Friday, December 28, 2007

Distorting The Pope's Words:
Fox News, Daily Mail and Drudge Claim Pope Condemns Scientists as the "Prophets of Doom"

There are probably over a billion people out there that would hope that if one person on the planet that could be exempt from the often slanderous and distorting hands of sensationalist reporters it would be the holiest of holies, the Pope. However, that assumption has just been proved wrong. Earlier this month the Vatican released a transcript of a speech given by Pope Benedict XVI. Following the Pope's address The Daily Mail ran the rather sensationalist headline "The Pope condemns the climate change prophets of doom." The Daily Mail described the Pope's speech as:
a surprise attack on climate change prophets of doom, warning them that any solutions to global warming must be based on firm evidence and not on dubious ideology. The leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics suggested that fears over man-made emissions melting the ice caps and causing a wave of unprecedented disasters were nothing more than scare-mongering.
This was picked up by the Drudge Report, Fox News, the Heartland Institute and several other media outlets that seem to cater to industry friendly figureheads. Naturally this created garboil for some and motivated others into a tempestuous uprising. PZ Myers Ph.D. runs a highly visited science/politics/evolution blog named Pharyngula that bears the self descriptive motif "random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal" and seems to take great pride in comparing the Pope to lizards. He of course reacted with a rather predictable backlash:
IRONY OVERLOAD! The pope opened his mouth again. let us be uninhibited by ideological pressure and throw the words of that pretentious old man in the trash.
There were even those that used this as an excuse to call the Pope "a nazi, who is pro child molestor." So what did the pope say? Well among other things he said (emphasis mine):
We need to care for the environment: it has been entrusted to men and women to be protected and cultivated with responsible freedom, with the good of all as a constant guiding criterion. ... Humanity today is rightly concerned about the ecological balance of tomorrow.
Clearly something is amiss here. This is something most of the climate consensus supporters find perfectly reasonable. Nature, a top of the line peer-review scientific journal that also runs a news column, printed an article titled "Wise words from the Vatican" which described the Pope's statement as "simply the one that any reasonable person would make."

So how did The Daily Mail find enough ammo to support their position? Well maybe it has to do with the following quote from the Pope:
It is important for assessments in this regard to be carried out prudently, in dialogue with experts and people of wisdom, uninhibited by ideological pressure to draw hasty conclusions, and above all with the aim of reaching agreement on a model of sustainable development capable of ensuring the well-being of all while respecting environmental balances.
The only way I can possibly read this as critical of the "prophets of doom", which doesn't appear in the popes speech, is if he looked at the skeptics while saying "experts and people of wisdom" and stared at everyone on this massive list while saying "ideological pressure". As far as I can tell that simply did not happen.

While high profile organizations like drudge and highly visited "godless liberal" blogs like Pharyngula took The Daily Mail's demonizing report hook line and sinker other outlets like the liberal Daily Kos and Deltoid's Tim Lambert actually took the time to read the Pope's words.

Tim Lambert concluded that Simon Caldwell, the author of the inflammatory and possibly defamatory Daily Mail article, is a "liar". Pericles, who writes for Daily Kos, ended his analysis by giving a few very wise words of wisdom:
So here's the moral of my story: When the media tells you that somebody said something surprising, don't react, check. Your first response shouldn't be: "How can he say that!" It should be: "Did he really say that?" Very often the answer will be No
This is something that cannot be said enough. Meanwhile the New York Times, despite being part of the "elite media", seems confused. One of their staff-editors ended a column with:
Is the Pope really a righteous skeptic? Or, per what the Mail has to .... is he trying to head off the green fundies at the pass?”
This whole ordeal, from the "prophets of doom" to throwing the Pope "in the trash", reminds me of some words of wisdom I read a few days ago:
Talent is way over-rated.
Insults get results -- and pay the electric bill.
Just ask Ann Coulter.
In conclusion the largest and most "elite" media outlets (NYT's, Fox News, Daily Mail, Drudge) and blogs (Pharyngula) all performed very poorly and deserve nothing less than an opprobrium. On other hand the smaller media outlets (Nature) and blogs (Deltoid, Pericles from Daily Kos) performed admirably. Mistakes happen and everyone deserves grace of all the people that reported. However, this is just one more day where I find the quality of writing is inversely proportional to the number of people that read it.

After reviewing over a 100 hits on this topic (the vast majority were blogs) it turns out that Christian Science Monitor and the Spectator screw up while the Guardian gets it right.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

A 300 MPG Car Laughs In the Face of Rising Oil Prices

The above car from Aptera is so aerodynamic that it has the same profile of the average windshield wiper. This allows the car to travel 120 miles on battery power alone or get 300 miles per gallon when the plug-in hybrid is running on petroleum. There is enough storage space to fit 15 bags of groceries, two full-size golf club bags or even a couple of seven foot surf boards. Safety has not been forgotten as Formula 1 technology is used to protect the passengers. Rollover strength exceeds the FMVSS(Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard) 216 and the doors also far EXCEED mandated strength requirements for passenger cars. No official top speed has been released but it is supposed to go over 85 mph.

Production begins in late 2008 with a cost of $26,900 for the all electric version and $29,900 for the plug-in hybrid version. Popular Mechanics has a video covering this very unique vehicle.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

R.I.P. Polar Bear Habitat
BORN: 100,000 B.C. - DIED: 2012 A.D.

The above is from NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio which shows the massive ice melt that is occurring at the north pole. Today the AP reported on some history making news:

Greenland's ice sheet melted nearly 19 billion tons more than the previous high mark, and the volume of Arctic sea ice at summer's end was half what it was just four years earlier, according to new NASA satellite data obtained by The Associated Press.

"The Arctic is screaming," said Mark Serreze, senior scientist at the government's snow and ice data center in Boulder, Colo.

Just last year, two top scientists surprised their colleagues by projecting that the Arctic sea ice was melting so rapidly that it could disappear entirely by the summer of 2040.

This week, after reviewing his own new data, NASA climate scientist Jay Zwally said: "At this rate, the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice-free at the end of summer by 2012, much faster than previous predictions."

Looks like some animals are going to be going extinct much sooner than we thought. The septics (a term apparently coined by Dr. Connolley for one who spews pure rubbish) have simultaneously launched a Senator Inhofe press release claiming "Warming is naturally caused and shows no human influence." It features an "expert reviewer" from the International Climate Science Coalition which is so new that Google hasn't even indexed it yet. This made-to-order climate coalition contains many of the usual septics like Balling, Ball, Monckton, Sonja A. Boehmer-Christiansen et. al.

More on Inhofe's press release later....

AP, Ominous Arctic Melt Worries Experts Dec 11, 6:48 PM (ET) SETH BORENSTEIN
h/t Desmogblog and Ms. Sparrow.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Massive Breakthrough in LEDs

It looks like LED efficiency just went through the roof. A North Carolina newspaper recently reported.
He said a just-released federal study confirms that the product is the most efficient in the world. It uses 5.8 watts of power, compared with 60 watts for an equally bright incandescent bulb. According to the report from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the new fixture uses less than 9 percent of the energy consumed by common bulbs and less than 30 percent of that consumed by fluorescent lights. LLF's best existing product consumes 15 percent of the energy used by an incandescent bulb and 50 percent of that used by fluorescents.
So why is this a big deal? Count the greenbacks:
"The Department of Energy has estimated that LEDs could reduce national energy consumption for lighting by 29% by 2025. That would save U.S. households $125 billion on their electric bills."
The News & Observer , LED Lighting says lamp will be world's most efficient Breakthrough could spur use of LEDs, Frank Norton Nov 28, 2007 12:30 AM

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Judgment Day:
Intelligent Design on Trial

In 2005 a federal court case known as Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District made history when it put not only evolution but the definition of science itself on trial. Creationists had relabeled their biblical beliefs as "Intelligent Design" in hopes that the semantics would allow their teachings to slip past the 'separation of church and state' requirements in the Constitution. This episode of NOVA, which is available on DVD, summarizes the conditions that led up to the court case as well as the trial itself in a style that is engaging and remarkably easy to understand. The two hour special details with actual court transcripts the battle between experts from the creationist promoting Discovery Institute think tank and leading evolutionary biologists. Perjury, deceit and misrepresentation of scientific research which is rife in the battle on climate change rears it's ugly head in here as well. Simple arguments such as "evolution is only a theory" are exposed as the deceptions they are. For those that don't know scientists generally consider theories far more robust than individual observations. The theory title in front of evolution does not mean it's any less correct than the general "Theory of Friction" or the general "Theory of Gravity". Other more technical questions like 'Why do humans have 23 chromosomes when their primate ancestors have 24?' This NOVA episode is well made, informative and anything but dull.

For a link to Nova's website on the show:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Trucks Costing Us Billions Per Year?
A Commercial From CSX Boasts Impressive Statistics

A TV commercial from the train company CSX is promoting the "transportation of tomorrow". In this commercial they trumpet their efficiency statistics which are rather impressive:
[Our] Trains can move a ton of freight 423 miles on a single gallon of fuel.
I would be interesting to see under precisely what conditions these statistics hold true and how often this level of efficiency can be maintained. Those nittty gritty details will have to be researched more thoroughly in the future. However, this does make semi trucks look like money pits in comparison. According to Robert Clarke, president of the Truck Manufacturers Association, and the Department of Energy, increasing fuel efficiency of freight trucks 10% from 5.5 mpg to 6.5 mpg would save the US approximately a billion gallons of gas. And all of this could be be obtained by adding aerodynamic skirts, side mirrors, and gap enclosures to semi-trucks:
if every tractor/van semi-trailer combination truck in operation in the US adopted these technologies and improved fuel efficiency by 10%, it would translate into nearly one billion gallons per year of fuel savings. These small improvements collectively could make a huge difference in reducing fuel use.
At $3 a gallon this means that we could save $3 billion dollars a year by simply adding some plastic pieces to the sides of semi-trucks. Now imagine if we switched over to trains which are not only vastly more efficient but have lower equipment and labor costs than semi-trucks. I haven't come across an in depth study on this topic but I would love to know how many billions of dollars would be saved per year. It would seem the number would be incredibly large.


Out For The Count:
I've Been Sick As A Dog

I've been out of commission for a while thanks to this little thing called mononucleosis. If your throat ever gets so bad that you are forced to a liquid diet I suggest that you try drinking the high calorie smoothies on this list. The Bursting Blueberry and Cinnamon-Peach are easy to make (pretty important if you can't stand up for 3 weeks and need someone to feed you) and soothing on the throat. Cepacol with Benzocaine is really good for the throat pain as well. And today, as I'm officially on the recovery, I found out that for $7.99 you apparently can give the gift of rabies to your loved ones. Interesting stuffed doll concept. I think I'm going to buy one for the girlfriend as payback for the mono she gave me.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Most Chiropractors Don't Believe in Vaccines

Although there is overwhelming evidence to show that vaccination is a highly effective method of controlling infectious diseases a significant portion of the chiropractic profession maintains a strongly anti-vaccination bias. There is at least one survey (Table 1. from PDF pictured above) which shows that a whopping 51.3% of chiropractors do not believe vaccines are effective in the prevention of disease. Another survey queried 1% of American chiropractors and found that:
One-third agree that there is no scientific proof that immunization prevents disease, that vaccinations cause more disease than they prevent, and that contracting an infectious disease is safer than immunization.
Clearly something is amiss among the chiropractic schools. But stealing a line from St. Francis of Assisi: " Where there is darkness, light". Two Canadian chiropractors, Jason Busse and Stephen Injeyen, writing in the highly respected journal Pediatrics with microbiologist James Campbell, identified tactics used to oppose and confuse the public about immunization. The playbook sounds much like something used to fight climate change:

1) Doubt the science
2) Question the motives and integrity of the scientists (greed)
3) Magnify the disagreements among scientists, and cite gadflies as authorities (doubt the consensus)
4) Appeal to personal freedoms
5) Claim action will cause more harm than good

and more...

Anyone that doubts the efficacy of vaccines needs to read up on polio. In the summer of 1916, 27,000 people were paralyzed in the US, with 6,000 deaths. All of which were from polio. In 1952 the United States had a polio epidemic with nearly 58,000 cases reported cases, 3,145 deaths and 21,269 were left with mild to disabling paralysis.[5] Today polio survivors are one of the largest disabled groups in the world. The World Health Organization estimates that there are 10 to 20 million polio survivors worldwide with 254,000 persons living in the United States who had been paralyzed by polio.[6][7] Many of these survivors face new disabilities 15 to 40 years after their original illness, which could leave them using wheelchairs or ventilators for the rest of their lives[6] Polio is one hell of a disease.

In 1955 an injection vaccine was announced to the world and in 1962 an oral (pill) form became available. The two vaccines have eradicated polio from most of the countries in the world[8][9] and reduced the worldwide incidence from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988 to fewer than 2000 cases in 2006.[10][11] In 2006 only four countries, Nigeria, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, had active polio outbreaks. The success of the polio vaccine has led the World Health Organization claim that "global polio eradication now hinges on" these four countries.[12]

Unfortunately chiropractors are not the only group of people on the planet that feel threatened by vaccines. Datti Ahmed, the President of the Kano-based Sharia (Islamic Law) Supreme council, which administers Islamic law, claims that the polio "vaccine is part of a United States-led conspiracy to de-populate the developing world."[13] As with all conspiracies, this one does not escape irony. From the Washington Post:
Six countries in the world still have "endemic," or freely circulating, polio virus in their populations. All except Nigeria are in the late stages of eradication campaigns. That country has had 259 cases of paralysis from the disease this year -- nearly 80 percent of the world total.
And on the chiropractor side:
[A] boy whose chiropractor father did not believe in immunization was the first fatal case of childhood diphtheria in the nation that year.
Clearly Hygeia, the goddess of health, does not like chiropractors or even certain Muslims. Of course if you believe the chiropractors "natural cycle" argument then I guess polio is just that disease that mutated so it no longer affected humans. And so the most fit strain of polio will forever live on... somewhere else. And that my friends is what we call evolution. :-p Darwin would be proud of the chiropractors.

  1. Attitudes on immunization: a survey of American chiropractors., J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 1994 Nov-Dec;17(9):584-90. PMID: 7884327
  2. Chiropractors and Vaccination: A Historical Perspective, PEDIATRICS Vol. 105 No. 4 April 2000, p. e43
  3. Attitudes and Beliefs toward Routine Vaccination: A Survey of Kansas Chiropractors, S. Holman and S. Nyberg, Department of Physician Assistant, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas 67260, U.S.A.
  4. NLM
  5. Zamula E (1991). "A New Challenge for Former Polio Patients". FDA Consumer 25 (5): 21-5.
  6. After Effects of Polio Can Harm Survivors 40 Years Later. March of Dimes (2001-06-01). Accessed on 2007-10-07.
  7. Frick NM, Bruno RL (1986). "Post-polio sequelae: physiological and psychological overview". Rehabilitation literature 47 (5-6): 106-11. PMID 3749588. Retrieved on 2007-06-04.
  8. Aylward R (2006). "Eradicating polio: today's challenges and tomorrow's legacy". Ann Trop Med Parasitol 100 (5-6): 401-13. PMID 16899145.
  9. Schonberger L, Kaplan J, Kim-Farley R, Moore M, Eddins D, Hatch M (1984). "Control of paralytic poliomyelitis in the United States". Rev. Infect. Dis. 6 Suppl 2: S424-6. PMID 6740085.
  10. "Update on vaccine-derived polioviruses". MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 55 (40): 1093-7 (2006) . PMID 17035927.
  11. Kew O, Sutter R, de Gourville E, Dowdle W, Pallansch M (2005). "Vaccine-derived polioviruses and the endgame strategy for global polio eradication". Annu Rev Microbiol 59: 587-635. PMID 16153180.
  12. BBC, Kano shuns Nigeria polio campaign, Friday, 12 December, 2003, 13:09 GMT
  13. Washington Post, Polio Warning Issued for Travel to Nigeria, David Brown Thursday, July 1, 2004; Page A02
  14. Global polio eradication now hinges on four countries, Polio-free countries seek to protect themselves, World Health Organization, 12 OCTOBER 2006
    Wind Power on the Cheap:

    From Popular Science:

    Frayne’s device, which he calls a Windbelt, is a taut membrane fitted with a pair of magnets that oscillate between metal coils. Prototypes have generated 40 milliwatts in 10-mph slivers of wind, making his device 10 to 30 times as efficient as the best microturbines. Frayne envisions the Windbelt costing a few dollars and replacing kerosene lamps in Haitian homes. “Kerosene is smoky and it’s a fire hazard,” says Peter Haas, founder of the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group, which helps people in developing countries to get environmentally sound access to clean water, sanitation and energy. “If Shawn’s innovation breaks, locals can fix it. If a solar panel breaks, the family is out a panel.”