Category Archives: Science

The Lobbying Game

Consider the following statements:

1. “Truly, this earth is a trophy cup for the industrious man. And this rightly so, in the service of natural selection. He who does not possess the force to secure his [space required for life] in this world, and, if necessary, to enlarge it, does not deserve to possess the necessities of life. He must step aside and allow stronger peoples to pass him by.”

2.”Evolution is an explanation. Human beings are a species just like millions of other known species. Although we walk upright, we are nevertheless mammals and primates. Like all social animals humans establish hierarchies. Humans have the same goals as other animals, and that is to eat and not get eaten. “But who is trying to eat you?, “you ask. There are predators all around us and we deal with them every day. This is a dog eat dog world in which we live, and if you’re not able to adapt you be eaten. There is absolutely nothing that goes on in the jungle of the Serengeti that does not happen on Wall Street. Capitalism is just a game of survival. We are products of evolution.  It’s about adapting and passing on our genes. Those that do not play by the predator’s rules will be eaten and will not get the opportunity to pass along their genes. In the concrete jungle words and phrase like “unfair”, “not right”, or immoral in defense of one’s treatment is the language of the conquered, the weak, and of the victim. You are on the bottom of the food chain. Racism in reality is a group’s desperate attempt to keep themselves elevated on the ladder of the human food chain. Again, at the end of the day it is all about survival.”

3. “A drunkard in the gutter is just where he ought to be…The law of survival of the fittest was not made by man, and it cannot be abrogated by man.  We can only, by interfering with it, produce the survival of the unfittest.”

 

The statements are fairly similar, are they? Can you guess who authored them?

Find out who after the jump…

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Environmental Justice as a Skeptical Platform

Within the skeptical community there are many who are comfortable with focusing on a narrow set of  issues which can be examined using empirical methods, while also promoting scientific literacy. And the issues typically focused upon are important like debunking pseudoscience, exposing con artists and psychics (sort of redundant, I know), and critically examining all sorts paranormal claims. But just as skeptics like Jamila Bey have proposed we need to consider tackling other issues with our skeptical toolbox.

So before we do that we have to first get a working definition of  what skepticism is. So borrowing from a prominent skeptic, DJ Grothe, skepticism is not simply about “rejecting others false beliefs” but it’s also a “method of finding out the truth by using reason and looking at evidence — should be widely applied, and not just be restricted to a limited set of spooky claims.” So, how could one disagree that our movement could benefit from applying our skeptical tools to  issues of social justice? Well, Grothe and many other atheists do just that. One of the reasons cited is that skeptics don’t all share the same beliefs but as skeptics shouldn’t we be interested in uncovering truth wherever we can.  By exploring and uncovering that truth we could not only encourage others to join our ranks but also make a real difference in many people’s lives. Just as people’s lives can be improved when we  expose con artists who prey on their beliefs and bank account we can make a similar impact on issues of sociopolitical concern. One of those areas is environmental justice.

What is environmental justice?
Environmental justice is a field that concerns not just how environmental policy impacts the environment but how those policies also impact people based on race, gender, class, etc. It also focuses on how to involve communities in policy decisions and to protect them from unfair treatment and discrimination in the future.

Why does it matter? 

And there are countless other examples.

What makes this a good platform?

What makes this a good starting point for me is the fact that science is one of the principal things one has to consider when discussing environmental justice, and that as we all know is a major strength in the secular community. We get to discuss global warming, health, technology, and all the things we typically love. Being able to determine what is known about a particular environmental issue or process,  what risk it poses, and figuring out how to communicate that to a wide audience would allow us to capitalize on the tools and skills we acquire as skeptics. But communicating them to a wider audience is where becoming involved in environmental justice issues would help us the most. When communicating information to different groups it forces you to make some considerations, such as level of education or say the history of a particular community. Learning about a community and communicating effectively requires developing compassion. And compassion doesn’t necessarily mean buying into their beliefs or feelings, just like understanding why someone might be fooled into believing that someone can communicate with their dead loved one doesn’t make you buy into the concept of psychics and séances. It just helps us to know when to be more or less outspoken in critiquing their beliefs.

Talking about environmental justice will force us to have discussions about issues of class, race, gender, etc  that we sorely need. It will force us to address our concepts of race beyond the fact that it is unscientific. It will force us to discuss the concept of privilege and how blindness, whether color, gender, ability, or what have you often increases the likelihood that groups will be discriminated against. We can even discuss how these issues play out in the developing world.

It also gives our community another way to effect change that may be even more headline grabbing and would frankly be more interesting to many of the communities effected by this. Not many people in  the US, for instance know or care about what homeopathy is, but they know what a coal burning plant is, even if they don’t know what impact living in close proximity to one may have on their health.

Think about it, tackling this issue will make us so much more well rounded than we currently are as a community. I mean if we use our skepticism to help ourselves and others, that makes it a humanistic endeavor. And if it’s a humanistic endeavor then we don’t have to constrict our platform so narrowly. I think environmental justice is the most logical direction for our community to head in.

There are some aspects of field of environmental justice that are not so attractive to me as a skeptic, like the notion that the environment is sacred. It might seem like nitpicking to some people but I think there is an important difference between saying something is important and saying something is sacred. Saying something is sacred generally walls off a topic from being fully explored or critiqued because its associated with some sort of divine power or authority. And that to me is an area where we can help the environmental justice movement by helping some within it rely less  on spiritual/ divine arguments and focus more on science, ethics, health, sustainability, and risk assessment.

What do you think?

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NCCAM

So I had a conversation with a friend of mine about  NCCAM, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. For those of you that keep up with the news you might recall hearing that name nearly two years ago when the Associated Press published an article that demonstrated that in its then ten-year existence and with over 2.5 billion dollars in tax money spent only one treatment proved to have any sort of efficacy. Your grandmother or an older relative might be familiar with it, the treatment is ginger for nausea.

However, granny’s ginger isn’t enough to justify continuing support for  this institute. An institute that is supposed to be devoted to science aimed at improving medicine and public health, spending money on attempting to validate what would otherwise be treated as unscientific by the larger scientific community. It’s led to many suggesting it be dismantled allowing those scientists who would like to continue to study CAM to continue, provided they can demonstrate scientifically the plausibility of what they are studying with evidence . Meaning studies like those recently reported in the press would go the way of the dinosaur. I am speaking of studies that examine whether smelling lavender and lemon can help heal wounds. Or studies which aim to determine if massages can help cancer patients feel better. Both are answerable with a simple “Duh”. Or maybe a, “Doh!”, would be more appropriate? I can’t decide.

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For your consideration…

So true.

Now that you have pondered for a moment watch this…

Start @ 11:10

Need I say more…

“Dr.” Sebi’s Pseudoscience

Welcome to Sebi’s Pseudoscience  101!  Here we will review Sebi’s teachings concerning the healing art of using herbs and related matters, that his educational background doesn’t qualify to discuss, because who needs books? According to Sebi

“I didn’t read any. I read my mama. My mama is the only person I listen to… I learned that which is natural…that which is complementary, that which didn’t come out of a book.” (Video entitled Dr. Sebi Cures A.I.D.S Diabetes, Cancer, etc pt 1)

Sounds like the wisdom of Bobby Boucher.

 Sorry Sebi, but mama is wrong. And so are you.

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Sebi, The Snake-oil Salesman

If you have grandparents or older relatives, you are probably familiar with all the old clichés and sayings in the book, like, “there is nothing new under the sun”. It’s actually an old idiom that isn’t true for a number of things but is so accurate when it comes to others, like con-men, quacks, and charlatans. From the dawn of time there have been people who have used our vulnerabilities and biases against us to turn a profit. You can find these types everywhere but one on the most sinister places they hide is in the business of health and wellbeing. A thoroughly documented history of this can be seen in the United States prior to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 that led to the eventual formation of the FDA. Many”medicines” contained a number of ingredients from cocaine, to toxic compounds, and oftentimes compounds that caused little to no effect at all. These “medicines” claimed to cure joint pain, venereal disease, or tuberculosis,while some claimed to be panaceas- cure-alls for every type of ailment there was. The salesmen of these products employed a number of propaganda techniques to attract people to their products. Many even concocted stories to give their products an exotic flavor. A little more than a century later nothing much has changed.

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Paranormal Activity

Try as may, I cannot watch this movie or its sequels. I am a huge horror movie fan. But as much as I like horror movies since I became a freethinker I haven’t been able to really get into movies with supernatural themes. The major exceptions to this are horror movie classics of the 80’s and early 90’s, like Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween. But ghost stories don’t usually do it for me, it’s probably because I can’t suspend my disbelief long enough to get into them. Continue reading

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Simple Answers

All of us have questions. We have about who we are and why we’re here. How we go about  answering those questions depends on the question but fundamentally in order to begin answering a question we need to ask what we know and how we know first. Sometimes just by examining what is known we can better tailor or search or adjust our question so that the answers we obtain will really satisfy what it is we really want to know. I say what we want to know, rather than what we want to hear, or want to be true because knowledge is a very special category of human endeavor. In order for something to be called knowledge it must be established with evidence. This means that unfortunately a lot of things that are true will come into direct conflict with things which we wish to be true, things we may have faith in because they conform to certain expectations we may have. This is why  many of us are attracted to easy answers-answers which conform to our worldview or reinforce beliefs we may have about ourselves. Take the origin of human life, for example. Many will offer the simple response- “God did it.” Consider this answer. Continue reading

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