2010: FTSOS in review, October to December

This is the fourth and final installment in the 2010 review of FTSOS. See the other three here and here and here.

October:
The most important post I think I have ever made was the one about Tyler Clementi. He was the Rutgers student who was outed as gay by his roommate. As a result – and as a result of a bigoted society – he killed himself. His death was an unnecessary tragedy that ought to bring shame to anyone who has ever voted against civil rights for gays or anyone who has ever made one moment of a gay person’s life more difficult directly because that person was gay.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so it was disconcerting to read that a few high school refs were being threatened with punishment for trying to support breast cancer research. They wore some pink whistles during football playoff games in order to raise awareness; they were later told they were in violation of some petty dress code and therefore may be facing suspension – including suspension of the pay they had planned to donate to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. After the blogosphere erupted, the organization that oversees refs in that area (Washington state) backed down.

I also went to some length to explain a few basic things about religion that conflict with science. Miracles, directed evolution, intercessory prayer, and the belief that faith is a virtue are all things which science rejects. It simply isn’t possible for someone to hold belief in any of those things and also logically claim he has no conflict with science.

November:
This was the month the board which oversees local quack Christopher Maloney agreed with me that by not referring to himself as a naturopathic doctor, he was creating confusion; people might think of him as a real doctor. Except for when he insists on putting himself in the spotlight or when there is a special occasion (such as this), I consider the issue he created to be done. He lost.

In this month I used the Socratic Method to explain our likely basis for morality. I largely pointed to our common ancestry and the obvious survival benefits that cooperation offers. I also talked about why we ought to act certain ways. We all use ultimately subjective reasoning, and that’s okay: Most of us share a number of values inherent in our nature. We use these values as our common basis for saying what is right or wrong. It’s sort of like a stand-in for objectivity. And we all have it.

I also used Edwin Hubble’s calculations for the age of the Universe to demonstrate a key point about science. One of the most enduring and annoying criticisms of science by people poorly versed in the sciences is that the practice has a history of being wrong. If it has been wrong about so many things in the past, why should anyone believe it now? Except science really doesn’t have the history everyone seems to think it does. The issue is with poor or limited data (such as what Hubble had). The scientific method actually has no limitations in and of itself. The limits come from our own minds.

I also discussed a paper from Nature which a number of creationists butchered. My focus was a particular creationist familiar to FTSOS readers, but a quick search at the time showed that a whole slew of creationists had fundamentally misunderstood the paper. This is understandable since it is unlikely any of them even read the paper (not that they would be able to understand most of it anyway), merely taking their cues from other creationists. In short, the paper was a study of how alleles become fixed in asexual populations versus sexually reproducing populations . In the former, alleles, if they are particularly advantageous, tend to spread through populations rapidly, quickly becoming fixed. But in drosophila, researchers found that for alleles to spread and become important, fixation was not necessarily required. Alleles act in much more complicated systems in sexually reproducing populations than in asexual organisms, so the way their frequency rises or falls is also more complicated.

December:
Since I mentioned FTSOS hitting the arbitrary number of 100,000 hits in an earlier installment of this review, I suppose I will also mention that it hit 200,000 hits in December. There isn’t much more to add to this, though, is there?

In a more significant post, I pointed out that the Catholic Church thinks (probably without realizing it) that Double Effect is wrong. The Church stripped a hospital in Arizona of its affiliation because the hospital made the correct choice to save a woman’s life at the expense of the not-a-human-being fetus she was carrying. This is pretty much the example textbooks give in order to illustrate the very concept of Double Effect.

I also wrote about a local (real) doctor who supports some quackery. Dustin Sulak is from Hallowell, Maine and he has been making a living making out marijuana prescriptions. That’s all fine and dandy (and I’m sure he is being responsible with his power), but he also supports Reiki. That whole ‘field’ is just a bunch of malarkey that has no place in medicine. I find it unfortunate that a perfectly qualified medical professional would lend credence to something so obviously made-up like that.

Finally, I lamented the fact that Republicans were holding up three extremely important bills this month. All three – the repeal of DADT, the New START treaty, and the 9/11 First Responders health care bill – were eventually passed or ratified. The whole hub-bub was a political creation: the Republicans want to embarrass the President, not get anything done. I don’t think the Democrats are by any means wonderful, but at least they tend to be at least half-way pragmatic. And they want 9/11 First Responders to have fucking health care.

So this concludes my review of FTSOS for 2010. Hopefully the next dozen months will be even better.

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Catholic Church: Double Effect is wrong

Well, they didn’t really say that. But they effectively stated as much when they stripped an Arizona hospital of its affiliation with the church.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix stripped a major hospital of its affiliation with the church Tuesday because of a surgery that ended a woman’s pregnancy to save her life.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted called the 2009 procedure an abortion and said St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center — recognized internationally for its neurology and neurosurgery practices — violated ethical and religious directives of the national Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In fact, the woman was virtually guaranteed to die if she continued to carry the 11 week old fetus much longer. Now keep that in mind:

Double effect is the ethical principle which says something is ethical so long as it conforms to these four conditions:

1. The nature-of-the-act condition. The action must be either morally good or indifferent.
2. The means-end condition. The bad effect must not be the means by which one achieves the good effect.
3. The right-intention condition. The intention must be the achieving of only the good effect, with the bad effect being only an unintended side effect.
4. The proportionality condition. The good effect must be at least equivalent in importance to the bad effect.

This case in Arizona is textbook. The first condition is satisfied because the act was to save the mother’s life. The second condition is satisfied because the means is the removal of a physical condition, not the explicit murder of another person. The third condition is satisfied because the doctors only want to save the mother’s life, not destroy the fetus. The fourth condition is satisfied because even if the fetus is a human, the mother’s life must be equally considered.

In fact, double effect isn’t really important here because the fetus is not a human being, but I digress.

The church stripped the hospital of its status (and, really, that’s a good thing anyway) because it thinks the woman should have risked certain death (which isn’t really a risk, now is it?). We know the end result would be the death of her and her fetus. How that is considered good is a mystery.

And that raises another point, doesn’t it? What methodology, what guidelines, what anything does the Bible (or any holy book) offer in this situation? One person unfamiliar with basic, classic philosophical examples couldn’t come up with an answer. (In fact, he might say the problem here was just logistics.) It doesn’t look like the Catholic Church has an answer either.

It’s unfortunate that the hospital says it will still follow Catholic Church guidelines (not Biblical guidelines…since they do not exist), but this is an overall good incident. While I hate to see the sort of irrational arguments that say the saving of one life is really just abortion of another, it’s fantastic that the Church has severed its formal ties with an institution committed to actually helping people. I hope that whenever necessary the hospital will not hesitate to continue saving living humans.