Archive for October, 2011

Something Missing From Paranormal Experiences Graphic

October 31, 2011

An interesting chart. But something is missing.

The term “paranormal” refers to experiences that are considered to lie outside the range of normal experience or scientific explanation. So beliefs in the paranormal could include belief in material beings such as space aliens and maybe even werewolves. No mind-body dualism is necessary.

However, most paranormal experiences involve dualism—body on the one hand and mind/soul/spirit on the other. Within the set of beliefs requiring dualism lie two subsets—belief in non-material, or supernatural, beings and belief in communication between minds via some ethereal medium (ESP).

The missing category on the chart (above) lies in the “non-material beings” subset, as shown below. Clearly, we cannot include beings of a pantheistic or animistic nature (and origin) without also including the ones from monotheistic and polytheistic traditions.

States Where Gays Can Adopt

October 28, 2011

Slideshow: Changing Attitudes Toward Same-Sex Marriage in the U.S.

October 20, 2011

Attitudes toward same-sex marriage in the U.S. have been changing over the past ten decades. This series of graphics from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows the breakdown by generation, religious affiliation, and political party. To view, click here or on photo.

A Halloween Tale (for my nieces and nephews -in-law)

October 20, 2011

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) Delivers Historic Speech on Climate Change

October 20, 2011


Virtually all of our most prestigious scientific and academic institutions have stated that climate change is happening and that human activities are the driving cause of this change. Many of us in Congress received a letter from those institutions in October 2009. Let me quote from that letter.

Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. These conclusions are based on multiple independent lines of evidence, and contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science.

Let me repeat that last quote.

Contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science.

This letter was signed by the heads of the following organizations: the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the American Meteorological Society, the American Society of Agronomy, the American Society of Plant Biologists, the American Statistical Association, the Association of Ecosystem Research Centers, the Botanical Society of America, the Crop Science Society of America, the Ecological Society of America, the Natural Science Collections Alliance, the Organization of Biological Field Stations, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, the Society of Systematic Biologists, the Soil Science Society of America, and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

Listen to the entire speech here. Or read the transcript here.

Happy Halloween 2011

October 19, 2011

The artist is Anton Semenov from Bratsk, Russia. Click here to see more of his work.

New Study Dispels Two Myths About Gay Men’s Sexuality

October 19, 2011

Researchers at George Mason University and Indiana University have published results of a study that dispels two major myths about sexual practices of gay men. The study, published online in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, is significant for its size and its methodology, which involved asking nearly 25,000 men only about their most recent sexual encounter.

Most prior research on gay men’s sexual behavior was directed toward disease prevention and ignored the complexity of their sexual lives.

Myth #1: Gay Sex equals anal sex.

Truth: Anal sex was in fact the least common behavior reported in the study.

Myth: One-night stands are the rule among gay men.

Truth: More than 40% of respondents reported that their most recent sexual partner was  a boyfriend or a partner in a committed relationship. (An earlier study revealed a 50% figure for heterosexual men, which is surprisingly low considering the incentives they are given for marrying.)

Read more about the study here.

Agree or Disagree? Dangers of Unverifiable Beliefs

October 18, 2011

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. (Voltaire)

From Steven Pinker’s, “The Better Angels of Our Nature”: (pp. 139-140)

Human sacrifice and witch burnings are just two examples of the harm that can result from pursuing ends that involve figments of the imagination. Another may be seen in psychotics who kill in pursuit of a delusion, such as Charles Manson’s plan to hasten an apocalyptic race war … But the greatest damage comes from religious beliefs that downgrade the lives of flesh-and-blood people, such as the faith that suffering in this world will be rewarded in the next, or that flying a plane into a skyscraper will earn the pilot 72 virgins in heaven. … The belief that one may escape from an eternity in hell only by accepting Jesus as a savior makes it a moral imperative to coerce people into accepting that belief and to silence anyone who might sow doubt about it.

A broader range of unverifiable beliefs is the temptation to defend them by violent means. People become wedded to their beliefs, because the validity of those beliefs reflects on their competence, commends them as authorities, and rationalizes their mandate to lead. Challenge a person’s beliefs, and you challenge his dignity, standing, and power. And when those beliefs are based on nothing but faith, they are chronically fragile. No one gets upset about the belief that rocks fall down as opposed to up, because all sane people can see it with their own eyes. Not so for the belief that babies are born with original sin or that God exists in three persons or that Ali was the second-most divinely inspired man after Muhammad. When people organize their lives around these beliefs, and then learn of other people who seem to be doing just fine without them—or worse, who credibly rebut them—they are in danger of looking like fools. Since one cannot defend a belief based on faith by persuading skeptics it is true, the faithful are apt to react to unbelief with rage, and may try to eliminate that affront to everything that makes their lives meaningful.

Rick Perry’s “Environmental” Officials Gut Report on Sea Level Rise

October 17, 2011

Galveston Bay

Texas Governor Rick Perry was quoted in August as saying that “the issue of global warming has been politicized.”

It certainly has.

About a month before Perry voiced this complaint, officials in the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which is headed by Perry appointees, gutted a report that they themselves had commissioned concerning the state of Galveston Bay. The report, produced by the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), concluded that rising sea levels—an effect of anthropogenic climate change—will inundate large areas of coastal land now bordering the bay.

Two top TCEQ managers—Katherine Nelson and Kelly Holligan—agreed to delete references to sea-level rise and global warming in the report. These references were in a chapter written by John Anderson, the Maurice Ewing professor of oceanography at Rice University, whose research was carried out over ten years in partnership with other scientists. It had previously been peer-reviewed and published by the Geological Society of America.

Anderson showed the expurgated document to Mother Jones magazine, which published it complete with the deletions.

Anderson’s opinion, expressed in an interview with the Houston Chronicle:

I don’t think there is any question but that their motive is to tone this thing down as it relates to global (climate) change. It’s not about the science. It’s all politics.

What does a reputable scientist do in such a situation?

Anderson and every other scientist who contributed to the report instructed TCEQ officials to strike their names from it.

So we would like Governor Perry to tell us, “Who has politicized the issue of global warming?”

Update here.

Agree or Disagree? — Wisdom from Voltaire

October 16, 2011

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.