DANGER DANGER DANGER — 2500 milliHovinds of stupidity ahead


You know you’ve got a live one when a creationist post begins with The Most Abused Quote in Creationism:

To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree. – Charles Darwin

They never bother to quote the pages and pages that follow in which Darwin explains how that “seems” is misleading, because here are all the intermediates and mechanisms that are extant in nature right now. Trust me on this: when a creationist starts that way, you can just stop reading.

But I kept going anyway. I’ve got years of experience dealing with toxic levels of stupid. But here, even I was challenged. It was a bit like stumbling across Chernobyl’s “Elephant’s Foot”. It’s a post titled X-Men and the Theory of Evolution, and yes, it actually tries to use comic book science to argue against the theory of evolution.

You see, if evolution were actually true, we’d all evolve into Wolverine because, somehow, mutations are supposed to be able to defy entropy.

The entire living organic system is in a constant fight for survival. Unfortunately, there is nothing in its intrinsic composition powerful enough that would enable it to suppress the inevitable and fateful pull toward its own dissolution or death.

Otherwise, it would divert all of its energy into overcoming said fate by “evolving” out of it, exactly like X-Men’s Wolverine manages to do. Why? Because the survival instinct is the most dominant one. Said evolving characteristic – if it were possible – would in turn be uniformly present in all of creation, and entropy would be nothing but a bad memory.

Then we get a dictionary definition of evolution, which is not how scientists use the term at all, and another argumentum ad comicbook.

If according to evolution, mankind is the end result of animals evolving into a better species – hence the word evolution which Webster defines as “a process of continuous change from a lower, simpler, or worse to a higher, more complex, or better state” – how come many of the X-Men, like Wolverine, devolve into beasts?

Because…comic book? It’s fiction, and fiction that is nonsensically unscientific at that?

I had to just stop, because I left my lead-lined suit at home. These were lethal levels of idiocy. I got a brief glimpse of a diagram that’s somehow supposed to show life would have billions of…lines?…(I don’t understand) if evolution were true, and that everything in nature is supposed to go in cycles, and since evolution isn’t cyclic, it must be false, and then I had to flee. I’m trying to detoxify myself with massive coffee doses right now. It’s not helping.

Maybe I need to switch to alcohol. It’s Friday, it would make my last class of the day entertaining, anyway.

Terrifying tales of anti-medical delusions

An anti-vaccination site recently polled its members about the health of their unvaccinated children, and Orac has extracted some of their comments. They are horrifyingly ignorant. Most of them are talking about how much healthier their kids are than all of their vaccinated peers, which is nonsense. It doesn’t even work as a poll question. If you didn’t vaccinate, and your kids started having terrible infectious diseases compared to their vaccinated school kids, wouldn’t your first rational response to get them medical help to prevent the problem, and stop being anti-vax? There has been no wave of distinctive child deaths among anti-vax children because they’re taking advantage of herd immunity. I also know enough psychology to realize that if these people did have an afflicted child, and they remained committed to their anti-medicine ideology, they’d be even more frantically rationalizing their beliefs.

Online polls. When will people learn?

(By the way, we had three kids, all healthy, no particularly debilitating diseases, and no chronic conditions. They were vaccinated. Therefore, vaccines are totally safe! No, that’s not how the evaluation of medical procedures work.)

Take a look at the comments Orac has pulled out, though. They are amazingly goofy! And dangerous. Here’s just one that leapt out at me.

1 out of 2 of mine are vaccine free. That one is super healthy, never had a concern except for colds and a couple ear infections as a toddler, which I attribute to the antibiotics she was given as a newborn. Chiropractic fixed that. My partially vaccinated one has had developmental delays, sensory processing issues, gastrointestinal trouble, tics… But he’s coming back around with good nutrition and avoiding toxic junk.

There are several comments that do this kind of in-family comparison: we didn’t vaccinate child #1, and they’re now working as a superhero in the Justice League; we gave child #2 one little shot, and now they’re crippled, damaged, bleeding from the left lung, their right ear turned inside out, and we like ’em less than the other kid. Please, people, don’t judge your children by your own self-fulfilling prophecies. I’m reading these and feeling dismayed at the ugly family dynamics on naked display, and feeling pity for the kids who, through no fault of their own, get a childhood illness or even get a poor report card and are used as evidence for their parents’ awful ideology and nonsensical beliefs.

But the worst part is that their daughter had ear infections, a very common thing, and they blame them on antibiotics (What? Our kids had them, too, and antibiotics were effective at clearing them up), and thinks Chiropractic fixed that. They have a baby with an ear infection, and they took them to a chiropractor?

They took them to a chiropractor for an ear infection?

I have no words.

You may have heard the news about Katie May, who was apparently a very popular person on Snapchat, and who recently died suddenly at a too young age. What killed her? Neck manipulation by a chiropractor tore an artery. Never let a chiropractor go anywhere near your neck. For that matter, never go near those quacks, period.

She got “adjusted”. And now she’s dead.

But now I’m wondering…what kind of vertebral diddling do chiropractors do that they imagine could correct an ear infection? No, don’t tell me. I’m trying to suppress thoughts of what those frauds do to children.

That’s a non-response

One of Montana’s candidates for governor, Greg Gianforte, is being brutally attacked by paleontologist Jack Horner.

A new television ad features former Montana State University paleontologist Jack Horner saying candidate Greg Gianforte thinks the Earth is only a few thousand years old. Horner says Gianforte supports using taxpayer money to fund “private schools that obscure the truth about dinosaurs and the age of the Earth.”

“He’ll say I’m attacking his religion — I’m not,” Horner says in the ad. “We just need to make sure that our kids learn the truth. I’d think twice about voting for Greg Gianforte.”

Gianforte, a Bozeman technology entrepreneur who is making his first run for political office, is in a tight race against incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock. Gianforte campaign spokesman Aaron Flint on Wednesday called the ad silly and said it misrepresents Gianforte’s strong support of public schools and teachers.

Oh, it’s “silly”. OK. But the question is whether Gianforte is a creationist who denies basic biology. Is he?

“From his personal support of CodeMontana, computer science in every high school, support for more trades education and more — Greg is proposing increasing investments in our public schools once he’s elected governor,” Flint said.

Gianforte does not have an opinion on the Earth’s age, Flint said. Regarding Gianforte’s views on evolution, Flint forwarded a comment made last year by Gianforte in which he said, “I believe young people should be taught how to think, not what to think, and a diversity of views are what should be presented.”

Yes, I guess he is. Point to Jack Horner.

Wait, there’s more?

Gianforte has steadfastly refused to talk about his religion, and it has not emerged as a major issue in the campaign. He attends and helped build an expansion to Grace Bible Church in Bozeman and has donated millions of dollars to religious organizations in the U.S. and in Africa, according to tax records released by Gianforte last year.

He also funded an expansion to the Christian school his children attended, Petra Academy, and his foundation has donated at least $2.3 million to help students afford tuition at Montana private schools.

OK, OK, point made. He’s a religious creationist. Why are public school teachers supporting him, if they are, as he claims?

The tax records show Gianforte’s foundation also donated $290,000 to a museum that holds the creationist view that humans and dinosaurs coexisted.

Alright already! Case closed! How can anyone who supports science possibly vote for this Gianforte clown?

So who’s going to Skepticon?

I’m all booked and registered for Skepticon on 11-13 November, so who all is joining me there? I am not going to be an official speaker, but I am leading a workshop on Friday at noon on how to deal with creationist misconceptions (note: I know the difference between a workshop and a lecture, so I will not be lecturing away at attendees…I have a little exercise planned where I will make you work at figuring out how to address common claims). It should be fun. And then I see that Rebecca Watson is speaking on Friday evening, so you even have a reason to show up on the first day of the con, and then if nothing else, we can kill some time together until the big show starts.

Springfield, Missouri beckons. How can you possibly spurn its siren call? Especially since pretty much all the attendees will be liberal/progressive types, and I am currently expecting that the post-election celebrations will be awesome, even for a con with a reputation for late night conversations and parties.

Whoa, I know that guy!

I was reading about the ongoing climate change debate in Australia, and a name from my past came up: Alan Finkel. I used to do contract programming for his company, Axon Instruments (all the neuroscientists out there know that name — it’s pretty much the premier company for making essential neurophysiology gadgets). I had to look up what Finkel has been doing in the last 20 years, since I last worked with him (I was one of the people working on his foray into cellular imaging, of which he says “we didn’t make a successful play in the market”, which is true).

Anyway, he was caught explaining climate change to that idiot, Malcolm Roberts. It’s an excellent explanation.

Across all the countries of the planet we’ve been burning fossil fuels for a rapid rate. It’s clear that by doing that we are emitting ever-increasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The natural systems can’t absorb that. There’s a clear hypothesis, then there’s clear evidence. The thing that I find most compelling, senator, is that when you have a combination of a hypothesis and evidence.
When it comes to carbon dioxide it’s clear what would be driving increases in carbon dioxide, then you go out and measure it. Carbon dioxide goes up every year. Last year carbon dioxide went up 3.05 ppm which is more than any other time.

So the carbon dioxide is going up. Does that create warming? The theory is that carbon dioxide does trap heat, so ultraviolet light comes through the atmosphere without interruption, or almost without interruption, hits the ground, warms the ground and you get an infrared radiation from the ground which is then to some extent trapped by the carbon dioxide.

That theory goes back to 1896, Swedish physical chemist Svante Arrhenius did the initial work on that. He subsequently got a Nobel prize for other work and he identified that back in 1896 that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, for basic physical reasons will trap heat.

So you’ve got the carbon dioxide, you’ve got the physics that says carbon dioxide would trap heat coming off the ground being radiated from the surface and from the water as well.

Do you have the evidence? Yes!

The temperature is going up and up and up. It was just yesterday that NASA declared that the last 12 months, yet again have been the hottest on record. So in both cases carbon dioxide is going up and it’s trapping heat, you’ve got evidence and theory. The second case is that that trapped heat will lead to an increase in temperature, you’ve got the theory and the evidence. That’s steps one and two.

The third step is the impact. The temperatures going up, what will that do to climate? That’s where it gets very, very difficult now you’re into the world of modelling.

I’m impressed. When I worked with him, he was sharp, talked very fast, and was incredibly focused and enthusiastic. It looks like he still is.

The worst thing from last night’s debate was…

…Donald Trump’s declaration that our national misery and embarrassment won’t end on 8 November. He could lose in a landslide, and his ego will not allow him to accept it — expect the election night to be full of Trumpians declaring that everything is “rigged”. Expect him to go on a rhetorical rampage the day after. Expect his rabid followers to riot. Expect him to show up on inauguration day demanding to be sworn in, and to appear on every freakish far right wing radio show for years to come complaining about how the election was stolen.

I really just want him to go away.

The lies were pretty bad, too. Yes, he did say that he thought Japan should defend itself with nukes…to Chris Wallace, despite denying it last night. He babbled about ending abortion, claiming that a woman could demand one the day before her due date, and that a beautiful baby would be torn limb from limb…which sounds exactly like the kind of grisly lie pro-life kooks love to make up. There is no such thing as a ninth month abortion.

There was also the expected word salad served up every time actual policy was discussed. Here’s what he said to defend his claim that Aleppo has fallen to Assad forces.

Well, Aleppo is a disaster. It’s a humanitarian nightmare. But it has fallen from any standpoint. I mean, what do you need, a signed document? Take a look at Aleppo. It is so sad when you see what’s happened. And a lot of this is because of Hillary Clinton. Because what has happened is by fighting Assad, who turned out to be a lot tougher than she thought, and now she is going to say, “Oh, he loves Assad.” He’s just much tougher and much smarter than her and Obama. And everyone thought he was gone two years ago, three years ago. He aligned with Russia. He now also aligned with Iran, who we made very powerful. We gave them $150 billion back. We give them $1.7 billion in cash. I mean cash, bundles of cash as big as this stage. We gave them $1.7 billion.

Now they have aligned, he has aligned with Russia and with Iran. They don’t want ISIS. But they have other things because we’re backing, we’re backing rebels. We don’t know who the rebels are. We’re giving them lots of money, lots of everything. We don’t know who the rebels are. And when and if, and it’s not going to happen because you have Russia and you have Iran now. But if they ever did overthrow Assad, you might end up as bad as Assad is, and he is a bad guy.

But you may very well end up with worse than Assad. If she did nothing, we’d be in much better shape. And this is what has caused the great migration where she has taken in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who probably in many cases, not probably, who are definitely in many cases ISIS-aligned. And we now have them in our country and wait until you see this is going to be the great Trojan Horse.

And wait until you see what happens in the coming years. Lots of luck, Hillary. Thanks a lot for doing a great job.

That…doesn’t…answer…the question. It doesn’t even make sense. The only thing it confirms is that Trump is an ignoramus.

Lots of luck, Republicans. Thanks a lot for doing a great job. I hope your party does a Joffrey and dies purple-faced and bleeding, but quickly and definitively, at least.

Oh, no…not another debate

Is there any point? Isn’t this whole thing over now?

Anyway, tonight the competent, experience woman is going to have to share the stage with the ignorant, egocentric man, and give him unearned equal time. The topics that Hillary Clinton will discuss have been announced:

  • Debt and entitlements
  • Immigration
  • Economy
  • Supreme Court
  • Foreign hot spots
  • Fitness to be President

Note that I said these are what Clinton will discuss. Trump will be off in argle-bargle land, ranting about how great he is and how his enemies will face his wrath and vengeance. One thing I’ve noticed about these debates, though, is that they don’t discuss…science. I think the politicians are afraid of the subject.

But here’s something brilliant: Gaius Publius explains how every one of those topics could be turned into specific questions about climate change. All it would take is some intelligence and willingness to dig a little deeper on the part of the moderator…

Oh, crap. The moderator is Chris Wallace? Fuck it, he’s a schmuck.

Racial incoherence

Kwame Anthony Appiah gave a lecture on race and globalization, and all I’ve got is a second-hand review of the talk that makes me wish I could hear the whole thing.

Society still largely operates under the misapprehension that race (largely defined by skin colour) has some basis in biology. There is a perpetuating idea that black-skinned or white-skinned people across the world share a similar set of genes that set the two races apart, even across continents. In short, it’s what Appiah calls “total twaddle”.

“The way that we talk about race today is just incoherent,” he says. “The thing about race is that it is a form of identity that is meant to apply across the world, everybody is supposed to have one – you’re black or you’re white or you’re Asian – and it’s supposed to be significant for you, whoever and wherever you are. But biologically that’s nonsense.”

I can almost hear the alt-right whining in rebuttal…but there are genes for skin color, that’s biology, isn’t it? And aren’t there other genes that affect physiology and morphology? Yes, there are, and these can be significant markers of lineage. I can look at my brothers and sisters, and my aunts and uncles, and see an assemblage of traits that confer a familial resemblance. We don’t, however, assume that all members of the Myers clan are identical in behavior and attitude and ability because of the shape of their chin; we lack a social construct that affiliates that undeniably genetic trait with a whole vast host of assumptions about our place in society and every other biological property of the family.

What we do have is a complex social construct that takes one biological property, skin color, and imposes a mess of entirely non-biological assumptions on individuals with it. Worst of all, the people who do that then think that their racism, which is all about history and propagated myths and unjustified beliefs about relative superiority, is based on science because you can empirically measure the density of pigment cells in the skin. Or they do measurements of stuff like “intelligence” (where the tools are flawed and clumsy), correlate them with skin color, and pretend that the influence of cultural ideas and oppression and poverty, all freighted with the constructed social beliefs that they claim to be objectively assessing, are nonexistent.

But Appiah knows all this and is explaining it. I get irritated with the abuse of my discipline to justify nonsense.

Appiah is at pains to point out that, while society has made race and colour a significant part of how we identify ourselves, particularly in places such as the UK and US, it is an invented idea to which we cling irrationally.

Appiah’s lecture explores the notion that two black-skinned people may share similar genes for skin colour, but a white-skinned person and a black-skinned person may share a similar gene that makes them brilliant at playing the piano. So why, he asks, have we decided that one is the core of our identity and the other is a lesser trait?

“How race works is actually pretty local and specific; what it means to be black in New York is completely different from what it means to be black in Accra, or even in London,” he explains. “And yet people believe it means roughly the same thing everywhere. Race does nothing for us.

“I do think that in the long run if everybody grasped the facts about the relevant biology and the social facts, they’d have to treat race in a different way and stop using it to define each,” he says.

At a time when the world continues to divide itself along racial lines and where, in the US, “being put in that black box means you tend to get treated worse and are more likely to get shot by a police officer”, getting people to understand race as a social invention could, in Appiah’s view, save lives.

And expand human potential. Being put in the black box means much more than that you’re more likely to get shot — it carries a multitude of socially constructed biases that mean you’re more like to be imprisoned, less likely to get a job, more likely to face a thousand micro-aggressions every day, less likely to attend a good public school, etc., etc., etc. — and none of those are genetic.

None of this implies that we should be blind to color. I’m quite proud of my family, and I’m not going to deny our resemblance; I’m also not ashamed of my descent from a long line of stolid Scandinavian farmers. I think we should all recognize the struggles and successes and flaws of our forebears, and black people have diverse and complex histories, too, and rightly take some pride in their families. But let’s stop pretending that skin color is a simplistic proxy to excuse the baggage of our biases, OK?