The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘Texas’

Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients: Battling Burzynski’s Dangerous BS

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 17, 2013

Sometimes pseudoscience is stupid, sometimes it is annoying, sometimes it hurts our educational institutions… and sometimes it is outright frakking deadly.  Case in point, medical frauds who perpetuate nonsense to vulnerable, desperate people; such as when quacks push supposed “cures for cancer” which are anything but or have yet to be proven, such as in the case of Stanislaw Burzynski and his “cancer clinic”.  In such situations, it is literally a matter of life and death because when cancer patients delay reliable medical treatments in favor of pseudoscientific B.S. the delay can cost them their lives.  Skeptic James Randi helps to break it down in more detail here:

The Randi Show – The Burzynski Clinic and Cancer Quacks

But rather than curse the darkness, let us instead light a candle… 🙂

I am happy to announce that the Skeptical Teacher will be joining a coalition of skeptical activists called the Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients (SPCP).  The Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients is a grassroots group devoted to the promotion of promising, ethical, and transparent cancer research. For more about this project and the group sponsoring it, visit thehoustoncancerquack.com or visit their Facebook page.  Also, please consider donating either some of your time  by promoting the cause (if you have a blog or media contacts) and/or your money to the legitimate scientific research of cancer.

Some more background and info on Burzynski:

*Dr. David Gorski has a new Science-Based Medicine post out as of this past Monday on Burzynski’s antineoplastons treatment. Science-Based Medicine » Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski’s antineoplastons versus patients.

*Burzynski gets warning from FDA: Stop promoting your treatment as “safe” and “effective”

The U.S. FDA has sent a letter to the Burzynski Research Institute to cease claiming that their brain tumor treatment, antineoplastons, are safe and/or effective for the purposed for which they are being investigated. In other words, Burzynski’s claims on websites and promotional materials that this treatment WORKS is a violation because supposed to be testing that!

* Supporters often use patient anecdotes to sell his unproven treatments at the Burzynski Patient Group. We have started curating a collection of patient stories at The OTHER Burzynski Patient Group, the ones Burzynski would rather you not hear. Also, these stories can be exported to your own website IN THEIR ENTIRETY via the storify site they were created on. Free content, people. Just sayin’.

*Orac, an oncologist, cancer researcher, and patient advocate, has written extensively about Burzynski at Respectful Insolence.

*Learn the whole story at Josephine Jones’s Blog. She has kept a comprehensive list of content about Burzynski, his clinic, and his chemotherapy on the web. An invaluable resource!

*You might be interested that the EMPLOYER of one of our members (of SPCP) was recently contacted by one of Burzynski’s misguided supporters.

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Stephen Colbert PWNs Don McLeroy, Creationist Crank from Texas

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 26, 2012

If you know who Don McLeroy is (and if you don’t, read up on him here), then you know he is quite notorious for being reality-challenged.  In what I can only describe as a stroke of comedic genius, Stephen Colbert interviews McLeroy on the Colbert Report.  Enjoy 🙂

Posted in creationism, education, humor, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Texas State Board of Education Actually Votes IN FAVOR of Evolution!

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 23, 2011

In a bit of good news regarding the ongoing Texas evolution/creationism textbook battles, the pro-science side scored a major victory today!  You may recall that in recent years there has been a big conflict in Texas regarding the issue of material presenting (or not presenting) evolution in state textbooks.  This is also a national issue because the market for textbooks in Texas is so large that many publishers write their textbooks to cater to that market, and the rest of the country just has to follow along.  Well, due to the downturn in the economy, Texas didn’t purchase new textbooks (which would have likely been influenced by creationist nonsense, due to the idiocy of the previous BoEd); instead, the current BoEd has decided to purchase supplemental materials for Texas schools.  And here’s where the cause for celebration comes in: the BoEd voted today unanimously (8-0) to accept scientifically-accurate supplements!

The National Center for Science Education reports more details 🙂

Victory for evolution in Texas

Pop the champagne corks. The Texas Board of Education has unanimously come down on the side of evolution. In an 8-0 vote, the board today approved scientifically accurate high school biology textbook supplements from established mainstream publishers–and did not approve the creationist-backed supplements from International Databases, LLC.

“This is a huge victory for Texas students and teachers,” said Josh Rosenau, NCSE programs and policy director, who testified at the hearings this week. In his testimony, Rosenau urged the board to approve the supplements–recommended by a review panel largely composed of scientists and science educators–without amendments, and to reject International Database’s creationist submission. The board did just that, and asked for only minimal changes to the approved supplements.

In hearings yesterday, NCSE members and allies showed up in force. At least four times as many people testified in favor of the supplements as written, versus those opposing the supplements or demanding significant changes. …

This just goes to show you that if we in the skeptical and pro-science community are persistent, unite, and organize, then we can affect real, substantive change!  Who would have thought – with all of the lunacy coming out of Texas regarding evolution and education in the last few years – that we would have seen such a resounding victory (not one board member voted against these scientifically-sound supplements – NOT ONE!) on this subject?

Let’s not rest on our laurels, folks.  You can bet the creationists and their religiously fundamentalist allies won’t rest; they’ll be looking for their next opportunity to push their pseudoscientific nonsense in public schools as soon as we aren’t watching.  So stay vigilant!

 

Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Another Spectacular Example of Psychic Fail in Texas “Murder” Mystery

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 12, 2011

It seems that in Texas an anonymous “psychic detective” tipped off the police to the fact that there was a gruesome scene in a farmhouse which contained the remains of about 30 people, including the dismembered bodies of multiple children.  Unfortunately, the police of the Liberty County’s Sheriff’s Office actually took these tips seriously, because after they mobilized a massive amount of resources, they found absolutely nothing at the site…

A false tip from a psychic prompted Texas authorities to swarm a rural home searching for a nonexistent mass grave and up to 30 bodies, including those of dismembered children.

A few hours later it was clear the tip was nothing more than a gruesome wild goose chase.

“There’s no crime scene,” Liberty County Judge Craig McNair told reporters as deputies, Texas Rangers and FBI agents wrapped up a fruitless search that gained national media attention. [emphasis added]

Yup, you read that right.  Not only did the local Sheriff’s Office get into the mix, but the Texas Rangers and FBI were also involved in this fiasco!  I think these agencies have opened themselves up to some much deserved derision, because it has been shown conclusively in great detail that, despite numerous claims to the contrary, psychics do not do anything to help with police investigations.  In fact, most police and detectives do not use psychics because they know the track record of such “help” (i.e. it doesn’t work), and they know that chasing down false leads provided by these morons would just be a waste of time and resources (as it was in the spectacular failure of the case in question).

So why is it that these alleged “psychic detectives” keep on cropping up?  Because they are very good self-promoters, and they are playing off people’s desire to have closure on certain topics – it is, after all, very difficult when dealing with certain crimes (especially child abductions) to be patient and follow established and well-tested investigatory procedures.  These psychics play on this sense of unease on the part of the family in question (or perhaps the community) to swoop in and offer a measure of hope (however empty it is) while  also garnering some fame for themselves.

In his article in Skeptical Inquirer magazine titled “The Case of the ‘Psychic Detectives'”, I really like how skeptical investigator Joe Nickell puts it…

Although mainstream science has never validated any psychic ability, self-styled clairvoyants, diviners, spirit mediums, and soothsayers continue to sell their fantasies—and in some cases to shrewdly purvey their cons—to a credulous public. Particularly disturbing is a resurgence of alleged psychic crime-solving.

In fact, the media—especially Court TV’s Psychic Detectives, NBC’s Medium, and various programs of Larry King Live—have shamelessly touted several self-claimed psychic shamuses as if they could actually identify murderers and kidnappers, or locate missing persons. Here is an investigative look at five such claimants. (Another, Phil Jordan, was featured in an earlier SI [Nickell 2004].) …

… psychics do not solve crimes or locate missing persons—unless they employ the same non-mystical techniques as real detectives: obtaining and assessing factual information, receiving tips, and so on, even sometimes getting lucky. In addition to the technique of “retrofitting,” psychics may shrewdly study local newspaper files and area maps, glean information from family members or others associated with a tragedy, and even impersonate police and reportedly attempt to bribe detectives (Nickell 1994). It is bad enough that they are often able to fool members of the media; detectives, if they do not know better, as most do, should learn better. They should, well, investigate their alleged psychic counterparts.

Well, in the Texas case, there is a silver lining.  It seems the agencies in question disliked being deceived by the supposed psychic tipster, and they have decided to try charging them with filing a false police report – perhaps if more of these charlatans were actually held to account, then there would be fewer of the psychic glory-hounds clamoring for their 15 minutes of fame.  We can only hope.

Posted in psychics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Creationists Try New Tactic in Texas

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 4, 2011

Well, you have to give creationists credit for one thing: they are incredibly persistent.  Despite the fact that in Texas the creationists were defeated at the election polls, and they were also defeated on the question of textbook selection, they still keep trying to come up with ways to minimize and/or erase good science education in Texas public schools.

Here’s the latest twist: when the creationists fail to get what they call “supplemental materials” (read: creationist literature & books) into the curriculum via textbooks and whatnot, they try exactly the same thing using a different medium – the Internet.

The National Center for Science Education has more details – read on:

Creationist materials submitted in Texas

Materials “laced with creationist arguments” have been submitted for approval by the Texas state board of education, charged the Texas Freedom Network and the National Center for Science Education in a joint press release issued on April 25, 2011. As the press release explains, “The Texas Education Agency has made available on its website science instructional materials — all of them web-based — that publishers and other vendors have proposed for high school biology classes across the state. Materials approved by the state board in July could be in Texas science classrooms for nearly a decade. An initial review by NCSE and TFN has revealed that materials from at least one vendor, … International Databases Inc., promote anti-evolution arguments made by proponents of intelligent design/creationism.” …

Folks, be on the lookout.  As I said, these creationists are persistent, and if you let your guard down for one second, they’ll take advantage of your schools at either the local or state level.

Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Institute for Creation Research Admits Defeat in Fight Over It’s Graduate School

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 3, 2010

I got a great piece of news in my email inbox just yesterday from the science defenders over at the National Center for Science Education. It seems that one of the oldest & staunchest creationist organizations (specifically, Young-Earth Creationist or YEC) around – the Institute for Creation Research – has finally thrown in the towel on its controversial attempt to offer a master’s degree in “science” education at its graduate school in Texas.  Nice to see that the folks in the Lone Star State get it right regarding science education sometimes 🙂

ICR concedes defeat over its graduate school

The Institute for Creation Research is apparently conceding defeat in its lawsuit over the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s 2008 decision to deny the ICR’s request for a state certificate of authority to offer a master’s degree in science education from its graduate school. The United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, finding (PDF, p. 38) that “ICRGS [the Institute for Creation Research Graduate School] has not put forth evidence sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact with respect to any claim it brings,” granted summary judgment to the defendants in a June 18, 2010, ruling. It was not until the September 2010 issue of the ICR’s Acts & Facts, however, that the ICR seems to have publicly commented on the decision, with Henry Morris III, the ICR’s chief executive officer, writing, “ICR’s legal battle is over.”

Information about the graduate school vanished from the ICR’s website over the summer of 2010, but writing in Creation Ministries International’s Journal of Creation (forthcoming 2010; 24 [3]: 54-55), Chris Ashcraft reported (PDF), “On 25 June 2010 the ICR board of directors voted to close the Grad School,” citing a June 30, 2010, e-mail from Henry Morris III. Replacing it, apparently, is the ICR’s School of Biblical Apologetics, which offers a Master of Christian Education degree; Creation Research is one of four minors. The ICR explains, “Due to the nature of ICR’s School of Biblical Apologetics — a predominantly religious education school — it is exempt from licensing by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Likewise, ICR’s School of Biblical Apologetics is legally exempt from being required to be accredited by any secular or ecumenical or other type of accrediting association.”

Posted in creationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Institute for Creation Research Loses Texas Lawsuit Over “Master’s” Degree in Creation Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 23, 2010

In a bit of good news from our friends at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), it appears that the young-earth creationist organization called the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) has lost its court battle in Texas against the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board.  Apparently, ICR was suing the Board for it refusing to recognize the ICR’s “Master’s” degree in science education.  If ICR had called it a Master’s degree in pseudoscience education, then perhaps things would have gone differently 😉

Anyway, read on for the full update from NCSE on this welcome development…

The Institute for Creation Research suffered a significant legal defeat in its lawsuit over the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board’s 2008 decision to deny the ICR’s request for a state certificate of authority to offer a master’s degree in science education from its graduate school. A June 18, 2010, ruling in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas found (PDF, p. 38) that “ICRGS [the Institute for Creation Research Graduate School] has not put forth evidence sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact with respect to any claim it brings. Thus, Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on the totality of ICRGS’s claims against them in this lawsuit.”

As NCSE’s Glenn Branch explained in Reports of the NCSE, “When the Institute for Creation Research moved its headquarters from Santee, California, to Dallas, Texas, in June 2007, it expected to be able to continue offering a master’s degree in science education from its graduate school. … But the state’s scientific and educational leaders voiced their opposition, and at its April 24, 2008, meeting, the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board unanimously voted to deny the ICR’s request for a state certificate of authority to offer the degree.” Subsequently, the ICR appealed the decision, while also taking its case to the court of public opinion with a series of press releases and advertisements in Texas newspapers.

The issue was not, strictly speaking, about accreditation, but about temporary state certification, which would have enabled the ICR graduate school to operate while it sought accreditation. When in California, the ICR graduate school was accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, which requires candidate institutions to affirm a list of Biblical Foundations, including “the divine work of non-evolutionary creation including persons in God’s image.” TRACS is not recognized by the state of Texas, however, and after the ICR moved from Santee, California, to Dallas, Texas, the ICR expressed its intention to seek accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Finally, the ICR filed suit against THECB in 2009, accusing it and its members of imposing “an unconstitutional and prejudicial burden against ICRGS’s academic freedom and religious liberties.” The prolix style of the ICR’s initial complaint — which the Dallas Observer (April 20, 2009) quipped “reads kind of like stereo instructions” — was apparently continued in its subsequent documents; the court complained, “It appears that although the Court has twice required Plaintiff to re-plead and set forth a short and plain statement of the relief requested, Plaintiff is entirely unable to file a complaint which is not overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering, and full of irrelevant information” (p. 12).

In summary, the ICR claimed that THECB’s actions violated its rights to free exercise, free speech, and equal protection, its rights to procedural and substantive due process, and its rights under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as that “Standard 12” — the civil regulation on which THECB’s decision was based (19 Texas Administrative Code sec. 7.4(14)) — was vague. The court found merit in none of these claims. With respect to the free exercise claim, for example, the court found that “the Board’s decision was rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest, and there is no evidence the decision was motivated by animus toward any religious viewpoint” (p. 24).

Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Oppose Texas Theocratic Threats to Nationwide Education

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 11, 2010

I just wanted to pass along a very well-worded action alert from the folks over at the Secular Coalition for America

****************

Don’t Let a Few Theocrats Have a National Effect on Public School Curricula

A few theocratic members of the Texas State Board of Education—already infamous for their moves to indoctrinate Texas students with creationism in science classes—are falsely asserting a theocratic basis to America’s founding and removing, of all people, Thomas Jefferson from a list of influential thinkers. [Read more about this situation at the Texas Freedom Network’s website]

A handful of religious extremists can affect schools across America. Because other big states like California and New York do not impose statewide standards in the same way, Texas is one of the largest statewide textbook markets. Texas uses some of its $22 billion education fund to buy or distribute a staggering 48 million textbooks annually—which strongly inclines educational publishers to tailor products to fit Texas standards.

The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association have developed (and the Obama administration has embraced) common core educational standards, but they apply only to math and English language arts. As the New York Times recently noted, some basic, factual subjects, such as evolution may be deemed “controversial” in the 21st Century’s educational environment. If standards are to exist, federal financial incentives must apply with equal force to science and history just as they do for math and English. To do otherwise is to succumb to the pressure of religious extremists.

Let’s make sure our community’s voice is heard.

Write your Member of Congress now! Tell them that if they support national education standards and incentives for math and English, they should support standards that are just as strong for science and history, regardless of pressure from religious extremists.

Secular Americans believe that every student deserves to learn science and our nation’s history as they actually are, with no bias for or against any ideology or religion. Religious creation myths have no place in science classes, and religiously-based revisions and indoctrinations should be equally unwelcome in history classes. We should not be afraid to set standards because of religious extremists.

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Amen to that 🙂

Posted in education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Texas Voters Give Creationist Don McLeroy the Big Texas Boot

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 12, 2010

It seems that our friend on the Texas State Board of Education, Don McLeroy – who is infamous for his repeated attempts to water down the teaching of evolution in particular & science in general in Texas schools, has finally gotten his come-uppance… he has lost his seat on the Texas BoEd in the Republican primary.  The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has a good breakdown of what happened (below), but I think the long story short of it is that people in Texas are fed up with the creationists attempting to spread their extreme & divisive ideology through the public schools… at least, I hope that’s the case.

Here’s the take down by the NCSE…

In the March 2, 2010, primary election, avowed young-earth creationist Don McLeroy narrowly lost his bid to be the Republican candidate for the District 9 seat on the Texas state board of education. As the Dallas Morning News (March 3, 2010) reported, “The fiercely contested race pitted McLeroy, a dentist from College Station and member of the board’s social conservative bloc, against [Thomas] Ratliff, a legislative consultant and son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff,” who is viewed as likely to side with the moderates on the board. There is no Democratic candidate for the seat, so Ratliff is expected to be elected in November 2010.

Originally elected to the board in 1998, McLeroy was persistently determined to undermine the treatment of evolution in Texas’s public schools. During the debate over biology textbook adoption in 2003, he was one of the four members of the board who misused the state science standards to oppose adopting the eleven textbooks under consideration. His attacks on science education — including his endorsement of a book that described parents who want their children to learn about evolution as “monsters” — were in part responsible for the state senate’s refusal to confirm him as chair of the board in May 2009, as NCSE previously reported.

McLeroy’s assault on evolution came to a head during a meeting of the board in March 2009 when he declaimed, in a now notorious moment, “Somebody’s got to stand up to experts!” (Video is available on NCSE’s YouTube channel.) Unfortunately, a majority of the board did so, voting to amend the Texas state science standards to add a requirement that students examine “all sides of scientific evidence” and to add or amend various standards in a way that encourages the presentation of creationist claims about the complexity of the cell, the completeness of the fossil record, and the age of the universe.

The board’s revisions to the standards were widely deplored, with the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology describing it as “a step backward” and the Austin American-Statesman (April 1, 2009) editorially complaining, “Don McLeroy, Dunbar and others have turned the education board into a national joke. But when it comes to teaching Texas children, what they have done is not funny.” But McLeroy was unabashed. “Our science standards are light years ahead of any other state when it comes to challenging evolution,” he told the Washington Monthly (January/February 2010), adding, “Evolution is hooey.”

Well, Don McLeroy may think that “evolution is hooey” but the voters of Texas have spoken, and McLeroy is history 🙂

Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Progress in the Texas Social Studies Curriculum Fight

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 27, 2009

Not too long ago, I posted about how the Texas Board of Education, which is run by religious zealots, has been attempting to infuse fundamentalist Christianity into social studies classes. As that article states, various groups have lined up to oppose this move, and it seems that – slowly but surely – the campaign to hold the Texas BoEd accountable is bearing fruit.

Here is an update from the American Humanist Association on the issue…

The Texas State Board of Education recently made public the first draft of their new curriculum—and it looks like your hard work has paid off! Bob Bhaerman, education coordinator of the Kochhar Humanist Education Center, has carefully reviewed the draft recommendations and overall has found them to be satisfactory. The curriculum does not appear to paint the United States as a “Christian nation” in any way, nor does it include other historically inaccurate or misleading standards.

Thank you for your support on this important issue.

Despite this welcome development, however, there are still a few sections of the curriculum that could call into question its ideological impartiality. We need to keep the pressure on the Texas State Board of Education to make sure the final version gets it just right. One particularly troubling area includes directives to teach about the influence of religious conservatives and the Moral Majority—without paying equal attention to progressive figures or movements.

Please click here to send a letter to the Texas State Board of Education, commending the first draft but urging them to maintain an impartial balance when it comes to covering ideologies in the final curriculum.

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

 
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