My president has to remind us that “rape is rape”

It’s kind of sad that American politics has come to the point where Obama needs to state the obvious about rape:

President Obama has weighed in on Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) comments that women don’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape” because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” During an impromptue press conference on Monday, Obama said, “The views expressed were offensive. Rape is rape. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we’re talking about doesn’t make sense to the American people.” “So what I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians — a majority whom are men — making health care decisions on behalf of women,” he added.

Exactly. Though I wish Obama took one more sentence to point out that what Akin claimed has no scientific merit. Especially since Akin is on House Science Committee. A terrifying idea, indeed.

If you want to know the science behind rape, stress, and pregnancy, Kate Clancy has written a great post for Scientific American following this political kerfuffle. The short answer:

Yes, psychosocial stress is associated with fetal loss in some samples. That is not the same thing as saying that stress causes fetal loss. Some women are more reactive to stress than others, and this seems to be based on genes and early childhood experiences. As I pointed out in my post, it certainly isn’t something women have conscious control over. And so it is irrational to link the stress of rape, while awful and severe, to fetal loss, when we understand the mechanism of the stress response and its relationship to pregnancy so poorly, and when we know next to nothing regarding how variation in stress reactivity is produced.

Or instead of understanding the science, you can be like Rep. Steve King (R) and remark how you never heard of someone getting pregnant from statutory rape or incest. Because if you’ve never personally heard of something happening, that means it must be true. It only took a minute of Googling for me to find a scientific paper showing 0.5% of women getting abortions had their pregnancy result from incest, and that obviously doesn’t address the women who didn’t get abortions. But it’s still greater than King’s claim of zero.

Why you shouldn’t play the lottery

Watch this US Powerball simulator long enough and you’ll understand. Sean and I have now been “buying” two tickets a week for 350 years for a total of 36,400 games. We’ve spent $72,750 and made $5,417, which puts our rate of return at around 7 cents a ticket. We’ve never made more than $100 on a ticket.

Insert comment about the US education system’s failure to properly teach statistics here.

Flickr helps scientists discover a new species

This story on NPR is great. An entomologist was browsing insect photos on Flickr when he saw one he didn’t recognize. After talking to his colleagues, they confirmed that this was probably a new species:

A full year later, Winterton received an email from the photographer; Guek had returned to the region of the original sighting and found another lacewing with the same wing pattern.

“He told me, ‘I’ve got one in a container on my kitchen table — what should I do with it?’ ” Winterton says.

The specimen was sent to Steve Brooks, an entomologist at the Natural History Museum in London. Brooks confirmed that the lacewing was new to science. He also found a matching specimen that had been sitting in the museum’s collection, unclassified, for decades.

The new species was dubbed Semachrysa jade — not after its pale green color, but after Winterton’s daughter.

It’s pretty awesome that we live in a time where information is spread so rapidly that a random photographer and a bored scientist browsing Flickr can make a new discovery. What other scientific discoveries do you think social media can contribute to?

Nazis, genetically modified babies, Mothman, and Jesus

I didn’t think those topics could be combined, but I’ve been proven wrong. No, it’s not the next hit superhero movie. One of the “perks” of being an atheist blogger is that I get signed up to all sorts of wacky mailing lists for creationists, woo peddlers, and conspiracy theorists. I suspect they think this annoys me, when really it usually goes straight to my spam folder to die with all the penis enlargement ads. But sometimes things slip through to my inbox, and sometimes their insanity is hilarious.


Those who are aware that conspiratorial practices have already wildly exceeded even the most fantastic speculations were not surprised to hear that scientists have now admitted that genetically modified babies have already been born. Although the mainstream, or the so called “ethical” medical community is now publicly acknowledging they’ve mixed genes from multiple parties to produce designer babies all the way back to the late 1990’s, the reality is genetically engineered babies were probably born as far back the 1940’s in one of Joseph Mengele’s Nazi laboratories.
Generally speaking, secretive “black” science significantly precedes the allegedly legitimate version, in which the mainstream commonly lags behind by decades. In fact, the recent mainstream media exposure in the Daily Mail periodical, reignited interest in a subject which was actually covered, albeit rather quietly, years earlier.
It turns out that In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) clinics have been using a technique now for years that “rejuvenates” the eggs of women who are having trouble conceiving, by injecting components of another woman’s egg. This component is called cytoplasm, and it contains the mitochondrial DNA from the donor – thus making the resultant baby the product of 3 parents – the father, and two mothers.
It turns out this has been publicly known since 2001 and, by tracing the research (and the scientist who developed the technique), we learn that babies with more than 2 parents were born at least as far back as 1997. Once again, once such things go public, it virtually always means it’s been going on for quite a bit longer, and has gone much further than is generally acknowledged.
Time for a science break! It’s actually true that scientists are trying to develop methods that use a third individual’s mitochondria during IVF, but it’s not to make abominations or super babies. It’s to cure diseases caused by malfunctioning mitochondria. Mitochondria are the “powerhouse” of the cell, making lots of energy so your cells can actually function.
They also have their own genomes because they were once a separate organism! They were engulfed by another type of cell and the two formed a symbiotic relationship, and now every eukaryote (anything that’s not bacteria or archaea) has mitochondria. Mitochondria are passed from mother to child, not father to child. This is because egg cells have the room to store mitochondria, but sperm don’t.
So if you have a disease that’s caused by a mutation in the mitochondrial genome, you could technically suck out all the “defective” mitochondria and replace them with “healthy” mitochondria from another person. And people are going nuts at the ethics around this, because yes, technically you’d have a third genetic “parent.” If you want to learn more, read this great article in The Guardian.
For instance, there is nothing to indicate these maniacs have stopped at 3 parents, as they could have, theoretically, added the cytoplasm of a dozen women – each selected for what are perceived as desirable characteristics – i.e. blue eyes from mom #4, physical speed and agility from gymnast mom #5, a very high IQ from mom #6, and so forth.
Yeah, theoretically you could add all sorts of mitochondria. But mitochondrial genomes are tiny and don’t really contribute to any distinguishing traits. Things like eye color would still be determined by nuclear DNA (the ones egg and sperm contribute to).
To put it another way, this is the stuff the Nephilim were made of.
I’m not even going to touch that.
What happens if they try to splice in the mitochondria of another father is anyone’s guess, but such outcomes could look like something out of a horror film. And it gets worse.
Actually, nothing different would happen if you took the mitochondria from a man. The only reason mitochondria are transfered maternally is because eggs have the room to do so. There are rare examples of mitochondria being transmitted paternally, with no real consequences.
Now we’ve learned the key research embryologist who pioneered this technique left the fertility clinic work he was doing, and was hired by a US military medical institution. This chilling fact begs the question, is there anyone who seriously doubts the military establishment will seek to engineer a super-soldier, and will not be deterred by any of those messy moral or ethical considerations?
Christian Media, the ministry which fields the V Channel output such as the V Blast Internet letter, the Eclipse printed periodical, and the Exotica TV and radio show, has previously produced material on the efforts to create robo-soldier. In what looks like a Marvel Comics fiction, hardly anyone knows military scientists have already succeeded in growing (with spider DNA) a dense, Kevlar like compound, directly into the skin of solders, so they can withstand a bullet wound (see the Exotica TV episode on the subject).
Military scientists are talking about using spider silk to make structures that are stronger than Kevlar…but they can hardly hardly make enough with the current technology, and they definitely haven’t started breeding genetically modified soldiers. We don’t have that technology. We hardly understand how spider silk production works.
With such efforts, one can only wonder if these madmen will eventually produce a modern version of the mothman, replete with wings that can quietly transport the organic killing machine behind enemy lines. Furthermore, it is certain the Biblical prophets described just what is occurring.
Oddly this was probably the paragraph that offended my brain cells the most. Mothman? Not…you know, Spiderman? I…I just don’t understand why they wouldn’t go with the obvious if they were going to invoke genetically modified superheroes.
For instance, the prophet Joel described military men that were unstoppable in very scary terms:
 “a great people and a strong: there hath not been ever the like…A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth…and nothing shall escape them. The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses [centaurs]; and as horsemen, so shall they run. “They shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men of war; they shall march every one on his way, and they shall not break their ranks: Neither shall one thrust another; they shall walk every one in his path: and when they fall upon the sword, they shall not be wounded” (Joel 2:2-8)
For those unfamiliar with the prophetic texts, the manipulation of genetics is a primary theme found in the numerous descriptions of the end of the age. Jesus Christ said the last generation would be “…as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man” (Luke 17:26)
The primary description of the days of Noah was focused on what is sometimes called the “first incursion,” wherein the fallen angels tampered with the genetics of men and women, and the offspring became “mighty men” – a population which was quickly catapulted into leadership within the old world order.
The book of Genesis tells us the whole world was “corrupt” and the LORD saw nothing but “violence” everywhere, so He purposed to destroy the world (Genesis Chapter 6). This is what Jesus used as a template for the last generation – a time of massive destruction, preceded by violence and genetic manipulation.
When coupled with the descriptions of world war, famine, and pestilence, to say nothing of the massive fraud of the so called pre-tribulation “rapture” in which millions of deceived believers “know not” that they are about to be “taken away” to the grave in a violent judgment (Matthew 24:39),  this tribulational devastation could occur at any moment.
– James Lloyd
Jesus blah blah blah.

The only other thing worth highlighting is their unique instruction on how to remove yourself from their mailing list:

Of course, if you have been convinced Christians should never send an Email to someone without permission (Did the Disciples of Jesus ask people for permission to tell them the Good News?), then we will cheerfully delete your name from our database.

Woah, gettin’ a little defensive there. Of course I want to stay subscribed! I love getting a good laugh at conspiracy theorists with no solid grasp of science.

Forget educated women being unsexy – they probably don’t exist at all

A Voice for Men, an MRA site, is currently celebrating the landing of the Curiosity Rover on Mars… as a victory for men. Not women. Only men. This comment alone should make every female scientist or engineer’s blood boil*:

“It made me so proud to be a man when I saw this. Men are the abstract thinkers, the ones adventurous of mind, body, and spirit. As Paglia said, if technological advancement were up to women we’d still all be living in grass huts.

There were a handful of women in the NASA video they showed when the Rover’s touchdown was announced. I wondered, “How many are camera whores who really work in public relations or human resources or some other non-related nonsense? Which ones are actually scientists but aren’t held up to the same standards and discipline as their male counterparts (e.g. Take a dump and they give you a plaque for being such a great empowered womyn, or, spend most of their time doing commercials for NASA or on speaking tours with the NASSA public relations people instead of being actual disciplined NASA scientists moving up the ladder slowly by merit).

In any case. It was an astonishing achievement BY MEN. If there were any REAL accomplishments by REAL women scientists or engineers who both had the “right stuff” and refused special favors, hats off to those individuals as well.”

That’s right. This commenter already knows that women are intellectually inferior and incapable of doing science. So all those women in the room that most observers would take as evidence to the contrary? Nope, there has to be some other explanation. Camera whores. HR. Diversity hires. It’s simply inconceivable to this guy that a woman could actually be as good as a scientist or an engineer as a man.

I love knowing that no matter how hard I work or how much I accomplish as a scientist, there’s always going to be people out there who think I’m just there as a token diversity hire.

Way to kill my buzz about the landing.

*And any other man or woman that isn’t a flaming delusional asshole.

GeekGirlCon and other weekend debauchery!

If you’re in Seattle, this weekend is packed with a lot of fun, nerdy, godless, feministy things for you to enjoy.

On Friday the 10th I’ll be joining the Seattle Atheists to see my friend Rebecca Watson give a talk on “How Girls Evolved to Shop, and Other Ways to Insult Women with “Science.”” Tickets are $15 but include dinner. I’ll be trying to convince everyone to go get drinks at the Narwhal afterward, because what can beat fruity drinks in a carnival themed bar filled with pinball and arcade games? Did I mention it was called the Narwhal?

On Saturday and Sunday I’ll be at GeekGirlCon! Here are the two panels I’ll be on with other fabulous ladies:

Saturday, 4:30 PM – 5:20 PM

Misogyny Online – RM205
Moderated Roundtable Discussion

Women who speak out online are often the targets of very nasty misogyny. Harmful, threatening, and degrading comments are all too common when a woman posts opinions in social media outlets or even on their own blogs. This panel will discuss how it happens, why it happens, and how to deal with it. An essential panel for women who have or want a strong Internet presence.

Presented by Jen McCreight, Rebecca Watson, Amy Davis Roth, Sophie Hirschfeld

Sunday, 3:30 PM – 4:20 PM *

Women and Skepticism – RM303
Moderated Roundtable Discussion

What is real and what isn’t? A panel of renowned skeptics will analyze some of the current claims marketed to or directed specifically at women. From psychics to super-antioxidant juices, this panel will show you how you can use the tools of skepticism to protect yourself, your family, and the contents of your wallet from pseudoscience and scams.

Presented by Rebecca Watson, Amanda Marcotte, Desiree Schell, Ericka Johnson, Jennifer McCreight, Cloe Ashton

I’m sure I’ll have absolutely nothing to talk about on that first panel after my last couple of posts.

Will I be seeing any of you there? Make sure to say hello if you spot me!

Tears of nerd joy

We are a bunch of hairless apes that happened to evolve through a natural process and managed to put a SUV-sized, nuclear-powered science station on another planet and instantaneously share a photo of said planet with all of humanity over fucking Twitter.

Life is awesome.

And it did make me cry seeing a bunch of scientists just so, so happy. Because scientists are human too, and exploration and search for knowledge are some of the very hallmarks of humanity. I also a shed a tear knowing I wasn’t invited to whatever kick-ass party those scientists are going to have tonight.

The tale of Taq

One donor requested that I talk a little bit about polymerase chain reaction, or PCR.

PCR is now a super common laboratory technique for people doing any sort of molecular biology. It’s a way of amplifying a specific section of DNA so it’s present in millions of copies. This is really important if you want to, for example, sequence a specific gene. You want that gene to be present in such high quantity compared to the rest of the genome so nothing else is sequenced.

As for how it works…I’m not sure if I’m able to explain that in a coherent way right now, so here’s a handy dandy video!

Most PCR uses a specific type of DNA polymerase known as Taq. Taq is an enzyme that was originally isolated from Thermus aquaticus, a thermophillic bacteria that lives in hot springs and hydrothermal vents. Taq is special because it can withstand high temperatures without losing its function. Since PCR requires DNA polymerase to be functional at higher temperatures, this makes Taq super important. The one downside to Taq is that it’s not very good at proofreading, which makes it error prone. Thankfully DNA polymerase has been isolated from other thermophillic species. Pfu is an example of a thermophillic DNA polymerase with proofreading ability.

This is post 45 of 49 of Blogathon. Donate to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Ten awesome female scientists

A donor requested that I list the “top ten most awesome female scientists.” I probably should have done this earlier in the night when I still had some mental faculties left, but here’s an attempt for female scientists that I happen to like, in no particular order:

  1. Rosalind Franklin
  2. Jane Goodall
  3. Linda Buck
  4. Barbara McClintock
  5. Elizabeth Blackburn
  6. Martha Cowles Chase
  7. Elizabeth Blackwell
  8. Grace Hopper
  9. Marie Curie
  10. Lynn Margulis (if we can get in a time machine and forget that she became an AIDS denialist, ugh)

…The fact that this list was incredibly hard for me to make is really, really sad.

This is post 43 of 49 of Blogathon. Donate to the Secular Student Alliance here.

What, no Hitler?

The Heartland Institute is a conservative climate-denialist thinktank in the US. And this is their new ad campaign:

“The people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society. This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.”

In addition to Ted Kaczynski, Charles Manson and Fidel Castro are also featured. Osama bin Laden is in the works for a future billboard.

…What, were you hoping that I would say something funny to keep you from throwing your laptop across the room? Sorry, I got nothing. This is too fucked up even for me.

(Via Bad Astronomy)