Thought of the day

Deuteronomy 18:20

But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

This wasn’t hard to find. Of course, I could have just used a search engine for nasty biblical passages, but I figured going to Biblegateway.com and searching Deuteronomy or Leviticus at random would yield the desired result. I was right.

Anyway. Remember all these nasty things God told people to do? And recall how people today excuse their particular, cultural sky fairy by saying that certain parts of the Old Testament only reflect the culture at the time? Yeah. God still told people to do awful things. So unless believers want to start arguing for moral relativism – and that’s exactly what they’re doing, whether they admit it/like it or not – then I would suggest they stop with the implicit claims that immoral acts of the past are excusable because they were carried out in a different cultural.

How to be a sports fan

Every time the New England Patriots or the Boston Red Sox are in the limelight, I always see negative Facebook status updates blasting my feed. Sometimes people even blast the Celtics, but I like to think I don’t tend to notice when that happens because people realize basketball is an awful sport run by an even more awful organization at the pro level. (As for the Boston Bruins, well, come on. Most people think hockey is either boring or just fighting. No one really cares about seeing constant action, what with how the hugely successful NFL and NBA are horribly run today – flag, flag, time-out, time-out, flag, gun fight, flag, time-out, dog fight, flag, time-out, time-out, TV time-out!)

Anyway. The reason this all stands out to me is that I’m from Maine. I’m a New Englander. And so are most of my friends. So I expect to see a heavy bias towards New England teams. But instead I have a Dallas fan, apparently Jets fans, Yankees fans, and sometimes just anti-New England teams fans. But are most of these people really good sports fans?

I’ve got to say no. And I think a recent comment in my feed from one real sports fan (who was at Disney World at the time) to another sums it all up:

I saw a guy here with a Lakers shirt, Yankees hat, and a Penguins pin. I wanted to ask if he liked the bandwagon ride at Disney.

That’s what most of these “fans” are: riders on the bandwagon. Very rarely do I see somebody making a spring training status update about how the Oakland A’s or Seattle Mariners are looking in the upcoming season. No, instead I just see people talking about all the teams that have either historically been great or that have recently been great. Hell, of the few hockey fans on my friends list, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a Red Wings base out there – despite no one on my list being from Detroit.

Now, if there was a Red Wings base on my friends list and it was composed of people from near Detroit, it would be a little annoying, but it would also be so refreshing. Finally, some people who give a damn about their location. Because, really, that is the most appropriate basis for becoming a fan. That doesn’t mean everyone from Maine needs to be a Bruins fan or a Red Sox fan. I grew up with a die-hard Yankees lover. But his whole family was from New York. And then he went to NYU. And he loves New York City. I can accept that he likes an organization of assholes. But what does everyone else have to say? I can tell you what: nothing. They aren’t really fans of an organization; they’re just riding the bandwagon. (The worst are the people who like New York teams with no connection to the area. Come on, you jackholes. Of course those are going to historically be the best teams. They have the biggest audience from which to draw, and therefore the most money to spend on the best players. Don’t act like the Yankees are some sort of geniuses when they sign a Teixeira or a Sabathia.)

And yes, some questions spring from the location criteria. What about places with a couple of teams or people who live roughly equal distance from areas with teams? Is it okay to jump on the bandwagon then? Really? You’re asking that? NO. You never jump on the bandwagon. You pick a team based on some rational criteria. For instance, the Mets or the Yankees? Go with which league you like better. Since I don’t like boring baseball that gives an unfair advantage to the pitcher, thereby making every single pitching record just a little hollow, I tend to go with the American League and its designated hitter. But to each his own.

When it comes down to it, I find it impossible to respect a sports fan who praises some team half way across the country simply because that team has done or is doing well.

A basic of science

I often find myself reminded of a post I made on just the third day in the life of FTSOS. It was about a media report on a recent study that said a certain pesticide found in anti-bacterial soaps may actually contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance by bacteria. It was a fine study, but it was far from conclusive. (The news article wasn’t so cautious in its assertions.) Perhaps it would be best if people only used regular old soap, what with that not really qualifying as a real sacrifice, but as for the science, I was far from ready to say that that pesticide was a contributor to antibiotic resistance among bacteria in any significant way in the given environment.

And the reason is quite simple: science does not rely upon individual studies. Of course, we may be able to point back to the results from one lab or one group of researchers as published in a single study as the linchpin that opened up a whole new branch of study. But that doesn’t mean we believe that paper as being conclusive on its own. It only works when we have a body of evidence. In most cases that means a number of studies looking at the same or a similar problem and coming to the same or very similar conclusions. For a single paper that proves itself a linchpin, that means we need a number of other studies which use its findings as their basis. For instance, green fluorescent protein, or GFP, was shown to work as a marker of gene expression in a pretty definitive study. It has about a bajillion (rough estimate) other studies on it, but no one needed to reproduce the study which won one research team the Nobel Prize in chemistry. But people did use that study as a basis for about a gagillion (rough estimate again) studies. If the original study was wrong or faked or otherwise limited, we would be well aware of that by now because of all those subsequent studies. That is one way to compose a body of evidence.

To put this another way, take the studies on intercessory prayer and its efficacy. We have some that show positive results. Look, God is here to help! But then we have others that show negative results. Oh, no! God must be angry! And then we have a whole bunch which shows a null result. Uh…God must be indifferent. So how do we interpret these results?

Remember, we need to be looking at the evidence as a body. As one of those intolerant, bigoted, hate-filled evilutionist atheists, I would find it humorous if prayer gave negative health results. But I don’t get to have that laugh. Instead, I have to conclude that prayer has no detectable effect on health. None of the studies are conclusive; they suffer from bias, or are statistically insignificant in either direction, or just show a blatant null result. The most likely conclusion is that prayer does nothing. No study has convinced me otherwise, and most of the studies have shown prayer to be inconsequential to the well being of people anyway.

What I hope this post enables readers to do is recognize a fundamental aspect of how science works so that next time they see a study which concludes a link between this or that, they know what to think. That doesn’t mean it is okay to just dismiss a non-bias confirming study (i.e., a study that doesn’t give a result one likes). It just means that it is always necessary to look at the entire body of evidence before drawing a conclusion.