Recently on a trip to AZ, some friends and I visited Sedona.  Sedona is a funny place.  Outside of town, it’s a natural wonderland of red rock cliffs, pine filled canyons, and rolling streams.  Driving into town though, it’s quickly obvious that you are entering a land of spiritualism, mysticism, and new age nonsense.  It’s also obvious that there is a LOT of money being spent (I would say wasted) here.  There are miles of shops hawking all types of spiritual crap.  There are signs for psychics, aura photography, vortex tours, crystals, and more.  The list goes on and on.  The visitor center is filled with pamphlets providing endless ways for visitors to spend their money and the map they hand out even includes locations of some type of mystical “vortexes“.

All in all it seems harmless.  After all, why should I care that people spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on readings, aura reports, crystals, magnets, or spiritual guidance.  For the most part, I find it humorous.  I’m sure some of the shop owners believe their own nonsense.  I’m also sure that others know full well what they are selling.  Sure, some could be considered crooks, but who cares as long as no one gets hurt, right?

Well, just a few weeks ago, two people died and over 20 were hospitalized after spending 2 hours in a sweat lodge “Spa”.  Apparently, these folks were participating in some type of spiritual cleansing ritual which is not uncommon here.  According to police reports, some people paid up to $9000 for the retreat.  Yep.  That’s right $9000 to be stuffed with 63 other people in a 3 foot high room made of branches and covered with blankets for 2 hours.  Oh and lets not forget the steam produced from pouring water over hot rocks.  Doesn’t that sound like fun?  The fact that there is no established medical benefit to do this isn’t even considered relevant by the participants or organizers.  The spiritual teacher, James Arthur Ray, is being investigated and if justice is served, he’ll spend the rest of his life in jail.

So what’s the lesson here? Will anything be learned from this tragedy?  In short, no.  Life goes on in Sedona.  In a few days or weeks, this will no longer be news to anyone besides the families and friends of the sick and dead.  People will question Ray’s motives rather than the practice itself.  Scammers will thrive on the gullible.  People will engage in potentially harmful behavior and continue to line the pockets of the purveyors of woo.  Nothing will change.  It never ever does.

Two dead (so far) is one tragedy.  Another is that lessons that should be learned, won’t be.

On a lighter note, Sedona was beautiful.  I can see why people think that there is something special about this place.  There is.  It’s a beautiful landscape with endless natural wonders to see and explore.  One doesn’t have to look for mystical power sources or spend money on magic jewelery to appreciate the beauty that nature has provided.

If you don’t want to see changes to the healthcare system in this country, then there are two things that I can say with reasonable certainty:

1. You, your family, and those you care most about have good healthcare insurance

2. You don’t know (or simply don’t care) that millions of children don’t have healthcare insurance, thousands of Americans die every year due to a lack of healthcare insurance, the sickest often can’t get insurance due to pre-existing conditions (even after paying into the system for years), and that costs are skyrocketing.

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The latest deadly example of a complete lack of common sense in the outdoors: 11 Year old Boy dies in Death Valley

Completely avoidable tragic events happen when people completely ignore common sense.  If this woman didn’t have GPS and a cell phone would she have gone off road into Death Valley to go camping?  Would she have registered with the park service?  Would she have brought more than a single case of water?

In the modern world, we sometimes forget that there are large expanses of harsh environment where we need knowledge of survival techniques if something goes wrong.  We rely on technology so much in our everyday lives that we lose the ability to step back and solve problems the old fashioned way – by using a little common sense an doing some basic research before we jump in the car and take off.

Sad.  Very sad.  Will people learn from this?  Probably not.  Once this story runs it’s course through the news and morning talk show circuits, it’ll be forgotten by the very people who need to pay attention.  People like Alicia Sanchez taking their child out for an overnight camping trip.

Farrah Fawcett died today following a relapse of the anal cancer that she battled for the past three years.   I’m wondering what effect the high profile death will have on cancer awareness and the use of “alternative” therapies, in particular.  I’m not optimistic.

From what I have been able to gather, she was first diagnosed in Sep 2006 and following regimen of standard therapies, was declared cancer-free in Feb 2007.  A few months later doctors discovered a small polyp during a routine exam, and apparently she sought “alternative” treatment in Germany this time around.  I have been unable to determine exactly what the treatment was, although it’s been reported that it consisted of a combination of chemotherapy and natural supplements.

We don’t know what the specific treatment was, but we do know that it was not effective.  We’ll never know whether the “alternative” approach would have saved her life if she tried it first.  (I suspect not since natural supplements have no clinical record of curing cancer.)  Also, we’ll never know if the relapse would have been successfully treated by physicians using the latest FDA-approved, science-based treatments.  We won’t ever know those answers, but I do know that there will be loads of people claiming to.

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If you’re concerned about the dwindling populations of animals such as bears, rhinos, tigers, turtles, and sharks, consider the effects of using ‘Natural’ and ‘Alternative’ Medicines before you go spend your money on them.  Hundreds of species of plants are on the verge of extinction as well due to pre-scientific ideas about physiology, disease, and healing.

In many cases, the purported uses of the herbs and animal components have not been clinically verified.  In most cases, they have been shown ineffective or there is no plausibility of effectiveness.  When there has been a clinical effect, the active ingredient is typically isolated and synthesized.  Despite these facts, the consumption of natural resources for no reason continues, and does so at an alarming rate.

Got a few minutes?  Listen to Dr. Mark Crislip’s scathing review of the effects of TCM and other (S)CAM modalities on the environment: http://www.quackcast.com/spodcasts/files/archive-12-april-2009.html

I just linked to something from PZ Myers’ Pharyngula blog that made me laugh almost as much as it made me nauseous.  Apparently creationist Eric Hovind (who I assume is related to “Dr Dino” Kent Hovind) has a website with one minute videos promoting creation science.  Of course, in this case ‘science’ really means ‘Christian fundamentalist dogma’.  But be that as it may, these videos are a flashy new approach to spouting the same old superstitious bible literalism nonsense that predates real science by thousands of years.  The production is smooth but the message is the same.

I don’t want to spoil the laughs (Hovind’s comedic timing could use a little work) but here are a few gems in case you don’t visit:

Creation Minute is an exciting series hosted by Eric Hovind that explores the creation worldview using cutting-edge visual effects and digital technology. Each episode challenges the evolution theory and gives evidence of the Bible’s historical and scientific accuracy.

OK.  First sentence makes sense.   He does use new technology to promote fundamentalist non-scientific nonsense.  (That’s what it says, right?)  The second sentence is a real laugher though.

..gives evidence of the Bible’s historical and scientific accuracy.

You can’t deny that that’s a frggin hoot!  “scientific accuracy”…

A prime example of his Bible-based science is this formula:

Evolution Formula

Evolutionists are forced to believe that nothing + time = everything.

Seriously if want to waste some time (and maybe lose your last meal) watch some of these videos which use “cutting-edge visual effects and digital technology” to promote the same lame arguments that fundamentalists have been using against evolutionary biology for 150 years.  A new shiny package but inside it’s the same old pile of stinking crap.

Seriously, why are these backward close-minded irrational beliefs held by more than just the tiniest fringe of society?

Today’s lifting of the embryonic stem cell ban by the Obama administration has the conservative politicians and media engaging in a flurry of political rhetoric.  Of course this is no surprise as it’s certainly a hot-button topic.  One comment that caught my eye was from Rep Eric Cantor, the No. Republican in the house.  on CNN, he apparently said that we should focus on the economy rather than stem cell research.

“Frankly, federal funding of embryonic stem cell research can bring on embryo harvesting, perhaps even human cloning that occurs,” he said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We don’t want that. … And certainly that is something that we ought to be talking about, but let’s take care of business first. People are out of jobs.”

OK.  Pretty strong rhetoric from a high ranking member of the Rep party.  Obviously this guy is either drinking the coolaid or being completely disingenuous.  How can anyone with any knowledge of the issue make those statements?

First of all, claiming that the Obama administration shouldn’t do anything except focus on the economy is ridiculous.  That is a False Dichotomy – claiming that the president can only do one thing or the other.  Of course the administration has a large number of issues to deal with.  The science, medicine research, and health advisers should focus on their responsibilities, not the economy.  If the administration was only dealing with the economic issues, it would negligence of historic proportions.

Secondly, the embryo harvesting and human cloning claim is fear mongering in the form of a Straw Man Argument.  How does Human Cloning have ANYTHING to do with stem cell research? Embryonic harvesting?  Are you fucking kidding?  Representative Cantor is either a moron or a liar.  (Which fallacy is that?)  Actually, since he is a politician, I suspect that he is both.

source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29586269/

A third Immunization post.  I promise to move on to other subjects…

For the lazy readers who don’t have the time or inclination to do research but are interested in vaccine safety and efficacy, I’d like to suggest a podcast that you can listen to.  Infectious Disease specialist Mark Crislip, MD has addressed the topic in a recent Quackcast podcast which can be found here.

Don’t expect someone sympathetic to the anti-vaccinationists and celebrity a-holes promoting them.  Dr. Crislip addresses the safety of several vaccines, the vaccine – autopsy connection (or lack of), and why the claims made by the Green Vaccine movement are completely bogus.

In case, you don’t listen to the whole thing, Dr. Crislip ends the podcast with the following thought:  “Greener vaccines?  The only green you will see by getting rid of vaccines, or decreasing their use, is the grass growing on the graves of children needlessly killed by preventable infections.”

Saw this and wanted to pass it along to readers of my last post about Autism and Vaccines.  Turns out that the doctor (Andrew Wakefield) who first proposed the link between autism and vaccines may have faked the data.  If true, that man should be shot (after a long torture session with Jack Bauer.)

http://www.parentdish.com/2009/02/11/doctor-who-linked-autism-and-vaccines-faked-data

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article5683643.ece

Of course, many people will ignore this and still not get their children vaccinated putting their children as well as others at risk.  When Jack is done with Dr. Wakefield, maybe he can visit Jenny McCarthy, Oprah, and the other anti-vaccination terrorists.  Yes I said terrorists.  The anti-science, anti-medicine, anti-reason people who promote not vaccinating children put far more people in danger than Al Qaeda and should be held accountable when helpless children die.

A federal court ruled today in a case involving parents of autistic children who are seeking compensation through the government’s Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.  These parents believe that their childrens’ autism was caused by vaccinations.  Health agencies as well as all but a few fringe scientists and doctors have maintained that there is no causal relationship between autism and vaccines.  The court stated that the evidence is overwhelmingly contrary to the parents claim.

This case has been watched by many in the scientific and health care communities as well as many others.  More than 5500 claims have been filed by parents seeking compensation.  Additionally, there has been an increase in parents all over the country declining vaccines for their children because of autism fears.

Of course, this decision will not persuade most of the parents that their children’s autism was not caused by vaccines.  Several years of research from around the world hasn’t been able to do that so this certainly won’t.  In fact, the head of Vaccine Information Center (which promotes the idea) said “I think it is a mistake to conclude that, because these few test cases were denied compensation, it’s been decided vaccines don’t play any role in regressive autism.”  She went on to say that more studdies are needed.

Just like any fringe or psuedoscientific belief, evidence is ignored unless it supports the belief, and believers claim that more research needs to be done.  In the case of autism and vaccines, more than enough research has been done.  The proverbial dead horse has been beaten to the point of turning to dust and yet it’s not enough.  The tragedy here is that so much money has been spent researching this link over and over, that it has reduced efforts that could actually determine causes, treatments, and a cure.  Think about that.  Obviously some people are not.

Of course, you have to feel for parents of autistic children.  It’s extremely difficult to deal with something like that and of course they want to know why it happened and what can be done to fix it.  It’s understandable that the answer they get from their doctor is not acceptable.  But the fact is that science has not got to the bottom of this tragic condition.  Genetic and environmental causes are being investigated but there is no answer yet.  Previous hypotheses, including those involving vaccines, mercury, and thimerosal, have been investigated and ruled out.  It’s time to devote more money and resources to research which may actually bear fruit.

source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29160138/

For more information, please visit the Science Based Medicine Blog

Some folks over at the Pala Alto Research Center have created a new tool for Wikipedia users.  It provides a dashboard at the top of an article indicating the activity of the top editors of that page.  Although the community at large does a good job at policing Wikipedia content, information on controversial subjects can change daily and sometimes be questionable.  This new tool provides a way to see who those top editors are and drill down into the discussions that have been taking place in the background.  Though the specific edit information was available, this tool’s summary makes it much easier to see who the main contributors are and provides a glimpse of the edits over a timeline.

Take for example,the entry on Lunar Effect which I blogged about yesterday.  There is not an overwhelming amount of activity (190 edits) compared to an entry on something like Barack Obama (16,000+).  Regardless, you can see that a single user has provided 47.9% of the edits and see that person’s entries.  You can also link to that user’s page and see ehat else they have been editing.  It helps you as a reader assess the bias that may have crept in.  In this case, the user has identified himself in a profile and contributed to a variety of subjects.  In this particular article he has contributed specific content and cited sources as well as made typographic edits of other submissions.  I have no reason tobelieve any bias from this user other than he wants to get the facts right.  Of course this is just my opinion.  You should always do your own research before deciding.

source: MIT Technology Review

Side note:  You can get hours of fun and frustration looking over the edit history of a Wiki entry for a topic that brings all the nuts out like 911 Conspiracy Theories.

It’s a full moon today and I saw an article that I wanted to pass along.  I’ve blogged about moon phases before, but I fear that this story will never go away as long as there are people on the earth and a moon in the sky above.

SciAm.com today posted a short article discussing the “Lunar Effect” and asks “Does a full moon really trigger strange behavior?”  Too lazy to go read it?  I’ll cut to the chase for you: ABSOLUTELY NOT.

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Every year in America, the Holiday Season is fraught with Separation of Church and State battles across our great land as secular and civil rights groups challenge public displays of religion such as nativity scenes on government property.  This year, a different battle is being waged on the airwaves and in the press regarding a display at the Washington State Capitial.  The Freedom From Religion Foundation got permission to display a placard next to a nativity scene and holiday tree.  This blog post is not about that, per se, but rather about a statement made by everybody’s favorite right wing pronosticator, Bill O’Reilly.   One of his recent rants included a statement that our “country was founded on Judeo-Christian traditions”.

My first thought was: “Really Bill?  Really?  Judeo-Christian traditions like slavery?”  Both the Old and New Testaments sanction slavery and we all know that it was certainly a tradition supported by the Founding Fathers.

After that, I wondered just how many Judeo traditions the founding fathers practiced.  I don’t remember reading that Thomas Jefferson observed the Sabbath or that George Washington stopped campaigning in the war during Yom Kippur.  Christian traditions, sure, but not Judeo-Christian traditions.

So where did this concept of Judeo-Christian tradition come from?  According to Wikipedia, the term Judeo-Christian didn’t even exist in the language until the late 19th century.  In the 1920’s and 30’s, civil rights groups were using the term to battle antisemitism by people who believed that the US was a Protistant country.  It wasn’t until much later in the latter part of the 20th century that the term became widely used in the way that Billo is using it now.

As an aside, I find it interesting that as time went on, the hardline conservatives went from being antisemitic to eventually bringing the Jews into the fold, so to speak.  I guess in their eyes, they share a belief in the Old Testament despite centuries of hatred and persecution.  “Sure, they don’t believe in Jeeesus, but they like that Yahweh dude, so maybe they’ll come around.  At least they’re not tools of Satan, like atheists and homosexuals.” Is that how it works?

But back to the main point, Billo’s assertion that the country was founded on Judeo-Christian traditions is absolutely false.  An argument can be made that it followed Christian traditions, though most schollars agree that the founding fathers favored secular government.

So it would seem that in Billo’s world, it’s not politically correct to claim that the US is a Christian country founded on Christian traditions such as Christmas alone.  (We have to include our brother Jews now and accept their traditions, right Bill?)  But there is NO place for anyone else to sit at the holiday table.  Secularists and atheists are certainly not welcome.  He made a point of dissing Muslims.  (No surprise there.)  He didn’t mention Buddhists or Hindus, but I think it’s safe to say that unless they’re willing to say “Merry Christmas” and participate in grace, then they wouldn’t be welcome either.

Happy Holidays everyone and count me in on the feast, just don’t ask me to say grace…

Brian Dunning at Skeptoid.com compiled a list of his 10 Most wanted: Celebrities Who Promote Harmful Psuedoscience or as I prefer to call them – Douche Bags.  I wasn’t going to lower myself to that type of ad hominem attack but I’ll let Brian take the high road and I’ll take the one full of expletive-laced name-calling which IMHO is what these people deserve.

I don’t really much care what celebrities say unless they have already earned my respect regarding a given topic.  Unfortunately, their opinions carry an ENORMOUS amount of weight with many many people and the stupid, uninformed things they say actually do cause great harm.  Don’t believe me?  Well, I’ll give you one example: Jenny McCarthy has been a boost to the efforts of the anti-vaccination folks and her activism has resulted in lowered vaccination rates.  Vaccinations are only truly effective if a very large percentage of people are vaccinated.  If enough are not, the disease that we’re trying to eradicate (or at least control) can mutate and rebound.  Every time a parent is convinced by Jenny (or her buddy Oprah) to skip vaccinations, they put not only their own children at risk, but everyone else as well!  Actually, calling these vermin douche bags is an insult to douche bags.

Anyhow, Brian does a great job with his list of Top Ten celebrity shit heads, so please check it out.

p.s. for more info on vaccination, please visit Dr. Steven Novella’s Science Based Medicine Blog.

After writing the last post which was rather tough, I want to focus on the good news of the day:

Articles in the Guardian and on PHYSORG.com took me by surprise this week.  They talk about Hyperion Power Generations plans to build a small (not exactly pint-sized) nuclear reactor that will service approximately 10,000 homes.  Hyperion claims that the $25 million reactors are safe, reliable, and clean.  Each unit would utilize non-weapons grade material, have no moving parts, and would only need to be serviced every 7 to 10 years.

It sounds too good to be true, and usually I’m very skeptical of these types of claims.  Very skeptical.  Did I mention that I’m skeptical?

In this case, however, it seems that the Japanese are working on the technology as well.  According to The Guardian, Toshiba has announced plans to build small reactors capable of powering a single building for 40 years.

That coupled with the claim that the technology is based on research at Los Alamos National Lab gives me hope that Hyperion is for real.  If so, this could be a real game changer over the next 10 to 20 years in our quest for energy Independence.

See.  I told you it was good news.

Today is a good news / bad news kind of day.  Two articles from the UK have inspired me to write.  First the bad:

A rather lengthy, and extremely disturbing, article in the Telegraph details horrendous behavior in Nigeria at the hands of so-called Priests and other religious leaders – namely the torture, abuse, and even murder of children deemed to be witches.  That’s right – Witches!

In a bizarre combination of Christianity and ancient mythology, tens of thousands of children have been accused of witchcraft and Satanic possession.  Though exorcisms are sometimes performed, most families can not afford the large fees charged by the local religious leaders – an entire year’s income for an average family!  Most children are simply banished from their homes with no where to go or outright killed.  Even the exorcisms (which are basically two weeks of torture) are not guaranteed to work.

It’s no surprise that the same people who identify the child witches are the ones who charge the exorbitant fees for the exorcisms.  One of them is Helen Ukbabio.  Check this out:

Some Nigerians blame the increase on one of the country’s wealthiest and most influential evangelical preachers. Helen Ukpabio, a self-styled prophetess of the 150-branch Liberty Gospel Church, made a film, widely distributed, called End of the Wicked. It tells, in graphic detail, how children become possessed and shows them being inducted into covens, eating human flesh and bringing chaos and death to their families and communities.

The preacher says that her work is true to the Bible and is a means of spreading God’s word.

She claims that her films and books do not contribute to child abuse.  Yeah right…

Another piece of crap highlighted in a new documentary to be aired in the UK is a man who refers to himself as “The Bishop”.  He proudly claims to have killed at least 110 witches and that there are over 2.3 million in Akwa Ibom province.  He also charges a hefty fee to perform his rituals.

The fear is so pervasive that many hospitals won’t even treat the children who have been abused and thrown out in the streets.  Thankfully there are shelters for these children but that is little consolation in the face of such horrors.

I can’t even talk about this anymore…

Readers of skeptical blogs know (as well as viewers of Montel Williams) that Sylvia Brown has been one of Americas best-known (and wealthiest) psychics for several years.  Skeptics have invested a lot of energy in debunking her claims and calling her out on her scams and harmful behavior.

Robert Lancaster has maintained the stopsylviabrown.com site for several years and has been dedicated to providing detailed information regarding her exploits.  Recently, Robert has been ill and in his absence, his original domain name expired and was auctioned off.  The site is located at stopsylvia.com and the skeptical community is being asked to let everyone know.  We’ll need lots of people to click on links and go there so that the search engines will list the new domain name when people search on her name.

So please, give it a click and see what all the buzz is about.  stopsylvia.com

Recently I was watching a clip from a McCain interview.  I’m not sure but it might have been from The View.  In any case, when asked about issues related to Separation of Church and State, he resorted to an old argument about how the founding fathers based the Constitution on Christian values, and specifically mentioned how “In God We Trust” (IGWT) is on the currency.

I’ll save the topic about the founding fathers motivations for another time.  There is good evidence to suggest that Jefferson in particular favored a secular state, but let’s just talk about the US Currency.

Many people cite the IGWT motto and attribute it to the founding fathers.  The FACTS are that the first instance of IGWT being on currency was in 1864 on a two cent coin.  According to the Wikipedia entry, this was in response to growing religious sentiment after the US Civil War.  IGWT first appeared on paper money in 1957.

In 1956, Congress adopted the phrase as the official motto of the United States as a Cold War measure: measure: “In these days when imperialistic and materialistic Communism seeks to attack and destroy freedom, it is proper” to “remind all of us of this self-evident truth” that “as long as this country trusts in God, it will prevail.” (see Wikipedia reference [7])

So next time you hear someone making the IGWT falicy, feel free to correct them.  It’s not a matter of opinion.  It’s simply a matter of historical facts.

McCain and Obama were at the Alfred E. Smith fundraiser last night and each took some good-natured shots at each other and them selves.  It’s nice to get some humor in this tough election and especially good to see that these guys really are human beings and are capable of laughing at themselves.

Of course, the intertube is filled today with people saying how ‘their guy’ was funnier than the other.  Can’t we just let up on the bashing for a few minutes and enjoy the fact that these guys are real people too?

Just when you think that the American school systems are failing (which they are in terms of teaching math and science), there are a few bright spots that indicate that all is not lost.  One such example is 18 year old Laci (gogreen18) from California.  If you haven’t heard of her of yet, consider yourself notified.  She has recently been featured on PZ Myers’ incredibly popular Pharyngula Blog.  PZ’s blog is read by scientists, skeptics, atheists, as well as many many creationists and believers who despise his views and the fact that he pulls no punches.  His readers have a reach that is far and wide and have a history of stepping up for good causes.  (Rather than cite examples, I’ll just recommend that you check out his blog.)

Anyhow, what is encouraging is that Laci is intelligent, articulate, and willing to stand up and state her  opinions in her own words.  (Being young, attractive, and charming doesn’t hurt either.)  To me, what is especially important is that she is engaging her peers using the media of the day – social networking sites like youtube & myspace.  Another encouraging thing is that the ratings and comments on her videos suggest that those very same peers are paying attention and not simply spouting the fundamentalist dogma and scripture that floods some sites.

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For the last couple of years, I’ve been seeing athletes, baseball players in particular, wearing necklaces that looked to be made of some type of cord with varying colors. I really didn’t give it much thought as I figured it was just another fashion trend that I somehow missed despite getting all of my advice from GQ and Maxim.

It turns out that these necklaces are not merely fashion accessories, but are made with titanium – not just any titanium – but a revolutionary new process! It’s coated with Aqua Titanium, has a core of micro-sized titanium spheres, as well as Carbonized Titanium. Wow! Carbonized Titanium!  It’s all part of the patented Energy Transport System.  (Did I say patented?  I meant trademarked.  Not really a difference, right?)

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A couple of weeks ago, the Hubble Telescope suffered from a serious hardware malfunction in the data handling circuitry.  A remote repair is now planned with the hopes that some of the telescopes 18 year old redundant circuitry can be utilized.

A trip by the space shuttle Atlantis to add new instruments has been delayed due to the problem and will need to be rescheduled.

The Hubble is the most famous of all deep space telescopes due to the controversial cost and a history of problems.  Overall though, it is hard to argue with the vast knowledge that has been gleaned from Hubble data.  Many serious questions have been answered and new mysteries have resulted but most memorable to me are the wonderful images that have been captured (once the flawed mirror was replaced during the first service mission.)

More info at Hubblesite.org Space.com and Nasa.com.

You don’t need to be interested in the science of Sun Spots to find these images amazing.

I was reading a news story today about the apparent success of the Creation Museum.  Rather than go into the reasons why this museum would be funny if it weren’t so damned ridiculous, I’ll instead focus on something else.

I always find the comments to these stories interesting because there are always people doing their best to defend God and their literal interpretation of the Judeo-Christian Bible.  This story was no exception and prompted me to leave the following comment:

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This stuff is great:

There are several videos on youtube and on the mr.deity website. Enjoy!

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More good news on the stem cell front:  Human testes may provide stem cells which could be used for personalized medicine.  A new stem cell type called germline stem cells (GSCs) have been grown by researchers in the UK and Germany.  The GSCs are developed from sperm cells in the testicle and can be manipulated to form various types of cells similar to the way embryonic stem cells have been used.

What really caught my eye was that they can be essentially harvested via a “simple testicular biopsy”.  That doesn’t sound so simple to me but then of course the writer of the article is a woman…

See article here.

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Neurologist Robert Burton just released a book entitled On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not which promotes a neurological reason behind our stubbornness.  I haven’t read it but it sounds like a very interesting subject.  He discusses it in an interview at SciAm.com.

The interview discusses a bit of his take on why it happens and examples, specifically the bias towards political candidates.

Are you a rabid supporter of a candidate and believe everything he/she says?  Do you have a ‘gut feeling’ that one is telling the truth or a suspicion that one is lying?  Dr. Burton would say that those feelings are neurological and have evolved as part of the brain’s reward system and it’s ability to avoid ambiguity.  He hopes that by explaining how the brain works to people, it will help them to understand why feelings of certainty exist and how to look beyond them to the facts.

Personally, I think that most people don’t so much care about why they think the way they do.  Most aren’t in the least bit curious why they think ‘everyone else is wrong’.  In my opinion, most would reject these ideas just as they do any others that do not support their assumptions, beliefs, faith, politics, and other ideologies.  Am I certain about this?  I suppose that I am.

I’m not sure how I missed this in the news a few weeks ago: Micky Mouse MUST DIE!

Just when you thought it was safe to allow your local Muslims to practice Sharia Law, one of Allah’s right hand men is making it clear that Allah has no love for mice.  Sheikh Muhammad Munajid is a Saudi cleric and former Ambasador to the United States and he asserts that under Sharia Law, mice are Soldiers for Satan and must be killed.  He made a special point of stating that it included cartoon mice which apparently are especially dangerous because they have made kids think that they are wonderful.

See the video here.

Kind of funny that he mentions Tom & Jerry and Mickey but not Minnie.  Hmmm.  Oh, that’s right.  Under Sharia Law, females are a lower class that even Satan couldn’t be bothered with.

I guess it’s too late issue a fatwa to kill Walt Disney a la Salman Rushdie.  No worries though.  I’m sure that Allah saw to it that Walt is suffering for an eternity in the fiery depths of hell just like the rest of us infidels will someday.

Don’t believe in evolution?  Well here’s proof:

Not much to say.  Both candidates held their own and avoided the mistakes their supporters feared.  Alas, no train wreck, BUT

As is often case in debates, numerous statements are made that are incorrect.  Why let a few facts get in the way of good rhetoric, right?  If you’re interested in the mistakes, check to see how your pick did here: factcheck.org

Despite decades (or more) of research no one has ever found a correlation between astronomical events and human behavior (or anything else for that matter.)  Of course, that doesn’t mean anything to people who ‘know better’.  I mean it’s accepted without question by some people that behavior changes during a full moon.  I don’t want to beat this dead horse but another piece of evidence, albeit circumstantial, just occurred  to me.

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Sports Newswire -Last night’s ALDS matchup between the Red Sox and Angel’s provided scientists with an opportunity to study the behavior of southern California sports fans in their natural environment.

Angel fan optimism was at an all time high going to the first game of the post season due in large part to the fact that the Angel’s finished the regular season with 100 wins, more than any other team in baseball.  The game proved to be a classic pitching duel as Boston’s Lester and LA’s Kackey shut down hitters through the seventh inning.

A home run by Sox outfielder Jason Bay in the top of the sixth was the first sign that the confidence of the so called Angel’s fans was shaken.  By the eighth inning, fan loyalty was being questioned by the broadcasters on the TBS network as fans started to leave their seats despite the Sox only having a slim 2-1 lead.  By the time the Sox scored two more insurance runs in the 9th, even the Rally Monkey couldn’t inject energy and enthusiasm into the hoards of dejected fans.

Scientists watching the events unfold are offering various theories to explain the odd behavior.  Professor Dick Baker from UCLA offered this preliminary hypothesis: “We have long suspected and I believe that tonight’s game confirms that southern California sports fans, and baseball fans in particular, are pussies.”

This political season has been  the most interesting one that I can really remember.  I have followed the primary season, conventions, and run up to the election closer than ever before.  I’ve tried not to get too caught up in the politics, irrational exuberance, or outright disdain that the media and public at large have displayed.  Rather, I have sat and watched, read, and listened to what people and the press have to say.  It’s been more of an exercise into understanding human nature.

Tonight is the much anticipated VP debate.  I admit that I have my opinions about the candidates and know who I’ll vote for but I also know that my vote will truly not count.  But that is another subject…

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A Swedish Muslim woman believes that she received a sign from Allah when she found the words “Muhammad” and “Allah” inside a Mango that she sliced open. (article)

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I’ve been seeing a lot of media attention on CEO salaries in the wake of the current economic crisis.  Many people are really upset that CEOs get paid SO much money and huge businesses are failing regardless.  Are the huge salaries justified?

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Since John McCain picked Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, there have been numerous reports in the news regarding her faith, the churches that she has belonged to, and her public statements regarding religion.  Is this fair game?  You bet it is.

Separation of church and state is a fundamental principal upon which this country was founded. Trying to gauge any politician’s views related to religious freedom and separation issues is important.  Palin’s history makes this even more so because of her affiliation with fundamentalist Christian churches.

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California startup NanoH20 has recently secured $15 Million to further develop a water purification membrane using 3D nano particles.  The technology is claimed to dramatically increase the efficiency of reverse osmosis water filtering systems such as desalinization plants.  Fresh water availability is one of the biggest issues facing 3rd world countries today, leading to starvation due to drought as well as disease due to consumption of contaminated water.

This may not be the Holy Grail in terms of being able to supply everyone with fresh water but it is another example of the dramatic technological advances being made with nano-tech materials research.  If the material does what NanoH2O claims, look for them to be scooped up by someone in 2009.

More info at Technology Review

The next few days should be very interesting.  With the US economy facing serious issues, the two parties and their presidential nominees are scrambling to gain the most political points while attempting to initiate action to solve the crisis.  The problem of course is that there is so much at stake in all of the elections, especially the presidential election, that every decision is being made based upon politics as much as (or more than) what is best for the country.  OK.  So that is just my opinion, but after watching politicians play their games for quite a few years I think that it isn’t far from the truth.

In any case, I really hope these folks can get something done while they scramble to deflect blame and take credit.

Despite failure after failure, the Christian Fundamentalists keep trying to bring their god into the classroom.  As widely followed in the news, the Intelligent Design proponents have failed thus far in their attempts to teach theology in science class.  Less widely reported but just as disturbing is a new tact by the conservative Christians to impose their views on our society.

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Here is the States, we are in the finals weeks of a long election cycle.  This is a critical time for candidates and their campaigns, as evidenced by the deluge of ads on television.  Even though I live in what is basically an uncontested state in the northeast, the ads seem more pervasive every week.  I can’t imagine what it’s like in key ‘battleground states’ like Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Florida.

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This has been eating at me for some time and I finally felt that it was time to put something in writing.

Most people realize that a significant number of Americans don’t believe in evolution.  They don’t make any apologies.  They just don’t believe it.  They haven’t got a clue about the basic principles of science and don’t care one bit.  Leaders like Arkansas Governor (and Presidential Candidate) Mike Huckabee share this world view and the fact that he has been running his campaign on a platform of Christian Fundamentalism is an indication that these beliefs are not only held by a fringe minority.

The beliefs held by many fundamentalists of various religious affiliations don’t end with a dismissal of evolutionary biology.  Many Evangelicals’ beliefs are also at odds with Natural History, Geology, and to some extent Cosmology, Astronomy, Medicine, Quantum Mechanics, Sociology, Micro Biology, etc, etc.  And when I say “at odds with”, what I mean is in COMPLETE DISAGREEMENT with these sciences.  For example, consider this question: “Is the Earth 6000 years old or 4 billion years old?”  For someone who has no doubt whatsoever that the answer is 6000 years, the basic underlying principles of many scientific disciplines simply have to wrong.

The Conservative Evangelicals have an inherent disregard for science.  Actually in many cases, it’s an outright hatred of science.  Sure.  They love technology.  Christians love to broadcast their message of Jesus’ love on HDTV.  Most have no problem with the wonders of science as long as it doesn’t conflict with their world view.

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We had one of those noreaster snow storms last week with the really wet sticky snow.  you know.  the kind that takes down trees & power lines.  The trees were covered with about as much snow as they could handle and the as beautiful as it was the day of the storm, the following day was spectacular. (more…)

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