Thursday, 26 March 2009

Texas State Board of Education and Science Standards

Panda's Thumb reports that fifty scientific organisations have sent a message to the Texas State Board of Education telling them that their "Strengths and Weaknesses" passage is a load of rubbish.

But this isn't about the number of people/organisations who support an idea or set of standards (I'm looking at you, you list making IDiots), but instead what the overall message is.

In this case it's "don't teach your children crap because it's bad for Texas."

Anyway, at present the SBoE is voting on whether their "strengths and weaknesses" and other anti-science phrases is made part of their science standards, or as they will be known in the future "science" "standards".

The Houston Chronicle had liveblogged the discussion. Unfortunately for me I can only read about it becuase I don't know if I can find a copy of what was a live feed.

There was an opinion comment by McLeroy in the Austin American-Statesman (by the way McLeroy is the head of the SBoE) which has some very odd comments like this one:

The first step is to define science in a way that is satisfactory to both sides. Using new wording from the National Academy of Sciences, Texas' standards define science as "the use of evidence to construct testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomenon as well as the knowledge generated through this process."

This definition replaces the academy's 1999 language that was very controversial; it stated that science was "to provide plausible natural explanations for natural phenomena." The change from "natural explanations" to "testable explanations" is very significant. The old definition was inferior in that it undermined both the philosophy of the naturalist and the supernaturalist. By circular reasoning, the naturalist was prevented from using science to prove that "nature is all there is," and the supernaturalist was prevented from offering supernatural hypotheses. With the new definition, both the naturalist and the supernaturalist are free to make "testable" explanations. The debate can now shift from "Is it science?" to "Is it testable?"

I don't really see the point here. How exactly does the old phrase, with "natural explanations" mean that naturalists couldn't use science? I don't even see the supposed "circular reasoning" in the statement. It doesn't make any sense to me at all. His point on naturalists appears to be there just so he can try to give his point validity. The real point, as far as I can see, is his comment on supernaturalists offering supernatural hypotheses.

The thing is that in the end they haven't actually done anything, by his own admission the only reason why the changed it was to allow "supernaturalists", who are most likely the religious in this sense, to try and get their crap into science classes.

What I think makes it worse in this case is that he's gone and taken something from the National Academy of Sciences, which I believe is a very important body in the US regarding science, and has managed to utterly misunderstand the point they were making.

Those that believe in the supernatural won't be able to offer supernatural hypotheses using either definition of science. The latter because the supernatural is not testable, and therefore you can't actually construct testable hypotheses and in the case of the former because it is, by definition, not natural, so you could never use such hypotheses to "to provide plausible natural explanations for natural phenomena." See the use of the word "natural" there? No? Ok, nevermind...

The second statement was:

Once we have our observations, we can make a hypothesis. The controversial evolution hypothesis is that all life is descended from a common ancestor by unguided natural processes. How well does this hypothesis explain the data? A new curriculum standard asks Texas students to look into this question. It states: "The student is expected to analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record." It should not raise any objections from those who say evolution has no weaknesses; they claim it is unquestionably true.

So. Much. Wrongness.

For those playing at home you should know that evolution is only semi-random. Yes, all the stuff involving genes is essentially random. However evolution is not just genotypes and phenotypes. Using his hypothesis you see the flaw about "unguided natural processes". Usually when creationists say "unguided" they really mean "random". It's just that "unguided" sounds more scientific, it's the same choice of words that quack doctors use to convince the scientifically illiterate that their stuff is genuine.

If someone can care to show me that "unguided" is not used by creationists as a synonym for "random" please do so.

What he is ignoring are things like sexual selection, predation and environmental factors. All of which are non-random, and affect evolution.

Lastly, he isn't actually referring to evolution at all, but common descent.

And the way that they suggest that students learn about common descent? Something completely stupid.

"Here is a bunch of fossils. See how they don't show conclusively that everything is descended from one thing? Good. Now you see how evolution is wrong. No Bobby, don't look at that evidence over there that proves that it's right. No, we're only allowed to use the fossil record."

Frankly I couldn't care less about "weaknesses". As far as I can tell the real possible "weaknesses" are actually at a level that is far beyond the level that the students should be at. The reason people complain is because what is being suggested is so blatantly wrong. It's making children learn that something is wrong by only looking at a small subset of the evidence.

I don't really have too much to say about the meeting at present. The liveblog, which I linked to above, covers it really nicely.

Monday, 16 March 2009

AIDS Cure?

I'm going to show you the cure for AIDS. This is it:

According to a man known as Brian Marshall from Melbourne, this is the cure. He's been selling it to people in Papua New Guinea. And their Government are annoyed. Our Government is annoyed about this as well.

This isn't very good to begin with.

Granted, the HIV/AIDS rate in Oceania is actually quite low compared to other countries, but PNG actually has the highest rate of HIV in the area, which is, according to this report from UNAIDS is about 1.3%.

Which means that it is an epidemic.

Personally I don't really think that it is, but it is the highest in the region.

Unfortunately for people who like to believe that homosexuality is the reason that HIV spreads it isn't the case in PNG. According to this country profile from WHO, the rate of transmission from heterosexual sex is 84%.

Now PNG has a low HIV rate compared to other developing countries. I'm sure that it would be in the best interests of everybody to keep it that way. This man however has most likely helped to make the problem worse.

There is an education programme going on in PNG to slow the spread of the disease. Unfortunately this man has helped to undo that by preying on the stupidity of people. They see a man saying "Bottled water cures AIDS" and would think "Why didn't they tell us this? Why do we have to wear a condom when all we have to do is drink some bottled water?". And they go with the "easier" option, and don't bother trying change their habits.

I hope that they do find him. I don't know how exactly you could punish him adequately though. Perhaps all his assets in PNG should be confiscated and the proceeds donated to AIDS research or education or something like that.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

And That's Why People Hate You Catholic Church

Brazil, a country known for the Amazon, beaches, women, and religion.

Within this predominantly Catholic country lies a state in the north-east known as Pernambuco.

In this state lives a little girl. A girl whose name is unknown, but the events surrounding her, however, is known.

This is about that little girl, and the reaction of the biggest Church in the world.

This girl, who is nine by the way, was raped, by her stepfather. She has been abused by this man since she was six. He also abused her older sister who is 14.

However, a situation arose. She became pregnant.

With twins.

Doctors examined her, and believed that she would not be able to deliver the babies. She would need to have an abortion to save her life.

However abortion is illegal in Brazil, except in cases where the health of the mother is in jeopardy. Her's was, and so it was legal to give her an abortion.

It happened on Wednesday.

However, there were repercussions.

The Catholic Church were annoyed. They had tried to stop the abortion and failed. So they did something that most people think stopped happening ages ago.


The doctors and nurses involved, and even the mother of the girl are now forbidden to receive the Eucharist, do anything in Mass and a few other things.

There has been no mention as to whether the rapist has also been excommunicated.

The story of the girl ends here. She was not excommunicated because she is too young. Those who were will have to go to the bishop, the local ordinary, or someone who has been empowered to remove excommunications. However I doubt that in this case it will be easy.

The sad thing is that the Church has really moved anger towards themselves, instead of against the rapist in question. They should have just kept out of it, but they didn't.

As I said before, the girl being pregnant was a health risk. According to Fatima Maia, the director of the hospital, and I'd assume a doctor, stated:

"She is very small. Her uterus doesn't have the ability to hold one, let alone two children,"

However a person by the name of Marcio Miranda, who is a lawyer for the diocese, believed that the girl should have carried the twins for the full term and had a caesarian. Becasuse we all know that ignorance is the best way to make any decision at all.

The archbishop isn't any better:

"The law of God is higher than any human laws, [...] When a human law — that is, a law enacted by human legislators — is against the law of God, that law has no value. The adults who approved, who carried out this abortion have incurred excommunication."

(Source: Fox News)

So it works this way. The director quoted the opinion of doctors. These doctors however, don't know the human body as well as a lawyer. The lawyer on the other hand, most likely knows less about the law then the archbishop.

But the archbishop is just parroting something that the Church has been claiming for about 1500 years. Popes have convened councils that ended up stating that the Pope, with spiritual authority, was the first amongst those with temporal authority because God gives people temporal authority, and since the Pope is the messenger of God, he is first.

It's not very logical but I don't think the Church actually cares.

I don't know where it says that you can't have an abortion, but I think that it is something that has no actual biblical roots, or from any teachings of Jesus. But apparently it's God's law, and a God who people claim is all about love and compassion shall not be overruled by man, who want to save the life of a little girl.

The actions here, along with this unrelated event, show that the Church is at least trying to be consistent. But do you really think people would give a damn if you did nothing in this case? Are people really going to cry "The Catholic Church is hypocritical" because you don't excommunicate these people?

Ok, the answer is probably.

But, we do see some Catholics who don't like what happened. Like the President of Brazil, who even stated that the doctors were right.

That is all that this comes down to in the end. Do we save the life of someone who is already alive, by sacrificing two foetuses that aren't?

Of course.

But the Church, I guess, prefers to see three people die instead of seeing one person live.

However it is backwards views like this that cause outrage. It's like telling people not to use condoms regardless of how effective they are against the spread of AIDS. People are going to call you out on it because it is a cruel thing to say.

The message that the rest of the world sees is that women who are raped and become pregnant have to carry the child of the rapist. The other message that we see is that abortion is wrong even when the health of the mother is at risk. Are these really messages that the Church wants to send?

In case you are wondering, the stepfather is now languishing in a jail cell. The police found him trying to flee to another part of the country.

Hat tip toPharyngula twice.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Conservapedia v. Student Sixteen

I honestly feel sorry for Student Sixteen. The comments on this homework (If it doesn't work try here.

I mean this person who is apparently called Charles Thoreaux actually did quite well in my opinion, based on what I have seen of these "World History" homeworks.

I wonder what exactly Andrew Schlafly uses as a benchmark to mark people. Compare the above to Student Eleven.

I know I'm not a teacher, but if I were I would not have given Student Eleven 100%, I would probably give a low pass mark because said student did give dates.

However, I get the feeling that Student Sixteen has actually done some research regarding Roman Philosophy. Sixteen chose Marcus Aurelius as his favourite Emperor because of his philosophical insight. Unfortunately he is getting marks from a guy who thinks that the Romans didn't actually do anything apart from conquer the Mediterranean and most of Western Europe and build roads.

You even see this regarding his comment on the answer to Question H1 (it's an "honours" question). Student Sixteen mentions Greek Philosophers in his answer, and then mentions Roman Philosophers who were influenced by them, apparently Cicero, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius and Virgil were all Greeks. Who knew?

The sad thing in a way is that for someone who does that "honours" question, you have to work around the definition of "truth" that Schlafly uses, a "truth" that involves the Bible and Christianity. So in essence the question is flawed to the extent that every civilisation before the birth of Christianity would not know what "truth" is.

I mean this student actually picks up and mentions the flaw in the question (judging an entire civilisation based on the actions of one man, in this case Pontius Pilate).

I think in a way the irony of the question is that Schlafly claimed that the Romans just took what the Greeks had with regards to philosophical ideas and ran with it, without making their own contributions, but still somehow can think that they wouldn't have applied Greek philosophical teaching to their lives. It doesn't make any sense.

I would, to be honest, have not deducted any marks in that case because I think he answered the question quite well there. He gave examples (albeit more passively) that shows that the question is wrong, and showed the main flaw in the question.

Other instances that make me feel for the guy is that he lost marks on a question about Latin because he didn't argue for the "inherent advantages" of Latin (which, by the way, was based on what I think is a rather ridiculous definition of "caveat emptor") which somehow means there is a "Liberal bias".

Schlafly's comment regarding question 3 ("more depth in analysis is needed") is rather hypocritical considering that Student Eleven answered the same question with far less depth then Student Sixteen did. Eleven gets full marks for writing something along the lines of "The Eastern Roman Empire had fewer attacks then the Western Empire and lasted far longer". I'm trying to be grammatically correct here and make sure you understand what I'm going on about.

So if I was to take any lesson away on Schlafly marking things then it would have to be "you can be as grammatically incorrect as you want as long as you spell your words right".

That being said, I would never give Student Sixteen full marks, because there were some answers that were clearly wrong, and a lack of dates in answers that should have them would also mean that you couldn't give full marks either.

The last thing that I am going to comment on is that I don't believe that Student Sixteen should lose marks because of a perceived bias, which is clearly what happened in question six. Question seven is a different can of worms. I feel that the answer that was given is actually quite good, the problem is that Schlafly undercuts his own comment regarding deducting marks and opinions, by having done exactly that in the previous question.

Question six was worded in such a way that you would be getting opinions as answers. Nobody, anywhere knows all the facts for a current event, because it is exactly that, a current event. It's pretty easy to form an opinion of the US at present based on the Fall of Rome, however it is ultimately opinion.

I think that most people who know anything about Conservapedia understand that Schlafly is not the most consistent of markers.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

A Response to the WBC Site "God Hates Australia" - Afterword

I believe that this is the right term. I thought that this would be useful because there are a few small things that I would like to point out that I had found.

Part of my research into this series did actually see me look at some of the other sections in the "God Hates" site. These were based on possible ideas and arguments that I could make or just an interest in what they thought about other countries based on what I knew about them.

I had assumed that they would mention good things in societies that they claim that "God hates", in the same way that the Skeptic's Annotated Bible has a list of good stuff in the Bible.

It started when I was writing Part 1 my mind drifted to India, a country that I would have thought might have some good points towards it. What a fool I was to assume that. They mention some possible good things, but only because they use it to show what they consider a bad thing. India is known for more socially conservative practices, take a look at what happened to Richard Gere.

The closest thing that I go to a good thing was that they have a low divorce rate. You can find that right here. It's followed in the next sentence by a "you shouldn't have arranged marriage".

I did however find this somewhat ironic gem:


Can you say Kama Sutra? Yes it goes like this….NASTY! This is an ancient guide book about perverted sex practices with how-to pictures (YIKES)! Here is just a little bit of information about it….brace yourselves…I hope you have a barf bag handy.
The famous Kama Sutra states that homosexual sex "is to be engaged in and enjoyed for its own sake as one of the arts.” There are chapters on conduct of the only wife and conduct of the chief wife and other wives; chapters on advice of the assistants on the choice of lovers, looking for a steady lover, ways of making money, renewing friendship with a former lover, occasional profits, profits and losses; and chapters on improving physical attractions, arousing a weakened sexual power.

If that wasn’t bad enough, don’t puke now, but there are an additional 10 chapters on “stimulation of desire, embraces types, caressing and kisses, marking with nails, biting and marking with teeth, on copulation (positions), slapping by hand and corresponding moaning, virile behavior in women, superior coition and oral sex, preludes and conclusions to the game of love. It describes 64 types of sexual acts.”

Because we all know that sex is dirty. I'm now going to randomly quote from a book:

My beloved thrust his hand into the opening, and my inmost being yearned for him. I arose to open to my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, upon the handles of the bolt.

See, as I was going to say before that quote was that the Bible doesn't have any sex in it at all. Unless you happen to read Song of Solomon, why not try chapter 5 verses 4 and 5. Why I find the WBC passage funny is that they seem to just conveniently ignore any references to sex in the Bible.

It might not be as explicit compared to the Kama Sutra but it's still there in the Bible. The Kama Sutra might be straightforward, but apparently it also is created for married people, or at least the author spent some time talking about marriage. The quoted parts appear to have been lifted word-for-word, and uncredited from the Wikipedia article.

The second time I looked at another one of these pages was regarding Part 3.

Part three was on the "False Religious Systems" of Australia. They mentioned the Pope. I would have thought that they would have something on the Pope on their "God Hates Germany" page considering that the Pope is from Bavaria.

Again I was wrong.

Their Religion page is primarily about the "Evangelisch" churches (Protestant denominations). But that isn't what I consider to have been the stupidest. It's right on the front page, and the first thing for the Manner Of Life page. There is a subtle difference in the two, the first is from the "front page":

What else is this shameful country known for but the murder of millions and millions of people in World War II? The filthy pervert fag Adolph Hitler was raised to power and then able to convince a people to carry out his plan to virtually eliminate a race. What is wrong with you people to blindly go along with such evil and wickedness? You all are drenched in the blood of those murdered!


What else is this shameful country known for but the murder of millions and millions of people in World War II? The filthy pervert Adolph Hitler was raised to power and then able to convince a people to carry out his plan to virtually eliminate a race. What is wrong with you people to blindly go along with such evil and wickedness? You all are drenched in the blood of those murdered!

I've bolded the subtle difference.

You saw that right, Adolf Hitler, a man whose regime sent between 5000 - 15000 homosexuals to concentration camps, is apparently gay. Never mind that one of the reasons given for the execution of Ernst Röhm was that he was openly gay. Nope. Hitler must have been gay. But the historical revisionism doesn't seem to end there. Notice how they don't mention Jews. I suspect that it must be because God hates them. God Hates Israel apparently.

The last thing is that based on their front page God apparently likes most of Africa and South America, excluding French Guiana, and most of the Middle East (considering that the WBC rants on and on about the evils of Islam) except Iraq, and Israel.