Another Example of Scientific Illiteracy From The Right

As the previous post points out, scientific illiteracy has been found to be a widespread problem. The article I cited came out too late to catch this excellent example by Christopher Baker at The Telegraph 2008 was the year man-made global warming was disproved. While of course this would be fantastic if true, the article provides nothing of value other than for an excellent example of scientific illiteracy and how conservative science-illiterate bloggers will accept any misinformation which supports their ideological biases.

The biggest mistake is to think one can obtain scientific information from an op-ed piece rather than from peer reviewed scientific literature. The op-ed’s arguments come down to 1) it has been cold outside and therefore global warming is a hoax and 2) some meteorologist and others who are not experts in the field of climate change (not actually “many of the world’s most eminent climate experts”) do not believe the overwhelming consensus among those actually in the field, therefore there is no consensus.

The Independent’s Political Illiteracy Represented in Review of Scientific Illiteracy

Scientific illiteracy is certainly a problem and this was a worthy topic for an article in The Independent. Unfortunately they show a degree of political illiteracy in this reporting. There are numerous examples of scientific illiteracy to be reviewed, but they do the topic a disservice when they begin with one of Barack Obama’s rare scientific mistakes and equate him with the likes of John McCain and Sarah Palin. They are certainly correct in listing Obama’s misstatement on the relationship between vaccines and autism. When Robert Kennedy, Jr. was being discussed for possible key positions in the Obama administration I recently pointed out that Kennedy’s history of promoting such pseudo-science would make him a poor choice.

The article does at least note one example of Sarah Palin’s scientific illiteracy:

Sarah Palin, Mr McCain’s running mate, waded into the mire with her dismissal of some government research projects. “Sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not,” Ms Palin said. But the geneticist Ellen Solomon takes Ms Palin to task for not understanding the importance of studies into fruit flies, which share roughly half their genes with humans. “They have been used for more than a century to understand how genes work, which has implications in, for example, understanding the ageing process,” she said.

While their facts are true, this suggests a false equivalency in making scientific errors between Barack Obama and Sarah Palin. Obama made a single blunder on scientific issues that I am aware of. Palin, along with other Republican candidates, made many. Obama’s error was on a single isolated issue. McCain and Palin’s many errors in their criticism of funding for science (such as McCain’s debate gaffe on the projector for  The Adler Planetarium) could lead to serious limitations on funding for scientific research which she fails to understand. Palin’s denial of the scientific consensus on climate change could lead to planet-wide catastrophe. She denies the entire basis of modern biology with her belief in creationism as opposed to evolution. Even John McCain, who at least was not one of the Republican candidates to outright express belief in creationism, was still willing to pander to those with this flat-earth mentality.

We have many politicians who outright deny major areas of science. Barack Obama certainly made a mistake on one issue, but he has also shown in his public statements and appointment of scientists to key roles that he understands the importance of science. This represents a key change from the past eight years. During the Bush administration scientific facts would be ignored if they conflicted with their policy goals. I am confident that if the Obama administration were to become involved in policy matters involving vaccines, Obama would listen to legitimate scientists who disagreed with the unfortunate bit of pseudo-science he has picked up and change his position.

SciFi Weekend Part II: The Next Doctor

This post contains major spoilers for this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special, which has not yet aired in the United States. Those who have not downloaded it and are planning to watch it when it airs are advised not to read this review until after viewing the episode.

The Next Doctor began with The Doctor arriving in London on Christmas Eve in 1851. He heard a woman calling for The Doctor and found the call for help answered by someone else who identified himself as The Doctor. Both aimed their versions of a sonic screwdriver at a creature which appeared to be part animal with the face of a Cyberman.

The relationship with his companions has often been what has made an episode of Doctor Who, even when faced with an otherwise weak story. The Doctor is currently without companions, and this other Doctor served the purpose of a companion, as well as the purpose of adding interest to what otherwise would have been a weak episode.

Initially The Doctor almost played second fiddle to David Morrissey’s version of The Doctor with the suggestion that he is a future version of himself. If this was true, the second Doctor should have memories of this event from the first time around from his perspective. Initially they appeared to get around this by revealing that the other Doctor has lost many memories. This could have been a consequence of his battle with the Cyberman, which forced a regeneration (which doesn’t always leave The Doctor in the best shape).

While a future incarnation with lost memories initially appeared to be a satisfactory explanation, holes soon developed in this theory. The other Doctor’s sonic screwdriver turned out to be a regular screw driver which, in order to make noise, was banged against the wall. The Doctor tried to use a fob watch worn by the second Doctor to restore his memories as seen in Human Nature, but it turned out to be just a regular watch. When the other Doctor mentioned blinking, The Doctor tried to jog his memory with the events in Blink. The Doctor asked to see the other Doctor’s Tardis, and found that it was a hot air balloon:Tethered Aerial Release Developed in Style.

The Doctor figured out that the other person was not really a Timelord without even bothering to check out how many heart beats he has.  He was actually Jackson Lake, the first person who disappeared when the Cyberman attacked London. Lake used an infostamp, which contains vast amounts of information including data on The Doctor, as a weapon, finding it could destroy the Cybermen. In the process of using the weapon Lake’s mind was overwhelmed by the infostamp, as well as the shock of seeing his wife killed, and Lake believed he was The Doctor. Less clear is why The Cybermen also believed Lake was The Doctor and ignored the actual Doctor.

The Cybermen aspects of the story were far less interesting than the Jackson Lake storyline. The infostamps made it too easy to destroy the Cybermen. There was the usual human who helped the alien enemy, and then was shocked to find the aliens inevitably turn on her. Miss Hartigan was converted to the CyberKing against her will. While it was a different twist from a frequently used storyline, I found it unrealistic that Hartigan’s mind would turn out to be too powerful and that she would wind up in control.

The episode tried to make up for a weak plot by resorting a conclusion which literally features a giant Cyberman threatening London.

The Doctor used the hot air balloon version of the Tardis to get to the level where the CyberKing was located. Just as it was too easy to destroy Cybermen earlier in the episode, The Doctor had little difficulty, using a combination of infostamps and another gadget he happened to pick up along the way, to sever Miss Hartman’s connection to the Cyberman after she refused an offer to be transported elsewhere to live in peace. Supposedly Miss Hartman’s mind was in control, which seemed to contradict what happened next. After the link was severed, Miss Hartman was appalled by what she had become. She then self-destructed, also destroying the Cybermen.

After easily saving London from harm, The Doctor discussed his relationship with his companions with Jackson Lake. The Doctor explained that he had no companion at present as they break his heart. The Doctor told Lake that the other companions either leave him, meet someone else or forget about him. The last refers to Donna, who lost all memory of her time with The Doctor at the conclusion of Journey’s End. There has been speculation that one of the specials airing over the next year will deal with a resolution to Donna’s problem and this might be foreshadowing such a development.

The show was a fair but not great episode. Perhaps the most disappointing part was the knowledge that we will see so little of Doctor Who over the next year, and will not be seeing David Tennant for much longer. This episode seemed to be a waste of so little time remaining.

SciFi Weekend Part I: Ron Moore on BSG and ST; Majel Barrett Roddenberry Memorial Services Announced

With the final season of Battlestar Galactica to resume airing on January 16, Ron Moore it looks like Ron Moore has been out on the interview circuit. He discussed the role of religion on the show and the suspense regarding the identity of the final Cylon with SciFi Scanner:

Q: You admitted recently that Battlestar‘s themes of faith and religion were something the network requested after reading a line in the miniseries. How did it evolve?

A: It was very natural. At Trek I was always trying to work in those angles and blur peoples’ religions, but it was very much not a part of what Trek was about — it just wasn’t part of Gene’s vision. It appealed to me because science fiction shows just didn’t go there. I thought the idea of robots who believe in God was just a fascinating concept. And then I really liked the idea of the polytheists versus the monotheists, and that the monotheists were actually the “bad guys” because there’s certain repetition in Western society of the one God driving out the many. There were just layers and layers to play with.

Q: Fast-forward to the Season 4 mid-season finale, when they find their faith has driven them to hell. Was that faith for naught?

A: There’s a lot of that going on. The journey is not over, but certainly both sides are suddenly faced with the prospect, “Maybe it’s all been for nothing. Maybe there is no God, and if that’s the case where do we go from here? What does it all mean and what are we going to do with ourselves?” which I think is a great place to take the characters.

Q: And then you have Baltar, who goes from a man of science to a man of faith.

A: Since the beginning, Baltar has been challenged on that very issue. He begins with a profound, shocking realization that he is personally responsible for the destruction of billions of people, and that there seems to be a God who wants him to do that. He’s gone through so much, and had so many failings — been so vilified– that there’s a part of him that wants somebody to take the responsibility off his shoulders, and is hoping against hope that as a scientist and atheist he’s wrong.

Q: The build-up to the final Cylon has been unprecedented. How is the revelation not going to be a letdown?

A: It will never be as powerful as the build-up. I resigned myself to that a long time ago. The “Who Shot JR” of it all is an instructive lesson: No matter who it is, it’s still going to be a bit of a letdown. But I decided that precisely because of that, it wasn’t going to be in the final episode. I didn’t want that to become the entire series. I’m sure there will be a variety of reactions. Some people will love it, some people will hate it. But I think when you see how the revelation fits into the overall mythology of the show, when all the questions are answered by the end, then it’ll make sense and you’ll think, “Oh, well it kind of had to be that person.”

Moore also considered the ending of The Sopranos to be perfect but I agree this would not work with a show such as Battlestar Galactica:

I felt like the series I was telling, unlike The Sopranos, had a beginning, middle and end. So as much as I love The Sopranos, I never seriously thought that was an option for us because it’s just not part of our narrative. Theirs was about these characters’ lives that presumably were going to continue beyond the final fadeout. Our finale will be the end of our narrative, the period at the end of the sentence.

No, it  would not be satisfying if the series ended with the fleet on the run, the Cylons attacking, and the screen going to black.

Moore was also interviewed by Kate O’Hare. In Part I of the interview he considered whether the upcoming Star Trek movie would be “Star Trek” by looking at how the movies were handled in the past:

“That’ll be everyone’s question,” says Moore. “I don’t think there’s an easy answer. That’s a very individual choice. I don’t think there’s a definitive list of what makes it ‘Star Trek’ or not.

“The difference between the original series ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan’ is a profound one. They are not the same characters; they’re not in the same place in their lives; they’re not on a mission; Kirk’s an admiral. It’s like a completely different world, but it’s absolutely ‘Star Trek.'”

Interestingly there’s one thing that “Khan” and two other installments in the movie franchise featuring the original cast — “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” and “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” — have in common, besides being, IMHO, the best of the lot … writer/director Nicholas Meyer.

“He was a man who had no prior relationship to the franchise whatsoever,” Moore says, “never even saw it.  And he was not afraid to not worry about the continuity of it all.

“He was not hung up on who said what in episode 43, and that is a yoke that has to be thrown off at this point.”

While they were not hung up on every continuity point (and there were some errors for purists), it is also notable that the movies did take place in the same Star Trek universe as the television series. The characters were at a different point in their lives but they did not throw out the previous history with a total reboot as some now advocate for Star Trek. Despite several series, The Star Trek universe is flexible enough to allow for such updating and new stories without needing to ignore the past. There is a tremendous difference between trying to reboot a series with a strong history such as Star Trek and totally redoing a weak show such as Battlestar Galactica. In the case of Battlestar Galactica, I agree Moore was best off restarting from scratch rather than being tied down by anything from the original series.

The different versions of Star Trek were discussed in Part II. There was an attempt to modernize the Star Trek television show with Enterprise , hoping to make it more like other hit television shows. In the process, they lost what made Star Trek great, and worthy of surviving since the early 1960’s. I agree with Moore’s assessment :

“I think ‘Enterprise’ misunderstood what the original ‘Trek’ was,” Moore said. “I don’t think they were shooting at the right target.”

In a third post from O’Hare, Moore discussed what he learned about writing from his work on Battlestar Galactica:

“That’s a fundamental lesson. There wasn’t a place we wanted to go that the audience didn’t go there with us. We had episodes that didn’t succeed as well as others, like any show, but I don’t think there was anything philosophically that we wanted to do, that the audience wasn’t willing to go along for the ride.”

“It taught me that you really can stick to your guns and do a good show. You can do a smart show and really ask a lot of the audience. You can challenge them. You can not deliver Pablum, and they will go with you.

“You don’t have to give the easy answers week to week. You don’t have to have uncomplicated heroes who always do the right thing and always save the day, that you can really challenge the audience.

Information has been released on the memorial service for Majel Barrett Roddenberry, which is to be held on Sunday, January 4, 2009 at 10:00 a.m. in Los Angeles. Additional details are available here.

The other big news of the week was the airing of the Doctor Who Christmas special, The Next Doctor. I was originally going to review this in SciFi Weekend, but as any discussion would include major spoilers for US viewers who have not downloaded the show, I’ll place it in a separate post. I would advise those who plan to watch the show in the future to not read my post, or any other discussion of the show, until after it is viewed.

Bad Management in Detroit


The automotive companies aren’t the only ones to suffer from bad management decisions in Detroit. Time questions how the Detroit Lions can manage to become the first team to likely go 0-16 since the season was extended to sixteen games. Before the Lions, only the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers managed to go winless for a season, but that was in a fourteen game season, and the Bucs were an expansion team in their first year.  Detroit hasn’t had a winning season since 2000.

Detroit will accomplish this dubious record of going without a victory if they lose their final game at Green Bay, where they haven’t won since 1991. Time points out how difficult this record is to achieve:

Football experts all agree that in today’s “any given Sunday” NFL — where every team seems to have a decent shot to win, where a salary cap structure, and a draft that gives the worst teams access to the best young talent in a young man’s game, creates league-wide parity — going winless is awfully hard to do. “It’s mind boggling to me,” says Troy Aikman, the Hall of Fame ex-quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys and Fox Sports analyst, who lived through a nightmarish 1-15 season himself as a rookie back in 1989. Several teams, in fact, have only managed to put together one victory in a season, including the 2007 Miami Dolphins and the 2000 San Diego Chargers . But failing to eke out one win in a league built on mediocrity takes a certain stunning level of ineptitude.

The article points out several reasons for why the team has done so poorly, listing poor management first:

And more than anything, terrible management is to blame. Former president Matt Millen, an ex-NFL linebacker who joined the team in 2001 and was finally fired this season after a multitude of public fan protests, strung together years of failed draft picks to dig Detroit into it current hole. Although every armchair football aficionado knows that defensive and offensive line play wins championships (or at least a game or two), Millen repeatedly spent top draft choices on low-impact wide receivers, despite not having a good quarterback to throw them the ball. The low point: in 2003 Millen used the second overall pick on Michigan State wideout Charles Rogers, who was recently sentenced to nine months of drug counseling following an assault and battery arrest involving his fianc�e. Among the top players Millen passed over for wide receivers: Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a Super Bowl winner, five-time Pro Bowl defensive back Troy Polamalu, also a Super Bowl-winning Steeler, and San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman, a three-time Pro Bowler. “If you can’t evaluate talent, if you can’t draft talent, nothing else matters,” says Aikman. “Your team is built on a house of cards.”

Lions owner William Clay Ford Sr., 83, the grandson of Henry Ford, has only added to the hopelessness. Since Ford acquired the Lions in 1964, the team has won just a single playoff game. Millen, for example, was given an inexplicable five-year contract extension before the 2005 season, so he’s still being paid for destroying the team. Ford has promised to bring Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewland, two Millen-era execs who helped assemble the ’08 disaster, back for another year. Their coach, Rod Marinelli, hired his son-in-law Joe Barry to be his defensive coordinator. How has that worked out? The Lions have been the NFL’s worst defense since Barry took over two years ago.

75% Happy Bush Is Leaving

Three out of four Americans are happy George Bush is leaving office according to a CNN Poll. Considering how much harm George Bush has done to the country in the last eight years this is hardly a surprise. There is a dissenting twenty-three percent who are sad to see him go. Are these people who are totally oblivious to what has happened the last eight years, people with no sense of morality, or masochists who would also love to spend eternity being kicked in the head?

For comparison’s sake, forty-five percent were sad to see Bill Clinton go at the end of his term. Presumably the number who wished he would go away was much higher by last spring.

One third who were polled hope that George Bush remains active in public life after leaving office, compared to fifty-five percent who (at least back then) wanted Bill Clinton to maintain a public role. I wonder what kind of public life they desire. George Bush has showed during the last eight years that he is totally incompetent and has little understanding of (or real interest in) public policy. At least having Bush involved in public life after out of office, and when he no longer has any power, is far safer than having him involved while having the power of the presidency.

Avoiding Clinton’s Mistakes on Health Care

Barack Obama is determined to avoid the mistakes made by Bill in Hillary Clinton in their ineptly managed attempts at health care reform in the 1990’s. The Boston Globe reports:

The Obama team is determined to avoid the mistakes of the early 1990s, when the Clinton White House created a healthcare policy team that had more than 500 members and spent months secretly developing a 1,342-page proposal with minimal input from Congress. A lack of investment among congressional leaders helped doom the bill, which never even went to a vote.

Obama and his team – headed by former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, who will serve as a bridge to Congress – have already begun privately engaging with congressional leaders and have emphasized that they intend to work more collaboratively on healthcare than the Clintons did, said the two leading Democratic senators on healthcare reform.

“Congress did not want to be told what to do,” said Max Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, whose committee will determine whether a healthcare overhaul is fiscally feasible. “They’re very cognizant of that and they don’t want to make the same mistake.”

“The only way for this to work is to have both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue working hand-in-glove,” Senator Edward M. Kennedy, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said in a statement. “And all signs are that’s how it will proceed. It’s not Congress or the White House, it’s both together.”

Consideration of the fact that we have both an Executive and Legislative Branch would provide a welcome change from the attitude of both the Clinton administration on health care and the Bush administration on virtually everything. This addresses some of the problems of the Clinton approach but not all.

HillaryCare died not simply because of Harry and Louise ads from the insurance industry but because a majority of Americans felt it was a bad plan being imposed upon them from above. This meant not only that it was a plan developed in secret by the Clinton White House, but was also was a reaction to the type of plan developed. The plan was overly complex and overly regimented.

Many Americans are uninsured or under-insured and desire assistance in obtaining affordable health care. Many others are perfectly happy as they are and do not want the government to be any more involved in their lives. A successful plan must consider both views–as Obama often has when discussing his plans for change.

A health care plan must be kept as simple as possible (considering the complexity of health care). This means simple for the individual–not the government. In many ways it would be simpler for the government for a plan to have mandates, avoiding all the problems of individuals who choose to postpone purchasing health care. This complicates things for writers of a health care plan but is not an insolvable problem. The otherwise faulty Medicare D Plan has managed to overcome this problem by having the rates adjusted based upon when someone joins the  plan. Even the Medicare B plan is voluntary. Besides, mandates make it far too easy for politicians to claim to have provided health care for all even if it means requiring everyone to participate in a bad plan. Freedom of choice provides a necessary safety valve to ensure that the plans are truly beneficial.

The question of mandates arose during the 2008 nomination battle between Obama and Clinton. Mandates, along with the manner in which the plan was developed, were only a portion of the problems with Hillary Clinton’s approach to health care. The plan was overly complex, such as in its demands for creations of regional alliances of health care providers with vast government regulation.

The reaction against such an unnecessary over-expansion of government led to Republican dominance of government for years afterwards. Subsequently we have seen more modest attempts at government involvement to expand access to health care, such as in the plans promoted by John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008. Hopefully Congress, along with the Obama administration, remember all the lessons of the failure of HillaryCare in working on health care legislation.

Eartha Kitt Dies at 81; Photos of Kitt at Grand Hotel 2005

Eartha Kitt, well known for singing Santa Baby, died of cancer on Christmas at age 81. Gawker’s headline refers to her as Eartha Kitt, Seductress. That fits well how I recall her from the one time I saw her perform live at the Grand Hotel Jazz Festival over Labor Day Weekend in 2005.

Kitt appeared with other jazz greats including Chuck Mangione, and Ramsey Lewis. While I went into the concerts more interested in hearing them, I felt Eartha Kitt had stolen the show. Pictures may tell a thousand words, but they cannot fully capture the greatness of a concert appearance. While recognizing this, I will still present a few pictures taken of Eartha Kitt during this performance.

Blue Pills Defend the Red, White, & Blue

Bribing Afghan chieftains to provide information to the CIA can be a complicated matter. Giving them guns carries the risk that the guns might wind up in the wrong hands. Giving money or other signs of wealth can lead to those who are bought off displaying their new wealth and giving away the fact that they are receiving payment. The Washington Post quotes a CIA operative as describing their goal in this manner:

The key, Smith said, is to find a way to meet the informant’s personal needs in a way that keeps him firmly on your side but leaves little or no visible trace.

“You’re trying to bridge a gap between people living in the 18th century and people coming in from the 21st century,” Smith said, “so you look for those common things in the form of material aid that motivate people everywhere.”

The Soviet Union (and I’m sure others) have used women to turn foreigners into informants. Along the same lines, the CIA has found that Viagra has been of value in motivating older Afghan chieftains who often have four wives, the maximum allowed by the Koran, to please.

While Viagra was the first drug used for erectile dysfunction, there are now two others on the market and there is strong competition for market share. Will this competition now reach to the mountains of Afghanistan? Being accustomed to obnoxious drug reps frequently stopping by the office attempting to push their products, I can just imagine how they might respond to this article. I can see leaflets being dropped by competing pharmaceutical companies recommending that Afghan chieftains ask their CIA agent for Levitra or Cialis.

On Loving America

Joel Stein writes on how conservatives “love” America in The Los Angeles Times, arguing that in a sense conservatives do love American more than liberals. This love is in a tribalistic sense, “out of birthplace convenience.”

I still think conservatives love America for the same tribalistic reasons people love whatever groups they belong to. These are the people who are sure Christianity is the only right religion, that America is the best country, that the Republicans have the only good candidates, that gays have cooties.

The difference is that conservatives think loving one’s country means defending it no matter what. For example, a conservative responds to reports of torture or violations of the Geneva Conventions by attacking those who release such information and justifying the actions, not by considering what America really stands for.

The love for America felt by liberals is a far more meaningful form of love. Liberals love America despite knowing their country has faults, and are willing to work to correct those faults. This is what it takes to have a have and maintain a great country. The blind form of love expressed by conservatives is a pathway towards decadence and destruction of what makes America great.

Liberals love the ideals America was founded upon, and hold our current government to those ideals. This is exactly what the Founding Fathers would have expected of us.

I love American because of the civil liberties which were guaranteed by our Founding Fathers. Conservatives often attack those who defend civil liberties out of a blind love for authority, which is not really the same as loving America.

I love America for its heritage of separation of church and state as promoted by the Founding Fathers when they formed a secular government. While this view is clear in the writings of the Founding Fathers, along with many court decisions, the religious right has been promoting a revisionist history which denies this. Loving America means respecting such important principles, not attempting to rewrite our history.

I love our free market system which gives everyone the opportunity to achieve wealth and prosperity. Therefore I oppose perversions of this system which conservatives have promoted, such as Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force and the K Street Project.

Liberals who love America responded to the 9/11 attack by seeking bipartisan unity to defend the country and respond to those who attacked us. Republicans instead took advantage of 9/11 as an excuse to pursue their preexisting goals on foreign policy and restriction of civil liberties while promoting a course which led to a weakening of America’s role in the world. For a group which claims to love America, the right has done a remarkable job of undermining both our national security and moral authority in the world.

The love for America felt by liberals, and the principles our country was founded upon, is necessary to preserve our nation as envisioned by the Founding Fathers. The tribalistic love for America felt by conservatives would give us the America of McCarthyism. Nixon and Watergate, and the Bush/Cheney years. This would be an American where civil liberties are ignored, the free market is replaced by crony capitalism, and those who disagree are told to either love their version of America or leave it.