Monthly Archives: March 2009

This is one of those pictures that just makes you go, “Aww. How cute is that?”

Netherlands, March 24, 2009--Babies sit in tubs of water after a baby massage class in the Dutch capital.

Netherlands, March 24, 2009--Babies sit in tubs of water after a baby massage class in the Dutch capital.


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Youtube has suspended JREF’s account – let them know this is unacceptable.

Youtube is practicing ideological censorship. Yesterday, they suspended the James Randi Educational Foundation’s account. For those of you unfamiliar with the JREF, it is one of the leading skeptical organizations worldwide. James Randi, a former professional magician (“The Amazing Randi”), has authored numerous books exposing the hypocrisy, deceit, and harm of many paranormal practitioners (including, famously, Peter Popoff, the faithhealer). He was a frequent guest on the Johny Carson Lateshow and has appeared many times on Larry King, debunking the likes of Sylvia Browne and James Van Praagh.

For ten years, the JREF has sponsored a $1,000,000 challenge to anyone who can demonstrate unambigously their paranormal abilities under clearly defined, but not excessive, controlled procedures. So far no one has won. And all the famous psychics have refused to try (Sylvia Browne even agreed to do so on Larry King five years ago, but has not followed through).

To me, Youtube’s actions are simply unacceptable, especially given all the wacky stuff they do permit to be seen.

So, I encourage you to check out the JREF yourself and if you are opposed to Youtube’s actions, let them know. The Youtube video below is being circulated virally, and I encourage you to do that too, along with the instructions beneath it that tell you how to let Youtube know you are not pleased!

To complain to Youtube follow this link;…Scroll to the very bottom and click on “new issue”

Select “suspended account” from the options and express your opinion.

Thank you

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Why Scientific Thinking is Good For Everyone, Not Just Scientists – Part 3: What Does Science Say You Should Eat?

This blog entry is primarily aimed at my own people – the skeptical community. As skeptics, we claim that we try to govern our lives by reason, evidence, and science. And yet, I have found over the years that when it comes to the connection between diet, health, and disease, many of my fellow-skeptics resort more to emotion, irrationality, and dogma than critical thought and reason.
I should state up front that I am a vegan and have been one for about 8 years (and a vegetarian for 12 years prior to that). 5885Over the years, I have read many well-designed studies from a wide variety of sources (most of them mainline medical journals) that repeatedly demonstrate the health benefits (not to say anything about the environmental benefits) of a plant-based, whole-food diet. So, I am amazed at the casual dismissal (and, sometimes, the outright derision) I frequently encounter from my fellow skeptics when such a diet is advocated as a significant means of both prevention and, often, reversal of serious medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis, hypertension, and cancer.
So, to my fellow skeptics in particular –but to all who are trying to use sound thinking, solid research, and substantial evidence to make better decisions – I would like to suggest two sources for you to check out in thinking about the health benefits of a plant-based, whole-food diet:
  1. the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), and
  2. the T. Colin Campbell Foundation — Campbell is the author of the outstanding, The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-Term Health.
For a relatively quick read on this topic, you can go to this link to an article from Discover Magazine in 2004 entitled, What Does Science Say You Should Eat?“. I invite you to employ your best scientific thinking as you read it and check out the websites above. And as always, I’d love to get your feedback.


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The nose knows, er…I mean, you know noses

Okay here’s something just for fun from Scientific American Mind.



By Kurt Kleiner

When you’re trying to recognize a face, the first thing

Can you recognize who this is?

Can you recognize who this is?

you look at is the nose–whether you know it or not. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, showed subjects faces on a computer screen and tracked their eye movements. They found that most people look first just to the left of the nose, then to the center of the nose, then to the eyes. The first look was enough for people to recognize a face more than half the time, the second look increased accuracy, but the tired did not–those two glances at the nose were enough. The researchers speculate that glancing at the center of the face makes it easiest to take in enough information about the whole face to enable recognition.


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Are you ready to meet your maker? Maybe not, if you’re a believer.

Have you heard about the study recently conducted at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston on the correlation between one’s degree of religiousness and the desire for aggressive, even traumatizing, measures to prolong one’s life when facing the end of a terminal illness. What would you expect to find? The actual results may surprise you. Here’s a reprint of an article from the Economist that summarizes the results:


Mar 19th 2009 | NEW YORK
From The Economist print edition

HOW do a person’s religious beliefs influence his attitude to terminal illness? The answer is surprising. You might expect the religious to accept death as God’s will and, while not hurrying towards it, not to seek to prolong their lives using heroic and often traumatic medical procedures. Atheists, by contrast, have nothing to look forward to after death, so they might be expected to cling to life.

In fact, it is the other way round—at least according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Andrea Phelps and her colleagues at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Religious people seem to use their faith to cope with the pain and degradation that “aggressive” medical treatment entails, even though such treatment rarely makes much odds.

Dr Phelps and her team followed the last months of 345 cancer patients. The participants were not asked directly how religious they were but, rather, about how they used any religious belief they had to cope with difficult situations by, for example, “seeking God’s love and care”. The score from this questionnaire was compared with their requests for such things as the use of mechanical ventilation to keep them alive and resuscitation to bring them back from the dead.

The correlation was strong. More than 11% of those with the highest scores underwent mechanical ventilation; less than 4% of those with the lowest did so. For resuscitation the figures were 7% and 2%.

Explaining the unpleasantness and futility of the procedures does not seem to make much difference, either. Holly Prigerson, one of Dr Phelps’s co-authors, was involved in another study at Dana-Farber which was published earlier this month in the Archives of Internal Medicine. This showed that when doctors had frank conversations about the end of life with terminally ill cancer patients, the patients typically chose not to request very intensive medical interventions.

According to Dr Prigerson, though, such end-of-life chats had little impact on “religious copers”, most of whom still wanted doctors to make every effort to keep them alive. Saint Augustine of Hippo, one of Christianity’s most revered figures, famously asked God to help him achieve “chastity and continence, but not yet”. When it comes to meeting their maker, many religious people seem to have a similar attitude.

So, what do you make of this? How would you explain this apparent anomaly?


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The Evolution of Life in 60 Seconds

This is a cool little video from Seed Magazine about the development of life on earth. It really does emphasize how small the part humans have played in earth’s long history. The text below the video is from the Seed website.

The Evolution of Life in 60 Seconds is an experiment in scale: By condensing 4.6 billion years of history into a minute, the video is a self-contained timepiece. Like a specialized clock, it gives one a sense of perspective. Everything — from the formation of the Earth, to the Cambrian Explosion, to the evolution of mice and squirrels — is proportionate to everything else, displaying humankind as a blip, almost indiscernible in the layered course of history.

Each event in the Evolution of Life fades gradually over the course of the minute, leaving typographic traces that echo all the way to the present day. Just as our blood still bears the salt water of our most ancient evolutionary ancestors.

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Good News! A Victory for Free Speech. But it’s not all good news…

I don’t know how many of you have been following the controversy in the UN concerning the upcoming Durban II conference on Human Rights to be held in Geneva in April.

Media Watch has a nice summary of the issue and the response of several western countries (including Canada – Yea!):

A so-called “racism conference” due to take place in Geneva in April has been boycotted by the USA because the “outcome document” upon which it is based includes a call to ban “defamation of religion” and focuses on human-rights abuses by Israel while ignoring those of other countries.

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference has been lobbying for years to get an anti-defamation of religion motion passed, largely as a means to outlaw criticism of the human-rights abusing Islamic governments which support it.

Israel and Canada have already announced that they would boycott Durban II.

So, it is very significant that the conference organizers have revised the agenda and quietly dropped the “defamation of religion” component of the proposed declaration. This, for the time being, restores the freedom for those who want to criticize religion to do so without criminal charges being laid.

But all is not well. There are no explicit references to protections for non-believers or those who choose to change or renounce their religion.

In my opinion, religions don’t have rights. Individuals have rights. And although they are protected by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is clear that many signatory countries do not abide by this declaration.

Nonetheless, this is a significant positive advance.

Here’s a nice summary  from the National Secular Society of the issue, the victory, and that which remains still to achieve.


The proposals by Islamic countries for an international ban on “defamation of religion”, which were to be discussed at an anti-racism conference in Geneva called Durban II organised by the United Nations Human Rights Council, have been dropped from the meeting’s draft declaration.


The defamation of religion text had been included after Islamic countries lobbied for them following a 2005 furore over Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed. But alarm has spread through Western countries about the implications of the proposals and an increasing number of countries were threatening to boycott the meeting unless they were dropped.

The new draft proposals also dropped criticism of Israel and passages concerning reparation for slavery, which African countries had been seeking. But some issues on which Western liberals were keen were also excluded: a proposal to challenge discrimination against homosexuals and protection for atheists or apostates. The new draft, put together by Russian facilitator Yuri Boychenko with Belgian, Egyptian and Norwegian diplomats, has now to be examined by regional groups at the United Nations.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said: “We now have a good, solid basis for states to consider as we enter the final stretch leading up to the Review Conference. I really hope that this marks the necessary breakthrough needed to achieve consensus on a text that must offer concrete help to hundreds of groups and millions of individuals who are subjected to racism and other forms of intolerance all across the world. No continent, indeed no individual country, is free of these dangerous phenomena, and it would be inexcusable if states failed to reach consensus on such important issues.”

But Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), who has done much to challenge and raise awareness of the draft document, said that although the new draft offers some protection to believers — paragraph 10 mentions only Christians, Muslims and Jews as being victims of “phobias” — it offers nothing to non-believers or apostates who are frequently under attack, especially in Muslim counties.

In a briefing paper for delegates, IHEU says:

We urge delegations to recognise that all are entitled to protection from discrimination, whatever their belief or lack of belief. We therefore respectfully suggest either that the list of specific types of discrimination be deleted from paragraph 10, or the list be expanded to include Atheists, unbelievers and apostates.

We are equally concerned that anti-Arabism is included in the list, while no mention is made of the anti-Westernism endemic in many parts of the world. Again, we would respectfully suggest that either the reference to anti-Arabism be deleted or that the list should be extended to include anti-Westernism.

Last week Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the NSS, had a meeting with top Foreign Office officials discussing IHEU’s concerns about several aspects of the Durban II and wider concerns about the operation of the UNHRC. These are issues on which he has worked with IHEU.
Following the Foreign Office meeting he said: “Defamation of religion laws were top of the agenda and we were delighted to be assured of the determination to stand firm against them by the UK Government and its EU partners. This is great news and the Government generously recognised the contribution we have made in drawing worldwide attention to the growing clamour of Islamic states for defamation proposals since they were first mooted.”

More detail of the meeting will be circulated to members in the next quarterly Bulletin.

Roy Brown told Newsline from the UNHRC in Geneva that the revised document was “close, but not close enough” to being acceptable. “We’ll keep plugging away,” he said.

20 March 2009

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