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A bad omen

April 19, 2014

You will know basketball is dying, when its advocates start building courts with a three-foot diameter basket mounted seven feet high, to attract the kids who can’t sink a free throw on a regulation court. Fortunately, basketball is quite popular. On the other hand, golfers should take recent attempts to lure new players as a bad, bad omen.

Drawing improves writing skills

April 18, 2014

Does drawing help children learn to write? Some research suggests so. That’s not the least bit surprising. Both drawing and writing involve composition and fitting together different elements into a sensible whole, both are flavored by style, both are carried by repeated tropes.

Do you want your data secure?

April 17, 2014

The answer likely is “not really, not fully.” Bruce Schneier puts our internet security concerns in context.


April 16, 2014

Omega-3 dietary supplements may not provide much heart benefit. Save your money and eat your vegetables.

Tap water is safer than bottled water.

Contrary to common belief, living together before marriage does not increase the risk of divorce. But partnerships made when young are more likely to fail, whether the couple starts married or not. Some previous research confounded those factors.

“Tequila reported to reduce risk of type 2 diabetes.” Well, that’s the headline. The research didn’t use tequila, but substances extracted from the agave. And the trials were on mice. So if that’s the conclusion reported by the researchers, rather than by some hopeful journalist, I am suspicious it’s from the researchers imbibing too much of the national liquor produced nearby.

How hummingbirds came to be

April 14, 2014

Bird lovers will enjoy reading this.

What atheism is

April 13, 2014

Mike Dobbins follows in the long line of religious believers who want to turn atheism into something like religious belief. In particular, he wants to push atheists into some positive faith that there can be no gods, rather than a lack of belief from a lack of evidence:

If atheists applied their own definition of atheism to their divine creation the Flying Spaghetti Monster, an atheist would proudly state they merely have an ‘absence of belief in‘ the FSM. Just as with God, they would neither concede to having a disbelief or belief. I have no qualms confessing that not only do I have a ‘lack of belief in’ the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I also positively believe the FSM God does not exist. Are atheists willing to concede a theist has more conviction that the Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn’t exist than an atheist does?

My answer is, yes. People who believe religiously typically have more conviction than people thinking rationally. That is the nature of faith.

Among the gods that men have imagined, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is not that outrageous. If there were a god with a sense of humor, he might choose to reveal aspects of himself to someone in a fashion that would lead that prophet to think they are creating a parody. That’s as plausible a story of revelation as most. Unlike Dobbins, I can entertain that possibility, recognize I can’t disprove it, and take all that at face value without having to huff and puff about some “positive belief” it is false.

My positive belief is that there is no more reason to hold it than any other such myth. And similarly, that Yahweh and Allah and Jesus (the divine, not the historic) are believed on basis no better than the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s. I can assert that as a positive belief based on how believers themselves explain their own faith. That’s not a direct argument against any god. It is an argument against religious belief. And it’s where believers like Dobbins go wrong in thinking about atheists. Atheists don’t have to tackle what gods there might be. We only have to take on belief in them. If Dobbins wants to know what the atheist believes, rather than what he doesn’t, it is this: That we have never heard a sensible defense of religious belief. Many believers these days know they can’t provide that, and so they’re not going to try. Instead, they want to re-imagine atheism as something like religion, rather than a rejection of religion. And it’s pretty easy to argue against atheism, once you make it look like religion!

Does politics make us stupid?

April 11, 2014

Ezra Klein takes a look some of the research on how we respond to political arguments by rationalizing our “own side’s” view. Part of the problem, of course, is becoming too attached to particular sides.

But is that enough to explain the depths to which Jim DeMint plunges, in discussing the Civil War?


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