Skeptical Raptor's Blog hunting pseudoscience in the internet jungle

Supreme Court refuses to review decisions to keep religion out of schools

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari (meaning they refused to hear the cases, so the lower court decision stands) for two decisions from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has appellate jurisdiction over most western US states.  
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Creationism legislation–Tennessee Monkey Bill (Update 4)

If you’re looking for a cure for your cancer, don’t look to evolution-deniers for hope. As for me, I give thanks to Darwin and the researchers who have stood on his shoulders.–Leslie Brunetta

A quick update on Tennessee’s “Monkey Bill”, which is a Republican-led anti-evolution and global warming denying bill.  The bill, HB 368, was  sent to Governor Bill Haslam this week for consideration.  Gov. Haslam has until April 9 2012 to either sign it, allow it to become law without his signature or veto it.  The bill encourages teachers to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” in topics such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life (known as abiogenesis), global warming and human cloning.”  The scientific weaknesses are nearly nonexistent, except in the mind of the science denialists that inhabit the Republican Party, particularly in the South.


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The history of the anti-vaccination movement, includes a theme song

The rousing anti-vaccination hymn.

Sometimes I run across articles and posts just because someone I follow on Twitter or Facebook will post a link that I happen to catch.  Of course, I miss about 95% of what’s posted because I just don’t have the time to read them all.  One person’s postings gets checked more frequently, since she focuses on vaccines, autism, and health care myths of all sorts.  I ran across her while reading comments that followed an article in the LA Times (the story has long been deleted from my overloaded memory cells).  She was responding to someone who maintained parents of autistic children were cheating the government out of disability payments.  Let’s just say she was much nicer than I was.

Today, she posted a link to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia‘s History of Vaccines blog, which I had never seen before.  I could go on about how much information is out there in the internet, but I pick and choose what I read and don’t read.  This blog will be on the “must read” list.
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Antievolution and anti-science education–New York City?

New York City Department of Education bans both. Irony ensues.

The reach of the crazy creationists always seemed like a southern thing.  Mississippi and Alabama are backwards states with bad education where they invest more in football than science education.  Tennessee is trying to relive the Scopes Monkey Trial.  Oklahoma and Louisiana are trying to have their students deny all kinds of science from evolution to climate change.

But we have always assumed that the northern progressive parts of the USA were resistant to these science denialists.  Unfortunately, the stupidity has reached north into the New York City Department of Education, by far, the largest public school district in the United States with over 1.1 million students.  They have decided to ban the following words for testing, because it might offend some of their students:
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The UK is learning bad habits from the United States

Fabrice Muamba receiving emergency treatment on field.

No, it’s not how the UK is getting our bad reality TV.  We actually stole that from the BBC.  

No, it’s not getting obese from eating too many fast foot restaurants.  To use the old adage, “that ship has sailed.”  

No, it’s not religion becoming a part of the political discourse.  Oh wait, here we go.

First a little background.  During a football match (the British version, what we call soccer, something we haven’t borrowed from them), a player named Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch (field).  Only 23 years old, he had a cardiac arrest, and he was defibrillated 12 times over a 78 minute time period before his heart restarted.  The newspapers in England (not always known for their ability to control sensationalist headlines) touted that he was dead for 78 minutes, and that it was some sort of miracle that he survived.
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Measles outbreak in United Kingdom–worst since introduction of MMR vaccine

The United Kingdom’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) has announced that a measles outbreak in the Merseyside area is the largest since the MMR vaccine (vaccination for measles, mumps and rubella) was introduced in 1988. There have been 113 confirmed cases, and another 43 probable cases–28 of these individuals needed hospital treatment.  

About one-quarter of the confirmed cases were teenagers (15-18 years old) and young adults who were never vaccinated as children. Another quarter of the cases were in children under the age of 13 months who are too young to be vaccinated. The majority of the remaining confirmed cases were unvaccinated children over 13 months and less than 15 years old.  
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The anti-vaccination movement and resistance to allergen-immunotherapy

Doesn’t cause autism.

Sometimes, there are consequences to a pseudoscience movement that goes far beyond the immediate goals of that movement.  I have written many times about the anti-vaccination lunacy, but almost always it’s about the immediate consequences of not vaccinating children (and sometimes adults):  infection and the consequences of that disease, up to and including death.  Then I realized that it’s possible that anyone who buys into the anti-vaccination foolishness may also reject other injectables, such as contrast agents used in imaging.
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Creationism legislation–Tennessee ACLU update

As we discussed previously, Tennessee is doing all it can to violate the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution by pushing an anti-science legislation onto the public school students of the state.  They want teachers to allow discussion of the non-existent “scientific controversy” regarding the origin of life, evolution and climate change.  The only controversy is in the deluded brains of Republican legislators pushing the religious agenda of the fundamentalist Christians.  
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Australia sees sharp rise in whooping cough cases

According to the Vaccine News Daily, Australian sees sharp rise in whooping cough cases. In 2011, Australia has seen about 38,000 cases of  whooping cough, despite a relatively high level of vaccination. As a comparison, California, which has about 15 million more people than Australia (37 million and 22 million people, respectively) had only 3,000 cases of whooping cough in 2011.  Some of the difference may be related to improved diagnostic procedures, but they have also been implemented in California.
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Antioxidant supplements–hype doesn’t match reality

I’ve never been a fan of vitamin supplements.  Aside from a very few supplements intended for a few specific clinical conditions, like vitamin C and scurvy, they have little use in preventing or treating diseases.  In fact, because mammalian physiology has evolved a homeostasis for these chemicals, any excess amount that can’t be stored is cleared by the kidneys and becomes part of your urine.  I’m willing to venture that the urine of many Americans is quite expensive, with all of the cleared vitamins and other micronutrients.  A balanced diet over several weeks is sufficient to provide the body with all of the nutrients and vitamins to be healthy and strong.  In fact, you are not even required to have all vitamins and nutrients every day, as storage of a few nutrients will be released as necessary, and clinical manifestations of nutrient deficiency may take weeks or months.  

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Creationism legislation—Tennessee Monkey Bill (update 3)

There’s been a lot of press and internet complaints about the new Tennessee anti-evolution bill that recently passed the Tennessee Senate, and passed last year in the House.  Essentially the bill encourages teachers to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of “controversial” topics such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”  And I can’t say this enough, what scientific weaknesses?  The only debate that makes sense would one on the ethics of human cloning, but then again, it could be a code word for anything from stem-cell research to in vitro fertilization.

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Creationism legislation–Tennessee Monkey Bill (update 2)

Tennessee Senate Bill 893, which, if enacted, would encourage teachers to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of “controversial” topics such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

There are no scientific controversies about biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming or human cloning.  The only controversies exist if you add political expediency, religious faith and corporations who want to pollute without restrictions.

Unfortunately for the science side of the equation, the Tennessee House passed the bill in April 2011, so after a conference between both houses to resolve small differences in language (the Senate amended the bill), it will be sent to the Governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam, for final approval.  Haslam is a Republican, but has stated in the past that the State Board of Education and not the legislature who should be responsible for educational standards.  Nevertheless, even if he signs it, the state will be sued soon thereafter for violating the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution, costing the Tennessee school system millions of dollars.  Undoubtedly, the legislature did not fund the bill to help school districts fight the inevitable lawsuits.

Again, it’s nice to live in an area of the United States that lacks this overt religious dominance over the body politic.  

via “Monkey bill” passes Tennessee Senate | NCSE.

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Religion and global warning denialism

The other day, I was watching some news story about climate change; it was mostly from the denialist point of view, but I was struck by what seemed to be almost the same arguments that the creationist folks say about evolution.  I began to wonder if there was a religious component to the global warming denialists, maybe at the same fundamentalist belief level as the creationists.

While I was digging through the Huffington Post’s Science Section (which publishes story about how homeopathy works or how a bug jumping on a camera lens is obviously a UFO chasing the powerful Chilean Air Force, I noticed a couple of articles by Victor Stenger, a world-renowned particle physicist who writes about scientific skepticism of religion and faith.  It’s possible that I’m too harsh about HuffPo’s general anti-science content, though Stenger only partially makes up for the rest of the anti-science articles on HuffPo.
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Huffington Post sees UFO’s–logical fallacies everywhere

This quality of photo would be convincing evidence of a UFO visit.

I know all of my liberal friends love the Huffington Post (HuffPo), but I think that the online newspaper is no better than anything published by Rupert Murdoch.  And it’s not just me.  Brian Dunning, over at Skeptoid, considers it one of the 10 worst anti-science websites, although I think it deserves a higher seeding in the Pseudoscience Bracket.  Here’s how I look at it:  if they can’t get the science right, if they continue to support non-evidence based stories, how are we to trust anything else they write?  If they aggressively promote homeopathy, anti-vaccine lunacy, and colon detoxification, all thoroughly debunked with real science published in real peer-reviewed journals, then what are they promoting in their political news?  I rarely read anything from HuffPo, and I consider them an insult to the science journalism.
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Richard Dawkins says he’s an African ape–yes we are.

Whenever I read statements from the anti-evolution/creationist crowd, I often wonder if they’re satisfied with their intellect and knowledge.  Their level of denialism is so high that they cannot even get basic science right.  In Vasko Kohlmayer’s Washington Times article, Is Richard Dawkins an ape?, decides to deny most basic biological knowledge just to make some point that humans are somehow “better” than an ape, and use it to “disprove” evolution.  Kohlmayer’s logic, if you can call it that, is so fallacious, I’m not sure which fallacy would fit.  Maybe I’ll just use them all.

Before we start, you should know a little bit about The Washington Times. It was founded by the Unification Church (better known as Moonies, from their namesake, Sun Myung Moon) as a competitor to the Washington Post, a rather progressive newspaper in Washington, DC.  The Post had written some negative articles about Moonies back in the late 70′s, while it was the only newspaper in the US Capital.  The Washington Times has a very conservative editorial bias, based upon anti-communism and “Judeo-Christian values.”  Of course, the paper is generally a mouthpiece for the conservative movement in the US, with its preference for climate change and evolution denialism.  
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iPhone and iPad Apps–skepticism and atheism (update 1)

When I write about skepticism, sitting at my trusty MacBook Pro, I have access to every source and bit of information that is required to write about evolution, vaccines, global warming, and the existence of sasquatch.  If I need to dig up a link to an article that debunks some silly anti-vaccination lunatic’s claim, it’s easy to do.  However, since people make pseudoscientific claims all the time, it’s always good to have access to information right at the tip of your fingers.  Of course, it’s relatively easy to put your question in google, in the hope of getting a good answer.  Then again, you have to weed through the 100 hits that might actually support the bogus claim.
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Antiscience legislation updates–Oklahoma, New Hampshire and Tennessee

There’s been lots of news this week regarding anti-evolution legislation.  Republicans in various state legislatures are starting to push their religious agenda in violation of the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.  Remember, according to the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution, teaching religion in public schools is prohibited, and numerous court rulings have clearly stated that creationism is a religious doctrine, not a scientific controversy.  These Republican legislatures are trying to push a full anti-science agenda, forcing school children to think that abiogenesis (the origin of life on Earth), global warming and evolution are somehow scientifically unsound principles.  In the real world, these is no controversy, except with regards to fine-tuning mechanisms, rather than on the broad theory.

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Skeptics guide to skeptical iPhone apps

When I write about skepticism, sitting at my trusty MacBook Pro, I have access to every source and bit of information that is required to write about evolution, vaccines, global warming, and the existence of sasquatch.  If I need to dig up a link to an article that debunks some silly anti-vaccination lunatic’s claim, it’s easy to do.  However, since people make pseudoscientific claims all the time, it’s always good to have access to information right at the tip of your fingers.  Of course, it’s relatively easy to put your question in google, in the hope of getting a good answer.  Then again, you have to weed through the 100 hits that might actually support the bogus claim.
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Creationism legislation–Tennessee, or The Return of the Monkey Bill

An anti-evolution group in Tennessee

In 1925, in the state of Tennessee, the most famous legal proceeding in the battle between evolution and anti-evolution occurred.  In what became known as the Scopes Monkey Trial, a high school science teacher, John Scopes, was accused by the State of Tennessee for violating the Butler Act,a Tennessee law that required school teachers to not “deny” the  Biblical account of the origin of man.  The trial grabbed the attention of the whole country, and two of the greatest attorneys of that era, William Jennings Bryan (a three time Democratic candidate for President of the US) prosecuted the case, and Clarence Darrow defended Scopes.  Even though the trial is often considered a science vs. religion battle, in fact, it centered around a “modernist” view, that evolution was consistent with the bible and religion, against a “fundamentalist” view, that the bible is the “word of god”, which would exclude evolution.
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Consequences of AIDS denialism–African American Female HIV Rates

Yesterday, I responded to an article that I read, where the author wanted African-Americans to refuse HIV testing because of…pseudoscientific nonsense. I refuted the 10 claims of the AIDS denialist without too much trouble, though I doubt that the denialist will care that much. An AIDS denialist, for those who might not know, is someone who denies the link between HIV and AIDS, blaming AIDS on something else (other than the scientifically supported HIV infection).

There are consequences to denying real science. Vaccine denialists are leading to an increase in communicable diseases that were once almost unknown. Climate change denialists may lead us to finding New York City under a few meters of water. 
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