HOLY CRAP! Pat Robertson repudiates Young Earth Creationism!

I really shouldn’t be surprised; Pat Robertson is kind of a dinosaur himself, and this literalist creationism pushed by Answers in Genesis is actually a relatively new development, but Robertson did come out and plainly reject the notion that the earth is only 6000 years old, or that dinosaurs and humans lived together. That’s sort of good news, but it’s really just old school creationism of the type that was common at the time of the Scopes trial and up through the 1950s.

But still…it’s always helpful to see the religious right splitting this way. You just know that Ken Ham is spitting blood in fury at this horrible liberal Christian who is denigrating the holy word of god! For the Hamites, the young earth is a bloody battle flag emblematic of their whole struggle for a Christianist nation, and to see Robertson under the banner of “Millions of Years” must be irritating.

(via The Friendly Atheist.)

Wasn’t Ron Lindsay just pinin’ for the days of the Accommodation Wars?

Yes, he was. We could happily bring them back, though, because Nicholas Wade is still writing for the NY Times, as Jerry Coyne mentions today.

Wade’s column is practically an exercise in nostalgia, harking all the way back to 2005. He’s very concerned that people are bashing poor Marco Rubio for not understanding that there is no confusion about the age of the earth — it’s 4½ billion, not 6000, years old. Wade is almost Mooneyesque in his tribute to the old tropes. Look here:

The inevitable clash with science, particularly in the teaching of evolution, has continued to this day. Militant atheists like the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins beat the believers about the head, accomplishing nothing; fundamentalist Christians naturally defend their religion and values to the hilt, whatever science may say.

There’s Richard Dawkins! He’s militant! He’s beating up the Christians, who are all just meekly defending themselves!

I swear, I thought we fought our way past those old stereotypes years ago — only the terminally clueless still refer unironically to “militant atheists”. But have no fear, Wade has a solution to the conflict between scientists and creationists: all we need to do is admit that evolution is a theory.

By allowing that evolution is a theory, scientists would hand fundamentalists the fig leaf they need to insist, at least among themselves, that the majestic words of the first chapter of Genesis are literal, not metaphorical, truths. They in return should make no objection to the teaching of evolution in science classes as a theory, which indeed it is.

It’s like one of the oldest creationist misconceptions in the book! Of course it’s a theory, but it’s a scientific theory, which means that it is a broad explanation that encompasses all the available evidence and has excellent predictive power to guide research. It’s not going to console creationists, unless we plan to also encourage them to continue believing that it means “just a guess”. And seriously, Wade believes that that’s enough to make all the creationists in the world simply fold up shop and go back to church, blissful and happy in a world full of singing angels and magic spun sugar fairy-tale castles? That is quite possibly the dumbest resolution of a chronic problem in the conflict between science and religion that I’ve ever read.

Hey, I’ve got an idea: we can solve all the problems in the Middle East by just getting the Jews and Christians and Moslems to admit that they’re all worshipping the same god. Presto! The fighting ends! (Sorry, I just felt my own words were a challenge and had to come up with an even dumber idea.)

And please, if you’ve ever read the Book of Genesis, practically the last word you’d ever apply to it is “majestic”. Petty, tribal, vicious, demented, small-minded, violent, bizarre…those are better words. And the first chapter isn’t really great poetry, I’m sorry to say — if you think otherwise, you’ve been brainwashed by the repetition. I’m really not prepared to abandon a commitment to scientific evidence just so some dim bumpkin can cling to his cherished belief that a poem saying a magic man poofed everything into existence is a deep insight.

I save the worst for last.

A scientific statesman, if there were such a person, would try to defuse the situation by professing respect for all religions and making a grand yet also trivial concession about the status of evolution.

I’m no statesman, but…you will never catch me lying and saying that I respect all religions. I do not, sir. Religions are systematic collections of threats and cajoling lies intended to bully a population into living in fear and supporting a parasitic priestly caste. They do not deserve respect. What they need is dismantling.

You will also not catch me making concessions about science simply to appease pious politicians. I will state the strengths and limitations without regard for the sensibilities of ignorant charlatans.

Damn, I really am not a statesman. But if that’s what a statesman does, you shouldn’t be able to find a scientist so willing to compromise on their principles to be one.

Catholic priests: SHUT UP!

The Irish Catholic bishops have issued a statement on medical care given to Savita Halappanavar

Wait. What the fuck does anyone care what a mob of ignorant assholes say about reasonable, ethical medical care? I can’t even imagine the degree of arrogance involved for these self-righteous, unqualified old men to be so seriously offering advice on life-or-death issues of obstetrics and gynecology — to be piously asserting their importance even now in the aftermath of a death that would have been avoidable if Catholic doctrine had not meddled.

I can give advice, too. Catholic priests, sit down and shut the fuck up. Learn some humility for once in your privileged, pompous, puffed-up lives. This is the part where you should wake up and realize you are not qualified to run hospitals.

Instead, listen to the doctors. Like Jen Gunter, who finds the bishops’ advice to be inconsistent, incoherent, and confusing. That they even felt that their recommendations would be helpful or needed is damning.

All that their statement tells me is that they haven’t learned a single goddamned thing. They still think they’re qualified to interfere in medical decisions.

What I really want to see is the DNA sequence of an alien Grey

Dr Melba S. Ketchum has made press release of an astonishing discovery: she has sequenced Bigfoot DNA, she claims.

“Our study has sequenced 20 whole mitochondrial genomes and utilized next generation sequencing to obtain 3 whole nuclear genomes from purported Sasquatch samples. The genome sequencing shows that Sasquatch mtDNA is identical to modern Homo sapiens, but Sasquatch nuDNA is a novel, unknown hominin related to Homo sapiens and other primate species. Our data indicate that the North American Sasquatch is a hybrid species, the result of males of an unknown hominin species crossing with female Homo sapiens.

Hominins are members of the taxonomic grouping Hominini, which includes all members of the genus Homo. Genetic testing has already ruled out Homo neanderthalis and the Denisova hominin as contributors to Sasquatch mtDNA or nuDNA. “The male progenitor that contributed the unknown sequence to this hybrid is unique as its DNA is more distantly removed from humans than other recently discovered hominins like the Denisovan individual,” explains Ketchum.

“Sasquatch nuclear DNA is incredibly novel and not at all what we had expected. While it has human nuclear DNA within its genome, there are also distinctly non-human, non-archaic hominin, and non-ape sequences. We describe it as a mosaic of human and novel non-human sequence. Further study is needed and is ongoing to better characterize and understand Sasquatch nuclear DNA.”

Wait. Fully human mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited from your mother, so she assumes that all Sasquatches had human women as relatively recent ancestors, but at the same time, the nuclear DNA is some bizarre mish-mash that includes non-ape sequences? That makes no sense at all.

Well, there’s one way it makes sense: it’s the result of sloppy lab work and high levels of contamination, and a complete lack of discrimination on the part of the investigators. No details have been released yet, but I imagine that what they’re sequencing are from hair samples turned in by Bigfoot investigators: dirty, grimy hair samples collected by a mix of charlatans and naive, deluded hunters. I wonder if there are raccoon and possum genes in their sequences…

The paper has not been published, and I don’t see how making a press release about a paper in peer review would help. I expect that no reputable journal will touch it, and it will sink unpublished…except that the myth that Bigfoot DNA has been examined and found to be unique will live on.

But here’s what really bugs me: it’s from a DNA lab called DNA Diagnostics, Inc. They do forensics, paternity testing, and consulting/expert witnessing in the court system in Texas. Would you trust results from that lab? How many other labs doing forensic DNA testing are run by people who think they can identify Bigfoot in a sample? If Ketchum has dealt with any criminal cases, I foresee grounds for future court challenges in her future.

Holy Mohler

Did you know that Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has an almost daily round-up of of issues of concern for good conservative Christians called The Briefing? It’s on his website, under the category Urgent, because it’s all very, very important stuff, you know. I browse it occasionally to see what’s making Christian hemorhoids burn now; it’s kind of like the flip side of The Morning Heresy, if Paul Fidalgo were a glassy-eyed regressive conservabot zealot, but it’s not quite as demented as trying to read WingNut Daily — Mohler, dull and blinkered as he is, is someone mainstream religious conservatives take seriously.

Anyway, you might want to look in now and then, just to see what the staidly stupid Christian right is up to. Here’s a summary of a recent edition:

  1. He defends Black Friday, that orgy of raging consumerism, because “Christians must understand the moral complexity of a market economy”, and we must support retailers so they can keep people employed. What would Jesus say?

  2. Something I agree with: the state should not be involved in religious education at all. Of course, his reasons are a little different: it’s because state religion is a “tepid, lukewarm, lifeless distortion of Christianity” which led people like Dawkins and Hitchens to repudiate religion altogether.

  3. OMG, the University of Wisconsin-Madison funded the Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics student group on campus, to a degree comparable to that of Christian clubs! Beware, those universities are hotbeds of secularism.

  4. Paul Krugman has “assaulted” Marco Rubio for being a creationist. Doesn’t Krugman realize that this means he denies the truths revealed in the Bible?

  5. Britain isn’t making typewriters anymore. How sad. That damn future keeps rising up and burying the antique relics that established his worldview.

The nice thing about it is that you quickly realize that Christians and atheists are mostly interested in exactly the same issues. The big difference: Christians are mostly wrong about everything.

My staff has been doing nothing, I’m going to have to fire them!

Wait, what? Over on that Reddit thread about the benefits of douching, petzl20 has made this announcement:

Myers has a staff of assistants that research and do a large part of the writing for his blogs and tweets.

Gawdamn, I wish I’d known about this before. I’m going to put them to work grading papers and putting together my final exams for me instead — the writing is the fun stuff.

I’m not suddenly going to get a bill for hours worked, am I?

Scary, scary radio waves

When I started cob-logging here a couple months ago I made a stray reference to conflicts I’ve experienced in having been a skeptically oriented person in the environmental activist sphere. A few of you suggested you’d like to hear more about that. I found an example today, one of probably several hundred of this particular phenomenon I’ve seen in the last 20 years or so.

[Read more...]

This weekend, in Ottawa

It’s my last conference of the year: I’ve got a break of over a month after this, in which I get to stay home and write and relax and get prepped for the Spring semester. But before all that, it’s Eschaton 2012, where just to go out with a surge, I’m giving two talks, so that everyone will feel like it really is the end of the world.

It’s not too late to register. You can skip my talks and just go listen to Eugenie Scott, instead, or all those other speakers — this is a big one and there’s no shortage of interesting stuff going on.

Decline of a great nation

The German magazine Spiegel has made a damning assessment of the United States.

The United States is frittering away its role as a model for the rest of the world. The political system is plagued by an absurd level of hatred, the economy is stagnating and the infrastructure is falling into a miserable state of disrepair.

Read the whole thing. It’s both depressing and bracing — the first step to fixing these problems is to recognize that they exist. The only question is whether our political leadership has the will to turn its back on the destructive policies of the Republican party, which are what has put us here.

(Not that the Democrats are a lot better.)

Douche defends douching

There is a small group of obsessives who really hate Atheism+ — they hate it so much that they pick over every thread on the Atheism+ forum, looking for nits. And then, unfortunately, they write to me in email and twitter and tell me how stupid they are. The latest example: an atheism+ mod writes a short comment rejecting the utility of vaginal douching, complete with a link to a scientific review of the practice.

Douche is emblematic of the patriarchy. It’s a completely unnecessary product marketed to women as vaginas are icky. In many cases, it actually makes things worse. It’s basically completely awful.

So yeah, douching is in no way a natural or automatic part of life as a woman (or even as a cis woman), nor does it appear to be even remotely a good idea, so how do you figure the word is sexist?

That’s pretty much the world consensus. There are only a few benighted places on the planet, the United States among them, where people believe that flushing out the urogenital tract with scented water is beneficial.

So then I see this tweet flash by from some manic goon going by the name @NYBoxTurtle, who claims that Atheism+ mangles scientific data.

#AtheismPlus takes a stand on vaginal douching. How do they interpret scientific data? FIND OUT! http://www.reddit.com/r/AntiAtheismPlus/comments/13tszo/how_atheism_plus_mods_interpret_scientific_data … #FTBullies

11:12 PM – 26 Nov 12

Here’s what Mr @NYBoxTurtle claims is evidence of science abuse by Atheism+:


Studies around vaginal douching “conflict…and the strength of association varies enormously between studies” resulting in “less agreement…for hygiene and relief of vaginitis symptoms” with “many potentially confounding factors blur[ring] the epidemiologic assessment.” Additionally, “conflicting results are reported regarding sexually transmitted infections and douching…cross-sectional studies cannot determine reliably whether the douching preceded the disease or if the symptoms led to the douching.” And while “there are several ways by which douching may contribute to disease,”…it’s also noted that “different types of douching liquids have various antimicrobial effects” which “may be less harmful or may be beneficial.”

Atheism Plus mod:

Cites that very source and summarizes:

“It’s a completely unnecessary product…It’s basically completely awful.”

Wait. I read the article. It’s a very thorough review of the scientific literature on douching, which reports on a few studies and meta-analyses that showed a possibility of slight benefits, but also found studies that conflict, and other studies that showed marked deleterious effects, including increased incidence of cancers and ectopic pregnancies. It’s all couched in the neutral and objective language of a scientific paper, but the review is very, very clear: douching is not a good thing. Women shouldn’t do it at all, although it reserves the possibility that there are some specific, serious medical conditions that might be addressed by some douching. Mr @NYBoxTurtle was doing some serious cherry-picking to find a few phrases that could be pulled out of context and made to sound as if the paper were endorsing douching.

I read the paper. I was appalled. It was the most dishonest distortion of scientific results I’ve read since the last time I read a creationist’s claims. Mr @NYBoxTurtle was basically lying about the paper to make a petty and false case against Atheism+.

So I fired back, briefly, by quoting the conclusion of the paper:

Conclusion of the cited article: “since there are no demonstrated benefits to douching and considerable evidence of harm, women should be encouraged to not douche”. The linked summary is actually an accurate interpretation of the work. It’s unnecessary. There is no evidence of an advantage. There is evidence of harm.

Did you even bother to read it?

Seriously. Read the paper. The conclusions are completely unambiguous and strong. Here’s the introduction if you don’t believe me:

Vaginal douching is the process of intravaginal cleansing with a liquid solution. Douching is used for personal hygiene or aesthetic reasons, for preventing or treating an infection(1), to cleanse after menstruation or sex, and to prevent pregnancy (2). For at least 100 years, there have been conflicting views on the benefits or harm in douching. Although there is a broad consensus that douching should be avoided during pregnancy, there is less agreement regarding douching for hygiene and relief of vaginitis symptoms. Two earlier reviews of douching data in women (3) and adolescents (4) have concluded that douching is harmful and should be discouraged because of its association with pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, and perhaps other conditions. Nonetheless, douching continues to be a common practice. We seek to review the evidence of the impact of douching on women’s health.

And here are the full conclusions.

The present review suggests that future studies must assess more directly the extent to which douching is a causal factor in diseases such as pelvic inflammatory disease and bacterial vaginosis, or if douching is merely a behavior that is more common among women who are at risk of sexually transmitted diseases and/or that douching is done in response to symptoms (15). The effects of different solutions and devices must be considered in more detail. Perhaps there are adverse effects associated with douching if only certain solutions are used but less or no harm with other solutions.

The weight of the evidence today suggests that stronger regulations for vaginal douche products may be indicated, including ingredient control, clearer labeling, and a required statement on product advertisements and on the products themselves that douche products have no proven medical value and may be harmful. A prospective cohort study or, if serious ethical concerns can be resolved, a randomized clinical trial may address these questions. A randomized “community” trial could be considered, where the communities studied are a large group of people from the same area, such as a college or a city. They could be assigned at random to treatment and no treatment, where the treatment group would receive an educational program regarding the potential dangers associated with douching and the women would be encouraged to not douche. Douching prevalence and sexually transmitted disease rates could be assessed before the educational program and at regular intervals during the program. The no treatment group, receiving no such educational intervention, would be assessed in a similar way. The study endpoint could compare rates of douching and sexually transmitted diseases. However, because motivational factors for douching are individualized and often women strongly feel the need to douche, the educational program may not influence enough women to stop douching, affecting the statistical power of such a study. Feasibility and cost may be prohibitive, in which case we may continue in our present state of knowledge/ignorance.

It is accepted that pregnant women should avoid douching. Intrapartum vaginal antiseptic lavage can be highly beneficial, but this is a completely different irrigation event than repetitive vaginal douching. There are limited data that suggest that douching in symptomatic women may have some utility. The preponderance of evidence shows an association between douching and numerous adverse outcomes. Most women douche for hygienic reasons; it can be stated with present knowledge that routine douching is not necessary to maintain vaginal hygiene; again, the preponderance of evidence suggests that douching may be harmful. The authors of the present review believe that there is no reason to recommend that any woman douche and, furthermore, that women should be discouraged from douching.

Many women douche, especially African Americans. Because the population-level health risks attributable to this common practice could be very large if douching predisposes to even a fraction of the disease burden discussed in this review, the potential salutary impact of reducing douching activity is substantial. Intervention studies may be the very best way to gain both health benefit and insight into the temporal associations of douching and adverse outcomes. We also believe that responsible government, health, and professional organizations should reexamine available data and determine if there is enough information to issue clear policy statements on douching. We believe that, when they conduct such reviews, they will conclude, with us, that since there are no demonstrated benefits to douching and considerable evidence of harm, women should be encouraged to not douche.

So this morning I discover that Mr @NYBoxTurtle has replied…by accusing me of cherry-picking.

What a lovely little cherry-pick! (And if anybody knows cherry-picking…)

Let’s look at those full conclusions, yes?

Seems to me, across the board, as I’ve indicated, the final conclusions are out and more studies need to be done in terms of ingredients, labeling, instructions, and quality, but that douching in and of itself has not proven helpful or harmful, depending on a case-by-case study. Some results are positive and some are not. Not, as the AtheismIdiot mod indicated and advised:

“It’s a completely unnecessary product…It’s basically completely awful.”

Funnily enough, the article didn’t mention “douching” in terms of “partiarchy” or “ableism” as the Atheism Plus mod was abstracting it.

So. My analysis (that results are inconclusive) is much more accurate than those of the Atheism Plus mod (that results are in and douching is bad bad bad – unless it’s a substitute for an ableist word, in which case it’s complely sanctified).

PS- Remember that time on your “Dungeon list” when you referred to the vulva as “the most odious of anatomical features”? Maybe ask whoever you’re doing to…uh…douche. I know, I know, the vulva’s external. Still. “Odious”? Time for a deep clean.

By the way, I’d like to remind you of something from our sidebar:

If you’re PRO-AtheismPlus, your comments won’t be too welcome. Go to their little circle-jerk.

Keep it in mind, drunky. And belated happy Thanksgiving. Sorry that, the next day, we all saw you tweet your way through it. It was pretty fucking sad.

The paper says “no demonstrated benefits to douching and considerable evidence of harm”. Mr @NYBoxTurtle says “results are inconclusive” is a more accurate assessment. I’ll let you read the conclusion quoted above or the whole paper if you’re more ambitious, and then you can be the judge. Looking at @NYBoxTurtle’s interpretation, it’s a lovely exercise in how not to read a scientific paper.

I am totally unsurprised and find it not ironic at all that an anti-atheism+ kook is defending douches against all the evidence. It seems somehow…appropriate.

The bottom line is this: women should not douche, unless they are treating a specific and serious ailment and have the recommendation of a doctor. It’s a peculiar practice promoted by pseudo-science and the cosmetics industry — it really is part of a culture that shames women for the reality of their private parts.

(By the way, the claim that I called the vulva “odious” is typical of this guy. I did not. I was sarcastically referring to the anti-woman attitude of raving misogynist troll who was banned for his bigotry.)

(Also, you can look up my struggle to tweet through Thanksgiving. It consists of all of five tweets, four of them automatically generated links to posts on Pharyngula. I spent most of Thanksgiving reading lab reports. @NYBoxTurtle just makes shit up.)

Amanda Marcotte weighs in. Maybe that link will attract even more douches!