Thought of the day

Creationist children are raised with a disdain for science.

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In honor of trog69

I post this video in honor of trog69’s comment on Bailey’s Irish Cream. Do watch the whole thing.

Report a quack, get charged with a crime

I just mentioned an incident where a quack ‘doctor’ was selling herbal remedies and other non-procedure procedures to his patients. Here is the full story. (And here is the summary I’m going to use.)

In Kermit, a small Texas town, two nurses at local hospital became concerned about the practices of one of the physicians, Dr. Rolando G. Arafiles, Jr. Among the alleged practices were the improper peddling of herbal medicines to hospital patients, and the performance of (sometimes unorthodox) surgical procedures without the appropriate privileges to do so. Anne Mitchell, RN, the nurse against whom charges are still filed, went to the hospital with her concerns and was fired, an act for which state reprimanded the hospital. Given the lack of response from the hospital, she went to the state medical board. When Dr. Arafiles found out that there was a complaint against him, he went to a local sheriff buddy of his, who tracked down the confidential report to the state medical board, and used the information in it to deduce the identity of the filers.

And then he charged them with a crime.

The crime was some trumped-up malarkey about misuse of information done in bad faith. It’s absolutely infuriating to read about this; some charlatan gets called out for being a charlatan, so he throws a hissy fit and brings down disproportional weight upon the person who is actually right. Do read the whole article to really see how crappy small-town Texas can be.

Fortunately, the trial has concluded.

But after a four-day trial in Andrews, Tex., a state court jury quickly found that the nurse, Anne Mitchell, was not guilty of the third-degree felony charge of “misuse of official information.” Conviction could have carried a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of up to $10,000.

The jury foreman said the panel of six men and six women voted unanimously on the first ballot, and questioned why Mrs. Mitchell had ever been arrested.

Okay, so I want to amend my previous statement: Small town Texas authorities can be pretty awful. The members of the jury were entirely reasonable and rational. Oh, and they didn’t act like infants afterward:

Sheriff Roberts said he was disappointed in the verdict but did not regret the prosecution.

“The defense had to spin this as a reporting issue, that nurses were not going to be able to report bad medical care, and it’s never been that,” he said. “We encourage people to report bad medical care. But I encourage public servants to report it properly.”

She did report it properly, jackass. The only improper action here is from Roberts. He acted on behalf of a friend to ruin someone’s life. He should be removed from his position and prosecuted himself.

Is Scienceblogs going to shutdown PZ?

Will Scienceblogs.com follow in the brilliant footsteps of WordPress.com? When non-doctor doctor Christopher Maloney whined when I called him not a doctor on FTSOS, WordPress shut me down for two days without an explanation (shoot first, ask questions later!). So I wonder if Scienceblogs will do the same thing to PZ Myers?

A doctor in Texas was peddling herbal crap on the side, got reported, and retaliated by charging the whistleblowers with a crime. Oh, well…at least we can console ourselves with the idea that he wasn’t really a doctor, but just a fraud with an M.D.

Whoa, whoa, whoa! He can’t say that a doctor isn’t really a doctor! That’s libel!

Wait.

Wait.

That’s right. It would be moronic to think it was libel. More importantly, PZ noted the guy had a degree and was credentialed under state law, but that that’s irrelevant to a good definition of what a doctor is. It’s almost like I can read basic English! So,

Dear WordPress and non-doctor doctor Christopher Maloney,

If you would like a detailed explanation of how to analyze PZ’s post, please leave a comment below. If you would like a bonus explanation of how this relates to what I said, I will be glad to help you out.

Also, Chris, please stop “treating” patients.

~Yours,
English departments and scientists everywhere

Beating a creationist

It seems that every time a creationist opens his mouth it gets shut up – not because THERE’S A BIG CRAZY CONSPIRACY!, but because creationists hate evidence, hate facts, and hate reality. Get a bunch of creationists together to make a crappy movie and the smackdowns get even better.

The latest Intelligent Design film, called ‘Darwin’s Dilemma’, attempts to examine a problem that vexed poor Charles Darwin in 1859 – the puzzle of what we now call the ‘Cambrian explosion’. As an Oxford palaeontologist who has been working on this problem since 1966, I have been asked for my opinion on the veracity of its claims. Below are outlined some of what I take to be its more laughable misunderstandings.

1. The film makes a familiar mistake. There is a misplaced fixation upon beasts of the Burgess Shale. So antiquated is this view that the screenplay for this film could have been written by teachers in 1954, or even by Mack Sennett at Keystone studios in 1912, just after the Burgess Shale biota was first reported by Walcott. It needs to be remembered that the Burgess Shale appears far too late in the fossil record to tell us much about emergence of animals. Modern data shows that the explosion of modern phyla was beginning by about 545 Ma ago, with forms like Cloudina and Sabellidites. Since the Burgess Shale is a mere 505 Ma old, this gives us palaeontologists some 40 million years to play with. What a gift!

2. A rich fossil record of early animal remains has been discovered from near the end of the Ediacaran period at about 545 Ma to the appearance of calcified trilobites and echinoderms in the Chengjiang biota, some 520 Ma ago. This transitional period, variously known as the Tommotian or Fortunian Stage, contains examples of transitional forms. For example, Halkieria and Maikhanella are probable stem group ‘molluscs’ with multi-element shells; Eccentrotheca and Camenella are taken to be stem group ‘brachiopods’ with multi-element shells. Dozens of scientists have been writing about these materials in recent years. Some 20 million years of evolution has thereby been ignored. Or censored.

3. The first great mass extinction took place about 520 million years ago, during the Botomian and Toyonian Stages – well before the Burgess Shale. A rich diversity of reef building animals disappeared forever. These included archaeocyathan sponges and many small shelly fossils. But there is no mention of this. Did the film producers suffer amnesia at this point in the story? Or did that great prankster – the Intelligent Designer – make some big mistakes? If so, why call Her intelligent?

4. The film makes another common mistake. When Darwin referred to the need for many small steps in evolution, he did not say whether these steps had to be either fast or slow. Small steps can be made very quickly indeed – as with virus evolution today.

5. The film appears to have been shot within the walls of Cambridge University UK, with interviews taking place in the Sedgwick Museum, or around colleges such as St John’s and King’s College. Some think they perceive some blue highlights around the faces here, suggesting blue-screen shots in which the Cambridge settings have been imposed later. Whether real or false, this gives to the film a wholly spurious authority; rhe impression of a forgery.

For those interested, some of these evolutionary developments can be followed in my recent book on Darwin’s Dilemma, called Darwin’s Lost World (OUP, 2009), which takes the reader back from the Burgess Shale to the earliest multicellular organisms. Research into this fascinating interval remains wide open and is only just beginning. The Cambrian explosion was a real and entirely natural event, as was the wave of extinctions that followed. What a wonderful world!