So, did you hear the one about burning Bibles on Halloween?

October 24, 2009

No kidding.  Some group in North Carolina plans to burn Bibles on Halloween.

Funny part, or ironic part:  It’s a church doing the burning.

And in case you’re hungry, “We will be serving Bar-b-Que chicken, fried chicken, and all the sides.”

Tip of the old scrub brush to Dispatches from the Culture Wars — great comments there, including this one, a favorite of mine:  “I’m going to have to address the menu, however: Chicken is not even mentioned in Leviticus.

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What is a kilosteve? Buy the t-shirt, find out

October 24, 2009

You can get your kilosteve t-shirt here.

Why would you want one?

Every scientist named Steve should have one -- and so should you!

Every scientist named Steve should have one -- and so should you! (Front)

Because it puts you in the company of distinguished scientists who stoutly defend the teaching of good science to children, so they can go on to become great scientists themselves.

Plus, it’s a poke in the eye to the Texas State Board of Education, none of whom are named Steve, and few of whom would be invited to sign on if they were.

Here’s the back of the shirt:

KiloSteve t-shirt, back side.  1,099 total Steves. (Back)

KiloSteve t-shirt, back side. 1,099 total Steves. (Back)

A kilosteve is a thousand Steves.

Creationists fondly distributed a list of scientists who, they claimed, question whether the theory of evolution is accurate.  The anti-science Discovery Institute in Seattle distributed the list starting in about 2001, with a few hundred names.

To claims that many scientists opposed teaching evolution, NCSE created a list of scientists who support teaching evolution theory — but limiting that list to scientists with the first name “Steve,” or a derivative of Steve.  About 1% of people in the English-speaking world have such a name — so the fact that more scientists named Steve sign the list supporting evolution, than those of all names who sign the list denying it, means that the Discovery Institute list represents less than 1% of all scientists.

A comparison of the lists is always instructive.  In 2003 I started phoning people listed on the Discovery Institute list; of the first 20 I called, ten denied having signed any petition against evolution.  One demanded his name be removed.  Five made a modest defense of being skeptical of evolution, but none of them were biologists, and none had any publications which questioned any part of evolution in any way.

NCSE started the project in 2003, not long after the death of Stephen Jay Gould, the staunch defender of science and evolution who was the main witness in the first creationism trial, in Arkansas in 1981.  It’s a fitting memorial to a fine teacher.

Eugenie Scott heads up NCSE.  In an e-mail this week to members of Texas Citizens for Science, who were discussing the kilosteve shirt, she noted it has already spread overseas.

Just wanted you to know that when I gave my talk at Cambridge University Tuesday, Steve #800 walked into the lecture room wearing his kilosteve shirt.

A proud moment!

(Of course I threw open my arms and said in a cheery voice, “STEVE!!!”)

It almost makes one wish one’s name were Steve.  (One also may wonder, who is Steve #800?) The shirt’s a great buy, especially considering that for the price of a kilosteve, one actually gets 1.099 kilosteves.  (As of today, there are 1,118 Steves who have signed the list.)

Tip of the old scrub brush to Pharyngula, which noted the achievement of the kilosteve when it actually happened, and to Texas Citizens for Science, just for the heck of it..

You came to this blog, and all you got was a plug for a lousy t-shirt; share your displeasure:

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Quote of the moment: DDT causing bed bug problems, Malcolm Gladwell

October 24, 2009

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English: ID#: 11739 Description: This digitall...

This digitally-colorized scanning electron micrograph (SEM) revealed some of the ultrastructural morphology displayed on the ventral surface of a bedbug, Cimex lectularius. From this view you can see the insect’s skin piercing mouthparts it uses to obtain its blood meal, as well as a number of its six jointed legs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then the Malaysians started to complain about bedbugs, and it turns out what normally happens is that ants like to eat bedbug larvae,” McWilson Warren said. “But the ants were being killed by the DDT and the bedbugs weren’t — they were pretty resistant to it. So now you had a bedbug problem.”

- Malcolm Gladwell, “The Mosquito Killer, New Yorker Magazine, July 2, 2001; Annals of Public Health


“Not Evil, Just Wrong” opens to thunderous silence

October 24, 2009

It’s the air conditioning one hears, not applause.

Did your local newspaper review the movie?  Odds are the movie didn’t play in your town (did it play anywhere other than local Republican clubs?).

“Not Evil, Just Wrong” promoters and producers appear to have abandoned hopes for a wide-scale debut of their film on October 18, instead choosing direct-to-DVD release in order to salvage something from the effort.

Well, they can take solace in the fact that the John Birch Society, itself trying to rise from the dead, liked the film according to the comments in The New American.  But even the Birch Society reviewer watched it on DVD, not on a big screen.

At the Birch Society site I responded, and will be astounded to see if it stays (in three parts).  The review started out noting that if one asks a friend to explain the cap-and-trade system of controlling carbon air emissions, one is not likely to find that one’s friend fully understands the ins and outs of government regulation of air pollution, commodities markets, and deep economics (why should they?).

Ask a friend or associate, “Can you explain ‘cap and trade?’” More than likely you will be astounded at what a poor grasp (if any) he or she has of the subject, even though the future of our economy and even our country hinges to a large extent on whether or not cap-and-trade legislation passes or not.

I said:

Ask a friend to explain the right to bear arms, and you’re likely to get a bad explanation, too.

Does that mean the Second Amendment is evil?  I don’t think so.

This movie ["Not Evil, Just Wrong"] is greatly riddled with errors, and it presents a false portrait of science, history, and government.

For example:

In one scene that made one want to throw bottles at the TV set, a well-to-do environmentalist showed no concern to a Ugandan mother, Fiona Kobusingye-Boynes, over the loss of her child to malaria, a disease that was almost eliminated by the use of DDT, but then resurged when the EPA banned DDT’s exportation and insisted other countries adopt the same policy.

When DDT was heavily used in Africa, about two million people a year died from the disease.  Today?  About one million die.  The rates aren’t low enough, but does the movie need to lie about history to make a point?  Why?

Malaria was never close to being eliminated with DDT.  Most of the nations that got rid of malaria did it with the combination of better housing (with screens), better health care, and concentrated programs to attack mosquitoes to hold populations down long enough that the pool of malaria in humans could be wiped out.  Mosquitoes get malaria from humans — if there is no malaria in humans, mosquito bites are benign.

DDT was never used in an eradication effort in most nations of Africa, because the governments were unable to get a campaign to fight the disease on all fronts as necessary.  Do we know whether DDT was used in Uganda prior to 1967?

And if it was, are we really supposed to believe that Idi Amin refused to use DDT out of respect for little birdies and fishies, while killing and [it is often said] personally eating his countrymen?

I don’t think that environmentalists are the root of the problem in today’s malaria rates in Uganda, and any perusal of history suggests a dozen other culprits who could not be considered lesser threats by any stretch.

Now the death toll of malaria victims worldwide, but mainly in Third World countries, mostly young children, is estimated by the World Health Organization to be one million per year.

Near the lowest in 200 years.

Recently the World Health Organization, under strong pressure from human rights organizations, particularly in Africa and Asia, rescinded its ban on the pesticide that has been shown in test after test to be harmless to humans and animals, including birds.

WHO never had a ban on the use of DDT.  DDT didn’t work well.  It’s foolish to require malaria fighting agencies to use tools that don’t work.  [Ooooh.  I forgot to note the junk science claim that DDT is harmless to humans and animals -- were it harmless, why should we use it?  It's odd to see the John Birch Society organ campaigning so actively to kill America's symbol, the bald eagle.  Are they really that evil, or just that poorly informed?]

The environmentalists continue to push to overturn this ruling, regardless of its toll in human misery and death.

[Gee. I should have responded, "The environmentalists continue to push this goal even as malaria deaths and infections drop -- regardless the improvement in human health and reduction of misery and death."]

Environmentalists have been lobbying since 1998 to allow DDT use in extremely limited circumstances, with controls to protect human health (the National Academy of Sciences notes that DDT, though among the most useful substances ever created, is more dangerous than helpful, and must be eliminated). [I should have noted here, "Opposition came from the George W. Bush administration."]  In the past three years opposition to DDT use in Uganda has come from large agricultural companies, tobacco growers and unnamed groups of “businessmen” who sued to stop DDT use.

Africans have been free to use DDT since the substance’s discovery, and some nations used it extensively throughout the period since 1946.  Interestingly, they also experienced a resurgence of malaria anyway. If Africans want to use DDT, let them use it.

In the interim, tests across Africa demonstrate that bed nets are more effective than DDT, and cheaper.  DDT alone cannot help Africa much; bed nets alone help a lot.  But eradicating malaria will require great improvements in the delivery of health care to quickly and properly diagnose malaria, and provide complete treatments of the disease in humans to wipe out the pool of disease from which the little bloodsuckers get it in the first place.

This film is not interested in helping Africans, however.  The film’s producers are interested in trying to make hay besmirching the reputations of people who campaign for a clean environment.

How long is this film?  90 minutes, IMDB saysUNICEF notes that a child dies from malaria every 30 seconds.  So while you watch this film, 180 children will die from malaria, and you will have done absolutely nothing to stop the next one from dying.

Send $10 to Nothing But Nets instead.

Look at it this way:  Every sale of the DVD of “Not Evil, Just Wrong,” deprives Nothing But Nets of a donation of two more life-saving bed nets.  So every sale of this DVD more than doubles the chances that another kid in Africa will die from malaria.

Help ban ignorance about world affairs:

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