Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Amid Media Circus, Scientists Doubt ‘Ida’ Is Your Ancestor

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 20, 2009


You know science has made it big when the Google homepage logo is changed to celebrate a fossil finding and the mayor of New York shows up at a press conference to unveil it.

A new 47-million year old primate fossil unveiled to the world Tuesday has made waves among scientists and non-scientists. Google responded by working an image of the fossil into the logo of its search page.

The discovery was presented with much fanfare at a press conference at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where researchers called the finding a “missing link” and a publisher from Little, Brown (which put out a related book called “The Link”) called it “a scientific discovery that will undoubtedly revolutionize how we understand our own evolution.” Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the finding an “astonishing breakthrough.”

The mayor’s enthusiasm aside, some scientists aren’t convinced.

“What does it tell us about human evolution that we didn’t know? Precious little,” said Stonybrook University paleoanthropologist John Fleagle. But the fossil is certainly significant for what it can tell us about early primate evolution, he said.

“It’s an extraordinary fossil as an individual,” Fleagle told LiveScience. “I’m sure people will be combing over it for details for decades.”

The small body represents a roughly 9-month-old female that probably looked a lot like modern lemurs. The researchers who studied the fossil, led by Jørn Hurum of the University of Oslo’s Natural History Museum, nicknamed her “Ida.”

Experts are almost unanimous in their praise for the fossil’s exceptional preservation: About 95 percent of its bones are intact, and even some fur imprints and stomach contents are visible.

“The significance of this new find is it has almost every single fragment of the bones,” said Tab Rasmussen, an anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis. “[Usually] it’s very difficult to find anything besides teeth, a jaw, and bones here and there. This is something that really vaults the whole field forward.”


While most experts agree on the beauty of the specimen, opinions diverge on how to interpret it.


Arrest ordered for mom of Minnesota boy, 13, resisting chemo

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 20, 2009


NEW ULM, Minn. —

Authorities nationwide were on the lookout Wednesday for a mother and her 13-year-old cancer-stricken son who fled after refusing the chemotherapy that doctors say could save the boy’s life.

Colleen Hauser and her son, Daniel, who has Hodgkin’s lymphoma, apparently left their southern Minnesota home sometime after a doctor’s appointment and court-ordered X-ray on Monday showed his tumor had grown.

Brown County District Judge John Rodenberg, who had ruled last week that Daniel’s parents were medically neglecting him, issued an arrest warrant Tuesday for Colleen Hauser and ruled her in contempt of court. Rodenberg also ordered that Daniel be placed in foster care and immediately evaluated by a cancer specialist for treatment.


The Education of Vox Popoli Part…aah whatever!

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on May 20, 2009

I don’t dislike Vox Day. Even though we’ve had disagreements in the past, I respect his right to express his opinion, and occasionally I even agree with a thing or two he says. But, like a clock, he will throw out gems of ridiculousness that beg to be questioned. His latest is called “Idiots at the chalkboard“, a catchy title I must say. He links to a news item called “Aspiring school teachers fail in math“, of which he quotes the following:

According to state education officials, nearly three-quarters of the people who took the state elementary school teacher’s licensing exam this year failed the new math section.The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released the results Tuesday. They say that only 27 percent of the more than 600 candidates who took the test passed.

To most people reading this news, this would mean that many of the aspiring teachers were not up to par to become teachers and consequently they failed. But not to Vox. To him this actually has a deep meaning about the ones who did pass, and have passed in the past, and went on to become actual, not aspiring, teachers. As per Vox:

Remember this the next time someone asks you about your credentials to homeschool your children. In my opinion, the mere fact of not being mentally sub-normal trumps a degree from a paper-selling institution that hands them out to everyone with a pulse and the requisite cash.

So the fact that 73% of aspiring teachers were rejected because they were not up to par means that homeschooling is just as good an alternative? That not being “mentally sub-normal” makes you just as good as the 27% who passed? How? How does one jump from one to the other? What does the fact that 73% were sub-par have to say about the 27% that passed? Normally nothing, and this was brought to Vox’s attention by a commenter who said:


I don’t think this reflects badly on teachers. It says that only 27% of the people who took the licensing exam passed. Meaning that the rest didn’t meet the high standards of the public schools and never became teachers.

Now if it said that 90% passed than it would mean the standards are too low.

A very sensible observation indeed, but Vox disagreed ( I assume the commenter VD stands for Vox Day, if not the following discussion does not apply to Vox):

You’re missing the point. First, many states have no such standards and permit all of them to teach. Second, the simplicity of the test shows that the “high standards” are extremely low; it’s not credible to suggest that the quarter who passed are significantly smarter than the large majority who failed. Especially since we already know from SAT data that the average education major is of below-average intelligence.

First, no, he’s not missing the point, you simply never made that point, big difference there. Second, this particular news item is about the state of Massachusetts, thus it cannot be held as representative of other states. Just because the aspiring applicants in Massachusetts are of an apparently very low quality, does not imply the same is true for other states, and such generalization cannot be supported by the evidence presented here. All this shows is that there is a problem in Massachusetts, in fact that is what the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents thinks:

Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents , said “The high failure rate puts a shining light on a deficiency in teacher-prep programs.”

So, is there a problem with the teacher-prep programs in Massachusetts? These test results seem to answer that question quite clearly: yes there is. What does that have to say about homeschooling? Absolutely nothing, but according to Vox : “the mere fact of not being mentally sub-normal trumps a degree from a paper-selling institution“, but isn’t most of the populace, by definition, mentally normal? So unless Vox is saying that somehow,  most of Massachusetts’ mentally sub-normal residents want to become teachers, shouldn’t we expect most of the applicants to have passed, by virtue of being representative of the populace as a whole, which is comprised of mostly mentally normal individuals?

Think of if this way. If you follow American Idol, think of all the hopefuls that are ridiculed by the judges during audition week. These are aspiring Idols, who are below par and do not pass the test, just like the aspiring teachers who failed the test. What do the failing Idols tell us about the Idols that make it to Hollywood? Absolutely nothing, except that the ones who made it are better than the ones who didn’t. Vox’s argument applied here implies that those of us who sing in the shower, and don’t even have enough talents or confidence to go and audition for Idol (the equivalents of the home schooling parents) are just as good as the folks that got the yellow sheet and went on to Hollywood, which is absurd.

There will be exceptions, some people really are educated and knowledgeable enough to home school their kids, but most people do not know enough about all the sciences and the arts to do an adequate job. Saying that because there is such a high degree of failure in aspiring teachers means that anyone can home-school, since the ones that passed cannot be much better than the ones that failed, is nonsensical. The fact that 10 fail does not have anything to say about the 1 that succeeds, except that he was better than the 10, but one cannot infer how much better he is simply based on how bad the other 10 performed. Does Vox have a crystal ball?

Jenny McCarthy quote of the day

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on May 20, 2009

It was amazing to watch the French eat though. Creams, breads, sorbets, smoking, drinking wine and the women were all skinny and gorgeous. What the hell is that about? I’m hanging in there for no sugar. I hope you are too. The French might be able to get away with eating whatever they want, but at least American girls have bigger boobs. Hahaha.

Jenny McCarthy

Modern day Isaacs

Posted in Pharyngula by Skepdude on May 20, 2009


Colleen Hauser has flown the coop. She has defied a court order to bring her sick son, Daniel Hauser, to a qualified doctor for essential medical care. The boy has Hodgkins lymphoma, a disease with a very good prognosis if treated soon, but is a painful death sentence within a few years if neglected. His mother, though, is fervently religious, and no doubt smug in her righteousness, has bundled her son into a car and is devoutly driving to Mt. Moriah. I hope she’s not expecting an angel of the lord to appear and spare her son.

What she has done has gone even deeper. Daniel is 13 years old; he has been tested for his competency, and has been found to be completely illiterate. He was homeschooled. Colleen Hauser has been wielding the sacrificial dagger of her faith on her son for years, crippling his brain and rendering him unable to evaluate the real-world consequences of their decisions. I wonder how many Daniel Hausers there are in this country, living lives of quiet ignorance, unexposed by the trauma of a physical disease?

And here’s the real tragedy: Colleen Hauser almost certainly loves her son and believes she is doing what is best for him, every step of the way. I can identify with her in that regard — I can understand that deep, gut-wrenching love a parent can have for her children, the kind that can put you to your knees with agony at every little hurt they suffer…and Daniel Hauser faces deeper pain and an imminent threat of death that my kids have never had. But Colleen Hauser is so afflicted with the poison of religion that she has lost sight of reality, and is going to kill her son with her ignorance.


Darwinius changes everything

Posted in Not Exactly Rocket Science by Skepdude on May 20, 2009


Yesterday, the entire world changed noticeably as the media, accompanied by some scientists, unveiled a stunning fossilised primate. The creature has been named Darwinius masillae, but also goes by Ida, the Link, the Chosen One and She Who Will Save Us All.

The new fossil is remarkably complete and well-preserved, although the media glossed over these facts in favour of the creature’s ability to cure swine flu. Ida was hailed as a “missing link” in human evolution, beautifully illustrating our transition from leaping about in trees to rampant mass-media sensationalism.

Speaking to a group of international reporters, the scientists who discovered Ida described the animal in painstaking detail to the sound of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries played from 50-foot speakers. As a barrage of fireworks launched in the background, one journalist said, “The release of 30 doves just at the right moment really helped to drive home the unique paleoecological perspective that Ida provides.”

Evolutionary biologist Stephen Wilton added, “Ida has been waiting for us for 47 million years so I’m grateful that the publication of the paper wasn’t rushed and that the whole thing didn’t turn into some sort of media circus. You never know when that might happen.”


Measles outbreak ‘worst in years’

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 20, 2009


Health chiefs in Wales are dealing with a “massive” measles outbreak, with numbers already four times the highest figure recorded over the past 13 years.

Four nursery school children were treated in hospital as part of 127 cases across mid and west Wales, while there are another 39 cases in Conwy.

The National Public Health Service (NPHS) in Wales saw 39 cases last year. Its highest figure in 2003 was 44.

Officials appealed for parents to take up the MMR vaccine.

Dr Mac Walapu, consultant in communicable disease control for the NPHS, said: “For as long as there are children who do not receive their MMR vaccinations, there is the potential for outbreaks of measles to happen and we would remind anyone in Wales, and not just in the affected area.”

A spokeswoman added: “We need to be up front with parents.”

She added: “We try not to be too scary when we talk to people about this, but children die of measles and children are impaired by measles. “It puts children in hospital. The reality it is that this is happening now, in Wales. Measles is very contagious.”

She said the outbreak was set to be the biggest in Wales since the MMR vaccine was introduced in 1988.


Married girl’s murder in cold blood

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 20, 2009


RAWALPINDI: The family of a young girl killed in cold blood by her husband and mother-in-law has been shuttling between the offices of Regional Police Officer (RPO) Nasir Khan Durrani and City Police Officer (CPO) Rao Muhammad Iqbal for justice for over two months but of no avail.

Blinking back his tears, Usman Ali, the brother of ill-fated Saba Sehar, 22, told Daily Times in a choked voice that his sister was married to Azhar Aziz, a resident of Adiala Road, last year.

He said in February this year Azhar in assistance with his mother, Azizun Nisa, beat his sister in revenge for not giving the hand of their youngest sister to his younger brother. They beat Saba black and blue, and when she collapsed on the floor from torture and demanded water, Azhar poured acid in her mouth.

Usman said that his family shifted Saba to Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Hospital (BBSH) where she succumbed to injuries on March 13.

Suspended between life and death, the victim narrated the entire episode to the investigation officer of Saddar Bairooni police. The police registered a case under Section 302/34 against Azhar and his mother and sent the former to Adiala Jail on judicial remand. However, his mother being co-accused was not arrested despite registration of an FIR.

In her death statement registered by the police, Saba said, “My mother-in-law grabbed me by hair, while my husband punched and kicked me, making me almost unconscious. When I fell down on the ground and was in a daze, I called for water. But my husband poured a glassful of acid in my mouth.”