Is this a Texas thing?

This is not what teachers are supposed to do, and in fact, this is kind of the opposite of a teacher’s role. A teacher at Anthony Aguirre Junior High handed out fake certificates, including one labeled ‘most likely to be a terrorist’, to kids, while other teachers laughed. It’s just a joke, don’t be so sensitive, yadda yadda yadda.

And if that wasn’t appalling enough, another teacher also handed out fake awards to their kids, including “most likely to blend in with white people” to a black student.

Did they think that was a compliment? Because that would be all kinds of fucked up, too.

The school administration has clammed up — they say these teachers will be ‘disciplined’. I have no idea what that means, nor does anyone, and it does no one any favors to fail to be transparent about these sorts of problems.

It sounds to me, though, like there are some teachers at that school who are not suited to their profession and need to find new jobs.

Meet the Freethought Bloggers #1!

I’m getting together in small groups with some of our fellow bloggers here to help you all figure out what they’re up to. First up are William Brinkman of the Bolingbrook Babbler and HJ Hornbeck of Reprobate Spreadsheet. We had a brief conversation about what they’ve been writing about recently.

I’ll be doing some more of these over the summer, and in fact have another one scheduled for this evening. While you’re waiting for that, as I’m sure you are, visit Brinkman and Hornbeck.

I get email…from AAI?

It’s always strange to abruptly learn about potentially devastating scandals after they’ve been resolved. This email was the first I heard about a big potential problem for Atheist Alliance International, but it was a relief to learn at the same time that it has been satisfactorily taken care of.

On January 29, Atheist Alliance International received a fraudulent request for funds transfer, originating from our address. We did not honour the request, and we reported it to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), who assigned a case number. All AAI Board members are well-aware of AAI’s policy of Board approval for all non-operational expenses, excepting the President’s monthly discretionary spending. For obvious reasons, our Treasurer did not transfer the funds, and no further correspondence was received by the requester.

As a prominent atheist organization, AAI is no stranger to fraudulent request for funds. We ignore obvious scams, and when a financial institution is misrepresented, we forward said correspondence to their spoof or phishing reporting e-mail address. However, the timing of the request, closely coinciding with the other anonymous accusations against Mr. Romano, raised our Treasurer’s suspicions, so she reported it to the Board. Mr. Romano stated that he was unaware of the request prior, and that he did not send it nor the follow-up. The Board has no reason to doubt this is true. Our Treasurer turned in the relevant documentation to the local authorities, who assigned a case number. However, since AAI did not suffer a financial loss from this fraudulent attempt, it is unlikely that this case will get prioritized if even addressed.

Four days later, on February 2, 2017, Atheist Alliance International (AAI) received correspondence from an anonymous source, who accused our President, Onur Romano, of being “a serial abuser, and he escapes from law and persecution, country after country.” Our Secretary immediately contacted the local authorities in the city where Mr. Romano resides, as well as the authorities in the Secretary’s country of residence to report the accusation and offer our full cooperation.

Mr. Romano submitted his resignation on February 5, 2017 in the interest of preserving our organization’s reputation. AAI proceeded with an internal investigation. Mr. Romano has denied the allegations made by the anonymous accuser, and cooperated fully and transparently with both the local authorities and AAI, at his own expense. He denied the anonymous accuser’s allegations, and produced documentation showing a clean criminal record in Turkey, the US, and Canada, and documentation of his acquittal of the charges in USA. He has also issued a letter from his lawyer in USA, confirming that “although Mr.Cilek(Romano) requested a timely trial while the evidence and recollection of witnesses was fresh and the witnesses were in the area and available to testify,” the case against him was dismissed in 2003 because “the State felt that they would not meet their burden of proving a case against Mr.Cilek(Romano)”.

Our internal investigation further addressed an allegation by one of our member organizations’ leadership, who claimed that a member of their organization voted for Mr. Romano to the role of AAI President without authorization. Our records indicate that Mr. Romano nominated himself as an individual member of AAI, and did not identify any affiliate or associate member, or individual representing same, as an endorser in his application. His application was presented to AAI’s Board in November 2015, and the on-line motion to accept him as a Board member was unanimous. He was unanimously elected as President by the Board in April 2016, and the motion to confirm his role was passed at our 2015 AGM unanimously.

On April 7, 2017, the RCMP followed up, stating their investigation is finalized and did not support any of the anonymous allegations, confirming Mr. Romano’s clean record and legitimate residency in Canada, and advising us to regard the matter as closed.

In the unanticipated possibility that the relevant legal authorities seek further information from AAI, we remain committed to transparency, and we will cooperate to the best of our abilities to facilitate any legal investigation. In the interim, we consider this issue settled. AAI regards this investigation as closed. Further, the Board supported Mr. Romano’s immediate re-instatement as President of AAI on April 5, 2017.

I bet this kind of thing is a huge problem for any atheist organization: a Turkish atheist, like Romano, is always going to be a target. It sounds like AAI did everything right, treating the accusations seriously and investigating thoroughly. My one concern is that it mentions an internal investigation; that’s fine unless there are deeper concerns about the culture at the organization. Would anyone trust an internal investigation into sexual harassment claims by Uber? AAI does not have that kind of reputation — their bylaws mandate diversity in their board, for instance — but repeated accusations ought to face external review of some sort.

AAI retains my confidence, though.

By Christ’s sacred foreskin!

What a weirdly fascinating article, on the history of that most holy relic, Jesus’s prepuce. It also, by the way, includes the very best explanation for the prolific numbers of body parts of dead saints and prophets.

Once brought to light, the Holy Prepuce reproduced itself at a rapid rate. In a few hundred years, dozens of churches, including Saint John Lateran in Rome (the seat of the Pope) claimed to own a piece or all of the Holy Prepuce. Some suggested that there were so many different Holy Prepuces because it could, like the fish and loaves, multiply to feed hungry pilgrims.

But of course! If you believe in multitudes being fed with a few loaves and fishes, then it is no problem at all imagining that fragments of corpses are replicating. Fingerbones, shinbones, toenail clippings, whole skulls, and obviously, bits of penises, all slithering together at night in the dark corners of cathedrals, briefly writhing and clattering together, and then, voila, spawning a new relic. I imagine it also gives those immortal dead saints a little bit of an erotic outlet. You can’t blame them.

As long as they leave me out of it. Old Catholic mystics seem to have been more than a little pervy, with kinks I never even imagined before. Here’s Catherine of Siena, engaged in a little imaginary sexy vision game with Jesus.

“My beloved,” [Christ said], “you have now gone through many struggles for my sake. . . . Previously you had renounced all that the body takes pleasure in. . . . But yesterday the intensity of your ardent love for me overcame even the instinctive reflexes of your body itself: you forced yourself to swallow without a qualm a drink from which nature recoiled in disgust [i.e., pus from the putrefying breast of a dying woman]. . . . As you then went far beyond what mere human nature could ever have achieved, so I today shall give you a drink that transcends in perfection any that human nature can provide. . . .” With that, he tenderly placed his right hand on her neck, and drew her toward the wound in his side. “Drink, daughter, from my side,” he said, “and by that draught your soul shall become enraptured with such delight that your very body, which for my sake you have denied, shall be inundated with its overflowing goodness.” Drawn close . . . to the outlet of the Fountain of Life, she fastened her lips upon that sacred wound, and still more eagerly the mouth of her soul, and there she slaked her thirst.

All right, all right, I know, consenting adults and all that. You can do all the pus-drinking and wound-sucking you want in the privacy of your church. But you should know that all the sexual behaviors you currently condemn are looking pretty damned sane and healthy in comparison right now.

Ha ha! Another entire academic discipline torpedoed by a bogus hoax paper! Or, How Lesbians Evolved.

I guess everyone is going to be doing this now. In this case, it’s a ridiculous paper accepted for publication in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, and it’s a doozy. It’s about evolution, it says.

In the introduction, it throws around some buzzwords and tries to impress us with elementary scientism.

New alleles can arise from mutations. An allele’s influence on a trait is likely to have both negative (c) and positive (b) fitness effects; thus, the allele will increase in frequency if the balance of positive minus negative fitness contribution (b – c) i.e., the net fitness effect (f), is higher that the respective balance of the original gene, and it will decrease in frequency if the balance is negative. Please note that we refer here to the case averaged across all bearers of the allele, so that an allele will be favored even if it has a net negative effect on the fitness of some individuals as long as it has a net positive effect on the fitness of other bearers of the allele.

The joke’s on you if you read this assuming the paper is about genetics, though. Nowhere in this work do the authors identify any genes or alleles; they don’t even try. They just assume that if a behavior exists, there must be a gene for it, and further, it must have undergone positive selection. They’re also not going to test for fitness of a behavior; in fact, they’re not even going to examine any behaviors directly, but are instead going to rely entirely on self-reported assessments in an online survey of college students.

You’ve probably figured out by new that the discipline in question is evolutionary psychology. Just to titillate you further, it’s arguing for a selective advantage for same-sex behavior.

At first sight, alleles that arise through mutation and predispose for same-sex attraction appear to experience a substantial negative fitness, since they lead individuals to divert part or the whole of their mating effort toward same-sex outlets from which children, who would carry these alleles, cannot be borne. Accordingly, in order to understand the prevalence of same-sex attraction in the population, scholars have argued that these alleles also experience positive fitness effects, which compensate for the negative fitness effects, turning the net fitness (f) positive. There is, however, a different possibility.

Oh, boy. How could a sexual behavior persist that diverts mating efforts in a direction that does not produce children? It’s a mystery.

I can’t wait until the authors learn that heterosexual couples indulge in cunnilingus and fellatio. Their minds will be, umm, blown.

But wait! There’s more hilarity! This is a paper about “The evolution of female same-sex attraction”. Where did lesbians come from, they wonder. What a conundrum! Why would women prefer each other’s company, rather than a man’s? Lesbians can’t put a baby in their tummy! They resolve this problem easily, by suggesting that men provided the selection pressure to favor lesbian genes. It’s all about the cucks.

Men with multiple wives, as opposed to men with one wife, face an elevated probability to be cuckolded, because they have to divide their sexual effort toward several wives so, inevitably, some of their wives will remain unsatisfied. They also have to divide their mate-guarding effort between multiple wives, which makes such effort less effective. If their wives experience same-sex attraction, they can satisfy their urges with other co-wives, who are readily available, reducing, in effect, the risk of cuckoldry (see also Kanazawa, 2016).

Note the Kanazawa reference — another in-joke. This paper is hilarious. There’s also another reason lesbianism is evolutionarily advantageous.

In our proposed theoretical framework, men can benefit from the same-sex attractions of their partners through gaining access to additional women.

That’s right, guys: you should date lesbians because then you’ll get to have sex with their lesbian girlfriends. Yeah, that’s exactly how it would work.

Now you might argue that the fact that this hypothesis is counter-intuitive and is built on a framework of not understanding basic evolutionary theory does not necessarily make it wrong, but maybe they’ve got some kind of empirical evidence that cleverly illustrates the existence of this lesbianism gene, and that men are actively selecting for it.

They don’t.

The ‘experiment’ is basically, “let’s ask guys if they’d mind if their wife had sex with another woman.” I’m not kidding. That’s the experiment. It’s also done with an online survey, because they could get more honest answers in this way.

Here are the results. It shows that a minority of Western men (Greek Cypriots) like the idea of girl-on-girl sex, but that they like it more than women like the idea of boy-on-boy sex. Apparently yaoi isn’t very popular on Cyprus…but shouldn’t the cultural variations clue them in that this is probably not a genetically determined behavior?

To be fair, they do consider that there might be cultural effects, but all they can think of is one factor, religion, and they only argue that it would repress honest expression of the participants’ views.

Last but not least, the observed effects are unlikely to reflect only evolved dispositions, and social and cultural effects may also be at play. For instance, male preferences for same-sex attraction in a partner may be moderated by religious beliefs. Participants in the sample were Greek-Orthodox Christians, and in the Cristian religion same-same attraction is considered reprehensible. Accordingly, male participants may have perceived their preferences for same-sex attraction to be inconsistent with their religious beliefs, and if they were very religious, to have suppressed or have been unwilling to report such desires. The present study did not control for this possibility, and future research can do so by measuring participants’ religiosity.

The possibility of a few cultural biases do not, however, make them question their basic assumption that lesbian preferences have nothing to do with women’s choices, but are entirely a consequence of males selecting for women who do not like sex with them, and would prefer sex with people who do not have a penis. Apparently, lesbians only exist to provide girl-on-girl porn on the internet, and their own desires have nothing to do with it. Or rather, they only have those desires because men have bred them for possession of a hypothetical lesbian allele.

In conclusion, the present study found that a large proportion of heterosexual men considered same-sex attraction in a partner desirable. These findings suggest positive selection on same-sex attraction in women: Men’s desire for women who are attracted to other women selects for women who are attracted to other women. In turn, male desires, along with factors such as arranged marriage, which weakened the negative fitness costs of same-sex attraction, can explain the relatively high frequency of this trait in the population. Future research needs to replicate and extend these findings in order to better understand the evolutionary origins of same-sex attraction.

Or maybe the authors need to go back to school and learn how evolution works.

This paper was so ridiculously bad, though, I’m sure the authors are going to come out with a confession, maybe in the pages of Skeptic magazine, that it was all a set-up to show how absurd the entire field of evolutionary psychology is (I checked; there isn’t a single evolutionary psychology journal in the top 100 of the SCIMago rankings, therefore the field is entirely made of low-quality papers).

Any moment now they’re going to pop up and say, “Just foolin’!”

Yep, any moment now.

Aaanyy moment.

Apostolou M, Shialos M, Khalil M, Paschali V (2017) The evolution of female same-sex attraction: The male choice hypothesis. Personality and Individual Differences 116:372–378.

That was fun & disgusting

But I have to warn you: if I show strange symptoms, call the CDC.

I got to spend my morning as the designated safety officer for the biology discipline in cleaning out a refrigerator left behind by a departed faculty member. It mainly consisted of hundreds and hundreds of small vials with cryptic labels; I think these were all samples of exotic biological material collected from tropical jungles by an ethnobotanist. It was mostly harmless, consisting of a little culture medium with bits of plant material floating in it, which I dumped into a big flask and am now in the process of sterilizing in the autoclave.

But I got to thinking: what if I inhaled some tiny spore from a toenail fungus scraped from the claws of a giant Sumatran rat-thing, and I become patient zero in the deadly zombie outbreak of the upper Midwest? If I start exhibiting undead cannibal symptoms, you have permission to shoot me. In the head, of course.

Next I have to figure out what to do with the liter bottle labeled “buffer” that contains a brilliant orange-yellow gelatinous slime blob. I’m afraid to open it. I was considering taking a photo and presenting it to you, the internet audience, to puzzle it out, but I don’t know…it might be a yuck too far.

You want to see the mysterious blob? Video below, because a still picture just doesn’t capture its essence.

[Read more…]

Travis Christofferson, an unimpressive snake-oil salesman

Yesterday, I was being mildly harangued by a cancer quack — I know, this is usually Orac‘s beat, but there’s a lot of non-specific cross-talk by ignoramuses, wouldn’t you know. Anyway, this quack told me I’m supposed to read this book by another quack, Travis Christofferson, and didn’t I know that the Warburg effect was the key to curing cancer? This is annoying, because when I’m given a source I feel obligated to look it up, so I had to waste time digging around the internet for Christofferson. Fortunately, this guy is easy to dismiss.

He has a website titled Single Cause, Single Cure. That’s right, he claims that there is a single cause for cancer, and it’s a metabolic disorder cause by your bad diet. There’s also a single general strategy for treating it, which involves targeting the Warburg effect with a ketogenic diet, among other broad metabolic treatments.

First strike: treating cancer as a single, simple disease caused by one factor. We know this isn’t true. I recently wrote about Tissue Organization Field Theory, that postulates that one factor in generating cancers might be epigenetic shifts caused by the cell’s environment, but no one (well, no one sensible) thinks that’s the only cause. We know about the effect of carcinogens, which may damage DNA; we know about inherited genetic predispositions caused by variations in gene sequence; we know about effects of local inflammation; there are viruses that can induce transformations to a cancerous state. We’ve taken cancers apart gene by gene and found the frequent players that trigger the cancer, and they are genes that regulate, for instance, cell proliferation, cell signaling, and yes, cell metabolism. You are not going to fix a broken retinoblastoma gene with a low-carb diet.

Second strike: Christofferson has zero qualifications. He has a Pre-Medical undergraduate degree and a Master’s degree in Materials Engineering and Science. There is no such thing as a pre-medical degree. A pre-med is someone who has declared an intent to apply to medical school when they graduate; I have lots of students I advise who are pre-med, and all that means is that I recommend that they take courses outside the required courses for their degree within a discipline, so they’re told to take anatomy and physiology courses, a psychology course, a communications course, microbiology, etc., outside of the list of required courses to get a B.A. in biology (they can also be, for instance, an English major and a pre-med), and that I nag them in their junior year about taking the MCATs. You either have a medical degree, which requires going to a qualified medical school, or you don’t. He doesn’t. He has a degree in molecular biology from Montana State University, and either lost interest in or didn’t get accepted to medical school, and instead went to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology for a Master’s degree in Material Engineering and Science. SDSMT is not a medical school, not even close.

Third strike: Christofferson is endorsed by Joseph Mercola. When the money-grubbing, dishonest arch-quack is your sponsor, you can trust that everything about it is tainted. Mercola did a fawning interview with Christofferson in which he asked, Wouldn’t it be interesting if there were a simple dietary tweak that could not only prevent but treat the vast majority of these cancers?

Yes, it would be interesting. It would also be interesting if every time I sneezed, hundred-dollar bills shot out of my ears. It does not mean that I’m snorting black pepper as a revenue source. That Mercola asks a stupid question does not imply that there exists a simple dietary tweak to cure cancer.

Fourth strike (how many of these do you get before the umpire drags you off the field?): these quacks like to pretend that they have some bold new insight, but the fact is that legitimate cancer researchers have been exploring metabolic treatments for decades, and there are real studies in progress. They aren’t a magic bullet, but tackling metabolic processes in cancer cells might be helpful, and real doctors are testing it.

This brings me back to the question of whether cancer is a metabolic disease or a genetic disease, the answer to which I promised early on. The likely answer? It’s both! Indeed, a “chicken or the egg” argument continues about whether it is the metabolic abnormalities that cause the mutations observed in cancer cells or whether it is the mutations that produce the metabolic abnormalities. Most likely, it’s a little of both, the exact proportion of which depending upon the tumor cell, that combine in an unholy synergistic circle to drive cancer cells to be more and more abnormal and aggressive. Moreover, cancer is about far more than just the genomics or the metabolism of cancer cells. It’s also the immune system and the tumor microenvironment (the cells and connective tissue in which tumors arise and grow). As I’ve said time and time and time again, cancer is complicated, real complicated. The relative contributions of genetic mutations, metabolic derangements, immune cell dysfunction, and influences of the microenvironment are likely to vary depending upon the type of tumor and, as a consequence, require different treatments. In the end, as with many hyped cancer cures, the ketogenic diet might be helpful for some tumors and almost certainly won’t be helpful for others. Dr. Seyfried might be on to something, but he’s gone a bit off the deep end in apparently thinking that he’s found out something about cancer that no one else takes seriously—or has even thought of before.

Fifth strike: the foundation of a useful cancer therapy lies in empirical research. You test it. It’s hard work. You do not leap into publishing books for pop audiences that declare you have a path to the cure, as Christofferson has. If switching to a ketogenic diet could cure cancer, why do people still die of cancer? This is a disease that provokes desperation and fear, the perfect medium for quacks who want to profit by selling false hope.

I am unpersuaded.

I may have to write something up about the Warburg effect later. I am not a cancer researcher, but I am a cell biologist, and I know a fair bit about cellular metabolism — it annoys me to see basic cell biology, which Christofferson would have been exposed to as an undergraduate, being abused by quacks, especially when there are so many readily available papers in the scientific literature about the molecular biology and biochemistry of the Warburg effect.