Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Intelligent Designers whine about Gallup Poll

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on February 12, 2009

After getting kicked in the sack by The Vatican, IDers seem to have been bitch slapped by Gallup as well. In the latest poll that asked the following question “Do you, personally, believe in the theory of evolution, do you not believe in evolution, or don’t you have an opinion either way?” the results came in like this:

gallup-evo-pollThis has the IDers up in arms and alarmed because the non-believers (or reality deniers as I like to refer to them, personally) are a full 14 percentage points behind those who believe in evolution. Obviously the reason must be that something is wrong with this poll; it’s the only logical explanation really.

Why don’t they ever ask about the specifics of the theory? For example: 1) Do you believe that all living things came from a universal single-celled common ancestor? 2) Do you believe that random mutation or random variation and natural selection explain the origin of all life and its complexity? 3) Do you believe that humans evolved from a primitive ape-like ancestor in the last several million years, and if so, does the Darwinian mechanism in question 2) explain how it happened?

Yeah, why don’t they aske leading question or incorrect questions that have a higher probability of getting the answer the IDers seek? That’s like complaining that a poll which asked the question “Do you believe in God?” does not really measure people’s belief because it does not ask if they also believe Psalm 137:9. “Happy shall he be that takes and dashes the little ones against the stones.”? And why not ask ficticious things as well, because that is what that whole bit about evolution explaining “the origin of all life” is really, for evolution explains how life evolved after it was originated, and claiming otherwise is a straw man argument.

The Gallup poll then goes on to discuss educational level and church attendance, and how this correlates with belief in “evolution.” As expected, those with more “education” are more likely to be true believers, and those who attend church weekly are less likely to be true believers. The conclusion is obviously that educated people can see the truth and wisdom of evolution, and those who attend church regularly are blinded by religion.

Here’s the graph they are talking about:

education-and-evo-belief-gallup-pollClearly there is a correlation between education level and belief in Evolution, but no one seems to be making the same conclusions the IDers are screaming and yelling about! We understand that correlation does not imply causation, and the IDers are seeing causation. A bit paranoid maybe? Here’s all the Gallup Poll says about this graph:

There is a strong relationship between education and belief in Darwin’s theory, as might be expected, ranging from 21% of those with high-school educations or less to 74% of those with postgraduate degrees.

Those with high-school educations or less are much more likely to have no opinion than are those who have more formal education. Still, among those with high-school educations or less who have an opinion on Darwin’s theory, more say they do not believe in evolution than say they believe in it. For all other groups, and in particular those who have at least a college degree, belief is significantly higher than nonbelief.

Now where are they getting that whole “educated people can see the truth and wisdom of evolution, and those who attend church regularly are blinded by religion.” nonsense from? Paranoia? Or anger because they actually think that specific causation is true? I don’t know! But they seem to know exactly what’s happening here:

But perhaps a major factor is that those with more education who never attend church have never been exposed to anything but pro-Darwin indoctrination in public schools and universities, as well as the mainstream media, and have never heard about any of the weaknesses of the theory. That was the case in my situation.

Guilty as charged! Our education system teaches only science and no religious dogma. We must own up to that fact guys; we are heavily biased towards reason and evidence.

Fossils Reveal Truth About Darwin’s Theory

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on February 12, 2009

[Originally posted at: Yahoo News]

With the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin this week, people around the world are celebrating his role as the father of evolutionary theory. Events and press releases are geared, in part, to combat false claims made by some who would discredit the theory.

One frequently cited “hole” in the theory: Creationists claim there are no transitional fossils, aka missing links. Biologists and paleontologists, among others, know this claim is false.

As key evidence for evolution and species’ gradual change over time, transitional creatures should resemble intermediate species, having skeletal and other body features in common with two distinct groups of animals, such as reptiles and mammals, or fish and amphibians.

These animals sound wild, but the fossil record – which is far from complete – is full of them nonetheless, as documented by Occidental College geologist Donald Prothero in his book “Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters” (Columbia University Press, 2007). Prothero discussed those fossils last month at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, along with transitional fossils that were announced since the book was published, including the “fishibian” and the “frogamander.”

At least hundreds, possibly thousands, of transitional fossils have been found so far by researchers. The exact count is unclear because some lineages of organisms are continuously evolving.

[Read the rest of this post at: Yahoo News]

When Religious Freedom Turns to Child Neglect

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on February 12, 2009

[Originally posted at: The Good Atheist]

There are currently an estimated 170 million people worldwide that suffer from diabetes. A few decades ago, this disease was destroying lives. Children diagnosed would slowly fade away, often dying of starvation even though they were eating plenty of food. The discovery of insulin, and later it’s manufacture, has allowed what would otherwise be a deadly disease to become only an inconvenience for those who suffer from it. In other words, diabetes is no longer the death sentence it was 60 years ago.

The availability of insulin, however, was not able to save poor Kara Neuman, who died Easter Sunday last year. Her parents are followers of the “Unleavened Bread Ministries“, an online church that forbids using modern medicine and preach that the End Times are near. Kara’s parents refused to call a doctor, even as their daughter lay dying in bed. She did not survive, and now the parents are being brought to trial for child neglect.

They have chosen to make this a First Amendment issue, asking that they be allowed to practice their religion without interference from the state. They say that they are grief stricken, and that they have already been punished enough by the tragic death of their young daughter.

I don’t doubt the fact that they loved their Kara very much, or that they feel terrible about the events that transpired. They are no doubt wrestling with their theological convictions as we speak. The problem is, that the decision not to seek treatment was not theirs to make. Sure, they are her parents, and as caregivers, they are allowed a great degree of flexibility in how they chose to deliver this care. However, their own personal religious convictions cannot interfere with the well being of another human being. Kara was her own person, and her right to have medical treatment outweighs the rights of her parents to live according to their religious doctrine.

[Read the rest of this post at: The Good Atheist]

Octuplet Mom Looks to God for Assistance

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on February 12, 2009

[Originally posted at: The Good Atheist]

Nadya Suleman has an obsession. Since he was a teenager, she’s dreamed of being a mother. Nadya has recently given birth to octuplets, adding 8 children in a house that already has 6 of them. She is not married, lives in a small apartment, and when asked how she plans on taking care of so many babies, she responded simply that she will look to God for answers.

The eyes of the nation are on her, but I think Nadya doesn’t yet quite understand that many are waiting for her to fail. Caring for 14 kids, including 8 babies simultaneously, is a job that would require a fully trained staff to handle properly. All Nadya has for help is her mother, who has already expressed the fact that she disapproves of her daughters choice to have the controversial in vitro fertilization that led to her unusual pregnancy.

[Read the rest of this post at: The Good Atheist]

Forbes on evolution and intelligent design

Posted in Rationally Speaking by Skepdude on February 12, 2009


This is the year of Darwin (yes, yes, it’s also the year of astronomy, I know), and especially this week — around the date of Chuck’s birth — we are seeing a spike of events, radio and tv pieces, and printed articles. (Expect a second peak in November, for the anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species.) One of the most schizophrenic treatments of the topic surely is the one published this week by Forbes magazine. They have a number of solid pieces by recognized scientists and science writers (for instance by evo-devo researcher Sean Carroll, philosopher Michael Ruse, and writer Michael Shermer). But they also have four, I repeat four, insanely anti-intellectual articles by pro-ID writers: Ken Ham (the “CEO” of Answers in Genesis and founder of the oxymoronic Creation Museum in Kentucky), John West (the hack author of Darwin Day in America), Jonathan Wells (the infamous author of Icons of Evolution), and my colleague here at Stony Brook, Neurosurgery Vice Chairman Michael Egnor. I will ignore the first three because I have dealt with them on numerous occasions in the past, and concentrate instead on Egnor.

He begins his piece by stating that “As an undergraduate biochemistry major, I was uncomfortable with
Darwinian explanations for biological complexity. Living things certainly appeared to be designed.” That’s a bad enough reflection on undergraduate science education in the United States at the time (alas, it ain’t much better today, in this respect), but the fact that Egnor persists in such a naive way of thinking today, as a professor of neurosurgery is really a shame (for him and for Stony Brook).

Egnor goes on trotting out the same old tired creationist “objections” to evolution. The fossil record has discontinuities (yes, it does, and they have been shown over and over to be perfectly compatible with evolution, considering the time scales involved); biomolecules are so complex that they couldn’t possibly have originated naturally (an argument from ignorance, both in the philosophical sense and in the personal sense that Egnor is obviously ignorant about molecular evolution); the genetic “code” couldn’t exist without design, because only intelligent beings produce codes (an astounding example of taking a metaphor literally instead of looking at the perfectly explicable biochemistry of nucleic acids). Then Egnor proceeds by asking what he seems to think are devastating questions for “evolutionists.” Let’s take a look.

“Why do Darwinists claim that intelligent design theory isn’t scientific, when both intelligent design and Darwinism are merely the affirmative and negative answers to the same scientific question: Is there evidence for teleology in biology?” This betrays Egnor’s ignorance of the nature of science. The question of teleology in biology is most certainly not a scientific question, it is a philosophical one. And “Darwinism” is not a negative answer to that question, it is a positive answer to the question of how adaptive complexity originated during the history of life on earth.

“Why do Darwinists–scientists–seek recourse in federal courts to silence criticism of their theory in public schools?” Because the issue is one of government-mandated separation of Church and State and school board-regulated criteria for what should be taught in science classrooms. The creation-evolution debate is not a scientific debate, it is a social controversy, and as such it naturally, if unfortunately, involves court challenges.

“What is it about the Darwinian understanding of biological origins that is so fragile that it will not withstand scrutiny by schoolchildren?” Are you kidding? Schoolchildren do not understand plenty of other solidly established science either. For instance, many children (and a good number of adults) seem to think of the world in terms of Aristotelian, not Newtonian (let alone relativistic) physics. Should we ban Sir Isaac from science curriculum as a result?

Egnor ends his piece with a long whine about how he has been vilified on the internet (well, join the club, dude), and how “fundamentalist atheists” have called for him to be fired. I don’t know how good a neurosurgeon Egnor is, but I assume he is good enough to have obtained his post at Stony Brook. As such, he should retain it. But if he were in my Department (Ecology & Evolution) I most certainly would call for him to be booted out immediately on the ground that he doesn’t understand the basic foundations of the science in which he is supposed to carry out scholarship and which he should be able to teach to students.

This isn’t a matter of “ostracism” or “intolerance” (rather ironic terms when they come from creationists), it is a matter of intellectual honesty. I don’t subscribe to the Dawkins-style attack on creationists (amply quoted by Egnor, of course), which he calls “ignorant, stupid, insane … or wicked.” Most creationists are none of the last three (though ignorance often does play a role. But then again, I’m just as ignorant of neurosurgery). But Egnor, Ham, Wells, West and especially the editors of Forbes should understand once and for all that evolution is to biology what relativity or quantum mechanics are to physics, what the big bang is to cosmology, or what the atomic theory is to chemistry. Evolution is a scientific fact as solid as they come, and a scientific theory as well established as any other scientific theory is. Creationism and its cousin intelligent design are primitive ideas that were reasonable enough in a pre-scientific society, but do not have a respectable place at the table of intellectual discourse anymore. It’s time to get used to it.


Intelligent Design gets kicked in the nuts by the Vatican

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on February 12, 2009

The Vatican has officially accepted that Darwin was right. That’s right folks, the Vatican accepts evolution.

The Vatican has admitted that Charles Darwin was on the right track when he claimed that Man descended from apes.

A leading official declared yesterday that Darwin’s theory of evolution was compatible with Christian faith, and could even be traced to St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas. “In fact, what we mean by evolution is the world as created by God,” said Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Furthermore ID get’s a kick on the nutsack:

The Vatican also dealt the final blow to speculation that Pope Benedict XVI might be prepared to endorse the theory of Intelligent Design, whose advocates credit a “higher power” for the complexities of life.

Organisers of a papal-backed conference next month marking the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species said that at first it had even been proposed to ban Intelligent Design from the event, as “poor theology and poor science”. Intelligent Design would be discussed at the fringes of the conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University, but merely as a “cultural phenomenon”, rather than a scientific or theological issue, organisers said.

Three years ago advocates of Intelligent Design seized on the Pope’s reference to an “intelligent project” as proof that he favoured their views.

Wow, the Vatican thinks ID is poor theology on top of poor science, and you know what. For once I agree with the Vatican? It’s a miracle!

Vaccines didn’t cause autism, court rules

Posted in News by Rodibidably on February 12, 2009

I know the standard is to not comment on the articles themselves, but:


[Originally posted at: CNN]

(CNN) — A special court ruled Thursday that parents of autistic children are not entitled to compensation in their contention that certain vaccines caused autism in their children.

“I must decide this case not on sentiment, but by analyzing the evidence,” one of the “special masters” hearing the case said in denying the families’ claims, ruling that the families had not presented sufficient evidence to prove their allegations.

The decisions came in three test cases heard in 2007 involving children with autism that their parents contend was triggered by early childhood vaccinations.

[Read the rest of this post at: CNN]

Court says vaccine not to blame for autism

Posted in News by Skepdude on February 12, 2009

WASHINGTON – A special vaccine court ruled against parents with autistic children Thursday, saying that vaccines are not to blame for their children’s neurological disorder.

The judges in the cases said the evidence was overwhelmingly contrary to the parent’s claims — and backed years of science that found no risk.

“It was abundantly clear that petitioners’ theories of causation were speculative and unpersuasive,” the court concluded in one of a trio of cases ruled on Thursday.

But the court concluded that “the weight of scientific research and authority” was “simply more persuasive on nearly every point in contention.”


Skepdude is elated but holds no hopes that any of this will change the true believer’s minds. Of course the court would side with Big Pharma, they’re part of the conspiracy.

I get e-mail

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on February 12, 2009

Recently I linked to a post at Quackometer about Tong Ren, which resulted in an interesting e-mail exchange with someonewho wrote to me claiming to be a representative of  Tom Tam and the Tong Ren community.  This is a partial reproduction of the first e-mail I was sent:

I am emailing you because you did not block us from your site. Tom Tam and our group of practitioners invite you to Boston, with all expenses paid. You are welcome any time. Please come take a look, and see what we do here. Then decide for yourself if we are true or not.

We know and respect you as a scientist but as in the case of science there is always a need for observation and investigation. The Tong Ren practioners know and study Western medicine well, but the modern scentists know nothing about the practice of Tong Ren. We deeply believe we utilize scientific information from a point of view other than yours.

Many of the so called Skeptics criticise and attack Tong Ren Therapy and Tom Tam.  They even use foul language and personal insults, but these acts can not stop the development of Tong Ren Therapy.  These actions do not stop the growing popularity of Tong Ren or the studies and surveys that have and will take place regarding our work.

This person sounded quite nice so I decided to engage in a conversation with him/her. Since he/she talked the “science” talk I replied with the following (emphasis added) :

We are not enemies, even though our concepts are different as you noticed. I am sorry you feel that way about Randi and Orac. If you would like I could put you in direct contact with the both of them. In fact I am confident your method would be eligible for Randi’s million dollar challenge. Would you be willing to apply? I can put you in direct contact with Mr. Randi himself, if you so wish.

You say you use scientific information just in a different way. I’m open to that. In that case you must have scientific studies that support your claims. I would like to read these studies myself. Can you send me the titles, author name and the journal where they were published and when? That’s all I would need, no need to spend your money in travel to Boston. I am  not interested in testimonials. A few well round studies will be more than enough to convince me.

I am looking forward to the list of studies.


I am sure by now most of you would have guessed what the reply was (emphasis added) :

Hi Skepdude

Glad to get your reply.

I believe that we have many things in common. We, the Tong Ren practitioners, follow a scientific methodology. We also deeply believe that we need the study of science to support our claim. We are also looking forward to supplying you with a list of studies.

We have many testimonials, but we need more studies to support why these experiences are happening. We never use testimonials to replace scientific studies, we just use them as examples, to encourage patients to fight in order to heal their problem.

Tong Ren healing is new in America as it is to the whole world. As a new born baby is born, it does not have a birth certificate right away. There are still some American Indians that do not have birth certificates, yet we cannot deny their existence. All research needs time to be completed. As in the case of the drug Viagra, the result came first by coincidence, then the study and FDA approval followed. Tong Ren research has already begun. You must be aware of the first survey as completed by researchers from Dana Farber. You may not accept this type of survey, but it is a first step as we further our interest in collecting research data. We believe that in the future, the reports of many studies will continue to come out.

Tong Ren healers are not interested in any offer from Mr. Randi. We focus and pay more attention to the development of our healing and research. Some day, I hope when all of the studies come out, he will donate his money to us so that we can use it to further our healing and really help the public.

We don’t want to pay too much attention to Randi and Orac. Last summer I read their website. They are not representative of the scientific community, only anger and hate.
We are looking forward to the future of healing. I would like to connect with you when our scientific research is released, regardless of the outcome, either negative or positive.

We respect science and follow its laws.

A bit disapointing but at least he/she is agreeing that no scientific studies have been conducted yet, and all this is based on currently is testimonials.  Apparently research has begun, but nothing has come down the pipeline yet. That’s fair enough, depending on what kind of claims are being made. We’ll take a quick look at that later. And here is my latest reply (emphasis added) :

I am also looking forward to the day when you’ll send me the information about the studies supporting your method. Until then, though you must understand my skepticism. As you seem to be familiar with the scientific method, you then must know that testimonials are unacceptable as evidence in order to establish if a phenomenon exists or not, due to things such as confirmation bias, placebo effect, unreliability of human memory etc etc. Unfortunately, as you well know, testimonials are misused all the time by less than honest folks, so the studies are imperative in order for you to distinguish yourself from these sort of people, and you seem to understand that.

Until randomized, placebo controlled, blinded studies of Tong Ren have been completed and have come back with positive results we must be clear that, by virtue of lack of such studies, your method remains unproven.

It is too bad you’re not interested in the Million Dollar challenge, as such money could come in handy in financing said studies, and the boost you’d get if you were able to prove yourself to Randi would be great. That is your decision nevertheless and all I can do is offer my assistance in putting you in contact with James Randi. I am sorry you feel that way about Randi and Orac, and I must respectfully disagree with you on that account, as they are excellent representatives of the skeptical/scientific world who really know their stuff and are very hard to fool. I believe you have the wrong opinion about them. I have met James Randi in person, and I think he is an exemplary human being, skeptic and rationalist.

Please do not hesitate to contact me once the above mentioned studies are available.

Best Regards,


After this I did a quick web search for Tong Ren in the hopes of finding their official website to see what exactly are they claiming this technique can do. I came accross what seems to be the official Tom Tam website, and…surprise surprise there is no mentioning of any studies on that website. The only thing that is mentioned is a link to a survey published in the Complementary Health Practice Review. Here are some exerpts from the report (emphasis added):

Tong Ren (TR) is an untested energy healing modality with anecdotally-reported effectiveness
for a variety of disorders. Study objective: To describe participant reports of effectiveness
and safety. Design: Cross-sectional, anonymous survey. Setting: Weekly group sessions
in the Northeast US. Participants: Adults attending group sessions. Measures: Changes in
conditions attributed to TR. Results:

Observation – First, right of the bat they make it clear that this method is, so far, untested. Second, this is not a study it is a self administered, anonymous  survey, basically a big collection of anectodal evidence.

Among respondents who had attended more than one session (n ¼ 216),
30% used superlatives (e.g., ‘‘amazing’’) to describe TR’s impact, and one-third noted
improved quality of life. No adverse effects were described. Anxiety, depression, cancer, and
autoimmune disorders appeared to have the greatest treatment responses, with 63.8%, 61.0%,
60.3%, and 58.1% of participants with these conditions reporting substantial improvements.
Conclusion: This first study documenting self-reported effects of TR shows subjective benefits
and no adverse effects. Further research on this approach is warranted.

Observation – 30% felt amazing. I can see that and I submit that 30% or more of any untested “alternative” therapy will feel that way, regardless of the actual usefulness of the method. 1/3 noted “improved quality of life”, which could mean so many things I don’t even have the time to go into here. Confirmation bias anyone? All of this means that a full 37% of participants did not feel amazing nor did they perceive an increased quality of life. That group is bigger than either of the other two. Another observation to keep in mind is that almost 67% of participants were female with an average age of 56 years (table 1, Page 6) , and it is a fact that females and older people tend to believe these things more then men and younger people. Just an  interesting observation I thought! Obviously no adverse effects would have been observed, they are hitting a doll with a little hammer after all!  A little wrist fatigue is probably the only thing to be expected here.

Since 2001, TR has been used to treat symptoms of a
variety of diseases and conditions, including cancer, diabetes, AIDS, arthritis, autoimmune
diseases, anxiety, and depression, with ongoing classes currently held in 13 countries and
24 states in the United States http://www.tomtam.comÞ. TR practitioners report that thousands
of people have sought treatment and reported benefits from this method. This
approach to healing, however, has not yet been subject to systematic empirical study.

Observation – Language used is very suspicious. You can’t say that the method is unvalidated scientifically and then turn around and say that it has been used to treat symptoms of cancer and AIDS. You must qualify such statements with the word “claim”, the method has been claimed to have been used to treat blah blah blah, otherwise you lend it undeserved legitimacy.

So what’s the author’s conclusion?

Based on our survey of 216 participants who had attended more than
one group healing sessions, we found no reports of adverse events or negative effects of TR
treatments. Participant reports of treatment impact were overwhelmingly positive; for all
conditions listed on the survey, from 42% to 64% of respondents reported their conditions
had improved substantially and these improvements were attributed to TR


No adverse effects were noted, whereas strongly positive subjective
benefits were reported. Based on these results, undertaking prospective, controlled
trials with reliable and valid outcome measures to explore the efficacy and mechanisms
of this approach is warranted.

Followed, of course by these limitation to their study:

We do not have objective measures of health changes to verify reported improvements. Participants also
reported having sought a variety of other conventional and complementary treatments as
well as additional one-on-one TR treatments for about half of the participants; hence, it
is not known whether and to what extent TR group treatments had additional effects.
Importantly, because these are not prospective data, we do not know what proportion of
participants have dropped out because of lack of improvement. This selection bias will be critical to address in future studies. Finally, statistical tests of differences by group
leader, frequency of attendance, and time since first attending TR sessions were limited
because sample sizes of the subgroups representing specific conditions were small. Future
work should focus on specific conditions with sufficient sample sizes to conduct statistical

Ok so they have no objective measures of health changes (of course it’s a survey), the participants have sought other treatments so they can’t know really where the “benefit” if any is coming from, they don’t know how many participants dropped out because of lack of an effect, in other words they may have sampled just the true believers and newcomers. Wow, we can put no reliance at all on this survey, can we? If further research is warranted I think the Tong Ren community must pick up the tab and show that there is something to their method. So far from everything I can tell they are out there selling a product, which may or may not work, and for which there is no scientific basis or convincing evidence. The conclusion seems obvious, the ball is on the Tong Ren court.