Wednesday, April 28, 2010

On PBS: The Vaccine War

I did not have a chance to watch it on live TV last night, but it seems that PBS did a fairly good job describing the current state of the fake vaccine controversy. I often skip shows like that not because I'm not interested, but because I'm so used to the mainstream media being too politically correct and showing both sides equally, even if one of them does not deserve it at all, that I get too annoyed and upset watching them.
This one was not bad and it's worth watching.

Video here: The Vaccine War

Get a good deconstruction of the documentary from Orac: The Vaccine War: Telling it (mostly) like it is about the anti-vaccine movement

If you still think vaccines are "personal" choice, read this: Whooping Cough Outbreak in California Kills Two

Related: On H1N1 anniversary, a mother lives daily with regret

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Website of the Week: The Skeptic's Dictionary

In order to promote rational thinking, I decided to spread the news about cool, interesting and useful websites. I'll try to do it on a weekly basis, but that will depend on my other workload, which tends to be highly unpredictable.

This week: The Skeptic's Dictionary

As the main page states:
The Skeptic's Dictionary is a website and a book. Each features definitions, arguments, and essays on topics ranging from acupuncture to zombies, and provides a lively, commonsense trove of detailed information on things supernatural, paranormal, and pseudoscientific.

Dozens of topics in logic, perception, science, and philosophy are also covered to help explain the appeal and popularity of occult beliefs and to provide a guide for critical thinking. » More about the SD & Reader comments on the SD
The Web site was created in 1994 - thanks to the Davis Community Network - and is still evolving. The book was published in 2003 by John Wiley & Sons, thanks in large part to literary agent Ted Weinstein and former Wiley editor Jeff Golick.
I find The Skeptic's Dictionary to be one of the most authoritative source of anti-woo information, with references, notes and amusing reader comments, which serve as a great introduction to research on any given topic.
It is also one of the best places to send your "on-the-fence" friends for more information on any given, skeptical topic.

Time To Vote Them Out

Regardless of their party affiliation, it's high time to vote those who support this amendment out in the upcoming elections:
Conservative Republicans, blind to the inevitable harm they would do to every Floridian's freedom, are seeking once again to undermine the state's long and pragmatic tradition of separating church and state. Supporters of the state's controversial private school voucher program want the Legislature to ask voters in November to strip the state Constitution of a clause that prohibits state spending on religious groups, such as private parochial schools that accept voucher students. The amendment, which could lead to tax dollars subsidizing proselytizing and religious discrimination, has no place in Florida.
More: Ballot measure threatens Floridians' religious liberty

Monday, April 19, 2010

Florida: Keep Our Money Away From Religion

I wrote about this issue last week, but there is an interesting editorial in today's St. Petersburg Times:

Protect Floridians' religious liberty

written by Rev. Dr. Harold M. Brockus, who is a president of the Pinellas County Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and a retired Presbyterian and United Church of Christ minister.

He writes:
Floridians would not be truly free if they were forced to contribute tax money to religions they don't support.
I agree wholeheartedly! We must ensure that this amendment is defeated, if it is placed on the ballot. As Rev. Brockus says:
As a member of the clergy, I know how much Americans value their right to worship. It is precious. It's what sets us apart from many other nations, where people are oppressed because of what they believe or are forced to support religion against their will.
Amen to that!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Book Review: Denialism

Another one bagged! This time the book that took my undivided attention for a few days was Michael Specter's "Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives".
I have to admit I was picking it up (or downloading it, as it may be in case of an e-book) as a convert. It is definitely a book that "preaches to its own crowd" as far as I am concerned. I knew that this "denialism" attitude is very real and it affects us daily.
For one, I have seen the "vaccine" denialism first hand, and I've realised that it extremely difficult, if not impossible to reason with those who crossed over to the other side (that one that claims vaccines cause all kinds of harm). The confirmation bias, personal anecdotes, and simply the fear of loosing your own beliefs, is stronger than reason and clear thinking.
I'm also rather close to a crowd that strongly believes in all sorts of "natural" remedies, discarding any science that shows no effects. It is rather amusing (but sad at the same time) to see people spending hundreds of dollars on fake and unproven vitamins, remedies and modalities, claiming that the "big pharma" and the doctors are out there only to get our money.
However, the book goes farther than that. It talks about some valid reasons (Vioxx) why people distrust pharmaceutical companies and  the mainstream medical establishment in general. It is a fascinating story and it proves that there are enough controls in the system to keep us safe.
Besides vaccines and natural remedies, "Denialism" concentrates also on a few other topics, namely our "organic fetish" and the more and more pervasive genetics and genetic engineering.
In both cases, Michael Specter dissolves the myths and presents very convincing argument that only by listening to science and reason, we can keep both in check. But "keeping in check" does not mean, not embracing future discoveries. Genetics and genetic engineering are especially delicate areas, but we need to be mindful of what the give us, understand it, and use it wisely, following scientists, not politicians, to ensure our success.

You can also read Michael Specter's recent article on the CNN portal, where he discusses ideas coming from his book:
American denialism threatens many areas of scientific progress, including the widespread fear of vaccines and the useless trust placed in the vast majority of dietary supplements quickly come to mind.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Florida: Keep Our Money Where It Belongs

Making sure that we don't favor one religion over any other is probably one of the best ideas written in the U.S. Constitution. It kept this country relatively sane (despite some right-drifting from time to time) and not looking like some theocracies of the current world. And yet some lawmakers in my own state of Florida, would like to change this:
The Florida Senate's Education PreK-12 Committee approved a constitutional amendment proposal Tuesday that would repeal a century-old ban on public funding of religious organizations. The 6-2 vote fell along party lines.

It is being pitched as the "religious freedom" bill by Republican leaders, but critics say it is a pro-church effort to abolish Florida's strict divisions between church and government.
Let's hope this amendment will die soon, and we will not hear of it again. I do not want to have any of my tax money going to any religious schools, as some of them are bound to be favored over others. Not to mention that most of them have their own agenda (despite the fact that they can be good schools otherwise) that might not agree with some of our own beliefs and convictions. Why would we even want to go there?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Deepak Is Not Very Smart

Ouch... traveling wears you out! No time to do a lot, projects hanging, thinks to be finalized.

I did have some time however, to notice this piece of genius from Deepak Chopra:
Had a powerful meditation just now – caused an earthquake in Southern California.
More here: Deepak impact

He is a nut job no matter how you slice it. But a funny one sometimes!!! You just can't stop wondering why people would buy his books, CDs, and the rest of the nonsense he sells.