Now I can’t wait to see the Golden Compass (what kind of daemon do you have?)

It’s already got the fundamentalists up in arms. Apparently, one of them managed to read something outside the accepted cannon of Christ-like books and now they’re all bothered about the December 7th release (see trailer) of the first installment of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy – the Golden Compass (IMDB).

According to, leading atheist writers and intellectuals are engaged in a “scientific” quest to ultimately destroy organized religion, particularly Christianity. Oxford professor Richard Dawkins, author Sam Harris and journalist Christopher Hitchens are some of the big names leading this “new atheism” initiative. Evidence of their agenda is seen in efforts such as the Out Campaign and the Blasphemy Challenge.

Pullman’s book trilogy is the story of “a battle against the church and a fight to overthrow God,” BBC News reported. The Guardian, a British newspaper, goes even further to describe the books as “metaphysical fantasies encompassing parallel worlds, the death of God and the fall of man ….”

Therefore, without yet seeing the film, at least one pro-family group — the American Family Association — is alerting Christians to the potential dangers of The Golden Compass. Because of Pullman’s clearly articulated anti-Christian motives, AFA is warning all viewers to run from the film.

The Golden Compass is set in an alternative world with a sinister Magisterium. It is about a girl named Lyra who sets out to rescue her friend Roger who has been kidnapped by an organization known as the Gobblers. Roger’s rescue turns into an epic quest to save two different worlds — one in which people’s souls manifest themselves as animals. These manifestations are known as “daemons,” and Pullman says they help a person grow toward wisdom.

In addition, the movie website allows visitors to answer a set of questions and create their own daemons that journey alongside them in life.

“One of the [book] series’ main themes — the rejection of organized religion and in particular the abuse of power within the Catholic Church — is to be watered down,” according to the Telegraph, a newspaper in the U.K. “But when the film is released in December the Magisterium will be shown as a critique of all dogmatic organizations, thereby avoiding a religious backlash.”

I’ve got to say I’m excited after seeing the trailer, because it looks beautiful, and it’s got damn good casting. Nicole Kidman is a perfect choice for Coulter (no not that one – don’t worry) Daniel Craig is an excellent choice, if a bit young, for Asriel, and Sam Elliot couldn’t be more fitting a choice for the Texan Lee Scorsby. Ian McKellen is even voicing Iorek.

It’s a funny double-standard the AFA and others objecting, after all, if the Chronicles of Narnia is acceptable as a children’s movie despite the Christian dogmatism inherent in the plot (and purposefully placed their by C.S. Lewis), surely atheists are allowed to have a film that discourages dogmatism (purposefully placed their by Pullman). Isn’t it only fair? We’ll have a poll after this comes out, which is better. I found Narnia to be insipid and bland. Hopefully they won’t be to scared of offending the religious to give these films an edge.

Either way, I can think of no better advertisement for a movie for kids than the AFA saying it’s bad for them.

Here’s the site to design your daemon by the way. My daemon’s name isClymonistra, and she’s a tiger.

WSJ and anti-government conspiracies

Leave it to AEI writing for the WSJ editorial page to allege a grand conspiracy of the government against pharmaceutical companies. Their proof? The government wants to compare the efficacy of new drugs to older ones to make sure they’re actually better.

The reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (Schip), created in 1997 to cover children from lower-income families who make too much to qualify for Medicaid, is up for renewal this fall. Tucked into page 414, section 904 of the House bill is a provision to spend more than $300 million to establish a new federal “Center for Comparative Effectiveness” to conduct government-run studies of the economic considerations that go into drug choices.

The center will initially be funded through Medicare but will soon get its own “trust fund.” The aim is to arm government actuaries with data that proponents hope will provide “scientific” proof that expensive new drugs are no better than their older alternatives. The trick is to maintain just enough credibility around the conduct of these trials to justify unpopular decisions not to pay for newer medicines.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this sort of fiscally minded clinical research, Medicare is no ordinary payer: It dictates decisions made in the private market. So as the government begins tying its own payment decisions to the results of its own studies, there’s a great temptation to selectively interpret data and arbitrarily release results. Clearly, this obvious conflict of interest demands even more outside scrutiny and transparency than has been the usual fare when it comes to government research.

Yes, because private research is so much more transparent than studies performed by the government. Gottlieb’s example of a government hit on expensive drugs, was of all things, the Women’s Health Initiative.

More insane conspiratorial nonsense from AEI and the WSJ below the fold.
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Denialism in the news

Alert readers have brought to my attention two articles of interest to the study of denialism. First a big fat article in Newsweek entitled The Truth About Denial is a good overview of the anti-scientific crusade of conservative crank tanks to dispute global warming. It has a nice timeline of the development of the denialist movement in response to the unwanted science, examples of the cranks in congress that have latched onto and internalized the arguments that confirm what they want to hear, and their classic tactics of cherry-picking and confusing climate with weather.

The second, and I’d love to hear some feedback on this one, is a WaPo article on a conspiracy I’ve never heard of before. It sounds so implausible I have trouble understanding why anyone believed it, but apparently it’s still quite popular myth to spread around. That is, the conspiracy of memorandum 46:

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Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?

New Scientist has an interesting article by Patrick Leman on the psychology of believing in conspiracy theories.

Belief in conspiracy theories certainly seems to be on the rise, and what little research has been done investigating this question confirms this is so for perhaps the most famous example of all – the claim that a conspiracy lay behind the assassination of JFK in 1963. A survey in 1968 found that about two-thirds of Americans believed the conspiracy theory, while by 1990 that proportion had risen to nine-tenths.

One factor fuelling the general growth of conspiracy beliefs is likely to be that the internet allows new theories to be quickly created, and endlessly debated by a wider audience than ever. A conspiracy-based website built around the death of Princess Diana, for example, sprang up within hours of the car crash that killed her in 1997.

Well that sounds about right but then he makes a twisted turn in logic.
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Profile of a Crank – Julia Stephenson

Ben Goldacre at Bad Science is leading the way on opposing this new absurdity of “electric smog”, and one of it’s leading proponents in Britain, Julia Stephenson.

It’s really too easy. Remember the crank HOWTO? Well, she’s just about a perfect example.

It all started when she got wifi in her apartment…
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Old Timey Conspiracy Theories

WaPo shows us how a good conspiracy theory can never die. It’s depressing. We’re probably going to be hearing from 9/11 troofers for the rest of our lives.

The new evidence that Kennedy was killed by someone on a grassy-knoll or the Cubans or whatever is that the metallurgical analysis that was used to prove that the bullets could only have come from the batch that Oswald used was flawed.

So is it time to re-open the Kennedy assassination?
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