Thursday, July 28, 2011

My interview with Teen Skepchick

My interview with Mindy of Teen Skepchick is now online for your viewing pleasure. We focus a lot on my journey from atheism to desperate spirituality back to atheism throughout my childhood, thoughts for students and student leaders, art, sex, and a pep talk for young scientists. Some stuff I haven't really blogged about here in depth, so go check it out!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Catholic Church apologizes for 150,000 forced adoptions

From ABC News:
It is believed at least 150,000 Australian women had their babies taken against their will by some churches and adoption agencies between the 1950s and 1970s.

Psychiatrist Geoff Rickarby has treated scores of affected women, and says it is a stain on Australia's history.

[...]The chief executive of Catholic Health Australia, Martin Laverty, says he is sorry for what happened. [...] "It's with a deep sense of regret, a deep sense of sorrow that practices of the past have caused ongoing pain, suffering and grief to these women, these brave women in Newcastle but also women around Australia," Mr Laverty said.

[...]Juliette Clough is one of the women who says she was forced to give up her baby at a Catholic-run hospital in Newcastle in 1970.

She was 16 at the time and says she was alone, afraid and desperate.

"My ankles were strapped to the bed, they were in stirrups and I was gassed, I had plenty of gas and they just snatched away the baby," Ms Clough said.

"You weren't allowed to see him or touch him, anything like that, or hold him and it was just like a piece of my soul had died. And it's still dead"

[...]Greens Senator Rachel Siewert is chairwoman of a Senate inquiry currently examining the country's former adoption practices.

"Women have told stories about going into hospital not realising that they were going to have to give up their babies, but that pillows were put over their faces, that curtains were put up so they couldn't see the baby," Senator Siewert said.

Women have also told the ABC they were given milk suppressing drugs that have now been linked to cancer, as well as barbiturates that caused sedation and in some cases delirium.

Mr Laverty says it is not a period to be proud of.
Bit of an understatement, Mr. Laverty. I kind of don't think "I'm sorry" makes up for one hundred and fifty thousand women having their children forcefully taken away from them.

As if all the child molestation wasn't enough. Why do people still associate themselves with this evil organization? I'm starting to lose patience for the excuses of culture and community. Pretty sure you can find a replacement religion that doesn't molest and steal children. I hear the Unitarians are nice.

Dan Savage is an evil genius

Sex columnist Dan Savage has offered a new threat to Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum: If Santorum continues to attack gays and lesbians during his campaign, Savage will expand his “google problem” by redefining “Rick.” Savage led a campaign to redefine “Santorum” in 2003 after Santorum compared homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia. Other people named Rick chimed in to urge Santorum to heed Savage’s threat.


Answers to the critical thinking puzzles

Many of you took a shot at answering the critical thinking puzzles I posted during Blogathon. Now it's time for the answers! And because I'm lazy, I'm just going to copy and paste the explanations given by some of you guys!
Question 1: In front of you are four cards. You know that each card has a photo of a famous person on one side, and a photo of an animal on the other. The four sides that are visible to you are as follows: Ken Ham, Richard Dawkins, a narwhal, and a T-Rex. I let you know that all of these cards follow the same rule - that if a card has a religious person on it's famous person side, it has a dinosaur on its animal side. What's the lowest number of cards you'd need to flip to determine if this rule is true or false for these cards, and which cards would you flip?
Answer from UrsaMinor: "You would have to flip two cards to test the rule. If it is true, Ken Ham will have a dinosaur on the reverse, and the narwhal will have a non-religious person on the reverse. Since there is no rule stating that non-religious people must have any particular theme on the reverse, it is not necessary to turn over the Richard Dawkins and T-Rex cards, because no matter what they have on the reverse sides, they cannot not break the rule."

Alternative smartass answer from James F. McGrath: "Question 1 is a trick question to prevent banana-wielding creationists from winning. Anyone who embraces mainstream science will know that the categories "famous persons" and "animals" overlap. :)"
Question 2: Because I'm super nice, I give you a giant one hundred pound watermelon as a gift. You determine that this giant watermelon is ninety-nine percent water by weight. Unfortunately you let the watermelon sit out in the sun, and some water evaporates. Now the watermelon is only ninety-eight percent water by weight. To the nearest pound, what does the watermelon now weigh?
Answer from Gary Usleaman: "This one was fun! Since it started out at 100 lbs. and 99% water, then that means that 1% (or 1 lb) was Not Water (NW). After letting it rot in the sun for a bit (best thing for water mellon, if you ask me), you find that it is 98% water. [BTW, you had to weigh it to figure that out anyway, so why are you asking me how much it weighed?] Well, the 1 lb of NW didn't change, so that means that 1 lb is 2% of the total weight. That makes the total weight 50 lbs."
Question 3: While you were at TAM9, you decided to suspend skepticism and gamble - specifically, by playing roulette. But since you want to have some sort of strategy, you decide to flip a coin before each bet to decide whether to place a bet on red or on black (which should have a 50/50 chance of happening). Sadly, you lose sixty seven times in a row - that is, the ball always lands on the opposite color that you pick. If you turned your skepticism back on, it would be most rational to think:

A. You just have shitty luck
B. It's terrible strategy to flip a coin to pick what color to bet on in roulette
C. You should keep up this strategy because you've really likely to win the next bet
D. The roulette table is obviously broken, but you can't assume that's intentional
E. The casino or the staff are dirty crooks who have rigged the game against you somehow
F. You can't reasonably decide which of the listed options are more likely
Answer from Jonathan: "The probability of losing 67 times in a row is one in 2^67, ie about 1 in 147 billion billion. So this is *extremely* unlikely to be bad luck. If the game is fair, flipping a coin is no worse than any other strategy - there's no pattern to pick up on. C is for idiots, D might make sense if you were always betting (say) red, but since your choice is random and there's no sensible way your coin toss can directly affect the wheel, if must be E, and the casino is seeing your bet, then manipulating the wheel (or, at least, it's far more likely that the casino is crooked than that you've lost fairly 67 times on the trot)."

Katie was nice enough to make up some graphs of your responses:
Most of you guessed I would fail at the door question, followed by the roulette question... But I actually got the watermelon question wrong. I know, I know. The answer is obvious now that I see it, but I'm rusty and wasn't thinking. Alas.

Congrats to our winner, Jimmyrhoffa, who was the first to get all of these right! Katie should have your prize to you soon.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

It's not just atheists with a diversity problem...

Geeks have their fail moments too (emphasis mine):
I went to Comic-Con this year; on Thursday, I attended a panel titled “Oh, You Sexy Geek!” a discussion of the implications of “sexy women” in geek/nerd culture, and how that may or may not be used to pander to men. The panel consisted of moderator Katrina Hill and panelists Clare Kramer, Adrianne Curry, Bonnie Burton, Jennifer Stuller, Chris Gore (who almost no-showed), Clare Grant, Kiala Kazabee, and Jill Pantozzi.

I was excited for the panel, considering I am frequently frustrated by the media’s exploitative use of women (whether it be the host of a show, such as Olivia Munn, or booth babes at E3) to appeal to a market that they treat as exclusively male. However, my expectations were quickly dashed when discussion of media literacy was tossed aside in favor of accusations of jealousy. Bonnie Burton and Adrianne Curry mused that women who were critical of sexy geek culture in any way were just jealous, had no confidence, and were projecting their issues with self-esteem onto the women who felt empowered by walking the Comic-Con floor in a Slave Leia costume.

When Jennifer Stuller (one of the creators of the upcoming Geek Girl Con) suggested that women who criticized “sexiness” were more than likely deconstructing the media, and by extension a society that tells women their worth lies in their ability to appeal aesthetically to men, she was rebuffed by the other members of the panel. Later, Stuller attempted to turn the discussion towards media literacy, to which Clare Grant responded that she doesn’t read magazines, therefore the media has no influence on her whatsoever. Adrianne Curry added that women criticize one another “because we’re all a bunch of bitches.”

[...]There were many disappointing moments that had me almost leaving the panel entirely, but nothing was quite so horrifying as the one contribution Chris Gore made when he finally showed up five minutes before the panel ended. He took the stage, apologized for being late, and said “Hey, I’m here to represent all the guys in this room who want to stick their penis in every woman up here on this panel.” There was nervous laughter and a bit of applause. I don’t even need to explain how disgusting and problematic that is.
Of course, the two groups probably overlap quite a lot, so it's not particularly shocking.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Photos from the first gay marriages in New York

You can see all 60 here, but here are some of my favorites:

I'm not going to lie, the older gay couples fill me with the most joy. I just want to hug them and tell them how happy I am that they made it through all the years of crap to finally see this day. I can't wait for the day where the whole country looks back and says, "Wow, can you remember when bigots used to keep gay people from marrying?"

...Who's cutting onions in here?

Blogathon raises $5,483 for the Secular Student Alliance!

Thanks to all of you, Blogathon was a massive success! We ended up raising a whopping $5,483.01 for the Secular Student Alliance! That's going to fund a whole lot of secular activism. So thank you, thank you, thank you!

As a geeky side note...I'd like to point out that now that we have three Blogathon data points, the amount donated has such a perfect linear fit that the R squared value is 0.9999. Of course, I purposefully set a linear donation goal for this year, so that may have influenced how much people donated. In that case, I should have set the goal to $10,000!

Tomorrow I'll email those of you who won a copy of Michael Shermer's book. But until then, I'm still recovering. Heck, I don't even entirely remember what I wrote yesterday. Which were your favorite posts? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and that way all of my readers don't have to wade through 49 posts to find the gems. If there were any gems. At the very least, reading my hate mail was fun.

Alright, back to being comatose!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Blogathon 2011 is complete!

For the third year, I made it through Blogathon! Made it without falling asleep or becoming (completely) deranged. And with your help, we managed to raise over $4,000 for the Secular Student Alliance. How awesome is that?

Thanks to everyone who donated, suggested ideas, spread the word, and kept me company in the comments. And thanks to my friends who helped keep me awake in addition to supplying me with pizza and cookies. In turned into an impromptu party here at La Casa de Blag Hag. You guys are awesome.

I'll post an official Blogathon total once everyone has a final chance to donate. I think some people were possibly donating based on the content of my posts, so I want them to have time to count up the number of times I said kumquat or whatever they chose to keep track of. Well, hopefully they weren't looking for the word kumquat, because I didn't exactly use it very much. But just in case: kumquat, kumquat, kumquat.

...If you still want to donate, you can do so by clicking here or using the widget below.
Thanks everyone, and good night! ...good morning! ...I'm going to sleep.

This is post 49 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Q&A Quickfire Part OMG THE SUN IS UP

One last hurrah:
How do you feel about blogging after the blogathon?
Reasonable Jen will tell you I won't blog for a while. Realistic Jen will tell you I'll probably find something to blog about right after I wake up.
How badly do you want to sleep right now?
I don't know what day it is. What. Why. Why am I alive. Why am I doing this to myself. Why am I getting on a plane to Indiana in a couple days. Omfg, Indiana. It's like ten million degrees there. I'm going to evaporate. I want to just stay here and eat cookies.

If you could dream about anything right now, what would it be?
About sleeping.
Favorite color of the alphabet?
Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?
Only if ever should do under really from when.


This is post 48 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

I just had this phone conversation

You only get to hear what I said:

Why are you calling me.
Wait, what?
Wait, every time you say "children in a van" you cut out.
No seriously. I hear "children in a van" and then "shhhhhhhhhhhhhh" like this is some top secret message that's being intercepted by the FBI.
17 children?
Dancing to what?
No license plates or Ohio license plates?
That's just as bad.
Wait, I thought you said seventeen.
How do you fit seventy five thousand children in a van?
They're Aryan children Mark, they're coming for you.
Wait did they multiply? Are they undergoing mitosis?
I can't hold the phone.

This is post 47 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Are high school reunions a thing of the past?

This question comes from my mom, who spent last night at her high school reunion (I'll be nice and not say what year the reunion was for). Will social media like Facebook take away from the "surprise" of seeing everyone at reunions? How many people go just to see if someone went bald, or got fat, or got super rich, or married someone hot, or had ten million children?

It seems like some sort of vindictiveness is the motivation behind going to most reunions, since you theoretically keep in contact with most of the people you like. But now you keep in contact with everyone. You know exactly what that old bully is up to, if the captain of the football team came out of the closet, or whatever.

So, has Facebook killed the concept of the reunion? Or will us humans keep gathering in person, even with the people we don't really like?

This is post 46 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Guerrila skepticism on Wikipedia

One of the paper presentations I really enjoyed at TAM9 was Susan Gerbic-Forsyth's talk on guerilla skepticism on Wikipedia. Not everyone has the time or motivation or talent to organize events, give talks, write blogs, etc - but people frequently ask how they can help the skeptical movement. Susan's main suggestion was for people to edit Wikipedia.

It seems simple at first, but it really is important. One, Wikipedia is one of the first places people look when they run into a new term or name. It looks terrible if someone's Googling a famous skeptic or skeptical organization and their Wikipedia page is sparse or nonexistent. Two, many articles often have a very paranormal and supernatural bias. It would be great if all false claims also had information from trusted sources on why they're false. Otherwise they go unchallenged.

If this seems like something you'd be interested in, Susan has lots of practical information over at her blog. And these methods usually apply to atheist articles too.

This also seems like a good time to mention that I have a redirect, but not an article. Cough cough. And my friend Jason claims he's cooler than me because he has an article and I don't. THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE.

Er, I mean, it's totally about increasing accurate representations of human knowledge, not a popularity contest. Right.

This is post 45 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

A challenge

I challenge you to incorporate PZ, ponies and yourself into a post. I guarantee you'll have a tenfold increase in donations!
Challenge accepted.
Drawn in MS Paint with the touch pad on my laptop.


This is post 44 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

How to get people to quit using homeopathic medicine

From SMBC:
Come on Zach, you know this is wrong. The process of dilution is obviously very important in how the water molecules establish memory. It not just about decreasing the frequency of something. You must do the right water magi-er, mechanisms. Mechanisms. Or something.

Now, if we threw all of the homeopaths in the ocean...

Meta Blogging Moment: I had a little buffer time, so I was checking my webcomics. I noticed the newly updated SMBC was not, in fact, this SMBC. I suddenly couldn't remember how I found this particular comic. Did I click a link on twitter? No. Did someone email me it? No. Was it on facebook? No. I was convinced I had finally lost my mind. Why in the world would I choose a random old SMBC comic to blog about in the middle of the night, when I had no prompting to look up something about homeopathy?

Then my friend IMed me again, and I realized he had sent me the link.

Sleep, I needz you. I needz you now.

This is post 43 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Another dose of surrealism

The following questions were left on my account months ago, presumably by the same person. I can provide you with no other explanation:
People don't use the word "fervent" enough, so today I began a meeting with "It is my fervent desire that all employees tuck mackerel into their trousers." That failed to get me a promotion. What is their fervent problem?

Are there a lot of cats in your neighborhood? If so, keep track of them. One of them is more than just a cat. If you know what I mean.

Last night I took my girlfriend to a classy restaurant, but when I asked for ketchup the guy in the paper hat brought me some weird foreign stuff called catsup, so I sporked him in the eye. Now my gf says I haven't done enough to demand anal. Women, huh?

Whenever I hear people use a word that rhymes with postulate, it fills me with so much anger that I want to crush their skulls beneath the heels of my jackboots. Is that normal? Or did they already get to you?

I saw a sign that said "We ship anything, anywhere, anytime", so I asked them to send a unicorn to Mars in 1832. They hung up on me! Should I call the BBB, or man up and set them on fire myself?

Would you rather have the power to turn wood into eggs or control cardboard with your eye beams?

Is it safe to assume that anyone named Melvin probably isn't too threatening?

Do you think that people named Timothy probably aren't too threatening as well? Or a better question is, which is less threatening? Timothy or Melvin?

I thought I saw the abominable snowman today but it was just an abhorrent ice woman. Weird, huh? If I see her again what should I do or say?

I thought I saw the abominable snowman again, but it was just the abhorrent ice woman again. This time I talked to her and we hit it off. We're going out tomorrow night! I hear she moves fast so there's a chance for sex tomorrow. Any tips or advice?

My date with the abhorrent ice woman didn't go too well. I don't think I'll be seeing her again. After we were ...ahem... finished, it felt numb. Now it just sits there and won't rise no matter what I do or watch. I think it's useless. What should I do!?
...Five hours left. Gah.

This is post 42 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Would religion help my psychological issues?

From the mailbag:
Do you think your current psychological problems would be less severe or even non-existant if you could rely on a faith? (= + faith community?) Sorry if too provocative.
Honestly, no. I've dealt with these issues since I was little. It's overlapped my naive atheism, my desperate attempt at deism, my agnosticism, and my well informed atheism. And you know at what point I was most miserable? When I was desperately trying to force myself to believe in a God that I knew didn't exist.

Knowing that I was the only one who could make things better, not some mythical being? That was empowering. It's not perfect and doesn't replace counseling, but it certainly helped.

This is post 41 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Europeans: How does religion in the US look to you?

I know my European readers are awake now, so I thought I'd target a question toward you. It's the least I can do - I tend to be very US-centric sometimes.

So here's a basic question for a bit of an open forum. How does religion in the US look to you? Does the American atheist movement seem odd, understandable, necessary? How does your particularly country compare to us, or the countries around you in terms of religious belief?

...I guess that was still sort of a US-centric question. Obviously you all must care about our going ons, even though I have no idea what's going on on that side of the world. America, woo.

...Humor me, please. So tired.

This is post 40 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Jen reads her hate mail - Three Ninjas Remix

This is my new favorite song.

Thanks Jason. I mean, Three Ninjas.

This is post 39 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Q&A Quickfire Part 2!

More questions!
What was the best moment of your elementary school days?
The first thing that popped into my head was in fifth grade, I won a contest to give a speech at our graduation. But for my speech I wrote a rhyming poem that included references to all the books we read, field trips we went on, activities we did, etc. I was mighty proud of myself. I wonder if I still have it somewhere... it's probably buried in my parents' basement.

The second thing that popped into my head was the day we filled one of our classrooms with an inflatable planetarium. I was in love with astronomy in elementary school, so that was pretty much the greatest day ever.
Have you ever been within 5-10 minutes of the next 30-minute mark without an idea about which to write? Did you freak out, and how did you handle the situation?
Actually, I've been doing surprisingly well this blogathon. I've been an hour to two hours ahead of schedule all day. In the past I've had many frantic moments like the one you describe, were I flail and resort to posting picture of lolcats. ...Of course, there's still the potential for that to happen. The roughest hours are remaining.
Coke or Pepsi?
I used to adamantly say Pepsi, mainly because there was a Pepsi factory in my home town so I was really used to it. But then I went to Purdue for college, which was a Coke-only campus. Now I just don't give a damn and try to drink both less.
What kind of music do you have hammering in your ear when desperatly writing a paper or a blogpost at 3 a.m. on the night before it is supposed to be ready?
Honestly I never listen to music when writing. That may seem weird, but I'm really easily auditorily distracted. Unless it's lacks lyrics, I'll lose focus instantly. And most of the music I have has lyrics. This is probably why I don't really like listening to podcasts or YouTube videos. I basically have to drop everything to focus on them.

The one exception I have to this is when I'm coding. In that case, I put all of my Muse albums on repeat and program away.
I'm new in this town. Where do I meet hot nerdy women such as yourself. I'm a software engineer and work is all sausage.
I can't speak for all women, but I only leave my basement to go work in the lab. You're doomed, sorry.

Again, feel free to leave more questions for a final round. I'll probably be delirious by the time I answer those, so make them good!

This is post 38 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

LAN bans women to protect them from misogynists

A LAN party for Battlefield 3 in Texas had this lovely bit of logic in its rules:
Nothing ruins a good LAN party like uncomfortable guests or lots of tension, both of which can result from mixing immature, misogynistic male-gamers with female counterparts. Though we’ve done our best to avoid these situations in years past, we’ve certainly had our share of problems. As a result, we no longer allow women to attend this event.
Yes. To protect the women from misogynistic assholes, we must ban the women. Instead of, you know, banning the misogynistic assholes.


That popping sound was my brain exploding.

This is post 37 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

The University of Arizona Med School adds Integrative Medicine

From UA's website (emphasis mine):
The track will focus on integrative medicine – healing-oriented medicine that takes into account the whole person (mind, body and spirit), including all aspects of lifestyle. IM emphasizes the therapeutic relationship and makes use of appropriate therapies, both complementary and alternative, seamlessly blending conventional medical training with other modalities for disease prevention and to better trigger the body's innate healing response.

"Preventive medicine is a crucial part of a medical professionals' training and is often minimalized in conventional medical training," said Dr. Andrew Weil, center founder and director. "Receiving this additional training early in their career will give UA College of Medicine students an advantage in their residency and practice and a more comprehensive set of skills for treating and communicating with their patients."

Enrollment in the IM Distinction Track will be open to first- and second-year medical students at the UA College of Medicine-Tucson beginning with the fall 2011 semester.

It will require participation in the center's month-long integrative medicine elective rotation, attendance at grand rounds presentations and patient conferences, monthly special-topics lectures, facilitation of a "healer's art" course, completion of more than 30 hours of online courses, a capstone paper suitable for publication and an oral exam.
I have nothing to add other than what David Gorski of Science Based Medicine said at TAM9: "Integrative medicine integrates quackery with real medicine."

This is post 36 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Tall women more likely to get cancer, study finds

From CNN:
Researchers followed 1.3 million middle-aged women in the United Kingdom for several years, and found the risk of cancer increased by about 16% for every 4 inches or 10 centimeters of increased height.

But the question remains, why?

According to Jane Green, a clinical epidemiologist at Oxford University and the lead author of the study, the tallest group – women 5 feet 9 or taller – were 37% more likely to develop cancer than the shortest group – women 5 feet and shorter- regardless of factors such as age, socioeconomic status, body-mass index and amount of physical activity.

There were 97,376 incidents of cancers reported among the women, and height related increases were greatest for the following: colon, malignant melanoma, breast, endometrial, kidney, central nervous system, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and leukemia.

The study did not investigate what specifically about height led to the increased risk, but the research add to other studies that have found a link between cancer and height. The study authors aren't sure what exactly increases the cancer risk, but they believe there are several theories that warrant more investigation.

For one, the authors propose that “taller people have more cells, and thus a greater opportunity for mutations leading to malignant transformation.”

Another possible culprit: Hormone levels resulting from insulin-like growth factors both in childhood and in adult life.“

Growth hormones increase cell growth and rate of division, and inhibit cell death,” Green explained in an email. “Both of these might be relevant to cancer either directly or perhaps just by increasing the number of cell divisions during which mutations can occur in the cell DNA.”
John: I thought that was because the cancer cloud hangs approximately 5 feet 10 inches off of the ground.

Well, add that to the List of Reasons Jen is Totally Going to Get Cancer, after family history, repeated terrible blistering sunburns, getting your first period before age 12, biology labwork, and hours of unintentionally inhaling lots of art supply fumes in confined spaces, and being alive.


This is post 35 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Different types of polyamory

A lot atheists automatically think of Mormonism and Islam when you mention "polyamory." It tends to conjure up images of oppressed women being forced into unwanted marriages with little say. That or HBO television shows.

But that's really polygamy, which isn't quite the same of polyamory. Polyamory is focused on love and consent. Though I'm not personally interested in it, plenty of people are much happier being in relationships with multiple people at the same time.

And I have no idea what the point of this post was other than clarifying that point. ...So. Yep.

Are any of you in a polyamorous relationship? What sort of reactions have you had from the atheist community? From religious communities? Are there any frustrations you typically run into?

This is post 34 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Jen reads her hate mail

For your viewing pleasure, inspired by the similar video Richard Dawkins did (though I lack the awesome accent):

This is post 33 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Harry Potter and Skeptical Thinking

I already talked a bit about why it's okay to like fantasy stories like Harry Potter even when you're a skeptic. But I'll go one step further - Harry Potter has a lot of great skepticism in it.

Think about it. Even though their world is based on magic, they have their own version of supernatural, pseudoscience crap - basically everything that Luna Lovegood and her dad believe in. Most magical people easily accept unicorns and dragons and nifflers, but Crumple Horned Snorkaks? Ridiculous.

And Hermione is a wonderful skeptic. Just look at this quote from the 7th book about the Deathly Hallows:
"But that's - I'm sorry but that's completely ridiculous! How can I possibly prove it doesn't exist? Do you expect me to get hold of - of all the pebbles in the world and test them? I mean you could claim that anything's real if the only basis for believing in it is that nobody proved it
doesn't exist!"
Hermione just destroyed all Christian apologetics. ...Too bad the Deathly Hallows actually existed. *cough*

...I know I originally had more examples, but my memory is starting to go. If anyone has any other skeptical Harry Potter examples, feel free to leave them in the comments.

This is post 32 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Bill O'Reilly is a misogynistic moron

What's new, right? Here's what Bill had to say about the recent recommendation that birth control be subsidized:
"Many women who get pregnant are blasted out of their minds when they have sex. They're not going to use birth control anyway."
Yep. Women only get pregnant because they're drunk sluts who don't care about birth control.

...I don't even have to say anything else, do I?

This is post 31 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

How effective are energy drinks?

This is a question I'm pondering more and more as the night goes on. Last night when I was preparing for Blogathon, I asked people for energy drink recommendations since I usually don't try them. While recommendations for everything under the sun rolled in, a couple people remarked that most energy drinks rely on pseudoscientific claptrap, false advertisement, and placebo effects.

First of all, screw you for ruining my potential placebo effect when I need it the most.

But I am a skeptic, and this was a topic I had never really given much thought to. How many energy drinks are based on BS? Are they really anything more than caffeine and sugar?

From a cursory googling, the answer seems to be "probably not." One psychology professor at Vanderbilt says that a peanut butter sandwich with orange juice would have just as much effect as a bottle of 5-Hour Energy, and probably be way healthier for you. Most of the random ingredients in this kind of stuff haven't been shown to actually increase energy at all - it's mostly just caffeine.
Taurine? Ginseng? Milk thistle? Homophobia? What the hell did you guys recommend I buy? Boo hiss!

But I admit, I haven't done a lot of research into this, nor am I going at this moment. If anyone's more informed, please enlighten us in the comments!

This is post 30 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

A guest appearance

Jason: *starts chatting on Google video chat*
Me: Who's that? I didn't give you permission to chat with anyone.
Jason: Don't you recognize his voice?
John: Who's that?
Me: That's Hemant! ...From Friendly Atheist?
John: Never heard of him.
Me: Ouch.
Hemant: I'm going to go back to taking off my shirt now, bye.

No, there's really not more context than that.

This is post 29 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

How to cure feminism

According to the purported manifesto of Anders Behring Breivik, who recently confessed to being responsible for the Norway killings:
1. Limit the distribution of birth-control pills (contraceptive pills): Discourage the use of and prevent liberal distribution of contraceptive pills or equivalent prevention methods. The goal should be to make it considerably more difficult to obtain. This alone should increase the fertility rate by 0,1 points but would degrade women's rights.

2. Reform sex education: Reform the current sex education in our school institutions. This may involve limiting it or at least delaying sex education to a later age and discourage casual sex. Sex should only be encouraged within the boundaries of marriage. This alone should increase the fertility rate by 0,1 points.

3. Making abortion illegal: A re-introduction of the ban on abortion should result in an increased fertility rate of approximately 0,1-0,2 points but would strip women of basic rights.

4. Women and education: Discourage women in general to strive for full time careers. This will involve certain sexist and discriminating policies but should increase the fertility rate by up to 0,1-0,2 points.

Women should not be encouraged by society/media to take anything above a bachelor's degree but should not be prevented from taking a master or PhD. Males on the other hand should obviously continue to be encouraged to take higher education - bachelor, master and PhD.

He's right. Want to control women? Reduce them to baby making machines.

(Side note: Why is it still okay for women to get PhDs? ...Why am I trying to use logic to analyze something like this?)

The really scary part? While people while be eager to dismiss this as the crazed ravings of a madman, these are the exact tactics the religious right is using in the United States. And that's a hell of a lot more than one person.

This is post 28 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat did I just watch?

I know it's only 8pm, but why wait until 3am for surrealist insanity?

...WTF, Japan. WTF.

It's all downhill from here, folks.

This is post 27 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

"Men should have veto power over abortions; Women should be held criminally liable if they refuse"

Put on your rage hats, folks. This one's a doozy.

Keith Ablow - psychiatrist, psychological thriller author, and Fox News personality - thinks that not only should men have veto power over abortions, but women who ignore said veto should be held criminally responsible. Why? Take it away, Keith.
I have limited the scope of my argument intentionally, in order to focus on what I consider to be a question that puts fairness front and center: If a man has participated in creating a new life and is fully willing to parent his child (independently, if necessary), why should he not have any control over whether that life is ended?
Because I man doesn't have to carry said child for nine months. When we achieve the technology to remove a fetus and put it in a mechanical womb chamber, then we can have the discussion on paternal input.
We are ignoring the quiet message that current abortion policy conveys to every American male: You have no voice in, and, therefore, no responsibility for, the pregnancies which you help to create. Your descendants are disposable, at the whim of the women you choose to be intimate with.
Or maybe you should know if a woman is pro-choice or not before you stick your penis in her, and if it's so goddamn important to you, then don't stick your penis in her. A mindblowing proposal, I know.
Giving would-be fathers a lack of veto power over abortions is connected psychologically to the epidemic of absentee fathers in this country. We can’t, on the one hand, be credible in bemoaning the number of single mothers raising their children, while, on the other hand, giving men the clear message that bringing new lives to the planet is the exclusive domain, and under the exclusive control, of women.

Whether stated or not, the underlying message of withholding from men their proper rights to father the children they create is that they are not proper custodians, nor properly responsible, for their children.

The notion that there is no emotional injury done men by depriving them of decision-making power as to whether the children they father are aborted is naïve.

Just in my own practice of psychiatry, I have listened to dozens of men express lingering, sometimes intense, pain over abortions that proceeded either without their consent, or without them having spoken up about their desires to bring their children to term and parent them.

Should we really continue to give men the clear message that that they should deny, and that we have no regard for, their feelings about the unrealized lives of their potential sons and daughters?

Isn’t it interesting that we don’t generally even ask fathers how they are feeling in the days leading to abortions, nor in their aftermath? We don’t even ask how they are feeling in the aftermath of abortions of fetuses who have reached the second trimester, even if they have been seen by their fathers during ultrasound imaging. Aren’t we at risk of suggesting that we don’t much care how they feel?

Men haven’t been taught that they should consider the lives they help create as their responsibility from conception (other than providing financially for the child if born), but I believe those lives are their responsibility. And I believe that with that responsibility ought come certain rights.
Citation needed.
I understand that adopting social policy that gives fathers the right to veto abortions would lead to presently unknown psychological consequences for women forced to carry babies to term. But I don’t know that those consequences are greater than those suffered by men forced to end the lives of their unborn children.
Um, actually, the consequences aren't unknown, because we have data from thousands of years of women not being able to have abortions. We've historically been nothing more than baby incubators, and that's exactly what you want to return to. And you know what happens when women are forced to carry babies to term? They still try to get back alley abortions, and women die.

Adult humans dying. Kind of more important than emotional consequences or the abortion of some cells that don't have feelings or memories or dreams.
And I am absolutely certain that no woman needs to become pregnant who wishes not to become pregnant. Women taking full responsibility for their sexual activity and their bodies would mean that no woman would face the prospect of being compelled to bring a child to term.
But men can't take responsibility for their sexual activity by choosing to have sex with someone who's anti-choice. Because that would restrict men's ability to have sex freely, when this issue is really about punishing women who have sex.

Seriously, if this paragraph doesn't illustrate that mindset, I don't know what will. In what world do we live in that we force people to suffer through all negative consequences instead of trying to alleviate them when possible? If you go skiing, you know there's a chance you might break your leg. If it happens do we scream "WELL YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE GONE SKIING, SUFFER THROUGH IT!"?

No, we let you go to the fucking doctor.
It’s time to give men their due as fathers—from the moment of conception. Allow men who want to be fathers, and who could be good parents, to compel the women they impregnate to bring their children to term.

Because a man's feelings are more important than control over your own body. Hear that, ladies?

Look, I do think open communication is important in relationships, and that serious issues like abortion should at least be discussed before making a decision. That's assuming a healthy relationship, and not cases of rape, incest, abuse, etc where the woman's disclosure may put her at risk. But we can't ignore the fact that there's a biological difference here - women carry children, men do not. That's why the final decision ultimately lands in the hands of the woman, even if it does cause some distress to men. There's absolutely no reason to give a man veto power other than the patriarchal idea that men deserve control over women.

I wish I didn't have to explain this, but anti-choice and anti-women sentiments are rapidly growing in the US. A fact more terrifying than any of this guy's novels.

This is post 26 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Skepticism & fiction

A reader asks,
How can you be ok with all the shiny-afterlife-awaits-you and stuff in Harry Potter?
...Because it's fiction? Seriously, it's a fantasy novel that's full of magic, dragons, unicorns, giants, goblins, ghosts, elves, pixies, potions, charms, hexes, teleportation, and soul splitting... and you're worried about the concept of the afterlife? You could suspend disbelief for all of that, but not one vaguely religious concept?

Dude. Come on.

Sorry, but it's a pet peeve of mine when skeptics are so skeptical that they can't even enjoy fiction. Okay, maybe you just don't like fiction. But how do you not understand that lots and lots of people do enjoy fiction without eliminating their skepticism? We can watch a movie while still knowing it's just actors and special effects. Humans love telling and hearing stories - that doesn't mean we have to literally believe everything within them.

And I wouldn't talk about this if it was a one off question. I hear this view quite frequently. Heck, at TAM8 Richard Dawkins spent a good portion of his interview talking about how he didn't like fiction because he thought reading fantasy novels as a child contributed to irrational thinking.

Bah humbug. In my case, it was the complete opposite. I knew that The Witches, or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, or Harry Potter, or Greek mythology were all just stories. That's exactly why when I heard about the Bible, I immediately recognized it as just another story. Fiction doesn't erode at skepticism - it can enforce it!

So, boo hiss. Let me enjoy Harry Potter in peace without overanalyzing the religious aspects. I don't give a damn if they celebrate Christmas when people are able to magically turn into cats.

This is post 25 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

What makes men gay?

The final top donor request (the rest didn't request a topic):
"blog about this"
Since this is from a friend and not a stranger, I can safely say this: I hate you for making me read a scientific paper and review it during Blogathon. Hate. So much hate.

But you have my word, so I'll do it. Onto the science!

A lot of people like to ask the question "What makes men gay?" It's pretty clear it's not a willy-nilly lifestyle choice, but scientists still aren't really sure what the biology behind homosexuality actually is. Is it genetic? Hormonal?

Research on the latter is what a recent review article in the journal Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology summarized. You probably heard about the starting premise, since it received a lot of attention in the media. A study in 1996 found that gay men had a greater number of older brothers than heterosexual men. This is known as the "fraternal birth order" (FBO) effect, and has been replicated in many studies. It's independent of potentially confounding variables like year of birth, age, socioeconomic status, and parental age. Non-biological siblings had no effect on sexual orientation.

The main hypothesis for why you see this pattern is known as the maternal immune hypothesis. Just like your body mounts an immune response against bacteria or ill-matched transplants, moms may develop an immune reaction against a male specific protein that's present during development. Those proteins are normal for a male fetus, but a mother's body still recognizes them as foreign. The immune response may then alter parts of the brain associated with male specific proteins like the anterior hypothalamus, which has also been linked to sexual orientation.

Recent research is finding more and more support for this hypothesis. One study showed that mothers of boys do develop an immune response to H-Y antigen, which is a protein expressed in the brain that is important in male fetal development. This immune response becomes stronger and stronger with each son a mother has.

This isn't a totally crazy hypothesis. This exact thing happens in terms of blood type:
A medical model for a maternal immune response underlying the FBO effect is Hemolytic Disease of the Newborn (HDN). When a mother does not have the Rh factor in her blood (i.e., a mother is Rh negative), after gestating and giving birth to an Rh positive (Rh +) fetus, she may mount an immune response against the Rh factor. This immune response may affect subsequent Rh + fetuses, potentially attacking their red blood cells and causing anemia. The likelihood of an immune response becomes increasingly likely with each Rh + fetus a mother gestates.
There's a problem though. H-Y antigen isn't just produced in the brain - it's also expressed in the gonads. Homosexual and heterosexual men don't have any major difference in terms of gonads or fertility. Is there a way that the immune response would only effect H-Y proteins in the brain, but not in the gonads?

Possibly. Mice testes can develop without H-Y. And male gonads don't reach maturity until puberty, so maybe a maternal immune response wouldn't affect sperm too much.

The most compelling point is that there are three different forms of H-Y protein. It's possible that the different forms are localized in different tissues, with only the one in the brain being targeted by the maternal immune response. However, there's currently no information on where different forms of H-Y protein are localized.

Despite all of this evidence, this still doesn't provide an actual mechanism. There's a big gap between "increased immune response" to "homosexual behavior." What are all of the steps in between? And is H-Y the only male specific protein that a maternal immune response targets? Probably not, but more research still needs to be done.

So do we definitively know what's going on yet? Not quite. But feel free to slap homophobes with some science the next time you hear "lifestyle choice."

And there goes all of the Blogathoon buffer time I had built up. Curses!

This is post 24 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.