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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

The March of Antireality Continues

By Phil Plait
âAgainst unreason, the gods themselves contend in vain.â âwith apologies to Friedrich Schiller

Lately Iâve been trying to write more about science, rather than write about those who attack it. I love science, and I love promoting it. It gives us wonder, knowledge, advances in technology and medicine, increases our lifespan and the joy that fills it. It also reveals the world as it truly is, and while that may not always be comforting (or joyous), itâs the way things are. We need to acknowledge that.

But the forces of antireality keep plodding forward, shouting and frothing and making a mess of things. At some point I can no longer ignore it, and have to say something.

This is me, saying something. I tried to keep it briefâdespite the urge to get shouty and long-winded-speechy myselfâbut wound up having to break this down into the different sectors of nonsense. Mix and match, or collect âem all.

A Jab at Antivaxxers

Vaccines save lives. Not just for the people who take them, but also for people who have weakened or no immune systemâfor example, undergoing some cancer treatments or with autoimmune issues, and, say, babies. Some people are allergic to the ingredients of some vaccines, but thatâs a minority. Even they are protected if enough people get their vaccinations.

Vaccines donât contain toxins in the way antivaxxers want you to believe. The amount is whatâs critical. A pear has more formaldehyde in it than a vaccine. A can of tuna has about the same amount of mercury as a vaccine (at least, the small minority of vaccines that contain mercury at all), and the tuna has it in a form that makes it easy to get into your system, whereas in the vaccine itâs in a form that goes right through you. Heck, drinking a glass of water is good for you, but drinking too much will kill you. Iâll say it again, to be clear: The amount is whatâs critical.

And, of course, vaccines donât cause autism.

Oh, that last bit. The antivax crowd still crows about an imagined link between the two, but study after study shows autism rates are completely unrelated to vaccinations. A new study just came out in the Journal of Pediatrics once again and ad infinitum showing no connection exists⦠so of course the antivaxxers have attacked it. And of course, their attacks have little or no resemblance to reality. Itâs tiresome to have to repeat the same things over and again, but thatâs where we are.

I understand the fear a parent has over their childâs health; Iâm a parent and along with my wife I had to make a lot of health decisions for my daughter, when she was a baby and even still today. Guess what? We did a lot of research, and decided to get her the full course of vaccinations, because thatâs what was best for her health and the health of those around her. Sheâs also had a full course of Gardasil, as well as booster shots and flu shots as needed.

Read up on vaccines. Talk to your (board-certified) doctor. And if they recommend it, get your shots. Otherwise, we get outbreaks of preventable diseases.

Also: My pal Tara Smith wrote an open letter to her father about his antivax leanings. Her post is a must-read. Besides being a fantastic compendium of evidence and links, itâs a great example of how to talk to your friends and family on this topic.

[Update (14:00 UTC Apr. 5, 2013): In case you think this isn't really a problem, there is currently a measles outbreak in Swansea, Wales. I also received word recently that several students at my own daughter's high school tested positive for pertussis (whooping cough), an ongoing problem in my home town due at least in part to antivax leanings.]

Global Warming? In my planet?

The Earth is warming up, just as inevitably as there are ideologues who will deny it. They never rest, but neither will reality.

Recently, a big study was released which showed that the warming we are seeing over the past century is unprecedented for at least the past 11,000 years, and while there were warmer periods in the past, the rate of current warming is whatâs so scary.

This study was well-done, carefully referenced, and clearly worded. So of course itâs under vicious attack by the usual suspects. Happily, there are people like Tamino who show these attacks are nothing butâto coin a phraseâhot air. He has a fantastic post about the Marcott et al. study, showing how robust it is. He also has a followup post about it thatâs important as well. This quotation stood out for me:

âMy opinion: the Marcott et al. reconstruction is powerful evidence that the warming weâve witnessed in the last 100 years is unlike anything that happened in the previous 11,300 years.â

Thereâs a great post up at RealClimate as well, with a rebuttal to the attacks by Marcott and his team. Iâll note that some people are claiming there has been no warming over the past few years. Those people are wrong.

By the way, last year the Arctic ice cap shrank to its lowest extent measured. And this winter its maximum was the fifth lowest on record. Nine of the ten smallest maximum extents have been in the past decade. Not coincidentally, nine of the ten hottest years on record were in the last decade too. The current state of affairs if summed up pretty well in a post by Peter Gleick in three very depressing graphs.

Iâll add Iâm in the middle of reading climate scientist Michael Mannâs book, âThe Hockey Stick and the Climate Warsâ. Itâs a fascinating read, and very, very upsetting. The vicious attacks on himânot just his data, but himâwere and still are disgusting.

These global-warming-denying jokers are fiddling while the world burns.

If At First You Donât Secede

Despite some tiresome claims I hear, I am not antireligious. I think people have the right to believe what they want, as long as they keep it to themselves, or at the very least keep it out of government.

The Founding Fathers agree, which is why they wrote the very First Amendment to the Constitution. But some legislators in North Carolina donât agree. They haveâand I do hope youâre sitting down for thisâproposed a bill to allow North Carolina to establish a state religion.

This is not a joke. Well, yes, actually, it is, but what I mean is this is real. On the surface their logic seems marginally non-crazy; the Constitution says that the U. S. Congress will make no laws respecting religion, so itâs OK for states to go ahead and establish one. Iâll note the bill doesnât actually specify a religion, so we can assume they mean Islam.

That loud sound you may have heard was my forehead smacking into my desk at near sonic speeds.

Now, I am not a lawyer, but apparently this argument is just so much nonsense; itâs been established many times that states must respect federal law in these matters. The legislators in questionâCarl Ford (R-China Grove) and Harry Warren (R-Salisbury), for any BABloggees who happen to live in their districtsâmust know this. They must. This bill cannot possibly withstand any sort of scrutiny, so they must only be proposing it for political purposes. Which is interesting, given that the far right is all about fiscal conservancy and not wasting tax payer dollars, and this bill will no doubt cost millions of those dollars to defend, a fight it will ultimately lose.

Honestly, this kind of anti-federal move is second only to secession. That worked out great last time, didnât it?

[Update (14:45 UTC Apr. 5, 2013): Reverend Barry Lynn, Executive Officer of the wonderful Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has a great editorial about this at the Washington Post.]

[Update 2 (15:00 UTC Apr. 5, 2013): And just like that, this bill is dead. According to WRAL Channel 5 in North Carolina, the State House Speaker Thom Tillis said the bill won't come to a vote, though no reason is given. I'll add that according to the Tenth Amendment Center, this bill was simply a resolution and would not have had the force of lawâthis was not obvious to me (and, of course, most people writing about it) upon reading it. I'm glad to hear that, though it was still a ridiculous bill and a colossal waste of time. And don't forget that it does represent the mindset of many people, something about which we need to be ever vigilant.]

Ad nauseum

OK, Iâm done. And I didnât even get to the witch-hunting global-warming-denying Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli who is defending anti-sodomy laws (though, honestly, this video skewers him better than I ever could), orâand I can hardly believe Iâm typing thisâthe high school in Georgia that has racially segregated proms and homecoming. Yes, seriously, they have a whites-only prom.

Hey, remember when we changed our calendars to the freakinâ 21st century?

I guess a lot of people still donât. Thereâs plenty of nonsense, hate, and bigotry out there to last us a long time. The best cure against the forces of darkness is light. We need to speak up, and we need to be heard.

This is me, saying something. You should, too.

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