A couple of videos on the subject of “You.”

We think of ourselves as a single entity, but the reality is we’re a combination of trillions of individual organisms some of which are a part of us, but not human (e.g. the bacteria in our guts). So at what point do you stop being “you”?

The YouTube channel In A Nutshell has a new video out that’ll ask you to ponder: What are you?

If that’s not enough to get your head spinning, there’s a companion video by CGP Grey that talks about how you are really two “yous” in one body. Specifically, how experiments done on folks who have had the connection between their left and right hemispheres severed has revealed that you are literally of two minds that don’t always agree with each other.

Just some food for thought.

Rush Limbaugh doesn’t understand how evolution works.

If you’ve been reading SEB for any amount of time then it probably doesn’t need to be said that my politics don’t line up with Rush Limbaugh’s politics. It’s also probably obvious that I think that Rush has said some amazingly stupid things over the years, but I’ve never thought the man was particularly uneducated. That’s probably as much due to the fact that I try to limit my exposure to his rantings as much as possible than it is him actually being educated.

On Tuesday during a segment about the kid falling into the gorilla enclosure in Cincinnati, Rush demonstrated his scientific ignorance of the Theory of Evolution. The folks at Media Matters captured his idiocy in all its glory:

“A lot of people think that all of us used to be apes. Don’t doubt me on this. A lot of people think that all of us used to be gorillas.”

headdeskOK, let’s stop right here. There’s more, but this is all you really need to realize that Rush has no clue what he’s talking about. Humans did not evolve from apes, or chimps, or gorillas. We are a kind of ape ourselves. We share a common primate ancestor (Homo-Pan) and have travelled different evolutionary paths starting around 6 to 7 million years ago. Either Rush is ignorant of what the theory of evolution says or he’s intentionally setting up a strawman. Based on what he says next I’d wager it’s the former.

“And they’re looking for the missing link out there. The evolution crowd. They think we were originally apes.”

The problem with the “missing link” is that there is no missing link. Evolution isn’t a matter of sharp delineations. It’s a matter of gradual differences. There is not, nor will there ever be, a fossil find that we can point to and definitely say that is the exact moment we stopped being Homo heidelbergensis and started being Homo sapiens. Reality is messy and doesn’t give a shit about fitting things into obvious categories. People like Rush don’t like that fact so they try to ignore it.

Here is his pièce de résistance. The statement that clearly shows his complete lack of understanding of evolutionary theory:

“I’ve always — if we were the original apes, then how come Harambe is still an ape, and how come he didn’t become one of us?”

First, we’re not the “original apes.” As I said before, we share a common ancestor. Secondly, had Harambe spontaneously evolved into a human it would invalidate evolutionary theory as well as a number of laws of physics.

To be fair, it’s not clear if Rush is suggesting that if evolution was real that Harambe would’ve evolved into a human in the time he was in the zoo or if he’s using the old argument of “If we evolved from apes why are there still apes?” Not that it matters, both would reveal his ignorance of what the theory of evolution actually says.

This isn’t rocket science. It’s really not that hard to understand the theory of evolution if you take the time to actually read up on it. There are a number of books that lay it out in layman’s terms and provide quite a bit of the evidence that back the theory up. A good one is The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins. It’s one I think Rush Limbaugh should probably read. He won’t, but he should.

You can hear Limbaugh’s words for yourself below:

A new meta-study shows Homeopathy is still bullshit.

It boggles the mind that in 2015 there are still people out there who buy into the idea of Homeopathy.

Homeopathy demotavational poster.

That’ll be $150, kthxbai!

As a refresher, it’s an “alternative medicine” predicated on the belief that “like cures like” and “water has a memory.” In short, if you take something that causes the same or similar symptoms in an ailing patient and dilute it in water and then feed it to them it’ll cure whatever their ailment happens to be. Here’s the best part though: The more diluted the solution is the more powerful it becomes.

I shit you not. Here’s an explanation of the dilution process from the Homeopathic “Educational” Services website:

Each substance is diluted, most commonly, 1 part of the original medicinal agent to 9 or 99 parts double-distilled water. The mixture is then vigorously stirred or shaken. The solution is then diluted again 1:9 or 1:99 and vigorously shaken. This process of consecutive diluting and shaking or stirring is repeated 3, 6, 12, 30, 200, 1,000, or even 1,000,000 times. Simply “diluting” the medicines without vigorously shaking them doesn’t activate the medicinal effects.

It is inaccurate to say that homeopathic medicines are extremely diluted; they are extremely “potentized.” “Potentization” refers to the specific process of sequential dilution with vigorous shaking. Each consecutive dilution infiltrates the new double-distilled water and imprints upon it the fractal form of the original substance used (fractal refers to the specific consecutively smaller pattern or form within a larger pattern). Ultimately, some type of fractal or hologram of the original substance may be imprinted in the water.

If you have half a brain you should already be questioning the intelligence of the people who dreamed this bullshit up just based on this little snippet of nonsense from this one website.

What all of this gobbledegook boils down to is this: Homeopathy is a way to sell you expensive water that isn’t going to do shit to heal whatever you problem is. If you get better after using Homeopathic medicines then you would’ve gotten better regardless of whether you had used them. This has shown to be true in study after study, yet these cranks are still out there peddling their bullshit and trying to weasel their way into being covered by insurance plans and health organizations.

Now Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council along with an independent company (to ensure there was no bias) has done a meta-study that involved analyzing over 1,800 scientific papers and more than 225 medical studies that determined (emphasis added):

There was no reliable evidence from research in humans that homeopathy was effective for treating the range of health conditions considered: no good-quality, well-designed studies with enough participants for a meaningful result reported either that homeopathy caused greater health improvements than placebo, or caused health improvements equal to those of another treatment.

For some health conditions, studies reported that homeopathy was not more effective than placebo. For other health conditions, there were poor-quality studies that reported homeopathy was more effective than placebo, or as effective as another treatment. However, based on their limitations, those studies were not reliable for making conclusions about whether homeopathy was effective. For the remaining health conditions it was not possible to make any conclusion about whether homeopathy was effective or not, because there was not enough evidence.

And their conclusion was:

Based on the assessment of the evidence of effectiveness of homeopathy, NHMRC concludes that there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective.

Homeopathy should not be used to treat health conditions that are chronic, serious, or could become serious. People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness. People who are considering whether to use homeopathy should first get advice from a registered health practitioner. Those who use homeopathy should tell their health practitioner and should keep taking any prescribed treatments.

In short, the shit don’t work. When you sit down and read what promoters provide as the explanation for how it supposedly works this shouldn’t come as a surprise. For starters, they love their buzzwords: Fractals, holograms, nanopharmacology, the Principle of Resonance, the list goes on and on. The idea seems to be that if you toss enough buzzwords at people they’ll assume you’ll know what you’re talking about simply because the have no idea what you’re talking about.

Alas, that works and you can find all manner of Homeopathic products at your local drug store as proof. Why do the stores carry them if they don’t work? Because they make decent money off of people who don’t know any better. Capitalism at its finest!

For those of you interested in reading the study for yourself you can find it here. *PDF File

 

A small video primer on why vaccines work.

Joe Hanson over at the It’s OK To Be Smart YouTube channel has a great video on vaccines and why it’s important to get them for yourself and your kids:

The rise of the anti-vaxers has resulted in the resurgence of diseases we had all but eradicated and a lot of people are going to suffer needlessly and die because of it if the trend continues.

Right now it’s measles and whooping cough which are bad enough, but there’s a very real danger that polio could make a return. We had it on the ropes world-wide until last year when it appeared to be on the rise in several countries. With today’s ease of travel that could make an American outbreak just a plane ride away.

This just in: American’s knowledge of science still sucks.

introspective-catYou don’t have to look very hard to see that science literacy in America is pretty dismal, but it’s still disheartening when a new survey is released showing that it’s even worse than you thought.

Quarter of Americans Convinced Sun Revolves Around Earth, Survey Finds – ABC News.

A survey of 2,200 people that was released Friday revealed some alarming truths about the state of science education across the country, with many failing to an answer even the most basic astronomy and science questions, according to a release about the survey.

Out of nine questions in the survey, participants scored an average 6.5.

Only 39 percent answered correctly with “true” when asked if “The universe began with a huge explosion,” while only 48 percent knew that “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals,” according to the statement.

It’s hard to estimate how much of this ignorance is willful because it conflicts with religious belief. It boggles the mind that in 2015 less than half of Americans understand and/or accept the theory of evolution.

Worse, most folks don’t think science is worthy of increased government spending:

Asked whether there needed to be more government funding for science, 30 percent said there should be.

These weren’t difficult questions. Anyone who made it through high school should be able to answer them without difficulty. A good part of the reason America has risen to the position its in is because of our mastery of science and the benefits that come with it.

I suppose we could chalk this up to the topics not being something that most folks deal with day to day, but they seem like the sort of thing you’d know just by paying a little attention to what’s going on around you.

Christian news site finds Chemist who doesn’t believe in Evolution.

whystilldustFor all the talk Christians engage in about faith and how believing despite a lack of evidence is part of what it means to be a Christian, there’s quite a few of them out there that will jump at any chance to quote a scientist — any scientist — who might provide some argument in their favor.

So it is that the folks at Christian News Network came to publish the following article: Renowned Chemist Says Evolutionists Do Not Understand the Origin of Life. In it they describe Rice University professor Dr. James Tour as follows:

Dr. James Tour is a well-known professor at Rice University, specializing in chemistry, nanoengineering, and computer science. Over the last 30 years, Tour has authored over 500 research publications, and he was recognized as one of “The 50 Most Influential Scientists in the World Today” by TheBestSchools.org. Tour has also received awards and recognitions from the American Chemical Society, Thomson Reuters, Honda, NASA, and others.

Clearly he’s a Big Deal, though I’m not sure why anyone thinks getting an award from TheBestSchools.org is worth bragging about as it appears to be Yet Another College Ranking website that’s popular mostly among religious institutions.

Still, that’s not the point! Awards! He’s gotten several awards for knowing that of which he speaks! Clearly then we must take him seriously when he says things like:

“I will tell you as a scientist and a synthetic chemist,” Tour said, “if anybody should be able to understand evolution, it is me, because I make molecules for a living, and I don’t just buy a kit, and mix this and mix this, and get that. I mean, ab initio, I make molecules. I understand how hard it is to make molecules.”

Well, that depends. Has Dr. Tour actually studied evolution? This is an important question because the article then goes on to say:

Despite his experiences and expertise, Tour admits that he does not understand how evolution could account for life’s existence.

Here we run into the first problem: Evolution doesn’t try to account for life’s existence — that would fall under abiogenesis and is a separate field of study — Evolution just describes the processes that take place after it showed up.

But let’s get back to that question I asked a moment ago. Has Dr. Tour spent any time studying the Theory of Evolution? The article seems to indicate that he hasn’t:

“I don’t understand evolution, and I will confess that to you,” he says in the video. “Is it okay for me to say, ‘I don’t understand this’? Is that all right? I know that there’s a lot of people out there that don’t understand anything about organic synthesis, but they understand evolution. I understand a lot about making molecules; I don’t understand evolution. And you would just say that, wow, I must be really unusual.”

Right up front he’s admitting he doesn’t understand the theory. Though don’t lose faith in him just yet:

However, Tour says he is not the only one who does not understand how life could have arisen through natural, unguided processes.

“Let me tell you what goes on in the back rooms of science—with National Academy members, with Nobel Prize winners,” Tour stated. “I have sat with them, and when I get them alone, not in public—because it’s a scary thing, if you say what I just said—I say, ‘Do you understand all of this, where all of this came from, and how this happens?’”

The answer he inevitably receives, Tour explained, is: “no.”

“Every time that I have sat with people who are synthetic chemists, who understand this, they go, ‘Uh-uh. Nope.’” Tour said. “And if they’re afraid to say ‘yes,’ they say nothing. They just stare at me, because they can’t sincerely do it.”

Oh my goodness! Someone who doesn’t understand Evolution knows other people who aren’t studying it that also don’t understand it! That surely must prove it’s a lie, right?

Well, no. Not really. It just means Dr. Tour and some of the other scientists he hangs out with don’t understand the theory. The fact that he seems set on it explaining the origin of life, which the theory doesn’t do, would probably go a long way to explaining his lack of understanding.

The article is based roughly on an hour and a half lecture Dr. Tour gave in late 2012 on the subject of Nanotech and Jesus Christ at Georgia Tech which you can watch on YouTube by clicking here.

I don’t dispute that Dr. Tour knows his organic chemistry and is clearly an expert on nanotech, but that doesn’t mean he’s an expert on Evolution or should be expected to know much about it. The Christian News Network article also goes on to quote from one of his blog posts in which he pretty much says his understanding of Evolution is, at best, as a layman. Here’s the big the article quotes:

Fair says there is an important distinction between microevolution and macroevolution—the former is clearly observable and repeatable, but the latter has never been witnessed.

“From what I can see, microevolution is a fact; we see it all around us regarding small changes within a species, and biologists demonstrate this procedure in their labs on a daily basis. Hence, there is no argument regarding microevolution,” he wrote in a blog post. “The core of the debate for me, therefore, is the extrapolation of microevolution to macroevolution.”

There’s an important bit from the very start of the entry, however, that they decided to leave out:

Assuming that I have something significant to contribute to the evolution vs. creation debate, many ask me to speak and write concerning my thoughts on the topic. However, I do not have anything substantive to say about it. I am a layman on the subject. Although I have read about a half dozen books on the debate, maybe a dozen, and though I can speak authoritatively on complex chemical synthesis, I am not qualified to enter the public discussion on evolution vs. creation. So please don’t ask me to be the speaker or debater at your event, and think carefully about asking me for an interview because I will probably not give you the profound quotations that you seek. You are of course free to quote me from what is written here, but do me the kindness of placing my statements in a fair context.

Dr. Tour considered this important enough that he placed it at the very start of his blog entry. He goes on to say that he’s often cited as a proponent of Intelligent Design and he’d really wish people would stop doing that.

I have been labeled as an Intelligent Design (ID) proponent. I am not. I do not know how to use science to prove intelligent design although some others might. I am sympathetic to the arguments on the matter and I find some of them intriguing, but the scientific proof is not there, in my opinion. So I prefer to be free of that ID label.

The rest of his blog post outlines a couple of the issues he has with macroevolution and why that makes him skeptical of it and, overall, it’s pretty reasonable. He does go on to claim that there is some persecution of scientists who express skepticism of macroevolution, but refuses to cite specific examples of such.

What’s interesting to me about the Christian News Network article is that it’s author, 

I’m not sure why Mr. Haley seems to think that finding a scientist who is a Christian and who has doubts about a scientific theory he doesn’t personally study should be newsworthy. There are lots of them out there. Hell, the field of Engineering is rife with creationists for some reason. The fact that these people are out there isn’t evidence that the theory is false. It just shows that people who haven’t studied it much may have trouble trying to understand it.

Apparently some folks aren’t familiar with sublimation.

DerpThis past Saturday after watching a movie on Amazon Prime I switched over to my PS3’s YouTube app to go through some of the channels I subscribe to because it’s fun watching them on my big screen TV. In addition to all of the channels you’ve subscribed to there are a few predefined channels such as Entertainment and Sports that will highly popular videos from folks you aren’t necessarily subscribed to. There’s also a Trending channel which highlights videos that are on the upswing in terms of viewings. I was browsing through the Trending videos when I came across this amazing video about “FAKE SNOW IN GEORGIA!”

In short, lady goes outside and makes a snowball then brings it back inside and attempts to melt it with a butane lighter. Instead of turning into a a puddle of water on her floor it doesn’t appear to be doing much at all other than blackening and giving off some sort of odor. Conclusion: She doesn’t know what it is, but it’s not snow. Then she mentions what we’re all thinking already: CHEMTRAILS!

And here’s another person replicating the demonstration:

WHERE IS THE WATER?!?

I was mildly amused until I noticed there’s a shitload of these videos out there. It appears the Chemtrail Conspiracists have been having a field day replicating this experiment and making all sorts of outlandish claims about what the fake snow really is. It’s nanoparticles delivered by jetstream manipulation and artificial aerosol ice nucleation! No, it’s really frozen poison organisms that are “alive!” It’s all part of a secret geo-engineering conspiracy to keep us passive and compliant!

Or, it could just be simple physics. Specifically what they’re seeing is called Sublimation which is when a solid goes directly to a gas without passing through the liquid phase first. Dry ice, which is frozen CO2, does it and nobody bats an eyelash at it. So what’s the black stuff and the plastic smell? Soot from the butane lighters they’re using. Butane lighters are pretty piss-poor at combustion, but they’re good enough to light a cigarette with. Not so great at melting compressed snow without leaving soot behind. You’ll note in the second video I included above that the blowtorch doesn’t turn the snow black at all, it just evaporates it.

Fortunately, not everyone out there lacks an understanding of the processes at work:

This one is probably my favorite of the debunking videos out there and is titled: Georgia fake Snow OR You’re just stupid!?!

It’s never been clear to me what, exactly, the government is supposed to be accomplishing with chemtrails that they couldn’t accomplish through more direct methods. Depending on which chemtrail conspiracy nut you ask it could be anything from population control to global warming mitigation to some sort of electromagnetic superweapon. For as dangerous as this fake snow is purported to be that doesn’t seem to be stopping folks from scooping it up and trying to burn it with their lighters, which seems like kind of a stupid thing to do if you really think it’s dangerous.

Fortunately for them it really is just frozen water. If there’s anything “alive” in it it’s nothing more than usual array of viruses and bacteria you’d find in any other untreated water in nature.

A brief primer on the science of snowflakes.

The folks at It’s OK to be Smart have a cool little video up on YouTube that talks about snowflakes, how they’re formed, and whether or not it’s true that no two are exactly alike:

One of the things I love about snowflakes is that they’re a great example of order and complexity from chaos. Just a few simple rules of physics produces the amazing variety of patterns a snowflake can take on. All from a bunch of hydrogen and oxygen atoms that bonded together and then bumped into each other.

Yet another study shows using magnets for arthritis doesn’t do shit.

commonsenseThis shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone with half a brain, but there’s yet another study that shows slapping a magnet on your arthritic joints won’t do anything other than lighten your wallet.

From the NYTime’s health blog:

British researchers randomized 65 patients with rheumatoid arthritis to receive one of four treatments: wearing a powerful magnetic wrist strap, a weak magnetic strap, a non-magnetic strap and a copper bracelet. Each patient wore each device for five weeks and completed pain surveys. The study appears in the September issue of PLoS One.

The patients reported pain levels using a visual scale, ranging from “no pain” to “worst pain ever,” and recorded how often their joints felt tender and swollen. Researchers used questionnaires to assess physical limitations, and tested for inflammation by measuring blood levels of C-reactive protein and plasma viscosity.

There was no statistically significant difference in any of these measures regardless of which type of device patients were wearing.

It’s been nearly 10 years since the last time I bothered to write about a study showing that magnet therapy is bullshit, but it appears the popularity of this particular kind of snakeoil hasn’t waned in that time. Estimates are that the sales of magnet bracelets tops $1 billion a year worldwide despite there not being one double blind, randomized testing showing they have anything more than a placebo effect. And that’s just the bracelets. You can buy all manner of things with “healing” magnets in them these days from insoles to underwear.

The only good news to be had is that there are so many people pumping these craptastic products out these days that if you’re gullible enough to buy into the nonsense you won’t end up wasting huge amounts of money on them as they tend to be cheap.

If you’re not watching “Your Bleeped Up Brain” then you should be.

your-bleeped-up-brain-square-logoI’m a big advocate for skeptical thinking. It’s one of the best tools you can have in life for determining truth claims and avoiding being scammed. We can’t be experts in everything so being skeptical is your first line of defense. To be really effective at it you need to understand how your brain works.

That’s where shows like Your Bleeped Up Brain come in handy. Each week they pick a theme — Lies, Superstition, Deception, Memory — and then they show you why your brain is susceptible to each one. Developed with the help of Richard Wiseman, the show delves not only into why your brain fucks up, but how it has had an impact on history on everything from world wars to belief in vampires. After each concept is explained they demonstrate by running experiments on the street with random folks passing by. It’s not only informative, but hugely entertaining.

Alas, there’s only four episodes in the series and they’ve already aired three of them. However, all is not lost as you can rent them through Amazon Prime or you can watch full episodes on the official site for free. I’m hopeful that it does well enough that they decide to pick it up for a full season later.