RSSCategory: Education

What’s In A Label?

May 19, 2010 | By | 5 Replies More
What’s In A Label?

Conservative.

Liberal.

We act as if we know what these labels mean. Conservatives are traditionalists, fiscally opposed to anything that smacks of gambling, private, often religious, and pedantic on what they consider “appropriate” in either government or personal conduct.

Liberals, on the other hand, are often taken for progressive, willing to spend social capital to repair perceived problems, tolerant, agnostic if not atheist, and overly-concerned with a definition of justice that ought to be all-encompassing rather than what they perceive as sinecure for the privileged.

Well. Over on Facebook I posted a brief quote (my own) to boil down the actual underlying distinctions.

Conservatives are those who don’t like what other people are doing, Liberals are those who don’t like what other people are doing to other people.

It was meant to be taken as humorous. But I’m not being entirely flip here. When you look at it, and try to define the common factor in much that passes for conservative posteuring—of any country, any background, anywhere—it always comes down to one group trying to stop another group from Doing Things We Don’t Approve.

I heard a news report this morning (on NPR—I unabashedly don’t pay attention to any other news source, I find them all utterly biased) from Pakistan about the university scene there, and one bit caught my attention—at a campus in Punjabi, conservative students who find men and women sitting too close together interfere and move them apart. At a game of Truth or Dare, conservative students pulled participants out and beat them.

How does this apply here? Well, here’s a clip from P.Z. Meyers’ Pharyngula to illustrate:
Rising Sun School in Maryland has the standard default take-it-for-granted attitude that Christianity is just fine — there’s the usual well-funded and usually teacher-promoted evangelical groups, like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes — and when one student tried to form a club for non-religious students…well, you can guess what happened.

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Overdosing on homeopathic drugs?

May 17, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
Overdosing on homeopathic drugs?

I recently ran across this 2009 article about a young woman who apparently tried to overdose on a homeopathic drug called “Traumeel.” I’m not trying to make light of a sad situation, but only to use this example to illustrate the widespread ignorance regarding homeopathy.

A good description of homeopathy was given by James Randi in his 2001 talk at Princeton:

Note the math lesson beginning at the five minute mark. Homeopaths argue that the more dilute a solution is, the more powerful it is. At the 7:30 mark, Randi explains that a “30X” solution is so dilute that it reaches the “number of no return.” “30X” is so dilute that it is the equivalent of placing 15 drops of water in a container more than 50 times the size of the Earth. Other homeopathic solutions are available in 1,500x solutions. How dilute is that? It’s the equivalent of (12:00) smashing one grain of rice into a sphere of water the diameter of the solar system, shaking it up, and then further diluting that same solution 2 billion more times in an equivalent sized sphere.

To bring the matter full circle, at the ten-minute Randi explains how he ate two entire packages of a popular homeopathic sleeping pill (sold at nationwide pharmacies) without overdosing. Believe it or not, the active ingredient was caffeine.

At 13:30, Randi characterizes the people who sell these “medicines” “swindlers, liars, cheats, frauds, fakes, criminals.”

For more on homeopathy, now used by five million people world-wide, consider the many statistics in my earlier post and consider viewing this video by Richard Dawkins. At the 3-minute mark, Dawkins wryly notes that if water really had “memory” of the ingredients it formerly contained (as fans of homeopathy contend), what should we make of the fact that “in each glass of water we drink, at least one molecule has passed through the bladder of Oliver Cromwell.” At the 5-minute mark, when discussing whether homeopathy theory is plausible, the Director of a brand new English hospital (who actually was trained as a rheumatologist) unleashes this whopper of a quote: “The fact is that I couldn’t stop what I do even if I wanted to. My patients wouldn’t let me. They say it helps.”

BTW, check out the not-so-impressive medical research by the manufacturer of Traumeel. The manufacturer’s recipe of a British narrator uttering big scientific words is featured in this video, and it is doubtless irresistible to many potential purchasers. Here’s a bit of much needed skepticism regarding Traumeel.

Whatever you do, don’t utter the word “placebo” to anyone who pays big money for these “medicines.”

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How to Keep Up with the Denialists

May 14, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
How to Keep Up with the Denialists

Pharyngula linked over to this YouTube channel dedicated to debunking each piece of Climate Denialism as it comes up. Here’s a sample:

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Bobby McFerrin illustrates the simple beauty of the pentatonic scale

May 8, 2010 | By | Reply More
Bobby McFerrin illustrates the simple beauty of the pentatonic scale

This is fun–actually delightful. Bobby McFerrin plays the audience, and they produce a pentatonic baseline for McFerrin’s improvising.

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

For more of McFerrin’s magic, watch the video below:

World Science Festival 2009: Notes & Neurons, Part 1 of 5 from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

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Peabody Coal Company argues that coal is “green coal” and “clean coal”

May 8, 2010 | By | 4 Replies More
Peabody Coal Company argues that coal is “green coal” and “clean coal”

A few months ago one of my neighbors, a proudly conservative man, saw me carrying a package of high-efficiency light bulbs into my house. He gave me a disappointed look loudly said: “Buy some real light bulbs, Erich.” This neighbor has repeatedly made it known that that liberal concerns and proposals regarding energy are unnecessary because there is plenty of oil and coal, and we should make it our national priority to keep digging and burning these resources.

I know that my Republican neighbor is not the only “conservative” in the U.S. willing to scoff at conservation. I previously argued that this anti-energy-efficiency climate–science-denial attitude like my neighbor’s outlook has become a badge of group membership among conservatives. It has become a salient display that one believes, above all, in the alleged power and wisdom of the “Free Market,” an unsubstantiated leap of faith so incredibly bold that I once termed it the Fourth Person of the Holy Trinity (and see here and here). These free-market fundamentalists are contemptuous at well-informed suggestions for using energy resources more efficiently and for reducing our reliance on dirty and dangerous fossil fuels. Many of them consider national policy aimed at energy conservation to be totally unnecessary and ridiculously expensive. Proposals that we should be smarter consumers of energy annoy and anger them and they offer no evidence-based alternatives for peak oil (and see here and here and here ). They refuse to consider the damage being done to our environment, our health and our budget (especially our military budget) as a result of our reliance on fossil fuels .

My neighbor displays a startling lack of curiosity regarding the ramifications for continuing to attempt to drill and dig our way to energy independence. This same attitude is found in many conservative politicians, the most prominent being Sarah Palin. Based on an extraordinary video of a recent debate at Washington University in Saint Louis, this same attitude is also embraced by of the executives at the largest private coal company in the United States, Peabody Coal Company.

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How are Humans Better?

May 8, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
How are Humans Better?

A new comment thread on an old post discusses the precept that humans are somehow “better” than all other creatures. Sure, as a member of our team, I’d like to think that we are Number One. We’ve even written books attributed to deities that prove that we are the reason for creation, that the octillions of stars in the universe were all put there just for our amusement. Therefore, the book and its believers maintain, we must be the best thing ever. But as an educated human raised by scientists to find first sources and question suppositions, I wonder: “How are we better?”

I have posted before on some of the ways in which our Creator (to use that paradigm) has short changed us. Name any characteristic of which we are proud, and it is easy to find another creature that exceeds our ability. I can only think of one exception: Communicating in persistent symbols.

Unlike cetaceans, birds, fellow primates, and others who communicate fairly precisely with sounds, gestures, or chemical signals, we can detach communication from ourselves and transport or even delay it via layers of uncomprehending media (paper, wires, illiterate couriers, etc). We can create physical objects that abstract ideas from one individual and allow the idea to be absorbed by another individual at a later time. It also allows widely separated groups to share a single culture, at least in part.

This learned behavior is based on our apparently unique ability to abstract in multiple layers and to abstract to a time well beyond the immediate future. We can take an idea to a series of sounds to a series of static symbols, and back again. Our relatively modern ability to reason abstractly (math, science) evolved from our ability to abstract communications. Even Einstein couldn’t hold the proof of E=MC2 in his head.

But is this unique ability really sufficient to declare ourselves overall inherently “better”?

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How you own the Red Roof Inn and why we need to audit the Federal Reserve

May 7, 2010 | By | Reply More
How you own the Red Roof Inn and why we need to audit the Federal Reserve

Representative Alan Grayson explains how it is that the American public now owns the Red Roof Inn and why we desperately need to audit the Federal Reserve. These are closely related questions, as Grayson dramatically details. The Federal Reserve Bank needs to be audited because it excels at magically “make money out of nothing,” just by making notations on its books. We have no way of knowing how it is that the Federal Reserve assumed liability for other large chains of hotels too. The Fed has also put up half a trillion dollars in mortgage-backed securities. Therefore, we, the People, are “owners” of massive amounts of real estate, which means that the Fed owns our homes when the mortgages go bad. This is “stealth” socialism, says Grayson, because we don’t audit the Federal Reserve.

Grayson, a progressive, is thus calling on conservatives to join in the call to audit the Fed “before it all comes crashing down on us.” Every time the Fed creates money out of thin air, “they’re taking that dollar that’s in your pocket and they’re making it cheaper–worth less.”

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Why You Can’t Fail a Bible Quiz

May 1, 2010 | By | 11 Replies More
Why You Can’t Fail a Bible Quiz

Here is a humorous/snarky look at some of the continuity problems inherent in an absolutely infallable text:

It even gives the chapter and verse so we can confirm the true and inerrant details of this quiz

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Another Musing on Our Evolving Ability to Perceive

April 27, 2010 | By | Reply More
Another Musing on Our Evolving Ability to Perceive

I have occasionally ruminated our improved ability to see and understand the universe around us. On this blog, it usually is in terms of comparing the Young Earth view with what we’ve learned in the last few hundred years. Posts such as The Universe is not Specified to Human Scale and My limited vision make the point.

But I’ve started another blog that focuses less on politics and culture, yet found that one of my first posts again addresses the issue of how we’ve improved our vision of the world around us in the last few dozen generations. Please peruse The Object At Hand: Light Lens a Hand, to Help us Understand and see if I am off the beam.

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