Friday, September 29, 2006

"...Being a Christian is No Excuse For Being Stupid."

As Right Wing extremist James Dobson and his minions from Focus on the Family criss-cross the country holding rallies and using the pulpit as a tool to service their political agenda of restricting reproductive rights, preventing equal rights for homosexuals, and bringing religion into the science classroom, a surprisingly candid interview with former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey reveals growing tension between the religious fundamentalists who control the Republican Party today, and the small government fiscal Conservatives of yester-year.

In a question and answer session with Ryan Sager, author of The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians and the Battle to Control the Republican Party Armey answers the following question:

Why does it seem Christian conservatives are more powerful now than in the 1990s?

"To a large extent because Dobson and his gang of thugs are real nasty bullies. I pray devoutly every day, but being a Christian is no excuse for being stupid. There’s a high demagoguery coefficient to issues like prayer in schools. Demagoguery doesn’t work unless it’s dumb, shallow as water on a plate. These issues are easy for the intellectually lazy and can appeal to a large demographic. These issues become bigger than life, largely because they’re easy. There ain’t no thinking."

Gee Dick, thanks for the candor. It would have been nice to hear this from you
while you were still in office, but better late than never I suppose. Is there
anything else about the current Republican Congress that's bothering you?

"The criteria of choice in just about every behavior you see in Congress today is politics. Where in the hell did this Terri Schiavo thing come from? There's not a conservative, Constitution-loving, separation-of-powers guy alive in the world that could have wanted that bill on the floor. That was pure, blatant pandering to James Dobson. That's all that was. It was silly, stupid, and irresponsible. Nobody serious about the Constitution would do that. But the question was will this energize our Christian conservative base for the next election."
Easy now Dick. I know you're not minceing words when it comes to how you feel about Dobson, but you just said the H-word! Man that could get you in a lot of trouble!

Congratulations, and thank you to Representative Dick Armey for speaking out in favor of real conservative values like small government and religious freedom, rather than pandering to religious zealots in order to gain political power.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

We Must be Doing Something Right!!

Take a look at this!

We are now listed on New AIDS Review’s list of

Sites/Pages (Misleading)

We share this illustrious honor with a number of crackpot sites I’ve never heard of:

NIH Division of AIDS
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Fact Sheet
The National Academy of Sciences
The New York Times
and others.

I notice Mark Chu-Carroll, the Golden God of nerds, at Good Math Bad Math only merited an “Other (Mixed)” categorization. No doubt this is because nobody at New AIDS Review can follow his arguments to their conclusion to realize that Mark is not impressed with HIV denialist arguments.

It’s not too surprising that they haven’t figured this out, given that, in another display of their critical thinking skills, New AIDS Review lists the National Academy of Sciences under the “(Misleading)” heading, while the publication of that august body, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, falls under their ”(Accurate/Helpful)” sites.

Anyway gentleman, thank you for taking notice of us. It is both an honor and a privilege.

You are far too kind!

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Deep Space Climate Observatory Update

Seed magazine provides an update on the status of the Deep Space Climate Observatory, a satellite designed to precisely measure the earth's albedo for use in monitoring and making predictions about global warming. We talked about the Deep Space Climate Observatory here in January.

Seed's Mitchell Anderson makes a convincing case that politics and the desire to maintain a semblance of uncertainty with regard to global warming is responsible for the fully assembled, and fully paid for, $100 million satellite remaining grounded. In fact, both the Ukraine and France have offered to launch the satellite, free of charge, and the administration has declined their offers.

We also pointed out in July how rank and file Republicans are exploiting the vacuum of knowledge about the earth's albedo to criticize scientists saying:

"Scientists are clueless about global warming. They've never even bothered to accurately measure the planet's albedo in order to make accurate predictions about climate change."

They are effectively blaming the scientific community for a lack of data that exists only because the Bush administration has prevented scientists from collecting it. The Deep Space Climate Observatory has become a double-edged sword attacking global warming theories for incomplete data and attacking scientists for not having the foresight to go out and collect this crucial data in the first place. In reality this is just another example of the fiscal irresponsibility of the Republican Government:

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Got Cicada Killers? Science in the backyard.

While digging up the weed bed in my backyard, that in previous years has been a vegetable garden, I happened to unearth a large fresh cicada with no earth on it nor any sign of dehydration.

Though the nymphs of cicadas do live underground they emerge from the earth and climb a tree to molt and become adults. A quick look around confirmed that cicadas had recently been molting in my back yard.

(Exoskeleton of cicada nymph after molting)
I was curious how a fully developed cicada happened to be underground in my garden, but kept digging so that I could plant some Swiss Chard and Turnips in time for cool weather.

As I continued digging, something buzzed past me.

It was a large hornet-like insect that I immediately recognized as a cicada killer wasp. So I grabbed my video camera and snapped some pictures and video figuring I had the makings of a Tangled Bank/Circus of the Spineless post.

If you're not familiar with cicada killers they're a very interesting critter and you can learn more about them here than all but the most dedicated cicada killer enthusiasts could possibly need to know.

The astute reader has probably discerned that, as the name suggests, cicada killers kill cicadas. The adult cicada killer lives on nectar and pollen from flowers so they don't eat the cicadas themselves, their offspring do. Female cicada killers hunt by methodically searching deciduous trees for their prey. Once spotted, the female stings the cicada paralyzing it, she grasps the cicada to her underbelly with her legs and then she flies or crawls back to her burrow. In the burrow the cicada killer places the incapacitated cicada into an individual cell and lays either a male or female egg on the cicada.

Interestingly, cicada killers provide their larger female offspring with two or more cicadas while males only rate one. So, somehow the cicada killer is able to control whether its offspring are male or female, probably by controlling whether stored sperm are allowed to fertilize her egg. (Male wasps are haploid so they only need genetic material from the mother so no sperm would be necessary.) After placing the cicadas in the cell the female blocks off the entry to the cell and leaves the burrow to hunt for more cicadas. After the eggs hatch the larvae consume the anesthetized cicada, molt several times as they grow, then form a cocoon in which to overwinter and undergo metamorphosis to emerge the following summer just as their cicada prey are also emerging.

Do you have cicadas in your yard or near wher you live? As it turns out you can help with cicada killer research if you do. These researchers are collecting cicada killers and the cicadas they prey on from all over the country. They have a list of each county that they still need specimens from so that they can identify the range of different types of cicada killers and which cicada species they prey upon. You can either kill and mail in your cicada killer (they recommend swatting them to the ground with a tennis racket and finishing them off with finger nail polish in a glass jar) or you can take a digital picture and email it to them. I've emailed them to let them know that I'm standing by with camera in one hand, raquetball racket in the other to help them out if they need me!

So if you have a cicada killer burrow near you get in touch with them and see if you can help out.

UPDATE: The latest edition of the Tangled Bank is up at Hairy Museum of Natural History.

UPDATE: Submitted to the Friday Ark.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

I'm sorry Dean, was that a yes

I'm sorry Dean, was that a yes to both questions?

Dean Esmay asks how many Nobel Prize winners and National Academy members we have here at Moment of Science. Well let me see here...

besides myself,
and Timothy,
and Roy, we got...

well, I guess that makes zero.

This is just another example of Dean's refusal to apply either logic or reason to his thiniking on HIV/AIDS. How many Nobel Prize winners or National Academy members are there at Dean's World? And how many National Academy members think Duesberg's HIV/AIDS denial makes him a crackpot? Somewhere around 1000 I would guess.

"Yet these folks at the "A Moment Of Science" weblog think I'm either a liar or an idiot. Well okay. I'm no liar, but I may be an idiot. If so, I've got some well-credentialed idiots who are also on my side."

Well, in fairness, you do have some well-credentialed people on your side, yes better than any of us in some cases. But most of the well-credentialed ones aren't idiots, they're just wrong. None of them are dishonest enough to lie about the Lancet study the way that Hank did. An none of them are big enough idiots to repeat that lie without reading the paper, and then refuse to correct their statements after reading the paper.

So Dean, other than noting that there are no Nobel laureates, nor any idiots here at Moment of Science, I guess the only question I have in response is how many people at Dean's World have read the Lancet paper by now? Aziz? So, maybe 1?

Well, two of us have read it, and as you've failed to amend here, I'll assume that you still haven't. Otherwise you've answered yes to both parts of my question.

Oh, and Dean, your continued use of Walter Gilbert as an example of a well-credentialed AIDS denialist damns your credibility even further.

"What you should believe is that Nobel laureate Walter Gilbert, one of the founders of Molecular Biology, believes there is something very wrong going on here."
In addition to refusing to appy logic and reason, Dean ignores simple facts like Walter Gilbert is no longer a skeptic on HIV.

Dear Dr. Jeffreys---I am afraid that those comments go back to the late 80's. At that time I was a skeptic--the argument based on Koch's postulates to try to distinguish between cause and association. However, even during that time we had several AIDS projects going within Biogen--one to try to stimulate T-independent B-cell activation (a pet approach of mine), another to develop soluble CD4--to use as an antiviral agent. That second project got to clinical trials (and failed because the virus in patients didn't have the high affinity for CD4 that
the lab-grown virus had.) Today I would regard the success of the many antiviral agents which lower the virus titers (to be expected) and also resolve the failure of the immune system (only expected if the virus is the cause of the failure) as a reasonable proof of the causation argument.

yours truly

Walter Gilbert (emphasis added)

If anyone would like a copy of the Lancet paper in question, to see what a simple error of fact Dean refuses to correct for his readers, please shoot me an email at my profile, and I'll send it to you. We certainly didn't ask Dean to give up HIV/AIDS denial completely, just read a paper and accurately note what was being measured there (mortality during the first year of treatment, not lifespan), but I suppose if he lets the light of reason in, even a tiny bit, the whole edifice of denial will disintegrate and fall in on his head.

No wonder he's afraid to acknowledge the truth.

UPDATE: Dale points out in comments that I have said several times that the increase in CD4 cells was observed to improve over calendar years in this paper, but that the average CD4 increase of about 100 is fairly constant over calendar years. The increase in CD4 cells in 1995-96 is 90, in 2003 it was 103. It doesn't really affect my main point, but since I was criticizing others for their interpretation of the paper, I add table 2 showing the average increase in CD4 cells for each calendar year so that readers can see what the data show.

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

An Urgent Message to Jesus' General

Dear General,

I was overjoyed to learn that you share my love and respect for spermatozoan Americans!

However, I must take issue with your plan to institute a blastocyst-American draft. As you know, both spermatozoan-Americans and blastocyst-Americans are patriotic freedom-loving folk. Though they’re willing to serve their country in times of need, they will not respond kindly to the sort of big government interference with their personal freedom that a draft would entail. In terms of a violation of their dignity as human beings and their personal autonomy you might as well commit the abomination of confining them to a condom.

Also, I feel that you have overlooked a matter of crucial importance. Even with the additional manliness your extra Y chromosome provides you, fully one quarter of all your squiggly troopers and blasto-commandos will be little girls. The female sex, even patriotic, God-fearing, squiggly troopers such as yours, are not prepared for the rigors of combat. Besides which, the presence of girls in a combat force would be bad for the morale of the blasto-commandos. Because of these considerations, I feel that it is imperative that your blasto-commando army should be composed of an all-volunteer force, screened for manliness.

In addition to ensuring the absolute manliness of the blasto-commando forces, a volunteer force could serve a dual purpose in helping to advance the rights of all blastocyst-Americans. Do you remember how this country originally spread Christian Values during the early days of the Glorious Christian Conservative Cultural Revolution (GC3R)? That’s right! Love of freedom and respect for private property rights were not enough to encourage the first wave of American settlers to take back our God given land from the brown interlopers who had somehow gotten here before us. What was needed was the enticement of “40 acres and a mule”.

I suggest that we implement a similar program in order to encourage blasto-commando recruitment. The program, scaled to suit the needs of the selfless swimmers, would offer 4 millimeters (of Petri dish) and some medium to all spermatozoan and blastocyst-Americans who served four years under your command.

By the way, have you heard about Elizabeth Dole’s plan to seek out useless incubators (ie: women) to gestate embryonic Americans? Could this be a French plot to siphon off our blasto-commando forces? I suggest a study to assess whether the Senator’s program will have adverse effects on recruitment.

In closing, I draw your attention to this example of a valiant Christian Lady, here in the homeland, who identified and denounced a French plot to pose as Christians and infiltrate the GC3R. Thanks to her vigilance Our Leader has been able to prosecute these French spies for providing aid and comfort to, of all things, Cubans!

Yours in anticipation,

Pharma Bawd

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Friday, September 01, 2006

Is Dean Esmay Dishonest? or Just Ignorant?

Here he is repeating a lie told by Hank Barnes:

Lancet Study

The Lancet just published a massive study of over 20,000 AIDS patients and determined that anti-retroviral drugs do not increase the lifespan of AIDS patients. They increase leukocyte counts and reduce "viral load," but do not save lives. HAART is a failure, in other words.

Well now. Isn't that mysterious?

The original lie, told by Hank, is about a study in the Lancet :

HIV treatment response and prognosis in Europe and North America in the first decade of highly active antiretroviral therapy: a collaborative analysis

Which shows that even though improvements to HAART have continued to decrease HIV viral load and increase CD4+ T-cell counts over the past ten years. There has not been a corresponding reduction in deaths or progression to AIDS during the first 1 year of treatment.

It doesn't say anything about lifespan, indeed it would be very difficult to learn anything about lifespan in a study that followed patients for --wait for it-- ONLY a single year!

Despite Dean's ignorant assertion: "HAART is a failure, in other words.", the graph below shows an example of the effect Haart has had in decreasing death from AIDS.

(UPDATE: The graph actually comes from this paper, the above URL is for an earlier paper with a similar figure by the same first author.)

Hank Barnes' take on the paper is far more dishonest and is precisely the sort of quote mining and slanted coverage, ignoring the main facts in order to prop up a failing agenda, that can be expected of Intelligent Design Creationists and other "deniers" of reality.

"In short, T-4 cells increased, viral load decreased -- but patients did not live any longer as a result of these wonderous drugs."
No Hank, the drugs do increase lifespan versus placebo, even in the first year of treatment. Even AZT monotherapy does that, and HAART is a vast improvement over AZT alone.

(Click to enlarge.)
(Update: Graph is from figure 2 of:
Ann Intern Med. 1990 May 15;112(10):727-37.

The safety and efficacy of zidovudine (AZT) in the treatment of subjects with mildly symptomatic human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV) infection. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. The AIDS Clinical Trials Group.
What the Lancet study showed was that deaths in the first year were not further reduced during the past ten years as refinements to HAART continued to decrease viral load and increase CD4+ T cell counts.

Interestingly, neither Hank nor Dean mention these facts from the study:

"The proportion of heterosexually infected patients increased from 20% in 1995–96 to 47% in 2002–03, and the proportion of women from 16% to 32%."
Perhaps because they're both rather fond of the erroneous contentions that:

1. HIV cannot be transmitted by heterosexual sex, and
2. That HIV cannot be a sexually transmissable disease because there are more men than women infected.

Number one is of course an abject lie or base stupidity depending on who is saying it.

Number two is simply an erroneous conclusion based on an improper understanding of what a founder effect is, and how that could lead to an increased number of males infected when HIV was first introduced to the male homosexual population in North America and Europe.

I fully expect Dean to accuse me of ad hominem attacks. Please note, I am not saying you should disregard what Dean says because he is ignorant, I am saying you should disregard what Dean says about HIV/AIDS because what he says is wrong! He's wrong because he's ignorant of what the Lancet study actually says.

I believe Dean's ignorance in this case is because of his reliance on Hank, so I've sent him a copy of the paper. No response, no retraction of his earlier statements, will mean a check mark in the dishonest category for Dean in my book.

UPDATE: I'm sorry Dean, was that a yes to both questions?

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