Humanism in a shitstorm

How do you deal with all of life’s vicissitudes if you don’t have an invisible means of pretend support in a deity? Greta Christina shares her story over at The Humanist.

Here’s the short version of what happened to me: This past October I got hit with a serious one-two punch. My father died and less than two weeks later I was diagnosed with uterine cancer.

The cancer is treatable, and in fact has already been treated. I got lucky there (if any kind of cancer can be “lucky”): it was slow-growing, caught early, and entirely treated with hysterectomy, with no chemo or radiation needed. But it was still terrifying. Recovery from the surgery has been slow, often painful, almost always difficult and exhausting. And it was much more traumatic coming so soon after my father’s death. I was just barely beginning to recover from that shock and wrestle with my grief when the news about my cancer came. Plus there was a nasty feedback effect: each of these traumas left me weakened, and less able to cope with the other.
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If there was ever a time when suffering, grief, and a stark reminder of my own mortality could make me turn to religion, this was it. I didn’t seriously think I would turn to religious belief—I know the arguments against it too thoroughly—but I kept waiting for the moment when I’d wish I believed. I kept waiting for the moment when I’d think to myself, “Goddammit, this atheism stuff sucks. If only I believed in God or an afterlife, this would be so much easier.” I kept waiting for that shoe to drop… and it kept not happening. The opposite happened. The thought of religion made me queasy—and my humanism proved a profound comfort.

Honestly? If I believed in a god who made this shit happen on purpose, I wouldn’t be comforted. I’d be wanting to find the biggest ladder I could, climb to heaven, and punch the guy’s lights out.

Read the remainder. It’s worth it, trust me.

The scope of the problem, and the availability heuristic

One of the big complaints we’ve seen recently regarding the anti-harassment-policy campaign, the question of feminism intersecting with our communities, and the question of whether the assholes in our movement represent the movement, is whether the feminists and anti-bigots are blowing things out of proportion. How often have you seen someone say “the whole community doesn’t have a problem with [X-brand bigotry], only a very small subset“? Often enough, I bet, that I hardly feel the need to repeat these arguments or point to any specific ones, though I’m certain I could give you a dozen or so with a quick search of my own blog’s comments. Never mind big names like Thunderf00t and Paula Kirby making it the entire premise to their opposition to harassment policies and to “feminazis” and “FTBullies”!

So the question, then, is why does this argument gain so much traction? No matter how measured we are with describing the scope and scale of the problem, people will always say we’re making mountains out of mole hills. I posit this is because of the availability heuristic — a cognitive bias wherein, when you’re presented with specific examples of a problem, it is easier to remember those examples, and you assign improper levels of importance to them.
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Fifteen years of cell phones, still no uptick in cancer

Sure, this Guardian article doesn’t frame it quite so vehemently, but I think after fifteen years, and the myriad studies done on the matter, the lack of appreciable increase in brain cancer rates should pretty much speak for itself.

In the review, “Health Effects from Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields” the advisory group considered hundreds of peer reviewed scientific studies that looked at the effects of mobile phone radiation on cells, animals and people.

“There are still limitations to the published research that preclude a definitive judgement, but the evidence overall has not demonstrated any adverse effects on human health from exposure to radiofrequency fields below internationally accepted guideline levels,” said Professor Anthony Swerdlow, chairman of the AGNIR and an epidemiologist at the Institute of Cancer Research.

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Cell phones annoying, says science

Cellular phone technology has come under scrutiny in recent years — meaning, since it has come into popular use — by technophobes and technostress victims alike. Despite being evidently harmless, innumerable claims of it causing cancer, tinnitus, headaches, and any number of non-specific symptoms have emerged such that many scientific studies have been undertaken to show that they could actually cause issues in human beings. Aside from heating water and thus living tissue, until now, no definitive study has actually stated outright that the cranks postulating cancers are full of it. At least, if you’re willing to discount this meta-analysis I reported on a while back, anyway. Said meta-analysis, while it says every study up til now has shown absolutely no link between cancer and cell phone use, it doesn’t actually call the cranks positing the link over and over again “full of it”, so I guess it gets a pass.

So imagine my surprise when The Atlantic ran a post stating, “Cell phones are more annoying than they are dangerous“. Pretty much exactly what I thought.
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Meta-analysis: Still no link between cell phones and cancer

Via Skeptic North, good news for the side of science in the ongoing manufactroversy driven by people who are deathly afraid of wireless technology. A new meta-analysis of prior studies shows no link, causal or otherwise, between cellular phone usage and any of the forms of cancer commonly claimed by anti-wifi advocates. I’m sure this won’t stop them from repeating their claims that there must be damage if only we look at specific variations of the EMF spectrum.

We are constantly reminded of the failure of society to recognize the dangers of tobacco, let alone do something about it, and the industry led effort to suppress information and increase uncertainty in the pubic is held up as proof that all industries will stop at no lengths to protect their investment, despite dangers to the public. In the face of this, we need a scientific outlook to unblinker us from determining an unbiased truth. A new systematic review published in October’s Bioelectromagnetics is an excellent illustration of how we determine causality.

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Which is a better political bludgeon: HPV vaccines, or cancer?

Via Greg Laden elsewhere on FtB:

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Michelle Bachmann has fired the footgun in a big way while attempting to take aim at Rick Perry in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, by claiming that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation. Knowing full well that the Human Papiloma Virus vaccine is a controversial issue amongst evangelical conservatives and others who feel that protecting people from STDs will encourage promiscuity, Bachmann was evidently hoping to score rhetorical points against Perry for having made this order by recounting an anecdote wherein a mother approached her after a rally telling her this story. The attempt has backfired spectacularly.

A bioethicist has offered Bachmann $10000 if she can show a single person having developed mental retardation after receiving the vaccine. Personally, I’d just like some proof that the mother Bachmann mentioned actually exists and actually told her this story, or if Bachmann’s misremembering some Jenny McCarthy nonsense about autism and framing it as though it happened first-hand.

Meanwhile cervical cancer, caused in almost every case by HPV, is the twelfth most common type of cancer, and fifth most deadly in women. It affects 16 per 100,000 women per year, and kills 9 per 100,000 per year. The HPV vaccine is effective against two of the most prevalent strains of the virus, making up 70% of all cases. This would reduce mortality and morbidity to this disease significantly, and it costs almost nothing compared to treating women who have suffered from the disease.

That is not to mention the stunning talent this world loses every day to the disease. Talent like Stephanie Zvan, a co-blogger here at Freethought Blogs and close friend, without whose presence my life would be significantly poorer. She takes Bachmann to task for her emotional manipulation, providing herself as an example of a real person whose life might not have been in such jeopardy, who might not have had to endure such “helpful violence” as she was forced to endure, with the HPV vaccine.

To be quite frank, I hope this scuttles Mayor Crazy of Crazytown’s presidential bid.

Jack Layton, 61, falls to cancer

Jack Layton abdicated leadership of the NDP less than a month ago to tend to the cancer that he once fought back. Today, that cancer has finally claimed him.

“We deeply regret to inform you that the Honourable Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, passed away at 4:45 am today, Monday August 22. He passed away peacefully at his home surrounded by family and loved ones,” the statement read.

Details about funeral arrangements will be forthcoming, it said. The family released a letter from Layton to Canadians just after noon.

Layton’s death comes less than a month after he announced to the country that he was fighting a new form of cancer and was taking time off for treatment. Layton had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in late 2009 and underwent treatment for it. He continued working throughout that time and also battled a broken hip earlier this year. Layton used a cane for much of his time on the campaign trail this spring as he led the NDP to a historic victory on May 2.

The man brought the New Democratic Party from also-rans into the position of Official Opposition to the Harper government in one single historic election. And he did it just months before succumbing to his fate. I am gratified that Mr. Layton got to see such a great personal achievement come to fruition before he died, and am saddened that the political discourse will be the poorer for his passing.

Update: Mea culpa. He succumbed to a new form of cancer unrelated to his previous bout with prostate cancer. I can’t find any further details as to the specifics immediately, but the situation is no less tragic.

Update 2: Jack Layton wrote a final address knowing that his time was running out. Blockquoted in full below the fold.

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