Common sense from a liberal senator

Bernie Sanders gave a wonderful speech to the senate. Here’s the conclusion:

So, today, I am asking the American people that, if you believe deficit reduction should be about shared sacrifice; if you believe the wealthiest people in our country and the largest corporations should be asked to pay their fair share as part of deficit reduction; if you believe that, at a time when military spending has almost tripled since 1997, that we begin to take a hard look at our defense budget; and if you believe the middle-class and working families have already sacrificed enough, I urge you to make sure that the President hears your voice–and he needs to hear it now.

I would urge the American people to go to my Web site,, and sign a letter to the President letting him know that enough is enough…

I would like to vote for Bernie Sanders for president in 2012. Can someone convince him to run?

What has Kent Hovind done now?

Kent Hovind has been transferred to a new prison, Florence Admax.

The United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) is a supermax prison for men that is located in unincorporated Fremont County, Colorado, United States, south of Florence. It is unofficially known as ADX Florence, Florence ADMAX, Supermax, or The Alcatraz of the Rockies. It is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice. ADX, a part of the Florence Federal Correctional Complex (FCC), houses the prisoners who are deemed the most dangerous and in need of the tightest control of all the prisoners within the United States Federal Prison System.

Whoa. Somebody doesn’t like him, or he’s been up to mischief.

By the way, another strange thing: Hovind used to get letters out that would be transcribed to a blog at the Creation Science Evangelism site. These were bizarre ravings in which he’d recount how God was telling him just last night how good and wonderful and important Kent was. Now those are all gone, and just redirects to Eric Hovind’s version of the site, and while Kent Hovind is still listed as an “author”, all of the missives from jail have been purged, and instead, there are only what look like excerpts from his past talks, presented as current.

I think there is a personal tragedy playing out here. We’re not seeing the full story, but there are hints that something has gone even more wrong in Hovind’s life.

Hang on, there’s more info on the prison.

The Administrative Maximum (ADX) facility in Florence, Colorado, houses offenders requiring the tightest controls. It is part of the Florence Federal Correctional Complex (FCC). The ADX supervises a minimum security satellite prison camp (outside the secure perimeter of the ADX) that houses male offenders.

Presumably, then, he’s in the minimum security camp rather than hanging out with the father-rapers in the big house.

The Expelled auction is over

Someone, not yet identified, paid $201,000 for that piece of crap. It wasn’t the Talk Origins Archive Foundation, either; they had nowhere near that sum to spend, nor would it have been worthwhile to cough up that much cash.

I’m hoping some creationist organization just got fleeced.

Help me put the Bergman-Myers debate on YouTube!

I’ve received a suggestion that one potential source of a lot of the recent nonsensical creationist literature-quoting has a plausible source: Jerry Bergman. That guy is completely nuts, as I learned in a debate a while back; he’s also pretentious while not knowing much, and he’s painfully prolific, publishing lots in fringey creationist pseudo-journals.

So now I have a technical question. I have a DVD copy of that wretched debate, and I’ve even gone so far as to rip it, and now have five MP4 files sitting on my computer (I also have a folder of the raw ripped files, a bunch of .bup, .ifo, .vob files). And that leads to a terribly naive question: how do I put them on youtube? I’ve had no trouble uploading short, simple things to youtube, but this is about two hours worth of video. I just want to click on something that will segment the files as necessary and neatly upload them without me having to fuss over them. Any experts willing to give me suggestions? I am only going to do this on a Mac, so don’t tell me about PC solutions.

Alternatively, if someone else would like to host them and put them online in their youtube account, I’d be happy to email them or put them on a server somewhere for downloading. Just let me know how.

I’ll look into some of the suggestions I’ve been given. For now, though, I’ve tossed up the files on a free hosting service — if anyone wants to download and do something with these, feel free, and if you put them on youtube or vimeo send me a link to let me know.

I get email

I know I usually post the crazy wacky stuff under this title, but to be honest, that’s actually a minority of the stuff that finds its way to my inbox: most of it is neutral in tone, a lot of it is telling me I must write about subject X, but some of it is also complimentary — and the good stuff outnumbers the deranged stuff.

So here is a fairly typical letter from someone I outraged and offended once. I know this is only anecdotal so it can’t be used to make quantitative arguments about the effectiveness of my approach, but it does work for some people. I never get letters telling me they fell in love with me at first sight, but I get lots with the “you really pissed me off, Myers” intro.

Also, the nice letters tend to spell my name correctly and don’t use multiple font styles and colors.

To Dr. Myers,

I would like to express a deeply sincere and most thoughtful acknowledgement of gratitude (fancy way to say thank you!).

When I first found your blog site Pharyngula, I was deeply outraged and if I am being honest, offended. At that point I was a Christian, on a path leaving many preconceptions behind me. It was in turn, a part of your witty humour and cynicism that made me abandon by “Young Earth/Intelligent Design” notions I learned from the year I spent at Liberty University (a mistake of schools, if I can even call it that) It was also because many scientists challenged me to think about the world around me, and question the things I thought I knew. This led me to do research and I finally understood evolution. I will refrain from saying “believe in evolution” for believing in evolution is just as redundant as saying believing in gravity. I understand what the Theory of Evolution states and therefore my appreciation for biological science has increased tremendously.

However, my thank you does not stop at my understanding of science. Both you and Professor Richard Dawkins (whom I greatly wish I could have the opportunity to speak with) have influenced me (sort of as a role model, I am 20 years old) in my passion for science, and both of you have challenged me into bringing into light my own theological world view. I wanted to sincerely thank you for the challenge that you (unknowingly) gave me when it came to thinking, a fundamental right that is essential to progress. My journey into my unbelief was greatly assisted by both you, Dr. Myers, and Prof. Dawkins.

If it would please you, I have even changed my major to bio-medical engineering to pursue my new found passion of science. Earlier, I was studying political science(and social sciences just do not have the appeal as natural sciences do).

Again, many thanks! My thoughts go with you and hope that you are well!

I do worry that I might be contributing to a future glut of biologists.

It’s always good to go straight to the source

I tell other scientists all the time that their work is being appropriated by creationists who barely understand it, and that it is getting distorted to support bogus pseudoscience. Whenever you see a creationist quote a genuine science paper, you can pretty much trust that it is going to be mangled beyond recognition.

For instance, Jonathan MacLatchie raised a peculiar collection of questions to grill me with; here’s one of them.

9) If, as is often claimed by Darwinists, the pharyngeal pouches and ridges are indeed accurately thought of as vestigial gill slits (thus demonstrating our shared ancestry with fish), then why is it that the ‘gill-slit’ region in humans does not contain even partly developing slits or gills, and has no respiratory function? In fish, these structures are, quite literally, slits that form openings to allow water in and out of the internal gills that remove oxygen from the water. In human embryos, however, the pharyngeal pouches do not appear to be ‘old structures’ which have been reworked into ‘new structures’ (they do not develop into homologous structures such as lungs). Instead, the developmental fate of these locations includes a wide variety of structures which become part of the face, bones associated with the ear, facial expression muscles, the thymus, thyroid, and parathyroid glands (e.g. Manley and Capecchi, 1998).

You might be wondering about what that paper actually says, and you should. Never trust a creationist! And here’s where I get to pull Marshall McLuhan into the frame from offscreen.

Nancy Manley of the University of Georgia wrote to me today.

As a fan of both your website and of the pharyngula stages of development, I was intrigued to see the questions posed to you by ID followers before your recent talk. And kind of surprised, and bit taken aback, when one of my postdoctoral papers was cited in one of the questions – I am the Manley of Manley et al.

Since the ID questioners used a reference to one of my papers in the question, and this is actually an issue I am personally interested in from a scientific point of view, I feel compelled to answer also. In a way, it is ironic that they used this paper to illustrate their question, since it was our analysis of the pharyngeal pouch phenotype of the Hoxa3 null mice that led to our own interest in why terrestrial animals don’t have gills, and how the thymus and parathyroids may have evolved. We hypothesized that the evolution of morphology in the pharyngeal region (i.e. loss of gills and gain of pouch-derived organs like the thymus and parathyroids) was due to changes in the expression and/or function of the Hoxa3 gene. This hypothesis was proposed in a book chapter that I co-authored (Manley, NR and CC Blackburn. Thymus and Parathyroids. In Handbook of Stem Cells, Vol. 2: Embryonic Stem Cells, R. Lanza (Ed). Academic Press, 2004 v. 1:pp 391-406). I even obtained an NSF grant (now defunct) to test this hypothesis, and recently published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about it (Chen, et al., 2010, PNAS 107(23):10555-10560). We haven’t solved the problem yet, but the data so far indicate that changes in both the expression and function of Hoxa3 may have been involved in the evolution of pharyngeal region derivatives during vertebrate evolution, including loss of gills and development of pharyngeal pouch-derived organs.

I wish I could magically pull scientists out of a hat every time some po-faced creationist stooge raises a hand at one of my talks and starts lecturing me on their memorized quotes from the scientific literature. They always get them wrong.

By the way, I’ve been playing a game with MacLatchie. Every time I look into one of his citations, I go to google and type in both the author’s name and that of Harun Yahya, the Turkish creationist. It’s amazing — every time, I get a couple of quotes from one of his books, and they’re almost exactly the same as MacLatchie’s comments.

For example,
Harun Yahya also cites Manley. Compare this with what MacLatchie wrote, above.

Those human emryonic “gill slits” are just another Darwinian myth. These pharyngeal pouches do not develop into homologous structures such as lungs or gill-like structures. The developmental fate of these pouches include a wide variety of structures that become parts of the face, ear cavities, bones of the middle ear, muscles of masticulation and facial expression, the lower jaw, certain neck parts, and the thymus, thyroid, and parathyroid glands. (Manley, N.R. and Capecchi, M.R., Developmental Biology, 195 (1):1-15, 1998)

Isn’t this just weird? Now Yahya is a notorious plagiarist who rips off everything he’s written from the Christian creationist literature, and I don’t think MacLatchie is getting it from him. On the other hand, MacLatchie is a nobody, so I don’t think Yahya stole it from him. I think there’s another creationist source book somewhere, which both are borrowing from to make their claims, and I’m itching to know what it is.

The one thing I know for sure is that neither MacLatchie nor Yahya are at all original or creative, and that both are just trained parrots echoing some other source. If anyone recognizes where these claims are coming from, let me know — I’d like to go straight to the original compendium of nonsense and prune it at the root.

Newage sewage flushed into the Atlantic

The Atlantic published a rather contemptible apologetic for alternative quackery titled “The Triumph of New-Age Medicine, which basically declared victory for the altie wackaloons. The way it did this was devious, and reminded me so much of creationist tactics. First, it declares that “mainstream medicine itself is failing”; it doesn’t really have any evidence of this, it just declares that modern medicine is built around the infectious disease model, and that it hasn’t solved all health problems. Familiar stuff, hey? If a science can’t explain every jot & tittle of every detail of every phenomenon, if there are still open questions and problems, why, it must be wrong!

Secondly, it portrays the altie quacks as nice, caring, sweet people who really, really care about their patients, and their ‘treatments’ as, at worst, totally harmless. Referring to one peddler of holistic care, the author says “Concerns of outright malpractice or naked hucksterism seem grossly misplaced when applied to a clinic like Berman’s.” Why? Because Berman is “gentle” and “upbeat” and has a pleasant demeanor. As everyone apparently knows, con artists must always be rude and pushy and arrogant and nasty and alienating. Oh, wait…no, they’re the opposite of that.

And then, thirdly, is the sly substitution. We’re finding that the best way to manage chronic illnesses like heart disease is with life-style changes that improve nutrition, physical condition, and overall well-being, and reduce the underlying causes. So what does this article do? It credits all that good common sense to the quacks who promote reiki and acupuncture and exotic herbs. You know what my traditional, mainstream, hidebound doctor of real world medicine first prescribed for me at those early signs of heart disease? Changes in diet and more exercise. She didn’t seem to think I needed homeopathic placebos in order to do something that would make a difference.

It was an infuriatingly dishonest article. Now Steven Salzberg, who was also quoted in it, has gotten a good rebuttal published in the Atlantic, and has also been interviewed on MPR on the subject.

I know that when I go to see a doctor, I want to see a commitment to figuring out what works. I am not at all impressed if they’re pushing fraudulent pseudoscientific BS into my treatment, no matter how sweet and smiley and sensitive they are. A good bedside manner is important, but it’s no substitute for incompetence.

Pat Robertson = Fred Phelps now

Pat Robertson is just losing it. His mind was always rather decrepit, but it looks like the rest of him is catching up now. He’s also repeating his familiar claim that no society can ’embrace’ homosexuality and survive, and now he’s saying that god is going to destroy America for allowing gay marriage.

The lesson I take from his senile ramble: we’re OK as long as we don’t do any angel-raping. Consensual gay sex: god is cool with that. Raping angels: god will nuke you.