, sans evidence of course. The dismissal is especially noteworthy, because it involves an accusation of a logical fallacy without naming it. That would have taken one sentence, so why leave it out? The only reason I can think of is that the writer hasn’t really thought thought the arguments himself, so he’s forced to parrot what he’s heard his authority figures say. So there can’t be any detail or defense of the assertions when there is no understanding of the underlying arguments.

A second commentator at least addressed the question substantively, albeit poorly:

”To answer your question from a layman’s point of view, if you are wanting to find out who the designer is, ID will not answer that question. ID looks for the effects of design by examining an object or event. Asking who did the design is not a scientific question, but a philosophical and/or theological question.”

How does this follow? When an archaeologist is looking at an object identified as a designed object (eg an arrowhead, an ax blade, or a chopping rock), how is trying to determine to which group the designer belonged (Apache or Blackfoot, Greek or Roman, Aboriginal Australian or European settler) a philosophical question? Is identifying a beaver as the designer of the beaver dam, and the bee as the designer of the honeycomb hive, a theological question? For that matter, if ID is all about the science, and not about religion, how could any ID inquiry be a theological question? If SETI received a message determined to be designed, would the question of who the designers were be philosophical? Is a detective examining evidence in a murder case determined to be designed (say, a blood scrawl on the wall), and attempting to identify the killer engaging in theological pursuits?

Obviously the answers to all of the above are a resounding "No!". This ID mantra is rank nonsense. Identifying the designer that goes with the designed object is part and parcel of legitimate scientific pursuits like archaeology, forensics, or SETI. This demand that the question not be answered is a transparent attempt by the IDers to hide the fact that the designer is their god. That’s why they slip with references to theology like the above, or supposed anti-religious bigotry of scientists, when the subject arises. They just can't help themselves.

The comparison of this supposed philosophical delineation to the delineation between abiogenesis and evolution is strained at best. Evolutionary theory does not say one cannot ask the question of whence the first life form came, or that it isn’t scientific to do so. Indeed, that branch of science is alive and well, and even has its own name. The point of pointing out the distinction between evolution and abiogenesis is to refute the claim by creationists that unanswered questions in abiogenesis pose some threat to evolutionary theory. That would be like saying we can’t know anything about the history of Europeans in the Americas unless we know exactly who arrived first, Columbus or Erikson, and where. The fact of a European presence and history in the America’s is well-evidenced, as is the evolution of species. Likewise, the origins of these events are separate, but legitimate inquiries.

The conversation didn’t get anywhere near having those issues addressed, because shortly after that, the interlocutor asking a simple relevant question about the subject of the blog, was banned without explanation. Such is the way of pseudoscience, and the deepness of irony, that those who scream the loudest about censorship are the worst about censoring others.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Couple of Unbelievable Poker Hands

Check out these poker hands. If you think you have gotten bad beats, try these on for size. Here you will see hole cards like you will never see before, and plot twists and turns worthy of a soap opera.

Then comes this disaster where Gus Hansen draws four 5's against Daniel Negreanu's full house, in what apparently was the biggest cash hand ever.

I try to think of these hands whenever I lose a few bucks on a bad beat.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Texas Education Board Two Step on Intelligent Design

As reported in the Dallas Morning News, the Texas Education Board officially opposes Intelligent Design. However, it is very important to read between the lines whenever creationists talk. Their equivocation is well-established historically (see the Dover Trial), and the Texas crew has learned their lines well.

You see, in Dover, the school board got destroyed trying to sneak creationism into the science curricula under the guise of Intelligent Design. They claimed ID was science, not religion. However, thanks in part to the Wedge Document, which showed ID was nothing more than a replacement word for "creationism" in the proposed textbook "Of Pandas and People", and the statements of the school board themselves, which gave away their religious motivations, the policy was overturned and ID was ruled to not be science.

Apparently the creationists have learned their lesson, and now that they know the phrase "intelligent design" is legal plutonium, they have switched to the next great euphemism for creationism: teach the controversy.

"Creationism and intelligent design don't belong in our science classes," said Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, who described himself as a creationist. "Anything taught in science has to have consensus in the science community – and intelligent design does not."

Sounds refreshingly reasonable, doesn't it? I give Mr. McLeroy credit for at least saying the right things there. However, it is clear he this is just politics rather than a change in his creationist heart, as the next sections from the article make painfully clear:

"When it comes to evolution, I am totally content with the current standard," he said, adding that his dissatisfaction with current biology textbooks is that they don't cover the weaknesses of the theory of evolution.

Mr. McLeroy and others say they'll push for books to include a more thorough examination of weaknesses in the theory of evolution.

The phrase "weaknesses in the theory of evolution" is code for wanting to introduce long-refuted creationist canards into the curriculum as "scientific differences of opinion", or "critical thinking". Rest assured, Mr. McLeroy and those that support him are not going to the National Academy of Sciences for the latest discussions of evo-devo, punctuated equilibrium, or any of the scientific issues within evolutionary theory. The reason is that there are no scientific weaknesses in evolutionary theory. So despite his claim above, McLeroy and the boys are going to take arguments that are soundly rejected by the scientific consensus and try to wedge them into science class under a facade of science. Board Vice Chairman David Bradley is all-too eager to prove my point, by citing that Law of Science, "If you weren't there, you can't prove it":

"If some of my associates want to believe their ancestors were monkeys, that is their right. I believe God is responsible for our creation," said Mr. Bradley, R-Beaumont. "Given that none of today's scientists were around when the first frog crawled out of the pond, there is no one who can say exactly what happened."

Does this sound like a guy interested in the scientific consensus? Or how about board member Barbara Cargill:

"Where people differ is on the origin of man," she noted, citing similar concerns with other board members about current biology books and their lack of information about the weaknesses of Darwin's theory.

Scientific consensus my ape arse. Then there is Gail Lowe, who shows where her priorities are:

"[She] said the study of evolution is important to the teaching of biology. At the same time, she added, "Kids ought to be able to hold religious beliefs and still study science without any conflict."

In other words, if the science conflicts with the kids' religion, to hell with the science. Then comes board member Pat Hardy:

"I am open to having intelligent design in there because there is a large body of evidence unanswered by the theory of evolution. We first need to hear from science educators and experts about whether this should be done"

Like McLeroy, this apparent respect for science is mere pretense. The scientific establishment has repudiated Intelligent Design thoroughly, in multiple fields. Claiming to support ID and desire to know the opinion of scientists on the matter reveals one is either ignorant or a liar.

So it's clear where these people stand, regardless of their occasional ID talking points to the contrary. Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network pretty much nailed it:

"Don McLeroy and the other ideologues who now control the state board have said repeatedly in the past that they want public school science classes to teach creationism and other religion-based concepts," Ms. Miller said. "So we have no doubt that they'll find a way to try, either by playing politics with the curriculum standards or censoring new science textbooks later on."

Indeed, it does seem inevitable.

More on the Gay Anti-gay Crusaders

A few bloggers have taken me to task for some comments I made here on this story as I wondered aloud how many of these gay-bashing gays we have to find before my hypothesis that their gayness drives their rabid anti-gayness.
The comment was made somewhat tongue in cheek, since we can’t exactly get any sort of reasonable sample with a group so motivated to lie. That leaves us with analyzing the behavior.

Obviously we can’t treat frothing at the mouth opposition to something as an indication of secretly supporting or participating in it. That’s catch-22. After all, some issues deserve frothing at the mouth opposition, and therein lies the rub. It’s not that anti-gay crusaders are so adamant about their views, but that their views are so horribly, embarrassingly, poorly supported by anything remotely resembling logic or evidence. As political issues go, nothing brings out “teh stupid” like gay marriage. Just like with the IDers, for whom the suspicion of a nonscientific agenda is warranted by their nonscientific approach, the complete irrationality of the anti-gay crusaders cries out for an explanation.

Overcompensation isn’t exactly an absurd hypothesis. Imagine what it must be like to be raised in an environment where what you are is depicted as sinful, where you are told your natural attractions are evil. Is it such a stretch to suggest those who are more moved by their theological institutions than their own instinct and modern science, might develop a strong sense of self hatred, and deal with this by speaking out louder and stronger than anyone else on the issue? They are kin to those called cowards who volunteer for the most dangerous missions to dispel that notion.

Let's also not get bogged down with the either-or fallacy. Correlation runs anywhere from 1.00 to 0.00. Proof that some X aren’t correlated with Y doesn’t imply the correlation carries little weight. It only implies the correlation is less than 1.00. Views may differ, but I am talking about causation. I hypothesize that rabid, frothing-at-the-mouth opposition to something, in the absence of a solid evidence supporting the position does often arise from a personal battle with that same issue. Look at the people involved with MADD. Are we going to be shocked when we learn those who have suffered the most from drunk driving would be the most rabidly against it? What makes anyone think closeted gays, who think themselves suffering from what they see as their inherent sinfulness, wouldn't react similarly? Some think that Fred Phelps would be Exhibit A of my theory, and I agree. Count me among the believers that Fred‘s loafers are a bit lighter than he lets on.

Finally, yes, I would suggest that rabidly anti-atheists also reveal subconscious insecurities about their views. Again, in the absense of a solid logical evidence-based position, what else should we think? An insistence that others do and think as you do are telltale signs of personal insecurities on those issues. Just think about those issues where you are most secure in your views. Does this lead you to rabidly attack those that differ with you? If you are anything like me, mostly not. Even in cases where resistence is easiest, say for a murderer’s chosen hobby, the average person’s hatred is an order of magnitude lower than Fred Phelps’ for “homos”.

Now some might play Devil's advocate and claim the same could be said for rabid atheists. For the recently reborn-agains, who can be as bad as ex-smokers (I once had recently deconverted friend who would argue with people who said "God bless you" when he sneezed), and for obvious reasons, this might be the case. But generally, atheists for the most part don’t talk much about god at all unless someone else brings it up first. It's not as if we meet every week singing “Hail Reason, God is dead!”. This accusation by some believers is just another evasion of the deafening lack of evidence for their gods.

The bottom line is this: this difference between a revolutionary and a zealot is the intellectual goods. There's nothing wrong with rabid exuberance for a position if you are right. If, however, your position is devoid of anything science would recognize as evidence, or philosophy would recognize as sound reasoning, then it's not only fair, but downright intellectually mandated, to suspect other psychological factors at play.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Pictures of Guns Don't Kill People

In our latest case of zero tolerance = zero intelligence, we get this story of an eighth-grader suspended for, brace yourself, doodling a fake laser in the margins of his science assignment.

"I just can’t believe that there wasn’t another way to resolve this," said Paula Mosteller, the boy’s mother. "He’s so upset. The school made him feel like he committed a crime. They are doing more damage than good."

Indeed. And whenever there is stupidity of this magnitude, you can always depend on the appearance of that two-word phrase we've all come to know and loathe, "zero tolerance":

"In the letter, school officials told parents about the incident and indicated there would be a zero-tolerance policy toward gun threats."

Translated into conversational English, that means:

"We don't want to do our jobs and apply intelligence and experience to determining which kids deserve punishment and which do not. Instead we are going to have idiotically simple rules which we will wield bluntly, thus smashing everyone equally."

Zero tolerance is bullshit. It turns the American principle of innocent until proven guilty on it's head. What's worse yet is combining it with some hoplophobia and a complete lack of perspective, thus yielding this gem:

"When Ben Mosteller came to the school to discuss his son’s punishment, he said school officials mentioned the seriousness of the issue and talked about the massacre at Columbine High School — the site where two teenagers shot and killed 12 students and injured 24 others in 1999 at Littleton, Colo."

Columbine?! We are comparing doodling a laser in the margin to storming a building heavily armed and murdering people? I suppose next we'll punish a kid who pulls the wings off flies because Michael Vick was cruel to dogs.

The worst of it all is the kid was doodling because he had finished his work early, so he's likely one of the better students, just exercising some harmless creativity. Way to reward academic success people! The next time someone tells you they have zero tolerance for something, tell them that's just an excuse to not have to think or take responsibility for one's judgements. Justice may be blind, but she's not stupid.

Ben Stein's Comments on Expelled: He Drank the Kool-Aid

Well, for those of us who enjoyed "Win Ben Stein's Money", and hoped against hope that Ben was duped by the IDers into participating in Expelled without full knowledge of what it was about, Ben just laid all that to rest with a comment on the Expelled Blog. It's all standard IDer/creationist boilerplate conspiracy BS:

"EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed is a controversial, soon-to-be-released documentary that chronicles my confrontation with the widespread suppression and entrenched discrimination that is spreading in our institutions, laboratories and most importantly, in our classrooms, and that is doing irreparable harm to some of the world’s top scientists, educators, and thinkers."

Right out of the chutes the dishonesty reigns. Many of the people interviewed for this mockumentary weren't aware they were being interviewed for such a confrontation. Stein and the rest of the IDers (god that hurts to say) need a refresher in the English language. Confronting someone on something is going to them, and straight-up raising the issue of disagreement. Deceiving them into making statements about a topic without even knowing the differences the interviewer has with their positions qualifies as confronting about as much as sending an anonymous letter does.

Also, watch in vain for anyone associated with this film to actually specify which of the world’s top scientists, educators, and thinkers are being irreparably harmed, and exactly in what way. What research is being suppressed? What scientific conundrums in fields where a design inference would be useful, say, in SETI, archaeology, or forensics, are these ideas going to solve? ID proponents are notoriously mute when answering these questions. Will Stein do better?

"Freedom of inquiry is basic to human advancement. There would be no modern medicine, no antibiotics, no brain surgery, no Internet, no air conditioning, no modern travel, no highways, no knowledge of the human body without freedom of inquiry."

True. However, there would also not be any of those things were there no tradition of scientific testing, and rejection, of ideas freely formed, but evidenciarily lacking. They are two sides of the scientific coin - hypothesize, and test. With only inquiry, we'd still be sitting around in our caves wondering if rocks were edible.

"This includes the ability to inquire whether a higher power, a being greater than man, is involved with how the universe operates. This has always been basic to science. ALWAYS."

Bullshit. What is basic to science is the assumption that the universe is consistent and knowable, whatever the cause for that may be. It is also about formulating one's hypotheses so they can be tested by the evidence. Formulate one's hypothesis of a higher power being involved with how the universe operates in a way that can be tested by the evidence, and you've got yourself a scientific idea. Leave it as vague as that, as the IDers always do in the end (whatever fancy symbols with which they may decorate it), and you've got dick. It is the untestable, not the superior-to-man, that is rejected by science.

"Some of the greatest scientists of all time, including Galileo, Newton, Einstein, operated under the hypothesis that their work was to understand the principles and phenomena as designed by a creator."

For Newton this is true, but doubtful for Galileo, and certainly false for Einstein. The latter explicitly rejected gods akin to the Judeo-Christian god to which Stein implicitly refers. And again repeating the point above, it makes no difference what one believes the origin of the universe is when doing science. Ken Miller would say it was the Catholic god. Richard Dawkins would say it was some other cause. Both do good science.

"Under a new anti-religious dogmatism, scientists and educators are not allowed to even think thoughts that involve an intelligent creator. Do you realize that some of the leading lights of “anti-intelligent design” would not allow a scientist who merely believed in the possibility of an intelligent designer/creator to work for him… EVEN IF HE NEVER MENTIONED the possibility of intelligent design in the universe?EVEN FOR HIS VERY THOUGHTS… HE WOULD BE BANNED."

Wow, according to Ben Stein, the anti-IDers are mind readers, able to sniff out a design inference from 50 paces. And again, who are these leading lights who are more concerned with their colleague's religious views than their science? This sounds suspiciously like "some people say..."

It is also apparent that Stein didn't get the memo from the Disco boys that ID is all about the science, not the religion. They can't have it both ways. Scientists don't claim to be the victims of anti-religious dogmatism when their ideas don't survive scientific scrutiny.

"In today’s world, at least in America, an Einstein or a Newton or a Galileo would probably not be allowed to receive grants to study or to publish his research."

Wonderful assertions. This is based on what exactly, besides Stein's paranoia that is? Again, who specifically has not been allowed to receive a grant or to study a subject, or to publish his research? Have grants been intercepted en route by The Atheist Conspiracy (tm)? Have manuscripts of ID science been confiscated prior to publication? Just how might someone go about halting study? This sounds like Stein has been reading 1984 again.

"They cannot even mention the possibility that–as Newton or Galileo believed–these laws were created by God or a higher being. They could get fired, lose tenure, have their grants cut off. This can happen. It has happened."

Really? Someone forgot to tell Ken Miller, author of "Finding Darwin's God", and who proudly expresses his belief in a universe created by the Christian god at the end of this video.

Expelled is not about scientific persecution. It's about sour grapes. The ID folks refuse to do science, and refuse to publish their hypotheses in the scientific literature. The censorship is theirs, not that of science. Like true dogmatists, despite refutations from all branches of science, including those like mathematics and physics which have no pro-evolution bias, they cling to their views and invent conspiracy theories to explain their failure to garner support outside their sycophantic cabal. Seeing Ben Stein fall into this black hole of pseudoscience is quite sad.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Expelled! And I used to Like Ben Stein

The IDers/Creationists have apparently chosen their next move: a movie starring Ben Stein called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, proporting to show that criticism of evolution has been forbidden in classrooms:

"Unlike some other documentary films, Expelled doesn't just talk to people representing one side of the story. The film confronts scientists such as Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, influential biologist and atheist blogger PZ Myers and Eugenie Scott, head of the National Center for Science Education. The creators of Expelled crossed the globe over a two-year period, interviewing scores of scientists, doctors, philosophers and public leaders. The result is a startling revelation that freedom of thought and freedom of inquiry have been expelled from publicly-funded high schools, universities and research institutions."

Of course, what is far more likely is that they will take quotes from the individuals listed, splice them up, and present them out of context, and in a way that twists the meaning in a way the speaker would find unrecognizable. This is known as "quote mining", and it's been a favorite creationist trick for decades. A scientist will say:

"Upon close examination, the eye clearly appears designed. However, once one delves into it's construction carefully, one find finds evolutionary explanations plausible."

And the creationist will cite this quote:

"Upon close examination, the eye clearly appears designed..."

and claim this scientist doesn't believe the eye could have evolved. It's standard creationist fare, so expect a lot of that in this film. The giveaway will be the brief nature of the quotes they show. If you see one sentence at a time, with overtalk in between, rest assured, the speaker had no intention of conveying the meaning being attributed him.

It's pretty much guaranteed to occur with PZ Myers, who was apparently interviewed for the film under false pretenses. There is little PZ would say that would help the scientific cause of Intelligent Design, although granted, if they got him talking about religion, he might have given them some nuggets for their social battle, as many of us might.

Still, it is dissappointing that the IDers once again avoid a fair fight. The first time was at the Dover trial, where people like William Dembski, who shot off their mouth about what they would do to the "Darwinists" if they got them on the stand, bravely ran away. Now instead of getting honest opinions from the other side, they interviewed them under false pretenses.

They don't really seem to have caught on that this kind of stuff won't work any more. The internet is the scientists' friend, and it makes it that much easier to expose these shenanigans.

And yes, I plan on seeing the film, despite the likelihood that I will be alone in the theatre, and reporting back how well reality matches my expectations. After all, it is the scientific way.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Soccer Theatrics

There are many reasons Americans don't like soccer, and the childish, embarrassing antics soccer players go into when they get touched is one small piece of the puzzle. Watch this video, and imagine what an American football crowd is going to think of this. It's priceless to watch them be in mid fake and suddenly get well when the ball is in play near them. Also, notice the delayed reactions they have once they can't get to the ball. It's as if they got hit with an invisible punch.

Soccer is a sport for countries that can't afford football uniforms. I mean that more literally than it may first appear. It isn't the world's most popular sport because its the best. It's the most popular because it's the cheapest.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Glacier Surfing

Just when you thought you had seen it all for extreme sports, check out these lunatics surfing and jet skiing on the waves created by a crumbling glacier.

Excellent Summary of what Evolution says and what it does not say

Dan Quixote has this great article summarizing the facts and myths about evolution. Below are the bullet points, you'll have to check out the link for the explanations. I wish this were given to every news department in the country:

1)A fact is the most trivial piece of science. A theory is the most complete.

2)Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution

3)We are all highly evolved.

4)Biologist don't, and will likely never, agree how to define "species."

5)Not all evolution is because of natural selection.

6)Evolution is an ongoing process.

7)Evolution can act incredibly rapidly.

8)Almost everything you have ever read about evolution in the popular press gets it wrong.

9)Darwin got some details wrong.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Revealing the Magic Gopher's Secrets, and Learning How to Debunk Psychics

I recently received this puzzle in my e-mail, in which a psychic gopher magically predicts the number you are thinking of, after putting you through some apparently innocuous math on the way.

Of course, the math isn't innocuous, that's what makes the trick work. If the gopher could really read your mind, he wouldn't bother with the math, he'd just reveal your number right away. That is a good question to keep in mind any time one is confronted with a supposed psychic feat: if the psychic could really do what he claims he can do, is there a more direct path to the answer than the one he is taking. If there is, then the answer to how he does it is embedded somewhere in the process he goes through, be it asking you questions, waving a wand, chanting, whatever.

In this case, the math he makes you go through will always result in a multiple of nine, and if you look at the grid of numbers and symbols, all multiples of nine (0, 9, 18, 27, 36, etc.) have the same symbol. The symbol will change on each play, but it will always be the same for all multiples of 9.

Here's the math behind it. Any 2-digit number you choose can be represented as 10X + Y. For example, for 56, X = 5 and Y = 6. Now the gopher asks you to add the digits together, and then subtract that total from your original number. So you take (X + Y) and subtract it from (10X + Y):

10X + Y - (X + Y)

which is equivalent to:

10X + Y - X - Y

or the more visually appealing:

10X + Y
- X - Y

Since the Y's cancel out, that leaves 10X - X, or 9X. Thus, no matter what X and Y you choose, you will always have 9X when it comes time to pick the symbol from the list, and since the Gopher knows this, he need only predict the symbol next to all the multiples of nine to make it appear that he is being psychic.

I too am psychic, and I predict that no matter how many times you play the gopher's game, you will never finish with 62. Or 11. Or 50. Unless, that is, you need to work on your math.

Math like this is very often at the heart of psychic tricks. Watch for it, and ask the right questions. For me, understanding the math behind the tricks is far more interesting than believing it is some sort of magic.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

50+ Things You Won't Learn From [Conservative] Talk Radio Part II

Continuing with my criticisms of Xofferson's "50+ Things You Won't Learn From Talk Radio"

36. When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed. – Mother Teresa.

Another common flaw of leftist commentary is an implicit assumption that wealth exists per se, without a care for where it comes from or what effect the policy in question might have on that source. In particular, they seem to have difficulty with the idea that this wealth we have was created by a subset of us, and that the remainder of humanity relies on that. Whatever their reasons for doing so, that's the way it is. So it's best to keep in mind that we can't choose to give people the bare necessities they need (a position I support in many cases), before someone else chooses to create those necessities in the first place. They should be given far more gratitude for what they do give, rather than criticisms for what they do not.

42. Medical decisions should be between doctors and patients, not between big insurance companies and their accountants.

As long as the patients are not able to pay the doctors themselves, and rely on some third party instead, that third party is going to be involved in some of the medical decisions. Changing that third party from insurance companies (big or not) to the government doesn't change that. It just makes the government the insurance company.

And the simple fact with any insurance product is that cost controls are necessary both to control runaway costs on optional procedures, and to direct resources to areas where they might be more efficiently spent. Until we reach that miraculous day where we can afford to cover anything anyone wants, decisions are going to have to be made that may not jive 100% with the desires of doctors and patients.

43. Even people that I disagree with are innocent until proven guilty.

In courts, yes, as they should be. That is one of the principles that defines us as a society. But it does not apply to Joe citizen drawing his own opinion about legal cases. It is jurors, in that role, who must give the presumption of innocence. If someone decides they don't want to have dinner with OJ Simpson because they believe him to be a murderer, they are not violating any precept simply because the jury found OJ not guilty. We hold our government to a stricter standard than its citizens, as we should.

44. Being poor is not a character defect.

No, but then neither is having a prison record. But both very often are an indicator of the presence of certain character defects. We can recognize the advantages of birth that many have relative to others without being complete determinists and ignoring the fact that a lot of people in poor circumstances make a lot of bad decisions that keep them there.

45. You didn’t grow up rich in the suburbs because you’re so smart. (You were born on third base; that doesn’t mean you hit a triple.)

No, they are smart because they grew up rich in the suburbs. The fact that some people got a giant head start through nothing but dumb luck in choosing their parents doesn't make the head start unreal. The guy born on third base is really on third base, the same as the guy who hit the triple.

47. The greatest tragedy in mankind's history may be the hijacking of morality by fundamentalists.

Agreed. So stop helping them by cow towing to religious nonsense like this:

48. The poor go to heaven, too.

and instead concentrate on morality that is based on something a little more relevant than 2,000 year old scribblings like this:

49. In fact, it has been said that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Yeah, and that same quaint book of tales says: "Let a women learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent" right before it blames women for all the sin in the world [1 Tim 11-15]. So let's raise our moral standards a bit, shall we?

54. The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts. -- Bertrand Russell.

No criticism of this, I just wanted to reproduce it because it says so much about the times in which we live.

67. Living in poverty is hard work. It’s not for the lazy.

Part of what keeps a lot of people in poverty is the idea that working harder, as opposed to smarter, is the way to live. The idea that there aren't a lot of lazy people out there, and that they would often end up poor as a result, is Pollyannish nonsense. One need not spend too much time in pawn shops, pool halls, and game rooms, to see the kinds of behavior that contribute to poverty. This is just the flip side of the problem with ignoring rich advantage. The fact that much of the disadvantages of poverty are inertial, doesn't make them not have real effects. The average IQs in the suburbs and the slums are different, and so are the work ethics.

I tell you guys, if this is the platform the Democrats think they are going to beat the Republicans with, you're in trouble. Religion Lite will get crushed by Religion Prime every time, because the fundies don't think you aren't goofy enough, and we atheists think you are all goofy. And with the Republicans taking the completely untenable position that in America, hard work and discipline make all the difference, why would you adopt the polar extreme position of birth advantage = life advantage? Some people are born into fucked up lives, and some people fuck up their lives. Get over it already. Because if you don't, you are doomed. There is no anti-Republican anti-war backlash to carry you in 2008.

Cal Thomas on Global Warming: Thy Name is Projection

Cal Thomas, Fightin' Fundie extraordinaire, and maker of some of the worst anti-science arguments I've ever seen on a major network news show (something like "There is biological evolution, physical evolution, and other kinds of evolution. Which one is correct?"), has a new article purporting to show that global warming is a new secular religion. What he inadvertently does, however, is reveal that he is merely projecting his own intellectual flaws onto his opponents, ignoring the implications of his own arguments.

Take his opening salvo:

"In every child's life there comes a time when childhood fantasies are shattered and he or she is forced to accept reality - there is no Santa Claus or tooth fairy; parents don't always mean it when they promise to stay married until parted by death."

I always find it fascinating when a Bible thumper like Thomas can make a statement like this and not drown in irony. Yes, and the world is not going to last forever, because it came to be here via natural forces, as opposed to that childish story that it was poofed into existence by a temperamental, omnipotent being. Part of giving up that fantasy is the realization that the earth is not, per se, immune to being effected by what we do, and we should at least consider what effects we may be having on the environment, instead of acting like we can do whatever we like and everything will be fine.

Speaking of drowning in irony, hold onto your hats for this one:

"Grown-up scientists, theologians, historians, archaeologists and others who pursue facts and objective truths are rooted in reality and constantly adjusting their conclusions, theories and hypotheses when new information comes to light.

We all have the same tune going through our heads, don't we? "One of these things is not like the of these things just doesn't fit..." Theologians aren't much about pursuing facts, and they pretty much only adjust their theories when science piles up so much contrary data that they really have no choice. It took the Catholic Church over a century to acknowledge that Darwin may have been onto something, and many of the theologically inclined still haven't caught up.

"So it is with 'global warming,' the secular religion of our day that even has a good number of adherents among people of faith."

Ah, the old "You're a religion too, nyah nyah " argument. Impressive, and no doubt as equally persuasive. Particularly amusing is how Thomas would tout the virtues of religion any time the chance presented itself, and yet when he wishes to disparage his opponents, he accuses them of being religious. Is there a pious conservative out there that can explain this tangled bit of Thomas' logic?

Note also how Thomas misses completely the significance of the second part of his statement. AGW has adherents from a variety of nationalities, political, and religious views. The same tellingly cannot be said of AGW skeptics.

"There are at least two characteristics all fundamentalists share. One is the exclusion and sometimes suppression of any and all information that challenges or contradicts the belief one wishes to impose on all. The other is the use of the state in pursuit of their objectives, overriding the majority's will."

They also invent conspiracies to explain their failures, and cry "suppression" at the drop of a hat. Tell us Mr. Thomas, from where are AGW skeptics excluded from the scientific discourse? Who exactly is being suppressed, and in what way? There has been, and to some extent continues to be, vigorous debate on various aspects of climate science in the scientific journals. This claim of persecution sans evidence smacks of blaming the referees for one's defeats, instead of looking in the mirror for the cause.

As for using the state to override the will of the majority, that happens as a matter of course. The bigger question for Mr. Thomas is, which majority should hold sway in our society when it comes to matters of science, those who spend their lives studying such matters, or those who do not?

From there Thomas goes into the usual canards of the AGW skeptics, cherry picking the data, and misrepresenting the science, just like his creationist brethren do. Oh wait, Thomas is a creationist too. What a coincidence!

In his closing paragraph, Thomas reveals far more than he intended:

The Earth has warmed and cooled over many centuries. One can get a sense of who is telling the truth about global warming by the company the concept keeps.

Indeed we can. The AGW denialists keep company with creationists, holocaust deniers, and AIDS/HIV deniers. Those accepting the AGW science keep company with scientific organizations around the world. A blind man could see the pattern with a cane.

In desperation, Thomas falls back on a tried and true method of denial: MSU - Making Shit Up.

Most of the disciples of global warming are liberal Democrats who never have enough of our money and believe there are never enough regulations concerning the way we lead our lives.

Really, this is almost too sad to criticize. Almost. Um, Cal, most of the supporters of AGW science aren't even Americans, much less liberal Democrats. They aren't arguing that the planet's climate is warming as some sort of conspiracy to make backdoor alterations to economic policy. I know it's hard to fathom, but that's just the conclusion that scientist after scientist is reaching. I know it's hard to face reality Cal, but this is that time in your life.

Evolution Denier or Global Warming Denier: You Decide

This is an actual comment made in a debate on one of the above topics, but I've altered the details a bit to focus on the commonalities and make a point about the true nature of the problem here. Can you tell whether this statement was made by an evolution denier or a global warming denier:

"You encourage those that are convinced that XXXXX is a serious threat to 'get involved'. You shouldn't be too surprised that those of us that don't see XXXXX as settled science would do the same. Despite your claim that XXXXX is based on "huge bodies of scientific knowledge", the fact is that XXXXX proponents have little to point to as hard evidence. The rest of the "huge body" consists mainly of speculation. I find it interesting that you characterize evidence that does not support XXXXX as 'misinformation'. We live in an open society where you are free to write books and give talks based on your personal opinion and the facts as you see them. Others, that hold different opinions based on their review of the evidence, share that same right."

Scary huh? See, the problem with denialists isn't the specific topic they are denying. The problem is that they reject the scientific process, and deny the reality of the progress of human knowledge. They put their trust in a discredited source of fact-finding, namely their own perceptions, rather than the tried and true scientific method of falsifiable experimentation, peer review, and replication. They deny the layered aspect of knowledge, where learning occurs in steps, and think that idly musing over an idea while sitting at their favorite barstool they are capable of coming up with an objection to a major scientific theory that hasn't already been considered by hundreds of people who know far more about the subject than they every will. Thus, their inclination to see no reason to do any actual testing of their hypotheses.

They would have you believe that because Einstein's relativity supplanted Newton's laws of motion, or that Piltdown Man was a hoax, that nothing scientists say has any more value than the opinion of the man on the street, who is, not coincidentally, them. How anyone can stand in the middle of this magnificent technological society man has built from, in the final analysis, literally nothing, and claim that we don't know any more than anyone else in history did, is beyond me, but that is the sort of intellectual relativism that lies at the core of denialism.

Hurricane Dean: Our First Gulf Hurricane

Check out this report on Hurricane Dean. It is heading straight for the Yucatan peninsula, and is expected to reach category 4 by Tuesday. For those worried about a possible repeat of Katrina, watch for any northward movement over the next few days. Also, recall that hurricanes in the gulf always shift northward at the last moment before landfall, so one can't make a linear projection from it's current course.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Terence Jeffrey Exhibits Why Understanding Evolution is Important

When discussing the evolution/creation debate with laymen, I often get asked why such a seemingly arcane scientific issue should concern the average person just trying to get by in life being a decent person and a decent citizen. Why does Joe Six Pack need to know so much detail about his biology? Terence Jeffrey was kind enough to provide me with Exhibit A, a column so ignorant it borders on self-parody.

Jeffrey is up in arms over the fact that the British Parliament is trying to regulate what embryos are suitable for experimentation and which are not. In an attempt to create embryos that pass muster with the all-zygotes-are-people-unless-they-are-miscarried crowd, and to make up for a shortage of human embryos, the scientists are creating hybrids of human genetic material and material from other animal embryos. The problem comes in demarcating which embryos qualify as human and which are animal when applying the appropriate regulatory standards. It is a problem with antiquated laws made when the distinction between "animal" and "human" was thought to be an absolute of kind rather than a matter of degree. After all, we are 95+% chimp.

To be good citizens in judging the behavior of our elected representatives and how they deal with such issues, we need at least a basic understanding of the biology so we understand the choices our representatives make. If we don't, we are likely to blather on in useless ignorance, which brings me to Jeffrey.

He doesn't seem to have even the most basic understanding of biology, our history as a species, or our place in the world. He speaks as though human beings are aliens from another planet, easily distinguishable from the "other" animals. I use the scare quotes because Jeffrey talks as if we weren't animals:

"Now sooner had the committee begun debating just how many percentage points of humanity an embryo must possess before it ought to be considered human...

Then, there was a not-so-subtle hint that it might matter which 50 percent is animal and which is human."

It goes on and on like that, one ignorant comment after another. One wonders what Jeffrey means by "humanity". He scoffs at the efforts of the parliamentarians to draw a necessary political line in the biological sand, but offers no guidance of his own. Tell us Mr. Jeffrey, are the genes that give us a backbone, four limbs, two eyes, etc., part of "humanity", or are they merely "animal"? Which part of the 95+% of chimpanzee DNA that is identical to human beings should count as animal, which as human, and why?

Jeffrey is far too ignorant to offer even the slightest assistance with answering these real-world problems, as his final paragraph makes clear:

"Those who worship science as a god have long been trying to prove that man evolved accidentally from a brute beast. Having thus far failed to produce definitive evidence of this, they are now hoping to prove they can reverse the process."

Great, another critic of science that likes the MSU method (Making Shit Up). No one worships science Mr. Jeffrey. And the science behind the evolution of humans from other animals is as solid as a rock and only getting more solid as more information comes in. The problem is people who let the gods and books they worship cloud their analysis of the material world, thereby clinging to outdated and falsified images of the natural world, such as the one that has humans seperate and unique from the other animals.

Go read some science Mr. Jeffrey, so the next time you attempt analysis of a science issue you won't come across as one of our Neanderthal cousins you are so determined to pretend didn't exist. Doing any less, and continuing to ignorantly pontificiate in the political arena on matters scientific, is an abdication of your civic duty. There is a reason Jefferson believed so strongly in an informed citizenry. Our Democracy falls when we lose the ability to make informed decisions.

50+ Things You Won't Learn From [Conservative] Talk Radio (Part 1)

Xofferson at Dailykos posted an interesting list entitled "50+ Things You Won't Hear on Talk Radio", a parody of Charlie Sykes famous "50 Rules Kids Won't Learn in School", and clearly aimed at conservative talk radio (or are they synonymous these days?). I agree with Xofferson's reaction to Sykes' list for the most part. I mean really, does anyone have to be told naked people look different in real life? But Xofferson's list has it's own problems, and since I've been picking on the right wingers a lot lately, I figure it's time to work on my Southpaw style for a while.

"2. Repetition doesn’t make anything right.

3. Ditto wishful thinking.

4. Ditto the size of your IQ."

There is still too much of a tendency on the left towards intellectual egalitarianism, at least among large populations, especially if there is any hint of a genetic component. I value Steve Pinker's views on this in The Blank Slate. As a consequence, the role of inherent intelligence in people's judgements is often ignored, and that is unfortunate. Whatever weaknesses in definition and interpretation, IQ scores still correlate very well with success in life, and should not be ignored. And yes, I know what he's getting at here, that we shouldn't trust people like Karl Rove, or Dick Cheney (or Joe Biden were Xofferson consistent across the political spectrum) just because they are smart, and he's right. Let's just not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

5. Size only matters if you’re insecure.

Oh yeah? Poll the women you know and get back with me. The overwhelming consensus I get is that there's a threshold minimum below which the entire process is near meaningless. From there, bigger is indeed better until reaching an upper threshold beyond which bigger is painful. Oh, and a minority of them like that last part. [shrug] Don't shoot the messenger.

6. Guns do kill people.

Guns wielded by people intending to kill people combine to kill a lot of people. Let's not replace one canard with another one. Guns make dangerous people more dangerous, and suicidal people more successful. But no one has produced quality data supporting the contention that guns make healthy, peaceful people anything but peaceful and healthy.

7. The rich get rich and the poor get poorer; it’s the Republican way.

Judged on a relative scale, it obviously depends on where you delineate "rich" and "poor". However, a relative scale has a tacit assumption of a rightful claim to wealth merely by existing, and that is highly debatable. This is also not how they are used in the argument above, which is more akin to saying the poor are getting objectively worse off, and blatantly false. The average person in America today has wealth and health care unimaginable to someone like Ben Franklin, who had neither penicillin, nor cars, telephones, or fresh fruit from around the world at his corner market. Should the wealth be distributed differently than it is? Perhaps, let's have that debate. Let's just do it more honestly.

9. People don't choose to be poor, any more than they choose to be gay.

People don't choose to be poor per se, true, but on a localized scale (ie comparing Parisian to Parisian, not Parisian to Ugandan) personal decisions have great influence on one's relative wealth. If there were no differences in rationality of decisions, convenience stores and storage units would be filled with rich people instead of poor ones.

Part II to follow...

Republicans in Iowa

Well, as I'm sure you've heard, the straw poll results for the Republicans are in from Iowa, and here's what we got:

1) A Mormon (Romney)
2) An evolution denier (Huckabee)
3) Another evolution denier (Brownback)

Barry Goldwater is turning over in his grave. Luckily many of the major candidates like Giuliani didn't put much effort into winning it, so there is stil a chance the Republican Party (and America) can be saved from the Theocrats/Neocons.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Frank Pastore on How NOT to take a Survey

Frank Pastore has an article called "Who Speaks for Evangelicals?". Granted, not the most interesting topic, but it seems whenever the pious take pen to parchment, entertaining foolishness is sure to follow. Frank did not disappoint.

The article is about whether Evangelicals need to follow the liberal conspiracy and modernize, or whether they should follow the more conservative leaders. I know [yawn]. But what made me sit bolt upright in my chair was this little jewel of a pollster's nightmare:

"And, as far as answering the question, 'Who speaks for America’s evangelicals?' I asked listeners to my daily radio show on KKLA to name the Christian leaders they most respect.

It was no surprise to me the most common names were the national ministries we carry on our station. Why? Because these guys know how to teach the Bible."

Poor George Gallup (who I believe was evangelical himself) must be rolling over in his grave. Of course people polled on a radio station preferred the ministers that were broadcast on that station. That's part of what had them listening to Pastore in the first place! I think we should send Frank Pastore to a McDonalds and poll everyone in there as to their favorite fast food hamburger, and see what sorts of results he gets. Then let's send him to the teen pregnancy clinic and take a poll of how many of them are virgins.

One of the things that made George Gallup a pioneer was his understanding of the importance of an unbiased sample, and many pollsters still battle with that problem today. It is very easy to unwittingly choose the people you poll in a way that will skew your results. Pastore gaffe and the other examples above are silly extremes to make the point. But there are much more subtle ways this happens. A poll by phone is going to be biased toward the wealthy. A cell phone poll will be biased towards youth. There are many examples.

So when a poll is taken, the first question you should ask yourself is "Who was polled?" It might make all the difference.

Why I Doubt Psychics

The accusation is often levied against skeptics of psychics that we are closed-minded, or as fanatical as the psychic supporters. Some invent names for us like "materialist" to cover for their lack of a convincing argument. Contrary to all of that, I am not a materialist, fanatical or otherwise. And having been once a supporter of psychics, I certainly cannot be accused of having a closed mind. I simply require that, prior to my dismissal of well-established scientific laws/theories, those claiming the ability to violate said laws/theories demonstrate that ability, in a statistically significant way, and under controlled conditions provided by, and in the presence of, those with a vested interest in seeing them fail. Any skilled conjurer can appear to succeed in front of an uncritical audience that gives them infinite wiggle room and wants them to succeed. Just watch John Edwards or Silvia Browne to get an idea of what I am talking about. And don't forget Project Alpha.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. I happen to be one of those mathematical freaks that has a calculator in my head. I can multiply 2 digit numbers and add successive 2 digit numbers faster than you can punch the "=" button on a calculator. Now this no doubt sounds like a bold claim to some, and they might doubt my claim, and I don't blame them. But if one of them offered me $1 million to demonstrate it under their controlled conditions, I'd be there in a heartbeat, and I'd take their money. I'd stand on my head, let whoever they liked control the calculator, whatever. Hell, I do it for beers now, why not?

There are many such opportunities for the psychics, but they can't ever perform in them. They fail in Vegas (why hasn't a psychic won the WSOP?), they fail with James Randi (who just makes sure they can't cheat), they fail with lotteries (where's the headline "Psychic wins 4th straight!"), and they fail in sports (just think of what a telekineticist golfer, pool player, dart thrower or table tennis player could accomplish). There is only one rational conclusion to be drawn from this overwhelming lack of evidence. The effect of such efforts is minuscule, if it exists at all.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Climate Change Denial and Evolution Denial: Birds of a Feather

Over at Townhall, Debra Saunders has a very revealing article about climate change. It reveals two very interesting things: the incredibly poor arguments that separate deniers from skeptics, and the eerie similarities between the mindset of global warming deniers (GWDs) and that of evolution deniers (EDs).

She begins discussing a Newsweek cover story about the cottage industry that has popped up surrounding the denial of mainstream science's overwhelming conclusion that human behavior is the primary element in recent climate changes. In short, our behavior is heating up the surface of the planet.

Now some people doubt that, which is fine. All scientific theories should be challenged by anyone who thinks they have a better one. That is the beginning of a journey for a hypothesis that, with formal expression and empirical confirmation, could end with a new scientific theory and a Nobel prize. But if one is going to challenge scientific orthodoxy, one does so with evidence, and in the scientific literature, not with rhetorical games from predisposed opinions in the political arena. Which does the following, from Ms. Saunders, sound like:

"If dissent is so rare, why do global-warming conformists feel the strong need to argue that minority views should be dismissed as nutty or venal? Why not posit that there is such a thing as honest disagreement on the science? "

This is pure poison-the-well politics from a denialist, not a scientific objection from a skeptic. If you'd like to see how scientific skeptics talk, go to CSICOP's site, which criticizes all sorts of theories. You'll never see anything there that remotely resembles the poor reasoning above.

For example, one way to show how absurd an argument is, is to consider its reverse. Consider Ms. Saunders' first sentence above, but altered (altered words in CAPS) to say this:

"If dissent is so COMMON, why do global-warming conformists feel the strong need to argue that THOSE views should be dismissed as nutty or venal?"

The problem is clear, is it not? If it's bad to dismiss a common minority opinion as nutty, it should be even more reasonable, not less as Ms. Saunders implies, to dismiss a rare minority opinion. This political strategy by the GWDs mirrors exactly the attitude of many EDs. Note here, where in a debate on Intelligent Design and Evolution, an ID supporter actually touts their incredible 7-90 minority result in a poll measuring scientist's opinions, as if it helps his cause! It's a form of homeopathic epistemology: the fewer votes you have, the more credibility you should be given.

Of course, the real issue in science is the evidence. Minority or not, whoever has the evidenciary goods gets the scientific gold. That battle is fought in scientific peer-reviewed journals, where the scientific method of falsifiable repeatable testing of hypotheses is applied by other scientists. Unfortunately for the climate-change deniers, they have lost and continue to lose that battle as more data comes in. However, no denialist of any stripe considers contrary evidence, and instead just pretends the data isn't there and makes implications about conspiracies to hide The Truth:

Why not posit that there is such a thing as honest disagreement on the science?

Does Debra seriously think scientists do not understand that there can be honest disagreement on science? What does she think they are doing all day long, merely verifying the tried and true? Scientists work on the edge of knowledge (that's sort of what they are for), so there is always debate. However, there is not honest disagreement on everything. On some issues, such as the shape of the earth, the speed of light, the idea that the universe is 6,000 years old, there is simply no honest difference of scientific opinion. There is the practically uniformity of scientific opinion, and then there are the differing opinions of ignoramuses, idiots, cranks, and liars. And again, sadly, that is where GWD is heading. Scientists had the debates, and are still having them, and the GWD side is losing.

I also note that this exact same accusation is levied by EDs. Having been crushed in the marketplace of scientific ideas, they left scientists with little choice but to recognize the EDs intransigence as crankery, unworthy of serious consideration. So of course their next move is to claim they are being denied a chair at the debating table for no reason.

Another common flaw in denialist rhetoric is pretending that science is as static as religion, where opinions from authorities of centuries past are often as relevant today as they were then. In science this is an extreme rarity, and even more so in a science as new as climatology. So that makes it intellectually inexcusable to make an argument like this:

As for the overwhelming majority of scientists believing that man is behind global warming ...a 2003 survey in which two German environmental scientists asked more than 530 climate scientists from 27 countries if they thought humans caused climate change: 56 percent answered yes, 30 percent said no.

Debra conveniently leaves out the fact that no one was claiming there was an overwhelming majority back then because the scientific dispute was still quite hot. But a lot has changed in 4 years, and anyone presuming to challenge the scientific consensus that doesn't know this is unqualified to do so, plain and simple. Take the same survey today and watch what happens.

Second, just a nit pick, but what exactly constitutes an overwhelming majority here? The figures above are practically a 2:1 ratio against the GWDs. I suspect the figure now is on the order of 10:1 if not higher. How high must the figure go before Debra will give it some credence? This is a question denialists dread to answer.

Ms. Saunders then spends a lot of time feigning shock at the notion that those opposing global warming in the media might have a biased financial backing from those who stand to lose most if Kyoto-type restrictions are implemented. The fact that the overwhelming majority of GWDs are staunch Republicans and/or vested in those industries, compared to the wide diversity of those accepting the mainstream climate science, is lost on people like Saunders. The parrallel to Intelligent Design again is eerie, as they constantly wonder why their religious motivations are called into relevancy to explain their shoddy science. The near theological uniformity of the group is suppose to be chaulked up to some bizarre coincidence or "darwinist conspiracy".

Finally, as if to set up a perfect dismount to this parrallel beam performance, Saunders ends her article with an appeal for debate:

True believers appear to be afraid of a fair fight. In March, when the audience was polled before a New York "Intelligence Squared U.S." debate, 30 percent agreed with the motion that global warming is not a crisis, 57 percent disagreed. After the debate, 46 percent agreed with the motion, while 42 per cent disagreed.

Note for a moment the delicious irony that someone as closed-minded as GWDs are would accuse the scientists of being "true believers". Projection is a standard denialist tactic as well. Would that I had a dime for every time I heard a creationist accuse scientists of being closed to new ideas, while of course he himself remained completely closed to any new ideas.

And just like the EDs, the GWDs like the idea of public debates in lieu of doing battle in the scientific journals. There are obvious reasons for this I've previously discussed, and why scientists should not condone or participate in such shams of inquiry. All debate results demonstrate is which side is better at speaking quickly and convincingly to an ignorant audience. There is a reason scientists don't settle scientific disputes that way, and why you should be skeptical of the views of someone who does.

Denialists might deny different things, but their basic modus operandi is the same, and once you know it, it is easy to spot. Whether it is evolution, global warming, the holocaust, or HIV/AIDS, it is all the same in the end, and not surprisingly, many many people occupy more than one of the above-mentioned denialist groups. There's a good reason for that, and its worth keeping in mind the next time you hear someone get into a scientists-don't-know-everything rant.

Snoring Study

For those who battle snoring problems, here is a study for you. But don't get your hopes up:

"This research tested three different, commercially available devices in 40 snorers: Snorenz™, an oral spray lubricant applied to the back of the throat before bedtime; Breathe Right® Strips, a nasal dilation strip applied to the nose to keep the nasal valve open; and Snore-No-More™, a specially shaped pillow that positions the head just so. The authors of the report concluded that none of these devices significantly reduced the amount or volume of the snoring.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Two Faces of Mitt Romney

This doesn't require much comment:

"Let me, uh, let me offer just a thought. And that is, uh, one of the great things about this great land, is we have people of different faiths and different persuasions. And uh, I'm convinced that the nation, that the nation does need, the nation does need to have people of different faiths but we need to have a person of faith lead the country."

But then came this:

Romney's Mormon faith, which has been a central topic of discussion here in recent days, is yet again playing a prominent role. A flyer being distributed by the U.S. Christians for Truth asks, "Would Jesus Christ vote for Mitt Romney?" It urges attendees to "join us to spread the truth about Mitt Romney and save America from his Mormon cult values."

Matt Rhoades, communications director for Romney, condemned the flyer. "Attacks of religious bigotry have absolutely no place in politics today. It's unfortunate other camps stoop to such levels." (It's not clear, however, that the group has ANY affiliation to any other GOP campaign.)

So get that straight people. If you draw the line of acceptability of religious views in a way that disagrees with Mitt Romney, then you're guilty of religious bigotry.

I would love to hear one of these people explain exactly why it is important for our leaders to be "people of faith", including specifics as to which faiths count and which don't, and particular situations where faith would give a believing leader an edge. It is too easy to talk in bland, unfalsifiable generalities. The, ahem, devil is in the details.

Arlington Church refuses funeral for Gay Veteran

Per the Dallas Morning News comes this story about High Point Church in Arlington refusing to hold a funeral service for a veteran because he is gay:

"An Arlington church volunteered to host a funeral Thursday, then reneged on the invitation when it became clear the dead man's homosexuality would be identified in the service...

'Some of those photos had very strong homosexual images of kissing and hugging,' [Rev. Gary Simons] said. My ministry associates were taken aback. And then, he said, the family asked to have its own people officiate the service. 'We had no control over the format of the memorial,' Mr. Simons said."

Kissing and hugging?! It's a clear threat to civilization as we know it, send in the SWAT team!

Seriously, what did they think was going to happen? Is it not common for funerals to have displayed pictures of the deceased with loved ones? Well Sherlocks of High Point, if you are going to have a funeral for a gay man, some of the loved ones in the pictures are going to be GAY! And they are liable to be doing everything that straight couples do. And pssst, you know what? Some of the attendees might be, surely you see this coming, GAY! As long as the pictures pass the standards of decorum applied to pictures at other funerals, and the attendees behave themselves, what is the problem? Oh right, your twisted view of the world considers homosexuality to be morally equivalent to theft and murder:

"The pastor said that he could imagine a similar situation involving a different sin. Perhaps a mother who is a member of the church loses a son who is a thief or murderer, Mr. Simons said. The church would surely volunteer to hold a service, he said.

'But I don't think the mother would submit photos of her son murdering someone,' he said. 'That's a red light going off.'"

Oh there's a red light going off, but it isn't the one the good pastor thinks. It's the one in all the logic meters reading that comment. And just for the record, let's see who the man is that Jesus' servant is slandering here:

"[Cecil Sinclair], 46, died Monday. He was a native of Fort Worth, a Navy veteran who served in Desert Storm helping rescuers find downed pilots, and a singer in the Turtle Creek Chorale, said his mother, Eva Bowers. He did not belong to a church. "

A veteran who risked his life to rescue other men in uniform, singer in the choir...compared to a thief and murderer because of who he loved. You should be ashamed of yourself Mr. Simons.

And before you hit us with claptrap like:

"We tried to do the very best of our ability to express the love of Christ."

Let me remind you that Christ ate with the lepers and prostitutes, and said "judge not lest ye be judged". He would not have approved of, to quote Roy Zimmerman, "a narrow misogynistic, antisemitic, homophobic interpretation of his life and teachings". Jesus did not express his love by saying "I'll only show compassion for you and your loved ones if you live as I desire you to."

To the Church's credit, it did offer to pay for another facility for the funeral. Small consolation for those members of Mr. Sinclair's family who turned to their church for support, and whose pain was ignored because they didn't grieve for the death of someone on the Church's approved lifestyle list.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Want to Survive the Plane Crash? Sit in the back

If you fly a lot and you worry about these things, and even if you don't, here's the data. Your odds of surviving a plan crash are:

49% in first class
56% in the body of the plane
69% in the back of the plane

I anticipated it would be safer in the back, but it is nice to have confirming data. It is surprising though that the difference is 50% compared to sitting in first class. You would think at hundreds of miles an hour it wouldn't make that big a difference.

Unicorn Museum

In appropriate support of Ken Ham's Creationism Museum, I give you, via Pharyngula, The Unicorn Museum!

Janice Shaw Crouse fails her Calculus Exam on Abstinence

What is it with conservatives and their obsession with sex, or rather, not having sex? Of course, the source of this obsession is the Bible, but they know how poorly that plays in modern society, so they steal a page from the Intelligent Design crew and claim that there are logical reasons behind their position that have nothing to do with religion. That sounds reasonable until they actually spell out those arguments, which are consistently the furthest thing from logical. I've previously debunked most of the standard arguments here, so I'm not going to repeat those same arguments with Janice Shaw Crouse's article. Instead I'm going to concentrate on her main argument and dissect it in depth.

In it, she draws a rather simplistic analogy between sex and calculus, how knowing the risks of failing calculus should be understood by students, as should the risks of sex. That's sound enough in the abstract. After all, we should all know the risks involved with anything we do, and take those risks into account when making our decisions to participate or not. But in evaluating those risks, we need to collect and analyze the data carefully and correctly, and she does neither, not by a long shot.

To illustrate, I'll draw an analogy to what she did. Let's say you have a child who wants to play baseball. You, however, fear for his safety, particularly the danger of getting injured by a pitch striking him in the head when he bats. So you have three choices. You can tell him to:

1) Play however and whenever he wants
2) Be sure to play safely and wear a batting helmet if he chooses to play
3) Abstain from playing

Two points should be obvious here. First, if you choose the abstinence option, and the child chooses to play anyway, and unsafely, and gets injured as a result, that would be a strike against the abstinence option. It doesn't make any sense to claim it is really a failure of option #1, since you didn't choose that. Part of the risk of telling him to just abstain is that he will either lie to you about obeying you, or may intend to but succumb to peer pressure and play anyway. Second, if you choose option #2, and he follows your advice for his first game, that is no guarantee that you will continue to choose that option. After he has gained experience, or matures, you may decide that he can use option #1. Once you make that change, obviously the future experience would fall under the new category, not the old one. It makes little sense to count all his experience as option #2 if you followed option #1 for 4 of the 5 years in question.

But amazingly, that is exactly what she does. She assumes that the abstinence option will result in no sex, playing a definitional game of claiming an abstinence child who weakens under peer pressure, inebriation, or any other influence, and has sex, is no longer practicing abstinence. This is pie-in-the-sky nonsense. Weakening under the pressures of the moment is an inherent risk of the abstinence option. To further show how ridiculous this is, what if I told my child to have all the unprotected sex he wanted, so long as it was only with disease-free, sterile partners. Now, what if my child then had sex with someone who claimed she was sterile (on the pill let's say), but lied and wasn't, and he got her pregnant. It is clearly ridiculous for me to claim that this is not a failure of my suggested strategy, because the risk of incorrectly identifying who really is disease free and sterile is part-and-parcel of what I suggested he do. Likewise with abstinence.

Second, the data she cites categorizes the children according to what option they chose the first time, apparently no matter what they do after that, which is absurd enough. But it gets better (or worse, depending on how you look at it), because for the abstinence option, if they change options, they leave the abstinence category. That is, a child who uses a condom for her first sex act is always categorized as a condom user even if the rest of the sex she has is unprotected! This is absurd! Further, those who chose abstinence in year 1, are assumed to remain abstinent over time. How convenient. Can you say "biasing your sample"?

Actual data collected according to the strategy chosen at the time paint a very different picture, which is why the abstinence promoters never want to look at legitimate data. Their abstinence option fares very poorly, and for obvious reasons: children will lie and say they are abstinent when they are not, or intend to be abstinent but cannot resist the temptations of life. People like Shaw Crouse who ignore this reality are not helping the problem, and her embarrassingly poor arguments reveal that those arguments are just shame. The reason she and all the other abstinence-only take the position they do is because they think their Bible tells them so, and reality be damned.

In closing, I invite you to abstain with Roy Zimmerman.