reading list

New Testament...part 3?

Picking up from yesterday, the second leg of the trip...

This is still acts of the apostles.

My guess with Paul and his vision, is that he was already having second thoughts about what he was doing, perhaps not willing to admit those doubts to himself, or feeling compelled for some reason to stay the course, so when he had his vision, it articulated those doubts better than he was able to do on his own, and so he felt permission to do what he was already inclined to do anyway, which was quit his job. He certainly wouldn't be the first person to go from one end of the debate to the other. In the modern health care debate, for instance, look at a guy like Wendell Potter. Once the guy that did the enforcing and helped to screw people out of their coverage, now advocating strongly against everything health insurance companies stand for, having seen it on the inside.

Now in Romans.

Other than saying that Jesus was the only thing you needed for salvation, what was the motivation for Christians to give up sacrifices? Don't want to sacrifice to false dieties, but Jews sacrifice to the their god, why give it up to be Christian? I don't remember anything in particular except to say that it wasn't necessary. Is this another case of they wanted to stop doing it for other reasons, and Christianity just gave them an excuse to do exactly what they wanted anyway?

They also say that circumcision isn't necessary, but is recommended. Why is it that one was kept and one was abandonned?

The arbitrariness of god's mercy is, in fact, arbitrary. Romans admits that, and they think that's actually good. To people with morals, this is hideous. But that's how they make sense of good things happening to bad people. But how can you say god is good if he's arbitrary?

Corinthians now.

If you are married to a nonbeliever if they want to stay, because they are sanctified through being married to a believer. But, if they wish to leave, let them leave.... okay. So, if you want divorce to be okay, you just need to marry a nonbeliever. I guess nonbelievers are good for something.

Give not offense to neither Jews nor Gentiles? Another piece of advice not taken by Christians.

Isn't it a shame how they follows the rules that are pretty crappy, but ignore the good ones. They are talking about women being covered, and they basically just say the local custom holds. Men should not be covered.

I have to pick this up later... guests have arrived.

Continuing the next day:

Women should have long hair because it helps to cover them, but men should not.

The three greatest virtues, according to Paul, are faith, hope and charity. But of these, charity is the greatest virtue. Not faith.

Speaking in tongues is good, according to Saul, but better if you prophesy, and better still if you "speak with knowledge". Not something most Christians come even close to. He also says that, even in Church, if no interpreter is present, you should keep your speaking in tongues to yourself. If no one understands it, you may lead them astray.

Women should not be teachers, and if she wants to know anything, she should ask her husband. God, what a sexist. Consistent with the culture, but still.

Asking questions about what body will be resurrected, etc. means that you really don't understand what the resurrection is about. He seems to be suggested that you will be resurrected in an incorruptible heavenly body, not a corruptible earthly body. So what happens to the Earthly body is beside the point. Catholics! Donate your organs!

(II Corinthians)

How did the apostles decide who to write letters to and who to travel to. Why the Corinthians, for instance, and not the Athenians? Couldn't stand the philosophical arguments?

Galatians now.

Paul talks about meeting the brother of Jesus, James, a child of Mary by Joseph, who was therefore younger than Jesus? Or is this a child of Joseph by a previous wife (in that case, not actually related to Jesus at all by blood)?

It's easy to see why the Romans wouldn't have been very impressed by the Jews. All this talk about not wanting to eat with the uncircumcised makes them seem like "we're special and you're disgusting"... and given who the Romans were, you can see how that would fly in the face of their own cultural expectations... well, and really anyone's self-respect.

Paul here argues against aseticism. These people won't inherit the kindgom of god, only those about love and peace.

Ephesians.

Pick up here on the next long drive. Almost done!!
horsemen

New Testament...part 2?

So, the continuing saga of Haysoos continues... The new testament has its problems, of course, but it's not as engaging as the old testament, and I fear I tune out periodically. But below are my collected notes. I think I left off at the end of his around Galaticians. I'm getting close to the end. One more long drive should do it.

We pick up in the gospel of John. These notes (the ones at the beginning at least) were recorded on Newtonmass Eve.

This is where the Jewish soldiers are the ones who arrest and attack Jesus in Gethsemene, instead of the version where it's the Romans that do this. It's interesting that Mel Gibson picked this version rather than the other for the Passion of the Christ.

When Jesus is being confronted by Pilate, he goes to a great deal of trouble to talk like a lawyer or a politician, going to a great deal of trouble not to really answer any of the questions put to him. When I grew up, Pilate was portrayed as a bad guy, but in the actual story, he seems to be doing everything he could not to put Jesus to death. He was looking for any excuse at all, but Jesus seemed to determined not to oblige him. Given the story here, it's hard to see how Pilate could be considered the bad guy. It just seems like you would be better off blaming it on the mob and the followers of the chief priest... not the Jews in broad strokes, but just this particular Jew in an effort to preserve his own power.

The detail about not breaking his legs. Not like he was fulfilling a prophecy, but that it was something easily adjusted in the story after the fact. They broke the legs of the other two guys. And decades after Jesus was dead and buried, how could you prove it?

How is it that the disciples would be able to participate in passover when they had just touched a dead body. Isn't that why women were responsible for the dead, because it would make them unclean?

Before Jesus is resurrected, he's appearing to the disciples and Mary... is he some kind of ghost? He hasn't ascended to heaven yet. What's the deal with the three days then?

Doubting Thomas story. Jesus is encouraging credulousness.

What does Jesus see in Simon Peter?

In Acts, Judas died with all his guts spilled on the field, but not that he had hung himself.

All the listeners speak different languages, they hear the apostles speak in their native languages. That's not what speaking in tongues means today. It's gibberish. If someone could really speak so that anyone of any language could understand, like the Doctor with the TARDIS, that would be pretty damn impressive. Doesn't happen, though.

What do they mean they can't be drunk by 9 a.m.?

This glorification of unlearnedness and ignorance is quite disturbing.

How can it be a good thing for one of the apostles that he threatened a woman with something so horrible that he died right there at his feet? Whatever it is that he says is beside the point. Is that really a good thing?

If it's good it will last and if it's bad it will go away... early notion of marketplace of ideas.

Did you notice that one of the first acts of the apostles after the death of Jesus was to cast lots to determine who would be appointed to their number to replace Judas? A very common practice in the Greek world, and they think god has a hand in it... but is casting lots really the best way to choose the best person? To modern ears, this is just crazy.

That makes it sound weird looking at the brother of Joseph thinking of the twelve patriarchs as selfish, bratty kids. Very strange.

Rather than making Phillip disappear, why not just restore the eunuch to wholeness? That would have been impressive. The disciples are wandering around performing miracles and acquire a following, but wasn't it Jesus who insisted that the blessed are those that believe without evidence? What's this with supplying all this evidence? Where is the evidence now?

So first gentile that became a Christian was Cornelius, and he brought a whole bunch of people together to cut off the tips of their penises. Imagine sending out that invitation.

You know easy it would have been for a clever man to fool so many stupid, superstitious people in those days? And you say, it's from god, god told me to do it, and they all say, oh, okay, whatever. Imagine Obama doing that about gays in the military?

Simon Peter says you don't have to be circumcised to be saved. So why is it that so many people in America do this, but not in Europe.... fundamentalist streak in American Protestantism?

Converting gentiles is a neat trick. All the prophecies were from the old testament, the torah, and the jews were more skeptical because they knew the prophecies better, but the gentiles didn't, and seemed more likely to just accept that what they were told about Jesus fulfilling prophecies was true. Interesting marketing strategy.

A follower of Jesus telling other people they were too superstitious? That's funny.

All the men were about 12? Does that mean the mean were 12 years old or there were 12 men?

Oh, and look, encouraging the burning of books. There's that anti-intellectualism streak again.

The translation of "hour" is a bad one.

The way they treat Roman citizens vs. others is always interesting.

I've got some more notes to post, but I am going to pause here for the moment.
road

circumcision

It was almost two years ago that my nephew was born. There were a lot of things about that experience that I disapproved of--thought, my newphew really is a sweet kid, and far more friendly than I ever was at that age--things that my brother allowed his Catholic wife to decide on despite his own personal objections to them. For instance, my nephew was baptized Catholic, despite his father being a non-believer. There is something to be said for those Protestant faiths that reject infant baptism. He also allowed his wife to have their son circumcised, again, despite his own rejection of the practice.

I suppose it's possible to argue that baptism, in a world with no god, is just an empty gesture. And if it makes the wife happy, so be it. I suppose one could think that, though I think the symbolism is far more meaningful than a mere gesture. But, it's hard to make that same claim with circumcision, a practice that is only religiously meaningul to the Jews. Catholics and Protestants in Europe generally don't have their sons circumcised, so it's only culturally meaningful, and really, it's less conscious than "meaningful" suggests, to Americans. Really, it's more like a habit, like buying boys blue blankets and girls pink ones. It's unconscious, and no one really acknowledges the religious roots of it until someone challenges the status quo, as though changing the colour of a baby blanket rejects the presumption that boys are somehow "better" than girls.

The subject has come up again recently as places in California have measures on the ballot to try to ban the practice of circumcising boys under 18. Female circumcision, since it is usually much more invasive and cruel, is already banned in the US. But because of the relationship with the dominant religion and widespread practice in the US, male circumcision bans have a much steeper climb. Some critics of the bills have cited questions of religion freedom, and analogies with minors getting their ears pierced as arguments for defeating the measures. I want to look at both of these in turn.

First, what is male circumcision? Let's be clear, male circumcision is removing the foreskin from the head of the penis for non-medical reasons. It does not grow back. How minor this procedure is isn't really the point, as even forms of female genital mutilation that involve merely "knicking" the clitoris are banned right alongside more extreme forms. What are the consequences of circumcision? Well, that is hard to study, since there are few people who experience sex before and after the procedure and are capable of comparing for researchers, however, there is some evidence of reduced sensation, though because it is difficult to study, this is not widely accepted as conclusive. It's also true that some people argue for the value of circumcision for hygenic reasons such as reduced infections (from poorly cleaning the area), and alleged, though inconclusive relationship to reduced HIV infections (recent research is leaning against this latter conclusion). One can see why people afraid of sexual gratification would want to find ways to avoid infection without touching the penis... but is that a really good reason for amputating a part of an infant's body? Other than the loss of a body part, one might say there doesn't seem to be an conclusive proof of harm, but neither is there any conclusive proof of benefit. And people for whom this is part of their culture, they may be coming down on the side of the status quo. Why rock the boat after all if there is no good reason to change?

I, for one, am not so bound my tradition.

Especially since, babies die from this practice. Babies who were otherwise perfectly healthy, die from blood loss or infection. And that is not even accounting for the ones who suffer permanent damage but don't die. We haven't come far enough if I can say that my brother did not even receive anesthesia for his amputation; that painkillers are more common today does not change the number of unncessary deaths. Nor does it change the fact that it's medically unnecessary.

What about freedom of religion, you may be thinking. I'm all for freedom of religion, to a point. They have a right to bring them up in their religion, to teach their kid to believe in their god, even if I think that god is a fairy tale. But parents don't have unlimited rights over their kids. They don't have a right to keep their kids at home and pray over them if their children are suffering life-threatening illnesses. They don't have a right to beat their children, even if it is in the name of their god. Nor do they have a right to perform exorcisms or other practices upon them if it results in bodily harm or death. And they can be charged with negligence even if the child could die, but ends of not dying. Parents do not have an unfettered right to impose their religon on their children in a way that harms them. And the children that die every year or suffer serious complication from this procedure, they, too, deserve to be protected from the excesses of their parents' religion. Once the child is an adult, if they choose to undergo the procedure themselves for the sake of their religion, that is their choice, and they can accept the consequences for themselves. I may think they are crazy, but it will be their choice.

And what about kids getting their ears pierced?

This is a terrible analogy, because the cultural pressures aren't nearly the same, and the religious pressures are either non-existent or actually work in the other direction. I got my ears pierced for the first time when I was four. It was my choice, and my parents let me make it. Even at that age, that's quite different from what happens to male infants with circumcision. What happened when I got them pierced? Did I lose any blood? No. The place used a little gun, and voila, it was done. If I had taken the earrings out before the hole healed, all that would have happened was a little scar. Did I lose any functionality in my ears? Nope. I got a few more holes at 13. Again, my choice, and though they did take much longer to heal, the story was otherwise similar. How many people do you think die every year from getting their ears pierced? No one. People die when unsterile instruments are used, or kids are being stupid, but they don't when it is done correctly, according to existing regulations. There is no risk of bleeding out, only infections from the stupid. Circumcision, yeah, runs the risk of infections, too, but kids still die even when it is done correctly by qualified professionals in hospitals. There is no comparison here.

Could I quibble a bit about the proposed law... sure. Maybe 13 (with parental consent) is old enough, or 15 or 16, instead of 18. But I wholeheartedly concur that we need to protect infants from this practice, to allow them to grow up and choose for themselves. It's not about inflicting a secular religion on everyone, but merely ensuring that every citizen can make decisions for themselves, and not have the will of another, however well-meaning, imposed on them when they are helpless to defend themselves.

Follow-up: It seem South Africa agrees with me. Don't see that everyday.
lonely

The Ledge

It seems like I dropped off the face of the Earth for a while. I'm afraid that's what happens when I have too many things going on. I'm doing a little less this summer before the insanity of fall quarter (where I will surely work myself to death), so during my semi-hiatus--i.e. 60 hours a week instead of 120--I'm going to try to manage a post here or there, possibly on a semi-regular basis... But there are so many demands on my writing time, like the next novel, we'll see.

However, I want to write about this new movie, the Ledge. I managed to catch it last night on HD on Demand before it hits theatres. What I'm about to say is likely to be a bit spoilerish, so please proceed with caution. This is a thriller and if you don't want the ending spoiled, you should just know it's pretty good: Liv Tyler manages to do a better job acting than in the Lord of the Rings, and not much else. For the rest of you, I'm going to try not to spoil the ending too badly, but I fear what I will say will give it away to any clear-thinking person.

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Okay, ready?

So, the "ooh, shiny" thing about the Ledge is that the main character is an atheist. And he's not the bad guy. The fact that he's not a scientist, this isn't science fiction, he's not deeply cynical about life, and he's not a homocidal maniac,... that any of this should be "big", well, that tells you the state of affairs of Hollywood story-telling. Atheists are weird, like black lesbian prison guards. So the fact that an atheist is portrayed as a normal human being is, unfortunately, a big deal.

If you've seen any of the previews, you know the bad guy is a crazy fundamentalist freak. If the first thing--a sympathetic atheist--wasn't enough to spawn crazy right wing hatred, that surely will. Of course, when atheists look at most right wingers, we see carbon copies of that nut in the movie, so from the atheist perspective, there is nothing unbelievable about it. And really, the guy isn't hating on the atheist because he's an atheist, it's because he slept with his wife... his religion is just an excuse.

This isn't the problem, though. The problem is that there is a massive hole in the plot. (Here's the spoiler... stop reading now if you don't want spoilery stuff...) If I'm an atheist, a member of the reality-based community. I also don't just accept my fate. I take advantage of every opportunity to save myself... like tell the police guy trying to talk me down off the ledge what's really going on so they can try to find the crazy lunatic threatening me so that I won't have to jump. You don't wait until the last fucking minute. I'm sorry, but that's just bad writing. You tell the cop about it, and if they don't find him, then you jump. Jesus H. Christ!

As a writer, I'm flabbergasted this got through. Are people that dumb?

Anyway, not a bad movie generally. Go see it. Atheists' Brokeback Mountain? Whatever. I didn't think that movie had gross plot holes, though. But then, I do know gay people who hated it, so what do I know?
bang

Phil Plait at OSU

Phil Plait is a great speaker. If he's ever in your area, go see him. Especially if you are a geek. It's so nice to be around other people who get excited about astronomy the way I do.


Phil Plait OSU 2011 Phil Plait OSU 2011
Phil came and gave his Death from the Skies talk at OSU on 2011.04.28. Here he is talking about Kleopatra, the asteroid shaped like a dog bone.

fractal

Denialism

I recently finished listening to two audiobooks. One was Bertrand Russell's What I Believe, which was a collection of three essays/talks he'd given. "Why I am not a Christian" was one of those few philosophical essays that I can almost wholely embrace. It's nice when you can speak across almost a century with someone else, and find so much common ground. It's very validating. On the other hand, his position of science being a "useful fiction" in the first essay, was strikingly at odds with the positive and optimist view of science expressed in "Why I am not a Christian". Philosophers are as likely to be schizophrenics about this as Christians are, and I will talk more about that below.

I also finished listening to another one, Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives by Michael Specter. Really great book, and frankly, it put a lot of thoughts I'd been having recently about my philosophy of science class into perspective, but I'll talk about that more. I thought about sending it to my dad to read. I don't think he's appreciate it. He's big into health food stuff, and consumed by Faux News conspiracies, but that's precisely why he needs it so desperately.

I took a philosophy of science course this winter and somehow, all these things managed tie together with these two books. The topic of the course was scientific realism, and in particular the debate in philosophy about the aims of science (what they are or ought to be), and whether we should believe in the conclusions of science or whether things like electrons are, as Bertrand Russell put it, convenient fictions that make useful observational predictions.

There really aren't words to express how dismayed I was, not only at the painful irrationality of the arguments, but that some of the students were really taking them seriously.

One argument is called the "Pessimistic Induction", it says that science has been wrong in the past and therefore, we can conclude it will be wrong in the future. Frankly, I think philosophers are much more subject to this attack (including that the pessiminist induction is complete crap) since they jump around more than any other discipline I've ever seen. Our ability to control nature is not counted as evidence for science being right. All they see is that since science is never perfectly correct, the only thing to do is be agnostic on it. How anyone can go through their entire lives so afraid of every being wrong is beyond me.

Some antirealists claim that the goal of science is merely to achieve "empirical adequacy", i.e. make good predictions. While that is certainly important, where is the sense of curiosity? It's completely lost on these people. Probably, they figure it's irrational. I have a hard time imagining Carl Sagan got into astronomy to make good predictions, about what exactly? Don't scientists want to know how the world works? What else could be worth the pain and sacrifice of 12 years of additional education plus 5 years as a post-doc and then 7 more trying to get tenure. How can you be passionate about empirical adequacy? Clearly, they are confusing engineers with scientists.

It boggles the mind that more than a century of data demonstrating not only the existence of the electron, but also some of it's incredibly bizarre properties is not enough to convince some of these "thinkers" to believe in their existence. Electrons are not metaphysics, folks, just physics! The mountain of evidence, but instead, some philophers, like Bas van Fraassen, would have you believe that if you can't see it with your stone-age eyes, then it is never to be believed, regardless of the amount of indirect evidence for its existence. Surely, I agree, if you can't see it without instruments, I can understand a certain skepticism and demand for a bit more indirect evidence than if we could see it.... but there must be a point at which the indirect evidence tips the balance toward belief or all you are engaging in is radical skepticism... better known as denialism.

And the arrogance of asserting that scientists all agree with you, at the same time acknowledging that you have not done the sociological study to back up that claim, further, that you have no interest in doing said study, and that it wouldn't matter anyway. Don't you think it effects the argument if you are arguing against what is already presumed? As it turns out, philosophical positions change over time. Last week I listened to an audiobook on the history of quantum mechanics, Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality by Manjit Kumar, and not only was it a fascinating book, but also it did talk about such a study done in the 90's, and I think every one of the authors who claimed to know what physicists think would have been shocked by the results (turns out only 4% believed in the Copenhagen interpretation, which once dominated physics, and a plurality believes in the Many Worlds Hypothesis, and the rest, "other"). How can you do any thoughtful philosophy without first having the data like this? Philosophy needs to be more like science, and less like teenagers bullshitting over a beer.

Needless to say, I was incredibly disappointed by the whole thing. Interesting to read, until someone starts taking it too seriously. And for my final paper, I was hampered by not being able to say what I really think, which is that this is all a symptom of a larger problem: when you take irrationality that seriously, it poisons all your thinking. Science is not perfect, but as a whole, it does try to strike a balance between evidence, skepticism, rationality, and other features that drive it towards better representations of the truth. Entirely too many philosophers of science have never actually done science, or read even about the details of how theories come to be tested, negotiated, modified, tested again, challenged, and eventually, settled upon when there is only one theory left standing given the evidence... and even then, differing levels of committment depending on the amount and certainty of the evidence. Not to mention, how little they know about notions of approximation in mathematics.

Reading antirealist philosophy of science is like listening to sore losers after a battle, trying to justify their failure by claiming that they actually were victorious. It borders on the insane.
road

Science literacy in America

I originally intended this blog to discuss mostly atheism, but it's become a lot about science as well. I considered whether or not to post this here, but I think it's important. Science literacy and religious affiliation are closely linked, in part because the religiously credulous also seem to be science denialists on a lot of issues. And while these factors need not go together, it is always jarring to me when someone who is generally pro-science messes up something big. It says a lot about the level of science literacy in this country.

Watch the video:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy



Now, you know, I love Rachel Madddow. I think she's funny. She generally does her job well. Her research into news stories is generally spectacular. That Ph.D. in political science really shows. But... there is just so much wrong with this story. She and her entire staff dropped the ball on this one. There is nothing new about the story posted in the newspaper and no one in Minnesota discovered anything about the zodiac or the anything of the sort. The precession of the equinoxes was known to the Ancient Greeks. It was noted by Aristarchus, and he was from Samos, not Minnesota. And Ophiuchus was one of the 48 constellations of Ptolemy... again, Ancient Greek!!!!! The Greeks knew it was there, and in part on the zodiac, but it wasn't counted because they wanted to divide the sky evenly into 12 (it makes fractions easier). 360 degrees doesn't divide evenly by 13.

None of this is new. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I used to tell people this to debunk astrology when I was a teenager. And frankly, this goes through various spats of public exposure; think about "The Age of Aquarius"... that song is referring to this. The fact that this can blow up Twitter and end up on an otherwise respectable news program is a sign of just how bad science literacy is. Perhaps it wouldn't be a bad idea to teach science by directly debunking nonsense like this.

However we do it, we need to do better.

Over the weekend, I've been watching the West Wing on video, and there are a couple places that jumped out at me there as well, where their science-related stories were just preposterous. It's like no one bothered to get a science consultant on their stories. I bet most science profs would do it for free, too.
machines think/do men?

hard lesson

This article should be a hard lesson for the public on the way science is done, and why it is done the way it is.

I often hear complaints about how slow research is, particularly from peddlers of woo (or to be kind "non-standard treatments"), and they wonder why they aren't being taken more seriously, and why they have to do trials on animals, and then small groups of people, and then big groups of people, and so forth, long before they will be considered for approval by the FDA or be treated like real medicine. Why? Why? they ask, wringing their hands, when there are little children to be saved? The public would prefer to believe that science is cold and doesn't care.

That is so far from the truth. Instead, they are protecting the public against the unscrupulous frauds like Andrew Wakefield.

Let us summarize what has happened here. Wakefield published an article decades ago claiming that there was a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. As it turns out, he doctored his results. Even the families have come forward to dispute some of the claims he made. But just saying it was so was enough for the uncritical to refuse to vaccinate their kids, and now children are dying from from measles and whooping cough even though a vaccine exists that can save them. The damage Wakefield has done is incalculable, and he eventually lost his license to practice medicine in Britain. But as the article linked above makes clear, it wasn't just because he was sloppy or wanted person gain in the form of plaudits from his peers: it was because he wanted to make money off this study. He wanted to scare people into using a product he planned to market. And when given a chance to do normal science, and replicate his results on a larger group of subjects, he declined. His reasons for declining are clear: he knew his results were fraudulant, and reproducing fraudulant results on a larger group would be much more difficult than on a mere 12 children. Anyone who has ever taken statistics knows that there isn't a lot you can say about a group that small.

This case is one of real science on this subject being stymied at ever turn by Wakefield. But one man can't hold back the tide of real data forever. Other scientists tried to replicate his results, and got what Wakefield knew they would get: nothing. And so, the conspiracy theories started, and desperate parents of children with autism got sucked in to his madness. Merely refuting Wakefield now is no longer enough. Evidence no longer matters because these parents are too invested in the hope that they are doing something good. That is what is so sad. They are being used by this man, by Wakefield, and like many men in the face of evidence that proves he is wrong, that he is caught, he still insists that he is the victim here.

It's very hard for me to resist the urge to conclude that Wakefield is evil. Sadly, his choices at every step are all too human. We all wish to succeed, to do something no one else has done, to make money, and not to see ourselves as bad people. But most of us eventually accept that we do make mistakes; that our best intentions don't necessarily mean that only good can come from it; that we are flawed and make errors; that we will never be rich. Most of us will bow to the weight of evidence and morality sooner rather than later. If anything makes Wakefield evil, it's that neither evidence nor morality matter any more. He is still writing books leading the conspiracy-crazed on about how he was right all along. And dupes like Jenny McCarthy still follow, and to make sense of any of his lies, are forced to lie themselves. In the end, like Anakin Skywalker trying to save his wife, end up causing more harm that good.

Science exists to help us weed out these claims before they become entrenched. Unfortunately, in the modern media environment, with reporters hyping results because they know nothing about how science works, tragedies like this unfold. Will the media and the public learn their lesson? Maybe in a generation, we can hope. But as with Wakefield, the living will find it very hard to ever admit they were wrong while they live.