August 29, 2017
The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.
Just how bad is Hurricane Harvey? Meteorologist Eric Holthaus writes at Politico:
Harvey is likely already the worst rainstorm in U.S. history. An initial analysis ... compared Harvey’s rainfall intensity to the worst storms in the most downpour-prone region of the United States, the Gulf Coast. Harvey ranks at the top of the list, with a total rainwater output equivalent to 3.6 times the flow of the Mississippi River. (And this is likely an underestimate, because there’s still two days of rains left.) ... disaster economist Kevin Simmons [says] Harvey’s economic toll “will likely exceed Katrina”—the most expensive disaster in U.S. history. Harvey is now the benchmark disaster of record in the United States.
And what it all means:
If we don’t talk about the climate context of Harvey, we won’t be able to prevent future disasters and get to work on that better future. Those of us who know this need to say it loudly. As long as our leaders, in words, and the rest of us, in actions, are OK with incremental solutions to a civilization-defining, global-scale problem, we will continue to stumble toward future catastrophes. Climate change requires us to rethink old systems that we’ve assumed will last forever.
Grinning megapastor Joel Osteen comes under fire for allegedly closing his palatial church to evacuees. Osteen refutes the claim, saying:
We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution center to those in need. We are prepared to house people once shelters reach capacity. Lakewood will be a value to the community in the aftermath of this storm.
Hemant Mehta has a good explanation for most of this that is charitable to Osteen and Lakewood.
Tom Chivers at BuzzFeed has a big report on the torrent of pseudoscientific autism cures being shepherded around the social media bubbles of uninformed and desperate parents.
As though to make Trumpist dreams come true, masked Antifa agitators attacked right-wing protesters in Berkeley on Sunday, in the midst of a larger "Rally Against Hate" event. One Antifa attacker was reportedly "windmilling kicks," which makes me think these were ninjas, not protesters. Either way, NOT HELPING.
Ben Radford has an interesting piece on the practice of "automatic writing," which is not when Siri is taking dictation, but when self-proclaimed spiritual mediums (media?) claim they can channel the literal words of the dead, usually celebrities. Ben advises, "Ghost hunters and psychic mediums should consider the potential damage they can do to the living (and the legacy of those who have passed) by speaking on behalf of the dead."
Something about my brain makes it very hard for me to comprehend what the hell is going on in statistics beyond the rudimentary stuff (same for maps and directions, economics, and small talk), but Stuart Vyse has a piece in Skeptical Inquirer which looks at how things might get more stringent, as a bunch of scholars and scientists are advocating that scientific journals raise their standard for statistical significance from .05 to .005. Stuart explains what it's all about.
The ACLU and Lambda Legal are filing separate lawsuits against the Trump administration for its military transgender ban.
Responding to the aftermath of the tumultuous rape conviction of cult leader Ram Rahim, the Hindustan Times gives readers an overview of other cults, including Raelism and Scientology. Look out, you're gonna make Tom Cruise mad.
Iran, meanwhile, considers mystic Mohammad Ali Taheri to be the founder of a cult that has had "deviant" relations with women, and thereby sentences him to death. He had already beaten blasphemy charges in 2014, and may still appeal on this conviction.
Paleontologists identify the 132 million-year-old remains of what is now the oldest known plesiosaur, Lagenanectes richterae.
Quote of the Day:
Oncologist Suneel D. Kamath writes at STAT about the tragedy of cancer patients who reject science-based treatments with a chance of curing them, and opting instead of alternative medicine, which will not, all because the alternative treatment is "natural":
It is human nature to believe that anything that is “all natural” is intrinsically good. That line of thought can lead people astray. The truth is, cancer is all natural. While some are caused by smoking or chemical exposures, most of them are sporadic, meaning they aren’t caused by any lifestyle factor, food, or chemical exposure. Cholesterol, a major cause of heart attacks and strokes, is natural and even necessary — the body requires it to build cell membranes and the protective covering around nerves. HIV, Ebola, and Zika are all caused by naturally occurring viruses.
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