Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Sorry to skip over a topic, but I watched both Obama's speech and the GOP response by Governor Jindal of Louisiana tonight and something Jindal said really got to me.

"[The recent stimulus package] includes... $140 million for something called volcano monitoring. Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is..."

By making this statement in this way Gov. Jindal was WRONG. Appealing to the ignorance of the audience on an issue despite bolstering a modicum support from many is completely unacceptable and all to frequently done in politics (or should I say rabble-rousing).

It seems to me that when discussing almost any issue N one could make a statement of the following form:

Our opponents support N, whatever that is...

appealing to the audiences ignorance on the subject and somehow implying if N was important the audience would know about N and therefor since the audience (and presumably the speaker) don't know about N then N is not important.

This line of thinking is ridiculous. The average person, one of the many laypersons that makes up the majority of people in this country, is ignorant of many key issues at the forefront of scientific discovery today but that in no way makes these issues somehow less important. For example when addressing an average American crowd one could easily make the statement "the National Institute of Health has been wasting money on studies of something called angiogenesis, whatever that is. What the NIH should be spending its money on is..."

Now to those who are not in the medical profession (or perhaps cancer survivors) angiogenesis may sound like gibberish and as a result to these average Americans it may seem like a waste of money. Here I can't help but imagine a good 'ole boy standing around with a beer stating to a budy "I ain't never heard of no angiogenesis. What 'n the Hell's it gonna do for me" (Sorry to all the good 'ole boys out there. Many of you are my friends and I've had the opportunity to share a beer with many more, no offense meant, cheers). Angiogenesis is in fact a fundamental step in the transition of tumors from a dormant state to a malignant state and is important despite the fact that the average American has never heard the word.

Now the blame here lies in only one place and it is not on the average American. I don't expect every one of you, of us, to go out and learn everything about every subject. This is why we specialize. No person can be expected to be an expert in everything. The problem begins and ends with the politician the takes advantage of this requisite ignorance by appealing to it inappropriately.

Let me end this rant by stating that in this blog I hope to stay as bipartisan as possible and attack faulty reasoning and logic whether coming from a liberal or conservative, republican or democrat. So please don't let my response here be seen as for or against the stimulus package or for or against Gov. Jindal. I am not an economist and do not know what the eventual result of the stimulus package will be. As mentioned above I am not a vulcanologist and don't know about the need of further study in the field. I am an intelligent educated person and I will not sit quietly while statements like this go by unnoticed.

Response to Charles H. Townes on the realationship between science and religion

Coming Soon

Friday, February 20, 2009


Today while riding the bus to work I overheard a young female undergraduate presumably speaking to her mother on the phone regarding abortion. This girl was vehemently pro-life and was apparently discussing somethings she recently heard Mike Huckabee state regarding the abortion debate some of which was clearly WRONG. Now I'm not sure if the source of the errors were Huckabee himself or simply just the misunderstanding of this young coed but that point is not important here. The statement that really set me off was that "... science has clearly proven that life begins at conception."

Let's analyze this blatantly false statement a little bit. I say blatantly false because of two reasons: 1) Life does not begin at conception; 2) No credentialed scientist would make such an erroneous statement.

Now before you jump to the conclusion that this is just the impassioned rambling of a devout pro-choicer let me explain my reasoning for both statements starting with the former.

Life as most scientist (and I would hope most rational people) would define it should include a wide range of things from simple single-celled organisms like protozoa to complex creatures such as man. Included in this vast grouping we call life would obviously then be living cells. And from this it follows that the human zygote, a living cell, would be life. I have not qualms with this observation. The issue arises that by the definitions we are using, those being that a zygote is itself life, the individual sperm and egg cells themselves would be life as well. The obvious conclusion to be drawn from this then is that life dose not BEGIN at conception but simply CONTINUES at conception.

It should easily follow that the latter is also false. Since 1 is false, no actual scientist is justified in believing that 1 is true therefore 2 is false.

Now that we've outlined the problem let's analyze what results this has on the argument against abortion based on the idea that life begins at conception. Well if you simply adjust the reasoning as I have to life continuing at conception and you still insist on defending all life then you quickly run into the problem that the life of the sperm and egg themselves should be protected in the same way as an infant. Sperm is a living cell, life, after all. Is the use of birth control then synonymous with murder? Is any spermicidal death that is not simply collateral damage of an attempt to have a child wrong? Some would actually argue yes to these questions, but I'll chalk that segment of the population up to religious fanaticism (sorry Catholics). Now you might even take this argument further and defend all cellular human life and then you would be against such things as cosmetic surgery procedures that remove unwanted living cells from you body such as liposuction and could even argue against the removal of living reproducing cancer cells. All this of course is ridiculous but unavoidable if you logically follow the this type of argument.

Summarizing up to this point life simply continues at conception, it does not begin there, and all life, not even every living human cell, is not equivalent to an actual living breathing human. Where does this now leave us?

One easy fallback position for the pro-lifer that is dedicated to finding a rationale to defend their stance would be to bring in religion at this point. Normally by referring to the soul here but I would prefer to avoid discussion of the supernatural. This and other references to gods lead to appalling solutions (as I'll take up in future posts) since they could easily result in the universal substitutions such as "the gods did it" for "I don't know." In addition we are really discussing law here and I'm not comfortable with the government telling me not to do what one god or another might have issue with (or worse yet some human's interpretation of what god intends). Just imagine if we made laws based on certain religions. Simply eating unclean animals could be illegal and I do love my bacon. But I digress so back to the issue at hand.

What I see is that the problem is not where this ambiguous life begins, but where "human life" begins. But what actually is "human life"? I've seen arguments that this is just living human cells that demonstrate a response to stimulus. What stimulus? Even sperm cells respond to certain stimuli. One could argue for human life to be the point at which a fetus would survive outside of the mother. This brings up several more problems. First what do we mean by survive? For example are severe mental/physical damages acceptable. Second at what level of technology are we to make this distinction? The point at which a fetus could survive outside of the mother has certainly changed in the last 100 years and I expect will continue to change perhaps even reaching the point of conception eventually. And what do we mean by survive? Surely not a 100% chance as children delivered on schedule don't even have that high a probability for survival so what is acceptable? 75%? 50%?

To this question I have no answer and beleive this is were the debate should be focused. What needs to be done is define human life in such a way that it begins at a unambiguous point and have that definition grounded in logic and science and not in emotion and superstition. I personally feel that the true answer lies somewhere between the impassioned stances of both the typical pro-lifer and pro-choicer. So in effect I see both of these opinions wrong to some extent. I feel no morale objection to terminating a single-celled zygote or even small collections of cells that in my opinion are clearly not human. On the other hand I find it deplorable to argue for the extermination of what is clearly a child (late term fetus) where the collection looks and acts just like a baby.

So now let us solve this problem. Let the debate take place between scientist not impassioned religious fanatics or their equally zealous counterparts who all miss the true point by relying too much on emotion on not enough on the real problem. Realistically who could argue against Life or Choice.