Licentious pants

A Sudanese woman, Lubna Hussein, is facing the barbaric punishment of 40 lashes for a crime against public morality: wearing pants. Not not wearing pants, but wearing pants. She was busted in the act of wearing pants while having dinner at a nice restaurant in Khartoum. They were green. I’m sure those little details have got your imagination churning away now.

This is an interesting case, illustrating the way some people feel that social mores are a club to be used to smash individual freedom, and how women especially are targets for opression. Hussein’s ‘offense’ was so trivial, and her punishment so disproportionate, that it highlights the absurdity and criminality of the strict traditionalist position. The story also has a poll that brings up another interesting point:

Should the UN step in and protect this journalist, considering she works for them?

Yes, they need to protect her and stand up for woman’s rights. 81%

No, she broke the law of the country. It is not for the UN to solve. 16%
I’m not sure. 3%

There is an issue of cultural autonomy here — we have this kind of ‘prime directive’ mindset that we shouldn’t be imperialists disrupting different societies. It seems to me, though, that when we’re talking about large groups of human beings who are being consistently oppressed by a bizarre historical and partly biological quirk like patriarchy, perhaps we have an obligation to meddle.

They’re going to need a ban against magic

Uh-oh. This cartoon about what might happen at the Creation “Museum” might put the monitoring security detail in Kentucky into a tizzy — in addition to the No Rude T-Shirts rule, they’ll have to add a No Transformation into Cephalopods rule. Better renew the magical wards and holy anointings and blessings on the buildings, boys, the godless are coming to ignore your metaphysics.

One other inaccuracy in the cartoon, though: there will be no Canned Ham during our visit. The head of AiG will not be present, due to a prior engagement on the west coast. Just as well, I don’t think he likes me very much.

The Huffington snake oil

Many of us have long noticed the truly awful quackery hosted at the Huffington Post, with acupuncturists, anti-vax fanatics, and general all-around kooks like Deepak Chopra given free rein.

Now Salon has pointed out the obvious, with some depth. Have you wondered why the HuffPo is so bad on science and medicine? The blame can be pinned directly on Arianna Huffington, who hand-picked with little discrimination or sense who the ‘medical’ contributors to the site would be. That’s the scatter-brained, credulous brain of Arianna on display in that mess on HuffPo.

Beware the spinal trap

(Note: this is the infamous article on chiropractic that got Simon Singh sued. It is being reposted all over the web today by multiple blogs and online magazines.)

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

Ken Miller on Collins

Sam Harris wrote an op-ed criticizing Francis Collins’ nomination to head the NIH titled “Science is in the details”. Now Ken Miller has written a short letter in reply, and I think he would have done well to have heeded that title.

Dr. Collins’s sin, despite credentials Mr. Harris calls “impeccable,” is that he is a Christian. Mr. Harris is not alone in holding this view. A leading science blogger, also attacking Dr. Collins, demonstrated his own commitment to reasoned dialogue by calling the scientist a “clown” and a “flaming idjit.” When reason has such defenders, Heaven help us.

No, that first sentence is completely false. The head of the NIH can be a Christian, a Jew, a Moslem, even an atheist, and it won’t disturb us in the slightest. Here’s a list of past directors of the NIH; can you identify their faith, their hobbies, their sexual orientation, their favorite kind of music? Do you care? The fact that Collins is a Christian is not a problem at all — we are not interested in narrowing the search pool for science administration to the extent that we exclude the majority of people in this country.

What is disturbing is that Collins is a fervent evangelical believer who inserts his superstition where it doesn’t belong, in the execution of his job. James Wyngaarden and Bernadine Healy and Harold Varmus did not do that. I cannot trust him not to Christianize his responsibilities — from reading his book, it is clear that he actually feels a moral obligation to add religious instruction to everything he does. That should bother everyone.

There should be no religious litmus test for the office, but that does not mean that there shouldn’t be constraints on how the office should be used — it should not be steered into becoming the National Institutes of Holiness.

Jerry Coyne also makes the point that the tolerance always goes only one way: if the nominee were aggressively atheist…oh, never mind. A person who was as vocal an atheist (or Muslim, or Scientologist, or Hindu) as Collins is a Christian would never even be considered for nomination. The kind of behavior exhibited by Collins on his BioLogos website, if done in service of any other belief than evangelical Christianity, would be a great big waving red flag to anyone vetting the nomination.

As for the rest of Miller’s complaint, it is true: I called Collins a “clown” and a “flaming idjit”. But that’s because I believe in telling the truth.

I did not say those things because Collins is a Christian, but because of the bad science and poor logic he uses in his talks. Those imprecations were inspired by an examination of what he did.

I will repeat what I wrote about the Collins nomination again.

The situation is this: the White House has picked for high office a well-known scientist with a good track record in management who wears clown shoes. Worse, this scientist likes to stroll about with his clown shoes going squeak-squeak-squeak, pointing them out to everyone, and bragging about how red and shiny and gosh-darned big his shoes are, and tut-tutting at the apparent lack of fine fashion sense exhibited by his peers who wear rather less flamboyant footwear.

I would rather Obama had appointed someone who wore practical shoes, and didn’t make much of a fuss about them, anyway. And excuse me, but I don’t want American science to be represented by a clown.

I stand by that still. It’s what I think of the situation.

But notice that nowhere have I or Coyne or Moran or any of the people critical of this choice ever claimed that “Dr. Collins’s sin…is that he is a Christian.” That’s simply a disgraceful lie, one designed to imply false motives and generate an unjustified sympathy for Miller’s choice.


Joe Biden recently made some remarks in the Wall Street Journal in which he discussed some of Russia’s concerns, and he made this casual remark.

“I can see Putin sitting in Moscow saying, ‘Jesus Christ, Iran gets the nuclear weapon, who goes first?’ Moscow, not Washington.”

It’s not such an earthshaking idea; I’m sure a European nation has more cause to be concerned about fundamentalist Islam on their doorstep than we do way over here on the other side of the world.

Oh, wait.

What’s that? He said what?

He took the Lord’s name in vain?

Pffft. So what? People say things like that (and worse!) all the time. But then, you must read Mark Tapscott’s prolonged hissy-fit over that comment. Fifteen paragraphs and 700 words, all about the evil of saying “Jesus Christ” in a non-reverential manner.

It’s hate speech. It’s offensive. He’d never abuse Mohammed’s name in such a way. “Biden’s uncorrected cursing is indicative of the slow strangling by the unrelenting forces of political correctness of the religious tolerance that is Christianity’s greatest gift to America.”

Apparently, Christianity’s version of religious tolerance involves pitching a fit over public figures saying a few words with insufficient respect for their dogma.

Jesus Christ. Give me a break, you nutjob.

Suffer the little children

Heresy is so easy to do, you don’t even have to try. My wife is off helping kids at Camp Quest, which is, apparently, a horrible, awful, evil act. Just ask the Jebus-lovers of Rapture Ready, who were recently all agog at the opening of a godless summer camp in England. Here are a few of their reactions, stripped of the animated smiley faces and garish signatures they like over there.

Poor kids! What will they sing about?

Give peace a chance?!?

They could sing about sex and drugs and rock and roll, I suppose…but songs about peace sound like they’d be very nice. Why would a Christian find peace songs to be an unfortunate subject?

what kind of boring atheist themed arts and crafts will they do there?

sounds lame.

Heh. When I was a young fellow, I went to Vacation Bible School, so I know all about those exciting Christian-themed arts and crafts: making crosses out of popsicle sticks, making wallets with crosses embossed in them, making scenes out of pieces of felt, like Christ on the cross. Don’t tell me about lame, I have lived it.

Last I heard from Mary, the kids had been doing canoeing, swimming, archery, hiking, some Indian dance and movement exercise, the traditional smores, basket and candle making, and something to do with parachutes, while also bringing in people to work with the kids in skeptical exercises. They sounded very busy.

very sad indeed…..Jesus is exactly what these precious children need, along with their parents…How tragic.

I like that. Kids get together, have fun, learn things, and what they really need is…Jesus. Jesus, however, never shows up at summer camp.

Yeah, but this camp is not open to all faiths… its excludes those with FAITH. It is a demonic tool to lose souls of those that might hear the true Gospel but will be filled with poison in advance. IMO Every souls that is “won” to the athiest is another soul that will burn in hell for eternity! I would think that might be significant.

I don’t think that Camp Quest actively excludes people of faith — you’re welcome to send your kids there. It’s just that one of the many things they do there is teach critical thinking and expose kids to a plurality of beliefs. When I visited a while back, for instance, they had a pagan priestess come in and talk about her beliefs, and they had a regular program of bringing in advocates of weird religions, like Christianity, to come in and make a case for their superstitions.

But yes, if you believe a magic man in the sky sits petulantly on a great golden throne and wants human beings to spend all their time worshipping him, then he probably is planning to throw all those happy, free-thinking children into a lake of fire, so he can chortle over their eternal torment. If such a god existed, though, I don’t think I’d want to worship it.

Here’s my favorite comment from Rapture Ready. No embroidering from me is necessary.

Lets face it Atheism is bankrupt so they have to indoctrinate young children.

The Creation “Museum” has given us warning

The Creation “Museum” is experiencing some dread and trepidation about our visit, and they have sent a letter to me and to the SSA expressing their concerns. These are some reasonable worries, given that there will be a huge number of us (240 and counting) showing up in one mass. Here’s what they have to say, and my comment to all of you.

Dr. Paul Myers (and the Secular Student Alliance)
Biology Dept.
University of Minnesota-Morris
600 East 4th Street
Morris, MN 56267

Re: Creation Museum Visit – Notice of Policies

Dear Dr. Paul (“P.Z.”) Myers and the SSA:

As the Security Manager for the Department of Public Safety at the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum, I am writing in regard to your planned visit to the museum, along with those associated with the group called the Secular Student Alliance, scheduled for August 7, 2009.

The purpose of this letter is to advise you of our standard policies and requirements concerning guest behavior.

Succinctly stated, and posted on signs at a number of locations at the museum premises, is the following notice:

The Creation Museum is private property, an outreach of Answers in Genesis. Guests at the museum are expected to conduct themselves in a polite, respectful manner at all times. Loud, disrespectful, destructive, obscene, or abusive behavior will not be tolerated, and may result in your removal from the premises. Please be courteous to other guests, security personnel, and our staff while you are here. Thank you!

Also, please be advised that vehicles and all packages, bags, and articles may be subject to inspection when on the premises or when entering or leaving the premises.

In reviewing your blog and website at, we have observed a number of hostile, crude, and profane comments that suggest that some in the SSA group may be using your visit as an opportunity to engage in demonstrations, mocking behavior, wearing offensive clothing, or in other conduct that would be offensive to our staff and to other guests. We note, for example, that you have written that you urge the group to wear “godless clothing.”

We understand that your group (which you have described as a “horde” or “mob”) will consist of over 200 persons, many of whom have posted comments on your Pharyngula blog ridiculing Ken Ham and the Creation Museum, using profane language, and some are indicating that it is their intent to conduct themselves in a manner that is provocative, overtly homosexual in behavior, or otherwise socially unacceptable for guests of this privately owned Christian facility. As I’m sure you’re aware, some of those statements reference intentions to be “loud” and also to wear “armbands” and T-shirts or other clothing with images or wording that would be considered offensive to our staff and others at the museum. Such conduct will not be tolerated.

The Creation Museum is a privately owned facility; there is no legal right to engage in demonstrations, to harass or insult other guests, staff members, or speakers, or to otherwise engage in conduct that would be disruptive or rude. Again, such actions will not be permitted.

So long as you and the SSA group are willing to abide by our policies requiring civil behavior at all times, to include being respectful of others and of our facilities, then you will be welcome as our guests; but if you do not intend to abide by these policies, then please cancel your visit to the Creation Museum.

We request your acknowledgment of receipt of this letter and your agreement to abide by these policies.

We note that, unlike the exchanges posted on the Pharyngula site, communications from Lyz Laddell of the Secular Student Alliance have generally been polite and respectful, which we appreciate.

We remain willing to host you and the SSA group, provided you assure us that your party will remain civil and abide by our policies and that you have addressed those who have expressed contrary intentions for their visit. We request the courtesy of receiving your written response prior to your arrival. If we do not receive your written assurance that your party will abide by our policies, we will have no choice but to turn your group away at the entrance.


David Blaylock
Security Manager
Department of Public Safety

cc: John Pence, Esq.

Here’s what I expect: EVERYONE in our group will be firm, rational, and will not shy away from asking hard questions. You will feel free to wear some distinguishing clothing — a scarlet A, a Darwin fish, a t-shirt, something so that we can tell we are members of the same group. You will discuss the material on display with your peers, but with other visitors to the “museum” if and only if they invite it.

There are a number of things you will not do, however.

Do not show up wearing obscenities or particularly abusive articles of clothing. Dress casual, but look good — you are setting an example. Pro-science t-shirts are excellent, t-shirts with naked lesbians masturbating with bibles will give them an excuse to throw you out, so don’t do it. The SSA won’t even give you a ticket if you show up looking like you want to brawl.

You will not be disruptive. This is an information gathering mission that will make you a better informed individual to criticize bad ideas. Do not interfere with other visitors’ ability to examine the place. Ask questions only where appropriate. Collect questions that you can ask of any of the real scientists who will be in our group. Do not get into loud arguments. If a discussion starts getting angry on either side I want you to be the ones to back off.

Remember, if you are calm, civil, and well-behaved, and you tour the “museum”, we win. If you are calm, civil, and well-behaved, and the security guards throw you out because they don’t like the fact that you’re an atheist, we win. If you are angry, rude, and cause trouble that gives them a reasonable excuse to throw you out, we lose, and I will be very pissed off at you.

Before you go into the “museum”, you will have to get a ticket from the SSA staff. You will be expected to sign an agreement promising your good behavior before you get one, and we’ll lay down a few rules for good behavior. We’ll probably have several designated counselors who will be charged with keeping everyone in line, too — we will police our own (another reason we’d like to be able to tell you are one of our godless horde on site), and if you’re causing a scene that might lead to SSA’s disrepute, we’d like to ask you to leave before their security does.

After we leave their private property, it will be time to laugh and mock and vent, and we will: this trip will produce over 200 experienced people who know exactly what kind of lunacy the Creation “Museum” represents, and we will express ourselves in opinion pieces, on blogs, at school board meetings, and in gatherings with our friends. That’s where we get our payoff, not in rudeness during our visit that gets us evicted.

Our model for this visit will be my infamous expulsion from a movie theater. Remember, what made that work is that I did absolutely nothing to justify getting thrown out: I followed all of their procedures for getting tickets, I used my full name, I was respectably dressed, and I was behaving myself in line, having a quiet conversation with friends and family. That left no doubt that my ejection was arbitrary and personal and an attempt to silence me. It would not have been effective if I’d been capering about, rudely accosting people, or essentially making myself a target for justifiable removal. It’s the same situation at this event. Do not hide who you are, but also don’t give them any excuse to mistreat you, other than your identity as an atheist.

If you really want to vent about the abomination in Kentucky, register for the SSA conference. Lots of attendees will be there to talk, and I’ll be giving the keynote speech at the meeting…and my topic will be atheist activism, and I’ll be including material I’ll be gathering that Friday at the Creation “Museum”, including giving some formal rebuttals.