Elizabeth Warren schools the vaccine deniers

Elizabeth Warren, Senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is a liberal Democratic politician who is a darling of the American progressives. She came to the forefront while serving as a professor of Law at Harvard University, advocating for changes in financial regulation to benefit consumers.

However, this article isn’t going to be about Senator Warren’s progressive bonafides, because, this I don’t usually blog about politics, except in context of science support or denialism. And with respect to vaccines, science denialism is hallmark of the left and right, though lately it’s been some sort of lunatic rallying cry of the Libertarians, you know, those crackpots who think that there’s too much government. They want to go back to the time of dirt roads, children working when they’re 8, no rules, no regulations, and other such 1700’s thinking.  Continue reading “Elizabeth Warren schools the vaccine deniers”

Neil deGrasse Tyson tells GMO haters to chill out–liberals get angry

Credit to Wikimedia.
Credit to Wikimedia.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, probably the most popular astrophysicist, if not scientist, of this generation, replaced Carl Sagan as the spokesman of all things science for the country. While not ignoring Bill Nye‘s impact on making science education fun and approachable (and who took classes from Carl Sagan at Cornell University), Sagan literally passed the baton of being the country’s science teacher to Tyson.

For those of us on the left side of the political spectrum, Tyson is like the hero of the pro-science crowd. This past spring, Tyson hosted a program, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, which described and supported some of the great science ideas of our time–evolution, age of the universe, human caused climate change, and other major scientific principles. Ironically, the show was broadcast in the USA on the Fox TV network, whose news division can be charitably described as ultraconservative. Right wing Christian fundamentalist groups, one of the main key demographic groups who watch Fox News, loathed Cosmos for trumpeting scientific knowledge over religious interpretations in just about every one of the the 13 episodes.

Of course, for every reason that Fox News hated Cosmos (even though it was a huge ratings success for Fox, and has garnered a significant number of TV awards and nominations), those of us on the pro-science side loved it. Now, I’m a rarity in the science community in that I did not enjoy the show (the animations offended me on so many levels, but apparently kids loved it), I did watch every episode and would have to rank the episodes on evolution and global warming as some of the best science TV I’d ever seen–despite the lame graphics. Continue reading “Neil deGrasse Tyson tells GMO haters to chill out–liberals get angry”

Hobby Lobby and religious exemptions – good, bad and ugly

In the recent Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (Hobby Lobby) decision, a majority of the Supreme Court ruled that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)’s requirement that qualifying employer health plans under the the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) include coverage for all FDA approve contraceptives cannot be applied to at least certain corporations stating religious objections.

The Court found that the regulations violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA)’s prohibition on burdening exercise of religion. The majority made every effort to make that decision narrow as possible – but it still has concerning implications for the future, and Justice Ginsburg’s ringing dissent raises very important questions.

When the Skeptical Raptor asked me to write about this decision, we intended that I would discuss Hobby Lobby and religious exemptions for vaccines. But this decision is too important to stop there, so while I also address the vaccination aspect, my discussion is about the decision generally.

From my point of view – as a secular individual who believes reproductive freedom is crucial to women’s equality – the decision has some positives, but also much to be concerned about (I hope the analysis will also be useful to those whose views are different from mine, however). It’s not, however, a decision that turns the United States into a theocracy, as some of the more impassioned posts I’ve seen on Facebook suggest. In some ways, actually, just the opposite.

Continue reading “Hobby Lobby and religious exemptions – good, bad and ugly”

Forget polls–psychics call election for Obama

Unless you live in Antarctica and the satellite downlink is not working, in which case you probably aren’t reading this article anyways, there is an election in the United States between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. And unless you’re completely unaware of the news, you would hear that the election is close. 

Major election analysts, those with long track records in statistical analyses in election polls, are not seeing a close election, and as we get closer to the election date, the errors are becoming smaller, and the confidence in the predictions are getting stronger. Here are the three best:

  • Nate Silver, Five Thirty Eight–As of October 25, 2012, Obama has a 74.4% chance of winning, and leads the Electoral College (an antiquated way that the United States actually elects its Presidents), 295-243. 
  • Princeton Election Consortium–As of October 26, 2012, Obama has an 88% chance of winning, and leads the Electoral College, 297-241.
  • Votamatic–As of October 26, 2012, Obama has a >95% chance of winning, and leads the Electoral College, 332-206.

In other words, from a statistical standpoint, and because of the unusual way that the United States elects its president, the President is almost guaranteed to be reelected, barring some strange statistical anomaly or world event that dramatically changes the election scene.

But why use mathematics, when we have psychics and their pseudoscience to help us out, especially since the pollsters have “been universally negligent in addressing the fact that on November 6 at precisely 7:04 PM EST, Mercury goes into retrograde.” The Atlantic, doing yeoman’s service to the political world, has polled psychics to determine their predictions for the upcoming elections.

Now you would suppose that most psychics are New Age liberals, so there would be some bias in this polling. But The Atlantic believes that “they would act in the interest of establishing a record of accuracy, as opposed to saying what they hope happens. Letting personal political leanings interfere with the veracity of their professional analyses also must go against the code of the trade.” Obviously, this is a serious business.

Some of my favorite predictions:

  • “Mitt Romney will not win his home state of Massachusetts.” Well, that was a tough one. If that’s all I would need to do to become a psychic, I’m changing my career.
  • “It might even look like [Romney] will or could win. He may even lead in the poles. But on the day of the election Obama has enough of an astrological edge to beat out Romney.” Is that “poles” or “polls.” You never know. So, this prediction has enough fungibility, that whoever wins, it won’t matter, the psychic will claim that they predicted it. 
  • “In a survey of 172 psychics at Psychic Source71.5 percent saw Obama.” So there’s a poll of psychics. I wonder if Nate Silver incorporated that into his research. 

Well there you have it. Ignore the real scientific polling. The psychics are calling the election. And of course, since Obama is probably going to win based on real evidence, they’re all going to claim that they called it well in advance. Then you can call them up and find out how to win the lottery. Or if you’re going to meet the love of your life. Or when the world is going to end. Don’t waste your money. Please.

 

Why do Americans hate Gardasil?

In next week’s issue of Forbes, Matthew Herper, the magazine’s medical editor, penned the article, The Gardasil Problem: How The U.S. Lost Faith In A Promising Vaccine, an insightful analysis of why Gardasil, the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV), has not become as important to vaccination strategies as measles or whooping cough.  All vaccines keep you alive, even if the disease does not appear to be scary.  There’s a belief, especially amongst the anti-vaccination crowd, that measles is just a few spots, and there are few risks to being infected.  The risk of severe complications is small, but significant.

On the other hand, the HPV vaccine does one thing and does it well–it prevents an HPV infection.  Human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease, causes 70% of cervical cancers, 80% of anal cancers, 60% of vaginal cancers, and 40% of vulvar cancers.  It also prevents the majority of HPV caused oral cancers.  In other words, these diseases are in a different league of danger.  And they can be prevented. Continue reading “Why do Americans hate Gardasil?”

Alabama and Mississippi think Obama is a Muslim and evolution is wrong

Obama receiving an Alabama jersey after honoring Alabama for the 2011 NCAA Division 1 football championship. Of course, it was followed by a Muslim prayer.

I’ve always considered the Deep South, which includes Alabama and Mississippi, to be a part of the country way out of step with the real world, including the rest of the country.  Without the South, the United States would basically be a liberal, religiously tolerant, progressive country, similar in a lot of respects to Canada.  Both Alabama and Mississippi are relatively poor with educational systems that rank at or near the bottom of the US.  Other than college football champion, it’s hard to see that their educational system has done much positive. Continue reading “Alabama and Mississippi think Obama is a Muslim and evolution is wrong”

Oklahoma bill attacks evolution and climate change

Oklahoma bill attacks evolution and climate change | NCSE.

Not only is the sixth evolution denialist bill proposed by state legislatures since the beginning of the year (which is about 3 weeks long so far), it throws in climate change denialism for good measure.

Josh Brecheen, the sole sponsor of the bill, states that:

“Renowned scientists now asserting that evolution is laden with errors are being ignored. … Using your tax dollars to teach the unknown, without disclosing the entire scientific findings[,] is incomplete and unacceptable.”

Which renowned scientists?  Are there any?  Almost every scientist (renowned or otherwise) accepts evolution as a virtual fact.  Academic freedom means that a teacher teaches science (or history or whatever the discipline) without interference from government.  So, does the Department of Biology at the University of Oklahoma teach Intelligent design as a scientific theory?  It isn’t.

Glad I live in California.  This stuff just doesn’t happen here.

Update from Missouri | NCSE

Update from Missouri | NCSE.

The chief sponsor of this bill says the “jury is still out on evolution.”  Uh, what jury is that?  The one in Kitzmiller v. Dover, where a Federal Judge ruled that Intelligent Design is not science?  Or the scientific community that say’s evolution is basically a fact?  Or that intelligent design was “designed” to circumvent the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

In case anyone forgot, that clause states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

So, Intelligent Design is a religious doctrine.  The State of Missouri (well, at least some do) want to have that religious doctrine taught in public schools (run and funded by the State of Missouri).  Sounds like they might have a legal challenge ahead.

Does Airport Security Really Make Us Safer?

Does Airport Security Really Make Us Safer? | Culture | Vanity Fair.

The good thing about being a skeptical, and applying the scientific method to everything is that you learn to think critically, to analyze data, and to demand data.  I had a sneaking suspicion that airline security was more of a PR scheme than anything else.  In medicine, every procedure, medication, and device has some marginal increase in harm to the patient, but that should be far exceeded by the benefit.  In the case of the TSA, the harm (cost, inconvenience, delays, risk of radiation from scanners, and anything else you can imagine) seems to far outweigh any marginal benefit.

The fact is I can think of dozens of ways to disrupt and terrorize Americans with a small bomb or gun (both so easily obtained in today’s USA)–I won’t list them here, just in case the terrorists or so damn lazy that they google the internet for ideas. Get 21 deluded religious fanatics together, a few weapons, and an inviting target, and we will forget about the airports.  What are we going to do next?  Put up scanners at supermarkets, malls, gas stations, movie theaters, and golf courses?

TSA receives $8.1 billion in funding every year, and I have to imagine that amount could be better spent on other types of security measures that get at the issue at the core.  Again, using medicine as analogy, try not to treat the symptoms, but the causes.

By the way, there are websites that provide you with detailed instructions on how to generate fake boarding passes.  They’re meant for family members to go to the gate to meet other family members. Some are there to show the vulnerability of the TSA system.  So, even non-terrorists know how to get around the rules.

TSA doesn’t pass even the smallest bit of scrutiny or critical analysis.  Wish it would be gone, but there’s not much we can do to make that happen.