Bad Science: Now That’s a Double Whammy!

Recently, I came across a story that might have just hit the bad science motherload. It refers to an Italian pharmacy, which is authorized by the Italian government to sell products online. One of these products is called Dr. Reckeweg R20, and its product description just about blew my mind. As the article is in Italian, I’ll translate it for you here.

For starters, it is a homeopathic remedy, claiming to contain a product called “Ovaria”. According to the website, this product is made from the extract of ovaries, and is used in the treatment of:

irregolarità mestruali, disturbi del climaterio, deficit di memoria, depressione, disturbi funzionali delle ghiandole, complesso di inferiorità, criptorchidismo, enuresi notturna, impotenza, frigidità femminile, tendenze lesbiche, oligo e azzoospermia, congestioni”

Translation: irregular menstrual cycle, hot flashes, memory deficits, depression, disrupted glandular function, inferiority complex, cryptochidism [a.k.a. the absence of one or both testes from the scrotum], involuntary urination, impotence, female frigidity, lesbian tendencies, oligo- and azoo-spermia, congestion”.

Ooh where to begin.

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You Are Not Alone

I mentioned that, recently, I was helping a friend of mine deal with a mental health crisis. As someone who deals with an anxiety disorder myself, I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed, to see no way out, to feel ripped by remorse and worst of all, to feel completely and utterly alone in my suffering. Our society deems mental illness as something rare, secretive and uncommon. Unless you have a “real” mental illness, like schizophrenia, you feel like you are weak, plagued with #FirstWorldProblems, and that if you cannot function in your day to day privilege that the vast majority of the world only dreams of having, then you really should be embarrassed of your pain, and you should hide it from everyone.

Luckily, this antiquated mentality is being challenged, and it is important that as many people as possible know that these thoughts are complete and utter bullshit. A recent study conducted in New Zealand found that a whopping 83% of people experience at least one episode of mental illness from age 11 to 38. These could be either transient, recurring or long-lasting, were of varying severity, but it is becoming ever more clear that having these episodes is not only common, but rather should be dubbed “the new normal”.

Coinciding with ongoing studies, we see an ever increasing number of celebrities who have spoken openly and candidly about their struggles with mental illness. Most recently Wentworth Miller, most famously known for his role in Prison Break, gave a speech about his struggles with depression from childhood to the present day.

 

Given the stigma which is still associated with admitting to mental illness, I applaud Wentworth Miller and all of the public figures who have had the courage to speak openly of their struggles. I think that their honesty, combined with the medical research into this field, will be what finally condemns this stigma to the barrel of yet another embarrassment of our history. I think that these messages, from many different sources, will provide comfort to those who still think that they are weird, weak, abnormal or foolish for being depressed, or riddled with anxiety.

The sheer statistics dictate that many of you reading this have struggled or are currently struggling with a mental illness. I want to remind all of you, you are not alone. What you are feeling is both normal and not founded in reality. Seeking help is not an admission of weakness, it is not the ultimate sign of defeat, any more than seeking antibiotics for your sore throat is. It is simply seeking the help you need to get back to your day-to-day life as quickly, healthily and happily as possible. Don’t despair, don’t blame yourself, and don’t give up. You deserve support, and you deserve to be happy.

This Week In Zoology: Weirdo Caterpillars

When it comes to extremely odd looking creatures, marine life is usually our best source of inspiration, especially those found in the deep sea. This is partially because the support that water gives allows for more extravagant body plans than land does, and partially because we don’t see marine creatures every day, and so they have not had as much chance to become “normal” to our eyes.

When it comes to terrestrial creatures, however, I think that caterpillars are strong contenders for the “weirdest looking critters” award. This video gives some examples, and many of you might be asking yourselves, WTF are those, and WHY THOR WHYYY do they look like that?

 

 

Well, here goes. I’ll identify for you those caterpillars that I recognize from this video, and give you a short explanation as to why evolution allowed them to become the fuzzy little weirdos you see in this video today. Sorry Creationists, the answer is not “God predicted the existence of viral videos and wanted to have a laugh”.

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Snark With A Purpose

I loled a little when I saw this picture pop up on my feed. It’s so my kind of humor: snarky, uncomfortable, and bringing up an excellent point in a clever way.

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 5.03.39 PM

Update: The flyer reads:

  1. If someone is drunk, don’t rape them.
  2. When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone.
  3. Use the Buddy System! If it is difficult for you to stop yourself raping someone, as a trusted friend to accompany you at all times.
  4. Carry a rape whistle. If you find that you are about to rape someone, blow the whistle until someone comes to stop you.
  5. Don’t forget: honesty is the best policy. When asking someone out, don’t pretend that you are interested in them as a person. Tell them straight up that you expect to be raping them later. If you don’t communicate your intentions, they my take it as a sign that you don’t plan to rape them.

Rape culture directs women to police their clothing, beverages, behavior and sexuality at all times to avoid men. It portrays men as powerless to control their violent sexual urges. Rape culture demeans everyone, and everyone should speak out against rape culture.

 

When you start reading the beginning of the flyer, it is clearly uncomfortable. It is condescending and demeaning in language and tone, and that’s with the fact that it is clearly meant to be a parody. It makes you realize how condescending and demeaning, therefore, these nonsense “rape prevention” flyers are when they’re actually meant to be serious. Snark, and going over the top, are IMO excellent tools to quickly and directly call attention to an issue that many people overlook, and I think that this flyer does that nicely.

And now, we get to the serious aspect of this image, and into the topic of rape culture and victim blaming.

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I’m Excited

It has come to my attention that Phillip Pullman is going to release a new trilogy to accompany his Dark Materials, and I am officially excited to take a look at them. There will be one prequel to the series, set when Lyra was an infant, and two sequels, which follow Lyra as a young woman.

I remember reading that Trilogy for the first time at 14, and being sucked into Lyra’s world from the start. I also remember not liking the sappy tone of the last quarter of the third book, disliking the way he left things, so I very much want to see how he proceeds with the story. I also remember rereading the books as an adult, and picking up a whole lot more of his parallels to, and fierce criticisms of institutionalized religion, which made me appreciate how his books could appeal to a very wide range of ages.

I have heard people speak of Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials in very different ways. I have heard his treatment of religion in his books characterized as too harsh, as too pro-religion falling just short of C. S. Lewis, and others who missed the parallels he draws altogether, finding the books to be simply a fun fantasy story.

The last quote from Phillip Pullman in the article is indicative of the fact that he too is somewhere in the middle with his views on religion.

My attitude to religion is that religion is a most interesting and extraordinary human phenomenon. I’m fascinated by it, interested in it, and at some points critical of it. And the points when I become critical are the points when politics come into it, and religion acquires political power — political with a small “p,” for example, within the confines of a single family, or Political with a large “P,” on a national or international scale.

When religion gets the power to tell people how to dress, who to fall in love with, how to behave, what they must not read, what they must not wear, all those things, then religion goes bad. … Religion is private thing, and a fine thing and a good thing, as long as it remains private. As soon as it becomes public and political, it’s dangerous. That’s the position I’ve taken up in the first series and the position this current one takes up as well.

While I might disagree with his characterization of religion as a “good thing” even when it is private, on the whole I agree that religion’s habit of intertwining with politics and dictating people’s lives is by far the bigger problem. Regardless, I intend on reading his new books, though when I’ll find the time to fit them into my life remains to be seen.

I bring this up, partially to express my enthusiasm for new fantasy books, but also because I am curious about the FtB’s reception of his Dark Materials. My question to you is, have you read them? And if so, what was your impression of them?

I Agree With… Franklin Graham?!

There has been a lot of chatter about the current Trump Administration, the sweeping executive orders that he has signed, including what is or is not considered by many to be a “Muslim ban”. So far I have steered clear of this conversation, partially because I think that no one on this network disagrees that Trump is a loathsome human being, and partially because my recent crazy schedule has made me unable to properly update myself on current events from sources more reliable than facebook statuses.

However, some of the shared articles on the subject cannot help but catch my eye, and one such heavily commented article popped up on my feed yesterday, entitled “Franklin Graham said immigration is not a Bible issue. Here’s what the Bible says“.

I groaned.

The article is an opinion piece from the Washington Post. Despite the right wing leanings that the WP has been taking so far, I still allowed myself a little glimmer of hope that this piece would go on to explain how this argument has no place in politics. So, I clicked on the link, and read on.

Attempting to defend the ban from a religious point of view, evangelist Franklin Graham declared, “That’s not a Bible issue.”

He could not be more wrong.

Both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are clear and consistent when it comes to how we are to treat the stranger. Across the books of both testaments, in narrative, law, prophecy, poetry and parable, the Bible consistently spells out that it is the responsibility of the citizen to ensure that the immigrant, the stranger, the refugee, is respected, welcomed and cared for. It is what God wants us to do, but it also recognizes that we too were immigrants — and immigrants we remain. “Like my forebears, I am an alien, resident with you,” says Psalm 39.

The piece gets no better, and I’m going to stop you right there.

This argument is completely moot. I don’t give a flying rat’s fart what the Bible says about this issue. Even if the Bible only contained a whole lot of love and peace, and none of the sticky bits about conquering and enslaving different tribes, I still wouldn’t give a rat’s fart.

Whether or not the immigration ban is consistent with the Bible has no bearing on whether or not it is consistent with the United States Constitution, founding principles, or common human decency. How many times do we have to repeat that the United States Constitution is great because it establishes a secular nation. Religious people can debate amongst themselves about whether or not they like the immigration ban because of what they think the Bible says, but that conversation is appropriate to a religious forum, not the Washington Post. I would also not begrudge nerds worldwide debating whether or not they favor the immigration ban based on the principles of Star Trek, but I would likewise raise an eyebrow if such a discussion was brought up in the New York Times, rather than at a Star Trek convention.

It is precisely this special privilege that the Bible holds that makes this discussion not only moot, but counterproductive. Giving this debate a platform on one of the most established newspapers in the United States simply reinforces the idea that conflating religion and government is perfectly legitimate in the United States. We’re now arguing over whether or not the Bible condones Trump’s immigration ban, instead of focusing on whether or not the immigration ban is consistent with what the United States is and should be about, regardless of what the Bible says about the issue. If the Bible said “There will come a Trump and the faithful should oppose every executive order he ever signs” I still wouldn’t care, because the US is not Vatican City, or Saudi Arabia, no matter how much the religious right want it to be.

So thank you Washington Post. In a bizarre and extremely ironic twist, you’ve made me agree with the loathsome Franklin Graham. The immigration ban is not “a Bible issue”. It is an issue of politics, legality, human rights, and Constitutional principles. Now, please, let’s bring the argument back to a place of common sense, and let’s stop allowing the Christian right to normalize the conflation of religion and government by allowing this nonsense debate to continue any further.

When Scientists Have Fun

Two years ago, I went to the States for Xmas. I decided, to the delight of the Europeans I work with, to bring back a selection of typical famous American food for them to try, much of which they had heard of from various movies and TV shows that they had seen throughout their lives. I decided to bring back a selection of what I considered to represent both the best and the worst that the States had to offer and, to make it extra fun, I told them that they would not know which category the items fell in until after they had tried them all.

We set out a large table one day at lunch and they had a great time trying all of the strange and highly processed food. The lunch was even more fun than they had predicted, as heated arguments ensued as to which food fell into which of the two categories. Not one item was unanimously placed in either category, and I had a great time watching them argue for or against each of the things I had brought.

Among the contenders were Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup (made with milk), Kraft mac n cheese, strawberry Pop Tarts (both toasted and not), white cheddar popcorn, spray cheese on ritz crackers, Lucky Charms, Cheerios, Reese’s peanut butter cups, Hershey’s kisses, Twizzlers, Red Hots, Sour Patch Kids, string cheese, Spam and, of course, the most famous American food of them all, the Twinkie.

Everyone there had heard of Twinkies from various movies and TV shows, but no one there had actually ever tasted one. Many of them had also heard the urban legend that Twinkies last for eternity, that they will be the only thing to survive the nuclear apocalypse alongside cockroaches. The Hostess website, of course, says that this is rubbish, and that Twinkies definitely expire.

But we’re scientists, so of course we wanted to put this to the test. Everyone agreed that, given their reputation, we would have to keep one Twinkie in its wrapper in the office, and see how long (if ever) it took to show signs of deterioration.

I bought that Twinkie in December of 2014, it arrived in the office on January 2015, and it has been sitting on a top shelf in an office with no air conditioning, through hot summers and cold winters and all levels of humidity around it. Last week, I personally brought it to its new home in the new building. It is now well over 2 years old, so, what does it look like today?

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SOML Stories: My Worst London Weekend

As promised, I am going to tell you one of my crazier “Story of my Life” stories this time. This one happened to me when I was in college in Dublin, and I decided to visit some of my friends from high school who were living in London. The flights between Dublin and London are many and cheap, so even a poor student like myself could manage a short trip away to visit friends.

The plan was simple: Leave on Friday evening after classes, sleep on my friends’ dorm room floor, and fly back to Dublin on one of those redeye flights on Monday morning, arriving back just in time for my Chem lab at 10AM. Easy, right?

I was a little short on cash, but I checked with my bank and they told me there would be no problem using my bank card in London. So I stuffed a couple of changes of clothes in a backpack together with a few packs of cheap cigarettes from Italy, topped up my phone, and headed off to the airport.

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Bring Ratzinger Back

It is official. I miss the old Pope, and I want him back.

That may seem like an odd statement coming from a liberal SJW atheist. I mean, we all know that this new Pope is miles more liberal than the old one, right? Sure, we’d all rather there be no Vatican at all, but given the situation, better a liberal Pope than one firmly stuck in the dark ages, right?

Well, I thought that at first, but now I think I’ll take Ratzinger over this new guy any day.

Regular readers will know of the way that the Vatican is trying to evict elderly people and families out of their homes in an attempt to make even more money on their tens of thousands of tax free, private properties in Italy, my own Grandmother included. It was during this personal struggle in my family that I finally realized how much harder all of our battles against the institution of the Vatican has become, and how much better it was to have that old fart who looked like evil incarnate in charge.

Pope Francis has been a marketing genius, there is no mistaking that. He hired a Fox News correspondent to head his PR campaign, who also happens to be a member of the extreme Catholic sect Opus Dei, something in direct contrast to his liberal media persona to begin with. But Greg Burke has been earning his paycheck and then some, and the whole world is enthralled.

But when it comes right down to it, what has really changed with this new Pope in charge? Other than washing a few feet of some Syrian refugees, and kissing a few terminally ill children?

The fact is, the giant eviction of the elderly in Rome, which begun under Ratzinger, is still going on.

The sheltering of pedophile priests and cardinals so that they do not have to face their accusers, is still going on.

Outside of the media spotlight, he is even ramping up the extreme faction of the Catholic church, like increasing the number and legitimizing exorcists and exorcisms, agreeing that there is an international crisis in dire need of such nonsense.

But when you try to point this out to people?

I see people like my Mother, or my friends. I am an atheist, and so I’m just being confrontational, when I criticize the new Pope. He’s wonderful, he’s doing his best to combat the corruption in the Vatican, they tell me. Surely he doesn’t personally know that the archbishop, that he appointed and brought with him from Argentina, is personally making regular harassing visits to my Grandmother, trying to convince her to clear out so that they can make more rent on her apartment. If he knew, he’d put a stop to it! No, I’m just being annoying, I wouldn’t like any Pope, let’s just let this guy do his job, he’s wonderful, did you see that picture of him kissing the dirty feet of that Muslim guy?

This is why I want Ratzinger back. Nobody liked that douchebag. Catholic attendance was plummeting across the world, it was becoming old-fashioned and lame, the picture of corruption, and Ratzinger was the ugly jewel bedecked face of it all. He was honest about being a nasty bastard, and he was a common enemy that atheists and Catholic sympathizers alike could fight.

But Pope Francis? Catholic attendance is back up, despite the fact that the Vatican is not cleaning up their act in any real way. And when sexual abusers are sheltered, it must be a fluke, or Pope Francis had to make a small concession to the other cardinals for the greater good. When they evict people from their homes to make even more cash than they already make, it’s just an oversight, and he’ll put a stop to it all once we write him enough letters and make him aware of the problem. There is nothing to see here, no real problem that is not on its merry way to being fixed.

I’m sick of it. I’m sick of watching the wool being pulled over everyone’s eyes, and no one standing up to fight for transparency, and for what is right. I’m sick of this complacency that his perfect PR image is causing, that no one can dare criticize what is going on less it goes against the angelic narrative that everyone has bought into.

Bring back Ratzinger. He may have been a crafty old SOB, but at least he was bringing the trend of Catholic attendance, Vatican support and confidence in the right direction: straight down the toilet.

SOML Stories: A New Segment

While I was in France, I had a stressful, crazy, and very typical of my life set of problems happen to me. As the other instructors of the workshop watched the whole thing unfold, they laughed and commiserated, and told me that I should write a book about my collection of stories, so that other people will feel better about these kinds of things when they happen to them. In the telling, it became abundantly clear that I get into these sorts of situations more than anyone else I know, and the more similar stories I told, the more I realized just how many I have. In any case these kinds of situations, while stressful at the time, have certainly made me into a person who is good at improvising solutions.

Well, I don’t much fancy writing a book, but I figured a new segment on this blog might be appropriate, along with “This Week In Zoology”, “Tough Questions”, “Cultural Differences” and “Bad Science”. If you find them boring, or if they lose some of their comedic value in typing, feel free to let me know and I’ll cancel it. For now, I’ll tell the one that prompted the suggestion that I write these down. Funnily enough, this one seems barely noteworthy in the light of the ones that have happened to me in the past: I’d rank it a 4/10 in how stressed I was, and a 3/10 on my crazy coincidence scale. Nevertheless, it is the story that started the idea for the segment, so here is my first “Story of my Life” Story: My struggles with the IT Department that does not think solving your problems is in their job description.

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