Archive for April, 2008

Apr 29 2008

Dr. Egnor on Neuroscience – Wrong Again.

Published by under Skepticism

Dr. Egnor must be tired of always being wrong – or at least he would be if he had the insight and intellectual honesty to see how persistently wrong he is. Alas, so far he has not demonstrated such insight. I have been engaged in an ongoing blog debate with Dr. Michael Egnor, who writes for the propaganda blog of the Discovery Institute, over the question of whether the scientific evidence supports the strict materialist hypothesis of mind, or the dualist hypothesis – that the mind is something more than the function of the brain.

Egnor has mangled most of his arguments, has misrepresented my opinions, has cruelly assaulted logic (as you can see he has a proper home at the Discovery Institute) – but now he demonstrates that he is incapable of reading a simple sentence and comprehending its meaning.

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Apr 28 2008

Can a Mother’s Diet Affect the Sex of Her Child?

Researchers from the universities of Exeter and Oxford in England have published a study that they claim shows that a woman’s diet around the time of conception can influence the sex of their child. At first glance this claim sounds implausible, since in mammals the male sperm entirely determines the sex of a child, not the female egg. But the story is more complicated than it at first may appear.

The study involved having 740 women who were trying to get pregnant for the first time keep track of their daily diet. What they found is that those women who had a higher calorie diet overall, and those who ate at least one bowl of breakfast cereal per day, had a 24% greater chance of having a boy than those who skipped breakfast or consumed lower total calories.

What this type of study shows is a potential correlation. Before we can conclude that the correlation is reliable the study should be replicated. Also, correlation does not equal causation – it may be due to causation, but we cannot be sure. There may be some other factor involved that was not measured or controlled for in the study. So, in addition to replication, the hypothesis that diet can affect the sex of a child should be tested prospectively. This means that women who are trying to get pregnant can be randomized to various diets and then followed prospectively to see if there is any difference in the chance of conceiving a boy or a girl.

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Apr 25 2008

The Quality of Science Education

Yesterday I discussed the proposed Florida “Academic Freedom” law, one aspect of which is to specifically protect the inclusion of criticisms and competing theories to evolution. I pointed out that no such law is required – good science education can and should already include legitimate criticisms of any theory. It is entirely a fiction of ID/creationists that evolutionary theory is a dogma protected from such criticism.

In response to this post several commenters pointed out that their experience in high-school science class did not include much discussion of competing theories. For example, Blair T wrote:

My recollection of high school biology class was it was mostly rote learning with lots of memorization. The idea that students are discussing or debating competing theories at that level seems a bit unlikely, since they have no fundamental knowledge to ground such a debate.

Blair is unfortunately correct in that this is all too commonly the experience. My own experience was mixed. I do remember some mindless memorization in biology class regarding evolution, and certainly almost everything I have learned about evolution I learned on my own outside the classroom or in undergraduate school.

But this is not a problem of academic freedom – it is a problem of the quality of science education. Ironically, the creationism movement has consistently eroded the quality of science education with regard to the teaching of evolution. Perhaps we can use the recent controversy regarding evolution and ID/creationism in the public schools to focus attention on the real issue – the quality of science education.

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Apr 24 2008

Academic Freedom Laws Similar to Health Care Freedom Laws

The Florida State Senate yesterday passed the Evolution Academic Freedom Act. The bill now goes to the House for a vote. The bill is partly a reaction to the inclusion of evolution in the Florida state science standards. Proponents claim that:

“This bill is a freedom of speech bill,” said Senate sponsor Ronda Storms, R-Valrico.

and

“It’s not about religion,” said Alan Hays, the House sponsor of the bill. “It’s about science.”

Wrong and wrong. I wonder if anyone really believes such nonsense even for a moment. Here are some excerpts from the bill:

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Apr 23 2008

Some Follow Up On Vaccines

I had written previously about the plight of Kathleen Seidel, from the neurodiversity blog, who was the target of an inappropriate subpoena that was little more than blatant harassment. Kathleen filed her own motion to quash the subpoena, and now she reports that her motion was granted – the subpoena is quashed. Congratulations.

Last month I wrote about John McCain’s ignorant parroting of the false claims for an autism epidemic and a possible link to vaccines. I had mentioned at the time that Hillary Clinton had also made some pandering remarks, such as that she is, “Committed to make investments to find the causes of autism, including possible environmental causes like vaccines.”

Orac now gives us an update on the situation. About Hillary he writes:

And when asked if she would support a study of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children, she said: “Yes. We don’t know what, if any, kind of link there is between vaccines and autism – but we should find out.”

A month ago I praised Obama for having a scientific statement about vaccines on his website. But now he has descended into pseudoscientific pandering, stating:

“We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it.”

There appears to be no science-friendly candidate left, at least on this issue. The current disconnect between science and politics is very disturbing.

Addendum: This video of Obama making the above comments clearly shows that when he said, “This person included.” he was not referring to himself but someone in the audience. However, his later comment about the science being “inconclusive” is inaccurate.

__________________

Note: On Wednesdays I also post over at Science-Based Medicine.

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Apr 22 2008

More Witless Self-Contradiction from the Discovery Institute

Published by under Creationism/ID

The two most recent blog entries on Evolution News & Views (the primary function of which is to spread pro-Intelligent Design propaganda) are both by Robert Crowther. I could not help but notice that these sequential blog entries by the same author directly contradict each other – and I suspect that Crowther is ignorant of the contradiction.

This happens frequently over at the Discovery Institute. I recently pointed out that ID proponents, on the same DI blog, reject the evidence from breeding for the power of selection as relevant to evolution through natural selection (because breeding is artificial), but then use the Nazi holocaust – which was a program of artificial selection – as evidence that evolution is evil. The ID propagandists are susceptible to tripping over themselves like this because they are engaged in deception in defending an a-priori belief, not an honest and sincere quest for scientific knowledge. Valid science must agree with itself – lies are not so constrained.

I just happened to remember the prior blog entry on breeding and made the connection to the recent defense of the “Nazi Gambit” made in the new propaganda film; Expelled. This time, however, Crowther made it easy by contradicting himself in sequential blog entries.

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Apr 21 2008

Surgery Under Hypnosis

Over the weekend there have been numerous new reports breathlessly reporting the case of Alex Lenkei who underwent ordinarily painful hand surgery using hypnosis instead of anesthesia. At face value, the reports are stunning. Mr. Lenkei, who is a professional hypnotist, “hypnotized” himself prior to having surgery on his right hand for osteoarthritis. The surgery involved opening up the skin and tissue over the thumb and wrist down to the bone, sawing and chipping away bone, and fusing bones. Mr. Lenkei reports feeling no pain during the procedure, just some pulling and prodding. The surgeon, David Llewellyn-Clark, reports that his vital signs were monitored during the procedure and were stable, indicating that he was feeling no pain.

What should an open-minded skeptic make of such a tale?

Let us consider all possible explanations and evaluate them for plausibility and also see if they jibe with the facts as presented in the media. I read about 30 accounts of the story, and watched the video interview with Mr. Lenkei and Dr. Llewellyn-Clark.  On the whole I was very disappointed in the reporting. None of the reporters asked the questions I would have asked, and I had to read many accounts to piece together the details that I do have. I think this reflects the need for dedicated science journalists – but that’s another blog post.

I have e-mailed the hospital and I am trying to get contact information for Dr. Llewellyn-Clark so that I can fill in the missing details. If I do I will add an addendum to the post with the new information. Meanwhile, here are several possible hypotheses to explain this story.

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Apr 18 2008

Acetone Does Not Increase Gas Mileage

Published by under General Science

SGU Listener writes in this question:

I about lost all my friends this week at a dinner party where the topic of acetone in the gas tank came up. Five of my friends, all who drive high-end BMW’s, claimed that when they pour a mixture of 2 ounces of acetone for every 10 gallons of gas, they increase their mileage to approximately 120 miles per full tank of gas. None of them can tell me why this works, but they all “swear” they’ve diligently been logging their miles and see the increase. There was absolutely nothing I could do to change their minds. For every website that showed this was false, ten others claimed it’s truth. They told me if I new so much I wouldn’t be a single guy who drives around in a Town & Country.

Though an ad hominem attack, it was quite effective. So, after much yelling and getting all their wives mad at me, I had to leave the party. Alone and very hurt by the Town & Country comment.

First, Eric, since you live in Las Vegas the obvious solution to your problem is to go to TAM6 and get some new more skeptical friends.

There are actually two interesting questions in your e-mail: the first is whether or not acetone increases gas mileage; the second (and more interesting to me) is if it doesn’t why are your friends so sure that it does?

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Apr 17 2008

Media Coverage Influence on MMR Vaccination Rates

A new study published in the current issue of Pediatrics looks at the association between mainstream media coverage of the claim that there is a possible correlation between the mumps measles rubella vaccine (MMR) and autism and the rate at which American parents refused the MMR vaccine for their children. The results were a bit surprising.

Smith et. al. used the LexisNexis database to track media reports of Wakefield’s initial study showing a possible connection between MMR and vaccines (the study was later discredited, and to date there is no evidence to support such a connection). They compared this to data reporting the incidence of parents refusing just the MMR component of the routine childhood vaccine schedule (so-called selective MMR nonreceipt). Their hypothesis was that media coverage would correlate with an increased incidence of selectively refusing the MMR. But that is not what they found.

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Apr 16 2008

Expelled Exposed Goes Live

Published by under Creationism/ID

On Wednesdays I post a blog entry over at Science-Based Medicine. My time does not allow writing two blog entries for one day, and I have chosen not to cross-post so that the comments will be contained under the single blog entry. So I have mostly just left Wednesdays empty here on NeuroLogica. But I am going to try a new strategy – I will post a brief entry on Wednesday that will mostly point to another blog post or a news item of interest, with brief commentary by me.

This week’s Wednesday News Item is Expelled Exposed – a website dedicated to exposing all the falsehoods and shenanigans surrounding the Expelled ID propaganda movie. I have mentioned this site before but yesterday Expelled Exposed went “live” with their official format and full content.

Check it out – there is a ton of great content on the site, all conveniently in one place. The website is a project of the National Center for Science Education run by Eugenie Scott, a tireless advocate for science education. The site also promises to be updated frequently with new information and links – so visit often.

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