Sunday, June 29, 2008

Not all TV is a loss

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson was on the Colbert Report.

Wackos on TV

It has been hot in Kitsap county this weekend, and my 15 month old has a case of Hand, Foot and Mouth disease. That means I've been home from work and staying inside watching more TV than normal. Unfortunately most day time TV is a vast wasteland of crap. Lori likes to watch Oprah from time to time. In her defense I think she mostly like to see the shows where she gives stuff away to people or helps disabled kids go to summer camp or something.

Well, this last Friday (June 27) we were home and tuned in to see if there was some feel good fluff to watch and instead we find "The Law of Attraction: Real Life Stories".
From the Oprah web site:
Acclaimed author Louise Hay is considered the mother of positive thinking. She is back to continue the conversation about the law of attraction, which is the basis of The Secret. "The law of attraction is that our thinking creates and brings to us whatever we think about," she says. "It's as though every time we think a thought, every time we speak a word, the universe is listening and responding to us."

I'm all for having a positive outlook. If you do, you might even be a little more daring try some new things and improve your life or at least enjoy it more. But this garbage about the universe listening and responding? I'm surprised they didn't try to use quantum mechanics to "prove" the "theory".

And of course if it doesn't work for you they have the ever present Cover-Your-Ass Clause.
So why is it that some people still don't get what they want? Cheryl Richardson, life coach and author, explains that negative energy could be the cause. "I think sometimes it can be exactly what Martha said—that we're asking from a place of desperation," she says. "When you put desperate energy out into the world, you don't get back what it is you want."

Oh, and don't forget the universe gets to decide the right time too
Cheryl says the items on your list may not come to you right away. "I know that there's something called divine timing," she says. "Some of the most amazing things that have occurred to me in my life took longer to occur than I wanted because I needed to grow as a woman. I needed to evolve in some way."
I suppose Oprah does try to do some good things. There is even a chance that she means well. On the other had, she may just care about ratings. This latest episode has just strengthened my belief that she is a menace to society for giving wide spread and uncritical coverage to woo-woo stuff like this.

Local Politics Quicky

I don't like to spend much time on politics. I tend to be left leaning, but the whole mess is ambiguous for me. It stresses me out. I suppose that mean that I really should spend some more time learning about the topic. I just feel like at some level lots of things boil down to value judgment which means almost every one will disagree about something. Too contentious for me. I don't mind a good argument now and then, but also like the hope of some resolution. So mostly I keep my politics to myself.

Still this I found entertaining. Looks like Washington State republicans are trying to shed the stink of the neocons and theocons by not admitting to being republican on the state ballot.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

What is a Skeptic?

My first post-TAM weekend is approaching, and I'll be getting a chance to hang-out with some of my local friends. I found before leaving for TAM that several had basically no knowledge of what a skeptic is or that there was a skeptics movement. I'm thinking I'll use this blog post to organize some of my thoughts in anticipation of some questions about TAM and skepticism. If any one has suggestions, leave me a comment.

I guess I've already written about TAM, so I'll start on the skepticism. Basically skepticism is about encouraging good science and promoting clear, rational and critical thought. It is about finding the truth based on evidence. Skeptics provide a community service by exposing hoaxes, scams, and purveyors of snake oil. There are plenty of scammers that make money by preying on the uninformed. There are frauds like Uri Geller and Sylvia Brown that exploit loop holes in human brain function to convince people they have supernatural powers.

Then there are things like homeopaths and psychic healers that harm the credulous by telling them they can cure diseases by doing what amounts to absolutely nothing and discouraging the application of science based medicine. The skeptics mission is to resist the dangerous influences of these scammers and fraud. Some skeptics like James Randi expose the liars directly (like outing Peter Popoff on the Johnny Carson show). Others exercise skepticism by educating about science, logic and rational thought.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


I've waited a few days to blog about TAM 6 because I was just too excited to think clearly about it. I've calmed down a little now so I'm going to try to get a few thoughts down before the Blogger outage that is coming up.

I'll admit that leading up the the conference I wondered if two days of lectures were really going to be worth the time and the money I was spending to be there. Then, on Thursday morning on our way up Herb and I passed Jay and Steve Novella from the Skeptics Guide to the Universe in the mens room. I got all giddy and star struck and I knew I was going to have a blast.

Herb and I had bought books by most of the speakers, and our goal was to get autographs and as many photographs as possible. All the celebrity scientist and entertainers (Penn & Teller, Adam Savage, Neil deGrasse Tyson, PZ Myers and of course the host The Amazing James Randi) were so accessible and willing to interact with the fans is was great. Herb and I were even in the right place at the right time for Randi to include us in a mentalism demonstration which was very cool. He didn't clue us in on the trick though.

The next day the lectures started and I was just blown away. I took two notepads full of notes so I might discuss some of the content later. All I can say is that they were all excellent, entertaining, educational, funny. Richard Wiseman showed us the talked about is quirkology videos and had Teller come up and teach the 900 member audience how to do spoon bending. We did a mass spoon bending demonstration that should end up on YouTube sometime.

It was a great time. Now I better go before blogger eats my post.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Anti-Vaxers Reviewed

My cousin who is an MD, visited us for dinner last night. We were having an interesting conversation about vaccination and the pseudo-science of the anti-vacctionationists. Lori mentioned the case fo Hannah Poling which my cousin was not familiar with. As a happy coincidence, when I pulled up Neurologica this morning I saw Dr. Novella's post about a new review in the NEJM . It gives a nice history of the US government's Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

The VICP was created by the government to protect companies that produce vaccines from lawsuits. As a result of several lawsuits in the 1970's and 1980's fewer companies were production vital vaccines. The government as a public health issue is clearly interested in having everyone get vaccinated to promote herd immunity . It is also true that vaccines have a certain small percentage of bad out comes. The VICP therefore was intended to provide compensation to those legitimately injured by vaccines. According to the NEJM article, it seems like the justification for some recent payout (including Hannah Poling's) were shaky.

Furthermore, the Hannah Polling case was sensationalized by the media as supporting the bogus link between vaccines and autism. Hannah Poling suffers from encephalopathy that was caused by a mitochondrial enzyme deficit. The result was some cognitive deficits similar to autism. An important point to remember is that autism is a clinical diagnosis. You can't just get a blood test for autism. It is therefore possible to twist the facts in the Poling case because the symptoms resemble those of autism even though they have a completely independent mechanism.

On a related note a good take down of Jim Carrey, Jenny Mcarthy and their so called "Green Vaccine" movement.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

More SDAs in the News

Thanks to PZ I have another edition of Seventh-Day Adventist in the news. Nothing creepy or illegal this time. Just ineffective. I guess they are praying for lower gas prices in groups at gas stations all over. They started in April. I don't think the prices have been heading down since then. But, you know what they say. Nothing fails like prayer.