Archive for January, 2016

Jan 11 2016

Should There Be Mandatory GMO Labeling?

GMO labelCampbell Soup has just announced that they are switching sides in the GMO labeling debate – they are now in favor of federal mandatory labeling for all products that contain genetically modified organisms. This has perhaps opened up a new chapter in the debate.

In response Mark Lynas, a journalist who, after researching the topic, is staunchly pro-GMO, has responded with an interesting essay agreeing with this move by Campbell.

Let me state up front that I think the answer to mandatory labeling is no, but let me also walk you through my thinking on this complex issue.

The Scientific Case Continue Reading »

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Jan 08 2016

What Is Bayes Theorem?

I have written a little about Bayes Theorem, mainly on Science-Based Medicine, which is a statistical method for analyzing data. A recent Scientific American column has some interesting things to say about it as well. I thought a brief overview would be helpful for those who are not sure what it is.

This statistical method is named for Thomas Bayes who first formulated the basic process, which is this: begin with an estimate of the probability that any claim, belief, hypothesis is true, then look at any new data and update the probability given the new data.

If this sounds simple and intuitive, it’s because it is. Psychologists have found that people innately take a Bayesian approach to knowledge. We tend to increment our beliefs, updating them as new information comes in.

Of course, this is only true when we do not have an emotional investment in one conclusion or narrative, in which case we jealously defend our beliefs even in the face of overwhelming new evidence. Absent a significant bias, we are natural Bayesians.

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Jan 07 2016

When Will Yellowstone Blow?

Published by under Skepticism

yellowstone-echinus-geyser-550It can be difficult to know what the optimal attitude is to have toward rare or unlikely events that would be catastrophic. How much should we worry about a large asteroid striking the earth? It could happen any time, but statistically is unlikely anytime soon (although is almost inevitable over the long term, meaning millions of years).

There are other rare but devastating natural phenomena. Phil Plait wrote about all the things that can bring Death from the Skies, including asteroids but also gamma ray bursts and other astronomical phenomena.

Today, however, we’re talking about death from below, specifically volcanic eruptions, more specifically supervolcanoes, and even more specifically the Yellowstone supervolcano. Recent news reports are breathlessly stating that scientists warn Yellowstone could blow in the next 70 years. Well, not so fast. Continue Reading »

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Jan 05 2016

Creationists and Academic Freedom

Published by under Creationism/ID

berlin specimenThis is old news, but attention is being freshly paid to the issue of creationists using academic freedom as an excuse to teach creationism in public schools, in violation of the First Amendment. This attention is due to an anonymous whistle-blower from the Discovery Institute confirming what everyone already knew.

According to reports:

“Critical thinking, critical analysis, teach the controversy, academic freedom—these are words that stand for legitimate pedagogical approaches and doctrines in the fields of public education and public education policy,” said the former Discovery Institute employee. “That is why DI co-opts them. DI hollows these words out and fills them with their own purposes; it then passes them off to the public and to government as secular, pedagogically appropriate, and religiously neutral.”

Whether or not you believe this anonymous source, the DiscoTute has objectively caused a lot of mischief. They authored model anti-evolution laws that have been used in various states, including successfully in Louisiana.

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Jan 04 2016

The Coming 3-D Printer Revolution

Published by under Technology

3d-printerI am a technophile, so I follow new and emerging technologies pretty closely. I am also an occasional early adopter, as much as my finances allow, which is not anywhere close to what I would like. Often I must wait for a new technology to come down in price to the consumer level, or at least the “prosumer” level.

Over the last couple of years I have had my eye on 3-D printers. This is an extremely promising technology, often referred to as additive manufacturing. Traditional manufacturing methods start with a block of material and then take away material to create the shape, or they use some kind of mold, or they hammer, pull, bend, or press material into shape.  Continue Reading »

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