Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

France chastises Pope on condoms

Posted in News by Skepdude on March 18, 2009

The French foreign ministry has voiced “sharp concern” following the Pope’s rejection of condom use to fight Aids.

Benedict XVI, who is on a tour of Africa, said handing out condoms only increased the problem of HIV/Aids.

The Roman Catholic Church says marital fidelity and sexual abstinence are the best way to prevent the spread of HIV.

But France, echoing the reaction of some aid agencies, said it “voices extremely sharp concern over the consequences of [the Pope’s comments]”.

“While it is not up to us to pass judgment on Church doctrine, we consider that such comments are a threat to public health policies and the duty to protect human life,” foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT “BBC NEWS”

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Gaps in the Fossil Record

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on March 18, 2009

[Originally posted at: Life Without A Net]

Thanks again to my reader, Russ, for inspiring a blog entry.  In a recent thread, Russ pointed me to a propoganda piece by the Institute for Creation Research.  I say propaganda because actual research has not been forthcoming from the institute since its inception.  Let me make this abundantly clear:  The Institute for Creation Research has not published a single falsifiable scientifically derived prediction which has held up to scrutiny.  Not one.  What they do is publish half truths and outright lies about evolution and the sciences contributing to our understanding of the process.

I’m not going to dismantle this website point by point as I’m sure it’s been done by someone more competent and eloquent than me.  However, I want to address a very common claim by Creation Scientists (sic!).   It is said that the geologic column is incomplete, and that there are huge gaps where there ought to be gradual change.  

What these poor scientific illiterates do not understand is that according to the theory of natural selection, we should not expect to find a complete record.  In fact, the very things which cause speciation to occur would necessarily cause gaps in the fossil record.

To begin with, we must understand that speciation is a very, very long process in most cases.  In a single population, it is extraordinarily rare for a new species to just appear.  This is because of interbreeding.  Any new beneficial adaptation is overwhelmingly likely to be quite small, and it is also overwhelmingly likely to spread through the population relatively quickly, in evolutionary terms.

[Originally posted at: Life Without A Net]

Important Studies Page Update

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on March 18, 2009

Following my linking to Steve Novella’s entry at Science Based Medicine, I updated the Important Studies page more specifically by adding the meta-analysis he was referring to the Acupuncture Section.

Acupuncture – Disconnected from Reality

Posted in Science Based Medicine by Skepdude on March 18, 2009

The primary goal of science-based medicine (SBM) is to connect the practice of medicine to the best currently available science. This is similar to evidence-based medicine (EBM), although we quibble about the relative roles of evidence vs prior plausibility. In a recent survey 86% of Americans said they thought that science education was “absolutely essential” or “very important” to the healthcare system. So there seems to be general agreement that science is a good way to determine which treatments are safe and work and which ones are not safe or don’t work.

The need for SBM also stems from an understanding of human frailty – there are a host of psychological effects and intellectual pitfalls that tend to lead us to wrong conclusions.  Even the smartest and best-meaning among us can be lead astray by the failure to recognize a subtle error in logic or perception. In fact, coming to a reliable conclusion is hard work, and is always a work in progress.

There are also huge pressures at work that value things other than just the most effective healthcare. Industry, for example, is often motivated by profit. Institutions and health care providers may be motivated by the desire for prestige in addition to profits. Insurance companies are motivated by cost savings. Everyone is motivated by a desire to have the best health possible – we all want treatments that work safely, often more so than the desire to be logical or consistent. And often personal or institutional ideology comes into play – we want health care to validate our belief systems.

These conflicting motives create a disconnect in the minds and behaviors of many people. They pay lip service to science-based medicine, but are good at making juicy rationalizations to justify what they want to be true rather than what the science supports. We all do this to some degree – but, in my opinion, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a cultural institution that is built upon these rationalizations.  It is formalized illogic and anti-science conceals as science under a mountain of rationalizations.

Some recent news items and reports dealing with acupuncture demonstrate this disconnect quite well.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “SCIENCE BASED MEDICINE”

‘Most Express Sympathy for the Censorship’

Posted in News by Skepdude on March 18, 2009

The firing of a magazine editor in Turkey over her intention to put a story about Darwin’s evolution theory on the cover has generated a flood of criticism. SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke with the editor about just how conservative Turkish society has become.

No issue divides Turks more than the country’s alleged creeping Islamization. Early last week, the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (Tubitak) sparked an international controversy after it prevented the publication of a cover story about Charles Darwin’s evolution theory in Bilim ve Teknik (Science and Technology), one of the country’s leading science journals. The publication’s editor-in-chief, 41-year-old Cigdem Atakuman, claims she was fired as a result of the incident.

Secular Turks are outraged and the world is watching. Did Tubitak, which publishes Bilim ve Teknik, censor a feature about the theory of evolution under pressure from the conservative Islamic-oriented AKP-led government because it couldn’t be reconciled with Muslim religious beliefs?A senior Tubitak official has blamed the editor for removing the story, according to Turkish daily Hürriyet, saying changes were made at the last minute and rushed. But Atakuman has denied the allegation, saying the deputy head of the council, Ömer Cebeci, told her the cover story was too controversial and that he no longer trusted her to responsibly perform her duties. The paper claims the incident has been reduced to a case of “one person’s word against the other’s.”

In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Atakuman defends her position and says she is worried about the future of bias-free science in her country.


SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ms. Atakuman, is it true that you were fired?

Cigdem Atakuman: Yes, it’s true. Up until now, there has been no official statement. But I was made to understand, verbally, that I have no future as the editor-in-chief of Bilim ve Teknik.

READ THE REST OF THIS AT “SPIEGEL.DE”

Egyptian Islamic Lawyers Urge Death Sentence For Convert

Posted in News by Skepdude on March 18, 2009

ISTANBUL — In the latest hearing of a Muslim-born Egyptian’s effort to officially convert to Christianity, opposing lawyers advocated he be convicted of “apostasy,” or leaving Islam, and sentenced to death.

More than 20 Islamic lawyers attended the hearing on Sunday (Feb. 22) in Maher Ahmad El-Mo’otahssem Bellah El-Gohary’s case to obtain identification papers with Christianity designated as his religious affiliation. Two lawyers led the charge, Ahmed Dia El-Din and Abdel Al-Migid El-Anani.

“[El-Din] started to talk about the Quran being in a higher position than the Bible,” one of El-Gohary’s lawyers, Said Fayez, told Compass. “[El-Din said] people can move to a higher religion but not down, so people cannot move away from Islam because it is highest in rank.”

Memos submitted by opposing lawyers asserted that cases such as El-Gohary’s form part of a U.S. Zionist attack on Islam in Egypt, that Christianity is an inferior religion to Islam and that Copts protect and defend converts from Islam at their own peril.

“We received 150 pages from them that talked about religion,” said Fayez. “We are not in a position to talk about religion, we are only talking about the law.”

El-Gohary Beaten

El-Gohary was not present at the hearing, as attendance would put him at extreme personal risk. He had planned to obtain papers authorizing attorney Nabil Ghobreyal to act as his proxy representation in court, but staff members at the registry office swore at and beat him, lawyers said.

Judge Hamdy Yasin was forced to adjourn the case until March 28 because El-Gohary did not obtain the necessary proxy representation documents.

“I am now in a position where I can’t do anything else,” El-Gohary, who has been in hiding, told Compass. “I have to go [to court] despite the danger. I believe God will protect me. It’s a very hard decision, but I have to go.”

Copts and Christian converts have to face such systemic prejudice daily in the battle for their rights, he said.

“Our rights in Egypt, as Christians or converts, are less than the rights of animals,” El-Gohary said. “We are deprived of social and civil rights, deprived of our inheritance and left to the fundamentalists to be killed. Nobody bothers to investigate or care about us.”

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT “AINA.ORG”

NASA Scientists Find Clues to a Secret of Life

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on March 18, 2009

I know it’s not TECHNICALLY skeptical, but HOLY CRAP this is cool.

[Originally posted at: NASA]

NASA scientists analyzing the dust of meteorites have discovered new clues to a long-standing mystery about how life works on its most basic, molecular level.

“We found more support for the idea that biological molecules, like amino acids, created in space and brought to Earth by meteorite impacts help explain why life is left-handed,” said Dr. Daniel Glavin of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “By that I mean why all known life uses only left-handed versions of amino acids to build proteins.” Glavin is lead author of a paper on this research appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences March 16.

Proteins are the workhorse molecules of life, used in everything from structures like hair to enzymes, the catalysts that speed up or regulate chemical reactions. Just as the 26 letters of the alphabet are arranged in limitless combinations to make words, life uses 20 different amino acids in a huge variety of arrangements to build millions of different proteins. Amino acid molecules can be built in two ways that are mirror images of each other, like your hands. Although life based on right-handed amino acids would presumably work fine, “you can’t mix them,” says Dr. Jason Dworkin of NASA Goddard, co-author of the study. “If you do, life turns to something resembling scrambled eggs — it’s a mess. Since life doesn’t work with a mixture of left-handed and right-handed amino acids, the mystery is: how did life decide — what made life choose left-handed amino acids over right-handed ones?”

Over the last four years, the team carefully analyzed samples of meteorites with an abundance of carbon, called carbonaceous chondrites. The researchers looked for the amino acid isovaline and discovered that three types of carbonaceous meteorites had more of the left-handed version than the right-handed variety – as much as a record 18 percent more in the often-studied Murchison meteorite. “Finding more left-handed isovaline in a variety of meteorites supports the theory that amino acids brought to the early Earth by asteroids and comets contributed to the origin of only left-handed based protein life on Earth,” said Glavin.

[Read the rest of this post at: NASA]