Friday, July 31, 2009

The Voyage That Shook the World

I finally had a chance today to watch the Creation Ministries International-funded film, "The Voyage That Shook the World." It's a 52-minute, professionally produced docu-drama. The cinematography is excellent, and there are high-quality graphics and effects. There's not a whole lot of acting to judge--most of it appears for visual effect during narration or interview voice-overs--but I saw nothing to criticize in that regard.

The documentary content itself starts off reasonably, with the only initial hint that this might not be a mainstream production being the emphasis put on Darwin "making up stories" as a child. The first experts to appear are professional historians. Apart from H.M.S. Beagle having the wrong number of masts (two instead of three), I didn't notice any obvious mistakes in the history, though I'm no expert.

Where it first veers into creationist territory is when the narration starts talking about Charles Lyell's influence on Darwin, with regard to uniformitarianism and "deep time," and it makes an odd assertion that the great age of the earth was a settled question in Darwin's time, unlike today. That's an odd assertion since the age of the earth is overwhelmingly confirmed by science today, and there is no scientific debate about the earth being about 4.5 billion years old. (Particularly odd was that this remark came from historian Peter Bowler, I believe, which makes me wonder about the original context of his remark.)

Several creationists and intelligent design advocates appear, though they are not identified as such. A CMI web page about the film does show who's who, but this is perhaps the most deceptive aspect of the film--using on-screen credential identification that puts recognized experts with well-established reputations on a par with relative unknowns without established reputations. For example, creationist Rob Carter is identified on-screen by where he earned his Ph.D. and as "marine biologist and geneticist," but he has no academic appointment, a scant publication record, and works for CMI. Stuart Burgess is identified as "Design & Nature, Bristol University" but he's a mechanical engineering professor at Bristol University. (UPDATE: Note that Burgess' title is, in fact, Professor of Design and Nature.) Emil Silvestru is identified by his Ph.D. and as a "geologist and speleologist," but he works full-time for CMI. Cornelius Hunter of the Discovery Institute is identified by his Ph.D. and as "molecular biophysicist and author" when he is an adjunct professor of biophysics at Biola University. That institution was originally known as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, founded in 1908 by Lyman Stewart of Standard Oil, the guy who funded the publication and distribution of The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth, from which fundamentalism gets its name. I consider this to be a deceptive equation of expertise, for which the film deserves criticism. (I gave the same criticism to "The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark," which used the same technique to equate creationists with little or no reputation with recognized experts.)

Creationist Emil Silvestru argues for a young earth and for the creation of geological features by catastrophic flood, though I noticed he mentioned "a flood" and not "the flood" at first, and while he mentioned the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington as having been cut rapidly by catastrophic forces (true), he did not make the common grossly mistaken creationist assertion that this is how the Grand Canyon was formed. Silvestru also makes a polystrate tree fossil argument for rapid deposition (which may well be the case in the particular instance, but is not generally the explanation for polystrate tree fossils).

The creationism starts out fairly subtly in the film, with the remarks about the age of the earth, and at one points sets up a novel opposition between two views:
  1. Gradual change
  2. Fixity of species
  3. Old earth
  1. Rapid catastrophic change
  2. Mutability of species
  3. Young earth
The film argues that Darwin was misled by his reliance on Lyell's worldview to initially miss the evidence for natural selection in the Galapagos islands, when he didn't bother labeling the finches he collected, and the film clearly asserts that species change can occur, even across genera (between which hybridization may also be possible), though it avoids addressing the potential implications for humans and other primates. The film suggests that the religious view is that the wide diversity and geographic dispersal of living things emerged in the last few thousand years since the flood of Noah, which entails a rapidity of evolution that evolutionary scientists would reject as implausible. I believe the film's offered cases of rapid morphological changes in finch beak sizes are correct, along with its cases of hybridization that include hybrids between land and marine iguanas in the Galapagos. CMI creationist Robert Carter asserts that this is evidence of a young age of the Galapagos islands, because otherwise all the species would have mixed rather than being distinct, rather than concluding, for example, that some of these species are reproductively isolated and others aren't. I almost had the impression that I was witnessing the evolution of a new form of creationism-as-hyperevolution, that required special creation only because a young earth didn't allow enough time to generate the diversity of current life on earth.

But then more standard creationism begins to emerge, with arguments that there are limits (or "apparent limits") to biological change, "as any pigeon breeder knows," and that it is impossible for evolution to generate new information. Finnish creationist biochemist Matti Leisola asserts that random mutation cannot generate new information or novel structures, and that introducing randomness "causes information to disappear" and we only see new information arise from intelligent sources. He doesn't explain what notion of information he's using, but randomness does generate new information, and new information has been observed to appear in the lab, as well as in computer simulations using genetic algorithms. Leisola goes on to say that genetic engineering originally promised the ability to make arbitrary changes to organisms, but now promises much less--we can create bacteria that produce insulin, but we can't change bacteria into anything but bacteria. I wonder what Leisola would think of this?

The film is right that a role for catastrophes has been found in geology (but not to the exclusion of mostly uniformitarian processes over very long periods of time, such as evidenced in the Grand Canyon), and for bursts of rapid biological change, as well as that biology has been found to be more complex than originally suspected. However, these discoveries, made by evolutionary scientists, have not generated support for the creationist worldview, which has been remarkable for its lack of scientific fruitfulness. This points out another failing of the film, which is its complete omission of the overwhelming evidence in support of the common ancestry of all life on earth, the evidence of the great age of the earth, and the evidence of human evolution.

At one point, the film touches on Darwin's racism, and suggests that this is because of his evolutionary views, as opposed to religion which teaches the common origins of all human beings from Adam and Eve. But both views teach common ancestry of all human beings, and there was no scarcity of racist religious believers in the mid-19th century. The Bible offers no word of condemnation of slavery and both explicitly and implicitly elevates some people over others, with the Hebrews as the "chosen people" and descriptions of God ordering genocide and the taking of slaves. The Southern Baptist Convention in the U.S. owes its existence to a split with the Northern Baptists over the issue of slavery--the Southern Baptists were for it. The dichotomy of evolution-supporting racists vs. religious creationist non-racists is a false one.

Near the end of the film, the film points out that in Darwin's time, science was just beginning to emerge from philosophy, and argues that Darwin's project was philosophical and anti-religious as much as it was scientific. Philosopher Alvin Plantinga argues onscreen that Bertrand Russell's idea that we should only believe what is established by scientific evidence is a self-undermining thesis, since it is not a scientific statement, but a piece of philosophy or even theology. I think Plantinga is probably right that we can ultimately never avoid the need for philosophical argument, but he probably underestimates the degree to which philosophy can be "naturalized" and scientific evidence brought to bear on historically philosophical problems.

The conclusion of the film states that there are opposing views of evolution and creation, and that "some suggest that they can coexist, but Darwin himself resisted this position." (I guess this is one case where the filmmakers want you to believe Darwin, in his opposition to accomodationism between evolution and religion.) The final statement of the film is that questions about how we came to be here and why we are here refuse to go away.

In all, the film is somewhat better than I expected it would be, and the film itself could be described as trying to hide its own creationism, probably in hopes of working like a Trojan horse. I hope that its effect will be to encourage the children of creationists to become interested in scientific questions, as it does depict scientific research and discovery in a largely positive light. If it does, then some of them will come to discover for themselves the facts about evolution and creationism, perhaps with the assistance of online sites like the TalkOrigins archive.

UPDATE (August 2, 2009): I've received emails from Carl Wieland of CMI and from Steve Murray, the director of the film, offering a bit of additional explanation and rebuttal. First, the remark from Peter Bowler about dispute over the age of the earth was apparently regarding the fact that there was no young-earth creationist movement at the time of Darwin like there is today, and no indication that Bowler intended to suggest that there is a scientific dispute over the age of the earth today--as commenter Physicalist suspected. Second, Steve Murray pointed out that he was aware that the ship used didn't have the same number of masts as the Beagle, but they went with what they could find close to the size of the Beagle in Tasmania, and generally tried to hide the differences in how they shot the film. Third, both disclaimed any attempt to be deceptive in choice of on-screen credentials. Finally, Steve Murray chose the on-screen credit for Cornelius Hunter based on the fact that he learned of his work and selected him to be in the film based on his books.

UPDATE (November 30, 2010): A different version of the above review, co-authored with John Lynch, will appear in vol. 30 of Reports of the National Center for Science Education and is on their website.

UPDATE (June 2, 2011): The film's claim about Darwin taking the idea of natural selection from Edward Blyth is rather decisively and completely refuted by Joel S. Schwartz, "Charles Darwin's Debt to Malthus and Edward Blyth," Journal of the History of Biology vol. 7, no. 2, Autumn 1974, pp. 301-318, online at

Anthony Watts abuses DMCA to suppress criticism

Anthony Watts, a radio meteorologist who has collected evidence of badly sited weather stations to argue that climate change data is incorrect, was the subject of Peter Sinclair's latest Climate Change Crock of the Week video. Rather than attempt to refute the criticism (which would be difficult--both "good" and "bad" weather stations show the same long-term temperature trends), Watts resorted to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to get Sinclair's video taken offline. Watts doesn't hold copyright on television footage he appears in on Glenn Beck's show, which has been used in fair use excerpts, anyway.

But the video is back, and you can see it for yourself here.

(Via Pharyngula.)

UPDATE: As Rich Trott points out, Watts has replied here. He says that the basis of his copyright complaint is that the video shows the cover of and photographs and graphs from his book, but doesn't say why he thinks the video exceeds fair use. He says that the NCDC's response to his data (a) used out-of-date data and (b) used a process guaranteed to have two similar graphs, by taking a weighted average of the good and bad station reports even in the line reported as just the good stations.

This is not exactly correct--there is a correction for urban heating that does use nearby station data, but even if you do not perform the urban heating adjustment step, you STILL get two graphs with essentially the same trend. (This was indirectly linked to in my previous post on this subject, through my link to the Daily Doubt blog of frequent commenter Hume's Ghost.)

UPDATE (August 10, 2009): Climate Progress points out the inanity of Watts' defense of his DMCA abuse, observing that he's suggesting copyright infringement on the basis of a few graphs and images shown from his book, which is given away for free in PDF form on the Internet. So not only was Sinclair well within fair use based on the amount and substantiality of material used, there's no chance that Sinclair's video could possibly have had any adverse effect on the commercial market for Watts' book, since there isn't one.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Amazing Meeting 7: Steele, Plait, Lancaster

This is part two of my summary of TAM7, still on Friday, July 10. Part 1 is here, and my coverage of the Science-based Medicine conference begins here.

Sorry for the delay in posting this--it was a combination of other distractions and hoping that Dr. Steele would reply to the email I sent him asking for some details on his slides, without any such luck. Unfortunately, I was manning the SkeptiCamp booth at the back of the room during his talk, which both impaired my ability to take notes and made it impossible for me to read much of anything on his slides. If any readers have better notes or memory, I would be happy to make revisions to correct mistakes or add further detail. (I had wanted to point out a semi-ironic comment that Dr. Steele made before he began, but I couldn't remember exactly what he said and failed to note it.) [UPDATE (March 21, 2010): Now that Randi has officially come out, and I've remembered approximately what was said, I'll note it here--Steele began by saying something about being preceded by "two straight men" (apparently meant in both senses), who were Phil Plait and James Randi.]

Dr. Fintan Steele
Dr. Fintan Steele, a gay (and legally married in Massachusetts) ex-Benedictine monk with a theology degree to accompany his Ph.D. in genetics, spoke on the subject "Personalized Medicine or Personalized Mysticism?", a talk which bore some resemblance to his paper in Future Medicine, "Personalized Medicine: Something Old, Something New" (PDF). He said that he's moved from the monastery and theology to science, and that he (we?) wants to keep them separate, suggesting something along the lines of Stephen Jay Gould's non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) view, which argues that science and religion are separate domains which do not overlap. It's a view that hardly any advocates of either science or religion hold, and it's hard to see why they should. When religions make empirical claims, that's surely the domain of science, and it's also surely the case that philosophical arguments should be informed by relevant scientific data. The argument in the other direction is, I think, a bit more difficult to make, at least until religion develops methods that are reliable, reproducible, and objectively demonstrable--but at that point it would be science.

He began with a familiar quote from Hippocrates that also appeared in Dr. Val Jones' presentation at the Science-based Medicine conference, "Science begets knowledge, opinion begets ignorance." To which he commented, "but not always." He then gave a Webster's definition of personalized medicine, and said he will argue that this is a mystical rather than a scientific definition.

Dr. Steele proceeded to go through a brief history of medicine, arguing (like in his paper cited above) that personalization of medicine is nothing new, but has been with us since Hippocrates, who used thought that medical treatment was a matter of putting the four humours into proper balance, idiosynkrasia (idio = personal, synkrasia = mixing or blend, or, in the context of the humours, temperament). Galen went on to do "tests" of patients to determine proper treatments, and Paracelsus introduced environmental factors and the concept of proper dosage.

He then briefly talked about the science of DNA and what is being learned as the cost of sequencing becomes cheaper and the volume of data increases. He said that there is "tons of sequence variability" and we're learning about ways that DNA can be "turned on and off." At his current place of employment, the Broad Institute, he said that they have a very large amount of genetic information on servers. He talked about the genome and made reference to a Bligh study (?) and to genome-wide association (GWA) studies. These studies involve genotyping lots of individuals and looking at where they differ. For example, he noted that you might compare the genomes of 10,000 people with Type 2 diabetes to 10,000 people without it, and then look at the differences in order to find areas that are associated with the disease.

The catch of these studies is that the genome information collected is incomplete, relying upon samples of specific single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) within a haplotype block, which Dr. Steele characterized with the analogy of using a single house in the block to stand as a representative sample for the block--the method of finding a difference can tell you that there's a fire in the block, but you still have to go house by house to find the blaze.

He noted that this technique has been successfully used to find genetic correlates to a variety of diseases and conditions, including Crohn's disease, breast cancer susceptibility, coronary disease, prostate cancer, macular degeneration, and schizophrenia. The research has started to fragment diseases into finer-grained categories. We've gone from blood diseases to leukemia vs. lymphoma, to 38 leukemia subtypes and 50+ lymphoma subtypes.

He seemed to be approving so far, but indicated that there is then a line that people cross and draw wrong conclusions. He identified a number of the genetic testing companies, such as Navigenics and 23andme, as culprits. These companies, he said, will tell you something like "Because you have a particular variant x, your risk of disease y goes up by z%. So go eat more vegetables." But, he said, "It's a lie. Reasoning and expectations have gone astray."

He then turned to theology to draw an analogy that I'm afraid completely escaped me. He asked us to conduct a reasoning experiment about constructing an ordered list of things you can find in Las Vegas by moral acceptability, from premarital sex to rape, including bestiality, incest, masturbation, and contraception. Constructing such a list relies upon some kind of underlying principle based on beliefs. He then offered the Roman Catholic Church's ordering, based on the out of print Handbook of Moral Theology (by Anton Koch, volume 2 is online), which gives an ordering of sexual sins based on gravity, and puts masturbation as the very worst, homosexuality less bad, incest less bad still, etc. Why? Because "Sex is primarily for procreation. That's a scientific statement," he said.

I have a couple of problems with his argument so far. First of all, I think his "scientific statement" plays on an equivocation on purpose vs. function. The reason sex exists--its function--is for procreation, but that doesn't make it our primary purpose in having sex. Second, even given that fact, the proposed RCC ordering doesn't follow. Homosexual behavior is no more likely to produce offspring than masturbation, and thus should be equally bad--if that's the only relevant factor, then each act should be ranked based on the probability that offspring will be produced. By the same token, premarital heterosexual sex should be on the good side of the spectrum. Third, probability of procreation is clearly not the only relevant factor in making such an ordering, even if we limit ourselves only to other "scientific statements" such as "people tend to seek pleasure and avoid pain" and "consensual relations are less likely to produce physical or psychological harm than involuntary relations."

He then asked the question where do we get the principles based on beliefs that we use to construct such orderings? He answered that we get them from two places, 1. rational observable scientific thought, and 2. metaphysics. He then said something about science resting on metaphysical claims where I missed the details. I'm not sure if he was asserting that all science rests on certain metaphysical claims (which I think is quite plausible--we tend to assume that there is an objective external world which can be measured, that we're not brains in a vat or solipsistic dreamers), or that the science of the companies he's complaining about are making unwarranted metaphysical claims. I think the latter was more likely his point.

Dr. Steele then asked, "What explains the popularity of these genomics startups? [The view that] DNA is the fundamental part of your being. That's a load of shit." Here again, I think he's made a somewhat ambiguous statement, depending on how one caches out "fundamental"--clearly, our DNA is a very important determining factor in who we are.

He objected that these companies are engaged in hype and overselling, and so is the NIH, in order to allow for continued funding. But, he said, it's based on "a mystical interpretation of genes. Biology is hugely complex and we're just beginning to understand it."

He then offered a diagram with two triangles listing some bullet points or statements, and drew a dividing line between science and mysticism. I was unable to see his diagram or where he drew the line, and I cannot tell from my notes or memory of hearing his talk what he used as his criterion for drawing the line.

Dr. Steele then went on to say that he's not trying to dismiss the genomics studies, but what's more important than the genotypes is what we are learning about pathways of interaction. For example, in the case of diseases that affect vision, what becomes important are things like the photo-tranduction pathway, which is implicated not only in vitreoretinopathy, but a certain type of colon cancer and other diseases. He suggested that medicine will become more about pathways than about individual organs. But this won't be personalized at the level of an individual, but rather on the categories of pathways.

The genomics/personalized medicine language is popular, he suggested, because it's narcissistic. And it costs a lot, so people infer that it must be worth something.

He also said that "it doesn't take a wacko to shovel nonsense"--the press regularly gets it wrong. For example, he said that "there is no gene for kidney disease." He suggested that journalists challenge the scientists promoting personalized medicine to explain how they think it will produce the results they claim.

In the Q&A session, he gave a specific example of an acquaintance, a D.C. lobbyist, who purchased his Navigenics portfolio, which told him he had a low risk of heart disease and glaucoma--but he already had glaucoma. In answer to a question about gene patents, he said that the Broad Institute, which is an offshoot of the Whitehead Institute, doesn't do patents, and that he thinks the problem that gene patents are causing for chip-based assaying of genes is ultimately going to cause them to be thrown out. In response to a question about the ability to tailor drugs specifically based on genetic information, he agreed that yes, this can occur "for certain very rare things," but that "DNA is just a recipe, environmental changes have huge impact. Few diseases are related to just a small number of genes. ... Genes that encode [such things as] drug transport molecules ... will be useful for ... drug dosages."

(Orac commented a bit on Dr. Steele's presentation in his post-TAM summary. A video excerpt of Steele's talk may be found here.)

Phil Plait
Phil Plait spoke briefly about the vaccination drive, gave more thanks to the JREF staff, and had Paul Anagnostopoulos talk about the JREF scholarships. Paul noted that 41 people were attending TAM7 as a result of scholarships, donations for which were at an all-time high despite the economy. He also noted that JREF is offering $10,000 in academic scholarships this year, and encouraged students to apply. (The deadline is rapidly approaching--they must be received by August 1.) Those scholarships are due to a grant from a generous family in Florida.

He then gave up the rest of his time to Robert Lancaster of the Stop Sylvia Browne website.

Robert Lancaster
Robert Lancaster came up to the front of the stage in a wheelchair after being introduced by his friend J.C. He explained that he suffered a stroke last August, and has spent the last 11 months in the hospital and in rehabilitation, and so many of his planned newer sites (Stop John Edward, Stop Benny Hinn, and Stop Peter Popoff) are still in development. He noted that last year he had jokingly referred to Stop Phil Plait at TAM6, and someone registered the domain while he was still speaking.

He said that he planned to talk about strokes and skepticism, and wanted to talk to other skeptics who have had strokes, of whom he talked to only one, Derek Colanduno of the Skepticality podcast, who has made a full recovery. He warned that he suffers from emotional lability, a condition of excessive emotional reactions and mood changes, and that this would explain if he suddenly became a blubbering idiot.

After telling a few stories of his rehabilitation, he gave thanks for the generosity of members of the JREF Forums who have helped him out. He told the story of his first discovering James Randi by seeing him on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show in the 1970s, and "opening a can of skeptical whoopass" on Peter Popoff in 1983. Randi, Lancaster said, had showed him that skepticism can be a form of public service, and that's what he's tried to emulate with his websites.

He first contacted Randi, via email, in 2001 after seeing John Edward on television. He figured Randi was the right guy to deal with Edward, and came across the website and sent an email, figuring some staff member might read it and give it to Randi. To his surprise, he got a personal response from Randi--which he characterized as "use the search engine, putz." (I'm hoping that weren't Randi's actual words, but Lancaster's feelings about the answer, which was that there were already multiple articles exposing Edward on the JREF website.)

Lancaster then returned to the story of his stroke recovery, and how after his previous wife left him, he found Susan via, and they exchanged photos, email, and phone calls. After they had met in person, he asked her why she hadn't commented on his initial photos--she said they were "scary" because she thought he "was a biker." She concluded that no, "he was a teddy bear." They married five years to the day after their first date, on June 1, 2007. Without her, he said, I would be dead right now, and that without her, his life would not be worth living. He asked her to come on stage with him.

He then told the story of how he came to have his stroke. He said that 15 years ago, he had a bad headache that he should have gone to see a doctor for, but he went to bed, and woke up with the same headache. He went to his doctor's office, but the doctor was out, and the first assistant to take his blood pressure said, "That can't be right," and went to get another. Two more assistants took his blood pressure, were confused, and called the doctor to report. The doctor told him to either drive himself immediately to the emergency room or to let them call an ambulance for him, because his blood pressure was 300/180.

I had been a little queasy and light-headed listening to the references to strokes, for a variety of reasons that include a bit of hypochondria, drinking a cup of coffee, having little for breakfast, and having a bit of a hangover. Having a persistent sinus infection that I'm still fighting today wasn't helpful, and the pain in the left side of my neck (which I now know was lymphadenopathy from that infection) served as creative material for my hypochondria. I ended up having to leave the room and have a seat in the hallway to turn my thoughts to more pleasant subjects.

I waited until I heard applause from inside, and returned to the SkeptiCamp table sans camera, to find that Lancaster was actually still continuing on about various subjects. At some point I believe his wife assisted in cutting it short (he had gone some ways into lunch time), and I ended up still being a bit shaky through lunch.

I ended up losing my camera for the rest of the day, and getting it back from the registration desk the next day (thanks to both whoever turned it in and the gentleman who told me via Twitter that it had been turned in).

(Part three of my TAM7 summary, on Jamy Ian Swiss and James Randi, Jennifer Ouellette, the anti-anti-vax panel, and Joe Nickell, is here.)

O'Reilly on Amsterdam

Via Pharyngula, a video rebuttal to a recent Bill O'Reilly show claim that Amsterdam's drug policies are a failure that has led it to be a "cesspool of corruption, crime, everything is out of control, it's anarchy," according to guest Monica Crowley, Ph.D. (In a bit of irony, her doctorate is in "international relations." She's a Fox News foreign affairs and policy analyst who was a personal foreign policy assistant to Richard Nixon from 1990-1994--I didn't realize former presidents needed personal foreign policy assistants.)

Various cities in the Netherlands have placed additional restrictions on coffee shops that sell marijuana, such as not permitting them to operate within 200m of a school. The Wikipedia entry on drug policy in the Netherlands documents this, along with the details of their decriminalization (not legalization) policies.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bad spammer neighborhoods

I've been collecting data about IPs that have been attempting to spam my mail server for the past few months, and today I decided to take a look at what neighborhoods of /24 networks are the most heavily populated with spamming IPs.

Here's the list of the top ten "worst neighborhoods" trying to send me spam, mostly with dictionary attacks against my domain. These are all blocked by the CBL, so none of this spam actually gets through, but it ties up my bandwidth.

I've put an asterisk (*) next to the ranges that are probably actually smaller than /24s based on the distribution of IPs.

Does anybody have a tool that already exists to identify likely bad ranges to block based on the distribution of known bad IPs? All I did here was count IPs within a /24, but it would be nicer to identify the likely ranges of badness at both a more fine-grained and broader level.

Note that these bad neighborhoods may be neighborhoods of poorly secured machines, or they may be neighborhoods of malicious machines. Either way, the providers are not doing a good job of cracking down on malicious activity from their networks.

1. (25 IPs)
45 46 51 52 54 66 68 73 81 90 100 102 104 111 113 126 155 157 163 168 194 199 204 236 242
Upstream provider: AS 7922 | | COMCAST-7922 - Comcast Cable Communications, Inc.

*2. (24 IPs)
21 24 29 32 48 57 59 63 64 68 76 89 93 94 97 101 103 107 114 117 126 129 137 139
AS 28840 | | TATTELECOM-AS Autonomous System
Upstream provider: AS 6854 | | SYNTERRA-AS SYNTERRA Joint Stock Company

3. (20 IPs)
13 30 63 68 78 92 99 123 148 150 175 176 179 185 196 199 216 219 226 250
AS 40260 | | TERRA-NETWORKS-MIAMI - Terra Networks Operations Inc.
Upstream provider: AS 22364 | | AS-22364 - Telefonica USA, Inc.

*4. (17 IPs)
5 6 12 14 16 18 21 22 25 28 30 40 42 47 48 51 63
AS 31213 | | MF-NWGSM-AS OJSC MegaFon Network
Upstream providers: AS 12389 | | ROSTELECOM-AS JSC Rostelecom
AS 20485 | | TRANSTELECOM JSC Company TransTeleCom

*5. (16 IPs)
138 155 159 174 182 186 194 199 202 206 210 218 222 230 238 246
AS 36114 | | RDTECH-ASN - R & D Technologies, LLC
Upstream providers: AS 6473 | | WCIXN4 - WCIX.Net, Inc.
AS 35937 | | MARQUISNET - MarquisNet LLC

6. (15 IPs)
13 21 24 33 36 38 40 43 48 57 198 206 218 232 234
AS 36114 | | RDTECH-ASN - R & D Technologies, LLC
Upstream providers: AS 6473 | | WCIXN4 - WCIX.Net, Inc.
AS 35937 | | MARQUISNET - MarquisNet LLC

7. (15 IPs)
20 37 50 85 93 104 107 112 159 162 187 232 239 248 252
AS 43011 | | DATASVIT-AS ISP Datasvit AS Number
Upstream provider: AS 25229 | | VOLIA-AS Volia Autonomous System

*8. (12 IPs)
66 68 77 78 160 166 178 189 190 193 202 211
AS 28840 | | TATTELECOM-AS Autonomous System
Upstream provider: AS 6854 | | SYNTERRA-AS SYNTERRA Joint Stock Company

9. (12 IPs)
33 37 40 63 69 104 175 182 190 215 218 251
AS 42145 | | BSTV-AS OOO Bryansk Svyaz-TV
Upstream provider: AS 20485 | | TRANSTELECOM JSC Company TransTeleCom

*10. (12 IPs)
140 178 181 185 193 195 197 206 218 246 248 254
AS 44724 | | OCTOPUSNET-AS Octopusnet LTD
Upstream provider: AS 34470 | | PTKOM-AS PortTelekom Autonomous system

Friday, July 24, 2009

Creationist Darwin docu-drama and allegations of misrepresentation

Three historians interviewed for the Creation Ministries International docu-drama, "The Voyage That Shook the World," published a response maintaining that their views were not accurately represented by the film. Peter Bowler, Janet Browne, and Sandra Herbert wrote a note to that effect in the July 2009 issue of the Newsletter of the History of Science Society, which was also publicized by the National Center for Science Education's website (and see John Lynch's commentary at a simple prop).

CMI has now published a response to the historians on their website, noting that "The historians’ description of the film, while not totally accurate at all points, is not unreasonable and in some respects complimentary." It also uses the historians' statement that had they known the nature of the film, they might not have participated, as evidence that they were justified in concealing that information from them.

CMI takes issue, however, with the two specific allegations by Bowler and Herbert that their words in the interviews were taken out of context and misrepresented in what appears in the film. To rebut them, CMI's website publishes more extensive quotations from these two historians and compares them to how they were edited and placed in the context of the film.

Although I haven't yet had an opportunity to view the screener copy of the film in my possession, the CMI rebuttal appears to be sound with respect to those two specific allegations. The CMI web page concludes by noting that each of the participants was given their raw footage, as well as a copy of the film, and ends by saying, "We are hopeful that it will turn out to have been a case of not having checked the raw footage sent to them, instead relying on memory. We would be delighted to publish news of a retraction of either or both of these two claims in this space, should that occur."

So we can add up the lessons here:

1. Do due diligence about the production company and find out who's behind it before agreeing to appear in a documentary.
2. Make sure your release gives you some way to defend yourself if misrepresented, e.g., make sure you get the raw footage.
3. If you [think you] are misrepresented and go public with it, consult the raw footage to make sure your charges of misrepresentation are themselves accurate.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How Twitter got compromised

TechCrunch has published "The Anatomy of the Twitter Attack," a detailed account of how "Hacker Croll" used people's password-selection habits, use of multiple online applications, publicly available online information about people, and flawed "I forgot my password" mechanisms to gain access first to individuals' personal webmail accounts and then to Twitter's internal systems.

It's a good idea to use randomly generated passwords, stored in a password safe, so that they're different with every service you use. It's also a good idea to split personal and corporate accounts. Lately I've taken to using randomly generated information for my "I forgot my password" answers, as well, and keeping that in my password safe just like another password.

The "secret questions" for password recovery are a vulnerability when so much personal information is being shared on the Internet. That's how Sarah Palin's email account was compromised last year, as well.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lying to defend the claim that morality requires the Bible

Florida's Community Issues Council, a Christian group that believes that the separation of church and state as advocated by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison is a "lie we have been told," has taken to defending its position with billboards containing a fabricated quote from George Washington:

The billboards showcase quotes from early American leaders like John Adams, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin. Most of the quotes portray a national need for Christian governance.

Others carry the same message but with fictional attribution, as with one billboard citing George Washington for the quote, "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible."

"I don't believe there's a document in Washington's handwriting that has those words in that specific form," Kemple said. "However, if you look at Washington's quotes, including his farewell address, about the place of religion in the political sphere, there's no question he could have said those exact words."

Sorry, but putting words in his mouth and saying that it's something that he could have said is lying. The fact is that this is a known fabricated quotation being repeated uncritically; its lineage is partly deciphered here and here. This and other known fake quotes continue to be disseminated on the Internet, and some of the other fakes were included in Sally Kern's "Oklahoma Citizens' Proclamation for Morality" legislative resolution. That resolution was published by The Baptist Messenger with photoshopped signatures from the Governor, Secretary of State, and other officials, even though they didn't actually sign it. Their defense was that "artwork used was from previous editions of the paper," which suggests that they've either done this before, or simply are feigning ignorance of the unethical nature of such a photoshop job.

Also see Jon Rowe's blog post, "George Washington on the Bible."

(Hat tip to Pharyngula.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Amazing Meeting 7: intro, Bidlack/Plait/Randi, Prady

The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF)'s eighth "The Amazing Meeting," TAM7, took place July 9-12, 2009 at the South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. (The eighth is number 7 because there was a smaller TAM5.5 event in Fort Lauderdale in January 2008 as the annual event transitioned from occurring in January to occurring in the summer.)

This post begins my summary of The Amazing Meeting 7, which I plan to complete and post in parts over the next week or so, similar to the summary I wrote up of last year's TAM6. Other summaries of TAM7 may be found here:
Photos of TAM7 may be found here:
This was the first TAM at this location south of the strip, and I was a bit worried about the convenience factor, since there wasn't the diversity of restaurants within walking distance that you get with a hotel on the strip. That concern proved unfounded, as there was a good variety of food available within the hotel, ranging from deli sandwiches to a steakhouse, and I never left the hotel during the conference. Those who did visit the strip were able to catch a bus across the street for a few dollars, if they didn't just bum a ride from somebody with a car. I did hear a few complaints about the food--that the buffet wasn't great, nor was one of the mid-range restaurants, neither of which I visited. There was also some displeasure on the part of vegetarians about the lack of meat-free options for the first day's lunch. I was somewhat disappointed that the morning's continental breakfasts were served in the main conference hall rather than in a separate dining room with round tables more conducive to conversation like last year, but the lunches were served in that manner and I did get to meet a few people that way each day. Overall, I thought the location was excellent and it has already been booked again for next year's TAM8, which will take place from July 8-11, 2010.

This year, rather than attend any of the pre-conference workshops, I attended the excellent Science-Based Medicine conference which was held in conjunction with TAM7. TAM has tended to avoid having a particular theme or focus, and it was nice to have a day that was concentrated in a particular field, and which drew an audience largely of people with expertise in that field. I think this has been one of the strengths of some of the Skeptics Society conferences that have focused on particular subjects, such as its 1996 conference on evolutionary psychology, its 2005 conference on "Mind, Brain, and Consciousness" (which was quite critical of evolutionary psychology), and its 2007 meeting on the "Environmental Wars." At the same time, the diversity of TAM and its audience is also valuable, so having a second conference as an optional complement to TAM strikes me as a good way of getting the best of both worlds.

This year was the first TAM with over 1,000 attendees, of whom 30% were women, the highest percentage of female attendees to date. When the question was asked, "how many are here for the first time?", it appeared to be about half the audience members who raised their hands. The first TAM had about 140 attendees, and last year's TAM6 had just over 900. There seemed to be a pretty good geographic diversity, with large contingents from Canada, the UK, and Australia like last year. It would be nice if attendees could voluntarily allow some information about themselves to be published in an attendee directory, such as name, JREF Forum handle, and home location.

There was a good-sized contingent from Arizona this year, including several participants from SkeptiCamp Phoenix, Phoenix Skeptics in the Pub, the Skeptics of Tucson, and Flagstaff's Northern Arizona Skeptics. The conference kicked off with its usual Thursday evening meet-and-greet with hors d'oeuvres and a cash bar, during which I managed to chat with people from all of those groups, some for the first time. We'll be holding another SkeptiCamp Phoenix next year, and I expect we'll be able to double our participation.

Friday, July 10
The conference formally began on Friday morning with opening remarks from emcee Hal Bidlack. Hal noted the growth in participation at TAM, talked about a ghost tour at the Stanley Hotel (where "The Shining" was NOT filmed), and noted that Uri Geller had appeared on NBC News as a commentator on Michael Jackson's death.

Hal kicked things off by quoting Plutarch ("The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled") and noted that skeptics are a family: "Welcome to the Randi family reunion." He remarked on the power of the individual to make change, and singled out for particular note Reed Esau for his part in the origination and expansion of SkeptiCamp, and Robert Lancaster for his website.

He noted that there is an audience tradition of "pretending not to like my jokes" and that Randi once accused him of using "homeopathic humor."

And he offered a "cautionary note" that "we aren't cookie cutter, we do have areas of disagreement." By coming together in a group there are "dangers to individualism." This is an inclusive, "large-tent organization," and the topic of religion in particular has been "a source of tension" in previous conferences. Skepticism, he said, is about examining testable claims, and he noted that he, among others, is not an atheist. While I encountered many atheists at the conference, there was little, if anything, in the way of explicitly atheistic material presented (though I don't remember any last year, either, except for some Objectivist material that was handed out to attendees, which was disappointingly both overtly anti-religious and political, though it was not a subject of discussion in any presentation that I noticed).

Phil Plait then offered his first opening remarks as president of JREF, stating that the organization has "reached critical mass" and "become the mainstream skeptics movement of the people." He said that people come to TAM for three reasons--to hear speakers, to see Randi, and to participate in the skeptical community. We don't necessarily agree on all of our positions, but we agree on how we reach conclusions. Like Hal Bidlack, Plait also called out both Reed Esau and Robert Lancaster for their contributions.

Dr. Plait spoke a bit about the Randi $1 million challenge, saying that it had started to become an albatross because of the amount of effort required to deal with potential claimants. It was "hard to determine what the claim is" from many people, let alone how to properly test it and come to an agreement on protocol. So it had been announced that the challenge would be discontinued in order to put the funds to better use and save the effort. But it has also been a useful tool, and he was happy to announce that it will be continued after all, in some form, the details of which are still to be worked out.

James Randi then came up on stage in a red and white striped shirt that he identified as his "happy shirt." He was pleased at the steady growth of TAM. In a more somber note, he commented on "my subdued appearance" and explained why he was unable to shake hands with anyone at TAM this year. He was the recipient of an "unwelcome visitor" (cancer), for which he's had surgery and will be undergoing chemotherapy. He explained that this is why he hasn't made many videos of late.

Randi gave special thanks to Sean McCabe, his personal assistant for the last year, who is now going back home and back to school, and to Brandon K. Thorpe, who will be his new assistant. He went through a long list of people that he thanked, including the JREF staff and volunteers, and various speakers and entertainers whose participation makes TAM a success. He ended by noting that the first TAM to be held outside of the United States, TAM London, to be held on October 3 and 4, was oversubscribed in less than an hour.

Keynote: Bill Prady, creator and executive producer of "The Big Bang Theory"
Bill Prady started by saying that the "keynote sets the tone" for a conference, and that if so, this conference will be "disorganized and ill-prepared." He said he looked at the JREF website's description of his talk for clues as to what he should talk about, and saw that he stated that he "makes sure each episode is full of science" and that in a recent talk at Comic-Con, he had the audience laughing so hard they were rolling in the aisles. After reading that description, he said, "all I can do is disappoint you horribly." With that, he showed a few short clips from "The Big Bang Theory" which he thought would be "of interest to this group," which included a debunking of astrology based on Bertram Forer's work, a reference to intelligent design, some magic tricks, and more references to astrology. The clips were fairly amusing, but my wife and I made an attempt to watch this show after hearing recommendations from friends, but gave up without completing two shows due to the painful laugh track. (A recent Twitter remark from Australian skeptic Richard Saunders suggests a similar experience.)

After the clips, Prady described his own background--that he earned pocket money doing magic shows from about age 12 to 16, and had an International Brotherhood of Magicians pin that he wanted to bring but was unable to find. He said that he read both Linking Ring and Genii, and frequently saw Randi on the covers, and was honored to sit next to him at the conference. He said he was a college dropout, then worked as a computer programmer before getting into television.

He observed that the chicken or egg problem was resolved by evolution--the egg came first--but then posed his own chicken-egg problem: "Do people who think like us become computer programmers, or does computer programming make people think like us?" He stated that there are two qualities common to such people: 1. critical thinking, and 2. lack of judgment about each other. As an example, he gave a friend named Ken, who would not go anywhere he hadn't been before without being shown by someone else, even if it was yards away from somewhere else he had already been. He could do hex-decimal conversions in his head, but when told it's customary to tip between 15% and 20% based on quality of service, he couldn't calculate tips on his own because he didn't know how to measure that. When his friends suggested he just always tip 17.5%, he refused, because then he would be overtipping half the time and undertipping half the time. (And I can't resist noting that this response makes an unwarranted assumption about the distribution of service quality received by an individual diner.)

Prady offered a few remarks about the characters and his show. The character Leonard is based on him. There was a story line about Penny offering herself to him in a distraught moment, with Leonard blowing it because he insisted on making a true statement about an analysis of their situation, which Prady stated was based on a true story. He said he's proud of all the characters on the show, and wanted to depict "other views as complex, not stupid or paper tigers." E.g., Penny's belief in astrology and Sheldon's mother's religious faith. He said that "people's belief systems are the things that get them through the day. ... they're not saying 'oh, please help me abandon the thing that gets me through my illness, my unemployment, my kid who doesn't understand me.' This is the thing that gets them to the night so they can go to sleep so they can get up and do it again. People's beliefs are not a contest. You don't win. You don't win at the end of the day."

His original plan was to have the show about computer programmers, but apparently having the characters in front of computers raised too many difficulties for filming, due to reflections from monitors as well as the difficulty of depicting what they were doing.

He wanted to read some angry letters of complaint received by the show, but was unable to locate any. There was a folder marked "disturbing letters," but these were mostly letters from inmates in love with actress Kaley Cuoco. He called CBS, but they had not received a single angry letter. He took that as offering a bit of assurance for skeptics, that an audience of 12 million people per week could watch a show that begins with the history of the universe in 20 seconds to a Barenaked Ladies song and promotes science and critical thinking without being upset by it.

Prady concluded by saying that when Phil Plait and Adam Savage asked him to speak, he knew his title should be "We Can Continue Telling Women in Bars That Astrology Isn't Real, But We Won't Get To Have Sex." He suggested (presumably addressing only the straight men and lesbian and bisexual women in the audience) that while you're here in Las Vegas and you meet a woman who is very complimentary and interested in you, be skeptical. He also suggested (to the same audience) that if you're enjoying a conversation with a woman who says "I'm a Sagittarius," try performing a study with two different responses. 1. Give a detailed explanation of the time twins study from England as a refutation of astrology, or 2. Say "wow, you have the most incredible eyes," and see which response is more likely to lead to a positive outcome. (These remarks have led to some criticism of Prady for obvious reasons; Prady responds here. The topic is discussed further on the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast #211, interview with Skepchick Carrie Iwan (starting at 43:30). Gender and skepticism was also the topic of discussion of the August 7th episode of Skeptically Speaking. The Podblack Cat blog discussed women, science, and skepticism earlier this year.)

In the subsequent Q&A session, Prady said that the science content of the show comes from technical advisors. He said "lots of people think the show mocks people like us--but if you were in the writer's room you'd say it's an idealized picture of who they'd like to be." He recounted how when the character Ross on the show "Friends" went to a paleontology convention (he was supposedly a paleontologist), there was nothing in the dialogue that went beyond 6th grade science. He didn't want his show to be like that. They use David Saltzburg, a UCLA astrophysicist, as a consultant. They asked him, "What's new in physics," to which his answer was "not much in the last 40 years," which they wrote into the script. Saltzburg said "oh, string theorists will get mad at me." He then said something disparaging about string theory (I missed it in my notes), and they put that into the script, too.

In response to a questioner who asked why women are depicted as stereotypically ditzy and scientists as maladjusted, Prady defended his portrayal. He said that Penny is not portrayed as ditzy but as a "pragmatic intelligence--the best character on the show at getting through life and getting things done." He said there will be more female scientists on the show in the future.

The final question was a comment from someone in the audience who has a son that is like the characters on the show. On the show, Sheldon uses a board to fold clothes. The questioner's son looked online to find such a board to use himself, and dubbed the board "Sheldon."

(There's a transcription of Prady's talk here. Randi's opening remarks are transcribed here. Part two of my summary of TAM7, on Dr. Fintan Steele, Phil Plait, and Robert Lancaster, is here.)

Arizona's homeopathic medical board

Dr. Kimball Atwood's presentation at the Science-based Medicine conference included some observations about the overwhelming evidence against homeopathy being a valid or even remotely plausible treatment for anything. During one of the Q&A sessions at that conference, someone made an observation that Arizona is a terrible state for all kinds of quackery, and even has a State Board of Homeopathic Medical Examiners.

The homeopathy board was created in 1982 by a law written and lobbied for by Dr. Harvey Bigelson, a homeopath who was indicted in 1992 by a federal grand jury on 63 counts of Medicare fraud, 44 counts of mail fraud, and eight counts of obstruction of justice. He plea-bargained his way down to three counts and five years of probation, and lost both his medical and homeopathic licenses, making him one of only two homeopaths to lose their licenses by action of the board. He subsequently opened a cancer clinic in Mexico to continue his quackery.

There was an opportunity for Arizona to dispose of its Homeopathy Board in 2006, when the law that created it would have expired under its sunset provisions, but our legislature foolishly renewed it despite overwhelming evidence that it not only gives an unmerited credence to nonsense, but doesn't even do anything to keep criminals from practicing homeopathy. An October 9, 2005 story in the Arizona Republic pointed out several cases of convicted felons from other states permitted to obtain homeopathic licenses and practice in Arizona. It also pointed out that complaints brought against homeopathy board members for malpractice and sexual harassment were simply dismissed:
The homeopathic board has dismissed at least five complaints against its own members over the past five years, including one in which a patient suffered kidney failure after treatment, as well as an alleged incidence of sexual harassment.

The complaint involving kidney failure was lodged against board member Dr. Annemarie Welch in March 2003. The woman who lodged the complaint fell ill after seeking treatment from Welch for an infected blister on her toe. Welch treated the infection with "vitamin C therapy," according to board meeting minutes.

After the woman suffered "acute renal failure," she filed a complaint against Welch with the Arizona Medical Board, which also licenses Welch.

The homeopathic board argued for primary jurisdiction of the Arizona Medical Board complaint against Welch, arguing that she had primarily used homeopathic procedures. Once the homeopathic board had control of the case, it dismissed the complaint.

According to meeting minutes, board members did not believe there was a correlation between the vitamin C therapy and the patient's kidney failure. They also noted that the patient didn't comply with Welch's treatment recommendations. Welch pointed out the Medical Board also found no wrongdoing in its investigation.
That's crazy--the judgment shouldn't have been whether the vitamin C therapy caused the problem, but whether the LACK of a real treatment of the infection caused by the quack treating her with vitamin C caused the kidney failure. The story goes on:
A Phoenix woman lodged a sexual harassment complaint against board member [Dr. Gary] Gordon in May 2001. The woman said he had spontaneously kissed her on the mouth after she stopped to speak with him at his booth at a medical trade show.

The homeopathic board dismissed the woman's complaint because she did not show up to the May 2001 meeting at which her complaint was scheduled to be heard. She apparently had a family emergency and wrote to the board that she could not make it. Board members questioned Gordon about the allegation, which he denied. The woman did show up at the next board meeting and asked to refile her complaint, but board members voted 2-2 against it.
Nice way to uphold ethical standards, there, homeopathy board. And their permissive behavior with regard to conduct appears to extend beyond members of the board to the licensed homeopaths they're supposed to be regulating:
Troubled physicians licensed by the board include Dr. Charles Crosby, who obtained his Arizona homeopathic license in May 2004 despite revealing to the board that he had been ordered to have counseling for a "perceived loss of social inhibition" in his home state of Florida. It later became known that Crosby had been accused of fondling patients and of having a breast fetish. A report on the case in Florida said Crosby had developed "a special technique of manipulating women's breasts to treat pain in other areas of their body."

The suspension of Crosby's license in Florida triggered a inquiry before the Arizona homeopathic board in July. At the meeting, Schwengel, the board president, said he did not find any specific examples that showed Crosby had acted unprofessionally, according to meeting minutes.

Other members expressed concern about Crosby's behavior, but they did not suspend his license, instead giving him until November to undergo an independent mental evaluation to determine if he is competent to practice here.
Board member Gordon defended this action on the grounds that in the U.S. we assume that doctors in trouble who have "paid their debt to society" have been rehabilitated, and that taking away a license is a severe punishment:
"What we look at is, do we want to try and resurrect a troubled physician and keep them under control, or do we want to throw them away and let them dig ditches?" Gordon said. "Once you take a doctor's license away, they don't really have a particular skill that they're qualified to do."
And what are homeopaths qualified to do in Arizona, besides dispense bottles of overpriced water falsely claimed to be medicine? The board's website gives the answer:

The scope of the license includes the practice of acupuncture, chelation, homeopathy, minor surgery, neuromuscular integration, nutrition, orthomolecular therapy and pharmaceutical medicine (see A.R.S. § 32-2901(22)).
The one that jumps out at me the most is "minor surgery." Yikes!

Here's a list of approved continuing education courses for homeopaths in Arizona:

Learn Oxidative Therapy AHIMA/Westbrook 1/22/09 7 hours
Ethics & Boundaries Dr. Jodi Decker Flexible 3 hours
Professional Ethics Dr. Jodi Decker Flexible 4 hours
Lyme-Autism Connection LIA Foundation/CHOICE 6/25/ - 6/28/09 12 hours

The middle two courses on ethics would seem to me, if taught honestly and accurately, to completely undermine the enterprise. Homeopathy is a bogus practice, and I'd think using bogus practices as medical treatment should be near the top of the list of unethical things that health practitioners should avoid. The other two courses sound like the promotion of quackery; oxidative therapy has been a quack treatment for cancer, and the latter is about a link between two conditions, each of which is already surrounded by rampant nonsense, that is being promoted by the "Lyme-Induced Autism Foundation" in advance of supporting research or data. There was some research being done at Columbia University's Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases Research Center a few years ago by Dr. Brian Fallon about a possible misdiagnosis of some cases of Lyme disease as autism, but that apparently has not demonstrated any connection and there is nothing about autism currently on their website. compares Fallon's description of his research to a press release from the L.I.A. Foundation:

In our work with children who have developed Lyme disease, we have encountered a few children who had developed autistic-like disorders which were eventually also diagnosed as having Lyme Disease due to other concomitant symptoms; when the child received intensive antibiotic therapy, the autistic syndromes dramatically improved and, in some cases, resolved. We hypothesize: a) that a small subpopulation of children with autism in Lyme endemic areas may have an antibiotic responsive disorder due to a spirochete-induced autistic syndrome...
L.I.A. Foundation press release:
New reports indicate up to 90% of children with autism are infected with Lyme disease. With autism at a staggering 1 out of 166 children, parents are questioning this new finding.
Can you tell which organization is using scientific methodology? The L.I.A. Foundation's list of its own activities puts "awareness" and "education" ahead of "research," which is putting the cart before the horse. (Of course, if they did research as a priority, that could cause problems for their chosen acronym--the L.I.A.R. Foundation probably wouldn't get as many donations.)

It should be noted that Welch and Gordon are not on the state homeopathy board today. But next time we have the opportunity, I suggest we Arizonans get rid of this board completely.

UPDATE (February 9, 2011): I recently came across this April 10, 2008 New Times story that shows how Arizona's homeopathic board certification has effectively been an invitation to doctors who've lost their licenses in other states to come to Arizona and become M.D.h.'s.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bowl-a-Rama Fundraiser this Thursday

There are just 11 days left to raise money for Bowl-a-Rama. We have one more fundraising event this Thursday, July 23rd at Rosita’s in Tempe or Mesa. Please come out, enjoy a great meal and support RESCUE. 15% of your purchase is donated back to RESCUE!!! Pictured is the flyer for the event (you’ll need it in order for us to receive the proceeds). I can email the flyer to you if you are interested, just ask me in the comments. All are welcome for lunch, dinner, dine in or take out. Jim & I will be at the Tempe location around 6:00pm, please stop by.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Index of Conference Summaries

This is a reverse-chronological list of conference and talk summaries I've written up, either at my blog or elsewhere. Most pertain to skepticism and critical thinking in some way (and I'd like to think that all involve the application of skepticism and critical thinking to the topics at hand), some are political, and some involve information security. I've got a few more of these in print form that are online in the issues of the Arizona Skeptic.

Bruce Wagman on "Many Species of Animal Law," April 7, 2010, Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, Tempe, Arizona, Armstrong Hall 116.

Joel Garreau on Radical Evolution, November 18, 2009, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, Coor 5536, CSPO Plausibility Project.

Richard Carrier on "Christianity and Science (Ancient and Modern)," November 8, 2009, Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix, Home Town Buffet, Scottsdale.

Robert B. Laughlin on "The Crime of Reason," November 5, 2009, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, Sandra Day O'Connor School of Law, Great Hall; 2009 Hogan & Hartson Jurimetrics Lecture in Honor of Lee Loevinger.

Roger Pielke Jr. on climate change adaptation, November 5, 2009, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, Decision Theater.

Roger Pielke Jr. on climate change mitigation
, November 5, 2009, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, Coor 5536.

Robert Balling on climate change
, October 30, 2009, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, Coor L1-74.

Personalized medicine research forum, October 23, 2009, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, The Biodesign Institute.

Atheist Alliance International convention, October 2-4, 2009, Burbank Marriott, Burbank, California. Speakers: P.Z. Myers, Ed Buckner, Lawrence Krauss, Carolyn Porco, Martin Pera, Jerry Coyne, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Gerardo Romero, Jonathan Kirsch, Eugenie Scott, Brian Parra.

Marco Iacoboni on imitation and sociality, August 27, 2009, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, psychology department colloquium, MU202.

Joel Garreau on the future of cities, August 26, 2009, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes colloquium, Coor L1-10.

The Amazing Meeting 7, July 9-12, 2009 at the South Point Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Part 1: Introduction, Hal Bidlack, Phil Plait, James Randi, Bill Prady keynote.
Part 2: Fintan Steele, Phil Plait, Robert Lancaster.
Part 3: Jamy Ian Swiss/James Randi, Jennifer Ouellette, anti-anti-vax panel (Steven Novella, David Gorski, Joe Albietz, Harriet Hall, Michael Goudeau, Derek Bartholomaus), Joe Nickell.
Part 4: Skeptics Guide to the Universe/Rodrigues-Watson wedding, Michael Shermer, Adam Savage.
Part 5: Panel on ethics of deception (D.J. Grothe, Penn Jillette, Teller, Ray Hyman, Jamy Ian Swiss), Stephen Bauer, panel on skepticism and the media (Penn Jillette, Teller, Adam Savage, Bill Prady, Jennifer Ouellette), Phil Plait.
Part 6: Sunday paper sessions, Million Dollar Challenge with Danish dowser Connie Sonne.

Science-Based Medicine Conference at The Amazing Meeting 7, July 9, 2009 at the South Point Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Part 1: Steven Novella on science-based medicine.
Part 2: David Gorski on cancer quackery.
Part 3: Harriet Hall on chiropractic.
Part 4: Kimball Atwood on evidence-based medicine and homeopathy.
Part 5: Mark Crislip on chronic Lyme disease.
Part 6: Val Jones on online health and social media, and Q&A panel.

American Humanist Association annual conference at Tempe Mission Palms Hotel, Tempe, Arizona, June 5-9, 2009.
Sorry, only covered my own talk from the pre-conference workshops and the ArizonaCOR press conference.

Jeff Benedict on the Kelo case and his book Little Pink House, Goldwater Institute, Phoenix, Arizona, April 15, 2009.

SkeptiCamp Phoenix, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, March 28, 2009. Speakers: Tony Barnhart, Abraham Heward, David Jackemeyer, Don Lacey, Jim Lippard, Shannon Rankin, John Lynch, Jack Ray, David Weston, Mike Stackpole, Charlie Cavanaugh Toft, Xarold Trejo.

Daniel Dennett's 2009 Beyond Center Lecture, Galvin Playhouse, Arizona State University, February 18, 2009, on "Darwin's 'Strange Inversion of Reasoning.'"

Bill of Rights celebration event at the Wrigley Mansion, Phoenix, Arizona, December 14, 2008.

The Amazing Meeting 6, June 19-22, 2008 at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Overview and photo link.
Part 1: Banachek memory workshop.
Part 2: Hal Bidlack, James Randi welcome, Ben Goldacre on homeopathy, Neil deGrasse Tyson keynote, Alec Jason on Peter Popoff and criminal forensics, Penn & Teller Q&A, George Hrab musical interlude, P.Z. Myers on bat wings, Richard Saunders on educational materials for kids, panel discussion on identifying as a skeptic (James Randi, P.Z. Myers, Michael Shermer, Margaret Downey, Phil Plait, Hal Bidlack, and a member of the NYC Skeptics whose name I didn't catch).
Part 3: Michael Shermer on the Skeptologists and why people believe weird things, Sharon Begley on creationism and other weird beliefs, Derek and Swoopy on Skepticality and podcasting, Steven Novella on dualism and creationism, Jeff Wagg JREF update, Jim Underdown on the Independent Investigations Group and award to Randi, Randi on patching up relations with CSI (formerly CSICOP), Skeptologists pilot.
Part 4: Phil Plait on astronomy, Adam Savage on his Maltese falcon, Matthew Chapman on creationism and Science Debate 2008, Richard Wiseman on the "colour changing card trick" and mass spoonbending lesson, panel discussion on the limits of skepticism (Goldacre, Daniel Loxton, Radford, Savage, Novella, Hrab, Randi, Banachek, and Saunders), Sunday conference papers: John Janks on Marfa lights, Don Nyberg on pseudoscience, Steve Cuno on myths in marketing, Tracy King on viral video.
Part 5: Lee Graham on artificial creatures and real evolution, Christopher French on anomalistic psychology, Tim Farley on building skeptical tools online, Brian Dunning on The Skeptologists.

Gene Healey on his book The Cult of the Presidency, Goldwater Institute, Phoenix, Arizona, May 1, 2008.

Richard Dawkins 2008 Beyond Center Lecture, Grady Gammage Auditorium, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, March 6, 2008, on "The God Delusion."

New Mexico InfraGard Member Alliance "$-Gard" conference, February 22, 2008, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Speakers: Frank Abagnale on protecting yourself from fraud, Anthony Clark and Danny Quist on malware secrets, Alex Quintana on current trends in malware, Melissa McBee-Anderson on the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
at the Phoenician Resort, Goldwater Institute award banquet, Phoenix, Arizona, December 7, 2007.

Screening of "Mr. Conservative" documentary about Barry Goldwater, Goldwater Institute, Phoenix, Arizona, August 16, 2007. Features Barry Goldwater, George Will, Barry Goldwater, Jr., Sandra Day O'Connor, Ben Bradlee, Sally Quinn, Al Franken, Julian Bond, Hillary Clinton, and Jack Valenti.

Ron Paul launches Arizona campaign at private home in Paradise Valley, Arizona, March 30, 2007.
Followed up by Einzige's "Ron Paul, Religious Kook," my "Spammers and criminals for Ron Paul," and "Ron Paul connected to white supremacists?"

Skeptics Society conference on "The Environmental Wars," Caltech, Pasadena, California, June 2006.
Intro and links to other summaries.
Jonathan Adler on federal environmental regulation.

Eugenie Scott on "Creationism and Evolution: Current Perspectives," Robert S. Dietz Memorial Lecture at Arizona State University, Physical Sciences building, February 3, 2006.

National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C) Economic Crime Summit, November 8-9, 2005, downtown Phoenix, Arizona, and Freedom Summit, November 12-13, 2005, Grace Inn Ahwatukee.
Economic Crime Summit and Freedom Summit comparison/contrast/overview--prayer vs. atheism debate, Terry Goddard, Roger Vanderpool, John Vincent, Kevin Robinson, Charles Cohen, George H. Smith, Eric Lounsbery, David Friedman, Chris Heward, Karen Kwiatkowski, Jim Bovard.
Freedom Summit: Stuart Krone on technology and why we're screwed.
Freedom Summit: Steven Greer on aliens and conspiracy.
Freedom Summit: Links to photos and other summaries.

CSICOP Conference on "The Psychology of Belief," Seattle, Washington, June 23-26, 1994.

CSICOP Conference on "Fairness, Fraud, and Feminism: Culture Confronts Science," Dallas, Texas, October 16-18, 1992.
Part 1: Panel on multicultural approaches to science (moderator Eugenie Scott, Diana Marinez, Joseph Dunbar, Bernard Ortiz de Montellano), unofficial session on faith healing with Ole Anthony.
Part 2: Intro remarks by Lee Nisbet, panel on gender issues in science and pseudoscience (moderator James Alcock, Carol Tavris, Susan Blackmore, Steven Goldberg), Richard Dawkins keynote on viruses of the mind.
Part 3: Fraud in science panel (moderator Ray Hyman, Elie Shneour, Paul Friedman, Walter Stewart), Sergei Kapitza and Evry Schatzman on international skepticism, panel on crashed saucer claims (Philip Klass, James McGaha).
Part 4: Robert Young on the Kecksburg meteor, Donald Schmitt on Roswell, awards banquet (Richard Dawkins, Henry Gordon, Andrew Skolnick), entertainment by Steve Shaw (now better known as Banachek), visit to Dealey Plaza.

CSICOP Workshop on UFOs, Ramada Inn Airport Hotel, Tucson, Arizona, November 16-17, 1990. James McGaha, Robert Sheaffer, Robert Baker, and Ronald Story, all on UFOs.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Deception in "The Great Global Warming Swindle"

Here's a nice short YouTube video documenting several cases of deception in the documentary "The Great Global Warming Swindle." And on the same subject, I'm rather fond of an exchange between Martin Durkin, the producer of that film, and geneticist Armand Leroi, journalist Ben Goldacre, and science writer Simon Singh, which prompted Durkin to respond, "you're a big daft cock" after Leroi pointed out that the film had used completely erroneous data that was possibly even faked.

(Via the Deltoid blog.)

DHS still a mess, five years on

One of the main points of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2004 was to centralize oversight over a wide array of agencies with responsibility for the safety and security of the United States and its territories. The 9/11 Commission made 41 specific recommendations to Congress, and one of those was "create a single, principal point of oversight and review for homeland security." But that's one that hasn't been accomplished--DHS oversight by Congress is through 86 separate committees and subcommittees (see chart below, click on it for the full-sized image).

The Center for Public Integrity and the Center for Investigative Reporting have joined forces to investigate the effectiveness of the Department of Homeland Security's efforts since its creation, and will be publishing a series of reports over the next several months which should prove quite interesting.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Science-based medicine conference posts yield new visitors

Looks like the chiropractic post has been referenced at a chiropractic forum, which is generating a fair amount of traffic:

And the chronic Lyme disease post has been referenced at a Lyme disease forum:

It remains to be seen if this will produce any critical comments, though I noticed that an advocate for chiropractic, "nobs," showed up in the comments at the Science-Based Medicine blog and made a mistaken inference about the conference content--that it was 25% about chiropractic--because he failed to realize that my conference summary had only covered the first four of the six speakers at the time.

Nothing yet from homeopaths that I've noticed.

Science-based medicine conference, part 6: online health and social media, and Q&A

This is the sixth and final part of my summary of the Science-Based Medicine conference at TAM7, which will be followed by a summary of TAM7 itself. Part one, Dr. Steven Novella's introduction, is here. Part two, Dr. David Gorski on cancer quackery, is here. Part three, Dr. Harriet Hall on chiropractic, is here. Part four, Dr. Kimball Atwood on evidence-based medicine and homeopathy, is here. Part five, Dr. Mark Crislip on chronic Lyme disease, is here.

The sixth session speaker was Dr. Val Jones, CEO of BetterHealth, on "Online Health and Social Media: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly." In this last post of my SBM conference summary, I'll cover her talk as well as the Q&A panel that concluded that day's events.

Personal Story
Dr. Jones began her talk with her personal history--she was raised in Nova Scotia by hippie parents from New York City and grew up on a farm with cows. She said her parents were "moderately weird"--they would ascribe magical powers to yogurt, but they vaccinated their children. She called herself a "shruggie" with respect to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)--ambivalent about whether there could be anything to it.

She worked with the Ontario March of Dimes, became a doctor, did biophysics and vaccination research at the Mayo Clinic, and earned her M.D. in physical medicine at Columbia. She then worked at Medscape with George Lundberg, editor of JAMA, and created the Clinical Nutrition & Obesity journal there (at Medscape). She was then recruited by RevolutionHealth, an online provider of health information started by Steve Case of America Online. She described it as an "OnStar system for navigating the health care system." She moved to Washington D.C. to take the job, and, as she put it, "entered the Twilight Zone."

Revolution Health
She served as an editorial director and medical reviewer with a staff of 100 doctors across the country, and "couldn't believe the crap that came across [her] desk. Who are these people and why are they so into their colons?"

At one point, an article was submitted from a writer for Alternative Medicine magazine that claimed olive oil cures breast cancer. The study behind the story showed that breast cancer cells in a petri dish, exposed to a chemical found in olive oil, made some kind of genetic change--that was transformed into an alleged cure for breast cancer.

The company developed a health tracker tool, and developers kept adding trackers based on what they thought would be cool, such as a "hot flash tracker." She asked, "Why?" The developers answered, "so they can tell the doctor if a hot flash occurred at 2 or at 3 o'clock!" There was no clinical review of the tracking tools.

Medicine Chest
Another product was developed called Medicine Chest, which allowed people to vote their medicines up or down for how much they like them. "It's not going to be misinformation, it's the wisdom of crowds," the developers said. Not only could users vote on their medicines that were listed, they could add suggestions of their own in free-format text fields. The display of the results on the site didn't distinguish FDA-approved treatments from what people entered in on their own.

The result was that the best treatment for headaches, back pain, strains, etc. was narcotics, followed by marijuana. The best treatment for diabetes (without distinguishing type 1 from type 2) was dog walking.

Dr. Jones compared this to the Citizens' Briefing Book on Obama's website, where the general public could vote on what they considered to be the most important issues, with the resulting winner being the legalization of marijuana.

Other recommended treatments from the Medicine Chest feature included yogurt for colon cancer, acupuncture for ovarian cysts, herbal treatments for hip fracture, and steroids for cellulitis (which she observed is "very bad and dangerous"). Other similar sites took things to a further extreme, such as, which allowed patients to conduct and report their own clinical trials online. This led to promotion of fish oil to slow the progression of multiple sclerosis and ALS. And beer and dogs as a treatment for lack of motivation.

She cited a quote from Poincare: "Science is facts; just as houses are made of stones, so is science made of facts; but a pile of stones is not a house and a collection of facts is not necessarily science."

She searched the Internet for help understanding the craziness, and came across Orac's Respectful Insolence blog, which she followed for several months. The last straw for her at Revolution Health was when it promoted chelation as a treatment for autism, which could kill a child, and she felt violated her Hippocratic Oath.

Dr. Jones listed a set of psychological factors which lead people to wrong conclusions, of the sort you might find in Kahnemann & Tversky's Judgment Under Uncertainty. On the list was the Hawthorne Effect, which purportedly showed that any change made in a business environment temporarily improves productivity. This effect was named after a study of worker productivity based on data collected after changes in lighting and other conditions at the Hawthorne Works between 1924 and 1932, but subsequent studies have failed to replicate the effect. The original data was recently rediscovered and reanalyzed by Steven Levitt (author of Freakonomics) and John List, with the result that "we find that existing descriptions of supposedly remarkable data patterns prove to be entirely fictional. There are, however, hints of more subtle manifestations of a Hawthorne effect in the original data."

Miscellaneous Slides
She concluded her talk with a few slides with various observations, such as The Onion's "NSF: Science Hard" article and a quote from Surgeon General Rich Carmona that the average American understands medicine at the 4th to 6th grade level. She pointed out that there's a cottage industry of quack cancer treatment providers around the M.D. Anderson cancer center, taking advantage of cancer patients. She criticized the 1994 passage of DSHEA and its signing into law by Bill Clinton, which exempted dietary supplements from FDA approval requirements unless they're found to be harmful. She quoted lots of examples of harm from She recommended Memorial Sloan Kettering's herbal guide, noting that "doesn't work" is the conclusion for most descriptions, and recommended for accurate information. And she closed with a quote from Hippocrates: "There are two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance."

There was then a Q&A panel with all speakers. The first questioner came up to note that the CDC of Maine recently sent pediatricians copies of Paul Offit's book, Autism's False Prophets. He also noted that humor of the sort in the "That Mitchell and Webb Look" clip about the homeopathic emergency room was effective, and we need more things like that. Steven Novella responded that we need lots of different things, not any one thing, because AltMed has its marketing down pat.

Another questioner asked if there was a way for social media to work effectively in medicine, to which Dr. Jones responded that MedHealth "has lifeguards in the pool--physicians to moderate." In a later comment, she pointed out that MedHealth has 200-300 doctors who answer questions for free, because the referrals they get as a result more than make up for the [opportunity cost].

Someone else said that the book Snake Oil Science needs to be turned into an easily usable website, and complained that Quackwatch is hard to use and too polemical. Dr. Novella agreed that SBM needs to provide more, better, and more usable information. It would be good to have a place where you can find overviews on topics, allow you to dig as deep into technical detail as you want, and provides a list of sentinel references. (This is essentially what the TalkOrigins Archive provides for the creation/evolution debate, in particular with Mark Isaak's Index of Creationist Claims; the power of providing these kinds of broad and deep archives of reliable material was one of the key points of the talk I gave in June to the American Humanist Association.)

Another questioner asked whether there is anything we can do to get rid of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Dr. Novella said that it is becoming more widely known that NCCAM's Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy, its largest and most expensive trial to date, is loaded with "quacks and criminals" (guilty of insurance fraud and worse) and "totally corrupt," as has been reported by the Associated Press in several good stories. Bioethicist Art Caplan has pointed out that these are unethical experiments on human subjects that would (should?) never be tolerated by NIH. (NCCAM is part of NIH.) NCCAM has spent $1.2 billion $2.5 billion of taxpayer money to date, and produced zero new treatments.

Someone raised the question of what kinds of questions to ask your own doctors to make sure they're giving good advice. Dr. Jones suggested asking, "Do you use UpToDate?", which is a service that searches the world medical literature regularly and provides current data reviewed by 300 full-time reviewers. Dr. Gorski suggested asking whether a doctor follows the NCCN guidelines, which are evidence-based cancer treatment recommendations. Dr. Novella observed that just using Google, a "pull approach," how most people look for medical information online, is highly unreliable because "bad sites are good at looking like good sites." (I'd suggest that a more specialized search engine is a better way--Tim Farley suggested some ways of creating such capabilities at TAM6 last year.) Dr. Hall said that Stephen Barrett's rule of thumb for distinguishing good from bad sites is that "if it's selling something, it's a bad site." I'm not sure how effective that rule is, since even good sites are typically selling something.

Someone raised a problem for use of prior probability, noting that it could have made us miss out on the discovery of lithium as a treatment for bipolar disorder, since it was originally postulated on rather shaky grounds. He gave a second example as SSRIs, which are effective in treating depression, but the original MAOI hypothesis of their operation has been refuted. Dr. Novella responded by saying that first of all, no known mechanism should imply a neutral prior probability (i.e., 0.5). Second, in deciding what to research, it's better to err on the side of the implausible--but not for treatment. He further suggested that lack of mechanism should not be equated with implausibility. Dr. Atwood seconded that there is a difference between lack of mechanism and contravention of a physical law, and made reference to the discussion that he and I had during the break. He gave aspirin as another example of a substance where the mechanism was discovered later than its effectiveness, and expressed doubt about the questioner's story of the discovery of lithium's usefulness.

David Whitlock raised the question of framing, asking why we don't draw the distinction as science-based vs. faith-based medicine. Dr. Novella responded that this would cause more problems than it would solve, at least in the United States, because of the immunities granted to the free exercise of religion. A questioner wondered whether it might at least stop the government from paying for "faith-based" medicine under single payer. (I don't think we're likely to get single payer, and I note that we still have an Office of Faith-Based Programs, so I think this is not a good suggestion.) Dr. Gorski noted that very little CAM is actually religion-based.

A questioner asked how corrupt the Cochrane data is, to which Dr. Atwood replied that the contributions on CAM subjects are unreliable, but reviews of substances are good and Cochrane in general is good. Dr. Novella said that he uses Cochrane to get studies and results, but ignores their conclusions, and pays close attention to authorship. Dr. Hall said that when it comes to meta-analysis, if the result is negative, you should believe it, but if the result is positive, you should look further. Dr. Novella noted that the systematic reviews in Cochrane aren't actually meta-analyses.

And that pretty much wrapped up the day for the Science-based Medicine conference.

If you'd like to continue on to my summary of The Amazing Meeting 7, it begins here.

UPDATE (July 19, 2009): I've been reminded that I neglected to mention one of the more interesting questioners, a massage therapist who stood up and said that he was probably the only "woo practitioner" in the room (though the doctors disagreed that massage therapy really counts as "woo"--and see Dr. Atwood's talk, where he classified massage therapy as having high prior plausibility), who regularly attends CAM conferences. He complimented the speakers and the audience for having a level of displayed intelligence, sophistication, and scientific knowledge that is not seen at those CAM conferences.