Category Archives: Religion

Can we trust scientists?

Why I will not be watching Russell Crow in “Noah”

Sorry to be off topic…

Yes, I am one of those annoying people who picks movies to pieces. Of course, when the movie is fantasy, I am capable of suspending disbelief to enjoy the movie. In the case of the new movie, Noah, however, that isn’t an option.

The reason being that there are many people who still take the fable as truth – some going as far as to waste their life away on a vain effort to find evidence.

How can I be so sure that the story of Noah arises in the Middle Eastern dreamtime? Because of engineering. Because of biology. Because of earth.

Of engineering.

Engineering is not my field, so I’ll leave it up to others. In short, a wooden boat of such a size defies the known properties of the material and cannot be replicated by engineers.

Of biology

Now into a territory I’m more familiar with, I will need to break this down to many points to show just how idiotic the idea is.

Scale

No boat could be big enough.

It would have appeared otherwise to the all-too-human author at the time, with their limited experience of life that existed at the time of writing in other corners of the world and of all the life that had ever previously existed.

Even assuming all the dinosaurs and mega-fauna forgot to buy their tickets and assuming genus, or even families were the “kinds” described, the line would still have been too long (eg. ranging from the many millions with species down to the many thousands of families – which in turn would require evolution along the lines of Pokemon, that is within a generation or two, to account for all the species today).

Worse than that; the floods would have either been saline or fresh, meaning that the SS Noah would have needed aquariums for all species of the opposing environment.

And this point is a catch-22; if we grant that the waters were saline – in turn leaving the massive per-historic marine reptiles and modern marine mammals off of the ark – well, then this boat needed to carry a year’s worth of water for all those on board.

Fresh flood waters demands tanks big enough for the likes of blue whales and their buddies.

Resources

The problem of thirst isn’t the end of the problem with resources.

We must also consider what we could forgive the writer for not knowing; trophic levels. That is to say, animals eat each other.

To support just the big carnivorous cats and dogs over this period, we couldn’t have just two of every species – but rather whole herds of prey species. These sacrificial herds were never mentioned.

This in turn magnifies the problem of feed for the herbivores, as the prey herds will need vast amounts of food and water to maintain the meat-eaters.

Assuming that the floods were fresh, thereby saving Noah the issue of carrying the water, he would still need to catch hundreds of tons of krill prior to the flood (because the freshening water would have killed them off) to feed however many baleen whales he needed to carry to “evolve” into the species we see today.

As soon as you factor in food, the already absurdly small boat looks even worse.

Breeding

Again, we could forgive an author a few millennia ago for being ignorant, in this case, of limits to viable population size.

Sure, a few breeding pairs of a given rodent might take off in a new environment, but that’s not guaranteed. We only need to look at how many times rabbits needed to be introduced to Australia before they exploded.

When you are talking about a species that may only breed once a year or even longer, the chances that a single breeding pair would suffice to save to species is effectively shot.

And I’ve ignored the problem of inbreeding here, which would have played havoc with subsequent generations.

Having a singly breeding pair of every known species (or genus or family), Noah would have been lucky to have any persist and flourish.

And now the real kicker

To sprinkle salt into the wound, the year on the ark in itself means everything.

Not only would he need to carry all the animals and all the food (and potentially water) to survive the year, but also for much longer. Worse than this, he would have needed to carry tons of seed.

No seedbank (ie. seeds in the top soil) would remain viable for such a period under the flood. Apart from the osmotic pressure – or high salinity – caused by the flood itself and apart from the silt collection from a year of turbulent water movement (remembering that this silt, the creation would tell us, led to all the fossils), the seeds would simply expire.

So, Noah would have needed herds of prey to release after the flood and enough food to support these as well as the herbivore breeding pairs while he reseeded the entire global terrestrial landscape with all the plant life we see today.

None of this is mentioned and must fail the laugh test.

Of earth

This problem is one noted prior to Darwin even learning his alphabet. No-one has found a single example of a fossilised duck mingled with Triceratops.

We could take this further and state that there has never been fossilised evidence of a giant ground sloth being killed by a t-rex, of a human kill of any dinosaur or of pterosaur competing with a large eagle (noting that they share the same niche).

That’s because these species existed in different geological periods.

The flood silt didn’t conveniently cover different groups in sequence. Of everything, the fossil record is both the most damning and easiest to understand to anyone who has any actual interest in reality.

If these ancient stories are true, show me the fossils.

Back to the movie

Sure, it looks dramatic, but with so many plots holes, the story fails before it even begins. Yet, for the true believer, it would, absurdly, be cementing to their faith. This work of fiction will be watched by the faithful as though it were some documentary!

Of course, Russell won’t be shooing off any dinosaurs or else the critics would rip it to shreds.

Which brings me to the crux; there is a way out for the faithful. It is the only way out and one few who want to sound intellectual is likely to mention; magic.

“Oh, the boat would break? God held it together.”

“Oh, the boat wasn’t big enough? God made the animals shrink for the trip.”

“Oh, there wouldn’t possibly be room enough for all the food and water? God ran a meals-on-wheels service.”

“Oh, there’s a problem with salt or fresh water? God made all aquatic life temporarily salt tolerant.”

“Oh, two individuals don’t make for a viable population? God again…”

“God… God… God…”

Geeezus! Give up with the mockery of science and admit to placing faith in ancient stories over genuine certainty derived through critical analysis and get on making Adam and Eve Dino parks. If you’re willing to suspend the laws of the known universe to make your story fit reality, you are no longer talking about science – which is all about those laws. There’s nothing wrong with that, just admit it.

I don’t care. Live and let live.

If only they could admit to their warped, magically inclined reality, we could dutifully write it off and stop pretending to take it seriously.

Then, perhaps, I would allow myself to suspend disbelief and watch the epic, yet terribly scripted, movie.

Bring the faith to Australian schools and all hell will break loose.

Firstly, I would like to publicly apologize to my wife for my outburst when I heard the following. I was so appalled that this could even be taken seriously in 21st century Australia.

Straight from ABC news;

“Former teacher and ex-Liberal Party staffer Kevin Donnelly says Australian education has become too secular, and the federation’s Judeo-Christian heritage should be better reflected in the curriculum.”

Now, here’s why I have a problem with that. Take one example, say from the book of Judges, a story relevant to Judeo-Christians.

In short, a mob wanted to rape a male guest of a household, but were convinced in the end to brutalise his female slave instead, ultimately killing her. Her master then, for some reason, thought it was a good idea to cut her to pieces and leave those parts around the country (story below from the King James Version).

How the hell is that of any value to a child’s education?

Why not teach children about Zeus, Thor or  whoever some culture has ever imagined at some point in history?

The reason we don’t is because it is of very limited value apart from a minor historical perspective. Already children spend many hours outside of school completing homework that has real-world application, such as mathematics, science and English. Why would we want to add to this with mythology?

A child is at school to learn facts and practical skills, not dogmatic ideologies that often threaten death and eternal damnation to non-believers. A young mind is impressionable and unlikely to have the skills sets to take such fiction for what it is without fear of suffering if they do not accept it as true.

For this reason, religion must be kept away from a child until they are old enough to make an informed decision.

Furthermore, ‘Judeo-Christian heritage’ does not reflect modern Australia. Looking at the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census data from 2011, 22.3% of Australian’s stated themselves to be non-religious, just shy of the 25.3% who claimed to be Catholic. Another 24.9% stated that they were other, younger forms of Christian.

So around half of the Australian population consider themselves Christian in some form (remembering that Christians have a long history of fighting amount their various sects so one cannot even consider this group united) and the next biggest group are non-religious, accounting for almost another quarter of Australia, leaving one in four Australians making up the other faiths of the world.

We could add that the comment ‘Judeo-Christian heritage’ is insulting. Not only to the half of the population that now do not consider themselves reflected by this, but the various cultures and religions that made up Australia prior to federation.

If anything of culture needs greater representation in schools, it should be the deep history that exists in our indigenous heritage. Not only the dream time stories and cultural significance of landscapes, flora and fauna, but also the modern history that covers the fight for recognition and equality.

This is to most children a complete unknown, which is shameful.

This is why comments made by people like Cory Bernardi about “traditional values” as well as Donnelly’s are increasingly out of date. Bernardi and Donnelly are clearly throw backs to an era that didn’t look like they think it did.

We live in an age that is increasingly humane and well-informed. This has been achieved because we’ve chosen to step away from dogmatic scripture that teaches racism (“god’s people” for instance) and sexism and debated these time-old traditions through humanistic, secular arguments.

It’s a step backwards for my daughter to have to carry a Bible alongside her Biology text book. Both men happily admit that it’s a step backwards, but they would fail to understand why this is a problem.

It’s a massive problem if anyone wants to subject my children to religious education where I send them for life training. If they came home fearful of hell, I would have no problem in confronting the school for child abuse.

Religions get tax breaks to build places to conduct their teachings. Keep it within those walls and by voluntary entry by the faithful and not where evidence and reasoning are suppose to take center-stage for each Australian child.


J’g:19:22: Now as they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, certain sons of Belial, beset the house round about, and beat at the door, and spake to the master of the house, the old man, saying, Bring forth the man that came into thine house, that we may know him.
J’g:19:23: And the man, the master of the house, went out unto them, Nay, my brethren, nay, I pray you, do not so wickedly; seeing that this man is come into mine house, do not this folly.
J’g:19:24: Behold, here is my daughter a maiden, and his concubine; them I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you: but unto this man do not so vile a thing.
J’g:19:25: But the men would not hearken to him: so the man took his concubine, and brought her forth unto them; and they knew her, and abused her all the night until the morning: and when the day began to spring, they let her go.
J’g:19:26: Then came the woman in the dawning of the day, and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her lord was, till it was light.
J’g:19:27: And her lord rose up in the morning, and opened the doors of the house, and went out to go his way: and, behold, the woman his concubine was fallen down at the door of the house, and her hands were upon the threshold.
J’g:19:28: And he said unto her, Up, and let us be going. But none answered. Then the man took her up upon an ass, and the man rose up, and gat him unto his place.
J’g:19:29: And when he was come into his house, he took a knife, and laid hold on his concubine, and divided her, together with her bones, into twelve pieces, and sent her into all the coasts of Israel.
J’g:19:30: And it was so, that all that saw it said, There was no such deed done nor seen from the day that the children of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt unto this day: consider of it, take advice, and speak your minds.

Bernardi’s zombie values in modern Australia

We ought to thank Cory Bernardi for illustrating that the conservative right politician can swing so far to the right that they are utterly backwards.

Liberal senator Bernardi is making the news with the release of his new book, The Conservative Revolution, in which he makes a number of points that, from his interview this morning with ABC, are based on confirmation bias.

For example, to support the claim that “traditional families” – that is, one that includes a mother and father in wedlock – are better for children than other family models, he relies on self-rating from mothers, overlooking the fact that evidence shows that children of same-sex relationships fair as well in schools as traditional families and much better than other combinations.

And then there’s the point that he is against something which he could never possibility understand or face in his own life – having an abortion. It’s not an easy option, physically or emotionally, leaving his opinion of the matter the only one clearly detached from the serious nature of the choice.

Much of the defence he has made for his book has been in the name of “traditional values”.

In the ABC interview, he notes that these values have been “developed over successive generations”.

Hang on. Isn’t that to say that they have been modified, dare I say it, progressively, over time, to improve morality and the standard of living for our species? What’s wrong with continuing this development to further improve morality and the standard of living?

Cory thinks not – further development is, get this, erosion.

What traditional values are we talking about? In the interview, he goes on to say that these traditional values have made our country such a good one. So these traditional values include, say, white Australian policies? What about taking indigenous Australian children away from their families to raise in white foster homes and orphanages?

If he means to go deeper – to a supposed Christian foundation under modern Australia, well we then cannot rule out the ownership (and further abuse) of other people and the subordinate nature of women to men (after all, she is about as valuable as a single male rib); both of which are key to both the new and old books of that religion.

By comparison, that the Australian government has acknowledged the mistake they made to the stolen generation, that Abbott himself wants to acknowledge Australia’s first people in the constitution, that the majority of us stand for racial and gender equality, as well as an increasing number for marriage equality all suggest we are becoming more moral.

If anything, these so-called “traditional values” are outdated. Not all of them of course. Those that actually improve the lives of people persist. Those that don’t are being rejected.

Yes the dialogue must continue – and by all accounts, the fact that we monitor the gender divide in many professions, that we debate marriage equality, that we discuss and applaud moves to improve the standard of living for indigenous Australians are excellent examples that this dialogue is alive and well in Australia.

What Cory really means is that he thinks we overshot utopia some 60 years ago. He hates that many of the bad ideas of his parent’s childhood have been buried. Of course, he didn’t live it, but conditioned to think it was something that it wasn’t; something splendid, pure and wonderful before the beatniks and damned hippies screwed it all up. It is irrelevant to the moral debate today, as is his book.

Senator Bernardi needs to stop for a few moments and monitor a clock. They move in but one direction. If this values package his desperately grips onto was so great, we would have held onto it.

He won’t bring it back from the dead without, like some zombie, eating the brains and thus higher faculties of reasoning from the population at large.

You and I over the barrel…

To follow on from the previous post…

Too often in the supposed climate debate, a fight between hard won science and all manner of crackpot ideation, happy to share its bed with UN murderous delusions and secret societies of scientists, we hear about the “carbon addiction”. But this is naïve, forming part of reason why we fail to address climate change.

Is there any real coincidence that slavery started to become intolerable in most of the better educated corners of the globe about the same time of the birth of the industrial era?

No. Our species had finally found a way to carry out work that was more cost effective than placing equivalent slaves in the lowest possible conditions while keeping them alive.

The reality is, work is needed to live and people will do their best to avoid working. Worse, our industrialised world needs even more work to function than any previous empire.

I’m not questioning the value in turning off an unnecessary light globe, but that is not addressing the situation.

Take a look around the average home and quickly you’ll find numerous machines that we would find life very difficult without.

The most obvious being the refrigerator or heating. Using the Origin Energy Calculator, even the most efficient fridge and freezer, this amounts to more than 700kg of CO2 emissions annually and, currently (knowing that anything and everything seems to merit an additional price hike) around $180 a year in energy costs.

Of course, for poorer Australians who can’t afford the most efficient units, if they instead had the lowest rated fridge and freezer, they would be hit with nearly $280 in energy bills and account for just over a tonne of CO2 emissions annually.

But that’s still small time compared to hospitals and very few would question hospital energy usage.

Compounding this further is the stupidly designed tracks of land more commonly known as “urban sprawl”. From cheap, inefficient houses to the separation from essential goods and services, these landscapes are highly demanding for otherwise avoidable work.

We are not addicted to carbon, but require work and carbon current is the backbone of that work.

And now the barrel…

How can we play a reasonable role within our societies without it? How can we access it, or more importantly, energy for the needed work, without being a dedicated customer to these utility companies?

For most of us, there are no other options. That’s why, when the industry says a price rise is necessary, we pay our bills. Our current PM was all too happy to accuse the then ALP led government about the “pain” its carbon price was causing (wrongly I might add), but where is this outrage when  the average Australian is stuck in ensuring utility profits?

Admittedly, blame is rightfully shared. Who doesn’t have the TV on while utilizing mobile devices or accidentally leave a light on or go for a 5-10 minute drive for something that isn’t really necessary?

So here we are

Work is essential and machines are, either directly or indirectly reliant on combustion to provide this work. That much cannot be avoided.

However, why is the Australian per capita carbon footprint so great among affluent countries? Where could a “market based solution” possibly exist when profits are made on growth in use?

We are not junkies looking for our next fix with a dealer incrementally raising the price, so we need to stop beating ourselves up about it.

In truth, we have merchants selling us fresh water and leaky buckets. We have neither the tools to make or sufficiently repair our buckets nor other access avenues to obtain water. We’re stuck.

This should be enough for anyone to realise that we have major failings in our current systems to either approach the problem of climate change seriously or meet essential goods and services humanely to each member of our species. This simply isn’t good enough.

Honest Reply to anti-science

It was a windy, dry day this last Thursday in central NSW. Winds in the region were recorded at 100km per hour. Much of the state was under fire restrictions. The dust, the pollen… Hay-fever had gripped me as well.

The group was large for our standard field trip, which in its own way worked against my natural rhythm, leaving me frustrated with my personal pace.

At one point, the WordPress app on my phone informed me of pending comment which I later reviewed while finally getting to my sun baked lunch.

What I found was another ambiguous comment, with nothing more than a link and a title. It was from an anti-fluoridation individual which was not, in itself directly related to the actual post under which the comment was made. I had to spam it.

But I didn’t do so straight away. I simply sat on it, thinking over my choices.

To dance the Rain Dance or not?

Did I really want to approve the comment, follow the link and reply? In short, no. My time is very limited at the moment and not well spent on each and every bundle of garbage that someone dreamed up as a rebuttal to the standing position within the scientific literature and then posted online in a forum completely devoid of that methodical, expert critical review process.

In essence, this is entirely the realm of the blogosphere discussion, whether it’s fluoridation, climate change, vaccination, evolution or any other topic that sparks an anti-science reaction.

Each communicator whom supports the most accurate conclusion as understood via scientific methodology is only responding to media that happily avoids such scrutiny. In a lot of ways, part of my chosen role has been in this arena. In retrospect, I did this because it way easy and generated traffic.

It was easy because there is no limit to the rubbish that can be generated, pretending to have some leverage in an informed debate; it’s fuel for the lazy writer. As for the traffic it generated, this is not as valuable as the raw statistics would have you believe.

Feeding the Beast of Attention

I remember a few years ago, one environmental senior academic writer thanked his audience, showing a graphic of his traffic. From my experiences with that blog, it was a sizable audience true enough, by the posts themselves were not really the focus. It was an echo chamber where a few individuals, the host included, would incite a reaction with strong comments and then berate, at length, anyone who disagreed or simply questioned this position.

My traffic is some what less, but am I actually being read a great deal less by an engaged audience? Certainly a little, but I think I largely lack the antagonist audience. It’s quality, not quantity.

Such a style is cheap and ineffective. It’s more about the fight than the case. Yes, I’ve been there myself, but why waste my time stirring up a reaction from conspiracy theory proponents unless the basic traffic information feeds my ego.

Honestly, it’s spam

Mulling over all this, I had to admit to myself that the newest comment was indeed spam. The creator didn’t question or even relate to the post, which referred to osteosarcoma and fluoridation except that it linked to the creators personal space in which they “prove” that fluoride is generally bad.

The comment would have better suited other posts I’ve made on the subject, which leaves me with the impression that the creator made this generic comment, did an online search and just posted it on whatever the search returned.

That’s spam.

Further, this individual obviously didn’t read the post and, like all anti-science proponents, simply knows the science is wrong and is waiting for the evidence to support this faith-based position.

It might generate traffic, but this is deaf traffic to information accuracy.

The knock-on effect

The only element of that harsh day was that at least the winds were so fast that they kept the flies at bay.

By the time I sat down to dinner, I had decided to spam the comment, but more than that, I had decided that such an approach wouldn’t work for me anymore.

While my readership may remain lower, at least I can feel confident that it’s engaged and interested in scientific accuracy.

I’ll turn my attention more so on the analysis of policies in the public domain and on the science where suitable. I will no longer chase the creationists, the climate deniers, the anti-vax or anti-fluoridation fan. I won’t remove any of this material, only focus on an audience interested in genuine reality as best our species understands it.

Australia, 2013: The flat earth society… Good for international relations?

“Nobody has a monopoly on what is a very hard problem, but I don’t have much patience for anyone who denies that this challenge is real. We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society. Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm.  And ultimately, we will be judged as a people, and as a society, and as a country on where we go from here.”

- Obama, Remarks by the President on Climate Change, June 2013

Australia disagrees.

We have actually elected the new Prime Minister of the Flat Earth Society, for a meeting to run its course of the next three years.

Am I being harsh?

The individual in mind is notorious for his dismissal of anthropogenic climate change and global strategies to decarbonise economies. His direct action approach is akin to quadrupling the annual Australian forestry industry with the most optimistic assumptions, but worse in that it relies upon methodology that is highly uncertain and difficult to measure; soil sequestration. This, as a voluntary contribution from farmers with modest returns for the efforts seems far from a compelling strategy.

Australians voted in such a person, arguably not in favour of him personally, but rather against the frayed ALP. That, and the nice ideas of scrapping tax and persistent xenophobia regarding desperate refugees.

So yes, I’m drawn to such a conclusion and haunted by fear summed up but the last sentence of the quote above.

What will future Australian’s think of us who, when the world actually started building up some momentum on action on climate change, now including China and the US, both of which are showing genuine progress, we ducked out of the procession and down the nearest ally to hide out and have a few cigarettes?

The current Australian government does not speak for me. It is one that promotes unreasonable levels of individualism that stands in direct contrast to the evidence that shows increased equality and social mobility are positively correlated with happier, safer and healthier societies. It is one that promotes ideas such as the great northern development and direct action with total disregard for the empirical environmental evidence to the contrary. It is one that points to surplus in its most recent period as example of fiscal management, while ignoring that this came as a quick cash grab on what would have otherwise remained sources of revenue into the indefinite future, that is, privatisation.

It will be a government that provides much fuel for writers like myself, but will I be able to or will I simply balk?

Confusing ignorance for the burden of proof: the key to successful anti-science claptrap

kingdom-of-anti

If it is true, where then is the evidence?

It is noble and dignified to stand firm not to an idea but the pursuit of certainty. It is humble to acknowledge the less-than completeness of our knowledge base.

Yet such an enlightened cap is too easily placed on the scalp more fitting a dunce’s cone.

Anti-science is the core kingdom of all phyla of irrationality, be it climate change “scepticism”, 911, Obama birth or moon landing truthism, creation, anti-vaccination and anti-fluoridation. A central trait of this kingdom is wilful ignorance.

Interestingly, the anti-climate-science movement has marketed itself cleverly in this regard through the tacking on of the word “scepticism” to their cause.

However, there are light years between wilful ignorance and this pretence of scepticism.

How Ignorance Differs

Whether it is the creationist demanding for the “missing link”, the climate change sceptic insisting they merely want the evidence, the anti-fluoridation advocate pleading that the science has not yet been done convincingly… whatever the anti-science angle may be; in each case the individual attempts to mask their wilful ignorance behind the burden of proof – a core scientific method.

It sounds reasonable; if the evidence is so compelling, give it to me and make me a believer.

Firstly, it is not a matter of belief, but entirely a rejection of bad belief / ideas. One accepts that all other known alternatives have been tested and found to be erroneous and thus is drawn to the pool of ideas that remain and cannot be refuted – to the best of our current knowledge.

What exposes such people for their position however is not merely that they ignore the body of scientific evidence when presented to them, not simply that they jump feverishly to the odd paper hot off the peer-reviewed press that their media outlets inform them is the “final nail in the coffin” of the given topic and not just that they continue this argument against the scientific literature completely outside of the peer-review / scientific method process; but because they do all these things simultaneously.

Choosing ignorance or to avoid scientific understanding is not scepticism of presented proof at all.

Where the Debate is Now

We have moved pass this burden in the public “debate” or better termed, conversation and are now really talking about the burden of understanding. The ball is in the court of the anti-science advocate – the burden of proof has been fulfilled – and it is not the fault of science if the enthusiast came without a racket.

Simple tests prove what greenhouse gases are and that we emit them. Only slightly more complex tests show that these greenhouse gases we emit are changing their concentration in the atmosphere. Simple tests show the world is warming. More complex tests have removed the solar or astrological radiation or other meteorological processes as the source of this change. Regardless of whether the result will be 1, 2 or 5 degrees Celsius, we are witnessing anthropogenic climate change.

Equally, the fossil record, genetics and geology all place evolution beyond a shadow of a doubt. Furthermore, Richard Lenski’s work and the body of ecological science have truly left the ball bouncing around the creationist’s court with their response little better than a Three Stooges slap-stick performance.

Again and again, the various phyla of anti-science prove that they have yet to critically review and illustrate fundamental lapses in the science, but rather attempt to pass off ignorance as valid scepticism of the body of evidence provided as proof.

This is what I spend my time writing about on NewAnthro. The anti-science advocate will not challenge the science, but offer another position instead as a competing idea and suggest that the science isn’t settled. In other words, it’s doubt mongering, it’s a sleight of hand designed to distract and confuse. Yet, I take their hypothesis, test it and show why it fails to provide a convincing argument and avoids the science completely.

Science is not about absolutes, but about drawing reasonable conclusions from the highest level of certainty available… with the error bars noted. The kingdom of anti-science instead doesn’t like the conclusion and would like something else to be concluded instead. And so all anti-science phyla ignore inconvenient evidence to pretend they stroll along the high road; sceptics surefooted on the burden of proof. Of course, the only proof they can accept acknowledges their conclusions and so they are walking backwards, down the road of dark age myth.

Eugenie Scott: Frustrations, distortions and teaching bad ideas in schools

Eugenie Scott is always an interesting and thoughtful communicator. In her recent interview with Inside Climate News, she provided a number of gems, including;

“The thing that frustrates me, and is a constant annoyance, is when you see science distorted. As a scientist, I know the process that scientists go through to come up with the conclusions. It is not like we wake up one morning and say, ‘I think it is getting warmer.’ There is a long process of data collection and analysis, constant questioning from your colleagues, and the back and forth of disputes, and presentations of more data and more models. Finally you reach a consensus. That is the way it was with evolution. That is the way it was with climate change.

But people just show up with an ideological agenda, whether political or religious or something else, and distort the conclusions that have been so hard won. This is the sort of thing that really pisses off scientists, and me.”

and;

“Creationists certainly have a right to challenge the science and present their own views to the public for consideration. And the climate change deniers can do the same thing. It is free speech.

However, you really need to think about the goal of education. We are trying to teach kids the basics of the scientific fields. You barely have time to teach them these basics, so why would you argue that students should be learning information that the scientific community has looked at and rejected as being not valid?

Geographers have concluded that the earth is not flat… just as they’ve concluded that species have common ancestors and that climate change is happening. But you don’t see anyone still arguing that we should teach that the earth is flat.”

Read the full interview here.

Sourced from the current issue of Nature, 'Evolution makes the grade'

Sourced from the current issue of Nature, ‘Evolution makes the grade’ by Lauren Morello

In short, she is ever calling for the fair weight of opposing ideas, not equal weight. Interest groups are entitled to their opinions, but this does not instantly elevate the credibility of their ideas. Such credibility is “hard won” and earned through the scientific process.

Haters are going to hate: The latest round of xenophobia in Australia

Yesterday, Ed Husic became Australia’s first Muslim frontbencher. He took his oath of office on the Koran.

Apparently, many Aussies have gone on a haters spree over the action.

Firstly, I’m non-religious, so I don’t care. I couldn’t take an oath over any book and while the exercise is supposed to mean the oath is thus done before the eyes of a certain god, I’ve seen enough poor behaviour from religious people, in the name of their god and philosophy to conclude that such an action is meaningless.

Moreover, isn’t a god supposed to be omnipresent? How many gods have the power to forgive any sin – including not living up to such oaths? Such musings leave traditions like this a little weak.

That said, Mr Husic is a Muslim. Would any of the haters like to take an oath over the Koran? I suspect not. So why should Ed do so over the Bible? Would anyone seriously think that an oath in the sight of the “wrong” religion would be of value to oath-taker in relation to their religious commitment?

More disturbing than this is the obvious Christian flare. It’s Gaynor’s “Christian Australia” which has no place in the public sector and ought to remain at best, the private pursuit of the individual in their own space. If such oath-traditions are to be carried out, let the oath-taker do so over their philosophy and get back to their religious traditions in private.

Haters over this action are an embarrassment to Australia and do nothing to improve the xenophobe image that we tend to export to the world.