71 Atheism & Humanism News Articles
for August 2016
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source
8-31-16 Metaphysics special: How do I know I exist?
Metaphysics special: How do I know I exist?
Could you be living inside a simulation created by a more advanced intelligence? Where does your unerring belief that you are not come from? The short answer is you don’t. Consider this: with every passing moment, we get closer to creating intelligent machines, maybe even conscious ones. If we can do this, could someone – or something – else do it too? Philosopher Nick Bostrom at the University of Oxford highlighted this idea in 2003, arguing that if humans were one day able to create simulations populated with conscious beings, it’s at least possible that we, too, are living in such a simulation. Since then, that possibility has, if anything, become more realistic. There are projects seeking to build entire animal brains from scratch, modelled exactly on living ones, down to individual neurons and the myriad connections that interlink them. When very simple versions were given robotic bodies, lo and behold, they behaved like the creatures they were modelled on. It’s probably only a matter of time before we create virtual beings inside computers. In all likelihood, we will never find out whether or not we are simulations ourselves. But one thing is clear, says philosopher Thomas Metzinger of the University of Mainz in Germany: each of us has a robust experience that “I exist”. Perhaps a slightly more manageable problem is to figure out where that experience comes from.
8-31-16 Metaphysics special: What is consciousness?
Metaphysics special: What is consciousness?
How does something as physical as the brain create something as immaterial as your sense of self? It could all just be one big trick of the mind. In Cotard’s syndrome, the feeling of existence corrodes but something more fundamental does not (see “How do I know I exist“). Even though people with this rare condition feel they don’t exist, there is still an “I” experiencing that feeling. What is that “I”? One answer is that it may be a by-product of consciousness itself. René Descartes was convinced that the body and conscious mind are two different substances: the first is made of matter, the latter is immaterial. His ideas influenced neuroscience until a few decades ago, but the field has moved on. Today, it is widely accepted that our brains give rise to consciousness. But how? That is a raging debate. At its heart is what philosopher David Chalmers at New York University termed the “hard problem” of consciousness: how can physical networks of neurons produce experiences that appear to fall outside the material world? As Thomas Nagel, also at New York University, put it in the 1970s: you could know every detail of the physical workings of a bat’s brain, but still not know what it is like to be a bat. “You may know beyond a doubt that you exist, but your ‘I’ could still be an illusion“
8-31-16 Metaphysics special: Do we have free will?
Metaphysics special: Do we have free will?
Biology suggests we might not have free will, but everything changes when you get down to the quantum level. “DID I really just decide to have fish and chips for lunch?” Humans have been wrestling with such questions for millennia. Maybe not about the fish and chips, but about whether we are truly in control or whether some external agent – be that an omnipotent god or the laws of physics – predetermines the trajectory of our lives. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. Who is the “I” who decided to have fish and chips? Your gut reaction might tell you that you are a conscious entity controlling your physical body. But that physical body includes the brain that generates your consciousness. There is no splitting the two. We do know that any sense we have of being in control of our actions is, to some extent, an illusion. In particular, neuroscientist Benjamin Libet showed in the 1980s that mechanisms within the brain initiate actions long before that brain’s owner is aware of deciding to perform them.
8-31-16 Metaphysics special: Is time an illusion?
Metaphysics special: Is time an illusion?
We are born, time passes and we die. So time must exist, right? The trouble is, it's tricky to pin down what time actually is. WE ARE born. We die. We call the span that separates these events time. Its passage is perhaps the most fundamental feature of our human experience, yet we are incapable of saying exactly what it is. Worse – the laws of physics don’t help. That time exists is undeniable, but the way we experience it makes no sense. “There’s an old joke about time – it’s nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once,” says physics Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas, Austin. To us mortals, time is the passage of the sun and seasons, the progressive wrinkling of our skin as we age – irreversible markers of a present that is moving forwards, and a future that is ineluctably becoming the past. Unlike space, time has a natural order. If A influences B, then B is always later in time. This is the central feature of time as we perceive it: as a flowing entity that orders our lives. There’s only one problem with this, says David Deutsch of the University of Oxford: it’s nonsensical. We see ourselves as living in a present that marches down an imaginary timeline at a set pace. The imagery implies the existence of some sort of universal ticking time setting the beat against which all else is measured. “But what is that other time?” says Deutsch. We’ve only succeeded in creating a new problem. (Webmaster's comment: It boils down to cause and effect. Causes always come before effects. And our measurement of "time" is always something that involves cause and effect. Maybe there is no real "time" just causes and effects. One event causing another event.)
8-31-16 Metaphysics special: Can we ever know if God exists?
Metaphysics special: Can we ever know if God exists?
If only proving the existence of God were simple. Gallons of ink and blood have been spilled over this question but have largely got us nowhere. Belief in a god or several gods is a leap of faith. So is disbelief. The only coherent and rational position is agnosticism. On the surface, the prospects for changing that seem remote. Demonstrating the existence of the Higgs boson – a material entity whose properties were established by particle physics – was one thing. How can you do the same for a supernatural being that is, among other things, everywhere and nowhere, immanent and transcendent, knowable and incomprehensible? That has not stopped scientists and philosophers on both sides from having a go. For theists, one argument has been the intricate complexity of the natural world. Surely something as beautiful and functional as an eye or butterfly is irrefutable evidence of a creator? The superficially persuasive argument, later resurrected as intelligent design and its idea of irreducible complexity, turned out to be very refutable indeed. Evolution by natural selection, working over vast lengths of time, is all you need. As science has progressed, such “evidential theism” has crumbled and some modern religious philosophers have retreated to a position known as reformed epistemology. They hold that God’s existence requires no justification or evidence. God just is, period. (Webmaster's comment: Sorry, the universe just is, period! It's the simpliest explanation for everythng.)
8-31-16 The internet is so vast we need to get theological to grasp it
The internet is so vast we need to get theological to grasp it
Werner Herzog's film Lo and Behold is quasi-religious at times, but not enough to properly reflect on the internet's influence on our lives. The internet is so vast we need to get theological to grasp it. Lo and Behold: Reveries of the connected world opens with a tour of the pale green room at the University of California, Los Angeles, where the internet was invented. This is a “holy place”, says our guide, computer scientist Leonard Kleinrock, and the first message sent from the computer here was “prophetic”. In 1969, while trying to send the word “log” to a sister computer over at Stanford, it crashed after the second letter. “Lo”, it wrote. And you know the rest. It’s not hard to see why Herzog turns to religious imagery to describe our relationship with the internet. The machines we created to connect us now pervade and influence so much of our lives that they have recreated us, requiring a new way of thinking about ourselves and our future. The internet fundamentally changes how we relate to one another, how we solve difficult problems, how we imagine how things could one day be. It calls for a theological reckoning. Mixing theology with the internet usually summons up the Singularitarians, the quixotic group that thinks that someday (soon) man and machine will merge to create an immortal superintelligence that will no longer be recognisably human. But giving something the theological treatment doesn’t have to be about constructing elaborate fairy tales; really, it’s about thinking deeply about something that has seeped into every corner of modern civilisation.
8-31-16 Gallup Vault: WWII-Era Support for Japanese Internment
Gallup Vault: WWII-Era Support for Japanese Internment
In December 1942, a year after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and several months after Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast were subsequently "relocated" inland to U.S. detention camps, 48% of Americans believed the detainees should not be allowed to return to the Pacific coast after the war. Just 35% of Americans said they should be allowed to go back. (Webmaster's comment: American's tolerance for other nationalities has never been very good.)
8-31-16 Australian Aboriginal MP Linda Burney vows to fight for change
Australian Aboriginal MP Linda Burney vows to fight for change
The first Aboriginal woman elected to Australia's lower house of parliament has promised to bring the "fighting spirit of her clan" to political life. In her maiden speech, Linda Burney wore a traditional kangaroo-skin cloak with her personal totem, the white cockatoo, known as the noisy messenger bird. She lambasted calls for the Racial Discrimination Act to be watered down. She warned that indigenous Australians still suffered disproportionately high rates of poverty and ill-health.
8-27-16 This is your brain on pot
This is your brain on pot
Staci Gruber vividly remembers her first hit of marijuana, back when she was in college. It made her so paranoid, she locked herself in a bathroom. She couldn't decide whether to remain in hiding or to run. But she knew she'd never try pot again. She didn't lose interest in the drug, however. Today, she runs the 2-year-old Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery, or MIND, project at McLean Hospital in this suburb of Boston. With cognitive testing and neuroimaging, MIND is conducting a longitudinal study of medical marijuana. She ran a small study, published in 2013, that found teenagers and young adults who smoked marijuana were more likely to exhibit impulsive behavior than their peers and were more likely to have certain changes in the brain's white matter. A follow-up study found that those changes could reorganize brain regions associated with inhibitions. This year, Gruber's research team also found that chronic recreational users of pot had poorer cognitive and executive functioning, particularly if they began using marijuana as teens.
8-27-16 North Carolina transgender students win toilet access ruling
North Carolina transgender students win toilet access ruling
The University of North Carolina must allow transgender students and staff to use the toilets that match their gender identity, a US judge has ruled. A state law passed in March requires transgender people to use toilets that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates. The ruling led to boycotts of the state by some sports teams, businesses, and entertainers. The full case challenging the bill is expected to go to trial in November. US District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder said three plaintiffs challenging the measure had a strong chance of proving that the state's toilet-access measure violated federal law, and temporarily blocked the university from applying the state law.
8-27-16 France burkini ban: Mayors urged to heed court's ruling
France burkini ban: Mayors urged to heed court's ruling
About 30 French mayors have been urged to follow a court ruling which overturned a controversial burkini ban in a resort town. France's top administrative court suspended the ban in Villeneuve-Loubet on Friday on civil liberties grounds. However, a number of mayors have said they will continue applying the bathing suit ban. The human rights lawyer who brought Friday's case has said he will take each town to court. The ruling by the Council of State found that the ban in Villeneuve-Loubet "seriously and clearly illegally breached fundamental freedoms".
8-26-16 What the Leslie Jones hack has in common with the burkini ban
What the Leslie Jones hack has in common with the burkini ban
How can it be that women's bodies are still being used to advance agendas? On Wednesday, news broke that the actor-comedian's Tumblr had been hacked, its content replaced with personal information (such as her driver's license), racist images, and nude photographs. This isn't the first time a woman's body has been flashed among strangers without her consent. One famous case involved Jennifer Lawrence; earlier incidents involved Vanessa Hudgens, Miley Cyrus, and Kesha. Then there are cases like that of the Steubenville rape victim, who discovered she'd been raped when her schoolmates started talking about the pictures. Revenge porn falls along the same continuum, as do upskirt shots. So too, I would argue, does this week's case of French police forcing an observant Muslim woman to publicly remove her body-covering swim attire in order to enforce the country's burkini ban. For all the differences between these cases, though, in each one, somebody used a woman's bareness as a tool to advance their own agenda, whatever that agenda might have been. A woman (or in the Steubenville incident, a girl) was stripped of agency over her bared body — an act which, simply put, is a sexual violation.
8-26-16 France burkini highest court suspends ban
France burkini highest court suspends ban
France's highest administrative court has suspended a ban on full-body "burkini" swimsuits that was imposed in a town on the Mediterranean coast. The ban in Villeneuve-Loubet "seriously and clearly illegally breached fundamental freedoms", it found, including freedom of belief. The ruling could set a precedent for up to 30 other towns that imposed bans on their beaches, chiefly on the Riviera. The court will make a final decision on the legality of the bans later. Correspondents in France say the court's decision means that all the bans on burkinis are likely now to be overturned but one mayor in Corsica has already vowed to keep the ban in place on his town beach.
8-26-16 Is the burkini a sign of oppression?
Is the burkini a sign of oppression?
France has lost it, said David Aaronovitch in The Times (U.K.). What about nuns? Are they, too, banned from taking seaside walks in their habits? Of course I completely reject the idea of enforced modesty, but no less strongly than I reject “the notion of enforced exposure.” Topless is OK, but covered legs and hair are not? Even worse is France’s reasoning for the ban. It’s not the burkini wearers who threaten public order, but rather those who might attack them—a classic example of blaming the victim and curbing her rights rather than punishing her assailants.
8-26-16 Hearts of gold
Hearts of gold
Abbey D’Agostino and Nikki Hamblin didn’t win any medals at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, but they showed the world they have hearts of gold. The U.S. and New Zealand runners were competing in the 5,000-meter qualifying heat last week when Hamblin accidentally clipped D’Agostino, causing both women to tumble. D’Agostino got up, but rather than run off, she helped the dazed New Zealander to her feet. The pair raced on, but D’Agostino had injured her leg and fell again. Hamblin helped the American up, giving away her medal chances, and the athletes crossed the finish line together. “I’m never going to forget that moment,” said Hamblin.
8-26-16 We didn’t build the death camps
We didn’t build the death camps
We can’t just ban use of the phrase “Polish concentration camp,” said Jerzy Haszczynski. Don’t get me wrong: The phrase is an outrage against both Poland and history itself because it “insidiously suggests that our state and our people were responsible for German crimes.” In fact, Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II, and the death camps where millions were murdered on our soil—including Auschwitz and Treblinka—were built and run by the Nazis. Poles remember with irritation when President Barack Obama, speaking in Warsaw in 2012, referred to a “Polish death camp” and had to be corrected by his offended hosts. But the Polish government’s attempt to resolve the issue is misguided. It has drafted a law that would punish any such slander of the Polish state with up to three years in prison. Yet “I’m not sure who’s being targeted here.” Certainly not Poles, or anyone within the reach of Polish justice. The only people who use the phrase are foreigners, and they always apologize profusely when their error is pointed out. We can’t throw them into prison. Nor is it wise to open the door to censorship by outlawing certain speech. Poland does need to protect its reputation—but the way to do that is through education, not incarceration.
8-25-16 'We don't care' - the new sign for gender-neutral toilets
'We don't care' - the new sign for gender-neutral toilets
It's a common sight at public events - a long line for the the ladies' loos and a short one for the men's. In Canada, however, one venue hopes its new all-inclusive gender-neutral toilets will help to alleviate that problem. And, more significantly, it feeds into the debate about transgender rights in the country. The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) has indicated that it wants attendees at Canada's largest annual fair to know they can use any of the facilities they have on offer - by putting up new "we don't care" signs on their public toilets to replace existing symbols long used in public washrooms. Photos of the signs by Kansas-based artist Peregrine Honig, who tweeted the design in April, have been widely shared on social media by many who see it as a way of including those who identify as being transgender, or non-binary.
8-25-16 Orlando club shooting: Survivors' medical bills waived
Orlando club shooting: Survivors' medical bills waived
Hospitals in the US city of Orlando say they will not charge for treatment provided to survivors of the Pulse nightclub massacre in which 49 people were killed by a gunman in June. They say they will write off about $5.5m (£4.2m) in medical care expenses. After the attack by Omar Mateen on 12 June, 53 people needed immediate medical attention. Of the 53 people injured, 44 were treated at the Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC), managed by Orlando Health. None will be charged for their medical expenses, the company said. (Webmaster's comment: A bright spot in a sea of greed.)
8-25-16 France 'burkini ban': Court to rule on beach fines
France 'burkini ban': Court to rule on beach fines
The bans largely affect beaches on the French Rivera, but few towns have issued fines. A top French court is being asked to overturn bans imposed by 26 towns on women wearing full-body swimsuits known as "burkinis" on the beach. A human rights group and an anti-Islamophobia association argue the bans are in breach of French law. Mayors, particularly on the Riviera, say the bans are protecting public order and rules on secularism. Opinion polls suggest most French people back the bans but Muslims warn they are being targeted unfairly. According to an Ifop survey, 64% of French people are in favour of the bans while another 30% are indifferent. Webmaster's comment: The French have lost their way. Freedom and liberty was once their guiding principle.)
8-24-16 Canada's Mounties allow women in uniform to wear hijabs
Canada's Mounties allow women in uniform to wear hijabs
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, known as the Mounties, is to allow women in uniform to wear hijabs. Government spokesman Scott Bardsley said the move was to reflect the diversity in Canada's communities and to attract more female Muslim officers. The iconic uniform, famed for its wide-brimmed hat, has barely changed since it was introduced two centuries ago. Recent figures show women make up about a fifth of the RCMP but it is not clear how many this measure will affect. Three types of hijabs were tested before one was selected as suitable for police work, local media reported. According to the Montreal newspaper La Presse, an internal memo said the hijab could be removed quickly and easily if needed, and did not encumber officers.
8-23-16 Texas judge blocks Obama's transgender bathroom directive
Texas judge blocks Obama's transgender bathroom directive
Some US schools have already introduced gender neutral bathrooms or allowed students to choose, but... A Texas judge has blocked an order by the US government that schools allow transgender students to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity. The temporary injunction signed by Judge Reed O'Connor follows a challenge to President Barack Obama's directive by 13 states and applies nationwide. The injunction was passed the day before many students go back to school. The right of transgender people to use bathrooms of their choice has become highly controversial in the US. Judge O'Connor, who was appointed by George W Bush, said schools should have been allowed to have a say before the White House directive was issued. He said: "This case presents the difficult issue of balancing the protection of students' rights and that of personal privacy... while ensuring that no student is unnecessarily marginalised while attending school." The injunction does not prohibit schools from allowing transgender students to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity, but those that don't will not have to conform. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, argued that President Obama was "attempting to rewrite the laws enacted by the elected representatives of the people". (Webmaster's comment: The hate just never stops.)
8-23-16 Ramen noodles 'are most valuable US prison commodity', study suggests
Ramen noodles 'are most valuable US prison commodity', study suggests
Noodles can be exchanged for goods and services, the research found. Ramen noodles have overtaken tobacco to become the most valuable commodity in some US prisons, a new study suggests. The research said the shift was a response to a decline in the quantity and quality of food on offer. "Because it is cheap, tasty, and rich in calories, ramen has become so valuable that it is used to exchange for other goods," said study author Michael Gibson-Light. US prison data shows spending has not kept pace with the number of inmates. (Webmaster's comment: We are starving our prison inmates so badly that food has become a black-market commodity in prisons. How could we as a nation sink so low? The private prison system works strickly on profits. If making more money means less and lower quality food for inmates to increase even higher executive salaries for private prison executives, then less and lower quality food there will be.)
8-22-16 Israel's first transgender beauty pageant
Israel's first transgender beauty pageant
A behind the scenes look at the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian contestants vying for the title of Miss Trans Israel. Beauty pageants are ubiquitous the world over. But in Tel Aviv this year, one beauty pageant became historic — Miss Trans Israel was the country's first-ever transgender beauty pageant. In May, 12 contestants, selected among hundreds of women during three rounds of auditions, competed for the title. And the winner, 21-year-old Ta'alin Abu Hanna, a Christian Arab-Israeli ballet dancer, will represent the country at the Miss Trans Star International pageant in Barcelona this September. In most Middle Eastern countries, homosexuality is, at best, not tolerated and, at worst, punishable by death. But in Israel, the government acknowledges transgender women as their chosen gender and allows them the same benefits as the rest of the country's female population. And Tel Aviv, the second-most populous city, boasts a thriving gay community. But despite official tolerance, the pageant contestants say they still struggle with acceptance from their families and the community in general. After winning the competition, Hanna told the press she hoped the pageant would bring "more openness toward trans people in Israel and maybe the world. And will help people know who we are." Below, a look behind the scenes at Israel's first transgender beauty pageant.
8-22-16 Thai teenagers charged with killing transgender woman
Thai teenagers charged with killing transgender woman
Two teenage boys have been arrested in Thailand for allegedly killing a transgender woman and hiding her body inside a bed frame in a hotel room in the seaside town of Pattaya. The body was found after a hotel maid noticed blood near the bed. Police said that the victim, identified as 28-year-old Amphon Kongsong, had been dead for three or four days. Then the hotel staff searched the room and found the body under the mattress," Pattaya police chief Col Apichai Kropphet told the BBC. The teenagers will be charged with murder and concealing the body, but will be tried in a juvenile court.
8-22-16 Malaysian singer Namewee held for 'insulting Islam'
Malaysian singer Namewee held for 'insulting Islam'
Police have arrested a popular but controversial Malaysian singer, after complaints that his most recent music video "insulted Islam". Namewee, whose real name is Wee Meng Chee, was detained on Sunday. He is known for his profanity-laced music. The offending video, for his song Oh My God, was first released in July and features him rapping in front of places of worship around Malaysia. (Webmaster's comment: Oh My God!)
8-22-16 How John Hersey's Hiroshima revealed the horror of the bomb
How John Hersey's Hiroshima revealed the horror of the bomb
At the end of this month 70 years will have passed since the publication of a magazine story hailed as one of the greatest pieces of journalism ever written. Headlined simply Hiroshima, the 30,000-word article by John Hersey had a massive impact, revealing the full horror of nuclear weapons to the post-war generation, as Caroline Raphael describes. Past the Goings on About Town and movie listings, past the ritzy adverts for diamonds and fur and cars and cruises you find a simple statement from The Editors explaining that this edition will be devoted entirely to just one article "on the almost complete obliteration of a city by one atomic bomb". They are taking this step, they say, "in the conviction that few of us have yet comprehended the all but incredible destructive power of this weapon, and that everyone might well take time to consider the terrible implications of its use". Seventy years ago no-one talked about stories "going viral", but the publication of John Hersey's article Hiroshima in The New Yorker achieved just that. It was talked of, commented on, read and listened to by many millions all over the world as they began to understand what really happened not just to the city but to the people of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 and in the following days.
8-21-16 Hande Kader: Outcry in Turkey over transgender woman's murder
Hande Kader: Outcry in Turkey over transgender woman's murder
The murder of Hande Kader, a transgender woman, has caused an outcry in Turkey's biggest city Istanbul. Turkey remains conservative on LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) issues, but on Sunday activists will stage a rare protest in Istanbul, writes Rengin Arslan of BBC Turkish. "Hande was one of the nicest people in the world. She was very calm normally but also hyperactive. She always went to the LGBTI marches. She pursued a cause that she felt right until the end." Davut Dengiler describes his 23-year-old flatmate, Hande Kader, whose body was found in a forest in Istanbul last week. Ms Kader, a sex worker, was last seen entering a client's car one night. Mr Dengiler had hoped she was still alive but he found her body in Istanbul's morgue for unidentified persons. "I was about to leave the morgue. I felt a sense of lightness for not having found her there. At the last minute, a doctor there said, 'There's also a burned body - look at that as well.' I did. I told them identifying features. They then looked at the computer, at the report. The doctor put his hand on my back and gave his condolences. I lost myself," he said. He explained Ms Kader's reaction to the deaths of other trans people: "She would go crazy when trans individuals were killed. She'd be so sad... She had been stabbed and beaten before. This didn't happen only to Hande. It happens to all of them." LGBTI activists protest against violence towards trans people, but the rest of Turkish society rarely reacts. But for the first time, famous figures in Turkey have joined the calls to raise awareness of Ms Kader's murder and to take part in a demonstration scheduled for Sunday evening in Istanbul.
8-19-16 "Intersex" athlete Caster Semenya rightly free to run at Rio
"Intersex" athlete Caster Semenya rightly free to run at Rio
It's unfair to question the right of runner Caster Semenya to compete in a sports world full of biological inequities, says Jaime Schultz. Here we go again. Women athletes with the intersex condition hyperandrogenism – who naturally produce more testosterone than is typical for women – are at the centre of extreme and unfair scrutiny at the Rio Olympics. The spotlight is on them once more after India’s sprinter Dutee Chand successfully challenged a rule that required anyone with this condition to reduce their testosterone levels below a threshold set by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) which equates to the lower end of the typical range for men. As a result, Chand and other athletes with hyperandrogenism can now compete regardless of testosterone levels. Chand did not go on to win a medal in Rio. Now, though, scrutiny has shifted to South African runner Caster Semenya, whose times have been improving in past months and is odds-on favourite to take gold in the 800 metres final on Sunday. Semenya is no stranger to unwelcome attention. In 2009 she faced questions about her right to compete when she won at the World Athletics Championship in Berlin. The IAAF rule followed in 2011. With debate raging, many people are focused on the question of whether testosterone actually confers a competitive advantage. But the real question should be: if it does, so what?
8-19-16 Who are the Syrian refugees coming to America?
Who are the Syrian refugees coming to America?
In a November interview with Fox News, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had a question about the United States' effort to accept Syrian refugees. "It's a total disaster. The people are going to come in," he told commentator Sean Hannity. "I talked to you about this two weeks ago, where we talked about the migration, how so many of the people in the migration were strong young men. You look at them. I'm saying, Where are the women? Where are the children?" Now, as it appears that the U.S. will meet President Barack Obama's goal of admitting at least 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year, the makeup of this new refugee population is becoming more clear. Of the more than 8,000 Syrian refugees admitted to the country so far, 78 percent are women or children, according figures released by the State Department recently. Some 58 percent are children, with a roughly even split between girls and boys. (Webmaster's comment: Seems Trump wants to stop refuge children! They are the threat! What a crock!)
8-18-16 US pastor, who believes floods are God's punishment, flees flooded home
US pastor, who believes floods are God's punishment, flees flooded home
US pastor Tony Perkins, who believes natural disasters are sent by God to punish gay people, has fled his flooded home in Louisiana. In 2015 he caused controversy when he agreed with a statement that natural disasters are sent by God as punishment for abortion and gay marriage. Mr Perkins has revealed that he was forced to escape his property in a canoe with his family. "This is a flood of near-biblical proportions," he said in an interview with the Family Research Council. (Webmaster's comment: He obviously didn't pray hard enough! What a joke!)
8-18-16 I’m the presidential candidate who wants us to live forever
I’m the presidential candidate who wants us to live forever
Forget Trump and Clinton, I’m campaigning for the US to embrace technology with the potential to make us immortal, says White House contender. Some scientists question the value of mixing politics with science. Not so at the US Transhumanist Party. We’re sick and tired of seeing career politicians – nearly half of them lawyers – control national science agendas and budgets. We want passionate pro-science politicians to determine scientific policy, spending and research ethics in our nation. So we decided to get involved ourselves. I formed the US party, the first political entity of its kind in October 2014. There are now others around the globe. Our motto is: “Putting science, medicine, and technology at the forefront of US politics”. I am the party’s nominated 2016 presidential candidate. The conundrum facing society is whether we’re ready for this. My campaign’s main job is to set out science and technology policy from a pro-innovation point of view – not one shaped by religion, ethnicity, culture or history. I think the world’s problems can be best solved by scientific or technological solutions. Our top election promise is to reduce the size of the US military and spend the money saved on science and medical research. Transhumanism and my political party say yes. But wider America – with its roughly 75 per cent Christian population – may not be. My campaign and party are trying to lead the way, so that humanity becomes a science-inspired species.
8-17-16 Shock therapy to make a comeback as evidence grows that it works
Shock therapy to make a comeback as evidence grows that it works
Electroconvulsive therapy is often viewed with fear, but some psychiatrists are adamant it works. Now the medical establishment is waking up to its promise. But ECT may now be undergoing a revival, led by psychiatrists who champion it because of its success rate. “It’s the most effective treatment we have in psychiatry,” says George Kirov at Cardiff University, UK, who oversees ECT treatments in the area. A report from the UK Royal College of Psychiatrists last September showed that three-quarters of people with mental health problems felt improvement after having ECT. And psychiatrists say that a similar percentage of people who have schizophrenia that doesn’t respond to drug treatment find ECT effective. “I’ve never seen an ECT treatment that doesn’t work,” says Helen Farrell, a psychiatrist at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Mounting evidence has convinced the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to consider reclassifying ECT devices to make the technology more accessible for people with depression or bipolar disorder. The public will still take some convincing, however. In a 2005 survey in Switzerland, for example, 56 per cent were against ECT, while just 1 per cent said they were in favour. Perhaps that’s no surprise – giving someone a seizure to treat a psychiatric illness seems brutal and archaic. Even the name “electroconvulsive therapy” isn’t very comforting. “People in society have such a skewed view on it,” says Farrell. “It is seen as primitive and horrific.” And until recently we still didn’t know how it works. (Webmaster's comment: I still have a skewed view of electroconvulsive therapy. I see it as primitive and horrific. But still it seems to work.)
8-17-16 Our biases get in the way of understanding human behaviour
Our biases get in the way of understanding human behaviour
People can be the most fascinating study subjects of all, but researchers’ biases routinely get in the way, shaping experiments and influencing their outcomes. Can we ever study ourselves without our expectations affecting our conclusions? A damning report suggests that bias on the part of researchers has made vast numbers of studies in social psychology unreliable. Social psychology is the study of how human behaviour is affected by other people, and it seems to be particularly vulnerable to unreliable findings and conflicting explanations. Part of the problem is acknowledging failed replications. Findings about how stereotypes affect a person’s attainment, for example, continue to be cited in new research studies even after other teams have failed to replicate the results. Publication bias is partly to blame, as many journals are more likely to publish interesting findings than careful studies showing a previous result may not be true. But researchers have their own expectations to blame too, suggests an analysis by Lee Jussim at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and his team. The team concluded this after examining a number of prominent papers that are still often cited despite the fact that successive experiments had failed to replicate their findings. Taking a closer look, Jussim’s team found that in many cases, the original researchers had come to a conclusion that fitted the data, but had not eliminated alternative conclusions that could have explained their data equally well. The conclusions that researchers favour seem to be ones that fit a compelling narrative, telling a neat and interesting story about ourselves.
8-16-16 How to raise your kids to have grit
How to raise your kids to have grit
Start by praising effort, not ability! What makes kids persist? What gives them the "grit" to keep working hard in school, to get good grades, and ultimately be successful in life? A big contributor is having a "growth mindset." You may have heard about this before but many people don't understand it nearly as well as they think. To make sure you and I get it right I called Carol Dweck. She came up with the growth mindset idea. Dweck is a professor at Stanford University and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. A lot of people are making a lot of mistakes when it comes to this subject. Here's Dweck: As soon as a growth mindset became a desirable thing to have, many people started saying they had it. If they were open minded and flexible, they said they had a growth mindset. If they were kind to people, they said they had a growth mindset. A growth mindset is not something you declare, it's a really difficult journey you take over a long period of time. So let's get to the bottom of what a growth mindset really is, what people are getting wrong, and how we can all use it to increase grit and success in our lives and the lives of our children.
8-16-16 How sports are helping children in refugee camps
How sports are helping children in refugee camps
When a child's life is turned upside down, sports can be a vital and familiar comfort. When 10 athletes from four war-torn countries stepped onto the floor of Rio's Maracana Stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympics, they made history. Never before has a team of refugees participated in the games. It's not hard to imagine the millions of people in refugee camps around the world today cheering them on. There's a good chance many of them are athletes themselves. It turns out that refugees have been turning to sports to pass the time and cope with the stress of displacement for decades. The United Nations and the International Olympic Committee, along with many other groups, commit time and resources to develop sports programs at refugee camps. In June, for example, a UN envoy announced $400,000 in support for sports programs in six camps in Rwanda. A 2013 publication for the Académie Internationale des Sciences et Techniques du Sport said sports are more than a way to socialize and blow off steam. Sports can also help refugees manage trauma and find normalcy in the extraordinary situation of being driven from home.
8-16-16 Guantanamo Bay: US in largest detainee transfer under Obama
Guantanamo Bay: US in largest detainee transfer under Obama
The US says it has sent 15 Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United Arab Emirates - the largest single transfer during President Barack Obama's administration. The Pentagon says the transfer of 12 Yemeni nationals and three Afghans brings the total number of prisoners down to 61 at the US facility in Cuba. The released inmates had been held without charge, some for over 14 years. President Obama wants to close the prison before he leaves office. (Webmaster's comment: The Guantanamo Bay concentration camp is one of the clearest violations of humans rights by the United States!)
8-15-16 Are you a nice person? Brain scans can tell how generous you are
Are you a nice person? Brain scans can tell how generous you are
People who are more empathetic have more activity in the brain’s “generosity centre”, and are faster at learning how to reward others in a game. Are you a giver or a taker? Brain scans have identified a region of the cerebral cortex responsible for generosity – and some of us are kinder than others. The area was identified using a computer game that linked different symbols to cash prizes that either went to the player, or one of the study’s other participants. The volunteers readily learned to score prizes that helped other people, but they tended to learn how to benefit themselves more quickly. MRI scanning revealed that one particular brain area – the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex – seemed to be active when participants chose to be generous, prioritising benefits for someone else over getting rewards for themselves. But Patricia Lockwood, at the University of Oxford, and her team found that this brain area was not equally active in every volunteer. People who rated themselves as having higher levels of empathy learned to benefit others faster, and these people had more activity in this particular brain area, says Lockwood. This finding may lead to new ways to identify and understand anti-social and psychopathic behaviour.
8-15-16 New York mayor: Muslims 'in crosshairs of bigotry'
New York mayor: Muslims 'in crosshairs of bigotry'
Muslims are living "in the crosshairs of bigotry", New York's mayor has said, a day after an imam and his associate were killed while leaving a mosque. Imam Maulama Akonjee, 55, and Thara Uddin, 64, were shot in the head on Saturday in the borough of Queens. Some mosque-goers said the shooting was a hate crime, but police say there is as yet no evidence the men were targeted because of their faith. Attacks on US mosques are at their highest levels since records started.
8-15-16 France Corsica brawl: Mayor bans burkinis amid tensions
France Corsica brawl: Mayor bans burkinis amid tensions
The fight on a beach apparently broke out when Muslim families objected to photos taken by a tourist. A village mayor in Corsica has banned full-body swimsuits known as "burkinis" after a beach brawl between families of North African descent and local youths. The ban was imposed at a special council session on Sunday in Sisco amid tensions over the brawl, in which five people were hurt. Authorities in Cannes and Villeneuve-Loubet, on the French Riviera, also banned Islamic burkinis this month. Witnesses say hatchets and harpoons were used in the Sisco beach brawl. The five injured on Saturday were later discharged from hospital, but tensions are simmering in the area.
8-13-16 Why Simone Manuel's Olympic gold medal in swimming matters
Why Simone Manuel's Olympic gold medal in swimming matters
Records, as the sporting cliche goes, are there to be broken, but while Simone Manuel's Olympic record time in the women's 100m freestyle final will eventually be surpassed, she achieved a first that no-one can take away. Touching home at the end of a remarkable race, Manuel became the first black female swimmer to win an Olympic gold. She said she hoped her victory would encourage greater diversity in her sport. "This medal is not just for me, it's for some of the African-Americans who have been before me and been inspirations," she said. "I hope I can be an inspiration for others. This medal is for the people who come behind me and get into the sport." African-Americans have been shut out of swimming pools for generations. Swimming pools have been a racially sensitive flashpoint in the US for generations. African-American people were often denied access to pools in the segregation era, and even after its abolition white people found other ways to exclude them. Nor has building pools for black areas been a priority. "This is for all the black kids who got kicked out of pools and for all the pools drained b/c black kids touched the water." - Simone Manuel
8-13-16 Cannes 'burkini' ban: What do Muslim women think?
Cannes 'burkini' ban: What do Muslim women think?
The mayor of Cannes in France has banned full-body swimsuits, or "burkinis", from the French city's beaches. David Lisnar issued the ordinance on the grounds that burkinis, which are popular with Muslim women, "could risk disrupting public order while France was the target of terrorist attacks". He also said burkinis were a "symbol of Islamic extremism" which are "not respectful of [the] good morals and secularism" upon which the French state was founded. Muslim women from around the world have been quick to react to news of the ban. "This is just an Islamophobic attack on Muslim women in Cannes," Aysha Ziauddin, who lives in Norfolk, told the BBC. "The burkini allows me the freedom to swim and go on the beach, and I don't feel I am compromising my beliefs for that. "No-one has ever told me to wear it - it's my own choice. "How is a woman on a beach swimming in a wetsuit with her head covered a symbol of Islamic extremism?
8-13-16 North Carolina man freed after 28 years in prison
North Carolina man freed after 28 years in prison
A North Carolina man who spent 28 years in prison on murder charges has been released after a judge ruled his trial was unfair. Authorities will now consider whether Johnny Small, 43, should face a second trial in the 1988 murder of Pam Dreher. Judge W Douglas Parsons ruled that there was not enough evidence to convict Small. He also found that during the 1989 trial witnesses lied and police withheld key evidence.
8-13-16 What the deadly 1960s rubella outbreak should teach us about the Zika virus
What the deadly 1960s rubella outbreak should teach us about the Zika virus
As the Zika virus continues to sweep through Latin America and begins what appears to be a steady march into the United States, the hunt is on for a vaccine against it. In addition to posing scientific and medical challenges, the development of a Zika vaccine raises social and ethical issues with a twist because of what this vaccine will do and who it is aimed at. In some ways it will be like a vaccine developed almost 50 years ago to fight rubella, a virus that also attacked developing babies. Infection with the Zika virus generally isn't a big deal. Most people don't develop any symptoms. Those who do may have a low-grade fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle or joint pain, or fatigue that disappears within a week. A small number of people infected with the Zika virus develop Guillain-Barré syndrome, in which the immune system attacks nerves, causing pain or partial paralysis. Among women who are pregnant, though, infection with the Zika virus can have devastating consequences for their developing babies. These range from microcephaly, a condition characterized by a small head and impaired brain development, to seizures, vision and hearing loss, and intellectual disability. There are strong parallels between Zika and rubella, also known as German measles. An outbreak of rubella rocked the United States in the winter of 1964 and spring of 1965. More than 12 million people were infected with rubella. Like Zika, rubella is generally a minor illness. It causes a distinctive red rash, low fever, and symptoms resembling a bad cold that usually last a few days. For developing babies, however, infection can be a major catastrophe, causing a variety of birth defects, including blindness, deafness, heart damage, cataracts, internal organ damage, and intellectual disability. During that rubella outbreak, more than 20,000 babies were born with congenital rubella syndrome. Without a vaccine, there was nothing their mothers could have done to prevent it. A vaccine against rubella became available in 1969. Since then, this disease has been eradicated in the United States. (Webmaster's comment: We need a vaccine NOW!)
8-12-16 Polio back in Nigeria two years after being wiped out in Africa
Polio back in Nigeria two years after being wiped out in Africa
Just as Africa was due to celebrate the anniversary of its last polio infections, two new cases have set back global efforts to eradicate the virus by 2019. Just as Africa was due to celebrate two polio-free years, it has been announced that the virus has paralysed two children in Nigeria’s Borno state. The decline of polio in Africa is thanks to a huge public health effort. When these two new cases came to light, the continent had been on track to be declared officially polio free in just one year’s time. “The overriding priority now is to rapidly immunise all children around the affected area and ensure no other children succumb,” said Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Africa. Nigeria previously had a particularly large incidence of polio. As recently as 2012, the country accounted for more than half of all cases globally. But a concerted campaign of immunisation meant that the country was able last month to celebrate two years without a new case. (Webmaster's comment: I wonder what all those anti-vaccination Twits have to say about the polio vaccine. Maybe they'd like to go back to crippled children by the many thousands every year in the United States.)
8-12-16 America's birth rate is now a national emergency
America's birth rate is now a national emergency
The new birth rate numbers are out, and they're a disaster. There are now only 59.6 births per 1,000 women, the lowest rate ever recorded in the United States. Some of the decrease is due to good news, which is the continuing decline of teen pregnancies, but most of it is due to people getting married later and choosing to have fewer children. And the worst part is, everyone is treating this news with a shrug. It wasn't always this way. It used to be taken for granted that the best indicator of a nation's health was its citizens' desire and capacity to reproduce. And it should still seem self-evident that people's willingness to have children is not only a sign of confidence in the future, but a sign of cultural health. It's a signal that people are willing to commit to the most enduring responsibility on Earth, which is raising a child. But reproduction is also a sign of national health in a more dollars-and-cents way. The more productive people you have in your society, the healthier your country's economy. It's an idea that was obvious back in the 17th century, when economist Jean Bodin wrote "the only wealth is people." (Webmaster's comment: We don't need any more people in the world. We have over 6 billion too many already. Their numbers are the reason for wars, global resource depletion, global warming and global pollution, and rising hate and violence. People need room to live without the neighbors crammed in next to them, and there isn't any room left. You put too many rates in a cage and they kill each other until they have room again. Humans are doing the same.)
8-12-16 Satan: Heading to a school near you
Satan: Heading to a school near you
Watch out—“an After School Satan Club could be coming to your kid’s elementary school,” said Katherine Stewart in The Washington Post. Leaders of the Satanic Temple, an advocacy group that offers “tongue-in-cheek support for the fallen angel” in order to draw attention to their fight over the constitutional separation of church and state, last week announced their intention to establish the devilish clubs in public grade schools nationwide, beginning this academic year. “Christian evangelical groups already have infiltrated the lives of America’s children through after-school religious programming,” says the Temple, and kids deserve another choice. Satanic imagery does not belong in our schools, even if it’s satirical, said the Marietta Daily Journal in an editorial. What’s next? “A sheet-knitting Ku Klux Klan course”? (Webmaster's comment: Belief in a supernatural anything, god or satan, is unsupported by any evidence. Keep all supernatural belief systems out of all our schools.)
8-12-16 Survey of attitudes on foreign trade
Survey of attitudes on foreign trade
In a survey of attitudes on foreign trade, 78 percent of Americans said they would oppose a policy that created 1,000 foreign jobs if it meant one U.S. worker would lose his or her job. Just 11 percent agreed that international trade in general benefits both the U.S. and foreign countries.
8-12-16 Rio 2016: Daily Beast 'sorry for outing gay athletes'
Rio 2016: Daily Beast 'sorry for outing gay athletes'
US news website The Daily Beast has apologised for publishing an article that may have "outed" a number of gay athletes at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Readers complained some athletes - who were not named but were identifiable from details in the article - were from countries with harsh anti-gay policies. The reporter had described how he used online dating, including popular gay app Grindr, to get dates with athletes. The Daily Beast said it had "screwed up" and later removed the article.
8-11-16 US government wants more cannabis farms for science
US government wants more cannabis farms for science
The DEA has decided to allow organisations to apply to grow marijuana for research purposes, a move intended to encourage more studies on the drug’s effects. At last, researchers will be able to get their hands on the stuff. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has announced it will allow more organisations to grow and distribute marijuana for the purposes of research. Until now, the only approved supplier of cannabis for science has been the University of Mississippi. This has made it difficult for researchers to study the drug, such as its effects on depression, and whether it might help people with post-traumatic stress disorder. But the DEA today announced it will allow other organisations to apply to become registered suppliers, a move it hopes will foster more marijuana research. This policy change follows a letter last year calling on the DEA to take action to support more research into marijuana’s medical benefits, signed by eight US senators.
8-10-16 The kindness paradox: Why be generous?
The kindness paradox: Why be generous?
Humans are one of the rare animals to be altruistic. An ancient form of giving holds secrets about why we help one another without any promise of reward. LIFE isn’t easy as a Maasai herder on the Serengeti plain in eastern Africa. At any moment, disease could sweep through your livestock, the source of almost all your wealth. Drought could parch your pastures, or bandits could steal the herd. No matter how careful you are, or how hard you work, fate could leave you destitute. What’s a herder to do? The answer is simple: ask for help. Thanks to a Maasai tradition known as osotua – literally, umbilical cord – anyone in need can request aid from their network of friends. Anyone who’s asked is obliged to help, often by giving livestock, as long as it doesn’t jeopardise their own survival. No one expects a recipient to repay the gift, and no one keeps track of how often a person asks or gives. Osotua runs counter to the way we usually view cooperation, which is all about reciprocity – you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Yet similar forms of generosity turn out to be common in cultures around the world. Some anthropologists think it could represent one of the earliest forms of generosity in human society. That’s not the only curiosity about generosity. In biological and evolutionary terms, it makes no sense to give and get nothing in return. Altruism is rare in other animals, yet humans can be inexplicably kind. Are we generous by nature? How did we get to be this way? What role does culture play in kindness? These are the big questions now being addressed by researchers in the Human Generosity Project, who are using fieldwork, experiments and modelling to explore osotua and other examples of human cooperation. Their aim: to find how best to make the milk of human kindness flow.
8-10-16 Selfish dogs would rather play with a toy than help a human
Selfish dogs would rather play with a toy than help a human
Friend in need, friend indeed. The old adage might not extend to our best friends, dogs, which may be more focused on that bone on the floor than lending a paw. Man’s best friend? Dogs may be more selfish than their sterling reputation suggests – or perhaps they simply don’t understand our requests for help. Our canine companions are unusually good at communicating with us, outperforming other creatures such as chimpanzees, says Patrizia Piotti at the University of Portsmouth, UK. But how helpful are pooches when they know something that humans don’t? To find out whether dogs will show a person where something they have lost is hidden, Piotti and her advisor, Juliane Kaminski, studied 24 family dogs in the lab. Testing each one individually, the researchers put a toy in one corner of the room, and stashed either a notebook that the dog had seen someone using in another, or a stapler that it hadn’t seen before. This was done in view of the dog. When the notebook user returned and searched for the “lost” notepad, the pooches indicated the dog toy more often than the notebook or stapler. And when the dogs did indicate the location of the other objects, they weren’t any better at pointing out the thing the human cared about – the notebook – than the unimportant stapler.
8-10-16 Speedy cannabis spit test could spot people driving while high
Speedy cannabis spit test could spot people driving while high
Now that personal use of marijuana has been legalised in many parts of the US, police are looking for ways to stop people driving while high. A 3-minute test could help. An erratic driver is pulled over by the police. The officer smells a hint of marijuana, so dabs a cotton swab in the driver’s mouth to collect some saliva. Just 3 minutes later, still by the side of the road, the result comes back: every millilitre of spit contains 5 nanograms of THC, weed’s active ingredient. This scenario may soon be commonplace thanks to a new test developed in the lab of Shan Wang at Stanford University in California. Wang’s technology uses nanoparticles that are shaped to fit like a lock-and-key to either THC or to reagents attached to a surface. With no THC molecules around, they connect to the reagent molecules, creating an electromagnetic distortion a sensor can measure. Add in THC and there are fewer distortions. “The more THC in the saliva, the less signal we detect,” Wang says. The sensor connects to a smartphone through Bluetooth, making it easy to use on the go – there’s no need to take samples back to the lab. “I think field testing is really the next step,” Wang says. “We have to make the device more user-friendly to the law enforcement officers.” (Webmaster's comment: Getting driving potheads off the roads will save a lot of lives just as keeping drunks off the road does!)
8-10-16 UK top for online drug sales in Europe
UK top for online drug sales in Europe
UK-based drug dealers earn more money online than any of their European rivals, research suggests. In January, British dealers made $2.2m (£1.7m) in web sales, with a 16% share of the global online drugs market. However, US dealers had a 36% share of the online market and took home $5m (£3.8m). Cannabis was the most popular item on the underground websites, accounting for a third of transactions. Purchases of prescription-only medicines accounted for a further 19%.
Online drug market share in January
- United States - 35.9%
- United Kingdom - 16.1%
- Australia - 10.6%
- Germany - 8.4%
- Netherlands - 7.8%
Most popular drugs
- Cannabis - 33%
- Prescription medication - 19%
- Stimulants - 18%
- Ecstasy-type drugs - 12%
- Psychedelics - 11%
8-10-16 11 questions employers should never ask job applicants
11 questions employers should never ask job applicants
This is a topic many people could stand to learn more about. A CareerBuilder survey last year found that 20 percent of hiring managers have asked an illegal question in an interview. A third of the more than 2,100 hiring and human resource managers polled said they were unsure of the legality of certain interview questions. Taboo topics also can come up during small talk, which is potentially just as damaging. "People chit-chat in interviews, and it's natural to talk about things that might give you information that's not job-related, but could be used to discriminate against a person," labor attorney Peter Moser told Huffington Post. A basic rule of thumb is that all questions need to be job-related. For a start, anything that touches on age, race, gender, religion, marital status, and sexual orientation are not okay. Here are 11 red-flag inquiries:
- "How old are you?"
- "Are you married?"
- "What religious holidays do you celebrate?"
- "How's your health?"
- "What's your race?"
- "What country are you from?"
- "Have you ever been arrested?"
- "Have you ever used drugs in the past?"
- "Do you like to drink socially?"
- "Have you ever filed for bankruptcy?"
- "What type of discharge did you receive in the military?"
8-9-16 Can we reduce mass shootings by changing how they are reported?
Can we reduce mass shootings by changing how they are reported?
There are calls to curb media coverage of some aspects of mass shootings in the US to try to cut the number of gun sprees. Will it work, wonders Steven Stack. Mass shootings have spiked in the US in recent times. A study of FBI reports on 160 gun sprees shows they went from an average of 6.4 a year in 2000-2006 to 16.4 in 2007-2013. What’s more, two recent large-scale investigations looking at hundreds of shootings between 1997 and 2013 have documented a “clustering” of such slayings timewise. Both found that mass shootings were most likely to occur within two weeks of a previous one. This suggests a contagion effect, possibly as a result of media coverage. Such findings underpin a fresh call – made at the annual conference of the American Psychological Association – for media to play down certain aspects of the story when reporting these tragedies. The aim is to deny publicity to the shooter, and hopefully diminish any contagion effect. But will this work? It is hard to tell. Relevant studies have usually given no measure of the quantity of media attention drawn to the shootings. Nor have they looked at specific details of the coverage, including use of a photo of the shooter and how sensationalist the reports were. This lack of fine-grained insight into media coverage makes it hard to assess its role in promoting mass slayings. It is certainly plausible that certain types of coverage – anything that glorifies such acts, for example – may be more likely than others to spark additional shootings. But the specific elements of stories that are most dangerous remain unknown, making it hard to know what to play down in any voluntary code to tackle contagion.
8-9-16 Should hijabs be allowed in women's basketball?
Should hijabs be allowed in women's basketball?
The International Basketball Federation will decide whether to lift its ban on head coverings this month. It's a monumental change for many Muslim basketball players. For professional player Indira Kaljo, this decision could change the future of her career. Originally put in place out of concern for player safety, the protocol for basketball's international governing body FIBA says, "Players shall not wear equipment [objects] that may cause injury to other players." This includes head coverings larger than five centimeters. Kaljo, a Muslim woman who wears the hijab, has spent the past two years fighting to change this. "That's where my campaign came in," Kaljo says. "Asking how is this harmful, how is a piece of cloth that's larger than five centimeters harmful?" In 2014, FIBA agreed to a two-year testing phase, but for Kaljo and other hijabi women, this was only the first step. She wants permanent change.
8-8-16 Why do we fall for false positives even though they're common?
Why do we fall for false positives even though they're common?
From cannabis in the water supply to breast cancer screening, so many of the tests we use routinely give false results – so why don’t we expect them? Last month, the drinking water in a Colorado town was declared unsafe, because it had been contaminated by an ingredient from cannabis. It took two days to discover that this was not the case – a water test had turned up a false positive result. In fact, false positives are widespread in our everyday lives, and we seem to have an innate inability to get to grips with them. The fuss in Hugo, Colorado – a state where cannabis use is now legal – began when a county employee administering a test for drug use decided to use the same kind of test on tap water, rather than saliva, in an attempt to rule out a false positive. When the water tested positive too, it was assumed the test kit was a dud. But when they tried a different kit from another manufacturer the result was the same – it appeared that there was THC, the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis, in the water. Police then investigated the town’s well and found what they thought was evidence it had been tampered with. Residents were advised to switch to bottled water and restaurants were closed. But THC does not dissolve easily in water. If someone had wanted to contaminate the town’s water supply with this compound, they would have needed a huge – and expensive – amount of THC. By chance alone, we should expect things like this to happen. Any test will turn up a result that isn’t accurate every now and then, and we would expect this on occasion to happen in the same place multiple times. But our brains seem to have particular trouble handling these kinds of probability estimations. When the FBI conducted further tests, it emerged that the initial findings had been false positives. False positives can be caused by anything from faulty test kits to contamination, or even what you eat – people can test positive for opiate drugs after eating poppy seeds.
8-8-16 One in Eight U.S. Adults Say They Smoke Marijuana
One in Eight U.S. Adults Say They Smoke Marijuana
Thirteen percent of U.S. adults tell Gallup they currently smoke marijuana, nearly double the percentage who reported smoking marijuana only three years ago. Although use of the drug is still prohibited by federal law, the number of states that have legalized recreational marijuana use has grown from two in 2013, Colorado and Washington, to four today -- with the addition of Alaska and Oregon -- plus the District of Columbia. Five states will vote on whether to legalize marijuana this November.
- 13% report being current marijuana users, up from 7% in 2013
- 43% of U.S. adults say they have tried it
- Use and experimentation differ by religiosity, age
8-6-16 Why the Chinese military is still haunted by this 19th-century 'humiliation'
Why the Chinese military is still haunted by this 19th-century 'humiliation'
The Opium War explains a lot about China's aggression in the South China Sea. In 1839, England went to war with China because it was upset that Chinese officials had shut down its drug trafficking racket and confiscated its dope. Stating the historical record so plainly is shocking — but it's true, and the consequences of that act are still being felt today. (Webmaster's comment: The United States took part in this naked aggression in the name of free enterprize. Whenever you hear of aggression being done in the name of free enterprize, it's not. It's being done in the name of profits for someone at the expense of freedom, liberty and the human rights of others. And THEY, not YOU, can and will bank on it!)
8-5-16 School field trips to creationist Ark? Sink that idea right now
School field trips to creationist Ark? Sink that idea right now
A huge Noah's Ark 'theme park' stuffed full of baffling pseudoscience is no place for educational trips of any sort, says Josh Rosenau. In a quiet corner of Kentucky, what claims to be the world’s largest timber-frame structure is hard to miss – a “life-size Noah’s Ark” that reportedly cost $100 million. Called Ark Encounter, the 155-metre long “theme park” features stuffed creatures and a petting zoo. It opened its doors last month, billing itself as a family-oriented educational treat. That makes it sound like a good place for schools to send students. Not so fast, though. The park’s promotional material also describes it as “a Christian evangelistic outreach intended to bring the Ark of Noah’s day to life,” which “equips visitors to understand the reality of the events that are recorded in the book of Genesis”. It is, in fact, a hard-core creationist extravaganza replete with pseudoscience. It is no place for field trips. But that hasn’t stopped its founder Ken Ham from urging publicly funded schools to come and take a look. Throughout the Ark, wordy signs, animatronic mannequins and strident videos all insist that it is no Sunday school tale, but a “historically authentic” boat that existed just as Ham and others on the young-earth creationist fringe imagine it. Perhaps because of disappointing visitor numbers so far, it is offering reduced rates – $1 a student and free tickets for accompanying teachers – to tempt schoolchildren through its doors. Schools and parents should know that a visit wouldn’t educate or entertain, it would misinform and browbeat. (Webmaster's comment: Outright lies by religious fanatics once again.)
8-5-16 The long battle to remove 'transgender' from the list of psychiatric disorders
The long battle to remove 'transgender' from the list of psychiatric disorders
The feelings of social rejection and violence that are common among transgender people appear to be caused by others, not by mental illness, according to a recent study published in The Lancet Psychiatry. This evidence might be enough to get the would-be disorder removed from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), a designation of mental illnesses used by clinicians worldwide. Gender dysphoria or gender identity disorder was first listed as a clinical diagnosis in 1980, when it was included in another set of mental illness guidelines call the DSM. The supposed disorder was characterized by a "clinically significant distress or impairment in social, school, or other important areas of functioning." But this classification has been controversial. "The conceptualization of transgender identity as a mental disorder has contributed to precarious legal status, human rights violations, and barriers to appropriate health care among transgender people," the study authors write. In 2011, the European Parliament asked the World Health Organization (WHO), which writes the ICD, to remove gender dysphoria as an option for diagnosis.
8-5-16 U.S. election has unleashed anti-Semitism
U.S. election has unleashed anti-Semitism
The viciousness of the U.S. presidential campaign has let loose “open expressions of Jew-hatred across the political spectrum,” said Ruthie Blum. On the right, white supremacists have taken to social media to attack Jewish columnists who dare to criticize GOP nominee Donald Trump. They say the critics should be sent to the gas chambers and bemoan “the fact that Hitler didn’t finish the job.” Over on the left, demonstrators call for banishing “Zionist pigs” from the Middle East. At a rally outside the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last week, protesters torched an Israeli flag, presumably to show their anger at Hillary Clinton’s victory over Bernie Sanders, a Jew. “The irony would be sweet if it weren’t so tragic.” Already, Jews on U.S. university campuses are being targeted. Jewish students are harassed and taunted more than any other minority group. Americans should not forget that Jews are always the canary in the coal mine, the first to be attacked but not the last. Indeed, U.S. flags were burned alongside Israeli flags in Philadelphia. Left- and right-wing extremists are a “marriage made in hell,” producing “the satanic progeny that, if not kept in check, will destroy the very fabric of the free society that has enabled [anti-Semitism] to rear its ugly head.”
8-5-16 Free trade didn’t kill factory jobs
Free trade didn’t kill factory jobs
Politicians on the right and the left blame globalization “for all but wiping out U.S. manufacturing and eliminating millions of middle-class jobs,” said Daniel Griswold. So you might be surprised to learn that American factories are “making a greater volume of stuff than ever.” While it’s true that the number of manufacturing jobs has been declining since the 1970s, U.S. manufacturing output has increased by almost 40 percent over the past two decades. Manufacturing now adds a record $2.4 trillion to the U.S. economy. What’s changed is what we produce. Instead of the shirts, shoes, toys, and tables we made 30 years ago, more-valuable products like pharmaceuticals, electronics, refined petroleum, and aerospace equipment now dominate the sector. If anything, “the political anger about lost manufacturing jobs should be aimed at technology, not trade.” While factories today employ fewer workers, the ones they do hire are better educated, higher paid, and equipped with sophisticated machinery. Productivity gains enabled by technology contributed to 85 percent of the 5.6 million manufacturing jobs lost from 2000 to 2010, according to a recent study; trade accounted for 13 percent of losses. Rather than pining for a “bygone era,” we should focus on providing America’s workers with better education and job training to join its “modern, competitive manufacturing sector.” Picking trade spats with other countries isn’t the answer.
8-5-16 Poll watch
62% of Americans support making tuition free at public colleges and universities, while 35% are opposed. Support is highest among people ages 18 to 29—77%—and drops to 49% among people older than 50. Among Republicans, support is just 33%.
8-5-16 China’s mythical ‘Great Flood’ possibly rooted in real disaster
China’s mythical ‘Great Flood’ possibly rooted in real disaster
Chinese civilization may have gotten a watery start thanks to a nearly 4,000-year-old deluge. China’s Yellow River cuts through a gorge not far from where researchers say a landslide-created dam burst nearly 4,000 years ago and flooded the region. This finding may support folktales of a Great Flood that led to the founding of Chinese civilization. Ancient Chinese tales and writings about a massive flood of the Yellow River that led to civilization’s rise in East Asia appear to hold water, researchers say. A section of the Yellow River dammed by an earthquake-caused landslide broke open about 3,936 years ago, says a team led by geologist Qinglong Wu of China’s Nanjing Normal University. A wall of water about one-third as high as the Empire State Building charged down the Yellow River valley, possibly changing the river’s course and leading to years of flooding in lowland areas inhabited by farmers, the scientists report in the Aug. 5 Science. (Webmaster's comment: And they didn't need Noah or God.)
8-4-16 How Donald Trump's strongman act won over evangelicals
How Donald Trump's strongman act won over evangelicals
The evangelical embrace of Trump (after considerable early skepticism about his bid for the White House) is remarkable for several reasons. It indicates that evangelicals are considerably less concerned about the personal moral and religious character of presidential candidates than many (including, I suspect, many evangelicals themselves) have typically presumed. It also demonstrates that social conservatives are more willing than members of the Republican Party's other two major factions — pro-business economic libertarians and hawkish foreign policy internationalists — to embrace a brash, populist insurgent. Many members of the first group have remained on the sidelines and some appear willing to entertain defecting to Libertarian Party ticket of Gary Johnson and William Weld; members of the second, meanwhile, have gravitated to Hillary Clinton. But not evangelicals. The question is why. Why would voters who engage in politics in large part because of their attachment to a social-conservative agenda rally around a blustering, bragging vulgarian who's on his third marriage; who specializes in such un-Christ-like behavior as mocking a reporter with a disability; who favors such policies as rounding up and deporting millions, torturing terrorism suspects, banning the members of specific religions from entering the United States, and striking first with nuclear weapons; and perhaps most pertinent of all, who shows no interest in, knowledge of, or sympathy for the social-conservative agenda? (Webmaster's comment: America's religious fanatics are a poison just waiting to be exploited for evil.)
8-4-16 First evidence of legendary flood reveals China’s origin story
First evidence of legendary flood reveals China’s origin story
The ancient Chinese legend passed down through generations could be based on a catastrophic Yellow river flood that we now know happened 4000 years ago'. Legend has it that a great flood engulfed China 4000 years ago. Lasting for more than 20 years, it was finally tamed by the heroic efforts of Emperor Yu, whose Xia dynasty marked the birth of Chinese civilisation and its transition into the Bronze Age. “This was the first stage in the founding of Chinese civilisation,” says Wu Qinglong of Nanjing Normal University. “But no scientific evidence had been discovered until now.” This lack of evidence for such a flood had prompted some to challenge the truth of the story. But we now have the first compelling evidence that the flood did actually happen at the time and place chronicled in the legend. In the Jishi Gorge, along the Yellow river, his team discovered rocks and sedimentary formations that could only have existed as a result of a cataclysmic flood.
8-4-16 Rocks tell story of China's great flood
Rocks tell story of China's great flood
The flood occurred after a landslide dammed the Yellow River in Jishi Gorge. Geologists have found evidence for an ancient megaflood which they say is a good match for the mythical deluge at the dawn of China's first dynasty. The legend of Emperor Yu states that he tamed the flooded Yellow River by dredging and redirecting its channels, thereby laying the foundations for the Xia dynasty and Chinese civilisation. Previously, no scientific evidence had been found for a corresponding flood. But now a Chinese-led team has placed just such an event at about 1,900BC.
8-3-16 US Supreme Court blocks transgender toilet ruling
US Supreme Court blocks transgender toilet ruling
The US Supreme Court has temporarily overturned a ruling that allowed a transgender high school student to use the bathroom of his choice. It is the first time that the fraught discussion over transgender bathroom rights has reached the country's highest court. Judges voted 5-3 to halt a lower court's order that Gavin Grimm, 17, be allowed to use the boys' bathroom. They will consider the case again in the autumn. Mr Grimm who was born female, filed the lawsuit after his school board in Virginia adopted a policy that required students to use a private toilet or one that corresponds to the sex listed on their birth certificate.
8-3-16 Transgender Olympians in Rio don’t have an unfair advantage
Transgender Olympians in Rio don’t have an unfair advantage
The evidence shows that transgender women won’t outcompete other female athletes, says Yannis Pitsiladis, a member of the IOC’s scientific commission. FOR the first time in Olympic history, some of the athletes competing in Rio could be transgender women. Team GB is reportedly among the squads that include biologically male athletes competing as females. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) lowered barriers to participation in January, after a consensus meeting, which I attended. Trans athletes are no longer required to have had gender reassignment surgery followed by two years of hormone therapy. This has been applauded by those who say it reflects social and legal progress on trans issues, and is also supported by science. But some have questioned its scientific basis. Their main concern is whether trans women have an unfair advantage. The new guidance requires testosterone levels in trans women’s blood to be below a threshold for a year before competition. This would usually require hormone treatment or even surgery. What impact does this treatment have?
8-1-16 The Pandora Effect: Why curiosity usually beats common sense
The Pandora Effect: Why curiosity usually beats common sense
Research shows that we just can’t help ourselves and find it hard to curb our curiosity – even when it’s better that we do.Curiosity is often a positive thing: it is at the heart of scientific progress, for example. But it also has a negative side. “Rubbernecking” – gawping at car crashes when we drive past – is one such example. A government-sponsored study of accidents on the M6 motorway attributed 29 per cent of them during the study period to drivers rubbernecking in the opposite carriageway. The issue was eventually tackled by the UK Highways Agency, who reduced accidents by erecting giant screens at crash sites. The problem is we just can’t help ourselves. In a recent study, researchers have found that we’re still curious even if we know the outcome will be negative. Christopher Hsee of the University of Chicago and colleagues dubbed the tendency to opt for an uncertain outcome even when we know it might have unpleasant consequences, the Pandora Effect.
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