Dear Assholes: an open letter in support of Rebecca Watson

June 5, 2012

Holy shit.

I can’t really believe we are doing this all over again. Last year it was “elevatorgate”, and this year it’s the “not going to TAM shitstorm”. Both of these huge blowups have been caused by people who self-identify as “critical thinkers” attacking (harassing, threatening, name-calling…) an outspoken leader in the skeptic movement for – *gasp * – expressing her opinion.

Like, fuck.

Last year, Rebecca suggested on one of her regular youtube videos that propositioning a woman in an enclosed space late at night was not a way to make a woman feel safe and comfortable, especially not after she had announced that she was tired and just wanted to go to sleep. This triggered a series of escalating responses from both men and women.  These responses ranged from the spurious (“others face more threat than you did, so why are you complaining”) to the absurd (“if we can’t proposition women in secluded elevators, how will we ever get a date”) to the thuggishly moronic (“fuck you, you should be raped”). And these, for the most part, from people who could rhyme off a dozen or so logical fallacies at the drop of a hat. Obviously they don’t actually understand the application of those logical fallacies in rational discourse.

This year, Rebecca stated that she didn’t want to attend TAM because JREF president D.J. Groethe chose to blame “…irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics…” for the decline in women registrants this year, rather acknowledging that the best way to attract more women might be to assure them that steps were being taken to make the event as safe and friendly to all participants as possible.

As with elavatorgate, Rebecca received a torrent of hate mail, threats of rape and accusations of all sorts. Again, this is the skeptical, supposedly critical thinking community. Apparently William Steig was right when he said “People are no damn good”.

So let me spell it out to those who feel it is okay to harass Rebecca Watson for stating her opinion, and I will try to use as few syllables in each word as possible:

If you scream that someone should be raped for saying that they don’t feel entirely safe attending a conference with you, I think you kind of make their point for them. Don’t you?

So to all those misguided, misogynistic, ignorant, threatening, willfully blind assholes out there, just grow up, will you?


Whatever Happened to Parsimony?

October 2, 2011

These two items cropped up recently:

The people proposing these theories and putting the photos up for sale are either themselves loopy, or they think there are gullible loopy people out there with scads of cash to waste. Or both.

I mean really.

When you see a picture that sort of looks like someone, do you think to yourself “gee, that sort of looks like [person]”?  Or do you think “That looks like [person], so it must be [person], because nobody else could POSSIBLY look kinda like [person]”?

It frightens me that there are people who think that undead vampires and time travel are more probable than some people looking like other people. They need to spend more time on this site, so they can learn that George Carlin is actually Sigmund Freud…

Faith vs Trust

August 24, 2011

Creationists – the loud ones, like Ken Ham, Kirk Cameron, and Kent Hovind – often repeat that evolution, like religion, is a matter of faith, and therefore evolution and religion-based beliefs on creation stand on equal ground. But this is a rhetorical ruse. In order to uncover the man behind this curtain, we need to look at “faith” vs “Faith”.

Faith with a capital F refers to religious faith – complete, unwavering acceptance of the tenets of a religion. But faith with a small f means something different. We can say we have faith in a pilot, and in the aircraft he is flying. What this means is not a complete, unwavering acceptance of the miracle of flight, but that we trust the pilot’s training, and the engineers’ skill. But that trust is not unwavering – evidence to the contrary (missteps by the pilot, or mechanical issues with the aircraft) will shake that trust. In the case of religious Faith, many are taught and believe that evidence contradictory to their religious beliefs is there to test their Faith, and so they entrench themselves further rather than changing their worldview.

In a sense, science is a matter of faith – but it is most definitely not a matter of Faith. I would rather say that science is a matter of trust. We trust that the laws of nature will not suddenly change. We trust that the tools we have at our disposal will give us reliable information. We trust that a preponderance of converging data is on the right track to representing how a phenomenon actually works.

But wait, there’s more…

Creationists will say that you have to have faith in Science just as you have to have Faith in religion – but you don’t. The reason Science is so reliable is that it works whether you believe in it or not! You can disbelieve in gravity, rocket propulsion (aka Newton’s 3rd Law), fluid dynamics, and evolution all you like. But that doesn’t make them not happen. So while most people do put some faith (trust) in Science, it is not required that they do so. And, in fact, a critical eye and healthy dose of skepticism (by which I mean real skepticism, not denialism) are necessary for Science to move forward – so scientists who trust the preponderance of existing knowledge do not automatically trust new discoveries.

So the next time you hear the argument that Science is just like religion, because it relies on faith, call that argument what it is: Bullshit.

Running the numbers on homeopathic dilution

February 13, 2011

Why do we keep saying that homeopathy is not medicine? Why do we keep saying that there is no medicine in it? Surely when you dilute something there is still some of it there. So why do skeptics insist that there is nothing?

Well, I’ll explain.

In a typical homeopathic dilution, a tiny sample of something is dissolved in water, and then 1 mL of solution is transferred to 99 mL of water (making an even 100 mL). It is mixed (well, “succussed”), and then 1 mL is transferred to another 99 mL container, and so on. This may be done 20 or 30 times.

Sure, that’s a lot of dilution, but even if you put a few drops of something in a swimming pool, there are so many atoms in a drop that any sample should contain traces of the substance, and the homeopathic dilution is, after all, only a few litres.

Well, no. Let’s do the math on this, and see what the concentration comes out to be at the end. Let’s choose something like Lithium, as it is light, and it is used as a medication (I have no idea if it is used in homeopathy, but let’s just use it as an example). Lithium has a molar mass of 6.94g, and a density of 0.53 g/mL. Let’s begin with a 1% solution (v/v), and dilute it 20 times:

1 mL of Lithium contains 4.6×10^22 atoms. That’s 4600000000000000000000 atoms. That’s a lot. When dissolved, 1 mL of that solution should contain 1/100 of that, though still 46000000000000000000 atoms. But each time we dilute it, we decrease it by a factor of 100, so with serial dilutions, we have

  1. 460000000000000000 atoms
  2. 4600000000000000 atoms
  3. 46000000000000 atoms
  4. 460000000000 atoms
  5. 4600000000 atoms
  6. 46000000 atoms
  7. 460000 atoms
  8. 4600 atoms
  9. 46 atoms
  10. 0.46 atoms
  11. 0.0046 atoms
  12. 0.000046 atoms
  13. 0.00000046 atoms
  14. 0.0000000046 atoms
  15. 0.000000000046 atoms
  16. 0.00000000000046 atoms
  17. 0.0000000000000046 atoms
  18. 0.000000000000000046 atoms
  19. 0.00000000000000000046 atoms
  20. 0.0000000000000000000046 atoms

What this means is that after only 10 dilutions there is a roughly 50:50 chance of a single atom being present, and after 20, there is a chance of 1 in 217 billion billion that there will even be one atom present. Or, put another way, it would be the same as taking one mL of a substance and dissolving it in a volume of water equivalent to a sphere over two and a half billion kilometres across, or roughly the size of the orbit of Saturn correction: with 20 dilutions the volume would be about the volume of a sphere the size of earth’s orbit. But if you add two more dilutions, that sphere expands to the orbit of Uranus. And if I’m doing my math correctly, 30 dilutions would be equivalent to dilution in a sphere 130 light years across!*

So we know that there is none of the active ingredient in homeopathic medicine, if it is in fact prepared properly. None at all. But then, homeopaths don’t claim the original substance is there – they claim the water is influenced, and retains a “memory” of the substance, and that this memory is what is amplified by the dilution. This, too, is of course utter bullshit.  This idea is born of magical wish-thinking, and is not even remotely related to reality. Water is water, and has the properties of water, not a “memory” of what was once in it.

So that’s why, when we say “there’s nothing in it”, we really mean it.

*check my math:

  • there are 10^15 cm^3 in a cubic km
  • 30 dilutions by 100 is 10^60 mL
  • which is 10^45 km^3
  • which is a sphere with radius 6.2×10^14 km, or 65 light years.

Oh yeah? So there!

January 20, 2011

Oh, what the hell. I really shouldn’t be doing this as I have actual work to do. CL Taylor (@cltaylor463) claimed to have disproven evolution several times. So I called him on it. He says

@BipedalTetrapod I just refuted your ignorant evolution-Athestic ideas in the past seven tweets

Okay then. Let’s have a look-see at the refutation, in reverse chronological order:

I have once again picked apart evolution!

Ya, ya, you said that. Butlet’s have a look

Adaptive radiation is a pipe dream develped by evolutions to justify a faulty assumption of evolution.

Um, no. Adaptive radiation is observable in the fossil record. Sorry, but “I say so” isn’t refutation.

All creatures are not perfect. Imperfections mean nothing evolution is flawed.

No. Evolution never EVER claimed creatures are perfect. Quite the opposite. Creationists do, however, so that’s a point for me.

Homology means that we have common traits with other animals but nothing more evolution is flawed

You share the same number of arms and legs and hands and feet with your siblings and cousins, yes? Are these genetic? Did you inherit those traits from a common grandparent? Or is it just chance that your whole family has the same number of fingers and toes? If these characteristics are genetic traits that are inherited from a common ancestor, then ALL organisms that share those traits inherited them from a common ancestor.

98% is not 100%.A chimp is not a human.Our DNA is so complex that we do not share a common ancestor.

Duh. If a chimp were human it wouldn’t be a chimp. DNA isn’t actually complex. It is very simple. Paired nucleotides strung together. It’s just that there are a shitload of pairs.

Life does not have a family tree evolutionist.We did not come from bacteria.

“because I say so” isn’t an argument. So, wrong.

It is impossible both mathematically&observingly for evolution to exist.

Whatever that means. Evolution is observable and has been observed (see, and mathematics is used all the time in evolution.

Since radioactive dating is inaccurate,Evolution is based on unscientific&undocumented assumptions.

Radioactive dating is quite accurate. Evolution is based on science, and always has been, whether you like it or not.

Evolutionist,still believe in the principle of superposition?

That recent strata are deposited on older strata? Duh.

Evolutionist-Calculations based on invalid assumptions always=invalid results

But calculations made repeatedly on assumptions that have been validated by umpteen different analyses from all walks of science tend to be valid. I would say, however, that Intelligent Design calculations, which are based on invalid assumptions, do lead to invalid results. So thanks for pointing that out.

There is no way for scientist to know the original amount of radioactivity in rocks when made.

Yes, there is, by looking at the quantity of the products of radioactive decay.

The earth’s rotation was stopped twice in Joshua10:13-14;II Kings20:9-11.

Gee, you got me there. Why, I must give up my atheistic evolutionist ways! No. Just kidding. Sorry, but it really wasn’t.

Only God could have designed cell differentiation so well. Random chance could not have done such.

Evolution is NOT about random chance. It is about iteration under selective pressure.

Evolution flaws-the uniqueness of DNA is so complex that it proves complex organism were made seperate&along side simple living things.

See the Chimp comment earlier. To which I will add that “It’s too complicated for me to understand so it must be false” is not a valid argument. I count 14, not 7 tweets. But anyway, let’s take a couple more:

@kaimatai It is not observable to believe in Evolution, b/c it denies the existance of God. God is the law and order in life.

So, what you are saying is, your faith is so shaky that it is threatened by actual observations of real events?

@kaimatai I find it very hypocritical that your lack of stable morality is lecturing me on your Postmodernism. Really? You are a fraud also

You want lack of stable morality? Research shows that the faithful have a wandering moral compass.

The Disingenuous “Thermodynamics” Argument

January 20, 2011

You know, I still keep seeing the second law of thermodynamics being used as an argument against evolution, despite multiple thorough rebuttals. So let me add a few words of my own in an effort to stem the flow of stupid.

The argument, loosely summarized, goes like this:

  1. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that entropy must increase in any closed system.
  2. Since life from non-life requires complex molecules to form from simple molecules, life could not arise by chance, because this would violate the 2nd Law.
  3. Since mammals and birds and fish are all more complex than single-cell organisms, they could not have evolved, as a system cannot become more complex over time.

The rebuttals for this are, quite simply:

  1. The Earth is not a closed system. We receive about 1.3 kJ of solar energy per square metre per second, every second, always.  The second law of thermodynamics does not apply.
  2. Life from non-life is abiogenesis, not evolution. But abiogenesis is thought to have been driven by heat and chemosynthesis, so again there is an input of energy.
  3. Lastly, and most ironically, the very people who claim that single celled organisms couldn’t possibly become complex, multicellular organisms, themselves grew from a single cell. So it’s good enough for them, but not any other organism. And secondly, the argument using thermodynamics against evolution proposes, instead, the sudden appearance of all living things. Like that doesn’t violate the laws of thermodynamics. Sheesh.

But wait, there’s more. You see, the argument that evolution is impossible because of the second law was widely promoted by the likes of Drs. Henry Morris and Duane Gish of the Institute for Creation Research. Please note that these gentlemen, at the time they made these claims, had doctorates in Engineering and Biochemistry respectively. Which means they understood the laws of thermodynamics, and would have known that the argument was wrong. Which means they were blatantly lying.

The fact that this argument is still being presented as evidence against evolution is appalling, and shows just how ill-informed the anti-evolution movement really is.  Feel free to send anyone you find using this argument to this page, or for a more torough thrashing, to the Talk Origins Thermodynamics FAQ.

Economic argument against the woo

October 20, 2010

XKCD for the WIN: