when the status quo frustrates.


Monday, August 16th, 2010

Dear Internet,

I just ate a piece of pizza. I know that it is making me fat. I am aware that it contains polyunsaturated something-or-other, hydrolyzed this-or-that, and also sugar and, god help me, corn.

I know that half of what I just ate is giving me cancer even as the other half is preventing it. I know the wheat is shredding my intestines even as it murders my children. I know that the corn is genetically engineered and that it’s giving me cancer, because as everyone knows, genes cause cancer. I know that I probably need more B12 or B7 or K or something, I know that fructose is the new cyanide, I know that I’m probably allergic to goddamned near everything, and yes, I know that if I add a teaspoon of sugar to my tea I may as well be mainlining crystal meth.

Oh, and hey look! Something about gut bacteria. My gut bacteria, or possibly my lack thereof, are making me fat and maybe also killing me. Okay, I know that now, too.

I know that I need to work out more. God, do I ever I know that. I know that I should be working out RIGHT NOW THIS SECOND. (And yes, I know that the aspartame I just sipped in my diet coke is killing me in exactly the same way as sugar, but with a funny aftertaste.)

But you know what, Internet? I just. Don’t. Care. The aggregate cost of filtering, processing, and understanding a constantly-shifting stream of breathless information about THIS thing which causes toe cancer in genetically engineered lab rats or THAT thing which prevents aging in soybean nematodes—let alone the vast array of things that affect my chakral alignment or the quantum moment of my vitreous humors—has just become far higher than any conceivable benefit.

When you can show me a living person who is 300 years old and who doesn’t look a day over, say, 50, then we can talk.

Until then: please, please, shut the fuck up.

~ v.

p.s. I either ALREADY HAVE brain cancer, or I NEVER WILL. Either way, unless you’re whining about the antenna in the fucking iPhone 4, please shut the fuck up about cell phones, too. Actually, on second thought, don’t say anything about the iPhone 4, either.

Sluts and Mothers

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Generally, two things only women can be.

I’ve seldom been a slut–I was never able to say that before, or anything else on the topic of how much of a slut I was or wasn’t, because I never had a definition before that I felt satisfied any kind of consistency (internal or external). However, I have finally lucked out and stumbled across the bestest definition of s-l-u-t evar:

as the awesome Kelly Huegel pointed out, is a female person who has had sex with more people than any one person calling them a slut considers acceptable

Actually, by that definition I may never have been a slut, since as far as I know nobody has ever called me one. However, since the strong possibility always exists for any woman that at some point in time somebody somewhere has called her a slut outside of her hearing, I may have periodically been a slut. The closest I ever came to this face-to-face was the one-and-only-boyfriend-who-ever-asked-me-what-my-number-was, and appeared to be either deeply shocked or deeply impressed by said digit once it was delivered to him. (I returned the favor and asked him for his, and thence learned that his was, oh dear, lower than mine, which likely had some influence on the rather odd number-asking behavior and response to my response.)

I am mostly indifferent to the social construct that is a slut, but given my lack of personal dealings with the meme, I suspect a lot of my indifference stems from my privileged status as generally not being considered one. I have instead spent most of my sexual life married, which has resulted in more frequent accusations of codependency (not true–yes, I have checked with a psychologist on the possibility of that or any other quirks in my cortex–there are quirks, but not that one). I will say I have managed to spend the past five years only married for less than one of them, though I somewhat spoil that by having to admit that I have cohabitated for three.

Which is why I did really enjoy this piece from Jezebel, which has generated (unsuprisingly) all kind of bloggy feedback, both positive and negative. Not because I ever experienced the joys of “sluthood” myself, though I considered the idea on several occasions throughout the years, but because I know what it is to find well into my adult life that I was not only a serial monogamist but that I was a completely unintentional one, with unpleasant psychological results at the ending of the last foray into committed relationshiphood. I also found myself completely burnt out on the emotional roller-coaster ride, though my personal centering solution to this wasn’t to embrace casual sexual encounters. I figured out long ago that I am by nature monogamous, and in spite of the bewildering (to me, anyway–why does anyone care what someone else’s personal consensual sexual preferences are, really..? but oh, silly question–if that were the case, this wouldn’t be the behemoth it is) attempts by some to portray monogamy as unnatural and damaging for everyone. I have to admit, though, that my lack of interest in casual sexual encounters when monogamy is not an issue as everyone involved is totally single has eroded a little over the years. (Why this is, and why I feel I am naturally monogamous in general, is totally worth exploring further and I am gonna do it. Soon. Really!) But it still isn’t much of an interest.

But it’s really old news that only women can be sluts. I have periodically heard in passing, some man or other playfully labeled a “slut,” but it’s pretty meaningless in that context. For women, it can clearly become life-dominating. For Jaclyn Friedman, author of the Jezebel piece that prompted this train of musing, it clearly was as well. Frankly, I find the thought of it exhausting, the burden I and every other woman is supposed to shoulder at puberty (or even before, sometimes) based upon the fact that heterosexual men (the dominant variety) want to have sexual intercourse with us. Besides my history of not having to deal with it much personally, I suspect this exhaustion is the other main reason I am mostly indifferent to the slut meme–I don’t want to think about it. It’s not my problem, dammit! But you know, it is, by virtue of the fact that I am a woman. This is deeply irritating.

So I was already irritated when I continued my perusal of Feministe’s front page and got to this gem:

Diets all around!

Well, here’s some research that can’t possibly be misconstrued: a new study published in The Lancet has documented an association between the amount of weight a mother gains during her pregnancy and the birth weight of her infant. Since birth weight can be used to predict adult BMI, cue the ZOMG! Obesity! commentary. “For babies, studies are just now beginning to show that the effects of tipping the scales at birth may linger throughout life. Many experts suggest that excessive nutrition in pregnancy creates an abnormal uterine environment that permanently changes the baby’s brain, pancreas, fat tissue and other biological systems, said a co-author of the study, Dr. David Ludwig.”


I ate like a pig during both my pregnancies, once I was able to keep food down at all (in other words, not the first trimester or the first half of the second trimester). Though I may actually be insulting pigs by comparing my gestating eating habits to their usual ones. I gained about fifty pounds both times–I kid you not; when I stood on the scale in the delivery room while in the middle of labor with Offspring No. 2, I weighed in at 197 pounds. Not only did I consume vast quantities of food, it was whatever type of food I madly craved at the moment, which was quite the bewildering variety. (Yes, I drank pickle juice straight out of the jar, among other things. Pregnancy is weird. Avoid it until you are 100% sure it and its lifelong semi-autonomous consequences are what you really, really want.) Some of this food was great stuff for anyone, like the cucumber-and-tangerines kick I went on in the eighth month of pregnancy with one kid. Some of this food was not so great, like the french toast obsession I developed in month six or seven with the other kid.

So I starved myself (involuntarily, I assure you, not to mention dehydrated myself badly) for half of both my pregnancies and gorged like food was going to be gone tomorrow for the other half. I gained probably about as much weight as was recommended for the Octomom to put on (nope, neither of my pregnancies were even with twins). And yet–and yet–

Baby no. 1: male, full-term, 7 lbs 15 oz and 21 in. long
Baby no. 2: male, full-term, 7 lbs 15 1/2 oz and 21 in. long

According to kidshealth.org:

Most full-term babies weigh somewhere between 6 pounds, 2 ounces and 9 pounds, 2 ounces. Their average length ranges from 19 to 21 inches.

Hmm. Does the fact that at 5 feet 8 inches, I’m the shortest person in my family, and the only person shorter than me in the kids’ dad’s family is my sister-in-law at 5 feet 7 inches, and that in neither family is there an adult male below 6 feet in height, have anything to do with anything..? But even taking that into account, the kids weren’t outside the average range in length and were comfortably within the average weight.

Well, how about now though…? Maybe my goatlike approach to ingestion during pregnancy had a delayed response–

Baby no. 1: still male, 18 years old. 6 feet 4 inches tall. 160 pounds. (Actually a bit of a problem, as he is only 4 pounds over the underweight limit for an Air Force enlistee of his height. He has been advised by his recruiter to start scarfing down protein and hitting the gym for some weight training.)

Baby no. 2: still male, 13 years old. 5 feet 4 inches tall. 97 pounds. (According to standard charts for the US, this puts him at about the 80th percentile in height and 45th percentile in weight for a boy his age.)

…maybe I’ve starved them since birth, to hide my grotesque fetal abuse?

I know, I know, one piece of anecdata does not a refutation make…but it does make it hard for me personally to really take this seriously. It makes it very easy for me to see it as yet more womanshaming, safely targeting a role that only, indeed, women can and do take–there’s no way at all to slither out of gender-specific blame here, baby!

Let’s give the ladies a rest for a day, folks. Okay?

Bullshit of the Highest Magnitude

Friday, July 30th, 2010

I generally avoid “Psychology Today”. The magazine believes in just-so, evo psych nonsense, it has tons of advertisements for SSR inhibitors (I’m against medical ads in the first place), and it’s just generally a tacky magazine. Scienceblogs has better biology, Scientific Mind America is better when it comes to psychology. But, Shakesville linked me to this article, and I just had to say something.

We say we want someone who surprises us with daisies just because it’s Tuesday, serenades us with his acoustic guitar, and bakes us brownies when we desperately need a chocolate fix. However, when brought face to face with a man who is truly devoted to romanticism, we quickly dismiss him. No longer considered swoon-worthy, his antics evoke discomfort and sheer terror in the hearts of women everywhere….

If Monday’s episode of “The Bachelorette: The Men Tell All” has taught me anything, it is that taking on the persona of the “sensitive male” is the quickest way to get sent home sans rose, not to mention become the butt of countless jokes among your fellow dumpees. For those who have been keeping up with the latest Bachelorette (i.e. those of you who lack any semblance of a social life) know that Kasey will forever be branded as the creepiest contestant the show has ever seen. During his time on the show, he spewed cheesy lines like, “You look imaginary,” performed an impromptu (off-key) serenade after a helicopter ride, and even got a tattoo to prove his dedication to and his vow to “guard and protect (bachelorette, Ali’s) heart.” He has every characteristic we say we look for in a man, yet we cannot help but cringe with pity and embarrassment as we watch poor Kasey pour his heart out to the frightened Ali…..

A husband knows that when his wife cries, he should comfort her by putting his arm around her, rub her back, and tell her everything will be okay. A wife is less sure of what to do when her husband cries. Instead of a complete role reversal, women tend to feel awkward watching their husbands or boyfriends in such a vulnerable state, and men tend to withdraw and feel emasculated when their significant others pat their heads and say, “Poor baby.” Although the idea of a man in touch with his feminine side seems perfect, the reality is too new for most women to fully accept….

Perhaps the answer to this puzzling phenomenon is nothing more than a simple case of “grass-is-greener” syndrome. I could spend all day looking forward to a relaxing evening on the couch catching up on my reading, but as soon as I see my roommate ready to go out, my book which was once enthralling becomes tedious and all I can think about now is how much I’d rather be going out than stuck at home. If you have straight hair, you want curly hair. If you’re tall, you want to be shorter. We are never satisfied with what we have, and maybe this same principle holds true when it comes to boyfriends. In any case, I leave all of the Kasey’s of the world with this one final word of advice: Dry your tears, replace all turtlenecks for muscle tees, and trade the roses you were about to purchase for weeds because apparently this is what women really want.

Let’s start with the obvious part: “women are” and “men are” and “women want this…”. This is the easiest shit to start with because, as a women I can clearly state that I want a sensitive guy.

I have a Hubby who buys me flowers and other small tokens for no reason but he loves me. I have a Hubby who just last week made me cookies because I was in desperate need of a chocolate fix. He doesn’t sing, but despite not having much in the way of practice, will still take me dancing. This flower-buying, dancing, cookie-making sweetheart is the person I MARRIED, not dismissed. His affection didn’t “frighten me” it is what attracted me to him in the first place.

I have also held him while he’s cried, and I know that he did not feel emasculated. We’ve already seen each other through some very dark times in our lives, and it didn’t make us feel like we were babies or unmanly- it made us feel strong in our relationship; like we could trust each other with our true selves. This “lie to one another so someone will like you” is the most damaging, unsatisfying thing I could think to do in a relationship.

Now, on to bullshit number two: while flowers just because and cookies are sweet, what she described Kasey as doing is not “sweet” it’s “creepy and stalkerish”. I don’t watch the show, but if someone showed that much emotion it would set off warning bells to me. His behavior meant that he was treating the young woman as a cypher- a “woman creature” to which he could perform the actions of a “sensitive male”. Trading in turtlenecks for muscle tees would not address the fact that he was treating someone as an interchangeable cog, and the fact that he was performing rather than being an actual person. Just because “women” don’t want creepy stalkers doesn’t mean that they want macho meatheads either. This isn’t about the grass being greener: this is about wanting a person and not a role; a medium and not an extreme. I complain about the 100 F degree weather in the summer and the -20 F degree weather in the winter- this neither makes me a hypocrite or too picky. It means I like neither of those temperatures.

And, I know my husband is not the “perfect man” but rather he’s a man well-suited to me. There are other women who would want their guy to be a little more serious than my fun-loving husband. There are other women who would prefer a husband who was more pacifistic, or musically inclined, or what have you. There are some women who’d want a partner with a lot more X chromosomes than my husband. I know that my “type” is not the “type” that attracts everyone- women are different, and will want different people. But this “women, you thought you wanted respect and affection, but you know you want to be ignored and abused because that’s “manly”" is complete and utter bullshit (and heterocentric to the extreme).

Psychology Today, fail.

Okay, This Is Ridiculous

Monday, April 5th, 2010

I have kept my mouth shut about this…til now. But this is really the outside of enough, folks. I mean, come ON!

Study: Lack of breastfeeding costs lives, billions of dollars

(CNN) — If most new moms would breastfeed their babies for the first six months of life, it would save nearly 1,000 lives and billions of dollars each year,

Let me note now that I breastfed both my children til each one was a year old and breastfed exclusively through the first four months, so my absolute disgust with this article is in no way some kinda guilt-fueled defensive huffiness. I was a good little Mommie! I saved nearly 1,000 lives and billions of dollars each year! (I could use some of that money right now too, thanks–drop me an email, whoever is holding onto that?)


Apparently they give PhDs to just about anybody with the cash to buy the college courses

Friday, February 19th, 2010

So I saw this article today while surfing the ‘net:

Dreaded diseases dwindle with gene testing
Wider screening curbs inherited disorders such as cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs

Some of mankind’s most devastating inherited diseases appear to be declining, and a few have nearly disappeared, because more people are using genetic testing to decide whether to have children.

Births of babies with cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs and other less familiar disorders have dropped since testing came into wider use, The Associated Press found from a review of studies and interviews with numerous geneticists and other experts.

Uh-oh, I thought to myself. Because, you know, the screening itself doesn’t have any directly curative or preventative effect at all on inherited genetic disorders…what it does is allow people carrying genetic disorders to either decide not to reproduce or, more commonly, decide to abort any pregnancy with an embryo or fetus that carries the defective genes. Now, I personally have no problem with this; I am pro-choice through and through. However, I figured that there’d be a sizable contingent of folks out there who would have a b-i-g problem with the idea that giving out access to information that might influence someone to abort could ever, under any circumstances, be regarded as a good thing.

Yep, all I had to do was nip over to the “Comments” section after the article, and what was the very first comment..?

Very ironic and sad that a method touted as a “life-saving effort” is what gives an excuse to kill a baby.

Because of course, you know we are all on the lookout for excuses to kill babies. It’s a lot like being on the lookout for excuses to eat chocolate or go shopping!…sigh.

I can always console myself with the possibility that the hordes of people who are making remarks like that are just ignorant. Or stupid. Or both. But then, linked to the article, is another article written by some dude who presumably is not ignorant or stupid, given that he describes himself as Arthur Caplan, Ph.D.:

Disability-free world may not be a better place
Screening means fewer Down babies, but are we missing out?

A fascinating probe by the Associated Press suggests the reason. Genetic testing is leading to birth of fewer and fewer children with Down syndrome and other genetic disease in the United States.

The “fascinating probe” he refers to is, indeed, the article that originally caught my eye. And you can tell by the way he goes on in the article that he did actually read some of it, because he spends a little time talking about Tay-Sachs disease and Cystic Fibrosis. But his main point, the one he keeps returning to over and over again (after a few sops thrown out acknowledging that children born with Tay-Sachs, for instance, die by age 4) is

As some families with a Down syndrome child have noted, fewer kids with Down may mean fewer public programs, fewer resources in schools and for housing and less political clout.

On a trip to Ireland a few years ago, I was struck by a number of faces among the crowds. They were children with the tell-tale look of Down syndrome. What struck me was the realization that I hardly ever see these young faces out on the street in the United States.

Down Syndrome, which can’t be detected at all through parental screening, which is what the original article is all about, because it’s caused by a mutation in the reproductive cells themselves, not in the parents’ cells. Rinse, repeat: Down Syndrome is not an inherited genetic disorder.

But since the heartstrings clearly get tugged the wrong way by discussing babies born with Tay-Sachs disease–it’s a hell of a lot harder to paint the prevention of that occurence as parents on the lookout for excuses to kill their babies–I suppose Concern Troll PhD couldn’t really use that as his handle, huh?

Aviation Stupidity Bill

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

This post does not have much to do with progressive politics, except that I believe that the progressive side of the spectrum supports being intelligent.

Early this last year, there was a terrible crash in Buffalo, New York. The NTSB discovered that the crash was a result of significant ice build-up on the wings of the aircraft. Many people died and were injured as a result of that crash.*

But, as a another result of that crash, the House immediately sprang into action to “Do Something”. They Must Make Aviation Safer!** So they created the “Aviation Safety Bill” H. R. 3371; a sweeping piece of legislation, and by an overwhelming majority passed it. Now it’s shipped off to the Senate, and they are the only hope to block it. And this is a bill to be blocked. Most of the stuff is actually a pretty good idea- for example, it basically kills overnight quick turns. It is currently pretty standard practice to have a pilot fly somewhere, and get 8 hours between their last flight, to when they need to be back in the morning at the airport. That sounds like enough to sleep, right? Except that you have to include the time to drive to and from the airport to the hotel, wind-down time, and getting ready in the morning and being at the airport early enough to inspect the plane. Then, all of a sudden, that 8 hours of sleep is more like 5. Having pilots that are more rested and awake will certainly make aviation safer.

There is also the redundant in this bill- such as the “pre-employment screening” of prospective pilots. It’s true that there is no law mandating such a thing, but all airlines do it anyway. They’re not going to waste their money on a bad pilot; not even American-based airlines are that stupid.

But, in section 10, there is the awful reason this bill needs to be killed, or at least amended. In section 10, it now requires that all first officers have an FAA ATP license.

Time Travelling God Particles

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

I’m no theoretical physicist, but I was a member of the institutional science community.  My particular bullshit field was “artificial intelligence,” but in the modern university, bullshit fields abound–sometimes with legitimate scientific endeavors buried within, or as an umbrella above, the bullshit.

I predict that large tracts of present-day physics research will be revealed as an exercise in mathematical masturbation–a sort of ueber-complex sudoku puzzle that only .001% of humanity has the intellect and training to attempt solving.  The sudoku metaphor can be extended to include the relevance of the solution to our questions about the nature of reality.

I’ll admit, I don’t have the mathematical chops to follow, replicate, or disprove the work of theoretical physicists.  My skepticism of their work stems from more primary methodological concerns.  Of primary concern is the lack of testable hypotheses–a feature found also in rank mysticism.

and then there’s this:

A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather. (NY Times 10/12/09)

One of the two pysicists is Bech Nielsen of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen. You probably recognize from his famous proposal that the Veneziano model was actually a theory of strings*.  A distinguished physicist indeed.

Nielson along with Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto (less famous–doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry) propose that Higgs boson particles created by scientists in the future, travel backwards through time to prevent scientists in the present from discovering them.


Now I’m the first to sympathize with scientists forced to use metaphor.  Communicating an absurdly complicated topic to an untrained public is challenging.  I’m also sympathetic to the problem of the media in relating these metaphors to the public: how literal are they meant to be taken? Is the cat *really* alive and dead at the same time? Is space *actually* a rubber matt displaced by bowling balls? And so forth.

But, as far as I can tell, the Terminator metaphor above is meant to be taken literally.  Just substitute Higgs boson for Arnold, and anything-to-do-with-discovering-Higgs-boson for Sarah Connor.

The list of things sabotage possibly engineered by Higgs: the cancellation of the planned Superconducting Supercollider in the US in 1993, the various mechanical problems of the Large Hadron Collider, and the arrest of a resident physicist on suspcion of Al-Qaeda affiliation.


Of course, thinking like scientists, they’ve come up with a plan–a peer reviewed, up-for-publication-in-a-real-journal plan.  It goes a little something like this:

  1. Create a deck of 1 million cards.
  2. Write “Procede” on 999,999 of the cards.
  3. Write “STOP” on 1 card.
  4. Shuffle.
  5. Draw a card.

If the card says “STOP,” then it supports the claim that Higgs boson(s) are emanating from the future to stop scientists from creating them, and we should design more experiments so that Higgs, from the future, can tell scientists how they should proceed with their experiments.

I think it’s a great experiment, but I would go the additional step of not including the “STOP” card.  That would really cinch it.  As a “real time” way you provide Higgs input on HLC activity, you could have a grad students continuously flipping coins.  If one of them comes up heads one million times in a row then we know Higgs thinks we’re going too far.  Or, with nearly the same degree of scientific rigor, we could have a seance.  I’m willing to be the conduit through which the Higgs boson can make its will known to our world.


*I had no idea who he was either.

**Since it would cost, like, a billionth as much as their other bullshit experiments, why haven’t they done it?

Imagine that- Fatty’s Perfectly Healthy

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

Last week, I finally managed to clear things with my health insurance, and went to get a primary physician and check-up*. As in all check ups, the very first thing they do is check my weight and height.

I’m 5’5″, and weight 211 pounds. Antigone is a giant fatty. When the nurse was recording this, she had a little look on her face like “Yeah, that’s about right”.

Then the nurse went to check my blood pressure. Her look became a little surprised then- my blood pressure is an excellent 102/62. My pulse is strong. Because I’m fat, and I haven’t had it done before, they asked for a cholesterol test and the nurse said I had the lowest cholesterol for anyone in my age group**. My lungs are in good working order (non-smoker) and my reflexes are good. My eyesight is terrific (20-10), and my hearing is MUCH better than my age group.

Why am I sharing all of this extremely personal information online that is none of anyone’s business? Because of stuff like this. For whatever reason, it seems to be just assumed that fat people aren’t healthy (and conversely, that skinny people mostly are). Also in this thought process, it seems to go that fat people could be skinny if they just “worked at it”. But it isn’t true, and it shouldn’t be thought of as so. I don’t eat any more than my skinny friends do, nor do I exercise any less. I could exercise more (and intend to now that I’ve got a job again and can afford to), but odds are, I’m always going to be a giant fatty. So far, diet plans have a terrible success rate in people keeping the weight off for more than five years.

But, a lot of fat people are healthy. That’s the thing- you can’t look at someone and go “healthy” or “in better shape” unless those people are, at that second, running a marathon. And I’m sick of people conflating their own disgust with fat as concern for health. They aren’t the same thing at all.

*And burn a wart off that’s been bugging me.
** I don’t remember the exact number, mea culpa. I think it was like 160, but I’m not sure. I know it was under 200.

Sex 2.0! Part Three: Ethical Research

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

(Parts One and Two are here and here.)

Being something of a scientist, and living in a society that revels in its hierarchy and is constantly looking for ways that at least appear objective to justify it, I’ve struggled with this issue before. It was interesting to see it come up at Sex 2.0, and hear an actual professional researcher tackle it.


Teaching the Controversy

Monday, March 30th, 2009

“A hopeful society has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners and that recognize the matchless value of every life.

Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research: human cloning in all its forms; creating or implanting embryos for experiments; creating human-animal hybrids; and buying, selling or patenting human embryos.

Human life is a gift from our creator, and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale.”

Former president George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, January 31, 2006

I’ve always liked that quote, especially the part about creating human-animal hybrids. I’ve been facilitating the mass production of human-animal hybrids since 2000–thousands of pounds of them at this point. But others are way ahead of me–the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, for example, has been pumping ‘em out at the commercial scale since I was in grade school. But I don’t think that former president Dubya really understood that when he made the above remarks. I don’t think he really understands what “human-animal hybrids” are. I suspect he meant he’d been reading too much science fiction and got really emotionally involved in one of those stories where innocent humans are force-fed wolf genes as part of a secret government plot to create super-soldiers. I figure Dubya has no problem suspending his disbelief when it comes to the idea of the government doing stuff behind its citizen’s backs in the name of national security. It seems likely that he’s absolutely unaware that all the insulin, for instance, that has been distributed in the United States since 2006 has been derived from human-animal hybrids, and was the majority of it for a long time before that.

The reason I’m contemplating this fairly old quote anew is the most recent installment via the Texas Board of Education of the ongoing drama that is the attempt to teach only science theories in science classrooms. People like Dubya really can’t cope with science at all. In the majority of cases, and certainly in his case, that’s because they haven’t taken a single science class since whatever general crap they were forced to sign up for in high school to obtain the absolute minimum number of science credits required in their state to graduate, or possibly they copped into one of those “Physics is Phun!” courses that fulfill similiar minimum science credit graduation requirements in college. (I am so not making up that course name, by the way.) But that’s not always or exclusively the case.

Back to Texas:

Dueling theories of how the universe was created got a split decision Friday night from the Texas Board of Education, which required examination of “all sides of scientific evidence” in new science standards, but rejected language requiring teachers to teach the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories.

The debate pitted proponents of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution against supporters of religion-based theories of intelligent design, or creationism.

“Science loses. Texas loses, and the kids lose because of this,” board chairman Don McLeroy, a creationist, told the Dallas Morning News.

“A creationist.” Is that some kind of career, now..? A small bit of Googling reveals that Creationist McLeroy is actually Dr. McLeroy, a dentist, and got a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Texas A&M. Now, I don’t know what’s changed exactly in the past several decades since he attended college, but while electrical engineering degrees are not pure-sciences heavy, they do require a bit of college-level science courses, namely some freshman- and sophomore-level physics and chemistry. So we can’t really assume in his case a lack of real exposure to the knowledge that the world, not to mention the rest of the universe, isn’t made of magic and senseless acts of beauty. (Maybe that scared him off the electrical engineering track and onto dentistry, though–that’d make sense.)

But really, I can sort of empathize. The clear thread running through the anti-teaching-science-only-in-science-class camp is that knowing too much about the world and all the things in it from a science standpoint destroys the mystical and terrifying awe of what could possibly be the cause of rainbows, tsunamis and how a real live baby pops out of a woman’s body nine months after a man shoots some stuff from the pee hole in his penis that resembles nothing more than papier-mache glue into her vagina. The more you learn about how and why things work, first at the macroscopic level and then the microscopic level and even beyond, the less mysteriously gorgeous those little everyday miracles start to look. In other words, the less and less likely you are to believe the explanations and rationales for these things provided by the Holy Bible instead.

And in our public schools? Religion doesn’t get taught. Only, for example, biology gets taught. One might adopt the line of reasoning that, since public schools are required by law to remain silent about religion, then the only input that children receive on the subject is from their parents, whereas the school’s version of biology has no such monopoly–parents are free to instruct their children in biology as well as religion. However, the fact that the deck is already stacked in religion’s favor this way doesn’t sway these folks–they don’t want their children being taught biology in school at all if the answers that biology provides about the world around us disagree with the ones the Bible does. Since they usually can’t swing quite that, they strive to have the gaps and unsureties, no matter how major or minor, in scientific theories dwelt on and debated in the biology classroom. This, they say, is teaching the controversy.

You know, I’m willing to buy into this. Really, I am. I would absolutely go for this, if we get to do the same thing with Intelligent Design, which huge swathes of the folks of McLeroy’s ilk swear up and down isn’t religion and therefore, should not be a problem in public schools. I recommend we institute a mandatory new class for all high schoolers, that must be taken before they can graduate, and call it Evolution and Intelligent Design: Teaching the Controversy! The theory of evolution would be thoroughly explored, what it can explain as well as what it can’t…and the idea of an Intelligent Designer would also be explored, and what it can explain as well as what it can’t. The two course textbooks could be Of Pandas and People for the evolution controversy side, and The Blind Watchmaker for the intelligent design controversy si—

…yeah, like any of those people would ever let their kids anywhere near that book.

But if they’re willing to deal, I am. :D

I leave you with this thought from our beloved Onion: The Theory of Intelligent Falling

Afraid of productivity?

Monday, December 8th, 2008

Wikipedia has a list of common misconceptions. As with everything else on Wikipedia, it is vaguely interesting, oddly compelling, and oh my gods what do you mean it’s five pm?

Now, you too can be the life / death of parties by knowing such Mythbuster-friendly tidbits as follows:

  • Different tastes can be detected on all parts of the tongue[18], with slightly increased sensitivities in different locations depending on the person, contrary to the popular belief that specific tastes only correspond to specific mapped sites on the tongue.[19] The original “tongue map” was based on a mistranslation by a Harvard psychologist of a discredited German paper[20] that was written in 1901.
  • People do not use only ten percent of their brains. This myth is thought by some to have emerged after the discovery of glial cells in the brain, or it could have been the result of some other misunderstood or misinterpreted legitimate scientific findings, or even been the result of speculation by self-help gurus.[21]
  • It is not true that air takes the same time to travel above and below an aircraft’s wing.[38] This misconception is widespread among textbooks and non-technical reference books, and even appears in pilot training materials. If this were truly the case, there would be no lift generated by the wings and the plane wouldn’t fly.
  • Lemmings do not engage in suicidal dives off cliffs when migrating. This misconception is due largely to the Disney film White Wilderness, which shot many of the migration scenes on a large turntable in a studio. Photographers later pushed the lemmings off a cliff using a broom.

As with most things Wiki, I happened upon this list while reading the page on What the Bleep Do We Know, which atop its fantastically typographically annoying title, sounds like precisely the kind of quantum bullshit about which my views are largely unprintable.

Of course, I have a deep, burning urge to see the thing. Or rather, I have developed such an urge coincident with my realization that we could quickly devise a hilariously lush-friendly What the Bleep drinking game.

Looking Forward to More Epicycles, Space Ether and Laetrile

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

Clearly I’ve been feeling a little sensitive lately on the subject of, er, “science.” Er, “science” is defined as the stuff put forth by various ideologues and media hacks that contains science-y sounding words in an attempt by them to impress whatever hair they’ve gotten up their ass at that particular moment into other people’s brains.

So when I stumbled across this article yesterday, my interest was definitely piqued–it begins thusly:

The job of science reporters is to take complicated subjects and translate them for readers who are not scientifically sophisticated. Critics say that the news media oversimplify and aren’t skeptical enough of financing by special interests.

Somebody else has noticed this problematic trend! I am thrilled. Seriously. The main difference between the article author’s take on the situation and mine is that she seems to feel that said oversimplification and credulity are more accidental than not. I think that some of it goes beyond oversimplification into outright agenda-oriented slanting and that the credulity is, at the minimum, blindly wilful. Or maybe I just don’t want to believe that so many people could really be THAT stupid…she does have some great advice for those who are screwing up science for public consumption out of well-meaning ignorance, though.

-Look for the evidence. News organizations should give weight to scientific evidence, whether it is about global warming or what the medical establishment says about Lyme disease.

Post science reporter David Brown, who is also a physician, talked about this in a recent speech at the University of Iowa. It will be published next year. “In science, there is a natural tension between evidence and opinion, and evidence always wins. What authority figures have to say about anything in science is ultimately irrelevant.

That’s just beautiful. (sniff!)

-Look for context. Are the results preliminary? Does the research conflict with or confirm earlier work? Has it been published in a reputable science journal or been presented at a science meeting?

Put more plainly: No matter how beautifully some crackpot shit dovetails with your personal preconceptions, you don’t get to jump upon it like a starving tiger shrieking to the world that you’ve found “scientific proof of–!” unless it meets the above criteria.

-Look beyond the lead paragraph and headline. Remember that antioxidants were touted to prevent all sorts of disease; research proved that not to be true. One recent Page 1 story, by veteran Post science reporter Rob Stein, attracted comment and criticism. Stein wrote that a study produced “powerful evidence” that a blood test designed to monitor inflammation could identify “seemingly healthy people who are at increased risk for a heart attack or stroke” and that a widely used statin drug offered “potent protection against the nation’s leading killers.” The story quoted the study’s author and other prominent experts as calling the findings a “breakthrough,” a “blockbuster” and “absolutely paradigm-shifting.”

The Foundation for Integrative AIDS Research (FIAR) — which has a stake in the issue because AIDS drugs can raise “bad” cholesterol levels — said stories about the study reflected “shoddy boosterism for the pharmaceutical industry rather than a careful and balanced analysis.”


-”Marcia Angell, a physician and former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine who is now a senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School, said journalists can write “overly dramatic” stories for “gullible” readers. “Everyone has an interest in hyping news of medical research — the researcher, the institution, reporters. Readers should be very skeptical of new findings. Newspapers are in the business of telling you the news, which needs to be startling or counterintuitive or flies in the face of what we knew. By definition these stories are less likely to be accurate.”

Don J. Melnick, professor of conservation biology at Columbia University, said that if a story “doesn’t sound newsworthy or front page-worthy, it will be buried or not printed at all. That tends to promote people hyping the research. They have to convince their editors to put it in the paper.”

In other words: “Buyer beware.”

In related news, via PZ at Pharyngula:

CNN, the Cable News Network, announced yesterday that it will cut its entire science, technology, and environment news staff, including Miles O’Brien, its chief technology and environment correspondent, as well as six executive producers. Mediabistro’s TVNewser broke the story.

“We want to integrate environmental, science and technology reporting into the general editorial structure rather than have a stand alone unit,” said CNN spokesperson Barbara Levin. “Now that the bulk of our environmental coverage is being offered through the Planet in Peril franchise, which is produced by the Anderson Cooper 360 program, there is no need for a separate unit.”

I’m a little startled by the assertion here that environmental science news is the overwhelming bulk of all science reporting out there and once you’ve got some dude covering that, you don’t really NEED anybody else to cover any other science-y topic, b’Gad!

No, I will not immediately assume that the pooled IQ of the general editorial structure is twenty points lower than that of the previous science, technology and environmental news staff, nor make any snarky remarks of any other description. I will just regard it as yet another sign of the coming apocalypse, like when I found out that Ann Coulter was going to pointlessly destroy another crop of innocent young trees by putting out yet another book.*

*The suggested titles in the linked article are awesome and now that the super-secret book title has been revealed, surprisingly on target. Or perhaps not surprisingly.