Friday, December 25, 2009

Idiocy in San Francisco

Mayor Gavin Newsom wants to put warning labels on cell phones advising consumers of health risks such as cancer from using said phones. There's just one little problem; cell phone radiation doesn't cause cancer. Even The National Cancer Institute admits this. The type of non-ionizing RF energy transmissions from your cell phone are too weak to even cause noticeable heating of nearby tissue, let alone damage it beyond repair.

Sometimes I'm embarrassed to live in San Francisco even though I still think very highly of the city. In any case, Mayor Newsom is not getting my vote in the next election.

You can read more about it here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

New Computer Science Blog

I started another blog for computer and computer science related posts. I call it, "A Digital Motion." If you're interested, you can check it out here:

For most of you out there, I'm sure my new blog will bore you to tears. :)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Melvin Foster Versus The Polygraph

In my last entry, I discussed the unscientific and unreliable nature of polygraph tests. However, I never went over any specific examples of people whose lives were ruined because of a false positive or negative on a polygraph. So today, I present to you the sad tale of Melvin Foster.

The story begins back in the early 1980s in the state of Washington. A serial killer dubbed the Green River Killer murdered several young women in the Seattle / Tacoma area. He received his name due to the fact that he would leave the bodies around the Green River.

Anyway, a young Melvin Foster became interested in the case. He called the Green River Task Force in order to share information between the two parties and offer his help. Being that this is unusual behavior, the task force suspected Foster of being the killer since the killer would have an incentive to ask about his own case.

Foster was given a polygraph test and failed despite his innocence. The police used this to obtain warrants to search his house. He was convicted of the murders and spent close to two decades in jail. A DNA analysis performed in 2001 exonerated him.

They did eventually convict the real killer, Gary Ridgeway, shortly after. However, Foster lost nearly 20 years of his life due to a false positive on a polygraph test. I guess that was enough to convict him though.

Just say no to junk science!


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Why Polygraphs Don't Work

Polygraph tests are often portrayed as a reliable method for determine if someone is lying, but their usefulness is highly overrated. While polygraph defenders claim a 90% reliability rate, independent psychiatrists found it to only work 61% of the time. Obviously, if the polygraph test only has a slighter better than a 50/50 chance of detecting a lie, it's totally worthless. However, what's not so obvious is that even if it worked 90% of the time, it's still useless. I'll explain why.

If you have 1,000 court cases, then 100 defendants will give a false positive or false negative if the polygraph only works 90% of the time. That's way too risky to be used in a court of law; the stakes are too great. Imagine being thrown in jail, potentially for life, for a false positive on a polygraph. One person falsely put in jail is too many, let alone 100.

Another use for polygraph tests is for companies or government bodies to screen for potential spies. If you have a large enterprise of 10,000 employees and 20 employees are spies, 2 spies would pass the polygraph and 998 innocent employees would be marked as spies. With so many false positives, either a good portion of the company is going to be fired or the entire results of the polygraph test will be thrown out.

Despite the unreliability of polygraph tests, they are still being used today. Massachusetts, for example, uses polygraph tests to obtain warrants. Luckily most courts will not accept polygraphs as evidence for the reasons above unless both sides agree to submit it as evidence. However, some courts, such as the justice system of New Mexico, still accept lie detector results. The Debunkey Monkey is not pleased. .

Friday, December 18, 2009

The 10:23 Anti-Homeopathy Campaign

Bad Homeopathy is hosting a campaign directed at the UK to educate the public about the pseudo-science of homeopathy. Details are a bit sketchy right now, but it's planned for early 2010.

From the Bad Homeopathy site:
Homeopathy is an ancient, pre-scientific and absurd pseudoscience. Yet it persists today as an accepted complementary medicine, largely because people don't know what it is.

The 10:23 Campaign aims to show the public what homeopathy is and explain how we know it doesn't work. It will launch in early 2010.

You can read more about thee campaign here: :

If you live in the UK and frequent any pubs or hubs, please consider participating.

If you are unfamiliar with homeopathy, Richard Dawkins explains what it is in the video below.

EDIT: I found the full episode of the video above. Give it a watch if you have some extra time. It is from a documentary series, The Enemies of Reason. The episode below explores alternative medicine.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Retraction

In my previous post, I mentioned that I thought we should teach how intelligent design impacted science in the classroom. After talking it over with a few people, I have come to a different conclusion.

Teaching anything about creationism in the science classroom is a foot-in-the-door for creationists looking for recognition of their unaccepted hypothesis. Similarly, such discussions in a science class may veer into the validity of intelligent design, something that should be discouraged. Science classrooms are not a forum for pseudo-science and religious beliefs.

Thanks Ginx.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Importance of Intelligent Design

Too often, people overlook the fact that some of our greatest scientists throughout history believed in intelligent design in one way or another. Newton, for example, very much believed that God was responsible for the stability of the planets. Other notable intelligent design advocates include Huygens, Laplace, and Ptolemy.

Yes, some of the best scientists in history wanted to teach intelligent design in the classroom. We should be teaching this (that many of the greatest scientists believe in intelligent design) in science class. Neil deGrasse Tyson explains why in the video below.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Challenge to Creationists

Please give an example of an animal (birds, fish, mammals, etc…) that was “created” without any ancestors, and explain what evidence you have of this.

Please remember that The Bible does not count as evidence. Reading from the Bible is unscientific. And yes, just quoting a science textbook is just as unscientific.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Nothing Created Everything

Ray Comfort and the folks at Living Waters seem fixated on the idea that atheists believe, "nothing created everything." Every few videos they post, every few blogs they write, and every few billboards they put up has the slogan, "nothing created everything, a scientific impossibility." As if Living Waters is relevant in deciding what is scientific or what isn't.

First of all, atheism has nothing to do with the creation of the Universe. It's only a theological position regarding the non-existence of God. It's a bit like accusing Wiccans of believing the world rests on the back of a turtle. The two have little relevance to each other.

Secondly, absolute nothingness doesn't exist. This is plainly obvious by our existence. No one knows if nothingness is even possible for even where we think there is nothing, the fabric of space-time weaves together reality in tight, multi-dimensional knots.

If absolute nothingness doesn't exist, why should one assume the universe came from nothing? Why would you even assume nothing is a default position before existence? This line of thinking makes no sense.

"An atheist believes nothing created everything," is simply a bad strawman argument, easily ignored. Everyone should be suspect when one side says, "My opponent believes..." because, most likely, they don't believe that at all.

So let Living Waters be fixated on their notion that atheists believe nothing created everything. Their words betray their dishonest arguments and only serves to make them look only more foolish.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Problem of UFOs and Reported Miracles

Everyone who visits this blog should understand that there is not enough evidence to support the idea that alien spacecraft have visited Earth. However, you can find tons of eye-witness testamony regarding UFOs and UFO abductions. Why is this so?

Part of the reason for people believing they saw a UFO is due to a psychological phenomena known as argument from ignorance. Someone sees bright lights in the sky, they don't know what it is, so they say, "It must be a UFO!" Their thought processes should have stopped after they realize they don't know what it is, but the human mind craves understanding of the world. We sometimes impose improbable and unlikely rationales simply because our minds cannot stand not understanding.

The same is true of God. Plenty of people claim to have experienced miracles by the hand of God, but as evidenced by UFO beliefs, eye-witness testamony is a horrible form of evidence. Here's a typical story of a theist explaining a miracle:

Theist: "One time, I got in a car accident. I should have died, but God saved me. That's how I know God exists; through miracles like that in my life."

The statement above falls prey to the argument from ignorance phenomena. The theist got in a car accident, doesn't know why he survived, but proclaims divine intervention as a way to understand what happened.

So whenever someone proclaims to have seen UFOs or miracles from personal experience, you can remind them of how our brain tricks us through argument from ignorance.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

If Genesis Were Written in the Language of Science...

If Genesis was written in the language of science, it would have sounded like this:

By the way: Sorry for not updating my blog for a while, my computer went down for a while.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Universal Healthcare is Actually Very Popular in the United States

Despite what the GOP and Fox News would have you think, the American people are overwhelming in support of universal health care and a public option made available by the government. So just how much are the American people in favor of universal health care? You won't believe it.

86 percent of Americans support universal health care. 79 percent are in favor of a public option. These numbers come from a recent poll by the AARP which included Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.

Not surprisingly, Fox News watchers are woefully misinformed (that's why I'm here!) about the current health care bill. 72 percent think illegal aliens will be covered, 79 percent think health care reform was a government takeover, and 75 percent believe in "death panels" which I debunked in an earlier post.

Link to the poll results.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Skeptical Comedy Jam

I present to you the comedian Dara O'Brian. In this video, he lambastes homeopathy and nutritionists. Please enjoy.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Best Fossils of the Year

Just a heads up! National Geographic posted a new article showcasing many of the most well-preserved fossils recently unearthed.

You can read it in full here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

World Health Ogranization Says Homeopathy Is Not a Cure

The World Health Organization is discouraging the use of homeopathy for the treatment of diseases such as TB, HIV, and malaria. Why is this so? Homeopathy doesn't work, and when it's used in place of real medicine, lives are lost.

I would like to thank the WHO for taking a stand in debunking homeopathy. Nonsense should never disguise itself as medicine.

Paula Ross, the chief executive of the Society of Homeopaths wrote in response, "This is just another poorly wrapped attempt to discredit homeopathy." No Paula, the lack of evidence of the efficacy of homeopathy has already discredited it. The WHO is just stating facts.

Here is the full story via BBC News.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Debunking Cambrian Explosion Myths

I have heard creationists claim on multiple occasions that the Cambrian explosion disproves evolution. For example, Lee Strobel in this video claims that the all the phyla appeared at once, independently, and therefore they were created.

First we have to understand what the Cambrian explosion is. The Cambrian explosion occurred about 530 million years ago and lasted around 80 million years. (EDIT: Quasar brought to my attention that the exact length of time of the Cambrian explosion is under dispute. However, the lowest estimate is still around 5 million years.) During this time, many of the phyla or general body types first appeared for animals. Before the Cambrian explosion, very few fossils exist of multicellular creatures, and life appears to be mainly composed of single cell organisms.

However, not all phyla made their appearance during the Cambrian explosion. Land-based life such as flowers, ferns, etc... developed much later.

While fossils from the Cambrian explosion and Precambrian are rare, evidence exists that all these body types did not evolve completely independently. All animal phyla, for example, share many common characteristics. They are all triploblastic (the embryo forms in 3 layers), bilatteral (have left and right halves) coelomates (have internal body organs). Therefore, evidence of common ancestry is suggested in the formation of these early phyla groups.

More importantly, geologists found fossils predating the Cambrian explosion of burrows which require a digging mechanism and multicellular creatures. So the idea that creatures found in the Cambrian explosion arose without precedent is simply untrue. Life had been developing into more complex, multicellular forms in the Precambrian.

The easiest way to explain the Cambrian explosion is through the theory of punctuated equilibrium. According to the theory, the evolution of most sexually-reproducing creatures occurs in short bursts followed by long stretches of few changes.

While the theory of punctuated equilibrium may have been over-sold, the idea that changes to the environment spur evolutionary development is well understood by biologists. After all, the information for evolution comes from the environment - change the environment, change the creature.

It just so happens that the amount of oxygen in Earth's atmosphere dramatically rose during the time of the Cambrian explosion, giving animals more oxygen to work with. This extra oxygen could have enabled creatures to grow larger than ever before without suffocating their body parts due to a lack of oxygen.

So while much remains to be learned about the Cambrian explosion, the idea that it somehow proves that omnipotent deity magically created life on Earth is a very much unwarranted.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Debunked: The Rock Around the Grand Canyon was Laid Down by the Flood.

Creationists seem to have an odd fascination with the Grand Canyon - probably because it so simply demonstrates the age of the Earth. After all, how many millions of years does it take for a river to erode enough rock to form the Grand Canyon? The answer is somewhere between 5 and 15 million years.

I often hear that the vast amounts of sedimentary rock around the Grand Canyon were laid down by the flood. This is easily debunked as a single event would lay down a single layer of rock. However, everyone knows that the Grand Canyon is made out of many layers of sedimentary material. Similarly floods and rivers tend to erode rock, not lay it down.

However, if that's not enough, in a layer of the Grand Canyon known as the Redwall Limestone, there exists coral fossils. So unless the flood lasted for hundreds of years and turned the Grand Canyon into a tropical paradise, there's no way a creationist would ever expect to find coral buried in there.

By the way, the reason why we find sea fossils in the Redwall Limestone layer is because that area used to be under a tropical sea around two and half to two billion years ago.

Also, it's interesting to note that all the fossils found in the Grand Canyon are separated by layer. So you don't find sea creatures in any other layer than the Redwall Limestone - impossible if all the creatures were buried at once.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Compressed Spring Will Heat Up Acid While Disolving More Than an Uncompressed Spring

Yes, that's correct. If you compress a spring, tie the ends together, then dump it in acid, the potential energy stored in the spring will heat the acid as it dissolves.

This heating of the acid is another example of the conservation of energy. When you compress a spring, the molecules repel one-another more so than an uncompressed spring. So when the acid eats away at the spring, the molecules fly away at a higher speed. These moving molecules create heat in the acid as they collide with the acid's molecules.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Does a Compressed Spring Weigh More Than an Uncompressed Spring?

Does a compressed spring weigh more than an uncompressed spring? The answer is surprisingly yes!

To understand why this is the case, we only need to look at the famous equation, e=mc². Since energy is directly related to mass, adding energy to a system affects the mass the following way: m=e/c². So if we were were to add 1,000 joules of potential energy to a spring, its mass would increase by 1,000 / c² or 1.113 × 10^-14 grams.

The same principle can be applied any time we add energy to a system. For example, heating an object increases its mass, and accelerating an object increases its mass as well. In fact, the reason why it is impossible to go the speed of light is because as an object approaches the speed of light, its mass increases so much that the engines require more and more energy to increase its speed. Accelerating to the speed of light would take an infinite amount of energy.

While these concepts go against common sense, the mathematics behind them are sound.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Debunking the Red Planet Flyby

Recently on the wearesmrt boards, e-lad posted a news blurb claiming that Mars will be so close to Earth this month that it would look as big as the moon through a pair of binoculars. Here's the full text:

This month and next, Earth is catching up with Mars in an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287.

Due to the way Jupiter's gravity tugs on Mars and perturbs its orbit, astronomers can only be certain that Mars has not come this close to Earth in the Last 5,000 years, but it may be as long as 60,000 years before it happens again.

The encounter will culminate on August 27th when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles of Earth and
will be (next to the moon) the brightest object in the night sky. It will attain a magnitude of -2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide. At a modest 75-power magnification, Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye.


This entire article is bogus. The event referred to in this article took place in 2003 when Mars was the closest to Earth in the last 60,000 years. However, Mars does come close to Earth every 15 years or so. So in 2018, we will see another close flyby of Mars.

Currently, Mars is on the opposite side of the sun from us. Here's a picture showing where Mars (the red dot) is in the sky right now. Note that the Sun (the yellow dot) is not too far to the left of Mars.

Image from

Here's the Snopes article debunking this claim.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Truth About Obesity

Ray Comfort is at it again. Today he decided to reject all medical understanding of obesity and made a bunch of bogus claims about it. Here's what, "Dr." Ray Comfort wrote:

By the way, obesity is not caused genetically as some maintain. Neither is it a disease (although some medical conditions cause weight gain)... Obesity is caused by self-indulgence--by eating too much food or by eating the wrong food.

Bogus Claim A: Obesity is not genetic.

First of all, 80% of children whose parents were both obese become obese. That alone should tell you that obesity is genetic. More improtantly, some of the genes that affect obesity rates have been identified.

- FTO Gene: The FTO gene is associated with the orexin peptide responsible for controlling appetite.

- NPC1 gene: The NPC1 gene regulates the transport of cholesterol between cells.

Similarly the following loci have also been discovered which are responsible for the following conditions which play a role in obesity:

- 2p23.3: Proopiomelanocortin deficiency
- 18q22: Melanocortin-4 receptor polymorphism
- 5q15-q21: Prohormone convertase-1 deficiency
- 7q31.3: Leptin deficiency
- 1p31: Leptin receptor deficiency

To list every gene discovered to play a role in BMI would take too much room on this blog as I barely scratched the surface on what has been found. Regardless of the number of identified genes regulating obesity, the claim that obesity isn't genetic has been totally debunked.

Bogus Claim B: Obesity isn't a disease.

In developed nations, obesity is considered a disease; although 3rd world nations may consider obesity a sign of wealth and opulence. Regardless, obesity is a medical condition since it affects the health of patient. Ray even agrees that obesity has been linked to health problems, so I don't understand this statement at all.

Bogus Claim C: Obesity is only caused by people eating too much.

While I won't disagree that a bad diet and lack of exercise can exacerbate obesity, here's a fact that blows Ray's claim out of the water:

Most overweight people are actually eating less than slender people. That does not seem to make sense, but it is true. The problem lies with how the body is able to burn or utilize the calories from the foods we eat. Thinner people simply burn off more calories, or energy, than heavy people do.

- source

That's right, obese people usually eat less than thin people. I don't need to say any more.

Ray Comfort, you've just been debunked again.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Debunking Death Panels

Some claims are so bizarre, they seem to debunk themselves. The claim that the U.S. government wants to set up death panels to encourage the elderly to consider euthanasia is just such a claim.

Before I begin, I want to make this clear: the closest thing that ever existed to a death panel are the medical insurance companies. If you have an serious condition requiring expensive medical care, they will try to bump you off to save money. If you have an existing condition, prepare to get denied medical insurance.

So, the claim is that the health care reform bill (H.R. 3200) would set up a counseling service for the elderly that would suggest euthanasia to help reduce the burden on Medicare. What they are supposedly referring to is the "advance care planning consultation" provision. This provision has nothing to do with euthanasia; in fact it's not even mandatory.

The advance care planning consultation would allow elderly patients to brainstorm on how they would like to be treated in the event of a serious illness affecting their ability to make medical decisions. Euthanasia is not an option.

In fact, the point of these consultations are to prevent suicidal desires in elderly patients.

For a more detailed explanation, see the article on the subject:

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Does God Always Answer Prayer?

In Ray Comfort's latest post, "God Always Answers Prayer," Ray claims that every prayer is answered; however he also thinks to think that God will not allow an audience with a non-believer. While these two viewpoints clash with each other, I want to examine Ray's main point that prayer is always answered.

According to Ray, God responds to every prayer request with a "yes" or a "no." I assume these are metaphorical "yeses" and "nos," for if Ray really did hear God say "yes" and "no" to him, I would suggest he should be treated for schizophrenia. One can reasonably assume that a "yes" answer is the result of when a prayer comes true, and a "no" answer is when a prayer does not come to pass.

Here's where the dilemma arises; if both of two possibilities, a "yes" and "no" answer, imply that "God did it," then there is no way to falsify such a claim. If you pray for a raise and you get it, then God's will was at work. If you pray to get better from an illness, but you only get sicker, then God's will is still being done.

The French Philosopher Auguste Comte believed society progresses through three stages of defining their beliefs. The theological phase would give rise to the metaphysical phase until society reaches the positive stage. The theological stage would consist of beliefs centered around religion that are untestable and unverifiable. In a theological world view, Ray's statement makes a bit of sense, but from a positivist perspective, statements which cannot be falsified are senseless. Positivism has since become part of the foundation of modern science.

Using Conte's model, one can clearly define Ray's statement as backwards and unscientific. However, to be fair, we should look at the shortfalls of Conte's ideas on positivism to see if they would affect the conclusion.

Many have noted that positivism fails in relation to complex, non-objective systems such as human behavior. So many in the social and historical sciences reject positivism, but this doesn't apply to Ray's statement. Also, the religious may reject to the idea that there are no abstract principles beyond observation; but by Ray's own admission, the effect of prayer is observable. If we were to assume the effect of prayer were unobservable, then the result of prayer would never manifest itself in reality.

To qualify as a delusion, an idea must be held with conviction, be resistant to evidence to the contrary, and be impossible to falsify. Ray's belief that prayer is always answered meets all three criteria. Therefore, I don't believe I am being harsh on Ray when I say his belief is delusional in nature.

So no, there is no reason to believe every prayer is answered.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Is Being a Creationist a Bad Thing?

Heath the Blogless wrote, "You make it sound as though being a creationist is a bad thing."

First, we should avoid using terms like "good" and "bad," for they are quite vague and subjective. Similarly, you can't separate the belief from the believer, so calling one belief bad is the same as calling the believer bad.

With that said, I discourage anyone from believing in creationism; the scientific evidence for evolution is overwhelming. Creationists are at odds with mainstream science, and just as one might laugh at a flat-Earther, most people will find creationism laughable. Those who don't find humor in having an opinion at odds with overwhelming evidence will find creationism tragic.

The biggest problem about being a creationist is that it throws your credibility into question. Most people have little respect for those who hold opinions in contrast to overwhelming evidence and scientific consensus. Would you trust the judgment of someone who thought the Sun revolved around the Earth? Maybe, but such a belief wouldn't work in favor of the speaker.