This blog suspended until further notice

Posted in Uncategorized on August 4, 2008 by moonflake

I’m going to admit the obvious: that other responsibilities (such as the job that pays me cashy money) prevent me from keeping up with blogging. The content of these posts takes a lot of research, and I simply don’t have the time or the energy to do it any justice.  Therefore it is with a sad heart that I bid you farewell for now. Thank you to those who have been faithful companions on this journey – your comments,  insights and support have been valued more than you may know.

Sapere aude, friends.

The Philadelphia Experiment

Posted in Colleagues/Work, Conspiracy Theories, Ufology on May 5, 2008 by moonflake

Last week a colleague asked me if I knew about the Philadelphia Experiment, and admitted that he thought it might actually have happened. Frankly, aside from seeing the movie many many years ago, I had not really done much digging into this particular conspiracy theory. I didn’t really need much in the way of exact or detailed knowledge of the story to form the conclusion that it was rubbish – what I know of physics is more than enough. But suffice to say that my interest was peaked, so here is the story of the hoax that became known as the Philadelphia Experiment.

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Expelled should be

Posted in Stupidity on May 2, 2008 by moonflake

There’s been a lot of buzz around the new shockumentry “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”. Wikipedia has a fairly well referenced account of the events so far, but I’ll summarize briefly for those who may not have been following the debacle.

The movie has worn many faces in its journey so far: it claims to be a documentary about how Big Science has been expelling its members should they show any inclination towards believing Intelligent Design. It ends up being a rabid anti-evolution propagana engine whose trump card involves blaming all evolutionary biologists for the Holocaust. But once upon a time, for as long as it was convenient to fool a few big names into giving interviews, it was masquerading as a little film called “Crossroads”, which was supposedy about investigating why creationists still cling to their beliefs about evolutionary theory in the face of overwhelming evidence. Mainstream critics think it is a poorly-made, amateurish attempt at filmmaking, scientists think it’s a pack of lies, and the christians think it’s Oscar material.

Ignoring all the deviations into fantasy, the core premise is basically this: they bring forward a number of people who have recently claimed to have been ‘expelled’ by Big Science because of their beliefs. What we really have is a volunteer editor who pulled a last-day-on-the-job fast one by slipping an ID paper past his journal’s review process, a sub-par astronomy professor who failed in his tenure application because his research output was not up to scratch, a teacher whose contract was not renewed after several students lodged complaints about her, a professor whose university wanted him to make some changes to his website before they would continue to provide him with free hosting for it, a journalist who suffered apparently nothing as result of her poorly-researched articles, and a pro-ID advocate who had some people say some mean things about him on the internet.

Given that this content doesn’t exactly make for stirring stuff, it’s no wonder that the Expelled team had to jazz things up a bit. But let’s assume for just a minute that they didn’t have to lie and resort to hysterical theatrics to draw this pity party out into a feature-length film. Let’s assume for a moment that they could find even one, just one, person who had legitimately been fired from their job as a scientist or educator as a result of their pro-ID stance, and with an otherwise sterling and exemplary record. What I want to know is, even in that situation, would Big Science be wrong?

Seriously, let me put it a few different ways so that you can see what I mean. Would we be suprised at any of these headlines:

  • Biology teacher fired for advocating Stork Theory
  • NSF denies astronomer funding for Sun Sign Astrology research
  • National Geographic editor ridiculed by colleagues after slipping pro-Flat Earth article into print
  • Doctor “shocked” by online response after blog post encouraging the medical establishment to study The Force
  • Cambridge professor ordered to remove his Raelian Research Center page from the university website and return funding received from the Raelians
  • Journalist’s integrity questioned after article claiming “There was no Holocaust”

Can you imagine your child coming home from school and telling you that their teacher was teaching them how to cast spells and hexes, and they needed a newt for homework? You’d be on the phone to the school in a jiffy. What would follow may be summarized by a brief animation of the becloacked hag being booted out of the school and her broomstick following swiftly after. No one would raise an eyebrow, except perhaps a few velvet-clad, Anne Rice-reading pagans protesting something about white magic. Certainly no one would make a movie about how advocates of Witchcraft are being expelled from schools across the country by Big Education, and it’s Salem all over again and the principal is personally responsible for the Inquisition (cleverly intercut with scenes from Joan of Arc, for which they are swiftly sued by Luc Besson).

The whole thing is ludicrous. Ben Stein may as well have made a movie about how second-rate hacks at the denoument of their careers are making fools of themselves in cinemas across the country, and being unjustly harrassed by Big Critics.

Boy Corrects NASA. Man bites dog. Science journalism fails.

Posted in Science, Stupidity on April 21, 2008 by moonflake

In yet another international whoops for science journalism, a fantastic hoax has been spread around the globe thanks to Agence France-Presse getting their foot royally wedged in their mouth.

According to AFP, and parrotted around the world:

A 13-year-old German schoolboy corrected Nasa’s estimates on the chances of an asteroid colliding with the Earth, a German newspaper reported on Tuesday, after spotting the boffins had miscalculated.

Nico Marquardt used telescopic findings from the Institute of Astrophysics in Potsdam to calculate that there is a one-in-450 chance that the Apophis asteroid will collide with Earth, the Potsdamer Neuerster Nachrichten reported.

Nasa had previously estimated the chances at only one in 45 000, but told its sister organisation, the European Space Agency, that the young whizz kid had got it right.

Here’s NASA’s press release refuting the stupid story. And here’s a blogger who actually bothered to contact NASA’s NEO department, and the German scientist mentioned in the article. Yet again, the international press leaps at your typical ‘man bites dog’ story with gay abandon and a wanton disregard for the facts. Since when did it become ‘journalism’ to simply take whatever Reuters or Associated Press or AFP spits out of their papermill and repeate it verbatim as if you actually did some work? And how does a journalistic giant like AFP spew out such a pile of garbage without checking the facts themselves? Not a single person along this sad, sad trail of journalistic failure bothered to contact anyone involved, until the blogosphere up and schooled them yet again. 

I just have two words for every paper that perpetuated this ridiculous piece: EPIC FAIL.

An Introduction to Homeopathy: Part 2

Posted in Alternative Medicine on April 21, 2008 by moonflake

In Part 1 of this article, we took a look at the origins of homeopathy and the formulation of its theories, which should have alerted almost any reader to the possibility that the theory of homeopathy just doesn’t hold water. However, a surprising number of homeopathy proponents are utterly unaware of this history, just as many of us may be unaware of the history of most of the conventional medications we take for granted. As such, homeopaths will often attempt to justify why or how their favourite remedy works, with arguments that are blind to its origins. In Part 2, we’ll take a look at some of these.

As a caveat, this is only an introduction, so I will merely be touching on some of the arguments. I would greatly encourage further reading on the topic.

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Circumcision ‘death season’ claims more lives

Posted in South Africa on April 1, 2008 by moonflake

Four more boys died this month as a result of traditional initiation rituals in the Eastern Cape, adding to the three boys in December and another earlier this month. As usual, the boys succumbed to the poor conditions of ‘illegal’ initiation schools operating outside the boundaries of hygiene and proper medical controls… in other words, traditionally.

Thanks to a strong effort by the provincial health department, the death toll is down from an average of 24 over the last three years. But it’s not just death that youths have to worry about: every year a number of boys end up having their penises amputated after botched circumcisions, and an unknown number will contract AIDS when the same blade is used on one boy after another. All so that they may be considered to be adults, a state which the mere passing of time bequeaths upon the rest of us in due course and without the prerequisite of genital mutilation.

Yet another point to raise when people ask you “what’s the harm?”

An Introduction to Homeopathy: Part I

Posted in Alternative Medicine on March 29, 2008 by moonflake

The first time I heard about homeopathy was when my sister asserted that she was planning to become a homeopathic doctor. As with many of my sister’s grand plans for life, this came to precisely nothing, but it got me wondering what exactly homeopathy was. The truth of it surprised me, no less so because it seems so prevalent on pharmacy shelves and so easily accepted by the average consumer. Many assume it’s simply a form of ‘natural medicine’ or ‘traditional healing’, but the facts may be surprising even to those who think they know a little about it.

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