General

The seven deadly sins of health and science reporting

Brilliant assessment on science reporting. Science doesn’t prove anything; X causes Y is usually BS, along a variety of others. The key message is that science is easily abused…

Science or not?

By Avi Roy, University of Buckingham and Anders Sandberg, University of Oxford

(This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.)

Headline

Benjamin Franklin said two things are certain in life: death and taxes. Another one we could add to this list is that on any given news website and in almost all print media there will be articles about health and nutrition that are complete garbage.

Some articles that run under the health and nutrition “news” heading are thought provoking, well researched and unbiased, but unfortunately not all. And to help you traverse this maze – alongside an excellent article about 20 tips for interpreting scientific claims – we will look at seven clichés of improper or misguided reporting.

If you spot any of these clichés in an article, we humbly suggest that you switch to reading LOLCats, which will be more entertaining…

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Do you believe in the finality of objective reality?

Why, yes I do…

Enquiries on Atheism

Full question by Logan Rees:

Do you believe in the finality of objective reality, despite that our only source of knowledge about that reality is subjective experience. In other words, do you believe that the physical universe is all that exists?

I think the question falsely uses the word belief. Granted, there are two definitions of the word belief: to accept without evidence (faith); and to accept a statement as true. I may be being pedantic but the question seems to be using the former, rather than the later, definition; that is, the religious meaning of belief. If that is the case, my answer is simple: No! I have evidence, I don’t need to believe.

If, however, I am mistaken in my assumption and Logan intended the meaning of his question to reflect the latter meaning, then yes! Now, however, I must first go on a tangent, so please…

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Do You Fear Death?

My latest opinion piece for Elucidations on Atheism on Death…

Enquiries on Atheism

A very personal question. Short answer: no. Medium answer: yes. Long answer: Maybe. Confused? I’ll elaborate, but allow me a brief digression first.

I’m not an armchair atheist. What I mean by that is I’m not going to in some future dying moment—hopefully far in the future, I might add—repent in my final moments and cry out for god. Some might wonder how can I say that with such conviction. Well, I’ve already been there…five times. I’ve been at the wrong end of a gun (on two separate occasions), have almost been blown up (three times, I might add), and generally know what it feels like when your brain, through no will of its own, formulates the thought: “fuck, this is it!”

Now, I won’t lie. I was petrified in those moments. Shaking in my boots. I’m quite sure my heart rate was breaking some laws of biology. The first…

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If We Evolved from Monkeys, Why are there still Monkeys?

My latest piece for Elucidations on Atheism. I’ll admit it is a relatively easy question, but it is a surprisingly common misconception.

Enquiries on Atheism

This is an oft-repeated creationist question. Usually, it is meant to be rhetorical. Anyway, here goes.

Humans did not evolve from monkeys—not in the near past; however, more on this soon. Besides, the term monkey is, unintentionally or otherwise in this case, misleading. Monkey is a generic term typically used to refer to a primate with a tail; specifically, they comprise the new world (Platyrrhini) and old world (Cercopithecoidea) primate suborders. Humans, part of the genus Homo, belong to the ‘great apes’ family along with chimps, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans (scientific name: Hominidae). We evolved from a common ancestor from the ‘great ape’ family, not from the old/new world monkeys.

This, I admit, is being a bit pedantic, so I’ll answer the meaning behind the question, instead of taking it literally, which it clearly is not. The closest animal relative to us, the chimpanzee with whom we share 98.4%…

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Is Religion Child Abuse?

My first blog post over on Elucidations on Atheism…

Enquiries on Atheism

To begin, the title is a truncated description of the question we received, which was: “Why do atheists like Richard Dawkins consider religion to be child abuse? Do you agree or disagree with this assessment?” Isn’t that the loaded question? To start off, I’ll clarify Dawkins position.

He did not come up with this particular position himself. He was recounting what a former theist had told him of her experience. Namely, that when she was a young catholic child she was: one, sexually abused; two, taught that her Protestant friend who recently died would burn in hellfire for eternity. In her own opinion, the thought that her friend would burn in hell for eternity was worse than the abuse she suffered. Dawkins recounted her story, and said to his interviewer that he understands the position. However, he did not go on to qualify that all religious teaching is equivalent to…

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Natural News

I can’t remember where I got the below photo, because I’d really like to give credit for the good-hearted laugh I got out of it. I wish I could also attribute another phrase connected with Natural News: “Where science goes to die.” Classic! Anybody know the original sources? As is obvious, I really, really, really dislike Natural News and totally agree with Brian Dunning’s assessment that Natural News is the worst anti-science website on the Internet.

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The second photo is actually a serious statement.

 

science-evidence

Tell me you didn’t laugh when you hit No. 10.

UPDATE: Attribution has been found! The Ask a Skeptic facebook page originally came up with the text of the comic strip.

Carl Sagan

Awesome Carl Sagan Quotes

I bought a small eBook recently chock-a-block full of Sagan’s best quotes. I wanted to highlight some of my favourites. I haven’t read all of Sagan’s books (some 30-odd) but I haven’t yet met a Sagan book that I didn’t like… a lot! If anyone was ever going to be my hero, Carl Sagan would be one of them:

On argumentation:

(1) – “The cure for a fallacious argument is a better argument, not the suppression of ideas.” 

On history:

(2) “You have to know the past to understand the present.”

On evolution:

(3) “Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.”

On drugs:

(4) – “The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.”

Misc:

(5) You are worth about 3 dollars in chemicals.

(6) We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers.

(7) The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard, who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by ‘God,’ one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying…it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.

(8) The library connects us with the insight and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support libraries.

I man-love Carl Sagan…

Favourites? Mine are (1) and (6). Has anyone read more than one Sagan book? If so, which one of those are your favourites? I can’t decide between Broca’s Brain and Pale Blue Dot. Both marvelous insights in science, skepticism, and astronomy with the added delight of them being beautifully written english.