Thought of the day

I’ve never even come close to watching an episode of LOST. I’m glad. It looks looked like a shitty show.

Red Dead Redemption

I finally broke down and got a 360. I have no idea how Ebert could be so ignorant. This is nothing but art.

How science has already tested the assertions of supernatural faith

Via Jerry Coyne:

* The earth was suddenly created, complete with all its species, 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. This was falsified by science. The falsification likewise goes for other religions’ creation myths, like those of Hindus and the Inuits.
* God put the earth at the center of the solar system and the universe. Also falsified.
* God is both omnipotent and benevolent. Falsified by the data.
* All humans descend from Adam and Eve, who also lived a few thousand years ago. Falsified by genetic data.
* Praying for sick people makes them better. Falsified by the intercessory prayer study.
* People who lived in the past can be reincarnated as modern people, complete with their earlier memories. Investigation has shown no evidence for this.
* Jonah was swallowed and regurgitated by a giant fish (or whale). Probably impossible; nobody has survived such an occurrence.
* God confounded all the languages at once at the Tower of Babel. False: languages diverged gradually from common ancestors.
* Tribes colonized North America from the Tower of Babel several thousand years ago. (Book of Mormon). No evidence.
* Faith by itself can cure dire diseases and medical conditions, which result not from organic conditions but from imperfect belief. (Christian Science). No evidence for such faith healing.
* U.S. soldiers will return to South Pacific islands bearing wonderful goods for the inhabitants. False: won’t happen.

Don’t forget water-to-wine and virgin births. Of course, we haven’t given David Blaine a crack at these magic tricks yet.

The most important fact about Venter’s achievement

If not the most important fact about what Craig Venter did is not that it raises ethical questions or anything like that (the questions are overblown anyway). Instead, it’s that what he did was a massive technical feat. It’s long, long, long been known that what he did was possible in theory. Everyone expected it to work. The problem was in making it work. That side of the problem came with different expectations. Almost certainly someday, yes, we ought to be able to synthesize a genome and insert it into a cell, but today? Could Venter’s team do it successfully using such a length of base pairs? The answer is yes, but that wasn’t always clear.

While I’m at it I suppose I can point out two more huge facts: first, the organism has no parents. It was not conceived sexually or replicated asexually. It is a product of pure chemistry, and that tells us something about the cell. Second, this achievement means we can go into a computer, change a few amino acids, and come up with completely different gene products. The first application may well be for industrial use (wouldn’t it be great to produce bacteria that just love to eat up oil spills?). I suspect another major application will somehow involve cancer treatment. The creation of an enzyme which makes it more difficult for cancer to recruit blood vessels (angiogenesis) or which reduces some other product cancer brings about for its own perpetuation may be the next big revolution in the so-called “War on Cancer”.

Facebook’s continued failed privacy policies

It’s long been known that Facebook is really bad with its privacy policies. Apparently they’ve forgotten about all the issues MySpace had with sex offenders finding whoever they wanted.

If you don’t spend your days glued to tech blogs, you might not know about the latest trend among hipster techies: quitting Facebook. These folks, including a bunch of Google engineers, are bailing out because Facebook just changed its rules so that much of your personal profile information, including where you work, what music you like, and where you went to school, now gets made public by default. Some info is even shared with companies that are special partners of Facebook, like Yelp, Pandora, and Microsoft. And while there are ways to dial back on some of this by tinkering with your privacy settings, it’s tricky to figure out—intentionally so, according to cynics.

The big-wigs are scampering to lie their asses off – to no one’s surprise – but this is all so obvious. Facebook wants to make more money, fuck its users, and fellate all the companies that are willing to give them money. They have no concern over privacy or the safety of its users. They want more money. That is it.

Christopher Maloney responds

Maloney has responded to my complaint about his ‘practice’. I would gladly post it, but I’ve read some vaguely worded confidentiality information in relation to all the documents I have. I presume it pertains to the state, not me, but I’m going to side with caution. Besides, anyone can probably guess roughly what he has said. I will, however, mention that using one’s own mug as part of a letterhead isn’t the most snazzy or humble looking thing I’ve ever seen on a piece of paper.

Once I offer my response and Maloney becomes an agenda item at a board meeting, I will make everything public. And really, that’s the point. I have my fair doubts that anything direct will come of all this. After all, the State of Maine has already given naturopaths far more than they deserve as it is. (If only we could take after the states that have explicitly made their dangerous malarkey illegal. Sigh.) However, I am hopeful I can bring attention to the issue. I think that’s the key in fighting these people. For instance, take chiropractors. They’re basically quacks (sometimes with limited, legitimate physical therapy training – but usually not). Until a few years ago, even I thought they were honest practitioners with something medically valuable to offer. But then PZ Myers and others went out of their way to point out the quackery of these people. That helped to make me aware and completely change my perspective of chiropractors, thus saving me money and hurting their business scams. The same has to be done with naturopaths and most other alt-med people. Like I’ve said before, even my tiny campaign for the well-being of Augusta residents has probably resulted in preventing Maloney from writing more letters to the editor.

Now if Mainers can just get together and outright ban naturopaths, the state might be a safer place.