I’d hate to have to get that one past the IRB

In which we learn that kings get to define their own protocols, and that coffee might be good for you.

“Coffee drinking was compared with tea drinking in monozygotic twins in 18th century,” Lars Breimer, BMJ, vol. 312, June 15, 1996, p. 1539. The author, at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine in London, explains:

“One of the more peculiar attempts to throw light on the question of whether drinking coffee is bad for one’s health’ was carried out in the 18th century by King Gustaf III of Sweden…. A pair of monozygotic twins had been sentenced to death for murder. Gustaf III commuted their death sentences to life imprisonment on the condition that one twin drank a large bowl of tea three times a day and that the other twin drank coffee. The twin who drank tea died first, aged 83-a remarkable age for the time. Thus the case was settled: coffee was the less dangerous of the two beverages. The king, on the other hand, was murdered at a masked ball in 1792 at the age of 45 and became the subject of an opera by Verdi.”

Although, I have to say, the n is really small, and the controls are inadequate.

Cannibalistic humanoids from the deep

I met Karl Banse, the famous oceanographer, a few times. Back when I started college, I was an oceanography major for a brief while, but then I got introduced to embryos of marine invertebrates and got seduced into developmental biology. I had no idea that he was destined to write a scientific paper on the biology of mermaids (pdf available), or I might not have drifted over to the zoology department.

Or on second thought, I might have been propelled even faster. It turns out that mermaids are nasty creatures.

Regarding mermaid behavior, a recurrent theme is the habit of the females to haul out on beaches (usually in pairs) allegedly to lure, then seduce sailors; their voices were repeatedly recorded as being “irresistible”. Perhaps they lured- but the stark fact was that they then drowned the men and devoured their flesh. Similarly, when ships broke up in gales, the females pulled sailors down into their abodes for further disposition.

Once again, Disney betrays reality. Ariel was not accurately portrayed.

Weird ways of thinking

Breatharian crank Jasmuheen believes she doesn’t need food or water to live — she claims to absorb nutrients from sunlight and air. She was rather easily exposed, as are all these breatharians, by putting her up in a nice hotel with people to monitor her eating, and observing the subsequent quite rapid deterioration as she failed to thrive and wasted away quite dangerously.

The people who were testing her terminated the experiment to avoid risking her health. Breatharian claims are absurd and trivially debunked, but what is fascinating is Jasmuheen’s logic as she is gradually falling apart. She has to know that in her day-to-day life she is regularly drinking and eating; she has to know that she’s hungry and thirsty during the test; she has to know that she’s physically suffering from dehydration and starvation. Yet she denies it all.

I think she was trusting the common sense of her testers: she knew that they could not in good conscience allow her to go on, that the experiment would be terminated while she protested that she was fine, and that she could get out of the dangerous situation while maintaining her fiction of dietary abstinence, no problem.

Her claims are not interesting at all — they’re ludicrous — but I find her psychology fascinating. Last year she was in a bogus documentary about ‘living on light’, and now, years after her failed test, she twists it into a triumphant victory.

Wow. New Age delusion at its finest. I loved this statement, though:

What was recorded, what was presented to the world was not my truth, was not how I interpreted it.

So truth is entirely subjective, it’s whatever you decide it should be, and we can entirely disregard physiology…or video technology. Nothing can beat that rationalization — these are people living lives of radical solipsism. It’s too bad that people are dying trying to follow their claims.

Speaking of psychology, another odd thing in the documentary jumped out at me. It’s a German documentary. I’ve run into these breatharian loons sporadically over the years, and they always babble about not eating anything ever…but leave it to the Germans to focus on something I hadn’t heard much about before, that breatharianism meant never pooping. The German obsession with all matters fecal is just a little odd. Odd but harmless, compared to the American obsession with shooting things and blowing them up, I suppose.

I am Power-Mad Drunk on Intoxicating Power!

As many of you may know, just less than a week ago some earnest questions were asked – to the Horde generally – about gender by morgan (frequent, though apparently not current, epitheter of metaphors). morgan’s questions reduced to a more fundamental one: “Why is constructively engaging gender so damn hard?”

This is something about which I’ve often written and spoken. It runs through my critiques of a number of disciplines/specialties, most notably the pedagogy of gender itself. It’s long been my thinking that we can teach gender much better than we do, and one important aspect of that is to encourage self-exploration rather than using idiographic studies of various exotic species: trans* folks and intersex kids and survivors of testicular, ovarian, or breast cancer. To encourage that self-exploration, I’ve developed workshops in the past that attempted to reveal to the participants’ view the transsexual analogous and transgender analogous portions of their own psyches. It occurred to me that morgan might find better answers through something like the workshops I’ve led than through simply reading a recommended book or a fantastically intelligent comment (to which, ahem, I might link). And so I offered to create an online workshop, though I’d never done one before.

Quickly others spoke up to express interest, and noted that weaving the workshop into the Lounge’s already multi-threaded complexity simply wouldn’t work. It would compromise the Lounge’s comfortable directionlessness, perhaps making idle chat feel less welcome in the exact space set aside for it. Likewise, it might make it very difficult for people to find, and follow, the workshop itself. So it was suggested that we ask PZ for a separate thread for our experimental conversation.

And how you responded! With more than 50 people – if I’ve counted correctly – jumping in during the introduction period, it became quickly apparent that even with our own thread people were bound to get lost. The solution? More threads! (Good for these cotton workers, if no one else.) I took to PZ the suggestion that he open a new thread for each set of exercises. His counter-offer has given me the power to make my own OPs on Pharyngula, under my own byline.

This will take work off PZ’s plate, permitting me to create separate threads on my own initiative, when my posts are ready. Also, it eases worries about posting times, as starting a new thread will not interrupt a conversation in an old thread. All in all, I think it’s a good idea.

But it only happened because 1) the Horde appeared to want it, and 2) it suited PZ’s whim. It will continue only so long as both are true. I have no aspiration to pepper Pharyngula’s headlines or to change the character of this blog: it is absolutely and always PZ’s house. I just got a spare key. I don’t have any plans at this point to post anything other than the this introduction and my planned workshop posts, although if it seems particularly relevant I might blog about a current event that allows me to make a point useful to the exciting gender discussion happening here.

When the workshop is over, I may hand the spare key back to PZ or, if he prefers, just keep it in my key bowl in case it’s needed. But for whatever duration, a few posts under my byline will, I hope, change nothing about my relationship to the Horde. I expect to be corrected when I make mistakes, challenged when I make an argument, and called out when something I do or say enacts or reinforces oppression. On every single thread not in the workshop series, I hope I continue to be no more and no less than I have been: a member of a very special group of people who enjoy learning from each other.

Rum, chocolate, and confetti (if you feel compelled to eat, throw, and drink these things in despair and/or celebration at this Crip Dyke-has-a-byline development) should be available in the Lounge. Afterparty with the scum and villainy will be in the ThunderDome, per usual. The third exercise set will appear sometime a little after midnight Blog Standard Time as the second OP in the workshop series [given that the second exercise set was posted under the first OP before this development].

In the meantime, thanks PZ, for creating this space. Thanks to the Horde for doing all the heavy-lifting in the workshop thread. I owe it all to… Oh, who am I kidding?

Power! Absolute power!

Now I’m beginning to wonder if Bigfoot actually exists

If you’ve been reading the Pearls Before Swine comic strip this week, you’d have noticed a dramatic change in the art. There was much speculation about who the substitute artist was, and it has now been revealed: it was Bill Watterson.


I’m going to put a hint right here that maybe Thomas Pynchon would like to do a guest post on Pharyngula? Maybe? Harper Lee, what are you doing next week?

Rats. All I’ve got so far is a surprise visit to my talk the other day by Casey Luskin.


Not quite the same thing.

Maybe it is demons

The latest explanation for schizophrenia published in a real journal:

Hallucinations are a cardinal positive symptom of schizophrenia which deserves careful study in the hope it will give information about the pathophysiology of the disorder. We thought that many so-called hallucinations in schizophrenia are really illusions related to a real environmental stimulus. One approach to this hallucination problem is to consider the possibility of a demonic world. Demons are unseen creatures that are believed to exist in all major religions and have the power to possess humans and control their body. Demonic possession can manifest with a range of bizarre behaviors which could be interpreted as a number of different psychotic disorders with delusions and hallucinations. The hallucination in schizophrenia may therefore be an illusion—a false interpretation of a real sensory image formed by demons.

This was published in the Journal of Religion and Health, so you can trust it. Unless you think religion poisons everything.