A St Louis weekend

I’m going to be taking off for the Gateway to Reason conference this weekend, and will be speaking on Sunday morning. The title of my talk is “Evolution and Cooperation: A Historical Perspective”, and I kind of suspect that the audience, what few of them show up, will be either a) mildly bored, because too many atheists are uninterested in history and philosophy of science, or b) mildly pissed off, because I’m going to show them that the history of evolutionary theory isn’t as clean and tidy as they imagine, because it got hijacked by conservatives from day one.

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Maybe he’s unhappy that a traveling exhibit is more informative than his whole “museum”

crying

The Smithsonian has a traveling exhibit based on the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins. It’s going to be put up at libraries all across the country (but nowhere in Minnesota!), so lots of people will get a look at some of the evidence for human evolution. Can you guess who is not happy about this? Of course you can. Ken Ham has declared it a propaganda campaign for atheism.

This is nothing but a propaganda campaign attempting to indoctrinate people to believe they are nothing but animals evolved from ape-like ancestors! To the Smithsonian, that’s what it means to be human! And what they are doing in reality is trying to impose their religion of naturalism (atheism) on the culture. Interestingly, in complementing community events, they also plan to have some people (who come from liberal backgrounds) supposedly representing the religious community. Of course, the entire exhibit is religious—it is promoting the religion of atheism using evolutionary beliefs. And for this exhibit, there are special invitations for clergy to try to influence them!

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Answers in Genesis explains “Were you there?”

wereyouthere

One of the common tactics of believers in Young Earth Creationism, and devotees of Answers in Genesis, is to reply to statements about evolution with the question, “Were you there?” Ken Ham has been pushing this approach since at least 1989, and it’s dishonest horseshit, as I’ve explained at length.

It really is a stupid question, but now my eyes have been opened, as Roger Patterson of AiG explains exactly what the question is intended to do.

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Trust no one

Al_Seckel

Jim Lippard brings up an example of a difficult phenomenon we’ve all encountered with increasing frequency in recent years, as atheism/skepticism have become ‘cool’ and more people jump on the bandwagon…but the problem has been here for a long time.

This is, I think, a good case study in how the problem of “affiliate fraud”–being taken in by deception by a member of a group you self-identify with–can be possible for skeptics, scientists, and other educated people, just as it is for the more commonly publicized cases of affiliate fraud within religious organizations.

The case is the story of Al Seckel, self-proclaimed physicist, molecular biologist, cognitive neuroscientist, research associate, colleague of Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, and Murray Gell-Mann, and who was none of those things, but managed to schmooze his way into persuading the skeptic community that he was all of them.

He sounds like a very interesting person, but not at all trustworthy. In the words of his second wife (maybe his current wife…it seems he’s always been a bit dodgy about these marriage and divorce things, too):

“And he was really sweet, and I enjoyed talking with him a lot. He’s really intelligent. He’s just a liar.”

Well worth a read, as a warning to us all.

Death of a quack

I’ve been accused, occasionally, of being a pharma shill. Pharmaceutical companies make obscene profits! They’re paying off people to hide the dangers of their drugs! And there is a tiny grain of truth: those companies do reap great profits. Be the first to patent a Viagra or Zoloft, and the money will come rolling in.

But there’s so much investment required! You need to test thousands of drugs to find one that does anything; then there’s all the animal testing, the clinical trials, the regulatory oversight, the lawsuits that follow from side-effects (and if the drug is actually potent, there will be side-effects). No, that’s not for me. If I wanted to be really rich, and had no conscience at all, I’d go straight to Big Alt Med.

No testing! Cheap products! In the case of homeopathy, you can market tiny bottles of water! Supplements are almost entirely unregulated, nobody cares if you’re selling pills stuffed with sawdust. It’s miraculous sums of money for entirely non-miraculous garbage, plus a lot of promises.

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Pointless poll on a medical absurdity

Unbelievable. The BMJ hosted a written debate on homeopathy. The side for homeopathy blathers on about various studies and meta-analyses and mostly just vaguely suggests positive results; when they get specific, the best they can say is that homeopaths use fewer antimicrobials. And their summary is truly ignorant.

Doctors should put aside bias based on the alleged implausibility of homeopathy. When integrated with standard care homeopathy is safe, popular with patients, improves clinical outcomes without increasing costs, and reduces the use of potentially hazardous drugs, including antimicrobials.

We should set aside the fact that there is no mechanism to allow water to magically retain the power of non-existent molecules? I cannot do that, sir. I also cannot set aside the ludicrous rationales provided for the medical utility of plain old water, which suggest that homeopathic practitioners are gullible fools.

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