Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Results...Oh Boy

I am just waiting for my mother-in-law's reaction to the election.  She was sending my wife emails for months leading up to the election.  These emails got increasingly nuttier as the time went by; the culmination of these was when she had a revelation that Obama could very well be the antichrist.  She also mentioned that she and many other people were praying for the outcome of the election, especially that the anti gay marriage amendment would pass here in California. 

While I did NOT want Palin anywhere near the White House, I cannot really say that I am the biggest fan of Obama either, so while I am relieved at the results of the presidential election, I am not very excited either.  

On to the measures... I think my mother in law is having a bittersweet day today.

Prop 4:  
This piece of garbage would have made it necessary for a physician to notify the parents of any unemancipated  minor prior to providing an abortion.  It is amazing how much the religious right opposes abortion AND comprehensive sexual education. 

Prop 8: 
So it looks like we are going to have a constitutional amendment against gay marriage.  Hooray for biggotry.  I am truly amazed at how big of a moral dilemma people really think the idea of gay marriage is. Ugh.

Prop 48 (Colorado):
...And defeated by a landslide.  This would have superseded Roe v. Wade by declaring that a human life starts at the moment of conception, thus making abortion into murder.  This would have done the same for embryonic stem cell research.  A victory for women and for science! 

It is too bad about Prop 8,  but I am confident that this is just a temporary hurdle, as the gay community here is very tenacious and will not give up easily.  

Friday, October 31, 2008

In Defense of Fruit Flies

Swatting attacks on fruit flies and science
by Jerry Coyne, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Reposted from:

By Jerry Coyne
Professor in the University of Chicago's Department of Ecology and Evolution

Enough already. I bit my tongue when I heard that Sarah Palin believed that dinosaurs and humans once lived side by side and that she and John McCain wanted creationism taught in the public schools.

And I just shook my head when McCain derided proposed funding for a sophisticated planetarium projection machine as wasteful spending on an "overhead projector."

But the Republican ticket's war on science has finally gone too far. Last week, Sarah Palin dissed research on fruit flies.

In her usual faux-folksy style, Palin lit out after a congressional earmark involving these insects: "You've heard about some of these pet projects - they really don't make a whole lot of sense - and sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit-fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not." (Reading this diatribe is not sufficient; only video reveals the scorn and condescension dripping from her words.)

[Atheist Dad note:  You can see the video here ]

As a geneticist, I've worked on fruit flies in the laboratory for three decades. I know the fruit fly. The fruit fly is a friend of mine. And believe me, Sarah Palin doesn't know anything about fruit flies.

The research Palin attacked was a perfectly valid project designed to protect American growers from the olive fruit fly, a destructive pest. But fruit-fly research is good for far more than that.

The fruit fly is what we call a "model organism." Since all animals partake of a common evolutionary history, we share basic features of physiology, development and biochemistry. And because flies are easy to study, quick to breed in the lab, and cheaper than chimps and mice, we can often use them as models for things that go wrong (or right) in our own species.

For example, most of what we know about how genes are passed on in humans came from breeding studies of fruit flies - work for which T.H. Morgan won a Nobel Prize in 1933. (This included work on the effects of abnormal numbers of chromosomes, the cause of Down syndrome.) Since then, three other Nobel Prizes in medicine or physiology have gone for research on fruit flies. This work has given insights into how bodies are built and how learning might occur.

The flies are models for disease, too, producing possibilities for curing epilepsy, Alzheimer's and, yes, one of Palin's favorite causes, autism.

Why are the Republican candidates so contemptuous of science? I suppose it's part of their general attack on "elitism," which has been surprisingly effective. We white-coated nerds in our labs, fooling around with flies at taxpayer expense, are easy targets.

But America can't afford cheap shots at science, because a lot of basic research has immense implications for human welfare - even if ignorant politicians can make it sound silly. Work on fruit flies is just one example.

This year's Republican campaign has consistently attacked the values of reason and logic that undergird our democracy. If anything has led to America's high standard of living and world preeminence, it's the idea that we can advance only with the best science possible.

When Palin declares that we don't have to know what causes global warming in order to fix it, she's not only exposing herself as a scientific illiterate; she's going against two centuries of American progress in technology, medicine and science. Trying to bond with the American people by taking pride in your ignorance and making science the common enemy - now that's a bridge to nowhere.

Jerry Coyne wrote the forthcoming "Why Evolution is True." His e-mail address is

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sister In Law

My wife has two sisters.  One is in her early 30s and is apparently an atheist.  She also has expressed a desire to raise any kids she ends up having in the church and she herself attends church services with her parents. The other sister is 20 and a devout Christian.  The 20 year old sister spent the bulk of this summer in Los Angeles staying on our couch, helping with the baby, and getting shown around the city by yours truly.

In this time, I came to know her as a very bright young woman full of ambition.  I let her know that my wife and I were atheists and met very little resistance aside from a card that she left for us the day she went home that thanked us for the hospitality and let us know that she was praying for our immortal souls.  

I must say that I really do feel sorry for her, as I see how religion holds her back in a lot of the same ways as it did with my wife... with some pretty disastrous consequences.

About a week ago, I received a book from her written by a supposed atheist turned born again Christian.  The book was really one of the worst attempts at Christian apology I have ever encountered, but I cannot fault her for that, as she had not actually read the book... she just wanted me to be able to have some more information. 

I wrote to her with the problems I saw with the book and with the idea of sending me a book instead of engaging me in direct conversation. I further invited her to feel free to ask me any questions or to engage me in conversation about my lack of faith.  

I received a reply to this letter last night in which she apologized for not addressing me in a more direct manner and simply stating that the problems I had with religion probably could not be addressed because God is so beyond human comprehension.  I really dislike this cop out response from religious people, as it creates a near perfect barrier to logic and reason - If something about your religion does not make sense, don't worry... It is simply because God is beyond comprehension. 

Either way, I responded to her with a brief explanation of how I came to reject the idea of any theistic god and the Christian god, in particular.  Hopefully some of these ideas get through to her.  She is definitely intelligent enough to put the pieces together.  I just hope that she is eventually able to do so and break free of the constraints of religion while she is still young and able to enjoy her youth without them.