Category Archives: science

Beliefs Don’t Change in “Real-Time”

culture, Education, freethought community, psychology, science Leave a reply

An acquaintance of mine sent me a link to a conversation between Dan Dennett and Sam Harris, wherein Dennett attempts to explain the holes in Harris’s puerile arguments against the concept of “free will”.

In any case, this particular post isn’t about Harris, but a particular point he reiterates repeatedly: that we can (and should) change our beliefs “in real-time”.

This view, regardless of who holds it, is incorrect, and here’s why.

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Philosophy of science. Again.

culture, Education, philosophy, science Leave a reply

I wrote about philosophy of science back in 2012, and a recent spat in biology has brought this up again. The Wired article “Twitter Nerd-Fight Reveals a Long, Bizarre Scientific Feud” explains the details of that fight pretty well, and I just want to dig into a particular comment that seems to represent the core of the disagreement here.

“They said if you want to use another method, you have to show that it’s philosophically better, not scientifically better,” Eisen says. “That’s why I said it seems like they’re dropping science for dogma.”


“I’ve never in my life, in any area of science,” says Eisen, “seen something presented where people said, ‘We’re not going to judge something on the science, we’re going to judge it on the philosophy.’”

Eisen, frankly, couldn’t be more wrong (in principle).

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A Discussion of GMOs

crapitalism, culture, health, politics, science Leave a reply

I recorded a podcast on srslywrong, and it was released last night. I’m fairly pro-GMO (generally speaking), so I was asked to take the pro-GMO side of a debate. It turned into more of a discussion of GMOs rather than a debate, and I’m pretty happy with the results.

I’m interested in feedback here, but bear in mind a couple things:

1) My background is not biology or science. I regrettably misspoke a few times in this (e.g. when I conflated genes for Roundup resistance with genes for the production of BT, and when I had a brain fart about bacteria being prokaryotes).

2) I’m not interested in yelling at people.

3) I’m interested in pushing broad strokes and general understanding, rather than devolving down nit-picky tangents. There’s a whole bunch of areas where I could have jumped down Eric/Cody’s throat for things that he said that I considered to be just plain ‘wrong’, but as they were tangential to the discussion, I left them alone. (and, to his credit, Eric/Cody cut me the same slack.

Click here to go to the podcast.

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Dr. Emoto, Water, Intention and Magic

philosophy, science 1 Reply

I’ve been recently discussing with someone the possibility that, basically, magic is a real thing that really happens in the real world. Really. In fairness, those are not the terms that they use, but nevertheless that’s the argument being presented.

The idea is that since our intentions can affect water, and humans are “70% to 90% water, depending on age”, then we can totally affect the health of other people with our thoughts. As evidence for this claim, when pushed (and it was like pulling teeth) they refer to Dr. Emoto’s work on water and intention. Ironically, Dr. Emoto appears to have done very little science on this topic, insofar as he has a total of one (1) paper published, and even then it’s in the fringe science Journal of Scientific Exploration. The paper is titled (this link goes to a PDF) “Effects of Distant Intention on Water Crystal Formation: A Triple-Blind Replication“. The rest of this post will be a breakdown of that paper.

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Failed Replications and “Emptiness”

philosophy, science 1 Reply

Recently, a Jason Mitchell of no less than Harvard University published a piece of writing entitled “On the emptiness of failed replications“, within which Mitchell decries the focus on replications within Social Psychology, and (to, I hope, a lesser degree) within science as a whole. I found it an interesting read, and an excellent example of how references/citations can serve the purpose of signalling (i.e. name-dropping) rather than adding anything substantive to a paper. Invoking Quine and Kuhn certainly signals that one has a passing familiarity with Philosophy of Science, but the rest of the essay quickly highlights how mistaken that impression is.

While I think it’s important for popular science sites to highlight this kind of thing, as Annalee Newitz at io9 did, the article just abuses Mitchell: there’s no explanation of how he’s wrong. This is, I think, a common problem within skeptic/atheist/science-enthusiast circles whereby “let’s point and laugh” is often substituted for understanding the problems. Here’s my breakdown of Mitchell’s article.

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Langara College and the Bullshit it Peddles

culture, Education, ethics, philosophy, science, skepticism 2 Replies

When I first came to Vancouver from Ireland, I found out about the student loan program that was available in Canada and discovered that I could actually afford to go to University. I’d just missed the enrollment deadline for the University of British Columbia, but a helpful advisor there suggested a number of avenues I could take. One of which was Langara College.

My two-ish years there were well-spent, studying a variety of topics, learning how much I sucked at mathematics, how much I hated chemistry, and how interesting I found philosophy. Twas a good period, and I believe that the academic faculty there, in most all disciplines, are great teachers.

But then there’s the “Health and Human Services” bullshit that it peddles…

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Anti-Abortion Arguments, Including the Secular Ones, are Uninformed Drivel.

Atheism, civil rights, Conceits, culture, Education, ethics, feminism, freethought community, liberalism, philosophy, politics, science 32 Replies

I’ve had something of a writing block for the last month or so, so I’m thankful to Hemant Mehta over at Friendly Atheist for providing me with some fodder to dissect. I’ve always figured that there had to be some folk out there whose anti-abortion stance wasn’t built on a foundation of religion, as the latter simply isn’t logically necessary for the former. Plenty of people hold ignorant and poorly thought-out positions, appeals to god are simply gap fillers: people can also either fill in the gaps with a non-religious non-explanation, or just ignore them.

Such is the case in the guest post by Kristine Kruszelnicki, titled “Yes, There Are Pro-Life Atheists Out There. Here’s Why I’m One of Them“. An alternative title would be “I’m unaware of how shallow my arguments are, but here they are anyway”. That is, perhaps, unfair: it’s possible that Kruszelnicki is aware of how shallow these arguments are, but she claims that they are compelling….

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Anti-GMO == Climate Change Denialism

culture, health, science, skepticism Leave a reply

I generally don’t like to reblog things, but this piece should be spread far and wide.

It should be a deep embarrassment to progressives, but the truth is that anti-GM activists are as guilty of anti-scientific thinking with regard to their pet subject as the Koch Brothers or the American Enterprise Institute are on global warming.

While there are a tiny number of scientists that question anthropogenic global warming, the overwhelming consensus is that human activity is responsible for the sharp increase in atmospheric CO2 over the past two centuries. Equally, while Gilles-Eric Seralini may be a professor of molecular biology at the University of Caen, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that there is no risk to human health or the environment from GM as a suite of techniques. Pointing at Seralini’s work and shouting “Look! Science-y!” ain’t enough.

This 2013 statement from the AAAS on the subject really does give a sense of how anti-GM is as fringe as climate denialism:

“The science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe. The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.”

Astrology Now!

Astrology, Education, ethics, science, skepticism 6 Replies

I’m a big fan of science education, and those institutions whose reason for being is the furthering of knowledge, and the encouraging of the young to follow math-based ambitions. That stuff is hard, and requires a whole heap of enthusiasm and motivation in order to slog through.

Conversely, it’s somewhat shocking when I find a space center, a place that claims its goals are “to educate, inspire and evoke a sense of wonder about the Universe, our planet and space exploration” working to do exactly the opposite. Continue reading