Icelanders are awesome


It’s not just because they are lucky enough to live in one of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet. It’s also because they’re great model organisms, guinea pigs — the zebrafish of humanity. They represent a small, isolated population with a well-documented history and excellent medical records, so they’re just the people you might want to do in-depth genetic studies on.

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Does this cause cancer?


I get asked that question so often. My usual answer is, “I don’t know, probably.” (It’s also a good answer if they ask, “does this prevent cancer?”) That’s safe to say, because just about anything can be found associated with cancer, if you look hard enough. I’ve read enough papers to know that if you can find a study accusing a food to be of the devil, you can find another one saying it’s angelic. And there will probably be some feckless mass media organ screaming CAUSE or CURE.

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Public Service Announcement: Don’t experiment on your own eyeballs


Photosensitizers are chemicals that absorb photons and use that energy to promote electrons to higher energy states, and typically those activated electrons produce free radicals that react with other substances in the cell. That’s not particularly scary: your eyes contain proteins, opsins, and a chemical, retinal, that also absorb photons and use the energy to cause a conformational change in retinal. But photosensitizers are also used in cancer therapy. Load up a tumor with photosensitizers, then shine a laser on it, and all the free radicals do a bang-up job of destroying the cells, exactly as you want.

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Good news from Barna

They’ve released their latest analysis of the demographics of American ‘skeptics’ (they use the word “skeptic” to refer to the combined group of atheists and agnostics). It’s a somewhat confusing report, because they insist on looking at us through the lens of religion — we’re “unchurched”, they use a set of metrics designed for assessing the religious, they refer to Christian and “post-Christian”, and other annoyingly pointless divisions that only matter to Christians), but in all the clutter, there was something that stood out.

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My weekends

I’ve mentioned before that my wife and I are coaching our wise son in driving on the weekends. He’s wise because he wasn’t at all interested in driving, still isn’t, but only needs the instruction to make getting to work more manageable in a place with poor mass transit (he and I will both be happy in the next decade when smart self-driving cars become available). Anyway, here’s a taste of what being a driving instructor is like.

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How not to build a coalition

I’m beginning to think that one of the big problems facing atheists is … incompetence. A representative from the Secular Policy Institute approached another organization and tried to convince them they ought to sign up with SPI. In the back and forth that followed after the organization expressed their lack of interest, the representative said a few things.

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