Michael Moore’s Sicko (or why Orac should relent and go see this movie)

I went to see Michael Moore’s Sicko last night and it is truly worthy of being seen by every American. I say that knowing how many feel about Michael Moore and his tendency towards spectacle. I hope that people can set aside whatever prejudice they have towards Moore and see this movie.

This is a movie that contains more truth than any he has made so far. I went in with a skeptical mind, knowing the issues that face the practice of medicine in the United States in this new millennium, how easy they can be discussed inaccurately or flippantly and how medicine was once practiced in this country. Medicine is something deeply personal to me as I am a the son of two doctors – my mother a private-practice family physician who has been practicing for more than 30 years, and my father a research MD at the NIH. This movie struck many chords, as someone who has insurance, who studies medicine, who cares about fixing our current medical care system, who has known doctors, and who has received medical care. There is something for everyone in this movie, doctors, nurses, patient, and policy-makers alike, and I sincerely wish that everyone gives it a chance and an open mind. I doubt anyone will see it and be disappointed or unaffected.

Now, the rest will be below the fold, I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but I’ll need to discuss some scenes in order to describe the importance of this movie.
Continue reading “Michael Moore’s Sicko (or why Orac should relent and go see this movie)”

PZ and Rosenhouse are correct

We’ve had another framing fight on scienceblogs today. Here’s the timeline:

Nisbet beats up a strawman of Atheists comparing themselves to women or blacks or gays in terms of civil rights struggle, and then asserts there are no violations of atheist civil rights – they’re just unpopular. The commenters find cause to disagree with him repeatedly. Wait, I know what to do about this – here’s the card.

Those fundamentalists (controlling the country) who call them un-American, evil, sinful and hell-bound? Well, they’re just

And the problems atheists have? Those aren’t real problems like with blacks and women, they’re just

And since there is:
There is:

How’d I do Chris?

Anyway, Rosenhouse fires back, and this is the critical passage:

Atheists don’t face a public image problem because of the books of Dawkins and Hitchens. They face a public image problem because of the bigotry and ignorance of so many religious people. Not all religious people, certainly, as the strawman version of their arguments would have you believe. But a much higher percentage than people like Matthew care to admit. You do not break through such bigotry by polite discussion. You break through it by being loud and vigorous. That’s one of the lessons you learn from the civil rights struggles of the past. Social progress is not made when the downtrodden ask politely for their just due. That women, blacks and gays faced greater oppression than what atheists face today does not alter that fact.

Matthew’s comment that such discrimination as exists against atheists is caused in part by the writings of Dawkins and Hitchens is nothing more than plain, vanilla blaming the victim. (And it’s unsubstantiated to boot). It is an old cliche that gets trotted out every time a minority group starts getting a bit too vocal. The argument conjures up preposterous images of large numbers of non-bigots going over to the dark side when the victims of discrimination start rhetorically attacking the bigots. It is to laugh.

Kevin Beck and PZ back him up. Jake backs up Nisbet, because he apparently hasn’t found it hard being an atheist in NYC. Hmmm. Try Alabama sometime.

I tend to agree with Rosenhouse, and in particular find fault with the article Nisbet cites which essentially blames minorities for being disliked as some kind of natural state. And that may be the case, but there is a substantive difference between dislike and mistreatment, their denial or minimization of the real problem with religious interference in public life as well as the public intolerance and censorship of atheist expression is disturbing. In the comments at Pharyngula and Evolutionblog they list many real examples of these problems.

Finally, I think this is a historically ignorant argument. Anyone remember Ed Brayton’s post on Ellery Schempp?

“I learned that if people were mad at us they would call us ‘Communists.’ If they were really, really mad, they would call us ‘atheists.’ When they called us ‘commie atheists’ they had exhausted their vocabulary – that was the worst they could think of!”

We just emerged from a 40-year cold war in which atheism was identified as synonymous with being a mortal enemy of the country. Really no one in this country was openly atheist. Now fundamentalists are discovering they didn’t manage to stomp out all the non-believers through 40 years of aggressive repression they’re acting like it’s end-times and an assault on the foundation of the country. This is not the atheists’ fault, and Rosenhouse is correct, this is blaming the victim.

Consider the polling that shows that atheists are the most disliked and mistrusted group of people in the country – even worse than sex offenders? Or how about the fact that our government uses an office of Faith-based programming to finance religious outreach for public campaigns? Oddly enough the people that come to atheists’ defense the most often? The anti-defamation league. Isn’t that interesting?

To sum up, I find Nisbet and DJ Grothe and Austin Dacey’s arguments to be morally repugnant and ignorant garbage. This is same thing that is seen repeatedly every time a minority group is mistreated – a group of people emerge to deny there is even a problem and if there is one, it’s the minority’s own fault. If this is “framing”, and I don’t think it is, I’ll have to agree with PZ, you can take your framing and shove it. Maybe that’s the sign of a bad job framing an argument there Nisbet.

Police work works

The British have foiled another terrorist attack.

This makes me think of two things. Using the military for what should be done with police and investigative work is nuts. And I really hope they weren’t planning to use some common item one might carry on an airplane.

We’ve already had fluids banned despite the physical implausibility of using a liquid explosive to bring down a plane. If these scumbags were planning on making a pen-bomb or a bra-bomb we’re going to end up going naked through security for no damn good reason.

Chimps have souls!

Take that Egnor!

Altruism — helping another with no expectation of personal reward — was once thought to be a uniquely human trait, The Times of London reported. However, in recent experiments, chimpanzees repeatedly helped humans who appeared to be struggling to reach a stick within the animal’s enclosure.

The chimps, which were interacting with humans who had not given them food, spontaneously helped the humans by reaching across and helping them get the stick.

The experiments were carried out among 36 chimpanzees at a sanctuary for the animals in Uganda.

Anthropologists cite altruism as a key to developing civilized and complex societies. Although altruism has been observed in many species, this recent experiment is special because it shows ability for one species to be altruistic with another species, the Times said.

Also see Synapostasy’s coverage of Egnor’s latest goalpost move. In the meantime I’ll await Egnor’s proof that chimps don’t have a soul that is receiving signals from Deepak Chopra’s mind-field.

Friday Cat Blogging

Name this cat.


She appears to be a a Russian blue with silver coat, green eyes and mauve footpads. Although being a shelter cat, this could be pure accident. Her first google search was RRRRRRRRRRRRRRR. And so far names in the running go from the simple Gray to Lucia.

It’s kitten season, and many more are looking for homes at the Charlottesville-Albermarle ASPCA. You can find all sorts of pets to adopt in your area from Petfinder or just look at pictures of kittens. While I was there they had piles of kittens. It was pretty unbelievable. I should have taken pictures for Cute Overload.

Also, I’ll take entries for banners for one more day. here’s the requirements basically, 756 x 93 and based on what comes to mind when you think of cranks or denialism. We’ve had some killer entries, and after the winner gets a week I’ll put all of them into rotation.

How many studies does it take to satisfy a crank?

David Kirby asks us to move the goalposts one more time on the vaccines-cause-autism question.

Epidemiologic studies have shown no link. The Institute of Medicine has looked at the evidence for the link between mercury and autism and found it to be specious. Thimerosal has been removed, to no effect. Throughout the Autism Omnibus proceedings we’ve seen the best case for a link and it’s a joke. The measles PCRs linking gut samples from autistic kids to “chronic measles infection” from the MMR jab were false positives. At every single point when this problem has been studied it’s been found to be a specious link. But are the anti-vax cranks like David Kirby ever satisfied? Of course not. It will always be one more study. And there will always be specious evidence for the anti-vax denialists to grasp desperately to so this issue will never die. They will propose things like “mercury efflux disorder” without any proof of its existence. They will switch from thimerosal, to other parts of the adjuvants like aluminum, to blaming environmental mercury (as Kirby did in his last post). Or they’ll generate more bogus correlations, for instance, Kirby loves this new Survey USA poll:

It certainly wasn’t hard for the respected polling company, Survey USA, to find nearly 1,000 unvaccinated children living in nine counties in California and Oregon. All they had to do was pick up the phone.

Survey USA, commissioned by the anti-thimerosal group Generation Rescue, completed telephone interviews in 11,817 households with one or more children age 4 to 17. Of the 17,674 children inventoried, 991 were described as being completely unvaccinated.

Interestingly, the survey found that, among boys (who have neurodevelopmental disorders at a 4-to-1 ratio over girls) vaccinated children were 155 percent more likely to have a neurological disorder, 224 percent more likely to have ADHD, and 61 percent more likely to have autism. Among boys aged 11-18, the increased autism risk was 112 percent.

Is that so? I wonder what would happen if someone actually took a close look at the survey results…

Continue reading “How many studies does it take to satisfy a crank?”

More on Doctors & Payola

Another interesting article in the Times discusses shining the light on pharmaceutical industry gifts to doctors. What’s interesting about it is that shows another example of how industry self-regulatory principles often have holes (here, a lack of “detail”) that leave the problem to be addressed unaddressed.

In the privacy field, the most notable example of this was the IRSG Principles, which allowed databrokers to sell personal information to anyone they deemed “qualified,” and surprise, surprise, even criminals were “qualified” to buy Social Security Numbers. But back to doctors:

In the midst of a Senate hearing about the money and gifts that drug makers routinely provide to doctors, Senator Claire McCaskill mentioned that she had a brother who runs a restaurant.

“And he said that the most lucrative part of his business was the private room that is used mostly by drug companies” to entertain doctors, said Ms. McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri. “He said that you wouldn’t believe how much expensive wine these guys buy.” The tab often totals thousands of dollars, she said later.

Marjorie Powell, senior assistant general counsel for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, assured Ms. McCaskill that major drug makers no longer offer doctors expensive dinners. The industry’s code of ethics mandates that free meals be modest — pizza, for instance, Ms. Powell said.

“I would, with all due respect, suggest that there has been a change in your brother’s restaurant in recent years,” she said.

Ms. McCaskill pressed, “Are they allowed to buy alcohol?”

Ms. Powell responded, “Our code does not go into that level of detail.”

The senator said, “So they can.”


After the hearing, Ms. Powell’s trade association released a statement criticizing the state registries, saying they “disarm doctors by inhibiting access to critical scientific information about the benefits and risks of treatment options that help patients win their battle against disease.”

The laws have led to some embarrassing disclosures: that some doctors earn hundreds of thousands of dollars from drug makers, that doctors who are paid by drug makers tend to prescribe more of their drugs, and that some doctors who have been hired to perform clinical trials have serious medical disciplinary records.

Crank Magnetism

Back when we wrote the Unified Theory of the Crank one of the main things we discussed related to crankery is their inability to recognize competence in others. As a result, cranks tend not to mind the crankery of others, since they see themselves as opposed to a scientific orthodoxy. Consistency be damned, they just want to see science with egg on its face so they can prove that they are being persecuted.

Well lately, Uncommon Descent has been doing a pretty incredible job of sticking to this script. First we have Dembski, insisting upon the persecution of ID abroad, because the Germans jailed a holocaust denier who happened to be a creationist. Dembski, not being the sharpest tool in the drawer, didn’t think to look to closely at the story and, well, played the persecution card a little too soon.

Now Uncommon Descent, aiming for a trifecta of denialism, is using HIV/AIDS denialist Peter Duesberg to attack the orthodoxy. It really is true, cranks are so incompetent at reason and logic they simply can’t see that they’re making a terrible case. In this instance, they’re using Duesberg’s Chromosomal Chaos hypothesis to suggest that science is so addicted to Darwinism we’ve been getting not just cancer research, but bacterial resistance wrong for decades.

Continue reading “Crank Magnetism”

I just have a thing for privacy. Is it dirty?

So, Apple releases Itunes 7.2, complete with the ability to download DRM-free, high-quality MP3s. However, these MP3s contain all sorts of personal information in the metadata, thus allowing tracking of who possesses the files. The solution? Privatunes, a program provided by a French company that erases the personal information from the metadata.

The best part? How the French justify the protection of privacy. I love it:

5 reasons to erase private information from my legally acquired iTunes Plus library:

1. Am I still a child who needs his pencilcase and schoolbag tagged with my name?

2. I bought the damn tune, but someday I may want to sell it (hey, how is it more stupid that selling old CDs ?).

3. I just have a thing for privacy. Is it dirty?

4. How the heck do I know it’s not gonna be shared on P2P networks by my 6 year old step sister???

5. I thought good customer-seller relationship ment something like… how do they say, “trust’ ?