Unsurprising connections

Barry Arrington is a fellow most of you have probably never heard of, and those of us who have aren’t particularly dazzled by him: he’s an Intelligent Design creationist and moderator of Bill Dembski’s wacky little blog. However, there are some amusing revelations: he made a failed stab at a run for Colorado school board (please keep these wackos’ hands off our schools, OK?), and funniest of all, he’s the treasurer of MichelePAC, Michele Bachmann’s fundraising organization, and just to make it even more appropriate, he’s the guy who misspelled dear Michele’s name on the FEC filings.

Spelling is so complex, don’t you know. It puts that whole bacterial flagellum thingie into perspective.

Francis Collins and the Dickey-Wicker amendment

The New Yorker has a very well written article on Francis Collins and the recent upset in stem cell research, but it feels terribly premature. It’s a stage-setting piece to an act that hasn’t been resolved yet.

The part about Collins is familiar ground for those of us who were peeved at his selection to be head of the NIH — he’s a folksy evangelical Christian with a fabulous scientific CV. But it’s the context that’s most important.

Here’s the deal: during the Bush years, many restrictions were imposed on embryonic stem cell research by a reactionary right-wing congress and executive. President Obama has been trying to move ahead and open up new avenues for research, but just recently got a bit of cold water splashed in his face by a judge who determined that the Dickey-Wicker amendment was being illegally neglected.

The Dickey-Wicker amendment is a relic of Gingrich-era scientific obstructionism. It prohibits the funding of research in which human embryos are created or destroyed; the Clinton administration developed a rather dodgy line of reasoning to get around it by arguing that human stem cells were not human embryos, therefore research on cells could be funded. Which is entirely true, but it’s shaky because the intent of the legislators was to kill human embryonic stem cell research entirely, and taking advantage of the inability of Republican congressman to draft a scientifically complete description of the work they were prohibiting isn’t exactly fair.

So, much as I deplore the decision, Judge Royce Lambeth was legally correct, I think, to pull the plug.

“The language of the statute reflects the unambiguous intent of Congress to enact a broad prohibition of funding research in which a human embryo is destroyed,” he wrote. “This prohibition encompasses all ‘research in which’ an embryo is destroyed, not just the ‘piece of research’ in which the embryo is destroyed,” as the Justice Department argued.

The problem is the anti-science Dickey-Wicker rider, which needs to be scrapped (rather than rhetorically sidestepped) in order for research to proceed. And that’s where Francis Collins comes in, and, unfortunately, precisely where the New Yorker article stops.

Collins has the right goals: he’s wrangling with congress to open up opportunities for more stem cell research. His opponent is the Christian pro-life contingent, and hey, look, Collins speaks their language — he’s One of Them. Could that help? Will he get through to them and break the logjam? Stay tuned!

I’m a bit cynical. I think we’re looking at a deep-seated ideological conflict, and that the right wing won’t budge no matter how folksy and friendly and religiously copacetic Collins might be. But this is a case where, if Collins succeeds in battling the bureaucratic believers and overcoming the hurdles to stem cell research support, I will grudgingly admit that he was a politically astute choice for his position, despite my earlier contrary sentiments. I still think he’s a dingbat, but maybe we need a few dingbats on the interface between science and politics.

Of course, if he fails…but let’s hope he doesn’t.

Other segments of the blogging universe also have pointless polls

It’s a whole new world I’m not in the least bit interested in exploring: it turns out that healthcare information technology people have professional blogs about their field, which is cool and useful, but the jargon is impenetrable, the acronyms prolific, and the subjects tend to be far from my interest areas. But that’s cool, the feelings are probably mutual, and everyone has got to follow their own path, so I have no objections at all — I’m just warning you that you generally won’t find much to get you excited on these things.

But still, I was sent a link to a weird blog entry, and as a recent patient at a hospital, I had to object to a few little annoyances. First is a rather inflated sense of importance.

What about IT? What we do is no less critical to the healing process. Our hands may not touch patients, but they do touch their lives in ways unseen. Arguably, IT is the only segment that touches the entire healthcare continuum.

Uh, no, that would be the custodial staff. I don’t doubt that the CIO and IT people are important, but really — the deepest contact they’ll have with patient is when they reach into the poor sick person’s wallet to grab the doctor’s fee. (Point take from the comments: the IT staff do far more than billing, and are important throughout the healthcare process. But don’t forget the custodians!)

Anyway, the crux of the CIO’s blog post is that he saw some surgeons getting their hands blessed (yikes, useless and disturbing — I hope none of my doctors relied on their lucky rabbit’s foot to do their job), so he wanted it done for the IT people, too.

I contacted our chaplains, and they were excited about the concept. For the first time this spring, we conducted a Blessing of the Hands ceremony exclusively for IT. The chaplains first shared with our team the sanctity of what we do in serving people and the impact we have on the lives of both patients and caregivers. They prayed over us. They prayed a blessing over a special vial of oil then used it to anoint our hands.

Gah. Magic grease slathered over their hands — why should I trust this medieval lot to do their jobs correctly? Now I’m wondering how many anointed fruitcakes are wandering the streets right now. But never mind my weird phobias about superstitious professional people with power over my life, look at this: he included a poll. A really bad poll.

Should hospital IT employees be expected to have a higher level of compassion and spiritual beliefs than their counterparts in other industries?

No 47%
Yes 53%

Because, like, all those bee-yatches in insurance IT can be heathenish, godless hatas with no need for that magic jesus jizz on they hands.

Hey, if that guy would start writing like Herbert Kornfeld, his blog might actually be interesting to more than just a narrow slice of specialists.

Congratulations to Phil Plait!

I just saw the premier of his new show, Bad Universe, and it was lots of fun…and he’s a very entertaining host. I do have a few questions, though.

  • Why does he hate Sydney so much?

  • He was blowing things up right and left, and he was just talking about little rocks. What’s he going to do when he has shows about black holes or supernovae?

  • Hey, where was the biology? Most species don’t go extinct by way of astronomical disasters, so the explosions are a bit unrepresentative of how the universe is likely to destroy us.

Those annoying paparazzi

Can a guy get some privacy? I just learned that some snoop crashed my hospital room to get a picture of me in distress.


There may be worse to come. I’ve lost some weight lately (low fat diets and all that, don’t you know), and because of the uncomfortable soreness of the area where doctors popped into my femoral artery, I don’t like to wear a belt just yet…so I’m ambling about the house, holding up my pants with one hand, because if I let go, they’ll be down around my ankles. This is not dignified.

And then, of course, there are the revelations about my political leanings and future plans.


Intelligent Gestation Theory

In case you’ve been wondering what was going to come after Intelligent Design, here’s a similar hypothesis I stumbled across, Intelligent Gestation Theory.

Hello fellow Christians and Atheists,

My name is Erik Lumberjack. I’m founder and chief scientist of the
recently formed Intelligent Gestation Institute. Our goal is apply
insights gained from Intelligent Design to combat the current Theory
of Pregnancy, i.e., that humans develop gradually from a sperm and
egg. Our FAQs below provide more details.

Thank you and best regards, Eric Lumberjack


Thank you for teaching Intelligent Design alongside the Theory of
Evolution. Our children deserve to hear multiple viewpoints.
I’m concerned, though, that only one Theory of Pregnancy is currently
being taught.

Namely, that humans develop in gradual stages from an initial sperm
and egg. First looking like a salmon, and then a lizard, and only
after long and slow development finally resembling a human.

As founder and chief scientist of the Intelligent Gestation
I request that equal time be given to Intelligent Gestation, an
alternative approach that is gaining increasing support within the
scientific community.

These are key points regarding Intelligent Gestation for your


Question: Then why does the mother’s stomach get bigger?
Answer: Scientific studies have shown that it’s impossible for human
breasts alone to hold the amount of milk required to nurture infants.
That’s why the body gradually prepares by storing milk in the
stomach. Scientific evidence of this can be seen by observing cows.

Question: But sonograms show pictures of developing infants, don’t
Answer: Experiments have shown that ultrasound equipment creates
waves that cause milk to curdle. So medical staff are creating these
images, and then the very same staff are interpreting the images that
they themselves created. This can hardly be called scientific.

Question: Then where do babies come from?
Answer: Let’s not base conclusions on anecdotes, but look at the case
for which we have the most recorded evidence. When the key figure of
human history was born, textual research has shown that he was
begotten as son when a dove descended from the heavens. More than
2,000 original texts agree on this point, many of them dating back to
several years from the original event, when eye witnesses were still
living. In addition to this, the past 2,000 years of historical
observation have also taught us where babies come from. The stork —
which the genome project has just recently proven to be of the same
ovarian family, genus and phyla as the dove. The probability of this
coincidence occurring by chance alone has been calculated at less
1 over a number so large that it is greater than the number of
subatomic particles in the entire state of Arkansas.

Question: Is Intelligent Gestation faith based?
Answer: No. Unlike the Theory of Pregnancy, it is based on observable
and testable scientific fact.

Please contact us if you would like more details, or free samples of
the textbooks that we are preparing for your school use.

Thank you, and best regards,

Erik Lumberjack

Founder and Chief Scientist
Intelligent Gestation Institute

Web site: https://sites.google.com/site/intelligentgestationinstitute/
Alternate site: http://www.intelligent-gestation.com
Contact info: erik.lumberj…@gmail.com


Question: But why does the mother’s stomach get smaller immediately
after childbirth?
Answer: When the infant arrives, the milk transfers from the mother’s
stomach to the mother’s breasts in preparation for breast feeding.
else could a mother feed her child? We challenge scientists to
us with one example where a mother has breast fed her child from her

Question: But I’ve seen photos of children being born directly from
their mothers.
Answer: Photos can be retouched. But more importantly, why are you
looking down there?

Question: Delivery rooms are sealed off. How could a stork or dove
Answer: Ships are made of reinforced steel, but mice have entered
for centuries. We challenge scientists to produce one example of a
ship without a mouse.

Question: I’ve been in delivery rooms and never seen a stork or dove.
Answer: Absence of evidence of stork is not evidence of absence of
stork. We don’t notice mice either, but one day we open our
refrigerator door and notice the cheese is missing. The result speaks
for itself.

Question: But I’ve seen an egg cell divide in science class after
being joined by a sperm.
Answer: Imagine that you’re an egg and a sperm collides with you at
the equivalent of 2,000 kilometers per hour. You would divide as

Question: Does this mean that you’re not opposed to stem cell
Answer: We are not opposed, but our scientists don’t expect viable
medical applications. Any experiments done on stem cells would surely
only be applicable to similar plants with similar stems.

Question: Why is the Intelligent Gestation Institute speaking out at
this time?
Answer: If our children are taught in school that humans develop in
their mothers’ wombs from something that looks like a catfish, and
then a gecko, and then a reces monkey, and finally a human, it’s not
small step for them to believe later on that man evolved from ape.
This reduces humans to something purely physical and degrades our
worth as spiritual beings. If our children believe they descended
heaven, they will try to act heavenly. But how will our children act
if they are taught they come from come? How will they be encouraged
act morally? To be honest, our scientists are disappointed that the
Intelligent Design community has thrown in the towel so readily on
this very important issue.

Question: Would you be willing to debate Richard Dawkins on this
Answer: It would look good on his resume, but we’re not so sure about
ours. We would consider such an opportunity, but must take care not
elevate his theories to appear to have the achieved the status of

Question: What are the academic qualifications of the scientists at
your institute? We’ve been told that your chief research scientist
a B.Sc. degree from the Livestock University of Kentucky with a major
in roast beef and a minor in mashed potatoes.
Answer: That is completely unfounded and we’re disappointed that the
secular press has stooped to using add homily arguments to try to
discredit us.

Question: In summary, is there any decisive evidence that you can
Answer: It basically comes down to this. Which is more likely, that
developed in our mothers’ wombs through an unimaginably large number
of intermediate stages and then due to purely physical forces and
blind chance ended up as human beings that are fine tuned to an order
of magnitude of 10 to the 1,000th power, or that we’re a bundle from
heaven? Occam’s razor makes the answer more than obvious. Let me give
an example. Let’s say you’re walking on a beach and find a baby
wrapped in a blanket on the sand. Which is more likely, that an
intelligent being left the baby there, or that someone came on the
beach? People that make extraordinary claims must provide
extraordinary evidence to support those claims. The burden of proof
lies with them, not us. Our Institute is prepared to offer $100,000
anyone who will pop a nut on national TV and form something as
intricate as the human eye from sperm. And anyways, if humans
developed in their mothers’ wombs from something that looked like a
catfish, how come you don’t see catfish walking among us today and
giving interviews on TV?