Author Archive

Brain freeze sheds light on animal rights

April 30, 2012 2 comments

Any real fan of House will remember that episode when the protagonist induced a headache in a comatose patient in order to test a new medication. Later on, he did the same to himself, in the noblest of self-sacrifices for the sake of science. 

In the same vein, this article from the Huffington Post that deals with brain freeze briefly discusses the ethics of inducing migraines in patients to test medications and to observe the affliction itself. Surely, though, our standards for how we treat ourselves–the members of our own species–should have some implications on how we treat other species. A rat, for example, stands to lose far more when injected with cancer cells than a human does when injected with nitroglycerin, no? What other argument is there except the antiquated Great Chain of Being one to justify practices in which our morals seem inconsistent? Unless we accept that God granted humans dominion over ever living thing, where do we look to justify the speciesism that dominates our worldview? 

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Beating a dead horse

April 15, 2012 10 comments


Unfortunately, the site won’t let me embed this clip from the Colbert Report. To reduce Colbert’s work here to a mockery of O’Reilly’s speciousness is, I feel, to discount it entirely. For example, what he’s getting at with the “All hail Luna!” cries seems to be the religious crowd’s insistence on the existence of God and never accepting any other truth. And it’s just as well, too, because they have a lot to lose there. But it’s a losing battle whenever we try to fit one point-of-view into the framework of another–to build the intricacies of one worldview on the skeleton of an opposing one. Never mind the senseless babble of Jim in the comments above, but to try to prove God in scientific terms, or science in religious ones just won’t work:  science will forever be heretical, and belief in God irrational.

I don’t mean to beat the proverbial dead horse by returning to the evolution vs. creationism debate, but I’m very much confused as to how people from these polarized points-of-view can ever try to reconcile them. Look only to this article from Hatchet reporter Juliana Tamayo to illustrate the apparent futility of any such discussion. Griffin seems to relinquish the dignity of the spiritual, faith-based foundations of Christianity by searching out the “rational” reasons for God’s existence, in a manner equally as impudent as Johnny from the comments on Colbert’s video.

Someone earlier mentioned being able to reconcile the two beliefs, and I’d like to know how that’s done.

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March 31, 2012 7 comments


There are few sectors of society that are virtually defined by their blatant willingness to manipulate literature and images for their personal gain;  among them, totalitarian regimes, self-righteous celebrities, sensationalist journalists, and, perhaps most surprisingly, scientists. 

The photo above is an image of dust, taken under a Scanning Electron Microscope. For as amazing as these instruments are (sometimes capable of magnifying images 500,000 times), they are unable to render images in color. That only happens when we humans go in and artificially add color to them, à la Photoshop.

To be fair, this particular image doesn’t come from a site that proclaims any photographic verisimilitude, and it especially does not consider itself an authority on science. It’s one of those ad-cluttered tabloid wannabes that would have bombarded you with a deluge of pop-ups a few years ago . But it’s not as if they’re unique in their deception–ever since they figured out how to print biology books in color, they’ve been doing this–just Google “microbiology textbooks” for a generous selection of schoolbooks with motley amoeba and microphages unapologetically plastered on their covers. Some are more self-conscious, it seems:  they’ll write “colored image” in small print, as if that alone excuses it. 

Call me persnickety if you must, but when we as a society have come to regard photographs as having some sort of inherent truth to them, as being able to testify impartially to those things that would otherwise elude our observation, there is some sort of ethics to be observed when publishing them. Some would say that this sort of image doctoring does not compare to the likes of Stalin, since its intent does is not to deceive, but rather to entertain. But that sort of argument presents us with a sort of philosophical:  is a lie not a lie if it’s not meant to be a lie? And is this colored dust a lie in the first place? 

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Lightning Flowers

March 5, 2012 2 comments

If you read this little article I found on Lichtenberg figures, you’ll notice it has a lot to do with what I’ve been saying before: when adapted for the masses, fascinating scientific phenomena are often given crude and overly simplistic explanations, or, in the case of this article in particular, no explanation at all. More importantly, though, I think these lightning-induced markings are pretty fascinating. After doing a little extra research, it turns out these cauliflower-shaped figures (sometimes called “lightning flowers”) are formed as electrical current courses through the body, exploding all the little capillaries it encounters on its way to the ground. The article above does note that, with medical care, luck and a few hours’ time, these little skin designs can be made to disappear. But really, though. Wouldn’t it be cooler to have one of these as a morbidly beautiful souvenir of a close encounter with one of nature’s awesomest forces?

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A Brief and Vigorous Defense of All Things Racist

February 9, 2012 6 comments

What’s up with the Sooties and their Cheeto-textured hair?
And the Peckerwoods? They can’t dance for nuffin’.
How ’bout the Zips? What, do they live in the library?
And don’t even get me started on those Pochos. Will they ever learn English?

Don’t go getting all bent out of shape, now. After all, it’s only natural. You must think I’m awfully stupid though, to be so bigoted and whatnot? Well, turns out you could be right.

In what other ways do biological dispositions affect our social relations?

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‘Accessibility?’ Sure! But to what end?

February 6, 2012 4 comments

From what I’ve seen, it seems to be en vogue lately to praise science blogs for making science uncomplicated and even entertaining, often with the annoying repetition of the words “layperson” and “accessible.” And it’s just as well, too, because our society is direly in need of something that’ll serve to increase its scientific literacy.

What’s interesting, though, is that our scientific illiteracy seems to be defined by some sort of doublethink—that is to say, we are all too willing either to decry or to embrace phenomena cloaked in scientific technobabble, depending on their social convenience. The language of science, for example, is our ally when we want to prove the inferiority of other races, but our enemy when the synthetic-sounding dihydrogen monoxide threatens to corrode our brakes and warm our globe.

We are too quick to ridicule the Catholic church for officially rejecting Copernican heliocentrism until the 1990s, when we, too, are willingly deceived by the all-too-convenient notion that men think about sex every seven seconds, or feel inspired to realize our full potential by accepting that humans only use ten percent of our brains.

But is this movement (epitomized, to be sure, by science blogs) a step in the right direction? Does it urge us to explore science in greater depth, or does it invite us to exploit the discipline for our own unscientific purposes? Should we lament that the “accessibility”of science has eluded us all this time, or was it this longing for some sort of no-strings-attached scientific acquaintance that led us to this dire state of affairs? HK (albeit in a very different context) asked us if we could trust scientists with science, but perhaps we should also be wary of  trusting the citizenry with the same.