Not “just” a theory

In response to this blog post, Graydon wrote:

“To be a little nit-picky: there aren’t very many science *facts*. There are a lot of theories, and they are often very sound theories in that they hold true with observed historical data and they predict future observed data. Mr. Goodyear could have just said he didn’t believe in the theory of evolution, and that would have been one thing (admittedly not a great thing, evolution is a pretty widely trusted theory). But I agree, to link it to his religious beliefs has frightening implications that his religious beliefs affect his ability to make scientific decisions. That is to say: goodbye stem cell research in Canada?”

And he is correct. Most of scientific knowledge is composed of theories. However, there is a very big difference between the colloquial definition of theory and the scientific definition of theory.

Generally we understand theory to mean speculation or hypothesis. One cannot reach an evidence-based conclusion via a set of facts, so one posits a theory.

The following explanation of scientific theory is taken from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences book Science, Evolution, and Creationism:

“Some scientific explanations are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them. The explanation becomes a scientific theory. In everyday language a theory means a hunch or speculation. Not so in science. A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. Such fact-supported theories are not ‘guesses’ but reliable accounts of the real world. The theory of biological evolution is more than ‘just a theory.’ It is as factual an explanation of the universe as the atomic theory of matter or the germ theory of disease. Our understanding of gravity is still a work in progress. But the phenomenon of gravity, like evolution, is an accepted fact.”

The following explanation of scientific theory is taken from the National Academies web site:

“The formal scientific definition of theory… refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence. Many scientific theories are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially. For example, no new evidence will demonstrate that the Earth does not orbit around the sun (heliocentric theory), or that living things are not made of cells (cell theory), that matter is not composed of atoms, or that the surface of the Earth is not divided into solid plates that have moved over geological timescales (the theory of plate tectonics).

Like these other foundational scientific theories, the theory of evolution is supported by so many observations and confirming experiments that scientists are confident that the basic components of the theory will not be overturned by new evidence. However, like all scientific theories, the theory of evolution is subject to continuing refinement as new areas of science emerge or as new technologies enable observations and experiments that were not possible previously.

One of the most useful properties of scientific theories is that they can be used to make predictions about natural events or phenomena that have not yet been observed. For example, the theory of gravitation predicted the behaviour of objects on the moon and other planets long before the activities of spacecraft and astronauts confirmed them. The evolutionary biologists who discovered Tiktaalik [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiktaalik] predicted that they would find fossils intermediate between fish and limbed terrestrial animals in sediments that were about 375 million years old. Their discovery confirmed the prediction made on the basis of evolutionary theory. In turn, confirmation of a prediction increases confidence in that theory.

In science, a ‘fact’ typically refers to an observation, measurement, or other form of evidence that can be expected to occur the same way under similar circumstances.

However, scientists also use the term ‘fact’ to refer to a scientific explanation that has been tested and confirmed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing it or looking for additional examples. In that respect, the past and continuing occurrence of evolution is a scientific fact. [Emphasis mine.]

Science depends wholly on empirical evidence and testable explanations that have been overwhelmingly substantiated. All accepted scientific knowledge has withstood extensive testing and retesting by various scientists across the world and over time. Evolution, for example, has been tested by thousands of scientists for 150 years.

Creationists or intelligent design proponents (“neo-creationists”) count on the public’s ignorance of the definition of scientific theory when they say things like, “Evolution is just a theory.” Yes, and so are gravity, the theory of relativity, germ theory, the genetic basis of heredity, and the circulation of blood. All just theories. In truth, they are factual descriptions of the natural world accepted by scientists.

Anti-evolutionists will also claim that there is still disagreement within the scientific community about evolution. This is a half-truth. Scientists do not question whether evolution is true, but they still debate the mechanisms by which it works. As always takes place in science, scientists continue to study how things work after they have concluded that they do work (see above example of gravity).

Again from the National Academies:

“Because the evidence supporting it is so strong, scientists no longer question whether biological evolution has occurred and is continuing to occur. Instead, they investigate the mechanisms of evolution, how rapidly evolution can take place, and related questions.”

Don’t be entangled by those who would try to fool you with semantics. Scientific theory or more than “just a theory.”

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Slippery slope made of shit

Newshounds is a great web site. Their tag line is: “We watch Fox News so you don’t have to.”

It’s perfect for me because even though I know some people watch Fox “News” from time to time just for a laugh, I can’t do it. It (almost literally) makes my blood boil. I’d love to strap on a blood pressure machine and take some measurements while watching Fox “News.” At any rate, I have to settle for reading about their inanity and then seeking out clips on YouTube and such.

Newshounds, though, cuts my workload down quite a bit because they usually post the videos right there for me! I don’t envy them having to watch Fox “News” and I thank them for doing it so I don’t have to.

Today this little tidbit struck me. On his show, Bill O’Reilly—railing against equal marriage once again—said this:

“Remember, ladies and gentlemen, if gay marriage is okay then you’re going to have all marriages okay. You can’t say gays can marry but triads can’t, or polygamists can’t, or marrying your cousin [sic]. Under equal protection, it’s everybody can do whatever they want. You can’t say we’re just going to get one group in.”

There aren’t enough arghs and blergs in the world to capture how I feel about this.

Okay, first of all, I could just say this and end it right now: Heterosexuals are a group. Therefore, based on O’Reilly’s logic that you can’t just let “one group in,” then no one should be able to get married. “Thankfully straights can’t get married, because if they could then everyone would want to get married. Phew!”

I love how that logic seems perfectly…logical to him, but the same argument for equal marriage does not: You can’t say heterosexuals can marry but homosexuals can’t.

A big derrrr to that one.

Sadly this debate keeps going on and on and on, as if there is legitimately anything to debate. I can’t wrap my mind around it. Letting two consenting adults get married is NOT in any way equivalent to polygamy, pedophilia, or bestiality.

This “slippery slope” argument is often used by bigots, hatemongers, and anti-equal marriage crusaders to oppose equal human rights. It’s absurd. These slippery-slopers say, “If we let two consenting adults of the same sex marry, what’s next? People will want to marry their children, or their dog!”

I wish I could laugh, but sadly these arguments sometimes work on people. It’s a classic scare tactic used by fearmongers and hatemongers.

I also oppose this argument from proponents of equal marriage: “What the hell difference does it make who gets married? People should be able to marry whomever they want! I should be able to marry a chicken or this chair if I want to!”

No.

When people use arguments like this to support equal rights, they instead embolden the enemies of equal rights. It lends credence to ridiculous arguments. No, we should not be able to marry a chicken. Nor a child. Nor a chair. That’s absurd, and to even put it in the same category as a woman marrying a woman or a man marrying a man ridicules and weakens the real and logical arguments for equal marriage.

Marriage between two consenting adults of the same sex should not and must not be lumped in with things like bestiality, pedophilia, and whatever the hell it would be called if people could marry inanimate objects. There is the consensual agreement and commitment between two adults, and then there’s everything else. Equal marriage does not fall into the “everything else” category.

The bigots are now calling their campaign “defense of marriage,” as if equal marriage will somehow endanger the oh-so-stellar reputation of this pristine institution that has a 40% divorce rate.

(By the way, for those religious folks who claim that the bible dictates that homosexuality is wrong, and therefore it is wrong: The bible condemns divorce waaaaay more than it condemns homosexuality. And the argument that it condemns homosexuality at all is specious at best. Oh, and the bible also condemns worshipping false idols, like all those little Jesus and Mary statues and pictures you’ve got in your house, around your neck, or on your car’s dashboard. And it condemns gambling. And owning stuff. It also condemns the observance of special days, like Christmas and Easter and Good Friday and…. )

Let’s get real here and address the fears these scare tactics are meant to stir. Netherlands was the first country to federally legalize same-sex marriage, in 2001. I think Netherlands is still a country, eight years on, and that it hasn’t fallen into the sea. Belgium followed, in 2003, legalizing same-sex marriage country-wide and it didn’t melt into a seething lava pit of sin. Canada (yay!) and Spain were the third and fourth countries, respectively, to federally legalize same-sex marriage, in June 2005.

I live in Canada. It’s been four years. So far I have personally witnessed the happy weddings and marriages of a few homosexual couples, as well as those of a few heterosexual couples. What? Did I just say heterosexual marriages? Yes I did. And no, I do not jest. It was a surprise to all, but allowing same-sex marriage did not cause the institution of marriage to instantly implode.

South Africa was the fifth country (2005) and Norway the sixth (2008) to legalize same-sex marriage. Yes, apartheid South Africa.

So can everyone please just shut the fuck up about gay marriage ruining whatever-the-hell? “It will ruin the institution of marriage!” “It will ruin families!” “It will ruin children!”

You know what’s ruining the institution of marriage? You, when you watch The Bachelor, get quickly and drunkenly married in Las Vegas, or abuse your wife.

You know what’s ruining children? You and your hatemongering. Like it or not, gay exists. A significant portion of the population is gay. Someone you love is gay. One (or more) of your children may be gay. A child is born gay. If you believe such things, then god/the gods made her that way. She is told all her life that she is wrong, sick, bad, sinful, distasteful, dangerous, gross, and that she is not afforded protection under the law or equal human rights. She is told these things by you. Do you know that the highest suicide rate among teenagers is among gay teenagers? Yeah, that’s all on you. Have fun living with that.

This argument is always used whenever people fear something, even if they fear it for no legitimate reason. Oh, think of what it will do to families! The institution of marriage! The children! Won’t somebody think of the children!?!?

Families will not crumble if two consenting adults are allowed to get married. Society will not crumble if two consenting adults are allowed to get married. The institution of marriage will not crumble if two consenting adults are allowed to get married. And children will not suffer if their parents are allowed to be married.

In fact, two consenting adults are already allowed to get married all over the world—as long as they’re straight. If they happen to be infected with “the gay” then they can only get married in Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, South Africa, and Norway. For now.

Secondly, can we please start focussing on things that actually do hurt society? How about rape? We could start with priests raping children—that’s a good place to start if you care about the children. What about “deadbeat dads” who don’t pay child support, thus stigmatizing and sending into poverty single-parent families? There are a few wars going on somewhere I think, not to mention some genocides that could use our attention. Homelessness? Addiction? Poverty? Hey, how about the fact that we’re killing the earth, which is already overpopulated and unable to sustain its population? Human trafficking. Child labour/slavery/abuse.

There. I’ve just given you anti-equal marriage crusaders plenty of things you can do to fill your time rather than opposing two consenting adults committing to one another in a loving and legal way, thus enjoying all of the rights they are entitled to as human beings.

Go fight those wars because this is not a war. And even if you think it is, you’ve already lost anyway. Society is always ahead of the law when it comes to civil rights; it’s just a matter of time now before the law catches up in most of the world. So save your breath, your time, your energy, and some trees, and stop protesting equal marriage.

Use your resources for something important. If you really care about children, then go save a child from a real enemy right now—an abusive parent, a pedophile priest, slavery, poverty, gang violence, illiteracy…. Go. Go now.

For further reading on the “slippery slope” argument: http://www.slate.com/id/2100824/.

Janeane Garofalo and Alanis Morissette say to support Earth Hour—March 28th

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/15/janeane-garofalo-alanis-m_n_175090.html

Can the United States impeach Fox “News”?

On a Fox “News” show Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld the host and his panelists called Canada a “ridiculous country” and made light of Canada’s sacrifices in Afghanistan.

The remarks came after Canadian Lt. Gen. Andrew Leslie had said the military would “have to explore the possibility of taking a short operational break” after Canada’s mission in Afghanistan ends in 2011 because of personnel and equipment shortages.

Gutfeld said:

“The Canadian military wants to take a breather to do some yoga, paint landscapes, run on the beach in gorgeous white capri pants…. Isn’t this the perfect time to invade this ridiculous country? They have no army.”

Clearly he has no understanding of “operational” break. It means no more fighting in wars for a while, not that we’ll “have no army.”

His panelists were all equally absurd, having a good laugh at all the people who have died in Afghanistan.

Doug Benson said, “I didn’t even know they were in the war. I thought that’s where you go if you don’t want to fight” (laughing off Canada allowing war-resistors and moral objectors into our country).

Gutfeld then arrogantly asked, “Would Canada be able to get away with this if it didn’t share a border with the most powerful country in the universe? Isn’t Canada doing what most of Europe does anyway, which is just rely on the U.S.A. in case anything bad happens?”

Another panelist, Monica Crowley, said that yes, of course Canada can only survive because of the “security backdrop of the United States.”

And Bill Schulz went even further in displaying that trademark ignorance by saying, “We have police, they have Mounties. Our cops ride heavily armoured cars [sic], their cops ride horses. We have bullet-proof vests, they have wonderful little red jackets that can be seen a mile away. This is not a smart culture, Greg.”

First of all, Mounties are police. Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It’s a national police service that, according to the RCMP web site: “[Is] unique in the world since it is a national, federal, provincial and municipal policing body.”

See? Cars, vests, and no "wonderful little red jackets".

See? The RCMP with cars, vests, and no "wonderful little red jackets".

Those “little red jackets” and horses are mostly symbolic and are seen in parades and other public relations events. The RCMP wears police uniforms (including bullet-proof vests) and rides in cars. Like the military has combat fatigues and military dress, the RCMP has its uniforms and its symbolic dress.

Back to the fun right-wing pundits belittling Canada. Crowley went on to say that the Canadian military will be getting “manicures and pedicures.” Oh, and of course she mentioned that we’re “up there” in the “frigid cold,” like that has anything to do with anything. I’m surprised she didn’t say we all live in igloos.

The first thing that comes to mind in response to all this is, who the hell is Greg Gutfeld? Or, for that matter, Doug Benson, Bill Schulz, and Monica Crowley? Let’s all collectively not google them to find out.

The second thing that comes to mind is this: Not doing much to repair the world’s perception of Americans there folks!

But the most important thing is this: Canada has 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan and 116 of them have died. The death rate among Canadian soldiers is four times that of American soldiers because the Canadians have been fighting in one of the most violent provinces, in the south.

These Fox “News” panelists seem to think of Canada as some differently abled little sibling.

Canada prides itself on being a peace-keeping nation, and it fights when it has to. We were in both WWI and WWII (and we entered those wars before the Americans did). We chose not to get involved in Vietnam or Iraq because neither of those countries was a threat to us or to the United States. The reason we went to war in Afghanistan is because the strike on September 11th can be traced back there, and we were morally obligated to get involved because the U.S. is our NATO ally. Canada is morally obligated not to get involved in unnecessary and/or pre-emptive wars.

This is all so ridiculous I can’t believe I am even giving it the meager amount of attention it will get here on this blog, but I think ignorance and absurdity like this must be called out.

Gary BADyear!

Aren’t I clever? See the pun above? The guy’s name is Gary Goodyear and I…well, you see what I did there.

Gary Goodyear, who is Canada’s Minister of Science and Technology, is a chiropractor by training, doesn’t seem to understand evolution and is not able to provide an explanation or valid example of it, and is probably a creationist.

Here’s what he had to say when asked if he believes in evolution: “I’m not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don’t think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate.”

This is our SCIENCE minister!

The fact that he equates a question about evolution with a question about his Christian beliefs is evidence enough that he is a creationist. If he were a true scientist he would know that a question about evolution is a question about science, not religion.

He also said, “My view isn’t important. My personal beliefs are not important.” Argh. This is not about personal beliefs; it’s about scientific fact. Clearly he thinks that evolution is a personal belief. Maybe he thinks gravity is a personal belief, too. How about the fact that the earth is round? Is that a personal belief? Or that the earth goes around the sun? Germ theory?

He is our SCIENCE minister!

After refusing to the answer the question for a few days, he finally did on CTV by saying that he does believe in evolution. Goodyear then proceeded to provide the following laughable examples of his “evolution”. Anyone who knows anything at all about evolution should get a huge kick out of this (or a sharp sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach):

“We are evolving every year, every decade…. Whether it is to the intensity of the sun, whether it is to, as a chiropractor, walking on cement versus anything else, whether it is running shoes or high heels–of course we are evolving to our environment.”

This has caused many scientists to speak out. One of them, Brian Hall from Dalhousie University, was quoted in the Globe and Mail saying, “This is not evolution. The minister is confusing evolution with lifestyle adaptation.”

Evolution is small genetic adaptations passed from one generation to the next, causing big changes over hundreds, thousands, millions of years. As Brian Hall pointed out, the minister’s examples would be real examples of evolution if humans had adapted sun-resistant skin or extra padding on our feet to make them resistant to concrete. We have not.

Kudos to the media and the scientific community for being relentless on this one. They have continued to probe Goodyear, asking him to clarify his “explanation” of evolution. Guess what? He refused.

Now can we do something to get him fired?

What the hell is happening to my country?!?!?

(Here’s a great article about this on the CBC web site.)

Depression

Today is my mom’s birthday. I needed to order a copy of her death certificate a little while ago, and it was in my mail box when I got home from work. Is that irony?

In the past two-and-a-half years, my mom died, my gramma died, and the person I loved with my entire heart and soul got amnesia and forgot me and our entire relationship.

So I know a little something about sadness, grief, and depression.

When my mom died, I fell apart and mostly just cried and slept for days. I had a “day job” at which I worked 20 hours a week; after taking a few days off I had to go back to work, and I managed to slog through. But my booking and publicity company, which I ran from my home, suffered a serious blow and never fully recovered. I couldn’t work for weeks.

Eventually one morning I woke up and decided this would be the day—I’d indulged my grief long enough and today I must get back to work. I showered, had breakfast, went to my computer, checked my e-mail, hit the “reply” button…and I couldn’t type anything. I literally felt physically incapable of working. It was like my brain was refusing to participate.

And so I went to the couch and spent yet another day watching crap and eating crap.

I did very little for a couple of months. I watched more movies and TV shows on DVD than I care to admit, went on very long walks in the cold, and ate a lot of not-good-for-you food. I didn’t go to the gym. I couldn’t read; I would find myself stumbling over the same line over and over again before finally giving up. Eventually I did get back to the work of my business—there were tours that needed to be booked and I couldn’t let my clients down—but it was half-hearted at best.

In time I got over it. Which is to say, I got over this depressive period (you never really get over death).

Then I met the aforementioned love of my life. I fell in love, and I got happy again. And then she was diagnosed with a brain tumour, had brain surgery, got amnesia, and forgot me completely.

The depression this time lasted…wait, what month is it? (Joke.) Luckily I had taken a leave of absence from work, so I didn’t have to work at all for the first couple of weeks. (My business, along with my girlfriend, our relationship, and my heart was another victim of the brain tumour; it didn’t recover from this knockout punch). Again I did a lot of sitting around watching crap and eating crap. I didn’t take walks this time. I still couldn’t read or concentrate on much. I slept a lot.

But eventually I healed enough to get back to a normal life.

When my gramma died I didn’t leave my apartment for three days. It happened about three months ago and I still think about her every day. Sometimes I cry.

I consider all of these experiences small-d depression. My mood, work, sleeping and eating habits, energy level, ability to concentrate, etc. were certainly effected, but it was never debilitating. I still got out of bed, I showered every day, I ate and spoke to people, I worked when I had to. I never entertained thoughts of suicide or felt like I didn’t want to live.

Often depression can manifest itself as a cycle of guilt, anger, and self-blame. I went through a period of guilt when my mom died and I spend a few weeks doing nothing. I was angry with myself for not being able to get back to work, for not being able to just get over it already! That was until I spoke to a friend of mine whose brother had died at around the same time as my mom. She too was incapable of reading or concentrating on work and experienced many of the other symptoms I had. Our conversation was beyond helpful. Suddenly I felt validated. I didn’t feel like such a worthless failure. It wasn’t just me—it was grief, and I had to let it run its course.

When we are physically sick, say with the flu or a cold, we don’t feel guilty or worthless or angry with ourselves for being sick. Generally we allow our bodies to heal. We continue to feed them and give them plenty of rest and liquids, and eventually we get better. Our bodies tell us what they need—they’re very smart that way. When we’re tired, it means we need sleep. When we experience pain, it’s because our bodies are trying to alert us to something that needs our attention.

Depression can be considered a mental illness (I don’t mean that in the psychiatric way, I just mean as opposed to a physical illness). When we suffer mental pain, our minds need a chance to heal just as our bodies need to heal from the flu. Depression is our mind’s way of telling us that something is wrong and that it needs some time to make itself better. Inevitably small-d depression ends, just like a cold. I think of this kind of depression as a cure for mental pain; it’s the time my brain needs to heal itself.

Big-d Depression—clinical depression—can be debilitating; it can negatively impact one’s life in very serious ways and can effect one’s overall mental and physical health.

While some of the symptoms I experienced coincide with the symptoms of clinical depression (these include an inability to enjoy previously enjoyable activities, poor concentration and/or memory, anti-social behaviour, fatigue or lethargy, insomnia or oversleeping, changes in appetite, etc.), I never entered the realm of clinical depression for which I felt the need to see a doctor.

Big-d Depression may also include feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, self-hatred, and wanting to die. Very serious cases may also involve psychotic episodes, delusions, and hallucinations. For cases like these, medical attention is most certainly required. While I don’t advocate frivolous or ill-considered medicating, often medication can be very effective in treating clinical depression. The process of getting better in such cases can involve trying out a few different psychiatrists/psychologists/counsellors and/or a few different medications until you find the one that works for you.

In any case, we must pay attention to what our bodies and our minds tell us. If ever you feel like your depression is something serious, if it lasts for a long period of time, if your friends and/or family express concern, if important things in your life are suffering, if you don’t want to live, then seek medical attention.

There will always be hard days. The anniversary of the day my mom died, Mothers’ Day, Valentine’s Day, etc.—these all make me sad and conjure up painful feelings, as I’m sure my gramma’s birthday and the anniversary of her death will in the future.

Today is my  mom’s birthday, or it was (it’s after midnight now). I knew it would be a hard day, so I planned for it. I kept myself busy with work and the gym, and I made plans with some dear friends for tonight. I hardly spent any time alone all day.

But now I am alone. I should be sleeping, but I don’t feel tired. Instead I’m writing this. I’ve been staring at this death certificate thinking about my mom’s life and about how, in the end, your entire life can come down to the answers someone writes in a series of boxes on a form. It’s depressing. I’m sad. I’m crying.

But that’s just tonight, and tomorrow is another day.

NOTE: I am not a medical doctor or mental health professional and the content of this post should not be taken as a prescription for dealing with depression. Make sure you consult your doctor in the case of depression if it worries you—or someone who cares about you—in any way.

Addendum to “Pope Benedict XVI spreads HIV/AIDS”

Here is another blog post about the pope’s ignorant and dangerous lies (that condoms increase the spread of HIV), which I blogged about yesterday. This one talks about the media’s responsibility, which is an angle I’m sad to have not written about. I guess my outrage was so focused on the pope that I didn’t stop to consider the media’s complicity in reporting this story credulously without offering any facts to refute the pope’s lies. Way to do your job, journalists! And people wonder why newspapers are going under. It’s not just the economy….

Pope Benedict XVI spreads HIV/AIDS

You know what? I’m just going to say it and I truly don’t care: The pope is a douche. He’s an out-of-touch figurehead whose archaic edicts have no bearing on the real world and how it works. I am so sick of the Vatican’s anti-gay, anti-woman, and anti-sex stance, but this is about more than general outrage over the Vatican’s ignorance and bigotry. This is about saving lives.

While touring Africa this week and selling Catholicism to the church’s fastest-growing consumer base—whoops, I mean market—Pope Benedict XVI said this: “You can’t resolve [the HIV/AIDS crisis] with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem.”

Inane, I know. How exactly does protecting people from the contraction of HIV and AIDS increase the spread of HIV and AIDS? Conveniently, the pope didn’t have to address this question.

His alternative? A responsible and moral attitude about sex, fidelity within marriage, and abstinence outside of marriage.

Any thinking person knows that this is utterly ridiculous. People have sex. With regard to consensual homosexual sex, it’s ignorant and delusional to think that people are going to remain virgins until they’re married. With regard to consensual homosexual sex, it’s an irrelevant point because queers aren’t allowed to get married in most parts of the world, and the Catholic Church certainly doesn’t advocate equal marriage.  And with regard to rape, the church’s stance is criminal and abusive.

I’m going to use that word “criminal” again. I think what the Vatican is doing is criminal. They are actually spreading the lie that condoms do not protect people against the sexually-transmitted diseases and infections. In El Salvador, the church encouraged a law requiring condom packages to carry a warning that they don’t protect against AIDS. Everyone knows that condoms are effective about 99% (or slightly  more) of the time. Clearly abstinence would be 100% effective. But expecting abstinence is neither realistic nor rational.

I wish it were irrelavent what the pope has to say about anything, but it’s not. Catholics all over the world feel that they have to “obey” the laws that the Vatican passes down. And because of their anti-condom campaign, people are dying. Twenty-two million people in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with HIV. On that continent misinformation is rampant; men in South Africa actually believe in myths like the fact that if you rape a baby girl you’ll be cured of AIDS. Of course if people believe that, they’ll believe it when the pope tells them condoms don’t protect against AIDS.

But much as the media will have you believe otherwise, AIDS isn’t a problem to be relegated to Africa. It was revealed today week that 3% of the population of Washington DC has HIV or AIDS. Something is deemed an epidemic when 1% of the population suffers from it. This is 3%. Three times an epidemic. In Washington DC.

So it’s time for Benedict to take his head out of his ass, and it’s time for the world to realize that what the pope has to say is irrelavent at best and criminal at worst. Not only is the Vatican directly causing the death rate from AIDS to rise, but their views on women and queers incites bigotry, hatred, discrimination, and violence.

Benedict also said something about the Catholic Church being at he forefront of the fight against AIDS. I’m not sure how that’s possible when it bans the use of condoms, which directly increases the spread of HIV/AIDS, not to mention other STDs and unwanted pregnancies. But okay, let’s say it’s true that the Catholic Church at least thinks it’s on the forefront of this fight. How is one of the richest corporations in the world leading the vanguard against the spread of HIV/AIDS? No, not by offering any kind of financial help—by offering “spiritual and moral” help.

That would be like if a group led by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates claimed to be at the “forefront” of the fight against AIDS, but rather than offering any economic support simply said, “Our prayers are with you.”

I know a lot of religious people—a lot of members of the Catholic Church and other religious organizations—do amazing humanitarian work throughout the world. I also know, however, that goodness, ethics, and morality existed long before religion did. And I know that people doing good work for others can and does exist exclusive of religion.

There are many people out there fighting the good fight as we speak. Among them are real Catholics who purport to live a “Christ-like” life (in the sense that Jesus was a good guy) and who know that the Vatican is wrong on this one. You can read about some of them here.

Hopefully people will continue to do the good, rational work that needs to be done and add their voices to the chorus speaking out against the Catholic Church’s archaic stances. People’s lives are at stake.

Anti-intellectualism

A couple of weeks ago, referencing some alleged “pork-barrel spending” in the U.S. omnibus spending bill, John McCain wrote this on Twitter:

“$650,000 for beaver management in North Carolina and Mississippi – how does one manage a beaver?”

It sounds funny—beaver management—tee-hee. Clearly McCain thought that by ridiculing it to the general public, they would also view it as ridiculous pork-barrel spending and therefore view McCain as the gatekeeper of rational spending.

Not only did McCain not pause for a moment to think about what beaver management could be, he didn’t bother to look it up or even inquire about it before belittling it.

This newspaper article from North Carolina explains what beaver management is, and why it’s so important. Turns out, it’s a pretty big deal:

“State and federal wildlife officials claim to have saved nearly $5 million last year in potential flood damage to farms, timber lands, roadways and other infrastructure through its Beaver Management Assistance Program—the same one McCain was making fun of in Washington.”

And this web site has even more details about the damage that beavers, if left to run rampant, can cause. It seems they can cause safety hazards, impeding the structural integrity of roads, railways, and waterways; tree damage (costing $3 to $5 million annually); agricultural damage; and disease (the Centers for Disease Control have recorded 41 outbreaks of parasites that beavers carry).

This kind of uniformed mockery happens all the time, often for the sake of proselytizing. Like when Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele ridiculed the removal of fish passage barriers, also deemed ‘wasteful spending’ in the bill. Again, he not only didn’t take a moment to understand what fish passage barriers might be and why it could be beneficial to remove them, but he didn’t even bother to look it up or inquire about it. It turns out that if fish are prevented from getting where they need to go, then fish populations will decrease. Removing barriers will allow fish to get where they need to go, and therefore propagate and continue to play their part in the food chain and the ecosystem. Oh yeah, and the removal of such barriers creates jobs and more fish, which will…you know…stimulate the economy. Huh. Imagine that.

This reminds me of Sarah Palin mocking fruit fly research during the election campaign, as if scientists were studying what fruit flies like to do in their spare time. She didn’t know what she was talking about, and she didn’t bother to learn about what she was talking about before deriding it. Had she looked it up, she may have discovered that scientific research on fruit flies has led to discoveries in autism and birth defects. One study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine found that a specific protein is required for the connectivity and functionality of nerves, which is a valuable medical breakthrough. They discovered this in fruit flies.

The most recent (and to me the most hilarious) example of mocking what you don’t understand is Bobby Jindal being flummoxed over why the government would want to ‘wastefully’ spend money on volcano monitoring! Although it hardly requires an explanation, here’s a quick one anyway: The money is for a geological survey, which includes volcano monitoring so that geologists can learn about volcanoes and provide warnings of impending eruptions.

I don’t mean to pick on the Republicans (it’s just fun) because this post is really about ignorance and the anti-intellectualism sentiment that seems to be building in society.

It’s okay to not know things; we don’t know something until we know it! There are millions and millions of things I don’t know, but I won’t speak about a topic about which I am uninformed and dupe people into thinking I know what I’m talking about. I’m not intellectually dishonest.

If people don’t have knowledge about a specific topic, then they should not criticize or ridicule it. This is especially true for people who have a platform and/or hold a position of power. People listen to you! Lots of people hear what you say and believe it. After listening to Sarah Palin’s stupid and insensitive trashing of scientific research that could well benefit her developmentally challenged child, people probably repeated her ignorance, thereby misinforming many others.

A more recent example of this is the anti-vaccination crusade, with Jenny McCarthy as its main cheerleader. She and others like her are convincing people of a completely unscientific and false premise—that the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism. It has been disproven time and time again via robust scientific studies, and recently it was revealed that the “scientist” responsible for kicking off the whole conspiracy theory via his “research” was a complete fraud. But people don’t know this. They only hear McCarthy spewing bullshit on Oprah and Ellen, and they conclude that because Jenny McCarthy said it, it must be true. And so more and more parents are refusing to have their kids vaccinated, and we’re already seeing the results of it. Another thing people don’t seem to have knowledge about is the concept of herd immunity. Essentially, the MMR vaccine works for 95% of the population. If the majority of the population (the “herd”) is immunized, then it provides protection to those who are not receptive to the vaccine. So parents are refusing to have their kids vaccinated, and their kids are getting sick. But they’re surviving, so no big deal right? Except that they are passing on their sickness to those who are not receptive to the vaccine—the weak, the elderly, the young, that little girl battling cancer in your son’s class—and they are getting sick and dying. That’s what happens without herd immunity. Jenny McCarthy’s (and others’) ignorance is killing people.

Misinformation can be so hard to correct. Oprah prefers to have pseudoscientists and quacks on her show as opposed to real scientists and medical professionals.

As Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

Here’s another example: People who don’t understand evolution. They will argue against evolution by saying, “If humans evolved from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys?” It sounds like a legitimate question if this is how you think evolution works. It’s not. First of all, humans did not evolve from monkeys. We are closely related to modern apes, which aren’t monkeys. But we didn’t evolve from apes either! Humans and apes share a common ancestor with gorillas and chimpanzees. Evolution is not a line, but a tree with many, many branches. Humans and apes branched off from a common ancestor approximately 7 million years ago. They branched. Into two. Separate branches. Both evolved over time. Separately.

This is a very irksome example of the old truism that “a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.” People are (intentionally in some cases) using misinformation to muddy the waters in order to convert people to their ideology. This is the very definition of intellectual dishonesty.

I don’t resent or belittle people who don’t understand evolution—only those who spew ignorance in the name of their uniformed ideologies. I have no problem with this statement: “I don’t understand evolution so I can’t speak about it.” There, simple as that. I don’t understand calculus, so I can’t speak about that. That doesn’t make me less than someone who does know about calculus, it just makes me unqualified to teach calculus.

For some reason there has been a populist backlash against knowledge and intelligence, often termed “elitism” in the modern political realm (by which they mean “intellectual elitism”). I don’t know when it became more enticing to have the leader of your country be a guy you’d “most like to have a beer with” versus a guy who is really intelligent and makes a fervent effort to understand things. I don’t know of this trend has been reversed, or even stalled, because I still see evidence of anti-intellectualism everywhere I look.

People don’t like a “smarty pants.” Why?

Why isn’t knowledge a good thing? I love learning new things. I am passionate about it, I get excited about it, and I love to share new knowledge (often to the chagrin of my friends who have to endure my explanation over sushi of why cats are attracted to the one person in the room who doesn’t like, or is allergic to, cats).

I don’t resent people who have more knowledge than I do. I don’t hate my friend who has two Masters degrees. I don’t hate my friend who has knowledge of film and television production. I don’t hate my friends who can relieve and/or heal your aches and pains. I don’t hate my friends who can write and perform music, or paint, or sculpt. I don’t hate my friends who understand geology. I don’t hate my friends who are good at math, or basketball, or building things. I don’t hate my friends who understand finance. Why would I?

Why would anyone resent someone for having knowledge they don’t have? You’re considered pretentious or elitist if you espouse knowledge. Why is it pretentious to have knowledge? Everyone has knowledge that other people don’t have. The person who knows about the stock market probably can’t fix a car. The person who can cook an amazing meal without using a recipe probably can’t explain how the brain works. The person who understands politics probably can’t design or construct a building. The person who performs cancer research probably can’t give you a decent haircut.

There is all kinds of knowledge, and it is all important; it should not be hidden, resented, or taken for granted. Why don’t we all start rejoicing in knowledge and put an end to anti-intellectualism? At the same time, let’s stop ridiculing lack of knowledge because, as I said, you don’t know something until you know it. If you don’t know something, look it up in a reliable source. There—now you know it.

Let’s do, however, ridicule those who speak about something from a position of ignorance. It’s one thing to not know something and be honest about your lack of knowledge, but it is quite another to speak about something from a position of authority when you have specious knowledge of it. You could cost people their lives.

Let us proudly proclaim both our knowledge and our ignorance! Saying “I don’t know about that so I can’t speak about it” is much more respectable than propagating dangerous lies, falsehoods, and misinformation. Facts, truth, knowledge, critical thought—these should be the foundations of society.

“Corrective rape” in South Africa to “fix” lesbians

This world we live in, I just don’t know…. I truly have no words. This made me cry:

www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/mar/12/eudy-simelane-corrective-rape-south-africa

POST UPDATE: What is wrong with humanity? Here’s another vile story:

http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/africa/03/04/darfur.rape/index.html?iref=topnews