The Burd is the word

Here's some really good Canadian science news! (About time, given the recent trend)

Daniel Burd A 16-year old student at Waterloo Collegiate, apparently isolated a microbe that can break down plastic, a notoriously difficult chemical to break down. Read the news story, interesting stuff.

When I was 16, I dressed like Elvis Presley in his later years and played 'Tequila' on my Saxophone in front of the school without telling the director of the event, and I got in trouble for it. So we're pretty much the same, Burd and I.

Today, at 7:51 pm EST, the Mars Pheonix Lander is due to send messages back to Earth, and I'm really excited at this prospect.

Being educated in the humanities (specifically, politics), I've been taught/conditioned to be weary of costly scientific/technological endeavors that don't have a 100% sucess rate, and an immediate payoff (for example, under that thinking, space-probes: bad. Water purification: infinitley better). I was under the impression that we really do have to solve our problems on earth before we start sending billions into space over and over again.

Lately, I've thought better of this narrow-minded perspective, owing to the idea that the space program really is in our best interests, but its such a long-term agenda that its easy for people to loose sight of that. Also, its a matter of perspective: the cost of the space program is next-to-nothing when compared to how much money the U.S. sinks into Iraq every hour, or to how much money is lost thanks to upper-class/corporate tax cuts. NASA is doing a lot for remarkably little, and people hear something like "4-billion dollar space probe", and they get outraged. I'm sorry I can't provide a link for this, but every minute, $5,000 is spent in Iraq. So what's the real financial crime?

NASA just released this really touching commercial, that helps put it into perspective, in a surprisingly poetic way (I admit I poached this from Bad Astronomy). I'm excited.

It's been a bad week to be a Canadian Skeptic. Particularly if you're a tax-paying Canadian (damn you, Scientology). This is a long entry, but if you'll allow my already over-inflated ego to expand a little bit, I think it's a good one. (ugh...did that sound as terrible as it felt writing it?)

In the past week, the CBC's show, "The Hour" with George Stroumboulopoulos (if you like, you can call him George Snuffalupagus) had two red-flagged anti-science buffoons on his show: Ben Stein and Jenny McCarthy. owch.

I'll leave George alone for the moment (I'll get to him afterwards), and for a second talk about Ben Stein. If you have any interest whatsoever with the Skeptical community, you probably are well-familiar with Stein's recent anti-science proclivities. If not, click on his name and Eugiene Scott and the National Centre for Science Education has put together a fantastic web page describing the mis-information but forth by Stein in his recent film, Expelled! No Intelligence Allowed (By far, the best title for an anti-science propoganda film ever). Stein was invited on to preach his anti-science agenda, and was complete with his vicimization status about how Intelligent Design (ID) proponents are being persecuted in the academy for disagreeing with Evolution.

He and his ilk prey on the higher values of western society and exploit them: Free Speech. Not many people are aware of the controversy, and if you were to ask the average person on the street whether or not they would like ID to be taught along side Evolution and let the students make up their own mind, most people would agree: Students should be given every option, and allowed to form their own opinion. But what the IDers don't know (or know, but don't care), is that INTELLIGENT DESIGN IS NOT A SCIENTIFIC THEORY. Therefore, to put it 'on the table' along with evolution would be like saying "We have a different answer to 4x4, and it's 18. Lets lets the students decide for themselves'. They're NOT equal, evolution and ID. One is a scientific theory, the other is a religious explaination.

The social/scientific danger of allowing supernatural causes for natural events means nothing short of the END of scientific thinking, methodology, and progress. Just saying "god did it" means we stop trying to learn. This happens all the time in history, and it's reeeeeally bad when it does. As an example, Isaac Newton calculated exactly how gravity works. Then he observed the revolution of the planets around the sun. According to the Law of Gravity, thought Newton, planets should orbit in a perfect circle. They don't. They orbit in an elipse. Unable to reconcile his proven Law of Gravity with empirical observation, Newton decided it was some sort of divine force that threw off the trajectories of the planets a little. It wasn't until Einstein and Relativity came along hundreds of years later that he was able to account for the unexpected eliptical orbits. In doing so, Einstein added cruicial mathematical advances to general and special relativity that today, we wouldn't even be able to track a communication satellite without. So imagine what it would be like if we simply allowed ourselves to resign ourselves to say "The biological makeup of man and beast is too complicated to us to understand, therefore it must not have evolved, but was the product of some designer". Biology would forever be stuck, and all medical/biological advances in the last 150 years would have to be discarded. But you're a skeptic, so you already know this.

Secondly, Jenny McCarthy. Her interview wasn't quite as outlandish and crazy as her usual Oprah-esque tirades against the medical community, but there were nonetheless flashes of her anti-science hostility and irrationality. She did indeed make her case that vaccines cause autism, and that the medical community won't listen to alternative treatments, and that they don't value nutruition. Even at 8:39 in the interview, she has the audacity to claim that doctors don't advise their patients to enjoy a nutrional diet. What-the-crap kinda doctors does she go to? Every doctor I've had...EVERY SINGLE DOCTOR has always started the sessions/checkups with inquiries about how I'm eating. This is simply a lie on her part, which shouldn't be surprising, given the tactics used by the anti-vaccination movement. I'll be very clear, vaccines do not cause autism (the previous is a useful one-stop shopping for links on the subject). Study after study after study after study has shown this. And I find it despicable that anti-science propoganda is scareing people from getting their children vaccinated, resulting in measles outbreaks in San Diego, and an outbreak of Polio. POLIO!!! Polio was on the verge of being another smallbox, relegated to a small cluster of cells in cold-storage....we were about to beat polio for good, but a bunch of anti-vax zealots convinced enough people to not get vaccinated, caused herd-immunity to break down, and caused an outbreak of an archaic, preventable disease. Shame of McCarthy for spreading such dreadfully dangerous lies and propoganda to a general public which is largely ignorant of the scientific subtleties.

Vaccines don't kill people. Mumps, Measles, Rubella, and Polio kill people. Thanks to anti-vaxers like McCarthy and Robert F Kennedy Jr, more people will die of these diseases.

Before I take a swipe at George Snuffalupagus, I want to provide a brief primer on the CBC or my non-Canadian friends who might not be familiar. The Canadian Broadcasting Coroporation (CBC) is a government-run, tax-payer funded media company, complete with television, radio, news, and even podcasting. It's mostly tax-payer funded (it does recieve advertising revenue, yes, but it is primarily a great-big-public-media company....think PBS, but with systemic government support and funding), and since it is largely unbeholden to corporate dollars, it can say what it wants (within the bounds of the law, of course). Here's the rub: I am FURIOUS that my tax dollars are being spent to broadcast scientific mis-information and propganda that HARMS people. The CBC broadcasts all kinds of crap I don't like, whether its bad programing, or political stances that are just plain crazy (Our prime minster IS conservative, after all). But when they start broadcasting anti-science, that's where I draw the line.

Anti-science kills. Literally kills people. I've given some examples above of how the anti-vax movement causes disease outbreaks of diseases we know how to beat, and how assigning a supernatural causation to the natural world sets back the clock on scientific research/knowlegde, and superscedes our ability to do empirical research once we hit a brick wall and try to figure it out.

George Stroumbouloupoulous REALLY dropped the ball, and asked nothing but low-ball questions to these to bullies/cranks/buffoons. George, you've got a young, trendy audience, and you've just contributed to their brainwashing. I don't know how you can have Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins on, then Jenny McCarthy and Ben Stein.

Oh, wait. yes I do know: You're nowhere near as intelligent as you present yourself, and you're incabable of being a journalist and ask a difficult question.

EPIC FAIL!

As regular readers of this blog know (both of them), I've been way sick as of late. Shortly before my birthday at the begining of May, I was struck down by a bacterial infection of my sinuses, making my head feel like it was a ballon filled with snot-berry jam. A couple of weeks of anti-biotics, I was back up my full strength in time to celebrate the earth's 29'th orbit around the sun since I've been on this pale blue dot.

Fastforward to a week ago, and a sore throat set in. Thinking little of it until it got too bad, I ignored it....then it got too bad on Wednesday evening, and I went BACK to the hospital (2nd time in 2 weeks), and was given penicillin (another anti-biotic). The doc took a swab-o-me-throat to test for strep-throat.

Fast forward to today, after spending 6 hours at the hospital (thanks drunk-pricks who monopolized doctors precious time fixing you up because you got into a few fights/was found on the sidewalk drunker/higher than a jack-tar aloft the top'sl), and a blood test, I finally had some concrete results, complete with a prognosis and treatment regimen to be begun immediatley. The results were:

Strep-throat: negative.
Mono: negative.
Random ill-defined viral infection which there is no treatment for and the body has no choice but to suck it up and let the immune system slowly purge the viral-invaders from my body: bingo.

Well, shit.

On the plus side, I'm glad it's not mono or strep-throat, as not only do I love to go around kissing random people (the more random and inaporpriate the timing the better), but I've always had a 'thing' for licking the rims of people's coffee mugs, beer-glasses, and open-wounds. To each his own.

As a way to lighten my own mood after the negative results came in (or face the drive home, now in the morning, sunlit hours, grumpy and pissed off at nobody in particular), I asked the doctor, "since you can't perscribe anything for me, do you think I should spend the money and take some homeopathic remedies?"

This doctor must be well-versed in quackery, if poorly versed in bedside manner, as he chuckled, "hahahaha, oh God no!"

I assured him I was joking, and that I knew it was all crap, and we both got a good giggle as we both left the hospital (his shift was over, and I was being cleared to leave....we didn't leave TOGETHER, get your mind out of the gutter).

I'm glad I made that joke, because despite the lack of a clear, treatable ailment, I was nonetheless encouraged to see at least this doctor have the correct attitude regarding homeopathy.

Braf.

Sorry for the lack of updates latley, but yet again I have been diagnosed with having a bacterial infection. There has been quite a bit of Canadian-skeptical activity, but I've been way too sick to write much. In fact, I'm going back to bed now.

A few days ago, Mercury was supposed to be at its most visible. Armed with my camera, and a scenic panoramic view overlooking Georgian Bay, I sat. I waited. Nothing. Perhaps I was looking in the wrong direction, or perhaps mercury was just too low to be seen. So instead, I took pictures of the Midland pier. Orginally used as a hub for shipping, the pier has fallen into disrepair, and is a great spot to play (which is exactly what I did for my 20+ years in that area). Here they are.




Not really a skeptical post, but I thought these pics looked kinda neat.

Top 10 Ways to Destroy the Earth. Hrmmmm....Kinda sounds like Death From the Skies has been undercut.

SCAB! SCAB! SCAB!

Anyway, I'm back in Midland, Ontario (my hometown) for the family-part of my birthday. It's really strange not having a dog in the house anymore. Coming home is also my reminder to not-be a skep-dick, as I see copies of The Secret, a buncha-astrology books, and a Kevin Trudeau book (I don't know which one...does it really matter?). Time to keep my mouth shut for the next few days.

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