Saturday, November 29, 2008

Obama Team to Scrap Orion and Ares 1?

Science News is reporting that President-Elect Obama's Transition Team is seeking possible changes to the Ares and Orion projects. The information requested by the Obama Team include how much money would be saved by canceling the Ares 1 and Orion projects, but no real alterations in other NASA projects. The Ares 1 and 5 rockets have been plagued with problems, and Orion has come under fire for poor design. Should Orion be redesigned to be used on current rocket technology? Is the Mars Science Labratory worth scaling back? Should we go to the Moon again?

One positive note in the article, Obama's Team is looking into green lighting several Earth science projects which have been ignored over the last few years.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Are You Smarter Than An Elected Official?

How's your Civics knowledge? You can take a simple test from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute to gauge some of your know-how. The results of the test may be surprising. Americans had an average of 49 percent, while elected officials scored five points lower, at 44 percent.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Good-bye cheese

I thought I was a hard core vegetarian. I gave up jello and twizzlers, and try to be conscious about buying leather. I was living in happy ignorance about dairy products, when someone opened their mouth about rennet, and now cheese is ruined for me. Rennet is an enzyme derived from calve stomach that curdles the cheese. Granted the amount of rennet in cheese is very small ( 1 kg of rennet extract there are about 0.7 grams of active enzymes) but I can't forget that it is still there. The good news is there are vegetarian cheeses, made without animal rennet, mostly organic and kosher cheeses, but those are expensive. I don't know any restaurant that uses vegetarian cheese. I can also pretty much say good-bye to all pizza chains as well. Giving up cheese will be a gradual process, one of withdrawals and relapses. Cheese and I have known each other for a long long time. We all know how hard it is to say good-bye to an old friend, even if that friend is made from slaughtered calf stomach.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Meet Autism's False Prophets

Do you remember when kids used to go trick or treating and it was perfectly acceptable to receive popcorn balls and cookies from little old ladies? Then, starting in the 60's and 70's the rumors that there were poisons and razors in candy spread, and parents never looked at Halloween candy the same again. Obviously these rumors had to be true. Why would someone lie about something like that. The candy scare turned out to be an urban myth, loosely based on a couple of stories and it got out of hand. The point is that someone had to initiate the scare. The same is true for the mercury-causes-autism scare. I would now like to introduce to you the people that scared millions of parents into not vaccinating their children, and subjecting them to dangerous alternative therapies.

Andrew Wakefield: The Biggest Loser.
Meet Andrew Wakefield. In 1998 Wakefield held a press conference, claiming he had found the cause of autism. He believed the measles virus in the MMR shot was causing damage to the intestine. The virus was able to pass through the damaged intestine, out into the bloodstream, only to be carried to the brain, causing autism. His findings were published in prestigious medical journal (therefore making it all the more believable). He seemed to really care about the well being of children. However, his studies were flawed. He did them in his own lab, ignored contradictory data, and falsified his findings. He collected blood from children at his son's birthday party and subjected children to dangerous tests. He also had financial gain. He was receiving large amounts of money from personal injury lawyers to prove the link between vaccines and autism. He was also developing his own autism detection kits. Unfortunately, before this information became public, there was a ban on vaccinations, leading to a rise of measles in the UK, and instilling fear in parents everywhere that their choice to vaccinate their children was the wrong one.

Meet Mark and Dan Geier. They also receive money from personal injury lawyers to serve as expert witnesses in vaccine cases. They investigated vaccines by turning their basement into a lab. They are also chelation advocates, charging large sums of money for their own therapies. They also advocated for Lupron, a drug sometimes used to chemically castrate sex offenders, which they were financially invested in. To support their claims they referred to findings recorded in the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS). This system was inaccurate and could be used to manipulate and support clinical findings to their liking. Because they have no background in autism, toxicology,pediatrics s or epidemiology their expert testimonies of subsequently been thrown out of court.
Famous people are smart and always know best. Robert F Kennedy Jr is from one of the most well known families in America. He is perfect to advocate for anti-vaccine laws. Problem is, he doesn't know what he is talking about. He is an environmentalist who also was a participant in a law firm that regularly sues drug companies. His articles on autism and the CDC have been inaccurate and misleading, but he's a Kennedy, so obviously his heart is in the right place.

This woman obviously knows more than doctors. Jenny McCarthy is such an idiot I don't want to talk much about her, except that her "google" degree has led her to cure her child's autism. McCarthy represents everything that is wrong with parents. Of course parents know their kids the best, but shouldn't be making medical decisions based on a 10 minute Internet search. Her kid may have autism, but now she can be a model and a best selling author. YEAH!

David Kirby is deserving of recognition. He is a journalist who wrote "Evidence of Harm" and anti-vaccine manifesto of sorts.

Then there are the scare mongering politicians that don't know what they are talking about that scare the country into believing something that just isn't true. The top offenders include John McCain (idiot), John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and Christopher Dodd.

Lets thank the media for giving these people a voice. A big thank you to Don Imus (always a pleasure), Oprah Winfrey and Larry King Live. Controversy makes for great ratings.

Most of these people had something to gain, money. Money is a huge motivation. Unfortunately, ignorance plays a huge part in this scare as well. I'd like to give these people the benefit of the doubt, and say that all our false prophets aren't hurting children out of greed, but out of a lack of knowledge. It's fun to pretend.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Autism's False Prophet's: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure.

Lately, I've been growing more interested in autism. More specifically, the controversy that mercury containing preservatives (thimerosal) causes autism. This interests me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because it has been a dangerous controversy. Secondly, because of the parallels it has to religion. There are people who believe very strongly that thimerosal causes autism, despite contradictory evidence. They are clinging onto a faith in something for comfort and answers. There is so much to be said on the subject. I've been reading this wonderful and very interesting book by Dr. Paul A. Offit called Autism's False Prophtes: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure. I was drawn in by the opening quote by Tomas Szasz "When religion was strong and science weak, men mistook magic for medicine. Now, when science is trong and religion is weak, men mistake medicine for magic". The fact that Susan Jacoby also endorsed this book encouraged me that this is a good read. Now only is it about something that I feel strongly about, but it's full of skeptism, a quality any good atheist possesses. I'm not going to attempt to analyze and worhip this book in one blog post. So look for more to come, and this book.