Showing posts with label Science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Science. Show all posts

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Darwin and Corona Virus Vaccine

In addition to my teaching and tracking the corona virus numbers for Cambria County I have been reading the book that is currently tied for first place on my best nonfiction book pollOn the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin.  For me it is not as dry a read as Moby Dick.  It talks about how species of plants, animals and microorganisms change over time.  

The modifications that appear in organisms appear at random.  Most of these changes are detrimental.  Once in a while a modification to a member of a species gives it an advantage in survival over its rivals.  These traits will be selected for in the population in breeding.  

Viruses and bacteria, with simpler DNA sequences than multicellular organisms can mutate more easily and be modified faster.  I wonder how many who still don't believe in Darwin's theory also believe that the Corona Virus was created by a sinister scientist in Wuhan China.  How many of these are also hesitant to be vaccinated?  As the vaccine has become more available, the 7day average for new full vaccinations has been coming down from 891.1 per day on April 18 to 332.3 per day today.

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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Jeffrey Epstein and Scientists

I saw an article in The Nation Magazine by Katha Pollitt titled Jeffrey Epstein’s Science of Sleaze where she is shocked that scientists like Stephen Hawking, Oliver Sacks, and Lawrence Krauss would associate themselves with such a creep.  For me the answer is simple, with the shrinking funds for scientific research, scientists almost have to throw themselves at rich people like Epstein for research funds.  

Epstein used the scientists much like he used those girls.  The girls satisfied his sexual fantasies while the scientists gave him a veneer of respectability to distract from his crimes.  He lured the girls with promises of fame while he lured the scientists with promises of money and fame.  He put them together in his eugenic fantasies that he would save the human race.

Epstein never had a college degree but was able to schmooze his way to a teaching position at the prestigious Dalton Academy in New York in mathematics.  He later schmoozed his way to work on Wall Street and became a wealthy financier.  His 'friends' also included Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.

Stephen Hawking and Oliver Sacks are in my online poll for the greatest nonfiction book of all time.  While I am disappointed in them for associating themselves with him I will not take them off the list.  I'm sure you can find things unsavory about other authors on the list but it is important to separate the men and women from their works.

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Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Citizen Science

Last week I watched a special live broadcast by the PBS show Nature titled American Spring.  It was a three night event with the first episode discussing birth and rebirth, the second covering migration. and the third was on connections. You can see episode 1 above.  The series chronicled the efforts of citizen scientists in the Spring to gain valuable information about wild life.  

All sciences started out with citizen scientists such as Ben Franklin dabbling in electricity.  Philosophy is the mother of all the sciences.  It began with people (usually elite people who didn't have to worry about surviving) pondering the nature of the universe.  As science progressed by building off of what came before, it became increasingly elitist.  Likewise as scientific equipment becomes more advanced, the cost of conducting science became more and more prohibitive and dependent on government funding.

The sciences have become more and more ivory tower as the funding for it has become harder to come by and jobs have likewise become harder to maintain.  This is what I suspect is driving the call for amateur citizen scientists to get involved in the process.  This call for volunteers is to help fill the gap in funding for professional scientists.

Certainly getting involved in the process can be rewarding when people have the time to do it.  I still find it rewarding to pursue my brand of citizen science on this blog after eight and a half years though I've made little money off of it.  As science becomes more and more automated we all may be citizen scientists, though not always by choice.  

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Saturday, December 15, 2018

I Figli della Madre Terra (The Children of Mother Earth)

Buon Natale a tutti.  My cousin from Italy, Lorenzo Serpente (pictured below in the Clayfox  and Spider man shirt) has written a book called I Figli della Madre Terra or The Children of Mother Earth.  It is a science fiction/fantasy/coming of age story of a boy growing up in a prehistoric tribe.  In January there will be an English version of the story available on Amazon.  I have met several authors who have published books.  A few are listed below with links to their amazon pages.

Lorenzo ora (Lorenzo Now)
Merry Christmas to all.  Il Mio cugino d'Italia, Lorenzo Serpente (nella camicia "Clayfox" sotto) ha scritto un Libro I Figli della Madre Terra) una storia di un ragazzo alla prima della storia in un tribu`.  Si puo` comprare il Libro al Amazon.  Conosco molti auroti chi fanno libri.  Tre di quelle altri autori sono sotto in questo posto con un link al Amazon.

Lorenzo quando ho incontrato lui

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Friday, March 3, 2017

Make Your Voice Heard for Gender Equality and Science on March 8 and April 22

I have no data to work on this week for the blog.  I have two new articles posted on Data Driven Journalism on odds ratios and on confidence intervals for your statistical reading pleasure.  I did have some commentary on these strange times in which we are living.

I hadn't heard of Milo Yiannopolus before I saw this article on Breitbart calling for a limit in the number of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields because they can't handle the pressure.  These views should have been discredited decades ago but apparently they still linger.  Yiannopolus cites the opinions of of a few Nobel prize winners who said that women are too delicate to complete advanced degrees in STEM fields.  As someone who has pursued in advanced degrees in science and technology, women are well represented in the biological, medical, and biostatistical fields.  Some of them handled the pressure of pursuing a doctoral degree better than I did.  According to the national science foundation, 60% of all master's degrees in science given out in 2011 were to women.  Women make up 46% of all graduates in science fields.  You can look up other numbers on women in STEM fields here.

I was tempted to say that Yiannopolus' ancient Hellenic ancestors would be very disappointed in him but then I remembered that his ancestors, for all their achievements in math, science, the arts, and democracy, were sexist snobs.  Women were not permitted to attend the quadrennial games at Mount Olympus.  When the Athenians colonized territories in southern Italy they were asked about democracy for them.  Their reply was "for us there is democracy."  They would have had no problem with his comments about 13 year old boys and older men that got him fired from Breitbart and disinvited as the keynote speaker at the CPAC conference.  He would've found a following on the Athenian Acropolis.

In these times where the rights of transgender rights are under attack, where almost half of the US public does not believe in climate change caused by humans or in evolution, where millions of Americans wrongly believe that vaccines cause autism and where some even do not believe that the earth is a sphere.  It's time to speak up for those who do believe in these things and to reach out to those who aren't sure.  Two events are coming up where you can do just that.  

On March 8 there will be a rally and march for equal rights for transgender and other LGBT groups in Johnstown, PA at 4:45pm in Central Park.  March 8 also happens to be International Women's Day with many other events throughout the world.  The City Council in Johnstown will be considering adding transgender women to the non discrimination ordinance.  

Earth day will be on April 22.  To commemorate this, there will be a March for Science in Washington, DC and other cities throughout the US. It's about time we spoke up for the field to make it less ivory tower.  Donald Trump, Milo Yiannopolus, Jenny McCarthy, and their ilk are symptoms of a much larger disease.  

It's time to start counteracting it not with angry protests but with educating the public about what science is.  I'm personally a fan of another one of Yiannopolus' Hellenic ancestors, Socrates (sexist and snooty though he may have been).  He traveled around the Acropolis in Athens by asking a lot of unpleasant questions that needed to be asked.  By working within the frame work of what people know he was able to get people to think.  Eventually, he did endure the scorn of his fellow Yiannopolus' and was forced to choose either expulsion or drinking hemlock but he is most remembered and admired for sticking up for his beliefs.

**Related Posts**

Ivory Tower Science and the Rest of Us

Cosmos Redux?


The Civil War in a Larger International Context: Darwinian Edition


The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science | Mother Jones


Cause and Effect, Slip Slidin' Away 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The National Review Takes on Neil Degrasse Tyson and Nerd (God I hate that word) Culture

This month The National Review published an article by Charles C. W. Cooke skewering Neil DeGrasse Tyson and what he calls the new "Nerd (God I hate that word) Culture' where individuals adopt characteristics of a culture to look cool.  Cooke begins with a discussion of the clip below from the TV show Portlandia where a beautiful blonde states that she wants to give up modeling because she saw The Avengers 2 which makes her a nerd (did I mention I hate that word I'm calling it my N word from here on out this link will tell you why).  The video below shows what happens next.

On Real Time with Bill Maher, Tyson responded to the article as can be seen in the clip below.  Maher stated that conservatives hate Tyson.  Tyson responded by saying that N words (at comic con) tend to vote democratic and the right wishes that more N words would vote with their side.

The article doesn't denounce Tyson so much as N word culture.  It does say that just because you attend comic con doesn't make you a bonafide intellectual.   I don't read comic books or go to comic-con conventions.  They hate the 60's Batman TV series, I think it's hilarious. Cooke correctly criticizes those argue in favor of climate change while not really understanding the theory.  This he claims is a result of the wedding of Hollywood, science, and politics.

The article did not mention climate change or evolution but it did talk about how N word culture shuns researchers Cooke admires such as Charles Murray (author of the Bell Curve which argues for a racial hierarchy of intelligence) and anti transsexual Paul McHugh.  Cooke also claimed that there was conclusive evidence that the government programs Medicaid and Head Start do not work (I've read considerable evidence to the contrary).  

With all of this complaining about the supposed snobbery of those who engage in intellectual pursuits, I'm reminded of the founder of The National Review, William F. Buckley who debated Noam Chomsky in this clip about US foreign policy,  Both men engage in high sounding words but Chomsky speaks in opposition to US power while Buckley is in favor of the war in Vietnam.  Snobbery is only a problem when you're on the short end.

Understanding of complex phenomenon is aided by presenting scientific principles in novel ways as the series Cosmos did in 1980 and in 2014.  The science was sound but it did not jive with what the right wanted to hear at least with the 2014 version.  I don't know if the National Review criticized Carl Sagan and the original Cosmos but SCTV did a pretty good spoof of both of them in The Battle of the PBS stars.

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Cosmos Redux?


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Why Elites Fail | The Nation


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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Ivory Tower Science and the Rest of Us

We all are capable of dismissing scientific observations when it doesn't confirm our beliefs, even scientists.  The above video talks about how those on the left can reject science and put themselves in danger.  Below is a lampoon of the creationist view of the cosmos.

Chris Mooney of Mother Jones has written an article titled:

This Is Why You Have No Business Challenging Scientific Experts

with a podcast by science sociologist Harry Collins who has studied how science gets done (a field called science studies).  In the past Collins has been critical of the way in which science really works.  He discussed in the podcast below about the discovery process often involves fits and starts and egos do get in the way of real progress as they can in everyday life.

Often we take the information we get from authorities either at face value or reject it entirely as we can see in the debate between creation and evolution or in the debate on the safety of vaccines between the medical and lay communities.  The Daily Show clip at the top of this post shows that many of the vaccine deniers have college educations with some having graduate degrees.  There are college educated creationists as well.  Collins argues in his book "Are we All Scientific Experts Now?" that we should not dismiss out of hand the opinions of experts and his research has been misrepresented. 

When one issues and ultimatum that one should not do something, a natural response is to want to know why.  Just like a child being told not to go into the cookie jar.  Collins argues that one cannot know what is real in science by simply looking at the journals.  One needs access to the dialogue that scientists have.  Access to the journals is often limited to those at universities or belong to members of trade organizations like the American Medical AssociationAaron Swartz, the founder of Reddit, was prosecuted for hacking into the online scientific journal repository JSTOR, downloading articles and making them public.  He was prosecuted for this breech and committed suicide.  This access to either the dialogue or the journals is still limited.

Thomas Kuhn in the classic work on the philosophy of science argues that scientific research is usually guided by their world view or paradigm.  The source of paradigm shifts in a field of science can often come from outside the field.  John Dalton, the creator of the atomic theory in chemistry, was trained in meteorology and his theory dominated chemistry until the end of the 19th century.  Ben Franklin and Michael Faraday made many contributions to the field of electricity with little formal education.  Famous linguist Noam Chomsky helped spurr the cognitive revolution in psychology in addition to his challenging the powers that be on the War in Vietnam and other foreign policy issues.

We all need clear answers to the issues that matter to us most.  Yes the discovery process has many fits and starts and it's easy to draw the wrong conclusions when we only hear part of a discussion.  Very few of us can know scientists intimately in the way that Collins advocates.  That is why the public needs acess to the process, not just the results.  Scientists can live in fear of animal rights activists and others who object to research on the grounds of their belief systems.  Efforts are made to clarify process on this blog and elsewhere.


Kevin Drum of Mother Jones has issued a response to the Daily Show's skewering of the anti vaccine movement as liberal while climate change is conservative.  He produced a chart from Dan Kahan of Yale showing the correlation between political orientation and belief in the risk associated with the issues of gun ownership, global warming, marijuana legalization, and childhood vaccinations.  There are significant correlations between political orientation and each of these issues.  The strongest association is between both gun ownership and global warming and are both negative with correlation coefficients of -0.64 and -0.69 respectively.  This negative correlation means that as conservatism increases, perception of the risk of these issues decreases.  The weakest association is between childhood vaccination and political orientation but it is statistically significant and it is positive with a coefficient of 0.21 suggesting that as conservatism increases, so does perception of the risk.  This correlation is weak suggesting that there are some outliers in the data.  Drum states that the curve is flat but it's also important to consider the correlation coefficient which is significant.  Correlation coefficients range from -1 to +1.

As I have a Master's degree in biostatistics and am ABD (all but dissertation) in research methodology I feel reasonably attuned to the scientific dialogue and can comment on the study.  I looked at the article and found that the study was a long survey to a cohort of 900 respondents with many items.  A factor analysis was done to find the most salient points and summary scores and to identify latent variables.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cosmos Redux?

When I was 10, the TV series Cosmos captured my imagination about the universe and our place in the natural order of things.  Above is Carl Sagan's last interview on Charlie Rose when he promoted his book on the dangers of pseudoscience.  There is plenty of pseudoscience and false scientific beliefs around today be they in UFO's, astrology, and in rejecting climate change or evolution.

A sequel to this classic series is coming out next year on the Fox Network (trailer below).  It is hosted by astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson and is produced by Seth MacFarlane (of Family Guy) and Sagan's widow Ann Druyan.  

I must say that I will be very disappointed if the new series does not live up to the original.   It takes more that dazzling special effects to make it informative.  Rupert Murdoch networks (especially Fox News) are not known for disseminating reliable information.  Fox News viewers were more likely to believe that weapons of mass destruction, Iraq had a 9/11-al Qaeda link, and that the world supported the US invasion were found in Iraq following the 2003 invasion.  Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have made most of their careers on lampooning media outlets like Fox News.


The Cosmos premier was aired on 8 Fox Networks but not their news or business network.  In Oklahoma City, when Neil DeGrasse Tyson discussed evolution, the local Fox affiliate cut away just at that point.  They claimed it was accidental.  In episode 2 evolution is discussed in depth.  Will it be shown in it's entirety in OKC?

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Today's 'Bible' Prophets

John the Baptist baptizing Jesus
The Bible has been a big ratings bonanza for the History Channel and the Lifetime Network.  Over and over it relies on the main characters such as Saul, David, Solomon and Nebuchadnezzar being guided by the prophets like Samuel, Nathan, Isaiah, and Daniel.  Prophets are like fortune tellers in that they are messengers from God about the future to warn others.  In the Bible every time their advice wasn't followed there was trouble.  Other figures such as Abraham, Moses, and Jesus had traits of both leaders and prophets.  Christians believe that John the Baptist (pictured on the right baptizing Jesus) was the last prophet while Muslims of course believe that Muhammad was.

Oracle at Delphi
Other cultures have relied on fortune tellers, soothsayers,  and oracles such as the Oracle at Delphi depicted by Michelangelo at the left.  The miniseries The Bible did not talk about false prophets.  Today scientists often play the role that the prophets used to play to guide our leaders and the masses.  Global warming/climate change is a classic example of the warning that science gives us about the future.  It is based on evidence and probability theory, and then updated with future evidence which so far supports their claims.  Their predictions are adjusted as the evidence dictates.

Reading scientific data is often like reading tea leaves in that your trying to see relevant patterns from seemingly chaotic things.  In the past prophets, oracles and the like received their messages in visions be it in dreams or hallucinations.  Some are thought to have had temporal lobe epilepsy which causes hallucinations.  The Oracle at Delphi was exposed to natural gasses in her temple that caused her to hallucinate.  The good seers were able to interpret the visions in relation to the real events going on around them while the false prophets, like the one who predicted the world would end on May 21, 2011, were not.  Of course scientists are wrong sometimes too for a variety of reasons.  That is why one must be cautious about arriving at conclusions about the data that they see.

The middle episodes of The Bible focus on the Jews wars with the Philistines.  There are many killed in the miniseries at the behest of the prophets by Joshua, Samson, and David.  The word Philistine has the same origin as Palestine though the familial relationship between the two is unclear.  Is this pro zionist propaganda for Isreal's actions in the Palestinean territories today?  Much has been made of the series depiction of Satan looking like Obama but I've heard little discussion of its depiction of war.  The YouTube clip above shows the producers justification for their depiction of David and his killing of Philistines.  I personally liked the miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (though it unrealistically depicts Jesus as having blue eyes) from the 1970's better because it focused on teachings rather than relying on signs and special effects.

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Civil War in a Larger International Context: Darwinian Edition

This is the latest in a series of posts of earth shattering events which surrounded the US Civil War. They are tied either directly or indirectly to the war between the states.  The first two posts were on military conflicts which were concurrent with and were influenced by the battle between the Blue and the Grey.  These posts are listed in recent posts below.  

This post is about a scientific conflict which still has ramifications to this day.  Charles Darwin had exactly the same birthday as Abraham Lincoln, February 12, 1809.  Both men were considered ordinary until their ideas became well known in the late 1850's.  Both were very cautious about pursuing their proposals because they knew that they would encounter a lot of resistance.  An astrologer may attribute these similarities to their sign, Aquarius, while another explanation could also be coincidence.  

Naturally they did meet resistance when they pushed their ideas of abolishing slavery (Lincoln of course) and the evolution (Darwin's Origin of Species).  Of course these two men do not deserve all of the credit for these revolutions happening.  There were many abolitionists and scientists who worked tirelessly for years to lay the groundwork for a revolution in thought and action.  The abolitionists were aided by the industrial revolution which made slavery obsolete.  There is a whole field of philosophy on scientific revolutions on why and how they happen.

In the case of evolution there were discoveries in geology which showed that the earth must be far older than the Bible says (calculated to be about 6,000 years old) and that there were lots of mass extinctions of animals for which the Bible could not account.  Darwin's evidence he obtained on the voyage of the HMS Beagle and described in his book The origin of Species.  Journalist/Scientist James Burke does an interesting review of how Darwin's ideas were used to change society after The Origin of Species was published in 1859 in ways that he never intended.

While the scientific community and the powers that be accepted the outcomes of these revolutions.  A 2010 Virginia Commonwealth University survey of American's attitudes towards the life sciences still shows there is still considerable division on beliefs about Darwin's theories seen below in Italics.  I am not aware of any polls on regional differences on attitudes towards evolution but I would expect that where regions differ on attitudes towards the Civil War, attitudes are also most pronounced on evolution such as where the Scopes monkey trial occurred in Tennessee in 1925 or the Texas Board of Education Today.

Religious Conflict with Evolution?
In general, would you say the theory of evolution conflicts
with your own religious beliefs, or is mostly compatible
with your own religious beliefs*? %
Conflicts with my beliefs 42
Is mostly compatible 43
Don’t know/Refused 16
*order of response options was rotated

Views on Evolution
Which of these statements comes closest to your views on
the origin of biological life: biological life developed over
time from simple substances, but God guided this process,
biological life developed over time from simple substances
but God did not guide this process, God directly created
biological life in its present form at one point in time*?
God directly created life 43
Developed over time, God guided process 24
Developed over time, God did not guide 18
None of these/Don’t know/Refused 16
*order of response options was randomized
Source: VCU Life Sciences Survey 2010
Figures may add to 99 or 101 due to rounding


The series Drunk History gives a good summary of the Scopes Monkey Trial.

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