74th Skeptic’s Circle & Other Likable Links

November 21, 2007

Med Journal Watch is hosting the 74th bi-weekly Skeptic’s Circle: a free and sumptuous smörgåsbord of skeptical scrivenings.

Some more splendid splutterings worth your blogosphere business:

The Bug Girl lays into what I found to be a downright astonishingly awful mix of sexism and scientific ignorance spread by Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie.

If you finally want to understand what Quantum Theory is really all about, then don’t miss The Quantum Pontiff’s recent “Learn Quantum Theory in Ten Minutes.”

If instead you want to truly understand how profoundly silly and wonderful comic books are, then you will be drawn by a mysterious power to over to The Presidential Fury of Future Lincoln from Chris’ Invincible Super-Blog.

Alternatively, you can just make yourself upset all over again as The Agitator’s Radley Balko looks back on the one year anniversary of 92-year old Kathryn Johnston’s murder by Atlanta police officers. Going to Hooters is apparently a big no no in the wonderful world of no-knock S.W.A.T. antics: repeatedly killing innocent civilians? Eh… whatcha gonna do, cry about it? Remember: the police always, always execute the dog, and if you mouth off about it, they’ll taser you just for good measure.

Update: And then some back and shoot the dog some more, for fun. Seriously, if police officers, who for the most part are overworked folks who have to deal with scum and villainy day in and day out, don’t want ordinary people to think that their profession is full of sadists, psychopaths, and screwups, how about taking a stand against these sorts of abuses of power rather than shrugging them off or even making excuses for them?


Stem Cell Chicanery: Ramesh Ponnuru quotes himself out of context

November 21, 2007

When Washington Monthly blogger Kevin Drum and National Review Corner blogger Ramesh Ponnuru went at it over stem cells recently, I was quite startled by something. I’m quite used to creationists misleadingly quoting scientists out of context, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen someone quote themselves out of context. Let me explain.

Drum sees Ramesh as snidely intimating that defenders of embryonic research are less than sincere. Ramesh begs to differ. Here’s the offending paragraph from Ramesh that started everything off:

Yuval is right: It’s not a time for gloating. For one thing, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves in estimating the political impact of this breakthrough: We should wait at least a few days to see how the advocates of embryo-destructive stem-cell research react before concluding that the battle is over. (In the past, they have done what they could to minimize the potential of non-lethal methods of deriving pluripotent stem cells.)

And here is how Ramesh characterizes what he said above:

My point was that the political debate over whether the federal government should fund certain forms of embryo-destructive research or allow certain other forms of it would not be over under certain conditions. If, for example, these people believe that embryo-destructive research (or certain forms of it) still have advantages that the new research methods don’t have, or that it is still important to encourage research of all types, then the debate isn’t over, although it will change.

Go back to my original 4:41 p.m. post: I said that in the past proponents of embryo-destructive stem-cell research had “minimized the potential of non-lethal methods of deriving pluripotent stem cells”; that’s exactly what I’m saying they might still do.

So Ramesh insists that all he meant was that pro-ESCR people might have further arguments for ESCR, and only an illiterate would think that he ever hinted at anyones insincerity. But notice what he cut out from his self-quotation: the “In the past, they have done what they could to minimize” part. The part of his paragraph which just so happens to most strongly imply that he thinks pro-ESCR folks have actively tried to spin or avoid the issue.

That’s a truly masterful bit of rhetorical revisionism: so slick that I wonder if it was even a conscious act on Ramesh’s part.

But then, one should never credit the author of a book entitled The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life with too much of a gift for subtlety and evenhandedness.

Update: I think I’m being a bit charitable by saying that Ramesh “responded” to my post, by which I mean that he links to it, but offers only another re-interpretive sidetrack in defense of himself (at least this time he actually mentions the key phrase, even if he basically still ignores any discussion of its meaning). Unfortunately, “done what they could” is simply not a description particularly consistent with the idea that pro-ESCR folks were making a “simple error” or otherwise mistaken. “Done what they could to minimize” implies active, thoughtful subterfuge and spin. Perhaps Ramesh sincerely misspoke, but he certainly doesn’t seem inclined to consider even that possibility, does he?

What’s truly bizarre here is that Ramesh has had little hesitation asserting in various other places that defenders of ESCR, including Kevin Drum specifically! are playing games of dishonest spin and hiding the truth about adult stem cells. Why so shy about having the accusation highlighted in this case?

Extra Double Update: Yet another Corner blogger, David Freddoso, weighs in. Let me get this straight: he’s defending the integrity of Ponnuru by arguing that Ponnuru didn’t say what it really, really sounds like he said… but that what he didn’t say is totally a good point that he’s entitled to make. I may not have the necessary “reading skills” here, so I’m just asking for clarification to make sure I’m getting it.

To make myself clear, I don’t think Freddoso is off-base at all in highlighting the deceptive language and sketchy science that some embryonic stem cell research advocates and politicians have used. Heck, I just posted about same sort of thing going on with whether or not the pill kills. I was just in this case amazed to see Ponnuru take such elaborate offense that anyone would read his comment in a way utterly consistent with both his literal words and many previous opinions on his opponents’ integrity, as well as noting with amusement his choice of what words to leave out in his interpretive defense.

And of course, I don’t agree that the use of deception is weighted to one side. For instance, a certain Ramesh Ponnuru has long and unapologetically played the exact same sort of spin game with the difference between what “cloning” technically encompasses, and what it implies to the general public (i.e. The Island and The Boys From Brazil). And, of course, I think the entire “embryos are just human beings at a certain stage in their life” argument is just one long exercise in equivocation.

But that’s an argument for another day… how’s this Friday shaping up for ya, guys?


Where have I been?

October 31, 2007

Well…. new job + new computer + …

The Orange Box

30 years young, and still all agoogly over a videogame. What can I say?

In my slight defense, I used to be a huge fan of Old Man Murray, a game “review” site that used to be one of the funniest things on the internet (at least if you understood the in-jokes of the gaming industry). And now those guys are writers at Valve, one of my favorite videogame producers. The result was Portal, which is wickedy funny, inventive, and has a final boss fight/ending that will go down as a classic and… oh you probably don’t care about any of this.

Anyway, back to Bad Ideas.


This American Life: How I Will Judge You

September 24, 2007

Some minister in Arkansas named John Terry is under the impression that atheists’ primary mission is, like his, to convert and evangelize people. Nope, not mine at least.

The thing is, in the end, I don’t judge people to be less of a human being they you hold or even push beliefs I think are silly or unjustified. What you do matters morally, of course, and there’s plenty of fights to be had over that, but even the most devoted, obsessive believers are generally still folks with whom we can all share that proverbial beer, or at least iced tea, with. Everyone ultimately lives an ordinary life.

But there is something that will make me think less of you as a person: if you don’t regularly listen to This American Life. It’s completely free. It’s an hour out of your life that will make you laugh, cry, and understand our common humanity a little better every week. Tales of ordinary people, ordinary lives, told in an extraordinary ways.

You won’t go to hell for not listening, like John Terry thinks you will for not believing. But man, you’d be a fool to miss out. And you can’t have any of my iced tea.


How people are getting here…

September 14, 2007

The most recent Skeptic’s Circle, hosted over at Unscrewing the Inscrutable, has been sending lots of people my way recently. Unfortunately, since they are all fellow skeptics, this does not lead to much in the way of interesting debate or interfacing with the sorts of people who might actually believe in things like DNA perfume, self-charging phones, or homicidal homeopathy. And, frankly, that’s sort of my hoped-for target audience. Skepticism does no good cooped up inside its own little bubble: I need to think of more ways to engage folks who don’t know what pareodalia means. We’ll see…

That said, I’m still pulling in ridiculous amounts of traffic from folks searching for information about the Virgin Mary’s apparently ongoing engagement on a PA Minersville garage door.

There’s also been a recent unexplained spike in searches about “Sam Chen,” intelligent design flack and awarder of hilariously pretentious booby-prize awards. But the best search of all that brought someone to my blog was “clip art of anti-Christian culture war.” Now that, I want to see.


Bad Things to Come…

September 13, 2007

I’ve been pretty busy with work lately, but I’ve got a couple of upcoming articles I might as well promise and plug before anyone thinks I’ve been slacking.

First off, since we’re all quite sick of the framing vs. “f%@k framing” slapfest, we’ll look at better ways to sell science and skepticism without simply sucking up. Next, we’ll be definitively dumping theological “fine tuning” arguments into the dustbin of the disastrously dumb. Plus, Kevin Trudeau wanna-be Mike Adams is bound to say something stupid that Doc-blogger Orac won’t have already debunked only seconds after it’s posted.

Think I’m bluffing? That I’ll never deliver any of that stuff?

People, you don’t know who you are dealing with!

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Welcome… and So Long

August 20, 2007

Welcome to The Bad Idea Blog, a skeptical inquiry into everything from the profoundly stupid to the divinely dumb and everything in between.

No one is safe from lousy arguments, bad assumptions, and confused conclusions: the mission of this blog is to make ideas better. Smarter. Stronger. Skepticism is often seen as being purely negative, but just as a sculptor removes stone to reveal a statue, critical thinking removes the logical flaws and self-deceptions to reveal GOOD ideas: thoughts worth thinking, arguments worth considering, information that actually informs instead of making excuses for ignorance.

This blog is dedicated to and inspired by Perry DeAngelis, an outspoken critic of bad ideas who passed away yesterday. Perry was perhaps best known as the gruff, monkey-loving rogue from the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe Podcast. He also, unlike myself until now, actually got involved in the promotion of skepticism and critical thinking. Though I’ve been a longtime commenter (under various silly pseudonyms) in the world of skepticism and science, I’ve time and time again found excuses not to blog myself (despite having developed blog software since the late 90s). Excuses look especially silly in the face of a lifetime. So long Perry.