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Christopher Hitchens on Q TV (9/21/09) September 30, 2009

Posted by rationalskeptic in Christopher Hitchens.
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Health Care Reform (This Post Speaks for Itself) September 20, 2009

Posted by rationalskeptic in Healthcare.
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(Post taken from Scientific American’s, 60-Second Science blog)

Going without health insurance can delay when people obtain primary and preventative care, potentially resulting in poorer health. Even more gravely, a lack of private health insurance brings an increased risk of death; uninsurance is to blame for some 44,789 adult deaths across the U.S. every year, according to a new study published online today in the American Journal of Public Health.

The findings show that uninsured Americans—between the ages of 17 and 64—have a 40 percent higher risk of death than those who have private insurance. (Those enrolled in government insurance programs, such as Medicaid and Department of Veterans Affairs insurance, were excluded from the study.) About 46.3 million Americans didn’t have health insurance as of 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and the number is estimated to be higher now since the recession has forced many off of employer health plans.

Previous research by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) employing older data had put the risk of death due to uninsurance closer to 25 percent.

(Click the picture to read more and find more information)

Banana Man and His Polyp Desecrate ‘On the Origin…’ September 20, 2009

Posted by rationalskeptic in Bullshit Artists.
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Banana Man (Ray Comfort) and his comrade in their fight against reality Kirk Cameron have unveiled the newest scheme to fleece students across the country.

Here is a succinct introduction from P.Z. Myers from his blog Pharyngula:

Back in June, I reported on this new sleazy tactic by Ray Comfort: he produced an abridged edition of Darwin’s Origin of Species, and then had the gall to tag on a preface that he had written himself, full of the standard creationist misconceptions. Comfort is astoundingly ignorant of basic biology; the best analogy to what he’s doing here would be if I were to give a chimpanzee a few blank sheets of paper and a convenient pile of his own feces and ask him to write a theological exegesis of the book of Genesis.

Oh, wait. On second thought, the chimpanzee would probably do a smarter job of his task than Comfort did of his.

Anyway, Ray and his polyp, Kirk Cameron, have a grand plan. They are going to give away their mangled edition of the Origin on 50 college campuses on 19 November, with the intent of allowing students to see the ‘alternative’ view. As if no one has heard of creationism, or as if it was a valid alternative to science.

And, this is the counter-attack post at Richard Dawkins’ site:

On Thursday November 19, 2009, Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort (the banana guy) will be distributing 50,000 copies of Charles Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’ at universities across America to students for free.

BUT THERE’S A CATCH!!

Each copy will have a 50 page intro about how evolution has never been proven and how Darwin helped inspire the Holocaust.

You can watch this video for more information:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GN9zpf5cT0M

Or read the 50 page intro here:
http://assets.livingwaters.com/pdf/OriginofSpecies.pdf

If this outrages you, then you’re not alone. There’s something we can do though. We can amass as many of these books as possible, remove the 50 page intro, and then donate perfectly good copies of ‘Origin of Species’ to schools, libraries, and Goodwill. We can actually make this into something positive.

If you are in college, then you are in a good position to help. Check your campus on November 19th, and if you see a group distributing copies of the book, then get as many as you can. Get a copy for yourself, ask if you can have extra copies for your friends, ask your friends to go ask for copies, and ask other people you see carrying the book if you can have their copy.

This is a shameful thing that Kirk Cameron and the Banana Guy are doing by altering another person’s book in order to push their agenda. But we can help to restore the book to how it was intended and keep young minds from being brainwashed by misinformation.

This information needs to be passed around the scientifically skeptic-minded reasoned rationalists blogs, so go out and spread the word!

Pass ID: My Prediction September 13, 2009

Posted by rationalskeptic in Politics, Uncategorized.
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Scientific American has an article about the new national ID program that Bush failed to fulfill, but may come to fruition under a new administration. Here is my prediction: the radical christian conservatives are going to cause an enormous fuss, and mention the book of Revelation and shit. Also, I have a hunch that they will just ignore the part about the Bush administration being the ones who initiated this process.

Pass-IDFour years ago, President Bush signed a law requiring states to create driver’s licenses that meet national standards, store related information in nationally connected databases and foot the bill for most of this nearly $4-billion project. Now, after the 2005 Real ID Act has alienated state governments and privacy advocates alike, the federal government is considering a replacement measure called Pass ID that it hopes will improve national security while being less expensive and less intrusive on privacy.
(Click the picture to read  the entire post)

The text of the President’s “controversial” education speech has been released… September 7, 2009

Posted by rationalskeptic in Education.
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(This post is copied from Mike Dunford’s blog The Questionable Authority. I thought this was an excellent post about the importance of President Obama’s speech, and it also illuminates the absurd fanaticism of the right wing of this country.)

…and it’s easy to see why the right is so up in arms over Obama’s plan to start off the new school year by talking to students.

I’ve just finished reading the text of the speech, and it’s just totally jam packed with anti-Republican ideological concepts. Here are some of the highlights:

I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.

Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, “This is no picnic for me either, buster.”

OMG!! Obama lived in Indonesia! Why didn’t we find out about that before the election??!!?? Maybe he was born there!!!1!!ELEVENTY!!! Then he couldn’t really be President!!

And what’s this nonsense about working hard early in the morning, and about his mother taking responsibility for making sure he was well-educated even if the local schools couldn’t do the job. What kind of message is that to send kids?

Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.

Write for newspapers? iPhones?? “Student government”??? The man is clearly trying to corrupt our young. Why couldn’t he encourage them to do something less insidious – like dealing crack or something?

And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.

Working now to get something you want way later? Mr. President, what kind of message is that to send to Americans?

The Skeptic’s Guide and The Bad Astronomer @ DragonCon 09 September 6, 2009

Posted by rationalskeptic in Science and Skepticism.
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On a whim, my friend Elliot and I decided to take a day trip to Atlanta for DragonCon 09.  Our primary motivation for going to the convention was the SkepTrack, organized by the Atlanta Skeptics.  The SkepTrack was organized well and the schedule was filled with panels, lectures, and discussions that would make any skeptic euphoric. I am a huge fan of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast and Phil Plait’s (The Bad Astronomer) blog Bad Astronomy, and meeting all of them was the icing on the proverbial cake.

Me and The Bad Astronomer (Phil)

Me and The Bad Astronomer (Phil)

Me and Rebecca of The SGU

Me and Rebecca of The SGU

Jay, Me, Evan, and Bob (of The SGU)

Jay, Me, Evan, and Bob (of The SGU)

Me and Steven Novella (The Holy Grail)

Me and Steven Novella (The Holy Grail)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steven Novella is the host of the The Skeptic’s Guide, a Neurologist, a daily blogger, and in my opinion the most effective (in many ways) voice for scientific skepticism.  Steve gave a wonderful lecture on why skepticism is needed and below are my notes from that lecture:

Dr. Steven Novella, September 4, 2009 Lecture @ Dragoncon

Why We Need Skepticism: Lessons from Neuroscience 

Perception:

  • Visual processing and optical illusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Inability to judge distance, size, speed
  • Pattern Recognition                                                

 Memory:

  • Memory Fusion
  • Selective and False memory (Confidence does not predict accuracy)

 Altered States:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Hypnagogia, Hypnopompia
  • Seizures (right temporal lobe seizure)
  • Encephalopathy, Intoxication, Anoxia                                      

 Decision-Making:

  • Bias– Pattern Recognition, Agency Detection, Ego gratification, Attribution error, Confirmation Bias, Negative Bias                                                      
  • Emotion– Dislike uncertainty, Desire a sense of control, Desire to be liked or to be perceived positively by others

 Heuristics (mental short-cuts): (default mode for human thinking)

  • Conscious vs. Subconscious                                        
  • Anchoring and Marketing
  • Automatic Choice (gut feeling)
  • Barnum/Forer Effect (fMRI): most decisions made prior to awareness; conscious selves accept or reject subconscious decisions, mostly rationalize

 Optimism:

  • Science works
  • Skepticism can mitigate the frailties of human thinking; knowledge of statistics trumps probability heuristics.