Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Elsevier Peer Review Scam

Pharma giant Merck apparently paid publisher Elsevier to put out a fake peer-reviewed journal. Well, okay. So, one little case of fraud. These things happen, right? Yes. They do. It turns out that these thigns have happened more than once - six times, in fact. Who is going to trust Elsevier now? I'm not inclined to. But what's worse is how this incident can be used by quacks who don't want to believe real peer reviewed science.

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Liz Cheney is Evil

Liz Cheney is off defending "enhanced interrogation techniques", that is, torture, on cable TV.

She denies that these terrible "techniques" were torture. But what I'm interested in is the question she asks Robinson. Go ahead and watch:

She asks whether Robinson would waterboard if he knew that a detainee had information about a plot that would kill his family, and that he would get it if the detainee was waterboarded. Robinson's response is, in my opinion, correct, if delivered unconvincingly. Cheney's case is bad. There is virtually no case where you know with any sort of certainty that a detainee has the information that you are looking for. And, more importantly, you're definitely not going to know that you'll get the information if you waterboard. People lie to get out of torture. People make stuff up to get out of torture.

But what pisses me off about Cheney's question even more than the fact that it is dishonest is that it is based on the assumption that it could be okay to do something immoral in order to protect people. This is a bad assumption. The question we should ask Cheney is whether she would shoot an innocent 3 year old child in the head if she knew it would get the information she needed out of a detainee. Well? You need to save your family, don't you? But you don't do it. Because needing information doesn't make immoral acts permissible all of a sudden. And thinking that you can do grossly unethical things because you're scared and you wanted to protect your family is vicious. It's a defect in character.

Now, I'm not saying that it isn't sometimes necessary to violate moral norms in order to survive. People sometimes have to steal in order to avoid starving. But their theft is still wrong, and the fact that they are starving doesn't make their theft right - just understandable. And we might be forgiving of theft. But would we be forgiving of shooting a 3 year old? How about stretching someone on the rack? Pulling out fingernails? No, I don't believe we would be forgiving in such cases. And we shouldn't be forgiving of waterboarding. There are some immoral acts that we can forgive, that we can overlook due to certain mitigating factors, and then there are some acts that are just so egregious that performing them, or even defending them, is just plain evil.

Of course, Cheney claims that waterboarding (as well as the other techniques that were used - stress positions, sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme heat or extreme cold, etc, etc, etc) is not torture. We can't argue that until we have a definition of torture on board, and I have a feeling that Cheney's definition of torture is, well, wrong. Inability to recognize immoral acts as immoral is itself a defect in character, though. It makes someone a less ethical person overall.

Perhaps Cenk Yugur, of the Young Turks, says it better than I:

(Warning: Explicit Language)

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

All you mothers rock! Go relax or do something you really enjoy. Take advantage of that mother's day breakfast and the flowers or card or chocolates or long distance phone call. Happy Mother's Day!

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Empathy on the Court

When Obama said that he wanted a justice who was capable of empathizing with the plights of the people who would be impacted by their rulings, I was skeptical at first. After all, the law is cold and hard. It's not about feelings. It's not about empathy. And we shouldn't allow our emotions to adulterate our reason.

But that was before I saw this. A 13 year old girl was strip searched because school officials had been told that she had contraband. What contraband, you ask? A gun? A knife? Crack? No. Ibuprofen. The school officials forced this girl into her bra and underwear and then made her move her undergarments, exposing her body, to prove that nothing was hidden in them.

The Supreme Court ruled that her privacy wasn't violated because it was reasonable to think that she would hide she would hide her "contraband" in her underwear. And, honestly, that is a reasonable thought. What may have been unreasonable was stripping a 13 year old girl. I understand that the school acts in loco parentis, but there have to be limits. Parents are allowed to spank their children. Public school teachers are not. Parents might be allowed to insist that their children strip naked. I'm not sure public school teachers should be.

A strip search in a cold nurse's office, in front of the nurse and a teacher, even a female teacher, can be a traumatizing experience. When I was in my early twenties, not long after 9/11, I was forced to strip down to my skivvies and then padded down in an Oklahoma airport. I can't tell you how violated I felt. For a 13 year old girl, who is in a stage of life where she is highly conscious of, unsure of, and likely uncomfortable with her body, this had to be a mortifying experience.

But the 8 male justices on the court couldn't see what the big deal was. And, from what I can tell, the main point was that it was reasonable to suspect that she had hidded the stupid Advil in her panties (remember, she had no "contraband"). But that's not the only measure of what makes a search reasonable. The invasiveness of a search has something to do with it as well. And these justices, because they were incapable of empathizing with the girl, couldn't see that dimension of this case.

I'm not necessarily saying that the court handed down the wrong decision. We might feel better about the search if she had been said to be hiding crack and they had in fact found it, which makes me think that part of the problem here is that advil isn't the sort of thing school officials should be searching for. But what this case does tell me is that maybe empathy is something a justice needs to have a little of after all.

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Pigasus Awards!

Some people get excited about the Academy Awards. Not me. I prefer the Pigasus Awards. Here's the man Randi himself announcing the winners:

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Saturday, November 29, 2008


Anti-choicers have long claimed that abortion causes PAS - Post Abortion Syndrome. They claim that women suffer anxiety, depression, substance abuse, etc, etc, after having an abortion. This is a highly contentious claim. The anti-choicers justify this claim by referencing the anecdotal stories of women who are unhappy with the choice they made, and regret it (I wonder who made them feel bad? Could it be all the idiots insisting that they are cold hearted if they don't regret their decision? Could it be all the zealots calling them murderers? As I've discussed before, the anti-choicers might be partially to blame in this).

But now the Dakota Voice (a right wing news source) is reporting on a new study has been released claiming a correlation between abortion and various anxiety and substance abuse issues. While I can't actually get into the study itself, and hence can't assess its worth, it's being published in what I take to be a decent peer-reviewed journal. Of course, given the other studies which deny this claim (linked to from the Voice article), and given the fact that statistical science is the least reliable of the sciences, it's still not clear that PAS actually exists.

And honestly, I wish the anti-choice crowd would stop pushing this. It's just another indication that they are completely devoid of any understanding of basic critical thinking skills. Even if abortion carried with it the risk of PAS, that does not make it any less a legal right. Children of religious nuts might vary well suffer psychological damage, but that doesn't mean we should make it illegal to teach your children that they are inherently worthless and evil and are headed for fire and brimstone. Many women suffer post-partum depression, but that's no reason to make having children illegal. Many of the choices we make carry with them risks to our persons - both physical and mental - but that doesn't necessarily mean that those choices should be made illegal. You've got to make an argument for that.

But that's just the thing. The anti-choice crowd lacks any reasonable argument for their position. They rely on religious dogma and emotional appeals to convince people. And that's what they are doing with PAS - attempting to use it to frighten women away from making a choice that might actually be best for them in their situation.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I'm on Amazon!

My one and only "publication" (and those quotes are really important) is up on Of course, it's unavailable at the moment, and they don't know when it'll be in stock. Probably never. Who would want that?

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