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?

 


The Homeopathic Elephant in the Room

April 16, 2012

While always on the radar of skeptics, Homeopathy has has hit the news – or at least the blogosphere – recently with the case of Homeopath Francine Scrayen attempting to sue blogger Dan Buzzard over telling the truth of her involvement in the death of Penelope Dingle.

A while back I ran the numbers to show that there is in fact nothing in homeopathic remedies. But there is one more little thing that rarely gets mentioned, and I would like to haul that out into the open for ridicule. Suppose, just suppose magic water did have the ability to remember the properties of dilution to non-existence. Just suppose. The majority of homeopathic remedies are purchased in pill form. So, what’s in the pill? Pills are a sugar or starch based solid that, we presume, have come in contact with the magic water. But in order to package the pills, they must be dried out. In other words, the water is evaporated away. So not only do homeopathic pills not contain any active ingredient, they also contain none of the magic water that is supposed to retain the memory of the nonexistent ingredient.

So to produce homeopathic remedies, they first dilute out the ingredient leaving only water, and then they remove the water. Yup. There really IS nothing in it.

 


Hats off to Rhys Morgan

November 29, 2011

Just go read this post:

http://rhysmorgan.co/2011/11/threats-from-the-burzynski-clinic/

Rhys Morgan, high school student and skeptical blogger, deals with threats from a frothy-mouthed rep of Burzynski clinic with aplomb.

Keep up the great work Rhys!


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.


Holding the world hostage.

August 1, 2011

Imagine, if you will, a small group of people keeping a large group of people hostage, threatening harm to them and with uncertain outcome, unless another group concedes to their ideological demands. If the ideology in question is Islamic fundamentalism, then these people would likely be labeled terrorists. But what if the ideology is ultra-right-wing conservatism? That is the scenario playing out right now with the Tea Party.

This vocal and intensely ideological faction of the Republican Party is holding the entire economy of the United States, and by extension the people of the United States – not to mention economies around the world – hostage. Why? Because they stubbornly adhere to an ideology of reduced taxation, and refuse to allow new taxation to resolve the debt crisis. Never mind the economic theory, and to hell with actual common sense. It’s their way or the highway.

The frightening thing is that this group is the same group that criticized Obama for opening dialog with Iran. They criticized him for even thinking of “negotiating with the enemy”. So we know, and Obama should have known, that these people will not negotiate, and yet the Tea Party knows that Obama will, and they are willing to recklessly bet the global economy that Obama will blink first. Unless the President can find a way to bypass the impasse through executive orders, I suspect he will have no choice but to cave to their demands – because unlike them, he has enough of a conscience to recognize that the needs of the many far outweigh the ideological standpoint of the few.

The Tea Party are terrorists. Fuck you, Tea Party.


That about sums it up…

May 25, 2011


FWIW…

April 26, 2011

Some of you may have seen this floating around:

Kinda cute, in a condescending sort of way. But, we don’t believe in luck, either. That’s kind of the point.


The Nibiru stupid – it burns!

April 17, 2011

I was searching for a nice tutorial for my students on using Stellarium today, when I came across this youtube video:

At first I thought it might be something cute inserted by the Stellarium team – it is open source, after all, so someone may have slipped it in. But then I read the description:

…If you also want observe Nibiru, just download and install the software Stellarium ( http://www.stellarium.org/ ) and then go directly to the directory C:\Program Files\Stellarium\data, and copy/paste the information below at the end of the ssystem.ini file.

[nibiru]
name = NIBIRU
parent = Sun
radius = 24000
oblateness = 0.0
albedo = 0.9
lighting = true
halo = true
color = 1.0,0.84,0.68
tex_map = ariel.png
tex_halo = star16x16.png
coord_func = comet_orbit
orbit_Epoch = 630033.0
orbit_MeanAnomaly = 220.0
orbit_SemiMajorAxis = 234.888999
orbit_Eccentricity = 0.991700
orbit_ArgOfPericenter = 270.0
orbit_AscendingNode = 194.5
orbit_Inclination = -145.0
sidereal_period = 1336815.0

And *FACEPALM*

So I ask myself, just how fucking stupid are these people? This guy adds data for a nonexistent object into the software, and then claims the output is proof of the existence of that object. And he tells you how to do it.

So just to show how utterly ludicrous this is, I give you the following screenshot from Stellarium. Proof. What more do you need?


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.