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By John Timmer | Last updated March 19, 2009 6:15 PM CT Source: Ars Technica

Anyone who has gone through the US public school system has undoubtedly been exposed to the textbook version of science as a linear process that takes researchers straight from a hypothesis through gathering data and on to reaching conclusions. Anyone who has actually taken part in science, however, knows that this presentation bears almost no resemblance to reality, where science is a community endeavor, anything but linear, and, as a result, much more exciting. A newly developed website called Understanding Science is intended to capture a bit of that excitement and, in doing so, change how the US public learns science.

Judy Scotchmoor of UC Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology described the site in a talk at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, and Ars talked separately to MIT's Natalie Kuldell, one of the people involved in its design. Scotchmoor said the effort grew out of Berkeley's excellent Understanding Evolution site. When doing some audience testing of that site, she said that it became clear that the public's issues went way beyond the primary topic. "It wasn't an evolution problem," she said, "it was a science problem." With that in mind, she obtained money from the National Science Foundation to tackle this problem.
Giving science a facelift

Scotchmoor showed the evolution of how science is typically presented. Back in 1986, it was introduced as a five-step program: identify the problem, gather information, form a hypothesis, test it, and reach conclusions. (I can personally confirm that this presentation significantly predates 1986.) As she moved to more recent textbooks, this definition picked up color and pictures, but remained essentially unchanged. Unfortunately, it's nearly unrelated to science as it is practiced. The centerpiece of Understanding Science is a new diagram of the scientific process that emphasizes its non-linearity and dynamic, iterative nature.

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02 March 2009 @ 03:02 pm
AS A book reviews editor at New Scientist, I often come across so-called science books which after a few pages reveal themselves to be harbouring ulterior motives. I have learned to recognise clues that the author is pushing a religious agenda. As creationists in the US continue to lose court battles over attempts to have intelligent design taught as science in federally funded schools, their strategy has been forced to... well, evolve. That means ensuring that references to pseudoscientific concepts like ID are more heavily veiled. So I thought I'd share a few tips for spotting what may be religion in science's clothing.

Red flag number one: the term "scientific materialism". "Materialism" is most often used in contrast to something else - something non-material, or supernatural. Proponents of ID frequently lament the scientific claim that humans are the product of purely material forces. At the same time, they never define how non-material forces might work. I have yet to find a definition that characterises non-materialism by what it is, rather than by what it is not.

The invocation of Cartesian dualism - where the brain and mind are viewed as two distinct entities, one material and the other immaterial - is also a red flag. And if an author describes the mind, or any biological system for that matter, as "irreducibly complex", let the alarm bells ring.
Full article text under the cut.Collapse )
03 August 2008 @ 12:14 am
Science is like a good friend: sometimes it tells you things you don't want to hear

Charlie Brooker
The Guardian, Saturday August 2 2008

Must be frustrating being a scientist. There you are, incrementally discovering how the universe works via a series of complex tests and experiments, for the benefit of all mankind - and what thanks do you get? People call you "egghead" or "boffin" or "heretic", and they cave your face in with a rock and bury you out in the wilderness.

Not literally - not in this day and age - but you get the idea. Scientists are mistrusted by huge swathes of the general public, who see them as emotionless lab-coated meddlers-with-nature rather than, say, fellow human beings who've actually bothered getting off their arses to work this shit out. The wariness stems from three popular misconceptions:

1) Scientists want to fill our world with chemicals and killer robots; 2) They don't appreciate the raw beauty of nature, maaan; and

3) They're always spoiling our fun, pointing out homeopathy doesn't work or ghosts don't exist EVEN THOUGH they KNOW we REALLY, REALLY want to believe in them.
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30 January 2008 @ 11:44 am
A great review of "The Secret History of the World" by Mark Booth over at Salon.com written by Laura Miller.

"Booth, an editor at a British publishing house, presents his book as an alternate history of the cosmos and humankind, with the early chapters relating the creation of the world and later chapters devoted to all of crankdom's usual suspects: "Egyptian" hermeticism, Neo-Platonism, the Knights Templar, the pineal gland, alchemy, Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry -- you name it. He maintains that his version of the creation narrative, distilled from all these sources, is "a teaching common to Mystery schools and secret societies from all over the world." To have written such a comprehensive synthesis of Western and Eastern esoteric mysticism would be a formidable accomplishment indeed -- if there were any reason to think that Booth's claim were true."

"It is a mess of a book, disjointed and rambling, rife with puzzling non sequiturs that are obviously meant to be suggestive or evocative but that more often read like the symptoms of an advanced case of Attention Deficit Disorder."

"Booth is forever intimating that he's about to explain something important to the reader and then abruptly dropping the subject. He has all the smoke and cymbals of the Great and Terrible Oz, but can rarely muster even the fake disembodied head as a crescendo."

The review just goes on from there completely tearing the text to pieces. Lovely read :)
06 September 2007 @ 10:13 am
Kidney treatment forsaken for 'cure'
Geesche Jacobsen
September 6, 2007

VECKO KRSTESKI was desperate for a cure and Jeffrey Dummett advertised one, based on what he called the "eight laws of health: nutrition, exercise, water, sunshine, temperance, air, rest, and trust in divine power".

Krsteski, a 37-year-old with chronic kidney disease, followed the program for two weeks - and died on day 14. Now Dummett is on trial for the manslaughter of Krsteski, who had suspended his conventional treatment to follow the naturopath's regimen.

Krsteski's doctors had prescribed dialysis four times a day, as well as regular medication, a controlled diet and no more than a litre of fluids a day, a Supreme Court jury was told yesterday.

Then his sister told him about Dummett's program; Dummett advertised his services with the slogan "Need a cure?"

When Krsteski signed up for a live-in detoxification program in February 2002, he had no reason to distrust Dummett, who he believed was a doctor, the prosecutor, Paul Leask, told the court.

He stopped his conventional treatment and started a liquid diet, the court heard. After nine days he noticed chest pains and numbness in his fingers, Mr Leask told the court. By day 10 he had lost 11 kilograms. On the morning of day 14, Krsteski was found dead.

Mr Leask said Krsteski had died of a heart attack, and the Crown sought to prove he had died prematurely because of Dummett's gross negligence.

He had had a duty of care and a reasonable person would have realised the risk of injury, Mr Leask said. Dummett was guilty of manslaughter, he argued, because he had failed to inquire about Krsteski's kidney condition, or consult his doctors.

But Dummett's barrister, John Doris, SC, said Krsteski's autopsy revealed he had a "severely diseased heart" that had not been diagnosed by years of conventional treatment. "It was the direct cause of his death," he said.

The doctor who performed the autopsy had found: "Mr Krsteski suffered from a severe disease which would have caused his death at a relatively young age," Mr Doris said.

The trial continues.

This kind of thing makes me weep.
03 September 2007 @ 07:27 pm
My case against the existence of God. By which, of course, I mean Poseidon.

YouTube Link
My other videos on atheist topics.

28 August 2007 @ 02:59 pm
Richard Dawkins' new documentary series, The Enemies of Reason was on TV in the UK earlier this month. For those of us who live without the BBC, here are the links to both episodes on Google Video. This series is a lot better than Richard Dawkins' last doco series, The Root of all Evil?

Slaves to Superstition

The Irrational Health Service

Links x-posted to richarddawkins and sceptics
16 July 2007 @ 12:50 pm
...an Australian current affairs show decides to put psychics to the test. Gotta love the use of the voice-over actor.

Current Mood: amusedamused
26 May 2007 @ 12:50 am
I'm not sure how I feel about this.

We Knew It! Psychics Back at Work After Philly Crackdown

By Benjamin Radford

posted: 16 May 2007 09:35 am ET

In late April, citing a state law banning fortune-telling for profit, Philadelphia's Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) set about closing storefront psychics, astrologers, and palm readers.

Oddly, many psychics were surprised by the crackdown. Yet it's not palm reading per se that police were concerned about, it's the con games, theft by deception, and fraud that often accompany fortunetelling. The police did not arrest the psychics, but warned that they would be arrested if they resumed their activities.

According to Deputy L&I Commissioner Dominic E. Verdi, "the Police Department came to us...and showed us where the crime code prohibits psychic readings...It's clearly illegal." According to Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes (Crimes and Offences, Title 18 § 7104): "A person is guilty of a misdemeanor of the third degree if he pretends for gain or lucre, to tell fortunes or predict future events ..."

The victory of prudence over psychics was short-lived.Collapse )
12 May 2007 @ 09:26 pm
evil_genius told me I should post my videos on atheism and related topics here. Here's my latest one:

I respond to a young earth creationist's arguments. The first two parts are debunking the arguments for a 6,000 year old earth, and the third part will detail how we know the earth is 4.5 billion years old.

Transcript at:

Twisting the truth is telling a lie

By INQUIRER newsdesk: Wednesday 09 May 2007, 12:21

ISRAELI PSYCHIC Uri Geller is being sued after kicking up a fuss over a video clip posted on Youtube which claims to expose the alleged 'secrets' of his spoon bending antics.

At the centre of the case is a 13-minute video posted on Youtube in which magician James Randi, a skeptic famous for debunking paranormal claims, 'exposes' Geller as a fraud and demonstrates a range of sleight-of-hand tricks he could have used.

The clip was put together by the Rational Response Squad (RSS), a group of online atheists who believe they have a mission "to help the world overcome irrationality" (sic) and who tend to use YouTube to do it.

After watching the clip, Geller apparently went on a bender and filed a DCMA take down notice (pdf) with Youtube, claiming the video had infringed copyright.

YouTube subsequently removed the video and on March 23, suspended the account of Brian Sapient, the eminence gris behind the Rational Response Squad.

However, it has since emerged that the material owned by Geller's company, Explorogist Ltd, makes up a measly three seconds of the overall video – a fact used by Sapient in the countersuit filed in San Francisco this morning.

"This case arises out of a baseless legal threat of copyright infringement made by the Defendants against Plaintiff. The threat resulted in the removal of a video Plaintiff posted to the popular Internet media website Youtube, as well as the suspension of Plaintiff's YouTube account," it reads.

"Uri Geller may not like it when people question his paranormal abilities. However, he is not allowed to stifle public criticism by misusing the law," said Marcia Hoffman, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation which is representing Sapient.

"If the publication of a video does not infringe his copyright, then he cannot block its use -- it's as simple as that."

You can watch the video here. µ

24 March 2007 @ 11:38 am
20 March 2007 @ 07:12 pm
Color me unsurprised.

The graph shown above relates the arithmetic mean IQ measured in various country's populations, to the fraction of each country's population that believes religion is very important.

The green diamonds represent individual countries; the yellow line is a linear regression (y = mx + b), calculated by the least squares method. The United States data point is circled in red.
Current Mood: cynicalcynical
30 November 2006 @ 10:17 am
The Pigasus Award is the name of an annual tongue-in-cheek honor recognized by noted skeptic James Randi. The awards seek to expose parapsychological frauds that Randi has noted over the previous year. Randi usually makes his announcements of the awards from the previous year on April 1.
16 October 2006 @ 11:30 am
For a good laugh check out http://www.junkscience.com/.
Here is the description of said page from skepdic.com:

The junk science site is run by Steven J. Milloy and is sponsored by the swell-sounding Citizens for the Integrity of Science, a front organization located in Potomac, Maryland, whose WWW page directs the websurfer back to Mr. Milloy's Junk Science Page. This is not surprising since Mr. Milloy is the "Administrative Contact" of the front organization.

The Junk Science Page is not about junk science so much as it is about anything which does not support a conservative or libertarian political agenda for businesses and industries that do not like regulations that limit their ability to pollute or poison us or our environment. Milloy uses the term 'junk science' mainly as a political and polemical term. What the majority of scientists call sound science, Milloy usually calls junk science. And what he calls 'sound science', the majority of scientists usually call junk science.

Milloy is up front about his deception, however. He describes junk science as "bad science used to further a special agenda." Those who employ junk science, according to Milloy, are the media who want to advance their own and their employers' social and political agendas; personal injury lawyers extorting deep-pocket businesses; the "food police," environmental extremists and gun-control advocates; government regulators who want to expand their authority and increase their budgets; businesses who bad-mouth competitors' products or make bogus claims about their own products; politicians who try to curry favor with special interest groups or be "politically correct"; scientists seeking fame and fortune; and ill individuals who use junk science to blame others for causing their illness.*

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Source watch is also less than flattering. It would appear Steve J Malloy is a Fox news Columnist. This fact alone destroys any credibility he might have had. Although really spending 2 minutes browsing his Junkscience page has the same effect. How do people like this sleep at night?
03 October 2006 @ 05:59 pm

03 September 2006

Saibaba man Tharoor out of race for UN top post

Indian Rationalist Association expressed relief as Shashi Tharoor, the controversial Indian candidate for the post of secretary-general of the United Nations pulled out of the race after South Korea's Ban Ki-Moon won the latest straw poll. Mr Tharoor got three negative votes of which one was from a permanent Security Council member. The formal election for the secretary-general is due on 9 November.

The rationalists in India reacted strongly against the hasty decision of the government of India to nominate Tharoor as he is a Saibaba man and a hardcore propagandist of obscurantism, miracle-belief and all kinds of superstitions. During his career as the UN undersecretary- general for public information, Tharoor raised his voice in the international media in favor of paranormal claims and in praise of godmen and miracle mongers.

To read the article of Sanal Edamaruku asking the government of India to withdraw the nomination of Shashi Tharoor to the UN top post, click the links below:

English / Deutsch / Français / Suomi

(my only complaint about rationalist international is the way they try to build a cult of personality around their Indian proponents.)
Xposted to rationalists
03 October 2006 @ 10:14 am
A parent(read: idiot) is petitioning to have the book Farenheit 451 banned from his child's school. And the author of the article manages to make it through a whole description without using the word irony even once.
07 September 2006 @ 02:42 pm
You've heard of "Alternative Therapies"?
Here's a really alternative therapy: Angel Therapy

“Angel Therapy is a non-denominational spiritual healing method that involves working with a person's guardian angels and archangels, to heal and harmonize every aspect of life.”


Meet Dr. Doreen Virtue, Ph.D.
Hello, nurse! Uhh, doctor.


“Dr. Doreen Virtue is a spiritual doctor of psychology and a fourth-generation metaphysician who works with the angelic, elemental, and ascended-master realms in her writings and workshops. Doreen is the author of more than 20 books about angels, chakras, Crystal Children, Indigo Children, health and diet, and other mind-body-spirit issues ….

As a child, Doreen was a natural clairvoyant, seeing and conversing with what many people call “invisible friends.” But this natural gift and ability was little understood by the young Doreen and her family, and was the cause of teasing by her friends.”

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24 July 2006 @ 12:56 am
Greetings from your moderator.

I want to address the community for a moment. To have all of your input on just what exactly you guys want this place to be??

Fairly open question. What would you like to see more of here? I spend an absurd amount of time online. I read dozens of news articles, hundreds of posts, and several entire websites daily. So tell me what you want to see and I will do my best to deliver.