Monthly Archives: July 2008

Finally a concrete excuse to not watch WWE

The WWE has partnered with Jenny McCarthy’s “charity” called Generation Rescue and, as of this posting, are featuring the charity on the main page of their website. She’s apparently going to appear on the program on 2 August 2008 to “raise awareness”. Sigh. What’s great [sarcasm] about this charity is that they get you with the “You don’t want kids to have autism do you? Do you hate autistic kids or something? Thanks for the donation.” so of course they get money. People want to support research to help prevent and/or treat autism, and that’s great. But what they don’t tell you is that they recommend chelation therapy, tell you not to vaccinate your kids, and claim that taking vitamins can cure your child of autism. Worse, they tell you to distrust your doctor and that science is against everyone because they are in the pocket of Big Pharma.

Yeah, and remember that time they were huge, emotionally-damaged idiots that don’t know what the hell they’re talking about?

Now, the WWE probably doesn’t know what the hell they are doing — they just see “famous person charity” and promote it without question. Or, if they do know that this charity actively and despicably advocates that people not vaccinate their innocent children, they are as guilty and filthy as Jenny McCarthy herself at promoting lies that can cause serious damage to our society.

This is getting seriously out of hand. Autism experts (REPUTABLE ones) need to get out there and start promoting “awareness” that Generation Rescue is a crock and suggest alternative charities that don’t promote dangerous garbage.

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Volunteer Trials and Tribbles – I mean, Tribulations

So I was doing something today that everyone should do one and a while — volunteering. Seriously, like an hour a week won’t kill you. Hell, even an hour a month if you’re that busy. It can be hard to find secular programs to volunteer for, which may be why secular people are allegedly less likely than the religious to volunteer for stuff and donate money, but there are ways to be involved in religious-y programs without wanting to shoot yourself in the face. For example, just don’t go on the days they’re praying or going to church etc. Do other things like sports, activities, bookkeeping, fliers, etc. for the more secular parts of the program. Many programs that have religious/spiritual components also have components that aren’t overtly religious/spiritual, too.

For instance, I was volunteering today at the YWCA which has many woman power, body energy, spirit, blah blah nonsense. But most of the day, which is a summer camp by the way, was based on stuff that had nothing to do with that. The only infuriating part was at the end and it lasted a mere 30 minutes. Even though it was relatively excruciating, it was a small price to pay to be part of a free camp that’s offered to mostly underprivileged young girls.

The day was spent doing music and art. Tomorrow we are going to a science center and I’m doing a science experiment. So even though we had to do the 30 minute excruciatingly pseudoscientific garbage that made me stabby, I think I can at least even things out and the girls will have been exposed to science as well. I also intend to do a piece on critical thinking and not believing everything they hear.

So enough suspense, what had my knuckles white at the end of the day was a meditation that we did as a group. Now, I just want to make it clear that I have no problem with meditation as a general idea. There are non-ridiculous ways of meditating and there are non-ridiculous explanations for what happens when you meditate. A form of “meditation” that we use in [profession deleted] is rhythmic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation — no woo-woo involved.

This round of meditation however was based on “ancient Chinese” (there were actual “oohs” and “aahs” at this point) blah blah blah, called Qigong — pronounced either chi-gong or ki-gong. So I had to endure explanations like:

“Hold your hands out in front of you with palms facing each other. That tingling is your energy bouncing between your hands.” (Inner monologue: “Actually it’s my ulnar nerve rubbing against my medial epicondyle”).

“Stand with your feet perfectly parallel so that you’re open and energy will flow through your central meridians.” (Inner monologue: “Sigh.”).

“Now bring your arms to your chest and down, while bending the knees. That’s pushing the energy from your hands down through your central meridian and out your feet.” (Inner monologue: “Or your activating nerves due to movement, ala proprioception, and the regular breathing you’re doing combined with concentrating on an arbitrary detail like moving the arms is what is relaxing you — such as in non-ridiculous meditation.”)

“You should all be feeling more energized.” (Inner monologue: “I’d be surprised if they didn’t considering you just told them what they should be feeling.”)

“Adults have more of a problem feeling the energy than kids, so you guys should be able to feel it” (Inner monologue: “Adults also have a harder time believing in fairies. Are you going to hold that against me too?”)

I don’t want to step on the girls toes who did the meditation because she’s a nice girl and this would be really confrontational of me considering the environment, but I’m soooooo tempted tomorrow to do the exact same exercise during my science talk and give the scientific explanations for everything. I guess I’ll just have to try to repair the damage with my general critical thinking talk.

Not that I want to convert them all into little scientists — it’s not for everyone — but I am seriously disturbed that there may have been 30 girls in that room today who’d never heard of meridians and qi who are now home believing that it was true just because one of the event staff said it. Sigh indeed.

Sequel to Golden Compass may be cancelled!

According to this report, the Catholics are pissed off about the movie the Golden Compass so the sequel has been scrapped. Apparently the other ways for kids to become heathens didn’t warrant as many protests, or the protests weren’t as effective, I dunno, because I still see way worse stuff than a frigging fictional movie out there. I suspect this might just be an excuse because the movie didn’t make as much at the box office as it was supposed to.

Nevertheless, the sequel being dumped like this is (if the story is true) a terrifying example of how freedom of speech can be silenced by those who complain the most and yell loudest. New Line’s “contact us” site seems to be not working at the moment. With this Golden Compass business and the whole Hobbit thing, I wonder if that’s a coincidence or on purpose…

But New Line Cinema can be contacted at the following address. Well, this is the snail mail address I found, anyway…it was extremely difficult to get an address on these people for some reason. Word on the street is that they moved to California, but I still could not get an address for California from a reliable source:

Co-Chairmen and Co-CEOs Robert K. Shaye and Michael Lynne
New Line Cinema Corp.
888 7th Ave., Fl. 19
New York, NY 10106
Phone: 212-649-4900
Fax: 212-649-4966

Or email:

Email: movies@newline.com

The potentially unreliable California address is (well, maybe):

New Line Cinema
116 North Robertson Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90048

So it might be better to go with the headquarters of New Line’s parent company, Time Warner, which I got from the Warner website:

Time Warner, Inc.
One Time Warner Center
New York, NY 10019-8016
Phone: 212-484-8000

If the Catholics can complain, we can too. But of course we should be NICE, not threaten harm to anyone, and not be rude. If you’re courteous etc., you should have no problem with signing your name. If the letter is in a tone that you wouldn’t want anyone to know it’s from you, don’t sent it.

UPDATE: See a discussion of this on Skepchick. I’ll also clarify that it’s not that I necessarily even want a sequel to come out (the first movie wasn’t that good), I just don’t like the precedent of movie-makers potentially being silenced by religious nuts. Nor do I like the idea of religious nuts getting credit for stopping a movie when it might have actually been financial reasons that shut it down. So the complaining I’m advocating for here isn’t to demand a sequel to be made, but to demand that producers and studios don’t bow to the pressure of a few loud fucknuts.

John Freaking Hogue and his pal Nostradamus

Taken less and less seriously with each passing year, John Hogue seems to have been a part of every single show about Nostradamus that I have ever seen. You may remember Nostradamus from documentaries that are shown on such channels as Discovery, History, and The Learning Channel – thus solidifying each in the science hall of shame. (To Discovery’s credit, they did once air a show entitled Nostradamus: A Skeptical Inquiry which incensed Hogue enough to write an open letter to the director.)

Recently my waning tolerance of Hogue finally came to a head. I can’t say for sure what set it off. Perhaps it was his promotion that Nostradamus had predicted 9/11 (more on this later). Perhaps it’s the way he refers to himself as a “rogue scholar”. Suffice it to say I’d had enough. I suppose I shouldn’t be worried about someone who’s so culturally irrelevant he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, but the sheer volume of books and television programs featuring Hogue warrants a discussion of him and Nostradamus.

If you believe the shows you see on TV, Hogue is the only person in the world who knows anything about Nostradamus. When a show about Nostradamus starts, it’s a fun game to guess how long it will take for Hogue’s funny hat and long beard to appear. Now, IMDb has Hogue listed in only 3 documentaries, so I’m not sure if it’s that he’s had bit parts in several documentaries and news programs that weren’t credited in his IMDb listing or if they simply keep airing the same 3 documentaries on TV over and over and over and over again. Either way, I find whenever Nostradamus comes up, it’s only a matter of time before Hogue peeks around the corner to pipe in about some quatrain or other. According to Hogue’s website, he appears on the radio frequently, as well.

James Randi, personal hero, seems to like Hogue just about as much as I do. He discusses Hogue briefly in his online glossary entry for Nostradamus and has referred to Hogue as a “Nostradamian”. Penn & Teller (forever represented as a pair with an ampersand instead of “and”) also featured Hogue in a non-too-flattering light on their Bullshit! episode entitled “End of the World” where they discussed some of Nostradamus’ predictions. The reason for the open hostility and ridicule towards Hogue, I think, comes from the fact that he’s not a simple everyday Nostradamian – he presents the prophecies not as an interesting historical sidebar, but as fact.

Another reason to be annoyed with Hogue is his tendency to present the quatrains of Nostradamus as if his interpretation is the standard accepted version. This combined with the sheer volume of literature that he has promoted on the subject leads to a general acceptance of his voice as the voice of Nostradamus himself. This is a problem considering the heavy revisions that he has made to his books over the years when predictions that he has made turned out not to come true. As Randi discusses on Bullshit! with books in hand, Hogue had decided in Nostradamus and the Millennium that Nostradamus indicated the anti-christ as Ayatollah Khomeini, but when AM died he reprinted his book and updated the anti-christ to be Saddam Hussein. Now that he’s dead too, I wonder what the next edition will say… My vote is on Osama bin Laden, but he might already be too old school and I’m thinking Hogue’s publishers might want to avoid a 4th reprint.

Ok enough ad hominem arguments about Hogue. Let’s get to how he’s making these little “predictions” and interpretations of Nostradamus’ poems…ahem, sorry, prophecies. First, we have to remember that Nostradamus wrote poems. The insistence on using the word “quatrain” instead of “stanza” gives the air of elegance and mystery to something that’s just a freaking poem. Quatrain means “4-lined stanza”. It doesn’t mean “accurate prediction.”

These poems are interpreted in several ways:
– First, they were written in French, so they are often translated into English. Anyone who is bilingual will realize there can often be certain subtle meanings lost in this step alone. Moving on.
– Second, the vague metaphors have to he interpreted into literal events.
– Third, the details have to be matched up to real-life world events. Note that these events are matched up after they have already occurred, so the prophecies serve no useful purpose in stopping any major atrocities and don’t serve to enrich our lives. For example: “Wow, we could totally have stopped that horrible thing from happening if only we had interpreted Nostradamus correctly beforehand.” Yeah, that feels awesome.

And those are the most acceptable of the steps of interpretation. Some much less acceptable steps include:
– The practice of using either French or English words in the prediction depending on which suits the situation better.
– You can apparently replace letters with other letters if need be or reverse words. For example, with the anti-christ business, MABUS was reversed to make SUBAM. He then “replaced” the U to be SABAM, which of course equals SADDAM. There you go. Anti-christ. ??? He also makes MABUS into WABUS by upturning the M and pronounces the S as SH to make W. BUSH. I guess the “George” not being there isn’t an issue. So in Hogues own interpretation he has demonstrated that anyone can make anything out of a single word. Let me try one. MABUS = PARUS which obviously refers to PARIS. OMG, Paris Hilton is the anti-christ!!! Ridiculous.
Making shit up entirely (and it’s not even really that noticeable).
– Mixing up several different quatrains to fit an event.

Now one of Nostradamus’ most famous predictions: 9/11. (Note that Hogue himself cannot entirely shoulder the blame for this disgusting and manipulative piece of shit, as many Nostradamus enthusiasts participated in this one, but he has presented this on TV as if it were fact and for that I can’t let him slide.) The poem goes like this:

Cinq & quarante degrés ciel bruslera,
Feu approucher de la grand cité neufve,
Instant grand flamme esparse saultera,
Quant on voudra des Normans faire preuve:

Which is translated as:

Five and forty degrees, the sky shall burn:
To great ‘New City’ shall the fire draw nigh.
With vehemence the flames shall spread and churn
When with the Normans they conclusions try.

I guess if he were talking about New York he should have written it this way:

Zero point five and forty degrees, the buildings shall burn:
To great ‘New York City’ shall the planes draw nigh.
The flames shall weaken and collapse the buildings
It was Muslim extremists, go arrest them.

Well it doesn’t rhyme, but at least it’s accurate. Hogue says about the 5 and 40 business “He’s a little off there.” Um, ya think? I live around 45 degrees latitude and it’s nowhere near New York City, which is at 40.5. It should be noted that many Nostradamus interpreters say that “New City” is Villeneuve-sur-Lot in France (ville = city, neuve = new) which is located near 45 degrees latitude. Naples also means “new city”, but is also located around 40 degrees latitude. The latitude discussion is important to note as it demonstrates again how one phrase can be interpreted several ways depending on the motivations of the reader and their knowledge of basic geography.

There are various real-life events that the Nostradamus crowd has claimed that he predicted, with as many being debunked by those who bother to look into it. Many of these predictions have been promoted by Hogue on various documentaries and in various books. Hogue seems to be using Nostradamus to promote his own ideas and predictions in a public forum. It makes sense. It takes the marketing powers of Sylvia Browne to get enough street cred so that your own name is enough to sell books. So Hogue uses Nostradamus’ familiar handle to avoid that little snag.

Frankly I find the practice of misinterpreting, manipulating, and promoting the garbled results of Nostradamus’ work just as disingenuous and destructive as what the likes of John Edward, Silvia Browne, and James van Praagh do on a regular basis. Predicting the future has inherent philosophical implications including ideas like fate and free will. The obvious conclusion is that the 3000 or so people that died on 9/11 were fated to die and Nostradamus predicted it but didn’t think well enough about the event to write clearly and succinctly such that we’d be adequately warned and could take appropriate steps to avoid as many casualties as possible. I mean, even if you say the event was fated to happen because he described it, he didn’t say how many died so what if we had simply been able to evacuate the buildings, for example?

Well, I suppose it’s ok that Nostradamus was vague and French because we have the tireless John Hogue to tell us what he meant, and surely Hogue wouldn’t be victim to the same biases, ambitions, and translational errors as the rest of humanity…. Right? Riiiiiight. [The internet seriously needs an international sign for sarcasm.] If Hogue can simply change letters, reverse words, and mix quatrains enough to make them read the way he wants them to, what’s the use of referencing the original Nostradamian text as the source? If I ever for some reason want to learn about Nostradamus’ poems, I’ll go read the original French poems for myself; not a bastardized English translation that could have been written by any nut job that wants them to read a certain way. I’m not that into poetry though, so it’s unlikely. And I don’t need them to know that vague arrangements of metaphors that can be interpreted in any way I want are ultimately useless. I just wish assholes like Hogue would keep that shit to themselves and stop promoting paranoid poems as factual prophecies.

Doomsday 2012

We’re all gonna die!!!!!! Don’t even bother to head for the hills because they will be gone and/or on fire in 2012.

This is according to the most recent End-of-the-World (EotW) scenario to make the rounds since the year 2000 and the pyramid nonsense. What is this ironclad prediction that has doomed us to oblivion? A calendar that didn’t go on forever. Seriously.

So the Mayans were all like…

Mayan #1: “I’m sick of this shit, I don’t even know if it’s Tuesday, let’s make us a calendar.”
Mayan Scribe: “Sure, we can do that. How far do you want us to go with it?”
Mayan #1: “Well just count upward until some arbitrary date that’s waaaay in the future so that we’re good for a while. I mean, it’s not like you can count forever.”
Mayan Scribe: “Surely not! Haha. Ok I’ll do one cycle and then call it a day. Does that work for you?”
Mayan #1: “Sounds like a plan. Peace out, bro.”
Mayan Scribe: “Holla.”

So any reasonable person would realize that when you make a calendar, you’re probably going to have to stop counting eventually. Particularly if you don’t have a computer. Right? For example, we typically sell calendars for 1-year periods so that we’re not hanging phonebook-sized almanacs of future dates of a tiny wall nail. But instead of realizing that, a group of crazy fucknuts (note that “wiki” does not equal “true”) has interpreted the Mayan calendar ending as “Doomsday” [insert scary music and wavy text indicating that you should be afraid, veeeeeery afraid]. There is even a low-budget straight-to-video movie about it from a Christian point-of-view.

So basically the end of the Mayan arbitrary calendar that miraculously did not go on forever coincides with our arbitrary calendar at the year 2012, on December 21 to be exact. Too bad they couldn’t go with the obvious numerology and make it December 12 (12/12/12)…oh well. The way they count is that they go through a cycle from 0-13 (for a total of 14). There’s a lot of unpronounceable Mayan names for the various components of the dates and the calculations are very complicated so I’ll trust the reader to go find out on their own if they really want to. Suffice it to say, that the Mayans started counting a cycle at around our calendar date of 3114 BCE (so on their calendar 0.0.0.0.0) and the cycle ends at 2012 CE (their calendar 13.0.0.0.0). That’s it. There is no indication that the end of the calendar in 2012 is anything more than a simple mathematical foible. By the logic that there will be nothing after the calendar ends, there is nothing before the calendar started too. Because if they had another “0-13” cycle before that surely the world would have ended after that one, right?

Here’s my favorite part. So when Nostradamus was all popular and “predicting” events everyone jumped on that. Well the days came and went and we sort of forgot about Nostradamus because the so-called predictions were useless until an event happened and the quatrains were subsequently reinterpreted by John Hogue to fit the recent event. Then the year 2000 brought Y2K and the pyramid “calendars” and when nothing happened we forgot about that too. Now we have the rapture being predicted every year, but because that’s a bunch of American evangelicals, we can ignore them pretty easily as “religious nuts”.

The Mayans however have the paranormal trifecta of 1) ancient, 2) mysterious, and 3) intelligent. Because their society is old and we’re such egotistical bastards, it’s totally adorable and amazing that they were at all intelligent. So if they do anything at all, like write calendars, it must have some hidden meaning and be even more intelligent and anciently wise than we can possibly interpret. I’m not sure how that makes sense, but that seems to be the vibe from these people. Hello, the Mayans lived only a few thousand years ago, that’s nothing in evolutionary terms. We still have essentially the same brains. Sigh. Moving on.

The Mayan Doomsday crowd makes no verifiable predictions of the end of the world so there’s no signs to look for that can be falsified and no weird religious beliefs that can be ridiculed. The Mayan calendar just ends. Beautiful. It’s the perfect scenario for the local doomsayer. And after 2012 has gone by with no ill effects, we’ll have some other “prediction” to look forward to. And if something bad ever does happen in a year that the people who guess every year happened to have guessed again, we’ll get the “aha!” of triumph and glee that they were proven right.

No I was wrong that’s my favorite part. The fact that these people are so determined to believe that the world is doomed. How do these people go about their days believing this? Why even bother if you know the world is going to end? Also, as in this case, if this doom is inevitable and caused by the ending of a calendar and not the sum of our sins or something, why even bother to warn people? Do they want to cause needless panic? Do they want the satisfaction of being right? I find such satisfaction highly ironic, as if the world is ended they won’t be around to gloat to anyone anyway.

Anyway, there is no reason to believe that the 2012 doomsday is any more sensible than the other doomsdays that have come and gone with no ill-effects. Also, if something happens to occur in 2012 (as happens in every other calendar year) such as earthquakes, floods, disease, etc., it is not necessarily related to an ancient Mayan prediction. It could be a coincidence owing to the fact that, like I said, natural disasters and the like happen all the time. Basically for this prediction to be verified, the world will have to end. Done. Gone. So the only way to verify the 2012 doomsday is if there is no one around to verify it.

Unless there are degrees to the world ending. Maybe an Adam and Eve type are supposed to survive and repopulate? Is a temporary internet outage in North America enough to be considered the world ending? They’ve set this up so that pretty much anything can happen that year and it will confirm at least part of their belief that the world has “ended”. Maybe they just mean the world as we know it. Well, what the hell does that mean?

This year we had a prediction that the world was going to end on June 12th, 2008. [Looks around.] Well unless I’m in some weird limbo where I still have my computer and access to a blog, I’d say that one is out the window. This was on the heels of a previous prediction that the world was going to end in 2007 on June 12th. When that didn’t happen, the people promoting this were like “whoops, our bad it’s next year”. Even more interesting is that the exact same thing happened for June 12th, 2006.

One thing I noticed when getting links and information for this post was that the pages that talked about the world ending next year or something were likely to link to pages about other doomsday predictions such as 2012. These people just want the frigging Earth to explode. I mean, if you seriously believe that the world is going to end this year (or whenever), why would you even entertain the idea that the end of the world is on another day long enough to link to it?

Ok so I think I’ve ridiculed this enough for today – well no, this can’t possibly be ridiculed enough, but I have to stop typing eventually. By the way, I don’t want my inevitable cessation of typing to be interpreted such that the world will end if you get to the bottom of the page. I simply got tired of hearing myself complain. I’ll end with some bullet points:

  • Doomsday scenarios are ridiculous because they tell us nothing helpful and they are said to be inevitable in most cases anyway.
  • Every prediction of doomsday thus far has been wrong (obviously).
  • Any event ever that coincides with a “predicted” date can later be postdicted to match and interpreted as correct even if the event does not match the criteria of the original prediction. For example, after 9/11/2001 Nostradamus was all of a sudden predicting fire and brimstone with buildings in the “new” city (nonsense – and I’m DEFINITELY getting to John Hoag in a future post).
  • The practice of doomsaying is depressing and useless.

This is one of those things that’s not a matter of opinion so I don’t feel the need to be nice. Doomsaying is RIDICULOUS. It’s failed time and again. Even if it does predict something real, we’re all doomed so who cares? There’s nothing I can do about it, so why worry? Just be happy, accept your existence, and shut up.

Vaccination Hubbub

Well, I promised to talk about the whole “vaccination is evil” nonsense so here it is. I have already blogged about how vaccines don’t contain antifreeze. Here I will discuss the some other misconceptions of the anti-vaccination movement and why they are (whether on purpose or out of ignorance) trying to convince people not to get innoculated.

First some more misconceptions
1) Vaccines contain formaldehyde
This is almost the exact same problem as the ethylene/polyethylene glycol business. Once again this belief demonstrates a misunderstanding of chemistry. For most people this is forgivable because, well, why the hell would the average person know that? But for groups promoting a dangerous ideological message, they should probably take 5 minutes to consult an Introduction to Chemistry book and make sure.

There are different kinds of formaldehyde. One kind is found naturally in our bodies. That’s right, our bodies naturally contain some formaldehyde. However, a synthetic formaldehyde is also used in other compounds (like treated wood, for example). So when people think of formaldehyde they automatically think of preserving dead bodies or stinky treated wood, which is the synthetic. Formaldehyde even has the same chemical structure in our bodies as it has when it is in synthetic form (H2CO), adding to the confusion. However, when formaldehyde is used to treat wood or preserve the dead, it appears in a compound with other chemicals. For example in plywood: H2CO+NH2CONH2+CH3OH+HCOOH+H2O.

Because I have already explained the differences in chemical compounds in general with ethylene and polyethylene glycol, I won’t explain again here. Hopefully people can generalize the information. It’s essentially the same sort of misunderstanding.

2) Vaccines cause Alzheimer’s
There is simply no evidence for this. This idea started making the rounds on the basis that vaccines (specifically the flu vaccine) contain mercury and aluminum which would cause a build-up of these compounds in our system and lead to neurological impairments. That’s it. Some guy (Dr. Hugh Fudenburg) said it and now that it’s “out there” and he has the word “doctor” in front of his name we can’t get it back. Not all doctors are experts on everything and sometimes people make irresponsible conjectures to the press that they should not.

The idea that vaccines lead to Alzheimer’s is not based on any available research and is therefore nonsense. This is not to say that vaccines certainly for sure do not lead to higher incidences in Alzheimer’s, but simply that we do not have evidence to say so therefore we shouldn’t be saying so. If we’re basing statements on no evidence whatsoever, then why don’t we just say vaccines cause an addiction to ice cream. “Well you don’t have any evidence that vaccines don’t cause addiction to ice cream and I heard they do, so what do you make of that?” Well, unfortunately the burden of proof is on those making the claim. And there is no evidence to back up this claim. Period.

3) There is mercury (thimerosal) in the current MMR vaccine.
Nope. Not even a little bit true so I won’t even expand on this. Look up “live vaccines” and you’ll see why the MMR can’t possibly contain thimerosal. Also, Merck (the manufacturer) has the ingredients listed on their website.

4) Vaccines are injected into your bloodstream and infect you. You might as well not get it because it’s going to infect you anyway.
Even less true. First of all, vaccines are not administered into the bloodstream. I’ve only ever received a vaccine orally (polio) or intramuscularly (MMR, polio, tetanus, etc) and in my research for this posting I found no evidence that vaccines are administered directly to the bloodstream. My understanding is that they pass through the lymphatic system after being administered to the body to activate antigens.

Also, many vaccines are dead virus and cannot possibly infect you even if they wanted to because the virus is not alive. Live vaccines also cannot infect people. The live virus for a vaccine has been specially bred in a lab to look like the virus so that the body will attack it in a similar manner, but their virulent properties have been removed/disabled.

5) Vaccines cause autism.
Here we go. I’m going to keep this simple because I could do a whole post on this idea alone (and I probably will at some point). Basically a few parents decided that because their child was vaccinated and because they noticed autism symptoms around the same time, one caused the other. Not that autism causes vaccines, but the equally absurd assumption that vaccines cause autism.

There are several flaws with this assumption:
1) The symptoms of autism may be apparent at around the same time as the vaccination schedule by coincidence.
2) Autism rates may be higher in areas that also vaccinate because those places have better health care and bother to diagnose it.
3) Autism rates are “increasing” due to complex factors, such as changes in diagnoses and cannot necessarily be explained by a lone variable, particularly one that is associated by correlation.
4) There are no ingredients in vaccines that have been linked to autism.
5) There may be another variable that is linked to both an increased likelihood of autism and an increased likelihood of getting vaccinated.
6) Millions of people have been vaccinated with no ill effects. If vaccines indeed cause autism, there would still have to be a biological predisposition to explain why the rest of the vaccinated population is not autistic when some unfortunate individuals are.

In short, there is no concrete evidence that vaccines cause autism. When studies that find a link are retried, expanded upon, or improved with proper regression analysis, the results come up negative – that there is no link. Just like ice cream addiction, there is no concrete evidence that vaccines cause autism, therefore we shouldn’t be saying so.

Why are these people saying these things if they’re nonsense?
Good frigging question. Mostly because they are people and people generally need an explanation for everything. Some prefer a scientific explanation and are comfortable with “I don’t know” filling in the gaps. Some are not comfortable with “I don’t know” and prefer God, pseudoscience, or the paranormal to fill in the gaps. Generally people feel better when there is a cause for events, even if that cause is tangential or abstract.

In the case of vaccines, people who have children who are autistic or have parents who have Alzheimer’s are absolutely devastated. There’s no cure, there’s no reasonable explanation for why it happens, and each disorder affects basic socialization and personality. It’s the effects of these disorders that really hits home, because we are a social species. We are awkward and don’t know how to handle when a person can’t communicate, emote, converse, or generally interact in the “normal” way. It can be frustrating and that frustration can lead to blame. This is classic grief.

Once again I feel deeply for these people and I hope one day we can find a solution. But until then I cannot condone the promotion of an unsafe practice that can detrimentally affect millions of people. Taking vaccines is why we enjoy life the way we do without having to worry about constantly getting ill beyond a simple head cold or the flu. I think we have become complacent growing up in an environment where we don’t get sick and we forget that the reason we have this comfortable existence is largely due to vaccines. If more and more people stop vaccinating their children, who don’t even have a choice in the matter of putting their lives in danger of serious and debilitating illnesses, more and more infections and diseases will have a chance to spread.

It’s simply irresponsible to not vaccinate our children based on religious beliefs, false evidence, misguided logic, and the grief of people for their autistic children or Alzheimatic parents. This is a shame and I think the scientific community as a whole needs to take this movement seriously especially now that they’ve got the Hollywood gravy train taking passengers – ahem, Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carey.

Take home message…
Vaccinate, for crying out loud!! The chances of something seriously life-threatening happening because of getting a vaccine are very low and are typically limited to ordinary allergic reactions. There is no good reason not to get vaccinated.

Crackergate 2008

Well, I guess I should weigh in on PZ Myers’ big cracker scandal as it seems to have the skeptical blogs community all in a kerfuffle.

First the links
PZ’s original post, response from the Catholic League, more comments from the original post, a request for support, another comment dump, more from the Catholic League, opposition emails, trolls, and death/harm threats he received. These are all of the links regarding Crackergate 2008 on PZ’s blog as of this posting.

Now a summary in case you don’t want to sift through all that. Here goes:
A student went to church one day and instead of eating, digesting, and pooping his Eucharist like a good Catholic, he pocketed it for some reason. The Catholic community was up at arms demanding that the kid be expelled from his university, etc. Some Catholics equated pocketing a Eucharist to kidnapping Jesus, said it was a hate crime, and sent the guy death threats. PZ weighed in on the issue stating (I’m paraphrasing) that no one should be subject to this kind of abuse over a goddamn cracker. He then hinted that he would do worse to one such cracker if a reader would kindly obtain one and mail it to him.

In comes the wrath from all sides. Whereas the Catholic League is basically being a ridiculous terrorist group on the matter (why don’t they just release a vague, threatening video from a cave already?), the atheist side is saying PZ was too “rude” and maybe should be the bigger person and apologize.

Apologize?!

  1. PZ lives in America. Free speech. Get over it. You can’t say “Freedom of speech is great, but…” There is no “but” unless you’re taking away some part of that liberty.
  2. Apologies tend make people on the receiving end think they deserve them as if they have a right not to be offended. They don’t have that right.
  3. PZ is getting death threats at the moment. That’s called terrorism, folks.

If it’s gone that far, how is him apologizing possibly going to do anything? I don’t think apologizing would serve any purpose at this point.

My view on the matter
From the point of view of the Catholics (coming from someone who was unsuccessfully raised Catholic) the Eucharist IS Jesus. To us it seems weird to consume the body of one’s deity on a weekly basis, but that’s what the cracker represents. So from their perspective, this kid might as well have gone up to the holy water bath in the middle of mass and pooped in it, then blessed the statue of the virgin Mary with the resultant mixture.

However, one must question the logic of distinguishing between taking a Eucharist and putting it in your pocket and putting it in your mouth. If the former is not proper, would not a simple explanation of his impropriety from his priest have sufficed? Why the demand for him to be expelled from university and equating his actions with hate and kidnapping?

The response from the members of the Catholic community who have been vocal about this is a complete overreaction. Everyone is so offended by everything that we are all walking on eggshells because if you’re offended by anything all you have to do is make crazy threats and demands until you get your way. Nobody wants any trouble, after all.

Well, we need to get over that shit. It’s a society of 3-year-old tantrums and mom giving in. And we see how well that works out for mom… Being accommodating is one thing, but being bullied and terrorized into submission is another thing entirely. It is unconstitutional for one group of people to complain and threaten loud enough so that they get their way and the rest of us have to adapt and lose a little freedom in the process.

Back to PZ
So while we’re all out there realizing the Catholic’s point of view (ahem – right?), have any of them stopped to consider PZ’s? Looks unlikely. To those of us who do not routinely consume bread deity and don’t believe in God, the Eucharist is a cracker. So does it really matter if PZ would do naughty things to a cracker if he could? On the whole of things, probably not. Really what I think PZ was saying was not that he would shit on Jesus if he could (in this case anyway), he was saying that a cracker is a cracker. So was he really insulting Catholics and disparaging their lord? No. He was disparaging a cracker on the basis that it is a formulation of flour and water and nothing more. I get that they disagree with his assertion that it is “just a cracker” in the first place, but it is understanding that point of view that is key to this whole ridiculous situation.

PZ didn’t actually do anything to anyone, he said he would do to a cracker if he had one. That is entirely different. So basically people are offended by what PZ said he might do to an inanimate object if he had the opportunity.

I agree with criticisms that this whole debacle probably isn’t great for the fence-sitters because we all come off looking like pricks, but that doesn’t mean PZ should apologize. It means everyone needs to read things and interpret them for themselves and not get so upset over someone’s opinions that aren’t threatening direct personal harm to anyone.

And nothing, NOTHING, deserves death threats. EVER.

UPDATE: A discussion of sacred cows and why it’s not ok to expect skeptics to “be nice” to some and not others. IMO, thinking Jesus was a pretty cool guy is not so much a sacred cow. I mean, I think Neil deGrasse Tyson is a pretty cool guy… But believing that bread = Jesus and sending death threats to anyone that makes fun of you for it while at the same time going, say, “Harry Potter is stupid and evil” is sacred cow syndrome and then some. I “respect” someone’s opinion in following Jesus if they want to as much as they might “respect” my opinion that NDT is the bestest astronomy dude ever. I wouldn’t want to be made fun of for simply liking someone anymore than anyone else. But I’d feel free to be made fun of if I think I can turn food into that person and eat them.

UPDATE #2: It’s done.