Monday, December 21, 2009

But he loves you!

Was going through some old George Carlin stuff - classic and pithy:

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Friday, November 27, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Slick Signage

Stumbled upon a fun website: church sign generator. Tired of all the annoying messages on real church signs everywhere? Now you can create your own! With over 17 different designs and several different fonts, put your pithey comment in the mouths of christians from many different denominations. It only took a few minutes to make these:

-Classic design

-Baptist design

-Catholic design

Have some fun with it! Though the server is slow sometimes and you'll have to keeping trying til you get through.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

SMACKDOWN!

The videos of the debate between Hitchens and Fry vs. Archbishop John Onaiyekan and Anne Widdencombe have just recently been posted. Too good not to share. I've embedded them all below for easy and chronological viewing. I didn't know much about Stephen Fry before this, but now I want to see/read more.

The thesis being argued in this debate:
"Is the Catholic church a force for good in the world?" The most interesting part is that they polled the audience before and after. My friend, Nik (Ginger Nik), isn't very keen on debates and finds them often unproductive. I'm pleased to report the polling results:

BEFORE:
For - 678
Against - 1102
Undecided - 346

AFTER:
For - 268
Against - 1876
Undecided - 34

Based on this single example (which is never scientific to only pull from one example) I'd say that this sort of debate was quite productive for opponents of the thesis. Bravo and enjoy:

Part I


Part II


Part III


Part IV


Part V

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Let's get THIS in clinical trials

I heard someone snickering in the lab bay next to mine today. I asked them to share with me the source of their joy. It's the title of a research article from a recent publication of the journal PLoS ONE (Public Library of Science):


Here's the summary for those of you who don't have access to the journal (but you should because it's PLoS):

Abstract
Oral sex is widely used in human foreplay, but rarely documented in other animals. Fellatio has been recorded in bonobos Pan paniscus, but even then functions largely as play behaviour among juvenile males. The short-nosed fruit bat Cynopterus sphinx exhibits resource defence polygyny and one sexually active male often roosts with groups of females in tents made from leaves. Female bats often lick their mate's penis during dorsoventral copulation. The female lowers her head to lick the shaft or the base of the male's penis but does not lick the glans penis which has already penetrated the vagina. Males never withdrew their penis when it was licked by the mating partner. A positive relationship exists between the length of time that the female licked the male's penis during copulation and the duration of copulation. Furthermore, mating pairs spent significantly more time in copulation if the female licked her mate's penis than if fellatio was absent. Males also show postcopulatory genital grooming after intromission. At present, we do not know why genital licking occurs, and we present four non-mutually exclusive hypotheses that may explain the function of fellatio in C. sphinx.

And they didn't just quantify the relationship; they included a HAND-DRAWN PICTURE of the act in process. The artist? Mei Wang, who didn't even make it as an author ... weird. Seems like a worthy contribution. I make powerpoints of mice having sex all the time.


And what peer-reviewed article about fellatio would be complete without a video ... and porn music to boot?




The only downside here is that even though we're talking about mammals, the overall duration of fellatio was pretty short. The authors write, "The average duration of penis licking was 19.14±3.45 s, representing about 8.7% of the average duration of copulation (220.29±26.19 s (N = 14))." But hey, almost 10% of total copulation was spent giving head ... that seems cool. Another interesting point is that the female only licks the shaft because the glans penis is already inserted in the vagina. It's an interesting trick that I don't think many human females can try.

The authors speculate on four possible explanations for the function of fellatio in C. sphinx:

Number 1: Lubrication. That makes sense - stimulation for the male and easier thrusting. It's a win-win.

Number 2: Mate-guarding. Apparently the male hangs around longer with longer copulation, and I suppose the females want that? I'm not so sure about this one.

Number 3: Prevention of STDs. Bacteriocidal effects of saliva can help a dude out ... and a girl for that matter. I think this is a great idea.

Number 4: Detection of chemical cues for mate choice. Eh. I mean, it'd be cool if this were true, but they didn't have an example of any female licking and then stopping coitus. Is this just an act of affirmation that she's picked the right mate? I think this is the weakest hypothesis.

Favorite part is at the end, "The behaviour presumably favours the donor, although it may also benefit both partners especially if fertilization success is increased. It is conceivable that the female manipulates the male by increasing sexual stimulation, so that she ultimately benefits."

Bottom line people: Have more oral sex. It's evolutionarily good for you.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Since my mom asked me ... AGAIN.

Not that my mother actually reads my blog - but for all of the rest of you out there who've struggled to explain to other people how scientific studies/evidence support the hypothesis that sexual orientation is not something we have control over ... this video is for you to send to that stubborn someone. When citing studies doesn't work, I find it better to use a more entertaining medium. Sure, they don't get everything exactly right, but it's more effective than the usual glazed over looks you get when trying to talk methodology about another scientific study. Stuff like this works for all ages. So, again, mom - it's not a choice I made, it's not a choice you made - it's just how it is.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Genetics is AMAZING ... and freaky

If only Christians responded this way when I mention that I'm an atheist ... it would be much more entertaining than the usual response where they inform me that I must have nothing on which to base my morality.



Also - the men who stare at goats is coming out. I'll go see if someone wants to see it with me.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Skeptic

Maybe if I knew Jesus was so cute I'd have no problem believing in 'the boy'.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sex Determination

A friend just sent me a link to this paper concerning the field we study:


Let me know if you actually want to read the article and don't have subscription access.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Faith

So, isn't the Christian god supposed to be able to save his chosen leader without the aid of human technology?

Soda Shop

After watching Shortbus I found more music from Jay Brannan. Here's the song, Soda Shop, that he performed in the movie. Totally hot.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Too bad it's not a candy cane

Ahhhh Malaysia, hailed as a moderate Muslim nation. Where attempting to have sex with your FIANCEE can be punished by up to three years in jail. Fortunately for one couple, they're getting off light with only a £1,000 fine each and a public caning.

Islamic religious police caught Mohamad Shahrin Abdul Majid, 29, and Nadiah Najat Hussin, 24, wearing only their underwear in a car at an office parking area in May.

They pleaded guilty to trying to have sex out of wedlock and were sentenced to six strokes of the cane. They were also fined £1,000 each.

Where is the Muslim outcry? Are the moderates concerned? I'm sure they're telling us that it's just a misinterpretation of the text. Or maybe they'll handle it the way many contemporary Christians regard the bible, "Oh, that text was meant for a different culture and it's not necessary today any more." Who decides that? What critical thinking skills did you use to cut off that excess moral depravity and go instead with your evolutionary intuitive moral compass??? Isn't the whole text holy and divinely inspired (if not divinely verbatim/written)? What intuitive moral compass are you employing to claim that this section is out of date but others are not? Why not go a step further and question teachings that you think are fine but that someone else might come along and say are out of date, let's say, the idea of gay marriage?

Then again, when people live their lives by fairy tales it's futile to determine the arbitrary assumptions with which they choose to build their arguments and govern their conscious world. It's based on feelings, not on a pursuit of truth. And for that, I'm thankful to live in a country where *most* laws are not directed by religious teachings.

Shame on you, Malaysia.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Your Daily Dose of Stupid

Every thought about what it would be like to live in a society where murder isn't murder, but just vigilante justice? Apparently this is how it works for Pastor Steven Anderson: killing Barack Obama and executing homosexuals does not actually count as murder, rather a sense of diving justice. In fact, it's been reported that he petitioned his congregation to pray for divine intervention to kill President Obama.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sequence me up!

Yay! Sequencing technology is getting cheaper and cheaper. A company called Complete Genomics has cut it's price of sequencing a human genome from $250,000 to $20,000!!! Their goal? To sequence 10,000 genomes by 2010.

Only days ago Complete Genomics announced that it had raised $45 million from investors excited by the potential of an economic sequencing technology. By radically reducing the cost of sequencing, Complete Genomics expects to cater to a large field of developers looking for genetic clues to treat disease and identify patients most likely to respond to new therapies.

Dude - forget about genetic disease for a moment ... I just want to know if my ratio of G-C to A-T pairs is above 1 ... or let's see how functional my telomerase is. And what I've really been waiting for - see how many times the sequence GATTACA shows up. Where's 20k when I need it?

Seriously though, this is an amazing economic breakthrough - having more human genomes is awesome so that we can really get data on SNPs and do fine-mapping of disease alleles. Now we just need to get all those people who get sequence to sign release forms to do comparative analysis ... making the world a better place one genome at a time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Epicurus

After another successful atheist movie night at my house (tonight we watched The God Who Wasn't There) and a vigorous discussion about the personal impact of conversion and the individual (usually intellectual) capacity to undergo the conversion to atheism, this quote from Epicurus came up:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able, and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Vienna!

I'm finally on my way! Well, sort of. I'm currently on a seven hour layover in Washington-Dulles airport ... yeah, SEVEN hours. Of course this is better than yesterday, when I was supposed to leave but couldn't because my flight got canceled - stupid United airlines. I got rescheduled for today and am excited to be on my way to Vienna, Austria.

Members from four choirs in Durham (Duke Chapel Choir, Duke Student Chorale, Choral Society of Durham, and the NC Vocal Arts Ensemble) under the conduction of Dr. Rodney Wynkoop are traveling together to Vienna to participate in the International Haydn Festival. We're performing Joseph Haydn's tenth setting of the mass, Missa in tempore belli (Mass in time of war), and Ralph Vaughan Williams' Dona Nobis Pacem. These are both very impressive works of musical genius, though the RVW is incredibly moving and apropos for the current worldwide involvement in Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.

We'll be performing in the Konzerthaus of downtown Vienna. It is simply a beautiful venue and I'm thrilled to be singing baritone in this monolithic event where we'll be accompanied by the Vienna festival symphony. The RVW music is quite powerful and the texts are taken from the mass, three poems by Walt Whitman, a political speech, and sections of the bible. The most striking of the texts are the poem settings by Whitman. Here is one of them entitled 'Reconciliation':
Word over all, beautiful as the sky,
Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost,
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly softly
wash again, and ever again, this solid world;
For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead,
I look where he lies white-faced and still in the coffin--I draw near,
Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin.
It captures the tormented mind forced to deal with the realization of its own mortality through that of his fellow man.

My favorite movement of the RVW uses the text from Whitman's 'Dirge for Two Veterans'. A tribute to my grandfather and any other man or woman who died serving their country, fellow citizens, or free people of the world.

The last sunbeam
Lightly falls from the finish'd Sabbath,
On the pavement here, and there beyond it is looking,
Down a new-made double grave.

Lo, the moon ascending,
Up from the east the silvery round moon,
Beautiful over the house-tops, ghastly, phantom moon,
Immense and silent moon.

I see a sad procession,
And I hear the sound of coming full-key'd bugles,
All the channels of the city streets they're flooding,
As with voices and with tears.

I hear the great drums pounding,
And the small drums steady whirring,
And every blow of the great convulsive drums,
Strikes me through and through.

For the son is brought with the father,
(In the foremost ranks of the fierce assault they fell,
Two veterans son and father dropt together,
And the double grave awaits them.)

Now nearer blow the bugles,
And the drums strike more convulsive,
And the daylight o'er the pavement quite has faded,
And the strong dead-march enwraps me.

In the eastern sky up-buoying,
The sorrowful vast phantom moves illumin'd,
('Tis some mother's large transparent face,
In heaven brighter growing.)

O strong dead-march you please me!
O moon immense with your silvery face you soothe me!
O my soldiers twain! O my veterans passing to burial!
What I have I also give you.

The moon gives you light,
And the bugles and the drums give you music,
And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,
My heart gives you love.


To hear these words set to the music composed by RVW simply tears at the heart.

The last movement pulls from multiple texts and more than hints at the great Handel's Messiah. I wish all of you could come hear this concert in Vienna when we perform. If you want a sample of how moving this concert will be, here's a clip of the last six minutes of the RVW conducted by Robert Shaw with the Atlanta Symphony and Chorus. Now, just imagine you're sitting in the audience of the Konzerthaus of Vienna:


Soon I hope to share with you some of my fun experiences in Europe!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Creation

The words of JBS Haldane have inspired me today:
My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.

Some claim that science has no implications for religion or for the nature of god. I disagree; and I'm in good company. Not only is science not a democracy, but it consistently rules against the ignorant and the stupid. While the god 'hypothesis' is not a scientific hypothesis at all because it can't be completely disproved, science has aptly moved the notion of god into the same drawer as belief in santa claus ... belief in the ridiculous.

This year we celebrate the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his book 'On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life'. This paragon of reason gave full foundation to the wrecking ball that would begin to deliver shattering blows do the dogmas of religion all over the world. It became no longer necessary to implicate a god to explain the existence of life. This marked a new enlightenment.

In commemoration of these events, a movie depicting the life of Darwin and his discoveries will be coming out soon and I'm very excited about it. It's called 'Creation'. I have a feeling this is going to be one of my favorite movies for a while. Be sure to stay on the look out to find when and where the movie will be coming out near you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

High school party

This is too good not to share. Bo Burnham is one of my heroes. He's a comedic genius and a talented musician ... it also doesn't hurt that he's hot and makes fun of everything. We listened to his EP from iTunes in lab today, and so I thought I'd share a music video from one of his songs. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I'm an enzyme!

Being a science nerd means you get to have fun alll the time. We get joy out of many different activities and discoveries. For example, writing out mad libs but instead of words and letters, using the chemical structures of amino acids and their one letter substitutions as code. Other times it's fun to see who can read a long sequence of DNA the fastest, and then who can read the antisense mRNA the fastest ... without writing it down!

But today, I thought I'd share with you the joy of having my own restriction endonuclease named after me. Well, not exactly named after me, but it has the same initials as me - elevating me to cool status. What restriction enzyme do I share my initials with???

Answer: MscI

If you're not aware, restriction enzymes are like scissors, but in chemical form. They take long strings of DNA and cut at sequence specific sites. For example, if you had the DNA sequence 5'-GATCTAGGAATTCTCTAG-3' then at that bold spot, the restriction enzyme EcoRI could cut that DNA, separating it into two pieces. Cool, huh? But remember, DNA is double stranded; so when it cuts, it looks like this:

Those leftover sticky ends want to bind again, and will, if they're given other pieces with complementary sticky ends. So think about it ... if we can harness the power of these enzymes, then we can cut and paste different pieces of DNA together in any order we want! This is what scientists discovered in the 1970s and ultimately lead to the era of genetic engineering. We've come a long ways since then, but that's basically the gist. Using restriction enzymes we cut up pieces of DNA and insert in pieces that we want and then put the whole construct in an organism of interest to be expressed. Shazam! You've got a genetically engineered organism.

These enzymes were originally discovered in bacteria as a defense mechanism against foreign pieces of DNA from invading viruses and other sources. Remember, if bacteria exchange genetic information then they're having a form of sex and they don't want to do that with just anything. There are many of these enzymes out there that have been discovered, and each one cuts only at its sequence specific site. Interestingly, all restriction enzyme sites are palindromes, or they are the same sequence forward as they are backwards. So using our host of enzymes, we can cut and paste our way into the genetics of the future.

I wonder what properties I share with my restriction enzyme ... ? According to New England Biolabs I work at 75% in Buffers 1, 2, and 3, and at 100% in Buffer 4. I'm not sensitive to methylation or CpG methylation, but with dcm methylation I am blocked by overlapping. You can heat inactivate me at 65 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes but I work optimally at 37 degrees Celsius. I'm an isochizomer of BalI and if I'm not working well, just give me a little more KCl and I'll get the job done.

Does that turn you on?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Happy Birthday Stravinsky! (and my sister!)

My sister happens to share a birthday with one of my favorite composers of all time ... Igor Stravinsky! Can't you see the resemblance?

In celebration of both birthdays, here's a clip from 1965 when Stravinsky was 82 and conducting Lullaby and Final Hymn from the Firebird Ballet Suite (1945). Hope you enjoy it as much as I do! (thanks for sending, Andy)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Show me on the map where religion touched you

Who would have thought that dogmatic celibacy could be a bad thing??? Well, when people use it as cover for sexual deviancy, perhaps it could at least be re-evaluated as a practice. Unless you're the catholic church.

Deliver us from evil is a movie that explores the depraved indifference the catholic church has for the ill-effects its pedophile clergy has on parish members and their children.

You should visit the website. It's replete with a US map indicating the number of catholic priests accused of sexual misconduct. It's quite shocking to see. Makes you think twice about leaving your child at an after school day care run by a religious organization. The poor assumption that it's safe to leave your son or daughter with a man of the cloth simply because they are a member of the clergy is shown to be an incredibly poor assumption in this movie.



And if you're feeling particularly good about the human race and need to be brought down a couple of notches, you should hear what head of the catholic league, Bill Donahue, had to say about the recent atrocities reported out of Ireland, perpetrated by clergy of the Irish catholic church.

Fortunately my morals do not come out of religion, so I am able to see how inhumane these acts are, even if Bill Donahue cannot.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Immortality

I'm currently reading a textbook by Malcom Potts and Roger Short entitled "Ever since Adam and Eve - The evolution of human sexuality". It's quite a good read thus far, and fantastic pictures ... as you can imagine for a book about human sex and sexuality.

I want to share an excerpt with you from Chapter 3, subsection 'The alternation of generations'. This offers a unique and poetic explanation for where we come from and how our posterity will receive us:

Our sex is determined by our gametes. All eggs have one X chromosome, while half the sperm have one X and the other half one Y chromosome. A combination of X and X in the fertilized egg will give a female and X plus Y a male. [... T]he germ cells that will ultimately produce the single-celled gamete (an egg or sperm) are set aside very early in embryonic life. If we are born to a middle-aged mother, we may have lived almost as long as an unfertilized egg as we do in the form of a multicellular organism. In reality, each of us leads a double life. There is the romantic life we know, that of a thinking, moving, feeling individual, and there is that secret life lying dormant within us, the sexual life of our gametes - thoughtless, senseless sperm or eggs, waiting for a rare opportunity provided by their host to meet with a gamete of the opposite sex and produce a new individual, thereby handing down the thread of life from one generation to the next. One world is familiar to us, the other alien and mysterious. One is a brief spark of sentient life, the other tied to thousands of millions of years of slow continuous evolution. For the mature sperm, life is nasty, short and brutish. It lives only for a few days and it is a trillion to one chance that it will fertilize an egg. Few will even make it into a woman's vagina. The vast majority are destined to be washed out of the man's reproductive tract each time he urinates, to be flushed down the toilet, ending their days amongst the detritus of civilization in the sewers of some city, or spilled upon the ground, where they die like stranded tadpoles. A woman begins life with millions of eggs, each unique, but virtually all of them die inside her body and, of the tiny fraction that are released, most go unfertilized and are incinerated with menstrual pads. Our gametes are our birthright, but we are unaware of their presence and accord them scant respect.

This alternation of the generations between a mortal soma and immortal germ plasm has fascinated philosophers, theologieans, poets and scientists for generations, and will continue to do so long into the future. For it deals with the very nature of life, and death, and the transmission of our DNA, from generation to generation. At one extreme, there are those who like to think that a chicken is merely an egg's way of making another egg. Or maybe, as Richard Dawkins would have it, the soma is merely the product of an ageless battle between selfish genes, striving for mastery and seeking propagation through succeeding generations. [...] Our life on Earth has not been a series of discontinuous acts of creation, but is an unbroken thread tying us all to our ancestors and with the potential of linking us to innumerable future generations. We are indeed trailing clouds of glory - the glory of billions of years of continuous evolution. We do not create life: we have only the privilege of passing it on.


Genesis, eat your heart out.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Use Protection

If there truly was a man named Jesus who cared for the sick and poor, I trust that he would have also favored the distribution and use of condoms, particularly in less developed nations with higher rates of STDs. And this video appropriately demonstrates what he'd do to anyone who tried to stop him:

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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Religion Kills

How about a handgun with your Sunday morning coffee and salutation in the pews? The NYTimes has reported that Dr. George Tiller was gunned down in the middle of the church he was attending. Why? No one is quite sure, except he is a well known doctor who performs late-term abortions, but always within legal limits.

Where did this take place? Wichita, Kansas ... are you surprised? Probably not. He had been persecuted before, even shot in both arms yet recovered from the wounds. He had also been investigated by a citizen-initiated grand jury, according to the article.

I wonder if we'll see outcry from the catholic or protestant (any denomination) church as to the death of this man. Or will any claim that this is divine retribution for his career choice? If it were in my power I would prosecute the perpetrator with a hate crime. When separation of church and state cannot be maintained because of vigilantism, secular and social judgment should be swift and severe.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Same Difference

What's the difference between being blind and being homosexual? Climbing mountains, apparently:



I wonder what reports on same-vision marriage are like?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Non-smoing Tobacco State

It's official - WRAL.com has reported that today, Gov. Beverly Perdue signed a bill into law making it illegal to smoke in almost all restaurants and bars (private clubs and cigar bars are exempt).

Hooray for finally catching up, and protecting our citizens from about the only thing that the medical profession has definitively shown time and again has major detrimental effects. Of all the medical studies, research assignments, and lab experiments, nothing is as clear cut as the negative side effects from smoking. I understand that our state was built on tobacco money, but it's nice to see that we've caught up and begun to move past it.

Now, if we could just get them to take the anti-sodomy laws off the books ...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

It's funny cuz it's true

Please, PLEASE let's not have to lie about science for political purposes this time around ... well, at least not as much.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Success Story

Even religious fanatics can have a turn around. Take Bart Ehrman - right here in my own backyard as a professor at UNC-CH. He was once a fundamentalist christian that turned intellectual agnostic over a period of time where he began to question the validity of the bible. John Blake wrote a piece about it for CNN.com recently.

Now a biblical scholar he actually spreads the good news of critical thinking, pointing out all of the many flaws of the bible and in our interpretations of it. While his work is a great lesson in rational thinking, his critics complain that he is arrogant ... of course this is an ad hominem attack that has nothing to do with the veracity of his claims.

Blake writes about Will Willimon's (past preacher of Duke Chapel) comments:
"He keeps presenting this stuff as if this is wonderful new knowledge that has been kept from you backward lay people and this is the stuff your preachers don't have the guts to tell, and I have," Willimon says. "There's a touch of arrogance in it."
Actually, the arrogance lies with you, Mr. Willimon. Why is it that preachers who use and re-use the same sermons over and over aren't accused of 'presenting stuff as if this is wonderful new knowledge that has been kept from ... lay people' but when someone highlights something that IS new to the lay public, something that normally only gets covered if you go to seminary, is somehow arrogant?

If the preachers of these churches would stand up and apply critical thinking to their favorite homily passages then we wouldn't need people like Bart Ehrman to reveal these novel ideas. But then again, if preachers of these churches preached critical thinking and their congregation learned it, their flock would realize that their shepherd was full of sh*t and become agnostic ... like Bart.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Flying Pachyderms

PZ Myers has composed a compelling piece of satire, reminiscent of Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, that should be read by both evolutionists and non-evolutionists alike.

To his final question, I would only add the word 'truth' to the list: "Where do you find meaning and joy and richness and beauty [and truth], O Reader? In elephants, or elephants' wings?"

Saturday, March 28, 2009

25 complete rotations

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birth-day to me-e, happy birthday to me!

At approximately 11:29AM I will have completed 25 trips around the sun and will begin my 26th. I'm at home for the day celebrating with the family.

To commemorate the event I would like to share with you 'The Great Sperm Race'. After all, if one sperm in particular from my dad hadn't made it to my mom's egg, then I wouldn't be here! Check it out, you have to go through 4 different levels, navigating your special spermatocyte from an original population of 250,000,000 through the vagina, cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes to the egg. I'm guessing it's a female programmer who originally made the game since they keep referring to the egg as 'the holy grail'.

Remember, don't get eaten by the leukocytes!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fiery Ice

Grad school is awesome because you get to meet so many talented people from so many different backgrounds. It turns out that my next door neighbor, who is a law student at Duke, is also a man of many other gifts. Not only does he have a healthy interest in philosophy, politics, and religion, but he's also a writer and talented musician.

Ryan was telling me last night that before too long he hopes to get an album out with his band, but in the meantime we're left with the good ole stand by ... YouTube! Check it out and let him know what you think of 'The oceans fiery ice'.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

From slugs to turtles

In line with the slug post from the other day, my lab mate, who works on turtle sex determination, sent me a link to this video on YouTube that someone sent to her. Turtles determine whether or not to become male or female based on the incubation temperature of the egg. It's still an enigma as to how the temperature tips the scales on the balance to signal the embryo to develop as male or female; my lab mate is currently working hard to figure that out.

This video has nothing to do with turtle sex determination, and everything to do with turtle sex. Enjoy.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Pope is a Moron

Last week, Pope Benedict XVI (of the Catholic Church) visited Africa and commented on the HIV epidemic that currently plagues the continent. He announced that:
You can't resolve it with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem.
What a moron. This is even more moronic than usual. Typically we just get the abstinence mumbo-jumbo. Now he's making another claim: that condoms increase the problem. Nothing could be further from the truth. Condoms do a very good job, though not perfect, at blocking infection from an HIV-positive individual who has sexual intercourse with someone who is HIV-negative.

People often ask me what harm religion really causes the world. Religion kills. The Pope has blood on his hands because of teachings like this. There is a body count stacking up from followers who will adhere to what he says. He has the power to change behaviors and thus save lives, by endorsing the use of condoms if sexual intercourse occurs, yet he chooses not to.

These political cartoons summarize my sentiment:

Oh, and by the way. That whole abstinence thing as a way to prevent STDs, etc? It's a load of crap. Here's a study from 2005 demonstrating (in over 10,000 young people) that kids who take abstinence pledges get sexually transmitted diseases at the same rate as those who do not make pledges. There's no statistically significant difference. They speculate that it's likely pledgers who end up having sex are more likely not to use condoms, so they jack the rate up higher, per capita.


Religious conservatives need to stop lying about abstinence programs. They don't accomplish what they claim, and they put teens and young adults at higher risk by not promoting condom use. If only there was an STD that just affected religious people ...

O. M. G.



(via Dave Littler via Pharyngula)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A trinity minus one equals .... ?

Brought to you by xkcd:

Like father, like son

Just because Kent Hovind is serving a 10 year jail sentence for tax evasion doesn't mean his creation ministry is bunk. Creationism is screwed up all on its own - the jail sentence is just a bonus in his case. However, Kent's son, Eric Hovind, seems to have every intention of taking the dummy baton and trying to place first in the race for the youngest and most stupid creationist.



Unfortunately his youth and slightly better use of graphics may make his pitch a little easier to young people in the church. If only we could get those young people to watch Bill Nye instead.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pop off already

Peter Popoff. Do you know who that is? His website is definitely something worth gawking at; go ahead and take a peek if you like. If you haven't heard of him, I'm sure you've heard about one of his colleagues in the profession - the profession of faith healing.

There are a few very twisted characters who have claimed to be faith healers: Benny Hinn, Oral Roberts, and (my personal favorite) Pat Robertson. Books have been written about the swindling these scumbags have carried out on poor, simple-minded folk. They claim to heal the sick using divine powers. Usually it's cases of arthritis or fatigue ... or interestingly cancer - these are either subjective pain symptoms which can be temporarily ameliorated by adrenaline rushes, or they can't be seen and causative effect be established. Instead of trying to write at great length about it, I'd rather share with you some of the story of Peter Popoff.

James Randi (one of my heroes) fought the good fight and exposed Peter Popoff for the charlatan that he was back in the 1980s. Take a look here:



Now, you might watch this and think about how great the world is that we have protectors who can dispel the archaic mysticism of witch doctors. But you'll be sorry to see what 'Rev.' Popoff is up to these days.



Who can use protectors (like James Randi) when people are foolish enough to get involved with the snake oil salesman all over again? And why is Entertainment Tonight doing the current expose? Where is the FTC?

And people say that nothing bad can come from believing in a god. All evidence is to the contrary. When your worldview is not based on evidence, but on feelings, then you use feelings to justify all sorts of things, and other people will use your feelings against you.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The real life of fictional characters

One of the biggest problems with the christian god of the contemporary era is that he/she/it is boring. Always lovey-dovey and only associated with nice things. I much prefer the sordid tales of the greek and roman gods of old. They blessed others when in good moods and cursed them when having a bad day - a much more normal response to living, normal like the way humans actually behave.

I can't help but share this brilliant rendition of the real life of some of our favorite fictional characters ... in rehab! The infamous Bo Burnham:

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Huge teratoma of the WHAT?!

Just published in the Journal of Cranio-Maxillofacial Surgery is an article entitled "Huge teratoma of the face". That's right - the face.

It looks to be about as painful as it sounds too. Below and on the left is a picture of the 4-month old infant with the rapidly growing tumor (right before surgery); on the right is a picture of the girl at seven years of age (way after the surgery).

As the authors state:
The case we report was entirely benign, did not relate to vital structures and had no intracranial extension.
This made it possible to surgically remove the tumor without there being permanent damage to any vital function. As you can see from the images below, even the bones of the face were distorted by the growing mass.


A teratoma is the kind of tumor that I study in mice. We have a mouse model for testicular teratomas. These mice have a mutation in a particular gene that renders the protein made from that gene to not work. This causes misregulation of the germ cells (the cells that colonize the gonad and eventually give rise to sperm in the testis). In this particular mouse, the misregulation leads to a teratoma.

Teraomas have long fascinated biologists by their ability to grow incredibly fast and show amazing signs of organization and differentiation. They are thought to arise from very powerful, or pluripotent, cells such as germ cells. In this case, instead of colonizing the gonad, a germ cells got off course and wound up in the head and neck region. Normally if this kind of misguidance happens the cell can't survive and dies off. But sometimes (rarely) it doesn't die off, and instead begins to grow and develop outside of the proper environment. Overall, teratoma formation is a relatively rare sort of tumor, especially in the face.

Nevertheless, this demonstrates the power of the cells that make up your germline and give rise to your gametes. Remember that gametes (spermatocytes and oocytes) combine to give rise to the next generation. That power is harnessed very carefully by nature, and sometimes things go wrong. This study is a case in point.

I get comments

Yay for people who read my blog! All three of you now. :-)

In a recent blog post I shared an exchange that occurred on my facebook wall - between a girl (and her husband) from my home church and myself ... a rather unsolicited exchange where a lot of religious nonsense was splattered about on my wall that I felt compelled to clean up.

Part of the reason for sharing this (and having a blog in general) is to express thoughts that are important to me, open a forum to discuss these topics, evaluate critiques and criticisms, re-define/re-articulate my views, and change them based on new evidence.

I've received comments from like-minded bloggers before, but on this recent post I finally got some criticism from an opposing view. I greatly appreciate thinking about other views and wanted to respond to what the gentleman had commented. You can find his comment on the original post but it will be reproduced in parts below.

Mike writes:
Dang Matt,

It seems like this irritating woman and her husband genuinely care about you, and noticed a change in your behavior since denouncing your past and moving ahead to the unknown.
They care less about me and more about a deity's salvation for me. If they really cared about me, they would have taken a more private approach - even Matthew chapter 18 talks about taking a brother aside to air grievances in private, not in public. If they had actually stopped to ask me how my life is, or where I'm at philosophically in the journey, they would have been able to discern a lot more than what they initially speculated from a single sentence on a facebook status.
Surprised that you threw a celebration for Darwin, when you used to be such an avent participator in the church, she must have been confused as to why you posted the comment.
Why would a celebration for Darwin's birthday necessarily be mutually exclusive with high attendance at church (I trust that he meant 'avid' instead of 'avent')? There are many people who embrace reason and yet hold out, in a deistic sense, for something still to be discovered. Acclaiming science and reason does not necessarily preclude one person from participating in a culturual phenomenon even - besides, it is poor form to assume that everyone who goes to church must be a fervent believer in that religious faith. Belief for most people is not so black and white. I'm acquainted with many people who attend church frequently but haven't really decided exactly what they believe in.
As a guy who doesn't believe in the the Bible or any of its teachings, you probably don't show much compassion to others unless they're your parents or people who share your belief in ... well ... nothing.
The errors abound here - let's take them in order. Firstly, there are some, mind you SOME, teachings in the christian canon that are worth taking to heart and putting into practice. There are many others that are detestable, particularly in the old testament, but plenty abound in the new testament as well. In some places the bible preaches justice, beneficience, non-maleficence towards others - I embrace these principles and actively demonstrate them as best I can. In other places the bible preaches magic, slavery, bigotry, mysogeny, homophobia - these are values to which I do not subscribe. Simply because I deny the divinity (magic) of the christian bible does not mean it cannot be scrutinized as a literary work and much be gained in the way of knowledge - but frankly Shakespeare has taught me as much about morals as the bible has.

Secondly, I feel compassion for others quite frequently - it can only be hoped that others see this borne out through my actions. Don't confuse my sharp criticism in the former post with a neglectful eye towards the well-being of her or her family. I've found that it's usually only religious people who muster up some compassion to help those willing to accept their magical drivvel. A parent who compels their child to stop believing in childish things and grow up does not love them any less than a parent who spoils their child - I would argue that the former shows more compassion.

Lastly, Mike seems to think that agnosticism is the belief in 'nothing'. It shows how much he's really thought about what it means to be agnostic. Denying magical thinking doesn't mean I believe in nothing ... I believe in REALITY. You can call me a naturalist, a humanist, even a natural empiricist, but I'm not even quite sure how an individual believes in 'nothing'. It's sad that so many religious believers think that it's either a 'god' or 'nothing'. It demonstrates how reinforcing religion can be, and how effective preachers can be at purporting this false dichotomy. I believe that questions about where we came from, where we are going as a species, and how we arrived at this place in time are all very important questions that religion has done nothing to help with - science has provided us with the best answers to these questions so far.
"You can quote the Godfather all day; but I'm the real gangster," says a pretty famous comedian. Sounds kind of random, but you can quote the Bible all day - even participate fervently in the church - but completely miss the point on the meaning of Christianity.
And I'm sure you haven't missed the point? You can talk about magical thinking all day - even pretend that magic is real - but completely miss the point that being defined as a christian means belief in magical nonsense: virgin births, resurrections, walking on water, etc. If you don't buy into that stuff, then face it - you're a christ follower not a christian ... HUGE difference. One believes the world is 6000 years old and the other has no problem understanding the basic principles of life that are used every day in labs around the world to cure disease and ameliorate suffering. Mike wanted to mention compassion; it doesn't get more compassionate than eradicating smallpox, developing antibiotics, or making vaccines against cancer causing viruses. Remind me again, did religion or science solve those problems?
It seems like you're a well-educated, however misguided young man; and by "well-educated," I mean you can regurgitate information that people have already discovered. In your exploration of knowledge, I'd like to know what you actually hold as truth. Instead of ranting on the well-intentioned comments of others, why not thank them for their opinion and move on. It seems like you're so much better than them anyway.

I mean jeez, you study balls for a living. You surely have a lot to talk about.

Mike
I wonder if Mike thinks I'm misguided because I don't accept jesus christ as my lord and savior. I wonder if he can tell me why he doesn't believe in the jewish god, or the muslim god, or the mormon god, or zeus, or thor, or the aliens of scientology. It seems that Mike has regurgitated what he's heard in a religious setting, and ineptly applied it to my beliefs/actions. I think I've done a pretty good job at explicating what I hold as truth, both here and in other places on my blog. I'm not sure if Mike was trying to get a jab in with, 'It seems like you're so much better than them anyway'. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and suppose that he's implying I have a lot of other things to talk about.

Indeed, I study balls for a living. And speaking of which, I need to get into lab to go mount and take pictures of the mouse gonads that are incubating ... sounds delightful, no?

As always, further thoughts and comments are welcome. Just remember that I don't believe in magic, so if you do, it would help me in understanding if you could explain why you do.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Blasphemy Day - September 30th!

On September 30th, 2009 the first 'Blasphemy Day International' will be celebrated. For freethinkers everywhere, and for a society based on reason and science, put it on your calendar! :-)

Here's the facebook link - spread it around.

Some of the pictures from their site are posted below. At least religion can be a constant source of laughter ... when they're not terrorizing or fear-mongering in the world at large.





Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine Significance

In honor of yesterday being Valentine's Day, here's a comic from xkcd.com. This is how nerds figure out who they're dating.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dogmatists

A girl from my home church has been following my facebook status and commenting with fundamental woowoo-ness along the way. On Thursday, February 12th, I had a status that said:

"Matthew wishes Darwin a happy 200th birthday!"

One person responded by saying they had toasted a cupcake in his honor. Another friend reminded me that it was also lincoln's birthday. And then this girl, really a young woman, commented:

"Are you being for real?"

Over the internet disdain travels at light-speed. She is a very conservative member of my home church (of which I am no longer a part, and from which she used to not be as fervent a member). Not to mention, she's not the brightest candle on the cake - so it was a little shocking to see her being so brazen: following my facebook status around, after not having talked to each other in probably 8 years, leaving antagonistic/challenging comments on my personal page for all to see.

I quickly responded with the following pithy message:

"of course! he's kind of an important figure for enlightened thinkers and his birthday is worth celebrating for fun"

She responded not with her own words, but with a bible verse ... from the old testament:

"Deuteronomy 6:5 "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.""

At this point I decided to send a more pointed response since she continued this in a public place and on my profile page:

I'm not clear which god you're referring to. Zeus? Thor? Ra? Apollo? Quetzalcoatl? Anubis? Mars? Zoroaster? Several of these were also born from a 'virgin.' Osiris, Adonis, Tammuz, Zalmoxis, Odin, and Dionysus were all killed and 'resurrected'. Surely you don't mean jehovah or yaweh? The verse you quote comes from the old testament of the canonical bible. All throughout the old testament jehovah reportedly kills innocent women and children because he's angry that people don't love him enough - it's nice that you approve of that sort of behavior.

The Renaissance occurred over 500 years ago and the enlightenment about 300. I know it's hard, but try to catch up to the times.


It's weird - this girl is older than me, and when we were in the same church youth group together she never seemed to take religion as seriously as I did. I paid quite a bit of attention in church and wanted to learn as much as possible, since everyone around continued to tell me how important god and religion were. Even when I was just starting high school and she was graduating I could run intellectual circles around here just citing bible verses. Of course I graduate and move on to get educated, and she hangs around to get married, get knocked up, and then becomes extra religious/conservative. Why does that happen when people hang around their home towns like that? I guess it's true - an education WILL make you more likely to be liberal and an atheist. Mix a good science education into that and it just can't fail.

Her unoriginal response came back to me tonight. Oh, wait - she's not even mature enough to handle it herself - her husband needed to tackle this problem. Here's what he posted under her name:

Hey Matt. This is Brian. It burdens my heart to read these words that you are writing. Call it “ENLIGHTENMENT” or any other catch phrase you want to name it. It is apparent that your relationship with the Lord is not as strong as it should be. The Holy Bible is the undisputed true Word of God. Everything that has happened in the Bible is all for us. You, me and everyone. God sacrificed his Son for us and I hope that one day you will be able to find it in you heart to make it back into his Grace. God and Jesus love you so much and have made the ultimate sacrifice for you. No one else in this life will ever do what they did for you or will love you as much as they do. It saddens me to see Satan using people like Darwin to steer people away from Christianity. However, I must face the fact that this is Satan’s Earth until Jesus comes back. The most I can offer is prayer. I will continue to pray for you and your family each and everyday. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26 NIV


Oh, the joy. Having fundamental christians follow me around is actually a dream of mine. Makes me feel like a mini PZ Myers. As you can imagine my response was strong and swift:

Please stop proselytizing on my facebook wall. I haven't been following your status and commenting on the magical nonsense that you believe in, so don't start invoking the name of satan on my page. you can do whatever hocus pocus prayers/voodoo that makes you feel better in your own bedroom; but please keep it in nash county, thank you.

the bible is most definitely NOT the true word of any god, but the words of fallible men. It is apparent that your relationship with rational thinking is not as strong as it should be. No one has loved and supported me more than my parents, who believe in the empowerment of education, critical thinking, and compassion.

And please, at least stop quoting from the old testament. Something from the apocrypha would be more settling than the old testament...

Proverbs27:15-16 An irritating woman is like a constant dripping on a rainy day. restraining her is like restraining the wind, or grasping oil in the right hand.


Why is it that the fundagelicals always want to pray for you??? And they hurl it like an insult or a weapon, not a compassionate act. There are so many other issues wrong with their responses that it hurts my head just to think about them.

Satan. I mean, really. Satan? Grow up for fuck sake. Stop playing childish games. It's bad enough to have god - but Satan too?

I love how they think the 'enlightenment' is some catch phrase. Open a textbook and educate yourself.

It's very telling that they think the bible is the undisputed word of god. It's actually been quite disputed, and by theologians for quite some time. The bible used to be composed of different books - there are many that didn't make the final cut that you can still buy and read to this day, including the gospel of thomas (the doubting one).

The thing that burns me the most is this assumption that a god has done more for me than anyone ever could or will. Bullshit. My parents are the ones who fill that spot. They have loved me more than anyone ever could love me, and they are the ones whose actions reflect that love.

At least we can hold out that they think this is Satan's earth until some mythical figure comes back to save them. Hope they have fun waiting. In the meantime, they can hole themselves up and stay away from doctors or hospitals or scientists when they get sick, since they seem to think that the scientific method is used by Satan. We'll see whether or not they're able to give up modern medicine.

Dogmatists can never seem to reconcile that cognitive dissonance.

Lewis Black on Religion and Science

Some things are better left to the comedians:

Friday, February 13, 2009

Creationists

Why do they clamor about and scream 'academic freedom'? Creationists and ID proponents use their airtime and article space to complain about academic freedom, instead of ever offering their solid, scientific evidence for why they should be given time in a SCIENCE classroom.

I'm so tired of it - here's a tirade I commented on a blog by infamous ID'er Casey Luskin in US News and World report today. I hope you understand my frustration:

How is it that someone who thinks that the world is trying to censor their point of view, takes almost 7000 words in an opinion piece to never ONCE put forth the evidence for their claim?

You act like science is a democracy. Science is, in fact, NOT a democracy - it is constantly discriminating against ignorance and poor methodologies, logical fallacies and plain old ideologies. Theories and models MUST hold up to scrutiny and observable fact. When they do not, they are discarded for newer, updated models that better explain our natural world/universe.

The fact that the universe is 13.6 billion years old, that our planet is ~4.6 billion years old, that single-celled organisms can be found ~2 billion years ago, that the fossil record shows emerging organisms with greater complexity over time, that we're all related genetically in proportion to our morphological similarities and complexities, that religions, myths, and ancestor worship has been around since cro-magnon man, best support a model of evolution and a natural means of origin of life.

If you want to take the unknown and say that a god did it, fine. Humans have been doing that for eons. You're just playing the 'god of the gaps' - whatever mystery exists, whatever we don't understand, you're claiming is just a god. Nevermind that people can't agree whether it's Zeus, or Thor, or Apollo, or Athena, or Jehovah, or The Flying Spaghetti Monster. For years we've been closing the gaps on these gods, explaining things like where the rain comes from, why the grass is green, why developmental defects occur, how the sun 'comes up' every day, how we evolved from simpler life forms. But if you want to hold out your superstition, there's no logical argument that says you're committing some intellectual fallacy.

However, getting backed into a corner and exclaiming, "Well, you can't PROVE a god DIDN'T do it!" doesn't do anything to help your case. With that kind of reasoning, I'm as justified in declaring, "Well, you can't PROVE that Santa Claus DIDN'T do it!" It's equally nonsensical.

Of course, this is when it always hits me. I realize it. You don't believe in 'intelligent' design because of any scientific reason. You believe it because it supports a model that you want to be true - that you WANT to believe in. And therein lies the rub.

Ultimately, I can't reason someone out of something that they didn't reason themselves into in the first place.

And on that note, have fun on sunday suppressing the truth for your magicman in the sky.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy 200th Birthday, Chuck!

Even though I'm still sick, quite tired, and about to hit the sack, I wanted to publicly wish Charles Darwin a happy 200th birthday! Interestingly, he also shares his birthday with Abraham Lincoln.

In light of the momentous occasion, I'd like to share a quote by the famous biologist, Theodosius Dobzhansky: "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."

Thank you, Darwin, for changing the way in which we view our past, and showing us what our future is capable of.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It's a brewin'

Tim Minchin is a comedian/musician from Australia who knows how to rock out to the skeptical perspective. The following clip is from a live show in London just last year. It was taken down for a while, but he recently put a better quality copy back up for all of us to enjoy. This is an original, fictional beat poem, but as you'll hear, all stories are pulled from things we've heard kooks talk about every day. In this case, all the woo you can think of is rolled up into one paranoid hippy named Storm. As the woo gets thick, just listen to Mr. Minchin whittle it back down.



I'd like to throw a dinner party and invite Tim Minchin. I'll find a hippy for him to debate too.

Skeptics R' Us

I got my first issue of Skeptical Inquirer today!


There seems to be lots of good stuff inside. I can't wait to read the commentary on science and the new Obama administration. And there seems to be a fun one about the capacity of Enceladus (one of the moons of Saturn) to support some form of life as we know it here on earth.



But I'm sure that the most enjoyable article will be about science and antiscience in America: how lack of science informing the decisions we make leads to consequences where people suffer.

This is one of the best-late xmas presents I've gotten so far! (My awesome mom got a year's subscription for me)