Posts Tagged “science”

Mehmet Oz - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012I’ve blogged a time or two about Dr Mehmet Oz, aka “Dr Oz.” His friendship with Oprah Winfrey has given him his own TV show and small media empire. Some of his medical advice is fine, however, he occasionally waxes rhapsodic over spurious remedies which — as a physician who heads a program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and who’s on the faculty of Columbia University — he has to know have no meaningful scientific support.

What Dr Oz doesn’t seem to have been aware of previously, and which was the subject of a Senate hearing yesterday, is that his words are grist for the mills of scammers, liars, cheats and con artists. As NBC News reports, Sen. Claire McCaskill in particular confronted him about this problem (WebCite cached article):

Dr. Mehmet Oz, a celebrity doctor who frequently extols weight-loss products on his syndicated television show, got a harsh scolding from several senators on Tuesday at a hearing about bogus diet product ads.

Oz was held up as the power driving many of the fraudulent ads, even as he argued he was himself the victim of the scammers. The hearing is a follow-up to the Federal Trade Commission’s crackdown last January against fake diet products.

“I don’t get why you need to say this stuff because you know it’s not true,” Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who chairs a Senate subcommittee on consumer protection, said at the hearing. “So why, when you have this amazing megaphone…why would you cheapen your show by saying things like that?”

Dr Oz’s defense is that he’s giving people “hope”:

Oz, a frequent guest on NBC’s TODAY show, admitted he uses “flowery” language on his shows, and said he realizes that the moment he recommends a product, the scammers use his words to sell spurious products. “I concede to my colleagues at the FTC that I am making their job more difficult,” he said.

But he said he has to be “passionate” to engage his audience. “When we write a script, we need to generate enthusiasm and engage the viewer,” Oz said.…

Oz said the products give people hope to keep trying to lose weight — something almost all experts agree is a very difficult thing to do. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.

Ah. So that makes it all better, I guess. Somehow. The Senator hit back on this point:

McCaskill asked why Oz didn’t use his show to promote what actually has been proven to help people lose weight — careful eating and exercise. “I want to see all that floweriness, all that passion, about the beauty of a walk at sunset,” she said.

“The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of a few products that you have called miracles,” she added. “I just don’t understand why you need to go there … You are being made an example of today because of the power you have in this space.”

Of course, it’s not just green coffee bean extract which Dr Oz has touted. He’s pumped other things, too, such as magical pajamas. Yes, you read that right: Pajamas. Note, this recommendation wasn’t a general or generic one, like, “avoid salt” or “eat oranges.” It was a specific recommendation for a single, proprietary product known as “Goodnighties” (cached). Dr Oz also cooked up a weird, pseudo-scientific justification for believing in the claimed magical powers of Theresa Caputo, the so-called Long Island Medium. Pardon me while I laugh at the famed towering intellect of this academic-physician. I’m neither an academic nor a physician, yet I know there are no magical health-granting pajamas, and I also know that no one can talk with the dead.

Having said all of this, Dr Oz wasn’t the only one criticized at this Senate hearing, according to NBC News:

McCaskill also rebuked media companies that run the ads. “I find it troubling that broadcast and satellite radio witnesses who were asked to be here today were unwilling to appear. To me, this indicates that either there is something to hide or they don’t have a good story to tell,” she said.

The Senator has a good point. Media companies happily carry ads and promote shows that they, also, must know promote useless products. But they didn’t have the courage to appear before Congress and defend that practice. Hmm.

Although I’m gratified that the Senate held a hearing to expose this problem, I’d much rather they took meaningful action that would truly make things better. Perhaps the most important of those would be to repeal the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (aka the DSHEA). This act removed “dietary supplements” … which would include things like green coffee bean extract … from FDA oversight, thus creating a vast market for bogus products that are peddled behind cowardly little legalistic caveats like “not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” If any of these things actually did what their makers imply they do, it ought to be possible — if not trivial — to demonstrate it using the same sorts of studies which the FDA requires for pharmaceuticals. Sure, it’d cost money … but so what? We’re talking about people’s health here! Why is it so onerous or unreasonable to expect the makers of “herbal remedies” provide medical evidence for their claims, when we have no qualms about demanding the same in the case of pharmaceuticals? I don’t see how or why there should be any difference.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Gallup (graph) / In U.S., 46% Hold Creationist View of Human OriginsI don’t normally consider poll or survey results to be newsworthy, but a recent survey paints a sobering picture of how Americans think. It seems we still have a long way to go before we can emerge from the Dark Ages. Gallup reports that about as many Americans believe in Creationism today, as believed in it some three decades ago (WebCite cached article):

Forty-six percent of Americans believe in the creationist view that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. The prevalence of this creationist view of the origin of humans is essentially unchanged from 30 years ago, when Gallup first asked the question. About a third of Americans believe that humans evolved, but with God’s guidance; 15% say humans evolved, but that God had no part in the process.

Stupefyingly, the Gallup report makes statements that would be obvious even without having to conduct a survey; such as, “the most religious Americans are most likely to be Creationists.” I mean, seriously … did they think they’d get any other results? Gimme a break! Also, Gallup makes this observation about the disparity between acceptance of Creationism by Republicans and others:

The major distinction is between Republicans and everyone else. While 58% of Republicans believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years, 39% of independents and 41% of Democrats agree.

While Gallup considers this is a huge difference, I don’t. That 41% of Democrats and 39% of independents are Creationists, is still not comforting. 39% of any sizable block of the population believing in nonsensical ancient fairy-tales is by no means an achievement to be trumpeted aloud. Quite the contrary, it’s a fucking disgrace!

The scientific consensus … which back in 1982 had already long settled on the idea that the Earth is billions of years old, that evolution happens, and that it produced humanity … has only solidified since then. Yet the general population remains unconvinced. This sure looks to me like an example of the backfire effect at work, something I’ve blogged about before. People with false beliefs tend to resist correction, even when the correction is irrefutable. In fact, the more compelling the refutation, the more strongly they resist it. This is why, for example, there are a lot of people who still insist that Barack Obama is not a US citizen, even though it’s been demonstrated — with compelling and unassailable evidence — that he most assuredly is a citizen. Birthers just dig their heels in on the matter, and like tiny little children, simply refuse to listen to anything that runs contrary to their screwy thinking.

It works the same for Creationists. They simply define the science that proves them wrong, as “a tool of Satan” designed to lead people astray from what they view as “the Truth.” The more science — and scientists — keep insisting they haven’t a fucking clue what they’re talking about (which, quite obviously, they don’t), the more convinced Creationists become that science and scientists are tools of the Devil, to be derided and condemned as such, and to be viewed as a dire enemy. There’s no amount of refutation they’ll accept, because they’ve chosen in advance to dismiss any possibility of refutation.

Which is why I find it odd that so many of them whine and bellyache about how “closed-minded” skeptics and scientists are. In truth, they are the ones who are “closed-minded.”

Hat tip: CNN Belief Blog.

Photo credit: Gallup.

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Cosmological Models: Disquisitiones MathematicaeIt’s now the 21st century, and by now people are well-acquainted with the fact that our solar system is heliocentric (i.e. the sun, not the earth, is at its center). Of course, the Catholic Church, in the 16th and 17th centuries, attempted to prevent the world from understanding this. The Vatican ultimately lost its war on science, even if men like Galileo Galilei paid the price for having dared speak up for the heliocentric principle.

While today one might assume the Catholic Church would prefer to move on and fight new battles against rationality, one would be very, very wrong to think so. Oh no. The Catholic battle against the heliocentric model has by no means been ended. The Chicago Tribune reports on a Catholic organization which teaches that the heliocentric model is a wicked, vile conspiracy, cooked up and propagated solely to undermine the Catholic Church’s authority (WebCite cached article):

A small group of conservative Roman Catholics is pointing to a dozen biblical verses and the Church’s original teaching as proof that the Earth is the center of the universe, the view that prompted Galileo Galilei’s clash with the Church four centuries ago.

The relatively obscure movement has gained a following among a few Chicago-area Catholics who find comfort in knowing there are still staunch defenders of original Church doctrine.

This parish belongs to a Catholic organization called the Society of St Pius X (or SSPX). They’re a paranoid bunch:

Indeed, those promoting geocentrism argue that heliocentrism, or the centuries-old consensus among scientists that the Earth revolves around the sun, is nothing more than a conspiracy theory to squelch the church’s influence.

“Heliocentrism becomes ‘dangerous’ if it is being propped up as the true system when, in fact, it is a false system,” said Robert Sungenis, leader of a budding movement to get scientists to reconsider. “False information leads to false ideas, and false ideas lead to illicit and immoral actions — thus the state of the world today. … Prior to Galileo, the church was in full command of the world; and governments and academia were subservient to her.”

That rotten, stinking, horrible Galileo! He ruined everything!!! All by himself, he destroyed the “command of the world” which the Roman Catholic Church once enjoyed. How awful it must be for the poor, downtrodden Church not to run the show any more!

Boo fucking hoo hoo.

Some of their “proof” that the earth is the center of the universe is offered in the story:

There is proof in Scripture that the Earth is the center of the universe, Sungenis said. Among many verses, he cites Joshua 10:12-14 as definitive proof: “And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, while the nation took vengeance on its foe. … The sun halted in the middle of the sky; not for a whole day did it resume its swift course.”

While it once had been a schismatic group, four of its bishops have been readmitted to the Church (cached article), so one would assume its teachings to be considered authoritative by the wider Church. Therefore this can’t be taken as the word of just a few screwy “fringe” Catholics with strange and deviant ideas.

Note that one of the aforementioned four un-excommunicated bishops, Richard Williamson, is — like the rest of his organization, apparently — a paranoid thinker. He’s denied the Holocaust on the grounds that it’s an attempt to elevate each Jew in the world to the status of messiah, as I’ve blogged previously. Yeah, SSPX is a really nice crew.

Hat tip: Apathetic Agnostic Church.

Photo credit: Vicious Bits.

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Gray739-emphasizing-hippocampusIt hardly seems possible, in this day and age of rampant accomodationism and the steady rise of relentless religionism, that a scientific study conducted in the United States could reach a conclusion such as this. But, as improbable as it is, it’s happened. A Duke University study suggests that religion causes hippocampal atrophy, as Scientific American reports (WebCite cached article):

The article [cached], “Religious factors and hippocampal atrophy in late life,” by Amy Owen and colleagues at Duke University [cached] represents an important advance in our growing understanding of the relationship between the brain and religion. The study, published March 30 in PLoS One, showed greater atrophy in the hippocampus in individuals who identify with specific religious groups as well as those with no religious affiliation. …

In this study, Owen et al. used MRI to measure the volume of the hippocampus, a central structure of the limbic system that is involved in emotion as well as in memory formation. …

The results showed significantly greater hippocampal atrophy in individuals reporting a life-changing religious experience. In addition, they found significantly greater hippocampal atrophy among born-again Protestants, Catholics, and those with no religious affiliation, compared with Protestants not identifying as born-again.

Cue the sanctimoniously-outraged religionists who will scream and holler and stamp their feet at the results of this study. They’re sure to vilify its authors, and they likely will attempt to get them fired from Duke. They will, no doubt, condemn the “atheist fundamentalists” who cooked up this study in order to discredit religion, because they’re all wicked “secular progressives” who want to destroy the country’s “moral fabric.”

There’s just one problem with any such claim, if it’s made (and I’m betting it will be): It’s not true! The Duke University institute that produced it, the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, was founded for the purpose of granting scientific (specifically, medical) credibility to religion. The last thing its staff want to do is come up with a study that even remotely appears to discredit religion!

Aside from this basic error, though, attacks on people basically have nothing to do with the veracity of their science; that stands or falls on its own, and to say otherwise is to engage in the fallacy of argumentum ad hominem.

I plan to stand back and watch the fireworks erupt. And I’ll await the peer review and follow-up studies which will, someday, tell us how valid this study truly is.

Hat tip: Nocturnal Slacker v2.0.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Stephen Hawking dismisses belief in God in an exclusive interview with the Guardian. Photograph: Solar & Heliospheric Observatory/Discovery ChannelI’ve already blogged about famous British scientist Stephen Hawking, who previously riled up the world’s religionists by saying that one need not posit a God in order to explain the existence of the universe. In a new interview with the (UK) Guardian, Hawking takes on the widespread belief in an afterlife (WebCite cached article):

A belief that heaven or an afterlife awaits us is a “fairy story” for people afraid of death, Stephen Hawking has said.

In a dismissal that underlines his firm rejection of religious comforts, Britain’s most eminent scientist said there was nothing beyond the moment when the brain flickers for the final time.

Hawking declares his mechanistic viewpoint as clearly and as succinctly as one could hope for:

“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark,” he added.

But Hawking isn’t mechanistic enough to have no appreciation of beauty:

[Hawking said] Science is beautiful when it makes simple explanations of phenomena or connections between different observations. Examples include the double helix in biology, and the fundamental equations of physics.

Cue the screaming and caterwauling of religionists around the world, who will condemn Hawking for having said this. I especially await him being criticized for being a scientist, not a theologian, so he’s not supposed to have anything to say about religion … while at the same time most religionists are themselves also not theologians, meaning that — by this logic — no mention of their religion should ever cross their lips.

Fucking hypocrites!

Photo credit: Solar & Heliospheric Observatory/Discovery Channel via the Guardian.

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Gravity Probe confirms Einstein (NASA graphic via NatGeo)For decades now, Einstein’s theories have consistently held up under scrutiny. The first observation that supported relativity occurred in 1919, when Sir Arthur Eddington noted a certain amount of light deflection — predicted by the theory — during a solar eclipse. Since then, other observations and experiments have fallen in line with this result and bolstered Einstein’s theories. But some aspects of his theories remained untested, until just recently. National Geographic reports that a special gravity probe sent up by NASA has, in fact, provided additional confirmation (WebCite cached article):

Two key predictions of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity have been confirmed by NASA’s Gravity Probe B mission, scientists announced this week.

“We’ve completed this landmark experiment testing Einstein’s universe, and Einstein survives,” principal investigator Francis Everitt, of Stanford University in California, said during a press briefing.

I’ll leave the scientific details of this to the article itself. What’s remarkable about this is that Einstein himself had presumed these particular aspects of his theories (i.e. the geodetic effect and frame-dragging) might never be testable, since they involved such minuscule measurements:

In his 1953 book The Meaning of Relativity, Einstein wrote that frame-dragging effects “are actually present according to our theory, although their magnitude is so small that confirmation of them by laboratory experiments is not to be thought of.”

Congratulations are in order for the brilliant minds of NASA, for coming up with ways to measure the immeasurable.

I have to wonder what the hyperreligious nutjobs at Conservapedia will make of this confirmation. They have, you see, a problem with Einstein’s relativity. They conflate it with “moral relativity” — which, really, is totally unrelated — and scream and rail against it. Rational Wiki provides details of their juvenile antics and relativity-denialism, if you care to know more about it.

Just goes to show the colossal lengths of irrationality people will go to, in order to hold onto their metaphysics. Even in the face of objective, verifiable facts to the contrary. It really is childish … but it seems to be human nature.

Photo credit: NASA via National Geographic.

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Evolution & Darwinism in Schools: Teaching Evolution & Darwinism Encourages Immoral, Bestial Behavior (Image © Austin Cline, Licensed to About; Original Poster: Library of Congress)The drums of the vast armies of Christofascism in the US are beating incessantly, and their forces are on the march. In skirmish after skirmish, they’re gaining victories around the country. The latest of these came in the Tennessee legislature, whose House approved a law that would teach religion in that state’s science classes. CBS News reports on this religionist debacle (WebCite cached article):

Tennessee’s Republican-dominated House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed a bill that would protect teachers who want to challenge the theory of human evolution.

Thursday’s 70-28 passage of HB 368 [cached] was hailed by sponsor Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, who said the proposal was designed to promote “critical thinking” in science classes.

It will be a cold day in hell before any Religious Rightist like Dunn ever truly gives a flying fuck about “critical thinking.” His promotion of this bill shows he has no comprehension of what “critical thinking” is.

The truth of the matter is this: TN HB 368 is NOT — and never was — about “critical thinking” at all. Religiofascists don’t like or want “critical thinking.” They demand, instead, “rigid dogmatic thinking,” and unwavering thralldom to their unbending, irrational metaphysics.

Rep. Dunn’s claim to be concerned about “critical thinking” is a lie, and that places him in my “lying liars for Jesus” club.

For anyone who’s not yet clear on this, “intelligent design” and its various relatives are all just variations on Creationism. It was none other than an evangelical Christian federal appellate judge — appointed by George W. Bush himself — who declared “intelligent design” a sham, a transparent cover for Creationism, in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (2005). Prior to that, the US Supreme Court had ruled that Creationism was effectively a religion and is therefore forbidden in public schools, in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987), and subsequently that evolution by contrast is not a religion, in Peloza v. Capistrano School District (1994).

It’s time for America’s religionists to grow up and get over the fact that science is not theirs to control. Evolution is science, at the moment, so that’s what should be taught in science classes. Period. End of discussion.

One final note for any other religiofascists out there who think they can force their religion on public school kids in the name of promoting “critical thinking”: To paraphrase V.P. candidate Lloyd Bentsen’s famous quip, I know Critical Thinking; Critical Thinking is a friend of mine. You don’t know what Critical Thinking is.

Hat tip: Mark at Skeptics & Heretics Forum at Delphi Forums.

Photo credit: Austin Cline / About.Com.

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