Thursday, April 29, 2010

My article on the science of Boobquake at The Guardian

Just wanted to let everyone know that I have an article up at The Guardian on the skeptical goal of Boobquake. I present my "scientific" results from the "experiment" there, but I also touch on my motivation and response to critics. And I'm super excited to be a part of such a huge, respectable newspaper - so go check it out!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Three quick godless announcements

1. For those of you at Purdue or within driving distance of West Lafayette, IN, there's an event tomorrow evening that you may be interested in. The Society of Non-Theists will be hosting Dr. Darrel Ray for his lecture The God Virus: How Religion Infects our Lives and Culture. It's from 5 to 7pm in Beering Hall Room 2280. This is my last event as President, so you all should totally attend!

2.
Women Thinking Free, a new non-profit organization founded by the Skepchicks focusing on women in science and skepticism, will be hosting its first official event on May 22. And their first speaker is...me! Elyse had the good fortune of asking me to volunteer before boobquake erupted - if she would have asked me now, I totally would be requesting a limo and $10,000 speaker fee. Sigh, I guess I can settle for her buying me a beer.

Anyway, if you live in the Chicago area and want to hear me ramble about feminism and skepticism, you should totally check it out. I'll give a brief talk, and then we'll have some food and booze - can't get much better than that. The tickets cost $10, but it's for a great cause. Go here for more information about the event and how to sign up!

3. The Secular Student Alliance Board of Directors elections open tonight at midnight. If you're a member, you should totally go vote. Lots of lovely people are running (many of whom I'm friends with), and so am I. All of them would do an awesome job, but I'd also love to keep helping out the SSA. And if you're not a member, you should definitely consider becoming one - SSA is a fabulous, hardworking organization that helps young freethinking groups, and every bit of money helps them a ton. I'll also be speaking at their annual conference in July, which is an amazing opportunity for young people involved or thinking of starting non-theist student groups.

My article on the growth of boobquake at the Daily Beast

Hey everyone, just wanted to let you know that I wrote a piece for the Daily Beast on the incredible response to boobquake. I focus on the emails and traffic I've been getting, the media coverage, the power of social media, and the silly things people have created in honor of boobquake. Go check it out!

For the people who love number crunching (or are too lazy to read the article), here are some fun facts. Since the 19th I have received:
- About 2,600 new Twitter followers (follow me!)
- About 1,000 new blog subscribers through Google Reader, doubling my total. Yes, in a week I received as many subscribers as I did in a year.
- 743 friend requests on Facebook. Not sure what proportion of those are male...
- Roughly 700 Facebook messages
- From April 19th to the present, 854,521 unique visitors to Blag Hag, with over 2 million pageviews. To put that in perspective, I used to get about 1,000 visitors a day.

Oh, and one more fun fact a friend brought to my attention:My name was the 72nd most popular search on Google yesterday morning? ...That's just flipping insane. Wow. ...Wait, "Hotness: Mild"? Did I just get burned by search engine statistics generator? Hehe.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Westboro Baptist Church to troll Constance McMillen's graduation

Just when I thought Westboro Baptist Church couldn't get any more vile, they just announced that they will picket Constance McMillen's high school graduation. If you don't remember, Constance was the lesbian student who wanted to take her girlfriend to prom, and in turn her high school canceled prom. And when it seemed like everything was going to work out okay (after the ACLU stepped in), the majority of Constance's high school student's went to a secret "real" prom instead.

Constance, you should see the WBC's attention as a badge of honor. By standing up for your rights and helping gay students across the country, you became so awesome that WBC wants to waste their time on you. The vast majority of people, theists and non-theists alike, detest the deplorable actions of WBC. We applaud you.

Though at the same time, I really do feel bad for her. Her classmates have proven to be complete tools so far, with no one willing defend Constance, and everyone willing to bring her down. The WBC has always brought together diverse groups together to protest and mock their hate... I wonder if even Fulton, Mississippi will launch a counter-protest? The cynic in me worries, since the sort of things that have been said by community members fall pretty close to the beliefs of WBC.

Fulton, this is your one shot at (at least some) redemption. I suggest you don't screw it up.

Boobquake on the Colbert Report

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Boobquake Day Causes Earthquake
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorFox News


When I heard "Iran," I sat up on the couch. When I heard "cleric," I sat on the edge of my seat. When I heard "boobquake" I jumped up and down high fiving my friend. When he said my name* and showed my photograph, I started screaming and flailing and even crying a little. Yes, boobquake got covered by CNN, BBC, CBC, ABC, FOX... But I'm a 22 year old geeky liberal - being on the Colbert Report is pretty much The Best Thing Ever. My friends and professors joked about it happening, but I never thought it really would.

Following my friend's suggestion, whenever I'm feeling down or defeated or overwhelmed, I am going to listen to Stephen Colbert saying "You go girl!" to me. Possibly on repeat. Wow.

Though Stephen did get the science a bit wrong, saying the Taiwan earthquake was proof, even though I later explained why it was not. Maybe he needs a certain young female scientist to explain it to him a little bit more on the show *wink wink nudge nudge* ...Okay, maybe I shouldn't push my luck, haha.

*My name is spelled McCreight, but pronounced McCrite. Yes, I know it doesn't make any dense. Blame the Irish (who, ironically, also mispronounced my name in interviews).

And the Boobquake results are in!

Boobquake is finally over across the world. It's time to crunch some numbers - did women dressing immodestly really increase earthquakes? Can we find any data that supports Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi's hypothesis?

(click here for larger image)
Photo by David Collins. Yes, that's the biological hazard symbol. Yes, I found that funny. In case you didn't notice, I'm a geek.

Many people seemed to misinterpret the planned analysis of this event. We're not just trying to see if any earthquakes occurred, since dozens happen every day. What we want to see if we actually increased earthquakes in either number or severity. Let's first look at the number of earthquakes that occurred on Monday, the 26th, and compare it to earthquakes in the past couple months. All data was taken from the USGS Earthquake website.

(click here for larger image)
Each data point represents the total number of earthquakes per day going back to February 5th (the extent of the online database). Days are measured in Coordinated Universal Time. That red square is boobquake. As you can see qualitatively, our provocative dress didn't really seem to affect the frequency of earthquakes. There were 47 earthquakes on the 26th, which falls well within the 95% confidence interval for number of earthquakes (about 0 to 148).

So did our cleavage/thighs/ankles/hair increase the number of earthquakes? No.

"But Jen!" the internet cried, "what about the 6.5 magnitude earthquake in Taiwan? Surely that shows our bosoms have supernatural powers!"

Sorry to be a buzzkill - hey, I'd like magical control over plate tectonics too - but that single earthquake wasn't significant. Earthquakes between 6.0 and 6.9 magnitude happen, on average, 134 times a year. That means we had about a 37% probability of an earthquake of that magnitude happening on boobquake just due to chance alone - hardly an improbable event that needs to be attributed to an angry deity.

But just to be safe, let's look at the overall distribution of the magnitudes of earthquakes on boobquake. Did they differ from the types of earthquakes we've seen since February? These samples span from the entirety of the event - midnight at the earliest time zone to midnight at the last time zone - so the data encompasses more than 24 hours.

(click here for larger image)
The box indicates the first and third quartiles (within which 50% of the data points fall). Not only did all of the earthquakes on boobquake fall within the normal range of magnitudes, but the mean magnitude actually decreased slightly!

Now, this change isn't statistically significant, but it certainly doesn't support the cleric's claim. In fact, I think it develops an even more interesting alternative hypothesis: Maybe immodest women actually decrease the amount of earthquakes! Man, that would certainly be a fun way to provide disaster relief. Of course, before we can make any claims about that, we'd have to greatly increase our sample size. You know, I have this gut feeling that a lot of people would like to do our boobquake experiment again...

Obviously this study had its flaws. We didn't have a large sample size, and we didn't have a control planet where women were only wearing burkas. We didn't have a good way to quantify how much we increased immodesty (what's the unit of immodesty anyway? Intensity of red on blushing nuns?). Maybe women did dress immodestly, but we didn't lead men astray enough. Maybe God really was pissed, but he couldn't increase earthquakes for us because that would provide proof for his existence (or maybe it's his existence that's the problem).

Or of course, maybe God is just biding his time. If you hear a news report in the next couple weeks saying a bizarre Indiana earthquake killed a science blogger, well, then maybe we'll have to rethink our conclusions a bit.

But you know what? Boobquake was originally intended to be a humorous exercise in scientific and skeptical thinking - that we should test claims people make, especially when they're ridiculous. And what could be a better way to do that than to question the methods of boobquake itself? That's why science is such a wonderful tool for investigation - research must not only go through rigorous peer review, but it also must be able to be overturned in light of new data. I think it's awesome reading all the scientific flaws people keep noticing - feel free to keep pointing them out!

I'm pretty sure our results aren't going to change Sedighi's mind. People tend to find any way possible to justify their superstitious beliefs, no matter how illogical. I'm sure the next time a big quake hits we'll get a "See? Told you so!" even if the event wasn't statistically significant - he didn't care about science before, and he probably won't now. Even if he says that, I think boobquake succeeded. We exposed these beliefs for their ridiculous nature, encouraged people to think skeptically, and of course, had some fun. What else could someone ask for? (Less creepy misogynistic guys who miss the point? Yeeeaah, agreed.)

So, sorry Sedighi. To quote something that was floating around twitter - women can move mountains, but they don't cause earthquakes.

Don't forget that boobquake shirts are on sale here. All profits will be donated to the Red Cross and James Randi Educational Foundation.

EDIT: If you want a more scientific explanation of earthquakes and boobquake, there's an excellent article here by Dr. Lawrence Braile, professor and earthquake expert at my own Purdue University.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

And the boobquake experiment has begun...

I won't be able to make a blog post until boobquake is over, but I will be tweeting and posting photos throughout the day. Feel free to talk about your boobquake adventures in this post*!

Check back here after boobquake is over around the world (6am EST) for the results!

*No, that does not mean I need an update of every single earthquake that has happened so far. No, the Taiwan earthquake is not statistically significant - yet. If we get many of a similar magnitude in the next 24 hours, then we might start worshipping the power of immodesty.My official boobquake outfit. So horribly scandalous, I know.

Watch me on BBC, Canada AM, WGN, and CNN!

Boobquake is almost upon us, which means the media is super interested in covering the end of the world. I just thought I'd let you know what shows I'll be appearing on in the next twenty four hours, since they're... uh, kind of huge. And if you need more motivation to watch, yes, I'll be showing cleavage - at least as much as is appropriate for TV.

4/25:
11:10 pm WGN Radio Chicago - The Nick Digilio Show - Audio here!

4/26:
In the morning in your part of the world - BBC World Service - The World Today

7:00 am Canada AM - Video here!

9:00 am WGN Morning News

5 - 7 pm CNN - The Situation Room (I swear to FSM I'm not making these things up)

I'm also being interviewed by The Young Turks tomorrow night at 9 pm, but I'm not sure when it'll be online.

For those at the epicenter of boobquake (West Lafayette, IN), we're going to have a meeting on campus mainly so news outlets have something to videotape (information here). I know that Fox59 Indianapolis, WRTV6 Indianapolis, CBC TV, and WLFI Channel 18 will be there, and who knows who else. I also know that BBC Persia will be covering boobquake, with footage of the gathering in Washington DC and interviews with me, but I don't know when it'll be on. Keep an eye out for all of these things!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

New Society of Non-Theists officers

I forgot to do this earlier in the week due to the media fire storm, but I want to congratulate the new officers of the Society of Non-Theists at Purdue for the 2010-2011 school year! Bryan is President, Amanda is Treasurer, and Mike is Secretary. Two of them have blogs, and they're definitely worth checking out (seriously, not just because I'm their friend).

That now makes me the lame duck President (not the sitting duck, which my frazzled brain keeps making me accidentally say). It's been awesome being President for the last three years, but I'm also excited to see what sort of things they'll do when I'm gone. It's always good to get some new, creative minds running something! And and top of that, we were finally allotted office space for next year, which is awesome!

And while I'll miss the club dearly, there are some perks to graduation. Well, namely getting my degree and moving to a new, exciting part of the country... But people also like to give graduating seniors free food and merchandise. And I got to take my photo with all the Purdue icons! Huzzah!

Boobquake t-shirts to benefit charities

Multiple people have been calling for boobquake t-shirts, so I decided to make some really simple ones. 100% of the profit goes to charity, half to the Red Cross (because of their earthquake relief) and half to JREF (for supporting critical thinking and fighting supernatural claims). Go check them out:

Who says science has to be boring?
Did the Earth move for you?
Modestly dressed women seldom make earthquakes
I survived boobquake
Hm, that last one may be a bit premature. We still may all perish in tank-top induced apocalypse.

Head of Iran's Guardian Council supports Sedighi's earthquake hypothesis

When I first conceived my boobquake experiment, I thought I was testing the claims of a single man who had failed to think scientifically. But now someone higher up in the Iranian government is supporting Sedighi's hypothesis - Ahmad Jannati, "longtime head of the ultra-conservative Guardian Council, which vets all laws and political candidates for office." The LA Times reports:

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati might have thought he was clarifying remarks by his colleague, the cleric Kazem Sedighi, who suggested in a Friday prayer sermon a week ago that women who dress immodestly cause earthquakes by angering God.

Instead Jannati, who delivered the nation's keynote sermon in the Iranian capital this Friday, reiterated the claim that human behavior causes -- and can also prevent -- earthquakes.

He told worshipers on Friday that while science cannot yet predict earthquakes, they can be spiritually prevented by repentance and prayer.

"We can avoid earthquakes if the faithful and devoted people pray to God," Jannati said during the Friday sermon.

Ah, good thing I wasn't grossly misinterpreting anything! Though for the sake of science, I hope people who believe this keep their repentance and prayers at normal levels on Monday. I don't want any confounding variables ruining my study. And they shouldn't either - wouldn't they like to know if they're right about women's immodesty causing earthquakes?

On a more serious note, I love how since earthquakes are unpredictable, we must therefore conclude that they're controlled by God. We understand how they occur, but it's difficult to predict a location. Why? Because so many variables are constantly interacting with each other, and that sheer amount of complexity is incredibly difficult to model. Maybe one day we'll have even more scientific knowledge and computing power to do so. But just because something is complex doesn't mean we throw in the towel and yell "God did it!"

Of course, maybe God is making the earth rumble because he hates immodestly dressed women. That's what makes Sedighi's claim so wonderful - it actually is scientifically verifiable. And when someone makes ludicrous claims that can be tested, we should do so. Monday night I'll do some statistics, and then we will have a better idea. Though it seems even Jannati has his doubts:

While Jannati called for prayer as a way of preventing earthquakes, he didn't rule out using less celestial methods. "Officials precautionary moves to make homes quake-proof are appreciated," he said.

Does he doubt the power of modesty to prevent earthquakes? Or does he doubt that women can easily be forced against their will to dress modestly?

Obligatory disclaimer: I in no way think that all Muslims or Iranians or theists agree with these two men. For all the rational thinkers out there who happen to fall into those groups, my mockery is not directed toward you.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

PS: I'm on CNN's website

Just thought you'd like to know.

*faints in corner*

Are you near Washington DC and participating in Boobquake?

BBC News wants to talk to you on the day of the event. Please go here for more information!

Live interview in an hour!

This is incredibly late notice, but I will be talking live with Barry Lynn from Americans United for Separation of Church and State at 4pm EST at his radio show Culture Shocks. I'll be on for about 20 minutes making a fool out of myself discussing boobquake and anti-women fundamentalists. Tune in!

EDIT: Sorry about that bit of miscommunication. My interview with Barry Lynn will air on Friday the 23rd at 4:30 PM! You can still catch it by going here then.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A quick clarification about Boobquake

Holy crap.

So what started as a joke and somewhat sarcastic reply to the ludicrous notion that women's immodesty causes earthquakes has now exploded. Seriously, internet, you scare and amaze me sometimes. The Facebook event already has almost 14,000 attendees (and 60,000 invited) in just over 24 hours. The wall is getting comments so quickly that I had to disable Facebook email notifications because my inbox was getting flooded. The twitter stream for #boobquake is updating so quickly that I can't keep up. To top that off, I just got interviewed by the largest newspaper in Canada and some radio station in Ireland wants to interview me.

Because I made a boob joke.

Since this is probably only going to get crazier in the next couple of days, I want to make a quick clarification. This post is going to be far shorter than it should be since I am a student and I'm trying to finish homework and such, but I wanted to at least acknowledge what people are saying.

I just want to apologize if this comes off as demeaning toward women. To be honest, it started as silly joke that I hurriedly fired off since I was about to miss the beginning of House. I never thought it would get the attention it did. If I would have known, I would have spent more time being careful about my wording.

That being said, I don't think the event is completely contrary to feminist ideals. I'm asking women to wear their most "immodest" outfit that they already would wear, but to coordinate it all on the same day for the sake of the experiment. Heck, just showing an ankle would be considered immodest by some people. I don't want to force people out of their comfort zones, because I believe women have the right to choose how they want to dress. Please don't pressure women to participate if they don't want to. If men ogle, that's the fault of the men, not me for dressing how I like. If I want to a show a little cleavage or joke about my boobs, that's my prerogative.

I also hate the ideal of "big boobs are always better!" The cleavage joke was just a result of me personally having cleavage, and that being my choice of immodesty. And I thought "boobquake" just sounded funny. Really, it's not supposed to be serious activism that is going to revolutionize women's rights, but just a bit of fun juvenile humor. I'm a firm believer that when someone says something so stupid and hateful, serious discourse isn't going to accomplish anything - sometimes light-hearted mockery is worthwhile.

Anyway, I'm not forcing anyone to agree with me. Maybe I am failing at Feminism 101, or maybe I'm just taking a different approach.

And to the scientists who are concerned with my methods - don't worry, I fully plan on doing some statistics after the event. I know many earthquakes happen on a daily basis, so we're looking to see if Boobquake significantly increases the number or severity of earthquakes. Or if an earthquake strikes West Lafayette, IN and only kills me, that may be good evidence of God's wrath as well (I'm not too concerned). And yes, I know I need a larger sample size to make this good science. Maybe I'll include Mardi gras in my calculations.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

And thus begins the letter to the editor wars

Remember the wishy washy religious reply I got to my column on atheism yesterday? Well, after much persuasion from a friend, I decided to play Good Cop. I had a horrendously hard time writing that letter, since...well, I'm not good at being the diplomat. Like my friend said, I'm a firebrand who wrote a diplomatic column and is stuck playing diplomat for a while.

Him: All I'm saying is that you need to use judo instead of boxing
Me: But I like using flamethrowers!

But since I'm temporarily representing all atheists at Purdue, I probably shouldn't come off as a jackass. Here's the short reply sent in, with the goal of getting across "O hai thare, you're kind of a pompous jerk, and you're not worth my time for a longer letter. kthxbai"

Great science comes from theists and non-theists

Josiah Maas (“Claims already have extraordinary proof,” Monday), I agree, the universe is full of extraordinary evidence – evidence that natural processes shape everything from the formation of stars to the diversity of life on earth. Religious people can certainly be great scientists. Don’t insinuate that atheists can’t.

Jennifer McCreight
Senior in the College of Science

But needless to worry. Many other students decided not to play defense:

Don’t assume the weird stuff is God’s work

This letter is in response to Josiah Mass’ letter printed on Monday, “Claims already have extraordinary proof.”

As a fellow science major, I applaud your awe of the universe, but deride your methods. You say there is extraordinary evidence all around us, but if you insist that these claims are proven, you are failing in your task as a scientist. The purpose of science is to discover and learn about the unknown. To take a phenomenon that is presently unexplainable and throw your hands up in defeat and invoke “God” as the answer, you have simply admitted defeat.

Mark Webster
Senior in the College of Science


How is the universe proof of God but not others?

Josiah Maas (letter to the editor, “Claims already have extraordinary proof,” Monday), could you be a little bit more specific about exactly what the evidence for God is? Also, could you explain how it is evidence for God, but not for Zeus, the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the Invisible Pink Unicorn?

Alex Strinka
Senior in the College of Science


Subjectivity is the essence of understanding

In response to Josiah Maas’s letter, I would, at the outset, like to point out that proof and evidence are not the same thing. Furthermore, the qualifier “extraordinary” is subjective. What evidence you find compelling, someone else might not.

That it makes for an entertaining debate, that much I will agree. But alas! Your letter does in no way contribute to it. The only specific fact you give is what your opinion is regarding certain unmentioned evidence. In a place where ideas are exchanged (like this “Letters” section) specific facts an enriching discussion make, just stating your opinion belongs to opinion polls. And “look around the world” can never be substitute specific facts – it is too vague from the start. Try using that sentence for the next term paper in your science class, and sit back to enjoy the grades.

I read Ms. McCreight’s column. She was not debating whether any religion serves any purpose, or whether God of any kind exists. Her position is certainly implied in the article, but it was not about that. The article was talking about the motivation for a particular society, the kinds of programs they do, etc., a list of specific facts of some sort. The article also gave facts that were not related to the Society of Non-Theists in particular, but were relevant to the topic in general.

Now whether you found these facts interesting or not is subjective, but they certainly brought to the table much to discuss about.

What is there to discuss about your opinion? And what purpose will it serve to exclaim: OMG! You are a sophomore in the College of Science, Josiah.

Pinaki Bhattacharya
Graduate student

Ah, fulfilling to know that my last couple weeks at Purdue will likely be filled with an atheism flame war in the Exponent. Hey, the theist started it!

Monday, April 19, 2010

In the name of science, I offer my boobs

This little bit of supernatural thinking has been floating around the blogosphere today:
"Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes," Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media. Sedighi is Tehran's acting Friday prayer leader.
I have a modest proposal.

Sedighi claims that not dressing modestly causes earthquakes. If so, we should be able to test this claim scientifically. You all remember the homeopathy overdose?

Time for a Boobquake.

On Monday, April 26th, I will wear the most cleavage-showing shirt I own. Yes, the one usually reserved for a night on the town. I encourage other female skeptics to join me and embrace the supposed supernatural power of their breasts. Or short shorts, if that's your preferred form of immodesty. With the power of our scandalous bodies combined, we should surely produce an earthquake. If not, I'm sure Sedighi can come up with a rational explanation for why the ground didn't rumble. And if we really get through to him, maybe it'll be one involving plate tectonics.

So, who's with me? I may be a D cup, but that will probably only produce a slight tremor on its own. If you'll be joining me on twitter, use the tag #boobquake! Or join the facebook event!

(Confused? Angry? Think my science is crap? Read a serious explanation of boobquake here)

My honors thesis is done, woo!

My honors thesis was completed, signed, and turned in with a couple of hours to spare! Yaaaaaaaaay! Fifteen pages, nine of which were figures/tables/citations (wah wah, liberal arts people). Unfortunately I can't tell you guys about it yet, but I will once it's accepted to a scientific journal. All I can say is that it's about copulatory plugs. Yeah, you're just dying to know now, right?

Now all I have to do is grade some papers and finish a take home exam, and I'm good for the end of the semester. In fact, this week will suddenly change from The Week From Hell to The Week of Constant Drunken Happiness:

Tuesday: Labmate's thesis defense - assuming that goes well, night at the pub in celebration!
Wednesday: Final meeting of the Non-theists! Pizza party, and hopefully not too much tearful nostalgia
Thursday: Free block party featuring concert by Asobi Seksu (omg yay!), then probably going clubbing afterwards
Friday: Party at my place
Saturday: Final Breakfast Club of the year (getting up early in costumes and going to bars... ...it's a Purdue thing)

Fuck yeah, college.

A not so good reply to my letter on atheism

Today's Exponent contains a response to my column about being an atheist at Purdue. I think it's attempting to refute what I said, but...uh, yeah:

Claims already have extraordinary proof

Jennifer McCreight (Guest commentary, “Non-theists, you are not alone on this campus,” Wednesday), You quoted Carl Sagan in the last line of your article about the Society of Non-Theists, stating that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” You’re a science major, Jennifer. Take a look at the universe you live in. I’d say there’s some pretty extraordinary evidence all around you.

Josiah Maas
Sophomore in the College of Science

I really wish I could write in a reply without seeming like a total jackass, but I probably can't. I'll let some other non-theist defend me. But since this is my blog and I have the right to be as snarky as I want, here we go:

I find it amusing that you've failed to provide a single piece of this "proof"

Josiah Maas (Letter to the Editor, “Claims already have extraordinary proof,” Monday), You say that the universe I live in is extraordinary evidence. You're a science major, Josiah. You should have learned that science is based on repeatedly testing hypotheses and gathering data, not letting emotional reactions or arguments from ignorance overwhelm rationality. In fact, what we've seen when investigating the universe is an overwhelming amount of data showing that natural processes shape everything from the formation of stars to the diversity of life on earth. The supernatural has zero evidence (though if you claim to have so much, would you please let me in on this little secret?). Maybe if you start paying more attention in your science classes, you'll understand this concept. It's okay, you have a couple more years until graduation.

Jennifer McCreight
Senior in the College of Science

Why people won't watch CSI with me

From here:
Because finding a contaminated sample of cells, extracting the DNA, successfully amplifying a clean PCR, genotyping or sequencing it, and editing your perfectly clear and uncontaminated results always takes about ten minutes. And nothing ever fails. Ever. They must pray to the PCR Gods more than I do. Oh, and not to mention they have a genetic database of every human on earth to compare their DNA to. Even if BLAST ever did grow that large, it would take hours, if not days of computational time to find the correct match.

...

Yeah, now whenever I watch CSI with my dad, he'll just turn to me and ask, "That's nothing like how it actually works, is it?" Nope.

And as a side note, you know you've been working on your honors thesis too long when a graph jam graph annoys you. The Y axis is horrible, and there are no error bars! I can definitely go from tissue sample to sequence data in 3 days if everything works perfectly, and I've also had it take up to two months (stupid low sodium clean up procedure!). ...I'm a nerd.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Atheist Barbie has been sullied by teabaggers! Nooooo!

And yes, by teabaggers I mean Tea Party members. I think I rather have my Atheist Barbie Photoshopped with a pair of balls in her mouth* then be awfully transformed like she was:Aaauuuuuugghhh nooooooooooooo! God, it's not even a good Photoshopping job. At least I put forth some effort. He couldn't even find his own Barbie to Photoshop, he had to go and add on top of mine! And then not credit me for it! ...Well, I guess it's good that he deleted the link to my blog, since I don't want to be associated with Tea Party bullshit. At least someone else has already gone ahead and fixed it (and pointed out Atheist Barbie was originally from here):Thank you, Sadly, No!, for pointing out that creativity and good work ethic are not traits of teabaggers.

Speaking of creativity and working hard, back to writing my thesis (almost done!).

*Though that does not mean you have to go do it. Seriously. Please don't.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Responses to my column on atheism

Yes, I know I should be frantically working on my thesis, but I'm taking a break to post some news I promised I'd share. On Wednesday I wrote an article on my experiences as an atheist at Purdue and the Society of Non-Theists. The overwhelming response was people emailing me, thanking me for writing it, which is absolutely awesome. I also found wonderful write up by a fellow Purdue student about how my experiences mirror his of coming to the Midwest as a Mormon:
When I lived in Utah most of the kids in school where Mormon. In Tennessee I could count the number of LDS students on one hand, two of them being myself and my sister, out of a student population of about 2000. And with Utah’s reputation of being “Mormon country” whenever someone learned where I was from the conversation would usually go something like this:

Person: “Where are you from?”
Me: “Utah”
Person: “Are you Mormon?”
Me: “Yes”
Person: (In disbelief and with a serious tone) “Are you going to have 10 wives when you get older?”

And the multiple wives question was usually just the tip of the ice berg. I could not believe how many strange outlandish questions I got asked about being LDS. It got to the point where I almost dreaded telling someone else I was LDS because of the various stereotypes and nonsense people would then assume about me. This was also when I began to meet LDS members who have had their families and friends shut them out of their lives because they became Mormon. I also met a girl here at Purdue who told us of her conversion and how her parents had cut off all contact with her because of her decision to become LDS.

So after reading Jennifer's article I began to relate to what she was talking about. I could even relate to the preachers who stand out on the mall preaching hellfire and damnation on all those they disagree with because, surprise, they think Mormons are going to hell as well. Whenever you see one of the street preachers holding a sign with a list of “damned” groups of people, look at the names and you will see Mormons listed along with atheists, pedophiles, democrats, and homosexuals.
While we'll probably never agree on theology, it's wonderful that others understand what being an atheist is like, and realize we can be more similar than they might have thought. Responses like this make me think my article was a great success!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Brief "I am so fucked" hiatus

Dear Internet:

Jen's honors thesis is due Monday, but she thought it was due Tuesday. Jen is still analyzing her data, and the computer decided to crash and erase some of her annotations (but thankfully not the core data). Jen also didn't realize that the Department head needed to read, approve, and sign said thesis before she could turn it in. Jen has no idea how she's going to be able to finish it in time so said Dept Head has time to do this, and work on the improvements he'll no doubt suggest if he doesn't reject her outright for being a dumbass. Jen only feels slightly better after realizing other biology students working on their honors thesis also didn't know this, and are now frantically screaming while typing as well. But then Jen remembers this means the Dept Head will have many theses to read Sunday night, and he will hate us all. Jen is now kicking herself for wasting today by working at Fiction for Fiction and blogging.

tl;dr FUUUUUUUCCCCCCCKKKKKK

I won't be on the internet until Monday. Consider this an open thread.

Fiction for Fiction: Trade religious texts for novels

Today the Society of Non-Theists held our annual spring event, Fiction for Fiction. The basic premise is that people can trade in various religious texts for fiction novels. We stick little bookmarks in the book explaining why we're doing the event, which say the following:
"Religious texts may give some moral guidance, but that does not necessarily mean what they say is true. Fictional novels can contain important morals and insight into human life. You must think critically and ask questions to learn from what you’re reading. We encourage you to come to your own conclusions about what is fact and what is fiction. If you would like to investigate inconsistencies and contradictions specifically in the Bible, Koran, and Book of Mormon, skepticsannotatedbible.com is a great place to start."
Or, to summarize:
Random student: Are you saying the Bible is fiction?!?!
Us: ...Uh, yes?
This year it went just as well as in the past. We collected two Bhagavad Gitas, the Popol Vuh (from the Mayan religion), and a bunch of Bibles. The most common response was positive: People smiled, smirked, waved, laughed, came up and thanked us, took photos next to our sign, and generally were very appreciative. One parent who was on a tour with their high school student was grinning ear to ear. We also had theists come up wondering what we were doing and what our group was all about, and talking to them was great. There were no hard feelings and they agreed with what we were doing.
See? Happy non-scary atheists!

We did have the occasional scowl and a couple people who wanted to debate, which also always happens. One person came up (while I was off eating lunch, unfortunately) apparently trying to say the shroud of Turin was absolute proof of God's existence. ...Yeah, I know. Could you pick anything that has been debunked more than the shroud of Turin?

And in an ultimate event of irony, a guy that has been handing out chick tracts around campus came to pass them out to us. I squealed that I collected them (now up to 107!), so I gave him the totally wrong impression with my eagerness. Even more ironically, the tract was anti-evolution. Eventually he realized we were all atheists, and that I am majoring in evolution, so he tried to debate me. And by try, I mean he said Neanderthals were just arthritic humans and that Satan put fake fossils in the ground because he wants us all to act like monkeys (I wish I was making this up).
Him: The problem is people don't hear enough facts about evolution. Have you talked to creationists?
Me: Tons, yes.
Him: And did they give you any facts? Not Biblical scripture, but science
Me: Well, they thought they were giving me facts, but no, they didn't.
When I asked for an example of facts, he told me there were too many to remember (even a single one, apparently) and that I should go watch some Kent Hovind. He seemed impressed when I actually knew who he was. I was more impressed that I didn't revert to my rage face during the conversation.

A liberal Christian who sometimes hangs out with our group then came up, and got all excited that it would possibly be a Christian debating a Christian, so she jumped in. The discussion turned to Biblical literalism and I had to run to class, so I missed most of their discussion. There was one part I did hear, however:
Christian Gal: Well, God used leprosy as a sign that you've done something wrong. I mean, I believe in modern medicine and everything, but I don't think it can explain everything...
Then I facepalmed and ran off to my psychology class. Really, she's usually pretty good, so I was just like...wut?

Anyway, overall I would say Fiction for Fiction was a success. A club member said he overheard people talking about it favorably in one of his classes. Always good to generate discussion and not piss people off! At least, not everyone.

National Day of Prayer ruled unconstitutional

In a case of "Wow, it took you that long to figure it out?", the National Day of Prayer was finally ruled unconstitutional in a federal court:

Congress established the day in 1952 and in 1988 set the first Thursday in May as the day for presidents to issue proclamations asking Americans to pray. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison-based group of atheists and agnostics, filed a lawsuit against the federal government in 2008 arguing the day violated the separation of church and state.

President Barack Obama's administration has countered that the statute simply acknowledges the role of religion in the United States. Obama issued a proclamation last year but did not hold public events with religious leaders as former President George W. Bush had done.

Government involvement in prayer is constitutional only as long as it does not call for religious action, which the prayer day does, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb wrote in her ruling.

"It goes beyond mere 'acknowledgment' of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context," Crabb wrote. "In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience."

Good work, Freedom from Religion Foundation!

Now, I wonder how this will pan out when it almost assuredly goes to the Supreme Court... Any political science people want to weigh in?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Apparently having sex means I'm weak and dependent

Sex negativity in the media no longer shocks me, but I have to say I'm surprised who it's coming from - Lady Gaga. Yep, apparently you can parade around mostly naked, dance around naked and make out with girls in your music videos, have songs about sex, but then still take the moral high road of abstinence.

The worse part is that it's one of those articles that starts off very nice, then kicks you when you're not looking:

The 24-year-old singer who's made a career with songs that glorify carnal pleasures told London's that she is currently under a self-imposed sex ban and that others should consider a similar posture.

"I can't believe I'm saying this — don't have sex. I'm single right now and I've chosen to be single because I don't have the time to get to know anybody," she said while visiting England to help promote MAC's Viva Glam campaign, which supports global HIV and AIDS projects. "So it's OK not to have sex, it's OK to get to know people. I'm celibate, celibacy's fine."

Gaga said her celibacy is something she wants to "celebrate" with her fans, extending her oft-repeated message to her "little monsters" that they should be secure in their own skin and not shy away from being different.

"It's OK to be whomever it is that you want to be," she said. "You don't have to have sex to feel good about yourself, and if you're not ready, don't do it. And if you are ready, there are free condoms given away at my concerts when you're leaving!
Okay, that's totally fine. In fact, I agree. You shouldn't be forced or pressured to have sex if you don't want to. You should take measures to avoid disease, and one way is abstinence - if you actually follow it. Many people fail, but at least Lady Gaga is reasonable and pro-contraception. And while I don't think everyone has to do this, I personally think it's a good idea to get to know someone before doing the deed. You don't need to be soulmates, but at least know the person isn't a stalker or serial killer.

But then, it rapidly goes downhill:
"I remember the cool girls when I was growing up. Everyone started to have sex. But it's not really cool anymore to have sex all the time. It's cooler to be strong and independent."
...Fuck you, Lady Gaga.

Abstaining from sex does not automatically make you strong and independent, nor (as the quote implies) does having sex make you weak and dependent. You know what makes you strong and independent? Being able to make whatever goddamn choice you want about your own sexuality. Being pressured into abstinence because God or a pop idol told you does not make you strong or independent.

Oh, and kudos on the slut shaming. Having sex all the time isn't cool. You know what? I have sex all the time because I like having sex. In fact, I wish I got more sex. I'm not trying to impress anyone or conform to societal norms; I just like fucking every once in a while. What a shame that you don't understand that concept - the sex you did have must not have been that fulfilling if you were just doing it to fit in.

The ultimate irony is that she says you shouldn't have sex to try to be cool and fit in...but then argues that it's cooler to not have sex, thus using the same sort of peer pressure. Wonderful logic.

My guest column in the Exponent: Non-theists, you are not alone on this campus

I've always been a bit notorious for writing letters to the editor for our campus newspaper, but this is even more exciting: The Exponent let me write a guest column on atheism at Purdue and the Society of Non-Theists for their opinions page! It's an area usually reserved for opinion pieces for Exponent staff, and I had over twice as much space as a letter. Writing it was a lot more challenging than blogging, since it had a word limit (I can't ramble?! Nooooo!), has to be a lot more formal (aka, intelligent), and is to a totally different audience (mainly Christians instead of a mob of atheists). It's not revolutionary and probably won't incite the masses to send hate mail, but it's a message that needs to be seen on campus. Consider it my last hurrah after three years of being President.

And since I wrote it, I'll reprint it below in its entirety.
Non-theists, you are not alone on this campus

By Jennifer McCreight
Guest Columnist
Publication Date: 04/14/2010

I grew up in Indiana, but coming to Purdue was a culture shock for me. Some people in my town were religious, but no one really cared about what others did or didn’t believe.

Less than a month after I arrived on campus, I sat in the McCutcheon laundry room reading Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion.” Another freshman approached me, wide-eyed, and asked if I was an atheist. When I said I was, she asked with sincere worry, “But how will you ever find a husband?”

Let’s ignore the assumption that getting a husband should be the most important goal in life. Actually, she was voicing a concern that many atheists and agnostics share. Sometimes it can feel like you’re the only person who doesn’t believe in God. I certainly felt that way when I came to Purdue.

There were over 50 Christian student organizations, a club for every other religion, religious advertisements in my mailbox, and preachers on the mall telling me I was going to hell. Political or ethical discussions and even small talk started with the assumption that I was a Christian.

That’s why I started the Society of Non-Theists in 2007: Not to convert or offend the religious, but to let other atheists and agnostics know that they weren’t alone. For our first callout, I expected maybe 15 people to come. So many students showed up that they were spilling into the hallway. People looked across the room as if to say “Where were you guys all this time?!”

While we’re a minority, we certainly do exist. About 16 percent of Americans are non-theists, and that number grows every year (1). Unfortunately, many are afraid to come out, and those fears are legitimate. Club members constantly share stories of discrimination, stereotyping and rejection from their families because of people judging their non-belief. Groups like ours provide a safe environment where non-theists can speak freely, something that is necessary to stay sane and happy.

Of course, we do more than serve as a community. Something as simple as being open about our non-theism can dispel negative stereotypes many have about us. We try to ensure the separation of church and state is upheld at Purdue and in Indiana. We hold events to promote skeptical thinking, and we help others by volunteering and raising money for charity. We encourage open dialogue about religion through group discussions and sometimes-controversial public demonstrations.

Even with all these activities, community has always been our focus. I’ve made dozens of close friends that I’ll have for a lifetime, and other members say the same. Who knows if we’d have met if we were too afraid to express our skepticism of the supernatural? Even people who don’t come to meetings frequently e-mail me, thanking me for letting them know that they have a voice on campus. Making Purdue more welcoming for non-religious students is more important than any grade I’ve received, and the club will be what I miss most when I graduate.

Future club members still have a lot of work to do keeping Purdue secular and increasing the acceptance of non-theists. We’ve had minor success cooperating with religious groups, but most still seem hesitant or unwilling. I will definitely feel disappointed if my graduation ceremony in May is full of thinly veiled prayers, religious commentary and the choir singing “Amen” like in the past.

Club flyers are torn down or defaced within hours of putting them up, and it’s rare to have an outdoor event without someone shouting something hateful. Our mere existence will always offend some, but we’ve come a long way. I’m no longer afraid or ashamed to call myself an atheist, and neither should anyone else on campus.

Just remember: Non-theists are good people, with similar morals and goals as theists. We don’t eat babies, we don’t hate religious people, we don’t wallow in depression and we don’t have drunken orgies (well, not all the time). We aren’t rebelling against our parents or God. We simply agree with Carl Sagan that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

1. Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, May 8 to Aug. 13, 2007

Jennifer McCreight is a senior in the College of Science and the president of the Society of Non-Theists (www.purduenontheists.com). She writes at the popular atheist blog www.blaghag.com and may be reached at [blaghagblog@gmail.com]*.

Major thanks to Tom, Mark, Bryan, and Jon for helping me revise it! And of course, thanks to the Non-Theists for a great three years. It's hard to believe that I won't be your President any more in a week.

*My Purdue email was printed in the paper, though I prefer that you guys email me here.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Vatican reverses decision on once shunned group

Dear Vatican,

I've noticed that recently you haven't been doing so hot in the public opinion. Sometimes people think you can be too harsh on those that don't perfectly jive with your views, or those that make you look bad. People didn't like that time you excommunicated the mother and doctors of the 9 year old Brazilian rape victim. Or the fact that you prohibit contraceptives, putting AIDS stricken Africa at even more risk and negatively affecting women all around the world. Or the whole gigantic cover-up of mass molestation of little boys - yeah, that's not going over so well. But I really have to give you props for finally forgiving a group of people that really deserved your apology long ago:

The Beatles.

Thanks for having your priorities in order. Now that we know all we have to do to change your mind is produce "beautiful melodies" that "still give us emotions," we'll get right on that.

Sincerely,

Jen

Is it summer yet?

All I've been able to do lately is fantasize about the summer. I have three more weeks of class, then a week of final exams. The weather has officially turned beautiful, and there are lovely flowers everywhere. I won't be taking classes or doing research, and I have an extra month of summer since UW starts much later than Purdue. Long story short, I'm afflicted with horrible senioritis and I'm ready to go frolic outside, travel, and play video games until my brain oozes out.

Since I cannot yet do any of these things, I'm doing the next best thing: blogging about what I'm goign to do. Here are my summer plans so far:
  • May 7, 5:00 pm: Finish last final exam.
  • May 7, 5:01 pm: Senior week! Aka, constant state of partying, drunkeness, and debauchery until the 15th
  • May 16: Graduation! I'll be all grown up! *sentimental tears*
  • Late May: Trip to DISNEY WORLD, YEEEAAAHHHH! Seriously, I'm way too excited about this. The only time I've been to Disney World was in 5th grade, which was the perfect age to not really enjoy it - too old to love the people in suits, too young to love the rides. I'm psyched to go with my close friends and not just my parents. We really wanted to go to the Harry Potter theme park, but it's not going to be open in time. So disappointed.
  • June 5: Friend's wedding!
  • June 25 - 29: Evolution Conference in Portland, Oregon! I'll be (hopefully, not official yet) presenting a talk on my most recent research project. Which means I'll be shitting my pants, since it's a huge conference. My whole lab is going, along with other grad students we know from other labs, so it should be a ton of fun.
  • July 13: Play "How Can I Fit All My Belongings into My Car" Tetris (aka, moving out of West Lafayette).
  • July 23 - 25: Secular Student Alliance Conference in Columbus, Ohio! This was a blast last year. I hope I can take the new set of officers along with me. And even better, I hope I'll be a new SSA board member by then, but that depends on how the elections go (vote for me!).
  • July 31: BLOGATHON! Oh hell yes I'm doing this again. Except this time I'll be living in my parents' house, and they'll witness my insane displays of sleep deprivation. Hopefully I can break the $500 mark this time.
  • August: Uh, have fun. I have nothing planned, weeee.
  • Early to mid September: Make the 34 hour drive across the country to Seattle, Washington. This...will be interesting.
This may seem like a lot to a sane human being, but as someone who's stressed out when she's not overbooked, it's a relaxing summer. I also have a lot of unscheduled things I'd like to accomplish:
  • Finish up my current research projects and get them submitted to nice journals. I'd preferably like to do this before I give my advisor a heart attack.
  • Lose at least ten pounds, maybe fifteen. Before anyone yells at me about how I shouldn't care about my weight and that I look fine, know that I'm doing this for me. I've gained weight throughout undergrad, and I'd like to thin back down. I want to be able to look at photos of me without lamenting over how fat my face looks. More importantly, trying to lose weight will encourage me to start exercising and eating better, which are definitely good habits to have. I guess I see it that if I don't get healthy at this point in my life, I'm doomed for the future. Of course, with my luck, I'll probably lose all the weight from my boobs first (let's hope not).
  • Read a lot. I still have books I bought two years ago that I haven't touched.
  • Frantically catch up on modern research in human population genetics so I don't feel like a complete dumbass when I go to grad school. Feeling like somewhat of dumbass is unavoidable.
  • Finish writing a book. I have three books in progress: one is a quarter done, one needs seriously revamping but I don't want to throw it away, and one is just an idea but a timely one. I'm notoriously bad for starting a writing project and not finishing it, mainly because I used to feel no one would want to read it. Now that I've been blogging and realize people do like what I write, I've been finding a lot more motivation. I will get a book published, goddamnit!
  • Play video games I've been neglecting. Hey, I need to enjoy the simple things in life too.
Alright, after writing that up, I just wish it was summer even more! Four more weeks...must...survive...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

My professor's Holocaust story

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. On Friday our newspaper ran a piece about the upcoming Greater Lafayette Holocaust Remembrance Conference, which featured the story of one of my former professors here at Purdue. As a former student, her story was especially touching to me, but I thought all of you would enjoy it. I've added some more information in sparse parts, taken from here.

Anna Berkovitz had a normal childhood until 1944. Now, years later, she still has nightmares of her family being taken from their home by the Nazis.

“I was 13 years old at the time when I was taken with my family to Auschwitz, just before D-Day,” said Berkovitz, Purdue Professor Emerita of biology.

At the concentration camp, Berkovitz and her family faced grim odds of survival. Six hundred thousand Hungarian Jews entered the camp between May and September of 1944. In just three months, 500,000 were killed.

“The killing machine was so effective that names were not even taken when we arrived.”

Berkovitz’s grandparents, aunts, uncle, cousin and probably her father were among the victims of the genocide conducted by the Nazis.

Her survival, as Berkovitz says, can only be accounted for by a series of miracles. ...

Anna and Elizabeth were taken to Camp-C in Birkenau. To this day Anna ponders how she survived six months of brutal treatment, harsh conditions, starvation and disease there.

In November 1944, Anna and Elizabeth were transferred to a slave labor camp near Magdeburg, Germany, where they were put to work in an underground ammunition factory. Ten days prior to the end of World War II, they were liberated by the Swedish Red Cross and taken to Sweden, where they spent three months in a sanatorium recovering from malnutrition and physical and emotional traumas. ...

This year, Berkovitz will be attending the conference, but participating in these events brings personal pain.

“It’s very difficult for me ... to me it’s just like it happened yesterday, so I don’t need a conference to remember.”

Still, Berkovitz recognizes and even asserts the necessity of the conference and sees participating as a duty.

“I think I owe it to the people who died to be remembered.”

Berkovitz’s story does not end in Sweden; rather, her rescue from tyranny marks the start of a new journey that defies the unthinkable trauma of the Holocaust.

In Sweden, Berkovitz maintains that she suffered from no depression or bitterness and looked forward to the future.

“I could have lived my life as a victim, but I did not,” she said. ...

In April 1946, Anna and Elizabeth emigrated to the United States. They arrived in Los Angeles pennyless and not speaking English. In order to resume her schooling, Anna worked as an au-pair for several years. During this time she completed four years of high school and four years of college, graduating from U.C.L.A. in January 1952 with a B.S. degree in bacteriology and with Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude honors. While working as a laboratory technician, Anna met Leonard Berkovitz, who was then a post-doctoral fellow at Caltech. They were married in June 1953, and their sons Dan and Kenneth were born in 1956 and 1960, respectively. During this period Anna worked part time in various cancer research laboratories.

In 1962 Leonard accepted a position at Purdue University, and the family moved to West Lafayette, Indiana. When Kenneth was in kindergarten, Anna decided to continue her formal education. She was accepted as a graduate student in the biology department at Purdue University. She was working on her Ph.D. thesis when, in 1967, she was asked to take a temporary teaching position to fill an unexpected vacancy in the department. This temporary position turned into a lifetime career of teaching, and while Anna never obtained her Ph.D., she earned a tenured position from which she retired in 2003 as Professor Emerita in Biology.

Anna's efforts as a teacher, her dedication to her students and to the discipline were amply recognized by her students, colleagues and the administration. She was selected by the students as one of the Top Ten Outstanding Teachers in the School of Science 14 times, she received the Murphy Award, the top recognition of teaching excellence by the University, and was given the Chiscon Award for outstanding teaching performance by the Biology department. Anna was elected to the Teaching Academy at Purdue and her name is in the Purdue Book of Great Teachers.

In her retirement Anna has more time to travel, attend theater, to be active in her Temple, and to winter in California. But, what she most enjoys is still interacting with young people, be it her own five grandchildren or students at the University. She currently participates in the University Honors Program, where she developed a new course, "The New Genetics - New Perspectives, New Dilemmas," which she teaches in the Fall semesters. ...

Marveling at her accomplishments for the time – raising a family while entering a competitive career field as woman when it was rare – Berkovitz attributes much of her drive to a belief that humanity was good. Only a small group of evil was responsible for her painful experiences.

“Unfortunately, now I see that there are still evil groups of people in the world killing or wanting to kill innocent people just because they are different from what they are,” she said. ...

Though Berkovitz’s story is one of inspiration, she still bears emotional scars.

“I have recurring nightmares that I’m told that I have to pack up and leave home ... that’s part of me; that’s part of my existence.”

Preventing scars such as these in others is a duty for Berkovitz; an obligation driving her to participate in programs such as the Holocaust Remembrance Conference.

“It’s very relevant to what’s going on in the world today.”

I had Dr. Berkovitz for the Honors Genetics course (mentioned in the article) and for Human Genetics, and she was one of my favorite professors here at Purdue. You could tell she was passionate about the subject, and she did a great job of explaining genetics. In class she would encourage stimulating discussions on eugenics, genetic testing, gene patenting, and abortion.

When she overheard me telling another student about the Society of Non-Theists, she asked to be put on the mailing list and has attended all of our pro-evolution events (including my talk about the Creation Museum). From our class discussions, I could tell she shared my liberal views. She even once showed us a clip of Stephen Colbert talking about DNA, and we were the only two to giggle when he talked about Jesus burying the dinosaurs.

But in addition to being a great professor and skeptic, she was a wonderful person. She would always take time to talk to me about random articles in the news she thought I would be interested in. She encouraged me to shoot for the stars when it came to genetics. When I was still considering becoming a genetic counselor, she encouraged me to get a PhD, saying someone with my skills in genetics should be doing research or running the clinic. And when I had asked her to write me a letter of recommendation for grad school, I discovered that her husband had passed away just a week before. Seeing someone I looked up to so much distraught and crying was horrible. I quickly told her I could easily find someone else to do it, but she insisted - even when overwhelmed with grief, she wanted to help her students.

I always said that this is exactly how I want to be when I was 80 - compassionate, skeptical, witty, and still excited about science. That was before I knew her history as a Holocaust survivor. To think that she became such a strong woman and wonderful scientist even through that tragedy is amazing. She's a role model to everyone, but especially to female scientists. I can only hope to be half the woman she is when I'm 80.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Dawkins & Hitchens plan a legal ambush to have Pope arrested

Yep, you heard right. Dawkins and Hitchens are planning on getting the Pope arrested when he visits England in September:

"Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the atheist author, have asked human rights lawyers to produce a case for charging Pope Benedict XVI over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church.

The pair believe they can exploit the same legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998.

The Pope was embroiled in new controversy this weekend over a letter he signed arguing that the “good of the universal church” should be considered against the defrocking of an American priest who committed sex offences against two boys. It was dated 1985, when he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which deals with sex abuse cases.

Benedict will be in Britain between September 16 and 19, visiting London, Glasgow and Coventry, where he will beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, the 19th-century theologian.

Dawkins and Hitchens believe the Pope would be unable to claim diplomatic immunity from arrest because, although his tour is categorised as a state visit, he is not the head of a state recognised by the United Nations."

(Side note: Could the Times have possibly found a more evil looking photo of Dawkins? Sheesh)

I find this quite interesting. I'm not well versed in international or British law, so the fact that this is plausible is intriguing. And I have to say, I agree with Dawkins' and Hitchens' sentiment. The Pope and the Catholic Church have systematically covered up hundreds of cases of child rape. They shouldn't receive immunity because they're a religious organization - thinking you have an imaginary friend isn't exactly a good reason to commit such horrible crimes.

At the same time, I'm a little worried. There are still many people out there that are sympathetic to the Pope, and to have two figureheads for atheism going after him isn't going to be too great for our image. I really hope that other religious figures will join in and support Dawkins and Hitchens. We need to show that this isn't some atheist agenda to bring down the Catholic church - it's a human agenda to protect our children and deliver justice.

(Hat tip to Miranda)

EDIT: It seems the Times has overblown the story a bit. For more of an explanation, check out this post.

I now have my official atheist chick bling

I'm not typically into jewelry, but when I saw Surly-Ramics, I knew I needed one. Surly Amy (who's also a Skepchick) is a wonderful artist who produces awesome skeptical, atheist, and science themed jewelry (amongst other things). I had been lurking on Etsy, waiting for the perfect color, but I finally found exactly what I was looking for:Yep, that's Darwin's sketch of the tree of life. As a female evolutionary biologist, I'm pretty much required to get this due to overwhelming awesomeness (plus, I loved the color). I'll definitely be wearing this to my evolution class and lab!
Thanks, Amy!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Fiction for Fiction next week

For those of my readers who are at Purdue, don't miss out the Society of Non-Theists' Fiction for Fiction event next week. As I've blogged before, it's an event where people can trade in religious texts for great fiction novels.

When: Thursday, April 15th, 9 am to 4:30 pm
Where: Outside of CL50 at Purdue University
How: Bring a religious text! (pocket versions accepted)
Why: To encourage people to question what they read (and to stir up a little controversy, like always)

I'll do a full write-up of the event next week. Oh, and if you want the good fiction books, come early - pretty sure Hitchhiker's Guide will be snatched up quickly!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Christians on atheists FFFFUUUUUUUU

I don't know if you all appreciate the same weird sorts of internet humor as I do, but my friend just made this for me and I was nearly in tears laughing (click for larger):Ahahahahahaaaaa it's funny because it's true :(

(Thanks, Jeff!)

Atheist Barbie

I've never been a fan of Barbie (shocker, I know). My family always tried to buy them for me, but I wanted nothing more than to play with Legoes all day. But it looks like Barbie has a interesting new profession:
She's been a princess, a firefighter, a Marine and a ballerina. After years of soul-searching, Barbie has finally found her true vocation. Meet Rev. Barbie, a plastic Episcopal Priest.

Rev. Barbie, the creation of Rev. Julie Blake Fisher, an Episcopal priest in Kent, Ohio, has her own Facebook page and comes dressed in the latest trends in clergy-wear.

Fisher created Rev. Barbie for use in her own youth ministry: "I thought the children would like to practice playing with the vestments and learning what they are," she told Religion News Service. Over the years, Barbie's many vocations have served as inspiration for young girls. And although Mattel has not endorsed Fisher's improvised Reverend Barbie, the plastic priestess has emerged at a critical moment in Christian history, especially for women.

Man, why should religious people get to have all the fun? I want an atheist Barbie! (click for slightly larger image)Finally, a Barbie doll that represents my every day life...