Reimagined and Revamped. Fighting the spread of nonsense often feels like a Sisyphean task. However, the joy is in making the information available, not the hope of conversion.
Need some help from you folks out there. Wife and I were talking last night about horrible man who recently killed his family. We started talking about how emotions affect our perception and logic. I thought of something weird.
It seems clear that some people, at some times, lack some emotions like compassion or guilt (for example I can't even imagine the emotional abyss required to allow yourself to kill your kids, particularly toddlers). But given our normal range of emotions that we identify, why couldn't there be emotions that we do not have.
When I mentioned this, my wife looked at me strangely, laughed and then asked "Like what?". Of course I couldn't answer. I didn't mean to imply that I knew, just that perhaps they could exist. As an example, presume life evolves on another planet, why would we expect that they have the same emotions (never mind values) that we do.
How would we identify a new emotion that we as humans don't have? If in 30,000 years we evolve a new emotion, how would we recognize it?
Present evidence that lowering taxes for wealthy businesses provides any economic stimulus whatsoever or shut the hell up.
We now return to our regularly scheduled program.
This is not going to be a unique post about homeopathy or natural rememdies, or equivocation. In keeping with my mission, I'm writing this post as simply one more place to find on the internet as an article that extracts good and points our nonsense of a body of so-called knowledge that pervades our society. I am not the first to point out that homeopathy is bunk, I certainly won't be the last.
Homeopathy, despite the horrible pervasiveness, is utter nonsense. Let's clear one thing up immediately so that we can see why I say that. Homeopathy cures the exact same things that water and sugar cure. Nothing more and nothing less. It is also fatal in the cases where homeopathy is used where evidence based medicine should have been, for example kidney failure, malaria, pneumonia, and so forth. These are the same things that could kill you if you treat them with water or sugar pills.
The reason for this is that homeopathy is water or sugar pills. How do I know this? Because this is what the practitioners of homeopathy tell you it is. There are no lies out there as to what it is. There are three fundamental flaws in the reasoning behind homeopathy that make it absolutely bizarre that anyone anywhere takes it seriously.
1. Law of similars
This is the idea that "like cures like". An example described at the National Center for Homeopathy discusses ipecac, a substance derived from the root of Ipecacuanha. It causes vomiting, and we use it for this feature. The idea is that since it causes vomiting, then if you are vomiting for another reason, then taking ipecac should cure it.
But why would taking something to make you throw up fix you when you are already throwing up? Ahhhhh that doesnt really make sense, that just sounds like you will throw up even more. Well, to counter the 'toxic effects' of the extract, it is diluted. The more diluted the stronger. So when you buy a homeopathic remedy it has a reference in its ingredients it might say something like 10x or 10c, or 30c. The higher the better.
What does that mean? Let's let the Society of Homeopaths answer this:
How are the remedies made?What happens at 12c? (My bold)
...The raw extracts (from plants or animals) or triturations (from minerals and salts) are made into a ‘tincture’ with alcohol which forms the basis of the dilution procedure. Dilutions are made up to either 1 part tincture to 10 parts water (1x) or 1 part tincture to 100 parts water (1c). Repeated dilution results in the familiar 6x, 6c or 30c potencies that can be bought over the counter: the 30c represents an infinitessimal part of the original substance.
Are homeopathic remedies safe?To be clear, a 30c solution (the strongest by homeopathic standards) is more dilute than putting a drop of the tincture into the Atlantic ocean. So, if there is nothing in there. Why does it work? Its the shaking that embues the substance with its magic healing power
Homeopathic remedies are a unique, potentised energy medicine, drawn from the plant, mineral and animal worlds. They are diluted to such a degree that not one molecule of the original substance can be detected (after the 12c potency).
...the critical component of shaking ('succussion') between serial dilutions without which they would, indeed, be merely water rather than potentised substances.3. No evidence, No Provenance
The reason evidence based medicine works so well is that it is checked for its efficacy. The single most powerful tool in the arsenal for doing this is the double blind controlled study. With this tool we can determine if a procedure, method or substance is not only superior to other methods, procedures, and substances in treating an ailment, but we can check if its better than something known to not treat the ailment, like water, saline or sugar, otherwise known as a placebo.
But even with controlled studies, there still has to be verification and improvement of the study. This is because its expensive to do this studies properly. So pilot studies are done with few (as low as 5 or 10) participants. These are good as a screening mechanism to answer the question "should we check further?".
So what happens, homeopaths do a pilot study, usually poorly, and then claim success. Then when the test is repeated under more controlled conditions with more participants, lo and behold, the homeopathic remedy works as well as water does. With good reason, it is water. There is even a challenge out there, for free money that challenges any homeopath to do a proper study on homeopathy and show statistically (as opposed to interpreted) significant results. Their money is safe. Why? Because homeopathy is water.
This is a great post on provenance and why it is important. Let me sum up by quoting:
If the claim is based on earlier sound science – backed by quality evidence – it is more likely to be true. Not certain to be true, of course. But it will at least have scientific plausibility. But if the claim is based on something that was just made up, then it seems much less likely it would be true.Where did homeopathy come from? Well it turns out that homeopathy is based on the personal experience of one man, Samuel Hahnemann. He was born in Germany in 1775 and published his homeopathy work in 1810.
So how did he come to his conclusion?
...he read the claim that the drug, cinchona (Peruvian Bark), was effective in treating the symptoms of malaria because it was a bitter astringent and had a tonic effect on the stomach.There is no provenance for homeopathy. It popped out of the blue from the personal experience of one man. It is not the result of an improvement of prior work, it is subject to all the biases that comes with research in a box. Was it his own opinion that he had malaria like symptoms? Or was he just feeling sick from poisoning himself? He got better when he stopped poisoning himself, and somehow made the jump that poisoning himself less would cure a disease that has nothing to do with the poison. Please note...he never caught malaria nor cured it to check his theory.
Hahnemann rejected this claim outright as it suggests that other drugs which had these characteristics should have a beneficial effect on malarial states, which they don’t. In order to establish exactly what effects cinchona did have on the human organism he decided to take the drug himself. He began to administer doses of cinchona to himself over a short period of time and discovered that this bark actually created malaria-like symptoms in a healthy individual. Hahnemann reasoned that it was the similarity of symptoms that somehow produced the healing effect. This prompted the postulation of the first principle of homoeopathy: “like cures like.”
One more item on homeopathy. Its not ancient and it is not Chinese. Its less than 200 years old and its from Germany. But even if it were, just becuase something is old and from an unfamiliar area doesn't make it good. The average lifespan of chinese people in 1900 was around 25 (it was 47 for us), as late as 1956 is was only 35. To claim that there is anything good about ancient medicine that has not been verified with evidence is beyond ridiculous.
Enough of homeopathy.
Equivocation with natural remedies
The biggest problem right now with homeopathy is that is is often confused with natural remedies. In fact, the pushers of homeopathy enjoy this confusion as it allows them to slip the sales of pure water under the auspices of natural remedies, of which many are real.
Lets define a natural remedy: A medicine prepared from plants or a chemical that occurs naturally. So extracts from various plants are included, but so are vitamins, even hormones. Clearly there are natural remedies that can help us, and they are not watered down to nothing.
So if we have a diet that is low in vitamin C for example, we would choose a natural remedy of eating vitamin C or a diet with more fruits, particularly citrus, in it. So clearly there is a natural remedy for scurvy (which is sadly still not unheard of today). There are a number of natural remedies that have gone through double blind testing and shown to have efficacy:
(That's a pretty cool site in those links, however I have not looked into the standards applied to that chart, but you can look more into it here. However, they are clear that these things do not work for everything and many of the herbs, like echinacaea, are shown to have no evidence of doing anything, so I am inclined to go along with this, but the only grade I would accept to indicate a useful herb is an A. If the grade is B it indicates that pilot studies show a positive result, while a better controlled study found no such result)
The point is that there is no controversy that there are, in fact, remedies that grow naturally. Evidence based medicine recognizes it. Each claim must be assessed individually. Then, if efficacy is found, the active ingredient, ingredients or mechanism can be weaned out, understood and used. This doesn't mean that all things that grow in nature are good for you (poison ivy, arsenic) or can be used for something (I encourage you to peruse the list for your favorite herb).
But when you equivocate homeopathy and natural remedies you are not only endowing the homeopathy with undeserved respect, you are lowering the importance of the natural remedies that have been researched with positive evidence made available for its efficacy. In order to keep the eye on the ball, we must be tsting the claims of people who say that one herb or another is good for us.
This goes for equivocating the ancient Chinese secret fallacy with evidentially supported natural remedies. You weaken the standing of the good, verified remedies by relying on an appeal to ancient ways.
Can we presume the same folks who were behind the Obama birth certificate nonsense will now be behind the new theory that since Obama did not deliver the oath as written in the Constitution, then he is not the president.
UPDATE: Dang it! They prevented the wackos from clamoring by retaking the oath. Apparently they think there are the same wackos out there. Same "So help me god" in there, no bible this time.
"For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers."
It truly never does.
A supremely skilled and well trained pilot lands an aircraft on water. This aircraft is the product of rigorous engineering practices, safety guidelines, intense simulation, and decades of design evolution. The 40 thousand pound aircraft freaking floats because it was designed that way! The engines are specifically designed and tested to not explode from a birdstrikes and have been for years.
But instead of thanking people, what do we hear?
"God was certainly looking out for all of us."
God flings two birds at your plane, and you say he is looking out for you?
I am fully on the side that Bush has done more to ruin this country than any other president before him , either by direct action, inaction, or vicariously through the action of members of his cabinet and vice president (in particular his vice president). I doubt I can come out stronger in this regard. I cant find a single metric that shows that some policy or executive order on his part lead to something positive for this country (although I do have a post on that brewing).
That being said, I just can't get on board with this:
I sincerely believe that President-elect Obama's top priority upon taking office should involve appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration for war crimes and other criminal abuses of power.
I can't get past the fact that we, as a country voted for him the second time after most of this crap was done. Its like allowing a company to dump PCBs in a river and then making them clean it up 20 years later. If it was a legal dumping in the first place, boo on the govt agency that allowed it, not the company. If the company dumped in the river despite being told not to, boo on the company and they should pay.I may have been right in my pre-election contentions about Bush. I may not have liked how people voted, but they did it nonetheless. They essentially told him, "What you are doing is OK". I think that is where my apathy on this subject is coming from.
How many times have I heard that people who are "green" or want to conserve energy should not be participating in things that consume energy? For example Christmas Tree lighting ceremonies. The logic goes as follows:
But this time, this 72 foot tall, eight-ton weed will be lit with 30,000 energy-efficient LED lights. That makes the tree truly “green,” as opposed to, you know, just green.So, the reasoning goes, you are a hypocrite if you want a society that cares about the environment, unless you do not do any activities that provide any harm to the environment. Its a strawman. The Greens and Cleans, are not asking everyone to stop using electricity, they are not asking people to shop only in Salvation army or to farm their own stuff. There is a place somewhere in that huge middle ground that can work for everyone and the earth. The idea is to have more available energy to use, but that this energy comes ultimately comes from the sun (wind, solar) or the earth (geothermal) and while we are not getting the energy this way, to conserve what we have.
Now, this is the equivalent of Kirstie Alley ordering four Big Macs and then washing it down with diet Coke.
I mean, imagine the fuel required to bring a tree the size of a whale from New Jersey, where it grew up. It also needs a custom made telescoping trailer, as well as a huge crew. The damn thing also has a 750-pound star — almost twice the size of Joy Behar.
See, this just shows how the green movement is a stupid joke: An ideology for idiots, where symbolism trumps substance and feeling good is all that matters, even if that feeling has no basis in reality.
I mean, if you really believe in going green, then cancel the tree lighting altogether and replace it with a pagan prayer recited by a naked Ed Begley, Jr.
I have noticed over the last year or two, that versions of Pascals Wager have been used to justify one position over another in the media on what are generally scientific arenas.
This is not a post on Pascal's Wager in its original form. Nor am I going to spend any time countering it. This has been effectively done over the last 340 years. It is effectively countered with an atheists wager.
However, the philosophical exercise that it incurs happens quite often in this information age. Behold: Global Warming.
I have written about global warming before. In that post I listed the specific reasons why we should be trusting the scientists who are predicting harsh outcomes of ignoring it. I don't think its the end of the world, and I don't think humans will be wiped out. I think that if we do not pay attention to it, we will be causing tremendous suffering around the world. Its immoral to not act to reduce it.
Now, we can not ignore the fact that there is no scientist who is 100% certain that all the doom and gloom will happen. We simply look at the evidence and act accordingly. The stronger the evidence, the more firm we should be in our resolve. However, there are a number of sites that are pointing out chinks in the global warming armor. We can't ignore them, we need to add valid data sets to our body of knowledge, and throw out the bad ones. Its the conclusions from these data sets that are the problem, not the data.
As a quick example, when I looked today at WattsUpWithThat they are talking about a volcano exploding, and therefore AGW won't be a problem, even Greg Laden said that (perhaps in jest). This of course doesnt stop the issues associated with continued CO2 release, it just makes a few colder years. It does nothing for the long term trend nor ocean acidification.
Anyway, the AGW denialist do come up with valid data (it happens), it can't be ignored, it must be added. But its the denialism that leads to legislative actions or business decision. Now we can compare to Pascal's wager. Pascal's wager and the atheists wager can be summarized in a table like this:
So, depending on how you define the parameters, you can generate a chart like this for anything. For example, global warming
Now if you already believe that we need to act against global warming, as I do, this makes perfect sense and seems like a good argument. Lets look at what someone else might think. These folks happen to have their own wagering chart, they are truly bizarre on many fronts, but they have their chart.
See? The definitions of good and bad are made so that All the squares are bad or all good or all irrelevant, depending on your point of view.
The point is that, when it comes to science and acting upon the conclusions of science, creating dichotomies and presuming that science doesn't actually know jack, is an exercise in futility. You will simply be making these arguments based on pre-existing assumptions. The reason we use science is to evaluate our observations, verify that our theories work and the check the predictive power and use those results. We shouldn't be fighting global warming because its the safer of the two bets, we should be fighting it because the evidence leads us to the conclusion that we will be causing tremendous suffering if we don't.
"Jan. 6, 1912: Birth of the Supreme Tech Skeptic"
But but..this guy is almost completely the opposite of me....
"He studied the work of Karl Marx and embraced a good deal of Marxist theory, which he did not consider in conflict with his religious beliefs... He became a Christian at 22, and his strong faith — Ellul defined himself as a Christian universalist — underpinned all his work...
Ellul's ambivalence toward technology was grounded in large part in his religious and social convictions. He believed that "technological tyranny," represented by the increasing encroachment of modern technology into our private lives, posed a threat to both human freedom and faith."
I have been reminiscing today. I was talking about computer games with some friends of mine. Then I started looking at some "all time best games" that are around the internet.
I have yet to see a list with my favorite game ever made
Sacrifice: I have yet to play a a game that I have liked more than this one that isn't an MMO (I got totally hooked into World of Warcraft, Anarchy Online and Ultima Online, the last of which extended my PhD an extra 6 months).
This is not to say that there arent other good games out there, there certainly are. But even Warcraft, StarCraft and other RTSs, while certainly good, didnt capture my imagination and attention like Sacrifice did.
While the company that made this game, Shiny, has now been swallowed up, I would love to see a sequel or even just a refresh of this same game out there.
If you can get a copy of it in the discount bins, I highly recommend it.
I just got a virus on my computer. It was very annoying since it slipped through Zone Alarm and apparently slips through Norton also. Not sure of the name of it (I think it's gadcom.exe), but what it does is continually open browser pages to sagipsul.com, which then opens some page for one ad or another.
I ran my antivirus (Zone), it didnt correct it. Ran the Zone anti-spyware, didnt help. So I did some searching for this. This is where I found the damn trojan to be insidious. There are some programs out there that can fix it, but something in the virus knows the download sites for them and doesnt let you download it. One is called malwarebytes (v1.3), the other is called Combofix. The dang virus wouldn't let me download either one.
However, what worked for me, was to open another browser (I normally use firefox, so I tried to open IE) and download it from there. This miraculously worked. I used ComboFix. It cleared it out. If this happens to you, well I hope this works for you as well as it did for me.
OK, maybe I'm just stupid for not reading the instruction. Its an Apple product, you shouldn't have to read the instructions! But it took me months to realize that there is a button inside the microphone (the part in focus) of the headphones.
One day I was trying to talk on the phone when I went to the bathroom (what? like you haven't done that!). As I flushed, I covered the microphone with my hand so the other person could not hear. When I squeezed the microphone it hung up the phone and the music came back on. I pressed it twice more and the song skipped to the next song. Later I pressed it when the person called me back and it answered the call!
Well if you didnt know about that feature, your iPhone life will be much easier now.
To me, this is more reason why critical thinking truly needs to be taught far better and be far more embraced by our society.
Behold, AirTran and the Irfans.
You see... the Irfans are Muslim, and you know they don't look like white Christians. So when some people of middle eastern decent get on a plane and start discussing where the safest place to sit might me, of course we should immediately start suspecting them of being suicide bombers, or justr bombers.... or what exactly? I dont get it.
Note to stupid whilte folk and their dumb children: if a suicide bomber is on a plane, why in the world might he be talking about where to sit in order to be the safest? If he was just a bomber and not a suicide bomber, why would he be on the plane at all?
So these folks, Americans by the way, get removed from the plane for doing nothing wrong (really, have you not ever had this same exact discussion?) and interrogated by the FBI. The FBI clears them, specifically asks Airtran to give them seats on another flight so they can get going. They won't do it, and then are surprised that one of them loses their temper?
Atif Irfan is a lawyer. Its rare that I hope someone sues over being mistreated. I hope he sues to have mandatory critical thinking classes for AirTran employees.
Its too bad the Irfans didn't catch the recent episode of Stuff You Should Know on how to survive a plane crash. The answer to their question was in there: a higher percentage of people survive a plane crash when they sit in the back, I believe it was 40% higher than other places in a plane.
You may have noticed the new look. The New New Look, since this is a second time I have changed in in a month. You may also have noticed the name change. So here are some questions you may have and answers to them:
What is Effort Sisyphus and why did you choose the new title?
If you unfamiliar with your Greek Mythology, you can read about Sisyphus here or here. Basically Sisyphus was condemned to hell with an eternal task of rolling a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down each and every time. I did not trick Hades into doing anything, I do not feel like I am in Hell.
However, I did lose my naivety about what can only be considered a Sisyphean task. I spent a lot of time thinking highly of myself, that if I put some clear, supported and linked information out there, people would be able to make decisions for themselves, and hopefully change their minds.
Simply said: Effort Sisyphus is a blog that presents well supported information on a variety of scientific, technical, ethical and moral topics for use by others to disseminate. I have no (more) illusions that my sole efforts will affect society at all. I just hope that my efforts will help other, more popular websites and blogs to bring our society to one that values critical thinking and respect for scientists.
It is the whole reason I spent days debunking the nonsense a company called Medis [1,2,3] was trying to promote. Its why I wrote some other posts for example: