Police and firefighters opposing vaccinations

On The Daily Show Trevor Noah comments on the odd fact that there seems to be high levels of resistance to getting the covid-19 vaccine among police and firefighters. The vaccine mandates issued by many jurisdictions that require all government employees to be vaccinated has resulted in many of them either leaving or challenging the mandates in court. Given that they pride themselves on risking their lives for the sake of others, this fear of taking a life-saving vaccine is puzzling. It may be that it is a higher level of general anti-vaccine and other right-wing ideology within these groups that is driving the resistance.

Popperians and Marxists

One of the things I noticed is that while I write and give talks lot about the philosophy of science, I get most pushback when I criticize Popper’s falsifiability idea (such as in my Scientific American article The Idea that a Scientific Theory can be ‘Falsified’ Is a Myth: It’s time we abandoned it) than any other thing I say. What is interesting is that I get challenged by both scientists and intelligent design creationists, who are usually on opposite sides of discussions about the nature of science. For example, at Why Evolution Is True, evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne (and his commenters) disagreed with my article. And over at Evolution News intelligent design creationist David Klinghoffer also disagreed with me.
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The religious exemption card is getting harder to play

In the US, claiming that some action is based on their religious faith tends to give people wide latitude. So it is not surprising that people reach for it even in situations where it is hard to discern any religious basis. We see this now as states and companies are issuing vaccine mandates requiring that their employees get vaccinated or conform to various kinds of other requirements such as regular testing or get fired.

But people who are trying to use religious exemptions to get out of vaccine mandates are not finding it as much of an easy sell as they might have expected. We saw how basketball player Andrew Wiggins had his request for such an exemption denied and now the head football coach along with four of his coaching staff of Washington State University were fired for not getting vaccinated as required for all state employees.
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Ted Cruz told to butt out by Australian political leader

The chief minister of Australia’s Northern Territory did not take kindly to Ted Cruz criticizing his vaccine mandate, and told him to buzz off.

The scientific consensus on climate change is overwhelmingly strong

A new study finds that the scientific consensus that humans are altering the climate has passed the 99.9% level.

The degree of scientific certainty about the impact of greenhouse gases is now similar to the level of agreement on evolution and plate tectonics, the authors say, based on a survey of nearly 90,000 climate-related studies. This means there is practically no doubt among experts that burning fossil fuels, such as oil, gas, coal, peat and trees, is heating the planet and causing more extreme weather.

One has to parse statistics like this carefully to see exactly what has been measured.

The latest survey of peer-reviewed literature published from 2012 to November 2020 was conducted in two stages. First, the researchers examined a random sample of 3,000 studies, in which they found only found four papers that were sceptical that the climate crisis was caused by humans. Second, they searched the full database of 88,125 studies for keywords linked to climate scepticism such as “natural cycles” and “cosmic rays”, which yielded 28 papers, all published in minor journals.

“It is really case closed. There is nobody of significance in the scientific community who doubts human-caused climate change,” said the lead author, Mark Lynas, a visiting fellow at Cornell University.

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Miss Marple and the theme music from Murder She Said

Back in 1961, the film Murder She Said was released with Margaret Rutherford playing the role of Miss Marple, the amateur detective featured in many Agatha Christie mystery novels. In the books, Miss Marple is an elderly, small-built, demure, soft-spoken character who solves mysteries largely by engaging in conversation and gossip with everyone. Rutherford’s portrayal was as different as you can imagine, except for age. Rutherford’s Marple was a fearless, feisty, tough woman with bulldog determination who spoke her mind and brooked no nonsense even from the exasperated police inspector who tries to stop her from interfering in his investigations. She was heavy-set, very active, a vigorous, bustling, busybody, an expert horse rider and fencer who was more than willing to go undercover to solve mysteries.
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Medicine by law

People increasingly use the internet to explore medical issues. That is in general a good thing, provided they are careful about using credible sources for their information and are not too credulous about what they find. Being more knowledgeable about their own health can make for more fruitful conversations with their physicians.

But the old saying ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ can sometimes kick in and people can decide that they know more than their physician, or indeed the entire medical profession, and demand specific treatments. They especially do this when it comes to ‘off-label’ uses of drugs, when people ask that a drug that has been shown to be effective in treating one condition be used to treat a different condition where its efficacy or even safety has not been established. People sometimes seize upon anecdotes about its use to demand that it be prescribed for them.
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25 years of sexism at Fox News

Fox News is celebrating 25 years of existence and The Daily Show has created a montage of some of the many instances of sexist and misogynistic comments by its male on-air personalities in the presence of their female co-workers. You can see in some cases how uncomfortable the women are and the struggle they face in deciding whether to show their anger (and be accused of lacking a sense of humor) or the awkwardness of trying to laugh it off while still making it clear that the comments were inappropriate.

How I lost my religious faith

There were some comments in response to my post on writing sermons during the time I was a lay preacher in the Methodist Church that expressed surprise that I had been religious at one time and curious about what caused me to abandon my faith. So I thought I would write an explanation.

The main thing that I want to emphasize is that Christianity has been an important part of my life. My personal experience with religion was very positive all the way through. What caused me to leave was not any kind of anger or disillusionment with religion but simply an inability to reconcile my growing understanding of science with even the most minimal formulations of what a belief in the existence of a god implied. I started the transition to atheism in my mid-30s, after I got my PhD in physics. The small seeds of doubt were always there but one can always rationalize away their existence if one is determined enough. In fact, in the progressive, intellectual religious circles I moved in, doubt as a part of belief was taken for granted, not viewed as a sign of weakness or a lack of faith.
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