February 12, Lincoln’s birthday: Fly your flag!

February 12, 2016

President’s Day is next week.  The U.S. Flag Code urges Americans to fly Old Glory on Lincoln’s birthday, on February 12, anyway.

That’s today!

Is your flag waving?

A flag used in 1860 during Lincoln's first campaign for the presidency. Under the modern flag code, such use of a flag is considered disrespectful -- and therefore not the flag to fly today. Granger Collection, New York City, via Britannica

A flag used in 1860 during Lincoln’s first campaign for the presidency. Under the modern flag code, such use of a flag is considered disrespectful — and therefore not the flag to fly today. Granger Collection, New York City, via Britannica

More:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

 


Fly your flag February 12 for Lincoln’s birthday

February 12, 2015

President’s Day is next week.  The U.S. Flag Code urges Americans to fly Old Glory on Lincoln’s birthday, on February 12, anyway.

That’s today!

Is your flag waving?

A flag used in 1860 during Lincoln's first campaign for the presidency.  Under the modern flag code, such use of a flag is considered disrespectful -- and therefore not the flag to fly today.  Granger Collection, New York City, via Britannica

A flag used in 1860 during Lincoln’s first campaign for the presidency. Under the modern flag code, such use of a flag is considered disrespectful — and therefore not the flag to fly today. Granger Collection, New York City, via Britannica

More:

 


Virginia county judge tells Cuccinelli to cool his jets

June 24, 2010

Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a heckler of higher education in his state (and probably all states) and a climate science heretic, must wait to get the information he asks of the University of Virginia and its association with super-researcher Michael Mann, at least until a hearing August 20 on whether Cuccinelli is trying to act bigger than his breeches beyond his constitutional powers.

A report in the Danville Daily Progress and Go.Danville.com explains:

Albemarle County Circuit Judge Cheryl V. Higgins has temporarily stayed a subpoena that demands the University of Virginia produce reams of documents related to the research activities of a former climate change researcher.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued a civil investigative demand – which carries the legal force of a subpoena – in search of documents relating to Michael Mann, a prominent climate change scientist who worked at UVa from 1999 to 2005.

Cuccinelli, a climate change skeptic, has said he is seeking evidence of possible violations of Virginia’s anti-fraud law in connection with five grants totaling $466,000 that Mann obtained while at UVa.

UVa has challenged Cuccinelli’s CID in court, arguing that it is unprecedented, overly broad, oversteps the attorney general’s authority, and violates the basic tenet of academic freedom.

Higgins’ order allows UVa to hold off on Cuccinelli’s demand until the dispute is resolved in court.

A hearing date has been set for Aug. 20.

Resources, and more:

It’s not just that Mr. Cuccinelli has presented no real evidence that Mr. Mann did anything “fraudulent” while conducting his research, applying for his grants or analyzing his data; in fact, Mr. Cuccinelli’s targeting of Mr. Mann appears to be based on little more than a misreading of e-mails the scientist wrote. Multiple scientific review committees have examined Mr. Mann’s work, and all have cleared the scientist of wrongdoing.

We also call for an end to McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them. Society has two choices: We can ignore the science and hide our heads in the sand and hope we are lucky, or we can act in the public interest to reduce the threat of global climate change quickly and substantively. The good news is that smart and effective actions are possible. But delay must not be an option.


Slight fluctuations from 1998’s record heat doesn’t mean warming is done

December 14, 2009

Sometimes you find rational discussion and good information in the newspaper.

This story moved on the McClatchy wire last August (I just recently came across it):

Drop in world temperatures fuels global warming debate

By Robert S. Boyd | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Has Earth’s fever broken?

Official government measurements show that the world’s temperature has cooled a bit since reaching its most recent peak in 1998.

That’s given global warming skeptics new ammunition to attack the prevailing theory of climate change. The skeptics argue that the current stretch of slightly cooler temperatures means that costly measures to limit carbon dioxide emissions are ill-founded and unnecessary.

Proposals to combat global warming are “crazy” and will “destroy more than a million good American jobs and increase the average family’s annual energy bill by at least $1,500 a year,” the Heartland Institute, a conservative research organization based in Chicago, declared in full-page newspaper ads earlier this summer. “High levels of carbon dioxide actually benefit wildlife and human health,” the ads asserted.

Many scientists agree, however, that hotter times are ahead. A decade of level or slightly lower temperatures is only a temporary dip to be expected as a result of natural, short-term variations in the enormously complex climate system, they say.

McClatchy’s story would be accurate today, even after the records show that the last decade is the hottest ever — such a long shelf-life shows good research and writing by McClatchy’s reporters.  McClatchy’s story doesn’t contradict this press release last week from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO):

2000–2009, THE WARMEST DECADE

Geneva, 8 December 2009 (WMO) – The year 2009 is likely to rank in the top 10 warmest on record since the beginning of instrumental climate records in 1850, according to data sources compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The global combined sea surface and land surface air temperature for 2009 (January–October) is currently estimated at 0.44°C ± 0.11°C (0.79°F ± 0.20°F) above the 1961–1990 annual average of 14.00°C/57.2°F. The current nominal ranking of 2009, which does not account for uncertainties in the annual averages, places it as the fifth-warmest year. The decade of the 2000s (2000–2009) was warmer than the decade spanning the 1990s (1990–1999), which in turn was warmer than the 1980s (1980–1989). More complete data for the remainder of the year 2009 will be analysed at the beginning of 2010 to update the current assessment.

This year above-normal temperatures were recorded in most parts of the continents. Only North America (United States and Canada) experienced conditions that were cooler than average. Given the current figures, large parts of southern Asia and central Africa are likely to have the warmest year on record.

If only all reporting were so accurate.


The article the British Chiropractic Association hopes you will not read

July 31, 2009

Science-based Medicine carried this article yesterday, and several other blogs have joined in.  Below is the article Simon Singh wrote for which he is being sued for libel by the professional association for British chiropractors.  It’s a good cause, so I’ll stretch it another little while.

Science-based Medicine introduced the article with this:

Last year Simon Singh wrote a piece for the Guardian that was critical of the modern practice of chiropractic. The core of his complaint was that chiropractors provide services and make claims that are not adequately backed by evidence – they are not evidence-based practitioners. In response to his criticism the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) sued Simon personally for libel. They refused offers to publish a rebuttal to his criticism, or to provide the evidence Simon said was lacking. After they were further criticized for this, the BCA eventually produced an anemic list of studies purported to support the questionable treatments, but really just demonstrating the truth of Simon’s criticism (as I discuss at length here).

In England suing for libel is an effective strategy for silencing critics. The burden of proof is on the one accused (guilty until proven innnocent) and the costs are ruinous. Simon has persisted, however, at great personal expense.

This is an issue of vital importance to science-based medicine. A very necessary feature of science is public debate and criticism – absolute transparency.This is also not an isolated incident. Some in the alternative medicine community are attempting to assert that criticism is unprofessional, and they have used accusations of both unprofessionalism and libel as a method of silencing criticism of their claims and practices. This has happened to David Colquhoun and Ben Goldacre, and others less prominent but who have communicated to me directly attempts at silencing their criticism.

This behavior is intolerable and is itself unprofessional, an assault on academic freedom and free speech, and anathema to science as science is dependent upon open and vigorous critical debate.

What those who will attempt to silence their critics through this type of bullying must understand is that such attempts will only result in the magnification of the criticism by several orders of magnitude. That is why we are reproducing Simon Singh’s original article (with a couple of minor alterations) on this site and many others. Enjoy.

Here it is:

Beware the spinal trap

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all but research suggests chiropractic therapy can be lethal

Simon Singh
The Guardian, Original version published Saturday April 19 2008
Edited version published July 29, 2009

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.


Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

Other venues:

Related material:


Alberta: Academic freedom, or shackles?

June 3, 2009

Alberta, Canada’s legislature passed a bill that allows parents to pull kids out of the classroom if evolution is taught, or almost anything else that the parents deem counter to their own religion.  It’s a passive-aggressive response to laws that require non-discrimination against sexual orientation.

Or does it really allow an opt-out for evolutionMaybe.  Who can tell?

Even Albertans agree they don’t want to be Arkansas:

‘All they’ve done is make Alberta look like Northumberland and sound like Arkansas.’— Brian Mason, Alberta NDP leader

Oy.  Canada has its own version of the Texas Lege.

Bill 44 represents a deep-seated resentment of education in the hearts of conservatives.  It strikes at the purpose of education, to make students aware of society and other people.  It suggests that some ideas are so dangerous they cannot be discussed, even to rebut.

Fears of parents and conservatives are real.  Often what they fear is not real, or not a problem, or maybe even part of the solution.  Can they come to understand that if they can’t even discuss the issues?

Resources:


Torturing children, the Constitution, and a teacher’s duty to protect children

June 23, 2008

This is the device Ohio teacher John Freshwater was using to shock students and brand them with crosses: A BD-10A high-frequency generator tester for leak detection, from Electro-Technic Products, Inc.:

   BD10ASV  OUTPUT: 10,000-50,000 volts at frequency of approx. 1/2 megahertz. Power 230 V, with a momentary ON/OFF switch

BD-10A high frequency generator tester leak detector, from Electro-Technic Products.  “BD10ASV OUTPUT: 10,000-50,000 volts at frequency of approx. 1/2 megahertz. Power 230 V, with a momentary ON/OFF switch”

As described at the company’s website:

  • Model BD-10A is the standard tester
  • Model BD-10AS features a momentary ON/OFF switch
  • OUTPUT: 10,000-50,000 volts at frequency of approx. 1/2 megahertz

The company also offers a line of instruments for teaching science — notably absent from that part of the catalog is this shocking device (literally).

Generally, this tester should not produce serious injury, even when misapplied. Standard middle school lab safety rules would suggest that it should never be used to “test” a human for leaks. Such voltages are designed to produce sparks. Sparks do not always behave as one expects, or hopes. High voltages may make cool looking sparks, but the effects of high voltage jolts differ from person to person. It may be harmful.

“We have instructions to warn people that it’s not a toy,” said Cuzelis, who owns Electro-Technic Products in Chicago. “If this device is directed for seconds (on the skin), that’s a clear misuse of the product.”

Cuzelis said he is not aware of anyone seriously hurt with the device and said that his company has never been sued for injuries.

What sort of lab safety rules did Freshwater have for other experiments?

If you discovered your child’s science teacher had this device, designed to produce high-voltage sparks to highlight holes in rubber and plastic liners of tanks, would you be concerned? If you know what should go on in a science class, you’d know there is probably little use for such a device in a classroom. It’s been described as a Tesla coil.

Tesla coils of extremely small voltages can be safe. They should be safe. But one occasionally finds a safety warning, such as this generalized note at Wikipedia:

Even lower power vacuum tube or solid state Tesla Coils can deliver RF currents that are capable of causing temporary internal tissue, nerve, or joint damage through Joule heating. In addition, an RF arc can carbonize flesh, causing a painful and dangerous bone-deep RF burn that may take months to heal. Because of these risks, knowledgeable experimenters avoid contact with streamers from all but the smallest systems. Professionals usually use other means of protection such as a Faraday cage or a chain mail suit to prevent dangerous currents from entering their body.

Freshwater was using a solid state Tesla coil, if I understand the news articles correctly. Knowing that these sparks can cause deep tissue and bone damage in extreme cases, I suspect that I would not allow students to experience shocks as a normal course of a science classroom, especially from an industrial device not designed with multiple safety escapes built in.

Freshwater had been zapping students for years.

Here is a classic photo of what a Tesla coil does, a much larger coil than that used by John Freshwater, and a photo not from any classroom; from Mega Volt:

Tesla coil in action, from Mike Tedesco

Tesla coil in action, from Mike Tedesco

There is nothing in the Ohio science standards to suggest regular use of a Tesla coil in contact with students performs any educational function.

I offer this background to suggest that the normal classroom procedures designed to ensure the safety of students were not well enforced in Freshwater’s classrooms, nor was there adequate attention paid to the material that should have been taught in the class.

The teacher, John Freshwater, has been dismissed by his local school board. Freshwater supporters argue that this is a case of religious discrimination, because Freshwater kept a Bible on his desk.

Among the complaints are that he burned crosses onto the arms of students with the high-voltage leak detector shown above. This gives an entirely new and ironic meaning to the phrase “cross to bear.”

Cafe Philos wrote the most succinct summary of the case I have found, “The Firing of John Freshwater.” Discussion at that site has been robust. Paul Sunstone included photos of one of the students’ arms showing injuries from the schocks. He also included links to news stories that will bring you up to date.

Amazingly, this misuse of an electrical device may not be the most controversial point. While you and I may think this physical abuse goes beyond the pale, Freshwater has defenders who claim he was just trying to instill Biblical morality in the kids, as if that would excuse any of these actions. Over at Cafe Philos, I’ve been trying to explain just why it is that Freshwater does not have a First Amendment right to teach religion in his science class. There is another commenter with the handle “Atheist” who acts for all the world like a sock puppet for anti-First Amendment forces, i.e., not exactly defending a rational atheist position.

Below the fold I reproduce one of my answers to questions Atheist posed. More resources at the end.

Read the rest of this entry »


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