Archive for July, 2011

Jul 08 2011

More on God of the Gaps

One of the things I like about blogging is that it is as much a dialogue as it is as it is a venue for one person’s opinions. Often the comments section becomes more interesting than the post itself. I also occasionally blog in response to someone else’s blog, and it is not uncommon for a blog conversation (or argument) to break out. Responding to someone else’s comments (even if they are from some random or anonymous blogger or commenter) can make a discussion more interesting.

For example, I have blogged numerous times in the past about the “god of the gaps” style of argument, and the philosophical nature of science. This has garnered the occasional response from creationists, which is always amusing. Recently a blogger named Mariano Grinbank wrote a response on examiner.com. His response is largely an exercise in naked assertion and ad hominem style arguments. Responding to my mind/brain discussion he writes:

Just how is it clearly established that the brain causes mind? It could actually be said to be much more clearly established that mind causes the brain.

It could be said – but it would be wrong. The question is disingenuous because I outline exactly how it is clearly established that the brain causes the mind, in numerous posts, including the one that Grinbank refers to (although does not link to – perhaps he was just relying on Egnor’s responses to my posts). I will outline the evidence yet again: The hypothesis that the brain causes the mind (and does not merely correlate with the mind) makes a number of specific predictions:

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Jul 07 2011

Good Critique of DSHEA

I have been highly critical in this blog and SBM about the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) – a legislative gift to the supplement industry mostly credited to senator Orrin Hatch. Hatch has a cozy relationship with the supplement industry, which is large in his state of Utah. The New York Times wrote a good piece about Hatch’s deep support for the supplement industry (in which I am quoted).

Now a commentary published in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association) also give a broadside to DSHEA. Article author, Bryan Denham, focuses on the point that the strategy of the supplement industry has been to lobby for increased freedom, and this has been a successful strategy. Often this is framed as increased freedom of information or freedom for consumers – but really it’s just more freedom of the industry from regulation for product safety and the propriety of their health claims. For example, he writes:

In 2009, a US Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that “consumers are not well-informed about the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements and have difficulty interpreting the labels on these products.”

DSHEA is largely premised on the concept of the “well-informed consumer.” Hatch often makes that point himself in interviewing, saying, in effect – we don’t need big government telling us what supplements we can take.

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Jul 05 2011

The Color of Extinct Birds

Published by under Evolution

I have always had a fascination with paleontology – the reconstruction of extinct species and landscapes. I still enjoy documentaries that do a good job of transporting me to another world in the Earth’s past.

One disappointing aspect of such reconstructions, however, is that we have very little idea what many extinct creatures really looked like. You can only tell so much from fossilized bones. Occasionally we get skin impressions as well. But artists have largely guessed when it comes to color. We can make educated guesses, from looking at extant species and basic principles such as camouflage, but this has significant limitations. Could we ever infer the coloration of a tiger from it’s fossils? Probably not.

In addition, there are many specialized soft-tissue features, sometimes even defining features of animals, that do not fossilize – a camel’s hump, for example, or an elephant’s trunk. What dramatic features of dinosaurs or ancient mammals have we simply no clue about from their fossils?

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Jul 01 2011

More CAM Debate in the Atlantic

I have stayed only peripherally involved in the debate going on over at the Atlantic over alternative medicine, spawned by an article by David Freedman. I first wrote about the article here, with a follow up here. Orac has written a series of articles about it as well, and we covered it on Science-Based Medicine.

The Atlantic has also hosted an ongoing debate on the topic. Apparently at the Atlantic they feel that a fair debate is to have six prominent advocates on one side, along with the original author of the article, against a lone token skeptic on the other side (Steve Salzberg). Well, at least they are not revealing any bias. At the urging of Salzberg they did add a second token skeptic, David Colquhoun.

The debate, such as it is, at least reveals the current rhetorical tactics of the CAM proponents. They can be summarized largely as – we know that CAM modalities don’t work, but we’re nice and they will give you a good placebo effect. Plus science-based medicine isn’t perfect (shocker), so (false dichotomy) we offer an alternative. CAM proponents further try to take as much credit as they can for just good medical practice and some science based modalities, like nutrition, exercise, and good communication skills.

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