Anti-vaccine means Pro-infant-mortality: remember smallpox?

Now for some truth in advertising. The anti-vaccine hysteria of recent years kills people. In particular, delaying or skipping vaccinations will kill infants. Smallpox was the first disease to be eliminated by vaccination. It caused death, sometimes blindness, and usually permanent scarring.  Its mortality rate was roughly 30%. Now the only danger of its return is if someone uses it in biological warfare. If it hadn’t been exterminated by a concerted World Health Organization campaign, before the anti-vaxxers started spreading unfounded rumors, we might still have this to contend with.

I took this straight from the Malady of the Month archive:

Now seems like as good a time as any to reflect on exactly what we’ve been missing in the last few decades!

Smallpox (variola) is a contagious, disfiguring and sometimes deadly disease caused by the variola virus. It’s believed to have first appeared in northeastern Africa or the Indus Valley of south-central Asia nearly 12,000 years ago. Since then, few other illnesses have had such a profound effect on human health and history. There is evidence that a major smallpox epidemic occurred toward the end of the 18th Egyptian dynasty. Studies of the mummy of Pharaoh Ramses V (d. 1157 BC) indicate that he likely died of smallpox infection. From ancient Egypt, it appears that traders spread the disease to India. Smallpox was brought to the Americas with the arrival of Spanish colonists in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Many historians argue that smallpox infection killed more Aztec and Inca people than the Spanish Conquistadors did. A smallpox epidemic in 1837-38 killed an estimated 20,000 Native Americans…

We were on the verge of wiping out measles and polio, too, but they are spreading again. I’ll cover them in future posts.


“Why can’t we all just get along?”

Because you’re wrong, that’s why!

You may have heard that a professor at a school was noted short-changing the students on knowledge of evolution and promoting creationism instead. See Creationism in College – the Details.The news was picked up by Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy.

An excuse both mealy-mouthed and whiny was offered by someone calling himself Doctor. Doctor of Podiatry, perhaps!

This just goes on and on, and from here in the UK it looks rather peculiar.

Is it because it is illegal to teach religion in school in the US? Over here we could have a properly conducted debate between the science teacher and the RE teacher. Though I don’t believe a word of it, Creationist theory hangs together and is highly thought provoking.

I think one of the problems with science is that scientists can act like theocrats and hand us down theories that the man in the street is unable to follow up on and debate. On the other hand there is a priest in every parish and they are normally very happy to enter into theological debate.
So what I am saying is, that a debate in school as above might be very helpful in promoting science. But of course I don’t think that would be legal in the USA.

Personally I believe in God and suspect that He created life along the lines that Darwin and co. suggest. I have had many challenging debates with vicars, but have no outlet to scientists other than this sort of blog, and even then fear that I could be very easily labelled a crank.

He inspired tonight’s rant:

Jeremy Greenwood, it is not illegal to teach religion in the U.S. It is perfectly fine to teach religion in seminaries, Sunday Schools, and churches. It is fine to discuss creation myths in history or Comparative Religion class. It is not fine to insert one particular creation myth into science class. The evidence for creation myths does not meet scientific standards, nor are creation myths part of the science curriculum. I think your argument is disingenuous. Do you also recommend polite ’debates’ between flat-earthers and round-earthers, Aristotoleans and Newtonists, geocentric and heliocentric astronomers?

If you believe that science is handed down from on high, I suggest that you read a book like “Great Feuds in Science” or look for articles about any of these recent controversies: hot-blooded vs. cold-blooded dinosaurs; birds—descended from dinosaurs or not? Punctuated equilibrium vs. gradual change. Organic material in dinosaur fossils—original dinosaur tissue or contamination? Origin of flight— top-down from gliding or bottom-up from scrambling? Plate tectonics. Causes of mass extinctions. Group selection—valid mechanism? How does it work? Mechanisms of non-Darwinian selection. Going back a little further, genetic material—DNA or albumin? Get the picture? Science is made of guesses, tests, rationalizations, tests, competition, rejiggering the hypotheses, experiments, cliques, ruling memes, upstart ideas, reproducing results, arguments, demonstrations, and shouting matches. But sooner or later, the side with the facts will win. The facts for evolution have been coming in for about three hundred years now, starting with evidence for erosion, mountain-building, and glaciation, which gave us deep time. If you want to postulate a philosophical First Cause, fine. But don’t pout and mutter that those high-and-mighty scientists won’t listen to an argument. Read about Lynn Margulis vs. the establishment on mechanisms of evolution. She changed their minds. Creation myths belong in religion classes.

Martin Gardner

cover Gardner, Martin: “Fads and Fallacies” abridged pb photo, originally uploaded by monado.

Martin Gardner has died at age 96 after a career that was both long and useful. He was a fixture in Scientific American’s mathematical puzzles column for twenty-five years.

CORRECTION: Sudoko was probably invented by Howard Garnes. Thanks, Milan!

In the 1950s, he wrote “Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science,” which debunked an extraordinary number of notions, from pseudoscientific and semi-scientific to the nonsensical. The abridged version is above; the full version below.

(Gardner, Martin: “Fads and Fallacies” complete soft cover)

Roman Catholic Church values immature zygote over woman

a priest in a dark suit speaking from a lectern in a churchIn Arizona, Bishop Olmstead called a press conference to announce that staff at a Catholic hospital are automatically excommunicated if they value the life of a living, breathing, educated wife and mother over  9-week-old embryo. Without doubt, they saved a woman’s life by ending an 11-week pregnancy. The cat-licks won’t tell you this, but a woman is officially two weeks pregnant when the sperm hits the egg.

Helloooo? If an embryo is killing a woman, it has to go: wittingly or not, it is harming her. It was not a choice between the embryo and the woman: it was a choice between the embryo dying or the embryo and the woman dying.

Read all about it at Skeptic Money, which asks the right question: Why on earth do women stay in that church? The only answer must be childhood brainwashing.

There’s a good comment by a reader, at the Orlando Sentinel.

Nowadays, “excommunicated” might as well mean “lost my cell phone”, with surprisingly small bearing on the perception of a personal connection to God.I don’t think the Catholic Church is helping their case or their cause by putting their “position” up against medical necessity. And using A Really Big Brush to tar and feather anyone within “innocent bystander” range (”Hey, what do YOU think?”; “Sure, medically necessary”; ZZZzzapp, “YOU are OUTAHERE, too!”) may open a few more eyes to a basic ‘unreality’ being perpetuated here…

Thomas Olmstead is the Roman Catholic Bishop of Phoenix, Arizona, U.S.

Darwin’s super finches

ThinkGeek is selling a T-shirt with an updated Darwin’s finches theme. I think it’s funny.

What are the odds?

Creationists, or anti-evolutionists, are fond of declaring that the odds against evolution or of abiogenesis are great, so great as to make it almost impossible. Some say that the odds of the simplest organism forming “by chance” are 1 in 10340,000,000. Of course, to get those numbers they have to ignore the facts about how chemical changes occur or how evolution occurs and assume that everything happens at once, like an egg smash played in reverse.

However, scientists can play the numbers game, too. Doug Theobald has used phylogenetic software to calculate the odds that a group of proteins occurring in all life originated independently. You can read about it on Pharyngula.

…take a small set of known, conserved proteins that are shared in all organisms, not restricting ourselves to one kingdom or one phylum, but grabbing them all. In this paper, that data set consists of 23 proteins from 12 taxa in the Big Three domains: Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukarya. Then set up many different models to explain the relationships of these species. … And the winner is…common ancestry, with one branching tree!

Theobald distills it down to just the odds that bacteria have an independent origin from Archaea and eukaryotes:

But, based on the new analysis, the odds of that are “just astronomically enormous,” he said. “The number’s so big, it’s kind of silly to say it”–1 in 10 to the 2,680th power, or 10 followed by 2,680 zeros.

One in 102680

The Science of Religion

Gregory S. Paul suggests that we should use statistical analysis to solve some of the big questions of religion. Of course, others have suggested the same. In 1872, Sir Francis Galton analyzed the longevity of British rulers, whose health was prayed for by millions, and concluded that prayer is ineffective. Your can read Paul’s essays at The Science of Religion:

The application of statistical scientific methodology to the sociology of religion has become less controversial in recent years, but it remains a sufficiently delicate subject that major questions of great import to the public at large remain seriously under researched. For centuries religious forces have claimed that a good deity exists, and that it is imperative for the citizens of nations to follow the instructions provided by their moral creator if they are to avoid societal collapse into godless nihilism. Despite the often strenuous advocacy of this claim, a comprehensive analysis confirming its truth has never appeared.

See his paper, “The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon Dysfunctional Psychosociological Conditions.”

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