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Tag Archives: Science

I haven’t posted in some time. It hasn’t been because I haven’t anything to say, but because I have starte actually saying it. My brother B and I had been wanting to start up a podcast for some time, but with the arrival of my niece and nephew things got put on the back burner. I didn’t want to start things up on my own, but when a new homeopathy store opened up and started advertising on Facebook, I could no longer wait.

It was at this time that I put out a cattle all to my Center for Inquiry friends and was pleasantly surprised to receive numerous requests to be involved. We made our first recording a little after Xmas and we’re getting set to record our eighth episode tomorrow evening.

So what’s the podcast about? Well, the vision I have is quite broad. Essentially, it involves discussing topics anywhere that evidence-based thinking can be applied. This can involve public policy, woo woo, religion, science, education, etc. There are many great podcasts out there about atheism (The Non-Prophets, for example) or applied skepticism which exclude religious claims (e.g., The Skeptics Guide to the Universe), but almost none that make no distinction where critical thinking gets applied. (The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Skeptics with a K.)

As I like to say, I am an atheist for the same reason that I am a-reiki, a-homeopathic, a-yeti, or a-quantum healing. I see no difference in any of these claims or the requirements they need to meet before acceptance is justified. However, religion is a big component of the podcast for the simple reason that it pervades so much of society. I wouldn’t give a tinker’s damn about it except for one thing: Beliefs inform actions and believing in things without the requisite evidence often lead to harm, not to mention that it is an impoverished way of living. The universe is amazing enough without diminishing it by making up far less interesting stuff about it.

A case in point (which I would like to make into a podcast topic): a recent crime bill passed here in Canada increases prison time and takes funding away from programs which may help make inmates productive members of society when released. There is not one shred of evidence that increasing prison time makes society any safer or better off. Quite the opposite, in fact. But such thinking arises from and panders to an electorate with a religious conservative point of view that is demonstrably false. This is not how public policy should be created and does real harm to society.

The topics we discuss are as relevant to the Canadian prairies as possible (or at least nationally). There are already podcasts out there which ably cover the tribulations south of the 49th parallel. But topics which are of interst to everyone are covered as well, though we give them a decidedly local flavor.

In the first seven episodes we have talked about Xerion Homoeopathie (a Calgary purveyor of magic sugar pills) and their dissemination of anti-vaccination nonsense, the effectiveness so-called ‘liberation’ therapy as a proposed treatment of multiple sclerosis (which has a very high incidence in the prairie provinces), the absence of secular education in the town of Morinville (just north of Edmonton), and in the episode we are recording tomorrow we have an interview with rock star cosmologist Lawrence Krauss about science education and why the non-religious are labeled “strident” (or worse) just for daring to question religious claims. His new book A Universe From Nothing (which I guiltlessly plug here) is a great companion to the viral YouTube video of the same name.

Come visit us at the Legion of Reason and give us a listen, or you can find us on iTunes.

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On the weekend of September 9, I and a fellow member of the Center for Inquiry attended a creationism “conference” (I’d have called it a lecture series, but hey, whatever). My overall impression is that if this is all that creationists have, evolutionary theory is not at all in jeopardy. Of course, I never thought it was. I just wanted to experience what people who believe the Earth is a mere 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs co-existed with humans had to say. The whole thing could only be accepted by those who have drunk the Kool Aid. There was nothing convincing in anything I saw, and some stretched my credulity well past the breaking point. Read More »

ABSTRACT. Facilitated communication was regailed as a major breakthrough in 1990 in communicating with people who have autism. The claim was that 90% of children suffering from nonverbal autism could communicate with the aid of a keyboard and a facilitator guiding their hands to make the keystrokes. Scientific examination of the claims made by facilitated communication proponents showed a different story. When facilitated communication was performed under controlled conditions, the majority of studies showed no effect. Those few controlled studies which did show benefit suffered from severe methodological problems. It has been found that the authorship can not be attributed to the autistic subject. Rather, it is the facilitator unconsciously doing the typing via the ideomotor effect. The illusion of subject authorship is very strong, as is made clear by the belief in its efficacy by both its practitioners and parents of autistic children making use of facilitated communication. Coupling this with a parent’s desire to interact with their autistic child makes it even more so. But facilitators have on many occasions accused a parent of sexual abuse through their subject, and at times a child’s testimony via facilitated communication has been accepted as evidence despite its failure to pass the Frye test. Facilitated communication has been discredited in the scientific community, yet it continues to be applied. The harm it causes is clear. It has destroyed lives with false allegations of sexual abuse and may prevent the special needs of autistic and sufferers of similar nonverbal disorders from being met on the basis of what a facilitator says via the subject.

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NDP leader Brian Mason had this to say about Bill 44, legislation tabled yesterday which allows parents to pull their children from class on the basis of belief:

All they’ve done is make Alberta look like Northumberland and sound like Arkansas.

Testify! 

Bill 44 is

[a] controversial Alberta bill will enshrine into law the rights of parents to pull their children out of classes discussing the topics of evolution and homosexuality.

The new rules, which would require schools to notify parents in advance of “subject-matter that deals explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation,” is buried in a bill that extends human rights to homosexuals. Parents can ask for their child to be excluded from the discussion.

Education minister Dave Hancock:

“With respect to values, religion and sex education have always been areas of concern for parents, and they’ve always been areas parents have had the right to be notified about and to exempt their students from.” 

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I have just finished Jerry Coyne’s book on the fact of evolution entitled Why Evolution Is True. I say fact, of course, since there is no longer any discussion of whether evolution happened in biology. Not because evolution is dogmatically unquestionable, as evolution deniers will say, but because such a discussion is utterly pointless. 

He begins the book by describing what evolution is (itself often misunderstood) and a bit about systematics. It’s a good basic description of how phylogenetic trees are built from a comparative morphology point of view. He moves on to some interesting examples of visible evolution in the fossil record, discussing the near-continuous changes in radiolarians and foraminiferans, some of the recent fossil evidences for various transitions such as the aquatic-terrestrial tetrapod transition, dinosaur to bird, and (with good reason, as Jerry demonstrates, the darling of modern paleontology) land-sea mammalian transition.

Jerry continues with some of the earliest evidences of evolution that was discussed in The Origin, such as vestigial organs and atavisms, as well as something somewhat more modern – evidence from pseudogenes. Embryology is also strong in this chapter and he clearly describes what “phylogeny begets ontogeny” means, with examples. This easily leads into, of course, how bad design occurs. I’ve always enjoyed examples of clearly inept design, and here Jerry gives some of the more famous ones like the tortuous path of the aortic arches in humans and how such a ridiculous ‘design’ arose from contingency dictated by our evolutionary past. 

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Every molecule in your body has a story to tell. This tale is about hemoglobin, the class of oxygen-binding molecules that make oxygen transport in complex creatures such as us possible. Hemoglobins are proteins that contain the heme moiety, a planar molecule binding iron (Fe) and maintaining it in the +2 oxidataion state (denoted Fe(II)).

Hemoglogins in the Animal Kingdom
Hemoglobins in almost all vertebrates is a heterotetramer (that is, four (‘tetra’) individual of different (‘hetero’) proteins) composed of two α-globin and two β-globin polypeptides (a fancy word for proteins). The heme part is bound in a pocket formed by structure of each globin unit. The movement and interactions between the subunits increases hemoglobin’s ability to bind oxygen.

Hemoglobin structure

Hemoglobin structure

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I’ve grown up believing that you should not speak ill of anyone, but then, I don’t lie, either. The subject of this blog is Kent Hovind, or ‘Dr. Dino’; a man that, without ever having met, I completely loathe. No, it goes beyond that, and I will now tell you why.

Yesterday, I downloaded a debate that was made available on the Infidel Guy website between Mr. Kent Hovind and Dr. Massimo Pigliucci which originally aired in 2001. Dr. Pigliucci most ably defended evolution with a great deal more patience than I would have had. I have little patience for stupidity (which is why I never found ‘Friends’ funny at all) and have to fight the urge to stop my hand from smacking topside of the head anyone suffering from this all too common affliction. Mr. Hovind would receive a great deal less gentle attention in my presence.

It is apparent that Mr. Hovind is unhappy at being called ‘Mr.’ and feels that his ‘degree’ from an unaccredited university demands that the title ‘Dr.’ be used when addressing him:

‘… I have a doctor’s degree also, though it’s not from an accredited university but I don’t think that matters…’ 

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The origin of life problem is perhaps the most important question to ever have been the focus of scientific scrutiny. The only other question that I think rates of similar importance is the origin of the universe. Both questions have special obstacles to overcome before any answers are within sight.

The Miller-Urey experiment of the 50s was a lightningrod for research into this question, but the euphoria caused by the viewpoint that the answers were near quickly receded once the scope of the problem was realized and it was decades before the excitement was rekindled in the scientific world. It’s no surprise that the search is a difficult one. Remember, researchers are trying to compress the millions of years that undoubtedly were required for nature to give life a kick start into the lifespan of humans. Couple this with only a limited knowledge of what the conditions were at the time life started except in the grossest terms with the possibility that trace elements may be essential for the synthesis of life greatly compounds the issue. Anyone thinking that if life arose through naturalistic processes means it should be both easy, and that a mere 50 years of research should have resulted in the creation of protolife really doesn’t have a good grasp of the scope of the problem.

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