Archive for February, 2008

Feb 14 2008

Creationists Play the Martyr Card

Published by under Creationism/ID

Yesterday I interviewed PZ Myers, author of the popular science blog Pharyngula, for this week’s SGU podcast, which will be posted up this Saturday. We talked (amongst other things) about his recent debate with ID proponent Dr. Geoffrey Simmons. The debate, I think, highlights some of the current strategies favored by creationists/ID proponents in spreading their anti-evolution propaganda.

First, listening to this debate (as well as others with Duane Gish and Kent Hovind) it is clear, at least to me, that these guys do not care one iota about the science. Scientific facts, to them, are an obstacle to overcome, or perhaps something to be manipulated to achieve their end. Simmons, for example, regularly spouted gross and demonstrable falsehoods – and stuck by them. He claimed that there were no fossils showing transitions from terrestrial mammals to whales. He was completely ignorant of the many exquisite transitional fossils showing growing body size, migration of the blow hole to the top of the head, an the slow disappearance of the hind limbs. He simply pretended they didn’t exist. PZ nicely pointed out that such ignorance of the current fossil evidence is unacceptable given that Simmons wrote an entire book on the absence of transitional fossils.

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17 responses so far

Feb 12 2008

Medical Information on the Internet

Increasingly patients are turning to Google rather than their physician as a first stop when seeking health care information. The reasons for this are many and mostly obvious: the internet is easily accessible, it is private and discrete (at least most people perceive it as such), and increasingly people are turning to the internet as the repository of all human knowledge. There is also a lot of health information on the web. Just a couple of years ago health care information surpassed pornography as the number 1 type of information on the web.

This access to information is generally a good thing – more information is usually better than less information. But it does raise concerns about the quality of information on the internet, and this is especially true when using the internet as a source of medical advice.

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20 responses so far

Feb 11 2008

Intelligent Design of the Brain

Dr. Michael Egnor, a neurosurgeon who has decided to take on a second career as an intelligent design proponent, has been embarrassing himself over at the Discovery Institute propaganda blog. He has dropped some real gems, like the claim that if evolution were true then brain cancer should evolve a better brain. Recently he has been taking me on over the question of the materialist vs dualist concept of the mind. On Friday he posted his latest reply, nicely illustrating that he can apply the same logical fallacies favored by the intelligent design proponents to the question of dualism.

In response to this statement that I wrote in my previous blog entry on this topic:

The materialist hypothesis— that the brain causes consciousness — has made a number of predictions, and every single prediction has been validated.

Dr. Egnor replies:

A bit of advice: whenever a scientist says of his own theory that “every single prediction has been validated’, you’re being had. No scientific theory has had ‘every single prediction’ validated. All theories accord with evidence in some ways, and are inconsistent in others. Successful scientific theories prevail on the preponderance of the evidence, not validation of “every single prediction”. Real science lacks the precision of ideology.

This is one of those statements that seems reasonable on the surface, but with a bit of thought, and a modicum of scientific knowledge, we can see that it is just deceptive rhetoric. Science progresses chiefly by formulating hypotheses to explain observed phenomena, and then testing those hypotheses with observation and experimentation. It is true that often the data does not point entirely in one direction – depending upon the type of data that is being collected and the complexity of the question.

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18 responses so far

Feb 08 2008

Lithium for ALS

Published by under Neuroscience

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchA recent Italian study  (full pdf) of the drug lithium in 44 patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) showed a fairly dramatic effect in slowing progression of this disease. While hopeful, these findings should be considered preliminary.

ALS is a neurodegenerative disease involving motor neurons – those cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscles. The motor neurons of ALS patients slowly die, and when they do the muscle fibers they innervate become weak, they begin to twitch and cramp, and then eventually die and atrophy away. Weakness will typically begin in one part of the body but then relentlessly spread to involve all four limbs and the facial and mouth muscles (so-called bulbar or brainstem innervated muscles), and eventually the muscle of breathing. Patient develop arm and leg weakness, difficulty speaking and swallowing, and then eventually become short of breath and then become too weak to breath without a ventilator. On average patients will progress to the point where they cannot breath without a ventilator after 2.5 years from the onset of symptoms, but this can vary greatly in an individual.

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6 responses so far

Feb 07 2008

TAM 6 Speakers Announced

The Amazing Meeting (affectionately referred to as TAM) will have its sixth iteration from June 19-22, 2008 in Flamingo Hotel and Casino-Las Vegas. The conference is organized by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), but it has evolved over the last few years to become the unofficial annual conference of the skeptical movement. Pretty much, it’s the place to be if you want to be a hip skeptic, or at least be surrounded by hip skeptics.

TAM is organized around a series of incredible lectures, and this year’s line-up was recently announced. Here they are:

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10 responses so far

Feb 05 2008

Video Game Addiction

Published by under Neuroscience

I admit it – I enjoy video games. Since I played pong as a teenager I have always had access to some gaming platform and have played semi-regularly. Right now I am playing a weekly game with some friends (Lord of the Rings Online – a massive multi-player online game). The game is our generation’s version of the weekly poker night (or bridge or whatever) that our parent’s generation had. It is mostly about the social get-together, although now it is a virtual one.

Like many things, most people enjoy video games without it getting out of control. However, I know personally of more than one person whose gaming took over their life. At least for a time, they spent more time gaming that doing anthing else – more than work, more than school. When not playing they thought about the game and even had cravings for it. By all accounts it was an addiction.

The notion that video games can be addictive is nothing new. However there is a new study looking at this phenomenon with functional MRI scanning. What they found was not surprising, and confirms the addictive potential of video games.

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25 responses so far

Feb 04 2008

Mercury Excretion in Infants

Published by under Neuroscience

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchA new toxicological study adds to the growing evidence that the mercury-based vaccine preservative, thimerosal, is safe for use in children. I have blogged frequently about the myth that vaccines in general or thimerosal in vaccines is linked to autism. Last week I discussed that new evidence is allowing for the diagnosis of autism at a younger and younger age – potentially all the way back to birth – thereby falsifying the contention that vaccines are a cause of autism. I have also recently discussed that the removal of thimerosal from childhood vaccines in the United States did not result in a decrease in new autism diagnoses, as would be predicted if thimerosal caused or even contributed to autism rates. Meanwhile research is teaching us more and more about autism as a genetic disorder. Therefore epidemiological, historical, clinical, and genetic evidence is all pointing to the firm conclusion that thimerosal and vaccines generally are not a cause of autism or other neurological disorders.

While at present there is no significant scientific debate on this conclusion, there is an ongoing public debate driven mostly by ideological groups who have an anti-vaccine agenda. These groups rely upon increasingly implausible and desperate rationalizations, conspiracy mongering, and simply bad logic. But they have also based many of their arguments on a separate line of scientific evidence, that of toxicology – studying the effects of mercury and thimerosal on cells and in the body. In fact it is increasingly looking as if toxicological evidence will be the last stand for the “mercury militia” on this issue.

The reason for this is simple – mercury is a neurotoxin. No one denies that. Proponents of the thimerosal-autism hypothesis essentially argue that we can know that thimerosal causes autism because it is toxic to the brain, or at least we should assume that unless and until we prove beyond doubt that it is not toxic. This of course is an impossible standard and also we know the result of this question, mercury is a toxin.

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14 responses so far

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