Archive for May, 2010

Could you patent the sun?

Aught3
Aught3
Fri May 28, 2010 7:47 am by Aught3

One of the biggest enemies facing critical thinking and scepticism is that of personal bias. Bias is extremely easy to spot in other people, but notoriously difficult to spot in yourself. No one likes to think that they may be biased but everyone is, in one way or another. Bias often appears in science denialism where someone may be religiously biased towards a Biblical interpretation of the fossil evidence (for example) rather than towards the scientific explanation. The best we can do about our biases is recognise them and be extra vigilant when we come across evidence that conforms to our biased pre-judgements. Because bias has such an affect on our interpretation of evidence, scientists especially should try to limit the influence of such outside factors on their impartial research. Yet we see precisely the opposite occurring. As research and industry snuggle into a cosy relationship, scientists have become enamoured with their commercial partners.

The commercialisation of research has exploded in the fields of biomedical science and biotechnology, with industry poised to make millions, scientists are all too happy to take a cut of the action. However, money is a powerful motivator and researchers now have an added incentive to find certain result. The result which favours whatever corporation provides the funding. If scientists are being influenced by their source of funding, then it should be apparent in their results. Industry funded projects should find positive results more often than non-profit funding. Indeed, taking the example of pharmaceutical research, that is what we find.

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Why YOU should go to TAM London 2010

AndromedasWake
AndromedasWake
Wed May 26, 2010 2:22 pm by AndromedasWake

Picture the scene. It’s brisk, but not quite chilly, at 7:15 on Saturday the 3rd of October 2009, and I’m clutching at my little pot of warm, brown liquid that tastes almost like coffee. Seven-fifteen. It’s a bloody awful time for me. Too late to do any observing and too early for’¦ well, just about anything else. To make matters worse, the previous night I managed approximately one hour of sleep. Even for an astronomer, that’s pretty bad, and waking myself up onerously at 5 to catch the bus resulted in a graceless ballet of a start. Yet here I am, sipping at my faux café and grinning. Grinning like a twat. Because today I’m in London at the Mermaid Conference Centre and something very special is about to happen.

Perhaps more than anything else in recent years, it is in light of the introduction of The Amaz!ng Meeting in Europe that no one can deny the rising tide of scepticism around the globe.

The Amaz!ng Meeting

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Lisa, I Would Like To Buy Your Rock

Th1sWasATriumph
Th1sWasATriumph
Tue May 25, 2010 5:35 pm by Th1sWasATriumph

It goes like this:

[Item] or [practice] nullifies or negates the effects, presence, activity or consequences of [entity], [energy], or [phenomenon]. How can you tell? Because absolutely nothing is happening, and so the [item] or [practice] is a legitimate success. This stone keeps away bears. You can tell because you don’t see any bears around here . . . yes, this stone IS for sale. How expensive? Completely. (more…)

Science vs. religion: are they incompatible?

Aught3
Aught3
Sat May 22, 2010 10:03 am by Aught3

One question that frequently confronts the New Atheists (especially those with a science background) is whether a religion and science are incompatible. The stock answer is that many religious leaders accept science as a good way to understand the natural world and conversely, many scientists have a religious faith (Ken Miller and Francis Collins come to mind). In a previous blog post I talked about how sociological research had revealed that about half of American scientists are able to both perform cutting-edge science and maintain a religious identity. An even larger proportion is still interested in matters of spirituality despite daily engaging in rational, empirical inquiry.

These facts show there is, at least, a kind of ‘brute compatibility’ between science and religion; a single person can hold both ideas simultaneously. However, the obvious counter to ‘brute compatibility’ is to point out that in certain cases the findings of science conflict with specific religious claims about the nature of the world. For example, if you claim that the world is 6,000 years old, science says you are wrong. According to empirical data, the world is more like 4.5 billion years old and anyone who says the scientific evidence shows otherwise is simply mistaken. Because science can only conflict with specifically defined religious claims, I call this ‘specific incompatibility’. Although this type of incompatibility is important, and probably accounts for a large proportion of science’s moderating impact on religion, it does not completely contradict all types of religious claims. Again, this answer is too superficial; the original question is asking something more fundamental – are religion and science incompatible at the deeper, philosophical level?

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Pakistan makes our point for us

rabbitpirate
rabbitpirate
Thu May 20, 2010 5:52 pm by rabbitpirate

So in case you don’t know today is Everyone Draw Mohammed Day, a day one which everyone is encouraged to draw a picture of the Muslim prophet Mohammed as a way of calling the bluff of the extremists that threaten violence against those that do just that. Now I have to admit that I am still in two minds about this. On the one hand I do think it is important to stand up to these people and show that threatening violence against people for drawing a picture will not be accepted and will not stop us from doing so. Freedom of expression baby. On the other hand I find the whole thing slightly off putting for reasons I can’t really put into words. I’m generally not a confrontational person and this all seems a bit too much like getting up in someone’s face for my liking.

 

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Ok, where do I sign up?

rabbitpirate
rabbitpirate
Tue May 18, 2010 6:15 pm by rabbitpirate

Ok so I’m stealing this directly from Phil Plait’s latest post so no points for originality here. But I just love this idea.

 

art from "S.H.O.O.T First" by Ben Bates

 

S.H.O.O.T. are basically militant atheists, tasked with hunting down supernatural creatures, especially those of religious significance, that they don’t even believe in….every time you read a comic about someone fighting the supernatural, they’re really doing it on the supernatural’s own terms. If you’re fighting a vampire, you bring stakes and holy water – that kind of thing. I don’t think there’s ever been a team like “S.H.O.O.T.” that basically thinks it’s all bunk, and just goes after any threat with science and bullets, and scientific bullets.

 

Scientific Bullets?!? AWESOME.

 

That said this does raise some interesting questions in my mind. Right there in the description of what this new comic is all about is the implication that atheists wouldn’t believe in something supernatural even as they were fillings its non-corporeal arse with scientific lead. This is an argument that often comes up when dealing with proponents of the supernatural, that atheists and skeptics are simply closed minded to the existence of supernatural powers and would thus dismiss any evidence that supported it…apparently even as they engage in a face to face, life to death fight with it!

 

To me this is a truly ridiculous idea. I for one know exactly what it would take to get me to believe in any supernatural claim. Evidence, good, honest to Darwin, stone cold solid evidence.* Show me high quality, scientific evidence that vampires exist and, no matter how incredulous that idea may be right now, I would accept it. The same goes any other supernatural claim, including those made by the various world religions.

 

I am not closed to the idea of the supernatural and certainly not to the point that I would reject it even as I bust a cap in its face. But you need to give me something here people if you wish me to take your claims seriously. I would love the supernatural to be real, I really would, but I am not just going to take someone’s word for it. You want me to believe you? Then show me the evidence.

 

* Though I guess technically if you presented evidence for the supernatural then it would no longer be supernatural but rather simply yet more natural. Hmmmm.

Countering “The Narrative”

Aught3
Aught3
Sat May 15, 2010 1:06 am by Aught3

A recurring phenomenon in the spate of Islamic terror attacks has been that the perpetrators are often citizens who turn on their own countries. Mjr. Hasan’s attack on Ft. Hood in America being a prime example. A recent 60 minutes documentary purports to explain how peaceful Muslims can be turned into fanatical extremists willing to engage in suicide attacks on the very countries they live in.

Recruiters for these fundamentalist Islamic organisations rely on ‘the narrative’, a collection of stories, conspiracy theories, propaganda, and outright lies that claims the USA and the rest of Western civilisation is trying to eradicate Islam. This set of stories has been propagating wildly since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre and appeals not to the poor and needy, but to prosperous and educated citizens who make foreign countries their home. Consider Mohamed Atta, the leader of the WTC attacks and educated at universities in Cairo and Hamburg. Mohammad Sidique Khan, leader of the London metro attacks, educated at Leeds University and prior to the attack was holding down a steady job. Or the would-be Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad. He holds double degrees from American universities, had a good job, a wife, and a nice house in the suburbs. These are the faces of Islamic terrorism in the West.

Even though there are many instances of Western governments defending or supporting Muslims in Bosnia, Somalia, Kuwait, Pakistan and Indonesia (disaster relief), Iraq and Afghanistan (overthrowing tyrannies) belief in the narrative remains strong. This set of beliefs is also being successfully exported to Western countries, with tragic results. Hatred of those who kill Muslims is encouraged yet, despite the fact that deliberate suicide bombings by Al-Qaeda kill more Muslims than drone attacks by American forces, adherents to the narrative still direct their hatred towards the West and their support towards terrorist organisations. The narrative includes the idea that the US government actually encouraged Al-Qaeda to carry out the attack on the WTC as a justification to invade Afghanistan – these fundamentalist Muslims are apparently 9/11 truthers.

Funded by the oil revenues of the Arab states, political Islamism is attempting to spread itself across the globe by going to war with any opposition. Having seized control of many regimes in the Muslim world, Islamists are enlarging the area they control. Conflicts between Muslims and other local populations in Russia, Indonesia, India, North Africa, Europe, and the USA show they have been extremely successful in spreading their ideology and bringing the fight to us. According to Maajid Nawaz (a former Islamic radical) of the Quilliam Foundation, countering the narrative is the most important aspect to preventing the spread of Islamism. I would add that moving away from an oil-based economy and ending the cozy relationship with Saudi leaders would also help by cutting off the economic backing of this dangerous, and deadly, movement.

Atheist fundamentalism?

Squawk
Squawk
Fri May 14, 2010 10:11 pm by Squawk

Fundamentalism. Not a word I ever expected to hear in connection with atheism, other than by those who don’t know any better or by those who do know better but wish to be provocative. Atheism can’t lead to fundamentalism as it has no doctrine. Atheism has no principles, no practices, no rituals and no dogma. It is simply the absense of theistic belief.

Unfortunately I have now revised my opinion, I think it is now correct to refer to atheist fundamentalism. It might not be strictly accurate, all the above applies, but I do think it is descriptive. I say this in light of a video I have just watched from Coughlan666. I’m not generally a Coughlan fan, his videos are not my cup of tea and I am not subbed to him. In fact I stumbled across his blogtv on one occasion and got booted out by him. So, credentials established, I’m not a Coughlan groupie.

In the video Coughlan reads out a number of messages he has received from atheists since he posted this video attacking Pat Condell, and quite frankly it’s disgusting. I’ll just quote a couple:
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