Category: Religion

Vote.

By Phil Plait | November 6, 2012 6:00 am

Listen. I want you to vote.

I won’t make that pandering "It doesn’t matter who you vote for" speech, because, geez, c’mon. It does matter.

But not voting at all is not an option. You need to vote.

I know a lot of folks are undecided, and getting mocked in the media for it. But from what I see, a lot of people have honest problems with both candidates.

I can relate. I do too. But in my opinion, voting is still critical, for a few reasons. But there’s one big one: if you don’t vote, how does that help?

Seriously, staying home and not voting doesn’t help at all, and in fact hurts. Why? Because, for one thing, I bet you don’t hate everything about both candidates. A lot of people frame it as the lesser of two evils, but I think it’s more positive to consider it as the better of the two choices.

Looking over the choices, there must be one who edges out the other, for whatever issues matter to you. That matters. It truly does.

And not voting hurts you, directly. If you don’t vote, you have no say in what the government can do for or with or to you. You’re letting other people make that decision for you. And I think you probably know better what you want than other people do.

Don’t vote, and you are freely allowing others to declare how much tax you should pay, where that money goes, whether or not you have access to health care, how women are treated (whether through pay, health benefits, or a myriad of other ways), and even whether science or nonsense gets taught in schools.

Another argument I hear is that one vote doesn’t count. Lets be honest: in many places, that’s probably true. But not everywhere, and it can be hard to tell just where. Remember, in 2000, the entire national election boiled down to a few hundred votes in Florida. A few hundred.

I look at the swing states, places that can swing the election and where it’s hard to tell who’s ahead, and I wonder. Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Florida… all these states have big universities, with student populations in the hundreds of thousands, maybe millions. A single freshman class at one of those schools could swing this entire election.

Still think your vote doesn’t count?

I know a lot of younger folks read my blog. You have way more riding on this election than I do. Maybe you’re looking for a job, or have one already. How much tax do you think is fair to pay? What rights will you have with your employer? What kind of health insurance will you get? It’s not sexy to think about health insurance, but it’s going to suck mightily when you break your leg or you need to get your wisdom teeth out, and you find out it’s going to be a cash only out-of-pocket transaction.

Also, you’ll have to live in the future longer than I will. What’s that future going to be like? One where global warming slams us every summer with stronger hurricanes because the government ignored the scientists? One where your kids are taught the Earth is 6000 years old? One where you can’t get contraception?

That’s what your vote means.

On these issues – and a whole passel more – the two major candidates are worlds apart. These issues impact you, now, today. Health care, taxes, women’s rights, corporate law, international policy, gay marriage, climate change… do even a modicum of research and you’ll see the differences shining like a beacon. And we may have a Supreme Court justice retire in the next four years; think about how the two candidates differ on whom they would nominate for that.

And if you like a third party candidate, then great! Go vote for him or her! But don’t complain that it’s a waste of time because they can’t win. It’s a certainty they can’t if you don’t vote for them, and if enough people vote for them they may start to get noticed.

For me, a lot of the decisions I make when I vote boil down to how the candidate faces science, faces reality – which are in many ways the same thing. Maybe you agree. And that brings up a final major point: this election is not just to decide who will be President. We’re voting for Congress as well, and these are the people who make the laws. Congress has the lowest public approval rating they’ve had in decades, and for good reason. But you know what can be done? You can throw out the ones who won’t face reality!

Look up who’s who in your state and district and see what your Congresscritters think. I’ll guarantee there are huge differences between candidates for Congress. And the majority party picks who runs the committees – for example, the House Science Committee, where several of the sitting members are as blatantly antiscience as anyone I’ve ever seen.

Do you love science as much as I do? You can vote them out!

I’ll also note that in local elections there will be people running for school board. Think that’s not important? Think again.

This election is about far more than electing a President. It could mean four more years of science obstructionism, four years we cannot afford to lose.

I’m not a single issue voter, and I hope you aren’t either. But then, reality isn’t a single issue. Antiscience affects global warming legislation, textbooks and class curricula, women’s rights, technology development, medical research, energy production, religious incursions on the First Amendment, and much more. Our very economy is largely based on science and engineering. It’s not too much to ask for people in power to understand that.

In fact, it’s a rock bottom requirement.

So speaking of bottoms, get off yours. The only way you can waste your vote is by not casting one.

MORE ABOUT: Election 2012

The US Congress Anti-Science Committee

By Phil Plait | October 6, 2012 7:00 am

[NB: As always with posts like this, I strongly urge you to read my note about posts covering politics and religion as well as my commenting policy before leaving a comment.]

Not too long ago, I (and pretty much the whole internet) wrote about the ridiculous and honestly offensive statements made by Representative Todd Akin (R-MO). His knowledge – or really, the profound lack thereof – of female anatomy made him the laughing stock of the planet. But I wasn’t laughing. I was, and still am, furious. And not just because of what he said, but also because he is a member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

That anyone could spew such obvious and awful nonsense about biology and anatomy and yet sit on the US Congress’s science committee is, simply put, an outrage.

I also pointed out he’s not alone. In that article I devoted just one line to Representative Paul Broun (R-GA), saying how he was a creationist and also sits on that same science committee… but I think it’s time we take a second look at Congressman Broun.

Why?

In late September, Rep. Broun made a speech at the Liberty Baptist Church’s Sportsman’s banquet in Hartwell, Georgia. In this speech he said many, many things, including this:

All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior. You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.

[The whole talk is online at YouTube.]

Sadly, that kind of antiscientific nonsense is de rigueur for a lot of folks these days, even ones who sit in Congress. But then, to close the deal, he goes on:

And what I’ve come to learn is that it’s the manufacturer’s handbook, is what I call it. It teaches us how to run our lives individually, how to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society. And that’s the reason as your congressman I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I’ll continue to do that.

Two points: one is that all Congresscritters, upon entering office, have to swear to uphold the Constitution, and the second is that this document is pretty clear about legislating religion. In fact, Supreme Court judge Hugo Black said about this topic, "Government must be neutral among religions and nonreligion: it cannot promote, endorse, or fund religion or religious institutions."

Rep. Broun’s words don’t sound terribly neutral to me.

You may disagree with me about the shaky ground (like Richter 10 shaky) Broun stands on Constitutionally, but there is no doubt – none – that he is 100% completely off the rails with his science. The Big Bang is "straight from the pit of hell"? It’s bad enough that anyone would actually believe something like that, let alone a Congressman, but I will remind you he sits on the House science committee!

And he sits there with Akin. And Brooks. And Hall. And Rohrabacher.

These are the men whom the Republican majority placed on that committee. Men who think global warming is a fantasy. Men who think women have magic vaginas. Men who think the Earth is thousands, not billions, of years old.

I have my issues with Obama right now, which in truth are dwarfed by my issues with Romney. But remember that come November 6 of this year in the US we’ll be voting for members of Congress as well. And the majority party decides who sits on what committee, and those people will in turn decide what to legislate: reality, or fantasy.

The choice, quite literally, is yours. Choose well.

Tip o’ the gavel to TPM via CCounterman.


Related Posts:

Akin breakin’ science
Followup: Rep. Ralph Hall’s unbelievable statement on science funding bill
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA): on climate change, makes wrong even wronger
Next up for Congress: repeal the law of gravity

The Church of Who?

By Phil Plait | October 5, 2012 10:09 am

I have been remiss about keeping up with the new season of Doctor Who – I have the episodes recorded but haven’t had a chance to watch yet, so no spoilers, sweeties! – but this has not in any way tarnished my love for the show.

But love has different levels, different strengths. While I do very much enjoy the show and think about it a lot as any geek does, I don’t think I would say I worship it. Still, I had to smile as I watched this video by Mike Rugnetta at the PBS Idea Channel, where he asks: is Doctor Who a religion?

It’s a funny idea, and he certainly brings a lot of evidence to the table! If I were taking the question seriously, I’d say it’s not a religion unless people actually believe the show is real. Otherwise, it’s more of a philosophy.

But then, of course, there’s this. Hmmm:

Thinking on this more, though, I suspect that if I had to start a church of Who, it wouldn’t have the Doctor as the central figure. Clearly, if you watch this, you’ll see it’s Karen Gillan who possesses supernatural powers.

Of course, my choice of Ms. Gillan here has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that when I attended the Doctor Who panel at Comic Con this year and went up to take this photo, she looked right at me:

Sigh. My heart may belong to River Song, but what can I say? Unlike the Doctor, I’m only human.

Tip o’ the sonic to Nerdist.


Related Posts:

Comic Con 2012
Time and Relative Dimensions IN ROCK (also I Am the Piano Doctor Man)
Dragon*Con 2011
My Nerdist episode is online
My Late Late Show segment is now online

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Geekery, Humor, Piece of mind, Religion

The puzzle of dogma

By Phil Plait | September 22, 2012 7:00 am

reddit user jerfoo created a lovely and simple photo series demonstrating the difference between experimental science – testing data and finding things out based on evidence – and dogmatic faith – belief in something rigidly and without wavering.

Read the whole thing; it’s wonderfully done. It’s been making the rounds on the net, and I like the way it’s set up and the message it delivers. Not everyone is so unwavering in their dogma, but enough people are (especially those who run this country) that this should be required reading by the time every US citizen reaches elementary school.


Related Posts:

Natural born scientist
Tennessee passes law allowing creationism in the classroom
A win for reality in Texas!
Texas creationist McLeroy spins the educational disaster he created

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Religion, Science, Skepticism
MORE ABOUT: creationism

Bill Nye: creationism is bad for children

By Phil Plait | August 30, 2012 6:30 am

Bill Nye speaks the truth.

[Video credit: Big Think]

In science, it’s rare that you can actually state with certainty that something is wrong. Young-Earth creationism is wrong. The Universe is old.

However, I’ll disagree with Bill over one thing, and I’ll throw Neil Tyson into the mix too. First, here’s something Neil said about adults, children, and nonsense (from an image that’s gone around the web a few times):

Funny, Neil and Bill are saying the same thing, essentially, but Neil is saying he doesn’t worry about the kids, while Bill is saying he doesn’t worry about the adults.

I worry about both, for, oddly enough, the reasons Bill and Neil both give. We have entrenched adults teaching things to their kids that are clearly wrong, and will be damaging to them and others. Creationism, global warming denial, antivaccination, ridiculous ideas about women and their bodies… it’s a cycle from adults to kids who then grow up to teach more kids.

We need to break this cycle. Make sure the education kids get in school is reality-based. Keep religion (or the lack thereof) out of schools. Vote fundamentalists out of office. And keep making sure the facts are out there and our voices are heard. Facts aren’t enough. Science has facts on its side, but they’re simply not enough. We need to make our stories personal, emotional, and make sure they stick.

And I’d love to agree with Bill when he says that in the future creationism will go away. I sure hope so. But YEC’s been around for a while now, and is as strong as ever – after all, there are creationists on the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Science! Still, maybe Bill’s right. But it’s up to us to make sure his prediction comes true.


Related Posts:

Akin breakin’ science
Texas creationist McLeroy spins the educational disaster he created
Jindal dooms Louisiana

MORE ABOUT: Bill Nye, creationism

Akin breakin' science

By Phil Plait | August 24, 2012 6:31 am

[NOTE: This is not my first foray into political opinion on this blog, so I expect to get a lot of comments which could charitably be called angry. BEFORE YOU COMMENT, first, read the ample links I have included in this post. These are how I back up my arguments, and reading them first may prevent you from saying something already refuted. Second, read my note about posts covering politics and religion. Third, read my commenting policy. Thank you in advance.]


Unless you’ve had your head buried in the mantle of the Earth this week, you probably heard what Missouri Congressman Todd Akin said about women’s bodies and rape. If you haven’t, my friend Matt Lowry at Skeptical Teacher has the lowdown.

But in a nutshell – apt phrasing, that – Akin claimed that:

First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare… If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

This is so appallingly ignorant – to be kind – that it makes my brain explode. Pregnancy from rape is not rare; tens of thousands occur every year. His claim about the female body is complete claptrap, nonsense. And his use of the word "legitimate" is just grossly insulting. As President Obama said the next day: "Rape is rape".

So here we have a man who has not just no knowledge of what happens during rape and conception, but actually provably wrong knowledge. And he makes laws about these things.

It’s clear that Akin’s beliefs are driven by his religious fundamentalism. This would be a matter of concern to me for any lawmaker, but you have to understand: he sits on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee!

The irony in this should be evident.

And worse, Rep. Akin is not the only woefully under- and simply miseducated person on that committee who attacks science. It’s full of such antiscience people. Examples include Mo Brooks, a global warming denier; Ralph Hall, who tried to use porn to scuttle a science funding bill; Jim Sensenbrenner, another global warming denier; Paul Broun, a creationist (a creationist on the science committee!); Dana Rohrabacher, another climate change denier, and more.

It’s mind boggling.

Today, more than ever before, we need politicians who are educated about science and technology. At the very least our economic future depends on science! Yet we have people on the Science Committee who are devoted to actively destroying it.

This is why I support Science Debate 2012. The goal of this organization is to educate the public about where politicians stand on science issues, including evolution, global warming, energy, and the economy.

We need to hold current politicians accountable when they are flatly against reality, and we need to make sure we elect ones who are reality-based. As Rep. Akin showed us clearly, this spans a broad range of political issues.

Let me leave you with this: in America, only about half the people of voting age actually go out and vote. That means there is a vast, untapped resource of people who can make a real difference in November.

If you don’t vote, then you are letting someone else decide for you what to do with your money, your life, your future, and even your very body.

Learn the issues. Vote.


Related Posts:

Erasing false balance: the right is more antiscience than the left
Republican candidates, global warming, evolution, and reality
Next up for Congress: repeal the law of gravity
Antiscience party

The most amazing contrast of the 21st century

By Phil Plait | August 16, 2012 10:30 am

While NASA and JPL put a nuclear powered laser-eyed roving chem lab on another planet, Kentucky legislators want to teach kids that the world is 6000 years old, and Missouri wants schoolchildren to be able to stick their fingers in their ears if their teachers discusses evolution.

I think I’ll just leave this here.


Related Posts:

Tennessee passes law allowing creationism in the classroom
Louisiana fights back against creationist legislators
A win for reality in Texas!
States of educational decay

Colbert destroys Texas creationist Don McLeroy

By Phil Plait | May 3, 2012 6:59 am

It may not surprise you to learn I am no fan of one Don McLeroy. He is a young-Earth creationist, antiscience evangelist, and when he was head of the Texas Board of Education he tried to ram through all sorts of ridiculous education standards that would’ve set Texas schoolchildren back about 200 years.

My own rule of not being a dick makes it difficult for me to express myself clearly about Mr. McLeroy, but happily he does the work for me. He appeared on The Colbert Report, and quite ably demonstrates what kind of person he is. And Colbert is only too happy to comply:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Don McLeroy
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

[You may need to refresh this page to get the video to load.]

I love how Colbert says he chooses his own reality; he is mocking McLeroy to his face and McLeroy doesn’t really see it. But then, there’s a lot of things McLeroy doesn’t see.

By the way, the movie clip shown is from a documentary called The Revisionairies, which is all about the damage McLeroy and his cadre did while he ran the BOE. I wrote about this when the directors set up a Kickstarter account to help fund it — which was successful, obviously. From the trailer the documentary seems to be an unflattering look, to be sure, but that’s because it tells the truth. The reviews so far look good, and I’m hoping to be able to watch the whole thing myself… if I can stomach it.

I’m glad McLeroy’s no longer running the Texas BOE… but then, after he left, Governor Rick Perry (remember him?) appointed another staunch creationist to that role (after trying to appoint two others). I like Texas — I’ve been there many times, and even lived there for a summer a while back — but honestly, you guys really need to rethink your choices for politicians.

Clearly, the whole world is watching.


Related Posts:

Standing up too the experts
Texas creationist McLeroy spins the educational disaster he created
UPDATE: Texas revisionist McLeroy on ABC
Texas conservatives screw history

Followup: Antivaxxers, airlines, and ailments

By Phil Plait | May 1, 2012 6:15 am

Reality recently scored a major win when American Airlines agreed not to run an interview with notorious antivaxxer Meryl Dorey. An American living in Australia, Dorey runs the Orwellian-named Australian Vaccine Network, where she dispenses horrifically bad and outright false information about vaccines. Read the link above to see details about her shenanigans.

After AA decided not to run the interview, Dorey pulled a lot of tired and clearly silly claims out of her playbook, saying it’s denying her free speech — which it obviously isn’t, since this isn’t a free speech issue! — and that we’re all part of a global cabal funded by Big Pharma blah blah blah. I’ve yet to see a check from Big Pharma, so her making this claim is at best paranoid and at worst a lie. You can read more about her nonsensical claims in an ABC article about this.

As usual, I have a very, very hard time feeling any sympathy for Dorey, especially when measles is roaring back into the population. Measles is easy to prevent with a simple vaccination, but due in large part to the antivax effort (and I include religious exemptions in that group) it’s still out there and infecting more and more people.

Some folks are fighting back, though. While I was in Utah last weekend I saw some great billboards promoting vaccines. Shane Larson, an astronomer at Utah State University where I spoke, grabbed a great photo of one:

That shot shows the billboard in context and might be hard to see with everything else in the picture. Here’s a zoom on the billboard itself:

It says, “Vaccine preventable diseases are just a plane ride away" and shows a child standing next to an open suitcase. The line refers to the fact that Europe and other countries are seeing a resurgence in measles and other diseases due in part to the antivax movement, and if you’re not vaccinated, you can bring those diseases back to the US. Measles was stopped natively in this country in 2000 due to high vaccination rates, but international travel has brought it back. That’s not speculation; we know this has happened.

The billboard links to the wonderful website Vaccinate Your Baby, which has great advice — science-based, reality-based, fact-based, and truthful — about vaccinations.

Vaccines do not cause autism. Vaccines do not hurt your immune system. Vaccines do not contain poisons that can hurt you. Those are all spin by the antivax movement at best, and again, lies at worst.

Vaccines save lives. Talk to your doctor and see if you or yours need to be vaccinated, including getting the TDaP booster.

You can help save lives.

Tip o’ the needle to Liz Ditz for several of the links in this article.

Tennessee passes law allowing creationism in the classroom

By Phil Plait | April 11, 2012 8:13 am

Well, that’s it then. Tennessee’s governor, William Haslam, allowed a clearly antiscience bill to pass into law. It is now legal to essentially teach creationism in Tennessee public school classrooms.

You can read about the background of all this in an earlier post. The TN House and Senate both passed this terrible, terrible bill, and Governor Haslam allowed it to beome law, saying,

I do not believe that this legislation changes the scientific standards that are taught in our schools or the curriculum that is used by our teachers. However, I also don’t believe that it accomplishes anything that isn’t already acceptable in our schools.

This is, to not to put too fine a point on it, a crock. The legislation is designed specifically to allow creationism to be taught in classes, something the courts have clearly stated is against the law, and which just as clearly is unacceptable in our schools.

Governor Haslam, I’ll note, didn’t actually sign the bill into law. In Tennessee, a bill passes by default if the governor takes too long to sign it. By not vetoing it directly, he allowed it to pass. That action, combined with his wishy-washy statement, makes it clear he is doing this for purely political motives. This way, it’s a law and the creationists are happy, and if people accuse him of weakening the Constitution and allowing a specific religion to be taught in public schools — which he’s doing — then he can say he didn’t actually sign the bill. Nice, huh?

So instead of doing the right thing, he has allowed students in classrooms across Tennessee to undergo religious indoctrination, despite a prior and clear Supreme Court ruling making it illegal.

And for this those of you who will want to split hairs and say this law only makes it legal to teach scientific weaknesses, and doesn’t make it legal to teach creationism, I call baloney. There is zero doubt — zero — that this will be used to teach creationism in the classroom under the guise of demonstrating (what they claim, wrongly, as) weaknesses in evolutionary science. [Update: Steve Novella at the NeuroLogica blog has more details on this.]

So, unless and until someone fights this law and takes it to court to preserve the scientific integrity of the Tenessee public school classroom…

MORE ABOUT: creationism, Tennessee
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