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Hello, to all my half-dozen or so readers. :)

It's been a little while since I created this blog, so I thought I would clarify a few things again about it.

This blog is for me to write about atheism, critical thinking, pro-science, anti-pseudoscience type things. The core of most of it is my atheism, and this topic has a tendency to touch nearly every topic, but occasionally I will wander into these others without referencing religion or anti-religion.

That being said, I get the last word on this blog, what goes in it, and what doesn't. I will turn off comments when I choose (though after teaching for ten years to people who experience massive anxiety about my subject, I have a lot more patience now than I did in high school). I will block people when they are sufficiently annoying. I will block people instantly if they are off topic, spam or are just here to pontificate. Debates will take longer because I like debating, but it can happen eventually.

I do this blog by myself, and I'm a busy person. I have work (and work and work), and school, and writing more substantially-sized things like books, Twitter, and occasionally even a social life. I don't post here as much as I'd like. I try not to let it go for months, though it does sometimes happen. Sometimes there is a lot to talk about, and I post more frequently. But it's just me. I don't have co-bloggers, and I don't make money from the site. If no one reads this but the six-or-so people I know that do, well, that's life. Surprisingly, it was never my ambition in life to have a verb in the urban dictionary named after me like PZ Myers does. And frankly, I don't have the kind of time he does.

Why am I reminding you all of this? Because recently, as in currently on-going over the last three days, one of my old posts has suddenly generated 4 dozen new comments (okay, half of them are my responses) from at least one person, possibly two or more: it's actually hard to tell since half of the posts are Anonymous--boy don't I wish I had to time to tweak the code so all the Anonymous posts say "Unnamed Coward" like they do on my other blog! But I digress...

I have been accused of being irresponsible and arrogant for expressing my opinion and defending it, and for not Googling, even though, before the events described in the post, I'd never even heard of the guy in question before, and I referenced (though didn't link to) a quote from his own site. The post was from nine months ago! But I give atheists a bad name, such a bad name that no one noticed it until now.

I will give all future commenters here fair warning... I'm really a basically nice person, passionate though, hardworking and sometimes too honest. I say what I think, I say it bluntly, and I'm used to disagreeing with the majority of people most of the time. I will not be cowed by people coming in here throwing around their scientific "authority" unless it is on topic, and even then if you say something I think is nonsense, I will not be afraid to say so. I told my second grade teacher I thought one of her assignments was stupid; it's far too late to stop now.

I also won't react well to people coming onto this blog and getting started with phrases like "you people". I certainly can be arrogant, and this is one fast way into that particular personality trait.

I won't react particularly well, either, to accusing me of making a particular fallacy, and then making it yourself. You don't like me calling someone a quack? Fine. But then turning around and calling me arrogant isn't a good idea. If you want to convince me to change my mind--and it does happen--you need both relevant facts and good logic.

There are consequences to the claims people make. If you are promoting alternative medicine, I believe that you are contributing to the deaths of real people. Homeopathy is drinking water to cure disease. Chiropractors got started staying that by adjusting the spine they could cure deafness. Drmercola.com thinks that drinking juice will cure you of cancer. People die from these "treatments". It is a moral question to combat them. And when combined with real medicine, it's the alternative treatment that gets the credit. You want to play music to a comatose patient? Be my guest. But don't then tell me later that it wasn't the doctors and nurses and the hospital that made you well, because someone will take that testimony and decide they don't need doctors, just music.

I expect that some people will disagree with some of what gets said in this blog. And given the views of most of the nation in which I live, most people will disagree with basically everything I say. But if you agree with most of what I say, try not to get hung up on the points on which we disagree. I escaped religion through applying logic to myself and the religion I was raised in. I have been trained in math and science, and stay on top of current scientific literature as much as possible. You disagree? You want to debate? Fine. Come armed with your facts (I won't look them up for you), and don't get so bent out of shape if I insist your argument doesn't meet the threshold of proof. I've debated Republicans, and climate change deniers, and creationists and theists... I've heard all the bad arguments, and if I think you are following in their footsteps, I will say so. If you are going to get upset when I call one of your statements irrational, then the "debate" will be more like shouting at a wall. And for that, rant on your own blog.

Thank you.

So now I am going to get back to my busy life, and do grading and read the news, and maybe doing something relaxing with my Veteran's Day off. And speaking of Veteran's Day, remember all the atheists, too, who served in the armed forces, silently in those foxholes, and some who, like Pat Tillman, lost their lives protecting a country with problems, but which is still fighting the good fight for social justice.


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 11th, 2009 10:55 pm (UTC)
Lol, I read most of the comments on that post and the entire time I was thinking, well crap, that's an old, old post. What the hell people, have you nothing better to do than look up old LJ posts and then whine when the original poster doesn't agree with your baseless assertions?
Nov. 12th, 2009 01:28 am (UTC)
Yeah, I know. I thought maybe it was coming up in a Google search because the comments were drifting in slowly over a couple months before this, one here , one there... but I just Googled Bruce Lipton and 15 pages of results and no hit. So not sure, if that's the case, what their search terms were that hit me.

What really got me was that one commenter claimed to be a scientist and then said that Lipton didn't have to prove his theory right, only that other people would have to prove it wrong to reject it. Yikes! No wonder we can't teach kids science; even the scientists don't know what they are doing.
Nov. 14th, 2009 06:12 am (UTC)
Below is an explanation of the requirement that for something to be open to scientific scrutiny it must be falsifiable.

"Falsifiability (or refutability) is the logical possibility that an assertion can be shown false by an observation or a physical experiment. That something is "falsifiable" does not mean it is false; rather, that if it is false, then this can be shown by observation or experiment. Falsifiability is an important concept in science and the philosophy of science. The term "testability" is related but more specific; it means that an assertion can be falsified through experimentation alone.

The term was made popular by Karl Popper. Popper asserted that a hypothesis, proposition, or theory is scientific only if it is falsifiable.

For example, "all men are mortal" is unfalsifiable, since no finite amount of observation could ever demonstrate its falsehood: that one or more men can live forever. "All men are immortal," by contrast, is falsifiable, by the presentation of just one dead man. Not all statements that are falsifiable in principle are falsifiable in practice. For example, "it will be raining here in one million years" is theoretically falsifiable, but not practical."
Nov. 14th, 2009 05:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Falsifiability
Yes, falsifiability is important, however, science is arugably more than just falsifiability.

Theories in science must be falsifiable, they must explain the existing evidence (or at least some coherent subset of it), and if they are to be considered true and win over the scientific community, they need to explain more than current theories do. And they must make predictions that can be "tested"... I use tested here in a broad sense; it might just mean opening up new areas of research that are productive, or some other vague notion of testing. In lingusitics, the methodologies of historical linguistics were tested on the Romance languages and then compared to written Latin. The prediction of the theory was that you can reconstruct a mother tongue from its daughter languages. The match was quite close (written vs. vulgar Latin probably not being identical this was fine). Latin had been known before, but it served the role of prediction just fine.

The issue I have with Lipton, for instance, is that while he is attempting to explain one type of phenomenon, he is doing so by ignoring another part of science that is well understood: physics. His talk of "energy healing" belies the fact that while he is working in the field of biochemistry, the ultimate proof of his theory requires that he show something about physics which is not currently known, i.e. that there is a new kind of "energy" at work, since our current understanding doesn't allow for what he wants it to be able to do. Physics is a lot to overturn. It is far, far ahead of biochemistry, in terms of understanding it, so this is a major leap. By claiming that he needs "energy" to do this energy is not known to do, he renders himself pricma facie false until he can at leat make a good case for that specific claim.

The other thing I would argue about your example of "practical" falsifiability, is that whether it will rain here in a million years is also uninteresting, and so whether it is right or wrong is a bit beside the point. The claim that sound has some special kind of energy in sound, or that the placebo effect is "real" is interesting, and thus much more important that any claims about it be correct, and in fact, testable in some sense.
Nov. 15th, 2009 07:37 am (UTC)
Re: Falsifiability
Do you think we have sufficiently beaten this topic into the ground? I will have to look into the influence of sound. I worked with an electronic music composer in college, Pauline Oliveros who has been studying the effects of sound on brain waves and the power of sound to induce different states, theta, delta etc. I have experienced deep relaxation resulting from or triggered by sound but no hard evidence. What is the difference between electrical energy and the electrical impulses that occur across the cell membrane or across the synaptic gaps in the nervous system.
Nov. 15th, 2009 04:56 pm (UTC)
Re: Falsifiability
You are the one beating it into the ground. However, sound triggering neurons to fire, which in turn triggers biochemicals to flood the body and triggers further neurons to fire is completely within the realm of science. However, to become a medical treatment, it must be controlable and reliably produce results. We barely know how the process works, never mind controlling it. And even if we can control it, what can it be used for? Pain control? Maybe? Disease control? Prove it.

Like I said, if you can prove it works and how to control it, then it becomes just medicine. It ceases to be "holistic" or "alternative". The problem is that with true believers, even if their pet theories are proved wrong, they don't let go and accept the data. Sen. Harkin is a perfectly good example: he is upset with the funding provided to research alternative medicine because all the studies conducted with the federal funds showed them to not work, and his preconception was that they would work. He's not a scientist, but the scientists studying alt med are no less immune to irrationality and corruption than the rest of the scientists. If you are going to tell me that people are being bought by big pharma, I am going to point to those for whom no data will ever convince them to give up their pet theories. The later group will be poorer if they don't have a corporate sponsor, but there is functionally no difference.
Nov. 16th, 2009 04:05 am (UTC)
Re: Falsifiability
So I thought it took two to have an argument. So you getting the last word means you have the last post? I just need to know the rules here.
Nov. 17th, 2009 04:48 am (UTC)
Re: Falsifiability
It does take two to have an argument, but someone has to have the last word.
Nov. 14th, 2009 06:03 am (UTC)
Hello in Foxhole
Just wanted to clarify. I did not post the post that began with 'you people'. However the others anonymous were mine only because I didn't see the button for 'log in'. Thanks for the posts about gay rights and the anti-abortion ammendment to the health reform bill. Just so you know.,,, I landed on your site because I googled Bruce Lipton and your site came up first. Even tho' you think only 5-6 people are reading what you write, you have the potential to influence thousands. So, it is important to know the power of your words.
Nov. 14th, 2009 06:50 am (UTC)
Re: Hello in Foxhole
I trust, however, that you do appreciate my reaction when it seemed like I was being attacked, and not very nicely. The arrogance is justified.

As I said, though, I Googled for Bruce Lipton the other day and wasn't getting any hits for my site at all in pages and pages. But I assumed it had to be that because people show up randomly, and almost always post anonymously.

That having been said, knowing the power of my words only makes it more important to be truthful about what I think of Lipton's nuttier theories. It should be noted, though, that Newton himself was not immune to such things. As fantastic as his mathematical mind was, he had some pretty bizarre views about gravity that were quite mystical and entirely unproveable (and for his day, completely heretical), and he was into alchemy. It doesn't negate his calculus or F=ma, but I can still say that some of his views were totally nuts, and patently and proveably false.
Nov. 15th, 2009 06:29 am (UTC)
Re: Hello in Foxhole
I guess if I felt attacked I might respond defensively. It's interesting to get a different perspective. From your point of view you were just hanging out on your blog with a few friends not really expecting anyone else to read what you write when suddenly out of cyberspace this harpy arrives who starts attacking me without warning.

From my vantage point, you were making sweeping generalizations about allopathic and holistic medicine. Actually, my issue wasn't about Lipton as such, although his biological work is interesting in terms of his understanding of the cell membrane and it's role in physiologic control of the cell. Now that we've stopped shouting at each other, I suspect that there are more things upon which we agree than those we disagree.
Nov. 15th, 2009 04:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Hello in Foxhole
I wasn't making sweeping claims that were unjustified. There is no such thing as "allopathic medicine". There is medicine. If holistic or alternative medicine can be demonstrated to be beneficial via the standard, and proven, double-blind clinical trials, then they will become simply medicine as well. As it stands, holistic or alternative medicine are claims made that have not, or cannot, or have failed to be proven. I dismiss them, justifiably, for that reason. There is medicine, and there is not-medicine. Couching their practice is sciency type language doesn't really make them any better than witch doctors. I'm sure I could spice up witch doctor's explanations to make it sound more palatable, but that wouldn't make it any more true.
Nov. 16th, 2009 04:20 am (UTC)
Re: Hello in Foxhole
You know your problem is that you don't listen! I didn't say you WERE making sweeping generalizations, I said that my perception (as opposed to your perception) was that you were generalizing and that is what I was responding to. You know, the difference between phenomena and neuma?
Nov. 17th, 2009 04:53 am (UTC)
Re: Hello in Foxhole
Difficult to listen when I am reading... however, your perception was incorrect, and I was reiterating that I was not wrong in the first place. And given that your initial perception was so wrong, does it not seem like you are the one who doesn't listen? :)

Writing in plain text without inflection often generates misunderstanding. Sarcasm and humour don't translate well, especially to those not familiar with the personality on the other side of the computer.
Nov. 14th, 2009 06:54 am (UTC)
Re: Hello in Foxhole
Here is a site that you should be familiar with. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Here is the link to the entry for Popper and distinguishing science from non-science via the test of falsifiability.

Nov. 14th, 2009 05:46 pm (UTC)
Re: Hello in Foxhole
I am aware of the definition. It's not enough to be falsifiable, if your theory is actually false. It is the business of the scientific community to be skeptical of new ideas, and to embrace them only when the evidence warrants. Lipton's broader claims about energy healing haven't been embraced by the scientific community for good reason. Even though plate tectonics has been accepted now, when it was first proposed it was proper that Wegener be greeted with skepticism until he could collect sufficient evidence for his claim. Most claims toward "revolutionary theories" are actually false. Very few ultimately pass muster. Science being skeptical of such claims is what makes it so reliable (and alt med not so much) because it doesn't fall for every fad "theory".

If Lipton can ever provide convincing evidence for some of his nuttier ideas, I will be the first person in line saying "I was wrong; well done." but until then, given the implications of his claims particularly for physics, I will continue to insist that skepticism, and large doses of it, are warranted for all "holistic" medicine.
Nov. 15th, 2009 06:52 am (UTC)
Re: Hello in Foxhole
Sigh! I have no quarrel with your skepticism regarding his claims about energy healing. The jury is still out on that one. I think what you mean is that if your theory has not been proven to be true, it is the business of science to be skeptical. Once a theory is proven false the debate is over is it not?

I know you give great credence to science, however,while many scientists are honest and forthright, some are not, some are paid off. Science is a political enterprise and is reason to be cautious about science paricularly when it comes to pharmaceutical studies.

I saw your pictures from the conference. with Dawkins. Are you familiar with the Center for Science Education? Eugenie Scott has been fighting the good fight against creationism.

On a more personal note. Are you a guy? If your name is Paulina Bozek I'm going to be really embarassed because I sure thought I was arguing with a guy.

Nov. 15th, 2009 04:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Hello in Foxhole
You are the one beating this topic into the ground. This is my blog. I get the last word.

It is the business of science to remain skeptical throughout. Acceptance of a theory only comes with evidence, and a coherent explanation. It also needs to fit in with everything else we know. Once a theory is proven false, it is often amended to include the result. Theories proven false often are knocked down by getting at a fundamental claim of the theory, which is itself knocked down, or by be superceded by a better theory that explains more of the evidence.

I do give great credence to science. The fact that some scientists are bought out by big tobacco or the oil industry or even big pharma is beside the point. Some will be. They are only human. But Science is a really big enterprise. The vast majority of scientists do science because it is what they love. They want to know about the world and are prepared to give it a hard look. Is it perfect? No, but it doesn't need to be. Over time, the ideas with merit will come to the surface, and those without it won't. Science is slow, and much of the dishonesty takes advantage of the fact that science is slow. But when tens of thousands of individual researchers look at the data and come to the same conclusion... that is too big to be a conspiracy. Even Bill Gates, or AIG, doesn't have the money to pay them all (or even half of them) off.

I am familiar with the Center for Science Education. I do believer they get a regular donation from me. :)

As for me, no, I am not Pauline Bozek. I will leave it at that.
Nov. 16th, 2009 04:11 am (UTC)
Re: Hello in Foxhole
I'm glad to hear that re: Pauline.:)So I guess you don't think much of the 5000 year old tradition of Chinese medicine.
Nov. 17th, 2009 04:47 am (UTC)
Re: Hello in Foxhole
Old does not mean right, no more than it makes Judaism or the Greek gods true. We are not good at doing statistics accurately without being very carefuly about crunching real numbers. Our memory is biased. We remember the exceptions (those few times it seems to work) and we forget all the times that nothing happened. We all do this. This is why anecdotal "evidence" is so often wrong. When Chinese medicine is tested, sometimes it actually does work, and most of the time, it is no better than placebo. This is no better than what medicine was like when Europeans used leeches. Turns out, leeches are good for some things, just not for most things.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )


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