Monday, March 30, 2009

YouTube suspends JREF

YouTube has totally lost it - they have suspended the James Randi Foundation account. User dprjones has more.

He also explains what people can do.

To complain to youtube follow this link;

Scroll to the very bottom and click on "new issue"

Select "suspended account" from the options and express your opinion.

Thank you

Please help get YouTube to come to their senses.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Obama vs Krugman

I'm not sure how much it is apparent to people who read my blog, but I used to study business management and economics before getting into programming and systems development. I suspect that's partly why I tend to end up working on financial projects. My background my explain why I am still fairly interested in economics, and follow it somewhat closely, and why I'm a big fan of Paul Krugman.

Newsweek has a good profile of Paul Krugman and his relation to the Obama administration.

Obama’s Nobel Headache

Paul Krugman has emerged as Obama's toughest liberal critic. He's deeply skeptical of the bank bailout and pessimistic about the economy. Why the establishment worries he may be right.

There is not doubt that Obama and Krugman is on the same side, and that Krugman wants Obama to succeed. Krugman doesn't, however, think that Obama is going to do so with his current politics, and he is not afraid to say so.

If I was Obama, or the people in his administration, I would listen very carefully to what Krugman says. Looking back through the Bush years, it's noteworthy how correct Krugman has been especially on issues related to economics. He has made mistakes, and been wrong of course (no one has a perfect track record), but on the big issues I can't think of any time he has been seriously wrong. In other words, his opinions are not things one should easily dismiss.

If you don't read Krugman's NY Times op-ed pieces, you should start doing so. And if you don't read his blog, you should do so as well.

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This is a surprise

Once in a while I come across some news story that leaves me speechless in surprise, and this is one such case.

Why a GOP Benefactor Switched Parties

Just as news breaks that political fundraising is down for both parties, Republicans have lost one of their more generous contributors.

In what one might call a biblical move, Christian philanthropist Howard Ahmanson -- one of three major funders of the campaign for California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages -- has abandoned the GOP for the Democratic Party.

Ahmanson is so far from the Democratic party on just about every issue that I am literately unable to express the surprise this piece of news gave me.

His move should not be taken as a sign that he has changed his positions. He has explained his reasoning for his switch, and it can be summed up as dissatisfaction with the single issue (anti-tax) agenda of the Californian Republican party.

The party move has great symbolic value, but in reality, I don't think it will have any effect. Ahmanson will still support right-wing causes, pouring money into think tanks etc.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Discovery Institute opens mouth, lies

I am sure that most of my readers are aware of the latest embarrassment going on in Texas, where the Texas School Board have passed a science standard including the following

"In all fields of science, analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental observation and testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those explanations so as to encourage critical thinking by the students."

When taking at face value, it doesn't sound too bad. Who would be against encouraging critical thinking? Well, the problem is the phrase "including examining all sides of scientific evidence", which is a loop-hole for teaching neo-Creationism as an alternative to proper science.

The fact that this is the real purpose of the new standard can be figured out by the reaction by the Discovery Institute.

Texas Now Leads Nation in Requiring Critical Analysis of Evolution in High School Science Classes

The headline is in itself very telling. The resolution doesn't actually explicitly mention evolution, yet the DI (correctly) leaps to the conclusion that this is about evolution. Also, notice "critical analysis" - high school students don't have the proper tools for critical analysis of any scientific theory. Instead it will be used as a tool by neo-Creationists and Creationists for making claims about non-existing problems with evolution.

-In a huge victory for those who favor teaching the scientific evidence for and against evolution, Texas today moved to the head of the class by requiring students to "critique" and examine "all sides of scientific evidence" and specifically requiring students to "analyze and evaluate" the evidence for major evolutionary concepts such as common ancestry, natural selection, and mutations.

Every time the Discovery Institute says something, it's one long string of lies, distortions and half-truths, and this time is no exception. Before this new requirement there was no issue in teaching the scientific evidence for and against any given scientific idea in science class, so it doesn't do anything to help those who wants that to happen.

And then there is the small fact that there isn't scientific evidence against the Theory of Evolution. The very fact that it's a scientific theory, shows this. Had there been compelling scientific evidence against evolution, it would not be considered a scientific theory - it would be considered a working hypothesis which would be modified over time.

As it stands now, the Theory of Evolution is the most tested, and probably the best supported scientific theory there is.

"Texas has sent a clear message that evolution should be taught as a scientific theory open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can't be questioned," said Dr. John West, Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute. "Contrary to the claims of the evolution lobby, absolutely nothing the Board did promotes 'creationism' or religion in the classroom. Groups that assert otherwise are lying, plain and simple. Under the new standards, students will be expected to analyze and evaluate the scientific evidence for evolution, not religion. Period."

No scientist would have a problem with others analyzing and evaluating the scientific evidence for anything, but the simple fact is that high school students are not able to do that. For people to be able to do that, requires a vast body of knowledge about not only biology, but also of related fields like biochemistry.

What will happen instead, is that the high school students will be presented by the lies of people like the John West, as if they were real problems with the science behind evolution. Incidentally, the DI press release refers to John West as "Dr.", perhaps in an attempt to confer some kind of authority to him. His Ph.d. is in political science, and of not relevance to this discussion.

The rest of the press release are just lies in the same vein, so I won't continue fisking it, but I can't let this claim go by

Discovery Institute has long endorsed the idea that evolution should be fully and completely presented to students, including its unresolved issues.

This is probably the most blatant lie I've seen since George W. Bush's claims about WMD in Iraq. The DI was founded with the explicit purpose of getting intelligent design taught instead of evolution, and only after the Dover trial where Judge Jones rightfully found that intelligent design is Creationism wrapped in different languages, has the DI tried the new track of teaching the "holes" in evolution. The DI is an enemy of science, and trying to claim that they are for evolution being taught is such pure bullshit that it threatens to flood the world market for bullshit.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ben Goldacre explains the situation

Ben Goldacre, of Bad Science fame, explains how dangerous irresponsible media coverage can be.

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Open Laboratory 2008 is out

As a bit of a bibliophile and as an active participant1 in the science blogsphere, I like the Open Laboratory books very much. For those of you who don't know what I am talking about, the Open Laboratory is an annual book collecting (some of) the best posts of the science blog sphere.

Bora started this a couple of years ago, covering 2006 - now the 3rd version has come out, covering 2008.

It can be bought at Lulu.

For more on this anthology, see Bora's post about it.

1I hasten to say that I am not a particular talented part of the science blogsphere, just some one who participates.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

Religion in Denmark and Sweden

A couple of days ago, the NY Times had a really great article on religion in Denmark and Sweden, which I thought I'd comment a bit on. The article is about both Denmark and Sweden, but I'll focus on the Danish perspective.

Scandinavian Nonbelievers, Which Is Not to Say Atheists

Phil Zuckerman spent 14 months in Scandinavia, talking to hundreds of Danes and Swedes about religion. It wasn’t easy.

I understand Zuckerman's problem when talking about religion. There are some very vast cultural differences between Danes and Americans relating this - the most easily apparent probably being the fact that it's considered rude to ask about peoples' religion. It's okay to talk about religion as a concept, but what peoples' personal religious views are, is not a subject which people feel comfortable asking about.

A simple example of this, is the simple fact that I have no clue about the religious views of neither my co-students nor my co-workers. I assume they are atheists, or at least agnostic, but I don't really know (my assumption is based upon the fact that all surveys show that majority of the younger generations in the area of Copenhagen are non-religious).

The many nonbelievers he interviewed, both informally and in structured, taped and transcribed sessions, were anything but antireligious, for example. They typically balked at the label “atheist.” An overwhelming majority had in fact been baptized, and many had been confirmed or married in church.

Though they denied most of the traditional teachings of Christianity, they called themselves Christians, and most were content to remain in the Danish National Church or the Church of Sweden, the traditional national branches of Lutheranism.

Many Danes are what can be called "cultural Christians", in the sense that they identify as Christian, but don't really believe in any god. Even if they don't identify as Christian, it doesn't mean that they are not members of the state church. I've been an atheist all my life, but even so, I was a member of the church for years.

The Danish atheist society (Ateistisk Selskab) try to convince people to leave the church by explaining how much they pay in church taxes, rather than arguing that they shouldn't be members when they don't believe in a god.

At the same time, they were “often disinclined or hesitant to talk with me about religion,” Mr. Zuckerman reported, “and even once they agreed to do so, they usually had very little to say on the matter.”

Were they reticent because they considered religion, as Scandinavians generally do, a private, personal matter? Is there, perhaps, as one Lutheran bishop in Denmark has argued, a deep religiosity to be discovered if only one scratches this taciturn surface?

“I spent a year scratching,” Mr. Zuckerman writes. “I scratched and I scratched and I scratched.”

And he concluded that “religion wasn’t really so much a private, personal issue, but rather, a nonissue.” His interviewees just didn’t care about it.

Beyond reticence, Mr. Zuckerman found what he terms “benign indifference” and even “utter obliviousness.” The key word in his description of their benign indifference is “nice.” Religion, in their view, is “nice.” Jesus “was a nice man who taught some nice things.” The Bible “is full of nice stories and good morals, isn’t it?”

Beyond niceness came utter obliviousness.

People don't really care about religion. If someone talks about their personal religion, or perhaps even tries to argue for a specific viewpoint, based upon religion, they are generally considered very religious, bordering on being extremist. On the other hand, people who are too vocal in their opposition of religion are also considered somewhat extremist. "Can't we all get along without pushing our religious views on others" seems to be the general view.

When Danes travel in the US, they are always taken aback by questions on religion and religious views, as these are taboo in Denmark.

As I said, it's a really great article, so if you haven't read it, go read it. Hopefully it gives people something to think about.

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