Yes, it’s been a very long time since I last wrote something.

This is not because of a lack of interesting (in one way or another) things to write about. On the contrary, there is a lot of interesting things happening in science and technology; a lot of interesting medical work; and, of course, it’s stupidity galore as always out there!

No, it’s not that. Instead, about a year ago, I started the search for a new job, and that took most of my time. Following the switch to the financial industry, I then found myself very much absorbed in it, a fact which, compounded by a number of other interests and activities, would take its toll on my blogging time.

It seems that things are stabilizing a bit now, so I may well start writing a bit again. Either that, or some outrageous things I have been reading lately have provided the necessary spark. Who knows.

someone is wrong!

Hope I have not lost all of my three readers…
Ken Ham is this very gifted guy, the leader of Answers in Genesis, an organization that promotes open thinking and science-based methodologies. Ken has recently made some fresh, highly intelligent and accurate comments.
[/sarcasm]

So this guy, thinks that scientists have just pulled a number out of their arses to represent the age of our planet:
The reason the age is such an important issue is, from a secular perspective, if you don’t have millions of years, you can’t postulate evolution,” Ham explains. “Think about it: if you believe in a young earth as we do — 6,000 years on the basis of adding up all the dates in the Bible — evolution is impossible. It can’t happen.
That’s right. Scientists just came up with 5 billion years as the age of the Earth, for convenience. As opposed to Creationists, who used advanced methods to determine the age of the Earth to be around 6,000 years. I guess “pulling stuff out of their arses” is the favourite tactic for Ken and his fellow creationist IDiots, so they project this behaviour to others as well!

This is easily one of the most ridiculous things one can ever read (up there alongside the banana-class creationists Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron): the way Ken Ham and fellow creationists have “calculated” the age of the earth, with the outmost precision: by “adding up all the dates in the Bible”!

Let me repeat this: they calculated the age of the earth by adding up all the dates in the Bible!

BY ADDING UP THE DATES IN THE BIBLE!!

How f***ing retarded does one have to be to even consider such a brutal assassination of logic and reasoning?? Why are these people still in existence? Why do they have such influence??
I loved this one from the Canadian Dragon’s Den. A guy walks in trying to get a $2.5 million investment for 25% of his company (thus valuing his company at $10 million). He got kicked out and rightly so. In fact I think they should have called the police and arrest him for fraud. Because his company sells… water! As a cure for every single ailment in existence. Yes, including cancer.

Ok ok, it’s “purified” water with some other crap inside -I think I heard silver? Still, it’s water! And it’s not even highly diluted if you know what I mean:



At least if it was diluted, he could have gone to the Society of Homeopaths for guaranteed funding.
No, it’s not actually the case as it was reported in such influential and accurate media as the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph. However, a new study showed increased levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids, linked to benefits in human health, pushing the balance slightly (only slightly as we will see) towards consuming organic milk with some tangible excuses behind.

The truth is, as always, a bit less simplistic than that. The study found that the overall saturated fat contents were exactly the same in both organic and traditionally produced milk. So fancy news titles like “Organic milk has ‘fewer harmful fats’ than traditional variety” are just outright misleading.

For years now organic method supporters have been struggling to backup their claims, as study after study was showing that there were no significant nutritional differences between organic and traditional milk. Occassionally they would throw in the “better taste” argument, but first, this is a mtter of prersonal preference, and second, many simple informal blinded tests have shown that people are not able to distinguish between organic or otherwise products.

Other times, they throw the sustainability gambit, which while superficially seems strong (maintain the soil, the planet, reduce pesticides etc) I do not yet buy into this line of reasoning because, well, there are too many of us in this lousy planet and we cannot accommodate all our needs with organic-like methods as they are too “wasteful” of resources and real estate! Plus, there are some serious doubts (to say the least) to the claim that “natural fertilizers and natural pesticides are better than modern synthetic ones“.

So, back to our research in question. The study [1] was seemingly well conducted, and provided some interesting observations, one of which pertaining to the seasonal fluctuation of the nutritional content and differences, presumably having to do with the availability and quality of cow food.

Interestingly, the study reports one of its funding sources as the European Community QUALITYLOWINPUTFOOD Integrated Project which aims toimprove quality and safety and reduction of cost in the European organic and ‘low input’ supply food chains“. So a little bit of bias is to be expected, and despite the quality of the study, similar studies should be conducted and pooled together to get a better understanding.

A final note is that laboratory results (as in this study) cannot always be extrapolated to claim human health benefits -as time and again has been shown, cases off the top of my head include the antioxidants and the Vitamin C in-vitro results.

Striking a balance between economic, sustainable, and adequate production techniques is no easy feat for sure. And it will take many such studies before we can devise a solid strategy to accommodate our ever growing population requirements. Until then, feel free to debate and I will keep drinking my normal, traditionally mutated cow milk…

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References:
  1. G. Butler, S. Stergiadis, C. Seal, M. Eyre, C. Leifert, "Fat composition of organic and conventional retail milk in northeast England," Journal of dairy science, vol 94 issue 1, pp 24-36, Jan 2011 []

Fear as performed by Project Pitchfork last night in Islington Academy.



Anyone knows the source of the lyrics?
I came across CureTogether.com lately, a site that relies on its members in order to provide collaborative diagnosis, and potential treatments* -an instance of crowdsourcing as it’s called. In essence, visitors rely on a popularity contest to determine what their symptoms mean and what the most effective course of action might be. And this is so, so dangerous!

curetogetherIn the US alone, a very big percentage of the population promotes and uses unproven (or more commonly proven wrong) alternative and complimentary treatments.

Another good percentage (which, surprise surprise, typically overlaps with the first class of delusionals) believes in all sorts of government supported conspiracy theories and that the “BigPharma” wants us all constantly sick and miserable.

Finally, there are very active and strong groups of blindfolded idiots that propagandize against the use of vaccines, with the well known dire consequences.

With the above in mind, and also considering how bad humans are in rational, impartial thinking, the variety of cognitive errors, and the multitude of logical fallacies we are susceptible to, would you trust such a website**?

Some examples from the site: homeopathy in general and many of its watery substances appear a good number of times, and it is a potential treatment for Laryngitis and Swine Flu (among others). For Multiple Sclerosis patients, there may be hope in acupuncture, acupressure, and Chinese herbs -which ones we are not told. Acupuncture apparently may also be considered for Fibromyalgia, as is Reiki (!), reflexology (!), and chiropractice, all of which evidently ineffective against… anything, and pure magical thinking bullcrap.

Lots of control, potential regulation, or even better, some credential checking of the people allowed to post diagnostic and treatment opinions should be present, otherwise I would stay well clear of such sites. Questions arise though on how such control could be enforced, while one may also say that then you just lose the benefits of crowdsourcing. The jury is still out…

The above said, some of the concepts behind CureTogether are solid, and I can certainly see the benefit in a near-perfect world, were people were generally responsible and aware of their own limits. But in a world where 95% of the population thinks they are cleverer than average, and 50% have just too much time to waste this becomes tricky (of course I have just made up these numbers, but I would not be surprised if they were close to reality :-) ).

Even with that in mind, CureTogether can still provide some very good value, e.g. for identifying candidates and sourcing for clinical trials; for collecting anecdotes for identifying research points; and for receiving early feedback on new treatments, and with some tweaking it may prove to be reformational. Or am I going too far?

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Footnotes:
  1. * I hope I am doing justice to the site’s objectives, but please correct me if this is not a fair representation []
  2. ** I was alarmed to see the publicity and endorsements the site has received, maybe from only a superficial analysis of the potential benefits and risks, but still.. []

Amongst a very large number of apparent “designs” in nature that certainly won’t compete for any efficiency awards, the laryngeal nerve of many mammals is a magnificent piece of bad engineering. The extreme case of a giraffe is discussed in this video by Richard Dawkins -and would make a great souvenir for Michael Behe’s living room.



It doesn’t matter how many times we see evolutionary traits being developed in a seemingly ridiculous fashion. Some people will still see intelligence in any crappy design…
Canadians are very easily excited. I was in Canada last week for a few days, and had a chance to walk around Toronto. As I approached a Church (of one of the million Christian branches…) I saw a drunk guy laying on the pavement and mumbling some incomprehensible words. He was dirty, obviously drunk, and possibly homeless. Did I mention he was also drunk?

Anyway, a lady was already by his side, calling for help so I decided there was nothing more to get excited about and walked into the Church (you know, to see how things work in the Sunday mass in this part of the world). Alas, I was mistaken! There was indeed something to get excited about!

Or so the Toronto people seemed to think. Coming out of the church, the following story unfolded right before my eyes:
  • A fire brigade truck (!) arrives at the scene of the crime (…) for some reason as yet unknown to me. It blocks one of the two lanes in the street, and a number of firemen surround the drunk guy

    Toronto

  • The fire brigade truck is quickly joined by a police patrol vehicle, and another few policemen join the circus around the drunk guy.

    Toronto

  • A paramedic unit vehicle arrives, and parks next to the drunk guy, who is now sitting on the pavement -probably rambling about how bad the last (17th) drink he had for breakfast was… A couple of paramedics join the party of firemen and police officers. No one seemed to have brought booze though.

    Toronto

  • Seeing how you can’t have a party without booze, the paramedics called for their friends in a big-ass ambulance to come over and bring some juice. The ambulance arrives shortly, blocks the second lane (thus stopping traffic in that street completely now) and a couple more paramedics come out and happily blend in with the others.

  • Toronto
I am not sure how quiet or safe Toronto is. If the story above was so exciting (I am guessing it may have made the news) I assume Toronto is a really, *really* safe place! Also, boring…

I am also not sure how many work in the fire brigade, police departments, and paramedic units in Toronto, but judging by the story above, I would say approximately half of the Canadian working force is employed by these public services. So they have a lot of time to spare around a drunk guy…