Friday, August 22, 2014

YES, THERE ARE STILL PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE THE EARTH IS FLAT

By FĂ©lix Macherez, via VICE
Photo via The Flat Earth Society's Flickr
In 1881, English writer Samuel Rowbotham published Zetetic Astronomy: Earth Not a Globe, a 430-page book in which he affirmed that Earth is flat. One-hundred and thirty years later, despite all the silly science that proves to us that the land we step on is actually spherical, his work is still spawning mini movements.

After Rowbotham passed away in 1884, Lady Elizabeth Blount, who admired his work, established a Universal Zetetic Society whose objective was “to carry on the work of the master.” With their beliefs largely based on a rather subjective reading of the Bible, after WWI the organization gradually lost influence and eventually disappeared.

Yet, the idea of a disc-shaped Earth has not completely vanished. The Flat Earth Society is a modern group dedicated to promoting Rowbotham's ideas and trying to convince skeptics like me. I wanted to make sure they were serious, so I got in touch with some of them via their online forum.

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What’s The Harm – Ebola Edition

By , via NeuroLogica Blog

A common defense of implausible treatments is the question – “what’s the harm.” In other words, implausible therapies might help and can’t hurt, so there is no harm in trying. Is this a valid argument, however?

In trying to assess which side of a controversy has the better position I look toward logic and evidence. Evidence is critical, of course, but in fields outside my expertise I have to rely upon experts to interpret that evidence and put it into a broad and deep scientific context. In controversies, often the data itself is not the core issue, but which data to trust and how to interpret that data.

Therefore, when evaluating various controversial positions, it is very helpful to determine which side has the better arguments. If there is a dramatic asymmetry with one side relying heavily on logical fallacies, that is often very telling. Further, on any particular point you can follow the exchange through to completion and see which side ultimately has the better position.

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An Anti-Evolution Bill In Ohio Almost Included A Ban On Aristotle

By Mark Strauss, via io9
Legislation introduced in Ohio's House of Representatives would, if passed, rewrite the state's education standards by encouraging teachers to teach "both sides" of the "debate" on evolution and climate change. And, on top of that, an initial draft of the bill would have banned major works of thought and literature.

The 58-page bill, HB 597, would "prohibit political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another."

One of the bill's sponsors, State Rep. Andy Thompson (R-District 95) told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that this clause prevents teachers and schools from only presenting one side of a political and scientific debate without also presenting the other side. In practice, he says, that means school districts and teachers would have the freedom to introduce religious interpretations of scientific issues into classrooms — with creationism taught alongside evolution, as well as varying views on the actual age of the Earth and whether humans and dinosaurs co-existed. Likewise, the arguments put forth by climate-change deniers could be included in science lesson plans.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Tens of millions for CAM research — and it’s all on your dime

By Jann Bellamy, via Science-Based Medicine
"The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA) was signed on September 26, 2006. The intent is to empower every American with the ability to hold the government accountable for each spending decision. The end result is to reduce wasteful spending in the government. The FFATA legislation requires information on federal awards (federal financial assistance and expenditures) be made available to the public via a single, searchable website, which is www.USASpending.gov.

And what subject is more deserving of being held accountable by the American people than complementary/alternative/integrative medicine? After all, in what other area of government spending does scientific implausibility – indeed, even scientific impossibility – offer no impediment to spending millions of taxpayer dollars in research funds? We’ve complained about the NCCAM’s wasteful spending on pseudomedicine here on SBM several times: here, here, here and here, among others. As you shall see, the problem doesn’t stop at that particular $2.5 billion.

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See the UFO? No? Try squinting. Squint harder

By Ben Brumfield, via CNN
The crew of the space shuttle Atlantis took this picture of the International Space Station after leaving it in July 2011. Atlantis was the last shuttle to visit the station, which was first launched in 1998 and built by a partnership of 16 nations.
(CNN) -- Down on Earth, we all know: Do anything stupid these days, and video of it will turn up on the Internet to embarrass you.

Now, space aliens may be about learn that lesson, too.

NASA deployed live webcams on the International Space Station in March, and UFO enthusiasts monitoring their live feeds online have nabbed unidentified flying objects scooting through Earth's orbit.

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Can GMOs Help Feed a Hot and Hungry World?

By Madeline Ostrander, via The Nation

Not if activists succeed in making the genetic modification of food politically unsustainable.
(Illustration by Tim Robinson)
Eduardo Blumwald’s genetically modified plants don’t look much like “Frankenfood.” Filling four modest greenhouses in a concrete lot behind Blumwald’s laboratory at the University of California, Davis, the tiny seedlings, spiky grasses, alfalfa, and peanut and rice plants in plastic terracotta-colored pots look exactly like the ordinary varieties from which he and his fellow researchers created them. Blumwald’s lab lies just ten miles from Monsanto’s 90,000-square-foot vegetable seed building, a glassy edifice larger than the hangar for a 747. The Monsanto facility is one of the largest centers in the world for plant breeding and genetic engineering. But in the fourteen years that Blumwald, a professor of cell biology, has worked here studying the DNA of crop plants, he has hardly ever spoken to anyone from Monsanto.

Blue-eyed and round-faced, with a lilting Argentinian accent, Blumwald grows exasperated when he talks about the so-called “Big Ag” companies, which he says have been arrogant in dealing with the public, contributing to a distrust of biotech research. But he also doesn’t appreciate the activists who’ve been challenging not only the Monsantos of the world but the entire field of genetic engineering.

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Nathan Fielder Fooled The Internet Years Ago With A Fake Psychic Website

By Stacey Ritzen, via UPROXX
http://www.ronaldshoub.com
In addition to last night’s Conan, Nathan Fielder also appeared on Bill Simmons’ Grantland yesterday in which, towards the end of the podcast (1:08 mark), he discussed a fake “psychic and spiritual healer” website he managed under the pseudonym Ronald Shoub. Of course, this was back when he was just working as a writer and no one knew who Nathan Fielder was.

After a quick search I found that Reddit discovered the site back in 2010 and didn’t know what the hell to make of it — although many strongly felt that it was the work of a troll artist.

Here’s an excerpt from the “About” page:

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