Archive for the Science Category

When Anti-Vaxxers Cross the Line, or You Can Take the Credulous out of Church but you Can’t Take the Faith out of the Credulous.

Posted in Science, skepticism with tags , , , , , on November 4, 2009 by Northernskeptic

Recently on my Facebook status I posted the following.

Nathan Hinman I’ve been vaccinated against H1N1 because the science could not be refuted by any of the arguments against it. My immunity will protect those who could not get the shot.

I received more than a few comments but what struck me was the vehemence of the anti-vaccination crowd against my decision. It also highlighted how little some of the people I know do not understand me, and the path that led me to embracing reality.

I was attacked by one individual for getting the vaccine despite not technically being in an “at risk” group myself. With the research I’ve done on vaccination and the virulence of the H1N1 strain I thought it would be irresponsible for me not to. My father has a compromised immune system, my brother is unable to receive the vaccine due to egg allergies, and my nephew is less than a week old. These facts coupled with me working in one of the worst buildings in the city for spreading infectious diseases only reinforced my desire to do my part for herd immunity. I will not apologize for my decision since I sought to protect my loved ones.

It only took a short exchange to expose this individual’s true feelings on vaccines which included all the usual catchphrases like “Big Pharma” and “Mercury”. Imbedded in his new tirade however was an accusation that I was acting like the mormons by calling him on his clear lack of understanding and a blatant contradiction since he has been hounding others on Facebook as well with equally ridiculous arguments.

Anti-Vaxxer

It appears to me that some people use whatever rationalizations necessary in order to maintain faith and belief in whatever it is that they agree with. Reality or perception? It’s ok, a little shit in the water, or a little shit in the vacccine, that won’t hurt you. BAT GUANO! I’m not disapppointed in your decision and GOD I would hope that youand others don’t resort to god dam shame to guilt others into choosing what you have. This US vs. THEM is absolute crap Nathan. You use the same approach the morg does when it comes to discovering the truth. The Morg conditioned and indoctrinated us to believe that if we didn’t get the right answer, we weren’t sincere enough…not righteous enough…not good enough, not doing it right. You blame decision of those to not get the shot on a lack of understanding. Hmmm…am I now anti-vaccine? Not at all, only critical of the claims being made.

(I changed his name in the above quote but not his words, my FB friends can confirm that. Morg is a combination of mormon and org, a way to stab at scientology used by former mormons.)

Members of a local group of ex-mormons like this commenter have been on the warpath lately with almost a religious zeal against vaccines, water fluoridation, and whatever other conspiracy floats their boat this week. Any dissension with their opinions gets one labelled as acting like a mormon. For those who have read my blog my stance on the church is well known, I have no love for the organization. The accusation that I am acting like them is both infuriating and leaves me wondering if association with such a group is beneficial to my well being. This commenter wasn’t the only one to make the mormon allusion either.

Getting back to the meat of this post though is when the anti-vaxxers go too far. And I found that in the form of another mindless tirade against vaccinations, this time in video format posted by another member of this same group. Watch if you can stomach it.


I couldn’t watch after more than a minute in, this was beyond unacceptable. I’ve known that anti-vaxxers were prone to believing some pretty out there claims, but this one just made me want to puke. Vaccines do not cause Shaken Baby Syndrome! Portraying the man convicted of his child’s aggravated murder as a victim of vaccination was too much for me. This video was a trailer for a movie by Gary Null noted quack and HIV denier. Spreading this utter garbage and fear mongering pushed all the wrong buttons in me and this kind of response shows just the lack of responsibility that I despise in the likes of Jenny McCarthy.

Anti-Vaxxer2

Watergate, thalidomide, USS Liberty, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Enron…there are plenty of conspiracies that have proven true. Conventional wisdom isn’t always that wise.

I believe the role of skeptics is to preserve the status quo and try to make anything that is outside of the parameters of “accepted wisdom”, seem silly. I think that skeptics are doing a disservice to society by not being skeptical of the themselves and the role that they play. The services of skeptics are required, but I believe skeptics have become lazy. They believe that some things are just too stupid to put any investigation into, so they read the latest debunking webpage and that’s good enough for them. Problem is that a lot of debunking is flawed and can be debunked itself. The skeptic has already decided that something is false and then tries to find evidence to support that belief. That is not real skepticism. I’m skeptical of skeptics.

I understand now that as I post this I am likely alienating those who I’ve previously called friends but so be it. I left the mormon church for different reasons from them, not because I was angry with the church per-se but that the evidence for their claims did not pass muster (though trampling civil rights does get my ire up).   Maybe I’m giving up on them but when I see that kind of devotion to such without a single ounce of critical examination I need to walk away.  I will continue to focus my efforts on educating those on the fence, but I won’t be wasting my time with the true believers.

A Long Time Ago in an Immune System Far Far away

Posted in Science, skepticism with tags , , , , on October 4, 2009 by Northernskeptic

One of the problems with combating misconceptions of science is placing the concepts within an easy to understand frame for the recipient. Take vaccination for example and the belief that vaccines contain the virus itself which will make people sick anyways. This is just one of many falsehoods that are spread by the anti-vax movement but it might be one of the easier ones to dispel with a simple analogy.

Let’s start with a disease; we’ll call it the Galactic Empire.

The Galactic Empire is spread by the Death Star Virus or DSV for short.

A vaccine was developed for the DSV, it was called the R2D2 shot.

The R2D2 vaccine contained the plans for the DSV but not the actual DSV itself.

Alderaan was in the at risk population for DSV but did not receive the R2D2 shot, and so was susceptible to terminal infection. Additionally the DSV infection was allowed to spread.

Yavin 4 was also at risk however the R2D2 shot was delivered to the immune system which we’ll call Rebel Headquarters.

Rebel HQ examined the DSV plans delivered by the R2D2 shot, which in turn allowed for the development of the X-Wing anti-bodies plan of attack.

When the DSV was introduced into the Yavin system Rebel HQ released its anti-bodies en-mass. The X-wings were keyed to locate the DSV’s Thermal exhaust port, and deliver their proton torpedo payload.

After the attempted infection started it was quickly thwarted and the DSV was destroyed. The added benefit was that since it was gone it could not spread to other systems and so they were protected from infection by a mutual immunity.

Eventually the Endor strain of the Death Star Virus was discovered, fortunately early inoculation with the Bothan Spy Shot quickly brought that outbreak under control before it became widespread.

Skeptic North

Posted in Science, skepticism with tags , , , , on October 1, 2009 by Northernskeptic

Anouncing a new project that has been coming together between a number of Canadian skeptics that first got together at The Amaz!ng Meeting 7, and picking up more along the way.  We have started our first project Skeptic North (not to be confused with myself your humble Northernskeptic).  We will be contributing to our group blog on the site with a decidedly Canadian focus.  The battle for reality starts at home, and Skeptic North will be one of the first outposts on the northern front.

To Snip or Not To Snip – The Great Debate

Posted in Science, skepticism with tags , , , on August 25, 2009 by Northernskeptic

This was posted by my friend Chantale on Facebook.  I find myself opposed to genital mutilation as unnecesary in any form, so I was interested to hear from a mother’s point of view.  Thanks to Chantale for allowing me to share this with you.

Tonight while I was sitting in the waiting room (for what seemed like endless amounts of time just to get a cotton swab rammed down my throat and a prescription for anti-biotics) there was a piece to the news that got my ears, made them ring and probably had everyone around me thinking I was about to embark on some wild rampage with the look on my face. Yes, I was so irritated by the whiny barely 18’s curling up to their boyfriends to whine about their upset tummies that I lost it…Okay, seriously, I probably could have gone off on that…”It’s a stomach flu twat, grow a uterus and deal with it and until you do, PLEASEdon’t have children, you make women look weak, feeble and stupid…”

The excerpt was about the great debate on circumcision and whether we should do it or not.

In this excerpt, Africa is making the claim that circumcision decreases the chances of transmitting the HIV/AIDS virus by up to 60% and they have (essentially) mandated circumcision in some regions of Africa to prove this theory. They will be bringing their “evidence” to a summit meeting in the States surrounding HIV/AIDS. The gyst of it all was that if African doctors can substantiate this claim enough, Canada (in supporting the stop of HIV/AIDS spreading here) will “mandate” circumcision in boys at birth.

Anyone else suddenly feeling a little Soviet come out?

Now, me personally – I do not support circumcision. When I was pregnant with Nicholas, I did a lot of research on the topic, I even went so far as to write out the pro’s and con’s on paper and talk to some of my male friends – Next time around, I won’t ask for testimonials, apparently it’s just not the type of conversation a guy wants to really have…Wait, next time around? Ugh, nevermind, I’m not going down that road here…

Does that mean that I won’t date a man who’s circumsized? Hell no! I’d never get laid by anyone in my age group – Either that or I’d still be with my high school boyfriend, weighing in at 450 pounds with a heavyweight champion belt around my waist, sitting on my lard butt eating Twinkies and Ding Dongs all day, barking at our kids because I’d be a lonesome, miserable hag.
“Hey, woman, get back on topic here…No one wants to picture you THAT way.”
“Whhhhhhattttt? There’s some humour in knowing that I’ve potentially killed how many sexual urges in less than 5 lines, no? Okay fine…”

Back in the day, and for several decades, it was common practice for boys to be snipped at birth – The argument was that it was cleaner, less infections and some people even had it in their heads that it just looked better that way.
The Jewish culture makes it a great big celebration when a young boy gets his willie pruned and Mel Brooks (God bless that man for his simple, stupid humour) takes it to a whole new level playing a Rabbi trying to sell circumcision as a new fashion trend done with the mini-guillotine in “Robin Hood, Men in Tights”. Please tell me I’m not the ONLY lame ass who’s seen, and enjoyed, this movie…

Fast forward to 2005, statistically, 60% of the population does not believe in circumcision – That still leaves 40% that do, but, how many of those 40% are likely doing it because their husband/partner is circumsized and it only seems right to go with the “like is like” idea?Personally, I feel male circumcision is no different than female circumcision, and if we were born this way, there’s some reason for it – Yes, foreskin may look like a nasty extra piece that the Good Lord didn’t know what to do with it so he just threw it there, but, the same idea could be applied to vaginal lips too…Oh yes, I’m crossing into that line, and now to wait for the “boys” to chime in on how women need “pussy lips” and men don’t need “a toque”

Now, I spent most of pregnancy tossing between the yes or no on circumcision if I had a boy – I talked to my Mom about it, I read through a lot of forums and articles on it. Naturally, it’s about time I tear apart the arguments “for circumcision”:

1. It’s cleaner – Back in the 60’s, sure it was. Can you honestly tell me that in 45 years of technological and medical advancement that we didn’t learn better ways to clean a penis? If we could develop a drug to give a 90 year old man an erection that’ll last longer than any man in his 20’s, you’d think we could do the simplistic bottom line of “making your penis last longer by keeping it clean“.
In the 60’s, we didn’t give our kids a bath or shower every day, instead, 4 kids shared the same bath water, and the last kid in got screwed with dirty, soap scum water that was ice cold – And that wasn’t even every day. Can we say CESSPOOL of cooties?

2. Less infections – See point #1 – However, not only is cleanliness a big factor, somewhere between 1960-something and 2005 we discovered the idea that foreskin actually protects the urethra from bacteria entering it. Yes, boys can still get infections, but, I don’t know too many “extra dangly” men who’ve encountered that because it all comes down to the bottom line,clean your pecker and clean it properly.
On a side note, I don’t care if a man’s wearing a toque down there or not, cleanliness is still next to godliness, and you ain’t coming near me if your equipment’s not clean.

3. It looks better – Sure, if I’m only ever seeing it when you’re limp. When a man gets an erection, “Ooh are you ready for this? Are you, are you?” that foreskin retracts anyways.

Further on the above, I feel it is completely cruel to inflict such pain on an innocent child – We should love our children just the way they are when they come into this world and not want to change them. Perspective, it’s like giving your week old baby boy plastic surgery. I have seen and experienced some of the downsides to circumcision.
“Downsides? There can’t POSSIBLY be downsides, can there?”
“But of course, would it be a debate with only upsides?”

Come the end of the day, it is a human being performing the circumcision – To be human is to err…Accidents happen…There’s plenty of lines that go on that same idea – Mistakes happen, the foreskin can be cropped too short causing painful, curved erections later in life (receiving it that way isn’t so pleasurable either), the incision could infect (as if the procedure itself isn’t hard enough on a newborn, throw in a green gunk oozing out of their little body), and there was even a case when the doctor completely screwed up (maybe he was trying to look up Mommy’s short skirt, who knows) and he ended up lasering off a portion of a young boy’s penis! That was corrected by turning Johnny into Jane and returning the blue sleepers with baseballs for pink with flowers…Seriously, who wants to risk any of that over 1/4 inch (if it’s even that much) of skin?!?!?

My personal views are my personal views – I own them. I have friends who have chosen to circumcise their children, and I don’t sit outside their house picketing and chanting all kinds of random obscenities about their choice – Could be fun, but not over this, it’d have to be something REALLY stupid like the colour she dyed her hair….

I support the idea of reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS, I’d even love to see them find a cure before I’m rolling over in my grave – I support medical and scientific advancement a whole heck of a lot. But I would certainly love to see this “evidence” and compare the “standard of living” between Africa and Canada to have those differences considered too. Furthermore, I feel that education is the key is stopping the spread of any infectious disease.

This theory of circumsizing our children to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS is no different than saying “It’s okay son, stick your dick anywhere you want, you shouldn’t get anything because our government had you circumsized.”

You cannot convince me that chopping off 1/4 inch of skin is going to magically drop the HIV/AIDS rates down by 60% on these simple facts:

1. It is very uncommon for a man to contract the HIV virus through vaginal sex with an infected woman.

2. Most (not all, most) women who are HIV positive or have full blown AIDS and got the disease through sex got it from that load of hot, steamy, HIV infected cum a man blew into her temple. Circumcision will not make cum cleaner, nor will it stop it from going inside a woman in the situation of unprotected sex.

3. It takes 13 LITRES of saliva from someone infected with HIV/AIDS to run the chance of contracting the disease – It takes one cum shot or one needle prick to risk contracting the disease.

What’s next? “Condoms” for needle users to “reduce” the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission? Give me a break…Look at the whole picture before making some outlandish claim, it’s more than just sex that spreads HIV/AIDS…

Twitter Experiment in Follow-Bots

Posted in Random, Science, skepticism, twitter with tags , , , , on June 16, 2009 by Northernskeptic

On Saturday night (June 13) I decided to perform an experiment.  I sent  3 tweets to see what sort of followers I would gain, and today I present the results.

First the tweets that I sent the fourth was suggested by the totally awesome @SurlyAmy who you should be following:

  1. Network Marketing Opportunity
  2. HHO Water Power
  3. Subluxation align chiropractic
  4. Hippy Idiot Liar

Since that time which was about (9:00 pm mst) and now (10:00 pm mst) I have gained 27 new followers, I’ll break them down below.

  1. Tianna Lynn (TiannaLynn78): Generic pretty girl account already suspended
  2. Virginia Green (LuTachison): A single tweet and a link to the Library of Congress
  3. belle (belletyler111): average adolescent tweets, no deep details on the bio or linked site
  4. Mike Hobbs (mikehobbs): Network Marketing/MLM/Internet sales and he has a “Seminar” to sell too
  5. Jarod M Farnham (jarodmicah): Another Network Marketer
  6. Pam Thompson (bewellbypam): And another Network Marketer
  7. UC Chiropractic (bharshe):  Apparently he is a Chiropractor
  8. Rich OBrien (itsrichobrien): Network Marketer
  9. Mladen Bartolić (mbartolic): no tweets, no bio, no link
  10. MikeTheInfidel (freeplay): Skeptic/Atheist/Critical Thinker (my kinda guy)
  11. Joe Dawson (plumberjoeohio): A Plumber who tweets exclusively about…plumbing
  12. Greg Kelley (edumaster): A science educator
  13. zeta hanif (airempire95059): Suspended account
  14. plumbing guy (prettypipeplumb): Another plumber???
  15. Average Albertan (averagealbertan): Umm, an average albertan I guess.
  16. Edmonton Alberta (EdmontonFans): Generic gimick account
  17. Jenny Green (arithmeticsweep): Suspended account
  18. ilovebing (ilovebing): no bio but links to 4chan (please don’t hurt me anonymous)
  19. Marcus Richter (MarcusRichter): Vitamin pushing wootard
  20. Spray Adaptogens (SprayAdaptogens): The health product woo is strong with this one
  21. Néstor Pabón (HealthBeatToday): CAM homeopathy and Aromatherapy wootard and medical science denier
  22. Vancouver Canucks (canucksnews): A Vancouver Canucks fan
  23. Kerstin’s Chocolates (kerstinschoc): Edmonton based specialty chocolate shop
  24. Stargate Universe (stargateuverse): Fan of the as yet unreleased new Stargate spinoff
  25. pulseproject (pulseproject): Another Skeptic and follows the Awesome @SurlyAmy
  26. Nicole Draper (nicoleeislegit): another Myspace cam girl advertising for new “friends”
  27. Andy Lambros (andylambros): Internet “consultant”

From the looks of it I pulled in 4 network marketers, 2 supplement junkies, 1 homeopath, and 1 chiropractor.  I didn’t even get a free energy fanatic.

On the plus side I did gain 2 new skeptics and a science educator so that’s cool.

On the weird side 2, I repeat 2 followers who tweet about PLUMBING????

To fill things in I got the usual follow junkies, fansites and cam girls.  I haven’t checked to see if any of them are still following me I only went on the e-mail alerts so this is really an unscientific test but then again my targets weren’t that scientific either.  It is interesting to note that the keywords do tend to bring the woo-bots down on you.

Oh and in case you missed the subtle hints earlier follow @SurlyAmy.

UFO…or not.

Posted in Science, skepticism with tags , , , on May 13, 2009 by Northernskeptic

The other evening I looked up in the sky and saw a dark object hovering in the sky.  I observed for about a minute when it suddenly put on a burst of speed and moved what appeared to be a great distance to the south west.  It hovered there again for another half a minute and shot off to the south east.  Was this some extra-terrestrial vehicle moving against all physical laws?  No it was in fact a bird struggling against an extremely strong wind from the north, I thought to myself as I watched that the poor thing was displaying many of the same characteristics that are attributed to so called UFO’s.  It makes me wonder just how many such sightings are in fact just birds, besides the other phenomenon that are labled as “unexplained”, yet have likely explainations (ie Venus, weather balloons, planes, the moon….etc).

When is it appropriate to call friends on questionable science?

Posted in activism, Science, skepticism with tags , , , on May 3, 2009 by Northernskeptic

I realize it has been a little while since I last posted, I guess I needed to be inspired.

My roomies and I had some friends visiting from out of town and last night we were talking about some of our favourite shows. I mentioned The Big Bang Theory and that led to a bit of a discussion in which it was clear that my science loving hackles were raised. Upon my mention of the show title one of our guests said that “evidence” shows that it didn’t happen. I being the good geek that I am tried to first understand where this information came from and hopefully try to correct what I suspected was a misrepresentation by a creationist tract.

My suspicions were confirmed by my friends claiming that the “evolutionist” explaination of the big bang couldn’t account for why one moon (they couldn’t say which one) rotates in the opposite direction from what “evolution” says it should. Instantly the flags were raised, since every time I’ve heard evolution being applied to cosmology there has been a creationist argument behind it, and invariably a flawed one at that. So being on the offensive I asked for the basis, and was not impressed apparently all bodies in the universe are supposed to rotate in the same direction and some moon in the outer solar system doesn’t so the big bang is wrong. I didn’t even get into observations from the WMAP of the CMB, we instead talked about their source.  No names could be given (though to be fair I did put them on the spot) just the assertion that this was a “scientist” who said this and not from one of their Christian sites (and no I didn’t bring up religion they did). The discussion then jumped to how the wife’s father in school 50 years ago learned about 3 mutually exclusive evolutionary theories, to show how wrong science can be.  She then rattled off 3 observations that can all be explained by currently accepted evolutionary models.

I was on edge but since they were our guests I quickly dropped the matter and went off to shake my head.  This leads me to the main question of this post, when we have friends that spout anti-scientific and pseudo-scientific talking points just how far in polite company should we go in calling it?  I’d be interested in your thoughts and opinions.