Saturday, 16 May 2015

Your close-minded disdain for anti-vaxxers isn't helping anyone

The movement against vaccinating kids has apparently reached critical mass, causing potentially serious outbreaks of measles and other easily preventable diseases. This is obviously terrible. And it has left many people perplexed as to why so-called anti-vaxxers decided to abandon all evidence and endanger their children and others'.

I have some useful insight into what is going on. I grew up as an intellectual Christian in the West. At some point, I had to think hard about science: what it is, how it works, what it proves and doesn't prove, and how. I also had to think about how Christianity came to decline in the secular West. And therein lie some hidden-in-plain-sight truths of the anti-vaccine movement.

Let's start with Christianity: Christians believe that God is the necessary unconditioned reality that makes the contingent Universe we live in possible, the unconditioned good that is the source of every finite good. God draws us toward Him out of love, and to His embrace we respond in love, loving our neighbor because God loves her. Classical Christianity held that because God is perfect, he can do no evil (since that is an imperfection), and that there is evil in the world because it is the necessary price of our creaturely freedom. But God will in the end bring out a greater good of that evil.

John Calvin held that God actively caused Adam's original sin, thereby making him the author of all evil and suffering in the world, "to manifest His glory" — that is, just to show everyone how powerful he is, like some B-movie villain. Thus, passages in the Bible seeming to endorse violence, which had been hitherto read allegorically, came to be seen, even by serious people, as God sometimes approving genocide when he feels like it. And indeed, the most striking thing about the "New Atheism" fad of a few years back is how those writers described Christians as believing in some superpowerful superbeing, a violent sociopath who directly influences reality out of whim, and whose followers blindly obey his arbitrary commands as revealed through literalistic readings of the Bible for fear of eternal punishment and out of desire to escape the world to some place called Heaven. Not a very attractive picture!

"Christianity" in the public mind of the West long ago became this bizarro, evil-twin, parallel-universe version of actual Christianity. (This was often the fault of Christians.) And it is this version that people understandably reject. Christianity became implausible in practice, too. Only credentialed theologians could miss the fact that burning heretics in public was not consistent with Jesus' message, let alone the enormous cultural devastation brought about by the Protestant Reformation.

What does all this have to do with science and vaccinations, you ask?

Well, just like actual Christianity became replaced by bizarro "Christianity" in the public mind, a similar thing is happening with science. In the public mind, science is increasingly being replaced with a bizarro cousin, "Science". And we're increasingly at risk that people, in rejecting the bizarro caricature, also reject the real deal. And, just like with Christianity, the blame often lies on overzealous advocates.

What is science? And what is the distinction between actual science and "Science"?

As I explained in a previous column describing this problem (and pointing to the anti-vax movement as one symptom), science is a process for making reliable, nonobvious predictions about the future through the practice of controlled experiment. What we now call the Scientific Revolution happened when scientists ditched the Aristotelian definition of science as "knowledge of the ultimate causes of things" and instead focused on investigating specific empirical claims through controlled experiment. Scientific claims, properly speaking, concern only what the philosopher of science Karl Popper called falsifiable claims, meaning empirical claims that can be proven or disproven by experiment.

By contrast, public-imagination "Science" is basically just a synonym for "magic." "Science" is complicated stuff with lots of math, and it produces absolute truths and magical things.

This has many implications.

The first is that actual science is, or ought to be, intrinsically humble work: Science works precisely because it defines its aims narrowly. Aristotelian "science" tried to explain everything, and explained nothing. Baconian science tries to explain very little — only falsifiable empirical claims — but with those very little pebbles it builds very big mountains. But it also means that when you're not dealing with a falsifiable empirical claim, you're not dealing, properly speaking, with a scientific claim. And it also means that successful scientific work is humble work.

The second is that the magic of the scientific method comes from that little word: "controlled." A controlled experiment allows you to make reliable, nonobvious predictions about the future because it isolates all possible causes from an effect but one, to see which causes cause which effect. Contrary to popular myth, when Galileo did his revolutionary experiment on the fall of heavy and light objects, he did not just drop two balls from the tower of Pisa — he designed elaborate contraptions to do experiments that would take into account, for example, the potential effect of wind resistance.

Some kinds of science are harder than others. To perform controlled experiments, you need to be able to isolate all causes but one. In extremely complex environments, that is very hard to do. And it turns out that things like the human body and human society are even more complex than the beginnings of the Universe. In medicine and social studies, it is much harder to produce good scientific knowledge — reliable, nonobvious predictions about the future validated by controlled experiment — because it is much harder to produce controlled experiments, as it is much harder to isolate one cause.

This is typically done through randomized controlled experiment: split a group randomly into two groups; give one of them a treatment, another a placebo; because the groups are randomly split, all causes except the treatment should cancel each other out. This is a great approach, and it has produced a lot of progress. But to truly validate a claim, you don't need just one experiment, you need replication over many experiments, because the human body is so complex that there's still a risk some other, unobserved cause might be at work. If physical science is like blitzkrieg, medical science is more like trench warfare. Galileo overturned 2,000 years of physics with one experiment; it took decades to prove the link between smoking and cancer.

So, what does this have to do with the anti-vaxxers?

Well, here it is. If, like a Grand Inquisitor or a creationist Christian, scientists start to drink their own Kool-Aid and confuse actual science with "Science," they begin to saw off the branch they're sitting on. And people get mad.

As wrong as the anti-vaxxers are about vaccines, one thing that's most definitely not wrong about their outlook is that the medical establishment has a heck of a record of using its authority to promote junk "Science" as science.

Take pediatrics, for example. How about that time the American Academy of Pediatrics realized that an infant sleeping in your bed is actually totally fine and their shrieking about it was totally unjustified, and probably actually led to preventable deaths of children? (Not that the fact that billions of people have been doing it for millennia could have been a hint, or anything.) Or how about the fact that the AAP still recommends circumcision for infant males (which originally became prevalent in America because of a demented Christian fundamentalist crusade against masturbation), unlike practically every other international pediatrics body?

Or consider another domain where there's a lot of "Science" and not a lot of science: diet and fitness. As Scott Adams points out, over the lifespan of the average American, "Science" has been saying — each time very loudly, and each time with all the authority of divine command — black one day, and white the next.

The media also fuels our science-"Science" confusion, publishing studies showing a statistically insignificant link between, say, eating kale and being eaten by bears with a headline trumpeting "according to science." Blame our education system, too, where basic epistemology is devalued.

Is it any wonder that there are a lot of people who have stopped trusting men in white coats talking about "Science"?

Our politics also turn science into "Science." For decades, we have had politicians pretending that middle-school science about when life begins is a big mystery. They also warn that Armageddon awaits if carbon taxes aren't implemented, even though the IPCC emphatically does not say that.

There are problems with science on the right as well as the left, but perhaps the best symbol of how bad the politicization of science — and its transformation from science into "Science" — is can be seen in this: Even though the anti-vax movement is a product of the loony left, liberal media outlets are trying as hard as possible to paint it as a product of the loony right. The lens of politics corrupts everything and turns science into "Science."

The incentive to politicize science is really attractive. And when academia becomes dominated by one sort of person, it becomes nearly irresistible. But if scientists want to maintain their credibility (not to mention do the right thing), they need to resist it.

Finally, one last tip from a Christian: Be empathetic. In January, I predicted a new year of online outrage, because the internet favors the phenomenon of scapegoating, in which a group of people picks a lone person to project their sins onto and destroy them to protect the strength of the community. Scapegoating is always an evil impulse, and we should be wary of it, especially if the victim "has it coming" as the anti-vaxxers do, since it only increases the impetus. As I've tried to show above, the anti-vax movement might not have even taken root if the medical establishment had been a little more careful with their credibility, if we took time to think about what science actually is, and if we weren't in such a rush to always turn everything into a political football.

Here's a thought experiment: Imagine you have a lively, outgoing, wonderful toddler, slowly becoming withdrawn, locked into their own world. As the parent of a 3-year-old, the thought turns my stomach into knots. And the simple fact of the matter is, we don't understand what causes autism, at all (it might not even be a disease!). And in our culture, the one thing we won't accept is that something doesn't have a solution. The urge to try to come up with an alternative explanation, while seriously misguided, is also deeply human and, ultimately, understandable.

There is some evidence that beating people over the head with arguments only makes them dig in more. I see all the anti-anti-vax tweets, and I wonder: "You do realize that probably no anti-vaxxer reads you? Are you just tweeting to signal to your peers how science-y you are?"

Righteously unloading on some poor person on the internet feels really good — trust me, I know — but are you trying to make yourself feel good, or do you want to actually change someone's mind?

 » see original post

Measles vaccine cuts risk of other childhood diseases

The control of measles through vaccines is one of the most successful public health interventions in recent years. The vaccine has reduced childhood mortality by 30 to 50 percent in some countries; this reduction is even larger in the most impoverished populations, reaching up to 90 percent. Yet the vaccine appears to have additional benefits that are still poorly understood.

A measles infection is typically accompanied by a severe immunosuppression, often thought to be transient, which increases the host’s susceptibility to other illnesses. The World Health Organization recently concluded that the vaccine is associated with large reductions in childhood mortality, regardless of infectious agent. Thus, in addition to its intended target, the vaccine appears to prevent some opportunistic infections.

But rather than a transient benefit, research has demonstrated that the protective effects of the measles vaccine can lead to a reduction in infectious disease mortality of roughly five years—and even persist for life in some cases.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

 » see original post

Theia's Fairy-Tale Bride 2016

When designer Don O'Neill talks about creating a fairy-tale wedding, he means it. The THEIA 2016 bridal collection was inspired by illustrations of Hansel and Gretel, The Brothers Grimm and other storybooks of the Victorian era. The muse specifically was the Art Nouveau aesthetic of the artist Kay Rasmus Nielsen. 

You can see the influence in the delicate butterfly appliques on a bodice, the illustrations printed on transparent silk, Art Nouveau motifs beaded onto the gowns and wispy web-like fabric treatments complete the theme.

I grew up on the same books  that had these illustrations. I was also obsessed with Hansel and Gretel at the age of 3 (though it was more for the idea of a gingerbread house than anything else). At 5, I was obsessed with the witch after seeing the Canadian opera version of this tale. She was my childhood standard of glamor all the way into my teen years as she was the first person I had ever seen with glitter eyelashes and jeweled nails.

What many bridal collections do is water down trends seen in Haute Couture into a wedding dress. What I love about THEIA is that Don O'Neil will take fashion forward silhouettes from sportswear and give it a luxurious makeover for walking down the aisle. How gorgeous is the silk jacquard shirt dress? Crop tops,  a sleekly tailored suit are great for brides who want to stay true to their personal style when they get married.

My favorite dress though was the finale gown. It was a lacy sculpture of butterfly 3-dimensional corset. Design team member Eduarda used an innovative 3D printing pen tool to draw/sculpt/print? The bodice of the dress. This look was the epitome of what Theia does the best in the industry. The brand experiments with cutting-edge technology and use it to execute classically beautiful fashion aesthetic in a new way.

The intimate runway and backdrop were quite small but gave a thorough ambiance to the presentation. The woodsy moss runway and fanciful bouquets were created by fiancé floral designer Pascal Guillermie of Fleur de Pascal. It's so touching to see  the longtime partnership in real life was also the perfect creative  marriage on the runway, then soon to be romantic wedding in the upcoming year.

I already had my own wedding, but seeing THEIA's 2016 bridal line-up, I think I might go for a posh renewal of vows...
THEIA models and design team
photos by Mariana Leung

 » see original post

First proton collisions at world’s largest science experiment should start in early June

First collisions of protons at the world’s largest science experiment are expected to start the first or second

The post First proton collisions at world’s largest science experiment should start in early June has been published on Technology Org.

 » see original post

A Woolen Ape Explores a Backyard Garden in a New Short from Marc & Emma

As part of a promotional campaign for Wonderlijk Wild (Miraculously Wild), an effort to encourage home gardening in Belgium, filmmaking duo Emma De Swaef and Marc James Roels of Marc & Emma were hired to create this wonderful short about a felted green ape exploring the outdoors. You might remember their work from this other woolen animation featuring two doughy wrestlers for the National Animation Festival last year. (via Vimeo)




Update: An earlier version of this post referred to the film as “stop-motion” when in fact it’s actually live-action puppeteering.

 » see original post

Tesla Energy’s goal? Changing the “energy infrastructure of the world”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk formally announced last week that his electric car company will spin off a new battery business. Tesla Energy—now distinct from Tesla Motors—will manufacture lithium ion batteries for households and businesses that can be used to augment solar or wind-powered systems, or just to provide an extra layer of redundancy for customers connected to the traditional grid.

But over the next several years, Tesla's consumer-grade batteries may not make much financial sense for households in many places around the US. Unless traditional power is very expensive in your state (as it is in Hawaii), it's likely cheaper to stay on the grid when the sun goes down every day, especially if utilities buy back excess solar from rooftop systems (as they do in California). And though consumers might want batteries to use as backup electricity, for a multi-day emergency scenario a generator can still deliver more power for less money. So what's Tesla Energy's business model?

Consumer batteries have garnered most of the media's attention, but Musk admitted in an earnings call this week that Tesla Energy's near-term target demographic is actually business and utilities. “We expect most of our stationary storage sales to be at the utility or industrial scale,” is how he phrased it.

Read 37 remaining paragraphs | Comments

 » see original post

Alternatives to Festival Fashion Cliches

Are you partying it up at Coachella? Outside of fashion week, it is one of the most anticipated displays of bohemian style and festival fashion. Coachella, the Governor's Ball, SXSW, are all competing for post-hippie glam. Of course, in the few years since Coachella launched, certain types of festival fashion have already become cliche. Here's how to update your boho chic:

Let's not be a Coachella style stereotype

1. Don't be on the fringe.
Fringe is undoubtedly one of the biggest trends this year across all categories of fashion. I can't wait to rock a few pieces this fall. However, when you are outside, sitting on the grass all day, your trendy fringed vest or handbag is sweeping up everything you come in contact with. Picture all the dirt (or worse from the Porta-potty) that you will have collected.  Of course, you can still have a beautiful, crafty, hippie styled look with a flowing crochet vest. It has pretty patterns and open weave that give a feminine touch to your festival outfit.

2. Flower crowns to Goddess crown.
If there were one unofficial  mascot for festival style, it would be the flower crown. This item certainly didn't start with Coachella. Ladies at Woodstock were sporting daisy crowns along with peace and love long before this generation. For a 2015 update, how about going back to ancient Greece? Laurel crowns can give festival fans some beautiful Goddess chic. There are some gorgeous pieces to be found on Etsy.

3. Gladiator Sandals to Ancient Greek Sandal
The gladiator sandal looked great in all the street style snaps in 2013. However, what do you think your tan lines will look like after a full day in the desert sun?  Ditch the Romans and the avoid making your legs look like a picket fence. Go for some Ancient Greek sandals like this with a low profile instead.

4. Crop it and reverse it
If there was a runner-up for Festival fashion mascot, it would have to be the peasant-like crop top. Coachella street style snaps are filled with these little tops on women with the smokin' bodies. That's fine if you are comfortable showing your belly. For those of us without the teeny flat stomach, but want to show some skin, I vote for the short, flirty slip dress. A swishy hem is forgiving for those nights where you, um, got the munchies for some reason. A short frock like this Southwest Racerback dress from Aeropostale allows you show off shapely legs if you have them.

Music and art festivals like Coachella are a celebration of creativity. Make sure you add your own creativity when putting together your festival fashion wardrobe.

Photos from Etsy, People Magazine, Blush Boutique, Neiman Marcus, Mariana Leung, Antropologie
 » see original post

Realistic Animal Lollipops and Sugar Sculptures by ‘Amezaiku’ Artisan Shinri Tezuka


Ever had a hankering to taste a slippery goldfish or a wriggling tadpole? Now you’re in luck thanks to a new candy shop in Tokyo called Ameshin that offers traditional Japanese amezaiku, a form of artisinal candy making that dates back to the 8th century when the edible objects were offered at temples or given as gifts. The lollipops and other confectionary beasts are made by the shop’s owner, 26-year-old Shinri Tezuka, from a mixture of starch and sugary syrup (somewhat like taffy) that results in a translucent, almost glasslike candy. Tezuka shares more of his latest creations on the Ameshin website and Facebook page. (via Spoon & Tamago)









 » see original post

Two-Dimensional Semiconductor Comes Clean

In 2013 James Hone, Wang Fong-Jen Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Columbia Engineering, and colleagues at Columbia demonstrated

The post Two-Dimensional Semiconductor Comes Clean has been published on Technology Org.

 » see original post