Monday, March 31, 2008

Arizona paramedics change treatment of cardiac arrest

CNN reports that Arizona's paramedics have changed their processes for dealing with cardiac arrest victims, going against the recommendations of the American Heart Association, and the result has tripled the long-term survival rate:

Until three years ago, Arizona's success rate in cases like this was no better than most of the country. This past month, however, physicians in the state reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that a new regimen by paramedics has tripled the success rate, to more than 5 percent. Among patients whose collapse from cardiac arrest was observed, long-term survival went from 4.7 percent to 17.6 percent.

In a bold departure from standard practice, paramedics in most Arizona cities do not follow the guidance of the American Heart Association. Instead, they follow a protocol that was developed at the University of Arizona's Sarver Heart Center, largely by Dr. Gordon Ewy.

Even after cardiac arrest, Ewy said, there's enough oxygen in the body to feed the brain and keep a person alive for several minutes. But that air helps only if someone compresses the heart to circulate blood. In traditional CPR, rescuers alternate 30 chest compressions with two long "rescue breaths." Paramedics are trained to start by checking the airway, and insert a breathing tube at the start of resuscitation. These extra steps, said Ewy, waste precious time.

In Arizona, paramedics skip the breathing step. They simply alternate two minutes of pumping on the chest -- 200 compressions -- with a single shock from a defibrillator.

This is similar to a story Newsweek reported last summer, which indicated that giving oxygen to cardiac arrest patients is the wrong thing to do. It's nice to see Arizona on the cutting edge, here.

More cases of suppression missed by "Expelled"

I previously noted that none of the cases of alleged persecution of intelligent design advocates in the film "Expelled" come close to the case of political persecution of an advocate of evolution, Chris Comer, who lost her job at the Texas Education Association for sending an email announcing an academic talk by a critic of intelligent design.

Troy Britain now lists some additional cases where intelligent design advocates are the persecutors:
  • Nancey Murphy of the Fuller Theological Seminary, who
    said she faced a campaign to get her fired because she expressed the view that intelligent design was not only poor theology, but “so stupid, I don’t want to give them my time.”

    Murphy, who believes in evolution, said she had to fight to keep her job after one of the founding members of the intelligent design movement, legal theorist Phillip Johnson, called a trustee at the seminary and tried to get her fired.

  • In the mid-1990s, Christian biochemist Terry M. Gray also ran into problems associated with Phillip Johnson. When he wrote a negative review of the book in which he stated that humans have primate ancestors, he was charged with heresy by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and forced to write a recantation in order to maintain his membership in the church.
  • Christian physicist Howard Van Till, a critic of creationism and intelligent design, was criticized by the board of trustees at Calvin College for his views. Although his career was not ended, he ultimately abandoned his faith after the repeated insistence by his critics that his views were not compatible with it. I've heard that Duane Gish, former vice president of the Institute for Creation Research, was an individual who contributed to attacks on Van Till to try to get him removed from his position.
  • Troy doesn't (yet) mention this case, but Panda's Thumb has written about Richard D. Colling, a biologist at Olivet Nazarene University, who has been forbidden to teach intro-level biology classes and his book, Random Designer, has been banned from use at his school. Although trustees attempted to have Colling fired, he has maintained his tenured position with the support of the university president--but apparently that support is not sufficient to allow him to teach introductory biology classes to undergraduates or teach from his own book.

It seems there is quite a different movie still to be made here, about religious persecution of scientists who dare to argue for evolution.

UPDATE (April 20, 2008): Blake Stacey has put together a more extensive list.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Thinking Christian blog blocks my comment

Tom Gilson closed the comments at his Thinking Christian blog post about P.Z. Myers calling in to the presenter line on an "Expelled" event conference bridge, preventing me from posting this comment:
The claims of "Expelled" about individuals who have allegedly been persecuted are bogus--Gonzales was denied tenure because he wasn't publishing research, Sternberg wasn't persecuted at all, and Crocker simply didn't have her contract renewed (and deservedly so--she was both a bad teacher and was making horrible creationist arguments, as has been documented with her PowerPoint slides online).

On the other hand, Chris Comer really was removed from her position as Director of Science at the Texas Education Agency for simply sending out an email announcing that Barbara Forrest was giving a talk about "Creationism's Trojan Horse." The ID advocates have no case of persecution that approaches that in severity.
He also deleted a link that Norman Doering included in a comment, and banned Norman from his blog. Norman's comment was this:

Tom Gilson wrote:

The connection between Darwinism and the Holocaust is not a lie when it is understood the way thoughtful people have presented it.

Feel free to present that “thoughtful way” here:

But Tom deleted the link because clicking on the link first gives a content warning from Blogger. Norman's post is well worth reading, as I pointed out in a comment on Tom's blog that made it under the wire before he closed comments:
Tom: It’s too bad you deleted Norman Doering’s link to his blog post. It’s actually a quite interesting post about how the Nazis actually banned writings promoting Darwinism, and how it was creationist Edward Blyth’s ideas that led to eugenics. Norman also points out multiple passages from Hitler’s _Mein Kampf_ which look more like something written by a creationist than an evolutionist.
By the way, Gilson claims that P.Z. Myers "crashed" the conference call. In fact, he was invited to attend, as was the entire Panda's Thumb blogging crew--just not to be a presenter on the call.

Mike Rinder left Scientology

From an interesting Radar magazine article about the "Anonymous" protests against Scientology and various high-level defections (including church head David Miscavige's niece, which I've already reported here), I learn that Mike Rinder, former head of Scientology's Office of Special Affairs, defected last year. Rinder was the main public spokesperson for the Church of Scientology. Chuck Beatty, a 27-year veteran of the Church, observes in the article that Rinder leaving Scientology is like Goebbels leaving the Nazi Party.

Rinder, an Australian who joined the Scientology Sea Org at the age of 18, left the Church in the summer of 2007.

Congratulations, Mr. Rinder. Welcome back to reality. I hope you will speak out about your experiences.

(Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars.)

Scientology OT levels leaked through Wikileaks

All of Scientology's Operating Thetan (OT) levels have now been leaked through Wikileaks, which may account for considerable slowness of that website. Although at the very least large parts of these documents have previously leaked on the Internet (via Usenet) back in the mid-nineties, which led to multiple lawsuits by the Church of Scientology against those responsible, this may be the first time the entire 612-page manual of OT levels 1-8 has been circulating on the Internet.

I think it's likely that Scientology will be filing a copyright infringement lawsuit against Wikileaks, which is distributing the document in a single large PDF.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Is "Expelled" going to show up in any theaters on April 18?

[UPDATE (April 15, 2008): See the NCSE's "Expelled Exposed" website for a look at the deceptive tactics of the filmmakers and the real facts that they aren't showing you.]

[UPDATE (April 18, 2008): Further updates on "Expelled" theater counts, box office take, and ratings are here.]

"Expelled" was originally claimed to be opening in February 2008, and I recall seeing claims that it would be on 4,000 screens. Its website has subsequently been claiming an April 18 opening date ("in theatres nationwide"), and somewhere I've seen an estimate of about 1,000 screens. (UPDATE: This was said by John Sullivan, an "Expelled" producer, on the Expelled blog in December 2007, as the estimated screen count for a February 2008 release.) But for some reason, the film is not listed on April 2008 distribution schedules:
I only found it listed with an April 18 date at AOL's MovieFone, with no photo or trailer. lists it with "To Be Announced 2008" as the release date. (UPDATE: It's also at with an April 18 release date, and a poll to grade the movie. It's polling at 85% "F," 11% "A," 2% "D," and 1% each for "B" and "C," with 474 votes.)

Is it really going to show in theaters at all on April 18? Or are they just going to continue with these "private screenings" and then go direct to DVD, suitable for church and homeschool distribution?

The distributor for the film is Rocky Mountain Pictures (formerly R.S. Entertainment) of Salt Lake City, UT, distributor for the following films:
  • Akira (1988, lots of distributors)
  • Carman: The Champion (made 2001, released 2 March 2001, grossed $1,743,863, $769,080 opening weekend)
  • Race to Space (2001, released 15 March 2001)
  • Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 (made 2001, released 21 September 2001, grossed $5,974,653, $1,573,454 opening weekend)
  • Manna from Heaven (made 2002, grossed $505,675, shown in 5 cities, made $5,340 opening weekend on 4 screens)
  • Elvira's Haunted Hills (made 2001, released 31 October 2002)
  • Luther (made 2003, released 30 October 2003, grossed $5,791,328, $908,446 opening weekend)
  • Unspeakable (made 2002, released 27 February 2004)
  • End of the Spear (2005, released 20 January 2006, grossed $11,703,287, $4,281,388 opening weekend)
These guys are clearly not a blockbuster powerhouse of distributors--their biggest film ever was back in 1988 when they were one of many distributors, they specialize in small independent films, mostly "family films" and often with an explicitly Christian theme, and they have rarely seen their films have an opening weekend of over $1,000,000. The two partners in Rocky Mountain Pictures are Ronald C. Rodgers and Randy Slaughter. Rodgers got his start in film with Sunn Classic Pictures in 1968, which made and distributed movies in the seventies and eighties like bad documentaries about Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, The Bermuda Triangle, psychics, space aliens, conspiracy theories, and Noah's Ark, several of which were written by David W. Balsiger. Balsiger was the ghost author of several fabricated autobiographies, such as those of alleged Ark-finder Fernand Navarra, phony ex-Satanist Mike Warnke, and phony faith healer Morris Cerullo. (See my 1993 Skeptic magazine article on George Jammal's Noah's Ark hoax, which Balsiger helped foist upon the American public along with a whole slew of bogus claims.) Slaughter has had a more mainstream career with bigger studios and distributors and working for a Texas theater chain.

"End of the Spear" was financed by Philip Anschutz, founder and former head of Qwest Communications who also funded "The Chronicles of Narnia" (and has also been a contributor to the Discovery Institute). "End of the Spear" received some extra publicity because lead actor Chad Allen, who plays the lead in the film, came out as gay. (He told the producers before his contract was signed in 2003, when he came out publicly, and they did the right thing and continued with him in the project anyway). I suspect "Expelled" will have trouble doing anywhere near as well as "End of the Spear," which appears to be the best Rocky Mountain Pictures has done to date.

I'll offer five predictions for "Expelled"--if it opens in theaters at all on April 18, it will (1) be on fewer than 500 800 screens, (2) will have an initial weekend box office of less than $2 million, with (3) a per-screen take of less than $2,500, (4) won't break the top ten despite it being a slow opening week, and (5) will make less than $10 million in box office take by the end of 2008 (though it may make more than that through DVD sales).

Note that Philip Anschutz owns the Regal Entertainment Group, which Wikipedia says is "the largest theater chain in North America" with "6,423 screens in 529 locations in 41 U.S. states." He may well push the film, but there's no way he's going to allow it to get in the way of making profit, but I'll adjust my prediction (1) to be fewer than 800 screens on the assumption that Anschutz might put the film into each of his theaters. (UPDATE: Chez Jake has found and commented below that Anschutz is only showing "Expelled" in 141 of his 529 locations, which he suggests indicates a 27% level of confidence in the film by Anschutz.)

(For my previous comments about a film's opening weekend, see my blog post on the film "Untraceable." In the comments there, I offered this bet to the film's insiders who showed up at my blog to defend the film: "How about a deal--if it gets a 'cream of the crop' freshness percentage above 70% at (say, by a week after release, when there are at least a dozen or so reviews), I'll agree to watch it, if you'll agree on a percentage of below 30% to post here that you were wrong, and it really does suck. Anywhere in between, we can agree to disagree." Needless to say, I didn't have to see that movie, as it ended up with a "freshness" rating of 15%.)

UPDATE (March 28, 2008): Using Reed Esau's excellent suggestion of using the theater locator on the Expelled website, here's the current number of theaters where it's planned to be showing per state:

AK: 1
AL: 15
AR: 10
AZ: 5
CA: 52
CO: 10
CT: 3
DC: 0
DE: 0
FL: 51
GA: 11
HI: 3
IA: 6
ID: 6
IN: 19
IL: 21
KS: 4
KY: 6
LA: 2
MA: 0
MD: 0
ME: 0
MI: 11
MN: 7
MO: 6
MS: 3
MT: 5
NC: 4
ND: 1
NE: 1
NH: 1
NJ: 0
NM: 2
NV: 6
NY: 2
OH: 9
OK: 5
OR: 6
PA: 11
RI: 0
SC: 5
SD: 1
TN: 17
TX: 62
UT: 3
VA: 3
VT: 0
WA: 16
WI: 17
WV: 5
WY: 1

Total U.S. theaters: 435

UPDATE (March 28, 2008, 6:00 p.m.): The numbers have changed a bit:

AK: 2 (up from 1)
AL: 17 (up from 15)
AR: 9 (down from 10)
AZ: 7 (up from 5)
CT: 2 (down from 3)
DC: 1 (up from 0)
FL: 50 (down from 51)
GA: 17 (up from 11)
IA: 7 (up from 6)
IL: 18 (down from 21)
KS: 7 (up from 4)
KY: 7 (up from 6)
LA: 6 (up from 2)
MD: 7 (up from 0)
MI: 10 (down from 11)
MN: 10 (up from 7)
MO: 16 (up from 6)
MS: 4 (up from 3)
MT: 3 (down from 5)
NC: 17 (up from 4)
NH: 0 (down from 1)
NM: 1 (down from 2)
NY: 1 (down from 2)
OH: 13 (up from 9)
OK: 8 (up from 5)
OR: 7 (up from 6)
PA: 6 (down from 11)
SC: 10 (up from 5)
TN: 16 (down from 17)
TX: 61 (down from 62)
VA: 16 (up from 3)
WI: 14 (down from 17)
WV: 1 (down from 5)

All the others have remained the same. That's a net increase of 55 theaters to a new total of 490.

UPDATE (March 31, 2008, 2:45 p.m. PDT):

AK: 1
AL: 20
AR: 12
AZ: 8
CA: 60
CO: 11
CT: 3
DC: 1
DE: 3
FL: 58
GA: 19
HI: 3
IA: 9
ID: 6
IN: 20
IL: 23
KS: 10
KY: 7
LA: 6
MA: 0
MD: 8
ME: 0
MI: 20
MN: 13
MO: 18
MS: 6
MT: 5
NC: 35
ND: 2
NE: 1
NH: 1
NJ: 3
NM: 5
NV: 6
NY: 12
OH: 19
OK: 9
OR: 7
PA: 27
RI: 0
SC: 16
SD: 1
TN: 23
TX: 63
UT: 3
VA: 24
VT: 0
WA: 19
WI: 19
WV: 5
WY: 1

New total: 651 theaters.

UPDATE (April 4, 2008, 7:13 a.m. PDT):

AK: 1
AL: 20
AR: 12
AZ: 17 (up from 8)
CA: 65 (up from 60)
CO: 11
CT: 5 (up from 3)
DC: 1
DE: 3
FL: 60 (up from 58)
GA: 29 (up from 19)
HI: 3
IA: 9
ID: 7 (up from 6)
IN: 22 (up from 20)
IL: 29 (up from 23)
KS: 11 (up from 10)
KY: 10 (up from 7)
LA: 12 (up from 6)
MA: 2 (up from 0)
MD: 11 (up from 8)
ME: 1 (up from 0)
MI: 27 (up from 20)
MN: 23 (up from 13)
MO: 20 (up from 18)
MS: 8 (up from 6)
MT: 5
NC: 38 (up from 35)
ND: 2
NE: 4 (up from 1)
NH: 2 (up from 1)
NJ: 8 (up from 3)
NM: 8 (up from 5)
NV: 6
NY: 18 (up from 12)
OH: 24 (up from 19)
OK: 13 (up from 9)
OR: 11 (up from 7)
PA: 31 (up from 27)
RI: 0
SC: 18 (up from 16)
SD: 1
TN: 28 (up from 23)
TX: 75 (up from 63)
UT: 3
VA: 31 (up from 24)
VT: 0
WA: 23 (up from 19)
WI: 20 (up from 19)
WV: 6 (up from 5)
WY: 1

New total: 795 theaters (up 144 since March 31).

UPDATE (April 6, 2008, 12:45 p.m. PDT):

I checked again after seeing Kevin Miller claiming that the film is now set to open on 1,000 screens. There must be several theaters planning to show it on multiple screens, then.

AK: 2 (up from 1)
AL: 20
AR: 12
AZ: 17
CA: 64 (down from 65)
CO: 11
CT: 5
DC: 1
DE: 3
FL: 60
GA: 29
HI: 3
IA: 9
ID: 7
IN: 22
IL: 29
KS: 11
KY: 10
LA: 12
MA: 2
MD: 11
ME: 1
MI: 27
MN: 23
MO: 20
MS: 8
MT: 5
NC: 38
ND: 2
NE: 4
NH: 2
NJ: 8
NM: 8
NV: 6
NY: 18
OH: 24
OK: 14 (up from 13)
OR: 12 (up from 11)
PA: 31
RI: 0
SC: 18
SD: 1
TN: 28
TX: 74 (down from 75)
UT: 3
VA: 31
VT: 0
WA: 23
WI: 20
WV: 6
WY: 1

New total: 796 theaters (up by one theater since Friday).

UPDATE (April 12, 2008, 8:16 a.m. MST):

AK: 3 (up from 2)
AL: 23 (up from 20)
AR: 12
AZ: 18 (up from 17)
CA: 105 (up from 64)
CO: 19 (up from 11)
CT: 7 (up from 5)
DC: 1
DE: 3
FL: 79 (up from 60)
GA: 38 (up from 29)
HI: 4 (up from 3)
IA: 12 (up from 9)
ID: 7
IN: 28 (up from 22)
IL: 46 (up from 29)
KS: 12 (up from 11)
KY: 13 (up from 10)
LA: 14 (up from 12)
MA: 12 (up from 2)
MD: 14 (up from 11)
ME: 1
MI: 36 (up from 27)
MN: 25 (up from 23)
MO: 20
MS: 8
MT: 5
NC: 45 (up from 38)
ND: 2
NE: 4
NH: 3 (up from 2)
NJ: 24 (up from 8)
NM: 8
NV: 9 (up from 6)
NY: 26 (up from 18)
OH: 35 (up from 24)
OK: 14
OR: 17 (up from 12)
PA: 32 (up from 31)
RI: 1 (up from 0)
SC: 20 (up from 18)
SD: 2 (up from 1)
TN: 28
TX: 80 (up from 74)
UT: 14 (up from 3)
VA: 33 (up from 31)
VT: 1 (up from 0)
WA: 30 (up from 23)
WI: 20
WV: 8 (up from 6)
WY: 1

New total: 1022. They now have theaters in every state, and clearly have more than 1,000 screens, falsifying my prediction (1). At this point, I think my prediction (4) may also be falsified, but prediction (3) has probably become more likely since their audience will be diluted across a larger number of theaters and screens.

UPDATE (April 14, 2008): "Expelled" has finally shown up in the "opening" category at Rotten Tomatoes (and was never listed as "upcoming"), with a 0% fresh (i.e., 100% rotten) rating. The only review counted at the moment is Variety's review.

UPDATE (April 16, 2008, 7:00 p.m. MST):

AK: 2 (down from 3)
AL: 23
AR: 12
AZ: 19 (up from 18)
CA: 110 (up from 105)
CO: 19
CT: 9 (up from 7)
DC: 1
DE: 3
FL: 81 (up from 79)
GA: 42 (up from 38)
HI: 5 (up from 4)
IA: 12
ID: 7
IN: 29 (up from 28)
IL: 47 (up from 46)
KS: 12
KY: 13
LA: 14
MA: 16 (up from 12)
MD: 13 (down from 12)
ME: 1
MI: 37 (up from 36)
MN: 24 (down from 25)
MO: 22 (up from 20)
MS: 8
MT: 5
NC: 43 (down from 45)
ND: 3 (up from 2)
NE: 4
NH: 4 (up from 3)
NJ: 26 (up from 24)
NM: 8
NV: 9
NY: 27 (up from 26)
OH: 36 (up from 35)
OK: 14
OR: 16 (down from 17)
PA: 34 (up from 32)
RI: 1
SC: 20
SD: 2
TN: 28
TX: 81 (up from 80)
UT: 14
VA: 33
VT: 1
WA: 31 (up from 30)
WI: 19 (down from 20)
WV: 8
WY: 1

New total: 1,049 theaters, up from 1,022 despite a few states losing a theater here and there. (The big drop will come next week.) Reviews are starting to show up at Rotten Tomatoes; it's currently scoring one positive review and six negative, for a 14% freshness rating and an average rating of 2.8/10.

UPDATE (April 18, 2008, 8:10 a.m. MST): It's opening day, and further updates on theater counts, ratings, and box office will be posted here (and won't include state-by-state breakdowns). reports that "Expelled"'s opening theater count is three more theaters than Wednesday's total, 1,052.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I'm seriously considering attending the James Randi Educational Foundation's "The Amazing Meeting" (TAM) #6 this June 19-22 at the Flamingo in Las Vegas. I'm really not a big fan of going to Vegas, but it is nearby and relatively cheap to get to, the list of speakers is impressive, and it sounds like a few people I've known for many years online but have never met in person will be there.

Are any readers of this blog planning to attend this year?

Software awards scam

Andy Brice decided to test various download sites to see which ones would give awards (and expect a banner to be posted by the developer's website with a link back) to a piece of "software" that consisted only of a text file named "awardmestars" containing the words "this program does nothing at all" repeated several times. He submitted it to 1033 sites, of which 218 sites listed it and 421 rejected it. Of those that accepted it, 11% gave it an award (he's currently at 23 awards):
The truth is that many download sites are just electronic dung heaps, using fake awards, dubious SEO and content misappropriated from PAD files in a pathetic attempt to make a few dollars from Google Adwords. Hopefully these bottom-feeders will be put out of business by the continually improving search engines, leaving only the better sites.
He notes the following sites which wrote him to say to stop wasting their time, indicating that they actually check submissions: (German)

The author wonders whether download sites that certify software as "100% clean" actually scan submitted software for malware, but says to test it would be unethical. Actually, something very much like his test could be done, using the EICAR antivirus test file instead of his text file.

(Via Dave Palmer on the SKEPTIC list.)

Scientology sucks at JavaScript

The Swedish Church of Scientology's online personality test page has a very interesting test for valid zipcodes, phone numbers, and ages, as TheDailyWTF reports. The same checks could each have been done in a single line with an appropriate regular expression.

Vancouver SkeptiCamp

It looks like Vancouver, British Columbia will become the second city to host a SkeptiCamp, which will be the third to occur.

(Previously, previously.)

More "Expelled" coverage worth highlighting

* Scott Hatfield looks at the backgrounds of "Expelled"'s producers.
* Troy Britain and Jon Voisey recount the ever-changing stories of why P.Z. Myers was expelled from "Expelled."
* Ed Brayton shows that "Expelled" co-writer and funder, software multimillionaire Walt Ruloff, lied about Myers' expulsion.
* P.Z. Myers responds to today's press release from "Expelled"'s producers.

And I've been continually updating my original post about P.Z. Myers being refused admittance to the screening of the film; you can find the above links there and many, many more.

"Expelled" producers plant softball questions in screening Q&As?

Amanda Gefter, opinion editor at New Scientist Blogs, attended a screening of "Expelled" and has reported on the Q&A session with producer Mike Mathis that followed. She notes:
He began calling on others in the crowd, who asked friendlier questions. But Maggie and I quickly realised that we'd seen some of these people before - earlier that evening, in fact, working at the movie's registration table. These friendly audience members worked for the film? Had Mathis planted questioners?
Another amusing bit:
Another man in the front row wondered about the film's premise that supporters of ID are being silenced. He pointed out that a recent trial about the teaching of intelligent design held in Dover, Pennsylvania, gave supporters of intelligent design all the time in the world to make their case, but most of the 'leading lights' of ID didn't even show up.

When Mathis was responding, the guy asked another question, and the producer shot back, "How about you let me finish talking?" Then, a security guard for the film approached the calmly seated man and told him, "I may have to ask you to leave."

"Does anyone else see how ironic this is?" the guy asked.

"Shut up!" someone shouted from the back.
And she ends with:
I asked how ID explains the complexity, but he said, "I don't have time for this," and walked away.

Throughout the entire experience, Maggie and I couldn't help feeling that the polarised audience in the theater was a sort of microcosm of America, and let me tell you - it's a scary place. I also couldn't help thinking that the intelligent design folks aren't being silenced, so much as they're being silent. Because when it comes to actually explaining anything, they've got nothing to say.
Read the whole thing.

Stackpole the asteroid

Phoenix Skeptics Executive Director Michael Stackpole now has an asteroid named after him:

On March 23, 2001, David Healy and Jeff Medkeff discovered an asteroid about a mile in diameter, in the asteroid belt on the Mars side of the solar system. It was designated 165612.

Until today.

Now that asteroid is officially known as Stackpole. The International Astronomical Union approved the designation on March 21.

Also getting asteroids named after them: Rebecca Watson (Skepchick), Phil Plait (Bad Astronomy), and P.Z. Myers (Pharyngula).

Very cool!

UPDATE: And Mike Stackpole posts his reaction to learning the news.

An argument in support of Matt Nisbet

I thought I'd try to come up with an argument *for* Nisbet's general position (though I don't support the claims that all publicity is good publicity or that particular people should shut up), and came up with this (posted as a comment on Nisbet's blog):

Suppose U.S. demographics on belief and nonbelief were reversed, so that atheists made up 80%+ and those who explicitly believed in God were about 4-5% of the population (with the difference filled by agnostics, closeted believers, etc.). Suppose further that demographics of believers in science were reversed--with most physicists and biologists being religious believers, who commonly said things like "the Big Bang shows evidence of a beginning of time, started by a creator God," and "the intricate design of biology shows the hand of God."

Presumably Nisbet would tell those religious scientists that they shouldn't say things like that in public, even if they firmly believe them to be true, because they would cause the atheist majority to stop listening to the part that's actually science. And I think he'd have a point. To the extent that Dawkins and Myers go beyond the science into areas like philosophy and normative ethics, they are making non-scientific claims that are not entailed by the scientific evidence (though I happen to agree with them that atheistic views fit much better with the evidence than religious views). A division *can* be drawn, and if your goal is persuasion, *somebody* needs to draw the division and communicate with the audience that otherwise wouldn't listen without including the nonscientific parts that will turn them off.

But, contra Nisbet, that somebody doesn't need to be everybody, or Dawkins or Myers in particular.

As I've said elsewhere, I'm glad that the National Center for Science Education doesn't take a position on theism vs. atheism and involves many religious believers who support the promotion of good science.

Matt Nisbet and Chris Mooney have been getting support in their statements from people like intelligent design advocate William Dembski and "Expelled" co-writer Kevin Miller, but I suspect that they would not really agree with Nisbet's position if the demographics were reversed as above--they would be defenders of the religious version of P.Z. Myers. Their position strikes me as opportunistic rather than principled.

Which raises the question--if you support P.Z. Myers' approach and think that it's beneficial for the promotion of science, but you wouldn't support a religious counterpart's approach in the reversal scenario, does that show an inconsistency or lack of principle in your position? I don't think so, and my parenthetical comment is a start of the answer I'd give to why. (I think the underlying causes of the demographics are of relevance, and it's interesting that only Nisbet seems to have tackled that subject in this discussion.) But I'm interested in hearing what others have to say, either way. I suspect that John Lynch and John Wilkins would argue that it does show an inconsistency.

UPDATE (April 2, 2008): James Hrynyshyn at The Island of Doubt ScienceBlog offers a critique of Nisbettian framing. Somehow, I get the impression something's missing here, though. Claiming that scientists are completely objective and trained to be so is to miss the fact that Kuhn, Latour and Woolgar, and the sociologists of science aren't completely wrong about everything. (I'm still a big fan of Philip Kitcher's book, The Advancement of Science: Science Without Legend, Objectivity Without Illusions.)

UPDATE (April 3, 2008): John Wilkins offers a defense of "the f-word" in terms of simplification for the purposes of pedagogy.

Expelled screening coming to Phoenix

Although the "Expelled" RSVP page mysteriously dropped all upcoming screenings after the media coverage of P.Z. Myers being barred from a screening in Minnesota, a few cities have appeared on the list again and Phoenix is one of them. This could be a chance to see the film without giving its dishonest producers any money--I've signed up. (Free is the only way I'll bother to see this film.)

The site now explains the cancelled screenings as follows:
Due to unavoidable changes in the travel plans of the producers of “Expelled”, several of our screenings have been canceled or are being rescheduled to a new date or time.
While that may be true, I wonder if it's merely an excuse to drop all of the existing registrants and do more stringent screening of who is allowed to be admitted.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Simon Blackburn on respecting religion

Via Chris Hallquist, an interesting paper by the atheist philosopher Simon Blackburn, titled "Religion and Respect" (24pp. PDF).

Worth noting as an abbreviated summary of the paper is the H.L. Mencken quote referenced by a commenter on Hallquist's post:

"We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart."

Julia Sweeney on Ben Stein

Julia Sweeney writes at her blog:
Ben Stein once did a Groundling show, an improv show, that I was a part of. I found him to be spectacularly ill-informed and narcissistic and weirdly devoted to his schtick and worst of all, hacky. He didn’t listen to his fellow performers and played everything outward to his friends in the audience who laughed (fake, forced) at every single thing he did. When he became known as a “thinker” – when his public persona became the “smart guy” I was astounded. So this type of film does not come as any surprise.
(Hat tip to James Redekop on the SKEPTIC list.)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Ex-terrorists turned Christian evangelists

It was only a matter of time. Where John Todd, Mike Warnke, "Lauren Stratford," and others found that they could get attention and money by claiming to be ex-Satanists/witches/Illuminati converted to Christian evangelists, we now see "ex-Islamic terrorists" turned born-again Christians and hitting the lecture circuit, and getting paid for appearances at the U.S. Air Force Academy, as the New York Times reports. The Times article ends with the most obvious question:
Arab-American civil rights organizations question why, at a time when the United States government has vigorously moved to jail or at least deport anyone with a known terrorist connection, the three men, if they are telling the truth, are allowed to circulate freely. A spokesman for the F.B.I. said there were no warrants for their arrest.
Of the three speakers, Zak Anani, Kamal Saleem, and Walid Shoebat, Anani is described as the most explicitly preaching born-again Christianity rather than providing information about Islamic terrorism. He also seems to be the one with the clearest record of making false claims about his own background:
Anani, now an evangelical Christian, claims to be an expert on the topic because he killed 223 people in Allah's name, "two-thirds of them by daggers." He even claims to have killed a man for waking him up at 3 a.m. to pray.

Anani, born in Lebanon, said he joined a militant Muslim group in the early 1970s at age 13, and made his first kill shortly after.

He said he was soon promoted to troop leader and formed his own regiment, but later met a Christian missionary and converted.

Anani said he was persecuted for his conversion -- even his dad hired assassins to kill him.

He said he was soon promoted to troop leader and formed his own regiment, but later met a Christian missionary and converted.

Anani said he was persecuted for his conversion -- even his dad hired assassins to kill him -- and he was technically dead for seven minutes after narrowly escaping a beheading. He fled to the West and moved to Windsor about 10 years ago. His wife and three daughters joined him three years later.

Even in Canada, Anani said he's been physically attacked, and his house and car have been burned in Windsor for speaking out against Islam.


Staff. Sgt. Ed McNorton said Windsor police don't have a record of physical attacks against Anani, and his house wasn't burned.

McNorton said someone did torch his car, but it wasn't for the reasons Anani has claimed.

"There is nothing in the report we have to indicate it was in retaliation to his religious beliefs," said McNorton.

Anani's bio also states he lectured at Princeton University. Cass Cliatt, Princeton's media relations manager, said that never happened. She said Anani was scheduled to lecture there in late 2005 with the Walid Shoebat Foundation. But the event was cancelled and the foundation held a news conference at a nearby hotel.

Anani has refused several requests from The Star to revisit his past in detail.

Following a sermon Thursday night from Campbell Baptist Church Pastor Donald McKay -- Anani was scheduled to speak but his lecture was cancelled -- he again refused to answer questions.


Anani has said he's 49 years old, which would mean he was born in 1957 or 1958, said Quiggin. If he joined his first militant group when he was 13, it would have been in 1970 or 1971. But the fighting in Lebanon did not begin in earnest until 1975, Quiggin said.

"His story of having made kills shortly after he joined and having made 223 kills overall is preposterous, given the lack of fighting during most of the time period he claims to have been a fighter," Quiggin said. "He also states he left Lebanon to go to Al-Azhar University at the age of 18, which would mean he went to Egypt in 1976. In other words, according to himself, he left Lebanon within a year of when the fighting actually started."

He also pointed to a story on WorldNetDaily in which Walid Shoebat, another ex-terrorist and friend of Anani, also claims to have killed 223 people, two-thirds of them with daggers.

"What a coincidence," Quiggin said.

Quiggin said Anani's description of himself as a Muslim terrorist also "defies logic" based on the time frame.

"Most the groups involved in the fighting in Lebanon were secular and tended to be extreme leftists or Marxists," he said.

Quiggin said religious-based terrorism as part of the warring in Lebanon didn't begin until after 1979, following the revolution in Iran, the Soviet attack on Afghanistan and the attack on the Grand Mosque in Mecca by Sunni Muslim extremists.

Anani's claim to have survived a beheading attempt is also questionable, said Quiggin.

Jon Trott and Mike Hertenstein, can you take a look at these guys?

(Hat tip to Jeffrey Shallit.)

9/11 truthers at the University of Waterloo

Jeffrey Shallit has written a multi-part summary of an event hosted by the University of Waterloo Debate Society on March 19 on "A Forensic Analysis of September 11, 2001: Questioning the Official Theory." The event wasn't a debate, however, it was a one-sided presentation by "9/11 Truth" movement members who formulate absurd conspiracy theories and fail to look at the actual evidence. Even the moderator taking questions and answers was a 9/11 Truther who did his best to avoid taking critical questions.

Shallit's posts:

"An Evening with 9-11 Deniers" - Introduction and summary.
"The Questionnaire at the 9/11 Denier Event" - The content of a questionnaire given out at the event, which participants were supposed to fill out at the beginning and again at the end.
"An Open Letter to Richard Borshay Lee" - A letter from Shallit to the event moderator about his performance at the event.
"A.K. Dewdney at the 9/11 Denier Event (Part 1)" - A detailed summary of Dewdney's presentation at the event, part 1.
"A.K. Dewdney at the 9/11 Denier Event (Part 2)" - Part 2.
"Graeme MacQueen at the 9/11 Denier Event" - A summary of MacQueen's presentation at the event.
"The Question-and-Answer Period at the 9/11 Deniers Evening" - Summary of the Q&A.

Of particular note among the comments at Shallit's blog is a lengthy description of the details of the WTC collapses from Arthur Scheuerman, Retired FDNY Battalion Chief.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Millennium reruns

We've been watching reruns of "Millennium" on the Chiller channel, and just saw "Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense," about the fictional religion of "Selfosophy." This episode was written by Darin Morgan, who also wrote "The X-Files" episode, "Jose Chung's From Outer Space," one of the best shows of that series.


The opening sequence can be seen here.

One big difference between Selfosophy and Scientology--the Selfosophists give the visiting cops copies of the Selfosophy book. Scientologists would have made them pay for it.

Charles Nelson Reilly, who played Jose Chung, just died last May. I was pleased to see that they worked a clip from the crazy Sid and Marty Krofft TV series "Lidsville" into the opening story of Selfosophy. Too bad they didn't also include a reference to "Uncle Croc's Block," which inspired me to some childhood musical creativity.

Other scientists expelled from Expelled

Allen MacNeill, who teaches introductory biology and evolution at Cornell University, reports that he and Will Provine were also interviewed by "Expelled" producer Mark Mathis under false pretenses last year. Unlike P.Z. Myers, Dawkins, and Eugenie Scott of the NCSE, however, his interview was not used in the film. (Corrected: Provine was used in the film. Provine argues that evolution is evidence in support of atheism, which is probably why he was used in the movie.)

Why not?

Because they invite ID proponents to give presentations in their classrooms. Yet Mathis claimed that he was setting out to present an even-handed presentation, not propaganda.

Personally, I think it's quite reasonable to talk about ID and creationism in college-level courses, provided that you actually evaluate their arguments. I occasionally included some creationist readings in critical thinking courses I taught at the University of Arizona, as exercises for spotting fallacies.

Otto gets discovered

At RESCUE's 8th annual "Beauty to the RESCUE" fundraiser at the Mane Attraction on March 9, local artist Susan Barken spotted our dog Otto (a rescue dog himself) and thought he'd make a good subject for one of her paintings. Here are a couple of the photos she took of him on March 16. Susan donated a dog painting for RESCUE's silent auction at the fundraiser. (UPDATE: here's the painting.)

Expelled from Expelled

P.Z. Myers of Pharyngula, who is actually featured in the dishonest Ben Stein intelligent design propaganda movie "Expelled," was denied admittance to a screening and asked to leave the premises. His guest, however, was permitted to attend, and was apparently, quite astonishingly, unrecognized--Richard Dawkins. (Myers provides a few more details here.)

The New York Times contacted "Expelled" producer Mark Mathis about it, and he claimed that Dawkins was intentionally allowed in and insinuating that Myers would cause trouble at the screening. (Anyone who has met Myers in person knows this is ridiculous.)

Here's video of P.Z. Myers and Richard Dawkins describing their respective experiences.

Jeffrey Overstreet gives what appears to be the spin that will be used to respond to this event, based on the clearly mistaken description of Myers' removal from student Stuart Blessman:
I just happened to be standing directly in line behind Dawkins’ academic colleague. Management of the movie theatre saw a man apparently hustling and bothering several invited attendees, apparently trying to disrupt the viewing or sneak in. Management then approached the man, asked him if he had a ticket, and when he confirmed that he didn’t, they then escorted him off the premises. Nowhere was one of the film’s producers to be found, and the man certainly didn’t identify himself. If a producer had been nearby, it’s possible that he would have been admitted, but the theatre’s management didn’t want to take any chances.
Myers points out:

I had an invitation. I had applied through the channels Expelled set up. I applied under my own name, and was approved. I have the first email that confirmed it, and the second email reminder, all from Motive Entertainment. Wanna see them?

You were not near me when the security guard told me I was being kicked out. No one was. He first asked me to step aside, away from the line, and he told me directly that the producer had requested that I be evicted. Theater management had nothing to do with it.

I returned to my family to explain what was happening. That’s when a theater manager came along and told me I’d have to leave right away. You might have been in a position to hear something then, but it certainly wasn’t that I was not on their pre-submitted list. I was.

If you were right there, you would have noticed my wife, daughter, and her boyfriend in line too. They got reservations in exactly the same way I did. They were not kicked out. How did that happen? Did they have invitations and they just didn’t tell me?

UPDATE: Pharyngula commenter Sastra offers this hypothesis as to what "Expelled" producer Mathis might have been thinking:

Richard Dawkins writes:
Seemingly oblivious to the irony, Mathis instructed some uniformed goon to evict Myers while he was standing in line with his family to enter the theatre, and threaten him with arrest if he didn't immediately leave the premises... did he not know that PZ is one of the country's most popular bloggers, with a notoriously caustic wit, perfectly placed to set the whole internet roaring with delighted and mocking laughter?

You know, as I read this, something occurred to me regarding the reasoning behind Mathis' "bungling incompetence," as Dawkins calls it. I wonder if Mathis made a serious blunder in his assumptions on what PZ's reaction to being thrown out of the theater would be.

He just made a film where all the academics are whining and looking pathetic about being rejected, humiliated, and tossed unceremoniously out of academia and the Halls of Science. He has been surrounding himself with people playing the poor-me victim card, claiming ignominous oppression and unfair suppression.

What then if Mathis assumed that PZ Myer's reaction would not be "delighted and mocking laughter," but what he was used to -- whimpering bellyaching. And then he could use that to make a point.

PZ was to have gone to Phayngula to lick his wounds. "People, I have sad news. I am so ashamed and humiliated. I was kicked out of the theater when I went to see Expelled. I have never heard of someone doing something like that to an academic like me. It felt awful."

And then Mathis and his publicists would go in for the kill:

Ah-ha! Now the scientist knows JUST HOW IT FEELS! What has been done to other academics was done to him! And he complains, too. How ironic is THAT??"

Instead, PZ reacts with amusement. Extreme amusement. And, worse, there is the Dawkins angle, which no, Mathis had not been expecting when he decided to play a game and toss PZ out. If PZ whines, he wins on tit for tat. If PZ creates a nasty, messy scene, he wins on 'look at the immoral fascist-like atheist temper.' But instead, PZ laughs and laughs, and with Dawkins in the theater Mathis just looks like a fool.

More I think about it, the more I think Mathis underestimated PZ's sense of humor about things, and how he would not be mortified by the incident, but jubilant. He's been around too many pretentious professorial sob-sisters. He thought they were all like that.

UPDATE: Several All of the pending screenings of "Expelled" have been removed from the registration website. That includes screenings scheduled for Santa Clara, CA, Portland, OR, and Seattle, WA. It also includes Tempe, AZ, as John Lynch points out.

UPDATE: Richard Dawkins has written a review of the film. Short version: "A shoddy, second-rate piece of work. ... Positively barking with Lord Privy Seals. ... clunking ... artless ... self-indulgent ... goes shamelessly for cheap laughs."

UPDATE: "Expelled" screenwriter Kevin Miller agrees with Chris Mooney and Matthew Nisbet that the controversy over P.Z. Myers' removal is actually beneficial for the film. I think that's highly unlikely.

UPDATE: At the "Expelled" show that P.Z. Myers was not permitted to attend, Kristine Harley asked Mark Mathis during the Q&A why he told Myers, Richard Dawkins, Eugenie Scott, and others that he was working on a film called "Crossroads" instead of "Expelled." He answered that this was just a working title for the film. But this is apparently not true--Wesley Elsberry has pointed out that they acquired the domain name "" on March 1, 2007, while Eugenie Scott was interviewed in April 2007, Myers in April or later 2007, and Dawkins in Summer 2007. Mathis doesn't explain why "Crossroads" was being produced by "Rampant Films" (which had a fake website with innocuous-looking films on it) rather than Premise Media.

UPDATE (March 24, 2008): "Expelled" producer Mark Mathis admits that P.Z. Myers wasn't kicked out for being unruly, but just because he wants to make him pay to see the movie. Mathis claims in Inside Higher Ed that he doesn't like Myers' "untruthful blogging about Expelled," but with no details of what "untruthful blogging" he means.

UPDATE: Ed Brayton pulls no punches when he points out that Walt Ruloff of Premise Media lied about why P.Z. Myers wasn't allowed into the film.

UPDATE: Mooney and Nisbett, supposed experts on "framing" communications about science in such a way as to be persuasive to the general public, have created a firestorm at Science Blogs and gained them the approval of William Dembski and "Expelled" screenwriter Kevin Miller, but disagreements from just about everyone else at ScienceBlogs, bloggers and commenters alike. In hindsight, I think they should conclude that they are the ones who should have remained silent this time. (Some of my favorite posts on this topic are from Orac, Greg Laden, Mark Hoofnagle, Russell Blackford, and Mike/Tangled Up in Blue Guy. Greg Laden has thoughtfully collected a bunch of links on the topic.)

UPDATE (March 25, 2008): P.Z. Myers has posted a roundup of additional coverage. Particularly noteworthy is Scott Hatfield's look at the backgrounds of the people involved with making "Expelled." Troy Britain and Jon Voisey look at the IDers' mutually contradictory accounts of the Myers expulsion incident.

Mark Chu-Carroll at Good Math, Bad Math gives a good overview of the framing debate (arguing in favor of the idea that framing is important, but that Mooney and Nisbet have made poor choices regarding framing in this recent kerfuffle.)

Sean Carroll also provides a very good analysis of the framing issue in terms of politicians and critics--Mooney and Nisbet want politicians, but Dawkins and Myers are critics.

UPDATE: "Expelled"'s producers really are a bunch of liars who keep on lying. They've issued a press release claiming that their movie, rather than their stupid action, has been the top subject of discussion on the blogosphere, falsely claim that Richard Dawkins signed up with his "formal surname" Clinton (it's his first name, not his surname, and he didn't sign up at all but was one of Myers' RSVP'd guests), falsely allege that Dawkins and Myers have "slandered" them and their film (without giving a single example), and falsely claim that Myers has asked his readers to try to sneak in to screenings of the movie.

UPDATE (March 28, 2008): The "Expelled" producers had a telephone conference call with questions by email. P.Z. Myers dialed in early, and heard "Leslie and Paul" talking, and they gave out the telephone number to the conference bridge number for presenters (all other participants are muted). So Myers hung up and dialed back in on the presenter line. After listening to the producers dissemble and answer softball questions, he interrupted:
I said, in essence, hang on -- you guys are spinning out a lot of lies here, you should be called on it. I gave a quick gloss on it, and said that, for instance, anti-semitism has a long history in Germany that preceded Darwin, and that they ought to look up the word "pogrom". There was some mad rustling and flustering about on the other side of the phone some complaints, etc., and then one of them asked me to do the honorable thing and hang up…so I said yes, I would do the honorable thing and hang up while they continued the dishonorable thing and continued to lie.

Then I announced that if any reporters were listening in, they could contact me at and I'd be happy to talk to them.

The "Expelled" producers will probably now spin this as Myers having "hacked" their conference bridge or something. Personally, as much as I think this is amusing, I think Myers' actions were unethical and possibly illegal--even if someone stupidly hands out an authentication credential (in this case, the presenter access code for a conferencing event bridge) when they don't realize they're being observed, that doesn't mean that they've authorized someone else to use it.

UPDATE (March 29, 2008): Troy Britain gets to the bottom of exactly how P.Z. Myers originally signed up for the screening he was expelled from.

Wesley Elsberry reports that the "Expelled" producers are now offering financial incentives to groups that go see the movie--the five largest groups will get $1,000 each.

UPDATE (April 10, 2008): "William Wallace" argues that Myers did "gate crash" a "private screening." I don't think anyone questions that these screenings were "private" in the sense that you couldn't just walk up and attend, you had to pre-register. But the pre-registration process was openly advertised on public web pages and there was no indication that it was limited to those who were explicitly invited due to membership in a church or similar organization. In the case of the conference call, Panda's Thumb bloggers were directly invited by email as a group (and some individually as well), though Myers did not receive one directly addressed to him.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Most antiterrorism spending is wasteful

The March 6, 2008 issue of The Economist features lots of interesting articles (it includes one of the quarterly technology reviews), one of which is "Feel safer now?" This is a report on a study by economists in Texas and Alabama commissioned by the Copenhagen Consensus, which looks at the effects of increased spending on counterterrorism efforts and "homeland security" globally since 2001, and the effects. They calculate that while such spending has increased by somewhere between $65 billion and $200 billion a year, the benefits are far smaller than the costs of terrorism, which were about $17 billion in 2005. While the spending may have prevented some incidents, even if this extra spending prevented 30 attacks like the July 2005 London bombings every year, it would still be more expensive than the damage from terrorism. The authors suggest that the benefits from increased counterterrorism spending have been about 5-8 cents per each dollar of spending, whereas if instead money was spent specifically on disrupting terrorist finances, $5-$15 of benefits could be obtained for each dollar spent.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sheldrake vs. Dawkins

The March 2008 issue of Fortean Times has an interesting article by Rupert Sheldrake titled "Richard Dawkins calls." In it, he describes his meeting with Dawkins for the filming of a segment originally planned to be part of Enemies of Reason, broadcast in August 2007. Apparently very little was filmed and nothing was used of the meeting.

Sheldrake was to be interviewed as a defender of scientific evidence for telepathy, which Sheldrake has studied with empirical research, and written and published papers about. (Sheldrake is perhaps best known for his theory of morphogenetic fields, which he wrote about in his book A New Science of Life, which a reviewer for Nature called "the best candidate for burning there has been in years." He believes that the more an idea is used, the easier it becomes for others to think of--along the lines of the "hundredth monkey" phenomenon which was a myth originated by Lyall Watson and promulgated by Ken Keyes, Jr., and debunked by philosopher Ron Amundson.) According to Sheldrake, he was promised that "this documentary, at Channel 4's insistence, will be an entirely more balanced affair than The Root of All Evil? was" and that "We are very keen for it to be a discussion between two scientists, about scientific modes of enquiry."

But when the meeting occurred, it quickly came to an end because, according to Sheldrake, Dawkins said "I don't want to discuss evidence. ... There isn't time. ... It's too complicated. And that's not what this programme is about." (A charitable and likely accurate reading of what "that" refers to is specifically evidence for telepathy, though Sheldrake seems to suggest Dawkins means evidence of any kind.) Sheldrake reports that Russell Barnes, the director, also "confirmed that he was not interested in evidence either." (Again, probably referring specifically to evidence for telepathy, rather than evidence in general.) Sheldrake responded that "If you're treating telepathy as an irrational belief, surely evidence about whether it exists or not is essential for the discussion. If telepathy occurs, it's not irrational to believe in it. I thought that's what we were going to talk about. I made it clear from the outset that I wasn't interested in taking part in another low-grade debunking exercise." To which he reports that Dawkins responded, "It's not a low-grade debunking exercise. It's a high-grade debunking exercise." I don't see how anyone can reasonably disagree with Sheldrake's statement.

Sheldrake told them he had received assurances that this would be "a balanced scientific discussion about the evidence," and when Barnes asked to see the emails in question, he showed them. Sheldrake writes, "He read them with obvious dismay, and said the assurances she had given me were wrong. The team packed up and left."

UPDATE (April 25, 2008): Rupert Sheldrake has posted "Richard Dawkins comes to call" on his website, which looks to be more-or-less the same as the FT article. William Dembski has pointed to this article as evidence that Richard Dawkins has done the same kind of duping that he has complained about when the producers of "Expelled" did it to him, but I don't think they're quite the same in a number of respects. While Dawkins was (to his discredit) uninterested in the scientific evidence underlying telepathy that Sheldrake wanted to discuss, footage from Sheldrake wasn't used in the final documentary. The case would have been parallel if Dawkins had pretended to be interested in the scientific evidence, completed the interview, and then used the footage in such a way as to criticize and ridicule Sheldrake. And it would have been parallel to how P.Z. Myers' footage was used in "Expelled" only if Dawkins had conversed with Sheldrake about the scientific evidence for telepathy and then used excerpts from it in a film on another topic that hadn't been mentioned. (Myers wasn't asked questions about intelligent design, only about the relationship between religion and science.)

UPDATE (June 8, 2008): P.Z. Myers has weighed in on this controversy at Pharyngula, arguing that Sheldrake's evidence (which hasn't been discussed, so far as I can see) doesn't count as evidence because of a lack of a plausible mechanism. I disagree that lack of a mechanism means that anomalous data doesn't count as evidence--it is reason to reject a proposed explanation, but it's not a reason to deny that there is anomalous data.

UPDATE (June 15, 2008): Sheldrake responds to Myers:

[W]ith such a farrago of prejudice, ignorance and arrogance, it’s hard to know where to begin. It doesn’t really seem worth replying to people who aren’t interested in the facts but simply in venting their rage.

Myers has not taken the trouble to read any of my experiments on telephone telepathy nor any of my other research on the subject and is obviously as bigoted as Dawkins himself. For example when he refers to my experiments as "exercises in gullibility, anecdote and sloppy statistics" the only thing he refers to is an attack by some sceptics on my staring research based on a fallacious argument which I’ve already refuted in the Skeptical Inquirer.

He has not taken the trouble to look at the telephone telepathy or email telepathy experiments, published in peer-reviewed journals, which are based not on anecdotes but on randomized controlled tests. Then he accuses me of not proposing any theory for telepathy, which in fact I have done. But there’s nothing one can do about ranters of this kind, who are beyond the reach of science and reason.

Some of the comments following his blog are equally sad and remind me of the low level of debate found on the Dawkins website where people vie with each other in their prejudice, sneering and nastiness.

I do believe he has a point.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Terrorist watch list grows past 700,000 names

The ACLU reports that the Terrorist Screening Center's watch list reached 700,000 names in September 2007, and is adding 20,000 new names per month. "At that rate, our list will have a million names on it by July. If there were really that many terrorists running around, we'd all be dead."

Names on the list include:

Robert Johnson
Alexandra Hay
Evo Morales (president of Bolivia)
Saddam Hussein (dead former dictator of Iraq)
the 9/11 hijackers (all still dead)
Gary Smith
John Williams
Edward Kennedy (Massachusetts Senator)
John Lewis (U.S. Rep. from Georgia)
Daniel Brown (U.S. soldier detained on way home from Iraq)
James Moore (author of book critical of Bush administration)
Catherine ("Cat") Stevens (wife of Sen. Ted Stevens)
Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens)
Vernon Lewis (retired Major General, U.S. Army)
Robert Campbell (U.S. Navy, retired)
David Nelson
John William Anderson
Don Young (U.S. Rep. from Alaska)

The whole idea of checking names for flight screening is nearly pointless, since terrorists are capable of getting fake ID. It's absolutely idiotic to have extremely common names on the list and subject everyone who happens to have a common name to extra screening every time they fly. The right way to do screening is to use mechanisms like randomly subjecting people to extra screening and to have people undercover trained to identify suspicious behavior in the terminal--and to use multiple mechanisms that are randomly changed from day to day, so that security measures tested on one day will not be the exact measures in place on a later day.

UPDATE (March 18, 2008): Note that the no-fly list is a subset of the terrorist watch list. The former is what I criticize in the last paragraph. An FBI audit has stated that the information the FBI supplies for the terrorist watch list is "outdated and inaccurate."

E.J. Graff on prostitution

The Eliott Spitzer prostitution scandal is bringing the moralizers out of the woodwork. At TPM Cafe, E.J. Graff writes:
I'm tired of hearing about Eliot Spitzer's "classical tragedy." I'm not interested in whether he was targeted by Republicans, especially since the TPMmuckrakers seem to have shown fairly clearly that his shady-looking wire transfers drew ordinary oversight attention. I'm a little sickened to read that paying thousands of dollars for sex is all about buying a "positional good"--if I understand Harold Meyerson correctly (and Harold is magnificent on other subjects, but very strange here), the point of paying $5500 for sex isn't that it gives you better-than-ordinary sex, but rather, that the cost itself makes it *higher status* than buying your way into a lower-cost vagina.
To know that your father is paying to use the body of someone just a couple of years older than your own--well, I picture eating disorders ahead for those girls. I picture that in part because Eliot Spitzer cannot be going to a prostitute for the sex. He's a powerful, good-looking, wealthy man, and could seduce a woman if nonmarital sex were all he wanted. No: he wanted to order some woman around, wanted to treat her not like a person but like a collection of body parts put together for his pleasure. To use women this way -- just for the thrill of power -- is appalling. If that's how your dad treats women, that cannot make you feel good as a future woman yourself.
We're not talking about a victimless crime. We're talking about a way of degrading and traumatizing women who have already been degraded and traumatized (and sometimes trafficked). Some of my friends who are recovering drug addicts (and, yes, violently abused as children) were once prostitutes, and what they've told me is fully in keeping with the studies: it's alienating, traumatizing, violent, and not what anyone dreams of doing when they grow up.
So here's an idea: let's decriminalize *being* a prostitute ... but criminalize *patronizing* a prostitute.
Leaving aside Graff's attribution of intentions and views to Spitzer on the basis of no evidence of any kind and her last comment advocating the Swedish model that's also advocated by Melissa Farley, contrast her moralizing with H.L. Mencken's views on prostitution in his "The Lady of Joy":
EVEN PROSTITUTION, in the long run, may become more or less respectable profession, as it was in the great days of the Greeks. That quality will surely attach to it if ever it grows quite unnecessary; whatever is unnecessary is always respectable, for example, religion, fashionable clothing, and a knowledge of Latin grammar. The prostitute is disesteemed today, not because her trade involves anything intrinsically degrading or even disagreeable, but because she is currently assumed to have been driven into it by dire necessity, against her dignity and inclination. That this assumption is usually unsound is no objection to it; nearly all the thinking of the world, particularly in the field of morals, is based upon unsound assumption, e.g., that God observes the fall of a sparrow and is shocked by the fall of a Sunday-school superintendent. The truth is that prostitution is one of the most attractive of the occupations practically open to the sort of women who engage in it, and that the prostitute commonly likes her work, and would not exchange places with a shop-girl or a waitress for anything in the world. The notion to the contrary is propagated by unsuccessful prostitutes who fall into the hands of professional reformers, and who assent to the imbecile theories of the latter in order to cultivate their good will, just as convicts in prison, questioned by teetotalers, always ascribe their rascality to alcohol. No prostitute of anything resembling normal intelligence is under the slightest duress; she is perfectly free to abandon her trade and go into a shop or factory or into domestic service whenever the impulse strikes her; all the prevailing gabble about white slave jails and kidnappers comes from pious rogues who make a living by feeding such nonsense to the credulous. So long as the average prostitute is able to make a good living, she is quite content with her lot, and disposed to contrast it egotistically with the slavery of her virtuous sisters. If she complains of it, then you may be sure that her success is below her expectations. A starving lawyer always sees injustice in the courts. A bad physician is a bitter critic of Ehrlich and Pasteur. And when a suburban clergyman is forced out of his cure by a vestry-room revolution he almost invariably concludes that the sinfulness of man is incurable, and sometimes he even begins to doubt some of the typographical errors in Holy Writ.
Even the most lowly prostitute is better off, in all worldly ways, than the virtuous woman of her own station in life. She has less work to do, it is less monotonous and dispiriting, she meets a far greater variety of men, and they are of classes distinctly beyond her own. Nor is her occupation hazardous and her ultimate fate tragic. A dozen or more years ago I observed a somewhat amusing proof of this last. At that time certain sentimental busybodies of the American city in which I lived undertook an elaborate inquiry into prostitution therein, and some of them came to me in advance, as a practical journalist, for advice as to how to proceed. I found that all of them shared the common superstition that the professional life of the average prostitute is only five years long, and that she invariably ends in the gutter. They were enormously amazed when they unearthed the truth. This truth was to the effect that the average prostitute of that town ended her career, not in the morgue but at the altar of God, and that those who remained unmarried often continued in practice for ten, fifteen and even twenty years, and then retired on competences. It was established, indeed, that fully eighty per cent married, and that they almost always got husbands who would have been far beyond their reach had they remained virtuous. For one who married a cabman or petty pugilist there were a dozen who married respectable mechanics, policemen, small shopkeepers and minor officials, and at least two or three who married well-to-do tradesmen and professional men. Among the thousands whose careers were studied there was actually one who ended as the wife of the town's richest banker--that is, one who bagged the best catch in the whole community. This woman had begun as a domestic servant, and abandoned that harsh and dreary life to enter a brothel. Her experiences there polished and civilized her, and in her old age she was a grande dame of great dignity. Much of the sympathy wasted upon women of the ancient profession is grounded upon an error as to their own attitude toward it. An educated woman, hearing that a frail sister in a public stew is expected to be amiable to all sorts of bounders, thinks of how she would shrink from such contacts, and so concludes that the actual prostitute suffers acutely. What she overlooks is that these men, however gross and repulsive they may appear to her, are measurably superior to men of the prostitute's own class--say her father and brothers--and that communion with them, far from being disgusting, is often rather romantic.
Certainly there are prostitutes that meet Graff's description, but I suspect that those working for the Emperor's Club, including Ashley Alexandra Dupre, are more accurately described by Mencken.

Better than listening to either Graff or Mencken is to read what sex workers write about their own experiences (and not just those who have found new careers condemning their previous one), as in Frederique Delacoste and Priscilla Alexander's Sex Work: Writings by Women in the Sex Industry.

BTW, the comments on Graff are far, far better than her article, and are well worth reading. Commenter Common Dreamer in particular points to some actual empirical research on prostitution (including a newspaper article summarizing prostitution researchers' responses to some bad research by a particular individual with an axe to grind). (Compare the comments on that newspaper article to the comments on Graff's article--at least Graff has attracted a much higher quality commenter than the Las Vegas Sun gets.) Common Dreamer points to some references on the ProstitutionProCon website, which looks like a good source for arguments and evidence regarding the question of whether prostitution should be legal.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Homeland Security threat

The Miami Herald has uncovered a new Homeland Security threat--and it's U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents that are committing crimes. Bribery, drug trafficking, migrant smuggling, embezzlement, and other crimes have become so prevalent that a senior manager has issued a memo pointing out that agents are supposed to uphold, not break the law:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is supposed to stop these types of crimes. Instead, so many of its officers have been charged with committing those crimes themselves that their boss in Washington recently issued an alert about the ''disturbing events'' and the ``increase in the number of employee arrests.''

Thomas S. Winkowski, assistant commissioner of field operations, wrote a memo to more than 20,000 officers nationwide noting that employees must behave professionally at all times -- even when not on the job.

''It is our responsibility to uphold the laws, not break the law,'' Winkowski wrote in the Nov. 16 memo obtained by The Miami Herald.

(Hat tip to Dave Palmer on the SKEPTIC list.)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Causing violence

This cectic comic is a good one:

(Hat tip to Dave Palmer on the SKEPTIC list.)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

IJ defends is being supported by the Institute for Justice and the Center for Competitive Politics in its lawsuit against federal laws and regulations which forbid it from receiving more than $5,000 in donations per year from any individual and require it to file forms and engage in reporting in order to do what it wants to do.

What does want to do? It wants to advocate the view that voters should vote for candidates who support the First Amendment and against candidates who do not. It takes no corporate or union money, it doesn't donate to or coordinate with individual candidates or political parties. Yet this is sufficient under current law to restrict its activities and entangle it in red tape, so has filed a federal lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction.

NSA's data mining and eavesdropping described

The March 10 Wall Street Journal contains a fairly detailed description of the data mining operation being run by the NSA. The program described is more data mining than eavesdropping, though it does involve the collection of transactional data like call detail records for telephone calls, and intercepted Internet data like web search terms and email senders and recipients. Also included is financial transaction data and airline data. I think most of this had already been pieced together, but this is a fairly comprehensive summary in one place. The WSJ story reports that leads generated from the data mining effort are then fed into the Terrorist Surveillance Program, which does warrantless eavesdropping. (An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to the whole operation as the Terrorist Surveillance Program.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

School adopts Singapore math curriculum, sees gains in scores

Ramona Elementary in Los Angeles has adopted a Singapore math curriculum that includes a daily 60-second "sprint" drill to make some basic skills second-nature, and the result has been that the percentage of fifth-graders scoring at grade level went from 45% to 76% in two years. Singapore's students regularly score at the top in international math skill comparisons.

Ramona's students are mostly immigrants, with most of them from Central America; 6 of 10 speak English as a second language.
The books, with the no-nonsense title "Primary Mathematics," are published for the U.S. market by a small company in Oregon, Marshall Cavendish International. They are slim volumes, weighing a fraction of a conventional American text. They have a spare, stripped-down look, and a given page contains no material that isn't directly related to the lesson at hand.

Standing in an empty classroom one recent morning, Ramos flipped through two sets of texts: the Singapore books and those of a conventional math series published by Harcourt. She began with the first lesson in the first chapter of first grade.

In Harcourt Math, there was a picture of eight trees. There were two circles in the sky. The instructions told the students: "There are 2 birds in all." There were no birds on the page.

The instructions directed the students to draw little yellow disks in the circles to represent the birds.

Ramos gave a look of exasperation. Without a visual representation of birds, she said, the math is confusing and overly abstract for a 5- or 6-year-old. "The math doesn't jump out of the page here," she said.

The Singapore first-grade text, by contrast, could hardly have been clearer. It began with a blank rectangle and the number and word for "zero." Below that was a rectangle with a single robot in it, and the number and word for "one." Then a rectangle with two dolls, and the number and word for "two," and so on.

"This page is very pictorial, but it refers to something very concrete," Ramos said. "Something they can understand."

Next to the pictures were dots. Beginning with the number six (represented by six pineapples), the dots were arranged in two rows, so that six was presented as one row of five dots and a second row with one dot.

Day one, first grade: the beginnings of set theory.

"This concept, right at the beginning, is the foundation for very important mathematics," Ramos said. As it progresses, the Singapore math builds on this, often in ways that are invisible to the children.

Word problems in the early grades are always solved the same way: Draw a picture representing the problem and its solution. Then express it with numbers, and finally write it in words. "The whole concept," Ramos says, "is concrete to pictorial to abstract."
Many eminent mathematicians agree. In fact, it is difficult to find a mathematician who likes the standard American texts or dislikes Singapore's.

"The Singapore texts don't make a huge deal about the concepts, but they present them in the correct and economical form," said Roger Howe, a professor of mathematics at Yale University. "It provides the basis for a very orderly and systematic conceptual understanding of arithmetic and mathematics."
So why aren't these books more widely used? The L.A. Times article linked above says that the main resistance comes from teachers. The curriculum is not easy to use without special teacher training:
Adding to the difficulty is that the Singapore texts are not as teacher-friendly as most American texts. "They don't come with teachers editions, or two-page fold-outs with comments, or step-by-step instructions about how to give the lessons," said Yale's Howe. "Most U.S. elementary teachers don't currently have that kind of understanding, so successful use of the Singapore books would require substantial professional development."

Although some U.S. schools have had spectacular results using Singapore texts, others have fared less well. A study found that success in Montgomery County, Md., schools using the Singapore books was directly related to teacher training. At schools where teachers weren't trained as well, student achievement declined.
This seems to be further evidence for the recent McKinsey study comparing education internationally that concluded that the best results are obtained by hiring the best teachers, providing them with training and support to get the best out of them, and then intervening to provide students who fall behind with support.

Richard Cheese in Phoenix

Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine will be performing at the Celebrity Theatre on June 7, for his first headlining show in Arizona. Tickets go on sale on March 15, 18 & over only, $100 for front row, $60 for VIP rows 2-7, and $35 for remaining rows. Those in the front and VIP rows get an after-show "meet and greet" with Richard Cheese for photos and autographs at the Celebrity Club.

More details at

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Interesting articles in The Economist

A few articles of interest from the last couple of issues of The Economist:

February 23, 2008: "Moral thinking," a summary of recent research that sheds light on human moral reasoning processes. Video here. (A related, more in-depth story is Steven Pinker's "The Moral Instinct" which appeared in The New York Times Magazine on January 13.)

March 1, 2008: "Winds of change," a summary of research to use breathalyzer technology to diagnose medical conditions.

"Telltale hairs," about new methods of forensics to use hair analysis to identify a person's location at a given time (based on water consumption--could drinking imported bottled water be used to thwart this?).

SkeptiCamp 2

On Saturday, March 22, the second SkeptiCamp will take place, in Castle Rock, Colorado. Reed Esau, one of the organizers presenters (also known as the originator of the celebrity atheist list), reports that the James Randi Educational Foundation will be sponsoring the event this time, and the list of likely speakers looks quite interesting:
Some of those who plan to present have posted their intentions: writerdd on 'How I Became a Skepchick', Gary on pareidolia, R. G. on the Family Tomb of Jesus, Abel on Weapons of Mass Deception, Linda Rosa on Therapeutic Touch, Larry Sarner with a legislative update (on naturopath licensing), Crystal on a the new Fund for Thought initiative, Joe (a pediatrician) dispelling myths about vaccines and autism, Rocky Mountain Paranormal Society makes another appearance, Amy on why women need to be active in the skeptic movement, Jeanette on denialism, Rusty on the reproduction of JFK ballistics test, Paul on the scientific understanding of mystical, psychic, and occult experiences, Marlowe on a Gemini-1 mission UFO cover-up (?!) and/or how scammers victimize seniors, Pete on the Scientific Method and me on the basics of Modern Skepticism.
Check it out.


UPDATE (March 24, 2008): Reed has written a summary of the event.