Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What woo means to me

Sometime the pain caused by woo isn’t in the harm of the treatment itself, or even the delay a harmless woo can cause in seeking real medicine. Sometimes it’s in the guilt and self-torture that woo inflicts upon those who use medicine.

My wife (who has used the handle Charity Brow) sometimes has trouble with forgiveness, and that goes double for herself. Back in the days when we first learned about Son#1’s condition, my sister (who is extremely smart and generally very level-headed) had been sharing some of the anti-vaccination woo with me, and I bought into to it, at least somewhat, for a while. Naturally, while looking into Son#1’s condition, we came across the putative vaccination-autism link, and since we did have him vaccinated, Charity started blaming herself for his condition.

Naturally, as time passed and I looked deeper into the putative connection, I found that the connection was not real, that autism-spectrum disorders seem to have genetic links. I remembered that Son#1 was never normal in behavior, even as an infant. Of course, when they are three months old, every thinks that a baby entertaining itself, paying focused attention to things, not requiring attention or contact, etc., is a good thing. You never think that might mean he has a problem later on. Of course, I don’t know if there is a connection or not, I only have my anecdote that his symptoms where evidence that early, I don’t know if there any studies on the infancy behaviors of autism spectrum children. Still, between that and the science, it’s more than enough to convince me that there was no connection to the vaccines.

Charity knows in her brain that there is no connection. However, she stills feels guilty, still feels responsible, still can’t forgive herself. She stills cries about it, or gets angry with herself over it from time to time. I don’t need any more reason to despise the practitioners of woo than that. For me, it really is personal.
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Friday, February 15, 2008

The 80th Skeptic's Circle

The 80th Skeptics Circle is off and running. Bug Girl left me a Valentine reminding me to proof-read more carefully. :)
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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Probability and the 15 Mechanisms (edit: now 17)

I'm expanding on a couple of different posts I made at the Skeptic's Annotated Bible Discussion Board, one of my favorite hang-outs. Basically, you see a lot of probability discussions in IDC literature. This is one more reason why they are nonsense. They generally looked at random mutation (that is, the replacement of one "letter" in the DNA with another letter) and natural selection.

There are at least 15 (now 17) different mechanisms involved in evolution:

Mechanisms that increase diversity in a population
Random replacement mutation in DNA
Gene duplication
Phase shift mutation (Edit: Frame shift mutation)
Gene flow from other species
Environmentally generated changes to DNA decoding
Protein changes (prions, etc.)

Mechanisms that alter allele proportions in a population
Natural selection
Sexual selection
Random genetic drift
Late addition: Kin selection

Mechanisms that operate at a level above populations
Punctuated equilibrium
Extinction/competition/invasive species
Mass extinction events
Late addition: Parasitic/symbiotic relationships (note this is different from the symbiosis that occurs at the genetic/cellular level).

To do a probability calculation, you need to account not only for the probabilities of each of these mechanisms, but also for the independence of every possible subset of these mechanisms. that would be 32,768 (2^15) (131,072, 2^17 now) possible subsets, so any probability calculation would require you to factor in 32,768 different probabilities. The next IDC document I see that uses more than 10 factors will be the first.

Just one more way IDC falls short of even it's own goals.

Edited for spelling. I'm really much better at spelling long-hand than typing. Really.

Edit to add more to the list.
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Saturday, February 2, 2008

Clarification on ID versus IDC

This will be my first post promoted from the comments. I make a distinction between Intelligent Design, Creationism, and Intelligent Design Creationism.

Intelligent Design is a legitimate philosophical position and world view. I see no problem with Paley's watch or Gonzalez's priviledged planet. They are not science, of course. There no test involved, just "that looks too good to be by chance". It's not my opinion (I am a naturalist), but I'm not aware that anyone has to share my opinion, and I don't claim I can prove naturalism beyond reasonable doubt.

Creationism is a view subject to scientific scrutiny. Either the world is 6,000 years old, or it is not, and you can form various tests and make predictions. Sure, it's been falsified in dozens, if not hundreds, of different ways, but it at least tries to put facts into play. Many leading Creationists are just plain dishonest, and others create highly fanciful scenarios in which their finding might be right, except for the half-dozen other predictions these scenarios make, so the view gets rejected. Of course, ultimately you can't disprove miracles, so you can't disprove the concept of some God making the workd 6,000 years ago (or last Thursday) with all the signs of apparent age. However, outside of varyng degrees of applying that scenario, their predictions fail. I used to be a Creationist, and I have respcet for many that I know.

Intelligent Design Creationism is a blend of the worst traits of the two. It's a claim to scientific rigor for a philosohical postion, a basic category error. You find the dishonesty of the practitioners prevalent in the postings of many of the leading proponents, especially those affiliated with the Discovery Institute. These supposed scientists do no science, complain about not being heard when they don't offer anything to hear, claim persecution where none can be shown, quote mine as badly as the worst Creationists, and oftentimes lack the dignity to admit the smallest of errors. As far I can tell, the primary focus of their movement is to sneak in their version of what science should be through general-public politics. I have no respect for such people, just pity for the public they dupe and fleece.
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