Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Alternative medicine and the lesser of two evils

A recent article at the conversation (an Australian news website) titled Alternative medicine can be scientific say besieged academics discusses the integration of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) into mainstream university health programs in Australia.  The article takes a present both sides of the issue stance and thus quote from those who want alternative medicine out of universities and those arguing for its inclusion.

Those trying to stop the integration of CAM into universities point out that allowing integration "give[s] such ideologies undeserved credibility."  And that such undeserved credibility could lead to greater problems:
"The great danger . . . [is] that people who have chronic health problems or who have been persuaded that doctors do not have the answers are delaying the 'proper investigation and treatment' of their illness by instead seeking help from therapists offering alternative medicine."
On the other side the article quotes a Dr. Wardle,("a NHMRC Research Fellow at the University of Queensland’s School of Population Health and co-director of the Network of Researchers in Public Health and Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NORPHCAM), an international group promoting clinical research in CAM").

Dr. Wardle's primary argument for integrating CAM into universities is that CAM practitioners who are university trained won't be quite as dangerous as the "fringe element" who lack university training.  Wardle himself admits that there is "a lot of crap" practiced in CAM.  However, Wardle ignores the underlying complaint of his opponents that Universities promoting CAM may cause the public to rely on these "crap" treatments because, as he argues, at least the treatments won't be quite as crappy.

Friday, January 27, 2012

More Anti-Global Warming dishonesty

Apparently science is now a democracy because we keep hearing about scientists signing up and saying they disagree with global warming.  Take for example this new piece in the wall street journal entitled No need to panic about global warming bragging about being signed by 16 scientists.  Apparently the author of this opinion piece believes that facts can be voted on.

But science is not a democracy.  We cannot simply vote on what we want to be true, instead we must have evidence to find out what is true.  If we could vote on truth I would say its high time we held a vote on whether or not cancer exists.  Unfortunately, the fact that science is about evidence rather than getting names to support you is something that politicians and the general public don't seem to understand.

The very fact that those opposing global warming are resorting to polling names of those who oppose global warming as opposed to citing studies should clue us in to the fact that they are wrong.  If the evidence showed that the earth isn't warming then the warming denialists could cite to that evidence rather than just trying to find names to support them.  As it stands the only way for the global warming denialists to argue is to use rhetorical tricks to cover up the fact that all the evidence stands against them...

Unreason and lack of understanding by Be Scofield

 Yesterday Be Scofield wrote an article attacking atheists for four points: 1) that atheists claim religion is harmful, 2) that atheist attempt to convert the religious, 3) that atheism is cultural imperialism, and 4) that conversion attempts are racist.  Rather than trying to make a reasoned analyses he simply uses a number of rhetorical tricks to avoid the complexity of the issue.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The loyal but dishonest opposition

After watching Tuesday nights State of the Union by President Obama and the opposition response by Mitch Daniels I couldn't help but use Daniels' speech as a basis of my next post (read the response here or watch it here).  Obama as usual gave a speech with solid logical points (though with a good amount of rhetoric).  On the other hand, Daniels gave a speech that obscured the problems and confused the issues.

Although, I find many factual as well as logical issues with Daniels' speech I want to focus on one particularly egregious argument Daniels makes.   Daniels attacks Obama's attempt to protect the people of the United States from predatory financial techniques through his new consumer bureau.  But his attack ignores the reality and uses a sneaky technique to try and gain support for his position against new regulations.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Skeptical Sexism

In this post I want to join the debate regarding sexism in the skeptical (and nerd) communities.  This has been an ongoing debate within these communities and for good reason.  There really is a problem with sexism and the debate keeps getting made worse by poor arguments and misreadings of other people's arguments (here's looking at you Dawkins).  I think these problems could be largely eliminated if people would try to remove emotion from their responses (which puts people on the defensive) and if the framing of the issues took on a more neutral stance.

What I want to do in this post is address the problems I have, as a male, with the presentation of arguments against sexism.  While I may agree with most arguments put forward on the side fighting sexism I often find myself initially turned away by the presentation.  I can understand why men are defensive to these arguments, because when I read them my first inclination is to feel attacked and go on the defensive.  You might argue that I am being sensitive and you are right.  But, I think its important to remember that if you are trying to convince a specific audience, then you should address your point to that audience...

If I am trying to show a believer in poltergeists that the coffee cup falling off the table is better explained by other phenomena and I start off saying those who believe in poltergeists are idiots, well then I probably won't make much progress.  But if I step back and frame the issue in a way that the believer understands (such as asking how do you know it was a ghost and not an alien, gnomes, or elves) then I am likely to make more progress.

I want to address a number of ways sexism is framed that I think are unproductive and could be better done, but because of the extent of each topic I will limit myself to one of the following topics per day

1.  Privilege: stop using the word privilege, you might be using the word correctly but it is likely to turn a lot of men away.
2.  Marketing:  Marketing targeted at men isn't sexist, its just marketing, but it may have sexist effects.
3.  Rude & Inappropriate Behavior: I totally agree, there is way too much rude & inappropriate behavior by men toward women, but just because it is rude or inappropriate doesn't mean its sexist.
4.  Gender Stereotypes Aren't Always Bad: I hate to say it, but even though you might think gender stereotypes are bad, doesn't mean everyone agrees or that they are.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sometimes its ok to use stereotypes

I read a blogpost today regarding the idea of Schroedinger's Rapist.  This essentially says that a woman approaching a man in an unsafe place can't know if that man is dangerous and thus should treat him as dangerous.  For some reason men seem to think that this is sexist for women to assume that men are dangerous without knowing.  Perhaps this is sexist but regardless I would say its a smart practice and women should do it.

To convince any men who doubt me of this let me use a little reductio ad absurdum.  For those of you who don't know this argument let me explain.  Reductio ad absurdum is simply the process of taking an argument to its extreme sometimes absurd conclusions.  The point is to show that the other person doesn't agree with the extreme application and thus the rule itself must either be false or at least partially incorrect.

So, I want to show that most men would want women to assume men are dangerous whether or not its sexist.  Imagine your closest female relative.  Perhaps your daughter, perhaps your sister, perhaps your cousin, perhaps your mother.  Now imagine she just met a girl who seems nice and was invited back to that girls house.  She calls you and asks if she should go.  I would assume most men would say sure, that doesn't sound too bad.  But imagine that she actually just met a man, talked to him for a few minutes and he invited her back to his house.  Again she calls you.  Do you tell her to go or not go.  I would think any reasonable man would say not to go just to be safe regardless of whether it is sexist.

I think most men don't like the assumption that men are dangerous because they are offended that someone might just presume they are dangerous.  If I know I am a good person but someone just assumes I am dangerous that does seem to be a bit offensive.  Thus, I can understand this sentiment somewhat.  But if you turn the issue around to the much bigger concern of safety then I think most men would agree its a good idea for women to assume an unknown man might be dangerous.

Statistically speaking a woman is much more likely to be attacked by a man than another woman.  Only an idiot doesn't pay attention to statistics when it comes to safety.  If I find out that an airline has a 10% crash rate I won't fly that airline, I'll pick one with a lower crash rate.  Likewise, no woman should have to gamble with her health in order to avoid being sexist.

I don't know perhaps my argument is sexist, but you know what, its also sensible.

Ken Ham has a shady answer

PZ Myers over at Pharyngula has a pretty good take down of a ridiculous answer to the question: "how do we know other religion's aren't true" posted by Ken Ham a prominent member of the young-earth creationist movement.  However, this answer by Ken Ham was so insane and dishonest that I find it necessary to also address Ham's answer.

Now to start I want to point out that this answer is in the "Kids Answers" section on Ken Ham's webpage.  Thus  the answer is being addressed at those who might not have the necessary knowledge and tools to analyze the answer.  To me this makes Ham's answer that much more foul and insidious.  However, I have to say that I bet that a lot of kids could even see the glaring logical problem sitting in Ham's answer.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Wandering thoughts: Freedom

If you have paid attention to politics in the United States you have heard the word "freedom" shouted from all different sides.  Freedom has become a political slogan used to rally people to whatever cause a politician may promote.  From waging war on a foreign nation to shrinking the size of our government freedom always seems to be the laudable goal.

But what is freedom?  Absolute freedom is simply a synonym for anarchy, because without government and rules that is how we would live.  But anarchy is not really freedom either.  How much freedom exists in broken nations where government has failed leaving warring factions battling in the streets?  How much freedom exists in inner cities where the police cannot enforce our laws forbidding violence?  Are men and women truly free if they fear for their lives and safety when they walk down the street?  How free are we when our financial institutions lie unregulated and risky investing destroys our economy?  How free are we when a monopoly operates unchecked and prices skyrocket?  Freedom cannot arise out of liberation from all rules but instead requires subjecting ourselves to those rules that, while restricting some of our freedoms, give us greater freedoms in the end.  Thus, freedom from government is not enough because we need government to give us freedom from each other.

Freedom requires a delicate balance between restrictions and rights. We come together as a society to gain the benefits and protections of a cooperative communal group, and in this coming together we must give up some freedoms in order to gain the benefits of cooperation. With too many rights the people who do wrong can escape justice. With too many restrictions the innocent are oppressed. There is no easy solution, some things that seem overly oppressive may be necessary while some things that seem necessary may create benefits that are too small to justify the sacrificed liberty.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Meaning of Life

I was reacquainted with the age old question "what is the meaning of life" recently when reading a book called War of the Worldviews by Deepak Chopra and Leonard Mlodinow.  Throughout the book, Deepak brings up the issue of the meaning of life numerous times.  This question, often described as the "ultimate question," the "big question," etc...  is an oft debated question and considered to be vastly important.  However, as anyone who has addressed this question knows there has never been an agreed upon answer and in fact there have been many vastly different answers to this question.

After reading Deepak's book and a recent article by Deepak discussing the meaning of life I felt I had to break down this question.  However, in this post I won't answer what the meaning of life is but I'll explain exactly why it hasn't been answered.  And the answer to that question lies in an understanding of language and rhetoric.  So what is the answer...
Answer:  "What is the meaning of life" is a bad question that can't be answered because it is far too ambiguous to be meaningful.  In fact, under some interpretations the question itself may simply be a meaningless question such as "what shape is an idea?" 
In other words, remember when your teachers told you there was no such thing as a dumb question.  Well, in a sense they were right because you can learn something from trying to answer any question.  But in another sense they were wrong, some questions can't be answered because the words composing the question aren't meaningful when strung together.  "What is the meaning of life?" is one of these meaningless questions (if you'll pardon my pun).