Friday, June 29, 2012

Don't Mess With Texas...

... or you might get schooled! Not!
This nugget of wisdom is making its way around the Interwebs, and it really is priceless and funny (even if we are laughing through tears).
It's the official Republican Part of Texas platform document.

Some of my favorite pieces:

1. Environment:

We strongly oppose all efforts of the extreme environmental groups that stymie legitimate business interests. We strongly oppose those efforts that attempt to use the environmental causes to purposefully disrupt and stop those interests within the oil and gas industry. We strongly support the immediate repeal of the Endangered Species Act.
At least, we clearly see who's paying the Republicans of Texas.

2. No taxes for religious organizations, but hey, let them get into politics all they want:
We urge amendment of the Internal Revenue Code to allow a religious organization to address issues without fear of losing its tax-exempt status. We call for repeal of requirements that religious organizations send the government any personal information about their contributors.
3. Health. There is so much here, I don't know where to start...
The first one is the "Conscience Clause":
We believe that doctors, nurses, pharmacists, any employees of hospitals and insurance companies, health care organizations, medical and scientific research students, and any employee should be protected by Texas law if they conscientiously object to participate in practices that conflict with their moral or religious beliefs, including but not limited to abortion, the prescription for and dispensing of drugs with abortifacient potential, human cloning, embryonic stem cell research, eugenic screenings, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration.
That's right; don't provide modern, scientific, medical procedures, just because you don't like them. Maybe you should not have gotten into the medical profession in the first place.

All adult citizens should have the legal right to conscientiously choose which vaccines are administered to themselves or their minor children without penalty for refusing a vaccine. We oppose any effort by any authority to mandate such vaccines or any medical database that would contain personal records of citizens without their consent.
I agree... if you don't want to get vaccinated, that's your choice, just make sure you lock yourself in a bubble and don't get anywhere close to me and my family.

4. Finally, there is "Education", which must mean something slightly different to Texas' Republicans than to the rest of us:
We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.
Yes, that's right... they oppose the teaching of critical thinking skills, and they make it clear why... because when you teach someone some critical thinking, he or she might question you, or your beliefs. Good grief!!! A child who actually thinks for himself or herself!!! God, no! Well, if you ever have to deal with a child like that, this might help:
We recommend that local school boards and classroom teachers be given more authority to deal with disciplinary problems. Corporal punishment is effective and legal in Texas.
Beat them into submission, so they don't dare to question anything you say... nice.
Oh, and while we making sure that our kids don't learn to think for themselves, let's make sure we also teach them that the world is 6000 years old (whatever the official date is):
We support objective teaching and equal treatment of all sides of scientific theories. We believe theories such as life origins and environmental change should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Poland - Back to the Middle Ages?

Not exactly, but it certainly feels like, when it comes to an issue of free speech.

Poland might be one of the few countries in Europe that has not been affected by the economic crisis and the country is growing rapidly. The UEFA Euro 2012 tournament brought millions of Euros into the local economy and the infrastructure improvements are huge. 

All this, however, does not stop stupidity and backward thinking from creeping into the daily lives of my compatriots. There has been a controversy very recently, which actually started a while back in 2009, when a pop singer Doda, in an interview said that (to translate loosely) she "believes in dinosaurs more than she believes in the Bible, since it is hard to believe in something written by someone drunk on wine and high on some weeds". At the beginning of this week, she was convicted and fined, based on the Polish anti-blasphemy law. Some info about the case in English can be found here.

Was Doda's remark provocative? Sure it was... that's how you keep yourself in the media and create fans. However, it was well within any conceivable limits of free speech. She was only criticizing an idea (religious, or not, it does not matter), did not entice violence against anyone, and expressed only her own opinions and beliefs. To prosecute Doda, or anyone else, for simply not agreeing with the majority, is a terrible idea that belongs in the middle ages, not in the 21st Century Europe. The same goes with so called blasphemy laws, which are still in effect in some countries around the world (you would usually think Afghanistan, or Iran, not Europe, right?). In today's world, we should be able to criticize any and all ideas and beliefs, as long as we respect people. We do not, however, have to hold the same respect for those ideas themselves, especially when they are not based on reality. My idea of "holy" could be yours of "stupid" and vice-versa.

Hopefully, Doda will take this case to the The European Court of Human Rights and the stupidity of Polish law will be stricken down.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Science Education in America - How to Fix It

Slate has a series of excellent articles on the future of science education in America. They touch on a number of important issues that our current educational system faces, from funding and inspiration to testing and gender gap that exists today.

Three of the articles that I would like to point out are:
- Learning by Making - another voice in the discussion about standardized testing, and another good point against it.
- A Moment of Science - how to inspire your kids to pursue science, from one of the best science bloggers, Phil Plait.
- The Dark-Matter Ages - how the US is losing its leading role in basic science research and what it could mean to our future generations. You'd better listen, when such a warning comes from one of the best physicists today, Lawrence Krauss, the author of a recent book I recommended a few days ago.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Boiron Settles, Can't Prove Homeopathy Works

Boiron settles one of the lawsuits against them and their bogus homeopathic product Oscillococcinum. They can't prove the product works, so they rather settle than expose themselves to more scientific scrutiny. As written in the lawsuit:
According to the class action lawsuit, the active ingredients in Boiron’s products are so diluted that they are “effectively non-existent,” making them nothing more than sugar pills.
Yet, those products are still available in our local pharmacies and people still continue to use them, despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence they do anything more than emptying your pockets.

Here is some additional info on a different lawsuit (Coldcalm): The CAM Docket: Boiron II

I wrote about a Canadian lawsuit earlier this year: Boiron, the Maker of Oscillococcinum Gets Sued

Let's hope, if nothing else, the public gets to see what homeopathy really is, and how alt-med is used by those big, bad pharmaceutical conglomerates to make tons of money from selling us pure sugar. The next time you hear someone defending alternative medicine as opposed to the Big Pharma, think twice... the reality is not always what it seems.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Summer Slump and Book Recommendations

Summer is here and the slump has begun. Not really... overwhelmed by work in various forms, I completely lack time for writing anything coherent about multitudes of stupidity and gullibility we face daily in our lives.

I would like to write excessively about an ad I saw in a local Polish cultural center about a person, who claims, can "read God", tell you how to reconnect with your loved ones in heaven and extend your life in some magical way. To top it off, that person, in his ad, written in extremely bad English, boasts that he does it all for only 40% of profits, sending the other 60% as a spiritual gift to some mistical place. No kidding! What a bargain!
Or, along the same lines (different name, same BS), I would love to write about the complete nonsense of Reiki, and its scamming ways, making people pay for something that does not exist. Reiki, being an eastern version of therapeutic touch (TT) has no scientific background behind its claims, as famously demonstrated by Emily Rosa in 1998. Yet, right next to the guy who can "read God", I saw an ad from a Reiki master, claiming all kinds of benefits, for a price, of course.

Unfortunately, no time for all this due to work engagements. Luckily, Kindle does wonders, and I was able to read two excellent books that I would like to recommend to everyone:

1. "Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming" - Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway
What an excellent overview of the last 50 years of anti-science propaganda, from tobacco industry, acid rain effects, ozone hole and the Star Wars program of the 80s, to the global warming denial, all courtesy of the same people and the same special interests. This book is extremely well written and can hold your interest for hours, presenting facts and connections you would not suspect existed. It is interesting and frightening at the same time, to remember the 80s, when we first started hearing about the ozone hole and how we were damaging it. It felt like the doomsday was upon us, that soon, we would not be able to leave the confines of our homes on a sunny day. When solutions were proposed, I remember various companies and whole industries crying how it'll kill the economy and bring another doomsday on us: the economic one. Yet, after an unprecedented international cooperation, we were able to come up with solutions, ban a few dangerous substances, replace them with better and safer ones and avert the disaster.
Today, we face similar problems with anthropogenic global warming and yet the same people create distractions and false "skepticism" to stall any solutions. Without those solutions, not us, but our kids will face a very bleak future, a future to which they will no doubt adopt, but at what costs? And, they will have only a handful of people to blame, with general public and some media following bad science, propaganda and distortion of facts.

2. "A Universe from Nothing" - Lawrence Krauss
If reading about "long, long time ago, far, far away" is your thing, I highly recommend this book. Lawrence Krauss, a leading cosmologist and theoretical physicist of our times, explains how our Universe (along with possibly, billions of others) came to be, literally out of Nothing. The real Nothing, as it is explained in the book, much better than I could ever do. Where we come from and where we are heading are also topics of discussion, and while it is good to know that we possibly live in the best times (give or take a few billion years), the end for us does not look great, so enjoy your time here. This book is maybe a bit less accessible that some other popular science books ("A Brief History of Time" comes to my mind), as it does include some math and physics, but Krauss makes it rather easy to digest and his style is very engaging and entertaining, given the subject that ends with (spoiler alert!) doom and gloom...