I’m going to have to science the shit out of this!

I just watched the excellent movie “Black Mass” starring Johnny Depp as the criminal James “Whitey” Bulger. But the reason for this post isn’t to talk about that movie. It’s to talk about the second trailer, subtly different from the first, I saw for the movie “The Martian” in which Matt Damon’s character, Mark Watney, says “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this!” The book on which the movie is based is one of the few I gave a 5 out of 5 rating last year and will definitely read again. The two trailers I’ve seen give me hope the movie will be as good as the book.

Even if the movie is only almost as good as the book I hope it is seen by a large number of people who consider themselves religious. I want those people to think about the role religion and prayer played in the rescue of the eponymous character (i.e., none) and compare that to the role science and engineering played. I want them to think about the role religion has played in giving us the wonders we take for granted like the ability to talk with a family member in real-time thousands of miles away. Or be cured of an infection that just a hundred years ago would have meant a death sentence. Or give someone born deaf the ability to hear via a cochlear implant.

You’re welcome to your religious beliefs but I’ll take science any day of the week when it comes to making my life better.

Update 2015-10-02: I saw the movie this afternoon. I thoroughly enjoyed it and encourage everyone to see it. Having said that the book is better. But that is because I’m a geek who appreciated all of the science and engineering in the book which had to be left out of the movie to keep it to a reasonable length. Note that the science and engineering in the book can be appreciated by anyone who can add 2 + 2 and get 4.

Should I be happy or sad that Chipotle is being sued for claiming to eliminate GMOs from its menu?

Back in May of 2015 I read an article on Mother Jones about Chipotle getting rid of GMOs. As a skeptic who has closely followed the science regarding genetic modification of food (or genetic engineering if you prefer) I recognized that Chipotle was cynically jumping on the anti-GMO bandwagon. And I wasn’t the only person to reach that conclusion as this article shows.

This is the message I sent to Chipotle via their web site:

Regarding your announcement to remove GMO ingredients from your menu: I won't eat again in your restaurants until you rescind that boneheaded decision. I expect a company with your values to not be driven by ignorant fear-mongering by people who think dihydrogen-monoxide is a deadly chemical because it sounds scary.

Their reply to me contained all of the usual tropes such as “there are many who disagree [that GMOs are safe]”. Their reply also focuses on the use of genetic engineering to make plants tolerant of glyphosate but only in a superficial manner. Their closing paragraph stresses that they have simply decided to “take a cautious approach to GMOs” and stress that many other companies such as Ben & Jerry’s are eliminating GMO ingredients from their products. In other words, “don’t hate us we’re just doing what every other money grubbing company thinks will boost profits”.

So I am happy to see Chipotle being sued over their bogus claim that they are in fact eliminating GMOs from their food. However, I am ambivalent because the person filing the lawsuit believes GMOs are a clear and present danger. So I can’t decide if I want them to win or lose the lawsuit. The plaintiff is a loon. The defendant is a cynical corporation. Both are working to make the future of the world bleaker.

I applaud Chipotle’s efforts to improve the treatment of the chicken, cows, and pigs that ultimately become the protein in the food they serve. But their stance on GMOs is not supported by science or an ethical evaluation of what is best for the future of every person living on this planet.

Craniosacral Therapy and Whole Foods

Today I visited the newest Whole Foods store in San Jose on The Alameda Ave. just outside of downtown San Jose. This is what I saw across the street:

Cranial Sacral Therapy

The sign reads “Cranial Sacral Therapy Center“. A form of alternative medicine that is only slightly less ridiculous than Homeopathy. Note that this therapy is more commonly known as “Craniosacral”. See Quackwatch and Science Based Medicine for just two takedowns of this horse shit.

What does this have to do with Whole Foods? The target demographic of Whole Foods are the type of people who will pay outrageous prices for products labeled “holistic”, “organic”, etcetera. The typical Whole Foods store has a couple of aisles devoted to selling homeopathic preparations, herbs (for medicinal not cooking purposes), and items like bee pollen. None of which do a single thing to improve your health. So the presence of a clinic that sells a nonsense treatment across the street from a Whole Foods store is pure marketing genius on the part of the owners of that enterprise as they are targeting the same demographic.

P.S., Prior to today it’s been over a year since I’ve been inside a “Whole Paycheck” store. I was in the mood for some decent coleslaw and macaroni salad without going to the trouble of making it myself. I spent $20 and left with a couple of pounds of food. They were charging $3 for a donut and $1 for a single cookie even when buying them in boxes containing six cookies! Not exactly a bargain and why I won’t be buying from Whole Foods again anytime soon. The quality is very good but the prices aren’t just high they’re outrageous.

Read this article at Daily Kos about the results of an investigation that found Whole Foods is systemically ripping off its customers by overcharging for products that they package and sell by weight.

Also, as a result of writing this article I finally took the trouble to search for recipes to make my own “Whole Foods broccoli crunch” salad. A pound of broccoli crowns is currently selling for $1.29 per pound at my local Sprouts supermarket. Factor in a few raisins, sunflower seeds, red onion, bacon, and dressing ingredients and it costs me roughly $3.60/lb to make it myself. My local Whole Foods charges $9.99/lb. Whole Foods charges that much because it is what they think the market will bear. Not because it represents a reasonable profit. Can you say “rip-off”?

Doctor who filed a SLAPP lawsuit against Dr. Steven Novella and SBM charged with deceptive advertising

Consumer Health Digest #15-21 by Stephen Barrett, M.D. who runs the Quackwatch web site just arrived in my inbox and contained some welcome news:

The Medical Board of California has charged Edward L. Tobinick, M.D. with advertising improperly that his clinic offers “revolutionary” and “breakthrough” treatment that can enable patients with strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, and other chronic neurological conditions to improve rapidly—often within a few minutes—after receiving his injections. Tobinick, who operates the Institute of Neurological Recovery (INR), with offices in Boca Raton, Florida and Los Angeles, California, has for many years offered to treat spine-related pain and various neurological conditions with Enbrel (etanercept), a drug that is FDA-approved for other purposes. He and several other authors have published many papers supporting his off-label use, but his work remains controversial. The accusation document states that the ads “contained misrepresentation of facts, were likely to mislead or deceive, created false or unjustified expectations, and/or make scientific claims that cannot be substantiated by reliable, peer reviewed, published scientific studies.” In 2006, he settled previous allegations related his marketing of Enbrel by agreeing to serve a year on probation. Last year, Tobinick filed a suit against Steven Novella, M.D. for criticizing his advertising claims.

This is likely to be welcome news to Dr. Novella, the Science Based Medicine organization, and other entities being sued by Dr. Tobinick. See my previous post on that Tobinick’s SLAPP lawsuit.

Californians starting to worry about climate change

Andy Borowitz nails it again at “The Borowitz Report” from which I give you a couple paragraphs:

SACRAMENTO (The Borowitz Report) – A new poll shows that Americans who were unconcerned about climate change as it wreaked havoc around the world are beginning to worry, now that global warming is affecting the appearance of their lawns.


In interviews across the state of California, residents expressed anger and outrage that climate change had been allowed to worsen to the point that it has now severely limited their choice of ground cover, shrubs, and other decorative plantings.

Yes, it’s satire. Sadly it also reflects the reality that most people are self-centered and unable to think beyond next week and therefore won’t take climate change seriously until it affects them personally. Not to mention that they are likely to be upset by trivial effects (e.g., not being able to have a quarter-acre of lawn). It will be interesting to see how we react when forced to deal with major impacts like another dust bowl.

Sen. James Inhofe breaks the stupid meter

The title isn’t mine. It’s from this article by Charles P. Pierce. Watch James Inhofe toss a snowball on the Senate floor to “prove” climate change is a hoax.

We are doomed if idiots like Mr. Inhofe are in control of our future. I wouldn’t trust Mr. Inhofe to walk my dogs. I understand that Mr. Inhofe can’t be an expert on every subject (neither can I). That does not excuse is continual statements regarding climate change that are at odds with the scientific consensus.

Deepak Chopra is aging despite his mind-over-matter B.S.

Deepak Chopra (aka “Deepity* Bullshit”) has made numerous statements such as

Contrary to our traditional notions of ageing, we can learn to direct the way our bodies metabolise time.

Julia Sweeney hilariously discusses this in her book “Letting Go of God”. If you haven’t listened to the audiobook version of her book I strongly encourage you to do so. This picture concisely captures the issue:

Deepak Chopra Getting Old

It appears to me that Deepak Chopra is aging at the rate we expect of normal humans. That is, humans who do not know how to “direct the way our bodies metabolise time”. The fact that this charlatan and huckster appears on PBS (Public Broadcasting System) so often, especially during “pledge drives”, is the main reason I no longer donate to that organization.

  • This is the definition of “Deepity” from Wikipedia:

Deepity is a term employed by Daniel Dennett in his 2009 speech to the American Atheists Institution conference, coined by the teenage daughter of one of his friends. The term refers to a statement that is apparently profound but actually asserts a triviality on one level and something meaningless on another. Generally, a deepity has (at least) two meanings: one that is true but trivial, and another that sounds profound, but is essentially false or meaningless and would be “earth-shattering” if true.

Tom Kirby, Georgia legislator and defender of cell clusters

Tom Kirby, Georgia representative district 114 has no idea what the phrase “human life” means but is still willing to legislate on the topic:

Ethical treatment of Embryos

We in Georgia are taking the lead on this issue. Human life at all stages is precious including as an embryo. We need to get out in front of the science and technology, before it becomes something no one wants. The mixing of Human Embryos with Jellyfish cells to create a glow in the dark human, we say not in Georgia. This bill is about protecting Human life while maintaining good, valid research that does not destroy life.

He appears to be against stem cell research. Which tells me his knowledge of biology and science in general is equivalent to the 2000 year old goat herders who wrote the book he venerates. What I find more disturbing is he appears to believe scientists are trying to create glow in the dark humans. Mr. Kirby may not be a danger to himself or others, and therefore not meet the legal definition for forced psychiatric commitment, but you’ve got to wonder how he manages to find his way home.

Anyone care to place a bet on whether or not he is for or against state sanctioned death penalty? Does he believe society should provide support for the brood mare, sorry, pregnant woman, and her children? I’m betting he’s for the former and against the latter. In other words: A typical know-nothing misogynistic “god fearing” asshole Republican.

H/T: Charles P. Pierce

How to connect with anyone (youtube video edition)

This short (five minute) Youtube video about eye contact and intimacy almost made me cry. This is the summary for the video:

Studies say that 4 minutes of uninterrupted eye contact can increase intimacy. To test this this theory out, we brought in six pairs in different stages of their relationship and had them try it. How do you stay connected? Check out the NYT article that inspired the video: http://nyti.ms/1DiYgWH

climate change might kill me

Okay, climate change is unlikely to directly kill me. But it seems highly likely to indirectly kill me or at least make my life unpleasant. San Francisco broke an unfortunate record last month:

In another sign California’s persistent drought, downtown San Francisco recorded no measurable rain in January for the first time in 165 years.
The National Weather Service also said Santa Cruz recorded no rain in January for the first time since 1893. Normal rainfall for that city in January is more than 6 inches.

For the Bay Area as a whole, last month was the driest January on record, the weather service said.

This article at Daily Kos by Jen Hayden sheds more light on the issue.