Deoxyribonucleic Bqhatevwr

June 30, 2016

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

Turns out some folks in Congress want to make it ok for contractors and organizations getting federal funds to be able to discriminate against LGBTQ folks because, you know, religion. Hell no, says us, and you should say so too. 

Dexter Filkins at The New Yorker lays out some of the possibilities as to who might be responsible for the Istanbul attack this week, and notes the weird relationship between ISIS and Turkey:

The reason that Turkey was the main gateway for jihadists moving to Syria was because President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government wanted it that way. Erdoğan, once a friend of the Assad regime, made the decision that his old friend needed to go, and he was willing to do almost anything to see that happen. Turkey’s five-hundred-mile border with Syria became a sieve, and many of those fighters who joined isis used Atatürk International Airport to complete their journey. At the same time, isis militants were able to set up networks inside Turkey itself. 

Emmett Rensin of Vox went to the Reason Rally, and didn't think much of it apparently. In what I think is a kind of a short-sighted perspective, Rensin (himself an atheist) says:

Atheism has never seemed to me to solve any political problems at all. Speakers at Reason Rally advance admirable goals: pluralism, reproductive rights, tolerance. But what about the absence of God tells me that these are civic virtues? 

See, I think "potentially quite a bit" is the answer, but I'm preaching to the choir here. (And not for nothin', and lawd knows I'm not perfect, but MAN did that article have a sea of typos.)  

I know you'll be stunned by this news, but former senator Scott Brown is wrong about DNA testing. I KNOW! He says Elizabeth Warren should take a DNA test to determine whether she really has Native American ancestry (as if anyone other than he or Trump cares), but Matt Miller explains that DNA doesn't work that way. And can someone in the press ask Brown to say what he thinks DNA stands for? I'd love to hear that. (There's no "B" in DNA, so one of the words can't be "Bqhatevwr.")

Benjamin Radford interviews Michael Grosso, author of The Man Who Could Fly: St. Joseph of Copertino and the Mystery of Levitation.

A coincidence of progress: Two transgender women won Democratic primaries on Tuesday, one for a U.S. Senate seat in Utah and another for a statehouse seat in Colorado, and they're both named Misty. (Alas, neither has much of a chance of actually winning due to the deep-red conservatism of both electorates.)

Azeen Ghorayshi at BuzzFeed reports how renowned microbiologist Michael Katze is now embroiled in several lawsuits and investigations around his alleged sexual harassment, use of university funds for his own personal gain, and other things like having people get prostitutes for him:

Katze has been tenured since 2009, and the repeated allegations against him — several filed before 2009 — are raising questions about how the university could field so many complaints without taking action. “People are willing to excuse bad behavior, including sexually inappropriate bad behavior, if people are productive scientifically,” said Michael Eisen, a professor of molecular biology at the University of California, Berkeley, who has been outspoken about the problem of sexual harassment on campus.

Michael Schulson tries to weigh whether NASA's grant to the Center of Theological Inquiry (OUR EVIL TWIN I'm kidding) to study the impact of the discovery of alien life on religion is justifiable:

In general, there are two ways to slice up astrobiology-and-society questions. Some are consequence-oriented: what would happen to politics/society/the economy/religion/etc. if NASA announced that it had made contact with an alien civilization, or at least had found some fossilized microbes on Mars? Other question are theory-oriented: how does the possibility of extraterrestrial life force people to think differently about sentience, human worth, the importance of Earth, or God?

NASA seems to think these are serious concerns. 

For CSI, William M. London profiles the Investigations Network, whose mission is "to promote scientific skepticism to the public through education, investigation, community service and social activities in Southern California.":

If the popularity of grassroots groups such as the Investigation Network can grow significantly over time, their activism may have a significant potential impact in shifting social norms toward the greater tolerance of uncertainty and insecurity that comes with embracing skeptical inquiry. 

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (who also defeated Scott Brown) gets the Global Gag Rule (the thing that says the US can't fund any NGOs that promote, provide, or even mention abortion services) nixed from an appropriations bill. More like Jeanne Sha-POW, amirite?

A man selling shoes in Pakistan with a Hindu symbol on them is arrested for blasphemy.  

This is from last year, but just brought to my attention is this video from the Clarion Project narrated by Raheel Raza (who has filled in as a representative of CFI in the past at the UN Human Rights Council) on the difficult conversation around radical, violent Islam, its various layers, and the attempts to silence all discussion.

But we also have data from Pew that shows that American Muslims are more in favor of same-sex marriage than American Evangelicals.  

No one was more distraught by Brexit than Nessie. RIP.  

Quote of the Day:

107 Nobel laureates signed on to a letter urging Greenpeace to stop raging against GMOs:

We urge Greenpeace and its supporters to re-examine the experience of farmers and consumers worldwide with crops and foods improved through biotechnology, recognize the findings of authoritative scientific bodies and regulatory agencies, and abandon their campaign against "GMOs" in general and Golden Rice in particular. 

Scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as, if not safer than those derived from any other method of production. There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption. Their environmental impacts have been shown repeatedly to be less damaging to the environment, and a boon to global biodiversity.

Greenpeace has spearheaded opposition to Golden Rice, which has the potential to reduce or eliminate much of the death and disease caused by a vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which has the greatest impact on the poorest people in Africa and Southeast Asia. 


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