Questionable Motives

April 19, 2012

How can we determine a link between local weather and climate change?

Filed under: Climate Change,Global Warming,Scepticism,weather — tildeb @ 10:24 am

On a very cold day, one will probably hear someone commenting along the lines of, “So much for global warming.” On a very hot and humid day, you’ll hear few comments at all about global warming. In other words, weather than stands contrary to the notion of warming usually reinforces skepticism that the planet is getting warmer, whereas weather that stands supportive to the notion of warming reinforces what’s typical or normal. In other words, it’s easy to assume that claims about global warming are linked to the word ‘warming’ as presented by temperature in the weather we experience. Because we also experience weather that is colder than what we might be used to, we automatically tend to assume it justifies skepticism about these warming claims.

It doesn’t.

What links weather to climate is patterns.

If global warming is true, then we should see changes to these patterns… and we do. But how do we link these changing patterns to anthropogenic (human caused) global warming rather than natural changes?

This is the meat of climate science. What should we expect to see?

Well, the most convincing evidence to me would be if it could be clearly shown that the rate and frequency of changing weather patterns was accelerating when all other natural factors could be accounted for.

And this is exactly what we find. In fact, the projected rates of pattern changes to weather norms are actually too conservative; the conclusion revealed by nature seems to be that climate change due to anthropogenic global warming is happening faster than predicted and the frequency of hot AND cold, wet AND dry is also greater. To help explain how AGW causes more extreme local weather, Peter Sinclair offers this video:

April 17, 2012

What does a politician need to do to abort a presidential campaign?

Filed under: abortion,Politics — tildeb @ 8:07 am

Thanks to Live Funny or Die, we can find out here.

April 9, 2012

Who knew?

Filed under: geography — tildeb @ 10:17 pm

April 8, 2012

Does a scientific understanding reduce aesthetics?

Filed under: beauty,nature,Richard Feynman,Science — tildeb @ 9:49 am

It usually takes very little time when in conversation with faitheists to be told that in comparison to their religious filter, my ‘worldview’ is too reductionist, that appreciating the method of science to reveal how the world really is harms my capacity to marvel, to appreciate the beauty to be found in it. I often feel this is exactly backwards but have a difficult time when in back-and-forth discussion over some truth claim about nature to explain why. Although I recall being enthralled by many excellent communicators of science like Carl Sagan and David Attenborough and Richard Dawkins in their many awe-inspiring video presentations, I offer up this simple yet elegant explanation by the physicist Richard Feynman for your consideration.


April 5, 2012

What do you think about this ten point secular plan?

Although American in detail, I think the plan is a really good starting point for all secular liberal democracies. Get religion out of the public domain where it has no business being imposed on all. Here’s a recent list:

1. Respect Our Troops – Our military shall serve and include all Americans, religious or nonreligious with no hint of bias and with no hint of fundamentalist extremism coloring our military decisions at home or abroad.

2. Reproductive Information Based on Science – Any federal or state funded program, whether offering services domestic or foreign, that relates to reproductive decisions shall be based on science and public health; not on religious bias or the denigration or women or secular minorities.

3. Healthcare Professionals Fulfill Professional Duties – Healthcare professionals shall fulfill their professional duties and they must do so without a hint of religious bias or they must find another job. That includes fundamentalist pharmacists that turn away rape victims from Plan-B (Morning After Pill Emergency Contraception).

4. No Religious Bias in Land Use or Employment – There shall be no bias in land use planning or environmental law or employment law based on religion or lack thereof.

5. No Bias in Marriage Law – Marriage can be defined by religious congregations howsoever they choose within their own services but marriage under American law shall have no bias whatsoever.

6. Autonomy for End-of-life Choices – When facing end-of-life decisions, all Americans shall be guaranteed control over their own bodies without being thwarted by religious bias.

7. No Religious Bias in School – America’s youth shall never be subjected to bias in education. If there is one penny of government funds there can’t be one iota of religious bias.

8. Congress Shall Include Secular Americans – The composition of Congress and legislature shall include secular Americans and there shall be no bias against secular candidates.

9. Children Protected from Religious Abuse –  There should be one consistent standard pertaining to the health and welfare of children regardless of a child’s parents, school, or child care center. They are all human beings that deserve human rights and protection.

10. Medical & Scientific Innovation Shall be Dedicated to Health & Advancement – Medical, technical, and science innovations shall be dedicated to the health and advancement of our fellow citizens and must never be impeded by religious bias.

Sean Faircloth is the new Richard Dawkins Foundation Director of Strategy and Policy and the author of this plan. His explanation can be viewed here (all ten points come up towards the end):



(h/t Russell metamagician and the hellfire club)


April 4, 2012

What is Evidence Based Education?

Filed under: Education,Project,Psychology,public domain — tildeb @ 7:56 pm

Donovanable of Pervasive Goodness has started a worthwhile project and we need to get the word out. As she writes,

Are you a prospective undergrad or graduate student, looking for a psychology program that’s rigorous and will train you to do the most good? A program that will teach evidence-based therapy, and teach you to understand current research in psychology?

The site she has started is called Evidence Based Education. Tired of the bullshit woo that seems to infect so many of her psych courses and textbooks, she has decided to do something about it and create a database by means of anecdotal evidence which schools offer the best value of evidence based courses for the tuition money. The more people that hear of this and spread the word, the greater the depth and usefulness of the database. So click on over, give a bit of love and say hihowRU, and let’s promote evidence based education wherever it may be found.


April 1, 2012

How are scientists like rapists?

Filed under: Religion,Republican Party,Science — tildeb @ 1:55 pm

The Blue Collar Atheist has a vimeo clip from the Daily Show I wish to post but cannot that reveals the dastardly plot by scientists to scam us all. So pop over and see what’s causing all the laughter.

What’s the Tennessee ‘Monkey Bill’ and why does it matter?

“I ain’t kin to no damn monkey,” is a stereotypical religious response to the very notion of evolution by natural selection. But this isn’t the main reason for the stalwart position taken against the scientific consensus that we share common ancestry with other primates. The reason is religious.

As Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Society, explains,

The theory of evolution is incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ even as it is in direct conflict with any faithful reading of the Scriptures. (E)volution and Christianity are incompatible.

The explanation of common ancestry is incompatible with any religious belief that tries to suggest that humanity is somehow a special creation of a god… a god that can be ‘known’ because it/he/she has bestowed special gifts and favours and privileges to the human branch of the primate family and is therefore clearly deserving of our obedience to him/her/it… as it has been opaquely revealed in various scriptures (Creationism 1.0). In effect this assumption means that, to the faithful who presume special creation and/or divine intervention for humanity without evidence, we are to assume these different and mutually incompatible scriptures are actually divinely inspired science textbooks… textbooks that fail to adequately explain the overwhelming evidence for natural selection we find throughout reality – a reality that has revealed no compelling evidence to indicate any such divine interference anywhere in the chain of evidence for natural selection.  In spite of soothing words from the science organizations like the NCSE and religious organizations that support the  Clergy Letter Project that if one squints just right there is no compatibility issue between creationism and evolution, the fact is that there is no scientific basis on which hang a creationist hat, meaning that to maintain a belief in some kind of creationism relies not on evidence from reality but a faith-based belief alone. Those who wish to insist that humans have been POOF!ed into existence or that at some point somewhere some divine agency intervened in natural selection fail to appreciate that key word: natural. To be clear, one can sometimes find religion without creationism but you will never find creationism without religion.

Why does this matter?

As Mohler quite rightly points out, accepting the scientific explanation for evolution – a foundation upon which all modern biological sciences are built – causes an exodus of evangelical young people. Although Mohler references these effects on his own preferred religion, the point he raises is also true for any religious tenet built on a divine role in human development for which there is no evidence in support and much against (the latest being genetic evidence that clearly indicates no original human couple like the fictional Adam and Eve – which is explained in simpler language here). As the PEW forum on religion and public life notes,

All but a small number of scientists regard Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection as an established fact. And yet, a substantial majority of Americans, many of whom are deeply religious, reject the notion that life evolved through natural forces alone.

In other words, evolution is a very real threat to this creationist tenet regardless of which religion attempts to maintain it.

What’s a creationist to do but find some way to counter this scientific knowledge… but without any science to back it up?

Enter the Wedge Strategy, designed (pun intended) to “defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies and to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God“.

Theists have been repeatedly thwarted by the courts in the US from including the creationist tenet in science class. The latest (Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover) directly addressed creationism in its most modern evolution, namely Intelligent Design (Creationism 2.0). The conclusion was clear: ID has no scientific merit so it doesn’t belong in the science classroom.

Oh dear.

Those who thought that perhaps this ongoing battle had finally reached a conclusion were premature; let us now be properly introduced to Creationism 3.0: Academic Freedom! Strengths and Weaknesses! Promote Critical Thinking! This – not scientific evidence – is the next evolution in the Wedge Strategy, brought to us from the Discovery Institute along with a standard petition on how to best promote it without being accused of promoting religion in the public domain.

In 2011, eight states considered bills to include ‘academic freedom’ into the science curriculum, as if this freedom rather than religiously inspired creationism was in some immanent danger of extinction. As Lauri Lebo so eloquently describes – revealing the common language source for all these state bills –

educators may not be prohibited from “helping students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.

Isn’t that grand? What’s so wrong with more critical thinking? What’s wrong is that the problems inherent in evolution – like any science – are trivial in comparison to the robustness of the general explanation. Trivial problems in fully understanding and describing human reproduction is not an invitation to bring Stork Theory into the science class. Somehow this point is missed when it comes to promoting the equally unqualified notion of creationism.

This language of academic freedom helped bring in the Louisiana it’s-okay-to-teach-creationism-in-science-class law (SB 733, LA Science Education Act) and is the template for the Tennessee Monkey Bill – coined accurately to be more  ‘stealth creationism’ by the indomitable Barbara Forrest who works tirelessly to show how this creationist influence remains dedicated to inserting faith-based belief into the science curriculum. This continues now in Tennessee in spite of student complaints and a dedicated campaign supported by 75 Nobel laureates by a Louisiana student Zack Kopplin showing how creationist dogma harms his educational standing for advancement and employment.

Note that as in the Louisiana law, those theories protected under ‘academic freedom’ can include “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning,” tying in very nicely with the stated aims of the Wedge document. This is stealth creationism in action in spite of the ridiculous instructions to future judges contained in the bills that these religious-only, non scientific ‘strengths and weaknesses’ talking points are not “to be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine.” As the Sensuous Curmudgeon points out, this is comparable to saying

“Hey, Judge: Here’s how to construe this law” to a suicide-bomber’s explosive-laden vest being sewn with a tag saying: “Attention Bomb Squad Coroner: The deceased wearer of this garment should not be construed to be a suicide bomber.”

All of this legal and legislative and advocating aside for the moment, the real effect described by Dr. Paul Gross from this agenda driven religious attack against the cornerstone of the biological sciences is this:

(It) discourages teachers from teaching evolution, or from giving it proper emphasis—if only by signaling that it’s a highly controversial subject. Teachers, understandably, fear controversy and potential attack by parents. Meanwhile, for this and many other reasons, science performance of our children against their overseas peers remains average to poor.

Really? Science education can be affected when so many attack it as ‘just another way of knowing’? And that affect produces poor student achievement results? Who could have possibly predicted this?

So just how poor is scientific literacy? Read it and weep.

This is the real cost all of us pay to keep creationists in business. Belief in creationism – no matter what form it may take – creates no new knowledge, opens up no new avenues of inquiry, produces no practical applications, and advances our understanding of the world we inhabit not one bit. It is a dead end resulting in thwarting, stymieing, and impeding real science, real progress, real technologies, real knowledge advancements. Seeing this pernicious religious effect in real people, who are convinced creationism deserves a passing nod of approval and wider public acceptance as a quaint alternative to contrary hard science, perhaps we can begin to better understand why biologists like Dawkins, Coyne, and PZ Myers spend so much time and effort counter-attacking this particular ignorance called religiously inspired creationism… for there simply is no other root cause for it.

Religious belief empowers creationism and it is religious belief that motivates its promulgation to infect and distort science. Some people will think themselves justified to doubt evolutionary science while accepting other branches like physics and chemistry conveniently forgetting that all are a single methodology. (But what can we expect with such poor scientific literacy?) Choosing to believe the physics of gravity here but not there to suit a religious belief about the aerodynamics of a flying horse for certain self-proclaimed prophets of god is as incoherent as accepting evolutionary biology within the framework of genetics here but not common ancestry there.

These kinds of Monkey Bills in public legislation matter a very great deal to all of us because they represent superstitious nonsense promoted and legalized and inserted under false pretenses in the public domain under the excuse of words that mean nothing more and nothing less that unsupported religious belief in divine POOF!ism. Rather than gain political capital from promoting poisonous religious beliefs imposed on the public domain, these politicians should be penalized by all of us even if some of us choose to remain privately dedicated to belief in creationism. Our future scientific literacy depends on it and all voters share in this current dismal failing grade we have achieved when we allow religious belief to have such a deleterious effect in our educational system. All of us need to smarten up and start complaining much more loudly and boldly whenever faith-based beliefs dare to enter the public square and demand effect.

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