Sometimes Francis Collins does something right

He’s a delusional kook, but Collins is also a competent administrator, and I have to give him credit when he does the right thing.

The NIH, led by Dr. Collins, has recently accepted a recommendation from the National Institute of Medicine that future chimpanzee research funding shall be suspended, and that exceedingly strict guidelines are to be imposed.

They’re just too close to us, and should fall under the penumbra of the same ethical considerations we apply to humans. I’d say the same of gorillas and orangutans…but I don’t think there is any biomedical research being done on those animals, so the restriction would be unnecessary.

(Also on FtB)

Sometimes Francis Collins does something right

He’s a delusional kook, but Collins is also a competent administrator, and I have to give him credit when he does the right thing.

The NIH, led by Dr. Collins, has recently accepted a recommendation from the National Institute of Medicine that future chimpanzee research funding shall be suspended, and that exceedingly strict guidelines are to be imposed.

They’re just too close to us, and should fall under the penumbra of the same ethical considerations we apply to humans. I’d say the same of gorillas and orangutans…but I don’t think there is any biomedical research being done on those animals, so the restriction would be unnecessary.

(Also on Sb)


This married couple are good brave human beings.


Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen have rightly become national heroes in Norway after they rescued 40 fleeing teens from the massacre on Utoya Island. Using their boat, they made multiple trips into the waters around Utoya where Anders Breivik was murdering 69 people and ferried as many as they could to safety. Bullet holes later discovered in their boat indicate Breivik fired upon them.

The kind of people who elect Michele Bachmann

Scum of the earth. Parts of Michele Bachmann’s district contain the most smug, pious, conservative rat-buggering jerks on the planet (like Marcus Bachmann and his anti-gay “clinic”, for instance). And the symptoms are beginning to show: the Anoka-Hennepin school district, part of Bachmann’s domain, home of the Elmer Gantry-wannabe Bradley Dean, is also the epicenter of an epidemic of teen suicides, 9 in the last two years. These are kids who were bullied for being gay, or suspected of being gay, or not fitting in to the their inbred little community (and who would want to?), and the school district has been acquiescing to pressure from religious groups to maintain a policy of intolerance and even demonization of gays.

As civil rights groups have pushed the Minnesota school district to do more to increase tolerance of LGBT students, conservative religious groups fought to keep them away from public schools. After Samantha’s suicide and several others, students in Anoka-Hennepin schools participated in the Day of Silence. The event, organized by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, encourages kids to remain silent for the day in recognition of the effect of anti-gay bullying and harassment. In response, religious activists took up the “Day of Truth,” an event championed by the “ex-gay ministry” Exodus International that’s usually held the day before the Day of Silence. Students who participated were encouraged to engage their classmates in discussions of homosexuality from a Christian perspective.

Fifteen-year-old Justin Aaberg appears to have been one of the targets of this initiative. One day last year Justin came home and told his mom, Tammy, that another student had told him he would to go to hell because he was gay. “That did something to his brain,” she says. He hanged himself in his bedroom last summer. Only after his suicide did Tammy learn that the Parents Action League had reportedly worked with area churches to hand out T-shirts promoting the “Day of Truth” to students at his high school (which is also Bachmann’s alma mater). The students were also instructed to “preach to the gay kids,” Aaberg says. (No one from the Parents Action League responded to a request for comment.)

You would think that Christians, who claim to have the moral high ground in everything, would recognize that driving kids to suicide is not ethical behavior. Unfortunately not; it’s part of their agenda. If they can’t convert them to their sanctimonious faith, it’s just as good to have them dead.

Will the school district change its policies? I doubt it. The churches dictate what is allowed.

It’s a dog’s life

That last post was just too saccharine, so I have to bring you down. Balance! Balance in all things! So here’s your official downer for the day: a story about greyhound racing.

One thing about greyhounds: They aren’t likely to die of old age. When dogs turn 4 or 5 and are finished racing, she claims, “it’s more cost-efficient for trainers and owners to kill a dog than to house and feed it.”

Pro-racing folks balk at that claim, saying that today, most greyhounds are humanely retired, not killed. But in 2002, Alabama investigators found the bodies of thousands of dead greyhounds on the property of 68-year-old Robert Rhodes, a part-time security guard at a track in Pensacola. Rhodes admitted using a .22 caliber rifle to shoot more than 2,000 dogs from all over Florida during the 20 years he worked at the track. He was paid $10 per dog, which he said covered the cost of digging the holes across his 18-acre property. Investigators called the graveyard “a Dachau for dogs.”

Read the whole thing. Greyhounds are one of the most docile, friendly dog breeds, and they are routinely wrecked in a cruel sport for the jollies of callous gamblers. If dog fighting is a brutal ‘sport’ that is rightfully banned, I don’t understand why this abuse is allowed to persist.

The Decent Human Beings’ Guide to Getting Laid at Atheist Conferences

There are so many clueless comments in this thread that Old Man PZ, grizzled veteran of the sex wars, successful lothario who has managed to reproduce three times, and champion who successfully landed a Trophy Partner in an extremely long and happy relationship, feels like he needs to step in and give some friendly advice. So here you go, the short sweet simple Decent Human Beings’ Guide to Getting Laid at Atheist Conferences.

The first thing you must know is that you haven’t failed when the object of your desire says “no”. That’s a perfectly reasonable response, and even if you do everything exactly right, you’re going to hear “no” more often than you do “yes”. Accepting a refusal graciously is an important part of being a Decent Human Being.

You have failed if the person you’re interested in calls your behavior creepy. That’s where you need to step back and re-evaluate: you did something wrong. Decent Human Beings do not blame the other person, they recognize that they screwed up, accept their responsibility, and decide not to ever do that again.

What could you have done wrong? Here are some general suggestions.

Be self-aware. Are you sweaty and rumpled? Did you just eat a pound of greasy garlic fries? Are you drunk? Did the conversation just die because you’re too tired to think straight? You are probably at a nadir of attractiveness, then, and this probably isn’t the best time to step forward and invite close contact.

Be aware of your potential partner. Are they looking like they really want a hot shower and to brush their teeth? Do they look worn out after a long day of meetings? Then maybe they will regretfully turn you down, because as a Decent Human Being themself, they’re not going to inflict their hygienically unprepared body on you.

I know, this should be obvious, but if you are hoping to get laid at the big atheist conference, the first thing to do after the day of meetings is to go back to your room, take a shower, and dress nicely. Go out for a pleasant evening with the people you’ve met, drink in moderation, be friendly and pleasant and interesting, and strike up conversations with people. Your goal should be to make a connection, first; if you don’t, then you’re not going to get laid, and you should resign yourself to that.

What about tactics? I know all the games entitled young men, in particular, play. If you are deploying wingmen, if you are approaching this as you would a gazelle hunt, where the goal is to isolate a target from the herd and make them vulnerable so they will succumb to you, where getting the target stupefyingly drunk is a desirable means to an end, then you might get laid — I don’t deny that those tactics works for unscrupulous people — but you will have forfeited the title of Decent Human Being, and we’d rather you didn’t come to our meetings. Also, atheist women tend to be assertive and not at all bashful about telling everyone else about your behavior, and you’ll find yourself discussed on youtube and on blogs and perhaps even from the podium at the meeting. Then you’ll feel compelled to comment anonymously on those blogs, complaining about ball-busting man-haters, and you’ll be forever receding from that desirable status as Decent Human Being.

You don’t get to whine about being called out. It’s what we do. Join a cult if you’d rather have rules of silence and obedience.

So you’re down at the bar having a good time. How do you make the next move? Actually, asking “Would you like to come up to my roon for a cup of coffee?” or “How about if we continue this someplace a little more private?” are perfectly acceptable lines to use! Context is very important, though. If you are actually having a fun and sparkling conversation one-on-one with someone in a public place, with maybe a little flirting going on, then yes, ask away! If all you’ve been doing is general banter with a group, well then, there hasn’t been any really personal interaction so far, so expecting more is a bit presumptuous.

Remember, this is not a gazelle hunt. Decent Human Beings always give potential partners opportunity to gracefully decline, and best of all, put them in positions of equal status so they aren’t afraid to decline. If they look startled or their eyes dart around looking for an avenue of escape, you screwed up. Apologize and back off immediately.

Now you might find this hard to believe (I know I do), but I’ve been in this position several times at atheist meetings. I’m a homely old guy, not exactly what anyone would consider romantic material, and I’ve received variants of the “come up to my room for coffee” line from several women and one man. I did not find it at all creepy — it was extremely flattering, as you might guess — because in every case these were offers from intelligent people in reasonable contexts, that is, Decent Human Beings.

Being a Decent Human Being is actually the best defense you can have. Don’t abandon it for short-term gain: you’re in a community, and you’re going to lose that if you think of yourself as a predator on the make.

Now at this point, hopefully, you are two people in a hotel room. What next? I can’t help you much at this point, because I’ve always turned those offers down, and all of my dating experience is from 35 years ago, and in my current long-term relationship, we dated for two months before we even kissed. I’m pretty much the wrong person to ask for advice on what to do on one-night stands, except that as someone aspiring to be a Decent Human Being, “no” will always mean “no“, and maybe it should always be a good idea to keep on communicating as equals during the engagement. Also, everything that follows should be personal and private, so if you’re checking a blog post on the internet to see what to do next, you’re probably also doing it wrong.

Of course, if any more experienced commenters would like to offer further suggestions, they’re welcome to continue…as long as they remember these are guidelines for Decent Human Beings, not misogynistic exploiters and parasites.

Why is Silvana Koch-Mehrin being appointed to the Research Commission of the European Parliament?

This is a German scandal: Sylvana Koch-Mehrin was recently found to be guilty of extensive plagiarism in her doctoral thesis, such a blatant abuse of scholarship that the University of Heidelberg took the remarkable step of revoking her doctoral degree. Before that happened, she had been marching up the ladder of the European political cursus honorum, reaching the rank of vice-president of the European Parliament until her disgrace forced her to resign.

But now a very odd thing has happened: this ex-scholar, this impeached student, this deplorable fraud has been appointed as a full member to the Committee on Industry, Research, and Energy of the Parliament. I don’t get it. She’s screwed up so badly that she’s been tumbled out of a prime political position, so the Parliament turns around and elects her to the committee that oversees research policy? Doesn’t this suggest that the Parliament cares little for competence and integrity, but loves it some cronyism? has more information and a petition demanding her resignation. Support good science and science policy and throw the rascals out.

Cutting off their noses to spite their faces

Animal Aid, one of those mindless animal rights organizations, has just called on everyone in the UK to stop donating to specific medical charities, because they sponsor research that uses animals. I can sympathize with the goal of minimizing suffering in animals, but this is ridiculous: the subjects of these research programs simply can’t be approached without using animal models.

The charities targeted are Cancer Research UK, the

British Heart Foundation, the

Alzheimer’s Society and

Parkinson’s UK. If you’re in the UK, make a special effort to donate to these worthy organizations, to counter the misplaced anti-science campaign of these confused and ignorant people.

Or if you think Animal Aid is right, then how about volunteering your brains and hearts and bodies for the experimental work without which progress in treating these diseases cannot be made.

Florida State University sells its integrity for $1.5 million

That’s a bargain price for throwing a reputation down the drain. FSU has turned over some hiring decisions to a billionaire ideologue.

A conservative billionaire who opposes government meddling in business has bought a rare commodity: the right to interfere in faculty hiring at a publicly funded university.

A foundation bankrolled by Libertarian businessman Charles G. Koch has pledged $1.5 million for positions in Florida State University’s economics department. In return, his representatives get to screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting “political economy and free enterprise.”

Traditionally, university donors have little official input into choosing the person who fills a chair they’ve funded. The power of university faculty and officials to choose professors without outside interference is considered a hallmark of academic freedom.

Under the agreement with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, however, faculty only retain the illusion of control. The contract specifies that an advisory committee appointed by Koch decides which candidates should be considered. The foundation can also withdraw its funding if it’s not happy with the faculty’s choice or if the hires don’t meet “objectives” set by Koch during annual evaluations.

This deal has been in place for a couple of years, and Koch has already meddled in at least one hiring decision, rejecting 60% of the candidates that the faculty favored. If I were a faculty member who found my choice of colleagues dictated by Koch (or Soros, or Gates, or any similar filthy rich dilettante), I’d be a bit peevish, and I don’t think the golden candidate would get much respect from his peers. On the other hand, if I were applying for a job and was rejected because I didn’t fit the ideology of the Koch brothers, I’d feel darned good and also be well satisfied that I wasn’t going to be affiliated with such a cheap brothel university.

On the third hand, if I were a graduate of the econ department of FSU, I’d be extremely embarrassed about my degree at this point.

David Rasmussen, the dean of the college of social sciences, is trying to defend the deal by saying they needed the money, an argument with which I can sympathize, since every university is struggling right now. But selling your principles of academic freedom undercuts your ability to support independent thought, and means you aren’t really a university anymore. You’re a corporate propaganda arm. Other universities, more respectable universities, have a clear understanding of that idea.

Most universities, including the University of Florida, have policies that strictly limit donors’ influence over the use of their gifts. Yale University once returned $20 million when the donor demanded veto power over appointments, saying such control was “unheard of.”

Say, Michael Ruse is at Florida State — will he condemn this policy, or will he make the same weasely excuses for it that he does for creationism?