I apologize for the way the blog looked earlier today, with all text appearing in bold and italic print. I screwed up the post before this one, and forgot to close a couple of html tags. The problem is fixed.
Archive for: February, 2007
Updated, ~16:00h EST 28 Feb. I somehow managed to post this without the "below the fold" material. I've added the missing remainder of the post, and adjusted the timestamp to match.
PZ Myers, Kevin Beck, and a host of others have weighed in on the reprehensible conduct of one Dr. Gary Merrill. The good doctor, who is a pediatrician, declined to care for a child with an ear infection because her mother has tattoos. The doctor claims to simply be following "standards Merrill has set based upon his Christian faith." In this particular case, though, I don't think we can blame his Christian faith.
Let's face it. It doesn't take much familiarity with the Gospels to figure out that Merrill's conduct would only have been featured there as an example of what not to do. The man clearly has not in any way, shape, or form internalized any of Jesus' teachings. He might call himself a Christian, but turning away a sick child because of their parent's appearance is as absolutely unChristian as one could conceivably get. If I remember my bible correctly, Jesus healed the child of a Roman officer, said things like, "suffer not the little children," and gave us the term "good Samaritan." Merrill, on the other hand, wouldn't heal the child of a tattooed woman, let a child suffer overnight, and basically acted like the Bad Levite in the Good Samaritan story. If I thought it would do any good, I'd suggest tattooing "What Would Jesus Do, You Idiot?" on the guy's hand, but it really won't.
I've got a feeling that it's really his personality that's responsible, not his religion. Every society, every culture, has jerks like this. You know the type - tinpot tyrants in their own mind, keen to impose their morality on everyone they come into contact with. In the United States, he's a Christian schmuck. In Afghanistan, he'd be Taliban. In Spain, back in the day, he'd have found gainful employment with the inquisition. But in a place where religion was frowned upon, he'd still manage to descend to his current low - in Germany in the late 1930s, he'd be a brown shirt, and in the USSR he'd be your unfriendly neighborhood third-rate party hack/KGB snitch.
It looks like the right-wing noise machine is (again) trying to beat back reality with truthiness. The current target is our former vice-president, Al Gore. It's kind of hard to tell what they think his current sin is, exactly. As far as I can tell, it looks like conservatives are mostly mad at him for being rich, smart, and a liberal all at once. And, of course, for winning the "Best Documentary" Oscar the other night.
You can say what you want about the conservative nonsense machine, but if there is one thing that it's good at, it's getting everyone to sing from the same page. The song may have all of the musical merit of a drunken ditty scored for pots, pan, and comb, but they still get the whole choir singing loudly within a single news cycle.
Today's song is set to the tune of "Three Blind Mice," and goes like this:
Jake Young just drew my attention to one of the most wonderful signs of Bronx revitalization I've heard of in years - a beaver is making its home on the banks of the Bronx River near the Bronx Zoo. This is absolutely fantastic news - more so than I think Jake, who is a fairly recent arrival to NYC, realizes.
I grew up in the Bronx, not all that far from the Bronx River. In fact, the river ran through French Charlie's Park, where my brothers and I played little league baseball. Back then, the thought of a beaver - or almost any other mammal - making a home in the Bronx River would have been an absolute joke. The closest thing to a beaver you could find would be a beaver-sized rat. (Literally - I can remember at least one occasion when someone I knew thought that they had seen a beaver swimming in the river, until they saw the tail.)
Yesterday, a brief review of Conservapedia appeared on one of New Scientist's blogs. The review quoted two Sciencebloggers as well as the Schlafly responsible for the Hellerian, if not Orwellian, trainwreck of a website), and has sparked a second round of posts here. A sane reader (presuming, of course, that we have one) might wonder why we are so obsessed with a right-wing lunatic website that is, at first, second, third, and fourth glance indistinguishable from a parody of right-wing lunacy. The reason that a website like this should spark concern as much as laughter is simple: this particular website is an extreme symptom of a condition that has become extremely widespread, particularly (but not exclusively) among the political right in America.
The condition here could be (and has been) described as a delusional mindset, but I'm not sure it's that simple, that harmless, or that easily excused. These people are not content to simply live in their own little alternate reality. They are determined to make certain that we live there, too. This means that when inconvenient little fact come up - the ugly little facts and inconvenient truths that can slay even the most beautiful hypotheses - reality gets rewritten and the facts that disagree with the core beliefs get omitted.
Over the last couple of days, Dr. Michael Egnor, an anti-evolution neurosurgeon who recently signed on to the Discovery Institute's list of "scientists" who doubt evolution, has created quite a stir here at Scienceblogs. Quite a few Sciencebloggers have already weighed in on his specific arguments, with PZ and Orac leading the charge. They've already dealt with the basics of his information theory arguments, so I'm going to focus mostly on his basic appeal to complexity - and in particular on his analogy between Shakespeare and life.
Amanda Adams of OMB Watch was kind enough to draw my attention to a post by Paul Sherman over at the blog of the Center for Competitive Politics. It appears that Mr. Sherman liked neither the tone nor the substance of my last post on astroturf disclosure legislation. He was appalled by some of the things I said about the fine folks at American Target Advertising, citing my post as an example of how "proponents of disclosure...can be downright nasty to those who disagree with them." The tone of my response to Fitzgibbons and the ATA folks, and the tone of the remainder of this response to Mr. Sherman, has little to do with how I feel about their position, and everything to do with how their tactics.
Over the last few days, I've had a lot of conversations with scientists about what scientists can do to help change the way that the American public views science. The phrase, "what can I do?" has come up more than once in these conversations, but every time it has I've discovered that I was actually being asked a slightly different question: "what can I do that won't take up much time or cause me much inconvenience."
It's a frustrating question, but a fair one. Scientists, like most other academics, tend to be overworked and underpaid - particularly in the university setting. Most of the professors on our faculty put in far more than the forty hours a week that they get paid for, and the same holds true for the grad students. Time is not a resource that scientists have an excess of, so if a scientist is going to spend time doing something that helps with the public understanding of science, he or she is going to have to take that time from something else - like research, or family, or sleep.
Unfortunately, there are many answers to "what can I do," but very few answers to "what can I do that won't take up time or inconvenience me." Trying to alter the public's perception of science will
always take up at least some time.
Quite a few of the others here at Scienceblogs have already taken a few minutes to poke fun at the new radical right attempt at creating an encyclopedia - Conservapedia. (See, for example, here, here, here, here, and here for just a few.) I sort of feel bad about joining in, in a way - the site is so pathetic that it's almost more sad than funny - but the key word there is "almost." Conservapedia is worthless as an intellectual resource, but it's a fantastic repository of accidental humor. There's enough there that if I ever find myself at a loss for a source of stupidity to blog about, I know where to go.
Before I get into my first look at the humor in the page, there is a serious reason to be (mildly) concerned about Conservapedia. It is representative of a philosophy that seems to be common among a wide range of right-wingers in the United States today: if reality doesn't match your ideology, rewrite reality and go from there. This would be sad and funny, were it not for the tragic fact that this group of nutcases still has an extensive amount of political clout.
Now, on with the accidental humour show.
PZ has a brief post up commenting on an article on the Lippard Blog about a "dog" target that is routinely shot by DEA agents training for raids. Both link to an article that provides a list of numerous cases where police have killed pets. I think my take on the situation is a bit different from either of theirs, probably because of my past EMS experience.
At the start, I want to be clear that I am in no way shape or form endorsing the routine slaughter of pets. I am also not endorsing or excusing the examples of violence against animals that were given in the reason.com article. There is no doubt that police brutality exists. There is no doubt that it is more common than it should be. There is no doubt that police can be brutal toward pets at least as easily as they can be toward people.
That having been said, emergency responders of any kind always, always, always need to remember that a dog on the scene is potentially a threat, and that it is never safe to assume that a dog is not a threat just because the animal has been well behaved so far. A dog, particularly if not restrained, is every bit as much a potential danger as any number of other factors at the scene. The reason for this is pretty simple. Dogs are, generally speaking, loyal to their owners. Many dogs will respond to a perceived threat to their family with violence. When a dog is scared and in an unfamiliar situation, it is very difficult to accurately predict what a dog will perceive to be a threat.
This is something that I've seen firsthand when I've been working EMS. I've seen cases where it's been very difficult to get into the house to start treatment, because the dog is hovering protectively over the fallen master, blocking access to these strangers who are coming into their house with all of these strange things. I've seen cases where dogs have been clearly nervous, but OK with people coming in to help, but then change radically when it comes time to take the patient out to the ambulance. I remember one particularly fun day when one of the guys on my crew was attacked by a miniature poodle when he began to buckle the straps on the stretcher. We did not shoot any of those animals, but a lot of the reason for that was because we were unarmed. We did mace a few, and that worked sometimes, but there was one case where a large German Shepherd kept us out of the house, and we could not enter until a relative dragged him off and locked him in another room. The relative lived with the dog and was trying to help us, but she was still bitten twice in the process.
In every one of those cases, the animal felt threatened by the ambulance crew and reacted appropriately - from the animal's perspective, of course. In none of those cases were we actually threatening anyone. In police raids, that is different. The police are a threat, and are hoping to be perceived as a massive threat by everyone around - because that is one way to keep the violence down during the raid. I do think that the major raid tactic is sometimes overused, but there are cases when it is necessary. When police train for such events, it is a very good idea to keep the possible threat that the family pet represents firmly in mind.