A recent report indicated that US state legislatures are beginning to pass laws that make it more difficult for parents to obtain so-called personal exemptions to vaccinations before children attend public schools. According to the author, Tara Haelle, “Each US state sets its own vaccination policies, and most will not generally allow children to attend public school unless they have been vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough); hepatitis B; the Haemophilus influenzae bacterium; measles, mumps and rubella; polio; and varicella (chicken pox).” In general, most states require that students meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention schedule (pdf) for children between 0 and 6 years old, which is set by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
All states allow legitimate medical exemptions from the immunization schedule before a child enters school, because of certain medical conditions that might make vaccinations problematic for young children. Some of these medical issues are: allergies to some of the components in the vaccines, immunocompromised conditions, family history of seizures, and other issues outlined in the General Recommendations on Immunization of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. These medical exemptions are extremely rare, but are very important. A licensed medical doctor is the only one that should provide this exemption.
(more…) «Updated: make religious vaccine exemptions…»
In 2008, the Republican governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, signed the Louisiana Science Education Act into law. The law contends that ”the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects.” The law gives permission to Louisiana’s teachers to “help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.” OK, I understand, we need a state legislature to mandate that more critical thinking is necessary for evolution and global warming; and we don’t need any more critical thinking in other areas of science (sarcasm intended).
Though the law sounds like it would help teaching of science in the state, it really was nothing more than an attempt to get creationism (along with global warming denialism) taught in Louisiana’s public schools. Creationism refers to the belief that the universe and everything in it were specially created by a god through magical , rather than natural, scientifically explained, means. Creationism implicitly relies on the claim that there is a “purpose” to all creation known only to the creator. In other words, creationism is a religious belief, and no matter what argument is made (and I could write 50,000 words on the topic), creationism is not science because it relies upon a supernatural being, which means it can never be falsified, one of the basic tenets of the scientific method. The supporters of creationism attempt to claim that creationism is a scientific theory on the level of evolution, ignoring the fact that a scientific theory is ”a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.” Creationism is generally based on a fictional book.
(more…) «Antievolution legislation update–Louisiana»
Although I rarely state it on these pages, I am an atheist. As a scientist, I’ve examined the evidence for a god (any god), and found it lacking. I think religion, especially in the USA, can be dangerous. Religious fundamentalism is behind the attack on teaching of real science, such as evolution and global warming. Although some may argue that trying to block the teaching of evolution, in favor of creationism, is innocuous (though absolutely unconstitutional), most would argue that since evolution is the basis of all biology (and therefore, medicine), it is harmful.
It’s when fundamentalist religion gets involved in medicine, whether it’s therapeutic abortions, vaccines, or stem-cell research, that it’s clear that religion becomes dangerous to human lives. I just want to focus on one tiny corner of the medical world, where religious beliefs block good medicine–HPV vaccinations.
For those of you may be unfamiliar with the HPV vaccine, it prevents infection by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease. The vaccine, known as Gardasil or Cervarix in the USA, specifically blocks HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18; HPV types 16 and 18 cause approximately 70% of cervical cancers, and cause most HPV-induced anal, vulvar, vaginal, and penile cancers. Cervical cancer, which afflicts 12,000 additional women and causes over 4,000 deaths annually in the USA, is considered the “preventable gynecologic cancer” because of the HPV vaccines.
(more…) «Religion vs Gardasil»
Louisiana is at the frontline of the religious war on science and evolution. With its ironically named Louisiana Science Education Act, which allows the teaching of creationism and evolution in public schools, the state is attempting to circumvent the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which prohibits state and federal governments from “establishing.”
Teaching creationism, which is solely based on religious beliefs that lack any scientific evidence, in public schools is definitely an attempt to establish a religion by the government. Court cases, such as Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District and Edwards v. Aguillard are critical court decisions which have rejected teaching of creationism because it is a religious belief.
Well, one part of Louisiana understands the constitution and science. According to the National Center for Science Education, The Orleans Parish School Board, which controls the curriculum and teaching policies for schools in New Orleans, voted to ban the teaching of creationism as science. The new policy specifically bans teachers from including “any aspect of religious faith” in science courses and from using history textbooks adjusted to include Christianity (in reference to Texas textbook guidelines which use historical revisionism).
The actual wording of the the new policy is what all school boards should support:
No history textbook shall be approved which has been adjusted in accordance with the State of Texas revisionist guidelines nor shall any science textbook be approved which presents creationism or intelligent design as science or scientific theories.
Yes. Yes. And yes. Simple and to the point, and clearly stating what should be taught to children. If they want to learn about some false history based on religions, or anti-science beliefs, learn it at home. The public school should not enable it.
But there’s more:
No teacher of any discipline of science shall teach any aspect of religious faith as science or in a science class. No teacher of any discipline of science shall teach creationism or intelligent design in classes designated as science classes.
The outgoing President of the Orleans School Board, Thomas Robichaux, stated that “when this was done in Texas, all this talk was what massive influence would do in other states. We want to make sure kids are taught history that has been properly vetted by academics and prepared for their consumption…. I have no problem teaching [religion] in a religion or philosophy class, but the science class is not the appropriate place for it.”
New Orleans is just one part (a big part) of Louisiana, so it’s a good step in the right direction. And the students in that district will benefit from this policy, because they can be researchers, scientists, doctors, or just educated with proper critical thinking skills.
Thanks New Orleans.
With respect to evolution denying legislative activities, 2012 was a fairly good year for science. Of course, Tennessee passed the anti-science Monkey Bill, which encourage teachers to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of global warming and evolution. Of course, there is no “scientific weakness,” just political debates that have no scientific relevance. But states like Indiana (through a shrewd maneuver of a Democratic legislator), Oklahoma, Alabama, New Hampshire and Missouri failed to pass proposed antievolution legislation, mostly through parliamentary issues, but also in an up and down vote in New Hampshire.
With the conclusion of the recent Presidential election, newly formed state legislatures are planning their 2013 legislative programs. So that means right wing, anti-science legislators in more conservative states are going to once again push evolution-denying legislation.
In Montana, state Representative Clayton Fiscus (Republican) is going to introduce a bill that will require the teaching of “intelligent design“, a form of creationism. This requirement would be in conflict with the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, where plaintiffs successfully argued that intelligent design is a form of creationism, and that the Dover school board policy violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The losing lawsuit against the Dover school district cost them over $1 million, money which could have been used for purposes such as teaching children real science. I can only conjecture whether the bill will include funding for school districts that implement this potential requirement to defend against the inevitable constitutional lawsuits.
Similarly, in Indiana, state senator Dennis Kruse (Republican) has told a newspaper that he plans to introduce a bill essentially written by the Discovery Institute (a non-profit religious “think tank” famous for its attempts at getting intelligent design taught in American schools). His bill will be similar to the aforementioned Monkey Bill in Tennessee and another one that was passed in Louisiana in 2008, the misleadingly named Louisiana Science Education Act.
I can only hope that as happened last year, either the state legislatures decide that the view of the American electorate has moved on from this anti-science viewpoint, or they just decide there are more important issues on the docket.
The state of West Virginia (WV) has one of the toughest child vaccination regulations in the United States, not allowing any religious exemptions to vaccinations required before attending school. Only Mississippi has regulations this strict for allowable exemptions. Of course, as I have written, religious exemptions have been abused by vaccine deniers by creating “fake” religions so that parents’ antivaccination beliefs will be recognized by the state. In fact, only medical exemptions are accepted by the state (pdf), and their standards on who can meet the medical exemption are quite tough.
In April, 2010, a Federal District Court in New York denied a mother’s bid for a religious exemption to New York state’s mandatory vaccination rules. According to the article in the New York Law Journal, “Martina Caviezel, a self-proclaimed pantheist, sought a preliminary injunction allowing her to enroll her 4-year-old daughter in a Great Neck, N.Y., pre-kindergarten without getting the shots the state says the child needs. Caviezel relied on Public Health Law §2164(9), which exempts children from the requirement whose parents or guardians “hold genuine and sincere religious beliefs which are contrary” to vaccination.”
Around September 2009, Caviezel submitted the New York exemption form to the school requesting that her youngest child be exempt from the requirement that children be vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella and other diseases. The school principal told her that her request would likely be denied. Caviezel declined to meet with school superintendent to further discuss the exemption. She then sued after her request was denied, alleging civil rights violations.
(more…) «Court says that fake religious…»
As I discussed yesterday, the pendulum is swinging against the so-called “philosophical exemption” against vaccination, which allows parents to not vaccinate their children based on the “just because I don’t want to” principle. They don’t even have to support their exemption with a discussion with a healthcare worker who might explain the risks of their decision.
According to an article in the Las Cruces Sun-News, New Mexico state law says that residents can exempt their children from immunization for two reasons: 1) medical issues that might make the vaccination unsafe (often called medical exemptions) or 2) vaccinations conflict with the family’s religious beliefs (religious exemptions). Apparently, according to the article, “the New Mexico Department of Health wants to keep it that way.”
(more…) «New Mexico removes fake religious…»
The US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio has ruled (pdf) last week that a parent’s refusal to vaccinate her children against diseases is not a “free exercise” of religion, and is tantamount to neglect.
In April 2010, the Tuscarawas County (Ohio) Jobs and Family Services (TCJFS) took custody of the children of Charity and Brock Schenker as a result of a domestic violence matter between the parents. TCJFS determined that the children were “neglected and dependent” and worked out case plans for the parents which included psychiatric evaluations, drug testing and supervised visitation of their children. When TCJFS asked about the children’s immunizations, according to Secular News Daily, “Mrs. Schenker claimed she had religious objections to immunizations. The court informed her that the immunizations would be ordered.”
Science denialists, whether they are creationists, global warming deniers, or anti-vaccinationists, are pseudoskeptics, who reject or ignore vast amounts of real evidence, just to maintain their point of view. Discussions with these individuals are generally frustrating because the denialists base their arguments on a very limited amount of education or background. As I’ve said before, at least with respect to vaccine denialism, they have spent no more than a few hours of research on the internet. Then using logical fallacies, whether it’s ad hominems, or appeals to nature, or cherry picking data, they attempt to discredit the vast scientific and medical body of work, patting themselves on the back for their incredible skills in winning a scientific argument. Of course, most of the science against which they’ve been arguing has been performed by individuals with years of scientific education, training and professional research.
Is this research perfect? No, it isn’t. Nature has reported that a Japanese anesthesiologist, who authored over 200 “peer-reviewed” papers, is suspected of fraud on an epic scale. Over half of his papers are being retracted, and he has been dismissed from his faculty position in Japan. How he got away with this level of fraud is subject to a long discussion in the Nature article, but suffice it to say, there was a massive breakdown of the peer-review system at the level of his own university (which may be cultural in Japan) and by the way he published in a wide variety of journals, some of lower quality. I constantly point out that there are differences in journals, based on their impact factor (which is one way of measuring the amount of influence a journal has within the scientific community). However, and this is important, science is self-correcting, and in this case, it has corrected itself. Based on this one story, it would be insane to assume that ALL science is fraudulent. Even assuming a significant minority of science is fraudulent would be improper and not supported by any amount of evidence.
(more…) «Science does not require faith»
Circumcision is one topic that certainly brings up more emotion than just about any medical procedure. In fact, the same level of rhetoric is used for and against circumcision that one hears with regards to vaccines, or even abortion. Recently, the city of San Francisco attempted to ban the practice, but a judge ruled that only the state could regulate medical procedures. During the summer, a German court banned circumcision for religious purposes, though a German court banning a Jewish practice must have blown up irony meters across the world.
In any discussion about circumcision, there is general consensus that female circumcision, or female genital mutilation, is an abhorrent non-medical procedure that is simply an anti-female procedure in many male-dominated societies. We’re not talking about that, and any comparison between male and female circumcision is a strawman argument. It is also clear that part of the anti-circumcision argument centers around secularism and atheism, because male circumcision is integral to both the practice ofJudaism and Islam. That is a valid argument, and there could even be a concern that unskilled individuals performing ritual circumcisions could cause serious complications. I personally could care less about religious rituals as long as they don’t harm anyone, so this is where we need to determine what the evidence tell us.
(more…) «Circumcision–separating science from opinion»
The state of Louisiana is doing everything it can to force feed its students creationism despite numerous constitutional restrictions that prevent religious activities in public schools. It also passed the Academic Freedom Act in 2008 which allows “science” teachers to teach creationism as a “theory” equivalent to evolution to students. Of course, I also discussed how Louisiana provides vouchers for students to attend private Christian universities, some of which use textbooks that think a real Loch Ness Monster disproves evolution.
According to an article in the the Lafayette, LA Independent Weekly, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education considered a set of accountability guidelines for private schools at its July 24, 2012, meeting. Zack Kopplin, “an 18-year-old Rice University student best known for his efforts during the last two legislative sessions to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act, was one of several people who addressed BESE recently in opposition of the controversial voucher program”, testified that of the roughly 6600 spaces available for students under the program, 1350 will be filled ”at private Christian schools that teach creationism and peg evolution as ‘false science.’” Kopplin claims that Louisiana is about to spend almost $12 million to fund the teaching of creationism through this new voucher program that uses public school funds to pay for tuition and certain fees at private schools for students who attend low-performing public schools and whose family income is below 250% of the federal poverty level.
(more…) «Louisiana will spend million…»
As long as the Republican Party runs the state of Texas, then its strategies and beliefs are equal to the beliefs of the state itself. The Texas Republican Party just published its platform of beliefs (pdf), filled with nonsense, craziness, and denialism. I’ll stick with the anti-science junk, but you can amuse yourself with everything from immigration to voter ID.
Protection from Extreme Environmentalists – We strongly oppose all efforts of the extreme environmental groups that stymie legitimate business interests. We strongly oppose those efforts that attempt to use the environmental causes to purposefully disrupt and stop those interests within the oil and gas industry. We strongly support the immediate repeal of the Endangered Species Act. We strongly oppose the listing of the dune sage brush lizard either as a threatened or an endangered species. We believe the Environmental Protection Agency should be abolished.
Obviously, a knock against global warming, or at least, that Texas’ oil and gas interests take precedence over global warming, endangered species, and the EPA! Apparently, the dune sage brush lizard is of critical importance to the Texas political process!
RU 486 – We urge the FDA to rescind approval of the physically dangerous RU-486 and oppose limiting the manufacturers’ and distributors’ liability.
It is not physically dangerous, because out of 1.52 million uses, there were around 2200 adverse events (pdf), or around 0.14%. That’s less than smoking. Or drinking. Or walking across the street.
Morning After Pill – We oppose sale and use of the dangerous “Morning After Pill.”
Fetal Pain – We support legislation that requires doctors, at first opportunity, to provide to a woman who is pregnant, information about the nervous system development of her unborn child and to provide pain relief for her unborn if she orders an abortion. We support legislation banning of abortion after 20 weeks gestation due to fetal pain.
There is little evidence that a fetus feels pain prior to 30 weeks of gestation. This is merely a method for anti-abortion and anti-women individuals to promote some sort of viability in a fetus.
Religious Freedom in Public Schools – We urge school administrators and officials to inform Texas school students specifically of their First Amendment rights to pray and engage in religious speech, individually or in groups, on school property without government interference. We urge the Legislature to end censorship of discussion of religion in our founding documents and encourage discussing those documents.
Actually, the First Amendment prevents the establishment of religion by government, which includes government sponsored institutions like public schools.
Health Care and Nutritional Supplements ― We deplore any efforts to mandate that vitamins and other natural supplements be on a prescription–only basis, and we oppose any efforts to remove vitamins and other nutritional supplements from public sale. We support the rights of all adults to their choice of nutritional products, and alternative health care choices.
Because real medicines that actually do real things require regulation. Vitamins and supplements that don’t do anything and have no evidence supporting their efficacy prefer not to be regulated. And the Republicans want that dishonesty to continue.
Immunizations ― All adult citizens should have the legal right to conscientiously choose which vaccines are administered to themselves or their minor children without penalty for refusing a vaccine. We oppose any effort by any authority to mandate such vaccines or any medical database that would contain personal records of citizens without their consent.
Vaccines save lives. Any other rationalization does not save lives.
Well there’s your Republican lunatics in Texas. Maybe one day the demographics change enough that a more progressive group of people run the state, removing the insanity.
Well, it had to happen–one pseudoscience, creationism, is using another pseudoscience, the nonexistent Loch Ness Monster, as proof. Herald Scotland is reporting that a book, produced by the A.C.E. Curriculum Program and called Biology 1099, Accelerated Christian Education, informs students that Nessie is proof that evolution never happened.
According to the book,
Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? ‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.
The creationist logic is apparently that this lone plesiosaur got captured in Loch Ness during the biblical flood. Thus, we can assume, Nessie proves that dinosaurs didn’t die out 65 million years ago.
(more…) «The Holy Merger: creationism and…»
Shocking news once again–a new Gallup poll claims that the rate of acceptance of evolution in the United States is “essentially unchanged” over the past few years. The recent poll from Gallup asked “which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin an development of human beings:”
- 32% of the respondents accepted “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process,”
- 15% accepted “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process,” and
- 46% accepted “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”
Since the beginning of 2012, Republicans throughout the country tried to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution by pushing religion into public schools. They lumped evolution denialism and global warming denialism into the broad terminology of “scientific controversy” (in case you’re reading, there are no scientific controversies over these theories, just political ones). And those Republicans tried their best to give the children in those states the worst science education ever. Evolution is the foundation of biology, that field of science that is the basis of our health, of medicine, of agriculture, of our environment, and of every living thing on the planet.
So far, in 2012, there have been several attempts by Republican controlled state legislatures to force religion into public schools. It’s been a mixed bag, with several close wins for the science side, and a notable loss.
(more…) «Evolution vs. creationism scorecard: 2012»
You have to hand it to the antievolution folks. They don’t give up and they try every method possible to get their evolution denialism into the educational system despite every constitutional argument going against them. They tried to use intelligent design to force creationism into public schools, but lost in Federal court, costing the schools district over $1 million in legal fees. The have tried to push creationism in several states, succeeding in Tennessee, failing to do so in others. They keep trying, mostly failing.
(more…) «Private school scholarships–gateway to creationism»
According to a Reuters poll, nearly 15 percent of the earth’s population believe that the world will end during their lifetime, while another 10 percent think the Mayan calendar proves that the world will end in 2012. The end of the Mayan calendar, which spans about 5,125 years, on December 21, 2012 prompted a whole field of pseudoscience about the apocalyptic end of the word, sometimes spurred on by some of the junk programs on the History Channel.
What’s worse than all of this is that 22% of Americans believe in an impending Armageddon in their lifetime (the highest rate along with Turkey). This compares to obviously better science educations in France, where only 6% believe in this silliness, in Belgium, only 7% believe, and the United Kingdom, only 8%. The poll also indicated that individuals with lower education or household income levels, as well as those under 35 years old, were more likely to believe in an apocalyptic end of the world. Maybe the History Channel has a broader reach than originally thought.
(more…) «Americans believe in debunked myths–shocking…»
When reading statements from creationists, it’s always unclear why they accept the premise that the world is only 6000 years old, despite a huge amount of evidence that shows otherwise. Or why they cannot accept or just reject common descent of all organisms, including humans, through the powerful processes of evolution. Is it because biological evolution is so difficult to grasp? Or the evidence takes a certain amount of scientific knowledge? Or is it because it is impossible to comprehend the almost infinite number of changes in DNA that are required to evolve from a single cell organism to an ape?
(more…) «Analytical thinking undermines religious belief»