Please recharge your bulls**t detector

At the risk of sounding like a jerk, I would have to admit that not everything you throw at my face would be received with a big smile. There are times, when within my friend circle, I can be known to be a uptight person who is unwilling to listen to how "Homeopathy cures cancer" or "paleo diet is the best thing known to man" (really?). It’s not that I have closed my mind to new ideas, but it’s just that you are not the person peddling me this pseudoscience or nonsense.

In fact it really surprises me how easily people believe things which sound outright stupid or outrageous at face value. It might be true, but how about a bit of reality check whether the new fad you are buying into makes any sense? How about a bit of research? Maybe Google can help.

Have you heard of Dihydrogen Monoxide? It is colorless, odorless compound freely available. It can chemically alter critical brain neurotransmitters, dissolve a whole bunch of things. Large doses of ingestion can cause unpleasant side effects and is a major component of acid rain.

Does the above chemical scare you? If you flunked high school chemistry, then yes. Dihydrogen Monodixe is something which we all call water. I was surprised to hear that so many people have fall for this prank. The reason lies partly due to people’s rapid acceptance of any idea which scares the hell out of them. They show little skepticism or sometimes shut it down all together. I won’t be surprised if they taunt skeptics, calling them conspiracy theorists.

If case you wish to learn more about skepticism, then Reddit Skeptic and StackExchange Skeptic can be a good place to start.

The futile debate

If you have been following the news, it would have come to your attention that Bill “The Science Guy” Nye had a debate with Ken Ham, the guy behind “Answer in Genesis”. 

To me, such debates carry no importance. I understand Nye’s argument that we should be debating and not shutting down people with different views. With his zeal for debate, he keeps forgetting that there is no point in debating on whether germs cause disease or whether it is caused by demons who possessed us. The two ideas are no way on equal footing.

Most of such debate where one side wishes to use logic and the other side wishes to use “personal beliefs” will never bring out anything useful. Let’s have a look at what Ken Kam had in mind as reported by Salon:

..a member of the audience asked what turned out to be the crux of the debate: what, if anything, would convince the men to change their minds? Ham’s answer: “I’m a Christian.”

As you can, the debate was nothing more than a futile attempt at breaking the “my belief is my identity” ideology. In a debate, we usually expect otherside to listen to evidence, weigh them and accept if they are on a solid ground. What do you expect from your opponent, if they have decided not to change their views in the first place. What hope do you have if your opponent thinks changing one’s belief will lead to loss of their identity?

The aim of creationist was to show to his followers that he was willing to take head on the non-religious acceptance of human existence and glorify the literal scripture interpretation for explaining the existence of everything.

The second problem is that lot of the hardcore-creationists (who should not be confused with most Christians) have very poor understanding of science. They don’t even understand the difference between scientific meaning of theory and layman meaning of theory. They don’t understand second law of thermodynamics. They consider micro-evolution and macro-evolution to be two entirely different things.They don’t understand sunrise and sunset. They don’t know much about fossil evidence of humanity probably getting most of their knowledge from talking points.They think theory is not testable or observable.They don’t know that science doesn’t work on faith. They don’t even know that we didn’t come from monkeys

You can’t argue someone out of a position which they argued into in the first place.

Munich International Airport “Franz-Josef Strauß” (MUC) - München

Munich International Airport “Franz-Josef Strauß” (MUC) - München

Skagit River near Newhalem, Washington

Skagit River near Newhalem, Washington

Book Review: Trick or Treatment

Name of the Book: Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine

At first this book might seem intimidating because it talks about “medicine”, but hey come on. If alternative medicine practitioners who base their medicine concepts on flimsy scientific ground are not scared, then you should be not.

This book mostly deals with 3 most frequent and yet unproven alternative medicine - acupuncture, homeopathy and chiropractic. The book started with the explanation of bloodletting and how it killed the first President of United States. It showed that the practitioners were extremely resistant to any criticism of their methods and refused to accept any evidence that bloodletting harms the patients. Back before modern “evidence based medicine” arrived, doctors did more harm than good. Those who were treated by doctors has lower chances of living than those who were left untreated. Why? Most of the medicine were based on personal experience of the doctor and not based on real conclusive evidence or clinical trial which perfectly explains the alternative medicine of our time.

I had a serious interest in homeopathy after being treated with it when I acquired jaundice in 2004. Good luck I went to a “real” doctor the next day and finally the dangerous condition was brought under control. If you are really bored with reading the fine details of criticism of homeopathy, then I would suggest you the amazing debunking of homeopathy from well known skeptic and rationalist James Randi

If you manage to read the book, the only thing you would think is “Why do people go for alternative medicine?”. If you as my anecdote, then it seems like “medicine” has failed us in one aspect by being too open and being honest. People don’t want unsettling truths, they want comforting lies. If I got common cold, then my “medicine” doctor would just give me some cough syrup or throat pain relief knowing that my condition would improve in a few days. This results in disappointment that my doctor is not able to cure me or “medicine” does not have a cure. Being honest backfires. An “alternative medicine” doctor would take full advantage of it and give me lots of “alternative medicines” which might make me feel that they have the cure for my cold. They might ask me to visit again after a week if my cold persists. You might not come back after a week because most probably your cold would have gone by then. Regular people’s failure to de-couple co-relation and causation is one of the foundation on which “alternative medicine” thrives.

Benevolent alien civilizations

I was reading Carl Sagan’s book “Cosmos” where he mentioned the difficulties of contacting alien civilizations far out in space. This chapter minded me of the movie named “Contact” based on Sagan’s book called “Contact” which has Jodi Foster as the lead role.

The movie shows Jodi as a SETI enthusiast scientist. She managed to receive radio signal from alien civilization which contains Hitler’s speech in a Nazi Rally in 1936 Olympic Games, which had been probably intercepted and transmitted back to earth. There were fears whether the aliens would be benevolent of malevolent and whether we are risking ourselves by trying to contact them?

In Sagan’s book Cosmos, he mentioned the basic reason for our fears:

It is pointless to worry about the possible malevolent intentions of an advanced civilization with whom we might make contact.

Perhaps our fears about extraterrestrial contact are merely a projection of our own backwardness, an expression of our guilty consciousness about our past history.

We might become a space faring race one fine day. It has been theorized that the aliens with whom we make contact would be peaceful and benevolent otherwise they would have destroyed themselves with perpetual war and thus stopped themselves from becoming a space-faring race. Or maybe, humanity is going to prove it otherwise.

"Poverty does not belong in civilized human society. Its proper place is in a museum. That’s where it will be. When schoolchildren go with their teachers and tour the poverty museums, they will be horrified to see the misery and indignity of human beings."

Dr. Muhammad Yunus in his book: Banker to the Poor.

Page 248. ISBN: 9781586481988

Favorite quotes from 1984

I recently finished reading 1984 once again. This time I made sure to take nodes on my Kindle for the best thought provoking, jaw-dropping of just plain scary ones

About re-writing history:

Who controls the past, ‘ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.

Censorship:

Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of though? In the end we shall make though crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.

Lack of critical thinking. Conservative and orthodox thinking:

Orthodoxy means not thinking — not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness. 

I am at loss of words how to explain this one:

The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and Ministry of Plenty with starvation

Sadly, even in the current free world, sex is still a taboo. Women are still treated like procreation machines. They don’t have reproductive rights. A woman’s sexual instincts can ruin her life even in 21st century, even if parts of her private life gets leaked.

The sex instinct will be eradicated. Procreation will be an annual formality like renewal of ration card. We shall abolish the orgasm.

The Olympic God shoots down the Olympic Carrier

If you have watched Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined), then you would remember a scene in Season 1 Episode 1 “33”  where the cylons keeps coming back every 33 minutes. The reason for this duration is not known, but during one of the jumps, they lost a civilian ship named Olympic Carrier.

When the word came that Olympic Carrier has been lost, President Roslin was heart broken to have lost over 1000 people (1,345 people to be exact). If the missing ship was not a surprise, the Cylons did not arrive again after 33 minutes, but what surfaced was the Olympic Carrier. Everyone was congratulating each other.

Commander Adama sent raptors and vipers to escort the ship. Next, one of the scientists asserted that the Olympic Carrier was compromised and they should keep distance. Adama buys into it and asks the vipers and raptors to cut off any communication with the ship and relay the message to stop for inspection. Starbuck and Apollo end up blowing the ship. 

Later in the series Apollo shows his regret for blowing up the ship containing over 1000 people. It was indeed an emotional experience. Having blood on your hand is not something everyone can live by, but the circumstances which led to blowing up the ship was not really difficult.

  • The ship refused the order to stop moving towards the other ships. The message was very clear as per colonial protocols.
  • Even after the warning shots were fired, the pilot did not stop the ships. This can lead us to believe us that the compromised Olympic Carrier wanted to blow up rest of the ships like a suicide mission.
  • When Apollo was flying besides the ship, he could not see anyone inside the ship. Maybe the cylons removed all the people aboard the ship?
  • Lastly, the ship set off radiological alarm which signifies nuclear weapon aboard the ship. Nuclear weapons on a civilian ship?

First, the whole existence of humanity was at stake. If the Olympic Carrier was able to come close to the fleet and blow up the nuclear weapons, humanity’s story would have been over. I am not really into violence and would have wanted a peaceful outcome of this issue, but given that all the odds were against Olympic Carrier in this standoff, I won’t blame the Commander for issuing the order to destroy the ship. We take decisions based on the current known information. We cannot make decisions based on something which we are going to know in the future.