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The pig-man gets more press

The media do like their kooks. They’re far more entertaining than the truth. So once again, the ludicrous Eugene McCarthy, the man who believes humans are the product of hybridization between pigs and chimpanzees, gets a long write-up that dwells far too long on McCarthy’s pathetic rationalizations. His justifications are superficial and often wrong: they amount to looking in a mirror, and noticing that we’re kinda mostly hairless, just like pigs, and we have lots of body fat, like pigs, and we have organs, just like pigs, and we’re bipedal, just like pigs, and we have tusks, just like pigs, and we have nipples, just like pigs, and we have 12 of them, just like pigs, and we’re even-toed ungulates, just like pigs…you get the idea. He’s an idiot, but he’s an idiot who makes long pseudoscientific lists with sciencey terms, so he impresses the rubes.

His ill-informed views get another long airing in which he gets to present his self-pitying schtick of being a martyr to intolerant scientists, and how he’s a true revolutionary who’s going to change the modern paradigm. He’s basically full of shit. The whole article could have been truncated to its early statement of the premise:

Since the early ‘80s, he has believed that humans are the result of an errant sexual encounter between our closest relative, the chimpanzee, and the animal with which we seemingly share all aforementioned traits: the pig.

Followed by this one paragraph buried deep in the story:

The most damning refutation of McCarthy’s hypothesis is “the absence of any pig or pig-related genes in the human genome,” according to Roger Butlin, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Sheffield in Britain. Instead, the human genome is “entirely consistent” with the explanation that humans are great apes, most recently sharing an ancestor with living chimps and bonobos, he said.

Yep. If we were pig-chimp hybrids, it would jump out at us from the data. The sequences aren’t there. We’re done.

But the article goes on. McCarthy has an excuse — he always has an excuse.

If McCarthy did crave more recognition from mainstream experts (he doesn’t, he insists), his best bet would be to look for a signature unique to pigs in the DNA of humans but not other apes, said John McDonald, a biology professor at the University of Georgia and a former advisor of McCarthy’s.

A few years ago, McCarthy tried to do just that. He and a friend wrote a computer program to search the human genome for traces of pig hybridization. But the task was too computationally intensive. “It would have taken a lifetime to process the data on the small computers we had access to,” he said.

So he tried to reinvent BLAST, a publicly accessible program that you can run on NIH’s computers over the internet, and couldn’t get it to go. You know, ya great goofy loon, you could also pick up any of a number of molecular phylogeny papers and find that other people have done the work for you. That’s what molecular phylogeny is all about: you gather a bunch of DNA sequences from a bunch of different species, and you compare them and weigh the differences, and you throw them into a computer program that churns through all the species and all the genes and spits out a summary of how closely related they are. It’s been done! The pig and chimp lineages separated in the Cretaceous.

Can we just be done with this? Media, ignore the clown capering over there — there are good science stories to discuss.

I do have to end with one final quote from McCarthy.

There’s also another reason McCarthy remains so attached to his ideas: He believes altruism, not competition, is the way of the world. With neo-Darwinism and natural selection, competition is a fact of life, and that logic can be used to justify war, conflict, and ethnic cleansing (“Darwin’s biggest fan was Hitler,” he said).

That’s a common creationist claim, but it’s wrong. Hitler was not a fan of Darwin, and even if he were, it would not have the slightest implications for the truth of the theory.

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80% of public oppose Government plans to remove cap on faith-based school admissions in England

The Accord-commissioned poll reveals overwhelming opposition to the Government’s plans

80% of the population, including 79% of Anglicans and 67% of Catholics, are opposed to plans that would extend the freedom of religious schools in England to use faith-based criteria in their admission arrangements, a new poll commissioned by the Accord Coalition has revealed.

Last year the Government announced proposals to allow all new and existing ‘faith’ schools to religiously select 100% of their places, scrapping the rules that have been in place since 2007 which require new Academies and Free Schools to keep at least half of their places open to all local children irrespective of religion or belief.

When asked by Populus to choose between keeping the 50% cap on religious selection or allowing state-funded ‘faith’ schools to religiously select all of their pupils, 80% of respondents thought that the cap should be maintained, compared to just 20% who were in favour of full religious selection.

Interestingly, 79% of Anglican respondents and 67% of Catholic respondents also agreed that there should be this limit on faith-based admissions at state-funded schools. This is despite the fact that the Government’s proposals to drop the cap came largely at the behest of the Catholic Education Service (CES), highlighting that the religious lobby does not share the views of the people it claims to represent.

In addition to being unpopular, the move has been denounced by various pieces of evidence and research demonstrating that the cap has been largely successful in achieving its aims. Last year, for instance, Humanists UK published research revealing that the 50% cap had been hugely effective in boosting integration within religious free schools, and in improving the access of local families to their schools. And in December the Education Policy Institute noted that ‘faith’ schools take significantly fewer children from poorer backgrounds than do schools without a religious character, concluding that if the objective of government policy is to increase social mobility, [removing the 50% cap] is unlikely to be effective’.

Previous polling has found that 72% of the population would favour getting rid of religious selection by state schools entirely, never mind about getting rid of it for half of places, which these latest results show is supported by 80%.

Humanist UK Education Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘It is no surprise at all that the Government’s proposal to massively increase the extent of religious discrimination and segregation in the education system is unpopular. Religious and non-religious people alike recognise that both children and society are best served when people from a range of different backgrounds are brought together to learn with and from one another, and that is exactly what the 50% cap sought to achieve. We urge all political parties to commit to dropping this divisive and unpopular move immediately.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact Humanist UK’s Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on jay@humanism.org.uk 0207 324 30278.

Poll findings

Populus interviewed 2,033 living in Britain between 5-7 May 2017. Data was weighted to be demographically representative of all British adults aged 18+. Populous is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. The results by respondents religious affiliation are set out in the table below. The full survey results and field work data can be found at: http://accordcoalition.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Religious-Schools-Survey.pdf

There is currently debate about new state funded faith schools showing preference for, or discriminating against, prospective pupils on faith grounds and the religious background of children. Since 2010 nearly all new state funded schools in England have been permitted to select up to half their pupils on the basis of religion, but no more than 50%. The other places must be left open to children whose parents choose to apply, regardless of what beliefs they have or do not have. Some support this approach, such as to help ensure schools admit a more mixed group of pupils, whereas others think such schools should be able to concentrate on children of the same faith. Thinking about new state funded faith schools showing preference for, or discriminating against, prospective pupils on religious grounds, which of these comes closest to your view?

Total respondents Christian – CofE/Anglican/Episcopalian Roman Catholic Non-religious
New state funded faith schools should be allowed to religiously select up to a maximum of 50% of pupils on the basis of faith 1621 (80%) 550 (79%) 101 (67%) 715 (85%)
New state funded faith schools should be allowed to select up to 100% of their pupils on the basis of faith 412 (20%) 151 (21%) 50 (33%) 127 (15%)

Read the Government’s green paper, where it sets out its proposals to scrap the 50% faith discrimination cap:

https://consult.education.gov.uk/school-frameworks/schools-that-work-for-everyone/supporting_documents/SCHOOLS%20THAT%20WORK%20FOR%20EVERYONE%20%20FINAL.pdf

See Humanist UK’s previous news item ‘New evidence shows Government proposals to allow 100% religious selection in schools will lead to increased segregation’:

https://humanism.org.uk/2016/09/30/new-evidence-shows-government-proposal-to-allow-100-religious-selection-in-schools-will-lead-to-increased-segregation/

Read Humanist UK’s news item ‘Exposed: Catholic hypocrisy in calls for end to restrictions on religious selection in schools’: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/09/09/exposed-catholic-hypocrisy-in-calls-for-end-to-restrictions-on-religious-selection-in-schools/

Read Faith Schoolers Anonymous’s news item ‘Five ways the catholic church misled the government into a u-turn on fairth school admissions’ at https://faithschoolersanonymous.uk/2016/09/five-ways-the-catholic-church-misled-the-government-into-a-u-turn-on-faith-school-admissions/

About the Accord Coalition

The Accord Coalition was launched in 2008 and brings together religious and non-religious organisations (including Humanist UK) who want state funded schools to be made open and suitable to all, regardless of people or their family’s religious or non-religious beliefs. It campaigns to end religious discrimination in school staffing and admissions, and for all state funded schools to provide PSHE, as well as assemblies and Religious Education that boost mutual understanding and teach about the broad range of beliefs in our increasingly diverse society. http://accordcoalition.org.uk/

About Humanists UK

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/

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Jim Watson needs to retire to a nice, remote beach somewhere far from everyone else

Dr. James Watson, Cold Spring Harbor, NY, 7.23.06

It’s long past due. He’s been shooting himself in the foot and then stuffing it in his mouth to gnaw on it for decades. He was in the news for his racist, sexist views ten years ago.

The article is like a summary of Watson’s greatest gaffes.

In 1997, he told a British newspaper that a woman should have the right to abort her unborn child if tests could determine it would be homosexual. He later insisted he was talking about a “hypothetical” choice which could never be applied. He has also suggested a link between skin colour and sex drive, positing the theory that black people have higher libidos, and argued in favour of genetic screening and engineering on the basis that “stupidity” could one day be cured. He has claimed that beauty could be genetically manufactured, saying: “People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would great.”

Zuska has another one.

He smiles. “Rosalind is my cross,” he says slowly. “I’ll bear it. I think she was partially autistic.” He pauses for a while, before repeating the suggestion, as if to make it clear that this is no off-the-cuff insult, but a considered diagnosis. “I’d never really thought of scientists as autistic until this whole business of high-intelligence autism came up. There is probably no other explanation for Rosalind’s behaviour.

At that time I thought he was a horrible old man but I argued that he ought to have the right to speak freely…and he does. He speaks very freely. But what he says is neither intelligent nor insightful, and he doesn’t deserve respect for his stupid opinions. Especially when tolerance just means he never learns and keeps doing the same thing over and over again.

Now the Carl Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois has cancelled an invitation to speak.

A research institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign agreed to host James Watson, a Nobel laureate whose work is credited with discovering the structure of DNA, to give a lecture there. But the event was quickly called off amid faculty concerns about whether it was appropriate to host someone like Watson, whose statements have been widely condemned as racist.

Watson has made numerous controversial comments over the years and also has been condemned for sexist and homophobic statements.

But his comments on race have led many to say he should be shunned.

In a 2007 interview, he said that he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really.” Further, he said that while people hope that all groups are equal, “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true.” (He also said that some black people are smart, and has apologized, although many question the sincerity of his apology.)

I had dinner with Watson at a small restaurant in New York several years ago. It was the most uncomfortable two hours of my life. All he wanted to talk about was race, and the conversation was all about our geneaology. He asked what my ancestry was, and when I told him half Scandinavian, half Scot/English/Irish he immediately judged me acceptable company, and started explaining my personality to me. Scandinavians are intelligent but cold and aloof, and share the same problems that the Japanese have: they are among the smartest people in the world, but they lack the passion and drive to accomplish great things. You know who may not be as intrinsically intelligent, but make up for it with their aggressive need to get things done? The Scots/Irish! Best people on the planet! The perfect combination of ambition and smarts!

I think he thought he was flattering me, but I just wanted to sink into my chair and down through the floor and drop into a subway tube. Heck, dropping into a sewer line would be preferable.

It was difficult to get a word in edgewise with this guy, but after that pronouncement he looked at me expectantly — I could tell there was a question he wanted me to ask. So I obliged, knowing exactly what the answer would be. “So, Jim, what’s your ancestry?”

“Scots/Irish!” he cackled.

And then he regaled the table with tales of brave explorers and pioneers and soldiers, all his people. I tried to strike up a conversation with his wife, instead, who seemed very nice and a little distressed at her husband’s mania.

So, yes, I’ve heard more than enough of Jim Watson. I think we all ought to be a bit Watsoned out at this point, and I don’t see any purpose in inviting him to give public lectures anymore. You never know: he might launch into a fact-free fairy tale about having dark skin, being fat, and being over-sexed as linked properties caused by exposure to the sun and living in tropical countries, illustrated with a slide show of women in bikinis.

He really did that.

I’m just surprised that any professional organization would be so unaware of his reputation that they’d invite him in the first place.

John F. Kennedy Defended Separation of Church and State

John F. Kennedy defended the separation of church and state, and opposed using taxpayer money to fund private religious schools. Born a hundred years ago, May 29, 1917, John F. Kennedy served as the 35th President of the United States from January 1961 until his assassination in November 1963. On November 22, 1963, Kennedy was [Read More…]

Can terrorists be deradicalized?

By Michael Price

Investigators are still piecing together exactly what drove Salman Abedi, the suspected assailant in the recent concert bombing in Manchester, U.K., to kill 22 people and wound dozens more, but early indications suggest he had become a radicalized jihadist. How formerly harmless members of society go on to embrace violent extremist ideologies is a looming question in the world of counterterrorism, yet increasingly so is the problem of “deradicalization,” or convincing people to abandon an extremist mindset.

Worldwide, hundreds of deradicalization programs have sprung up. They typically consist of trained counselors either convincing the extremists their religious views aren’t founded in proper theology, treating the subject’s extremism as a mental health issue, or trying to nudge the extremist’s value system away from violence.

Despite their ubiquity, there’s been precious little effort spent evaluating whether these programs actually work, writes Daniel Koehler, director of the German Institute on Radicalization and De-radicalization Studies based in Stuttgart, in a commentary published today in Nature Human Behaviour. He discussed his work with Science, as well as the dangers of failing to establish deradicalization program standards. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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This researcher may have discovered the antidote to health bullshit

By Julia Belluz and Alvin Chang

Andy Oxman is obsessed with the study of bullshit health claims and how to prevent them from spreading.

For decades, he’s been trying to find ways to get adults to think critically about the latest diet fads, vaccine rumors, or “miracle cures.” But he realized these efforts are often in vain: Adults can be stubborn old dogs — resistant to learning new things and changing their minds.

So Oxman, now the research director at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, started to wonder whether the best hope for bullshit prevention lay with children. To put this idea to the test, back in 2000 he visited his then-10-year-old son’s class.

“I told them that some teenagers had discovered that red M&Ms gave them a good feeling in their body and helped them write and draw more quickly,” Oxman said. “But there also were some bad effects: a little pain in their stomach, and they got dizzy if they stood up quickly.”

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She’s a good dog

Ollie is a good dog, yes she is. Such a good dog! It’s not her fault that she has ended up on the editorial boards of medical journals.

…in one respect, the Staffordshire Terrier differs radically from her canine peers: she has a burgeoning academic career, and sits on the editorial boards of seven medical journals.

As you may have guessed, the journals on whose boards Ollie sits are of the predatory variety. These are shadowy, online publications that mimic legitimate journals, but are prepared to publish anything in exchange for a fee that can run into thousands of dollars. Predatory journals prey on desperate young researchers under huge pressure to get their research published to further their careers.

Ollie’s owner is Mike Daube, Professor of Health Policy at Curtin University in Perth. Ollie likes to watch Mike working on his computer, and Mike gets a lot of emails from predatory journals. Wondering just how low these journals would go, he put together a curriculum vitae for his dog – detailing research interests such as “the benefits of abdominal massage for medium-sized canines” – and sent it off to a number of these journals, asking for a spot on their editorial boards.

She has also been asked to review papers. I suspect she’d be a harsh critic, despite being such a good dog, because usually when you put a paper on the floor they poop on it. And that’s good! Good doggie!

Brood Awakening: 17-Year Cicadas Emerge 4 Years Early

By Knvul Sheikh

Swarms of cicadas are unexpectedly crawling out from under trees from North Carolina to New Jersey. The red-eyed insects are almost impossible to miss; they fly around lazily, plunking into backyard barbeques and crashing into cars. They litter the ground with their crunchy husks as they molt. Most noticeably, they chirp en masse for their mates, producing a relentless, shrill buzz that is recognized as a song of summer. And within a month they are gone.

Different populations, or broods, of “periodical” cicadas emerge in distinct geographical regions during specific years, after spending a 13- or 17-year span growing underground. (Some “annual” species just emerge yearly.) Scientists were expecting to see Brood VI bugs in South Carolina and Georgia, which happened, but they got a surprise when Brood X cicadas also started appearing in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Ohio and Indiana last week—four years earlier than anticipated.

Experts suspect a warming climate, with more warm weeks a year during which the underground nymphs can grow, could be triggering some cicadas to emerge ahead of their brood. “Temperature is everything,” says Marlene Zuk, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota. “When temperature changes, insects don’t just feel hot or cold. Their whole body doesn’t function normally.” And cicada nymphs may be growing to a threshold size so quickly that their internal biological clock is miscalculating when it is time to emerge, says Keith Clay, a biologist and cicada expert at Indiana University Bloomington. To calibrate these clocks, periodical cicadas likely rely on a variety of environmental cues such as changing seasons and ground temperature, he says. Nymphs feed on the xylem fluid (sap) from tree roots, and changes in the fluid composition as trees leaf out each spring may also help them gauge the passage of time. Entomologists reached this conclusion back in 2000 when they artificially sped up the blooming cycle of peach trees supporting cicada nymphs that were in their 15th year and tricked the insects into emerging a year early.

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