Science Works, Albeit Slowly

This month, the British medical journal Lancet retracted a peer-reviewed study done by Andrew Wakefield. The paper was retracted because Wakefield apparently provided false information in the study and perhaps tried to cook the numbers to promote his cause and his career. He’s also under investigation for serious professional misconduct.

Who is Andrew Wakefield and why was this paper important? He claimed that there was a link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. This paper served as the cornerstone of an anti-vaccination movement here and in Briton that has caused many parents to not vaccinate their children, leaving them vulnerable to a host of serious, but easily preventable diseases. The harm he has done is immeasurable.

On the plus side, science is working. His study drew skepticism and further scrutiny. His co-authors asked to have their names removed from the paper as a means of protecting their reputations. His results could not be replicated and they were refuted. The editors of the journal made a difficult decision to retract the paper, thus keeping their integrity from being taken down with the junk science paper. Retractions like this are rare, fortunately, but they serve as a housecleaning mechanism to purge the literature of truly bad publications. The machinery of science got the right answer. It’s a shame that the machinations took 12 years.

The popular press is still full of anti-vaccination material and the harm won’t be fully addressed for years, but the process has finally got moving. Meanwhile, true scientists can get back to the serious business of understanding and someday preventing or curing autism.

BTW, Andrew Wakefield now lives in Austin Texas where he runs a clinic called the “Thoughtful House Center for Children.” I wouldn’t recommend taking your children there.

NY Times Magazine covers the Texas SBOE

The New York Times Magazine published a very good piece this weekend on the Texas State Board of Education, it’s Christian exceptionalist members and their motivations. The piece is called “How Christian were the Founders?“. It’s long, but thourough and fair. I recommend it.

One of the last points Russell Shorto makes at the end of the article is that a few of the SBOE members are vulnerable or not seeking reelection (Cynthia Dunbar). We Texans have a chance to correct some of these problems in the upcoming March primaries and in the general election in November. If you live in Texas, we urge you to pick candidates who will truly improve education in Texas.

Big fat wide open thread

[Pokes head in door] Oh, hi all. Sorry it’s been quiet here the last few days. Weather’s been sucky, Matt’s sick with something, no clue where everyone else is but I imagine it involves having jobs and lives, and I am at present umbilically attached to Bioshock 2. So you folks can have this one all to yourselves to chat about whatever you’d like, and I’ll be in and out to pass the moderation queue. Have fun and try not to get too much blood on the carpet. [Waves]


Addendum: Oh, here’s a little something, and trust me to remember late in the day. Evidently, this is the ACA’s lucky 13th anniversary! Yes, the group was founded on this day in 1997. So, go us!

The intellectual entirety of the Tea Party movement in one screencap

Cue the fail at the Teabagger Convention: Here’s cover girl Sarah Palin, after banking 100 large to give a speech slamming overspending and greed, answering one of the pre-screened questions by looking at notes written on her hand.

As a number of folks have already remarked, most of us were a little more subtle about this kind of cheating in junior high school, for chrissakes. And 53% of Republicans think she’s more qualified to sit in the White House than Obama!? Look, whatever you think of the man’s policies, he’s definitely not a complete paste-eating chowderhead. I knew this country was into breeding the stupid, but I’m always astounded at how polluted the gene pool has really gotten.

Counter-protesting Phelps in SanFran: doin it rite!

Via Dawkins’ site, I come upon this post at Laughing Squid reporting on a recent protest by — oh great, them again — Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church at San Francisco’s Twitter offices, and the counter-protest by locals. Note the tone is one of glorious, effusive mockery, as seen in the example below.

More where that came from, kidrocks. Take a moment to note that this is absolutely the right approach to take with idiots like Westboro: “point and laugh” should always be the default response to utter troglodyte stupidity. And yes, we have gotten emails from viewers saying, “ZOMG, I heard Fred Phelps coming to my town, and I want to counter-protest! What should I do?” Well, here you go.

I’d personally go with “GOD HATES HASHTAGS,” but that’s just me.

Letting people as hopelessly pathetic as Westboro make you angry simply validates their hate, which is what they want. True, there are times when it’s perfectly fitting to respond angrily to such stupidity. But that would be times when, say, homophobia takes on the sort of political character that can lead to legislation that harms and discriminates, like Prop. 8. Phelps, on the other hand, is a mere clown. And we laugh at clowns. At least, the ones that aren’t frackin’ scary.

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!

This Sunday we’ll be examining some hymn lyrics. The background will be orthodox Christian doctrine: That man is faulty and requires salvation. The price chosen and dictated by Yahweh is execution/blood sacrifice of a perfect human. Jesus, sent from god, is that sinless human who represents the “spotless lamb” so often sacrificed by Hebrews in antiquity. His torture and death are intended as compensation to Yahweh, who otherwise would refuse to tolerate a flawed human being in his presence (in Heaven). So, Yahweh appeased himself by having humans offer up the bloody human sacrifice of Jesus to Him. And Yahweh is now willing to allow humans into His presence, so long as the humans believe this doctrine and agree they have failed to the point that only execution would be sufficient justice. The upshot is supposed to be that Jesus was brought back to life a few days later—as a sign that you, too, can come back from the dead and live forever with god, since Jesus did the dying for us all and paid the price for our “sin.”

The selected lyrics that follow represent the relevant parts of hymns that “celebrate” this doctrine and are commonly sung in pews across America. Next time you’re in a church, pick up a hymnal and give it a read if you want to see how Christians view their own beliefs.

“Amazing Grace”
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

“Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed?”
Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

An interesting point about this lyric is that I found a Web site online that changed the final line of that verse to “for sinners such as I?” They expressed the decision as so:

http://www.drurywriting.com/keith/wretch.worm.htm
>Basically we think of ourselves as fairly nice people who became Christians and added meaning to our lives
>There are far more choir members singing songs of self-esteem than Reformers singing songs of total depravity. Since we’ve already rejected their “worm theology” we just ignore their warnings. We continue to preach a happy face doctrine of self esteem.

What I found particularly interesting about this was that they did not change any of the other lyrics in this hymn, which still holds that humans are so unacceptable, in god’s opinion, that only execution could possibly appease Yahweh as compensation for their present sinful state. So, I’m not a worm, I’m actually a basically good person that god will only accept if someone is executed in my stead. Here are more lyrics from the same hymn, that they don’t feel any need to alter, to demonstrate my point:

Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

So, they agree that whatever they’re “guilty” of requires someone to be executed, and that’s justice. But they’re “good people”—and were “good people,” even before they “became Christians.” Everyone clear on that?

“Not All The Blood Of Beasts”
Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain.

But Christ, the heav’nly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they.

Believing, we rejoice
To see the curse remove;
We bless the Lamb with cheerful voice,
And sing His bleeding love.

“Nothing but the Blood”
Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Nothing can for sin atone,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Naught of good that I have done,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

And just in case you don’t know how happy a human sacrifice and an execution can be, here’s a little reminder:

“Calvary’s Stream Is Flowing”
From that dear cross where Jesus died,
Calv’ry’s stream is flowing;
From bleeding hands and feet and side,
Calv’ry’s stream is flowing.

With life and peace upon its tide,
Calv’ry’s stream is flowing;
Sweet blessings down the ages glide,
Calv’ry’s stream is flowing.

What could be more of a cause for exuberance than the image of “sweet blessings” gliding down a streaming tide of blood flowing from a condemned man’s body as he dies in agony?

What could, indeed. Perhaps the image of diving into a pool of blood, fed by a stream of blood flowing from the mountain upon which a man was executed, to wash yourself clean as “snow”?

“It Cleanseth Me”
There is a stream that flows from Calvary,
A crimson tide so deep and wide.
It washes whiter than the purest snow;
It cleanseth me, I know.

No other fountain can for sin atone
But Jesus’ blood, O precious flood!
And whosoever will may plunge therein,
And be made free from sin.

But bear in mind that god only demanded this brutal compensation because of his great love and mercy—but you could never deserve it. After all, what you deserve, again, is death. That’s why you need to be willing to sacrifice anything and everything in your life and in this world, in order to show Yahweh how grateful you are for his loving mercifulness:

“When I Survey The Wondrous Cross”
His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

“How Can I Look On Calvary’s Cross?”
How can I think of all He bore—
The shame, the thorns, the pain,
And unrepentant go my way
To pierce His heart again?
Forsaken in His darkest hour
By all, except His God,
Shall I deny my blessed Lord,
Who died to lift the rod?

Let me interrupt this one for a moment to clarify that is “the rod” you should be beaten with, instead. And how could we go on without noting Jesus wasn’t forsaken by his god–the same god that dreamed up this whole execution/human sacrifice as his best-ever Plan of Salvation.

No, no! I cannot traitor be
To Jesus, King of Love,
Tho’ sinner steeped in guilt I am,
His mercy I will prove;
His blood on Calv’ry’s cross was shed,
To save e’en such as me;
O Jesus, now accept my all,
And draw me close to Thee.

And who could forget this timeless classic?

“The Old Rugged Cross”
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.

In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.

Yes, the beauty of an implement of torture and execution. So easy to appreciate.

Believe me, there’s more. Much, much, much more. This is only a small sampling. And on Sunday, even what I offer then will still only be a small sampling. But I will warn you, it’s going to be pretty well “more of the same” of what I’ve posted here. On Sunday, it won’t be so much any new horrors, as just hammering the same horrors over and over and over again. Because that’s part of
indoctrination: Repeat, repeat, repeat. And the point will be to make it abundantly clear that this is not about selecting a few objectionable hymns out of thousands, but that this is a common theme of hymns. This is orthodox Christian doctrine. And for those unfamiliar with fundamentalism, this is how they describe their beliefs within their church walls. This is how they view these concepts. And I can’t stress enough how “happy” many of these tunes are, as they go on about pain, human sacrifice, death and bathing in the blood of an executed, innocent man, to cleanse souls. And worst of all, they describe this to children as the most magnificent example of love and mercy in all of human history.

This is “the story” they defend.

Global Warming Denial and God Belief

I’ve often wondered why the religious nuts are most often the most vocal against global warming. On the surface, it seems incongruous. When the topic is God, they prop up the flimsiest evidence and put their fingers in their ears, yelling “la la la” when there is solid evidence against supernatural belief. When the topic is global warming, however, these same people ignore the evidence and claim to be highly educated skeptics.

Rush Limbaugh has explained the connection. After identifying himself as a creationist he said, “I simply cannot accept the fact that we would be created to do things that would destroy our environment…” Sadly, such a person would never ponder the possibility that they might be wrong. Or that their own denial is part of the problem.

On both topics of God and global warming, their minds are made up.

The View From the Rear View Mirror

To Senator McCain – want some cheese to go with that whine? You could have gone down in history as the guy who stood up to a bad law that’s cost us 13,000 service members in its 17 year history. Instead, you’ll just be the cranky old guy we left in the 20th century. That small speck receding in the rear view mirror is you.

Meanwhile, some media outlets have had Peter Sprigg from the Family Research Council on to denounce the impending repeal of DADT and call for criminalization of homosexual behavior. On Hardball, Sprigg invoked the horrors of service members being forced to shower with gays. With his detailed predictions of what gays will do to the military, surely he must be drawing on his own vast military experience. Sadly, no. He has none. Zero. But he has written a couple of poorly sourced books on how awful gays are. Oh, and he’s a Baptist minister, which I’m sure has not biased him in any way.

Wait a minute… Sprigg’s bio on the FRC website says he spent 10 years as a professional actor. Surely you don’t think there were any gay people in the theater…

Odds and ends

Other Work has kept me from posting over the weekend, but I thought I’d just toss a few kernels of corn to all you lovely pigeons!

  • The latest entry in the “Dumbass Utterances from Texas SBOE Members” Sweepstakes: An article at the Texas Tribune informs us that not only is the SBOE incompetent at determining curricula and separating their personal political and religious agendas from the educational needs of children, but they’re also ineptly managing the Permanent School Fund, a $23 billion endowment that basically pays for the state’s schools. Hardly anyone on the SBOE has experience with this level of financial management, and among their idiotic decisions was to hire consultants, against the advice of the Texas Education Agency, who were not only poorly ranked but actually being sued by the town of Fairfield, CT, for losing the town’s entire pension fund to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme! Responding to criticisms that the SBOE didn’t know their asses from their elbows, the board’s dimwit du jour David Bradley actually tried to argue…well, I’m not sure what the fuck he’s arguing. Either he’s arguing that it’s perfectly okay for unqualified people to do jobs better suited to qualified people, or the exact opposite. Either way, it’s Argument Fail By Bad Analogy for $1000, Alex: “If you sit on the mental health commission, do you have to be retarded? If you sit on the [Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission], do you have to be a drunk?” No no, David, the SBOE has a lock on the “drunk retard” quota, don’t worry.
  • Oh dearie dearie me! Some unscrupulous soul has either planted malware on the computers over at the Christian Worldview Network, or just spoofed their email. You remember them, Brannon Howse’s House of Lunacy, where they never met a persecution complex or conspiracy theory they didn’t like — especially both in combination. Well, I haven’t been getting their newsletters for a while, and I figured they’d learned I was a godless baby-eating hellbound librul socialist communist Marxist whatever who simply subscribed so he’d have all manner of material for blog snarkage, and deleted me. It’s a fair cop. But imagine my glee to see an email from them today, only to discover, when I opened it, this:
    Aww, boo! Boring! When I checked the link (out of curiosity, mind you), it was really nothing but the most mundane spam. I mean, it really should have been gay hentai! That would have been the most delicious cosmic justice for old Brannon!
  • In the wake of Scott Roeder’s murder conviction, news is making the rounds that some people aren’t too happy about it. I imagine you can guess who. Thing is, I’m puzzled by the who-cares obviousness of the headline “Roeder conviction angers anti-abortion militants.” So basically, a bunch of domestic terrorists are angry that a domestic terrorist is going to prison for an act of domestic terrorism. Yeah, so? I’m quite sure al Qaeda gets a little peeved whenever we blow up one of their top guys too. Does that warrant its own news coverage? How about “Crackheads angry over crack dealer conviction”? Not anyone’s problem but their own, you know? I’m just sayin’.