Learning thresholds

Kim Goodsell was not a scientist, but she wanted to understand the baffling constellation of disease symptoms that were affecting her. The doctors delivered partial diagnoses, that accounted for some of her problems, but not all. So she plunged into the scientific literature herself. The point of the linked article is that there is a wealth of genetic information out there, and that we might someday get to the point of tapping into the contributions of citizen scientists. But I thought this was the most interesting part:

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I guess someone at Wikipedia noticed

I pointed out that their article on ‘ropen’ was biased mush from a crank, and lo! The article is now flagged.

This article is being considered for deletion in accordance with Wikipedia’s deletion policy.
Please share your thoughts on the matter at this article’s entry on the Articles for deletion page.
Feel free to edit the article, but the article must not be blanked, and this notice must not be removed, until the discussion is closed. For more information, particularly on merging or moving the article during the discussion, read the Guide to deletion.

This article may present fringe theories, without giving appropriate weight to the mainstream view, and explaining the responses to the fringe theories. Please improve the article or discuss the issue on the talk page. (August 2014)

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Rowdy football games and the Testicle Festival. Sure, right.

The closest major city to me is Fargo, North Dakota — it’s a very pleasant place, quite a bit smaller than Minneapolis, but that’s part of the charm. It also has occasional problems: it’s very flat, and sometimes experiences major flooding, and of course, snow. If you want to invest in community infrastructure, the most useful contributions are sandbags and snowplows.

Sometimes, the kids get a little unruly — there have actually been small riots in Fargo, typically over sports events and rock concerts.

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Saying you should abort is as wrong as saying you may not abort

Oy, Richard Dawkins and Twitter again.

InYourFaceNewYorker ‏@InYourFaceNYer
@RichardDawkins @AidanMcCourt I honestly don’t know what I would do if I were pregnant with a kid with Down Syndrome. Real ethical dilemma.

Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins
@InYourFaceNYer Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.

I’m fully in agreement with Dawkins that abortion is not an unethical choice. The woman can choose whether to keep a child or not, and it is perfectly reasonable, and even responsible, for her to include any information about genetic disorders in making her decision. However, singling out children with Down Syndrome is seriously problematic — it is not immoral to have a child with Downs. It is immoral to insist that a fetus with Down Syndrome should be aborted.

I recommend reading any of Michael Bérubé’s stories about having a child with Down Syndrome — he doesn’t have any regrets at all. Or you could read about how Bérubé schooled Peter Singer, and Singer did the right thing and changed his mind. He also wrote a book on the subject, reviewed in the NY Times.

We should not judge a person’s humanity by the number of chromosomes they have, or how intelligent they are, or by how close their appearance fits a particular standard.

Fox News models Islamophobia for us

Just watch the escalation in this video: these Fox News people are rightly angry about the murder of a journalist by ISIS, and I entirely agree that that is a movement of destructive barbarians. ISIS is a huge problem, and something needs to be done about them (don’t ask me what…I don’t know), but at the same time, they’re symptomatic of the wreckage our adventures in the Middle East have been left behind. But the discussion evolves from outrage at specific actions by a political/religious movement, to a broad brush hatred of Islam, to an argument that the only way to deal with it is to kill them all.

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FtBCon postponed

A few of our organizers had collisions with their schedule, so we’re putting off FtBCon for a few months. I’m partly at fault, so blame me — I just got back from the UK, had a week to get everything together, and then looked at my calendar and saw that the date was scheduled right on top of our field experience for incoming biology students. Yeah, I was going to somehow manage an online conference requiring a couple of days of connectivity while shepherding a horde of first year college students around Lake Itasca.

A few others had similar problems with the timing — the end of August turns out to be very awkward for many of us, with academics and students facing other transitions — but I’ll let you all say it’s entirely my fault.

We do have a great lineup in readiness, and it will be even better given a few more months to develop, so none of this is a problem with the speakers, but is entirely due to the distractions that depleted our collection of available organizers.