Rationality or a demon-haunted world view? Post by Seth Godin

Wonderful and provoking write-up of a rational world view and its rewards and what Sagan called the ‘demon haunted world’ of pseudoscience and religion. 

See at Seth Godjn’s blog here

Repost – Professor Ceiling Cat takes down one more misguided creationist

Fun read from Professor Ceiling Cat. I see that, as reported on Wiki, in regards to Metaxesbook on Bonhoeffer, that “Although the book is popular in the United States among evangelical Christians, Bonhoeffer scholars have criticized Metaxas’s book as unhistorical, theologically weak, and philosophically naive”.

Looks like his grasp of basic biology and evolution is just as flaccid and weak.


This headline, with a link to the full article by Eric Metaxas (who, after C.S. Lewis, describes himself as a “mere Christian”), was on the front page of Yahoo News yesterday (click screenshot to go there): To see the full “argument,” such as it is, you have to go to the conservative news service CNSnews.com, which took […]

via Yahoo news claims evolution “just got harder to defend”. Nope. — Why Evolution Is True

Book Review, Cimarron, Edna Ferber

Longish, well-written, classic.

Copyright, Dennis Mitton

cimarron-coverCimarron, by Edna Ferber, is a long, gangly novel set in territorial Oklahoma. Published in 1929, it veers a bit from my beaten path but I’ve got boxes of these old classics and it’s time to start reading them. If anyone wants to chime in about how this stacks up against classic Western or historical novels I would be happy to hear it.

This one is long. My edition stretches to almost 400 pages that Hemingway would have certainly pared to less than two hundred. Ferber’s style, common then and frowned upon now, is effusive. She spends pages describing the scenery, the way the moss hangs from trees, and how women living the imaginary frontier town of Osage dress. No detail is left open for the reader to imagine. Every nuance of every scene and conversation in minutely described. You will know just exactly how Sabra raised her eyes to look at husband Yancey full in the face. And it works. Ferber tells a wonderful story.

Cimarron begins in progressive Wichita before the first Oklahoma Territory Land Rush. The government is giving away millions of acres of prime, Midwestern, barren clay that nary a plant will grow in. Sabra and Yancey, Sabra of the of the respected Venables, Yancey of questionable reputation, leave family and friends to settle in the new town of Osage where men are free and women work themselves to the bone. Yancey is larger than life and impossible to resist. He hates what the government and whites have done to the Indian and begins a weekly newspaper to shout his truth from the mountain tops. He changes little throughout the novel. He is ever romantic, ever handsome, and chases after every new and exciting thing. As large as he is, he is presented in one dimension, and by the story’s end, is less interesting than when it starts.

The real story revolves around Sabra. Both Sabra and Oklahoma find themselves through the pages of this fat read. Sabra begins her story as the pet of wealthy and established parents. The novel’s opening scene is at the dinner table, with small and Black Isaiah hanging from the rafters, wafting flies away from the family sitting at the table. Sabra has never done a single thing for herself. Except fall in love with and marry Yancey who is older and captivating. Captivating until he begins talking about the Oklahoma Territory where he wants to drag his pretty bride. The family is aghast but Sabra is game. She enjoys the long ride to the frontier but is unprepared for life in Osage. She had imagined that frontier life might mean eating with unmatched silverware but in Osage, she finds life raw and frightening. As a proper help-meet, she sits alongside Yancey as he set up his newspaper. She learns that she not only enjoys the business of news but is quite good at it. While Yancey leaves for years at a time to chase down and never quite reach the next dream, Sabra works steadily at building the newspaper until it is the most important in the Southwest. She frets over her children, frets over the newspaper, and frets over the town which she constantly hopes to elevate to something greater that shacks surrounded by muddy streets.

Cimarron and Sabra are quiet but fierce feminists. Not the kind of feminists out burning bras in the corral but the kind who gets down to do the work. The kind to whom it never occurs that she can’t or shouldn’t do something only because of gender. Juxtaposed to this progressive view, she fiercely opposes Indian rights. While Yancey champions the Native American cause in every way possible, Sabra fights him at each turn. She reiterates every stereotype of Natives at her disposal. When her son, her sad-eyed son raised on her husband’s knee, marries an Indian princess, it is a low point for Sabra and she relegates her son to a lazy life on the reservation. Her daughter, the one on whom the family’s good looks never quite settled on, is a feminist as well but not in an admiring way. She uses her gender as a tool and makes it her goal to marry the richest man in the territory. She finagles and coos and tacitly sneaks around with him until he boots out his mean and crabby wife and replaces her with his new and very young love. Does Ferber make a statement here?

The book is written something like a movie script. Whereas most novels have a flow to the story, Cimarron can very easily be broken into several distinct scenes. The book opens with the family dinner and moves almost directly to a night spent in the open when Sabra and Yancey are traveling. Turn the page and they are renting a house. Ferber is an excellent writer and can easily carry the story but this way of stacking scenes takes something away from the characters. And the book ends abruptly. With twenty pages or so pages to go, Ferber rolls the movie credits and recaps how each player ends up. There is a final scene with Sabra and Yancey but, by then, the story was already over and it comes off without emotion. Maybe Ferber is making a point? Maybe that was life in Oklahoma? Life’s a bitch and then you die? You live today and die tomorrow. Get over it?

Good and interesting read. Longish. Well-written with little depth.

Three-and-a-half stars.

See here at Wiki
See here at Goodreads (3.74 stars) 

Book Review – Reset Your Child’s Brain, Dunckley

Why can’t my child be as wonderful as I was?

Copyright Dennis Mitton

51y2ed6edql-_sx331_bo1204203200_I’m cleaning up some book review files so will be posting a few over the next weeks as time allows. Enjoy or cajole or throw stones as you see fit.

Reset Your Child’s Brain, Victoria Dunckley, MD

There was a time – in the glorious and gilded days when I was a child – when we picked up our rooms and wore bow ties to school. I knew what a tough day mom had so I always offered to clear the table. I said ‘Yes, Ma’am’ and ‘No Sir’. And imagine my shock when, on my wedding night, I learned that girls and boys look different without underwear?

Yes. This is preposterous and silly. But there is a sense of urgency in Victoria Dunckley’s Reset Your Child’s Brain that harkens back to those good ol’ days that never were. She promises to ‘End meltdowns, raise grades, and boost social skills by reversing the effects of electronic screen-time’. I don’t care what era or what the evils: this is a fantastic sales pitch that will never fail to sell books.

Dunckley’s argument is that electronic activities trick your brain into thinking you are under attack. Your heart rate and breath quicken. Plasma cortisol increases. You sweat. You begin to identify with game characters. You start to buy into the sales pitch. You become a minion. There is evidence that all of this is true – but to what degree?  The research is, by nature, correlative with almost no way to prove causation. What, really, is the cause of Johnny’s poor grades? Loss of the family dinner table? New math? Or mom’s iPhone? All have a part and no single ingredient will solve any crisis. Dunckley provides research references but take care to bring along a grain of salt. Any research involving children or even humans is tough to pull causation from. Most of these have a very small sample size which makes finding significant differences difficult at best. There might very well be something important here but as most doctors and researchers agree a lot more long-term research is required.

You see? Neither me nor any child I knew would have acted like this!

But I don’t in any way write Dunckley off. She’s a respected child psychologist who looks at the whole life rather than treating ailments symptomatically. And while maybe not a panacea, I can’t argue with her advice – lay off the electronics. Make sure important things are done first. Keep them active and socially involved. I’m not sure if this is a revolution in child rearing in the modern age or just good advice that your grandmother gave. I’ve done this with my own children. It will surprise no parent that after a steady stream of Teen Titans Go!  or Adventure Time my kids are sassy brats who think their parents are idiots. I notice a calming change when I put limits on game, phone, and TV use. But I can’t say for sure that I am stemming psychological changes or if I’m simply making sure that important things are done first. We make sure that the kids are active and play with friends. Electronics are mostly for free time when life slows a bit. Yes, I would prefer that they write to pen pals in Paris or read the classics in Latin but, geez, they’re kids. I whiled away in-between times with car models and Iron Man comics. I turned out alright. Maybe.

As an interesting and relevant aside, I encourage parents to read about ADHD treatment in France. Per the Amen Clinic, fully 80-85% of ADHD medications are prescribed in the US. France has much lower rates of all childhood behavioral issues but only prescribes medication after a full dietary, behavioral, and social work up of the entire family. Normal French discipline is cited as well by providing more stringent guidelines of proper behavior instead of the more free or non-existent discipline of American families. Interesting stuff.

See the Amen clinic write up here.
See Psychology Today here.

I encourage all parents to read the book. You have to tip-toe a bit through hyperbole but the information presented is important and relevant.

And a story with a question – I read about three pages of a Stephen King book and put it down scared out of my wits. I haven’t a clue as to the title but bushes began to uproot themselves and chase the poor heroes to their death. I was so scared I’ve never read anything else by King. I am sure that my blood cortisol and heart rate were elevated and that I began to sweat. I identified with the characters to the point of putting the book down I was so scared. So maybe – ? – it’s the content and not the medium? Or both?

Three and a half stars.


Enough lousy research – here’s how to do it right – Part 5

Today’s moral – done right, research, and the scientific method are fantastic tools for understanding our world.


Over the last week, I’ve focused on bad research. We’ve talked about how the simple fact that people are involved confounds research, we’ve talked about bias and how to do lousy research to garner headlines, and we’ve talked about the importance of skepticism. Today I’m going to showcase work done by Neil Shubin as the way that big science should be done. Shubin is a biologist and paleontologist at the University Of Chicago. In a textbook use of the scientific method, Shubin stepped through a series of if-then questions in a quest to find sea-to-land transitional fossils. These efforts resulted in his team finding the now famous Tiktaalik, and astoundingly wonderful transitional creature. You can read Shubin’s popular telling of the story here in his book Your Inner Fish. 

Go here to read about Shubin and his cuddly little short-legged friend.



Another bit of research – Even researchers get it wrong – Part 4

Today’s moral – and never, ever forget this one – any time there are humans involved in research, be suspicious. If human scientists are doing research on human subjects then take your suspicions to the power of 27. It’s a crapshoot at best.

I’m in the big city right now to bone up on a work certification and I’m unable to log my computer in to the motel’s Internet. So I’ll be brief.

You probably read the headlines a few months ago: a group of 270 researchers, calling themselves the Open Science Consortium, selected 100 published research papers in psychology and attempted to replicate the findings. Over half failed the tests. I wasn’t shocked nor was I surprised. The further you move away from measuring inanimate matter toward work with living things and humans, the more trouble you are bound to have. Thinking things are just damned tough to work with. Even with animals like rats or dogs – rats live communally but are housed singly in research labs. How does this affect results? In all my time in research I never once found anyone interested in the question. Or dogs: how does the fact that a dog likes you change them? I don’t know. I don’t know if anyone does. 

I have only read bits and pieces of the work from the Consortium but you can see it here

Along with that, I found this article here at the Harvard Gazette about a couple of researchers who are kind of crabby to learn that their field has a less than pristine reputation as far as good research goes. So they examined the Consortium’s work and found it to be mostly meaningless with as many errors as the work they were reporting on. The article has a tone that makes me think that someone got caught with their finger in the pie but I don’t know. I read the write up but not the journal article so maybe they make a good case. 

What to make of all this? Be skeptical my friend.


A little tiny bit more about research – women’s rear ends – Part 3

I’ll be holed up doing some training for the next two days but want to offer up this piece I wrote a while ago about some miserably poor ‘research’ that garnered the author worldwide newspaper and magazine headlines. 

See here

The author corralled a group of mostly young college men at a university in Turkey and showed them pictures of women’s rear ends. Wouldn’t you know it but the big rear sticking out like Kimmie K’s won the prize! The author guesses that this style of butt shows that she would be better at bending over to collect food this men are hard wired to differentially enjoy this booty over another. 

There is so much wrong with this and it pains me that the researcher is also on staff at the University of Houston so I probably paid for this. 

Oh well. Gotta run! Cheers!