Autism blog poll

You’ve seen this phenomenon before: some flaky point of view wraps itself up in one of the trio of disguises, god, country, or family, and uses that to excuse stupidity. Here’s a case in point: a blog called “Thinking Mom’s Revolution”, in which the first word is a complete lie. It endorses homeopathy and chelation therapy for autism, which is, of course, caused by vaccination. But Motherhood! How can you question a mom?

Right now, that blog is the top candidate in a competition for the top blog about autism. This must not happen. The second runner-up (and it’s very close), is the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, in which the first word is not a lie, and which promotes an honest science-based approach to the issues.

You know what to do.

Our world in a photo

This picture is all over the place, so I don’t have the original source to credit, but it’s still wonderful. At the Global Atheist Convention 2012, we were picketed briefly by an angry mob of Muslims who wanted us all to go to Hell, the sooner the better. So in response, two gay men…

Love vs. Hate, Tolerance vs. Intolerance. That’s what it’s all about. I’m glad I’m on the right side.

(Whoever took that photo, let me know and I’ll update this. I met the two subjects of the picture too — very nice guys, but I didn’t get your names. Fill me in!)


Got the info: that’s Gregory Storer and Michael Barnett.

Now you, too, can be a cephalopedant

You remember all those dinosaur books you read as a kid, page after page listing species, with illustrations? (Wait, you don’t? What was wrong with you?) Well, now you’ve got the same thing for cephalopods, and it’s all free. You can download two volumes in pdf form of a massive catalog of species, all for yourself. Put ’em on your iPad, and then you can read it under the covers in bed. Hey, I just realized…this generation may be the last to do the ol’ “smuggling books and a flashlight into bed to read past your bedtime” thing — tablets make the whole procedure so much easier.

Here are the two volumes; each is about 20Mb.

Jereb, P.; Roper, C.F.E. (eds) Cephalopods of the world. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of cephalopod species known to date. Volume 1.
Chambered nautiluses and sepioids (Nautilidae, Sepiidae, Sepiolidae, Sepiadariidae, Idiosepiidae and Spirulidae).
FAO Species Catalogue for Fishery Purposes. No. 4, Vol. 1. Rome, FAO. 2005. 262p. 9 colour plates.

This is the first volume of the entirely rewritten, revised and updated version of the original FAO Catalogue of Cephalopods of the World (1984). The present Volume is a multiauthored compilation that reviews six families: Nautilidae, Sepiidae, Sepiolidae, Sepiadariidae, Idiosepiidae and Spirulidae, with 23 genera and the 201 species known to the date of the completion of the volume. It provides accounts for all families and genera, as well as illustrated keys to all taxa. Information under each species account includes: valid modern systematic name and original citation of the species (or subspecies); main synonyms; English, French and Spanish FAO names for the species; illustrations of dorsal and ventral aspect of the whole animal (as necessary) and other distinguishing illustrations; field characteristics; diagnostic features; geographic and vertical distribution, including GIS map; size; habitat; biology; interest to fishery; local names when available; a remarks section (as necessary) and literature. The volume is fully indexed and also includes sections on terminology and measurements, an extensive glossary, an introduction with an updated review of the existing biological knowledge on cephalopods (including fisheries information and catch data for recent years) and a dedicated bibliography.

Jereb, P.; Roper, C.F.E. (eds) Cephalopods of the world. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of cephalopod species known to date. Volume 2.
Myopsid and Oegopsid Squids.
FAO Species Catalogue for Fishery Purposes. No. 4, Vol. 2. Rome, FAO. 2010. 605p. 10 colour plates.

This is the second volume of the entirely rewritten, revised and updated version of the original FAO Catalogue of Cephalopods of the World (1984). The present Volume is a multiauthored compilation that reviews 28 families, i.e. (in alphabetical order), Ancistrocheiridae, Architeuthidae, Australiteuthidae, Bathyteuthidae, Batoteuthidae, Brachioteuthidae, Chiroteuthidae, Chtenopterygidae, Cranchiidae, Cycloteuthidae, Enoploteuthidae, Gonatidae, Histioteuthidae, Joubiniteuthidae, Lepidoteuthidae, Loliginidae, Lycoteuthidae, Magnapinnidae, Mastigoteuthidae, Neoteuthidae, Octopoteuthidae, Ommastrephidae, Onychoteuthidae, Pholidoteuthidae, Promachoteuthidae, Psychroteuthidae, Pyroteuthidae and Thysanoteuthidae, with 83 genera and the 295 species known and named to the date of the completion of the volume. It provides accounts for all families and genera, as well as illustrated keys. Information under species accounts includes: valid modern systematic name and original citation of the species (or subspecies); synonyms; English, French and Spanish FAO names for the species; illustrations of dorsal and ventral aspects of the whole animal (as necessary) and other distinguishing illustrations; field characteristics; diagnostic features; geographic and vertical distribution, including GIS map; size; habitat; biology; interest to fishery; local names when available; a remarks section (as necessary) and literature. The Volume is fully indexed and also includes sections on terminology and measurements, an extensive glossary, an introduction with an updated review of the existing biological knowledge on squids (including fisheries information and main catch data for recent years) and a dedicated bibliography. Due to the conspicuous amount of literature addressing many squid species, an appendix is included in the online version, where those references considered most pertinent to the species are listed, by family and species, in alphabetical order by author; key words, also, are reported.

There. Now everybody should be happy.

Why I am an atheist – Ville Orelma

I am an atheist quite simply for the same reasons most people are theists. I’m not talking about the theists who think about these things or wonder how we got here.

I’m talking the majority of theists. Like them, I’m an atheists because I was raised as an atheist. I was never baptized, I was never forced to join or go to church and (unlike most here in Finland) never attended religious education in school.

Religion was a subject that was always treated neutrally in my family. Thor and Mars were always seen as equals to Moses or Jesus and both nothing more than myths and legends (tho I always thought Thor was much more badass than Jesus).

I can’t remember ever asking my mother why I attended ethics class while all the other kids on my age group had religion. I just kind of accepted it. In any case it wasn’t anything that picked me out from the other kids.

There are a few times I can recall thinking (with my then first or second grader mind) if there was a supernatural being watching over everyone and even a few times talking aloud to said being on the off chance someone was there, but it always seemed just a little too silly even back then.

Perhaps the question overwhelmed me back then, but in any case, I’ve never really believed in gods and I’ve never had, what some people call, “a religious experience”, I don’t even know that that means to be honest.

Today the reasons for my atheism haven’t changed. What has changed is my understanding of why other people are theists.

Ville Orelma
Finland

Why I am an atheist – Sid Schwab

Here’s a confession: I find myself resisting describing myself as an atheist, and I wonder why that is. Since I can’t claim certainty, I suppose I could use the rubbery rubric of agnosticism. But right or wrong, I can’t believe there are gods (and there have been times when I’d have liked to). So why the reticence? Maybe it’s fear of reprisal; it is, after all, an untidy time for people like me, whose offense is only looking at the world with clear eyes, neither willing nor able to go beyond reality and the observable; the constitutional inability to make a leap of faith, even as our country seems unstoppably heading toward theocracy. But I think it’s something different.

As I’ve thought about it, it seems that atheism ought to be the default assumption, for anyone. Certain things ought to go without saying. One should not have to describe oneself, for example, as a mathist. Or a gravitist. (Yes, I realize the analogy is sort of a semantic contradiction, but you get the picture.) I believe the grass grows; I believe in chlorophyll. I (sort of) understand radioactive decay, and I understand (to a degree) its relation to measuring the age of the earth. I know (mostly) why planes fly and I don’t need to claim an angel holds them up; I don’t think the earth rides on the back of a turtle, and it seems reasonable that anyone would assume that about me. Nor does the fact that I don’t know everything lead me to fill in the blanks with imaginary answers. I can wait. Belief in the demonstrable ought to be the default baseline for anyone, and it shouldn’t need a particular label.

Okay, maybe “realist.”

Or “normal.”

It’s when you begin to come up with magical explanations (ones, I must point out, that other believers in other magic will decry ferociously and consider false magic, capital blasphemy, compared to their version of it, with no sense of irony whatever), that it seems labels should be applied. I think of those judges who sentence people to wearing a sign after they stole something. People who didn’t steal anything don’t need a sign saying so. Not believing in gods oughtn’t need particularizing any more than breathing does. I do breathe; I admit it. But it’d be strange to identify me as a breather, wouldn’t it?

A world-view ought to start with reality. Reality is enough. Reality is, for one thing, real. Realists shouldn’t need to explain it, or to have (loaded) labels applied. Nor, for that matter, should they feel the need to brag about it, or get in the faces of others. Why should the world need a movement that announces its commitment to reality?

Except for the fact that any realist can’t help being shocked, worried, and appalled at the direction we’re headed in the US, as magical thinking has become the basis for a major political party; as intelligence, the quest for knowledge, are considered elitist and abhorrent, actively and proudly mocked and scorned. In that party, belief in god seems to have become synonymous with rejection of science, with denialism, with economic amnesia. It needn’t be thus; it wasn’t always so. But those who wonder why there are suddenly a few highly outspoken and, as some have called them, “militant” atheists out there need only look at today’s Republican party, its teabaggers, its “values voters” for the answer. Scary, hateful, regressive, aggressively ill-informed people.

There’s where labels belong, seems to me.

Sid Schwab
United States

Speaking truth to apologists

If you’re looking for an explanation for why creationism is rife in America, don’t ask religious scientists. Their answers tend to be evasive and weird and unbelievable.

For example, Ken Miller claims it is due to the American virtues of rebelliousness and disrespect, and has nothing at all to do with religion. No, not one thing. All the blame for creationism lies on…those awful New Atheists. Then there’s the paleontologist Robert Bakker, who similarly misplaces the blame.

We dino-scientists have a great responsibility: our subject matter attracts kids better than any other, except rocket-science. What’s the greatest enemy of science education in the U.S.?

Militant Creationism?

No way. It’s the loud, strident, elitist anti-creationists. The likes of Richard Dawkins and his colleagues.

Bizarre, isn’t it? Yet this is more or less the position taken by the NCSE, NAS, the AAAS, and most museums, which seem to bend over backwards to avoid offending religious sensibilities of any kind.

At last, though, somebody speaks the plain truth: Jerry Coyne has published a paper in Evolution, “Science, religion, and society: the problem of evolution in America“, that correctly answers the question about why Americans hate evolution.

The answer seems pretty clear: religion (I define it as “those systems of belief that accept and worship the existence of supernatural beings whose actions affect the universe”). Religion is an answer that many people don’t want to hear, but there is much evidence that America’s resistance to evolution is truly a byproduct of America’s extreme religiosity (I use “religiosity” in the first sense given by the Oxford English Dictionary, as “religiousness; religious feeling or belief”). Evolution, of course, contravenes many common religious beliefs—not just those involving Biblical literalism, but those involved with morality, meaning, and human significance.

To argue any other way is madness. Creationism is an entirely religious concept that denies science, and to throw it on the shoulders of atheism is absurd to an incredible degree. I’ve been asked to write a paper for a different journal that discusses the fallacious reasoning of scientists who argue for the compatibility of science and religion — we’re going to have a fun time in the scientific community finally paying attention to the obvious on this issue.

More juicy stuff for Minnesotans

Sorry, all you foreigners who don’t live in an awesome state like Minnesota, but I have to mention another cool local series of events. The Hennepin County Library is sponsoring DNA Day, with multiple opportunities to learn about genetics, genetic diseases, cancer genetics, and genetic family trees. I don’t know why it’s called DNA Day, though, because they have multiple events spread out between 19 April and 1 May at various libraries around Minneapolis. There is limited space, so registration is required (these events are free, though), and you’d better get in there fast.

Prideful buffoons

Oh, dear. The Way of the Master is after “PZ Meyers and his limited vocabulary”. They caught me at the Reason Rally, and I dismissed Sye Ten Bruggencate with a laugh and called him a “slimy motherfucker”. The segment of interest begins at about 9:30.

What they don’t tell you is that I’d been strolling about the rally all morning, and this was the fourth time Sye Ten Bruggencate or Eric Hovind had come up to me with their inane presuppositionalist argument…the same dim argument that they always make (you may notice that at one point, I say “…like I said…” — I was referring to previous encounters with these jerks). And what was that argument?

Well, you may recall that there was a zombie invasion a while back, in which a mob of Hovind acolytes suddenly showed up en masse and started babbling repetitively. You can find the totality of their reasoning on that thread.

I can summarize their argument very briefly:

  • Your ability to reason comes from god.

  • Therefore, if you use reason, you prove the existence of god.

  • If you use reason to disprove god, you actually prove god.

  • If you claim any of their arguments are logically fallacious, you are using reason, which comes from god, therefore you prove them correct.

  • Demanding evidence for a claim presupposes that you should support claims with evidence; they make no such requirements, therefore they are exempt from providing evidence for their god.

  • This god just happens to be the god of the talking snake and the guy who was nailed to a big stick.

  • They know this for certain because god told them he was god.

That’s the totality of their argument. It just goes around and around and around; it’s like getting trapped on a merry-go-round with a ranting, defective, and very limited Eliza program…one written in an old and very slow BASIC interpreter, by a very lazy programmer who only coded it with about ten phrases that are cued semi-randomly.

Ray Comfort thinks Sye Ten Bruggencate is brilliant. Enough said.

The President is running a poll

The White House is asking you to nominate candidates for the Presidential Citizens Medal, an honor awarded for ‘exemplary deeds of service’.

I can think of a few dozen people in the godless/scientific community I’d nominate, but looking at your contrary performance in that last poll I brought up, you’d probably just pick the one who looked most like a cat. Or owned the most cats. Or likes cats the most. So you’re just on your own here.

I guess that means Jerry Coyne is a shoo-in…


First recommendation: Jessica Ahlquist. She probably likes cats. But despite that, she’s an excellent choice to push.