Archive for July, 2009

The Illusion Of Choice, Or Maybe It’s Not An Illusion, Who Knows

Fri Jul 31, 2009 9:47 am by Th1sWasATriumph

Ever made a decision?

Of course you have! You chose to visit the League today. And for this, I salute you. Except that, by visiting the League today . . . maybe you’ve killed us all. You bastard.

When you actually think about the choices, decisions and actions you’ve taken that led to your current life, many of them will probably seem unbelievably haphazard. I got to know one of my closest friends because, on my first evening at uni, I happened to go to the student bar and hang around. Crippling isolation compelled me to strike up hesitant conversation with a couple of people. I nearly didn’t go to the bar and there were dozens of other people I might have talked to instead. The last 5 or so years of my life could have been entirely different if I’d taken a second more or less to think about what I was going to do that evening.

Likewise, I got to know my other closest friend through a series of more or less random happenstances, but again things would have been very different had I not been looking to stay around for another year and he hadn’t been looking for a housemate (and I hadn’t happened to see his advert for a vacant room.) For a start, I very likely wouldn’t be here writing this.

The relationships you hold with your closest friends and loved ones are probably all based on tenuous interconnecting circumstance. Go out, or stay in? Go here or there? And maybe you meet someone pretty randomly and it becomes something special. But all the events, the choices that led to you being where you are at that moment discovering that you both love Bon Jovi, become so fractured and multiplying as you go back in time . . . it’s odd to think about.

Another example. I’ve been with my girlfriend for about a year. We met because I went into a salon where she worked. I courted her, won her and then BROKE DOWN HER FAITH. If another salon had been cheaper, I’d have gone there. Would I have met someone else? If I hadn’t been fired from my previous job, I’d never have met my girlfriend at all. And me even being in London in the first place directly results from a decision\action I took some years ago (I won’t give details) that, had I taken it 30 seconds later, would have affected nothing. I’d have never known, of course. I might still have come here, but it would have been very different.

The thing that gets me is that, if you can so easily form a complex and meaningful relationship with someone through a chance meeting informed by countless decisions (by both parties involved, who have in themselves been affected by countless decisions of countless other people) then how many relationships are we missing? If I decided to strike up more conversations with a customer, who would they turn out to be? Is that girl there, the one who sort of smiled at me as I got off the tube, is she the One? Is she another One? How many people are there walking around that have the potential to deeply change my life that I never met thanks to some tiny choice that I probably wasn’t consciously aware of?

It’s enough to drive a man insane. Maybe my decision to write this blog will cause something to happen. Maybe Patrick Stewart will read it, be impressed, and adopt me as his son and protege.

Anyone who’s seen “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” will know that it’s not a great film – but it’s one of the only films I’ve seen that actually spends time trying to grapple with the headwrenching concept of cause and effect. A lengthy sequence details all the countless tiny interconnected things that, had just one been different, would have resulted in a character not getting hit by a car. When your future can be decided by something a complete stranger does or doesn’t do, on a whim in the space of a second, that can affect many other people and events sequentially and exponentially, doesn’t life seem a bit shaky?

Since we have the glory of retrospect, it’s tempting to look at the consequences of all the things we do and think how easily different everything could have been – and to extrapolate from that all the potential pathways we can lead ourselves down. Such thinking can drive you mad, of course, because while we may have the power to make our own choices it is ONLY in retrospect that we can see the full effect of them. I could engage every one of my customers in detailed conversation today, but it was a more or less desultory comment to a customer recently that revealed him as a fairly successful award-winning musician. Do we really have any choice if we only know what we did after the event? Sure, I could do a great many things today, and all of them are possible – but it only becomes real when I DO them. All the previous branching chances collapse as soon as you do anything at all.

And it’s thinking like this that tends to lead to speculations on parallel universes, where everything gets played out, that every choice or non-choice sends the universe spinning down some different route. I personally reject such thinking, unsupported as it is by anything other than wishful thinking. My adopted philosopy is Didactylos’ “Things just happen. What the hell.” I recommend this stance to everyone.

Beware the spinal trap

Wed Jul 29, 2009 7:49 pm by AndromedasWake

The following article is being reposted today by bloggers in honour of its author, Simon Singh, who was sued by the British Chiropractic Association for calling them out on their bullshit.

Mr. Singh, if you’re reading, I wish you all the very best and look forward to meeting you at TAM London (which is about 65.5 days away!)

Please feel free to repost this article to your blog, or email it to your friends. It deserves to be read, and the BCA’s abuse of libel laws needs to be made as public as possible.

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

How to defeat “mark as spam” comment bombers

Sat Jul 25, 2009 7:23 pm by SchrodingersFinch

As many of you may know, in addition to votebots that rate down videos there are also bots that mark all the comments on a video as spam. Although the comments can still be read when you click the “Show” button, it’s quite annoying and a direct attack against free speech. The problem would be easy to solve by simply clicking the “Not Spam” button above every comment. Unfortunately, as many things on YouTube, the button doesn’t work.

It’s still possible to unmark comments as spam by going through the page source, but that can be rather time consuming. But now there is an easier solution, a program that does this automatically.

There are, however, a few objections to using the program. For one, is it right to use a bot against a bot? Here’s why I don’t think there’s anything wrong about it:

  1. You can only moderate comments on your own videos.
  2. You can do the same manually, it only takes a lot more time.
  3. It would be about as fast to do manually if the “Not Spam” button worked properly.
  4. You are defending free speech and harming no one.

Could the program be used wrong, for example, modified to mark comments as spam in other people’s videos? Here’s what the programmer has to say:

“Only if the user has pretty intimate knowledge of decompiling/editing compiled programs. A malicious programmer could look at the source code as an example of some general principles one might use to create a spam bot, but a programmer with enough knowledge to understand my example would not need it (it’s exceedingly simple).”

What about YouTube’s Terms of Service? Section 4.H. says the following:

“You agree not to use or launch any automated system, including without limitation, “robots,” “spiders,” or “offline readers,” that accesses the Website in a manner that sends more request messages to the YouTube servers in a given period of time than a human can reasonably produce in the same period by using a conventional on-line web browser.”

In the program you can set the time period between actions. In my opinion, 1 second is a reasonable period of time for unmarking comments as spam. Of course, you could set a longer time period if you feel like it.

As long as the “Not Spam” button is non-functional I see no problem in using the program. If I was hit by a creationist spambot, I would certainly use it. But this is just my personal opinion, not necessarily the official position of the League of Reason.

You can download the program here. The program should run on Windows Vista and XP. It won’t yet run on Mac OS X, except via VirtualPC. Downloading and using the program is at your own risk. Neither I nor the League of Reason can be held responsible for any possible damage caused by the program.

Even if you have no need for the program please check out joshTheGoods’s channel.  He also has many great videos about evolution, creationism and atheism.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Fri Jul 24, 2009 6:09 pm by AndromedasWake

Thunderf00t and Bananaman meet.

League of Reason Community Promo Competition

Wed Jul 22, 2009 7:20 pm by AndromedasWake

I’m happy to announce the League of Reason Community Promo Competition, launching now! You can find all the info you need in this thread.

I’m looking forward to seeing your submissions!

This will not end well…

Wed Jul 22, 2009 11:34 am by AndromedasWake

…for them.

Geocentrists want my blood. See, some time ago, I posted a video calling out a particularly notorious Youtube moron on his geocentric view of the Universe. He failed to respond to my challenge entirely, but in his place, what I can only discern is some small organisation of geocentrists have posted a response. They have further proceeded to post several videos that purport to present scientific proof that the Earth is stationary at the centre of the Universe. Furthermore, they seem to conclude that the theory of evolution is a delusion.

Does it take even the slightest thought to guess their motives? Not really. You don’t have to look far through their videos to see one of them holding a bible. Several individuals have brought all this to my attention, whom I thank. I intend to respond fully to these masters of bunk, however this will mean putting off a new series I was hoping to launch this weekend.

But you don’t mind right? Everyone loves a good debunking!

Incidentally, these chaps are fellow Brits; the first to meet my sciencehammer. That honour might have gone to Marc Surtees, had fellow Leaguer JRChadwick not already done so.

A Friend of Mine Beaten and Jailed in Azerbaijan

Wed Jul 15, 2009 12:08 am by TheYoungAndRestless

A few articles I’d like to share.

Here’s one. And here’s another.

I was born in the second world so maybe it’s a little easier for me to understand how frequently governments will attack young agitators. My freind Adnan as handsome, charasmatic, and passionate about his homeland and his people, as am I (although, I’m better looking.)

I wish him well and will update on my Twitter as I here.

The Moon

Tue Jul 14, 2009 10:20 am by Th1sWasATriumph

Look at this video I just dids LOOK AT IT

The glories of space.

You’ll presumably forgive my idealistic ramblings, but the moon was out when I was walking to work this morning and something occurred to me that hadn’t before. As I’ve said in a previous blog, we don’t really look at the moon and sun as anything other than constants in the sky, purely because they’re as ubiquitous as the oceans or the clouds. If we want to look at the wonders of space, we’re trained into thinking that we must seek out photos and videos  – that this is the only way we can see into the universe.

There’s something utterly haunting about a moon in orbit round a distant planet. I did my best to collect the finest space photography I could find in the video, but of course we don’t need to go anywhere near that far.

The half-shadowed moon, in the early morning light in a pale blue sky, looked every bit as beautiful and tantalising as Titan behind Saturn’s rings, or Io transiting Jupiter. It’s up there now. A whole world. Get you outside.

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