Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Nevada Tea Party candidate opposes abortion because rape is part of God's plan

Sharron Angle is the Tea Party candidate running as a Republican in the Nevada senate race. Oh, and she's a misogynistic godwalloping asshole:
MANDERS: I too am pro-life, but I'm also pro-choice. Do you understand what I say when I mean that?

ANGLE: Well, I'm pro responsible choice. There's choice to abstain, choice to use contraceptives ... there's all kinds of good choice...

MANDERS: Is there any reason at all for an abortion?

ANGLE: Not in my book.

MANDERS: So, in other words, rape and incest would not be something?

ANGLE: You know, I'm a Christian, and I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives and that he can intercede in all kinds of situations and we need to have a little faith in many things.
I really don't understand why Christians would want to promote the idea that God is a sadistic dick who's making you get raped for your own good, but hey, feel free to continue your bad PR. What I do have a problem with is when you illogical fairy tales are going to hurt people and become public policy. The fact that people support this woman is terrifying.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The egg, the chicken, and evolution

A question from

"Who came first, the egg or the chicken?!"

The egg, of course! Reptiles were laying eggs before the first bird was even around. Now, if you're specifically talking about a chicken egg, it gets a little more complicated. I was going to create my own explanation, but I think Wikipedia already does quite a nice job:
Since DNA can be modified only before birth, a mutation must have taken place at conception or within an egg such that an animal similar to a chicken, but not a chicken, laid the first chicken egg.[8][9] In this light, both the egg and the chicken evolved simultaneously from birds that were not chickens and did not lay chicken eggs but gradually became more and more like chickens over time.

However, a mutation in one individual is not normally considered a new species. A speciation event involves the separation of one population from its parent population, so that interbreeding ceases; this is the process whereby domesticated animals are genetically separated from their wild forebears. The whole separated group can then be recognized as a new species.

The modern chicken was believed to have descended from another closely related species of birds, the red junglefowl, but recently discovered genetic evidence suggests that the modern domestic chicken is a hybrid descendant of both the red junglefowl and the grey junglefowl.[10] Assuming the evidence bears out, a hybrid is a compelling scenario that the chicken egg, based on the second definition, came before the chicken.

There you go - a scientific answer to an age-old question! Of course, the Biblical viewpoint is that the chicken came first, since God created birds on the fourth day and made no mention of eggs. Guess proving the Bible wrong again is the cherry on top.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Geeky quickfire!

Questions from

Which Ninja turtle do you prefer?

Donatello, of course! How could the scientist not be my favorite? I'd always choose him in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turles video game for NES. I still remember how accomplished my friend and I felt if we made it to the skateboard level (we were in 1st grade, cut us some slack).

And just to prove my TMNT/art geekiness, I own this shirt:
So I hear we shall see Harry Potter nude in the next movie...could be wrong. The perv in me so wants to tho ;D

Hm, I'm torn. On one hand, I was never a fan of Harry in the books. He annoyed the living crap out of me. Pretty much all of his characteristics were the antithesis of traits I look for in a guy, so I never understood the Harry fangirling. On the other hand, I'm always for gratuitous male nudity, especially within my geeky fandoms. That and I like Daniel Radcliffe - he seems intelligent, witty, and humble. You know, traits that actually are attractive to me.

Now if someone invents a time machine and we get a Younger Alan Rickman nude scene, then I'll join you in flailing.


I'll show you something even better:Ah, the bad decisions we made at age 17. As a funny side note, we had no idea who that person in the Pikachu suit was.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Kangaroo rats!

Right now I'm about to give my talk at Evolution 2010. Don't worry, I'm not blogging instead of practicing - I made this post a while ago. But I figured it would be appropriate to share some love for my study organism, the kangaroo rat! And what better way to do that than a David Attenborough clip:

That's a different species than my particular k-rat: I study banner-tails, which are totally cuter with their fancy tails. For more information and photos, check out one of my previous posts about my research! Or just look at this cute little baby:

Religious accommodationism at Evolution 2010

Amongst evolutionary biologists, there are differing opinions on how to communicate science to the public and increase acceptance of evolution. One of these opinions is religious accommodationism, which attracts much ire from more outspoken activists such as PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne. While I happen to agree with them, I do understand not everyone does. There are those who believe science and religion are totally compatible, that theistic evolution is good enough, and that we need to mince our words lest we offend liberal theists who could be on our side.

However, I was surprised to find a whole 2 hour symposium at the Evolution 2010 conference devoted to accommodationism. It was the Communicating Science Symposium, which started with a talk by Robert T. Pennock on Communication Evolution, focusing on audience and message. You all know my love for evolution and communicating it to others, so I was initially very excited for this talk. It definitely had good parts, especially about carefully choosing our wording as to not confuse others (Don't say you "believe" in evolution, don't call it "Darwinism," don't say you have "faith" in science, etc).

But it quickly went downhill. Much of the talk was about distancing support of evolution with atheistic views - that we need to stress that religion and science is compatible so people in the "middle" can still accept theistic evolution. That people are more willing to accept evolution if they hear it from their pastor. He lauded Francis Collins and the BioLogos foundation for being pro-evolution...even though BioLogos just had a piece trying to reconcile Biblical Adam and Eve with evolution.

That's why there's a problem with accommodationism. It's more about winning numbers for your cause than truly communicating and educating people about evolution. Are people truly supporters of evolution if they're not accepting it as a natural process? Do people really understand natural selection if they think God is zapping in mutations or had a plan for humans to eventually evolve? Why is it that our tactic involves people preserving their religious beliefs (which are based on faith), but molding science (which is based on facts) to fit their world view? If anything, it should be the other way around. Religion should have to accommodate science.

The reason why people feel compelled to do this is because religion holds a special status in our society where it can't be criticized, even when it's blatantly wrong. This really came out in the second part of the symposium, which was by a woman from AAAS (I unfortunately missed her name). She said there's no use in including creationists or atheists in the discussion because we're extremists who won't change our minds.

Yep - we don't want to potentially alienate theistic allies, but it's totally okay to ignore those atheist extremists. Why is theism worth accommodation, but secular opinions are not? I commented on this in the Q&A, saying if they're accommodating religion they should also accommodate secular opinions, but all I received was an awkward "Okay" and the Q&A ended - where every other question got a long reply.

I guess it's just disappointing seeing such a one sided representation of "communication" at a large conference. Should have spent my morning going to the research based talks.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Secular Student Alliance conference is approaching!

This is a friendly reminder that the Secular Student Alliance conference is quickly approaching! It's July 23-25 at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. If you're involved in high school or college secular groups (or thinking about starting one), this is a wonderful opportunity. I wish I had attended when I was first starting the Society of Non-Theists - I learned so many useful group-running skills that would have made my life a lot easier. If you're hard up for cash (aka a student), the SSA also awards travel grants to help you make the journey!

But the conference is not just for students. There will be a lot of great speakers talking about various non-theist issues, including (photos and descriptions shamelessly stolen from the SSA's last newsletter):

Keynote Presentation by Greta Christina, atheist/LGBT activist and blogger: "What the Atheist Movement Can Learn from the LGBT Movement"

Hemant Mehta, chair of the SSA Board of Directors, author of "I Sold My Soul on eBay," and blogger at the Friendly Atheist: "How the Religious Right Went After Me... and Lost"

Meeeeeeeeee, founder of the Society of Non-Theists at Purdue University, blogger at Blag Hag, and the founder of "Boobquake" presents "Edgy Yet Friendly"

Julia Galef
, co-host and blogger at Rationally Speaking: "Moderating Discussion"

So even if you're not a student, you should consider attending! The atmosphere alone is work it - it's pretty awesome hanging out with a large group of godless heathens for a couple days. Plus, there's a field trip to the zoo with a guided tour by a professor of human evolution, and there's almost assuredly going to be at least one night out at a bar. And if you're more motivated by charitable things, your registration fees help support the SSA, which could always use more money to help secular groups across the country. I had a blast last year, and I'm sure you will too.

Registration rates go up on July 1, so don't wait!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Scientists discover bike riding is incredibly hard

To all the people who've made fun of me for never learning how to ride a bike*: Suck it.

Hmmm, why do I have a feeling this will just bring me more mockery?

*Yes, really. Yes, I tried. I have no sense of balance and was never interested enough to put forth the extra effort. My family gave up trying to teach me when I outgrew my bike. My dad would taunt me that I would be the first person to get their driver's license before learning to ride a bike, in hopes that it would guilt me into learning. I thought this was amusing, so that's what I did.

Twitter affects brain chemistry the same as love

Why is Twitter so addictive and appealing? It seems the answer may be more scientific than one would have guessed. An experiment by an industrious blogger has found that sending a tweet increases oxytocin and decreases stress hormone levels in the brain. This is similar to the reaction a person has when being in love.

I would love to see this investigated on a larger scale. Is this guy an anomoly, or is this a common experience for tweeters? How does reading other tweets affect us? Are the effects magnified when someone replies to us? Are the thousands of tweets I've sent in the last year considered drug abuse?

Hop to it, NIH! Fund this essential research.

Should birth control pills be available over the counter?

There's an interesting Op-Ed over at the New York Times suggesting that it's about time the birth control pill be available as over the counter medication. Since a prescription is the status quo, it never even dawned on me that changing that was an option. This would certainly help women who don't have access to a doctor or had other complications arise (forgetting your pills before a vacation, etc). And in a country plagued by teen pregnancy, it would certainly help sexually active teens who don't have methods of getting a prescription, whether they be for monetary or parental reasons.

But on top of the social aspect, Kelly Blanchard makes many good points on why we should make this change based on the science behind the pill:
The pill meets F.D.A. criteria for over-the-counter medications. Women don’t need a doctor to tell them whether they need the pill — they know when they are sexually active and want to avoid pregnancy. Pill instructions are easy to follow: Take one each day. There’s no chance of becoming addicted. Taking too many will make you nauseated, but won’t endanger your life, in contrast to some over-the-counter drugs, like analgesics. (There are even side benefits to taking the pill, like reduced risks of ovarian and uterine cancer.)

It’s true that the pill could be dangerous for women with certain conditions. Women who are 35 or older and smoke, and those with high blood pressure, are at greater risk of a heart attack or stroke if they take oral contraceptives that combine estrogen and progestin. But these are not complicated conditions to identify; women already have to tell their doctor about their health problems when they get a prescription, and research shows that women can screen themselves for contraindications almost as well as providers do.

What do you think? Is it time for birth control pills to be available over the counter? Do we have these regulations in place just because it deals with women's sexuality, or are their valid medical concerns that Blanchard failed to mention?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I get crazy email sometimes, but this person seemed to have my best interests at heart. How about I share it with you guys, and see what you all think?
My name is Eric [redacted] and I have read much on what you have had to say on various subjects.

Gay rights

You have a rebelious nature. You are about the same age as my children, and I see a lot of immaturity in you.
You enjoy attacking people to much.
You demand your right to be heard and then are rude to those who disagree with you.

All of the various subjects that you believe so strongly in are all tied together under one real subject. Your desire to buck the system.

Most people do believe in God.... you do not and you consider anyone who does an uneducated backwards fool.

You believe in Gay rights..... Yet HIV/AIDS has shown that nature itself has cursed this life style.

You would fight for the right of a serial killer to be saved from the electric chair and later that day fight for a woman to have the right to kill an innocent unborn child.

I would ask a feminist this: If women are intelligent why is abortion even needed? Today we have so many different forms of birth control abortion should no longer even be needed.

Could it simply be that women are not using birth control and then saying they do not want children? If you want men to take the responsibility can a woman not say " not until you put that condom on">??????

Maybe what your belief system is really all about is being able to do whatever you want anytime you want with anyone you want and their being no consequences to any of your actions....

We use to call people that thought like that children..... maybe it's time to grow up

My new email address is: [redacted]

I wish you good luck
You know, I feel it's only fair to respond to people with the level of respect that their thoughtful arguments have earned. Which is why, Eric, I feel compelled to say this:


Hey, if there's anything maturity has taught me, it's to not waste my time responding to the insane judgemental ramblings of random internet strangers. Each sentence he wrote could get it's own novel-length rebuttal, but what does it matter if it's flying in one ear and out the other? The only reason I'm posting this is that I think it's unfair to keep all this merriment to myself. Or so you could facepalm at the stupidity and develop your own counterarguments. Whatever floats your boat.

Though I do have to point out one thing: If I really wanted to rebel against my parents, I would have become a fundamentalist Christian Republican Sarah-Palin loving housewife. I think just typing that made my dad feel a disturbance in the Force.

Sexual strategies predict religiosity and attitude toward drug use

A new study from the University of Pennsylvania has indicated that your sexual attitudes help cause not only your attitude toward drugs, but your religiosity. It was previously commonly believed that religiosity and/or political beliefs were the primary causative agents, but it appears to be the other way around. Here's an excerpt from the paper explaining this in more detail:
Moreover, the relationship between sex and drugs tended to mediate items that, from the perspective of canonical views in political science, might have been thought to be driving views on drugs. For instance, while it is true, as one might have expected, that people who are more religious and those who are more politically conservative tend to oppose recreational drugs, in both our samples, the predictive power of these religious and ideological items was reduced nearly to zero by controlling for items tracking attitudes toward sexual promiscuity.

These reductions are difficult to reconcile with a model in which abstract political views are the underlying causal variables driving attitudes toward drugs. They are, however, consistent with the model we propose, in which individuals’ sexual strategies drive views on recreational drugs.

It is also plausible given our results that abstract commitments drive sexual attitudes and sexual attitudes drive drug attitudes. In both models, sexual attitudes directly influence drug attitudes, with the difference being that our model views sexual strategy as a major causal influence in determining abstract commitments, while the other model takes the opposite causal position, viewing items like religiosity and ideology as major influences in determining sexual attitudes. We note that recent work with regard to religiosity shows substantial evidence that the causal arrow runs at least in significant part from sexual lifestyles and attitudes to religious commitments (McCullough et al. 2005; Weeden et al. 2008; Li et al.
The authors rightfully note that sexual attitudes don't account for all variance, but they do account for a significant amount. This is obviously a complex issue, so I would like to see more research, but it's still interesting. If it is true, I think it has profound implications for religion. There's a difference between "Divine mandate says we must be monogamous, therefore I am" and "I'm monogamous, so I feel comfortable in a belief system that affirms my opinion." Moral judgments sort of fall flat when they're based on arbitrary personal opinion. Although, this concept isn't too shocking to atheists.

Of course, if there's one hole in this study, it's all the religious fundamentalists who keep popping up in the news for their inability to keep their pants on. You think they would all be sex-crazed liberals.

(Via Carnal Nation)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Here, have some links!

In a couple hours I'll be on a plane to Portland! I've set up some posts to go up during my absence, and I may blog at the conference if I get burnt out on evolution (unlikely, I know). Until then, here are some interesting stories I've seen recently to keep you busy.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Writer's block

Sorry for the dearth of blog posts lately. I've had horrible writer's block, mainly because it's the summer. I get most of my inspiration from classes or crazy campus antics - finishing research and playing video games isn't as exciting. Just to give you an example of my current activities, I spent the last two days at my parents' house watching them watch golf. Yeah, thrilling.

I'm also going to be out of town soon. On Wednesday I'm leaving for the Evolution 2010 conference in Portland, Oregon. I'll be there for a week presenting my research along with a bunch of my lab mates and professor. This is a huge conference, with almost 2,000 scientists attending, and I had a blast last year. But unfortunately for you, it also means I'll have limited to no internet access.

So, help me out. Ask me questions either in the comments, by email (blaghagblog(at)gmail(dot)com), or anonymously through! That way I can keep you entertained while I'm gone.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Haircuts, irrationality, and girliness

I chopped off 10 inches of hair today.
I swear it looks better than that photo. My camera is literally falling apart (the duct tape is failing), so taking a good picture was difficult.

Anyway, I'm relieved to have it cut. Starting when I was about 11, I've gone through a cycle of cutting my hair chin length, letting it grow out to a length I can donate, and then cutting it short again. I used to donate to Locks of Love, but decided not to anymore due to growing criticism of their practices. This particular pony tail will be donated to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, whose mission is to "make real hair wigs for women who have lost their hair due to cancer treatments." This is especially important to me since my mom is a breast cancer survivor, and I know how much having a wig helped her self esteem when she needed it the most.

Though if you're a friend or follow me on twitter, you know I've been hemming and hawing about this haircut for a while. The hour leading up to my appointment I flip flopped every thirty seconds between just getting a trim and chopping it off. Haircuts are just one of those things I'm irrational about. I know every time I do get it cut I love it and feel so much better - the loss of weight, shorter showers, cuter 'do - but it unnerves me up until the cut.

Part of it is because I used to hate my hair: Up until college it was a frizzy, untameable mess. One of the reasons I loved Hermione so much as a kid was because I identified with her bushy hair - which is (one reason) why I can't stand Perfect Shimmering Locks movie Hermione. The first time I donated my hair I joked that I felt bad for whoever got a wig of it. I didn't have much hair-esteem.

On top of that, my mother forced me to have bangs as a child, which I absolutely loathed. Because my hair is thick and naturally wavy, my bangs had a mind of their own. Every morning my mom would attempt to tame them with a curling iron, but after a couple hours of school they were sticking out the wrong way again. I spent 7th grade running away from my mother whenever she brandished a pair of scissors, rebelling against that awful haircut and growing my bangs out. I don't care how nice modern styles may look with bangs - I refuse to go through that again.

With bangs gone and the discovery of specialized anti-frizz shampoo and this thing called conditioner, my hair was instantly better. But hair is still a symbol of insecurity for me. I've always felt like I was left out of Girl Initiation - that my crucial feminine gene had been deleted or something. Girls, and now Women, all seem to know these standard secrets that I don't. It's not that I feel like I must have a certain type of hair or makeup or clothes; it's that I feel unskilled because even if I wanted to, I wouldn't know how to make my hair nice or put on make up or pick out cute outfits. I want that ability to be there.

I'm an overachiever - I don't like being bad at something. But I have a hard time picking up anything feminine. I do well in school because I learn very well in a traditional classroom environment. When it comes to fashion or style, no one ever sat me down explaining things. The most womanly wisdom my mom ever imparted on me was "One day, you're going to start bleeding down there" and then showed a very terrified and confused Younger Jen where the pads were.

Now, even if I knew how to put on makeup, I would still probably go makeup-less 99% of the time. It would just be nice if I had the skill so for the 1% of the time where I'm going to a wedding or a club, I can make myself look a little spiffier. But until then, girlish stuff like this gives me horrible anxiety. I recently had a nightmare that I was on America's Next Top Model and my challenge was to put on makeup in under 2 minutes. After drawing on my face like a four year old who just broke into Mommy's makeup drawer, Tyra felt so bad that she let me try again. The sad thing is, this isn't too far off from reality (minus the whole me making it on ANTM without becoming a size zero).

And I feel the same way about hair. It was almost my senior year of high school when a very stereotypically girly teammate on my golf team let me know what conditioner was. And while looking up haircuts for today, I still realized how hopelessly out of the loop I am. I thought blow drying your hair was just to make it dry faster, not for any sort of styling. I have no idea what different types of brushes are, let alone do. I didn't realize people used curling irons or straighteners for regular hairdos. The stylist put "product" in my hair, and I have no idea what that is or how I could replicate my look.

Don't get me wrong - I'm happy with how I look. I don't feel the need to conform or look a specific way. It's just frustrating to know there's a whole body of knowledge that I am completely ignorant about. I felt the same anxiety while learning advanced calculus or magnetism. Hell, I'm much better at advanced calculus and magnetism than I am at feminine things. If I ever have children, I sort of hope I have sons just because I'm terrified of failing my daughters. I don't want to instill them with the same anxiety I've been battling my whole life.

Beauty is more than skin deep

Here's a pin-up calendar I can support due to the pure biological geekiness:(Via BoingBoing)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"Touchdown Jesus" to be resurrected

He won't be coming back in three days, but the gaudy statue will be rebuilt, says Solid Rock Church. It's bad enough they wasted $500,000 to build the thing to begin with - now they're going to drop even more money to put it back up. I hope they're insured; at least then they'll be getting back money they already spent.The idea of spending over a million dollars on a ugly Jesus statue seems decidedly un-Christian to me. Couldn't that money be better spent, you know, helping the poor or feeding the hungry? Just a thought.

But of course, that's not the point of this sculpture. This is just another example of arrogance - of religious people who think their particular fairy tale is so awesome that they want to show it off. Not all religious people are like this: If everyone actually kept religion a personal issue like so many claim to do, we'd have a lot less problems in the world. But whenever someone feels the need to put up a 62-foot Jesus on the side of the highway, that's just so they can show off.

I also find it amusing that religious people often attribute natural disasters to God's will, but when it hurts them instead of homosexuals or pro-choicers, it was simply bad luck. Ah, isn't cherry-picking your religious beliefs to make them conform to your political ones so nice? Hurricane Katrina? Totally God saying he hates gays. Lightning striking your giant idol that's making Christians look bad? Totally explained by physics. Of course, at least one of my commenters from last night was being consistent:
wow.. so many different views.. but I keep thinking, that once again God has sent Jesus to protect us. I live only a few miles from Solid Rock Church. There are also all kinds of hotels, and hospitals surrounding the area. Jesus took the beating so his people wouldn't have to.... once again. Praise God.
Yep, because God couldn't send that lightning bolt to hit a tree. Now the church will have to waste even more money putting up their giant idol, instead of helping their congregation or community. Man, God is kind of a dick.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Touchdown Jesus is on fire!

A lot of storms have been moving through the Midwest today, and apparently the infamous Touchdown Jesus in Ohio hasn't been spared God's wrath.
The "King of Kings" statue in Monroe was struck by lightning on Monday and engulfed in flames, according to various reports. The statue of Jesus in Monroe, dubbed the King of Kings by the Solid Rock Church where it resides, was struck by lightning during the severe storms on Monday.

It was engulfed in flames.

Fire crews are on the scene now, and are attempting to put out the fire. The is made out of wood and Styrofoam, covered over a steel framework anchored in concrete. This is covered with a fiberglass mat and resin exterior. It is 62 feet high and weighs 16,000 pounds.

Part of me feels bad - I mean, I wouldn't want my $500,000 property to be destroyed. On the other hand, there's a certain amount of schadenfreude when a giant Jesus gets struck by lightning and destroyed. I mean, how many times have atheists suggested that God strike them with lightning if he was real, but he's never delivered? I guess he's annoyed by gaudy Christian art more than godless heathens.

...That being said, the first person to find a photo wins a million internet points. EDIT: Found!

(Hat tip to Mike)

Relationship advice from Pat Robertson

What do you get when you ask Pat Robertson for relationship advice? Misogynistic bullshit, of course!

TERRY MEEUWSEN (co-host): Pat, this is from Anne who says, "My husband has always been a flirt and loves to talk with other women he finds attractive. He says he would never cheat on me but his actions are starting to get to me. What should I do?

ROBERTSON: Anne, first thing is you need to make yourself as attractive as possible and don't hassle him about it. And why is he doing this? Well, he's doing it because he wants affirmation that he is still a man, that he is attractive -- and he gets an affirmation of himself. That means he's got an inferiority complex that's coming out. And he's not gonna cheat on you. He's just playing.

But you need to not drive him away or start hassling and hounding on him, but make yourself as beautiful as you can, as fun as you can, and say let's go out here, let's go there, let's go to the other thing. So -- and Terry disagrees.

MEEUWSEN: That's a lot more grace than I do, Anne. Let me just say we'd be having a serious conversation.

ROBERTSON: Affirmation. Affirmation, dear heart.

Why do husbands flirt and cheat? Because you're fugly. Go put on some makeup, already.

I would love to see Pat's reaction if this was a man writing about his flirting wife. I have a feeling he wouldn't be promoting "affirmation."

(Via Slog)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Female scientists: They're super effective!

Exciting breaking news, everybody! This is a monumental step for female scientists everywhere. I just found out that we have the first female professor in a scientific field long dominated by men. I'd like to introduce Professor Araragi......the new Pokemon Professor!

Yes, I'm excited for Pokemon Black & White to be released. Don't judge me for hanging on to a piece of my childhood - the games are addictive and fun! I did geek out about the Professor being a woman, though. Hey, when popular culture starts recognizing that scientists can be female - especially an attractive female instead of a frumpy stereotype - that's a step in the right direction.

Friday, June 11, 2010

This is totally what I want to get my PhD in

Ah, I love crazy religious mail (click image for larger version):
Any guesses as to what a metaphysicotheologicocosmogynaecologist does? My first guess would be "annoys people with insane supernatural spam," but the "gynaecologist" part is throwing me off. I'm not sure I want to know.

(Thanks, Jeff!)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Boobs may not cause earthquakes, but abortions cause oil leaks

Just to remind everyone that middle-eastern Muslim clerics don't have a monopoly on crazy wackjobbery, here's a new supernatural hypothesis from an American Christian minister:
It has been widely broadcast that the largest Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in the nation has been built in Houston, TX. This six story tall (six is the number of the flesh man*) abortion supercenter was opened in May, just a short time before the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster began.
And because Houston has other places that provide abortion services, that's obviously the cause of the oil leak. Yep, air-tight reasoning, right there. And while I'm pro-choice, I think testing this hypothesis scientifically may have some ethical ramifications, sooooo...yeah, let's just skip right to calling this guy a loon, okay?

He also rambles a bit about how "nice" Christians like Joel Osteen are ruining Christianity, and something about hurricanes and babies, but hell if I can figure it out. I just like this graphic he uses of a hurricane baby:Aha! Proof Maybe an overactive imagination?

(Via Jezebel)


You guys are amazing - TAM goal reached!

It was brought to my attention that the ChipIn widget wasn't updating, but it doesn't matter - you guys obliterated my goal! I went to bed soon after making the fundraising post at 2:30am, and upon waking up at 10:30am you all had donated $1,562.

Holy fuckballs.

I'm seriously tearing up. I put a low goal for fundraising since I felt guilty enough asking, and thought maybe I could raise a couple hundred bucks, hoping that any little bit would help. Now I feel bad for underestimating the generosity of effectively strangers. It's moderately terrifying to imagine what would happen if that post went up now, instead of in the middle of the night.

I took the ChipIn widget down since I now have plenty of money for TAM. Like I said, anyone who donated $50 or more will get an autographed copy of The Atheist's Guide to Christmas once the American version (with me!) comes out in November. I'll use some of this extra money to defray the cost of buying and shipping books. And any money that's remaining after that I'll donate to the Secular Student Alliance to start off my Blogathon charity fundraiser in July.

If you still want to donate out of the goodness of your heart and to support this blog, I've added a PayPal button in the right column. But more importantly, THANK YOU! I seriously can't express how appreciative I am. Maybe size 60 font and animated sparkles would get the point across, but I'll spare you. Seriously, you all have only confirmed that I have the most wonderful readers ever! I love you guys .

Now if you excuse me, I'm going to go dance around naked. Weeeeeee!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I'll be speaking at TAM8, but I need your help!

EDIT: Holy crap! You guys absolutely destroyed my fundraising goal! More information here. I love you all. Seriously, free fucking hugs at TAM.

I just found out that I'll be speaking at The Amaz!ng Meeting 8, the annual skeptical conference (or more accurately, the epic skeptical extravaganza) organized by the James Randi Educational Foundation! My talk will be during the Sunday session on "Skepticism, Humor, and Going Viral: What we can learn from Boobquake."

Needless to say, I'm super excited. This my first time speaking at a skeptical conference, and I can easily say it's the biggest skeptical conference out there. Setting the bar high, I guess.

But it's not just about people hearing my talk - TAM is an amazing networking opportunity for skeptics. I've been repeatedly told it's one of the few places where you can comfortably talk and mingle with all sorts of big name people. The list of speakers this year includes James Randi (of course), Richard Dawkins, Adam Savage, Penn & Teller, Rebecca Watson, Phil Plait, Michael Shermer, D. J. Grothe, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Simon Singh, Karen Stollznow... Yeah, wow. For someone who's just starting their skeptical career, and hopefully has many productive years ahead of her, this will be an amazing opportunity for me. There's just one tiny problem.

I'm kind of a poor college student.

My scholarships from Purdue have ended because I just graduated, and my first paycheck from the University of Washington doesn't come until mid October (and we all know how rich that grad student salary will make me). On top of that, TAM isn't cheap. Student registration is $350, a plane ticket is around $400, then there's hotel, airport parking, that awesome looking optional workshop on feminism... Yeah. I may be able to pitch in a couple hundred, especially if I eat nothing but ramen for a month, but I still need help.

So, faithful readers, I'm asking you to help a blogger out. I know the economy is tough, but it would mean so much to me if you could chip in even a dollar. Or if you don't have the cash, spread the word. I'm the kind of person who hates asking anyone, even my parents, for money, but some of my twitter followers said they really wanted to help me out. If I'm still short I'll beg mom and dad, but I'm not sure how two retired teachers outside the skeptical movement will react to me asking for money to go to Vegas.

If you can help, you can do so through PayPal using the ChipIn widget bellow:

EDIT: Widget removed because my goal was more than met. If you're really dying to donate more out of the goodness of your heart, I've added a PayPal button in the rightmost column.

What's in it for you? Well, for one, I'll definitely be blogging and tweeting about TAM! And if this opens doors for me (which it hopefully will), that only means more exciting blogging in the future. And if you're going to TAM, well, then you'll get to meet me!

But for those of you who need more tangible motivation... If you donate $50 or more, I will send you a personally autographed copy of the American edition of The Atheist's Guide to Christmas after it's release on Nov 2. Paypal will give me your email, and we can discuss shipping later.

And if that's not enough, if I reach my goal of $850, I will dance around my apartment naked! You won't be able to see it, but won't the world be a better place simply knowing it happened?

So if you can, please help out! I'd really rather not rely on hitchhiking to Las Vegas or selling myself into Hemant's harem for cash (he's supposed to be in my harem, goddammit!). Anyway, thanks in advance for your help! Now if you'll excuse me, I have some presentations to work on - TAM, Secular Student Alliance conference, Evolution 2010*... busy summer!

*In case you're wondering, the SSA conference is cheap and only a couple hours away, and I'm getting reimbursed for Evolution 2010 through my research, no, not just spending all of my money on those!

Mario Marathon 3 is approaching!

From their website:

Mario Marathon is an annual fan run fundraiser for Child's Play Charity. Child's Play provides toys, games and books to patients of children's hospitals worldwide.

The multi day internet event, broadcast live online, attracts an audience from around the world to watch as the team plays through twenty five years of Super Mario Brothers video games.

Now in its third year, the event has attracted over 300,000 viewers, and raised nearly $45,000 for Child's Play.

This is a fantastic, fun way to raise money for charity. Plus, they're based in Lafayette, IN! I actually met one of the players when they came out to our Boobquake rally to show their support. Check out their site to donate, and make sure to tune in on the 25th!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Spit, Swallow, or Soufflé?

Friends send me strange sex-related articles all the time. I probably should be concerned what this says about my interests and personality, but I'm more intrigued by the articles themselves. I always think to myself, "Wow, nothing can be stranger than this." I'm usually wrong.

Latest example: The cutting edge in cookbooks, Natural Harvest: A collection of semen-based recipes.
"Semen is not only nutritious, but it also has a wonderful texture and amazing cooking properties. Like fine wine and cheeses, the taste of semen is complex and dynamic. Semen is inexpensive to produce and is commonly available in many, if not most, homes and restaurants. Despite all of these positive qualities, semen remains neglected as a food. This book hopes to change that. Once you overcome any initial hesitation, you will be surprised to learn how wonderful semen is in the kitchen. Semen is an exciting ingredient that can give every dish you make an interesting twist. If you are a passionate cook and are not afraid to experiment with new ingredients - you will love this cook book!"
Uhhh...what a delicious looking...glaze?

...I think I suddenly became a vegetarian.

(Via Living the Scientific Life)

Man, binomial nomenclature is naughty!

What happens when biologists try to get nerdy license plates? They get rejected for being potentially inappropriate:
A forest ecologist’s application for a personalized license plate in the state of Michigan has been denied on the grounds that “PINUS” looks and sounds too much like “PENIS.” Marvin Roberson, who works for the Sierra Club in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, says he applied for the specialized plate out of arborous love for the white pine (pinus strobus in Latin). However, officials denied his request on the grounds that the plate “might carry a connotation offensive to good taste and decency as judged by the Department of State.”
For the sake of appreciating the juvenile humor, I'm going to ignore the fact that the name of a body part is considered offensive in our society. But really, Pinus isn't the worst genus you could come up with. Arses, Colon, Bugeranus, Enema, Fartulum, Labia, Orgia, Turdus... Hmmm, us biologists haven't progressed very far past potty humor, have we?*

I'd love it if scientists could successfully sneak in real "dirty" terms if we're nerdy enough that the DMV doesn't recognize them. I think a lot of mammalogists would kill for a BACULUM** license plate!

*If you want to see other silly binomial nomenclature, this site has a great database.

**A baculum is the penis bone found in most mammals (but interestingly, not humans). Mammalogists have a strange and amusing fascination with it, partly for scientific reasons, but partly because it's funny. Seriously, when I went to the Mammal meetings last year, the most popular merchandise at the auction was carved baculum stuff. Scientists, so weird.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The more feminists distrust science, the more women look like fools

I want to make this clear: This post is not about porn. I am not saying it's awesome, and I'm not saying it's horrible. There is a time and place to discuss the effect porn may or may not have on men and women, and that is for a different time.

This post is about rational discussions, and the feminists who fail at them.

I've often said one of my big pet peeves about feminism are those feminists who distrust science. Not all feminist are like that, but there are definitely some vocal ones. Our newest example is Twisty Faster, over at I Blame the Patriarchy. From the title alone, you know it's going to be a real winner: "Science dudes declare porn good, support claim with Danish graphs, flawed reasoning"

Not Danish graphs. Nooooooooo!

I suggest you go read the post on your own, since there's just too many goodies to quote. But here I'll offer a summary of how Anti-Science-Feminist logic works:
  • Scientists who study sex are totally just doing it to get their rocks off, not for the insights into human reproduction, medical breakthroughs, or the sheer pursuit of truth. The only reason they're sticking a thing in your vagina is to go beat off later.
  • Put scare quotes around any description of the equipment used, to make sure the reader knows it's wrong and icky. Ignore the fact that all the subjects are volunteers.
  • If science disagrees with your ideological/philosophical/ethical/political viewpoint, it is science that is wrong, not your subjective opinion. If it agrees with you or actually improves the lives of women, conveniently ignore those studies
  • When persistently presented with research, belittle it by using "science" as a derogatory word. Make sure to sneer, similar to "neeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrddddddddd"
  • If it's a man disagreeing with you, it's because he has a penis. This logic is so obvious that you must make sarcastic remarks about how shocking it is, and belittle him by calling him a "dude"
  • If it's a woman disagreeing with you, it's because she's brainwashed by all the humans with penises around her. Completely disregard her comment, even if that may seem unfeminist of you. It's for her own good
  • Moderate your comments so only people who agree with you can add their opinions, thus making your argument seem even more airtight!
Therefore: You are always right.

Seriously though, were some science experiments misogynistic? Probably, sure. Are some scientists still misogynist? Again, probably, just because scientists are people too. But you know how we deal with that, other than educating men? By getting more women in science, NOT by acting like woo-filled idiots screaming conspiracy theories.

Every time a feminist treats science like some great big boogeyman, she makes all feminists and women look foolish and ignorant. Science isn't a bunch of horny dudes in plush chairs sitting around a grandiose table commiserating about how they can best oppress women and get to poke a vagina in the process. To treat it that way by disregarding all scientific studies is simply ignorant. If someone shows me a bunch of scientific studies and I disagree, my response is not going to be a lot of hand waiving, speculation, opinion, and anecdotes. It'll be scientific studies that contradict their findings, or critiques of the methods and analyses of those studies. One of the comments really illustrates how pervasive this woo-thinking is:
"Alas, this is why I prefer to hold up women’s intuition, which is actually a rational scientific tool of reasoning, over dude science any day. That doesn’t mean science is bad, it means that woman’s intuition is often far superior."
No. Woman's intuition is not far superior because it does not exist (you also have no idea what "scientific" or "reasoning" means). PZ Myers just wrote an excellent post on how supporting the myth of women's intuition actually hurts women and science:

One of the most cunning tools of the patriarchy is the assignment of woo as a feminine virtue. Women are supposed to be intuitive, nurturing, accepting, and trusting, unlike those harsh and suspicious men. It's a double-trap; women are brought up indoctrinated into believing that being smart and skeptical is unladylike and unattractive, and at the same time, anyone who dares to suggest that intuition and soothing, supportive words are often unproductive can be slammed for being anti-woman, because, obviously, to suggest that a human being might want to do more with their life than changing diapers and baking cookies is a direct assault on womanhood.

This naive imposition of unscientific modes of thought on women specifically leads to the state we have now. Assume a fundamental difference in attitude: women feel, while men think. Now declare an obvious truth: science requires rigorous thought. The conclusion follows that women will not be taking advantage of their strengths (that woo stuff) if they are trying to do science, therefore they will not be as good at science as men, and they will also be harming their femininity if they try to shoehorn their tender and passionate minds into the restrictive constraints of manly critical thinking."

...Woo is powerless; you want to make someone powerless, put them in charge of nothing, but give it a happy-sounding title. Women have been taken on a millennia-long snipe hunt. But, you know, it keeps them busy and out of the hair of the guys doing the real, important work.

Oh, wait. PZ has a penis, I forgot. I get that makes everything he said bunk, and I only agree with him because I'm trying to be a funfeminist or something. Damn. I guess I'll stop thinking rationally, quit my job as a scientist, and sit around expressing how I feel about things with no facts to back my assertions! Good thing I already have a blog.

But the really mindbending thing? The feminist PZ quotes who is so clearheaded about all of this, saying that intuition is just as affected by patriarchy? Yep, that's the same feminist who brought out the major woo-guns when faced with something she personally disagreed with. Um, can we get a little consistency at least, please?

Florida Trip part 3

The next day we went to Epcot, which was a horrible but necessary decision. It was a Thursday, and we knew it would be super busy if we went on any other day of our trip. On the other hand, we were exhausted from the drive and Magic Kingdom. That set the mood for a miserable beginning of the day. Vanessa had lost her driver's license at MK, so she spent the first hour and a half wandering around Disney trying to find the lost and found office since they would never let her off hold on the phone.
I totally geeked out when I saw this. I was too lazy to get on the ground again for DNA, though.

Ben, Jeff, and I tried to waste time while she was gone, but we didn't want to go on any of the rides she liked without her. But in the end, it didn't matter because pretty much every ride was down, including the giant globe-y thingy. So much for embracing technology of the future and all that jazz. I was especially sad Honey I Shrunk the Audience had just been closed, because I had liked that one a lot when I was little.

Eventually Vanessa came back, and we decided the only thing that would make us happy was food. On the way to eat, we ran into Mulan and got photos with her, which made us feel a little better. Ben, Jeff, and I ate at Morocco (which ironically was hosting Aladdin and Jasmine...really, Disney? Really?), and Vanessa ate in America. I really wanted to make fun of her for doing so, but she was already ticked off from losing her license that I resisted doing my worst.
A Norwegian troll, much nicer than the Internet version.

Then the day got infinitely better because we played the Kimpossible spy game, which was the best thing ever. Seriously, the next time I go to Epcot, I'm doing nothing but play that game all day. Basically they give you a cell phone and send you to one of the countries at Epcot, and then you have to find certain things in that country and activate them with your phone. So if you're standing by the koi pond, then a little waterfall will become activated. Honestly it's probably just a ploy to lead you into the stores, but it was pretty much an awesome treasure hunt with animated things you could control. I enjoyed it the most - the other three just enjoyed watching me run around like a fool and dance to the spy music.
I also love it because it led me to A PILE OF POKEMON DOLLS SQUEEEEE! I bought an Eevee and Snorlax.

Happiness was momentarily dashed when I overheard a ten year old boy say how he wants to find homos and punch them in the face. And then he and his class (field trip, I guess) cut us in line for ice cream. Little bastards. But then I got my humongous ice cream cone, and I felt better again.

Then rides started working again, so Epcot didn't suck as much. Ellen's Energy Adventure was pretty great (Ellen + Bill Nye + Science = Win), and so was Test Track. We also finally got to go on the big globe thingy. Again, it cracked me up that the "future" and "progress" was defined by technology we had in the 90s. Oh, and apparently this is how all female scientists dress:

I also got to ride on a segway! I was seriously geeking out about this. I have absolutely no sense of balance, so it was tricky at first for me. Then I started to get the hang of it, so the lady training me was going to let go of the handles.

Lady: Now, look straight ahead, just like you're riding a bike *lets go*
Me: *starts frantically going backwards* I never learned how to ride a bike!
Lady: *grabs on* Okay, let's scrap that idea.

For dinner we ate in England, mainly because it was the cheapest place we could find. Apparently Brits eat nothing but fish and chips, and drink nothing but Bass and Harp.
This photo has nothing to do with England, I just thought it was funny.

I was amused that there was a group of about 25 British people eating around us. I still don't understand why you would eat at your own country at Epcot, especially when it's going to be the greasy American version of your traditional food. The fish and chips were pretty nasty. Though I was amused at listening to all the children with their cute British accents. Did you know crying can have an accent? This was probably the first time ever a crying, tantrum-throwing child didn't annoy me, because his screams totally sounded British and adorable!
Revenge for eating the fish and chips.

We half heartedly watched the fireworks before limping back to the car. I don't know how parents with small children do it. I felt like dying after two days, and that was with setting my own pace!
D'awww, it looks like we all like each other or something!

Florida Trip part 2

We started at Magic Kingdom and went directly to Space Mountain, so I could conquer my fear of the ride. Of course I got stuck being in the very first car – but it was a lot of fun. I guess things aren’t exactly as scary as you remember them being from 12 years ago.Overall, I had a blast at Magic Kingdom. We went on pretty much every ride, and I don’t think we ever had to wait more than 15 minutes. Hooray for strategically using their Speed Pass system!
I almost couldn't get through the bars because of my boobs.

I was also impressed by the amount of food they gave you for lunch. I was expecting to be ripped off by high prices, but they were all reasonable and I could never finish what they gave me. Though I did have a facepalm moment when a middle aged American woman asked the cashier what a taco was and needed a detailed explanation. She was seriously shocked by this exotic cuisine she had never heard of. What the fuck, America.
All that's missing is a scarlet A.

The one downside to Disney was that it was a ton harder to get a photo with any of the characters. There were way less characters than when I went at age 10, and there were always huge lines to get a photo with them. Last time you could just walk up to any character to get a photo. We ended up settling on a photo with Woody (Speaking of which, I can’t believe Toy Story came out when I was EIGHT. And now there’s Toy Story 3? Ugh, I field old.)Actually, I take that back: the other downside to Disney is all the annoying children. No, not children in general – Disney is more for them than for me, and they’re allowed to have fun and be loud and all that good stuff. I mean the kids who are running around completely unsupervised, or are throwing tantrums even though they have light-up color-changing Mickey Mouse balloons. No. Once you get that, you are not allowed to throw a tantrum for the next year.

And if you’re young enough that you can’t stay by your parent’s side, then mom or dad should be holding your hand. If not, I am probably going to step on you. Seriously, I have no idea how many little kids I trampled at Disney. I’m 5’11” and have big boobs. There’s a cone shaped blind spot around my feet, and if you’re under four feet tall and running at me because of the triple scoop ice cream you just ate (albeit most of it is on your face), you’re going to get kneed in the head.
Trying to get a weapon to keep away the hordes of children.


I’ve also come up with a great idea for a more terrifying replacement to the Haunted Mansion. It wouldn’t cost Disney a lot of money, since all they would have to do is combine parts of already existing rides:
  1. Take the acid-trip…I mean, honey-trip part of the Winnie the Pooh ride (formerly Toad’s Wild Ride).
  2. Take the scary Deliverance-like scenes from the Splash Mountain ride.
  3. Let the robots from It’s a Small World go without maintenance until they’re slightly falling apart and have ragged movements.
  4. Slow the It’s a Small World music down, lower it an octave, and then make it slightly off key.
Fucking terrifying. (And yes, I went on It’s a Small World, mainly because Ben had never been on it. And yes, the ride decided to stop while we were in the final room. If the US ever needs new interrogation techniques, there you go.)Other random observations about the Magic Kingdom:
  • Alien Encounters was turned into some stupid Lilo and Stitch thing! What the hell. That was my favorite ride from last time, and it was legitimately scary. Now it’s just Stitch spitting on you. Lame.
  • Apparently they're now selling Hooker Minnie Mouse:
  • The designated smoking area was called Miner's Cove. This made me giggle.
  • We accidentally got on this horrible ride/theater thing about progress, mainly because Jeff thought it was something else. The only comical thing was when they got to the scene about a family living in the “future,” it looked like the late 90’s. I mean, their video game had graphics worse than an N64. This small amusement was not worth them singing “It’s a great big beautiful tomorrow” over and over and over…
  • My friends were all going to pitch in to get me a Fairy Princess Makeover. Thank goodness the line was always full of little girls, and they didn’t want to take the opportunity away from them to see me in gaudy sparkly makeup. Especially because this is pretty much how I feel about the Disney Princesses.
Sweet Jesus this could have been me. Except I would have totally picked Belle or Mulan.

We ended up eating at the Winnie the Pooh buffet area. The food, at the time, was the most delicious thing I ever ate. This is almost entirely due to the fact that I was exhausted and starving, especially since we had to wait an hour to get in. In retrospect, it was the same quality as Old Country Buffet and cost $35. The perks were 1) The ability to go back for seconds, thirds, and fourths (hey, we're college students) and 2) Photos with Tigger, who's badass. We were all so full we started making jokes about how we were going to have foodbabies later (yes, that's a poop joke). I was extra classy and joked that maybe I should go have a food abortion (vomit) since I felt so full. Our waiter happened to walk by right at that moment and give me a strange look. Note to self: refrain from poop and abortion jokes in Disney World. Hey, at least I didn't say it in front of Winnie the Pooh!

By the end of the day, I had come up with a new ride for Disney: Sleeping Beauty. All they would need are a bunch of beds for adults, and a separate play room for children. I think that ride would have the longest wait in the park.

I also bought the most adorable Fat Mickey:
Vanessa: (after buying a Fat Buzz Lightyear) I wonder if they have a Fat Woody.
Me: *laughs like a five year old for about a half hour*
Vanessa: ...It was a serious question :(

Florida Trip part 1

Sorry for being a little absent lately. I went on vacation to Florida from the 25th to the 1st, which means I needed a week of doing absolutely nothing to recuperate (ah, vacations). But now that I’m properly rested, I get to babble about my trip for a bit!

Vanessa (my friend/roommate), Ben (my friend/her boyfriend), and Jeff (my friend/ex boyfriend from high school…long story), and I left West Lafayette at 5am for our long drive to Florida. Ben was our first driver since he was the only person who got enough sleep to be functional. So not only were we all trapped in my car for 16 hours, but we were sleep deprived – extra delirium!

The drive was okay until we got to Kentucky – which, of course, was when I had just taken over driving. Cool fact: It’s generally not going to be fun when you see a giant plume of smoke on the road ahead of you. Apparently two semis had collided and effectively shut down I-65 going both directions. We ended up sitting still for an hour and a half since there was only one tiny part of the road where you could do a U-turn.

Jeff: Well now that we're stuck in traffic, this is a great time for me to tell you about Jesus.
Me: Nooo! Tuck and roll!

It took us another hour to go through the detour because that’s where everyone else was going. Then Jeff started playing the dueling banjos song (I have no idea why he had this on his iPod), which officially drove me insane at approximately 10:30am. Kentucky, the only reason why you’re not on my shit list is because I happen to currently like a boy from you. But be careful, you’re on watch.
Creepy ice cream truck.

Apparently everyone else in the car had gone insane as well. Vanessa suggested we get matching Darwin Fish tramp stamps. Then in Georgia we got stuck behind this car driving really slowly in the left lane (raaaaaaaaaaage) that had a “Jesus is Lord” bumper sticker. We drove behind them for a good period of time without them realizing they needed to get the fuck over.

Jeff: Only prayer will solve this.
Us: *fake pray*
SUV: *wedges between us and Jesus car and rides its ass*
Jesus Car: *changes lanes*
Jeff: Divine intervention!

Eventually we made it to Florida, died of exhaustion, and then woke up early to go to Disney World.
It wasn't very sunny when we got there. Stupid Kentucky.