The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘GOP’

The Todd Akin Fiasco: When Scientific Ignorance and Religious Extremism Rule Politics

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 22, 2012

Unless you’ve been sitting under a rock for the last few days, you know about the brouhaha surrounding the comments by the Republican candidate for the Missouri U.S. Senate seat, Congressman Todd Akin.  Just in case you haven’t heard/seen them, here are his comments on abortion and rape which (rightly so) have created a storm of controversy:

Wow… the words almost escape me… almost.  At the very least, Congressman Akin displays an appalling lack of scientific knowledge regarding rape and pregnancy (this despite the fact that he is on the U.S. House Committee on Science *facepalm*).  To understand just how scientifically ignorant he is with his “legitimate rape” and “women’s bodies can shut that [pregnancy due to rape] down” comments, take a look at this medical study on the issue (Hint: pregnancy due to rape isn’t “very rare”, as Congressman Akin asserts).

So how is it that a Congressman on the House Science Committee (did I *facepalm* already?) has such an out-of-touch and ignorant view of science?  I think part of the answer is Akin’s religious ideology, which he shares with a number of social/religious conservatives in the United States.  It ends up that this “legitimate rape” and related myths are not that uncommon among that demographic; take a look at these examples:

‘Legitimate Rape’? Todd Akin and Other Politicians Who Confused Science

The Official Guide to Legitimate Rape

‘God’s Little Shield’: A Short History Of The False No-Pregnancy-From-Rape Theory

Doctor behind Todd Akin’s rape theory was a Romney surrogate in 2007

And my absolute favorite, religious right-wing groups such as the American Family Association and the Family Research Council are fervently defending Congressman Akin’s ignorance in favor of their twisted religious worldview:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Obama Campaign Commits to Address Top American Science Questions

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 31, 2012

As I recently blogged, the folks at Science Debate 2012 came up with a list of Top Science Questions for the United States presidential candidates.  The good news is that the campaign for President Obama has committed to addressing these questions; we are now waiting on the Romney campaign to respond.  No matter which candidate you support, please contact them to encourage them to give these scientific and technological issues more emphasis as the election season ramps up…

Why Science Is a Non-Issue in the Election… Again

David Gergen, Michael Lubell and I had a very important conversation with Ira Flatow on this week’s Science Friday about why the science debate project is critical to the country and why it’s nevertheless an uphill battle that will take leadership from everyone receiving this email.

I strongly encourage you to listen in, and then lead.  Speak out about it, especially if you are in a leadership position.  Elected leaders need to hear from you.  Blog about it.  Share it everywhere you are able – particularly with members of the mainstream media.

We are making progress.  I’m happy to report that the Obama campaign has committed to respond to the Top American Science Questions.  That’s a great start.  Hopefully the Romney campaign will soon follow suit.  Please consider making a donation to help us continue to move the ball forward toward written answers, then then actual debate discussion of these critical issues.

Posted in politics, science funding, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Science Debate 2012 Questions for the Presidential Candidates

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 26, 2012

Last March I passed on the news that Science Debate 2012 was looking for questions to ask the U.S. presidential candidates, and now the questions are here!  In case you don’t know, the whole purpose of Science Debate is to put questions of scientific, engineering, and technological importance into the political debate; considering as how important these issues are and will be in the 21st-century, I think it is more than appropriate to hold our political candidates accountable on such matters.  Take a look at the Science Debate press release and questions:

Science Debate 2012 Press Release

The Top American Science Questions in 2012

“Whenever the people are well-informed,” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “they can be trusted with their own government.”

Science now affects every aspect of life and is an increasingly important topic in national policymaking.

ScienceDebate.org invited thousands of scientists, engineers and concerned citizens to submit what they felt were the the most important science questions facing the nation that the candidates for president should be debating on the campaign trail.

ScienceDebate then worked with the leading US science and engineering organizations listed at left to refine the questions and arrive at a universal consensus on what the most important science policy questions facing the United States are in 2012.

Innovation | Climate Change | Research and the Future | Pandemics and Biosecurity
Education | Energy | Food | Fresh Water | The Internet | Ocean Health
Science in Public Policy | Space | Critical Natural Resources | Vaccination and Public Health

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Addressing Birthers: Turning the Tables and Outright Mockery

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 24, 2012

In the last few days, the political process in the great state of Arizona has been made a mockery of by one of its own highest elected officials, Arizona secretary of state Ken Bennett.  That’s because Bennett mentioned last week in an interview that due to “outstanding questions” regarding President Obama’s citizenship, he might have to withold Obama from the Arizona ballot in November’s presidential election.  He stated that while he personally believed that Obama is a U.S. citizen, he also had a duty to “investigate” because he kept getting emails (about 1200 of them) demanding proof of Obama’s citizenship.  Essentially, a bunch of birther conspiracy theorists pestered Bennett, and he went off on this fool’s errand as a way of appeasing these nutbags in the base of his own Republican party.

But the joke’s on Bennett, because not only did the state of Hawaii address his concerns (by providing solid evidence, yet again, that proves Obama was born in the U.S.), but it did so by turning the tables on Bennett and his fellow birthers:

Hawaii’s Now Asking Birthers to Prove Who They Are

Ken Bennett, Arizona’s secretary of state, is the latest person to question the President’s birthplace, although he’s doing it the way people do when they want to call it into question but don’t want to seem like a loon. Bennett, a Republican who perhaps coincidentally is planning to run for governor in 2014, said on a radio show last week that he’s looking into the issue, and that it’s “possible” he might keep Obama off the Arizona ballot in 2012, not because he thinks the President isn’t a “natural-born citizen” but because some other people say they think that and so he’s gotta look into it. …

… In the meantime, though, he’s just waiting (apart from his other secretarial duties) for Hawaii officials to provide verification. He said on the show that he was puzzled it took them eight weeks to respond to his request, and when they did respond they still didn’t give him what he wanted.

Instead, they asked him to prove who he was:

On Thursday, Bennett said he sent his request to Hawaii officials eight weeks ago but has yet to get the proof he was hoping for…. In the weeks since then, Bennett said, Hawaii officials have forced him to provide proof that he is who he says he is. They asked him to send them copies of the Arizona laws that prove the secretary of state really is the person in charge of handling the ballots. Admittedly, Bennett said they told him they were “tired of all the requests.” But he is continuing anyway.

Oh my, that’s embarrassing!

This is why, whenever I get into a discussion with birthers, I first insist that they prove – to my satisfaction – that they are citizens of the United States by giving me a copy of their birth certificate.  You can just imagine how happy they are to hear their own stupid arguments turned back at them 🙂

But it gets even better.  Apparently, Bennett was using the fact that he received so many requests (about 1200 or so via email) about President Obama’s citizenship as justification for this colossal waste of time and resources.  So how can one respond to such a wimpy excuse for backpeddling out of such a dumb position?  Answer: outright mockery…

Mitt Romney: Is He a Unicorn? More Than 17,000 People Want Ken Bennett to Find Out

Is GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney a businessman? Or is he really a unicorn?
At the time of this post, more than 17,000 people would like Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett to find out.
In response to the 1,200 “birthers” who asked Bennett to verify with the state of Hawaii — yet again — that President Obama has a birth certificate there, the left-wingers would also like Bennett to check out their conspiracy theory.
“I understand you are considering kicking President Obama off the ballot because some people continue to raise questions about his birth,” the petition to Bennett says. “Well, I believe it cannot be proven conclusively that Mitt Romney is *not* a unicorn. A unicorn would not be qualified to be president. Thus, I hope you will apply the same standard to Romney, and investigate the unicorn question.”
Indeed, Romney has never denied being a unicorn, and the left-wingers say it’s possible Romney’s hair could be covering up a unicorn horn. …

Ridiculous?  Of course it is – but that’s the whole point!  Once you have set the bar so low by trying to kowtow to the level of birther conspiracy mongering, you might as well open the door to ludicrous inquiries such as that above about the Romney-Unicorn.

Congratulations, Mr. Bennett!  You’ve earned this:

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Election 2012 and a Reminder that Pollsters are B.S.

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 22, 2012

As we ramp up for yet another frenzied political season where, no doubt, there will be much drama and mudslinging, I’d like to leave you all with this one thought: for the most part, political polls and pollsters are bullshit.

This article does a good job explaining why…

Pay no attention to the pollster behind the curtain

There are many ways to keep score on whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney has better odds of winning the general election, which is almost exactly six months away. Here at The Signal, we are fervent evangelists of the political prediction markets, where people place real money on the line to bet on the winner. These markets proved to be more prescient than polls in the Republican primary.

Many journalists prefer to stick to reporting on raw daily polls. While these surveys offer valuable information, it is dangerous to read too much into the daily fluctuations, especially this far in advance. Currently, Rasmussen has Romney leading Obama 49 to 44, while Rueters/Ipsos has Obama leading Romney 49 to 42. This disagreement is due to several common sources of error that occur on any poll. Averaging several polls to get an aggregate figure, as RealClearPolitics does, helps ameliorate these errors.

Upcoming work by Bob Erikson of Columbia and Chris Wlezien of Temple, recently presented at the Midwest Political Science Association conference, demonstrates a second problem with following the daily polls too closely. The researchers looked through past presidential elections, aggregated the national polls, and created the most effective forecast based on that data. They found that, even when properly aggregated and averaged, national polls do not have predictive power at this point in the cycle. … [emphasis added]

You can read the entire article to get the gist of how untrustworthy most politically-oriented polls can be, but I think it is said even better by skeptical magicians Penn & Teller 🙂

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Catholic Bishops Decide to Declare War on Women Early… by Attacking the Girl Scouts

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 11, 2012

Oh dear evil Jeebus.  As if the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops – also known as the 21st century Inquisition – hasn’t done enough damage attempting to drag us back into the 19th century with their recent, moronic attacks against birth control and women’s reproductive rights, they’ve decided to go a few steps even further down the rabbit hole.  They have decided to declare war on women early… before they’re even women… by going after the Girl Scouts.

Girl Scouts under scrutiny from Catholic bishops

NEW YORK — Long a lightning rod for conservative criticism, the Girl Scouts  of the USA are now facing their highest-level challenge yet: An official inquiry  by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

At issue are concerns about program materials that some Catholics find  offensive, as well as assertions that the Scouts associate with other groups  espousing stances that conflict with church teaching. The Scouts, who have  numerous parish-sponsored troops, deny many of the claims and defend their  alliances.

The inquiry coincides with the Scouts’ 100th anniversary celebrations and  follows a chain of other controversies.

Earlier this year, legislators in Indiana and Alaska publicly called the  Scouts into question, and the organization was berated in a series aired by a  Catholic broadcast network. Last year, the Scouts angered some conservatives by  accepting into a Colorado troop a 7-year-old transgender child who was born a  boy but was being raised as a girl.

Some of the concerns raised by Catholic critics are recycled complaints that  have been denied by the Girl Scouts’ head office repeatedly and categorically.  It says it has no partnership with Planned Parenthood, and does not take  positions on sexuality, birth control and abortion.

“It’s been hard to get the message out there as to what is true when  distortions get repeated over and over,” said Gladys Padro-Soler, the Girl  Scouts’ director of inclusive membership strategies.

In other instances, the scouts have modified materials that drew complaints  — for example, dropping some references to playwright Josefina Lopez because  one of her plays, “Simply Maria,” was viewed by critics as mocking the Catholic  faith.

The new inquiry will be conducted by the bishops’ Committee on Laity,  Marriage, Family Life and Youth. It will look into the Scouts’ “possible  problematic relationships with other organizations” and various “problematic”  program materials, according to a letter sent by the committee chairman, Bishop  Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne, Ind., to his fellow bishops.

The bishops’ conference provided a copy of the letter to The Associated  Press, but otherwise declined comment. …

This is really starting to piss me off, and it makes me want to buy an assload of Girl Scout cookies in response to this B.S.  And then I want to get a bunch of friends together to put on a very public display of eating those cookies in front of a Catholic church in protest.  Sound like a plan?

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Cognitive Dissonance in Partisan Politics: The Case of Gas Prices

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 9, 2012

In a follow up to my recent posts (here and here) on the issue of rising U.S. gas prices and how the President and Congress really have little power to affect them, despite the belief by some that they do, I heard an excellent piece on NPR this morning about this very subject.  Of course, in NPR fashion, they went a bit deeper and actually started to discuss in a scientific fashion why it is that Republicans are blaming President Obama for higher gas prices now whereas a few years ago it was Democrats blaming then President Bush for higher gas prices.  Check it out…

Partisan Psychology: Why Do People Choose Political Loyalties Over Facts?

Charlie Reidel/AP — President Bush and then-Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry shake hands at the end of a presidential debate in 2004 in St. Louis. Researchers want to better understand why partisans’ views of the facts change in light of their political loyalties.

When pollsters ask Republicans and Democrats whether the president can do anything about high gas prices, the answers reflect the usual partisan divisions in the country. About two-thirds of Republicans say the president can do something about high gas prices, and about two-thirds of Democrats say he can’t.

But six years ago, with a Republican president in the White House, the numbers were reversed: Three-fourths of Democrats said President Bush could do something about high gas prices, while the majority of Republicans said gas prices were clearly outside the president’s control.

The flipped perceptions on gas prices isn’t an aberration, said Dartmouth College political scientist Brendan Nyhan. On a range of issues, partisans seem partial to their political loyalties over the facts. When those loyalties demand changing their views of the facts, he said, partisans seem willing to throw even consistency overboard. …

Click here to read the entire story

Posted in economics, politics, psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

President Obama, God, and Agency Where None Exists

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 27, 2012

I was inspired to write the following JREF Swift blog post as a result of my earlier posts (here and here) on the question of gasoline prices in the United States and the powers (perceived or real) of the U.S. president.  I hope you find it enlightening…

President Obama, God, and Agency Where None Exists

On my blog, I recently put together a post – Gas Prices and Politics: Fact vs. Fiction – about higher gas prices and how people are blaming President Obama for it.  As I pointed out there, Republicans blaming him for the increase in the price of gasoline (and oil in general) are wrong for the same reason as when Democrats blamed former President Bush back in 2007: the President doesn’t really have that much power to influence oil and gasoline prices.

So, if it is true that no such power exists for the leaders of our government to affect the price at the pump (and that is true, as the prices are set more by market factors such as global supply and demand of oil), why is it that people want to lay blame upon our mostly blameless leaders?  I struggled with the answer to this question for some time, but I think I have finally hit upon a possible answer: many people, either consciously or not, attribute powers to the President of the United States and Congress that simply do not exist.

And that asks the next obvious question: why do people attribute such powers to our political leaders?  Why is it that many of us assign almost god-like abilities to our decidedly non-god-like and wholly fallible authority figures?

I think the answer is multi-faceted and can give some interesting insights into how we think about a lot of things, especially regarding politically oriented topics.  In addition, an analysis of this topic can lead us into a deeper discussion of a philosophical concept known as “agency”.

First, I think (somewhat cynically) that there are some, if not many, politicians in government who, either actively or inactively, encourage the notion that they have more power than they are in reality.  After all, this is one of the reasons why people vote for candidates running for political office: because they make promises and we expect them to deliver on those promises, whether or not those promises are in any way, shape, or form realistic to achieve.  This also goes for the various subsidiaries which surround the government, such as lobbying groups, political action committees, etc.  But it’s too easy to stop there.

Second, I think that in many ways we are somewhat hard-wired to make inferences to the existence of things which are not there.  In philosophy, this is sometimes referred to as “agency”, where we assign some kind of powers and abilities to an entity through our beliefs about that entity or our behavior towards it.  For example, how many of us have been in the middle of some very important work on the computer when suddenly the program crashes?  No doubt that many of us then engaged in a certain amount of cursing at (not necessarily about) the computer, as if it could not only hear but understand us.  (Aside: my wife works with computers for her career, and she will swear up and down that “they know what we’re thinking”)  The computer itself is real enough, but what about the agency which we assign to it?

But when you step back and think about it, it’s downright silly to rant and rave at the computer.  The most obvious reason for this is that it simply doesn’t work.  Yell at the computer all you want, but that won’t fix the problem; actually trying to solve the relevant hardware and/or software problem will fix things.  The other reason is that, let’s face it, at the end of the day the computer is simply a collection of circuits, wire, switches, and assorted electronics.  Does it really have a mind with which to interact?  The answer, so far with today’s common technology, is a negative, yet for some reason we engage with the computer as if it did have such a mind.  And in so doing, we assign agency to the computer. …

Click here to read the rest of the post

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Even Most Religious Voters Want Candidates to Debate Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 18, 2012

From the fine folks about at ScienceDebate.org come some important results from recent survey.  Long story short: even the vast majority of religious voters want the 2012 presidential candidates to talk less about religion and much more about science and technology issues!  I couldn’t agree more; read on for the details…

New Poll: Even religious voters overwhelmingly want candidates to debate science

Consensus among Protestants, Catholics for science debates, science-based policies; Twice as many think the US not spending enough on alternative energy as do defense

Click for larger image

WASHINGTON (April 3, 2012) — In a surprising rebuff of recent political wisdom that Republicans and religiously affiliated voters are becoming “anti-science,” eighty-two percent of Catholics and eighty-three percent of Protestants say it is more important that the candidates for president debate the major science challenges facing the United States than it is they debate faith and values, according to a new national public opinion poll (PDF) of attitudes about science, faith and public policy commissioned by ScienceDebate.org. …

Click here to read the entire press release

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Politics and Gas Prices Redux: “Obama Has Doubled the Cost of Gas”?

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 17, 2012

As a brief follow up to my recent post titled Gas Prices and Politics: Fact vs. Fiction, I wanted to pass along some deeper analysis that my fellow skeptical blogger Phil over at Skeptic Money did.  It puts a bit more meat on the bones of my previous argument that (duh!) the President of the United States actually has very little power to affect the price of gasoline at the pump.  Read on…

Obama Has Doubled The Cost Of Gas

Blog idea from The Skeptical Teacher. [That’s me :)]

This is one of the new right-wing talking points. The interesting point is that it’s true.  Well, the part that the cost of gasoline going up.  However, Obama had nothing to do with it.

“Gas prices since Obama took office have risen by 103.79 percent. No other presidents in recent years have struggled as much with soaring oil prices.” – US News

Here is a graph from DShort.com.

Notice the green line.  It is the price of oil.  In 2008 while the recession was going strong the price of oil was bid up to almost $150 per barrel by crazed speculators.  When the speculators faced the fact of decreased demand due to a global recession the price of oil collapsed to around $40 per barrel.  The result is a dramatic drop in the cost of all things that come from oil – including gasoline.

Obama took office on January 20, 2009 at the very bottom of the price drop.  Many countries are doing much better now than in 2008-9 and global demand has increased.

Just the other day someone told me that the price of oil was going up because Obama was limiting the production of oil.  I thought he was full of crap so I went and searched out the facts for myself.  If you ever want data on energy production go to eia.gov.

I found this specific data that shows US Crude Oil production.  In 2008 (The year before Obama became president) the US produced 4,950,000 barrels per day.  In 2011 the US produced 5,659,000 barrels per day.  An increase of 14.3%.

They also claimed that Obama has reduced off shore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.  In 2008 The US produced 1,152,000 barrels per day and in 2011 it was 1,318,000.  Wrong on both accounts.

Their third claim was that more off shore drilling would reduce the cost of gasoline and maybe back to what it was 3 years ago.  The US produced 5,659,000 barrels per day in 2011 and 23% (1,318,000 / 5,659,000) from the Gulf.  US oil production is about 11.6% of the worlds total oil supply.  If the Gulf is 23% of this total and you doubled this amount (this could take 10-20 years) then that would increase world production by less than 3%.  I’m sure that this hypathetical and dramatic increase would lower the cost of gas.  However, I would guess by $0.10 to $0.15 per gallon. [emphasis added]

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