Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Creationist Challenge

So it came to my attention, that a creationist from California was offering $10,000 to anyone who could prove evolution over creationism in a court of law. At first this seemed like it would have been an easy $10,000, but when you start to look at the wording, things become a little more dodgy. If at this point any of my readers are wondering what a creationist is, it is someone who believes that everything was created by a supernatural power, just as we see it today, and that evolution isn't true.

Let's start with whether or not there is even a debate here. Spoiler, there isn't. Evolution is so well proven, and empirically verified that there is no longer a question as to whether or not it happened. It did. For over 150 years, it's been tested more than any other scientific theory we have. There is thousands of lines of investigation, with hundreds of thousands of pieces of evidence.

So, if evolution is considered a fact, why does it seem like no one is taking him up on this offer. Well, lets look at his offer, this is from the new source that first reported it.

California creationist is offering a $10,000 challenge to anyone who can prove in front of a judge that science contradicts the literal interpretation of the book of Genesis.

Seems straightforward enough, but when you look closer at the claim, science would have to disprove creation in order to win. The way this is set up is a win win for him.

So, why can't science disprove this. Science can't disprove anything, that's not how it works. We can prove something does exist, or that something did happen, however we can never prove that something does not exist, or that something never happened. Go ahead and try it, prove to me that hobbits don't exist, and that Frodo never carried the one ring.

I'm going to make a prediction here. I think that most of those who can prove evolution, won't take the bait. There is a problem with this. If no one steps up to take this on, the creationists will use this as “evidence” that science is wrong. However if someone does take this up, and loses, which they will because this is how it is set up, then again the creationists will use this as more “evidence” of their position. Either way, there are those who will use this as an excuse to try and push the teaching of their wrong and outdated beliefs on our children.

Science is science, and it is not decided in a court, or debate, or by popular opinion. Science is based on empirical evidence. Scientific theories are facts.

You can read the full story of the challenge here

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Delayed Cord Clamping

What is delayed cord clamping? It is the process in which after the baby is born, the doctor does not clamp the cord right away. I will explore what the evidence says, and what some of the common misconceptions are. I will link to all of the sources of information at the end of this post.

According to a Cochran Review on the studies done on DCC (delayed cord clamping) there is a slight advantage to waiting up to two minutes to clamp the cord. The slight advantage is an increase in iron in the baby. There is also a slight risk of hyperbilirubinemia or polycythemia with DCC. The current recommendation is still under debate, however there is some consensus on clamping between 30 seconds and 2 minutes. I will note that these guidelines are for uncomplicated pregnancies. Complications during pregnancy could facilitate early cord clamping. There is no negative effect on the baby with immediate cord clamping.

One of the myths I saw a lot of while researching this is that you should wait until the cord stops pulsating. The idea being that as long as the cord is pulsating, it's transferring nutrients and blood to the baby. This is not supported by the evidence. A pulsating cord does not mean anything is being transferred. Another myth is that all of the blood in the placenta belongs to the baby. This is also a wrong assumption, as some of the blood would have been needed to support the placenta as well. The idea that you should wait to clamp the cord because it's the natural way turns up a lot. This is of course the natural logical fallacy.

As always, follow the recommendation of your doctor. Because immediate cord clamping has no negative effect, and the effects of delayed cord clamping are minimal, delayed cord clamping should only be done under uncomplicated circumstances.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Learning Online For Free

     The advent of the Internet and digital media has done wonderful things for the human race. I feel one of the most important aspects of this is bringing about free access to education. As some of you know, you can learn how to do just about anything from YouTube. From changing a tire, to changing a light fixture, to hanging a door, to even skinning a deer. Really, as a matter of fact, when I picked up hunting, that's how I learned to do it. But if we want to talk about learning at a more academic level, then that has become widely available to anyone with Internet access. So lets look at a few sites that are offering this free education.

     Academic Earth provides a library of university lectures, on a range of subjects. These are always available, and you can watch them at your leisure. MIT Open Courseware is much the same as Academic Earth, but focus' just on courses offered by MIT. Some of the courses have questions to help you learn as you watch the videos. These sites are great if you're just interested in auditing a class or two. The learning is unstructured, so you can watch lectures in any order. With the exception of a few courses on the MIT Open Courseware site, there are no practice questions to help you along, no tests, and no additional help. The MIT site however does offer some assignments for some of their courses, ungraded if you do them of course.

     If you want learning that is a little more structured there is Khan Academy. This site functions like a tutor. There are over 3000 videos, with helpful quizzes in between. This site is great for additional help learning a subject, or to learn a new subject.

     So, this seems like a good start to learning stuff online, but what if we want a more structured experience, with people to help us, and grades to track our progress. Well, there are two sites that have done a great job in doing this, including offering certificates of completion for those who finish the courses.

     This first of these sites is Coursera. This site offers a wide selection of courses from many different universities. These courses are structured. There is a series of lectures for the week, with in video questions to help you understanding. Then there is homework assignments, which are graded and due at the end of every week. Participants that make a certain grade will usually be issued certificates at the end of the course. Here is the Coursera about:

We are a social entrepreneurship company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. We envision a future where the top universities are educating not only thousands of students, but millions. Our technology enables the best professors to teach tens or hundreds of thousands of students.
Through this, we hope to give everyone access to the world-class education that has so far been available only to a select few. We want to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.

     The other site for this is EdX. This was a collaboration between Harvard and MIT. This site is much the same as Coursera, but a bit more structured. They have a lot less courses than Coursera as well, but they are adding more all the time. Here is what they say about themselves.

EdX is a not-for-profit enterprise of its founding partners Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that features learning designed specifically for interactive study via the web. Based on a long history of collaboration and their shared educational missions, the founders are creating a new online-learning experience with online courses that reflect their disciplinary breadth. Along with offering online courses, the institutions will use edX to research how students learn and how technology can transform learning–both on-campus and worldwide. Anant Agarwal, former Director of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, serves as the first president of edX. EdX's goals combine the desire to reach out to students of all ages, means, and nations, and to deliver these teachings from a faculty who reflect the diversity of its audience. EdX is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts and is governed by MIT and Harvard.
     So in conclusion there is no reason for any of us to not learn anything we want to. I'm using these sites to the best of my abilities, and am learning quite a bit. Coursera seems to be offering some very good courses for those wishing to improve their critical thinking skills. I feel privileged to live in a world now, where university level education is available to anyone willing to put in the time and effort.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Our Institutes of Science Need to Be More Vigilant

     Recently in the news there was the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation asked anti vaccine mouthpiece Jenny McCarthy to leas an all day fitness event. After a campaign by skeptics and Science Advocacy groups  they decided to drop her from the bill and go with another fitness guru.

     Now it seems that Simon Fraser University is renting space to the self proclaimed Vaccine Resistance Movement for their vaccine summit. This is billed as an open discussion about vaccines. In reality it will be a full day of fear mongering, misinformation, and lies. The results are in, vaccines are safe and effective. There is not a single government health authority in the modernized countries, or a single university medical program that has refuted these findings. In fact if we look to science, there is no evidence at all that vaccines do more harm than good.

     Now before I go on a rant about how vaccines save lives, and how we're in the middle of an outbreak of vaccine preventable diseases due to the drop in vaccination rates of children. That's not what I want to focus on here. Nor am I stating that any of these people or organizations should be silenced. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, no matter how dangerous and anti science they are.

     My issue is when an organization that is supposed to represent science, or medicine lends a platform to these cranks. When a university lends a space for such an anti science movement such as this, they lend them credibility they don't deserve. There is not two sides to this issue, this is not an issue that's up for debate. Sixty plus years of scientific and medical research, all overwhelmingly coming to the same conclusion is a fact we can trust.

     CFI Canada has written this open letter to Simon Fraser University asking them to reconsider this action. The Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University has also issued this notice disavowing any link with this group.

     I think a little more vigilance from our science based institutes is in order. The anti vaccine movement is becoming more vocal, and in turn the vaccination rates have been dropping. Right now across North America we are experiencing the worst outbreak in 70 years of whooping cough. This is attributed directly to the lower rates of children being vaccinated. Just because anyone should be allowed to spout unscientific nonsense and fear mongering, doesn't mean our scientific organizations needs to give them a platform.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Vatican Newsletter

by David Crawford

It’s certainly great to have all of you back in town again for some full-contact conclaving. The dart boards have been dusted off, the arm-wrestling tables are ready to break any ties, and for those who haven’t been working out, we also have some big souvenir coins for flipping.

Some of you have never been to the Vatican before, so we have put together this informative newsletter.

Special thanks to my co-editor Cardinal Rasta from Jamaica for the help, and also for the awesome new incense burning in the office here. Wow.

• We’re asking all visiting Cardinals to please not bait the Swiss Guards. They know they have funny pants. You should hear what they say about your outfits.

• The duty roster for answering the Mel Gibson, Dan Brown and Linda Blair private hot lines is posted in the locker room. Just make stuff up when they call. Oh, and remember; only the Pope is allowed to update Bono’s Facebook page.

• If you wear your skullcap to the deli down the street they’ll think you’re Jewish and give you 10% off. Try the knishes. Oy, they’re fabulous.

• Correction: An announcement in the last issue, about an upcoming ballet recital by Sister Mary Ignetowski from Warsaw, was incorrect. The ‘pole dancing event’, which caused a stampede to the gym and a sudden shortage of five dollar bills at the canteen, should have read ‘A Pole, Dancing’ event. We regret the error.

• The Holy Father’s soap on a rope is missing from the downstairs shower. Would whoever has it please hang it up again and no questions will be asked.

• Cardinal Ouellette of Canada asks his holy brothers to please stop saying “Amen, eh” when passing him in the halls. The joke was old about a day after he got here, he reports. Amusingly, he still says “Sorry” every time you bump into him.

• Our first Pay-per-view bill has come in, guys, and as a result the Holy Father has once again changed the passcode on the remote. Would whoever hacks the code please Tweet it to the rest of us. Also, Vinny in accounting says there’s no way those women are amateurs.

• Just a reminder that referring to a turkey’s neck as the ‘Pope’s Nose’ is still considered offensive.

• Please use restraint and good taste when vandalizing Cardinals campaign posters. Black Sharpies only, and no cartoons or thought balloons please.

• The recreation committee needs volunteers to move the pews in St Peter’s for the weekend ball hockey tournament. See Father Flying Phil for details. And hey - watch the cross-checking… (that’s a little newsletter humour there).

• In cafeteria news, ‘Eggs Me’ is now off the menu.

• For those of you going on the skeet shooting excursion this weekend, a supply of devices used to keep water out of your shotgun barrel has been obtained. These clever rubber things come rolled up in a small package, and are available in the gym changing room. Simply roll one of these over the end of your weapon to prevent any unfortunate incidents out on the trap range.

• The apparition recently seen in the cafeteria, which some wag referred to jokingly as the ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster,’ has been investigated by our top scientists. They report there is no solid evidence to prove the existence of such a spirit, they think whoever reported it had swamp gas, and do not question their authority. Case closed.