Dickens, You Hack!

December 5, 2014

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.     

If you are responsible for offspring, we have good news: This summer's Reason for Change conference will include free child care services

Two ugly stories out of Saudi Arabia: Human rights activist Samar Badawi, sister of Raif and wife of his lawyer, the also-imprisoned Waleed Abu Al-Khairhas been banned from travel before getting a chance to get to an EU human rights forum. (Our own Michael De Dora met Samar in Geneva at the UN Human Rights Council.) Also, two activists championing the rights of women to be allowed to drive (that's it, just be allowed to driveare separately arrested.

Meanwhile in Pakistan, a lawyer defending a professor accused of blasphemy is shot at by dudes on motorcycles, and warned to drop the case. 

Orion gets off the ground.  

Ben Radford questions a well-meaning graphic meant to calm Ebola panic, and considers the balance between truth and good intentions in communication. 

Vaccines save lives, but they don't always save all of them. The CDC says the existing arsenal of flu vaccines may not cut it this year

David Koepsell looks at the scientific prefixes that are "in fashion" for funding:

For a time it was everything "cyber," then it was anything "genomic," "nano," and now "neuro-"  .... these fads can be traced through successful funding achieved with these prefixes attached to them. To get funding, to get attention, to achieve success (which is often measured by universities through dollars brought in), one must show that one is on the forefront of the "next big thing." 

David Gorski is among the reality-based scientists cited in this NPR piece on the problem with the "Food Babe."

What blows Bill Nye's mind? The fact that, as Sagan said, we, mere collections of dust, are a way for the universe to know itself

New York appeals court rejects a lawsuit looking to secure legal personhood rights for a chimpanzee. Wrote the judges:

Unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions. ... In our view, it is this incapability to bear any legal responsibilities and societal duties that renders it inappropriate to confer upon chimpanzees the legal rights—such as the fundamental right to liberty protected by the writ of habeas corpus—that have been afforded to human beings. 

Putin gets a little theocratic in his state-of-the-nation address, claiming that Crimea is the spiritual source for Russia because of Grand Prince Vladimir's conversion there a millennium ago. Reuters' Lucian Kim calls this "scary." 

Stuart Vyse looks at research on the comfort religion seems to provide:

[M]any people value feelings, gut reactions, and intuition over reasoned argument. These religious people and defenders of the status quo will find it very difficult to reject bad ideas that feel so good. 

The DC city council votes to nix a religious exemption to nondiscrimination laws, aimed at private religious schools.

Josh Rosenau of the NCSE doesn't think respect for James Watson's achievements should keep scientists silent about his "insensitivity":

I do not intend to be quiet about injustice, especially when it emanates from eminent scientists or entails the misuse of science for political ends.  

Those class acts at PETA are using the recent corpse-in-the-bedroom story to make a point about the "corpses" on your dinner plate. Remember these are the folks who want you to think that milk causes autism.

So I come across a piece titled "Using Poison Ivy as a Medicine" and I'm all "noooo" and then I see it's by a guy whose bio says he's a "pioneer of new paradigm medical thinking" and I'm all "noooooooo" and then I see this sentence, "Ask any person familiar with homeopathy and they can tell you about the positive health benefits of Rhus toxicodendron," and I'm all "NOOOOOOOOOOO." 

Someone at the Canada Free Press disses Ryan Cragun's piece in Free Inquiry against the Santa myth.   

Spider-Man, God, Santa, and the systematic torture of heretics. There's overlap

A Christmas Carol, but where the important spirit is that of Jesus. As Jeremy Simington said on Twitter, "Suck it, Dickens, you hack!."

Quote of the Day

The Fellows of CFI's Committee for Skeptical Inquiry jointly release a statement to media asking that the word "skeptic" stop being used to describe climate change deniers:

Real skepticism is summed up by a quote popularized by Carl Sagan, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” [Sen. James] Inhofe’s belief that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” is an extraordinary claim indeed. He has never been able to provide evidence for this vast alleged conspiracy. That alone should disqualify him from using the title “skeptic.” 

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Comments:

#1 Randy on Tuesday December 09, 2014 at 10:16am

Due to requiring B12, I’m not too concerned about the corpses on my dinner plate.  But I do think that what we do to our food animals to get them there doesn’t justify my eating any more than I absolutely require.

Our “progress” in factory farming takes a shameful toll, and it’s one reason I bristle at the term “humanist”, regardless of the meaning behind the term.

#2 Randy on Tuesday December 09, 2014 at 10:32am

What justification does the court offer for affording legal rights to human beings who have the mental capacity of chimpanzees (or less)?

It can’t just be that we’ve always done it that way.  Tradition is not an excuse for getting it wrong.

If we’re basing rights (personhood) on species, then how precisely do we identify a human being?  And what justification is there for doing so?  (Seems unlikely, but suppose we were visited by space aliens of equivalent capacity to us.. would they be ineligible?)

If we’re basing human rights on capacity, we either have to exclude some humans, or include some other animals (not just primates).

Compare this with the “procreative capacity” argument that has been failing to convince courts to ban same-sex couples from marriage.

Individuals have rights.  Attributes and characteristics do not.

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