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Andrew Wakefield: Faking His Data? 11 Feb 2009

Posted by Jessa in Non-Science, Science.
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Even if you might not know Andrew Wakefield by name, chances are you have heard of his work. He is the man who almost single-handedly started the current anti-vaccination scare.

A brief history: In 1998, he published a paper in the British medical journal The Lancet that claimed to have discovered a link between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism. The study caused a sensation among parents of autistic children, and has led to a dramatic decrease in childhood vaccination in England:

Despite involving just a dozen children, the 1998 paper’s impact was extraordinary. After its publication, rates of inoculation fell from 92% to below 80%. Populations acquire “herd immunity” from measles when more than 95% of people have been vaccinated.

The “herd immunity” is the important part.  In any population, there are some individuals who cannot be vaccinated for a variety of reasons.  These people rely on high vaccination rates among their neighbors to keep the disease from spreading among a population and ultimately to them.  When vaccination rates fall too low, this “herd immunity” disappears, and the disease reappears.  Unfortunately, such an outcome has occurred:

Last week official figures showed that 1,348 confirmed cases of measles in England and Wales were reported last year, compared with 56 in 1998. Two children have died of the disease.

The worst part about this is that Andrew Wakefield may have faked his data:

The research was published in February 1998 in an article in The Lancet medical journal. It claimed that the families of eight out of 12 children attending a routine clinic at the hospital had blamed MMR for their autism, and said that problems came on within days of the jab. The team also claimed to have discovered a new inflammatory bowel disease underlying the children’s conditions.

However, our investigation, confirmed by evidence presented to the General Medical Council (GMC), reveals that: In most of the 12 cases, the children’s ailments as described in The Lancet were different from their hospital and GP records. Although the research paper claimed that problems came on within days of the jab, in only one case did medical records suggest this was true, and in many of the cases medical concerns had been raised before the children were vaccinated. Hospital pathologists, looking for inflammatory bowel disease, reported in the majority of cases that the gut was normal. This was then reviewed and the Lancet paper showed them as abnormal.

If this is true, it’s unconscionable and horrifying.

For a more detailed description of events, go here.

Shorter DI: PLEEEEASE BUY OUR DVD! 11 Sep 2008

Posted by Jessa in Non-Science, Religion.
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Ah, the Discovery Institute.  A never-ending source of lulz.

Help Us Get Lawmakers Expelled

Dear friends,

We’re excited to be able to tell you that on October 21st Expelled: No Intelligence Allow, starring Ben Stein, will be released on DVD. In Expelled, Stein brilliantly exposed the widespread persecution of scientists and educators who are pursuing legitimate science that challenges Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Rush Limbaugh called the movie “powerful” and “fabulous” and said Stein’s “interviews with some of the professors who espouse Darwinism are literally shocking.”

“It is surely the best thing ever done on this issue, in any medium,” wrote journalist Tom Bethell in the American Spectator. “At moments it brought tears of joy to my eyes. I have written about this controversy for over 30 years and by the movie’s end I felt that those of us who have insisted that Darwinism is a sorry mess and that life surely was designed are going to prevail.”

Expelled had one of biggest opening weekends ever for a documentary film and is one the top 5 all time most successful political documentaries ever produced. Now that it is coming out on DVD we want it to be even more successful. We want it to be possible for even more people to see this important film.

To accomplish that we need your assistance and have two options for you to consider…

First We would like to widely distribute the DVD to key policy makers, opinion makers and leaders throughout the country. Such distribution takes more money than we have budget for right now. So, we’re looking for donations to help underwrite the cost of sending the DVD to these individuals. Donations of any amount are welcome. The cost of purchasing and distributing one DVD is about $25, so your donation of $100 will help us to send 4 DVDs. We want to send out as many DVDs as possible Click here to donate now .Second If you run a church or school bookstore and would like to stock Expelled we can help you get a special wholesale price, if you pre-order 25 copies or more. By ordering together in quantity we may be able to get the cost per DVD reduced up to 50% off of the retail price. This is a limited one time offer and we estimate the cost of 25 DVDs to be $300, plus shipping. For bulk orders contact us at the e-mail or phone number below.

We have to move quickly to guarantee that the costs don’t go up. The DVD is going into production soon, so orders must be placed and paid for by Wednesday, Sept. 17th. Please contact Janine Dixon at jdixon@discovery.org, (206) 292-0401 x108 to start the order process.

Thank you for your support,

Robert Crowther
Director of Communications
Center for Science Culture

Where to begin?  That the title of the e-mail implies that they want to expel lawmakers?  That they couldn’t even get the name of the film right? That Rush Limbaugh thought the movie was “FAB-u-LOUS”, or the mental image of him being “literally shocked”?

And why so expensive?  $25 per DVD? $12 if bought in bulk?  Even at $12, it’s about $11.99 overpriced.


Watch Out, Astronomy. You’re Next. 22 Jun 2008

Posted by Jessa in Humor, Non-Science.
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Ben Stein on CNN 18 Apr 2008

Posted by Jessa in Non-Science, Science.
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I just got finished watching Wolf Blitzer interview Ben Stein. Of course, he is promoting Expelled, which opens today.

During the interview, he stressed several times that he believes in evolution. Well, some parts of it. Like “microevolution”, a creationist-coined term that allows them to avoid being tripped up by readily-observable examples of evolution such as the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. “Macroevolution”? Not so much.

His big problem with evolution? It’s not the ultimate answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything:

Evolutionism, as taught by Darwinism, has nothing – nothing – to say about how life originated. Has nothing to say about how the governing principles in the universe – gravity, thermodynamics, motion, fluid motion – how any of those originated. It’s…it’s got some gigantic missing pieces.

So the theory of evolution is wrong because it doesn’t explain things that it was never meant to explain. Evolution is an attempt to explain how the diversity of life on Earth arose. Issues of how life began in the first place, how gravity works, or how the universe began are way outside the scope of the theory of evolution. Apparently Ben is unaware that these issues are being examined under other theories. You know, little-known theories like abiogenesis, the theory of relativity, and the Big Bang theory. Perhaps you’ve heard of them in passing, Mr. Stein?

Ben Stein’s statement shows that he clearly has little understanding about what the theory of evolution actually says, since he can’t even figure out exactly what it is supposed to explain. Which is really pathetic, considering that he just spent months working on a movie about it.

I guess Ben Stein doesn’t accept the explanation of why the grass is green either because it doesn’t explain how birds fly.

Side note: I noticed that one of the clips showing behind Ben during the interview was the animation that was allegedly plagiarized. Not the smartest move.

UPDATE:  I have received several e-mails accusing me of “quote mining“.  The transcript of the entire interview can be found here – you can judge for yourself if the quote was taken out of context.

Bwahahaha! 20 Mar 2008

Posted by Jessa in Non-Religion, Non-Science, Religion, Science.
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PZ Myers shares a delicious bit of irony.

It seems that he was specifically barred, on threat of arrest, from attending an advance screening of Expelled. Expelled from Expelled!

But that’s not the best part:

I’m still laughing though. You don’t know how hilarious this is. Not only is it the extreme hypocrisy of being expelled from their Expelled movie, but there’s another layer of amusement. Deep, belly laugh funny. Yeah, I’d be rolling around on the floor right now, if I weren’t so dang dignified.

You see … well, have you ever heard of a sabot? It’s a kind of sleeve or lightweight carrier used to surround a piece of munition fired from a gun. It isn’t the actually load intended to strike the target, but may even be discarded as it leaves the barrel.

I’m a kind of sabot right now.

They singled me out and evicted me, but they didn’t notice my guest. They let him go in escorted by my wife and daughter. I guess they didn’t recognize him. My guest was …

Richard Dawkins.

He’s in the theater right now, watching their movie.


Expelled Security “Breech” 27 Feb 2008

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OH NOES! The makers of Expelled are hopping mad that someone “snuck in” to a private screening and then wrote a negative review of the movie.

We already had our first security breech [sic] and are asking YOU now for your support to stand up for EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed. Hosted by Ben Stein, EXPELLED contains a critical message at a critical time. As an underdog in Hollywood right now, we need your support.

Recently Robert Moore, a film critic from The Orlando Sentinel pretending to be a minister, snuck into a private screening, did not sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement, and criticized the film the next day in his article.

Moore compared Stein, who is Jewish, to Holocaust Deniers and charge that Stein’s linking of Darwinism to the Holocaust was “despicable.” Stein states, “The only thing I find despicable is when reporters sneak into screenings by pretending to be ministers. This is a new low even for liberal reporters.”

That’s rich. I re-read the review, and it states that the reviewer received an e-mail invitation to the screening. The screening was tailored for a receptive audience of ministers, but the review does not give any indication that the reviewer was “pretending to be a minister”. That the producers let someone who hadn’t signed and NDA see the movie is their fault, not the reviewer’s. It’s not a security breach.

What pegs my irony meter is that these guys are throwing a hissy fit that someone might have misrepresented themselves to get into a screening. To refresh your memory, these are the same folks that obtained several of their interviews for the movie by misrepresenting their intentions.

Hat tip: Pharyngula

Those Pesky One-Sided Facts 13 Feb 2008

Posted by Jessa in Non-Science, Science.
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The Florida State Board of Education is set to vote next week on new standards that would require teaching evolution in public schools. Predictably, this has stirred up a lot of opposition. There were over 10,000 comments on the proposed standards, many of them critical of the plan.

One of my favorite comments, as published by the Orlando Sentinel:

“I have no problem with them hearing about evolution. I just don’t want them to hear a one-sided fact,” said LeVon Pettis, a Panhandle father who may look for private schools for his daughters if the standards are adopted as is.

One-sided facts? This is obviously news to Mr. Pettis, but facts don’t have sides. They’re not liberal or conservative, religious or irreligious, bad or good. They just are. Your interpretation of them may be one-sided, or you may use them to bolster a one-sided opinion, but don’t confuse such an action with the facts themselves.

P.S. Here’s another gem from the webcast of the public comment section of last week’s meeting:

Now I have in my hand an orange. I was about to eat this orange yesterday, but before I did I sat down and read about this evolution stuff. I learned that this orange is actually my first cousin. I didn’t want to eat the orange no more. So now I’m going to give it to you people on the committee, and you can eat it if you want. But if you do decide to eat it, it shows that you don’t believe in this evolution either. And we shouldn’t be teaching our kids something no one believes.

Wow. I don’t think I could even make up a statement as ridiculous as that.

Huckabee and Evolution 10 Feb 2008

Posted by Jessa in Non-Science, Politics, Religion, Science.
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I just came across this slightly old post from Wired: Evolution Not ‘Just a Theory’, and Yes, Huckabee It Does Matter. It’s an interesting read, and the comments are quite entertaining.

More Discovery Institute Shenanigans 05 Feb 2008

Posted by Jessa in Non-Science, Science.
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Casey Luskin has a new post up where he discusses a paper in PLoS Biology. While his ability to totally misrepresent the point of the paper is not surprising, his post is causing a huge furor in the scientific blogosphere with the use of “Blogging About Peer-Reviewed Research” icon.

For those not familiar with the BPR3 effort, it’s a way for bloggers to tag entries that discuss papers that appear in the literature. What’s great about this effort is that it makes it easy for an interested reader to find out what people are saying about a particular article.

In order to use the BPR3 icon, one must register the site with researchblogging.org and follow a few simple guidelines when posting. Guess how many of these instructions were followed by Casey? If you guessed zero, you get nothing. Not because you’re wrong, but because the choice was obvious.

Instead, Casey copied the icon to the DI’s website and posted it without any link back to researchblogging.org. I’m guessing that he didn’t bother to ask permission to copy the icon, since the DI has been shown to be a bit fuzzy on the whole copyright thing.

But of course, the DI isn’t really interested in becoming engaged in thoughtful scientific debate. What they want to do is to give themselves a veneer of intellectual credibility for the benefit of their credulous followers. I’m guessing they left out the link so that none of their flock strays out of their tightly-controlled propaganda machine.

Of course, the post has been a source of discussion on BPR3. The general consensus is that (surprise!) the post fails to meet both the letter and/or the spirit of several of the guidelines.

I’m sure that Casey will be rectifying this situation promptly. And by “rectifying”, I mean “whining about”. One thing that the DI fellows are highly skilled at is whining.

UPDATE: Mr. Luskin has responded.

Orlando Sentinel Reviews “Expelled” 03 Feb 2008

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Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel has posted his review of Ben Stein’s “Expelled”, and he’s not impressed:

How do you re-package that tried, untested and untestable faith-without-facts warhorse, “Creationism” after its nearly-annual beat-down by an increasingly exasperated scientific community?

After you’ve tried renaming it “Intelligent Design,” I mean.

With comedy. Mock your “Darwinist” foes the way comics, thinkers, scientists and educated people everywhere have been mocking creationism since Scopes took that monkey off our back.

Enjoy some of the “entertainment” for yourself: