Am I a gorilla or an elephant?

Oy, it’s navel-gazing time in the science blogosphere, prompted by a post at Bayblab that reveals some resentment or justifiable concern (depending on your perspective) about the inevitable problem that always crops up in blogging: somebody always has more than someone else. Traffic and traffic-ranking services fuel a feed-forward loop that means that those that have, get more. And that means that those squatting atop the traffic ziggurat aren’t necessarily there because they are the very best, but because they tapped into fortunate combinations of attraction and attention early on. I’ll be the first to say that luck and timing are the big factors that put someone at the top of the heap in this game (although I think a little talent for the medium does play a role, at least in the sense of keeping one from slipping to the bottom.)

Somehow, I’ve ended up at the high end of my niche on the web, so of course everyone is making me part of the argument. I’m the 800 lb. gorilla, the beast you can’t ignore — is that good or bad? Does that PZ guy demolish the reputation of science across the web, or does he enhance it? Is he in it for the money, the fame, the glory, or the girls, and is all that a corrupting influence?

None of the above, of course. I would be writing the same stuff whether it was a 100 of you stopping by each month, or something over a million. What I write is just plain naked me, without contrivance or effort to write what someone else wants. I get paid a sum that’s actually helpful in staving off starvation, but not enough that I’m at all tempted to quit my day job … and I was doing the same thing when I was getting paid nothing. What I write I write because I feel like it, because I’ve got my hobbyhorses that need to be rocked, and not because I’m trying to meet some abstract standard that someone else set, no matter how well-meaning they might be. Love me or hate me, I’m just doing my thing.

You all are welcome to write a more popular blog. I’m not going to knife you on the way up, and I’m not even going to feel any resentment if you want to pass me by. This is not something I have any control over, and sincerely, I think there is an element of zen here: you aren’t going to get readers to flock to you by trying to get them to come to you. It just happens.

Well, except when you write a mildly inflammatory post and the bleary-eyed 800 lb. gorilla looks up and pokes you with a link.

Anyway, go read the various takes by Munger, Switek, and Laden. They’re pretty sensible.

By the way, I do have to address one specific accusation made at Bayblog, that I get most of my traffic from creationists. I know this isn’t true; creationist blogs rarely link to me, and even when they do, the traffic from those sites is laughably negligible. We actually have a bit of a dearth of creationist commenters; regulars here know that such visitors tend to get shredded fast. I’m afraid that most of the people who show up here are fans, not opponents.

The snakes are probably a confirming sign

Sorry, California. After the plague of migratory, mammal-eating pythons, we now have independent testimony that God doesn’t like you.

God is disgusted with California legislators – at least some of them, according to an evangelical chaplain who ruffled feathers this week in the same Capitol where he leads Bible studies for lawmakers.

No, I don’t accept his personal claims about the desires of the Great Cosmic Poobah, but the evidence from the situation that 1) this bozo gets paid $120,000/year to evangelize to politicians, and 2) weepy-eyed politicians are stumbling all over themselves to reassure the electorate that God does too like them. You lose whether this god exists or not.

The Dark Clan? Me?

There was a lecture at UCL recently by Dr Oktar Babuna and Ali Sadun Engin. They spilled the beans, and we’re all in trouble now.

He then showed just how “insightful” the folks at Harun Yahya can be by quoting from one of their books, The Dark Clan, which explains that evolutionary science is inspired by “a dark clan behind all kids of corruption and perversion, that controls drug trafficking, prostitution rings”. Evolution is the “greatest deception in the history of science”.

The Dark Clan actually isn’t bad — nice moody music about vampires and such. I was just listening to a couple of their tracks and was enjoying them.

Oh, wait — they’re referring to this Dark Clan, which is just stupid. I’ll have you know I had to get out of the prostitution business when the Discovery Institute moved in and outcompeted us — they were so much better at it than we were. I’ve had to focus on the squid porn niche instead, which is nowhere near as lucrative, but at least the clientele is less creepy than the Dominionists they cater to.

And that quote from the lecture isn’t in error. Here’s what they say on their web site:

The purpose behind choosing the term “dark clan” is to convey the sense of a web-like structure with offshoots in every country, orchestrating the moral degeneration of today’s world. Even though it presents itself as highly modern, its structural design is reminiscent of the historical totemic clans. This dark clan is to be found behind all kinds of despicable deeds, corruption and perversion. It controls drug-trafficking operations, prostitution rings and promotes immorality. The members of this clan manage to portray themselves in a positive light through their collaborators in the media. They enjoy the de facto protection of their collaborators in the security forces and succeed in using the law to their own advantage through their collaborators in departments of justice. They also display a powerful unity against those perceived as enemies. Their greatest enemies are the believers who want to destroy their corrupt business networks, who struggle to make morality, harmony and justice dominant in the world and who strive tirelessly on the ideological battlefield to bring seriousness of the situation to people’s attention.

Oh, yeah, that is so me.

I’m sure there’s a paradox in here somewhere

The Colorado NPR station KUNC recently ran a credulous fluff piece by some guy named Marc Ringel, touting “healing at a distance”, some sort of magic handwaving that he claims is “scientifically” supported. The Colorado skeptical community, of course, has expressed their scorn in email to the station, and also brought it to my attention. They also mentioned an excellent website reviewing the evidence for intercessory prayer.

The most interesting revelation to me: I’ve heard of tests of intercessory prayer, where people pray or don’t pray for a patient and then the outcomes are evaluated to see if it helped (it never does), but there’s another weird version of these improbable experiments.

Retroactive intercessory prayer.

It’s what it sounds like. The investigators took old hospital records, from patients who had been treated 4-10 years before, and asked subjects to pray for one group, and not pray for the other group. They then looked again at the old records to see if the patients that were prayed for now had gotten better then … and they did.

Think that through for a moment. It really is that insane.

So if ever you learn that I’ve gone into the hospital and died, I want you all to get together and pray really, really hard and change the past so I come back to life.

Oh, wait. I’m talking to the wrong people, aren’t I? I need to get a more devout readership who will have the true magic ju-ju to pull off time travel.

Media alert!

The makers of Expelled have just issued an “online media alert” in response to a critical review of their movie, as some readers have forwarded to me. It’s hysterical.

We already had our first security breech [sic] and are asking YOU now for your support to stand up for EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed. Hosted by Ben Stein, EXPELLED contains a critical message at a critical time. As an underdog in Hollywood right now, we need your support.

Recently Robert Moore, a film critic from The Orlando Sentinel pretending to be a minister, snuck into a private screening, did not sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement, and criticized the film the next day in his article.

Moore compared Stein, who is Jewish, to Holocaust Deniers and charge that Stein’s linking of Darwinism to the Holocaust was “despicable.” Stein states, “The only thing I find despicable is when reporters sneak into screenings by pretending to be ministers. This is a new low even for liberal reporters.”

That someone who saw their movie and panned it is now a “security breach”? That’s funny. That they set up a private screening for the religiously devout in expectation that they would receive their seal of approval is just plain pathetic. At least they aren’t pretending that their movie is anything but a desperate pander to the religious right.

If you read the review, you’ll see that Moore received an email invitation that was sent to the Orlando Sentinel, and took advantage of it. If they allowed someone to see their movie without signing an NDA, that’s their problem. They don’t get to complain and call it a security breach, especially when they built their movie around interviews obtained from me, Eugenie Scott, and Richard Dawkins, and others under entirely false pretenses. After all, if they can disguise themselves as serious documentarians to land an interview, what’s wrong with a critic attending a screening tailored for conservative ministers?

I do note Stein’s hypocrisy and lack of proportion. Joining a group of ministers to watch a movie: very despicable. Implying that Darwin and the scientists who recognize the value of his theory are responsible for the murder of millions of people and the instigation of a war that shook the whole world: not despicable. I’m probably going to go see their dreadful bit of dreck when it comes out, but now I’m tempted to commit a crime against humanity by putting on a fake clerical collar when I do so.

If only we were molluscs, we’d be safe

In a story about large snakes thriving in California, Hank Fox noticed an interesting warning.

As for other potential prey, human beings – like rodents, beavers and deer – are mammals, government scientists confirmed.

This is obviously why we pay the government scientists the big bucks: to keep hairy bipedal animals with mammary glands informed about their taxonomic status. I’m imagining some blase Californian reading the article which tells them that these pythons eat small mammals, completely unconcerned, until, like a howling siren of alarm, the paper informs them that they happen to be mammals, too, and are therefore likely to be eaten by snakes.

And it gets more amusing. The snakes are traveling to California from Florida, following a trail made by the “large population of beavers along the way” — a path that is unimpeded by the presence of few lions and tigers to eat them. After explaining that the snakes will not be found in the colder areas of the state, readers receive another terrifying nugget of information.

Such remote areas, however, could not support every panicked Californian seeking to avoid the giant snakes.

How many panicked Californians are there, anyway? Did they all read their morning paper, gasp in shock, “Holy crap, I’m a mammal? Snakes are gonna eat me!” and run for the hills?

This was apparently on the front page of the SF Chronicle…I hope the writer had fun putting it together, and that not too many readers clogged the freeways as they fled to the Sierras.