Saturday, March 29, 2014

THE SKEPTICS' GUIDE TO THE UNIVERSE, AND SOME THOUGHTS.




Originally posted August 19, 2013

The latest Skeptics' Guide to the Universe did not feature an interview, but as always, it contained a few interesting tidbits.  Bob was unavailable due to work issues, but the rest of the gang was there. 
The episode covered a number of interesting scientific studies with the Rogues discussing how much one can and should conclude from each study.  The one I found particularly interesting was on the alleged connection between augmented labor during child birth and autism.
The incidents of autism with augmented labor appears to greater than incidents of autism without labor being augmented.  The Rogues discussed just how much could be drawn from this study.  Does the study reveal that augmentation triggered the autism, or does a fetus with preexisting autism require augmentation?  Basically, the study could not tell which way the cause and effect arrow traveled.  Although it was interesting how the popular media seems to have trumpeted it one or the other in their stories.  On my Facebook feed, some friends in their comments were leaning heavily in the direction of augmentation causing autism, and how the use of Pitocin ought to be avoided.  Dr. Novella leaned in the other direction as autism seems to be too wrapped in one DNA and brain structure for a brief exposure to augmentation medication to cause autism. However, the cause and effect is an open question, and it is too early to make any decisions based upon this study.
Rebecca discussed a study that connected increased childhood television viewing to stupid, fat, and socially inept kids.  Once again, the Rogues broke down the study, and discussed how this study fit in with a number of related studies.  While it is possible that viewing television may contribute to children having the above issues, it could also be the reverse with children who are introverted and not athletic are drawn to the soothing glow of the television.  
 The panel then discussed another study on rats that reveals when the rat brain is close to death it increases activity in the visual processing parts of the brain.  This increased visual brain stimulation might contribute to the visions people report in near death experiences, also known as NDEs.  Dr. Novella pointed out that there is no way to tell when the visions of heaven or whatnot occur in almost dead people.  There is no way to lock down the timing of the visions.   Again, the study does not prove anything incontrovertibly but it is an interesting puzzle piece in the study of NDEs. 
Finally, the Rogues covered the alleged baby combustion syndrome which has reported out of India.  I first saw it (naturally) on Doubtful News, and it sadly appears some gullible physicians in India are possibly letting a baby sustain child abuse under the guise of multiple episodes of just suddenly bursting into flame.    
The panel discussed a "name that logical fallacy" segment stemming from a comment on Science Based Medicine, which frankly was confusing.  The statement was this pompous run on sentence that was jaw-droppingly asinine.  Still, I enjoy when the Rogues give a little mental exercise to keep the skeptical chops fresh.  
All in all, it was a good episode.  I do not know if it was planned or just happened but this week’s episode was a nice exercise in skeptically probing various scientific studies.  I give the episode a solid 4 (out of 5) spicy meatballs.  
Now a bit of rant:
Skepticism is internally falling into cliques, and just general unpleasantness.  Lately, I have somewhat avoided skepdom by doing some history reading and delving into mindless Disney stuff.  I have kept an eye on the various hubbub but less than I have in the past.  
While I have fallen into a skeptical malaise, I have made an effort to read some thoughtful blog posts on the current internal strife a sample of which is herehereherehere, andhere.  What I have determined is the best course for myself is to just concern myself with the content and skeptical contributions of various individuals and groups, and focus less on the actual sources and people.  As an example, Skepchick does little for me.  It just does not speak to me for the most part.  This isn't shocking as I am a middle-aged white guy who drives an SUV and has a dog named after a two term Republican President and war hero.  If I drove a Bimmer (Ed. note - This is the slang term for a BMW car, but the spelling is just throwing me. Silly Germans.), I would be the definition of 'the man.' Yet, while I do not follow Skepchick, from time to time Skepchick does produce content of interest that I share and find personally interesting.  While I do not agree with some of their social messaging, I cannot find myself doing something akin to a boycott.  Also, I do enjoy Maximum Skepchick Leader, Rebecca Watson, on the SGU.  I have no desire to see her removed from the Rogues due to her activities in the non-SGU areas.  
This is not to say personal action can never cause me concern.  Brian Dunning is a convicted felon due to wire fraud.  I find this terribly troubling yet after the initial shock, I still find myself enjoying his Skeptoid podcasts a great deal.  On the other hand, while I do not wish to see the venerable James Randi run out of skepdom on a rail, it still does disturb me that Randi's partner and now spouse committed Identity theft.  (I understand the reasons for his actions to keep his status within the U.S., but it was not even plain identity fraud, but theft. A person's identity was hijacked.  Am I the only one who read the 'Fighting the Fakers' slogan of this year's TAM as a bit wince-inducing?  Again, I still hold Randi in high regard, but the whole incident just is disturbing to me personally.  I honor Randi the skeptic crusader, but like all of us he is a flawed person.)   
Anyway, the work of skepticism must go on.  I was reminded of this over the weekend when my Facebook timeline was replete with hogwash that the Gardasil vaccine to prevent HPV infections and resulting cervical cancer is dangerous and not to be administered to children.  I am ever flummoxed by the ability of people to ignore the scientific, medical, or academic consensus and instead go with claptrap.  Skepticism ought to continue even if our small band is filled with factions.
Yes, I have come to accept and expect that the disagreements will continue, and from time to time, I am sure I will voice my opinion on internal squabbles.  For some the internal arguing is their focus, and there is nothing I can do to stop it.  For me, I will try to just keep commenting on podcasts from time to time, and voice an opinion here and there.  That's my personal plan for dealing with the whole skeptical infighting situation. It may not be high minded and nuanced.  I don't know if I am sticking my head in the sand, or just a privileged jerk, but there it is.
I still have a few history things I wish to finish reading.  We are going to Walt Disney World this fall to feast upon the food and wine in Epcot, so the mindless Disney endeavors shall continue, so I won't be back to my regular pace for a bit.  

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