Tim Tebow, HERO

A man had a heart attack on a flight, and one man heroically leapt into action and is being praised in all of the news stories now. That man was Tim Tebow, HERO.

What did he do that was so helpful? He prayed. He organized a group of people to pray for the sick man, heroically.

According to people who were there, flight attendants and passengers tried to help: they did chest compressions. They tried to help the man breathe. They started an IV line. These people are not named. The True HERO was Tim Tebow, who is a famous Christian, and who publicly prayed for the man.

The crew on the plane apparently responded with commendably swift action to help the unconscious man, and did merely material things, like chest compressions, starting an IV, helping breathe life into this man, but then Tim Tebow, HERO, strode up the aisle like a boss and prayed.

I observed a guy walking down the aisle. That guy was Tim Tebow. He met with the family as they cried on his shoulder! I watched Tim pray with the entire section of the plane for this man. He made a stand for God in a difficult situation.

Fuck yeah! Because God was in such a difficult spot here that he needed a cheerleader. And this is the big news, that a pious man stood and did nothing but mumble at an invisible man to come fix a problem. We should all be glad that someone was there to make a stand for a god.

Unfortunately, the sick man died.

The only appropriate thing to do now, of course, is to blame Tim Tebow, FAILURE. He obviously did not pray hard enough. After all, if he was notable enough to get all the attention and credit for doing nothing, he’s notable enough to get all the blame for doing nothing.

Women are so bad at computer games…


But that’s the stereotype, that men are more competitive and better at playing games, so of course women are just naturally squeezed out of the gaming environment. The thing about computer games, though, is that performance is stored in digital data, so researchers can take it apart case by case and assess performance objectively. In a study of 11,000 players, researchers found no gender gap in performance.

Do men advance faster than women in MMOs? Prior research found a perceived gender gap in participation and performance, suggesting men as playing more and better than women. This article challenges this gender gap through a longitudinal performance analysis of men and women in two MMOs in the United States and China, EverQuest II and Chevaliers’ Romance III, respectively. Controlling for extraneous factors such as play time and guild membership, our results showed that women perform at least as well as men do. Perceived gender-based performance disparities seem to result from factors that are confounded with gender (i.e., amount of play), not player gender itself. The stereotype of female players as inferior is not only false, but it is also a potential cause for unequal participation in digital gaming.

However, while men and women are just as good at playing the games, there’s a huge difference in participation: the sample for this study was 18% women, 82% men. That’s something that has to be explained, but at least now we can throw out the old ‘girls suck at games’ excuse. As the authors suggest, it may be that the stereotype itself is self-reinforcing.

An abuse of stem cells

I’m a developmental biologist, so of course I’m enthusiastic about the potential for stem cell therapies. I’m also aware of the limitations and risks. I absolutely hated that heavy-handed, nonsensical satire of stem cell research that South Park aired several years ago, in which Christopher Reeve was shown eating fetuses for their stem cells, which enabled him to walk.

But then, that’s South Park: almost always great thudding ham-handed bullshit. No way people could believe that just gobbling down stem cells would cure diseases.

Unfortunately, as we’re fast learning in the political arena, there is no bullshit so rank that you can’t find someone won’t chow down on it. Science-Based Medicine discusses stem cell tourism — there is such a thing — where people with serious illnesses travel to countries with less restrictive medical practices to get shot up with stem cells. So here’s the story of Jim Gass, a wealthy man who had a stroke and wanted to be healed…so he did research “on the internet” and got the brilliant idea to repair the damage with stem cells. And then he got worse and needed a more conventional medical intervention.

The surgeon gasped when he opened up his patient and saw what was in his spine. It was a huge mass, filling the entire part of the man’s lower spinal column.

“The entire thing was filled with bloody tissue, and as I started to take pieces, it started to bleed,” said Dr. John Chi, the director of Neurosurgical Spine Cancer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “It was stuck to everything around it.”

He added, “I had never seen anything like it.”

Tests showed that the mass was made up of abnormal, primitive cells and that it was growing very aggressively. Then came the real shocker: The cells did not come from Jim Gass. They were someone else’s cells.

Mr. Gass, it turned out, had had stem cell therapy at clinics in Mexico, China and Argentina, paying tens of thousands of dollars each time for injections in a desperate attempt to recover from a stroke he had in 2009. The total cost with travel was close to $300,000.

Stem cells are not magic. They are plastic cells that are pluripotent — they can differentiate into a variety of different tissues. But they need instructions and signals in order to develop in a constructive way, and the hard part is reconstructing environmental cues to shape their actions. They’re like Lego building blocks — you can build model spaceships or submarines or houses with them, and they have a lot of creative potential, but it’s not enough to just throw the Lego blocks into a bag and shake them really hard. Basically, Jim Gass was getting the cellular equivalent of receiving massive injections of Legos, in the forlorn hope that they would spontaneously repair his nervous system.

Gorski also points out one of the warning signs that this is a quack therapy: the locations where it was done.

Ask yourself this: Why are so many of these clinics located in countries like Kazakhstan, China, Mexico, and Argentina? It’s not because the scientific facilities are so much more advanced there. It’s because regulatory oversight protecting patients is lax to nonexistent.

Con artists always seek out the most permissive environment.

Maybe philosophy can be entertaining


You might want to read Terminator: The Simone de Beauvoir Chronicles if you don’t mind seeing philosophers shoot each other or run over each other with trolleys. This one rebukes hyper-rationality and utilitarianism, and includes a few cool quotes from Simone de Beauvoir…and also makes up a few that she should have said.

There are hints to all the philosophical in-jokes, and I like this summary of the line in the excerpt I posted here.

The final line is a play on Beauvoir’s famous phrase from The Second Sex, “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman”. By this she meant the the roles, characteristics, and attributes that make up “womanness” are not essential traits to women, but rather adopted individually and culturally. There is no essential woman for Beauvoir, as indeed there was no essential humanity. It is up to us to decide what we are.

Why, that’s downright inspiring.

It’s been a good day in the courts

Mississippi passed a bad law. HB1523 said that employees of the state did not have to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if they had a sincere belief that it was wrong, where those sincere beliefs were:

(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;

(b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and

(c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.

So if we assume those premises, those premises are legally valid because we’ve assumed them, and you don’t have to do the job you were hired to do if you don’t want to do the job you were hired to do. Tautology seems to be a way of life among good Christians.

Good news, though: a federal judge has ruled that Mississippi cannot do that. Start issuing those marriage licenses, clerks!

[Read more…]

Choice wins

The Supreme Court has overturned a restrictive Texas anti-abortion law.

In a dramatic ruling, the Supreme Court on Monday threw out a Texas abortion access law in a victory to supporters of abortion rights who argued it would have shuttered all but a handful of clinics in the state.

The 5-3 ruling is the most significant decision from the Supreme Court on abortion in two decades and could serve to deter other states from passing so-called “clinic shutdown” laws.

You can read the decision (pdf).

It feels funny to have a Supreme Court decision go the sensible, reasonable way.

They wouldn’t have this bathroom problem if only god would kill the evil people

The NY Times has an article on Ken Ham’s Ark. It always bugs me how the NYT blurs everything down to a bland grey smear (except for the conservatives on the op-ed page, who are encouraged to be stupid), but it’s got a few choice bits served up in their usual neutral, flavorless sauce.

You have to remember that Young Earth Creationism is a freakishly bizarre and recent sect of Christianity — it goes against the grain of the broader beliefs of most Christian denominations, but has grown into de facto popularity because its proponents are really good at claiming that they are the True Bible Believers. Their great trick was to subvert the naive proposition held by most Christian groups that the Bible is a good book, true in every word, by actually pointing to what’s written and saying that you have to believe this sentence fragment literally in order to be Christian. Those of us who actually think about what it says and compare it to the real world become atheists; those who don’t think much at all about science shrug their shoulders and decide they must believe the Earth is only 6000 years old, and no way was my grandpa an ape.

Young earth creationism gained currency only about 60 years ago, and has remained a marginal creed within Christianity. Even many Bible-believers and evangelicals accept the science showing that the universe is billions of years old — some reasoning that each of the six “days” of creation in the Book of Genesis may have lasted millions of years, not 24 hours. And of course, many Christians accept evolution.

Another important thing to remember, besides the fringey nature of the belief, is that their primary message is one of hate. God hates certain behaviors, so it was perfectly all right for God to murder millions of people to eliminate their degeneracy. Ken Ham avoids the spittle-flecking of Pastor Steven L. Anderson, but it’s fundamentally the same story: gays and atheists and women who control their own reproduction are abominations who will be eliminated soon. By god. Not by people, they’re always quick to say, god will judge…and by the way, they’ve judged too, and are quite sure their god will agree with them on who deserves to die.

The ark is also intended to serve as a vivid warning that, according to the Bible, God sent a flood in Noah’s time to wipe out a depraved people, and God will deliver a fiery end to those who reject the Bible and accept modern-day evils like abortion, atheism and same-sex marriage. We’re becoming more like the days of Noah in that we see increasing secularization in the culture, Mr. Ham said.

Oh, a fiery end. It’s always fun to read about people who think we ought to be set on fire.

They also have a creepy version of Biblical racism — the Hamite theory is alive and well in Kentucky — and again, they’ve got to emphasize the evil morally decadent society that is righteously wiped out.

Drawings of Noah and his seven family members hung on a wall. Their skin is “middle brown” and their faces are a blend of racial features because, as the only survivors of the biblical flood, all the races and ethnicities on earth would have descended from these eight people, Mr. Chaffey said. But in some of the displays in the warehouse, there were indications of the ministry’s dark vision of humanity. An artist, Stephanie Fazekas, stood at a computer drawing figurines of women in togas. They were prostitutes for a diorama portraying the morally decadent society that the Bible says was wiped out in a flood.

Also, reality is like a lawn full of rakes that keep thwacking them in the face. This is supposed to be a life-sized version of the giant boat that housed thousands of animals for a year, during the most ferocious, world-wrecking storm of all time. But they have to keep scaling back their plans.

They were originally going to have a live animal zoo on the ark. Then they admitted that there were relatively few species represented on the ark, because (they don’t use this word) evolution, which allows varieties to rapidly diversify. And then, well, look what this gigantic building will house:

And there will be only about 30 pairs of stuffed animals on the Ark Encounter because there just isn’t enough space. We have to have dozens and dozens of bathrooms for visitors. Noah didn’t have to have that, Mr. Chaffey said.

Only 30 pairs of animals? Because bathrooms? It’s true, Noah didn’t have thousands of visitors trooping through his big boat, because his god killed them all in the story, but he did have a gigantic waste disposal problem that Ken Ham’s sanitized and simplified display avoids by using stuffed animals.