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.