Archive for July, 2015

Jul 09 2015

New Zealand Ban on “Trolling”

New Zealand recently passed a law designed to outlaw cyberbullying and give victims a measure of protection. The intent of the bill good, and I agree that this problem may need some creative legislative solutions, but I don’t think this bill was well crafted. It further raises all the thorny issues of free speech.

The Telegraph reports:

The bill was introduced after a public outcry over the horrific “Roast Busters” scandal, in which a group of teenage boys from Auckland was accused of sexually assaulting drunk, under age girls and boasting about the acts on social media.

Public outcry is often a problematic motivation for new legislation. It motivates legislators to do something dramatic quickly, which does not lend itself to nuanced law. Of course this is a horrible crime and people should be outraged. The primary crime, however, was the sexual assault. Boasting about the crime later on social media rubbed salt in the wounds, but it would be a mistake to over-react to that aspect of the crime.

Continue Reading »

Like this post? Share it!

9 responses so far

Jul 07 2015

Refutation of Creationist Memes

Published by under Creationism/ID

The term “meme” was coined by Richard Dawkins to refer to a unit of thought, behavior, or style that spreads through a culture, as if it were a living thing like a virus. That term has also been co-opted to refer to a social media construct that usually takes the form of a picture with a pithy phrase. Memes (of the social media variety, which is how I will use the term from here out) can be humorous and when well done can convey an important idea in a pithy and witty fashion.

We often will spread skeptical memes on the SGU’s Facebook page, and so I have been paying attention to them more recently. Creating a really good meme is challenging, and often I see memes that don’t quite work. The main challenge is conveying the proper nuance in a short phrase (Twitter carries the same limitation). Meaty skeptical ideas don’t often lend themselves to the number of words that can easily fit on one small picture. But often they can convey a core idea very well.

Of course, people of every ideological persuasion use memes to convey their message. Recently I have come across a number of creationist memes, and like all such nonsense they demonstrate only that creationists really do not understand evolution. Each meme conveys a profound misunderstanding, and it occurred to me that each creationist meme therefore presents a teaching moment. So here they are, with my analysis, a random assortment of creationist memes. If you come across others feel free to link to them in the comments and I will add them to the list.

Continue Reading »

Like this post? Share it!

45 responses so far

Jul 06 2015

The New Seralini Study

Published by under General Science

Seralini, author of the infamous study alleging to show increased rates of tumors in rats fed GM food, the one that was retracted by the journal and then later republished in a separate journal, has published another controversial study.

The study, published in PLOSone, looks at the feed that is fed to lab rodents, the kinds used in GM research. They found:

All diets were contaminated with pesticides (1-6 out of 262 measured), heavy metals (2-3 out of 4, mostly lead and cadmium), PCDD/Fs (1-13 out of 17) and PCBs (5-15 out of 18). Out of 22 GMOs tested for, Roundup-tolerant GMOs were the most frequently detected, constituting up to 48% of the diet.

The implication is that all prior research looking at GMO and pesticide toxicity is now called into question because the control rodents would also have been fed a diet that contains some GMO, pesticides, and also heavy metal contaminants. The concept here is valid – control groups need to be proper controls. If you are testing the effects of a pesticide on rats, and the control rats are also getting the pesticide in their food, then the comparison is compromised. This would dilute out the effects of the test substance by increasing the background rate of tumors and other negative outcomes, the “noise” in the study. This would further mean that studies would have to be more powerful (contain more subjects in each group) in order to detect the diluted signal.

Continue Reading »

Like this post? Share it!

11 responses so far

Jul 03 2015

A Quick Logic Lesson

Try your hand at this quick puzzle, then come back and read the rest of this post.

How did you do? This is a great little test with a very important lesson.

The discussion that follows the puzzle is a fairly good explanation of confirmation bias, which is a partial explanation for why people might fail to solve the puzzle. It is a partial explanation only, however, and therefore missed an opportunity to  teach a critical lesson in scientific reasoning.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek out, perceive, accept, and remember information that confirms beliefs we already hold, coupled with the tendency to miss, ignore, forget, or explain away information that contradicts our beliefs.

Continue Reading »

Like this post? Share it!

110 responses so far

« Prev