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Some very bad and sad news (3/8/2019)
After 80 years, Australasian Science magazine has ceased publication. I thoroughly enjoyed writing for the magazine over the last 16 years and never felt that I was wasting my time. I'll miss both the contributing experience and the always interesting content in the rest of the publication.. This follows closely on the closure of Embiggen Books, Australia's only bookshop dedicated exclusively to books supporting science and reason. I hope this doesn't mean that a new Dark Age is coming, but the loss of these outlets for sense is not a good sign. Did I mention that a politician near my place has called for schools to "teach the controversy", not only meaning creationism instead of actual science but teaching both sides in the climate change "debate". The fact that there is no debate on either issue among real scientists who know what they are talking about can probably be ignored by the ideologues.
My first ever column for the magazine in April 2003 was a bit of a rush job, because I was called in almost at the deadline when the regular correspondent had run out of time. The title of that piece was "Truth and Fiction" and in a sense that's what I wrote about for the next 16 years. The job of science is separating the two, and it is a job that will need doing until the end of time or we know everything there is to know, whichever comes first. Both are a very long way away.
My final column in the July/August 2019 edition dealt with another recurring theme, conspiracies, where people misinterpret evidence much in the style of religious apologetics, where the evidence is interpreted to support preconceptions and beliefs rather than as telling a true story. We all suffer from confirmation bias, but I've always said that as a skeptic I like my facts to be correct. Sadly, a couple of outlets for facts have been silenced.
The covers of the 108 editions that carried articles by me.
You can read them all here.
Things that should disappear (3/8/2019)
Unfortunately, one of the things that was still hanging around like a neighbour's nasty cat when this site got back from its sabbatical was Stan Burzynski and his continued theft of the life savings of desperate people. Stan's fans are famous for jumping into Twitter and only posting using the hashtag #Burzynski (they post on nothing else) and usually disappearing after a couple of posts. You could almost think the number of actual posters was less than the number of screen names, but that would be impolite. And politeness matters.
Here is an example of the politeness shown by supporters of the crook. It was a drive-by posting to Facebook by something which deleted its profile immediately. (It called itself Woit Zakski.) Usual caveats about the cowardice and uselessness of anonymous posters apply.
Did I mention that Burzynski is a liar and a thief? I wouldn't want anyone to think otherwise.
The power of persuasion (3/8/2019)
When people make jokes about selling ice to eskimos I always think that the job would be made easier if the ice were to be labelled "GMO free" and "Organic". You could then charge more for the ice.
I know this is just some meme invented by an anonymous Facebooker, but the part about the higher price is true. That higher price is just a form of voluntary taxation, a choice made by people who are quite free to spend more than they need to to buy food. The reality is, however, that without the productivity and profitability of modern farming practices we would all be paying far more for our food and there would be a lot less of it to go around.
Anti-vaccination liars maintain the rage. Sane people vomit in response.
There's a class of people, including some academics whom one would think would know better, who keep suggesting that some accommodation should be given to anti-vaccine views and comments. Apparently treating the vermin like the vermin they are is unkind and unhelpful. We should listen to their ravings and nod sagely, as if we are listening to something worth hearing.
Here are three examples of anti-vaccination thinking (I use the word loosely) which have come across my desk in the last few days.
The first is a posting to the Facebook page that some friends of mine set up in memory of their child who died of whooping cough. They have been solidly campaigning ever since to raise awareness of the results of not vaccinating (their son was too young), and as a result have been continually targeted with abuse (with even suggestions that their son never existed). This is a mild example of what they have to endure.
I know its name isn't Kell Bell (cowards always hide their names), but I'm happy to publish its real name any time it likes to identify itself.
We have long had to control the gag reflex when anti-vaccination liars appropriate the Holocaust to support their agenda, but this is a new one. Now they want to jump on the civil rights bandwagon. Of course Rosa Parks had no choice about the colour of her skin, unlike the choice people have about vaccination, but even if this fact managed to leak into the atrophied brain of whoever made this meme it would make no difference. And Rosa couldn't lie about her skin colour to get around restrictions.
And then there's just the simply batshit crazy.